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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2003/10/29
by Mike Gruenberg

CatDaddy Jones

CatDaddy Jones is a blues oriented group from New York City that has just released its first album. Although the album is new, the group both individually and collectively has been a staple of the New York music scene for many years.
Geoff Worton, lead singer was born in England and sang with a band called The Sensations. They played the blues circuit in London, opening for such bands as John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Guitarist Dee Meyer has performed with Hall & Oates and Mick Ronson in addition to playing with a number of bands throughout his musical career in New York. Steve Merola on drums, a seasoned session player has worked on Broadway and has also recorded with Bonnie Raitt. Paul Brisbano on bass rounds out the quartet with a varied career in blues and jazz playing with jazz-fusion artist, Bill Cobham. All group members have been part of the New York music community for many years. I had the opportunity to interview the group on the occasion of the release of its new album, Late Night In The Doghouse on Fountainbleu Records.
MG: I am always interested to know how a group of four or five diverse people get together and form a band. Tell me how you got together
SM: A musician friend of mine named Jan Milaney who does a lot of work with Michael Bolton and Mutt Lange told me about a blues band that was playing on Staten Island and I went to see them. I watched them and liked what I saw and eventually they went through a few personnel changes and by then, I had become a fan of the group. I got to know most of their songs. They asked me to join the group.
GW: I started singing in a band in England. I got into singing through hearing bands while I was in school. *MG: While the kids in school were listening to the Beatles and the Stones, were you the kid who listened to blues oriented music? *
GW: Not really. The Beatles and Stones opened all of us up to a wider variety of music. I always thought that Lennon/McCartney wrote "Money" but I was obviously wrong. And you say to yourself, "well that’s interesting, what other types of music are there for me to explore?" There was a club band in England that I particularly liked called Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers and they had a great horn section. They did a lot of the Stax/Volt stuff. I would see them whenever I could. The first time I heard "Some Kind of Wonderful" I was in a club and it was done by the Jeff Beck Band with Rod Stewart as the lead singer. A week later I was in another club and the DJ played the original version and it was quite a shock to hear the original. So it really was other bands introducing me to other strains of music. It just so happened that blues oriented became a favorite of mine. *MG: It’s interesting to me that a lot of blues music by modern day artists like Jeff Beck , Eric Clapton and Terry Reid came out of England. I don’t recollect that at the same time blues music was as popular here in the US as it seemed to be in England. *
SM: We were disrespecting the blues in a major way.
GW: Back in the 60’s you pretty much had the Paul Butterfield Blues Band at that time in the U.S. and that was about it. *MG: I remember going to the Public Library on 53rd Street when I was a teenager and listening to Delta Blues records there because that seemed to be the only place I could go to hear that kind of music. It was on 78’s and the sound quality was not great. *
GW: Steve and I don’t remember 78’s. (laughter)
DM: My experience is much like Steve’s. We traveled the same circuits, knew the same people. I played at Max’s Kansas City, the old late mid 70’s circuit, Coventry in Queens, worked our way up and down on the road. We worked the bars with the chicken wire and all that kind of stuff. Finally, I said I had enough and decided to get a straight job. Then a year later, I said to myself "what the hell am I doin’" and I went back to playing music. We’re all out of the same type of experience.
PB: I was like a million other kids when the Beatles came around. It kind of hit me and since my name was Paul, it made sense to be a bass player. I’ve been playing bass since I was 7 or 8 years old. I did my first gig when I was 9 in a Sons of Italy club with a group called "The Amber Reflections" a real 60’s name. From there, I hooked up with some neighborhood cats and then moved up to Boston and got into a pretty good clique with some Berklee guys. Basically, what people come to New York for, I went up to Boston and got my music experience there. *MG: Given the fact that blues bands today are not considered mainstream and given the fact that you all can play just about any kind of music, wouldn’t it have been easier to form a mainstream type of rock band and then gravitate later to more blues oriented music? *
DM: No! (all answer in unison) None of us look good in spandex. Seriously though, the whole thing is that mainstream today is really not mainstream music, it’s mainstream image. Ever since "Frampton Comes Alive" every music industry executive and A&R guy is searching for the next million seller, not within the context of this guy is good and we can build something around him, but how can I copy his style. Not only that, but everything we hear today that is considered mainstream rock, we did 25 years ago.
GW: Most importantly, we like the music we play. If your gonna inflict yourself on the public, you might as well inflict yourselves on them with something you like. *MG: I’ve watched this band for many years and the thing that always struck me about the band is that you all really seem to be enjoying yourselves when you perform. *
DM: You have to like what you’re doing. It’s the genuine stuff we grew up with. It keeps becoming the bottom line. Even in New York, which is probably the toughest radio market in the country, what’s your biggest stuff; what are they playing? "classic rock" the stuff we were listening to 25 years ago. They’re still playing it because it has depth. The Stax stuff, the Motown stuff. When you play it, it’s obvious that there is substance and depth to the music.
GW: There’s a new lady, Joss Stone who just recorded an album of old R&B songs. She’s 16 years old, so maybe there’s hope that a new generation will appreciate that kind of music. *MG: Is there any significance to the name of the band? *
GW: As you undoubtedly remember, we used to be called "Mr. Jones." And we were quite happy with it. Then another band came out with the same name, released an album and it was terrible, so we thought it wasn’t a good idea to keep the same name. So hence, the reason for the name change. In my experience, coming up with a name creates the most angst among the group members. There is generally good agreement on the musical direction, but the name always seems to be difficult for everyone to agree. *MG: The songs selected for the album are a mixture of songs written by you guys and others. You take the risk of covering the Lennon/McCartney tune ‘I Call Your Name’ on this album. It is uniquely arranged and certainly not in the style recorded by The Beatles. Having seen you perform this number a number of times over the years, it is one of the most powerful tunes in your repertoire and I am glad that it is included and I also think it is one of the highlights of the album. Tell me how you came to refine this song? *
PB: You think it was a risk for The Beatles to do a Chuck Berry tune in the 60’s? *MG: Yes I do. *
PB: And they pulled it off.

*MG: I agree. As they also did with ‘Money,’ ‘Matchbox’ and ‘Twist and Shout.’ The question is how did you come to arrange the tune the way you did and do you think it was taking a risk to include a Beatles song in your album? *
DM: As far as the arrangement, it was quite spontaneous. I had come home from work in a pissed off mood and Geoff called me and said, it would be cool to do the Beatles tune, "I Call Your Name." He suggested that maybe we could slow it down or do something like that. He said he just wanted to put that idea in my head. I thought it was a good idea. I always have a guitar out on a stand, so I started to fiddle around with it and I called Geoff 15 minutes later and played him what I had done. It was one of the easiest things we ever came up with. *MG: It’s a great arrangement and it’s one of those tunes that come off well both on a live performance and on the record as well. *
DM: I think there’s enough distance now between The Beatles as a band and being able to do this. I don’t think you could have done it in the 80’s because the memory of The Beatles was too fresh.
GW: I remember a number of years ago some guy comes up to me after a gig and said that he liked our version of that "Mamas & Papas" tune and I didn’t know what he was talking about. I had no idea the "Mamas & Papas" recorded "I Call Your Name." *MG: I am told your album is getting some significant airplay throughout the country. Which tunes are getting the most play? *
DM: "Blues in Me" is getting played on a weekly basis on a blues radio show in Elgin, Illinois. "I Call Your Name" is getting significant play in Wilmington, North Carolina. "Tell Me Straight" is also getting a lot of airplay in Massachusetts. *MG: Will you be touring to support the record in these and other markets? *
SM: We’re working on a hologram presentation, very high tech. We’re bringing Elgin to us. (laughter) We talked to the guys at the label and they tell us the album is #18 in Erie, Pa. Great, and we’d like to go there and we probably will in the future. Right now, we are looking at our options. For example, we plan to record some live stuff for the individual stations.
GW: In an ideal situation, we would be there tomorrow.
DM: Unfortunately, the middle ground of the clubs where we would normally appear is really no longer there. That is a big problem. When Steve and I were at that stage of our careers when you were out there on the road playing clubs, you could go from here throughout Pennsylvania circle down through Delaware and come back here and there were many 500 – 2,000 capacity rooms to play. You could cover your expenses and make money. Those types of clubs simply do not exist anymore. *MG: The music writing team of Meyer-Worton-Merola has written six of the twelve tunes on the album. My favorite is ‘You’ve Got The Box’ which to me should be added to the playlist of every FM rock station. If you’ve positioned yourselves as a blues band, do you think getting airplay on more traditional rock stations will prove difficult? *
SM: No, actually some of the top FM rock stations are picking up our songs to be played. Part of our plan is to establish ourselves as a blues band and build a fan base within the blues community and expand our audience to rock radio. We can be described as a "blues/rock" band, but I call it rock ‘n’ roll. *MG: Dee, I think your guitar solo on ‘Night in the City’ is another highlight of the album. I don’t think I have ever heard you sound better. Your playing is reminiscent of some of the solo work done by Doors’ guitarist Robby Kreiger. What guitarist has influenced you the most? *
DM: George Harrison really had the most profound influence on me. The early to mid 60’s New York scene, right after the Stones hit; you had groups like the Blues Project with Danny Kalb, who I saw one day on Channel 13 while I was flipping the dial. All of a sudden I see this guy with a gold top Les Paul and some guys hands flying on the last three frets and I said to myself, "What the hell is this?" Channel 13 had just become a public station and they were showing the Blues Project. You could go down to the Village and see the Blues Project. From then, you had the Butterfield band. The FM revolution was just beginning too, so the clubs were the places to go and see bands.
SM: In Chicago, Marshall Chess had to buy his own radio station to get airplay for his records. He had the artists, the songs and the studios. He completed the loop by buying the radio station. *MG: The label you signed with is a small independent label. How did you come to sign with them? *
DM: A friend of ours, Steve Simels is a writer. We were in lengthy negotiations with another label, but it wasn’t working out. Steve told us that if the deal falls through that he had a friend with a label that has similar artists to us. So, we were at our wits end with the other guy, we called Fountainbleu and sent him the master. He listened to it, called us back and told us he liked it. His label has rootsy, r&b stuff, which is really where we fit in. *MG: On the album’s inner sleeve, there is a phrase written which says ‘I Still Love Poetry.’ What is that all about? *
GW: We had a photo shoot one evening and we went to a bar on Avenue A near Tompkins Square Park. The photographer was looking for moody, evocative street shots in the neighborhood. As we were walking back to the bar, we saw this phrase spray painted on the side of a building.
DM: Avenue A and 10th Street used to be one of the most dangerous parts of the city. People went to Tompkins Park to cop heroin. Now you can’t live there for less than $1.5 million. Everything has been redone by developers. I remember when all of these buildings were crap. "I Still Love Poetry" was written on the wall of this beautiful terra cotta colored brownstone that somebody must have spent a couple of million dollars to refurbish. And some poet who can’t afford to live there anymore who was probably chased out of the park, wrote on the wall, "I Still Love Poetry," how prophetic. *MG: You cover the Manfred Mann tune, ‘Pretty Flamingo’ in a unique manner. There is a woman speaking Spanish in the background and it fits perfectly into the song. *
SM: It’s stolen. It’s not the first time someone has done it. You remember, "Spill The Wine" where the same thing was done. Spanish spoken by a woman for some reason sounds like percussion. We had two girls who were our background singers engaged in conversation. What they are saying is not true to the spirit of the song.
GW: I have no idea what they are saying.
SM: They are putting down the guy.
DM: My sister-in-law is Puerto Rican and she just smirks when she hears it, but she won’t tell me what they are saying. *MG: When I listen to ‘You Sure Drive A Hard Bargain’ and ‘Make A Wish’ I see how those blues tunes work perfectly in the album. When I listen to ‘Two Candles’ which although is also well done, I don’t see a fit. I find myself wondering how that tune got included. *
SM: It was all so good and all so perfect that we knew we had to put something in for people to criticize. (laughter) The label said the same thing. If we hadn’t mastered the record already, they would have cut it out of the album. *MG: It’s a great tune, but to me, it just doesn’t fit. *
SM: It’s a stand-alone. It could have been the "B" side of our single, but no one makes 45’s anymore. There was no commercial intent for that song.
GW: I think it would be a great Bonnie Raitt tune and I also think "You’ve Got The Box" is a great tune for ZZ Top to record. *MG: Seriously though, you guys have written quite a few tunes over the years. How did you decide which tunes would be included on this album? *
DM: We took the tunes that went over best from our live performances. We then took stock of the best we had written and at that point we had nine tunes and we felt we needed twelve. We approached it as a record, not a CD. Songs 1 through 6 in my mind was Side 1 and songs 7 through 12 was Side 2. Each one of us put a song in. Stevie said he wanted to add "I Take What I Want," Geoff put in "Pretty Flamingo" and I said we had to do an Albert King tune, "Hard Bargain." It’s got great intensity and a really cool horn line. *MG: Another aspect of the album that I like is that it sounds like a spontaneous, live recording. Was it recorded as a ‘live’ album? *
SM: We really did try to get that "live" feel to the album.
GW: We feel that we can recreate the album on stage and be true to the group and our audience.

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