Favorite Moments of 2014: Bass Battle in Richmond

After a tiny bit of trash talking throughout the show, my bass player Darion Alexander and I finally decided to go ahead and engage in a heated battle of the low-end, stringed instruments on stage at my show in Richmond, VA back on August 23rd with Carmen Rodgers. With Jon Laine on drums providing the rhythmic backdrop we needed, I came off of the keys briefly after accepting the challenge and we went in. Here’s a clip of what transpired…


Video shot by James Harris

Welcome Home!! …Sincerely, The Michigan State Police.

May 9, 2014 was no different than any other day that I get prepared to go back home to Detroit to play a show…. While I normally start to feel pumped up for a show soon after soundcheck …when I know i’m going home to play?!?! I’m hyped up ALL DAY. It’s the “big game” for me… HOME. A melting pot of family, folks who I used to play baseball with, grew up with, those who have been in my corner from day one ……….and a few folks who may have no idea who the hell I am, but they scream loud as shit just because I’m rocking an olde English “D” on my hat. But since I moved to Maryland in 2006, every single time I go back home to play, it’s an outpouring of LOVE. And everyone who knows me is well aware of why I get so amped up when Detroit is on the schedule.

We were coming off of a hyped up crowd in Cleveland the night before and a 10-hour drive from Boston just two nights prior, so the actual 2 1/2 hour drive to Detroit was kind of an afterthought. Turnpike, to 280, 75N… We’re there. Simple, right? ….Well, the Turnpike was simple, as was I-280… We merged onto 75 North and coasted into Michigan. As many times as I have driven into MI via I-75, I can usually calculate pretty accurately how much time I have left to drive and at this point, I was getting even more hyped up because we were making great time. Word up… Get to the hotel, check in real quick, iron my clothes, hit the shower and be ready to roll out to soundcheck…………………

Until I looked in my rear view mirror

Normally, I’m pretty good at spotting the cops while on the freeway…. But this state trooper literally came from nowhere. I was in the far left lane and he was following behind me. I glanced down at my speedometer for a quick second and saw that I wasn’t speeding, thankfully… So I did what 98% of folks do when a cop gets behind them on the freeway…….. I changed lanes to the right so that he can pass by me and leave me the hell alone – and he did that. The state trooper rolled by me at a fairly high rate of speed, but kept it moving, no problem………… But I’m no idiot. I kept an eye on his patrol car just as a precaution. Plus, I didn’t know why he sped past me like he did – something didn’t feel right. I even told everyone in the van that I was gonna have to watch dude simply because I know that cops need zero excuse – they’ll pull you over and formulate a reason while they walk up to your car. As I continued driving, in the distance I could see the state trooper pull off of the right side of the freeway and set his car up as if to catch people speeding. Once again, no problem…. I wasn’t breaking the speed limit or any other law for that matter. But what folks fail to understand is that sometimes all you have to do is pass a cop in your car and it’s over for you ……and your record.

So, you know when you pass through a neighborhood you haven’t been in before and the older brothers sitting on the porch follow your car down the street with their eyes trying to figure out who you are and why you’re there? Well, when we passed the state trooper, I could see that his eyes were LOCKED in on our van exactly like that…. and then he merged back into traffic. As soon as I saw this, I announced to the van…..

“Maaaan, he’s gonna pull us over.”

Here’s the scene…. I was driving, Phonte was in the front passenger seat, Carmen Rodgers and bass player, Darion Alexander were sitting in the back. Four Black folks in a van with out of state plates (the plates on the rental van were Illinois)………. traveling. That’s it, that’s all. But sometimes, that’s all you need. Because when I looked up in my rear view mirror again, who do you think was there?…… AGAIN. So, again….. I changed lanes to the right and happened to pull behind a big rig. The trooper remained in my blind spot for about a half mile or so, in which I imagined he was running the plates. Then he also changed lanes to the right to follow me. By this time I was doing about 65 in a 70 and I told the crew, “If I change lanes again and he follows me, he’s gonna pull us over.”

I changed lanes to the right again…. He followed, again……
Lights went on.

Maaaaaaan FUCK!!!

I pulled off the road immediately.

The trooper walked up to Phonte’s window and while asking for license and registration proceeded to tell me that the reason he pulled me over was because I was “following too closely behind that truck.” Remember the big rig I pulled behind the second time he was in my rear view mirror? ….Yeah. THAT one. I was quickly reassured how bullshit this claim was when he said…

“Get out of the car and sit in the patrol car, please”

Hold up, go sit in the cop car for following too closely behind a damn truck? So, I got out, went up to the rear passenger side of the patrol car and went to open the door and the officer said, “No! The FRONT seat!” Go sit in the front seat, huh? I was thinking to myself, ‘NOTHING good can come out of this scenario.’  The trooper also got in the car and while running my ID and Phonte’s ID proceeded to ask me question after question…..after question…. after fucking question. Some questions he repeated to see if I would give him a different answer. Man, I had nothing to hide… We were just trying to get to our hotel and if the interrogation lasted any longer………… soundcheck… hell….. the SHOW.

Is this your van? No, it’s a rental.
Where are you going? To our hotel, we’re part of a band.
You have a show? Yes.
Where at? The Magic Stick.
Is that in Detroit? Yes.
What’s the name of your band? The Foreign Exchange.
You ever been to Michigan before? Yes, I’m from here.
First time playing here? No. (why would it be my first time playing in my HOME STATE?)
Where are you playing? (for the second time) The Magic Stick
In Detroit? (again) Yes.
**Looks at my license** How long have you lived in Maryland? Since 2006.
Is everybody in the van from North Carolina? No.
What does everybody do in the band? There’s two vocalists and a bassist in the van with me.
How long have you been in Maryland? (for the second time) Since 2006.

At this point I was thinking… He is just REALLY fucking terrible at asking questions. Notice how none of these questions have anything to do with what he claimed he pulled me over for.

Then the tone shifted as he began asking what he really wanted to ask me from the jump…..

You have any weapons in the van? No.
Guns? Knives? No.
Any contraband? No.
Do you have any crack in the van? *record scratch* No.

Wait…..
Did he just ask me if I had CRACK in the van??!?!?!
CRACK?!!?!

Do you have any cocaine in the van? No.
Morphine?
No.
Pills?
No.
Marijuana?
No.
What all do you have in the van? Luggage, a keyboard, a bass, and food.
Do you have an arrest record? No.
You ever gotten a ticket before? Yes, for speeding in January of last year.

Real quick… And may be I’m wrong simply because I’ve never transported drugs before, but uhhh… What trafficker transports drugs while driving four deep in a rental van with out-of-state plates on it?! Then again, four Black folks in a van with out-of-state plates on it traveling through Monroe, MI is usually four too many, so… But anyway, he then says….

“Ok, well I’m gonna let you go… Just wait here.”

I didn’t believe dude. He got out of the car, walked over to our passenger side and instructed Phonte to get out of the van. He then cross-referenced all of my answers by asking him similar questions while standing on the side of the freeway. Even after ALL of our answers matched up he asked Phonte if he could search the van. He then went to go get Darion and Carmen’s IDs. When I saw that shit, that’s when I thought to myself…. We may now miss this show because of this dude. He’s trying to find ANYTHING HE CAN right now. All I pictured was us sitting on the side of I-75N for hours with all of our shit out on the road being run through. He came back in to the patrol car, handed me everybody’s IDs and just like that….. he let us go, finally. The entire ordeal lasted about 30-45 minutes. To anyone who has ever had a cop harass you before, there’s always a few minutes of silence in the aftermath where you’re just kinda sitting there like, “What the fuck just happened?! …And WHY?” Never in the history of anything has being questioned by the police for absolutely nothing made anyone’s day better. Needless to say, I was PISSED and could not get into the right frame of mind to perform until we were actually announced on stage… It helped that the show was sold out and crazy as hell, particularly since my family and friends were all in attendance, but MAN. This has become our reality though – traveling between cities in a van, usually with an out-of-state license plate… I guess this qualifies us as suspects. We were followed behind and had a cop ride up on the side of us for about 2 or 3 miles when we drove to Memphis a couple weeks ago. I also thought we were gonna get pulled over during the final TEN minutes of our 12-hour drive from Denver to damn Brownwood, TX. The cop hit a U-turn and followed us loosely for about a mile before turning off. That would NOT have been a good situation at 12:30a.

So, officers…. If you happen to spot our van riding through your town four deep en route to the next city, there’s no need for alarm…

We’re just touring.

Encore at the +FE show • Magic Stick in Detroit, MI (05.09.14)

Encore at the +FE show • Magic Stick in Detroit, MI (05.09.14)

Zo! vs. NAMM 2013

download-2

Sy and I performing in the Lewitt Lounge at NAMM 2013. Photo by Kris Crosby

I pulled up to the Anaheim Convention Center on Saturday looking forward to a full day of checking out some new equipment, connecting with some of my musical brethren, walking around to different exhibits until my feet damn near fell off, and simply making it well worth my time. The first thing I planned to do after picking up my badge was head up to the Lewitt Lounge, meet up with Sy Smith and check out her performance. WELP… Good ole See Smit ended up calling a nice audible at the line real quick by calling me before I even got out of the car…

Me: “What it bee like?!”

Sy: “What it bee like! …Hey Zo…….. You wanna play some keys?”

Me: “Heeeell yeah, I wanna play some keys!”

And there it was. The next thing I knew, I was rushing up to the Lewitt Audio Lounge not to check Sy’s performance, but to become a part of it. Sy Smith & Zo! performing together at NAMM? …Not mad at that at all. I walked in, met the musicians, we put together a short list of songs to perform, talked out some of the music because this was our first time playing as a collective and put on a helluva show if I may say so myself. MAN it was a lotta fun rockin’ out with Lemar Carter on drums, Terron Crayton on bass, and Erick Walls who acted a fool on that guitar. An enthusiastic and very receptive crowd gathered and settled into the room for us and it turned out to be a helluva way to kick off my NAMM 2013 experience.

The crew on stage going to work...

The crew on stage going to work… Photo by Kris Crosby

I got to catch up with a few very important folks… My brother Tim Scott Jr., who I tour with, ya know… fairly often (drummer for The Foreign Exchange) and my homeboys Kristopher Crosby, and LaDarrel “Saxappeal” Johnson (keyboardist and saxophonist, respectively for Detroit-based group Collective Peace)… and then it was off to check out the Moog Music spot to meet face-to-face and shake hands with their artist liaison responsible for bringing me on board with the company. So I walked on over to section 5300 and chopped it up a bit with the good folks at Moog. I even got a chance to play around with their brand new synth unveiled just before NAMM, the Sub Phatty. JUST as I finished playing around with this new ‘toy’ and started kicking around ideas in regards to how to possibly get my hands on one, I started hearing someone playing the harmonica. They weren’t playing blues riffs or anything like that, it was a very distinct style and tone…. I thought to myself, “Naaaaaaah, it couldn’t be”   *shaking my head* “Naaaaaaaaaaaaah, that ain’t him….. That’s not him.” I happened to take a glance over my left shoulder and saw a nice-sized crowd starting to develop….. So, naturally I headed on over to see what the big deal was…. PLUS I wanted to see if my ear was on point or if it was deceiving me. ….And dammit, if I didn’t walk over to the next section and see none other than Stevie Wonder playing the harmonica. Now, for those who don’t know, I’m gonna make this perfectly clear to you: In my humble opinion… as a total artist, Stevie is the greatest of all-time. PERIOD. So, I dropped all of my ‘artist’ shit immediately and instantly went into ‘fan’ mode. I pulled that iPhone out, reached my long ass arm up and began snapping pictures. I would have loved to have met him, but I knew that wasn’t happening with the large number of people he attracted. It was DOPE to hear him play up close like that though. These stories continue to multiply, man… I swear.

Stevie At NAMM2013

The greatest of all-time.

Walked away from the Stevie madness and ventured down a little ways to the Hammond section and there sat legendary organist/pianist Dr. Lonnie Smith who was giving a damn CLINIC on one of the Hammond Organs. And please forgive me, because I’m not familiar with the brother who was playing guitar, but he was KILLIN’. The two of them together were running through a few songs while trading off solos. One helluva(n) experience…

Dr. Lonnie Smith

I hope someone helps me I.D. the brother on the guitar… He and Dr. Lonnie Smith took NO prisoners.

After walking around, trying out new instruments, and talking to folks for another hour or so, I made a one-man executive decision to sit my ass down somewhere in order to avoid my body hating my guts later on in the day. I trooped out of the Convention Center and sat on one of the concrete slabs they have available for folks who care about their bodies not falling apart like I do. I got pretty comfortable and was relaxing a bit, checking up on de Tweet Streets, Facebook, email, etc…. And out walks DJ Rhettmatic and DJ Babu (Dilated Peoples) of The Beat Junkies. Now, I need y’all to understand this first… Me and Rhett have been missing each other on the West Coast for a good three years. Every time I’m out there, he’ll be spinning somewhere and I can’t make it… I’ll have a show and he’s booked up, etc. So, I got up off of that concrete and we finally met face-to-face. And Babu… Shit, I’ve been a Dilated fan since college, so it was dope to meet him and hear him say after Rhett introduced us, “Ohhhh, you work with Phonte, right? Y’all did an album together….” WORD UP, BABU! When kats who you’ve listened to forever know some of your work?? That’s ALWAYS dope. As I always say, you never know who’s listening… and possibly enjoying your material. Very humbling.

NAMM 2013… You were good to me. I hope the current year will earn me an invitation to 2014’s event…. That would be…uhhh….well…. Pretty alright.

NAMM 2013

NAMM 2013

In the Studio Recording for ‘ManMade’ …..Choklate!

627264_10151285589344678_403478603_o

This was the scene last week in Raleigh, NC. Phonte and I pulled talented vocalist, artist and good friend of ours, Choklate into the studio to record vocals for my ManMade album….

Let’s just say the sessions were extremely successful… Talk about easy to work with!! Choklate was truly in her element while behind that mic…

Zo! – ManMade

Original Music.

Spring 2013.

+FE Music.

The Foreign Exchange at Detroit’s Chene Park – 09.13.12

Phonte, Me, Deborah Bond, Kush El-Amin & Sy Smith backstage after rockin’ Chene Park… Photo courtesy of Drake Phifer

Going back home to perform always seems to disturb my already dysfunctional “sleep-pattern”… I can never get enough rest the night before a Detroit performance – whether it’s a solo show or one with The Foreign Exchange. It’s actually very similar to preparing for a huge game…at home – YET it’s even more special than that because there’s a “we’ve missed you” factor on both sides that can be added into the equation now since I’m not living in the area anymore. As a matter of fact, the only sleep I participated in before this show occurred on the one hour-ten minute flight from Baltimore to Detroit. I was OUT and do not remember taking off at all.. But, I DO remember being awakened by that ridiculously hard ass landing executed by our pilot. I’m talking the type of landing that has been known to make you look extra crazy in public as your sudden waking up from a deep sleep while fighting the air tends to be accompanied by various random, yet well-placed expletives …..I’m not saying this happened to ME on this particular flight, but I’ve heard that’s how it goes down sometimes and you know, uhh… well…… ANYWAY, upon our arrival to DTW Airport, we were to be picked up and taken to the hotel located right along the Detroit Riverwalk. Kush El-Amin (bassist), Deborah Bond (vocalist) and I all walked off of the plane safely and randomly ran into Tim Scott Jr. (drummer) in the baggage claim area. We then caught up to our driver a few minutes later after letting the organizers know that we had arrived into town. The driver was cool as all hell and seemed to be a music head. He also began to hit us with a couple of hilarious quotables and stories… including the one explaining why he wasn’t allowed back on our hotel’s property. We were all in the van like, *crickets*…..  But the brotha got us everywhere we needed to be on time… We just had a bit of a walk ahead of us when we were dropped off on the far side of that hotel damn near by the Jim Crow entrance.

Behind our hotel… The Detroit Riverwalk

After introducing Kush and Deborah to one of my most frequented sammich spots when I lived in MI, *sings* “Tubbyyyy’s Submariiiiiines,” the crew hit up soundcheck at our scheduled time and as I walked up to the stage I could immediately tell that it was about to be a reunion for me… The first person I ran into was Monica Blaire (featured on “MakeLuv2Me”) and right behind her was vocalist, L’Renee whom I hadn’t seen since I moved to Maryland at the beginning of 2006. Then up walked Dwele, who I’ve known since 2003 and would sometimes even jam out with him in Slum Village’s old stomping grounds, Barak Studios in Southfield, MI. He and I got to catch up a bit during his soundcheck… meanwhile, I realized that I knew a few people in his band including drummer Eric “Rain Man” Gaston, keyboardist Brandon “Showtime” Bland, background singer J. Tait, and saxophonist LaDarrel “Saxappeal” Johnson who has played alongside Sy Smith and I twice, at our Detroit (February ’12) and New York City (May ’12) shows. To say that I felt right back at home would be a huge understatement… Now when you’re around all of that talent, not only is there a strong sense of camaraderie but also a feeling of friendly competition as well, which as a former baseball player is something that I will probably never shy away from. It’s natural because you always want to sound your best in front of your peers. With that being said, we sounded our best for about 15 minutes because we were forced into knocking out one of the shortest soundchecks in life (Arrested Development, whose flight was severely delayed had arrived and was on the side of the stage waiting to check after us and the doors were due to open soon after). After our 15 minutes of fame during soundcheck, we made our way back to the hotel for about an hour of down time before it was time to head on back to Chene Park and hit the stage for real this time around.

As we rolled back to the venue in preparation for the night’s performance…let’s just say I was a tad bit beyond ready. Momma Zo! had already sent me a text saying that she, Pops Zo!, my sister and her boyfriend were already there and seated. Meanwhile, I was backstage in full out clown mode in order to distract myself from the fact that I was anxious as hell to get out there and murder this +FE set. My adrenaline was on 12 AND I had the nerve to be sipping on a can of Red Bull. Yeah, I know…But I told y’all, show preparation very much parallels getting ready for a big game. Aaaaand, then the time finally came for us to walk out on stage… I arrived at my keyboard rig and started to get everything set up… I then began hearing people start to call my name from the crowd…

“WE LOVE YOU ZO!!!”

Monica Blaire was there hosting the show along with Suga Rae stopped and said,

“Oh… Do we have some Zo fans in here?”

*crowd cheers*

Crazy…

Adrenaline now on 14.

It was finally time to start up and with only 40 minutes to show our people a helluva time, we knew we had to be on level 10 fresh outta the gate……. And that’s exactly what happened. From the jump, the music felt really good, the crowd was with us the entire time, my hands felt loose on the keys, and the added bonus….. I received a standing ovation during our individual introductions, which just put the show over the top for me. Some of y’all have heard me talk some about hometown love and how unbelievable of a feeling it is to get it… This episode was no different. And the fact that my parents and sister were in the crowd both times that it has happened?… Maaaan, come on nah!!

After leaving the stage ablaze by playing what I thought was one of our best sets this year, I decided to try and head out into the crowd so that I could see my family and check out Dwele and Arrested Development’s shows. Man, I got into the crowd and was greeted by friends, fans, and even a few folks I went to high school with whom I had not seen since high school (’96 if ya nosy ass needed to know). Hell, those folks still know me as a baseball player! I found my family in the crowd via “text GPS” a/k/a “Where y’all at?! / We’re right here!!” guidance. My sister and Momma Zo! were rockin’ the crispy ciel blue Zo! T-shirts while Pops came with the suit and tie combo, per usual. ‘Twas all hugs and pictures as I was soon joined by Sy and Deborah not too long afterward. We proceeded to chop it up with my family and enjoy the remainder of the show…. But uhhh, one of the highlights and my personal favorite moments of the entire night was watching +FE’s Director of Operations, Aimee Flint hit the “Baba Oje dance” (skip to 3:36) in the stands with us at the end of Arrested Development’s “People Everyday”… And y’all know exactly what I’m talkin’ about too – the dance he does at the end of said video to accompany his chanting.  She had the shit down PAT!!! We were loving it so much, we couldn’t do anything but join her…

Ok now… The post-show meal came in the form of one of my favorite Downtown Detroit spots…. Bucharest Grill. Phonte and Tim Scott Jr. became instant believers after I successfully put on to their famous chicken shawarmas. C’LAWD!!!!!! Those two brovahs damn near cleaned their plates by the time I had returned back to our table from the bar with drainks! The Bucharest meal accompanied by a strong rum & coke was an excellent ending to another near perfect day and performance by The Foreign Exchange. I’m always looking forward to the next one… Detroit, we love y’all and we’ll see you again in 2013…!!!

PHOTOS from +FE’s Performance at Chene Park

One For the Road: Zo! + Sy Smith in Washington D.C. (June 13, 2012)

Sy Smith + Zo! at Blues Alley – 06.13.12
Photo by Lauren Persons

Ever since we booked these two shows to play at Washington D.C.’s Blues Alley back in mid-April, I guess it’s pretty safe to say that I automatically got hyped up about the date. As a matter of fact, I think the last time I was THAT amped up for a show was in February when Sy and I played Privé Deux back home in Detroit… And the time before that? Well… when I was in Detroit on Mother’s Day 2011 with The Foreign Exchange, the show where my home gave me damn near a two-minute long ovation that had a brovah holding his eyes wide open and blinking to keep from dropping tears on stage… Yeah THAT one. You kinda see the pattern here? There’s just something undeniable about playing a touring or a major show in your hometown and/or your place of current residence. It is already certain that the energy will be at a higher level for your performance, so naturally, I almost have to monitor my adrenaline rushes and keep them under close surveillance as I used to have to for big games during my baseball playing days. I even hit Sy up not too long after the show was booked… “Maaaaan, I think I’ma have to suit it up for this one.” And speaking of that, allow me to let you in on a little something in case you didn’t know… Grown folks JUMP at the chance to dress up for some shit. The reason? We are rarely presented with a proper “dress up” occasion. And I’m not talking about some silly ass “color scheme” party where you’re limited to one or two colors to choose from. The next thing you know you’re posing in front of airbrushed backgrounds of champagne bottles for a picture that you’re rushing to post onto your “too much info offering” Facebook page. I’m talking about an all-out “damn, I’ve NEVER seen you look THAT good before!!” event. For example, ask a grown ass man the last time he wore a suit (outside of church and work) and I guarantee he’ll be able to tell you the exact date AND occasion. With all of that being said, when I pulled out my black suit to press and get ready for the show, I pulled a food receipt from my pocket from none other than… Blues Alley. The only other time I had ever been was to play keys for a New Year’s Prince tribute that YahZarah was doing to bring in 2011. So uhhh, I guess it had been a long time since my grown ass had been suited up too. We used to do it regularly when touring with The Foreign Exchange while promoting their album Leave It All Behind. We all looked great on stage, but carrying all of those clothes around on the road got to be a PROBLEM. Baggage fees and overpacking remained our arch enemies on the Leave It All Behind tour… Let’s just say we found close allies in T-shirts and jeans.

Zach Cutler, Biscuit Bynum, Sy Smith & I set to rehearse – 06.12.12

Anyway, as I recover from going way off track… Musician-wise, Sy and I already knew who we wanted to use on the show. We had to have Zach Cutler on that guitar and Chris “Biscuit” Bynum on drums. Zach is a super-talented, technically skilled kat who is a rhythm master that will find that pocket and play in it all night. PLUS, he knows our set like the back of his hand being as though this was his third show with us (he joined us in both NYC and Houston last month). Biscuit is pretty much the drummer who is highest in demand ’round D.C. I met him while playing a gig together back in April of 2006 and have hit him up for more than a few gigs since then, including that Leave It All Behind tour I mentioned previously. Once the two of them locked the date in, we knew that we only needed to rehearse together one good time and the remainder would be good to go… and that’s exactly what happened. We all got together, knocked out a tight rehearsal in my studio and got it together for showtime the following day.

Soundcheck at Blues Alley was at 4:30p… I was so hyped up, I was aiming to be at the spot at 4pm just so I could get there, load in, find a decent parking space (like most, I DESPISE parking in and around Georgetown) and properly prepare for our show. To begin with, I ALMOST walked out of the house without my freshly pressed black suit and shirts (one for the 8pm show and one for the 10pm). Next, the fact that it is always an adventure driving to the Georgetown area just added to the fun. My GPS got cussed out thoroughly for 1.) Leading me to a closed road, and 2.) Attempting to direct me down a one-way street… the WRONG way. My road rage was in the red by the time I pulled in to Blues Alley… But all existing anger took a backseat when I drove directly under this…….

Photo by Lauren Persons

*takes a deep breath*

*looks up at the sign again*

*smiles*

Well, they left off the “!”, but I’ll take it… At least they didn’t spell my name with a damn “e” at the end. Seeing that marquee put me right back on track on what I was there to be focused on… Putting on two helluva shows. I walked into the venue and saw that Sy had already been in there… Hell, she was probably just as pumped up as I was. As I set everything of mine up, Zach walked in. Our soundman, Melvin Prince wasn’t too far behind him. Sy came in not too long afterward and quickly set up her rig…….. while Biscuit, to no one’s surprise turned out to be the last man of the crew through the Blues Alley door. We hit a solid check and I walked up the block to 31st St. with Zach and Bis to get some kabob-e joojeh a/k/a chicken kabobs before the show. I wasn’t worried about any pre-show  ‘itis” symptoms showing up as I was entirely too wound up. Sy and I were told by Frank Sheffield (the show’s booker and organizer) that the 8pm room was pretty much sold out. Upon hearing that news, I FELT like going downstairs and hopping on the mic with an enthusiastic, “I AM VERY HAPPY TO BE HERE!!” © Prince Akeem.   …….But after evaluating that option a bit further, I decided against it and continued to get dressed for the first show.

The 8pm show began with Sy and I being led through the occupied tables of people in the dimly lit room via flashlight. We were introduced and jumped right into “Nights Over Egypt”. Normally, with a sit-down crowd you really don’t know what to expect, but this group of folks were VERY responsive and into what was happening on stage. There was one group right in front of me who I acknowledged during the show because they had no problem letting us know where they stood on things…

Sy: “I’m living in LA now”… Table up front: *SCREAM!! CHEER!!!!*

Sy: “Y’all know Zo is outta Detroit…”  …Table up front: *SCREAM!! CHEER!!!!*

Me: “Weren’t y’all just yelling for LA? Maaan, y’all cheer for EVERYTHING!!”

They cheered for everything AND they knew every word to damn near every song we played too and THAT was dope. I can’t describe how great it feels to see folks come out to the shows who love being a part of what you love to do. Hats off to the “Table up front.” The second show was no different… Of course we were a bit more loose not only on the mic, but performance-wise as well and our 10pm crowd took to it extremely well. Overall, folks came out to have fun, party, and laugh with us – Even when we managed to crack a few jokes on some of their favorite artists. The fact that Blues Alley provided that baby grand on stage for us to utilize just made things even more interesting during out set. I took first crack at it during our performance of “Driving” and “Greater Than the Sun.” When it was Sy’s turn to tickle the baby grand ivories, I hopped on the bass guitar for her song “Stand Alone.” Most folks don’t even know that I play the bass… Well shit, there are still plenty who think I sing. So those types of “switch ups” are necessary sometimes on stage so that your people can literally see what you can do – plus, it’s always a nice change of pace within the set.

The love we received after both performances was unbelievable. The fact that we were praised by our elders who were in the crowd was a flattering experience and always is when it does happen. Both of us had family in the audience who ALL left with the widest of proud grins on their faces, which made the performances even that much more special. Sy AND I left the venue on much more of a high than when we both arrived for sound check. Shall I dare say that these two shows surpassed our Atlanta show as our best yet? ….Why yes I shall.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

One For the Road: Zo! + Sy Smith in Atlanta (May 5, 2012)

Photo by Angie Keilhauer

I’ma tell you som’n straight outta the gate… See Smeet (Sy Smith) and I were happy as hell to have even arrived in Atlanta on our correct flight being as though we almost missed our 3pm plane leaving from LaGuardia in NYC…………….. *sigh* I took a cab, she was picked up late, etc., etc., Long story. But once we DID land at Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport, I was informed that all of the tables for our show the next night were sold out. Now that’s the type of news you like to receive upon arrival to a city that you’re about to play. We got off the plane, rented our cars and rolled the hell out. I dropped my stuff off in my newly checked in hotel room and then stepped right back out so that I could hit up Moods Music in Little Five Points to go and holla at my man and owner of the store, Darryl Harris. Walked up in that mug and saw that +FE Music was a bit deep in there, which is what I like to see… I got caught up a little bit on my CD collection (I am STILL way behind on newer stuff), which I knew would happen because I can never go into Moods without dropping all my damn money in that place…

+FE Music… Stocked up in Moods Music

After leaving Moods, my only focus was to take my hungry ass on a mission to find the nearest Zaxby’s. Normally when I’m traveling in the south, I’ll make it a point to hit up either Waffle House or Zaxby’s. Now, for those of y’all who aren’t familiar with Zaxby’s and their Chicken Finger Plate, this used to be my CRACK while in college at Western Kentucky Univ., the joint changes lives man. Funny thing was, when I finally tracked one down, ordered my usual and sat down to eat… I got to about the third chicken finger, started stalling a bit and thought to myself, “How in the HELL did I used to eat so much of this back then?!??!!!” 33 is NOT the new 21. My body is smarter and has been spoiled with better food… It now has an unhealthy food quota. Honestly, I was just ready to go to sleep after that. Instead, I stopped off at Kroger to grab a few SmartWaters on the way to rehearsal to meet up with Sy, guitarist Brandon Thomas, and drummer Quinton Robinson. We ran through the entire set, Brandon and I linked up on chords and the entire crew synced up changes, breaks, vamps, etc…. Even after ending rehearsal at midnight, I still deemed it necessary to keep going and meet some friends at Gladys Knight’s Chicken and Waffles spot directly up the street from my hotel on Peachtree…. and I did have the sweet potato cheesecake, which was damn RIDICULOUS (I ate it entirely too quickly to take a picture of it…. Sorry).

I decided that I would use the day of the show to finally catch up on some much needed REST. My plan was, well… to do absolutely NOTHING until soundcheck. But first, I found a Jimmy John’s that was relatively close to the hotel and as I walked in, I encountered a man already inside the store attempting to purchase 24 bottled waters, ok that’s already weird………BEST of all, trying to “negotiate” a wholesale price for them. From what I understand, I think they have places like Costco and Sam’s Club for that… No negotiations required. Anyway, I got my food and took it back to the room…………. And fell out for some hours.

Soundcheck was at 6pm, so I headed up the way to Apache and met up with Sy who was already in front of the venue ready to go. Oddly enough, the soundman was there about 10 minutes later (I say oddly enough because this rarely happens). So wait… The soundman was on time? The weather was excellent? AND the chef who was already there let us know where we could park for free and for how long?……Atlanta seemed to be treating us pretty well so far. We went in, set up, did our line check real quick and headed back to the hotel to get ready for the show. While back in the room, I began receiving texts saying that there was a nice sized line out in front of the venue waiting to get in… that was GREAT news. PLUS, the fact that we knew that we had a nice surprise set up for the show…. The brotha Anthony David was set to perform our version of Barry White’s “Playing Your Game, Baby” (from …just visiting three). This was gonna be dope for a couple of reasons: 1. AD and I had not met face-to-face yet. We had worked together, conversed on the phone a few times, reached out to each other via text… but never met in person. 2. We had never performed this song live before in ANY city. The crazy thing is, we weren’t even gonna do the joint!! I hit up AD a couple weeks prior to the show to see if he was gonna be in town so we could get up for a drink or meet up in the studio or something. I was just happy that we were gonna be in the same city at the same time for ONCE. But the Monday before the show he sent me a text… “Wait, did you want me to do the cover at your show?” …And I basically told him not to worry about it because I hadn’t asked kats to learn it and I wasn’t gonna ask him to perform it if the joint wasn’t ready. But AD asked me for the song parts and talked about lining them up in Abelton Live and performing it that way. So I was thinking… “Oh damn, he WANTS to do the joint!!” Sheeeeeeiiiit, in THAT case…!! I hopped on de text to Sy and was like, “Ayo, what’s up with Anthony David doing the Barry White joint for Saturday?”   ………..Sy: “HELL to the YEAH!” ….And there it was. I hit Brandon up and sent him the song to learn and we were then good to go for the show…

We went back over to Apache Café and made our way through a nice crowd who were waiting patiently for us despite the fact that it was Cinco de Mayo and there was the Mayweather-Cotto fight scheduled that night. The chef who took our food orders at the end of soundcheck “cooked up some marvelous shit” (© Raekwon) for us… A brotha had some baked salmon atop of some steamed and seasoned spinach alongside a pillow of mashed poe-tay-toes – ‘Twas quite appetizing. You see, I had to used the word “atop” when describing a meal  that was so eloquently tasty… Soon after we ate, Anthony David came on through the green room and we FINALLY met and got to chop it up for a bit before the show… This time around, the host (Pearl) was completely on point giving a thorough and accurate introduction, which is always appreciated. We walked back through the crowd and applause and got started. Now when I tell y’all that the musical chemistry on stage was on 10 the ENTIRE night….. Maaaaaan, lookahea. Brandon was camped OUT in that pocket. I would turn around and look at him and he would be in a ZONE – concentrating on rhythm riffs that weren’t overpowering the music, soloing when he needed to and locked in so ridiculously that his playing helped you put that “extra nod” in your head nod. Quinton was setting the tone on the kit, that dude was going IN and it gave everyone on stage a boost to where it was almost like, “Oh, you’re gonna play THAT?! Well shit, what you know about THIS then?!” Musical competition at its finest a/k/a Everyone making everyone else play and sound better on stage.

Once we ended the set and finished on up, Apache Café applauded loudly and gave us a helluva standing ovation, which in most cases is always a little crazy to take in because it’s an ultimate show of appreciation after a performance and I’ll never forget it. We came off stage and I got to kick it with one of my homeboys that I grew up with from 2nd grade on, also DJ Jon Doe of Prophetix, Carmen Rodgers who came through after the show to see us, and I finally got to meet a kat who I have been communicating with off and on for damn near 11 years, Count Bass-D. And he introduced me to Dionne Farris who was also at the show… DOPE. Kats chatted it up until it was damn near time for the spot to close down… We walked out of Apache Café in full agreement that this was not only our BEST show, but our SMOOTHEST show in terms of travel, soundcheck, treatment by the staff at the venue, accommodations, performance, etc… UNTIL…………..

I got to my rental car that I parked in a small side parking lot for $3.50 and damn if that mug didn’t have a BOOT on it. Maaaaan, I have NEVER had a boot on a car before… So immediately got pissed because I PAID FOR PARKING via Parkmobile. Now, Parkmobile is an app you can download on your phone for free and it allows you to set up an account where you can pay for parking via your credit card. I actually love the app because it keeps you from having to keep a ton of change in your car for meters, but that night… somebody was on some BS. Sy was waiting in her car for me and I hopped in her passenger seat and called the 800 number that was stuck on my window, gave them the information they needed and they said the person who booted the car would be dispatched immediately – He’ll be there in about 20 minutes. Sheeeeeeiiiiiit. I hung the phone up and dude was pulling up.

I got outta Sy’s car and said, “Y’all don’t honor Parkmobile payments?!”

He said, “Is that how you paid?… Man, don’t tell me you just paid it like a half hour ago!”

Me: “Nah man, I paid at like 9:30p!”

I proceeded to show him a text AND an email that I received with the date, time and license plate no. proving that I paid the parking fee. Dude saw this and took the boot off. I made sure I was good to go without paying anything and I got in the car and headed back to the hotel… The adventures of life on the road are never-ending, I swear… but even that situation was resolved extremely quickly. So thank you Atlanta for a helluva night on May 5th…!!!

One For the Road: Zo! + Sy Smith in New York City (May 3, 2012)

The stare down… Photo by Sean J Rhinehart

The journey to New York City began early Thursday morning when I hopped on the DC Metro and made my way to Union Station. I must have gotten there almost two hours before my train was scheduled to depart (because half of the time, I don’t trust the Metro to get me to my destination without breaking down). I was able to take my time, grab something to eat, pick up my Amtrak ticket and relax until it was time for the train to depart… Our guitarist, Zach Cutler who was also on the same train walked up to the gate, guitar on his back ready to go. We finally boarded the train and everything was smooth sailing… Well, until some lady who smelled like a can of Glade sat next to me and would periodically turn around to her husband and converse loud as hell with him, which turned into no sleep on this train for me! Then, halfway into the ride, the power on the train decided that it wanted to take a break and soon after we began to gradually slow to a stop. We sat there motionless for about five minutes and the train conductor got on the intercom system and announced, “The train is having engine troubles… We are gonna have to reset the engine.” RESET the engine?… Is it WiFi? Call me slow, but I’ve never heard of resetting an engine before. Well, whatever they had to do worked because a few minutes after that announcement, the power was back on and we were moving again (the power continued to cut in and out throughout the remainder of our trip). When we finally arrived at NYC’s Penn Station, I was just happy to be there without any further engine resetting episodes. I got in touch with the promoter as he was en route to pick us up… He got us and took us to the hotel to check-in. I think I had time enough to unpack what I needed for the show and take a quick shower. Not too long after that we had to hop right back in the car and head down to DROM for load-in and soundcheck. But FIRST… We stopped by some spot (I can’t think of the name of the place right now) and I ordered a helluva gyro, it MAY have even been called “Helluva Gyro” on the menu…… Well, maybe not… But maybe that’s how I should have placed my order with the waiter. Lawd, the damn sauce that came with it??!! Once I got it and took it outta there, the thing lasted all of five minutes in the car… I was ignoring texts and missing phone calls because of this food. The joint reminded me of Olga’s Kitchen or Coney Island back home… All I needed was a damn Faygo Redpop with it to make it complete *slips into a detailed daydream*  ……………………… *shakes out of it* Anyway… We hit soundcheck at about 4pm at DROM – walked inside and Sy and flautist Monet Cherise were already in the spot so knowing that we were kinda pressed for time, we quickly set everything up and prepared to run through the set with everyone. Our drummer Brandon Williams came through and set up the kit some time later and we knocked most of the set out during our soundcheck time that was seemingly cut very short. We were also joined by saxophonist LaDarrel “Saxappeal” Johnson who along with Brandon was there all the way from Detroit (they both played with us at our Detroit show), so we were all hyped up and ready to put it on the NYC crowd…

Sy rockin’ the synth bass and Zach Cutler behind her on guitar. Photo by Sean J Rhinehart

When showtime finally arrived, there was a brotha onstage who I guess was the host for the night?… Perhaps? He was telling some half assed jokes and seemingly killing time that we didn’t really have. As a matter of fact, he was so busy joking that he failed to introduce the two of us as a duo. We both walked on stage after the introduction and I walked behind dude and put my arm around his neck to choke him…….. jokingly – I was a good sport about it and focused on the task at hand, which was putting on a great show. But the next time a host fails to simply READ or do their research and introduces us as just Sy Smith… Or just Zo!, I’m clowning that individual thoroughly before we begin our show…

Me on keys and Monet on flute. Photo by Sean J Rhinehart

The show began on a high note and remained that way… I was impressed with the New York crowd because they were PARTYING, which was different because I normally see NYC as the cool, laid back kats who wait until AFTER the show to give you proper praising….. Not at DROM, they were IN it and we loved every minute of it. Sy’s good friend, talented vocalist and musician Gordon Chambers came on stage and joined us for our rendition of Sy Smith’s “Nights (Feel Like Getting Down)” – and the brotha showed no mercy on that second verse, c’Lawd!! At another point in the show somebody yelled for us to do “Groove Is In the Heart” by Deee-Lite – random as shit, yes I know…. BUT Sy “You didn’t think I was gonna take your off-the-wall request and put it overtop of some shit you’d NEVER expect and still kill it” Smith obliged by singing it over the intro music to “MakeLuv2Me”. How ’bout THAT for a crowd pleaser?… Just a FUN, fun show. The fact that we had Sax and Monet to sit in with us with the woodwind instruments just added to the musical chemistry that was in place on stage. The feedback that I received after the show was that people left the show on a musical high, which always gets me excited because I feel as though we have done our job… I got to catch up with a few great friends of mine immediately following the show, including my musical brother AB, Darien Dean, and EVEN saw my dude Illmind in the crowd rockin’ with us… That was dope being as though he and I haven’t chopped it up since around 2006. So we packed it on up and got ready to get on down to Atlanta the next day…

Zo! + Sy Smith: “4 Shows – 4 Cities – 4 Days Tour” (2/9 – 2/12)

Chicago Arrival, 02.09.12 ...Photo by Zo!

Day: ONE – City: CHICAGO

Sy Smith and I had been looking forward to this mini-run for a minute. The plan was simple…Fly into Chicago, rent a car and drive to each city in order to play a show each night. We knew we would be tired and a bit worn down, but that’s all a part of the experience. With all of that in mind, the afternoon of Thursday, February 9th, I flew to Chicago from Baltimore and Sy flew in from LA along with her right-hand man and personal assistant, Chadd Hardy. I ended up getting to my hotel early and checking in, so I had about an hour or so to unwind. Sy and Chadd went directly from the baggage claim at O’Hare Airport to WHPK‘s (88.5 FM radio station near U. of Chicago – Medical District where I met them at about 2:30p for a quick radio interview. After a successful interview and a couple of hours that seemed to fly by, we made our way to The Shrine and met up with the musicians: guitarist, Tim Jones and drummer Quin for soundcheck. I was already SUPER hyped up to get the tour started when I was informed that the show had received over 400 RSVP’s for the night… that news put me over the top. Not bad for our fifth show utilizing this particular format… We finally hit the stage to an energetic and wonderfully receptive crowd of familiar faces and folks who were flat out ready to nod their heads, dance, and party with us. The show was an all-out success and a helluva kick-off for both Sy and I AND our people in Chicago who got to check us out for free…

Day: TWO – City: DETROIT

The following morning, we hopped on I94 East all the way to our next scheduled show in Detroit… The four-hour drive came with a reward at the end in the form of my mother’s cooking. She laid out some baked chicken, mashed potatoes, beans, rolls, salad, and some damn sweet potato pie (Sy asked me the night before if Moms would have any for us, so she baked one… Maaaaaan, I LOVE her). For those who have been on tour, y’all FULLY understand what it means to have a nice home-cooked meal during one of your stops after eating at venues, fast food spots, the hotel, etc. The three of us sat at the dinner table looking happier than broke ass college students going home to sit down for a fulfilling Thanksgiving dinner. Between the food and the travel, you know we were hit with a HEAVY dose of “‘Itis”. Since he drove from Chicago to Detroit, Chadd laid it down for a long nap so he could be ready to help drive again when we decided to leave for Nashville early in the morning the next day. After relaxing for about an hour or so, Sy and I drove down to Privé Deux for soundcheck, where things were running behind schedule. We quickly set everything up and ran a rehearsal with drummer, Brandon Williams, guitarist Kenny Rocket, and saxophonist LaDarrel “Saxappeal” Johnson who just happened to hit me up on the drive TO Detroit to see if he could sit in… What an understatement. These three kats went IN on our music. I had a conversation with Brandon a couple of nights before the show and his energy on the phone even gave me an additional lift for the show – as if I wasn’t already on cloud nine about playing a show back home as it was. We wrapped soundcheck up and proceeded to open the door to see that about two inches of snow had fallen on the ground………. Oh word?! REALLY?!… This had to happen TODAY?! We drove back home cussing the snowfall OUT damn near the entire way. We arrived at my parents’ house and 2-wheel drive + a thin layer of ice underneath the snow covering prevented us from getting UP the driveway. Sy and I trooped up to the house in the grass (where there’s traction) and got ready for our show. We didn’t know that when we got back out to the car, there would be about 2-3 additional inches of snow piled on top of it accompanied by strong winds to help “guide” us on our way back to the venue. When we pulled up to Privé Deux and walked in, to my surprise there was a NICE crowd inside. The reason I say this is because I had numerous people tell me that they weren’t going to the show because of “Dilla Day” that was taking place the same night at The Fillmore… Perfect timing, right? Despite the weather conditions and a huge event planned for our legendary, Jay Dee, folks still came out to see us and that meant a lot. We walked to the green room and damn if there wasn’s a chicken shawarma wrap with my name on it from one of my favorite spots downtown… Bucharest Grill. Just as soon as I tore into that, we got up  and slid through the crowd, got to the stage and pretty much just walked on. The crew was already set up and ready to go. So, as Sy and I got ourselves together, the host was up on stage talking and I noticed that she was only mentioning Sy…. Hmmm, that’s weird. The introduction was fairly long and detailed, then I realized and thought to myself… “She’s not gonna introduce me in front of my hometown crowd……. Oh. Ok, bet.” She told me later that she thought we were two separate acts – I told her that it wasn’t a problem… Sy introduced me properly and we got the show started. I can’t lie, when the show began, I was a bit tense (always the case when I go home to play). I saw a ton of familiar faces, picked my family out of the crowd and finally started to loosen up after the first couple of songs. One of the craziest parts of the performance was going into “Greater Than the Sun,” I could see the majority of the crowd rockin’ with me as I was playing the piano intro to the song… Then as the music dropped, they were goin’ OFF. I saw my family in the back smiling, clapping and nodding hard as hell to the music, it was almost like I could literally see the pride in their faces. I never want to get caught up in “admiring” my work at all, but that was a great personal moment for me. It’s not often that you get to see family’s reaction to OTHER people’s reaction to your art. That’s big time… Then, after we literally shut the spot DOWN with “Flight Of the Blackbyrd”, I was able to walk around and greet everyone. I had kats in the crowd from high school that I hadn’t seen in over 15 years who learned about the show via Facebook, folks I used to work with, old family friends that came out to support – It was an amazing feeling to see that type of support at home. And if we didn’t have a long ass drive to Nashville coming up a couple hours AFTER our performance, I would have stayed around and had a drink with some of those good, supportive folks. But after trekking back through the snow covered roads back to my parents’ house, we had to pack our things up and hit the road south to Nashville…

Me on Keys at Jazz & Jokes in Nashville ...Photo by Shamicka Bush

Day: THREE – City: NASHVILLE

We hit the road for Nashville at about 5am and I said that I would drive the first leg (or as far as I could go because I hadn’t slept yet) simply because I have driving experience in heavy snow. Our brotha Chadd who is from LA hadn’t witnessed snowfall until his arrival to Detroit. So, I ended up driving us out of Michigan an hour south to Toledo until I just couldn’t take it anymore, we had to switch drivers. Chadd took the wheel and I passed out for about 2-3 hours in the passenger seat. When I woke up we were just passing through Cincinnati and finally, there was no snow on the ground. We stopped at a gas station and I took over again at the wheel and got us to Tennessee where we pulled up to Sy’s mother’s house. So basically we went from MY parents’ house to Sy’s… LAWD. And dammit, as soon as we got there, Momma Sy was laying out lunch/dinner on the table for us. And what was for dessert?! You guessed it… Another sweet poe-tay-toe pie!!! I couldn’t resist, I had a nice piece and it was damn delicious. After running through my plate of food, I suddenly found myself in the same place as the previous day – tired from traveling AND eating. So, I took a nap for about an hour, woke up to take a shower real quick so we could head 45 mins east to soundcheck. We arrived at Jazz & Jokes in downtown Nashville and met up with our drummer for the night, Ronnie Yates who was not only a dope musician, but a helluva good dude in general. I swear, if people could understand the value of being easy to work with…… Anyway, we knocked soundcheck out fairly quickly and got ready to walk upstairs to the dressing room and I happened to check my phone to see about five text messages asking me if I had heard anything about Whitney Houston passing…. Wait, WHAT?!!!? I immediately informed Sy when I found out because I knew that she had worked and performed with her previously and understandably, she needed some time to herself after hearing the news. At that point, I just wanted to start the show because most of the time, the best way for musicians to get through a tough time is to do what we do best – play music. The way the venue had it set up was we were to play two 30-45 minute sets with comedian Rion Evans opening for us with a 30 minute set. Sounds pretty simple, yet I wasn’t sure what to expect at ALL. With the news of Whitney’s passing plus the sheer uncertainty of the gig itself, we just tried to keep things light in the green room before the show. Both of us understood the circumstances surrounding the shows and as professionals we knew it was our job to transform ALL energy into positive for these performances. With that being said, the first set was EXCELLENT. Rion Evans had that  sold out crowd cracking up and for them to have been sitting down at tables, their energy level for us was extremely high, I was loving it. They gave us a NICE standing ovation after our performance, which was touching that night, to say the least… This led to them calling for an encore to which we obliged. And I’ll tell you this, for that encore I saw Sy Smith give one of the most heartfelt tributes that I think I’ve ever witnessed in my entire life… For someone to have learned about Whitney’s passing only a couple hours before opening up and telling these great stories about performing with this legend and ICON to describing what she was like as a person and then singing like her (mannerisms and all), it was RIGHT on time. It just goes to show how much of a professional Sy is. The performance damn near made me want to sit in the crowd and see it in full for myself. It was a great way to end that first set and that crowd truly deserved to be a part of that once in a lifetime performance. After completing the second set, we hit the road back to Momma Sy’s house where we toasted up a couple of drinks and passed out for the night in order to recharge for a closing performance in St. Louis the next day.

The St. Louis Arch - View from my hotel's lobby...02.12.12 Photo by Zo!

Day: FOUR – City: ST. LOUIS

The four-hour drive to St. Louis wasn’t that bad at all. We arrived to the city at about 3:15p or so and had all of about an hour and a half to get ready for soundcheck at a place that quickly became one of my favorite spots to perform, Lola. Once we got there and met up with our band of STL musicians, guitarist Scott McGreer and drummer Grover Stewart, the rest at this point was smooth sailing. We ran the set from top to bottom with them and discussed all of the changes and got ready to head back to the hotel and get ready for the show. We arrived back to Lola to a nice crowd of folks, some of who I even remembered by face from our November show with The Foreign Exchange at 2720 Cherokee. This show went without a hitch… I was loving the Bossa Nova feel Grover put on “All Is Well With Love” that allowed me to solo on the joint for a good 5+ minutes… It felt THAT good on stage. The audience was with us the entire time and requested an encore… We rocked “Crazy You” and Sy went in one more time during her tribute to Whitney Houston, I swear it was like she was channeling her in a few places. The show ended with me coming from behind the keyboard and hugging an emotional Sy to make sure she was good and holding it together after truly leaving everything she had on the stage. We stepped down to a group of people who were extremely appreciative of our performance and appearance in their city. I love St. Louis’ enthusiasm! Both times I have been there to perform, one of the best parts to me has been speaking with the people after the show – definitely a music city and I can’t wait to go back a THIRD time to play.

The following day, I got to spend some time at St. Louis’ Westview Middle School helping to conduct a music workshop with a group of about 40-50 8th graders with fellow musician Lamar Harris and emcee Thelonius Kryptonite. Now this was a DOPE experience. First of all, it was great to see so many kids not only interested in music, but interested in expanding their knowledge in regards to different ways of making a living in music (outside of rapping, singing, and producing). Secondly, these kids were talented. A 61-key Roland Fantom keyboard was provided on stage for ME to play, but I decided to change it up a little bit and ask if one of the kids wanted to play something. Sure enough, one young lady came up and laid down a nice rendition of John Legend’s “Ordinary People”. Another young lady came up and tore the place up by singing while her vocal teacher accompanied her on the keyboard. Then I called another three students on stage to rhyme and they all did a great job. The greatest part about them performing for their classmates was the THUNDEROUS applause and support everyone gave one another… Students encouraging each other that enthusiastically? This was huge in my opinion. Of course, they asked if I would play them something and I sat down and played “If I Ain’t Got You” by Alicia Keys while the crowd of kids sang it… All through the song I was just hoping that I still remembered HOW to play it!! Lastly, it felt great and almost foreign to walk into a school and have them appreciate you for your artistry and what you bring to the table. Talk about feeling thankful… Wow. After the workshop, I was able to speak individually with some of the kids who had specific questions or who just wanted to say, “hello”. I was then given a tour of the two-level school by two young brothers Cameron and…. Cameron. The two of them walked me through the school and weren’t shy at all about giving me a thorough rundown on ALL of the school’s happenings. Hopefully, I’m able to speak at more schools much more often when I am out on the road being as though I am very passionate about getting good music to our younger folks. They deserve to be exposed to it JUST like we were growing up…

Me with Cameron and Cameron after my tour of Westview Middle School in St. Louis... 02.13.12

Thank you to everyone in Chicago, Detroit, Nashville and St. Louis who came out to sing, dance, and simply support Sy Smith and I during our run. We appreciate you and hope to see you all again real soon…