On Stage: Nile ready to rock at Ardmore

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Willie Nile

“Nile” and “ancient” are words that go together well – but not always.

The word “ancient” is frequently used to describe the area along the Nile River, which is the longest river in the world at 4,130 miles.

The word “ancient” is often used by younger music fans to describe veteran rockers who are in their 70s.

Willie Nile, who is 72, is an internationally acclaimed rocker whose career spans 50-plus years – and he is far from being “ancient.”

“Vibrant,” “highly energized,” and “tireless” are much more accurate descriptions of Nile, who will be headlining a show on May 29 at the Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, 610-649-8389, www.ardmoremusic.com).

Nile has been champing at the bit to shake off the effects of the pandemic shutdown of live music. Clubs are re-opening. Masks are off and Nile is ready to rock.

“I’m in New York and it’s buzzing,” said Nile, during a phone interview Tuesday afternoon from his home in Greenwich Village. “You still see some masks, but people are out and about.”

Nile has tapped into his own lockdown experience as a source of inspiration for the set of haunting new songs that comprise his emotion-charged new release, “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” The album was inspired by the sight of Nile’s beloved hometown temporarily turned into a desolate ghost town, thanks to COVID-19 safety precautions.

“For more than a year, New York has been like a ghost town,” said Nile, ““I have a storage space near the Holland Tunnel, and normally on a Friday night at rush hour, it can take an hour to move five blocks. Back in April on a Friday at 6 p.m., I was on Varick Street. I looked in both directions and there wasn’t a car in sight. I could have laid down in the middle of the street without anyone noticing. It was like a science fiction movie.

“We just played City Winery in New York. They have a new venue on the water. We did two sold-out shows. We couldn’t believe it – believe that we’re out.

“Next is the Ardmore Music Hall and I’m really looking forward to it. It’s a great place to play. I did a show there with John Eddie in May 2019.

“On Saturday night, we’re doing two sets – 8-9 p.m. and 9:30-10:30 p.m. – and we’re not changing the house.”

Nile’s debut album, “Willie Nile,” was released by Arista Records in early 1980 to critical praise. The album immediately created a buzz among critics and quickly drew the attention of other rock stars such as Pete Townshend and The Who, who invited Nile to join them on their 1980 stateside tour.

Now, more than 40 years later, Nile is still going strong – and still rocking hard.

“I just did an album within the CDC guidelines,” said Nile. “

“We recorded this album in January 2021. We all wore masks the whole time and did our best to keep things safe.

In the studio, if someone was singing in a room, we couldn’t go in until an hour after they finished singing.

“The whole band, except me, had actually caught COVID on our last gig before the pandemic hit — February 29, 2020 at the South Orange Performing Arts Center. Everyone recovered and, for some reason, I never got it.”

Co-produced by Nile and Grammy-winner and longtime collaborator Stewart Lerman (Elvis Costello/Patti Smith/Norah Jones), the album features such timely compositions as “Sanctuary,” “Expect Change” “Way of the Heart,” “Off My Medication” and “Where There’s a Willie There’s a Way,” “Blood on Your Hands,” and “The Justice Bell” (which was inspired by Nile’s encounter with civil rights icon and U.S. Congressman John Lewis).

“We recorded the album in New Jersey at the same studio we’ve used several times in the past — Hobo Sound in Weehawken,” said Nile, who plays acoustic and electric guitars and piano.

“We cut it in January. We spent three days doing the basic tracks and a few days doing overdubbing. We’re hoping for an August release date.

“The band is getting really good. We’ve got Joe Webber on drums and Johnny Pisano playing bass. Andy Burton does some keyboards and Jimi K. Bones on guitar. Anything they play is pretty much torched. It’s nice to be able to go onstage with players you know and love.” 

‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’ is not a concept album,” said Nile. “But it is clearly inspired by New York in the pandemic shutdown.”

According to Nile, “I’m so proud of this album. It was born of a pandemic nightmare, but I think that it offers hope, and passion, for better days to come. That’s what I need, as a person and an artist.”

The audience at Ardmore Music Hall on Saturday night will be in for a special treat.

“I’m going to play three or four songs from the new album at Ardmore,” said Nile, who has 14 albums to draw from. I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be a great show.”

Video link for Willie Nile – https://youtu.be/C6JaDpyl1Bo.

The show at the Ardmore Music Hall on May 29 will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $49 -$79 (Table seating; sold in pairs).

Other upcoming shows at the venue are Splintered Sunlight on May 28 and Muscle Tough + lespecial on June 3.

Mr. Unloved

Mr. Unloved will be the headline act at Jamey’s House of Music (32 South Lansdowne Avenue, Lansdowne, jameyshouseofmusic.com) on May 28.

If you’ve never heard of him, you have a challenging task trying to figure out what kind of music he will perform at Friday evening’s show.

The first choice could be wimpy rock delivered by a shoegazing, social misfit strumming on an acoustic guitar.

The second choice could be psychotic self-flagellating songs by a singer whose parents ignored him as a child and set a pattern that would follow him for the rest of his life.

The real answer is provided by Mr. Unloved himself.

“It’s devil music,” said Mr. Unloved during a phone interview last week from his home in the East Falls section of Philadelphia.

“You could say that my songs use insensitive, hyperbolic sarcasm.”

Quotes on Mr. Unloved website described him as “an underground veteran with a hilarious collection of songs about necrophilia, unfaithful women and voodoo who borrows from the Nighthawks-era Tom Waits/Screamin’ Jay Hawkins playbook complete with props — producing blazing packets of flash powder from his tacky jacket for especially poignant moments during the show.”

Another description called him, “a bluesy lounge act full of wit and devilish charm with comedic lines that often feel so wrong but so right,” while another stated “Mr. Unloved is a fire throwing harmonica spitting blues playing magician/comedian.”

Mr. Unloved posted this quote on his Facebook site – “Disgusting filth. When I get home from this show, I’m going to take a bath in alcohol.” – My Dad.

The unconventional artist is ready to emerge from the universal musicians’ pandemic cocoon Friday evening at Jamey’s.

“This is my first gig in a while,” said Mr. Unloved. “Even before the shutdown, I was injured.

“I was walking on uneven surfaces. I also work in the HVAC field. I was checking pneumatic lines at work.

“It took a long time to recover. I had a hernia and then I tore up my ankle and needed surgery. I tore a spring ligament and a tibial tendon. I couldn’t hold my balance.”

Mr. Unloved spent his days as a youth in Montgomery County.

“I can’t say that I grew up in Flourtown,” said Mr. Unloved. “That’s because I’m 60 and still haven’t grown up. I got older in Flourtown and graduated from Springfield-Montco High. I bought this crib in East Falls in 1986 and I’m still here.”

His current music is a complete opposite of his childhood/teen years favorites.

“I was really into the Monkees as a kid,” said Mr. Unloved. “I really wanted to be Micky Dolenz.

“My sister wanted a piano, so my dad bought us a piano. My sister quit but I kept going. I got into the Vince Guaraldi Trio.

“I played bass in a punk band, but I was also into the Ramsey Lewis Trio and Young-Holt Unlimited. I like the pelvic music – the rhythm. I play the piano very physically. I play from the pelvis.

“I was in a band called the Unloved around 1985-1986. I was playing bass and it was pretty much a trio. Then, I went solo and became Mr. Unloved – sort of like Adam Ant coming out of Adam and the Ants.”

After a while, Mr. Unloved expanded his performances to another genre.

“I did a lot of poetry – especially with Pegalina,” said Mr. Unloved. “We performed together at venues like the Painted Bride. I even went to CBGB’s in New York with her.

“I bought a Fender Rhodes and brought it with me to poetry readings. I started to branch off and do my own thing.”

Making recordings was not one of those things.

“I never got to the point of putting an album out,” said Mr. Unloved. “I don’t know what format I’d use.

“I prefer being onstage and playing live. Dirty dive bars are my atmosphere.”

Video link for Mr. Unloved – https://youtu.be/N141sKuBoeI.

The show at Jamey’s on Friday night will start at 8 p.m. and will also be available via Livestream. Tickets are $15 in advance and $18 at the door. Pay-per-view tickets are $15.

King Solomon Hicks

There will be a wholly different vibe at Jamey’s House of Music on May 29 when the headliner is King Solomon Hicks.

Hicks is a 24-year-old guitarist/singer/composer whose specialty is the blues with some jazz thrown in the mix.

“I began playing guitar when I was really young,” said Hicks, during a phone interview Tuesday night from his home in New York’s Harlem. “My mom started me with guitar lessons when I was six.”

His mother Holly Hicks was his first tutor and taught him the history of African American music. He started learning soul music, blues, and then Jimi Hendrix. He was playing music before he learned to read music.

His father and mother played music at home constantly. When Hicks was a youngster, his mother took him to local nightspots such as the Lennox Lounge, Saint Nick’s and the Cotton Club, where he witnessed performances that made a significant impact on his outlet and ambitions.

According to Hicks, “When you’re around good musicians, it gives you that spark — ‘I want to do what you do. I want to hold my own.’

“But being around those types of musicians also taught me to not be the fastest guitar player. I wanted to be the one who knew the most riffs and drew on a lot of knowledge so I could play anything, and with anyone.”

He attended the Harlem School of Arts and the Jazzmobile training program. He graduated from Talent Unlimited High School as a music major in 2012.

“At age 13, I started playing guitar with the Cotton Club in the big band there,” said Hicks. “I was doing a lot of different gigs all through high school. I started touring Denmark when I was 18. Copenhagen was a big blues town. I also played Germany and Spain and opened for Robert Cray.”

Hicks has performed at the KISS Kruise V, the Joe Bonamassa Blues Cruise in 2017, the Festival De Blues De Bejar-Blues Cazorla-San Javier in Spain, in France at the Jazz Marciac, and the Cotton Club in Tokyo. He has performed at music festivals in Spain, Germany, France, Japan, Denmark, Mexico, the Bahamas, Bermuda, Barbados, and United States.

“The KISSKruise was a good experience,” said Hicks. “So was Joe Bonamassa Blues Alive at Sea Cruise.

“My early mentor was Melvin Sparks. I learned a lot about jazz and blues from him. Another main mentor was Junior Mack. When I was 21, I was playing with his band every Tuesday at B.B. King’s in New York.”

Melvin Sparks, who passed away in 2011, was an American soul jazz, hard bop and jazz blues guitarist who recorded several albums for Prestige Records and Savant Records. He appeared on many recordings with musicians including Lou Donaldson, Sonny Stitt, Leon Spencer and Johnny Hammond Smith. Junior Mack is a veteran guitarist who played in Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band with Allman Brothers Band drummer Jaimoe.

Hicks released his debut album, “HARLEM,” on March 13, 2020 on Provogue Records, a Dutch label that label specializes in rock and blues. Provogue’s catalog includes Joe Bonamassa, Beth Hart, Eric Johnson, Robert Cray, Gov’t Mule, Philip Sayce, and Warren Haynes.

“Kirk Yano produced the album,” said Hicks. “My show at Sellersville will be a trio with Kirk on bass, Mike Rodbard on drums and me on guitar. I also did a Livestream show there back in July with Kirk on bass and Mikey Jr. on drums.”

Yano is a multiple Grammy-winning recording engineer with several Platinum and Gold RIAA Awards, who has worked with acts such as Miles Davis, Public Enemy, Phoebe Snow and Savoy Brown.

“HARLEM” features originals such as the roadhouse ready “421 South Main,” the gospel shuffle of “Have Mercy on Me” and the aching instrumental “Riverside Drive” along with classics such as “Every Day I Sing the Blues” and “It’s Alright.” The LP also features Blood, Sweat & Tears’ “I Love You More Than You Will Ever Know,” Gary Wright’s “Love is Alive” and Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Help Me.”

“We recorded the album over two years at Kirk’s studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn,” said Hicks. “It’s not a traditional blues album. I have one leg in blues and on the other leg, I’m trying to throw in different genres.

“I’ve worked hard on developing my sound. What keeps me going is when I see people get up and dance.”

Video link for King Solomon Hicks — https://youtu.be/TWOY8ypiJec.

John Byrne

The show at Jamey’s on Saturday night will start at 8 p.m. and will also be available via Livestream. Tickets are $15 in advance and $18 at the door. Pay-per-view tickets are $15.

Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org) will present two editions of its Rooftop Series this week.

The venue will host the John Byrne Band on May 29 and Chris Smither on June 3.

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