Steve Wildsmith

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Archive for January, 2012

Rest in peace, Rocky Wynder

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From the interwebs this morning comes news of the passing of local jazz legend Rocky Wynder.

Scratch that; Rocky was a jazz legend, period. He had an infectious laugh, an enthusiasm for live and music and a kernel of bad-assness down deep that belied his gentlemanly exterior. Locally, he was a jazz titan who was thrilled that the scene was so vibrant and attractive to young players, and he commanded the respect of the best.

Rest in peace, Rocky.

You can read a great piece from Knoxville’s Metro Pulse here in which Rocky was named one of the most fascinating Knoxvillians of 2010, and here’s the last interview I did with him in 2008:

Wynder prepares to wail at Swank’s

Daily Times, The (Maryville, TN) – Friday, August 1, 2008
Author: Steve Wildsmith ; of The Daily Times Staff
If you’re a prospective saxophone student inquiring local legend Rocky Wynder about playing the instrument, prepare yourself — he’ll lay down the law.

Four laws, actually. Four pieces of advice that, according to Wynder, are essential for learning to play the saxophone and learning to play it right. Others may disagree or play by different methods, but that’s OK — they ain’t Rocky Wynder , and those who scoff at his advice might as well be trying to make music out of a length of stove pipe.

“I tell them, ‘The first thing we’re gonna do is learn what the staff is — we’re gonna learn about the lines and the spaces of music, so that when you see these things, you’ll know,’” Wynder told The Daily Times this week. “The second thing — learn to breathe correctly. The third thing — be committed to yourself. And the fourth thing — do you really want to learn this instrument? There’s more to it than just hearing somebody play and wanting to do it yourself; you’ve got to know how these musicians got there. You’ve got to learn everything you can about it.”

Wynder has made a career out of learning everything he can about the saxophone. A native of Pensacola, Fla., he was 22 and playing saxophone with a traveling minstrel show called Sugarfoot Sam from Alabam when he first arrived in Knoxville in 1950 for a gig at the old Gem Theatre on Vine Street. The promoter skipped out on paying the boys, and Wynder was stuck in East Tennessee.

He decided to find a job, however, and stick around — starting out as a receiving clerk at Knox Dry Goods and eventually landing a position with the Tennessee Valley Authority, where he stayed on until retirement. On the side, he immersed himself in the local jazz scene, playing in local clubs and sitting in with other musicians.

Over the years, he was a member of numerous outfits, including The Illusioneers and various combinations of the Rocky Wynder Trio, playing in long-gone clubs like The Worker’s Club, The Blue Note, Chantilly’s and The Sneakeasy. With the progress of the Civil Rights Movement, he gained a whole new audience of white fans, and today he’s known as one of the elder statesmen of the much-venerated East Tennessee jazz scene, playing in public occasionally — as he’ll do tonight at Swank’s Jazz Restaurant and Bar in downtown Knoxville — and at a number of social and charitable functions.

“I really feel like that, like the ‘elder statesman,’ sometimes,” Wynder said. “I still talk to Billy (Bill Scarlett, another local sax maestro) every day, and we’ve talked every day since day one. We’re good friends, and I consider us both to be legends.”

That may sound like bragging, but when you’ve reached Wynder’s age and stature, a little bit of braggadocio is allowed. After all, he can back it up with a set of saxophone chops that can range from the fierce and ferocious to the smooth and sublime.

And even at his age, he added, he’s never too old to learn a few new tricks.

“Really, I’m a musician that don’t turn down listening to nobody’s music,” he said. ” I hear a lot of things that used to be called rock ‘n’ roll or R B or things like that, and I’ve found out that what I need is a place like Swank’s, where people know about the standards and things like that.

“Because that’s what I am — a standards player. I play standard tunes that people can recognize. I try to improve on them, and man, other than that, I just always got my ears open. Some of the youngsters like it when I play with them, and when they come up and say, ‘Hey, Rocky, try this with me,’ I’ll be glad to — because you can learn something from anybody; it don’t matter how old you are.”

Written by wildsmith

January 30th, 2012 at 5:51 am

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Wallypalooza on for March 1-4 at The Thirsty Turtle in Maryville

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323189_239985662711999_151461354897764_684817_3848353_oWallypalooza founder Wally Miles (left) and emcee Waylon Whiskey

Remember this, party people — bloody marys. Find a good recipe. Pre-make some. Keep a gallon of it in the fridge before you head out to Wallypalooza 2012: The Fifteenth Anniversary, details of which were revealed this morning by the man himself, organizer Wally Miles.

Why the need for a vat of bloody marys, you ask? Because you won’t be in any shape to make them on the mornings after, and you’ll need them to get better quick — because Wallypalooza is spread out over four nights this year.

“After 15 years of Wallypalooza, both the legend and the expectations have grown to levels unimaginable,” Miles said. “To celebrate 15 years of something I didn’t forsee still existing after all these years, the goal is to make this the absolute biggest Wallypalooza of all time, for those who have only heard the legend, and for those who have attended and have come to expect a weekend they will never forget.”

Here’s the skinny:

For those wondering what, exactly, Wallypalooza is … well, you’ve got to experience it. It began as a birthday celebration for Miles, a 1997 graduate of Maryville High School and a lifelong resident of Blount County (until recent years, at least). Miles invited friends to the lake in 1998, and they enjoyed an afternoon of music blaring from an old boombox. The next year, someone came up with the idea of getting a rock band to play for the annual gathering.

Over the next 14 years, the event was christened Wallypalooza and grew into the monster that it is today. And starting in 2008, when he booked three bands (Middle Finger, Stonemosis and Half of Something) at Nater’z Sports Grille in Maryville, it’s become a beast over which he has little control, at least in terms of how many people show up.

Read our cover stories on Wallypalooza from last March and last August.

And start doing liver squats or something, because your internal organ will require conditioning for this party.

Laughing it up to help out a Blount County ‘Hellcat’

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Folks familiar with the East Tennessee entertainment scene probably know Laura Mullaney better as “Hellcat Harlowe” or “Miz Kitty,” the founder of the lovely ladies of White Lightnin’ Burlesque. For more than five years now, White Lightnin’ has provided area show-goers with laughs, gasps, titillation and provocative thrills.

What you may not know is that Mullaney was struck by a motor vehicle last month — Dec. 19 — and suffered serious leg injuries that are requiring a long convalesence. She can’t say much about the accident due to ongoing litigation other than she was a pedestrian, and that she’ll “be on hiatus as a burlesque performer while I recover. Hopefully I will be able to return to the stage by the end of 2012. Also, please mention the ladies of White Lightnin Burlesque will continue to perform in my absence!”

But while she’s gone from the stage, she’s not from our hearts — and on Tuesday, Jan. 31, a group of local comedians are throwing “Laughs for Laura,” a benefit to help cover Mullaney’s medical expenses. It takes place at 8 p.m. at Old City Entertainment Venue, 118 S. Central St. in Knoxville’s Old City, and it’s being thrown by a group of yuksters who call themselves the Black Liver Society and describe themselves as thus: “Black Liver Society is a branding of the best bar comics in the south, already in multiple states and spreading like herpes in a Waffle House bathroom. And now they bringing out some of the biggest names in comedy for East Tennessee to the stage for you. We are bringing the best of the dirtiest, drunkest, most entertaining comics in the South to the stage one night only to raise money for a damn good cause.”

Comedian Dave Wright will hosts the event, which will also feature special guest/White Lightnin’ performer Sassy Frass as well as comedians Riley Fox, Matt Ward, Justin Koontz, Trae Crowder, Waylon Whiskey and J.C. Ratliff. Admission is only $5 at the door.

Mullaney, a 1993 graduate of Blount County’s Heritage High School, started White Lightnin’ in 2006. The troupe was her brainchild, but she had a little help from other local ladies in getting it off the ground, and a lot of inspiration from her business trips to Las Vegas. Active in drama and art in high school, she studied theater at the University of Tennessee, but drama was unfulfilling.

“I wanted to be on stage, but I didn’t want to do productions; something about it was lacking,” she told us back in 2007. “I was into the gothic scene for many years, and I guess I still am, so I gradually started doing some other performance art.”

She also got involved working as a hair and makeup artist, which led to her trip to Las Vegas. Long a fan of burlesque, she had watch video clips of such classic burlesque pin-ups as Bettie Page and Tempest Storm, and she was also intrigued by the possibility of visiting Ivan Kane’s Forty Deuce, a high-profile burlesque club at Vegas’s Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino. A return trip to Vegas merited another visit to the Forty Deuce, and at the end of the night, Mullaney found herself talking to a few of the dancers who had just gotten off work and were dressed in street clothes.

“When I talked to them a little bit, I thought, ‘I really should do this,’” she told us. “That was in October (2005), and I went back to Knoxville and thought on it and started making phone calls.”

She picked eight girls as the core members of the troupe in 2006, and by February of that year, White Lightnin’ was off and running. From club shows at dance nights sponsored by the local goth scene to wine-and-cheese nights at the Knoxville Museum of Art, White Lightnin’ has been on a mission to entertain and to empower women, Mullaney said.

“It’s the art of the tease, and it’s actually quite modest,” she said of burlesque. “It’s for entertainment, and it’s very empowering. We wanted women of all shapes and sizes, because we want people to know that we’re real women, that we look great and that we have a good time. That’s what we’re all about. That’s the reaction we love, when girls come up after a show and say, ‘I feel really good about how I look.’ And we get a lot of response from the men, too – you’d be surprised at how many men aren’t looking for Twiggy.”

If you want to help out but can’t attend, consider checking out the “Hellcat Harlowe Assistance Fund” on Facebook.

Guitarist Seth Thacker steps down from Straight Line Stitch

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seth

Guitarist Seth Thacker of the metal band Straight Line Stitch released this statement on his Facebook page today:

“I have officially stepped down from Straight Line Stitch. SLS is something I will forever cherish and I will miss it deeply. Something things just aren’t meant to be, and at this particular point of my life SLS is one of those things. I will be forever grateful for all the fans and friends I have met on this journey. Time to turn a new leaf … I love you all! S”

Given that singer Alexis Brown moved back to her hometown of Clarksville, Thacker’s departure probably disqualifies Straight Line Stitch from being called a “Knoxville” band. But hey — the group got its start here, and Thacker’s memories involve plenty of fond East Tennessee ones, he told us in an interview last September. Best of luck to him and his bandmates.

Written by wildsmith

January 16th, 2012 at 8:29 am