Friday, April 30, 2010

Say No Mo' Than Chizmo

Chizmo Charles and the Rhythm Aces

OK, gang, who is he: He was selected as Pittsburgh's 1995 R & B Singer of the Year by the Blues Society, repeated in 1996, and won yet again in 1997. He was rated by the City Paper's readers to be among the area's top three bluesmen in 2004 & 2006.

He's played about every blues festival and club in the City from the Decade to the The Inn'Termission in his five decade and counting career. He's a recorded artist. Oh, he's also a member of the Pittsburgh Music Hall of Fame. He's known widely as "Pittsburgh’s Senior Statesman of the Blues" (although we prefer "Godfather of Pittsburgh Soul").

Give up? It's "Chizmo Charles" Anderson, still going strong after eighty plus years.

Anderson was born on the Allegheny River slopes between Polish Hill and Lawrenceville, weaned on the classic tunes of Billy Eckstine, Joe Williams, Lena Horne, Nancy Wilson, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, and Ray Charles.

But he wasn't interested in crooning like them; Anderson spent his early years as a hoofer, and was a renowned local jitterbug dancer into his late twenties. Though dancing was his raison d'etre, he would also sing along as he flashed his feet.

And pretty dang well, too. Guys would try to get him to join their bands, but he held off, unsure of his ability, until his bud, drummer Eugene Betts, got him on a Northside stage with his group. His first tune was the blues standard popularized by Joe Williams in 1952, "Everyday I Have the Blues." Chizmo never looked back.

Of course, he had a little learning to do; he didn't even know what key he wanted his songs played in. Heck, at first, he didn't even know what "key" meant. No problem; the musicians followed his lead, and Anderson carried on.

He said that he's sat in with every player in town, and at one point early in his career, he even sang for a country and polka band - there's a combo for ya - named Unity before finally making a name for himself in the blues and R&B scene.

He made the rounds on the local circuit, playing regularly at the Station Square Crawford Grill and the Blues Cafe and gigging everywhere from the Panther Room to the James Street to Paparazzis.

Chizmo has worked with Gene Ludwig, Bubs McKeg, Johnny Smoothe, Rodney McCoy, and Randall Troy among many others, and played with the Blues Orphans and the Mystic Knights.

His recording debut was in 1991, on the CD "Live Blues Breakout" with the Mystic Knights. That work included the song, "Spread Yourself Around," with a popular video of Anderson and the band in an Iron City Beer commercial featuring the tune. His first release as the star artist would come a few years later.

That was for Blue Leaf Records in January 1998, when he fronted the "Up All Night" CD, at the tender age of 70. It was reissued in 2003 by Dom DiSilvio on his Decade Records imprint.

You want to talk about some studio personnel who help pump out the sounds on that record? How about Ron "Byrd" Foster (vocals, drums); Dr. James Johnson (piano): the four-piece Midnight Horns, featuring Kenny Blake (alto & tenor sax) and Robbie Klein (tenor & baritone sax), and his Mystic Knight buds: Gil Snyder (keyboards), Jim "Doc" Dougherty (guitarist who wrote half of the songs & produced the album), Jimmy "The Penguin" King (harp), and Tom Garner (drums)?

Other players were bassists Bobby Boswell and Del Rey Reynolds, the late James King on harp, sax man Rick Modery, trumpeteer Danny Donohoe and background vocalists Chuck Beatty and Michelle Michelle.

"Bed Bug Boogie" was the hot track. It won high praise from Bruce Iglauer of Alligator Records and Blues Revue magazine. The National Association of R&B DJ's selected the tune as one of the Top 50 Rhythm & Blues Dance Songs of 1999 (#33, actually).

Following the CD reissue, Anderson toured the northeast and got to open some nights for B.B. King. Hey, during one 2004 show in New England, the fans baked him a 75th birthday cake. He even got a small sip of radio love from WYEP’s Saturday evening blues shows and on "Nightflight: The Original Quiet Storm," aired on WLSW.

Chizmo's on a few other disks, too. He's got a couple of tracks on 2001's Blue Leaf "Leaflets V-1" compilation along with Gene Ludwig, and the 2003 BSWPA’s CD, “Blues from the Burg.” He even did a little work on Guitar Zack Wiesinger's initial album. Still, he's a vastly under-recorded artist, a familiar Pittsburgh tale.

Though you'd never know it from the fun-loving, wisecracking Anderson, life hasn't always been one big party. He was assaulted at the age of 75 during a home invasion and robbery in Homewood in 2004.

But Pittsburgh watches after its own. The Blues Society put together a concert for Chizmo, and what was initially planned as a benefit show turned into a night of tribute. Warren King and the Mystic Knights, Norman Nardini, Wil E. Tri and the Bluescasters, and The West End Project performed for Anderson.

It was only fair; not only has Chizmo paid his dues many times over, but he's been a mentor and friend to a huge cast running the gamut of local talent, people like Pittsburgh and guitarist Jim Hamel, blues diva Jill West, R&B man Billy Price, rockers Norm Nardini and Hermie Granati, plus countless more.

To understand the man, you have to catch him live. Virtually his entire career has been spent at clubs, not stadiums, and he has a presence the audience loves. To him, the stage isn't a destination, just a jumping-off point.

Sporting a trademark cap, Chizmo will wander along the bar, and stop at all the tables, singing ballads to lovestruck couples and then some R&B for the single girls (hey, he may be eighty something, but he ain't dead). All eyes are on him, and he has a rap that endears him to the crowd, slappin' skin as he makes the rounds. He owns the house.

Now he plays regularly with The Rhythm Aces at The Inn'Termission Lounge in South Side and with the Soul Merchants at the Rhythm House in Bridgeville, with gigs in between. And if you think it's hard for an old act to get a booking, try googling Chizmo; Old Mon got thirteen pages of hits, and 12-1/2 were announcing his showtimes.

(Old Mon thanks Julie Toye of the Herald-Standard, whose 2005 article on Chizmo is the definitive work on his career, and was heavily leaned on in this post)

Chizmo Charles - Angel Eyes
(Not Curtis Lee's pretty little, but the 1962 Dave Bruback tune)

Friday, April 23, 2010

Emily Rodgers

Emily Rodgers photo by Michael Macioce

Hey, in keeping with our recent acoustic kick, today we're featuring Emily Rodgers. And guess what? Instead of her being a local singer looking to break out of the City, she instead migrated to the 'Burgh to launch her career.

Rodgers lived in Georgia until she was five, and grew up in the Chicago suburb of Elkart, Indiana. She went off to Goshen, a nearby Mennonite college. Rodgers began by singing in the college coffeehouse, covering Gillian Welch and other folkie types, and moonlighted by spinning some disks for the Goshen college station, which had a playlist of classical music when the sun was up and folk music when it was down.

Her influences were R.E.M., Thalia Zedek, Nirvana, Songs: Ohia, Magnolia Electric Company, Kristin Hersh, Emily Dickinson, and Sylvia Plath, a pretty eclectic collection of artists. But it's a group befitting a poet/singer/song writer like Rodgers.

She took creative writing as an undergrad, and now she attends Chatham University part time, aiming for an MFA in poetry and creative nonfiction (check out her blog Emily Rodgers Poems, though it hasn't been updated in awhile). It comes through in her music.

Her writing career took off when she arrived in Pittsburgh in 2003. Rodgers was aware of our town because of the Mennocorps (a Mennonite youth service gig) connection, and followed school buds Susanna Meyer and Hallie Pritt of Boca Chica to the Three Rivers.

There is a cadre of Goshen grads that call Pittsburgh home, including acoustic players Brad Yoder, Heather Kropf, and Keith Hershberger, and she fit right in. Moving in with the Boca girls in Highland Park, she settled into Steeltown's vibrant if somewhat underground singer-songwriter scene.

She then got an apartment of her own in Friendship, and the me-time led to an outburst of writing. Rodgers found places to play right away, like the Garfield Artworks and various Calliope open stages.

That led to her first record in 2005, a self-released EP titled "Emily Rodgers & Her Majesty's Stars." It was a fairly folkie effort, and hadn't quite tapped into her writing talents, but it gave her a solid foundation to build on. And hey, it was a good record; WYEP named it among the Top Releases of the Year.

Now she's fronting the Emily Rodgers Band, made up of herself (vocals, guitar), Erik Cirelli (guitar, lapsteel, and gigged with Liz Berlin and Lohio), Paul Smith (drums), and Allison Kacmar (bass).

Though Rodgers writes the songs, it is a close group with a lot of collaboration. Heck, she even married Cirelli last month; can't get much tighter than that. And that's not the only good thing happening with the band.

Her second release, "Bright Day," had its debut party on October 16th, 2009, at Brillobox in Lawrenceville. It's on Misra Records, a widely respected indie label. It was produced by Josh Antonuccio, who has worked with Southeast Engine and Lohio.

The sound is hard to pigeonhole; it's not exactly shoe gazer, jazz, folk, pop, alt-country, or any other easily described genre. "Bright Day," contrary to its title, is kinda dark and introspective, like a stripped down Neil Young. It's dedicated to her brother Daniel, who died four years ago at the age of 22, which may explain the darkside.

But it is great music when the reverb doesn't get in the way, described by The City Paper's Manny Theiner as "atmospheric." Rodgers herself thought it "ethereal." Whatever you call it, it is a grand showcase for her voice, the featured instrument of the record, and the lyrics she offers.

"Hurricane" is the first track released off the CD. It was recently featured on NPR's All Songs Considered segment.

They played at the South by Southwest in Austin last year, did an East Coast tour in November to support "Bright Day," and spent the early part of the year performing at midwest college venues. The tour schedule isn't overwhelming; Rodgers and the rest of the band like to leave time for real-life between their gigs.

But she does local shows at least monthly; the band was just at Howlers Coyote Cafe, a regular stop, and is about to do a free-to-the-public performance at Schenley Plaza on Friday.

They're part of WYEP-FM's "Live & Direct CD" Release event with Elizabeth & The Catapult. The Emily Rodgers Band will take the stage at 7 PM.

Other local upcoming shows are:

May 7 2010 @ 7:00P - Garfield Artworks
Jul 8 2010 @ 9:00P - Howler’s Coyote Cafe
Sep 8 2010 @ 9:00P - La Roche College

So if you're looking for a scene that gets inside your head instead of banging it, make sure you catch The Emily Rodgers Band.

Hurricane - Emily Rodgers

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Vince Herman: Jammin' From Carnegie to Colorado

Vince Herman

Vince Herman grew up in Carnegie, the youngest of seven children in a music loving family. He played piano, guitar, and mandolin growing up, soaking up mostly soul sounds as a kid. He cites Motown, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, STAX records, Junior Walker, and Cat Stevens as early influences.

But his first gig was with Eddie & The Nightriders, a country band that hired him as its guitar player. Vincent still remembers playing at Archie's Gone Country on Route 51.

As a high school freshman, he caught the bluegrass bug and attended the first Smoky City Folk Festival (a local outdoor folk-music jamboree sponsored by Calliope that ran from 1977-2000). Herman fell in love the folk scene in general and the off-stage jamming in particular. But he was more interested in performing on a different stage after he graduated from Carlynton HS in 1980.

He studied acting at the University of West Virginia ("I like to say I'm from Pennsyltucky," Herman told Backbeat Magazine, "I grew up in Pittsburgh and then went to college in West Virginia. I'm always happy to adopt the state of West Virginia because the music scene there was so good"), earning his sheepskin in 1984, and moved to Colorado, where he's still based, to work on his graduate degree.

That goal didn't last long; he dropped out to join the Left Hand String Band, one of the seminal groups in the progressive bluegrass movement of the late eighties. Well, maybe it wasn't much of a movement here, but it sure was out West. Go figure.

He next hooked up with a Cajun jug band called the Salmonheads. It merged with the LHSB, playfully combined names, and became Leftover Salmon in 1990.

Leftover Salmon quickly became an influential Americana jam act and hugely popular tour draw, performing at nearly every major North American festival during their heyday.

They were on stage at High Sierra Music Festival eight times, the Telluride Bluegrass Festival eight times, and the All Good festival three times, as well as gigging at Bonnaroo, Wakarusa, Dunegrass, Snowmass Mountain, Austin City Limits, Jazz Aspen, Beale Street Music and the H.O.R.D.E tour.

They teamed up with other bluegrass, country and the odd bluesman like Tim O'Brien, Jim Page, Paul Barrare, Bill Payne, Bela Fleck, Waylon Jennings, Taj Mahal, Lucinda Williams, John Bell, Todd Park Mohr, John Cowan and Earl Scruggs. And they weren't just a festival act. Leftover Salmon had a reputation as road dogs, booking 150 shows or more every year.

But reality interrupted. In 2002, the band's banjo player Mark Vann died from cancer, and by 2004, after a fifteen year run, the band went "on hiatus." Since 2007, they get together to perform a few reunion gigs every year.

In March of 2005, Herman joined the Spirit of Guthrie Tour, playing 13 dates with stuff drawn from newly discovered notebooks of folk legend Woody Guthrie. He also went solo, doing a stage act featuring a great folksy stage rap between tunes. In fact, his gig persona is so popular among rootjammers that he's emceed many of the top festivals in the country.

Today, he fronts Great American Taxi, a jam band that formed when the members were thrown together during a Rainforest Action Group concert in 2005. GAT has two albums under its belt, “Streets of Gold,” and "Reckless Habits." They're also road warriors, playing spots like The Independent in San Francisco, the Night Grass in Telluride, String Summit, Hookahville, the All-Good Music Festival and the Opera House in Telluride among other venues.

Compared to roots rockers like the New Riders of the Purple Sage, Grateful Dead, Wilco, Uncle Tupelo, The Byrds, and Little Feat, GAT will be in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, April 20th, at the Rex Theater on the South Side, to support "Habits."

Their show is a mix of covers - they do songs by guys including Jackson Browne, Buddy Holly, The Band, Ronnie Hawkins, Bob Dylan, and even the Talking Heads - and their own compositions. Herman and the band's interaction with the audience is an integral part of the gig. And it's part of the local BurghSTOCK shows.

The BurghSTOCK Concert Series benefits area non-profits that help homeless and disabled vets. It was put together in 2008 by local bar owners and band musicians to combat the homelessness that affects the local veteran population. They'll be passing the hat during the show to aid the cause. Hippies helping vets...who'd thunk it?

So hey, if you've finally give up on waiting for Phish or the Wallflowers to show up in Pittsburgh, and get easily bored on Tuesday nights, then go catch native jam artist Vince Herman and the Great American Taxi.

Great American Taxi - "Appalachian Soul"
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival '09

Friday, April 9, 2010

Maddie Georgi

Maddie Georgi

Maddie Georgi is a seventeen year-old senior at Hampton High School, and she's been compared to singers like Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, Miley Cyrus, Sheryl Crow, KT Tunstall, and even Christina Aguilera and Jewel.

She credits Swift, Cyrus, Tunstall, Kelly Clarkson, Rob Thomas, and Sara Bareillis as being among the acts that have inspired her and her career. Pretty good company, hey?

Well, what Georgi does share in common with these hit-makers is a big voice and cross-over appeal. She gets jumbled into the country pop category more often than not because of some serious love she got from CMT, which we'll get to later, but Georgi's genre isn't so easy to categorize.

Her parents raised her in a household filled with Harry Chapin and Natalie Merchant songs, and she grew up listening to Matchbox 20, Third Eye Blind, Hootie and the Blowfish, the Goo Goo Dolls, the Beatles, Train, the Counting Crows, and Billy Joel. Georgi was on the singer/songwriter track right from the start.

And hey, she wasted very little time adding her voice to the chorus. She started singing in school musicals when she was seven.

Like Sarah Marince, Georgi used the National Anthem to get some local attention, singing it before everything from high school clashes to Pittsburgh Pirate games, and even prior to a Steelers' home opener.

She proudly boasts the Black and Gold; Georgi has been the host of the Steelers’ KidsZONE show on Sunday mornings for the past three seasons. But her singing goes way beyond rousing the fans before kickoff.

Georgi played her early gigs at open mic nights in Pittsburgh. Her first brush with fame came when she was fourteen.

She has a younger brother, Jake, who is autistic. As a result of being directly affected by autism, Georgi plays charity events to raise money for the cure.

She won the Kean Idol contest, a benefit for the St. Barnabas Health System, when she was a freshman. Georgi was the only performer to ever win both the judges and audience "best performer" awards in the same year. Her prize was studio time at Audible Images, which she used to record her first original song, "Take My Hand."

Not only does she play the song during her many fund-raising events (she also helps in the fight against breast cancer, which two of her aunts battled with and survived), but she donated the song's rights to the AutismLink, which has raised thousands of dollars from its public sale for local autism programs.

Then came the 2008 CMT "Music City Madness" contest. 60,000 entries for a web-based, voter-selected best song were received; Georgi's “Gone Away Again” was selected to be one of 64 finalists in the competition.

After six rounds of online voting, her song came in second. Hey, no prize (CMT suits are apparently quite Darwinian), but she got to be on national television several times and got her name out among the modern country affectionados and webheads.

Soon she was in the recording studio, and those sessions at Market Street Sound resulted in her first EP, "Go," released in May, 2009. Georgi penned all six of the songs, including her first composition dedicated to Jake, "Take My Hand."

The disk caught on with the high school set pretty quickly. "Go," her title track, became the theme song for iTwixie, a social site for teen girls, and Georgi has a featured blog on the site.

The New York Songwriter’s Circle "2009 Young Songwriter Award" placed Georgi among its three finalists. But she's certainly not just a cyber singer.

Georgi has performed at Club Café, the Hard Rock Café, Heinz Field, the Backstage Bar, South Side Works Town Square, the Syria Shrine Center, and PNC Park. She's opened for Grammy winner Van Hunt, Nashville’s Brooke Waggoner, and Pittsburgh artists Billy Price and Bill Deasy.

She was part of Deasy's CD Release party at the Altar Bar last December, and topped that off by performing at the City's First Night celebration downtown. And remember, Georgi is just a teen; it's not that easy getting under-21 gigs at some of the venues she's booked.

And in 2010, she appeared on The Clarks EP "Songs In G," singing their old chestnut "Boys Lie."

Not surprisingly, she honors her roots by being the emcee for an under-21 open-mic night at Borders along McKnight Road every Thursday, giving North Hills kids the chance to perform.

Now she's at a bit of a crossroads; Georgi graduates soon (she just finished her part in Hampton's "Guys and Dolls" production) and has college beckoning. She loves singing and performing, but she's also realist enough to acknowledge what a hit-or-miss proposition a music career is.

Georgi is looking into a Plan B career in broadcast journalism, an offshoot of her interview work on kidsZONE. We applaud her sense. But hey - don't lose that guitar, Maddie - Old Mon can tell you college ain't all it's cracked up to be. And you're already well on the road to fulfilling Plan A.

Maddie Georgi - EP Release Party May 29th 2009

Friday, April 2, 2010

Sarah Marince

sarah marince
Sarah Marince

Hey, sometimes you run across things while looking at stuff that's totally unrelated. For example, while checking out the Pirates' Opening Day on Monday, we saw that Sarah Marince will sing "God Bless America" during the festivities.

Marince has been on Old Mon's radar for the past couple of years, ever since the Moon native released her first CD, "Somebody Like You," at the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center in Midland, Beaver County. She migrated to the charter school after coming up through the Moon and Our Lady of the Sacred Heart school systems.

That was in January of 2008; a month later, she made the move to Nashville, where the majority of her CD tracks were recorded. Songwriters/producers Joe West & Dave Pahanish of Gasoline Productions, who originally hailed from Pittsburgh, took care of the Tennessee end; Rick Witkowksi produced the Pittsburgh tracks.

"Just Look At Me," her first single, was in heavy rotation on Froggy 98. She has another song out now, "Big Time," that Froggy and WDSY are pushing.

And she just released her second indy CD, "You're My Summertime," in January. Her tunes are available at CD Baby, iTunes, Rhapsody, Napster, and a couple of local retail outlets.

Marince is currently being shopped to the labels, according to her parents, Gary (a radio engineer) and Mary Kay, who is her manager and booking agent. Her grandpap was the now departed Tom O'Donoghue, who owned the old Etna landmark, the Blarney Stone.

Marince is doing her part to take center stage. She's gigged at Austin's South by Southwest, the Jamboree in the Hills (Morristown, OH) and the old Dollar Bank Jamboree at Point State Park.

She's shared the stage with Lonestar, Trisha Yearwood, Phil Vassar, Gretchen Wilson, Taylor Swift, Jake Owen, Gary Allen, Trace Adkins, Mark Wills, Travis Tritt, The Oak Ridge Boys, Rachel Fuller, Kelly Pickler and even Pete Townsend. Just in February, Marince opening for Kenny Rogers at the Pepsi Cola Road House.

She's more than used to singing before huge crowds. The National Anthem is a staple in her repertoire of songs. Marince performs regularly for Duquesne University basketball, the Steelers, Pirates, Penguins, and now the Nashville Predators hockey team, and has sung the National Anthem for President Bush.

In fact, she became the John McCain - Sarah Palin official opening act after McCain's handlers heard her sing at a campaign rally in Little Washington, where McCain unveiled (some might say unleashed) running-mate Palin to the country.

At any rate, the young Republican songstress traveled throughout Pennsylvania and Ohio, even making a stop in Missouri, opening the GOP rallies with a playlist of "Independence Day," "I Am Woman," and "Man, I Feel Like A Woman." Hey, she was even savvy enough to hand out some glossies and autographs; the odds are that her career is a little brighter than McCain's right about now.

But you wanna talk pressure? Marince recorded an updated version of the classic Eat n' Park "Place for Smiles" jingle, a Pittsburgh musical icon if ever there was, and not only survived, but thrived. It was cut to celebrate EAP's 60th Anniversary, and she was featured in a gazillion commercials and a caravan of concerts at stores and malls. Not a bad kickoff for a teenager's career, hey?

And while Marince's modern country sound is her ticket to the big time, she's a pretty talented young lady artistically. She was a highly touted, medal-winning Irish singer, with her sister Lizzie, and step dancer. She also worked the stage for Lincoln Park theatrical productions. And did we mention that she writes her own songs?

Now she's in Nashville, the cauldron of country music, reaching for the gold ring. There's a lotta people making a grab for that ring; we can only wish her luck. She's got the ability; now she needs the break.

One thing you don't have to worry about is catching her act; Marince is still a home girl at heart, and does quite a few local jams, the five hundred mile drive from Nashville notwithstanding. She's already got four gigs scheduled here this summer after Monday.

If you miss her on Opening Day, she'll be back to PNC Park on July Fourth. For those that prefer a real show, Marince will be at the Carnegie Library in Oakland on April 8th, on stage for the 4th of July Celebration Concert with Steel Magnolia, and August 6th she'll be appearing at Moon Park in a true homecoming.

Sarah Marince - medley from Jamboree In The Hills 2009