MUSIC MONDAYS: Boxes + Big Head Todd

Welcome to Monday Blues – sort of.

Today’s band: Big Head Todd and the Monsters. One of my fave indie bands of yesteryear.

I told Rob that I would pick because I am in the middle of boxing stuff up to move while listening to tunes + feeling super nostalgic. Big Head Todd featured prominently in my past life. Just like today.

The backstory:

After graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill, I brazenly moved to Chicago. Sight unseen. Bright lights, big city! Those who knew me well (and Rob can corroborate this story) understood that I was hell bent to find fame and fortune in the “glamorous” world of advertising. To me, it seemed so terribly exciting – and I was always up for a new adventure! So off I went…Without an apartment. Without a job. With big dreams.

Pavement pounding, I landed a job at Foote, Cone & Belding, an international ad agency on Michigan Avenue. Felt like I hit the big time! (Even though I had to work two side jobs to pay my rent including Brother Jimmy’s BBQ…Yep, my Southern drawl helped me snag a weekend gig as beer tub girl / waitress…slogging drinks + pig, so much for the glamorous life. Ha!).

Soon after, I was invited to a small launch party by Giant Records for Big Head Todd’s upcoming album, Sister Sweetlyat Schubas, a music club housed in the former Schlitz Brewery building built in the early 1900s. It seemed like the Colorado-trio of guitarist/keyboard player Todd Park Mohr, bassist Rob Squires, and drummer Brian Nevin were destined to go somewhere, if not far. The show was so much fun and afterwards I partied with the band upstairs in the saloon. Todd turned out to be a totally nice guy (not to mention a real cutie with his long jet black hair…). I remember sitting next to him chatting about life in Boulder as we downed a few shots of whisky. It was mid February 1993. A pivotal time in my personal life. Four songs. On repeat.

(Yes, I have actually kept this CD with me for almost 20 years, from city to city. Some stuff I find hard to part with. Pictured here.)

Sound-wise, I liked  Another Mayberry with its R.E.M influence but  Midnight Radio is what really turned me onto BHT in the first place.

(Rob just shared the 20th Anniversary Live at Red Rocks with me + I love it! He + his brother actually saw the whole album performed in Atlanta this past January.)

Not only do I get lost in Todd’s raw sexy voice, but also I am moved by the riffs on so many songs. In those moments, the notes speak to me as much as many of the intense lyrics do.

I also think it’s cool that John Lee Hooker contributed “Boom Boom” to Beautiful WorldHe happened to be recording in the same studio that day as BHT. And I read he was dizzy when he recorded! Now that’s serious commitment to a craft. He’s pretty awesome.

Live at the Fillmore is raucous crowd-loving stuff. Hazel belts it out in back up. It is a jammin’ album! Near to my heart, you gotta love San Francisco (I have lived here off and on since 2000). I wish I had been at that show.

Rock Steady‘s “Beast of Burden” (a fun twist) and “Smokestack Lightnin’” (love the howling) are super fun covers!

BHT also plays under Big Head Blues Club (great article in San Francisco Chronicle here). The band recently released a tribute album to Blues legend Robert Johnson, showcasing a 100 years worth of his tunes along with a serious supporting cast of Blues luminaries! So much talent. So many instruments. Some sizzlin’ stuff! So it seems befitting that “Sweet Home Chicago” wraps up the song selections for this post. Because back then at Schubas, Todd was sizzle – and The Monsters rocked too.

And just as I was trying to make sense out my life there, I find myself doing the same thing here. Box after box. Move after move. Feels like one big circle.

Our picks:

Another Mayberry – 1989

  • I Will Carry (wow words)

Midnight Radio – 1991

  • Vincent of Jersey (per Rob, “just a perfect little morsel of a song” + I agree)
  • Dinner with Ivan
  • Monument in Green
  • Bittersweet (Rob and I both think this rendition is the best recorded version…and this acoustic performance on YouTube is worth a watch)

Sister Sweetly – 1993

  • Circle
  • Broken Hearted Savior

Beautiful World – 1997

  • Heart of Wilderness
  • Boom Boom (with John Lee Hooker)

Live at the Fillmore – 2004

  • Circle (this version is a-m-a-z-i-n-g, I think)
  • It’s Alright

Rock Steady – 2010

  • Smokestack Lightnin’ (cover of Howlin’ Wolf)
  • Beast of Burden (cover of The Rolling Stones)

Midnight Radio – 20th Anniversary Live at Red Rocks – 2011

  • Soul Children
  • Love Betsy

&

Big Head Blues Club – 100 Years of Robert Johnson – 2012

  • Crossroads Blues (feat. BB King)
  • Sweet Home Chicago (feat.  David “Honeyboy” Edwards & Charlie Musselwhite)

P.S. Thinking Rob needs to hit the BHT show in Raleigh on Thursday. How ironic. I’m jealous!

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