Friday, July 19, 2002
Lee McBee has something to harp about.
The veteran Lawrence musician just released a solo album, "Soul Deep," available on California's Pacific Blues label. The 12-song effort finds the singer/harmonica wizard showcasing his spirited brand of modern blues, in collaboration with a host of established players.
"Getting the chance to work with Gene Taylor was one of the best experiences that I've ever had," McBee said. "He's a keyboard player who played with T-Bone Walker, The Blasters, The Fabulous Thunderbirds. He's just a remarkably gifted musician. And I'm working with Wes Starr, who, in my particular taste, is the best drummer on the planet. He breathes a lot of life into the stuff."
Despite taking up the harmonica at age 17 in 1968, the Kansas City, Mo., native is only now issuing his sophomore solo record.
"I really didn't start getting serious about playing until I was 35," he recalled. "I was just kind of doing it for the girls, the drinking and the foolishness back then. Then it dawned on me that I really didn't know what I needed to know. So I decided to go to work and quit making it a game so much. I've really been working hard at it for the last 15 years. I've really soaked myself in it."
Stints in various bands have followed since assuming that enlightened approach, including the acts Lee McBee and the Passions, The Rhythm Kings and his most high-profile outing with Mike Morgan and the Crawl ï¿½ a Dallas band with which he recorded seven albums.
McBee explained that his playing has undergone constant evolution during these years on the road.
"Without a doubt, I'm improving," he said. "I'm playing better chromatic harmonica. I'm writing a lot of stuff on it. There's a lot of things that I'm doing now that are still a roots type of music, but they're different than just straight-ahead blues. Most of them are 1-4-5 chords, but they're arranged differently and done to Latin beats and stuff like that."
Although McBee has dabbled recently with more south-of-the-border flavors, he's also enjoyed a long-standing musical relationship with the other side of the Atlantic. His solo debut, "44," offered him substantial chart success in Europe in 1995.
"My first solo record was the No. 1 record in Germany," he remembered. "I was always really surprised by that."
After a stateside tour that begins next month, McBee plans on returning to Europe in November for three weeks. But despite all this jet-setting, the musician inevitably finds himself coming back to his adopted hometown of Lawrence, where he has resided for the past 32 years.
"It's the most livable place I've ever been," he said. "I spent about 15 years on the road, and of the places that I've been I like this town the best. Granted, it's not really a blues town, but it's home."
While The Get Up Kids are no stranger to MTV, their songs have enjoyed a little more prime-time rotation lately. The Lawrence/Kansas City quintet can be heard each week on the network's popular reality series "Road Rules." And now the Kids are included on its impending soundtrack compilation titled "Don't Make Me Pull This Thing Over: Volume 1."
"The record does a good job of encapsulating a movement of bands that are now really coming into mainstream recognition," said Mike Gitter, one of the executive album music supervisors on the project.
"The mainstream is so burnt out on the prefab and boy bands and rock music that doesn't have a real personal voice. All the sudden a band like The Get Up Kids or Dashboard Confessional that has an honesty to what they're saying and a human voice becomes really exciting. I mean, how much more 'Nookie' can you take?"
The Get Up Kids' tune "Overdue" from their latest disc, "On a Wire," is selected as the final cut on the MTV collection. The acoustic-driven ballad acts as an appropriate closer for the 21-band effort.
"It sounds good there," explained Gitter. "It has a requiem-ish feel to it. There wasn't much overthinking in terms of sequencing. It just sort of fit well at the end."
Gitter, a former music journalist who is now director of A&R; at Roadrunner Records (whose company is releasing the compilation), counts himself as "a fan of a number of bands from the Kansas City area." In addition to the Kids, he also lists Reggie and the Full Effect and Coalesce as favorites.
"We just signed a band that has two members from Kansas City: downthesun. It was a band that was discovered by the drummer for Slipknot," he said. "The only way I can describe them is that they are the heavy, ugly truth. There is nothing subtle about them. Their record is going to be coming out this fall."
Other acts appearing on "Don't Make Me Pull This Thing Over" include Jimmy Eat World, Deftones, Thrice, Hoobastank and Unwritten Law.
"It's an MTV, mass-consciousness record with a cool blend of cutting-edge artists," added Gitter.
The album hits stores on Aug. 6.
Kansas City's leading proponent of the alt-country scene is moving to a place not exactly known for the style.
Scott Hobart, who fronts Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys, is shuffling off to Buffalo, NY.
"My wife, Paula, got into the graduate program in art conservation at Buffalo State University," Hobart said, amid unloading a truckload of his belongings into his new residence.
Nonetheless, this doesn't mark the end of the celebrated Misery Boys. Aside from the inconvenience of the situation, the Bloodshot Records act will press on. Hobart explained the band's upcoming record "Your Favorite Fool" is slated to be released on Sept. 24.
"I'm going to come back in two weeks to open for Alejandro Escovedo at Davey's on July 31,' he said. "Then I won't be back until September when the record comes out. The first week of October we'll be on the road through the first of the year. Then the plan is to come back once every month or two to do a Midwest swing."
Bloodshot, the Chicago-based label that houses some of the most respected artists in the genre, such as Neko Case and Waco Brothers, considers this long-distance relationship as no big deal, according to Hobart.
"They've dealt with this thing before," he said. "They know it can work, so they just said, 'Good luck. Keep in touch.' It's great because we signed up for four records, and this is our third. As long as they'll have us we're happy. Three records in we've kind of learned how to write a country song."
While the band actually played Buffalo once a few years back, Hobart at first assumed it was a tad off the radar for his modern style of tear-in-your-beer songwriting.
"Then Paula and I came up here four weeks ago to find a place to live, and it happened to coincide with an Americana festival they were having," Hobart said. "That was a good sign."