--Friday, April 5, 2013: Cracked Ice returns to Fairfield County's hottest new restaurant/nightclub, The Blu Parrot in Westport. We'll be featuring Susan Didrichsen on vocals, along with powerhouse male songsters Angel Rissoff and Larry Hendricks, along with Crispin and an all-star band, playing Cracked Ice originals, choice and dusty grooves from the Dictionary of Rock & Soul, and a great night of music for listening and dancing. . . .whew!
This spacious venue features an eclectically scrumptious menu, a beautiful stage, and a commitment to great music every week, and since it opened last October, the joint's been jumpin' . . . . . for more info: The Blu Parrot, 60 Charles St., (one block from the train station), Westport, CT; Tel: (203)557-9148
Cracked Ice is a NYC-based, 7-member, retro-nuevo soul band, named after a stomping Earl Bostic jukebox hit from waaaay back in the day. Saxophonist Crispin Cioe formed the group early in the millennium to perform regularly at blue-light bars, posh soirees, last-minute rent parties, swank affaires, blind pigs, elegant occasions, beach blanket bongo bashes, dirt-floor dives, back-alley boites, and esteemed concert stages. The band first honed its sound with a long-running engagement at the infamous (and sadly, now shuttered) midtown Gotham watering hole, Ye Olde Tripple Inne. More recently, the band just finished a once-a-month run at another now-legendary and recently-disappeared Manhattan music joint, The P&G Lounge. In early 2012, Cracked Ice will begin playing at a new club in the city, to be announced here soon. The current featured Cracked Ice singers are Susan Didrichsen and Bobby Harden, whose passionate duets and deep-soul individual vocal keep "Soul Noir" burning in the night, every time they hit the stage.
As the group became popular on the NYC party circuit, Crispin (who, as a soloist and member of the Uptown Horns, has toured/recorded with the Rolling Stones on their Steel Wheels/Urban Jungle comeback extravaganza, played the sax solo on James Brown’s “Living in America”, and performed/recorded with a who’s whom in pop music) started writing songs for the band. “I realized,” Crispin says, “that this band was inspiring me to go back to my own roots in music, to the people and sounds that originally made me want to perform and write music.”
Crispin was born in Detroit and grew up there in the Motown era, and has vivid memories of that musical scene. “In my high school years, I saw the Motown Revue at the Fox Theater, rock bands like Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels and the Amboy Dukes (Ted Nugent’s early group) at the Michigan State Fairgrounds, and James Brown at Cobo Hall. And I contend that anybody who saw the Motown Revue at the Fox had their life measurably altered. For a $4 ticket, you could see the Temptations, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, the Contours, Little Stevie Wonder, etc. all do sets of their early hits, replete with transcendent stage moves, the awesome Earl Van Dyke & the Funk Bros. Band backing everybody--and as I remember, the whole thing sounded even better live than on the records.”
“We also saw Muddy Waters at the Chessmate Coffee House on Woodward Avenue—a Wayne State University hangout--and once we even tried to catch John Lee Hooker at Ethel’s on the East Side, which was a real blues bar—but our fake IDs weren’t good enough to get us in there. One of my best friends growing up was James Montgomery, who went on to fame in New England and nationally with the James Montgomery Blues Band. We had a jug band in high school—the Milk River Sheiks—and we performed on local TV shows, in movie theater lobbies, high school auditoriums, anywhere they’d have us. Starting when we were 16, James and I began sneaking into music joints in Detroit (by that time we’d secured better fake IDs), where he’d sit in on harmonica with James Cotton, Muddy, Paul Butterfield, and Otis Rush…....to this day, James and I are still best friends.”
Crispin went to college at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, majoring in creative writing, then studied music at Wayne State and Berklee School of Music in Boston, but says that “I ended up going back to Ann Arbor/Detroit and joining some friends in a newly-formed r&b band, Radio King & His Court of Rhythm (whose drummer had actually performed with the Contours!). And by this time, we were all soul fanatics. We played bars and festivals all over Michigan and Ohio. Sometimes we’d open for Bob Seger, sometimes for Junior Walker & the All Stars or Kool & the Gang (circa “Funky Stuff”)."
"And sometimes we’d back up local soul vocal groups, like the Soulful SoulMates and Deon Jackson from Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti, and Detroit acts like Mad Dog & the Pups, the Sins of Satan, Elois Scott and Andre Williams. One night at the Red Carpet Lounge in Detroit we did our own set, then backed up Iggy Stooge (he wasn’t Pop yet) for an instrumental set—and by that I mean Iggy told us to jam on some funk grooves, while he engaged in what can only be called severe sub-verbal improvisation. We were friends with most of the Michigan rockers—Wayne Kramer from the MC5 used to sit in with us regularly—but we somehow knew that we were coming in at the glorious tail end of the soul era, and we were bound and determined to get involved with every inch of musical tail that was available to us on the local r&b scene. These were really the last days of classic soul and funk music, before disco, drum machines, and computer programming ended that era forever."
Crispin eventually went out on his own, moving to New York, where for several years, he led a dual life: by night, he played in clubs like CBGB’s (which had recently opened a block from his apartment in the East Village) and the Bottom Line; by day, he was a freelance music journalist/reviewer for Soho Weekly News, Musician, High Fidelity, Circus, Tiger Beat, Playboy, High Times, and the Detroit Free Press—also writing occasional album liner notes and publicity bios for record labels.
“During this period,” recalls Crispin, “Soho Weekly News had become the first press outlet to take the early punk/new wave scene seriously. I was writing a regular music biz column for the paper, called Trade Secrets, so I covered events like the Sex Pistols’ first NYC show at Hurrah. Later that week, my old Detroit friend Mitch Ryder was in town performing, and I introduced him to Sid Vicious at a party. Mitch remarked—sincerely--how he liked Sid’s bass playing on “Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols”, and Sid, obviously a little testy about the rumors floating around that his bandmate Paul Jones had actually played all the bass parts on the album, took a wild swing at Mitch. Of course, anybody who knows Mitch—a tough guy from the downriver Detroit area--knows how that little scuffle came out.”
“Gradually, I was able to propose my own assignments to editors. I covered the first Reggae Sunsplash Festival in Jamaica, where I interviewed Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and others. I remember Marley talking about how much American soul greats like Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions had influenced him. And that same year, the editor at teeny-bopper magazine Circus asked me to go on the road and write about Parliament Funkadelic on their ‘Mothership Connection Tour’, because, he said, ‘you’re the only writer we have who even knows who they are….’ So, for several days that autumn, I watched the ‘Mothership’ land onstage around New England while the band pounded out its ground-breaking funk grooves, ogled the Brides of Funkenstein, and dutifully recorded George Clinton’s late-night metaphysical rambings in his hotel room. I’ve still got the tapes from those interviews, but listening back today, everybody in the rooms sounds a bit abstract, including this reporter. . . "
“At a certain point, though, I had to make a decision: people in NYC would see me playing in clubs and hear me on recordings, while perhaps the same day reading my byline for an article or review. It was just too confusing to them, so I decided to gradually phase out the journalism. At the same time, my career as a soloist/sideman was taking off a bit, and it was right around then that we started the Uptown Horns.”
The Uptown Horns (Crispin, Bob Funk, Arno Hecht, Larry Etkin) began performing/arranging/recording together in the early 80s, initially behind a regular weekly engagement at Tramp’s nightclub in Manhattan, where all kinds of stars would show up (Elvis Costello, Dr. John, Southside Johnny, Big Joe Turner, BB King, Buster Brown, Gary 'US" Bonds) and sit in for this now-infamous late night jamfest. Over the next twenty years, as a studio/touring soloist and co-founder of the Uptown Horns, Crispin toured/recorded with legends like the J. Geils Band (Freezeframe/Showtime Tours/LPs), Solomon Burke ("Soul Alive" LP), Mink DeVille, the Rolling Stones (Steel Wheels Tour/"Livewire" LP/IMAX film), Sam Moore, James Brown, Tom Waits (“Rain Dogs” LP), Albert Collins (“Cold Snap” and “Iceman” LPs), Scissors Sisters, Howard Tate (Grammy-nominated, Jerry Ragovoy-produced "Rediscovered" LP), Luther ‘Guitar Junor’ Johnson, Wilson Pickett (horns/arrangements on Grammy-nominated "It's Harder Now"), Buster Poindexter, Robert Palmer, Debbie Harry, Joe Cocker, Robert Plant & the Honeydrippers, GE Smith, Peter Allen, Shemekia Copeland, and many more. He’s also music directed for television (VH-I’s “Buster’s Happy Hour”) and off-Broadway (2001 Drama Desk Award nomination/Best Original Music, for “True Love”, by Charles Mee), and scored the music for several independent films, including the festival-winning Sundance Channel selection "Burnzy's Last Call".
“But”, Crispin says, “throughout my life, soul music has always been a fountain of inspiration for me. And I’m not alone in this: when we were touring with the Rolling Stones, I can remember many occasions on the road hanging out with Keith Richards in his hotel suite after a show, where his chill-out music of choice would be stuff like 'The Spinners’ Greatest Hits'.
"One of the main things that draws people to this form is that the best kind of soul tune tells a story, but with a level of deep musical feeling that makes the emotion believable—that’s the enduring attraction this music has. I guess I’ve been saving up my own stories for a long time, and now that I’m finally ready to set them to music, I’ve gone back to the well to draw on the deepest musical waters I could find."
"I've certainly learned from the best. For example, with the Uptown Horns, we cut Solomon Burke's "Soul Alive" album (recently re-released on Rounder Records) over 3 hot summer nights in 1982 at a funky little soul club in Washington DC: no overdubs, no rehearsal other than the couple of gigs we'd done with him before, no set list....just the amazing King Solomon telling us before we went onstage for the first show: 'follow me, boys, wherever I go, and everything will work out fine….are you with me?' And critics have called this one of the great live soul albums of all time. So, I guess you could say that I've been going to school on this music for most of my life.”
Crispin based his original songs for Cracked Ice on the classic male-female soul duet paradigm, a la Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, Ike & Tina Turner, Inez & Charlie Foxx, Don Gardner & Dee Dee Ford, Billy Vera & Judy Clay, and others in that profoundly funky groove-space. The band's rootsy update of this beloved duet style features Susan Didrichsen and Brent Carter, who sound both authentic and fresh on songs that explore the time-honored themes of love lost and love that's been found. They're supported by a super-tight rhythm section that's steeped in the Memphis/Detroit/Muscle Shoals connection, and this is a band that comes to the music with some serious pedigree happening.
Brent Carter recorded and sang lead vocals live for 5 years with the mighty Tower of Power ("Souled Out" and "Soul Vaccination - Live" LPs), starting in '95, and has sung backups for greats like BB King, BeBe & CeCe Winans, and Regina Belle, as well as lead vocals in the recent Broadway musical “Hot Feet” (based on the songs of Earth, Wind & Fire). Brent started early in the business: as a child, he played Gabriel in the Broadway musical “Shenandoah”, and later attended the Performing Arts High School of New York (along with classmates Wesley Snipes and Esai Morales).
Susan D. sang duets and backup vocals and sizzled onstage for several years with soul deity Wilson Pickett, where she first earned the sobriquet “white-hot soul in a red-hot package.” She has worked with NY rockers like David Byrne and John Cale, and recorded with Irish songstress Enya. She counts Candi Staton, Gladys Knight, and Janis Joplin as major influences.
Musicians who performed on "Soul Noir"
Keyboardist Charlie Giordano is an esteemed sideman/sessioneer (he was a featured soloist on Bruce Springsteen's “Seeger Sessions" 2006 LP/tour), and has toured/recorded with a huge range of artists, including Odetta, Joe Cocker, Hall & Oates, and Cyndi Lauper. Over the years Charlie and Crispin have worked together recording/touring with Carolyne Mas, Buster Poindexter, Pat Benatar, and Sam Moore.
Guitarist John Putnam is a NYC session ace who is equally famed for his burning live fretwork with yet another diverse range of artists that includes Shemekia Copeland, Madonna, Cher, Jimmy Cliff, Bo Bice, and Southside Johnny.
Bassist Ivan Bodley grew up in Tennessee and lived in New Orleans before moving to NYC, and is a virtual encyclopedia of fat bass, having performed/tracked with soul royals that include Sam Moore, Earl King, Ann Peebles, Solomon Burke, Harry Connick Jr., Percy Sledge, Rufus & Carla Thomas, the Chi-Lites, and Martha Reeves. Drummer Robin Gould has a diverse background in jazz/blues/pop recording and touring spheres (extensive sideman work with GE Smith, Michael Franks, Ben E. King, Carly Simon, Steve Khan).
The Cracked Ice rhythm section players are all disciples of the classics: Booker T. & the MGs, the Meters, the Motown Funk Brothers, and the Hi Rhythm Section (Al Green’s original backing combo)—which they combine with a wider range of experience rocking out and in-the-pocket jazzing. Another strong factor in the Cracked Ice sound is that the band recorded the entire album with engineer Larry Alexander, who combines old-school studio knowledge (he engineered the song 'Born To Run', along with several albums by Miss Diana Ross--how's that for a range of experience--but Larry is also a Pro-Tools savant. He is that rare engineer today who combines the best of traditional recording technique with ultra-digital knowledge and understanding. Along the same lines, the band did all the basic tracks at Carriage House Recording in Connecticut, which has become one of the great vintage gear rooms in the country. Crispin says that "Carriage House combines a marvelous wood-barn room sound, incredible vintage amps and keyboards, and classic flying-faders SSL board with full-blown Pro-Tools. That's our sound really, sort of a "classic nouveau' approach....”
Crispin on Cracked Ice: "These are people I've worked with in the trenches, in all kinds of musical situations over the years. You know, there’s a certain kind of NYC musician who can do whatever’s needed on a TV jingle session or a Broadway soundtrack, but then you go to hear them in a little club—and they haven’t lost their fire and passion for burning it up live….that’s this band’s modus operendi.
“For instance, I first heard Brent singing all the lead vocals from offstage in a Broadway musical, “Hot Feet”, which featured the songs of Earth, Wind & Fire. And no matter what was—or wasn’t--going on onstage with the actors, the entire audience in that theater came alive when you’d hear the opening melody line: “Do you remember, the 21st night in September. . . “. Then I went back and checked out Brent’s work on records with Tower of Power, and heard him sing live in a club--and I knew I’d found my guy. Brent has the old-time gospel soul thing melded with more modern stylings—he’s just deep.”
“I think the first time I heard Susan singing was with Wilson Pickett at BB King’s in NY. She did a duet feature with Pickett where she totally held her own with one of the most fearsome male singers in history. Then a few months later she sat in with my band and sang “Piece of My Heart”—standing ovation in a dive bar for a song that few have done justice to beyond Erma Franklin’s original and Janis Joplin’s more famous version. I said to myself, ‘that’s the girl’.”
“We started by doing some of the classic duets live: “When Something Is Wrong” by Sam & Dave, Sam Cooke & Lou Rawls’ “Bring It One Home To Me”, then over time I played my originals for Susan and Brent. I found I could cut right to the chase with them and get to the heart of what I wanted each song to mean. Like with “That’s My Story”, it’s obviously a song of experience, where the couple is acknowledging that after all the trials and tribulations, they realize that they really do belong together. In the recording sudio, they gave a reading on the first take that blew my mind it was so good, so I said, ‘I can’t believe how fast you’re getting this’. Brent just said, ‘I know what it means’, as Susan slowly nodded her head. Likewise, when I showed her ‘One Last Time’, Susan got the melody really fast, and then looked at me and said, ‘this just needs to be real nasty. . . . ’ “
“I get the same kind of rapport with the musicians in Cracked Ice. Last year I went to see Charlie play in Bruce Springsteen’s Seeger Sessions Band, in Asbury Park, NJ. Bruce had him soloing on accordion, organ, piano, Wurlitzer—basically anything that had keys you press down on—and he took obvious delight in Charlie’s ability to move seamlessly from ragtime to funk to blues to polka grooves, and bring real musical feeling to each style.”
“John Putnam is sort of a local guitar hero in a city—New York—that prides itself on spawning guitar royalty like Jimi Hendrix, Elliot Randall, and Cornell Dupree. John grew up in Manhattan, and has spend significant time playing and mastering all kinds of divergent styles: hard rock (lead guitarist in ‘Tommy’ on Broadway), reggae (w/ Jimmy Cliff), blues (w/Shemekia Copeland), and pop (w/ Madonna)--but he never loses the emotion in his playing. Listen to his soloing on ‘New Shade of Blue’ and “Let’s Talk It Over’—it’s just raw and real and in your face. Putnam delivers the goods.”
“As far as bass and drums go—I’ve always tried to use the highest-quality rhythmic glue on the bottom of a track, which is all about the space between the notes, careful attention to where a backbeat falls, how the pulse feels in your body when you’re listening to a song. For me, those are the elements that make a song work, even in terms of lyrics. With the song ‘Somebody’, for example, the bass/drum track is like a soft, elastic pulse, underscoring the lead vocals’ vulnerability and hope. Basically, when I first heard Ivan and Robin play together I said to them: ‘I guess you’re just what I needed.’ These two guys have had loads of experience in many different musical formats, which they can bring to bear in subtle ways on my tunes. Ivan’s a bit of a jazzbo—he went to Berklee School of Music in Boston—but he also did some serious hang time for several years playing r&b in New Orleans (and thus, is a man thoroughly grounded in the George Porter/Meters approach to minimalistic funky bass). He’s toured extensively with people like Martha Reeves (where he totally absorbed the James Jamerson/Motown bass gestalt) and Sam Moore (where he did a mild-meld with the Duck Dunn/Stax variant on the same theme).”
“And Robin Gould is one of those rare drummers who can and will play less rather than more, as long as it serves the groove. He probably came by this approach from his years touring and recording with Michael Franks and Carly Simon, and at this point, he’s one of the most refined groovers around—but who can still smack that snare drum with awesome power when he wants to. Which of course places him in the grand tradition of Al Jackson, Jr., Booker T. & the MGs' tubman supreme.“
As a writer-producer, Crispin again defers to the “masters” with whom he’s worked. “My mentors are the greats who’ve hired me to play sax. For example, I consider Jerry Ragovoy, who wrote ‘Time Is On My Side’ and ‘Piece of My Heart’, to be one of the living masters of rhythm & blues. A few years ago , Jerry reunited with the famous ‘lost soul’ singer Howard Tate for his ‘Rediscovered’ album, and I was able to see Jerry work with Howard on his vocals for the new songs Jerry had written, see how they would build and shape melodies in the studio, figure out ways to emphasize certain lyrics, feelings and meanings. Then, when Jerry wrote his horn arrangements around the finished vocals, I was able to actually be a part of that building process, to participate in the horn parts serving those melodies. That’s the way I’ve learned to make songs: start with the basic emotion of a song, what the lyrics really mean, and then build it from the ground up. On 'Soul Noir', the stories I'm telling have their roots in my own life and times, but the singers and the band helped me turn them into the kind of songs that you might hear on the radio, and go: 'yea, that's how it was for me, too...”
We've heard a lot in the media lately about a soul music comeback (of course hardcore fans know it never really went away)--in the work of newer artists like Corinne Bailey Rae, John Mayer, James Hunter, Amy Winehouse, Gnarls Barkley, and John Legend; with the resurgence of veterans like Bettye Lavette and Solomon Burke; and now, with the emergence of a new band that's deep inside the soul groove: Cracked Ice.
"Soul Noir", the debut album from Cracked Ice, explores these soul roots with a modern slant, from the earthy ballad duet "Let's Talk It Over" (Her: "The whole town's talkin', 'bout how you've been carryin' on..."/Him: "But they don't know nuthin', except to say I'm doin' wrong...") to the Sam & Dave-ish shuffle "That's My Story" (this cut was released in June, 2007, as a single for the Southeast “beach music/shag dance” market, centered in Myrtle Beach/Charlston, SC, and the track is already getting major airplay/floorplay throughout the region). Brent and Susan also sing leads on several tunes: he rips up the Albert King-style, Stax/Volt-inflected "New Shade of Blue", while Susan does beautiful, rough justice to the album's lone outside cover song, the Candi Staton underground classic, "Sweet Feeling".
What all these songs share is the basic soul music emotion which, like classic country & western, is about the joys and pains of everyday life and everyday people--wrapped around the power and glory of gospel, blues, and R&B musical roots. "Soul Noir" sounds at once authentic and new, like an album of classics never heard before, and Cracked Ice is definitely a band to hear now. . . .