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The Insightful Charlie Gillingham of Counting Crows

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Charlie Gillingham c. 2016

By Christa T. for Accordion Americana Charlie Gillingham, a bright guy born in Torrance, California, graduates from The University of California -Berkeley with a degree in Artificial Intelligence and is quickly hired as a software engineer. He makes a good living for nearly a decade. If not for the fact that Charlie also happens to be a very talented musician and songwriter, it could have been a sweet, but predictable ending to a pleasant story. But, when an opportunity materialized in 1990 to join and help launch an emerging group, Counting Crows, Charlie Gillingham took a sharp right turn and added “Keyboardist and Multi Instrumentalist” to his resume.

“We started around Berkeley, CA, Adam Duritz, David Bryson and I,” Charlie said. Lead singer, Adam Duritz and guitarist David Bryson had been playing together in coffeehouses in and around San Francisco, CA. The name they were using, Counting Crows, was derived from a nursery rhyme, One for Sorrow, about the superstitious counting of magpies,  members of the crow family. “One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, four for a boy, five for silver, six for gold, seven for a secret, never to be told.” As members were added,  they decided that Counting Crows remain the name of the band.

Gillingham employs an impressive array of musical instruments. Whether he’s working with the Hammond B3, the piano accordion, mellotron, guitar, clarinet or oboe, he says, “I’m usually looking for an atmosphere, a texture….and lean more towards playing an instrument that I can improvise on and play really well…..piano is great…. You can make a “Whirly” (Wurlitzer’s early electronic piano) sound magical because it’s got a lot of effects on it. But it’s kind of more interesting to do that with your hands.…I’ve been playing a Hammond B3 for a long time, and I know how to do a lot of different things with it. I know how to shape the sound, how to move it somewhere, make it go. My hands know what to do.”

With regard to the piano accordion, Charlie says,  “It’s been around….I like playing accordion because I like the way it makes you feel. I don’t play it like an accordion player. I play it like I play it…. I use it as an instrument way more than I would ever use it as a hammer—as a rich, emotional pad, like the way someone might use strings.”

Charlie explains about the creative process of songwriting with members of Counting Crows, “So Adam is the writer. All our songs are lyric-driven….All of us, everybody in the band, are musicians in various ways by bringing home chord changes, coming up with new parts, moving things around. There are a few songs of ours that grew almost entirely out of recordings that I made….Then again, the lyrics and melody are all Adam. I think at the end of the day, a song is a lyric and a melody. The chord changes and the instrumental stuff that we do help that melody and the lyrics go.”

In 2004, Gillingham’s song,  “Accidently in Love” along with his co-writers, Adam Duritz, Jim Bogios, David Immergluck, Matt Malley, David Bryson and Dan Vickrey,  was nominated for The Academy Award for Best Original Song,  used in the film, Shrek 2.

Charlie Gillingham shares his insight into the process of using an instrument in his work “..there’s a learning curve in an instrument… If you’re just scrolling through the sounds trying to find something good, you’re not going to find something that can play the subtlety…..You can make an instrument sound great by the way you play it, or you can make it sound great by the way you orchestrate it. There are two sides to it.….You could find something to carry a melody, which might be what you want. If you just want to carry a melody, that’s fine…..But if you want to shape the song, shape the mood of the song, make it feel like something, you have to play well.”

He adds, “….there’s two sides to playing….say you have a Stradivarius violin, you have the best violin in the world. But it’s how you play it. It’s a big thing.  It’s just the nature of electronic software instruments that you don’t get a lot of practice time. You can’t practice some sampler. But there are people who learn certain samplers and synthesizers really well.”

And with the wisdom of a long time professional musician, Charlie Gillingham sums up his experience with this insight, ” It’s not what you know. It’s how much you practice.”

charlie gillingham 1

All quotes from “A Conversation with Charlie Gillingham of Counting Crows”, Reverb, Published Aug 17, 2016 by Matt Biancardi

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West Texas’ Own, Ponty Bone

Ponty Bone II

Ponty Bone

Christa T. for Accordion Americana Ponty Bone always knew he was different. “…I always thought of myself as some sort of artist…a character in a novel, all my life…I knew something was up.” Harry DePonta Bone, or “PB” to his friends, started playing the accordion when he was five years old, but dropped it several years later to study the trumpet. Little did he know that one day, he would come back to that first instrument and in time, become an institution in the heart of the West Texas music scene and internationally recognized as an Americana accordionist.

Ponty Bone was born and grew up in San Antonio. Because musicians lives are never easy, Ponty decided to do the wise thing and go to college at Texas Tech in Lubbock. Soon, he found himself with a wife, twin daughters and a job as a surveyor and draftsman living in Arizona, just trying to make ends meet. But, he wanted more. Mostly, he wanted to be back in Texas working as a musician.  Looking for any excuse, Ponty and his family always headed back in the direction of Texas. In the late sixties, while living in Phoenix, Ponty and his wife, Sarah started their first band, New Moan Hey and began playing gigs in Texas, beginning with The Vulcan Gas Company in Austin. Sarah, it has been noted, was a pretty good singer. But, for whatever reason, their marriage ended in 1976.

For Ponty, from the first band began long associations, performing and recording, with some of the best musicians in the music business, from Austin to L.A.  It’s hard not to talk about Ponty’s career without mentioning Lubbock, Texas because Ponty Bone has been so closely associated with the town and its music scene since the early 1970’s. He explains, “”Lubbock’s always been a lucrative market. A lot of great bands came out of Lubbock. And a lot of great bands came to Lubbock. A lot of ‘em were there because of, something a little bit more on the intellectual side of the equation. Like being in a band, or going to Texas Tech, or having some kind of a connection with the arts…”

But, Lubbock is more than your average college town. From the city’s night clubs emanated some of the grittiest and most visceral music ever produced in America. Key hot spots were the “Thunderbird Lounge”, the “Cotton Club” and “Stubb’s Bar-B-‘Que”. “Stubb’s” is on the city’s Eastside and at that time, was exclusively an African American night club. A guitarist changed that and put the club on the map. His name was Jesse Taylor, with whom Ponty Bone collaborated, from the time Jesse was a hard rocking, tattooed, self taught sixteen year old white kid who lived not far from “Stubb’s”. This association lasted until Jesse Taylor’s untimely death at age 55 in 2006. Both Jesse and Ponty eventually became members, touring internationally with The Joe Ely Band.

Joe Ely, a Lubbock born musician and band leader of international renown,  is a pivitol  figure in the life of Ponty Bone. Both met in the clubs in Lubbock and came to know each other well as musicians, and they knew everyone that played in and around the area.  One day, as Ponty describes, “Joe Ely drives up on his bicycle. He says, ‘Hey, Ponty. It looks like MCA is gonna do my first album. Listen, we’re getting together tonight over at my house on 9th Street; Man, get your accordion and come over there and jam with us! I got some songs I want you to play on the album.'” It was a fortuitous conversation that led Ponty to tour, perform and record with the Joe Ely Band for seven years prior to forming his own group, The Squeezetones which has been in existence for the past two decades.

Ponty Bone performs with Joel Guzman At Squeezebox Mania 2009:

Ponty Bone shows off his own brand of great musicianship on the accordion playing the blues.

Throughout his career and residency in Lubbock, as well as in Phoenix and Austin, wherever he has performed, domestically or internationally, PB has delighted and entertained and has always been in the best of musical company. He is hailed as an outstanding musician and revered as one of the most interesting and charismatic performers.  It’s that personality that makes one “different”.

Tragically, Ponty Bone was diagnosed in 2015 with a neurodegenerative disease called Progressive Supranuclear Palsy or PSP.  It is a brain disease of no known origin and it is eventually fatal.  PSP impairs all movement, balance, vision, speech and swallowing, yet it allows the victim to remain conscious and aware, with all mental capacity and personality intact. In a nutshell, it means one is a prisoner within one’s own body, left with no means of communication or expression.

His daughter Leah, writes, “Knowing PB, what he would appreciate… is to see the support and encouragement from you all through notes…. emails to him, letters or photos in the mail, or even better, visits, if you’re here in Central Texas. Again, even though he won’t be able to fully reciprocate, rest assured that the way our Dad lights up, in his own way, when he sees old friends or receives an email from an old fan, is something that speaks far louder than words ever could. If you need help reaching Ponty via email, mail or in person, please contact us.

Ponty Bone
P.O. Box 163421
Austin, Texas 78716 U.S.A.
PHONE: (512) 443-7952
pb@pontybone.com

All quotes from:

Fire in the Water, Earth in the Air: Legends of West Texas Music
by Christopher Oglesby
Published by the University of Texas Press

Thank you to Debra Peters for her input regarding this article


A History of the Accordion in Americana Music

 


CarterSisters_Cover

Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters

By Christa T. for Accordion Americana Invented in 1829, the accordion came to be embraced by people in North America early on….

Soon, up in the mountains and down in the bayous….

in big cities and in small towns….

in the country and in the deserts of the West, as well as deep into Mexico,

on the Great Lakes and the Great Plains…

northern states and Canadian provinces….

the accordion thrived, entertained,  delighted, inspired and brought folks together, to dance and sing….

 

Some of the first to become proficient on the accordion were French educated Creoles from the South,  just a few years after the instrument was invented.

Early Accordionist

This photograph, taken about 1850, just 21 years after the invention of the accordion, indicates that the instrument was already being mastered by African American musicians in Louisiana.

Creole musicians were very well schooled in music and provided entertainment at elite house concerts and elegant parties in Louisiana.

historical African American Accordionist

This musician, probably Creole from Louisiana is unknown to us, but from his fine clothing, he may have been well known in 1870

Young people were eager to make some noise with the accordion. Although it was expensive, it was new and it was radical. With its bellows providing the “lung power”, the accordion impressed women, who saw that they could participate and make music with this rather tiny, relatively light weight and very expressive instrument.

Young woman with her accordion c. 1870

As this “steampunk” teen age girl looks directly into the camera, she proudly and defiantly displays her accordion c. 1870

Because it was loud enough for sound to be carried above the “din”, the accordion was heard in music that emanated from front porches, weddings, social gatherings, dances and as entertainment in theaters and taverns for over 150 years..

The piano accordion evolved from the smaller bisonoric diatonic accordion or “button box”, into a completely different, unisonoric musical instrument. It grew larger when the piano keyboard was added along with the innovative Stradella bass section which used preset chords. These changes empowered players of other types of keyboards to more easily adapt to the instrument.

Historical accordion boys

Brothers NYC c. 1900

The piano accordion was played by artists who were immigrants….

Guido Diero 1910

Guido Diero studied the accordion in Italy,  immigrated to America and worked in a mine in Oregon.  Photo c.1910

PietroDeiro1920

Guido’s younger brother, Pietro, also studied the accordion. Both were very influential for the spread in popularity of the piano accordion in America, as performers and as music publishers. Photo c. 1920

….And it was played by artists who were sons and daughters of  immigrants

Violaturpeinen

Viola Turpeinen was probably the first woman accordionist to record, and certainly the first female accordion star in America. A second-generation Finnish-American, starting in the 1920’s she played the Finnish dance circuit in the upper mid-west region of Michigan / Wisconsin / Minnesota. Eventually based out of New York, she toured widely and it became a tradition for dancers to see her headlining travelling shows every summer. (Accordion Noir) c. 1920

The accordion was popular in live stage productions in Vaudeville

Father with Daughters Vaudeville 1920's

A father and daughters act c.1920’s

The accordion was heard in early recordings of Gospel, Blues and Boogie Woogie………

 

Lead Belly c. 1930

Huddie Ledbetter , known as  Lead Belly,  with his diatonic “Windjammer” c.1930

The Death of Amede Ardoin

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Amede Ardoin, a diatonic accordionist beloved in  Louisiana, was highly influential in Cajun music. Ardoin died from being horrifically beaten after performing at a white dance in Eunice, LA. This heart breaking event haunted African American musicians who, from that point on, began to shy away from the accordion. Photo c. 1930’s.

 

Through the Great Depression into the war years, the piano accordion was widely used because dances were an important source of entertainment. By the mid 1940’s, so many immigrant Catholics and returning soldiers wanted their children to play the songs of their ancestral homelands on the accordion, that the Roman Catholic Church forgave the instrument its “tavern” reputation and gave it a special status allowing it to be used in church.  Because of this, the piano accordion was suddenly deemed respectable and, like never before, “pent up demand” fed the market for instrument sales and lessons. After World War II, Americans were all working, had more discretionary income and were more likely to be living in cities, towns and suburbs than in the past. To be able to afford musical instruments and lessons became very important to parents as evidence of status, as well as to help their children to become  better students and well rounded individuals.

gang of accordion players

Retro accordion poster II

Some of the roots musicians had, early on, incorporated the accordion into their music. They chose the piano accordion over the diatonic because they wanted to be seen as more “mainstream”.  Anita Carter was the accordion player for Mother Maybelle Carter and the Carter Sisters, in what would have been strictly a “string band” in previous years.

Mother Maybelle, the Carter Sisters with Chet Atkins

Mother Maybelle Carter and the Carter Sisters, along with Chet Atkins. Photo c. 1945

The first woman to play Bluegrass, professionally, was an accordion player….

Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys II

The first woman to be hired as a professional Bluegrass musician was Wilene “Sally Ann” Forrester who performed with and was a member of Bill Munro and his Bluegrass Boys. Photo c. 1947

Pee Wee King reinvented what was known as “Hillbilly Music”, and founded a new genre of music known as “Country & Western” music. His Western Swing Band was the first to wear the spangly “Nudie Suit” that came to be associated with Country music.

Pee Wee King V

Probably the most influential musician in Americana music, Pee Wee King helped to create a new genre of music, Country & Western music, combining the two under “one roof”, in the city of Nashville, Tennessee. He even co-wrote the state song! C & W music was among the first genres that was not inspired by the music of Europe. c. 1948

The piano accordion continued to evolve and became synonymous with “class”. The big band dance scene died after World War II, but small combos in swanky clubs became popular.

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Art Van Damme brought the accordion into the world of Jazz. He toured internationally for forty years, performed brilliantly with the instrument and elevated it to an unprecedented level of sophistication. Photo c. 1950

Dick Contino V

Teenager, Dick Contino was earning $4000 a week billed as the “World’s Greatest Accordionist”. He was an enormously popular star who even had a brief film career until he found himself in the middle of a military draft scandal, disappearing for a week when required to report. Although he did serve honorably in the military, in the press, he was tried and convicted as a “draft dodger” for decades, even though he was not. He performed for fifty years and was the most frequently seen guest on the Ed Sullivan Show. c. 1950

The accordion establishment, those that made the marketing and business decisions for the piano accordion, were a highly conservative group.  They set out to sanitize “their” instrument, to prevent it from being rocked by another scandal. They also determined that it should never be associated with social unrest, as the bandoneon later came to be in Argentina (Astor Piazzolla). Through their own fear,  they effectively began to “starve” their own market.

Piazzolla

Astor Piazzolla

Through the 1950’s in “Cold War” America, the accordion establishment did not trust, approve of or support the current music of the day or anyone associated with it. They believed that Rock ‘n Roll was contrary to conservative American values.  As a lot of people during the McCarthy era felt, they feared that “Commies” lurked around every corner and suspected that Folk music was a breeding ground for Communism.

With those excuses, publishers felt justified not to use and pay for current hit songs to be reformatted for the piano accordion. It was cheaper to push the “same-old, same-old” European style tunes to a changing demographic. As young people advanced in proficiency with the piano accordion, classical music was promoted because it was the path of least resistance and was already in the public domain.

In the 1950’s, the piano accordion was a white man’s instrument, but males were also leaving the accordion in favor of other instruments. In response to this, women sought recognition and status among performers but were not even spoken of as legitimate musicians and drifted, instead, into teaching the instrument.

 

JoAnne Castle c. 1957

Jo Ann Castle is significant for what she didn’t do, as much as for what she did. A gifted and rare female musician, she performed in Las Vegas clubs as an underage teen, had a best selling instrumental album in 1957 that scored #67 on the Billboard Hot 100. The pretty 18 year old created a lot of excitement and had real star potential. Castle was promptly hired by a well known variety show as an accordionist. After a short time,  as a condition of her employment, it was required that she change her instrument to honky-tonk piano, which at the time, was not her specialty (her repertoire consisted of three songs).This was done to make way for a male accordionist of average proficiency to displace her.

From that point the deflating “bubble” was finally crushed flat as demand for the piano accordion plummeted to a fraction of what had been seen a decade before.

 In the years of post war popularity, the accordion establishment managed to shift the identity of the piano accordion from one of American “grass roots”  to one perceived as  “off shore”. Jazz accordionists found that they had to leave America and travel to Europe to find an audience. Curiously, accordion players stopped singing with their instrument in the 1950’a and 1960’s, which they had freely done in the 1940’s.

In America in the 1960’s, the immigrant’s children had moved on and were protesting and urging “Make Love, Not War”.  The Civil Rights movement had inflamed the cities and the South.  The Viet Nam War and the draft angered America, especially young people. Women were agitating for equality and rights. Music galvanized American youth because they knew that they had a lot to gain or lose. It became their weapon of choice with which to fight back and they were determined that their message, suggestive lyric and angry protest be heard.

The accordion establishment was afraid of it and the musicians and songwriters who created it.

As their market crashed around them and with draft able males defecting from the ranks of accordion players in favor of the guitar and other instruments, the accordion establishment did little to explore new markets for the instrument.  The accordion community had insulated itself so well from the times that there was nothing new allowed in, nor out.

What occurred for the piano accordion was a “brain drain” as creative energy was sucked away from the stylistic evolution of the instrument and refocused on other instruments. Young people could not imagine how the piano accordion could fit into their music because there existed no young innovative players for them to emulate that could have developed the chops to play it.  Young people were not mildly disinterested in the instrument–they loathed and scorned it as it was played in the 1960’s! Their attitude  stuck to the instrument, and is the reason for the “hairy eyeball”  and stupid accordion jokes that so many accordion players are subjected to, today.  Instead of the piano accordion being an option, talented musicians found other instruments with which to express their musical vision. The Hammond B3,  Hohner harmonica, saxophone,acoustic and electronic piano and both electric and acoustic guitar defined the music of the 1960’s,70’s, 80’s, and still do.

In retrospect, the accordion establishment places blame on the conservatism of music teachers or that the piano accordion “fell out of fashion”.  They also blame the invention of the electric guitar for the decline in the accordion market.  They imply that both can’t coexist together, while in the rest of the world, the accordion actually thrived alongside both the electric and acoustic guitars.

New Orleans is not afraid of music or the musicians who create it.  That is why New Orleans is the epicenter for the emergence of major new genres of music.

Zydeco music came out of New Orleans in the 1960’s and it was there that the piano accordion was put to good use by Clifton Chenier and His Red Hot Louisiana Band.

Clifton Chenier

“Zydeco” music gained popularity in the early 1960’s with Clifton Chenier, considered by many to be the Father of Zydeco, in his landmark 1965 song “Zydeco Sont Pas Sale.” The word “zydeco” is popularly associated with the French phrase “les haricots sont pas sales,” or “the snap beans are not salty.”

Without a doubt, The Beatles were the gigantic “elephant in the room” during the 1960’s.

Paul McCartney with Accordion

Paul McCartney’s first instrument was the accordion. He frequently used it as he wrote songs for the Beatles. c 1965

Titano Tiger

The Titano Tiger

Ernest and Faithe Deffner, owners of their newly acquired Titano Accordion Company decided it was time to design a more radical accordion to appeal to the youth of America. The Deffners saw the void in the market in the mid-1960’s and looked at it as their great opportunity. They were bold and right to embark on their idea. The Tiger Combo’Cordion was a compact, colorful instrument featuring a ‘quint’ treble tuning for “piercing lead or swinging chords…to flip the crowd”(Hullabaloo Magazine). The main feature of the instrument was the resurrected slanted keyboard which was ergonomic for the position of the human hand, thereby allowing faster finger work.

Faith and Ernest Deffner

Ernest and Faith Deffner

After substantial research and development, the Titano Tiger was rolled out, but, sadly, the Deffners chose a spokesman to endorse their product who was a prominent member of the very “same-old, same-old” accordion establishment from whom young people so desperately wanted to escape. After all their fierce determination,  the Deffners didn’t recognize that by choosing someone not relateable, it was to be their critical error and a “big wet blanket” on their efforts to sell the Tiger to their target market–America’s youth! The futuristic vision of Ernest and Faithe Deffner was derailed because they were afraid of youth culture and its music.  As a result, young musicians didn’t buy the Titano Tiger, which sits today in collections of rare instruments and in museums gathering dust.

The “Blue Accordion” is a Tiger, recently acquired by accordionist Mark Yacavone.

 

But, there were accordionists who thrived outside of the establishment.

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Garth Hudson was a proficient accordionist long before he was hired by Bob Dylan, as a member of The Hawks, renamed The Band. (Photo by Barry Wenzel c. 1968)

Large_Nitty GrittyDirt Band_5

Americana band, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band had a huge accordion-based hit song in 1972, the now classic “Mr. Bojangles”.

Danny with accordion III

As a child prodigy on the accordion, Danny Federici won Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour in the 1950’s. He graduated from high school,  co-founded a band which became The E Street Band and enlisted a young Bruce Springsteen as his lead singer. Danny performed for nearly 40 years with  The E Street Band until his death in 2008. Photo c. 1973

Jon Hammond

Musician Jon Hammond deliberately pushed the envelope for the accordion in the 1970s. Photo c. 1974

billy-joel-philadelphia-1978

Singer/ Songwriter Billy Joel frequently incorporates the accordion in his music to this day. photo c. 1978

Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac c. 1980

Christine McVie and Lindsay Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac, in their live performance of “Tusk”, used the accordion to replace the entire USC marching band! c. 1982

Tom Waits II

Singer/Songwriter Tom Waits is a prominent advocate of the accordion in his performances and recordings since the early 1970’s. Photo c. 1990

NY Underground artist Phoebe Legere

A classically trained pianist and vocalist, Phoebe Legere used the accordion when she opened for David Bowie in 1990, and still uses it as an underground artist in New York. Photo c. 1990’s

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Charlie Gillingham of Counting Crows c. 1990’s

Buckwheat zydeco III

Stanley Dural was a break through artist for the piano accordion and was well known in Louisiana as a blues organist even before associating himself with the piano accordion or with Zydeco music. Stanley Dural continued the blues tradition as Buckwheat Zydeco and was the most successful Americana accordionist until his death in 2016. Photo c. 2000

Sheryl Crowe

Sheryl Crowe, prodoucer, vocalist, guitarist, pianist and top recording artist caused quite a stir using the accordion on tour and in her recordings. In doing so, she made a tremendous contribution to the presence of the accordion in Americana music. Photo c. 1998

C.J._Chenier

C.J. Chenier took up where his father, Clifton, left off and performs as a blues and zydeco musician throughout the world. c. 2005

Regine

Regine Chassange shreds on the accordion as a member of Montreal’s Arcade Fire. Photo c. 2000’s

corey-pesaturo-iii

In the 21st Century, Cory Pesaturo became recognized as the most internationally awarded American accordionist of all time. Photo c. 2010.

Ben Lovett with Mumford and Sons

2012 Grammy Award for Best Americana album, “Babel”, featuring the piano accordion, made Mumford and Sons a household name in North America

Johnny Kongos

In 2012, out of the Phoenix Valley arose Arizona’s own homegrown band, KONGOS, who composed and recorded the most successful, piano accordion-based hit song, “Come With Me Now”.  It shattered all records, blew the roof off of perceptions about the instrument, and earned Johnny Kongos and his brothers plenty of contracts and a world wide following.

Bill Haley and the Comets

Also, 2012 was the year that Bill Haley’s group,  the Comets, along with Johnny Grande, were recognized by their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Danny and Bruce

Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, co-founded by the late Danny Federici in New Jersey in 1969, were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, in 2014.

The piano accordion continues to participate in Americana music, today.

Buxton

Buxton (Photo by Jacob Blickenstaff of Mother Jones, Americana Music Awards, Nashville, 2016)

The+Band+Perry

The Band Perry

 

Not the end…….

 

 

 

 


Steve Conn: Music with a Mission

Steve Conn

Steve Conn

By Christa T. for Accordion Americana There is no place in America that is more “about the music” than Louisiana.  While it is true that New Orleans was the sweet spot for those responsible for the birth of several distinct genres of music, Louisiana, in its own right, has served as a fountain of inspiration for generations of musicians and songwriters. It is where “it” all comes together–where the dry meets the moist, where the crackling heat of the cotton field converges with the murky depths of the swamp. Where the crunch of gravel under the boot binds with the squish of mud between the toes. “It” can be heard and felt in the music of Louisiana.  In one form or another, the accordion has been a part of the texture and grit of Louisiana, for a long time.

Singer/Songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and keyboardist Steve Conn has been a part of that, as well. Originally from Pineville, Louisiana,  he is the son of a professional musician, southern and western swing fiddle player, “Peanut” Conn. Steve began to learn his craft early, and decided to pursue music and songwriting as a profession. He followed through at Louisiana State University, choosing a foundation of coursework in Literature.  Since then, he has worked constantly as a writer and musician, moved from Louisiana to Colorado, and then on to Los Angeles.  He finally settled just outside of Nashville, Tennessee in 1993, and it has been his home base ever since then.

He spent two years as musical director for E-Town, a weekly National Public Radio variety show based in Boulder, Colorado that has since become an Americana institution. Conn enlisted a roster of great artists,  a tradition that continues today, that included James Taylor, Michelle Shocked, Shawn Colvin, David Wilcox, Maura O’Connell, Emmylou Harris and by now,  hundreds of other musicians. He also continued to perform as a solo artist during that time, as well.

Steve has used the accordion as a session musician and front man, performing with the best in the business. He has performed on 9 Grammy nominated albums with a cadre of artists including Bonnie Raitt, Sonny Landreth, the Dixie Chicks, Nanci Griffith, Kris Kristofferson, Billy Joe Shaver, Mark Knopfler, Kenny Loggins, Albert King, Marshall Crenshaw and many others. Steve Conn received a Grammy nomination for his piano, harmonica and saxophone contributions with BeauSoleil, and another for his work on accordion with Arlo Guthrie.

With his old friend from Louisiana, the great slide guitarist Sonny Landreth, Steve collaborated on “Beautiful Dream”, from which the song “Let the Rain Fall Down” is drawn. He says. “I’m writing for people who have lost at love but know that love is still the greatest force of all….I’m writing for people who are trying to find the best in themselves and in the world, people who get up and try again, over and over, because they know on some deep and ancient level that it’s all just a beautiful dream even when it seems like a damn nightmare.” Only through music can one even begin to express such complexities of the human spirit.

Steve Conn II

Steve Conn

SteveConn.com


New England’s Jeremiah McLane: Simply “The Best!”

Jeremiah McLane

Jeremiah McLane

Bio courtesy of jeremiahmclane.com  Jeremiah was raised in a family with deep ties to both its Scottish heritage and its New Hampshire roots. Traditional New England music and dance were a part of his parents and grandparents generations. After an early formation in classical piano, Jeremiah spent his teenage years playing blues and jazz. Following undergraduate studies with jazz legend Gary Peacock, he studied Indonesian Gamelan, West African drumming, and the music of minimalist composers Steve Reich and Philip Glass. It wasn’t until his mid twenties that Jeremiah began to immerse himself in the world of traditional Celtic and French music, studying accordion with Jimmy Keene and Frederic Paris. He then spent several decades traveling in Europe, doing field research that laid the groundwork for a Master’s degree he received many years later from the New England Conservatory.

Jeremiah McLane and David Surette

Jeremiah McLane and David Surette

In the early 1990s Jeremiah formed two bands: The Clayfoot Strutters and Nightingale. Both bands had strong traditional New England roots and had a deep and lasting impact on the traditional dance scene in New England. In 2003 he formed Le Bon Vent, a sextet specializing in Breton and French music, and as an outgrowth of this ensemble, has formed several duos with individual members including James Falzone, Ruthie Dornfeld and Cristi Catt. Since the early 1990s, Jeremiah has recorded over a dozen CDs with Nightingale, the Clayfoot Strutters, Bob & the Trubadors, Le Bon Vent, with Ruthie Dornfeld. His second solo recording, Smile When You’re Ready, was nominated by National Public Radio in their “favorite picks”, and his fifth release, Hummingbird, with Ruthie Dornfeld, received the French music magazine “Trad Mag” Bravo award, as did his CD Goodnight Marc Chagall with Le Bon Vent. He has composed music for theater and film, including Sam Shepard’s “A Lie Of The Mind”, and been awarded the Ontario Center For The Performing Arts “Meet The Composer” Award, and the Vermont Council On The Arts “Creation Of New Work” grant.

In 2005 Jeremiah started the Floating Bridge Music School, which is devoted to teaching traditional music from the British Isles, Northern Europe, and North America. An adjunct instructor at the State University of New York in Plattsburgh, NY, he also teaches at the Summit School of Traditional Music in Montpelier, VT, at the Upper Valley Music Center in Lebanon NH, and at many summer music camps including Ashokan Fiddle & Dance, Augusta Heritage Arts Center, American Festival of Fiddle Tunes, and the Maine Fiddle Camp.

 

Jeremiah and Ruthie

Jeremiah McLane and Ruthie Dornfeld

Interview with Jeremiah McLane onWCAX Tv:

http://www.wcax.com/story/24087130/vermont-composter-and-teacher-jeremiah-mclane-talks-accordion

Jeremiah McLane II

Jeremiah McLane

http://www.jeremiahmclane.com/bands/

 


The “Bandito Country” style of Anthony Ortiz, Jr.

Update: August 1,  2017 It is with great sadness that Accordion Americana must report that Anthony Ortiz, Jr. has passed away in Texas. Hearts are broken among his family, his community, his fellow musicians, his friends, and all who witnessed his great talent. “Like a comet, blazing across the evening sky….gone too soon. Like a rainbow, fading in the twinkling of an eye….gone too soon….” Michael Jackson

Anthony Ortiz, Jr.

Anthony Ortiz, Jr.

By Christa T. for Accordion Americana There is a courageous young man, from Austin, Texas who is attempting to overcome all barriers placed before him. An accordion player and the descendant of immigrants, Anthony Ortiz, Jr. is smart and sophisticated; the winner of awards that recognized his exceptional talent as a musician, performing from the age of nine.  But, in addition to his accomplishments, his biggest challenge, to date, is the contest he will win against the cancer that he is currently battling.

Anthony Ortiz, Jr.

Anthony Ortiz, Jr.

Anthony graduated from Austin High School and is studying at Austin Community College. He performs with his father and his grandfather with their family’s band, Mariachi Corbetas and was also a member of the Texas-based Country band, Crooks where he performed on accordion and trumpet. Anthony was a Big Squeeze finalist, in Texas, in 2008 and 2009 and was featured in The Big Squeeze film. He participated in the The Accordion Kings and Queens in the last ten years and performed throughout the region during that time. The young musician was honored with a resolution, “as an expression of high regard” from the Texas House of Representatives which recognized his ability and credited the lifetime achievements of the Ortiz family in Tejano music.

Mariachi Corbetas

Mariachi Corbetas

Anthony “grew up listening to tejano and conjunto music, and its traditions”, he writes in his article for MusicFest Magazine in 2015. His first instrument was the drums, then the guitar and finally the accordion which was acquired from a flea market. His father’s gift along with his first lesson, introduced Anthony to the piano accordion, after which his son taught himself to play.  Anthony performs along with his grandfather, Lupe “Shorty” Ortiz and his father, Anthony Ortiz, Sr. in their Austin-based family mariachi band, Mariachi Corbetas. “My performance style has been shaped by the way my father plays,” he says, “full of energy, excitement and soul. I’ve also drawn influence from my idols Michael Salgado, Jamie De Anda, Flaco Jimenez, and David Ferias. I typically model my playing after their styles and techniques but add a dash of my own flavor. I blended my Spanish music knowledge with the band’s current sound to help breed a new sound of music.” Anthony refers to his style of playing as “Bandito Country”.

Along the way, Anthony acquired another accordion, a Gabinelli,  “the love of my life since the day I got her”,  he says, but quickly adds, “that doesn’t mean she hasn’t broken my heart.” He tells the story about the very first night of MusicFest 2015 as he was performing to a packed house on the Grand Ballroom Stage when the accordion’s bellows blew out during an “intense” accordion run. “Unlike replacing a busted guitar string or broken drumsticks, replacing a bellow on an accordion is an endeavor of surgical significance…. It’s a challenge to find another accordion when you are 7,000 feet up a mountain in Colorado, but our tight-knit music family really came through to help make the show go on!” He completed the performance on a borrowed instrument.

“On September 13, 2016, I went to the emergency room with an unbearable pain in my back. After various tests, I was diagnosed with a type of cancer, and immediately underwent surgery to remove a mass. On September 16, I began my first round of chemotherapy treatment. After spending a week in the hospital, I was released and able to return home. I will continue chemotherapy treatment to shrink the remaining masses and rid myself of cancer.”

But the rest of his story is yet to be written. As of an April 5th, 2017 update, Anthony Ortiz, Jr. has received another round of chemotherapy. He is continuing to fight his cancer with great determination and grace.

Anthony

Anthony Ortiz, Jr.

https://www.youcaring.com/anthony-ortiz-jr-649452


The Music of Rachel Bell: Traditional and Treasured

Rachel Bell

Rachel Bell

Bio courtesy of Rachelbellmusic.com Rachel Bell is an accordion player, tunesmith, and music teacher from the wilds of Pennsylvania. She is in demand throughout the United States and beyond for concerts, contra dances, English country dances, French dances, and workshops.

Over a decade of musical travel has landed her smack-dab in the middle of some of her most exciting projects ever. A vibrant and versatile collaboration with Karen Axelrod, exquisite violin and viola sounds from Eric Martin, a rich and energetic contra dance band called Seaglass, and a slew of French-focused music and dance adventures with Susan Kevra are just the tip of the iceberg. A recent addition has been a joyful musical partnership with Becky Tracy, and other combinations often round out the mix.

Rachel Bell grew up playing the piano and spent her college years studying music education and classical piano. As a college freshman, she surprised even herself when she picked up a piano accordion and “accidentally” fell in love with it. Rachel now enjoys a busy gig schedule playing concerts, contra dances, English country dances, French dances, and festivals.

Rachel’s bands include Alchemy, Peregrine Road, Old World Charm School, Seaglass, Eloise & Co. and a slew of other combinations. She plays tunes from France, New England, Scotland, Ireland, England, Quebec, and beyond, as well as songs, original compositions, and even crazy roots-rock arrangements. Recently, Rachel has been collaborating with Susan Kevra to compose new tune/choreography combinations to send out into the English country dance repertoire.

Rachel Bell

The past few years have been bursting with big changes, big travel, and exciting new musical collaborations. After six years as a public school music teacher, Rachel finally let go of that last shred of normalcy and launched into full-time freelance musicianhood. Her obsession with French music and dance led to three music-focused overseas trips, and her obsession with finding the perfect instrument led to the purchase of an incredible tone-chambered Beltuna that sounds exquisite. During June 2016, in the midst of playing piles of camps, gigs, and festivals, Rachel released her debut solo album, Tone Chamber. This recording highlights the versatility of the accordion and boasts and impressive cast of guest musicians.

Rachel’s playing is infused with a contagious enthusiasm for her instrument and a deep love for the musical traditions she carries. Her passion is to share with others the delight she finds when immersed in this music, ushering them into a place where their toes can’t help tapping and their ears are dunked in strawberry jam.

Whenever she’s not playing accordion or chasing after waterfalls, Rachel is busy instilling the joy of music in children of all ages. Through her Crab Apple Jam Music Studio, Rachel offers everything from mommy-n-me musical playgroups for toddlers to piano lessons to dulcimer clubs. Rachel’s upbeat, engaging teaching style is grounded in 9+ years of public school teaching experience and 2 years of Montessori School teaching experience. Every Crab Apple Jam Music Class is packed to the brim with hands-on, creative experiences that build musical skills as well as essential life skills. Children are captivated by the rich array of puppets, ribbons, songs, dances, dulcimers, boomwhackers, bells, drums, and more.

Contact: CrabAppleJamMusic@gmail.com