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The Brass Rail shows its roots
“Roots Music” Invades Fort Wayne July 19 - 26
By Ben Larson
Fort Wayne Reader
The week of July 19-26 will contain a series of shows at local club The Brass Rail that will not only guarantee a great time, but also demonstrates that Fort Wayne has landed squarely on the map in regards to roots-based music.
The week is book-ended by the return of living legend T-Model Ford on the 19th, and Bob Wayne on the 26th. Between these shows The Rail will once again host The Black Diamond Heavies on the 21st, and one-man-band Scott H. Biram’s first stop in Ft. Wayne on the 25th.
The purpose of this article is two-fold. First, I wanted to give readers some information on the people associated with the week, both performers and locals, so that people would know what to expect from this series of shows. Also, I talked to the different performers about their music, backgrounds, philosophies, and the reason they have all either decided to come back to Fort Wayne, or, in the case of Biram, what made him decide to come here for the first time.
The first person I spoke to was local promoter, and co-owner of the local chapter of Hillgrass Bluebilly Entertainment, Jeff Anderson. Anderson personally booked the T-Model Ford show, which will also feature Seattle’s Gravel Road, Chris Cotton, and local boys Left Lane Cruiser. Brenn Beck, drummer for LLC and the other half of the local Hillgrass Bluebilly chapter, booked The Black Diamond Heavies show and the Scott H. Biram show. Anderson is handling the bulk of the promotion for all three shows.
I was surprised to learn that, initially, there was no plan to have all of these shows in the span of a week’s time. “It all just fell together, basically,” Anderson told me. “I had a hold for T-Model for that Sunday . . . and Brenn asked if I could handle the Heavies and Biram [in regards to promotion] because he was supposed to be on the HBE tour that week.” After a phone call to the Brass Rail, Anderson said he learned that Bob Wayne would be there the next Sunday, and together everyone decided to just associate all of the shows and make it a “week of awesomeness,” according to Anderson. “It was all a happy accident,” he says.
The next person I talked to was Marty Rinsel of Gravel Road, the band with which T-Model Ford tours these days. I wasn’t able to talk to T. directly, but Marty and I had a great conversation about both Gravel Road and T-Model Ford. He told me that the bandmates first came together through a mutual love of Mississippi hill country blues, and artists such as Junior Kimbrough and T-Model Ford. He then described how he met Ford. “We wanted to get closer to the music,” he said. “So in 2005 we went down to Mississippi and just got taken in by the locals.” He made sure to mention the famous Southern hospitality they received, adding “that was the first time I met T-Model and got to play with him.”
“Fast-forward to 2008,” he told me, “and that release coincided with T-Model needing some tour support.” The rest, as they say, is history, and we then talked about how Gravel Road and T-Model Ford ended up first coming to Fort Wayne. Apparently, Rinsel met Brenn from LLC a couple of years ago at a show in Evansville, IN, and the two have been associating with each other ever since. This then led to Gravel Road and T-Model starting their first tour together in Fort Wayne. Now, anyone who was there knows that Rinsel was not exaggerating when he said, in regards to that show, “that was madness, man.” It was definitely one of the most intense experiences I have ever had at any show, and I suspect I am nowhere near the only one.
In regards to T-Model himself, Rinsel said “he’s an inspiration. He’s eighty-eight years old and he’s tough as nails,” citing the uncanny endurance displayed by the bluesman at his age. “That’s what’s keeping him alive,” he also told me. “he called [what he does] ‘life giving music,’ and I liked that because it really is life giving to him. [The music] has a reciprocal quality to it that, without it, I don’t think he’d have as much to live for.” The same can be said for many people Ford’s age. It’s well proven that people tend to live longer when they have a job to do, and for T-Model Ford that job is touring America and playing small clubs like The Brass Rail.
I also got to talk to Van Campbell, one half of The Black Diamond Heavies, who will be playing on the 21st along with Left Lane Cruiser. This will be the Heavies’ fourth time in Fort Wayne, and I was specifically interested in what keeps the organ/drums duo coming back. “It’s always been really good in terms of the audience,” he said. “The first time we played there was Left Lane Cruiser’s CD release party, which was like Lollapalooza or something. It was really awesome, and we’ve been hitting [Fort Wayne] ever since because we love it.” A thanks should be offered to the Heavies, too, because it was after that show that they became instrumental in making Fort Wayne known on the tour circuit. “That’s the first thing that happens with our little family of bands. If we find a cool place the first thing we do is tell everyone about it.” Campbell also made sure to mention Chris Johnson, the man behind the Deep Blues Festival, as being instrumental in getting these similar groups together. “A lot of the bands that are playing in Fort Wayne that week are also playing that festival.”
The Heavies also played a large role in getting Scott H. Biram here, who was the next person I contacted. Biram will be making his first trip to the Fort on the 25th, and asked him how this came about. “My friends and tour buddies, the Black Diamond Heavies, said that the shows were off the hook there and everybody had a good time, and that I HAD to play there.” He then went on to say “sometimes small town gigs are the most fun. I trust my buddies, so that's how I decided. Also, my other tour buddies Left Lane Cruiser are from there and they made it possible for me to come.”
One of the things that makes Biram unique among his peers are the direct influences he draws from. Apart from the usual suspects such as Lightnin’ Hopkins and Leadbelly, Biram also claims influence from AC/DC, Metallica, and even Black Flag. “That's what's great about being a one man band,” he said. “I play Blues, Country, Bluegrass, Punk, Hard Rock, and Metal. I don't limit myself to one genre.” Biram did state that a family trip to go see Doc and Merle Watson as a kid was instrumental in introducing him to older styles of music, but said he originally played in punk bands as a teenager. “I got really into old blues and bluegrass recordings when I was about 18. I'm 35 now.”
Next, I talked to Bob Wayne, who will be rounding out the week on the 26th. Wayne was booked by John Commorato to play that night, and is the only performer that week with no ties to Hillgrass Bluebilly. This is Wayne’s third time in Fort. Wayne, and, when I asked what keeps him coming back, he said “it’s all in the name. I’m Bob Wayne, and this is Fort Wayne.” We were made for each other (and actually, for you trivia-minded folks out there, Bob’s heritage goes back to the original Wayne family here). “Everyone with the last name Wayne loves Fort Wayne,” he added (I suspect for my benefit). He did say, in all seriousness, that he will literally play anywhere. “I’ll play your back yard if you book me,” he said, and this is actually one of the things that he is well known for. The man will play anywhere, anytime, as long as he gets a booking.
Wayne did cite a specific love for playing smaller, less known places, saying that’s where he gets the best audiences. “I’ve had that happen a few times where I get a message saying something like ‘hey, come play in Fort Wayne!’ and I’m like OK, and we pull up and there’s a hundred people there.” He also stressed the influence word-of-mouth has in places like Fort Wayne. “As far as big cities go, L.A. is good, and Seattle is good, but it seems like its the smaller towns where we do really good.” He gave as other examples as being Knoxville and even Panama City. “We play crazy places that your average band won’t play,” he said. “I’d rather play shows where they’re like ‘come play my local barn.”’ Lastly, for all you Hank III fans out there, Wayne will be touring with him this fall. The shows will mostly be in Europe, though, so there’s not much hope of a Wayne/Hank show anywhere near here.
The last person I talked to was John Commorato, co-owner of Brass Rail. He rounded out my series of interviews by giving some perspective on why this week just couldn’t have happened three years ago. “First, we just didn’t have adequate gear for some of these guys,” he said. Since buying the bar, Commorato also said “we’ve been able to gain a track record with most of these acts, as well as some recognition.” And lastly, we both agreed that three years ago no one knew we were even here (except for maybe Bob Wayne, of course), and it’s been the tireless work of the promoters and some great word of mouth that have helped put the city on someone’s map.
Hopefully, you’ll make it out to one of the week’s great shows, and, if you do, don’t be afraid to say hi to any one of the night’s acts, because that’s what keeps them all doing it.