Music Issue 2007: That sound you hear is innovation

Jul 24, 2007 at 7:44 pm

My very first show was at Tewligan’s Tavern, probably spring of 1991 or 1992. Four bands played: Bush League, Indignant Few, Sunspring and Cinderblock. I knew nothing about punk rock or local music. I went because my friends did.

I don’t like walking into a situation without some sort of clue, some context, some shred of information to cling to. But at Tewligan’s, I had none of these. I stood in the back half of the music room and watched as Cinderblock guitarist Tim Ruth plucked the opening staccato guitar to “Precious.” Then, as the chorus kicked in, singer Dave Pollard peeled my face off with a howling verse.

Near the front of the stage, kids went ballistic, devolving into a mess of bodily appendages. I poke fun at moshing when I see it now, but at this moment, it was new, the music was loud, and I was transfixed. None of the bands sounded alike: Bush League’s Sabbath-soaked brutality, Sunspring’s quirky fuzz, Indignant Few’s young, loud snottiness, Cinderblock’s funk menagerie. Four bands dialing in from different planets. How do you process that?

You don’t. You just watch and listen. Which is what I’ve done over and over, ever since.

Two weeks ago, somebody asked me what Louisville’s music scene is like. The only word that makes sense is “unpredictable.” I don’t know what to expect from bands here, and I don’t want to know. Mystery fuels innovation, and innovation is what Louisville music is all about. —Mat Herron


There’s no doubt the best thing to do on the South Side of Louisville is sit on your back porch, grill out, listen to the boom box and drink cheap beer till 5 a.m. with your buddies.

However, if you have some money and wanna go out, try Mike Linnig’s (9308 Cane Run Road, 937-1235) or Bakes Barbeque (5503 Valley Station Road, 935-0999). Bakes has some pretty good barbecue sauce, and Linnig’s will make you ask the question, “Can I get some to-go stuff?” Mike Linnig’s is also great because of its outdoor atmosphere — and 22-ounce beers, of course. A little closer to town is Vietnam Kitchen (5339 Mitscher Ave in Iroquois Manor, 363-5154). It’s a classic, but you’ll also be hungry in an hour. Sante Fe Mexican Restaurant (3000 S. Third St., 634-3722) is the bomb, and sometimes they serve Coca-Cola in a glass bottle, a true prize.

For drinking on the South Side, try Wick’s Pizza (10966 Dixie Highway, 995-4333) and St. Andrews Pub (7807 St. Andrews Church Road, 935-9265). St. Andrews stopped having bands for a while, but I heard they got some new insulation and are looking to book bands again. The sound in the pub is amazing. Wick’s has live music as well. But the best places to drink cheaply are the small hole-in-the-wall places where beer is, like, $1.25. You can’t beat that, but there sure are some funny people in those places, if you know what I mean. The funny thing is, I can’t ever remember the names of these bars — is that a sign? Also, I heard about this new place called B.J.’s Sports Pub (7017 Global Drive) that’s about ready to open. As far as bands go, the South Side gave birth to current psycho punk music of Gaj Mustafa Cell, Boxmaker and Porosus, metallic creeps like Antikythera, False and Stonecutters, and — last but not least — Kinghorse, My Own Victim and Cinderblock. Not for the faint-hearted.

One of my favorite things to do is hike at Iroquois Park with my dog. This is the greatest park within our city limits — 739 acres, almost twice the size of Cherokee Park. There are places where you can walk and actually avoid the sounds of the city. No park in Louisville can hold a candle to this.

Dave Johnson plays guitar and sings for The Glasspack. Their new album, Dirty Women, is out now on Small Stone Records,

DAHM Singer: Dead Child;
Singer/drummer: Phantom Family Halo

Dominic Cipolla: Dahm pulls double duty in Phantom Family Halo and Dead Child, which records its debut album this fall.
Dominic Cipolla: Dahm pulls double duty in Phantom Family Halo and Dead Child, which records its debut album this fall.
You are a huge Scott Walker fan. What is it about his music that inspires you?
There are so many levels to his music, it is hard to say. He will create the most beautiful sounds you may ever hear and then horrify you all within the same song. His lyrics are some of the best words ever written. We are lucky people to live in a time when Scott Walker is still alive and creating.

What do you want out of a rock show, whether it’s your band playing or someone else’s, and have those expectations changed?
Honest release. I want to believe what I’m seeing. I enjoy dramatic music very much, from the heaviest, loudest assault to the most melodic, heart-wrenching serenade.

Is metal making a comeback?

I don’t think so. People have been enjoying heavy music for a long time. It will always have its devoted audience.

Singing for two bands, how do you approach each one lyrically? Is there any overlap?

Not much overlap. The Phantom Family Halo comes directly from what’s going on in my head. How weird it is to be alive? What planet are we really from? Stuff like that. Dead Child is pretty much about having fun with my teenage comic-book/horror-movie fantasies.

What were some of the first shows you went to?

The first live performance I ever saw was “Jesus Christ Superstar” with my mom when I was about 9. This was a life-changing experience. I was obsessed with Judas’ character. A few weeks later, we went and saw Kiss. After that, there was no hope for me. —M.H.


Definition, structure — these concepts aren’t verboten to Catherine Irwin. She calls herself a country musician (“That’s the bin I hope to find myself in”) and embraces its artful limitations.
“A lot of times, I know how the songs are gonna go before they get to the end. I like a song that’s just like a song,” Irwin says of the craft. “It’s so limiting that it provides a certain structure I think that everybody could benefit from. It reins people in.”

Catherine Irwin: Photo by Jim Newberry
Catherine Irwin: Photo by Jim Newberry
Sure, if you want to, you can dig and dig and, in the end, discover subtle mutations in each album by Freakwater, Irwin’s collaboration with Janet Beveridge Bean, as well as Irwin’s first solo record, 2002’s Cut Yourself a Switch. But their commitment to avoid shapeshifting, to do that which you know intimately and nothing else, is the kind of anti-innovation that cries stability in a burning world knocked completely off its axis.
“Some (Freakwater) records have a lot more instrumentation on them. The last record
Catherine Irwin: Photo by Jim Newberry
Catherine Irwin: Photo by Jim Newberry
had drums. The record that I made myself, mostly it’s just all me,” Irwin says of Switch. “I don’t know whether that’s good or bad. I don’t know that I really believe in progress in general.”

Born in New Haven, Conn., but raised in Goshen, Ky., Irwin met Bean when they were kids and eventually formed Freakwater — a slang term for moonshine, although the two might not have known it at the time. The duo released their first self-titled album on Amoeba Records in 1989, arriving a full year before Uncle Tupelo’s No Depression, an album often cited as the genesis of alt country. Mainstream opinion notwithstanding, Freakwater remains a classic case of locals outsmarting pop-culture intelligentsia, making history and receiving precious little recognition for it.

Freakwater flirted with a major label — E-Squared, a subsidiary of Atlantic Records run by Steve Earle — but those negotiations collapsed over creative differences, and the story has faded into the annals of Louisville music history. The group has made a home for itself at Chicago’s Thrill Jockey label, run by former Atlantic A&R rep Bettina Richards.

Thrill Jockey is “a core sample of her brain,” Irwin says of Richards. “It’s pretty interesting. It’s just all whether she likes it or not. It’s certainly not based on who’s going to sell the most records.”

Switch has taken on new meaning for Irwin thanks to her contemporary, Neko Case. Case covered Irwin’s song “Hex” on her live album, The Tigers Have Spoken, and Irwin opened for Case during her European tour last May. “She gets the greatest bands to play with her,” Irwin says, reminiscing about the 20-date stretch. “You couldn’t run around in Germany with a busload of nicer people.”

Now, when she’s not painting a barn in Southern Indiana, Irwin writes when she wants to and when she can, and admits her label is having periodic separation anxiety: Pretty please, with sugar on top, can we have another?
“I’m not really very prolific,” Irwin says. “So, as long as they wanna pay for it, it would be kind of dumb not to.” —M.H.


With the release of its new EP, “I Was Here,” work continues to flow in this year for Cabin, with appearances at WFPK’s Waterfront Wednesday, Milwaukee’s Summerfest festival, as well as a fall European tour in the works. At its core, though, singer/keyboardist/guitarist Noah Hewett-Ball says it’s the songs that ultimately matter most. “It’s like working a puzzle.” Seems the good life could be Cabin’s to govern.

BOOGIE MORTON Jazz pianist

Pianist Boogie Morton is one of Louisville’s elder statesmen of jazz. At 75, his tales of a lifetime of playing music could easily fill a series. He has a steady gig at Vincenzo’s downtown, playing piano accompanied by a bassist and saxophonist, but no drummer.

Boogie Morton: photo by Nicole Pullen
Boogie Morton: photo by Nicole Pullen
Who are some of your musical influences?
Let me explain something about that — actually, I’m a saxophone player, not a piano player. Years ago, I took piano lessons just to get some theory down. I played saxophone up until I had my second heart attack. My influences: I was a Bud Powell fan and Oscar Peterson. I heard so many piano players — I pick up something from all of them I hear. If you listen to them, they all have something to show you.  

One of my biggest influences I had around here is Ray Johnson — I’ve been playing with Ray since junior high school. We had a little band called the Good Times Jazz Band, playing bebop when everybody else was playing blues. He was a trumpet player before switching to piano.

Another big influence was Johnny “Hammond” Smith. We grew up together. He was taking piano lessons while we were still playing marbles. He was the one who really started me in that direction, musically. We used to call him “Hammer-hand,” because he played the piano so hard. Another was Joe Golden; he was a heck of an influence. Joe was so good, he was a classical player and a jazz player, and taught us all the bebop tunes.

Did starting as a saxophonist have any influence on the way you hear piano?

I know what I need to hear as accompaniment, or what I want to hear.  Sometimes a piano player can either hold you down or free you. They can play in such a way as to put a grip on you. I work with a lot of singers — you try to make them sound as good as you can. Not playing too much piano, just enough to put a foundation under it. Some players use a fistful of notes and don’t leave space for you to play yourself.  
Looking back, are there any musicians you performed with that you really thought, “That was a high point of my playing”?
I lived in Cleveland for five years. One of the saxophone players was Joe Alexander, another was Joe Hardy, who used to play with Count Basie. I ended up playing with a lot of rock ’n’ roll bands, Jackie Wilson and Aretha Franklin, back before they got big — and rich (laughs).  

Have you ever thought of performing under your given name, Barrington, instead of as Boogie?
I was given that name (Boogie) the day I was born, and I have been playing music with that name ever since high school, so I just kept it.


You worked for a time at IBM, then at a pharmaceutical company before turning to teaching. What made you switch gears?
IBM was a job right out of college. I basically took orders for folks wanting the latest technology in laptops when they first got really big (ThinkPads). The pharmaceutical job was a goal of mine, mainly because I knew it was good money, honestly. I did it for almost six years, and it was great — the travel, the money, etc. But all that glitters is not gold, and I was struggling with the notion that my mom and grandmother typically had to choose between food and prescriptions every month. So I basically had this “change the world” feeling, decided I didn’t want to be a part of that. It is sick how much money gets spent on sales meetings and entertainment for potential business from hospitals/doctors.

Leigh Ann Yost: photo by Eddie Dant
Leigh Ann Yost: photo by Eddie Dant
A friend told me about a position at JCPS (and) that I would be a good fit. It was a Career Planner and Co-op Education Coordinator at the South Park Teenage Parent Program. It was the best job I’ve ever had, but the least money I have ever made. Teachers and people who work with kids should make more money than anyone else. Really, they are forming our future generations, the ones who will be taking care of us in nursing homes.

After the birth of my first child, I decided I would stay home. Along came No. 2 right after that, so by the time I was ready to go back to work, the position was pretty much eliminated. I would give anything to do that job now, now that I am a mother, too. They have to overcome things I couldn’t imagine having to go through with kids.

Were you playing music during this time?

In (North Carolina), I got the karaoke bug. That is kind of embarrassing now, but it’s the truth. My first performing experience was with Hank Sinatra, and we played together for several years. I then played with Gigolo Gypsy while at JCPS. What a great band, great songwriters. We cut a CD that was never released, and I’d love to get that music out there. Actually there are some bootlegs floating around. I do one of GG’s songs on my record — “Never Too Far” by Rob Burch.

It wasn’t until I was pregnant that I decided to learn guitar: I was bored from not performing anymore, and I had always wanted to learn anyway. My grandfather was the only musician I know of in my family, and he played for me all the time. The first songs I learned as a child were “You Are My Sunshine” and “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.”

How did you and Hank Sinatra land the opening slot for Quiet Riot?
It was actually Hank’s band Sinsemonia that played that show. In 1998, Hank and I scored spots in the Phoenix Hill All-Star Band. Hank booked all of our gigs, and I have a feeling it had to do with that. Man, it was great. You couldn’t walk through Coyote’s. The best part is that we covered a Led Zeppelin song at that time (“Whole Lotta Love”), and they performed the same song after we had already done it! I signed my first autographs that night.

Has the recent success of Basic Needs surprised you?

I am totally floored and mostly flattered that people like my music. It amazes me to this day that people come watch me sing songs that I wrote (as opposed to a whole night of covers). I knew I’d get some buzz because of who I was working with on the record, but this has really been a dream already. And let it not go unmentioned that WFPK really had been the catalyst here.

There’s no way I’d be successful doing this without their support. Anything beyond what has already happened is gravy at this point. But I’m not finished! —M.H.