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Archive for January, 2011

Ellis Paul: The Year After Everything Changed

A conversation with Ellis Paul:  First of a two part series.

After fifteen years with a record label, Ellis Paul made the bold decision to leave.  His most recent album was an independent release.  Regarded by many as the finest effort of his career, the album was named one of NPR Folk Alley’s best of 2010.

One year following the release of “The Day After Everything Changed”, we asked Ellis to talk about life as an independent musician.

Why did you make the decision to go independent?

I started out indie on the singer/songwriter circuit, and then later continued to build an audience with a record label.  The label really isn’t an advantage anymore.  The label’s jobs are distribution and promotion.  Those jobs are pretty much over after three or four months, but the label owns the masters and continues to collect money forever.  Distribution is not as important in the digital age, and I can do better promotion on my own. 

If you have to spend more time marketing yourself, does it stifle creativity?

No, I have many great people working with me; we come up with ideas all the time, even while traveling in the car.  Everyone has a defined role to perform.  It’s the touring schedule that damages creativity.

Editor’s note:  Ellis Paul performs more than 150 dates per year across the country.  His current tour schedule has dates booked through April 2012; he’ll be a featured artist on next month’s Cayamo music cruise.

What are the challenges of being an independent musician?

It’s harder to get the music heard, to get radio stations to play the songs.  Radio stations that were previously supportive continue to play my songs, but not as much.  We hired an indie radio promoter to make calls to AAA and secondary country stations, but it’s tough.

Going independent limits the number of radio stations willing to play the music.  It’s hard to get onto commercial radio unless there’s buzz, either because the song’s in a television commercial, in a movie, or there are a million hits on YouTube. 

It’s also harder to earn the respect and support of national publications.  Media know that the labels purchase ads; those ads put food on the table.

You’ve had songs in the movies; how did that happen?

I’ve been fortunate.  The Farrelly brothers heard my music through a manager relationship and are regionally supportive of New England artists.  The directors used my song over the end credits of the the Jim Carrey movie “Me, Myself & Irene”.  It’s massive exposure, a break many indie musicians dream of getting.  The end credit song has the highest loyalty rate and garners the most attention of any music in a movie.  Years later “The World Ain’t Slowin’ Down”  is still my most requested and downloaded song.

Do you take advantage of social media to market your music?

I do; guerrilla marketing on the internet is important.  I’m on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.  My YouTube presence is still underdeveloped, and that will be the “go to” area for the next year.  I used YouTube to advertise my new record.  That video clip now has nearly 19,000 views.

Has your decision to go independent affected your relationship with your fans?

I have a broader appreciation of the fans’ commitment to me and my music now.  Thanks to the support from the fans, I was able to work on the new record until it was right.  I’m very pleased with the outcome.

What would you like people to know about life as an independent musician?

The job is about 60-70% business and only 30-40% art.  You have to be a businessman, an accountant, a boss, and a tour agent.  But the art is the most important thing; you have to make sure that the art is great.

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Photo credit:  Photo of Ellis Paul by MacPolski

Ellis Paul official site:  http://www.ellispaul.com/

Purchase “The Day After Everything Changed”:  http://amzn.to/eFP03w

SCKBSTD: Musical High in the Low Country

Recap/review of the musical SCKBSTD is kindly offered by @juliegr (Julie Gray-Roller). First three photos by @juliegr; production shots by David Polston via SCKBSTD (Facebook)

On a clear, crisp Saturday morning we headed for Norfolk and for the premiere weekend of the new Bruce Hornsby musical, SCKBSTD.  I was to chat with Marilyn Johnson, Marketing Director at the Wells Theatre, prior to the matinee and would later attend the evening performance of the play.

When I entered The Wells lobby, I found myself in a crowd of theater goers dressed to the nines.  The Wells is located about two blocks from the Elizabeth River and the wind off the water was whipping down the streets.  Almost every lady I saw was wearing a fur coat; I was amidst Norfolk society.  They were all gathered in the lobby and absorbed in animated conversation. 

I located Marilyn, and over drinks we talked about the wonderful show reviews that had appeared in the Virginian-Pilot and online newspapers that morning.  Marilyn confirmed that the play is drawing well with attendance of about 3/4 capacity.  She told me that Bruce Hornsby has attended each show, sitting to the side once the performance begins so he can gauge how the crowd likes the music and play.  He always ducks out before the play ends so he isn’t seen by attendees! 

As we were talking, Marilyn saw Chip DeMatteo (the co-lyricist and Bruce’s long time friend).  Marilyn pulled him over and I got a photo with him.  Bruce and Chip have known each other for many years – writing lyrics, playing in bands, and even toying with the idea of writing a play together.  

There was an interesting mix of people in the lobby – ladies of at least eighty years, middle aged men and women, and young ladies in their twenties.  It was obvious that a number of people have season passes to the Theatre but an impressive number were buying tickets at the box office as well.  The matinee was about to seat attendees and Marilyn had other duties, so we parted. 

As I left The Wells, I stopped to admire the building – a beautiful old structure which at one time was an opera house.  The orchestra seats about 125; total seating capacity is approximately 450.  There are ornate balconies and two mezzanines.  The topmost mezzanine and a couple of the balconies are set aside for lighting and other production equipment.  The orchestra seats all provide a good view of the stage.

Following dinner, I returned to The Wells for Saturday evening’s show.  The Theatre was again abuzz with people discussing the play and the newspaper reviews.  One man mentioned that he had encountered Bruce Hornsby in the Mall across from the Theatre and got his autograph!

I doubt many of us live in small towns – but I think that everyone can relate to the problems, joys, angst, and current events that play a large part of SCKBSTD.  If any of the following are part of your life – either daily or occasionally – you will be immersed in and intrigued by this play.

Troubled teenager; elderly parent living with you; elderly parent suffering from mild form of Alzheimer’s disease; no one-on-one time with your spouse; runaway child; divorce; step-children/step-parent; marriage therapy; expecting too much of your child; trying to live out your sports dream through your child; working too long for too little money; allowing the job to interfere with your sex live; unhappy about the new ethnic group in your town/city/community; teenage drinking; fears about teenage drunken driving and the results of such driving; teenage smoking; everyone pushing against the boundaries of life, marriage, and/or school.  Sound familiar?  Mix in gossip about an unfamiliar car being driven by a stranger and you have the storyline. 

I think we have all experienced some of the above and most of the vignettes were well acted, successful in making the audience laugh, nod in agreement and even wipe away a tear or two.  The players were exuberant, high energy and well cast; I thought they all enjoyed their roles and did an excellent job moving from scene to scene.  The band was on stage with the cast and was perfectly placed to be part of the play. 

For me, SCKBSTD had many highs and a few lows. 

The “highs” included the music and the band, especially keyboardist Jodie Moore.  Jodie’s light touch on the keys reminded me of Bruce Hornsby’s style, and her skilled play helped to impart the music’s meaning to the audience .  There were bluesy songs – “Who Takes Care of Mom” and “Where’s the Bat”; a beautiful duet – “Invisible” by the teenagers questioning their place in the community; and a whimsical piece “Don of Dons” by the grandfather.  “Low Country” was a perfect beginning to the play and set the mood for the audience.  I also loved “The Black Rats of London”, an ode to xenophobia. 

Another highlight was the singing; the cast was in excellent voice and I was especially impressed by the “teenagers “ Charles Franklin (Tim) and Brynn Williams (Jill), and touched by William (William Parry), the senile elderly parent.  

The “lows” included the book.  The storyline drifts and wanders far afield before everything is tied together in a neat package at the play’s end.  It is only then that we find out who the “SCKBSTD” is, why he is roaming the roads at night, and how an unfortunate incident many years ago became both his livelihood and his burden.

Another low for me was the disconnect between the play’s title and the unfolding events.  I was left wondering why fear of the unknown led the townspeople to label the stranger a SCKBSTD.  However, maybe that is the beauty of a play — if you’re still thinking about the storyline two or three days later — the objective has been satisfied.

The audience applauded loudly for a number of the songs and gave a standing ovation for the band and actors at the end of the play.  The applause meter was at the high end for “Jill” and “Tim”, but all the cast was well appreciated. 

I encountered the theatre manager in the lobby and asked about that evening’s gate and if Bruce Hornsby was in the house.  The manager said the theatre was again nearly full and that Bruce had watched the play, but departed for a secluded area before the audience left. 

I wish he had stayed; I would have liked to tell him how much I enjoyed the play and the music.   I hope many of you will soon be able to enjoy both as the play moves on to Broadway.

Dancing with the Stars: A Lesson from Charles Barkley

I’m with Charles Barkley.  The problem with his golf swing was never effort or desire.  It was never talent.  The raw potential was always there.  Pro Hank Haney simply couldn’t give Charles what he needed, and as a result Barkley suffered through several embarrassing episodes of failed, made-for-television golf instruction.  As Charles later explained to David Letterman, “I think that the problem – Hank.  He walks around talking about he teaches Tiger Woods.  Really?  Really, you gonna rest your hat on that?”  And then Charles drove home the point, “Anybody could help Tiger.  I’m the problem here.  I’m the one who needs help.”

Exactly.  That is just the problem that I have with the producers of Dancing with the Stars.  You taught Jennifer Grey how to waltz?  You showed Kristi Yamaguchi how to twirl?  Really?  Really?  You gonna rest your hat on that?  Anybody could teach a dancer how to dance.  Anybody could show an Olympic athlete how to move.

No, producers, I want what you’ve promised me.  I want to be entertained.  Show me what you can do with celebrities who have potential but no training.  Bring me contestants with energy, enthusiasm, and desire.  Make me laugh and make me cheer.  Give me a reason to tune in, or maybe give me two.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus:  Beautiful, funny, great legs, and great potential.  At just over 5’2″ and with slender build, she is easily paired with any of the male professional dancers.  A shoe size of 8.5 suggests that she’ll enjoy good balance and solid footing on stage.  Available evidence does confirm that Ms. Dreyfus would benefit from dance instruction.

 

Taylor Hicks:  The American Idol season 5 winner lights up the television screen with his smile and charm.  Following a Broadway stint in GREASE, he already has the sparkly suit he’ll need on stage.  He has the look, the energy, and the fanbase.   He even has a few moves that he calls his own.  Still, a choreographer wouldn’t hurt.

I’m hanging with Charles Barkley on this one, producers.  No guts, no glory.  Show me what you can really do.  Set aside the dancers and the Olympians; let’s see what you make of untrained but willing feet, a good attitude, and a sense of humor.  Entertain me.

And if all else fails, bring in Mr. Barkley.  Not to dance of course – Charles would make a wonderful guest judge.  This former Olympian already has the dancing down pat.

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If you’d like to help cast the spring 2011 season of “Dancing with the Stars”, go here:  http://abc.go.com/shows/dancing-with-the-stars/cast-season12

Bruce Hornsby: Musical(ly) Inclined

Blog kindly contributed by @juliegr (Julie Gray-Roller)

New York City rehearsals completed, the cast and crew have moved to Norfolk, Virginia in preparation for opening night.  “SCKBSTD“, the new Bruce Hornsby musical, will take the stage at The Wells Theatre beginning Tuesday, January 18.  The world premiere production features music and lyrics by Williamsburg native and Grammy award winner Bruce Hornsby, lyrics by Chip deMatteo and book by Clay McLeod Chapman. The show is based on an original story by Bruce Hornsby. The production’s official opening is January 21 and will run through February 6, 2011.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Marilyn Johnson, Director of Marketing at The Wells Theatre, who says ticket sales have been brisk and the atmosphere at The Wells is happy but chaotic as they prepare for next week’s premiere.  The singers and dancers continue to hone their performances as final touches are put to the set.  The producers confirm that “Walls are going up, trees are going in, rolling doors and windows are being built, and mechanical tracks are being fine-tuned.”

While the details of the storyline have been kept secret in advance of the premiere, a recent press release explains that SCKBSTD is the story of a close-knit small town that is rocked with rumor and paranoia when a stranger moves in and cruises the streets in his Dodge.

“SCKBSTD  is a very relatable story about a family — a couple running a business together, sandwiched between caring for their children and an aging parent.  Then a stranger comes to town and the resulting fears and rumors turn their daily lives upside down.  Most rock musicals are about teenage angst.  This is a rock musical about middle-age angst. There are light-hearted, funny moments, touching moments… ultimately it’s a story of redemption and love,” says co-producer Mike Rafael.

Last Saturday night a preview of the songs of SCKBSTD was offered at The Wells.  Daily Press columnist Sam McDonald attended the concert as Bruce Hornsby performed solo to the sold out theatre.  McDonald reports that the songs range from “New Orleans boogie, achingly tender ballads, Frank Zappa-like rock, off-kilter jazz, and even polka.”

McDonald provides an example of the tongue-in-cheek humor embedded in some of the show’s tunes.  “…..one of the tunes played for the first time in public Saturday was “Where’s the Bat.” In the lyrics to that song, a suburban housewife confesses she’s so frustrated with her husband that she’s ready to bludgeon him with a Louisville Slugger.

“Hot damn, where is it? Where’s the bat, when I need it?” Hornsby sang, getting into character. The crowd loved it.”

The songwriter himself acknowledges that the music is unlike anything he’s previously written.  “I’ve enjoyed pushing the boundaries with the music. There’s a broad range of styles here, musically and vocally… it took a lot of colors to paint this story,’ said Hornsby.  ‘The whole reason for being here is in creating something that moves people, something soulful that makes a connection.”

Bruce Hornsby is known for his willingness to innovate and to incorporate a variety of sounds and styles into his music.  During his long and successful career he has ventured from rock into jazz, classical, bluegrass and even electronica.  I’m looking forward to witnessing this new phase in his career.

Only a few days remain until the official opening of “SCKBSTD” in Virginia.  I’ll be there, and then I’ll be here with all the details on the play, the music, the actors and the crowd.  Stay tuned!

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Photographs reposted with permission:  http://sckbstrd.blogspot.com/

Excerpt from Sam McDonald’s concert review reposted with permission: http://weblogs.dailypress.com/entertainment/music/pop/blog/2011/01/hornsby_sounded_loose_and_soul.html

Many thanks to Marilyn Johnson of The Wells Theatre; purchase tickets for “SCKBSTD” here:  http://bit.ly/efqYJm

Follow SCKBSTD on Facebook here:  http://on.fb.me/hNmUxX

An Open Letter to Bryan Adams

Dear Bryan Adams,

I don’t blame you.  After all, how could you have realized the sincerity of my effort; how could you have seen the heart, the soul that I poured into every keystroke?

No online contest could capture the devotion of a true fan, and so tonight someone else is cradling between their palms the autographed album that should have been mine.  Their hands are probably sweating all over your Bare Bones, but I’m not bitter, Bryan Adams, not at all.

On Monday, Bryan Adams, I typed my contest entry while I sang “Heaven” with you.  Then I sang the harmony.  Then I alternated line by line between the melody and the harmony until my housemates ran screaming from the room.  I may have to move out, Bryan Adams, but it’s not your fault.

On Tuesday, Bryan Adams, I looked at photographs while I sat at the computer.  I shook my head in awe at your talent.  I admired your photograph of Sting, and I realized that the large bags under his eyes, the deep furrow of his brow, his receding hairline only add character to the picture.  (Just to note, Bryan Adams, in the unlikely event that you ever snap my photo, I prefer “airbrushed” to “character”.)

Wednesday, Bryan Adams, I wrote a haiku for you before I hit the enter key.  Yes, I could have written full verse and in iambic pentameter, but let’s be honest.  You’re busy, I’m busy; I felt that seventeen syllables adequately conveyed my meaning.

If you sign Bare Bones

and even if you scribble

No Ebay for me!

On Thursday, Bryan Adams, I reviewed your concert schedule.  Somehow, despite shows all over North America, Europe, and Asia, your tour still bypasses my city this spring.  I don’t like to think that you’re avoiding me, but I have to be honest.  It cuts like a knife.  Wistfully, I submitted yet another contest entry, but was forced to admit that it just won’t be a party this year, not if you can’t come around.

I was late for work on Friday, Bryan Adams.  I emerged dripping from the shower.  Steam filled the room and clouded my reflection in the mirror.  I rushed to the computer.  Tiny rivulets of water ran insistently from my wet, matted hair down the slow, smooth curve of my neck to that point low on my left chest where the towel had been carelessly knotted.  A faint, albeit musical, gasp emerged from my parted lips as I felt the knot release.  Right hand on the keyboard, I waved uselessly at the towel with my left until………………………..until I came to my senses, Bryan Adams.  After all, who lets an imported 100% Pima cotton towel hit the floor?  Not me, Bryan Adams, certainly not me.

No, you are not to blame for the inadequacy of online contests, Bryan Adams.  I hope you understand, though, that not all entries are created equal.  Some reflect heart, soul, and even a damp towel, all invested in The Right Place.

                                                    Sincerely,

                                                    A fan

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To purchase Bryan Adams’ new LIVE acoustic album “Bare Bones”:  http://amzn.to/eEpuE1

For Bryan Adams news, media, and tour dates: http://www.bryanadams.com/

I am not bitter.

Taylor Hicks on Jam Cruise: Maceo Parker Super Jam

Day 5 of Jam Cruise 9 featured the Maceo Parker Super Jam and Parker was joined on stage by a medley of other musicians, including Taylor Hicks.  The following photos of the Super Jam were captured and are graciously offered by Paul McLaren – photographer, Jam Cruiser, and generous friend.

Maceo Parker on sax, Taylor Hicks on harp, George Porter, Jr on bass.

For more of Paul’s stunning photos of Jam Cruise 9, visit the following links: www.jamcruise.911world.us    www.pix.paule911.com

Taylor Hicks on Jam Cruise: The Gong Show!

Taylor Hicks Opens the Gong Show on JamCruise9

This photoblog is kindly provided by Paul McLaren, a talented photographer and Jam Cruise passenger who notes that those of us who stayed behind are missing an outstanding time on Jam Cruise 9!  Paul reports that both the musicians and entertainment are phenomenal.  Everyone is running on just a few hours of sleep, but no one wants to miss any of the action.  Unique collaborations and some incredible music continue in the Jam Room until 5 or 6 each morning.

And yet some stay to see the sunrise.  Paul reports that musician Taylor Hicks was one of those who watched the ship dock in Costa Maya just before dawn.  Nonetheless, Taylor was ready for more on Friday.  The American Idol winner was host of “The Gong Show” where passengers were invited to display their talents and be judged.  Payback time, Taylor??

Please enjoy the following photographs of the event, courtesy of Paul, who enjoyed the Show and general hilarity on our behalf.

Taylor Hicks Hosts the Gong Show: opening the show

Taylor Hicks Introducing an act on JamCruise9's Gong Show

Taylor steps to the side of a ‘Gonged’ contestant!

Simon Allen runs to try and save an act.

Despite help from Taylor, there is no saving this one!

Taylor Hicks on stage with JamCruise9 Gong Show contestants.

Taylor introduces the Gong Show winner.

Congratulating the winner.

The winner finishes her slam poem.

Taylor Hicks, the Gong Show Host, ends the show!

Thanks to Paul for providing an up-close and personal view of Taylor’s first time ever hosting a game show on JamCruise9.

Taylor Hicks on Jam Cruise: Day 2 Photos

This first look at Jam Cruise 9 is offered by Paul McLaren who shares a few photographs captured on Day 2 of the festivities.

Paul caught up with musician Taylor Hicks during Hicks’ guest appearance and jam with Galactic.  Taylor was later spotted with a costumed passenger during Wednesday’s “Future Jam” theme night.

Thanks, Paul!

Adam Ezra Group: Barefoot Pleasure

At set break the audience was invited to pay whatever we liked for the CDs on the merchandise table.  My friend dropped a twenty in the box and hoped that Adam would be able to afford a pair of shoes.

I, however, preferred the bandleader barefoot.  It all fit; the toes, the music, and the crowd moved with abandon.  From the back of the room, all the heads seemed to bob in unison.  The percussionist, aptly nicknamed “Turtle”, was only one of many who grooved to the band’s beat.  The 20 something brunette who claimed first row center and the gray haired gent who stood beside her were moving, too.  It was a veritable herd of turtles at The Half Door, all with necks craned at the stage and heads set in motion.

It was a chilly December night, and we had hurried from an unlit side street to the club’s front door.  It was dark inside as well, but the ambient energy was warm and electric.  On a late Wednesday evening in sleepy Insurance City, the house was packed.  Loud chatter, laughter, and the sound of clinking glasses accompanied the band’s warm-up.  When the show began, patrons crowded the small stage front.  We soon realized that the crowd was not just rocking; they were singing, and they knew all the words.  The Adam Ezra Group had groupies.

When the show began and the first notes settled in my ears, I immediately recognized the song.  It was completely unexpected.  Somehow I hadn’t expected this young band to open with a tale of middle aged regret, but it worked.  They offered a gritty and intuitive take on “Angel from Montgomery” that was both surprising and pleasing.*


Most of the songs performed were originals and written by Adam Ezra.  Adam has said that he writes constantly; he writes and the band arranges.  Adam has a lot to say, and fortunately he says it well.  The lyrics are intelligent and the stories are told with good-natured humor.  While there may be an occasional edge to the tone, there is never overt negativity.  On this particular night, the band played several selections from their 2010 album “View from the Root”.  Two of these stood apart from the rest.  The socially relevant “Scandal” is written in a semi threatening tone and comes the closest of any of Adam’s songs to voicing anger and cynicism.* 


“She’s Just a Girl” is an upbeat, self-effacing, and humorous story of an old flame hooking up with a current buddy.*


Adam performs with an easy, natural warmth and with a broad smile that transforms his long face.  While the Hartford set did not require or demonstrate his full vocal range, I found the grit and honesty of his delivery very appealing.  The band was relaxed and interactive; they played with an organic down-home unity and excellent dynamics.  Their unique brand of acoustic rock was delivered with a folk/blues vibe, accented by jazz chord progressions.  Adam was at ease on guitar, and also played harmonica and bongos.  The band added keyboard, base, drums and percussion to the mix.

The band as a whole had a magnetic personality.  They were very much a part of the scene, and not just the center of it.  The banter flowed freely between the artists and the crowd, and the crowd was completed invested in the Adam Ezra Group experience.  So was I. 

It comes as no surprise to me that this Boston based band has begun to develop a national reputation.  It’s too late to be early, but early enough to be on time, and in time to watch the Adam Ezra Group on the rise.

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*As no clean audio capture was available  from the 12/8 Hartford show, audio recordings are presented from the 12/17/10 live show taped by SmokinJoe and 12/18/10 show taped by corey the groundhog.   More here: http://www.archive.org/details/aeg2010-12-17.adktl-sbd-mix.flac16f  and here  http://www.archive.org/details/aeg2010-12-18.akg483-sbd.flac16

To purchase “View from the Root” and for more song samples:  http://amzn.to/gjxxlu

For more on the Adam Ezra Group: http://www.adamezra.com/

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