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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Building a setlist is a crucial part of a show

By Ted Slowik

A setlist is critical to a show. I mean, it's the plot at the beginning of Martin Scorsese's 2008 Rolling Stones live concert documentary "Shine a Light," where Marty in the booth doesn't get the setlist until Keith tears into the opening riff of the opener "Jumpin' Jack Flash."

Sure, you play plenty of jams and impromptu sessions where there is no setlist. I've performed songs live with other musicians I've never played before. But if you have a show and weeks to prepare for it, here's a few reasons why a setlist is so important.

No. 1, it's better to do a few things well than a lot of things so-so. If you're like me you know hundreds of songs. At most I'll play three hours in a night. At five minutes a song that's 36 songs. It's best to try to nail those down, practice them and do them well. Variety's the spice of life and if you have time you can mix in other tunes for different shows. But find your core material and stick to it.

Second, if other musicians are going to perform with you they'll appreciate charts and recordings of the set so they can prepare. Focusing on what you do well means making decisions in advance so there's a game plan.

Third, planning a set allows you to inject audio variety to keep the listeners engaged. In the attached example, a setlist for a local New Year's Eve show I'm doing Tuesday night, no two songs in a row are in the same key. I've made myself notes as helpful reminders, so I can stay relaxed and focus on playing, singing and juggling all those other variables like sound, tone, voice quality, remembering lyrics, crowd reaction, etc.

Now, I believe while a setlist is crucial it's important to respond to an audience and remain flexible. Like when the Blues Brothers played Bob's Country Bunker. Dwight Eisenhower said "plans are useless but planning is essential." A couple weeks ago I played in a bar on a Saturday night, and I figured they'd want to hear honky tonk rock and roll. The rock wasn't going over well, and it wasn't until the second set that I realized the songs the crowd responded well to were slower ballads. They wanted to have conversations with each other while I was playing, and the uptempo stuff was too loud.

Granted, that's more of a sound thing than material choices, but the point is a quarterback's got to be able to call an audible. Make your setlist but don't get hung up on it. Live in the moment, and perform your songs with the confidence that comes from good preparation.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Taking lessons at any age or level will help you improve

By Ted Slowik

I'm 48 years old, and last week I started taking guitar lessons.

Ted and Paul, 1982
I remember I did take a few guitar lessons once before, in 1980, when I was 15. Our parents made us all take piano lessons, and I took violin lessons as well. But I never practiced. Ever. I may not have even been 10 years old, but I already didn't like people telling me what to do. I wanted to go outside and play, not sit and plunk some stupid instrument. If only I'd practiced my scales as a kid, there's no telling what would have happened.

After I bought my first guitar at a garage sale and borrowed a library book on how to play it, I'd heard the music teacher from grade school gave lessons at her house. She lived about 2 miles away. I walked to her house. Back then I was embarrassed to be seen carrying a guitar, so I stuck to the side streets. I didn't yet get the whole "chicks dig guys with guitars" thing.

To get from our house in Countryside to her house in Western Springs I had to cross busy 55th Street. One winter Saturday, as I was hurrying across the four lanes with my guitar in its case, a brown van slowed down, then stopped. A long-haired dude popped open the passenger door and asked if I wanted a ride.

Sure, John Wayne Gacy had just been sentenced to death for raping and killing boys but I did what any kid freezing his nuts off would do in that situation. I hopped in the windowless van with the stranger.

Well, nothing bad happened. He said he was a roadie for Styx and a picker himself. He turned out to be a nice guy and drove me all the way to my teacher's house. I only took lessons for few months, and that was almost 34 years ago.

Mostly, I learned to play songs by ear. As a bassist, I didn't have to play solos, my rhythm was good, and if I hit a bad note more than once usually Rich Westrick the keyboardist or someone else with more musical knowledge would correct me during rehearsals.

The Internet makes it a lot easier today to learn music. In a flash you can find the lyrics and chords and charts to just about any song. You can watch free instructional videos on YouTube on how to play just about anything. I've been using those tools, too, believe me, but something happened recently that made me realize I needed help from a live human being.

I was at the Wednesday acoustic open mic hosted by John Condron at Tribes Alehouse Mokena when Bridget Cavenaugh showed up for the first time in a while. She was playing guitar and singing beautifully while Pat Otto played mandolin. When Pat took a solo, you could feel the energy increase in the room. It was something palpable, yet magical, to feel. I've heard Pat say after playing a particularly beautiful but difficult piece that he'd played it 1,000 times before.

Teacher shows me a new way to play F, a very important chord.
Nowadays, I love to practice. Most days I practice for two hours, sometimes more on weekends. I've been doing this regularly for more than two years. Still, I felt my abilities were beginning to plateau. I'm very happy with the progress, especially vocally, and with rhythm playing, and tone quality, and overall confidence, which makes me more relaxed when I play, which makes me sound better.

But it is music, after all, and wouldn't it be nice to play guitar solos and other musical interludes where the sounds I made didn't sound like cats fighting? Yes, I've been awful. But realizing you need help is the first step toward improvement.

I know many exceptional teachers of stringed instruments--Pat Otto, Bill Ryan, Tom Maslowski, to name just three. Parents, I encourage you all to make your kids study an instrument. It will help them develop their mathematics and problem-solving skills. I chose a teacher who is I think the right fit for my needs at this time. Someone with an excellent reputation for teaching, particularly in the blues and rock styles, who is also a working guitarist in a band, an accomplished songwriter and singer, and to top it all off a really nice guy, too. His son is a student at North Central College, where I work, and studied abroad in Iceland to learn about folklore. (Storytelling must run in the family.)

Teacher charges a very reasonable rate. And what, I ask, could I possibly spend money on at my age that would bring me more joy than guitar lessons? Helping less fortunate others, I suppose, but nothing for me, personally. Teacher's name is Kev Wright. You may know him for his work with the Righteous Hillbillies. He does music full-time, he's passionate and animated but a great listener, too, and he has the patience and explaining skills needed to be a good teacher.

We've only had a couple lessons so far but I can tell this is really going to help my game, as it were. Just learning the terminology of music, speaking the language that musicians speak, is going to improve communication when making music with others, not to mention how my own performance will improve.

Kev's a great teacher and I can't wait to apply the skills, techniques and theory he's teaching me.

Photo of Kev from a David Masciotra article in Chicago Now, 2010

Friday, December 13, 2013

Here's how I use Twitter as a musician

By Ted Slowik

Out here on the “long tail” of the music world, I’m a nobody among millions of other nobodies. I’m OK with that, because I get satisfaction from making music for family, friends and local fans.

But I do find it fun to connect with musicians, recording artists, songwriters, booking agents, producers, publicists and others all over the world who share a passion for music. Twitter’s a great way for musicians to connect with people, and here’s how and why.

I have three main goals with Twitter: to engage with like-minded artists, to support others and to build my following.

Engagement is most important. A few months ago I was playing a solo gig at a bar miles from home. I didn’t know a soul. No other musicians or friends were there. In between sets I Tweeted that it was the loneliest gig I’d ever played. A stranger Tweeted back words of encouragement, and that was all I needed to get through the gig.

I have about 1,200 followers on Twitter at the moment, but only 20 or so that I really care about. People I actually talk to, and who reply. Actual human beings! Not those automated replies, like, “Thanks for following! Please 'Like' my page on Facebook too!” Gag.

If someone follows me, I follow back, unless they’re obviously a spam robot. That’s how I show support for other artists—by following them. I don’t care that my following-to-followers ratio is about even. I know I’m not a celebrity who follows a handful of people and has tons of followers. I’m a commoner. I respond to personal requests, not automated replies. I'll post links to YouTube videos and SoundCloud tracks for others I can actually vouch for. Who knows how many of my followers will ever click on the links I share? But you know what? The artists I Tweet about appreciate it. If you show a kindness, karma will repay that.

I’m careful about who I follow on Twitter. I build my Twitter following by following hand-picked others, not just anyone. I avoid like the plague those bots whose sole purpose is just to follow back or bombard you with spam posts. I’m only interested in actual artists.

And not just any artists. If their Twitter feed is populated only with automated posts from their Facebook feed, I’m not following them. I link Facebook and Twitter too, but I supplement those with a majority of posts directly to the Twitter audience. And not every post has a link to a song or video. Sorry, but it’s often a drag waiting for links to another channel to load. I would love to “Like” you on Facebook next time I’m at a desktop, but on my mobile device the whole point is speed and convenience.

I follow artists who talk about their work. Of course that means reading posts about gigs they’re playing, because they want to get the word out about them. But I especially like posts that offer insight and perspective into how they work. I'm interested in the process. New gear is interesting, as is work in the studio, new songs, collaborations with other musicians, reviews and mentions.

And I only follow artists who are on Twitter regularly. If you haven’t posted in three days, or maybe only post once a week on average, sorry but I’m not interested. Here’s another turnoff, and it’s going to sound selfish, but if you’ve hit that 2000 following threshold and you only have a few hundred followers, I’m not following you. You’ve got to do the work and prune your list of people you’re following. I’m following you partly because I hope you’ll follow me back. If you haven’t followed me back after a few days, sorry, but I’m going to unfollow you.

I find other musicians to follow by perusing the followers of people following me. I’m looking for others who not only share my interest in music but who exhibit similar behavior in how they use Twitter. I'm selective.

Here’s the thing, though: If I know you’re an actual human being, and you seem cool and interesting based on your bio description and profile pic and how you respond to my following you, I might go the extra mile. I might visit your YouTube channel, click on some videos to get you some views, or check out your Bandcamp, SoundCloud and ReverbNation pages and tell others about your songs.

Maybe I’ll “Like” your fan page on Facebook. Maybe, if you seem really interesting, I’ll Google you. And if you turn out to be legit and someone worth knowing, I might ask to be friends with the actual you on Facebook or try to connect with you on LinkedIn. I would just like to establish that connection because hey, you never know. I might need a booking agent in Alberta, Canada sometime and I could direct message you.

Know this: I’m not just trying to help myself by slowly building my own following and establishing connections that might one day prove beneficial. I’m genuinely trying to support other like-minded artists in my own small way.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Here's the lowdown on how you can get "Comfort Zone"

By Ted Slowik

Cheers all! It’s an exciting time because the solo debut studio recording “Comfort Zone” is available now in some formats and will soon be available in others! Here’s how you can get it:
  • If you’d like a physical copy of the CD, and you live in Joliet or Naperville or places in between, I’ll sell you one for $5 and deliver it to you at no extra charge! Simply send me a note at or a direct, private message on Facebook or Twitter and we’ll work out the details. Copies will be available at the Jan. 4 CD release show at Chicago Street Pub in Joliet!
  • Outside of Joliet/Naperville, you may order physical copies of the CD soon through Search for “Ted Slowik.” No results yet, but it’ll be available soon, they assure me. Price had to be set at $7.99 to cover mailing costs. 
  • On Dec. 19 you can download MP3 files of the six tracks from “Comfort Zone” for 99 cents each through, iTunes, Google Play, CDBaby and other sites. 
  • For now, you can stream (listen to for free but not download) “Hinsdale” from the new release on my SoundCloud and ReverbNation pages. Other tracks will be uploaded soon for your listening pleasure!
  • If you are my mother, a brother or sister, niece or nephew—I have mailed or delivered copies of the CD to you or your parents as of today. Sorry, cousins, close friends and everyone else—I had to draw the line somewhere. Thanks for understanding.
  • Tune into to anywhere in the world (or 88.1 FM in the LaGrange area) from 8 to 10 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 17 to hear the songs from "Comfort Zone" and stories about them during a very special WLTL Alumni Week show hosted by my good friend Terry Kinn '82! 
Thanks everyone for all your support and encouragement! Remember to visit, and tell your friends!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Enjoying Thanksgiving week with family and many musical friends

Pat Otto and Bridget Cavanaugh
By Ted Slowik

Thanksgiving is a special week. The Slowiks got together Thursday at Mom's house, as we've done since longer than I can remember. Slowiks are a big, fun family and there's nothing more important than family.

Monday was my five-year work anniversary as director of PR and media relations at North Central College. Sometimes I miss all the great people I worked with in newspapers over the years, and five years has gone by quickly. No point in looking back though.

Black Wednesday was the two-year anniversary of when I discovered open mic at Tribes Alehouse Mokena, hosted by John Condron. The place was packed, and the night started with a great set by Jake Cullen on upright bass, Bridget Cavenaugh on guitar and vocals and Pat Otto on mandolin and vocals.

Watching and listening to them restored my understanding of music. An elusive form of grace and energy manifested itself during their performance, something special that's hard to pinpoint. Something about the way Pat solos--you can feel it in a room. I'm very grateful to Pat for playing mandolin on two songs on the new record, including the very meaningful family song. It was a pleasure meeting Jake and seeing Bridget for the first time in a while.

Kev Wright, John Narcissi and Brent James. Photo: Michelle Gadeikis
Also Wednesday the Righteous Hillbillies played Chicago Street Pub in Joliet. It was great seeing Jodi Wartenberg and Greg Vershay, who introduced me to their writer friend David Masciotra. Guitarist Kev Wright had one of his students, John Narcissi, join the band onstage. Brent James, who did the sleeve design for the "Comfort Zone" CD, is quite the frontman--a real rocker who seems to channel Jim Morrison at times. Johnny Gadeikis is a great bassist and Barret Harvey is a fantastic drummer.

The Hillbillies have had a great year, opening for Bad Company, Black Oak Arkansas, David Allan Coe, Bret Michaels, the Marshall Tucker Band, Vince Neil and others. They're a tight band, their songs are great and their show is a kick ass fun time!

Lonnie Brooks, Billy Branch and Ronnie Baker Brooks
The Hillbillies would have been the best band I saw this week had I not gone with brother Frank, sister Liz and her husband Steve to FitzGerald's in Berwyn Saturday night to hear Ronnie Baker Brooks. Ronnie's a very talented blues guitarist, a gifted vocalist and great blues writer and performer. He had a three-piece horn section and very animated keyboardist in addition to a bassist and drummer. His brother, Wayne Baker Brooks, is also a very talented blues artist.
They're the sons of legendary Chicago bluesman Lonnie Brooks, who turns 80 next month. He's moving slowly these days but it's great to see him getting around. Lonnie came out and played a set with Ronnie, and the great Chicago blues harp player Billy Branch sat in with them. Blues legend Otis Clay, soul producer Tom Tom Washington and WXRT "Blues Breakers" host Tom Marker were all in the house, and the night had a special vibe. Nothing like hearing "the real deal" great blues in Chicago!

So, another eventful week. The CD is in production and will be available in less than two weeks! Rehearsals start this week with friends helping out at the big CD release show Jan. 4 at Chicago Street Pub. Hope to see you at the show!


Saturday, November 23, 2013

New CD available Dec. 12 and other updates from a big week!

CD design by Brent James
By Ted Slowik

It's been an incredible week. First, thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by the tornadoes in Washington, Ill., and elsewhere. It's humbling to see how quickly events can change lives, and uplifting to see the outpouring of support for people in those communities.

Big news on the CD front: all the audio and design files for the solo debut "Comfort Zone" were finalized and submitted for production, which means we have a release date! "Comfort Zone" will be available Dec. 12 through iTunes, Amazon, CDBaby and more!

The new Martin D-15
Copies of the six-song collection will be available for $5 on Saturday, Jan. 4 at Chicago Street Pub in Joliet. I'll be joined by great friends Rich Westrick and Ron Kostka to perform songs from the CD plus other originals on acoustic guitar. Chris Corkery will open the evening, and the great Aly Flood will join us to perform "Red Rover." I'll switch to bass and  Chuck Pelkie will join us on electric guitar, and George Joch is on board to complete the one-night only Big Eddy Springs Blues Band reunion! Quite a night! Word is Suspended Animation bandmate Dave McGranahan will join in the fun, and who knows what other special guests may join in??!!

If the progress on the CD wasn't enough excitement, also this week I bought a new guitar! It's a beautiful mahogany Martin D-15. I purchased it at Down Home Guitars in Frankfort, and proprietor Steve Haberichter expertly installed a pickup. I'm very excited to welcome this instrument to my family of gear!

Steve Haberichter and Nikki Giblin at Down Home Guitars
I was in luck! The day I picked up the Martin happened to be the day of Down Home Guitars' monthly open mic. It was my first time experiencing that, and it was wonderful hearing some of the instructors and students perform. As I listened, I realized everyone who experiences the joy of learning and expression through music gets something different out of it. And when a group of like-minded musical types get together there's an undeniable sense of community. It was a pleasure meeting Debbie Parks, who runs the open mic, and Willie, Molly, Laura and others.

On Thursday I performed "Slowiks" for a group of fellow PR and marketing types from colleges and universities across northern Illinois. We
Ryan Olsson at Tribes Alehouse
get together three times a year to discuss best practices. I met a couple friends who do similar work at other schools for dinner a few weeks ago, and Jessica suggested I perform at the meeting. I took her up on the invitation. It's strange performing in a setting like that, but it was fun and certainly helped expand my "Comfort Zone!"

Also this week I took part in the Wednesday acoustic open mic at Tribes Alehouse Mokena, hosted by John Condron. It was a great time as always. Next week, Black Wednesday, marks the two-year anniversary of the night I discovered Tribes open mic and met John. I'm
very happy with my progress as a performer, singer, guitarist and songwriter since then, and I owe much of it to Tribes. There's no substitute for experience, and I can tell I've improved by getting up and performing every week. Plus, the thought of performing every week motivates me to practice and learn new material.

Tonight (Saturday) will be a lot of fun! I'm joining good friend and expert musician Tim Placher for a night of music at Thirty Buck. It's a restaurant/bar near my home in Joliet owned by the family of Tom Thayer, guard on the Super Bowl champion 1985 Bears team and color analyst on the WBBM-AM 780 broadcasts of Bears game. Tim and Tom went to grade school together at St. Ray's, and there's always a great crowd there when Tim performs. He lets me play when he's between sets mingling with his friends, and it's always a fun time. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Mitch Albom meets Eileen and we understand why it's important to start living

By Ted Slowik

Mitch Albom knows a thing or two about living. He's inspired millions of people and helped them to appreciate the gift of life, deepen their faith and act in the service of others.

Albom's book "Tuesdays with Morrie" is the best-selling memoir of all time. Albom chronicled his conversations with his college professor, Morrie Schwartz, who had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or "Lou Gehrig's Disease." It's a cruel disease that ravages one's body but leaves the mind intact. 

Morrie refused to feel sorry for himself, though, and continued to do all he could to help others up to the very end. Morrie said wise things, like, "Learn how to die, and you learn how to live."

"So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they're busy doing things they think are important. This is because they're chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning," Morrie tells Mitch at one point.

On Saturday, Naperville's Anderson's Bookshops brought Albom to North Central College for an author talk and signing of his new book, "The First Phone Call From Heaven." As PR director at the college, I was prepared for anything: the over-enthusiastic fan, the deeply moved reader overcome with emotion in expressing gratitude to Albom for his work.

When your job is to work events like this, you learn to read situations well. Safety and security are always on your mind, but it's best to not let that show. You want to make sure the famous guest is comfortable, and you try to see that patrons all have an enjoyable experience.

So I was ready when a patron approached me in the theater lobby about a half hour before the event asking about wheelchair access in the century-old former church building where the event was held. She was part of a large group of family supporting a woman named Eileen, who has advanced ALS. Eileen can move her eyes but not much else, though machines help her breathe and even speak. (Think Stephen Hawking.)

It turns out that Eileen is pen pals with Mitch, and they had arranged to meet. I helped make sure the family got into the building OK. Mitch and his assistant Rosie arrived at the same time, so I also helped get them settled in the green room then took them up to meet Eileen.

It's really great when celebrities care about their fans and turn out to be the most down to earth people you could imagine. In this business there are divas and prima donnas and artists who obviously want no close contact with the public whatsoever, and your job is to respect that. On the other hand the ranks of the rich and famous include some of the nicest people you'll ever meet. Mitch is one of those.

Mitch spent a good 20 minutes visiting with Eileen before the event, and when he began his talk he started by telling the audience about Eileen and the effort it took for her to be there. The sound of Eileen's respirator could be heard continuously during his talk, and Mitch hoped the other patrons weren't bothered by the noise.

Of course everyone was very nice to Eileen, including one couple who gave up their seats so Eileen's family could tend to her in a space large enough to accommodate her wheelchair. 

Mitch gave a great talk, then signed books with personal greetings for everyone who wanted one. Eileen was at the front of the line, and her family had many bought many books because his writing had touched them so personally. I was on hand if needed when Mitch asked if someone could record a video of Elaine "reading" a one-minute review she had written. I gladly offered to do it with my iPhone.

"I loved it," she began. "Miracles are possible. Even for those who doubt, for those who are broken and angry. Hope. This is a story about love and healing and many things, but most of all it is to have hope. Be open to the miracles in your life. And now Mitch your voice is in all who read your beautiful words."

In the video (which you can see here), Mitch thanks her and tenderly leans in and kisses Eileen twice on her forehead. He writes in "Tuesdays with Morrie" about the value of physical contact. For someone who has sold more than 33 million books to actually demonstrate that is truly special.

Mitch is humble about his talent, his charities (he visits Haiti every month for a few days to check up on an orphanage he founded) and his success. He's a great human being and a great writer. 

If you aren't already familiar with his work you should check it out. His books just might change your life.


Saturday, November 9, 2013

Dylan Michael Bentley: CD review, interview and video

By Ted Slowik
A lot of people are rooting for Dylan Michael Bentley, including his girlfriend, his mother and father, his many siblings and countless friends. He’s got a solid network of support rooted in his hometown of Sheldon, near Watseka in Iroquois County amid the vast expanse of central Illinois.
It’s a fertile wellspring of talent that has produced such musical storytellers as Chris Corkery,  Cody Diekhoff of Chicago Farmer and Ed Anderson of Backyard Tire Fire and Magic Box. Bentley follows in their footsteps with a purposeful nod to the trail they’ve blazed, like Hercules standing on the shoulders of giants.
Bentley’s an incredibly gifted songwriter. Wise beyond his 23 years, already sober and determined to find truth through his music. He’s a raw talent though, a diamond in the rough who is bound to improve with experience. One can’t help but wonder how good he’ll sound as he becomes more  polished.
Take his latest release, “Change In the Wind,” recorded between August and October at his parent’s home, where he and his dad often listen to Steve Earle and Bruce Springsteen’s “Nebraska.” One can hear those influences on the new record. “Change In the Wind” is a solid collection of thoughtfully honest, passionately delivered songs performed mainly on acoustic guitar with some harmonica accompaniment, a little piano and some less-than-perfect drum sounds. Bentley plays all the instruments on this latest self-released effort.
When you evaluate this album solely on its songwriting merits, it’s very good. Some parts are great. A well-defined thread runs through the melodies and the lyrics, and some lines resonate extremely well. There’s a wonderfully crafted theme of hopeful ambition, with arrangements that bring in electric guitar and sweet harmonies
There's also a great deal of variety on the record. The title track is a straightforward, driving romp that clocks in at two and a half minutes and races along with the intensity of a locomotive at full speed. The next track, "Knock, Knock," has a catchy groove and lyrics that are about Bentley's decision a while back to quit drinking alcohol.
"I made it a point to be very public about my sobriety," he said during an interview following a recent set at The Full Bull Smokehouse Saloon in Watseka. "That way if I fall then I'm upsetting so many people in my life. If I'm not talking about it, people will know there's something wrong. I've always hated disappointing people."
The next track, "Wanderin' Blues" is an upbeat number with a knockout guitar hook and lyrics one would expect to hear from a 23-year-old living in small-town America. "I've been stuck in this town and I don't want to stick around oh Lord I've gotta get out," he sings. The next song, "Run," follows in a similar vein.
"Ramblin' Gamblin' Trav'lin'" is altogether different, though, a soulful vocal delivered over a percussive guitar track. "Blame it on the Weather" is a beautiful piece that introduces piano, and "Candle" is a lovely tune that contains the great line, "How many souls and hearts are in my hands? I put my fingerprints on 'em so they remember who I am."
Bentley’s an accomplished live performer who plays at least two gigs every week, in Watseka and at The High Note in Pekin, a two-hour drive away. When he performs live sometimes his timing may be a tad off, but his voice is clear and strong and he can create ethereal moods with his sometimes-percussive guitar playing. There’s something very harmonic about his music.
But “Change In the Wind” is just a notch below a professional release. There's no bass on the record, and the drum sounds are a bit out of time in spots and overproduced in others. You can’t buy Bentley’s music online, though at this moment you can hear “Knock, Knock” on his YouTube channel. (He says he's not sure how long he'll leave that up for public consumption.) You can buy his new CD for $10 at a release show Nov. 22 at the Full Bull in Watseka, and he’ll sell copies at all his shows.
The best way to learn more about Bentley is to friend him on Facebook and like his music page. "Facebook is half my job," Bentley said during a recent interview with the IBWIP indie music podcast.

Author's note: this is my first time adding video to this blog. If the above file won't play, try this link.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Concert review: Paul Brady and John Condron at Old Town School of Folk Music

By Ted Slowik

One of the great aspects of being a lifelong learner is the thrill of discovering something new to you, even if it's been familiar to millions for a long time.

For me that's the case with legendary Irish musician Paul Brady, who performed Nov. 1 at Chicago's Old Town School of Folk Music with an opening set by Joliet's John Condron.

Brady is an icon in Ireland, with a career spanning five decades and 14 studio albums to his credit. He's written songs that have been covered by Bonnie Raitt, Tina Turner and Santana. I'm ashamed to admit I've only recently become familiar with his music.

I learned of Brady through Condron, who is producing my debut CD and who worked with Brady in Ireland in February. Condron, Brady and Mickey Harte co-wrote and recorded the song "Come Gather All" as a theme for The Gathering Ireland 2013, which is a series of events and festivals drawing visitors to Ireland throughout the year.

Admittedly the scope of my musical appreciation hadn't expanded to Irish music, but that's no excuse for not having been familiar with Brady's work sooner. He's a singer, songwriter and storyteller the likes of John Prine (with whom he's co-written), and his music and stories are universal and not at all restricted to a single ethnic genre.

His performance at the Old Town School of Folk Music (my first visit to the venue--why have I not seen artists here sooner?) was a solo show. Brady mostly sang in his booming voice and played acoustic guitar, though he did switch effortlessly to piano on a couple of numbers. He told wonderful stories about his songs, with a wit, timing and interaction with the audience that has been perfected over 50 years of world travels.

I liked his story about writing "Luck of the Draw" for Bonnie Raitt, which she took as the title for an album that won five Grammy Awards. Brady will be performing with Raitt at some shows in the United States this month. Brady's guitar work is simple and beautiful; his melodies are wonderful and his stories are captivating.

In the weeks leading up to the Old Town show I learned a little about Brady's music. I liked this recent program hosted by Philip King featuring a reunion of Brady and Andy Irvine performing songs on an album they did that was a huge hit in Ireland in the 1970s. The show also got some good press with an article by Mark Eleveld in Chicago's New City.

Condron's opening set felt wonderfully spontaneous. He sounded magnificent in the venue, with a deep, clear tone that brought out nuances that made familiar tunes sound brand new. I learned from an article in Joliet's Herald News that Condron's mother is from the same town in Ireland where Brady grew up.*

Condron's an energic performer who pours his heart and soul into every note. He has absolute command of his voice, and flawlessly pulls off complicated guitar riffs on songs like "Darkroom." The crowd responded enthusiastically to his use of slide, another tool he's perfected. He capped off his opening set by getting the audience to sing-along to the chorus of "Walk On the Wild Side," a fitting tribute to Lou Reed.

The show was a great experience. I'm looking forward to becoming more familiar with Brady's music and hearing Condron perform again soon.


* John pointed out after publication that the Herald-News article erred and his mother is not from Strabane, Ireland but Philly! Some of her ancestors were from that part of Ireland but she's proudly American.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Halloween cheers to bands Blind Whiskey, The Neighbors, Faux Paw and Vaudevileins!

Blind Whiskey
By Ted Slowik

Saturday night was a whirlwind. I caught parts of sets by four bands in three different venues in three towns. After all Halloween is a busy time of year for live performers, right up there with New Year's Eve and St. Patrick's Day.

First up was a stop by the Downers Grove Moose to catch Blind Whiskey. They had the joint rocking with covers of Creedence Clearwater Revival, ZZ Top and others. Guitarist/vocalist Chuck Pelkie puts on a great show backed by bassist George Lales and drummer Frank Glorioso. Though I didn't get to stick around to hear them sit in with the band, it was good seeing musician friends Ron Maruszak and "Big Eddy" George Joch.

The Neighbors
On my way home to Joliet from Downers Grove, it was a quick detour over the Ninth Street Bridge in Lockport to the William Alexander Wine Bar, where The Neighbors were playing. The slim-downed lineup included Brian Barry on acoustic guitar, Nick Domberg on acoustic guitar and bongos and Andrew Becker on drums. Pops Becker was there too but no sign of Stephen! Nick's a great singer and he and Andrew and Brian do some nice harmonies together. I like their selection of tunes, from Bob Marley to Harry Nilsson. William Alexander is a fine place to hear live acoustic music, and there was an enthusiastic full house on hand cheering them on.

My only regret in seeing The Neighbors was that I missed Matt Biskie's performance as Willie Nelson at the "Under the Covers" show at Chicago Street Pub in Joliet, my last stop of the evening (Sorry, Matt!). His costume was great, though. I did catch a fun set by the middle band, Faux Paw, a quartet from Lafayette, Indiana, home of Purdue University. They came out as Fleetwood Mac, with all four wearing black dresses and appearing as Stevie Nicks, though they shared just one blond wig among them.

Faux Paw
In addition to having a great sense of humor, they sounded great! The second half of their set they did their own music, which is a lively groove of guitar sounds layered over a comfy bed of bass and drums. Band members are bassist Stephen Freeman, drummer Tom Lageveen and guitarists Garrett Ney and Gordon Wantuch.

I picked up a copy of their self-released CD, "Too Close Is the New Too Far," which came out a year ago. I gave it a listen and like it a lot. It's got a real Wilco-like feel to it, with a nice mix and excellent recording quality. You should definitely support them by liking them on Facebook, following them on Twitter and checking out their recordings and live shows. They got a nice writeup in Paste magazine as one of "10 Indiana Bands You Should Listen To Now."

Vaudevileins as Guns N' Roses
The fourth and final band I heard that evening was the beginning of Vaudevileins' set as Guns N' Roses. I love Vaudevileins and their sense of humor, and they really went all out with their commitment to capturing the look and sound of GNR. Matt Lapperre sat in on drums while regular drummer Brennan Chouinard took on Axl Rose vocal duties.

They opened with "Welcome To the Jungle" and absolutely nailed it! They posted their version of "It's So Easy," which is definitely worth checking out. They're a fantastic band who have a lot of fun, and make it fun for people who hear them. They'll reprise their show as GNR Wednesday night (Oct. 30) at Phantom Phest at Quenchers Saloon in Chicago.

My small musical contribution to Halloween this year is a cover of "Resurrection Mary," a story about a Chicago-area ghost written by the great Ian Hunter of Mott the Hoople fame. His original is very powerful. It's a great song about a great story.

Happy Halloween!