Blind Willies is Alexei Wajchman, guitarist/singer/songwriter, and Annie Staninec, multi-genre fiddler. They met and began playing together at San Francisco School of the Arts. They're both recent graduates of University of California Santa Cruz.
Annie has been playing bluegrass/old time fiddle for more than a decade. She's also a consummate gypsy jazz violinist. In 2006 she toured with David Grisman and the Gypsy Caravan. The highlight of those performances was a full orchestra playing David Grisman’s “Gypsy Medley” from his soundtrack recording for the film, King of the Gypsies. As the featured fiddler, Annie electrified audiences in solos that honored the late Stéphane Grappelli who originally recorded the piece with David. She has also played with Darol Anger, Mike Marshall, Stephane Wrembel, and Crooked Still. Annie was Djangofest Northwest's 2006 recipient of the Dudley Hill Award for exceptional young artist.
Alexei grew up in San Francisco's Mission District. After learning to play clarinet and sax, he taught himself to play guitar and began writing songs at 15. He was awarded the Blue Bear Celebrity Scholarship to study guitar and voice in 2002 and 2003, and he was a 2003 California Arts Scholar in sax. His early influences included Nirvana, Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Velvet Underground, Robert Johnson, Leadbelly, Hank Williams, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors. His music is a soulful mix of folk, rock, jazz, and blues. Writing in the popular online zine Delusions of Adequacy, editor Jenn
O'Donnell wrote "Blind Willies play incredibly wonderful music. Alexei is a remarkable
Blind Willies made their professional debut at San Francisco's Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in 2004. They've played Falcon Ridge Folk Festival's 2008 Emerging Artists Showcase, The Folk Project's Minstrel Concert Series, San Luis Obispo Folk Music Society Concert Series, SF's 2008 Summer Sailstice, Berkeley's Freight and Salvage, SF's Great American Music Hall, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Zeum, SF Folk Festival, Djangofest, and smaller venues throughout the Bay Area and NYC. In 2007 they performed with Peter Stampfel(The Holy Modal Rounders, The Fugs) at New York's Sidewalk Cafe.
Their debut album, The Unkindness of Ravens, was recorded and mixed by Lemon DeGeorge(Jolie Holland, Genghis Blues) at Crib Nebula in San Francisco, and mastered by Paul Carlsen(Nirvana's Nevermind) at the Russian River.
Blind Willies' new CD, Everybody's Looking for a Meal, is available now.
Confirmed radio play includes Better Days Radio, Vancouver, BC; Pirate Cat Radio, SF; KPIG, KRSH, WXPN, WFUV Woody's Children, KPFA, WFDU, KALW, KZSC, KUSP, KYOU, KQED, KDVS, KKUP, WOBC, WTJU, WDVX Writer's Block, WCOM Taproot Radio, Americana Roots, WWUH, KZSU, KRCB, KSCL, WBGU, KAOS, WTUL, WCBN, KBCS, WEFT, WMBR, KBGA, WSDP, WDCB, KXCI, WRKF, KACI, WLRN, KCSC, WFHB, WMUD, KAFM, Thayrone's The Bone Conduction Music Show(syndicated), WRFL, WDBX, KGLP, Radio Marabu/Europe/No Pigeonholes, Hanx/Netherlands, Crossroads/Netherlands, Heart of the Night & TransAtlantic Acoustic indieheart.com podcasts, Suffolk 'n Cool/UK, CKUA Tom Coxworth's Folk Routes/Canada, 2 MAX/Australia, Triplej/Australia, 3 INR/Australia, 2AIR/Australia, 4RED/Australia, Radio Upper Galilee/Israel, Highway 61 Radio Voce Spazio/Italy, Radio ZuSa, Germany.
12/24/07 From Jenn O'Donnell's 2007 Top 10 list:
I still enjoy folk music, but the great albums
seem fewer and farther between each year.
Blind Willies surprised me by bringing back
that wide-eyed joyful feeling that I used to
get from albums like this. “Last Rites in
December” is the one song that left me
completely stunned every time I heard it.
4/12/07 Review in Delusions of Adequacy:
Blind Willies' debut, The Unkindness of Ravens, has been knocking around my CD player for quite a few months now, quietly haunting random moments of my life during this tail end of winter and early spring. As the days grow longer and the East Coast slowly emerges from icy temperatures, I've come to love this disc rather a lot - so much so, that I find words are failing me. How can one truly relay the maddening beauty of the first crocus poking through the dry, cracked Earth to someone who has never seen it happen? How can I possibly explain something like the Blind Willies song, "Last Rites in December", in such a way that you'll understand how breathtaking it is?
Blind Willies are Annie Staninec (fiddle) and Alexei Wajchman (guitar, vocals), a duo that met while at San Francisco School of the Arts. Staninec and Wajchman, both accomplished musicians, made their professional debut as Blind Willies in 2004 at San Francisco's Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. Since then, they've played a variety of venues and recorded their first release - a collection of ten acoustic tunes featuring the fiddle, guitar, and a bit of harmonica.
There's nothing overtly unexpected on The Unkindness of Ravens, but Blind Willies play incredibly wonderful music. Alexei is a remarkable songwriter whose lyrics go well beyond the average ramblings of most singer-songwriters. Even "Mainline" - with its "hungry pawn store prisoners" - is well-crafted enough to run with the big boys and Wajchman wrote the song at the tender age of 15. Annie's fiddle is the perfect accompaniment for Alexei and it's the soft wails from her instrument that really give this album an overall feel of quiet desperation - like waking up in a cold sweat with traces of a nightmare clouding your mind.
Tracks like the seven minute long "Something in the Night" are further proof of Alexei's knack as a wordsmith; here, he sings "there's something in the night/even when you're blind/taking drugs to cancel time/that keeps your eyes wide open and your heart clenched tight" and the scene almost materializes right in front of you. Still, it's the opening track, "Last Rites in December" that gives me butterflies every time I hear it. This song just has that certain something that makes it stunning and I find myself returning to it over and over again. "Last Rites in December" is Blind Willies' perfect blend of instruments and voice(s). As Wajchman and Staninec sing "there's no warmth in this city/there's no joy in this lover of mine/so I'm leaving with nothing/I think I'll make it this time" you can feel not only the heartbreak, but the delicate new leaf of hope.
Although I'm sure my words are woefully inadequate, I cannot urge fans of all sorts of folk music enough that they should not miss out on The Unkindness of Ravens. The opening track alone is sufficient to pay for this debut CD, but there are nine other gems just waiting to be discovered.
-Jenn O'Donnell, Editor