Interview: James "Jimmy G" Gutzman Of High Brow And The Shades
Q: When and how did High Brow and the Shades form?
A: High Brow started the way a lot of bands start — a couple of guys from one band and a couple from another. That was in 1998. The newly-formed band was fortunate in that we had four strong vocalists. We could all sing lead and harmonize, and our vocal strength allowed us to play venues that were normally booking six to 10-piece groups, and we could also play the standard four-piece gigs. We went along that way for quite some time, but in 2009 we decided to add a permanent fifth female vocalist member to broaden the scope of music so we could perform and appeal to a larger audience.
Q: How did the band's style develop?
A: Our members have influences that are all over the map. Our guitarist Ray Evangelista, we call him Uncle Ray, played on the USO tour for better than a decade and he played with all the heavyweights that joined that tour over the years. Ray literally knows from memory hundreds of songs from every genre, with a lot of depth in jazz, funk, and R&B. Our keyboardist, Michael (a.k.a. Dr. J.) is classically trained. Our bassist Mighty Dwight and myself are heavily influenced by the album rock period of the late '60s and '70s. Dwight played in a successful Beatles tribute band for years, playing the role of George Harrison. When we sat down to start writing our new CD Dancin' Shoes, all of those influences started asserting themselves.
When we were in post-production for the record, we were fishing around for a genre label" that would define what we'd created and really, we just wound up with a jazzy, funky, R&B record with some strong hints of rock and Latin rhythms mixed in. We were, at the heart of the process, just trying to paint pictures that our listeners can relate to in their own lives, if you'll let me mix my metaphors a bit there.
Q: Growing up, what artists influenced you the most?
A: That is really going to be a long list! For me personally it was bands like Cream and Allman Brothers Band, Yes, Frank Zappa, and bands like that. Ray as a guitarist has spent a lot of time with Jeff Beck and B.B. King, Wes Montgomery, and Santana. I think collectively as a band we'd offer up artists like Earth Wind, Steely Dan, Phil Collins and Genesis, the Moody Blues, Whitney Houston, Chicago, Etta James, and The Beatles. That is a tough question. I think we all really appreciate and enjoy playing the R&B and jazz-influenced material the most as a band.
Q: Who is in the group?
A: First off we have recent Minnesota Music Hall of Fame inductee Ray Uncle Ray" Evangelista on guitar. Talk about encyclopedic musical knowledge. There really is no substitute for Ray. Major guitar talent. We have Dwight Mighty Dwight" Ludvigson on the bass. The man can sing, play guitar, bass, keyboards - you name it. I don't let him near my drums. Tickling the synthetic ivories we have Michael Dr. J." Jakubiec, our resident scholar. He's classically trained and is a music teacher himself. Our most recent member is Adrienne Marie, our new female lead vocalist. We are so fortunate to have her with us. Super high energy and just so melodious. Her background is in Gospel and choir, and it really shows in her connection with her voice and with the audience. She has toured the United States and Europe as a Gospel singer, and we are so happy to have her aboard. And there's me, James Jimmy G" Gutzman on the drums and acting emcee for the band. My many years as both a voice over performer and stand-up comedian make me uniquely suited for that role.
Q: How would you describe the music scene in Minnesota these days, and how does High Brow and the Shades fit within it?
A: We are lucky to be in a vibrant music market. There are many live music venues and a lot of very talented groups and musicians that keep the scene going. Because of the diversity of our repertoire and the nature of our show, we perform not only at night clubs, but also quite a few outdoor festivals, corporate events and private events. And because we always strive to give a high-energy visual and musical experience, we aren't the band you go see and just sit and watch; our audience is on their feet all night long.
Q: Does the band perform live often? What is the group like in front of an audience?
A: We are very fortunate. We play between five and 10 times per month, averaging around seven. We barely get a breather some weekends! We have a loyal fan base that continues to come out and support us and fill the clubs, and for that we are deeply appreciative. Some folks have been with us from the beginning. I think we are best known for bringing our audiences into our shows with lots of audience participation. And now with Adrienne on vocals, we've really taken it to another level. She is so vibrant and engaging. Audience excitement levels have really ratcheted up, which is fun for all of us.
Q: Recession Depression Blues" has become a radio hit. What was the inspiration behind it?
A: The current tough economic times were the inspiration for the song. Everybody is making lifestyle sacrifices, and some people are really hurting; that reality is at the heart of the story. If we can offer up a lighthearted song that takes the edge off that a bit for people, I'm all for it.
Q: Did you ever expect Recession Depression Blues" to do so well on radio?
A: I don't think we expected anything. We are certainly delighted that Recession Depression Blues" is making a connection with listeners. We definitely had a great time writing and recording the song and I think that comes through. Thanks to everyone for listening!