JOVM celibates the first week back in school.
Joanna Connor is a Brooklyn-born, Worcester, MA-raised, Chicago, IL-based singer/songwriter and guitarist, who has publicly cited her mom (who I’ve actually met) and her mom’s record collection as being a major influence on her life and music. “She listed to blues, folk and rock as much as she could,” Connor recalls on her website. “So I heard Buddy Guy and Taj Mahal when I was kid, and got into the more obscure artists as I went on. And I saw all the Chicago bands, who came through town.” By the time, she was in her mid-teens, Connor was playing the Worcester and Boston club scene with her own band before relocating to Chicago in 1984.
Upon her arrival to Chicago, Connor was mentored by a number of blues legends, sitting in with James Cotton, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells. After a stint in Dion Payton’s band, Connor went solo with her own band, releasing her full-length debut, 1989’s Believe It, which began a string of critically applauded albums released through Blind Pig Records. Connor’s 2002 effort The Joanna Connor Band found Connor displaying the full extent of her influences as it featured “Different Kind of War” and a funky cover of “Slippin’ Into Darkness.” But just as the buzz and accolades were growing, Connor began a touring hiatus. “There were several factors: 9/11 had just gone down, the economy was changing and clubs were closing. But most of all, my daughter was pretty young at the time. She wound up deciding that she wanted to become a big-time basketball player, so that required dedication on both of our parts,” the Chicago-based singer/songwriter and guitarist explains on her website. That dream has come true: Connor’s daughter was awarded a basketball scholarship at Indiana State University, and Connor has pursued her career with a renewed fervor.
Although Connor wasn’t touring, she discovered that audiences were coming out to see her play renowned Chicago blues club Kingston Mines, where she began playing a weekly three night residency most weekends, between gigs at larger clubs and festivals. “It’s become kind of an institution: You go to Chicago, you go to Wrigley Field and then you go see Joanna Connor,” the Chicago-based singer/songwriter and guitarist says. “The schedule is kind of brutal, but it’s great—Usually a packed house, with lots of adrenaling pumping. When it gets to be around midnight, the audience starts getting younger. And I love that—My son is 29, and he gets people looking at him and saying, ‘That’s your mom’?” (And the schedule is brutal indeed: we’re talking about 3 two hour sets between 7:00pm and 5:00pm Fridays and Saturdays — and until 4:00am on Sundays.)
The crowds increased after a video featuring a live version of “Walkin’ Blues” was posted by a Massachusetts-based fan on YouTube. “It was just a phenomenal thing that happened. I was getting calls from America’s Got Talent and movie people reaching out; I even had a Russian billionaire fly me to Spain to play a birthday party. I think people loved the combination: Here’s a woman who looks like somebody’s mom, and she’s playing like this. What I remember most was that it was 90 degrees that day, so I was wearing the coolest dress I had.”
Connor’s 14th album, the Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith co-produced 4801 South Indiana Avenue is slated for a February 26, 2021 release through Joe Bonamassa’s new blues label Keeping The Blues Alive. Recorded at Nashville’s Ocean Way Recording Studios, 4801 South Indiana Avenue derives its name from the actual address of hallowed, Chicago blues club Theresa’s Lounge — and the album reportedly finds Connor, Bonamassa, Smith and an impressive array of musicians digging deeply to conjure an authentic, ass kicking non-derivative set of good ol’ Chicago blues. “We want the listener to open that door, walk in, and feel to their core some of the magic that a place like that brought night after night. It was an honor to bring this to you, the listener,” Connor says in press notes. “This album is a homage to the blues school that I attended in Chicago,” Connor adds. “We attempted to capture the spirit of tradition and inject it with raw energy and passion.
“I Feel So Good,” 4801 South Indiana Avenue’s latest single is a boozy, breakneck boogie woogie centered around Connor’s blistering solos and dexterous guitar work and her powerhouse vocal while Lemar Carter (drums) holds his own with a rapid-fire hi-hat driven pattern reminiscent of Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher.” For me the track not only captures a self-assured lady, who kicks ass and takes names and wants to have herself a good time, it captures a moment I miss dearly when you open the door to the club and see that it’s rocking. The booze is flowing copiously. People are sweating and dancing. The band is roaring. And everyone desperately wants it to never end.
“This is one heavy boogie tune,” Connor says. “The opening note I held was a fun challenge! This tune absolutely burns. Joe used some interesting microphone technique on the vocal and overdrove it purposely. The drummer (Lemar Carter) and I were flying by the seat of our pants so to speak and miraculously ended the fade out together. I particularly love the way the musicians come roaring back- all Joe’s idea!”
Shot in Kingston Mines, the recently released video features Connor in a white faux fur coat, green dress and silver “these-were-made-for-walking-all-over-you” boots rocking out all night. And it accurately captures her live stage presence. Simply put, Connor is can flat out play those blues.
JOVM dedicates Van Halen’s “Hot For Teacher” to educators and students at the beginning of a very weird school year inn NYC.
School officially started for kids across the New York City metropolitan area this week. And it’s been an annual tradition that I dedicate Van Halen’s classic “Hot For Teacher” to the countless, faithful, loving and dedicated educators out there. I’m hoping that the first week goes to a great start — and that the rest of the school year be amazing for you and your students.
Last month, I wrote about the Los Angeles-based indie pop act the bird and the bee — singer/songwriter Inara George and seven time Grammy Award-winning producer and multi-instrumentalist Greg Kurstin, who has worked with the likes of Sia, Adele, Beck, Kendrick Lamar, Foo Fighters and Paul McCartney — and as you may recall, the act can trace their origins to when the duo met while working on George’s 2005 solo debut All Rise. Bonding over a mutual love of 80s pop and rock, the duo decided to continue to work together in a jazz-influenced electro pop project.
The Los Angeles indie pop duo’s debut EP Again and Again and Again and Again was released in late 2006. They quickly followed that up with their self-titled full-length debut in early 2007 — and with their earliest releases George and Kurstin quickly developed a reputation for bringing a breezy elegance to their work, which finds them putting their own idiosyncratic twist on time-bending indie pop.
Although serving as the long-awaited follow up to 2015’s Recreational Love, the bird and the bee’s fifth album, Interpreting the Masters, Vol. 2: A Tribute to Van Halen actually closely follows 2010’s critically applauded Interpreting the Masters, Vol. 1: A Tribute to Hall & Oates. And while Van Halen‘s most anthemic and beloved work may initially seem like an unlikely vessel for the Los Angeles-based duo’s sound and approach, George and Kurstin are both lifelong fans of David Lee Roth-era Van Halen. Back in 2007, George caught her first-ever Van Halen show — and it was the first tour to feature David Lee Roth as the band’s frontman since 1985. George was so charmed by Roth’s presence, that after that show, she approached Kurstin about writing a song for Roth. The end result was the swooning serenade “Diamond Dave,” which appeared on their 2008 sophomore album Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future. “We asked him to be in the video, but instead he signed a picture and gave me the yellow top hat he’d worn at the show I saw, which I thought was very sweet,” George says in press notes. “When we were trying to figure out who to cover for the second volume of Interpreting the Masters, we were both a little bit like, ‘Oh my god, can we really do it?’ But then we just went for it.”
Slated for an August 2, 2019 release through No Expectations/Release Me Records, the duo’s fifth album features an impressive backing band of guest musicians including Justin Meldal Johnsen (bass), who has worked with Beck and Nine Inch Nails; Joey Waronker (drums), who has worked with R.E.M and Elliott Smith; and Omar Hakim (drums), who has worked with the David Bowieand Miles Davis assisting the duo in making familiar David Lee Roth-era Van Halen anthems completely their own, imbuing even the most over-the-top tracks with a slinky intimacy.
Interestingly, for Kurstin, an accomplished jazz pianist, who once studied with Jaki Byard, a pianist that once played in Charles Mingus‘ band, one of the greatest challenges he had translating Eddie Van Halen’s virtuoso guitar work into piano arrangements that kept some of the spirit and vibe of the original. “I know there’s a jazz influence with the Van Halen brothers, so I tried to channel some of the things that I felt might’ve influenced Eddie,” Kurstin notes. “In a way ‘Eruption’ is almost like a piece of classical music, so I mostly treated it that way as I interpreted it for piano,” he adds, referring to the iconic instrumental guitar solo from Van Halen’s self-titled debut.
While creating arrangements around Eddie Van Halen’s guitar work will reveal the duo’s ingenuity and playfulness as interpreters and arrangers paired with a deeply nuanced reading of the material, which is influenced by their deep and profound emotional connection to the band.“I remember being 10-years-old and seeing their videos and feeling both excited and totally terrified—I responded to them in this very visceral way,” George says in press notes. Kurstin, who also is a lifelong fan, actually got a chance to work with Eddie Van Halen in the early 80s when the Grammy Award-winning producer and multi-instrumentalist was a 12 year-old member of Dweezil Zappa’s band. “I got to hang out with him in the studio and go backstage when Van Halen played The Forum, which was a really big moment for my younger self,” Kurstin recalls.
The album’s two singles found the members of the bird and the bee taking on Van Halen’s “Panama” and “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love.” The duo turned “Panama” from a power chord-based arena rock anthem into a sultry club banger, centered around shimmering and arpeggiated synths, bright blasts of twinkling piano and cowbell, a wobbling Bootsy Collins-like bass line and George’s sensual vocal delivery. Their cover of”Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” was a slinky and shimmering New Wave-like take that recalled New Order and It’s Blitz-era Yeah Yeah Yeahs while imbued with a feverish quality. The album’s third latest single finds the band taking on “Hot For Teacher,” the last official single that band released with their original lineup. Featuring drummer Omar Hakim, who has worked with David Bowie, Sting, Daft Punk, Weather Report, Madonna, Kate Bush and others and a spoken word cameo from Beck, the bird and the bee deliver a swinging bop jazz-inspired take that actually pulls, tugs and teases out the jazziness of the original — particularly within Eddie Van Halen’s dexterous guitar solo-ing. Interestingly, much like Easy Star All-Stars take on Dark Side of the Moon, the bird and the bee version of “Hot For Teacher” isn’t a purely straightforward cover — rather, it’s a subtle and mischievous modernization that retains the spirit and intent of the song in a thoughtful and loving way.
Today is the first day of school for public schoolers across New York City, and as a product of the New York Public School system (PS 206 in Rego Park, Stephen A. Halsey JHS/JHS 157 in Rego Park and Francis Lewis High School in Fresh Meadows), the first day of school brings back a lot of fond memories.
Now, it’s been an almost annual tradition in which I dedicate Van Halen’s “Hot For Teacher” on the first day of school — both for those truly dedicated teachers, and for the knuckleheads who will likely have some kind of crush on them.
Happy first day of school, everyone!
Most of New York City’s Public Schools started today, and unsurprisingly, as a product of New York City Public Schools — PS 206 in Rego Park, Stephen A. Halsey JHS/JHS 157 in Rego Park and Francis Lewis High School in Fresh Meadows — today brings back all kinds of memories good, bad and indifferent; but thankfully, mostly good.
As an adult, I also know a number of caring and dedicated educators and teachers, who will be molding the minds and inspiring the next generation of artists, writers, thinkers, doers, musicians and rabble-rousers, as well as parents of the next generation of artists, writers, etc. etc.
So with that in mind, I wanted to bring back what was a briefly annual tradition — of dedicating Van Halen’s “Hot For Teacher” for those dedicated educators and teachers. And we all know, that one of those little knuckleheads will be hot for one of their teachers because — well, I bet you were at some point, yourself.
Happy first day of school, everyone!
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve seen an increasing number of Facebook friends around the country posting pictures of their children as they’re being sent off to school. Today marks the first day of […]
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