Indiana Music: the tales of Otis Gibbs; new pics of Henry Lee Summer

Americana singer/songwriter Otis Gibbs wrapped up his European tour this weekend, and was headed home on lasty\ Sunday night from Norway. He tweeted that he “shared a taxi to the airport with Loudon Wainwright”. No word on if they performed a duet of “Dead Skunk” on the way.

Gibbs – from Indiana, now living in Nashville, Tennessee – then shared the stage Wednesday night in Louisville with fellow East Nashville resident Todd Snider at the Kentucky Derby Festival Great Steamboat Race After Party

Henry Lee Summer has released pics from his recent photo shoot with Heather Miles. You can check out the images here.

Henry Lee Summer: Then and Now

A recent cold winter night, with snow falling, Henry Lee Summer was on stage at a northside bar, there to sing a few songs, play some guitar, have a bit of fun. Continue to get himself into musical fighting shape. Just another gig, and a bit more than that, too.

“What I am trying to do is go back to square one,” Summer says, talking about his career today. “First and foremost, I am taking care of myself and my family. Musically, I am writing and using the past few years’ experiences for material to write about. My goal in one year is to have a full time band that can play my old and new music and sustain my living and support my family.”

When NUVO interviewed Henry Lee Summer 20 years ago, for our debut issue, his story came across as that of a Hoosier homeboy – all blue jeans and cafeteria food (the first interview was at an MCL Cafeteria). The talk at the time was a new album and what he believed bands needed to do to succeed.

“I prefer to hear originals,” he said at the time. “When a band is playing their own stuff, they are much more alive.”

“In Indy there were places to play (back then) if you were a musician of any caliber,” he now remembers. “Starting out, I got to play six nights a week for several hours. There were lots of opportunities back then that aren’t there now. There were battle of bands, Ramada Inn, Holiday Inn, sock hops – it was great.

Has it really been more than 20 years since Henry Lee Summer broke big? “I Wish I Had a Girl,”, “Hands on the Radio” and “Darlin’ Danielle Don’t” come 1-2-3 on the debut record. An anthem, a pop-rocker and a power ballad with some grit. It is late 80’s rock and roll, filtered through Top 40 AM radio and smoky bars. It is the sound of the Midwest.

“‘I Wish I Had a Girl’ was a number one record for a few weeks,” Summer remembers. “I always wanted to have a hit record, so I was lucky and thankful. It was in heavy rotation and saturated MTV and the radio so people remembered it. ‘Hey Baby’ was a big hit, but ‘Wish I Had a Girl’ was everywhere.”

Way Past Midnight (1990) and Slamdunk (1993) were his last two major label releases, as the business was changing and grunge had arrived. With 1999’s Smoke and Mirrors and then a live album, Summer released records to a regional audience. Two of his cover bands, the Alligator Brothers and Candybomber, took much of his time.

Then, a pair of well-documented arrests brought Henry Lee Summer to where is today. First was a 2006 drunk driving charge and then a methamphetamine arrest in 2009. After that, he went into rehab.

If that was the end of the story, then it would be like hundreds of other musicians who burned brightly and then faded away. But there has always been a little more to like with Summer. Legendary show, full of energy and passion; great heartland rock made better live. Seeing him was an event. We loved Henry Lee Summer. And that’s why it’s been has been tough — though more for him than us.

It’s early in this new chapter of his life, but the story seems to be unfolding as a hopeful tale. His support has come from his family, and he says he feels the fans’ influence too.

“Most people have been very forgiving in general. They know that I am working hard to stay on track,” he says. Summer says he’s touched by the support. “Mom and Dad, my wife and immediate family, Mike Denton and Jimmy Ryser at Methodist Hospital in the Substance Abuse Recovery Program. It means a lot that my family has stood by me through all of it.”

His career is again being managed by Blonde Entertainment’s Lisa Sauce, and she says Henry is more engaged in his life and career than he has been in a long time.

“We have had some very real conversations since his sobriety,” Sauce says. “In the past, I felt like he was distant and closed off from me and others. I think that it’s ‘one day at a time’ for him right now. He needs to keep building up his stamina and health. If he continues to do that, then he will do great. I can see him getting a new record done and performing original shows and tapping into his loyal fan base. I do think that his fans are aching for his original music and shows,” Sauce says.

“I feel no pressure with a timeline,” Summer says. “I didn’t write for a while. Everything feels fresh to me again. I have been writing more than I ever have, and I want to put out a record that captures some of the experiences that I have had over the last 10 years. Lately it has been really good to write. It is hard to raise your bar high and write good songs. I am enjoying the process now.

“I am very hopeful. I don’t need a big house on the hill. I want to stay on the recovery side of my addiction,” he says. “There is no room for error with me now.”

Roots Rock News: Shooter, Stephen King, Henry Lee Summer, Paul Simon’s Kid

From the roots-rock home office – bits of news from my NUVO posting this week:

Stephen King and Shooter Jennings will release “Black Ribbons”, a 70-minute album, with King providing the voice of Will O’ The Wisp, a late-night talk radio host who is in the last hour of his final broadcast before the airwaves are overtaken by government-approved and regulated transmissions. According to the news release, “With nothing left to lose, the radio host lets loose with a series of rants, punctuating his diatribes with 14 selections from Jennings. ” We love Shooter, and and this could either be the train wreck of the year, or could be jsut odd enough to be interesting.

One of today’s folk groundbreakers, Ellis Paul, visits Indianapolis on January 16 as part of the Indy Acoustic Cafe series. The show will be at the Wheeler Community Art Center, 1035 Sanders Street. Paul is part of the Boston school of songwriting – call it romantic folk-pop, call it acoustic intelligence, or I just call it good tunes with an acoustic guitar. Doors open at 7PM, Show at 7:30 PM. Tickets $17 advance and $20 at the door.

Got a chance to see Henry Lee Summer perform with ex-bandmate Zanna’s great little classic rock side project “4 On The Floor” in early January at Moon Dog’s in Fishers. Henry is releatively fresh out of rehab, and a bit rusty, but I will give him his due here: he seemed more engaged than the last time a saw him, which a has been a couple of years. His shows with his own side projects had become boring and I wanted more fire from Henry, even if he wasn’t going to play his own music with the Alligator Brothers or Candybomber. This time, there were flashes of his intensity and brilliance as a singer and bandleader, and my hope is that he keeps going forward, stays positive and knows he has fans and people who will support him again. And he should get a band (or even go solo with a guitar) and play his own music, ’cause we love that most. Our best to Mr. Swartz. Nice to see him back on a healthier road.
Henry Lee Summer – LIVE – Superstar Concert Series
North Manchester, IN – 1988
“Hey Baby”

Harper Simon :: REVIEW – from
Fair or not, the vocal comparisons between Harper and his father, Paul, are evident as soon as he opens his mouth. It’s really uncanny how similar his voice is with the layered echo-like lyrics- sounding a little like singing from the bottom of a well. Part folk, part country, many of the songs are obviously very heavily influenced by the humor and lyrical style of Simon and Garfunkel- albeit Simon and Garfunkel with a steel guitar. On the surface, that might seem like a strange or bitter combination- at once not original and original at the same time.
Read Review

A series of classic album covers has been issued as a set of stamps by the England’s Royal Mail (their version of the US Postal Service). Other well-known record sleeves to have been made into first-class stamps include Pink Floyd’s Division Bell. The design on each of the 10 stamps shows a vinyl record coming out of its recognisable album cover.
See Stamps

Three country acts who are sure-fire draws and have played the fair recently will be back in 2010 at the Indiana State Fair. The State Fair has announced that Rascal Flatts will perform August 7, Keith Urban on August 14 and Sugarland on August 20. Sugarland is always good, and Urban is one of the best country rockers, though has been here a few times now, some the excitement might wane for this, though the show will be killer. Rascal Flatts, however, is imitation vanilla, bland and full of fake sugar. Whatever. The State Fair does a pretty damn good job each year, between the free stages and the new Indiana Opry Barn and the main Grandstand. So make that point clear.

Urban won Best Male Artist at the recent People’s Choice Awards. However, he also gave the word to illegally obtain music.,saying “I don’t even care if you download it illegally, give it to your friends, I really don’t care.” has an interesting and misguided letter and commentary posted, upset about what Keith said:
“I wonder what his label, Capitol Records Nashville, has to say about his statement?” Cliff Doyle writes. “And what about his co-writers and other songwriters on Music Row whose talents he depends on to continue with his hugely successful career? Can they afford to work for free?”

Here’s the deal: His label can’t say anything of value. Urban is in a position that doesn’t require a label, just distribution. Capitol pissed? He can go somewhere else. And his magic is on stage, where he is the best guitar player/performer/showman in country music, and maybe (outside of Springsteen) all of rock music. Good for Keith. Tougher for those who haven’t made it yet to succeed without a label? I say no. – not for the ones that matter. The bands that hit the road/clubs/festivals and do it on their own are usually the best. Look no farther than Jennie Devoe right here in Indianapolis. Sure, she has fans in those who run labels, and many covet her music, but she sees what others like her know: control + talent+ drive = success on your terms.  Just a different path, and different way to measure success,  than 10 years ago.