Younger local musicians and the music fans who love them might find it hard to fathom, but once upon a time, Cincinnati’s corporate Rock radio juggernaut WEBN was one of local music’s biggest allies, a wild, wooly and eclectic FM outlet as open-ended and freeform as any internet radio station or podcast. In the ’70s and ’80s, before inflexible, homogenized playlists made it impossible for even major label Cincy bands like The Afghan Whigs to get spins, the annual WEBN Album Project compilations gave major exposure to local and regional artists. Saturday at the Madison Theater, the WEBN Album Project Reunion Show flashes back to that era. In this week’s CityBeat, Brian Baker caught up with one of Cincinnati’s most popular bands ever (and an early Album Project participant), The Raisins, whose seminal lineup is reuniting for Saturday’s event, joining several other AP alumni. Brian also caught up with some of the other participating musicians to discuss the Album Project’s legacy. Below are their thoughts, as well as some vintage video clips from the era.
We caught up with Ohio native, Eric Singer aka “CATMAN”, drummer for the infamous band, to discuss local sports and the show on Friday.CB: First question, how do you feel about Lebron leaving?
CB: Did you see the owner’s reaction?
Eric: Oh yes, I did. I am a huge NBA fan. I am on NBA.com everyday. I am actually a huge Lakers fan and even though we were on tour in Europe I did not miss any of the playoff games. The games would start at 3 am and I would watch every other day. My body clock was so out of whack. I would stay up all night watching. Everyone on the tour would ask why I looked to so tired and it was because I stayed up until 7 am watching basketball.
Eric: You are in Cincinnati. I saw that you just signed Terrell Owens.
CB: Yes we did, what do you think about that?
Eric: I think it is a great thing. Obviously, I am a Cleveland Browns fan being from Cleveland.
CB: We won’t hold that against you.
Eric: No, I have always rooted for the Bengals. My Dad had season tickets to the Browns in the 60’s and he would take me to all the games. My Dad was also a musician and he knew Paul Brown personally. I think Paul Brown coached at Ohio State so we also loved the Buckeyes so Ohio State Buckeyes are always my college team of choice.
My Dad was always a huge Bengals fan because he loved Paul Brown. Basically I root for all the AFC teams except the Ravens for obvious reasons. I cannot stand the Ravens like most Cleveland fans. I always root for the Bengals. Overall I think it was a good pickup. T.O. is a personality but at the end of the day he is a great talent and is a great receiver. The Bengals may make some noise this year. I don’t look for much from the Browns this year to do any damage. I just want them to improve over last year. They have had so many changes with management and quarterbacks. I think that it would be nice to give the people of Cleveland something to look forward to versus focusing on the Lebron situation.
CB: The sentiment here in Ohio doesn’t seem
as bad as I thought it would be about Lebron based on what I had heard
in the media.
Eric: Of course, they showed the same 2 guys on TV burning their Lebron jersey in the streets over and over. It was a slow news day. At the end of the day, it is just a game. I think it becomes an obsession with some people. I am a huge Laker fan. I stay home every night during the season and watch every game. I get upset when they lose but at the end of the day, it is just a game and they are not curing cancer. I play drums in a band and it is important to me because it is my livelihood, but at the same time I keep a reality check about what I do.
CB: It is not solving world hunger.
Eric: Exactly. Some people get too serious about it in my mind. Some people hate their 9-5 job and they have passion about a sports team or a band and that is what they look forward to doing. I understand their passion, but you have to keep it in perspective.
CB: I have talked to a lot of drummers this week. I have kind of had a week of drummers, culminating with you.
Eric: That sounds like it could have a double entendre. “I just had a week of drummers.” You gotta watch how you say that. (Laughing)
CB: What is the longest you have gone without playing the drums?
Eric: Oh I have gone awhile. Probably a few months. I am 52 years old. I have been touring every year for 26 years straight and been drumming for 42 years since I was 10. It is like a car. I have a lot of drumming miles on my body. I find that when you go away from something, it renews your interest and enjoyment in it. You enjoy it more when you come back. My whole life can’t be about drums and KISS. I am not one dimensional. You have to have other interests. As much as I know that you have to have focus because that is important if you want to have success along with hard work, sometimes you need to step away from it. It makes it feel fresh when you get away and then come back. Even though I have played some of these songs a hundred times, after I get away from it for awhile it feels fresh and lets my body heal.
CB: It is an extreme sport.
Eric: It is very much like athletics. Rock and roll drumming is different than playing in a lounge band. It is hitting hard objects and absorbing all that shock. As I have gotten older I have had to learn different ways to approach it. I have massages all the time to take care of my body and keep my body stretched out and loose because it is a necessity at this point.
CB: Do you do any weight lifting or activities to condition for it?
Eric: Sometimes. Lately to be honest I have been lazy. Usually when we are off tour, I will go to the gym and try to condition with cardio and keep my stamina up at least a few times a week. That makes it not such a shock to your body when you go back to hitting things after you have been away for awhile.
CB: Have you ever been star struck?
Eric: No, not really. When I first moved to LA in 1983, I used to go to the Beverly Hills Diner after rehearsals. This is when I first realized that I lived in LA and when you go to a Denny’s or a diner that you will see musicians and actors. The first time I was sitting there and Lionel Richie came in with Irene Cara, who had a big hit at the time. He said hello just like you were a normal person. That kind of set a precedence for me with a guy who was a huge star at the time on MTV and making hits and he is just a regular guy who comes in here and says hi to me. I always remembered that whatever you do may be special or unique, but it does not make you better than someone else. I remember him and think it was a good attitude.
CB: That is a good attitude.
Eric: I am a big fan of many bands and I met Jimmy Page this year in London. That was kind of cool because I had never met anyone from Zeppelin, but I am around these guys all the time. I have played in some big bands KISS and with Queen. I played a Nelson Mandela benefit with Bono and Annie Lennox a few years ago. I have gotten to play with people and meet them this way. I met Dwyane Wade the other night on Jay Leno and that was cool because I am such a big NBA fan. I like to meet people that I have a lot of respect for and admire what they do. I don’t get star struck because I have been doing this a long time and realize at the end of the day they are just people.
CB: They go home and put their pants on one leg at a time.
Eric: Exactly, one thing I have learned that once you really get to know people you find that there is a common thread that runs through all of us.
CB: I interview people and have found that the big
bands like yourself are the most down to earth and normal. Many of the
newer bands that are just starting out seem so arrogant at times and it
bothers me and I always think that won’t work and they are not going to
make it like that.
Eric: You are right and that is a great observation. That is what I find as well. Usually people who are doing it at a bigger level, they don’t act like that. I don’t know if it is a confidence or mindset but they don’t need to do that. I live in LA and there a lot of people who are posers. They go to clubs and dress the part and think they are important. They go out every night and dress up and locals think they are in the band, but they are big fish in a small pond and they are not the real players. You are right, the people that have more fame act normal and don’t need to pretend to be anything and they are usually more cool.
CB: What can we expect from the show on Friday?
Eric: “The Hottest Show on Earth” is great. The one thing I always admire about our band is that we are always trying to improve and make it bigger and better. We are always trying to make a bigger visual spectacle. That is what we are known for and putting on a big show. I always say it is like Rock-n-Roll meets the circus. It is about being entertainers and being entertained. Anyone who saw the tour last year, we have changed the songs around and changed some of the visual things in the show. It is probably the biggest show that we have ever done with visual and screens and pyro. It is a big undertaking to take this tour around the country. There are 15 or 17 trucks that move this stuff around. A few of them have our faces on the side with the new Dr. Pepper adds, so you may see 5 or 6 of them rolling down the road in Ohio this week so you will know it is KISS on tour. I am not saying this because I am biased and in the band, but everyone must see a KISS show in their life.
Eric: We are playing Riverbend on Friday right?
Eric: I remember Riverbend. We have played there before and I actually went to a concert there before. I was on a tour in 1987 with Gary Moore and we saw Huey Lewis in the News there. They were huge at the time.
CB: I actually saw them this past weekend at HullabaLOU in Louisville.
Eric: Really, one of my good friends is their guitar player, how were they?
CB: They were amazing actually and sounded the
same. It was surreal to see bands ranging from Bon Jovi to Al Green all
in one place.
Eric: Did you see Al Green?
CB: Yes I did and he was FANTASTIC! He made me smile!
Eric: I went to see him a few years ago with Gene after we played a show in a casino on a night off. Al Green sings amazing. Gene is a huge 50’s doo wop fan and so we went to the show.
CB: He was spot on and blew my mind.
Eric: Did all the ladies come up and give him flowers?
CB: No he had bundles of roses he was passing out.
Eric: A lot of the older women still love him. He is old school and a real swooner, but he sings his ass off.
CB: I have had a phenomenal week of music and I am hoping to top it off with KISS on Friday.
Eric: You are right it is like a Cherry on Top after all that great music this week. It is great music on top of a great show. You must go see it and be converted and see it in the flesh. You will be converted to Kisstianity. There is no band like KISS and it is a dream come true to be in the band since I was a huge fan from the beginning. I was a fan from day 1 and saw them in Cleveland in 1974 when they opened up for the New York Dolls.
CB: It is like a religion.
Eric: The kind of drummer that I always want to be was to be a visual and show type drummer and I can do it all in KISS. I couldn’t be in a more perfect band.
CB: I hope to get religion on Friday.
Eric: You have to.
CB: Before we wrap up, tell me about the Wounded Warrior Care project that you are supporting.
Eric: It is the Wounded Warrior CARE project. We have gone to visit the soldiers in their facility. A dollar from every ticket sold goes to this project. Those people have gone and sacrificed their life. Regardless of people’s political views, these people go and do this on a volunteer basis to protect our rights. They have given their life so we have to make sure that there are people when they get home to help them get their life back and that is what this project is all about. You may disapprove of war, but you need to respect these people regardless of your views. You are able to say whatever you want in this country because these people go out and fight for your rights. We want to help them be able to get their lives back.
Eric: I also need to say KISS is a great family value this summer. Kids under 14 get in free on the lawn with the purchase of an adult lawn ticket. Up to four children per valid adult (21 and over) lawn ticket. Valid for Live Nation amphitheatres with lawns only. These also must be purchased on the day of the show and are subject to availability.
We know that times are tough for some people economically and we know there is no better way to get their mind off their troubles than to go and see a band like KISS. It is our way of trying to give something back to those who have supported us over the years. Everyone needs to see KISS at some point in their life.
CB: You may as well start early as a kid right?
Where do you begin with a band like Lynyrd Skynyrd? Everyone has been out at a bar or a concert and heard some crazy and/or drunk lunatic shouting to the band on stage, “FREE BIRD!!!” They are the epitome of and gold standard for Southern Rock music. Even now, through the tragedy of the plane crash in 1977 to the re-formed band, Skynyrd still provides electric performances every night. They still happily rock the hits of the early days. like “Simple Man” and “Sweet Home Alabama,” while mixing in the music they are still releasing, most recently Last of a Dying Breed, which came out late last year.
CityBeat had time to catch up with lead vocalist Johnny Van Zant, the younger brother of the band’s original front man Ronnie Van Zant. The two discussed how Skynyrd fits into Rock music today, as well as the wonderful feelings the band still gets performing every night on stage.
Skynyrd performs at Riverbend Music Center tonight with Bad Company, providing the same energy as the cast from the ’70s and showing audiences what real Southern Rock sounds like.
CityBeat: Do you have any crazy Cincinnati memories from the past?
JVZ: We have had so many good shows there. Years back, when a flood hit, there was water in the first four or five rows. People were kind of standing in the water. I was like, “Wow these are really diehards.” I don’t even know how many times we have played at that particular amphitheater (Riverbend), but it has always been a good, hot, sweaty, summer Rock & Roll show, which is how it is supposed to be.
CB: The band has had multiple lineup changes over the years since you joined the band. How do you integrate someone new into the band?
JVZ: For us, they have to be a friend, someone we have known, someone we admire as a musician, someone we think would fit into our family. When we are out on the road, running up and down the road playing shows, you have to be not only a member of a band but, especially with Lynyrd Skynyrd, you have to be a part of the Skynyrd nation. You have to be a part of the family. Our newest member is Johnny Colt, who was bass player with The Black Crowes. Colt fits right in with us. He’s loony as heck and so are we. We have a great time and love doing what we do. I hope Johnny is with us for a long, long time. He is quite the guy. It has been awesome.
CB: I know you guys have worked many times with one of my favorite guitarists, John 5. What was that experience like for you and have you done any collaborations recently?
JVZ: Well, yeah, he was on our last record, Last of a Dying Breed.
John is a good friend of us. We knew we were going to be good friends
with John because we were in Nashville writing and our manager mentioned
John and said, “You know, he is a little different than you guys.” And
we said, “ That’s OK, that’s no problem.”
John walked in, he was just coming from a photo shoot. He had on the fingernails with his hair all up. When he walked in and I went, “Damn, you are different. Damn, are you a freak or something?” And he said, “I was thinking the same crap about you guys.” We just hit it off. He is a wonderful guitar player. Not only can he play Heavy Metal and Rock & Roll, but he can play the hell out of some Country music, which we love. I just admire his work and he is one of the most phenomenal guitar players I have had the pleasure to work with.
CB: A lot of people are saying Rock is dead and Country music is the new Rock. Do you believe that Rock is dead?
JVZ: No. I think Country music is Lynyrd Skynyrd. I
think a lot of the Country music is what we do, but I don’t think Rock &
Roll is dead at all. People have been saying that shit for years and
years and years: "Rock & Roll is dead." Then it comes back. It’s like
For us we just played Houston, Texas, in front of 10,000
people. We played Bristol, Va., I think there were 14,000 people on
a Sunday night. The night before last we were in Camden, N.J.,
14,000 people on a Wednesday night. I’m sure Cincinnati is doing quite
well. We are in Pittsburgh tonight. It is going to be phenomenal here.
If Rock & Roll is dead and gone, man, I am missing out on it.
CB: Tell me a little bit about Last of a Dying Breed and which songs we are going to hear from that album when you come to Cincinnati?
JVZ: Well, it is debatable. What we do, each night we try to think about what new song we want to put in. Right now we are really concentrating on 40 years. It’s been 40 years since (Pronounced 'lĕh-'nérd 'skin-'nérd) came out. It’s been our major focus to play as many songs off that record and celebrate that era.
CB: Where do you see yourself in 15 more years?
JVZ: Hopefully alive. Hopefully playing some shows
and still doing this. Doing a lot of fishing and drinking a good
Budweiser and something like that, I don’t know. If you want to make God
laugh, tell him your plans. I never really plan too much. I just like to
go along with the flow and the good Lord throws me in the direction he
wants me to go.
CB: Do you ever get tired of playing “Free Bird”?
JVZ: Not at all. I am quick to say, "Not at all." How
many bands would love to have songs like that? Most bands say we would
give anything to have one of those. “Free Bird” and ("Sweet Home Alabama"), that’s
the cool thing about Skynyrd. We have three generations of fans who love
those songs. It is amazing to me.
We are out with Bad Company right now and we are real big Bad Company fans. We are at the top of the game with these guys. From my era and a lot of other people’s era, Bad Company was the rule of the roost when it came to Rock & Roll. Paul Rogers is one of the best singers. Simon Kirke and Mick Ralphs have been around for years. It is just great to be out on the road and playing shows with good friends too. We are having a blast. We hope to do it again sometime after this tour and look forward to coming your way.
CB: Are you flattered when someone like Kid Rock uses "Sweet Home Alabama" in his songs? Excited? Upset? How do you feel when someone integrates that song?
JVZ: We were actually doing a tour with Bobby when
he had “All Summer Long” (the song that incorporates "Sweet Home") out. For us, hell, it keeps us in the spotlight.
He did a good job on it. It was a hit song for him and everybody got
paid. So surely, we are like, “Can someone else use it again and again?”
It is kind of funny when you think of stuff like that. Who would have thought when that song was written a long, long time ago, people would still be loving it and a band from Jacksonville, Fla., and what success my brother and Alan and Gary, my hat is off to them. I love keeping the music alive. It is a great thing. It’s a great thing because the song has been used in Forrest Gump and various movies. Any time anything like that pops up as long, as it is not in bad taste, is great. It has been a good ride.
After months of planning and judging and selecting and scheduling and designing and implementing, the big night has arrived at last. The first night of MidPoint 2009. You can almost smell the impending disaster in the air.
Well, perhaps disaster is a bit strong. It’s been a long time — well, a couple of years anyway — since MidPoint has been baptized by a significant rainfall, and right out of the chute last night’s precipitation claimed its first victim for me. As much as I wanted to see The Elms, I wasn’t prepared to walk up to Grammer’s in the pouring rain and then watch them while outside soaking wet. I hear the tent is nice and, as it turned out, I probably would have been better off to take the wet walk.
Something (or a few things) unanticipated usually happens at the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards show every year. After all, it's a night where hundreds of local musicians are put together in a room with loud music and multiple cash bars.
But the biggest unexpected element of last night’s CEAs at the Madison Theater in Covington was its runtime. Not only a first for the CEAs but perhaps a first in the history of all awards show, the briskly paced show was over early — in about 2 and a half hours, 30 minutes sooner than expected. Efficient stage management and a more streamlined run of show that kept the focus on live performances and the 19 award presentations (winners listed below) helped the event wrap up in record time.
Other than an intermittent and often heavy rainfall and a cancelled show or five, Thursday was a very good opening night. The lessening rain upon arrival in downtown Friday night boded well for a drier and less drippy MidPoint experience, and so it was. For the most part.
I hate when hard working people get ripped off. These kind of injustices can range from phishing scams to pickpockets, insurance companies' denying claims by any means necessary to bank CEO’s using bailout cash for beer money. It’s heart breaking to hear the stories of identity theft leaving people broke and in perpetual debt, or stock- and 401K-holders losing their future to corporate malfeasance.
Not that it is by any means “worse,” but I get a special bug up my ass (I’ve named him “Tony”) when I hear about artists and musicians getting ripped off. Having written about music for 18 years and played music for over 20, I’ve seen all kinds of scams designed to make cash off of the creative endeavors of others. From “battle of the bands” contests with exorbitant, unnecessary “entry” fees to club owners deciding at the end of the night that a band’s performance fee suddenly didn’t fit his budget to record labels putting no money into a project only to blame the band for not selling more albums (and coming at them to “recoup” costs), not paying or actually taking money from artists is its own little cottage industry within the music industry.
A couple of weeks ago, I finally got to check out the muched-buzzed about band The Tillers, nominated for a Cincinnati Entertainment Award in the Folk/Americana category. Playing in the Southgate House's "lounge" room, the trio (playing stand-up bass, guitar, banjo and more) huddled around a single, vintage-looking, multi-directional mic and delivered their sweet, accomplished spin on traditional Folk, Country, Gospel and Blues.
The city of Cincinnati is prepared to formally recognize King Records’ place in the city’s cultural history with a historic marker, a partnership with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a King-oriented class or lecture series, a King Records Center on the campus of Xavier University and a prominent role in this year’s Cincinnati Entertainment Awards for Music (CEAs). City Councilman John Cranley, Bootsy Collins and others announced the plans at a news conference this morning at the former King Records site in Evanston.
[See photos from this morning here.]
Cranley read from a motion he introduced to City Council that asks for up to $10,000 in city funds to install a historic marker on the former King Records office/studio in Evanston to be unveiled on Nov. 23, with the remaining funds used to book a former King recording artist to perform at that night’s CEAs. This year is the 65th anniversary of the founding of King Records in Cincinnati.
The Rock Hall of Fame in Cleveland has agreed to construct, donate and maintain the historic marker, and if Cranley’s funding request is granted the Rock Hall president has agreed to attend the marker unveiling and the CEAs. The institution also will work to develop a class or lecture series on King Records at Cincinnati State.
Other newsworthy items from this morning:
• Xavier officials are looking into developing a King Records Center on campus, a history exhibition that also could be a working recording studio for use by students and the public.
• CityBeat Marketing and Promotions Manager Dan McCabe announced that the 12th annual CEAs for music will be the first event held at the reopened Emery Theater in Over-the-Rhine. The CEAs were the final public event at the Emery just before it closed in 1999.