June 10, 2010

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Big Head Todd brings the islands back home
Summer tour, then blues project for Denver band
By Michael Witthaus music@hippopress.com

He’s not running for mayor of Margaritaville, but Big Head Todd and the Monsters front man Todd Park Mohr says the band’s forthcoming album Rocksteady has a decidedly island vibe. The first single, “Beautiful,” flirts so much with Jack Johnson that you can practically smell the sea air.

According to Mohr, it’s also the most cohesive record the Denver, Colo., quartet has ever made.

“It’s primarily an R&B, Caribbean album, if that makes any sense. It’s a very light pop soul album,” he said recently from his tour bus in South Carolina. “It has a really tight focus compared to most every one of our other albums, which are pretty all over the map.”

The sessions for the record were just that, yielding enough finished songs for two albums’ worth of material, including a cover of the Stones’ “Beast of Burden” and the blues standard “Smokestack Lightning,” both of which will be on the forthcoming release.

“The other one is more of a hard rock record, it’s a pretty different album,” said Mohr, noting that it should come out sometime in 2011.

2007’s Beautiful World was a marketing experiment for the band, with 500,000 copies given away to fans and thousands more downloaded from their website. At the time, Mohr challenged the need for big labels, saying, “The world would be better off without them.”

Though they’re still using their own Big Records imprint, they’ll be less iconoclastic for Rocksteady, which comes out July 20.

“This album is as traditional a release as there is … CD in the stores,” said Mohr; it’s to be distributed by the Warner Independent Label Group.

Much of Rocksteady’s mood was born during cruise trips the band took to Turks and Caicos in the Caribbean in recent years, the last in 2009. During these working vacations, the band performed for their most dedicated fans while soaking up the tropical ambience.

The resort island is a short trip from Jamaica, where rocksteady music was born in the early 1960s, purveyed by bands like the Skatalites, something Mohr says he kept in mind.

“The region itself is inspirational, and it’s also a very emotional part of American music history,” Mohr said. “The influence of the Caribbean on our music, and not just reggae but also soul, R&B and the whole shebang of rock and roll has a lot to do with this part of the world. I’m largely inspired by it.”

After a summer tour in support of the new album, Big Head Todd and the Monsters will embark on a different journey into American musical history — the blues. The Blues at the Crossroads project marks the centennial of Robert Johnson’s birth with a retrospective of the seminal guitarist’s musical and cultural legacy. An album is planned, along with a short tour in early 2011.

“We’re kind of going to be the backing band to a number of different artists who’ve made significant contributions,” Mohr said. This will include performances by 95-year-old slide guitarist David “Honeyboy” Edwards, who was playing with Johnson the night he died (poisoned, legend has it, by a jealous husband) and Howlin’ Wolf sideman Hubert Sumlin.

Big Head Todd and the Monsters perform Sunday, June 13, at Manchester’s Palace Theatre. The core trio — Mohr on guitar and vocals, Rob Squires on bass and drummer Brian Nevin — has been unchanged since the band formed in 1986. Keyboard player Jeremy Lawton joined six years ago; vocalist Hazel Miller, who’s toured off and on with the band since their 1990 breakthrough album Midnight Radio, will also join them onstage.

“We love it, having a family and friends that have a long history and get along great. We’re a low-drama group,” Mohr said. “It is rewarding. I reminds me a bit about what they say about lives — ‘I wish I knew then what I know now, and what a curse it is to be young and have all those emotions and energy but not allowed to experience it.’ We’re very fortunate to still be in a rock band. But at the same time, we’ve had a lot of experience and a lot of time together.”


Hear it live
Who: Big Head Todd and the Monsters
What: Concert for the Cause
When: Sunday, June 13, at 8 p.m.
Where: Palace Theatre, 80 Hanover St., Manchester
Tickets: $38 at 668-5588, palacetheatre.org
Band info: www.bigheadtodd.com