Saturday, July 25, 2009

Bill Heid: Have Thumb, Will Travel


Bill Heid was born August 11, 1948, the son of George Heid Sr., who operated the first recording studio in Pittsburgh. His brother, George Heid Jr., is a renowned jazz drummer and producer, running his dad's old studio and an integral part of Pittsburgh's music scene.

Bill and George got together with Ben Glassock while they were at Mt. Lebanon High School and cut the instrumental "All Out Vota" as the Coronas on Corona label #520 in 1965 (Corona was their father's studio), a song fueled by the twin piano parts played by the siblings and a local hop hit.

Bill, a pianist/organist, was fascinated by the sound of the Hammond B-3, and no wonder. He haunted the Hill clubs as a kid and caught all the chitlin' circuit organ greats playing at the Hurricane Bar, like Jimmy Smith, Don Patterson, Jack McDuff, Jimmy McGriff and Dr. Lonnie Smith, and while at Crawford Grill he bopped to the jazz bands led by the likes of Freddie Hubbard, Max Roach, Gene Harris, Bobby Timmons and Wynton Kelly.

He didn't pass up the home grown talent, either. Ahmad Jamal, Art Blakey, Erroll Garner, George Benson, Eddie Jefferson, Mary Lou Williams and Stanley Turrentine all added to his mental jazz library.

Heid did more than groove to the sound; he'd occasionally sit-in with the players and pick their minds. Piano or organ made no difference; if it had keyboards, he could make it growl and sing.

He told Pete Fallico of KUSP-FM in Santa Cruz that "...looking back, every one of those cats were kind and fathers. Pittsburgh was a great place to grow and learn." But he wasn't the stay-at-home kind.

Heid hung out with his mentor, Larry Young, often visiting the family-owned Newark Club in Young's hometown of Newark, New Jersey. There he got to play with the best organ drummers in the business, like Joe Dukes and Billy James.

But his first big road trip began in 1963 and lasted two years. He was on the trail of a rare 78 r.p.m. rhythm and blues record (no, Old Mon never did find out which one), and began a hitchhiking trek of Biblical proportions.

He thumbed through the mainland 48 states, through Canada, Mexico, the Philippines, Japan, Korea, China and the Thailand/Cambodia border. Heid documented 400,000 miles of thumbing, gaining him a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records. (he's second), and the 400,000 miles was turned into a cut title on his 1999 "Wet Streets" LP.

Some of his journeys led him to the tiny organ rooms of major cities where he sat in with Jimmy Witherspoon, Jimmy Ponder, Sonny Stitt, Grant Green, David 'Fathead' Newman, Ira Sullivan, Mickey Roker, and was a pianist with Don Patterson. Heid parlayed his journey into a 1985 Oprah appearance.

He came back after a couple of years of sole-shredding exploration, and from 1965 through the mid-70's, he worked the chitlin' club circuit, based out of Chitown.

Chicago brought him in touch with the urban blues as he worked or recorded with Jimmy Witherspoon, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Son Seals, Koko Taylor, Fenton Robinson and Roy Buchanan. He also played in the bands of guitarist Henry Johnson, and while with his group was the pianist, recording 2 LPs for MCA/Impulse. He sat in for two more records with KoKo Taylor and another with Roy Buchanan.

Then he spent two decades in Detroit, from 1984 through 1999, leading the Blues Insurgents. He called on a local legend of blues guitar and vocals, Johnnie Bassett, as his music director, and was backed by singer Alberta Adams.

During that time, Heid appeared on numerous sessions for the labels Fedora, Cannonball, and Black Magic Records, and was part of two European tours.

He did his own thing, too. Between 1996 and 2003, Heid recorded five Hammond CDs on the Savant label and a piano trio CD for Doodlin' Records in early 2007; he's also recorded for the Muse/Westside label. His keyboard work can also be heard on European TV and films and in the U.S., on PBS and NBC's Dateline show.

In 2000, Heid moved on to Washington, DC and in 2002, his group toured Viet Nam, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia as Jazz Ambassadors for the U.S. State Department. They returned to Asia for an extended tour a year later, in August 2003, playing the Pacific Rim again, adding Singapore to their stops.

They switched continents in 2004, and backed vocalist Jay Klum on another Ambassadors tour to five African countries. And he's spent three years playing in Japan.

Now he's ensconced in the DC night scene, calling Bethesda, Maryland home, and playing at various venues in the area. Heid and his group play jazz/funk fusion that he calls Talifunk.

His sound is linked to Larry Young and Don Patterson, but is anything but predictable. There's footprints of his musical odyssey all over his compositions, leaving a trail that stretches from the streets of the Hill to the rice paddies of the Far East.

Hey, we know he hasn't been around the Steel City since the sixties; he's another in a long line of musical ex-pats from Pittsburgh. But where ever he sets up his stool and starts pounding the keyboard, he's adding to Three Rivers' legacy of great jazz and soul men. And that's good enough for Old Mon.

Bill Heid - "Bop Rascal"

Saturday, July 18, 2009

George Goodman and the Headliners

george goodman

Ya know, every so often Old Mon acts his age and spins an old doo-wop tune on his Kenwood. And one of the best, bar none, was a sixties ballad by George Goodman and the Fabulous Headliners called "Let Me Love You."

And hey, Old Mon's not alone in his admiration of the song. Paul Mawhinney, of Record Rama fame and vinyl collector extraordinaire, said this when he was asked what one song from his stacks of wax he would play for company:

"I would put a record on called 'Let Me Love You' by George Goodman & His Headliners, a wonderful ballad and a Number 1 record in Pittburgh and Baltimore. It’s the most released non-hit record in history!"

As far as we can figure, it was issued five times, twice on national labels. The record was first released in 1964 on Sharpsburg's Val label (#1), credited to George Goodman & His Headliners, and reissued a couple of times. (Val Records was local label operated by florist Augie Bernardi.)

It was released again on Warner Brothers in 1965 (#5632), and pressed again by A&M (#1011) in 1968 under The Headliners. It became a huge regional hit but never charted nationally.

In fact, the group had a little cottage industry going on with the label for a brief spell and was Val's big act; we suspect that it was Goodman's home base - he was also heavily into the industry side, producing, distributing, and promoting records - but we can't verify the Val connection. Their 45's from the Middle Street label were:

RECORD Val #1-1964
SIDE A: Let Me Love You (2:57)
SIDE B: Let Me Love You (instrumental - 2:57)
The song was written by Genne Salo and produced by George Goodman.

RECORD Val #3-1964
SIDE A: Starlight And Moonbeams (2:35)
SIDE B: I'm So Tired (2:40)
The song was written by Rodney Williams and George Goodman. Goodman also produced the session.

RECORD Val #5-1964
SIDE A: I'll Cherish Your Love (2:18)
SIDE B: Secret Love (2:20)

RECORD Val #6-1965
SIDE A: Need You (2:14)
SIDE B: Starlight And Moonbeams (2:18)

(Listing from Youngblood's Oldies Database)

And just who were these guys that had the doo-wop ballad down to an art form in a city that took its vocalists seriously? They were George Goodman (baritone), Rodney Williams (lead), and Melvin Peters (tenor).

The Hill's Goodman died young in the late 60s.  Travis Klein, of Itzy label fame, filled us in on his bio:  "George Goodman, from the Hill District, got his start in the mid 60's working for Herbie Cohen's Fenway Distributors on Fifth Avenue, Uptown. He was very involved in distributing and promoting R & B records for them and helped break Charlie and Inez Foxx's "Mockingbird" on Sue Records.

He later worked for Bell and a couple of other labels doing promotion but returned to Pittsburgh and went to work for Klein's Record Distributors. Drug and mental health issues caused his early demise."

Melvin Peters started his career with The Five Mellows, and also worked with the Del Vikings and Marcels. In the early 1960's, he joined Chuck Jackson and the Motown group The Originals. Then it was back home as a Headliner. He spent the seventies working with Solid Gold, Flashback, and the Katch. Now he's with a Cleveland group called Mellow Class.

After Goodman's death, we've been told, the Headliners played and toured regionally for awhile, before eventually heading to Texas to harmonize, allegedly as faux-Marcels (at least until the real Marcels found out).

And that's all we could find out about the short-lived Headliners, other than they're not to be mistaken with Motown's Headliners of the same era, and they're on several compilation albums, such as Itzy's Pittsburgh's Greatest Hits series. If you can add to their tale, give us a yell. Meanwhile, enjoy "Let Me Love You."

George Goodman and the Headliners - "Let Me Love You"

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Kill The Drama

Kill The Drama on MySpace

Guitarist Steve Stiller and longtime mate, drummer Jason Godek, formed Kill the Drama in January 2006. They recruited Benjamin "Skinny" Solnik (Skinny) on bass and Bryan Laskey for vocals; later, Mars Papacristo replaced Solnik.

Hey, they even got the band name and Laskey for the same reason - the original vocalist was a full-fledged drama queen; she left after a few months, replaced by Laskey, but her memory remained forever through the phrase "Kill The Drama."

Stiller and Godek were together for years as members of Pagewater, while Solnik played for Inventory and Laskey with the metal band Break The Sun.

And they started off on the right foot when they won the 2006 Graffiti Rock Challenge, the 'Burgh's top Battle-Of-The-Band throwdown.

They put the studio time and CD production they won as Graffiti champs at McKeesport's Soundscape Studios to good use when they recorded the band's debut album "Close Friends with Sharp Knives." They released the 11 track set in 2007.

The sound is prog ("alt/Eurosex") rock, or as Stiller explained to Aaron Jentzen of the City Paper "As opposed to having a ridiculously poppy song and a ridiculously heavy song," he said, "if you can mold those two together...that's really what Kill the Drama is."

They've been compared to acts such as Muse, Placebo, Smashing Pumpkins, Coheed and Cambria, and the Deftones.

Though not currently signed to any record label, Kill the Drama is keeping busy. They have a new album in the works, two music videos to their credit, and their live schedule. They played with Joe Grushecky at the Three Rivers Arts Festival main stage last month, and had shows at Altar, Diesel, and Mr. Smalls. KTD also has a big web presence; they were heard over 1,000,000 times over MySpace music.

They're looking to tour and release a second CD, and see if they can leverage some of their overseas popularity into a break-out.

They have a small and loyal fanbase here, but Eurosex is still a tough sell in the Steel City. Stiller e-mailed Mishmash Magazine during a January Q&A, in response to the question "What's the weirdest thing a fan has ever done:"

"At a local show in Pittsburgh somebody clapped once:) In a city still stuck on Creed and Staind wannabees who only want to hear cover songs, we don't go over well in our hometown."

And the truth is that Pittsburgh has been a graveyard for its indy bands, no matter how much local love is thrown about. KTD has a unique sound, but history tells us if they're gonna sell, it probably won't be here. But that's a story often told by city acts.

Penn Hill's Thrills was a great Euro rock band, but they had to go to New York to get some airplay. Donnie Iris was the last New Wave rocker to make it from the area, as Old Mon's notoriously feeble memory recalls. Kill The Drama has a strong sound and are web savvy, but they they may have to hit the road to hit it big.

That's the Pittsburgh way.

Kill The Drama - Close Friends with Sharp Knives live at Diesel

Tonight's Shows

Old Mon has a couple of buds that are playing tonight. So if you're looking for someplace to enjoy a rainy Saturday evening, go catch their act:

-- Jack Stanizzo and Paul Lowe hit the stage at nine at Carnegie's Club Cefalo. There will be lots of stuff off their recently released jazz-tinged CD "Heart of the City."

-- Slim Forsythe & the Parklane Drifters will take the stage around 8:00 PM at Neid's Hotel in Lawrenceville. They'll be playing some tunes from their new CD "Bury Me Up On That Northern Tier."

Good joints and good sounds; give the bands a listen tonight.

Jay Michael

Old Mon has gotten a couple of queries about the whereabouts of old WCAE jock Jay Michael. He put out an APB, and long-time bud John Mehno came up with the 411: "Finally got the answer on Jay Michael. He's in poor health, living in a nursing home in Las Vegas."

Not great news, but at least he's still around and in Vegas.

Friday, July 3, 2009

David Bernabo - Bloomfield's Avant Rocker

david bernabo
David Bernabo credit: Sort Of Records

Hey, Old Mon does check his e-mail every so often. Today, he got a note from David Bernabo, who's releasing his CD "Happener-Magicker" on July 11th at Brillobox, with MoIP. It was two years in the making, and is the full-length follow-up to the EP "Mahler Box," which featured four rock tunes, two orchestral pieces, and two remixes.

Bernabo is one of the hardest working guys in the Pittsburgh music scene, having played in a variety of groups, recorded several albums (eight, if we're counting correctly), and is a well-known dude in the City's music and arts community.

And he got his start in Greenfield, Old Mon's slice of heaven for the past three decades, so we gladly lent him an ear, even though his family later moved to the North Hills and he now lives in Bloomfield.

His latest band, David Bernabo + Assembly, makes a pretty good noise. But don't try to pigeon-hole the sound. His current label, Ray Morin's Sort Of Records, based in Friendship, describes his music as a "sweeping concoction of pop, jazz-rock, and modern classical, all with a subtle anarchist twist."

Well, we don't know about all that, but to call the Assembly avant-rock wouldn't be too far off base. His work draws on Frank Zappa, Eberhard Weber, Marvin Gaye, Wilco, Jim O'Rourke, David Grubbs and Paul Klee. We heard brief snatches of Steely Dan and U-2 sneak into the music, too. And yah, piano-driven classical and pop tinged jazz cuts are thrown in the mix, making for a pretty mellow collection of songs.

Just the band is an interesting collection in itself. The 25-piece Assembly counts on Bernabo, Chris James, Daniel Gene Newman II, Owl Barns, and Brandon Masterman as its live core.

They form the nucleus, drawing on other artists like Julie Sokolow (Western Vinyl), Will Dyar (ex-Oakley Hall), Raymond Morin (yah, the Sort Of Records honcho), Clarence Grant, Jairan Sedeghi, Josh Beyer, Jessica Fenlon, Ben Harris, and Lindsay Clark to fill in the "Happener-Magicker" backing roster.

A pretty eclectic mix, to be sure, just like the ringmaster, Bernabo. He's played with bands Vale and Year, DBL D, Boxstep, 9th Ward, Daryl Fleming's Blockhouse Band, and HiTEC. Bernabo's done some production work, too, and even written soundtracks for Nintendo.

Music isn't his only talent; he's a visual artist as well. He's written several comics published by the Unicorn Mountain art collective, done album cover design, and had shows featuring his drawings.

His poetry has been published in Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Falderol, and the Oakland Review, and a collaboration with Greg Cislon yielded "Holy Music and Art," a book of vignettes and experimental writing published by Incredibly Thin.

Hey, the guy's even got a finance degree from CMU's Tepper School of Business. Dave Bernabo is well on his way to becoming plebeian Pittsburgh's one-man Cultural District.

"Ivtto" - Dave Bernabo + Assembly