Wednesday, January 23, 2013
It is a stage like any other.
A pair of seasoned musicians feels laidback. They strum a favorite guitar, beat a well-played drum set, and sing original tunes to an eager crowd. The audience taps their feet, claps their hands and hums along to new melodies that are truly music to their ears. However, two differences will create a harmonious revelation for those in that Memphis venue next week.
For the crowd, the scene is filled with judges listening to gritty cut-to-the-core lyrics that reflect on true-life tales with heart, humor and humility. For the duo, the Ozark Mountain Oysters, the stage is a platform to unveil their original sound in hopes to seal top prizes, professional press kits and future national gigs for a professional Lake Area-based ensemble.
On Wednesday, Jan. 30, the Ozark Mountain Oysters will represent the Lake of the Ozarks Blues Society in the solo/duo competition against about 100 of the top groups of its kind during the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tenn. Fellow Blues Society selected Missouri group, the Brenda Meyers Band, will also compete against more than 200 ensembles in the internationally-known competition. Like their peers, the Ozark Mountain Oysters are looking forward to a journey of musical performance both on stage and in the crowd, as well as a possible geographical fan base boost to an already successful local following.
Becoming the ‘Oysters’
The Ozark Mountain Oysters were created out of one of the Lake Area’s most well known bands that have played at nearly every Ozark venue since 1998 – Johnny G and the All Stars.
Front man Johnny Gibble, better known as Johnny G, formed this sensational blues ensemble following a successful stint with one of his first Lake Area groups, Autopilot. The likes of classic rock band Flashback’s Jay Skaggs and local Star Search marvel Jake Simpson performed alongside their friend Johnny G.
Over 15 years, Johnny G’s All Stars have consisted of 80 to 100 different professional, upcoming and talented young musicians, all who have been named alumni and most welcomed and willing to sit-in back with the current group. Currently the six-piece group features bassist Bill Roe, Jo-Jo on drums, Dave Watts on saxophone, Big John Amaro on keyboards and additional Ozark Mountain Oyster guitarist and lyricist John Evans.
For the Ohio native, Johnny G had a notable track record in the music scene before he called the Lake his stomping grounds. An accomplished trumpet player, soulful vocalist and master of many other instruments, Johnny G toured extensively with bands in the mid-eastern states and shared the stage with greats such as Johnnie Johnson, Bernard Allison, Lil’ Ed, Michael Burks, KoKo Taylor and Chico Banks, to name a few. He also was a member of the well-known Kansas City Street Band.
With a blues emphasis, Johnny G and the All Stars can perform a variety of dance-floor packing tunes in many genres including rock and roll, soul and funk. Original compositions are have graced the stage with the group and now have carried onto the Ozark Mountain Oysters with an original trio in mind of Johnny G, John Evans and sax player Dave Watts.
Even though Watts is temporarily sitting out from both musical sets due to some personal health problems, he is an inspiration for the duo of Johnny G and Evans.
“Johnny G called me and wanted to put this acoustic band together with Dave. We got together and it just really clicked,” Evans said, noting the Ozark Mountain Oysters have been playing for more than a year now. “We threw out a few names and I said, ‘How about the Ozark Mountain Oysters.’ And it just stuck.”
For Evans, music has been in his bones since a young age. Before he started playing guitar at 14 years old, he was sneaking into local bars in the Ft. Leonard Wood area where he grew up to listen to musicians and eventually jamming with them on stage.
He was exposed to a lot of country music and rock and roll in his early years, and then became part of a group called Granny’s Bath Water with some of his hometown peers. Hanging out and performing in Springfield, the group played a little bit of everything with some originals, which led them to tour the state and region in Joplin and Kansas area venues. However, it wasn’t long before the Army brat become traveling the country performing and befriending some legendary musicians.
“I went to work for a guy down in Louisiana, Everett Brady. I learned a lot about Cajun by Louisiana standards and of course, playing the blues,” Evans said. “Then I moved to Kansas City and lived there for about 12 years from 1983-1995.”
After performing in New York and expanding his musical reperatoire even more, Evans was encouraged to play down at Lake of the Ozarks by many of his Kansas City musicians friends like Wayne Smith, Big John Amaro and Johnny I who were all playing and living in the area.
“I moved here in 2000 and began working down here,” he said. “Then I hooked up with Johnny G and the All Stars and now the Ozark Mountain Oysters.”
Originality and musicality
As the Ozark Mountain Oysters begin their first tunes – whether it’s a well-known cover such as “The Weight” or an original like “It Won’t Be Me” – the music hooks an audience with its fun-loving, real life lyrics and gritty acoustic tones.
“We wanted to have some fun and make some money, but we wanted to showcase more of our original tunes,” Johnny G said, noting on occasion other local musicians also sit-in for a trio of the Oysters including Calvin Bowling and Doug Hasch.
“Sometimes someone sitting in won’t know half my tunes, but they can fill in. I may not know how to sing a few of theirs, but it’s just a laidback set and we all play to each other’s strengths,” Evans said. “That is the nice thing about this group, you can find people who can do that and compliment each other. Plus, with me and Johnny, we do that anyway.”
Many of the group’s originals come from all three main band members, howoever those showcased at the upcoming International Blues Challenge primarily delivered from Evans’ set list. In fact, the Ozark Mountain Oysters duo plan to deliver six original songs during their portion of the Memphis competition including Evans’ tunes “It Wont’ Be Me,” “White Trash Christmas,” “My Baby Makes Me Liquor,” “Sexy,” “Highway Blues” and “Rollin’ on the Mississippi.”
Many of these originals Evans has played with other groups and have now perfected on stage with the Ozark Mountain Oysters. All have that touch of humor and definite true to life feel resounding in the lyrics as he sings them. For example, “Rolling on the Mississippi” was created following a road trip he and his dad took down south passing through his father’s native bootheel Missouri.
“Dad pulled off the side of the road and started looking at this little shack on stilts, which was in front of some fields that butted up against the Mississippi River. He said to me, ‘Son, that is where I was born,’” Evans explained. “I started thinking about what it was like growing up there and wrote the song, ‘Rolling on the Mississippi.’”
Evans has about 20 original songs with various sounds of bluegrass, blues and country tones mixed in. For some, like “White Trash Christmas,” who he co-wrote with CJ Roberts, it is a song that makes you laugh and think.
“John’s songs are pretty powerful. They have good lyrics; some are funny but all are true to life,” Johnny G said. “People will chuckle but you think about it and realize, ‘Hey, I have done that, too.’”
At the International Blues Challenge, the Ozark Mountain Oysters can deliver their original tunes within a couple 25-minute sets. They play Wednesday night and again Thursday night, before knowing if they advance on to the final stages to claim the top billing.
For Evans, this upcoming trip to Memphis is a visit to a place where he has made many musician friends, listened to fine, live performances and hopes to reconnect with buds and meet legends.
“I am excited to see other musicians and hope to run into some of the legends down there,” he added.
A seasoned IBC performer, Johnny G is excited to return to Memphis stages. He has performed three times prior with Johnny G and the All Stars, most recently in the 2011 competition and performing at BB King’s on Beale Street. Each time he has enjoyed performing and meeting fellow musicians competing and the greats who frequent the IBC competition.
“There are a lot of cool musicians down there. Before we hung out with Isaac Hayes. He was a blast and a great person,” he said.
For the Ozark Mountain Oysters, the IBC is just a great place to showcase their original music, expand their sound and take in a wealth of musical talent on a large scale.
“The whole experience is amazing; there is a lot of musicians in the business there. We hopefully will get some gigs and festivals booked, and just enjoy performing in Memphis,” Johnny G said. “For us, we love doing the duo and just are laidback when we do it. It has been a great ride and hope it continues to grow.”
In the Lake Area, the Ozark Mountain Oysters will perform from 1-4 p.m. the fourth Saturday of each month from March through October at Casa De Loco Winery in Camdenton and from 5-8 p.m. the third Saturday of each month from March through October at Shawnee Bluff Winery in Lake Ozark.
To watch video performances, hear podcasts and audio clips, see upcoming performance schedules and learn more about the Ozark Mountain Oysters, visit www.ozarkmountainoysters.com. For more information about the International Blues Challenge, visit www.blues.org, and select the “IBC” link.