February 29 @ 7:30 pm - 10:30 pmFree
Like so many blues aficionados before him, Melbourne based singer, songwriter and guitarist Zevon Hiltz made the pilgrimage to the southern end of North America to soak in the sights and sounds of historic music towns like Clarksville, Mississippi and Memphis, Tennessee. Zevon had grown up on a steady diet of the blues thanks to the record collection of his bass playing father Joe. A string of American gigs gave Zevon the perfect opportunity to tick that journey off his bucket list.
“I checked out all the bars, dives, juke joints,” he reflects. “I didn’t really want to leave. There’s the flatlands, wetlands, cotton fields, and rustic juke joints that are amazingly still there. There are only a handful left but I did pilgrim myself down there and sat on a porch at a place called the shack up inn. I just think it is something that every blues musician should do. It’s where the heart and soul of all their music comes from.”
However, it was a trip to the Stax Records museum in Memphis, site of so many legendary early rock and blues recordings that really had effect on Hiltz. “I walked into the museum and a lady there said there’s a 20 minute video you watch before you walk into the museum,’ he says. “I said to her, well I’m here, why do I need to watch a video? So she said, well you can just walk in if you want. So I paid my money and went in and walked past Studio A and then walked into the studio. You know, the Blues Brothers, Elvis, Albert King, so many artists recorded in that studio. So I was standing in the middle of Studio A by myself and that was the most emotional point of the trip for me. It was quite moving and I couldn’t get out of there. I spent an hour in there I reckon, touching the walls and looking at Steve Cropper and Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn’s instruments which were in a glass enclosure. There was Elvis’ sequinned top. It gave me a better understanding of what I’m doing and just trying to capture a little bit of what they had and bring it into the ‘new of today’.”
Zevon with Muddy Waters’ son Mudgate Morganfield at the Blues Kitchen, Camden, UK.
The ‘new of today’ Zevon is referring to is his latest blues project, Werewolves Of Melbourne, a four piece outfit which has just released a four track EP titled ‘Black Diamond Ring’. Along with Sam Cope on keys, and Yuri Pavlinov (bass) and Graham Pogson (drums), both borrowed The Bamboos, the Werewolves produce a soulful, funkified brand of the blues, influenced by the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Freddie King.
“Someone turned me on to Stevie Ray Vaughan as a teen and as soon as I heard that I was just locked,” says Zevon of his blues hero. “Three or four years after that I found out that we both share the same birthday, October 3rd, me and Stevie. I think the blues that I really get into is that funk based blues like Freddie King and some of the more contemporary original stuff that Stevie Ray Vaughan did. I guess playing in bars from 12 at night till 3 in the morning, we had to make people dance and I was playing this blues music but in a funk-based, soul driven way. So I think that was instilled in me from doing that. I guess with this record, we have Yuri and Graham as the rhythm section, they’re both in The Bamboos, so maybe they bought a bit of their funk to the band. I guess it’s just the sound, with Sam on keys as well, that together we’ve created.”
Werewolves are currently rehearsing an additional batch of new songs with the hope of recording a full length album in September. “We’re kinda waiting for some nice weather and then bunk down,” says Zevon of the plan. “I’m going over to Bali for a little solo tour in August. So when I get back, the boys are really keen to get into it. Another band, friends of ours, Doom Scene have just bought part of a Neve console and a 2 inch tape machine, which they have just done their album on. So we think we’ll go old-style too and keep off the digital because their album sounds absolutely amazing. We might even do a vinyl release.”
Although the ‘Black Diamond Ring’ EP reeks of a tight band jamming it out in the studio together, Hiltz tells us that due to a strict deadline, all of the instrumental parts were recorded individually and comped together later. “Everyone was recorded separately,” he says. “When you hear it, it does sound like we’re all together in a room, which was ideally what we wanted but at the time there was a competition we wanted to enter and we needed to have something done. Everything was three takes, most of it done on the same day. It was finished in two days. I was always playing in the control room so everyone that came in played with me but at separate times.”
Zevon’s SG, Epiphone Sheraton and Strat
Zevon’s main tool of trade is a ’66 Strat which his father bought from an uncle in the early 80s. It was originally purchased from Mannys Music in the 70s. “There’s an Epiphone Sheraton that I use on one of the solos too,” he says as he continues to rattle off some of the gear used on the EP. “All the outboard gear, we were plugging in through Avalon. The bass was through the Avalon. I was using a an Arthur amp, Laurie Arthur you’d probably know him. I’ve been playing through his amp for the last 4 or 5 years. And the pedals I don’t know where to start … classic overdrive, Tube Screamer. I’ve also got a Blue Boy as well.”
Werewolves is only one of many musical projects Zevon is involved in. Seven of his songs have just been included on a soundtrack for a surf movie titled ‘Serendipity’, he’s rehearsing his older blues band The Sure Shot Hunters to see if there’s any fire left in that belly and he also has a couple of other bands and solo gigs that keep him out of mischief too. Plus, outside of music, Zevon is a teacher in a Brazilain martial art called Capoeira, not something you normally associate with members of rock bands but Zevon begs to differ.
“I know a lot of musicians who do martial arts,” he says. “Look at Jimi Hocking, I think he is a Taekwondo instructor. He’s been doing that longer than I’ve been doing Capoeira. He has a black belt and trains in China or Korea. Phil Ceberano’s dad Tino is like a 3rd or 8th dan Gōju Kai, Hawaiian master. Phil and Kate Ceberano are both black belts in karate. It was quite funny a few years ago, we were on tour with Paris Wells in Adelaide and there was me, Phil, Nick Karasavvidis (drummer), who does Kendo and one of Phil’s mates on bass, who was a Ju Jitsu instructor. We are at this Cabaret festival for ten days, so every day we’d all be training and fighting and then at night, drinking and getting smashed and playing tunes. We thought about starting the Martial Arts Band but we were all too busy to start another band.”
The busy Hiltz is currently scheduling gigs and recording sessions for the remainder of the year and into early 2015. There’s a support slot for Andrew Strong and The Commitments in October, recording of the Werewolves debut album, 3 or 4 blues festival appearances and he’s aiming at a Werewolves gig per month in Melbourne. “I just have to get my head around all of these projects without a manager helping me,” he says of the downside of being so active. “It would be great to have someone to work off and feed all my ideas to and have someone help with a sense of direction. I’m doing alright by myself but I think it’s best for an artist to be an artist.”