Up Front with Danny R. Phillips: Ben Constable

By Danny R. Phillips

Ben Constable is many things. A dedicated father, punk rocker, troubadour, friend, singer/songwriter, Giver of bad band names.

Over the years that I have known Ben, we have spent many an hour over Jameson and PBR; like minds and a shared love of the band Bad Religion fueling hours of debates, sometimes arguments but always able to see each other’s side.

One thing that strikes me about Constable as we sit with drinks in the back patio area of Magoon’s during a break in his set is how steadfast his conviction is to the music of his youth. Also with the ideals that loving punk rock instills in some: stand up for your brother, raise your voice against the tide, question authority and the concept of right and wrong, never hold any one down, if you work for it you should get your due. Constable has very particular thoughts on certain things; paying an artist for their work is just one he struck on tonight.

Ben Constable performing live at The Rendezvous in St. Joseph, MO. Photo by Bret Yager.

Ben Constable performing live at The Rendezvous in St. Joseph, MO. Photo by Bret Yager.

“I had a friend say to me “Man, don’t buy the record, I’ll download it.” After a pause, Ben clears his throat. “Man, I want those bands to have that money, I want for them to be able afford to tour so I can see them again.” Drawing from his story vault, he punctuated his point. “I once drove to Texas to buy a t-shirt so they’d have gas money. Being a fan is about dedication. Wanting to buy the record, needing to buy the shirt, dedication, absolutely needed all you can get from a band.”

From his days in the straight ahead punk band Benkirland, to the surf rock/country punk hybrid Jerkface, alongside drummer Brian Shank and singer/guitarist Jesse James (he was also in Spastic Assholes with James), onto his current solo adventure crafting songs of loss and triumph, tragedy and hope. Drawing from the influence of performers like Tim Timebomb, Chuck Ragan, Billy Bragg, Woody Guthrie, The Flatliners, Days N’ Daze, and the late Tony Sly, Constable has traded his electric guitar for a Fender 12-string acoustic.

He’s traded amplified bombast for the clear chime of music mixing fully with words of rage and worry. Rage at the political system in America, worry for the music scene in our fair city.

“When it comes to politics, government and, especially the upcoming Presidential election, whether we go with Clinton or Trump, we are screwed. Those people don’t care about people like you and me, the people that need help, that may be struggling, that need a good education system to push them ahead. They (politicians) are out for their selves. We need to find our own way.”

We seemed to agree on one good thing about Trump being elected, the ONLY good thing: Perhaps a Trump Presidency would stoke some anger, throw fuel on the fire of disappointment, sparking an explosion of new, exciting punk rock. It worked when former movie star and California Governor Ronald Reagan was placed in the high office, stirring up an already smoldering scene helping to create hardcore punk.

“Do you think growing older and the changes in styles qualifies your growth as a musician?” I asked, catching a glimpse of our friend Bob, sitting on the bench, listening, a big smile crossing his face. “Well, I am getting older, Constable answered, “and I’ve also matured as a person and a musician. I’m open to more things but I still like what I like. I don’t like KKJO 105.5, I don’t like the stuff that my girlfriend listens to, it’s manufactured bullshit. There’s so much good stuff out there that most people won’t hear because they only listen to the radio. Those people are missing out.”

When I ask Constable if he fit into St. Joe’s music scene, he hesitates. “Oh, I guess I do because I adapt to it. I don’t think I belong here, the west coast, east coast maybe. I play shows here and there, Magoons, The Rendezvous. Filling in a spot if someone can’t make it. I’m playing tonight because Barry (Woodhull, owner of Magoons) asked me to. I adapt and try to cater to the audience I have. Honestly, I may be done here soon. I’m settling down, raising kids. I’m not out trying to get shows; I’m staying home writing song cycles, playing guitar.”

Constable has seen St. Joe music’s heyday; the wonder years gone by when bands like Ramey Memo, The Rogers, Lovebucket, The Waystation and Hooray for Me, roamed Felix Street, packing The Rendezvous with people eager to hear live music, ready to be part of something. Constable believes those days may be gone for good.

Ben Constable performing live at The Rendezvous in St. Joseph, MO. Photo by Bret Yager.

Ben Constable performing live at The Rendezvous in St. Joseph, MO. Photo by Bret Yager.

I asked, in my patented defeated tone, “Do you think there is even a scene left? Is it dead?” His answer didn’t surprise me; “I don’t think it’s dead, it’s hurting right now but not dead.”

“Don’t get me wrong, we have good bands. The Creeps, Scruffy and the Janitors to name a couple; we used to have a thriving scene (in St. Joe), people supporting each other, going out, seeing shows. I just don’t see that anymore. Here’s the thing, it’s important for me to go to shows because I may encounter my next peer that I look up to. I get to talk with them, get to know them and discover their music.” He continued his thought after answering a call, an action he apologized for repeatedly.

“We have a small scene here and it seems like everyone is in a bubble. It’s almost like we’re secluded from the rest of the world, like there’s a wall around St. Joseph. People like John Riha (of DOA Productions) who are trying to change that, to make bands aware of St. Joe. It’s a slow process but at least he’s trying.”

Constable has always tried. Whether he was screaming at the Universe with a ragged voice and boiling blood, trying to bring a friend out of a deep depression by showing love, acceptance and understanding or sitting on the corner with his guitar, Constable is genuine, sometimes intense and always looking for the next song. He’s there to give a leg up or a floor to a traveling band, a dollar to a man on the street or a kind word of encouragement. Constable is what he is: real. And if he leaves this town, he will be sorely missed.

Ben Constable is currently writing and recording a new solo album.

You can find him on facebook or check out the Ben Constable page on Youtube.

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Up Front with Danny R. Phillips: The Creeps

The Creeps next show: Friday February 17 @ Café Acoustic Concert Hall

The Creeps with Act Naturally live Cafe Acoustic 2/17/17 poster

The Creeps/Act Naturally poster designed by Bret Yager

By Danny R. Phillips

Does punk rock have a true place in St. Joseph’s diverse music scene? St. Joe resident purveyors of punk, The Creeps think there is.

On a grey afternoon, Vocals on Top spoke with Creeps lead singer Zachary Thomas and guitarist Chris Mallory ahead of the band’s February 17 show at The Café Acoustic Concert Hall (1918 Frederick). They talked of the musical prospects in our fair city, where the epicenter of a potential punk explosion could most likely be and how the right woman can show you a whole new world.

“I got into punk because of my girlfriend/now wife Clarissa.” Mallory said, “She turned me onto a lot of music.” Her taste in music wasn’t the only thing that got his attention. “She walked around school in a plaid skirt and oxblood Dr. Martens. I followed her around all day just looking at her butt.” Mallory’s draw toward punk was not only a beautiful woman; it could have easily sprung from frustration, alienation brought on by a professional wrestler look-alike ex-Marine stepfather that constantly wore, of all things, a leather fanny pack. “He used to take me to the gym to lift weights, then put me down because I couldn’t. I was a scrawny kid… and I was 8.”

As the band is recording an upcoming album with Tice Thomason, they are poised to bring the live experience of songs like “Suicide Party,” “Undead Hot Rod,” and “Bride of Frankenstein” to glorious life on tape. “We’re planning to do two records; one of our horror punk stuff (possibly to be named “Deadtime Stories”) and one of our random stuff called “Chad Sucks” (the Chad in question here is Creeps superfan Chad Porter),” said Mallory. “We don’t think Chad sucks. Chad Sucks has been his nickname since he was like, 15. He’s a great dude, goes to all our shows; he even got a Phantom Creep on his leg for the band.”

It is great to hear that my favorite St. Joe band is in the process of recording but one question needs an answer: “Why does drummer Alex Long always take his shirt off?” Mallory explained, “He just gets really sweaty. He started taking his clothes off in high school. We were in a band called EIS in high school and he used to play our shows in a mesh see through thong. It wasn’t pretty.” Surely, it was not pretty but punk is never “pretty,” you can save “pretty” for the spandex warriors and butt rockers.

The Creeps performing live

The Creeps performing live

In 2013, The Creeps came to life, as many bands do, out of friendships among like-minded people striving to carve themselves a place in a world that marginalizes them. Thomas began his time in a band the same way many in punk’s history had: with no experience. “I had never played music before I met Chris. I got a bass, learned some songs and we had a band. It just kind of fell together.” Mallory continued, “I had always been in metal bands, pop punk bands (Mallory’s first go with Trevor Phillips was One Headlight High) whatever was popular. I wanted to get back into music after the birth of my son and I really wanted to play punk rock. I wanted to sing and play guitar but I realized I’m retarded and couldn’t do both at the same time.” Bass guitar duties have since been taken over from Thomas by St. Joe music scene mainstay Drew Ellis. “It’s nice just singing but now, I don’t know what to do with my hands,” Thomas said with a laugh.

As for the drummer, Alex Long, the connection with Mallory runs deeper. “Alex’s family actually took me in when I was younger, I learned to play music with Alex, he’s like my brother.” Long brings a versatility and power to the band that allows them to grow sonically. “Alex would be a great session drummer,” Mallory said, “he can come in and play anything. If I’ve got an idea or Zach or Trevor (Phillips, the band’s lead guitarist) has one, we can just start playing and he knows what will work.” Long has won the distinction of being one of St. Joe’s hardest hitting drummers. “It’s weird, “Thomas said, “he doesn’t break sticks but he cracks cymbals, I can’t explain it.”

That brings us to well-traveled guitarist Trevor Phillips. “I’ve known Trevor since high school,” Thomas said. “He used to wear these huge Goth pants and this blonde chili bowl haircut. Everyone called him Mosh because he would come up to you in the hall and hit you, push you, trying to start a mosh pit in the middle of Central. That how I met Trevor, pushing me in the hall.” Mallory continued, “Alex and Trevor were friends so when I started hanging with Alex, Trevor was there.”

And he’s still there, they’re all still there fighting the good fight, forging a place for punk in St. Joe (the most likely physical landing pad for punk being The Rendezvous) and spreading the virtues of horror and mayhem like their heroes The Misfits before them. The Creeps are here; ready to deliver our city into the loving arms of punk rock. It is about fucking time.

 

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250 word album review: Wayne Hancock – Slingin’ Rhythm

Wayne "The Train" Hancock - Slingin Rhythm

Stars4.5

Wayne Hancock is going to give you a constant record every time out, without a doubt. “Slingin’ Rhythm” is no exception as he hammers out classic honky tonk with a virility that suggests he hasn’t been doing this for two decades already.

“Slingin Rhythm” is just downright fun, he takes his standard repertoire and keeps it pretty light and fun here. Even “Killed Them Both” reads as a fun number even though it is exactly as it sounds. The common country theme of catching a cheating women doesn’t end well for her or her back door man here but Hancock spins it with such pride that it is difficult not to view this as a happy tune. On “Two String Boogie” he breaks the fourth wall being very self referential and straight forward. The song is kickin’ it silly talking about breaking strings and keeping the songs going. More humor pops up on “Divorce Me C.O.D.” where Hancock puts forth one of his best vocal performances on the record.

Overall what holds the album together is Hancock’s driving rhythm guitar and the sweet sweet sounds of the humming steel guitar. This album shows what is great about Western Swing and traditional country. It can take on topics that aren’t necessarily the happiest and keep them upbeat with song structure. Hancock is a pro at it and “Slingin’ Rhythm” is great example. This record is a small resurgence for him, not that he has ever made a bad record but it seems this album has more life than some of his past work.

Key tracks: “Killed Them Both” “Slingin’ Rhythm” “Two String Boogie”

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250 Word album review: Beth Bombara – Map & No Direction

Beth Bombara - Map & No Direction

Stars3.5

Beth Bombara is a midwest songstress in the vein of Lucinda Williams and with the delivery of Aimee Mann. Her latest release “Map & No Direction” finds her skillfully weaving her way in and out of soul searching numbers while never shying away from a clean pop sensibility. She seems to be heading in the same direction as one of the bright spots of 2016, Lydia Loveless.

You can call it folk, country, rock… there aren’t many wrong answers here because it is a very present and self aware album not committing to any genre. She shows off her smooth vocals on “Sweet Time” where she flirts with a soul tune reminiscent of the direction Sam Cooke always took songs. The slide guitar work on “I Tried” starts the album off strong with likely its most radio friendly track. On “Map & No Direction” Bombara finds herself being guided through the jangly tune be a violin and on a gentle telling of the Bob Dylan classic “Blind Willie McTell” she finds the necessary gear to burn like is appropriate for the song.

The new era of country-rock songstresses has begun, Bombara is making as good of clean pop friendly songs in this genre as you will find. Her voice fits the songs here nicely and her band is spot on in keeping these songs interesting.

Key Tracks: “Map & No Direction” “Blind Willie McTell” “I Tried”

This album is available for pre-order through PledgeMusic Here. It is set to be released March 4th, 2017.

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Album at a glance: Here’s To The Life! – Eternal Means Forever

Here's To The Life! - Eternal Means Forever

Here’s To The Life! is among the more prolific artists in the Midwest. This is another EP of strong songs with a little different flavor. Lately Patrick Rivera has started to plug back in and this 4 song EP is fully electric. Here’s To The Life! had always been acoustic punk but now the project is evolving. On this EP the song “Don’t Believe The Hype” could be a mantra for the band as a whole. The songs are typically spitfire lyrics with big hooks, just like you would expect. On “Weezer For Now” it is undeniable that the opening guitar riff is instantly associated with Weezer and the song is the power pop structure much like you’d expect from the mentioned band. “Second Place” wouldn’t even sound all that out of place on a Blink 182 record just showing what Here’s To The Life! does best. This is another solid EP to add to the band’s resume.

Key Track: “Don’t Believe The Hype”

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Coming Soon: Wayne “The Train” Hancock at Knucklehead’s In Kansas City 2/12/17

WHO’S PLAYING?  Wayne “The Train” Hancock (Denton, TX)

Wayne "The Train" Hancock

WHAT TO EXPECT?  The purest of country music and the best western swing that money can pay for…

Wayne “The Train” Hancock like his name would suggest is relentless. He just released his excellent 9th studio album “Slingin’ Rhythm” and in typical Hancock fashion is out on the road promoting it. This album finds him in familiar territory, mixing classic country with a bit of blues and laying on twang so thick it’ll make your soul wear cowboy boots. He sounds bouncy and fresh here at the same time. Songs like “Killed Them Both” spit with anger and vengeance but there are also songs like “Slingin’ Rhythm” and “Two String Boogie” that are oozing with western swing and danceable upon their first notes.

Wayne "The Train" Hancock - Slingin Rhythm

 

 

WHERE IS IT?  Knucklehead’s Saloon (2715 Rochester, Kansas City MO 64120)

WHEN IS IT?  Sunday, February 12th 2017; 8:00 PM (7:00 doors), $15

Here is a link to buy your tickets right NOW.

WHY SHOULD I GO?

  • Hancock is a country mainstay, one of only a few people making true, traditional country music.
  • If the gal likes to dance… this is the show.
  • Western swing is a different breed of country, it has boogie for days.
  • It’s in the Midwest, Hancock is king here, he owns the Midwest.
  • There is a train that drives about 75 feet from the stage, how cool would it be to see a guy nicknamed “The Train” there…
  • Hancock has a 5 piece band now, complete with an awesome pedal steel.
  • Don’t like drums? You won’t find any at a Hancock show, his pounding rhythm guitar is all the percussion the songs need.

You should RSVP on facebook to the event so you don’t forget, here is the link: FACEBOOK EVENT PAGE

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250 word album review: Mike Doughty – The Heart Watches While the Brain Burns

Mike Doughty - The Heart Watches While The Brain Burns

Stars4

It’s a bit of a mystery exactly why Mike Doughty’s music is so appealing. It just feels very authentic and original, he’s also a good songwriter but what it just might be is the way he sings.

Not only is his voice very interesting and unique but he uses his vocals as an instrument. Being a true solo artist now he uses all the weapons he has at his disposal. He uses them in different ways too, he crafts a great radio friendly songs on “I Can’t Believe I Found You In That Town” and “Making Me Lay Down.” He also reduces things to a skeletal remain on “Sad Girl Walking In The Rain” but then uses his studio clout to pile things on top of eachother on the song “Brian” creating a sideshow of sounds engulfed in texture. He is also a master of creating mood like on the nervous sounding “Don’t Jerk The Wheel” that makes the listener twitch. Overall he is best at creating great vocal hooks, there are tons of examples here but the lead single from the record “I Can’t Believe I Found You In That Town” is probably the best example of not only how unique Doughty’s music is but how good he is at just writing damn good songs.

His records always get a pass because he doesn’t fall into the pitfalls many songwriters do where their material becomes boring. His off-kilter sense of rhythm and hooks makes all of his albums worthwhile.

Key Tracks: “I Can’t Believe I Found You In That Town” “Making Me Lay Down” “Sad Girl Walking In The Rain”

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