A titan of modern Dixieland music came through Somerville, but it seems only a handful of fortunate, dedicated fans took note. For those of us lucky to be at Thunder Road on April 3rd, it was a great intimate evening with one of the finest songwriters in Southern jazz, Blair Crrimmins and the Hookers. The talent was on full display as he and his four piece band put on as fine a show as he would have for a full house.
The Atlanta born Crimmins was no stranger coming to Boston, he had spent four years studying at Berklee College of Music. No doubt that’s where his fine precision and technical skill were fully developed and trained. But Blair isn’t one of those stereotypical Berklee jazz types who spends twenty minutes noodling in a modern jazz trio. Blair uses his skill to compose new hot jazz. He uses banjos, trumpets, clarinets, and upright bass. The kind of music like Bessie Smith or Louie Armstrong used to play, the sort of thing Ahmet Ertegun would peddle. From the upbeat energy of “Oh Angela” to the subtly depressed “Can’t Fake A Smile,” the full range of Crimmins’ talent was on display and in full force.
Blair’s shows can feel like exact reproductions of what you hear on his albums, which with many bands irritates me (I wouldn’t love Titus Andronicus like I do were it not for their exceptional improvisational skills on stage), but in this case it’s kind of nice to hear such a polished sound performed live by an excellently oiled machine of a band – made all the more impressive by how routinely they have to do it. It’s the same philosophy Mick Jagger uses that still attracts thousands to Rolling Stones concerts. So when you listen to Blair’s music on CD or on Spotify, you’ll be hearing basically what I head earlier this month.
I had the opportunity to ask Blair a few questions for reproduction here.
Greg von Teig: What is your usual draw for a show?
Blair Crimmins: It depends on the place we’re playing. There are a number of town where we can count on a good crowd. In our hometown of Atlanta we can get out 600 or more. In other places we’re happy if we pull 100 or more. The size of the audience can be pretty unpredictable on tour. Sometimes we’ll show up to a new town for the first time and have a packed house but other place will take 3 or 4 shows before we start to build a fan base.
GvT: Where are your strongholds of fans?
BC: Around the south, particularly Georgia and The Carolinas, we do well. New Orleans of coarse is always a good show. We’ve found ourselves a lot of support in the DC area, Virginia and Pennsylvania too. Other major markets, NYC, Cleveland, Detroit, and Cincinnati are strong markets for us.
GvT: In the “It’s All Over Now” music video, who made the puppets?
BC: That’s my friend David Stephens. He made all those puppets himself. He’s a really talented puppeteer and a great banjo player too. We had a blast collaborating on that.
GvT: Is there a more recent artist whose style you feel has influenced your sound or writing?
BC: If you mean more recent than the 1930’s then yes. Plenty of them, I love classic rock from the 60’s and 70’s, early punk and 80’s new wave. Tom Waits, David Bowie, Morphine, Talking Heads. If we’re talking about really recent acts, I dig Arctic Monkey’s.
GvT: Do you feel your music has changed since you started?
BC: Yeah I’m have a slightly different direction for each of my albums. I know what kind of vibe I want and write a collection of songs that I think belong together. I think of writing with that album concept in mind. That and the constant expanding of my musical knowledge means there things I’m capable of now that I couldn’t do 8 years ago. I think my next album will be quite different than my previous ones.
GvT: Are there other current hot jazz acts your fans should know about?
BC: Yeah there are plenty of young artists delving into the vintage sounds. Pokey LaFarge really nails the old timey stuff. Devil Makes Three is a little more bluesy with a very roots sounds. Both of them are really popular.
GvT: Thanks for helping me out.
BC: Thank you Greg!
You can get Blair Crimmins’ music from his webstore. Blair recommends starting with the first album, The Musical Stylings Of, since it’s the one that got the ball rolling.
Greg von Teig is a musician and author living in Brighton, Massachusetts. His expertise is classic rock, folk punk, and the blues.