Jason Koerner

Louisville Rock Lowdown
By Jason Koerner

The Barbary Merchants

"The what? The who? What the hell are you talking about? What's a Barbary Merchant anyway?"

I'm so glad you asked. Please allow me to tell you...

The Barbary Merchants is a local band that has been busy putting together some of the hippest grooves in the scene. Their sound is most easily described as "different" and "cool," but I would like to come up with a slightly more advanced description than that. How about a refreshing "blend of 7 herbs and spices..." Damn it! KFC already took that one. (Where's "Damn It Man" when you need him?) Let's try this: "The Barbary Merchants will bring a sense of relief to your ears, proving that there is still hope for music without chameleon-like adaptations that inevitably folds and contorts to whatever teeny-bopper environment it is born into. By the time you realize their sound is mysterious enough to keep you coming back for more, you are still not aware of the fact that it already owned you 5 minutes ago." OK, I like that.

The band members are Ben Andrews (guitar/vocals), Marie Taylor (bass/ backup vocals) and Danny Bigler Massey (drums). Here are their credentials:

Ben graduated from Berklee College of Music with a degree in Film Scoring (`91). He also worked for Jeff Carpenter at Real to Reel studio (`92-'93). He has been known to play some guitar for Swing 39, a jazz trio playing the music of D'jango Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelly. He is not only a client, but the President and co-owner of RAMCAT Sound Productions, Inc. (Get it? That was a Hair Club for Men joke... OK, it sounded better in my head. I work nights and see a lot of infomercials when I come home, so try to cut me some slack. I hope "Damn It Man" gets here soon to get me out of this one...) Ben also played with the "Intangibles" in the mid-`80s during the Tewligans era of Louisville music.

Marie was the principal bassist for the Baptist Seminary Orchestra (`98-'99), bassist for Kling Orchestra (`97-'98), did some studio session work for Ron Hayden, Todd Fuller, Zen Penguin: Live at the Chemo Lounge, and much more. She also attended Berklee College of Music, earning a degree in Commercial Arranging (`93). (Man, I always have that tendency to slip into the "Personal Ad" tone of voice, don't I? "Marie also enjoys long walks on the beach and is a Virgo..." But I digress...) Ms. Taylor was the principal flutist for Middletown Youth Symphony as well as a participant in High School Band and Orchestra. ("And one time, at band camp, I... you know the rest. Sorry, I had to throw that in! I played saxophone 4 years in marching band and I hear that joke all the time. I've paid my dues.) She was also a piano accompanist for soloists and orchestra, ranging from various styles including classical, rock and jazz.

Danny... well, Danny... Danny claims he has fifteen years experience in bar bands you've never heard of and also collects Japanese art and Samurai swords. "Way to go, Champ!"

The group's influences range from the staples of Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, the Doors, Black Sabbath, Soundgarden, AC/DC, Chuck Berry, ZZ Top, etc, as well as a few more "obscure" artists like D'jango Reinhardt, Thelonious Monk, Joan Jett, and Charles Mingus.

The band claims that they like playing so much that it "seems a shame to keep it to ourselves." They are into creating music for the fun of it, not just to sell records. (However, their record will be out will be out in the beginning of 2001, just in case anyone's interested, so keep your eyes open!)

When asked of their goals, the reply was somewhat unusual: "To fire a shot across the bow of the Rock & Roll world. ("Violence is bad, ummm-kayyy?") We want to put the fun back into Rock & Roll. We hope to contribute to the Louisville music scene, which has a lot of potential and could really make a splash in the biz. We want to turn the audience on by adding unfamiliar flavors to a familiar Rock & Roll stew, to make people forget about their (how do we paraphrase this lightly?) daily grind."

You are probably still left wondering... So where did they get the name The Barbary Merchants? I have the answer for you, as I always do, but you are going to have to wait a little longer and be good little boys and girls and keep reading my story first! (If you can't tell through my transparent attempt, I am working on the art of cliffhangers and transitions... so no cheating!)

The Barbary Merchants have had a handful of shows in the summer, including a closing spot for a show for Black Oak Arkansas. (This show included sharing the stage with bales of hay.) They retreated to the dark confines of the recording studio to finish their album recently, which is in the process of mastering and production now. Once again, be on the lookout after the New Year. The album includes tracks such as "Lookin' Back," "Play With Fire," and "Arabian Surf" (which is my personal favorite). The CD will also include a few surprises, and should be overflowing with well-written songs.

OK, OK! I can't take it anymore! Here is the story behind the name. (For those of you who just skipped down to this part when I denied it to you earlier need to remember that cheaters never win!)

I will let the band explain this one: "Danny made us (I mean let us) watch the entire Shogun epic, which contains a little ditty that we couldn't get out of our heads, "Fare Thee Well, Ye Barbary Merchants." It's a song in the movie where the Emperor and Richard Chamberlain are dancing around ... OK, bad visual. You had to see the movie. But we thought it would be a good name for a band. Ours. So we plundered it. After some thought we realized that the name does apply to our type of music. The Barbary Pirates originated on the Barbary Coast in North Africa, trading with the Celts and most of the Middle East. The Celts are a passionate people and love their music, plus there's the Celt-Kentucky connection with Bluegrass and survival attitude of the hills. Our music includes Middle Eastern scales and modes. We want to trade and share with other people (musicians, audience members, etc...)"

I could not have explained it better myself.

The Merchants should be playing out somewhere near you very soon, so check your LMN Live Music calendar for all the best local music around town. For booking, contact Marie at (502) 587-3426 or email her at jetttaylor@yahoo.com.

On to the next order of business: This month, I would like to talk a little bit about gigging. I have been playing shows since I was 15 with one band or another, and at times it is very easy to fall into the black pit of depression, no longer having the desire to play out. Does anyone see the problem in this besides me? What if Leonardo da Vinci slipped into one of these depressions before painting the Mona Lisa? [da Vinci apparently suffered from Attention Deficit Disorder - Ed.] It would be understandable if he were a musician, because there is no money to be found in this biz. I don't know if I am not playing the right places, or if my band Inidle is just worse off than everyone in this town, but I have not found enough money to buy a pack of gum at a gig lately. Everyone in a band knows how much work it is to load up tons of equipment to play a show, have a low turnout, pack up again, have band members bail out on you, things get broken, members get arrested, etc... All for what? Fifteen dollars to be split 5 ways? That is what we got at the B.R.Y.C.C. House on a Sunday night a few weeks ago. And it is not just B.R.Y.C.C. House. We played in Lexington last Saturday at Rockhaven to a good crowd and walked away with thirty bucks to be split 4 ways (our singer was in Chicago, or it would have been 5 ways.)

Let's do some math on this one: Our band drove four vehicles to Lexington, all carrying equipment in the snow (which later turned into a blizzard once we started to leave the club.) We had four members and two roadies that were volunteering their time to us under the assumption that we would make enough money to pay for a hotel room down there, which did not happen. So we spent money for gas for four vehicles, money to eat and supposedly money for a hotel room. This reality is hard to swallow when each band member and roadie makes five dollars a piece.

The club was packed, yet we turn thirty bucks? This sort of thing happens almost everywhere you go. How is it possible for a band to get anywhere when they have such high expenses from equipment, gas, food, accommodations when out of town, and lessons if you are fortunate enough? You have a better chance of getting struck by lightning than coming out ahead on a gig. But we are supposed to do it "for the love of music"? Sounds like a pretty masochistic relationship, don't you think? I mean, come on! Let's be reasonable. I love music more than most anyone I know, but the support is not there for the local musicians, which is why I play [and write] for free or near enough.

I do it for the musicians who are trying with all their hearts to get ahead in something they love that only pushes them underwater with all its might. Everything points to "Quit" but we keep going anyway. That, my friend, is love. That is devotion to something you believe in and care about. That is continuing to do something that you cannot live without, no matter what the consequence may be to you. Unfortunately, that is what music is all about.

I respect anyone that is out there trying to make it happen at this game. Send me your bios and demos to the Louisville Music News office listed in the front of the paper, or email me at JJKSLACKER@cs.com. You may also leave me a voice mail at (502) 262-8728.

Until next month... Rock On!