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.
Any musician who gets credited with being an overnight sensation knows that statement just makes for good headlines. In reality, the backstory for greatness is a road paved with more rocks than a prison quarry.
Even with the rising, seemingly quick success of blues singer/songwriter Orphan Jon English, he still informs his ever-growing fan base upfront from the microphone – “I was an orphan, abandoned as a little boy” – if nothing else, just to clear up how the name of the band came about. But there is nothing overnight about the success of Orphan Jon and the Abandoned and their new CD Abandoned No More. The inspiration for every song was decades in the making. In the words of the late, great Sunshine Sonny Payne: “Ya gotta live the blues before you play it.”
Orphan Jon English’s family, based on the outskirts of Bakersfield, California, was part of a long line of migrant workers who traveled from town to town, from state to state for work. When Jon’s mother was a young teen, she gave birth to her first child, a daughter, and soon another and another child was born every year or so until there were four more – all boys. In and out of the family’s life, the children’s father finally abandoned them. His mother, still young and rebellious, had less interest in her children than she did in hanging out in the bars. The State of California was finally called to look in on the unkempt, unsupervised kids. Beginning at eight months old, Jon and his three brothers were sucked into the California Social Services orphanages and foster care system.
Social Services had offered the all the children to their maternal grandparents. But his grandparents only wanted the oldest child, Jon’s sister Georgia, and declined to take the boys. It was three more years before his mother got the boys back. That reunion would only last a few short months.
A Child with No Home: Orphan Jon
Early Years of Abandonment
One day in 1970, a skinny, disheveled four-and-a-half-year-old boy peered out the window of a motel room looking for…waiting for…his mother to return. In tattered clothes and no shoes on his feet, surrounded by his three older brothers, all under the age of 10, the last memory Jon had of his mother was from the night before, when she cupped his face in her hands and kissed his cheek in a rare display of affection, leaving him with some last words: “Don’t you boys go running around all over the place.”
With that, and no warning, while they slept, she vanished and did not return.
That next day they woke up alone. The children had waited, pulling snacks of food from vending machines, running around anyway, barefoot and unattended – and eventually making their way up the road to the house of their mother’s sister.
His aunt took the four boys in, temporarily. But with many children of her own, the addition of four more rambunctious boys was too much for her and, after a short time, she reluctantly called social services – again.
The four boys were split up and taken to an orphanage.
Puzzled and alone again, the scrawny boy Jon, lay in the top bunk in the boys side of the dorm of the orphanage, hugging the emptiness and staring at the neon EXIT sign over the door located on the distant wall.
“Why? Why has this happened to me?” With tears streaming down his face, he waited for some word that their mother would return. Or, that someone…a family…would come forward to take them in.
Weeks went by, which turned into months.
Adopted, at Last
After spending his early years in and out of foster homes and dealing with many abuses by those that were supposed to be there to protect him, a day came when Jon was 10 that he and one of his older brothers got the news that the English family, with whom they had been living, would adopt them.
And that’s when the nightmare got bigger.
“The lady who took us in was very abusive,” said Jon, in a recent interview.
“Looking back, I see there’s so many different paths and directions my life took when I was young that I had no control over,” Jon said.
Because his brother Clarence was older and bigger and had more physical defenses, the younger and smaller Jon took the brunt of the physical and emotional abuse from their adoptive mother.
“When I was young, there were those moments when I hated her. I hated life. I wished for death.” Jon said.
The two brothers became slave labor to serve the adoptive family.
“My life was wrapped around doing chores. That’s all I did as a kid. My brother and I would get up early in the morning, fix our dad’s lunch and do chores before going to school, we never had any play time,” he remembered.
The dad in the family had his own problems and issues.
“He was gone all of the time,” Jon recalled. “He was a workaholic. He didn’t know until years later about the stuff she had done, he had no idea. Of course, when you’re a kid, you don’t think to say ‘Hey, Dad, there’s a lot going on here…’”
There was no one to tell.
Telling anyone about abuses was double-wrapped in the fear of losing the only real home he had come to know. As a result, Jon did what he hoped would keep him on the good side of his abuser.
“We cleaned the house constantly. We did all the floors and dust mopped them, did the dishes, cleaned the bedrooms, did the laundry. We’d go out in the yard and pull weeds in the flower beds and mow the lawns. That’s all we did day in and day out. Go to school, come home from school, do your homework, do the chores, do the dishes, go to bed,” Jon said.
And put up with the beatings, the ridicule, the loneliness and abandonment.
As Jon related his story, he was able to say that, over time, and from a much older viewpoint, he realized that his adoptive mother was one more link in a chain of child abuse – trapped in a cycle of her own life of abuse.
“I recalled the stories she told me when I was a child – about her stepdad and how he raped her…and just beat the crap out of her with a razor strap. It wasn’t until I was older and had an adult mind and I could look back and say ‘Wow, I see why she was the way she was.’ She was conditioned to do that. I don’t think she could look and say, ‘I can change this’ towards me,” Jon said.
Within the despair, however, were rhythms of hope – coming through the speakers of a record player. His adoptive mother would, in softened moments, invite his companionship to listen to her favorite songs.
“One positive thing she did is she would introduce me to music. I don’t remember truly listening to any music at all in my childhood until she came into my life. She loved Mozart, she loved The Everly Brothers – the harmony – Fats Domino and Marvin Gaye. So, I would listen to these songs – and she would encourage me to sing them.
And I discovered that when I did this, there were moments of affection shown towards me like a mother towards a child.
She liked the Everly Brothers. Those two guys can sing! I love their singing style, their harmony. As a child, I would imitate them, and she would sing with me.
There was just something about it [those moments] – as a child. That there was a peace and comfort, and compassion shown towards me. You don’t want to be left again,” Jon recalled.
Running Into Hope
Another path of hope came, a few years later, when Jon attended high school. He discovered he was really good at athletics. It was also a place where Jon’s adoptive father took notice of him.
“I was extremely dedicated to my athletics – running. I would get up early in the morning and run 10 miles a day. Here was my adopted dad who was an athlete [when he was younger] and it was something we could have in common, we connected with, so he started coaching us. I became one of the top runners in the Valley,” said Jon.
“It helped me channel my anger and frustrations in life at the time. I remember in high school that I never felt accepted because that’s just the way I am – never feeling like I belonged. Athletics allowed me the comraderie where I felt like I belonged because I was excelling in the sport that I was in.”
Orphan Jon English as a young athlete in high school found acceptance by excelling in sports. (submitted photos from Jon English)
Finding a Voice
Also, as a young teen, Jon found himself attracted to a young woman who was in chamber choir at his high school. In yet another fateful twist, he joined the choir to be near her.
“I was only in it for one semester, but it was enough to learn from an outstanding choral director in Mr. Mike McQuerrey. I learned to sing a capella, I learned pitch. I learned how to properly warm up your vocal chords And that was part of my life where I rediscovered that I had a voice,” Jon remembered.
Jon said that he still didn’t do anything with his singing until a bit later at the age of 16 when his adoptive grandmother – even more mean and abusive towards him than his adoptive mother – insisted Jon go to church with her…and sing. For Jon, in his never-ending effort to weave threads of obedience entwined with strands of abuse, a tapestry pattern was firmly set by then.
“I would do anything in my power to win over her affection and gain her acceptance,” Jon said.
The church was Jon’s first experience singing before an audience. In front of the tiny Pentecostal congregation of 10 or 15 people, his grandmother had asked him to sing “Why Me, Lord?” by Kris Kristoffersen. (shown here with grateful acknowledgment to the inimitable Kris Kristofferson.) (1)
Jon said the song was something he felt he could connect with, emotionally. His rendition apparently conveyed that emotion to the audience.
“People reacted so positive,” Jon said. “I felt like, ‘Hey, I’m liked by these people.’”
While his rendition of the Kristofferson song was well-received, his life was still void of true acceptance. He soon parted ways with his adopted grandmother and her church, and eventually found another church, one that was more conservative and was overwhelmingly immersed in old-time country gospel. The singing ministry in the new church offered something they called “Specials” wherein they would feature different singers from the church congregation to solo their favorite country gospel songs.
At some point, because he had become known for his singing voice at the previous church, all eyes turned to Jon to contribute his gift of voice.
“They sang something they called ‘Specials’ – songs by The Hansens, The Goodmans, The Bill Gaither Trio, etc. All country gospel artists,” Jon added. “So, I come along, and they came to me and they encouraged me. ‘You should sing a Special’ but I would respond to them ‘I’m not gonna sing a Special, I’m not a singer like that…a country gospel singer. It’s not me.’ But still they would insist ‘Oh, you are, too.’ So, finally I said, ‘Okay, I’ll do it.'”
“Well, I’m not going to sing country gospel,” Jon said he thought to himself. “I’m going to sing what I love, which is Black spirituals. There was something about the heart and soul in those gospel songs that hit home with me. And because of my love for Motown music. That’s what made the most sense to me as a singer.
“Thankfully I was encouraged by some of the young people in the church; because they remembered me from our high school Chamber Choir days. And by not singing what was expected, it was our way, the youth, of rebelling against the older, more conservative elders in the church. That was as rebellious as you could get. Forsake the normalcy of the country gospel and sing something completely different.” Jon let out one of his deep-toned, infectious laughs at the remembrance of those times.
One of those spirituals came from a Reverend FC Barnes’ songs called “Rough Side of the Mountain.”
“I wanted to do the song,” Jon said. “So, the pastor’s granddaughter – she was an amazing pianist – and was a year younger than me. So, I said, I want to sing this song. And she was like ‘Whoa. That’s not like the Hansens or the Goodmans.’ I said, ‘No, but I think this is a song you would like.’
So, she was like, ‘okay, let’s try it.’
But I said, ‘I don’t want to sing it just like FC Barnes.’ So, with her help we devised my own style and interpretation of the song.”
The stakes were high. The two young people – Jon and the minister’s granddaughter – knew the congregation would only accept Jon’s selection if the minister, himself, heard it and responded with approval – AND – the congregation would be looking to the minister before they decided how to react themselves.
“So, I get up there and I sing the special, ‘Rough Side of the Mountain'” Jon recalled, “with everybody in the congregation on pins and needles, waiting for Pastor, Rev. Jimmy S. Davis’ reaction. He just LOVED it!” Jon said.
(2)(youtube link with grateful acknowledgement to Rev. F. C. Barnes and Rev. Janice Brown)
Jon felt he had followed an inner spirit, taken a chance and won over a skeptical audience. That cemented a connection for the former orphan – that his voice was a way to amplify his feelings but also gain acceptance. That experience became an inner vow.
“If I’m going to sing a song, I’m going to sing a song that is true to the heart. I’m not just going to go through the motions just to sing it. I never sang any song that I wrote or cover song that didn’t affect me.
Because singing is such an emotional expression,” Jon said.
Parting Ways with his Adoptive Family
By the time Jon was 17, his adoptive family life had devolved into an unlivable chaos. His adoptive mother left his adoptive father when he was 14 and the home lost what shreds of stability it had. He left to live with his adoptive mother’s sister, Vickie, who had also attended the previously mentioned church with him along with his adoptive grandmother. She was a woman who was very kind to him. “She was the polar opposite of her sister,” Jon recalled.
Jon graduated high school and began his own life while continuing to attend the new Pentacostal church pastored by the Rev. Davis for the next 18 years. Through the church, he met his first wife, the mother of his children. During that period of years, Jon became a youth minister. He continued to sing in the church.
“I learned so much back then, especially how to sing and connect with the audience,” he said.
Though Jon and his first wife divorced in 2001, they made a joint decision to parent closely with their children. As a result, Jon and the mother of their children have a good relationship and their children grew into successful adults with loving parents.
The abandoned boy had grown into a man who turned a life of loneliness, bitterness and loss into a thriving family of his own and a large group of people at a church with whom he developed his gift of singing.
“It’s all based on acceptance,” Jon admitted.“Acceptance from my adopted mother; acceptance from my church; acceptance as an athlete from my peers and classmates. Everything I poured my heart and soul into because I always wanted to be accepted. That’s how it is for an abandoned kid. I feel like everything I went through as a child, as a young adult and a husband and a father, brought me to where I am today.”
Thankfully, the story does not end there but merely began new chapter – of songwriting, singing and an even more expanded family of musicians.
OJATA is appearing once at Knuckleheads on Friday, April 20, 2018 on the north side of Kansas City and then once again at BB’s Lawnside BBQ April 27, 2018 on the south side of Kansas City. Orphan Jon and the Abandoned has whipped up a fresh batch of emotionally-charged blues lyrics by heralded songwriter Jon English with hypnotizing guitar licks by his bandmate and blues brother, Bruce Krupnik.
Here’s a little taste of where the Krupnik blues zone can take you (from the 2017 OJATA performance at BB’s Lawnside BBQ):
Fair warning: For blues fans who relish being able to say they were among the first to see a hot band’s debut, these two appearance dates in Kansas City on the CD release tour for Abandoned No More are not only full of promise of great new original from-the-heart lyrics and music, but also a promise to be a part of a sweet niche of musical history. Fan-tastic tees will be available also featuring Heather June’s original graphic at the top of this story. Don’t even wonder: you will want one – and for now, that’s the only place they will be available is along the tour.
Blues Insights acknowledgements for contributions to this story:
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.
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:
At the sold out show for Jeremiah Johnson this past summer, nobody left the packed Gospel Lounge at Knuckleheads the entire performance as the St. Louis native blues home boy and his fiery saxophonist Frank Bauer, drummer Benet Schaeffer, and bassist Tom Maloney, solidified their hold on the Midwestern blues scene.
On another night this summer in the Knuckleheads venue, another St. Louis-born bluesman, Mike Zito similarly fired up a crowd on the outdoor stage opening for Tab Benoit – then, together with Tab Benoit. And, yes, (why do you even ask?) the crowd went wild.
But if putting both Johnson and Zito together on one ticket is winning a blues bash lottery, then you have a chance to cash in your prize this weekend:
Both performers were big winners at the Independent Blues Awards this year: Johnson for Best Independent Contemporary CD for “Blues Heart Attack” and Best Funk Song “Sun Shine Through” and Zito for Best Blues Rock Song: “Redbird”.
It’s about the music, yes, but it’s also about their incredible bands and both performers’ stage presence along with their incomparable abilities to lasso an audience not just with their talent but with their down-home genuineness. Okay, to boil it down: these guys actually really like their fans.
So, get out of the holiday doldrums, leave the world behind you and get transported inside the happy cocoon of Knuckleheads. Get your tickets via Knuckleheads directly as this is always the best ticket deal.
Here’s a visual taste of the shows from this summer:
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.
Rollin’ through on electric grooves this summer from California was Orphan Jon and the Abandoned – partnered up with Johnny Main and The 44’s. Hitting Kansas City twice in their tour of the Midwest, I first encountered OJATA at BB’s Lawnside BBQ – and was caught a bit off-guard when this beatnik looking daddy-o strolled up from out in the audience to grab the mic where the band had already fired up their first number. Jon English commenced to jiving and crooning, swaying a backside and raising his eyebrows invitingly at the audience over a pair of dark glasses – while a slim and seasoned Bruce Krupnik coaxed an electric cigar box guitar into a string-bending blues whine.
It became clear that we were all there to witness Orphan Jon having a good time and we could either join in or not – it was gonna happen…and it did happen. Everybody got bitten by the groove and pretty soon the place was hoppin.
Then, Jon English stepped back as guitarist Bruce Krupnik entered a zone and took everyone into it with him. Fortunately, I managed to gather myself enough to capture a goodly clip of it. Grab your favorite beverage, close your eyes and have a listen – I promise you, he’ll be gentle but you are gonna feel it:
That song, “Leave My Blues Alone,” is on the Abandoned No More CD coming out on Rip Cat Records after the first of the year (2018) – so you get a first taste of here. Thankfully, my unprepared backside got a second chance to video this number entirely and live when OJATA did a loop back around to KC on the tail end of their Midwest Tour and graced the Gospel Lounge at Knuckleheads a few days later. You want more than just a taste of this song? Well, here’s the 16 minute live version – with special guest Johnny Main injecting extra energy and mojo:
A lot more is coming here on Blues Insights about OJATA in the near future – as I truly believe in the amazing songwriting matchup of Jon English and Bruce Krupnik. But, yeah, even though the weather was balmy in the summer of 2017 – the Kansas City blues scene was hot, hot, hot.
Stay tuned (ha! get it?) for more as we will soon be discussing the upcoming CD: