Vancouver Island MusicFest: ‘House bands’ from the golden age of rock and R&B

Some of America’s greatest session musicians are coming to the Comox Valley this summer

Robert Moyes

Special to Black Press

Doug Cox, artistic director and executive producer of Island MusicFest, is booking a couple of remarkable bands that will offer a unique master-class in pop music history.

Everyone knows names like Aretha Franklin, Paul Simon, and Jackson Brown – some of the many A-list artists who defined music in the 1960s through the ’80s. What’s gone unheralded are the incredibly talented session musicians who played behind them in the studio – and often were critically important in shaping all those hit songs that topped the charts.

“These aren’t the famous musicians, they are the guys who made those other people famous,” Cox quips. “And it’s time they got the credit they deserved.”

He’s referring to members of the house band for Alabama’s legendary Muscle Shoals Studios, and also to a looser coalition of session musicians and backup singers based in and around Los Angeles who created the so-called West Coast sound.

Let’s start with the swampy, funky music that came out of two small studios in an out-of-the-way Alabama town. The Muscle Shoals Allstars are living music history, and include some of the in-house players whose matchless groove, warmth, and musicality helped launch artists like Percy Sledge, Wilson Pickett, and Otis Redding into the pantheon of ’60s soul and R&B immortals. The appeal of these classic recordings eventually became a magnet for a long stream of white artists – the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Bob Seger, Rod Stewart, and the Allman Brothers included – who booked studio time here, hoping that the Shoals magic would rub off on their latest projects.

ALSO: Tom Cochrane and Red Rider headlining MusicFest

Aside from bassist David Hood, the crack members of the Allstars includes Clayton Ivey on keyboards, percussionist Mickey Buckins, lead guitarist Will McFarlane, and a trio of heavenly backup singers. Adding lots of brassy sizzle are the Muscle Shoals Horns, whose powerhouse punch has been heard on records by, amongst many others, Bob Dylan, Lyle Lovett, and Elvis Presley. Fronting the band are vocalists Jimmy Hall (of Wet Willie fame) and the larger-than-life Carla Russell, who’s been influenced by everybody from Big Mama Thornton to Robert Plant.

Over on the West Coast, similar musical magic was being made by an equally extraordinary collection of session players. One of the most respected was guitarist-producer Danny Kortchmar, a key member of L.A.’s The Section, whose stellar work in the 1970s and ’80s helped such artists as James Taylor, Don Henley, Linda Ronstadt, and Jackson Browne become million-selling superstars.

Kortchmar will be fronting the stage with the equally accomplished Waddy Wachtel, another gifted session guitarist (and producer and composer) whose ubiquitous presence on the L.A. music scene included working with the Everly Brothers, Warren Zevon, Randy Newman, and, more recently, as lead guitarist for Stevie Nicks.

This band of virtuosos includes Leland Sklar, who has played bass on more than 2,000 albums, adding his tight rhythms and signature warmth to hits by Dolly Parton, Phil Collins, and Rod Stewart. The drumming chores will be in superb hands with Jimmy Paxson, whose eclectic CV includes anchoring the Dixie Chicks, Ben Harper, Sheryl Crow, Johnny Rivers, Charlie Musselwhite … and a hundred more. Rounding out this amazing crew is the versatile Steve Postell, who is a singer/songwriter/guitarist/composer/producer. And if you want a reference for him, just ask David Crosby, John Oates, or Jennifer Warnes.

“From bass lines to hooks, these guys literally wrote the book of rock – they’re the ones who really made all those thousands of records,” says Cox. And it is worth noting that these two remarkable bands aren’t on tour but are exclusive to MusicFest. “These two groups were curated for me by people I know who are close to these artists,” says Cox proudly. “They’re a big part of why I think this will be the best Festival we’ve ever presented.”

For a full festival line-up, and to buy tickets, visit https://www.islandmusicfest.com/

–Robert Moyes is a Victoria-based arts journalist with a particular interest in music

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Three active COVID-19 cases on Vancouver Island

Since July 24, Central island has had five new cases, North one, South none

Crofton man’s quest for dinosaurs proves to be a costly venture

Flurry of interest sends prices at online auction through the roof

Peacekeepers’ Day a national observance of faithful missions

Aug. 9 the date of nine Canadian lives lost while flying over Syria

Exhibit showcases one side of artist’s wide-ranging personality

Skagfeld takes something from all of her life experiences

Groundbreaking conducted Friday for new RCMP facility

Fall 2022 the target for completion of construction

DFO says 5 aggrieved B.C First Nations were consulted on fisheries plan

Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations calls response ‘a sham,’ adding DFO never incorporates their views

Man arrested after stabbing incident at makeshift camp near Vancouver Island mall

RCMP in Parksville report 28-year-old man taken into custody without incident

Canucks ride momentum into NHL playoff series against defending Stanley Cup champs

PREVIEW: Vancouver opens against St. Louis on Wednesday

Pitt Meadows woman gives birth on in-laws’ driveway

Frédérique Gagnon new son is appropriately named after Norse trickster god

Man, 54, charged in connection with fatal attack of Red Deer doctor

Doctor was killed in his walk-in clinic on Monday

UPDATE: Two dead after fishing boat sinks off southern Vancouver Island

Shawnigan Lake-registered Arctic Fox II went down off Cape Flattery, west of Victoria

Landlord takes front door, windows after single B.C. mom late with rent

Maple Ridge mom gets help from community generosity and government

VIDEO: B.C. community rallies to save snared eagle

Revelstoke climber scales tree to save the raptor

Most Read