December 18, 2008

Phoenixville News


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Phoenixville News, Phoenixville, PA

December 18, 2008

Callahan’s Grace & Grit lands national airplay; see her band at Chaplin’s

By Fern Brodkin

Deb Callahan returns to Chaplin’s the Music Café Saturday night. This bluesy Christmas show will again feature her stellar band and patrons will receive a special live CD of the band as her Christmas gift to the fans who have supported her.

Grace & Grit is an apt title for Callahan to choose. It is indicative of the balance she says she needs in dealing with the challenges of being an independent musician in the brutal music business.

“You have to work really hard and stick with things,” says Callahan. “Pushing and working hard takes grit and it also takes grace to be relaxed and poised (as a performer).” She adds: “It takes so much energy to make the CD and then be the promoter, booker (and) marketer…”

It looks like Callahan’s efforts are starting to pay off. The album debuted at number 16 on the Living Blues Magazine Radio Chart for the month of November. The chart is based on radio airplay of blues artists on 160 radio stations in the United States and Canada.

One of the radio stations included in the chart is Philadelphia’s WXPN. Songs from Grace & Grit have been played by Jonny Meister on The Blues Show as well as by Michaela Majoun on the Women’s Music Hour.

Perhaps the success of this, her third CD, was having a different philosophy for the recording process.

“We recorded it more live instead of overdubbing,” says Callahan. “I wanted it to sound more (like) how the band sounds live.

“Although (the previous album) The Blue Pearl (2005) has a lot of cool things about it I didn’t want to do another Blue Pearl. (It) had a little more of a produced feel to it and more pop and folk elements… I wanted this to be bluesy (and) a little more gritty…”

Despite the change in sound, like eliminating the acoustic guitar from the recording this time around and putting more emphasis on the drums, Callahan did decide to continue to work with Chris Arms as producer. Arms also produced The Blue Pearl.

“I found (him) easy to work with, which is important,” Callahan says. “He really listened to my ideas. He gets where I’m coming from.”

The album includes 12 songs, 11 of which are originals. Nine of these originals are co-writes.

“It really helps me to write with other people,” she says.

In addition to Arms, one of her writing partners is band guitarist Allen James, who has been in Callahan’s band for 6 years and is the most senior member of the ensemble. She also did some writing with Billy Baltera, who she says is one of the first blues musicians she met when she began going to blues jams at Warmdaddy’s in the late ’90s.

“I wanted to write with someone who (has) a good blues perspective.”

Along with the originals, Callahan pays tribute to four artists who have influenced and inspired her with their singing, musicianship and/or songwriting. Callahan chose for the album’s lone cover the Ray Charles song “Hallelujah I Love Him So,” which the band often performs live. She says she chose the song because it has a “joyful, celebratory feeling about life and love.”

In addition there are three a cappella excerpts of songs interspersed on the album. She says she chose “I Wish I Knew” by Nina Simone because “when I was a kid my mom played it all the time. It’s one of the first songs that really moved me.”

Another artist who Callahan pays tribute to is Joni Mitchell.

“She paints such amazing images with her lyrics,” notes Callahan. She chose Mitchell’s song “Dry Cleaner from Des Moines” because “I just love the jazzy, playful whimsicalness of (it).”

Lastly Callahan honors the vocal artistry of Aretha Franklin with an excerpt from “Today I Sing the Blues,” which she made famous.

Callahan says that she hopes the national radio airplay will lead to a distribution deal and the opportunity to play more music festivals, where she is able to perform for larger audiences. Though she enjoys the intimacy of venues like Chaplin’s she wants to expose her music to a wider audience.

“I think festivals and bigger concerts are key,” she says.

Callahan has played several festivals, including the famed Monterey Bay Blues Festival in Monterey Bay, California in 2005.

“It was kind of surreal just being on the stage where the Monterey Pop festival had been held,” recalls Callahan. “You could see Jimi Hendrix’s name carved (on the stage) and they say it was him who actually carved it.

“It’s the biggest stage I was ever on,” continues Callahan.

Callahan was on the bill with Buddy Guy, Shemekia Copeland and Billy Preston. She got the gig from a review of The Blue Pearl in Blues Revue magazine that the festival’s booking agent read, and they sought her out.

“It was a thrill to be on that stage and hang around and wave to Buddy Guy and see one of Billy Preston’s last big concerts before he passed away. That was pretty thrilling.”

Callahan says she is getting good reviews in the national press for Grace & Grit as well and she has already gotten inquiries to play festivals in the summer of 2009. She hopes more invitations are on the way, but she is making a more concerted effort to put herself out there and not wait for all the opportunities to come to her.

Callahan says a big part of her success is due to her top notch backing band. Guitarist James and bassist Garry Lee are longtime fixtures in the Philadelphia music scene and have been friends and band mates in other projects including the popular ’90s band June Rich. Tom Walling, who has played drums for Callahan for about a year, also has a solid blues and rock background and has performed with numerous bands in the area.

Lee says he enjoys performing with such accomplished musicians as James and Walling and adds that “(Deb) is a great singer and a great writer.”

He adds: “I think the new album is great” and says he is happy and surprised that it is getting national airplay. He too hopes it is the precursor of greater success.

So now is your opportunity to see Callahan and her band in a small, intimate venue before all the festivals come calling. Also on the bill is Blue Bizness. This local blues band formed in 2004 and has been pleasing fans with their brand of “high energy blues rock.” Come see practicing Phoenixville physician Dr. Don “Zig” Zeller in his other role – as the band’s lead vocalist, guitarist and harmonica player.

For more information about the Deb Callahan Band see

For more information about Blue Bizness see

For more information about the writer see

Deb Callahan Band and Blue Bizness at Chaplin’s the Music Café. Tonight. 8 PM. $12 includes free live Deb Callahan CD. 66 N. Main Street, Spring City. More information: 610-792-4110;