Bringing honky-tonk back to country
Aaron Lewis loves country music — classic country music. On the debut single from his most recent album, “That Ain’t Country,” Lewis longs for the authentic sound of his honky-tonk heroes.
“So I’ll keep listenin’ to the old songs that my grandad used to play,” he sings. “Full of pain and heartache and desperation and the ones that got away.”
“Radio stations aren’t necessarily as supportive as you would think they would be for country music,” Lewis reports on the phone from a tour stop in Japan. “They’ve really changed the landscape of the genre so drastically. I don’t even recognize it as country music anymore. I’m 45 years old; I remember country music. It was the soundtrack of my childhood. It was the first music I ever heard.”
Widely praised for helping bring classic country back, he says, “I feel very thankful that people recognize that. I just set out to write some country songs.”
Reviewing his latest album, “Sinner,” Country Music Nation declared: “Country fans, your prayers have been answered … in the form of Aaron Lewis. In a time when many country music fans are giving up on modern artists and the genre as a whole, Lewis provides a breath of fresh air.”
And Country Music Matters praised: “Here we have a former rocker putting out real country music, better music than those who have called the country genre home all along. ‘Sinner’ is superb. It’s pretty much an updated version of traditional and outlaw country.”
Growing up in Massachusetts, Lewis was immersed in country music through his grandfather.
“I was force-fed by grandfather’s country music,” he recalls. “You listened to what the adults were listening to, so it was Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, David Allan Coe, Willie Nelson and Charlie Daniels.”
As a kid, he was known to impress with his rendition of “Rhinestone Cowboy.”
“I used to sing ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ to anybody who would listen,” he says. “I would walk up to a complete stranger, tug them on the pants leg and I’d sing it.”
A talented singer in his late teens, he became entranced with heavy metal and hard rock and ended up fronting the popular alternative metal band Staind, which produced a string of chart-topping albums.
“Little boys rebel,” he explains. “I had a babysitter who loved rock music and the first vinyl albums she gave me to expand my musical horizon were Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ and ‘Dark Side of the Moon,’ AC/DC’s ‘Dirty Deeds (Done Dirt Cheap),’ and KISS’ ‘Alive II’ and ‘Destroyer.’ I shot the two KISS records with my BB gun as targets and really delved into Pink Floyd and AC/DC. That was the gateway to being in Staind. Once we got to the end of our contract, I was burned out and wanted to do something different, and so I went back to my roots.”
After announcing that Staind was taking a hiatus, Lewis released his debut solo country album “The Road” in 2012, which brought him praise as, “a vivid storyteller and brilliant lyricist.”
In between his debut and follow- up album, he contributed to two tribute projects: “Nashville Outlaws: A Tribute to Motley Crue” and “Lynyrd Skynyrd — One More for the Fans.”
Composing new songs while touring in support of “The Road,” Lewis released “Sinner” in September 2016. He gathered a crack team of Nashville musicians to accompany him including Bob Seger’s Silver Bullet Band keyboardist Jim “Moose” Brown, drummer Tony Creasman (Willie Nelson, James Taylor, Alison Krauss, Waylon Jennings), and steel guitarist Paul V. Franklin (Mark Knopfler, Rodney Crowell, Sting). And for backing vocals he turned to Vince Gill, Alison Krauss and Dan Tyminski.
“They’re all good friends,” he says. “I’m very blessed. Vince Gill, Alison Krauss and Dan Tyminski are all over the record. It sure helps to have a group of A-listers.”
For the title track, he turned to Nelson for help with harmonica accompaniment by band member Mickey Raphael.
How did he get Willie on board?
“I made a phone call; it was that easy,” he says. “Willie’s an amazing man. He will be a part of anything he believes in and, thankfully, he believes in what I’m doing. I’m pretty excited because after the Maui show I get to go to his house and play poker. That’s bucket-list stuff.”
The alternative folk-pop band Streetlight Cadence returns to Hawaii from its Southern California base with its “Will Play For Food Tour” at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the MACC’s McCoy Studio Theater.
Known for their delightful, indie- folk-pop performed on violin, accordion and cello, they’ve twice won Na Hoku Hanohano Awards for Alternative Album of the Year for “Kalakaua Avenue” and “Beyond Paradise.” Inspired by groups like Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers, they were finalists in the 2014 Global Hard Rock Rising Battle of the Bands.
Featuring Jonathon Franklin (violin), Brian Webb (cello), and Jesse Shiroma (accordion and percussion), the musicians were all classically trained. Shiroma is a University of Hawaii Manoa graduate, while Webb and Franklin graduated from Hawaii Pacific University.
The seeds of the group were sown when Franklin began playing on the streets of Waikiki, and then accordionist and percussionist Shiroma joined in after responding to a Craigslist ad looking for “musicians who play interesting instruments.” Soon crowds were enthusiastically responding to sets that ranged from Mozart to Lady Gaga.
Releasing “Thinking of You,” followed by “Kalakaua Avenue,” they raised funds through Kickstarter to produce the 2016 Na Hoku-winning “Beyond Paradise,” their most accomplished work to date.
The band’s fans include Tony Award-winner Ben Vereen who proclaimed how they “mesmerized me with their magical artistry. If you see them . . . treat yourself, treat your spirit. Thank you for the music of life.”
In the last couple of years they released an acoustic album of Christmas favorites, their original song “Big Big Life,” was a top-five finalist in the Great American Song Contest, and they headlined the 2016 Hawaii Bowl halftime show. Early this year they headlined the 2017 Hawaii Songwriting Festival, sharing the stage with Grammy-winner, Jason Mraz.
The trio is currently set to release the new Kickstarter-funded EP, “SLC.”
* Streetlight Cadence performs at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the MACC’s McCoy Studio Theater. Tickets are $20, $30 and $45 (plus applicable fees). For more information or to purchase tickets, call 242-7469 or visit the box office or www.mauiarts.org.
The Maui Chamber Orchestra will present “A Classical Christmas” concert at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Historic Iao Theater in Wailuku.
Directed by Maestro Robert E. Wills, the program features Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio, Cantatas 1 and 2,” with the Maui Chamber Orchestra Chorus; Georg Philipp Telemann’s “Concerto for 3 trumpets, 2 oboes and timpani;” Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s “Noel pour les instruments;” and Peter Warlock’s “Capriol Suite.”
Before Sunday’s concert, Wills will present “Talk Story with the Conductor” at 1:30 p.m. Tickets range from $27 to $55. For more information or tickets, call 242-6969 or visit the box office or www.mauionstage.com.
A major group of talent is assembling to celebrate New Year’s Eve at the Wailea Beach Resort — Marriott, Maui including guitar legend Steve Cropper of Booker T & the M.G.’s and the Blues Brothers band fame.
Revered as the best-known soul guitarist in the world, Cropper co-wrote such soul classics as “(Sittin’ on the) Dock of the Bay,” “In the Midnight Hour” and “Knock on Wood.” Besides Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett, other artists who covered songs he co-wrote include James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck. Guests on his most recent CD included B.B. King, Steve Winwood and Queen’s Brian May. He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1992.
Cropper will join Steven Tyler, Alice Cooper, Michael McDonald, Pat Simmons, Dave Mason, Weird Al Yankovich, Lynda Carter, Willie K, Bob Rock and Lily Meola. The show is a benefit for the Maui Food Bank and the MACC. Tickets are $675 and are available by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
New Year’s Eve entertainment will also include John Popper of Blues Traveler-fame playing Charley’s Restaurant & Saloon in Paia. He’ll be joined by bandmate Ben Wilson on piano and backing vocals. Tickets range from $70 to $100. For tickets or information, call 579-8085.
On the horizon, the great Latin/rock/hip-hop band Ozomatli heads to the MACC with G LOVE on Jan. 5. Superstar DJ Diplo plays the MACC on Jan. 14; Lauryn Hill performs Feb. 10; and rock legend Jackson Browne plays there in April. Tickets are now on sale for all shows.