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It’s the 15th post of the new local music blog I’m producing in collaboration with AM 1220 KHTS and the Santa Clarita Valley’s No. 1, award-winning website, www.hometownstation.com.
Peeples Place at KHTS is online every Friday morning with hot SCV music news, reviews, features and photos at www.peeplesplace.com, with an on-air preview on the AM 1220 KHTS morning show each Thursday at 8:10.
This week, I have an exclusive spotlight Q&A with Texas blues singer-writer-multi-instrumentalist Carolyn Wonderland about her new album, “Peace Meal,” and plans to tour Southern California in February.
I’ll have news about rocking at Albertson’s for the troops, the Momix modern dance troupe at COC, Feaverish voting in the SchoolJam USA competition, an update on Henry Diltz’s new book “Unpainted Faces,” and lots more.
We’ll find out who’s premiering on “House Blend” on SCVTV Saturday night, what new music is hot at our local record store, and who’s playing live this weekend around town and nearby.
But first, we’re going to lead off with our trivia question!
SCV MUSIC TRIVIA: MELTDOWN — We have a winner in our current contest! Regina Alonte of Santa Clarita correctly named the band that headlined Yes I Can’s Summer Meltdown festival in 2007 at the Golden Valley High School amphitheatre — Phunk Junkeez! Regina wins a pair of KHTS Restaurant Row certificates and a couple CDs from the Peeples Place at KHTS swag vault.
So our new question is this: Name the rocker who lived in Santa Clarita and released an album produced by Tom Petty in 1981. If you know the answer, email email@example.com (KHTS employees past and present are not eligible, sorry!). We’ll toss all the correct entries into a hat and randomly choose a winner.
OK, now let’s rock some SCV music news.
LOCAL BANDS ROCK ‘HOMETOWN HEROES DONATION EVENT’ AT ALBERTSON’S — The Albertson’s supermarket at 27631 Bouquet Canyon Road in Saugus will host a donation drive for care packages to be sent to troops during the holidays on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
You can take or purchase toiletries, warm socks, snacks, magazines, playing cards and other fun items to the “SCV Hometown Heroes Donation Event.” Cash donations will also be accepted; postage for each care package box is $12.95.
Make a donation and you’ll score a Coca-Cola knapsack as a thank-you.
Local bands will set up and perform in the store’s parking lot all day. The lineup of performers includes Robert Heller & Erik Anders, The Garry Baker Trio, The Jerry & Glenda Dejong Band, and The Convictions Band.
“It’s an Albertson’s thing,” Jimmy Simon, assistant store director, told me about the event. “We’ve always been involved in different programs in the community. If you’re part of this community, you have to be involved. We’ve adopted the SCV Food Pantry this year and had a food drive for them last weekend. It’s one thing to talk the talk, but unless you walk the walk, it’s just talk.”
For Simon, it’s also personal: “I’m a Desert Storm veteran, so this really hits home.”
A complete list of most-needed items for the care packages is posted on the event’s Facebook page. For more info, call Lynn Easton at (661) 373-7283, Kristen Paar at (661) 305-4772 or the store at (661) 296-9655.
MOMIX: ‘BOTANICA’ DANCERS DEFY GRAVITY AT THE PAC — The Momix dance troupe performs its gravity-defying “Botanica” show at the Performing Arts Center Sunday night starting at 7. The family-friendly production, part of the PAC’s “In Motion” series, features colorful costumes, projections and giant puppetry designed by Michael Curry, of Cirque du Soleil, Disney and Metropolitan Opera fame. “Botanica” is “eye-popping and mind-boggling…everything looks magical,” as a New York Times reviewer put it. Tickets range from $20 to $45. Get all the details at www.canyonspac.com.
Local dancers are also invited to attend a special interactive master class with Momix at the PAC the next day. The class is free, but space is limited, so call (661) 362-5343 to sign up.
VOTING STILL OPEN FOR THE FEAVER IN SCHOOLJAM USA COMPETITION — Support the local SCV band in its bid to win the national SchoolJam USA competition for high school students. They entered one of their hot originals, “Bleeding Man.” Click here to vote. You can also search for and nominate other favorite bands.
SCV LOCAL MUSIC ROUNDUP — For the latest on what’s new and hot in local music, we checked in with our friends at Rock Candy Music & More, the Santa Clarita Valley’s only retail record store, at Bouquet and Plum Canyon in Saugus. Staffer David Green gave us the update on what’s new on the shelves.
“Nothing new local, but we’ve been stocking up on some stuff,” Green said. “We’re getting ready for Black Friday.” He also hinted at a Black Friday sale, but no details yet.
By the way, Green is the drummer for local punk band Moonraker, which just returned from its first tour. I asked him how it went.
“It was great,” he said. “We played a bunch of shows in different places. We had a blast.”
Rock Candy Music & More presents live shows by local artists on most weekend nights; tonight, Dylan Breen and Fitzgerald and the Bellafonte will play. Tomorrow, it’s Emma Rae.
SCV MUSIC ON TV: SERENA & BAND, THE DELTAZ PREMIERE ON ‘HOUSE BLEND’ — “House Blend” hosted by yours truly on SCVTV Saturday night at 10 presents the premiere broadcast of teen pop/rock singer/songwriter and actress Serena from the suburbs of Saugus, and roots-rocking brother duo The Deltaz from the hills of Malibu.
In her second “House Blend” appearance but first with her band (Adam on guitar, E-Man on bass and Blake on drums), Serena taped her segment at the SCVTV Media Center in Newhall on Oct. 29, 2011. They performed “Your Fault,” a Serena original from her debut EP “Allow Me to Introduce Myself,” and “Listen,” another original she hasn’t recorded yet, and premiered on this edition of the show.
The Deltaz, featuring Ted Siegel on guitar and lead vocals and his younger brother John on drums, backing vocals and harmonica (with Aaron Stern on bass for the session), also taped their “House Blend” debut the Oct. 29, 2011. Premiering a pair of originals from their not-yet-released second album, “Meet Me There,” they rocked an electric version of “I Know You” and a funky unplugged song titled “Dollar Blues.”
“House Blend” airs Saturdays and Thursdays at 10 p.m. Pacific Time on SCVTV (Time Warner Cable Channel 20 in the Santa Clarita Valley, and AT&T U-Verse Channel 99 in Los Angeles and Orange counties), and streams live everywhere via the Web at www.scvtv.com. The show’s archives are also available 24/7 on demand at www.scvtv.com/html/housebl end-current.html and www.scvhouseblend.com.
Check out the SCVTV website for more local music listings.
MORE SCV MUSIC LIVE — Who else is playing in the Santa Clarita Valley this weekend, or spreading the local musical love outside the valley?
Musician and singer/songwriter Melissa Kaye plays free sets every Friday at La Toscana Trattoria Grill in Valencia. Catch her tonight from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Local bands Hibernation Index, Fight the War, Silent Shot, Black Empathy and Samudra play hard rock and metal at The Vu Bar and Lounge starting at 7 p.m. Cover is $5 for ages 21 and up.
Pulp celebrates its reunion with some special guest musicians at Valencia Wine Co. and Brett Vogel plays at Salt Creek Grille tonight, both starting at 9 p.m.
The Babylon Social Club — featuring SCV singer Sara Niemietz plus Herman Matthews, Bennett Salvay, Leslie Smith, W.G. “Snuffy” Walden and Terry Wilson — rocks Cafe Cordiale in Sherman Oaks. The show starts at 10 p.m. and it’s free.
It’s Open Mic night at the Stage Door performance space in Keyboard Galleria Music Center on Soledad Canyon Road. If you’re a musician or singer, here’s your chance to show off your skills. Bring your instrument and KGMC will provide the mics, cables and amps for free. To sign up, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meridian plays covers at Las Rocas Bar and Grill in Castaic from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Seating is limited, so call 661-257-6905 to reserve a table.
The Skinny Little Twits play classic rock covers and originals from 8 to 10 p.m. at It’s A Grind on The Old Road.
Pulp plays again at Valencia Wine Co. and Galo Pacheco performs at Salt Creek Grille, both starting at 9 p.m.
The Babylon Social Club plays at the Grant R. Brimhall Library in Thousand Oaks as part of the “Blues, Bop and Books” concert series. General admission is a $20 donation, or $15 for attendees under 21, and includes coffee and dessert. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. To reserve a seat, email email@example.com.
Local singer-songwriter Johnny Strat (pictured with his band on “House Blend” on SCVTV in February 2011) headlines “Lift – A Thanksgiving Benefit Concert for Needy Families” at Crescenta Valley Community Church in La Crescenta. Take bags of non-perishable foods and toiletries to donate to Sue’s Garden, a charity. The show starts at 6 p.m. and it’s free.
Monday, Nov. 14
Lockdown plays a gig at Howl at the Moon Hollywood at Universal City Walk, starting at 7 p.m. Cover is $5 for ages 21 and older.
Thursday, Nov. 17
Apolaustic plays a free show from 7 p.m. till closing at The Cellar Wine Bar and Restaurant in Santa Clarita.
Friday, Nov. 18
Howie’s Pub in Castaic hosts a night of metal with local bands Fight the War, Character Assassins, Hibernation Index, Poet Warrior, Urban Savages and Danny Get Down. Cover is $5 for ages 21 and up, and the night starts at 8 p.m.
Gary McGrath, erstwhile leader of The McGrath Project, will perform a free solo gig at The Cellar Wine Bar and Restaurant in Santa Clarita 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
NOT SO LOCAL, BUT YOU OUGHTTA KNOW: UNIVERSAL BUYS EMI — The British-based record label that released all the classics by The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and many more, and one of my erstwhile employers (EMI owns Capitol Records) has been bought by Vivendi’s Universal Music Group. UMG announced today that it has signed a definitive agreement with Citigroup, which controls EMI. Price tag: About $1.9 billion. It’s the latest huge merger of former competitors in the worldwide music industry. Get all the details from our friends at All Access.
‘UNPAINTED FACES’ BY PHOTOGRAPHER HENRY DILTZ NOW OUT — As we heard when he was my special guest last year on “House Blend” on SCVTV, world-famous photographer Henry Diltz was a musician (the Modern Folk Quartet) before he picked up a camera as a hobby in 1966 and started taking pictures of his friends, who happened to be other musicians, famous and soon-to-be-famous. Among them were Buffalo Springfield, The Lovin’ Spoonful, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Cass Elliot, America, Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne, James Taylor, The Doors, Eagles and more.
Even the most reclusive artists felt comfortable with Diltz because he was one of their own, not a press photographer. What started out as a hobby soon turned into a life’s work as a professional. He has more than 300 album covers to his credit, like the first CSN album, The Doors’ “Morrison Hotel,” James Taylor’s “Sweet Baby James” and Eagles’ “Desperado.”
“Unpainted Faces,” a new book produced by my Rare Cool Stuff Unltd. partners and me for the Morrison Hotel Gallery in New York, in which Diltz is a partner, and which is celebrating its 10th anniversary right now, has just been published and is now available. Revised, updated and expanded from the original book released only in Japan, “Unpainted Faces” gathers more than 150 of Diltz’s classic black & white images, capturing the aforementioned and many other musical icons, including Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Paul McCartney, Keith Richards, Ron Wood, Richard Pryor, Michael Jackson, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, in very intimate, human moments.
Individually remarkable, the “Unpainted Faces” images collectively document the rise and further rise of the California rock sound and the singer-songwriter phenomenon of the late 1960s-1970s, among other scenes.
From Laurel Canyon to Monterey Pop, from Woodstock and Miami back to Malibu, as Robby Krieger of The Doors notes in the text, “Henry Diltz always seemed to be in the right place at the right time.” Or, as Eagles’ Glenn Frey puts it, “This is not history, this is evidence!”
As a longtime fan and friend of Henry’s, it was my honor to write the introduction and author biography for the book, which was 100 per cent MADE IN THE U.S.A. by Rare Cool Stuff with eco-friendly domestic paper and printing and binding by American artists and craftspeople.
You can order “Unpainted Faces” now by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. (Click on the ad image for a larger image; the promo copy may sound familiar.)
SPOTLIGHT Q&A: TEXAS BLUES-ROCKIN’ WITH CAROLYN WONDERLAND — If you’ve never heard of Carolyn Wonderland, and you love blues that rock, allow me, please, to introduce this Houston-born, Austin-based singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist to you now. She is, as Stevie Ray Vaughan used to say about such people (and people still say about him), “The real deal.”
My first Carolyn encounter was in spring 2008, when I was working on a story about The Quebe Sisters, the triple-threat Texas swing fiddlers who kill every time they appear at the Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival (they’ll be back in 2012, as first reported here last summer). The Quebes have also toured several times in the “Ride With Bob” stage production created as an homage to Western swing legend Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys by Ray Benson of torch-carrier Asleep At The Wheel.
Another connection (when you’ve been in the biz as long as I have…): I’d met and hung out with Ray and the band in the late 1970s while working in the press department of their label, Capitol Records. Benson and the Wheel have been based in Austin since the early ’70s and along the way have picked up nine Grammys (their last album was “Willie and The Wheel” with Austin neighbor Willie Nelson).
Checking into the Quebes’ “Ride With Bob” adventures took me to the website for Benson’s Bismeaux Productions operation, which includes a record label and an artist management division. So, trolling the site on a little tangent to see what else my old pal Ray was up to, I discovered this other Austin-based artist on the Bismeaux roster who just blew my hair back.
Carolyn Wonderland had just finished her first album with Benson producing, “Miss Understood,” and as I found her website (www.carolynwonderland.com) and played some of the clips of her on YouTube, I felt the thrill of discovery the likes of which I had not experienced in some time.
As a blues-rock singer, Wonderland has the power of classic belters like Bessie Smith and Joe Turner, and as a musician, she’s in a league of her own: a wicked guitarist, lap steel player, piano pounder, mandolin picker, trumpet player. And her repertoire — originals and mostly non-obvious covers — extends beyond blues to other related roots music including country, gospel, zydeco and more.
I really hesitate to make comparisons because she’s very much her own artist, and much more than the sum of her influences, but imagine Janis, Stevie Ray, Muddy, Buddy, Bonnie and B.B rolled up in one person, and a sprite barely taller than five feet at that, and you begin to get the drift.
Wonderland, who turned 39 this week (Nov. 9), was born Carolyn Bradford, raised in a musical household, dropped out of high school in Houston to hit the road, and has been performing ever since, I soon found out. Busting out of Texas, she’s built a big fan base in Europe and Japan, and has pockets of fans all over the States. Someone tagged her with the nickname “Wonderchicken” along the way — that’s also what she calls her publishing company. (The men don’t know, but the little girls understand…or maybe it’s the other way around in this case.)
Wonderland may not be a kid anymore, but from what I see and hear, she is in her prime right now.
Now, I’ve been a Texas music nut for years, from Jimmie Rodgers to Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys to T-Bone Walker to Buddy Holly to Roky Erikson & The 13th Floor Elevators to Doug Sahm to the T-Birds, Roomful of Blues, Lou Ann Barton and Stevie Ray Vaughan…and Carolyn’s been performing and recording there for more than two decades, yet I had no clue about her.
I contacted Benson, who’d been turned on to Carolyn by Bob Dylan (he’d apparently seen or heard her play somewhere), and Ray was kind enough to send me a copy of “Miss Understood.” I saw her tight little band kick a** soon after on “Austin City Limits,” watched more of her YouTube clips, inhaled the album’s vapors repeatedly, and was completely hooked.
I’ve been watching Wonderland’s itinerary ever since, hoping she and her band would make it to SoCal for some dates in our region, if not the neighborhood. We’ve been Facebook friends for a couple of years now, and occasionally I ping her about hitting L.A.
Finally, it looks like they’ll be out here next in late January or early February, she says.
And meanwhile, her second album for Bismeaux, and eighth overall, “Peace Meal,” is just out, and it’s all killer, no filler. With backing from her two touring bandmates, Cole El-Saleh (keyboards, keyboard bass) and Rob Hooper (drums) and a few sympatico session aces, Wonderland steps it up a few notches from “Miss Understood.”
The new album boldly launches with a gutsy cover of an obscure Joplin blues-rocker, “What Good Can Drinkin’ Do,” and barely lets up for the next 11 songs. She wrote five, co-wrote another one with El-Saleh, and she and the band arranged renditions of a few other favorites including Bob Dylan’s “Meet Me in the Morning” and Muddy Waters’ “Two Trains.”
The “Peace Meal” track that most seriously blows my mind, though, and everyone I’ve talked to that’s heard the album agrees, is “Golden Stairs,” written by a former bandmate Vince Welnick and former Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. For seven minutes, Wonderland soars, her voice swooping from falsetto whoops to gutteral growls and back again, calling up so much stuff from the depths of her soul that you just know this song means something special to her. When it’s over, you’re out of breath for her.
Benson and his partner Sam “Lightning” Seifert produced the bulk of the dozen “Peace Meal” tracks at Bismeaux Studios in Austin, and two-time Grammy-winner Larry Campbell produced four on the fly at Levon Helm’s studio in Woodstock, N.Y.
From left: Cole El-Saleh, Carolyn Wonderland and Rob Hooper. Photo: Todd V. Wolfson.
There’s even a ripping rendition of the Elmore James-Robert Johnson slide guitar national anthem “Dust My Broom” produced at Bismeaux by Wonderland fan and family friend Michael Nesmith, who officiated Carolyn’s wedding to Emmy-winning comedian-writer A. Whitney Brown (“Saturday Night Live,” “The Daily Show”) in April 2011.
Wonderland and I spoke Monday. She called promptly at the appointed time, but was driving the band vehicle “somewhere in Florida” to the next gig, and was a tad distracted on the phone, correctly focusing on driving. Our phone reception was a bit sketchy, too. Still, we managed to have a brief chat without anyone getting hurt. Here’s the transcript:
Carolyn Wonderland: I’m driving through small towns somewhere in Florida.
Stephen K. Peeples: My old stomping grounds.
Peeples: First of all, I thought “Miss Understood” rocked, but “Peace Meal” is really a few steps above that.
Wonderland: Aw, thanks, dude.
Peeples: Have you been working on strengthening your vocals and your stamina and stuff? ‘Cause it seems like your vocal performances now are stronger than they used to be. Is that by design or just the way it works out?
Wonderland: I don’t know. It’s just partly by accident. I don’t know that I do anything by design.
Peeples: OK. I wanted to ask you about growing up in a musical family in Houston.
Wonderland: My mom played acoustic guitar and sang, and her folks played as well, as a hobby. She played mostly for fun. She’d go play sometimes like in some coffee shop or pizza place with friends.
Peeples: Now, were you old enough to know what was going on then?
Wonderland: Oh, I’d come up and sing sometimes, just kind of absent-mindedly throw in harmonies and grab quarters from the tip jars and play video games.
Peeples: (laughs) So your earliest motivation as a performer was to earn quarters for video games. Pretty funny.
Wonderland: Nah, when you play music and you know that’s what you’re going to do, once it hits ya, it hits ya. I was probably 8 when it hit me.
Peeples: You started playing clubs before you were old enough to really be playing in some of them, huh?
Wonderland: Mostly Last Concert Cafe. I had a weekly gig there, starting when I was a kid, like 17. Fitzgerald’s occasionally, too.
But I’ve always wanted to be a musician. It was always around the house. I guess it was also going out and seeing folks like Little Screaming Kenny (Blanchet), Jerry Lightfoot, Lovell White, people like that, at the clubs that would let me in, like Evening Shadows. It was the blues clubs that didn’t card.
From left: Rob Hooper, Carolyn Wonderland and Cole El-Saleh. Photo: Todd V. Wolfson.
Peeples: Most kids your age were not doing what you were doing. Did you feel like you were the odd person out, or did you not care about that?
Wonderland: Oh, man, I was never, like, a pretty girl or a popular girl, so none of that never seemed to matter. I just played. And it didn’t seem like nobody paid me no mind anyhow, so it didn’t matter.
Peeples: Now, how did your early group The Imperial Monkeys come about?
Wonderland: Oh, it was from the first rock ‘n’ roll band that I ever saw that really blew my mind. That was Little Screaming Kenny & The Sidewinders. He still plays in Houston with a garage band called The Hightailers. So when I had the incredible honor of being in a band with him, he said, “Whatever you want to call it, it’s fine with me.”
Carolyn Wonderland rips at Antone’s, the world-famous blues dive in Austin, in 2008. Photo: Ron Baker.
Peeples: At some point, you started to break out of the band…
Wonderland: I guess the people at the local paper started putting my name out there. If I had an odd solo gig or other bigger thing than just a jam, I might use my name, but…I don’t know, I never started it, really.
Peeples: You picked up a bunch of other instruments along the way. How did that develop?
Wonderland: There was always something around the house, and depending on where we were and if I wanted something to play on, I’d go play on it. I got my aunt’s cornet, then my mom found this freebie piano at a flea market and she always had guitars lying around. All the rest of the stuff I’ve added pretty much from pawn shops. Pawns or gifts.
Peeples: One of the coolest videos I’ve seen of you on YouTube is the one where you have all of your guitars and other instruments lined up. It’s like an insurance video, right? (laughs) And you tell the story behind each of the instruments. Every one of them has a name and a history.
Wonderland: Oh, yeah. Some of them come with songs in ‘em and some don’t. You’ve got to try them out.
Peeples: You won a bunch of awards and became pretty well-known in Houston, and then at a certain point, around 1999, late 20s, you took off and landed in Austin. What was it about Austin that attracted you?
Wonderland: I think when you stay in one place for a while, you start to write the same songs. It was time to leave Houston, and I wasn’t sure if I was going to go to Amsterdam, New York or maybe San Francisco — I wasn’t quite sure where I was going to land. And then we were up in San Francisco, playing a show with Doug Sahm, and he talked me into Austin (where he lived). I mean, I always enjoyed playing there, but I figured if I paid rent, it’d ruin the illusion. But it was fun and a free guitar lesson, so I stuck around. And really, when you’re on the road all the time, it doesn’t matter where you’re from. You have to love it, though, because you always look forward to being there. You just don’t get to see it that often.
Rob Hooper, Carolyn Wonderland and Cole El-Saleh have a laugh during the shoot at Arkie’s Grill in Austin for the “Peace Meal” front and back covers. Photo: Dennis Benton.
Peeples: Right. Well, home is the road, or the road is home, as the case may be.
Wonderland: As it were.
Peeples: So, what was the scene in Austin when you landed there in 1999? It was post-Stevie Ray, post-Lou Ann, but you had a lot of competition…
Wonderland: I’ve been playing on the road since I was a teenager, so I still went to the (Austin) clubs where I’d always played with my band. Austin’s a strange place in that, with so many people there who play music, it’s not competitive. It’s really more of a family, there’s a lot of camaraderie. Everybody plays in everybody’s band.
Peeples: What inspires you the most these days?
Wonderland: What really keeps me going and inspired is the band I travel with, and that’s me and Cole El-Saleh on keys and key bass, and Rob Hooper on drums. We’ve been on our summer tour since May and we’ll be home about Thanksgiving.
Peeples: Your touring takes you all over the world. You mentioned Amsterdam earlier on as a possible place to go from Houston. What’s the attraction?
Wonderland: Well, I had the night off and popped into this little club called Malo Malo (?) and I sat down on a songwriter’s night, just goofing off. I wandered in the front room and started playing some Doug Sahm songs, and all the guys in the room knew all the words. I was like, “Jesus, I don’t get this at home. That’s cool!” So I started playing there and I go back every year for my birthday (Nov. 9). I’m missing it this year because we’re doing so much work (supporting “Peace Meal”), but next year I’ll be there again for my birthday.
Peeples: So that’s how the annual WonderJam in Amsterdam developed?
Wonderland: Oh, all my friends would want to join me for my birthday, and at one point it was cheaper if you bought airline tickets in a group, so you buy 10 tickets, maybe get 10 percent or 20 percent off. So that’s pretty much where that started.
Peeples: Gotcha. How many albums have you recorded, including “Peace Meal”?
Wonderland: Eight. “Groove Milk” (1993) came out, I think, when I was 20 or 21. “Truckstop Favorites Vol. 2” (1994) was after that. “Play with Matches” (1995, with The Imperial Monkeys) is on Big Mo Records, then “Bursting with Flavor” (1997) was on Justice Records. I wrote a Christmas EP about that time for the Children’s Hospital (“Blue Lights,” 1997), but that doesn’t count as an album. After that, I did “Alcohol and Salvation” (2001) and “Bloodless Revolution” (2003), self-releases. And then “Miss Understood” (2008) and then “Peace Meal” (2011).
Peeples: The last two are on Ray Benson’s label, Bismeaux. Now, how did you connect with him?
Wonderland: One day, Ray was hanging out with Bob Dylan at a show, and Bob asked if he knew how to get a hold of me. So Ray figured out real quick how to get a hold of me. We’ve been great friends ever since.
Ray and I had run into each other before, but I’d always just been too nervous to talk with him. I’d just shake his hand, say, “Nice show, Maestro,” and take off. I didn’t figure what I did would be of any consequence or interest to him. But as it turned out, (he said), “Hey, I’ve got some ideas,” and “Here’s some songs we ought to try and I’d like to hear you messin’ with.” We had a good time and wrote a couple songs together.
Peeples: My next question was about your working relationship with him, and how much of the production is you and how much is him.
Wonderland: It’s always a mixture of everybody that’s in the room. That’s naturally the way it goes.
Peeples: I think it’s cool you have Rob and Cole on the album, because they really know how to bring it with you on stage, and I think they did a marvelous job on the record, too. That’s always a tough thing — to get that live chemistry…
Wonderland: Oh, that was a lucky thing. We got to do these (tracks for “Peace Meal”) a few tracks at a time between legs of the tour. So it’d be like, “All right, here’s three or four songs, let’s go!” And trying to find time when both Ray and we are home, that’s difficult. We both play out all the time, so we just catch-as-catch-can.
Peeples: Piecemeal, as it were. And you recorded a few tracks with Larry Campbell on the road as well…
Wonderland: Yeah, we did four at Levon Helm’s studio (in Woodstock, New York) last January, when we went up to play a Ramble (Helm’s famed all-star musical jams). We were just there two weeks ago, too, so I finally got to go back and say, “Here’s the record!” (laughs) It was cool.
Peeples: Levon’s Rambles are legendary among musicians. What was it like playing them?
Wonderland: That was our fourth one. It’s huge. It’s kind of unfair to every other gig. No other gig is better than Levon’s place.
Peeples: Now, you’ve been on the road for quite some time, and you’ve also had some interesting touring partners. You’ve toured with Buddy Guy and Johnny Winter. What did you learn from those guys?
Wonderland: Buddy and I shared a cold on that tour. I came in one day with all my Vitamin C and hot tea and honey and was fixing up a cocktail of hot tea, and he hands me a bottle (laughs). That was all right, man — I’m down with that.
Peeples: Yeah, my medicine’s better than yours.
Wonderland: And Johnny Winter taught me humility, man. He’s a really, really sweet guy, our mutual friend Uncle John. I’d never called Johnny before because I didn’t want to bother him unless I had something really important to say, but… he came down and volunteered his time and his music. It was really fun and we got to hang out with him for a while. He’s just a beautiful guy, man. To me, that’s far more important than how many notes you can hit someplace, although he does always pick the right ones. He is my ear training (laughs).
Peeples: Now, West Coast stuff…I’m in Southern California…
Wonderland: …and I’m in between an RV and a truck right now.
Peeples: Yipes! Be careful! I understand you’re going to be in SoCal early next year…
Wonderland: I think we’re coming in February. We’re trying to get as many dates as we can before we have to go to Germany, so I’m thinking it’s the latter part of January, early part of February. We’re working our way down.
Peeples: It’s pretty cool that your following is so international. How much of your touring schedule in a year do you spend outside of the States?
Wonderland: I don’t know…sometimes we go to Europe a few times a year. Sometimes it’s just for short trips, other times it’s for a tour. So maybe four or five times a year. We try to make it to Japan every year, but we went twice the year before last, so we’ll be going in ’12.
Peeples: Do you think that, perhaps, American fans are a little more slow to pick up on what you’re doing than your fans around the world?
Wonderland: Nah, I think it’s about the same everywhere. You just try and go out and find a group of people who want to have fun and take a chance on live music. No matter where you find them, it’s a welcome community.
Peeples: About the new album — the leadoff track is a rare Janis Joplin song. I know that in the past you kind of politely deflected, if you will, comparisons between you and Janis. But then the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame asked you to do the Janis tribute in 2009 and that was different?
Wonderland: Yes. Here’s the thing: If you’re from Texas, you know better than to sing Janis. Nobody could do it better, there’s no reason to try, et cetera. And I’m a firm believer in that. When I was a kid, Sam Andrews (of Big Brother & The Holding Company, Joplin’s first San Francisco backing band) told me, “Man, you have to do your own thing. If you do Janis, you’re gonna be a cover band — for the rest of your life.” I was like, “You’re right, I’m gonna write my own stuff,” and that’s what I did.
With the exception of a few biker funerals and things of this nature, you know, but after the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame asked me to come do the show, I mean, there were a lot of great folks there. Ray was there, Roky Erikson smoked the stage, Lucinda (Williams) was there, Betty Lovette, Susan Tedeschi, Nona Hendryx…we all went up and sang Janis songs. It was great, it was a lot of fun, but I realized there really wasn’t anything of Janis’s there, and she wrote some cool s**t. So I went back to the typewriter tapes and I always liked “What Good Can Drinkin’ Do.”
The day after the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame was my first Ramble at Levon’s. Forgive me, this truck is passing me, you’ll have to wait a second…sorry, hang on. Driving takes top priority…What was your question? … At our first Ramble, I just kind of pulled (the song) out on stage on everybody and said, “Here’s this, weird walking bassline…” Then when we were at Levon’s in January (2011) at another Ramble, we played a bunch of songs for Larry and just thought this would be fun, and we did it up there, and it turned out great.
Peeples: Yeah, it did, and it’s not totally Janis — I think there’s a lot of Carolyn in there.
Wonderland: Well, I would hope so. I mean, if you’re trying to copy something, then you’re doing it and yourself a disservice. The best I could say is, “Thank you.” That’s how it is, the ol’ “Thank you.”
Peeples: Roger that. Now, one of the other tracks on the album that just blew my mind was “Golden Stairs.” That’s one of the most balls-out vocal performances I’ve ever heard on a record, and it’s like eight minutes long. First, let me congratulate you for that. I’m wondering, did you do that vocal in one pass or was it a composite? How did you…
Wonderland: Yeah, I think it’s all one take, and that’s what we did. I know I sang it again for a safety, but I think (the first was) what we used.
Peeples: Lord have mercy. What are you thinking about when you’re singing that? Where do you go?
Wonderland: I’m thinking about my friends, Jerry Lightfoot and Vince Welnick, when I do that song, which is why I couldn’t do it for years. When I was in Lightfoot’s band, Vince would come and play with us. We were all in the Band of Wonder and that was one of my favorite songs, and he wrote that with Robert Hunter, I guess, right after he left The Grateful Dead. And so I’d always loved that song, it was so fun to sing, and (Vince) was the one that pushed me to sing it. I didn’t think I could do it, and… I couldn’t do it for many years after they both died, about a year apart from each other. I just wasn’t strong enough to do it for a while. So, again, being up at Levon’s — the magic of that place brings out the best in you — we gave it a try and Larry Campbell just put on the most beautiful (pedal steel) too. And I was just imagining that…I hoped that Vince and Jerry were both smiling down on that one. It felt really good to do.
Outstanding in their field: Rob Hooper, Cole El-Saleh and Carolyn Wonderland. Photo: Shelley Cox.
Peeples: It’s epic, and I think it’s the shining star of the album, and every track is strong. I also wanted to ask you also about Mike Nesmith and hooking up with him for “Dust My Broom.” How did you meet him?
Wonderland: We went to play at his Videoranch show. We’ve done a couple of them. The first time was at his place, and then he came and did one in Austin. And he had this book that he’d just finished, it’s a really groovy one, “The American Gene,” and he wanted to have a companion piece, some music by a Texas bar band. That one in particular had a spot, so we gave it a go and it was fun and we kept it.
Peeples: “Dust My Broom” is almost a national anthem.
Wonderland: Oh, I know. It’s splendid. I would be hesitant to do otherwise, but because we were doing it for him, it was kind of an “anything goes” session and it turned out pretty okay. We did that at Ray’s. Yeah, Nez came down to Austin for a bit. That was quite a bit before he came to do the wedding.
Peeples: Congratulations semi-in person on your marriage (to A. Whitney Brown). First anniversary is coming up soon…?
Wonderland: March 4, yeah.
Peeples: So, how’s married life? You having a good time?
Wonderland: Oh, it’s beautiful, yeah.
Peeples: You have a few causes that are near and dear to your heart, like being against the war and advocating help for homeless folks. What else do you find is important to give your time to, aside from music?
Wonderland: Well, we recently started working quite a bit with this group called WhyHunger, and they’re one of my favorites. They’re a dot-org (www.whyhunger.org). They’re really groovy. They not only have a pet problem, but they have many pet solutions. It’s for getting actual food and sustainable food to people who are hungry and trying to end the cycle that gets them there to begin with.
So this year, I’m asking folks, instead of giving me a birthday present — my birthday is Nov. 9 — I’m asking folks to donate to WhyHunger instead. It’s super easy this year. Yoko Ono got together with them and they have this “Imagine There’s No Hunger” campaign. That’s going on till the end of this month (November). People can text the word “IMAGINE,” all caps, to 50555, and donate $10 to someone who needs it, help someone to eat.
Peeples: That’s very cool. I will do that (and did) and urge my readers to do the same (and do). Carolyn, thanks so much for your time. I’m glad you didn’t get in any collisions during our conversation.
Wonderland: I actually have a truck full of cows next to me right now. They’re not happy about it, either. (laughs) Sorry!
Peeples: Holy, er…cow! Well, we look forward to seeing you in February. Safe drive, keep rollin’!
Wonderland: I will, man. Thanks.
Catch up with Carolyn Wonderland and get your peace meal at her official website.
THE WRAP — Hope you enjoyed the 15th journey through Peeples Place at KHTS! You can always visit us right here at www.peeplesplace.com, and at our under-construction Peeples Place Facebook page. Please share the posts and “like” the page and help us build our online community of SCV music-makers and music-lovers. We also invite you to sign up for the weekly newsletter.
If you have a new album to review or music news you’d like us to include in an upcoming post, shoot an email to me at email@example.com.
Special thanks this week to all the artists, managers, media relations reps, families, friends and fans. Extra special thanks to Lou Minatti for his invaluable production assistance, and to Nadine A. Peeples for her invaluable encouragement and support.
With a face perfect for radio, I’ll see you on SCVTV Wednesday evening at 6:04-ish with the weekly SCV Entertainment Minute, and on AM 1220 KHTS Thursday morning at 8:10 when I preview the NEXT edition of…Peeples Place at KHTS.
Stephen K. Peeples is a Grammy-nominated record producer (“Monterey International Pop Festival,” MIPF/Rhino, 1992), an award-winning radio producer (“The Lost Lennon Tapes,” Westwood One, 1988-1990), an award-winning online editor (The Signal website, 2007-2011) and former music and entertainment columnist (The Signal, 2004-2011). He is host, writer and co-producer of the weekly “House Blend” music and interview show on SCVTV (www.scvhouseblend.com), and drummer with on-hiatus SCV jazz group RainTree (www.raintreejazz.com). For more information, visit www.stephenkpeeples.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.