Saturday, June 28, 2008

Modey Lemon

Modey Lemon from Spin magazine

Modey Lemon is a 21st century garage rock band spiked with a swirl of metal (Think of a Jimi Hendrix/Who/Clash mashup.) They're known for a driving beat and dark, literate lyrics.

The group formed in 1999 as a duo. The first lineup consisted of Phil Boyd (guitar) and Paul Quattrone (drums), then more or less students at Pitt. They'd both moved here to go to school, Quattrone from upstate New York, Boyd from near Harrisburg.

They had been playing together since the '90s, having met in a band in 1998 before stripping it down to a blues-rocking duo the following year. They stumbled across the inspiration for their name while playing on the sidewalks of the Strip, where they sorta bonded with the moldy lemons at their feet.

In short time, the pair gained a reputation around town for wild live shows. Drummer Quattrone pounded the skins like Keith Moon channeling John Bonham while Boyd ricocheted like a Super Ball across the stage.

"Modey Lemon," the group’s debut on A-F label, appeared in early 2002. The band supported the album with tours of the U. S. and Europe.

Prior to the mid-2003 Birdman release of their second, heavier, album "Thunder + Lightning," Boyd and Quattrone added Jason Kirker on bass and Moog synthesizer. He also produced the album and still engineers their studio efforts.

After touring to support the album, Modey inked a deal with Mute Worldwide label, the UK home of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Einstrzende Neubauten, and Depeche Mode. Their video of the track "Predator" aired on MTV2 in the UK.

Their third album "The Curious City" was released in mid-August 2005. The cover art is a 60's-psychedelic homage to Pittsburgh’s skyline. The album's title came from the group rediscovering its roots and home after months on the road.

The band ended 3 years of vinyl silence with their new record, "Season Of Sweets," released on Birdman this month. It was the last session cut in Pittsburgh's Brass Foundry. It's a bit more punk synth than psyche as Modey Lemon stretches its wings.

The trio has performed with The White Stripes, The Von Bondies, the Blues Explosion, Oneida, the Warlocks, the Icarus Line, and Dinosaur Jr.. They still tour heavily, in America and Europe (they have a pretty nice following in England.)

Boyd and Quattrone also participate in a side project, Cobalt Black, formerly The Four Seasons Boys, and both sit in with local band Grand Buffet. Quattrone also plays the kit for Black Snake.

Why do Modey Lemon and other alt rock acts succeed here? Quattrone told the Pittsburgh Tribune Review it's "Because a city like Pittsburgh is so far off the national radar as far as the spotlight goes, I think people just do things to have a good time, and aren't self-conscious about looking cool."

"In my experience, if you even try to do something pretentious -- which is kind of a must if you're in New York, where attitude is the No. 1 thing -- you get laughed at here."

And keepin' it real is Modey Lemon's M.O.

The group's going ons are chronicled at My Space - Modey Lemon

Modey Lemon - "Bucket Of Butterflies (2005)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Diva

Christina Aguilera from Wikipedia

Christina MarĂ­a Aguilera was born December 18, 1980, in Staten Island to Fausto Wagner Xavier Aguilera, a sergeant in the U.S. Army, and Shelly Loraine Fidler, a Spanish teacher.

She lived with her parents until she was seven years old. They divorced, and her mother took her and her younger sister Rachel to her grandmother's home in Beaver County's Rochester.

As a child, Aguilera always wanted to be a singer. Her musical influences were Etta James, Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Nina Simone, and Madonna. She also cites the musical "The Sound of Music" and its lead actress, Julie Andrews, as an early inspiration for singing and performing.

As a child, she was known locally as "the little girl with the big voice," singing in local talent shows and competitions.

She was so good even then that the other kids gave her a hard time at school and vandalized her home. The family moved to Wexford to escape the aggravation. North Allegheny High was a more urban and supportive place for her.

Aguilera sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" before Pittsburgh Penguin, Steeler, and Pirate games and performed at other local venues, including KDKA.

Her first big break came in 1993 when she joined The New Mickey Mouse Club. Her co-stars included Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears, and that's where she picked up her nickname of "The Diva."

At the age of fourteen, Aguilera recorded her first song, "All I Wanna Do," a hit duet with Japanese singer Keizo Nakanishi.

In 1998, Aguilera sang "Reflection" for the Disney production of Mulan. The song netted her a contract with RCA Records the same week it was released.

Aguilera's self-titled debut album "Christina Aguilera" was released on August 24, 1999. It reached the top of the Billboard 200 and Canadian album charts, selling eight million copies in the U.S. and over 14 million copies worldwide. The album is also included in the Top 100 Albums of All Time list of the RIAA. Good start, hey?

Later in 2000, Aguilera cut her first Spanish album, "Mi Reflejo." This album contained Spanish versions of songs from her English debut and some new Spanish tracks. The album ranked #27 on the Billboard 200 and hit #1 on the Latin album charts.

In 2001, it won Aguilera a Latin Grammy Award for "Best Female Pop Vocal Album." The album went gold in the US and sold 3 million copies worldwide. She also won the World Music Award as the best selling Latin artist that year. Now she was looking to do some grown up music.

On October 29, 2002, Aguilera's "Stripped" was released, selling more than 330,000 copies in the first week and peaking at #2 on the Billboard 200. The majority of the songs were co-written by Aguilera, and was influenced by an olio of music styles, including R&B, gospel, soul, ballads, pop rock, and hip hop.

"Stripped" stayed on the U.S. and UK album charts well into 2004, and went on to be certified four-times platinum in the U.S. with over 10 million copies sold worldwide.

The album was a hit by the critics, but her sound was secondary as she began to cultivate a more sexual image. After the release of the album, she took part in photo shoots for magazines, featuring her nude or close to it.

It was during this time Aguilera referred to herself as "Xtina," even getting a tattoo of her nickname on the back of her neck and several piercings.

She caused a firestorm, but you'd never know by the "Stripped World Tour." It was one of the top-grossing shows of the year, and sold out most of its venues. Rolling Stone readers named it the best tour of the year.

But Aguilera decided to embrace a more mature image after her Dirrty Grrl fling. Her next studio album, "Back to Basics," was released August 15, 2006, and debuted at #1 in the U.S., the U.K. and eleven other countries. "Back to Basics" sold over 4.5 million copies worldwide and is still picking up sales.

She's working on a fourth album, and they don't begin to cover her body of work. Aguilera has pumped out huge selling singles, duets, and soundtracks, shown up on other folk's albums and even pops up on TV every now and then.

She's been nominated for 15 Grammy Awards and won four, and is supposed to get her own star on the Hollywood "Walk of Fame" shortly, as befitting a pop diva.

Aguilera also shares the wealth with a variety of charities she supports both financially and personally, from Hurricane Katrina victims to AIDS and GLBT causes.

She's a major contributor in her hometown, supporting the Women's Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh. She toured the center and donated $200,000 to it. Aguilera has auctioned off front row seats and back stage passes to raise funds for the local charity. She plans to open an additional one in the area.

She now lives in LA with her hubby, music marketing executive Jordan Bratman, and bouncing baby boy, Max Liron.

Christina Aguilero - Dirrty

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Home Grown Hoo Ha 2

By the by, we thought we'd mention that Home Grown Hoo Ha 2 is back after its 2006 debut Saturday, June 21, at the Post Gazette Pavilion. It starts at 4PM.

This year, the acts are The Clarks, Donnie Iris & the Cruisers, the Gathering Field, Anthony Rankin, Margot B, Gene the Werewolf, and Lohio.

Tickets are pretty cheap at $20-39, and if you'd like to check out the locals amphitheater style, this is your chance.

Saturday, June 14, 2008


Dodo Marmarosa from All About Jazz

Michael "Dodo" Marmarosa danced in and out of jazz history like a moth around a flame, making a brief but lasting impact as one of the fathers of bebop in the 1940s.

Born on December 6, 1925, he was a child prodigy at the piano, and practiced with his school chum Erroll Garner. Marmarosa studied classical piano before turning to jazz.

He was dubbed with his childhood nickname of Dodo because of his large head, prominent nose and short body. Pittsburgh kids don't get cut much slack in their formative years.

From his boyhood days growing up on Paulson Avenue in Larimer, Marmarosa used all 88 keys on the piano. And he wanted more. Sometimes his fingers flew off the keyboard, playing imaginary keys in the air, hearing the closing chord in his mind. Air guitar? Hey, Dodo was the inventor of the air piano.

He practiced every day for hours, alternating hands until his left hand was as strong as his right. Within months, he was playing Bach for fun. But his early inspirations weren't Bach and Beethoven. They were swing pianists Art Tatum and Teddy Wilson.

In 1941, the Johnny "Scat" Davis Orchestra came to Pittsburgh, and found itself looking for a piano player. Even as a kid, Marmarosa had made a name for himself in Pittsburgh jazz circles, and some local musicians suggested that Davis sign up the young pianist. Davis did, and Dodo hit the road at age 15.

After a few months, the orchestra broke up. But Marmarosa and a few others hooked up with Gene Krupa's band. While working with Krupa in 1943, he and clarinetist Buddy DeFranco were beaten up by a gang of sailors who mistakenly took them for draft dodgers. The incident is thought to have led to his subsequent physical and mental troubles. More about that later.

Afterwards, he moved on to Charlie Barnet's big band. The band recorded "The Moose" and "Strollin'." He played the opening piano riff on Barnet's signature hit and theme song "Skyliner," the tune that may have been the inspiration for the name of Jimmy Beaumont's group.

During a tour in New York, one of Barnet's trumpeters got sick and was replaced temporarily by Dizzy Gillespie, who introduced Dodo to Charlie Parker. Dizzy and Bird became two of the key figures in the development of bebop and heavily influenced Marmarosa's hot and heavy piano style.

In early 1944, at age 18, he left Barnet's band to join Tommy Dorsey. The band featured a quartet including Marmarosa, Buddy De Franco, Sidney Block and Buddy Rich.

In November 1944, he left Dorsey and joined Artie Shaw, leader of one of the best big bands in the country. Shaw, like Dorsey, featured a small combo culled from the band, known as the Gramercy Five. Within it, Marmarosa found room to improvise, and the group made several popular recordings. The fivesome also featured guitarist Barney Kessel and fellow Pittsburgher and trumpeter Roy Eldridge.

Marmarosa followed only one drummer musically, and the beat he heard was bebop. This led some friction between Marmarosa and the rest of the planet. Shaw remembered him as a gentle and fragile man who never learned to cope with the pressures of jazz life, and prone to some off-the-wall behavior. According to Barnet, Marmarosa once pushed a piano off a balcony because wanted to hear what chord it would play when it landed.

His break-up with Shaw ran along the same unpredictable lines. The band was playing in a Midwest club, and the small crowd kept calling for "Frenesi," a popular Shaw arrangement. The band played the song twice during the first set and opened the second set with it.

Marmarosa yelled to Shaw that if he had to play the song again, he was leaving. Shaw called for "Frenesi" one more time, and Marmarosa walked off the stage and drove home to Pittsburgh.

After a few weeks in Pittsburgh, he moved to Los Angeles and began a free lance career, primarily as the house pianist for Lyle Griffin's Atomic record company. During his tenure there, he recorded such classics as "A Night in Tunisia," "Moose the Mooche" and "Yardbird Suite." He recorded sides with Charlie Parker, as well as working with top flight west coast musicians like Teddy Edwards, Howard McGhee and Wardell Gray.

In 1947, Esquire magazine published its "All-American" jazz band. The critics chose a pretty good group of musicians: Miles Davis, Sonny Stitts, Milt Jackson, Sarah Vaughn, Pittsburgh bassist Ray Brown and 21-year-old Dodo Marmarosa.

His health wasn't good, however, and he returned to Pittsburgh in 1948. Apart from brief tours with Scat Davis and Artie Shaw in 1949, he was only sporadically active in jazz for almost a decade, and most of that in low-key settings in Pittsburgh.

In 1954, he was drafted into the Army. Military life, as one can imagine, had a bad effect on his free-wheeling mentality and sickly physique. Marmarosa was discharged after spending several months in the hospital where he was given electric shock treatments. He also was involved in a somewhat messy divorce around that period.

Upon his return to Pittsburgh, he made little effort to rejoin the national jazz scene. He worked at the Midway Lounge in town, where he and bud Danny Conn recorded the live "Pittsburgh, 1958" and its popular track "Dodo's Blues." He cut "Dodo’s Back" in Chicago in 1961 for Argo, and did two more sessions in 1962 with sax man Gene "Jug" Ammons and trumpeter Bill Hardman for the Prestige label, resulting in his last LP "Jug and Dodo."

He continued to play locally, his last regular gig being at the Colony Restaurant in Mt. Lebanon. That ended in 1968 when diabetes forced him to retire.

In 1992, The Independent in London ran an obituary of the pianist, and The Guardian followed suit a few days later. The only problem was that Marmarosa was still alive and kickin'.

The story goes that a persistent English jazz fan kept pestering Marmarosa with phone calls for an interview he didn't want to do. Eventually, the pianist himself answered the phone, and told him that Dodo Marmarosa had just died, trying to get rid of him. The fan carried the tale to London, where it was passed on to the press, which ran with the news a decade early.

He died for real on September 17, 2002, of an apparent heart attack. He was 76.

During his final years, Marmarosa was a resident at the VA Medical Center in Lemington. He'd pass the time with his bud, local jazz trumpeter Danny Conn, who visited him weekly, boosting his spirits by reliving the glory days. Dodo was an entertainer to the end, playing piano and organ for the other residents and their guests.

In fact, on the day of his death, his sister said he played a small organ on the fourth floor of the building before returning to his room because he wasn't feeling well.

And hopefully the troubled but brilliant pianist is still sitting at his beloved keyboards, playing his bebop somewhere in the halls of jazz Valhalla.

"Mellow Mood" - Dodo Marmarosa (1961)

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Brownie Mary


Formed in 1993, Brownie Mary was one of Pittsburgh's hot acts during the 1990s. The lineup was vocalist Kelsey Barber (now Friday), guitarist Rich Jacques, bass player Tim Gaber, and drummer Dave Ryan.

(EDIT - a reader wrote to add "Brownie Mary's original bassist and drummer were Mike Marks and Steve "Kaz" Kaczynski. They were a large part of the first self-released "That's Me" album, writing a handful of the songs. The cover was actually a picture of Kaczynski's second son Aaron. The handprint on the CD and the poem inside was also Aaron's. After a falling out, they left to form a hard rock/grunge/punk band called "Push")

The name Brownie Mary comes from a hospital volunteer named Mary Rathbun, who was arrested several times for handing out marijuana brownies to patients suffering from cancer and AIDS.

"We've never met Mary Rathbun (known as Brownie Mary to the media.) We just saw her on TV, and we though it was a cool name," Gaber told the Penn State Collegian.

They were regulars at local clubs like Graffiti, Nick's Fat City and The Rosebud in the '90s and hit the college circuit hard. The band had a loyal following in Pittsburgh, and their fan base soon stretched from Columbus to New York to Sarasota.

Brownie Mary won top honors at the 1994 Graffiti Rock Challenge. The Graffiti victory, taken in competition against 100 of the freshest East Coast groups, earned the band Graffiti's tag as the "Next Big Thing."

They opened for Melissa Etheridge, Hootie and the Blowfish, The Dave Matthews Band, The Smithereens, The Crash Test Dummies, and Rusted Root. Brownie Mary also performed at 1995's Saxophone Club DNC fund-raiser before an audience that included then President Bill Clinton and daughter Chelsea.

They even played on MTV, popping up on the occasional reality show. Churning out catchy pop tunes, Brownie Mary looked like a breakout group.

In 1994, Brownie Mary's debut came in the form of a self-released, 11-track CD called "That's Me." Although courted by several major labels, the group released the follow-up independently, too.

The result was an EP called "Who's Your Daddy," a title which, according to Barber, is based on an inside band joke. Most of the tracks are upbeat pop, with a couple of folky cuts. The driving force is Barber's vocals, circling around a heavy groove.

Brownie Mary later released "Naked" in 1998 on Atlantic's Blackbird/Sire label, with Ron Bissel (bass) and Mark Rajakovic (drums) stepping in as new members. The album was produced by Kevin Moloney who worked with Sinead O'Connor and U2.

They got plenty of national airplay with "Naked," and toured like madmen in its support, playing 250 dates in the twelve months following its release with artists including the Dave Mathew's Band, Fuel, and Greenday.

The band was being compared to other alt pop groups like The Cranberries, The Pretenders, and No Doubt.

Barber took a year off after the hectic band schedule and followed her muse to LA. She took some of the songs she wrote there, penned some new ones with the band, and they became the basis of Brownie Mary's 2002 independent release, "Collide."

So what happened? According to its My Space page, the music "...sort of faded out once families and adulthood set in. D@mn adulthood!" Brownie Mary officially split in 2002, and the members went their own ways.

The day Kelsey Friday released her solo album, "Falling Forward," in 2004, she found out she was pregnant with her first child, and now she's the proud mom of a pair of bouncing baby vocalists. Motherhood put her music on hold, but didn't end it.

The family track eventually led to her crossover CD (it's a kids album, but made for their parent's ears) "Kelsey Friday & The Rest of the Week," produced by Rick Witkowski. It was released in March of this year.

Rich Jacques sometimes jams with local artists and shows up on area stages even though he's based in LA. He just teamed up with Bill Deasy for "Thomas Jefferson's Aeroplane."

Tim Gaber hooked up with the Buzz Poets, and was last spotted performing in the Strip, fronting for the band Leisure Guys.

Brownie Mary - "I'll Be Around" performed in 1995 at Rosebud