Tuesday, November 23, 2010

High and Lonesome Reunion This Saturday

When High and Lonesome came onto the scene in 1992, they became the scene.

Not since Drasbury played the Up and Under and the Laughing Iguana (Des Moines) in the late '80s had Iowa seen a band of this energy and talent this raw. Both bands were guitar bands, but while Drasbury reeked of sex and funk, High and Lonesome was more subtle... They brought the girls, but with a different sound. Like a capsule of whiskey rock, stoner blues, and mind bending psychedelia, High and Lonesome came onto the scene and people immediately took notice. Word traveled fast throughout the circuit about this exciting new band.

Brad Engeldinger was my connection to the band. I had met him a few times before at the Safari Lounge on Monday nights when the Grateful Dead cover band Jehovah's Favorite Choir would play. Those were some loose times, and it wasn't uncommon for the band to allow others to come up and join in on the jam. Brad could play the drums as well as anybody in Des Moines, and when he beat the skins it brought a whole new dimension to the sound of JFC. He and I became friends and we spent a lot of whiskey soaked monday nights together as we listened to the the music play.

Brad playing drums at Gabe's in Iowa City

Then one day Brad told me that he was teaming up with a couple of other guys to form a new band, and of course I got excited.

Those "other guys" were Darren Mathews who's slide guitar style was already a fixture in the Des Moines music scene, Dustin Connor who played bass, and Ruairi Fennessy to accompany Darren on the guitar. Rounding out the quintet was David Zollo, a flashy young keyboardist-vocalist from Iowa City who had a notebook full of songs that he had written as a teenager while living in his parent's basement. Like a cosmic shift, those songs would change a generation of music, at least in the local scene. But truth be told, High and Lonesome played all around the United States, and throughout most of Europe before they disbanded in '98.

High and Lonesome was a perfect fit for the changing time that was the early '90s. Drasbury had packed their bags for San Fransisco, and pretty much faded away at that point. Until High and Lonesome hit the scene, nobody really came in to pick up the slack. I was in my early '20s, and at a very influential age. I had no idea then that I was watching the local "changing of the guard" if you will... To me it was all rock and roll, and my 20 something attitude was more in tune to getting drunk (which I did every day) and to getting laid (which never happened), and watching live music.While I didn't realize it at the time, I was the epitome of  everything that "High and Lonesome" meant. I formed a kindred bond with the band (at least musically), and even got to a point where I'd travel back and forth from Iowa City to Des Moines just to catch them twice in a weekend.

Then I followed a girl to Ames in '93 and became less and less a part of the High and Lonesome crowd... I would only catch them on those rare times that they would travel up there. (By that time, Brad had left the band to pursue other interests, and he was replaced by Jimmy Vinner. I had lost my personal connection to the band.)

Years passed and I lost track of High and Lonesome. I was absorbed in a new music scene, and as time is prone to do, it caused me to drift away from my past. Still though, I had my High and Lonesome CDs, and would play them on occasion when the mood hit me. Since then they have gotten packed away in a box somewhere, filed away into the "Out of sight, outta mind" folder. The band drifted into oblivion as far as I knew, and would probably still be there today if it weren't for the internet and social network sites.

High and Lonesome with Jim Viner

In March of this year I caught wind of the Extremely Secret High and Lonesome Re-Union Conspiracy page on Facebook. It got me to thinking about the band, and wondering if this "conspiracy" was indeed true, or just a hyped up dream somebody was toying around Facebook with. Then I started to see David Zollo and his new band the Body Electric more and more in central Iowa... Then the buzz started between old friends, and eventually it became official about a month and a half ago. High and Lonesome was indeed reforming for a show at Peoples on Court in Des Moines on Saturday November 27. As it turns out, everybody in the band will be there for the reunion, including Brad Engeldinger and Jimmy Viner who way play drums in successive sets.

Last Thursday I was able to contact David Zollo over the phone for an interview. We talked about the the break up of High and Lonesome, the reunion, as well as a few other things relative to the scene. It was the first time I had spoken to Dave in seventeen years, and I found him to be more careful in the way he chose his words, a definite sign of maturity. One learns a lot when he lives on the road. From my standpoint, it's amazing how far we travel in our life without ever knowing we left in the first place. Luckily for me and other fans/friends of this band, it all came full circle. I didn't realize how badly I missed High and Lonesome until I heard about them reforming...

Dave Zollo

Hey Dave, I appreciate the time out of your busy schedule... So tell me, what have you been up to lately?

I have been... I was touring in Italy for three weeks. And uh, yeah. I got back about ten days ago and I've been hitting the road since I've been back.

Right on...  How was the reception in Italy?

You know... It went well. I have done a handful of tours over there but I hadn't been there since '03 and the shows went really well.

Do the people know who you are over there?

They do. Yep. We have a lot of folks who have the records.

Very good, Dave. I hear that there is a big reunion show coming up...

Yep, a week from Saturday, November 27th all the original member of High and Lonesome are going to get together and play a show at Peoples there in Des Moines.

In 1994 you were diagnosed with pre-cancerous tumors in your vocal chords...


Which ultimately led to the break-up of High and Lonesome. First of all, please tell me about that time period...

Actually that isn't what led to the break-up of High and Lonesome, we actually soldiered on for a few more years after that. I did spend a year in Nashville playing piano with a guy named Todd Snider but um... We actually carried on til about '98. But that was, as you could imagine a real traumatic period in my life. I was 24 is all, and um... I had really good surgeons here at the University of Iowa and they rebuilt my larynx and my vocal chords, and uh... You know I went back out there and it took quite a few years to let my voice recover fully.

You mentioned joining Todd Snider... Is that a main reason High and Lonesome broke up?

No no... Not at all... Nuh-uh. I played with him for a year and then came back. And High and Lonesome played for another three years after that.

So (the surgery) really wasn't a set back in your career then?

I mean it was... I would say it was a significant set back. There was a lot of label interest in High and Lonesome at that time, and you know, and it probably took six or seven years for my voice to fully recover I would say, but at the same time I continued on and still had a career and still made records, continued to play, and you know it was a set back but I dealt with it, and you know continued moving forward.

So now, 16 years later the band is reforming... I guess it's less than that actually. Why now, and how much of a struggle was it to get everybody back on the same page?

You know? Um... Over the last couple of years there has been some interest from club owners and fans of the band to see us play together again, and you know, people were consistent and some clubs kept asking and when all the guys talked about it, everyone was willing and able, and we actually rehearsed together last week and it felt great... Like riding the proverbial bike, and um... Yeah there was just demand for it, so I spoke to everybody and everybody wanted to do it.

That's funny, because my next question to you was, can we expect some rust, or have you guys been having rehearsals...

(Interrupting) You know we did a rehearsal and we're gonna do one more, you know I mean there might be a little rust... I think it would be foolish to expect that there wouldn't be any... But I think it's going to be pretty minimal... I was pleasantly surprised about how good it felt.

Very good! Tell me a little bit about being on the road with Todd Snider... Do you have a favorite memory or two?

You know?... It was... I always had a good time. I continued to play with Todd off and on really up until about a year ago, and I don't know when it was, maybe three years ago we played the Tonight Show, and that was a blast... That was a lot of fun.

Is that right?

Yeah. Yep.

With Jay Leno?

With Jay Leno, yep. And you know, we had a lot of good times. we played the Luckenbach Festival back in '96 with Jerry Jeff Walker and I got to sit in with that band. Those guys are great and that was fun.

Wow. Yeah I know he did a cover of "I'm an alright guy" on one of his albums.

Yeah. Jerry Jeff and Todd are pretty good buddies.

Jerry Jeff is a legend... For sure. So um... You and Todd are still friends today?

Absolutely. Yeah. He was going to be working on my new record, but it just didn't work out, he was going to co-produce it...

What led to his bands' downsizing in 1997 and your departure from the band?

Um... he ended up leaving MCA records, the label he was on. I think he was just realizing that it was a lot easier... And cheaper to tour as a solo act. He is a tremendous solo performer, so I think it just made sense and it still does.

You have always maintained an extensive tour schedule... What do you do when you are not on tour?

Um, you know I help raise my son Rocco who is seven, and spend a lot of time with him. And um, I play at least three or four shows you know, every week. It seems like I'm never... Never off the road.

Back to High and Lonesome... Do you think that there will be some longevity this time around, or are we still in the "lets wait and see" phase?

Ahh, yeah... This isn't a reforming of the band, as much as it is a celebration of the stuff the band did. You know we added a show in Iowa City on December 17th... But... I mean, yeah. I'm in the studio making a new record with my band the Body Electric. I don't foresee this becoming a regular thing... Maybe a couple times a year...

So no talk about recording an album with High and Lonesome?

Not right now. I mean I wouldn't rule anything out, but that's not really part of the plan.

Ok... What can we expect at the reunion show?... Any surprises?

Well... You know we are going to dig deep into the bag, and do all of the songs that the people like and the stuff we were known for doing live. Um... So, I don't think any surprises, as much as hopefully we are going to give the people what they want.

(*All photos credited to Sandra Dyas except picture of Brad)

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