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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Your guide to weekly Joliet-area open mics and blues jams

William Alexander Wine Studio
By Ted Slowik

If you're a musician itching to get out and perform at an open mic or blues jam in Joliet, Ill., you can find a place nearby to play every weeknight.

Jam sessions and open mics tend to come and go and move around, but as 2016 dawns here's a rundown of current weekly performance opportunities.
Gustos Bar & Grill

Sunday
Sunday Sessions open mic starts at 7 p.m. at William Alexander Wine Studio, 900 S. State St., Lockport (815-834-9463). "All musical talent welcome, please bring your own cords. Keyboard, PA and electric drums provided."

Not sure where T-Bird Huck's band is jamming these days but for many years you could catch his band hosting an open blues jam on Sundays at various venues around Will County. If anybody knows--leave a comment!

Monday
Alex Hoffer hosts acoustic open mic at 8 p.m. at Chicago Street Pub, 75 N. Chicago St., Joliet. (815-727-7171). Predominantly acoustic but the occasional electric player who brings an amp isn't turned away.

If bluegrass is your thing, grab your guitar, banjo, mandolin, upright bass or other acoustic instrument and head to Tribes Alehouse, 9501-R West 171st St., Tinley Park (708-966-2051) for the Weekly Monday Bluegrass Jam, 7 to 10 p.m., hosted by Steve Haberichter of Down Home Guitars in Frankfort. (Note: no jam on Jan. 4 but will resume Jan. 11).


Tuesday
Billy Osman hosts a free electric jam from 7 to 11 p.m. every Tuesday at Gustos Bar & Grill, 2115 Plainfield Road, Crest Hill (815-744-4159). Typically the house band includes Doug Horan on bass and Ted Matichak on drums.  


Also, The Tree of Joliet (formerly Mojoes) hosts an open jam at 22 W. Cass St. in downtown Joliet (815-666-8079). Sign-up starts at 7 p.m., music starts at 8 p.m. "Open jams at the Tree of Joliet on Tuesday nights are available to all musicians, just get up on the big stage (with a sound tech) and rock!! It's that's simple and awesome! Drum kit, guitar amp, bass amp, plug in for acoustic, and mics are all available for use."

Wednesday
Electric Wednesday Open Mic takes place every week at The Drunken Donut, aka The Joliet Bakery,
The Drunken Donut
821 Plainfield Road, Joliet (815-723-8210). Sign up at 8 p.m. with music starting at 8:30. A showcase for the area's exceptional young, original talent. The occasional stand-up comic and acoustic act rounds out what typically is an evening of good, loud rock music with lots of hip-hop, prerecorded beats and jams. It's a donut shop by day, bar/live music venue by night, and Stan the owner/bartender will take good care of you. The jam is expertly hosted by Alex Ziech, and sign up is first come, first choice, so you might want to get there as early as 6:30 to choose your slot. Also demand is so great performance slots are limited to 15 at most, so there's a rule that performers may not play two consecutive weeks.


Also on Wednesdays there's an open mic from 8-11 p.m. at Jenny's Southside Tap (also known as 191 South or Jenny's Steakhouse), 10160 W. 191st St., Mokena 8-11 (708-479-6873).

Thursday
The place to be is the 8 p.m. blues jam every Thursday at Grubens Uptown Tap, 24035 Lockport St., Plainfield. (815-436-9395). Full back line provided with regular appearances by Tut and the Blues Kings and many others. Hosted on alternate weeks by The Billy Osman Band and the Hip Shakin' Party.

It's not a weekly gathering, but it's worth noting that on the third Thursday of each month Kevin Krauss typically hosts an open mic at Chicago Street Pub. 

And on the first Thursday of every month Brian Barry hosts New Lenox's longest-running acoustic open mic at JBD White Horse Inn, 348 W. Maple St. (815-485-4848). Gets underway at 9 p.m.

If you know of other open mics and blues jams in the Joliet area, leave a comment!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

University offends abuse survivors by honoring Joliet bishop



By Ted Slowik

I went to see the movie "Spotlight" about the Boston Globe's groundbreaking coverage of priests who sexually abused children and the bishops and cardinals who covered it up. Had Catholic Church leaders acted differently, predator clergy wouldn't have had access to children. Many people who were harmed would have been spared.

As a reporter for the Joliet Herald News in 2002, I spoke with more than 50 people who were sexually abused as children by Joliet priests. The Joliet Diocese lists on its website 35 priests linked to sexual abuse of children. Hundreds of children were horrifically abused in DuPage, Will and five other counties.

The guy in charge of the Joliet Diocese from 1979 to 2006, when a great number of cases were reported, was Bishop Joseph Imesch. Based on my first-hand interviews with abuse survivors, their parents and diocesan insiders, I firmly believe Joe Imesch cared more about protecting his priests and the reputation of the Church than protecting children from harm.

He'd say, in interviews and in depositions, that he relied on the advice of therapists who assured him the sexual deviants could be treated and returned to service. At other times Joe would say there was a lack of evidence that a crime occurred, or some other lame excuse. I call bullshit on all that.

Joe knew a large number of his priests were doing very bad things with kids. And rather than react with shock and anger that his men were capable of such deeds, he attacked those who came forward to report the crimes. He berated survivors of abuse and their family members. He attempted to discredit them and media who reported on the cases. He used every legal tool at his disposal to make the abuse seem somehow less serious and widespread than it was.

Like "Spotlight" shows, there were a lot of good Catholics in the community who went along with the broken system in a misguided belief that it was for the good of the Church. They were told by guys like Joe Imesch that there were a few bad apples, and they were assured there was no way they'd be able to harm another child.

Then Joe went and placed his bad priests in different parishes where they abused again. And when he ran out of parishes in his seven-county diocese he shipped his bad priests off to other dioceses around the country, to Kentucky, or California. He'd take in bad priests, too, from Michigan and elsewhere. It was a sick system, and Joe was one of the best at it.

Let me make this clear: there is an abundance of indisputable evidence that the actions of Joe Imesch resulted in children being sexually abused by priests that Imesch knew had molested other children. And he's never owned up to that. In no way should Joe Imesch be honored as a good bishop or even a good person.

Which is why it's baffling that Joliet's University of St. Francis honors an educator every year with the Bishop Joseph L. Imesch Award for "Excellence in Teaching." Of all things, to attach Joe's name to an honor bestowed upon someone who works with children defies decency.

I hope University of St. Francis leaders realize that continuing to honor Joe Imesch in this manner offends and insults survivors of childhood sexual abuse. 



Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Getting ready to record a new album!

By Ted Slowik

I'm looking forward to recording several new original songs soon with guitarist Kev Wright and drummer Luke Smith at Jason Botka's Skye Blue Studio in Villa Park, Ill. Kev is wrapping up work there soon on his solo debut, and we'll start working on my songs in December.

This past weekend guitarist extraordinaire Pat Lyons was in town from Austin, Texas. Tim Placher and I hung out at the studio while Pat recorded pedal steel on a couple songs on Kev's forthcoming album, "Journey Road." Pat's band Safe Haven played Tim's festival Shindig at the Shanty a couple years ago, and multi-instrumentalist Steve Haberichter of Down Home Guitars connected Kev with Pat.
Pat Lyons, Kev Wright, Jason Botka and Tim Placher in studio Nov. 15.

I owe a big thanks to photographer friend Steve Woltmann for taking pictures for the new album. The scene is in Plano, Ill., outside a bar that was painted with a big American flag for the Superman movie that was filmed there a few years ago. Thanks also to "Comfort Zone" photographer Brian Powers for suggesting the location.

I recently launched a crowdfunding campaign to help cover the costs of recording. You can support at www.GoFundMe.com/TedSlowik. You can pre-order the CD or support the project at a higher level and get some cool rewards.

The New York Times recently wrote about how online begging is the new economy. I only ask because I really need the support. I recently left my full-time job at North Central College and have a temporary, part-time position at Morton Arboretum while I seek the next full-time opportunity. I know the employment situation will work out fine. The timing of this project is such that I have a chance to record with Kev, Jason and Luke, and I aim to make the most of this opportunity!

I've been working with Kev for nearly two years, and he's the best friend my music has ever had! His guitar instruction has improved my musicianship tremendously. He's also become a very good friend, and he's collaboratively offered suggestions about the new material that have made the songs much better.

About a year ago I said I'd take some time off from live performances to focus on becoming a better musician. Lots of artists have done this. A disappointed Bill Murray lived out of the public eye in France for four years after making the film "The Razor's Edge." John Lennon stopped making music for five years when his son Sean was born, and was just resuming his recording career when he was murdered. At the height of his popularity, Bob Dylan dropped out of the public eye for six years following a motorcycle crash.

And I believe Robert Johnson didn't sell his soul to the devil at the crossroads. He just went off by himself for a while and learned to play the damn guitar!

So that's what I've been doing, even though I've made many exceptions and have played publicly at open mics, festivals and other occasions this year. The point is, I feel like I've accomplished what I set out to do, which was to become a better musician by gaining a better understanding of musical theory and techniques.

I've learned a lot, especially in the past year, not just about music but about storytelling, and happiness. I know now that if you're unhappy, you should change your situation. Also that happiness comes from within, and that if you rely on others for happiness you're setting yourself up for disappointment.

Anyway, this batch of songs is great and I know Jason's going to do an amazing job recording them and Kev and Luke are going to make everything sound awesome. It's going to be a lot of fun and I'm looking forward to these recording sessions!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

‘Firefly’ reveals greatness of Edward David Anderson’s songwriting


By Ted Slowik
All nine songs on Edward David Anderson’s new album “Lower Alabama: The Loxley Sessions” are masterfully written stories about life, love, loss and other themes.
The tunes were skillfully recorded this year by longtime Neil Young sideman Anthony Crawford, who produced the record and who plays fiddle, pedal steel, bass and other instruments. The release on the Royal Potato Family label is Anderson’s follow-up to his solo debut, “Lies & Wishes,” produced by Steve Berlin of Los Lobos.
One song in particular reveals Anderson’s songwriting artistry: the lead track, “Firefly.”
Anderson, the bearded former frontman for Backyard Tire Fire, says he originally wrote and recorded “Firefly” about 20 years ago when he was playing with the Bloomington, Ill.-based band Brother Jed.
He planned to record eight songs at Crawford’s Admiral Bean Studio in Orange Beach, Ala., where Anderson snowbirds to escape the harsh Illinois winters. But he snuck in “Firefly” as the ninth song, he told National Public Radio affiliate WGLT-FM in a Nov. 3 radio interview.
“I completely re-arranged it, put it in a different key, kind of changed the feel and cadence and rewrote some of the words,” Anderson said. “But the chorus is the same, and (the song is) the same principle.”
That principle captures the essence of life from the perspective of a veteran songwriter and touring musician. It’s the principle of the rolling stone that Muddy Waters first wrote about in 1950, which inspired The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and countless others. It’s a sentiment shared by songs about shooting stars, or ones about it being better to burn out than to fade away.
A rolling stone or a meteor have brief life expectancies, but they’re characterized by brilliant bursts of energy. That sentiment may also characterize the life of a rock star, the poet, or anyone who appreciates that life is short. The Latin expression “ars longa, vita brevis,” typically translated as “life is short, art is eternal,” sums it up well.
As does Anderson’s song “Firefly.” A lightning bug’s life expectancy is but a few weeks, but the creature spreads light and beauty during its existence. “Don’t want to grow up but time don’t stop,” Anderson writes. Time waits for no one, but Anderson leaves you feeling like it’s never too late to have a happy childhood.
The chorus of “Firefly” brilliantly captures what it means to live like a rolling stone:
You can give in and do what you’re told
You waste away and you grow old
Or you can shine brightly and light up the sky, yeah you
Light up the sky like a firefly

In the 65 years since McKinley Morganfield first penned a song that distilled into music the essence of restlessness, wanderlust and the release of kinetic energy, many have attempted to replicate the spirit of that expression. Few have accomplished it as well as Anderson.

Anderson's video for "Firefly" features footage filmed by his wife, Kim.

And that’s just the first track on “The Loxley Sessions.” The other eight songs are all superbly crafted tales with wonderful melodies and exquisite arrangements.



Firefly     by Edward David Anderson

Cornfield full of fireflies, well I’m
Driving west into the clear dark night
Got a destination with no place to go,
Got a destination with no place to go

Midlife crisis, it’s one and two
Just trying to figure out what I want to do
Well I don’t want to grow up but time don’t stop, said
I don’t want to grow up but time don’t stop

You can give in and do what you’re told
You waste away and you grow old
Or you can shine brightly and light up the sky, yeah you
Light up the sky like a firefly

No one’s come along to steal my heart
They may not, now and that’s the scary part
Everybody seeks love everybody fears it
Everybody needs love and everybody’s scared

You can give in and do what you’re told
You waste away and you grow old
Or you can shine brightly and light up the sky, yeah you
Light up the sky like a firefly
Light up the sky like a firefly

I’m in the shadows, next day the light
I’m turned around I don’t know wrong from right
I’m off my path, I’ve lost my way
I’m thinking back to what a young man used to say

He said, you can give in and do what you’re told
You waste away and you grow old
Or you can shine brightly and light up the sky, yeah you
Light up the sky just like a firefly

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Classic sounds abound on new Jeff Givens album recorded in Muscle Shoals

By Ted Slowik


If seasoned troubadour Jeff Givens had written “make a kick-ass rock record” on his bucket list, he could now cross that off.

The drummer-turned-singer/songwriter has self-released his second full-length, “Midnight in Muscle Shoals.” The basic tracks were recorded by John Gifford III at legendary Fame Recording Studios in northwest Alabama’s famous home of “The Swampers” rhythm section, where the likes of Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett and Duane Allman laid tracks.

“Midnight in Muscle Shoals” is full of wailing guitar licks, lushly layered vocal harmonies and sweetly selected instrumental accompaniments atop tight drum tracks. Fans of southern rock will find a lot to like about this record, Givens’ follow-up to 2012’s “Bourbon Cowboy.”

If “Midnight in Muscle Shoals” sounds a lot like a record by The Righteous Hillbillies, that’s because all the tracks feature guitarist Kev Wright, who recently left the band, and drummer Barret Harvey. The connections don’t end there. The Hillbillies also recorded their new album at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, and Givens’ touring band, The Mugshot Saints, includes former Hillbillies bassist Johnny Gadeikis. T.C. Dolgin plays bass on the record, Jennifer Botka sings backing vocals and Pat Otto lends mandolin to a couple tracks.

Like recent recordings by the Hillbillies, the songs on “Midnight in Muscle Shoals” sound like they belong on any of the 1970s-era albums by The Rolling Stones. Wright’s slick slide guitar work and Harvey’s crisp beats propel the tracks, which are produced by Givens’ longtime collaborator Jason Botka. Many tracks were added at Botka’s Skye Bleu Studios in suburban Chicago.

At its best, “Midnight in Muscle Shoals” is an ideal soundtrack for a long ride on a highway. Tracks like “Long Weekend” and “Hard Livin’” are not only expertly performed by gifted musicians, they’re delivered with Givens’ honestly passionate vocals. The melodies are catchy and the music’s fantastic. The songs are about recurring working-man themes, including drinking in bars and paychecks not going far enough.
Photos by Michelle Gadeikis
Givens is a Tennessee native who was raised in the Chicago area, where he continues to make his home. He calls himself a “rock and roll gypsy,” and an “authentic prince of skid row.” While performing, he’s been known to command an audience to “holler and swaller” by first whooping, then drinking.

Musically, Givens worked as a drummer for many years, and his songs are informed by real-life experiences on the road. His resume includes performing with guitarist Joe Perry of Aerosmith, blues legend Buddy Guy and the late Jay Bennett of Wilco.

“Everybody’s got a story, everybody’s got a dream, I’m filling up this notebook with what happens in between,” he sings on “Livin’ the Dream.”

Givens writes all but one of the 12 songs on “Midnight in Muscle Shoals.” While the songs are sonically superb, one will be disappointed if he seeks Dylan-like depth in the lyrics. This record is reminiscent of a Ringo Starr album in that one can take ordinary, everyday songs, get some fabulous musician friends to record them and end up with great-sounding music that eventually lands you in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Givens’ songs are honest, authentic reflections of his life.

“The most difficult ones are the most intimate ones,” he told WXAV-FM 88.3 in a radio interview. He went on to describe how “Last of a Dying Breed,” a song on the new record, was written about his 80-year-old father, who still rides his Harley thousands of miles of year. “It was a real emotional process,” Givens told the interviewer.

Writing good songs isn’t easy, regardless of what anybody says, and only a gifted few can do it consistently. Equally challenging is recording a full-length album of timeless sounds that are worth listening to over and over again, and Givens might have accomplished that with “Midnight in Muscle Shoals.”

The Mugshot Saints


Learn more at jeffgivens.com. "Midnight in Muscle Shoals" is available for sale on CD Baby.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

A revelation about what to do next creatively

By Ted Slowik

Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe
I've been thinking a lot lately about what to do next, creatively, in my free time.

Free time is a precious thing, and it shouldn't be squandered. Take it from someone who's been dead for six minutes. There are better ways to spend your time than binge-watching Netflix on the couch. Trust me.

It's taken six months to figure out what I want to do next. For the past several years I've focused on music. And I feel I've become a much better songwriter, musician, performer, vocalist and recording artist. I still enjoy music very much and plan to continue making it whenever I want. And it'll make me happy and be fun.

But I've felt for some time that music is not my true calling, and that writing is. The question I've been trying to answer is, what to write? Nonfiction or fiction? A novel or short stories? What do I have to say that's worth saying?

The answer came to me while I was camping in Florida this past week. My sister Liz, with whom I've always been especially close, loaned me the Patti Smith book "Just Kids." I've been reading a lot of rock bios and memoirs lately, about Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Keith Richards, Patti Boyd, Roy Buchanan and others. "Just Kids" may be the best-written I've read. It won the 2010 National Book Award for Nonfiction.

I didn't know much about Patti Smith. "Just Kids" tells the story of Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe starting out as starving artists in New York in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It's a beautiful love story, and the book is a fine showcase for Smith's skills as a writer thanks to her lifelong love for poetry.

Arthur Rimbaud
Smith was greatly influenced by the French poet Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891), one of the greatest poets ever to have lived, ever though he only created for a brief period in his late teens. He famously wrote to a friend the following lines that described his decadent behavior:

"I'm now making myself as scummy as I can. Why? I want to be a poet, and I'm working at turning myself into a seer. You won't understand any of this, and I'm almost incapable of explaining it to you. The idea is to reach the unknown by the derangement of all the senses. It involves enormous suffering, but one must be strong and be a born poet. It's really not my fault."

I could relate to the notion that complete commitment to one's craft is necessary to create art that is truly worthwhile and lasting. And maybe the young can do it. That is, live irresponsibly and in poverty for a few years. But not old people with bills and mortgages and responsibilities and day jobs.

Because face it, if you were any good as an artist or musician at age 50, you'd be doing it full-time.

I'll be honest. Since the heart attack a year ago I've wondered at times why I'm still here. What's my purpose?

So after reading Smith's book I realized I should write the story of how my wife Jo and I met and fell in love.
First date, Valentine's Day 1985

This works for a number of reasons. First of all, I cannot think of subject matter more personal and meaningful. Family is most important, after all, and I'll write the story so our kids Hannah and Noah will always know how much I loved their mother.

The timing seems right. Has it really been 30 years? Gosh, seems like yesterday. I remember well the love I felt for Jo and there are still many of our friends around I could talk to in order to gain additional details and perspectives.

It solves the dilemma of what to do as a creative outlet other than music that is purposeful and rewarding and without regard to any sense of commercial success. Ours is a beautiful story, and I intend to write it for an audience of three people, as best as I can. I expect the process of telling this story will require a great deal of time and effort.

That's OK. I can continue doing other musical and writing projects while working on this story. Maybe my purpose for being here is to tell this story. There is universal truth in love and beauty.
Honeymoon in California, 1990








Monday, March 9, 2015

Crossing the 10k YouTube milestone with "Refugee Blues"

By Ted Slowik









Just a short post today as I'm camping in Florida and reception is spotty. But, hey, "Refuee Blues" topped 10,000 views on YouTube. It's cool, they send you an email. Thanks Celeste Mackey for inviting me to do a dramatic reading of this for her Literature of the Holocaust class three years ago. Here's the link. 



Sunday, March 1, 2015

Fun times during Allison Flood show at Chicago Street Pub

By Ted Slowik
Allison Flood and friends

Last night was a blast hanging out at Chicago Street Pub in Joliet for the celebration of Allison Flood's solo debut "Blackbird" on the Flipside Works label.
Eric Johnson, Allison Flood, John Condron

I reviewed the CD just a few weeks ago on this blog, and the review also was featured on No Depression. I don't have anything new to say about Allison's music since then but I do want to share a few pictures of the fun evening with friends.
Allison Flood, Denise Hegarty, Jill Condron

Chicago Street Pub is a wonderful place, and I've described many times how it's the hub of great live, local, original music in Will County. It's important to remember it's people who make places special. The interactions you have with them, the good times you share and the memories you create are what matter.

Triz
So, thanks Mike and Kathy Trizna for keeping the Pub going these many years and for supporting original music.


Sunday, February 22, 2015

Why "Wrigley Field" deserves to be the next Cubs theme song

By Ted Slowik

Last month Chicago Tribune writer Mark Caro started a movement to retire the 1984 Steve Goodman tune "Go, Cubs, Go" as the quasi-official Cubs theme song, played over the PA in Wrigley Field after Cubs victories since 2007.

Mark's been on WGN radio talking about his campaign and last week the movement got a boost from Dan Bernstein, co-host of 670 The Score’s “Boers and Bernstein Show.”A contest is underway to see if there's a song out there that might be a worthy successor to "Go, Cubs, Go."

This week I entered an original, "Wrigley Field," which friend Kev Wright helped record. Here's why it deserves consideration.

First, I'm a lifelong Cubs fan, just as passionate about the team as Goodman was. My lyrics are sung from the heart, with more than 40 years of rooting for the team. As a Chicagoan I've cheered on the Bears, Blackhawks, Bulls and White Sox. But my love for the Cubs dates back to the mid-1970s.

I'll tell you exactly why there's nothing else quite like being a Cubs fan. It has something to do with the fact that Wrigley Field was the only park in all of Major League Baseball that didn't have lights, until 1988. That, and the championship drought that dates back to their last World Series win in 1908. Being a Cubs fan is special. When they do eventually win another championship it's going to be the biggest party ever, and I want to experience the full effect of that.

My brothers Frank and Mike are big Cubs fans. Every year for as long as I can remember a group of us have gone down to see the Cubs play in Wrigley Field. We tailgate near Belmont Harbor off Recreation Drive, walk to the park and always have a great time. I don't really have opinions about the gentrification of the Wrigleyville and Lakeview neighborhoods, the quality of the talent on the field or ownership decisions about Wrigley Field renovations. For me, the Cubs are about spending quality time together with family, and there's nothing more meaningful in life.

Not only do I have a Steve Goodman-like love for the team, the song "Wrigley Field" is a sincere ode to the joys of Cubdom. It's short and sweet. The melody is catchy, the tempo is upbeat and the words are simple. You can watch the video entry here or listen to an audio version of it here.

Finally, just a little bit of fun history about this song. Three years ago WGN radio sponsored a similar contest. When I learned of the contest in February 2012 I wrote "Wrigley Field" on a Saturday night, recorded a sloppy audio demo and submitted my entry via email.

Then an incredible thing happened. On Monday morning, Jonathan Brandmeier played my song on his WGN radio show. This was less than 48 hours after the song came into existence. I knew then it was good. Sure, the recording was amateurish and it didn't make the voting round. But the tune is worthy. It's a good song, and deserves consideration to become the next Cubs theme song.



Saturday, February 14, 2015

What's next for ex-Righteous Hillbillies cofounder Kev Wright?

Michelle Gadeikis photo
By Ted Slowik

Guitarist Kev Wright announced this week that he has parted ways with The Righteous Hillbillies, the band he cofounded eight years ago with Brent James.

In a Feb. 11 Facebook post, Kev said "with a heavy heart" that the split was mutual and "for personal and creative reasons." A post on the Hillbillies' Facebook page signed by Brent, bassist Jeff Bella and drummer Barret Harvey said "with regret" that Kev was no longer with the band, which will resume live shows in May and will announce Kev's replacement "when the time is right."

The timing of the split is difficult, as the band has just wrapped work on its third album, recorded at legendary Fame studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala., produced by Craig Bishop and funded by money raised through Kickstarter. Kev wrote seven songs on the new album, Brent wrote three and they co-wrote two. Kev has always been the band's lead guitarist while Brent remains lead singer and now sole remaining original member.

It's hard to imagine the Hillbillies without Kev. The band's bio for the 2010 Grundy County Corn Festival tells its 2007 inception as well as any version, recounting how John Condron bestowed the band's name when Kev and Brent were playing as an acoustic duo following the split of Brent's band The Stone City Stragglers. (The two had previously played together in The Brent James Band, so their friendship goes way back.)

Kev's hands (Andy Goodwin photo)
What can fans expect from Kev, who turns 60 next month, now that he's left the Hillbillies? Probably more live acoustic performances, a solo album that he begins recording in March and plenty of fine guitar work on songs he writes and sings. There's no doubt Kev's desire to sing and play more of his own material contributed to his decision to leave the band.

Kev's songwriting and vocals have always been exceptional, though largely overlooked for the past decade because of his lead guitar abilities. Consider his song "Journey Road," which appears on The Brent James Band album "The Road Less Traveled." "You can spend your whole life worrying, thinking about your 'could have beens,'" Kev writes, though he says his late grandfather wrote all the words to the song through wisdom he directly imparted to Kev.

The band's version is slickly produced with lush harmonies and instrumentation, but on the day of his announcement Kev posted an acoustic demo of "Journey Road" that is beautiful in its simplicity and hauntingly prescient in its meaning. Kev seems like a man with purpose, and that is to share his gifts for creating music in ways that can't always be realized by a four-piece southern rock band with two electric guitars, bass and drums.

More recent clues hint at the direction Kev is headed. The Hillbillies played an all-acoustic show Jan. 25 at Chicago Street Pub In Joliet, IL, its first and now it would seem only such show, at least with Kev in the lineup. Before a packed house on a Sunday afternoon the band re-imagined its roadhouse setlist by squeezing every bit of tenderness out of tunes that have always resonated well with crowds at loud volumes and high energy levels.

The Mug Shot Saints
Also, Kev has performed acoustically recently with "Bourbon Cowboy" Jeff Givens and the Mug Shot Saints, including Dec. 19 at Metro in Chicago and Feb. 4 at Schubas. The band includes Jason Botka and Johnny Gadeikis, another ex-Stone City Straggler who played bass with the Hillbillies until 2014."It's good to play with Johnny again," Kev said.

Kev has publicly shared many demo recordings that showcase his songwriting and singing. His writing shows the influence of Woody Guthrie, Robert Johnson and others. His compositions range from straight-ahead rock of "Black Jack Mama" to the tender ballad "I Could..." Kev also displays a social conscience. "This Is America" is an angry ode about income inequality. Kev can do it all, but sounds best when he's tapping his deepest inspirations, like the swampy "Gasoline."

Take a listen to this beautifully melodic Leo Kottke-like instrumental "Winter." Then this live recording of "County Jail." It's not hard to imagine the future Kev performing solo with a bass drum and multiple instruments much like the post-Backyard Tire Fire Edward David Anderson.

In more than one way, this week's announcement signals that Kev has come full circle these past eight years since he and Brent decided to put away the acoustic guitars and go electric with the Hillbillies. The band would be well-served to carry on with a lead guitar gunslinger, one content to contribute the occasional vocal and songwriting duty.

But Kev is so much more than just an amazing lead guitarist. He's a deep soul with something to say who can write lyrics and tell stories in honest and heartfelt ways. Kev plays his songs with superb musicianship and vocals laden with emotion. His voice needs to be heard.









Saturday, February 7, 2015

Allison Flood shines on solo debut "Blackbird"

By Ted Slowik

Good things are worth waiting for, especially debut solo albums nearly a decade in the making.

Nine years after her band Stone City Stragglers delivered its third and final album, Allison Flood has released her solo debut on the Flipside Works label. "Blackbird" is a five-song collection of beautifully crafted originals delivered with ethereal harmonies, expert instrumentation and exquisite production by John Condron with assistance from Bill Aldridge of Third City Sound in Joliet, Illinois.

She was known as Allison Moroni back when she was in the Stragglers with five bandmates including Brent James, who continued his career with The Righteous Hillbillies. Since then she's had two kids with musician/firefighter Chris Flood, who says, "I loved her music so much I married her. (Her) first solo record is delayed because I keep getting her pregnant."

The songs on "Blackbird" are about relationships, though they also work as precious stories told by a young mother re-entering the music business after an absence. In the opener "Harbor" she sings, "I've been lost and I've been found, I've been somewhere in between, now I call this house a home, still feel like I'm lost at sea." And when she sings in the chorus, "Won't you find your way back to me?" she could easily be addressing the Stragglers' extensive following, asking old fans to rediscover her music.

The Stragglers were a big regional draw a decade ago. A Chicago Reader preview of the band's appearance at the 2005 Chicago Country Music Festival noted, "This Joliet sextet stands tall among this year's Taste Stage acts thanks to the sweet harmonies of Brent James and Allison Moroni, whose voices casually intertwine a la Gram and Emmylou."

Harmonies are the highlight of "Blackbird," though there's nothing lacking about the musicianship, either. The backing vocals and accompaniment on "Ties That Bind" create a Fleetwood Mac-like vibe; sounds created by guitars, harmonium and other instruments are appropriately woven among Flood's sparse acoustic guitar. There's not a note or sound that seems out of place in the 20-minute collection.

Yet it's the vocals on "Blackbird" that stand out, which speaks to the strength of the songwriting and lyrics in particular. When, on "Things Dead & Gone," she sings, "It isn't easier to lie when no one's listening to you," is she saying that during her hiatus she remained true to her musical calling? And in "Come To Me," when she sings about distance between people she's surely telling a story about estranged lovers, though read another way she could just as easily be talking about the fans who loved her in the Stragglers.

In the closer "Easy" she sings, "I never knew it would be so easy to forget me." 

Fans of Allison Flood's music are about to discover how wonderful it is to hear new music from her again.

The release of "Blackbird" will be celebrated with a performance featuring appearances by Brian Motyll, Matt Biskie and others on Saturday, Feb. 28 at Chicago Street Pub, 75 N. Chicago St., Joliet, IL. 



 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The story behind the new song "Mama"

By Ted Slowik

Yesterday was a very special day. At a family gathering celebrating our Mom's 89th birthday, I played her the new song I wrote called "Mama," which she inspired.

The performance took place in front of about 25 family members at Salerno's in Hodgkins. You can watch a video of the performance here.

Our mom, Dr. Clare Slowik, is an amazing person. Not only did she raise 12 kids, she went back to school, earned a doctorate and was a professor of nursing at Lewis University. She's so special the Sunday Chicago Tribune published a front-page feature about her on Mother's Day, 1989.

The notion of performing the song for her on her birthday didn't occur to me until a few days ago, and after running the idea by my wife Jo and sister Liz and receiving their support I decided it would be a nice gift for Mom.

I'm fascinated by how artists create tangible works out of thin air. A song, written story, painting or other piece starts with an idea in the mind of the creator. It is first imagined, then realized.

The idea for "Mama" came about in mid-December. I was preparing to write new material and thinking, "What subjects matter most to me?" Since I'm planning to write a collection of new songs I'd recently been thinking about my favorite albums, and it occurred to me that John Lennon's solo debut "Plastic Ono Band" opens with the track "Mother." Eureka! I had my first topic.

I'd written about family before, and composed the historical story "Slowiks" for my parents' 50th wedding anniversary in 1995. I'll always remember playing it for them, sitting at their kitchen table. For Mom's song, I didn't want to write a literal story of her life. Instead, I wanted to tap into a "universal truth" about a child's love for his mother and create a work that others could relate to.

It started with the first line. I'd be driving to and from work thinking of truths to say about Mom and I came up with: "Mama is the greatest person that I ever met." The melody flowed instantly from that first line. Over the next week or so I'd think of more lines and scribble them on scraps of paper until on Dec. 30 I had the whole thing mapped out in my head.

That night after my neighbor Scott Kinsella's annual Risk game I came home, picked up the Martin acoustic guitar, strummed a G chord and played it through for the first time. Here's a video of that play-through. Notice how I sing the melody in a low register for the first few lines before settling on a more comfortable range. You're watching creativity as it happens, folks! What had been imagined in my mind became, at that moment, something able to be appreciated by others. It was rough, but fully realized.

Next I wanted to record an audio demo. I imagined electric guitars, drums, backing vocals and all kinds of notes and sounds, only some of which I was able to capture on the first audio demo, which you can listen to here. It was recorded Jan. 2. I love the sound of the Gibson ES335, which musician/architect friend Laurance Glasser recently got sounding great again!

Next, I played the song for my guitar teacher Kev Wright during a lesson, which you can watch here. Kev offered excellent suggestions, including adding a stop before the solo. (I liked the tip so much I also added one to the first verse). When we played the song through together, I started the solo on the low G note, third fret on the top E string. As a 30-year bassist I'm comfortable around low notes, and that's where Kev showed me patterns like the "blues box" when we began our lessons together a year ago. I eventually work my way up to find where to play scales in the middle and top of the neck, but I often start low.

Well, Kev heard that and shared another great idea. He thought his Eastwood Sidejack Baritone guitar would sound great on the song, so he loaned it to me. I agreed it would add a really cool sound, so yesterday I recorded another audio demo of the song with the Eastwood, which you can listen to here.

Structurally, I think of this song as having "sections" as opposed to choruses and verses. Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney wrote many songs that way. The melody is determined by the phrasing of the lyrics, so the chord changes are not always the same way because each line of lyric is different.

So for all you songwriting aficionados that's the anatomy of how the new song came to be. Thanks for reading and if you're able to be sure to let your Mama know you love her!



"Mama"  Words and music by Ted Slowik

Mama is the greatest person that I ever met
She loved me unconditionally that I won’t forget
Mama always knew when I was lying
She always figured out when I wasn’t trying
How she knew I’ll never know

Mama is a saint you know I pray to her every day
She showed me how to do that so I wouldn’t lose my way
She taught me how to tell between what’s wrong and what is right
And how to solve your problems without getting into fights

Mama always knew what I was I doing
She always sensed when there was trouble brewing
And how to work it out

(solo)

Mama always said the best is yet to come
And the secret to life is to keep on having fun

Mama listens to me when nobody else will
She always sees right through me and yet she loves me still
Mama has to leave you know I hate to see her go
I love her with all my heart that I’m sure she knows



Sunday, January 11, 2015

Brian Motyll makes impressive musical debut

Brian Motyll at Chicago Street Pub 1-9-15 (Chris Flood photo)
By Ted Slowik

The pool of artistic and musical talent runs deep and wide in Joliet and Will County, with veterans creating new material all the time and new performers constantly coming onto the scene.

Brian Motyll, a 22-year-old from New Lenox, is a newcomer who made his debut Jan. 9 before a packed house at Chicago Street Pub, opening for Charlie Champene. Brian performed regularly at an open mic hosted by John Condron at Tribes Alehouse in Mokena, but this was his first billed, extended live performance.

Brian's a great acoustic guitar picker and songwriter who delivers his tunes with a heartfelt sincerity. His voice has an endearing raspiness, and he's already quite poised as a performer for such a young talent. (He wore an eye patch due to recent surgery.)

"Opal" by Brian Motyll album artwork
His Chicago Street set included material from his just-released collection of 10 original tracks. He makes the digital album "Opal" (by riverhorse) available through Bandcamp for free downloading or voluntary donations.

He calls his work "bedroom music," meaning these are home recordings. The recording quality is very good, though. In addition to guitar, Brian plays piano and bass and adds in a variety of vocal and percussion sounds. Scott Ahlgrim receives credit for playing drums on four of the 10 tracks.

"Opal" showcases Brian's songwriting and ability to create melancholy-like moods with his music. Songs like "County Fair" feature sticky melodies and steady rhythms. He's got a solid grasp of phrasing, and his lyrics reflect a maturity beyond his 22 years. "I Think It's Time" contains the line "I'm so scared of getting lost but I'm not afraid to die."
Brian Motyll

Brian paid me a huge honor by performing one my songs at his debut. His beautifully played cover of "No Tomorrow" moved me deeply. It's the first time I've heard someone else play one of my tunes, and as a songwriter there's no greater feeling. (Friends Tim Placher, Allison Flood and Dan Dougherty have played "Red Rover" but I wasn't there to hear them.)

Headliner Charlie Champene is a veteran of the local scene who continues to grow and develop as a performer, songwriter, vocalist and recording artist and is finishing up work on a new collection of recordings.

Charlie Champene at Chicago Street Pub 1-9-15 (Chris Flood photo)


















Sunday, January 4, 2015

Alex Hoffer Band rocks with debut release

Alex Hoffer Band Jan. 2 at Mojoes
By Ted Slowik

Growth can be a remarkable thing. In a relatively short amount of time, talented artists who work hard, make wise choices and remain true to their vision can flourish in stunning fashion.

Such is the case with Joliet-area songwriter, vocalist and guitarist Alex Hoffer. His growth as a musician, performer and recording artist in the past year is nothing short of amazing. He's always been gifted with a great voice and displayed wonderful guitar-playing and songwriting talent. Now, joined by an incredibly talented cast of friends and musicians, Alex has taken his music to another level.

On Friday, Jan. 2, the Alex Hoffer Band celebrated the release of its debut studio recording "Free From Apathy" with a powerful performance at Mojoes in Joliet on a bill that included Mr. Blotto. The live band, also featured on the recording, includes the great Giles Corey on guitar, Pat Otto on mandolin, Tom Maslowski on bass and Don Nudi on drums.

The tracks on "Free From Apathy" showcase Hoffer's powerful voice and the band's expert musicianship. Songs like "Keep Searching" are rousing jams, with alternating solos by Corey and Otto. The four-song collection (five, if you count the hidden track) is available through 3011 Records, which is also the label of Chicago's Howard and the White Boys. Guitarist Pete Galanis of that band guests on a couple tracks on Hoffer's record.

Maslowski, Nudi and Otto also are members of John Condron and the Old Gang Orchestra and have a comfortable musical repartee that comes with repeated experience performing together. Corey rounds out the lineup with a musical energy and brilliance that infuses the band's sound with a romping goodness and fun.

Corey (a.k.a. Andrew Osis) is a veteran of the musical project Lubriphonic that included Buddy Guy keyboardist Marty Sammon, who continues to work with Corey in a new band. The 2014 debut "Giles Corey's Stoned Soul" released on Chicago's Delmark Records received great reviews from Blues Blast Magazine, the Chicago Blues Guide and others.

In sum, Hoffer is collaborating with some of the best players around today, and his live performances and debut studio recording reflect a maturity and musical excellence that show he's come a long way in his development as an artist.