Touting itself as the most authentic Queen live show since the days of the original lineup, Almost Queen delivers a high-energy live performance that showcases Queen’s signature four-part harmonies, lavish costumes, and intricate musical interludes.
The band, featuring Joseph Russo (”Freddie Mercury” / vocals), Steve Leonard (”Brian May” / guitar and vocals), John Cappadona (”Roger Taylor” / drums and vocals) and Randy Gregg (”John Deacon” / bass and vocals) prides itself on capturing the intricate sound of the studio albums and bringing it (live) to the stage.
Fans can expect to hear Queen classics like “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “We Will Rock You,” “We Are The Champions,” “Another One Bites The Dust,” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.”
With the overwhelming success of the Academy Award-winning film, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” fans may lament not having been able to have experienced the original line-up, but Almost Queen promises to be the next best thing.
I recently spoke with Almost Queen bassist Randy Gregg about the band’s multiple performances in the Lehigh Valley area and more in this exclusive new interview.
James Wood for The Morning Call: What first attracted you to the original band and how did you become involved in Almost Queen?
Randy Gregg: Queen has been one of my favorite bands ever since I was five years old. Back then a neighbor of mine would play Queen records all the time and one day he played me “Tie Your Mother Down.” I guess my jaw must have dropped because he said, “Oh, you like this?” [laughs]. Then he put on “Bohemian Rhapsody” and that was it.
I began writing the Queen logo all over my kindergarten workbook. As time went on and I became musical and toured in other bands, I quickly realized that Queen was the best band around. I remember I had just come off a tour with Thin Lizzy when I got a call asking if I’d be interested in playing in a Queen band. For me, it was a no-brainer. Even after eighteen years in this band I still get chills playing on stage. There’s not one song that I don’t like to perform.
Two legendary artists are set team up for an evening of guitar-driven blues and classic rock when guitarist G.E. Smith and British drummer Simon Kirke (Free, Bad Company) bring their “We Rock U Roll” tour to the Sellersville Theater X p.m. Saturday
Smith, a Stroudsburg native and frequent performer at the theater, is no stranger to music fans. He served as guitarist for Daryl Hall and John Oates during their formative years in the 80s — performing on albums with monster hits like “Kiss on My List” and “Private Eyes.” He was with them in Philadelphia for the Live Aid festival in 1985 where he also played with Mick Jagger and Tina Turner.
Smith would later become music director of “Saturday Night Live.” A position he held for 10 years before returning to touring as a sideman with such artists as Bob Dylan and Roger Waters.
Although they’ve occasionally worked together in the past, Smith and Kirke’s performance marks the first time the pair has taken their friendship and love of music out on the road.
I recently spoke to G.E. Smith about the upcoming “We Rock U Roll” performance in Sellersville (8 p.m. Saturday), his Stroudsburg upbringing, and much more in this exclusive new interview.
James Wood for The Morning Call: What do you like most about performing at The Sellersville Theater?
G.E. Smith: Well, one great thing is that I’ll get to stay at my brother’s house in Stroudsburg [laughs]. Sellersville is a good feeling theater. I like that town. There’s a nice hotel next door where we’ll have dinner, and a lot of people I know from the area will also come to the gig. These are people I grew up around.
Ann Wilson is one of the premier hard-rock vocalists of all time. Smashing boundaries with longstanding Seattle outfit Heart, she’s enjoyed a decades-long career resulting in more than 35 million albums sold and an induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Wilson recorded much of her new solo album, Fierce Bliss, at the legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Sheffield, Alabama, and enlisted the company of a trio of guitar powerhouses for good measure: co-producer Tom Bukovac, Warren Haynes and Kenny Wayne Shepherd.
Haynes, who last worked with Wilson on her Immortal solo release, returns for Fierce Bliss, bringing along Gov’t Mule for a pair of original songs: Gladiator and Angel’s Blues.
Shepherd accompanies Wilson on two covers: a monstrous version of the Robin Trower classic, Bridge of Sighs, and an ambitious take on the Eurythmics’ hit, Missionary Man, the latter of which has Wilson backed by a 40-person gospel choir.
An ethereal duet version of Queen classic Love of My Life with Vince Gill is also featured on the album, as well as fantasy art by Roger Dean, renowned for his work designing Yes’s sleeve artwork.
We spoke with Ann Wilson about Fierce Bliss, working with Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Warren Haynes and her favorite memories of Heart.
Was it your desire to create a guitar-driven album?
“Yeah, that’s what I’m comfortable with and what speaks to me. I was blessed to get into the company of Tom Bukovac, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Warren Haynes. They’re great players who are also great humans. After we got vaccinated, we all put on masks and went to Muscle Shoals, where Tom had put together this band with Tony Lucido on bass and Sean Lane on drums.”
The band 10,000 Maniacs has covered a lot of ground during its 40 years together. From small niche market to international stardom, their current status is among the cornerstones of alternative music.
The band’s live show celebrates their musical legacy by embracing songs spanning its entire catalog and features a lineup still anchored by four of the six original members.
Viola player and backing vocalist Mary Ramsey began touring and recording with the Maniacs more than 30 years ago. She assumed the role of lead vocalist shortly after the departure of Natalie Merchant. Ramsey’s first album fronting the band was 1997′s Love Among The Ruins. The album featured the group’s ethereal take on the Roxy Music hit, “More Than This.”
The band will play will perform selections from their vast collection of hits at 7 p.m. April 26 at ArtsQuest’s Musikfest Cafe. Listeners can expect a few surprises during an intimate performance.
Fans can enjoy songs like the aforementioned “More Than This” as well as “These Are Days,” “My Mother The War,” “Rainy Day,” and “Because The Night,” the Patti Smith classic that became a monster hit for the band during its MTV Unplugged special.
10,000 Maniacs is Mary Ramsey (vocals, viola), Steven Gustafson (bass), Dennis Drew (keyboards), John Lombardo (guitar, vocals), Jeff Erickson (lead guitar) and Jerome Augustyniak (drums)
I recently spoke with vocalist/viola player Ramsey about the show and more in this exclusive new interview.
James Wood for The Morning Call: What can fans expect from the 10,000 Maniacs’ performance at SteelStacks?
Mary Ramsey: We have a variety of tunes from the Maniacs catalog over the years to choose from. We’ll be playing the hits as well as a few surprise covers. There’s a song John Lombardo will sing called “My Mother The War,” which goes way back. I have an electric five-string Zeta viola I play so we’ll do some Celtic tunes here and there as well. It’s an interesting blend of different sounds that work nicely together.
The band has been celebrating its 40th anniversary and you’ve been with them for more than 25 years. Can you give me some of the backstory on how you came to join the group?
I suppose it was all fate, John Lombardo had left the group for a while in the 80s and the two of us met and started a duo called John and Mary and were signed to Ryko Records. In 1990, 10,000 Maniacs released the Hope Chest CD. Some of John’s contributions to that CD were a few of the first songs the band had written, and they asked us to open for them. That was when Natalie [Merchant] asked if I’d like to sing background vocals and add strings to their set. That’s how I got on the MTV Unplugged performance. It was a thrill.
Broadway’s Tony Award-winning musical, “Hairspray,” is on a 60-city U.S tour including two performances at Easton’s historic State Theatre on April 16.
The production is under the original guidance of director Jack O’Brien and choreographer Jerry Mitchell.
The show tells the story of 16-year-old Tracy Turnblad in 1960′s Baltimore as she sets out to dance her way onto TV’s most popular program and winds up changing the world. It features a score of hit songs, including “Welcome to the 60′s,” “Good Morning Baltimore,” and “You Can’t Stop the Beat.”
The touring version of “Hairspray” stars Andrew Levitt, who fans know as Nina West (from “RuPaul’s Drag Race”), as Edna Turnblad. The ensemble cast also features Niki Metcalf as Tracy Turnblad and Sandie Lee as Motormouth Maybelle.
I recently spoke with Metcalf about the show’s themes, big hair and more in this exclusive interview.
James Wood for The Morning Call: What can fans expect from the upcoming performances of “Hairspray?”
Niki Metcalf: “Hairspray” is about a lot of things. There’s love, acceptance, dancing and singing as well as a lot of fun, laughs and joy. It’s got something for every kind of audience member. I play Tracy Turnblad. She’s a sixteen-year-old who has big dreams, a big heart and even bigger hair [laughs].
We start off the show with Tracy wanting to be on the Corny Collins show in 1960′s Baltimore. Then she meets a community of incredible people who teach her how to change the world for the better and stand up for what is right.
Since beginning her artistic journey in watercolor, self-taught artist Maria Zinca has created an abstract world that’s both visually dreamy and soothingly surreal. The artist’s strength comes from her innate ability to draw the viewer’s attention to a pre-determined focal point location through the use of color, lines, objects and reflection.
Zinca’s dynamic use of angles and ubiquitous vision of rainy day and night scenes of her bustling Bucharest city tastefully captures the feel, essence, and energy of the streets.
Zinca continues to challenge herself with every painting she does and believes the type of materials you use is crucial in allowing you to ignore the timing and struggles with the watercolor medium itself, and focus more on putting the vision into the finished painting.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Maria Zinca about her art and career in this exclusive new interview.
How did your artistic journey begin?
Maria Zinca:I don’t know exactly when but I’ve liked to draw ever since I was a little child. I’m a self-taught artist who was born with a need to paint. At some point, when I was between twenty and thirty years old, I started decorating my house and was looking for pictures or paintings to fill up my walls. I wasn’t painting much during that time and started looking for ideas on places like Pinterest. I saw a few watercolors and thought, I can do this myself.
I started painting but was using cheap paper and everything was a mess. That’s when I started seeing what other people were doing with watercolor and knew I had to learn more. I started getting better quality paper, brushes, and pigments with the ambition of painting more and more.
How did you overcome challenges and struggles in those early paintings?
Zinca: I still struggle at times with not being able to do exactly what I want. When I started out, I would struggle with pigments, because I used cheap paints. When the painting dried, the colors were not very saturated, so I’d put another layer and then another layer. The paper was bad and didn’t help me. That’s when you get a feeling that you’re not good and think, I won’t do this again, but then tomorrow you’ll be back to paint another one. It’s a carousel of being on and off.
How would you describe your style?
Zinca:I like abstract paintings and am always trying to get away from reality as much as I can. To build a painting that doesn’t look like a photo. You can always take a photo, print it and then put it on your wall. With painting, you can go into a different reality you can’t mimic in other mediums. I want the viewer to be able to see the car, the building, or the man walking the street, but I don’t want to paint the entire car window or the detail on the man’s face. I want the feel and energy of the street. That’s what I try to put in my paintings.
What’s your creative process like? Where do you draw your inspiration?
Zinca: I like to take walks and when I’m in the street, I feel all this light, people and life around me. I try to express that in my paintings. I’m always looking for the mood, feeling and story from the street. I like to take a lot of pictures of my city and sometimes I’ll watch YouTube videos of someone walking down a city street with a camera for two hours on a rainy day. I’ll watch and then screen shot an image of everything I like. Most of the work is made even before I even start painting. I spend a lot of time preparing by thinking about composition, focus points, colors, and mood. I use a tablet with the Procreate app and draw what I visualize. When I have the sketch on my tablet as close as I visualize, I start painting. But I don’t copy an exact sketch of the image. Sometimes a painting asks for itself what needs to be done.
What do you think is the most challenging part about painting in watercolor?
Zinca: With watercolor, you have to express everything in that hour and second from when you pick up the brush. Sometimes I’ll be tired when I come into the shop and that can be seen in the painting. Watercolor sees your state of mind and energy when you’re painting. I love that challenge.
What are the keys to creating a great watercolor painting?
Zinca: There are a lot: The focus point, the message and concept of the painting. You have to tell a story and not just paint a pretty painting. Make the painting interesting using different methods like dry brushing and wet on wet. Having one part of the painting where it’s evenly blended and another part that’s very harsh. Build interest with color, composition, and different techniques to make the viewer go to the focus point. When I’m sketching, I think about all of that. Guiding the viewer to the focal point with color, composition, and technique.
What’s the best bit of advice you can give to an aspiring watercolorist?
Zinca: The most important thing is to paint every day and not give up. Just like exercise, if you paint every day, you’ll get better. Get used to the medium and brushes. Know your pigments and paper and get rid of the unknown element. It’s like when you’re in a car and you just focus on the drive. Know your materials so well that you don’t have to struggle and can focus only on painting. You also have to study. Even if you didn’t go to art school, look at books on composition and learn from others.
Are there any projects you’re currently working on?
Zinca: I do have other activities I do. I have a tattoo workshop and a gallery. I’m working on exhibitions and trying to help other artists here in Romania. I’ve also started focusing on making large portraits in watercolor. It’s very challenging. This is the next thing I’m going to do.
For more than five decades, the multiplatinum selling group America (featuring founding members Dewey Bunnell and Gerry Beckley), has been captivating audiences with their ubiquitous blend of acoustic-driven, harmony-rich sounds.
Some of their biggest hits, including “A Horse With No Name,” “Ventura Highway,” “Sister Golden Hair,” and “I Need You,” have gone on to become staples of classic rock radio.
Following their eponymous #1 debut album and winning Best New Artist at the 1973 Grammy awards, America went on to work with famed Beatles producer George Martin on a string of hugely successful albums. They’ve toured the world multiple times, performed the musical score for 1982′s “The Last Unicorn,” were inducted into the Vocal Hall of Fame in 2006, and received a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2012.
Their most recent project is the 50th-anniversary box set, aptly titled, “Half Century,”
The group is currently back on tour, with a lineup that includes Richard Campbell (bass/vocals), Ryland Steen (drums/percussion) and Steve Fekete (guitars/keyboards/vocals). They’ll make a stop at Penn’s Peak in Jim Thorpe 8 p.m. Saturday.
I recently spoke with Dewey Bunnell about the band’s longevity, songwriting and more in this exclusive new interview.
James Wood for The Morning Call: America recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. Looking back now with all this perspective, what thoughts come to mind?
Dewey Bunnell: I don’t think anyone could have expected the kind of success we had in that first decade or how it’s lasted so long. We believed in ourselves and were expressing lyrically some themes and topics that were relevant to ourselves, our generation, and the times. Now we have multiple generations of fans who are still appreciating the music and showing it by coming to shows and listening to the music.
You and Gerry were teenagers when you wrote some of your early hits. How did the songs “A Horse With No Name” and “Ventura Highway” come about?
There’s really no hidden meaning behind “Horse …” It’s a travel log about finding oneself in an isolated place, like the desert. Growing up, our families were in the Air Force, so we traveled a lot as kids. I gravitated toward places like the wilderness, rivers, lakes, and the desert and was trying to capture that. There’s a lot of self-study and figuring out what you want to do with your life when you’re nineteen or twenty and right out of high school. It’s a song about introspection.
“Ventura Highway” was similar in that the lyric was about travel to some degree and about seeing the west coast for the first time. It was the ‘60s when my family lived there, which was a very impressionable time for me. At the time, the surf scene was blowing up; The Beach Boys, sun and surf, free wind blowing through your hair. All of that imagery was what I was trying to capture in that song.
Known for her catchy pop tunes with a tongue-in-cheek take on domestic life, singer-songwriter and actress Brooke Josephson is showin’ up for another round of infectiously honest and hook-laden material.
Josephson’s new EP, Showin’ Up, is the follow up to her acclaimed and female-empowered Sexy & Domesticated, and features introspective songs discussing the shifting energy and acceptance of who we are, the importance of the creative journey and making a difference, and the profoundness of lost relationship.
Self-produced by Josephson, Showin’ Up was mixed and mastered by Grammy winning engineer, Brendan Dekora (Paul McCartney, Foo Fighters, Anita Baker) and features musicians like guitarists Chris Nordlinger,Tim Pierce (Goo Goo Dolls, Crowded House, Phil Collins) and drummer Seth Rausch (Keith Urban, Sheryl Crow, Little Big Town). The EP also includes Josephson’s spin on the Bonnie Raitt classic, “Love Me Like A Man,” and features a radio single as well as an extended jam.
I recently spoke with Josephson about the new EP and more in this exclusive new interview.
How would you describe Showin’ Up in terms of its sound, and maybe how it relates to some of your previous work?
Josephson: I really leaned in with guitars on this one with Chris Nordlinger. When I think about the progression, both artistically and in my life, there’s been a lot of growth. This one definitely has more of a grounded, rock and roll sound.
What was the writing process like?
Josephson:I actually wrote all of the songs before the pandemic and was performing them live for about six months. It started with lyrics and then I put the music down in my home studio, gave it to my band, and the songs grew every time we played them live. Then we had our opening show at The Whisky in January of 2020 and everything came to a halt. I’ve been sitting with these songs for a bit, and they’ve taken on a whole new meaning from when they were first inspired.
Let’s discuss a few of the tracks, starting with “Rainbow.” What can you tell me about it?
Josephson: “Rainbow” was another one of those songs that was inspired by my daughter. I had picked her up from school one day and she seemed really upset. She put a smile on her face, but I could tell she wasn’t ok. It wasn’t until bedtime that she started crying and said that one of her closest friends had told her to find new friends. It was heartbreaking. So I told her the story of my brother who had a similar issue growing up. Then I remembered that Harry Chapin song, “Flowers Are Red,” and about owning your own color and what makes us special and unique. When she went to sleep I went in and started writing. I wrote it from that perspective and originally planned to release it in 2020. But then the George Floyd trial and Black Lives Matter happened. It was a dark time but there’s been a shift of energy, so when the single finally come out people were ready for something cathartic and bright. It’s a mindful awareness of the differences between us and the humanity that bonds us.
Josephson: I was at a songwriting conference and one of the inspirations was for us to think about writing a song to open our shows with. I thought about what makes doing a live show or going to a show so special, and it’s really all in the power of showin’ up. Not just the audience coming to be present but also as an artist. From the time you pick up your instrument for the first time or start wiring. Having to show up for yourself even when no one else is watching. It leads to the moment when everyone can come together. It’s another song that took on new meaning when I watched the heroes of the pandemic and the essential workers showing up to save lives while we were all stuck at home. It went from a performer’s point of view to something much bigger.
Josephson: That was inspired after my parents divorced after thirty-five years of marriage. Even though I was an adult, it affected me profoundly. My brother and a few close friends also went through divorces well. It’s a song about change but still wanting to hold on to what was. It was my way of writing a song for them.
What made you decide to do a cover of “Love Me Like A Man?”
Josephson: I’ve always been a fan of Bonnie Raitt. That song has so much grit and I’ve always performed it live. In my head I started hearing it with a different rhythm, sort of like the Nine Inch Nails song, “Closer.” We were having so much fun with it in the studio that I just let it keep running. That’s why there’s a radio version and an extended version on the EP. It wasn’t ego driven, we were all just in the groove.
Are there any other projects you’re currently working on right now?
Josephson: In addition to being a mom I’ve been booking things around music and live shows, including acting opportunities that have been popping up. I’ll be in New York in March to film a thriller that centers around the murder of my character. I’ve also been doing the voice of a fairy in a Disney feature that I’ve recently recorded.
Was there something you learned about yourself during lockdown, or a philosophy you’ve taken away from not being able to do the things you normally would?
Josephson: I’ve really had to recognize my struggle with perfectionism, and I didn’t realize how hard I was on myself. I like being productive but also had to be sensitive with two kids taking school on Zoom and my husband, who was also working from home. I’ve been leaning into self-compassions and, in doing so, I have more compassion for others. That was a big takeaway for me.
Now that we’re starting to slowly come out of the pandemic what are you most looking forward to about the future?
Josephson:Collaborating. I still remember when I walked on set for the “Rainbow” music video and saw my band for the first time I was laughing and crying. We were all together making music in the same room again. I’d love to work with other artists, whether it’s writing with them or having other songwriters who are looking for an artist to record their song. I’m really looking forward to collaborating and just being with people.
For three decades, electronic pioneer Howard Jones has been a regular presence on the international touring scene. He’s been performing his arsenal of hits and fan favorites, like “No One Is To Blame,” “New Song,” “Hide & Seek,” and “Things Can Only Get Better” in various band configurations, including his high-tech electronic setup.
But perhaps there is no better way to appreciate the foundational impact of Jones’ music than when it’s stripped down to its barest of bones. Jones will do just that when he brings his acclaimed Acoustic Trio Tour to The Sellersville Theater at 8 p.m. Feb. 20.
Joining Jones on stage that evening will be two of his longtime friends, Nick Beggs and Robin Boult, for an evening of musical fellowship.
Jones will certainly have no shortage of stories to tell. Since bursting onto the contemporary music scene in 1983, he’s sold more than 8 million albums. His monstrous 1985 album alone, Dream Into Action, went platinum in the US and featured four smash hits, including the aforementioned “No One Is To Blame” and “Things Can Only Get Better.”
A few of his other credits include performing solo at the piano at the Live Aid festival in 1985 and touring as part of Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band.
I recently spoke with Howard Jones about this and his upcoming performance in Sellersville.
James Wood for The Morning Call: What can fans expect from your upcoming performance in Sellersville?
Howard Jones: We had been halfway through an original run of the trio tour when COVID struck. Everything was being canceled and we had to get home pretty quick. These dates are fulfilling the ones we didn’t get to do. It’s the trio tour with Nick Beggs on the bass end (he plays an instrument called the Chapman Stick and double bass), Robin Boult plays guitar and I’m on piano and vocals. Nick and Rob are two of my best friends in the world. Touring with them is a total pleasure and I hope that gets reflected in the music that we present. It’ll be the three of us enjoying ourselves on stage.
Al Franken is a comedian, New York Times bestselling author, radio host, political activist and, perhaps most notably, former United States Senator — where he served on the Judiciary, Energy and Indian Affairs committees.
Franken was also one of the original writers for “Saturday Night Live,” where he scored 15 Emmy nominations [winning five] as both writer and producer.
Now, four years removed from his position as Senator of Minnesota — and noncommittal when it comes to the idea of another possible run — Franken is on the road with his stand-up comedy show, “Al Franken: The Only Former U.S. Senator Currently on Tour Tour.”
His show promises to feature unique satire, candid conversation about what’s going on in the world, and stories about his time in the Senate.
I recently spoke with him on the phone about his upcoming appearance at ArtsQuest’s Musikfest Cafe (8 p.m. Feb 18) and more.
James Wood for The Morning Call: How would you describe your style of comedy?
Franken: It’s satire to some degree and a lot of it is about politics. I was a big fan of guys like George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce and all the other comedians who’ve talked about satirical comedy and commentary. It has a point of view, but the emphasis is really on laughs.
What else can fans expect from your appearance at SteelStacks?
I do about an hour and a half of standup and really enjoy the craft. I used to have a partner, Tom Davis, who would go out on the road with me. He and I were two of the original “SNL” writers.
It’s a little different now going out single. For this tour, I started working up a show at the Comedy Cellar and talk a lot about what’s going on right now and about my experience in politics. I also talk about running for the Senate and having everything I’ve ever said as a comedian, ironically or satirically, used against me and put through the de-humorizor [laughs].
The show is a lot of fun for the audience and for me. I originally did a run of 15 cities, and we’ve just added 16 more.