So Many Men & So Little Time!

…That’s what goes through my head each year as June approaches and I’m confronted with the decision about who to feature for the Y Chromosome Issue. In the past my strategy has been to either dedicate the month to just one amazing guy (out of literally hundreds), or “theme-up” and focus on a “group” of guys.

Well this year, my aim is to mention as many as there’s room for. For there is an ever increasing pool of astoundingly talented dudes in WNC, who I may not have mentioned in previous June issues; young men, middle aged men, ageless men… whom I either know well, or know of.

Let’s start with someone I’ve worked with on and off for almost 15 years. Joshua Singleton. This guy’s a father, a brother, a son and one of the most mellifluous male singers and harmonica players in the Southeast. What he can’t express verbally, he articulates with his guttural, sensual, full voice or falsetto; a sultry rasp-tinged soul drenched voice I could listen to all day. Equally impressive is how he extracts his inner-most emotions through improvisational dexterity on the mouth organ. At the end of his weekly two-hour King Zero’s duo gig each Saturday evening at Tressa’s Early Spotlight, his lips are red and his mouth is a bit swollen from the hard lines he blows from his assortment of harmonicas. In The King Zero’s he shares the spotlight with the incomparable Duane Simpson on guitar. The two of them take us back in time with an itinerary of rural Blues from the 1920’s and up. Audiences are transported to the porches of Black men and women living in backwoods shacks of the Mississippi and Tennessee Delta, who played for neighbors at house parties and barn raisings. They boast a growing popularity as an authentic representation of the throwback sounds of this beloved and earliest style of the Blues.

This past April, Singleton initiated The Rhythm and Blues Social Club which focusses on a broad spectrum of eras, and features an incredibly endowed trio of young players to deliver a selection of songs covering past and present male and female icons of R&B and Soul. This happens each Monday night at The Block off Biltmore starting at 8 p.m.

Then there’s Ryan “RnB” Barber. He’s one-third of the musical troupe called Secret Agent 23 Skidoo, winners of this year’s Grammy for Best Children’s album that is described as equal parts Dr. Seuss and Dr. Dre. Ryan’s rhymes and jiving prowess are legendary in the kid world. In the adult world, you’ll find him co-fronting the infamous cover band, Orange Krush as well as his own four-piece hip-hop and funk band called The Funk Party! With his sweet soul swagger, this hep cat of Generation X vamps and revamps melody lines with ardent affection. His vocal expertise is ideal for the likes of his influences. Swoon is a word that easily comes to mind. Electrifying is another. With three original album releases to his credit, he’s a proficient songwriter and music producer to boot. You can find him every Wednesday night at Salvage Station, hosting the R&B Jam starting at 9 p.m.

Four years ago, a trusted music pal recommended to me a drummer named James Kylen. James is one of the most affable, capable, in-the-pocket drummers in our town. With an ear for when to lay out, when and how to build a song section, and when to come on strong, he’s become a sought-after stage and sessions player. Successful front men like Aaron Burdette, B.J. Leiderman and Jeff Thompson recognize his outstanding ability, as young Kylen is an integral member of each of their projects. I hire him whenever I can get him. Versatility and a strong work ethic are the cornerstones of his facility; his gentlemanly, easy going confidence, the bedrock of his reputation.

Piano player and keyboardist known for bringing the ‘ness’ to Jim Arrendell’s The Business Motown and Soul band, Alex Taub is classically trained and attuned to the Jazz genre. He’s a piano teacher who moonlights as a sessions and side man, and by the way, don’t let his age fool ya. He’s an old soul with a young heart. His responsiveness is almost surreal. He anticipates a direction before it happens. He orchestrates without dominating and he answers every call. The chords he manipulates and implements enhance a throwback sound. And on the flip side, he engenders something new to something new. He makes new things even newer; he shines up the old to make it sparkle through; so important that I had to say it two ways! It doesn’t hurt that he’s kind, knowledgeable, caring, respectfully forthcoming, and funny. A true gem in our midst that I have no doubt whatsoever is on a trajectory for more greatness.

Web designer and AB-Tech instructor in computer hardware and web application programming, guitarist Alec Fehl also mentors teen rock bands through the Asheville Music School, leads guitar master classes and workshops and teaches private guitar lessons. His considerable experience playing a cross section of genres and styles makes him wanted in four bands. He is leader of his own five-piece Rock band called Carolina Rex but you’ll find him on stage with Deep River country band as well as the Bill Mattocks Blues Band. In all the years I’ve known Alec, he’s never said no when I’ve asked him to help me produce special shows for charity events or stage showcases. Discipline and dedication are buzz words that come to mind when describing this generous, gifted, handsome young man.

Vibraphonist, Jason DeCrisofaro has his hand and heart in many a purpose these days. Spearheading the monthly WNC Solidarity Concert Series is his latest passion project where the focus is on raising money for local nonprofits like Our Voice, NAACP, Cherokee Seed Corn, Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy, and Planned Parenthood. These showcases take place on the last Sunday of each month until September at The Block off Biltmore starting at 3 p.m. Each Wednesday you’ll find him at The Phoenix and the Fox in Brevard, hosting a Jazz Night. There he features a plethora of local and regional musicians performing selected vocal and instrumental pieces with the backing band. DeCristofaro spends his weekdays teaching music at AB-Tech and Warren Wilson College. I don’t know when he sleeps. The best way to describe his playing is to say: it’s like a cool summer breeze or like a series of consecutive gusts of wind over the bars of his instrument. If you listen hard enough you’ll hear him scatting along like George Benson, to the competent and stunning solos he delivers. There is no kinder, more motivated, philanthropic gentleman or musician’s ally then Jason “good vibrations” DeCristofaro.

Another amazing bassist, adjunct instructor at the University of South Carolina Upstate, who exhibits inherent genius when it comes to arrangements and composition, is Shannon Hoover. A quiet and unflappable sort, Shannon’s gracious encouragement elevates his projects. He plays with a funky and low-down, free feeling and at other times, he demonstrates measured and calculated riffs that marry with the more structured styles in which he is also well versed. Adapting and inventing; point and counterpoint, overlapping and leaving space – he knows what to implement when. While he regularly plays with notorious regional musicians and singers, he’s fielded opportunities to perform with internationally acclaimed instrumentalists like Branford Marsalis, Mondre Moffet, Kofi Burbridge, Derek Trucks and Jeff Sipe as well.

I have the pleasure of working beside an array of bass players, each one producing his take on the bottom end. Grant Cuthbertson, for instance, rides his upright like a galloping horse, wavering on the saddle only when it serves the turf. His consistency, his listening skills, makes for effective co-creation, adding to the ambiance of the spaces he fills. Like Joshua Singleton, Cuthbertson reveals his emotions via daring, impactful improvisational solos. He’s a handy man to know both on stage and off; in that he’s skilled on upright and electric bass, and he’s just as skilled with a hammer.

I often think about the guys who were playing here as I arrived and before I moved here in 2002. There are so many of these stalwarts still going strong in their respective endeavors. Guitarists Jeff Anders, Marc Keller, John Steinman, Jim Tanner, Chris Rhodes, Lee DeVico, Hank Bones, Leo Johnson, Bruce Lang, Aaron LaFalce, Chuck Beattie, Bill Altman, Lane Thaw, Oscar Weston, Lee Griffin, Jack Mascari and Scott Raines. Bassists Elliot Wadopian, Jeff Hersk, Mark McDaniel, Steve Hughes, Darrell Griffin, Mike Holstein, Steve Frankel, Mark Jackson, Dave Matthews, Mike Rothacker, Michael Filiponne, and Ian Reardon. Piano and keyboard players Randy Weston, Bill Covington, Richard Schulman, Butch Giusto, Kevin Collins, Steve Davidowski, Brian Felix, Brian Turner, Jim Mascari and George Scott. Drummers/Percussionists River Guerguerian, Matthew Richmond, David Cohen, Michael Leyshon, Jim Arrendell, Bill Chatoney, Byron Hedgepeth, Phil Rose, Jeff Ruldolph, Nik Hope, Jon Lauterer, Steve Buchanan and Phil Bronson. Horn players Jim Lane, Nathan Hefner, Je Widenhouse, Stuart Rinehardt, Earl Sachais, Mike Guzalak, Derrick Lee Johnson, Alex Bradley, JP Furnas, Kyle Snuffer and Pauly Juhl. Then there’s violinist/fiddler Steve Trisman, front men Steve Weems and Chuck Beattie, multi-instrumentalists Chris Rosser, Matthew Smith, Jason Krekel, and Matt Williams.

I know there are many other longstanding fabulous men I have overlooked who have been entertaining us for decades in this area. And to you gentlemen, I convey my sincere apology. Still it’s with great joy to know that I could go on.

There is a whole other group of hombres like Josh Blake and Josh Phillips and Josh Gibbs, Kelly Jones and Jaze Uries, Andrew Scotchie, Tom Pittman and Ian Harrod, Dorsey Parker and Silas Duroucher, Juan Holiday, Jeff Knorr, and Robin Tolleson, who come to mind and I just have to type their names.

There is another delegation of dudes who have either more recently moved to the area and/or more recently become household names. Guys like Blake Anthony Ellege, young Ian Ridenhour, Andy Ferrell, Spiro Nicolopoulos, Jordan Okrend, and evidentially a bunch more Jazz Cats I haven’t had the chance to meet.

All of this fills me with gratitude, to have this platform, this yearly June issue that our editor has saved for us writers to shout out about these uncommon and outstanding men.

I cannot wait to profile on individual basis, or at least in smaller groups, more of you wonderful humans with the Y chromosome. You, who dedicate your lives, putting your passions where your heart is, making the world a better sounding place by sharing your music with us, thank you!

Peggy Ratusz:

Peggy’s June schedule:

• Every Friday in June: Peggy Ratusz Jazz/Blues Trio at The Biltmore Inn on the Biltmore estate starting at 6pm
• Sat June 3rd – Brevard Blues N’ BBQ Festival 4:30p, Brevard Music Center Whittington-Pfohl Auditorium with Duane Simpson, Shannon Hoover and Tez Sherard
• Thurs June 8th – Upcountry Brewing with Duane Simpson (see website for start time)
• Wednesday June 21st – Hosting the Female Artist Spotlight Night at The Block off Biltmore – Jazz in June theme with Linda Mitchell and Ruth Cooney, 7pm
• Thurs June 22nd – Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack South – Wings & Strings Music on the porch series with Duane Simpson, 6:30pm

Peggy Ratusz
Written by Peggy Ratusz