Saturday, July 30, 2016

California Musicians Fill Santa Monica’s McCabe’s Guitars (Sunday, 7/31) Raising Money for Double Lung Transplant for Owen Shelly (Stepson of Classic Rock Legend Chad Stuart)

July 28, 2016 marked the 63rd day that Owen Shelly, of Wood River Valley, Idaho, had been in ICU, in a hospital in San Antonio, Texas, awaiting this day—one in which he’d receive a double lung transplant to save his life. All of his life, Owen had been fighting pulmonary hypertension, specifically a disease called “Pulmonary Capillary Hemangiomatosis (PCH), which had already claimed the life of his younger brother, Tyler, as well as his grandmother. In addition, doctors have diagnosed Owen with heart failure, so the lung transplant is meant as the hopeful solution to resolve both conditions.

Prior to being sidelined him from his career in April this year, Owen had worked at Idaho’s State Department of Health and Welfare, as a service coordinator for the infant/toddler program, according to his biography listed on a donation web site established by his friends at New Covenant Church, in Twin Falls, Idaho, where he, his wife Lindsey, live with their three young children: Tiler (6), Lionel (4), and Lucy (2).

A goal of $100,000 was set as what was considered as the minimum reasonable funds required for Owen’s family to relocate for one year while trying to provide a normal life for a family with three young children. As the donation web site notes, there are so many things that insurance doesn’t cover, including “relocation expenses, insurance premiums, transplant aftercare, and medications.”

Does that goal for a fund-raiser seem daunting? It certainly is, for all of us as we try to imagine how in the world we could ever try and raise that money while undergoing healthcare challenges. Enter the angels, bringing music as their gift to help Owen’s fund grow.

Owen is the stepson of Chad Stuart, of classic rock music icons Chad & Jeremy, known for songs such as “A Summer Song,” “Yesterday’s Gone,” “Willow Weep for Me,” and “Distant Shores”—the soundtrack of the 60s for so many of us among the Baby Boomers. Because of the respect that the duo has garnered through the years, many people responded to the call when Stuart’s friend, Keith Putney.

Putney produces concert tours and has everyone’s contact info on his phone at the touch of a button. One of the first calls made was to Espie and Bob Riskin, owners of McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica. Anyone who loves guitars has been to this store more times than they’re willing to admit, so people know the way there for certain. (Want to know more about McCabe’s? Check out this month’s Acoustic Guitar Magazine and catch up).

One of the most special things about a community of talented, caring professional musicians is that whenever they are called on to share their time and talents for an important cause, they don’t hesitate before saying “Count me in!” Sunday, July 31, marks the date for a very special fund-raiser in Santa Monica, CA. So, as found on Chad & Jeremy’s Facebook page, what happens starting at 8:00 p.m. at McCabe’s is a giant collective of talent, music, and love coming together to help.

Just some of the artists who are donating their time to help raise money for Owen Shelly and his family to accomplish the coming year of healing and thriving include: Coco Dolenz, Rosemary Butler, John Wicks and the Records, Billy J. Kramer, John Claude Gummoe of the Cascades, and Andrew Sandoval, plus Terry Sylvester, with more music from other talents you’ll know and love.

Let’s start with magic vocals of Coco Dolenz and Rosemary Butler.

Coco is currently a featured guest on tour with The Monkees’ Tour crossing the United States and into Australia and New Zealand before year’s end. Yes, she’s related to Micky, his sister in fact, but she has her own identity thank you very much. Coco is a tremendous vocalist whose range is powerful and handles multiple genres with ease. Further creative artist, an intellectual with a tremendous sense of humor, and an ordained minister with a long history of helping people.
Rosemary Butler is a greatly respected touring and recording vocalist, who has sung for Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor, Warren Zevon, Neil Young, Bonnie Raitt, and Jackson Browne to name a few artists.

John Wicks and The Records will be bringing their talents to the McCabe’s scene. Keith Putney keeps them busy on tour and they have an active recording career as well. You may know The Records for “Starry Eyes” or “Teenarama” and they opened for The Cars, Robert Palmer, Elvis Costello and more.

These performers with great hearts have much in common. For example, Rosemary and John were both part of the California Saga fundraiser at the El Rey Theatre in June; and both Rosemary and Coco will be headlining their own shows at the hottest club in Westlake Village, Bogie’s, next month (Coco on Aug. 7, Rosemary on Aug 27).

Billy J. Kramer is celebrating 50 years as a performer. He’s best known for “Do You Want to Know a Secret,” “I’ll Keep You Satisfied,” “From a Window,” and “I Call Your Name.” The Liverpool native shared a manager, Brian Epstein, with The Beatles and they also shared many successful tours together.

Jean Claude Gummoe (left) wrote the ultra-popular “Rhythm of the Rain,” a major hit with his group The Cascades and it is said that it was the “third-largest selling record in the world in 1963.”

Terry Sylvester (below) is best known as a member of The Hollies and he continues to tour actively in both the United States and England, bringing his guitar and witty banter to audiences.

And that’s not all. More performers are coming in support of Owen Shelly in respect for his brave fight against pulmonary hypertension.

If you’re going: McCabe’s Guitar Shop 3101 Pico Blvd. Santa Monica, CA 90405

Tickets: $30 each available here

Parking tips for patrons here

Whether or not you can attend Sunday’s concert in person, please consider making a gift in any amount to support this husband, father, and social worker who just wants to get back to full strength and return to helping children and parents at the Idaho State Department of Health and Welfare. Donate here and help them make their goal of $100,000 as quickly as possible. Thanks again to McCabe’s Guitar Shop for hosting this very special evening and to all the performers and producer Keith Putney for bringing everyone together. Start the music off with your gift and begin your week on a very special note.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Steve Ellis, former College Station actor, lands spot in two Honda Summer Clearance commercials

Former College Station resident, Steve Ellis (far right), is included in two national Honda TV Commerical features for Honda Fit and Honda CR-V models, sings Go-Go's song, "Head over Heels."(Photo credit: Screen grab from YouTube)

This morning checking the Facebook News Feed, there's an "oh, by the way" mention of a new commercial spot for Steve Ellis, as though these things happen everyday. de rigeur for a Monday. Except it's not. I've written about Honda commercials before, because their ad agency is brilliant at using beloved music (often 30+ years old) to evoke great music memories to promote feelings of love for a car. You associate the music you love with the Honda they love, and presto, it's a match made in Heaven, right? It worked well enough in a series of holiday-timed Happy Honda Days spots with the music and face of Michael Bolton. Often with national television commercials, they can be gateways for more opportunities in an acting career that many just dream about.

Many in College Station and Bryan know Steve Ellis--mostly by voice, whether it was from Candy 95 where he did guest stints on the radio whenever he was back in town. Or, if you're in the younger crowd, you'll know Ellis' voice--live from the DJ booth in the many Northgate clubs where he has a standing invitation to guest, whenever he's back. But today, there's two national commercials that include Steve singing "Head over Heels" (a favorite Go-Go's song) amidst stardust and a dream sequence as Honda lovers focus on their 2016 Honda Fit and 2016 Honda CR-V in the Honda Summer Clearance Event. And yet, a very modest Steve Ellis said 'nothing' to anyone, about this national commercial debut as recently as two weeks ago, when he was back in Bryan-College Station to join family and friends.

When Steve Ellis decided to pursue acting as his primary career goal, before he set off for Los Angeles, he took the important first step of seeking the wisdom and counsel of Nikki Pederson, talent agency owner and queen of honest opinions. He went through Nikki's program and then, with her blessing, relocated to Southern California, with opportunities to participate in further workshops run by trusted coaches. Steve also had solid access to multiple talent agents, several of whom were interested, and some who led Steve to auditioning opportunities. Ellis did stand-up comedy (that he wrote) in the usual LA clubs, mostly just to entertain others, as he studied the more serious aspects of script writing. He kept night-owl hours, while honing his craft in workshops but he never gave up. He's already had his first writer's showcase in California as well. That's another secret to success: diversity. Be everything they need to the business, for the business, to help further your opportunities.

It's fun to turn on the TV and see young people whom you've had the privilege of watching since they were 5 years old grow up to be actors on national TV. But, the reality of making it in the California entertainment industry is that no matter how talented you are, breaks don't always come your way. It's the difference between sticking with it and working even harder, even when breaks are flowing others' way, it seems. It's the not giving up part that takes the journey from endless to endlessly joyful (e.g., dessert with friends, right).

That's the part of the journey that most don't see--the day after day that you get dressed, appear early and prepared, with head shots and resumes in hand, and wait for hours for a five-minute window to show what you've got to a group of people who scrutinize people all day long. They don't know the exhilaration of a callback, only to have that hope dashed after a second (or third) table reading and then find out that you have to "wait some more." Work hard, show up, and stay up...focusing on the positive is another key ingredient that determines whether or not you can actually make it. And, respect the talents of others who are working beside you to catch breaks for their dreams to come true as well.

Seven happy actors are featured in this group photo from "Honda Summer Clearance Days" commercials--any one of them could be the next big commercial find (Flo from Progressive, Mayhem from Allstate, Jake from State Farm, J.K. Simmons from "We are Farmers" to "Whiplash"), so stay tuned. Click here to watch the video (Screen grab from YouTube)

What's unique about Steve, to those of us who know him well, is that he acts, he can sing, his oratory and flexibility with voices is singularly special. Plus, he's got a natural sense of humor that makes him a pleasure to be around. He's a Southern gentleman to boot, but with encouragement, he can shift on a dime--going from Optimus Prime to a Hanna-Barbera or Disney character--even channeling Rick Ross if he has to. So, you never know what roles will call him toward one path or the other. He has wisely used his spare time working at his craft, and he's been reading for several commercial spots that require his multiple voice talents, competing with professional voice artists who have been at their craft for over 40 years.

He's about to crack through that market very soon, many believe. He can do any voice, from Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen), to movie trailers, magically nailing "In a World..." by the late Don LaFontaine. So a simple conversation will often have you in stitches when he effortlessly shifts between voices. He's equally talented behind the microphone as in front of a camera, which should serve him well in days to come.

Congratulations to Steve Ellis and the other actors and singers featured in this commercial. It's time to celebrate, Happy Honda Days to all this summer. Watch Steve's (and Honda's) second commercial below.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Restless Heart Delivers Transcendent Memories for Fourth of July in Bryan, Texas

The “night Restless Heart came to town” is a phrase that will be on the lips of so many residents of the Brazos Valley for weeks to come, thanks to their appearance at the Lakeside Icehouse in Bryan on Saturday, July 2. Barry Ivins and his team have long been lauded for bringing the best in Brazos Valley live music to the scenic vista. The rustic picnic tables and plastic chairs came complete with a down-home, back porch feeling, but this time he served up an especially grand surprise to start off the Fourth of July weekend. Plus, area lakeside campers (independently) threw in a few major fireworks of their own to light up the night.

The Wes Nickson Band opened the show promptly at 8:30 p.m. (don’t you love it when entertainment begins, as advertised, on time?). There were plenty of food and drink stations around because the Texas evening weather promised plenty of heat, and more of the same all night long. But once the sun set over the lake, a gentle breeze took hold in the air and Wes’ clear, strong vocals showed that he and his band were a most professional opening act destined to become headliners, probably faster than they even currently realize. The audience listened appreciatively to the band that calls New Braunfels home. RDM Audio’s James Haislet had perfect sound settings for everyone to truly enjoy the evening.

After a superfast band changeover (everything going right on a Saturday night), Restless Heart took the stage. Their tour manager had been working in the Texas heat to make sure everything was absolutely perfect and it was. What John Dittrich, Greg Jennings, Paul Gregg, Dave Innis, and Larry Stewart brought to the table last night was the history of 25 chart hits, six of which were consecutive #1 songs, five RIAA Gold albums, multiple Grammy nominations, CMA nominations and being named Top Vocal Group by the Academy of Country Music.

Now, forget the statistics and just consider that from the time the band kicked off the first song, couples began moving right on to the dance floor and didn’t leave the entire time. True to Bryan-College Station style, you saw fathers dancing with young daughters, some little cherubs scooting across the dance floor before the grownups all got out there to mess things up for them, and then you had solid gold couples who’d been married 40+ years doing some serious “boot scooting” entirely oblivious to the fact that the place was packed with every table (reserved and otherwise) filled.

With 33 years’ worth of playing and recording, these gentlemen performed with such pleasant synchronicity that you truly believed they regarded one another as highly offstage as they do onstage, another true element of value.

Larry Stewart is a lead vocalist who plays a mean acoustic guitar and he is the primary motivator to get the audience to sing along (everyone knew all the words and he knew they wanted to sing, so he encouraged it) and when to dance and when to take time out to sing a beloved RH tune, “Long Lost Friend,” just for one couple celebrating a wedding anniversary (the dance floor cleared for them) to have a special moment that night. That’s show business and that’s exactly what they delivered, precious memories all night long.

Dave Innis plays tremendous keyboards and sings; seems the only thing he can’t do, per Larry, is dance. But he can keep his real job, and he is a great songwriter, as actually are all the band members.

Paul Gregg is a bass-playing fool, that is he makes it look so easy but he’s fooling—he’s just that good that he makes it look easy, but he’s a machine. And, he sings as well, and the harmonies these players have are really exceptional and tight, exactly what you’d expect after 30+ years of music.

Greg Jennings is an old soul in a band of gently aging young men; his favorite song is “Over the Rainbow” from “The Wizard of Oz,” but when he plays lead guitar and sings, you’d pay to hear him sing anything he chose to. He’s played with Vince Gill’s band before so he is right at home with Restless Heart.

Singing drummers are definitely a fan favorite, and John Dittrich fills the bill in both cases. Not only is he proficient on his beloved Pearl drums with preferred Pro-Mark sticks, he sings lead on several songs, including “When She Cries."

This is the best thing about Restless Heart—everyone has a specialty and chance to be showcased on lead, sans egos, just great camaraderie and good times and better music for all to enjoy. They performed virtually every hit you’d want to hear, “When She Cries,” “I’ll Still Be Loving You,” “That Rock Won’t Roll,” “Fast Movin’ Train,” “You Can Depend on Me,” and more.

Two very special segments of the concert included a medley of greatest hits for all the headline artists who’d included Restless Heart as their opening act over the years when they were first breaking onto the scene. The brilliant montage of memories reminded you that even though they looked extremely young, they were seasoned recording and touring veterans who simply didn’t look weary for the wear, not one bit.

Then, the highlight of the evening was the performance of “Wichita Lineman,” and they dedicated the brilliant Jimmy Webb composition to Glen Campbell, who first made the song famous (see video).

There was no need for autotune, filters, sweetners or any other artificial secret sauce at the sound board; the voices of Restless Heart filled the air and the dancers filled every available space on the wood-constructed dance floor. Buy the single of “Wichita Lineman” online as you’re going to want to keep this one.

And as occasional fireworks were seen in the sky behind the lake, all was right with the world, a perfect way to begin the Independence Day holiday weekend in the Brazos Valley.

Check their tour schedule to see that they’re en route next to Prince Edward Island, then to Utah, then to Missouri, Mississippi, and back to east Texas and Colorado (and that’s just July). Look for them to return close by, in Caldwell, on September 24 at the Burleson County Fair, among other venues. Special thanks to Lakeside Icehouse in Bryan for bringing Restless Heart here.