Tag Archives: Robert Johnson

Record Review – Kreuger Motel

“Kreuger Motel” by the Kreuger Band Dark Angel Music 2017 – Reviewed by Bill Monahan

I’m ready for the desert island.  You know that game when they ask you, if you were on a desert island with just one record, which record would it be?  I could never play it.  I like all kinds of music and the list would be too long.  There’s never been just one record that I think could satisfy me listening to it again and again alone on a desert island.   Until now, that is.  I’ve found my desert island disc – it’s Kreuger Motel.

Actually it’s three discs in one package, so maybe that’s cheating.  But it has everything I need for my musical listening.  I’ve never heard anything quite like this little purple package.

Krueger Motel is the latest release from Bryan Leckie and The Kreuger Band.  It contains thirty-five songs that he has written, in arrangements that include the cream of the crop of Owen Sound area musicians.  His distinctive voice, which floats between Bob Dylan and Dr. John, has a quality all its own but periodically gives way to vocals provided by The Kreuger Girls.  The songs all chug along with insinuating rhythms, mostly in the form of shuffles, boogies and blues.  Keyboard and guitars are more than just decorations; they create the fantastic moods and dreamscapes that are the essence of the recordings.

Time Travel at The Marsh Street Centre

Review by Bill Monahan of the concert at Marsh Street Centre, Sat., June 10, 2017

Photos by Robert Burcher

The Marsh Street Centre capped off its day-long 90th birthday celebration on Saturday with a special sold-out concert.  The band was called The Amazing Time Machine, a name that host Florian Lenders said “we just made up”.  He explained to the audience that “Chris Scerri and I got together and brainstormed how to celebrate this birthday and we came up with the idea of musical selections that spanned the years of the building’s history.”  Of course, Chris knew where to go to get the band capable of such a challenge.  He called on his good friend Tyler Yarema, as he has so often with such impressive results, to put something together.  Tyler, a seasoned veteran, pulled together a band from his many friends and created the special program for the occasion.  During the evening, audience members commented on the fact that what was essentially a pick-up band could put on such an impressive show. It was because this band was a collection of top players, even though they may not be household names, musicians who could fill several shelves between them with the awards they’ve won, who are used to taking on any musical challenge.  In essence it was a band of all-star sidemen.

Tyler Yarema loves playing to Georgian Bay audiences

Tyler Yarema has played often in the area this past year, at the behest, as he mentioned, of Chris Scerri, and he continues to build a solid local fan base.  He makes it clear that these are not just gigs for pay, but he comes here because he loves to play for these audiences.  “I always love coming here,” he told the audience, “there is such a great community here around Georgian Bay, where you all support each other.”

And the evening was a celebration of community.  The sense of community was palpable in the hall and when at one point Florian mentioned names of people who had helped make this night possible it was a very long list.

The concert was divided into three sets.  The first set started out with twenties jazz and took us through to the Swing Era.  The second set visited the birth of rock and roll and took us up to The Yardbirds and The Who.  And the final set covered the rest of the 20th Century with selections from The Beatles, The Stones, The Guess Who and The Band, along with three Bill Withers songs and a single selection from the 21st Century with Amy Winehouse’s classic “Valerie”.

Sax battle with Alison Young and Richard Underhill

Tyler, who is a master of boogie-woogie and stride piano, was in his element with this set, as were the two saxophonists in the band, Alison Young (who was outstanding!) and Richard UnderhillLouis Jordan’s “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby” was near the beginning of a set that culminated in “Sing, Sing, Sing” which for me was the highlight of the whole evening.  It began with Tyler’s perfect reproduction of Louis Prima’s vocals and allowed a long section in the middle for a “battle of the saxes” which was thrilling, alto and tenor trading licks.  While Prima wrote the song, it had been recorded several artists including The Andrews Sisters.  But the most famous version was by Benny Goodman and the highlight of it was Gene Krupa’s drum solo that shook the world back in the thirties.  Drummer Chris Lamont took advantage of that historical nugget to shine in his own Krupaesque solo after the sax battle.  When a band like this takes on a song like that it is not just nostalgia.  It is as exciting as it must have been for the dancers who filled the pavilions at Port Elgin and Sauble Beach back in the day.

It was, as billed, an amazing time machine experience, and a fitting tribute to Florian Lenders.

Special guest Tom Barlow rocked the house

But it wasn’t until the second set that this crowd began to dance.  Special guest Tom Barlow set the pace with the song that caused riots in England back in 1955 when Bill Haley and the Comets introduced “Rock Around The Clock” to the first generation to be called “teenagers”.  When he segued into “Johnny B. Goode” every available space on the floor was filled with dancers, and they didn’t sit down for the rest of the night.

Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer Bring Special Tuesday Treat for Blues Fans

The Harpoonist and The Axe Murderer are stopping at Meaford Hall on a Tuesday night, April 11th, as they tour to support their new album Apocalipstick.  They began their tour closer to home in B.C. and this week they’re making that long trek from Thunder Bay to Toronto to start the Ontario part of the tour.  An ideal stopover is at Meaford on Tuesday night.  Luckily for them they get to play the newly revamped Opera House, now with improved balcony seating and state of the art sound.  Luckily for local fans we get to see this west coast blues duo live in our own town.

The band’s name, like The Barenaked Ladies, is an attention grabber.  When you understand that the axe murderer means a mean guitar player and the harpoonist means “took my harpoon out of my dirty red bandana and was blowin’ sad while Bobby sang the blues.”, the name makes sense.

Shawn Hall and Matthew Rogers met in a Vancouver studio while recording a jingle for a pizza place in 2006.  Shawn worked as a microwave truck operator for CITY-TV Vancouver and Matthew already had a reputation as a “serious” composer, writing film scores and a commission from the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.  When they got together with their mutual interest in the blues, it clicked.  They started a duo, gave it what Peter Goddard calls “a wonderfully idiosyncratic, utterly unforgettable name” and immediately began to attract attention.

HAM also has great posters and cover art

They rigged up percussion that they could play themselves which made for a great live show as well as great blues.  They get their feet going with their foot drums and percussion while harpooning and singing.

They put their own twist on the blues.  “We take the blues and do something different with it,” they told Peter Goddard, “We take a lot of our inspiration from the really early blues guys like Robert Johnson who didn’t always play 12-bar blues, but had this rather skewed approach to the music. For us the blues is just a good starting point.”

Shawn is the front guy and the singer.  Michael writes the songs, creating an interesting process of channelling a lot of Shawn’s “crap that has gone on in my life in writing for me.”

Their first release in 2007 was entirely covers of traditional blues, their next release mixed in some originals, and by the time they released Checkered Past in 2012 they were getting into some interesting modern twists, their different influences coming out in their work.

Mike Usinger  in his 2012 Georgia Strait review said, “Where Shawn Hall and Matthew Rogers differ from the industry blueprint on Checkered Past is that they actually sound like they might have been to the Mississippi Delta. Or at least sat down and listened to a Robert Johnson boxed set from start to finish. The first thing you notice on the emotive opener, “Shake It”, is that these guys come off as traditionalists with no desire to fix something that ain’t broken.”

Watch them perform “Shake It” with Dawn Pemberton on Exclaim! TV. September 10, 2015.

Gian Karla Limcango summarized the band’s appeal in the Vancouver Weekly:

“Many bands have incorporated the elements and style of blues in their music but The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer does it traditionally. Inspired by the pioneers and masters of blues such as BB King, John Hurt, Bling Willie McTell, Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson, they have innovatively crafted their sound to its bluesy perfection, always returning to their roots and the roots of music. Sticking to the format of the original blues performances which is having just one or two guys singing, playing the guitar and stomping their feet, just made this duo a true blues act. Ultimately, HAM introduced the old sound to the new generation and showed everyone how blues should be played”.

You will be hearing the name a lot as The Harpoonist And The Axe Murderer continue to attract attention, inevitably moving on to bigger venues.  Thanks to Canadian geography we have a lucky chance to see them at Meaford Hall this Tuesday, 8 p.m.

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Click on the album cover to hear music from The Harpoonist and The Axe Murderer:

Rob Lutes’ Mastery Charms Meaford Hall Audience

Review by Bill Monahan of Rob Lutes at Meaford Hall, April 1, 2017

Rob Lutes’ solo acoustic concert in The Gallery at Meaford Hall on Saturday night captivated the small attentive crowd.  There was total silence when he performed, except when someone whispered to the person beside them what a great lyric that was (which was fairly often), and when he conversed with the audience between songs people immediately responded with their own comments.  Most of the songs were met with whistles and loud applause that made the audience seem bigger than it was.  Rob Lutes has played to much bigger audiences around the world and those in attendance on Saturday night seemed especially privileged to have a talent of this calibre playing just for us.

For me it evoked the favourite days of my youth when coffee houses were everywhere and there were a lot of people playing this style of what we then called (and I guess still do) folk music.  In reality, the music of Rob Lutes and of many of those folk singers in the 60’s coffee houses is solidly based in the early acoustic jazz and blues of the great black musicians of the thirties.  It wasn’t really folk music, it was great pop music from a bygone era and another culture just being discovered by the white baby boomers for the first time.  Rob Lutes has that guitar style, the high steppin’ Cakewalk ragtime style that was once heard only in the all-black entertainment spots.  And his voice is in that area as well, with a bit of raw whiskey-soaked blues flavouring to it.  That was all so new and exciting to us kids back in the pre-Beatles early sixties.  While most performers then reproduced the old sounds as authentically as they could, a few would try their own compositions framed within that sound.  But the talents of our big heroes back then, Dave Van Ronk, the Jim Kewskin Jug Band, Tom Paxton, and others would have been blown clear out of the water if Rob Lutes had been on the scene.

If you listened to the cadence, the rhythm and the sound of Rob Lutes you might think it was just like the music we listened to back then.  But Rob Lutes’ songs are on a whole other level.

He is a master of what Flaubert called “le mot juste”, placing exactly the right word in the exactly the right place.  His songs have a lot of words and a lot of rhythmic lyrical phrases tightly wrapped up in internal rhymes.  They go by so fast that you find yourself missing a line because you are still cogitating on the last line.  Because they are more than very clever word smithing; they are ideas for living by.

When I read a book by a very good writer I sometimes pause to read a line or section over again because it is so well expressed.  I found myself wishing I could do that with his songs.  I once had a daytimer that had an aphorism at the top of each page to inspire your day.  It occurred to me that you could probably do that with lyrics from Rob Lutes’ songs.

“When our lives are uninspired we’ll book the next best thing for hire”

“If you run long enough you’re going to run into yourself”

“Forgiveness will soothe you, it will almost make you feel brand new”

I’m sure there were 362 more phrases like that in the two sets of songs we heard.

Some of his songs were inspired by aphorisms that he picked up from others, which he didn’t hesitate to admit.  When he heard, from a podcast, the phrase, “Forgiveness means giving up hope of a better past” he was inspired to expand that idea into a song full of insights.  The old Robert Johnson song “The Red Hot” contains the lines “I know a girl that’s long and tall, she sleeps in the kitchen with her feet in the hall”.  Those lines have been since appropriated by jug bands and western swing bands and all kinds of folkies without ever crediting the source, but Rob took the time to play part of the Robert Johnson classic before performing his own extrapolation of the idea.  His song “I Know A Girl” consists of a score of tiny verses, each of which starts with “I know a…” and offers a tiny gem of insight that, taken altogether, presents a comprehensive catalogue of human behaviour.

At one point he told a story about being at a gathering of folk singers who each tried to outdo the other by singing the saddest possible song (the winner, apparently, was Summerfolk’s artistic director, James Keelaghan).  Rob offered up his own sad song, “Throw Me From This Train”, which, though sad, probably wouldn’t have taken the prize as the saddest.  The thing about Rob Lutes’ music is that sadness seems entirely tangential to his world view.  He see beauty and grace in the world around him and even when he sings the blues it seems merely wistful.  As a result the experience of seeing him in concert leaves you feeling uplifted and optimistic about the world, as well as greatly impressed.

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