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CHRIS CASELLO TRIO / LAURENCE MILLER & THE LOVE MANIACS / JENNIFER WESTWOOD & THE HANDSOME DEVILS
December 23, 2017
Chris Casello: It’s nearly 3am New Year’s Day 2014 in an underground club in Stuttgart Germany, a mixed crowd of hep cats and chicks, hipsters and even some squares from all over the world are yelling and stamping their feet to call him back. Only an hour earlier the champagne was gone and the excitement seemed to be slowing down, but now the crowd is going wild demanding yet another encore…
In just two days time Chris Casello will be back in Nashville Tennessee knocking out the crowds in the downtown honky tonks.
Guitarist Chris Casello is one the most dynamic and entertaining guitarist in the world of roots music today. Casello takes his influences from Les Paul and Chet Atkins to Chuck Berry and Link Wray, multitasking guitar, steel and vocals in a high energy swinging rockabilly blues explosion.
Originally from the Detroit area, Chris has worked with dozens of artists and toured the world, specializing in roots styles from swing, rockabilly, rhythm and blues, and country.
Chris Casello has been honored as the # 1 Honky-Tonk Hero 2011 by the Best Of Nashville Scene and has been listed among the Top 10 Best Dressed in Nashville by MyFashionMaven.com! Casello has been honored by Detroit Metro Times polls in the jazz, country and rock categories and was recently nominated in the Best Musician category for Austin’s International Ameripolitan Awards 2014. Chris is a second generation inductee into The Rockabilly Hall of Fame and is a Kentucky Colonel.
The last decade has seen many celebrated names sitting in with Chris Casello and the boys at Roberts Western World In Music City : Lee Roy Parnell, Mel Tillis, The Monkees’ Mickey Dolenz, Katie Morgan, Brooks and Dunn, Kid Rock, Sam Bush, Joe Nichols, The Mavericks, Jeanie C. Riley, Jack Greene, Hal Ketchum, John Rich, Dierks Bentley, etc. Chris has also jammed with greats like Vince Gill, T. Graham Brown, Ronnie Bowman, Albert Lee, James Burton, The Texas Tornados, Connie Smith and others on the road and in the studio.
Chris has worked professionally with Carlene Carter, Wanda Jackson, Mark Collie, Wayne Hancock, David Ball, BR549, Los Straitjackets, The Legendary Shack Shakers, Trisha Yearwood, Stonewall Jackson, Crystal Gayle, Tommy Tutone, Jim Ed Brown, Don Maddoxx, Marty Stuart, Rosie Flores, Carolina Rain and many others.
Chris Casello has enjoyed long working relationships with Sun, Fortune and Motown Artist Johnny Powers and many other pioneers including Jack Scott, Billy Lee Riley and Bo Diddley to name only a few.
Any Chris Casello show always features mind boggling guitar and stage tricks so embedded in American roots you can smell the greens and taste the hot sauce.
The Chris Casello Story
The odyssey that is the Chris Casello career began playing classic rock n roll in Ann Arbor Michigan, USA, the burgeoning socio-political and musical centerpiece of the Midwest.
When Chris was 8 years old he got a guitar and an Elvis Presley record for Christmas. From that day on he was hooked. By the time Chris was a teenager he was playing in the big rock clubs of Detroit. Casello learned from and played with many motor city artists from The Stooges, MC5, Mitch Ryder, Commander Cody and Motown’s roster , eventually joining the now legendary garage gods, The Watusies. This led to a stint in The Urbations supporting Bo Diddley and Martha Reeves.
Inevitably the influence of his hometown kicked in and his rockabilly journey began. The long hair was replaced by the famous pompadour that he still sports to this day. Chris studied blues and jazz and hillbilly music and his path became clear: Play American Style. Chris embraced the concept of bringing yourself to the tune instead of playing cover songs exactly how they were played on the radio. There was no going back.
Casello studied jazz guitar under Johnny Lawrence and jammed in David Swain’s II-V-I Orchestra. He played in various bands doing everything from country to blues to surf music and recorded with The Prodigals (Happy Hour Records). Chris also began teaching guitar to up to 70 students a week at the famed Herb David Guitar Studio.
Chris formed The Starlight Drifters in the late 1990s. Swing was flourishing again and the band toured all over the USA appearing at many festivals, released several albums and many of their songs were used in film. Their musicianship and great visual performance meant they survived the death of the swing revival movement. They became Jack Scott’s backup band and later Johnny Powers’. Casello took on a more prominent vocal role and began to master what he’s now well known for – multi-tasking the steel guitar with incredible lead guitar licks. The Starlight Drifters final CD 13 to Go was released on Rollin Rock in 2001 to exceptional reviews and later released on the Scana label abroad.
Chris discovered the Starlight Drifters were popular in Nashville clubs and on WSM radio so in late 2003 he made the move south, reforming the Starlight Drifters with Mark Winchester from The Brian Setzer Orchestra and Mark Horn from the Derailers. This rockabilly combo eventually became the Chris Casello Trio, later replacing Mark Horn with Jimmy Lester (Los Straitjackets) and Mark Winchester with Dave Roe (Johnny Cash) and Johnny G. d’Artenay. Roberts Western World became home-away-from-home and Chris also joined the house band, Brazilbilly.
Since 2005, Casello has appeared multiple times on The Grand Ol’ Opry and the Lincoln Center in New York City. He has made dozens of trips to Europe with Carlene Carter, Jack Scott, BR549, Johnny Powers, Wayne Hancock and The Real Elvis Tribute tours as well as doing his own shows and European tours. Casello has also appeared in music videos and on theatre stages.
More recently, analog recording and production have become a new love. Working exclusively on tape, Casello has released four albums under his own name. He has produced and collaborated with Sue Moreno (Jungle Records), produced Matt Butcher’s album, ‘The Kids are Gone’. Recently he produced and arranged for Johnny Powers on the Jack White Tribute Album (Cleopatra).
Chris Casello tours and performs live in the USA and Europe with the Chris Casello Trio, Brazilbilly, Johnny Powers and his new surf/instrumental band, The Sabres. Chris works as a session player, writes his own material and teaches guitar using the Chris Casello System.
‘If you’ve ever had your mind blown by a guitarist who looks a little like Silvio from The Sopranos, then you know the guy. Whether he’s fronting his trio or working as a sideman (most notably, with the fabulous Brazilbilly), he stands out more for what he doesn’t play: while a lot of other axmen try to wow you with their gazillion-notes-a-second chicken-pickin’ virtuosity, Casello is a paragon of taste, emphasizing melody, groove and a healthy dose of musical humor, as he combines vintage country, slap-back rockabilly, blues and jazz. And he’s a badass steel player to boot.’ – Jack Silverman, Nashville Scene
A recent review of Chris’ latest album:
‘A kick ass ride with one of America’s wildest guitar players. ‘The Nashville Years’ is a compilation full of Chris’s original songs and dynamite guitar playing. Recorded using tubes and tape and no digital monkey business.’ – Rockabillyworldwide.com
Laurence Bond Miller was born and raised in Ann Arbor Michigan, and as youngest in a musical family of 5 was exposed to many types of music during his formative years; Romantic Classical and Modern 20th Century orchestral music from his father, 50s Classics and 60s folk through his older siblings, and finally drowned in “British Invasion”, pop psychedelia, free-form Jazz and New Wave Punk from teens to twenties. This variety of influences has been evident in his songwriting throughout his career.
Miller had formal training in piano and clarinet during grade school, playing in school concert bands. At age twelve however, with Beatle-mania in full swing, he began to quickly pursue the new R&R music of the time; Syd Barrett’s PINK FLOYD, JIMI HENDRIX, PROCAL HAREM, SOFT MACHINE, CAPTAIN BEEFHEART & HIS MAGIC BAND, SILVER APPLES, SRC and THE MC-5 to name a few.
One fateful night, Laurence and his two teen brothers Roger and Ben, found themselves in the basement improvising in high energy free form R&R. This so inspired the three that they set out to form an original band with the full intent to produce truly ground breaking music. By 1969 a trumpeter was added (Harold Kirtchen ~ brother to Commander Cody of the Lost Planet Airmen of Hot Rod Lincoln fame), now calling themselves SPROTON LAYER. Their final recording in 1970, “With Magnetic Fields Disrupted”, was later released in 1991 on New Alliance Records, a subsidy of SST, receiving rave reviews. This collection was remastered and rereleased in 2013 by Germany’s WORLD OF SOUND RECORDS with strong reviews, supported by select performances in Ann Arbor/Detroit and Boston/NYC. More recordings have since been dislodged from the archives (1969 to 1971) with plans for a 2nd volume release in 2017.
Though primarily a drummer in his early youth, Laurence also taught himself how to play the guitar. Being left-handed and unable to afford a “southpaw” model, Laurence learned how to play his brother’s right-handed guitar upside down. Songwriting began, and soon after, recording on the family’s analogue stereo tape recorder.
Sadly, R&R devolved back into the mainstream as jocks and hillbillies began smoking dope and dropping acid. Discouraged then as the 70’s progressed, Laurence threw himself into contemporary orchestral music, free-form jazz, and music college. During his discontented experience in school, Miller continued to write, working with instrumental horn oriented ensembles focusing on open ended improvisation. His signature at the time was to use musical notation mixed with “staff art” to express his original ideas. With the advent of sound on sound multi track processing, Laurence was able to experiment with his compositions, all by his lonesome. He became comfortable with this recording process and managed to document many works, crude as they were. First thru the simple 2-track method using both channels of a stereo tape deck, learning the art of doubling vocal tracks, and later figuring the ins & outs of sound on sound, as mentioned. A documentary collection of these solo tapes can be found on his absurd 2002 release, “Turn a Left, and Down the Hall”. (NOTE: By mid 80’s Laurence learned to produce full multitrack solo recordings using 4 & 8 track analogue machines, documenting his music again, by himself. A learning curve he continues to roll out today.)
By 1976, as interest in college waned, Laurence moved back home and formed a psychedlic noise band called EMPOOL. NOTE: Empool had it’s own counterpart magazine by the name of EMPOOL III. It was this NE-side A2 band that melted into the SW-side A2 band, Destroy All Monsters, which later made history with Ron Asheton and Michael Davis. An official LP is slated for release on FEEDING TUBE RECORDS, 2017.
By 1977, as the Punk Movement began taking serious root, Laurence (now having dropped out of the school scene) and his twin brother Ben, became instrumental in the makings of DESTROY ALL MONSTERS. D.A.M. were then considered to be Detroit’s first punk band, featuring X-STOOGE guitarist Ron Asheton and X-MC-5 bassist Michael Davis. Opening up for the likes of THE RAMONES, PERE UBU, and DEVO, Laurence & Ben left their mark on D.A.M.’s first two singles; “You’re Gonna Die b/w Bored” and “November 22nd 1963 b/w Meet The Creeper” released on their manager’s private label IDBI Records. These were later released in FRANCE on Revenge Records (1989) on vinyl and CD along with other singles and out-takes entitled “Nov. 22nd 1963 / Singles & Rarities”. There were two other songs recorded during that studio session, both penned by Laurence and Ben; Broken Mirrors and Taken For Granite. To this day they have not seen the light. Though much fun and initial opportunity sprang into view, Laurence & Ben’s interest with D.A.M. did not last long before personal, financial, and musical conflicts developed. The twins left the band in October 1978 to pursue more creative projects.
XANADU, an X-D.A.M. collective, quickly formed producing a bootleg 7″ EP of D.A.M. rehearsal outtakes called DAYS OF DIAMONDS in the later part of 1978, as well as an interesting 4-song 7″ studio EP entitled, BLACK OUT IN THE CITY. BLACK OUT IN THE CITY was released in January 1979 on Black Hole Records and featured compositions by Laurence, Ben, and Cary Loren (original founder of D.A.M.), with drummer Rob King (D.A.M.) supplying the back beat. NOTE: BLACK OUT IN THE CITY and DAYS OF DIAMONDS were recently rereleased as a full L.P. on Detroit’s label, THIRD MAN RECORDS in February of 2017.
In 1978, Laurence met the late Donna Sevakis and by 1979 they were well on their way creating a family together. Despite their rough domestic terrain, there were successes shared in the process, including three beautiful daughters; Tara, Ashia, and Brittany. Another child, Brenten, was fostered later in another relationship of Donna’s after she and Laurence went their separate ways in 1983.
Jennifer Westwood cut her teeth on Detroit Gospel before hitting the gritty Detroit bars that set her career in motion. She has been a Detroit Music Award winner and nominee in several categories, and has contributed music to multiple Emmy Award winning commercials and documentaries, as well as film.
She first found confidence to consider music as a career by the encouragement of a church acquaintance, a professor of music who had previously served as ensemble choir director for the late Bishop C.L. Franklin, father of Aretha. Performing in church lead to her first work in the outside world, singing backup locally for Motown artist Carl Carlton (Bad Mama Jama). Studio work for various local artists followed, first in R & B and soul genres, followed by roots and blues. Those experiences gave her insight on the direction she wanted to embark on for her own music before leaping out on her own. It also opened doors for commercial work due to her vocal flexibility and enthusiasm. The same enthusiasm has driven each performance — whether it has been 7 ppl, on up to 70,000. Sharing the bill with rock icon Patti Smith at the world’s largest Masonic Temple have marked a highlight of her performance career.
Jennifer has fully embraced the character and spirit of Detroit; and considers her greatest accomplishment to be creating a career in music during some of the most troubling economic times for her hometown.
There are no musical limitations with Jennifer Westwood and the Handsome Devils. The skill set and accomplishments that each member has earned helps them create a format where no style is out of bounds. Somehow, it all sounds familiar, but unique all the same. Truly a melting pot of musical ability and knowledge, the band makes a statement with each note and the sky is the limit.