Nothing like a live show to add energy and realness to music.
Following two studio efforts and a rise in popularity, The Justin Saladino Band have released their first live album. Something that will allow the band to grow and produce more interesting material in the future.
Please listen below to my chat with Justin Saladino about recording the new album, the live experience and his first time playing with a six piece band. Hear how he and fellow musicians are coping with the Covid -19 pandemic.
*Correction Audio Glitch: Justin Saladino Band – first LIVE album not first album.
Once a year, Pete Varvaro ( aka Smoke Meat Pete) leaves for a month. Once a year – people don’t get the Blues.
Smoke Meat Pete ( both the restaurant and the man ) not only provide the best Smoke Meat in Montreal, Pete is the only guy in the city providing live music seven nights a week. In a landscape filled with more and more live venues closing, a real tip of the hat must go to Smoke Meat Pete.
Pete’s birthday marks the reopening of the restaurant every year following a much deserved vacation. It is an occasion to not only eat cake and celebrate the man ( soon to be legend), it is also an opportunity to showcase some of the best Blues players in the city. On March 9th 2019 – patrons were blessed.
Fuel Junkie took the stage at 1pm. The band, in a relatively short career thus far, have already graced the stage at The Montreal International Jazz Festival and The Tremblant Blues Festival. They also were very close to winning the Quebec to Memphis Blues Challenge which would have sent them to Memphis to compete among the elite of the world. Smoke Meat Pete attracts the best of the best.
Led by Mark LeClerc, Fuel Junkie are a wall of sound. Horns complimenting a hard rhythm and piercing guitar solos. Vocals, harmonies and songwriting. Not a weak link within the band (which is often not the case with new bands). Fuel Junkie are (literally) schooled musicians with experience beyond the members’ relative young ages. The walls shake and keep on shaking long after Fuel Junkie have left the building. As an added bonus, young guitar phenom Justin Saladino joined Fuel Junkie which for many was a marriage made in Blues heaven. Justin beat out Fuel Junkie at the Quebec to Memphis challenge so an indication of how local musicians help one another – a signal of a healthy musical future soars high in the Quebec sky.
Everyone has a guilty pleasure and Smoke Meat Pete is no different.
Every Saturday night at 6pm (and on his Birthday), Pete picks up the guitar along with a few select musicians and has the time of his life. They say passion surpasses all boundaries and Pete’s passion for The Blues has transformed Pete from a ‘beginner guitarist’ to more than adequate in a very short time.
Pete’s partner in crime on Saturdays (and his birthday) is the imposing Hawk on vocals and harmonica. Nobody sings the Blues with as much power and force in Montreal as Hawk. The type of performer that leaves none indifferent. Whether it is belting out the Willie Dixon classic Little Red Rooster or Gloria by Van Morrison, Hawk etches his voice into your soul and months later – it continues to haunt. Like any talented vocalist, love him or hate him; his mark has been left.
Joining Hawk and Pete on stage for the birthday bonanza were Jo Hell ( guitar), Stephen Rudinsky (drums) and Ciro Scott(bass). Hell along with Hawk – the originators of live music at Smoke Meat Pete many moons ago.
Hawk’s and Hell’s showmanship may have been the lightning rods yet it is Rudinsky’s firm metronome drumming and Ciro’s bass which keeps things from falling apart. Every player in any good band needs the battery section to fall back on. It is easy for a front-man or a soloist to lose their way. Rudinsky (a veteran and much sought after session player) never wavers. His timing impeccable. The frame of the band remains strong even if the body may have some rust. Rudinsky maintains the frame with enough oil and polish to keep it on the road but adding the necessary swerves.
Following nine hours of music, smoke meat and plenty of laughter – Montreal’s Queen of The Blues took the stage.
Dawn’s star has never been so bright in her long and winding career. Not only did Watson win the Quebec to Memphis Challenge, Dawn won the IBC International Blues Contest in Memphis. Add several Maple Blues nominations and awards – Dawn has established herself as the premiere female vocalist in Quebec among the newer generation of singers.
One of the reasons Dawn has jumped ahead of her peers is the talents of her backing band. The Ben Racine Band. Ben’s songwriting and arranging talents have pushed Dawn into truly ‘finding’ herself. Ben on guitar (also winning at Memphis for guitar player of the year), combines the artful balance of modern day chops with old school sensibilities. It is all about the spaces with Ben and his band. Spaces which allow Dawn to not only breathe – to discover the creative voice inside and to paint the room in fabulous colors.
Dawn Tyler has a vocal range which can caress or levitate. The Ben Racine Band’s horn section can do the same. The group’s rhythm section can do the same. Together – Watson et al become a wall of sound as smooth as Billy Holiday’s bottom. As silky as a satin cloth or chunky as a chocolate chip cookie. Tunes from the album Jawbreaker taking the punters on a journey filled with tears, joy and spiritual awakenings. All elements of all humanity’ s life experience on display via Dawn Tyler Watson and The Ben Racine Band.
Once a year, Pete Vavaro ( aka Smoke Meat Pete) comes back after a month. Once a year – people get treated to an (almost) entire day of the Best Blues in Montreal.
Easy. A blend of Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Genesis, Yes, Rush, The Ramones, The Kinks, the Beatles and every artist between 1920 until present day.
Frank Zappa’s brilliance as a writer, producer, arranger, guitar player and every other position within an intellectual realm artistically and socially was put on display via Dweezil Zappa in Laval last night. Epic could be the best way to describe the evening.
The Purple Lagoon, Andy and Don’t You Want a Man Like Me opened things up along with the punter’s minds who were not far behind in realizing music exists beyond corporate radio. The name of this tour is Choice Cuts.An insight into the non commercial world of Frank Zappa. Given Frank’s songs were mostly non radio friendly, choosing ‘choice’ tracks should be easy.
Think again …
Firstly – Dweezil’s Muthas are not your Father’s band. When each player within a band could headline on their own – something special is on the way. Dweezil himself – one of the finest guitar players ‘off the beaten path’ and an astute songwriter to boot. Detach the Zappa moniker and all it’s expectations – Dweezil could very well be in the same breath as Vai, Satriano et al. in the mainstream conscientiousness. Frank probably would want it this way and ensure the Zappa legacy maintains musical integrity.
As the show moved along – perhaps the ladies initially stole the show. Vocalist Cian Coey and multi – instrumentalist Scheila Gonzalez were on fire. Frank Zappa’s tunes contained whimsical female voices along with serious style. Both Scheila and Cian added their parts with conviction. Cian alone – stealing the spotlight throughout the evening with power, finesse and grace. An indication the ‘top forty’ radio female vocalists are nowhere near the best. Scheila no slouch either as her vocals more than impressed and her Sax playing otherworldly. Frank would be proud.
Call Any Vegetable, Tell Me You Love Me and T’Mershi Duween. Three more tunes which only the die hard Frank fans know aside from the band.
Drummer Ryan Brown, bassist Kurt Morgan, Chris Norton on keys and guitarist / vocalist Adam Minkoff were on the same bus. Travelling the Zappa songbook at light-speed. Shining alone when called upon and perfectly in sync with grooves as sweet as the most perfect five hour Funk jam. The completeness allowing Dweezil to do his thang.
Steve Vai was one of Dweezil’s teachers back in the day. Frank Zappa was one of Dweezil’s muses. Dweezil has worked with every guitar player worth their weight in gold. Nothing could go wrong within a solo and Dweezil’s own curiosity to grow as an artist – adds to the special moments when Dweezil takes the spotlight.
Suzy Creamcheese, Valley Girl, Zoot Allures, Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow and Joe’s Garage – the show and the intensity continued.
Serious musicians playing serious licks. Only the students of music can understand and appreciate Dweezil’s (The Muthas) take on his Father’s songs. Only serious students of music can appreciate Frank Zappa and his genius.
Some bands fall through the cracks as far as recognition goes. Stiff Little Fingers are one of those bands.
Born at the height of Punk music’s global popularity, the band emerged from a Country that was not known for Rock music.
‘I have no doubt there were many talented musicians and songwriters in Ireland …” Says original and current member and songwriter Jake Burns. ” Due to the fear factor of losing jobs (that were few and far between) and the non acceptance of Northern Ireland musicians due to the political unrest in Ireland, sadly many chose or were forced to stay put.”
Stiff Little Fingers, a group of schoolboy friends formed in 1977. A time when groups such as The Ramones and The Sex Pistols were gaining momentum. It was another band however which many comparisons were made.
“Everyone kept telling us we sounded like The Clash and we were asked if they were a huge influence.” Says Burns on the eve of their November 10th show in Montreal. “We never really spoke with the guys from The Clash and wondered if they took us as a threat or admired us.”
Four albums in three years starting in 1979 saw the band emerge as a voice of unrest for not only the people of Ireland – the entire world. Punk music and Stiff Little Fingers were affecting fans and non fans alike.
“When I started writing songs, I had a little difficulty coming up with ideas and they were forced’ Says Burns. ” I spoke with someone and once I realized it is important to write what you know – that is when things changed for me as a songwriter and the band.
Stiff Little Fingers then suffered the same fate as many bands. Knowing each other for so long and being on the road and always together, the fighting started.
” All these years later, in hindsight – all we needed to do was to take a step back and we would have been fine …” Admits Jake. ” It was not about dislike, it was about the stress of the business and a lot of pressure to maintain a band.”
In 1987, following a hiatus and Jake partaking in a solo effort and collaborations, Stiff Little Fingers reunited and despite the words of the music business; The Fingers embarked on what would become a very successful tour in Germany to sold out crowds. Burns and the band have never looked back.
Since their reformation, Stiff Little Fingers have released six albums with the last being the critically acclaimed 2014’s ‘No Going Back’.
Jake Burns still follows the recipe of writing what he knows for success.
” I went through some major life changes such as a divorce and relocation to a different continent and I did not think anyone would want to listen to a middle age guy sing about a mid-life crisis and divorce. Luckily I was wrong …”
Stiff Little Fingers are in Montreal Saturday night November 10th at Foufounes Electriques.
Frank Zappa’s son Dweezil, is a chip off the old block even though it is not sought out. Call it instinct, call it learned behavior or call it genetic – the artistic blood does circulate and will eventually come out in layered colors.
Please listen below to Part One of my chat with Dweezil Zappa. Topics include his Dad, his guitar playing and many other interesting tidbits. Stay tuned for Part Two.
The Blues are steeped in tradition of making deals with the Devil at the crossroads. Bad in the Blues is a good thing.
Justin Saladino and his band were the baddest thing on stage Tuesday night as they competed and won The Quebec to Memphis Blues Challenge. The next step? Conquering the biggest Blues stage in the world.
Please listen belowto my chat with Justin about the win and his steadfast work ethic to be better all the time.
Too often, Blues guitarists remain true to the Blues and it confines them. Pigeon holes their talent and next thing you know, twenty years have passed and another whisky shot comes there way at four in the morning.
Few (over the years) have come to the realization that Blues may be the necessary classroom but diversity is the only way out of high school and into University.
Please listen below to my chat with Justin Saladino – a guy who will graduate with flying colors.
The Jazz purists cringe at the ‘not Jazz’ genres at The Montreal International Jazz Festival. The artists who ply their crafts to be near the top of their specific genre, often shunned by the Jazz stuffy shirts.
In 2016, at the 37th edition – it was The Blues stagewhich, night after night, attracted the largest amount of knowledgeable music lovers. Take that Jazz !
One of those acts was The Justin Saladino Band with guest – Jamiah Rogers. An outfit and ‘duo’ young in years yet very long in talent. Justin from Montreal and Jamiah – straight from the home of The Blues; Chicago, Illinois.
Saladino and his troupe started things off with ‘Nobody’s Fault but Mine’. The Nina Simone cover which was filled with the Gospel element profound in Simone’s version. Justin proving in the first four minutes, he is not just another Blues guy from Montreal.
‘Blackhead Bone’ – the Albert Collins’ tune picked up where the first song left off. Elevating the groove and energy into heights normally reserved for guitars and bands of much later years. Saladino providing calm within sparkling solos. An experience beyond his years welcoming the masses in.
‘Purple Girl’ – an original track from Justin’s debut disc, shredding any pretense of a cover band on stage. The hook, the melody and chorus – straight from the late sixties / early seventies era when Blues, Funk and Rock merged in the West Coast. Purple Girl is one of those songs which should be on radio. Crossing into friendly territory as it tosses it’s Bluesy roots into shadows and struts it’s stuff. Another sad case of Montreal radio not taking care of their own.
‘Feelin’ Alright’ ended the Saladino’s band’s segment. An easy groove which magnetized the pull of the band. A sound which drew more and more spectators to the stage. Justin pouncing on the opportunity to raise his prowess on the five string instrument. Easy stuff for a guitar officiendo.
‘Jamiah Rogers’ – he of Chicago origins, he of Gary Clark Jr. studies upped the ante in the high stakes Blues poker game. The Ace in the sleeve. The ‘Heart’ of the Blues.
‘Something About You Girl , an original – ripped the joint up. Saladino and his band, already loose, providing the controlled sloppiness to Jamiah’s frantic energy. Rogers – once more, upping the ante and venturing to the front of the stage to sparkle in the Montreal lights. Sounds of Buddy Guy and Hendrix emerging from the amps. Rogers creating and increasing the energy with every note. Setting the stage for …
“It’s All Right to Cry’.
A slow Blues filled with passion and sorrow within happiness. Emotion reigned as Rogers’ vocals implanted another talent into the psyches of the crowd. Jamiah – a true student of The Blues and a guitar wonder. His solo reaching epic proportions as he attempted to and succeeded in reaching new heights.
“Irish Bordello’ and ‘No Worries’ saw Justin do his ‘thang’. Rogers departing and becoming the student offstage as Saladino played his hand. Combined with finesse and an intricate style of playing. Saladino laid a ‘straight’ onto the Blues table. At the end of the match – Saladino and Rogers came to a draw. The friendly competition completed and outlaws created.
“Everyday I Have the Blues’ – the B.B. King classic, a celebration of both men’s talents. Together, two future stars – enjoying and sparring in a genre that started Rock n Roll.
A genre that preceded Jazz andThe 37th Edition of The Montreal International Jazz Festival.
For forty – five years, the band plays in a roomful of Blues fans. Opening up for or backing guys like B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Clapton.
In a Canadian connection, the band is most known as being Colin James’ ‘Little Big Band’. A pretty good resume for a band that does not need to be part of anything. On their own – one of the best Blues and Swing Bands in the music market.
Please listen below as Chris talks about all the above and his own experience and thoughts as a guitar player.