Written and Photographed by Chloe Hodge
It’s not unusual for large crowds to gather early on Friday nights at Tyler’s FRESH by Brookshire’s and although this night is no exception, you would think that the heat would be a deterrent. However, there’s no stopping this bunch from coming out early to score a great table and watch while the evening’s entertainment sets up their equipment, tunes their guitars, plugs in their amplifiers, and adjusts their sound. And actually, the heat is stifled well by a nice breeze and the shade of the building, so its quiet pleasant even though the temperatures are soaring.
As the hot Texas sun begins to descend, Senor Gringo begins their renditions. When the music starts, the crowd experiences a sound quite uncommon for the area. Riffs of Latin guitar and bell chimes fill the air between the chatter and the cheers. Money is thrown into the open guitar case while the musicians play classic Santana. A particular vibe and passion of playing is reflected by those who are in attendance, becoming human metronomes while they tap their toes to the beat, allowing a bond to form with the performers. It is a relationship built on the foundation of the thrill of music.
That is the impression I got when I spoke with the members of the Tyler based quintet in their studio that is embellished with posters of the Beatles’ prominent “Abbey Road” album cover and Dire Straits. That is when it registered that I had stumbled upon the four-walled canvas of their melodic works of art.
“Our music is always a work in process. We get together maybe once a week in our studio,” says keyboardist Don Elbert. “The process has developed over a long time.”
The band was formed many years ago, with this particular lineup of musicians only being a few months old. In the early years of Senor Gringo, the band was primarily inspired by classic rock. As time shifted, Senor Gringo has made a drastic transition – blending that same classic rock music with the rich culture of flamenco guitar.
“I just got turned on to the flamenco guitar. It’s everywhere in all varieties of genres. It’s in country songs and rap and rock. From Jesse Cook to Puff Daddy,” said guitarist and vocalist Richard Callahan. “I just love it.”
The musicians in the band come from various backgrounds of music. Richard Callahan was inspired through metal bands such as Pantera, Testament, and Metallica.
Keyboardist Don Elbert’s music career comes from a soft blues background.
Percussionist Elbert Wright began his musicianship with jazz. Alex Blair, the bassist, is a high school orchestra director who had been taught by a diverse blend of instrumentalists from the classical to modern day music.
For drummer Kevin Ewalt, music has taken him around the world, including South America. That is where the inspirations for the Latin style jazz came about. With the various backgrounds of euphonious influences came the birth of a distinctive sound, so easily differentiated from other bands in the area.
“We had started out doing all this rock and blues music, but we started falling in love with this genre… this Latin jazz sound and feel,” said Don Elbert, the keyboardist for Senor Gringo. “We’re having a blast with it.”
Hours of practicing scales and songs went into learning the quick rifts to really capture that Spanish essence. Although the members of the band have been playing for a combined number of decades, the grooves and techniques that come with the Latin style melodies were a challenge for the band. That challenge is made clearly visible by the callused hands caused by picking strings or beating on a Conga – the result of playing a single song for 10 minutes.
Senor Gringo has become popular entertainment for those in Smith County, playing in many restaurants like Jul’s, Fresh, and Cork. Their goals however, exceed delighting fellow East Texans. The band is in the process of recording their latest work to be publish on iTunes.
Senor Gringo will perform every Saturday at 7pm at Jul’s, located on Old Jacksonville Hwy. “We are very proud of our gigs at Juls,” said Wright. “We get treated really well and always have a blast playing there. Everyone has lots of fun.” The public is invited to attend and admission is free.
For more info about the band and a schedule of upcoming live performances, check out the Senor Gringo Jazz Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Senor-gringo-jazz.
Stefan Cotter: A Little Out Of The Ordinary
It’s the weekend. You want to get out of your home and enjoy some time out. Maybe some dinner and afterwards, a bit of live music at one of the venues around town but you want something a little different than the usual. Not that the usual isn’t good, but you’re just marching to the beat of a different drum today and want a soundtrack to accompany your mood. If that is the case, then you need to find where Stefan Cotter is playing and make your way to one of his shows.
Originally a product of Morgantown, West Virginia, the unique singer/songwriter eventually found his way to East Texas with his wife about 8 years ago and has been doing things a little differently ever since. With the ability to be comfortable playing multiple and disparate genres, Cotter has contributed to many local groups and continues to entertain audiences all over the region with his eclectic brand of musicianship that is definitely not the ordinary.
We tracked Stefan down to get a better perspective on what he’s doing and how he’s doing it:
Johnny: What were your earliest musical memories and what got you interested in being a musician initially?
Stefan: My dad is a trumpet player/teacher, who is finally retiring this year, and I remember him writing out “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and teaching me how to read music on the trumpet. As I recall, that was about 4th grade. He also did a lot of musical theater gigs in the summer when I was little and I used to go sit in the orchestra pit with all of the musicians and I thought it was awesome fun. Those people were great musicians, some of whom I still know to this day. I also got to experience him as my high school band director, which made for a lot of great fun! One memory that sticks out was probably around second grade when he let me march with the high school marching band and play cymbals in the small town we lived in during that time.
Johnny: Your bio on ReverbNation cites your genre as reggae, rockabilly, bluegrass, and rock. That’s an unique mix, especially in this neck of the woods. What are some of your staple cover tunes that really highlight a Stefan Cotter show?
Stefan: I have a lot of “favorite” cover songs but some that have stuck with me are: “Don’t Let Me Down” by the Beatles, “Valerie” by The Zutons, “Could You Be Loved and Waiting in Vain” by Bob Marley, plenty of 50’s country and rock ‘n roll, Chuck Berry’s “Roll over Beethoven,” and lots of old traditional bluegrass as well. Coming from West Virginia, bluegrass and old time music is everywhere.
Johnny: What drew you to those styles of music as your genres of choice?
Stefan: I have no logical explanation, but I assume the excitement. If the music is good, I get excited and the feet start stompin’. You know it when you hear it. That goes for reggae, jazz…anything. Also, I think punk rock/ska was my first love I reckon and there is something very punk rock about Chuck Berry, early Beatles, and early rockabilly. There’s just tons of energy. To add to that, the guy that taught me how to run a real sound system, Paul Vallett, also introduced me to REAL roots reggae, “Rock Steady,” and reggae dub. There is nothing better than testing a full on sound system when there is nobody there and just pounding that low and slow reggae. So that’s where the reggae came in I suppose.
Johnny: Who would you say your biggest musical influences were when you were discovering your “sound?”
Stefan: It’s constantly evolving, and that includes my sound too I guess. Sublime was my favorite band for a long time in Junior High and High School. Reel Big Fish was what band I wanted to be in. I was in Jazz band and the orchestra in high school so that brought in a lot of new music. Then I got into jazz/ classical music in college. I was obviously exposed to a ton of different ideas and I loved it. Again, the reggae sound system, then I found Django Reinhardt, who is my all time favorite guitarist. Bob Wills and John Prine and suddenly I get lost again on an entirely different rabbit hole. I’m also constantly influenced by the bands that I’ve played with, both as a college credit or rock bands that I played around with in Morgantown, most notably The Greens. You should check them out, those guys absolutely rock!
Johnny: Are you primarily a solo act or do you work with a stage band?
Stefan: Actually I try not to play solo any more. Its too much fun to play with other people. We’ve got Big Funky Cloud (BFC) at Stanley’s every Wednesday with Keith (“Grease”) Jones on bass, Nick Pencis on drums, Gary Freeman on keys, and myself.
Then we’ve got a string band that we call The Thing Band for lack of a better name. It is with Gary Freeman (keys), Jake Ham (drums) and myself play as a trio sometimes, and we throw in Jopi Drew (bass) for good measure when we can. Jake Ham and Jopi Drew and I have been playing music for the past 8 years or more and love it.
Johnny: About how many shows a month are you currently playing?
Stefan: I play about four shows a week. I play with BFC every Wednesday at Stanley’s BBQ and every Saturday with my old time/bluegrass band at The Grove and others thrown in there depending on the week.
Johnny: How many originals do you usually try to work into an average set?
Stefan: I try to work in about 10-12 but it just depends on the crowd and the night. Sometimes people are in the mood to dance to songs they know, but every now and then you can slip some originals in and the crowd will respond positively. Those are the nights you know it’ll be a fun time.
Johnny: Are you primarily playing in this area or are you traveling to other markets to play gigs?
Stefan: I’m currently just sticking around town. I’d like to get into Dallas but you’ve got to have some momentum to make money there and right now I’m trying to build that locally to be able to parlay that into some attention in the Dallas scene.
Johnny: How would you describe a typical set for a new listener?
Stefan: I call it “Rastabilly”which is lots of fun party-type reggae and old fashioned rockabilly/country/bluegrass all mixed with gypsy jazz. Be ready to dance!
Johnny: What’s on your radar for the rest of the year and beyond?
Stefan: Right now, just keeping busy playing shows mainly. Playing on my fellow bandmates records and hopefully being able to compile an album myself.
EGuide Magazine’s Gig Guide
Chris Oliver & Company: Making The Connection
By Johnny Griffith
If you’ve been to The Grove in Tyler recently on a Sunday morning for brunch, chances are you’ve been listening to the solid grooves of Chris Oliver & Company whether you realized it or not. Originally born in Tyler, Chris attended both Robert E Lee and John Tyler high schools before finishing at North Garland High School in 1995. Eventually moving back to Tyler, Oliver has been a mainstay in the music scene for several years. An accomplished drummer, Chris now fronts the eponymous Chris Oliver & Company and their mission is to make sure you walk away from a show with a smile on your face and the beat in your heart.
We talked with Chris recently to get more info on what they’ve got going:
Johnny: Who makes up the “& Company” portion of Chris Oliver & Company?
Chris: Chris Oliver & Company is myself, Josh Brock, Calvin Sheffield, and Dr. George Faber. That’s been the lineup since we started.
Johnny: How did you guys all meet?
Chris: I grew up with Calvin pretty much all my life and he’s been one of my best friends. We’ve played in church as well as playing in several other bands around the area including being the rhythm section for Wesley Pruitt. Dr. Faber has pretty much been a mentor to both of us since we were both young and has been playing forever. I met Josh Brock about 4 years ago and he was one of those guys that came in and fit like he’d been with us for years.
Johnny: How did Chris Oliver & Company form?
Chris: About 2 years ago, from another gig I was doing, I was asked to do a Sunday brunch show over at The Grove. I had to put together a band specifically for that and, you know, it’s not easy getting a bunch of musicians to do a mid-morning gig on Sunday after playing out till 2am the night before. That first bunch I put together is still Chris Oliver & Company today.
Johnny: You guys play a superb mix of songs…what genre would you consider your wheelhouse?
Chris: That’s a hard question. Everything has a season and I can look back and see where my musical life has been a steady progression with different styles and preferences each taking their turn. If I had to pick one singular style, I’d have to say blues-ish, but it’s really not that simple.
Johnny: You guys were invited to play down in Austin at the Heart of Texas Blues Challenge last year. How was that experience and what do you feel you learned as a band?
Chris: Yeah, we got the invite down there so Josh, myself, and another bass player went down due to Calvin not being able to make it, and we auditioned. They were impressed enough that we were invited to actually participate. We went back down in August and won the preliminary round which got us to the finals. While we were eventually beat out, it was a great experience. The finals were at Antone’s in Austin which has had some legendary players on stage over the years. That atmosphere, on that stage, you could feel the vibe and the history and we grew a lot from that.
Johnny: How far are you traveling to play shows at this point?
Chris: Right now we’re staying local until our album is finished. We will be getting ready to do a tour after that, which will take us out of state but until then it’s home.
Johnny: About how many shows are you playing a month these days?
Chris: We’re mainly hitting about four shows a month, really focusing on the album, and playing the standing brunch gig at The Grove.
Johnny: How have local crowds reacted to a band that doesn’t really fit the mold for this region?
Chris: Every time we hit the stage, I don’t care where it is, if they call us to play and you see this band and our show, I want you to have an experience. If you’re down, we’re going to hit a point in the set where we’re going to lift you up. But we’re not really there playing for the masses…we’re there for that individual and when you connect with lots of people on an individual level, something special happens.
Johnny: Are you working originals into your set list or is it primarily cover tunes?
Chris: It really depends on how we’re feeling that day. Some people who have heard our originals will ask for them but it really depends on the vibe. Sometimes we will throw some out and see what kind of reaction we get.
Johnny: How would you describe a typical Chris Oliver & Company show?
Chris: We try to get your attention, make you listen, make you have fun…we might take you to church, it just depends, but we always end with thank you and an appreciation for the audience.
Johnny: Any big plans on the horizon for the rest of the year?
Chris: Our main priority right now is finishing the album and putting together a tour to get the word out.
Johnny: So after two years of Chris Oliver & Company, what would you say has been your most memorable gig to this point?
Chris: That Antone’s gig for the Blues Challenge was easily most memorable. Everyone brought their “A” game and was on point. Again, that combined with the history of that place and the players that have graced that stage…it was unforgettable.
Johnny: Who would you say you’re listening to right now that gets you excited?
Chris: I’d say right now I’ve been listening to a lot of Donnie Hathaway vocally, but I’m just a fan of music in general.
You can catch Chris Oliver & Company at facebook.com/chrisoliverandcompany. You can also catch Chris Oliver & Company most Sundays during brunch at The Grove in Tyler.
EGuide Magazine’s Gig Guide
Date Night: From Fancy to Simple, Tyler Offers a Lot of Romance
July 4th: Freedom Fighters 5K Race and more races!
Theatre Guide: Opening June 7th, “Ring of Fire” at Tyler Civic
Blue Moon Gardens: More Than a Family Nursery
Dinosaurs are Back at Discovery Science Place!
It’s Going To Be An “INCREDIBLE” Summer at Studio Movie Grill
Connie Smith in Concert at Liberty Hal June 27th
June 22nd-23rd: 10th Annual Tyler Coin Show
Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir Set to Perform, August 3rd
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