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.
Rise Against is the epitome of Punk Rock in this era. They are as far from the status quo from society as bands get, yet record for a major label. Part of the group's mission is to promote progressive issues, both socially and politically. Rise Against recently released its sixth album, Endgame, which features the hit single “Make It Stop” (the video for which was nominated for a MTV Video Music Award last year).
CityBeat spoke with bassist and original member Joe Prinicipe in anticipation for their upcoming show in Cincinnati. They discussed the bands writing process and how they incorporated their socially active direction in their music. Rise Against will be opening Riverbend's PNC Pavilion for the summer this Saturday. A Day to Remember and Title Fight also perform.
CityBeat: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. I know you are one of the original band members. You guys have been out on it for about 13 years from when you started. Where do you see yourself in 13 more years?
Joe Prinicipe: It’s hard to say with this business but I would say definitely still involved with writing music and performing. Rise Against has no intentions of breaking up. We would like to follow the same career paths as bands like Bad Religion and Social D that are going on 25 or 30 years and are still making relevant music. I hope that’s where I end up.
CB: I saw you last year with the Foo Fighters when you opened up in Columbus. I was wondering if there were any fun and crazy Foo Fighter stories on tour.
JP: It was pretty awesome when there were a group of protesters, I think we were in St. Louis, maybe it was Kansas City, and they were protesting the Foo Fighter show because they did that funny promo video where they were showering together. So this group came out, this very homophobic religious group. They were protesting and the Foo Fighters came out (before the show) dressed provocatively and they were out on a flat bed truck and performed and tried to play as loud as they could to overshadow, overpower the protestors. It totally worked and it was awesome.
CB: They seem fun to be around in general and don’t take it too seriously.
JP: Totally and they are all about enjoying what they have because being on the road and being away from your family is hard enough so you might as well make the most of it.
CB: Your music has been called protest music in the past by the Chicago Tribune and I just wanted to ask about your process to write lyrics around a cause. How do you choose a cause to support and then develop a song around it?
JP: (Singer/guitarist) Tim (McIlrath) writes all the lyrics and the process is very simple. He is just writing what he feels for that day. He writes from a personal perspective on life in general. That’s why our records are not just political, there are socially aware topics, there are environmental issues, there are songs about relationships and how hard it is to be away from our families when we are traveling. We always write music first and he will hear the tone that the music sets and he has a journal, and he will flip through the journal and see if something fits and if not he will write what he thinks will fit the music and that is how it has always been the last 12 years.
CB: Were you guys influenced at an early age or did something happen to you that kind of made you take your music toward this activism tone or did you have a kind of defining moment?
JP: No, it’s just seeing punk rock music. It’s just the nature of punk rock that seems formed as a reaction to the glam era of the 70’s. It’s just a reaction to that so it’s always been about that. It’s all we know. It was something that we didn’t even discuss. It was just kind of a given the direction of Rise Against was going to be that and we are kind of carrying that torch. Bands like Minor Threat and the Bad Brains were definitely singing for change whether it was singing against homophobia or social issues, but that’s kind of what the unspoken goal that the band has always had.
CB: What is the biggest way your music has been able to make a difference or make a change?
JP: I would say the effect that “Make it Stop” has had on young kids. Kids in high school trying to get through it all. We have gotten so many e-mails that the song is helping them through the hardest time of their life and that is incredibly rewarding. I would say “Make it Stop” stands out as that.
CB: Your new album came out last year in the spring. Do you have any new music in the works?
JP: No, we still have a whole year of touring on Endgame. I think I always have song ideas in the back of my head and so does Tim. It’s kind of an ongoing thing anyway. We won’t actually have anything, officially new until the end of 2013.
CB: Do you have any crazy Cincinnati stories from the past or any fond memories?
JP: Not really. Cincinnati is Bogart's, right?
CB: It’s Bogart's and this time you are at Riverbend which is outside.
JP: That’s right. The only thing I recall is from Zach our guitar player. His old band played Bogart's and someone was shot like 20 feet away from him. That’s really it.
CB: I think you are in a little safer place by the river this time. I have this new game and it’s a table game with quirky questions and people just give their first thoughts around it, so I have been experimenting with this a little and I have three questions from this game for you. The first question is what skill do you possess that most people don’t know about?
JP: Let’s see, nothing hidden, although I am a complete coffee snob and I have an espresso machine at my house and I take that very seriously. It has to be perfect. I have to time all my espresso shots as they come out of the machine. So I guess that.
CB: So you make the perfect espresso, that’s your hidden talent.
CB: What is under your bed?
JP: Actually nothing because my wife is a neat freak so nothing can be on the floor.
CB: If you are on the bus it is somebody else sleeping under the bed in the bunk.
JP: As far as the bus goes, our tour manager is usually in the bunk below me so I have him snoring …
CB: What song would you pick to sing karaoke?
JP: I’m really bad at karaoke, oddly enough.
CB: You don’t have to be good. I don’t think that’s the purpose of karaoke.
JP: That’s true. I don’t know maybe something from ’80s Pop like the Go-Gos or Duran Duran.
CB: What can the fans expect from the show in Cincinnati?
JP: Just high energy, just come and sing with us and have a good time. It is all about interacting with our fans and just everyone singing along. We are all there for the same reason. It is a good way to let off some steam from the week prior. Just come out and have a good time.
We told you a few weeks back about the lineup for the MidPoint Indie Summer concert series on Fountain Square, featuring numerous (primarily local) Indie and Rock acts every Friday this summer from 7-11 p.m. Click here for the full rundown.
But there are many other popular themed nights returning this summer to both Fountain Square and Washington Park, which re-opened after a major makeover in time to introduce live music nights last summer for the first time. (Both spots are managed by the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC).
Fountain Square's PNC Summer Music Series will have live music five days a week, while Washington Park will host three themed music nights this summer. All events are free and a great way to enjoy our city's central districts. The concerts begin at the end of May/start of June and run through the end of August/start of September. Be sure to check the official websites of both venues for any updates, additions or cancellations.
• Every Tuesday from 7-9 p.m., the Square presents "American Roots" night. This year, the lineup is the strongest its been, showcasing the best of Greater Cincinnati's rich Roots/Americana scene (as well as a few regional faves).
• Reggae Wednesdays return to the Square this summer, with wider-net bookings that include numerous regional and touring Reggae acts. Music runs every night from 6-10 p.m. and acts are teamed up with a DJ or DJ squad for each event.
Summer Splash Happy Hour with I Vibez
Summer Splash Happy Hour with I Vibez
Summer Splash Happy Hour with I Vibez
• Salsa dancers and music lovers will be happy to know that Salsa on the Square is returning this summer on Thursdays, running 7-10 p.m. As always, dance instructors will be on hand to give you pointers (if you need 'em). Music is provided primarily by some of Greater Cincinnati's finest Salsa/Latin music groups.
May 30: Son Del Caribe
June 6: Kandela
June 13: Zumba
June 20: Tropicoso
June 27: Grupo Tumbao
July 4: Clave’ Son
July 11: Kandela
July 18: Tropiscoso
uly 25: Grupo Tumbao
August 1: Zumba
August 8: Azucar Tumbao
August 15: Clave’ Son
August 22: Brian Andres & the Afro-Cuban Jazz Cartel
August 29: Son Del Caribe
• Before MidPoint Indie Summer on Fridays, local club/bar conglomerate 4EG (which operates several nightclubs in the area) will present 4EG Happy Hour from 5-7 p.m. Local DJs will spin every Friday (except for Aug. 2, when local cover band Snidely Whiplash performs).
DJ Ice Cold Tony
DJ Jake the Ripper
DJ Jesse the Ripper
DJ Tina T
DJ Will Kill
• One of the most popular nights on the Square during the summer is Saturdays' "Beats" night, booked by local promoter Self Diploma. The concerts run 7-10 p.m. and again feature an impressive mix of local and touring Hip Hop, Electronic and DJ acts. Among the national act highlights this year are Mod Sun, Hoodie Allen, Watch the Duck and DJ Jazzy Jeff.
After a successful inaugural summer of events last year, Washington Park brings back three music nights, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, plus several other entertainment offerings, including "Dancing Under the Stars," an every-Tuesday dance night, with lessons that focus on different types of dancing each week. (Click below for the concert lineups.)
Music Tonight: Just four short years ago, Marbin — performing tonight at The Greenwich in Walnut Hills — came together in Israel when two musicians met just when both were in coming-of-age “crossroads” periods in their lives. Israeli saxophonist Danny Markovitz had just completed his military service (he was an infantry sergeant) when he met Israeli-American guitarist Dani Rabin, who had also just been through a rigorous experience, graduating with a degree from The Berklee College of Music. In 2008, the Marbin duo re-situated themselves in the U.S., landing in Chicago. Since then, the work hasn’t stopped, as Marbin spends around 250 days a year performing (in the Windy City region and across the States).
Lucinda Williams is a premier female act in Country and American Folk music. She has been blazing the roads since the late ’70s and has not slowed down. She still appears at music festivals all across the country, even gaining international acclaim. Her most recent album, Blessed, is her eleventh studio album. Williams has been nominated for 14 Grammys, taking home three awards. In 2002, Time magazine called her “America's best songwriter.”
In the last year, Alice Cooper could be seen everywhere from special guesting on stage with Vince Gill to rocking out with Rob Zombie. This past weekend he even popped up singing Lady Gaga at Bonnaroo.
Cooper can do anything in music, entertain every audience, and still be cutting edge enough to be a premier name in music after almost 50 years in the business, countless awards and nominations and 36 albums. He shows no signs of slowing down and he is set to continue his monumental career as his band goes on the road with Iron Maiden this summer and fall.
CityBeat was privileged to speak with the legend to preview his upcoming show near Dayton before he hits the road with Iron Maiden. He spoke about longevity and told of the more bizarre stories of being a tenant in the Queen City. Alice Cooper performs at the Fraze Pavilion in Kettering this Wednesday.
CityBeat: Your show in Dayton is coming up.
Alice Cooper: Yes, we start this tour in June with Iron Maiden. We will be out there as their guest star on the show, their guests, so that’s an hour show. The show we are doing there in Dayton is our regular show which will be a full out Alice Cooper show.
CB: I am actually a photographer and I’ve photographed you many times. You are one of my favorite artists to shoot.
AC: Well we give photographers a lot to shoot. If you are going to go all that trouble to do all that theatrics and really coordinate the show like that, then I want to see lots of shots. I love seeing different angles, people will hand me an envelope full of pictures and I will go, “That’s a great shot. That’s a great shot.” And it gives me a different perspective of what the show looks like because we only see it from the stage. We never see it from the audience point of view.
CB: I have interviewed many of your past guitarists, Jason Hook and Al Pitrelli and people that have toured with you and everybody always has spectacular things to say about you as a mentor and just to be around. One of my questions is how do you choose band members on your tours now?
AC: Honestly, I am very instinctive about guitar players. Of course the guitar players are the gunslingers. They are the guys that you can sit and listen to and go, "When I quit singing, I want to hear something take over," and it better be a guitar that can take over what I’m doing when I step back, I want that guitar player to step up. So getting a Damon Johnson, when we first got Damon, every guitar player wants to stand back a little bit and I say, “No, no, no, when it is your solo, you take two steps forward into the light and let it go.”
A lot of times lead singers don’t want their lead guitar player to share the limelight. I want everybody in that band to have their moment on stage where they are the star. So when you get (young Australian guitarist) Orianthi, who is a natural, she is a natural star up there. I mean the girl is such a great player.
CB: Is she going to be with you?
AC: Yes, I mean she is such a great character for a Alice Cooper show. And you get Ryan Roxie on this tour and Ryan is a show unto himself. He has his own production going on over there which I really like because he really brings it every night. And Tommy, who I have in the middle as a rhythm guitar player, has got his own show going on. It’s great to get guys to come out of their shells and just when you get on stage be a rock star. I don’t want you to be a sideman.
CB: Again, it’s always been amazing to talk to all these people who have worked with you over the years and I know they appreciate it as well.
AC: I think it is because I let them play. I want you to play. When it is your turn to play, I want you to be Eric Clapton, I want you to be Jeff Beck, I want you to be the guy and sometimes it takes a little bit of getting used to. These guys are not used to being the center of attention, they are used to being the guys that stand in the background and play.
Sometimes it’s hard for Johnny Depp, when Johnny plays with us, I kind of have to push him forward a little bit because he likes to hang back a little bit.
CB: We are in Cincinnati. Can you tell me what your craziest Cincinnati story is from your past?
AC: I have the best Cincinnati story you have ever heard. This is a true story. We finally left L.A. We decided we had to move some place out of L.A., out of New York, some place in the Midwest. So we go to Cincinnati and we play this show there and we get a standing ovation. We decided the first standing ovation we get, that is where we are going to move.
So we played in Cincinnati and got a standing ovation, I think it may have been after the Cincinnati Pop Festival, the one we did with Iggy (Pop and The Stooges), and we found this area down by the college. It was this big, beautiful house for rent. So we came in and rented this house at the beginning of summer, and we went in and painted it and did everything like that.
For three months we lived there until in September, all of a sudden, there was a knock at the door, we walked outside and there were 10 guys that are football players and they are going “What are you doing at our house?” And I said, “What are you talking about? We rented this house indefinitely.” And the guy goes, “This is our frat house. I don’t know who rented this to you but they didn’t own the house. You are paying rent to someone that doesn’t even own the house.”
Some guy rented us a frat house and he didn’t even own it. He just walked in and put up a "For Rent" sign because nobody was there and we just assumed he just owned the house. So for these guys, it was kind of cool to them that Alice Cooper was living in their house, but we had to leave because it was their frat house.
CB: So did you pick another city or did you hang around town?
AC: We moved to Detroit then but it was really funny because we really thought Cincinnati was where we were going to live and then we got ejected by the frat house.
CB: I guess it could have worked out a lot different. You could still be in our hometown. You have spoken openly the last few years that you have become a Christian and about your Christian beliefs. Did that change how you put your show together?
AC: I think what it is, you do a certain amount of your own, not censoring, but you start shaping the show whereas there may be a couple of songs that I used to do that, now when I sing those songs, I don’t believe that anymore. So, it is hard for me to sing that.
It hasn’t been any big hits, “School’s Out”, “18”, “Billion Dollar Babies”, all those songs have nothing to do with Christianity or nothing to do with something that I couldn’t sing as a Christian. Most of it is social satire anyway, but there are a few songs that I looked at and I went, “You know what, I don’t believe that anymore,” so I am going to stay away from that show.
I am just being true to myself to be honest with you. It really hasn’t affected how I do my stage show because I don’t believe Alice was promoting anything that was anti-Christian. We were like a musical horror movie and I think if people took Alice Copper as entertainment, as pure entertainment, there is certainly a dark side to my sense of humor but I don’t think there has ever been anything in there that was, that any Christian couldn’t see and have fun with.
CB: It’s all in good fun. It’s all perspective.
AC: Yeah, and I think if you look at it as a social satire, I am fine with it. I don’t really have a problem with that. I am still very involved, I read twice a day, I have two different times of devotional for myself. I hope and I try not to just be a Christian in “Oh, I’m a Christian.” I try to live that life. It is a one-on-one relationship with Christ so I really try to keep that as my lifestyle. In other words, you aren’t ever going to see me at the strip club after a show.
CB: I know you gave up drugs and alcohol a long time ago for good reasons. Is there still ever a struggle on the road to stay sober?
AC: No, never has been. I was literally healed from that. People say you are cured, I say no, it was much different. I never went to AA. I never had to do any of that. I came out of a hospital and it was gone. It was gone as if I had cancer and cancer was gone the next day. It was totally taken away from me. I never had a struggle with alcohol. When I came out of the hospital, I was absolutely straight as an arrow. I never had a desire or a craving for alcohol which even the doctors say is weird. I know because I have a lot of friends that are in AA and they struggle with it all the time. They say, “How do you do it?” and I say “I am not an alcoholic anymore. I was one but I am not anymore.” I wouldn’t challenge myself. In other words, I wouldn’t sit around and say, “Well I think I will take a drink of beer.” Because I know that could be a trigger that takes me back to where I was. So I won’t even approach that, but at the same time I don’t have any desire to do that.
CB: Well, my Mom saw you in 1974 and she still talks about it today as I go shoot your shows. It was one of her memorable experiences with you and some chickens in Nashville at Memorial Coliseum…
AC: Well the music hasn’t changed much since the ‘70s to now, if you look at the bands that are still out there — Aerosmith, Ozzy, Alice, Thin Lizzy — we are all still playing the same kind of music. I think it is funny that 16, 17, 18 year old kids are more into Classic Rock than they are into modern Rock so I think there is a large audience for us that has never seen us. One of the reasons we are playing the Iron Maiden tour is because I don’t think the Iron Maiden audience has ever seen Alice Cooper so I want to expose them to Alice Cooper.
CB: Has touring for you changed from now to then?
AC: It’s a lot easier now. When you are physically in better shape and you are mentally and spiritually in better shape, (my wife) Sheryl and I have been together for 36 years, and I never been happier in my life. My kids are great. All my ducks are in a row. Physically, I am healthy. Touring is easy then. Physically, it is a workout and you have to get used to traveling and you have to get used to being away from your family a lot even though now my family can travel with me any time they want to. My wife will go out for three weeks then go home for a week and come back out for two or three weeks. So, touring to me is easy.
CB: You spoke about music now and what people are listening to. Are there any current bands you listen to these days?
AC: I wish there was — my pet peeve right now is that 80-90% of the modern Rock bands are just testosterone-free. I am listening to these bands and going, "Where is the spark? Where is the fire?" These bands are whining like crazy. I hear these bands and go, "What is wrong with these guys?" And then I look at a picture of the band and I could go into a mall and pick any five guys, it’s like they are trying not to be rock stars. They just want to be normal guys that play in a band with no image and no fire just we are in a band. “What is wrong with that?” That’s crazy. If you are in a Rock band, you get in a Rock band to be something different. I guess modern Rock bands really just want to blend in and I think it is the most boring time in Rock right now that I have ever seen.
CB: Well you have your Lady Gagas…
AC: There are exceptions. Jack White is amazing. The Foo Fighters are amazing. I don’t know the Black Veil Brides music very much but I love the image. At least they are going out of their way to be something that when you see them on stage you say, “That’s the Black Veil Brides.” But when I see 99% of the other bands up there I say those bands can be anybody. I just don’t get the fact that everybody is so against having image.
CB: Are you working on any new music, maybe another album?
AC: The Welcome to My Nightmare album has been out for about a year now and that was our highest charting album for quite a long time. So after this tour, we will go back in the studio again, Bob Ezrin and I will, but we were very, very happy with Welcome to my Nightmare.
CB: I briefly spoke to you at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction this year in Cleveland. I know you weren’t performing but what your favorite part of the night?
AC: You mean the last one. I thought Guns N Roses were amazing. I thought Slash and the boys were the best band there. They just rocked that place.
CB: We are heading into a critical election year, are you planning on backing any candidates this time?
AC: Boy, I’ll tell you at this point right now I almost want to go independent. I am not political in the least bit. I am not in the least bit political. So when somebody says, “Who are you voting for?” I’m going, “Wow!” It’s like saying, do you want a poke in the eye or a poke in the ear. Nobody is making me smile now.
CB: And it is very narrow now.
AC: Yeah, as far as I’m concerned, I wish there was somebody out there that had some spark that would make a difference but I don’t think either one of these guys are.
CB: Do you have any plans to slow down or stop touring?
AC: No. For me, physically everything is fine right now. Until I physically can’t tour, I think I will be touring every year.
Tim Wilson is a comedian and singer/songwriter who represents Southern culture and lifestyle with his songs and stand-up. He is often featured on national telecasts of the syndicated radio shows The Bob and Tom Show and the John Boy and Billy Morning Show and Wilson has also been appeared on many of the late-night talk shows. With a dozen comedy albums featuring his original songs, Wilson has found crossover success on both the comedy and Country music charts.
CityBeat caught up with Wilson by phone to preview his appearance in Cincinnati and discuss southern roots in comedy and the assimilation of music into his comedy. Catch him performing live Saturday night at the Taft Theatre with Patti Vasquez (ticket info here).
Voting for Greater Cincinnati's annual celebration of our amazing local music scene, the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards, is now open. Vote for your faves or, even better, do some research online, check out all of the nominees and THEN pick who you think is most deserving.
Click here to get started on your ballot.
The 16th annual CEA ceremony will be held at Covington’s Madison Theater on Jan. 27, featuring more live performances than ever and first-time host Ted Clark, known for his monthly “live chat show” Ted Clark After Dark. Ted will present a special edition of Ted Clark After Dark at the after-party, this year held at The Loft, just around the corner from the Madison and above Tickets (the former home to the Rock club Radio Down). The after-party will also include the annual “Fashion Trashies,” presented by members of local Indie Pop legends The Fairmount Girls and honoring the best/worst/weirdest-dressed CEA attendees.
Tickets to the Jan. 27 ceremony/party will go on sale this coming Wednesday through CincyTicket.com. Proceeds from ticket sales are being donated the Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation.
Another new aspect of this year’s CEAs involves the “New Artist of the Year” nominees. The acts nominated in that category will perform at the first-ever CEA new music showcase at Bogart’s on Jan. 18 (confirmations pending). Audience votes at the event will help determine the winner of the category, along with votes from the nominating committee (who also choose the Album and Artist of the Year winners).
Tickets for the new music showcase will go sale soon through Ticketmaster.
Now, a few words on "the process." Since the nominees were announced on Wednesday, I've received several queries asking "How do I get nominated for a CEA?" from various artists and/or their representatives.
It's the same answer found in the old joke, "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?"
Practice. And also work hard and keep spreading the word about your awesome music.
As has been the case in the entire the 16-year existence of the CEAs (and as has been noted every year in our coverage of the event, including this year), a nominating committee is assembled each year to determine the CEA nominees. These include writers, promoters, club owners, local-music radio hosts and others whose opinion on local music-makers we trust. This year's committee included approximately 40 such people. We try our best to include those whose expertise is either wide-ranging or specific to a particular genre represented in the CEA categories. (Judges do not have votes counted if they're cast for an artist with whom the judge directly works.)
This year, invitations to participate in the nominating process were sent out to nearly 70 people, so obviously certain experts declined to participate, missed the deadline for nominees or just ignored our request.
The committee is asked to nominate up to three artists per category who caught their eyes and ears this past year. The only guidelines are that the artists should have been active in the past 365 days, the nominees should be largely original (though certainly talented, straight-up "cover bands" are generally not eligible) and the judges are also instructed to give special consideration to any act that has released new recorded material in that same time-frame.
The CEA nominating judges are listed in the CEA "program" annually. I will not release their names here because I've personally received many rude or stupid emails telling me what an idiot I am for not nominating "fill in the blank." The nominating committee was kind enough to participate; I don't want to open any of them up to such haranguing and harassment.
Finally, I'd just like to say that every year there are TONS of really great acts that deserve a nomination but don't get one. It's not personal. It's not "political." It's not "who you know." It's simply a matter of time and space. If every artist who deserved a nomination got one, the CEA show itself would run 16 hours — and that's just to read the nominations for each category.
I agree to some extent that award shows like these are a little frivolous and that the process for nominations isn't perfect. It never is, for any awards show. We have thought about letting the public nominate the artists (a la the long-gone "CAMMY" awards presented by The Enquirer), but ultimately feel that the way the CEA process is set up works best. Because, ultimately, whoever wins their category is going to deserve it.
Though we take the process seriously, we've always thought of the CEAs as more of a celebration than a contest. I invite you to think of it the same way and join us for the show, whether you were nominated or not. The CEAs are for the ENTIRE Greater Cincinnati music scene. The awards are just a good excuse to get everyone together. Instead of being a sore sport about your lack of attention, come out and congratulate and party with your fellow nominees.
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.
Over the past decade-plus, Cincinnatian Eric Diedrichs has continually made splashes on the local music scene with the Pop/Rock band The Simpletons and his Cari Clara project (a mostly solo venture in the studio, but also a live band). A few years back, Diedrichs moved to Lexington, Ky., but Cari Clara continued, the live version of which (though largely on hiatus the past year or so) still featuring mostly Cincinnati area musicians — Eric’s brother Mark Diedrichs, Greg Tudor, Jason Arbenz (also of Goose), Josh Hagen and 500 Miles to Memphis frontman Ryan Malott.
Last summer, Diedrichs digitally released his fourth effort for Deep Elm Records, the elegant, evocative 10-track album, Midnight March. This Friday, Diedrichs returns to Cincinnati to celebrate the album’s physical release at Northside Tavern. The free local appearance will feature the full Cari Clara band, plus Cincinnati’s Ohio Knife and Dayton’s Motel Beds as openers.
Diedrichs recorded and produced the expansive and engrossing Midnight March in his home studio in Lexington and the crisp sound welcomes the listener to come inside and get lost in the unique textures and tide-like tempos and structures. Though a lot of “one-man show” albums lack a certain warmth and cohesiveness, Cari Clara is the rare all-solo effort that sounds and feels like a large, full band. But the music is rarely grounded, instead relying on a magical, ethereal aura upon which the songs hover.
Diedrichs has skills to spare — he’s an amazing vocalist, brilliantly able to translate emotion into words, melody and voice, and his top-notch musicianship (on guitar, bass, piano and a variety of programming and other instrumentation) is apparent on first listen. But as Cari Clara grows and evolves, the way Diedrichs constructs and conducts the varying sounds and layers has become dazzling, adding an extra level of enchantment to his always stellar songwriting prowess.
Midnight March is best listened to in full (once you start, you’ll have a hard time stopping anyway), a victory for the dwindling art of making a cohesive album and not just slapping together a collection of songs. Diedrichs says the album is something of a “coming of age” story, saying it’s “an emotional exploration of my own journey from childhood to adult.” That thematic thread is something everyone can relate to and Diedrichs’ lyrics have never been better.
From the shiver-sending ambiance of “When You Knew It” and orchestral, acoustic guitar-driven “Homage to Excess” to the slinky verses and charged, towering choruses of “Battle Hymn” and the Radiohead-meets-Postal Service slowburn of “Safe,” Midnight March is loaded with musical drama, with practically each song building from a hypnotic hush to exhilarating crescendo. With deft arrangements and orchestration, provocative lyrics and brain-burrowing melodies, Diedrichs has made the recording of his career. And, in many ways, it feels like he’s just getting started.
Deidrichs has the talent to become a career artist; hopefully Midnight March reaches the wider audience Cari Clara deserves so he is able to do just that.
Click below to preview and purchase Midnight March.