Listen to our
latest album:

The Wolfe Gang at the Ice House, Wilmington, North Carolina.

People ask, “What kind of music do you play?”

And I always have to think for a minute: What kind of music do we play?

Usually I just say “Rock and roll, rhythm and blues,” and that’s close, but it’s not the whole story. So I’ll begin at the beginning...

I grew up in Jackson, Mississippi in the Fifties and Sixties, in the first wave of the baby boom. My parents were artists — not amateurs, but real professionals, serious, artists, who had a unique position in the community as successful outsider nonconformists. They made a living from the sale of their paintings, portraits, drawings, sculpture, ceramics, and stained glass throughout their lives. They didn’t do art as a hobby in their spare time; art was their day job. They were regionally famous, and nationally recognized. They didn’t follow a bohemian lifestyle; they were steady, sober, hardworking, passionately committed artists.

So right there, you can tell I grew up way out of the mainstream. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I can look back and see that I grew up watching artistic creation, the real thing, enacted by my parents every day of their lives. I grew up knowing I would need to create something of my own in my own way.

My father was a fine a' cappella singer with a great voice. (My mother told me she fell in love with him because of his singing.) Some of my earliest memories are of him singing me to sleep at night. He knew a lot of great old folk songs. Some of them I’ve never heard anywhere else; I doubt he had any idea what their actual origin was, and I have no idea where he learned them — true folk music. He knew sea-chanteys and cowboy songs and mountain songs and comic songs and spirituals and old English and Irish ballads. I got my initial interest in music from him. He also had a collection of classical records that I came to know by heart. My mother painted my portrait at age four sitting stock-still on a tall stool — not posing for her, but listening to Beethoven.

I was in grammar school when rock and roll dawned upon the scene, and of course all of us Mississippi kids were pretty excited, because Elvis was from Tupelo and Jerry Lee was from Louisiana and Memphis was right up the road. I dug it while it lasted, and I knew it was different from what had come before. But then Elvis got drafted, and Jerry Lee got blackballed for marrying a 14-year old, and Buddy Holly got killed in a plane crash, and Chuck Berry got arrested, and Little Richard got religion, and for a few years there really wasn’t any rock and roll. I couldn’t stand the whiny, wimpy pretty-boys singers who filled the airwaves then. I didn’t like the country music of the time. I also hated the crooners from the previous generation. So I completely turned against popular music, (set my teeth on edge) and I hadn’t yet discovered blues or r&b.

But I did discover jazz, and all through my teens I listened to either classical or jazz: Monk, Brubeck, Miles, Coltrane, and my all-time favorite, the great, inimitable Charles Mingus. I quit watching TV when I was in the 9th grade, to concentrate on reading classic novels. I’d quit playing sports. They’d probably have gone farther if my parents hadn’t been prominent, well-respected citizens. So you see how well I fit in with my junior-high and high school crowd. I was also a liberal, during the worst of the racist police state in Mississippi; I grew up during segregation, but I never bought into it for a minute and always knew it was wrong. The Klan once hand-delivered a threatening card to our mailbox because of a protest letter I’d written to the local racist newspaper. (It’s amazing and disgusting to hear the same old attitudes and language I grew up despising being regurgitated on cable TV in more coded terms today!) ...but back to music.

When the Beatles and the rest of the British Invasion happened, I initially resisted, but finally had to admit that pop music was worth listening to again. And then I began following the clues back to the blues: (hey, that sounds like a line from a song I ought to write!) back to where rock and roll came from in the first place. It had been right under my nose in Mississippi all the time, but, being a white boy, and a jazz/classical snob, I hadn’t been aware of it! The English bands brought American black music back across the pond to the ignorant white audience in America. So my musical appreciation started with classical and went through jazz to rock and ended up at the blues.

In high school I began to write short stories, and had a couple published, and decided that my artistic endeavor (our family’s motto was “Create or Die!”) was going to be writing. In my senior year I wrote a sociological study of my high school, that became an underground sensation and ultimately a scandal — it was banned by the principal, who tried confiscate all the copies. But my status changed from weirdo geek to cool rebel outsider overnight. I got a scholarship to Duke University on the strength of my writing.

Playing music wasn’t something I had really thought about yet. But at Duke I had a friend, who could play folk guitar, and he would play and I would sing some of the songs I knew. We’d jam in a dorm room and a crowd would gather — he was good on guitar (Hey Dave!).

Once in 1966 I was invited to a literary/arty/folkie party in Durham where players were jamming and I got to sing a couple of songs. There was a music promoter at the party who asked if I could play guitar. I told him no, and he told me “You ought to learn to play guitar. You have a great voice, but these days, you gotta play guitar too.” So I said to myself, “Hmm!”

I left Duke that summer after my sophomore year, not planning to return, because I had hatched a plan to ship out in the Merchant Marine, something I had wanted to do since I read all that Joseph Conrad. I still thought of myself as a writer. I wanted to see the world and I wanted to write about it.

That summer, while I was waiting for my Z-Card to arrive so I could ship out, and whenever I wasn’t trying to write a novel, or making out with my girlfriend, I started fooling around with the guitar my father had bought years ago: a big old arch-top jazz-model Kay with Black Diamond heavy-gauge steel strings and a very narrow neck. It had been in a corner of the living room for years after he gave up on it because his fingers were too big. It was a terrible guitar to try to learn to play on, and learning to play on it was the hardest thing I’d ever done up to that time. I was a very slow learner — but I’m still learning!

But I had plenty of time to practice out at sea. New Orleans was my home port. My girlfriend had an apartment in the French Quarter, where I would stay when my ship returned home. I heard and absorbed all that great Louisiana music in the clubs and second-line street parades. When I was out at sea, it was just me and my guitar. I drove my shipmates crazy at first because I was just learning to play. I sounded awful! They’d make me go play on the fantail. But after a while I learned to keep a tune together from beginning to end, and guys would come back there and listen to me and sing along.

Some of my shipmates were older black guys from Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas who could sing the blues. Although they didn’t play guitar, they knew how it should be played, and I would play for them so they could sing. They’d be quick to correct me if I strayed off course… so to speak. And I soaked up their raw, authentic phrasing and feel. (Hey, Robert! Hey, Geech! Remember me?)

So I’d say the foundation of my music is the blues, just like blues is the foundation of so much of American music. After I stopped shipping out, I went back to college at the University of New Orleans, where I met other guitar players who were much better than me. (Hey, Rick and Daryl!) I hung around with them and jammed and learned all I could. I started playing in public for the first time. I took a huge step forward when I discovered open tunings and learned to play slide guitar. I took another huge step when I bought my first electric guitar and amp at a pawnshop in Nashville.

In 1973 I moved up the river to Baton Rouge, where I fell in with a deep blues crowd. (Baton Rouge is a much bluesier town than New Orleans.) There were some great old bluesmen in Baton Rouge, the real thing. Slim Harpo and Buddy Guy were from Baton Rouge. I became friends with Henry Gray, who had been Howlin’ Wolf’s piano player in Chicago for 20 years. After the Wolf died, Henry played with Muddy Waters for five years, and then retired to Baton Rouge. But he soon started gigging around town, and I sometimes backed him up on guitar. So I can say that I have played with a guy who played with two guys who played with the legendary genius Robert Johnson! Henry is still on the road at age 85. (Hey, Henry!)

I became a regular at all the jams at all the juke joints. I remember one cold night in January when I went to Estelle’s Happy House; it was Martin Luther King’s birthday. I hadn’t been there for a while, and Estelle stood in front of me and looked up at me and demanded, “Where have you been?” (Hey, Estelle!) Every time a black player got on stage, he would say something in memory of Dr. King. When I got on stage, I said, “I just want to say how grateful I am for all that Dr. Martin Luther King did for me... because if it hadn’t been for him, I couldn’t come in here!”

But as much as I love blues, and as much as I love all the bluesmen that taught me so much, I never wanted to be locked in a blues bag, or pigeonholed in any way: my evolution as a player might have started with the blues, but I have branched out into a very wide variety of music besides blues.

I grooved on the great zydeco and Cajun artists from Southwest Louisiana, and reggae sounds from Jamaica, and the New Orleans second-line Mardi Gras street parade sound, but I never forgot about straight-ahead rock, and still kept up with jazz. I got more interested in country music after the hippies turned the rednecks on to marijuana and the Outlaw movement was born. (But punk, disco, heavy metal, and rap left me unmoved — and still do.)

I joined my first band, a leaderless conglomeration with four guitar players called Borrowed Time. We spent more time fighting than playing! (Yo, Nick, Monty, Mike, Tone!) I began writing songs and formed my first band as leader in 1976. (Hey, Steve the Wheel! Hey, David!) I played my music in the funky bars, juke joints, nightclubs, and roadhouses of South Louisiana, and at regional festivals. (Hey, Skeeter, Keith, Jimmy, MZ, Jessie, Ed, Dwight!)

In 1986 I started a new band (Hey, Roger, Steve, Jeff!) and we decided to call it Wolfe Gang…and that’s what I’ve called all my bands since then. (Hey, Sparker and Shreveport Bill!... Rest in peace, BB!)

In 1993, my wife and I relocated to the beautiful seacoast town of Wilmington, North Carolina. I have played in the Southeastern North Carolina region since then, but I’m still basically a Louisiana musician... if you know what that means! I led various lineups of Wolfe Gang through the nineties and into the new century. (Hey, Lucy, Jeff, Rob... Yo, Dick, Brad, Doug!)

When my wife and I lived in Swansea, South Wales in Britain for six months in 2002, I started a five-piece band after I’d been there two weeks: it was called Wolfe Gang UK. We played eight or nine great pub gigs together. (Cheers, Jed, Mike, Richard, Sam!)

In October, 2007, after a hiatus, I was ready to start a band again. I called a bass player I’d jammed with, Robb Harrington, who introduced me to his favorite drummer, Gene Carmen. Gene has some Louisiana connections and experience, so he “understands about the back beat.” (A Baton Rouge record producer once told me that the most important thing in a drummer is for him to understand about the back beat!)

Robb and Gene have been playing music together since age eleven. The first time I played with these guys we clicked as if we’d been together for years. After a few songs we looked at each other and knew we were onto something. (At first I thought we’d call the band “The Get-Go” because it worked so well from the get-go, but Robb and Gene voted to call it Wolfe Gang after all.) I can go anywhere I want with a tune and don’t have to worry about shaking or losing them. They lock into a groove and won’t let it go. It’s as if we play by telepathy.

You might start to have an idea of what we play if you know what we don’t play. We don’t play any rap, hip-hop, heavy metal, disco, techno, or punk, or anything else on that side of the spectrum.

We call what we play “Organic Free-Range Music.” Terms that might come close are “Indie” or “Americana” or “Roots rock” or “Other,” or even “Alternative,” if that means anything anymore. Some might consider it “Retro.” We don’t try to play “dance music,” but people can and do dance to what we play! Our music embraces styles including rock, r&b, jazz, folk, soul, swing, funk, country, zydeco, and reggae... and we like to jam. (Maybe we’re a “jam band.”) Or I could just say “We play Good music!”

We concentrate on our original songs and instrumentals, but when we play three-set club gigs, we fill out our sets with some cover songs (but only songs we like and enjoy playing — we ain’t no wedding band!) So, to give you more of an idea of where we’re coming from, here are a few of the artists whose songs we like to play: Little Feat, Steely Dan, Slim Harpo, Doc Watson, Tom Waits, Ray Charles, Fernest Arceneaux and the Zydeco Thunders, Rockin’ Doopsie, Clifton Chenier, the Meters, the Neville Brothers, Dr. John, Ike and Tina Turner, Randy Newman, Lazy Lester, Professor Longhair, Delbert McClinton, Billy Joe Shaver, Johnny Cash, JJ Cale, Chuck Berry, Woody Guthrie, Tex Ritter, Ry Cooder, Jimmy Reed, Al Green, Canned Heat, Dylan, Beatles, Stones, Hank, Miles, Van, Billie Holliday, Josh White, my cousin Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy, Jimmy Cliff, Robert Johnson... and that’s just a partial list. On the CD on this website we covered Mose Allison, Bob Marley, and Merle Haggard, as well as Brecht/Blitzstein/Weill, Clarence Garlow, and Sonny Landreth. We could play four-hour gigs three nights in a row and never repeat a cover song. (We would play our originals each night, of course!)

Playing music and writing songs is my form of expression — my art form. Unlike my parents, I have never been successful enough at my art form to make a living at it. But “music money” from playing gigs has been a very handy supplemental income over the years — and it’s always been a lot of fun. I still go to jam sessions and play for free. Even if I never get anywhere selling my music to a larger audience, which of course is what this website and this CD are all about, I’m never going to stop playing music!

Why would I?

There was a great venue here in Wilmington called the Ice House, in a pre-Civil War building on the Cape Fear River. The Ice House had its heyday from the late Nineties through the early part of this century. Their thing was live music, mostly local bands, no cover charge. My band played there about every six weeks for years. It was a big indoor-outdoor place where 3000 people would be in and out on a weekend night. All kinds of people there- young, old, middle-aged, rich, poor, middle-class, black and white, bikers and debutantes, lawyers and longshoremen, movie stars and janitors. While it was going strong it was like the unofficial town square. You could go there and eventually you’d see everybody you knew. The original owners (Hey, Joe and Jim!) burned out on the 14-hour days after a few years and sold it and the new owners completely messed it up by charging a cover, among other mistakes—they got heavy and spoiled the vibe, and then there was a succession of owners and managers who couldn’t find a clue, and the note went up, and it finally died. It was tragically torn down a few years ago, but I still meet people who tell me they remember me playing at the legendary Ice House. It was my favorite venue of all time. The audiences were open-minded, primed to have a good time, relaxed, cheerful, friendly, and yet musically demanding with good taste and intelligence: they knew what sounded good.

I want to connect with that audience... worldwide!

We decided to record in 2009. I had made several recordings over the years — some in Louisiana, and some in Wilmington, and we had recorded some live tracks in 2008. We considered just making an album with the three of us, because that’s how we play live, but Gene said, “Why don’t we make a killer studio album?”

The recording of this album, “read the fine print,” was begun in October, 2009, at Ear to the Ground Studio in Wilmington, NC. The engineer (and studio owner) was Jeff Reid. The three-piece core band, guitar, bass and drums, played all the songs live from beginning to end: no machines involved! I played acoustic rhythm guitar on some of the songs, electric guitar on others. We recorded 22 songs, and settled on the 14 you see here.

We considered just making an album with the three of us, because that’s how we play live, but Gene said, “Why don’t we make a killer studio album?”

So we called in a few specialists: sax phe-nom Jon Tucker, keyboard wizard Jim Ellis, conga boss Mike Hanson, ace harp man Doug Chancey, sultry backup singer Kellie Fiore, and hot fiddle player Alex Ball. I played all the guitar tracks.

Jon Tucker Jim Ellis Mike Hanson Doug Chancey Kellie Fiore Alex Ball

Then I listened and tweaked, listened and tweaked, listened and tweaked, for six months until Jeff and I were finally satisfied with the mixes.

Mylinks_profile_pageWhat kind of music do we play?

Listen to it and let us know!

PS: I’ve been listening to some of those tracks I recorded in the past and they ain’t half bad, so I’m planning to add them to this site in the near future….stay tuned if you like what you hear.

BlankMyspace music player