Big Jef Special
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Big Jef Special

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Jim Abbott | SOUNDBOARD
April 25, 2008

So I'm an accommodating soul.

I loan a lot of CDs and DVDs to colleagues and pals, including my infamous, long-missing copy of Almost Famous, which my boss promises me that we will watch together someday. Maybe at my retirement party.

But I'm not sharing my copy of the new Big Jef Special album. You guys are going to have to get your own.

I love these songs, which the Orlando cowpunk outfit will showcase at a CD release party tonight at BackBooth. Also on the bill: Thomas Wynn and the Believers, the Anderson Gang and Matt Butcher & the Revolvers.

The self-titled album has been more than a decade in the making. All that time allowed frontman and songwriter Jef Shumard, guitarist Brian Chodorcoff, bassist Nadeem Khan and drummer Brian Maguire to develop something utterly organic. Big Jef Special's DNA was allowed to evolve without the pressures associated with a full-time project.

"What's funny to me about the album," says Chodorcoff, well-known for his work with the Legendary JCs, "is that Jef, after a long time, sort of captured what it really is and what the shows have been over the years. It's a raucous little cowpunk band. I think that's the best description."

Yeah, there's a rowdy twang to 12-bar blasters such as "Choptop Chevy" and "Damn Good Injun," but these 10 songs also exude a richness that adds depth to the bluster. "Alimony," a slow blues about raising kids in the wake of divorce, is especially moving. And "90 Days," about a dust-up with the law in Texas, is leavened by a dose of self-realization that lifts it above clich.

"It's like 99.99 percent Jef," Chodorcoff says. "I've been playing the songs a long time, but when I finally heard the lyrics, the first thing I said to Jef is, 'You're an amazing lyricist!' I mean, 'Heartaches Riding Shotgun,' are you kidding me? He's a great storyteller, and he's fun to play with."

After some bumps in the road, Big Jef Special was gaining momentum when a December motorcycle accident left drummer Maguire in a coma. His drumming remains on a good portion of the album. Alan Cowart has stepped in as a replacement.

Chodorcoff emphasizes that the role is a temporary one.

"After the accident came, it was like, 'Whoa, what do we do?' " he says. "After a little while, we realized that if Brian could have spoken that first day, he would have said 'Go do a gig; the music doesn't stop.' When he's ready, he's the drummer in the band."

It has been difficult for the band members to deal with Maguire's situation, even though his condition has vastly improved. Now staying with a relative in DeLand, Maguire is able to walk and talk some. Chodorcoff says he listens to outtakes from songs just to hear Maguire's voice counting off the band.

"Jef's not lying when he wrote in the liner notes that the album was in honor of our greatest friend. We know that he would want us to have the CD release party and to move forward. I'm excited for the truth that I know, which is he's happy for us. We know that he would want us to be playing this music."


Hall of Famers in town

Every time I read an autobiography of some classic rocker, I come across the same detail.

Whether it's Tom Petty or Don Felder or insert-name-here, at some point, there's a story about them learning "Walk Don't Run" for a school dance.

Today and Saturday, the guys who originally did the song will be playing Epcot's Flower Power Concert Series.

Yes, the Ventures are still going strong. In January, the surf instrumental band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In presenting the band, John Fogerty proclaimed the Ventures' music "a great education," adding that "every guitar player on Earth knows what I'm talking about."

Founding member Don Wilson, on the phone from his home outside Seattle, was pleased about the honor, even if it took more than 20 years of eligibility to achieve it.

Good timing, Wilson says. "The 50th anniversary of our first recording is next year."

At 75, Wilson still has clear, fond recollections of the band's history: buying first guitars for $15, singing songs as a bar band in Seattle until "Walk Don't Run" turned them forever into an instrumental band.

After all these years, the Ventures are still touring. Wilson points out that the band is wildly popular in Japan, where the group does about 50 or 60 shows every summer.

He has written a book on the band, and there's even a Ventures model guitar now.

"I have no intention to quit," Wilson says. "It seems to be just as good as it ever was."

Jim Abbott can be reached at 407-420-6213.
jabbott@orlandosentinel.com - Orlando Sentinel


Discography

Big Jef Special - April 2008

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Bio

The lyrics are pure Jef Shumard, it's his life in song. But every Blues - Country - Punk or Rockabilly fan around can relate to the words and they will definitely love the music.

Big Jef Special started playing over 11 years ago in 1997 when Jef Shumard hooked up with Nadeem Khan and Brian Maguire. A year later Brian Chodorcoff joined the fold. Brian was already playing in several bands but recalls, "they were having so much fun, they were the only cats out there playing a real country blues sound. I wanted to be part of it." Over the years a strong bond grew. When Jef looks back he says, "as far as standout moments, they are all great. Every time I get to play with these fellas, good, bad, or ugly." After ten years of ups and downs they finally started recording their first studio album when a tragic accident motorcycle accident left drummer Brian Maguire in a coma. Everyone agreed that Brian would want them to continue to play so Alan Cowart joined in on drums to finish the album, half the tracks are Brian on drums and the other half is Alan. Brian is now moving down the road to recovery. At first it seemed that the band could not continue without Brian. Instead all the emotional highs and lows have made this group even tighter. They have already begun work on their second album. Their current album is available on iTunes but to see and hear Big Jef Special live is the only way to experience them.

Check out our videos on youtube.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=prWyBxjv2xg
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ABO2L4nGWv0

Contact:
Joe Japes at joe@bigjefspecial.com
Jef Shumard at jef@bigjefspecial.com