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Sunday, September 18, 2016

Attempting a first: Performing Lennon's solo debut in its entirety

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By Ted Slowik
It's exciting to do something no one has ever tried to do before.
As best I can tell, there has never been a live performance of  “John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band” in its entirety. Not by Lennon himself, not by any other band or group of people, or by any individual.
An extensive online search revealed no other documented live performances of the 11-song collection.
That's why I'm looking forward to performing Lennon's debut solo album with five other musicians at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 22, in the Studio Theatre at Lewis University, 1 University Parkway, Romeoville. Tickets are $10 and may be reserved by calling 815-836-5500. Proceeds will benefit Heritage Theatre Company, a troupe that includes alumni of Lewis University’s Philip Lynch Theatre.
Performers include Robyn Castle of Joliet, Clarence Goodman of Chicago, Ron Kostka of Minooka, Tim Placher of Joliet and Kev Wright of New Lenox.
“John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band” was released on Dec. 11, 1970, in the United States and United Kingdom to critical acclaim. The album features Lennon, Ringo Starr on drums and Klaus Voorman on bass. Producer Phil Spector and Billy Preston each play piano on one song, and Yoko Ono contributes as well.
Rolling Stone magazine ranked the album No. 23 on its 2010 list of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time.”
“Also known as the ‘primal scream’ album, referring to the painful therapy that gave rise to its songs, ‘Plastic Ono Band was John Lennon’s first proper solo album and rock & roll's most self-revelatory recording,” Rolling Stone said.
“Lennon attacks and ­denies idols and icons, including his own former band (‘I don't believe in Beatles,’ he sings in ‘God’), to hit a pure, raw core of confession that, in its echo-drenched, garage-rock crudity, is years ahead of punk,” according to Rolling Stone.
Many artists have performed Beatles albums in their entirety, from Cheap Trick doing "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" in Las Vegas in 2009 to Phish performing "The White Album" on Halloween, 1994 in Glens Falls, N.Y.
But "Plastic Ono Band" presents unique challenges in the vocals and instrumentation, which may be why it's never been performed live. Foremost are the famous Lennon "primal screams" on songs like "Mother" and "Well Well Well." These performances sound like Lennon shredded his vocal cords and lacerated his larynx.
Then there's the musical accompaniment. Most songs feature just bass and drums backing up Lennon on vocals and either guitar or piano. Three tracks are just Lennon and an acoustic guitar. Easy, right?
While the playing is simple and at times sloppy, timing is critical. I hope the performance captures the energy and raw emotion of the album. It's not intended to be a note-for-note replication of the collection.
I think a key reason no one has tried to perform the album in its entirety before now is that the songs are intensely personal. John was sorting out some pretty heavy stuff at the time, not the least of which was the breakup of The Beatles. Four of the songs mention his parents. It's clear his therapy sessions must have included confronting feelings of abandonment.
My main reason for wanting to perform this album is to honor the brilliance of the songwriting. The songs, many with simple one-word titles, ("God," "Love," "Mother,") tap into universal truths. The lyrics are honest, personal and confessional. I could see how the words could make some people feel uncomfortable.
The performance will include strong language featured in Lennon’s lyrics. The performance of the album is estimated at 45 minutes. Following an intermission, participating artists will perform other material, including original compositions.
This will be the fourth consecutive year Heritage Theatre Company has presented an Alumni Connections Concert in October at Lewis University. Visit www.lewisu.edu/plt to learn more.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Musician friends lend talents for new album

By Ted Slowik

CD copies of "Second Chance," my sophomore collection of studio recordings, arrived in the mail on Aug. 20, capping an exciting growth spurt as a songwriter and musician.

I began writing songs for the album before the debut, "Comfort Zone," was even finished, in 2014. My friend and teacher Kev Wright listened to a couple dozen demos of songs and helped narrow the song choices down to the eight I could afford to record.

Kev's been a tremendous help throughout the process, starting with the remarkable improvement he's helped me realize as a guitarist. He also offered great suggestions on the music, lyrics and structure of the songs, and all his ideas made them better, I think.

Recording began in fall 2015 at Jason Botka's Skye Bleu Studios in Villa Park, IL. Jason was great to work with and also provided valuable input on accompaniment choices, arrangements and lyrics. Johnny Gadeikis came up with some great bass parts, and all the songs are built around the foundation of Luke Smith's excellent drumming.

Jason played mandolin, keyboards and harmonica on songs, and his wife Jen created beautiful vocal harmonies, especially on "Sand Castles." We brought in violinist Katie Bern, who played a wonderful track on "Could Be Heaven." (Note to self: Next time you write a song with violin, choose a key other than A-flat.)

I'm thrilled with how the songs and the recording turned out. Kev's teaching has improved my vocals a lot, and I write to my abilities with the newer songs. Five of the eight tracks are new songs. The old ones are "Sand Castles," "Act of God" and "America."

I especially like Kev's slide guitar on "Back To You." It's a haunting sound, and a really skilled touch. Kev said it was the quietest he's ever played a track, but the tone is crystal clear and there's no trace of fret buzz or any other noise. It's really beautiful.

I love all the songs, especially "Perfect." When you write songs, you love them all when they're finished. Only time will tell whether they hold up. I also like "No Tomorrow" and "These Walls" a lot. I hope listeners understand that while I wrote these songs to relate my personal experiences, I tried to frame the stories in universal truths. Hopefully listeners can relate the songs to their own experiences.

I appreciate everyone who supported the album through the GoFundMe campaign, especially Dr. Clare Slowik, Liz Slowik, Bud & Mary Jo Slowik, Mike Slowik, Tim Placher, Scott and Daina Kinsella, Andrew Ndoca, Terry Kinn, Debi Ross, Leslie Stachura, Jodi Wartenberg & Gregg Vershay, Colin Walsh, John Goins, Ellen Dooley and Mary Kay Hyett.

Special thanks to Steve Woltmann for taking such fantastic pictures for the album cover a year ago in Plano, where a "Superman" movie was filmed. "Comfort Zone" photographer Brian Powers actually suggested the location a few years ago. My daughter Hannah made some great suggestions to improve the album cover design. WTS Media printed the CDs.

I've mailed copies to all the supporters. I still have much to do, including making the songs available for purchase online. For now, if you'd like to order a copy contact me at tedslowik@hotmail.com. I'll mail you a copy for $12. As always, visit the website, tedslowikmusic.com, to learn more.



Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Brothers Brown tap Americana roots with “Dusty Road”

By Ted Slowik


Change is constant, and those best able to adapt to change are most likely to survive. Two musician/producers both named Paul Brown are rolling with the changes and proving baby boom-era types can create relevant Americana music today.
“Dusty Road” is a 12-song debut by The Brothers Brown, available March 28 on guitar great Larry Carlton’s 335 Records. The group is a tight four piece of session and touring pros who share writing and production credit on a fine collection of tunes that recall the spirit of Little Feat, Steely Dan and others.
Los Angeles-based guitarist Paul Brown—let’s call him LA Paul—won Grammies in 2003 for Best Pop Instrumental Album by producing and engineering “Just Chillin’” by Norman Brown (no relation). He produced about 50 No. 1 radio hits for George Benson, Al Jarreau, Boney James and many smooth jazz artists.
LA Paul also is an accomplished singer and songwriter who released the first of his seven solo jazz albums in 2004. Around that time, a keyboardist in Tennessee also named Paul Brown—let’s call him Brother Paul here—started getting royalty checks meant for LA Paul.
Brother Paul is a lifelong music pro who played keyboards with The Waterboys during their most recent world tour. At his Ocean Soul Studios in Nashville, he produced the “Down in Louisiana” album for soul king Bobby Rush, which was nominated for a Grammy. The two Paul Browns finally met at the Grammy awards in 2014.
“It was like we’d known each other forever,” LA Paul says. “We almost immediately started talking about writing songs together, and that quickly turned into forming a band and making an album.”
The pair started writing songs together over the Internet. They enlisted two Nashville-based musicians, bassist David Santos and drummer Peter Young. Santos has toured with Billy Joel, John Fogerty and Elton John, among others, and Young has performed with Loretta Lynn, The Burrito Brothers and more.
The group met in Nashville and performed together but found they liked recording parts on their own. “Dusty Road” tracks were recorded at LA Paul’s The Funky Joint studio, Brother Paul’s Ocean Soul Studios, Santos’ White Rock Studios and Young’s Ultra Audio Productions.
The end result is a funky blend of rock, jazz and blues sounds inspired by New Orleans and Nashville. It’s a fresh-sounding take on classic forms, created by undisputed masters.
“There aren’t that many new artists coming along doing what we’re doing,” LA Brown says.
The lead track “Cup of Tea” sounds like something from the Lowell George songbook. Little Feat guitarist Paul Barrere makes a guest appearance later on the record, playing slide on “Hurricane.”
Radio-friendly rockers like “Sweet Cadillac” sound comfortable next to ballads like “Love Sake.” LA Paul handles the bulk of the vocals and liberally sprinkles the tunes with jazzy riffs from his 1963 Gibson Johnny Smith L-5 with the floating pickup. You might pick up hints of Benson or Jarreau, but on this record LA Paul sounds like he went searching for something different and more along the lines of his early guitar influences like Jerry Garcia and Wes Montgomery.
Brother Paul makes his presence felt throughout with distinctive Hammond B3 fills and other sounds that feel perfectly chosen for the mood of a particular song, be it the bluesy “California” or the more uplifting groove of the title track. Lead vocals are shared, with Santos singing “The River” and Young singing “Drink You Off My Mind.”
The Brothers Brown haven’t said yet whether they’re planning to perform live together. But if they do, it would be fun if they joined the lineup for the Cincinnati Music Festival July 22-23 in Ohio.
It’s taking place at Paul Brown Stadium (no relation).