Sunday, November 25, 2012

November 2012 Soundcheck, Autumn Musings (Gloom, Despair N Agony & The Floorboards)

The Soundcheck, November 2012
By j. Gabrielle

Autumn Musings

What a whirlwind Fall this is turning out to be!  This column will be part confession this month.  I have been SO covered up; I’ve not been able to make the rounds to live shows that I usually do.  The beginning of October was the Virginia State Fair.  I would love to offer you a review of that!  I saw Diamond Rio, The Kentucky Head Hunters, Starwood! (A John Denver Tribute), The Rhinestone Roper & Lucky Joe; a fabulous Wild West show, and even a genuine FREAK SHOW!  Then it was back to Roanoke for several gigs and packing for a cruise as a face painter at the end of the month.  In the middle of all of this, Mac Daddy and I did manage a Friday night out to catch a couple of bands.

Gloom, Despair N Agony at The Village Grill was our first stop.  The power three-piece is very tight and has just the right sound for “punk-billy, surf”.  Their 10-song CD “Love Songs for the Zombie Apocalypse” is the perfect soundtrack to a stormy October Monday morning.  I have to say I am enjoying hearing the nuances and lyrics to these well-written songs, something I missed at the live show.  I have already made a mental note to myself to see these guys at a big stage.  The Village Grill is a tough place for me to enjoy music.  The sound is always terrible, too loud, too distorted.  There is a tidal flow to the room as smokers periodically exit en masse to the deck.  Lead singer Chad Jordan had a good sense of humor about it and seemed to enjoy entertaining friends and family.  Bassist Randall Houchins sang a couple of songs, including a unique arrangement of “Folsom Prison Blues”.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t hear a word he sang.  Same case when drummer Michael “King” Pendleton took the vocal on a Dead Volts tune.  The band has a good look and Chad is able to converse comfortably with the audience.   I detected no arrogance from the band - like they should be playing some place better – but they should be. 

Our second, and last stop of the evening was a benefit show for murder victim Anthony Hall and family at Growler’s.  The turnout for the event was HUGE for the three bands.  Another confession; I was already kicking myself as I entered the door for I realized I had once again missed Valley Blend writer J.D. and his band Madrone!  Forgive me J.D.  I’ll get there!  We did, however, make it in time for The Floorboards.

This was a band I knew nothing about except I loved the name and I knew drummer George “RockSteady” Penn.  George is one of those magical people to me that I just know whatever he’s involved in, I’m probably gonna like it.  Sure enough, just minutes into their set, I was all happy feet at the lyric-based country rock.   Tunes like “A Woman Named Whiskey” and “Pistol and a Bottle” are catchy and radio ready.  The band bio reads, “The Floorboards marry rock n' roll and country roots music with the sights and sounds of southern mountain towns. Jake and George shake the leaves from the trees. Bob wails like steam whistle cutting through the pines. Patrick coaxes stringed cries from the hills and hollers. Matt tells the story.”  Excellent description!  I hear comparisons to Uncle Tupelo, and locally, to work by Michael Mitchell and Clayton Ellers.  Must be the fiddle?  Jake Dempsey is on bass, Bob Chew, steel guitar, dobro, vocals, Patrick Turner on fiddle. mandolin and vocals, Matt Browning is the lead singer and rhythm guitar.  Back to that dreary Monday morning, this band is the perfect soundtrack to disappearing broken clouds and sunshine comin’ down.

I promise to revisit these bands at a later date.  Both are far more multi-faceted than this short musing can tell.  They deserve more space and they deserve more fans!  C’mon Roanoke!  SUPPORT LIVE MUSIC!

October 2012 Soundcheck,, The Music Police

The Soundcheck, October 2012

The Music Police
By J. Gabrielle

The recent article in The Roanoke Times about BMI’s (Broadcast Music Inc.) lawsuit against a Roanoke nightclub for copyright infringement made my blood start to boil…again.

There are three licensing agencies: BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC. 

It was in 1909 when recorded music was in its infancy and the Copyright Law was passed.  This law said that 2 cents off of each sheet music and later, recordings, would be the “mechanical rate” and it would go to the songwriter.

Two cents!  Here’s the shocker.  That rate has moved higher over the years.  The last raise was in 2007.  It is NOW 9.5 cents per unit.  Yes, in 103 years we’ve given songwriters a 7 cent raise.

Now onto the licensing!

Anyone entertaining the public at large in a venue MUST pay licensing fees.  Because all songs are licensed by one of the three companies, fees must be paid to all three.  Fees run from a couple hundred dollars a year for a small store to $500-800 for a medium-sized club.  The scale increases for bigger clubs.  Who else pays licensing fees?  Also, movies, circuses, places with a jukebox and any establishment allowing live music pay.  Coffee houses. Television stations.  Satellite. Cable.  Sirius.  XMRadio. Grocery Stores. Drug Stores.  Does your bar have a T.V.?  You need a licensing fee.  Play music while a customer is on hold?  You owe!  The minimum is $283.  The maximum is over $8,000.

If you don’t pay your licensing fees, these companies will send you letters inquiring why.  They will send a representative who looks very much like a customer.  He will sit in your establishment writing down the songs he heard.  They will bring suit against you.

This happened to Shirley Thomas at The Iroquois Club in the early ‘90’s.  Shirley would not be played.  I was there the night the ATF came to seize the club’s door earnings (set aside for the band) to pay the licensing company.  It has not been substantiated, but it is said the cash got stuffed into a certain redhead’s bra as she was sent to the ladies room to hide until they left.  Shirley switched to an all-original venue thereafter, arguing that unlicensed songwriters owed them nothing!

In the early 2000’s, I was running the honky-tonk Briz’s in New Castle.  The licensors came for our little club.  They came and counted the chairs and multiplied it by seven nights a week.  They wanted $800 a year.  I argued that we weren’t full seven nights a week.  I bade him to come to WWF on Monday nights with just drunk Larry and me.  Finally, I showed him our jukebox over half full of local music.    I identified myself as a BMI writer.  I asked where my royalties were?  Surely if they counted “All My Rowdy Friends” they counted local music?  Or did they just skip that?   I told them that I was not “hostile”, but I was not cooperating until I saw some revenue for the local artist.

Funny.  They went away. 

In the last decade, BMI sued Gillie’s and Champs in Blacksburg.  Champs paid $10,500 in fines.  Fees per song in violation range from $750 to $15,000.  Champs now spends $1,000 a year in licensing fees.  BMI has also pursued Mill Mountain Coffee & Tea for an Old Time Music Jam.  The music performed there is now in the Public Domain.  Artists retain rights for life plus 70 years unless someone applies for extension (this happens in the case of Elvis or Michael Jackson, etc.).   After that, it is in the Public Domain, and no one owes any licensing on anything.

On a local level, these licensors contribute to preventing local musicians from making a living.  Each live music venue that has to pay out anything in an already stressed budget is diminished in what it can afford to pay local artists.  The three licensors pay all these collected fees to a 1% of the at large musician population.

When will we unite as musicians and club owners and turn this thing around?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Marc Baskind: Marc with a “C”, September 2012

The Soundcheck, September 2012
By j. Gabrielle

Marc Baskind:  Marc with a “C”

The Mississippi Delta has been called “the most Southern place in the world”.  It is the incubator for a great deal of American music including Rock-n-Roll and Delta Blues.  It is also the birthplace of the musical soul of Marc Baskind.

Marc learned the ukulele at age 7, guitar at 11 and majored in the tuba.  He fell in love with every kind of music.  Unfortunately, he quit college and got into direct sales for 35 years.

Music took fire in him again in 1984 as he sat in on a riverside jam. Marc says he played good that day and had a good time.  Among the audience was Joe Frank Carollo, the bassist of the 70’s soft rock band “Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds” best known for “Don’t Pull Your Love”.  Joe Frank liked what he heard and hired Marc as a guitarist for his side project “Joe Frank & The Knights”.  This eventually led to Baskind playing in Vegas with “H, JF & R” for several months.  The band eventually stuck Marc on keyboard.  “I had as much business on keys as performing brain surgery”, he says. 

Disenchanted with the gig and with being on “The Road”, it was back to sales and some bad advice.  A fellow salesman told him he’d never make it in sales as long as he had music as his goal.  So, Marc quit playing for 15 years.  He even quit listening to the radio.

Living in Bluefield, VA in the early part of this century, he got a call from a local beach band “The Collegians” who had been shagging since 1964.  Saxophonist Scott Belcher asked him to join the band as guitarist.  Marc has toured with the band since and will complete his run this year as they have embarked on their farewell tour.  I got to see this band at the Tazewell County Fair last month.  The excellent group performed beach and shag hits to the delighted packed  house at Nuckolls Hall.  Couples shagged to “Don’t Let the Green Grass Fool You”, “To The Beach”, “Every Time I Roll The Dice”, “Mustang Sally” and a Doo-wop version of “Stand By Me”.  Baskind nailed a beautiful lead in the latter tune.  “The Collegians” have five strong vocalists among their seven members.

Marc Baskind made Roanoke his home in 2004.  It was in the mid-2000’s I first heard him at Open Mic.  His Lou Rawls-like voice and material made me scrawl his number down.  I have followed his various bands since.

Marc has put together several projects besides his solo endeavor.  There’s the Marc Baskind Trio, and the Caravan Band (Jazz, Rock, Blues, Variety).  Although he uses many different musicians, you will often find master drummer Kelly Gravely, bassist John Yates and monster keyboardist, Dave Ferguson.  Marc also has country bands “39 & Holding”, Bluegrass “BluSpruce” and “The Stardusters” and Big Bands, “The Swaykatz” and “Let’s Dance”.

Marc is a faithful member of the Southwest Virginia Songwriters Association who he says “opened his eyes about the importance of lyric”.  He credits fellow member and songwriter Greg Trafidlo with pushing him to do a CD and also to go to the annual Swannanoa Gathering in North Carolina.  Here, Marc has enjoyed a vocal class from Kathy Mattea and a performance class from Janis Ian, among many others.

Baskind’s heroes of music are Ray Charles, B.B. King, and Tommy Emmanuel.  He admires Norah Jones, Diana Krall and Lou Rawls.  He can’t play reggae unless he is dancing.  His favorite song to sing is “We’re in This Love Together” by Al Jarreau.  His criteria is “I guess I’m looking for the SOUL, the MAGIC of the music”.

His advice to other musicians?  “Give more to the song than you are getting!”  and also, “SUPPORT LIVE MUSIC!”

At 166 years old (he admits to anyway), he performs 3-4 gigs a week.  I asked what his goal is.  “I sat in last week with Jane Powell, J.J., Bernie on bass, Dave…just to play with those guys is a goal!”

Curley Ennis, August 2012

Curley Ennis, August 2012 Valley Blend Magazine
By J. Gabrielle

When legendary blues pianist “Pinetop” Perkins played the Iroquois Club in the late 80’s, I was escorted to the show by walking musical historian Curley Ennis.  “C’mon, let’s go say hello,” Curley said with mischievous grin and twinkling eye.  He sauntered us down some secret steps to a Green Room that I had never seen before (and never saw again).  “Pinetop” looked up and exclaimed, “Well, Curley Ennis!” They greeted each other as old friends, knowing the other from touring on the road at roots music festivals.

Curley Ennis: Musician.  Musical Historian.  Storyteller.  Teacher.  Photographer.  Citizen of the World. Legend. Musicians were his family.  On June 22, we musicians lost our Grandpappy. 

Curley Ennis specialized in traditional and contemporary folk songs and folk tales.  He accompanied himself on the guitar, dulcimer, banjo, song-bow, and harmonica.  He sang songs of the cowboy, the railroad, bluegrass, blues, Irish, children's songs, pioneer and contemporary life.  Ennis told stories about the music and people he encountered in his travels. 

I met Curley at the Iroquois Club where he ran the Open Mic on Wednesday nights.  We became fast friends.  A look in the Roanoke Times Friday Extra Section in those days would find a Roanoke still in its’ infancy as a music boomtown.  Besides the aforementioned Iroquois, precious few other venues existed.  There was Crystal Spring Deli, Third Street Coffeehouse, Steak and Ale, Billy’s Ritz and not much else.  Curley stayed busy, scratching out the next gig and pushing the idea of live entertainment. I always enjoyed his unique set list of folk songs.  He would work in a yodeling number delighting in recounting that the Queen of Country Music, Miss Kitty Wells taught him the craft.

He would regale us with stories from touring with “The Road Rangers” in Omaha and of a wild youth.  He told me about being pulled over for suspected inebriation one particular time.  The officer asked him to say his ABCs.  Curley sang the ABC Song for him.  He laughed, “They really hate that.” 

Curley went on to become the “go to guy” for Appalachian and Folk Music.  He worked at Roanoke’s Explore Park as a living history re-enactor.  He lectured at area colleges on the subject, including Hollins University.  He performed in Mill Mountain Theatre’s production of Woody Guthrie’s “American Song”.  He pursued photography, exhibiting his excellent work at galleries. 
We were label-mates on Clayton Ellers’ Encrypted Records in the late 90’s.  Ellers had the foresight to produce Curley’s album “On the Job”.  Reviews on the project were unanimous.
  "These are beautiful songs. They harken back to old values. Music that feels good." 
                                    Dan Taylor, Entertainment Reviewer Omaha Sun Newspaper
"I like the honesty about it, the truthfulness in it. It's the music of the people. It's not canned. It's human, it's live. It's like a work of art." Jeff Bahr, The Lincoln Star, Nebraska
Like many area musicians, Curley often traveled to perform.  He played at the New Orleans Jazz & Blues Festival.  While touring, he shared the bill with the likes of John McCutcheon, Asleep At The Wheel, David Bromberg, John Hammond, Richie Havens, Jean Redpath, Tom Paxton, and Mike Seeger
Ennis was also the consummate “wedding singer”.  Many of us were lucky to have him bless that special day with his voice, a perfect song, and his easy-going manner.
Always, Curley had his children in view when making plans.  He took the responsibility seriously doing the single dad routine in a little country house on Ruddell Road.  I have no doubt that these three Ennises are the spittin’ images of their Dad’s kind and gentle spirit.
I propose we establish the Curley Ennis Memorial Music Gazebo in Elmwood Park.  Curley was the pioneer here in the current Roanoke Music Scene.  Know his name, dear Roanoke, for Curley Ennis once played here.
“Looking back along the road I've traveled,
The miles can tell a million tales.
Each year is like some rolling freight train,
And cold as starlight on the rails”

(Bruce “Utah” Phillips, Starlight on the Rails)

July 2012: “Keeping up with the Runaway Joneses”

The Soundcheck, July 2012:  “Keeping up with the Runaway Joneses”
By j. Gabrielle

There are two ways to look at the name "Runaway Jones".  "Jones" is a fixation on or a compulsive desire for someone or something.  In this case the "jones" is good music and a unique set list.  It is the band's collective passion for the unusual that makes it a runaway.  Also, there is the Middle America reference to "keeping up with the Joneses", striving to achieve or own as much as the people around you.  The band sees themselves as running away from this catchphrase.

The "Jones" started innocently enough.  Vocalist/keyboardist Jonathan Barker recalls, "RJ started one night when Mike Maycock and I were chatting. We were both looking for something fresh. He was a good friend with Will Henson and I had jammed with Will in the past on various projects. Shortly after that, I met Matt Holland in the church praise team. He was filling in at our church and I thought he laid down a good groove.
We all got together and threw a few tunes out and found out we had common musical interests and actually, quite a variety of musical tastes. Sometimes, one of us will start a riff and the rest of us easily jump in on it, so the potential for songwriting as a band is great...we just haven't fully capitalized on that yet. We do play several originals which Mike, Will, and myself have contributed and the band seems to gel on those pretty well.”

Will Henson is the bassist/vocalist of the group. He remarks about performing with Runaway Jones, “When I was a kid, I used to stare at the inside sleeve of The Beatles - Let It Be album cover, fascinated by all the pictures of cables strewn around, the amps and the drum set, and the four guys holding their instruments, debating what and how they should play next. All the while, seemingly having a pretty good time, too. Now I get to live that with these guys. I was very fortunate to hook up with them and it's too easy to get along with them. They are that cool! I keep waiting for some kind of drama to unfold, but it never does. That is worth gold.”

Drummer Matthew Holland acquiesces as being the youngest in the band.  Much of the material they perform was written before he was born.  Matt says, “Some of it I’ve never heard before in my life. But I like it AND not everyone is doing it. I think we’ve connected with a good niche.”  Asked about his influences he jabs, ” most of ‘em bad...especially these guys I play music with!  Seriously though, as a kid, I guess it would be most of the eighties stuff, mixed with an alternative tour during my college years, followed by my most recent long stint of various Christian artists who have heavily influenced my playing style and approach.”

The band’s material is what keeps fans coming back to the shows.  Elton John, “Honky Cat”, “Benny & The Jets”, Little Feat, “Oh! Atlanta”, “Fat Man in the Bath Tub”, Paul Simon, “Late in the Evening”, Bare Naked Ladies, “It’s All Been Done”, Traffic, “Medicated Goo”, “Empty Pages”, Jackson Brown “Doctor My Eyes”, The Band, “The Shape I’m In”.  Maycock says, “We love all of these bands but we want to pick fresh songs.”  Barker says they try to choose nuggets, the B sides, and special gems to offer something not being done in town.

In talking about area venues, the band is partial to Blue 5, Jake Dempsey’s excellent sound and the appreciative crowd.  Barker also says, “The Pine Tavern pavilion is also very, very cool.  The people in Floyd are way into music and are so appreciative. They really make you feel special up there.”  Guitarist/vocalist Mike Maycock chimes in about Schooners.  “Tammy was very cool at getting us out to start playing.”  Jonathan interjects, “When she first asked me about playing there, we hardly had enough material to play out...but we had been practicing in the basement for several months.  Tammy kind of pulled and tugged and we all said ‘yeah, ok’ and now she has that great stage.”

Jonathan heads to the studio this month to start work on some originals.  The band hopes to grow their audience and work toward an original set list.

 “Jonesin’” for something different?   Runaway Jones has the “fix”.

May 2012 Roanoke’s Spark: Brittany Sparks

The Soundcheck, May Issue 2012
Roanoke’s Spark: Brittany Sparks

By:  J. Gabrielle

            I feel I’ve known Roanoke singer Brittany Sparks since she was a twinkle in her mother’s eye.  Back in the day, her mom, Dena Sparks, and I regularly partied and sang our way through many field concerts, solstice campouts, and open mics.  Dena had a vibrant spirit and love for life I knew could never be diminished.  Even though my old friend left this world a little over a year ago, that love for life and music lives on in her daughter, Brittany.

            I first heard Brittany sing at the Blues and Jazz Festival a couple of summers ago with “Sparks Will Fly” in the band competition.  I thought then the voicing from this young woman sounded far more seasoned than her tender years.  The fact is: Brittany has been determined for a long time to sing her heart out!

            “ I was singing before I could talk.  I used to perform 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' at the dinner table for our family at the top of my lungs.  I think I was 3 or 4 years old then,” she recalls.  Brittany’s mom made sure she took weekly singing lessons for several years.  The young woman joined her school chorus as soon as she was old enough.  That same summer, 1994, Dena was performing with Cliff Beach and area blues bands.

            “I remember going to many different festivals and parties where Mom was performing and my eyes were opened after that first summer. After seeing my Mom perform with so much soul and feeling...and then to see the reaction from the audience...I knew that all I wanted to do was sing. I told my Mom how badly I wanted to sing, and she said that she would support and help me in any way she could.  She came to almost all of my gigs, and she was always honest with me about song choices or different ways that I would sing things...I always asked her opinion. It was valued. I have several live recordings where you can hear Mom screaming out song titles at the top of her lungs. She was protective of me, too. I can't tell you how many times I had to stop her from jumping all over a guitar player for overpowering me.” 

            Mother influenced daughter in the music enjoyed at home: Zeppelin, Donavan, Dylan, and The Doors.  Her father comes from a musical lineage with many performing family members.  A preacher by trade, he sings and plays mandolin and guitar.

Brittany started going to the Open Mic at the Green Dolphin in high school.  This is where she began to gather the members that would one day become “Sparks Will Fly”.  Scott Sutton, Bill McCray and Thomas Wilson are the dedicated musicians performing with Ms. Sparks today (  They host the Open Mic at Schooners every Tuesday night.  This group cannot be filed under any one genre.  Brittany gets to tear up Susan Tedeschi, Bonnie Raitt, Joni Mitchell, Zeppelin, Ray LaMontagne, Sheryl Crow, and more.  Brittany wraps her sultry, expressive vocal around each note and lyric.

            About a year ago, she began singing with the jam/blues/soul band Groovascape (  Presently, they are in the studio recording new material.  Brittany has added lyricist to her talents, co-writing with the band. 

            Brittany wants to take music as far as she can go!  In the meantime, she lives in the country and tends her garden and herbs.  Raised as she was, Brittany was surprised to learn that every kid didn’t beat on drums and dance under the full moon with abandon. “Mom loved music, plain and simple. She felt music, and I could see it on her face when I was young, and it made a pretty significant impact on me. Living without her has been the hardest thing I've ever had to learn to do. I was so caught off guard by her passing.  It was just something that never, ever crossed my mind. I miss her more than I can ever tell you, and I sing for her every day.”

“And when one of us is gone, and one of us is left to carry on,
Then remembering will have to do, Our memories alone will get us through.
Think about the days of me and you,
You and Me against the World.”

-Paul Williams, Kenny Ascher-

April 2012: The Elderly Brothers

The Soundcheck, The Valley Blend Magazine
April 2012: The Elderly Brothers

By:  J. Gabrielle

I`ll be keeping it up until my body starts to fall apart…. The Stones might not last for ever but we`ll be going until sometime this side of ever.          -Mick Jagger

The Elderly Brothers, Roanoke's Party Band!
The Elderly Brothers have just finished their first set at the packed Blue 5 Restaurant in Downtown Roanoke.  Prospects for service or a table aren’t looking good.  However, tonight we have our battle plan in place.  Mac Daddy is to hit the bar with God's pointiest elbows to procure drinks.  I am to conduct surveillance on the floor to commandeer a table.  I exchange greetings with keyboardist Dave Ferguson.  It’s exciting to hear he’s sitting in with the six-piece Elderly Brothers this evening, but I’m on a mission.  I “park” Dave at a dirty table to hold it for me while I quickly bus it. 
The Elderly Brothers are meandering toward the stage to resume the party.  Bassist/vocalist/humorist Danny Counts stops by to chat and says, "I'm 62, but I have to remember that I'm 16 celsius!"  Yeah.  Hell, yeah! 
When the band breaks into set two with a Duke Ellington number, Mac Daddy and I are in the catbird seat, ready to rock.   The joint is jumping!  Folks are dancing wherever there is room.  A few are named "Elaine" (pretty sure) and should reconsider the public dancing thing.  Vocalist/saxophonist Tommy Thompson takes us Down On The Bayou.  Danny Counts lays us down on his big, funky, brass bed and THEN lays around and loves on us.  Guitarist/vocalist Gary Wimmer says to keep on Using Him 'til We Use 'em Up. Then he offers an original Wonderful Way.
The Elderly Brothers have been together six years.   Several of the guys were doing Royal Kings reunions.  They were having so much fun they wanted to play more.  Gary Wimmer fell right in.  Chuck Meredith signed up to keep the beat as drummer, and they had the basic band.  Larry Wheeling was interested. "Elmo" Elmer Coles just happened to be there that night, and The Elderly Brothers began.
Dear God, the Saints, and DJs help us!  The band is jamming Mustang Sally, and I swear to you, all the white folks are on the floor.  Counts says if the crowd for whom they are performing just will not dance, they pull out this song.  They call it "The Nuclear Option".  It never fails.
The band takes a break, and I ask about the name.  Danny says, “Well, we thought of “Acid Reflux”, but then we said, we ARE “elderly”.  I comment that their song selections are so diverse (Elvis, to Bacharach, to Delbert, to Huey Lewis).  “We just bring in songs, and it doesn’t matter what.  People say, “I have NO idea what you’re gonna play next!”
The Elderly Brothers return with Gary urging to Treat Her Right.  That horn section with Elmer Coles, Larry Wheeling, and Tommy Thompson blows my mind!  Counts says it's because they play "sections".   It is a rarity to hear horns like this in a band anymore. “The horn sections went away during Arab oil embargo of '73,” according to Counts.  “Money went down and everybody fired their horn players”.   Let Love Come Between Us and I get to cut a rug with Mac Daddy.  The band follows up with Mama Tried, and the cool thing is Ferguson's keys are sounding like a pedal steel.  Tommy takes a break from sax to sing.  He sees a Red Door and wants to Paint it Black. You Really Got Me NowGet Offa My CloudDo You Know What I Mean?
Danny sings Temptation Eyes. All patrons tempted this evening have evaluated possible romantic outcomes and are likely dancing with whom they will awaken.  I know I am.  At this point, Tommy sings Love Me Two Times, and I file that away for reference later in the night.
Looking for a good time in Roanoke Virginia?  Seek out The Elderly Brothers.  A damn good party, consummate musicians and probably the Best Hair Band out there!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Soundcheck, The Valley Blend Magazine, "Not Just Another Roadside Attraction"

I am sitting in on band practice with the wonderfully weird Another
Roadside Attraction. The bitter cold of January melts as we warm
ourselves to a Papa Bear stove, hot tea and instruments tuning.

There is a knock on the door and Joy Truskowski exclaims, “The
Crystal Man is here!” as though pizza was being delivered. Indeed, an
earthy looking Luke enters fresh from a hike bearing excavated crystals. He
offers each band member and visitor one, and we choose a crystal calling
just to us. Crystal energy goodness in pocket, practice begins with the
spooky original, “Howling Like a Loon”.

This band has a strong sense of identity. Part circus, vaudeville, tent
revival, dust bowl migrant camp: the band has dubbed their sound: Blue
Ridge Cabaret. It has the feel of another era. It is also part freak show: I
feel the eerie excitement of wanting to peer behind the curtain to see what
really lurks therein.

“Hey! Did you know blood bounces on ice?” Jordan’s random comment before unleashing their next number, “Winter’s Dogs”. Jordan Rivers is a visionary and an inventor. He constructed the homemade kit drummer Charlie Gibson uses. He is also responsible for much of the band merchandise: a wacky mix of clothing patches, hand stamped CD covers, and matchbooks. The band also sells homemade mustache wax. Bandmate Richard Harvey says of Jordan, “He's not always grounded in the practical day to day sort of affairs: the heavenly ideas don't always work out in these earthly realms, but he has unstoppable creativity energy and enthusiasm. Jordan loves to make crafts and has about 100 fanciful ideas to every one fanciful idea of the other band members.”

Lucy Coronado is Jordan’s mate, though she goes by Lucy De Los Rios
(translated “Lucy Light of the Rivers”). The beauty of this makes me gasp.
Lucy has studied dance and has a passion for costume making. Much of the
band’s musical material begins as collaboration with the couple. In fact,
they are the band’s inception. Lucy plays a dizzying washboard and also
constructs them for sale.

Charlie Gibson was the next member to join.  The self-taught drummer grew up in Callaway, Virginia in a musical family. With no drum kit, he would
beat on anything he could find. He plays the homemade “Clockworks”,
keeping a steady sort of burlesque show beat at times. Other times, it’s the
perfect circus beat to the man on the tightrope. I asked him the weirdest
thing he has encountered in Roadside. He says on a recent tour through the
South, they wheeled the band equipment in on a wheelchair. Then, Charlie
used that as his drum throne for the set.

Joy Truskowski is by far the most traveled member of the group. She was
born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, studied film in Chicago, taught video skills
in Southern Mexico. She came to Roanoke to begin a tour of intentional
communities intending a documentary film. Instead, she fell in love with
Richard Harvey and began to attend Chris Shepard’s Studio One Open Mic.
Here she met The Roadsiders and eventually joined them. With melodica
and flute, she with Richard offer the melody.

Richard Harvey has lived in Roanoke all of his life and is influenced by
every kind of music. He has studied mandolin, violin, and, most recently,
tenor banjo. He kept crossing paths with Jordan at Irish jams and open mics.
“ I liked their joyful energy and thought that it might be fun to try my hand
at providing some melody and improvisation to their songs which they were
chunking out on ukuleles, a guitaron, a resonator guitar and a homemade
drum kit!! So I started playing with them, and Joy, who was tagging along
for fun, began getting drawn in more and more.”

Step this way, Ladies and Gentlemen! See before YOUR VERY EYES a
genuine, melodic symphony of Houdinic proportions!! I leave you with a
Tom Robbins quote from his book that inspired the band.

“Logic only gives man what he needs. Magic gives him what he wants”

Places: The Third Street Coffeehouse

In 1988, I was living in Birmingham, Alabama and working for Norfolk Southern.  In that capacity, I traveled to the Roanoke offices once a month.  Burning up I-81and eyes blazing with dreams of singer-songwriter stardom, I searched for venues in which to perform that would match my itinerary.  It was then that I discovered the warm haven in the Star City known as The Third Street Coffeehouse.
This venue thrives in southwest Roanoke City in the basement of the Trinity United Methodist Church, and the space once served as a Boy Scout den.  Church members had renovated it only a year earlier.  Their dream was to build a coffeehouse. The result is the “mother of all coffeehouses”.  It has more simple rustic charm, warmth, and acoustic goodness than 1,000 pricier and more ambitious establishments.  Long before there was a Jefferson Center or a Kirk Avenue, Third Street wrote the book on “listening room”.  It was here that Roanoke won my heart.
For the last 25 years, the little coffeehouse that could raises the roof in song every Friday night.  It is a non-profit operated by volunteers for the love of song.  Open mic starts at 7:30, and the headliner goes on about 8:15 PM.  It is also home to the monthly meeting of the Southwest Virginia Songwriters Association (
It features hardwood floors, genuine log walls, a little stained glass, and candlelight by teacups.  The low ceiling is printed with the names and bare feet prints of Boy Scout initiates nearly 100 years ago.  Were this in Austin, we might call it a Mecca for the troubadour.  But, in gentle Roanoke, it seems to remain a secret.  Walk down those three little steps at the corner of 3rd Street, SW and Mountain Avenue, and one enters a different world.  Time seems to slow down just a little bit.  People are kinder and gentler.  When performers are performing, the audience speaks in a library whisper.
At intermission, all proceeds from the hat that is passed throughout the room go to the entertainer.  Coffee, tea, sodas, popcorn, and desserts are offered for modest price.  Nobody gets rich there, at least, not in money.  No, the rich part comes in other ways in this unique ministry.  In all these years, no one has bid me come to a service.  No one has preached to me (though musicians are asked to keep it family oriented).  Rather, there is a simple, quiet welcoming and acceptance of everyone.  For the audience member, Third Street offers a relaxing night of song, usually (but not always) singer-songwriter based.  The greatest gift may be to the performer, for the room listens to your every word: your every note.  It is the perfect room to hone one's craft as a teller of stories.  Many of the people who signed my mailing list in 1988 remain on that list to this day and still support my music.
So many performers wish to play there, and it is tough to get a date.  Just some of the amazing songsmiths include; David Simpkins, Chris Shepard, Another Roadside Attraction, Tim Seeley, Dollar & Walker, Greg Trafidlo, David LaMotte, Bill Hudson, Marc Baskind, Al Coffey, Grace Pettis, the late Samuel Thomas Mann, Pops Walker, Bill E. Payne.  All of these and so many more have stood on this stage.  The venue draws touring musicians as well. Last summer, Tim Rice from Portland, Maine performed.  Michigan native Matt Kroos entertained on a double neck guitar in February.
On April 13th, the Third Street Coffeehouse celebrates its 25th Anniversary.  I am honored to be making an appearance.  Of all the venues in eleven states in 25 years, The Third Street Coffeehouse remains home to my musical heart.  You are invited April 13th, and any Friday night.
Sign up for open mike 7-7:30; open mike performances 7:30-8:15; featured performer from 8:30-10. This is a smoke-free, alcohol-free, no cover charge venue!  A hat is passed for donations to the featured performers. For more information, please contact Marian McConnell at 540.309.4707; or email Check them out online at: and also on FaceBook.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The SoundCheck, The Valley Blend Magazine, "I Got You Babe"

The Soundcheck, February 2012, The Valley Blend
by j. Gabrielle

“People who make music together cannot be enemies, at least while the music lasts.”                                                                                      ~ Paul Hindemith

February is the month for lovers.  What better time to celebrate local musical couples!  Having “coupled” musically myself, I can tell you emotions run the gamut.  I have stood onstage singing “Peaceful Easy Feeling” and felt the raw, hot rush of the realization that I absolutely wanted to “sleep in the desert tonight” (or anywhere) with the man singing next to me.  Other times, performing with your mate is kind of like having someone’s thumb on your head constantly.  I sought out some local performing couples (and surprisingly there are many of them) to get other perspectives.

Jim and Renee Oliphant are “Ragtop”.  I caught their first show of the year at the intimate Third Street Coffeehouse.  They open with Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” (oddly accompanied by a persistent alarm).  As they conclude, Renee announces that her husband failed to turn his phone volume down.  Jim protests “But that means it’s time to play!”  The couple laughs and they embark on a pleasant evening of favorites.  The two met in 1978 in high school (just before graduation) and married in November of that year.  After raising a family and just dabbling in music, they made a bold new commitment to each other in 2010.  They scaled down their comfortable lifestyle and cast their lot in the music business full time.  Judging by their very busy schedule, the move was a successful one.  Back onstage, Jim shares that after 25 years, his guitar is suffering from age and intonation problems.  He likens it back to his marriage of 33 years.  “I’ve got some things that aren’t the same after all these years; yet, she still keeps me.”

Songwriting folk duo Dan and Marian McConnell met in 1989 in Roanoke.  Their first date was a jam session at Marian’s apartment.  Married in 1993, they have been performing together (and separately) ever since.

“I believe that it is important to encourage Marian to experiment and pursue as many outlets for her creative talents as she is comfortable with.  In our 21 years together, we’ve never had an argument….We know better than to ever take each other for granted,” says Dan.

Marian lends, “He helps me balance my need to be organized with a willingness to ‘play it by ear’.  When we first started playing together, I’d put together a set list, which he promptly ignored and played what the crowd wanted to hear.  It helped me understand the philosophy of what we jokingly call ‘Semper Gumby’ (Always flexible).”

Rick Godley is the drummer for The Kind, and his wife, Wendy, is the lead singer.  Rick said, “For whatever temporary frustrations that crop up between Wendy and me as we try to balance all of this on top of keeping a home, raising two kids, the rewards, lessons, laughs, and growth remind me daily that this is where I was meant to be and what I was born to do.  I am blessed to be married to a very, VERY patient person and knowledgeable musician. She is very forgiving of my faults thankfully.”

And Wendy says, “I will add that I think that playing music with the person you share your life with adds a connection in a form other than words. No matter how difficult it may seem to be to work through the challenges we face in life, the shared moments when the music is working - when all the pieces fall into place - is a healing and strengthening salve that speaks to us in a way that is hard to reach with words. It is a connection between the band and the audience and a connection within the band, too. I feel very blessed.”

I asked Jane Powell to give me an impression of performing with husband, James Johnson, who keeps the beat on drums.  “J.J. will probably tell you I’m a pain in the butt.  Maybe we shouldn’t talk to him about me?  Poor J.J. for putting up with me.  What a jewel he is!”

I run into James accidentally some nights later drumming for Welcome to Hoonah.  He added, “We just have mutual respect for each other.  It’s just a blessing and an honor to play with her.  Jane takes everybody on a journey.”

Another Roadside Attraction has two married couples performing.  Jordan Rivers and Lucy de los Rios is one couple, and Joy Truskowski and Richard Harvey is the other.  Joy shared some impressions with me.

“I met Richard at an intentional community (basically a homesteading commune) in Floyd in 2009. I went there for a 2-month internship to learn homesteading skills, and Richard lived there. I was extremely determined to focus on learning and not get into a relationship, but Richard just knocked my socks off. He's funny, cute, thoughtful, patient, honest, kind, loving, and supportive. Starting a relationship just happened very naturally, and it was very comfortable.”

Richard is the first person I've ever been in a relationship who plays music. It's very precious and rewarding to be able to play with somebody who I'm so close to and who I love so much. We both encourage each other to play, write, and practice as much as we can. I love that support. For most of my life, I've prioritized other things over music. Seeing how dedicated he is has inspired me to prioritize music more in my life, and that has been a precious gift.”

Other couples we just couldn’t visit with this time include: Tom and Mandy Snediker of The Kind, Doug and Robin Settles, Steve and LaWanda Langston, Brian Paitt and Amanda Bocchi, Kera Moore and Bryan Martin, Walter Trexell and Thalassa McBroom, and Mary Leifkin and Tommy Meloche.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Rock'n Roanoke The 1960's, The SoundCheck, December 2012

The Soundcheck, November 2011
by j. gabrielle

Roanoke Music in the 1960’s

When Chuck Berry made his infamous appearance at Lakeside Amusement Park, and when many R&B acts came to Virginia, those were the days when acts did not travel with their own rhythm section.  Instead, the agent would find local musicians to fit the bill.  The Divots from Roanoke, Virginia was one such band.

Bob Newman, Russ Gwaltney, Don East, Andy Christiansen, and Perry Calligan began the band as The Roulettes.  The name change was necessary because of a conflict with the Roulette name and a record label in Salem.  In 1961, The Roanoke Times reported on a hot new single released by the band recently reviewed in Billboard Magazine!  "Missing You" was the "A" side, written and sung by Christiansen for his girlfriend.  "Diddy-Wah-Diddy" was the "B" side.  The band was touring voraciously at fraternity parties and clubs on the east coast.  Band members changed.  Bob Hess, Richard Cecil, Jim Lough, Eddie Johnson, Dan Durham, and Odgie Fitzgerald worked their way in.  It was, in fact, the latter gentleman who coined The Divots name at Hole Number 9, Salem Municipal Golf Course.

The Kingsmen and Don Day & the Knights performed Top 40 and Rock-n-Roll.  The Rock-A-Teens out of Richmond came to record their hit "Woo Hoo" in Salem.  Roanoke was a hot bed of music.  One thing united musicians and fans across race lines: radio station WLAC, 1510 AM out of Nashville, TN.  Sponsored by Randy's Record Shop in Gatlinburg, the station's powerful 50,000 watt signal took wing at night.  It reached most of Eastern and Mid-Western U.S., the Deep South, the Caribbean Islands, and parts of Canada!  Four white D.J.s (who most people assumed were "soul brothers”) spun the latest R&B hits from the late 40's into the early 70's deep in the night.  John "R" (Richbourg), Gene Nobles, Herman Grizzard, and Bill "Hoss" Allen grew a huge fanbase with irreverent commentary, double entendre humor, and a bag full of Memphis sound, rock, and soul.  Later, the Ska movement, R&B artists, and Greg Allman all touted the station as influential (as did musicians and fans in our Valley!). 

Roanoke’s Henry Street was known as "The Yard".  As in your own backyard, your "Dukedom", if you will.  Located there was Kaiser's Record Shop, and that's where one bought the latest 45 heard on WLAC and WPXI.  At the age of 15, world-class and renowned jazz saxophonist Byron Morris worked at the record store.  Morris' musical pedigree reads like a who's-who of Roanoke music.  His father, "Jim Billy" Morris performed with The Aristocrats in the 1940s.  The young Morris attended high school with Jimmy Lewis, founder of the Premiers/Chevys.  Both men were inspired by Addison High School band director Joe Finley. 

The Premiers were a vocal band that was backed by The Chevys.  Jazz trumpeter Elmer Coles joined the group in about 1962 when he was just a kid.  Hal Walker (tenor sax) got Elmer in the band.  On the "white side of town", they performed at the Brooke Club, The Candlelight Club, Flo and Johnny's, and Colonial Hills.  The latter was "just a place teenagers went and drank 3:2 beer," according to Coles.  3:2 beer was a low-alcohol beer that could be purchased by anyone at least 18 years of age.    On the "black side of town" popular night spots included the Ebony Club, Wagon Wheel, and the Star City Auditorium.  The Premiers and the Chevys played many college venues, and they backed many artists, including Marvin Gaye, Solomon Burke, and B.B. King.

In 1963, Roanoke hometown favorite The Divots performed for the University of Georgia's Homecoming.  They backed a nine-act rhythm and blues bill that sold-out the 40,000 seat Sanford Stadium.  Major Lance, Jerry Butler, Don Covay & The Goodtimers, Irma Thomas, Mary Wells, King Curtis, Gene Chandler, Don Gardner, and Dee Dee Ford.  Elmer Coles moved into this band about 1964.  Some call them Roanoke's best band ever!  At one time, The Divots’ prowess was SO great, and SO well-known and respected, they backed nearly every major R&B act touring in the 1960s.  This also included The Supremes and Herman's Hermits.  This is about the time the competition heated up between the Divots and The Premiers/The Chevys.  The Divots tended to get their vocalists from Jimmy Lewis' band including their first African-American singers, Wayne Johnson and Sonny Womack.  Musicians, as always a little ahead of their time, integrated long before the clubs, who would not do so until about 1968.

The Divots were about to get a taste of their own medicine.  In 1965, founding members Perry Calligan and drummer Roger Fowler left.  The Royal Kings were born and, you, dear Reader, know their great-great grandchild: The Kings

Most of the bands during this period were focusing on R&B and so-called Beach Music.   WROV-AM is said to have aired “The Cheater” by Bob Kuban &  The In-Men, a 1965 Top 40 hit and had been the harbinger of that record's success, particularly with the Shag and beach music aficionados.  All of the bands discussed here are featured in Greg Haynes’ Anthology, The Heeey Baby Days of Beach Music.  Also mentioned are The Vikings.
The Vikings did not fall into the same category as these rhythm and blues players.  The Vikings were formed in 1961.  With their white socks, striped shirts and weejuns, they soundly resembled their famous counterparts after whom they were modeled: The Kingston Trio.  Success came quickly for Allen Wells, Lane Craig, and Tommy Holcomb (all college-bound musicians).  They had their own Saturday night primetime TV show on WSLS (just after Roy Rogers) by 1962.

Elmer Coles interjects, "Of course, when the Beatles came out, that ushered in a whole new era of music.  Black or white, you liked some Beatles!"

All the R&B bands started adding some of this new Beatle music (and also some BeeGees).  New players and bands changed.  Danny Counts entered the scene.  Tommy Thompson and Bobby Webber also became prominent.  Larry Calligan formed Little Rickie and the Romans.  “The Shylocks” performed at an attempted teen age night club at Crossroads Mall.  Al Coffey (The “Swiss Army Musician) recalls hearing bands here, but not for long calling it an “experiment that didn’t work”.

Coffey remembers beginning to play in this time and that “clubs just weren’t interested in bands not playing stuff on the radio”.  “Roanoke didn’t really catch on to Rock-n-Roll until the 70’s; they were just stuck in soul and Motown”.  He remembers a club called The New Wood that stood at Elm and Franklin. It was the first place he heard The Royal Kings.

The Vikings stayed together during college with the occasional Miss Virginia Pageant gig.  After graduation (about 1966), they became the house band at the Rathskellar in the basement of the American Theater. Tyler Pugh was added on bass.  In 1967, a venue was about to transform.  Tri-owners Jerry Nesbit, Bill Crews, and Ki Luczak renovated the then 31 year old Coffee Pot and made The Vikings their house band.  Once again, Billboard Magazine touted a Roanoke band as "up and coming".  Their London Label release "The Goodie Wagon" as The Vikings V with the addition of Steve Snedegar on bass and WROV's Fred Frelantz garnered National attention.

The trials and tribulations of The Vikings would take us solidly into several more decades.  Suffice it to say, additional personnel, financial backers and name changes never did get The Vikings out of Roanoke.  They remain a beloved band in the hearts of Roanokers.

There was a band called The Coordinators with Tim Ferguson on drums, Cedric Lawson on piano, Booty Staples on bass.  Elmer Coles says this is the first band he performed with that "had a big touring bus". 
In the mid to late 1960s, many of the bands dissolved.  Elmer Coles explains that a lot of the guys started touring with National acts.  Others, like himself, were mesmerized by jazz.  Mike Webber, bassist for the Divots, went on to tour with The Judds.  Elmer Coles hooked on with The Stylistics, and Cedric Lawson went with Miles Davis.  Oscar Jackson, Cole's band director, played tenor sax with The Imperials, Temptations, and Dionne Warwick.  Byron Morris went to D.C. to establish his own sound and jazz band, "Unity".

Times, and music were a-changing.

Polychrome, July 2011, The SoundCheck

The Soundcheck by j. Gabrielle

“Polychrome” is the 2010 Roanoke Times Music Poll’s Favorite Band.
They may also be Roanoke’s hardest working band.

I first saw the lean, mean, power rock three-piece band at Roanoke’s Festival in the Park in 2010 on the Amphitheater Stage.  Their catchy original songs piqued my interest.  In a word, they were “smokin’, and that’s why after a long, hot, sweaty day in Elmwood Park, “Mac Daddy” and I happily accepted the band’s invitation to their show at Brambleton Deli later that night.

We’ve been fans ever since and have followed them from venue to venue, watching their fanbase grow with “chromeheads”.

“Polychrome”, as defined by Webster’s Dictionary, is “painted, printed, or decorated in several colors”.  I asked lead guitarist and vocalist Sean Bera what made him choose that name. Bera says, “The music I write is all over the place, and my influences are as scattered as George Gershwin to Great White, Van Morrison to Van Halen, Stanley Jordan to Santana.  Also, the band performs cover music to stay busy, and the song selections are truly of various colors!”

Indeed, the latter statement rings true.  From their sound-check of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and “The Green Acres Theme”, to the set list of Sister Hazel’s “All for You”; Bruno Mars’, “The Lazy Song”; The Beatles’, “I Saw Her Standing There”; to The Eagles’, “Take It Easy”, the band morphs easily from one style to the next.

Drummer Mark Lynch joined the band a year ago.  I learned recently that Mark is a Marine and played in the Drum and Bugle Corp Band.  Lynch’s distinctive snare work “colors” the songs.  In a cover of Sting’s “Message in a Bottle”, his cymbal work is just beautiful….understated…and tasty.  In Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff”, he uses a special snare, with holes in the side that gives the song that needed reggae feel.  Mark’s subtleties are intrinsic to Sean’s writing.  Sean again:

“Mark has completely changed the way I approach songwriting.  ….his rhythmic influence has me creating melodic lines that feed off his reggae/rock-fusion style.  It has both challenged me to get out of my pop/rock comfort zone as well as re-energize me to create songs with a story.”

Perry Mabry is the bass player and back-up vocalist who is so much fun to watch!  He’s just jammin’, keeping a subtle bass line…..not too busy!  He’s got this incredible smile on his face and with that long hair, resembles a California surfer dude! 

At a recent downtown Roanoke outdoor event, the band was in its element on a large stage.  When Sean goes into one of his raps and inevitably ceases playing the guitar and stretches his arms akimbo, riding the reliable groove laid down by his bandmates, he resembles a Rock-n-Roll Messiah.  The fan at the front of the stage, playing air drums, clearly was a willing disciple!

A wordsmith by trade, Sean loves to talk and has a biting sarcasm.  At Brambleton Deli, Boogie will sometimes tell him he talks too much!  At some venues, this works to his advantage.  At Awful Arthur’s in Salem, he asks the audience to write down songs on slips of paper and bring them to him.  Sean laughingly points out “it’s often a bunch of stuff I would never play, so, I either will sing a bit of a cappella or play a riff on the guitar…..It often leads to them writing down 10-15 songs just to see what we are able to perform!”

Most of all, the band is proud of their 14 song original CD, “All County Champs”.  One song, “Oleander”, is getting airplay on 96.3 WROV.  I have to urge you to check this out!  What a great song!  It is only your introduction to “Polychrome”!  Sean wrote it in tandem with the bestseller book, White Oleander

The band hopes to keep spreading an exciting groove and a most excellent vibe of goodness, happiness, and love.  Yes.  Really. 

So, you have an invitation; will you come to the party?

Polychrome is:  Sean Bera, Guitar, Vocals
                             Perry Mabry, Bass, Vocals
                               Mark Lynch, Drums

Cowboy: The Tribute, The SoundCheck, November 2011

Cowboy:  The Kid Rock Tribute:  November 2011, The Soundcheck
By:  J. Gabrielle

            Mac Daddy and I are Downtown at Awful Arthur's.  "Cowboy:  The Kid Rock Tribute Band" is performing an "unplugged" version of itself as "Lowlife".  They are taking a break from the usual southern, white male material of Kid Rock to perform some other southern, white male material from Hank Williams, Jr.   The agreeable audience sounds like a monotone church choir as they proudly sing, answer and call "Get Drunk, Get Stoned!" to "Family Tradition".  Lead singer Josh Carroll is leading the band with just the right amount of cockiness, attitude and cool detachment.

            I find Mr. Carroll to be multi-faceted off stage.  This Huntington, West Virginia native says he “lived wrong for a lot of years.  Took school of hard knocks to make me realize how to do things right."  He says it took people he respected to set him down and ''grow him up''.  A songwriter since he was a "kid", Josh turned down a baseball scholarship at West Virginia State to move to Myrtle Beach to be a musician.  He performed for 2 years with the Carolina Opry's "Dixie Stampede" and in various cover bands.  He went to Nashville for awhile.  Back in Roanoke, Josh served as a lead singer for "The Kings" for nearly 5 years.  Along the way, people continued to compare his look and sound to Kid Rock.  Now, he heads up "Cowboy, the Kid Rock Tribute and thus, a 5-piece band of some of the most talented musicians, and strongest personalities, in the area.  The band is excellent and everybody can sing.

            Ross Flora looks like an elvish nobleman descending from the Misty a Corona commercial.  His hair (as always) blowing in the wind (come to think of it, his Dad Miller is also musically gifted and well-endowed...follicley speaking....., but more on that at another time).  AND he's talented and ambitious.  A new promotional video sets the young man up for opportunity far from native Roanoke.  He often serves as the band’s own opening act and this is definitely an asset.

            Journeyman musician Gary Hall calls this his "main band".  The quintessential showman gets a chance to really show off some flash!   Walter Trexell is actually smiling and says he enjoys "just being the guitar player" and not having to front the band.  "Josh does a great job!", he says.  He alludes to a "mid-life crisis in full effect" as he recently bought a Marshall amp, and is buying guitars.  His brother Doug Trexell performs in the “plugged” version of the band.

            Brian Holt is on bass, and what a nice man.   The Berklee College of Music graduate is a prolific four and five string bassist.  "I LOVE being able to play and make a living playing music".  And, does he ever!  With the Pop Rivets, Roanoke Symphony, Burning Bridges, Leggz, and that only scratches the surface.  He's really jazzed about Cowboy's newest adventure: the Open Mic on Wednesdays at Bravo's.  He "gets it" - the way you take the "young cats" and raise 'em up.

            At Bravo’s Open Mic, the crowd and the players grow each week.  Tonight, The Worx bassist Justin Tolly, and Burning Bridges guitarist Scott Joshway sit in.  Thalassa McBroom, Barry Young are in the house.  This event is all ages in the hopes that young people will become smitten by the music bug.

            It has become October.  We've seen this group at two venues and five shows.  They are consistently excellent and convey excitement, even at the unplugged shows. 
"Cowboy" and the future look really good.  They return to Awful Arthur's at Towers on November 25th.  Be sure to catch them as our local Kid Rock Tribute is getting ready to fly.  They are the only touring Kid Rock band.  Sam Hill Entertainment is hoping to get them on the road in 2012.  Red Stag (a Jim Beam subsidiary) is looking at backing the band.

            Josh Carroll hopes to "let the music pay for seeing the country and traveling".

            Only one way to go, you know: ''Chicken-Fried'' (Zack Brown Band).

Jane Powell, Star City Diva. The Soundcheck, January 2012

The Soundcheck, January 2012
Jane Powell, Star City Diva
By J. Gabrielle

Mac Daddy and I are at one of our favorite Wednesday night rituals; Blues BBQ with the Elmer Coles Funktet.  However, tonight the one and only Jane Powell takes the stage instead filling in for Coles.  Ms. Powell usually can be seen only at the Greenbrier, performing with the Roanoke Symphony or the occasional Hotel Roanoke gig.  Tonight’s event went unadvertised, yet the word got out anyway.  The tiny venue is packed even more than usual, standing room only to catch a glimpse of the self-proclaimed “Chocolate Goddess of Love”.

The band is on break, and as always, Ms. Powell graciously entertains her fans one on one.  I am one of them.  We catch a “real” moment together and I confess to her a wounded heart and recount a resulting hopelessly floundering moment onstage.  She says, “I know JUST what you mean, I have been there!”  And I believe her, for she goes back in the next set with a soulful version of Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry” and I accept it as a gift.  I cry anyway.  But, it is a good, short weeping full of forgiveness for myself.  Now, she is not only “The Diva”, but “The Medicine Woman” too.

I have been following Jane Powell for a year now at different venues in Roanoke.  In hotel lounges and nightclubs, she always elevates her audience to a bigger venue with brighter lights.  At the Elephant Walk Lounge we are whisked away to an elegant cruise ship.  All of us, from many ports of call, are united in song as she sashes the room giving turns at the mic to sing “Hey! Hey! The Blues are Alright!”.  With the wireless mic, Jane can get to everyone and mess with ‘em, just a little.  On one such night, quintessential “mess with ‘em” artist Kelly Mullen is at my side.  He guffaws at a particularly naughty exchange Powell has with an audience member and shakes his head in admiration.  “Wow!, he says, “She’s the Master!”

With her five octave range, Jane Powell is foremost the master of song.  Her seemingly endless song list includes gospel, R&B, show tunes and Christmas songs.  A typical set includes The Temptations’ “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”, The Staples Singers’ “I’ll Take You There”, Roberta Flack’s “Feel Like Makin’ Love” and Otis Redding’s “Dock of the Bay”.  The latter reveals her amazing ability to whistle in what must also be five octaves!  Her rendition of “Amazing Grace” garnered her a standing ovation on a cruise ship chartered by Oprah Winfrey just last year.

Jane Powell has toured internationally on cruise ships, elegant symphony houses and college campuses.  She has opened for and worked with Lou Rawls, Joan Jett, Koko Taylor, B.J. Thomas and Ray Charles.  The Charles concert was reviewed by The Washington Post which declared she “stole the night from a legend”!   The National Association for Campus Activities (NACA) has voted her the winner of the Jazz Artist of the Year and the Performing Arts/Music Award so many times she remains the most awarded performer in the history of the organization.  Jane has performed for a McDonald’s commercial.  You can see her in the 1999 movie “The Bachelor” with Renee Zellweger and in the Dino DeLaurentis film “Marie”.  Powell has even performed for Queen Elizabeth II during a Royal Visit to Virginia.

With all of this stellar success one might expect a stellar ego to go along.  Instead, Jane Powell has a self-deprecating sense of humor, a ready, hearty laugh and a warmth for her fans and fellow musicians.  In July, she performed for “Jazz in July” at Longwood Park in her native Salem.  I ran into her in the parking lot high above and behind the stage and listened as the attendant gave her directions on how to walk down to the stage area.  Jane seemed ready to make the trek, but I butted in asking instead for a call on the radio for a golf cart.  Jane Powell seemed almost uncomfortable with the “fuss”.

If you haven’t enjoyed this Roanoke treasure, please do.  I have been thoroughly entertained, have learned so very much and as an entertainer myself, been humbled.

When she is not entertaining the masses, Jane Powell is a sterling silver jewelry expert at

Elmer Coles Playin' Here T'night. Soundcheck, September 2011

“Elmer Coles playin’ here t’night?”
by J. Gabrielle

‘Mac Daddy’ and I are seated outside Blues BBQ in downtown Roanoke, and many others arrive, mostly in pairs.   The lyrical question of the moment on the sidewalk is, “Elmer Coles playin’ here t’night?” 

Mr. Coles is warmly approachable.  For this I am grateful.  Impressed with his wild trumpeting as well as his genuine smile, he’s been on my “radar”.

Elmer Coles was ten when he caught music fever at the Christmas Parade in Roanoke.  Band director/educator Joe Finley led the renowned 101-piece Addison High School Marching Band.  A move called “The Freeze” inspired Coles.  Roanoke Times columnist Robert Samuels wrote in 1994, “When Finley signaled his band, the students’ quick movements would stop immediately, staying in the same position for however long he wanted.”  Imagine that! Winter.  Christmas.  The outrageously good, loud, dancing, performing, ‘ahead-of-their-time’ marching band STOPS…..and downtown falls silent…frozen in a moment.   10….20…..30 seconds… and BAM the band is back in motion and sound! I’ve got the ‘fever’ now too, and I think I understand a little more about jazz and playing SPACES in music.

By thirteen, he was performing professionally with regional legends.  Jimmy Lewis, Sonny Womack, Reverend Woodrow Walker, Harvey Lee Jones: Coles performed with The Chevys, The Divots, and The Premiers.  “They schooled me to the age of sixteen”, says Coles.  “Then I got married at seventeen and had a baby.  I have a 44 year-old daughter and a 10 year-old grandson”.

It was off to Cleveland in 1968 to perform with keyboardist Cedric Lawson, who went on to play with Miles Davis.  Lawson is the son of famed Roanoke Civil Rights lawyer Reuben Lawson (who helped integrate the school systems in Southwest Virginia).  Coles says that he and Cedric “still trade secrets”.  Next, to Boston and ‘hangin’ out with Harvey Mason.  New England Conservatory launched a jazz program and Coles received a scholarship.  Then, he hit the road.

The Stylistics were one of the best-known Philadelphia soul groups of the 70’s.  They are known for R&B hits “You Are Everything”, “I’m Stone in Love with You”, and more.  Coles toured with them for three years, working with songwriter Thom Bell.  Taking a hiatus from the band, he entered the jazz scene working with Charles Earland from the Mingus band, recording “Live at the Lighthouse”.  “But”, Cole murmurs, “there was a little too much drama with the jazz behind the scenes.” He returned to the Stylistics for a bit, then moved to D.C.  Elmer earned a certificate for electronics and ran a consulting company for fifteen years.  He got studio hits the whole time.  “The phone just never stopped ringing!” he smiles.

About ’97, his mother’s illness had him transitioning back to Roanoke.  He quickly got back to work with Ronnie Law, William Penn, James Pace, and The Domino Band.  More recently, he has worked with The Elderly Brothers and now, The Elmer Coles Funktet!  The latter has been a staple at Blues BBQ on Wednesdays for a couple of years.  Coles calls this creation, “very satisfying.  A little loud, a little fiery.”  On this night, Cameron McLaughlin sits in on bass for vacationing Bernard Hairston.  McLaughlin calls Coles “the greatest trumpet player on earth!”  It’s guitarist Charlie Hughs’ first band, but performing with Coles has “completely changed my playing,” he says. 

It’s the middle of the first set, and Coles announces to the young cats, “It’s time for some rock-n-roll!”  Carlos Aranguren sets the groove on drums.  Guitarist Greg Ayers mouths to Elmer, “I LIKE THAT!”  Elmer just nods, “Yeah!”  and the Funktet is playing The Stones’ “Miss You”.  Carlos is pretty sure Coles has played with Miles Davis and James Brown.  What he appreciates is the way “in the jazz tradition, he grabs the young cats and guides them to find their own sound.” 

Keyboardist Dave Ferguson is on keys now.  Elmer Coles stands on the bar floor facing the namesake band he’s built.  Like a proud, hard-working man in front of a finely-worked garden, Elmer Coles smiles the smile of a satisfied man.  Indeed, “Elmer Coles’ playin’ here t’night!”

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