The sound of Jamie Ness cleaning out his closetEarlier this year, Jamie Ness returned to some of his celebrated “Dodging the Landlord”-era material with the release of the self-titled debut from his band with Brad Nelson, the Boomchucks.
The local scene never sleeps, and hardly anyone is better proof of its restless spirit than Jamie Ness. Born and raised “around Ninth and Ninth,” he started writing songs with pal Jonathan Livingston near the end of his high school years.
From there, Ness proceeded to cut his teeth in the Minneapolis scene — with his group the ATF — before releasing a critically acclaimed solo disc, “Dodging the Landlord,” which was put out by Mark Lindquist’s Shaky Ray Records label.
Since then, Ness participated in Wet Dog, a six-piece folk band, and fronted Taconite, which recorded a live album at Beaner’s Central.
“We put some care into that [live album],” he told the Budgeteer during an interview at Musicality, the Superior Street shop where he teaches guitar, bass and harmonica lessons. “We were really practiced up, and I think everything we do was encapsulated in those live tracks that are up on MySpace.”
While that now-inactive group never saw its music pressed onto shiny plastic discs, Ness is back on the shelves of the Fetus: Earlier this year, the songwriter returned to some of his celebrated “Landlord”-era material with the release of the self-titled debut from the Boomchucks, a collaboration between him and drummer Brad Nelson (Black-eyed Snakes, Boy Girl Boy Girl).
“When I was in my 20s, I wrote a pretty big stack of songs,” Ness said. “So, when we had the opportunity to do the recording, I just pulled some out of the stack.
“I tried to pick some that wouldn’t be boring.”
Joking aside, the disc was quite well-received, especially by those who had worn out a copy or two of “Landlord.” In fact, Ness’ brother Don (whom you might recognize from City Hall) was one of the first to praise it up and down.
“There is no question I am biased, but I think Jamie is a great songwriter and Brad is a great drummer,” the mayor told us during our “Best of 2009” issue. “This takes Jamie’s roughneck-folk sound to another level — it’s fun, fast and has a local edge. On the song ‘Hillsiders,’ about growing up in the Hillside, there’s a lyric that goes ‘I’ve got 10 bucks in my pocket fuzz, and a million-dollar view.’”
In addition to the Zenith City-centric lyrics, the music on the Boomchucks’ debut is also decidedly homegrown.
“We are influenced by northern Minnesota bar music,” Ness surmised. “I think we’re influenced by some local stuff, too. Brad, of course, is in the Black-eyed Snakes; we use some similar technology to get our distortion sound as was on the Black-eyed Snakes’ albums.
“So I was influenced by them — maybe just because I was in the room with Brad and it was subconscious somehow — and then some of the faster Americana music that goes on around here, like Charlie Parr and Trampled by Turtles, influenced our fast tempos that we go to when we’re playing folk music.”
According to lore — in other words, the Homegrown Music Festival Field Guide — the group got its start when Nelson needed someone to fill in for an absent Alan Sparhawk in Los Besos. Ness, who had previously worked with Nelson (on a cover of “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” for “Duluth Does Dylan”), accepted the drummer’s invitation.
The duo started playing a regular gig at the Brewhouse. Their early material consisted of covers of songs made famous by artists such as Hank Williams and Creedence Clearwater Revival.
“So that’s sort of what we’re about: We try to be able to play for whoever’s around,” Ness said, adding that they took the opportunity to work on their harmony vocals as well. “If we’re going to be playing some Beatles covers for some miners or whatever who don’t care about local music, that to me is pretty humble. [Laughs] …
“We did that for awhile, then we developed our original material after that.”
But not before Ness and Nelson formed the area’s pre-eminent Bob Dylan cover band, the Freewheelers.
The group, which also features Jim Hall, generally plays in and around the native Duluthian’s May 24 birthday. In addition to those performances, they’ll also make the trip up to Hibbing for that city’s annual Dylan Days celebration.
“A lot of people play Dylan songs; I think of it as sort of a social activity,” Ness said. “It’s sort of a common ground for a lot of musicians, like knowing the same card game as somebody: You can just socially jam on ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’ or something like that.”
This all relates back to his duties at Musicality, where he enjoys teaching the finer qualities of “social music.”
“I try to get people ready to be in jam sessions,” Ness said. “I’m creating rhythm guitar players, people who can play ‘Roadhouse Blues’ or Dylan or whatever.”
That’s not the end of it.
“I have a project going on now in which my students are learning the entire ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ album,” he continued. “I wrote down all the chords, and they’re playing the whole thing from start to finish.”
While the musician joked around with the idea of an all-kid band playing Dylan’s classic album live in concert (à la “School of Rock”), he said his students actually aren’t all wide-eyed youngsters.
“I have people who are my parents’ age for students,” he said, “and I really enjoy that because we have similar tastes, in folk music and stuff like that.”
NEWS TO USE
The Boomchucks will perform at 10 p.m. Saturday, April 17, at R.T. Quinlan’s. The Little Black Books and 500 Million Society are also on the bill. Cost is $5. For more dates, visit www.myspace.com/theboomchucks.
Tags: arts and entertainment, brad nelson, jamie ness, the boomchucks, superior and lake, wet dog, dodging the landlord, the freewheelers, bob dylan, duluth, budgeteer, homegrown, interview, taconite, rock, music, folk, musicality