Charleston rock'n' soul band, The Carpenter Ants playing Pullman tonight
HUNTINGTON — When you start talking music with Michael Lipton, pack a lunch and laugh and listen.
Lipton is, to steal a line from a great Carpenter Ants’ tune, “Wrapped Up, Tangled Up and Tied Up,” with the wild and wonderful world of Mountain State music from just about every angle.
And he’s loving every minute of it.
On Thursday, Lipton, who among his hats is director of the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame and guitarist for the Mountain Stage band, returns for a third time at 7 p.m. Thursday to the Heiner’s Summer Concert Series at Pullman Square with his Charleston-based group, The Carpenter Ants.
And at 6:30 Friday night, The Ants march on Charleston, opening up for the sacred steel group, The Campbell Brothers, at Haddad Riverfront Park for the Live on the Levee free concert series.
Featuring Charlie Tee (lead vocals), Lipton (guitar and vocals), Jupie Little, (drums and vocals) and Ted Harrison (bass and vocals), The Carpenter Ants have for 26 years been testifying with the Telecaster and the tambourine on a sweet musical stream of old-style rhythm and blues, gospel soul and country funk that has taken them around the world.
The Ants, who’ve chalked up a handful of CDs (most produced by good friend Don Dixon, who produced R.E.M.) have twice traveled to Moscow and in the States have played all manners of venues — from church services and rallies for presidential candidates (Bill Clinton and John Kerry) to a biker festival and a nudist camp.
Lipton said that they’re rolling in Huntington Ants style — with some special guests to spice up the night of soul-slathered rock ‘n’ roll.
“We’re going to use two drummers, Jupie and Mark Davis who plays for The VooDoo Katz and the Barcoloungers, and they both sing,” Lipton said. “I always try to do something different for the Pullman thing and Live on the Levee because we have been playing around town enough and people have seen us a zillion times over 26 years, so we try to do something a little different.”
As often is the case when the band pulls into Huntington, it will bring on an extra guitarist, ace axe slinger and oft Ant, Bud Carroll, who’s been guesting with the band since he was just a teen at the Ant’s Empty Glass shows following Mountain Stage.
Lipton said that Carroll, who has played on Mountain Stage several times with different bands ranging from American Minor to his Southern Souls, has that kind of old soul that makes him a great musical fit with the Ants.
“It’s always fun to play with Bud,” Lipton said. “I remember when his dad used to bring him into the Glass when Ernest Tubb was a bucket. I have heard other people say this, and I think music is one thing and I am sure there are others, and it is cool that Bud is a generation removed from us, but when you are playing together age doesn’t make any difference at all. He not only is someone who is older than his years in terms of music but when you lock in with someone you just do, the ages are irrelevant.”
Thursday, the band will be sharing plenty of songs off its latest CD, released last year.
Recorded in Nashville at Wayne Moss’ legendary Cinderella Studios and produced with Dixon, that CD, “Ants and Uncles,” is flavored with the tasty picking of guest guitarist Bill Kirchen and features such special guests as dobro master Jerry Douglas playing lap steel and pedal steel legend Russ Hicks.
At Thursday night’s gig, Lipton and the boys will also be serving up two fresh songs “West Virginia Mambo,” and “Wild Hog,” that were written specifically for a music camp Lipton was teaching a couple weeks back in Kermit, W.Va., to help teach kids WV music history as well as get them moving with the choreographed Mambo.
Those songs were sung by Mountain Stage host Larry Groce with musicians as Bobby Taylor, Ron Sowell, Don Dixon and Kim Johnson adding their touches.
While “Wild Hog,” is a traditional old-time song, the WV Mambo, whose choreography is by Brittany Javins, name drops a ton of WV music legends from Little Jimmy Dickens and Bill Withers to Brad Paisley and Landau Eugene Murphy, Jr., who was cool enough to pop into Kermit to shoot a video with the kids last week.
That video was shot by Cabell County based Brainwrap Productions, the Michael Valentine-led crew that has shot the Live at Trackside video concert series.
“Valentine and crew came down Thursday and Friday and Landau came down to do his cameo and it was wonderful,” Lipton said. “It was really great. He is a larger than life persona and he feels it up. He caught onto the dance immediately and the kids loved it. Things can turn out how you think they would, or worse or better, and this was just great.”
Lipton said they’re now looking at getting the song, which drops the “H” word, hillbilly, as in being proud to be one, into West Virginia schools, to help kids know their music history and get moving to the beat.
Speaking of kids moving to the beat, Lipton will also be sharing a new song, “Lodi, Lodi, Lodi,” he wrote with his wife and inspired by his 1-year-old daughter, LuLu.
“Last year we did Pullman the night before the derecho and we looked out at 7 o’ clock and it was 100 degrees and we knew there is something very wrong with this,” Lipton said. “My wife went into labor right after that. Lulu was born about a day and a half after we played it last year. She’s fine and pretty easy. I wrote Lulu a song because she would go around saying “lodi, lodi, lodi.”
Things are also popping for Lipton professionally, as the WV Music Hall of Fame director is prepping for the Nov. 16 at the Culture Center Theater, and he is in the middle of Mountain Stage’s busy 30th anniversary season.
Lipton said that it’s been incredible to be along for the 30-year-ride to see the musical trends ebb and flow from the new pop fascination with such old instruments as the accordion and the ukulele, to the nationwide revival of interest in Appalachian string band music.
“It is pretty fascinating to be a spectator,” Lipton said of working Mountain Stage. “It is almost like having a front row seat at a venue for 30 years and you just see the time tunnel and see things just going past.”