Widespread Panic keyboardist extraordinaire, JoJo Hermann teamed up with Luther and Cody Dickinson from the North Mississippi Allstars and old friend Paul "Crumpy C. Dawg" Edwards of Bloodkin to form one of the best side projects I've ever witnessed, the Smiling Assassins. Part country, part blues and part jam, this band goes from sounding like Wilco or Tom Petty to sounding like an edged improvisational rock band with a purpose.
JoJo and company brought their version of Mississippi Delta jam country blues to Colorado for a sold out run of shows that had rooms shaking their money makers and calling for Mo! Starting on Tuesday night in Vail, the band's performance was inspired and well received. The first show went so well, the 8150 Club scheduled a second gig just to appease the overwhelming demand. I caught the first of the two in Vail where the floor was bouncing all night starting with the opening Kenny Brown Band. The highlight of that show was definitely JoJo's solo encore on the Les Paul when he played "Visiting Day," "One Arm Steve" and "Nobody's Loss" to end the show. After playing one more night in Vail, then in Aspen, the band returned to the front range and visited the beautiful Gothic Theatre in Denver. The 1000 or so in attendance got a lot more then they bargained for.
They opened with JoJo sitting next to Luther playing guitar, handling with great skill the rhythm needs as well as most of the vocals. The band's signature song "Smiling Assassin" was the opener. Most of the songs that JoJo played guitar on seemed to be pretty straight ahead Mississippi blues or alt country songs with some exceptions. The band whipped through three or four more songs that included "Hell for Horses," "When It's My Time" a very moving song that was followed by "Run You Down" and "Wonder Why" before JoJo sat down at the set of keyboards that were fixed in the center of the stage. Things really got hot at this point. JoJo laid into the keys like a Mac truck, hitting them hard moving back and fourth between the organ and the electric piano. "Mountain Hideaway" featured JoJo and Luther trading licks and solos that had the crowd hollering and waving arms in the air. Though the band has a somewhat limited repertoire, they did change things up between the two shows I caught. The first surprise came when they brought up R L Burnside's son Cedric, from the opening band, Kenny Brown Band, out to sing the Beatles' "Don't Let Me Down." JoJo's vocals, though very limited in range, still filled the room up with a good amount of emotion. His mid-range rasp can be monotonous at times, but for this type of music, it fits the bill very well. After receiving a big set of applause the band launched into the first long jam of the night. "True Blue" > "Let It All Go," that lasted over twenty minutes easily. C. Dawg and Cody handled the rhythm section with ease allowing the bass and drums to move the crowd and maintained a tight beat all night long. Crumpy is a funny sight up on stage. He's an old school musician for sure, sporting a lit cig hanging from the end of his lips all night while he played. The band closed with a pretty interesting take on the classic "Stagger Lee." In comparison to the Vail show I saw, I felt like the band had held back some in the first set and that we were in for a treat in the second. I didn't know how right I was.
Second set began like the first set, but moved to the serious jams pretty quickly. "Don't Look Down," "Smokin Factory," "Mrs. Brown" and then a funny country sounding tune called "Abilene" got things started. Luther is a guitar genius. I have to put him up there with Derek Trucks as leaders in the next generation of players that will take over and dominate the scene. He's a master of his craft for sure. In the middle of a few solos, Luther would be playing with one hand on the neck of his Les Paul while using the other to tweak his foot peddles. He and JoJo traded solos like they've been playing together full time. The Vail show was impressive, but as Luther seemed to get more comfortable, his skills came more to the forefront. The set continued with "Junkers" and "Country" before another monster jam of "Annie Stay" > "Snakedrive" > Drums > "Snakedrive."
By Nicole Evans
Kenny Brown joined the Assassins on stage more then once during this show, adding his fender sound to the mix. It was really nice to see a fender next to JoJo once again. Kenny Brown plays a sweet slide, adding depth to Luther's and JoJo's solos reminding me of Warren and Derek. Cedric Burnside also joined the band a lot during this show as they left his kit set up next to Cody's. Two guitars, two drummers, a phat bass player, and JoJo in the middle was impressive indeed. The power that the band was emitting left many jaws dropped for sure. The set closed with "Mind is Ramblin," "Shake Your Money Maker" and "Alice Mae" all of which had asses shaking all over the room.
As the set ended, I noticed it was only 12:30. I figured we'd maybe get the same type of solo encore as in Vail, boy was I wrong. After a short break, JoJo came up and announced that they had a ton of time left so they were going to keep playing! A THIRD SET, yeah dawgie! Kenny Brown and Cedric joined the rest of the band once again for a rousing encore that had the 800 or so still in attendance jumping and screaming for more as they played for another hour.
By Gary Hacking
I've seen a lot of side projects from major bands I love over the last couple of years. I have to say; JoJo's is as good, if not better, then any of them.
Here is your chance to see the Smiling Assassins:
Wed. | 03.5 | Abe and Jake's | Lawrence, KS
Fri. | 03.07 | Jupiter | Tuscaloosa, AL
Sat. | 03.08 | Variety Playhouse | Atlanta, GA
Sun. | 03.09 | House of Blues | Myrtle Beach, SC
Tues. | 03.11 | Georgia Theater | Athens, GA
Wed. | 03.12 | Orange Peel | Asheville, NC
Thu. | 03.13 | The Norva | Norfolk, VA
Fri. | 03.14 | 9:30 Club | Washington, DC
Sat. | 03.15 | B.B. King Blues Club | New York, NY
Mon. | 03.17 | The Music Farm | Charleston, SC
Michael B. Sutch
JamBase | Colorado
Go See Live Music!