Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Country Soul of Jeannie Seely

All Photos:  Alan Mercer

Along with many accolades including awards from Billboard, Cashbox and Record World, Country Music Legend Jeannie Seely has achieved No. 1 songs as a solo artist, duet partner and songwriter. Early in her career, Jeannie’s deeply moving vocals aptly earned her the nickname of “Miss Country Soul”. Jeannie’s recording of “Don’t Touch Me” not only topped the country music charts, but also earned her a Grammy Award for the “Best Country Vocal Performance by a Female”. It is ranked at No. 97 in the book ‘Country Music’s 500 Greatest Singles’ published by the Country Music Foundation, and it’s also included in ‘The Stories Behind Country Music’s All-Time Greatest 100 Songs.’

Born in Titusville, Pennsylvania, and raised on a farm outside of nearby Townville, Jeannie was singing on Meadville radio station WMGW at age 11. By 16 she was performing on TV station WICU in Erie. When she moved to Nashville upon the encouragement of friend Dottie West, Jeannie only had $50 and a Ford Falcon to her name, but within a month Porter Wagoner hired her as the female singer for his road and television series.

On September 16, 1967, Jeannie’s biggest dream came true when she became the first Pennsylvania native to become a member of the world famous Grand Ole Opry. Jeannie subsequently became the first female to regularly host segments of the weekly Opry shows. She’s also credited for wearing the first mini-skirt on the Opry stage, as well as for changing the image of female country performers.

A BMI-awarded songwriter, Jeannie’s songs have been recorded by Country Music Hall of Fame members Faron Young, Merle Haggard, Ray Price, Willie Nelson, Ernest Tubb and Little Jimmy Dickens, as well as by many other artists including Norma Jean, Doyle Lawson, Lorrie Morgan, Connie Smith, Irma Thomas, Dottie West and Tex Williams.

With Opry member Jack Greene, Jeannie recorded the hit ‘Wish I Didn’t Have To Miss You’ which began a series of successful duet recordings – and launched one of the most popular road shows in country music history. For over a decade, Jack and Jeannie toured and performed together at venues that included New York’s Madison Square Garden and London’s Wembley Arena.

Along with placing records on the Billboard country singles chart for 13 consecutive years, Jeannie also served as a radio disc jockey on her own Armed Forces Network Show, traveled on military tours throughout Europe and Asia, made numerous appearances on national television shows, published her own book of witticisms titled Pieces of a Puzzled Mind and starred in several major stage productions including Always, Patsy Cline and ‘The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas.’ Jeannie also appeared in Willie Nelson’s ‘Honeysuckle Rose’ movie and sang on the platinum soundtrack album. Jeannie has been known throughout her career as an individualist, as well as for her infectious humor. Despite personal and career setbacks that range from a 1977 near-fatal auto accident to a devastating flood in 2010 in which she lost her home, car and personal belongings, Jeannie Seely has remained a survivor with her sense of humor intact.

From her 1966 Top 10 Billboard album ‘The Seely Style’ to her 2011 self-produced CD ‘Vintage Country,’ Jeannie’s recordings have spanned six decades and provided enjoyment to country music fans all around the world.

In his book Finding Her Voice: Women In Country Music, music critic Robert K. Oermann writes, "With her chin-out, tough/tender, heart-of-gold manner, Jeannie Seely remains one of country's most completely modern female personalities.”

AM:  Jeannie, how many years have you been with the Grand Ole Opry?

JS:  I’m in my forty ninth year now. I’m holding my breath and trying to be good so I can celebrate fifty next year. (Laughter) I joined September 16, 1967. I actually have two fiftieth anniversaries in a row.  This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of my Grammy award.

AM:  The song you won for ‘Don’t Touch Me’ has never gone away has it?

JS:  No, and I am so grateful every day. When Hank Cochran and I were looking for songs to record, he asked me what I wanted to sing. I told him I’d like to have a ballad that didn’t matter if you were a male or female, young, old, married or single, that the song would affect you. He said, “You don’t want much, do you?” (Laughter) I said I want a hit song!

AM: Well you got your hit!

JS:  He did capture all I wanted in that song. The song has been recorded by many artists including many male singers. It’s just an incredible song. It’s as timely today as the day it was written.

AM:  Your recording is certainly timeless.

JS:  I saw Fred Foster who produced the record when he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. I’m so proud of him. We talked about the record and how his idea to have the one xylophone note at the very beginning got everybody’s attention.

AM:  Did you think you had a Grammy winner when you were finished recording?

JS:  Oh no, they were so new back then nobody thought about it.  I won the third one for a female Country singer. Dottie West won the first one in 1964 and Jody Miller won the second one in 1965 and I won in 1966.

AM:  How does it feel to have a Grammy after all these years?

JS:  It’s still amazing and I think the fact that it’s voted on by your peers makes that award even more special. We’re all friends in a competition, but we are all friends. Certainly in my generation, we all supported each other and wanted the best for each other. I think it probably stands true with today’s generation too. We all love the industry and we love our craft. You can’t help but admire when someone else creates something that stands on it’s own.

AM:  You have another song that I love and it’s a sexy song called 'He Can Be Mine.'

JS:  Yes, I guess it is.  Back when I lived out in the country by Hendersonville before we had the interstate you had to go out Dickerson Road and Long Hollow Pike which is a long…hollow…pike. You would lose the radio in the pike so my pattern was to write songs and that’s how I wrote that song. I got home and went straight to the piano and a tablet to write the lyrics. I had it all down except one line. Hank was there at the time and I told him, what I want to say here is “He can yahoo if he wants to” but I thought it sounded kind of silly.  He said it was a great line and if I didn’t use it he would, so I used it.

AM:  I think that’s the sexiest part of the song. Have you seen the video of you in a white pantsuit with the bare midriff?

JS: I remember the outfit but I don’t know if I’ve seen the video. I’ll have to look for it! (Laughter)

AM:  Can you tell me a little about your friendship with the late Dottie West?

JS:  Yes, Dottie was so caring, loving, giving and understanding.  We were the sort of friends who talked all the time, even in the middle of the night. I could tell her anything. She was a mentor to me.

AM:  How did you meet?

JS:  I met her when I was still living in Los Angeles. She came out to make an appearance at the old Palomino Club. She encouraged me to make the move to Nashville. She was also one of the first artists to record one of my songs. She introduced me to so many people.

AM:  Jeannie, everyone I ever mention your name to, stops in their tracks and their eyes light up and they tell me how much they love you.

JS:  What a wonderful thing to hear. Thank you for telling me that.

AM:  You must constantly be asked for advice about career longevity.  What do you tell these younger people?

JS:  The main thing is to love what you are doing. We all get frustrated at certain places in our careers and in our lives period. You must keep in mind that the frustration is just a short amount of time in the whole scope of life. Just do your best to work through those times. Keep loving what you do and keep working at your craft.

AM:  That certainly applies to everyone no matter what you do.

JS: We all have a tendency to get a little lackadaisical when we’ve been doing something for a long time. Also remember that change is important. As we get older we have a tendency not to like change as much.

AM:  Yes I am seeing that with myself.

JS:  I remind myself all the time, there’s always something good in any new change. When I look back I didn’t like all the changes going on in my heyday era, but I love my life now. I’m very grateful I’ve been able to see my dreams come true.

AM:  How do you feel about the Grand Ole Opry these days?

JS:  The Grand Ole Opry has always been one of the most coveted places for me. I grew up listening to it and even through some years where people put the Opry down and people started going to Branson, I said my heart is with the Grand Ole Opry. I was so glad I was able to get there. It’s my second home. That family is certainly a second family. 

To learn more about Jeannie Seely visit her web site

Sunday, August 14, 2016

At Home With Gilles Marini

All Photos:  Alan Mercer

This is the sixth time Gilles Marini has been on my blog! If you haven’t seen any of the other blogs I’ve done with him then you should click the links to learn about his past and what we’ve talked about before as well as the large variety of photos I have taken of him.  They are all right below for easy access.

This time around I met with Gilles at his home in the Hollywood hills and we talked while he made me a French breakfast. (a croissant & cappuccino) After that I took a few casual shots of him. I’ve known Gilles and his family since 2008 so it is always an easy and relaxed vibe. Gilles is a total "beautiful being" and spending time with him is an elevating experience. His charm is revealed by an authentic desire to 'give to you' while he is with you. I am always happily swept up in his kinetic and loving energy. This man is sincere!

Gilles Marini exploded onto the scene as "Dante", the Casanova living in the beach house next door to Kim Cattrall's "Samantha" on the Sex and the City movie, a role which has earned him international recognition. Though people went to the theaters to see Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte, they left with one thing on their mind....Gilles's shower scene.

Gilles has been seen on television on ‘Modern Family,’ '2 Broke Girls,'‘Castle, ‘Criminal Minds,’ ‘Windfall,’ ‘Teen Wolf,’ ‘Devious Maids,’ ‘Switched At Birth,’ ‘Hot In Cleveland,’ ‘Brothers & Sisters,’ ‘The Mysteries of Laura’ and in several soap operas, including ‘The Bold and the Beautiful’  and’ Passions.’ His recent film credits include ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End,’ ‘Mothers and Daughters,’ ‘The List’ and ‘The Boys & Girls Guide to Getting Down.’

He has appeared in many television commercials and print ads for companies like Budweiser, Clairol, Coca Cola, Ross, Chrysler, Fila, GNC, Infiniti, Mervins, Avon, Lord and Taylor, Robinsons May, etc.

Gilles lives with his wife Carole and his two children, George and Juliana in Los Angeles. 

AM:  Gilles, I loved you on ‘Devious Maids’ and was so shocked to find out you were the bad guy!

GM:  It was nice to play a bad guy. I always wanted to play a character who was more on the edge. We worked very hard to make sure the audience had no idea I was going to be a bad guy.

AM:  You have found quite a bit of work on television.

GM: Yes, it’s not like I only want to do this, but there is so much more work on the many networks and so few movies being made. There are really only four or five big movies a year. It’s a different format these days. Being on TV is the thing to do. I’ve been doing this nine years non-stop and I will never say no to movies, especially if it’s a meaningful, independent film.

AM:  Which you have done.

GM: Yes, I want to make more films in that direction. I have no complaints. Now it’s more about creating and writing some new ideas. Because of the amount of work I’ve done, I think a couple of doors are open. I can at least get people to look at a project I bring. Hopefully something comes out of it. So far the response has been phenomenal so I’m very excited.

AM:  Do you consider yourself a writer?

GM:  Writer is a big word obviously. What I do is bring ideas to the table with two of my associates. One of them is a good writer and he listens very well and then he writes the story. He’s the one who puts it down because he knows the formats. He has the talent to understand the concept I am bringing. So far we have two scripted shows that we have collaborated on.

AM:  If he writes, what do you do?

GM: I do the non-scripted side of it. I bring the synopsis to the network and they tell you if they like it or not. These are projects I’ve always wanted to do.

AM:  Are we talking dramas?

GM:  On the scripted side there is a more action based, supernatural drama and the other one is a medical drama.

AM:  What's the main difference between them?

GM: The supernatural one is more fast moving and the medical one is more every day. They would have a different fan base, but both are being received pretty well right now. I’m excited to see where it goes.

AM:  It seems logical to me that you would be more in charge of a show you are on. What's the benefit of running your own show in Hollywood?

GM:  I don’t think it’s just Hollywood. I think it’s every business. People see you one way and it’s difficult to make a network executive see you in a different light. I understand that. I don’t want to play a Boston cop. That would be stupid, but I am an actor and it would be nice for people to see me in a different light.

AM:  That's what acting is all about. 

GM:  I like to pretend to be someone else and make sure I am challenged. That is the reason I am now writing. You are the only one who knows what you are capable of. I am well aware of that. I wrote things that are challenging and things I am passionate about. Hopefully we get a go and I have a chance to show what I really can do.

AM:  I do know whatever you create will be good.

GM:  You never know. You see incredible actors with great shows lasting four episodes. Networks don’t have a lot of time, but fortunately there are a lot more networks now.

AM:  Would you be willing to be on Netflix or amazon?

GM: Willing!?! I’d love for them to say, “We love it!” They are more than the new format, they are THEE format. 

AM:  Streaming is the standard now.

GM:  I don’t know how long studios will last anymore. They could be gone ten years from now. As long as young people go see big action-packed superhero movies, the studios will be able to make four or five a year and make big money. If that template fades away, then I doubt the studios can make any type of money.

AM:  So your manager and agent will get you meetings with the networks and Netflix to pitch the shows?

GM: Yes, I’m sure they will.  It’s a long process but it’s super exciting because it’s undeniably something I want to do.

AM:  It seems to me you have just walked through the door of the time your career can be going full speed ahead.

GM:  I think from forty to fifty it will be something that can show more dimensions. I’m not a child anymore and I have a lot of life experience, but I’m not old yet. 

To learn more about Gilles visit his web site

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Emmet Cahill Sings About Human Stories

All Photos:  Alan Mercer

Over the past few years, Emmet Cahill’s life has been transformed from a young man pursuing a career in classical music to being plunged into the world of touring across cities and performing to thousands of fans with world renowned Irish music show Celtic Thunder. After five years of phenomenal success, including three albums shooting to number 1 on the world billboard charts, Emmet is now carving out his own unique identity as a solo artist, with an eagerly anticipated debut solo album due to be released in February 2017.

Growing up in a musical household, pursuing a career in music was always a natural path for Emmet to take. From the tender age of four, his father began to provide music lessons, leading to a 5 year ‘Schola Cantorum’ music scholarship at his local secondary school. After attending formal classical training at the prestigious Royal Irish Academy of Music, Emmet soon found himself touring the world, from the United States, to Canada, to Australia as a lead singer with the Irish music group, and relishing every moment of it.

Emmet’s talents have been recognized both home and abroad. He has enjoyed success as a multiple prize winner in various competitions across Ireland, the RIAM ‘Promising young singer of 2010’, the ‘John McCormack Young Tenor Award’, as well as being voted ‘Tenor of the year’ in 2013 by The Irish Music Association in the United States in recognition of his performances on stage. He also performed in stage productions at The National Concert Hall as well as The Gaeity Theatre, Dublin.

With the release of his debut album next year, the next few months will be an exciting creative process for Emmet. During his time with Celtic Thunder, he has been immersed in a variety of distinct musical genres, awakening his passion for Irish music as well as other styles.

As he continues to challenge himself and test the boundaries of his musical character, many wait in eager anticipation of what 2017 will bring for this young solo artist.

AM:  Emmet, have you started recording your new album yet?

EC:  We start as soon as I get home to Ireland. I’ll record the vocals and piano along with the band first. We’ll be recording the orchestra later in the summer.

AM:  When will you release it?

EC:  The plan is to release it in February 2017. I’ll do a spring tour in conjunction with that. This is my first large scale album. I’m very excited about it. I’ve been working towards this for five years now.

AM:  That is a long time. Why has it taken so long to get your album out?

EC:  I think one reason is that I want to do it right. I wanted to be sure I was in the right head space to do it and obviously picking the right songs.

AM:  What are the right songs?

EC:  The songs I’ve picked have been reflective of my life experiences over the last year and a half and touring on my own. I’ve been meeting people all the time and really seeing the great connection the American people have with Irish music and culture. Also I’ve been hearing lots of human stories and that’s what this album is all about.

AM:  What are your goals with this music?

EC: We are trying to achieve bringing people back to an older time. Maybe bring back some happy memories from when they were kids. I think people are seeking this at the moment by the way the world is right now. They want to go back to more traditional ways. The songs on my album will do that as well as telling stories. We’re hoping it will be a nice mixture of those things.

AM: Can you tell me if the album is going to be Irish folk songs?

EC: I can tell you it’s no secret that what I feel I am strongest at is the old classical Irish songs. I’ll be recording ‘Danny Boy’ of course.  There’s a song called ‘My Cavan Girl’ which is a song my dad taught me. This will be about my own personal experience growing up in Ireland. I want to bring that story to the American public so I can hear their reaction. So it will be a culmination of growing up in Ireland and spending the last few years here in America.

AM: Speaking of ‘Danny Boy,’ can you believe you have made that song yours?

EC:  Well, it’s one of those songs that has been sung so many times and by so many different artists and it’s such a beautiful song, it’s open to people making it their own. It’s very kind of you to say, I’d like to think I do bring my own personality to it. Certainly I bring my own emotion to it. It’s hard to get through it without breaking down. It’s a very emotional song for me and when I sing it I see the audience reaction.

AM:  Your rendition stops people in their tracks.

EC:   Everyone has their own special connection to that song. It’s an eternally beautiful song. Even if you’ve never been to Ireland people have a connection to ‘Danny Boy.’ This is an example of what we’re trying to do with the album. We are trying to speak to people and bring out their emotions. It’s not an album with a list of songs. There will be a lot more depth to it.

AM:  What do you want people to take away with them after seeing you sing live?

EC:  I want people to come to my show and walk away feeling they have really had an experience. I want them to feel an experience because I feel a connection to it. I want people to come to a show and laugh and cry. I want people to achieve both things. I think if you can experience both those emotions then you have really been touched by the music.

AM: Don’t you think you were born to be a singer?

EC:  It’s something I’ve always done. I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t the focal point of my life.  My dad was a musician and a music teacher and my mother was a singer so it was always in the house and it was always going to be that way. Music was always going to be a part of my life. Now I didn’t think it was going to be as essential to my life as it is.

AM:  What has touring with Celtic Thunder and on your own been like?

EC:  It’s been a roller coaster ride the last five years coming to America touring, particularly the last eighteen months. It’s given me a real indication of what I want to do with my life. I do want to tell stories and bring these songs to people.

AM:  You seem to have a very close and special relationship with your fans. Why do you think that is?

EC:  First off, they are hugely supportive. I think a lot of them see me as part of their family which is lovely to hear. I’ve gotten to know so many of the fans very well. I know the majority on a first name basis. I think it’s reflective of the music I’m performing. The people are really connected to it. It’s much more personal than just being a fan.

AM:  What is your favorite part of interacting fans?

EC: The one thing I enjoy most of all is meeting people and hearing their human experiences and stories. Those are the things that I can hopefully capture when I go out on stage. I love talking to people after shows. The fans aren’t hesitant about telling me their stories and why they’re connected to a certain song. They give me an insight into their life. That’s what I’m interested in. I’m interested in human stories. When I come to America, it’s such a vast continent you meet so many types of people from different backgrounds. That’s what makes it all so interesting and so enjoyable.

To learn more about Emmet Cahill visit his web site

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Incomparable Spanky Wilson

All Photos:  Alan Mercer  Make-up & Hair:  Rudy Calvo

Miss Spanky Wilson is an artist who is beyond categorization. Her recordings go wider than any one category.  She has achieved a strong following, especially in Europe, where her funkier tracks have graced several compilation CDs.

Spanky was born in Philadelphia, but grew up in Pittsburgh.  Her father was a professional guitarist and singer and he encouraged his daughter’s aspirations to be a singer, something she said she had always wanted to do for as long as she could remember. Her mother sang too. 

Spanky always loved jazz, because her father loved jazz.  Her mother liked blues, so she would hear the two but she really gravitated to the jazz.  Spanky made her first professional performance in Pittsburgh with brothers and Pittsburgh natives, Stanley and Tommy Turrentine, respectively saxophonist and trumpeter in 1963, at a place called the Mocambo Club.  Regular local club work followed through the sixties, culminating in her being ‘discovered’ in 1967 by Jimmy McGriff.  He took her on the road with him, culminating in Los Angeles.  It was there she came to the attention of H.B. Barnum who was becoming a noted producer/arranger. 

The first result was the ‘Spankin’ Brand New’ album, recorded in Annex Studios in Hollywood. All eleven tracks on the album were written or co-written by Howlett Smith, a notable jazz pianist, vocalist and composer.  Altogether a very classy set and bound to appeal to those who appreciate what best can be described as a ‘song stylist.’

A year later, Spanky was back with her second album, ‘Doin’ It’, a further collaboration with H.B. Barnum and a distinct move towards a straighter soul market.  ‘Doin’ It’ boasted a number of funky items that have proved popular with the cd compilers including her version of Cream’s ‘Sunshine Of Your Love’ and ‘You’, a heavy brass and fuzzy guitar item, that was sampled by Hip-Hop artist W. Ellington Felton in 2008. The intro to her song ‘Who's Sorry Now’ was sampled by the group Monosurround in 2002 and The Bahama Soul Club in 2013.

There was an enforced gap of two years before she could get back in the studios in California, again with H.B. Barnum, to cut her third album, ‘Let It Be’.  All three of her Mothers albums have been reissued in Japan by P-Vine Records.

In 1970, Spanky recorded the theme from the film ‘Kelly’s Heroes’ and its composer, Lalo Schiffrin, recommended her for a tour of Brazil, where she was particularly feted in Rio De Janeiro, resulting in her returning regularly throughout the seventies. 

Recording-wise, the next label home for Spanky was Eastbound Records.  She recorded the single coupling ‘Shake Your Head’ and ‘Home’ before being switched to the parent Westbound label for her album, entitled ‘Specialty Of The House’.  ACE Records reissued the ‘Specialty Of The House’ album with seven bonus tracks in 2007 called 'The Westbound Years.'

From that mid-seventies point, Spanky’s recordings became somewhat sporadic, guest appearances coming on albums, but this did not mean there was any let up in her performing career. In the early eighties, she became part of Benny Carter’s All Star Band, having worked with Benny before with his Quartet on one of her Brazilian trips. 

She went to Paris in 1985.  A booking at the Lionel Hampton Jazz Club at Le Méridien Etoile hotel in the city led to further work which prompted her to make Paris her home for a while.  Spanky made many appearances on record in France.

Spanky returned to Los Angeles in 2001.  She is one of the most frequently sampled artists of our time. It’s unfortunate that none of these artists whose music is sampled make a penny from that.

Spanky Wilson went to Paris in 2003 to record a live album with the François Laudet Big Band.  She has also subsequently been hot on the club scene with ‘Don’t Joke with a Hungry Man’ by the Quantic Soul Orchestra featuring Spanky Wilson. 

In 2012 Spanky collaborated with Ruckrus Robticus  for the cut, “T.G.I.F. (thank God It's Funky).’ 

AM:  Spanky, how does it feel to be back in Los Angeles after 6 years in Pittsburg?

SW: I felt like I was living in the Outer Limits or the Twilight Zone! (Laughter) It feels good to be back in the land of sunshine! I’m from Pittsburg but I’m never leaving California again.

AM:  You lived in Paris for a while too didn’t you?

SP: Yes I called Paris home for sixteen years.

AM:  What was your favorite part of living in Paris?

SW:  The city itself. In California you have to drive everywhere but in Paris you can walk to so many things and I wasn’t used to that. There are so many beautiful things to see in the city itself. I remember walking for three hours and never even realizing it. You can feel so many things too. It’s fabulous and I love that city.

AM:  They love your music too!

SW:  Well, thank goodness for that! (Laughter)

AM:  When was the last time you were there?

SW:  In 2007 while I was on tour with an English band, Quantic Soul Orchestra, that does retro R&B. I didn’t know I could sing in that style but I learned that is some other kind of music I CAN sing. Anyway we stopped in Paris and I got to see friends and my ex-husband.

AM:  You are known as an artist who is difficult to categorize.

SW:  Thank goodness for that! Thank you for saying that. I don’t like being in a box. I love all kinds of music. I only sing songs that I feel. How can I make you feel it if I don’t feel it?

AM:  How does it feel having your early recordings come back to life and find a new audience?

SW:  It feels wonderful.  I think it’s because of the London band. My music never was originally released in England. Only two songs made it to England and one is called ‘You’ written by Howlett Smith and the Cream song, ‘Sunshine of Your Love.’ So this guy in England, Will Holland looked for me for two years. I couldn’t believe it. I was so glad he found me. He looked for two years because he wanted me to sing on the songs he wrote. That’s what put me back out there. I started getting attention again.

AM:  I love the recordings you made with Westbound. What’s your favorite of those?

SW: Oh really! My favorite is the song called ‘Home’ that Howlett Smith wrote again. It’s such a beautiful, sentimental song. It can bring me to tears just listening to it.

AM: I love the album you made with the Quantic Soul Orchestra.

SW:  That’s what I was telling you, Will Holland wrote those songs and he doesn’t even know music. They have these computers where all you do is play the note on the piano and it comes up on the computer. It’s so much easier now. He created all these songs and they are all really good songs.

AM:  It seems like the music was written especially for you since you were so good and natural at singing it.

SW:  I never thought of it that way. He told me he can only hear my voice singing the songs. I couldn’t believe it. I thought nobody knew about me. It was such a compliment. I was happy about the whole thing.

AM:  And now you’re back to performing and from what I hear you are still phenomenal.

SW:  I performed at the LACMA museum in Los Angeles. It was great to see lots of old friends. It was a beautiful concert. It was completely full too. Now I am going to perform at Maverick's Flat, a legendary club in Los Angeles from the 1960’s. They are now doing a jazz series on Sunday evenings. I’ll be doing that on August 7. I got a big smile on my face.

AM:  You like performing live don’t you?

SW:  Oh I love it. It’s about connecting. I like the eye contact with people. I still get nervous before I sing. Once I’m up on stage I am OK.

AM: Spanky, you told me once you wanted to sound like a horn when you sang. Is that still true?

SW: Yes, the only singers I used to listen to were Nat King Cole and Dinah Washington. I don’t have many records of singers. I prefer listening to horn players. It had an impact on me because I’ve had some musicians tell me I sing like a horn and I think it’s because I only listened to horns. That was a compliment to me!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Ronnie McDowell Has An Elvis Connection

All Photos:  Alan Mercer

Ronnie McDowell has an amazing string of hit songs that he has amassed over the years, but it is his riveting stage presence and genuine warmth that fills the seats again and again. Like all great entertainers, Ronnie McDowell has a personality that remains luminous long after the lights go dim. These qualities have inspired a nationwide network of fan-clubs with thousands of members, each one a devoted promoter of everything McDowell does.

Following the death of Elvis Presley in 1977, Ronnie McDowell came out of nowhere to dazzle the world with his heartfelt and self-penned tribute song “The King Is Gone” on the independent Scorpion label. The record took off immediately, gaining airplay on country and pop stations across the country and around the world. To date, “The King Is Gone” has sold more than 5 Million copies.

All of a sudden, the young Vietnam Veteran from Portland, Tennessee was a star, and he quickly proved that he wasn’t just a one-trick pony. McDowell scored a second hit for the Scorpion label titled “I Love You, I Love You, I Love You” before being wooed and signed by CBS Records – Epic label in 1979.

Ronnie McDowell charted a string of hit singles and albums for Epic between 1979 and 1986. Every single release with the exception of just one became a Top 10 Hit including the chart toppers “Older Women” and “You’re Gonna Ruin My Bad Reputation.” Other hits during his Epic years included “Watchin’ Girls Go By,” “Personally,” “You Made A Wanted Man Of Me,” “All Tied Up,” and “In A New York Minute.”

Ronnie toured constantly to support each album release and consequently built an astounding fan base throughout the country. He sought the advice of artists such as Conway Twitty who became, in essence, not only his mentor but his friend as well. Twitty helped the young singer with advice about touring, recording and most of all entertaining the fans.

Moving to Curb Records in 1986, his current label to date, Ronnie McDowell scored a Top 10 hit with “It’s Only Make Believe,” a duet with Conway Twitty on what was Twitty’s breakthrough hit from 1958. Two years later Ronnie teamed up with Jerry Lee Lewis for a rocking duet that McDowell wrote titled, “You’re Never Too Old To Rock N’ Roll.” He also recorded yet another Top 10 hit with his version of the pop standard “Unchained Melody,” which also became a #1 country music video. To date, Ronnie has scored over 30 top ten records. His entertaining abilities soared and he began to draw larger crowds. He started appearing in larger venues and touring with artists such as Conway Twitty, Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn before headlining his own shows.

Two of Ronnie’s most recent projects on Curb Records include an album of beach music with Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Bill Pinkney’s Original Drifters, entitled, “Ronnie McDowell with Bill Pinkney’s Original Drifters”. The second project is a new country album titled “Ronnie McDowell Country”, a collection of six new McDowell penned songs, and a few country standards by such Legendary writers as Buck Owens, Harlan Howard and Dallas Frazier.

Ronnie McDowell is still constantly in demand on the road and he tours relentlessly with his band. Additionally, he often tours with Elvis Presley’s original sideman D.J. Fontana along with Ray Walker a longtime member of The Jordanaires staging a tribute to Elvis Presley’s music. Ronnie McDowell sang 36 songs on the soundtrack “Elvis,” the Dick Clark-produced television movie that featured Kurt Russell as the performer. He also was the singing voice for the television movie “Elvis And Me”, the ABC television series about the early years of Elvis’ career titled simply “Elvis” as well as, the 1997 Showtime special “Elvis Meets Nixon.”

While Elvis Presley has played a big part in Ronnie McDowell’s musical career over the years, Ronnie continues to entertain audiences with his own blend of romantic intimacy and country excitement! He looks great, he sounds great, and judging from the longtime adoration of his fans, he seems to grow better with each passing year!

AM:  Ronnie, you exploded onto the music scene when you started.  What was that like?

RM:  I’ll be totally honest with you. It was like literally turning your life upside down over night. I watched ‘The Buddy Holly Story’ the other night and it reminded me of when I walked into a little AM radio station with an acetate disk.

AM:  I haven’t heard of an acetate for a long time.

RM:  You know an acetate was a big record that you could get made for about eight bucks. You couldn’t play them too many times but it was an inexpensive way to have your song on a record. I had eight of them made the morning after I had recorded my song, ‘The King Is Gone’ unbeknownst to me at Scotty Moore’s studio.

AM:  That was Elvis’s guitar player!

RM: Yes and I didn’t know that at the time. So the next morning I flew down to Nashville.  I didn’t sleep at all and I held that tape in my arms all night.

AM: I bet!

RM:  So I went to Monument and was sitting on the steps and here’s another irony, it was Scotty Moore’s girlfriend Gail Pollock, they’ve both passed now. They were together forty something years.

AM: That is amazing.

RM:   I didn’t know that was Scotty Moore’s girlfriend! I would have freaked out if I’d known. So anyway I told her I wanted some acetates made because I thought I had a hit song. She asked me what I had and I told her it was a song about Elvis. So we made the acetates and I went to a little AM station called WENO in Madison, Tennessee.

AM:  Why did you choose that station?

RM:  I don’t really know, except I thought I’d have a better shot at getting the song played. So I walked in to the station and asked the secretary if they would play the record and she told they didn’t do that for someone walking in off the street. I told her it was a song about Elvis so she said, “Well hold on a minute.” She went and talked to a DJ behind some glass. I could tell he was listening to a little of it and then he pointed his finger at me and told me to come back so I went back there.

AM: You got further than most already.

RM:   He told me to stand right there and he would play the record. He warned me we may not get any reaction so don’t get my hopes up. This is the God’s truth; he put that needle down on the turntable and before the song was half over, all of his phone lines were lit up.

AM: Wow!  How exciting.

RM:  He said something was wrong with the phones, but he would pick up each line and I’d hear him say, “OK, OK, OK.” Then he told me these people want me to play the song again right after it finishes playing the first time.

AM:  Awesome!

RM:  The phone lines stayed lit through the whole song. By the way, that was only two blocks from Colonel Tom Parker’s house. Anyway, my original point was about Buddy Holly and how the same thing happened with his song, ’That’ll Be The Day’ at a radio station in New York. Some guy walked into the radio station and started playing that song and they had to break the door down to get him to stop. Buddy Holly and the Crickets were on tour and Buddy got a phone call telling him he had a hit record in New York.

AM:  I didn’t know that.

RM:  My point to all of that is that now a young boy can’t walk into a radio station and ask them to play a song. It’s not going to happen.

AM:  No it’s not.

RM:  It’s a different world and a different time but I’m sure glad I grew up when I did in the business. I got to work with Marty Robbins, George Jones, Hank Snow, Roy Acuff and Conway Twitty. I grew up at the perfect time in the music business.

AM:  It’s so unlikely that you are this fully realized, independent artist and still have such a strong Elvis connection.

RM: There’s always a reason and a rhyme for everything.  There’s even more connection. The first place I ever sang in my life was in Vietnam on an old World War II aircraft carrier. They made the stage out of the elevator that took the planes up to the flight deck. Just before I sang for the first time in my life in front of anybody I sang, ‘When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again,’ an old Elvis song, but just before I walked up there, this old guy grabbed my arm and said to me, “Son I was here in 1956 when we were docked in San Diego and Elvis Presley stood right there where you are standing now. Elvis was on the Milton Berle show.

AM:  This is unbelievable!

RM:  That was the first time I ever sang in front of anybody and I sang an Elvis song. Now listen to this, my daughter called me not too long ago and asked me if I knew who Elvis Presley’s grandfather was and I said, “Yes I do.” There is nothing about Elvis that I don’t know. I know more about Elvis then he knew about himself. She told me to google Elvis’s grandfather and you know what his name was? Jessie D. McDowell Presley!

AM:  This is remarkable. I hope your career goes another 30 years Ronnie.

RM:  Oh yeah, I’m still having fun. I still enjoy performing and I’m still writing songs for everybody. I got into the business as a songwriter. I’ve got a song out right now by a Pop music group called Tusk.

AM:  You stay busy.

RM: I do. I also paint, because to me it’s all the right side of the brain and being creative. I’ve been blessed with a lot of creativity and I use it. My doctor told me, “Ronnie you either use it or you lose it and by the way, that goes for everything!” (Big Laughter)

To learn more about Ronnie McDowell visit his web site

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Baker's Ribs Is Texas BBQ

All Photos:  Alan Mercer

Barbecue is a traditional style of preparing beef unique to the cuisine of Texas and other Southern states. It is one of the many different varieties of barbecue found around the world.

Texas barbecue traditions can be divided into four general styles: East Texas, Central Texas, South Texas, and West Texas. The Central and East Texas varieties are generally the most well-known. Central Texas style is when the meat is rubbed with spices and cooked over indirect heat from hickory wood. This is the type of BBQ you will find at Baker’s Ribs in Weatherford, Texas.

At a typical Central Texas pit barbecue restaurant, like Baker’s Ribs, the customer takes a tray cafeteria style and is served by a butcher who carves the meat by weight; side dishes and desserts are then picked up along the line with sliced white bread, pickles, sliced onion, and jalapeno. Barbecue meats are commonly sold by the pound. The emphasis of Central Texas pit barbecue is on the meat, sauce is usually considered a side dip for wetting purposes.

Pulled Pork & Sausage

Central Texas pit-style barbecue was established in the 19th century along the Chisum Trail in the towns of Lockhart, Luling, and Taylor. The German and other European immigrants owned meat packing plants opened retail meat markets serving cooked meats wrapped in red butcher's paper-- this tradition continues to this day in many central Texas towns. Also, this barbecue style's popularity has spread considerably around the world, especially to Southern California, New York City, and in Britain and Australia.

The term BBQ is used as a verb for the act of cooking food in this manner. Barbecuing is usually done out-of-doors by smoking the meat over the wood. Restaurant barbecue may be cooked in large brick or metal ovens, typically called a pit, designed for that purpose.

Pulled Pork Sandwich

No one is really sure where the term barbecue originated. The conventional wisdom is that the Spanish, upon landing in the Caribbean, used the word barbacoa to refer to the natives’ method of slow-cooking meat over a wooden platform. By the 19th century, the culinary technique was well established in the American South, and because pigs were prevalent in the region, pork became the primary meat at barbecues. Barbecue allowed an abundance of food to be cooked at once and quickly became the go-to menu item for large gatherings like church festivals and neighborhood picnics.

The generally accepted differences between barbecuing and grilling are cooking durations and the types of heat used. Grilling is generally done quickly over moderate-to-high direct heat that produces little smoke, while barbecuing is done slowly over low, indirect heat and the food is flavored by the smoking process.

Pork Ribs

Pitmaster Brian Krier has been serving award winning BBQ for over 20 years now.  He has racked up the People Choice Award for Pork Sliders and Potato Salad from the East Parker County Chamber of Commerce, the 2002 Business of the Year from the Weatherford Chamber of Commerce, and his restaurant Baker’s Ribs has been voted Best BBQ by Ft. Worth Weekly and for many years, including 2016, voted Best BBQ by Ft. Worth Star Telegram. 

AM:  Brian, how did you get into the BBQ business?

BK: I graduated from college and I couldn’t find a job. My dad told me he would help me get a restaurant of my own after I learned about it.  My uncle, Joe Duncan owned a BBQ restaurant, so I told him I would work for him and learn the business. I thought I was going to work for him for 6 months and I ended up doing it for several years in Dallas before I got my own location in Weatherford.

AM:  So you always wanted to work with food?

BK:  Absolutely, I always knew I wanted to have a restaurant I just didn’t know it was going to be a BBQ place. I thought it would be a steak house.

Smoked Brisket

AM:  What do you think you bring to the business to make it thrive?

BK:  I think it’s my love of food and my commitment to always using the highest quality of food I can find.

AM:  What kind of wood do you smoke your meat with?

BK:   We smoke our meat with hickory wood.

AM:  What sets your meat apart from all the other BBQ restaurants in the area?

BK: First, I pray over the meat every night before smoking it and I believe God blesses it. Next we use only the highest quality meats and we smoke them for eighteen hours.

Grilled Chicken

AM:  What do you say to the people who think that BBQ is an unhealthy food?

BK:  It’s actually one of the more healthy ways to cook meat.  You don’t cook it in oil or butter, all you need is heat and smoke. It’s straight ahead meat and a little seasoning, nothing else.

AM:  Has BBQ become more popular over time?

BK:  Yes, BBQ has been on a growth spurt for the last several years. It’s a national phenomenon. I think as long as your food is good it’s always going to trend.

AM:  What is your relationship like with your customers?

BK:  We see a lot of new customers because we are located on a major highway and we get a lot of repeat customers as well. I love our loyal customers. I enjoy visiting with them and learning about their lives and families.

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