Zo! featuring Deborah Bond performing together LIVE in Chicago
With Jesse Boykins III
& The Beauty Created
2012 has been another helluva year. I got to do some traveling and play shows in LA, NYC, DC, Chicago, Detroit, Nashville, St. Louis, Bethesda, MD, Greensboro, NC, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Columbia MD, Boston, Virginia Beach, Raleigh, Vienna, VA, Memphis, Indianapolis, San Francisco, and Phoenix …..and Durham, NC for this coming New Year’s Eve. I completed my first year as a full-time musician after the school I taught music at closed last year – I was then able to continue teaching by conducting individual piano lessons and workshop to groups of young ones. I began endorsing Moog Music, received another standing ovation during a performance back home in Detroit, and got the bulk of the recording finished for my newest album ManMade. Sy Smith and I did some touring this year playing big solo shows at DC’s Blues Alley and NYC’s Blue Note and received big performance props from Sheila E while I was back on the road with The Foreign Exchange who wrapped up performances for an album we have been touring for two years, Authenticity. I hit my ten-year anniversary of releasing music as well. Outside of all that, it was a fairly quiet twelve months……….
…Looking forward to 2013. Enjoy the photos!!
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…
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…!!!
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…
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…
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…