On Stage: Ben Brandt was born to play guitar

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Ben Brandt and the Soul Miners Union

Independence Day Weekend has arrived — and so has an endless array of holiday celebrations.

There are also many concerts on this weekend’s schedule – a wide variety of shows with something to please almost everyone.

Jamey’s House of Music (32 South Lansdowne Avenue, Lansdowne, 215-477-9985,www.jameyshouseofmusic.com) is celebrating the holiday weekend with a trio of shows in three different genres – including the area debut by Ben Brandt and the Soul Miners Union.

The spotlight will be on jazz on June 30. On July 1, the focus will shift to rock with a blues/rock power trio. The weekend will close out with a blues show on July 3.

The “Thursday Night Jazz Jam” and the “Sunday Blues Brunch & Jam” are regular features on Jamey’s calendar while Friday and Saturday night shows feature national and regional acts.

There will be no Saturday evening show this weekend – but the Friday night show more than makes up for it.

On July 1, Jamey’s will present Ben Brandt and the Soul Miners Union.

The son of professional musician/guitarist/singer Garry Brandt, the younger Brandt was always exposed to the sounds of guitar music. As a baby he was fascinated by the instrument and by the time he was three he was picking out riffs on his father’s guitars. His dad began teaching him at a very early age. By the time he was nine, he started taking private lessons with Chris Buono of TrueFire & Guitar Player Magazine.

Brandt also studied music theory and put away the electric for a summer and focused solely on classical guitar. By age 10, Brandt had started his own band and his talents were discovered by a local radio station – WDHA in Dover, New Jersey. The station promoted his music and featured him in festivals where he shared the stage with the likes of Savoy Brown and Billy Hector. Even as a pre-teen, he was entertaining huge crowds – including a time when he played a two-hour set at Giants Stadium where he entertained the visitors at a ski trade show.

“I’m from New Jersey,” said Brandt, during a phone interview Wednesday afternoon from his home in Harrisburg. “I moved to the Poconos and graduated from Pleasant Valley High School. After that, I went to Scranton University where I majored in economics and business.”

In 2010, Brandt moved to Harrisburg and started the Ben Brandt Trio in which he was both vocalist and lead guitarist. The band played throughout the PA/MD/DC/VA region where it quickly gained a wide fan base in the blues/rock scene.

Brandt became involved with the Central Pennsylvania Blues Society (BSPA) which he is still involved in today. The BSPA partners with blues musicians in Mississippi and brings them to the Keystone State to play. It is a win/win situation that provides Southern blues bands an avenue to be introduced to a new market and, at the same time, gives Brandt an opportunity to play with many notable Delta Blues artists.

Brandt’s influences include a very eclectic mix of blues, prog and rock from Gary Moore and Eric Johnson to Andy Timmons, Robin Trower, Steve Vai and Alex Lifeson.

“My main influences on guitar are Leslie West, Robin Trower, Robben Ford and Warren Haynes,” said Brandt. “And Jeff Beck. He is an amazing guitarist who can play in a variety of genres and still maintain his sound — still be instantly recognizable. There is no other guitarist like him.

“A lot of bands have influenced me. Rush is one of my all-time favorites along with Captain Beyond, Jethro Tull and Free. I really like Free’s guitarist Paul Kossoff.”

These different genres and playing styles provide Brandt with a broad palette to draw from to hone his craft. Dynamics and phrasing are key components in Brandt’s guitar work – along with a distinctive tone.

In 2019, Brandt teamed up with singer/songwriter Kevin Koa and formed the Soul Miners Union, a roots and blues based project that featured original songs with great grooves and catchy lyrics. Their debut album was recorded and produced by legendary guitarist/producer Josh Smith at his Flat V studio in Los Angeles. The album was released in September 2020.

“Kevin and I did an album with Josh Smith in 2019,” said Brandt. “Then, Kevin left, and I started a trio.”

The current trio features Liam Galiano on bass and backup vocals, Joe Shattls on drums and backup vocals and Brandt on guitar and lead vocals. Both Galiano and Shattls (who could use another vowel in his name) are from the Lancaster area.

“We play a combination of rock and blues,” said Brandt. “We’re an American power trio – blues, rock, psych.

“We played a lot of shows before the pandemic. Now, we’re starting to get on the road more after the pandemic. We’re travelling more and expanding our area.

“We’re gearing up to go into the studio and do some new music. We want to put out another full-length this year.”

The show this Friday will be Ben Brandt and the Soul Miners Union introduction live to area fans.

“This is the first time we’re playing Jamey’s,” said Brandt. “We’re looking forward to it.”

Video link for Ben Brandt and the Soul Miners Union – https://youtu.be/urDc3_n3aY4.

The show on July 1 at Jamey’s will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door.

Geraldine Oliver

On June 30, it will be time for the “Thursday Night Jazz Jam” featuring Geraldine Oliver. The Dave Reiter Trio lays down the backing for some out of this world jazz to happen from 8-10 p.m. every Thursday.

Geraldine (“Geri”) Oliver is a vocalist whose singing reaches deep down and touches your heart, taking you on a journey to a place inside your soul, called “reverie.”

With an uncanny ability to hold you captive, her instrument of voice weaves a lyrical and melodic story that colors the atmosphere with healing hues. Add the live, fluid, dynamism of jazz tones emanating from the band, and you become engulfed in a must hear and must feel, musical mosaic.

Reiter is a long-time jazz pro and is equally at home on the seven-string guitar, Nord keyboard or our top-of-the-line Hammond organ setup. Bill Marconi, whose name is known to jazz aficionados around the world, is on drums. Holding down the bottom on most nights is first-call Philly bassist, George Livanos.

Jamey’s has started a popular “Guest Singer Series” featuring many of the best singers in the region performing a set from 7-8 p.m. with the backing of the Dave Reiter Trio and occasional guest musicians. The upcoming schedule is: June 30 – Geraldine Oliver; July 7 – Lisa Chavous; July 21 – Lucas Beltran and his 5-piece orchestra; July 28 – Ella Gahnt; August 4 – Wendy Simon Sinkler; August 11 – Lorraine Barrett; August 18 – Greg Farnese; August 25 – Maci Miller; and October 6 and December 1 – Suzie Telep.

Video link for Geraldine Oliver — https://youtu.be/gRFQmpjfcm8.

There is a $10 cover charge at the door for the “Thursday Night Jazz Jam.” The show will feature the guest singer from 7-8 p.m. and a jazz jam from 8-10 p.m.

“Sunday Blues Brunch & Jam” is a favorite of Jamey’s regulars because Reilly and his band the Philly Blues Kings (www.phillyblueskings.com) are the performers each week.

The Philly Blues King are a veteran outfit comprised of David Reiter on guitar, keyboards and vocals, Bill Marconi on drums and vocals and Reilly on bass guitar. They have performed together for 15 years and are the house band for Jamey’s House of Music. They are well known for tight, jazz inflected classic blues.

Reiter performs on a seven-string guitar and Reilly plays a fretless five string bass and that sets the group above the ordinary. The three veteran musicians have each spent decades playing the blues professionally and have backed many well-known national artists.

“We’ve been together a long time – even back to many years ago at the PSALM Salon,” said Reilly, during a phone interview from his club in Delaware County.

One missing element for the band in recent times has been a full-time lead singer capable of meeting the trio’s high standards.

That element is no longer missing.

Maci Miller, an internationally recognized jazz singer based in Philadelphia, joined the Blues Kings and quickly established herself as a top-flight front woman.

“We’ve had the blues jam on Sundays for well over a decade,” said Reilly. “Dave and I have been playing together for 15 years. We’ve gone through many iterations of a singer over the years.”

Reilly had heard Miller sing several times and had booked her for several shows at his club in the past year.

“When I booked her for Jamey’s, I knew she was a straightforward jazz singer,” said Reilly. “I liked her voice. I knew she could kill the blues.”

When Reilly asked Miller to join his band, she quickly replied – yes.

“I’m excited to be part of Jamey’s Sunday Jam,” said Miller, during a phone interview Tuesday from her home in Bucks County. “He’s such a wonderful human being.

“He’s a musician so he knows how to treat musicians. I’ve played Jamey’s a few times and I’ve always enjoyed watching the blues jams there.

“When he asked me to do this, it was a no-brainer. Jazz is my favorite music and now blues is in a close tie. These guys are great to work with.

“It’s been a good fit because I always had a good number of blues songs in my repertoire – more jazzy blues tunes. Now, I’ve learned some of his blues tunes. And I have a new original that we’ll debut this weekend.”

Because of her varied musical background, Miller is equally comfortable singing an Ella Fitzgerald classic like “Lullaby of Birdland,” “Moje Zlato” (a Croatian wedding song) or one of her many melodic original compositions.

“I was singing into a hairbrush ever since I was able to talk,” said Miller.

As a young girl, Maci discovered her grandparent’s vast collection of vinyl, and after studying every great artist from Ella to Ellington, she honed her vocal skills and made her debut in local clubs and at special events.

“There were a lot of musicians on my mother’s side,” said Miller. “I had a lot of talented uncles who were writers, producers and sound guys. On my dad’s side, there was the Croatian influence. There was always Croatian music being played.

“When I was growing up, I was always singing in choirs and performing at local shows. When I was 20, I got into dinner theater in Harrisburg. Then I joined a funk band named Smooth – a pop/funk band.”

Miller grew up in the Harrisburg area in a small town called Enhaut and then graduated from Central Dauphin East High School.

“I was in a lot of bands that did wedding gigs,” said Miller. “Then, I did a lot of modeling and acting when I moved to Philadelphia. I also worked in New York. After a while, I stopped all the other things and focused on music. It was later that I got into jazz.”

Based in Philadelphia, Miller worked regularly at the casinos in Atlantic City.

“I worked at several casinos,” said Miller. “I performed a lot at the Claridge. I’d listen to jazz a lot on the way home and think – why aren’t I singing this. I really liked old music. I got into Ella Fitzgerald and then dug deeper.”

Miller released her debut album, “A Very Good Night,” in 2001.

“My first album was a big band album,” said Miller. “It was all originals written in ’40s style. My second album, which came out in 2004 was ‘Take A Closer Look.’ It was a pop/jazz fusion album.”

Miller’s third album was written for a very specific audience.

“The third album was ‘Butterfly Moon’,” said Miller. “It was a lullaby album for my baby girl, Ruby. We adopted her from Thailand. I made the album so she could get used to my voice before we went to Thailand to get her.”

Miller’s other creative endeavors as an actor, model, and spokesperson have afforded her numerous appearances on film (The Sixth Sense), print (Modern Bride, Women’s World Magazine), and television (Law and Order). Her charitable contributions include a lullaby entitled “Butterfly Moon”, originally composed for her daughter, which she contributed to a CD for The Mercy Center in Bangkok, which gives aid to orphans and children living with HIV.

Miller has worked with several music greats including trumpeter Steve Jankowski (Nile Rodgers, Chicago), saxophonist Larry McKenna (Woody Herman, Buddy DeFranco), Dean Schneider (music director for Diahann Carroll), Demitrious Pappas (Smokey Robinson’s music director), and the late George Mesterhazy (Shirley Horn).

She has sung in legendary rooms such as the The Jazz Standard and Danny’s Skylight Room in New York City, Ortliebs and Chris’s Jazz Cafe in Philadelphia, Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, and Bally’s, Harrah’s and the Claridge in Atlantic City. Her travels have also taken her to the iconic Bamboo Bar in Bangkok, Thailand for several extended runs.

The arrival of Ruby marked a career shift for Miller.

“I didn’t sing for about eight years so I could focus on being a mom,” said Miller. “Two years ago, my friend David O’Rourke said – you should sing again.

“Two years ago, I decided to dip my toe back in and an album came out of it – ‘Round Midnight.’”

On “Round Midnight,” Miller sings 15 favorite standards in an intimate duet format with guitarist David O’Rourke.

“I recorded ‘Round Midnight’ and released it just before the pandemic,” said Miller. “I was four gigs into my comeback and the world shut down.

“So, I got equipment and did my own gigs. I had livestream shows in my backyard throughout the pandemic. I’ve been fortunate to be able to do live shows at different places including here at the farmhouse. Now, I’m working on a new album.”

She is also working on a new project – singing the blues every Sunday at Jamey’s House of Music.

“This room has all the factors,” said Miller. “The sound is excellent. It’s a musician’s kind of place. It’s a great place to hang – and I’ll be doing it every Sunday indefinitely.”

Video link for Philly Blues Kings — https://youtu.be/bAnBVLc7Wsg.

Video link for Maci Miller — https://youtu.be/D3ktSJTVxDs.

The show at Jamey’s House of Music on 12 will start at noon. Admission is free.

Over the next week, the Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com) is the place to be for Allman Brothers Band fans.

The theater will present Brother & Sister on June 30 and Live at the Fillmore on July 2.

Brother & Sister

Brother & Sister are Vaylor and Melody Trucks — offspring of Butch Trucks.

Drummer Butch Trucks was best known as a founding member of The Allman Brothers Band, for which he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995. Trucks was born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida. He joined the Allman Brothers Band in 1969.

The band’s 1971 live release, “At Fillmore East,” represented an artistic and commercial breakthrough. The group became one of the most popular bands of the era on the strength of live performances and several successful albums. Though the band broke up and re-formed various times, Trucks remained a constant in the Allman Brothers’ 45-year career.

Vaylor and Melody Trucks, each with their own projects, are coming together to play their family’s music, the music of The Allman Brothers Band. Joining them are Eric Sanders (Col. Bruce Hampton’s Fiji Mariners), Garrett Dawson (Butch Trucks and the Freight Train Band), Matt Stallard (Chris Duarte Group), Pete Orenstein (Frankly Scarlet), and Willis Gore (Bonnie Blue).

Vaylor Trucks has spent decades establishing his own voice, studying and performing jazz, progressive, experimental, and avant-garde music with greats such as Pat Martino, Dweezil Zappa, Mike Keneally, Bernard Purdie, Johnny Vidacovich, and Col. Bruce Hampton, as well as establishing The Yeti Trio, an experimental fusion powerhouse for more than 20 years. But the music his family made with The Allman Brothers Band stayed with him. Now, with Brother & Sister, Vaylor is embracing his roots.

Melody Trucks began studying flute at the age of seven but expanded to all woodwinds as she progressed through high school.  She switched to percussion in college, studying ethnomusicology with a focus in Balinese and Brazilian music.  While she did sing occasionally with her brother, Vaylor Trucks of the Yeti Trio, it was not her main focus.  After deciding to surprise her father, Butch Trucks of the Allman Brothers Band, by singing at an open jam hosted by Hub Chason at the Bradfordville Blues Club in Tallahassee, Florida, Melody was invited to tour with his latest group, Butch Trucks and the Freight Train.

“LIVE AT THE FILLMORE: The Definitive Tribute To The Original Allman Brothers Band” is the band/project of leader/founder/guitarist/vocalist Lew Maresca.

Earlier this month, LATF was in Chester County for a show at Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center

“I think we were the first rock band to play there back in 2017,” said Maresca, during a phone interview from his home in Wynnewood.

The band’s members have changed some over the years – which is not a surprise to Maresca.

“As time goes by, familiarity breeds contempt,” said Maresca. “There is a lot of ego and narcissism among musicians – a lot of personality conflicts.

“I don’t run LATF as a democracy. It’s more like a monarchy and I’m the king. It’s my band and I maintain very high standards. Anyone who has heard the band play in the last year says that this is the best line-up ever.

“I brought Joe Mass in as the Dickey Betts guitarist and he’s taking it to microscopic levels of exactness. The band also has Don McCormick and Anthony Zinni on drums, Jeff Quattro on Hammond B3, piano, and vocals and Mike Graziola on bass.

Musically and sonically, LATF creates the experience of hearing one of the greatest live bands of all time as they sounded in 1969-1971. Particularly featured are their monumental shows at Bill Graham’s Fillmore East Auditorium in New York City in March and June of 1971.

LIVE AT THE FILLMORE has become the most popular and best-known tribute to the original Allman Brothers Band. Great attention is paid to recreating the music with an unparalleled degree of authenticity. The band has been chosen as featured performer on the Time Life Southern Rock Cruise. It received rave reviews for their Spring 2017 performance on national TV as part of AXS TV’s “World’s Greatest Tribute Bands.”

“Live at the Fillmore has been around for more than a decade,” said Maresca. “We started back in 2009 because we knew how many Allman Brothers fans there were.

“I saw the Allman Brothers in their original state many, many times including the Fillmore in March 1971 and the very last show they did at the Fillmore on Saturday night June 26, 1971. That was the one the Allman Brothers called ‘The Show.’

“I put a band together in 1971 called Skydog. I was in high school at the time. Skydog was the very first Allman Brothers tribute band. I went to Penn State and played all through college.”

Years went by and Maresca relocated to Philadelphia where he established a career in audio production and custom messaging.

“I’ve been in Philly since I graduated from Penn State,” said Maresca, who originally is from Nutley, New Jersey. “I wanted to put together another Allman Brother attribute band. I was looking for the best guys I could find who could play the music.”

With LIVE AT THE FILLMORE, fans get Allman Brothers music and nothing else.

“We’re a tribute band at the highest level,” said Maresca. “The hallmark of this band is its authenticity. We’re here to imitate not to innovate. Our physical appearance has never been important. It’s all about the music. When we play, we sound like the original Allman Brothers.”

Video link for “LIVE AT THE FILLMORE: The Definitive Tribute To The Original Allman Brothers Band” – https://youtu.be/vn0nr2WoWmc.

The Brother & Sister show on June 30, which also features the Cordovas, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $21.50.

The Live at the Fillmore show on July 2 will start at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $25.

Other upcoming acts at the Sellersville Theater are The Wild Feathers on July 1, Leonid & Friends on July 3, Wayne Hancock on July 5 and The Machine on July 6.

Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, http://www.kennettflash.org) is hosting Nicely, Hawkins Big Band on July 1. The Nicely, Hawkins Big Band features the Kennett Square All-Stars (Dave Atherton, Michael Salsburg, Bill Dube). The opening act is Garry Cogdell and his Electroacoustic Psychedelic Blues Duo (Steve Roberts).

The Sound Bank (119 South Main Street, Phoenixville, www.soundbankphx.com) will have Drew Nugent & The Midnight Society on June 30, Haywood Trout on July 1, and Selwyn Birchwood on July 7.

The Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, www.ardmoremusic.com) will present Man Man on June 30 and Splintered Sunlight from July 1-3.

118 North (118 North Wayne Avenue, Wayne, www.118northwayne.com) will host Shred Is Dead on June 30, Taylor Ash on July 1, Brown Sugar on July 2, Wally Smith Hammond Organ Trio on July 3, and Shine On on July 3.

City Winery (990 Filbert Street, Philadelphia, citywinery.com) will have China Crisis on July 2, Zo and the Tall Black Guy on July 3, Keke Wyatt on July 5 and John Hiatt on July 6 and 7.

Mann Music Center (Mann Center, 5201 N. Parkside Avenue, Philadelphia, http://manncenter.org) hosts 5 Seconds of Summer on July 6.

Kung Fu Necktie (1248 North Front Street, Philadelphia, kungfunecktie.com) presents Flasher on July 1, Fires in the Distance on July 2, and Arcy Drive on July 5.

Fire (412 West Girard Avenue, Philadelphia, thefirephilly.com) will host Perro Sombra on July 2 and Alien to the Ignorant on July 6.

The Xcite Center at Parx Casino (2999 Street Road, Bensalem, https://parxcasino.com) will present America on July 1.

Fillmore Philadelphia (1100 Canal Street, Philadelphia, www.thefillmorephilly.com) hosts YXNG on July 1.

World Café Live (3025 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, www.worldcafelive.com) will have Rodrigo Amarante on June 30 and Love Fest 2022 on July 1

Theatre of the Living Arts (334 South Street, Philadelphia, http://www.lnphilly.com) is hosting Aaron West on July 2 and Joey Bada$$ on July 6.

Johnny Brenda’s (1201 North Frankford Avenue, Philadelphia, www.johnnybrendas.com) presents Jerry Paper on July 2.

Underground Arts (1200 Callowhill Street, Philadelphia, http://undergroundarts.org) will have Heavy Heavy Low Low on July 5.

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