I had the pleasure of first meeting Whisperin’ Bill Anderson in 2003 when I road-tripped down to Nashville to see the Grand Ole Opry with my friend and radio news mentor Dick Sutliff. Bill not only is one of the finest songwriters in country or any popular musical genre, he’s a great guy who really cares about his fans.
I was honored he asked me to sit in at the Opry. I was an experience that’s hard to describe without sounding like I’m resorting to a cliche: a true piece of Americana…a tremendous honor…the Mother church of Country Music…humbling…thrilling. The thing about something as institutional and legendary about the Opry is that it’s so institutional and legendary that it’s the reason we have cliches! To sum it up, it was all that and more (see what I mean about cliches?)
I first saw Dave Alvin perform in the mid-90s and found deep inspiration in his writing and playing. At least once a year I would see him perform live and the inspiration would be rejuvenated. When I got the call to play this particular gig I was surprised and thrilled. It was a real honor to be on stage with him and the wonderful Christy McWilson for City Winery Chicago’s musical opening night, not to mention being there with the incredible Robbie Fulks and Rob Gjersoe. The Chicago Tribune published a review of the show.
It turned out to be an incredible night of music. James Conway, Joe Filisko AND special surprise guest Howard Levy made the Hideout Chicago “the center of the harmonica world” as one friend put it. For me, it was a chance to bring out several pieces I’d never played before an audience and to do it alongside three of my favorite players, all representing different styles of music and approaches to the instrument. Here’s “The Duo for Flute and Piano, First Mvt.” by Aaron Copland. I’m joined by Abigail Allison.
Ramsey Lewis has been an incredible mentor to me. We go back a few years. I was his writer/producer on his radio show from 1997-2009. When he asked me to sit in on a Christmas video series for his Facebook page this year, it was a big honor. This is what we created in one take…
from Chris & Heather’s Country Calendar Showcase at FitzGerald’s. We learned some classic Ferlin Husky.
I’m very excited to be performing in this production, a series of dramatic readings written by everyday people responding to the film “Brokeback Mountain.” Shawn Kirchner, who wrote and arranged the music will be in this production. Shawn’s original recording of these works featured harmonica legend Tommy Morgan (Beach Boys, Carpenters and just about any other pop recording featuring harmonica in the 60s, 70s and beyond), so I have a lot to live up to! Find out more about it here.
Gregg Coffey is a world-class artist and good friend. This features an overview of the works of the master Printmaker/Painter alongside my original music. All the sounds were created with harmonicas (some electronically treated), shakers, plucked bass harmonica reeds, clarinet (either conventionally or percussive keying), a bit of piano…the last part is a low-D pennywhistle with a microphone taped inside and run through a phase shifter!
The Saturday workshop, “Blues/Country/Folk in Seven Positions” was great fun (at least for me as the teacher). The students could all play in 1st and 2nd position (that’s C and G on a C harp, for you non-harmonicists). After two hours, we were all improvising on 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, AND 12th positions (that’s D, A, E, B and F). They found out it’s not as mysterious or daunting as it seems, which was the whole point!
The BlackWilloughbys have been busy playing our unique blend of blues, folk & Americana … we have a few dates coming up in the near future, which you can always check out at BlackWilloughbys.net
Fri. Dec. 16 Chris & Heather’s Country Calendar Show FitzGeralds – Berwyn IL. This is always a fun show to see – my first time participating. Bands are given an artist to cover. We’ve been given the late Ferlin Husky!
Sunday, Dec. 18 The Whister 10pm FREE Part of Lawrence Peters’ Country Throwdown Series
Tues. Dec. 20 The Hideout 9pm
Tues. Jan 10 The Hideout 10pm