Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Lit Drummer Allen Shellenberger diagnosed with Malignant Brain Tumor

I just received the following press release from Ken Phillips Publicity Group, Inc. today:

Allen Shellenberger, 38 year-old drummer for Orange County rock band Lit, has been diagnosed with amalignant brain tumor. Lit made an initial announcement over their website on May 5th that a brain tumor had been discovered and the band was canceling their European tour dates with KISS.

Biopsy results identified Shellenberger's cancer as malignant glioma. According to the National Cancer Institute, malignant glioma affects approximately 10,000 Americans per year. It is the same type of cancer Senator Edward M. Kennedy is battling. Allen's symptoms prior to diagnosis were numbness and tingling in the left side of his body. Shellenberger is under the care of world-renownedneurosurgeons Dr. Hunt and Dr. Black at theCedars-Sinai Maxine Dunitz Neurosurgical Institute where he is pursuing radiation and chemotherapy treatments.

Despite the news, Allen is in good spirits and committed to the fight. Lit, which has been both a brotherhood and a band forover 20 years, has enjoyed multi-platinum success and chart-topping singles including "My Own Worst Enemy,""Miserable," and others. After two decades together, the band continues to write, record and tour.

"Allen's young and healthy and if anyone has a chance to beat this, it's him," says Lit guitarist Jeremy Popoff. "As sad and scared as we all are, we're standing by him and staying positive. We're going to fight this together."

Doheny Blues Fest closes with a series of superb sets

Bonnie Raitt, Joe Bonamassa (seen here), Watermelon Slim and Shawn Jones were all standouts on the fest's second day.
With a bright full moon positioned over the waters of the Pacific, Bonnie Raitt brought a magical close to the 11th annual Doheny Blues Festival on Sunday night.
Her 90-minute set capped more than two dozen performances that played out at the two-day festival staged at Doheny State Beach over the weekend. For those – and I count myself in that camp – who had only seen the 58-year-old singer-guitarist play in an indoor venue, watching Raitt perform at an outdoor event was a decidedly different affair.
Her trademark skills as a slide guitarist and nuanced vocalist were on display, but there was a casual attitude that goes with being at a blues fest that found Raitt inviting a fan on stage at one point and bantering back and forth with members of the crowd. Indeed, at one point when one fan yelled out a request for a favorite song, Raitt good-naturedly replied, "I can't play them all. I've been around too long."
However, few in the capacity crowd seemed anything but thrilled with the song choices and their presentation in Dana Point. Whether performing radio favorites such as the upbeat blues-rock of "Thing Called Love" and "Something to Talk About" or bringing many in the audience to tears with the beautiful "I Can't Make You Love Me," her set was truly outstanding.

Earlier in the day, the full scope of roots and blues music was showcased via a wide range of artists. Those arriving by 11:15 got to see singer-guitarist Shawn Jones kick things off on the Main Stage with an accessible and infectious blend of original blues-rock. His guitar playing, voice and songwriting won over many who didn't know this newcomer from the Inland Empire. Songs such as the confessional "Glorybound" and high-octane rocker "Savin' the Best for Last" were among the highlights of his 45-minute set.

And from the excitement and overheard comments from everyone positioned around the Main Stage, few will forget their introduction to Joe Bonamassa. The 31-year-old Bonamassa is this generation's real life guitar hero, a fret master who has a vast number of musical ideas and an arsenal of electric and acoustic guitar chops to express those dreams in full.
On Sunday afternoon, his style of heavy blues recalled strong guitar players such as Walter Trout and Gary Moore, but Bonamassa showcased his own voice with original material such as the beautiful rocker "Sloe Gin" and Delta blues-tinged "High Water Everywhere."

Although it's anyone's guess when Watermelon Slim & the Workers will find their way back to Orange County, the talented and original blues quartet performed an enjoyable 45-minute set of blues on the Backporch stage. Watermelon Slim proved to be both charismatic and engaging in the intimate setting, singing, playing harmonica and slide guitar with fervor.
There was an authentic, retro quality across the troupe's fiery set, with "Devil's Cadillac" and "Ash Tray" illustrating the loose and freewheeling style the commanding ensemble has made their own.

11th annual Doheny Blues Fest gets off to a smoking start

Review published on on Sunday, May 11, 2008
There are headlining performers who often earn top billing via name recognition and album sales. But in the world of blues, the formula for success seems to be divided between those who have been around forever (B.B. King, the late John Lee Hooker) or bust out of the gate so quickly that fans want to know what all the fuss is about.

But day one at the 11th running of Omega Events' Doheny Blues Festival in Dana Point - staged on Saturday, May 17, 2008 - found there can be a happy medium.
When Jonny Lang burst on the scene in 1996, he was a fresh-faced 15-year-old kid from Fargo, N.D., who nevertheless played powerfully on electric guitar and already had a voice that recalled a young Joe Cocker.
Now 27, Lang used the occasion of his night-ending spot before a capacity-crowd on the Main Stage to demonstrate he is now a singer, guitarist and frontman whose time has clearly arrived.
When Lang last performed at the Doheny Blues Fest in 2003, he was good, but this time he was great over the course of his 90-minute showcase. The searing guitar attack now is part of a wider artistic focus that still involves the well-known early staples of his set ("Wander This World," "I Am," "Lie to Me"), but also features gospel and R&B influences in mature songs such as "Thankful" and "Turn Around."

Of the other big names performing on Saturday, Robert Cray's story is much like Lang's. He came to prominence in the 1980s, finding popularity outside of the blues world with his "Strong Persuader" album and the sure-fire hit "Smoking Gun."
But Cray has done nothing but keep moving forward. In Dana Point, he used his soulful and wonderful voice and strong guitar playing in the service of gems such as "The One in the Middle" and "Right Next Door (Because of Me)."

Although Eric Burdon was one of the architects of the British Invasion in the 1960s, his Saturday performance was far from essential. In one of the biggest disappointments of the day, Burdon & the Animals played big hits such as "We Gotta Get Out of this Place," "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" and "House of the Rising Sun" to the delight of casual fans. But Burdon's once-masterful voice has lost its range and power, and the arrangements sounded closer to a bar band's delivery than that of a seminal force from the 1960s.

However, most of the day's performances were strong and worth the walking required to get to all three stages as they offered a rotating schedule of artists. On the acoustic Backporch, Bobby Rush told stories and sang the blues from throughout his 53-year recording career. And earlier on the same stage, harmonica wiz Lazy Lester teamed with Kid Ramos, Johnny Bazz and Bill Bateman for some Louisiana-styled Delta offerings that quickly helped the crowd forget about the noontime sun.
Part of Doheny's contribution to audiences is presenting influential artists to bring depth to the fest. At 94, singer-keyboardist Pinetop Perkins is truly one of the last of the original guard of Mississippi bluesmen. He remains an important voice in the blues, and teamed with 77-year-old guitarist Hubert Sumlin (a longtime player with Howlin' Wolf's band) and harmonica great Willie "Big Eyes" Smith (the youngster in the trio, he turns 72 this year) to play a mix of Chicago and Delta blues.

And those who didn't get to the blues fest until late missed the so-called Breakfast Set, with guitar virtuosos Pat Hennessy and Terry Medeiros playing instrumentals such as "Rude Mood" and a strong original, "Long Lean Woman." And kicking things off on the Main Stage, Elnora and Sumpthin' Cookin' also turned in a strong set of jazz-tinged blues tunes. And area singer-guitarist Leff Rogers also impressed the early arriving fans with a set of electric guitar-styled blues throughout his 45-minute set.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Doheny Blues is coming this weekend

Photo cutline information: Singer-guitarist Joe Bonamassa will perform at the Doheny Blues Festival on Sunday.

There are plenty of famed artists set to perform at the 11th annual Doheny Blues Festival this weekend (May 17 and 18), with Jonny Lang set to headline on Saturday night and nine-time Grammy Award winner Bonnie Raitt scheduled to close things out on Sunday evening.
There will be a wealth of not-to-be-missed performances both days, with the Robert Cray Band, Eric Burdon & the Animals and J.J. Grey & MOFRO all set to appear on Saturday.

In addition to Raitt, Sunday’s lineup features Little Feat with special guest-guitarist Coco Montoya, singer-guitarist Joe Bonamassa and the Bobby Rush Revue.
In all, three stages will feature a total of 26 performances over the two-day festival.
Omega Events has once again put together an exciting festival that features young up-and-coming artists (Bonamassa, Lang), as well as legendary names such as Raitt and Cray.

Some of the genre’s most treasured champions are set to play on Saturday, including 94-year-old piano player Joe Willie “Pinetop” Perkins (among the last of the great Mississippi bluesmen) and 77-year-old blues guitarist Hubert Sumlin (a long-time member of the late Howlin’ Wolf’s band).
Burdon – who along with the Beatles and Rolling Stones led the British Invasion of the 1960s – will likely play a mix of blues and hits like “House of the Rising Sun,” “Spill the Wine” and “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” when he plays on the first day of the festival.
For those coming to the festival on Sunday, best not to miss the afternoon set from Bonamassa. Named Best Blues Guitarist by Guitar Player Magazine’s readers in 2007 and 2008, the New York native is truly one of today’s most amazing electric blues guitar players. He will likely feature material off recent albums such as “You & Me” and “Sloe Gin” at the fest.
The Doheny Blues Festival will be held at Doheny State Beach, 25300 Dana Point Harbor Dr., Dana Point on May 17 and 18.
The doors open at 11 a.m. daily, and the music ends at 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, and 8:30 p.m. on Sunday.

For those waiting in line before the doors open, there will be live music and a coffee cart outside the front gate.For more information on the 11th annual Doheny Blues Festival, including ticket information, visit

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Smithereens are coming to town this week

The Smithereens are back.
Not only is the New Jersey rock quartet issuing a wonderful new collection, “Live in Concert – Greatest Hits and More” on May 27, but the band will be returning to headline at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano on Thursday night, May 15.

The forthcoming KOCH Records commercial release showcases tracks captured during the Smithereens’ four-night run at the Court Tavern in New Brunswick, New Jersey, that played out Jan. 30-Feb. 2, 2008.

The shows marked a true homecoming celebration since the band (singer-guitarist Pat DiNizio, lead guitarist Jim Babjak, drummer Dennis Diken and bassist Severo ‘The Thrilla’ Jornacion) was launched from nearby Carteret and Scotch Plains, New Jersey and often performed at the Court Tavern at the beginning of their career.

All of the band’s best-known hits are delivered powerfully on the new disc, including gems such as the set-opening “Behind the Wall of Sleep,” explosive “A Girl Like You” and haunting “Only a Memory.” But long-time fans of the group will also be eager to hear two new songs, “Any Other Way” and “Since you Went Away.”
The Smithereens are fronted by DiNizio, who has a distinctive and powerful baritone voice able to fully deliver material that recalls the rich tradition of artists such as the Byrds, Buddy Holly, the Who and Nick Lowe. But the band’s sound is truly its own and the Smithereens’ performances at the Coach House are legendary, with DiNizio and Babjak often walking out on the tables while deploying all their skills on electric guitar.

Anyone who has seen the Smithereens since the outfit exploded on the scene in the mid-1980s knows the powerful approach, best described as the perfect blend of Beatles melody-making and AC/DC riff rock. The Smithereens remain a enduring reminder of how much rock ‘n’ roll matters, and those attending the upcoming show at the Coach House will have plenty of chances to sing-along and cheer for one of America’s few artists able to masterfully blend hard rock, power pop and singer-songwriter instincts together into a perfect brew.

The Smithereens and Orange County's own the Relatives will perform at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, at 8 p.m. on May 15.
Admission is $20 in advance or $23 on the day of the show.
Information: 949-496-8930.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Stagecoach Festival 2008: A Look Back

BIG-RIG-JIG: This impressive sculpture was among the countless visual highlights displayed at the Stagecoach Festival in Indio this year. The music was often good too, as evidenced by Shooter Jennings' (seen here, courtesy of my up-close view) set on May 2.

I didn't make it to the Coachella Festival last month, but I did get to attend my first-ever Stagecoach Festival when I went to check out the action on Friday, May 2. That was day one of the three-day run of the event, and was really the only day I was excited about considering the 90-something degree daytime temps in Indio.

After spending an hour or so inside the Empire Polo Field, checking out the artwork and vendor booths, it was time to head over to the Palomino Stage. I had never seen Shooter Jennings and I was glad I did on this day. His 45-minute set included inventive Southern rockers such as "Bad Magick," the tender fury of "Daddy's Farm" and beauty of "Gone To Carolina." His guitar playing was as inspired as his time behind the keyboards and he proved to be every bit as authentic as I had heard he was. I hope to see him again in concert soon.

Next, I headed over to the Tundra Mane Stage where I would see the next four sets. Shelby Lynne basically sank her own set because from the time she came out, she was angry about a VIP-only area near the stage that kept the crowds and her apart. So with the notable exception of her strong version of "Jesus on a Greyhound," I found very little to recommend about her 50-minute set.

Her latest album, "Just a Little Lovin'," is a loving tribute to Dusty Springfield and has been scoring strong praise since its release in January 2008. However, her anger and approach in Indio derailed the strength of tracks such as "Breakfast in Bed" and "I Only Want to Be With You" as rendered this day.

Trisha Yearwood couldn't have been more different in terms of her approach to playing at Stagecoach. The likeable singer may not be the tour de force entertainer of a Garth Brooks or other stars of country music, but she has a pleasing voice and used it wonderfully throughout her 45-minute set here. Highlights included "Xxxs and Ooos (An American Girl)" and "Cowboys Are My Weakness," as well as the title track from her 2007 album "Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love."

Anyone who has read my posts here or stories in the Orange County Register over the years knows I am a big - repeat BIG - John Fogerty fan. So it will come as no surprise that I was thrilled with his impressive hour-long set on Friday night. Kicking things off at 7:43 p.m. with "Born On The Bayou" and playing the last notes of "Proud Mary" at 8:52, his 17-song set was another clear and powerful reminder that he is one of the best and most original rock artists in the fiftysomething-year history of the genre. His voice and guitar playing were strong throughout, including on the acoustic-styled "Who'll Stop The Rain" and "Broken Down Cowboy," as well as the fiery "Fortunate Son," guitar-anchored "Keep On Chooglin'" and country-tinged "Bad Moon Rising."

Going into the home stretch on Friday night, I had high hopes with the Eagles. I saw the band back in the early 1990s during the "Hell Freezes Over" tour or whatever it was called, and the band was great. But while I enjoyed the Eagles when they played Eagles classics such as "Peaceful Easy Feeling," "Lyin' Eyes" and "Hotel California," there were too many bumps in the road for me this night. Maybe it was I just don't want to see Joe Walsh sing "Life's Been Good" or Don Henley "Dirty Laundry" sounds as dated as its 1982 release date, I wish the Eagles would have stuck to Eagles stuff. And the magic that I felt when I saw the Eagles the first time just wasn't there for me at Stagecoach. Sorry guys.

To the band's credit, I did like the Eagles kicking off with a new song, "How Long," which benefited from some great harmonies and emotive musicianship. But by the time the band ended the night with "Desperado" at 11:25 p.m., I was ready to saddle up and head for home.

The Fallen Stars are on the rise

Note: This story was originally published on on May 7, 2008.
For fans of the Fallen Stars, good things truly come to those who wait.
The Fallen Stars are celebrating the release of their latest studio collection, the 13-song "Where the Road Bends," and the bonus seven-song concert recording, "Vayo Con Queso," with two shows this weekend. The Fallen Stars perform at the Marlin Bar in Huntington Beach on Saturday, May 10, and then play at the Grand Ole Echo in Los Angeles on Sunday, May 11.

"We started recording the tracks in November of '06," said lead guitarist Gregg Braught. The Huntington Beach-based group also features singer-guitarist Bobbo Byrnes, singer-bassist Tracy Byrnes, drummer John Vowell and keyboardist-mandolin player Geoff Geib.
There were a number of reasons it took 18 months to complete "Where the Road Bends," including a process of recording with Rami Jaffee at Chicasa Studios in Malibu, and then more recently, with Shawn Lindell at Lindell Productions in Westminster.

"Without deadlines, nothing would ever get done," admitted singer-guitarist Bobbo Byrnes. "Thirty-five songs were tracked in the studio; a couple of them were recorded a couple of times."
Tracy Byrnes noted the band had a good reason for doing a sonic double-take: "One of the reasons why we rerecorded at the end was we were a better band."

Highlights on "Where the Road Bends" include the freewheeling alt-country rocker "St. George's Bank," heartland-flavored "One, Two, Three," the folk rock of "Raining in Hollywood" and traditional country-western gem "Diner Door."
"We recorded more songs than what landed on the CD," Vowell explained. "We're not in a hurry to be rushed into something."
The aforementioned "One, Two, Three" was among the songs written only a few weeks before the CD was sent into production.

"The last five (songs) we cut were kind of tough," Bobbo Byrnes said of favorite tracks left off "Where the Road Bends."
Added Geib: "But they are still a big part of our live set list."

Geib was recruited to join the band last year.
"In July or August '07, Geoff came in and almost immediately was in the recording studio doing something," Vowell recalled.
Another winning element in the Fallen Stars' sound is the effective way that husband-and-wife team of Bobbo and Tracy Byrnes handle lead vocal duties, as well as the adventurous way they blend those voices beautifully together on songs such as "House of Cards" and "APB."
"Combined vocals are really what we're going for," said Tracy Byrnes, adding that Braught also provides vocal harmonies on many of the new songs.
"I have so much fun singing with them," Braught said. "That adds a big element to our sound."

Another successful component of the Fallen Stars' live shows is the masterful presentation of select covers.
"We only play covers from people we like," Vowell said. Members noted that songs by the Clash, Bruce Springsteen, Gram Parsons and the Rolling Stones have made that grade.
"Vayo Con Queso" is a live recording of the Fallen Stars captured when the band played at the Coach House on Feb. 21 of this year. Tracks on that set include "Sioux City," "Outlaws & Angels" and "Vegas."
Anyone who purchases "Where the Road Bends" at the band's shows this weekend will get a free copy of "Vayo Con Queso."
Whether recording in the studio or performing live, the Fallen Stars are truly on the rise, as evidenced by the group taking top honors as best live acoustic band at the 2008 Orange County Music Awards held in March.
"It's all about what's best for the song," Tracy Byrnes said.
Information: or

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Michael Ubaldini has issued another winning album, the aptly-titled "Street Singin' Troubadour."
It's almost impossible for many modern rock artists to comprehend issuing a new full-length album every year. For example, Coldplay's forthcoming "Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends" will be the band's first studio effort since 2005. R.E.M.'s recently-issued "Accelerate" marked the group's first new studio album in four years and fans of Radiohead had to wait just as long between the release of 2003's "Hail to the Thief" and 2007's "In Rainbows."

Fountain Valley singer-songwriter Michael Ubaldini has been on an unbelievable tear since the beginning of the decade, issuing one memorable album after another at a breathtaking pace – especially impressive since he books his own shows, including out-of-state and European tours. In addition to the release of 2007's "Storybook," 2006's "Empty Bottles & Broken Guitar Strings" and 2004's "Avenue of Ten Cent Hearts," he even had time to pen a book filled with his original writings, "Lost American Nights: Lyrics & Poems," published by Moon Tide Press in 2006.

His latest disc, "Street Singin' Troubadour," boasts 13 songs written at the end of 2007 and beginning of this year. Fans can get the new disc when Ubaldini appears at two album release parties, including an afternoon show at Pepperland Music in Orange on May 10 and an evening performance at Alta Coffee in Newport Beach on May 15. Admission to both shows is free.

"The album was written at the end of '07 and beginning of '08. Songs like 'Sound of the Age,' 'World Peace in 10 Easy Lessons' and "Sidewalk Musicians' all were written in '08," Ubaldini explained when we got together for a recent interview chat.

"I've been doing lots of acoustic gigs. This ('Street Singin' Troubadour') is different from 'Acoustic Rumble' (his 1999 release). I wanted to have lyrics that were not about finger pointing. I don't care about blue/red divisions," Ubaldini said. "I write from the point of being an outsider from all these trendy groups."

Indeed, his album takes a thoughtful approach to weighty subjects such as war, terrorism, faith and our own mortality.
"I just write what I feel like writing," he said.

With the exception of collections such as Bruce Springsteen's "The Ghost of Tom Joad," there have not been many folk albums like "Street Singin' Troubadour" issued in years. Building his lyrical tales with nothing but an acoustic guitar, harmonica and his own emotive baritone, Ubaldini wanted to tap into the forces that make folk so timeless.
"It's straight," he said of his album. "Like early records from Bob Dylan and the late (Rick Rubin-produced) ones from Johnny Cash. It's my answer to all the overproduced, over-compressed records."
"The record is a natural extension of all my records. A lot of artists tap into that."

Material ranges from a confessional tale "Dem' Ol' Pneumonia Blues" he wrote when returning from the hospital to a moving tale of a Catholic priest who takes his own life when he is falsely accused of a crime in the artfully delivered "Ballad of Father Patrick." And "Sad Empty Streets of Sunday" is one of the most beautiful and sparse songs Ubaldini has ever recorded.

"It's an intimate record set in an intimate setting," Ubaldini said.
Although there is a thriving regional and national Americana and roots scene now, it's easy to forget that Ubaldini has been at the forefront of the movement since his Lee Rocker-produced "Mystery Train" was released in 1994. The Fallen Stars, Mike Ness, Limbeck and Dusty Rhodes and the River Band are among the crop of locals whose current work ultimately celebrates the territory Ubaldini has been exploring since the early 1990s.
Ubaldini used a mere 18 hours of studio time to record "Street Singin' Troubadour" and is proud of the authentic sound and emotion that comes across the album. Like on his previous discs, Ubaldini hopes the songs will stand the test of time.
"I'm just playing guitar and signing, but I don't think that's retro."

Ubaldini will perform at Pepperland Music, 850 N. Tustin Ave., Orange, at 2 p.m. on May 10. He will also be at Alta Coffee, 506 31st St., Newport Beach, from 8-10 p.m. on May 15.