Hot Club of Cowtown at the me & thee coffeehouse (Jon Shain opens)
me & thee coffeehouse Marblehead, MA
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Hot Club of Cowtown at the me & thee coffeehouse (Jon Shain opens)
The Hot Club of Cowtown is a hot jazz/western swing trio, comprising; Elana Fremerman (now known as Elana James) (vocals, violin), Whit Smith (vocals, guitar), and slap bass player Jake Erwin, who also sing in three-part harmony. Smith (Cape Cod, MA) and James (Prairie Village, KS), originally met through an ad in the classified music section of The Village Voice in 1994, and played together in New York City before relocating to San Diego in 1997, where they spent a year playing for tips and building up their repertoire. By 1998, they relocated to Austin, Texas and in 2000 added Jake Erwin (originally from Tulsa, OK) on bass, finalizing the Hot Club's lineup.
Since their first recording in 1998, Austin-based Hot Club of Cowtown have become a hard-swinging Western swing trio. The first American band to tour Azerbaijan, they have opened for such artists as Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson and continue to bring their brand of western swing to a wide range of festival audiences all over the world, but it has always been about staying true to their roots.
Remaining willfully out of the musical mainstream, Hot Club of Cowtown have created a cult following. Their name is inspired by: "Hot Club" from the hot jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grappelli's Hot Club of France, and "Cowtown" from the western influence of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys and the band's love of fiddle tunes, hoedowns, and songs of the American west. "Cowtown" is not a place but a state of mind.
Wills' and Brown's pre-WWII recordings have always inspired Hot Club of Cowtown's repertoire and style. "This is music from the days when guys toured and sat on a bus with no air conditioning, no real food, for days. We heard a story of a fiddler the Wills band picked up in California and by the time they had driven to the Midwest, he was dead and nobody even knew his name. They pried his rigor mortis'd body off of the bus and left him under a lamppost somewhere in Kansas," says James, "It was a different time. These guys were pretty hardcore."
Hot Club spend most of their time touring, crisscrossing the USA. Local traditions are becoming more diluted, and modern life more electronic, which has concentrated the trio upon keeping their music sincere, free of irony, and focused on a simpler time. "We have faith in the system that is the band. This energy that we plug into and it takes us away," says James. Smith describes their shows as "like a rock 'n' roll show . . . people pick up on the energy and the sincerity." "What the trio has is a rare thing," says Smith, "There's a chemistry that's unmistakable."
Hot Club of Cowtown split in 2005, though they reunited for occasional shows in 2006-07, including the Fuji Rock Festival and a tour of Australia as Elana James & The Hot Club of Cowtown, in 2007. Whit Smith performed as Whit Smith's Hot Jazz Caravan, based in Austin, Texas. Elana toured with Bob Dylan in 2005. Changing her last name to James, Elana began performing with her own trio in late 2005. Smith and James resumed playing together full time in 2006. By early 2008 the Hot Club of Cowtown had officially re-formed.
The Hot Club's first album, 1998's Swingin' Stampede is a collection of standards, fiddle tunes, and classic Western Swing songs, including two written by Bob Wills, a major influence on the band. Their 1999 follow-up album, Tall Tales, showcases the songwriting of Smith and James with original songs, including "Darling You And I Are Through" by James, and "Emily" and "When I Lost You" by Smith, as well as more Western Swing standards by Bob Wills, Pee Wee King, and others. Later albums continued the same formula of mixing classic Western Swing and hot jazz, with originals in the same style; including the studio albums, Ghost Train (2002) and Wishful Thinking (2009). Their most recent 2011 tribute album to Bob Wills, What Makes Bob Holler, digs deeper into their roots and refuses to modernize. The disc includes obscure B-sides with some of Wills' most popular work. Tunes like "Big Balls in Cowtown" and "Stay a Little Longer" are songs that "people always love when we play them live," says James, "so it was was a no-brainer to gather them into a record." Others, like "Osage Stomp" and "The Devil Ain't Lazy," might not be as well known, but they are in the spirit of what originally attracted Smith and James to this music. "We're playing what knocked us out about Western swing in the first place the early fiery energy and jazzy improvisations," says James.
In January and February 2011, they toured with Roxy Music as the opening act on Roxy's UK leg of their For Your Pleasure tour.
Festivals/career highlights include the Women in Jazz series (part of Jazz at Lincoln Center), the Cambridge Folk Festival (UK), the Glastonbury Festival (UK), the Fuji Rock Festival (Japan), Byron Bay Blues and Roots Festival (AU), the National Folk Festival (US and AU), the Stagecoach Festival, the Winnipeg Folk Festival (CA), Waiting for Waits Festival (SP), the grand opening of the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tennessee, the Barns at Wolftrap, the Rochester Jazz Festival, the Strawberry Festival, the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, traveling as US State Department Musical Ambassadors to Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia, being inducted into the Texas Western Swing Hall of Fame, and tours with Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, the Squirrel Nut Zippers, and The Mavericks.
The Hot Club of Cowtown has been featured on television on Later With Jools Holland and the Jools Holland New Year's Eve Hootenanny (UK), $40 a Day with Rachael Ray (US), The Grand Ole Opry (US), BBC Live From Glastonbury broadcast (UK), Good Morning Azerbaijan. Film credits for songs include indie films Four Dead Batteries and In Search of a Midnight Kiss. United States radio appearances include Mountain Stage, Etown, World Cafe, A Prairie Home Companion, All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Sirius Satellite, and XM Satellite.
About our opener: Jon Shain Over the years Jon Shain has developed and refined his own contemporary version of the Piedmont Blues, a bouncy, energetic style that developed in Shain's adopted hometown of Durham, NC and elsewhere around the region.
On Ordinary Cats, his eighth solo album, Shain doesn't abandon that sensibility completely, but he does plug it in and crank it up. "I knew I would be playing some electric guitar on this record," he says. "I haven't put a lot of electric guitar on my albums. I've played it on other people's albums more than my own." The result is a modern revisiting of the roots-rock (what some now call Americana) sound associated with Stephen Stills and Neil Young, at times. But there is still a generous amount of fingerpicked acoustic guitar from Shain, a former International Blues Challenge finalist in the solo/duo category.
Shain's longtime musical collaborator, FJ Ventre, co-produced and engineered Ordinary Cats, as well as playing bass and providing backing vocals. Other major contributors to the album include Chris Stamey of the dB's, who mixed the album, and Greg Humphreys on harmony vocals, currently making a name for himself as a solo artist after years fronting the NC bands Hobex and Dillon Fence. Pete Connolly, of the NC indie band Birds and Arrows, contributed drums to several tracks as well.
Jon grew up in Haverhill, Massachusetts, a Merrimack River mill-town that had already seen its better days by the time he was a child in the 1970s. His family's business was a small textile dyeing company, and he worked in the factory during the summers throughout his teens. At the same time, Shain began to discover his love of American roots music and songwriting, specifically drawn to the narratives about regular people and themes of social justice.
Shain headed south to North Carolina in 1986, to study American History at Duke University and to continue his musical journey, as well. In addition to studying with jazz professor Paul Jeffrey, he also had the good fortune to learn the piedmont blues tradition firsthand by playing in Big Boy Henry's backing band. It was at this time that Shain also got to meet and play with John Dee Holeman and a number of the great older NC blues players. Shain's classes in school were heavily concentrated in southern history, English, and world religions. That mixture of the academic environment and the real-world blues music is what has most informed his musical direction.
Shain cut his touring teeth from 1989-1998 founding the Chapel Hill, NC folk-rock group, Flyin' Mice and their spin-off group, WAKE. The band performed with acts such as David Grisman, Tony Rice Unit, Hot Tuna, and the Dixie Dregs, released four CDs, and played clubs, schools, and festivals up and down the East Coast, building a legion of fans.
After his band's breakup, Shain went solo, returning to his roots in the folk and blues circuit. He has released six studio albums, working with studio luminaries such as Dave Mattacks, Tom Dube, and Chris Stamey, along the way. In addition to festival slots and headlining club dates, the last few years has seen Shain playing esteemed listening rooms such as The Living Room and Caffe Lena and opening sold out theatre shows for John Hiatt, Keb' Mo', Little Feat, and others. When Shain is not recording or performing, he stays busy giving private instruction in Piedmont blues fingerstyle guitar, and teaching group workshops in songwriting and blues guitar.
me & thee coffeehouse (View)
28 Mugford St.
Marblehead, MA 01945