Monday, November 30, 2015


Print media needs labels. Like stereotypes, they save time and, importantly for print, space. Isthmus is no exception. Among the services Madison’s local weekly provides is a list of where and when to find live music. At editorial discretion, performers are chosen for noteworthiness and given top billing on the listing for a particular day, where they are often presented with a picture and a quick descriptive paragraph. The less noteworthy performers are listed in alphabetical order by club, and often with a label identifying their musical genre.

Labels can be useful, they may even be necessary, but what happens when a label is misapplied, or worse, is so inherently slippery that its utility as a label becomes dubious?

Once upon a time, The Midwesterners Trio found it expedient to accept the “Americana” descriptor. As previously pointed out here, Big Wes Turner’s Trio follows in Midwesterners’ footsteps, and Isthmus continues to slap the label on our listings. But lately we've been having a long think about what the heck “Americana” means. Grandpappy’s Britannica has no entries in between “American War of 1812” and “Americus,” but Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate offers that “Americana” refers to any materials or collections of materials concerning or characteristic of America, its civilization, or culture. Now, music may not be material (ask a physicist) but American music can certainly concern itself with or characterize Americanness. So, Aaron Copland, right?

Maybe not. As it turns out, there’s an outfit called the Americana Music Association (AMA) and they’ve come up with a definition that suggests Americana is contemporary music that incorporates elements of various American roots music styles, including country, roots-rock, folk, bluegrass, R&B and blues, resulting in a distinctive roots-oriented sound that lives in a world apart from the pure forms of the genres upon which it may draw.”

Big Wes could be a real stickler for straight talk, and we expect he never considered himself in a world apart from the country and western, rock and roll, and rhythm and blues that he loved and emulated since way back when he was still Little Wes. And where Wes has gone, so follows his Trio. Except that if you look at the list of “Americana” artists included in the Wikipedia entry, you will find young and old, great and small, household names and laborers of obscurity. It’s a big, inclusive world of sounds and styles and its apartness from the pure forms of its drawn-upon genres seems likely to be more a matter of time passed than artistic intention. 

In his last interview, Big Wes was asked what kind of music his Trio played. After a thoughtful pause he replied, “Hell, them boys play all kind of shit.” Couldn't have said it any better. You’re all invited to come and hear some. Were playing somewhere in America real soon.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Turner's Return

Big Wes Turner’s Trio is back at The Essen Haus this Thursday (Nov. 19).
Live music, cold beer, hot schnitzel! You have three options: come early (8:30), stay late (12:30); come early, leave early; come late, stay late. (Sorry, no other options.)

Coming Up:
Nov. 25, Birddog & Buddies (with Perry Weber) at Tofflers, New Glarus, WI.
Nov. 28, Frankie Lee Trio (with Mel Ford) at Tyranena Brewing, Lake Mills, WI.
Dec. 3, Big Wes Turner’s Trio at the Essen Haus, Madison, WI.

Retrospectively, Mr. McMusic had a rewarding weekend. A successful grand opening of WMRC (Williamson Magnetic Recording Company) on Saturday (Nov. 14) included an amazing, soulful set from Jim Liban and Joel Paterson. I am grateful to have the chance to play with these guys. Congratulations to Mark and Tessa for creating a very special recording and performance space.

Next day (Nov. 15), post-game dancing and merriment at Boundaries Bar and Grill, the perfect prescription for recovering from the high drama of the Packer loss. Singer Gary McAdams, guitarist Jeffrey Arnold, and drummer Steve Dougherty made filling in fun and easy. Those deep dives into the memory banks for rock and country classics were wonderfully refreshing. And, Madison Country & Western legend Frank James sat in!

Friday, November 6, 2015

Pop Prodigy

Boot consumption was down last night at Ye Olde Essen Haus (Das Essen Haus for my German-speaking relatives), but the Band was up. Up where? Swooping aloft in some stratospheric astral plane of 60s nostalgia.

Polymath of musical memorabilia Billy Flynn was delighting in guitar renditions pulled from his prodigious Pop grab bag—Uptight (Everything Is Alright), The In Crowd, What’s Going On, Blues Theme (from Easy Rider), The Lonely Bull, We’ll Sing In The Sunshine (!!?!?!!)—the list went on, all interspersed with that Blues that earned him a Grammy for the Cadillac Records soundtrack.

Kudos to trap-kit stalwart Kenny Koeppler who stepped in at the last minute for an ailing Rick Becker and kept pace with the mercurial mind of Mr. Flynn. Wherever Big Wes was, we kinda thought maybe we felt his presence.


Up next: Friday Nov. 6. SOFAR Milwaukee with Faux Fawn!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Becker Back, Flynn In!

Big Wes Turner's Trio, this Thursday! Back from the nasty world of occupational hazards, drummer and vocalist Rick Becker returns to the Essen Haus stage. (Thanks again to Rich Larson for filling in.)

Grammy winner, guitarist Billy Flynn will step in for regular but temporarily out-of-state picker Gary Hendrickson. Expect an extra heapin’ helpin’ of classic Blues and, yes, Surf music!
Up next:
Nov. 6, Faux Fawn (performing PaulOtteson’s sublime original songs) plays an undisclosed venue for online music purveyours SOFAR Milwaukee. (Walkers Point neighborhood)
Nov. 14, The Jim Liban/Joel Paterson Band at the Grand Opening of the WMRC studio (Williamson Magnetic RecordingCompany), Williamson St., Madison, WI.
Nov. 15, The Gary McAdams Band (Sunday after the Packer game) at Boundaries in Beloit, WI.
Nov. 19, Big Wes Turner’s Trio, back at The Essen Haus
(Isthmus always we start says 9, but we always start at 8:30).
Nov. 25, Birddog & Buddies (with Perry Weber) at Tofflers, New Glarus, WI.