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!