by Mike Corrigan
Where do you file a band like Robert Bradley's Blackwater Surprise? Under pop? Soul? Rock? Unless you are a radio programmer or a music store clerk, do yourself a favor and don't bother. With Blackwater Surprise, all things flow from singer/songwriter Robert Bradley. The band makes an appearance in Spokane tonight at Fat Tuesday's Concert Hall.
Robert Bradley has spent a good portion of his 50-plus years in Greyhound buses, crisscrossing America via the slow, steady route. Bradley's music courses deliberately through the American musical forms that he has experienced firsthand from coast to coast, including but not limited to R & amp;B, gospel, country and rock 'n' roll.
Born sightless in Evergreen, Alabama, to a family of 14 children, Bradley at an early age made a name for himself despite his physical limitations by singing in church choirs and with touring gospel vocal groups. When he was nine years old, his family enrolled him in the Alabama School for the Blind where he began to refine his raw talent as a singer and pianist. The family moved to Detroit in 1966, and Bradley was exposed to one of the most vital popular music scenes of the time. Motown was huge, of course, but equally influential and inspiring were the gruff urban blues of John Lee Hooker and the sounds bubbling up from Detroit's electric rock underground. Detroit rock 'n' roll radio stations played it all, everything from Marvin Gaye and Otis Redding to Hank Williams and CCR.
Though he's been back to Alabama and even lived briefly out in the California sun, Bradley always found himself returning to Detroit and to the streets where he first began performing his own material. For years, Bradley performed weekend gigs on the streets of Detroit's Eastern Market. It was there that he was discovered by musicians Michael and Andrew Nehra and drummer Jeff Fowlkes (or was it the other way around?) and was invited to join the trio in their nearby studio. Something clicked almost immediately.
Since forming in 1994, Blackwater Surprise has released four albums. For the recording of their latest, New Ground (and its resulting tour), founding members Bradley and Fowlkes are joined by guitarist Matt Ruffino, bassist Tom Wilber and keyboardist Randy Sly.
Musicianship, versatility and hooks, hooks, hooks are characteristic components of any Blackwater Surprise recording or live performance. Under Bradley's seemingly casual but obviously careful direction, the intersection of Motown soul and '60s garage rock is smooth to the senses and gently flowing, never jarring, with songs enriched by a lifetime of incredible experiences.
"Everything this band does is a story," Bradley is fond of saying. "Each song has its own story. Hell, when we go out to eat, it's a story."
Staying the Course -- John Anderson isn't the flashiest country star out there. Over the course of his long and varied recording and performing career, he has spent almost as much time out of the spotlight as in it. Maybe that tendency to ignore current country trends and sales gimmicks in favor of following his own muse is exactly what has allowed him -- and his music -- to endure. Anderson and special guests the Larkins perform at the Spokane Arena Tuesday night.
Early on in his career (which began with his 1980 self-titled debut album), Anderson found critical acclaim for his attention to country tradition. His unique vocal style, songwriting approach and dry sense of humor was deeply influenced by Merle Haggard and Lefty Frizzell. Unfortunately, this commitment to antecedent forms and willingness to utilize horns and other non-country instruments in his arrangements didn't earn him many friends in country radio.
But his fans have always seemed to understand where the former Floridian was coming from and have stuck it out with Anderson through multiple label changes and endless career highs and lows. The opener to his 2001 release, Nobody's Got It All (Columbia), may be a song of tumultuous love, but its title could also be taken as a sly jab at the fickle country music industry: "You Ain't Hurt Nothin' Yet."
Rock Hard -- Here's an odd one. For all you kiddies maxed out on sugary sweets, the Hard Rock Halloween Ball at the Met on Thursday night promises treats of a distinctly aural nature -- with a few tricks thrown in for good measure.
What is it? Well, from what I can decipher from the show's sponsor (The Rolling Rock Haus), the HRHB is an all-ages, All Hallows Eve heavy rock showcase featuring the talents of the "sizzling hot" LA outfit, Blind Fury, a band that has had the honor to open for the likes of Nazareth, L.A. Guns, Quiet Riot and Judas Priest. In the supporting band slots are Tut (with Spokane native Brett Miller on drums) and a Tri-Cities unit, Last Nerve. Spokane's own Black Coffee Recording will be on hand to record the maelstrom of sound. Additional audience fun comes in the form of a best costume contest (with $100 cash and an assortment of other unspecified prizes) and in the knowledge that the entire show will be videotaped for an upcoming rockumentary tentatively entitled A Pair of Hard Rock Balls.
I swear I'm not making any of this up.