On Stage: Dukes of Destiny becoming a Kennett tradition

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By Denny Dyroff, Staff Writer, The Times

The Dukes of Destiny

Every tradition begins with one.

The Dukes of Destiny, a long-time Philly band, are in the process of establishing a tradition of playing a mid-winter show at the Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org). It started in February 2017 and will continue this year with a show on January 6.

The Dukes of Destiny, who have been treating fans to live performances of top-flight blues and soul music for almost three decades, are Arlyn Wolters (vocals), AC Steel (guitar, vocals), Bob Holden (drums, vocals), Chicago Carl Snyder (keyboards, vocals), Rich Curtis (bass, vocals) and John Colgan-Davis (harmonica, vocals).

“We’re looking to make this an annual January thing at the Kennett Flash,” said John Colgan-Davis, during a phone interview Wednesday night from his home in the Mount Airy section of Philadelphia.

“When the Turtle Dove Folk Club in southern Chester County was still around, we were always their first concert of the year. We currently play the Meeting House in West Grove each year in October but it’s good to be back with a January show – and to get a new tradition going at the Flash.”

When the new year arrives, it’s supposed to be a time to say goodbye to the old and hello to the new. The Dukes will be saying a goodbye this weekend.

“This will be our last gig with AC Steel,” said Colgan-Davis. “He’s been our guitarist for the last 10 years. He also has his won band The Galvanizers and he wants to concentrate on that.

“We’ll be playing a special medley of songs he’s written – some that he’s been playing with the Dukes and some from The Galvanizers. After this show, our new guitarist will be SJ Kuminsky.”

In addition to performing at most of the clubs in the Tri-State area, the Delaware Valley band has performed at the Pocono Blues Festival, the Waterfront Jam at Philadelphia’s Penn’s Landing, the State Street Blues Stroll in Media, the Bucks County R’n’B Picnic, the New Jersey Folk Festival and the Longwood Gardens Summer Concert Series.

“For the past few years, we’ve had great years,” said Colgan-Davis. “We played places we had never played before – like the Philadelphia Folk Festival. We also played places we really love like the Kennett Flash and the West Grove Friends Meeting.

“We played the Phoenixville Blues Festival and the Paoli Blues Festival. We really love playing the Kennett Flash. And, we love our Chester County crowd. They’ve been coming to see us play for 14-15 years.”

Chester County music fans and the Dukes of Destiny definitely have a love affair going.

“We did the Turks Head Festival in West Chester last summer – and ‘Rhythm and Roots’ in Media,” said Colgan-Davis. “We love the Flash – the intimacy and the sound system. And, we love what it stands for and what it means to Kennett Square.

“We love the people of Chester County and I really like the landscape of the area. It’s always a special place for us. Chester County gigs have the vibe of old coffee houses. We put out the energy and the audience give sit back to us.”

Audiences that like to get out of their seats and dance are a big part of the Dukes of Destiny live experience.

“We get all kinds of dancers at our shows,” said Colgan-Davis. “We’ve been playing a lot more festivals. We’re back on the festival circuit. I love playing festivals for a couple reasons. You get a whole bunch of people playing together. That takes me back to the 60s and the be-ins back then.

“Sun Ra had said the message that music is the healing force of the universe and you feel that at festivals. And, kids get to hear real music played by real people. With a band like us that plays off the crowd, a festival show is a real exciting thing.”

Colgan-Davis’s introduction to the blues came when he was in high school at Central High in Philadelphia and saw the Stones performing with Howling Wolf on the “Shindig” TV show. Howlin’ Wolf, whose real name was Chester Burnett, was an American blues singer, guitarist and harmonica player who was one of the premier Chicago bluesmen.

“When I saw Howlin’ Wolf on that TV show, I jumped up and said — this is what I want to do,” said Colgan-Davis. “I started playing blues when I was 16. My dad gave me a grab bag for my birthday and a harmonica was in it.

“I started listening to blues records a lot — players like Muddy Waters and James Cotton. I was really into Chicago blues of the 1950s and 1960s when I started. Then, I got into guys like Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. One of the first bands I played in was a Philly blues band called Sweet Stavin’ Chain.”

A while later, the Dukes of Destiny became the main musical vehicle for Colgan-Davis. At first, they played house parties in Germantown, generating word of mouth interest. A gig at the now-defunct Taker’s Cafe in Germantown launched their public career

“The Dukes got together in the mid-1980s,” said Colgan-Davis. “Steve Brown started the band and it began with that gig at Taker’s Café. Steve died of pancreatic cancer in 2000 and I’ve been the leader ever since. Steve has always been in my mind. We did a tribute concert to him a few years ago and we still do some of his favorites in our set.

“We have a whole range of music in what we can play — everything from Chicago blues to old-school soul. What’s great about the Dukes is that we’re a band. We use each other’s strengths. Arlyn and I do the bulk of the singing but everybody in the band sings.”

Video link for the Dukes of Destiny — https://youtu.be/j5fM0sugB5w.

The show at the Kennett Flash will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $18 and $22.

Other shows at Kennett Flash this week are Fabio Mittino & Bert Lams (of California Guitar Trio) on January 4, KRush – A Tribute to Rush on January 5, and Open Mic with Guest Host Nick Fagnilli on January 7.

Scot Sax and Suzie Brown

There will be a homecoming on January 6 when Scot Sax and Suzie Brown return to the area to perform at Burlap and Bean (204 South Newtown Street Road, Newtown Square, 484-427-4547, www.burlapandbean.com) in Newtown Square.

Sax and Brown are a married couple as well as a musical couple and the arrangement has worked out very well.

“We’ve been together since 2010 and got married in 2011,” said Sax, during a recent phone interview from the couple’s Tennessee home. “Now, we live in Nashville and have two little girls – Josie and Chloe.”

Sax was a veteran musician who had fronted the band Wanderlust and later worked as a songwriter with several publishing deals. He co-wrote Tim McGraw and Faith Hill’s Grammy-winning smash “Like We Never Loved At All” and his song “I Am the Summertime” was featured in the film “American Pie.”

Brown moved to Philadelphia a while back to get her masters’ degree in cardiology from the University of Pennsylvania.

“I got my pre-med degree from Dartmouth and then went to Harvard for medical school,” said Brown. “I also went to Berklee College of Music for a little while. Then, I came to Penn on a cardiology fellowship.

“I started going to hear music four or five nights a week and met all these great Philadelphia musicians. I decided then that making music made me happier than anything else. I started writing songs in summer 2008 and did my first solo show a few months later. I recorded my first EP in spring 2009.”

It took a long time for the couple to get around to making music together.

“I wasn’t involved in any of her records,” said Sax. “Commonly, people start as a musical duo first. We were the opposite.

“This was a romantic relationship first. I don’t think we would have gotten together initially just for the music. Then, when Suzie was going on tour, it was a drag not to be with her. We really love each other — and I really like her.”

The couple relocated from Philadelphia to Nashville in 2014 and are excited to return to Sax’s hometown, the place where Brown began her music career and the city where the couple met and first fell in love. In Nashville, Brown practices medicine at Vanderbilt University in addition to making music, Sax makes films and they are heavily involved with raising their two young daughters.

“Nashville is a great place for musicians,” said Brown.

In 2015, the duo released its first album together — a tasty collection of songs titled “Our Album Doesn’t Like You Either.”

“When we played together live, we’d do songs from Suzie’s album and songs from mine,” said Sax, who grew up in Plymouth Meeting and graduated from Plymouth Whitemarsh High. “So, we decided to make an album together. Our music reflects what our life together is. I provide the comic relief to hers and she adds the serious side to mine.”

At this weekend’s show, Sax will be playing songs from his latest EP, “Mr. Chocolate” (released fall 2017), Brown will play selections from her most recent album, “Sometimes Your Dreams Find You” (released spring 2017) and both will play selections from their discographies.  The pair plan to bring in local Philadelphia musician friends to perform in each of their sets.

“My album came out in May,” said Brown. “Scott played all the instruments on it and produced it. We recorded it at our home studio here in Nashville.

“I co-wrote a lot of songs with Scot. We had just had our second baby Chloe and was trying to get back into writing. I challenged myself to write a new song every week. After five months, I had a collection of songs that sounded like an album.

“The songs are all centered around love and family. They’re a family of their own. I actually went back and added ‘Sweet Tooth,’ a song I had written a while ago. Motherhood was the inspiration for the album.”

Sax said, “I recorded my new album right after David Bowie died. I recorded it at Cartoon Moon, the studio owned by Wilco drummer Ken Coomer. Ken produced it and played drums on it and Phil D’Agostino played bass. It was a power trio.

“Bowie’s death influenced me. One of Bowie’s main things was to never stay in your comfort zone. That’s the attitude I used on this album. I followed whatever creative drive I had.”

Video link for Scot Sax and Suzie Brown — https://youtu.be/72MBXc1iTy0.

The show at the Burlap and Bean will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 and $18 at the door.

If you’re a fan of Paul Simon – especially his “Graceland” album — you should head to the Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, 610-649-8389, www.ardmoremusic.com) on January 6.

An All-Star Tribute to Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’

Ryan Tennis is a Philly musician — a singer/songwriter/guitarist who in last two years has mounted successful tours through Switzerland, Germany, Ireland, Colombia, and Argentina.  This weekend, the veteran musician will present a very special show at the venue in Ardmore – “An All-Star Tribute to Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’.”

“Graceland” is the classic album released by Paul Simon in 1986 – an album that featured Simon’s appropriation of South African township music. Kumalo, who was born in Johannesburg’s Soweto Township, is a bassist, composer and vocalist. He has worked with artists such as Harry Belafonte, Herbie Hancock, Cyndi Lauper and Gloria Estefan and was the bass player on five of the 11 tracks on “Graceland.”

“I’ve been making music for years,” said Tennis, during a phone interview. “I’ve been chipping away and making music for a while with my band Ryan Tennis and the Clubhouse Band. I also perform as a solo artist with one percussionist. ‘Graceland’ has been one of the main things I’m working on.

“When I started to play, ‘Graceland’ influenced me a lot. I was raised with ‘Graceland.’ A few years back, I started to dive back into South African music. Mahlathini influenced me a lot.”

Mahlathini is Simon Nkabinde, a South African mbaqanga singer who passed away in 1999. Known as the “Lion of Soweto,” he was the leader and writer for Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens, an internationally-acclaimed mbaqanga group backed by the Makonga Tsohle Band. Mahlathini was a charismatic entertainer who performed in tribal garb and sang with a unique basso profundo voice.

“It’s joyous music and it was at the time of apartheid,” said Tennis. “I definitely incorporated it into our music. It really affected me a lot. I even based one of my songs on a Mahlathini groove.”

Tennis has organized the All-Star Graceland Celebration (in Philadelphia and Washington D.C.) as a warm-up to an East Coast supporting the January 12 release of his sixth recording, the brand-new studio EP, “Two Days on the Fence.”

Co-produced by Tennis and Tom Spiker (Calvin Weston, Sun Ra Arkesta, G. Love) and recorded at the expansive Rittenhouse Soundworks studio in the Germantown section of Philly, “Two Days on the Fence’” features the Bryn Athyn, Montgomery County native and his virtuosic Clubhouse Band — Joseph Keim (drums), Shaun Hennessey (percussion), Brahm Genzlinger (bass), Maxfield Gast (sax), Nate Graham (keyboards), and Christopher Farrell (guitar).

Video link for Graceland Tribute — https://youtu.be/6ij3YVd-ETA.

The show at Ardmore will start at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance, $20 day of show and $25 reserved.

The Ardmore Music Hall will also host Stiltwalker on January 5.

Light of Day WinterFest with Joe Grushecky & The Houserockers.

Two years ago, Philadelphia area finally had its own Light of Day event. Now, it’s back for another year. On January 6, the World Café Live (3025 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, 215-222-1400, philly.worldcafelive.com) will host “Light of Day Winterfest 2017” – Philly’s third installment in the “Light of Day WinterFest” series.

“Light of Day WinterFest,” a multi-day festival that will bring over 150 music and comedy acts to 30 venues in three New Jersey cities, New York City and Philadelphia, has maintained a high profile with performances by Bruce Springsteen in 11 of the previous 16 years.

The Light of Day Foundation utilizes the power of music to raise money and awareness in its continuing battle to defeat Parkinson’s disease and related illnesses such as PSP (Progressive Supranuclear Palsy) and ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) within our lifetime. The Foundation’s mission is to fund research into possible cures, improved treatments and support for patients who suffer from those illnesses, their families, and their caregivers to help improve their quality of life.

What began as a single concert in New Jersey has grown into approximately 70 shows in 13 countries on three continents including North America, Europe and Australia. The concerts and the organization began as a birthday party in November 1998 at the Downtown Cafe in Red Bank, New Jersey to celebrate the 40th birthday of artist manager and music industry veteran Bob Benjamin.

Benjamin had recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system, and in lieu of gifts, asked that donations be made to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. More than $2,000 was raised that night.

The first official Light of Day concert was held at Asbury Park’s legendary Stone Pony in November 2000 and primarily featured local, unsigned artists. The critically acclaimed Pittsburgh-based band Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers headlined the show, which featured a surprise appearance by Springsteen.

The roster of previous Light of Day performers includes Michael J. Fox, John Rzeznik (Goo Goo Dolls), Ed Kowalczyk (Live), Darlene Love, Southside Johnny, Jesse Malin, Alejandro Escovedo, Willie Nile, Garland Jeffreys, Jakob Dylan, Lucinda Williams, Badly Drawn Boy, Pete Yorn, Gary US Bonds, John Eddie, Eric Bazilian, Soraia, and Sharon Little.

Last year’s WinterFest raised $555,000 — a record amount — to combat Parkinson’s disease, topping the previous year record of $525,000, with the 17-year total topping $4 million.

In 2015, Billboard Magazine presented the Humanitarian Award to Bob Benjamin and the Light of Day Foundation at the Billboard Talent & Touring Conference & Awards “for their 15 years of bringing awareness and support for Parkinson’s disease through live music events.” Benjamin, an artist manager and music industry veteran, has been living with Parkinson’s since 1996, two years before he co-founded Light of Day with Executive Director Tony Pallagrosi, whose mother, Dolores, died in 2002 from the effects of PSP.

This is the first time the Philadelphia Light of Day event will be held simultaneously Upstairs and Downstairs at World Café Live.

The Downstairs lineup features Willie Nile & Band, Joe Grushecky & The Houserockers, Remember Jones, Ben Arnold & Band, Joe D’Urso & Stone Caravan while the Upstairs roster includes Jim Boggia, Graham Alexander, John Byrne, Nalani & Sarina, Vini Lopez (original E Street Band drummer), Isabella Rose, and Lisa Bouchelle.

Light of Day WinterFest has gained international notoriety for surprise performances by Bruce Springsteen in 11 of the previous 17 years. In his recent autobiography, “Born to Run,” Springsteen revealed that his father suffered from Parkinson’s Disease.

The event at the World Café Live will start at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20 Downstairs Only; $15 Upstairs Only; $30 for the whole venue.

Other upcoming shows at the World Café Live are Stratus Quarter on January 7, the Jacob Jolliff Band on January 9 and Megan Davis on January 10.

The Steel City Coffee House (203 Bridge Street, Phoenixville, 610-933-4043, www.steelcitycoffeehouse.com) will host Megan Cary with Analog Gypsies along with Kicking Down Doors on January 5 and Steal Your Face Band on January 6.

The Keswick Theater (291 N. Keswick Avenue, Glenside, 215-572-7650, www.keswicktheatre.com) presents “70’s Tribute Revival – A Tribute to U2, Meatloaf & Journey” on January 6.

The Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com) will have The Dream Syndicate on January 5, Satisfaction on January 6, and Damon Fowler along with The Skyla Burrell Band on January 10.

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