Tag Archives: performing

Sexy & Slow

March 31, 2017 by
Photography by Keith Binder

Is it terrible the pain in Peedi Rothsteen’s voice is musically satisfying?

His honest mix of pleasure and vulnerability blended over incredibly sexy slow jams makes your knees buckle.

Rothsteen knew he was tapping a vein when he emerged on Omaha’s music scene nearly two years ago with a brand new sound unlike any of his other rhythm and blues projects.

Many may know him as lead singer to Voodoo Method or “P. Minor,” a local R&B artist and former radio personality, but he’s since evolved from typical masculine crooning. His delicate vocals now have depth. Musical grit, if you will. And, ultimately, rock influenced his creative trajectory.

Watching the evolution of Rothsteen has been quite entrancing. A lyrical twist intrinsically influenced only by time and experiences.

Music is second nature to the Chicago-born singer, who played trumpet and French horn as a child. He sang for his high school and church choirs. In fact, he got his start as a scrawny 7-year-old who took his church talent show stage in an oversized suit, patent leather shoes,  and a skinny black tie belting out Bobby Brown’s “Roni.”

Music was a persistent influence in his early years, but he stepped into his own in 2006 while working at Omaha’s hip-hop radio station Hot 107.7 FM.

P. Minor became a local R&B crooner who opened for some of the early 2000s’ hottest hip-hop musicians, including Donell Jones, Ciara, Akon, Ludacris, Ying Yang Twins, and Yung Joc. At the time, his single “Can I” was one of the most requested songs at the radio station. He garnered radio play outside Nebraska. His song “Keys to the Club” played in Arkansas, Missouri, and Minnesota.

Omaha’s R&B scene still is relatively small. Only a handful of soulful singers have landed regular gigs or made successful albums. He was tired of being stuck in a genre filled with repetitive melodies and predictable style. So he tried his hand at a new genre: rock.

“I liked the energy of rock music,” he says.

Minor was introduced to a couple of guys who were putting together a band. After a few jam sessions in 2007, the group formed Voodoo Method. With that band he toured and learned more about music than he’d ever imagine.

Voodoo Method featured an unexpectedly good combination of punch riffs, accurate lyrics being soulfully delivered by Minor, who almost always sported a tuxedo shirt and bow tie.

In the eight years performing with the band, his songwriting, voice, and look changed. He stepped into his own distinctive, expressive style. It was multi-dimensional.

“In rock, you have to be ready to take it up another level,” he says. “You have to be able to get out of your level. You have to be a magnetic frontman and push your vocals. And, without being in a band, I wouldn’t … my sound wouldn’t have developed that way.”

Voodoo Method is still around.  “We’re taking our time writing and just exploring music,” Minor explains.

But he got the bug for R&B music again.

“I wasn’t trying to get out or push anything, just exorcise my own demons,” he says.

He knocked the rust off and started producing again.

“What if I take what I’ve learned with the band and some of those experiences and move them over with R&B,” he ponders. “I might have success.”

All the while, he was producing a podcast and doing audio production.

“I wanted to create something new.”

He quietly started making R&B music again, he says. “A few songs here and there and then it started to feel good.”

So, here he is: a promising, ambitious, and talented songwriter and musician with one foot in rock, and the other in soul. This musical metamorphosis brought him to create his stage
persona, “Peedi Rothsteen.”

“Peedi” is a family nickname that stuck and Rothsteen is homage to Sam “Ace” Rothstein of Martin Scorsese’s brilliant and brutal 1995 film Casino.

Ace’s claim to fame is being an excellent gambler, he says. The way he approached the game. He knew all the ins and outs to gambling and could pick a winner.

“That the way I feel about music,” he says. “I know a song, what it needs. I know how to pick a winner. That to me, it’s symbolic.”

Hence, the brilliantly collaborative Peedi Rothsteen.

“There aren’t many things I can do great,” he adds. “Music is one. I work really hard, too. What comes out in the end is something people can enjoy.”

In 2015, Rothsteen released his debut EP Moments Before,  a five-song compilation of incredibly soulful lyrics. The music scene took notice. That same year, Rothsteen took home the Best New Artist award at the 2015 Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards.

Exactly a year to the date, Rothsteen released Moments During, a five-track EP follow-up. The songs are full of foot-stomping grooves and fiery grooves vocals. Two songs to wrap your nodding noggin’ around are “Righteous Giant” and “Clap.” Rothsteen hopes to continue his music collection by releasing Moments After this summer–same June 11 date, of course.

His audience is just as diverse. Young. Old. Black. White. Metal. Soft rock.

“I don’t want to be just one thing,” Rothsteen says.

“In rock, you can go anywhere you want,” he says. “Good music will never be bad. It doesn’t matter how you box it up, how you deliver it.”

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Encounter.

Memory Lane

June 19, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article was originally published in the May/June 2015 edition of 60-Plus.

The way Joe Taylor became “Mr. Memories” sounds a little like a scene from a movie.
One afternoon in the spring of 1994, he was working in the Council Bluffs thrift store he’d owned for many years. In walked a woman who would change his life forever.
She was a special education teacher planning an event for 300 students and her entertainment had fallen through. “Heck, I can come down and do a show that will fill in about 30 minutes for you,” Joe offered.
That might sound a little crazy, but this wasn’t Joe’s first time on a stage. In fact, you might say he’s a born performer. As a kid, growing up in 1930s and ‘40s, he’d climb on a bench in the backyard of his family home and pretend he was on stage. Later, as a teenager, his older brother and sister would take turns driving him to resorts in the Catskill Mountains where he’d sing with the
house bands.
He always dreamed of making it big as a singer, but life had other plans. He met and married his wife of nearly 60 years, Jan, and they started a family. Joe’s musical ambitions took a back seat to the responsibilities of being a husband and father.
Then, on April 28, 1994, after a near-40-year hiatus, Joe put on a tux, dusted off his singing voice and became “Mr. Memories.” He sang the songs of his heyday—Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and the like—and by the end of the month he’d booked three more shows. During his third performance, a hat was passed around and, at the end of the show, there was 31 dollars inside.
“I went home and told Jan ‘They paid me!’ and I’ve been singing ever since,” he says with a chuckle.
Soon he was making more money performing than he ever had operating the thrift store, so in 1996, he sold it and became a full-time entertainer. Today, he books from 10 to 20 shows a month—for the elderly and disabled, corporate events, birthday parties, weddings, and more. He gets paid for doing what he loves and it can be incredibly rewarding.
Once during a performance at a retirement center, Joe remembers a woman sitting in the front row who looked thoroughly unentertained throughout the show. But then, afterward, something surprising happened. She came up to him and, with a tear in her eye, said, “Thank you for helping me remember that I was young once.”
“You can’t put a price on that,” he says.
Another woman hired him to sing at her birthday party every year from the time she turned 102. She lived to be 108.
“Every year she’d say, ‘See you next year, Joe!’” he laughs. “I was starting to think she’d outlive me!”
Hanging in his home, among photos of him performing at various venues, is a cartoon drawing of Mr. Memories being trailed by three little old ladies with cartoon hearts floating above their heads. He loves every minute of it.
“If you love what you’re doing,” he says, “you never work another day in your life.”

MrMemories2

Kelli Schilken

February 18, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In many ways Kelli Schilken is just like other teens. The bubbly 17-year-old loves music, hanging with friends, making friendship bracelets, and playing video games. However, there are also differences between Kelli and her peers.

Few 17-year-olds, for example, have started college, and fewer yet can tell you stories about the time the band she’s in with her mom opened for music legend Kenny Rogers.

“I kind of grew up backstage,” Kelli says in observing the four-part harmonies of Mulberry Lane. That’s Jaymie Schilkens’ (her mother and Belles & Whistles bandmate) former ensemble with her
three sisters.

“Having those experiences as a child inspired me and helped me hear harmonies,” Kelli says.

This Belle doesn’t fall far from the family tree. Kelli got her start in local theater (including a seven-year run in A Christmas Carol at the Omaha Community Playhouse) and high school show choir. Belles & Whistles began in 2011, when the stage manager at her mom’s solo Red Sky gig—a former Judds’ road manager—suggested they bring Kelli onstage.

Fittingly, Kelli says The Judds are “a big inspiration to us.” Miranda Lambert, Carrie Underwood, and Ed Sheeran are also musical influences.

Kelli calls their sound “a mix of old and new country, with strong harmonies.” Music News Nashville’s Janet Goodman observed that their vocals “blend like sweet churned butter on a hot stove.” Speaking of Nashville, the duo visited there last fall to meet with labels and record two new songs there.

After Belles & Whistles opened for Kenny Rogers at the 2014 Kentucky State Fair, he said they’d “pleasantly surprised” him.

“At the end of our set, we actually got a standing ovation,” says Kelli, beaming.

Kelli graduated early from Westside High School and is now enrolled at UNO. With a love of science, she’s taking chemistry, psychology, and also a music course “just to get started” on her higher education. She must also carve out time for her busy music schedule.

“This last year I’ve really learned to balance things,” says Kelli, who thrives on busyness. Kelli and Jaymie’s relationship is multifaceted. “There’s the regular, ‘Hey mom, what’s for dinner?’ side,” says Kelli. “On the other hand, [the band] is an equal partnership. She’s great at treating me like an equal. We’ve always been close and she’s one of my best friends. I can’t imagine doing this with anyone else.”

While Kelli loves performing, she says the best is when people approach her with how special the music is to them; how they relate to it, how it influences and effects their lives.

“We try to write songs with meaning,” Kelli says. “Knowing that things we’ve written have touched people is really cool.”

At the end of the day, Kelli says she’s still “pretty much a normal teen.”

“I really try to make time for my friends,” she says. “If I didn’t have them, my music could consume my life. I want to have people to share it with.”

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Kathy Tyree Channeling Her Inner Diva

February 14, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The term “diva” has taken a bit of a hit in recent years, suggesting to some a haughty I-want-it-all-and-want-it-now scene chewer who treats other humans like varmints.

For most, though, the word remains untarnished. The diva is still the shining star, the bigger-than-life glory who commands a room while displaying elegance and charity beyond the bright lights.

Kathy Tyree is most certainly the latter type of diva.

So, too, was Ella Fitzgerald, the legendary jazz diva who Tyree will shape-shift into for Ella, which opens at the Omaha Community Playhouse on February 28.

“Ella Fitzgerald was every bit the good diva, a marvelous performer,” Tyree says during an interview at a mid-town coffee shop. “My job is to channel my inner diva. But I think I’ve earned my diva stripes. It’s an immense challenge, but I feel I’m up to the challenge.”

“She brought the house down in Hairspray. She’s going to bring the house down again.”
— Susie Collins

Tyree has more than earned those stripes in 30-some years of powerhouse singing throughout the region. She is arguably Omaha’s premier cabaret singer. Among numerous other roles, she played Aretha Franklin in Beehive, widely considered the longest-running show in the city’s history.

That show’s director, Gordon Cantiello, says he’s confident that Tyree is “by all means a big-time diva in the good way.

“The other girls in Beehive had to work hard to keep up with her,” Cantiello says. “She commands a room. She’s 110 percent all the time. She’s a director’s dream.”

Susie Collins, who will be directing Ella, agrees and adds that Tyree “has a very special, powerful way of expressing herself through her music.”

“It actually goes deeper than the biographies that have been written about her. There are just some topics you didn’t talk about back then that are discussed more openly now.”
—Kathy Tyree

And yes, she said, Tyree can command a room like a true diva. She did just that in a Playhouse production last summer. “She brought the house down in Hairspray,” Collins continues. “She’s going to bring the house down again.”

Ella is a new challenge for Tyree in that, for one, “there are an immense number of lines to learn.” The one-woman musical is “a very honest and open look at her life.” The musical goes far beyond the music.

Set in Nice, France, in 1966, Fitzgerald’s manager suggests she engage in more banter with her audience—a fashion for singers at the time. Her conversations on and off the stage through the musical increasingly delve into deeply personal topics, including the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands 
of her stepfather.

“In shows like this you can get a script that’s kind of glued in there—that’s very forced,” Collins explains. “You have a very skilled playwright here [Jeffrey Hatcher]. The script is just excellent.”

“It actually goes deeper than the biographies that have been written about her,” Tyree says. “There are just some topics you didn’t talk about back then that are discussed more openly now.”

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At the show’s heart, though, is the music and the larger-than-life voice and presence of the diva.

“The diva develops her own style out of her own personality,” Tyree says. “Ella Fitzgerald was uniquely Ella. A diva is the only person who sounds the way they do. You know immediately who is singing when you hear the voice.”

Tyree has built her own personal style from many influences. In some cases, she’s standing on some unlikely shoulders.

You might guess she was first inspired by the towering voices and personalities of Diana Ross and Lena Horne. Aretha Franklin, sure. Cher, who Tyree loves for her versatility. Luther Vandross. So smooth.

But Mick Jagger? Really?

“He’s always going—so passionate,” she says. “I love what he does with a song.”

And Rod Stewart?

“I love performers who are sincere and real,” she says. “That passion is authentic.”

Ella Fitzgerald, she says, was one of those sincere, genuine, authentic, and passionate singers who brought her best each night to her performance and her audience.

That’s what Tyree wants for every second she spends on stage as Ella Fitzgerald.

“I’d like to think I have my own style, so it’s interesting to work to channel Ella Fitzgerald—try to take on her unique style,” Tyree says. “What’s not at all different is that burning desire to give the audience everything you have. Ultimately, a diva wants to give the audience something to remember. So we’re going to work to give the audience something to remember.”

Puttin’ on the Ritz

December 26, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The rat-a-tat-tat of tap shoes resonates throughout the studio. A big out-of-town gig looms less than 24 hours away, and the troupe is working to perfect the pitter-patter steps of the “Lullaby of Broadway” number from the film Gold Diggers of 1935. Never mind that the company’s oldest hoofer was already in junior high when the film premiered. And never mind that arthritis and bum knees have perhaps taken a bit of a toll on the gams of even the leggiest members of this troupe—the Dancing Grannies won’t rest until the curtain call of 
tomorrow’s performance.

“I love dancing, and it’s just a fabulous feeling to be out there in front of all those smiling faces,” says 73-year-old Linda Hall. “But the Dancing Grannies is more than just dancing. We practice together, we travel together, and we perform together. The camaraderie among us is important, and we’re a very close-knit bunch of girls.”

“And we love the crowds and all the energy we get from them,” adds Katie DiBaise. Spending any amount of time with DiBaise leads one to guess that she was probably the class clown back when the Palmer Method was being taught for writing lessons on Big Chief tablets. Her sense of humor serves her well as the cracking-wise emcee at Dancing Grannies events. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a serious bone or two in her 78-year-old body.

“When I’m out there dancing,” DiBaise muses in one of her more reflective moments, “all I can think of is just…just…‘Wow!’”

Now in their fifth decade of grannie glitz and glam, the troupe originally formed in the late ’70s as the Camelot Steppers before later adopting the Dancing Grannies name. Assisted living centers occupy a number of dates on their schedule, but you may have seen them everywhere from high-stepping through halftime at CenturyLink Center sporting events to country line-dancing through countless area festivals and just about anyplace else where 
crowds gather.

Patricia Chase, Katie DiBaise, Jean Granlund, and Linda Hall

Patricia Chase, Katie DiBaise, Jean Granlund, and Linda Hall

Road trips can be full of surprises for the still-adventurous women who refer to each other simply as “the girls.” When the company made a refreshment stop at the retro soda fountain of Springfield Drug in the community of the same name south of Omaha, the scene seemed to practically beg for an equally retro, impromptu performance.

“The soda jerks asked us about our costumes, and one thing led to another,” explains 76-year-old Patricia Chase. “Let’s just say that there were free root beer floats involved.”

Assisted living performances remain a favorite for many of the women. “They see our costumes, and the music starts, and their faces just light up,” says Chase.

“And those hands start swaying, and those toes start tapping,” adds 81-year-old Jean Granlund, who has been with the group for more than 25 years. “They always tell us afterward that they’d be right up there dancing with us if only they could.” Granlund and Chase are the de facto leaders of the otherwise loosely organized group.

The minimum age for membership is 50 and the oldest member is now a still-spry 89. Bringing in new recruits can be something of a challenge for a group that, by definition, is limited to women of a certain age. Prospective members generally lead much more active lives than did women in the earlier days of the company, but all, Granlund explains, are welcome to check them out by visiting a rehearsal.

Like all “the girls,” she shares a lifelong love of dance.

“My mother was born and raised in Glasgow, Scotland,” Granlund says. “She was a traditional Highland dancer, so dance has always been a part of my life. Later in my mother’s life when she was in assisted living, they didn’t do the sorts of entertainment programs that are common now. I always picture it as if my mother is out there in the audience every time I dance and especially when we perform in assisted living facilities. I know she would be very proud of me.”

To learn more about membership and bookings with the Dancing Grannies, contact Jean Granlund at 402-392-0497.