Magic Jackson
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Musician returns to Dayton and brings his music to life

By Don Thrasher, Contributing Writer 4:35 PM Thursday, July 30, 2009

For years, musician Nathan Lewis harbored an internal fantasy of forming his own funk rock project, but he never found the right players or circumstances to capture the sound playing on heavy rotation in his imagination.

That changed last spring when the singer-guitarist returned to Dayton from California and formed Magic Jackson with Jeff May (vocals, guitar), Mike McKewen (bass) and Justin Moore (drums). With a lineup in place that could bring his lascivious brand of white boy funk to life, Lewis wasted no time getting the outfit on stage.

“This is a band project, but it’s something I’ve been working on in my head for eight years,” he said. “The four of us locked in really fast and we started playing shows.”

Magic Jackson played more than a dozen shows in its first few months before winning the Dayton Band Playoffs at Canal Street Tavern in September. That same month the quartet began working on its debut album, “Freak Tab,” with Todd Huffman. The material was recorded at ICB Studio between September and June and perfectly captures the sound of a vibrant new band just starting to hit its stride.

“Recording was a lot of fun,” McKewen said. “We laid it all down live and Nathan has been in there with Todd pretty much nonstop finishing it up.”

“When I did recordings with other bands the energy of the live show never translated in the studio,” Lewis said. “Todd captured what this band does so well and didn’t make it sound studio. This album really reflects what we do live, but in a studio setting.”

The album kicks off with live favorite “Meat Finger,” which marries a Parliament-style groove with May’s dirty lead guitar work and synthesizer from guest keyboardist Norman Dimitrouleas of The Werks and The Tony Red Band. Other cuts like “Penny Says,” “Chuchi” and “Psychobabble” definitely retain the power of Magic Jackson’s stage show with subtle differences. The songs all benefit from restrained use of overdubs and the clear separation of each instrument, which assures Lewis’ vocals always shine while also showcasing the ultra-tight rhythm section and the guitar interplay between Lewis and May.

“This whole CD is on Todd,” Lewis said. “He’s a Jedi. He invested so much time and emotion and energy.”

Magic Jackson will showcase these songs in a live setting this weekend when the group celebrates the release of “Freak Tab” at Canal Street Tavern on Friday, July 31, and headlines the Miami Valley Music Festival on Saturday. - Don Thrasher@Dayton Daily News


Magic Jackson, recent winners of the Dayton band playoffs at Canal Street Tavern, have exploded onto the scene in just six months of forming. Their talent and sound belie the short life span of their band. They mix groove-heavy funk and electrified back porch blues with searing guitar solos and tongue-in-cheek lyrics into a danceable, jam-band friendly blend of funk rock.

The standout track, "Daddy's Funk" is exactly that. A Sly & The Family Stone style guitar line and one of the funkiest bass lines I have heard in a while, lead up to an organ freak-out, creating a sound like your father's funk records from the 70's.
"Penny Says" lays out a sleazy blues jam before launching into another shakedown with vocals dialed in from a ham radio.

Magic Jackson are Nathan Lewis (vocals, guitar), Jeff May (guitar, vocals) Justin Moore (drums) and Mike "McNasty" McKewen (bass) and they deliver a live show not to be missed.
Check out their myspace page for tour dates and info on their soon to be released debut album. - Justin Kreitzer/Atlas and the Anchor music blog


The sky is blue and a pleasant late summer breeze rustles the trees in Yellow Springs on an otherwise nondescript September Monday. An infectious groove pumps from the speakers of a parked SUV.
Nathan Lewis (vocals, guitar), Jeff May (vocals, guitar), Mike McKewen (bass) and Justin Moore (drums) of Magic Jackson are outside their practice space sipping early evening beers and previewing rough mixes from their upcoming debut CD before heading inside to rehearse. The new group is currently fine-tuning two sets of music for the upcoming Dayton Band Playoff finals at Canal Street Tavern on Saturday, Sept. 20, and these musicians are definitely eyeing that prize.
“We didn’t expect to make it past the first round,” May said. “After two rounds, Mike was like, ‘We might as well just try to win the thing now.’”
“We fulfilled our obligation to Mick by singing up,” Lewis said. “But we were in it so we decided to try to win.”
“I just wasn’t about it because it’s a popularity contest and I thought there was no way good music was really going to prevail,” May said. “Well, good music has so far.”
Magic Jackson, which formed as the playoffs were beginning in early June, recently recorded material with Todd Huffman at The International College of Broadcasting. If rough mixes are to be believed, the party band is set to deliver a seething slab of sleazy white boy funk with tales of late-night hookups and bedroom come-ons over lascivious grooves.
“For digital recording, it’s really about as close to analog as you can get because we one-take stuff,” Lewis said. “All the bands I’ve played with have been live bands and to get what it’s about you had to come see it live. But Todd takes a real live approach to recording and I think that’s why it translates the way it does. He mikes things and runs them in and it’s not about making it louder but giving it more oomph and electricity. It sounds live … only better.”
While the new recordings sound promising, live is still the best setting for Magic Jackson’s sleazy funk, something Lewis and his band mates hope to capitalize on.
“I think we can hold our own as headliners or whatever, but I think we’d be the most killer opening band that anybody could ask for,” he said. “And outplaying the bands the people came to see is how you make a name for yourself. I think that’s the easiest way to the top.”
On paper it doesn’t sound like Magic Jackson would have much chance in a local band contest. The new act, which just formed in early June, couldn’t even decide on a name, billing itself as Soulcreature until just hours before making its first round debut in Canal Street’s 25th annual Dayton Band Playoffs this summer.
However, a few of these guys have played together in other bands over the years, which helped the musicians effortlessly gel over a danceable mix of solo-heavy rock, dark funk and electric blues. The collective musical past of Magic Jackson also insured the new act had a built-in fanbase, which came in handy during the group’s run through the playoffs.
McKewen and Moore are a tight rhythm section, propelling the action forward and spicing the works with syncopated breaks, in-the-pocket grooves, tasty fills and dynamic breakdowns. However, the two talented guitarists certainly steal the show, switching between lead and rhythm guitar duties. Lewis and May, who occasionally share the lead vocal spot, trade frequent solos as the band launches into extended-jam mode again and again, much to the delight of fans.

- Don Thrasher @ Dayton Daily News/Activedayton.com


Discography

Freak Tab- released July 2009
Venus In Transit- released September 2012

Photos

Bio

Magic Jackson mashes soul searing guitar solos with a groove-based rhythm section of dance beats, slap bass, and chicken scratch guitar to create a signature sound that is fresh yet familiar. MJ blur the line between the genres of rock and funk to create music that, one moment, will conjure the romantic imagery of classic soul and blues, while the next will have you on your feet bouncing to the hard-hitting thump of the best down-home dance music you have heard in some time.

Influences ranging from Jamiroquai, Parliament Funkadelic, Ohio Players and Slave, to Frank Zappa, Miles Davis, and The Red Hot Chili Peppers have allowed Magic Jackson to bring a multi-faceted, yet widely appreciated original style to a diverse fan base.

Primarily defined by high energy live performances, Magic Jackson has entertained audiences at clubs, theaters, and music festivals across the midwest since 2008. Dayton-area Music Critic Don Thrasher describes Magic Jackson's music as "lascivious white-boy funk" and their live show is a true reflection of that vision. The unique talents and diverse songwriting skills MJ brings to the stage showcase a cohesive package steeped in vamping, improvisation, and unorthodox song structure. The band is known for getting the party started and is regularly tapped by promoters and talent buyers to get crowds warm for national touring acts.

In 2009, MJ released their first studio album, “Freak Tab”, which was ranked one of the top 5 local releases of that year by The Dayton City Paper, continues to receive great reviews from industry professionals, and has sold out of hard copies. The self produced album hearkens back to the decades-old traditions of the funk masters while staying true to the raw grit of the Dayton music scene of the past 30 years and has been widely accepted by all types of music fans.

In 2011, Magic Jackson went back into the studio to work on their second full length album. Armed with some bass grooves, a few big hooks, and a general concept for the bigger picture of what they wanted to create, MJ wrote the majority of their follow up album in the studio as they were recording it. Entitled "Venus In Transit", this effort is the true collaboration of an eclectic blend of ideas and comes correct with a dirty batch of streetwise funk-rock, ranging from the lighthearted party anthem, to bitter breakup songs, and social commentary tinged with a blunt truthfulness not seen in today's pop landscape. Through it all, the band delivers scintillating grooves, sizzling guitar interplay, and the huge sing-along choruses that the band is so well known for. Tapping into the sloshy grooves, throbbing beats, and gang vocals characteristic of the funk that put Dayton on the music map, Magic Jackson achieves a melody oriented, rhythmically driven collection of polished funk tunes realized through a filter of distortion and blue collar attitude synonymous with the stripped down abandonment and riff rock sensibility of a garage band. The 2012 release arrives with substance, style and a spirit that captures the aggressive, in-your-face vibe of their live show.

In an ailing music industry, saturated with artists frantically clamoring for your attention, for this hardworking group, the mission is clear and the philosophy is simple: produce music that is straightforward and honest, fun to listen to, fun to play, rocks hard, funks harder.