Brother Tad Answers Your Questions About The Rockhouse

Rockhouse Q&A

It seems as though “rock” music is rarely heard on the Rockhouse.  So where did the name come from?

Miss Sara, who christened the show as the Rockhouse back in ancient times, reports:  The Rockhouse first aired in February 1987. It was a 3-hour show, airing Thursday mornings from 6 to 9AM.  An interesting aside: In those days, KFAI was not a 24-hour station.  In addition to playing music and getting the day going for the Residents in the community, it was my job to literally get the station going, turning on the power and starting the day for KFAI.  When I was offered the time slot, I spent a fair amount of time thinking about the show's name and what the theme song might be.  My interest was in deep Blues, Soul, and Rhythm & Blues music.  I was buying albums in those genres and learning as much as possible about the artists.  One of the earliest Blues records that I acquired was a collection of John Lee Hooker songs recorded in Detroit.  The first song on the second side of the collection was Rock House Boogie.  It's not one of his best-known songs, to be sure.  But I loved how the song was simple and complex at the same time.  I also came to learn that, early in his career, Otis Redding was known as "Rockhouse Redding."  Lastly, Ray Charles' Atlantic recordings were becoming something of a Rosetta Stone for me - the key to everything.  One of Ray's great singles, of course, is Rockhouse.  With those three pillars in mind, naming the show suddenly was easy and obvious.  And, the balance of those three genres, celebrated every week on air, is why we call it the "audio amalgam of Blues, Rhythm & Blues, and Soul."

 

How did Brother Tad become “Brother” Tad?

I did not give myself this moniker, though I have certainly acceded in its use.  I was first called Brother Tad by the great blues vocalist, harmonica player and songwriter Sam Myers.  It ended up sticking due to an event in downtown Minneapolis in the early 90s.

First, a word about Sam Myers.  Sam was born in 1936 in Laurel, Mississippi.  Early in his youth, Sam developed cataracts that rendered him legally blind – he could make out vague shapes; he couldn’t read.  He attended Mississippi’s School For The Blind in Piney Woods, where he developed an avid interest in music, focusing his energies on trumpet and drums.  In the early 1950s, Sam received a scholarship to attend the American Conservatory School Of Music in Chicago.  Attending school during the day, Sam spent nights in the various clubs of Chicago’s South Side, meeting and sitting in with the full panoply of blues legends: Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, Hound Dog Taylor, and so forth.  In 1952, Sam became Elmore James’s regular drummer, both on stage and in the recording studio, a status he largely retained until James’s death in 1963.  Check out James’s sensational record (on the Fire label) Done Somebody Wrong – that’s Sam Myers laying down the irresistible rhythm!

By the mid-fifties, Sam had moved back to Mississippi, living and playing in Jackson when not occupied with working with James.  Having become adept at harmonica, he made a number of solo records for the local Ace label, including Sleeping In The Ground, which was later recorded by the Eric Clapton-led super group Blind Faith.  After James’s death, Sam scuffled to make a living, playing gigs in Jackson and environs with various assortments of players.  In the early 80s, Sam made the acquaintance of young Texas blues guitarist Anson Funderburgh in a chance encounter in Jackson.  In 1986, Anson and his band, the Rockets, learned that their singer and harp player, Darrell Nulisch, was quitting the band.  “I thought that the band was done without Darrell,” Anson once told me.  “It turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me and the Rockets,” he continued.  The “best thing” was that Anson persuaded Sam to join the band as the front man, initiating a glorious stretch of years during which the band received multiple W.C. Handy Awards in categories such as album of the year and band of the year, and was constantly in demand in clubs, theaters and festivals across the country and beyond. 

My brother, John, met Sam before I did.  John had played trumpet in a Nebraska R&B band, the Backbeats, that included a talented drummer named Marc Wilson.  When the ‘Beats broke up, John moved to Kansas City to pursue a career teaching band in public schools; Wilson found his way to Dallas where he signed on to play drums for Anson’s Rockets.  This gave John reason to attend Rockets gigs at the (now defunct) Grand Emporium nightclub on Main Street in Kansas City, where Wilson introduced him to Sam, Anson and the rest of the crew.  After getting to know the group over the course of several engagements, John asked Anson if he would consider performing for the kids in his jazz band at the suburban high school where he worked.  Anson agreed, and the band came to the school, set up in the band rehearsal room and played a set of blues that must have sizzled the ears of those Shawnee Mission kids.  Sam contributed (in addition to vocals and harmonica) an impromptu (and unrequested) lecture on the evils of drugs.

Up to this point, I had never had the chance to see Anson & the Rockets live.  I had heard the records, though, and was itching to fix that.  In 1987/88, I traveled to Kansa City to hang out with John, and to go to the Grand Emporium to catch an Anson & the Rockets set.  We arrived early, as the band was setting up, and John introduced to me each of the band members.  He spotted Sam seated on a stool at the bar, and we approached, John saying, “Sam it’s John.  I’d like you to meet my brother, Tad.”  Not missing a beat, Sam responded in his trademark stentorian voice, “Well, I am pleased to meet you, Brother Tad.”  From then on, it was Brother John and Brother Tad.  And, eventually, we took to calling him Brother Sam. 

Sam loved to deliver “shout outs” to friends in the venues at which he played.  It became the norm, for shows in Minnesota, for Sam, at some point in the proceedings, to announce to the crowd that, “At this time, ladies and gentlemen, we would like to extend our greetings to our very good friend in attendance tonight, Brother Tad Selzer.”  This usually garnered me some applause, and a small circle of friends picked up the Brother Tad thing.  In the early 90s, Anson & the Rockets were booked to open for Etta James at the Orpheum Theater in downtown Minneapolis.  On the night of the show, this large theater was quite full.  I was seated in the balcony and had no opportunity to connect with the band before they took the stage.  The last thing on my mind was that Sam would send a shout out to me on such an occasion, but I should have known better.  Sure enough, at mid-set, Sam paused, then announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, at this time the band and I are pleased to send out our fondest greetings to our longtime friend, Brother Tad Selzer …And Brother Tad, you may be the counselor, but I am your professor!”  And with that the band launched into a torrid rendition of the track from their Rack ‘Em Up album:  I’m Your Professor.  At that point, word was out, including to people inhabiting my workaday world.  And it’s been Brother Tad ever since.

A final note:  Sadly, Sam passed away in 2006, after a battle with throat cancer that prevented him from talking, let alone singing or playing harmonica.  His battle included a lengthy hospitalization at, of all places, Abbott-Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis.  He died among friends in Dallas, his adopted hometown. 

 

The Rockhouse claims to present the “audio amalgam of blues, rhythm & blues and soul.”  But sometimes when I listen I hear weird stuff like gospel, African, Latin, jazz, reggae and even (gasp) country.  How come?

The bread and butter of the Rockhouse is squarely the three “identified genres” of blues, rhythm & blues and soul.  But we strive to present this music in living and breathing, as well as historical, context.  And so we often season the Rockhouse gumbo with musical selections that reflect the sources of the identified genres, music that has been influenced by the identified genres or that co-exist in such close musical proximity with the identified genres so that there is inevitable overlap.  Consider African-American gospel music:  there would be no soul music without it.  The over-whelming percentage of soul singers got their start singing in church.  One of the first soul super-stars, Sam Cooke, was initially a gospel music super-star.  The singing techniques and even many of the chord changes common in soul are directly taken from gospel.  And by the 70s, soul music was reflecting back into gospel, as gospel recordings began to incorporate the rhythms, socially conscious themes and general funkiness of (then) contemporary soul.  Many of the things that make soul such a beautiful, rhythmically arresting and inspiring music are also a part of gospel.  Similar things can be said about the other “related musics” that you hear on the Rockhouse.