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The Wolfe Gang
Rock-Wired interview
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North Carolina based singer/songwriter Michael Wolfe brings a colorful history
and organic blues and roots-rich musical influences to read the fine print, the new album by the Wolfe
Gang

Celebrating the creative freedom of being an indie artist, focusing more on making raw, dynamic music than worrying about genre limitations or categorizations, Michael Wolfe poses a provocative challenge for those checking out ‘read the fine print,’ the eclectic new album by his band The Wolfe Gang: “What kind of music do we play? Listen to it and let us know!”

The Wilmington, North Carolina based singer, songwriter and guitarist has a few fresh descriptive wordplays himself. He and his band mates Robb Harrington (bass) and Gene Carmen (drums) like to call it “Organic Free-Range Music,” embracing (as they jam) numerous styles including rock, R&B, jazz, folk, soul, swing, funk, country, zydeco and reggae. And in line with their tag of making what they simply call “good music,” it all begins with the foundation of the blues.

Wolfe’s journey to that classic form of American music is fascinating. The son of two successful visual artists, Wolfe grew up in Jackson, Mississippi a fan of early rock and roll, The Beatles and jazz greats like Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Miles Davis and bass legend Charles Mingus. He sang a little folk music with a friend at Duke University and later, while in the Merchant Marine, learned to play guitar and soaked up the music of New Orleans, his home port where his girlfriend at the time lived. He fell in love with zydeco, and when he moved up the river to Baton Rouge, he fell in with a deep blues crowd, jamming at all the juke joints. He knew the blues was the foundation of most American music but he didn’t want to limit himself—so he began grooving harder on zydeco and reggae and straight-ahead rock, playing at funky bars, juke joints, nightclubs, roadhouses and festivals in the region. He later settled in Wilmington, a beautiful town on the Atlantic coast.

Over the years, Wolfe formed various bands called The Wolfe Gang and did a lot of raw recordings, but nothing in those early years came close to matching the powerful chemistry he found when he started recording and gigging with Harrington and Carmen, who had been making music together since age 11! “The first time I played with these guys, we clicked as if we had been together for years,” Wolfe says. “I can go anywhere I want with a tune and not shake or lose them. They lock into a groove and won’t let it go.”

Though read the fine print features saxophonist Jon Tucker on some tunes, conga player/organist Michael Hanson on “Three Little Birds” and other guests like Jim Ellis (keys), Doug Chancey (harp), Kellie Fiore (backing vocals) and Alex Ball (fiddle), the live lineup of The Wolfe Gang is the powerhouse trio. Locally they perform regularly at clubs like Fat Tony’s, Kefi and The Rusty Nail. Recording mostly single takes at Ear to the Ground Studio in Wilmington, the band recorded a total of 22 tracks before settling on the eight originals and six covers that are on the collection.

The easy funk, sax infused opening title track is completely relevant in this era of people getting sucked into bad real estate deals—but Wolfe originally wrote it after being warned against signing a deal with a shady music manager. Another kickin’ original is the feisty, crackling “First To Go,” a tongue in cheek song about the ironic powers of Mother Nature. Wolfe explains the quirky bluegrass-influenced instrumental “Irish Dream Song” as one he literally heard in a dream; he got up in the middle of the night and wrote it down quick so he wouldn’t lose it. His choice of covers is unique, too, as he tough-talk/sings his way through “Mack The Knife,” pays homage to Mose Allison with “I’m Not Talkin,” taps into a blues-country vibe on Merle Haggard’s spirited “Shade Tree Fix-it Man” and chills beautifully on the lilting Bob Marley classic “Three Little Birds.”

Wolfe sums up the spirit of the session when he says, “I kind of felt that as far as recording, it was now or never for us—and we had a blast. Years ago at a jam session in Jackson, when I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep playing music, an older guitar player who was running the show told me, ‘you should be heard.’ I’m glad I still feel that way!

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