Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Album Spotlight: Sass Jordan - Racine Revisited

About a month ago I wrote about Sass Jordan's Racine when I found out she was releasing a newly recorded album of the original songs on the 25th anniversary of the original album entitled Racine Revisited.

I'll admit, I was skeptical. Why re-record such a good album? What can you possibly do to make it better?

I'll also happily admit that my skepticism was vehemently slapped away. What Jordan and her hand-picked group of musicians did on Racine Revisited is fantastic.

Racine Revisited is fuller, warmer, swampier and better played than the original. It was recorded old-school. All the musicians in the same room, nothing digitized, over a two day period, by professional musicians.

After 25 years, Jordan's voice is a bit road weary, but she doesn't miss a note. And the road-weariness actually adds to the sound of the record. And, dammit, you can just hear the fun on the record, like everyone there was having a great time. I know that can't be quantified, but it's one of those things that you know it when you hear it.

Here's the recreational bass player in me coming out. What really struck me about this album is that it is a clinic in bass/drums locking in and being spot on every single time. With Rudy Sarzo (Quiet Riot, Ozzy Osbourne, Whitesnake, etc.) on bass and Brent Fitz (most notably Slash featuring Myles Kennedy & the Conspirators) on drums, this is just a well done, tight album.

Twenty five years later, good music is still good music. When you make it better, that is impressive.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Album Spotlight: Janet Gardner

Janet Gardner released her first solo album a few weeks ago.

A little history is in order here. Gardner was the lead vocalist for the band Vixen. While following trail blazers like Heart and Pat Benatar and Joan Jett and others, Vixen followed that trail and trudged forward in the realm of 80s hard rock, or, as many know it, hair metal.

Vixen, one of the few all female or even female-fronted bands of that time, resided on the pop side of the hair metal explosion. Big hair, big choruses. Tight clothes, tight melodies. Just like the guys.

They had the misfortune of coming on the scene in the late 80s/early 90s when that style of music was being phased out by grunge.

Gardner's debut solo album is much harder than anything Vixen ever put out. Not to compare bands, just sounds, much closer to Halestorm than Vixen. It's aggressive and at times angry. It's also a great hard rock album. If you're looking for 80s era big rock, big choruses, well, it's got some of that, but mostly it's just a good hard rock record.

And here is "Rat Hole". Enjoy.

And for those without context, here is Janet Gardner in Vixen:

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Q&A with Bri Bagwell

Photo Courtesy of
I had the to opportunity to conduct a Q&A with Texas country artist Bri Bagwell. It was not supposed to, but it took four months to complete. Bri opened up on a myriad of subjects, from her high school volleyball career, to her time playing with her brothers, to her time at the University of Texas, to her first solo gig, to Texas music festivals, to playing overseas, to what she has planned next.

It's always a joy to interview someone who is open.

We ended this before Harvey hit Houston and the rest of southeast Texas. She is now playing as many benefit concerts as possible, as are many artists.

To find Bri Bagwell:

The Cheap Seats: When I met you, you were taller than I expected. Then I read where you chose to go to the University of Texas so you could be a part of the Austin music scene rather than pursue volleyball. How good of a volleyball player were/are you? Did you receive scholarship offers and if so, at what level?
Bri Bagwell: Ha! I love this question. Volleyball was my passion before I fell in love with songwriting and playing live music. I never really talk about my sports accomplishments unless prompted. I had an amazing high school senior-year season that left me feeling like it was the perfect time to hang up the spandex and pick up the guitar...
I was named All-District, All-State, 5AAAAA Player of the year, and Gatorade Player of the Year for the State of New Mexico, in addition to being the co-captain and winning our high school's first ever State Championship game. It was a magical year, as I had switched positions from Outside Hitter to Setter, and we started the season 0-3 (yikes). It taught me a lot about overcoming losses and challenges...
I had a few official visit offers to schools across the country (and one in Alaska!), but I only went on one at New Mexico State University (which has an amazing D1 program) . I think I knew I wanted to go to a bigger school away from home, one of them being my dream school: The University of Texas at Austin. When I got accepted, I knew that I had to go. It was the perfect combination of academics and a city centered around music.
I still play sand volleyball when the opportunity arises.

You actually graduated from UT with a degree in business. Has that in any way helped you with the business of music?
My business degree was in Marketing, with a minor in Management. Being completely independent (minus a booking agent), I market and manage myself everyday! I absolutely loved my business classes, and they can be used for anything...even this crazy music business, because it definitely IS a business. I feel like I could've done without those microeconomics classes though. ;)
I just received a Facebook fan study that says my audience is half female, half male, and with 75% of them between 30 and 60 years old. It makes for a very interesting target market (and a totally non-specific one), which reminds me of all of the case studies we did in my upper-level classes. Even though college presents a long-term debt expense, the friendships and the life lessons I learned in and out of the classroom I wouldn't trade for anything in the world.
Also, dad would be upset if I didn't tell you that I graduated with honors. Haha.

Yes, we will include the part about you graduating with honors. You're welcome, dad.
In regards to that fan study, did the results surprise you? Did you have any preconceived ideas about the outcome going in?

I guess that I always have assumed my supporters are just like me: twenty-somthing girls going through relationship ups and downs while enjoying Mexican Beer... Ha! It's neat to see the males being just as supportive as the female fan base. I think that is super cool, and really unique according to the people who did the study. Also, I suppose as I have gotten older, so has my fan base. We've grown up together, so to speak.

How did you get your start in music?
I have two brothers, identical twins actually, who both play and sing. We started our first band together when they were twenty-one and in college, and I was fourteen and in high school! I've been hooked on live music and "entertaining" in the honky tonk scene ever since. Much before that, I grew up singing in a very musical Christian daycare that put on programs twice a year. At three years old I made my stage debut, and haven't looked back. I also was in choir for a few years, but have never really had any formal music training. My parents are both very musically talented (whether they admit it or not), as is much of my extended family. I really think it's just in my blood (not to mention Johnny Cash and my grandmother were second cousins)!

Your brothers, being seven years older, I imagine shaped your musical preferences quite a bit. What kind of music were you playing in the band with your brothers? And, do they still play?
We (On Tap was our name) played 90% cover tunes, from OAR to the Rolling Stones to Pat Green! We played a lot of crowd favorites, too. Some people frown upon playing cliche covers, but at a young age I enjoyed the audience responding so enthusiastically to a song! It was still even better to play my original music for people, even at the young age of fourteen, I was hooked on showing the world my heart.
My brothers play now for fun, at Christmas, and whenever I'm close enough to drag them on stage. They have three kids each and are both really successful in their careers (accounting and financial advising), and I look up to them so much, and not just because they're 6'5". ;)

Did On Tap last through your high school years, or did you get too busy with volleyball and such?
We played pretty often, and I would even play Thursday nights till closing time at the bar and wake up to go to Volleyball practice Friday morning. Even though that schedule was crazy, I wouldn't have traded it for anything. Actually, thinking back, it prepared me for the future and the lack of sleep that I continue to experience on the road today!

Once you got to Austin and the University of Texas, how long was it before you started playing that scene, or was it immediate?
I didn't start playing live music in Austin until about 3 years after I arrived at UT. For starters, I didn't play guitar (only piano), and actually didn't pick up a guitar until college. Once I found that I knew a few chords from just watching my brother play, and realizing that the instrument was much more portable, I knew that it would be essential to playing live music on the run (while still in school)! I went to see a friend play at Mother Egan's Irish Pub on Sixth Street, and he invited me up to sing a song. The bar manager offered me my own show that night, and that's how I got my first solo gig in Austin at the age of 21.

First solo gig. How nervous were you? Or did all that time playing with your brothers, being on stage, etc. calm you?
I was really nervous for that first gig; mostly because I had not played the guitar for very long, and definitely not for that length of time by myself. I still remember my fingers being too sore to type on my computer the next day! That was back before the calluses developed and the night-after-night playing that I do now. I also couldn't play a bar chord to save my life, which limited the songs that I could write and play.

So, you were three years in Austin before playing and then get a regular gig. I'm guessing it wasn't too long before you graduated (with honors, Dad). Was it head first into music full time, or did you pursue something degree related?
I actually had a day job doing marketing (and a little bit of everything) for a health and beauty website startup company in Austin, TX. It wasn't long though, before I was struggling to get out of bed for 9am meetings because I'd played a late night gig the night before. It was obvious that I wasn't going to be able to do both; luckily enough, I met my first booking agent soon after that, which allowed me to quit the day job. However, I loved working. I would still be happy in a 9 to 5 job; I love the different kind of hustle that comes with a "normal" job - just not as much as I love this music thing, of course.

This was pretty much solo acoustic stuff, right? How did the Banned come together?
When I was in my band with my brothers, we had a young bass player named Chaney Rabon that went on to attend South Plains College in Levelland, TX. He introduced me to my first guitar player and bass player that were graduating from the music school and were wanting to play music full-time. Those members were Justin Lusk (who was with me three years, and is now in an amazing band called Copper Chief) and Nathan Sebesta (who is still in my band today, after six years)! We found a drummer, Miles Stone, from a band that was breaking up; Miles was with me for two years before going to join the Cody Johnson Band, where he still is today. I'm proud to say I'm still very good friends with every original member of The Banned, and every member since!

Which came first, the band or the Banned? Of course I'm referring to the song "Banned From Santa Fe". And how much of that song is a true story?
The song "Banned From Santa Fe" came first, and is actually how The Banned got their name. I wrote the song about breaking a boy's heart in a small town, and feeling like you can't go back because of the gossip and evil eyes... That is a true story, but the town was not Santa Fe; it just sang well, so to speak!
I was sitting with my friend Craig who was with the Scooter Brown Band at the time, and I was just starting to put my band together! I was thinking of names out loud, and thought what about Bri Bagwell and the BAND from Santa Fe? Which was an interesting play on words, I thought. Craig said, what about just The Banned (which was an even better play on words)? The rest is history! :)

Photo courtesy of

We're doing this throughout the summer, which is also peak festival season. You have been vocal on social media about the festivals you have played and are playing, partly in response to a podcast that took issue with the low percentage of female artists represented at many festivals. I have noticed, as well, that most festivals are heavily male dominated. I don't know if she coined the phrase, but the first I heard it was from Sunny Sweeney; "Breaking up the sausage party". I don't really have a question here, but would like for you to express your thoughts.
The female artist "thing" is always a tough subject to approach. First of all, there are less females out there playing music than males in the scene. So to want a 50/50 male to female representation at festivals is not the expectation on my end, at least. But there are times where there are NO females on the big festivals, and to not have a single one is disheartening, especially when there are solid women bands/acts that would be a good fit. People will be at the festival for the headliner/headliners regardless of the opening acts, so those choices for the opening bands are strictly those of the festival creators. If I look at a lineup and feel that every band on there has a bigger name and/or more success than any female act that I know (including me), I am one hundred percent okay with it. I know I don't deserve a festival spot just because I am a woman; I too have to earn it. But, a three day festival with 30 bands and not a single female act, is absolutely absurd. I've been so happy to play almost all of the big music festivals, so my next obstacle is fighting for a good time slot. A lot of times I feel like some festivals put the female first, but "ladies first" doesn't always need to be true... ;)
I think the best way to advocate this weird territory is to put on the best possible shows at the festivals that I play; I try to send a message that we can hold our own as an act, regardless of gender. We've played Steamboat Music Fest, Larry Joe Taylor Fest, Crude Fest, Lone Star Jam, Zeigfest, and many more, with Medicine Stone coming up in the fall as well. I think the awareness is there and the tide is turning, and we are seeing more and more females where they deserve to be - and now it is not just because promoters feel like they "have" to be on there. We'll get there. I have faith in the badass female acts and the festivals.

Very well said. I agree that there shouldn't be a female artist just for the sake of having a female artist, but while it used to be almost impossible for a female artist to break into the Texas/Red Dirt scene, now there are plenty of options. As you said, if it's a three-day 30 band festival and there are none or one or two, then that's a problem. Most people are there for the headliners, but if the exposure is not there, regardless of time slot, then growth is stagnated.
That leads me to this. How has the Texas music scene changed, in your opinion, since you started playing to today?

VERY well said. Exactly.
I think the scene has changed in many ways than when I started full band in 2011; first of all, I think there are so many MORE bands out there, male and female. This is good to drive up competition and quality of live shows, but can be bad for our income (i.e. a bar can pay a new band next to nothing if they are eager/excited to play). It's definitely "cool" to start a Texas Country band, so you see a lot of them come and go. On the positive, there has a been a shift towards welcoming female performers. I remember when I started there were a handful of bars who wouldn't book me solely because "females can't sell tickets". I haven't heard that lingo in awhile. I don't hear that I'm crazy and out of my mind for wanting to pursue a career in this genre anymore, either. It's totally alright to be me. And that rocks.
This just brings up something in my brain that I want to say as well... One thing that has NOT changed about the scene is the amazing camaraderie among the bands/artists. There isn't enough time in the world to tell you all of the good deeds the other music buds have done for me. I tear up thinking about it. 6 years later, that is still the same.

If you don't mind and without naming names (unless you want to), can you give an example of the good deeds? So much divisiveness and negativity going on out there right now, it's refreshing to highlight the good stuff.
My favorite story is the week that I realized my contract with publisher Sony ATV in Nashville wasn’t going to be renewed. I wasn’t getting fired, but I wasn’t getting “rehired” either - so, it was kind of a bummer and a frustrating ordeal altogether. I saw Wade Bowen randomly out on the town that day in Nashville, and I told him what happened. He said, “welcome to the club!” and gave me a hug. He had been in the exact same situation. He gave me a little pep talk, and asked for my address. He mailed me a book, with a note inside. It was the perfect book for what I was going through; and not only did I feel more inspired, I didn’t feel so alone in that moment. I thought that was an incredibly thoughtful gesture from one of my heroes.
Josh Abbott, Casey Donahew, Randy Rogers, Wade Bowen, Kyle Park, and countless other larger acts have given us handfuls of cash after opening gigs when they knew our pay was less than great. Josh Abbott sold out Whitewater Amphitheater and gave all the opening acts an enormous bonus - and I sobbed when his tour manager handed us the cash, because we were needing it so badly. I never really advertised their generosity, because I know that’s not why they do it. But I do wish everyone to know the outpouring of love and help from our scene-mates.

Thanks for sharing. I'm sure they are going to hate this. I think it's important for people to know that, while it can be cutthroat, artists support other artists.
What was your worst gig? The one when you walked in and looked around and thought "What the hell have I gotten myself into?" Or the one that just went horribly wrong.

There's been more than a handful of bad gigs, but I'd have to say this one takes the cake: I was playing at a restaurant. Not only was nobody paying the slightest attention to me, but there was a little kid in the front row that was throwing macaroni and cheese at me. It stuck to my guitar in the middle of and song, and the parents were too drunk to notice or just didn't care. At that moment, I seriously thought about unplugging my guitar and symbolically unplugging my dream all at once and walking out…

On the flip side, when have you had a bad feeling about a gig that turned out to be great?
We played in France, and I thought that there was no way they were going to like our set. We play a LOT of originals in our set and we hadn't really had time to change that before France to include more covers. But, there were over 7,000 people there, and they yelled and screamed the entire time, even if they'd never heard my songs. :)

You mentioned France. I've noticed that a lot of Texas/Red Dirt artists play in Europe. There seems to be a following over there. Or at least a thirst for that type of music. Was the French gig a one off for you, or have you played Europe more? If so, what has been the response?
We traveled all the way to France for only one show at a big festival, but The Banned and I opted to stay a few more days to enjoy the wine - I mean sights - and it was a truly wonderful experience! My booking agent and I have been discussing the other options about playing overseas, and I definitely plan to do more. I haven't done it a whole lot out of the US (except for Mexico three times), but the people there ADORE country music. In France, they made up two line dances to my tunes; it was really neat to see a custom line dance to "My Boots" and to know they were very excited to show it to me. I love watching my sales reports each month and seeing people streaming/buying music in other countries. There are people worldwide who follow the Texas charts, and that's incredible to me.
My favorite story of international fans is that I didn't realize the glitch in my website shop (that I run) that allowed any country to buy my CDs autographed for $13 (INCLUDING shipping). I was spending much more than $13 to get my records to all of these other countries until I figured out how to add the correct shipping charges for overseas. Too funny! Losing money to get the music out there was worth it, though.

That's a good story to end on as I've taken up way too much of your time already. Thank you so much for doing this. However, you have the floor for one last word. What do you want people to know about upcoming stuff? Words of wisdom? Bad jokes? Anything. Go as long or short as you want.
If you insist….! Haha.
I’m in the middle of a new record, which will be out sometime in the next ten years or so… (Wink! Hoping for February, assuming time and money line up.) I’m experiencing every feeling on this project - I’m honing in on my sound, picking the best songs out of a hundred or so, writing new ones, getting back to my roots while trying countless new things, and delivering a completely different album from any before it. It keeps me up at night wondering if the fans will hate it or reject it because it’s different than what I’ve done previously. I cringe when people say they liked the early *insert any artist name here* but not their newer stuff; I think it’s important that fans know that an artist evolves and changes. We grow up, or go backwards, or go through a life changing event, or go out on a limb with a new producer, or want to showcase a different side of ourselves… I constantly battle with these changes while also wanting to please my audience. Ultimately, I’m going to make the music that I want to make, but my fans are everything to me; knowing they might not agree with my choices is scary. It’s a confusing task to trust your gut when it’s telling you a million different things. I want everyone to know that I’m working hard as hell on this record. I’m putting my own harmonies on the tracks, being careful with every lyric, limiting tuning and computer corrections, and taking my time. Lots of blood/sweat/tears/dollars/airplane miles/frustrations/smiles/high fives/deep breaths have gone into this, and I’m only halfway completed. *Note: Rachel Loy is one of the most amazing and talented producers I’ve ever seen throughout my years in many different studios.
I’ve funded two of my records via Kickstarter. I’ve slept on people’s couches and used their washing machines and ate their food. Strangers have left $100 bills in my hand during a handshake expecting nothing in return but a smile. For every person that has been cynical and negative about a female pursuing a Texas Country dream, I’ve had 1,000 people encourage me. The fans and people of this genre are, for the most part, the greatest and most loyal people. Just because I’m not on XM (yet, it’s gonna happen!) or the CMAs, does not mean that I am unhappy with my current status. I love my life. I’m content in this space. And when I’m not, there’s whiskey! (Kidding, mom.)
I’ve been reminding myself of my absolute favorite sentence about music while writing lately. It’s very true, but also lighthearted (which we all need a little of in this business). It was something I heard Ray Wiley Hubbard say at a show. It was something like: Be careful what you write, because you’ll have to play it for the rest of your life…
From the girl that’s making a new record and gonna play 180 shows this year: Amen, Ray!

Friday, September 1, 2017

Album Spotlight: Elles Bailey - Wildfire

I don't have expectations that cannot be met. That seems to be a healthier way to live life. I'm not saying to lower the bar, but don't make your expectations beyond the realm of probability. Maybe I was a little too excited for the new Elles Bailey album. Her 2016 EP The Elberton Sessions had my hopes up.
After hearing that, I couldn't help myself.

Then she drops her first full-length album, Wildfire.

Well, my expectations, as high as they were, turned our to be low. Wildfire is a great bluesy rock album with some country elements. It's bluesy and swampy. Bailey's voice is smokey and torchy and powerful. The instrumentation and production are impeccable. It's true to course and also diverse.

Here's the thing. It's pretty much a modern 70s rock album coming from a current British female artist. Not so much in lyrical content, but sound.  There's a cover of Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off" that I didn't recognize until the second spin because it is so different.

Though rooted heavily in the blues, Wildfire is so much more than just blues. There is something to be appreciated for fans of any genre that values real instrumentation and vocals over electronics and autotuned vocals.