Inga Rudin – Lola Montez

Written by: Frank Iacono

Inga Rudin - Lola Montez

The Nashville-based band Lola Montez, led by frontwoman Inga Rudin, has only been together for a short time, but they have certainly developed a unique top-notch sound and style that is truly different from what currently permeates today’s airwaves and music charts. The origins of the band can be traced to casual encounters and coincidences over several years within Nashville’s burgeoning music scene. What was once friendly acquaintances pursuing separate projects eventually became fiercely committed bandmates sharing in the thrill of musical co-creation.

Lola Montez’s innovative approach to rock has been described as pissed-off punk. From a songwriting perspective, no subject matter is out of bounds including a date gone wrong, confessions of a jilted lover, wasted youth and surreal erotica. Along with Inga, who previously toured with the band Naked Beggars, Lola Montez features guitarist Blake Scopino formerly of Paryah as well as former Skinny Molly and Blackfoot drummer Kurt Pietro. The band is intent on hitting a raw nerve with music fans far and wide.

Lola Montez’s latest release entitled Dissonant Dreams sounds fresh, yet familiar which is no easy task in this day and age. You hear musical influences, but you don’t hear a cookie cutter approach to rock. Inga’s brazen vocals are powerful and flexible. She can fluctuate from a harder edged approach into a beautiful ballad-like tone at will. Blake’s guitar has a fiery fretboard but remains bright with clean chords. His rhythms are unique and allow for some interesting syncopated beats from Kurt on drums. Dissonant Dreams asserts Lola Montez plenty of muscle but with its pop sensibilities firmly in tow. You get hooks alongside a brooding, drop-tuned guitar coated with an icy edge. For this band, the attitude is in the authenticity.

In this edition of The Creative Spotlight, we caught up with Inga Rudin from Lola Montez where we talked about her musical influences, her songwriting and recording process, her experience in the band Naked Beggars, her bands new CD as well as her short and long-term future plans.

If you like bands that put their own twist on rock music then give Inga and Lola Montez a listen, I’m sure you’ll love their sound.

Q&A Session

The Creative Spotlight: At what age did you first realize that you wanted to be a musician?

Inga Rudin: I would say there really wasn’t a specific age, I pretty much realized right away that I wanted to be a musician. At the age of 3, I began writing, singing and performing. The desire was always there. The path just needed to be shown. Lola Montez, the band, encompasses everything I have ever wanted to accomplish in my music career, including my aesthetics, my vocal variations, dancing and performing!

Lola Montez

TCS: What famous musical artists and/or bands were among your early influences and describe for us how they impacted and/or shaped your musical style?

IR: Over the years, I have been influenced by so many different artists and bands. As I am evolving as a musician, I am still being influenced today. Personally, I love to listen to different vocal and musical styles. Throughout my life, I’ve observed many people especially those who have appeared in movies of the 50s, 60s and 70s. All and all, as a performer I believe all of these activities have helped shape my musical style and provided our band with its original flair.

TCS: Can you please describe for us Lola Montez’s overall sound and musical genre and introduce us to the band lineup?

IR: We could never seem to find a specific genre that truly defined our music. So, I just made one up. I call our musical genre Dream Rock because we have a heaviness, a darkness and an intense yet dreamy sound which is also very danceable.

The band lineup consists of:

  • Inga Rudin – Vocalist
  • Blake Scopino – Guitarist
  • Carl Ray Hopper – Bassist
  • Kurt Pietro – Drums

Lola Montez: Carl Ray Hopper, Inga Rudin, Kurt Pietro and Blake Scopino – Photo by @tattoosbyhollychase

TCS: For the benefit of those who may not be too familiar with Inga Rudin and your musical career, please describe how you started out from Livingston, New Jersey and eventually ended up being a lead singer for Naked Beggars initially and now with Lola Montez?

IR: I was born and raised in Livingston, New Jersey. In 1998, I made my way to Nashville, Tennessee where I met a few musicians and together we formed the hard rock band Naked Beggars. We were lucky enough to have Eric Brittingham and Jeff LaBar from the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-based 80s group Cinderella as part of our band lineup. Naked Beggars was active from 2003 until 2009. During that time frame, we released three albums: Naked Beggars, Spit It Out and XXX.

Around 2015, I began searching for new band members to collaborate and perform with when I first met drummer Kurt Pietro and then guitarist Blake Scopino. From the start, the three of us knew we wanted to work together. We began writing and recording but realized we still needed to find a bassist. Enter Carl Ray Hopper and the rest is history. We were actually working with Carl Ray last year before he took a nasty spill on his motorcycle and had to be in a wheelchair for quite some time. He is, however, one strong dude and is back at it and working as hard as ever! We love him!

TCS: Can you please share with us the origin of the unique Lola Montez band name and perhaps elaborate on its specific meaning?

IR: When I was researching potential band names, I came across the name Lola Montez. I discovered that Lola Montez was a dancer in the 1800s and she was free-spirited, risqué, wild yet looked up to by others. And I thought, this is totally cool because it really described our style of music and truly captured us. Everybody in the band agreed and liked it too, so we went with it, and that’s one of the things that’s hard to do: name a band.

TCS: Take us behind the scenes in the making of Lola Montez’s first album release entitled Glean Deluxe. What was your favorite part of its production and the most challenging from an artistic perspective?

IR: We were writing pretty vigorously for almost a year and had many songs written. In the process of developing our songs, the band also cultivated our relationships too. My favorite part was writing together and preparing myself to record. It was both fun and extremely fulfilling. During this time, the band pushed ourselves to make each song shine. It’s so exciting when a song hits it peak and is ready to be recorded. My least favorite part of creating this album was actually recording the songs. Although I must admit that I love the end results. It’s just a personal preference. Through the release of Glean Deluxe, the members of the band honed our skills and we established some really good chemistry.

TCS: Personally, one of my favorite songs off of Glean Deluxe is the track called “Strange Things,” so can you share with us its meaning as well as the concept behind the video concept?

IR: The song “Strange Things” came later in the writing process for Glean Deluxe. We really, really loved it. The song was written about how we should trust in our future and follow our path. In other words, “stranger things have happened”. So, simply just let it happen.

As for the video concept, I wanted to create a kind of Alice in Wonderland vibe. For example, here you are at a young age, here you are at an older age, but it usually doesn’t turn out as we imagined it. At the end of the day, it’s okay though. I always like to add a bit of quirkiness to everything I do. In other words, do what is least expected.


TCS: I can’t imagine what it felt like to walk out on stage to perform for the very first time. Could you tell us about the experience and how it compares to your performances today?

IR: The first time I stepped onto stage as the lead singer of Naked Beggars can be described as a bit rough. I was really nervous, so I drank a lot of beer. Honestly, I can’t really drink too much, if at all. Thankfully, because I was so nervous, I never got drunk. I’ve definitely come a long way since that initial performance. Today, I remain focused, dive into myself, jump onto stage and simply perform. There is truly nothing like performing live. The excitement gives me an electric feeling. I love to engage with the audience as much as possible. It’s never the same experience twice. Each performance is unique.

TCS: Tell us about the background story behind another great song entitled “Monster” from your second album Dissonant Dreams?

IR: Before the #MeToo movement gained its widespread media coverage and discussion against sexual harassment and sexual assault, the song “Monster” was written. There are plenty of men and woman that cross the line and make someone feel uncomfortable every day. And, this is what this song is all about. At the time, this song was written about someone specifically but today it symbolizes the extent of problems associated with harassment and assault.


TCS: Could you describe for us one of the strangest experiences you had during the course of your music career and what you learned from it as a performer?

IR: One of the strangest things that happened to me during my musical career involved a garbage can. Yes, you read that correct a garbage can. I once walked right off the edge of the stage and into a garbage can. That alone probably isn’t that strange or weird, but I just kept singing as if nothing happened. As a performer, I learned that I must always check where I am stepping.

TCS: Tell us about your experience as lead singer in the band Naked Beggars and your hit “Through With You”?

IR: Well, that was certainly a great time. Overall, what an amazing learning experience. I was truly honored to work with so many great musicians. I learned so much from that band, including how to tour. We made 3 albums and had that last release right as I was entering in with the new band. It was an older song that had not been released in which we decided to go ahead and release. I guess at the time, when we wrote this song we decided against releasing it for some reason. We have more that we can release. Lol. With that band we had lots of writers and the songs were almost endless. We all did try to write together. Some us would pair up and write and then bring it to the main band later. Those writing sessions were really awesome.


TCS: As an independent artist, how do you market your songs, albums, merchandise and appearances?

IR: From a marketing and advertising perspective, I am very aggressive with all of the promotional aspects for Lola Montez. Essentially, I come up with all of the ideas and implement them. These strategies range from email marketing to social media marketing to radio/talk show marketing to news media marketing. Touring provides an added ripple effect. Utilizing these concepts is the only way to get yourself out there today. We do what we have to in order to drive people to our live show which can be described as unique. All of the hard work is really rewarding especially when you get a great response. Not only to the showmanship but to the actual songs. That truly is the most fulfilling part. I love playing live.

To stay connected, please join us on the following:

TCS: If you weren’t in the music industry what would you see yourself doing instead?

IR: If I weren’t in the music industry, I would have loved to have been a mechanic. My grandfather was a mechanic. However, I feel I am not strong enough to do that job. But it is really gratifying to fix shit. LOL.

TCS: What does the short and long-term future look like for Inga Rudin and Lola Montez?

IR: Well, this band and I will continue to push and move forward. As a matter of fact, we are currently in the writing process right now. Additionally, we are in the middle of making some new music videos and recording a new song. Both should be released soon. As musicians, we will always continue to evolve and keep changing. There is no end in sight for Lola Montez.

About Frank Iacono

Frank Iacono Photo

Frank Iacono is a highly skilled results-oriented Strategic Marketing Professional with proven critical thinking, problem solving, and project management skills, developed through more than 20 years of experience concentrated in integrated marketing strategies. Frank brings a thorough, hands-on understanding of marketing strategies and technological platforms as related to applications available for web design, content development, email marketing, site and campaign analytics, search marketing and optimization, service and product marketing, lead and demand generation, social media, and customer retention.

Frank has a BA degree in English/Communications and Marketing from Cabrini College, and he received his Webmaster Certification from Penn State Great Valley.

Jean-Francois Perotin – The Rockin Krolik

Written by: Frank Iacono

Jean-Francois Perotin - The Rockin Krolik

Jean-Francois Perotin (a.k.a. The Rockin Krolik) is a french born Canadian singer-songwriter. The Rockin Krolik writes and sings wearing his heart on his sleeve finding inspiration in everyday life, relationships, nature, society and last but not least…us, the people of the world!

In a roundabout way, The Rockin Krolik’s debut album All About The Journey (released June 2019) is an introduction. The release features a selection of 10 songs written over the last 20 years proving that it’s never too late to fulfill a dream.

Tracks like “Out Of Here” and “Human Nature” off the record give listeners a taste of his melodic rock, featuring catchy hooks with a sprinkle of his folk and pop influences. Tugging on our heartstrings, The Rockin Krolik introduces us to his world, which invites us to think, feel and celebrate.

In this edition of The Creative Spotlight, we caught up with The Rockin Krolik where he talked about his musical influences, his songwriting and recording process, his new CD All About The Journey as well as his short and long-term future plans.

Check out the article below, and make sure to follow his journey!

Q&A Session

The Creative Spotlight: At what age did you first realize that you wanted to be a musician and whom or what would you say inspired you?

Jean-Francois Perotin: For as long as I can remember, I always enjoyed performing, singing, goofing around and dressing up. I used to play my older brother’s vinyl records and listened to albums from The Beatles, Supertramp, The Smiths, B52’s and sang along. It just always felt natural to sing. It wasn’t until I was 25, when I picked up a guitar and began my career as a musician. I was highly influenced by artist/bands such as Pearl Jam, The Cranberries, Alanis Morissette amongst other artists. By writing and performing my own music, I felt like I could freely express myself.

Jean-Francois Perotin - The Rockin Krolik

TCS: What famous musical artists and/or bands were among your early influences and describe for us how they impacted and/or shaped your musical style?

JFP: Pearl Jam and especially lead singer Eddie Vedder is by far my main vocal influence. The Cranberries for the simple melodies and Dolores O’Riordan’s voice and harmonies as well as Alanis Morrissette for her unconventional song writing style and word placement. All in all, as a songwriter I work to be as honest as these artists and keep doing what feels right. It’s what I think influenced me the most…how real, raw and true to themselves they truly are.

TCS: For the benefit of those who may not be too familiar with The Rockin Krolik or your musical career, please share with us the origin of this unique name and its specific meaning?

JFP: I created The Rockin Krolik about 4 years ago. My full name, Jean-Francois Perotin, is French and it is usually a mouth full so I thought that I would pick a name that would allow me to create a brand and perform as either a solo artist or band. I’m serious about my music but want to have fun while doing it. So, my nickname “Krolik” was an obvious pick. It means bunny in Polish…my wife is Polish. I do, however, realize that it’s still a mouthful for some though!

Jean-Francois Perotin - The Rockin Krolik

TCS: How would you describe your overall sound and musical genre?

JFP: I would describe my overall sound as Rock with some 90’s Alternative and Pop Rock influences. However, the acoustic versions of my songs probably have more of an indie rock and folk-like vibe sound.

TCS: Take us behind the scenes in the making of your first full album experience entitled All About the Journey. What was your favorite part of its production and the most challenging from an artistic perspective?

JFP: As a 100% novice, this was such an amazing learning experience. I worked with Anton Evans of Village Works Canada who is a very hands-on Producer. It was such a great fit working with him. He was very cooperative during the entire process. A true mind reader as to what I wanted as an end result with the songs. Anton used bed tracks with guitar and vocals that we recorded together, and we then took one song at a time and built them up layer by layer. Anton did all the heavy lifting, I provided direction and feedback and showed up whenever he needed me to re-cut vocals, guitar, add harmonica and some electric guitar.

The production highlight was my collaboration with Ontario-born vocalist & guitarist Cheryl Ireland who graciously agreed to record the track entitled “A Minute Longer” with me. I felt good about this song, but this duo exceeded my expectations.

The main challenge was probably to let go and trust someone else to work with my music and also remain open to their suggestions and input. It would have been counterproductive to be too protective anyways. The whole point of working with a producer like Anton is to get their feel and sound.

TCS: Personally, one of my favorite songs off of All About the Journey is the track called “Out Of Here,” so can you share with us its meaning as well as the concept behind the video concept?

JFP: I wrote the first words for this song about 20 years ago in Berlin, Germany…when I took a trip to visit my brother who lives there. I just needed a break and a change of scenery for a bit to get perspective.

I remember walking the streets, walking a lot actually, sitting in cafés, drawing and writing, just enjoying life and feeling like I was experiencing something beyond anything I had ever felt before, being free, feeling free with a clear and light mind, clear and light heart.

The song evolved slightly over the years…About 4 years ago, I reworked the rhythm pattern a bit and came up with what it sounds like today…It was also the first really upbeat, positive, happy song I wrote.

For the video, I had two concepts in mind…I always refer to Ferris Bueller when I talk about this song because of how free he chooses to be so I thought about going down that path. In the end, I decided to go with the animals. First because, I love animals and second because I felt they represent freedom better than anything else!


TCS: In what ways have the places where you have lived affected your musical tastes and the music in which you create?

JFP: I moved around a lot in the 90s and the early 2000s until my big move to Canada in 2008. My experience in these countries as well as the people and friends I crossed paths with along the way helped shape who I am today and have had a direct influence in the way I write and see the world. I think that the more exposure you get, the more you can rely on real-life experience to write songs and as a result get closer to being honest and true, which I believe is how people relate to songs.

TCS: Tell us about the background story behind another favorite off of the album entitled “Human Nature”?

JFP: I wrote “Human Nature” after 9/11. Like millions of people all over the world, I was deeply affected by the event. Since my teenage years, I have visited the United States many times and developed strong friendships with many people.

The irony of all this is how easy it is to hide behind religious beliefs to excuse or explain acts of violence, from all sides.

When our leaders around the globe, make decisions they do not have our best interests at heart and ultimately innocent people pay the price.

So yes, religion and the political climate is at the center of this song, but the theme remains universal. Is this Human Nature? Is that the best we can do, the best we can be?


TCS: Could you describe for us one of the weirdest experiences you had during the course of your music career?

JFP: I can’t really think of anything really weird, but I was playing in a marina one night in the south of France and my back was to the water. It was an extremely windy night, so much so that a gust of wind blew a speaker off its stand and in the water. I had to quickly stop playing, strip and then dive into the water to get it back. Thankfully the wind helped dry it quickly and I was able to continue.

TCS: Describe for us the song writing process and video concept behind the single entitled “My Last Breath”?

As you may have already guessed, the song “My Last Breath” is about the end of a relationship that sucked the life out of me. With a break-up, you don’t get instant relief. In some cases, you may have to deal with someone who does not want to let go or just can’t move on. Continuously, denying that the end has come, and that things won’t be the same again. These are certainly tough times, and I think that anyone can relate no matter which side of the situation that you are on.

“My Last Breath” came from the fact that I was already emotionally drained from the relationship itself and breaking it off was the last straw. It truly felt like any attempt to answer the questions, explain or justify myself got me closer to my actual last breath.

As for the video concept, I came up the idea while I was putting together an Instagram/Facebook post. I originally wanted to shoot the video in a lake or maybe even a river but when the opportunity arose to utilize my neighbor’s pool before the end of the summer season, I took it. As they say timing is everything. I wanted to be 100% under water the whole time to make the audience hold their breath too as they watched. So, tell me did it work?


TCS: As an independent artist, how do you market your songs, albums, merchandise and appearances?

JFP: DIY!! Full stack creative!

Last year, I came across the CD Baby conference videos on YouTube. They were both eye and mind opening! From there, I bought Ari Herstand’s book How To Make It in the New Music Business: Practical Tips on Building a Loyal Following and Making a Living as a Musician and joined his Facebook group. From there, I discovered “Indepreneur”. In my opinion, these guys are the best on the market. Especially, when it comes to marketing for musicians, and there are a few out there, using the tools and technology currently at our disposal but also adapting to this ever-changing environment. It’s tough to keep up as an independent artist and it gets overwhelming quickly!

Facebook is by far my main platform and where I focus most of my marketing activity and keep updated. I have learned through “Indepreneur” to create targeted ad campaigns to reach out to potential fans around the world and, once in my ecosystem, keep them “warm” and engaged. I have my shop set up on Facebook and my website for merchandise.

Locally, I gig around (on average twice a month) and perform at showcases whenever the opportunity is available to promote myself and sell merch (e.g., CDs, & T-shirts)

Overall, time is of the essence and it most be used wisely. The key is to use whatever time I have to do something, anything (even small) for the business and do it consistently.

To stay connected, please join us on the following:


TCS: Name a band or musician, past or present, who you flat-out LOVE and think more people should be listening to. What’s one of your all-time favorite recordings by this band/musician?

JFP: It is really difficult for me not to say Pearl Jam but even harder to select an all-time favorite song from their vast music library. However, a band that I only started listening to when I moved to Canada is called The Tragically Hip. Prior to that, I had never heard of them before. And, one of my favorite songs of theirs is a tack entitled “Bobcaygeon“.

TCS: If you weren’t in the music industry what would you see yourself doing instead?

JFP: I would say I am an artist at heart. I think being a musician allows me to check the most boxes from my to-do list including self-expression both mentally and physically as well as performing. Additionally, I also love to draw, sculpt and work with wood. So, to answer the question, I would say I would either be a graphic designer or a cabinet maker of sorts!

Jean-Francois Perotin - The Rockin Krolik

TCS: What does the short and long-term future look like for Jean-Francois Perotin and The Rockin Krolik?

JFP: Consistency remains the main goal. I have a Facebook Live event every Friday at 8am EST that I want to continue doing and getting better at it.

I also want to release music more often, 3 to 4 times a year, instead of waiting to have enough material for an album. If I have a song that I feel may be a good single, I will work to release it.

Most importantly, I want to connect with my audience no matter how big or small. Perform, perform and perform some more! That has been my goal since the beginning.

Last but not least, I want to take pleasure doing what I do. Have fun. Life is too short not to! After all, It’s All About the Journey! 🙂

About Frank Iacono

Frank Iacono Photo

Frank Iacono is a highly skilled results-oriented Strategic Marketing Professional with proven critical thinking, problem solving, and project management skills, developed through more than 20 years of experience concentrated in integrated marketing strategies. Frank brings a thorough, hands-on understanding of marketing strategies and technological platforms as related to applications available for web design, content development, email marketing, site and campaign analytics, search marketing and optimization, service and product marketing, lead and demand generation, social media, and customer retention.

Frank has a BA degree in English/Communications and Marketing from Cabrini College, and he received his Webmaster Certification from Penn State Great Valley.

Michelle Leigh: Lead Singer & Songwriter

Written by: Frank Iacono

Michelle Leigh, touted as “The New Queen of Southern Rock”, hails from Bakersville, North Carolina; a small Appalachian town steeped in the tradition of mountain music and gospel hymns. Michelle grew up in what she calls a “Norman Rockwell” setting, where doors were never locked, neighbors were always quick to lend a hand and no matter how old you were, manners were always in style.

Edgy and honest, Ms. Leigh’s songwriting style amplifies real-life situations, real-life problems and real-life solutions. Her music says out loud what everyone else is already thinking. Her country rock sound has been described as Sugarland soaked in Janis Joplin and Tina Turner overtones, with a healthy mix of Dolly for inspiration. Her smoky vocals and driving rhythms, will break your heart with a ballad, and then heal it with a hard shot of whiskey.

In 2012, Michelle was listed in the Top 25 out of over 2,200 entries in GAC/ Music City Songwriter’s Competition for her ballad “Babydoll”, and Honorable Mention in the Smoky Mountain Songwriter’s Competition for the rock-infused song “Black Ink”. The following year, she was named the winner of the Charlotte Music Awards 2013 Women in Rock Showcase.

In both 2015 and 2016, she was presented with the prestigious Josie Music Awards Southern Rock Artist of the Year. Equally, she was awarded the highly-respected 2016 JMA Southern Rock Song of the Year for “Somebody’s Someone”. During 2017, she was honored with the People’s Choice Award-Jacksonville for Country’Southern Rock and the JMA Southern Rock Video of the Year for “Devil Music”. In September, JMA awarded her with the 2018 JMA Entertainer of the Year Southern Rock and 2018 JMA Video of the Year for the hard-hitting “Blood Water”.

In this edition of The Creative Spotlight, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michelle Leigh and asking her a few questions about her musical influences, her songwriting and recording process, her new smash hit single and award-winning video “Blood Water” and her short and long-term future plans.

Q&A Session

The Creative Spotlight: At what age did you first realize that you wanted to be a musician and what was the first instrument that you learned how to play?

Michelle Leigh: At a young age, I taught myself how to play a little piano on an old player piano my family had in our back bedroom. I have ALWAYS loved music and singing-far back as I can remember.

TCS: Could you tell us in your own words how you would describe your overall sound and musical genre? And, what famous musical artists and/or bands were among your early influences and describe for us how they impacted and/or shaped your musical style?

ML: I would describe my overall sound and musical genre as Country flavored Southern Rock! I love all kinds of music, but 70’s & 80’s Country artists like Molly Hatchet, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Travis Tritt…I LOVE the sound of all those guys! My influences? I admire so many, but I love Tina Turner, Dolly Parton, Ann Wilson…gosh, the list goes on and on. I think anyone an artist admires ends up being somewhat of an influence.

TCS: Can you introduce us to your band lineup and tell us what each person does?

ML: The band lineup consists of:

  • Michelle Leigh – Lead Vocals
  • Stewart Dalrymple – Bass, Vocals & Acoustic Guitar
  • Doug Green – Lead Guitar
  • Andy Orth – Keys
  • Robb Williamson – Drums
  • Barry Lee Harwood – Special Guest Guitarist on occasion (formerly of Rossington Collins)

TCS: For the benefit of those who may not be too familiar with Michelle Leigh or your musical career, please describe for us how you started out from Bakersville, North Carolina, a small Appalachian town steeped in the tradition of mountain music and gospel hymns, and eventually ended up being a southern rock lead singer?

ML: I was very active in my high school chorus, college tour choirs and beauty pageants. That lead to acoustic performances with my brother Mark, then onto performing with my own bands. My style of singing and certainly my writing style has always been on the edgier side. Southern Rock gave me a much-needed home when Nashville didn’t really want anything to do with me.

TCS: Michelle, could you tell us a little bit about your experience competing in the 2018 Josie Music Awards and how excited you were to win Entertainer of the Year (Southern Rock) and Music Video of the Year for the song “Blood Water.”

ML: I am VERY PROUD to be a six-time Josie Music Awards (JMA) winner! The JMA’s are the largest independent music award organization, part of The Josie Network, LLC of Brands. This year, I won a JMA for Music Video of the Year for “Blood Water,” a hard-hitting video dealing with sexual abuse. It’s a very difficult topic, and I felt strongly about it being addressed head-on and no punches pulled. The gamble paid off.

In 2018, I was honored to be nominated for 6 Josie Music Awards. Although with this year’s STIFF competition, I honestly believed that I might receive only one of the awards. I truly didn’t think I was even going to get anywhere NEAR the Entertainer of the Year…So, I’m sitting their drinking water, ready to hear anyone’s name but mine! Then Miss Heidi Parton and Josie Passantino called my name for Southern Rock Entertainer of the Year. It didn’t really register at first, but I tell you, I was SO blown away! I am NOT a “tears” person, but I was boo-hooing like a baby when I accepted the Entertainer of the Year! It is my most treasured award, to date!


TCS: How would you describe your overall songwriting style?

ML: Raw and honest. I do not shy away from hard topics. I do have some softer songs, but I prefer to write about real life topics. Music really helps people, you know?  Music heals.

TCS: Personally, one of my favorite tracks off your Redemption album is a song called “Devil Music” which you co-wrote with Charlie Kelley. Can you share with us some of the background behind your hit and the video produced by Built to Fall Productions?

ML: “Devil Music” started out being a tribute song for the late Popcorn Sutton, his widow had asked me to write a song for him. The song took a turn away from Popcorn’s story and wasn’t fitting what I wanted to convey about him. So, I initially scrapped it and wrote another one called “The Legend” for Popcorn. However, I felt “Devil Music” was too good to throw away, so I gave it another go. I fixed a few things and the rest is history.

Doug Green, my guitar player, heard the song and instantly came up with the video’s storyline. I called Michael Spears, the owner of Built to Fall Productions who handles all of my music videos and told him the storyline and he loved it. We were able to film the video at a buddy’s house down in Black Creek community in Middleburg, Florida. Gene Rogers and his wife Christy opened their home and property up to us for the weekend. Two days later, the raw footage was completed! I do want to mention that Doug’s girlfriend Renee Closson, built MANY of the props, as well as handled costuming and makeup. She was awesome!


TCS: I can’t imagine what it felt like to walk out on stage to perform for the very first time. Could you tell us about the experience and how it compares to your performances today?

ML: My very first solo performance was for the Miss Mitchell High School pageant. My mother made my outfit and I sang “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”. I was really terrified! Today, I still get butterflies, but the good kind! The excitement gives me an electric feeling. There is truly nothing like performing live.

TCS: Could you describe the song writing process and video concept behind the single entitled “Lightning in a Bottle”? And, please tell us a little bit about your experience competing in the 2019 Josie Music Awards and how excited you were to win Music Video of the Year for this song?

ML: The song title “Lightning in a Bottle” came from a person I used to know who once used that phrase. Over the years, it stuck with me – the meaning of catching such a rarity and doing the impossible, if only for a short amount of time. Everything has a shelf life, love is no exception.

The video was definitely challenging. The Sr. Manager and Owner of B2F Production had this fantastic Wizard of Oz meets Mad Max apocalypse vision. Personally, I think they did a great job of capturing that vision. I loved winning the 2019 JMA award for Video of the Year for “Lightning in a Bottle, although I must admit it was TOTALLY unexpected, as was my Entertainer of the Year win too. I’m truly very blessed.


TCS: Could you tell us one of the strangest places that you played during the course of your career?

ML: I once played at a bar that had those awful, snappy rat traps all over in the bathrooms and seating areas! That wasn’t much fun!

TCS: How do you market your songs, albums, merchandise and appearances?

ML: To stay connected, please join us on the following:

TCS: In the YouTube description of your official music video for “Black Ink” you say, “the smoldering vocals and steely lyrics of this song remind us that it is unwise to tick off a songwriter.” Can you provide the source of inspiration for this track? 

ML: Ha!  No.  I’ll just say that it came from a betrayal by a very close friend.


TCS: How much fun did you have with the official video for your song “Triple J” back in your hometown of Bakersville and at Mack Kell’s Pub and Grill in Asheville, NC?

ML: That was such a great day! Thomas Delmer “Artimus” Pyle, the drummer from Lynyrd Skynyrd and 2006 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, played my “leading man” in the music video. We also had some AWESOME special guest appearances from Charlie Kelley, my producer and his wife Nan. However, my favorite part of the video is the special footage of California Chrome, one of the most famous racehorses in history, which was provided by Sherman Racing. I must say THAT was incredible to me. It is something that I will always treasure.


TCS: Can you share with us your involvement with The Salvation Army and Brother Wolf Animal Rescue charities?

ML: I am a huge supporter of The Angel Tree program by The Salvation Army. And as far as animals go, I will support and donate to about any charity that helps all furbabies!

TCS: From a song writing, studio recording and accompanying music video perspective, can you share with us some of the details surrounding the single entitled “Somebody’s Someone?” 

ML: “Somebody’s Someone” was a result of me being totally disgusted with the actions of those Westborough Church cowards. I was watching their ignorance on the news one day and said, “Don’t they realize that the soldier in that casket is somebody’s father, son…somebody’s someone?” When I sat down to write the song, I decided to use several scenarios of bullying as examples of things we see happening in our own daily lives.


TCS: If you weren’t in music industry what would you see yourself doing instead?

ML: I actually own my own decor business. I design, build and install commercial holiday decor for malls, hotels, casinos and amusement parks.  I love everything about my music, but I also love doing custom holiday decor too!

TCS: What does the short and long-term future look like for Michelle Leigh?

ML: I have a brand-new CD in the works including 4 music videos and I’m booking now for a 2019 Tour. Additionally, I will be doing ANYTHING and EVERYTHING possible to keep that Entertainer of the Year award!

About Frank Iacono

Frank Iacono Photo

Frank Iacono is a highly skilled results-oriented Strategic Marketing Professional with proven critical thinking, problem solving, and project management skills, developed through more than 20 years of experience concentrated in integrated marketing strategies. Frank brings a thorough, hands-on understanding of marketing strategies and technological platforms as related to applications available for web design, content development, email marketing, site and campaign analytics, search marketing and optimization, service and product marketing, lead and demand generation, social media, and customer retention.

Frank has a BA degree in English/Communications and Marketing from Cabrini College, and he received his Webmaster Certification from Penn State Great Valley.

Jessie Goergen: Lead Singer & Songwriter

Written by: Frank Iacono

Jessie Goergen (a.k.a. Jessie G.) hails from the small coastal town of Brookings, Oregon. Jessie’s heritage spans across four generations of commercial fishermen and she is no exception. The oldest of three, Jessie grew up in a tightly knit, labor intensive, feast or famine community where the women work right alongside the men.

As a youngster, Jessie spent much of her childhood tagging alongside her father on the docks or aboard the hand-built family boat searching for Dungeness crab and albacore tuna and selling their catch at the market. Fishing wasn’t just to pay the bills; fishing was a way of life and Jessie’s early means to support her true passion—to become a performing artist.

In high school, she started her first rock band and quickly learned what it was like to be paid to play!
 Her open eyes, love of music and determination to succeed earned Jessie a scholarship to attend Linfield College in Oregon where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in both Political Science and The Fine Arts.

In the summer of 2013, Jessie entered a “Battle of The Bands” contest where she won the opening slot to perform before Grammy award-winning country music artist Gretchen Wilson. It was after that once-in-a-lifetime chance that the young, aspiring singer and hit-recording artist “clicked” naturally to form a magical working relationship and kinship.

The newfound friendship later moved Jessie to make the bold decision to follow her dreams in Music City. Gretchen has since signed Jessie to Redneck Records and the two have been hard at work not only on her studio album, but on their upcoming summer tour where Jessie will be featured during Gretchen’s performance.

In this edition of The Creative Spotlight, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jessie G. and asking her a few questions about her musical influences, her songwriting and recording process, her new smash hit single “Army Ranger” and her short and long-term future plans.

Q&A Session

The Creative Spotlight: At what age did you first realize that you wanted to be a musician and what was the first instrument that you learned how to play?

Jessie G.: I started singing when I was in diapers! I used to send out little notes and call family members around my hometown inviting them to attend a talent show I was hosting in my living room. Once they arrived, I made them sit on our couch and watch me sing and dance.

At a young age, I took piano lessons but quit. Later, I was thankful for the training I received, especially since Linfield College in Oregon required students to be proficient in piano to Graduate with a Bachelor of the Arts in Music. Now, I only play instruments if I’m writing by myself otherwise, I leave it to the professionals.

TCS: Could you tell us in your own words how you would describe your overall sound and musical genre? And, what famous musical artists and/or bands were among your early influences and describe for us how they impacted and/or shaped your musical style?

JG: It’s actually hard to describe my overall sound and musical genre especially since it is so heavily influenced by all the varied music I listened to when I grew up. It’s definitely country with the lyric style but it is very rock influenced with the melodies and instrumentation. Sometimes people say they hear punk and hard rock influences in my music too. That makes a lot of sense to me since my dad blasted Aerosmith and Metallica during my entire childhood. My mom balanced it out with Dixie Chicks, Trisha Yearwood and Shania Twain! I’ll just say Country Rock is the genre!


TCS: For the benefit of those who may not be too familiar with Jessie G. or your musical career, please describe for us how you started out from a small coastal town in Brookings, Oregon and eventually ended up being a lead singer?

JG: I was born and raised in a commercial fishing family. We have been farming the seas for 4 generations. With this hard feast or famine lifestyle, I learned at an early age what it meant to work hard. I also learned the skill of being able to live as a self-employed entrepreneur. I grew up competing in all of the local fairs, talent shows and country showdowns that my county and state had to offer. In these competitions, I regularly won first place which encouraged me to keep pursuing a musical career path. Equally, I received a college scholarship for vocal performance and continued to hone my craft. In my heart, I knew that God gave me this gift to share with the world and I knew I would never completely give it up, but I never considered it as my primary career until I met Grammy award-winning Gretchen Wilson. She helped make my dream of becoming a performing artist a reality.

TCS: Jessie, could you tell us a little bit about your experience competing in the “Battle of the Bands” and how that led to your being discovered by Gretchen Wilson?

JG: When I heard that legendary country recording artist Gretchen Wilson was coming to town and there was a chance to open up for her, I literally JUMPED at the opportunity. She was the only relevant female performer in the country and rock scene that truly inspired me. I grew up singing her songs in the competitions I mentioned. I always loved her sound and style. By listening to her music, I could tell she was a true badass. So, I entered into the “Battle of the Bands” and earned the opportunity to open for her! When the time came to meet her after our show, I was honest and real with her. I asked her what I needed to do in order to get to where she is today. Meeting her was truly a career changing moment.

TCS: How excited are you about the release of your brand-new single “Army Ranger” co-written with Melanie Meriney and Michael August?

JG.: To say I am excited is an understatement. This is definitely the proudest I’ve ever been about my music!

TCS: Can you share some of the background on the filming of the official music video for “Army Ranger”?

JG: At the time, we had a small budget and limited resources so my friends, who are all active service members, agreed to gather their gear and uniforms. They even agreed to take part in my video too! I was also convinced to have my real-life boyfriend, who currently serves in the Army, play a part in the recording. We share a steamy kiss at the end. It’s pretty amazing to have people I love be a part of the production.


TCS: Personally, one of my favorite tracks off your new album is a song called “Drop A Line” which was co-written alongside Joshua Withenshaw and Davis Branch, and produced by Grammy-award winning entertainer Gretchen Wilson. Can you share with us some of the background behind you’re hit?

JG: The track, “Drop A Line” is definitely one of my favorites too. I wanted to include a fishing song because of my family lineage with commercial fishing, but I also wanted it to be clever. So, we decided to create a scene of fishing and fishing words with the double entendre of love.


TCS: I can’t imagine what it felt like to walk out on stage to perform for the very first time. Could you tell us about the experience and how it compares to your performances today?

JG: At first you have to work through many things. Stage fright. Not choking. It took me years to get to a place where I could be fully present on stage. It took a long time to be comfortable enough in my stage presence and to be able to improve speaking to my audience. I’ve definitely come a LONG way since the beginning.

TCS: Tell us about the background story behind your performance of “You Lit a Fire” at the BULL Sessions in the Bloodworks Live Studio?

JG: I wrote “You Lit A Fire” a while ago with Davis Branch and Matt Hundley. That song is a very conversational and vulnerable song. The Bloodworks Studio version is one of the first recorded performances released so far. I was so emotional singing it that day. I can’t wait until we release it on the record.


TCS: Could you tell us where some of the coolest and strangest places that you played during the course of your career and what you learned from the experiences?

JG: The coolest place would be in an Apache Helicopter Hanger. The strangest or weirdest place but a ton of fun, was someone’s backyard. I’ve learned that if you play for 2 people or 20,000 people you still have to bring your 100% every time.

TCS: What is the inspiration behind “Cardiac Arrest?” It’s a great song.

JG: I had the idea for this song in my head for the longest time. I wanted to write about the correlation between having a heart attack and suffering from a broken heart. I called my mom up because she’s a nurse and asked her what some medical terms were associated with having a heart attack and how to save someone and then the song wrote itself!


TCS: How do you market your songs, albums, merchandise and appearances?

JG: To stay connected, please join us on the following:

TCS: If you weren’t in music industry what would you see yourself doing instead?

JG: Prior to getting my big opportunity with music, I was going to practice law. I don’t know where life would’ve taken me but I’m really happy that it took me here!

TCS: What does the short and long-term future look like for Jessie G.?

JG: Touring, touring and more touring! When you are a new artist, you simply can’t rest! The fishing industry is closely related to the music industry; working on a fishing boat (just like the music industry) toughens you up. You can’t be sensitive or expect a big payday; you have to dive in, go 100%. The harder you work, the more likely it is for a greater pay off. I’ve been doing this since I was 12.

About Frank Iacono

Frank Iacono Photo

Frank Iacono is a highly skilled results-oriented Strategic Marketing Professional with proven critical thinking, problem solving, and project management skills, developed through more than 20 years of experience concentrated in integrated marketing strategies. Frank brings a thorough, hands-on understanding of marketing strategies and technological platforms as related to applications available for web design, content development, email marketing, site and campaign analytics, search marketing and optimization, service and product marketing, lead and demand generation, social media, and customer retention.

Frank has a BA degree in English/Communications and Marketing from Cabrini College, and he received his Webmaster Certification from Penn State Great Valley.

Christopher R. Mihm: Retro-Styled Filmmaker

Written by: Frank Iacono

Christopher R. Mihm is the writer, director, editor and producer of films coined as the “Mihmiverse,” a series of award winning, loosely interlinked feature-length films styled after 1950s-era “drive-in cinema.” He has been described as the king of new old, good bad movies!

Christopher, the Minnesota-based maverick, officially began his illustrious filmmaking career in 2006 with the release of his first retro-styled film entitled, The Monster of Phantom Lake. Made on a nearly non-existent budget, this B-movie went on to garner much critical acclaim, appear in many genre-based film festivals, win multiple awards, and continues to screen across the world.

Since The Monster of Phantom Lake, Mr. Mihm has released one 1950s-style feature a year, many of which have received numerous accolades, nominations, and awards. His sixth film, Attack of the Moon Zombies, received the most “2011 Dead Letter Awards” at mailorderzombie.com. House of Ghosts, Mr. Mihm’s tribute to the films of classic horror master William Castle, won the coveted Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Award for “Best Independent Feature.” The Giant Spider, a tribute to the “giant bug” films of the 1950s, took first place in the “Action/Horror Feature” category at the 2013 Highway 61 Film Festival.

Throughout his career, Mr. Mihm has been featured in many publications, both off and online, including Sci-Fi Magazine, Scream, and Scary Monsters Magazine. Mr. Mihm was the recipient of the first-ever “Roger & Julie Corman Intrepid Filmmaker” award at the 37th annual ValleyCON in Fargo, ND and won the “Best Director” award from mailorderzombie.com.

In this edition of The Creative Spotlight, I had the pleasure of interviewing Christopher R. Mihm to ask him a few questions about his early filmmaking influences, his writing and creative process, his all-time favorite b-styled movie and his upcoming projects and events.

Q&A Session

The Creative Spotlight: At what age did you become interested in the film industry, and who or what inspired you to pursue a career as a writer, director and producer?

Christopher R. Mihm: I’ve been interested in making movies for as long as I can remember. I have many positive memories of going to the movies as a kid and, as a result, the idea of making my own movie became something that greatly fascinated me. As a teen, I played drums in several bad rock bands and I developed a keen interest in audio recording. I went to college to study the subject and, while there, ended up taking classes focused on audio for film and television. Excelling in those courses, I eventually ended up doing work for a local cable access station. This gave me experience shooting and editing video. Finally, once digital technology progressed to the point where I could make a movie that “looked like a movie” (and not something made on cheap VHS video), I took all of my life and educational experience, got together with friends and family and made my first movie, The Monster of Phantom Lake!

TCS: What famous filmmakers were among your early influences and how do you think they shaped your approach and film style?

CRM: Growing up in the late ‘70s and ‘80s, I was a big fan of the films of Steven Spielberg. I have always loved that, even with his more serious work, he understands the idea of making sure his movies are entertaining. I feel like a lot of independent filmmakers often ignore “entertainment value” and focus too heavily on “art for art’s sake.” Don’t misunderstand me, there’s nothing wrong with experimenting with the art form or pushing that envelope. But, when it comes at the expense of simple ENJOYMENT, that’s a problem!

As a guy in his early ‘40s, Star Wars and Star Trek were huge influences on my love of cinematic science fiction. Other filmmakers I enjoy from my childhood include Joe Dante, Robert Zemekis and, with Ghostbusters being my all-time favorite film of the ‘80s, Ivan Reitman.

TCS: For the benefit of those who may not be too familiar with Christopher R. Mihm or your overall body of work, please share with us some details of your 13 films in “The Mihmiverse?”

CRM: My 13 films are all connected to each other, sharing common fictional locations or characters (and actors) or both, forming what has been coined “The Mihmiverse”.

    • The Monster of Phantom Lake: The Musical!

      Based on the multi-award-winning film, The Monster of Phantom Lake: The Musical! follows guitar-wielding, a-rockin’ scientist Professor Jackson, his smitten graduate student and five swell teenagers as they discover the terrifying effects of “Atomic Waste” in the form of a horribly mutated “shell-shocked” World War II soldier / lake-algae monster! The Monster of Phantom Lake: The Musical! was filmed in July of 2016, during the play’s world premiere run at the historic Mabel Tainter Center for the Arts in Menomonie, Wisconsin! The Monster of Phantom Lake: The Musical! was created specifically to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the release of my first film, The Monster of Phantom Lake.

    • Demon with the Atomic Brain

      A failed attempt to weaponize a machine capable of opening portals to other worlds creates an exponentially expanding bubble of fractured space-time which threatens to engulf the entire universe! An elite team of specialists must enter a “crack” in the disturbance and make their way down a rabbit hole of increasingly more dangerous alternate realities to find and shut down the machine which created it! Will their last-ditch attempt to save humanity be successful? Will this be how the universe ends? Find out in writer/director Christopher R. Mihm’s exciting homage to the sci-fi adventure films of the late 1950s: Demon with the Atomic Brain!

 

    • Weresquito: Nazi Hunter

      Horrific Nazi experiments have left a surviving American WWII soldier with a terrifying condition: at the sight of fresh blood, he transforms into a man-sized, blood-sucking killer insect! Refusing to let his affliction destroy him, he instead commits himself to using his “powers” for good—by finding the people responsible and bringing them to justice!

 

    • Danny Johnson Saves the World

      Young Danny Johnson (Elliott Mihm) must use his smarts and adventurous spirit to stop devious, pint-sized aliens—and their unstoppable robot—from brainwashing the children of Earth as a precursor to worldwide domination in writer/director Christopher R. Mihm’s retro-styled, sci-fi take on classic family films like The Goonies, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and The Princess Bride!

 

    • The Late Night Double Feature

      A double bill of 1950s-style B-movie shorts from writer/director Christopher R. Mihm, the king of “new old, good bad” movies!

      X: The Fiend from Beyond Space

      On a decades-long mission to Alpha Centauri, the crew of the UESPA spaceship Endeavor are awakened from LD-sleep to find themselves in orbit around a rogue planet. Finding nothing but a seemingly dead alien on the planet’s surface, the Captain decides to bring it aboard for further study. But, the crew quickly realize the creature is not dead… and it’s very hungry.

      The Wall People

      Following the death of his wife, scientist Barney Collins (Douglas Sidney) finds solace in his new role as a single dad to his only son. However, when the boy disappears from his bed under mysterious circumstances, Barney loses his grip on reality and becomes a shut in. Eight years later, he resurfaces with a wild theory: his son has been taken by an otherworldly entity that steals sleeping children through interdimensional portals in their bedroom walls! He enlists the help of his old colleagues (Mike Cook and James Norgard reprising their roles as Dr. Edwards and Dr. Gabriel, respectively) to potentially save his son from the clutches of this inhuman threat—or prove he is certifiably insane!

 

    • The Giant Spider

      When radiation left behind by atomic weapons testing creates a gigantic killer mutant arachnid, it’s up to a trio of scientists (Mike Cook, Billie Jo Konze and James Norgard), a General of the Army (Mark Haider), and a newspaper reporter (Daniel R. Sjerven) and his fiancée (Shannon McDonough) to figure out how to stop the hungry beast from devouring the entire county in writer/director Christopher R. Mihm’s ode to the giant bug films of yesteryear.

 

    • House of Ghosts

      With House of Ghosts, his first supernatural thriller, writer/director Christopher R. Mihm pays tribute to the works of the master of classic horror, William Castle! Rich socialites Isaac and Leigh have a tradition of throwing exclusive dinner parties that include unique (and expensive) forms of entertainment. This time, they’ve booked a spiritual medium who promises to “open a portal to the great beyond” and allow the couple’s equally eccentric guests to contact the “afterworld.” But, before he begins his presentation, the occultist offers a warning: once the door has been opened, no human being can anticipate or control what might come through. Regardless, the group collectively agrees to go forward, only to find itself greatly disappointed by the results… at first. Trapped in the couple’s oversized house by a massive winter storm, the partygoers begin to experience unexplainable and increasingly frightening things. As these occurrences intensify, it becomes apparent that something evil is at work. Can the group survive the night or will ignoring the medium’s warning be the last thing they ever do?

 

    • Attack of the Moon Zombies

      Twenty years have passed since Dr. Vincent Edwards (once again played by the ever-talented Mike Cook) took on a certain radiation-mutated bat creature and he is ready to retire. While training his replacement on the Jackson Lunar Base, the two stumble upon a seemingly impossible discovery: alien plant life on the surface of the moon! Unfortunately, exposure to the spores of this otherworldly flora cause instant death. Too bad those killed by them don’t stay dead and instead, want nothing more than to replicate!

 

    • Destination: Outer Space

      During a test flight of Earth’s first faster-than-light-speed rocket, an incident occurs that throws test pilot Captain Mike Jackson (originally introduced in 2008’s Cave Women on Mars) halfway across the galaxy! Lost in deep space, Captain Jackson must use all his wits and derring-do to find a way back to his beloved home world. A film unlike any other, Destination: Outer Space is full of excitement and otherworldly adventure that includes mysterious alien planets, robotic lifeforms, beautiful space pirates, alien creatures hell-bent on galactic domination and much, much more!

 

    • Terror from Beneath the Earth

      After years of underground atomic testing, one of the animals living within the Wisawa caves (a system that stretches from Phantom Lake to the Deadlands) has undergone a radical and unimaginably horrible transformation! While exploring the caves, Dr. Vincent Edwards (Mike Cook) and colleague Rosemary Bennett (Stephanie Mihm) stumble across evidence in the disappearance of local children. After reporting the find to the local sheriff, Dr. Edwards and Rosemary are tapped to lead a rescue attempt. Along with the sheriff and small-town farmer Stan Johnson (the children’s father), the rescue party quickly comes to the realization that if the caves don’t get them, whatever unseen terror lurking in the shadows just might!

 

    • Cave Women on Mars

      It is the future: 1987. Humanity has finally left the confines of its home world. When the two-man crew of the MARS-1 spaceship lands on the surface of the red planet, they are astonished to find it strangely Earth-like. After deciding to split up and scout around, Lieutenant Elliott stumbles across an amazing discovery—primitive, matriarchal warrior women! He is promptly taken prisoner by the Martian beauties and led unwillingly across the alien landscape. While his commanding officer, Captain Jackson, searches for his lost comrade, Lieutenant Elliott encounters unimaginable excitement in the form of fierce monsters, exotic vistas, strange magic and most unexpectedly… true love! An astounding adventure unlike anything you’ve ever experienced, Cave Women on Mars is not to be missed!

 

    • It Came from Another World!

      It Came From Another World! chronicles the continuing adventures of everyone’s favorite ‘a-rockin’ scientist, Professor Jackson. First introduced in 2006’s The Monster of Phantom Lake, Professor Jackson finds himself tasked yet again with saving the planet from certain doom. When Professor Jackson’s colleague and best friend Dr. Frasier doesn’t return from a scientific expedition in the deep woods, the Professor is sent to find and retrieve him. While searching, the Professor and Canoe Cops Sven and Gustav stumble upon an enigmatic meteorite that may hold the answer to Dr. Frasier’s disappearance—and something far more cataclysmic than they could ever imagine! Can our intrepid heroes unlock the secrets of the mysterious “rock from outer space” before its otherworldly power threatens not only the fate of the entire universe, but Professor Jackson’s wedding plans?

 

    • The Monster of Phantom Lake

      A shell-shocked ex-soldier transformed by Atomic Waste into a revolting monster wreaks havoc at a high-school graduation party in writer/producer/director Christopher R. Mihm’s first film, a monochromatic tribute to the B-movie flicks of the 1950s. The summer sun is shining, and a group of recently graduated teens has taken to the outdoors to celebrate their newfound freedom. Something horrific is afoot in Phantom Lake, though, and as the rampaging beast makes his presence known to the horrified teens, a dedicated scientist and his beautiful graduate student soon realize that they may have just stumbled upon one of the most important scientific discoveries of their lifetime.


TCS: Tell us about how you established funding for your first movie The Monster of Phantom Lake? Are you currently working with bigger budgets?

CRM: My first film was completely self-funded. The budget was close to non-existent, with the greatest expenditure being mini-DV tapes (it was filmed on a Panasonic DVX100A which used mini-DV tape) and our $35 monster costume! Everyone involved volunteered their time and donated whatever they could to the production. Basically, it was a grand communal experiment that, in the end, worked out far better than anyone thought it ever would! Since the fifth film (Destination: Outer Space), all my movies have been crowd funded. Because of this, our budgets have grown—though they’re still a fraction of a single day’s worth of production of a Hollywood film!


TCS: When your first film wrapped, did you envision spending the next decade making a film a year?

CRM: Honestly, no! The star of my first film and I had a running joke about The Monster of Phantom Lake which basically came down to the expectation that I’d make the one movie, get 1000 DVDs made, hold a world premiere locally and then, five years later, we’d be sitting around wondering what to do with the 800 unsold DVDs sitting in the garage! However, the film was very well-received and, when we sold through that first run of DVDs impressively quickly, I was inspired to keep making movies. To date, I haven’t stopped!

TCS: Tell us about how excited you were to discover that The Giant Spider, a tribute to the “giant bug” films of the 1950s, took first place in the “Action/Horror Feature” category at the 2013 Highway 61 Film Festival?

CRM: It’s always fantastic to win awards, but I don’t generally seek them out. As a guy who makes retro-styled films, I was most excited to personally win the “Roger & Julie Corman Intrepid Filmmaker Award” from the Fargo Fantastic Film Festival and for The Giant Spider to take home the “Forrest J. Ackerman Award” at the Famous Monsters of Filmland Film Fest!

TCS: Can you share with us your experience in directing Demon with the Atomic Brain, which was recently screened at the 2018 Blobfest in Phoenixville, PA?

CRM: Demon with the Atomic Brain is my 12th film in as many years and on most of the previous 11, I used a lot of the same actors and crew people. With “Demon,” I added a handful of new people to the mix and I felt it really helped reinvigorate my love of the filmmaking process. It was nice to share the experience, collaborating with new folks, and bringing new people into the “greater Mihmiverse.” Also, by this point, my younger children are now old enough to truly help in front of and behind the camera, thus making the entire process a family affair! I enjoy being able to spend time bonding with my kids and enjoying my favorite activity in the world!

TCS: Among the films you’ve made, which one is your all-time favorite? Equally, which one do you feel made you a better, a writer, director and producer and why?

CRM: It’s hard to pick an overall favorite, if only because every film I’ve made holds a special place in my heart. The Monster of Phantom Lake was my first, so it has that. The Giant Spider is mostly considered my best work. I made Danny Johnson Saves the World with all of my children, so that one ends up being very dear to my heart.

The one film that I feel really made an impact on my writing/directing/producing/editing, etc., has to be my second, It Came From Another World! I feel like I made a lot of important mistakes on that one and it taught me that it’s okay to be critical of my own work. It taught me how to give myself permission to make changes and to REMOVE stuff to make a better end product. It’s an important lesson every creative person needs to learn. Not EVERYTHING you do is gold and you need to be able to be honest and realistic with yourself and your own work.

TCS: If you were given the opportunity to go back in time and change something in any particular movie of yours, which movie would that be and what changes would you opt for?

CRM: I’ve seen every one of my movies hundreds of times and by the time the general public sees them, all I see are the flaws! Often, they’re small and things NO ONE would ever notice. But, being so closely involved from the writing, through production and all the way through post-production, it’s hard for me to see them as anyone else would. That’s not to say I think my movies are BAD. Not at all. But, it is pretty well impossible for me to pick any ONE thing I’d want to change!

TCS: Can you tell us about some of the cast members that have become familiar faces in your films, and the benefits to having reliable cast members to work with from film-to-film?

CRM: To date I’ve released 12 films and have two more on the way. To date, I held auditions for only the first three and the 12th. From those few auditions, I ended up meeting a whole slew of actors, many of whom I didn’t end up using in the films they auditioned for! Some of them, like actor Daniel R. Sjerven (who has appeared in several of my films) has a great “classic leading man” presence that works very well for the retro films I make. He’s a good friend and I enjoy working with him, thus, I end up putting him in many of my films. There are several “character actor” types I have put in quite a few of my films and all of them have wide ranging talents that make it easy to continue to cast them. People like Catherine Hansen, Mike Cook, James Norgard and Rachel Grubb all fall into this category. Michael Kaiser (who is also my stepson) has been the “man-in-the-suit” monster in every film I’ve made which requires it. If there is no need for a monster, I make a point to find a place for Michael. He’s actually the only actor to appear in EVERY single Mihmiverse film!

One of the big plusses of using a lot of the same actors in my films is the shorthand we develop. They know how I work and how I think. I know what makes them tick and often, with the actors I reuse, they really understand the types of films I’m trying to make. This makes the process much easier and we end up with fewer production headaches!

TCS: Over the years, there have been many films that mimic the ‘Golden Era of B-movies’ but many fail to capture the genre’s true essence. Why do you think your films achieve that?

CRM: I think one of the things that I really strive for is a sense of authenticity in the actors’ performances. So many of these homage type films fall deep into the parody category where the actors are trying to act wooden, or “wink and nod” at the audience. I tell every actor in my films to treat EVERYTHING in the script as dead serious. I want them to give me the absolute best performance they can. Treat everything with honesty and earnestness, even to the point of corniness. A lot of those old films are considered “corny” by today’s standards, but I think that’s one of my favorite things about them!

I love the (pardon the pun) black and white nature of a lot of them. Good guys are good because they ARE, and the bad guys are bad because THEY ARE. There isn’t much room for gray areas. The audience isn’t expected to try to understand and feel for the villains. They’re supposed to root against them! That simplicity informs the way I want actors to play their parts. Play them as real, but lacking ambiguity (unless the story absolutely calls for it). There’s an authenticity in embracing that corniness and treating it with respect. Be real, regardless of the fact that you’re fighting a giant spider! It may be a low budget special effect, but it doesn’t change the fact that in the reality in which your character exists, that spider WILL EAT YOU! Act accordingly!

I also think that having such small budgets is a huge plus. We don’t have the ability to employ the high end (read: expensive) special effects a larger budget would afford us. So, we’re stuck trying to find a way to just make it work, much like they did back when the amazing digital tools we have now just didn’t exist.

TCS: Can you please describe for us the creative process that you’ve employed which has enabled you to produce and release thirteen movies in thirteen years?

CRM: Over the years I’ve been able to refine my particular process down to a bit of a science. Once I’ve decided on whatever movie I’ve decided to make, I sit down and write a script. This usually takes about a month (at most). During the scripting process, I already have some of the production team working on things, in particular the monster(s). I have a great working relationship with the guy we call the Master Monster Maker of the Mihmiverse, Mitch Gonzales. He’s an insanely talented artist who has been creating the monster masks for my films since movie #6, Attack of the Moon Zombies. Over the years, Mitch and I have figured out the most efficient way to go from idea to execution that works best for the both of us. So, while I’m writing, I’m keeping him in the loop so that he can be working on the beginning stages of the monster(s). The guy is also great to bounce story ideas off of!

Once the script is done, we jump right into pre-production and casting. Because I work with a lot of the same actors, I usually already know who I want in which roles WHILE I’m writing a script, so by the time we’re in this stage, we’ve already jumped ahead to costuming and scheduling! Pre-production usually tends to be the shortest section of the process because as soon as we’re ready to go on even a single scene, we jump right in!

Next, we shoot the film. Because our budgets are so miniscule, actors often are only paid in food on set so, not wanting to get in the way of their everyday lives (since they need to make money somewhere!), I schedule shoots around the cast’s free time. This ends up being a LOT of weekends, which actually works even better for me! Shooting on the weekends means that I can be editing what we shot during the week. This makes it much easier to know if we’ve missed anything AND it informs my directing choices because I can see how a character is coming across in the final film. This allows the actor and I to better refine the performance. Having the weekdays free also makes it so other tasks like set building or prop creation doesn’t conflict with filming days. Principal photography tends to take the most time, lasting anywhere from three to six months.

Once we finish shooting the film, I usually have more than half the film edited! From there, I just need to buckle down and finish it up! Usually within a month or two I’ll have a rough cut completed. Very quickly thereafter I’ll sign off on a final cut and the final pieces come together (cutting a trailer, making a poster, authoring the DVD, setting up a premiere, etc. etc.)

I’m almost always working up to the very last possible moment and the entire process takes about a year. We hold our world premiere and not long after, I’m on to the next one!


TCS: Where can The Creative Spotlight readers find more information about your films and purchase copies?

CRM: The best place for information about my films is my website @ sainteuphoria.com. Otherwise, there is an official Facebook and Twitter page for the films of Christopher R. Mihm, which I update as close to daily as I can manage. Copies of my film are available for purchase at my website or through Amazon.com. They are also available to stream through Amazon Prime!

TCS: When you first started out in the film industry, did you intentionally set out to create strictly retro, b-movie style films or was it something you simply fell into?

CRM: As a tribute to my late father who really loved those cheesy old films and introduced me to all of them, I made my first movie, The Monster of Phantom Lake. It received such a positive response that I decided to make another and set it in the same “shared universe.” I had tons of fun doing it and realized I had a bit of a talent for it so, I decided to make another. And another. And another! So, it’s a weird mix of both. I, obviously, deliberately decided to make these kinds of films but, I really didn’t expect to enjoy it so much and never stop!

TCS: What is your favorite retro, b-movie style film of all time and why?

CRM: This is a hard one to answer! I love so many of those films! Usually when confronted by this question, I lean heavily on a few choices. I think the movie Them!, which is about giant ants, is definitely one of the BEST from that era. Effectively creepy and exciting and extremely well made for the TYPE of film it is. Even though it’s not the BEST movie, there’s something really magical about This Island Earth. The look and feel of it is a perfect example of 1950s-era science fiction—not to mention it has one of the best movie monsters ever with the Metaluna Mutant! I’m also a big fan of the films of Bert I. Gordon. He made a lot of movies about oversized (and some undersized) people and creatures. There’s something unique and fun about his films, be it The Amazing Colossal Man or Beginning of the End (about giant grasshoppers!) or even Attack of the Puppet People!

TCS: If you got the opportunity to remake a classic retro, b-movie style film, which one would it be and who would star in this movie?

CRM: There’s a film from 1957 called The Brain from Planet Arous. It’s an over-the-top low budget sci-fi movie about a psychotic alien brain creature that comes to Earth, takes over actor John Agar’s body and forces him to try to take over the world (naturally). It’s the kind of thing I could EASILY pull off, even on the budgets I’m used to! Plus, John Agar is one of my favorite actors from that era. I previously mentioned an actor named Daniel R. Sjerven who has appeared in several of my films, most notably in The Giant Spider. Mr. Sjerven has a distinct “John-Agar-ness” about him that would make him the perfect fit for a remake!

TCS: When it comes to filmmaking, what does a typical day on set look like for you, the cast & crew?

CRM: We tend to shoot very quickly. To make sure the films are never “perfect” (I’m not Stanley Kubrick by any stretch of anyone’s imagination!), the actors show up to the set and we do any prep needed (makeup, hair, costumes, etc.). Then, we block out the scene. This is basically the only rehearsal we do before we just START SHOOTING! I don’t do any real pre-visualization. Instead, I get as much coverage as possible and let the movie come together in the editing room. I tend to limit everyone to two or three takes per setup. This allows us to cover A LOT of ground over a very short period of time. We can usually manage a page or so of the script per hour. After we’re all done shooting, I have each actor redo their lines directly into a microphone, so I have a high-quality recording of their audio. This allows me to maintain aural consistency across the entire film. It gives the actor and I a little extra time to hone in on their best performance AND it makes it, so I rarely ever need actors to come back and rerecord their dialogue!

TCS: What would you consider your best and worst moment so far in the filmmaking industry?

CRM: I’ve experienced so many great moments since I started making movies! From seeing my films on a drive-in screen to the awards I’ve been fortunate to win and that one time I was awarded the key to a city. (Yes, that really happened!) If I had to pick ONE moment that tops everything, it has to be the world premiere of my first movie, The Monster of Phantom Lake. Seeing my name on the big screen in a REAL movie theater full of people who really seemed to enjoy my work was beyond compare!

It’s not all fun and games, of course. My obsessive pursuit of making movies has cost me a few friends. I’ve dealt with some interesting people, some of whom turned out to be, shall we say, rather negative influences on my mental health! I’ve had to deal with distribution deals going the wrong direction. Then there’s the frustration that comes with my own internal criticism of my work and that ever-present feeling that everything I do is terrible (I know a lot of artists deal with this same thing). And, of course, there’s always the poorly written, misspelled, sometimes downright rude and negative reviews you come across. I realize that not everyone is going to like what I do, but I will never understand what possesses certain people to take to the internet to say some of the ridiculous things they do!

TCS: What advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers who want to make a mark in the movie making business?

CRM: I often tell aspiring filmmakers to just keep doing it however THEY want to do it. There really aren’t any rules when it comes to content! If I can find success making black and white, cheesy drive-in-era style movies, there’s a market out there for whatever they want to make! They just need to KEEP MAKING MOVIES. The more they make, the better they’ll get and, maybe someday they’ll even make it to the “big time.” OR, they may develop a cult following with their unique cinematic vision! The sky is the limit as long as they go out there and DO IT. Never stop learning and never stop creating!

TCS: Can you tell us about any upcoming projects or events?

CRM: I’m on the cusp of releasing my 13th film, Guns of the Apocalypse. I describe it as a post-apocalyptic spaghetti Midwestern. It’s basically a retro-inspired post-apocalyptic story with many western elements. However, I filmed it in the winter in Minnesota, hence a “Midwestern.” It’s unique and I’m quite proud of how good it turned out! My film AFTER Guns of the Apocalypse is called Queen of Snakes. It’s a supernatural revenge story with an amazing monster! I’m close to the end of principal photography and, should everything work out, I plan on releasing that in the Spring of 2019. As for events, I keep a calendar of upcoming (and past) events at my website at sainteuphoria.com!

About Frank Iacono

Frank Iacono Photo

Frank Iacono is a highly skilled results-oriented Strategic Marketing Professional with proven critical thinking, problem solving, and project management skills, developed through more than 20 years of experience concentrated in integrated marketing strategies. Frank brings a thorough, hands-on understanding of marketing strategies and technological platforms as related to applications available for web design, content development, email marketing, site and campaign analytics, search marketing and optimization, service and product marketing, lead and demand generation, social media, and customer retention.

Frank has a BA degree in English/Communications and Marketing from Cabrini College, and he received his Webmaster Certification from Penn State Great Valley.

Steve Harris: Lead Singer of Hillbilly Vegas

Written by: Frank Iacono

The name of the Oklahoma-based band Hillbilly Vegas gives you an idea of what to expect from their music – a southern influenced, rockin’ good time. Recently, Hillbilly Vegas, featuring lead singer Steve Harris, signed with Bristol Records and have garnered worldwide distribution with The Orchard, wholly owned by Sony Music Entertainment, and Perry Music Group. The first single entitled “Field Fulla Hillbillies” was written by Grammy Nominated country music singer/songwriter Davie Lee Murphy. “Field Fulla Hillbillies” is receiving positive reaction from radio stations across the country, who are testing and adding the track to their playlists, and it is sure to be a top charting song.

In the 1990’s, Steve was the singer of the popular Dallas, Texas-based Cold Ethyl but like so many other great bands during the same time frame their future was cut short by the emerging Seattle grunge wave. Although it was discouraging, he never completely left the music business. He became a club owner, a writer and part-time performer for many years until everything changed in August of 2008. At that time, he was named as one of the many singers being considered to replace the departed Scott Weiland in the hard rock supergroup Velvet Revolver. However, he and Kerry Plummer, who fronted the nationally popular Loaded Gunn, had been writing and putting together Hillbilly Vegas for 8 months by then and suddenly Steve lost his passion for Modern Rock. With that, he decided to return to his roots and focus solely on Hillbilly Vegas.

Blasting intensity right out of the gate, Hillbilly Vegas got loads of traction with their debut album Ringo Manor. The album moved a whopping 10,000 copies which is highly impressive for an emerging indie band. Equally, their first single entitled “Little Miss Rough and Tumble” scored major chart action by appearing on the National Country Music charts for 26 weeks.

Now, with deeper attitude and edge, they’re celebrating the freewheeling spirit of 76’ and getting everyone to “Shake It Like A Hillbilly” with their fiery, rockin’ new single and high energy video. The same video that landed the band the coveted title of 2016 LiftMaster Garage Band. As the 2016 winner, Hillbilly Vegas performed with country star Lee Brice during the Coca Cola 600 Sprint Cup Series race in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Along with their existing racing sponsorships with Dennis Schoenfeld Racing and Jake Davis Motor Sports the band feels like they’ve got some good mojo happening with the new sponsorships and their future singles, including the crackling party anthem “High Time For A Good Time” which will be used by Rocky Mountain High Brands in a national ad campaign. Times are good in the Hillbilly Vegas universe.

In this edition of The Creative Spotlight, I had the pleasure of interviewing Steve Harris and asking him a few questions about his musical influences, his songwriting and recording process, his upcoming tour schedule and his band’s short and long-term future plans.

Q&A Session

The Creative Spotlight: At what age did you first realize that you wanted to be a musician and what was the first instrument that you learned how to play?

Steve Harris: When I was very young I discovered The Partridge Family, an American musical-sitcom starring Shirley Jones and featuring singer, songwriter and guitarist David Cassidy as Keith Partridge. From that moment, I was instantly hooked and wanted to be just like the character portrayed by Cassidy. As far as instruments, I started playing the guitar when I was a teenager. My ultimate passion and desire was to create my own music, so I taught myself how to write songs.

TCS: How did Hillbilly Vegas get started? And, how would you describe the Hillbilly Vegas’ musical genre and overall sound?

SH: We got our start much like everyone else, get a few musicians in a room, and they’re going to start a band every single time. Within six months we had our first contract offer. I think our musical genre can be defined as a combination of Southern rock, country and classic rock. Overall sound…LOUD is probably the best way to describe it…just kidding. Honestly, we are a live band and that’s where we are most comfortable.

TCS: Can you introduce us to the Hillbilly Vegas lineup and tell us what each person in the band does?

SH: The Hillbilly Vegas band lineup consists of:

  • Steve Harris – Lead Singer
  • Stacy Thornburg – Lead Guitarist
  • John Reed – Rhythm Guitarist
  • Robb Edwards – Bass Guitarist
  • Troy Hollinger – Drummer

TCS: What famous musical artists and/or bands were among your early influences and helped shaped your musical style?

SH: Oh I don’t know…to be honest life itself is an influence. Where you grow up, what you’re exposed to, what your level of education and personal development are, and etc. Personally, I love musical artists from the 70s including lead vocalists such as Paul Rodgers from Free and Bad Company, Mark Farner from Grand Funk Railroad, Lou Gramm from Foreigner and so many more.

TCS: For the benefit of those who may not be too familiar with Hillbilly Vegas or your musical career, please describe for us how you started out and eventually ended up being the lead singer of the band?

SH: Again, as I mentioned Cassidy’s character Keith Partridge was my first big musical influence. When I was a child that show made me want to be a lead singer in a band. I suppose if you are born to be a performer it’s just inside you. But, for me it took a while to channel my creative energy. I didn’t know how to start a band let alone be a part of one, so I tried theatre and some other similar activities like that until I finally met some guys in high school who had a band and needed a singer. I told them I was a lead singer…I really wasn’t but my theatre background helped. We played our first gig at a skating rink. I just pulled out every David Lee Roth, lead singer of hard rock band Van Halen, move I’d ever seen and the rest was history.

TCS: From an in-studio perspective, which aspects of your 2016 album entitled ’76 did you find least problematic to put together and which were the most troublesome?

SH: Well, truly the ’76 experience was a joy. The back story being…we recorded our first album at Ringo Manor in Nashville, Tennessee but we weren’t completely happy with the overall experience. Our producer was a great guy, but the daily notes that we received from A&R, our recording label, when we arrived at the studio were a real drag. Some “suit” representing the label would listen to our daily work every evening and decide what he thought would be “better.” As a band, we are very proud of all of our work, but it was a constant struggle to maintain some of our own personal identity. With that, we decided that in order to maintain the integrity of ’76, we would leave Nashville and complete the recording process and bring the finished product back to them. So, we moved to Empire Sound in Carrollton, Texas. The most troublesome part of the experience was really just knowing when to quit. We had such a great time being alone in the studio with renowned Texas rock engineer and producer Alex Gerst that we could have kept recording for months.

TCS: Personally, one of my favorite songs off of that album is a song called “High Time For A Good Time” so can you share with us some of the background behind the hit?

SH: The song “High Time For A Good Time” is a very 70s rock influenced song. Stacy, our Lead Guitarist, brought the riff to rehearsal one day and it immediately painted a picture of good times and getting lost in the moment. I wanted anyone who heard the song to feel like they’ve heard it before and been there before. To me, music is a feeling more than anything and I hope this song gives people a good feeling.


TCS: Can you describe the first time you stepped onstage to perform and tell us how does it compare to being on stage now?

SH: The first time I stepped onto a stage to perform I was 6 years old and was wearing a donkey suit for a Christmas play. I made lots of donkey sounds and got a bunch of laughs…I was the loudest guy on stage even though I wasn’t supposed to have any lines or make lots of noises. It’s just the same today minus the donkey suit.

TCS: Tell us about the background story behind another great cut entitled “Long Way Back”?

SH: My grandfather was in the Navy during WW2. He shared a lot of war stories with our family all the time. One particular story always stuck with me. He was stationed on the USS Decator DD-341 and they were in North Africa. During liberty one day, he was sitting on the beach and he could hear music echoing from the ship anchored just off shore. It was the old song “Wreck on the Highway”. He recalled at that moment he never felt so lonely in all his life. He decided if he ever got back to Cecil, AR he was never leaving again. He did, and he didn’t. That’s the story of the song “Long Way Back”.


TCS: What’s the most unusual place that you’ve played or made a recording? And, how did the qualities of that place affect the show/recording?

SH: We once played a venue early in our career that had a pair of Conway Twitty’s pants framed and hanging on the wall. I couldn’t help but wonder why pants? Most of the time you see maybe a jacket, scarf, guitar something like that…but pants. So I had to ask during our performance. How is it that his pants are framed on the wall on this stage? The patrons and management didn’t see the same humor in it that I did and we were asked politely to never return. So that leads me to believe it’s quite a story and they don’t want it to get out…haha!

TCS: Another one of my favorite songs is the track called “Little Miss Rough and Tumble” so can you share with us the inspiration behind it?

SH: That song is very close to my heart. It’s simply about my daughter and how watching her grow up seemed like a blink of an eye.


TCS: How do you market your songs, albums, merchandise and appearances?

SH: For the majority of our career we’ve been completely on our own. We’ve done anything and everything possible to market our music. We recently signed a record deal with Bristol Records who are part of the Sony family and suddenly we have a lot more resources. They are doing an amazing job getting our music and message out. We have high hopes for this new relationship. However, we will never stop hustling and using any trick we can find to get the word out.

To stay connected, please join us on the following:

TCS: How in your opinion do you think people can broaden their horizons when it comes to different types of music?

SH: With today’s technology, music lovers can simply go to their favorite online music service such as Spotify, Pandora and iHeart and select any type of station they want to listen to when they want to listen. Our various Hillbilly Vegas stations on the aforementioned platforms as well as some others play a lot of artists that I never heard of before, but I truly love hearing their music. It’s interesting to see who those music services think sound similar to our music and place on our stations. So, I’d suggest just hitting a station and finding some good stuff you haven’t heard before and give it a listen.

TCS: What do you see yourself doing if you weren’t the lead singer in a band?

SH: For me, I would explore other creative escapes such as voicing cartoons. Prior to discovering music, that was my dream.

TCS: What does the short and long-term future look like for Hillbilly Vegas?

SH: The short-term future for Hillbilly Vegas is to simply board our tour bus and bring our music to as many music lovers and fans as possible. We’re all about creating fun, positive energy and memorable music that gives people a good feeling. I love hearing songs on the radio that stir up feelings that take me back to good times and great places – if we can do that for people, then we’ve achieved success. We can’t wait to get out there and shake the world’s hand and welcome them in to the Hillbilly Vegas family.

The long-term is a bit murkier, we would love to become a highly successful band and be able to keep doing what we are doing at a high level. But you never know what the next day brings in the music industry. So for now, we will remain focused on the short-term and let the long-term sort itself out.

About Frank Iacono

Frank Iacono Photo

Frank Iacono is a highly skilled results-oriented Strategic Marketing Professional with proven critical thinking, problem solving, and project management skills, developed through more than 20 years of experience concentrated in integrated marketing strategies. Frank brings a thorough, hands-on understanding of marketing strategies and technological platforms as related to applications available for web design, content development, email marketing, site and campaign analytics, search marketing and optimization, service and product marketing, lead and demand generation, social media, and customer retention.

Frank has a BA degree in English/Communications and Marketing from Cabrini College, and he received his Webmaster Certification from Penn State Great Valley.

Jim Werner: Pennhurst School and State Hospital

Written by: Frank Iacono

In 1903, the Pennsylvania Legislature authorized the creation of the Pennhurst State School and Hospital, originally known as the Eastern Pennsylvania State Institution for the Feeble-Minded and Epileptic. The institution, which officially opened its doors on November 23, 1908, was the second such state-operated facility and served the mentally and physically disabled individuals of Southeastern PA.

From the outset, the Eastern Pennsylvania State Institution was overcrowded. Designed for epileptics and persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities, there was tremendous pressure to admit many different persons whom society, steeped in the eugenics movement, wanted removed from the gene pool, including immigrants, orphans, criminals, etc.

Unfortunately, cruel punishments were common at the facility. Overworked staff responded to unruly patients by drugging them into submission or chaining them to their beds. Other residents were isolated for such long periods of time that they regressed and lost their will to speak, fight or even to live.

In 1968, Philadelphia CBS correspondent Bill Baldini produced an exposé on the institution entitled “Suffer the Little Children” which uncovered the atrocities of the facility and created a sympathetic public sediment. His exposure led to a massive lawsuit. In 1987, the facility officially closed its doors and the network of buildings was neglected and left to the tortured, sad spirits.

In 2010, to the shock and dismay of many – especially those in the mental and physical disabilities community – Pennhurst owners worked with Randy Bates of The Bates Motel Halloween attraction located in Glenn Mills, PA to turn Pennhurst’s historic lower campus into a commercial Halloween “haunted” attraction.

In this edition of The Creative Spotlight, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jim Werner, the Operations Manager of Pennhurst Asylum, and asked him about the history, the eugenics movement, the five-part news report, the annual haunted attraction and “good to know” facts concerning the Pennhurst State School and Hospital.

Q&A Session

The Creative Spotlight: When the Pennhurst School and State Hospital opened its doors on November 23, 1908, how did the Eugenics movement influence the purpose of the institution for the feeble minded and epileptic and what problems ensued?

Jim Werner: At the time, when the Pennhurst School and State Hospital opened its doors in 1908 in Spring City, Pennsylvania, people with special needs were perceived as a subclass very similar to how African Americans were regarded. Pennhurst was part of a national trend to segregate individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities from mainstream society. To that extent, I feel that the Eugenics movement was a flawed science in that it truly discouraged aiding the sick and poor. In the prior century, the ongoing idea was that by pulling those with special needs out of society it both protected society and also gave them a place to live safely. We know that without knowledge there can’t be change and as society was never exposed to the disabled, they were seen as an almost non-existent and unknown population.

TCS: Can you provide us with at least three historical facts about the Pennhurst State School and Hospital that the average person wouldn’t know?

JW: Three “Good to Know” facts about the Pennhurst School and State Hospital, include:

  • When the facility opened in 1908, the administration building had not yet been completed so the Philadelphia building was actually used as the original Admin building.
  • There was a time when train cars could travel all the way up from the main tracks to the middle of the lower campus in the area of the Dietary building
  • The Pennhurst School and State Hospital was never actually an asylum.


TCS: How many building encompassed the Pennhurst facility and what were the buildings used for?

JW: At its height, the Pennhurst School and State Hospital encompassed more than 30 buildings. The earliest of which, designed by Phillip H. Johnson, were constructed of red brick, terra cotta and granite trimmings and are connected by a series of underground tunnels that stretch for miles. Pennhurst was a self-sufficient community as its 1,400-acre site contained a firehouse, general store, barbershop, greenhouse, hospital with a morgue, auditorium, farm, power plant, and even a graveyard.

TCS: When Pennhurst was built how many patients was it initially built to accommodate and how many occupants did it have at its fullest capacity? Additionally, what was the ratio of doctors and nurses or employees to patients?

JW: The Pennhurst facility was initially designed to house around 500 patients, by 1912 the institution was almost immediately overpopulated. Once in, every patient was given a classification of mental prowess, either as an “imbecile” or “insane” and physically as either “epileptic” or “healthy.” Many of the people that were placed in the School and State Hospital should not have been. In 1946, there were only seven physicians serving over 2,000 patients with no room for the 1,000 still on the waiting list for admission. By the mid-1960s, the facility, housed 2,791 people, most of them children, which was about 900 more than the administration thought the buildings could comfortably accommodate. The staff was extremely overwhelmed and unable to properly care for the patients.

TCS: In your opinion, do you feel that Pennhurst predominantly assisted in providing a positive learning experience for the patients or do you feel its programs and resources caused more harm than good?

JW: For some of the patients, the answer is “yes” and for others the answer is “no”. The high functioning patients could work and live a pretty full life on site without the persecution of the general public raining down on them. However, with a budget shortfall and staffing issues the low functioning patients were not cared for in a manner that would help to improve their condition. By the mid-1960s, only 200 of the residents were in any kind of art, education, or recreation programs.

TCS: In 1968, Bill Baldini, a local CBS Philadelphia newsman, opened the eyes to the horrors of Pennhurst when he exposed it during a five-part series entitled Suffer the Little Children. How did this expose change the daily operations of Pennhurst and Pennsylvania laws concerning the treatment of the mentally disabled?

JW: Bill Baldini, then a fledgling TV reporter, heard about the Pennhurst School and State Hospital facility and went there one day to visit and was immediately appalled at the conditions. Baldini has said that when he left that day, he cried the entire way home in his car. His five-part exposé outraged the public and truly painted a picture of neglect and abuse in the Chester County, PA institution. Many of the regular news viewers found it very difficult to stomach the coverage. This state-funded school and hospital center was at the heart of the human rights movement that revolutionized this country’s approach to healthcare for the mentally and physically handicapped. This facility was one of the most striking examples of the maltreatment that was characteristic of such institutions––at one point, papers labeled it “The Shame of the Pennsylvania”.


TCS: Who and how many are buried in the Pennhurst Memorial Cemetery? Can you tell us if these were patients of the hospital and why didn’t family members come to claim their bodies?

JW: The Pennhurst Memorial Cemetery is located on the grounds of the Pennhurst State School and Hospital. From a time period between 1918 and 1933 there were 40 former residents are buried. Unfortunately, I cannot answer why they didn’t claim their bodies with anything other than just speculation.

TCS: Can you describe for us some of the coverage that the Pennhurst School and State Hospital has received especially on shows like Ghost Finders, Syfy’s Ghost Hunter and the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures and Paranormal Challenge?

JW: The Pennhurst School and State Hospital site has long been regarded as a paranormal hotspot by some of the shows within that genre and they draw specifically on that reputation.

On Ghost Finders (Season 4, Episode 10 and Season 4, Episode 9 Pennhurst), join team members Rob, Heather and Amber as they capture some incredible evidence caught on camera.

On Ghost Adventures (Season 2, Episode 12), Zak Bagans, Nick Groff, Aaron Goodwin travel to Pennhurst State School and Hospital in Pennsylvania, which was an institution for both the mentally and physically disabled. Pennhurst State closed in 1987 after several allegations of abuse, including dehumanization.

On Ghost Hunters Live: Pennhurst State (Season 7, Episode 21), the Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS) team and some special guests spend six hours at Pennhurst State School and Hospital, with live interactive features so that the viewing audience can join in the chase.

On Paranormal Challenge (Season 1, Episode 3), creator and host Zak Bagans invites two teams of amateur ghost hunters to spend the night locked down inside haunted hotspots. During the night, the teams will put their paranormal skills to the test by conducting a ghost investigation with high-tech gear and their own knowledge. The teams will then present their findings to Bagans and a panel of three paranormal experts who judge the teams on teamwork, use of technology and evidence collected during the lockdown.

In this episode, the New Jersey Ghost Hunters Society take a more methodical approach to investigating the looming spirits of Pennhurst State School, while the rough-and-tumble Quest Paranormal Society employ an in-your-face plan of attack.


TCS: While working at Pennhurst, have you personally experienced any paranormal encounters such as shadows, unexplained lights or apparitions? If so, can you please describe where and what happened specifically?

JW: Fortunately, or unfortunately, while I’ve worked at Pennhurst School and State Hospital I have not personally experienced any paranormal encounters.

TCS: In October of 2010, Pennhurst owners worked with Randy Bates of the Bates Motel & Haunted Hayride attraction in Glen Mills, PA was to turn Pennhurst historic lower campus into a commercial Halloween “haunted” attraction. With that, can you share what visitors to the annual event will experience during their trip to the Pennhurst Haunted Asylum?

JW: Visitors to the annual event can enjoy four terrifying attractions featuring the Pennhurst Asylum, The Dungeon of Lost Souls, Containment and Mayflower After Dark.

Pennhurst Asylum

The Pennhurst Asylum is a “Hospital” themed walk through attraction featuring many items and artifacts that are salvaged from the original State School. Located on the upper floors of the old Administration building, which dates to 1908, this attraction features fine detail and realism through a combination of high tech animatronics, digital sound and highly trained actors.


The Dungeon of Lost Souls

Enter the world of the underground as your soul is led down the steps of the past to go back in time to a labyrinth of dilapidated cells, never ending halls, and be forced to confront a series of human experiments that have gone horribly and deadly wrong. This experience includes CGI special effects, illusions, attention to detail and ghosts that have never left the halls.


Containment (Tunnels) New* 2017!

Containment is a new attraction for 2017 that takes you through a 1,200-foot-long gauntlet underneath the Pennhurst complex. Stationed as a government facility hidden underground for decades, you will bear witness to patients being experimented on in the most inhumane ways possible. Lucky for you, this research facility is still accepting patients! The brand-new sets and scares of this attraction are guaranteed to produce horrifying screams and nightmares to come.


Mayflower After Dark

The final attraction, Mayflower After Dark, is a self-guided tour of the Mayflower Building, reportedly the most ghostly active of all the locations on the campus. It’s featured on Ghost Adventures and Ghost Hunters. No actors or props, visitors are sent at their own risk to wander through the dormitory, left caught in the sands of time just as it was 26 years ago. Search for spirits on your own, or let them find you first. Included is a museum of Pennhurst State School artifacts with real former employees taking you back in time to what life was really like for the patients.


Contact or Visit Pennhurst

Pennhurst School and State Hospital
Church Street and Bridge Road
Spring City, PA 19475
Phone: 484-886-6080
Get Directions

TCS: What can you tell us about the Pennhurst Memorial and Preservation Alliance?

JW: The Mission of the Pennhurst Memorial and Preservation Alliance is to promote an understanding of the struggle for dignity and full civil rights for persons with disabilities, using the little-known history at Pennhurst. By sharing this tragic story as well as its landmark victories, they seek to educate citizens in local, national and international communities, to assure that we never go back.

The Vision of the Pennhurst Memorial and Preservation Alliance is to be part of an effort to create a world-class museum to honor and memorialize the ongoing civil and human rights struggle of Americans with disabilities at a location of national significance.

TCS: Where do you see the Pennhurst property in the next 20 years?

JW: We very much hope that the essential buildings located on the Pennhurst site can be economically restored. From a historical perspective, we plan to have a museum or other venue on the property to recognize the site’s vast history and display artifacts. Additionally, our goal is to continue to operate and expand the Halloween haunted house attractions on a year-to-year basis.

About Frank Iacono

Frank Iacono Photo

Frank Iacono is a highly skilled results-oriented Strategic Marketing Professional with proven critical thinking, problem solving, and project management skills, developed through more than 20 years of experience concentrated in integrated marketing strategies. Frank brings a thorough, hands-on understanding of marketing strategies and technological platforms as related to applications available for web design, content development, email marketing, site and campaign analytics, search marketing and optimization, service and product marketing, lead and demand generation, social media, and customer retention.

Frank has a BA degree in English/Communications and Marketing from Cabrini College, and he received his Webmaster Certification from Penn State Great Valley.

Daniel Mason – Lead Singer & Songwriter

written by: Frank Iacono

There is something to be said about Daniel Mason, the way he captures an audience with his soulful voice – brings back a taste of Blue Eyed Soul with a mix of Country, Pop and R&B – and writes with integrity and truth.

Daniel Mason was born in Paris, Kentucky to a small impoverished family. Daniel emerged and matured his God given talent in the local church. Raised by a Mother that influenced him with musical artists ranging from Marvin Gaye, Michael McDonald, and Hall & Oates to Michael Jackson.

From there he developed guitar and writing skills at an early age. As most serious hungry artists, he moved to Nashville, Tennessee in 2008 to establish himself as a Singer/Songwriter. After 3 years and 500+ shows as a lead singer of a local favorite Nashville trio Amber’s Drive, Daniel Mason is pursuing his own music career. He currently is out in support of his long-awaited debut solo album.

In this edition of The Creative Spotlight, I had the pleasure of interviewing country soul singer-songwriter Daniel Mason and asking him a few questions about his musical influences, his songwriting and recording process, his upcoming tour schedule and his band’s new self-titled album.

Q&A Session

TCS: At what age did you first realize that you wanted to be a musician and what was the first instrument that you learned how to play?

Daniel Mason: The first time I realized I wanted to be a musician was after hearing the legendary King of Pop Michael Jackson sing and perform at the young age of 5. The acoustic guitar was the first instrument I learned to play at the age of 11, but actually my voice was the first instrument that came naturally to me.

TCS: How would you describe the Daniel Mason Band’s musical genre and overall sound?

DM: I would describe the Daniel Mason Band’s musical genre as a blend of Soul, R&B, Folk, and Country which we call Southern Soul or Vintage Pop.

The Daniel Mason Band lineup consists of:

  • Drums / Joel Burns
  • Bass, Vocals / Scott Barritt
  • Lead Vocals, Guitar / Daniel Mason
  • Lead Guitar, Vocals / Jase Hackman

TCS: What famous musical artists and/or bands were among your early influences and describe for us how they impacted and/or shaped your musical style?

DM: As I mentioned, Michael Jackson was my first big musical influence that, after singing his songs over and over, helped develop my vocal and musical creativity. His vinyl 45 single of the song “Billy Jean” was my first record purchase as a child. In my teens, my parents bought me the Garth Brooks “No Fences” chord book and I learned every song. So, Garth was a huge influence as well.

As my music and vocal matured I naturally found my home in the Soul/R&B world. I started getting more and more into 70s and 80s R&B/Soul music and that led me to discovering soul singers such as Marvin Gaye, Hall & Oates, Michael McDonald and pretty much all the artists/bands that came out of the Muscle Shoals era.


TCS: For the benefit of those who may not be too familiar with Daniel Mason or your musical career, please describe for us how you started out and eventually ended up being the lead singer in the Daniel Mason Band?

DM: It wasn’t until my junior year in high school that I started writing songs on a consistent basis. I played a few open mic nights and performed with a cover band for extra cash. My first real band was following college when I played in a Christian pop band called Another Level. We toured around the Kentucky area playing at college coffee houses and various festivals. After what I like to call a “Summer of 69,” the group broke up, I got married and took on a day job.

It wasn’t until the summer of ’08 that my passion for singing and writing music could not continue to stay on hold. As a result of having a long talk with the man upstairs, the family packed up and moved to Music City. From there, I started getting out networking and performing which led to connecting with a couple singer/songwriters. We started performing the songs we wrote around Nashville. It eventually evolved into an Americana/Pop Country Trio named Amber’s Drive that ended at the end of 2016 after 3 years/500+ shows. This led to the beginning of creating my own solo project. Once we hit the studio running, I felt at home in what we were developing and bringing to life.


TCS: How excited are you guys about the release of the new self-titled debut album?

DM: Very…it actually is the first solo project I’ve ever had the pleasure of releasing (won’t be the last). It felt good, it felt right…it was a long time coming.

TCS: From an in-studio perspective, which aspects of the album did you find least problematic to put together and which were the most troublesome?

DM: My strength is vocal, so going in the vocal production was definitely the least problematic. On the trouble side of things, we didn’t really have any on the production it was mainly on the actual release date that was originally planned. Some ‘life events’ happened that were out of our control and we pushed the release date up to late Sept. The overall vision of the project came to fruition and the end result was something to be proud of.

TCS: Personally, one of my favorite songs off of your album is a song called “And The Some,” so can you share with us some of the background behind the hit?

DM: “And Then Some” is actually our first single release off the album. This song was written by Gary Cirimelli and myself. I had this progression and melody idea that I wanted to develop and I showed it to Gary after a previous writing session where “One Of Us Lied” was born. He loved it and said he wanted that to be our next write. I had written down ‘give 110 percent’ in my lyric notes from the saying “Always give 110 percent”. I’m a sports fanatic so I’ve heard this term many times. I thought it could be a great way to express to women how much you love them as if to say, “I love you this much…and more!” Gary said, “I’ve got all that you need, and then some?” and from there we knew we had something special and finished it before the end of the session.


TCS: Can you describe the first time you stepped onstage to perform and tell us how does it compare to being on stage now?

DM: The first time I stepped out on a stage was brutal and nerve racking. I wasn’t one of those kids that just was born on the stage. Though I wanted to be in the spotlight, I gradually over time became more and more comfortable with the stage.

TCS: Tell us about the background story behind another great cut entitled “Somewhere I Gotta Be”?

DM: I wrote this tune with a good friend of mine Nathan Picard. We had just finished up on a song when I told him I had this really cool melody idea I had thrown down really quick. It was so rough, I was almost too embarrassed to show him ~ but I did because that’s what you do ~ lol. I didn’t want it to be your typical country ‘train’ song though the lyric idea I had was “train, train don’t be late!”. It quickly developed into the urgency of this guy that has somewhere he’s gotta be. And he’s telling the train don’t be late and the plane don’t delay, because he’s got somewhere to be with his baby.

Then Nate had this great line “no matter the miles it ain’t to far” which had this guy in the song willing to go anywhere it took to be with his love. We had a blast writing this song because it came together pretty fast. Once we established the theme it wrote itself.

TCS: What’s the most unusual place that you’ve played or made a recording? And, how did the qualities of that place affect the show/recording?

DM: We would get pretty creative in the studio to find the sound we wanted. One time we took bed mattresses out into the middle of the studio floor and made like a little 4 wall house and sang and played our instruments inside. Surprisingly it turned out amazing. It was weird and unusual but we got it done. We still experiment to this day in the studio ~ whatever we need to do to get the sound we are looking for.

TCS: Another one of my favorite songs is the track called “You Don’t Have to be Lonely” so can you share with us the inspiration behind it?

DM: I had written this chorus idea about a girl that was being ignored in her relationship. All I had was a rough recording of the chorus but I felt like it was strong enough so I showed it to friend and cowriter Mark Ham. We messed around with it a bit to see if we could come up with anything but nothing really was coming to us. So, Mark took the rough idea home and ended up getting inspired and ran with it lyrically. When we meet up a few days later to write he had written most all the verses. The song was pretty much finished apart from a few adjustments we made.

TCS: How do you market your songs, albums, merchandise and appearances?

DM: Truly, the best way to find out information about the Daniel Mason Band is by visiting our website at danielmasonband.com. On the site, you can listen to our songs, discover our upcoming appearances, order our album and purchase other merchandise. Additionally, Elle Bobier and her team of amazing people at Ethereal Promotions also do a lot of promo/social media for us at facebook.com/etherealpromotions.

If you want to stay connected on our social platforms, please visit the following:

TCS: Name a band or musician, past or present, who you flat-out LOVE and think more people should be listening to. What’s one of your all-time favorite recordings by this band/musician?

DM: This is a tough one, I really can’t answer specifically because I love so many. It’s like asking me which one of my children do I love more. Music to me is like a sixth sense. Like when you smell, taste, see or hear something and it quickly takes you to a moment in your life’s history.


TCS: What do you think the world would be like if music was never invented? And, what do you think you would you be doing instead?

DM: One word…BORING. I think it would be very boring.  I’d probably be doing something constructive, some type of woodworking; like building houses.

TCS: What does the short and long-term future look like for Daniel Mason?

DM: In the short-term, I plan to do more writing, more recording and a lot more performing. The goal is to put together some tour dates and hit the road running to reach more fans with our music. We want to be classified as a working band, providing for our families while making music we love. We want to put the right people in place that have the same vision as we do for our music and want to see us be successful. In the long-term, I will always be writing music and (Lord willing) performing it. I believe the progress of our short-term goals will in return determine our long-term goals.

About Frank Iacono

Frank Iacono Photo

Frank Iacono is a highly skilled results-oriented Strategic Marketing Professional with proven critical thinking, problem solving, and project management skills, developed through more than 20 years of experience concentrated in integrated marketing strategies. Frank brings a thorough, hands-on understanding of marketing strategies and technological platforms as related to applications available for web design, content development, email marketing, site and campaign analytics, search marketing and optimization, service and product marketing, lead and demand generation, social media, and customer retention.

Frank has a BA degree in English/Communications and Marketing from Cabrini College, and he received his Webmaster Certification from Penn State Great Valley.

Rod Black: Country Rock Singer-Songwriter

Written by: Frank Iacono

Canadian country singer-songwriter Rod Black is no stranger to the country music scene. Rod was born in Langley British Columbia with country music in his veins. He grew up listening to classic country stars such as Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings as well as Southern Rock pioneers Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Rod’s soulful lyrics and melodic writing style come together to craft songs with a lot of energy and have the depth to withstand the test of time. His music has been described as explosive and passionate rock’n’roll that is straight to the point with songs about life and everything that it offers.

In 2014, Black launched a solo career with the release of his initial single “Keepin’ On” which made the top 20 on the Canadian country billboards. In 2015, he was nominated at the Canadian Radio Music Awards for his second solo single, “Long Gone”. His time spent touring the US and Canada has surely given him the opportunity to hone his craft as a lead vocalist.

In this edition of The Creative Spotlight, I had the pleasure of interviewing country singer-songwriter Rod Black and asking him a few questions about his musical influences, his struggles as a performer in the music industry, his career in both Jet Black Stare and as a solo performer, plus his short and long-term future plans.

Q&A Session

The Creative Spotlight: At what age did you first realize that you wanted to be a musician and what was the first instrument that you learned how to play?

Rod Black: I was just six years old when I first performed in a Christmas play and I was hooked from that moment on. My dad played guitar so we always had various instruments in the house.

I, however, didn’t learn to play an instrument until a later age due to my stubbornness and selfish desire for wanting to be a front man. One day when my songwriting partner got a record deal, I was forced to learn how to play guitar and write my own music and that was when I learned to play an instrument. It truly was one of the best decisions I ever made in my career.

TCS: What famous musical artists and/or bands were among your early influences and describe for us how they impacted and shaped your musical style?

RB: I grew up in a rodeo family where country music was predominantly played in our household so listening to Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Elvis among many others was an asset in my overall musical development and career. As I got older, I was introduced to classic rock acts like AC/DC, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi and etc.

At a young age, I always felt that if I could combine the two musical styles I possibly could be onto something big. Each performer and their music held a very special connection with me. As I listened, I felt a true connection and the energy truly resonated with me…it’s very hard to explain. Knowing that they all went through the trenches and at the end of the day they truly believed in themselves kept my dreams alive.

TCS: For the benefit of those who may not be too familiar with Rod Black or your musical career, please describe for us how you started out and eventually ended up being the lead singer in the hard rock band Jet Black Stare and now as a country performer?

RB: Oddly enough, Jet Black Stare actually started off as a country rock project. I was playing around the Vancouver, British Columbia area with an acoustic guitar accompanied by my best friend Mike McHolm, a very talented bass player and overall musician.

During this time, a very close friend of mine named Jeff Johnson, who was with 604 records co-owned by Chad Kroger lead singer from Nickelback, heard a couple of the songs that I was working on. Jeff was interested and we got together and started working on the catalogue.

 

Gordon Saran, a very close friend of ours who also works with Nickelback, was interested in what we were creating so he started introducing us to industry types. To that extent, the three of us worked on shopping our demo and within three months there was a major label bidding war in North America.

Island Records was the first to come to the table and I went with my heart and signed with them on September 7, 2007. Due to the economy in 2009, we parted ways with the label. However, I took this is a major blessing because my dad was very sick and I was able to spend time with him before he unfortunately passed away after a battle with cancer. From there, I took some much needed time off but the words of my late father still lingering in my head saying, “it’s time to continue where it all started” so I soon returned to the studio and began writing with Jeff Johnson and continuing on our country rock project.

“The Universe will always bring us back to the road we’re meant to travel on”.

The song “Keepin’ On” was the first song of many I would write with Jeff Johnson as I pursued my solo country career.

 

TCS: Personally, one of my favorite songs from the 2008 Jet Black Stare debut album is the title track “In This Life,” so can you share with us the meaning and background behind this song?

RB: One of the first songs I started writing was “In This Life”. It’s a song about bringing the soldiers home safe and giving strength and comfort to their families who are missing them while they’re away.

 

TCS: Tell us about how exciting it was supporting Jet Black Stare’s In This Life album by touring US and Canada as the opening act for established bands like 3 Doors Down, Staind, Hinder, Puddle Of Mudd, Shinedown, Drowning Pool, Theory Of A Deadman, Saliva and Seether?

RB: It’s very ironic how the universe works. Literally a year and a half previous to these tours I was in my room writing and listening to these bands as inspiration.

I remember listening to Johnny Cash’s version of “Hurt” practically on repeat envisioning myself on stage with these guys and the energy coming over me like it was actually possible etc.

Ironically, I was working on “In This Life” and “Fly” at the time, which are the two songs that got me signed to Island Records, so being on stage with them years later was almost very surreal. I am truly thankful for the experience. They all are incredibly gifted artists and very down to earth.

 

TCS: Explain how your song “Ready to Roll” came to be used by the National Hockey League Detroit Red Wings as their theme song of the 2009 NHL playoffs, as well as for WWE’s 2008 SummerSlam pay per view and in the opening theme of “Bad Movie Beatdown”?

RB: “Ready to Roll” was actually not deemed as the first single. It was written practically last for the album and when the record label heard the track it just made sense that it had the possibility of a sports theme type of track. As soon as it hit the sports community along with “Bad Movie Beatdown,” I believe that helped the song just take off like wildfire. I felt truly thankful and blessed.


TCS: From a song writing, studio recording, and accompanying music video perspective, can you share with us some of the details surrounding the single entitled “Go Big Or Go Home” from the album Keepin’ On?

RB: One of my close friends Jovan and I started writing “Go Big or Go Home” I then brought it to Jeff Johnson and he produced it and helped us put the finishing touches on the song, etc.

Gene Greenwood came into the studio with this camera and it started off as just getting live footage but he surprised us by putting a full-length music video together which gave the song extra life, as well as a raw insight of the recording process, etc.

”Go Big Or Go Home” is about believing in yourself where anything and everything is possible. If you set your mind to it and truly work hard every day you can make your goals come true.

 

TCS: Describe for us the meaning and background behind your music as well as the making of the song lyric video for the catchy title track “Keepin’ On” which peaked at number 22 on the Billboard Canada Country chart?

RB:”Keepin’ On” is about the heroes journey. It is a song about going through struggles and always having faith in yourself especially when difficult obstacles are placed in front of you.

The song lyric video was created by a very talented friend of mine named Bryan Chamberland. The one thing I truly wanted Bryan to convey through the video was that it stayed true to its real message that everybody can believe that anything is possible when on a hard road. Even though you might find yourself going through struggles we all have the ability to get through anything if we truly believe in ourselves.

TCS: Can you share the meaning and background behind the track called “Miles To Go” as well as the video concept?

RB: Once again, the very talented director and producer Gene Greenwood was behind the camera on this video and his vision was absolutely incredible. Additionally, Lori Watson, who also has incredible insight, had a lot to do with making this all come together. We can’t thank her enough. When Gene first heard the songs, he knew how we would approach them from a visual perspective instantly.

 

I guess it’s best to say there’s a bit of a commonality in the three tracks you asked about. They are all about having faith when in this life it can sometimes be difficult. We all go through our own struggles and life can appear to be like a roller coaster. It’s very important to note that we are capable of getting through anything.

TCS: How do you market your songs, albums, merchandise, and appearances?

RB: These days, without a record label it can be a little overwhelming at times, fortunately for me with the help of the Internet it makes anything possible. Additionally, Ethereal Promotions out of Nashville has really helped me get my name out there too. They truly believe in their artists. I’m thankful to be on their roster.

To stay connected, please join me on the following:

Equally, I love being on the road meeting people along the way. I find myself being inspired in every small town, city, etc. that I travel. I’ve met some amazing souls and continue to do so on this journey. I appreciate anybody that takes the time to listen to my songs it means the world to me.

TCS: Name a band or musician, past or present, who you flat-out LOVE and think more people should be listening to. What’s one of your all-time favorite recordings by this band/musician?

RB: I think everybody should be listening to Elvis, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Marvin Gaye. in order to really appreciate the soul of music also where country is routed from Hank Williams Patsy Cline the list goes on and on.

I also have many rock albums that I love listening to too. At the gym, AC/DC is always cranked in my headphones along with Guns and Roses and of course my country favorites.

TCS: Can you describe what specifically happened when you were pronounced dead yet came back to life and then walked out of the hospital within hours? Equally, please share with us the details concerning the horrific car accident you experienced?

RB: This truly changed my life forever. In short, I drank 190 proof moonshine at a party let’s just say enough that I shouldn’t ever have walked away. Under my mom’s orders, I was rushed to the emergency. I call my mother my angel because she insisted that I be rushed to the hospital. My mom saw something in my eyes and made the decision instantly to get to emergency.

As soon as I was there chaos ensued. I heard the words echo “everyone out of the room, we’re going to lose him!” Soon to follow was the most unexplainable situation that I’ve ever come across. It was an unbelievable feeling and energy coursing through my body. I heard a long beeping sound and soon I saw and felt things that were very unexplainable.

I wake up in the morning thinking it was all a dream with a doctor telling me he’s never seen anything like that in his entire life. I would be released a couple hours later and ironically go to work the following night like nothing had ever happened.

Shortly after that, I was involved in a horrific car accident. I was in the backseat of a car that flipped 7 times into a farmer’s field. I was not wearing a seatbelt, and it is a long story as to why I made that decision, that’s story for another day. Ironically, I stayed in the car through the whole duration of the rolling while the driver and passenger were both ejected immediately. Again, it was a very surreal situation that is very unexplainable at times.

I would find myself under the care of the same doctor that treated me for my flat line, with no bruises cuts or anything to show. In this situation, I would leave the hospital that night once again. The next day I would make a decision to move instantly to another city and start my journey in a whole new direction with a different outlook on life which I continue to live every day.

“We are on this earth to love and learn it’s not about material possessions or how much money we have in our bank account.” #BeGood2OneAnother.

TCS: Can you Please share with us your involvement with The Children’s Charity of BC and the work you and other performers like country musicians like Todd Richard and Jeff Johnson on the song Follow Your Heart?

RB: The Children’s Charity event was very special to me. I was contacted by Todd & Jeff to come in and be a part of it. I joined a handful of other country artists from the BC area. I was fortunate to sing a verse on the track and be a part of the experience. It was for an amazing cause.


TCS: What does the short and long-term future look like for Rod Black?

RB: I’m truly blessed and thankful for every day that I’m still on this earth. Time will certainly tell where this journey takes me but no matter the twists or turns, I remain dedicated to the memory of my dad who always wore black and did what he could to help others along the way. Equally, I am committed to my mom and sisters for believing in me as I continue to move forward.

Once again, I am just appreciative of anybody who will listen to my music and attend the shows. I’ve played in front of 20,000 people and I’ve played in front of 5. I will always put the same energy into every show no matter the numbers placed in front of me.

About Frank Iacono

Frank Iacono Photo

Frank Iacono is a highly skilled results-oriented Strategic Marketing Professional with proven critical thinking, problem solving, and project management skills, developed through more than 20 years of experience concentrated in integrated marketing strategies. Frank brings a thorough, hands-on understanding of marketing strategies and technological platforms as related to applications available for web design, content development, email marketing, site and campaign analytics, search marketing and optimization, service and product marketing, lead and demand generation, social media, and customer retention.

Frank has a BA degree in English/Communications and Marketing from Cabrini College, and he received his Webmaster Certification from Penn State Great Valley.

Eastern State Penitentiary: America’s Most Historic Prison

Written by: Frank Iacono

Construction of the Eastern State Penitentiary, America’s most historic prison, began on a cherry orchard outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1822. The chosen design created by British-born architect John Haviland was a technological marvel which consisted of seven wings of individual cell blocks radiating from a center hub; this was unlike any other prison design seen before the penitentiary opened in 1829.

Eastern State, at its completion was the most expensive public structure ever built, is considered to be the world’s first true penitentiary. It was initially renowned for its Enlightenment-inspired efforts to reform inmates rather than merely punish them. Eventually, this system was abandoned in favor of solitary confinement and a Death Row block. The once-genteel penitentiary housed, at one time, the most notorious prohibition-era gangster – Al Capone. Capone’s private cell even allowed him to have fine antiques and Oriental carpets.

The prison was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966 and closed in 1971. It is now considered by several sources to be one of the most haunted places in America. The penitentiary has been featured on the Travel Channel’s Most Haunted Live, Ghost Adventures, and Paranormal Challenge; Fox Television’s World’s Scariest Places; TLC’s America’s Ghost Hunters; and MTV’s FEAR.

Today, Eastern State Penitentiary is open for tours seven days a week, year-round. Visitors can explore the cell blocks and learn about the history of this facility and its relevance. Eastern State offers a daily guided tour with one of their expert tour guides, or visitors can take a self-guided audio tour, “The Voices of Eastern State” Audio Tour, narrated by actor Steve Buscemi.

In this edition of The Creative Spotlight, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sean Kelley, Senior Vice President & Director of Interpretation and Amy Hollaman, Associate Director, Events and Operations; Creative Director for Terror Behind the Walls and asked them about the history, the correctional system of incarceration, notorious criminals who were incarcerated, the annual Terror Behind the Walls and “good to know” facts concerning the Eastern State Penitentiary.

Q&A Session

The Creative Spotlight: The Eastern State Penitentiary, which was designed by John Haviland and opened its doors on October 25, 1829, was considered the first true penitentiary. Why do you think it received this designation and what made it so controversial?

Sean Kelley: Eastern State is considered the world’s first true penitentiary because of its intent, to instill penitence and true regret in the hearts of its prisoners. Eastern State’s focus was on achieving this penitence through silence, prayer, and labor, all of which took place in the solitude of inmates’ cells. Solitary confinement was a revolutionary concept when compared to prisons at the time, where inmates of all ages and crimes were housed together and physical punishment was the norm. Now, we can look back at the system of isolation that was so prevalent at the beginning of Eastern State’s history and recognize how, although it was supposed to be a solution to prison reform, it truly was harmful for inmates.

Curious how the building has changed over time? Here’s an online tour from 1998.

TCS: For the benefit of those who are not familiar with the Eastern State Penitentiary, can you provide us with at least three “Good to Know” facts?

SK: Three “Good to Know” facts about the Eastern State Penitentiary, include:

  • Eastern State Penitentiary’s system of solitude was seen as a revolutionary concept in prison reform. But what we know now, nearly 200 years later, is that solitary confinement is incredibly damaging for people’s mental health.
  • Architect John Haviland’s wagon wheel design of Eastern State has been copied over 300 times. There is a prison that looks just like Eastern State on every continent except Antarctica.
  • The penitentiary had running water and central heat before the White House!


TCS: Eastern State Penitentiary is touted as America’s Most Historic Prison. Can you perhaps share with us some stories about notorious criminals who were incarcerated there such as bank robber “Slick Willie” Sutton and Al “Scarface” Capone?

SK: One of the most famous bank robbers in American History, “Slick Willie” Sutton spent 11 years at Eastern State Penitentiary. In 1945 Sutton, along with 11 other prisoners, escaped from Eastern State in an inmate-dug tunnel that went almost 100 feet underground. Sutton was recaptured just minutes later. Over the course of his criminal career Sutton is credited with over 50 bank robberies, three successful escapes from prison, and over 30 years served behind bars. Visitors can step into the cell and view the hole from which Sutton and 11 others escaped.

Our visitors also enjoy viewing the cell of Chicago’s most famous mob boss, Al Capone. According to news reports, his time at Eastern State was spent in relative luxury. Reports stated that his cell housed a cabinet radio, oriental rug, and fine furniture. He also had his tonsils removed from the penitentiary operating room in 1929.

Take a 360-degree panorama view of Al Capone’s cell by visiting kuula.co/post/7lL8y.

TCS: Please explain Eastern State’s revolutionary so-called separate philosophy or correctional system of incarceration, dubbed as the Pennsylvania System of Confinement?

SK: The separate system, or Pennsylvania System, was based on the idea that penitence would lead to reform. Through silence, spiritual reflection, and physical labor, criminals were supposed to find this penitence in their hearts and change their ways. The early system was strict. Inmates has no contact with each other, and even interactions with guards was mild. Meals were even passed through a feeding hole, limiting guard/inmate interaction further. When inmates were taken from their cells, a hood was placed over their head to avoid any contact.

TCS: Can you please describe for us what an inmate experienced in the 1800’s under the Pennsylvania System of Confinement?

SK: When Eastern State was designed, its architect had to create solutions to ensure the success of this separate system. Originally, each cellblock and individual cell was designed with similar architecture to a church, with high, arched ceilings and a single skylight. Because each cell was meant for a single inmate, each has its own exercise yard and flushing toilet.

The penitentiary’s most famous architectural aspect is its radial design, with a central surveillance hub and seven cellblock which radiated from it much like a wagon wheel. This was to ensure complete and total surveillance to ensure control. As additional cellblocks were built over time, this idea of surveillance became harder and harder to achieve.

TCS: Can you please describe for us some of the horrible forms of punishment that the inmates encountered when they broke the rules?

SK: Eastern State officials mostly avoided physical punishments, though straightjackets and other restraints were occasionally applied.

In the 1800s, Eastern State’s “silent system,” or “Pennsylvania system,” stood in opposition to the Auburn system of incarceration employed in New York State prisons such as Auburn and Sing Sing. The Auburn system housed prisoners in solitary cells overnight, but grouped them together during the day for silent labor. Auburn administrators used corporal punishment on those who broke prison rules, while Eastern State officials largely avoided such punishments.

On occasion, Eastern State officials placed prisoners who became unruly or violent, and those who repeatedly disturbed the penitentiary’s silence, in restraints such as the “iron gag” and the “composing chair” (also called the “mad chair” or “tranquilizing chair”). One prisoner, Mathias Maccumsey, died after being placed in the iron gag for attempting to communicate with other prisoners.

Another punishment that officials used on occasion in the 1800s was the “shower bath.” A “shower bath” was a punishment used by prison officials in which a prisoner was restrained and doused with water.

Though solitary confinement had been used in the prison’s early years for rehabilitative purposes, by the early 1900s, solitary cells were reserved for those who broke prison rules. Infractions that resulted in solitary confinement included stealing items from the kitchen, fighting, gambling, cursing an officer, and other misconducts.

TCS: Please share with us the specific changes that occurred to the Penitentiary in the 1900’s and how those changes affected the prisoners daily living conditions and interactions with other inmates versus the 1800s?

SK: The separate system that Eastern State was so infamous for had begun to erode early on. By the late 1800s, inmates were issued hoods with— for the first time—eye holes. They would exercise together, in silence and anonymity. A congregate workshop was added to the complex in 1905, eight years before the Pennsylvania System was officially discontinued. With a large number of prisoners in an aging structure, the system of solitary isolation was completely abandoned in 1913.

An issue that faced the wardens of Eastern State, which we still face today, is prison overcrowding. As the penitentiary took in more and more prisoners, the separate system was no longer realistic or achievable. The original seven cellblocks were no longer enough to hold inmates, and by the time the penitentiary closed in 1970, an additional 8 cellblocks had been added. This compromised both the system of isolation and surveillance that was so pivotal in the 1800s.


TCS: By 1965, the Federal Government designated Eastern State Penitentiary as a National Historic Landmark. In 1971, it was closed. Can you describe for us the various proposals the City of Philadelphia had for the property after it purchased it for redevelopment?

SK: Eastern State sat abandoned for about 16 years before it went up for sale in 1987. Developers placed bids ranging from $2.5 million to $3 million. Suggested developments included a condominium complex, a supermarket, restaurants, and a nightclub. The following year, the preservationist group Eastern State Task Force (which would eventually become Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site, Inc.) was formed and the first limited group tours of the prison are offered. The rest, as they say, is history.

TCS: Please describe for us what the public can expect to see or encounter during one of the historic public tours?

SK: There is something for everyone at Eastern State. We offer a daily guided tour with one of our expert tour guides, or visitors can take a self-guided audio tour, “The Voices of Eastern State” Audio Tour, narrated by actor Steve Buscemi. Eastern State also features history exhibits and a critically acclaimed series of artist installations. Visitors can enjoy Hands-On History interactive experiences which allow visitors a closer look through short demonstrations with our expert tour guides. Our latest exhibit, Prisons Today: Questions in the Age of Mass Incarceration, looks at our nation’s skyrocketing incarceration rate and the driving factors behind it. Eastern State sits on nearly 11 acres, so we encourage visitors to walk around and explore everything the museum has to offer!


TCS: When do you start preparing for Terror Behind the Walls and tell us what exactly goes in to the overall preparation process?

Amy Hollaman: Terror Behind the Walls, America’s largest haunted house, is located inside the massive, castle-like walls of Eastern State Penitentiary. This extraordinary theatrical production is consistently ranked among the top haunted attractions in the nation. Preparation takes place year-round, and once the event is up-and-running it takes an elite team of 14 makeup artists almost three hours to prepare the cast of more than 200 performers each evening.

Terror Behind the Walls is the single largest source of revenue for Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site, Inc., the 501(c)3 tax-exempt, charitable organization that administers both the daytime prison tour program and the Halloween fundraiser. Since 1991, Terror Behind the Walls has raised more than $5.3 million to fund preservation efforts at this National Historic Landmark.

With the help of Terror Behind the Walls, Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site is thriving. Daytime prison tours are available every day, year-round, from 10 am to 5 pm.

TCS: Terror Behind the Walls an annual Haunted House Halloween event, consists of six startling attractions. Can you please describe each of the attractions and tell us what you feel entices visitors from across the country to attend year after year?

AH: Terror Behind the Walls (TBTW) consists of six haunted attractions that create a seamless experience for visitors. All six attractions are included in one admission price. As visitors enter Terror Behind the Walls, they are confronted with a critical decision: should they explore the prison and watch the action, or should they mark themselves to truly interact with the denizens of the cellblocks? Those who opt in for true interactivity may be grabbed, held back, sent into hidden passageways, removed from their group, and even occasionally incorporated into the show. They will deal with the consequences of their decision through six long attractions:

  • Lock Down: The creatures of Lock Down: The Uprising have risen to TBTW from the depths of the darkest universe. They are agile, ruthless, and hungry for flesh. They have no law, no chain of command, no concept of confinement.
  • Machine Shop: Hidden deep inside the cell blocks is a long-forgotten Machine Shop. Evil pervades this space – an evil with one mind but with many bodies.
  • Infirmary: The Infirmary takes the fear of hospitals to a whole new level. Discover the world of prison medical treatment, including shock therapy, hydrotherapy, and other torturous experiments gone wrong.
  • Blood Yard: The carnage sends a clear message: You could be next. Hunt or be hunted!
  • Quarantine 4D: Flat walls appear to have depth, creatures emerge from seemingly nowhere, and some brave visitors will be challenged to face their worst fears.
  • Break Out: Inmates surround you using every way imaginable to escape. Keep an eye out at every corner, as inmates may even be using YOU to aid in their attempt to gain freedom.

Terror-Behind-the-Walls

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TCS: Can you describe for us the coverage that Eastern State received on Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures and Most Haunted Live, Syfy’s Ghost Hunters, MTVs Fear and others?

SK: Many people believe that Eastern State Penitentiary is haunted. As early as the 1940s, officers and inmates reported mysterious visions and eerie experiences in the ancient prison. With the growing interest in paranormal investigations, Eastern State Penitentiary may now be the most carefully studied building in the United States. Approximately 60 paranormal teams visit to explore the site in a typical year. The penitentiary has been featured on the Travel Channel’s Most Haunted LiveGhost Adventures, and Paranormal Challenge; Fox Television’s World’s Scariest Places; TLC’s America’s Ghost Hunters; and MTV’s FEAR. Footage captured on the second tier of Cellblock 12 by paranormal investigators during filming of SyFy’s Ghost Hunters may be the most controversial ghost sighting in history. During the filming of Paranormal Challenge S01E02, host Zak Bagans called Eastern State Penitentiary “one of the most haunted places in the world.”


Contact or Visit:

The Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site
2027 Fairmount Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19130
Website: http://www.easternstate.org
Phone: 215-236-3300

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