Vancouver Island MusicFest: ‘House bands’ from the golden age of rock and R&B

Vancouver Island MusicFest: ‘House bands’ from the golden age of rock and R&B

Some of America’s greatest session musicians are coming to the Comox Valley this summer

Robert Moyes

Special to Black Press

Doug Cox, artistic director and executive producer of Island MusicFest, is booking a couple of remarkable bands that will offer a unique master-class in pop music history.

Everyone knows names like Aretha Franklin, Paul Simon, and Jackson Brown – some of the many A-list artists who defined music in the 1960s through the ’80s. What’s gone unheralded are the incredibly talented session musicians who played behind them in the studio – and often were critically important in shaping all those hit songs that topped the charts.

“These aren’t the famous musicians, they are the guys who made those other people famous,” Cox quips. “And it’s time they got the credit they deserved.”

He’s referring to members of the house band for Alabama’s legendary Muscle Shoals Studios, and also to a looser coalition of session musicians and backup singers based in and around Los Angeles who created the so-called West Coast sound.

Let’s start with the swampy, funky music that came out of two small studios in an out-of-the-way Alabama town. The Muscle Shoals Allstars are living music history, and include some of the in-house players whose matchless groove, warmth, and musicality helped launch artists like Percy Sledge, Wilson Pickett, and Otis Redding into the pantheon of ’60s soul and R&B immortals. The appeal of these classic recordings eventually became a magnet for a long stream of white artists – the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Bob Seger, Rod Stewart, and the Allman Brothers included – who booked studio time here, hoping that the Shoals magic would rub off on their latest projects.

ALSO: Tom Cochrane and Red Rider headlining MusicFest

Aside from bassist David Hood, the crack members of the Allstars includes Clayton Ivey on keyboards, percussionist Mickey Buckins, lead guitarist Will McFarlane, and a trio of heavenly backup singers. Adding lots of brassy sizzle are the Muscle Shoals Horns, whose powerhouse punch has been heard on records by, amongst many others, Bob Dylan, Lyle Lovett, and Elvis Presley. Fronting the band are vocalists Jimmy Hall (of Wet Willie fame) and the larger-than-life Carla Russell, who’s been influenced by everybody from Big Mama Thornton to Robert Plant.

Over on the West Coast, similar musical magic was being made by an equally extraordinary collection of session players. One of the most respected was guitarist-producer Danny Kortchmar, a key member of L.A.’s The Section, whose stellar work in the 1970s and ’80s helped such artists as James Taylor, Don Henley, Linda Ronstadt, and Jackson Browne become million-selling superstars.

Kortchmar will be fronting the stage with the equally accomplished Waddy Wachtel, another gifted session guitarist (and producer and composer) whose ubiquitous presence on the L.A. music scene included working with the Everly Brothers, Warren Zevon, Randy Newman, and, more recently, as lead guitarist for Stevie Nicks.

This band of virtuosos includes Leland Sklar, who has played bass on more than 2,000 albums, adding his tight rhythms and signature warmth to hits by Dolly Parton, Phil Collins, and Rod Stewart. The drumming chores will be in superb hands with Jimmy Paxson, whose eclectic CV includes anchoring the Dixie Chicks, Ben Harper, Sheryl Crow, Johnny Rivers, Charlie Musselwhite … and a hundred more. Rounding out this amazing crew is the versatile Steve Postell, who is a singer/songwriter/guitarist/composer/producer. And if you want a reference for him, just ask David Crosby, John Oates, or Jennifer Warnes.

“From bass lines to hooks, these guys literally wrote the book of rock – they’re the ones who really made all those thousands of records,” says Cox. And it is worth noting that these two remarkable bands aren’t on tour but are exclusive to MusicFest. “These two groups were curated for me by people I know who are close to these artists,” says Cox proudly. “They’re a big part of why I think this will be the best Festival we’ve ever presented.”

For a full festival line-up, and to buy tickets, visit https://www.islandmusicfest.com/

–Robert Moyes is a Victoria-based arts journalist with a particular interest in music

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Victoria police are searching for a federal offender who is wanted Canada-wide after his statutory release was suspended. (Courtesy of Victoria Police Department)
Victoria police searching for federal offender wanted Canada-wide

Warrant issued after offender’s statutory release suspended

One person is dead after a camper van caught fire Thursday morning in Victoria's Beacon Hill Park. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
One person dead after vehicle fire in Beacon Hill Park

Investigation into Victoria death in early stages

Protestors against old growth logging gather in front of the courthouse in Victoria on Thursday morning. (Don Denton/Black Press Media)
Fairy Creek protesters gather at Victoria courthouse

Logging company seeks injunction to remove blockades near its Port Renfrew operation

A recently finished $4.3-million taxiway extension at the Victoria International Airport (not pictured) is unusable because of a blind spot. (Black Press Media file photo)
Blind spot leaves Victoria airport’s new $4.3-million taxiway extension unusable

Solution has been put on hold by COVID-19 pandemic, says airport authority

Lansdowne Middle School.
(Black Press Media File Photo)
Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Dr. Bonnie Henry pauses for a moment as she gives her daily media briefing regarding COVID-19 for British Columbia in Victoria, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
7 additional deaths and 542 new COVID-19 cases in B.C.

Provincial health officials reported 18 new COVID-19 cases linked to variants of concern

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of March 2

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: How’s your butter?

Recent reports have some Canadians giving a second look to one of… Continue reading

Some Canadians are finding butter harder than usual, resulting in an avalanche of social media controversy around #buttergate. (Brett Williams/The Observer)
#Buttergate: Concerns around hard butter hit small B.C. towns and beyond

Canadians find their butter was getting harder, blame palm oil in part one of this series

Construction takes place on Bamfield Main in early February 2021. (PHOTO COURTESY CTV NEWS)
Ongoing Bamfield roadwork unrelated to planned $30M fix

Construction by Mosaic unrelated to $30M upgrade ordered in wake of fatal bus crash

B.C. research reveals how pandemic has changed attitudes towards sex, health services

CDC survey shows that 35 per cent of people were worried about being judged

The Regional District of Nanaimo’s board is forwarding a motion on illegal dumping to the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities’ upcoming annual general meeting. (Kane Blake photo)
Island communities asked to join forces in seeking help fighting illegal dumping

RDN resolution to be forwarded to Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon speaks in the B.C. legislature, describing work underway to make a small business and tourism aid package less restrictive, Dec. 10, 2020. (Hansard TV)
B.C. extends deadline for tourism, small business COVID-19 grants

Business owners expect months more of lost revenues

Mid day at the Vancouver Port Intersection blockade on March 3, organized by the Braided Warriors. (Zoë Ducklow photo)
Anti-pipeline blockade at Vancouver intersection broken up by police

Demonstraters were demanding the release of a fellow anti-TMX protester

Most Read