Lightnin’ Malcolm is an emerging driving force in the genre of underground Blues as a member of the North Mississippi All-Stars and also as a solo artist. Alongside counterpart Carl Gentle White aka "Stud" on drums, the dichotomy of their two styles produces a rough, soulful sound that reminds folks of Blues legends like Lightnin' Hopkins and Howlin' Wolf. Audiences should be prepared to dance, party and delight in Malcolm’s deep Mississippi sounds tonight at the Southgate House Revival. Malcolm is opening for and playing alongside the North Mississippi All-Stars. Showtime is 8 p.m.
CityBeat: I know you have an album coming out on Sept. 10. Can you tell me a little bit about it?
Lightnin' Malcolm: Well, it is 14 original songs and they have quite a few different styles on them. It is all based on my style, which is based on the hard driving, raw boogie North Mississippi Hill Country style. It is mostly (the) guitar and drums duo but we add some horns on a few tracks. We have Luther Dickinson playing slide on a few songs. So it is a pretty good mix of stuff.
CB: I was listening to some of it this week. I love “My Life is a Wreck.” Can you tell me the story behind that song?
LM: Well, that is a semi-autobiographical piece. One of my greatest influences was T Model Ford and he recently passed and that song was based on a style he had on the guitar. His grandson Stud is playing drums with me now. That was the first song we did in the studio. That was his first song recording and I thought it was a great way to feature it. My music depends on a great drummer. Drums are so important to the music and he is one of the best. I have known Stud since he was like 1 years old. He grew up watching me play drums with his granddad. He knows the style of drums that I like, the raw, four on the floor, predator style, no messing around. Just raw and making people dance. By us knowing each other so long, he is like my little baby brother. We have this chemistry together that works so well.
CB: I watched some videos of you two playing together. It is super high energy and looks like a lot of fun.
LM: Yeah, that is the key to it all. We don’t have to hit a note exactly right or (do flashy) guitar solos. We just try to create as much … fun for the people as we can. We just want to see people party and have fun.
CB: How old were you when you picked up your first guitar?
LM: I was about 10 or 12. Before that, I really wanted to be a drummer. I used to beat on buckets and pots and pans, put the radio on and play along with them. I didn’t have any actual drums and I finally got a hold of a little piece of guitar. I didn’t know how to tune it or nothing, but I fell in love with the strings in my hand. It took a while to learn how to tune it because I didn’t have anybody around me to show me at that time. Once I learned how to tune it, I started learning pretty fast. It just became everything to me. I look at the guitar like some people look at The Bible. It is like a vehicle for something later. I leave Earth. I can go on a vacation in my backyard with a guitar. I can escape to a whole other world with it.
CB: I know you eventually moved to Mississippi after growing up in Missouri. How did you hook up with some of these great guitar and Blues players in Mississippi?
LM: I just made friends with them. They saw something special in me, I think. I wasn’t trying to blow them off stage. I didn’t ask them many questions, like how to do things. They noticed whatever they played, I could play back. They hadn’t seen too many white guys, or any guys, that could do that. So we just made friends. It was pretty easy. Those were the kind of guys I wanted to be around. They really took me in. They were really nice to me. They never said I wouldn’t be able to do it. There was everybody else saying, “You won’t be able to do it.” They were the guys saying, “You got it. Stick with it.”
CB: Alive or dead, what one person would you want to collaborate with if you could?
LM: That’s a good question. I think, you know what’s funny, there are a lot of people outside of the Blues I’d like to collaborate with nowadays. Of course, like, John Lee Hooker is one of my all time favorites, Howlin' Wolf, there are so many Blues guys. Out of living artists, I’ll tell you a guy I love right now, two guys I love, they are more like R&B. (One is an) artist named Lyfe Jennings, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of him, he’s fucking awesome, he’s so sincere. Another guy is Anthony Hamilton who is a Soul singer. To me, even though their style is way different than mine, those are guys I really hear singing where I’m like, "Wow, they really hit the ceiling." You don’t hear it that much anymore. Everybody is using effects. You really don’t hear that wail in that voice. Otis Redding had that, you heard his voice and you just had to see him. You don’t hear anybody like that anymore. I know people wouldn’t expect that from me, but when I am riding down the highway listening to music, those are two guys I really listen to, that I look up to and would be great to collaborate with.
CB: That leads me into another question. There has been so much publicity recently around Pop music with Miley Cyrus and the VMAs. To me it shows how much more important it is to keep really authentic Blues music in front of people. What are your thoughts on that?
LM: I agree with that. I’m out here fighting the good fight doing what I can. It’s not always easy. People have to support what is going on. If people start throwing their money at garbage, you’re going to end up with a lot of garbage. I can’t speak for the next person but I can say this — there isn’t enough hours in the day to listen to great music. There is all the great music you can listen to. There is definitely no time for nonsense. I don’t waste time listening to stuff that sounds like garbage. That’s just me.
My drummer, Stud, he’s young. He was watching the awards the other night and I was laying on the couch trying to sleep. I didn’t miss much. The hours in the day are precious. I would use them wisely. You don’t have to listen to garbage. That’s about the best I can do. If anybody can make some money doing something, good for you, I don’t mean it the wrong way. If you ask me about serious music, there is great music out there being made. It is just underground. Maybe it is too real for people. I am not the expert on this type of thing, I just know what I like, I listen to what I like. Even when I was a kid in school, I was listening to way different music. I was listening to Lightnin' Hopkins and John Lee Hooker and would tell the other kids, “You have got to hear this. Check it out.” They just said, “Whatever.” I thought maybe when they grew up they would understand.
CB: What can the fans expect from you guys at the Southgate House Revival show?
LM: We are coming to rock y’all. We want y’all to come and have fun and dance and boogie. We want you to get in the groove and forget about everything in the outside world for a couple hours and get in the zone. We want to have a party for y’all. Being on stage can be the funnest thing in the world when it is going right. When it is going wrong, you just want to disappear. It is a funny thing. When it is right, it is right as a motherfucker.
There are a couple of things that have been on my mind of late, and this always seems like a decent forum to vent my musings, particularly since I'm not in therapy. First of all, what exactly constitutes medical attention for an erection lasting more than four hours? Does a stereotypically sexy nurse, um, give you a hand? Or does a mummified doctor from the bygone era of bone saws that could drop an oak tree and hand-cranked skull drills apply leeches to the affected area and then show you pictures of Yogi Berra and golf videos to bring down the swelling, so to speak?
While we wait for an answer to arrive, let's move on to the other, perhaps more salient issue that I've been pondering. As everyone knows, the end of the year brings the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards nominations, which then inspires a good deal of grumbling speculation about who has gotten nominated and, more importantly, who has not.
Look, no one understands better than I the elation that accompanies being recognized for your work. Six years ago I nabbed second place in the Non-Daily Newspapers Feature Personality Profile category of the Ohio Excellence in Journalism awards. I know, right? At the same time, I can count on fingers and toes the number of letters I've received over the years about things I've written, and many of those have been from the subjects I've written about just to say thanks.
My prized correspondence was from now-deceased Rolling Stone/Billboard editor Timothy White for getting the title of his Beach Boys biography wrong in a piece I wrote about Dick Dale. I had cited White's book as The Nearest Faraway Beach, largely due to my love of the Brian Eno song, "On Some Faraway Beach," and partially because I jotted down my notes in Joseph-Beth Booksellers when I was in the throes of a flu that would have eaten a vaccine for an appetizer. White's book was, in fact, The Nearest Faraway Place, and in it, he mentioned that Dale had been born in Beirut, Lebanon, among other interesting tidbits about the legendary guitarist. When I asked Dale about some of the entries in White's book, he countered with, "Does it say Dick Dale was born in Lebanon?" (he referred to himself in the third person, a lot). I said that it did, and he responded, "Then throw that book in the garbage."
It was a great quote so I used it in the story, which prompted White's letter, where he first corrected my idiot error and then clarified that he had interviewed Dale personally at a time when White speculated that Dale thought being born in Lebanon would make him seem more exotic (he was of Lebanese extraction), but when Beirut became synonymous with terrorism, he claimed Boston as his birthplace. All in all, though, he was very complimentary about the article.
As usual, I digress. As much as people love being hailed for their accomplishments, they are stung when they feel they've been passed over, for whatever reason, and that's completely understandable. It becomes slightly problematic when people demonize the process in an effort to explain their absence from the end result.
Here's the thing; those of us who comprise the nominating committee try not to take ourselves too seriously, but we are very serious about the task of establishing these nominations on an annual basis, for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, we love music and we respect the people who make it. We also feel it is extremely important to recognize great work and to share that recognition with the entire music community.
And that's pretty much it. We don't have an agenda to push. We don't nominate our friends (although our friends sometimes get nominated). Speaking for myself, I really try to set personal feelings aside when the time comes to look at the past year and determine who has done work worthy of CEA recognition.
Of course, that determination is open to a certain amount of subjectivity. We are human beings, after all. That's why we cast our nets as far as we can, to make sure the nominating process is as fair as humanly possible. Is it a perfect system? Not hardly. But I think we've gotten it pretty close to right. This year we involved the public in the process and that helped widen the focus even further, but there still seems to be a certain amount of dissatisfaction about the nominees and conjecture about how they got there. In the final analysis, it boils down to a few simple facts. If you're nominated, congratulations; you've distinguished yourself in a music community that I honestly feel is one of the best in the entire country. If you win, huzzah and holy shit, you've further distinguished yourself within a formidable slate of your musical peers.
And if you're just a spectator, keep working. Keep doing what you do. The accolades are nice, but put things in perspective; at the end of the day, the CEAs are a party with door prizes. Prestigious door prizes, but door prizes nonetheless. And whether you're a winner, a nominee or neither of the above, don't allow your recognition or lack thereof to overinflate or devalue your sense of what you do. What matters is the work. Your work. Whether it garners you a nomination or not.
It's the same in any field of endeavor. How many painters wind up in museums in their lifetimes? How many athletes give their lives over to the sports they love for an almost microscopic chance to get a plaque in their respective halls of fame? Celebrity, wealth and notoriety are all fairly illusory. What matters is the work.
The immortal and forever great Frank Zappa may have put it best: "Information is not knowledge. Knowledge is not wisdom. Wisdom is not truth. Truth is not beauty. Beauty is not love. Love is not music. Music is the best."
And there it is, in it's simplest and most potent form. If you are out there, turning words and melodies in your head into real music with your hands, heart and soul, you are contributing to one of the best things in life. Awards are the icing on a cake that doesn't necessarily need to be iced. When you make great music, we are the winners. And we'd like to thank you. And God and our families and friends and our eighth grade English teacher who said we'd never amount to anything, because he was sort of right. Thank you.
Cincy rockers Wussy are set to join the much-celebrated Afghan Whigs' reunion tour this fall when the band finally hits the U.S. for a string of dates. Another great exhibition of Cincy's rich music scene, again in the national spotlight. Wussy has been touring a lot more than usual lately, including its first West Coast jaunt, so this should help raise the group's national profile even more.
So far, Wussy is set to open for The Afghan Whigs for their homecoming show at Bogart's on Oct. 25 (sold out), as well as dates in New Orleans (Oct. 19), Atlanta (Oct. 20), Carrboro, NC (Oct. 21) and another sold-out affair in Detroit (Oct. 24). More dates are expected to be announced soon.
Wussy co-lead-singer/songwriter Chuck Cleaver is a longtime friend/mutual fan of the Whigs. Back in 1993, the local label Mono Cat 7 released a split single featuring the Whigs and Cleaver's former band, The Ass Ponys. The Ponys covered The Whigs' tune "You My Flower," while Greg Dulli and Co. tackled the Ass Ponys classic "Mr. Superlove." (That's the cover art, with former Short Vine mayor Archie acting as the model, above.)
Here's a fan-made video for the Whigs' take on "Mr. Superlove" (NSFW due to mild nudity).
More recently, Wussy recorded a great cover version of another early Whigs song, Up In It opening track, "Retarded," for an Afghan Whigs tribute compilation put out by fantastic Afghan Whigs site Summer's Kiss (listen or purchase here). The comp also included Whigs renditions by Mark Lanegan, Joseph Arthur and several other acts.
Give a listen to Wussy's "Retarded" below.
Local singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist S.R. Woodward is not your average clean-cut, guitar-strumming, doe-eyed heartthrob. No, this guy is far too weird for that racket. Combining slightly-flat-yet-charming harmonies sung in a baritone warble with peppy, synthesized musical backing tracks, he’s a troubadour of minimalist ditties that lie somewhere between cheeky and heartfelt.
Eat Sugar and Mush Records are giving away three tracks though the Mush Web site, free for a limited time. The download is a maxi-single featuring the original version and two remixes of “Clap You Hands,” a track from Eat Sugar’s Levántense! album. The digital-only full-length (the first from the band) was recently re-released by Mush on CD, giving it a well-deserved extra push to find a wider audience.
The group behind last fall's successful effort to erect a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame historical marker at the former King Records studio is at it again. They're now hoping to memorialize Herzog Studios' contributions to local and national music history.
At a press conference downtown this morning, leaders of the Cincinnati Music Heritage Foundation announced plans for a marker at 811 Race St., where in the 1940s and ’50s Herzog Studios hosted recording sessions by Hank Williams, Patti Page, Ernest Tubbs, Flatt and Scruggs and other notable "Country & Western" acts.
Photo by Joe Lamb - View a gallery of images from the event here.
It’s a great time of year to live in a swing state like Ohio. At least if you’re a music fan. Last night, popular Ohio-affiliated bands The National and The Breeders played a free rally/concert for Barack Obama and packed Fountain Square front to back. Tonight, in Akron, Devo, The Black Keys and Chrisse Hynde are doing an Obama concert (cleverly dubbed “Duty Now for the Future”). And this coming Thursday, The Beastie Boys headline a “Get Out and Vote” concert at Dayton’s Hara Arena, with guests Ben Harper and Sheryl Crow.
I don’t know if I’ve just tuned it out this year, but there seems to be a lot less of that "shut up and sing” sentiment in the 2008 election cycle. I’ll credit the Dixie Chicks, the Pop Country band that lost a large chunk of its fanbase and was virtually crucified for daring to criticize the President. A film about their experience with crazed, angry former fans (and their successful rebound), Shut Up and Dance, perhaps provided enough embarrassment that the public has backed off of those damn “activist artists.”
Or maybe the “shut up and sing” crowd has backed away because, as always, artists were right in their demand for regime change four years ago.
Before its current successful run of reunion concerts across the globe, The Afghan Whigs played its final live show at a New York City club called Hush on Sept. 29, 1999. But that was a private concert. The Whigs last public appearance was Sept. 25, 1999, at Cincinnati's Bogart's with special guests Howlin' Maggie. (The set list featured a large chunk of final album 1965, as well as lots of dips into cover tunes and snippets, including opener "The Boys Are Back in Town," and dashes of "Superstition," "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida," "Little Red Corvette," "People Get Ready," "Hot for Teacher," "All You Need is Love" and Madonna's "Express Yourself," among others.)
Today it was announced that The Afghan Whigs will return to the scene of the crime and perform their first hometown show in over a decade on Oct. 25 at Bogart's, one month and 13 years after that final concert. Tickets are $33.50 ($45.86 with fees). The fan pre-sale starts this morning at 10 a.m.; tickets go on sale to the general public this Friday at 10 a.m. Click here for info. (Check The Afghan Whigs' official site for a password to get in on the pre-sale.)
Though the neighborhood has changed a lot since The Whigs roamed the earth originally, the band returning to Corryville is fitting. While frontman Greg Dulli would eventually bring his band The Twilight Singers to Newport's Southgate House frequently, Bogart's was the Whigs hometown concert home. Before that, the group played many shows at long-since-shuttered Sudsy Malone's across the street from Bogart's, while it and Top Cat's just a few blocks up the street were the sites of a few epic "secret shows," warm-up gigs for tours where the band would perform under a pseudonym like The Havana Sugar Kings or Gato Negro.
Update: The fan pre-sale password for Bogart's is uptownagain. Use it here starting at 10 a.m. today.
Update2: The pre-sale is now at noon today, according to the ticketing site.
When I was 12 or 13, my dad told me a joke that has, over the years, become one of my all time favorites. A drunk is standing in a doorway to get out of the rain, and a guy and a woman are standing on the corner in front of him, waiting for the light to change. The guy leans over to the woman and says, “Tickle your ass with a feather?” And the woman says, “What did you say?” The guy replies, “Typically nasty weather.” The woman laughs, they strike up a conversation and walk off together. The drunk thinks, “That was amazing! I’m gonna try that!” Pretty soon, a woman stops on the corner, the drunk lurches out of the doorway, sidles up to the woman and says, “Hey! Shove a feather up your ass?” The woman says, “I beg your pardon?” And the drunk says, “Fucking rain.”
When I looked out of my window at around 4:30 this afternoon, I thought about that joke, particularly the punch line. Luckily, the rain passed through relatively quickly and cleared to a large extent, giving us a nearly perfect night two of MidPoint 2010.