Appearing at Knuckleheads along their fall Midwest Tour, Orphan Jon and the Abandoned brought some blues church to the people Saturday night at the Carl Butler Gospel Lounge. Jon English, with his blend of formidable “preacha” softened with self-effacing humor, appeared at times to be singing passionately from the pulpit of the church you wish you belonged to – the one that rouses your soul and makes you feel like you deserve to live a happy life. So, be a good person and gyrate your hips while you’re at it.
Unavoidably, given his childhood and longtime adult roots in the evangelical church, the music influence of Jon English brings his rebellious vibrance to the philosophically simple message in his lyrics and vocal delivery (like, “be nice” and “what goes around, comes around”). As if from the pulpit, he points to his audience with reminders of life’s pitfalls – but also acknowledges the sectarian pleasures of romance and love – something he often says he credits to the relationship with his wife, the love of his life, Stella Carrie English.
Make no mistake – the blues is something that has to be experienced before it can be written – and OJATA delivers a passion that passes along those feelings and experiences. (see Part One and Part Two of the Orphan Jon story.)
It’s great to listen to the well-crafted CD (Barry Levenson and Rip Cat Records) – but, if anything can be gleaned from eavesdropping on the comments being made by new fans Saturday night at the Gospel Lounge, those who are witnessing a performance by this band for the first time seem to feel like they’ve struck a vein of gold – the ground floor upstart of a band that is fresh and going places because they have followed their own creative path.
The band’s debut album “Abandoned No More” was nominated for a 2018 Blues Blast Magazine Best Debut Album Award and Jon English for a Sean Costello Rising Star Award. The group attended the award ceremony in Rockford, IL at the start of their Midwest tour and got to mingle with some of the best of the best blues musicians for a memorable night of performances. Both awards went to another deserving musician, Heather Newman, but being nominated was an incredible honor, given the field of contenders – not the least of which was another Kansas City artist Patrick “Cobbie” Recob.
Jon English told those in attendance at the Gospel Lounge Saturday night, though, that he reminds himself of an important lesson early on in his blues career – and that’s that the appreciation for any success always goes to the fans, who are the ones to share in the music – especially places like the Gospel Lounge where the distance between the stage and the audience is so small, the musician-to-person distance makes everything personal.
There are still a couple more stops along the way for this Orphan Jon and the Abandoned tour – Shamrock Lounge, Wichita, Sunday night, Albuquerque and Phoenix. Phoenix is Oct. 18 at the Rhythm Room.
Also, there’s a new album in the works with another collaboration between Orphan Jon’s songwriting and music by Bruce Krupnik. It’s a perfect blues bromance that makes any creative works by this duo fall into that “I can’t wait” category, given the award-worthy reception of “Abandoned No More.”
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The former orphan, Jon English, had acquired a beautiful family in his adulthood after growing up for years in the California social services system. It was enough of a success story that any man who had done the same, could have sat back and considered themselves a lucky human who need not accomplish anything further.
But for Jon, the Universe had other plans. A new world was waiting.
Expanding the Family
Newly divorced in 2001, and enjoying fatherhood while working as a heavy equipment operator, as well as becoming a supervisor over other crews in the land development industry, Jon English continued to be upbeat about his life and content with what lot he had been given. But to some, his aloneness was still apparent. His older sister, Georgia, with whom he had reconnected in his adult life, was determined to play matchmaker for him. She encouraged Jon to try something still relatively new in 2003: online dating.
He was completely against it.
So, like a very good sister, she made him a profile on a dating site anyway.
He was shocked when a young woman responded with a message one evening. After some online chatting and some phone calls, they agreed to meet, in a highly public place for dinner. They instantly connected and eventually realized they were perfect for each other. With that, Carrie became Carrie “Stella” English and her three girls; from a previous marriage, blended with Jon and his two daughters and son as they were married in 2004.
“I met my beautiful wife Carrie. She became my rock and my everything. She accepts me completely for who I am,”Jon said. “My life changed drastically for the better the day our eyes first met. She’s my soulmate. My inspiration. Basically, every love song I’ve ever written, is about her. Period. I cannot imagine life without her in it. Which is what the heartbreak, suffering and loss is written from in my lyrics. She is my personal Muse.”
In a small-world-department moment, Carrie told Jon on one of their first dates that her ex-husband Randy Carlile had gone to the same high school as Jon. Carrie and her ex had parted ways amicably, much like Jon and his ex-wife, and had continued to co-parent their three daughters as well.
“Randy and I went to school together. He’s a couple years younger than me but he knew me because of my athletics. And he was athletic as well, being a football player,”Jon said.
“My ex-wife and I never had any animosity. We decided ‘When we went our separate ways, our children are going to always come first. Just like back in my childhood days, children have no say in what the adults do. It was important to all of us that our children knew we loved them and will always be here for them. Randy and I get along great! Stella and Randy get along great! He’s a super, super nice guy. Our kids call him ‘Papa Randy.’ A lot of people might say “How the hell did this happen?” but, it’s like, well, I don’t spend time on negativity and what could have been. Life goes on. I try to make a positive out of everything,”Jon said.
Jon said Randy has become one of his biggest fans and supporters, and travels with the band often as their roadie, which just expanded Jon’s family even more.
“Every single one of the kids are good people – five daughters and a son. They all have their personalities and their careers. There are no step-children in our family. All my kids are my kids. I know how it is to feel like an outsider, never accepted, and my beautiful Stella; along with Randy and the ex, are on the same page as I when it comes to our kids. I think we did ok with them. They are my pride and joy”
Beginning Professional Singing
As the children continued to grow and one by one left home, Jon reconnect with some old high school friends in 2009 through social media. As the friends started hanging out together, they would go to karaoke bars together for fun. One of those friends, a high school classmate who had been singing professionally, asked Jon to sing back up in her newly re-formed band and he accepted.
“After the second show, she came up to me and said, ‘I’m sorry, but you’re not a backup singer,’”Jon recalled. “I thought, ‘okay, I can handle rejection.’ I tried to look like ‘no big deal.’”
“No, no, no,” she says to me, “you don’t understand. You aren’t a backup singer, because you need to have your own band. You’ve got a great VOICE, you’ve got a great personality!”
“She said: “You’ve GOT to do this,” And I’m like, ‘Really? You think I should?” and she said, ‘You’re outgoing, people love you,’ – so I thought about it and said, ‘Why not?’”
“But after that conversation, I didn’t really give it any more thought. It was kind of flattering that she felt this way, because in my mind, she’s been a very successful vocalist.” Jon said.
Nonetheless, as Jon started going to jams to perform, it had somehow gotten around to other people that he was putting a band together.
“Now, I don’t know this – but other people are saying it,”Jon chuckled.
After some trial and error, Jon’s efforts did result in a band: English Revolver.
“That’s when I started seeing the concept of what a band is – 4 or 5 people getting together and it’s an absolute relationship,” said Jon.
“I decided I wanted to do something that I liked, that nobody else does, something that’s me – blues, roots, and the songs that I feel are cool. I wound up getting some great musicians here in Bakersfield. And within a couple of years, we became very busy, playing locally and doing a few festivals.“ Jon was with English Revolver until the end of 2014. “It basically ran its course. We started in 2012 and accomplished a lot in such a short time. And that’s when I discovered that ‘wow, people really do like my singing.’ I learned so much from Eddie Marqurdt, Jim Gianettoni, Gordon Hilton and Dave Johnston. Valuable things that I’m forever grateful for. But it was time to go a different direction.”
What Jon truly wanted to do was write his own songs. As he explored this further, Jon talked about one of his favorite songwriters.
“My biggest influence in writing is Dave Matthews of Dave Matthews Band. I love that guy. I love his writing and everything. He writes poetry and he puts music to it,” Jon said
When members in his early band, English Revolver, parted ways, another opportunity presented itself from the relationships Jon had cultivated throughout the music community in Bakersfield, Los Angeles and along the Central Coast of California. A musician from the Central Coast of California, Wil Anderson, spoke with Jon outside a club in Oildale, Ca. in the fall of 2014. It was a spot where a monthly jam was taking place, hosted by KayKay Jagger of Rip Cat Records.
“We were discussing our future musical ambitions’ Jon explained. “Wil was telling me how the band he was currently in was ending at the end of the year, and I was telling him the same about English Revolver. What we both discovered during the conversation was how much we both wanted to write and perform our own music… music that we loved – the blues. Wasn’t long after that Wil contacted me about a few songs he and Bruce [Krupnik] of the current Strata-tones had been working on. He asked me to listen to them and see if I would be interested in laying down the vocals on the tracks. They were two smooth heavy grooved tunes. Totally dug them. Well, it was basically a chance for them to see if I was into what they had been writing. I was!”
A crucial turning point took place just a few weeks after their initial meeting outside the jam in Oildale, Ca.
During the back and forth conversations with Jon, Wil had also been talking to Bruce about the idea of doing a project with Jon.
“Bruce was against it,” Jon chuckled while recalling the conversation. ‘He told me that Bruce; who’s very much into blues, was skeptical when the proposal of us three getting together was spoken of.”
“I know Jon English…he’s a rock singer,” Bruce told Wil.
Jon added, “But Will insisted – “‘No, brother, this cat can sing, trust me…check this out.’”
“So, he shows Bruce a video of me sitting in with Barry Levenson, (who was the regular guitar player with Canned Heat for nine years), Mike Malone, TC Markle, Chris Smith and Johnny Ray Jones during their show at the New Starboard Attitude in Redondo Beach,” Jon related.
“I had one verse of a song I was starting on called ‘Born in the Blues’ It’s about me when I was a kid. It’s about the night she [his mother] left…that night she showed affection toward me and it [the song] says “She bent down to his face, brushed the hair from his brow, placed a gentle kiss in its place, something he’d never felt before now.’ So that’s a verse in the song.”
As Jon performed the incomplete song with Levenson and Malone and the guys at the Starboard Attitude, “I started making up lyrics as I sang the song. What else could I do? I was kind of put on the spot…” he chuckled.“So, anyway, Stella [Jon’s wife] recorded it all and put it on Facebook:
To convince Bruce that Jon is a Blues singer, Wil showed the video clip of the improvisation, insisting to Bruce: “No, Brother, you’re wrong, this cat can SING.”
After watching the video, Bruce was more than convinced and agreed to proceed with the idea of creating a project with Jon. He was so convinced that after a few more discussions, Jon related, that “Wil says, ‘Listen, I talked to Bruce [Krupnik], and what do you think of this: We’ll be your band and you be the front man, the heart, soul, mind and personality – everything. You handle everything. We’ll be your band and see what we can do.’ And I’m, like ‘Wow, that’s kinda cool.’ I was, like ‘Whoa, these are professional players and, well, Bruce, he’s so well-respected, I was pretty much blown away by it all…WOW.’”
The three got together on January 31, 2015 and, with Bruce Krupnik on guitar, Wil Anderson on bass, Stan Whiting on drums and Jon on vocals in that one afternoon, the three wrote six songs.
“We would write and Wil, to his credit, would record everything. Bruce, Stan and Wil were just absolute geniuses. I would write the lyrics, while Bruce handled writing the music,” Jon said.
On that first writing session together on a breezy sunny afternoon the band wrote “Backbone,” “Born in the Blues,” “Broken Angel,” “Medusa,” “Redheaded Woman Blues” and “Tight Dress.”
‘A few weeks later we got together again and worked on what we had started and continued to write more. “Love Light,” the first song I ever wrote in my life, came together during these times. We wrote those songs and we thought, ‘We’ve really got something here.’
We wrote from the heart, what we felt, it just happened, it just worked. Just like a dove’s tail. Perfect. When a dove flies, and then lands, their wing feathers just go together perfect, they just lay right automatically. It was like everything just came together perfect. Maybe destiny, I don’t know, but it felt right,” said Jon.
Jon credits his closest Brother relationship for getting the band together, though.
“The reason I have Orphan Jon and the Abandoned, the band I have today is because of Johnny Main and his advice to me as I considered putting a new band together,” Jon remembered.
“Johnny told me: ‘You’ve got to put together a band that is committed 100% to you. That if you call them up, no matter what time of day it is or even what day it is, if you call them up and everything is right in your mind what you’re gonna do, you tell them ‘This is where we’re playing, this is where we’ve gotta be, this is when we are leaving,’ then their reaction must be every time: ‘Okay, send me the info and I’ll be there.’ You can’t be ‘Okay, let me check with my job, let me see if I got vacation covered, let me check with my wife (or girlfriend).’ They’ve got to be committed to YOU. THAT’S what you gotta have.
So, that’s what I laid out with Bruce, Will and Stan and they said ‘No problem, Brother, we feel the same way. If we’re gonna do this, we’re not gonna do it half-assed, we’re gonna be professionals, we are going to write and we’re gonna see where this goes,’” said Jon.
In forming the new band, Orphan Jon and the Abandoned, Jon found his former work experience of handling contracts as a heavy equipment operator came in handy for running a band.
“The front part of being in the band is only a part of running a band,” Jon said.“I feel like I’ve won over a lot of people because I know how to deal with the business aspect outside of the performing side of things.If you can’t handle the business side right, no matter how successful you are music wise, things can get really rough financially real soon, which will screw up all the other parts that make for a successful band,” Jon said.
Jon discovered that writing songs with Bruce Krupnik was a perfect match. The two musicians seem to appreciate each other equally. Bruce being more of the introvert of the two, is fine with Jon’s more outgoing personality. But their mutual admiration comes out in their conversations with each other.
“It was like a destiny thing, things happened for a reason. You know, it was meant to be I guess. We got to hang out almost a year before all this writing began at the Ventura County Blues Festival in the Spring of 2014. We hit it off instantly. Hell, our wives hit it off instantly. And we never discussed music that day. We just had fun, laughed, found out we had the same sense of humor. Just a great time in each other’s company.
I’m blown away by his playing.” Jon said.
From Bruce’s standpoint, though, he admires Jon for his lyrics, his singing, his charisma, and his command of an audience, as Jon related, “Bruce said, ‘I couldn’t DO that.’”
Jon felt that songwriting gave him the opportunity to explore the nature of acceptance and rejection while still giving a voice to his deep volume of emotions.
“Songwriting is like having a baby,” Jon explained. ‘You create this ‘child’ which is the song, and say ‘Okay, here ya go, world…I hope you like my child.’ And they could decide ‘Ew, your child is ugly’ or they could say ‘Oh my God, what a beautiful child.’ It’s a serious leap of faith. But, to me, that’s kind of what songwriting is – I’m presenting to the world this little kid who was lonely and now he is being accepted.”
Finding his musical muse and soul brother in Bruce, Jon also found out how powerful acceptance could be to in the creation of their original music.
“I don’t play a musical instrument…I don’t play a harp, a guitar or drums…I just sing,” said Jon. I’ve heard some folks say ‘If you don’t play a physical musical instrument, you’re not a musician.’ I would sing the way I would want the song to go (Jon sings a little scat)… I found some would laugh at me and say ‘Dude! Really?’ [So I think] ‘Alright I won’t do that again.’ I felt like a fool, really unaccepted by those I was with and respected at the time. It put a huge negative and apprehension in my writing approach. So, with Bruce, Wil and Stan, when we first began writing, I wanted to establish a foundation to work off of, so I prefaced our writing session by apologizing and told them ‘Hey, I can’t play an instrument but, if you guys don’t mind, if I come up with a music idea, I’m gonna sing it to you.’ I felt very vulnerable – and I’m waiting for a chuckle or a laugh, as had happened with my previous band.
But Bruce says, ‘You are using your instrument, yours is your voice.’ I said, ‘I can’t do it any other way’ and he said, ‘You shouldn’t do it any other way, Brother.’ And it just opened up the world to me. When you eliminate the hesitations, creative juices will certainly begin to flow. He has no problem if I sing this song to him the way I want. That’s what I love about Bruce,” Jon said.
Jon also said that the collaboration with Bruce seems to stem from their willingness to be open to the other’s thinking.
“When I write these songs, Bruce comes up with stuff that blows me away. He’s the one I lean on. He’s the experienced one. I follow his lead, I run things by him but he’ll still say, ‘Jon, it’s your call.’”
For “Love Light,” for instance, Jon sent Bruce a short riff, which Bruce then expanded into an entire arrangement.
“Cold Man Blues” was another one like that.
“Sometimes he writes a riff and I write [lyrics] around that, and vice versa” said Jon.“It’s a great partnership. There’s no set formula other than that we both trust each other,” Jon explained.
“Cold Man Blues,” is about a man –who’s eventually ending it, a man who is going to take his own life.
“I wrote the lyrics and Bruce wrote the music. It’s about a man who lost his wife or love and he can’t go on living. Bruce says to me, ‘You got this range in your voice.’ He calls it my sweet spot…so we wrote this song in the key that really express my vocals. It starts off slow and gradually builds, and then we punch it at the end. We recorded it then, took it home and I listened to it. I thought, man, I punched it too soon. So, when we got together to work on it more, I changed things up on the arrangements and that’s what’s recorded on the album,” said Jon.
Cold Man Blues G -( Lyrics: Jon English – Music: Bruce Krupnik) 3/14-15
No Sun In The Morning
Whiskey In My Hand
Life’s Not Worth Livin’
Time Is At Hand
Thoughts Trouble Me
Loneliness Is Too
Silence Is Screaming
I Know What To Do
See Strange Shadows
Know They’re Not Yours
Hear Them Slowly Walkin’
Stretch Across My Floor
Voices Come From Nowhere
Whisper Loud And Clear
The Most Dreadful Feelin’
I’ve Lost You My Dear
I Can’t Go On Sufferin’
This Aching Dispair
Visions Of You Leavin’
You Just Didn’t Care
Lost In This Darkness
Never To Be Found
I’ll Find My Comfort
When I’m Buried In The Ground
This is Where I’ll Be
No Burdens To Bare
I Will Be Free
Cause You Won’t Be There
*Kept So Cold And Free
From Sorrow To Bare
In This I’ll Always Be
For You Won’t Be There
Jon and Bruce wrote “Cold Man Blues” with a great deal of care not only for the music and the lyrics but the delivery and performance to make the song truly complete.
“Bruce basically arranges most of the songs. He’s got that mind,” Jon said. “I’m still learning. This one I arranged, it was my first to do so on. I’ll start off an octave low, then go in the range I’m normally in and then I’ll punch it.…now, the emotional side of the song. The emotions in that song, what I draw from. That song was about me. Me being that abandoned kid, how can I convey that loneliness, despair emotions of being left, left unexpectedly? Every time I sing it, it hits me to the core. It tears me up inside because I always remember being that kid in the orphanage – alone laying on the top bunk in the boy’s dorm side, and seeing that lit up green exit sign in the distance, wishing I could leave, tears streaming down my face, pissed off, scared, upset, wondering why am I here? What did I do to be in this place? So, when I sing “Cold Man Blues,” that’s the emotions I draw from. I’m that kid again. There were times when I was a kid when I wish I had just died and never existed because of what I was going through. So, that song is the most personal song I sing to date that I’ve written. That’s about me crying out as a kid, even though the song is about an adult person. I couldn’t write that song any other way. It’s written about a man losing his love, because if I wrote it about me, I just wouldn’t be able to sing it. It’s too heartbreaking and I still have too much inside that I’m not sure I’ll ever get over.”
The song “Leave My Blues Alone” is another track that has gotten a lot of attention. And the song was born out of a conversation that Barry Levenson had one evening with some very young musicians at a blues venue.
Jon related the story: “[Barry] liked the band and went over to talk with them to compliment them on their music.”
“The gist of the response from the young players, as Barry conveyed it, was ‘You’re just an old guy, your days are over, we’re bringing blues into the 21stcentury and people are going to like what we’re doing, and you guys are old hat. It’s time to move on.”
Jon’s response to hearing Barry’s story was: “You know, Brother, the blues are just fine where it’s at – just leave my blues alone.”
“Instantly it hit me,” Jon said. “I said to Barry,‘I think I just got a song, I’ll be right back.’ And in 30 minutes, I wrote the whole song. Bruce comes up with this killer groove idea for the music and I go ‘Oh, my God, that’s perfect.’ That’s what I love about Bruce, he and I are always on the same mindset when it comes to writing. It’s uncanny.’”
Leave My Blues AloneDm (Lyrics: Jon English – Music: Bruce Krupnik) 2/7-15
You Say It’s Too Old
Need Something New
Messin’ With What Is,
Sho Ain’t Tried Nor True
Leave My Blues Alone
Yes, Leave My Blues Alone
Got To Add Some More Of This
Got To Add Some More Of That
Too Much Of Anything
Ain’t Where It’s At
Leave My Blues Alone
Yes, Leave My Blues Alone
Leave My Blues Alone
Leave My Blues Alone
Where It’s At
Is Where It Belongs
Leave My Blues Alone
Now You Say You’re Just Thinkin’
Outside The Box
Gotta Have So Much More Funk
Gotta Have So Much More Rock
Leave My Blues Alone
Hey Now, Leave My Blues Alone
Bring It More To Date
Is What You Say You Want To Do
But You Ain’t Supposed To Change It
It’s Supposed To Change You
Leave My Blues Alone
Yeah, Leave My Blues Alone
“Abandoned No More”
As the partnership solidified and the band began performing together, the local response was more positive than they expected.
After a couple of years, Orphan Jon and the Abandoned had gained solid traction with positive responses from audiences who dug their originality and style within a solid blues genre.
“The blues attracted me because the blues fits me to a ‘T’,” Jon mused.“I’m an emotional person. I’m not an introvert, I never have been. I learned as a kid that being a clown, making people laugh, showing a great sense of timing, people liked me. The blues is so self-expressive. It captures every angle and sense of life. And it’s emotions. That’s me!” Jon said.
His combination of comical antics, his long history of enthusing church audiences, came together in harmony with Krupnik’s decades of experienced musicianship. Johnny Main’s encouragement of getting the band out on the road with his own successful band, The 44s, coupled with Levenson’s belief in the band’s potential, catapulted Orphan Jon into the recording studio.
The “Abandoned No More” tracks, freshly minted in late 2017 at Rip Cat Records, and released on March 16, 2018, is filled with passionate lyrics born out of a set of earthy experiences that bonds to the souls of its audiences. Barry Levenson, producer of “Abandoned No More,” was quick to latch on to Jon’s singing talent: “Jon, you are a producer’s dream come true. Every one of these songs on this album are one take.”
As for success, Jon is appreciative of everything regardless of where the band’s success takes them.
“There’s gonna be people who like OJATA and there’s gonna be people who don’t care for OJATA,” Jon said. “I just appreciate the chance to get to share our music. If they like it, I’m immensely thankful. If they don’t care for the music, that’s way cool too. I’m truly grateful for everyone that has shown a tremendous love for the band, and I’m okay with those that don’t. To each his own. There’s a big enough populace in the world, there’s a big enough musical pie to get a slice of – even if it’s a small one – that we’re perfectly fine with our lot in the music scene. There is absolutely no jealousy of others. We love what we do. We have no egos. We just have a strong passion and drive to write, play and put on a show that leaves folks wanting to see us again.”
That hard-fought positive attitude was a deliberate decision made by the person who chose to break the cycle and make the world a better place for his own family.
“Everything that’s happened to me in my adult life – everything – music-wise, my social life, my wife, my kids, are a direct result of me no longer holding onto the bitterness, anger and destructive side of my youth. I decided a long time ago not to allow the rotten things in my childhood destroy my future, but to turn it around and make it a positive present – turn it around and make something good out of the bad for my life. So, I can say to my biological mother, and to those that abused me: ‘what you did to me as a kid didn’t destroy me. It made me a better person.’”
A booklet is included with the “Abandoned No More” CD. Inside that booklet is a picture of a little boy, which Jon said is the earliest picture that exists of him, his kindergarten picture. It was the picture taken not long before his biological mom left him in the hotel.
When the time came that a logo was needed, Jon looked to his oldest child Heather June, a professional tattoo artist living in Reno, Nevada, created the band’s logo. Jon asked her if she could come up with a logo that was simple and fit the band. A few days later she sent him the logo, a black and white of a little boy’s face. Jon said, “I was blown away. She told me ‘Pops, I couldn’t think of a better logo for the band than this.’”
It was her graphic rendition of that first picture of Jon that became the logo of Orphan Jon and the Abandoned.
“The title ‘orphan’ was once a scarlet letter etched across the heart and mind of a lost child – a constant burden of despair and anger,” Jon said. “Embarrassment was a faithful companion because of it. Once just a number in a case workers folder. Filed away in a cabinet. Hidden. But through perseverance, a strong love, and a will to change, today the title is held as a badge of honor.”
With his wife and children, expanded music family and growing fan base, Jon English changed the course of his fate from a discarded child, turning despair into hope and hope into change. That message is carried through his lyrics and performances with Orphan and Jon and the Abandoned as they release their first full CD, “Abandoned No More.”
(1) Grateful acknowledgement for submitted photo from Orphan Jon.
(2) Grateful acknowledgement to Orphan Jon for the youtube link to English Revolver
(3) Grateful acknowledgement to Carrie “Stella” English for sharing her FB video of “Born in the Blues” performance.
(4) Grateful acknowledgement to Orphan Jon and the Abandoned for sharing of youtube video “Cold Man Blues” and “Sowing Seeds”
An overflow crowd packed themselves in at Knuckleheads’ outdoor stage in what turned out to be a lucky Friday 13th for Kiefer Sutherland and his fans. Dark clouds that threatened to ruin the outdoor stage setting devolved into a few moments of light sprinkles before it turned into a perfectly balmy spring evening.
As famous as Sutherland is for his acting ventures, his music, his band and his songwriting seem to bring him an even greater pleasure. Sutherland was relaxed and gracious and totally in his element as a musician. He looked like he was loving everything about being at Knuckleheads, which may arguably one of the most unpretentious little roadhouses in the country. He must have thanked the fans at least a dozen times for showing up to be a part of the “Reckless” tour.
Sprinkling in just the right amount of anecdotes to introduce some of his own songs, Sutherland appears to be a man who wants to feel all the edges of life – and write about them, which clearly was connecting with the some 1,000 fans last night. While he commands plenty of energy on stage, he also allows himself moments of groove that is the private pleasure of musicians who enter the zone during a performance. And yet he often turned to the crowd and spread his arms, seeming to drink in the energy and love from them.
Somebody yelled out, “I love you!” and he quickly replied, pointing from the stage “I love you back!”
If you don’t believe him, then give him an Oscar – but I don’t think he was acting. The dude truly looked like he was having the time of his life hanging out with a bunch of regular people singing about regular stuff that goes on in any ordinary human life. And, some of that stuff is probably reckless. But, hey, at least we’re all in this together.
Knuckleheads was just the third stop in the Reckless tour, so if you are interested in grabbing a great show and some great merch and CDs, check out the tour dates for the one closest to you. You can also check Sutherland’s Facebook page at Kiefer Sutherland.
Upcoming Tour dates for Kiefer Sutherland “Reckless” tour:
April 14 Bourbon Theatre – Lincoln, Neb. April 17 Bluebird Theatre – Denver, Colo. April 18 Park City Live – Park City, Utah April 20 Crystal Bay – Crown Room – Crystal Bay, Nev. April 21 Fremont Theatre – San Luis Obispo, Calif. April 22 Mystic Theatre – Petaluma, Calif. April 24 Crystal Palace – Bakersfield, Calif. April 26 Coach House – San Juan Capistrano, Calif. April 27 Music Box – San Diego, Calif. April 28 Red Rock Casino Resort – Las Vegas, Nev. May 1 Cactus Theater – Lubbock, Texas May 2 Antone’s – Austin, Texas May 4 Billy Bob’s – Fort Worth, Texas May 5 Island View Casino – Gulfport, Miss. May 7 The Cowan (Topgolf) – Nashville, Tenn. May 10 The Phoenix – Toronto, Ontario May 20 Birchmere – Alexandria, Va. May 23 Bottle & Cork – Dewey Beach, Del. May 25 Stone Pony – Asbury Park, N.J. May 26 Bethel Woods – Liberty, N.Y. May 27 Daryl’s House – Pawling, N.Y. May 28 Stephen’s Talkhouse – Long Island, N.Y. June 7 Kantine – Cologne, Germany June 8 TivoliVredenberg – Utrecht, Netherlands June 9 Parkbuehne – Leipzig, Germany June 10 Gruenspan – Hamburg, Germany June 12 Columbia Theatre – Berlin June 13 Hirsch – Nuermberg, Germany June 14 X-Tra – Zurich June 16 Teatro Barcelo – Madrid June 17 Bikini – Barcelona, Spain June 19 Zappa – Antwerp, Belgium June 21 Electric Ballroom – London June 22 Waterfront – Norwich, England June 23 Black Deer Festival – East Sussex, England June 25 O2 Academy Oxford – Oxford, England June 26 Komedia – Bath, England June 28 Albert Hall – Manchester, England June 29 Queens Hall – Edinburgh, Scotland June 30 The Academy – Dublin
It should not go without mention that two acts that opened for Sutherland for this event on Friday, April 13th at Knuckleheads were two of the most righteous, crowd-rousing performers a headliner could hope for – first Ian Moore, touring for his new EP “Toronto!” followed by Macon, GA singer-songwriter Rick Brantley. Between their two separate performances, they slathered the crowd with tasty tunes that came to a crescendo when Brantley insisted the crowd sing the chorus of “Just a Little Bit More” from his album “Hi-Fi”.
Brantley’s boyish smile and youthful good looks are coupled with stage confidence and enthusiasm as he coaxes the audience into his lair of his superb storytelling lyrics.
And no one can argue that Ian Moore isn’t willing to blur the lines of any music genre he feels like playing. From blues to rock to country, it becomes clear that Moore is one of the rare humans one could call a “true artist”: one who isn’t interested in categories but, rather, in following his own muses. You can waste time trying to fit him into a box or you can just come along with him and enjoy where he takes you.
So, Mr. Sutherland couldn’t have had a better lineup for his Friday 13th night in Kansas City. In fact, for the $25 ticket price, the only thing remotely shocking about it was that concert goers got a bloody bargain.
If there’s a worthwhile storyteller musician, then John McEuen has earned the right to be called one of the best. In an evening that was as much about narrative recollections from a few of his thousands of interactions with the best in the music business, McEuen’s wit and comedic timing charmed his dedicated fans Saturday, January 13, at Knuckleheads.
Opening for McEuen for a few songs was country artist and Kansas City-based Sara Morgan with Carl Butler. A rising star in her own right, Morgan gave the audience a tasty-treat, sprinkled with narrative about her own roots in music. Singer-songwriter Morgan is signed with River Delta Records. Plain Jane, her second LP is set to release January 26.
After Ms. Morgan, McEuen ambled out to the stage accompanied by the affable and perfectly-matched partner in musical legacy, Matt Cartsonis.
McEuen digressed with stories about his days with Nitty Gritty Dirt Band as well as stories about his buddy comedian (and fellow banjo player) Steve Martin. Rare nuggets, such as the story of how he came to work for singer Andy Williams, were met with appreciation from a crowd who also grew up listening to and watching The Andy Williams Show. It’s quite possible that there may be only a few people with whom John McEuen hasn’t worked in his 50-plus years as a professional musician.
Still as handsome as ever as a silver-haired, neatly-bearded 72-year-old, not only is his music versatility and mastery a part of his legacy – but as much so is his comedic expressions and the flash of a still-boyish ornery smile. Just because he’s a music sage doesn’t mean he had to take growing up all that seriously.
Kansas City’s own Riverrock percussionist Daniel Smith was invited to bring his washboard setup on stage to join McEuen and Cartsonis. Smith said he and McEuen have been friends for decades since they met in the 1970s. It was all about the love for music.
McEuen’s recently released CD Roots Music: Made in Brooklynis lushly populated with accompanying artists such that there is a long list on the front of the cover. David Amram’s intro reads:
It is not often that you have the opportunity to spend two twelve hour days recording and at the end of the day (which as become night time0 want to stay and do more. John McEuen’s album is an experience that all of us fortunate enough to participate in will cherish. Every musician played so beautifully – each take was a breathtaking experience.
The performances were all memorable, and we moved along so smoothly that there was not time to relish the experience until trying to remember each tune we did when we thought about it late at night after all was over. It provided us all with vitamins for the soul.
I know this recording will be an inspiration for all younger tiger-songwriteres, musicians, composers and listeners to realize that it is possible today to create work of lasting value that is always musical, soulful and enjoyable. ~ David Amram, Beacon, NY
There should be no hesitation for fans to jump on the chance to see McEuen’s tour in forward cities, which span the country from California to the Midwest, to Pennsylvania to Texas and Florida. The music, the narrative and the sheer happiness that comes from spending a couple of hours with this legendary artist are not only reminders of our youth but, for young artists, a reminder that their own musical legacies hold the promise to endure.
One more thing – be sure to reserve your copy of McEuen’s upcoming book. In the final manuscript stages at the moment, McEuen’s book The Life I’ve Picked: A Banjo Player’s Nitty Gritty Journeyis set to release April 1, 2018. This volume is sure to be filled with a rich history of great anecdotes and uplifting stories.
And, just for the record, we all would have picked you, too, Mr. McEuen.
If you want a chance to participate, cast your vote for your favorite performers and support your favorite venue, then here’s the list and here’s where to vote.
For what it’s worth, my pitch on this particular contest is that I grew up listening to old style country music (and a ton of other types of music) and I have a deep respect for the genre and its roots. To me, it’s as ingrained as the church hymns I also grew up singing.
I also believe that music is like a big web and all things are connected. If you pluck one strand, it effects all the others. I don’t know about you but, for me, I enjoy exploring the many facets of our music heritage.
Thankfully, Knuckleheads embraces a wide range of genres, so there’s always something that appeals to a variety of musical tastes. The main focus is to have safe, fun places to get out away from the house, the television set and the pressures of life and enjoy a few hours of live music.
Knuckleheads – and I’m sure the other nominees as well – have worked hard to keep live music reachable and fun for all of us. If there’s ever a chance to say “thank you,” it’s when nominations come along that invite music lovers to come together and voice their support. Again, here’s where to vote.
Wrapping up a grueling but fruitful concert tour for 2017, Samantha Fish came home to Kansas City to put on her last show of the year, packing a Knuckleheads Garage crowd willing to drop $90 a ticket for the evening, which included complimentary champagne and a balloon drop at midnight.
The show also included access to two other acts: the crowd-pleasing Atlantic Express gushing the best of the 60’s top hits (“My Girl”; “Chain of Fools”; “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”) and The Belairs out of Columbia, MO, who can put a blues spin on any music genre.
It was a little tricky to move between simultaneous shows inside on Knuckleheads‘ main stage and the Garage but once I soaked up several irresistable performances by Atlantic Express, I moved over to the Garage to cozy up to some Belairs blues.
After watching the brothers for several songs, I made up my mind that there comes a time in your life where you appreciate a sharp-dressed man who can handle an axe.
Brothers Dick and Dave Pruitt – who took on a 90 minute set Sunday night for the Knuckleheads’ New Years Eve concert – played everything from slide guitar blues to Johnny Cash.
..and they did so with a style that showed off what 30-year career musicians learn only from gigging all over the country for three decades
“From Austin to Boston” sums up the range these brothers bring to the stage – with Dick’s on-point range of vocals and bass guitar coupled with brother Dave’s gleeful command of lovingly-seasoned instruments that have clearly been distressed the old-fashioned way: by years of beating millions of notes through them.
If it’s the brothers’ style to bring a nod-to-the-sixites, sharp-dressed man look, they do so with the cool and confidence of the Rat Pack. But it’s their command of blues notes which permeates their music and their songs – whether soul, country, southern blues or rock -that satisfied the blues-discerning fans at Knuckleheads this New Years Eve.
Just before 11 p.m., Ms. Fish came out on stage in a mini-dress that look audaciously like it was coated in glittering mermaid scales (fish…mermaid scales…get it?). The dazzling dress was complimented by knee-hugging black boots which covered what has become famously-known as a pair of the best gams in the music business. Her gorgeous shock of oversize blonde curls above the winged eyeliner and capacious smile finished off the allure to her fans to join her down to the floor – closer to her – in front of the stage for the next two and a half hours.
But everyone who comes to see Samantha knows the essence of her gifts lie in her mastery of and fearless attacks on the strings. While we love her presentation, we love her songwriting and delivery even more.
Naught shall keep the blues from its appointed rounds, apparently, so even though this past Monday was Christmas, it was still Coyote Bill’s Monday night Open Blues Jam at Westport Saloon. Plenty of local KC talent braved the 21 degree weather to show out and warm up a dedicated crowd of holiday revelers.
Among the musicians who came out were Koolaide and Miss Bea of Koolaide Exact Change Band – their first time at Westport Saloon – bringing good tidings of great vibes accompanied by John Paul Drum on harmonica. Will Hawkins stepped in on drums and Rick Symmonds on keys.
Blues Jam host William “Bill” Bartelt has had a version of Coyote Bill band for the past 10 years, he said, and has hosted the Coyote Bill Blues Jam at Westport Saloon for the past four years. The current lineup of Coyote Bill includes Bill, Patricio “Pato” Lazen, who joined the band about a year ago, and Kris Schnebelen, who joined in October, 2017, on drums.
Westport Saloon is a cozy, friendly place boasting “live, independent roots music” in the heart of Kansas City’s Westport. There’s a decent size dance floor, two bars and lots of live music variety.
When Mike Zito puts on a concert, he only knows full throttle. When he came to Knuckleheads Dec. 9 with special guest Jeremiah Johnson Band, the energy couldn’t get any higher on a ride that lasted even longer. It felt like like doing shots of Red Bull.
With two bands each this good, either one could have packed a Knuckleheads stage house – each of them has before. Together, they sent Kansas City fans scrambling for tickets.
Zito showed off his star quality by goading an already hyped-up, on-their-feet crowd into staying for a pairing of both bands well-into a three-song encore. Sharing the stage with the already popular Johnson, was fine with Zito, who seems to thrive on choosing to play with the very best. After all, not only is Johnson an award-winner also but he brings Frank Bauer’s dipping, back-arching saxophone performance, the personable Benet Schaeffer on drums and seasoned bassist Tom Maloney keeping everybody on track.
And Zito’s band is one of the best anywhere with Terry Dry on bass and Matt Johnson on drums. Plus, they can all sing and are performers who carry an intuitive showmanship into Zito’s performances.
These two bands are clearly among the most audience-satisfying acts touring right now. They easily interact with and take charge of the audiences who clearly are pumped and energized by these performers. When Zito took his wireless guitar out into the audience, exposed as he was, the fans cleared the way and egged him on. Well, let me just show you Mike Zito untethered:
A lot of people who love the blues know that Southern Avenue is a street in Memphis, TN.
But it’s also the name of a young blues band with a namesake debut album Southern Avenue.
Coming back for another run at Kansas City’s great roadhouse Knuckleheads Nov. 30, those who didn’t catch Southern Avenue the first time around this summer are going to get a second chance – which is a coup for the fans who recognize they are lucky enough to still get in to see this band’s star rise at a smaller venue.
Just a refresher of Southern Avenue’s July 14, 2017 appearance:
The band lit up the Knuckleheads outdoor stage Friday, July 14, 2017 – on a beautiful summer night in front of a standing room only, overflow blues crowd. Opening for the TUF (Trampled Under Foot) Reunion, sisters Tierinii (vocals) and Tikyra Jackson (drums) along with Israeli-born Ori Naftaly on guitar and keyboardist Jeremy Powell, coaxed the crowd into filling their cups with a fresh brew of youth-infused blues – a special blend of blues tones, youthful lyrics, gospel and Tierinii’s arousing delivery.
Like a choir director stirring up a congregation, vocalist Tierinii kept up an unrelenting invitation to jump into a groove with an energetic lineup of original songs like “Don’t Give Up” and “Rumble” – all while heel-stepping, hip-gyrating and swinging her long, brilliant red locks. The band broke out in several solos by Powell, Naftaly and Tikyra, creating a bubbling cauldron of excitement inside the ever-more hyped up crowd.
The set wrapped up with the wave-inducing “Don’t Give Up” that would have gotten the band elected to Congress if it had been a political rally. You can get a free download of the song if you sign up with your email here. If you don’t get anything else out of this article, I recommend getting that song. It has a great mantra that is at the heart of how Southern Avenue connects with their fans.
Let’s have a listen to Music City Roots‘ video of Southern Avenue’s “Don’t Give Up”:
Outside the Knuckleheads front entrance during the intermission (Trampled Under Foot Reunion was up next as the headliner), the newly-minted fans were able to snap up CDs of the Southern Avenue namesake debut record – also available on LP vinyl for those who like to take their music for a vintage spin on a platter.
I didn’t know what to think this past summer when this little pint-size pixie sidled up to the microphone on the stage one Wednesday night during the 2017 Levee Summer Blues Jam. Jam nights are pretty laid back…Newman, casually bespeckled – but even so, nothing could obscure those big eyes underneath. I thought right then, in fact, that she was reminiscent of one of Margaret Keane’s paintings – waif-like and barefooted. I squinted a bit wondering what this gal was doing in a blues jam.
But, then…something about how she wore that big ol’ bass like a comfortable accessory and how, with a smile and flick of her locks, the fellas around her took que and struck in. I quickly surmised I’d better pay attention: she wasn’t there to follow.
She was there to LEAD.
Sure ’nuff, after her step up to the mic, out came a big woman voice that boomed a whole lotta blues outta seemingly nowhere.
Yeah. Fool me once. Never again. Welcome to my first experience of Heather Newman.
I got a chance to catch up with her after her set and found her very down-home friendly. From Omaha originally, Newman has made Kansas City home recently but, clearly, she has that Midwestern approachability. I promised to catch her one of her professional appearances in the future and as luck would have it, the next time I got to connect with her was at Knuckleheads with her own band, The Heather Newman Band.
After waiting around for her to greet her fans before the show, Ms. Newman said she was excited because she had written a new song the day before and run the band through the new tune in less than a day to try it out this very next night. To understand this level of ability, one first has to know that, even though she is only 23 years old, she’s been performing since she was 10, so in Heather Newman years, she’s a seasoned pro.
With the debut of “Burn Me Alive”, it’s easy to see how she taken her raw talents to bolder levels.
With Lee’s Summit’s Keith Ladd on guitar, classically trained Ryan Matthew on keys and Cole Dillingham (formerly with Amanda Fish band) on drums, Newman is clearly comfortable as a leader of the band (more like keeper of the band’s happiness.) Coaxing her guys through songs with smiles and attention, she never misses a beat while doing what it takes to make sure the sounds are on track. Talent builds talent and begets talent so Newman surrounding herself with such a worthy crew has clearly served to put her at the helm of a great sound at an opportune time in her career – and theirs.