Sunday, September 30, 2012

The 2012 Shake The Shack Rockabilly Ball at The Tractor Tavern 9-29-12

Anticip-p-p-pation. The whole Rockabilly Community was looking forward to this evening. After 25 years Leon was ending the Rockabilly Ball. The Tractor was sold out and packed. We all were one in the love for Leon and The Ball. Here he is with Cousin Mike late in the evening, they both clean-up pretty good don't you think?

He is not giving up the radio program, he will be broadcasting from his death-bed. But the hassle of producing this huge event has proved to be too much work for this family-man/businessman/DJ/marvelous-person. I cannot imagine that he will not miss it. Watching him interact with the crowd, many whom are his friends was awesome. He is a people person for sure.

Tonight promised to be the culmination of a killer weekend, a killer 25 years of rockabilly music presented by Leon and KEXP 90.3 FM. Leon handpicked the bill tonight. He made sure to feed his devoted fans their dose of great rockabilly, but he threw in some incredible western swing, some dynamite blues, and a real surprise, what I can only describe as a musical tornado.

First up was Angelatini and the Treblemakers, a beautiful girl with a phenomenal voice backed-up by some of the best musicians in the area.

The current rotating cast is Greg Roberts on lead guitar, Tony LaBorie on upright bass, Robert Lee Mitchell on piano, Roy Kay on rhythm guitar and vocals, Marshall Scott Warner on drums and Nick Christensen on tenor sax. Now I know I am missing the name of the baritone sax player, really a memorable musician, I hope I can post his name later.

 Robert Lee Mitchell is one of my favorite keyboard players, the default piano player for any band that wants that special Mitchell sound.

If it wasn't so packed there would have been a bunch of dancing as this was Jump Blues, the kind that makes you want to move. But alas, you could barely shake your butt for want of a little room. I was in a sea of music lovers itching to rock and all we could do is bop our collective heads and try to keep our hands to ourselves.

I have seen Angelatini once before, she has a marvelous set of pipes, one of those who really wouldn't need a microphone...she can belt the blues. Backed by this great band she was in her element and provided killer entertainment.

Greg, the lead guitarist was amazing, he played this beautiful but tiny guitar, he delivered the best of the blues licks. The horn section was great too, really added the driving authenticity to this rocking band.

I loved the baritone and so did Angelatini, I think he hit a soft spot deep inside.

This was the second night I got to see the phenomenal Tony Laborie on upright bass. He had laid the bottom for Slim Sandy at the Highway 99 Blues Club on Friday night. Here is another talented musician that is the go-to guy when you need a bass.

And of course Roy Kay is an integral part of this wonderful blues sound. His suave style, great voice and strong rhythm guitar is always a joy to witness.

This was an opening act that could have been the headliner and really the only band to play a night of dancing and fun. But this was just the awesome start of an amazing evening of music. Leon had created a list of world class artists and Angelatini, Roy, Rob, Greg, Marshall and the rest of the band was just the top of the list.
You can see them here:

Leon brought on one of the finest western swing bands in the world; Ray Stuckey and his Rhythm Gang. This is a collection of stellar musicians playing the music of the greats of the genre. His is most well known for his part in the Dave and Deke Combo, a pioneering band that set the standard for many a would-be rockabilly musician. They went their separate ways and in the end they both got even better. Deke going hillbilly/rockabilly, Dave going pure western swing.

Tonight we got to see a band that will live in our memories for a long time. They were absolutely swinging; entertaining and fun, the place was all in and we were collectively jiggling to his beat.

This is group of ringers, they all had their turn to play amazing solos and there wasn't a bummer among them.

I didn't get all the names and am having a little trouble finding the current personnel on-line. But I am going to take a crack at it. Ian was the stellar lead guitarist, blazing swing picking of the highest caliber. Rusty was at the pedal-steel and creating beautiful music out of his lovely instrument. I believe it is Wally at the bass; I stood at his feet and watched him play the killer doghouse. Chris was playing the trumpet, adding a authentic layer to this rich tapestry. Being an ex-trumpet player myself, I was interested as he placed his mouthpiece on one side of his mouth, not in the center as is the norm. It sure worked for Chris.

Mike was hilarious at the drums, making great faces, smiling wildly at all who would meet his gaze and mouthing the words to each song. And Dave was the real thing, the modern Bob Wills, right here in Seattle. What a great band.

Dave and the boys were rocking through some of the best swing I have ever heard. Authentic, toe tapping music that just made you smile and feel good deep down. He played a Talking Blues tune for their last of the night, it was funny and hot.

The crowd was happy and this was just what Leon was counting on when he booked these bands. He was in the corner with a poo-eating grin.

This was going to be tough act to follow, the crowd had loved this marvelous act and they screamed for an encore. See Dave here:

It was about this time when I realized I didn't fully purge my camera memory and the display said I had 3 photos left. I still had my (ugh) phone, but the high(er) quality shots were limited. I tried to save one for each band that was left.

Th next act was billed as a one-man band. I earlier described him as a one-man tornado, this is putting it mildly. He was a tour de force, an earquake, a clear the room, hide the woman-folk kinda guy. Your first clue that Bloodshot Bill was going to be a little different was that he showed up in his jammies.

He played guitar and with his feet played a high-hat cymbal and a bass drum.  Played does not properly describe Bill's style of music. There are few words to describe Bill's act.

Here is the best I can do; he alternately growls, howls, huffs, yodels and moans as he sings vocals in a barely discernible vocabulary. His head shakes back and forth so hard and his hair is flying so fast that you fear for his health. His feet are bare and banging on his sparse percussion set. He regularly spits at a spot just north of his high-hat.

He swallows the mike, sucking on it like a pop sickle, bangs on his guitar like it is a set of pots and pans; he is having a grand mal seizure right in front of us. Notice Leon watching in the center of the picture, he can barley believe what he is seeing.

It turned out that his madman had a method; he had the crowd in his hands, asking them to join him in his crazed style of entertainment. We sang at his behest, becoming his chorus. When he needed a little love, we made sure he had it. This was a total gas.

Bill is from Toronto and was apparently only recently allowed back into our ever so generous country. It is too bad as this is as good an entertainer that you will ever see, and he should be seen more often. If you get a chance, do not miss.

The most telling evidence of his mastery of this Rockabilly Ball; most of the other entertainers lined up to have Bill sign a copy of his disc. See Bill here:

So far the bill had been off the chart, each act a triumph on their own. Leon had done a masterful job for his last Ball and some of the best was yet to come. Leon introduced the friend that turned him onto Rockabilly music. It is wonderful that this man is so humble and appreciative of even the smallest of things.

The Modern Sounds are considered the best Rockabilly band in the world. They are silky-smooth as they glide through the best of classic rockabilly. Leon slobbered all over them during his toast and introduction.

Joel Paterson is one of the best guitarist I have ever seen. He had backed Carl Sonny Leland at the Friday eve Ball and was amazing. Playing a beautiful Gretsch, he is a superb musician and entertainer.

Singing beautiful harmonies, this group is a triple threat; each guy playing a pivotal position in the mix. Alex Hall on drums and vocals and Beau Sample on upright bass and vocals, complete this group.

Playing tunes that evoked Chet Atkins and Les Paul, Joel leads the group through the set with precision and soul. They can melt you with classic blues and make your blood boil with hot jazz. Tonight they made sure to please the rockabilly crowd with their best.

I had just purchased a Deke Dickerson CD (Live at Duff's) with this group of talented musicians backing him up so I knew what to expect. But seeing them live was a real special treat. This is the best of American Music, we are lucky to have had this marvelous band here in Seattle.

See the Modern Sounds here:

Marc and Gaby Bristol from Blue Suede News were here again documenting the event. If you want real writing about this wonderful weekend turn to them. Find them here:
Here they are enjoying the music and friends:

Tom Mara, Executive Director of KEXP helped introduce the last band of the last Ball. I got to speak with him the evening before, a sweet man and the perfect guy to have steering the ship. He is proud of the work that Leon has done and fully supports him in his wacky endeavors.

Leon had saved the best for last, a band that had played many a ball, in fact more than any other; Johnny and The Blades. Here he is buying them a round of whiskey, a special ritual that they repeated for our enjoyment. There was obvious brotherly love here, Johnny and Leon are kin.

Johnny has an awesome voice and stage presence. He and his boys have all the tools, they are one of the best rockabilly party bands in the nation. Raw, but crisp and tight, The Blades rolled trough some great music.

Johnny Kellen plays a screaming rhythm guitar and sings lead vocals. Jimmy Kolodziej plays a mean upright bass, Eli Rinek is keeping the band pumping on the drums and Noah Gietka is genius on his beautiful Gretsch. This group had not played together for 3 years but when Leon called they didn't hesitate.

The photos suck here and it is too bad, these guys were so much fun, deciding after a "sensitive" mellow tune that they had to rock to keep the crowd happy. And rock they did. Noah was melting our faces with his awesome picking. Johnny has a great voice and the vocals sound just like The Blades of old.

Jimmy attacks his bass like it is trying to run away, at times his tongue is hanging out like a dog in heat. Funny and gregarious he was a wonderful entertainer. He was melting all the girls out front with his cool style and banter.

This was about the best of the evening and a memorable way to end an era. Johnny and The Blades were representative of the 25 years that Leon has been promoting rockabilly music.

Leon joined Johnny and his mates for the last 3 songs of the evening. Feeling no pain, Leon was singing his heart out, enjoying the last of an era with his good friends. All this emotion, and in front of an adoring crowd. It was past 2am and everybody was spent. This was easily the best Ball ever (at least the ones I have attended, although I loved last years surf night). What a great way to go out.

This man, this wonderful resource and all of his family should be thanked and revered for their service. Leon didn't invent this genre, but he has helped make it what it is today. 

Here is the 25th Anniversary Logo I designed for the occasion:

You can listen to Leon's radio show, Shake The Shack anytime of the day via the KEXP streaming archive. 

You can also listen to his show live Fridays 6-9pm at 90.3 FM.

Thank you Leon, for all you do.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The 2012 Shake the Shack Rockabilly Ball at The Highhway 99 Blues Club 9-29-12

This was a night to relish, I had been invited to the "before" party at the club. I couldn't miss this, even though I felt like doo-doo. Leon and his radio family invited me to the pre-event; a celebration of the last Ball. Leon has been producing the Rockabilly Ball for 25 years. This event has been drawing the top talent from all over the country. It sells out every year. But he has been producing this all while running a business, fathering a family, coaching pee-wee football and being a DJ every Friday night. He is growing weary. It is a lot of work to arrange for the bands.

Each one comes from a different part of the country, they need to have their transportation arranged, a place to stay and a spot on the bill. This year Marshall Scott Warner arranged the talent for Friday night and Leon took Saturday night's line-up. But if it is billed as a Shake The Shack event, Leon is involved. He showed me the thread of emails and texts from just one band, it went on forever. He is done. I know he will miss the fun and camaraderie, but he is tired and at least for now, there is no more Rockabilly Ball.

At the pre-gig, Tom Mara, the Executive Director of KEXP had a nice dedication and passed out copies of an article from 1986. Our local newspaper ran a story about the 2nd Ball and the pic of Leon was amazing. I made the huge mistake of not keeping my copy but hope to get it to post later.

Tom loves Leon and had some wonderful things to say. It was a marvelous moment as Leon got choked up and was clearly touched. He tried to cover up his tears with a corn-dog, it was a awesome love-fest. I felt privileged to be a part of it.

Leon displayed a partial list of the bands that have played the ball over the last 25 years. It ran 3 pages in small single spaced type and did not include every band as he had run out of time. Leon has created the venue for Rockabilly music here in the Pacific Northwest. Many of these bands would toil in obscurity if not for him. The community, the genre and the lovers of this music owe Leon a huge debt of gratitude.

Leon was inducted to the Rockabilly Hall of Fame a couple of years ago. He is one of the most talented, amazing, and friendliest people I have ever met. I am fortunate to call him my friend.

The event was awesome, some of the bands were warming up, Leon was accessible and glowing and the whole family was there and getting ready for the fun. This event brings out the best dressed folks in the genre; girls in period skirts with tattoos from their head to their toes, boys with pompadours and tight pants. Here is a pic of Johnny Lignite and his fiance Cass smooching.

Johnny brought out a cake, we all got a sugar rush before we indulged in adult beverages, or in my case, a gallon of water.

Slim Sandy and his band treated us all to a little teaser, a sign of good things to come. Nick Streeter was playing lead with Slim tonight, Marshall Scott Warner was playing drums.

Mark and the Lustre Kings also gave us a sneak peak into their set. They had played at the first Rockabilly Ball and here he was making a triumphant return for the last. The stand-up bass player was amazing, sometimes playing the neck overhand, I have never seen that.

The Highway 99 Blues Club turned out to be marvelous venue for the Ball. They took it seriously, clearing out all the tables to make room for the expected crowd. They also had 2 satellite bars, a ton of friendly and helpful servers and bar staff, and even set-up a chicken wire corral to keep the clamoring masses from over whelming the stage. Here is one of the awesome folks working at the club.

 The atmosphere is cool, they had some bitchin' light fixtures over the bar.

I mentioned how this event brings out the cool clothes, it gives the old and young an excuse to get duded up and show your style. Here is a pic of 3 lovely ladies posing for someone else, I always see this as an opportunity.

Every Ball is opened up with a toast. Leon and his iconic coffee mug (full of whiskey) raised a glass to the bands, KEXP, the 99 Blues club and the crowd. Tom and Leon started the gig in classic Ball fashion.

First up was Slim Sandy, they rocked in a country rhythm and blues sound. He sometimes appears alone, sometimes he has a back-up band. Tonight he had vocal assistance from a well dressed cowgirl, Nick on guitar, Marshall on drums and a killer stand up bass player, Tony LaBorie is super entertaining and fun to watch.

He played with a of of energy and great country style. They were having fun rocking to a packed house.

See Slim here: and here:

Nick Streeter is the go-to guy when you need a lead guitarist. He has played with every local western swing and rockabilly group in the city. Marshall Scott Warner is a rockabilly fixture in this town. A marvelous percussionist, he has also sat in with every band in the area. He would play drums twice tonight. As I mentioned he was also the producer of tonight's event.

When you have 4 bands on the bill, they move through fast. Just as you start to enjoy one band it is time for them to move out and make room for the next. Slim had the place rocking and left the kiddies wanting more. Marshall left the drum-set and came up front to introduce the next act.

Smokehouse Dave promised to rock in classic Mississippi country style, with rockabilly licks and a few Cajun whoops thrown in for good measure. He and his doghouse player, Shorty, form the core of the band. Joel Paterson and Alex Hall from The Modern Sounds filled in the rest of the group for the evening.

Super entertaining and totally jumping, Dave and the boys had the place moving and dancing. He had a great stage persona and everybody in the house was grooving. Joel was amazing on lead, picking some of the finest licks of the evening.

One of the best rockabilly/western swing guitarist I have had the pleasure of seeing.

Dave was a great showman with a classic sound. He was hopping and jumping, moving around and showing off for the massive crowd. He was fun to watch and marvelous to hear. I caught Dave and Shorty outside having a smoke. The dark spots on Dave's shirt is sweat, evidence of his awesome show.

See Dave and Shorty here:

Once again it was time for a change and Leon was back up making his toast and introducing Carl Sonny Leland. Cousin Mike (Leon's sidekick and yes, cousin) had posted a video of this guy, he is amazing. Shake The Shack has a great Facebook page, they always post killer videos and fun articles. See their page here:

Carl lived up to the hype, blazing on the electric piano. An phenomenal artist, he had the attention of everybody in the house. His play is energetic and skillful, reminiscent of Jerry Lee Lewis but in his own amazing fashion. He sang great vocals and had an awesome stage presence.

He was backed up by The Modern Sounds in their entirety, so his set was doubly amazing. At one point Cousin Mike looked over at me from across the room and mouthed wow! It was as good a show as I have ever seen.

Carl is just a rocker of the best variety. You can see him here:

The second half of the two night event is tonight (Saturday Sept. 29th 2012) and The Modern Sounds are headlining; it is going to be a great night if this was any evidence. See them here:

Beau Sample on upright bass, a beautiful instrument with a huge ornate headstock:

Alex Hall on percussion:

And of course Joel:

Here he is with Cousin Mike:

Mike mentioned to me that he could listen to them for the whole night, I agreed but even as good as they were, The Lustre Kings were up next. They had whetted my appetite with their rehearsal, I couldn't wait to see them in full swing.

Here is Leon introducing his friend Mark Gamsjager and his band The Lustre Kings.

Carl was a tough act to follow but Mike and the boys had the place hopping with their marvelous style of rockabilly. I think my favorite artist of the evening was the upright bass player for the The Kings (no name yet, add if you know in the comments below). Besides having a awesome rockabilly style, he worked the Doghouse like no one else.

Even as the crowd thinned Mark and is beautiful Gretsch cranked the killer rockabilly.

The Lustre Kings were a collection of great musicians with a dynamite pedal-steel player and Marshall pulling double duty on drums. Mark has a beautiful set of pipes and it was truly killer set.

The near capacity crowd had a rocking time; many smiling faces and happy peeps. This girl was dancing with a PBR tallboy in each hand.

It was great to see the Rockabilly community come out and show support for Leon, Shake the Shack and KEXP.  That is Cousin Mike in the center top of the pic with tall Johnny making another trip to the bar on the right.

Marc Bristol and his wife Gaby was there to document the event for their great magazine Blue Suede News. If you want the real story of the music tonight be sure to buy the next edition of their magazine. You can see them here:

Gaby is a dynamite photographer and both she and Marc are marvelous writers. Marc is also a great musician in his own right and plays in many bands such as File Gumbo and The Harmatones. Be sure to support this superb resource. That is Gaby and Marc on the left, they had their own fenced in area.

I have the plague. Not the Black Death type, more like the Green Death where one drowns in his own snot; brain-dead and jelly-eyed. I missed work, something that I don't do often as I love my job. But that morning I woke up, showered, walked the dogs, had breakfast and passed out for another 8 hours. I got up at 4:30 in the afternoon, one of those pathetic days when your body dictates your actions. I am writing this post in slow-motion.

By the end of the evening I was a puddle; sicker and more disgusting than I was when I started the evening. It wasn't pretty and as soon as I got to my car I crashed. Yawning and jelly-eyed I drove home in a cloud but with a satisfied soul. I had just heard and seen some of the best Rockabilly and Rhythm and Blues anywhere.

We are so fortunate to have Leon Berman and Shake The Shack to both introduce us to new music and to provide us with the classic best of the genre. Tune in to Shake The Shack 6-9PM Pacific Time, KEXP 90.3 fm or stream on-line at