Roger Landes with Gerald Trimble
Despite the recent acquisition of a broken ankle and loss of a broken bouzouki, folk and Celtic musician Roger Landes is on somewhat of a roll. From the accidental casting of him and his music in Ride With the Devil to the near completion of an as-yet-untitled duets album with friend and musical colleague Gerald Trimble, through rave reviews of performances with fellow Weston, Mo., native and friend Connie Dover to a recent move to Taos, N.M., nearly everything seems to be going Landes’ way.
“It’s been an interesting year, to say the least,” says Landes across the telephone lines from his new Southwest home. “What with all of the activity, I’m having the time of my life. I’ve been nothing but busy in the last few months. Even this broken foot can’t seem to slow me down.”
According to Landes, the broken ankle came soon after he arrived in his new hometown. In fact, he’d been in Taos for only a day.
“I slipped and fell down in a friend’s driveway,” he says. “I just sort of crumbled to the ground, and my ankle snapped. I’ve been laid up on crutches for over three weeks now, and I have another three more to go. To be honest, it helped me keep still over the past few weeks. I’ve gotten quite a lot of composing done. My bum foot has helped me slow down and start writing more, which, in my opinion isn’t so bad a tradeoff.”
The recent loss in his life, the demise of his favorite instrument, coincidentally built in Taos, is something Landes hasn’t quite recovered from, however. The dragon bouzouki was his prized possession, having been a major component of his highly acclaimed solo record Dragon Reels. The instrument was traveling with him on a recent plane flight when things went horribly wrong.
“(Continental) somehow managed to totally destroy my instrument,” Landes says. “Gerald (Trimble) and I were on the way to New York to perform on an Indian satellite TV network. It’s the largest television network in the world, called ZTV. The two of us were invited to perform on one of their highest-rated programs — it has an audience of 170 million people worldwide. And as luck would have it, my instrument was damaged. Luckily, Steven (Smith, the luthier who made Landes’ original) had lent his instrument to Gerald, and it was back home in Weston. I had it shipped to New York, and we were able to do the show. But since then, I’ve been kind of in a running skirmish with Continental to fully reimburse me for my losses. Suffice to say, I’m suing Continental.”
Despite these bad breaks, Landes is still standing tall when it comes to his career. Last month saw the release of Ride With the Devil, a major motion picture starring Tobey Maguire, Jewel, and Skeet Ulrich. It’s an account of the border wars between Kansas and Missouri during the Civil War, and it was filmed in both states in 1998. Almost by coincidence, Landes and several of his friends were hand-picked at the last minute to perform in a hastily added scene.
“It’s all sort of a coincidence really. We had made friends with Jim Caviezel (the gaunt lead from The Thin Red Line), who plays Black John in (Ride With the Devil). He had come to one of mine and Connie’s shows at Unity Temple on the Plaza. He invited us out to the film set in late May of last year (1998) because he thought our music would be perfect for the soundtrack. We took a band: Connie and I; John Whelan; Zan McLeod; and the drummer we play with, Paddy Lee; Kirk Lynch, a piper who played in Scartaglen — basically a lot of the usual suspects — and went out to the film site and played for a little over an hour while they were at lunch. They really all seemed to like it.
“A few weeks later, Connie got the call from New York from the film’s soundtrack editor. He didn’t know that we had already been on the set. They had received mine and Connie’s CDs and were adding the wedding scene to the movie and needed music for it. They asked if we could do it, and of course we said, ‘Sure.’ It was sort of a no-brainer.”
Landes and friends quickly went into research mode, trying to find the perfect song for a Civil War period wedding. There were thousand of songs to choose from, and they wanted to make sure that their selection would be historically accurate. In the end, the film’s music supervisor, Alex Steyermark, and director Ang Lee picked the song themselves.
“At first, I wasn’t sure that they would do the right thing. But in the end, I must admit, they chose the right tune. It’s a Scottish tune called ‘Miss McLeod’s Reel,’ which is probably the most common fiddle tune in all of Missouri. The name it goes by back home in Missouri is ‘Uncle Joe.’ It was kind of perfect, we thought, that they’d picked that tune and then picked us to do it. We do Celtic music, and we were from Missouri.”
From that point on, the musicians had to quickly find authentic period outfits, and more importantly, age-appropriate instruments. Landes played a Martin guitar that dated back to the 1870s and a mandolin from the early 1900s. “There probably wouldn’t have been a mandolin in Missouri in the 1860s, but that’s what they wanted, so that’s the instrument I chose,” says Landes.
Finally, the band, authentically dressed in period duds, made its appearance on the set to “finger-synch” the music during the wedding scene.
“The next week, they brought us out to shoot the scene,” remembers Landes. “They brought out me on mandolin, Zan McLeod, who wasn’t in the studio but was in the film playing guitar. John Whelan was there on the accordion, and Kelly Werts with the fiddle. Connie’s brother Jeff played percussion in the studio, but at the last minute they asked a young boy to play the drums during the scene. He was an extra that they had in the wedding dinner scene, and they liked the way that he looked, so he’s in the film as a little drummer boy.”
The experience was, to put it mildly, one the musician will remember for a lifetime. Although Landes and his companions are seen in the movie just briefly, his music is there during the entire scene, and his mandolin is the first sound to be heard in the film.
“They spent the better part of an hour shooting, but I swear, I’ll remember it for the rest of my life,” Landes says. “It was a fun and strange experience. I’ve been reading the history of the border war for something like 25 years, and to be a part of a movie that documents those important events is something rather special. I don’t know if I can consider myself an actor now or not, but those experiences may be the closest I ever get. Maybe I should get an agent.”
Friday, Jan. 14at St. Margaret’s Episcopal
(964 Hwy 40 in Lawrence)Saturday, Jan. 15at Grand EmporiumSunday, Jan. 16at The Granada It’s one thing for a producer-driven group, such as Menudo, to revamp its lineup every few years, but it’s quite another for an established, Grammy-winning band to maintain its success despite constant turnover. Roomful of Blues‘ latest album, There Goes The Neighborhood, features five new members. Saxophonist Rich Lataille is now the senior member of the group, having joined three decades ago. Roomful of Blues was one of the only bands to swing in the ’70s, and the group continues to jump, jive, and wail. This diverse ensemble also tackles rockin’ blues, with guitarist Chris Vachon capably filling the shoes of Roomful of Blues alum Duke Robillard. Although the quality level remains constant, the musical mix will inevitably be altered by all of these personnel changes, so those who have seen the group in the past are guaranteed a show that promises to be much different but equally entertaining.