The name is synonymous with low-budget cheese, but Tommy Wiggins didn't mind. K-Tel Records said it was serious about starting a frontline jazz label, Nouveau, when it signed him. "They have the rap of the Veg-o-Matic and car crash videos," Wiggins today laughs. As someone who's worked in the business for more years than he cares to count ("Let's just say my first recordings would make me eligible for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame," he says when asked his age), Wiggins knows that you'd better have good reason to say no when someone else offers to pick up the tab.
No longer affiliated with K-Tel, Wiggins is making and producing music on his own label, Chilidog Records. He moved to Cleveland from Minneapolis four years ago when his wife, a medical geneticist, took a job at Case Western Reserve. He works out of his home studio in Chagrin Falls. This weekend, Wiggins plays a series of shows to promote his CD, All Night Driving.
He came of age in the singer/songwriter days of the late '60s. Today Wiggins makes "rhythm music for grown-ups. It's kind of sophisticated, but it's unsophisticated at the same time." All Night Driving goes down well with a glass of chardonnay or a shot of espresso--instrumental-centered, vaguely jazzy, lots of Windex-clean guitars, keyboards, and female background vocals. Imagine Steve Winwood, Bryan Ferry, Eric Clapton, and Pete Townshend in recline mode. It is not, he insists, whatever passes for smooth jazz, which gives him a toothache.
Wiggins fancies himself as "kind of like a T-Bone Burnett or a Daniel Lanois, in that I'm an artist and a producer." Since he arrived from the Twin Cities, Wiggins has hooked up with some of the area's top musicians. He produced the Cliff Habian Trio's Christmas CD; his live band features Al Moss and Bill Watson of Hillbilly Idol, Rob Williams of ACO, and Jim Yarnell of Blue Lunch.
"I hit the street running. I've made so many friends and so many contacts in such a short time," Wiggins says. Though the Twin Cities have turned out their share of prominent national acts, he doesn't feel as though the move to Northeast Ohio was a step backward. Cleveland, after all, is proximal to a larger chunk of the population. Minneapolis "is a great, vibrant music scene, but once you get ten miles out of the city, there's nothing until you get to Madison and Chicago," Wiggins says. "I love the Cleveland music scene. I love the different types of music. What I don't like is the fact that nobody is making any money. In Minneapolis, guys were actually making money."
Wiggins and friends play Main Street in Medina on Friday, April 23, from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.; the Borders in Solon on Saturday from 8 to 10 p.m.; and the Barking Spider on Sunday beginning at 3 p.m.
Soundbites likes what Freddy Salem has done with the Thunderdome in Akron. Formerly the Daily Double, the Thunderdome is a nicely polished music club attached to the Panini's on Orleans Avenue. The band and the audience have plenty of room to operate. Lava lamps gurgle atop the bar. The sound system is good. Did feel a little embarrassed for the barmaids, who wore tight tops with plunging necklines. Given how they had to reach forward to grab beers from the cooler, we presume the tip jar fills with soft currency instead of the kind that rattles.
The party for Murray Saul at Wilbert's Bar & Grille last Thursday ached with Cleveland music history. Saul and former WMMS Program Director John Gorman have released a CD, The Get Downs Vol. 1, that captures the highlights from Saul's run as a Buzzard Friday afternoon personality. At 6 p.m. in the mid- to late '70s, Friday nights didn't begin until Bruce sang "Born to Run" and Saul coated the mic with his unique flavor of spittle.
Among those helping Saul celebrate: musicians Rich Spina and Sonny Geraci, former Agora/current Aqua man Johan, photographer Janet Macoska, writers Anastasia Pantsios and Michael Heaton, and T-shirt mogul Daffy Dan Gray.
Mike Albertson's Sonic Swirl label this week rolls out a limited-edition live disc by the New York/New Jersey punk band Electric Frankenstein. The music was recorded at a show at the Euclid Tavern. "Everyone wants to record at the Euclid Tavern since Joan Jett played there," Albertson says.
This weekend's multi-band metal bill (there seems to be one every weekend) is at the Lorain Community College fieldhouse on Friday, April 23. Spawn, Biastfear, Gatlin, Metal Earth, Pawn, Fad-Ass, Durty Mac, and Cynix are scheduled to play the event, which benefits the Cleveland Food Bank and WLCC radio. You know the routine: Bring a couple of canned goods, knock off a dollar from the admission charge. Tim "Ripper" Owens of Judas Priest is supposed to make a cameo.
The Mike Farley Band throws its CD release party at Wilbert's Bar & Grille Sunday, April 22 . . . With Dave Hemann moving to L.A., last Sunday night's show at Wilbert's was likely the last for Bus Pocket . . . We at Scene are growing weary of fielding calls for Undercurrents '99. We're not trying to be difficult; we just don't know much more about the May 21-22 showcase than you do. Your best bet is to e-mail Undercurrents at musicatUCs@aol.com. The website address is www.undercurrents.com, but it hasn't been updated in some time . . . Banana Joe's on South Main is Akron's newest music club. Strip breaks a champagne bottle against the soundboard there Thursday, April 22.