Thursday, December 19, 2013

Local musician taps Staples' band for new record

A couple of weeks ago a local musician contacted me about his Kickstarter campaign. I rarely blog about Kickstarters because there are many and I don’t have time to highlight them all, but Ben Hernandez’s story was different. I realize lots of people are out of work and changing careers today by choice, force, or necessity, but I felt for Hernandez who gave up a job as a full-time musician in California when he moved to Charlotte where he worked retail (gasp!). I actually enjoy retail myself. I like the give and take, the semi-formal interaction with customers. I miss it sometimes, which is why I do wine tastings (one of my side gigs). But I digress. I imagine it's quite jolting to go from performing as a professional musician for a living to the less glamorous world of retail sales.

Hernandez hadn’t had a day job since the `90s, he says. He and his musical partner Nathan James toured as a roots music duo playing country blues and jug band music. You can see in the above video filmed while on tour in Denmark, that it’s really well done. Hernandez sang and played harmonica, washtub bass (I can’t help but think of Emmett Otter at Christmas), kazoo, jug and spoons. The two played festivals, theaters, clubs, and house parties regionally in California, in the Northwest, the South, Scandinavia, and occasionally in Canada and Taiwan. But that changed once Hernandez and his wife moved to Charlotte to be closer to family.

I realized I couldn't maintain enough of a touring schedule with my old music partner back in California to have any kind of income and I really couldn't find the right niche here for being able to play full time regionally.  So I had to get a day job,” he says. 

An avid runner, he took a part-time job at Run For Your Life. He eventually managed that store before moving on to Balega, which makes technical running socks. Hernandez never shook the music bug entirely.  A few years ago he began writing new songs and with the current Kickstarter campaign is ready to record a new album. His band consists of Rick Holstrom, Jeff Turmes, and Stephen Hodges who tour and record with soul legend Mavis Staples. They’re backing her in the Letterman appearance with Jeff Tweedy below and did so on her Grammy winning 2010 album. They’ve also played with R.L. Burnside, Bonnie Raitt, and Tom Waits. Given what you can tell about Hernandez’s previous work from his videos and this band’s credentials, the project seems very worthwhile.  
Over half the Kickstarter goal has been reached already, but the rest must be contributed by New Year’s Eve for Hernandez to collect it. That’s how Kickstarter works. You either meet your goal or you have to forfeit your donations. I call them donations, but there are always incentives from a digital download of the album ($10) to house concert ($3,000).  Others include an instrument lesson, limited edition, and a jar of honey from Hernandez's backyard (apparently he keeps bees too). Hernandez calls it the “Turnrow Sessions” because he sees it as a make or break opportunity to further pursue music - or not.

You can read more about the project and contribute to the Kickstarter campaign here. Hernandez describes it as different from his work with Nathan James.

Different band. Different concepts. More depth in my songwriting. It's also a little higher profile because of the other musicians associations to Mavis Staples and others,” he says.

I’m sure you’d make his holiday if you checked it out.