At 90 years old, Lonnie Bell is the grand old man of Billings radio. On Feb. 8, he was inducted into the Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame, class of 2014. He’s also a member of the Country Radio DJ Hall of Fame and the Montana Radio Hall of Fame. He was honored on the U.S. Senate floor in 2005.
Lonnie Bell hails from West Virginia and says that he has always loved country music.
“My dad gave me my first guitar when I was 8,” he said. Their first radio arrived in 1934. He listened to Jimmie Rodgers, the Carters and Gene Autry. “That Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine” was No. 1 at the time, Autry’s first big hit.
When Mr. Bell was a teenager, his mother suggested he start playing and singing for money on the porch of the local saloon. She didn’t really hold with bars, so he had to play outside on the porch.
His first radio gig was in Hawaii on station KAHU. “I was the first in Hawaii to play Elvis.”
He played “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” a country classic originally by Bill Monroe, that turned out to be the B side, totally missing out on Elvis Presley’s first big hit, “That’s All Right, Mama.”
Guess Mr. Bell’s always been a country fan at heart.
Eventually he even had his own group: Lonnie Bell and the Melodeers. In 1959, while playing in Bellingham, Wash., Mr. Bell met a young singer performing at the American Legion. She was so good, he paid her $25 to join his band.
Her name? Loretta Lynn. She was just one of many country stars whom Mr. Bell helped promote.
But Bell’s not totally country. He really enjoys what he calls “the good rock,” meaning the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis. It’s that old rock and roll with the driving beat.
“It comes from country and the blues,” Mr. Bell said.
Mr. Bell’s personally known many country artists: Merle Travis, Hank Thompson, Billy Walker. “I opened for Lefty Frizzell in 1954,” he said. “Charley Pride gives me a call once in a while.
“Willie Nelson’s one of the top three songwriters in the country. His first song was ‘Hello, Walls.’ Patsy Cline’s ‘Crazy’ in 1961, he wrote it. The strange thing about Willie is, in 1975, he was fed up with Nashville. He decided to go back to Austin, put a rag on his head, and sang ‘Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain.’
“I introduced Johnny Cash to Billings. He came with the Carters,” Mr. Bell added.
Supposedly, Mr. Bell retired at age 65. But like anyone who’s passionate about his craft, he couldn’t totally quit. He’s been on the air in Billings every Sunday morning for the past 20 years.
“I like to start out with an upbeat tune. I just do them off the top of my head. I’ll sit there and think, you have to start out with something everyone knows. It’s all in my mind and I’ve got ’em in a box behind me. I’ve got the top 100 at my fingertips.”
Lonnie Bell really does have it all in his head, at his fingertips. For a nostalgic musical journey, tune into Lonnie Bell’s Classic Country every Sunday from 8 a.m. to noon on KGHL-AM 790.
Last Updated on Thursday, 26 February 2015 16:22
Over the years the building located at 3953 Montana Ave. has morphed from Hanson’s Hardware, to Clarks Drive-in Supermarket, to the Iron Bull (a cook-it-yourself steak house), to the Prospector Saloon, then the Drifters dance hall/restaurant/casino, on to the Blazing Saddles dance hall/restaurant/casino.
In 2003 it took on the name Montana Chads and was totally remodeled with many of the bar fixtures reclaimed from the defunct Eagles Nest. For the last year and a half it has been known as Smitty’s Dance Hall, Grill and Casino. It shall re-open again this week as Montana Chads with previous owner Ted Fink retaking the reins.
Many country dance venues have bitten the dust in a city where the mournful wail is often, “There is nothing to do in this town if you are old enough to not need a fake ID.” In the last few months the Wild West Saloon and Smitty’s have closed, and the downtown Stampede has been brought back as Daisey Dukes.
So what is the secret to success? Steve Gilles, a Billings dance instructor for the last 44 years (but also teaching country dancing across America with two tours of Europe) shares his insight as does Ted Fink.
When asked why Chads business model is successful when others have failed, Gilles tipped back his cowboy hat and said without a pause, “You need to serve your demographic. In Montana that tends to be a combination of gambling and dancing versus just drinking.”
Gilles also pointed out that in Montana patrons generally prefer live music over DJs. He recently came back from Florida where, as in most large markets, professional DJs “run the floors” by playing a mix of line dancing, two step, swing and waltz. He said they identified each type of dance so patrons knew what was expected of them.
In his experience, he said, many DJs in clubs that fail tend to just play records and kibitz with patrons of the opposite gender. The chaos on the floor soon frustrates the novice dancers and the crowd thins to unsustainable numbers. He said that he gives country-western dance lessons where the owners want to be more than a place to drink and instead cater to the demographic that wants to have fun without over indulging.
Mr. Fink was also candid. He said the formula for success is first hiring the right people. They must enjoy the country-western dance scene and appreciate the business aspects to keep the doors open.
His second observation was akin to Gilles’: “You need to know the demographic and be loyal to them.” Fink fleshed this out by stating, “Chads’ patrons run from people in their 20s to their 70s, but the bulk are 30 to 65. College-age kids have many places to go but mid-life people have only Chads. So we pick bands that play music they are familiar with. Whether they live in Billings, Absarokee, or come up from Broadus for a rodeo they know what to expect when they get here.”
Gilles pointed out there are other venues for older Montanans to country dance at the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion and the Elks Club. Their demographic is older and many are married as opposed to hoping to see and be seen, which is what Fink caters to. The standing joke is that city buses need to run directly from divorce court to Montana Chads.
When asked if the formula for success has changed over time, both Gilles and Fink simply responded, “No.” Gilles said that a good band with good drink prices was the not-so-secret to success.
Both veterans of the dance hall wars agreed that when patrons view returning bands as friends and hang out with them during breaks, customer loyalty increases. Fink held up the model of the Dakota Country band as the model to emulate for success.
Dakota Country does not change from a “two step band” to a quasi rock band at 11 p.m. assuming a younger crowd will emerge. Rather they play modern and classic country music to a full room from opening until closing. Further, you can talk without starting every sentence with “Huh? … What?” as they keep the decibels down while many bands seem to consider themselves more in concert mode.
When asked if the mature adult night scene had changed in the Billings market, Steve Gillis relied on his four decades of memories and said, “Oh yeah. There used to be a lot more live music. Every place had a banjo player or a duet. You rarely see that any more. It was considered an expense, but in the final analysis it was what set them apart and got them thru the tough times.
“When I gave dance lessons at the Drifters on Tuesday nights, we sometimes had 150 people taking dance lessons on a dance floor designed to accommodate 50. The receipts for Tuesday nights often were greater than for Friday night. It was a long-term partnership that both sides worked at to make work.”
Gillis noted that sometimes it is a struggle to get country bar owners to understand that country dancing requires a degree of training for people to have the confidence to get on the floor, and come back the following week. Dance lessons are that bridge.
“But the successful ones get it,” he said. “Therefore, 44 years.”
When will Montana Chads re-open? This Thursday at 9 p.m. The first band, the Bull Mountain Boys, will be there for the entire weekend.
The bar intends to be open seven days a week with the kitchen opening at 8 each morning. Dance lessons are planned each Monday nights, karaoke Tuesday nights, and dancing the rest. It is a bit sketchy yet, so call for particulars at 259-0111. The official grand opening begins the second week of March. The band? Dakota Country, for three weeks straight.
Last Updated on Thursday, 19 February 2015 12:43
RED LODGE — A little before the High Country Cowboys took to the stage Friday night at the Pollard Hotel, lead singer Marty Kosel was talking about the kind of show they put on.
“It’s like sing a song and sing another song,” he said. “Not a lot in between.”
Sure enough, in the course of a show that ran for four hours, Marty and his brothers, John and Joe, addressed the crowd only rarely and briefly between songs. But their audience — which filled every available seat, leaving a dozen or more people standing — didn’t seem to mind.
“Your chin hits the table when you hear them,” said Louise Jenkins, sitting with her husband, Ken.
Vicki Quick, sitting with her husband, Sam, said “I get goose bumps sometimes because they harmonize so well.”
Sam Quick said they first caught the High Country Cowboys last May, not long after they started playing the Pub at the Pollard, as the tavern is called. How often have the Quicks been back to hear them?
“About every time they play,” Vicki said. “We know they’re getting so good we’re afraid they’re going to leave.”
That’s a concern several other fans raised Friday night, and when you see these brothers play — and hear of their other amazing accomplishments — you will understand why their fans are worried.
The Kosel brothers, raised in a family of 12 children on Red Lodge Creek between Luther and Red Lodge, play old-time cowboy and country-western music with a sincerity and authenticity that are a wonder to behold.
Their harmonies are superb, their arrangements spare but compelling, and though they are all in their 20s you could close your eyes and swear you were hearing any of a number of singers who made their mark generations before the brothers were born.
They are all great singers, but Marty in particular has a voice that lives at some mystical intersection between Marty Robbins, Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison. Sometimes he sings with an effortless tremolo, and when he gets into an extended yodel you could imagine him reducing a Swiss mountaineer to tears.
They look the part, too, dressed impeccably in cowboy hats, snap-button shirts, scarf-ties, jeans, leather belts and cowboy boots.
Did we mention their other accomplishments? On the walls behind the stage are some of John’s oil paintings of western landscapes and cowboy vignettes. On display just off stage right is one of the beautifully tooled handmade saddles that Marty produces for a living.
And the guitars played by Marty and John? They were made by Joe, the bass-playing brother who says he doesn’t even know how to play a guitar. The instruments, made with exotic wood, look as good as they sound.
The boys grew up listening to country music. Their father, Andy, said his favorites were the Sons of the Pioneers, of which Roy Rogers was a founding member, and Marty Robbins. John said their dad also played guitar and sang some Hank Williams, “just around the house and that kind of stuff.”
The boys played brass instruments when they were younger, playing school-band music. Their careers as country singers began on Christmas Day about 10 years ago, when one of their older brothers (there are five boys and seven girls in the family) received a “how-to-yodel” CD and a DVD with lessons on singing three-part country-music harmonies.
John, the oldest of the trio at 28, said he first practiced harmonizing with his two older brothers, but over time it became a regular activity with Joe, 24, and Marty, 23. Then they took up their new instruments, Joe on bass, Marty on rhythm guitar and John on lead and rhythm guitar.
They figure they’ve been playing together about nine years and have worked up a repertoire of 200 songs or so, including a growing number of originals, but few people outside the family heard them until 2½ years ago, when they played for the lunch crowd at the Red Lodge Senior Center, where one sister is the manager and another runs the thrift store.
They’re still playing there a few times a month, regularly drawing crowds of 100 or more people, and last March they also started playing twice at month at the Pub at the Pollard. The first night was a big success.
“People didn’t know what to expect, but when they finished they got a standing ovation,” said Melissa Moore, sales manager for the Pollard Hotel. The acclaim has not died down.
“We had to tear down a wall they were so popular,” Moore said, and she wasn’t kidding. Six months ago, John and Joe, both of them carpenters, removed a wall to the pool room, which is now used for private parties and additional seating during shows at the pub. Moore said the pub, with seating for 85, is usually fully booked in advance when the High Country Cowboys perform.
Friday night, the Kosel boys demonstrated the hold they have on an audience. Marty deployed his awe-inspiring yodel on a handful of songs, did a fair imitation of an Australian on “Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport,” then did a hyper-fast rendition of “The Auctioneer’s Song.”
John, when he sang lead vocals, displayed a clear, plaintive style reminiscent of Hank Williams. Joe, like Marty, impressed with his tremolo and his broad range. At one point, when Joe was singing Marty Robbins’ “Big Iron,” he suddenly forgot the words.
The boys kept strumming as they silently conferred and then, without missing a beat, Joe picked up where he left off. The packed pub erupted into cheers and applause. That’s how good the High Country Cowboys are: their fans even applaud their mistakes.
But when the boys sang their three-part harmonies, the crowd really responded. You could look around the room and see ear-to-ear grins, people laughing with delight, couples exchanging looks of wonderment.
Six of the boys’ sisters were there Friday, along with their parents, Andy and Margaret. Their mother said they don’t take in every show.
“We come out every month or so,” she said. “We hear them at home all the time. They have to sing for their Sunday breakfast.” As for their skills, she said, “it’s a natural, God-given talent.”
But even God-given talents must be honed. Margaret acknowledged it was something of a trial when four or five of her sons were all trying to learn how to yodel at the same time.
“It was painful to hear them learn it,” she said, “We told them, if you’re gonna yodel, you go outside.”
The Kosels moved from Washington state to the Red Lodge area 25 years ago. Andy was a Chevrolet mechanic in town for many years and these days he does chainsaw carvings. The children all attended public school until 17 or 18 years ago, when Andy and Margaret decided to home-school them.
Margaret said they are strong Catholics, and they eventually couldn’t tolerate what the public schools were offering, morally or educationally. In addition to regular subjects, the children were always working on crafts of one kind or another in a big shop attached to their house.
The brothers like to brag that their sister, Joan — they’re pretty sure she’s 31; they couldn’t quite agree on that — is the most talented member of the clan. She is an accomplished woodcarver, “what they call an award-winning artist,” in John’s words.
John, Joe and Marty all talk about their craftsmanship the way they speak of their music, saying they just picked it up, learning by doing, trial and error.
“We were just born into it, you might say,” John said.
Marty has sold 11 or 12 guitars for $1,500 to $2,000 each, John regularly sells his oil paintings and Marty makes a living off his saddle-making. John and Joe supplement their incomes doing carpentry. At the moment they’re engaged in building a big addition on the senior center, which will house a much larger thrift store.
They also record their own music at their home studio, having produced four CDs so far, and they’ve got two videos, on filmed at the Pub at the Pollard. The other features an original song of theirs.
There are still eight children at home. John said “everybody gets along good,” and they are also inclined to stay home because their mother has Lyme disease and uses a wheelchair.
“It works out, everybody living at home,” John said, “because we can take turns taking her where she needs to go.”
They’re willing to play music outside of Red Lodge, as long as it’s close to home. They’ve performed at a few private parties in Billings and at a few events, including the Cowboy and Cowgirl Reunion, sponsored last weekend by the Montana Pro Rodeo Hall and Wall of Fame in Billings.
They’re booked to play the Joliet Community Center on March 14, and their next show at the Pub at the Pollard is set for Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day.
The music, as their fans in Red Lodge would agree, seems destined to take the boys wherever they want to go, despite their reluctance to stray far from home. For now, they’re just enjoying how much people in Red Lodge enjoy their music.
“I’m pleased that they appreciate what the boys can do,” their mother said. “And the more they appreciate it, the more the boys can do.”
Last Updated on Thursday, 12 February 2015 13:37
Winter ArtWalk chases away the snow, ice and doldrums of short, dark days on Friday, Feb. 6, from 5–9 p.m. More than 30 galleries, museums, studios and other “art-worthy” venues in downtown Billings will participate. Many sites offer music and refreshments. Featured artists are often in attendance.
Winter ArtWalk will proceed, regardless of the weather. Participation is free. Maps are available at all participating sites and www.artwalkbillings.com. More information about participating artists is on Facebook.com/billingsartwalk and the website.
• Anderson Art Studio and Gallery brightens Minnesota Avenue during Winter ArtWalk with work presented by six Billings area artists. Part of the Rural Yellowstone Cohort Montana Artrepreneur Program and a project of the Montana Arts Council, the artists, all women, include Dana Zier (oils), Dixie Yelvington, Jennette Rasch, Terri Porta, Bonnie Eldredge (landscapes) and Laura Marie Anderson (portraits). MAP helps artists develop a sustainable business in art and creates an artist network to address isolation in rural areas.
• Apple Gallery at Good Earth Market welcomes Carol Lindahl Murray and her mixed media works to ArtWalk. Murray collects vintage and lot photos, paints over them and them embellishes them with beadwork. Her titles come from notations on the backs of the photos. The emerging images bring other cultures alive and tell stories in a fresh, new way.
• MIXX9, a collaborative, curated exhibit by nine regional and contemporary artists, offers a unique view of different disciplines, media and forms at Billings Open Studio.
Curated by Jane Waggoner Deschner, and showing for one night only, MIXX9 includes work by Mark Earnhart and Tracy Linder (sculpture), Jon Lodge and Jane Waggoner Deschner (mixed media), David Knobel and Neltje (painting), Jodi Lightner (drawing) and Patrick Smith and Sarah Knobel (photography). Neltje is from Wyoming. All others are working artists from Billings.
• Robert Martinez (Northern Arapahoe) joins Alaina Buffalo Spirit (Northern Cheyenne) and Ben Pease (Crow and Northern Cheyenne) at the Chinatown Gallery for a showing of contemporary American Indian art. The trio incorporate traditional images, myth and tribal Indian traditions to address contemporary and historic issues. Martinez uses air brush techniques with acrylic and pencil drawings. Buffalo Spirit works on ledger paper; Pease works in acrylic and mixed media.
Other artists at Chinatown for Winter ArtWalk include Elena Larson (felted wool), Dan and Tammi Capron and Peter Herzog (photography).
• CTA Architects Engineers showcases AIA student works during the Winter ArtWalk. This exhibit, shown at CTA’s Helena office and at Cheever Hall on the Montana State University Bozeman campus, includes presentation boards, models and photographs retained by the MSU School of Architecture from student works created during the 2014 school year.
• Eight creative women, self-titled “604,” debut their collective work at the Downtown Billings Alliance during Winter Artwalk. Bonded by their shared creative drive, each artist has her own style, medium and approach.
Artists and their work include Lynne Thorpe’s large, surrealistic landscapes in oil; Carol Welch’s colorful, abstract watercolors on canvas; Brownie Snyder’s “The Lesser Ruins” encaustic series; and Carrie Hannah Sharp’s new functional and decorative pottery.
Scotta Anderson’s paintings “capture a sense of the quiet and solitude hidden and unnoticed in the everyday.” Julie Pederson’s graphite drawings find the “extraordinary” in the “ordinary.” Lisa Hall ventures into new territory with several playful encaustics. Susan Stone exhibits her “Los Santos Negros” abstract series based upon historic events.
• Gallery Interiors will open at its new location, 2814 Second Ave. N., for Winter ArtWalk. Most recently, this location was home to Bottega Clothing. Before Bottega, it was Nicholas Fine Art Gallery, where many of the artists now showing at Gallery Interiors began their careers. It is a terrific space with tall ceilings and a mezzanine to showcase fine art and lovely home furnishings.
• Connie Dillon introduces a playful new series reminiscent of simpler, long, warm summer days as she explores the color, light reflections and intricacies of “cat-eye” marbles in several works displayed in Gallery Nine on the second
floor of the Carlin Hotel.
• Melissa Burns inaugurates her new studio, Girlwood, during the Winter ArtWalk. She features wood burning, or pyrography, in her art. She draws each piece on wood, burns it and finishes with a stain or color accent. Pieces include jewelry, signs, functional items, and just about anything made of wood.
Girlwood is in the middle of the block between First and Second avenues North on North 30th Street. It is one-half block south of Kennedy’s Stained Glass, above the soon-to-be open Art House Cinema.
•The Potter’s Guild of MSU Billings, a student ceramic organization, comes downtown during Winter ArtWalk to show and sell its functional and sculptural pottery at Global Village. Global Village guarantees a festive ArtWalk event, no matter the weather.
• Harry Koyama Fine Art unveils new canvas giclee prints and new original paintings by Harry Koyama during Winter ArtWalk.
Harry Koyama Fine Art is located between Toucan Gallery and Tompkins Fine Art on Montana Avenue.
• HeARTstrings Gallery makes it downtown debut with a small works show centered around February’s theme of love. The show includes paintings by a range of community artists, from youth to seasoned. Each artist received the same canvas; the only given instruction was to include a heart in the composition.
• Jason Jam continues his pursuit of wit and whimsy with new illustrations in his popular, “Still Friends?” series. The series chronicles the unintentional destruction caused by a giant robot attempting to play the games that his small human friend enjoys. New ink and watercolor comics and new watercolor paintings are also displayed.
• Jens Gallery & Design showcases the drawings of Billings artist Gerald Kindsfather with an opening artist reception during Winter ArtWalk. Kindsfather is described as a minimalist who knows how to “take a line for a walk.” His exhibit, “Four Lines to a Lady,” captures the essence of the female form with pen, pencil, or charcoal and very few lines. “The challenge,” he says, “is to make what’s hard to do look very easy.”
• Kennedy’s Stained Glass introduces Valentine hearts and new mosaics at Winter ArtWalk.
Winged horse bowls, enameled cherry pit jewelry, photos on metal, horse ranch clay teapots and other eclectic works are part of the Northern Hotel’s Winter ArtWalk roundup hosted in the hotel’s historic lobby. Artists include: potters Cassy Crafton Kramer (504 Pottery), Tana Patterson and Wayne Smily (Rockin’ xxxx Pottery), photographer Ashley Prange (Sadfish Creative) and jewelers Lori Miller (Cherry Pit Jewelry) and Cindy Lou Smith (Stillwater Spirits). Also on display are landscapes by Karen Johnson.
• Billings photographer, Eric M. Jones, makes his downtown debut at Prohibition Clothiers during Winter ArtWalk. Many of his photographs, whether landmarks or commonplace, are set against the vast and majestic Montana blue sky.
• Sandstone Gallery welcomes Powell, Wyo., photographer, Pat Honstain, to its cadre of artists. Honstain is a lifelong Wyoming resident who spends “a good portion of her time wandering its back roads in search of images.” Her work is “guided by light, inspired by color and captured by texture and shape.“
• Stephen Haraden continues to “cut ‘em up” and “glue some together” to create new images at his working studio. Always affable and animated, Stephen looks forward to talking with you about his works in progress and showing selected “keeper” paintings from the series “How I got to this point.”
• Susan Germer’s working studio and gallery are on the second floor of the historic Carlin Hotel at 2501 Montana Avenue. Her neighbors are Jason Jam Gallery and Gallery Nine @ connie dillon fine art.
• Tompkins Fine Art features the vibrant, colorful work of Montana artist Sarah Morris.
Now living in Ennis, Morris continues to hold a loyal fan base in Billings, her former home. For Morris, “nothing is so natural and comfortable as a paint brush in her hands.” Look carefully at her work and you will see the influence of Kevin Red Star, one of her early mentors.
Also showing at Tompkins Fine Art is Powell, Wyo., artist Janet Bedford. Bedford relocated to Powell to follow her childhood dream to live in the West. The West still captures her imaginative spirit. Her focus, she says, “changes often like the ever changing light on the vast terrain.”
• The Toucan Gallery, birthplace of ArtWalk Downtown Billings, mixes art, music and recycling in its presentation of the music duo, Plots and Rocks, for Winter ArtWalk. Artisans and musicians Mark and Erica Millard perform spirited selections from folk, to Americana and bluegrass, on guitar, mandolin and other one-of-a-kind instruments made from cigar boxes, cookie tins and wine boxes.
• Silent and live auction items for the Yellowstone Art Museum’s Art Auction 47 are up for Winter ArtWalk. Works included in the Art Auction 47 include Carol Hagan’s “Head Honcho,” Kevin Red Star’s “Little Hawk,” and Arin Waddell’s “Poppy and Polka Dots No. 2.” Works by Billings Public Schools fifth-graders are showing in the Young Artists Gallery and works from the Montana Women’s Prison art program are also on view. Free admission, music and refreshments and a complimentary drink for new YAM members during ArtWalk.
• Ten members of the Underground Culture Krew will show their work at the Winter Artwalk. Weather permitting, there may be some live art as well. Gallery artists include Crystal Rieker (canvas), Jenna Martin and Ellen Kuntz (photography), Gloria Mang (fused glass) and Tina Jensen (pottery). Five area graffiti artists are also featured.
Last Updated on Thursday, 05 February 2015 16:25
While people in Billings may be more familiar with the Magic City Music Awards than the Native American Music Awards, those Nammys are a bit more prestigious. A national award show that celebrates numerous genres created by indigenous musicians across North America and its outlying islands, the Nammys have been held annually since 1998.
Northern Cheyenne guitarist and singer Gary Small is one of several Montana Native musicians honored by this institution. He will be showing a bit of why he has won three Nammys at the Garage Pub this Saturday, Feb. 7.
Gary Small and the Coyote’ Bros. just returned from the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tenn., where they made it to the semifinals. They are reigning Wyoming Blues Challenge winners, two years running.
Billings’ last opportunity to hear them in person was opening for Huey Lewis and the News at Magic City Blues at South Park in August.
But while this is one tight unit, “Purveyors of Fine Boogie Woogie,” they are also versatile enough to play rockabilly, Cajun and surf music. The trio consists of fellow Northern Cheyenne bassist Jobe Jennings and Bozeman-based drummer Mike Gillan.
Growing up as a Montana Native in Wyoming, there were only so many outlets for Small to ply his wares, so he spent several years performing in Portland, Ore. While there, he led the Gary Small Band, melding a blend of rock, reggae, Afro-Cuban and Latin music.
His soulful and fluid soloing style was often favorably compared to Carlos Santana, so it is no surprise that former Santana drummer Graham Lear, who was also based in the area, joined forces. The larger ensemble also included a keyboard player and the percussion of Bobby Keyes, whose career reaches back to a stint with Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen era.
Small won his first Nammy, Songwriter of the Year, in 2002 for his CD, “Wild Indians.” Subsequent Nammys have been awarded for Male Artist (2011) and Best Rock Recording (2007).
Other Montana Native musicians who have won Nammys include Blackfeet powwow drum groups Blackfoot Confederacy and Black Lodge Singers; fellow Northern Cheyenne flute player Joseph FireCrow; Blackfeet singer and songwriter Jack Gladstone; and Crow rapper Supaman’s former group, Rezawrecktion. Other Montana nominees have included Exit Wound (Northern Cheyenne guitarist Paul Underwood) and Crow hip-hop artist Evan Lee Cummins.
Small’s CDs include “Blues from the Coyote,” “Crazy Woman Mountain,” “Hostiles “I Don’t Play by the Rules” and the humorous “Wyoming (for Dummies).”
In 2006, Small led a tribute to Hall of Fame inductee Link Wray, the highly influential Shawnee guitarist known as the creator of both distorted guitar and the power chord.
The Garage Pub at Yellowstone Valley Brewing Co. will be open from 4-8 p.m. Music starts at 5 p.m. Cover is $5 at the door.
Expect to be entertained by one of the region’s top performers.
To learn more about Gary Small and the Coyote’ Bros., go to www.CoyoteBros.net or check out a video profile at www.EvenMore.tv. While there, check out profiles on Crow guitarist Jared Stewart and Crow hip-hop artist Supaman.
Last Updated on Thursday, 05 February 2015 16:08
A new website, www.EvenMore.tv, provides basic information to the public about outstanding contemporary Montana Native musicians.
The site features links to the musicians’ websites, music videos and to the videos in the Montana Indian Musician Profile Series. The series is produced by MusEco Media & Education Project in collaboration with the Indian education department at Montana’s Office of Public Instruction.
Drums and flutes are important instruments in the musical traditions of Montana’s Indian tribes. They carry on rich cultural traditions and are a vital part of many Native families’ daily lives.
But there is even more to American Indian music than drums and flutes. Many Native musicians in Montana and all across the country are creating music on more modern instruments. Guitars, basses, keyboards and even digital devices are used to make music that is more contemporary in origin.
Yes, the drum and flute are still often incorporated into the blues, rock, soul and hip-hop that is created in this modern era, but the music is definitely contemporary.
The Montana Indian Musician Profile Series is a series of videos about the music and stories of the contemporary musicians of Montana’s Indian nations. This project was initiated to enable a broader public awareness of the diverse musical contributions of Montana’s American Indians to the culture of our state and region, and to introduce the public to these individuals as role models of citizenship, creativity and entrepreneurship in the arts.
The new website, www.EvenMore.tv, introduces Montanans of all ages and interests to the outstanding talents and perspectives of some of our state’s most accomplished American Indian musicians. This will serve both the larger Montana community as well as Montana’s tribal communities.
Many people – if not most people - have no idea of the variety of contributions to contemporary music that American Indian artists are making, despite the large and vibrant population of American Indians in our state.
This project will finally begin to introduce the breadth of the ear-catching creativity of the Indian musicians of our state and region. The website and first three video profiles feature bluesman Jared Stewart and rapper Supaman of the Crow Nation, and songwriter/guitar player Gary Small of the Northern Cheyenne Nation. Two additional episodes in the series are currently in production, supported in part by grant funding from the Greater Montana Foundation.
Series producer and MusEco Education Director Scott Prinzing is a member of the Humanities Montana Speakers Bureau, through which he is available to give presentations about contemporary American Indian music and musicians anywhere in Montana.
Presentations are multimedia and their length can be anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours.
The curriculum guide that Prinzing wrote for OPI about contemporary American Indian music and musicians, “American Indian Music: Even More Than Drums and Flutes,” can be downloaded as a PDF at http://opi.mt.gov.
Excerpts from www.EvenMore.TV:
Jared Stewart is a member of the Crow (Absalooke) Nation of Montana and is probably one of Eastern Montana’s hardest working musicians. He has served as a representative to the Crow Nation’s tribal legislature and is a motivational speaker, but when playing the blues, he lets his guitar do much of the motivational speaking. He has won numerous local awards for his playing, singing and recordings in the Billings area. His CDs include “No Color in the Blues” and “Indian Summer.” Jared pursues fitness of mind and body by competing in Mixed Martial Arts.
Gary Small is a member of the Northern Cheyenne Nation in Montana. Gary Small and his bands (The Coyote Bros. and The Gary Small Band) have won multiple Native American Music Awards (NAMA or Nammy) and Small himself, raised in Montana and Wyoming, won the Songwriter of the Year Nammy in 2002. He is a versatile musician who plays blues, Latin, reggae and rockabilly with equal authority.
Supaman is Christian Parrish Takes the Gun and is a fancydancer and hip-hop artist. He has dedicated his life to empowering youth and educating listeners with a message of hope by being a cultural ambassador and by sharing his music. He is also a member of the Crow Nation, is a strong advocate for living drug and alcohol free, and encourages others to follow that path. After keeping his fancydancing and rapping pursuits separate for over a decade, he combined them in the 2014 video, “Prayer Loop Song,” which received almost 700,000 plays in nine months on YouTube. This much-in-demand dancer/rapper/comedian performs all over North America. He is also in high demand for his school presentations.
Last Updated on Thursday, 05 February 2015 16:07
I’ve often thought that opera is like liver: You either love it or hate it. Thanks to the work of Doug Nagel and the Rimrock Opera Company, I’ve discovered I love it. You might, too.
If you’ve never experienced opera, Rimrock Opera’s interpretation of “Susannah” is a great place to start. The libretto is in English, and it adapts melodic themes from recognizable American folk and gospel tunes.
“Susannah” is an American work by Carlyle Ford that won the New York Music Critics Circle Award for Best New Opera in 1956, debuting during the McCarthy witch hunts. The fictional town of New Hope Valley is a microcosm of the national malaise of the period.
The name Susannah references the Bible story of Susannah and the elders in the Apocryphal book of Daniel. A lovely young woman bathes in the pool in her garden, watched by lustful older men. They attempt to blackmail her into having sex with them. When she refuses, they accuse her of adultery.
However, a young man, Daniel, comes to her aid and the elders are executed instead.
The modern opera story unfolds in the fictional town of New Hope Valley, Tenn., a small Appalachian town with a population of even narrower views than the landscape. The heroine, 18-year-old Susannah, played by Amy Logan, earns the censure of fellow townspeople because of her beauty and innocence. She is convicted by gossip and ostracized.
Instead, the citizens flock to the services of a smooth talking, traveling evangelist, the Rev. Blitch, (yes, Blitch, not the other word,) sung by Doug Nagel. The reverend, not so holy, has his way with the hapless Susannah.
Susannah’s brother Sam, played by Montana State University Billings student Jason Scarborough, becomes his sister’s avenger. You will recognize all of these classic characters: heroes, heroine and villains.
For this production, Professor Nagel has cast many of his MSU Billings voice students, most of whom he’s introduced to opera.
“I love teaching,” he said. “Right now, I have 18 voice students. I want to believe that I’m making a difference.” His students agree.
“My mom used to send me Rimrock Opera programs to try to get me to come home, (to Billings)” said Kristy Dallas. “I came back and Doug got me interested in opera in 2010. He’s an amazing teacher.”
“He recruited me,” said Gavin Hayes. Hayes drove weekly from Miles City to study voice with Professor Nagel. Now he’s in the opera.
Mikayla Burpee is in the MSU Billings Connections Program and a senior in high school. She’s already been in “Phantom of the Opera” and “Les Miserables.”
“Live (opera) is a lot of fun,” she said. “I did ‘Aida’ with Doug and it was a blast.”
Kate Meyer is a counter-contralto, a very unusual voice, with the lowest female range.
“I was a theater major,” she said. “One semester with Doug, and I’m a voice major. It was happy surprise.”
“It’s my 11th opera,” said Kelly Deiling. “Doug and Amy Logan (her choir teacher at Skyview High School) got me into it.”
Baritone Jason Webster was a backup for a messenger in ”Aida” and stepped into the role at the last minute. He sings the part of Elder Gleaton in “Susannah.”
“Jason’s voice is growing,” said Professor Nagel. Expect a lot of youthful enthusiasm to add zest to this production.
Rimrock Opera’s first 2015 production also represents a new beginning for Professor Nagel.
“This is my return to the stage after my mother, Helen, dying,” he said. “There’s something about being on stage that changes your perspective.”
Anyone involved with opera in Billings knew Helen Nagel. Some of us have to strive to be women of dignity and honor. Mrs. Nagel did not. She was a quiet support at every performance and is missed.
Last Updated on Thursday, 29 January 2015 12:31
In the 50-some years since Martin Luther King Jr. campaigned for African-American rights, some aspects of his legacy have begun to fade from memory. Many people know King’s “I Have a Dream” speech by heart.
However, few can remember concrete details about the March on Washington or the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery marches. Even fewer can tell you much about King himself.
Of all the virtues of Ava DuVernay’s film “Selma,” perhaps the most important is that it brings an important and slowly forgotten story from the Civil Rights movement back to the forefront of the public consciousness 50 years after it first occurred.
Selma chronicles the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches that took place in order to raise awareness of the need for African-American voting rights. African-Americans were legally able to vote, but local governments in the South often put up barriers that prevented them from voting.
The film tells us that, in 1965, 50 percent of Alabama’s population was African-American. Only 2 percent of those people were able to vote.
However, the issues at stake were much bigger than simple voting rights. As King (played here by the talented David Oyelowo) tells us in the film, voting rights were directly connected to ending the persecution of African-Americans. Whites who committed crimes against blacks were not indicted because the white jury almost always voted in their favor.
Only when African-Americans could serve on a jury could there be true justice for these criminals. And they couldn’t serve on a jury if they couldn’t vote.
The film begins with King’s acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and ends with passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. In between, it shows the many struggles faced by King, his family and his followers.
In so doing, DuVernay is careful to not idealize King or any of the other marchers. In the film, King is shown to experience moments of doubt and fear. It also hints briefly at the man’s extramarital affairs.
However, King is also shown to be courageous, charismatic and committed to his cause. The man’s religious faith, often overlooked and forgotten, is shown to be the catalyst for his campaign for social justice.
He is also shown to be unexpectedly shrewd. “Selma” tells us that King’s use of nonviolent methods wasn’t just about taking the moral high road (although that is a part of it).
Rather, King wanted to show the world that African-Americans were taking abuse. King knew that, when people around the world saw this, outrage would follow. Outrage would, in turn, be followed by change.
Though King is the central character in DuVernay’s film, the director also remembers other historical figures who played a key role in the fight for voting rights. Some, such as Malcolm X and President Johnson (played here by Tom Wilkinson), have been remembered by history, while others have been forgotten.
For example, consider white pastor James Reeb (Jeremy Strong), who comes to Selma because “I can’t stand by while God’s people get hurt.” Reeb was one of two people killed during the events leading up to the marches.
Through the depictions of these and other characters, DuVernay provides a stark reminder that the people who instituted change in the U.S. 50 years ago were men and women just like us. They simply chose to stand up and do what they felt was right.
“What happens when a man stands up and says enough is enough?” King asks a friend.
“The world knocks him back down,” the man replies sadly.
Indeed, King and his followers were knocked down many times. However, they never failed to get back up, dust themselves off, and continue marching for what was good, right and true.
Selma is playing four times daily at Shiloh 14. The two-hour long film is rated PG-13 for “disturbing thematic material including violence, a suggestive moment, and brief strong language."
Last Updated on Sunday, 25 January 2015 15:27
LAUREL — Next to the cash register at the Owl Café, there is a framed menu from the restaurant’s grand opening on Aug. 13, 1916. At the bottom of the menu it says: “Patrons will be entertained with music.”
Now, just shy of 100 years later, new owner Kathy Boyd can make the same promise, at least on Saturday mornings. She has revived the “bluegrass Saturday breakfast” tradition that made the Prairie Winds Café in tiny Molt so popular from 2001 until it closed in 2013.
Bringing in the bluegrass was suggested by John Letcher, a Laurel resident who has been a fan of Boyd’s cooking for years.
“She has quite the following,” Letcher said. “She’s a pretty famous cooking person around Laurel.”
Letcher was also friends with Larry and LaLonnie Larson, residents of Molt who cooked up the idea of playing music at the Prairie Winds. Letcher figured the Larsons’ band, Highway 302, would be perfect for the Owl.
He suggested it to Boyd, and she was game. As Letcher put it, “I knew her and I knew Larry and those guys, so it just kind of clicked.”
Highway 302 kicked off the new tradition on Saturday, Jan. 10, then played again last Saturday. As in Molt, the music will run every Saturday from 9 to noon. The first week there was a good crowd, but last Saturday, after small blurbs ran in newspapers, the place was packed.
Spur of the Moment is scheduled to play this Saturday, and other bluegrass bands from the area are making arrangements to get a performance rotation going. Boyd said Larry Larson “got me hooked up with all kinds of other bluegrass bands.”
Among the crowd last weekend were Lynn and Bill Solberg of Laurel, who showed up with their granddaughter, Ember. Ember got up at one point and plucked along on LaLonnie Larson’s upright bass as the band played “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.”
Lynn Solberg said they don’t normally venture out quite so early, and her husband added, “But we got up for this.”
Boyd said her first job in Laurel, when she moved there from Nebraska 20 years ago, was cooking at the Owl. The café has been through several owners over the years, and Boyd started working on calling it her own more than a year ago.
She worked at other restaurants in Laurel before buying the Owl, and lots of people who followed her from restaurant to restaurant are excited that she’s found a home.
“I’m pretty proud because I feel like I have groupies,” she said.
She said she’s taken the menu back to basic ’50s and ’60s offerings, and “just about everything we do here is homemade,” including bread pudding and cabbage rolls. She serves lots of side pork at breakfast and lots of burgers and fries at lunch. Dinner standards include chicken-fried steak, pork chops, liver and onions and “wonderful cod for fish and fries.”
The Owl is about three times bigger than the Prairie Winds, with seating for 130, not counting seats in the banquet room behind the main dining area.
The café is open seven days a week at 203 E. Main St., next door to the old Sonny O’Day’s bar. It opens every day at 6 a.m. and closes at 8 p.m., except on Sunday, when it closes at 3. Starting in February, Boyd plans to stay open 24 hours on Fridays and Saturdays.
Boyd said the Owl has been “a mainstay around here forever. I’m very proud of the tradition, and that’s what I’m trying to bring back.”
LaLonnie Larson knows about that tradition.
“My mom was born in 1923,” she said, “born and raised in Belfry, Montana, and she said she remembered riding the bus to music festivals in Billings and stopping at the Owl Café to eat. The Owl Café — it’s just been there.”
As at the Prairie Winds, musicians get a free breakfast and whatever tips are thrown their way, usually into an open mandolin or guitar case. LaLonnie said Highway 302 had a fine time at the Owl and is looking forward to more Saturdays there.
“Musicians need a place to play,” she said. “They just only want to be warm and dry. And if it’ll help that little gal get her place off the ground, that’ll be great.”
Last Updated on Sunday, 25 January 2015 14:59
As I started to ponder my picks for the top 10 albums of 2014, the 2015 Grammy nominations were announced. I couldn’t help but notice how much the nominations mirrored my thoughts on the year in music.
Mainstream pop radio has reached historic levels for being vapid and disposable. And it’s telling that only Beyonce’s self-titled album got a Grammy nomination in the marquee album of the year category – in which commercial performance of the albums factor into the voting. Not to diss nominees Ed Sheeran, Beck and Pharrell Williams, but it looked obvious that Grammy voters had few options in this important category. The only album of the year nominee on my top 10 list is Sam Smith’s “In the Lonely Hour,” and Smith should clean up come Grammy night. (FYI: Taylor Swift’s “1989” won’t be eligible until 2016.)
But all was not lost in 2014. Rock, country and Americana had strong years, and 2015 Grammy nominees from those genres are littered across my list of top albums. It was such a good year that albums from the Black Keys, Tom Petty, the New Pornographers and Jack White - which would have cracked the top 10 in many other years – only made my honorable mention.
So let’s celebrate a year that was deep in superior albums. They didn’t all light up the charts, but these albums sure brightened my year.
1. Eric Church: “The Outsiders” (EMI) – One of mainstream country’s boldest artists, Church not only breaks new ground on “The Outsiders” – at times he completely obliterates it. “That’s Damn Rock and Roll” delivers more than its title promises, as Church injects grimy funk, rap and good ol’ Southern rock into this tasty track. The title song, with its heavy texture and an adventurous instrumental passage that almost qualifies as prog-metal, is unlike anything anyone’s ever put on a country album. The sassy “Cold One,” subverts the expected theme (“She had her feet up the cooler/As she put our love on ice”) and then tops things off by erupting into a furious fast-picking segment that would make Charlie Daniels envious. Such brave and creative moments make the “The Outsiders” my album of the year.
2. St. Vincent: “St. Vincent” – The artist otherwise known as Annie Clark goes even deeper into a synthy/electronic sound on this, her fourth album. And underneath the cool sonics, she combines killer hooks and a left-of-center edge on prickly pop-rock tunes like “Birth In Reverse,” “Regret” and “Digital Witness”), and smart, sometimes provocative lyrics (“Prince Johnny”). Her earlier albums were good, but “St. Vincent” suggests Clark is really hitting her stride now as a songwriter and performer.
3. Lana Del Rey: “Ultraviolence” – On “Ultraviolence,” Del Rey sounds like she walked out of a scene in “Blue Velvet,” part seductress, part scarred survivor, yearning to tempt the thrill and hurt of love all over again. The music fits the “Blue Velvet” motif, too, as ballads like “Shades of Cool,” “Pretty When You Cry” and “The Other Woman” are the musical equivalent of film noir, filled with sensuality, danger and beauty. And Del Rey, with her striking and silky voice, is ideally suited to the dramatic darkly hued songs that make “Ultraviolence” such a captivating work.
4. The Black Keys: “Turn Blue” - Once you get over the shock of hearing the dreamy Pink Floyd-ish textures of “Weight of Love” or the sleek synthy soul of the title song and “10 Women,” the depth and creativity – not to mention quality – of “Turn Blue” shines through.
Bits of the Black Keys’ familiar gritty garage blues-rock surface in the grooving soul-rock of “In Time,” and the uber-catchy “Fever.” And “Gotta Get Away” gives “Turn Blue” one stellar rocker that reaches back to the Black Keys’ earlier sound. But mostly, “Turn Blue” is the sound of this duo of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney exploding any expectations or limits created by their earlier music and emerging with a fresh and exciting album.
5. Rosanne Cash: “The River and the Thread” – With “The River and the Thread,” Cash explores her roots in the South – both geographically and in the music of the Delta region – specifically reclaiming her Memphis roots, while also tipping her hat to Alabama and Mississippi.
Her perceptive and emotionally resonant thoughts are expressed in a collection of melodic rough-hewn ballads (balanced by the occasional friskier tune), making for a rich addition to Cash’s catalog of excellent albums.
6. Sam Smith: “In the Lonely Hour” – With his falsetto to die for and several genuinely stunning soul-laced pop ballads – “I’m Not The Only One“ is as good as a ballad gets – Smith sounded destined for big things before he hauled in a half-dozen 2015 Grammy nominations.
Several songs could have easily gotten Manilow-esque over-production, but Smith’s producers wisely kept things fairly restrained, leaving space for Smith’s amazing voice to work its magic.
7. Ty Segall: “Manipulator” – Eight releases into an adventurous career, Segall’s wide ranging influences – punk, psychedelic, glam, metal, prog rock – coalesce into his most focused song set in “Manipulator.” Seventeen songs deep, “Manipulator” covers lots of ground – the acoustic glam punk on “Tall Man Skinny Woman,” stunning Lennon/Bowie-esque drama on “The Singer,” driving dirty blues-rock on “Feel” and intense psychedelia on “Susie Thumb.” Nearly every song is a winner from a bold and talented artist who just keeps getting better.
8. St. Paul and The Broken Bones: “Half the City” – If “Half the City” had come out in the late 1960s, it might have gone down as one of the era’s better soul albums. Instead this auspicious debut introduces us to a talented new band fronted by a powerhouse singer (Paul Janeway).
The group simmers sweetly on ballads like “Grass Is Greener” and “It’s Midnight,” gets jazzy on “Don’t Mean A Thing” and evokes classic Memphis soul with the killer horn riffs of “That Glow.”
9. Miranda Lambert: “Platinum” – Lambert’s earlier albums established her as a whip-smart, take-no-you-know-what country rabble rouser. And that spirited and downright funny gal (“What doesn’t kill you only makes you blonder” from the song “Platinum”) is very much present on this ambitious 16-song set. But Lambert also finds room for a wistful ballad with “Smokin’ and Drinkin’” (a collaboration with Little Big Town) and ponders a time not long ago when people didn’t seem so entitled (on the song “Automatic”). Could a little more maturity and wisdom be creeping into Lambert’s music? Yes, and it adds some welcome color and depth to Lambert’s artistry.
10. Taylor Swift: “1989” – Swift had already gone pop on her 2012 album, “Red,” but the glossy, synth-heavy sound of “1989” puts her squarely in step with today’s commercial pop trends. And Swift is aiming for a blockbuster with this album, working with several hit-making co-writers/producers (Ryan Tedder, Max Martin, Jack Antonoff), to create songs with maximum accessibility and (fortunately) more smarts than most of fluff dominating pop radio. Sorry, Charli (and Ariana, Iggy, Miley), there’s a new queen of pop, and she came from Nashville.
Honorable mention: New Pornographers: “Brill Bruisers,” Foo Fighters: “Sonic Highways,” Rodney Crowell: “Tarpaper Sky,” Weezer: “Everything Will Be Alright in the End,” Tom Petty: “Hypnotic Eye,” Sharon Van Etten: “Are We There,” Jackson Browne: “Standing in the Breach,” Against Me!: “Transgender Dysphoria Blues,” John Hiatt: “Terms of My Surrender,” Gaslight Anthem: “Get Hurt,” Jenny Lewis: “The Voyager,” Jack White: “Lazaretto,” Spoon: “They Want My Soul,” Leonard Cohen: “Popular Problems,” The Both: “The Both.”
Last Updated on Thursday, 01 January 2015 16:14