25 Reasons We Rock: Words & Music

Brent Kirby

The New Soft Shoe, singer-songwriter Brent Kirby's tribute to Gram Parsons, plays the Happy Dog the second Thursday of every month.

I was in college at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh and lived in a house with a bunch of musicians and friends. The guy whose room was next to mine, his name was Alan Weatherhead, is now a producer at David Lowery's studio in Virginia.

I was in my room studying and I heard this country harmony coming through the wall. It was Emmylou Harris and Gram. I want to say the song was "Love Hurts," because I think it was a song that I had heard but I hadn't heard that version of it. It's actually an Everly Brothers song. Gram was a huge Everly Brothers fan, and he and Emmylou did a bunch of those harmonies.

I rushed to his room, and I borrowed it from him. I never gave the thing back. The summer I graduated from college, I was doing construction and was working by myself most of the day. That CD didn't leave the jukebox.

I was already writing and doing some playing at that point. I was playing the drums more than anything else. I liked country music, but it wasn't until I heard that Gram Parsons stuff that I thought it was something I could hang with. When I saw him and realized he was a longhaired hippie, I knew I could gravitate toward that.

So in January of 2010, when I played the first New Soft Shoe show at the Happy Dog, it was a dare. A bunch of us were sitting around drinking beers, and I said, "What would you think about doing a Gram Parsons night?" And it was that kind of trump talk.

I set the date and let everybody know. Everyone showed up and, from there, it just kind of took off. It's amazing to think it's been two years with that stuff. The connection people have with Gram is so strong. You don't meet a half-hearted Gram fan. Everyone is really into him or they don't have any idea who he is.

There are people who drive an hour and a half for our show. We've done over 70 different tunes now, and I have a lot of bootlegs that we draw from.

We've done stuff that he never played live like the song "Ain't No Beatle, Ain't No Rolling Stone." We have done The International Submarine Band material and the Byrds' album Sweetheart of the Rodeo and all the outtakes. It's pretty fun.

Kristine Jackson

You can check out blues singer Kristine Jackson at The Brothers Lounge the last Saturday of every month (and four times in between at other haunts).

I guess the first records that influenced me were Buddy Miles' Them Changes and B.B. King's Completely Well. That was really the album, right there. The vinyl. I liked the James Gang and Three Dog Night and the Woodstock album. I used to play the trumpet along with them and jam for hours and hours by myself with those albums.

I don't really consider myself a blues musician, but I guess I am. It's just what flows out of me. I always kept a journal or a book of poetry. It was just words and the nonsense that came out of me. But then, I took a trip to Europe in 2004.

I took my trumpet, and I played a couple of gigs in a bar with a band over there. I told them I was a singer and that was what I did. Of course, it's not what I had been doing, but I wanted to try it.

I don't even remember the name of the band. I don't know how I found them. It was an Internet kind of thing. All I know, I connected to another musician, a kid about my age, and he said I could play with his band if I could get over there. I said I would do it. I still had a day job. I moved furniture for a living and saved up my money and went over there. I wanted to reinvent myself.

They didn't know me from anybody. They were based in Amsterdam. I spent about a month there. I stayed with them and stayed on my own. I borrowed a guitar. I converted some of my journal entries into songs. So we used those and a couple of cover tunes I learned the week before I went over.

Actually, a few of those tunes will be on the CD I'm recording right now. They're not too bad, and I've worked them over.

That trip sealed the deal for me. I came home and worked one more month at my job and then I quit that. I lived in Austin Walkin' Cane's basement and led a gypsy life. Eventually, I landed myself, and it's been years since I've had a day job.

I guess the common thing with the blues is the emotion you can find in it. Coming from a child-abuse situation, I had that emotion trapped inside of me. It's funny because as I've grown up, I've dealt with my demons. I can still play the blues, but I'm not as sad.

Kristine Jackson plays the Nauti Mermaid every third Thursday, the Parkview Nite Club every fourth Thursday, Great Lakes Brewing Co. two Mondays a month and The Brothers Lounge the last Saturday of every month. For more information, visit kjblues.com.

Art Blakey

In 2006, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and museum contacted Art Blakey about getting the hesitations back together. He's been going strong ever since.

In the early '60s, I was singing with another band called the Vandors. Philip Dorrow and Jimmy Vaughan came and heard me and informed me about a group they were putting together. They were trying to go to Golden World in Detroit to get a record deal.

We had a couple of rehearsals, and the night before we were supposed to go to Detroit, Golden World went out of business and one of the guys quit. So [singer] King George [Scott] came to my house and told me he was going to Detroit, regardless. So I rode with him. He contacted his brother and another guy named Bob Shepherd, and we all went to Detroit that night. We knew one song all the way through. We went to Jack Ashford's. He was one of the Funk Brothers at the time. We started to sing, and I could see that look on his face like, We bombed.

We came back to Cleveland and we dropped Jimmy Vaughan because he had a tin ear. We got a guy named Leonard Veal. I had at least three people who could do harmony without anybody falling off.

We went back to Detroit and we heard Jack tell the secretary he wasn't going to be there long because he had something else to do. The first song that he played for us was called "No Kind of Love." He wrote the song, and I told the guys, "The first harmony out of our mouth will be our career." The guys were so good that Jack stopped them and said, "These the same guys?"

From there on, it started. We were on Kapp Records at the time. They gave us some decent songs. We were doing Broadway songs and that's how we got "Born Free." Because we had that gospel hook at the end, they told us that "Born Free" would be a hit for black folks, but it wouldn't go that far for everyone.

They made it a B-side ... a B-side ... and the A-side was "Love is Everywhere." When they turned the record over one night and played "Born Free," nobody remembered "Love is Everywhere."

We had a unique way of doing songs. We would change them around and that was our thing. Our first show in Cleveland was at Gus's Showbar [on East 69th and Superior]. From there we went to the Apollo in Harlem and from there we went to the chitlin' circuit with Stevie Wonder, the Parliaments and Chuck Jackson. You had singers back then. Now, you have dancers who try to sing. I prefer listening to people who can really sing.

Visit thehesitations.com for more information about performances by the Hesitations.

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