On Stage: The Claudettes excited to be back playing live

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

The Claudettes

The Claudettes do wonderful work in the recording studio. But, more than anything, the Claudettes are a great live band.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 robbed the Chicago-based band of that aspect for more than two years.

Late last year, the Claudettes returned to playing live concerts – including a powerful show at the Arden Gild Hall just over the state line in Delaware.

Now, the quartet that features pianist/songwriter Johnny Iguana, bassist/singer Zach Verdoorn, vocalist Berit Ulseth and drummer Michael Caskey, has returned to the road with a vengeance after taking time last year to record a new album.

The title of the band’s soon-to-be-released album is “The Claudettes Go Out!”, which will be released via Forty Below Records Release on October 14.

The title is a statement.

The band recently did a European tour and now has a schedule of Friday-Sunday mini tours now through November with weekend visits to the Northeast, Ohio, Tennessee, Michigan, South Dakota, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa.

This weekend, the Claudettes will visit the area again for a show at City Winery (990 Filbert Street, Philadelphia, citywinery.com) on July 22.

“Our shows are really special,” said Iguana, during a recent phone interview from Des Moines, Iowa on his way home from a gig in Denver.

“Touring is great. After what we went through with the pandemic, we don’t take anything for granted — including the van’s checkups and oil changes.

“I booked a lot of concerts this year. Curators at art centers know us. We kind of crept back in.”

Iguana wears many hats with the Claudettes. He is the singer, main writer, musical director, booking agent and spokesperson.

“The percentage of time I spend writing and recording is miniscule compared to all the other things I have to do to keep things going,” said Iguana.  “I spend a lot of time booking shows, arranging for our lodging, sending out posters, arranging promo for our shows and editing our music videos.”

“Going out” is what the Claudettes have been doing – and what they are suggesting as an activity for music fans.

“2019 was a Netflix world,” said Iguana. “When people were deciding about whether to go out, they didn’t go out. They said – we’ll just crack a beer and watch TV.”

One bright side about the band’s break from the road was it allowed time to work on their upcoming album.

“Later in 2020, we got together to make a new album,” said Iguana. “The new album was done in several sessions. Because of the lockdown, it was done piecemeal.

“I recorded piano to a click track. Berit did the vocals on her own. Michael and Zach practiced and came up with the right parts to overdub. We play together enough so we knew how to do it tightly.”

For “The Claudettes Go Out!,” the band completed two sessions. The first was recorded and co-produced in Chicago by recent Grammy nominee Anthony Gravino (Kurt Elling, Charlie Hunter) and mixed in NYC by Grammy-winning legend Kevin Killen (David Bowie, U2, Elvis Costello). The second session, in Chicago, was helmed by Grammy-winning producer Ted Hutt (Violent Femmes, Old Crow Medicine Show) and mixed in LA by Hutt and Ryan Mall. It was mastered by Joe La Porta at Sterling Sound.

Iguana is a prolific writer.

“I’m writing all the time,” said Iguana. “For us, new songs are the most exciting thing.  I start with chords and melodies. I start with building blocks. And we record a lot of our shows. We listen to them over and over and learn a lot from listening.”

The Claudettes combine the Chicago blues-piano tradition with the energy of rockabilly and punk and the sultry sound of ’60s soul-jazz to create a thrilling new spin on American roots music.

According to Downbeat Magazine, “The Claudettes hit listeners upside the head with a mash-up of Otis Spann blues, Albert Ammons boogie-woogie, Ray Charles soul and “Fess” Longhair New Orleans R&B.”

Rather than attack the blues with one or two guitars, the Claudettes brandish a piano instead. But the Claudettes have created their own fanatical fusion of blues and soul-jazz. They merge earthy blues and soul with pop hooks and punk spirit, writing an intriguing new chapter in American roots music.

“It’s a really wide-ranging album,” said Iguana. “There are some giddy tunes and sone really downbeat heartbroken songs.

“The album won’t come out until October, so we’ve been releasing a series of four singles – in March, May, July and September.”

The most recent single/video is a song titled, “Exposure.”

“The song is about what a drag it is to have to deal with record company management pressuring me to promote all the time – promote the band on Spotify and social media.”

Though the song “Park Bench” features string charts by Jim Cooper, violin and viola by Andra Kulans, cello by Nora Barton, and acoustic guitar by Anthony Gravino, all the rest of “The Claudettes Go Out!” was performed by the four band members.

Iguana first gained renown as pianist for blues giant Junior Wells and as co-founder of punk-organ band Oh My God. He has toured or recorded with Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, Johnny Winter, Derek Trucks, Gary Clark Jr., Shemekia Copeland, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, James Cotton and more. He has played on three Grammy-nominated albums and earned a 2021 Blues Music Award nomination for Piano Player of the Year.

“The Claudettes recorded their 2018 album, “Dance Scandal At The Gymnasium!,” with Grammy-winning producer Mark Neill (Black Keys, Old 97’s, J. Roddy Walston, J.D. McPherson).

Last year, Iguana released an album on his own – “Johnny Iguana’s Chicago Spectacular” on Delmark Records.

“It’s a Chicago blues piano album,” said Iguana. “I figured who would be good to sing on it. I got Billy Boy Arnold, who is 84 and played harmonica for Bo Diddley, and John Primer.”

Iguana also got musical contributions from Bob Margolin, Matthew Skoller, Billy Flynn, Kenny Smith, Bill Dickens, Michael Caskey and Lil’ Ed.

This is Iguana’s first blues album as a leader, and it’s not your typical blues album. That’s because, Iguana is not your typical blues piano player. At a time when bold originality is less welcomed in blues than it is in other music, Iguana stands out as an artist who has reached the apex of his craft but who has not allowed a strict definition of blues to limit his expression.

“It was produced by Matthew Skoller,” said Iguana. “I got the chance to play a 100-year-old Chicago-made upright piano.

“We recorded the album in January 2020. We didn’t realize then what was coming.”

The Claudettes’ have a strange history – and an interesting story behind their name.

“Michael Caskey, a drummer from Chicago, and I had a piano-and-drum duo,” said Iguana. “We called a place called Claudette’s Bar in 2010 looking for a gig in between Chicago and St. Louis. Claudette booked us into her bar in Oglesby (Illinois) and fell in love with the band.

“So, she hired us as her house band and put them. That drummer’s wife had a baby, so we hired a new drummer and then expanded to a four-piece. Since then, we’ve done a ton of shows.”

The show at the City Winery will be a homecoming for Iguana.

“I was born in New Jersey and grew up in the Philly area,” said Iguana. “I graduated from Upper Dublin High School and the University of Pennsylvania.

“Then, I moved to New York City where I worked in publishing and played piano. I began meeting blues musicians and playing in blues bands. I met Junior Wells in Chicago and played piano in his band.”

In addition to touring internationally and recording six albums with his cult-favorite rock band oh my god, Iguana has played live or recorded with Junior Wells, Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, Koko Taylor, James Cotton, Lil’ Ed, Carey Bell, Billy Boy Arnold, Lurrie Bell, John Primer, Billy Branch, Carlos Johnson, Sugar Blue, Dave Myers and Eddie Shaw.

As fans of the Claudettes know, the band has created its own genre.

“The Claudettes blazed a new trail masquerading as a blues/roots bands but it’s a punk band at its core,” said Iguana. “We can play a punk bill as a rock band or a different bill as a blues band. The Claudettes really put a lot of heart in our live show. We combine musicianship and humor.

“We’ll play a 75–80-minute set at City Winery. The set list will include not only songs from ‘The Claudettes Go Out!’ but also newer songs. We’re doing songs from all our records. City Winery is a listening room and that’s my favorite.”

Video link for The Claudettes — https://youtu.be/VZPtSan992o.

The all-ages show at City Winery on July 22 will start at 8 p.m.

Tickets are $15.

Comedy fans will be in for a “Hall of a Good Time” if they visit the Candlelight Theater (2208 Millers Road, Arden, Delaware, www.candlelighttheatredelaware.org) on July 21.

Missy Hall

That is the night that the Candlelight Theater is presenting the July edition of its monthly Candlelight Comedy Club and it will have Missy Hall as the headliner and Jeremy Hall as the feature.

Not coincidentally, they are husband and wife. But they each have their own style of comedy. They are funny in their own special way

Missy Hall is a comedian and motivational speaker with a sharp-witted, universal style that captivates audiences.

She is adept at calibrating her act to fit PG-13 to R rated gigs to family friendly G rated comedy to corporate comedy and motivational speaking. Her ability to connect quickly with audiences has made her a crowd favorite across the country, and she performs at clubs, theaters, corporate settings, various fundraisers, private parties.

Missy Hall is billed as the “Queen of Happy Things.” She loves to laugh, believes pants are optional and thinks the world would be better place if dogs were in charge.

“I grew up in lower Delaware – in Milford,” said Hall, during a phone interview Monday afternoon from her home in Middletown, Delaware.

“I graduated from the University of Delaware. Later, I taught at St. Anne’s School in Middletown.

“I’ve always been involved in musical theater. As an adult teaching, I’d incorporate comedy and people told me that I should be in comedy.”

Eventually, she heeded what they were saying.

“I started completely backwards. I was 45 and didn’t know anything about standup. I was doing theater at the Premier Center of the Arts in Middletown. They were putting on a comedy show and asked me to open for the comedian. Afterward, people came up and told me that I was funny.

“I entered a local comedy contest and did five minutes. Then, you get to do six or seven minutes. Then people hire you. I got very lucky. People hired me even though I had never done open mics. I was a 45-year-old mom with a daughter. I didn’t know anything about comedy shows

“Realize Records asked me to make a comedy album. It was a one-woman show for 90 minutes. That album was ‘Miss Representation’ and it made the first round of Grammy nominations.

“I’ve done three albums for Realize. The first was in 2012. The second – ’50 Shades of 50’ – came out in 2014. The new one – ‘Scoot Up’ – was just released in 2022.”

Hall, who is the 2013 winner of the Laugh Out Loud Competition, has worked as a warm-up comic for Harry Connick, Jr at CBS Television. A seasoned actress/singer, Hall was featured in “Road Spill” on TruTV and in the feature film “Days of Power” with Eric Roberts released in 2018.

She was also a finalist in the professional category of the 2018 Ladies Out Loud competition, a finalist at the 2018 Big Sky Comedy Festival, a performer at HBO’s Women in Comedy Festival, a headliner at the 2019 San Diego Comedy Festival, and made Best of the Fest in the 2019 Burbank Comedy Festival.

Hall is a comedian, warm up act, and motivational speaker with a sharp-witted, universal style that captivates audiences around the country. She enjoys naps, her dogs, and making up words that no one else understands. Most of all, she enjoys connecting with strangers through laughter.

“One of the first times I headlined a comedy show was at the Candlelight Theatre about 10 years ago,” said Hall.

“In my show, I talk about daily life – observational stuff like doctors’ appointments and having kids. I talk about being a woman or being a parent or trying to get gas. I tell relatable stories about relationships.”

One of those relationships is her marriage to Jeremy Hall.

Jeremy Hall

In another phone interview Monday afternoon, Jeremy Hall said, “Missy and I have worked together for years, and we’ve been married since 2018.

“I grew up in the D.C. area – in Silver Spring, Maryland. We met doing comedy shows in Baltimore. She was from Delaware, and I was from D.C., and we’d go to Baltimore for shows.

“We started dating three years after we met. We did a bunch of shows together before we were a ‘thing.’

“I was an addict a while ago. I was a pill popper – painkillers. I got into it right back after college while I was a bartender and was into it for about a decade.

“Now, I’ve been clean for 12 years. Sobriety got me into comedy. I tried comedy and my first show went really well. My second show bombed but the third and fourth were better.

“I started doing open mics in D.C. and Baltimore. Then, I began getting booked on real shows. I love being an emcee. I love being a host. Hosting, you get to set the tone. I started featuring about five years ago, I’ve only headlined a few shows.

“I usually do a 20-25-minute show. I talk about addiction. I talk about being short – I’m 4-11. I talk about being married to an older woman. Missy is 55 and I just turned 42 – but mentally, we’re in the same place.”

They’re also in the same place physically – Middletown, Delaware. And they both performed at the Candlelight Theatre.

“My show is PG-13,” said Hall, who works in the cruise industry. “I focus a lot of marriage, being short and living in Delaware.”

Video link for Missy Hall — https://youtu.be/bZzYrxoyJoc.

The emcee for the July 21 show is Michelle Mattera.

Michelle Mattera

Like both Missy Hall and Jeremy Hall, Mattera has done a comedy performance at the Candlelight Theatre. Actually, she has done her only comedy performance at the Candlelight.

“Last summer, I was emcee for a show by Ophira Eisenberg,” said Mattera, during a phone interview Monday evening from her home in Warminster. “My history in comedy is pretty short. I really haven’t done it very much.

“My brother Jake Mattera is a comedian, and he teaches a class. I’m funnier than he is but he’s the comedian.

“As a joke, I said that I should take his class. So, my wife Maureen Cotellese signed me up for the class without telling me.

“I took an eight-week course and had a Zoom comedy showcase. The class was a huge jump out of my comfort zone. I didn’t do open mics. It was a really difficult time in my life.

“When (Candlelight comedy booker) Jason Pollock asked me to open last year, I thought it was a positive distraction. I was pretty proud of myself.

“That’s been it with comedy. It’s not really a thing I’ve thought about pursuing, but it’s possible that I’ll do some open mics.

“As emcee, I do 10-15 minutes at the start to rile things up and then another 10 minutes to get them set for the headliner. In my routine, I talk about real life things like family.”

Mattera grew up in Delaware County – a Boothwyn native and Cardinal O’Hara grad. With just that, there is plenty of material for comedy routines.

“If I had my way, I’d still be living in Delaware County,” said Mattera – spoken like a true Delco girl.

The show at the Candlelight Theater on July 21 will start at 7:30 p.m. Tickets, which include complimentary snacks, iced tea, lemonade and coffee, are $30. There will be a full-service bar open throughout the show.

Proof of Vaccination or negative test required. Masks are required entering and exiting the theatre.

The Candlelight Theater is in the early stages of its fourth production run of 2022 — “Sweet Charity.”  The lively musical comedy is running now through August 28.

Another attractive theater event is taking place in Philadelphia.

The Kimmel Cultural Campus, in partnership with The Shubert Organization, is presenting the history-making production of “To Kill a Mockingbird” in a Philadelphia premiere engagement now through July 24 at the Campus’ Academy of Music (240 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, kimmelculturalcampus.org.) Academy Award® winner Aaron Sorkin’s new play, directed by Tony Award® winner Bartlett Sher and based on Harper Lee’s classic novel, has come to Philadelphia as part of a multi-year national tour across North America.

Set in Alabama in 1934, Harper Lee’s enduring story of racial injustice and childhood innocence centers on one of the most venerated characters in American literature, small-town lawyer Atticus Finch. The cast of characters includes Atticus’s daughter Scout, her brother Jem, their housekeeper and caretaker, Calpurnia, their visiting friend Dill, and a mysterious neighbor, the reclusive Arthur “Boo” Radley. The other indelible residents of Maycomb, Alabama, are Bob Ewell, Tom Robinson, prosecutor Horace Gilmer, Judge Taylor and Mayella Ewell.

Starring in the critically acclaimed National Tour production are Emmy Award®-winning actor Richard Thomas as Atticus Finch, Melanie Moore as Scout Finch, Jacqueline Williams as Calpurnia, Justin Mark as Jem Finch, Yaegel T. Welch as Tom Robinson, Steven Lee Johnson as Dill Harris, Mary Badham and Delaware County native Greg Wood as Dr. Reynolds.

Thomas, who has a large Broadway and film resume and a list of acting awards, first gained national recognition as John-Boy in the hit TV series “The Waltons.”

Video link for “To Kill a Mockingbird” – https://youtu.be/QzBjwOmnmXQ.

The National Tour of “To Kill a Mockingbird” will have a run at the Academy of Music now through July 24. Ticket prices start at $25.

Jamey’s House of Music (32 South Lansdowne Avenue, Lansdowne, 215-477-9985, www.jameyshouseofmusic.com) is hosting Kirsten Maxwell and Belle-Skinner on July 22 and on July 23.

According to Judy Collins, “Kirsten Maxwell is an amazing writer and powerful, evocative singer whose performances are a sheer joy. She shines in her own lyrical compositions and in her singular choices of other artists, especially those of Joni Mitchell. Hearing Kirsten sing is uplifting-her future as a performer will be an inspiration in an already marvelous present.”

Belle-Skinner is a dark nostalgic singer-songwriter based in upstate New York and Brooklyn. With a hauntingly beautiful, lilting soprano and innate sense of melody, she crafts tales of songbirds, sirens and desert nomads — nuanced and layered stories which bridge the gap between past and present.

On July 21, it will be time for the “Thursday Night Jazz Jam” featuring the Dave Reiter Trio playing intriguing jazz from 8-10 p.m.

The show also includes “Guest Singer Night.” This week’s feature is Lucas Beltran & His Orchestra. Beltran is a young and talented jazz singer in the mold of a young Frank Sinatra.

There is a $10 cover charge at the door for the “Thursday Night Jazz Jam.”

“Sunday Blues Brunch & Jam” is a favorite of Jamey’s regulars because Reilly and his band the Philly Blues Kings (www.phillyblueskings.com) are the performers each week.

The Philly Blues King are a veteran outfit comprised of David Reiter on guitar, keyboards and vocals, Bill Marconi on drums and vocals and Reilly on bass guitar. They have performed together for 15 years and are the house band for Jamey’s House of Music. They are well known for tight, jazz inflected classic blues.

Reiter performs on a seven-string guitar and Reilly plays a fretless five string bass and that sets the group above the ordinary. The three veteran musicians have each spent decades playing the blues professionally and have backed many well-known national artists.

Video link for Philly Blues Kings — https://youtu.be/bAnBVLc7Wsg.

The show at Jamey’s House of Music on 12 will start at noon. Admission is free.

The “Special Promotion” for July 24 is “Wear Your Jammies (Anything Goes!)” and receive a complimentary non-alcoholic beverage and dessert of your choice.

Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center (226 North High Street, West Chester, www.uptownwestchester.org) is presenting Peter Rowan’s Free Mexican Airforce featuring Los Texmaniacs on July 23.

Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org) is presenting Crys Matthews and Emma’s Revolution as part of its “Rooftop Series.”

Bryn Mawr Twilight Concerts (9 South Bryn Mawr Avenue, Bryn Mawr, brynmawrtwilightconcerts.com) will present John Gorka on July 23.

The Rose Tree Summer Festival (Rose Tree Park, Route 252, Media, www.delcopa.gov/departments/parks) will host the Eric Mintel Quartet on July 21.

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