Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Great Couple Weeks For Music: Pix and Thanks!

Wow, what a great couple weeks it’s been for music! Just thought I’d write a quick post to share some pictures from the past two weeks and to thank many of the kind folks who made it all possible…

Last weekend started with a bang at the the 11th Hepcat’s Hop at Ruuhijärvi. This festival was the first rockabilly show I attended in Finland when I came to visit two years ago and it was a lot of fun. It takes place in the middle of the Finnish countryside, next to a lake (or järvi in Finnish), in the middle of the summer when the sun never sets, and always includes a big party in a field, great food, great people, lots of old American cars, rockabilly cats and dolls dressed to the nines, and great music. I’ve been looking forward to this festival for a long time and I was excited this year to not only come back, but to perform as well.

With thanks to Tomi Valasvuo for the photos and the last minute sound set-up!

Due to a schedule conflict, the Hi-Fly Rangers were not able to attend the festival, but this created an opportunity to play some new songs with some new folks. Joining me for the gig were my pals Mika Liikari (from the Barnshakers) on upright bass and Eino Rastas (from the Hal Peters Trio) on guitar. Both are great musicians and I had a grand ol’ time rehearsing, traveling, and performing with them. Eino was one of the first Finnish thumb-picking guit-pickers and we injected a whole lot of swinging hillbilly jazz into our Ruuhijärvi set. And of course, we also did some rockin’ stuff too… 

With many thanks to Roi Hohenthal, here’s a video of us doing Floyd Tillman’s ‘Daisy May’:

I had been wondering for months about what I would tell my friends when they saw pictures of me performing in front of the venue’s massive and storied Confederate flag (formerly used by Finnish rockabilly legends Teddy & the Tigers on their tours in the late ‘70s), but in the end I didn’t need to worry. For the first time in the event’s history, the organizers decided to have one of the bands play outside in the field. They tell me it had nothing to do with me starting a near riot (OK, a passionate debate may be a better term) among festival goers over the use of the Confederate flag in the main hall, but I still wonder…

The rest of the night was just as fun as the set with Eino and Mika. With the exception of me, all of the bands were from Finland and I greatly enjoyed catching two of the Finnish rockabilly performers from the late’ 70s/early ‘80s rockabilly revival: Jussi Syren and Mystery Train.

Jussi is primarily doing bluegrass these days, so the rockabilly show was a rare treat (even if he denied my request for ‘Steady with Betty.’ Ha!), and I’ve seen Mystery Train perform a few times with Kitty Lee, but this was my first time seeing them with their former singer, Petri Mäntysalo , who now lives in Spain.   

Rounding out the evenings performances were Bettie & the Handsome Trio, a stellar father-daughter family blues band backed by some real good musicians, and the T-Bird Gang, one of Finland’s best rockabilly bands today.

Just as it was two years ago, it turned out to be a great party with great friends—I had a very enjoyable dinner with Mika and Roi and Teija Hohenthal (and thanks to DJ Boogie Chiller for the awesome BBQ!); I got to sit down and do some interviews with Eddie Laakso as well as Ode and Albert Hallikainen; had some great road tripping and pulla-snacking with Mika and Saana Syrjäläinen; got some nice press from Uusi Kesä newspaper in their article “Gibson tähdittää Hep Cat´s Hopia” (or, Gibson stars in Hep Cat’s Hop); caught up with many old friends and made several new friends as well. Tis all one can ask for in a gig and I send my many thanks to Albert and Ode for inviting me to be a part of it this year!

Sunday was a recovery day, but Monday picked up right where Saturday left off…
My pal Deke Dickerson came to Helsinki to finish up his European summer tour. It was a last-minute show at Lepakkomies, but it ended up selling out sometime around noon. Deke came by the Goofin’ shop around 6:00 and along with Pete Hakonen, Mack, and Merene Hovilainen, we went out for dinner at my favorite kebab and pizza joint, Ravintola Leijona.

The show itself was highly entertaining. Deke’s backing band of Jussi Huhtakangas, Lasse Sirko, and Juha Litmanen was stellar and the packed crowd, super low ceilings, extremely hot temperatures, and rockin’ music all combined to create a super Finnish sauna-like experience.  It was also a nice surprise to be called up on stage to do some singing and we banged out a rockin’ hillbilly version of Arlie Duff’s ‘Y’all Come,’ which we recently recorded together for the Starday Sessions tribute CD on Goofin.

It was once again a great night, with great friends, and I really enjoyed catching up with my American hillbilly buddy over here in Finland and hearing about his recent book success, his upcoming tour with the Rev. Horton Heat, and all the cool projects happening in his world.

Thanks to Nisse Kärkkäinen for the on-stage pic of Deke and I and to Rami Poutiainen for the other pic of us. Not sure who took the pic of Tuomas Metsberg, Lasse, Jussi and I, but thanks to them too!

Tuesday and Wednesday were spent doing interviews in Helsinki for my project on American Roots Music in Finland, but on Thursday I was off to Jokela for some Hi-Fly rehearsing and ’48 Chevy cruising.

All tuned up and ready to go!

Sweet! I can’t believe Jake let me drive! Well, open container laws are different in Finland so I guess I can actually believe it… Photo by KK.

Some of the songs which we initially rehearsed as a joke, turned out to be some of my favorite songs we put together for the gigs. These included a minor key version of ‘Sittin’ On Top of the World’ as well as a rock and roll version of Roy Head’s ‘Treat Her Right.’
On Friday afternoon KK and I headed up to Hämeenlinna where we met up with Jake at our hotel. I suppose I really should have Googled the gig or something beforehand, but all I knew was that we had a gig and that we would be featuring our friend Pete Lapintie on piano for a few songs. As it turned out, we were one of the town’s featured after-parties for the Wanhaja Music Fest. This is one of Finland’s biggest rock festivals and included a lot of big names in the Finnish music scene including some roots guys like J. Karjalainen, M.A. Numminen, Tokela (with Latebird’s All Stars), as well as PMMP, Apulanta, Klamydia, and many other  mainstream popular Finnish bands. When we arrived in town I was pleased to find several posters around town for our gig promising an “Amazing Rockabilly Show” as well as an article about me in the Hämeen Sanomat. The title in particular made me smile: “Jenkkirokkari puhuu suomea ja rakastaa merirosvovitsejä,” or in English, “Yankee rocker speaks Finnish and Loves Pirate Jokes.” It’s funny because it’s true! For those of you who read Finnish, you can check it out here.

Many thanks to AP Sarjanto for writing the kind words, which is probably the first press the pirate joke book has received in the last ten years. And of course, thanks especially to Pete Lapintie for booking us, seeking out some great promotion, and then rockin’ the piano like a mad man for a dozen or so honky-tonkers and all-out rockers!

The gig itself was pretty awesome. Even though Samantha Fox, of ‘Touch Me’ fame, was playing next door to us at another of the festival’s after-parties, the venue still managed to pack the joint with folks eager for the promised “Amazing Rockabilly Show.” Before we took the stage around midnight the place was filled to near capacity and we ended up having lots of people dancing, lots of kind folks to chat with between sets, lots of new songs to play, lots of CD sales, lots of good food the next morning… just good times.

As it turned out, there were lots of broken guitar strings as well and KK took a photo of me changing my strings in the parking garage in between sets. Unfortunately, I have yet to find any video that has surfaced from this gig. So, instead of posting a link to our own video, I’ll post a link to Samantha Fox’s gig from next door. This way, all of y’all who came to see us and danced your tails off can see what you missed next door…

Touch Me (Hämeenlinna version 2013):

After a mighty fine breakfast and a little record diggin’ in Hämeenlinna, with my major scores being Buck Jones’s Bad LP on Rebel Records and a Finnish version of Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’), KK and I headed north to Pieksämäki for the Big Wheels festival.

On the drive up I was excited to finally meet this friendly beast… After seeing signs every 100 yards or so warning of moose crossings, and hearing stories about moose sightings being as common in Finland as 101 Strings LPs in a Salvation Army record box, I was starting to get real down because we hadn’t yet seen one. Even three and half or four hours north of Helsinki and still not a moose to be seen… Fortunately, this guy jumped out of the woodwork to save the day just as we were stopping to get our fill of coffee and pulla.

As we arrived in Pieksämäki, we were just in time to catch the Big Wheels cruising parade—hundreds of vintage American cars and trucks cruising the narrow, two-way streets of the little town and thousands of people standing on the streets to watch. In a word, it was beautiful. It was also captured on video by about a dozen different YouTube users. You can check it out here if you like, the cruising starts at around the 19:30 mark of the video:

After we settled into our swank hotel, which looked like it hadn’t seen a single update since the 1960s (awesome!), we headed over to the venue for the sound check. The venue was the old, abandoned railway station, Vanha Veturitallit, but instead of actually sound checking we spent about two hours playing with Jake and Taina’s kids and looking at old cars. When we finally did get around to the sound checking, everything looked and sounded great…

First up was the Shoebox Revue. I have dug Ari Sjöblom and Henri Pirttimäki’s music with the Flatbroke Trio for a long time and it was a real treat hearing them with drums and Elli Maple on vocals. Their rockin’ cover of Nick Curran’s ‘Kill My Baby’ was a highlight and a great start to the night.  

The Soil Senders rock’n’roll trio followed with a high-energy set of rockabilly tunes and sweet harmonies.

We took the stage around midnight and it was probably the most fun I’ve had at a show in Finland. KK was rockin’ out on his knees mid-way through the first song, the dance floor was packed the whole night, we had great sound, great stage set-up, great lights, great fog machines (!!), and about 750 people asking for more after each song. After the second encore I was definitely done and I couldn’t possibly play another song even if I had wanted to… By that end of our last song I was shirtless, breathless, laid out on the floor, and utterly exhausted!

Many, many thanks are due to Maxi Mikkola for bringing us there, to his lady Piia for selling some of our merch during the show, to Anna Halonen for taking some stellar photos of our set, to the sound and lights crew for a job very well done, to everyone who came to talk to us after the show and buy records and/or CDs, and to everybody who came out to rock with us in Pieksämäki. I sure hope we can come back and do it again another time!

And that’s about the whole of it. The Hi-Fly Guys and myself are presently finishing up a new full-length record and it’s been real fun. I love the process of writing a new song, teaching it to the band, and then recording it the next day. I often dig the songs I write for at least a day or two, but almost always I change my mind after a couple days and throw them away to the scrap mp3-demo bin. The nice part about this process has been that I don’t have time to question my own songs for very long. It’s been fun and I think we’ve been getting some real good results. And of course we’ve been recording several of our favorite songs which we’ve been playing for the last two years at shows. It’s a good mix and I’m very much looking forward to sharing the finished results with people as soon as it is ready (but now, what do to about album art?!?!).

This weekend we’ll be playing at a dear friend’s wedding, and after that we’ve only got one more gig in Finland this year. It sure would be great to see some of our friends out at theReal Gone Records Rock and Roll Weekender on August 15th in Sastamala. It's going to be a great festival with lots of friends and a lot of great bands including Cliff Edmonds and the TelstarsWhistlebaitthe Cosh Boysthe Truly Lover TrioFoggy Mountain Rockersthe Lo-Lites, and many more! I am most certainly looking forward to leaving everything out there on the stage once again and catching all the great acts from around the world. Until then, Rockin’ Regards!!

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