. . . Makes good: Securing a contract with Alligator Records, Eric Lindell's years of hard work are paying off.
By Greg Cahill
From where Eric Lindell is sitting on the front porch of his West Bank New Orleans house, gazing out at the setting sun, life is looking pretty darned good. "There are no bugs, it's not too hot, no hurricanes in sight," he says with a laugh during a cell phone interview. "It's just beautiful."
The 39-year-old blue-eyed soul singer, known for a scrappy blend of blues, funk, rock and New Orleans R&B, has good reason to feel satisfied. After years of scraping by in small dive bars and releasing a string of fine but overlooked indie CDs, this part-time Sonoma County musician, who played his first professional gig at age 18 at the River Theatre in Guerneville, has a new album, Change in the Weather, on the prestigious Chicago-based Alligator label, a parcel of positive reviews and a solid shot at stardom.
Change in the Weather, featuring remastered tracks culled from Lindell's five indie CDs recorded during the past decade, has a loose, live feel--rough-hewn vocals, laid-back funk grooves and hook-heavy melodies perfectly suited to hot summer barbecue parties, steamy beer-soaked dance halls and late-night heartbreak.
"It's a good way to introduce the band on a national level," Lindell says of the tracks. "And it's gratifying to see that material go to good use. There's a lot of blood, sweat and tears invested in those songs."
For Lindell, who divides his time between Sonoma County and Louisiana, and returns to his old stomping grounds this week with shows at the North Bay Music Awards (NORBAYs) and the Forestville Club, it's been a long road.
Born in San Mateo, the onetime skate punk picked up the bass, and later the guitar and harmonica, at age 15. His musical tastes ran toward the soul of Donny Hathaway and the Impressions and such heavyweight blues artists as Buddy Guy, Albert King and Jimmy Reed.
He honed his craft in West Coast bars, leading a handful of short-lived bands that failed to draw huge crowds but attracted such fans as blues great Charlie Musselwhite and Tom Waits. In 1998, he headed for New York in search of a bigger audience, winning the John Lennon Songwriting Contest for his composition "Kelly Ann." The following year, at the behest of his now estranged wife, he relocated to New Orleans and started soliciting nearby West Bank dive bars in Gretna and Algiers for gigs.
He found kindred spirits in Galactic drummer Stanton Moore and bassist Rob Mercurio as well as local rhythm section Harold Brown and Johnny Vidacovich. Word of Lindell's talent started to spread throughout the vibrant New Orleans music scene.
"What a total surprise it was for me," he marvels. "It seemed so comfortable, like coming home. I was out playing right away. This is a small town and the music community is real tight, so folks get to know you. I can see a real growth spurt during the past few years, getting out and playing with so many people. There is so much that I've opened up to that I didn't realize I was already doing in a more unconscious way.
"There's just so much history here."
His enthusiasm for the Crescent City hasn't subsided, even after he lost a van full of music gear last year to the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina.
"I had a gig in New Orleans last night, playing with a couple of buddies of mine from down here, a drummer and bass player and a really soulful singer," he says. "It was a totally packed show, and we just played off the top of our heads, all improvised. It felt great to break away from the usual material. There was so much spontaneity and fire. God, I'm still high on it!
"I just love that about New Orleans--it's like one big band."
Eric Lindell appears on Friday, June 9, at 7:15pm at the NORBAYs, held in conjunction with the Harmony Festival, at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. 1350 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa. Free with NORBAY admission. 707.527.1200. He also appears Friday-Saturday, June 9-10, at the Forestville Club, 6250 Front St., Forestville. 10pm. $10. 707.887.2594.