Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Travelin’ Light with The Astro Cats!

My little yarn, like many sordid epics, begins at the Barrel Tavern in Burien, on a Saturday night. Let's say it was rainy. The Barrel is a "mid-century" root beer/burger stand turned biker bar that is watering hole and community gathering spot for a diverse patchwork of acquaintances and friends collected through the fusion of music.

On that ostensibly normal Saturday night in October, if you happened to be in, oh, let's say a mile radius of the Barrel, you would have been sucked inside by the vortex of hot fun emanating from the remarkable musical interaction of The Astro Cats.

I interviewed drummer Charlie McDowell, who hatched the concept for this band years ago (protracted trademark litigation bound the band name Astro Cats up until March of this year).

"The first booking with the Astro Cats was with Scott E. Lind and Tom Austin,” said Charlie. “After that the band grew to include Hank Yanda, Billy Shew, Brian Lee and Angelo Guerrero. In reality, there are two different bands, and sometimes three, with a 'family' of musicians. The Astro Cats represent a true variety band ranging in music styles from Scott E. Lind's awesome screaming guitar, to Indy Pop and classic rock from Billy Shew, to a more blues and roots-based sound of Brian Lee. In any case, the mission is clear that anytime the Astro Cats brand shows up, it brings 'quality' shows up with it."

"The band is unique in the fact that we deliver a power house sound as a trio featuring Scott Lind and Tom Austin,” continued Charlie. “We also work as a four piece with Billy Shew, Brian Lee, Hank Yanda and me playing a combination of music I like to call 'Rockblusion'. Then just when you thought you've heard it all, we bring in the amazing saxophone of Angelo Guerrero for an incredibly unique different sound.

The line-up at the Barrel that Saturday night featured Charlie, Scott, and Tom. Of course, I don’t wan’t to forget MoJo sitting in on vocals at the Barrel!

"Everyone knows that bands can be a very challenging proposition,” said Charlie. “This kind of set up gives everyone the space they need to do other things and we all still get to play together and keep it fun and interesting. The Astro Cats are more about live music than anything else. We have no touring plans or nor do we plan to work in the studio."

Charlie spoke of difficult times last year when band mate Michael Kahler passed away so suddenly.

"I was one of the drummers playing with the Kahler Band up until his death in December of 2010,” he said.

“We really had some serious stuff going on, and quite frankly, after he passed I was really in the dumps. A month and a half later I was awarded my official trademark, and friends advised me that I really needed to move on, 'as Michael would want.' I just started planning, and one thing led to another, and here we are. At the end of November we will have played 81 shows this year since the beginning of March. There is so much talent in this area we just want to be a part of it and make our contribution."

Things appear to be really picking up for the Astro Cats based on the personal excellence of the individual musicians, great chemistry between band members, a wide variety of styles, and entertaining, danceable tunes. Scott Lind was “ON FIRE” according to the notes I took that night. I know you will thoroughly enjoy this band. Check out their website for band bio, calendar and selected preview cuts: www.theastrocats.com, or www.charliemcdowell.com.


Monday, November 28, 2011

"Crime-A-Billy Christmas" - The Strange Tones (Meteor Sonic Records)


By Eric Steiner
This year’s Washington Blues Society party at the Red Hook Brewery on December 11th features our 2012 International Blues Challenge competitors The WIRED! Band and the  Norris and Nicely duo.  The Strange Tones round out the bill with Eric Law’s Dirty Rice Band.   

The StrangeTones have consistently won coveted Muddy awards at the Cascade Blues Association in the Best Contemporary Blues, Best Video, Best Electric Guitar, and Recording of the Year categories since 2005.  They were inducted into to the Cascade Blues Association Hall of Fame in 2007, and their latest CD is ablues Christmas CD.  The instrumentals of “Little Drummer Boy” “Holly Jolly Christmas” and “We Three Kings” update these age-old holiday classics with an edgy, Strange Tones feel, and “Crime-A-BillyChristmas” is fun as Suburban Slim channels Elvis expertly. 

The CD features 14 tracks, most are rockabilly (sorry, “Crime-A-Billy”) infused.  “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” would be at home on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack, and there’s a fun audio postcard from the band. If you don’t celebrate Christmas, turn up “Auld Lang Syne” toasting in 2012. Guitar Julie’s vocals and guitar spice up this CD as does Suburban Slim’s guitar playing.  The rhythm section of Andy Strange on bass and Andy Gauthier on drums propel the tunes along, and I found myself thinking back to Henry Mancini’s classic “Peter Gunn Theme” when the guitarists took center stage. It’s part of the “Crime-A-Billy” approach and a lot of fun. The CD packaging offers a bar code that opens Crime-A-Billy Christmas Land with a mystery holiday gift. The pictures of the band and their Volcano Vixens as children are a hoot, and the CD shows the band enjoying holiday grog.

Give a listen to tracks on the CD by CLICKING HERE

Saturday, November 26, 2011

2012 Washington Blues Society Best of the Blues (“BB Awards”) Nominations

It's that time of year again. No, I don't mean the holidays! It's time for members of the Washington Blues Society to make their nominations for the 2012 Best of the Blues Awards (BB Awards). The BB Awards started in 1991 with 25 categories. In 1996 the Lifetime Achievement Award was added bringing the category total to 26. The nominations are due by February 15, 2012.

Photo by Michelle Burge
Who can nominate? Only current Washington Blues Society members are eligible to nominate artists or other nominees in the annual awards process. To make nominations, simply write the name of the Washington artist, nominee, or party in the category on the ballot on page 31 of the December 2011 Bluesletter. Members are encouraged to nominate in as many categories as possible. There is no requirement to fill in each slot; leaving some categories blank will not disqualify your nomination! Your nomination must be on the Bluesletter mailed to you with your mailing label attached. For couple’s nominations, a photocopy for the second ballot should be included in a sealed envelope along with the original ballot that has the mailing label attached. 

So, if you want to participate, get your membership application in now!! You can download the application HERE. 

Photo by Tim Burge
If you're not a member of the society and don't plan on being one soon, then do the next best thing: post your comments about who you think should be nominated! That's the beauty of social media right? Point out to members which Washington State based artists should be nominated. And musicians, don't forget to get a shameless plug in as well!!

And the categories are...

Mark Dufresne Male Vocalist Award
Blues Female Vocalist
Electric Blues Guitar
Slide Blues Guitar
Blues Bass
Chris Leighton Blues Drummer Award
Blues Horn
Paul Green Blues Harmonica Award
Blues Piano / Keyboard
Acoustic Blues Guitar
Blues Act
Traditional Blues Act
Solo/Duo Blues Act
New Blues Band
Blues Performer
Blues Songwriter
Washington Blues Recording
Blues Club
Blues Writer
Blues Image
Blues Graphic Artist
Blues DJ
Keeping the Blues Alive Award
Lifetime Achievement Award
Washington Blues Society Hall of Fame
Non-Festival Blues Event
Blues Festival
Open Blues Jam

Here is a list of past recipients of the Lifetime Achievement Award and the inductees of the Washington Blues Hall of Fame (past winners are not eligible for future nominations):

Year
Hall of Fame
 Lifetime Achievement
1991
Isaac Scott

1992
Dick Powell

1993
Little Bill Engelhart
 
1994
Buck England
 
1995
Leslie Milton
 
1996
Patti Allen
 Bobby "Blue" Bland, B.B. King,
  & John Lee Hooker
1997
Duffy Bishop
John Mayall
1998
Rich Dangle
 Little Bill Engelhart
  & Luther Allison
1999
Charles White
& Kathi McDonald
 Dick Powell & Buddy Guy
2000
Nick Vigarino/Dave Conant
 Isaac Scott & Taj Mahal
2001
Mark DuFresne
 Patti Allen
2002
Randy Oxford
 Dave Conant
2003
Mark Whitman
 Rich Dangle
2004
Alice Stuart
 Patti Allen
2005
Dave Conant
 Randy Oxford & Mark Whitman
2006
Jack Cook
 Tommy Morgan
2007
David Brewer
 Fat James Grosvenor
2008
Paul Green
 Alice Stuart
2009
Kirk "KT" Tuttle
 Kirk "KT" Tuttle
2010
Nick Vigarino, Chris Leighton
 Lee Oskar
2011
LJ Porter
 Charles White

The Keeping the Blues Alive award is open to performers and non-performers alike and can be won multiple times. This award is intended to honor the recipient for their achievements above and beyond the "call of duty” to keep blues music alive. Examples include a promoter of a benefit, a special show a festival, a blog (hint, hint!); maybe as a volunteer or a historian, possibly doing work to present and pass the music on to new generations or in other ways sustaining the blues. This award was first given in 1993 and the following list is presented as a reference and as a reminder of the hard work and dedication to this American art form by individuals in your community.

Here is the list of past Keeping the Blues Alive award winners:

1993
Patrick Lynch
1994
Cholo Willsin
1995
Rod Downing
1996
Rikki & Kevin Cates
1997
Raven& Sheri Humphres
1998
Robert & Carol Sawyer
1999
Marlee Walker

2000
Marlee Walker
2001
Ken Page & Frankie Lee
2002
Randy Oxford
2003
Leslie Fleury
2004
Rev. Dave Brown
2005
Randy Oxford
2006
Jeff Hayes & Lloyd Peterson
2007
Jimie Jean Tuttle
2008
Rhea Rolfe
2009
Dennis "Blues Boss" Dudley
2010
Highway 99 Blues Club
2011
Tim & Michelle Burge

Remember blues society members... It's your nomination, make it count!

PLEASE NOMINATE BB AWARD NOMINEES BY FEBRUARY 15, 2012!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Review - "Identity Theft" - Brian Lee and The Orbiters

By Rick J Bowen 
Fans of straight ahead blues will be quite pleased with Identity theft, the new release from Brian Lee and The Orbiters. This fine collection of eleven new tunes penned by Lee are easy on the ears and filled with sweet musical moments. Silky smooth vocals, fine guitar and harmonica playing have long been the hall mark of Lee’s live shows and are presented here with perfection.

Photo by Melissa Rae
The Orbiters were formed in 1999 and have been a consistent draw around the Seattle area ever since. Lee draws upon the talent of two other guitar players, Steve Yonck and Tim Sherman and two drummers Conrad Ormsby and Russ Kammerer, but his right hand man is Hank Yanda whose bass playing holds it all together.

Photo by Laddy Kite
Standout tracks are swinging opener “Fine Line” featuring fiery harp from Lee and blazing guitar from Sherman. On “So Lucky,” Lee surprises us with by adding the Vibes to his bag of tricks and lifts this medium shuffle to something sublime. The playful “I Smell a Rat,” allows Lee to rip out some molten slide guitar, and the low down blues of “On the Ropes,” shows just how smooth Lee’s vocals can be. The rumba flavored instrumental “Fourth and Miles,” will no doubt be a favorite of the dance floor. “Blast Off,” closes out the album and shows just what The Orbiters do best, giving us some swinging blues with tradeoff solo’s and a call to “go out on the town, have some fun, and lay our burdens down,” isn’t that what the blues is all about.

CLICK HERE to listen to track samples and purchase Identity Theft