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.)

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