Whiskey Shivers Enlist Familiar Face for Further Hijinks

Categories: Inquiring Minds

Photos by Sandy Carson
Whiskey Shivers shows have been known to get a little out of hand.
"I was on a trip to Ireland with my family when I fell in love with the fiddle," recalls Bobby Fitzgerald. "It just seemed so fucking cool!"

The Whiskey Shivers front man began playing the instrument at 12 years old, honing the skill while growing up in the tiny upstate New York town of Dundee, where his high school's graduating class had just 53 students. In 2009, the singer relocated south, settling into Austin.

"There was no plan," he reflects. "I just had to go somewhere."

More »

Rosanne Cash's Golden Thread of an Album

Categories: Inquiring Minds

Photo by Clay Patrick McBride
Rosanne Cash had a long string of No. 1 country hits in the 1980s, including "My Baby Thinks He's a Train" and "Blue Moon WIth Heartache."
Brazoria County is in for a real treat this evening, because Rosanne Cash is bringing a whole lot more than "Seven Year Ache" to Brazosport College's Clarion Theater. Her calling card this time is The River and the Thread, her cinematic, deeply soulful album-length account of the relatively recent trips she made to the region where Cash was born and partially raised, as well as the characters she encountered. Among them was Marshall Grant, the now-deceased bassist in her father Johnny's Tennessee Three, and a seamstress in Alabama who told Cash "you have to learn to love the thread."

The album, she allows, "didn't come from the outside in."

More »

Everybody Loves the Preservation Hall Jazz Band

Categories: Inquiring Minds

Photo courtesy of SPA Houston
Ben Jaffe (left) and the rest of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band outside their home turf
Houston does not have a musical ensemble anywhere close to the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, but then again, no other city does either. Based in a cozy former art gallery not far from Jackson Square in the French Quarter, this old-timey brass band has become one of one of America's leading pan-generational cultural ambassadors.

Not only have they entertained kings and queens and heads of state, but they've appeared on 60 Minutes and jammed with the likes of Steve Earle, the Del McCoury Band (on 2011's American Legacies album) and My Morning Jacket. Most recently, Preservation Hall became the Foo Fighters' headquarters during the New Orleans-set episode of HBO's rock-travel series Sonic Highways.

Benjamin Jaffe, whose parents Allen & Sandra Jaffe founded the band in the early '60s and who now serves as its tubist and artistic director, says Preservation Hall does some 100 tour dates a year to go alongside 150 dates in their hometown and extensive outreach work through the Preservation Hall Foundation. Like the rest of New Orleans itself, the band was almost wiped out by Hurricane Katrina almost a decade ago but, also like the city, has made a remarkable recovery and is "going stronger today, 50 years after it was established, than it ever has," Jaffe marvels.

More »

The Finer Points of Turntable Science, According to DJ QBert

Photos by Marco Torres
DJ QBert displays his mastery of the turntables at Fitzgerald's.
If any ever decided to erect a Mount Rushmore-like monument dedicated to DJs and turntablism, DJ QBert's face would definitely be one of the chosen few on the side of that mountain. A pioneer of the craft of scratching, juggling and mixing, QBert visited Fitzgerald's Wednesday night on his "Extraterrestrium Guided Space Tour." He graciously took some time to speak with us before the show.

Rocks Off: Hola sir! Thanks for your time. What's your impression of Houston and Texas?
DJ Qbert: The art scene [here] is incredible, and throughout the whole tour, I have the most friends that I personally know [who] live here! My guest list in this city was the longest, ha!

More »

Josh Abbott Band: The Merry Pranksters of Texas Country

Photo by C. Taylor Crothers/Shore Fire Media
Watch your backs around the Josh Abbott Band.
About the last place you might expect Josh Abbott to be doing a phone interview is...Nashville. His eponymous group is synonymous with Texas country, arguably the only act of its kind this decade to graduate to the very top tier occupied by the likes of the Randy Rogers Band and the Departed. That kind of drawing power gets them invited to events like tomorrow's Eli Young Band Block Party at Minute Maid Park, where Abbott's bunch will go on directly before the headliner.

His six-piece band can definitely crank with the best of 'em, but the songs that put him on the map can get downright sentimental. The band's breakthrough single and title track of 2010 debut album was the valentine "She's Like Texas," and 2012 followup Small Town Family Dream is centered around his tiny West Texas hometown of Idalou. Growing up on the South Plains, where the songs of native sons Joe Ely, Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore set a high standard indeed, Abbott says he learned the value of writing his own music early on. Ironically, he wound up pulling a cover of legendary Lubbock maverick Terry Allen's "FFA" from Family Dream after the actual FFA objected to its depiction of farmers.

More »

Derek Trucks Keeps It All in the Family Band

Photo by Mark Seliger/OnTour PR
The Tedeschi Trucks Band: The per diem costs alone must kill their accountant. From left to right: Mark Rivers, Tyler Greenwell, Kofi Burbridge (sitting), Kebbi Williams, Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi, Mike Mattison, Maurice Brown, J.J. Johnson (sitting) and Saunders Sermons. Tim Lefebvre had not joined the group yet.
For many a bluesman, standing at the Crossroads is a mostly apocryphal experience, the stuff of myth and legends. But when Rocks Off reached Derek Trucks at his New York hotel room last month, the myth is quite real.

In a few days, he'll take the stage with the Allman Brothers Band for their annual run of shows at the Beacon Theatre. Except it will be the last-ever live dates with the venerable group for both guitarists Trucks and Warren Haynes, both having previously announced their departure. And - depending on which member speaks to the media on which day - may be the ABB's last live dates ever.

"It's a trip. We started rehearsals last night for the last run, and I can't tell who is processing what in what way yet. I don't know if we'll ever be on the same page about [any future for the group], but for me, this is it. And I know Warren as well," Trucks says.

More »

Peter Case Still Practicing "Conscious Continual Compassion"

Photo by David Ensminger
Peter Case: "How can you have democracy when everything's secret?"
Thrice Grammy-nominated Peter Case (the Nerves/Plimsouls) is more than a pithy icon of the punk generation who helped foster the first wave of musical insurrection in both San Francisco and Los Angeles in the mid-1970s. He's also a deeply committed writer of songs, memoirs and poems, whose sinewy, spontaneous work draws upon deeply mined worlds ranging from Woody Guthrie and Beat Generation legends to progressive Latin writer Roberto Bolano, bluesman Big Joe Williams and visionary poet William Blake. He is like a sponge, effortlessly soaking up a diverse array of sources.

Road-testing his fresh-faced work for a new album, Hwy 62, Case is scouring the States this fall, stirring up potent bits of his catalog, too, while revealing his newest concerns. In addition, Case has just released Subterranean Hum, a collection of poetry co-written with yours truly. Rocks Off caught up with Case in San Francisco, where he resides near the ocean in a 100-year-old building surrounded by records galore.

More »

An Unfiltered Chat With Jello Biafra

Photo courtesy of Alternative Tentacles
Jello Biafra (second from left) and his fellow Guantanamo School of Medicine surgeons
For more than three decades, Jello Biafra has remained the brassy conscience of punk rock, willing to knock down the sacred cows of politics and rock and roll. First honing his diatribes in the Dead Kennedys, next dabbling in film and spoken word, and ultimately joining forces with DOA, NoMeansNo, the Melvins, and Al Jourgensen for projects aplenty, he has remained ever-potent and enrapturing, a changeling that never quite sheds his skin.

As a news junkie, edgy showman, political reformist, and punk shaman, he has continued to curate fabled label Alternative Tentacles, survived a bitter feud with former bandmates, and kept retirement far away while firing up Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine, his vociferous psych-punk band with ex-members of Victim's Family and Rollins Band.

Rocks Off's David Ensminger rang up Biafra before he hits the road for Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin and Houston's Continental Club this Sunday night. Here are some excerpts.

More »

Jim Peterik Still Has That Eye of the Tiger

Photo by Lynne Peters
Survivor co-founder Jim Peterik, who has developed a fondness for purple hair dye, today.
An answering-machine message not only changed Jim Peterik's life forever, but led to the creation of one of the '80s biggest anthems that can still be heard all over the place some three decades later.

"When I played the message, I thought someone was pranking me, because our road manager, Sal, did a pretty good impression of Sylvester Stallone," Peterik says today.

But no, it was legit: the actor/director was putting together Rocky III and needed a blood-pumping song to start the movie off after his original choice, Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust," proved unattainable.

"The message was like 'Yo, Jim, that's a nice answering machine message you got there!" Peterik says with his own impression. "I really like that song you have called 'Poor Man's Son.' It's got a street sound, and I want that for my movie!"

More »

Remembering Jack Bruce, Cream's Gentleman Bassist

Photo by Marek Hofman
Jack Bruce with a constant companion.
Note: Cream bassist and lead vocalist Jack Bruce, universally recognized among his peers as one of the greatest instrumental talents in rock history, passed away last Saturday at age 71. Rocks Off's Bob Ruggiero was lucky enough to speak with Bruce this past spring, and would like to re-run this interview that originally appeared on May 6.

He's best known to the average classic-rock fan for the scant time in the '60s, fewer than three years, that he spent singing and playing bass for a quiet little trio named Cream, alongside subdued guitarist Eric Clapton and noted shy-guy drummer Ginger Baker. But Jack Bruce has certainly had a multi-hued career since those acid-drenched days of white rooms, strange brews and tales of brave Ulysses.

In addition to his work with other groups and collaborators, Bruce has also released a series of very-much-underrated solo efforts, beginning in 1969 with Songs for a Tailor up through 2003's More Jack Than God. In these discs he stretched out not only his string-thumping, but also the genres he explores in his material, in particular his leanings to and love for jazz.

More »