Musical legends, some interesting local shows, buzzy punk bands ... looks like we've got ourselves a well rounded week of musical fun, folks. Let's have a look-see, shall we?


The last time the legendary Leon Russell visited Tucson was all the way back in ... well, October. So, like, three months ago. But if you missed that Rialto Theatre show, as I did, there's some good news this week, as Russell returns as co-headliner on a bill with the similarly legendary Hot Tuna.

As everyone seems to write when they write about Russell, it might be easier to list the musicians the guy hasn't worked with than to list the people he has. But an abbreviated list of his collaborators includes Phil Spector, the Rolling Stones, the Byrds, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, Willie Nelson, and on and on. It was none other than Elton John who gave his career a shot in the arm with the 2010 album The Union, co-credited to Russell and John (who calls Russell his idol), and produced by T-Bone Burnett. Despite a pretty serious health scare Russell suffered during the recording, The Union received almost unanimously excellent reviews and landed in the No. 3 spot of Rolling Stone magazine's list of the best albums of 2010.

We haven't even mentioned his songwriting yet, but basically, among the musicians who performed a song written by Russell, that song was almost always among their best work. If you agree with me that "Superstar" is the best Carpenters song, we both have Russell to thank for that. He also wrote "Delta Lady" (Joe Cocker), "Roll Away the Stone" (Mott the Hoople), and "This Masquerade" (George Benson). And, lest we forget, the absolutely gorgeous "A Song for You," which has been covered by everyone from Andy Williams to Bon Iver, Donna Summer to Amy Winehouse. Nipping cues from blues, New Orleans jazz, folk and rock 'n' roll, Leon Russell is a true American original.

Side projects in music are nothing new or special. They happen all the time, often when someone gets the urge to explore music outside of whatever it is they've become best known for. More unusual are the rare occasions when one of those side projects outlives the performer's primary gig.

Such is the case with Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady, who began their musical lives as teenagers when they joined the San Francisco psychedelic blues-rock outfit the Jefferson Airplane in the mid-'60s. The two were traditional acoustic players who adapted to the brazen electric sound of the Airplane just as the streets of San Francisco were filling with dancing teens with heads full of LSD. Kaukonen played guitar for the Airplane, while Casady, a former lead guitarist, adapted his style to the bass for the band. During a brief hiatus in 1969, when singer Grace Slick was recovering from throat surgery, Hot Tuna began as an acoustic musical outlet for the pair. Though they've endured a hiatus or two of their own over the years, not to mention the dozens of musicians that have come and gone (Hot Tuna is basically shorthand for Kaukonen and Casady and whomever else they happen to be playing with at the time), in the end Hot Tuna has not only outlasted Jefferson Airplane but Jefferson Starship and, cough, cough, Starship as well.

These days the band, which now plays its blues-based tunes both acoustically and electrically and has garnered a following on the jam-band circuit, usually comprises, in addition to Kaukonen and Casady, mandolin virtuoso Barry Mitterhoff and drummer Skoota Warner.

Hot Tuna and Leon Russell perform at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St., at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 25. Tickets to the all-ages show are $32 in advance, $35 on the day of show. For more information call 740-1000 or head to


Down the street four days later, the similarly legendary Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys will take to the stage at the Fox Tucson Theatre.

When Earl Scruggs passed away almost four years ago, Stanley became one of the last of his generation who can speak firsthand about the rise of bluegrass music. And years ago, Stanley endured his own loss. The banjo player began his career performing with his guitar-playing brother Carter in the Clinch Mountain Boys. With one brief exception, during which Carter left to perform with "Father of Bluegrass" Bill Monroe, that configuration lasted 20 years, from 1946 to 1966, when Carter died at only 41.

Since then, lots of different musicians have passed through the Clinch Mountain Boys' ranks, including Ricky Skaggs, Keith Whitley, and Stanley's son, Ralph Stanley II. But, by now, it doesn't really matter who's performing alongside him. People buy tickets to see Stanley and trust that the Clinch Mountain Boys are composed of a set of ringers. And, due to his 2002 Grammy win for "O Death," from the soundtrack of O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the number of those ticket buyers has increased in recent years.

Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys perform at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 29, at the Tucson Fox Theatre, 17 W. Congress St. Tickets for the all-ages show range from $27 to $59. For further details head to or call 547-3040.


In November, local singer and violinist extraordinaire Heather "Lil' Mama" Hardy held a show at Water of Life Metropolitan Community Church. The first in an intended series of shows dubbed "Lil' Mama's Soul Sessions," the concert featured performances by Diane Van Deurzen and Lisa Otey, as well as Hardy and Sabra Faulk. Hardy had discovered that particular church-as-venue while performing a show with I Hear Voices! In addition to the fact that, according to Hardy, "the church has such a nice vibe and is so receptive to having concerts," she also notes it was one of the only churches to allow openly gay and lesbian members into its fold in the 1960s.

This week Hardy presents the second concert in the "Lil' Mama Soul Sessions" series. Titled "Slow as We Wanna Go," the show will feature Hardy and Faulk performing a repertoire of slow, soulful songs. A third installment of the series is being planned for a possible March show.

"Slow as We Wanna Go" runs from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 25. Water of Life Church is located at 3269 N. Mountain Ave. Tickets are $15 at the door. For more details check out


It's shaping up to be a mighty busy year for musical polymath Gabriel Sullivan. In addition to helping to find a home for an album by Billy Sedlmayr, for which he spearheaded a Kickstarter campaign, he's got plenty happening where his own music is concerned.

He's got a solo album he recorded in Denmark last year ready for mastering, with plans to release it sometime this year; he's embarked on a project in which he forces himself to write a song a day, which he then posts online upon its completion that very same day; he continues to perform with his all-star band Chicha Dust; and this week, after a seven-month hiatus, he returns to a local stage with his band, billed under his own name.

Show Gabriel Sullivan some love when he performs at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St., on Saturday, Jan. 25. Opening the early show at 7 p.m. will be sultry Phoenician Lonna Kelley. Tickets are $7 in advance, $9 at the door. Head to or call 622-8848 for more info.


In the latest installment of "French People Just Can't Seem to Get Enough Tucson Music," Lucas Moseley, singer and drummer for The Pork Torta, was recently contacted by a French film crew who are filming a documentary about the Tucson music scene, asking about potential shows they could shoot while they're in town. Moseley did them one better: He set up a free show featuring the Torta and Discos at The District Tavern, 260 E. Congress St., starting around 10 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 24. Because it would be really sad if a French film crew recorded a show in order to demonstrate how kickass our music scene is and no one showed up, you are highly encouraged to attend and bring along a couple dozen of your closest friends. For more information call 791-0082.


We didn't quite get around to all the great shows hitting town this week, so here are but a few highlights: Destruction Unit, Prom Body, and Man Bites Dog at Club Congress on Wednesday, Jan. 29; Colin Quinn at the Fox Tucson Theatre on Friday, Jan. 24; The Menzingers, Off With Their Heads, Broadway Calls, and Lariats at Club Congress on Tuesday, Jan. 28; Passafire, Ballyhoo!, and Pacific Dub at The Rock on Sunday, Jan. 26; Parmalee at the Rialto Theatre on Wednesday, Jan. 29; Richie Ramone at The Rock next Thursday, Jan. 30; Night Riots and Amy Mendoza at Plush on Friday, Jan. 24; Arrival from Sweden: The Music of Abba at the Rialto Theatre on Tuesday, Jan. 28; Exmortus at The Rock on Monday, Jan. 27; Justin Valdez y Los Guapos at Surly Wench Pub on Sunday, Jan. 26; Blind Divine, La Fin Absolute du Monde, and the Early Black at Plush on Saturday, Jan. 25.

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