Follow by Email

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Next stop on the Farewell Tour: "Tribute to Shirley Kostka"

George Barnes Project, circa 1990
By Ted Slowik

Drummer Ron Kostka and I have been friends for a long time. We met at Lyons Township High School in 1982. He used to call the radio station, WLTL-FM 88.1, when I was DJing and request "Love To Love" by UFO for his girlfriend.

The first time I got together with other friends to make music, in my parents' garage in the summer of 1982, Ron was there. I remember playing "House of the Rising Sun" on electric guitar. That was in the band Suspended Animation. A short time later, the bassist left the group and I started playing bass, which I kept up for nearly 30 years.

In the late 1980s Suspended Animation morphed into Nobody Knows, and Ron eventually played drums in that band as well. (Ron also played drums for nine of the 11 years I played bass in the Big Eddy Springs Blues Band 2000-2011). In the early 1990s, Ron and I were in a band together initially called Pegasus but later known as the George Barnes Project. It was a loud, heavy sound fueled by George's guitar playing. Ron was front man and sang lead vocals and various other players backed us up on drums.

We played a lot of our own songs. In most cases, George wrote the music and Ron's sister, Shirley, wrote the lyrics. Shirley B. Kostka was born June 12, 1954 and died March 6, 2014. She had moved to Kentucky when she became sick, and Ron was in the process of having her transported to the Joliet Area Community Hospice when she passed away.

There was a small memorial service after she passed, and sometime later Ron asked if I'd play a tribute show to honor his sister's memory. Of course I agreed, and though it's taken a while to pull together the show will take place at 9 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 13, at 2-Fer's Pizza and Pub, 106 N. Ridge Road in Minooka, I'll be playing bass with Ron on vocals, his friend Jay on drums and George Barnes on guitar.

In addition to the originals that Shirley co-wrote, we'll be playing some old rockers we used to play by bands like Deep Purple, Cream, The Rolling Stones, Steppenwolf and Jimi Hendrix. This won't be the first time since the early 1990s that George, Ron and I have performed together. We reunited in 2010 for a small tour that included Seneca and Rockford.

George and Ron will also be part of the Farewell Show Dec. 20 at Chicago Street Pub, the last billed public show before I take time off from performing to write and spend time as a hospice volunteer.
GBP in Seneca, 2010

Monday, November 24, 2014

Saturday night setlist from the Farewell Tour Buck stop

Ted and nephew Dave Slowik
By Ted Slowik

I don't play evenings of covers too often. My passion is for originals, and since I'm not a working musician I don't need to supplement opportunities to play my own songs by playing bars and private functions where the expectation is people will hear songs they know.

But occasionally it's great fun to pretend I'm a working musician and play three hours worth of songs to entertain people. Tim Placher and I performed one of our nights of covers together Saturday night. I've never seen the 30 Buck so packed! It was an awesome turnout.

Nephew Dave made a surprise appearance, with his wife Lesley, who is expecting their third child in about two weeks! And a great number of 30 Buck regulars were there, like Eric Beltzhoover, Dan Wilson and many others. Jenna Loats and Meg O'Keeffe were there, Bill and Kathy Kibler stopped by, good friends Jodi Wartenberg and Scott Kinsella made appearances, and so on. Apologies for not mentioning everyone by name.

Tim played and sang several duets with a fellow teacher, Robyn Castle, and they sounded phenomenal together! I can't wait to hear them together again at the 2015 Shindig at the Shanty on the bluff overlooking the mighty Kankakee River outside Wilmington.

This was the only stop on the Farewell Tour where I primarily played covers. I played about 40 songs in three hours, broke a couple strings, and received great feedback from people. It was a great night, and a ton of fun! I still had a strong voice at the end of the night!

Thirty Buck setlist 11-22-14 (not in precise order)

Bright Lights, Big City (Jimmy Reed)
For No One (The Beatles)
Hurt (Johnny Cash)
Lawyers, Guns and Money (Warren Zevon)
We're Going To Be Friends (The White Stripes)
Learning To Fly (Tom Petty)
Little Lion Man (Mumford & Sons)
Closer To Fine (Indigo Girls)
Come To Papa (Bob Seger)
Rain on the Scarecrow (John Mellencamp)
Excitable Boy (Warren Zevon)
Don't Let Me Down (The Beatles)
Talk of the Town (The Pretenders)
Record Store (original)
Take Me Dancing (The Maine, on keyboard)
Rollin' and Tumblin' (Muddy Waters)
Slowiks (original)
Paper Thin (John Hiatt)
Steppin' Stone (The Monkees)
Both Sides Now (Joni Mitchell)
The Cave (Mumford & Sons)
Don't Go Back to Rockville (R.E.M)
Call Me the Breeze (Lynyrd Skynyrd)
Wish List (Pearl Jam)
Maybe Tonight (The Knack)
20 Flight Rock (Eddie Cochran)
Good Riddance (Green Day)
Whiter Shade of Pale (Procol Harum)
Hit Somebody (Warren Zevon)
Teach Your Children (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)
That's Alright Mama (Elvis Presley)
Wish You Were Here (Pink Floyd)
Body Is a Temple (original)
Red Rover (original)
No Tomorrow (original)
Molly Zelko (original)
Joe Hosey (original)
Watching the Wheels (John Lennon)
Stand By Me (Ben E. King)

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Seeing the great Buddy Guy perform in St. Charles

Steve, Liz, Mary Jo and Bud
By Ted Slowik

I never got the chance to see Jimi Hendrix perform. But I've seen Buddy Guy, and that's the next best thing.

Buddy, who also was a huge influence to Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan, performed Friday night at the historic Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. I hadn't seen a show at the Arcada before, and I gotta say it was a wonderful experience! It has that old vaudeville/movie house charm and grandeur of theaters like the Rialto in Joliet and Paramount in Aurora, but it's smaller, cozier and more fun.

Mike and Jon
Buddy played really loose last night. I went with brother Mike, his son Jon, sister Liz and her husband Steve, and brother Bud and his wife Mary Jo. A bunch of Slowiks, usually Frank and sometimes Sue and even Jeanne, have gone to see Buddy every January for years at his club Legends in the south Loop. The last time I saw our brother Jim was at Legends, in 2009.

He's simply the best living blues guitarist. I mean no disrespect to B.B. King, who was a mentor to Buddy, along with Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon. At age 78, Buddy still rocks like no other. His band, which includes the great Marty Sammon on keyboards, features some of the best players in the world.

Buddy in the Arcada balcony
Buddy's an entertainer. In his youth he used to have a really long guitar cord, and he was known to jump off balconies back onto the stage. He doesn't jump off balconies anymore, but with his wireless guitar he does make his way through the crowd. He likes being close with his audience. You can go down to his club and many times Buddy will be sitting at the bar, and you can strike up a conversation with him.

One of the best hours of my professional life was when I got to interview Buddy, in 2008, when I still worked for the company that publishes the Chicago Sun-Times. We chatted, and he was real friendly, though he has a way of steering the conversation to the stories he feels like telling, regardless of the questions you ask.

At the end of the interview, Buddy reached into a mini-fridge and pulled out a Mason jar of clear liquid. He said it was real Tennessee moonshine--the good stuff. He poured us each a shot and we drank it. That was a good day.

Ivy Ford with J.B. Ritchie
I said hi to the great blues guitarist Kate Moss in the Arcada lobby at the show. Her husband Nick Moss is a fantastic songwriter, blues guitar player, performer, singer and recording artist. Next door to the Arcada, J.B. Ritchie was playing with Mark Schiele on bass. (Mark let me play his bass during a blues jam at the legendary Rainbow in L.A. in 2010). I met a fantastic singer/guitarist named Ivy Ford, who was sitting in with J.B. Ritchie, who was recently inducted into the Chicago Blues Hall of Fame along with Joliet's T-Bird Huck and the best bassist I've ever had the pleasure of meeting, Sam Cockrell.

So, it was a really fun time on a cold November night in St. Charles. The Arcada is a great venue that books a lot of big-name rock and blues acts that are still making good music. Buddy played for two hours and delivered a very satisfying show.
Merch counter man at the Arcada

Sunday, November 16, 2014

My 10 most influential albums, and why

By Ted Slowik

I begin this post with the presumption that the reader has some appreciation for the album as an art form. And that an album is a collection of recorded material intended to be appreciated in its entirety.

It’s an art form that came into being in the 1960s, flourished in the 1970s and continues to this day. Though sales of albums are at historic lows, and the art form is threatened.

With that in mind here are 10 albums that are major influences in my life, and the story behind each one.

10. “Running on Empty,” by Jackson Browne (1978). This album captured my imagination unlike any other. The songs are about life as a musician on the road, and my dream as a child was to move to southern California. The melodies are immaculate, and the performances are dream-like, from the mournful fiddle of “The Road” to David Lindley’s exquisite slide on “The Load-Out/Stay,” this album stays with you the rest of your life.

9. “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” by Bruce Springsteen (1978).
At 2 a.m. on a summer Saturday in 1978 when I was 13, I woke up and went downstairs for a drink of water. My brother Mike and his friends were just leaving for Warren Dunes and let me come along. We listened to “Darkness on the Edge of Town” all the way there. We waited out a thunderstorm parked in a car wash, and later watched the sun come up. When the park opened we drove in and parked in the huge, empty lot. My brother's friends crashed on the beach. I went exploring. I wasn't tired.
8.) “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” by Elton John (1973). I mean, come on, I spent hours in front of the mirror playing air guitar to this album. Lester Bangs said great albums are judged not by the number of great songs but by the absence of not-so-great songs. There’s no weak link on this classic. From the orchestral opening "Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding" to the seamless tempo and rhythm changes of a song like "All the Young Girls Love Alice," this record packs a ton of variety. Of course there are classics, hits a plenty. But the lesser-known tracks like "Grey Seal" are equally good. There's not a bad song in this bunch.

7.) “The Beatles,” by The Beatles , aka “The White Album” (1968). When I was 14 I spent the summer of 1979 at my brother Stan’s in Evergreen, Colorado. I was penniless but earned a few bucks doing chores. Enough to buy one record at the end of the summer. I pored over every album in the store, narrowing my choices until finally I bought the one record I could. And so I chose this one, and never regretted it. The layers of sounds and abrupt changes in mood somehow leave you feeling like you're able to make sense out of chaos. It's a sonic smorgasbord, a feast for the ears. Listen to it through headphones, again. You'll be glad you did.

6.) “Quadrophenia,” by The Who (1973). Adolescent boys relate well to this story. It's a coming-of-age tale about social insecurity, awkwardness and substance abuse. Growing up is often a difficult, lonely experience. These songs speak to those going through that transition, especially males, and the music is this incredible infusion of power. Hopefully this masterfully recorded, brilliantly performed, impeccably written gem of a concept album continues to speak to audiences of young people finding their way for generations to come.

5.) “The Wall,” by Pink Floyd (1979). OK, so it’s the soaring culmination from possibly the most talented quartet of British rock musicians ever. This was a great band, from its humble beginnings behind Syd Barrett through its experimental era and commercial juggernauts, and this Roger Waters-conceived masterpiece is executed like none other in history. Beyond the smash hits like "Another Brick in the Wall," "Comfortably Numb," "Young Lust," "Hey You" and "Run Like Hell" there are acoustic beauties like "Mother" and "Goodbye Blue Sky." I was going through adolescence when a lot of these albums came out, and that's a critical age when your musical tastes are determined for life.

4.) “Empty Glass,” by Pete Townshend (1979). There's something about the screaming guitars of “Rough Boys” that pulls you in. Then you’re captivated by the profanity and beauty of “I Am an Animal,” and it goes on. "And I Moved" has wonderful piano, and the drumming is amazing throughout. The hit "Let My Love Open the Door" showcases the keyboards, and “Gonna Get Ya” closes this intoxicating collection with some truly great guitar and bass work. These are songs about the pain of loss, and using alcohol to dull that pain. If you've ever done it, you understand. If you haven't, you're lucky. Try not judge others too harshly.

3.) “Exile on Main Street,” by The Rolling Stones (1972). Admittedly, I didn’t fully appreciate this masterpiece until I read Keith Richards’ autobiography, “Life.” I mean, I always loved the radio hits, like “Tumblin’ Dice” and “Rocks Off.” But it’s the deeper cuts that make this one of my favorites. The slide guitar work, keyboards, Mick Jagger’s vocals and Keith’s harmonies (and leads at times) defined rock music for me. Admittedly, I'm greatly in love with the idea of this album being made in the south of France amid all the decadence of the era, and the wild parties that abounded while this great music was being made.

2.) “Plastic Ono Band,” by John Lennon (1970). It’s hard to not include George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass,” or some of Paul’s fine work with Wings and as a solo artist. But the power of John Lennon’s commercial solo debut is in its raw emotion, the naked vulnerability of boldly going into the unknown. Beautifully simple in its arrangements, with drums and bass backing up guitar or piano, this record is all about Lennon's voice and lyrics. The record is deeply confessional, from the quirky edge of "Well, Well, Well" to the manifesto "God," with commentary like "Working Class Hero" along the way.

1.) “Abbey Road,” by The Beatles (1969). “Something” and “Here Comes the Sun” are among George Harrison’s finest work. Even the weakest song “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” amused me as a child. Side two is an amazing medley of sounds and moods. The perfect harmonies of “Because.” Paul McCartney’s piano and melodies, George Martin’s production, all reaching a crescendo after the drum and guitar solos of “The End.” A perfect ending from the greatest band at making albums.

Footnote: Honorable mentions to the aforementioned "All Things Must Pass," McCartney's"Band On the Run," Lennon's "Double Fantasy," "Hot Rocks 1964-1971" and "Some Girls" by The Rolling Stones, The Grateful Dead's "American Beauty" and "Terrapin Station," Supertramp's "Breakfast in America," Springsteen's "The River" and "Nebraska," The Eagles' "Hotel California," Fleetwood Mac's "Rumours," Nirvana's "Nevermind," Carole King's "Tapestry" and others I'll add as I think of them :) I didn't listen to many Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Beach Boys or Bob Dylan albums growing up but I've gained a deep appreciation for them since.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Review: Young singer/songwriter Chase Walsh impresses with debut

By Ted Slowik

At age 15 most of us are still formulating our musical tastes, choosing from among the palette of popular artists and sounds to select favorites we carry with us the rest of lives. But at that young age singer/songwriter Chase Walsh is already defining the course of his own original music.

Chase, who started learning music when he was 5 and wrote his first song at age 10, has just released his debut collection of six studio recordings, all originals. He'll celebrate the release of "Your Friend the Robber" with an all-ages show at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 16 at Chicago Street Pub, 75 N. Chicago St., Joliet. Tickets are $5 and available through while supplies last.

"Your Friend the Robber" is an excellent debut. The songs all feature Chase's fine acoustic guitar playing and sweet low voice expertly recorded at Hillbilly Studios by his guitar teacher, Kev Wright and Brent James of The Righteous Hillbillies. There's a minimal amount of accompaniment: an egg shaker on "Impulse," a subtle Kev electric guitar solo on "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere," some deep-end cello by Andrew Matichek on "Like I Do." But for the most part Chase's songs stand up very well on their own with just his guitar playing and voice.

Chase has a gift for melody and a solid grasp on writing songs in open tuning. He displays maturity well beyond his 15 years, both in writing and performance. His voice is unmistakeably in pitch throughout, and his guitar playing shows a poise and confidence that many players don't discover until much later in life.

His style of singing probably appeals more to today's 15-year-old girls than those of us who grew up listening to The Beatles and The Rolling Stones on AM radio. But listening to this record multiple times is a truly enjoyable experience. There's a heart and sincerity to Chase's music that makes one believe in his limitless potential.

Probably the worst thing that could happen to Chase is if he were to suddenly become hugely popular on the scale of a Justin Bieber or The Jonas Brothers. And that's not far-fetched, given his pop idol-looks and his Vine following of more than 37,000. That would be a shame, because as Chase matures from writing songs about girls to other topics he could become a voice for his generation in the vein of a great songwriter like Ryan Adams.

Full disclosure: I'm also a guitar student of Kev's, and I met Chase last summer before he performed at Hopstring Fest in Joliet. That doesn't diminish my enthusiasm for Chase's music or admiration for his gifts. He's a talented guy, and I look forward to hearing much more from him in the future.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Enjoying every moment of the Farewell Tour!

Joliet Area Community Hospice grounds
By Ted Slowik

It feels like a whirlwind now that the Farewell Tour has kicked off! The next couple months will be quite busy with shows before I take a break from live performances during 2015 to spend time writing songs and working as a hospice volunteer. Today I'm happy to announce two additional shows on the Farewell Tour, with details below!

Volunteer training went great Oct. 25-26 at Joliet Area Community Hospice. It turns out their greatest need is getting word out to people that hospice care is available when someone is expected to have six months to live. Too often, families only take advantage of hospice services for the final week or so of a loved one's life. One of the great benefits of hospice is that staff and volunteers are there to assist patients and families while there's still time to fulfill dreams, get affairs in order, resolve issues and make arrangements.

I've still got to pass a physical and background check and undergo an interview, but it's looking like I'll be a sort of freelance writer who will help share the stories of families who want to relate the positive experiences they had with hospice. Quite likely I'll collect testimonials for publication on the hospice's website that can be shared on social media and pitched to traditional media to help get out the word about the excellent services hospice provides.

Ted and Allison Flood at Lewis University. (Eric Johnson photo)
With all the time spent practicing, rehearsing, coordinating schedules with other musicians and promoting upcoming performances I'm reminded why I decided to suspend performances for a year or more. It's great fun but it doesn't leave much time for songwriting.

The Farewell Tour kicked off Nov. 1 with a great show in the Studio Theatre at Lewis University's Philip Lynch Theatre, as a benefit for the Heritage Theatre Company. Much thanks to my wife Jo, who manages the theatre at Lewis, for creating a spectacular set and publicizing the show, and to Andrew Nelsen for doing a great job on sound and lighting.

John Condron at Lewis University. (Eric Johnson photo)
It was a fantastic evening of acoustic originals. I shared the bill with Flipside Works recording artists Allison Flood and John Condron, who both performed beautifully! The audience was attentive during songs and erupted with applause after each number, and it's a great venue to really listen to the music.

I'm continuing as best I'm able to perform weekly at the Wednesday night acoustic open mic that John hosts at Tribes Alehouse in Mokena. The exciting news about Tribes is that the Mokena location is expanding, and will being brewing its own line of beers! The food, service and company at Tribes Alehouses in Mokena and Tinley Park are fantastic, and you should check them out.

Last night an unannounced date was added to the Farewell Tour when a date at Chicago Street Pub in Joliet opened up on short notice. John stepped in as headliner and invited J Ross Green and I to play opening sets. J Ross (or John) Green is one of my favorite performers and I greatly admire how he writes about local people and places in his songs. Regular readers may recall I wrote about Green's new album earlier this year.

I played a set of originals and acoustic blues in open tuning and slide. I'm definitely showing the influence of having taken guitar lessons from Kev Wright of The Righteous Hillbillies since last Christmas. Unfortunately I don't have any pictures or video from the show last night because my phone was full and I've spent the morning uploading a ton of pictures and videos to the cloud to free up storage space.

The Farewell Tour is incredibly fun because no two shows are alike! Not only are the venues different, but each show features a different mix of material tailored for the performance. I'm playing different songs on different instruments with different musicians at each show! Let's walk you through the details of each upcoming performance, including the two new shows:

Nov. 16: This Sunday, Nov. 16, at 2 p.m. at Chicago Street Pub is the CD release show for "Your Friend the Robber," the debut by Chase Patrick Walsh. Chase is another student of Kev's and a very talented young singer/songwriter with unlimited potential. I wrote about Chase leading up to this year's Hopstring Fest. I'll open with a set of acoustic originals and some blues with good friend Ron Kostka backing up on drums, and Kev will join us for a couple songs in our first appearance on stage together! At the conclusion of Chase's set, I'll play keyboards with Chase and Kev on guitar, Ron on drums and a bassist for a finale rendition of "Take Me Dancing" by The Maine.

Nov. 22: Saturday, 8 p.m. to 1 a.m., I'll join great friend and piano man Tim Placher for one of our tag-team shows at Thirty Buck, located at Six Corners in Joliet. It's five hours of nonstop music, mostly covers, in a friendly, fun environment.

Nov. 29: Saturday, 9 p.m., I'll perform an opening set of acoustic originals at Chicago Street Pub for the debut performance of On the Off Chance. This new project features Steve Ashum, Anthony Bartkowiak, Dan Dougherty, Jason Parks and Rebekah Rakow. Dan's been in other bands including The Tone Bone, which performed at Hopstring. Back in February when I had my heart attack on a Monday, I was supposed to open for Dan's band the following Saturday at a show. I wasn't able to make it but Allison Flood filled in for me, and she and Dan performed "Red Rover" together. There's no greater honor for a songwriter than hearing other artists perform your material.

Dec. 13: Saturday, 9 p.m. at 2-Fer's Pizza and Pub, 106 N. Ridge Road in Minooka, I'll be playing bass with Ron Kostka on vocals, a friend of his on drums and George Barnes on guitar as The George Barnes Project performs a very special "Tribute to Shirley Kostka" show. Ron's sister Shirley, who passed away earlier this year, wrote lyrics to many of the songs The George Barnes Project performed together in the early 1990s.

Dec. 20: Saturday, 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. at Chicago Street Pub, will be a blowout spectacular and my final billed public performance for a while. Plans are still coming together, but the evening will feature some of my favorite songs on acoustic to open the evening, with some blues on electric. I'll close out the night on bass with Ron on drums and George on guitar for a set by The George Barnes Project. I'm hoping to announce some other special guests during the course of the evening and the evening is bound to include a few surprises too, so you won't want to miss this one!