Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Dustin Douglas released one of the best local albums of 2014

Weekender music writer shares his thoughts on the year’s highlights


As some readers may know, I covered music extensively for both The Times Leader and The Weekender from 1992-2011. In 2011, when I left the company on excellent terms, I stayed on as a music correspondent and told our readers that I still might be contributing a few articles per year. And that’s what I did. From 2011 through most of 2014, I probably did about 10 stories in total.

This past fall, however, I came back into the fold on a more frequent basis. And the reasons were simple: 1) I still love to write about music, and 2) I continue to receive many records from local artists, who send them my way in hopes that we’ll give them some airplay on my weekly radio show. And since they’re often very good, and since I‘m already playing them, I wanted to write about them, too. Thus, since October, I've been back in The Weekender almost every week, and because of that, they've asked me to share my thoughts on some of the musical highlights of 2014.

One of the things I really like to see on the local music front is people trying new things. Sometimes, you need to take a chance. Last year, in 2013, the band Cabinet decided to take on the challenge of holding a musical festival at Montage Mountain. And this year, with the “Susquehanna Breakdown,” they were back with another such event. Major props to that group, and their manager, Bill Orner, for making that happen. It’s not easy, but they've got something good going, and they've already announced that they’ll be back again in May. Congratulations also to Will Beekman and The F.M. Kirby Center for its successful “Chandelier Lobby Series,” which recently hosted two sold-out shows with Cabinet. It’s another fine example of someone taking a chance on something new and then seeing the public respond in a positive way.

Along those same lines, you've got to love what Ken Norton and Joe Caviston pulled off in Scranton back in October with the inaugural “Electric City Music Conference” and the “Steamtown Music Awards.” This was a particularly ambitious undertaking and once again, it was well received by the local music community. And I would be remiss if I didn't mention the people that I work with at 105 The River and at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs. In June, we launched the new “Music On The Menu Live Original Music Series” at Breakers. Once a month, we select one of NEPA’s best original artists and we put them live on stage and, just as importantly, live on the radio, where they are given the opportunity to play their songs for a wide listening audience. There’s probably not anything quite like it being done by any other station in the country and I’m proud to be a part of it.   

As I said at the top of this article, one of the reasons you've seen my byline a bit more in The Weekender in recent months is because I wanted to write about some of the fine local albums that have come my way at the radio station. Some of this year’s highlights, which I did write about, were “Black Skies & Starlight” by Dustin Douglas, “Rhythm of Our Hearts” by Mike Dougherty, “Under The Covers: The Songs of Tom Flannery” by Tom Flannery,” “In The Aftermath” by Eddie Appnel, “Diary” by Jane Train and the self-titled release by the Phyllis Hopkins Trio. Other gems from late 2013 or 2014 were “Eleven” by Dani-elle, “Sound Makes Waves” by Nick Coyle, “Change.Adjust.Continue” by Graces Downfall and “Sounds From Thursday Evening” by Suze.  And just a few weeks ago, I received an album from Black Tie Stereo that also ranks among the year’s best local releases.

Sometimes people ask me, after more than 20 years of being involved with the NEPA music scene, what I still like about it the most. That’s it right there. It’s writing about records like those and playing them on the radio.

Other interesting items that I enjoyed writing about in 2014 were the 20th anniversary of longtime area favorites Flaxy Morgan and a book, “Counting Down Springsteen: His 100 Finest Songs,” by Old Forge native Jim Beviglia.  If you’re a fan of The Boss, you should pick up a copy.

In the summer, we learned about a new all-star band, Gentleman East, featuring Bret Alexander, Paul Smith and Ron Simasek of The Badlees and Aaron Fink of Breaking Benjamin. I was surprised to see The Badlees implode only a few short months after the release of a fine double-disc album, but so far, I’m liking what I’m hearing from Gentleman East. The band’s debut CD should be one of the most highly anticipated records of 2015.

Gentleman East, a new all-star project, made its debut in 2014. 
As for Breaking Benjamin, just when it looked like the band might be done, it surprised fans with two club shows at Brews Brothers West, the former Voodoo Lounge, which was where the group first cut its teeth as a live band. I was there. And it was mobbed. These shows led to a mini-tour of the east coast and there should indeed be new music from Breaking Benjamin in 2015.

As for the national music scene, I don’t cover it nearly as much as I once did. Our own Brad Patton does a great job with that. But it was fun to dust off the old notebook and cover the Soul Asylum show at Mohegan Sun, and to interview Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Paul Katner of Jefferson Starship. And another big interview is what led to my personal favorite musical memory of 2014 …

Mary Ann Stout meets KISS at Montage Mountain
In August, I interviewed Paul Stanley of KISS. It was the sixth time that I’d interviewed him on the phone over the years, and I’d also met him in person several times. I am a big fan. And the band knows that I am a big fan. Thus, I was invited to go backstage for a brief hello with the group when the band came to Montage. What made this one special was that, for the first time, I took my seven year-old daughter with me. When Paul first saw her standing with me, he pointed to her, looked at me, and said “Is she yours?” When I said, “Yes,” he bent down to look at her at eye level and made a bit of a fuss over her. And later, during the show, he tossed a few guitar picks her way. Pretty cool stuff from the Starchild. And a great memory from 2014.

Looking forward to 2015 and making many more.

(Alan K. Stout has covered rock and pop music in Northeastern Pennsylvania since 1992. His weekly radio show, “Music On The Menu,” airs every Friday from 9-10 p.m. on 105 The River. This story also appears in the December 31, 2014 edition of The Weekender)


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

‘Diary’ an open book on growth and healing

Popular area singer finds artistic expression through new CD   

DECEMBER 17, 2014

Jane Train’s debut album, “Diary,” is just that. It’s a deeply personal record filled with songs that chronicle both pain and healing. And for the talented and charismatic vocalist - known best to area music fans for her work with the popular band M80 - there was a lot of healing needed. The album, she said, was mostly inspired by her marriage and divorce. Music, and writing about her experience, helped her move forward.

“I felt like I needed to do my art,” says Train. “And I felt like I needed to heal from investing in a relationship that failed and that put me through the most extreme emotions that I’d ever felt in my life.”

Though, with M80, Train has graced the stages of NEPA for nearly a decade, her resume also includes plenty of national work. From 1999-2000, she toured the country as a backup singer with Liz Phair, co-headlining shows with artists such as Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Dixie Chicks, Queen Latifah and Deborah Cox. With Phair she also toured as an opener for Alanis Morissette, and last year, as a solo artist, she opened for Motley Crue. Simply put, Train has befriended many musicians, which might explain why “Diary” not only features work by former Breaking Benjamin members Aaron Fink, Mark James Klepaski and Chad Szeliga, but also Nick Coyle (Lifer/The Drama Club/Stardog Champion), Tyler Grady (American Idol), Dale Stewart (Seether,) Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal (Guns ‘N Roses) and Clint Lowery (Sevendust), who co-wrote five songs.

Train says initially, she was not planning on an all-star album, but as the sessions began, the record took on a life of its own.

“At the very beginning, I didn’t think about getting all of the big players on it,” she says. “But as it developed, I just started thinking ‘Let me ask so and so, who I’ve known for X amount of years, and have never, ever asked for a favor.’ I guess once I got one person, and then two, I thought ‘I’m getting everybody.’ ”

She laughs.

“Diary” is a big-sounding album with booming production. Tracks include “Love & Hate,” “Time To Shine,” “Small Town,” “Tides” and “Beauty For Ashes.” There’s also an explosive cover of My Bloody Valentine’s “Only Shallow.” Train says writing the songs was cathartic and that the process became a bit of a journey.

“At first, the songwriting relied more heavily on lyrics,” she says. “I have one song that’s actually kind of poppy, but it’s a very sad song, and I don’t think it was until Clint from Sevendust entered the picture that some of the darker elements that I really craved were brought out. I don’t know why I didn’t go there on my own originally, but Clint brought it out. I touched on subjects that were not happy, because I definitely was not happy. With life in general, I was happy, but I was still healing and still wounded.”

She held nothing back.

“I needed to express all of this in a very honest way, like a musical diary,” she says. “I know I’m not the only one who has encountered loss, suffering and grief. I had a lot to say that people could relate to, and I needed to say it. Finally, my music was coming alive and my healing was well under way. I wrote about everything that I went through.”

In addition to penning songs about relationships, Train also tackled other topics.

“I included a song against bullying called ‘Breathe Out,’ ” she says. “I hang out with a lot of gay people and I’ve heard painful stories about what they’ve gone through. Although I’m straight, I was bullied in school because of my frizzy hair, and then when I was the new girl. It was horrible. I didn’t have many friends growing up. Kids are brutal.”

Such songs have already connected with people.

“Before my CD was finished, I had the opportunity to open for Motley Crue,” says Train. “I felt completely at home on that stage, and I received a lot of positive feedback on Facebook, including one mother that reached out to me and said she found my song ‘Time to Shine’ online. She then went on to say how her son was bullied in school and had mentioned suicide. They listened to my song and cried together. He said one day it would be his ‘time to shine.’ I cried when I read this. I wrote to her and offered to talk to him over Skype. She was so excited. I spoke to this amazingly smart, cute, and funny 12 year-old for two hours. We laughed, and he did mention the suicide thoughts to me. I said, ‘Why would you kill yourself and let them win? Stay alive just to piss them off!’ He laughed and agreed.”

Train says she then sent the boy the song “‘Breathe Out.” It too connected.

“They thanked me for reaching out by having the lyrics to my song printed on a canvas over a beautiful photograph of storm clouds the mother had taken,” she says. “I bawled when I received that gift. I’m still in touch with them. Over the summer, the young boy gained confidence from that talk and is hardly bothered at all by those bullies. I heard he even has his first girlfriend. “

Train credits her own faith in God in getting her through tough times. She says that the CD cover, which was shot in England and shows her leaning on a cross, is reflective of that. And through it all, she’s also maintained good humor. She says that her” “first post-divorce kiss” was with none other than Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Gregg Allman, with whom she had a brief romance that turned into a steady friendship.

“I think Gregg Allman is the only person I didn’t get to play on the album,” she says with a laugh.

“Diary” is available at the Gallery of Sound as well as iTunes, CD Baby and Amazon and can be heard on Spotify. It is also available at M80’s shows and at Train says that after a few years of work, she is happy to finally get her music out there to her fans.

“This was a selfish effort,” she says. “I don’t mean it in a bad way. I wasn’t doing it for money or anything. It was selfish in that I really, really needed to get this out to help me heal and to feel accomplished. In all of the years I’ve been doing music, since I was 12, I never once put out a full CD. I’m excited that it’s done, and what’s making everything new for me is the people that are telling me what songs they love, and what they mean to them. That’s the part that’s pretty awesome.”

(This story first was first published as the cover story of The Weekender on December 17, 2014.  Alan K. Stout has covered rock and pop music in NEPA since 1992. His weekly radio show, “Music On The Menu” airs Sunday nights from 9-10 p.m. on 105 The River in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. His commentaries on music and concert reviews are now published by the Bold Gold Media Group.)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

‘Caring For Carolyn’ event brings family together

Siblings, as well as many area musicians, unite to help ailing mom


Music has always a big part of life for Van, Bob and Freeman White. The brothers, over the years, have played in some of NEPA’s best and most popular bands. Their sister, Laura, also sings, and when the four were growing up, they sometimes sang a cappellea songs together.

Music runs in the family.

The past three years, however, have not been easy for that family. Their mother, Carolyn White, 71,  was diagnosed with stage-four ovarian cancer in the spring of 2012. The diagnosis came only about six months after her home was destroyed in the September of 2011 floods that hit parts of the Wyoming Valley. It also came only six months after she lost her own mother.

“The house was destroyed, she lost her mother – our grandmother – and a few months later, she was diagnosed with cancer,” says her son, Van. “She went through radical surgery, which was done at Lehigh, and she went through chemo. Initially, we got a clean bill of health. All of the scans said the cancer was gone. That was around Christmastime of 2012. It was a big Christmas present. And then a while later, she was again having some abdominal pain, and the cancer had come back.”

Currently, Carolyn continues to battle and has resumed chemotherapy. And to help her with her living expenses during this difficult time, her family is hosting a special benefit show, “Caring for Carolyn,” which will take place on Sunday, Nov. 30 at the Kingston VFW. Performing will be Militia, Cool Ride, Mother Nature’s Sons and Bat Out of Hell. Special musical guests will include Mike Miz, Bret Alexander, John Shemo and one of Carolyn’s favorite acts, The Chatter.

Van says that though he and his brothers have performed at hundreds of benefits over the years, all in an effort to help others, this is the first time they’ve been on the receiving end of such good intentions. 

 I've never done something this close to home,” he says. “To my knowledge, we’ve never had a benefit for someone in my family. And the response, to be honest, was overwhelming. We’ve been involved with the music scene in this area for so long. I started playing out in bands when I was 16 or 17, and I’m 41 now. Everybody wanted to be a part of this. It’s going to be an amazing show.”

The musical resume of the White family is impressive. Freeman was a member of Strawberry Jam and has performed with artists such as Bret Alexander, George Wesley and MiZ. He also toured with Grateful Dead vocalist Donna Jean Godchaux and is currently a member of Mother Nature’s Sons. Van was a member of FreeFall, which was once one of NEPA’s most popular acts, and was also a member of the Meatloaf tribute, Bat Out Of Hell, and the band ASIZ. He is currently a member of Militia. Bob is the lead vocalist of Bat Out of Hell and was a member of 3rd Degree. He now also performs with Cool Ride. Perhaps that’s why rounding up such a solid lineup of talent to play the benefit wasn’t difficult.

“This is called the ‘Valley with a Heart,’ and that's what it is,” says Freeman. “We were overwhelmed with the response from friends and musicians to offer any help needed. I am amazed and humbled by all the generosity. This area has some amazing musicians, and every one of them that I talked to offered to help without blinking an eye. Most people that I spoke to agreed to do it before I finished asking the question.”

Van says the that event has also brought healing to the family. He explains that after their mother’s home was destroyed in the flood of 2011, the family squabbled during the rebuilding process.

“We all didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of things,” he says. “It caused a lot of stress and a lot of tension, and it really put a wedge in the family. But with Mom going through cancer, we’re putting all of that aside. We’re family. We’re ‘family first.’ This is for our mother, and we’re call coming back together. It’d drawing us all back in and it’s creating that family feeling again.”

That, says Van, makes the event even more special, especially since their mother has always been supportive of their interest in music.

“We all starting singing together,” he says. “We’re going to a little piece at the benefit, which is going to be all of us – just the family. It will be myself, my brother Bobby, my brother Freeman, and my sister Laurie. When Bat Out Off Hell plays, I’m playing drums, Freeman is playing keyboards, Bobby is singing and my sister is also singing. So for the very first time, all of us will be on stage at the same time, which is big for us.”

Bob, when asked for his thoughts on the event, puts it simply: “My mother gave us all the music,” he says. “It's time to give it back.”

In addition to music, the event will feature raffle prizes and cheer baskets. Sound is being provided by Rock Street Music, which has been very supportive.

“She’s very excited about it,” says Van. “As far as us coming together as family and performing together, this is something she has wanted to see happen for years.”

WHAT: Caring For Carolyn
WHEN: Sunday, Nov. 30 from 2-8 p.m.
WHERE: Kingston VFW, 757 Wyoming Ave, Kingston
INFO:  (570) 287-7511

(Alan K. Stout has covered rock and pop music in Northeastern Pennsylvania since 1992. His weekly radio show, “Music On The Menu,” can be heard every Sunday from 9-10 p.m. on 105 The River. This story also appears in the Nov. 25, 2014  issue of The Weekender.)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Phyllis Hopkins Electric Trio plugs into the blues
The Phyllis Hopkins Electric Trio, which just released a new CD, will appear on WBRE-TV's 'PA Live' on Monday 


Phyllis Hopkins has always loved the blues. Even when she was growing up, listening to what is now considered classic rock, it was the blues element of the music that she appreciated the most. And for a good portion of her life, she’s done much more than just listen to it. She’s played it.

Hopkins, with her band, the Phyllis Hopkins Electric Trio, recently released her third album. The self-titled, nine song CD  features first with bassist Nolan Ayers and drummer Julio Caprari and was recorded at SI Studios in Old Forge. Hopkins, who handles lead vocals and guitars, says the record is true to her influences and comes straight from the heart.

“With this one, I think I went back a little more to the roots of the blues,” says Hopkins. “Julio and Nolan are just perfect at that kind of rhythm. There’s a song called ‘Good or Bad,’ which definitely has a Magic Sam influence. That’s probably the most traditional song on the CD.”

Indeed. The track would sit comfortably on the ears of anyone enjoying a scotch and a beer at any smoky Chicago blues joint. The same goes for the instrumental “Just Chillin’.”  And for the track "Millions,"  which comes with some pointed political and social commentary, local reggae icon George Wesley offers guest vocals.

“It was a pleasure seeing him work in the studio,” says Hopkins. “I am a huge fan of his and listen to his music on a regular basis. I know when I am older and looking back, I will be glad we got to record a song together."

Hopkins says her musical influences, at least initially, came from traditional sources. Eventually, her listening scope expanded, which had a tremendous impact on her music.

 “When I was younger, you really didn't have the opportunity to hear blues on the radio,” she says. “You still don’t. But the people that I listened to, such as Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith – my favorite songs where their blue songs. Later, I discovered Stevie Ray Vaughn and I really loved it. That’s what made me decide to get serious about playing guitar – Stevie Ray Vaughn. And then he opened the door to tons of other musicians. I also love Santana. I love very soulful guitar players.”

As far as lyrics go, Hopkins says inspiration and muses come from all places. Such was the case with the song “Jump.”

“My father was a basketball coach for years, so I grew up with basketball” she says. “My niece could dribble a basketball as soon as she could walk, and she wound up with a full college scholarship, so I kind of wrote a song about her life, and how since she was a little kid she grew up on the hardwood floors.

“The song ‘The Low Down’ was about someone I knew that was dating someone that I thought was a lowlife, and I felt she could do better,” she adds with a  laugh. “I ended up writing a song about it.”

The Phyllis Hopkins Electric Trio has several upcoming appearances. On Monday, Nov. 24 the group will appear on WBRE-TV’s  “PA Live” and on  Nov. 26, Thanksgiving Eve, the band will plug in at Arturo's in Dupont. On Friday, Nov. 28, they’re at  Diane's Deli in Pittston and on Nov. 29 they’re at Tony and Deno's Sports Bar in Pittston. Hopkins says she hopes those that listen to the new album connect with the songs and the lyrics, and for younger music fans, she hopes it opens some doors to discovery.

“I hope they discover blues music,” she says.  “I give guitar lessons at Rock Street Music, and kids have no idea. They have never heard blues. When my students listen to it, they say ‘We've never heard of anything like this.’ And they like it. It’s introducing a new generation to a different kind of music than just pop on the radio. It gives them a different perspective.”

On the web: 
(Alan K. Stout has covered rock and pop music in Northeastern Pennsylvania since 1992. His weekly radio show, “Music On The Menu,” airs every Sunday from 9-10 p.m. on 105 The River.)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Flaxy Morgan notes 20th anniversary

Popular area band celebrates two decades of entertaining

November 12, 2014

Twenty years ago, a new band took to the stage at The Staircase rock club in Pittston. Its goals were simple: to play good music, to have fun, and to entertain people. And two decades later, that band – though it has changed quite a bit over the years – is still doing just that.

Flaxy Morgan is celebrating its 20th birthday this weekend. Over the years, there have been countless shows at area clubs, plus gigs at weddings and summer bazaars. Band members have come and gone and the entire musical climate of Northeastern Pennsylvania has changed. Trends in music have also changed and some of the most popular venues where the band once performed are long gone.

All of this, obviously, leads to the question:

Did the band even fathom, when it plugged in the amps for the first time, that it might still be together 20 years later?

“Definitely not,” says drummer and founding member Rich Kossuth. ”It wasn’t like we were saying ‘We want this to go on forever.’ You never even thought about 20 years down the line. Even now, if someone asked about 20 years from now - I hope to keep playing - but nobody knows what the future holds. I always wanted to say ‘I’ll play forever,’ but who would ever think anything would last this long?”

Kossuth says the beginning of the band dates back to a Christmas party that was being hosted by his family business, Rock Street Music, a Pittston-based company that specializes in selling musical equipment and renting sound equipment. It was there, he says, that he first had a discussion with former Flaxy vocalist Jeanne Zano about starting a band. Soon, another female vocalist, Cathy Silveri, was asked to join. Rounding out the original Flaxy lineup were Lou Marino and Gene Onacko. The idea of having female vocalists in the group is something it has never strayed from and continues to this day.

“I wanted that,” says Kossuth. “I’ve just always felt that’s what Flaxy was.”

Flaxy Morgan in The Times Leader - 1994
Kossuth speaks with affection regarding every era of the band. He’s enjoyed all of his bandmates over the years, who have included Ashlee Danko, Ronnie Williams, Jason ‘Jaybird’ Santos, Russ Kile, Alecia Krasnak, Eric and Jen Sperazza, Devin Albrecht, Kate ‘k8’ Hearity, Stephanie Orrell, Frank Gruden and Krysten Montgomery. He also has praise for Gene Smith, the group’s longtime sound technician, who he sees as a member of the band.

“Too many to mention,” says Kossuth, when asked for some favorite Flaxy memories. ”The first night was one of the best – seeing so many friends out to see us. But it’s been everything, from playing clubs to bazaars, weddings and graduation parties. Having people say we made their wedding. Seeing people have a fun night out dancing. That’s all meant a lot.”

Kossuth recalls with fondness some of the music the band has played over the years. And because former members such as Williams and Kile also sang lead, as does current and longtime member Santos, the vocals in the group have often been split between the men and the women in the band. Thus, everything from Boston to Heart, Blondie, Stevie Nicks and Earth, Wind & Fire have appeared in their set lists. These days, Montgomery likes to keep people moving with modern pop.

“We try to do a lot of dance songs,” says Kossuth. “When play in a club, people dance.”

In addition to club shows where they’ve been the only act on the bill, Flaxy has always given back to the community by appearing at numerous benefit shows featuring numerous bands. They were one of the few acts to appear at all 12 of the “Concert For Karen/Concert For A Cause” shows that ran from 1999-2011, and in the summer, you can still catch them out on their famous “Summer Bazaar Tour,” which has become a tradition. This year, they played about 20.

“It’s really one of the things we enjoy doing,” says Kossuth. “There might be people that were out to see us 20 years ago, and maybe they don’t do the club scene now, but they still come to the bazaars. Some of them obviously have kids, and the kids are growing up with the band.”

In an interesting bit of trivia, Flaxy Morgan takes its name from a stuffed animal that appeared in one single episode of the television show, “Happy Days.” Kossuth can still recall one of the band’s final rehearsals shortly before it made its debut back in 1994. The group, he says, had to put down the instruments for a while to gather around the TV. O.J. Simpson was a fugitive and was being pursued by police down a southern California highway. And though that infamous event was long ago, Flaxy plays on.  Kossuth says providing pure entertainment has been one of the keys to longevity.

“We have always stayed on the notion of keeping people dancing,” he says. “Keep them happy. People come out to have a good time and forget about anything going on in their life. It’s nice to know we can and have made a difference.”

Flaxy Morgan will celebrate its 20th anniversary on Saturday with a show at Chacko’s in Wilkes-Barre. In addition to the current lineup, several Flaxy alumni will be on hand and will join the group on stage throughout the night. Kossuth says they all appreciate the support over the years.

“A big, major thank you – from myself and the band,” he says. “For 20 years, it’s always been about having fun.”


WHAT: Flaxy Morgan’s 20th anniversary bash
WHERE: Chacko’s, 195 N. Wilkes-Barre Blvd., Wilkes-Barre
WHEN: Saturday, Nov. 15 at 9:30 p.m.
INFO: (570) 208-2695

 (Alan K. Stout has covered rock and pop music in Northeastern Pennsylvania since 1992. His weekly radio show, ‘Music On The Menu,’ airs every Sunday form 9-10 p.m. on 105 The River. This past summer, his kids briefly hijacked Richie Kossuth’s drum kit at the St. Al’s bazaar.) 

This story also appears in the Nov. 12, 2014 issue of The Weekender 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Kantner still steering Jefferson Starship

Rock and Roll Hall of Famer brings the band to Scranton on Saturday 

November 5, 2014

To say that Paul Kantner has seen and done it all would be an understatement.  The core member of both Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship was on stage at Woodstock in 1969. He played on albums that included tracks such as the thumping “Somebody To Love” and the moody “Miracles.” His musical collaborations include work with everyone from Jerry Garcia to David Crosby and Carlos Santana. The legendary Bill Graham once managed his band. He and the iconic Grace Slick had a child together.

Born in San Francisco, Kantner, 73, was a pioneer of psychedelic rock and is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And on November 8, he’ll bring the band he still leads, Jefferson Starship, to The Theater at Lackawanna College.

Weaving through the history of Jefferson Airplane/Jefferson Starship can be both fascinating and dizzying. Not only did the name of the group change, but there’s been a revolving door of group members. The use of the word “Jefferson” in the band’s name even involved a lawsuit. At times, things have been messy. For Kantner, however, it all appears to be water under the bridge. He’s a relaxed and happy man. And he still loves taking the group on the road.

“I like to think we have one of the best band’s in the country, if not the world,” says Kantner. “The mystical nature of music just carries me on, endlessly, to go out and do what we do. The thrilling part of it doesn’t stop. Music has always been a thrill for me. What did Kurt Vonnegut say? ‘And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.’ It applies very heavily to what we do.”

In addition to his work with music, Kantner has been a political and social activist. Add to that the internal feuds, romances and legal actions that have also all been a part of the Jefferson Airplane/Jefferson Starship journey, and you could say Kantner’s had a volatile life. But in conversation, he still comes off as a laid back, easy-going  Californian and a product of the ‘60s generation. He says bumps and turns are to be expected in life. And he enjoys them.

“I’ve always likened it to white water rafting,” he says of his career in music. “You’re going around curves, and you don’t quite know what’s going to happen. You sort of know what’s going to happen, but there’s always something that will hit you and take you to that thrilling place. It’s an alternate quantum universe in its own way. Very few people, in general, get to enjoy the benefits of that kind of life, so not to do it would be worse than doing it. Somebody once said, ‘If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much room. ‘ ”

Kantner co-wrote the Jefferson Airplane classic “Volunteers,” a song which helped push forward the counter-culture movement of the ‘60s and could be considered one of the signature songs of the Woodstock generation. He says his own history of standing up to authority dates back to when he was still a child. His mother died when he was in second grade and he was sent to a Catholic military boarding school. It was there, he says, when he first began to feel a strong sense of rebellion.

He did not like the school.  

“I figure I ought to be a serial killer by now,” he says with a chuckle. “Fortunately, I channeled it into something else. I like the altered consciousness of it. People say that certain things are forbidden to you. In Catholic school, I asked ‘What are they?’ And then I immediately walked out and got a list in my mind of things I should be doing in life.”

Music topped the list. It continues to inspire him.

 “Just the elegant architecture of music itself is something that nobody quite understands,” he says. “Why does a combination of notes and chords and melodies and voices work together in such a thrilling way? You don’t know why it works, but it does. And I’m swept away by it almost every time.”

Throughout nearly 50 years of recording, Kantner is the only member of Jefferson Airplane/Jefferson Starship to play on every album with the “Jefferson” name on it. Kantner seems prideful of this, but also finds it amusing.

“On some level, it means I can’t get another job,” he says with a laugh. “What else am I going to do? San Francisco, particularly, represents something to me. I always call it ‘49 square miles surrounded entirely by reality.’ To paraphrase Somerset Maugham: “There’s three rules in rock and roll. Unfortunately, nobody knows what they are.’ I’m still working on that. And I haven’t been executed yet, so I figure I’m getting away with something, and I haven’t found a better thing to do in this adventure than the alternate quantum that I’m working in. It’s a frontier for me, and it’s always an adventure.  You never quite know what’s going to happen, and it generally quite thrilling to go out on a stage and do what we do.”

WHO: Jefferson Starship
WHERE: The Theater at Lackawanna College, 501 Vine Street Scranton
WHEN: Saturday, November 8 at 7 p.m.
TICKETS: $40 and $47, available at
INFO: (570) 955-1455 or

(Alan K. Stout has covered rock and pop music in Northeastern Pennsylvania since 1992. His weekly radio show, “Music On The Menu,” can be heard every Sunday from 9-10 p.m. on 105 The River. (104.9-FM in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.)

Alan K. Stout on Facebook:

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Dougherty’s soulful gem
‘Rhythm Of Our Hearts’ offers crafty mix of rock and soul

October 29, 2014

Throughout the course of an average year, dozens of songwriters, bands and musicians from Northeastern Pennsylvania release albums. Rock albums. Country albums. Indie albums. Metal albums. On any given week, one of them is likely to be dropping.

“Rhythm Of Our Hearts,” however – the new album from Mike Dougherty – does not fall into the category of any of those genres. His album is a soul album. And there’s nothing average about it. It is one of the best regionally released records of the year.

Dougherty, 26, is a native of Shavertown. The album, his first. was produced by Peter Carver at Long Pond Studios in the Poconos. And the fact that it’s a soul album was no accident.

“My influences, hands-down, are Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye,” says Dougherty. “Up until just a few years ago, I’d always listened to a lot of rock, like Led Zeppelin, but I was playing with The Woody Browns Project, and they really turned me on to some funk and soul, and I realized that I enjoyed singing funk and soul music way more than rock. It felt right to me. The first time I listened to ‘Songs in The Key of Life’ all the way through, I just knew that soul music was the way to go. Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On” … the lyrics stay true to this day. Listening to those albums had a big impact on my life.”

Dougherty says he first began writing songs while still in high school and that he’s been writing every day ever since. Highlights of “Rhythm Of Our Hearts”  include the title track, “How You Feel,” “On The Ground” and “Can We Be Together.” The vocals are smooth, the arrangements are clever and the music is engaging. He says he sometimes finds inspiration for writing by watching TV, especially the news.

“One of my favorite songs on the album is ‘How You Feel,’ “ he says.  “ It was written right around the time of the tsunami, and I realized, ‘Wow. Life could end just like that. And what are we doing to change the world?’ ”

Still, with just one listen to the album, it becomes clear that Dougherty’s biggest muse is love. Romance shows up in many of the songs.

“I have a lot of inspiration, but one of the biggest ones came about a year before I started writing music for this album,” he says. “I met the love of my life, and just being with her brought out the best in me. I’d needed to have a guitar when I was with her, because just singing to her is how I wrote some of my favorite songs on the album.”

Dougherty can be found on Facebook and the album is available at Gallery of Sound, CD Baby, Amazon and iTunes. He says that while he wrote all of the songs himself on an acoustic guitar, and that while he was able to imagine how they’d sound with a full production, it was the studio musicians that played on it that helped make it a true soul record.

“It was amazing,” he says. “Just to hear those guys play what I’d been hearing in my head while writing those songs was just amazing. It was so surreal. It was like the best moment of my life. The first time I heard ‘Can We Be Together’ with a horn section and the background vocals … I had a tear in my eye.”

He hopes listeners will not only be able to put themselves into the songs, but also learn a little bit more about him through the music.

“Every song is a piece of me,” he says. “If the listener is someone I know and have known for a while, I want them to hear who I am. I’m not a very sociable person, but when it comes to music , I’m very outgoing. I just want them to hear my point of view on life and love, and how I truly feel, because it’s my easiest way to communicate. For others, I just want them to hear a fresh new sound which blends my rock influences with my old soul. I want them to hear the love that I put into this project.”

(Alan K. Stout has covered rock and pop music in Northeastern Pennsylvania since 1992. His weekly radio show, “Music On The Menu,” can be heard every Sunday from 9-10 p.m. on 105 The River. He is currently playing four tracks from the ”Rhythm of Our Hearts" album on the show. This story also appeared in the October 29, 2014 edition of The Weekender.) 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Flannery’s ‘Under The Covers’ brings area musicians together
He wrote the songs. Other artists performed them. And that’s just what he wanted.

October, 15, 2014

Songwriters can often be quite protective of their songs. They don’t like producers tweaking them too much, and sometimes, they don’t even like other artists to cover them, even if it’s being done as gesture of respect. When The Foo Fighters once covered a Prince song, the famed Purple One famously told them that they should stick to writing their own music.   


The attitude of local songwriter Tom Flannery, however, is quite the opposite. And for his most recent album, “Under The Covers: The Songs of Tom Flannery,” he was not only pleased to hear other artists perform his songs, but he was the one that asked them to do it.  Though he’s been recording for more than 15 years and has released an impressive body of work, for this album, he decided to take his hands off the wheel. He reached out to some fellow musicians that he admired, gave them his songs, and asked them to have at it.

“I’m not really playing on it at all,” says Flannery. “I basically just handed them off. I just gave them a rough demo. And that’s what made it really cool. I told everybody the same thing. I said ‘I’m not just asking for ‘guest vocalist.’ If I give you a demo of a song, what I want is for you to take it and turn it into your own.’  I didn’t want a mimic of my demo. I told them to feel free to change the key, change the tempo, change the phrasing … all I asked was that they keep the melody mostly the same, and keep the lyrics the same.”

Flannery is a native of Dunmore and resides in Archbald.  “Under The Covers: The Songs of Tom Flannery,” is his seventh album. Six of those releases were solo efforts and one was recorded with the band The Shillelaghs. His first record, “Song About A Train,” was released in 1998. He’s also been a respected playwright, one of which, “The Driveway,” was directed by the late Pulitzer Prize winning dramatist and Academy award nominated actor Jason Miller. His latest album was recorded at his home studio and at the studios of those that performed on it.

Artists contributing to the album include Kris and Julie Kehr, John Canjar (Nowhere Slow), George Wesley, Asialena, Bret Alexander (The Badlees, Gentleman East), Lorne Clarke, Neil Luckett, Michael Jerling, Tim McGurl, Joe “Wiggy” Wegleski (Jigsaw Johnny, Jugdish), Shannon Marsyada, Josh Pratt, Van Wagner and Lisa Moscatiello. Only one track, the final one on the record, is sung by Flannery. Flannery says he loves how those that contributed to the project put their own stamp on the tracks. For some sessions, he wasn’t even there.

“With Bret Alexander’s track, that’s all him,” he says. “I’m not on it at all. He did it all at his own studio. I play guitar on Asialena’s track, and aside from that, and the last song, that’s the only track I’m on. People said, ‘You wrote a reggae track for George Wesley,’ and I said, ‘No, I wrote a song for George Wesley.’ That’s just what George does.”

Flannery says he was a fan of every artist that he asked to appear on the CD, and that with many of them, he had previously developed a friendship. Still, despite being familiar with their work, he was still surprised at the results.

 “The song that kicked it off was the one with John Canjar,” he says. “I’ve known John since he was a teenager, and he’s just an incredible talent. And he came over and just killed it. People were like, ‘Man, that’s really special,’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, it really hits.’ It was the coolest thing. I sent him a demo, and he came up with some of the guitar on his own, and he did it in one take. I could have never done the song the way he did it. He made it a better song. And I had a similar reaction to almost everything.”

In addition to simply being interested as to how other artists would interpret his work, Flannery says another reason he took the hands-off approach to the album was because he was tired of singing. He is grateful to everyone that participated.

“They didn’t have to do it, but they did,” he says. “I always considered myself a songwriter first and a performer just by default. I can play the guitar, but I was never crazy about my own voice. So I wondered if this was something that people would be interested in doing. And the response blew me out of the water. I did not expect the type of response and the performances that I got. It kind of blew my mind. The songs - what these guys did with them - it just turns it up a notch. It’s now difficult for me to sing these songs myself, because you have these versions in the back of your head, and you think ‘I can’t touch these.’ If somebody asked me for my best batch of songs, or asked what I was like as a songwriter, this is probably the record I would give them.”

"Under The Covers: The Songs of Tom Flannery’"is available at

(Alan K. Stout has covered rock and pop music in Northeastern Pennsylvania since 1992. His weekly radio show, “Music On The Menu,” airs every Sunday from 9-10 p.m. on 105 The River. This story also appears in the October 15, 2014 edition of The Weekender.)

Saturday, October 11, 2014



On October 10, 2014, I was presented with the “Lifetime Achievement Award” at The Steamtown Music Awards, which were a part of The Electric City Music Conference. I was told I was being given the award because of my career in music journalism, radio, and in presenting musical events. It was a very humbling and flattering experience, and after being introduced with some very kind words from Joe Caviston, one of the event’s organizers, and Michael Lello of Highway 81 Revisited, and Lobo from 105 The River, I was asked to say a few words. Thankfully, Joe had told me in advance that they hoped I might give a little speech, and so I was able to prepare. And that, to me, was what made this all very special, because it gave me the opportunity to thank some of the people that helped get me there. Some of those people were in the audience. Some were not. Regardless, I thought I’d post an outline of my words here on my blog.  I kept it all to about five minutes, but I just wanted everyone to know how much they are appreciated:


First, I’d like to thank everyone involved in The Electric City Music Conference for this award, especially Joe and Ken, who have worked very hard at making this event happen. When you’re out there writing your stories, or doing your radio show, or putting on an event, you never really know if anyone cares. But tonight, you’ve told me that you do care, and I truly appreciate that. And when you are being given a 'lifetime' achievement award, there were obviously a lot of people along that way that you’ve encountered in your life that helped get you there. And I’d like to take just a few minutes to thank them.  And I guess I’ll start with where it all began …

My late grandfather, for really being the first one to turn me on the beauty of music.  Listening to records with him in his "parlor" on his beautiful floor-style stereo - which was essentially a large piece furniture - had a great impact on my life. He was very serious about his music. He loved that stereo and he loved his records, and my grandfather and I did not watch much TV. We listened to music.  All the time. Thank you, grandpa.

My parents. When I was a teenager, music was my life. And my parents were OK with that. Back in the ‘80s, long before we had an amphitheater at Montage and an arena in Wilkes-Barre, you had to go out of town to see your favorite bands. And if you weren’t old enough to drive, you needed someone to take you. In 1982, I asked my parents if they’d take me to see this band called The Who at the old JFK Stadium in Philadelphia. And they agreed to do it. They dropped me and a buddy of mine off in front of the stadium before the show, while they went to spend the day in the city, and when they picked me up a few hours later, I was not the same person. That day changed my life. It was my first concert, and it was the first time I truly experienced the power and the beauty of rock and roll. Over the next few years, until I got old enough to drive myself, my parents would shuttle my friends and I off to other shows in places like New York or Allentown. They always supported my love for music, and that's a big part of the reason I'm here tonight. Thank you, Mom and Dad.

In 1992, I expressed an interest in writing about music, or music journalism.  The Times Leader gave me that opportunity, and once they did, I ran with and have run with it to this day.  There were many people there that were instrumental in the success of my career, including Paul Gallagher, who hired me as a music correspondent, Mary Therese Biebel, who gave me my first full-time job in the newsroom, and Chris Ritchie, who gave me the opportunity to be a features writer. And, of course, Joe Butkiewicz, who was probably my greatest mentor in journalism. The years I worked for him were my favorite years at The Times Leader and The Weekender.  Thank you, Times Leader and Weekender, and all of the people that I worked with there over the course of 18 years. I am thinking about all of you tonight. 

Lyn Carey. Not only did she own the coolest rock club in town, but she also published her own music magazine called “Sound Check.” In 1993, she asked me to write for that magazine. I was still a very young writer at the time, and through that magazine, more readers and more musicians immediately became more familiar with my work. I only wrote for “Sound Check” for two years, but it had a very important impact on my career. Thank you, Lyn.

My friend Joe Ohrin, who is here tonight. Joe took me under his wing a bit back in the ‘80s at WRKC-Radio King’s College. He had his own show, and I often sat in with him. And even though we were just small college station in Wilkes-Barre, PA, we didn’t think any artist was too big for us to try and interview, and we landed some interviews with some of rock’s biggest bands. I learned that from Joe, and took that same approach with me to The Times Leader and The Weekender. Thank you, Joe.

My friend Jim Rosensteel, who has helped me archive many of my older interviews and concert reviews online. It’s nice to know that a concert review or an interview you did 20 years ago can still be read, and that wouldn’t be possible without Jim helping me with my websites. Thank you, Jim.

Jim Rising, for first giving me my own radio show 10 years ago on The Mountain, and Dave Stewart, who produced the show for many years. And to everyone at 105 The River. I’ve been there for a year now - it's one year this week - and I want to thank everyone there for making me feel so welcome and for helping keep local music on the radio. Thank you to Vince, who is here tonight, and to Lobo, who is also here. I am very proud to call 105 The River my home base for music.

Mitch Kornfeld and everyone at The Woodlands. For 10 years, The Woodlands was our home for “Concert For A Cause,” for which they pretty much let us take over the entire complex. Thank you for that, Mitch, and to Richie Kossuth, Gene Smith and everyone at Rock Street Music for helping make that event so special.

I want to thank KISS. KISS, with songs such as “Get All You Can Take” and “King Of The Mountain,” helped changed my life. In the ‘80s, when I was a teenager, KISS often wrote about the concept of individuality and self-worth. They helped guide me towards the attitude of not really giving a damn what anybody else thinks of you, and to just be yourself. Thank you, KISS. That
had an incredibly positive impact on my life, not only as a journalist, but as a person. Thank you, also, to U2 and Bruce Springsteen, for showing me that rock and roll could be thoughtful and poignant, and thank you to Van Halen, for showing me that rock and roll could be great without being thoughtful and poignant. And thank you to Elvis Presley and The Beatles, for changing everything. None of us would be here tonight if it were not for you.

Thank you to The Badlees and my friend Bret Alexander. In 1993, while at the newspaper, I received an album called “The Unfortunate Result of Spare Time.” That album changed the way I thought about everything when it came to local music. It was just as good as anything I’d ever heard before, and about a year and a half later, when the band dropped “River Songs,” I heard an album that was better than just about anything I’d ever heard before. And they were from right here in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Writing about The Badlees at that time was probably the most exciting thing I’ve ever written about. It was magic. They were the best band I ever wrote about. And I remain a fan of their music, still, to this day, including their current projects. I also want to thank Breaking Benjamin. When I wrote the very first story about them about 14 years ago, they didn’t even have a band photo. We took one for them, on the roof of the Times leader. A few short years later, they were a platinum band. They showed me that it can happen, because it did happen. If you’re a young band out there, don’t forget it.

I want to thank every single band or artist that ever called me up at the newspaper or reached out to me in any way and asked that I might write about them. I want to thank every single band or artist that ever sent me a CD and asked me to consider playing it on the radio. And I want to thank every single band or artist that ever performed at one of the events I helped put together, whether it was ‘Concert For A Cause,’ or the old original music series that we did at The Waterfront or The Woodlands, or the current music series we now do at Mohegan Sun. You have all bettered my life with your music. It seems like whenever I write about a band, or play them on the radio, or work with them on an event, they thank me. I thank YOU. Thank YOU for thinking of me. This is our music scene, and we’re all in this together.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I thank my readers and my listeners. Thank you for reading my stories, listening to my show, and coming to the events that I’ve worked on.  It means more to me than you will ever know.

Again, I thank all of the wonderful people that have had such a great impact on my career in music. And, again, I want to thank the Electric City Music Conference for this award, and for the opportunity to thank everyone. There is a GREAT weekend of music conferences and live performances on tap here in Scranton, and I hope you can take it all in and enjoy it.

I leave you with a thought from AC/DC …

For those about to rock, I salute you.

Thank you. And God bless you.