Max Carl & Big Dance
It was something he would never forget. His very first memory. Sitting in the back of his parents car as it crossed the wide muddy river into Indianola, Mississippi.
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He was a 3-year-old Midwestern boy, and compared to his home state of Nebraska, motoring through delta country seemed "like exploring the Congo." The experience stayed with him like pepper vinegar under his fingernails,. Its rhythms, its blues, its exotic spirit, made such a profound impression on him that by the time he was just 16, Max Carl was fronting a rocking soul band comprised of musicians twice his age.
Blessed with an incredible set of vocal pipes, Max Carl would go on to rack up a string of achievements that any musician would envy: lead singer in a teenaged garage band that spawned one of rocks future guitar gods, frontman for a legendary Hollywood party band, songwriter extraordinaire for many greatest hits songs and the signature voice of one of southern rocks most commercially successful outfits.
Wherever Max Carl would perform he'd impress the hell out of people, including Stevie Wonder, Elton John, Don Henley, Bonnie Raitt, James Brown, and especially the Eagles' Glenn Frey, who chose Max Carl's groundbreaking new album, "One Planet, One Groove," by Max Carl & Big Dance, as the debut release on his brand new label, Mission Records.
An exciting musical journey, "One Planet, One Groove" is a stunner of an album that's powered by two diametrically opposed currents: one primordial, the other digital. Using r&b and soul as a rock-solid foundation, "One Planet, One Groove" serves up an ingenius musical stew that blends centuries old African-American fife & drum music with brow-sweating rock & roll. The result, something never before attempted, is a batch of memorable, kick-ass new songs that only Max Carl could have cooked up.
Fueled by his family's love of music, especially gospel music and still haunted by his childhood trip to the Mississippi delta the slam-dunking 17-year-old from Platte Center, Nebraska named Max Carl passed up a pair of juicy basketball scholarships to dedicate himself to his true passion: rocknroll.
After gigging with local soul heroes, The Smoke Ring, who were on Buddha Records, Max teamed up with a childhood pal, guitarist Tommy Bolin, and together they formed a garage band called Energy. When the two musicians went their separate ways, (Bolin to a solo career, a stint with The James Gang, and guitar-hero status before dying tragically at age 24), Max Carl gravitated to Los Angeles where he became the focal point of a 10-piece soul-strutting powerhouse of sound known as Jack Mack and the Heart Attack. A live gig legend, the bands lone 1986 studio album, Cardiac Party, has attained cult status, ably demonstrating Max Carl's searing and smooth vocal range.
"The first time I saw Max sing," recalls Glenn Frey, "I said: 'Wow, here's this handsome, six foot four white dude who can belt out a song like Wilson Pickett.' And he was a great keyboard player, too. I was amazed."
So was James Brown, the Godfather of Soul himself, who, after witnessing Max's one of a kind wail, invited him onstage for a 30 minute encore. So blistering was Max's performance that Brown did something he'd never done before: He took his famed cape and draped it across the shoulders of another singer. "It was the most thrilling night of my career," Max recalls. Max Carl's soul ticket had been spectacularly validated.
Acting on his lifelong fascination with the South, Max moved to Georgia in 1987 and joined the Atlanta-based band .38 Special. He not only injected a new strain of soul into their southern rock sound, but with his writing talent (he's a composer of greatest hits material for Bette Midler, Aaron Neville, and Joe Cocker) Max helped propel the band to a pair of number one hit singles: "Second Chance," which was 1987s Billboard Adult Contemporary Song of the Year, and its follow-up, the number one AOR hit, "The Sound of Your Voice."
Max had hit paydirt, but in 1992, after two hit albums, a restless Max Carl departed .38 Special. Why walk away from such a good thing? "Because I'd had a glimpse of something amazing," he recalls, " a new concept for a new band. A whole new sound."
Since moving South, Max had taken trips through the Mississippi delta where he soaked up everything he could about the origins of American music. On one such sojourn, a chance encounter with a 90-year-old bamboo fife player named Otha Turner radically changed Max's ideas about what a great American soul band could be. One of the few remaining practitioners of African-American fife & drum music that was virtually unheard of but had an incredibly exhilarating sound. Turner had given Max Carl a beautifully rusted key to a brand new door.
Wasting no time, Max moved to Nashville in 1993 and began to create Big Dance, a 10 piece band the likes of which no one had ever heard, or seen before. "Nashville is a Mecca for great roots musicians," Max explains, "many of whom have been replaced by computers." Ironically, the Big Dance concept, while featuring traditional roots music elements, would attempt to incorporate electronic instruments (synthesizer, Midi, Groove Box, etc.) that had always seemed so antithetical to "real" music.
But was it possible to mix the traditional grit of guitars, horns, drums, and keyboards with a tangy, electronic gravy? "Absolutely," Carl insists. "This technology is there to be used. Its like adding cilantro to your pork chops, yknow? Makes it all taste a little bit better."
In a matter of weeks, Max Carl & Big Dance added equal parts classic and cutting edge and had generated such a buzz on the local Nashville music scene, that Max received a call from an old friend. "It was Glenn (Frey)," he recalls. "The re-united Eagles were coming to Nashville, and he wanted to know if my new band would play a party he was throwing."
Midway through that bash, Frey became ecstatic. "I was just floored by what I heard and saw," he recalls. "And by the time Max and his guys marched out of the place, fife & drum style, so was everybody else."
Though it's a studio album (co-produced by Glenn Frey, Mike Harlow and Max Carl) "One Planet, One Groove" captures the exhilarating spirit of a great live band that is always loose, always alive. "Glenn and I are both performance oriented," Max explains. "And so he told me, 'You're a performer, go ahead and perform'""
"Its how you capture joy on tape," explains Frey, who also co-wrote some of the albums original material. And "One Planet, One Groove" certainly captures that special joy.
"One Planet, One Groove" kicks off, appropriately enough, with the contagiously catchy "Everything Old Is New Again," which sets the tone and temperature for the entire album. Highlights that follow are the funked-up, off-beat "Strong;" a Max and Glenn duet called "Show Me The Money;" "Babys Got T Have It," which features a great slide guitar solo by Glenn; and the affecting ballad, "One More River," "about missing someone, but knowing there's a trust between the two of you," Max says.
Like the band's live performances, "One Planet, One Groove" is peppered with choice cover tunes, including "Land Of A Thousand Dances" and "Rollin and Tumblin." "That's the song, the way people responded to it, that showed me this new band was gonna work," Max says. "I mean, whoever thought of putting a marching bass drum to a blues song before? But it works!"
Fife & drums galvanize the albums closer, "You Ain't Gotta Go Home, But You Gotta Leave Here," a genuinely fitting finale to an album that positively gushes with life.
By turns familiar and far-out, always pushing the limits of what American music can be, "One Planet, One Groove" by Max Carl & Big Dance will overwhelm you with the giddy, rum-drunk sensation that right here, right now, is the best place to be.
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