Low Cut Connie play Rumba Cafe on Wednesday, January 24. Micah Schnabel of Two Cow Garage will open the show. Tickets are $12 in advance, $15 day of show.
Despite having fans like President Obama and Elton John, Philly’s Low Cut Connie isn’t exactly an overnight success story but when people do discover the band’s ’50s-style piano-based rock and roll, they tend to become super fans. And, Low Cut Connie’s live shows have been described by many as legendary.
We caught up with lead singer/piano player Adam Weiner shortly before Low Cut Connie hit the road for another swing through the U.S. to promote May 2017’s Dirty Pictures, Part 1.
My kids took piano lessons when they were younger and I don’t believe they ever thought this would lead to a rock and roll career. Of course, I don’t have any Jerry Lee Lewis or Little Richard albums in my collection so they weren’t exposed to the piano as a rock instrument. At what point when you were learning did you realize that it could be used more than just for traditional songs, classical compositions, etc?
Well, I always wanted to play guitar and I saw Back to the Future when I was very, very, very young and, like many kids of the ’80s, that was a gateway into Chuck Berry and this sort of ’80s version of ’50s rock and roll. As a child, I was fascinated with Chuck Berry and any kind of ’50s rock and roll, like Little Richard. But, we had a piano in the house and my family wanted me to take piano lessons, I didn’t have a guitar until later.
So, I was a good boy and I did all the show tunes and whatever and it just never really clicked, I didn’t get that good at sight reading and all this, but then I would listen to the music – Huey Lewis or whatever – and then I could sit down and figure it out by ear on the piano. I realized, after a while, that I could create my own kind of funky little gutter version of a boogie rock and roll guitar, Chuck Berry chord structure, on a piano. And once I did that, it just sort of took off from there.
I think I play like a guitar player though. I’m just as influenced by guitar rock and roll as I am by piano rock and roll in terms of how I play and make songs.
You mentioned Huey Lewis. That was the first concert I ever went to.
Me too! I saw him in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania in the round. This would have been 1989 or 1990, Small World tour maybe.
What sort of challenges do you encounter on tour as a piano player? It’s not like you can hop on a plane with your guitar and fly to LA to be on some late night talk show. Also, I’m sure you’ve found ways to work around this but there have to have been some clubs you’ve played that have either been in a basement or second floor. How do you handle those logistics?
It’s a nightmare! It’s a pain in the ass. First of all, you’ve got to get people in the band who are crazy enough and strong enough to do. We’ve modded out Shondra, my piano, so she’s easier to lift with these sort of built-in B3 dollies. But, I’m not going to lie, it’s a nightmare.
We just went to England. We had to get a second piano for England, there were stairs. We did a gig in Manchester, England where the stairs were just that thin and curvy that we couldn’t get the piano in. So I had to do the show with no piano. That was interesting. It was actually a really good show, I just kind of Jagger’d it.
To be fair, it is getting easier. As we progress, our team is getting better at booking us at places where it’s easier to do. It’s always an adventure, my friend.
I remember the first albums and cassettes I owned and the first artist that took me from passive music listener to active music fan. But, the next step was finding a band to write about which helped launch where I am today. Who were some of the transitional artists that took you from being a listener to a fan and from a fan to a performer?
I don’t know but I can give you a couple of bullet point-like, “When I heard this, it put me on a path”.
The first would be Leadbelly. I bought this Leadbelly CD when I was 12. That was very eye opening to me and Leadbelly still is one of my favorite artists. I grew up in New Jersey, in the suburbs of Philly, and listening to Leadbelly, it was music that was recorded in Shreveport, Louisiana in the early ’30s by a black, ex-convict, 12-string guitar player singing about Hitler and Howard Hughes and all this kind of stuff with unbelievable power and his voice was very profound. That was one.
Velvet Underground, when I got into them, that was very profound for me, that opened up some worlds for me, I think that’s true for a lot of people.
And then I lived in Memphis for a time. I think the first time I heard Elvis, his Sun Record stuff, which got me on this long obsession with Sun Studios which is cool because I’ve become friends with the Sam Phillips family. They are big Low Cut Connie fans. That was very powerful. It’s not the Elvis you heard on the radio, but the Elvis at Sun where it’s total creativity existing between music genres. You can’t put your finger on it, it’s kind of everything all at once but it’s totally free.
I still go back to a lot of old music from that era – Jerry Lee, Elvis, Chuck Berry, Big Maybelle, Big Mama Thornton. There’s this freedom, freedom of expression that was happening at that time. It’s a well that I draw from frequently.
Where does a 12-year-old discover Leadbelly?
It’s a strange thing. I was always fixated. Any time on TV that there was something about the South, I was transfixed. My family listened to, as many Jewish families in New Jersey listen to, show tunes and Barry Manilow and Barbara Streisand and Frank Sinatra and Les Miserables. I’m not putting down any of that music because, later on, I certainly gained an appreciation for some of that music. But, when I would hear random snatches of Hank Williams or something that sounded old and from another world, it would just catch my ear.
I had a short-wave radio, I used to get into that when I was young. I just loved listening to radio stations that were far away. I bought this book that was all about blues, the book I think was from the ’60s and I saw this photograph of Leadbelly. What a powerful image of him, such a strong man coming through this photograph and I went and found a CD. I guess that’s what started me on that.
On our third album, we covered a Leadbelly song, most people don’t know that. We have a song on our Hi Honey album called “Dickie’s Bringing Me Down” which is a version of a Leadbelly song called “If it Weren’t For Dickie.” We got Dean Ween to play guitar on it. It’s a strange song but I was kind of tipping my hat to Leadbelly on that.
I grew up on MTV in the ’80s and whatever they were shoveling my way.
Me too, for sure. I was a child of the ’80s so Prince, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, George Michael. They are all standards for me and I think it shows in our live show. Of course, we had the great pleasure and honor of being able to cover a Prince song last year on our album.
While I haven’t seen you live, yet, by watching videos and live clips, it’s very obvious that you are a performer in every sense of the word. Were you like that as a kid? Were you constantly jumping up on furniture, being the center of attention at gatherings and that kind of thing or did that confidence develop as you became more confident in your playing?
I was very shy, very introverted. I still am. But, my stage life is different than real life. From a certain age, I figured on stage is where I could be my true self. Real life is hard sometimes for people like me, performers. The lights go on, the camera goes on and I feel right where I should be. I can’t really pinpoint a moment but I was very, very shy in school.
So your teachers would be shocked by where you are today.
Well, I got into music and performing so those teachers and mentors that knew me from that side, they are not surprised and many have stayed in touch with me. But, the general public beyond that, yeah, this is pretty shocking to see what I’m doing now.
Are there any lyrics you’ve written that, after the fact, you’re sort of amazed that you came up with those words? Like, “Wow, I really hope people are paying attention and listening to these lyrics because they are good”.
I always think I can do better. I don’t have the ability that many of my heroes have. So I have to work at it. I like to think that my best songs are ahead of me. But, I’m very proud of “Revolution Rock and Roll” on our most recent album, I feel connected to that song. There’s a line in it where I say, “If I don’t preserve it, then I don’t deserve it.” It’s sort of a mission statement for me. I don’t think Low Cut Connie’s music is revolutionary in terms of doing something brand new or reinventing the wheel. What we do is that we try to do soul music, lowercase “s”, music that people can easily relate to, very accessible, that moves them, excites them, that has heart and soul. Trying to be fashionable and hip and cool is not really in our repertoire, unfortunately.
I look back to the artists that excite me and move me and touch me in a profound way and I’m just trying to honor what they’ve done and keep it going. I think just preserving the spirit of rock and roll is quite the endeavor in 2018 and rock and roll is not in fashion. And music that has heart and soul is not in fashion. Music that`subverts genres and tries to bring different demographics together is not necessarily in fashion.
So, I don’t think we’re revolutionary at all but I do feel that what we do serves a deeper purpose in our fans’ lives.
My friend Blair turned me onto Low Cut Connie a year or so ago. I think I was lamenting that there weren’t a lot of great rock and roll bands anymore and he told me about you. I told him I was going to be talking with you. He thought this was going to be an in-person interview and he said, “Adam’s eyes are powerful, dude. Tread lightly.”
He also wanted me to mention that he loves how your parents retweet everything he tweets about Low Cut Connie. It got me to wondering – have your parents always been big fans and supportive or was there ever a time when they said, “Okay, time to get a real job?”
They’ve been rock solid for me all the way through. I’m sure there were times when they were confused about what the hell I was doing, but they’ve been unwavering in their support and I’m very close with my family.
Blair also said, about your parents retweeting his tweets that he “entered a new realm of super fan weirdness.”
Do you ever think about that? That there are tens, hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands people out there that feel this connection to you even though you won’t ever meet them.
From your lips to God’s ears that we have tens of thousands of people. It’s only recently that it might have gotten into the thousands rather than the hundreds. I don’t know, it’s taking me so long to where I can connect with people in this very special way. I get as much out of it as our fans do, if not more. I’ve been really inspired – one of my favorite performers is Charles Bradley who passed away this year. We added Saundra Williams, who is Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. As they said, Charles was a man who wanted to hug everybody in the world. I can relate to that, I just want to connect with everybody that is there. I’m deeply shocked that they showed up in the first place. If we played on a weeknight in Columbus, Ohio and I lived there, I probably wouldn’t come. So, I’m shocked and impressed that people show up and I want them to feel like they got something special out of it.
Do you ever encounter, let’s just say, interesting fans that maybe make you uncomfortable?
Our fans are nuts, they are fucking maniacs.
How do you handle fans who want to talk to you while you’re on stage and between songs?
How you deal with crazy people is part of the job. One of the only perks of performing as many years to hostile audiences like I have is, I guess, you learn how to deal with these things. I don’t mind it, I relish it. I like that we have some wild individuals who show up. It gets boring otherwise.
How long has it been since you last worked a day job and what was your last non-music-related day job?
I’ve had so many day jobs, I could do a book on it. I used to teach and I do love teaching. I’d like to do that again some day.
The last question really isn’t related to the others but I thought it might be a good way to end … If you could DVR 2-hours of an experience you had either in the band or personally in 2017 that would be available for playback within your head whenever you wanted to relive those 2 hours, what experience would you have recorded?
Oooh, damn. I got it. We did this Tom Petty tribute concert in the middle of a snow storm and it was to benefit Puerto Rico relief efforts. We did a whole set of Tom Petty songs. In the history of Low Cut Connie, we’ve never done anything like that but Tom Petty songs were so special to us and I have a lot of dear friends in Puerto Rico and I’ve spent a lot of time there. That was really a special night to be able to do that. That would be my DVR moment.