They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but I beg to differ. Quite often (and more often than not), it’s annoying. When I was growing up, it wasn’t good enough to just go to school wearing Members Only jackets and Jordache jeans. In the 80′s, a lot of the kids at my school routinely liked to show up at our educational establishment mimicking their favorite entertainers.
I kid you not, some girls would actually come to school with the exact same haircut and wardrobe ensemble as Pat Benatar or Madonna. Then there was a section of the student body who felt obliged to pay homage to Boy George from Culture Club on a daily basis. And don’t get me started on the dudes who came to school wearing a replica of the jacket Michael Jackson made famous in the “Beat It” video.
Which leads me to yet another atrocity of copy cats I’d like to discuss - the doppelganger world I see whenever I stroll down the cereal aisle at my local grocery store.
As if it weren’t already bad enough that I can only get Count Chocula at Halloween time, half of the shelves that once housed such morning goodness as Quisp, Frute Brute and Waffle O’s are now home to the wannabes; generic cereal that’s been cleverly disguised as some of my all time favorites.
You don’t fool me.
Sure, grocery chains tout that by purchasing generic brands, consumers can still enjoy their favorite breakfast cereal and also save money at the same time. Although there is some truth to that statement, these same people who claim to know what’s best for Americans seem to have forgotten about one very important thing – the fun factor.
Time is a precious commodity in this day and age, and there’s only a certain amount of it we get to spend using it on breakfast. Personally, I’d much rather spend mine with Lucky the Leprechaun, Toucan Sam or Fred Flintstone than with some stranger trying to imitate my homies.
I find it funny how these generic brands of cereal attempt to make themselves out to be alternatives to the name brand by using slightly different names (and characters) in their promotion. For instance, compare the use of the word “swirl” in Fruit Swirls with the “loop” in Froot Loops; an obvious Jedi mind trick. Oh, and look! How convenient…a monkey pitching the product. Could it be that both a monkey AND a toucan might be found in the same deep jungle? I’m sure it was just a coincidence. NOT!
Sometimes, the characters used to pitch generic versions are more blatant than others. As is the case with “Fruity Bits”; a knock off of my beloved Fruity Pebbles. You’ve got to give them credit for using a dinosaur to appeal to the Jurassic customers who’ve regularly indulged in the name brand for years. Sorry, but eating a bowl or these bits doesn’t even come close to the euphoria I’ve experienced by having breakfast with Fred and Barney over the years.
And what’s with the word “bits” anyway? Bits sounds like something you’d give to your dog. It’s not as manly as “pebbles”. Sure, it might sound like you’re eating rocks (and who knows, maybe you are), but this is the stone age we’re talking about, right?
If it were me and the decision had to be made, I’d go with the name brand cereal every time. If for no other reason than I would much rather be sitting at the table in the wee hours of the morning reading about the games Fred and Barney have in store for me than contemplating if it was really worth it to save thirty cents just to buy some knock off. You can’t put a price on happiness.
And as for the grocers who think it’s cool to not stock Count Chocula and some of my other favorites in order to make room for products like these, there’s a special place in Guantanamo for you.
It’s been a busy year for former Heart guitarist Howard Leese. The man who played alongside sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson for more than twenty years has spent much of 2013 performing in the Las Vegas musical “Raiding The Rock Vault”.
In addition, Leese will once again be joining Paul Rodgers and Bad Company for the band’s 40th anniversary tour which kicks off this summer. Then there’s the little matter of his recent induction into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame and reunion with the rest of Heart. With a successful Vegas show in full gear and having worked with arguably the greatest male and female vocalists in rock history, Leese shows no sign of slowing down.
I spoke with Leese from his home in Malibu where we talked Raiding The Rock Vault, Heart, Bad Company and of course, guitars!
Read my entire interview with Howard Leese by Clicking Here
There’s an old addage that says there’s strength in numbers, and that’s certainly the case when it comes to bringing four of the greatest saxophone players together for the very first time.
Dave Koz, Mindi Abair, Richard Elliot & Gerald Albright each have had successful albums and tours in their own right, but for the Summer Horns project, Koz and friends join forces to create a truly one of a kind, all star section, and an album that tips it hat to an era when classic, big horn, feel good songs ruled the airwaves.
Among the songs included on Summer Horns are slick renditions of Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4″ as well as the Lennon/McCartney classic “Got To Get Get You Into My Life” (the latter of which borrowing a bit from the Earth, Wind and Fire arrangement). There’s also a tribute to Dave Brubek with a version of “Take Five”, one of the greatest sax melodies of all time.
Trombonist Brian Culbertson makes a guest appearance on a cover of the 1969 Sly & the Family Stone hit, “Hot Fun in the Summertime”. Jeffrey Osbourne delivers a powerful version of the Blood Sweat Tears inspired “God Bless The Child”. And Michael McDonald contributes a version of Tower of Power’s “So Very Hard to Go” that is quite possibly one of his all time best vocal performances. To coincide with the release of “Summer Horns”, the group will be taking their unique sectional sound on tour across the country.
Summer Horns not only offers the listener material that covers the real breadth of the instrument, but it also features songs with a little more “meat on the bone”. Sure, it’s a tribute to summer and good times, but more importantly, Summer Horns is an album about the real power of friendship.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Dave Koz about Summer Horns as well as his thoughts on the importance of music programs in the public school system.
What made you decide to do this type of album?
It was an opportunity for us to do something special and different for all of our fans and also a labor of love. The interesting thing was that even though we were always big fans of each others work, we had never all been in the studio together before. The four of us have such a great love and appreciation for this era of music. We all come from the same perspective of having been reared on horn section songs and horn bands.
How did you determine which songs to include?
We initially saw this as a total party record, but the more we got into it the more we realized that we had four saxophone players (each with our own unique individual sound) coming together to create this completely new horn section sound. So we decided to dig a little bit deeper and find some real melodic gems. The songs themselves are familiar, but they’re songs you may not have heard in a while. They’re classics, but they sound new and fresh.
What was it like recording the album?
We didn’t want to leave anything to chance, so we enlisted the talents of some amazing arrangers. We brought in Greg Adams (the principal arranger for Tower of Power) and Tom Scott (who’s worked with Quincy Jones and Paul McCartney among others). We really didn’t know what to expect, but I remember the first day we were recording. We all got on our mikes and were side by side and heard the sound that the four of us made to generate the section for the first time, and it was a moment of complete excitement and elation. That was the sound that we mined for this record.
What do you think makes jazz such a great genre of music?
By nature, it’s ever-changing. The target is always moving and there’s never a set standard show that you do day in and day out. It’s that element of chance and being in the moment that makes it so exciting and inspiring. It’s a surprise every night, at every show.
What are your thoughts on how music programs in schools are disappearing?
I’m a 100% product of the public school system and first picked up the sax in 7th grade. There was a saxophone class and a band and a teacher all there. That option was open for me at 13 years old. At the time, I had no idea that this would be my life’s work. but at least the opportunity was there for me to experience it. The thought that might not be the case for kids now weighs heavy on my heart, because where will the next generation of musicians come from?
It’s not just instrumental music, but also choir, drama and all of the other arts as well. Art is what keeps this country alive and moving forward. It’s also a great socialization tool. The sax is what brought me out of my shell. I was so awkward as a kid, and it really became my trusted ally. I’d love to see more kids be able to find their own “saxophone” or expression to help them become a more full human being.
Dave Koz and Friends Summer Horns will be released on June 11th, 2013
For more on Dave Koz, visit his official website by Clicking Here.
Vocalist and guitarist Janet Gardner is ready to “Rev It Up” again. The blonde beauty whose tenure with the band Vixen brought us the hits “Edge of a Broken Heart” and “Cryin’” is back with a vengeance with JSRG; a band comprised of 3/4 of the classic Vixen line-up.
Gardner, along with bassist Share Ross and drummer Roxy Petrucci had been in discussions with guitarist Jan Kuehnemund for several years about the possibility of doing a full-on Vixen reunion. But after several unsuccessful attempts to reunite due to timing issues, the trio recruited guitarist Gina Stile (who, coincidentally had worked with Gardner and Petrucci on the mid-90′s Vixen project, ‘Tangerine’). In order to avoid confusion but still offer fans the “Vixen” experience, the band decided to use their names and become JSRG.
Gardner’s own story is a journey from the high school choir and small town club scene to the biggest stages in the world. She’s shared the stage with some of the biggest rock groups in music history; including Scorpions and Deep Purple. Hers is a tale not only of hard work paying off, but also one of dreams coming true.
Fresh off a successful run on the Monsters of Rock Cruise and M3 Music Festival, Gardner and the rest of JSRG now set their sights on recording new music and performing at this year’s Firefest.
I spoke with Gardner about JSRG, Vixen, songwriting and more!
What was your experience like at M3?
It was a blast! Everything was so well done. It was such a cool vibe and all of the bands were great! There’s still some confusion over who we are, but people are starting to catch up with it.
Are you working on new music?
Gina and I have been tossing a few ideas around and we’re planning on getting together over the next few months. We’re also coordinating times with Roxy and Share to write and record some rhythm tracks. Our hope is to get it done this summer.
What’s your writing process like with Gina?
Gina and I have written a lot together over the years and in many different ways. Back when we were working on the Tangerine album, we had written somewhere in the range of fifty songs. Sometimes she’ll have a guitar idea or a chorus and we’ll hammer it out together. Other times, she’ll play guitar and I’ll play bass. Then we’ll discover some good melody parts and work on lyrics.
Tell me about the origin of the song “Rev It Up”.
Share had been working with Ron Keel. He had a different set of lyrics for the song at the time and Share was the one who came up with the “Rev It Up” idea. She got together with me, and I worked on the melody for the verse.
Video: Randy Gill
How did you get started in music?
My mom was a pianist and the organist at our church and I would go turn pages for her. I eventually started taking piano lessons myself, but by the time I was twelve I remember really wanting to play guitar badly. My parents finally got me one, and that was the end. I was hooked! The piano was OK, but it was nothing compared to when I was playing the guitar and singing.
When did you decide that you wanted to become a singer?
Growing up, I was actually really shy and would never sing alone in front of anyone. When I would sing, it was always alone up in my room. But I remember it was when I was in junior high school; I was in the choir and no one really wanted to audition for any the solos. Then one day, the director said “Ok, everyone’s going to sing along and I’m going to come around and listen.” As he walked by me he stopped and said, “You’re it. You’re doing it!” and I nearly freaked out. But little did I know, he created a monster! [laughs].
How did you get involved with Vixen?
The cover band I was in was playing a club one night when some girl came up to me and said she knew of a band that was looking for a singer and that I’d be perfect for them. So I gave her my card, but really didn’t think much of it. Then a few days later, I got a call from a manager who gave me a little more info and said he wanted to come down and see me play. So he came out and after he saw me perform said that he wanted to introduce me to the band. So I started looking around for the conspicuous looking guys with long hair. You know, “musician” guys. But then he says, “Oh, they’re over there at the bar.” I look over, and it was a bunch of girls. I had only ever been in bands where I was the only girl, but after meeting them and learning a few of each other’s songs, that was it. Everything just felt right.
What did you find different about being in an all-girl band?
The beauty of it was that there was no weird tension. There’s also less chance of getting involved with someone and screwing up the chemistry of the band. Also, when you’re the only girl in a band with a bunch of guys, there almost always comes a time when somebody’s wife hates you, or a girlfriend wants to beat you up! [laughs]. It was refreshing to not have any of that. Share, Roxy, Gina and Jan are the sisters I never had.
Tell me about making the first Vixen album.
It was an amazing time because we had a major label deal, but as soon as we got into the studio the pressure started to mount. All of a sudden, there were people with their own opinions on what songs we should do, what we should be doing and how we should be doing it. People wanted a say in the matter where before, it was just us. We were just girls from Minnesota and Montana who loved playing live, so it was a bit of a rude awakening.
How were songs chosen for the record?
We originally had a whole bunch of material; a full 90 minutes worth of originals that we had played live. Some of it was a little heavier and maybe not as radio friendly, but the record label had the idea of back loading the album with ten possible singles instead. So a few of our really good songs, ones that we should have fought for, wound up not making it. At the time, we did what we had to do. Having said that, I loved “Edge of A Broken Heart” and “Cryin’” from the first time I sang them.
Let’s discuss that first tour.
It was amazing. We started out touring with Eddie Money, which at the time seemed like an odd pairing, but it worked. We played a lot of colleges and were very well received. Then we did the Scorpions tour in Europe and it was “Welcome to the Big Leagues!” [laughs].
Were you ever intimidated being a girl band on the Scorpions tour?
Not really. Everyone was actually cheering for us. We were a little afraid of how we might be received with their audiences, but we worked hard to win them over. Sure, there were some nights when we walked out there and during the first few songs you could tell the crowd was checking us out and probably thinking, “What is THIS? Who are these chicks?” But by the end, pretty much every night we got them.
What would you say are the highlights of your career thus far?
The first show we played with Scorpions in Copenhagen was a great moment. I remember the lights came down and you could hear the roar of the crowd. It was incredible! Then there was the first time I heard “Edge of A Broken Heart” on the radio. It was on KLOS, the premiere rock station in Los Angeles. I was driving down the street and the radio station I had been listening to for the last six years while living in LA had played it. I just about flew out of the car. I was so excited, I couldn’t even drive. I had to pull over and just listen to it. That was a big moment, because I had spent my whole life listening to music on the radio and now, the coolest rock station ever was playing us. Those were both once in a lifetime events.
For more on JSRG, check out their Facebook page by clicking here!
Former Foreigner vocalist Lou Gramm pulls no punches in his new autobiography, Juke Box Hero.
In the book, which was co-written with Scott Pitoniak, Gramm leads readers on a journey from his humble beginnings in Rochester, New York, to the biggest stages in the world. He recounts his stint with Black Sheep, plus the ups and downs of working with guitarist Mick Jones in the band that made him famous.
From the diagnosis that nearly took his life to his solo career success and fascination for muscle cars, Gramm’s book is an honest portrayal of self-reflection from one of the greatest voices in rock history.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Gramm to discuss Juke Box Hero and get his thoughts on being inducted with Jones into the Songwriters Hall of Fame on June 13th.
You Can read my complete Guitar World interview with Lou by Clicking Here!
With an incredible catalog of songs accumulated over the course of his life, Michael Jackson’s music was something that transcended many different styles and influenced a generation of listeners. Growing up, I remember not only being glued to the television watching the Jackson 5 cartoon show, but also being on the front lines for the “Thriller” and “Bad” album phenomenons (the former still ranks as the biggest selling album of all time).
People just couldn’t get enough of his music; and many a child of the 80′s will tell you (albeit, secretly) that they regularly paid homage to Jackson by imitating his moonwalk or wearing the same jacket and glove style he made famous.
Like me, Grammy winning jazz guitarist Norman Brown never had the opportunity to meet the King of Pop, but his work on the new BWB album “Human Nature” channels the connection Jackson had between himself and his music in a cool and powerful way.
Fans have lamented that more than a decade has passed since Brown and BWB (with fellow jazz greats Kirk Whalum on sax and Rick Braun on trumpet) released their last album, “Groovin”. With “Human Nature”, not only has the supergroup reunited, but the reunion also allowed them the opportunity of putting their own unique spin on eleven Michael Jackson classics; including tasty renditions of “Billie Jean”, “Beat It” and “Man in The Mirror”.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Brown and discussing “Human Nature” and more in this exclusive Guitar World interview.
Human Nature will be released on June 18th, 2013
For more on Norman Brown and BWB, check out his Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/normanbrownfans
Whether it’s writing, producing or recording straight ahead jazz records for himself or for other artists, Fabrizzio Sotti has done it all. But when it comes to his latest album, “Right Now”, Sotti does something completely different from anything he’s ever done before. Included among six brand new, original tracks are songs that have inspired the jazz guitarist from his youth. Classic songs that have been re-worked into mesmerizing jazz-pop gems, including Pink Floyd’s “The Wall,” Jimi Hendrix’s “The Wind Cries Mary,” Bob Marley’s “Waitin’ In Vain and ” U2’s “One”.
Among many guest artists, Sotti is joined on “Right Now” by R&B powerhouse Melanie Fiona, reggae superstar Shaggy and hip-hop icons Ice T and M-1 of Dead Prez. The album’s cohesive sound stems from the band, which is made up of Sotti on electric, acoustic and classical guitar, Tony Grey on bass and Mino Cinélu on drums and percussion.
I spoke with Sotti about the new album and more in an exclusive Guitar World Interview!
Gina Stile has been involved in several successful projects over the years including the 80’s bands Poison Dollys and Envy. She’s opened for Aerosmith on a string of dates, had an album produced by Dee Snider of Twisted Sister and her current all-female project, Thunderbox is generating a lot of buzz in the New York area. In addition to all of her success, she’s also one hell of a guitar player.
In the mid 90′s (and after the break-up of the band Vixen), Stile began working on a new project with drummer Roxy Petrucci and singer Janet Gardner. Although never intended to be labeled ‘Vixen’ because of its heavier edge, the new music nevertheless became known and was toured as the “Tangerine” album.
In 2012, Stile was already busy with Thunderbox when she was again approached by Gardner, Petrucci and now former Vixen bassist Share Ross about forming the new project, JSRG. With the line-up intact, Stile is performing with Petrucci and Gardner for the first time in 14 years. I spoke with her about the new project as well as her playing and her other heavier edged group, Thunderbox.
Read the full Guitar World article, see pics and watch the new Thunderbox video by Clicking Here
For more info on Gina Stile and her current projects:
Since the formation of their partnership in the early 1970s, Daryl Hall & John Oates have gone on to become the most successful duo in rock history. Together, they’ve sold over 80 million albums; scored ten number one records; amassed more than twenty top 40 hits and have toured the world over for decades.
John Oates’ latest solo project, “Good Road To Follow” gives the guitarist the opportunity to branch out and work with musicians from many different genres. Oates plans to release a new song every month for the foreseeable future and not be bound to the demands and restrictions of making a traditional album. Having this creative control also allows him to create music that will appeal to a wider audience. The project’s first single, “Stand Strong” is already receiving attention, having introduced the Nationwide Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway this past March.
I spoke with Oates about his new single and “Good Road To Follow” project as well as his playing, songwriting and future plans with Hall and Oates.
You can read the entire interview by clicking here.
Since the release of their debut album and #1 breakout smash “Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not”, the husband and wife team of Thompson Square (Keifer and Shawna Thompson) have been setting the music world on fire.
In addition to a run of sold out shows in tour support of Jason Aldean and Lady Antebellum, Thompson Square has earned over 25 major award nominations in the last two years including winning back to back ACM Vocal Duo or the Year awards and being recognized by the Grammys, American Music and CMA Awards. The duo is currently out on the road supporting their new album, “Just Feels Good”.
I sat down with guitarist Keifer Thompson to discuss the ACM award, the new Thompson Square album and what he believes makes country music so special.
You and Shawna [Thompson] recently won your second consecutive ACM Award for Vocal Duo of the Year. What was that experience like?
It was just amazing and complete euphoria. Many of the artists that we’ve looked up to all of our lives were out in the crowd watching. The first year I think they were probably thinking, “Who the heck is this?” because they didn’t know who we were. This year, it seems like we’ve become more solidified in our country music family. It was cool; especially now that everyone knows who we are and that we’re not a ‘fly by night’ thing.
Read the rest of my Guitar World Interview with Keifer Thompson by Clicking Here!