Favorite New Discovery: J. Roddy Walston and the Business

This doesn’t sound like a lot of the piano driven rock that J. Roddy and the Business is known for, but it is their newest single and a certifiable jam. It could just be my rudimentary knowledge of music, but it sounds like the main guitar hook was composed on a piano or at least would sound pretty cool played on one. Maybe even the tasty licks of a Hammond B-3 organ?

Right around my case of the Mondays and the subsequent breaking of my muffler, I got really into the Baltimore band J. Roddy Walston and the Business. I included them on my best of 2013 list and this wasn’t very accurate because I listened to them once back in the spring time and not again until the aforementioned. My friend who teaches science played them for me during an evening spent fishing and I recognized it embarrassingly from a shitty Mark Wahlberg movie I’d not finished watching during a rare day off. As always with me, my favorite thing about the band and what I find most striking is their incredibly unique sound. It’s a great mixture of old school Rock and Roll with the loud/soft dynamics of a grunge band ripping off The Pixies in an honest and ill way.

This has been my favorite song for weeks now. My favorite moment is when they harmonize on “like slavery she saidddd” and the subsequent marks that they hit those notes. I love this band because their heavy musical songs are amazing as well as these slower songs that depend on vocal delivery with minimal instrumentation. These are signs of a versatile band which whose recipe is awesome.

They actually not a new band at all and have been in existence since 2002. They hail from Baltimore, Maryland and within a month of moving to a house in that city, the lead singer was mugged at gun point. I guess The Wire was correct in its portrayal of the former murder capital of America, the illustrious title that has now been taken by Flint, Michigan, but I digress.

J Roddy grew up on a steady diet of gospel and country music interspersed with a love of Led Zeppelin,  the Rolling Stone’s Ian Stewart and the immortal Leon Russell.  The additional listening to glam rock superstars like T. Rex and obviously influenced by the grunge rock he couldn’t avoid in high school creates this amazing mixture of sounds that is totally unique. It’s been a long  and difficult road for this band, but I just heard the song that introduced this post from their new album on the local alternative rock station and I have a good feeling they are about to blow up.

This is a song that J. Roddy arranged after his Grandmother, loosely-related to the Grand Ole Opry, played him this song as a youth. It’s one of their first widely known tunes because it was used on an MTV show about cage fighting. The original title was something like “Sally Let your Bangs hang down” and has come pretty clear sexual connotations so I find it quite humorous that his elderly relative played him the song. This is my least favorite of his work I’ve heard, although still awesome and indicative of where they started.

For the last ten years, the band has traveled around the country playing music in a Church van they have dubbed “the Diaper” because it’s “big, white and carries all their shit”. They even left the name of the Church painted on the side of the rig in the hopes that it will lesson the chances that they get pulled over.  J. Roddy transports a 300 pound Yamaha traveling piano on tour, saying ” I play piano. You’d never see a guitar player playing a keytar”. Their reputation has been built on an energetic live show that the New York Times said made “James Brown look lazy”. At one show on a boat in New York, J. Roddy got so fired up that he ended his set by throwing his piano stool out a window, narrowly missing a bystander before it crashed into the East River. They are road warriors, through and through, and no sign of 1920’s style clothing.

This song is another prime example of the loud/soft dynamics I mentioned early as well as a very vintage feel in both the sleazy Exile on Main Street rhythms and epic yet succinct guitar solos. Ok, they got going a little bit live here, but it’s a sweet jam so it’s ok. By the way, this performance is from Lebowski fest which they played this year and it makes me think that perhaps the Elder and I should write a post about our varying opinions on the film using the indisputably awesome sound track.

In an age where everyone steals samples, identities, and styles from everyone else, it’s refreshing to find a band that wears their influences on their sleeves while still forging their own sound/style. I read some reviews of their concerts online and the common thread seems to be that their shows are amazing and most people did not expect the balls to the wall rock of the band when they opened up for the Lumineers on tour. People went expecting this pseudo-bluegrass folk music and saw this badass band open up instead, which is probably why they’ve been gaining some exposure. I know the live show of a band is a huge part of how good I think they are and a major point of argument on why I think the Rolling Stones are a better band than the Beatles, but I digress again.

This is such an obvious nod to the blues-rock crunch of the Stones and Zeppelin  great enough that it deserves the comparison. I didn’t even know the band had a song with slide guitar! 

I need to see this band live. There’s no tour date in the far Northeast yet, unless Rochester, NY counts and it doesn’t, but I’m sure the radio play of “Heavy Bells” will bring them at least to Boston in this calendar year. I will gather up troops and head down 95 to see this band and I hope this post has helped in some small way to spread the sheer awesomeness that is J. Roddy Walston and the Business. I really hope the Elder J likes this band because hopefully I am headed south in a few weeks to visit him and if things progress as they have, I’ll still be listening to this band non-stop. So crank these tunes up this morning and jam hard to Mr. Walston. Rock and Roll will never die as long as bands like this keep grinding on the road and keeping it real in the studio.

A great enough jam that I don’t care that I’ve included it in at least one other post, probably two. Go see this band, buy their record, and wile out when you hear them.

Willie’s 80th Birthday Party

1. Roll Me up and Smoke me when I Die

I first went through the whole post and put different videos in for each song before I added the CMT link which doesn’t actually appear in video form on this blog. Like links of yesteryear, you actually have to click the link which brings you to the site for this hour long concert in the Country Music Television’s Crossroads series. Someone suggested to my brother a while back that we had too many videos and not enough writing so here’s a post for you faithful reader. The above  jam also links back to a certain post my brother wrote about Willie’s favorite sacrament.  I agree with much of what the Elder J said, but at Nelson’s advanced age, I think he can do whatever. Snoop Dogg?

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Leon Russell: Master of Space and Time.

Leon Russell took off his ever-present sunglasses the other night at a very small show in a barn in the woods of Maine and he looked right at me. I felt like something close to God stared directly into my soul. Very few musicians are as important to me personally as well as to popular twentieth music in general. His ideas and style have influenced everybody from George Harrison to Elton John and, at the golden age of 71, he can still melt your face playing piano. His name is Leon Russell and he is the Master of Space and time.

Leon is a piano player from Oklahoma who first captured my attention on a hazy day in the summer in about 2006. I haven’t mentioned him much before, using one of his Bob Dylan covers for a piece a few weeks back. My hippie neighbor Fred, who is about eight feet tall and the subject of an upcoming entry of his own, picked me up in his rusty old Subaru outback with a 12 pack of  Miller High life and a bunch of cds he had found in an old trunk.  I got in the car under the context of going to move some wood from one side of his driveway to the other but ending up driving very slowly in a large field nearby, drinking most of the beer, and listening to tunes. I learned a lot about Frank Zappa and Emerson, Lake and Palmer that day, but I want to focus on the major find which was Leon Russell. It was this song that sucked me in.

It didn’t hurt that we were having a few beers and driving in the woods, but this song bowled me over. I must have listened to it twenty times that afternoon/evening,  amongst many of Leon’ s solo songs on a retrospective disc Fred dug up somewhere. I then got the Fred version of the legend of Leon Russell.

The guy is basically a jack of all musical trades, from songwriter to producer to musician to singer and so on. He started playing music as a kid in Tulsa and at some point, moved to Los Angeles and eventually became part of the group known as “The Wrecking Crew”. These “fuckin bad asses” were supposed to be the best studio musicians in town and played on hits from the Beach Boys to Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass Band. Eventually, Leon started writing songs with some pretty good success, such as the following.

Everybody from Christina Aguilara to Ray Charles has covered this song and it’s also where he gets the name “The Master of Space and Time” . The excellent lyric states “I love you in place where there is no space or time” and this is around the same time Leon got perhaps his best known gig, as band leader for the Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour backing Joe Cocker.  According to the liner notes of that best of disc, this tour was nuts and everybody was on drugs, but watch the video beneath. Leon looks like he is in his prime, the rest of the band is killing it, and Joe Cocker is his typical arm flailing awesomeness. More on that top hat shortly,

As things go, Leon got pretty big on his own right and split from Joe Cocker to start making his own records. His first had the track “A Song for You” which would go on to be a huge hit for so many along with one of my personal favorites, “Shootout on the Plantation”. Take the time to google this  self titled first album and you will be amazed at the line up of players, with Cocker, a few Rolling Stones, and even two Beatles in attendance on the sessions. This guy clearly had come clout back in the day and from this performance at George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh, he also had the chops to keep all these famous folks around. Just look at the guy, Fred is right when he says he’s a bad ass.

Unfortunately, his own records never sold like the ones he wrote and played on so sometime in the mid 1980’s, he kind of went obscure. He played gigs to pay the bills and it got pretty destitute to the point where his tour van was almost not functioning. I got all of this post 197o’s info from a great movie called The Union which tells the story of the making of the album with the same name by Leon and Elton John. If your watch these live videos  that I have included, you can see the gigantic influence and Elton does acknowledge it a lot. He does say some things that I think make Leon look a little bad, but all in all it is an immensely powerful movie about a musician  who is absolutely amazing. Here’s a great track which Leon wrote for Elton.

So why do I like Leon Russell so much? There is nobody like him, from his style of playing piano to his lyrics to his distinct singing voice. While he can play in any genre, it’s almost like anything he plays on just becomes it’s own Leon genre. Although I have heard many of his studio parts, as I am sure you have if you ever listened to Oldie’s radio, I prefer his solo work.  Nobody does all the work he does on a track anymore either, like “Out in the Woods” where Leon did everything except play bass. He has a distinctive style that has already stood the test of time.

I think his music also represents a certain time in my life, the college years they’d be called if I were to write a memoir. I listened to his music hard when I lived with my ex-girlfriend in a tiny apartment, one time buying a bunch of his records instead of saving money to cover rent. I never once introduced him to somebody who didn’t become a fan and one friend texted me the night after I saw him at like the crack of dawn. In short, it reminds me of a certain time that I really enjoyed but will never return to. The ex, who once told me listening to Leon Russell made her like me more, is long gone but I hope that she can still enjoy the music. That was the biggest thing we had together and although we ended badly, I look back on most of my time with her fondly. Here’s a good jam.

When I got the chance to see him the other night, still incredibly impressive at age 70, I obviously was thinking of my history of being a Leon fan and how quick things change. Watch that movie with Elton, the same goes for Leon, barely getting by one day and getting Grammys the next. I am very lucky for the show I saw as it was basically in a barn in Maine and I was probably twenty feet from one of my most revered musical idols. Check out the venue, it’s very cool. I also go to attend the show with two old friends whom I introduced Leon to years ago. In fact, the tickets were a wedding present to one of my friends whose wedding I was actually the best man for, so that was a cool experience in itself.

He played every song I’d want to hear except “Shootout on the Plantation” and had an amazing young band backing him. He is moving pretty slow and he has a laptop to remember lyrics, but don’t let this take anything away from him. He is amazing and I would pay a hundred bucks to see him again, Leon Russell is the Master of Space and Time and if you have a chance, discover it yourself.