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Big Music Feature

Local Heroes

Musicians Pick Their All-Time Favorite Baltimore Bands

Jefferson Jackson Steele
Kelly Bell
Jefferson Jackson Steele
Rodney Henry
Jefferson Jackson Steele
Jefferson Jackson Steele
Catherine Pancake
Jefferson Jackson Steele
Peter Quinn
Jefferson Jackson Steele
Norm Skola
Jefferson Jackson Steele
Christian Sturgis
Jefferson Jackson Steele
Ryan Shelkett

Big Music Issue 2001

Sweet Emotion Ryan Shelkett, Happy at Last | By Anna Ditkoff

Swamp Fever Are These les Bon Temps for the Local Zydeco Scene? | By Brian Morton

Local Heroes Musicians Pick Their All-Time Favorite Baltimore Bands

Unleash the Oriole An Open Letter to Sisqó | By Vincent Williams

All About Artscape Your Guide to the Best of the Fest | By Lee Gardner

Posted 7/11/2001

Kelly Bell
Singer/songwriter, the Kelly Bell Band
Bluesman! When I was originally approached about whom I found to be my favorite local artist ever, that was the word that came to mind. It best describes the man generations of music lovers have come to know as "Big" Jesse Yawn. It was at that moment that I realized that I had taken our relationship for granted--I have known Jesse for some time now--and that I'm friends with a giant in the blues community. The years of teachings and the ever-present words of wisdom handed to me like a torch had all been taken for granted.

"Bluesman" is a title that you earn, and Jesse has indeed done that. His list of awards and accomplishments is as long and as beautiful as a slow blues in A flat. He has toured endlessly, taking his silky, sleek singing style with him to the edges of the earth. Reflecting now, I recall complaining to Jesse once about too many shows in too short a time, and all the pressures that the success of the Kelly Bell Band had laid at my feet. Trouble with my voice and a struggle to muster up enough juice to get the crowd off every night had taken its toll on me, spiritually. As I stressed backstage peering through the curtain at a packed house, Jesse hit me with, "Always remember that your audience could be doing something else." Simple? Yes, but it got right to the point and pushed me out on that stage one more time. I came to the club with something on my mind and the words of a bluesman healed me.

"Big" Jesse Yawn appears on Ain't Like It Used to Be (Fowl Records), the latest album by the Kelly Bell Band.

John Berndt
Head of the Recorded label and member of the experimental-music Red Room Collective
I'm a huge fan of local multi-reedsman John Dierker, and have been for 10 years or so. Dierker is a completely real and obsessed musician who has a huge range of interests, and he applies himself to them with great ferocity and seriousness: jazz, free jazz, funk, rock, noise, deep experimental, kitsch, whatever. It all sounds good coming out of Dierker's horns, it all sounds like Dierker, and every one of his groups sounds richer for all the other ground he has covered. He's a Baltimore original, a serious jazz musician, and he makes real contributions to experimental music too, without making a big deal out of any of it. His John Dierker Quartet was a free-jazz unit to rival anything New York had to offer at the time, and there are a number of national improvisers who come to Baltimore from time to time just to play with John. He should be an inspiration to younger musicians who are ready to devote their life to music but don't want to be bound by the orthodoxy of any particular musical subculture.

John Berndt's new solo CD, The Montreal Concert, comes out this month on the Italian StereoSupremo label. In addition to many other projects, he's currently organizing the third annual High Zero Festival of Experimental Improvised Music, which takes place at Theatre Project Sept. 13-16.

Skizz Cyzyk
Drummer, Garage Sale
While hip musicians from all over the country relocate to Baltimore in packs, many musicians who have kept Charm City's music scene so charming over the years have been relocating to other cities themselves. Add another to the list: The amazingly talented, exceptionally likable Snackie Hillman is moving to New York. For roughly the first half of the '90s, Snackie led Pornflakes, a group of local goofballs who could mix any style of music into their sets, from funk to polka to country to rock ballad, and so on. Each style was mastered to perfection and topped with Pornflakes' own offbeat humor. They were Baltimore's answer to the Bonzo Dog Band.

In recent years, Snackie has led the Swingin' Swamis, a group of very talented musicians who mix ethnic music with thrift-shop schmaltz and jazz to be the grooviest lounge band in town. Check out a Swamis show and watch Snackie's interaction with the band and audience members. You'll see a man deserving of the love and respect his many friends and fellow musicians lavish on him, not to mention the admiration of strangers who have yet to be added to Snackie's list of friends. I'm glad to be on that list. You see, Snackie is not just a talented musician, he's a personality-plus. Good luck in New York, Snackie. We'll miss you.

Skizz Cyzk may be a good drummer, but he's also a great film-fest organizer. MicroCineFest is currently accepting submissions. Check out

Laure Drogoul
Impresario/emcee, 14-Karat Cabaret
As a jaded cabaret hostess and connoisseur of the deranged, my favorite Charm City music act is She Bites. This longstanding, shrill mess of a lounge act features a chanteuse (Rupert Wondolowski) who's a mix between Mrs. Miller, Leon Trotsky, and Boo Boo the Bear, accompanied by an elusive pianist named Pope. Imagine a fuzzy Patsy Cline, with a goatee, in a poorly fitting dress, singing the likes of "I Don't Want to Play House." She Bites is all heart. They turn love songs into searing blades that slice into the frontal lobes as well as the eardrums, leaving one strangely numb and permanently smiling.

To check out the 14-Karat Cabaret schedule, surf to

DJ Feelgood
House DJ, co-founder of the Fever event
I'm sure my favorite is going to have to be the All Mighty Senators. I've seen those guys perform many times, have always thought very highly of them, and have always been impressed with their staying power and ability to keep things fresh. From large-scale electronica events to the cramped quarters of the 8 x 10 Club, these guys always make the crowd jump, and I wish them continued success wit' their funky-ass selves.

DJ Feelgood's new mix CD,, comes out on Moonshine Music July 24.

Chris Freeland
Drummer, Oxes
When I was in ninth grade, still a young pup with a rookie guitar hand, someone loaned me a cassette tape by a band called the Banthas. One of the members was a senior at my high school. The tape cover was photocopied onto heavy card stock and folded by hand. The music was recorded at the band members' homes, and the tapes were sold at shows. In one glorious seven-song blast I was exposed to the principles of the punk/DIY music community, the concept of home recording, and the understanding that wonderful music can come from anywhere, including Baltimore County. I can't describe the Banthas to you if you've never heard them. They only made two tapes and they never toured. But they were down with all kinds of music and were good enough to melt their influences into something unique, which I think is why I like them as much as I like Nirvana. Also, when they played live, they were a rock band with a hype man. How hot is that? Ripken hot.

Oxes' next album, Publicity, will be released on Monitor Records in the spring of 2002.

Jay Funk
Hip-hop producer
Baltimore's rap scene and hip-hop puzzle wouldn't be complete without Clientele Recording artist L-Fly. Production? He does it well. Rhyming? He's got it sewn. Scratching? He's the sharper edge. Running a record label with his partner Sylvan Henderson, he's the next Russell Simmons. Most of all, when it comes to being a big brother he's never more than a phone call away. L-Fly brought us a lot of classics in the early '90s on Jamm City Records with his first group Level 4, featuring Smoove (Darryl C). Later on he started SureShot Records and gave us songs such as "Check Da Flow," "Blue Lights and Blunts," and "Relax Your Mind," in which he gave me my first opportunity to be in a big studio and to even touch the mic. There would be no Jay Funk without L-Fly. There would be no Jay Carter without Rasid Carter, but that's another million words.

Jay Funk produced L-Fly's new release, "Creep" b/w "Can I Live," and Norm Skola's imminent Viet Norm album.

William Goffigan
Jazz drummer, head of Anig Records
Gary Bartz, a world-renowned alto saxophonist from Baltimore, was well known locally for his performance ability long before leaving for New York. Gary's career expanded greatly in New York via his studio work with Pharoah Sanders, Miles Davis, and other great performers. He also headed some recording dates, such as Libra, released on the Riverside label. This recording is among my favorite jazz albums. Musically, Bartz is very melodious and he has a great understanding of time and space. Furthermore, he is a great composer/performer who is conscious about jazz music's long legacy. He encourages upcoming musicians by sharing information which helps them to develop musically.

William Goffigan leads a trio on Artscape's Sun stage at 1 p.m. on July 14.

Rodney Henry
Singer/guitarist, the Glenmont Popes and the Rock Bottom Stylings of Honky Slim
I think it was 1987. I had just gotten out of the Marines and was a freshman at Towson State University. This little fuckin' Rockville wild-ass that I played rugby with took me to see this band Jade. I'm pretty certain we were trippin' on some sort of gel acid. I might not have been, but I was blown away by this wild-ass, freaked-out, totally nasty guy sittin' low on his drum stool, hockin' fuckin' snot rockets. It was out of sight. He's was bustin' out this wild rhythm--heavy, even when they dropped it down. It was cool. I wanted to walk up to him afterward, but he looked so mean and nasty that I just pussed out and rolled. His name was Rob Oswald. Years later, I had the opportunity to meet and even jam with him a couple of times. Definitely not enough. But I really appreciate some of the situations he plays in and the fact he sticks with it. He's a great ambassador for Baltimore rock 'n' roll.

Rodney Henry performs at the Ottobar July 29 at a benefit show for George "Fudgie" Dobson.

Dave Heumann
Singer/guitarist an co-founder of Anti-Folk Night
Lungfish. Lights dim and the room expands. The hidden entwines with the manifest. Inner is made outer and enfolds back again. The attuned have been entrained, tethered to a vast, pulsing machine, swaying, rocking back and forth. "I am you and we are me . . ." Someone is shaking a rattle, and I (we) slide down a tree root. "The mind a concentric mirror maze . . ." Soon enough, sound fades and lights brighten. The expanse is cleared now and the broken mended. We have been washed by the river and now we are clean.

The next Anti-Folk Night is scheduled for July 24 at the Ottobar.

Roman Kuebler
Singer/guitarist , the Oranges Band
There is a succession of letters I think I will never forget: LHKBND. Most people who fell into Baltimore's artistic demographic about five years ago will recognize these letters as the somewhat cryptic abbreviation for the long since gone Lee Harvey Keitel Band. And most of these people will remember the Lee Harvey Keitel Band as the energetic group with the matching outfits and a somewhat socialist lean who, through tireless gigging, managed to cross the boundaries separating Baltimore's all-ages scene from the indie-rock scene and the more commercial rock scene. But before they were rock stars, they were Baltimore's rock losers and, by far, my favorite band.

Ron Spencer, Jim Glass, and Rob Oswald were insured immediate obscurity by being a side project to the ignored genius of Buttsteak, whose early, misunderstood humor gave way to a better, more misunderstood philosophy. And while nobody was watching (and I was there--nobody was watching), the Lee Harvey Keitel Band created one of the most unique sounds I've ever heard. The two very sparse guitars, chopping post-reggae rhythms, were accompanied by a call-and-response vocal style that sold stories of history and brutality as they related, specifically, to sex. All this lay on the framework of Oswald's one-person rhythm section, which was, somehow, totally complete without a bass. No three other people could have created that music, and that is why, when Oswald left the group, it was never quite the same . . . for me.

The Oranges Band recently released 900 Miles of Fucking Hell on Morphius Records.

Hip-hop MC, head of Ankh Ba Records
Beyond a shadow of a doubt, I would have to say my favorite artist from Baltimore is my father, Doc Soul Stirrer. Doc Soul Stirrer is a soul singer from East Baltimore's Douglass/Somerset projects. Doc was a powerful artist in Baltimore's nightclub scene when Pennsylvania Avenue was a mecca for black entertainment during the '60s. Doc Soul Stirrer is a true blues troubadour as well as a magnificent gospel and jazz singer. Nowadays, Doc tears up the blues and jazz clubs in the deep South from Louisiana to Alabama. What I love about Doc's singing is the thousands of stories of life and love that he weaves with a rich voice that actually says more than a thousand words. Doc Soul Stirrer is truly my favorite artist from Baltimore. Like father, like son.

Labtekwon is currently working toward the release of more than a dozen CDs on Ankh Ba Records; he performs at the Ottobar July 25.

DJ LoveGrove
Down-tempo/house DJ and founder of Sonic Soul Productions
My all-time personal fave has to be Lake Trout. Five humble Mobtown cats who perfectly fuse melodic rock, jazz, and dance rhythms. It has been a joy to get to know them musically, personally, and professionally. Their 1999 CD, Volume for the Rest of It (SNS Records), is still in heavy rotation on my home stereo.

DJ LoveGrove plays down-tempo, nu-jazz, and house every Saturday and British rock past and present every Monday at the new club Sonar, 3000 O'Donnell St., which he co-owns.

Catherine Pancake
Filmmaker, musician, and member of the Red Room Collective
My favorite Baltimore musician is Neil Feather. He not only builds his own completely original instruments, he has actually created his own idiom or genre of music. When I was a child, one of the places we went for a school field trip was to the shoe factory. Because I grew up in a very small rural town in West Virginia, this was a place that my classmates and I were expected to aspire to work in. Entering this factory with my class and teacher, the sound, smell, and shock of the environment pretty much blew my 7-year-old mind. Tucked away in a bucolic valley was this extremely sensual, industrial, loud, rhythmic, buzzing, droning, heart-pounding musical experience. Impressive? Oppressive? Horrible? Beautiful? I don't know. When I first heard Neil's music, I felt exactly the same way. Immersed in an incredible, completely original world of sound and sensual contradictions--tucked away behind a friendly face, super personality, and quite humble ego--this guy is, simply put, a genius.

Catherine Pancake performs at the High Zero Festival, Sept. 13-16 at Theatre Project.

Matt Pierce
Keyboardist/reedsman, Lake Trout and Big in Japan
There have been a handful of bands from Baltimore that compelled me to buy their records immediately after seeing them live. Lux Aeterna was one such band. They were here and then gone in a very short time. Regardless, I thought they were entirely original and even innovative at times. That's not to say that they didn't bring to mind other bands. I heard influences ranging from the Rolling Stones to Sonic Youth. They played toys and buckets. Cullen Davis yelled through distorted mics and even played some harp. Eric Winner kept tom beats and hit a seemingly gigantic snare and kick. They were electric and acoustic at the same time. They rocked!

Lake Trout heads to Rome to play the Jazz and Image at Villa Celimontana festival July 19-20. The band is currently recording a new album and will tour the United States this fall with Money Mark.

Mary Prankster
My favorite Baltimore band of all time is Colouring Lesson. Both albums it has released, Menagerie and Targets, are absolute jewels, and every live show is a sure thing. Dave Hill is one of the most talented songwriters and lyricists in the mid-Atlantic. Together with Rennie Grant's inventive guitar playing, Trevor Ranking's jubilant reggae bass, and Cliff Darrow the Human Metronome on drums, he and Colouring Lesson have never failed to deliver the goods for those of us who like our rock catchy and deep.

Mary Prankster is currently touring the country. She next performs in town Sept. 8 at the Ottobar.

Peter Quinn
Singer/multi-instrumentalist, INK
I remember turning the corner at some Sowebo Festival and seeing this scarred-faced MC corralling Laughing Tree into an alley and making them play their instruments like some kind of human flea circus. While all the other bands were on one of the designated stages, it seemed more fitting for this band of insects (insect-costumed men, that is) to be playing in the alley. Guitar, bass, and a drum kit inside a large cocoon, Laughing Tree were the insects that survived the nuclear holocaust, a threesome that had developed a style of music that was the result of their serendipitous knowledge of pre-nuclear culture and aesthetics. The result was this jumbled Residents/John Zorn-like mayhem collage of ecstatic genre-hopping. Country would immediately step into hardcore into lounge into whatever. It was pure controlled chaos that everyone seemed to understand and enjoy immediately because, after all, who doesn't love a bunch of bugs with guitars.

INK plans to release a new album this fall on Monitor Records.

John Shafer
Singer/guitarist, the Put-Outs
Anyone who writes a song called "Our Love Has Died a William Holden Death" deserves recognition for insight and a sadistic sense of humor alone. The catch was, the Lee Harvey Keitel Band did all the other things a great band's supposed to do too. They were intense, original, and unapologetic about their vision, while always managing to flat-out rock. They held together the postpunk-inspired Memory Lane scene with jagged guitar riffs and soaring melodies the likes of which haven't been equaled since. I truly miss going down to Pigtown on a Sunday night to hear anthems about Marxism and 19th-century literature.

The Put-Outs are heading to Tennessee to record their second album.

Ryan Shelkett
Singer/guitarist,the Dead Red Sea and Liar's Academy
My favorite Baltimore-area band would have to be Universal Order of Armageddon. This band was around from 1992 to '94. If you were one of the few who saw it, you witnessed one of the most urgent and exciting shows ever. Universal Order of Armageddon played a new kind of hardcore--very chaotic, both ugly and beautiful--and they never played for more than 20 minutes. Most of their songs seemed to end before you realized what the hell you were hearing. All of the members had their own unique style and aesthetic, which was not only amazing live but also on a handful of singles, two 12-inch records, and a CD compiling most of their recorded material as well. These guys were not only a great band but were also some of my best friends, and hearing the music now reminds me that even back then I knew my friends were making important music

The Dead Red Sea is getting ready to release an album on Deep Elm Records; the Liar's Academy plans to release an album on Equal Vision Records this fall.

Joyce and Tony Sica
Promoters, Uptown Concerts
One of our favorite local musicians is Mike Munford. He plays traditional banjo with a contemporary feel. We first saw Mike as part of the bluegrass band the Flying Aces, which featured Mike, Dodie McMillan, Tracy Eldridge, and Dave Giegerich. Mike has also worked with numerous other bands, including Windy Ridge, Grazz Matazz, the Hard Travelers, Acoustic Outlet, and the Chesapeake Retrievers. He now records and tours with the Mark Newton Band. You can hear his banjo tracks on the works of several artists, including Peter Rowan's recording of "Bluegrass Boy." In addition, he has toured with Rowan and Tony Rice.

Uptown Concerts books shows at Baldwin's Station in Sykesville and St. John's United Methodist Church of Hamilton. The next Baldwin's Station concert is Lowen & Navarro on July 17. The next show at St. John's is the Kennedys, the Mammals, and Side by Side on Sept. 15.

Norm Skola
Hip-hop MC
My favorite Baltimore artist is drummer and songwriter James Carter Sr. James was discovered by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes after he snuck backstage and played the drums during a Blue Notes concert intermission. James' good fortune turned out to be just that as he became the drummer and songwriter for Teddy Pendergrass. He wrote songs like "Love for Two," "Two a.m.," and "We Can't Keep Going on Like This," along with countless other. In 1981, James put out an independent hit called "Help Is on the Way" by a group called the Whatnauts, which sold 90,000 copies. James' music has been sampled by hip-hop artists such as Pete Rock, MC Lyte, De La Soul, Heavy D, and many others, proving his ability to make good music that stands the test of time. James Carter is currently on tour with Teddy Pendergrass, selling out casinos and arenas everywhere.

Norm Skola plans to release his new album, Viet Norm, on his own Ashima Records.

Christian Sturgis
Singer/guitarist, the Uniform
Baltimore was in a serious lull from 1985 to '89. Then Candy Machine came along, breathing intelligence and thought into its music. The band produced a series of great records. They always incorporated the best of the artier side of punk music, more of an angular soundscape. Live, they left you feeling battered, trying to keep up with the music and intertwined vocals/cornet. Candy Machine was truly a sanitarium for the plague that swept Baltimore.

The Uniform will release the album Black and Vain and the 7-inch single "Dictionary of Deconstructionists" on Morphius Records later this summer.

Ben Valis
Drummer, Stars of the Dogon
Over the years, "The Greatest City in America" (sic) has indeed churned out some of the country's best yet all too often underappreciated bands. My choice for best Baltimore band ever is a rather obscure, short-lived group that never toured, never released any records, and whose aural delight is the exclusive property of its rather small local following. That group is Salahd Days. Salahd Days got its start as an acoustic four-piece but hit its prime as an electrified power-pop three-piece sometime in the fall of 1997. Playing mostly all-ages shows in the era of the Day of Man as Man and Drone Theory, Salahd Days was a welcome respite from complacent bar rock and misdirected anger and exhibitionism that often typify local acts. Frontman Chris Myers effortlessly wrote hooks that left you humming for weeks after a show, bassist Matt Wick was as solid as they come, and drummer Pat Rife was always adequate, often showing flashes of brilliance and percussive flair. Salahd Days didn't wear fancy clothes and play 10-minute guitar solos, show up to shows late with pot smoke billowing out of the doors of their van, or throw fits of guitar-smashing rage. They just stripped the songs down to their most basic elements, played them well, and had a great time doing it. In short, they rocked. And isn't that the best thing a band these days can do?

Stars of the Dogan performs at the Ottobar July 12. Artists solicited and blurbs compiled by Anna Ditkoff and Gabe Milner.

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