It's MidPoint Music Festival week! If you need some guidance as you create your MPMF itinerary (which you can build and keep track of through the live.mpmf.com app), we'll be showcasing some of the Critic's Picks from our official MidPoint guide (which will be available throughout the fest). While most of attendees are likely very familiar with some of the bigger headlining acts of the fest, these suggestions focus on some of the great acts beyond the top-of-the-poster ones. Remember — MPMF is about discovery. (And if you find yourself with a blank spot on your schedule, any of Cincinnati's homegrown talent playing MPMF are a sure bet.)
8 p.m. @ Arnold's
Old Hundred (Columbus, Ohio)
Indie Folk Rock
In 2012, Columbus’ Old Hundred was listed as one of “10 Ohio Bands You Should Listen to Now” by Paste Magazine. If you didn’t heed that advice at the time, you should do yourself a favor and do so immediately. Along with scoring slots at regional fests and playing with the likes of Mumford & Sons, Phosphorescent and Cake, the group has put out a pair of full-lengths and two EP releases, including this year’s remarkable I Don’t Want to Die. The EP shows the unpredictable diversity of Old Hundred, opening with the sweeping Folk instrumental “Catamount I” before moving into gritty, melodic Indie Rock of “I’ll Be There (When You Die),” the beautiful harmony-laden “I Don’t Want to Die” and “Catamount II,” which begins with haunting Art Folk minimalism and builds into a noisy cacophony that could’ve been composed by Explosions in the Sky.
You'll Dig It If You Dig: Fleet Foxes, Wilco, Grizzly Bear, Band of Horses. (Mike Breen)
10:30 p.m. @ The Drinkery
Alpha Consumer (Minneapolis)
Considering Minneapolis’ storied history, Alpha Consumer has created a cultishly devoted fan base among one of the most sophisticated and discerning music audiences on the planet. The trio has also made fans within its peer group, collaborating with Andrew Bird, Bon Iver and Brother Ali, while maintaining a unique musical perspective of herky jerky New Wave as filtered through a melodic Pop prism that fractures its light into individual rays of New York Punk, Psych Folk and contemporary Indie Rock. Alpha Consumer’s last full-length, 2011’s Kick Drugs Out of America, was a blast of Indie oddballery, but the group’s recently released Meat shows a great deal more subtlety and musical growth toward the melodic heart and soul that was evident on its predecessor.
YDIIYD: Ray Davies, Paul Westerberg and Ween in the front row of a Devo concert. (Brian Baker)
10:30 p.m. @ Know Theater (Main Stage)
Fathers is a band with branches in Chicago but deep roots in the Cincinnati scene. Its members played previously in such Cincy stalwarts as Enlou, All The Day Holiday and Cathedrals. It should be noted that Fathers sound virtually nothing like any of those bands, but instead carves out its own niche somewhere between ’70s Easy Listening and more modern, propulsive Indie Rock. Nearly every song demonstrates a mastery of the delicate art of dynamic and mood. Of course, that being said, the band says its live show is akin to “an out-of-control bus with a bomb strapped to the bottom that will blow if the driver slows down.” So come prepared for anything.
YDIIYD: Fleetwood Mac with vocals recorded in the My Morning Jacket reverb silo. (Ben Walpole)
10 p.m. @ Know Theater (Second Stage)
Violent Mae (Hartford, Conn.)
Indie Jazz Rock
As their bio reads, vocalist/guitarist Becky Kessler and drummer Floyd Kellogg were supposed to work on her solo album together, not form a band. Kessler moved from Outer Banks, N.C., to work on an organic farm in Connecticut, where she met Kellogg. The result of their work together is last year’s self-titled debut, influenced by noisy bands Sonic Youth and Pixies, but also possessing notes of Jazz icon Charles Mingus and a sprinkling of Jeff Buckley’s Folk Gospel. On the upbeat melancholy of “Hole in My Heart,” Kessler sings about heartache in her raspy voice that’s in the ilk of Heartless Bastards’ Erika Wennerstrom. This winter they went method and recorded the song “Man in the Country” in an abandoned mining cave.
YDDIYD: The Heartless Bastards, Jeff Buckley without the high notes, New England in the fall, cave dwellers. (Garin Pirnia)
10:45 p.m. @ Mainstay Rock Bar
The Infatuations (Detroit)
The high-energy Soul style of The Infatuations has made them a favorite in their hometown scene, which is saying a lot when you realize their hometown scene gave birth to Motown and scores of bands known for amazing live shows (MC5, The White Stripes, etc.). The group recently scored five Detroit Music Awards (out of 14 nominations) including Outstanding Live Performance. The Infatuations bring the party for its live shows and their recorded work captures that sweaty, dance-demanding vibe perfectly. This year, the group released its first full-length, Detroit Block Party, 11 tracks of high-octane R&B that’s almost as fun to listen to as it is to experience in concert. Almost.
YDIIYD: Motown, Stax, Marvin, Curtis, Otis. (MB)
Midnight @ MOTR Pub
Nikki Lane (Nashville, Tenn.)
With her unabashed bluster, Lane’s songs about jilted lovers and walks of shame generate either foot stomping or pensive swaying. (Note: She’s nothing like another Nashville “Country” artist who likes to write songs about exes, Taylor Swift.) Lane grew up in Greenville, S.C., then spent some time in NYC before settling in Music City, where she opened up a vintage store called High Class Hillbilly. That led to meeting and collaborating with Black Key Dan Auerbach, who produced her sophomore record, All or Nothin’. On songs “Man Up” and “You Can’t Treat Me Like That,” she lets those men know she’s the boss, all while never losing that alluring rhythm.
YDIIYD: Strong vintage female Country artists like Wanda Jackson and Loretta Lynn and newer country artists like Lydia Loveless. (GP)
10:30 p.m. @ Mr. Pitiful's
Steelism (Nashville, Tenn.)
Led by guitarist Jeremy Fetzer and pedal steel player Spencer Cullum, Steelism is a wide-ranging instrumental band that takes from Surf rock greats, classical soundtrack composers and vintage Soul music and creates its own distinct and completely engrossing sound. You can use Santo & Johnny — the pedal steel/guitar twosome that had a hit with the mesmerizing “Sleepwalk” — as a starting point, simply because it is a provocative instrumental hit using the same instrument motif, but Steelism takes the concept to levels that duo only dreamed of. They can pull off gorgeous Country balladry, Krautrock weirdness, rollicking Rock & Roll boogie, R&B smoothness with equal grace, managing to have its own strong musical identity craft cohesiveness in the face of such disparate inspiration. And no, you get swept up enough that you won’t once wonder, “Would this sound better with singing?” In this case, singing would be distracting.
YDIIYD: The Ventures, Esquivel, Ennio Morricone. (MB)
10:45 p.m. @ Ballroom at the Taft Theater
Barrence Whitfield and the Savages (Boston)
Barrence Whitfield is the kind of performer that the word “frontman” was devised to define who they are and yet doesn’t go nearly far enough in describing what they do. Whitfield is a human tornado of Soul and Rock, a witheringly energetic gene splice of Wilson Pickett, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and Arthur Alexander, with moves and grooves that would sprain Richard Simmons’ optic nerve. And around him are the Savages, a musical Special Forces unit that storms stages with blitzkrieg passion and unhinged abandon. And we’ll let Boston claim them, because the band started there three decades ago, but we all know that half the Savages hail from the Queen City (ex-Customs/DMZ/Lyres guitarist Peter Greenberg, ex-Customs/Auburnaires keyboardist Jim Cole, ex-Pearlene drummer Andy Jody) and their last two comeback albums — 2011’s Savage Kings and 2013’s Dig Thy Savage Soul — were recorded with John Curley at Ultrasuede (and Savage Kings was released on Shake It, so there). But the band will be happy to tell you that it doesn’t matter where they’re from, it matters where they’re headed. And the best you can do to get ready is strap your ass on tight; Barrence Whitfield and the Savages might just rock it off.
YDIIYD: Little Richard mentors The Dictators, Wilson Pickett gives them a metric ton of Soul. (BB)
Over the past few years, Athens, Ohio’s Indie Folk troupe The Ridges have become a regular presence at Cincinnati area clubs, building up a nice local following. They’ve also become fairly regular participants in the MidPoint Music Festival (which returns starting this Thursday to the clubs and venues of Downtown/Over-the-Rhine) and they always provide fest-highlight-worthy performances. The band is returning to MPMF 2014 for its third visit to the festival, opening up the night at new MPMF venue Memorial Hall Saturday at 9:15 p.m. and rounding out a great bill that also includes anticipated MPMF sets by Saintseneca and Gardens & Villa.
The Ridges (who’ve done several dates in the past year with Kishi Bashi, one of last year’s big MPMF breakthrough acts) often craft cool promo videos for their shows, particularly for bigger events like MPMF. The band’s video previewing its appearance at this year’s MidPoint was recently shot from the stage at Memorial Hall, giving a good look at the gorgeous venue for those who’ve never seen it.
“It’s always one of our favorite shows,” Ridges singer/songwriter/guitarist Victor Rasgaitis says about playing MidPoint. “The atmosphere is perfectly inspiring and the crowds are so incredibly receptive — we're lucky to have such an awesome festival here in Ohio.”
On their most recent tour, excellent Northern Kentucky Indie Rock band The Yugos stopped by Toledo, Ohio’s SixtyTen Recording Studio to record its latest single, “Follow You,” as part of the facility’s “SixtyTen Sessions” video series.
The studio version of the single, released earlier this summer, can be streamed/downloaded here.
One week from the day, The Yugos will be opening up MidPoint Music Festival’s Friday festivities. The band plays at 5 p.m. Friday on the MidPoint Midway stage, right before another of the fest’s most anticipated acts, Real Estate, performs. The Midway stage is free and open to the public (no tickets/passes required), thanks to stage sponsor P&G. It’s also an all-ages show.
While commercial radio throws a bone here and there to homegrown musicians in Greater Cincinnati via specialty shows or segments, public radio station WNKU (89.7 FM; wnku.org) frequently adds songs from local artists to its regular-rotation playlist. And it has for years. The station also covers the local scene online with news and reviews, hosts local musicians for its live in-studio Studio 89 program and sponsors numerous musical events across the Tristate.
Local musicians are returning the favor by appearing on the new compilation album, Get Real Gone: Road Songs for Public Radio. In lieu of, say, a cliched tote bag gift, WNKU will be giving CDs of the album to those who donate during the station’s fall fund drive. Listeners who become “sustaining members,” paying just $8 a month, or those who donate $96 can score a disc of their very own.
The compilation features tracks by Roger Klug, Brian Lovely’s Flying Underground, Eclipse Movement, Goose, The Newbees, Balderdash, Tim Goshorn, Kim Taylor, psychodots, Marcos, Graveblankets, Davis Kinney, Charlie Fletcher, Jeff Seeman and Bromwell-Diehl.
This Saturday and Sept. 27, several of the Get Real Gone participants will perform live at WNKU’s studio. This Saturday, the lineup features Davis Kenney (10 a.m.), Balderdash (noon), The Newbees (1 p.m.), Roger Klug Power Trio (2 p.m.) and Graveblankets (3 p.m.). On Sept. 27, tune in to hear Kim Taylor (10 a.m.), Jeffrey Seeman (10:40 a.m.), Brian Lovely’s Flying Underground (11:30 a.m.), Goose (1 p.m.), Charlie Fletcher (with The Bluebirds; 2:30 p.m.) and the Bromwell-Diehl Band (3:15 p.m.).
The reigning Cincinnati Entertainment Award winners of the Artist of the Year honors, Alt Pop quartet Walk the Moon, are finally set to release their second album for RCA Records. The album's lead single, "Shut Up and Dance," was released Sept. 10 and last night the group performed the song on Late Night with Seth Meyers. (Watch below.)
The band's sophomore RCA full-length will be out before the year's end, according to the label.
Walk the Moon kicks off its coast-to-coast “Shut Up and Tour” tour of smaller clubs in Seattle on Oct. 8. The band will perform some of the new material on the tour, which does not include a hometown date. The group will be in Columbus, Ohio, on Oct. 21, but that show instantly sold out. The Columbus date is also the first of several shows that will feature like-minded Cincinnati Pop Rock trio Public as opening act.
The Crown Jewels of Jazz Festival returns Friday and Saturday with an adjusted format. While last year’s fest was spread out across the Over-the-Rhine area, this year’s Crown Jewels is more streamlined, with free events concentrated in OTR’s Washington Park.
The fest kicks off Friday night with an 8 p.m. concert featuring unique and widely acclaimed Jazz singer Gregory Porter, as well as Cincinnati native Mandy Gaines (whose been busy performing throughout Europe and Asia).
Saturday at Washington Park, the fest kicks up again with Phil DeGreg, Baba Charles Miller and Kathy Wade (whose Learning Through Art, Inc. presents the Crown Jewels fest) performing and telling the story of Jazz (and other music) in a program called “Journeys: A Black Anthology of Music” at 4 p.m. At 5 p.m., “Piano Picnic in the Park” will showcase area pianists; DeGreg, Jim Connerly, Billy Larkin, Charles Ramsey III, Cheryl Renee, Steve Schmidt and Erwin Stuckey will each perform their two favorite Jazz numbers during the hour and a half performance.
Then it’s time to dance! The fest closes out at 8 p.m. with “Dancing Under the Stars” at the park’s bandstand, featuring music from the 18-piece Sound Body Jazz Orchestra and dancers/teachers from the Dare to Dance Ballroom Dance and Fitness Studio.
Given that it is presented by Learning Through Art, Inc., it is fitting that the Crown Jewels of Jazz fest will also include an educational program Saturday morning for high school musicians at the School for Creative and Performing Arts, just across the street from Washington Park’s 12th Street entrance. The CJ2 Jazz Camp, which will feature clinics, classes and more with many of Cincinnati’s top Jazz musicians and educators (including DeGreg, Stuckey, Jim Anderson, Marc Fields, Ted Karas, Mike Wade, Art Gore, Brent Gallaher and many others), begins at 8:30 a.m. There is a $35 fee per student.
For complete info on the Jazz Camp and all of the Crown Jewels of Jazz events, visit learningthroughart.com. And click here to read CityBeat's interview with Wade about the fest and her org's other work.
500 Miles to Memphis’ two most recent album releases are local classics that reside in two vastly different musical landscapes. Their 2007 album, Sunshine in a Shot Glass, offers 12 tracks of undiluted Country Punk. The album starts off with the band’s hit “All My Friends are Crazy” and doesn’t let up. The band’s followup, 2011’s We’ve Built Up to Nothing, took the Country Punk roots and drastically expanded on the concept. Influenced by The Beatles, the Cincinnati-based quintet added layer upon layer of instrumentation to craft an epic that radically expanded the groundwork laid in 2007.
Now, in 2014 the band is set to unleash Stand There and Bleed. With its latest release, 500 Miles to Memphis has pulled back and opted for a simpler, more straightforward group of songs. In doing so, the band has written its best album to date.
The band will host a listening party for the new album tonight (Thursday) at The Drinkery in Over-the-Rhine. The album will be played in its entirety at 9 p.m., then the group will play an acoustic set at 10 p.m. The event is free. (The official release date for Stand There and Bleed has yet to be announced.)
At its core, 500 Miles to Memphis has always been about vocalist/guitarist Ryan Malott telling the stories of his life. And with three years in between releases, Malott has plenty to talk about. Stand There and Bleed is Malott’s most personal output so far. We see a glimpse of tour life in “Medication,” the joys of marriage in “Takes Some Time” and the trials of addiction in “Easy Way Out.” Malott may have traded the bottle for coffee and a Playstation controller, but the struggle is ongoing. In fact, the best tracks on the album are the ones that document Malott’s missteps, but only because the album has so much hope, as well. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and Malott is steadily working his way towards it.
Joining Malott is bassist/vocalist Noah Sugarman, drummer Kevin Hogle, guitarist/vocalist Aaron Whalen and lap steel guitarist David Rhodes Brown. This all-star lineup compliments Malott’s lyrics expertly. Gone are We Built Up to Nothing’s more eccentric instrument choices; 500 stripped away the excess to more fully focus on what it had in house. The result is an album that’s more consistent and true to 500’s vision as a whole. Malott is influenced by Country and Punk Rock in equal measure and these influences come across stronger than ever on Bleed, with each member adding their own touch on the theme. Hogle’s drumming is still some of the best in town; his musical ear enables him to mold his style to each and heighten the mood of all. Brown’s steel playing on Stand There and Bleed keeps the more Punk-based tracks grounded in 500’s roots and elevates the Country tracks to another level with effortlessly delivered solos. Finally, Whalen and Sugarman’s guitar and bass inject energy throughout the record that reinforces Stand There and Bleed’s straightforward, powerful delivery.
Malott’s vocal delivery has been honed and refined on Stand There and Bleed, as well. Malott is an unabashed fan of Green Day and comparisons to Billie Joe Armstrong in songs like “Bethel, OH” and “Abilene” are undeniable. Malott has also continued to inject large amounts of emotion into his vocals. He’s always been an expressive singer but the earnestness and pain in “You’ll Get Around” and “Alone” show a departure from We’ve Built Up to Nothing’s more polished vocals. Part of the recording process was breaking Malott of those good habits and getting him used to putting the feeling back into each take. What results is an album that’s a little rougher around the edges and much more emotionally captivating for the listener.
500 Miles to Memphis has been pushing its music forward for years, constantly hitting the road to share its take on Country Punk. The band has been virtuous to the genre and also bent it to an almost unrecognizable state. With Stand There and Bleed, the quintet has met somewhere in the middle. The band has trimmed the fat, focused on what each (incredibly talented) member brings to the table and built a record that is its most focused and honest to date.
The band has traveled way more than 500 miles to reach where they are now, but with albums like Stand There and Bleed carrying them, they have plenty more ahead of them.
Thanks to an assist from sponsor P&G, one of the more anticipated MidPoint Music Festival performances this year will be a special free “happy hour” concert.
Brooklyn Indie Rock group Real Estate will perform on the Midway stage the Friday of the fest (Sept. 26) at 6 p.m. Cincinnati faves The Yugos will kick the special event off at 5 p.m., with Arkansas’ Knox Hamilton, Nashville’s Colony House and others playing after Real Estate.
The MidPoint Midway is the hub of various activities that runs along a blocked off portion of 12th Street in Over-the-Rhine (between Walnut and Vine streets). The strip has featured the popular “Box Truck Carnival” (the ArtWorks-helmed project will be replaced with a new project this year) and will again have lots of food and other cool/fun vendors.
The Midway’s stage is free and open to music fans of all ages. On Thursday, Sept. 25, the outdoor stage will feature excellent local acts Automagik, Black Owls and Pike 27, plus Columbus, Ohio’s Indigo Wild. On Saturday, Sept. 27, the stage will host Cincinnati’s The Ready Stance, as well as Bailiff, Alex G, Low Cut Connie and Magnolia Sons.
Music on the MidPoint Midway begins at 5 p.m. Sept. 25-26, and 6 p.m. on Sept. 27.
For those who want to catch more than just the freebies, MPMF tickets are available here. The three-day, all-music-access passes are currently just $69; the price goes up to $79 after Sept. 1.
Looking on music shelves this week, it will be hard to miss the bright and loud 1000hp, the latest offering and No. 1 Rock album from Godsmack. It may be a little bit different vibe, but it is the same great Rock music they have given audiences for well over a decade. Since the breakout Awake album in 2000, they have literally been evolving with the genre, captivating audiences and gathering fans with each performance.
CityBeat was able to preview their show at the Uproar Festival Sunday night at Riverbend with drummer Shannon Larkin. After a couple subdued tours in which they let the music speak, they are back to their roots with hard hitting, pyro-filled, knock-you-back action.
Find tickets/more info on Sunday’s Uproar stop here.
CityBeat: You guys have been working hard. You will be releasing the album next week,1000hp. What can the fans expect from this album?
Shannon Larkin: We kind of infused a different sound for us. It’s more of a punkier vibe as far as upbeats and down stroking. Not so much chunk-chunk as the last record or box or Metal. It is a fine tuned thing we do each record because we don’t want to keep making the same record over and over again. Yet you can’t change your sound and alienate your fan base. The last record we went balls out Metal sound. So on this one, we made a conscious effort to try and change things up and give a more punky vibe to it.
CB: What is your favorite track to play off the new album?
SL: “1000hp” the song. I just love it. It has an AC/DC vibe to me. I don’t get to play much four to the floor drumming so it is just a straight ahead full fierce and I love it.
CB: I actually watched the webisodes that you guys created to promote the new album and that was interesting. I’m sure the fans love to see the behind the scenes of the new album and how the album was made. During one of the webisodes, the band talks about how you were the one who introduced Dave Fortman, the current producer, to the band on the last record. Why did you think he would be a good fit for Godsmack?
SL: I was in a band called Ugly Kid Joe with Dave and he was the guitar player and we toured the world together for six years and made a couple records. I knew that not only was he a great producer with great ears and a great engineer and a great mixer, but I knew also he was this great dude. When you start making records, it gets balanced and pressure on and arguments ensue, the producer has to almost be a psychiatrist and step in when band members get in each other’s face and Dave is just a great person that if there is any tension in the room over a part for instance, if we are arguing what is a better part or arrangement of the song, Dave diffuses the situation with humor. He is good at that and just making everybody feel comfortable when the red light comes on. He is just brilliant. I can’t say enough about him. It doesn’t hurt he had made hit records with Evanescence, Mudvayne, Slipknot, and the list goes on and on, but that helped too when I introduced him to (Godsmack singer) Sully (Erna). But then an hour after meeting with Dave, Sully loved him too. I knew he’d get the gig after talking to Sully if it was up to Sully because he co-produces every record. I knew Sully had to like Dave and I knew he would. Perfect fit.
CB: Where did the name come from for the album?
SL:: When we were writing that song, Sully was trying to do a history-of-the-band-type song. He was thinking we are at 100,000 horse power. When the song came together, it was too many syllables and 1,000 horsepower fits perfectly, but is that enough horse power? Ironically, we have this Top Performance Pro Shop beside our headquarters here in New England. They soup up cars and rev up cars and we went next door and the dude fired up a 1003 horsepower Chevelle and that was enough horsepower. It wasn’t even street legal. It ended up being the car we recorded to start the album and the song.
CB: You have been doing a lot of drum clinics. Why is it important for you to get out and work with younger people and do drum clinics across the country?
SL: My company Yamaha gives away drums. They are the best set drums I’ve played, No. 1, so I just love and am honored to be endorsed by them. They have been on me for years about getting out there and trying to push the company. I am the guy who had never done a clinic before and I am not a solo artist or soloist. I am a band guy and always have been a band guy. I never even do a drum solo. When Sully & I play together the whole band is on stage and it is a drum feature.
I had always said no to Yamaha about doing these clinics. Then I heard Paul Bostaphwho plays for Slayer. He did the clinics, but he didn’t do it as a soloist or solos, he played along to Slayer songs he recorded and got the drums taken out. So when I realized I could do that, then I was like “Wow,” I had done like 30 records and I had played a bunch of session work and all these cool records I hadn’t been able to play in years. So when I found out I could have all these drum tracks removed and play a clinic and play my favorite songs I had recorded the last 30 years, I was in.
I only did a one week tour so far and I only did the West Coast and it was really fun and cool but weird with nobody around, not having my guys. It’s funny, I told people you can be on stage in front of 50,000 people and not be nervous, not one butterfly in my stomach, but walk into a Guitar Center that is lit up like a K-Mart and there is only 150 dudes out there, but they are all drummers staring at me, and I’m scared to death. It turned out to be really fun. I was happy to do it.
CB: Have you gotten any tattoos recently?
SL: I haven’t. The last tattoo I got was the Ugly Kid Joe Devil logo on my leg. I did a record with them the year before last. I still jam with Ugly. I did a record with them calledStairway to Hell and so I got this logo.
CB: I know you are a big fan of The Ramones too and we just lost the last Ramone. Do you have any thoughts about that?
SL: It’s devastating in so many ways. I just don’t like them, they are my favorite band of all time and I have seen them over 20 times over the last 25 years. When Tommy died, I really felt my mortality because, I don’t know (what) your favorite band is, say it’s Led Zeppelin — there are three out of four of those guys still alive and they were older than The Ramones. I asked everybody. Not one person I know has had every original member of their favorite band die. It really hit me hard. Am I next? It was really crazy there for a minute. Of course, I just saturated my ears with Ramones songs for the last two weeks. It was devastating.
CB: Last time I spoke to you we were talking about your daughters and now they are teenagers. Do you have any advice for other dads?
SL: Yeah, just try to hang in there because they all go through that teenage time where they seem to hate their parents and they don’t. They don’t hate you and will come back around.
CB: What can the fans look forward to here with Uproar here in Cincinnati?
SL: Well we are going to play a bunch of new stuff. I don’t know if fans look forward to that but we sure do as a band. We have been together for 12 years and we love the old stuff, and we will play plenty of that too, but we will be doing five new songs in the set which is exciting for us.
They can definitely look forward to a big show also. You know, the last few tours we toned it down because we used to have these monstrous shows with the pyro going off and bombs going off and video. The last couple tours, we tried to prove to ourselves, we try to be a great live band and don’t need all the bells and whistles, so the last few tours (have) just been the band and some lights. But this time we are bringing it all back, things blowing up and flames flying off the stage.
CB: I always loved the fire.
SL: It definitely is cool having the big columns of flames shooting up. It’s funny because these summer tours are hot as hell anyway and they are flames and are hotter than hell. So we are up there sweating and it is worth it, especially when those concussion bombs go off. I love those, they are my favorite parts, those real loud mortars and everybody flinches in the crowd. It is crazy and cool.
Since then they have accumulated enough hits to fill up any set to keep crowds entertained. With them teaming up with Chicago currently on tour, it brings a nostalgic rush of Rock live to audiences across the country.
CityBeat caught up with founding member and keyboard player Neal Doughty to get a feel of how life has changed over the years in the music business. The band performs at Riverbend Music Center Wednesday night. Find tickets/more info here.
CityBeat: I read in an interview that you found the name REO Speedwagon in an engineering class when you were in school in Illinois. I was curious if you ever finished your engineering degree.
Neal Doughty: No. I did not finish the engineering degree. I went to college for five years and never graduated because when the band got started it was just a little dormitory, a couple guys in the dorm, playing for fun playing on weekends. Then the band got really, really popular and we started branching out to Ohio and Indiana and the first thing we knew is we were too busy to go to class. And if you are in engineering at the University of Illinois, you better go to class because it is not easy. So myself and Alan, our original drummer, neither one of us finished college. We stuck with the band. It was sink or swim in the music business. It was interesting telling my parents that I had dropped out of college after five years, but we were already supporting ourselves with this band. We are already actually making a living. My dad goes, “Hey I can’t argue with that. People go to five years of college and never do get a job.” They handled that OK and I am happy with how that turned out.
CB: I think you made the right choice. That is pretty hardcore to have a full-time band and finish school.
ND: Yeah, I have two nephews that are engineers and it’s a good area because I haven’t heard of an engineer who couldn’t find work. They were hired right out of college. I would have been happy either way. I am still interested in scientific things. I would have enjoyed it and been pretty good at it but this will do. It’s fine.
CB: You have been playing the hits for over 30 years. What is your favorite song to play live?
ND: I think my favorite song live, I love playing “Can’t Fight This Feeling” because I get to showcase the piano a bit on that intro. I also love playing “Back on the Road,” the song that Bruce sings. It is somehow the perfect tempo and a crowd who hasn’t been on their feet yet will always get up for that song.
Of course with all the changes and stories of our career, there isn’t one song we play live that I don’t like, which is a great luxury. A lot of bands don’t have that. We have been together so long and have so many records out that we can pick our favorite songs to play live and it usually turns out to be the favorites of the audience too. Most bands, they probably play some songs that at least two guys hate it, but we have been very lucky to have a lot of songs to choose from. I’m happy.
CB: What has been your greatest Rock star moment?
ND: My wife is in the room and she is laughing because I think she had something to do with my greatest Rock star moment. I don’t know if we should go into the details. We met at a show. We had known each other for a long time and had never quite gotten together. One night after the show, she pretty much attacked me in the dressing room in front of the entire crew. There were no clothes that came off. It was all very legal and everything. All I can say is within three months, instead of living at the beach in California I was living in Minnesota where it gets really cold. This was eight years ago and so far it has been totally worth it. Yes, that was my greatest Rock star moment … to have a woman that was so affectionate in front of so many people.
CB: That is the best story I have heard in a while.
ND: She is laughing her head off right now.
CB: There is nothing illegal about clothes coming off, by the way. It is fine.
ND: Everybody kept their clothes on. It was just kind of a message that I like you, a really nice way of saying I like you. In fact, I was supposed to leave town that night but the band got me a hotel room and a plane ticket. It turned out to be fairly innocent, but it was the start of a great relationship that is going eight years later. You definitely meet some of the wrong women on the road, and this is one of the rare instances where I met the right one.
CB: The internet and social media have totally changed the way bands can make it and get on the radio and get famous now. Do you think it is easier or harder for a band to make it today?
ND: It is a whole different thing. It used to be very, very hard to get a record contract. We were together four years just starting before we got somebody interested with us. We were lucky to be with Epic Records for so many years. They let us do like 10 records that weren’t hits until we had High Fidelity in 1980 and 1981. There is no record label that would give a band that many chances to turn in a hit.
On the other hand, now you can make a record on your telephone and upload it to the internet. If it goes viral, anything can happen. I live in a small town in Minnesota, and one of the students there, one of my wife’s English students, made a video on a broken iPhone with an out of tune piano and it went viral. It has 10 million views on YouTube and she now has a couple record companies fighting over her.
I don’t mind how it’s working today. If I were going to, in my old age, try to make a song of my own, I think I would like the fact I could make it at home, upload it to the Internet and see what happens. I have nephews who are in a Rock band. They have become the most popular band in the St Louis area just from all their sales online. I think it is a great equalizer. You no longer need a lot of money behind you to get a break and that’s good. Any kid in a basement has the same chance as somebody with a million dollars to spend in a studio and I think that’s truly great.
CB: Are there any new up and coming bands or current artists that you would want to collaborate with?
ND: I tend to like one song by an artist and just buy that one song, which you can do now. I tend to have this really crazy range of tastes in bands. I like Foster the People on one end and I like Brad Paisley on the other end of the scale. Brad happens to be a good friend of ours, so I may be biased.
My taste in music is so eclectic now, something that maybe couldn’t have happened before the Internet. You hear a song on a TV show in the music in the background and there was no way you would ever find out what that song was. A lot of the new groups that get discovered, that I like now, it started watching a TV show, with a great song in the background. You just now have to aim your phone at the TV and it will tell you who the band is. That is really the greatest invention ever. There are songs I hear on the radio or in a movie or in the background of a TV show and you could have searched for the rest of your life and never found it. Now, being able to find anything you might hear is my favorite thing that has happened to the music business. If you look at the playlist on my phone, you would think this guy is all over the map with the stuff he likes. I am very happy about that development.
CB: You have been on the road for many, many years. Do you keep journals or photographs? How do you keep the history of the touring and the memories?
ND: No, once again, the Internet has helped with that. There were some lost photographs. We have had a million things happen that were great. Recently one of our old crew members from 30 years ago found a picture of John Entwistle jamming with us on stage in London, and Brian May for Queen hanging out with us in the dressing room that night. These old black and white pictures so people will actually believe that something that great happened to me. We found a picture of literally the house 157 Riverside Ave., which we rented in Rockport, Conn., where we did our first album. Now we found what it looks like recently. Then we also found they tore the thing down. Granted, it was not a national landmark, but seeing pictures of it a few years ago, we could see why they tore it down. It was about to fall down and we probably had something to do with that.
CB: You have had a few band members change over the years. How do you know you have a right fit?
ND: Well we have been kind of lucky we had only one real change happen and it all happened at the same time. Our current lineup has been together for 25 years, which is longer than the original group was together.
Back in the late 80’s, our original drummer Alan who I started the band with, and our original guitar player Gary both left around the same time. Alan couldn’t handle the road anymore because he was too attached to his family. He quit for the best of reasons, to be with his kids and wife. He opened a restaurant and is doing well. Gary started not handling the road well. The road brought out all of his demons. There was a point when he just couldn’t do it anymore because it’s too hard.
That really is when we got Brian, our drummer, and Dave, our guitar player, and that all happened very fast. We did a major set of auditions for drummers. I think we auditioned eight drummers in two days. Brian was the first one and we knew right then he was the guy we wanted. I asked Kevin if we had to listen to seven more drummers but he wanted to be fair to them. But Brian easily passed that audition. Dave Amato, our guitar player has a great background. He played with Ted Nugent. He has been on Motley Crue albums. He was a known studio guy in Los Angeles. He came over to Kevin’s house and we jammed for about half an hour and then immediately asked him to join the band. It was a perfect fit from the first note.
We were lucky to get Brian and Dave. They brought new energy into the band. I am not sure if we would be together now if it wasn’t for what those guys brought, which was new enthusiasm. We still call them the new guys after 25 years and they are getting kind of sick of it. That is the only real change we have made and it was 25 years ago. I am happy we still have our original vocalist which not every band is lucky enough to say that. We made one change and it has been great since.
CB: Do you have any regrets over the years?
ND: I have no personal regrets. I have done some incredibly, stupid, horrible things but I don’t regret them because they all led to where I am now and I am a very happy person right now.
CB: What can the fans expect when you come to Cincinnati this year?
ND: First of all, they can expect us to play a one hour set of our favorite songs and they’ll know all of them except for one surprise new song. I know the audience cringes when a band plays that new song because they want to hear the familiar stuff. This song is good, really good. We wouldn’t do it live otherwise. It’s got a hook right from the beginning. It has gotten nice mentions in our reviews so far.
Then Chicago comes on and does all of their hits. Then the lights go down and come back up three minutes later (with) both bands on stage doing three individual hits by each band. Six songs, literally the biggest hits of each band, played together, 14 individuals playing at the same time. That took about a 12-hour rehearsal to put that together and it is just amazing. The Phoenix newspaper called it one jaw-dropping moment after another. I have to agree. I am way in the back of the stage on that part and I love it because I can watch the whole thing. These guys from both bands are just running around having the best time of their life.
We have known some of the guys for Chicago for decades. Robert Lamm, one of the lead singers and writers was a neighbor in Beverly Hills back when I lived there 35 years ago and somehow we never toured with them.
We didn’t know if (the onstage collaboration) would work. They were a little more progressive, a little Jazz oriented, but they are still Rock & Roll. We are more Country or Folk. We weren’t sure the same audience would show up for both bands and it has worked beautifully. The shows so far have been virtual sellouts. The thing has blended so well.
Picture “Keep on Loving You” with that beautiful Chicago horn section. It gives me chills and I have been playing it 40 years. The crowd, the lights come up, and every camera comes out at the same time. They can’t believe … that we have that many people on stage and they are technically all playing together and we know what we are doing is more amazing. It is something you won’t see very often. We haven’t done anything like this. I am definitely having a really good time, we call it the grand finale. I am sure it shows to the audience we are having so much fun.