The Blues, Brews & BBQ Festival returns to Central Park in Santa Clarita on May 5 through 7. The Craft Beer Festival, with over 40 beers on tap is on Friday and the BBQ Festival Saturday. On Sunday, the Blues Festival will bring some excellent blues music to the Park. Headlining the day’s musical lineup is Jack Mack and the Heart Attack Horns. Formed in L.A., they are one of the most popular and dynamic groups to come out of LA., bringing blues, soul and R&B with a reverence towards authenticity mixed with awesome energy. Bill Bergman, sax plaver, co-founder and co-producer of Jack Mack and the Heart Attack Horns, sat down with the L.A. Beat to talk about the upcoming show, Jack Mack’s history, their newest album Back to the Shack and his own musical story.
Q: Jack Mack and the Heart Attack brought blues, soul and R&B to L.A., a city that had not had much exposure to this kind of music. How did the band come about?
A: We’ve been together for 37 years. We started in 1980, formed by a group of guys that wanted to put a big band together to play soul and blues music, R&B music, the kind of music we grew up listening to. We were 10 pieces when we started, had a big 5-man horn section. We played our first gig in a place called the Blue Lagoon in Venice, California in 1980. And we’ve been doing it ever since!
Q: Are you excited to be headlining the Santa Clarita Craft Beer, BBQ and Blues Festival?
A: We’re excited because it’s a local Sunday afternoon gig and all of our friends and family and my grandkids and everyone gets to come out to a nice afternoon and hang. Not all of our gigs can all the family and friends come see, out of town or too late or whatever it is, so it’s fun for us. There’s nothing better then playing in front of your friends and family.
Q: That’s a great sax solo on Don’t Let Her Go, off of your latest, the Back to the Shack album. . Can you tell me about that song?
A: When we did our most recent record, Back to the Shack, it was a term that we used to get back to our roots where we started, to that original R&B Stax Volt soul-blues sound. One of our mainstay kind of musical elements has always been—-some people call it ‘Shack’ music—-East coast shack music. We’ve always had this sort of sound—for lack of a better word I’ll call it shack music—and when we started this record we didn’t want to go into the studio with completed tracks as they were, we just wanted to write great songs so we went into the studio with a bunch of our guys, Tony Braunagel [drums] and Mike Finnigan [piano] and Andrew Kastner [guitar, co-producer and co-writer] and Carlos [Murgula] our keyboard player; and we felt that we wanted to make sure these recordings were really fresh, like right there when they were created and get that quote/unquote ‘tape’, which is really now a hard drive.
So we went in there and did the tracks; with guys like Tony and Mike Finnigan it didn’t take them long to figure out what to play, they’re masters at what they do. We brought the tracks back to my studio and I listened and tried to get the vibe. I did the horn section before I did the sax solo. I was going for that big Junior Walker/King Curtis big tenor sax sound when they played solos on all those big hit records of the 60’s and all those big soul records. That’s kind of what I was going for.
Q: Who influenced you? Who has stood out that you’ve played with?
A: I have to give it up to Stevie Wonder. We got called to go play on one of his records and I don’t know that I’ve met a musical genius in that category. And I’ve plated with a LOT of people. I never worked with Aretha but I did work with Natalie Cole and I thought she was one of the best bandleaders and female singers that I’ve ever been around, heard or worked with. But Stevie would have to be it, really. Just hearing him sit at a piano and noodle around; and he actually sat in with us a couple times also. Here’s a guy who could have been Oscar Peterson, like the world’s greatest jazz piano player.
Just the fact that he plays every instrument and that body of work that he has, his talent is just…….when we did his record, he went down to each horn player and sang every horn player their part. He’d come in front of us and sing a lick and say ‘play that’, then he’d go to the next guy and sing him his lick, say ‘play that’. To think that that guy has that much music in him is just inspiring. He plays drums, he plays this, he sings, plus he was always on the tip of every piece of gear technology that would come down the pipe and be invented. He worked with Robert Moog, he worked with Kurzweil, it’s just staggering how talented that guy is.
Q: You played one of the most famous sax solos ever on Glenn Frey’s You Belong To The City. How did that come about?And what influence did the Eagles have on Jack Mack and the Heart Attack?
A: Well, Glenn Frey signed us in the beginning, in 1981-1982, and of course through his affiliation to Irving Azoff we kind of got our big break then. What happened then, even before Glenn signed us, he was using our horn section. It was when the Eagles had broken up and they were in a big break and Glenn was working on his first solo record and he’d grown up in Detroit, Motown itself, and he was a big fan; as famous as he’d become with the Eagles, he was sort of a closet Motown soul guy. I think that’s the music that really reached him. It was through the relationship that we had with Glenn, not only the horn section but Jack Mack and the Heart Attack and me individually. Glenn had hired every great sax player in the world to do anything he ever wanted to do; you can imagine that he could get anyone he wanted to play on his records. That wasn’t a problem for Glenn.
For some reason, whatever I do or whatever I sound like, captivated Glenn. At one point he asked me to go play a demo to this song he was trying to get on the new Miami Vice soundtrack. I went up to his buddy’s house, Hawk Wolinski, up on the hill up there. Lo and behold, everyone went crazy for that song. They asked me to come back in and just fix a couple of things. We put a little intro on the song, which is “baa dah dah…..”; we did that and I fixed a couple of licks and worked on the outro a little bit. I’ll be forever indebted to Glenn for making me a worldwide sax player.
Q: What do you think of the progression of basic blues into soul, Motown and R&B?
A: Well, I think the experts would tell you, if you consider Keith Richards an expert. You know, rock and pop music, everything came out of the blues. My take is, there is as many kinds of blues as there is music—–gospel blues, country blues, soul blues, gut-bucket blues—-so blues is sort of the umbrella tag of so many different kinds of music.
Q: Tell me a story from the road…….
A: We had done a European tour in the late 80’s or early 90’s and the big Danish artist at the time who they were calling the ‘Danish Bruce Springsteen’ was named Thomas Helmig, added our horn section to his show and our manager told us that while Jack Mack was on tour over there we were going to do some stuff with this guy, Thomas. The funny story was, he said ‘You’re going to close out the Roskilde Festival’. Roskilde is sort of the Danish Coachella. It’s a multi day festival—-they shut down the country kind of thing basically. They told us we were going to close the festival and we thought that we weren’t really that well-known in Denmark. ‘The last two acts are going to be Little Feat and Joe Cocker, I think. And then you’re going to come on and close the show’. We thought, ‘Oh man, there’s 60-70-80 thousand people out there, we’re going to come out at the end and they’re all going to be leaving’.
Much to our surprise, we came out and they all stayed and they went bonkers. Man, they freakin’ loved Jack Mack. Because they had added that show the last minute, we went straight from there to Los Angeles. We had to take a bus to a train to Hamburg to Kennedy and I remember, we were just so invigorated and high from having done that show, and pulled it off and done it well, I don’t think any of us slept a wink for the next three days!
We’ve played the wold’s most crazy private parties and concerts through the years. We’ve played for the richest people in the world and we’ve gone to private islands and the top of the Matterhorn. We’ve done some crazy stuff in our day. And we’re still here to tell the tale!
Q: Soul Man is a great tribute to many. Who did the band have in mind when they wrote it?
A: Well it was really dedicated primarily to our dear, dear friend who died, Ollie Woodson. Ollie Woodson came to fame as one of the Temptations. He was also Aretha Franklin’s favorite singer, if you can imagine that. Ollie was a very close friend of ours and we did a lot of gigs together. Sometimes we would do gigs and we would offer the promoter extra things; we could get Ollie Woodson or—-you name it, Michael McDonald, whoever. Sometimes that stuff worked, so we had done a bunch of gigs with Ollie and he was our favorite singer in the world. Poor guy died of cancer and Andrew had gone to his funeral down in South Central L.A. Stevie Wonder was there and everyone was there, Ollie was just revered, such a great singer. It was one of those black ‘we’re sending him back home’ ceremonies in front of three or four thousand people and hands waving in the air and it really touched Andrew.
Soul Man is basically about Ollie but we wanted to make it a little bigger picture to Ollie and all of our favorite guys that have fallen by the wayside. Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Jackie Wilson and Wilson Pickett. All the guys—-Al Green—so Soul Man is part of who we are, we all grew up listening to James Brown and Otis Redding and Sam Cooke, we all wrote those records. That’s kind of what it’s about. When you see the video of Soul Man, there’s a little bit that Andrew put in at the end with Ollie Woodson where he is rehearsing in the basement of a church for a musical. That’s really very touching.
With Andrew, that’s one of his skill sets, he sits in front of Final Cut Pro for hours on end and puts a lot of this stuff together. I sit in the studio and arrange and record and mix and produce while Andrew does the video side of it.
Q: Standing With The King is another amazing tune and an amazing video……..
A: That’s a true story, that’s Andrew. When he first saw B.B. King it turned his world upside down. Part of the process we have is that Andrew’s stream of consciousness writes these lyrics and he comes over to my studio so that Andrew, Mark and I, Mark [Campbell] our singer, try, like a sculpture almost, to chisel it into a beautiful musical sculpture. That’s the process. The last gig we did with him [B.B. King] was the Love Ride, the Jay Leno big motorcycle thing in November every year. They start in the morning and thousands of bikers end up at Lake Castaic and we played and then he came on after us. Of course, Andrew was like a little kid. He ended up spending the whole day, the whole afternoon in B.B.’s bus. It was thrilling for Andrew.
B.B. worked so hard and so long, one of the reasons was that he had such a work ethic, he was supporting so many families, he just never wanted to stop because everyone just had to make the mortgage payment. He had such a great work ethic, even at the end when they had to help him on the stage and he’d sit in a chair, not that I want to say he was less than he once once, but if you saw him in his heyday, he was really working it.
Q: Any final thoughts, Bill?
A: I just want to have everyone check out our newest release, Back to the Shack. It must have had over 100 amazing reviews from all over the world. We’re really proud of it and everyone seems to like it. We’ve just signed with a new agency and a new management company and as much as I dislike getting on the 405 to go to LAX, I’m afraid there’s going to be a lot of that in my future!
Q: Thanks for the talk, Bill. We’ll see you at the Santa Clarita Craft Beer, BBQ and Blues Festival!
The Blues, Brews & BBQ Festival will feature three days of food, fun, beer and live music, presented by the same folks that sponsor the famed yearly California Beer Festival. Beer Festival tickets are available online now at bbqandbeerfestival.com. Friday’s Craft Beer Festival tickets are $40 and include a souvenir tasting glass and beer samples, or $20 for a Designated Driver ticket, which includes free bottled water and a complimentary meal from any of the food vendors. Saturday and Sunday, General Admission is only $10. This is a family-friendly event—-kids 12 and under get in free Saturday and Sunday. There is a large Kids Zone too! Saturday also includes a nice lineup of live entertainment, featuring Skinny Little Twits (classic rock tribute), Highway Starr (country) and Adelaide (Latin and Old School).
Opening for Jack Mack and the Heart Attack Horns are two popular Southern California blues groups, Tommy Castro and the Painkillers and Michael John and the Bottom Line. Sunday will be an awesome day for blues fans!
Blues Brews and BBQ Festival
27150 Bouquet Canyon Road
Friday May 5, 5:30-9:30pm
Saturday May 6, 12 noon-8pm
Sunday May 7, 12 noon -6pm
Website, Info and Tickets
Jack Mack and the Heart Attack website: www.jackmack.com