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The Beat goes on 

by Mike Corrigan


Local musician JEFF SCHMIDT has discovered that music (unlike crime) does pay, though sometimes it can take a couple decades of hard work and dedication before recognition (and the steady paycheck that goes with it) comes a-knockin'. Then there's being in the right place at the right time. Schmidt, a veteran of several local bands (including Planetary Refugees, Petting Zulu, Soup, the Screaming Dinos and the Kelly Hughes Band) has recently been hired by British ska revivalist, guitarist Dave Wakeling (English Beat, General Public) to play keyboard in a new touring band he's heading up.


"It's bizarre," says Schmidt of the somewhat unlikely set of circumstances that led to his latest and greatest gig. "My friend lives in L.A., and he ran into -- through other projects -- this guy [Rick Torres from the Supreme Beings of Leisure] who had just been hired by Dave Wakeling to play guitar. Well, I got my nerve up and called him and just said, 'Hi, I'm Jeff Schmidt. You don't know me, but I'm a keyboard player and I heard you guys were looking to audition some keyboard players for your tour.' "


Schmidt received music from the band then spent the next few days scrambling to produce a quickie audition CD to send back for Wakeling's consideration. The verdict?


"They liked it," says Schmidt. "And they really wanted me to play three shows with them in San Francisco. Before I got on that plane, I spent 15 hours a day, for about three days driving everybody in my life crazy."


Those three days were spent learning the material and purchasing new equipment.


"I played my first gig with the band in Santa Clara with no live audition and no rehearsal. It was a sold-out show of about 700 people. I was petrified. I played okay. Luckily, the monitors were such that nobody in the band heard me much that night."


Two shows later, Schmidt hit his stride and Wakeling was impressed enough to hire him on as a permanent fixture of the touring band.


"They really enjoyed my style," says Schmidt. "All the years playing reggae with the Refugees really got me what I needed, I guess, because they hired me. So I quit my job, sold my house and I'm moving to Los Angeles."


The English Beat (known simply as The Beat everywhere but in America) emerged in 1979 and was immediately lumped in with the similar-sounding bands of the English ska revival -- the Specials, Selector and Madness. But these Birmingham lads were more versatile and complex than most of their two-tone contemporaries, able to fuse ska with dub, rock, pop and soul into a seamless, exhilarating and danceable groove. Into this mix, principals Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger injected thought-provoking lyrics (often addressing social and political concerns) and playful vocal interplay to form one of the most compelling groups of the British new wave. The band dissolved in 1983. Wakeling and Roger continued their collaboration under the banner of General Public for a few more years before splitting to pursue solo interests.


The new band fronted by Wakeling reprises the best of both the English Beat and General Public.


"By law, they had to call it Dave Wakeling of the English Beat," Schmidt explains. "Ranking Roger just released an album, and there was a little dispute over the name. "


With the keyboard parts to "Twist and Crawl," "Mirror in the Bathroom," "Save it for Later," "Tenderness" and dozens more Beat and General Public tunes bouncing around in his noggin, Schmidt has just under a week to get ready for his debut in the Big Apple.


"They sent me a ticket, so a week from today, I get on the plane for New York and then we go on tour for two-and-a-half to three months all over the East and West Coast and every province of Canada."


Schmidt is still astonished by his good fortune but sees this new opportunity as the next logical step in a 20-year music career characterized by perseverance and dedication to craft.


"I look back, and it seems like everything just fell into place to get me here. From my first gig in 1978 to now. My whole life's dream has come true. We're playing New York City, we're playing live King Biscuit Flour Hour worldwide. I can't believe it. I jump in with these guys -- you know, I've been dying to get their autographs, and now they're giving me compliments. I'm tripping out. This is really one of those 'fan joins the band' stories.


"And I'm getting really into it," he adds. "Not too overdone, because the other guys are more hipsters. But I do stand out a little bit with my sharkskin suit and skinny tie."


For the latest on Dave Wakeling's band, including the touring schedule visit www.davewakeling.com.


Down the runway


What a long strange trip it's been for guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casady. Collectively known as HOT TUNA, the pair's musical collaboration began in the late '50s. But their personal relationship goes back even further. They grew up together in Washington, D.C., and were raised on a steady diet of blues records courtesy of Casady's older brother. While still in high school, they formed their first band, the Triumphs.


After school, the two parted ways only to bump into each other once again in the middle of the San Francisco folk/psychedelia scene of the mid '60s. There, they teamed up with Paul Kanter and Marty Balin to form Jefferson Airplane.


Though the Airplane was wildly successful, Kaukonen and Casady yearned for a return to their blues roots. Hot Tuna began taking shape in 1969 as a side project, but soon the demands of their full-time gig began to take their toll. They released three albums (Hot Tuna, First Pull Up, Then Pull Down and Burgers) before officially splitting with the Airplane in 1973. They'll play The Met on Tuesday night.


Beginning with The Phosphorus Rat, Hot Tuna was on its own. The album also ushered in a new electric era for the group which by now had seen its share of notable accomplices including Balin, electric violinist Papa John Creach (also of the Jefferson Airplane) and drummer Sammy Piazza.


But the acoustic blues infusion of their formative years would once again catch up to them. In the two decades that followed, Kaukonen and Casady would continue to perform, record and drift in and out of various collaborations with ex-Airplaners (including Casady's stint with Kanter and Balin in the short-lived KBC Band) before settling back into their acoustic folk/blues duo incarnation.


And that's where Spokane audiences will find them at Tuesday night's Met gig -- celebrating a lifetime of music together. You are invited.


Hot Tuna plays The Met on Tuesday, June 19, at


8 pm. Tickets: $19.50. Call: 325-SEAT.


Smells like teen spirit


It's back. It's loud. It's full of teens wielding guitars, drumsticks and lord knows what else. It's THE BATTLE OF THE BANDS COMPETITION, the Chase Youth Commission's annual salute to area middle and high school garage bands and the creative, constructive teenagers who populate them. And it all happens this Saturday in Riverfront Park. This year, an even dozen will duke it out for the coveted "best" slot. Along the way, the rest of us will be treated to tunage straight from the heart of teen angstville.


Warming up the crowd just before the competition will be last year's BOBfest winners, the electric blues machine of Aaron Richner and the Blues Drivers. Then, at 2 pm, the onslaught begins.


The members of Aboriginal Mood play funk and reggae-influenced blues. In a similar stylistic vein is Funker Junk (formerly IFTA). For less blues but more funk, get behind Tastes Like Burning. Under the punk flag, there's Misdirection, World Exempt and the Christian emo-core of Non Perishable. Alt-rock fan? You might want to show your support for The Driven, Nexus, Paradox, Scents of Smell, Rock Ness Monsters (great name, guys!) or the Undefinables.


During the music festivities once again will be the "Images... a Juried Art Competition for Teens" art exhibit featuring teen artists' work in jewelry, drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, ceramics and poetry. A new addition this year is the skateboarding competition for beginning, intermediate and advanced skaters (registration is from noon to 2 pm).


BOBfest is in Riverfront Park on Saturday, June 16, starting at 1 pm. Free. Call: 625-6054.


MusicfestNW


Regular readers of this section and those with a finger on the pulse of Northwest rock will immediately perk up at the mention of the North by Northwest New Music Festival. This annual must-do for regional bands and music industry types in Portland is essentially a music + media + industry = love sloppy schmoozefest full of endless networking possibilities, live music and free breakfast buffets. Each year, the festival and conference (sort of a Northwest "little brother" version of the more expansive and high falutin' South by Southwest Conference in Austin, Texas) has been sponsored by Portland's premiere arts weekly, Willamette Week (and cosponsored here locally by yours truly). Well, this year, Willamette Week has decided to go it alone, renaming the festival MUSICFESTNW, scaling things down a tad, cutting back on fees and upping the benefits for performers and attendees alike.


As anyone who has ever attended NXNW can tell you, the centerpiece of the festival, the live performances at more than a dozen different Portland clubs (most within walking distance from each other) is a thing of rare and fragile beauty. Well, the first annual MusicfestNW Trade Show and Conference promises to go the distance, spotlighting 120 of the region's best bands at 12 of the city's best clubs over the weekend of September 21-22. Bands wishing to play the festival can get an application online.


Hey Spokane bands, here's a tip: Do it now!


The conference and trade show portion of MusicfestNW will be held at either the Roseland Theater or the Crystal Ballroom on Saturday, September 22, 2001 from 11 am to 6 pm. For more information, check out the MusicfestNW Web site at www.musicfestnw.com.
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