I’ve known Dave Kellan since Hector was a pup. First time we talked on the phone he was a 19-year old upstart practicing a deep cigarette voice and sounding like he was rode hard and put up wet. I hired him on the spot. But when I finally met him during his first show @ White’s imagine my surprise when I see this skinny young upstart with a moist face, a smooth smile and smelling like milk. Damn.
But he won us all over that night. All I heard was “This kid can play.” Sure enough. This was the beginning of my affection for all things Gutbucket. I remember Kellan celebrating his 21st birthday @ White’s – eleven years ago. I bought him a shot and dared him not to drink it. I was mean that way.
After a few years passed Kellan hosted a regular Wednesday Night jam that featured some of the best musicians on the planet. We recorded several of those performances – pure magic. I was able to talk with Dave recently as he was driving back to Saginaw with Mitchell and Krull. It was a great interview…
Review: The Gutbucket CD is ten years in the making. What took so long?
Kellan: The geographical distance was a big factor especially after I moved to New York 5 years ago. We essentially went our separate ways in 2002 when we pursued different forms of music. It’s funny that after all the changes we went through, 10 years later we are still doing the same groove. It was a natural progression. I started coming home for the holidays, or during the summer, and we’d jam or do a few shows. The passion was still there and it all came together, so we contacted Andy Reed and got him involved. I had already put together PK (Paula Kellan) studios as a tribute to my mother. She passed away 7 years ago
Review: What did you want to convey with the more blues-based material?
Kellan: Well, we are a blues band, that’s what we always wanted since our high school days. Jimi Hendrix and his use of sound influenced me. I heard an interview with Hendrix’s drummer Buddy Miles and he talked about the Gutbucket style. We really see ourselves as a blues-based band with all those early influences like Hendrix, and Stevie Ray Vaughn
Review: You've picked up some jazz riffs as well. Do you see it as a natural progression in your craft?
Kellan: I’ve seen so many world class jazz players in New York – it’s like the Mecca for Jazz musicians. I would sit close to the station and watch their hands and their fingering techniques – John Scofield was one influence. Bryan Rombalski is a big influence
Review: What was it like to perform with your old mates again?
Kellan: It’s all about friendship. We’ve actually been playing together on a fairly regular basis for the past three years or so. I’ve played with Jake since we were 14 years old. We had a cool Nirvana inspired punk band in high school called Everslacking. As juniors and seniors we gravitated away from punk and got into the blues. We would go out to see Larry McCray and Matt Besey. They inspired us. It’s great to have Brett back. He’s a great drummer with good instincts plus he is an excellent songwriter. He contributed several tracks to our new disc. After all is said and done, we grew up together – it’s natural.
Review: You recorded at PK studios in Woodside, New York and Reed studios in Bay City. What was the advantage in recording at both studios? What was it like working with Andy Reed?
Kellan: Andy is a mellow guy, nothing ruffles his feathers. He has a great ear for sound and he works fast. He gives concise instructions and advice – I could tell he had a lot of experience. He just set everything up and we went for it. We did everything live. The CD has a great natural sound – it’s really like hearing our stage show.
Review: How would you rate your guitar playing now? In what way have you evolved? Any New York influences?
Kellan:. I am definitely more comfortable now than I ever was taking risks harmonically speaking with the instrument. I think my chops are a bit more refined and I'd like to think that when I make a mistake it just opens up another door to be more creative. I read the book "The Music Lesson" by Victor Wooten and it changed my life. Not to say that I'm making that many mistakes, but it’s fun to have the freedom not to care if you're in the groove improvisationally speaking.
New York has obviously changed me because I am now surrounded by world-class musicians that I have the opportunity to hear any time and in some cases now play with. It is an incredible city to live in and I continually embrace the culture. If you are bored in New York you have issues. At this point in my life I can't see myself living anywhere else
Review: You've always had a unique soulful syncopated vocal style, often singing in unison with the notes you are playing. How was it that you discovered that style? How would you rate your singing?
Kellan: The Band of Gypsies influenced me to sing in unison with the guitar. Hendrix and Buddy Miles changed history by the simplicity of a pentatonic phrase being repeated in a soulful unison manner. I noticed that it really thickened the groove when in a trio situation. The vibrations of the string and voice can have a very strong impact of the note being played. George Benson's "Masquerade" also blew me away. The album Breezing' is also a huge inspiration as far as listening to Benson's amazing legato technique.
Review: You are more thematically concise with the lyrics on this disc. What inspired you?
Kellan: These songs are all over ten years old. I was really in a spiritual place back when I was 20 and I was heavily influenced by Hendrix at that time, and always will be. Also, Robert Johnson was painting pictures with his lyrics and I was trying to incorporate both, to somehow create a visual aspect to my music.
Review: How long have you lived in New York. Can you contrast the scene in NY with Saginaw in terms of original music and opportunities to perform?
Kellan: Come August, I will have been a resident in New York for 5 years. Man, time flies. Exponentially speaking New York has limitless possibilities as far as venues to both play at and meet and hear other artists perform. It seems like one gig eventually leads me to another. It's kind of a Mecca for the cultural renaissance of art and music. It's funny to think that in a two-week span I went to see Sting, Chick Corea and John Scofield on the nights I wasn't playing. If you are a jazz fan, New York is your city.
Saginaw, being the historical city that it is, still has an old soul and I still feel it is a breeding ground for talent to blossom. I mean come on, Stevie Wonder is no slouch. You also have to factor in that Motown is not far from Saginaw and that seems to be in everyone’s musical subconscious. When hosting the jam sessions at Whites Bar I learned a lot from guys like Bruce Crawley, Mark Miller, Matt Besey, and countless others who were either living there or passing through. Working with Noel Howland also was a huge influence. If Michigan can get out of its economic slump soon I see Saginaw being on the forefront of its own renaissance.
Gutbucket opens the disc with Everything to Me, a Funk Brothers-inspired blues workout. It has a jazzy groove with an economy of expression and enough space between the notes that gives the music an unexpected punch. It has a guitar riff that is reminiscent of Peter Green’s Oh Well. Kellan sketches out an extended jam near the coda with a brief chord progression that channels Radar Love.
Down in the Delta is an up-tempo blues with heavy syncopated beats. Kellan sings in unison to each note in the verses giving the lyrics an emotional valence that resonates like an electrical shock. Gutbucket pays homage to the black artists that inspired them to play the blues and go ”down to the Delta and get a gutbucket mop.”
Find your Soul is a spectacular tour de Force for Gutbucket. Kellan’s soulful singing is simply brilliant and the rhythm section of Krull and Mitchell carve out a rock solid framework for Kellan to stretch out and show his stuff. He’s all over the map with powerful yet nuanced vocals and nimble guitar work. He can punch out more notes in 12 bars than most cats pick in an entire set
St Mary’s River is a mid-tempo tone poem with some gorgeous country blues licks. Kellan delivers tasty full-bodied notes that carry the message forward. Kellan’s guitar work is exquisite – perfect tone, phrasing and execution. His guitar is like another voice being heard. He’s smooth as silk and twice as soulful
Kellan hits the e-string with a vengeance on the fourth track, Gutbucket. Like the title suggests this is the bands calling card, straight up 12 bar blues with an echoed call and response between Kellan and Mitchell.
As a drummer, Mitchell’s a bull, tough and durable. He pounds the skins like a heated up teen, holding his own and loving it. He’s not tricky, jazzed up or complex, he’s just rock solid – along with Jake Krull, the rhythm section gives Kellan plenty of space to stretch out with his trademark funky grooves, electrifying speeded up guitar workouts. Kellan is an expert in singing with each note he picks, hits, bends or stretches.
Cinema is a hard-edged funked up groove that is the perfect platform for the message in the lyrics. Gutbucket is giving the sermon. We are the flock. They are rocking their asses off on this track
No relief is a punk rock at its speeded up best. This is a tribute to their high school band Everslacking and they take no prisoners. Mitchell pounds out a frantic 4/4 beat like a heat seeking missile looking for a place to land. The frantic vocal performance is perfect. Gravitational insecurity sets in and the song ends like a crash. In the context of a disc that reveres 12-bar blues, Gutbucket sure took a chance. It was reassuring to me that these three great musicians could add-in an early influence even if it doesn’t seem to fit the format. It was a refreshing and honest.
End of the Tunnel has a raucous rock & roll intro that segues into another Kellan funk fest. The band is tight as a vise, the timing is impeccable and they stop and start on a dime. Lyrically dark, Tunnel seems to be speaking to the general malaise in our country, our world. It’s a powerful statement
Sea of Jealousy is down home John Lee Hooker 12 bar blues. You just need to pound your foot in time, keeping it simple with sophisticated notions. Kellan’s guitar is ringing with an ancient sound like Robert Johnson at the crossroads. It feels like a clarion call to calm the fight, the inner turmoil.
FIAA is an acronym for Funk is all around. Kellan unleashes a supernaturally charged guitar trill that takes you into another dimension, a twilight zone of pyrotechnical sound, music and rhythm. The big beat nearly explodes in the grooves until Gutbucket transforms it with a stylish syncopated beat. The quiet chemistry between Krull and Mitchell is perfect foil for Kellan’s excursions. Their musical economy is brilliant. This is great stuff.
I hope to hear more following this unexpected resurrection of one of my favorite bands