If you follow my blog with any regularity, you know that I follow the Eastern Iowa music scene fairly closely– especially its rich folk and blues tradition. One of the guys who has been around Iowa City for a while and has established a kind of legendary career is Dave Moore.
Moore’s music career starts in the early 80’s in Iowa City hooking up with Greg Brown– supporting him on tour, recording and his frequent visits to Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion radio show. In 1984 he won a blues and folk festival contest which provided him the studio time to record his first record Jukejoints and Cantinas which began his relationship with Red House Records. In 1990 he released his follow-up Over My Shoulder. In 1994 he started work on his third release which was interrupted due to losing a daughter in infancy. He took a break from the record and playing for a while, choosing to stick close to home and family.
In 1998 he picked up work on the album again, this time pulling in area musicians to help bring vision to the recording sessions. Bo Ramsey stepped in at the producer’s helm on the sessions which included Rick Cicalo on bass, Steve Hayes on drums, and David Zollo on piano. “Nothing against non-Iowans,” Moore said in a 2000 interview with Maureen Brennan. “I just think it really felt right. These are all the people I’ve been playing with. They all have families, most of them have kids; even the person who did the photographs (Sandy Dyas) is local. It kind of solidified in that direction when Bo Ramsey and I began to work together.”
The resulting record– Breaking Down to 3— which was released by Red House in 1999 is a strong work which benefits from the “Iowa Sound” that Bo and the guys brought and is a record that I consider to be essential to any collection of this regional scene.
Dave Moore will be playing two early sets at The Red Avocado restaurant in Iowa City on Saturday 3/20/10. The party starts at 11AM with two sets of tunes from Moore– one at 11:30AM and one at 1:30PM. At 3PM there is a reception for area photographer Sandy Dyas and her work on exhibit at the Red Avocado that goes until 5PM.
Click Here for the Red Avocado Page on the Spring Party.
Click Here for the Facebook Event for Dave Moore & Sandy Dyas at The Red Avocado.
Thursday night, November 19th, was the last of the three shows that comprised Pieta Brown‘s Artist-in-Residence at the Mill Restaurant in Iowa City. Each show had different opening acts and gallery exhibits, and Pieta used these shows to try out different performance configurations. The first show was a solo acoustic show, the second was a duo show with Bo Ramsey, and this show was a full-band show. The band, dubbed “Skyrocket” was Bo Ramsey on guitar, Steve Hayes on drums and Jon Penner on bass. Effectively this her “Dream #9” band with a swap of drummers from Jim Viner to Hayes. The opening act was Dustin Busch, whose photographs were in the gallery and who joined Pieta on stage as well for the first show. The gallery for this show was an installation of Sandy Dyas’s photographs.
I was looking forward to this show because I really enjoyed seeing Pieta with a full band back in June and this is as close to her records as she can sound live. I think she has really come into her own as a songwriter, musician and performer since her self-titled debut in 2002. Certainly her solo, duo and trio performances are the style that is associated with her, but fronting a band on stage is a new mode for her, and one I hope to see more of because, frankly, I like the drive of the drums behind her songs. Talking to her after the show about it, I get the idea that she doesn’t want to put too much focus on the full-band configuration over the other forms. She isn’t going to tour the full band, I’d say– if only because of the complicated logistics and economics of touring a full band.
Dustin Busch aka “Dusty B” opened the show with a solo acoustic set. Dustin’s set was comprised of covers and original songs which showcased his “hill-country” blues style. Dustin’s amazing slide guitar style was coupled with a characteristicly mush-mouthed vocal delivery which reminded me of R.L. Burnside or T-Model Ford. He had a microphone pointed at his feet so that his foot stomping could be picked up. I was really impressed with the set– I’d like to see him play again sometime when he’s in the area. I had a great conversation with him after the show about old blues artists– its clear his passion is in this as he possesses a pretty encyclopedic knowledge of this topic. I could have talked to him for hours! I managed to capture his set-closer which was an instrumental cover of Al Murphy’s “Quail is a Pretty Bird” with my iPhone which you can see below. This song is typically a fiddle tune, but Dustin transforms it for guitar.
Because the stage was occupied by more people, it left less room for the neat stage props, so Stan Crocker created a new set incorporating some of the original props, but included a steer skull and an interesting blanket of lights you can see in the above picture. I wish I would have gotten a wide-angle shot without the band– it was really cool.
Pieta brought out her new Reverend Flatroc electric in Rock Orange, although in these pictures under the red lights it appears that the guitar matches the pink in Pieta’s outfit. She was playing it through a Fender Silverfaced Twin Reverb, which according to an interview with Nick Stika I read with Bo Ramsey in Premier Guitar, is actually modded to a blackface circuitry. This means that it is a later Fender tube-based amp from the CBS period, but has been modified to the same circuitry a pre-CBS “blackface” spec. (sorry about the guitar gear geek stuff…).
The set was great, and included a run of songs that were very suited to the full-band experience. It was pretty evident that the Bo/Steve/Jon backing band was a good choice– they play together very frequently and it shows how easily they can be dropped into a setting like this. The crowd started warming up to the band and some people started dancing. I’ve said it before– I really like hearing Pieta with a full band– the energy is palpable and infectious.
Pieta was her typical humble and gracious self– thanking people for coming out and thanking the Mill for letting her try her “experiment” and stated that she hoped to be able to do this again.
This show’s art exhibit was one that I was really looking forward to– the Sandy Dyas installation. She utilized the backroom to its fullest with a sort of “mini” installation of her “Heaven & Earth” exhibit which will open at Simpson College in Indianola, IA on January 11th and will run through February 5th. She is using the walls as a larger canvas– if you will– where she is hanging photographs in groupings in relation to each other– the juxtaposition of which offers an interpretation of the subjects wider than the individual photos. Graphic arts is about the use of space, and this exhibit will be an interesting and compelling exercise.
After it was all said and done, these shows accomplished what Pieta set out to do– she got an opportunity to work out some of her material in different stage settings– a sort of warm-up to the touring she will be doing in support of her Shimmer EP and the upcoming full length this year on Red House. She also used these shows as a way to show the community of artists that exists in Eastern Iowa. I moved back to Eastern Iowa to follow a career opportunity, but I was also very excited to come back to the area to see the music and arts scene I grew up around. I hope that Pieta attempts another series of shows like this– there are a lot more artists and musicians who could benefit from the exposure Pieta could bring to them in this setting.
Pieta Brown and Skyrocket Setlist:
Rollin’ and Tumblin’
In My Mind I Was Talkin’ to Loretta
You’re My Lover Now
I Don’t Want To Come Down
Rollin’ Down The Track
Lovin’ You Still
How Many Times
Red Apple Juice
Looking the World Over (Memphis Minnie cover)
Dustin Busch Performing “Quail is a Pretty Bird”
Pieta Brown and Skyrocket performing “Hey Run”
Click Here to see my full flickr set of pictures from the show.
Click Here to read my review of the first This Land Is Your Music show on 11/5/09
Click Here to read my review of the second This Land Is Your Music show on 11/12/09
“I can’t believe that you came all this way to hang out here and hear the band play– you’re likeable.”
“Likeable” by Bo Ramsey
I managed to see one of the rare shows Bo Ramsey performed to promote his new album Stranger Blues. The last night of the mini-tour was in Dubuque, IA which is where my brother and sister-in-law live, so I called them up. Back in the late Eighties and early Nineties we used to go see Bo pretty much wherever he was playing, so it would be like old times. The venue was an art space/gallery that opened in the Warehouse district of Dubuque called “Voices Warehouse Gallery” which is in the Wilmac Warehouse, which will eventually have office space and condos.
Joining Bo on this run was a group assembled appropriately under the name “Stranger Blues.” This group represents two generations of Iowa-bred musicians. On drums was longtime sidemen Steve Hayes and on bass was Rico Cicalo both of whom worked on Stranger Blues. On B3 was Nate “Count” Basinger from the Iowa City R&B band The Diplomats of Solid Sound. Joining Bo on stage as rhythm guitarist was Bo’s son Benson Ramsey who is in the Minneapolis band The Pines.
The Voices Warehouse has only been open since September and it’s already had a couple of notable shows: the Bo Ramsey show and Andrew Bird played there the previous weekend. It’s a big open space with paintings and photos on the walls split up by artist and some sculptures on the floor. There’s a stage on one wall with old-time movie theater seats apparently bolted to the floor in rows as well as randomly spaced groupings of chairs and sofas. There is a bar of sorts off to one side made of polished limestone that was manned by members of the Dubuque Rotary who were serving three kinds of Menage a Trois wine and import beers like Corona, Heineken, and Amstel Light. Sadly the Rotarians forgot to get limes for the Corona and had to run out and get some. My brother called a friend of his who was joining us there and asked him to stop to get limes on the way there. When he showed up, the table we were standing at got pretty popular!
Running sound that night was Dubuque mainstay George Rondinelli. George has been running a music store in Dubuque for a very long time. George rents out sound equipment, but also shows up to run sound in a pinch. I bought my first bass amplifier from George, and spent lots of time in his store back in high school and college. George has the reputation of being of the genuine “good guys” when it comes to the music scene in Eastern Iowa. On more than one occasion, George lent out gear for acts that played the area and some piece of gear blew up. He managed to have the room sound great– which is quite a feat considering the building is a warehouse. I didn’t even need to put my earplugs in.
Bo played two sets and an encore. Most of the music as you might expect was from Stranger Blues. I had heard reports from friends who attended the Waterloo and Iowa City shows that the first set was mostly drawn from the new album and a lot of it was, but pretty early in the first set he played “In The Weeds” and “Sidetrack Lounge” from 1997’s In The Weeds. Unfortunately, I was having too good of a time to keep notes on the sets, so I’m going to have to rely on foggy memory. I really think I prefer seeing Bo in a bar setting. Due to the size of the place, you had people sitting in the theater chairs and people stacked over by the bar. The bar folks were not really paying attention, and the people sitting seemed to be having a good time, however I remember the packed shows at the Silver Dollar in Dubuque and the Corner Tap in Cascade and Bo had the whole place rocking. My sister-in-law got her wish when Bo played “Get Away”– she sang along with the words. It was pretty clear that Bo and his band had their chops worked out. All of the years of touring Bo did with Steve and Rico helped propel this band to a well-oiled machine, too. Towards the end of the first set a collection of brave dancers formed at the right of the stage. The first set seemed to end too soon. Bo announced they’d take a short break.
I spent a good part of the break and part of the second set hanging out Jim Viner from the Diplomats who was along apparently to help Nate carry his B3 Organ. Jim’s a pretty cool guy. He filled me in on what was coming up for his band. They are going to play a number of regional dates and then are going to head to Italy for some shows.
I brought a copy of the CD I made of the Pinesradio show from KUNI’s Live From Studio One in February with me. I was supposed to send a copy to David Huckfelt a while ago, so I decided to bring it. I ran into Benson at the bar in line and introduced myself and handed him the CD. We talked for a bit. I asked him about the solo record that he was working on. He said that the solo record project is parked for now and they are working on a new Pines record that will be released on Red House Records! Red House is the folkie label out of Minneapolis that Greg Brown has been on for years. That’s pretty good news! So, we’ll need to keep an eye on that. I also took the opportunity to mention that it’s really great that Bo is playing solo again and that it would be great if there would be more shows. Benson said that Bo is considering it.
The second set was, in my opinion, a more energetic set than the first. The “dance floor” to the right of the stage filled up and people started dancing in front of the stage as well! We were treated to more nuggets in the second set including “Rockinitis” from the Sliders album of the same name– which excited quite a few “Boficianados.” I don’t even remember the last time I heard that song live. He also did “Long Long Time” with its classic opening line, “A bug-covered windshield and a three-day beard/runnin’ down the road away from somethin’ I feared.” It was at this point when I joined in the dancing. I read in an interview online that Bo was wondering whether after all this time as a sideman that he’d be able to do some of the older songs. From my perspective he was playing as well if not better than any other time I’d seen him. Did I want him to play longer? Yes. The show was over after 11PM, which I feel was a bit early. But considering that this is the first time he’s played his songs in a while, I suppose that was as many songs as they could get rehearsed. It still was a great show, and I’m looking foward to any future shows he may do.
Bo is back on the road in support of Greg Brown. Of note is the fact that these upcoming shows are listed on boramsey.com as “Opening For and Appearing With,” so it looks like this run which starts 10/19 in Eugene, Oregon and continuing through a two night stop in Denver on 12/15 and 12/16. Based on previous shows I’ve seen with Pieta and Greg, it will likely be just Bo and Greg, so I’d say it will be Bo solo, which would be interesting. I’m hoping for some bootlegs to show up.