The Wild Honey Orchestra and an all-star lineup of guest performers including Jackson Browne, Peter Case and Victoria Williams are set to perform classic songs by legendary American rock group The Band live at the historic Alex Theatre in Glendale, California Saturday night, March 25.
Billed as “The Wild Honey Orchestra & Garth Hudson Play The Band’s ‘Music From Big Pink,’ ‘The Band’ & Beyond,” it’s the fifth annual concert staged by the non-profit Wild Honey Foundation to raise awareness and funds for autism research and treatment. The show benefits the non-profit Autism Think Tank.
Keyboardist Garth Hudson, a founding member of The Band, Sister Maud Hudson, and singer-songwriters Van Dyke Parks, Carlene Carter, Terry Reid, Julianna Raye and Louise Goffin are among the latest additions to the featured guests.
Joining the aforementioned artists onstage at the Alex: The Continental Drifters (Mark Walton, Susan Cowsill, Carlo Nuccio, Russ Broussard, Vicki Petersen, Peter Holsapple, Gary Eaton, Danny McGough and Robert Mache); and featured guest performers Keith Allison; Robert Francis; Syd Straw; Brenda Holloway; Steve Barton; Steve Wynn; Jerry Riopelle; Rob Laufer; David Baerwald; Cindy Lee Berryhill; Plainsong (Iain Matthews and Andy Roberts); Skylar Gudasz; Nick Guzman; Jeff Young; Luther Russell; All Day Sucker; Bebopalula; Sarah Kramer; Chris Price; and Cait O’Riordan.
The Wild Honey Orchestra – Rob Laufer (musical director), Derrick Anderson (bass), Jim Laspesa (drums), Willie Aron (keyboards, guitar), Danny McGough (keyboards), Jordan Summers (keyboards), Rusty Squeezebox (guitars) and Mike Randle (guitars) – will play as a unit and various WHO members will back each of the guest stars’ performances.
Music journalist and author Chris Morris is on board to serve as emcee for the revue-style affair.
“Live musicians! Playing real instruments!” said Keith Allison, one of the featured performers.
He’s a renowned Texas-born guitarist and singer whose colorful 50-plus-year career in music includes solo hits and stints with Ray Peterson, The Crickets, Leon Russell, Sonny & Cher, Paul Revere & The Raiders, Johnny Rivers, The Monkees, Boyce & Hart, Ringo Starr, the Rick Danko Band, the Waddy Wachtel Band and many others.
“They’re using the arrangements from ‘The Last Waltz’ with the horns and everything,” said Allison, referring to The Band’s historic farewell concert, staged at the Winterland ballroom in San Francisco Thanksgiving night 1976 in a similar revue format.
That marathon show, featuring The Band and a dream lineup of guest performers from Muddy Waters to Emmylou Harris was famously documented by filmmaker Martin Scorcese’s theatrical release and a three-album soundtrack the following year.
Allison added that the Wild Honey ensemble will play all the instrumental parts The Band’s members (and assorted ringers) recorded on the original studio tracks.
While most of the songs on the evening’s setlist will come from “Music From Big Pink” and “The Band,” Allison’s performing “The Shape I’m In,” the funky Richard Manuel classic from The Band’s “Stage Fright” album, out in 1970.
“The show’s called ‘Music from “Big Pink,” “The Band” and Beyond,’ and I’m in the ‘beyond,'” Allison wisecracked as he and this reporter sat down at his place in Sherman Oaks for an interview earlier this month.
After each guest performer’s featured song(s), Allison said the entire Wild Honey Orchestra ensemble will take the stage for the big finale, “I Shall Be Released,” the Bob Dylan song that closes “Music From Big Pink.”
Here’s video of Allison previewing the benefit (an edited transcript follows at the end of this post).
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A Taste of Wild Honey History
Paul Rock, leader of the Los Angeles-based Wild Honey Orchestra, and whose 13-year-old son Jake is autistic, established the Wild Honey Foundation as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and stages the annual benefit show at the Alex to support it.
According to its mission statement, the Wild Honey Foundation “seeks to support various charitable causes while passing on the passion, creativity and idealism found in rock, rhythm & blues, folk and pop music to future generations through cultural events of all types.”
This year’s beneficiary, the Autism Think Tank, also a 501(c)(3) non-profit group, focuses on “facilitating the medical and psycho-social stabilization of child and family,” according to its mission statement.
“Bringing together a team of world-renowned medical experts via telemedicine, this innovative outpatient medical center is designed to provide a multidisciplinary team approach to the identification and treatment of the complicated medical comorbidities of autism,” the statement continues.
“The Autism Medical Center is committed to improving the lives of children and families in the home, school and community through comprehensive case management, community outreach, research and education.”
At its first benefit concert in February 2013, the Wild Honey Orchestra and an all-star lineup performed The Beatles’ “Rubber Soul” and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” albums in their entirety. The ensemble ambitiously and precisely re-created the albums’ tracks live with full instrumentation, including all the overdubs.
The following year, the Orchestra took on The Beatles’ “Revolver” and “Abbey Road,” then in 2015 all four sides of “The Beatles” aka “The White Album,” again with full instrumentation.
The 2016 benefit featured later classics by The Beach Boys spanning 1967-1977. And this year, The Band gets the spotlight.
The Band – A Capsule History
The Band originated in the late 1950s as The Hawks, the young American-Canadian backup group that assembled behind Arkansas-born blues-rocker Ronnie Hawkins.
In summer 1963, after five years, Jaime Robbie Robertson (guitar), Rick Danko (guitar), Richard Manuel (bass), Garth Hudson (keyboards) and Levon Helm (drums, also an Arkansan) parted company with Hawkins and carried on as Levon & The Hawks.
The lineup recorded some demos that came to the attention of folksinger John Hammond Jr., who hired Robertson and Danko to play on his 1964 record “I Can Tell.” Hammond’s father John Hammond was the famed Columbia Records A&R exec who had signed Bob Dylan to the label in October 1961.
Eventually, Dylan and the musicians connected; just as Dylan was looking to go electric in 1965, Robertson and Helm backed Dylan at his first plugged-in gig at Forest Hills in that summer. Dylan hired the group (minus Helm, who left for a short time) to back him on a tour that began at the end of the year and stretched into 1966.
After Dylan’s motorcycle crash in late July ’66 took them off the road, the five musicians regrouped and woodshedded at the big pink house in rural Woodstock, New York, at the suggestion of Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman.
They developed an organic, earthy blend of rustic roots rock, blues, gospel, country, classical and funk, and wrote lyrics that recounted tales of characters, places, events and relationships, sometimes reaching back to the 19th century, in vivid cinematic style. (Observing Dylan writing at close proximity was no doubt instructive on that score.) Their vocals weren’t always note-perfect, but their soulful authenticity more than made up for it.
As Dylan healed, he spent time with the band at Big Pink; some of their informal jams were taped and rough recordings later surfaced on “The Basement Tapes,” arguably the most notorious bootleg album of rock’s pre-digital era.
Grossman landed them a deal with Capitol Records, Helm rejoined and they settled on “The Band” as their name. Their debut album, “Music From Big Pink,” out later in 1968, included Robertson’s “The Weight” and “Chest Fever,” Dylan and Manuel’s “Tears of Rage,” Dylan and Danko’s “This Wheel’s on Fire” and Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released.”
The Band’s eponymous follow-up out the following year featured “Across the Great Divide,” “Up on Cripple Creek,” “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and “Rag Mama Rag.” all penned by Robertson, who might have been Canadian, but weaned on American music from south of the Mason-Dixon line.
The group’s earthy proto-Americana sound resonated with the back-to-the-land contingent of the late ’60s hippie counterculture. Songs like “The Weight” and “Up on Cripple Creek” were unmistakable in the mix of commercial pop on AM radio, and even in the more progressive/album-oriented rock then emerging on the FM radio airwaves.
The band members’ stellar musicianship also inspired their peers, and each generation of musicians to follow. The multi-generational Wild Honey Orchestra’s tribute at the Alex perfectly illustrates this enduring influence, 40-plus years after The Band’s last waltz at Winterland.
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Keith Allison Wild Honey Orchestra Interview
Here’s an edited transcript of the author’s conversation with Keith Allison at Allison’s abode in Sherman Oaks, California on March 2, 2017 about the Wild Honey Orchestra benefit concert March 25.
Stephen K. Peeples: Tell us how you got connected with this project and how you came to play in the band as a featured guest performer.
Keith Allison: There was an album out a few years ago on Rhino called “Where the Action Is – Los Angeles Nuggets 1965-1968.” It was produced by Andrew Sandoval. Five or six people who had songs on the album were selected to play the record store on Sunset, the big one. Amoeba. They have a stage there and do concerts.
So Jackie DeShannon, Danny Hutton from Three Dog Night, The Standells, Peanut Butter Conspiracy and myself did our songs that appeared on this album. The Wondermints, part of Brian Wilson’s band, backed all of us, except The Standells and the Peanut Butter Conspiracy – they were self-contained. But the rest of us used The Wondermints.
Then they expanded it out when they did the very first [benefit], and they called it “The Wild Honey Orchestra,” based on The Beach Boys song “Wild Honey.”
David Jenkins, bass player who manages Truetone Music, was very involved in all this and helped put it together, and Truetone Music, I think, donates a lot of the back line amps and so forth. And I’d known him since he was a teenager. My son and he were in a band together. So, I had a connection on several fronts, and they were coming up looking for a voice with a name to play the gigs, and Chuck Negron, The Bangles, myself, and I forgot who else was on the very first one.
And when they called me, he said, “We’d like you to play,” and I said, “Who’s on the show?” And they told me Chuck Negron and The Cowsills and The Bangles. And I said, “I’ll do it under one condition: The Bangles back me up.” And they went, “Oh, gosh.” [laughs] Because I love…
Peeples: What did Susannah [Hoffs] have to say about that?
Allison: Well, she actually didn’t come to that one. She came to the next one. So, it was the Peterson Sisters, Debbi and Vicki. Debbi played drums, and they both sang harmony with me, and I did “Run For Your Life,” the John Lennon song, because they were doing “Rubber Soul” and “Sgt. Pepper” and that’s the song they suggested I sing.
So I had The Cowsills singing in the background, and the rhythm section from The Bangles. It was great.
Peeples: Were you playing guitar on that also?
Allison: Yeah, I played the lead. I listened to it and played it just like the record.
Peeples: Oh, sure. It’s not terribly complicated. It’s just the right notes.
Allison: Rob Laufer, who was in the house band, is one of the conductors and he’s no slouch. He covers everything. The music they do, they do it exactly like the record. They have all the instruments and instrumentation. They’ll be doing the same thing for The Band. Whatever song you’re singing will be just like it was recorded.
Peeples: They’ll have all the percussion instruments and side instruments, all the stuff that was overdubbed, live?
Allison: Background singers, horns, strings, everything. Yeah.
Peeples: That’s great.
Allison: So, it’s a real pleasure playing, because they’re great, and they have it down. I go in, like, the night before and we do a run-through. The run-through – usually, first time it’s almost dead on, a couple tweaks, and we run through it a time or two more, and that’s it. Then the next night’s the show.
Peeples: So, you haven’t done any rehearsing up until now.
Allison: No, we don’t do any rehearsing until… [Laughs]
Peeples: You don’t want to peak too early!
Allison: My son is playing drums with me, and so I said, “Have you bothered to listen to this?”
Peeples: Now, what’s his name?
Allison: Ryeland Allison. He’s a sound designer and drummer. He mostly does movie work. He worked for Hans Zimmer for many, many years, the composer. Ryeland did everything from “Iron Man” to “Batman” to “Madagascar” to “The Lion King,” and he’s playing drums on all those huge movies. [“All the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, too!” Keith said later.]
Peeples: Something in the genes.
Allison: Yeah. He’s currently on “The Ranch,” which is on Netflix, with Ashton Kutcher, Sam Elliott, Debra Winger and Danny Masterson, which is very successful, and Ryeland is the composer on it.
So, I rehearsed with him. I went over to his living room and said, “Okay, play.” We ran through it two or three times. So, that’s the only rehearsal I’ve had.
Peeples: Drums and guitar?
Allison: Drums and guitar. Back to basics.
Peeples: That’s great. That’s all you need. So, “Music From Big Pink” and “The Band” “Big Pink,” of course, is the ’68 album that had “The Weight” on it and a lot of other great stuff, and then “The Band” followed that in…I think it was ’69. So, that’s a really incredible period of music for them, and it was really kind of the birth of Americana.
Peeples: And a lot of the artists on the bill here, there’s a legacy. They’re carrying on the Americana legacy that you can trace back to what these guys were doing and what The Dead were doing after they came down from all the psychedelics, with “Uncle John’s Band” and stuff like that.
Allison: You notice [the poster] says “…Plays ‘Music From Big Pink’ and ‘The Band’ & Beyond” – well, I’m playing “beyond,” because I’m playing a song that’s not on either one of those albums. I’m doing “The Shape I’m In,” Richard Manuel’s song. I’ve always liked that, and I play it with the Waddy Watchel Band.
Peeples: Oh, nice.
Allison: I wanted to do “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” because they were getting the horn arrangements from “The Last Waltz” and so forth. Someone else had already called… There’s always a last-minute push of everybody trying to grab the song they want. But I was pretty much locked in. They said, “How about if you do that?” And I said, “That’s fine.” “Cripple Creek” was taken, “Dixie” was taken. They’re all good, but I’m doing “The Shape I’m In.”
Peeples: So, the lineup is, your son’s going to be on drums, you’re going to be on guitar. Give me the rest of the lineup, as far as you know, at this point.
Allison: David Jenkins [who manages] Truetone is playing bass with me. He has every year on every one of them. Rob Laufer will be there. I don’t know who’s playing the keyboards, and I don’t know who’s doing the background vocals, and I know Sarah Kramer and the horn section. I requested that I wanted to do it with horns… The original version of it, the single, didn’t have horns, just clavinet and so forth. But when they did it at the ballroom on “The Last Waltz,” they had horns.
Peeples: Right, at the last show. The organizer [Paul Rock], just yesterday, put up a note on Facebook that Garth Hudson was going to play.
Allison: Is he?
Peeples: Yeah. So, that’s news to you?
Allison: Well, yeah. Good to hear, because he plays nearly all the leads on the song I’m doing on that big [Lowrey], so if he’s there… Ryeland told me they were bringing in a [Lowrey] just like the one [Hudson] plays. You know, one of those big old things with all the bells and whistles.
Peeples: Yep, yep, and fans.
Allison: Yeah, and they’ll have everything. They’ll have clavinets. They have a whole section over here of keys, then they have all the line of amps, then they have a riser for the drums. They have the horns there. Strings and stuff are always over here, and the background singers in front of them. So, that’s the way the stage is always laid out. It’s a good stage.
Peeples: Players just come in and plug into whatever appropriate amp.
Allison: That’s all you do, yeah. The MC says, “And now, da-da-da-da-da,” and if there’s any shift in personnel, it’s done while he’s talking. … I’m already plugged in when I walk on stage, and I walk to the center, say hello, and away we go.
Peeples: It’s like a revue, in a way.
Allison: It is – an old-time revue. [Laughs] I don’t know what song Jackson [Browne] is doing from this, but I think they’re doing “I Shall Be Released,” the Dylan song as a closer, with the entire cast. So, on the last song, there’ll be 50 people on the front line singing, and I hope Al Jardine has a microphone this time. That’s an inside joke.
Peeples: All right – music by The Band by the Wild Honey Orchestra, March 25, 2017 at the Alex Theater in Glendale, a benefit for the Autism Think Tank. Jackson Browne’s the headliner. Peter Case, Victoria Williams, Continental Drifters, Vicki Peterson et al, and Keith Allison is a guest performer … We’ll see you there!
Allison: Great! Looking forward to seeing you.
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Special thanks to Paige Hagen for the interview photos and video, and to Natalia B at Transcription Panda.
Santa Clarita journalist, PR consultant and website producer Stephen K. Peeples began his career writing about American music and pop culture for Cash Box, the Los Angeles Times, L.A. Weekly, Circus, Picking Up the Tempo, Modern Recording, Performance, RePlay, Rocky Mountain Musical Express, Rock Around the World and other publications from 1975-1977. He is a Grammy-nominated record producer (“Monterey International Pop Festival,” MIPF/Rhino, 1992), veteran record industry media relations executive (Capitol Records, Elektra/Asylum Records, the Westwood One Radio Network, Rhino Entertainment, 1977-1998), and website content manager (Rhino, 1996-1998; Warner New Media, 1998-2001). Peeples was the original, award-winning producer of “The Lost Lennon Tapes” radio series for Westwood One (1988-1990). He was music and entertainment features writer/columnist for the Santa Clarita Valley Signal (2004-2011), and The Signal’s award-winning online editor (2007-2011). He hosted, wrote and co-produced the WAVE-nominated “House Blend” music and interview show on SCV community TV station SCVTV (2010-2015) and wrote news and features for Santa Clarita’s KHTS-AM 1220 News (www.hometownstation.com) and SCVTV’s SCVNews.com (2011-2016). He served as Vice President/New Media & Editorial with Los Angeles-based multimedia pop culture company Rare Cool Stuff Unltd. (2010-2016). As a web producer, he was project manager building sites for clients including Santa Clarita Photographic Studio and Rare Cool Stuff (2013-2015). In 2015, pursuing another passion, animals, he co-founded Pet Me Happy Treats, created an all-natural treat for dogs, and co-produced the company’s website. He still posts music-related stories and interviews because he can’t help it. For more information, email skp (at) stephenkpeeples.com or visit https://stephenkpeeples.com.
Article: Wild Honey Orchestra All-Star Autism Benefit Rocks The Band
Category: News & Reviews
Author: Stephen K. Peeples
Article Source: StephenKPeeples.com