Not much thought goes into the music of local blues duo Junior Boogie and Jake Nielsen. That’s not to say that harmonica player and vocalist Jeremy “Junior Boogie” Heinemann and guitarist Jake Nielsen don’t care about their craft. It’s just that, as traditional bluesmen, they know the blues isn’t something you think about. “It’s something that I just feel,” Heinemann says. “It’s something I grew up feeling. To play the blues you have got to understand and live the blues.” Heinemann says his mother instilled him with a love for the blues at a young age—turning him on to artists like Muddy Waters and blues harp masters Little Walter and James Cotton. He picked up the harp at 15 and he hasn’t put it down since. Heinemann’s partner, Nielsen, has a similar tale. He first picked up a bass at age 13 and a guitar at 16, egged on by his uncles who all play. Nielsen, like Heinemann, also says that he is in love with the blues because of “the feel of it.
John Miller’s an impressive cat. He’s only 21 years old—still young enough to speak about his formative years vividly—yet he gives an interview with the confidence (yet fortunately without the exasperation) of a touring veteran. Luckily, he has the back story to match that zeal. Despite being just a few miles east of Watsonville, Aromas is the kind of community that feels like it might as well be light years away from Santa Cruz. Nowadays you can find Miller working at New Deal Clothing right in the heart of Downtown Pacific, but that feels like a far cry from the singer songwriter’s home town he left as a teenager. It was during those years when Miller first started composing music, playing with a few nondescript bands during high school. Conversely, such experiences probably pushed him toward his future solo foray. “That was when I got my first taste of other musicians and working as a team on musical projects,” explains Miller. “It’s really hard forming chemistry with other people.” In one sense, then, some of the folk rocker’s influences and analogs aren’t surprising—Elliott Smith, Jeff Buckley, Conor Oberst—and Miller willingly admits to projecting a similarly downtrodden aesthetic. Still, it’s lyrically relevant to the younger generation, and musically relevant to anyone who enjoys smart, modern acoustic guitar-led songs. In fact, trying an album out won’t cost you a dime, as Miller has made his year-old debut full-length, Shades of Autumn Everywhere, available for free on his website, john-miller-music.com. Not that he’s necessarily thinking big picture, but the 21-year-old has admittedly done this as a marketing strategy. “As long as I’m breathing, I’m open to whatever comes my way,” says Miller about his next move. “Anything that comes at me, I’m not going to disregard it."
INFO: 9 p.m. Friday, May 20. Crepe Place, 1134 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. $7/adv, $10/door. 429-6994.
The goal of a “battle of the bands” contest seems straightforward: rock harder than the competition, woo the judges, earn the cash prize. But for local skate punk outfit 3upFront—named after the physical placement of their microphones onstage—Saturday’s annual Your Music Olympicks Finals at The Catalyst is important for two reasons: sticking it to the man and boobs. Now before you get your panties in a twist, consider this—should the foursome win the $5,000 grand prize, a sizable portion will go toward promoting their upcoming “Boobies or Bust” Breast Cancer Awareness Tour. Kicking off in July, the tour will benefit the Susan G. Komen and Breast Cancer Awareness Funds, with 100 percent of the profits going to education and research.
In 1968, when Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple hit the world stage, there was a local group called Snail. Jamming at Harvey West Park, bandleader Bob O’Neill recalls not being the most hardened musicians: “We were like, ‘Would you like to use our equipment?’ We were very young and very nice.” Though not as renowned as their British brothers, Snail is infamous in Santa Cruz. “Our biggest influences were Jeff Beck, Jimi Page and Eric Clapton. We weren’t heavy metal exactly. We had the lyrical side of it with harmonies, so it was kind of a hybrid,” says guitarist Ken Kraft. With a division of harmonies and arrangements, Snail was more like Cream, rocking blues with a psychedelic twist. In 1970, Snail took out a loan, bought Marshall amplifiers and began playing major venues. Selling out the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium and Selland Arena in Fresno with Santana, Snail became an arena band, still true to their roots. “We played a concert on the beach in Capitola, thousands showed up, but the police never did,” says Kraft, crediting huge turnouts in the ’70s to lack of TiVo. “There weren’t as many distractions back then—there were only three TV stations.” Forty years later, Kraft and O’Neill remain bandmates and friends. As songwriters, the Lennon/McCartney of the band, it’s no surprise that Kraft is currently the White Album Ensemble guitarist, singer and musical director.
Santa Cruz is indubitably a town that takes to a certain thread of fusion jam bands. Whether they be local products or artists coming through on tour, head out to any given Santa Cruz venue on any given night, and there’s a good chance you’re going to cross something funky, something danceable and (perhaps) something reggae-derived. Matt Masih and The Messengers is a band which easily falls into this category upon first inspection, but the six-piece’s frontman insists there’s much more to the equation. “There’s definitely a singer-songwriter background,” explains multi-instrumentalist Matt Masih. “The lyrics are involved with the shape and outline of the song,” more than most jam bands. Indeed, the project began about two years ago as the sort-of bedroom songs of Masih, who retains most of the creative control in the band. Though there’s room for the rest of the group to inject its own funky flavor—particularly the relatively new horn section—Masih’s songwriting process clearly keeps The Messengers grounded in pop sensibilities.
Though it’s not a local band per se, the Jazz Society of Santa Cruz, as an institution, has served as an incubator for many local swing, big band, ragtime and cool jazz outfits since it was established in 2000. The nonprofit hosts a four-hour open jam session for local jazz musicians every Sunday at Bocci’s Cellar and has spawned many local bands by bringing together professionals and weekend warriors—giving people who might not otherwise meet, the opportunity to play in front of a relaxed, fun-loving crowd. Local jazz musician Stella D’Oro—who mesmerizes with Italian “Meglio Stasera”—says that the atmosphere on Sundays at Bocci’s Cellar—a 100-year-old former Italian restaurant at 140 Encinal St.—helped her hone her craft. “People there are very supportive,” D’Oro says, referring to both the musicians and patrons. “They’re great for supporting new musicians and people learning how to get started.” Steve Newman, president of the Jazz Society and master saxophonist, has been with the organization since the beginning. He describes the venue as a “time warp”—a modern day speakeasy where people go once a week to swing dance and get lost in the sounds. “It’s not just the musicians,” Newman says.
While most people were fighting fax machines at 9-5 jobs, Birdhand spent the first week of April destroying an abandoned church in Monterey. Shooting a music video to promote their new self-titled EP, produced by Darryl Jenifer of Bad Brains, the Santa Cruz rockers were armed with 10-foot poles and told to go wild. What should have been a dream come true, turned into a strange experience. “There were 15 uncomfortable film students watching us the whole time without saying anything,” says bassist Mason Rothschild. “It was the most awkward thing ever!” But according to singer/songwriter/guitarist Joey Weed, awkward moments make the band tick. “Before each show, we huddle up and get really weird—we talk about normal stuff, like how my stomach hurts or who didn’t take out the trash,” says Weed. Once the lights come on, though, the foursome delivers hard-hitting rock ‘n’ roll, with Queens of the Stone Age-like punk riffs and occasional violin and pan flute solos.
The axe is falling on music education in public schools. The star of James Durbin is rising on American Idol. Put those two trends together, and the purpose behind the Young Performers Showcase (Durbin is an alum of the event) becomes potently clear. Now in its third year, the fundraiser this Saturday, April 9, at The Rio Theatre, presents a full lineup of local youth strutting disparate skills to raise awareness and moolah to continue music programs in Santa Cruz City schools. It all started when Rick Linzer saw how the economic downturn was threatening music lessons. The veteran jazz saxophonist, who says that music “really saved my life in a lot of ways; it gave me a sense of purpose and camaraderie,” has gone on to coordinate an annual concert that provides family entertainment while ensuring that school bands can be armed with instruments and kids can be exposed to the nurturing and healing nature of music. As a music major in college, Linzer learned how effective music is in a child’s cognitive, social and emotional development. “Numerous studies show that [music] gives kids a sense of connection to school and helps with self-esteem, creative and analytical thinking, coordination, problem solving and team building,” he says.
Soggy winter rains have steeped Grizzel Toe, the latest project featuring Green Flash alums Raya Heffernan and Peter Wallner, throughout its gestation period, saturating life into the underground duo in preparation for a spring sprig to sprout. Seething in the clammy distortion of a washed-out ’90s shoegaze sound garden, Grizzel Toe echoes gritty EVOL-era Sonic Youth with an innate punk intensity that will leave any audience aching in admiration after being walloped by their wall of noise. “Our music is the color of bruises,” Wallner, who plays guitar and vocals, relents, “an eyesore you can’t stop touching, but want to.” With performances alongside the Growlers, Religious Girls, and Man/Miracle under their belts, Heffernan and Wallner have bled into the local circuit and are ready to take it to the studio for a four-track EP that should be out around May.
In a dimly lit bar a band is in full swing, busting out a hip-shaking honky tonk ballad. Out of nowhere, the lead guitarist starts traveling outside of the song, the standup bassist grabs a bow and, in a matter of seconds, the band is diving through a classical piece before finishing the set with a jazz standard. Welcome to the world of Shotgun Suitor. “I think we’re bringing a missing genre that a lot of original bands only touch on,” explains keyboardist Kyle Hamood. “We cover all of the bases.” And they certainly do, from original pieces to standard rock covers with a twist. It’s an impressive feat considering that Shotgun Suitor is still stretching its musical legs; forming only two and a half months ago, after singer and rhythm guitarist Chas Crowder moved to Santa Cruz from the soulful streets of Memphis. “[Bassist Paul Gerhardt] started calling me a couple of months ago saying, ‘You’ve got to get out here!’ So, I did,” Crowder says nonchalantly. Gerhardt and Hamood already had a budding musical friendship, so with Crowder in the mix they decided to call upon drummer Dallas Ezell, lead guitarist Wes Davis and vocalist Emily Gold.