Saturday, May 19, 2018

Blues On The Brain: An Interview With Frankie & Jimmy & Shows # 722, 721, 720

Frankie & Jimmy are fronted by vocalist/harmonica player Jim Fitzgerald Jr. and guitarist Frankie Flowers who also plays porch-board bass/tambourine and are a blues duo out of Hamilton, Ontario. They call their brand of blues, Sliding Demento Delta Blues. The band blends elements of garage and punk (having been in bands of those categories in the past) and apply that energy and aesthetic to the blues songs that they play. All of the songs are covers, but they are played in such a way that you might not even recognize the song as a cover.

Frankie & Jimmy’s first album, Scream The Blues, was released in 2014 and featured 13 tracks that dug into the Delta blues and early rock genres. This album stripped down the songs and cut them to their bare essentials. The songs were then executed with a lo-fi, garage/punk groove. Often billed as “The Poor Man’s Blues Bros”, Frankie & Jimmy’s second full-length album Blues On The Brain will be released in late June 2018 on Transistor 66 Records. “Shakemondown” starts off Blues On The Brain. This song jumps right into a high-octane energy with fast sliding guitars, slicing harmonica and howling vocals. It gives a punk twist to this 1937 Delta blues classic “Shake’ Em On Down” that was originally recorded by Bukka White, but the version found here is based on a version that was done by Fred McDowell. Frankie & Jimmy’s version maintains a soulful shuffle rhythm, but is performed at an unhinged, reckless speed.

“Spread The News Around” shakes off the dust of the Brownie McGhee & Sonny Terry song from the 60s. This song features a locomotive like rhythm, with smoky harmonica parts, chugging guitar and lyrics such as “Whole lotta people in trouble/Whole lotta people in grief/But out in this great big world/I know there’s a place for me” and “I’m gonna get on my feet after awhile/Then I Won’t Be Down/Spread the news around”. The song calls for an understanding, one of finding your place and not being so down, despite your surroundings, regardless of how good or bad they are. This is a message that is just as relevant today as performed by Frankie & Jimmy in all their revved up, lo-fi garage/punk blues glory as when it was originally done by Brownie McGhee & Sonny Terry. “Hellhound On My Trail” brings down the pace a bit with a creeping intensity and paranoia, “Stand Your Test In Judgment” claws at your subconscious with its dirty tambourine and rustic blues guitar, amongst Fitzgerald’s soulful vocals and harmonica parts. Frankie & Jimmy take a greasy blues approach to the blues/gospel track “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning” which is a song about not giving up and staying sharp even when there’s nothing left in you.

“Pony Blues” follows next, based on a song Son House adapted from Charley Patton. It comes to life on this album in a new way. The song runs and roams in its own direction set forth by Frankie & Jimmy, combining a soulful growl vocally, aggressive slide guitar and haunting harmonica rhythms. Lyrically the song draws on elements that have been drawn on in many different forms for generations. With lyrics such as “Why don’t you catch my pony/Saddle up my black mare/I’m gonna find my baby in this world somewhere” and “He’s a travelin’ horse and he don’t deny his name/He’s a travelin’ pony/The way he can travel is a low-down, old, dirty shame”, “Pony Blues” tells a tale of love, doubt and the underdog, as it wanders around searching for meaning and answers. “Vastapol” (a song originally by Elizabeth Cotton) provides a country, blues and folk musical interlude, “Babe It Ain’t No Lie” (also originally by Elizabeth Cotton) drifts into the same places with guitar fingerpicking, porch-board bass, whistling and lyrics sung by Jimmy with a sincere conviction about a lie that just isn’t true.

Dirt and grit are kicked up into the sonic atmosphere as the album gets to “Lil Red Riding Hood”, the final track on Blues On The Brain. Cloaked in a tale of lies and deception, this song is told from the perspective of the wolf from the fairytale of the same name. Throughout Blues On The Brain, Frankie & Jimmie tread in the murky water of the early blues genre. Like old blues and folk songs, the music found here are stories adapted from tales of the sonic book of folk/blues. The difference with this album as opposed to other recent blues albums is that Frankie & Jimmy don’t replicate the past, they create their own gospel from the sounds of the past with their own added grime, grit and soul.

Keep reading for an interview that I did with Frankie & Jimmy:

RR: How and when did Frankie & Jimmy start playing as a band?

Photo:  Dylan Weller
Frankie: We formed on June 18, 2011, from the ruins of Hamilton’s underground pop rock sensation Dirty Sack of Steel. A mutual friend of ours named Matt D'Alvise (from Black Collar Union) asked if me and my band The DJ Killers (Pat Sirrs and Marc Baldassi) would form the rhythm section for Matt and Jim’s band, Dirty Sack of Steel. After a few shows, Matt quit, Jim asked if I liked blues music, and I asked Jim if he wanted another beer. The rest is history.

Jimmy: We originally started jamming together as a 5 piece called Dirty Sack of Steel. Frankie was on keyboards. He had a bunch of pedals including this dynamite phaser that he'd string along his keyboard like some kind of tall Polski alien piloting his flying saucer. The guitarist / other singer Matt D'Alvise (Black Collar Union) and I had written a bunch of goofy tunes together. D'Alvise and I met because we stayed in the same student housing when we went to OCAD. As we got to know each other it turned out we knew a lot of the same people. D'Alvise was the first person to really encourage my playing and the first person to jam with me regularly.

The rhythm section for DSOS was Marc Baldassi on bass and Pat Sirrs on Drums. Dirty Sack's line up was very similar to our 6 piece band for our Hamilton record release (June 21st at This Ain't Hollywood) except minus D'Alvise (he gave in to the dark side aka metal) and plus Matt Mangano on Sax and Brandon Dean on Keys. When DSOS proved to be short lived, Franc and I were still hanging out a lot. Right before DSOS dissolved Franc had transcribed all his keyboard parts to slide guitar. I was really excited about that. When that other band clearly wasn't happening we still wanted to jam together and figured the best way to improve our playing was to learn old blues songs. Turns out it was a lot of fun so we started adding to the sound with amplifiers and a rhythm section (Franc's feet). One day we were kind of just like “Ya we're a band now” and decided to name ourselves in an homage to the greatest blues duo of all time: Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee aka SONNY & BROWNIE. After that we started playing shows. We just kept doing it because we loved it and also the blues pays better than punk.

RR: Frankie & Jimmy have a unique take on the blues genre. How would you describe your music to someone if they hadn’t heard it before?

Jimmy: We play sped up, fuzzed out blues traditionals with a punk attitude. We play the proper notes and techniques but in our own frantic way. Our live shows are a bit of a clowning comedy routine. We draw a lot of performance inspiration from acts like the Blues Brothers and Blowfly.

Frankie: I usually tell people, “We play folk country blues tunes, punked up a bit with a garage rock edge, whatever the heck that means. Just slide guitar, harmonica, yelling, stomping and head banging.”

RR: How do you decide on which blues songs that you will play? Is there a specific process or method to selecting the songs that you play?

Jimmy: It usually happens organically. One of us will be listening to something and a song will stand out. Blues FM on Jazz FM 91.1 introduced me to a lot of great stuff. Sometimes it will be a YouTube playlist, particularly from our favourite channel RagtimeDorianHenry and sometimes I'll be deliriously drunk and giddy at 4am listening to my friends old blues records and texting Franc that we need to play this song I just listened to. Sometimes we'll play a song someone recommends but that doesn't happen very often so don't get your hopes up.

Frankie: Jim picks them. The only stipulation is that the song must have originally been done by a deceased person, because Jim believes in ghosts. Most our song choices, fall under 3 categories, Dirty, Spooky and Pretty. We try to keep a 5:2:1 respective ratio to optimize the emotional roller coaster of our set designs.

RR: When did you first start working on Blues On The Brain and who did you work with (Ie: Producers, etc.)?

Frankie: I think we started recording in the spring of 2015, with Nick Johannes, he’s awesome and really easy to work with. Originally, we planned to release a trifecta of 7inchers, The Dirty7, The Spooky7 and The Pretty7. After recording The Dirty7, we got talked into scrapping the trifecta idea, and just release a full length album. I believe Jesse from It's Trash Records convinced us to not bother releasing any 7inch records because not too many people buy them. We recorded the rest of the album in the fall of 2016 with Nick and Mike Trebilcock mastered it for us.

Jimmy: We toured a lot of the songs we were planning to put on this record for our west coast tour in 2016. It was recorded by Nick Johannes (The Kettle Black, Get Off The Cop) and mastered by Mike Trebilcock (The Killjoys, Simply Saucer). Basically four people worked on this album (excluding the people that originally wrote the tunes).

RR: Do you think the recording process of this album was different or similar to when you were making 2014’s Scream The Blues, and if so why?

Frankie: The main difference is our new album was recorded over a longer period of time consisting of 2 weekend recording sessions a year and a half apart. We also recorded at one location with Nick and had him mix everything too. Scream the Blues was recorded at 2 locations with different sound engineers, Pat Sirrs and Mike Cividino. Pat mixed all of that album. We did do the similar process of capturing our live sound with no overdubs except 1 vocal overdub that Jim did, but we won’t talk about it.

Jimmy: We knew what we were doing a lot more this time around but the live off the floor, play it 30 times approach is the same for both records. We've calmed down on the partying so we wasted a lot less of everyone's time this round.

RR: Some of the songs that you play are several decades old, yet the songs are still relatable today. Why do you think that is and what is it about the early delta blues genre that draws you to it?

Jimmy: People change and our world changes but despair and joy will always feel the same. Some of the songs we play are hundreds of years old. So old that no one really knows exactly where they came from. I like the raw, haunting sound of early direct-to-disc records. There is no filter, no producer tweaking the knobs. What you hear is what they played and we try to do the same thing with our sound. Most early blues players were self taught. Elizabeth Cotten played the guitar upside-down because she was left handed.

Frankie: I find them still relatable today mainly due to the raw emotion of the sound. It is easier for me to resonate with soulful music rather than triangle and square waves making laser beam Nintendo point collecting synth noises. Also, the lyrical themes and stories are pretty timeless and most people can connect to them at some point or another throughout their life. I’m personally drawn to the sound of the slide guitar. There’s something about the many ways to approach and shape different pitches with a slide. I find that a slide helps enable me to translate emotions and musical ideas to a fret board with a better continuous flow of pitches. Rather than fretting notes individually or playing a piano that leaves a discrete space in between the pitch intervals. A slide gives the guitar a vocal like quality, which is a perfect accompaniment to singing the blues.

RR: The new album is being released through Transistor 66 records. How did you get connected with the label?

Frankie: I think Jim met Art Transistor either on the Internet or in Winnipeg when we played at the Windsor hotel. All I remember is Art giving us a few handfuls of CDs from his label, and buying us the tastiest Indian food in Winnipeg. I was sold right then and there on those things alone, but after realizing Art is a solid, honest, cool dude with a passion for helping musicians, it made it comfortable to work with him.

Jimmy: I can't remember what came first. What Wave Dave from CHRW Radio Western in London recommended working with Art Transistor's label a number of times. It caught my attention. Art Transistor has great taste and I'm not just saying that because he is releasing Blues On The Brain with us. Transistor 66 is based out of Winnipeg, which in my opinion has the best garage bands in the country. The Winnipeg sound is different than anywhere else. I was floored when I first saw The Crooked Bros who work with T66. There's a lot of great acts like Mmmeats, Eve Hell, Bloodshot Bill and Ol' Ba Johnston that have worked with Art. I've never heard a band on T66 I didn't like. When we first rolled through Winnipeg all dusty, covered in fly bites and holding our piss for too long, Art invited us to dinner at The East India Company, which is this transcendental buffet. He gave us a bunch of CDs from the label and we talked some turkey. Feeding a touring band a gourmet meal and giving them a bunch of new music for the van is a surefire way to make friends. It's been great working with Art Transistor. He really has your back and picked up the slack for me when I had some problems to take care of. Art doesn't tell you how to make your record or what it should look like. He lets artists do their thing. Seriously listen to this band they rule

RR: Frankie & Jimmy have played shows coast to coast. You’ve played in all kinds of places (according to your bio), what are some of the un-traditional places that you’ve played live shows at and what do you remember of some of these shows?

Frankie: We played a wedding cocktail hour at the Art Gallery of Hamilton where Jim was the bride’s maid of honor and the groom requested that we play the King of The Hill theme song upon their entry. That gig seemed un-traditional to me hahaha.

Jimmy: Playing the Palmer Church in the badlands of Saskatchewan was a real highlight. I can't wait to go back there. I was laughing to myself while drinking beer in the confession booth, which is a pretty fun thing to do until you realize there are children still up and dancing and then you feel like a total reprobate. We played a farm on Quadra Island where I called all the dogs to the dance floor and 8 of them rushed the stage dancing in their own doggy vortex way. The train station in Brantford used to have shows and that was a great spot. It was cool to play Freight Train (Elizabeth Cotten) while one was pulling into the station. House Show Pleine Air in Quebec is going to be great this year too. It's like this sweet hippy/carnival party. Last year we blew a fuse while playing Minglewood Blues. The Keene Summer BBQ is always a hoot too. The best BBQ in Canada is at Muddy's Pit BBQ in Keene. The last time we played was during a storm and it's kind of stressful to be protected by some tarps in the middle of a baseball diamond when you know your body is closing a circuit. Can't wait to do it again this year. The BBQ is really THAT good.

RR: You sell your own homemade hot sauce at your live shows. What led to you selling your own hot sauce and how would you rank the spicy/hotness of the sauce if you had to?

Frankie: Our buddy and music video producer, Ian Steinberg, suggested the idea to make hot sauce and beer cozies as band merch, while we were up at Jim’s cottage. We never made any beer cozies, but the hot sauce was a genius idea. I made a few small test batches before ramping up production. I made some small changes to the recipe after a few more batches, but now the consistency is better dialed in. The initial flavor is kind of sweet and not that hot, but then the heat creeps in and if you eat more the heat will bite down and linger. My guess is that it ranks between 45,000 – 90,000 Scoville Heat Units.

Jimmy: We were up at my family's cottage and our videographer Ian was rhyming off cool merch that we should make and when we mentioned hot sauce our eyes lit up and we looked at each other. 6 test batches later and we had our flavour.

RR: What’s next for Frankie & Jimmy?

Frankie: We are releasing a music video soon with our new album and plan to tour throughout southern Ontario this summer and also play a weekend in Quebec, and go out east for a few weeks at the end of summer. In the fall we are planning to play a stint of northern Ontario shows. Besides touring with the new album, there are rumours of an underground tag team wrestling circuit amongst 2 piece bands emerging. Jim hired a personal trainer and has been hitting the training hard along the Hamilton escarpment. There is a good chance that we can win the belt this year and start selling mini Frankie and Jimmy wrestling action dolls.

Jimmy: We're touring the circuit this summer and have an east coast tour booked for the end of September. Looking to do northern Ontario in October and a west coast next spring. Then hopefully we can get our passports sorted and go to Europe. We'll be releasing a new music video made by Ian Steinberg that uses marionettes, practical effects, animation and some live action. Franc's mom is a puppeteer with Studio Babette so it was a family affair this time. It was a lot of fun to make and Franc's dear parents let us take over their master bedroom to use as our studio. This video is going to be our magnum opus.

Show 722 Play List (Originally Aired On May 19th, 2018)(Frankie & Jimmy, Courtney Barnett, Blacktop):

1. Iceage - Hurrah
2. Minutemen - Maybe Partying Will Help
3. King Tuff - Psycho Star
4. Liza Anne - Paranoia
5. La Luz - Loose Teeth
6. Glen Branca - Lesson No. 2
7. Parquet Courts - Almost Had To Start A Fight/In and Out of Patience
8. Pretty Matty - Oh Well
9. Psychic Void - Gutter Butter
10. Snuggle Bunnies - Looking For Planet X
11. Peach Kelli Pop - Pitch Black
12. Peach Kelli Pop - Black Cat 13
13. Secret V's - Modern Boy
14. Frankie & Jimmy - Spread The News Around
15. Frankie & Jimmy - Lil Red Riding Hood
16. Nudie - It Ain't Gonna Happen Today
17. Courtney Barnett - Charity
18. The Low Joy Ceiling - Boneshaker
19. Thee Mighty Caesars - The Double Axe
20. Wild Billy Childish & the CTMF - In A Parallel World
21. The Beguiled - Black Gloves
22. The Gories - To Find Out
23. Blacktop - I Think Its Going To Rain
24. Blacktop - Here I Am, Here I Always Am
25. Mink Deville - Gunslinger
26. The Lone Bellow & Friends - Me and My Uncle
27. Jonathan Richman - She Don't Laugh at My Jokes
28. Elvis Costello & The Attractions - Love For Tender
29. Ty Segall - I'm Free
30. MC5 - Call Me Animal

To download this weeks program, visit CJAM's schedule page for Revolution Rock and download the file for May 19.

Show 721 (Originally Aired On May 12th, 2018)(Repeat of Show # 670: Chris Cornell Tribute):

1. Kestrels - Thorn
2. Hooded Fang – Queen of Agusan
3. Dusty Mush - Hot Tomato
4. Girl Pool – Corner Store
5. New Pornographers – High Ticket Attractions
6. Robyn Hitchcock – Virginia Wolfe
7. Soundgarden - Kickstand
8. Soundgarden - Blow Up The Outside
9. Chris Cornell – Spoon Man (Demo)
10. Chris Cornell – Seasons
11. Soundgarden - Face Pollution
12. (Sandy) Alex G – Witch
13. Mount Eerie – Death is Real
14. Mountain Goats – Rain in Soho
15. Craig Finn – Jester & June
16. Canailles – Backflips
17. Neil Young - Looking For A Love
18. Dead Ghosts - All In A Row
19. Los Straitjackets - Heart of the City
20. The Velveteins - Midnight Surf
21. Nap Eyes - Roll It
22. Gang War - These Boots Were Made For Walking (Live)
23. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Jangling Jack
24. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Jesus Alone

To download this weeks program, visit CJAM's schedule page for Revolution Rock and download the file for May 12.

Show 720 (Originally Aired On May 5th, 2018)(Minutemen acoustic, Richard Hell, Television, Sex Pistols):

1. The Minutemen - I Felt Like A Gringo (Acoustic Blowout 1985)
2. The Minutemen - The Meter Man/Corona (Acoustic Blowout 1985)
3. Ry Cooder - Shrinking Man
4. Tymon Dogg - Cochon
5. Stompin' Tom Connors - Long Gone To The Yukon
6. The Highest Order - Stare Down The Barrel of Today
7. Kristian North - Waiting
8. Shark Toys - Let's Follow (City Lights)
9. Hot Snakes - Plenty For All
10. The Scenics - Wild Trout
11. The Castiles - Baby I
12. Nap Eyes - Roses
13. Bonny Doon - Try To Be
14. Sloan - Year Zero
15. The Replacements - I'm In Trouble
16. Richard Hell & The Voidoids - Liars Beware (Live CBGB April 14th, 1977)
17. Television - Judy (Live Max's Kansas City 1974)
18. R.E.M. - Bandwagon
20. Tongues - Gelatinous
21. Miles Davis & John Coltrane - 'Round Midnight (March 21st 1960 - The Olympia Paris, France)
22. Tampa - Bad Hangover
23. Chris Sleightholm - She Left To Another Place
24. Bloodshot Bill - Lemme Rock
25. The Beat Happening - Foggy Eyes
26. Hooded Fang - Ode To Subterrania
27. The Dirtbombs - Infa-Red
28. Sex Pistols - Stepping Stone (Live In Chelmsford Prison 1976)

To download this weeks program, visit CJAM's schedule page for Revolution Rock and download the file for May 5.