|Several musical movements in the 1960s spurned a renewed interest in the blues. Beginning with the folk music revival out of Greenwich Village, then the British invasion, and culminating with the psychedelic blues-rock scene. By 1968 Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco had become the epicenter of the free-spirited hippie movement as the home of the Grateful Dead, a band who personified the ideals and spearheaded the new jam band genre mixing Blues, Folk, Jazz and Rock N Roll in a loose freeform style. Fans of the band call themselves Deadheads, and many musicians have tried to emulate their sound. Reverend Freakchild is a spawn of that legion. He grew up in Hawaii and holds a degree in philosophy and religion from Northeastern University in Boston. The Colorado musician performs what he calls “Psychedelic Country Blues,” proclaiming, “Music is my religion. Through song I seek transcendence.”
On his 12th album, “The Bodhisattva Blues,” the Reverend resurrects classic blues and rock tunes from Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, and the Beatles, along with Grateful Dead favorites. Primarily a solo performer, the Reverend invited musicians from the extended Grateful Dead musical family to form his backing band – keyboardist Melvin Seals (Jerry Garcia band), guitarist Marc Karan (Bob Weir, RatDog, Live Dead), drummer Chris Parker (Bob Dylan, John Hammond Jr.) and Robin Sylvester (RatDog) on bass, with percussionist Jason Hann (String Cheese Incident) as well as special guests, harmonica master Hugh Pool (New York Blues Hall of Fame ~ Master Artist) and young blues guitarist A.J. Fullerton.
The Reverend begins his sermon by mashing the Buddhist mantra meditation ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ with Muddy Waters’ first jukebox hit, ‘I Can’t Be Satisfied.’ Growling out the lead vocal and mimicking the bottleneck slide guitar from the Chicago recording, while Parker lays down a frantic modern drum beat that continues Muddy’s mission to take old-time music and bring it up to date. Next the Jimmy Reed standard, ‘Big Boss Man,’ is stretched out, with tasty solos on harmonica and lead guitar over a slinky groove. He leads the band on acoustic guitar for the oft-covered ‘Little Red Rooster,’ featuring fine barrelhouse piano from Scott “Shack” Hackler. The Rev delivers a faithful reading of Jerry Garcia’s signature song, ‘Friend Of The Devil,’ with Karan providing perfect lyrical guitar lines in loving tribute to the founder of the Grateful Dead. Jason Hahn slaps the skins and A.J. Fullerton rips slide guitar on a broke-down version of ‘I Know You Rider,’ the blues mashup recorded by Hot Tuna in 1969, another song associated with San Francisco and the summer of love. The vibe slips further into the mystical on a spacious cover of another Garcia tune, ‘Black Peter,’ milking the enigmatic lyrics from Robert Hunter exploring the vanity of human existence.
Reverend Freakchild tackles two Beatles’ songs, first plowing deep into the psychedelic blues prototype from “The Beatles (White Album),” ‘Yer Blues,’ that showcases terrific Hammond B3 from Melvin Seals on the outro. Next is a collaboration with bassist Phil Marino on ‘Imagine,’ re-inventing the masterpiece over a groove that is reminiscent of Lou Reed’s ‘Sweet Jane,’ sung as a smooth R&B love song with a beautiful solo by mysterious guitarist Alex the Dragon, deserving immediate radio attention. The album’s lone original tune, ‘Sweet Sweet You,’ which first appeared on his 2010 album “God Shaped Hole,” is a tribute to blues heroes and classic rockers passed on, including Drew Glackin (R.I.P.), told from the site of Robert Johnson’s gravesite. It’s a lovely country lament for a lost loved one punctuated by the high lonesome sound of lap steel from Glackin with the rhythm section from the Cosmic All-Stars.
Jay Collins (Greg Allman, Little Feat) joins the Reverend on Indian bansuri flute for a meditative acoustic cover of ‘Death Don’t Have No Mercy’ from another preacher troubadour Gary Davis. The Reverend concludes his homily with the blessing, ‘And We Bid You Goodnight,’ that was sung a cappella by the Grateful Dead to close their concerts, embellishing the lyrics written by Sarah Doundy in 1871 with Omnism, in recognition and respect of all religions.
Reverend Freakchild explains the theory behind “The Bodhisattva Blues” like this, ”I play the blues and practice and study the Dharma. There’s so much about the sources of sorrow and human suffering in both.” The album should prove to be a significant milestone on his journey to release negative karma and achieve enlightenment.
Rick J Bowen
In the tradition of such Holy Blues Reverends as Reverend Gary Davis – such is the irreverent Reverend Freakchild. The Rev. primarily performs solo acoustic these days, and sometimes as a duo with the Minister of Bass. The Rev. has also recorded with some amazing musicians: Melvin Seals, Mark Karan, Chris Parker, Hugh Pool, Jay Collins, and G. Love. He has played in many bands in the past touring internationally. The Rev. spent 3 years off-off-off Broadway singing blues and spirituals on Sundays at Tobacco Road, the now defunct NYC hippie hangout replete with drug addicts, hookers and music freaks. The Rev. has also served as a member and featured soloist of the Metro Mass Gospel Choir performing at such venues as Carnegie Hall, Avery Fischer Hall and the Town Hall Theater.
The Rev’s music has been featured in many TV programs and commercials, and national radio advertising campaigns. He grew up in Hawaii, holds a degree in philosophy and religion from Northeastern University in Boston and now currently resides in Colorado pursuing a Master of Divinity Degree at Naropa University. He continues to perform and preach proclaiming, “Music is my religion. Through song I seek transcendence!”