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Legendary Alice Cooper Goes from Kid’s Playhouse to Fantasy Springs and Still has Time for His Golf Game

Review of Alice Cooper at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino

Alice Coooper - Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons for

Alice Coooper – Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons for


The first time I saw Alice Cooper was in the gymnasium of Cal State Fullerton in 1969. He was on the bill with Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention.  Spirit was the opening act.

The only real prop he had at that time was a small kid’s play house that he would go inside and stick his head out the window and sing “Nobody likes me.”

There have been a lot of changes over the years and now this is a big-time rock and roll show full of lights, dancers, costume changes, snakes, monsters and guillotines.

Alice had a legion of fans that came out to this desert oasis to see the man who has entertained them for most of their lives and showed us all that rock and roll can still be fun.  Alice once said “From the moment I leave my house or hotel room, the public owns me.  The public made Alice Cooper and I can’t imagine ever turning my back on my fans.”  Alice is a true master of his craft and takes it to a level that cannot be matched.  He has influenced many but no one can touch him.

Alice Cooper: A Really Big Show - Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

Alice Cooper: A Really Big Show – Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

Hitting the Links

When I was checking into the hotel I saw a group of golfers who had just come in from playing 18 holes.

I joked to the attendant that I bet Alice will be out on the course today and she said “He just finished up about an hour ago” and that was at 10 A.M.  Not many rock stars can golf before breakfast and then rock before dinner.

Tonight Alice Cooper would welcome us back to his nightmare full of monsters, madness and mayhem.  Anticipation was running high as the Alice look alikes, families and hardcore followers of the master of shock rock were ready for their idol to take the stage.

The curtains were a close-up of Alice’s eyes.  The lights went down and the voice of Vincent Price came on introducing the “Black Widow.”  As the curtains dropped, sparks started flying and Alice draped in a black hooded cape was front and center.  Just his presence on stage made us minions feel we’re not worthy.  Alice Cooper came fully loaded with his triple guitar attack of Ryan Roxie, Tommy Henriksen and the mighty Nita ‘Hurricane” Strauss.  Off went the cape and he went right into “No More Mr. Nice Guy” prowling the stage like a venison of the deep.

‘Under My Wheels,’ ‘Billion Dollar Babies’

Rockin' the Casino with Alice Cooper - Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

Rockin’ the Casino with Alice Cooper – Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

Alice kept the pace lively reaching into his bag of tricks bringing out some classics like “Under My Wheels” and “Billion Dollar Babies.”

They spend no time in between songs talking to the audience.  This is a well-oiled rock, well timed rock machine full of energy and chemistry.

Alice may be the main attraction but the rhythm section of long time bassist Chuck Garric and drummer Glen Sobel kept this wild rock and roll train roaring down the tracks.

Alice brought out his boa constrictor Julius Squeezer to help him sing “Is It My Body.”  I once saw his boa constrictor get sick and throw up on stage.  He must have had stage fright.  Next came “Woman of Mass Destruction” that led into Nita’s fierce guitar solo.  She is a force of nature shredding the fret boards with her long blonde mane flying in the breeze as she finishes to a huge ovation.

‘Doctor Alice’

During “Halo of Flies” Glen Sobel’s drum solo mesmerized the crowd with skill and intensity.   But before we knew it good old Doctor Alice was back in a full length, blood splatted lab coat, gas mask and strapped to an electrical gurney that ignites into “Feed My Frankenstein.”   Entering stage left is a giant monster roaming the stage while everyone tries to stay out of its way.

Alice Cooper - Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

Patriotic Alice Cooper – Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

The show only slowed down once when Alice came out and sat down on a trash can to sing one of his beautiful power ballads “Only Women Bleed.”  He was later attacked by a frightening naughty nurse who gave Alice a shot and put him into a straight jacket to sing the “Ballad of Dwight Fry.”  As he is later lead to a giant guillotine and beheaded at the end of the song.   The crowd eats is up and the band goes into “I Love the Dead” with an audience singing along.

Alice who is a member of the Hollywood Vampires then paid tribute to some of the rock and roll legends we lost this year.

Gravestones of David Bowie and Lemmy were on stage as the band ripped into intense versions of “Suffragette City” and “Ace of Spades” with bassist Chuck Garric on vocals.  It was a great gesture from a master showman and made for a very memorable moment in the show.

Now the energy in the room was at an all-time high as they kicked into two of rock and rolls biggest anthems “Eighteen” and “Schools Out.”   With confetti, bubbles and giant balloons flying, Alice then introduced the band and only once did he ever break character when he said “playing the part of Alice tonight is me.”

For the encore, he brought out Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to beat each other up until they finally kissed during “Elected.”   Alice wearing a red, white and blue jacket in front of an American flag backdrop said “we got problems all over America and personally, I don’t care.”  This two hour, 25-song set full of energy and excitement left the crowd filtering out into the casino happy and proud to be a fan of the one and only Alice Cooper.

La Paloma Theatre Shines on Benefit Night as Jack Tempchin and Musicians Sing Her Praises

Concert to Raise Money for La Paloma Wildly Applauded

Jack Tempchin - Photo by Donna Balancia

Jack Tempchin – Photo by Donna Balancia


ENCINITAS, Calif. – Musicians Jack Tempchin, Cindy Lee Berryhill, Keith Harkin and Darius Degher electrified at Love The Dove, a benefit concert for La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas Saturday night.

Tempchin, the renowned songwriter who crafted tunes for the Eagles and others, headlined a night that mixed legacy with compelling new performances.

He introduced Keith Harkin, an outstanding Irish performer whose agressive guitar playing is unlike anything we’ve heard. He plucks the strings so hard they break — often he says — and from his work he elicits a great deal of emotion.  Harkin is a true music star and was an unexpected surprise in a night of beautiful work.

Strong Collaboration: Tempchin and Harkin

Jack Tempchin and Keith Harkin - Photo and video by Donna Balancia

Jack Tempchin and Keith Harkin – Photo and video by Donna Balancia

Tempchin on harmonica and Harkin on guitar performed songs they wrote together including the upbeat “Ring Tail Rat.”

Berryhill, the tall singer-songwriter veteran performed the Beatles cover, “Revolution,” which got rousing applause from the audience, which was comprised mainly of Encinitas locals who packed the room.

Berryhill has a new album coming out in March and her new songs including “Somebody’s Angel,” sent chills through the crowded room.

Love The Dove

La Paloma Theatre is a staple of San Diego County culture.  It has been around since the early 1900s and was a stop on the train by movie stars, celebs of the day, musicians and other notables.

Cindy Lee Berryhill - Photo by Donna Balancia

Cindy Lee Berryhill – Photo by Donna Balancia

Locals remember the days it had “couches” and was the gathering place for North County music lovers.

Emcee Danny Salzhandle recalled the theatre has hosted the best in the arts over the years. La Paloma is in need of repair and the tireless Alan Largent and his crew are thinking outside the box to get the funding to restore the jewel in the rough to its former grandeur.

The group is planning to have a fundraiser concert every quarter “or every three months,” if possible.

Musicians Giving Back to La Paloma Theatre

Degher led the night off with his folksy tunes that had people smiling and tapping right along.  He was a gracious leadoff artist joined by Micheal Packard and Ellen Maisen. His debut poetry collection was published in 2014; he has released five CDs and played on many stages.

Darius Degher opened the night at La Paloma Theatre - Photo by Donna Balancia

Darius Degher opened the night at La Paloma Theatre – Photo by Donna Balancia

Degher, Harkin and Berryhill joined Tempchin for a heartfelt finale that included “Already Gone,” and “Peaceful Easy Feeling.”

In a world of free downloads and where there’s an overabundance of worship of all things new, the historic La Paloma took the spotlight, hosting this unique night of touching performances.

The musicians reached receptive audience members who gladly paid $20 a head to enjoy rare performances.

Being able to repay La Paloma for all the joy she has brought Southern California was an honor for both performers and attendees.  The La Paloma which has stood so proudly for almost a century, will graciously continue on, through the generosity of the musicians and art lovers.  A night like this is what it’s all about.


Jack Tempchin leads 'Peaceful Easy Feeling' - Photo and video by Donna Balancia

Jack Tempchin leads ‘Peaceful Easy Feeling’ – Photo and video by Donna Balancia

Desert Trip Dispatch: Our Ace Reviewer Bob Busby Gives A Thumbs Up Wrapup From ‘Oldchella’

Busby: ‘One of the Best Events I’ve Ever Attended’

screen-shot-2016-10-18-at-12-25-35-amBy BOB BUSBY

Roger Waters kept his politics in check during weekend 2 of Desert Trip, but did basically tell the crowds that he would still support the Palestinian people and their causes.

Nobody yelled anything at him. There was no discomfort in the crowd. Some people left a little earlier; he finished at 12:35 a.m.

Bob Dylan opened and he was great, of course.

The people said he was better than last week. He was really good, he opened the first set and the show in fact with “Everybody Must Get Stoned,” he did “Tangled Up in Blue” and he did five or six songs that were popular. The band sounded great.

The Rolling Stones: Still Smokin’

Keef and Mick are still smokin' hot - Photo and video courtesy of Prestoff2000

Keef and Mick are still smokin’ hot – Photo and video courtesy of Prestoff2000

The Rolling Stones were The Rolling Stones, of course they were great. Mick made a funny joke to the effect of “I know people are calling this ‘Oldchella’ but maybe they should call it ‘Who’s gonna croak first?’  He also said, “I can’t help call attention to the fact that we’ve never shared the stage with a Nobel Prize winner before,” referring to Dylan.

On Saturday night Neil Young opened with classic acoustic songs and the favorite, “Sugar Mountain.

By coincidence it was a full moon, which rose huge with great light to the side of the stage while he was playing, “Harvest Moon” and the cameras went to the moon and put it on the screens. It was a crystal clear moon, it was very emotional. It was literally magical. Other people were affected in the same way. It was the most magical thing. Neil was just really on.

Sir Paul With Neil Young at Desert Trip

Photo by Kevin Mazur

Photo by Kevin Mazur

Then Paul came on, and these guys are not retired, they do this all the time and it shows. Then he brought out Rihanna.  I didn’t know the song, “FourFiveSeconds” but she was really good. Then she left. Right after that he brought Neil out and they did “A Day in the Life,” and it was a fantastic version. Neil just rocked. Paul was like, “This is Neil fucking Young!” Neil went apeshit on the guitar and Paul looked at the audience like “I hope you realize what you’re watching.” And Neil was saying “This is Paul McCartney!” It was two icons.

Saturday was the best. The Who complained before they sang a note. Roger Daltrey said, “Can somebody please turn off the fan?” That’s because it was windy and like 90 degrees at 6 o’clock still.  Not only was the heat holding, the heat held all the way through the night, it cooled down and then at 10 o’clock it warmed up again.

The real star of the show was the venue.  And the screens and the speakers. The screens were at least 10 stories tall and 100 yards wide.  The screens were so big.  We just kept remarking on how incredible the video production was. It was so crystal clear. The real star of the whole thing is the venue for sure.

The Venue at Coachella

The Who - Photo courtesy of Desert Trip for

The Who – Photo courtesy of Desert Trip

You know you can put thousands of people into Giants stadium it’s tiered so it doesn’t look like this. Believe me, 85,000 people on a flat surface goes way the heck back. My friends were in the back. They had four giant screens in the back too. Four huge screens, and there were amazing speakers every 25 yards in every direction and Roger Waters made full use of those speakers with sound coming from all directions. You’d be hearing sounds like a taxi cab coming from a thousand yards to the left.

All in all, musically it was one of the best concerts I’ve ever attended.

Robert Plant and The Sensational Space Shifters Rock the Festival of Disruption at The Ace

Robert Plant - Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia

Robert Plant – Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia


Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters put on a once in a lifetime show at the Festival of Disruption at the Theatre at the Ace Hotel last night. St. Vincent opened for the classic rocker and former Led Zeppelin front man.

While many of his rock n roll brethren, like The Who, Paul McCartney and The Rolling Stones were in Indio, Plant drew a zealous audience.

Lisa and Tina from Ventura brought him a bouquet of roses, Leslie raced to the stage to see the master at his craft and Amy wept as Plant and his band played Led Zeppelin favorites as well as new tunes.

Robert Plant and The Sensational Space Shifters

Robert Plant - Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia

Robert Plant – Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia

The Sensational Space Shifters is comprised of some of the finest musicians around with Plant, Justin Adams, Juldeh Camara, Billy Fuller, Liam “Skin” Tyson and Dave Smith.

For those who never had the opportunity to see Led Zeppelin, this band brings the well-known hits to life but adds a global twist complete with exotic beats and Plant taking on hand drums. Favorites included “Over The Hills,” “Black Dog,” “Rock N Roll,” “Whole Lotta Love” and “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You.”

While he celebrated his 68th birthday in August, Plant has all the verve and energy of someone half his age. He’s looking good and he commands the stage with a powerful confidence exuded only by someone who has been doing this longer than most audience members have been alive.

Robert Plant - Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia

Robert Plant – Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia

Plant’s Audience

Plant has an affable way of connecting with his audience and in an “intimate” setting he’s personable, telling jokes and putting on a show that’s appropriate for the artsy new festival in downtown LA.

The Festival of Disruption features exhibits and discussions by a range of artists, photographers and performers.

Lynch, the mastermind behind works ranging from “Blue Velvet” to “Twin Peaks” is the curator.

Robert Plant - Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia

Robert Plant – Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia

Additional musicians taking the stage Sunday night were electronic artist Jon Hopkins, who presented his sounds against a backdrop of creative visions; and St. Vincent, who adapted her show to include compelling performance art with dancers and physical performers.

The Festival of Disruption continued Sunday with Debbie Harry and Chris Stein, Jason Bentley and a discussion on the music of “Twin Peaks.”


Hammons Reviews: Thievery Corporation Still Keeps The Fans Dancing Under the Black Moon


Thievery Corporation celebrates 20 years - Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

Thievery Corporation celebrates 20 years – Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

Thievery Corporation brought their hypnotic grooves, intricate rhythms and mystical funk to the Santa Barbara Bowl on this cool summer evening.  This is the 20-year anniversary of a band that continues to inspire with their broad canvas of styles and sounds.

Opening the show was Mexico City’s favorite band of muy loco rockers Café Tacuba.  These guys really know how to get the party started.  Lead singer Ruben Albarran and guitarist Jose Alfredo Rangel got the audience up and dancing to their various styles of espanol rock and roll.  The band’s flashy costumes and energy won over the early arrivals and set a festive tone for the evening.

As sun was setting and the black moon rising the anticipation was running high as most of the audience I talked to had seen Thievery Corporation before.  The lights dimmed and the familiar sounds of sitar, bass and percussion jammed out on the opening instrumental “Facing East.”

As the song ended out comes the first vocalist of the evening Lou Lou Ghelickhani singing “Take My Soul” a song with lush textures and sweet vocals.   The set had a caravan of rotating vocalist for each song.   Next up was Jamaican vocalist to get us fired up and grooving to songs such as “Blasting Through” and “Radio Retaliation.”   Before the song “Culture of Fear,” the vocalist said he was afraid of the police.  The opening line “seems to me like they want us to be afraid, man” touches on what is going on in our world today.

Set List of Crowd Favorites

Rob Myers rocked out on sitar - Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

Rob Myers rocked out on sitar – Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

Thievery Corporation has the mighty DJs Rob Garza and Eric Hilton sitting high above the band knocking out the beats mixing them with their many different cultural styles.  This tour being their 20 Anniversary had a set list full of crowd favorites and even a few covers.

About half way thru the set they did a version of Grateful Dead’s “Fire on the Mountain” and later the percussionist came forward to sing a rocking version of the Door’s “Strange Days.”

The quality of the musicianship and vocal power of all the singers highlight their vast changes in musical styles.  Ashish Vyas the bass player never stops moving while high stepping across every square inch of the stage.  Rob Myers the sitar / guitar player rocked hard on both instruments.  My favorite singer of the night was the mighty and majestic Natalia Clavier.  Her soft and sexy vocals styling on such songs as “Lebanese Blonde” draw you in to her seductive charm.

Rob Garza on Guitar


Ruben Albarran of Cafe Tacuba – Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

They heated things up again with two live show staples “Vampires” and “Heart is the Hunter.”  They created such a bond with the audience we all forgot about out problems and were fully engaged with their rhythms, beats and intricate electronic music.  Rob Garza came down from his DJ booth to play guitar as they closed with “Warning Shots.”  Everyone was dancing to the heavy bass riff and rap reggae vocals.   Rob then stepped to the mic and said “we weren’t going to do this song” but he said he wrote it while he was roaming the hills above Santa Barbara and they went in to the sweet and sensual “Depth of My Soul.”

As this sweaty hippie groove party was about to end they came back out and jammed on the instrumental track “The Forgotten People” before bringing Lou Lou back to sing “Sweet Tides.”  But it would not be a Thievery Corporation show without doing “The Richest Man in Babylon” from there 2002 album of the same name.  After shaking my suitcase for two hours with this band of incredible musicians and the two beautiful songstresses I felt good to be alive.  A band of this caliber should not be ignored.  Every person there was a delighted fan or was converted by the sweet melody, atmosphere and vibe only Thievery Corporation can provide.

The Talented Phil Gammage Shares His Bluesy Life with New Album, ‘Used Man for Sale’

Phil Gammage is a 'Used Man for Sale,' but he sounds darn good - Photo courtesy Johann Vipper

Phil Gammage is a ‘Used Man for Sale,’ but he sounds darn good – Photo courtesy Johann Vipper


Phil Gammage has truly got the blues.

And that’s a good thing for listeners. The talented singer-songwriter’s state of mind has brought about the heartfelt works via his new album Used Man for Sale. 

Used Man for Sale, underscores Phil’s talent as singer-songwriter and is a thought-provoking piece that rifles through everything from love and success to breaking up and then getting away from it all.

Phil sounds like a combination of Elvis and the beloved folk singer Fred Neil, who was covered by everyone from Linda Ronstadt to Harry Nilsson.

But he’s got a new age edge and his rockabilly style has been put to good work on a range of TV shows and films.

Most of the songs on Used Man for Sale are tell of love or heartbreak, they’re beautifully written, and Phil’s excellent voice acts as a more than suggestive guide commenting on life’s ups and downs.

Phil takes a break from the heartbreak with a smile - Photo courtesy of Tim Macy - California Rocker

Phil takes a break from the heartbreak with a smile – Photo courtesy of Tim Macy

Phil’s a rare commodity in the do-it-yourself, cookie-cutter world of music today.  He takes the time to tell the story, he projects the words forward with deliciously simple melodies and sits back and lets the story unfold.

Stream Used Man for Sale here:

Phil sounds like he’s a little road weary, or that he’s tired of running. It’s obvious he’s been on the road looking for the next thing.  When will it come?  He has a big train on the album cover, which indicates the strong possibility he’s been around or lives in a perpetual state of motion.

Regarding the track list, “Locomotive” is good with a lot of power, we love the lusty “I Beg of You,”  the adventuresome “Ride With Railroad Bill” and the hopelessly upbeat “Lost in Loserville.”

Perhaps one of the best assets is Phil’s fantastic voice. It’s a voice that will make any gal swoon.  It’s a rare talent Phil was born with and wherever he’s going next, we want to tag along.

James Lee Stanley: ‘Alive At Last’ is an Album That Inspires and Feels Good

Stanley Shapes Life Experiences Into Great Music

James Lee Stanley with Chad Watson and Scott Breadman at The GRAMMY Museum - Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia

James Lee Stanley with Chad Watson and Scott Breadman at The GRAMMY Museum – Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia


James Lee Stanley released a new live album called Alive at Last and it’s more than a live album. It’s a romantic comedy story of his life set to music.

Stanley’s truthful work sums up the highs and lows we all encounter.

But when he talks about his trials and tribulations it’s funny — and hopeful.

James Lee Stanley Stories

“People have said to me, ‘We want to hear the stories,'” said Stanley, whose career has spanned the diverse, including a run as the opener for comedian Steven Wright. “They ask me, ‘What are you, a comedian or a musician?’ Well I’m a little of everything.”

His storytelling style of performance is a rare find in a world filled with cookie-cutter musicians.

James Lee Stanley at The GRAMMY Museum - Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia

James Lee Stanley at The GRAMMY Museum – Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia

At a recent performance at The GRAMMY Museum, Stanley basically stuck to the script and in person and on the album, he takes the listener on a few detours of interest.

Among some of the favorites on the album are “I Don’t Want To Talk About It,” “The Street Where Mercy Died,” and “Racing The Moon,” a touching piece about lost love and teen yearning. His experiences have given him songs that he imparts on lucky listeners and they are more fortunate for his memories.

Stanley produced Alive at Last, which touts the talents of the renowned Chad Watson on Fender bass and Cheryl Prashker on percussion.  The album was recorded during a live concert at Morning Star Studios in Spring House, Penn., by Glen Barrett. At The GRAMMY Museum, he was joined by Scott Breadman on percussion.

Stanley’s an interesting cat. This is a guy who actually sat down with Jimmy Buffett and when Buffett told about his new song “Let’s Get Drunk and Screw,” Stanley thought it was a little bit too lowbrow for him.

Years later when Buffett flew into LAX in his private jet, took a private car to his book signing at Brentano’s in Beverly Hills and told Stanley about his life aboard the yacht in the tropics, Stanley had second thoughts.

‘The More I Drink’

So he wrote the audience favorite sing along, “The More I Drink,” which has a chorus of “The more I drink, the less I think. The less I think, the better I feel, the better I feel, the more I drink. I got a system and it works for me.”

Chad Watson - Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia

Chad Watson – Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia

A night with Stanley is like visiting with an old pal. He tells stories that cover everything from high school and the girl that got away all the way up to the current day with his beautiful wife. He even mentions a wife or two in between, with the song “Worry About You.”

But Stanley’s got great timing and he really enjoys performing — the audience enjoys him right back. songs on the new album range from tender and sweet to raucous and rowdy and Stanley wouldn’t have it any other way.

He leaves no stone unturned when it comes to telling his life stories, whether in song or not.  A part of the hippie generation, there were times when his appearance bugged his family.

Like his Italian grandmother who would give him grief over his long hair and beard, mainly because there was no cheek to pinch buried under all that hair. Years later, when she was on her deathbed, he recalled, her last gasp words were, “But Jimmy why are you wearing an earring?”

‘Alive At Last’

It’s either clever that he recorded his performance or that he’s performing to the album.  Either way, if you see a Stanley performance and bring home the CD, it’s a great way to reinforce a great time.

James Lee Stanley at The GRAMMY Museum - Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia

James Lee Stanley at The GRAMMY Museum – Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia

Stanley shares a real camaraderie with the audience, as most of the people who were at The GRAMMY Museum performance appear to know him personally or are big fans.

As for his style in an age of manufactured talents, it’s a lesson for the young. He’s warm with the audience, his voice is so clear and so appealing in tone, and his jokes are actually funny. If we had to guess, it’s a good bet the late 1970s band Seals and Croft lifted his whole style.

But while Stanley is reminiscent of Seals and Croft and also the great storytelling songwriter Jim Croce — his songs are really for today. He sings of politics, even skewering the clerk who refused to sign the wedding documents for gay marriages, a song called “Do It In His Name.”

It’s a dying art what Stanley does and his style is inspiring. He’s a man who tells his story and says others should do the same.

“I would tell young people today to make the music you want to make,” Staney said. “And be proud of everything you do because it follows you for the rest of your life.”


Slash, Tedeschi Trucks, Bonamassa, Play to Pay Tribute to B.B. King at GRAMMY Foundation Event

Tedeschi Trucks

Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks – Photo by Donna Balancia


BEVERLY HILLS – A heaven’s full of blues performers were on hand at the Wallis Annenberg Center for an amazing tribute to the legendary blues great B.B. King.

The Life and Legacy of B.B. King, presented by The GRAMMY Foundation and The GRAMMY Museum, brought superstars of the blues together to honor B.B. King.

B.B. passed away May 14, 2015.

B.B. King: Mentor and Friend

B.B. was mentor and friend to all those on hand, including Slash, Keb’ Mo’, Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks and Jimmy Vaughan.

“Oh he would have loved this,” B.B.’s pal and bandleader James Bolden said of the sold out event.  “BB was very down to earth. He would appreciate that the blues are being recognized.”

Photo by Jesse Grant/WireImage for The Recording Academy

Slash let his guitar do the talking – Photo by Jesse Grant/WireImage for The Recording Academy

The classy program, hosted by Scott Goldman, vice president of the GRAMMY Foundation, interspersed film clips of BB with remarkable performances by top names in blues and blues-rock music. Presented by The GRAMMY Foundation and The GRAMMY Museum, the production was smooth and effortless, and was a reflection of the man people came to honor.

Conan O’Brien’s Basic Cable Band, kept the beat led by Jimmy Vivino.

‘Adoptive Father’

Each gave a few words about B.B., as teacher, friend and even would-be family member.

Kenny Wayne Shepherd showed a clip from his documentary 10 Days Out: Blues from the Backroads, in which he shares an “adoptive father” moment with B.B.

Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Noah Hunt - Photo by Donna Balancia

Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Noah Hunt – Photo by Donna Balancia

“B.B. was one of the most generous human beings I ever met,” Shepherd said. He added that the blues genre will survive as long as “people keep hearing it.”

Shepherd took the stage with his longtime frontman Noah Hunt, who commands one of the most underrated and superb voices in all of rock n roll.

The audience was blown away by the performance of this dynamic duo.

But the lucky 500 in the audience — the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts is an amazing but relatively small venue — enjoyed mind blowing performances from all across the board on this night.

The Great Impact of B.B. King

Joe Louis Walker, whose radiant smile permeated the room, said he got to know BB as his opening act on the road.

“That’s how we got to know each other,” he said. “It was like having an uncle.”

Joe Louis Walker and his lovely lady - Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia

Joe Louis Walker and his lovely lady – Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia

Walker, who’s working on a new album for release next year, said B.B. impacted the music of so many artists over the years and still is loved by young artists of today like Gary Clark Jr. and the UK’s Joanne Shaw Taylor.

Jimmy Vaughan, ZZ Ward and Quinn Sullivan also gave tribute to B.B.

Slash, fresh off his Guns ‘N’ Roses tour, let his guitar do the talking, playing on a variety of B.B. tunes.

B.B. King’s Daughters

B.B.’s daughters were on hand, each more beautiful than the next, with great spirit and kind words.

B.B. King's daughters were among those on hand - Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia

B.B. King’s daughters were among those on hand – Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia

“My father taught us to be independent,” Rita King said. “We knew another side of him, he was our father. The only difference was our father had a unique job and if we wanted to see him we went on the road.”

Rita said much of her father’s inspiration is included in her new book, “Messages From My Sister God is our Source and Supplier.”

All agreed the celebration was important for the preservation of The Blues.

GUIDES: One of the Hot Indie Band Discoveries From LA’s Local Festival, Echo Park Rising

Wrapup: LA Fest Yields New Music Finds Across The Board

guides-6-echo-park-rising-wtmk (1 of 1)

Chris Cogswell and his remarkable voice – Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia

By DONNA BALANCIA – Echo Park Rising is more than just a little musical festival in one corner of Los Angeles. The 6-year-old event has come to be one of the major economic drivers of the area.

From the music perspective, EPR should be a place where music executives, agents and scouts walk around and talk to the musicians. Maybe that doesn’t happen any more in this DIY world, where musicians have to do their own promo, raise their own money to record and tour and grow their own fan base.

Instead, we find great bands playing to small audiences, small bands getting an opportunity to get on the bigger stages of Echo Park, and headliners commanding the late night slots at the Echoplex, The Echo and the Liberty Lot, located behind the great Taix Restaurant.

Liz Garo looks out over the crowds her event draws in Echo Park - Photo 2016 Donna Balancia

Liz Garo looks out over the crowds her event draws in Echo Park – Photo 2016 Donna Balancia

The Power Behind EPR

The powerhouse behind the fest is Liz Garo, who runs the show, booking bands into venues and keeping things running smoothly. And props go to SpaceLand, which basically donates its Echo and Echoplex to the festival in a revolving door of talented acts.

In its sixth year, the 2016 show brought Friday headliner Chicano Batman, Saturday punkers The Weirdos, and Meatbodies, which closed out Echoplex Sunday night.

Crowd favorites: Globelamp, Hammered Satin, Wasi, Lexie Rose and Froth.  These performers couldn’t be much further apart in genres, but they each have the own special appeal.

But every few years there’s one band that grabs the attention of industry people and concert-goers alike and this year it was the three-piece indie band, GUIDES.

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GUIDES Rock – Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia

‘A Blend of Sonic Youth and The Smiths’

GUIDES appeared quietly onstage — under the radar — with an early gig at the Echoplex. This group of three: Vocalist and guitarist Chris Cogswell, Jayson Larson on drums and Be Hussey on bass and guitar, may have taken the stage quietly, but that’s where their low profile ended.

GUIDES’ sound is big and commanding. The band’s poise makes it appealing to a broad range of indie fans.

They’ve performed only a handful of gigs, but their uniquely upbeat shoegaze-style music catches the casual concert-goer off guard as presented as a three-piece band, their sound is much fuller.  GUIDES is a blend of Sonic Youth, Sad Lovers and Giants and The Smiths all rolled into one.

Be Hussey of GUIDES - Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia

Be Hussey of GUIDES – Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia

Cogswell is clearly a star, with an alternative voice like that of any of the big new wave punk indie bands of the 1980s like Morissey. Larson’s drumming ranks up with some of the powerful hard rock drummers and he leaves little air up there. The basslines of Hussey keep everything together and all together, it’s an amazing unique yet familiar sound. Check them out on Soundcloud.

“Abstract Head” plays up Cogswells howling and unique tones, “Long Face” highlights the physical drumming of Larson and Hussey shows his diverse talents on bass with “Midas Eye.” The song “Pictures on Pictures” is simply unforgettable.

GUIDES’ Soundcloud page has the EP which can also be purchased on iTunes.

It’s bands like GUIDES that make you glad you came to a festival with more than 300 acts, because when you catch a star, you want to hang on for the ride.

Hammons Reviews: Yo Yo Ma and Friends Show at Hollywood Bowl Brings Music Worlds Together

Global Ensemble Make Beautiful Noise at Hollywood Bowl

A night that brought worlds together - Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

A night that brought worlds together – Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons


Yo Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble bring the world together in music and song as they end their 17-date run of the USA at the Hollywood Bowl.

Yo Yo Ma is a man who understands once music hits the ear it makes order out of chaos.  It joins people together – there is no culture that doesn’t have music.  Ma brought together the evolution of his favorite 18-year project, The Silk Road Ensemble.

Transcending Borders

The music they create celebrates difference by exploring the unfamiliar and giving them the opportunity to build something new.

The opening fanfare showed what it is like to transcend borders and the joy of allowing it to happen thru music.  Cristina Pato from Spain playing Galician bagpipes and Wu Tong playing the Chinese horn in electrifying abandon meet center stage connecting two sides of the world and their cultural roots.  Next up was “Ichichila” a tune traditionally sung by the people of West Africa.  It had a cool relaxed vibe to it and a good way to set the tone for the evening.

© 2016 Craig Hammons

Bagpipes, horns and violins – Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

Silk Road violinist Colin Jacobsen — originally from Minnesota — brought us “O’Neil’s Calavary March,” a tune in the Irish tradition that dates back to the early 1800s.

It featured layers of instruments from a kamancheh, a pipa and some western strings.

On “Green (Vincent’s Tune)” they took a simple melody and turned it into an explosion of bass drumming and gong slamming gone mad.

My favorite song of the night was from Syrian clarinetist Kinan Azmeh called “Wedding.” He said that back home in Syria amist the bombs dropping and the daily fear, there is still the search for love.  This a song about coming together to beat the odds and celebrate.  He warned us that this song could get loud and next thing I knew it was like we were in a Syrian village party.  He dedicated it to all the Syrians who have managed to fall in love in the last five years.

Silk Road Ensemble

Ma did come forward to explain how the Silk Road Ensemble came together but mainly was just another member of the band.  He picked up his cello joined Christina Pato now on piano to do a piece together that was beautiful and full of emotion.

Myriad colors and music - Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

Myriad colors and music – Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

There were many other mergers of musicians and instruments some that seemed improvised while others were full grooves and rhythms.

Kayhan Kalhor, one of the band’s core members, plays a kamancheh otherwise known as an Iranian fiddle.  He was featured in many of the songs making his instrument sing while at time putting us into a trance.

Tribute to Prince

Some of the crowd wished there was more Ma but no one was disappointed.  They closed out the night with a colorful version of Prince’s “When Doves Cry” a song that fit well into their repertoire.   The Bowl was lit purple and the crowd was on their feet giving these musicians from around the world the standing ovation they deserve.

Many of the selections tonight were on the Silk Road’s new recording Sing Me Home. You can find out more about the Silk Road Ensemble at

Lemmy Statue Unveiled, Motorhead Rocker Honored with Celebrations at the Whisky and The Rainbow

Motorhead Rocker Honored at His Sunset Strip Hangouts

The crew celebrates the Lemmy Statue - Photo by Donna Balancia

The crew celebrates the Lemmy Statue – Photo by Donna Balancia


If Lemmy Kilmister were alive, he would probably would have been overwhelmed by the love of fans at events held in his honor on the Sunset Strip.

On Wednesday night hundreds gathered to see the unveiling of a statue created in Lemmy’s image. That statue now has a permanent residence at Lemmy’s favorite place, The Rainbow Bar and Grill.

The night before, there was a Lemmy Tribute night, complete with musicians and a few special guests including Tracii Guns and Dug Pinnick.

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Tracii Guns performs at Whisky A Go Go – Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia

“I’m here because I loved Lemmy’s music,” said Debby Cincianella who came from New York City for the unveiling. “Lemmy meant a lot to a lot of people and we want to honor him.”

John Hammer drove all the way from Bakersfield to get the event in time for the presentation.

“I drove like crazy to get here,” he said. “I had to see this.”

Most of the attendees came from the Los Angeles area and came dressed in their rock n roll finest, many wearing Lemmy-style hats, leather and some form of Motorhead T-shirts, jewelry or jackets.

When the time came to unveil the statue, people were poised to take pictures and get a selfie with the life-size bronze replica of one of the most beloved rockers of our time. There were plenty of photo opportunities with the bronze Lemmy.

The Lemmy statue is in the back of the Rainbow patio area and permanently rests in what many said resembles a black marble upright open tomb.  The likeness is appealing and rest assured there will be plenty of photos around with your favorite pal by the bronze Lemmy’s side.

“It’s been a wonderful way to celebrate the life of one of our favorite musicians,” said Sandy. “I love the Lemmy statue and I went to the show last night at the Whisky. I’m here tonight because this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance.”

Lemmy's widow, Cheryl, gives a kiss to author Sonny Donato - Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia

Lemmy’s widow, Cheryl, gives a kiss to author Sonny Donato – Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia

The Whisky on drew a big crowd, proving the popularity of the “Ace of Spades” musician.

Even Lemmy’s girlfriend, Cheryl, was on hand and she was touched that the musicians performed his songs throughout the night.

The concert event was live-streamed on Facebook so that people around the world could see the show. It’s been a tough year for rock lovers.  David Bowie and Glen Frye were among the other major rock stars to pass away this year.

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Kitty Cadillac and Ruby Carrera at The Rainbow – Photo by Donna Balancia

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Courtney Cox of Iron Maidens at The Whisky – Photo by Donna Balancia

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The cool guys turn out for Lemmy – Photo by Donna Balancia

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Kenny Kweens and a couple of dolls – Photo by Donna Balancia

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He didn’t drive from Bakersfield – Photo by Donna Balancia

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Pharoah Barrett of Kraterface – Photo by Donna Balancia

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Carla Harvey and Tracii Guns – Photo by Donna Balancia

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Walter Ino and Howie Simon – Photo by Donna Balancia

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Seann Nichols – Photo by Donna Balancia

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Carla Harvey gets the approval of Cheryl, Lemmy’s widow – Photo by Donna Balancia

‘Malibu Rocks Hollywood Monday Nights’ is the Latest Great Entertainment at Lucky Strike in Hollywood

Mike Hayes - Photo by Donna Balancia

Mike Hayes – Photo by Donna Balancia

By DONNA BALANCIA – Malibu Rocks Hollywood, a new Monday night music event at Lucky Strike Live, got off to a rockin’ good start.

Presented by the Malibu Guitar Festival, the new program is expected to bring a range of great guitar players to Lucky Strike each Monday.

In its first night of weekly performances, Malibu Rocks Hollywood launched with top-tier guitarists and musicians.

Guitarist extraordinaire Mike Hayes opening for featured performers The Kenneth Brian Band with special guest Robert Randolph.

The Malibu Guitar Festival is a popular event held annually in Malibu, created by Doug DeLuca and John Watkin. Last year, Richie Sambora and Orianthi were among the headliners. Hayes, The Kenneth Brian Band and Randolph played as well.

Robert Randolph - Photo by Donna Balancia

Robert Randolph – Photo by Donna Balancia

In introducing the Mike Hayes band, Kiefer Sutherland once referred to Hayes and his group as “one of the most beautifully melodic and fun bands of our time … one of the tightest bands that I’ve seen … one of the greatest guitar players I’ve seen since Stevie Ray Vaughn.”  And that’s no lie.

Hayes is a thinking person’s blues player. He knows the history of the genre, and he is clearly an expert in his passion.

Hayes’ outward appearance is deceiving as he appears soft spoken and quiet. When he gets on stage it’s a different guy. Hayes is excellent, with guitar skills that go far beyond most of the blues or any other guitarists out there. He plays the music any which way, including over his head and behind his back. He is truly a master, with a strong voice to boot.

Robert Randolph and Scott Thurston sit in with Kenneth Brian Band - Photo by Donna BalanciaThe Kenneth Brian Band is an innovative group, combining a few different styles of rock. The Kenneth Brian Band has a new EP out called Blackbird and it’s worth more than a listen. The band has some rythm driven upbeat songs and one of the things that was impressive is Kenneth’s taste in covers. On Monday night, the band played a cover of “Freeborn Man,” that rivalled the Outlaws’ very own performance of the classic tune.

Randolph needs no introduction and instead, his humble presentation takes over. The funky musician known back East for his work with Robert Randolph and the Family Band, joined the Kenneth Brian Band on Monday night and fit his pedal steel guitar right on in.

36-malibu-guitar-kenneth-brian-wtmks (1 of 1)As the frontman for Robert Randolph and the Family Band, Randolph is considered one of the most prolific players of the “sacred steel” around. His training is from church where he grew up back in New Jersey. He is fortunate to have had some hits, he’s had some deals with the NBA, and has opened for Eric Clapton.

The performances at Lucky Strike were riveting, and The Kenneth Brian Band had another special guest sit in.

Scott Thurston of Tom Petty and Iggy and the Stooges fame, manned the keys.

The music community welcomes an additional night of good music as Tuesday and Wednesday nights have brought jam nights back, much to the delight of music lovers. Now Monday nights also will hit the right notes.

Parquet Courts Have Seen Shinier Days as Band Disses LA on Heels of Cancelled Orange County Show

Parquet Courts bassist Sean Yeaton - Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia

Parquet Courts bassist Sean Yeaton – Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia


Parquet Courts gave a Human Performance to hundreds of eager fans in downtown LA the other night.

They played songs off their new album, called Human Performance, and a full set, opening with “What Color is Blood,” “Dear Ramona,” and the upbeat “Master of My Craft.” There was no encore, as most of the room was expecting “Stoned and Starving,” but who needs to do what the fans want, after all?

Maybe that’s part of the New York schtick, but it seemed the passive aggression was met with a lukewarm reception.

The second half of the show featured tracks off the new album, including “Steady on my Mind, “Berlin Got Blurry,” and “Outside.”

Last blast - Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia

Last blast – Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia

The New York-based band took a couple of random jabs at Los Angeles, comparing the two cities on opposite coasts with Austin Brown saying “Hell is a lot like LA, and heaven is like New York,” which was met with catcalls.

Then they doubled down: “Anyone good is in New York, I heard Jesus got a place in Pelham.” The band even wise-cracked: “At least we have water,” a bizarre dig at a population that has no choice in the California water shortage situation.

Like the humor of Donald Trump, Parquet Courts may have taken it a little too far, especially coming on the heels of a listless LA performance and a cancelled Orange County concert that fans there are still smarting from.

The audience members were a group of good sports, moshing and having fun despite the uneven and the oddly slightly passive aggressive performance. There were some points where the band’s energy was compelling but it seemed as if that came a little late in the evening, for the Dead Milkmen-like “Content Nausea,” and “Human Performance,” “Light Up Gold,” and “Sunbathing Animal.”

parquet courts setlist set listAfter his final strum, it sounded like curly headed guitarist-vocalist Andrew Savage removed his guitar and uttered the word “Perfect” under his breath, as he stomped offstage, but we can’t be sure.

But it was clear he was done, for whatever reason.

And while there were a few good photos to be had, nothing would have adequately captured the look on the faces of the audience when after 14 quickie songs, the house lights came up and the recorded music came on.

By the way, are encores actually required?

There was no “You Got Me Wonderin’ Now,” no “Pretty Machines,” or “Black and White,” or “Stoned and Starving,” examples of Parquet Courts songs that — for good or bad — get the band compared to Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers. But whether the band wants to change its style to more serious or not, these are the Parquet Courts’ trademark songs that are loved, and they’re fun. On Saturday night, it all seemed so serious.

“What happened to the encore?” asked one concert-goer. “It’s so weird. There were a few songs I wanted to hear that they didn’t play.”

Marbled Eye opened strong at The Regent - Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia

Marbled Eye opened strong at The Regent – Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia

What’s a band to do? If you change your style they complain. If you play the same songs over and over they complain. Will the cancelled Orange County tickets be refunded to the fans? Stay tuned.

A high note of the evening was the opener, Marbled Eye, a band from Northern California. With a unique sound and cool indie feel these guys could quickly become a headliner. After all, they have the enthusiasm and they were … fun.


Setting the Standard: James Williamson Engineers Unique Sounds with New Collaborations

‘Blues Jumped The Rabbit’ is Williamson’s Latest Single


James Williamson believes that change is energizing.

“I like to collaborate with different people and this was a great opportunity,” said Williamson of his newest work with multi-talented musician Petra Haden, on their single called “Blues Jumped The Rabbit.”

“Blues Jumped The Rabbit,” taken literally on Williamson and Haden’s cover art, is believed to be originally recorded in 1926 as “Rabbit Foot Blues.” It received a new turn in 1970 by Bob Dylan collaborator Karen Dalton. The B-side of Williamson’s new vinyl is another interesting find, “Last Kind Words.” The single is out on iTunes and will be available on seven inch vinyl on August 19th.

Collaboration is the key for Williamson, a prominent player with Iggy and the Stooges, who says working with new people has been a great experience for him over the last few years.

Blues Jumped The Rabbit - Album Cover by Heather Harris

Blues Jumped The Rabbit – Album Cover by Heather Harris


Talent Scout

Williamson’s become somewhat of a talent scout in the few years since the release of the last Iggy and the Stooges album, Ready to Die, in 2013.  He seeks out collaborators, traveling around to find musicians that are suited for certain projects. Williamson is exacting about the talent he uses on his projects.

In most music lovers’ books, Williamson had already accomplished more than the average superhuman: He’s the co-creator of arguably the most revered American rock anthem of all time, “Search and Destroy.” As a member of Iggy and the Stooges, he basically introduced an entirely new guitar sound to music and lived a parallel life as an accomplished computer engineer and family man.

As for his music, there is more to Williamson than his vast work in the world of punk. With “Blues Jumped The Rabbit,” he puts out an interesting collaboration with violinist and vocalist Haden that has a unique bluesy feel and has a purpose.

James Williamson and Petra Haden - Photo by Heather Harris

James Williamson and Petra Haden – Photo by Heather Harris


The Charity Factor

“The fact of the matter is nobody buys records anyway,” Williamson said. “If we can get people to be aware of these charities, it’s great, it brings awareness of great causes.”

The money raised from the sale of the vinyl single goes towards the Tazzy Animal Rescue Fund in Burbank.

Williamson was impressed with Petra’s work on The Who Sell Out and he asked a Stooges pal for an introduction.

“I was so impressed with her, and then I found out Mike Watt knows her,” Williamson said. “I started using her on different things. I had her to something on Ready to Die. I liked her work on Ready to Die so much, she would do backing vocals and violin, I thought, she’s so good and so versatile I always though she should have a lead vocal.”

Historically, “Blues Jumped The Rabbit,” is an important song, recorded several times over the course of the 1900s.

As for the literal adaptation of the blues on the album cover, it came from an idea James had a while back.

“I saw this picture of a model with a rabbit on her head,” he laughed. “So I floated the idea by my artistic director, photographer Heather Harris, and she came up with the blue rabbit. It’s different.”

Lisa Kekaula and James Williamson work

Lisa Kekaula and James Williamson work


Re-Licked and Lisa Kekaula

Williamson’s made some other impressive moves into the collaborative world of independent musicianship.

He and Lisa Kekaula of the Bellrays released a single called “I Love My Tutu,” a release that benefits Project, Hawai’i, for homeless children in Hawaii, where Williamson lives part of the year.  Kekaula was a prominent player in Williamson’s Re-Licked project.

Last year, Williamson released the album Re-Licked, bringing together alternative A-Listers in an award-winning one-off concert at The Bootleg in Los Angeles. He met with many musicians before finalizing the lineup for his Re-Licked recording.

Williamson relies on another Re-Licked musician, Joe Cardamone of Valley Recording for his projects. And Williamson’s son, Jamie, is also getting into music more and more — he was also involved in the collaboration with Kekaula. Williamson hinted that another single would be coming soon, this one an up-tempo original tune that he wrote with a young musician.

Petra Haden - Photo by Heather Harris

Petra Haden – Photo by Heather Harris


Getting Recognition

The award-winning computer engineer, who was honored in Washington, D.C., last year by the American National Standards Institute, Williamson has been realistic about his music career. There were times when it was not easy. And he balanced the unpredictable music business by starting a successful engineering career.

Though he thinks it’s even harder to make it in music today, relationships and persistence matter, Williamson says.

“The only game these days is playing live,” he said. “And of course live requires you to have enough recognition to get a gig … or at least get a break. In that sense it’s always been that way, however, no promotor wants to risk their money on an unknown because they’re in it to make money.

“But that said, the best avenue is to somehow get into an opening slot for free or whatever and kick some serious butt, such that the audience wants you back and the promoter takes notice. That’s the old school way, and it works, if you can survive long enough.”

DOWNLOAD “Blues Jumped the Rabbit” at ITUNES

Mike Comfort Offers Compilation Album, ‘Pretty Sweet Stuff’ to Fans Beyond Northern California

By JOHN DALY – It’s no surprise Mike Comfort and his band were voted “Best Band in Sacramento,” by the Sacramento Bee and “Best Band in Northern California” by 107FM The Point Chico.

Comfort’s voice is pure Rock N Roll and his style is upbeat — even when it comes to singing about some tough topics.

The alt rock artist has a new compilation album of the work from his other albums, called Pretty Sweet Stuff.  It’s an appropriate name and maybe his marketing manager suggested the title.  Few would disagree.

While all of the cuts on the record are great, our favorite is “Disarray.” It’s a song about lost love, but executed in such an almost upbeat manner that the words hit home.  Comfort gives a good change of pace with a song that has such a great beat, but sad message.  The song leaves us hanging, wondering if the guy will get the girl back mainly because he doesn’t know and he’s trying to go on with his life.

Photo courtesy of Mike Comfort

Photo courtesy of Mike Comfort

The star of the show here is Comfort’s voice. It has an emotive and raw quality that captures the essence of heartbreak and happiness. In the case of “Disarray,” the voice projects the topic of proceeding alone while still in love.

“I sit around and I wonder why all that I did I did for you … It’s just no telling now how much more this heart can take.”

The song’s rockin beat gives the listener the impression the singer feels he may have a shot at getting the gal back.  Hope is good, especially in this crazy world.  What we don’t need is another depressing breakup song and obviously Comfort agrees.

Pretty Sweet Stuff!

Pretty Sweet Stuff!

Tunes that are the sweetest of the sweet also include “Story of Your Smile,” “Upside Down” and “Anywhere With You.”

This is no amateur act. Comfort and his band have been selling out shows in and around Chico for years. Comfort was a session musician and met Chris Holmes and recording engineer and guitarist at a session for another artist. Before the collaboration, Comfort was writing songs and working with or for a host of top-charted artists.

The band is tight and top notch.  Other than Comfort on vocals, the band is comprised of Holmes on guitars and backing vocals, D.J. Farrell on drums, Jonathan Stoyanoff on bass and Brandon Mains on guitar and backing vocals.

The songs were produced at Heirloom Studios in Chico; Red Dot Studios in Tracy and B. Mains Bedroom Studios in Chico.  It was produced by Comfort, was co-produced and engineered by Holmes and was mastered by Rob Beaton with RKS Mastering in Los Angeles.

Listen to Mike’s album, Pretty Sweet Stuff! 

Lance Lopez and All-Star Friends Rock Monday Night Blues at the Valley’s Hot Spot, Maui Sugar Mill

By DONNA BALANCIA – Lance Lopez has more in common with late friend Johnny Winter than a love for the blues.

Like the great Johnny Winter, Lance gives it his all while jamming with pals.

“I really had a great time tonight,” Lance said after a night of All-Star blues presented by Cadillac Zack at Maui Sugar Mill. “This is a great place to play and the fans are super.”

Dug Pinnick fronts for Lance Lopez; Kenny Aronoff on the kit - Photo by Donna Balancia

Dug Pinnick fronts for Lance Lopez; Kenny Aronoff on the kit, Fabrizio Grossi on bass – Photo by Donna Balancia

Lance Lopez Influenced by Johnny Winter

It doesn’t take much to be a super fan when the guitarist who’s performing is one of the hottest blues musicians around.  Lance, who recently released the hot album Lance Lopez Live in NYC, was mentored by Johnny Winter and it shows.

“It touches me to mention Johnny,” Lance said during a conversation about the legendary Johnny, who passed away two years ago at age 70.

Read the California Rocker interview with JOHNNY WINTER

One performance, and it’s easy to tell that Lance is one of the most talented young blues guitarists around. Period.  At the Maui Sugar Mill he brought on some of the most prolific musician pals, including Kenny Aronoff and Guitar Shorty. Dug Pinnick of King’s X also made a special appearance, fronting for Lance.

Lance Lopez and his all-stars - Photo by Donna Balancia

Lance Lopez and his all-stars – Photo by Donna Balancia

Supersonic Band

Lance has a band called Supersonic Blues Machine and Maui Sugar Mill patrons got a taste of what the band’s all about as Aronoff took his spot behind the kit and Fabrizio Grossi played bass. The band debuts album West Of Flushing, South Of Frisco featuring Billy F. Gibbons (ZZ Top), Warren Haynes (Allman Bros./Gov’t Mule), Robben Ford, Walter Trout, Chris Duarte and  Eric Gales

Lance’ latest work is the hot album called Lance Lopez Live in NYC that rips. Check out his website and the photo gallery below.


[Best_Wordpress_Gallery id=”61″ gal_title=”Lance Lopez”]

Michael Franti and Spearhead’s ‘Soulrocker’ Tour Brings Love to the Pacific Amphitheatre


– SOULROCKER (Sol-rahk-er) – One who lives from the heart, with compassion for all, and possesses a tenacious enthusiasm for music, life and the planet.

Once Michael Franti and his band Spearhead stepped on stage, this evening became a celebration of life.

He’s a soul saver, life changer and spiritual and lyrical activist whose music gives fans renewed energy and a stronger sense of purpose.  We were here to hear the music that would take our minds off the madness that’s going on in this crazy world and unite us all as one.

The crowd was already on their collective feet ready to dance, sing and rejoice in the music that would bring good vibes to us all night long.  Once you attend a Franti concert you understand the power of this man, his band, his message of love and the pleasure it brings.  By his second song “Sound of Sunshine,” he had already invited a couple of kids on stage to join him.  These are family shows that span generations.  Franti works the stage with his arms wide open.  When he asks “How ya feelin’?” we all respond with cheers of happiness.

Michael Franti and the Soulrocker tour - Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

Michael Franti and the Soulrocker tour – Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

The songs on the current tour are heavily focused on his newest CD, Soulrocker.  When he performed the latest single “Good to Be Alive Today,” he engaged the audience to listen and understand deep inside what he’s singing about.  He then entered the audience and made his way back to the mid-section armed only with his guitar and a song.

Along the way he hugged, took photos and let people sing with him.  The crowd becomes one and we listen to his quiet observations on things that are personal but yet universal.  When he told the audience about growing up as an adopted child he said “We were told to receive everyone as we would want to be received, regardless of their background, race or what school they came from.”

It brought tears to my eyes to see a mother lift her son out of his wheelchair and hold him up to dance together for a few minutes.  Franti on his way back to the stage saw this and stopped and gave them both a big hug while still singing.  I later spoke to the mom who said her son was paralyzed on his right side and had not smiled from ear to ear for years, but tonight he was wearing a full smile.

Michael Franti and the Soulrocker tour - Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

Michael Franti and the Soulrocker tour – Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

The live show is a musical miracle we all share together.  I walked in to the Pacific Amphitheatre tonight knowing about three people.  When I left I felt like I had 7,000 new friends.  When he sang “Once a Day,” he asked us to interlock our arms together with our neighbors and create a universal bond.  The old man and his wife next to me put their arms around me as we sang “Everybody ought to hug somebody, at least once a day and we all will rise up.”  The live show is also a dance party when Franti says “I want to see everyone jump!” every single person had their hands in the air jumping and reaching for the moon.

I looked around and saw the energy, fun and smiles on the faces of everyone there.  Franti says “I make music because I believe it can change people’s lives and make a difference in the world.”  Tonight we all believed in his message.

Michael Franti and the Soulrocker tour - Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

G. Love and Special Sauce on Soulrocker tour – Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

Towards the end of the set he said “We got to get some kids up here!”  Next thing, he had about two dozen kids on stage singing “Say Hey (I Love You)” with him.  He gave the mic to the little kid next to him who knew every word.   He then did “My Lord” which turned the place into a giant party with people dancing in the aisles, holding each other, making new friends, crying tears of joy and for a few hours, feeling — as Bob Marley once sang — that “Every little thing is going to be all right.”  He then thanked the whole crew from each band member to the bus driver.  As they whole crew came out John Lennon’s imagine was playing over the sound system.

Michael Franti and Spearhead touched each and every one of us tonight with his love and honesty.  So let’s all be Soulrockers and be full of compassion and one day maybe the world will live as one.

Opening the evening was G. Love and Special Sauce who brought his brand of blues, funk and soul that was well received.

Soulrocker Tour – Pacific Amphitheatre with G. Love and Special Sauce

Dave Pirner and Soul Asylum Celebrate Their ‘Change of Fortune’ at The Whisky A Go Go

Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum - Photo by Donna Balancia for California Rocker

Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum – Photo by Donna Balancia for California Rocker

Soul Asylum Opener Wild Roses Also Impresses


Dave Pirner and Soul Asylum gave an electrifying performance at the Whisky A Go Go promoting the album Change of Fortune.

The show proved that Pirner and his band that rose to fame in the late 1980, embrace the twists and turns in their own careers.

Change of Fortune

Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum at Whisky A Go Go - Photo by Donna Balancia for California Rocker

Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum at Whisky A Go Go – Photo by Donna Balancia for California Rocker

Promoting Soul Asylum’s 11th studio album, Change of Fortune, Pirner is happy to be on tour, telling the audience “Thank you, you’re too kind,” after the applause with each song.  It’s a different Soul Asylum than back in the day when Soul Asylum came to prominence, but lots of things are different today.

With the new album, Pirner takes his familiar sound, made famous from “Black Gold,” and “Runaway Train,” and has ratched it up a few notches.

Whirling around with his guitar and speaking honestly to the audience, with little regard for his sweaty appearance, Pirner is happy to be on stage.  If nothing else Pirner and Soul Asylum are truthful in their performance and the crowd appreciates it.

Dave Pirner and Soul Asylum

Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum at the Whisky A Go Go - Photo by Donna Balancia for California Rocker

Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum at the Whisky A Go Go – Photo by Donna Balancia for California Rocker

Change of Fortune was a Pledgemusic project and more than a few contributors were in the audience during the U.S. tour, which started off on a bill with The English Beat and wrapped as a solo act.

The lead single off Change of Fortune, called “Supersonic,” is a fast-paced rockin tune, and when performed live brings out the best of a more mature, but very physically active Soul Asylum. Mixing other cool cuts off the new work and blending in some of the famous Soul Asylum songs, frontman Pirner and his group put on a terrific show.

Pirner’s pretty down to earth and his personality rings true no matter what. The audience is faithful, with a diverse age range of attending his shows, or at least that was the case at the recent show at the Whisky.

Enduring the Changes

I can't hear you Dave Pirner says during Soul Asylum show at Whisky A Go Go - Photo by Donna Balancia

‘I can’t hear you,’ Dave Pirner says during Soul Asylum show at Whisky A Go Go – Photo by Donna Balancia

As for Change of Fortune, the name of the album is appropriate.  Pirner has endured a lot of changes since the band started, and one notable change was the loss of his bandmate and pal, Karl Mueller, who died of cancer in 2004.  He dedicated a song to Karl during the show.

But Change of Fortune has its dynamic driven songs and mellow tunes — it covers a range of emotions one can only expect from Pirner, one of the most prolific songwriters of the last 35 years.

Change of Fortune, which is co-produced by John Fields and the band, is a classic and is testament to Pirner’s persistence. Other than “Supersonic,” other standout cuts on the new album are rock anthem “Can’t Help It,” “Make It Real,” and electro-ballad, “When I See You.”

If you missed them in the day, it’s not too late to add Soul Asylum to the bucket list of great performances.

Wild Roses to Open for The Living End

Marc Orrell of Wild Roses - Photo by Donna Balancia

Marc Orrell of Wild Roses – Photo by Donna Balancia

Another high point of the evening was opener Wild Roses, a band led by frontman Marc Orrell and bassist pal, Jeff Roffredo; these guys crank out some great music.

Orrell who’s got a great rock n roll voice, was guitarist with Dropkick Murphys and still has a good relationship with the band.

They’ll be opening for Australian punkers The Living End at the Roxy on Aug. 19; and the Glass House in Pomona on Aug. 20.

Get Tickets to The Living End.

[Best_Wordpress_Gallery id=”58″ gal_title=”Soul Asylum Whisky A Go Go”]

‘The Freshman,’ A Bizarre, Martian-Themed Album by the 12-Member Band Revolushn, Worth A Probe

By DONNA BALANCIA – Revolushn doesn’t need to have permanent band members — because like on Mars, everything is transient.  And that includes the music.

Screen Shot 2016-07-17 at 12.58.45 AMLed by a couple of guys with some weirdo nicknames like NO and EMS or something, these guys have taken a page out of the Residents’ anonymity book, but they’ve added their own space-like twist. Their new album is called The Freshman.

Revolushn is like David Bowie meets REM with some Sonic Youth thrown in.  Eclectic, yes.  But there’s apparently some top name talent here. Check out the song that started it all, “KC

The band members are spread out from the East Coast to the West Coast with the troupe’s elders located in California. OK, so what’s with the space theme and the all the mystery?

Upon closer “probing” we find there to be way too much talent — however discombobulated it may be — for this to be some relatively new group just starting out. And thus the ol’ switcheroo with the band’s second record, The Freshman, which is a collection of space-themed oddities.  Some songs are excellent.  There are a couple of strange ones.  But, what do you want from space people?

While they don’t sound anything alike, there is a similarity between the Revolushn and the great Jonathan Richman.  Both Revolushn and Richman have a bizarre sense of humor that has great impact. The review rap with Richman —  considered one of the leaders of the punk genre —  is he could have achieved greater commercial success if he cut out the cutesy act and kooky songs like “Abominal Snowman in the Market,” “Ice Cream Man,” and “I’m a Little Dinosaur.”  But who wants commercial success anyway?

Let’s be honest. When it comes to kooky, Revolushn may be taking that title and trying it on for size. If this album were to have come across our desks and we didn’t find out that some heavy hitters were involved, we would still think there were.  And that’s despite the crazy album cover and bizarre musical style.  We particularly like the cuts “Fly Me To The Moon,” “Been Thinkin,” “Dark Matter,” and “Martian Shantytown.”  Of course “Alien Polka” is another classic – check out the video above.

Assuming Revolushn doesn’t want to be taken seriously and would rather continue to share an “inside joke” with its growing fan base, there still is plenty to like, particularly on The Freshman.  The outerworldly Martian theme probably came to prominence because of the band’s heavy use of synth and reverb, distortion … and general weirdness.

Oh, and the videos are equally strange, by the way. Very much like Todd Rundgren’s excellent experimental videos from The Desktop Collection.  You want Martians? Against a backdrop of break-dancing, two-legged pinkish figures dipping and bending, bongo playing musicians do their thing in one of the videos. There’s definitely an alien threat here of some kind, if we could only interpret what’s going on.  But we had a hard time trying to figure out The Flaming Lips “She Don’t Use Jelly” video also, and it looks kind of similar.

The Twitter account for Revolushn, @therub9  is another strange case.  The Tweets are quotes from famous humans, scattered in with some news about the band from time to time.  No quotes from Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips, or from his astronaut pal, John Herrington.  Maybe they’ll just stay out there on their little space journey, where there’s no WiFi, but there are plenty of stars.

But in the meantime, the music on The Freshman is fun and the talent is about as real as it gets.  But apparently, everything else on our planet is questionable.

Band members: DAVID KENDRICK, Drums-lyrics; SCHUBERT, Keyboards-vocals; EMC, Drums-percussion; WAYNE COYNE, Guitar-vocals; Production: AARON CONNOR (Bone Thugs and Harmony) Engineering-mastering; NO, Engineering-production-mastering.


Empire of the Sun Heat up Pacific Amphitheatre, Frontman Steele Smashes His Guitar to Bits

By CRAIG HAMMONS – To truly enjoy Empire of the Sun you have to see the live show and that is what 7,000 of us colorful fans did this perfect summer evening.

Empire of the Sun – Photo courtesy Goatling

At 9:15 the lights dimmed and a fine mist took over the stage, the entrance music for Empire of the Sun began and some darkened silhouettes of four dancers and three musicians appeared.

After a burst of color and light, front man Luke Steele took center stage to open with “Old Flavours.”

Before they finished the first song the entire audience was on their feet and under their spell.  By the second song “DNA” with the lyrics “Just take me away, be my DNA” is exactly what they did.

Luke Steele’s vocals were spot on and he seemed happy to hear the audience singing the words right along with him.  Each song carried a different array of colors and lights with a huge screen that showed different themes and pictures.  During “Half Mast,” the screen showed a field of flowers and pictures of a planet they landed on.  The band and dancers blend well together as they dance and play through a sea of smoke wrapped in velvet and gold.

It is not hard for this band to keep the audience engaged.  It is almost impossible to turn your eyes away from the stage.  Frontman Luke Steele has his own stage out front and center that has a small keyboard that he plays at the same time as playing his guitar.  But he wanders the stage with his elaborate costumes and headdresses, working the audience into a frenzy.  He even went out into the crowd a few times creating drama and showing what a powerhouse bandleader he is.  This is more than a concert; it is a theatrical performance that could fit well on a Broadway stage.

Empire of the Sun - Photo courtesy Goatling

Empire of the Sun – Photo courtesy Goatling

The show was perfectly choreographed with the dancers changing costumes that ranged from alien rock stars with guitars that lit up, to astronauts and butterflies.  The dancers were always in synch and brought an element of fantasy to each song.  Part of this may be because Steele’s partner, Nick Littlemore, worked as composer and musical director for the Cirque Du Soliel’s touring arena shows.

Empire of the Sun’s musical performance makes you feel like you’re in a movie filled with special effects and a cool soundtrack.   By the time they got to “Walking in Dream,” the audience enthusiasm was out of control.

When Luke Steele sang the lyrics “Thought I’d never see the love you found in me” you could see he was happy as he wandered back into the audience to feel the love of the fans.  They ended their set with “Tiger By My Side” and Steele went ’80’s rock star on our ass playing and smashing his guitar to pieces.  The stage went dark and we all couldn’t believe what just happened.  But before we could catch our breath they were all back on stage with “Standing On the Shore.”

They ended with “Alive” and every one of us sang along to the chorus, “Loving every minute, cause you make me feel alive, alive.”  That’s exactly how we felt tonight after experiencing Empire of the Sun.

Ted Nugent Feels the California Love During His Nationwide ‘Sonic Baptizm’ Tour 2016

Like His Politics or Not, Nugent’s Music Hits the Mark


Ted Nugent had audiences applauding wildly and jumping for joy during the Southern California swing of his Sonic Baptizm Tour.  Now it’s on to the East Coast.

Since the 1970s, the 67-year-old “Motor City Madman” from Detroit has been rocking harder than most of his peers. His wild antics and promotional stunts have enabled him to cash in handsomely on his musical talent.  But this guy isn’t blowing smoke or hiding behind his politics. Nugent’s guitar playing is amazing and his voice is strong and clear.

Those who don’t know his music, know him for his outspoken political viewpoints.  But there were a lot of people at the Saban Theatre performance last week who didn’t seem to mind his politics. Nugent’s Sonic Baptizm 2016 Tour, which started out with a modest number of dates has grown into a massive cross-country campaign and his fans couldn’t be happier.

Ted Nugent with drummer Jason Hartless - Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia

Ted Nugent with drummer Jason Hartless – Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia

Nugent Outrocking Those Half His Age

Nugent holds his own against young rockers and would put any veteran rockers to shame.  If you insert some patriotism, a few American flags onstage and a little political rhetoric, it’s a great show, directed mainly at his certain audience.

All the favorite Nugent songs including “Cat Scratch Fever” are on the set list and so is a persona that’s bigger than life.  Nugent called the people who come to see him the “real Californians” and appreciates them because they appreciate the “shitkickin'” music he plays.

“I love him,” said fan Debby Kraigen of Sherman Oaks, Calif., during the show in Beverly Hills. “Some of my friends really don’t care for him, and my daughter and her friends aren’t really fans, but I’ll always love him.”

Kraigen attended the show with several pals, all of whom have been to more Nugent shows since 1980 than all shows combined that the average concert-goer sees in a lifetime. Kraigen’s pal Ralph Martinez said:  “Ted’s almost 70 or something and he’s amazing.  I hope I have that kind of energy when I’m his age. We’re going to three of his other shows too.”

Kraigen echoed the sentiment of several people during the show: “I don’t like his politics but I love his music.”

ted-nugent-24-set-list (1 of 1) donna balancia

The set list from Ted Nugent’s show at the Saban Theatre

‘Ted Nugent: Political Activist’

Even though he calls himself a political activist, Nugent is a musical performer first and foremost.  Not only has he been been drawing lots of “regular” fans to  good-sized venues, but people are shelling out big bucks for “Dangerzone” VIP Meet-and-Greet packages.

Many think “Uncle Ted” is a turn-off.  His words are too strong, he’s a super-conservative, he hunts animals, and he’s aggressive. But criticism has also been directed at “raging” groups who profit from rhetoric related to shooting people and members of law enforcement.

From what our friends at some of the other shows in SoCal have told us, Nugent was out in full force at other venues including Canyon Club in Agoura Hills and The Coach House in Capistrano. Whatever the people in the audience think of his politics it was clear they were there for the music.

With his rockin’ ensemble of bassist Greg Smith and drummer Jason Hartless, seeing Nugent live is a step back into when rock concerts were true events, when the performer got to speak his peace … regardless if it’s accepted by all, none or some.



Hollywood Bowl Fans Feel Irie as The Great Burning Spear Makes His Final California Appearance

Burning Spear - Photo by Craig Hammons

Burning Spear – Photo by Craig Hammons


Jah cool wind blew peace and harmony over the Hollywood Bowl a beautiful summer evening last week as the sounds of reggae music would soon be soothing our souls.  Everyone was feeling Irie and ready to groove.

We all knew this would be a special evening as Burning Spear announced this would be his final concert in California.  Fans, family and friends came from all over the world to be part of the Burning Spear Experience.

KCRW’s Jeremy Sole opened the night by bringing out the Etana the Jamaican princess of reggae.  She and her roots reggae band covered some of her well known tracks like “Roots” and “Blessing,” before getting into her album “The Strong One” and some tracks from her newest album “I Rise.”   Some of the stand out tracks she performed were “Don’t Forget” and “Jah Chariot.”  She kept the positive energy flowing by covering Bob Marley’s classic One Drop” and even covered the Beatles “Don’t Let Me Down.”  At the end of her set she asked the audience if we were afraid and ended her set with “I Am Not Afraid.”   She told us all to “Do not walk with fear, with all that is going on in the world, find the strength to say no, I am not afraid.”

Ky-Mani Marley - Photo by Craig Hammons

Ky-Mani Marley – Photo by Craig Hammons

Next up was Bob’s son Ky-Mani Marley who kicked things off with his dad’s song “Concrete Jungle”.  The crowd was now up and feeling inspired by this music that magically moves them.  Ky-Mani asked “Are you feeling Irie” (the state of feeling great)?  Everyone was feeling the positive vibes.

He then played a couple new tracks called “Love Over All” and “Hey” which showed what a good song writer he is.

Ky-Mani brought out his friend Sammy Wilk to sing “Light Up” which didn’t take long for a smoky haze to form over the Bowl.   He kept the set fast and lively as he said he wanted to get in a few songs we all loved and ended his set with “Is This Love” and “Redemption Song”.  Every little thing was alright.   He thanked the crowd for this beautiful evening in one of his favorite places.  Rastafari!

As darkness fell over the Hollywood Bowl the stage was lit up bright waiting for the Jamaican roots reggae singer, conga player, Rastafarian and cultural icon Burning Spear.  The We Are One Band came on and played some instrumentals before Burning Spear strolled on stage to thunderous applause and much respect and appreciation.  Tonight was the last chance to see Spear and he would not disappoint his reggae brothers and sisters.

Spear said: “It’s going to be my last show in California and it’s time for “I MAN” to stand down from the stage as I want to say goodbye to my fans.”

Burning Spear - Photo courtesy Marco Swk

Burning Spear – Photo courtesy Marco Swk

Spear is now 71 years old but has got the energy of a young lion.  Spear is just one cool cat.  He was wearing ripped jeans and a Rasta vest and urging the people to sing along.  “Talk to me people,” he would say and we all would respond with cheers of happiness.   The crowd was loving his positive and uplifting songs of love, peace and unity.  Spear told us that we are free and we are going to rock the Hollywood Bowl tonight and that is what we did.

Spear tore thru his set dancing and playing his congas like he was a young Jamaican lad all over again.

He played “Jah No Dead” reassuring the crowd that all is not lost, stay strong and stand tall.  Spear then reminded the crowd that the Spear has been burning since 1969 until now.  He then ran thru some upbeat versions of “Red, Green and Gold” and “Tumble Down” before slowly walking off stage left.  The entire Hollywood Bowl was on their feet screaming for more.  Then Spear and his band came back out and said “Shout it if you want to hear more original reggae music.”    He then went into a slow emotional version of “Purple Rain.”  We all sang along with Burning Spear as he saluted Prince because he always stood up for what he believed in.

The evening ended with a song of truth called “Slavery Days” and then “Holy Foundation.”  Spear stretched arms out to the audience as if he was try hug each of us.  He said “It’s my last performance in California, I know you will always remember Burning Spear and keep his music alive.”  Many happy memories were made tonight as we all were spell bound by the love and unity we all experienced tonight.  Keep the Spear burning.  One love.


The California Rocker Interview: Soul Asylum Founder Dave Pirner Talks ‘Change of Fortune’

New Orleans Resident Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum Rolls to Whisky A-Go-Go July 21

Dave Pirner sits down with Donna Balancia of California Rocker

Dave Pirner sits down with Donna Balancia of California Rocker – Photo courtesy Dave Pirner

By DONNA BALANCIA – Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum has put a lot of time into the new album, Change of Fortune.  He’s had some major changes in his life and the album reflects that.

“It’s got loose architecture to it; it strives to be filthy and accurate at the same time,” he told in an exclusive interview. “The rythms are tight, and I got some stink in there.”


Dave, 52, has been living in New Orleans, raising a son, and playing music.  He looks basically the same, he’s still strictly anti-commercial and won’t sell his songs for TV ads.  His band is ON TOUR this summer with groups like The English Beat and The Fixx.  Soul Asylum plays Whisky A-Go-Go on July 21.

‘Runaway Train’

Change of Fortune album cover Soul Asylum

Change of Fortune album cover Soul Asylum

Yes, it’s a different Soul Asylum than in the days of the band’s 1994 superhit “Runaway Train.”  Soul Asylum 2016 consists of Dave, Michael Bland on drums, Winston Roye on bass, and Ryan Smith on guitar.

“We enjoy playing together and we’re having fun,” Pirner said.

“Runaway Train” reached number 2 on the U.S. Top 40 mainstream and sold 600,000 copies in the United State en route to being certified gold.

Soul Asylum had previously been called Loud Fast Rules with guitarist Dan Murphy, bassist Karl Mueller, and Pirner who had been on the drums – Murphy and Pirner were taking turns on vocals.

Dave moved from drums to lead vocals and rhythm guitar in 1983 and the band became Soul Asylum.

A lot has happened in the years since “Runaway Train” hit the charts and won a GRAMMY Award for Best Rock Song in 1994. Dave’s had a family, he survived the death of his best pal and bandmate Karl Mueller, and he evacuated for Hurricane Katrina to Minneapolis only to return to a devastated New Orleans.

“New Orleans is resilient,” Dave said. “They’re true believers here. There’s a real pride and you could see it when the Saints won the Super Bowl.”

And yes there’s been a lot of change all around. But he said he’s undergone one change that is truly unfortunate for someone living in New Orleans: “I lost the ability to eat spicy foods,” Dave said.

Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum

Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum photo courtesy Dave Pirner for

Dave speaks like a guy with a swagger looks. He pauses when he speaks, he’s thinking, and he’s uncensored.

The album and title track off  “Change of Fortune” were influenced by living in the Big Easy, Dave said.

“The drum rythms are inspired by the parades or the syncopations that are so fundamental and intimate to New Orleans,” Dave said.

Did a lot of people leave New Orleans?

“Whenever I’m in Houston, musicians ask ‘How’s the scene back in New Orleans,” Dave said. “So I think people relocated.

As far as playing the old haunts of New Orleans, Dave initially was taken with the appearance of history on the walls of the joints there. The changing face of New Orleans brought some initial trepidation.

“Tipitina’s has always been the place to play,” Dave said. “So when House of Blues came in I was resistant, but for the musicians that live here, they were like, ‘Wow a good lighting system,’ ‘A good sound system,’ Wow a clean bathroom,’ so in that respect it’s good. But I’m here in New Orleans where the legends are.

Dave Pirner’s Film work

Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum

Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum

Dave’s been longtime friends with filmmaker Kevin Smith, since Smith directed the video for Soul Asylum song “Can’t Even Tell” which appeared in Smith’s comedy, Clerks.  Pirner then scored his next movie Chasing Amy.

“Kevin’s been lecturing at Kent State,” Dave said. “Kevin asked for a song he liked and ended up making a video on the roof where Clerks was shot. I did the Chasing Amy score and now I’m working on a documentary about a magic shop that I know from my childhood. That’ll be directed by Dave Roth who directed Artificial Heart our Black Gold video.”

And he may be working in films, but he won’t do ads, Dave said.

“I’m not putting my music in commercials,” Dave said. “It’s almost problematic that I’m not interested. I won’t even play on a stage that has a beer sign on it. I’m not interested, but If Greenpeace wanted to use my music I might reconsider. Or if a bullet train from California to New York, I would consider letting them use ‘Runaway Train.'”

The industry today is a little different than when “Runaway Train” went off the charts.

“Today, it’s impossible for me to support my own band,” he said. ” They would love for us to license a song for an Advil ad to feed their children.

“But as George Michael said, “You got to have faith.”

Dave paused for a few seconds.

“I can’t believe I’m quoting George Michael,” he laughed. “But Soul Asylum would not be around if we didn’t have faith.”

The Soul Asylum Tour

Dave Pirner - Photo courtesy Woohoo120

Dave Pirner – Photo courtesy WH120

Last summer the band toured with the Meat Puppets. This year they’ll be touring with English Beat and it’s a different crowd. They’ll be playing Whisky A-Go-Go July 21.

Dave said he likes playing the smaller venues.

“You know, it’s a fact that the bigger the venue the more impersonal it is,” he said. “I remember some of the festivals in Europe, before Lollapalooza, you could look out and see the crowd goes on forever, you couldn’t see the end of the crowd.”

Dave said he’s been fortunate enough to have a wide range of performance experiences and a few come to mind as standouts.

“We opened for Guns N Roses in England,” he said. “Then there was the time we played the White House. One time we were playing ‘Runaway Train’ on a baseball diamond and a train went by right at that moment. We’ve been really fortunate.  And we’ve done a lot but there’s a lot more ahead.”

Magic Lightnin’ Boys Revive American Swamp Music With Scorching New Album ‘Stealin’ Thunder’

Magic Lightnin’ Boys Add Zap to Southern Rock Genre

The Magic Lightnin' Boy blow doors - Photo courtesy of Magic Lightnin' Boys

The Magic Lightnin’ Boy bust open the Southern Rock genre – Photo courtesy of Magic Lightnin’ Boys


The Magic Lightnin’ Boys are helping the South to Rise Again.  South Ohio, that is.

With ripping guitar, cool songs and a charismatic frontman, the Magic Lightnin’ Boys take Southern Rock, add their own funky style and make it their own.

They’ve got a new album called Stealin Thunder, and it sure is appropriately named.

It’s like these Cincinnati guys took every Southern rock song from the heavens, blended in their own harmonica-laced upbeat funk, and thrust the genre down upon the people like a bolt of lightning.  Maybe that’s how the band got its name, because these Magic Lightnin’ Boys really give a charge.

Good Ol’ Southern Rock, With a New Twist

Magic Lightnin’ Boys are powered by lead vocalist Casey Gomez, whose deep and rowdy yet melodic voice sounds like a combination of Robin Trower and Darius Rucker, except this guy is more like Hottie and the Blowfish.  Stage presence he’s got.

Magic Lightnin' Boys' new album is 'Stealin' Thunder' - Photo courtesy Magic Lightnin Boys

Magic Lightnin’ Boys’ new album is ‘Stealin Thunder’ – Photo courtesy Magic Lightnin Boys

Gomez’ voice has a quality that gives the group a retro bluesy sound, underscoring a truly American and quasi “swampy” tone.  The guitar work and bass is aces and it’s apparent that the Lightnin’ Boys are influenced by Marshall Tucker and the Allman Brothers.

One of the reasons we say this is because we heard the cut “April Rain.”  The song has some resonant sounds and cool lyrics:

“Good love is hard to find, but one thing they never tell you is it’s always better with a cheap-ass bottle of wine.  When she cries it’s like April Rain, washing away the pain…”

Not to march out some of the fun old bands of the 1970s, but someone in the Magic Lightnin’ Boys is a Pure Prairie League fan, judging by some of the other hot tunes.  It’s nice that a modern band can take the old Southern Rock classics and put a new upbeat spin on them.

magic-artA lot can be said about Brian Tarter’s ripping guitar and backing vocals, Richie Lee’s out of control bass and Kurt Lipphardt’s complicated and combustible work on the kit.

Other standout numbers on Stealin Thunder are “Roll,” “The Ride,” and “Rubber Side Down,” the latter of which is reminicent of Jim Stafford’s hit “Spiders and Snakes,” only with a faster, fun pace.

It’s amazing how a little application of talent, enthusiasm for a 30-year-old genre, and a little updating can create a whole new sound. Bravo to the Magic Lightnin’ Boys, a true gem of a band!  Your talent is welcome in the big city.

The Magic Lightnin’ Boys will be touring with club gigs and will also hit the festival circuit through summer and into the fall in support of the album.

Check out the Magic Lightnin’ Boys website 


At The Drive In and Le Butcherettes Bring Their Physical Performances to Hollywood Palladium

Cedric Bixler-Zavala of At The Drive In always delivers a physical performance - Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia

Cedric Bixler-Zavala of At The Drive In always delivers a physical performance – Photo © 2016 Donna Balancia

By DONNA BALANCIA – At The Drive In and Le Butcherettes made it two nights of wild entertainment, putting on their physical music at sold out shows at the Hollywood Palladium.

ATDI frontman Cedric couldn’t help but do his routine stage diving, and the audience was more than happy to oblige and also join in.

The Hollywood Palladium was packed wall-to-wall with people and it goes to show the popularity of the bands.

Pent-Up Demand

Most people who attended said they’ve wanted to see both ATDI and Le Butcherettes “for a long time.”

That’s because in the case of ATDI, the band has been on-again, off-again but showed it was fully on for this two-night affair.

set list ATDI

set list ATDI

ATDI played most of the crowd favorites, too many to mention (see attached set list photos) and the group was in top shape.

As for Le Butcherettes, if you have missed them, that’s your own fault.

Teri Suarez, known as Teri Gender Bender, the front woman of The Butcherettes, joined her pals as the supporting act, and this is clearly a match made in Heaven — or Texas or somewhere. They’re two phenomenal bands that share players and obviously share a lot of attitude in common. They are both a pleasant relief to today’s tame Rock N Roll.

As we can’t say enough good things about Teri’s performance — she knows how to electrify the crowd and throw in a stage dive or two herself — we are going to leave it all up to the photos to tell the story of the performance.

[Best_Wordpress_Gallery id=”54″ gal_title=”Butcherettes-ATDI”]

Abe Reviews: The Lumineers Light Up Santa Barbara Bowl With Their Elegant Style

Lumineers Photo © 2016 Abe Noorzay

Lumineers play the Santa Barbara Bowl (May 28, 2016) – Photo © 2016 Abe Noorzay


On a cool Saturday night, during a much-needed three-day weekend, The Lumineers lit up the entire city of Santa Barbara.

The band that had been at No. 1 on the Billboard charts for 18 non-consecutive weeks with their hit single “Ho Hey,” was able to showcase their newest album, Cleopatra. The openers put on a stellar show for everyone and the sold out crowd was ready.

The night started early with a 6:30 p.m. performance from the first opener, Sleepwalkers.  The group hails from Richmond, Va., and had their own brand of California beach goth that I’m sure most of the crowd wasn’t expecting. Between the countless animated faces of guitarist/bassist Austin York and just the overall local-sounding tunes they had, the band was incredibly enjoyable to watch.

Lumineers by Abe Noorzay

Lumineers – Jeremiah Fraites (bass, drum, tambourine), Wesley Schultz (guitar) – Photo © 2016 Abe Noorzay

SOAK: Amazing Treat

The skies started to change colors and up next was SOAK. She got on stage with her band and she just looked like this awkward kid on stage with her guitar and bright, buttoned shirt, then she started playing. The entire crowd stopped what they were doing and they just listened. Her music sounded like what the ocean feels like and her voice had a dark undertone that led perfectly into the new sound The Lumineers went for in Cleopatra. 

After that riveting performance, the crowd was beyond ready to see the main event. Couples were swing dancing in the pit to The Plank by The Devil Makes Three and everyone was just having fun.

As the night faded to black, the curtains fell and the stage lit up.

The Lumineers

First to come on stage was drummer Jeremiah Fraites with his signature white T-shirt and suspenders along with the fedora.

As the crowd roars, he walked to his kit, set his drink down, and hit the bass drum rhythmically as the others walked on the stage as well. The crowd got even louder. Frontman Wesley Schultz picked up his guitar and they opened with the intro to their new album, Sleep on the Floor.

Halfway through the show, the Lumineers picked up their instruments and made their way to the middle of the crowd and played a couple of songs with all their fans surrounding them.

Opener SOAK - Photo © 2016 Abe Noorzay

Opener SOAK – Photo © 2016 Abe Noorzay

While there, they also covered the famous Bob Dylan track, “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” and did it in a way where they turned it into a Lumineers song. They absolutely owned it.

They finished off the night with “Stubborn Love” and the crowd sang along so beautifully. You could look around and see people crying their eyes out, singing along and just staring at the sky.

The Lumineers put on a different kind of show. They take the simplicity of their original folk sound and add a certain elegance with their making of Cleopatra that just can’t be obtained by their contemporaries.

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