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The Ann Arbor Music Scene

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Jnn Arbor and neighboring towns is an area virtually oozing with local artists. A glance at the posters plastered on any downtown telephone pote should erase any doubt that thisistrue. Whatyoumay notleamfrom the poles (they advertise mostly rock) s great breadth of music we have here. If you like mellowjazz, hot blues, contemporary folk, or just about anything else (with the possible exception of rap), you' re likely tofíndit here. And a look at the local music sections of area record stores will teil you that local artists are quite prolific in theiroutput of cassettes, records, and CDs. However, by skimming the boldfaced venues in this article, you will read the same handful of places over and overagain - pointingtothefactthatthere are painfully few musical venues in town - certainly not enough to accomodate all this talent! The survey compiled here should assist you in your own su rvey of the Ann Arbor-area music scène. Washtenaw County Veterans Arguably the best known musical veterans in Ann Arbor are The Chenille Sisters. These three female vocalists started out playing every Thursday at the Liberty St. bar, OldTown, andquickly became Ann Arbor favorites. They specialize in tight harmonies and perform a broad range of music, from the '30s Boswell Sisters and the '40s Andrew Sisters to very inventivo origináis. The highlight of theircareer has been anappearance on Garrison Keilor's Prairie Home Companion. Their actshouldn't be missed. Peter "Madcat" Ruth is a worid class harmonica player. He's played with blues artist Rory Block and others. Lately he has teamed up with guitarist Sheri Kane and put out an exceptional recording on the local Schoolkids' Records Label (see below). With little doubt the best known local guitartist is George Bedard. Bedard has been around for years playing his special brand of Rock 'n' Roll and in 1 992 was recognized as the Rock Artist of the Year in The Detroit Metro Times. Watch for performances by Bedard and his band The Kingpins. The best known local piano playerisMark"Mr. B" Braun. Mr. B is a formidable boogie woogie player andhasteamed up with the late great J.C. Heard on one of the strongest jazzswing albums of the '90s. Dick Siegel- possibly the best songwriter in town - has performed with all these other veterans at one time oranother. His songs run the musical gamut, from funny and catchy danceable tunes, to melancholy dramatic fares that evoke a connection to the artist and the music. Check out his "Snap" CD on the Schoolkids' Label. Steve Nardella has been called the best note (and I feel, most underrated) guitar player in town. He plays rockabillybluesrock n a way that wringstheemotionaljuicerightoutofthemusic.Other veterans love him. If his new Schoolkids' CD can capture his power and energy, t will be a steal. Scott Morgan, from the sixties group The Rationals, hasbeen playing n Ann Arborforyears. His sweet voice and consúmate DEEtroit rock guitar style makes much of his music timeless. He too has a new CD coming out. The local music recording scene has taken a big step forward with the formation of the Schoolkids' Records recording label. The Schoolkids' label, with its purport edconnections to a national distribution network, may provide a big boost to local recording artists. In addition to Dick Siegel, George Bedard, Madcat Ruth and Shari Kane, Steve Nardella, they've recorded local bluegrassplus band the Deadbeat Society and a couple of out-of-towners: ex-Kingbee Jamie James and NRBQco-founderSteveFerguson The focus of this label s not one particular artist or style but a wide spectrum of music. Check them out! Some Well-Kept Secrets One artist who deserves to head this list is popster Frank Allison who performs with his band The Odd Sox. They are so good that you'd have to be hard of hearing to not be led to the dance floor by their infectious pop music. Frank and the Sox will eventually blow this local pop stand. Catch them before you leave town; they might not be here when you get back. Although they started in Ann Arbor, only ally does The Weather Vanes play in town - usually at the subterranean campus bar Fiïck's American Café or downtown at The Blind Pig. A couple of years ago they were given kudos in Musician Magazine as one of the best unsigned bands in the country. This group is tight and their last recording was one of the strongest to be released locally last year. Woodwindistjazzman Paul Vornhagen has the sweetest sax sound in town . His speciality is a mellow cool style but he can easily catch fire. He plays often at the coffee houses n town. Check out the his superiative CD "Variations." Jazz vibraphonist Cary Kocher is amazing for someone so young. He seems to have absorbed the technique and temperament of some of the greatest vibe players without putting in the years. He plays with various ensembles, usually at the Bird of Paradise fftlDlU7 ÊHE1DELBERC ROCK 'N' ROLLPOP The popular music scène in Washtenaw County has yet to reach ts true potential. This s not because there is a lack of talent in the área - but rather, as previously mentioned, a lack of places for bands to play. In Washtenaw County there are only four venues that offer mus'ic most nights of the week: Rick's, The Blind Pig, The Club Heidelberg and Ypsilanti's college bar Cross Street Station. Of these, only Cross Street, with its open mike night, and The Heidelberg make any attempt to offer a venue to the up-andcoming performer. On a tour of local record stores - Tower, Schoolkids', Wherehouse, and PJ's - I counted 75 local artists that now have cassettes or CDs in the consignment section. (On consignment means that the store will not out-right purchase the recording f rom the artistfor eventual resale butwill sell tforthe artist for a certain cut.) Bands like the Maitries, The Melba, Wig, Chameleon's Dish, India Green, Jesse Richard, Trianglevision, The Restroom Poets, Vudu Hippies, Battalion, Morsel, Delicate Balance, Monarchs, 10-High, to name but a few, deserve a place to play and be heard by the public on a regular basis. However, it's difficult to break into the nightclub circuit. Some may get frustrated and leave town before you getto hearthem. FOLK To many people, Ann Arbor is more famous for its folk scène than any other type of music. The reason for this assertion, and the place to catch the best folk music in the Western Hemisphere, is The Ark, located on Main St. (just south of downtown). It's upstairs in an old warehouse and seats only a couple hundred people. This, however, is a major step forward from its modest beginnings in the living room of a house on Hill St. Although small, the acoustics and ntimacy of the showroom Iets the musical virtue of the artist shine through. There you can see local folkies who perform on open mike nights, ornational headliners, such asNanci Griffith, John Prine, Odetta, and Torn Paxton ItisbecauseoftheArkandtheirzealforfolkmusic that many of these world-class artists come back every January to particípate in the marathon Ann Arbor Folk Fest fundraiser. Ifs a showcase of talent like no other. BLUES Washtenaw County is rather schizophrenic about the blues. Although virtually every Chicago blues artist - such as Koko Taylor, Buddy Guy, and Willie Dixon - have played at Rick's, and other worid-class blues artists like B.B. King and Joe Williams have played at the Michigan Theater and Hill Auditorium, there s really only one exceptional blues band n the county: Big Dave and the Ultrasonics.Thissextetistight, rocking, hot and dirty. Their first recording, "Shake It While You Got It-Live," captured some of thei r power, but it is in their live shows, performed usually at Rick's or The Blind Pig, that you'll experience their power and professionalism. The resurgent Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival, revived last year aftera 20-year dormancy, is a September event you must attend. The Michigan Theater will stage Joe Henderson on Friday the 17th and Etta James the following night. The bulk of the Festival takes place outdoors at Gallup Park on Saturday the 18th and Sunday the 19th and boasts a steüar and diverse Nne-up of locáis and mports too lengthy to list here. Consult your local telephone pole for details! JAZZ The greater Detroit área s famous for ts long history of jazz venues and performers, and one only has to take a short drive into the city to find the worldclass talent thatexiststhere. Withthis in minditseems strange that Washtenaw County only has one spot that showcases jazz seven nights a week: The Bird of Paradise. The Bind features local jazz du ring the week, and out-of-to wn bigs on the weekends. All of it s first-rate jazz, ncluding the house band, the Ron Brooks Trio, who usually play Wed. and Thurs. nights. Down the street from the Bird, the Del Rio bar and restaurant has free jazz on Sunday nights. A numberof coffee shops in downtown Ann Arbor, like Sweetwater's and Espresso Royale Caffe, and the campus shop Cava Java, occasionally have free jazz as well. The best collegiate jazz usually comes from Washtenaw Community College professor Morris Lawrence's Jazz Ensemble. COUNTRY & WESTERN There are only two venues that l'm aware of n the area that feature Country & Western music. The closest s the Blind Pig. Every Friday during Happy Hour The Jim Tate Band playstheir brand of cry-in-your-beerstandards. For those who can stand C&W only a little, this two hours is quite retreshing. Tate has a strong voice and s backed by the exceptional rhythm of drummer Jackson Spires and bassist Chris Goerke, both from the late great Driving Sideways band. Now if pedal guitarist wizard Mark O'Boyle would come back to town and help out! For new country music (the kind you find on the radio) one will have to drive to Cantón (east on Michigan avenue beyond Ypsilanti) to Lucille's. This place is real country, with pointy boots, long-neck beers, pick-up trucks (lotsof them) and great swinging two-step music. CLASSICAL All l'll say about this genre is that first rate musicianscome to town regularly (contact the University Musical Society for details) and that the U-M School of Music has loads of free recitals and concerts during the school year. One can't beat this bargain. EXPERTS, ETC. It seems Washtenaw county is also blessed with a slewof people who know music and are willing to talk forhoursaboutit. To name a few: Dr. Arwulf Arwulf and Hazen Schumacher are both wizards of early jazz; Jerry Mack knows more about the blues than just about anyone else in town; Michael G. Nastos knows contemporary jazz inside and out; P.J. Ryder and Mare Taras (of PJ's Records & Used CDs) both have broad knowledge of popular music. If you want to start hearing local music immediately, tune your radio dial to either WCBN, 88.3 FM or WEMU,89.1FM.Both stations play and promote local music and are extraordinary assets to this area. A final comment: There exists at the Eva Jessye African American Music Collection an almostcompleted special collection: The Maxwell Reade Early Jazz and Blues 78 RPM Record Collection It should be checked out when completed. It contains over a thousandjazz, blues, gospel, and popular recordings of AfricanAmerican artists dating from about 19451955. These 78 RPM tine condition and forthe most part have not yet been reissued on CD. In time they'li be available for.your listening pleasure. Stay tuned. BIC DAVE ANDTHE ULTRASONICS SATURDAY, JULY 24 I INVITATIONTO_ANABDICATÍ( 5p?5H] "he íionarchsjH _m


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