C. Taylor Crothers

Big Head Todd and the Monsters appear Tuesday at Reno's Knitting Factory. Reggae icons Toots and the Maytals open.

Big Head Todd brings Monsters to Reno

Published: Sunday, Jun. 12, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 2I

Artists usually deplore the idea of fans downloading their music for free – not so Todd Park Mohr of Big Head Todd and the Monsters.

"When it comes to hearing my music, the more the merrier," he said in a recent telephone interview. "It helps build my relationship with my fans and helps more people establish a relationship with my music. I always make my money off my live shows, anyhow."

Mohr brings his band to Reno's Knitting Factory on Tuesday. It's a new venue for him, but northern Nevada is hardly strange territory. He's played the Reno Hilton (now Grand Sierra), twice at Caesars Tahoe (now MontBleu), four times at John Ascuaga's Nugget, and another four at the Crystal Bay Club, which he calls one of his favorite venues.

The Knit is one of the handful of intimate clubs the band will play on its current tour, arriving from its annual Red Rocks Amphitheater appearance near Denver, and will be join in later on several major festivals, including Chicago's Ravinia (Sept. 11) and the Telluride Blues and Brews Festival (Sept. 17).

Earlier this year, in celebration of what would have been the 100th birthday of legendary bluesman Robert Johnson, Big Head Todd and the Monsters assembled the Big Head Blues Club, an ad-hoc collaboration with special guests B.B. King, Hubert Sumlin, Honeyboy Edwards, Charlie Musselwhite, Ruthie Foster, Cedric Burnside and Lightnin' Malcolm. They released "100 Years of Robert Johnson," a tribute recording.

"It wasn't my idea. I just have to say that. My manager came to me with it," he said. "It is doing well, though, and introduces us to a different audience. It was a pleasure to be out there with blues heroes, celebrating this music."

It's a departure for the band, but then again, almost everything is for the group that established its reputation as mostly a solid live band. Its recordings have focused on everything from reggae and soul to straightforward rock 'n' roll.

There have been touches of country, alternative, rhythm and blues, and everything in between, perfect in a musical world where boundaries between genres simply aren't there anymore.

More consistency has come in personnel. Big Head Todd and the Monsters still have the original players who started the group in the mid-1980s.

"I am fortunate to have the band I have," said Mohr of Rob Squires on bass and Brian Nevin on drums. (Second guitarist – Mohr is the lead – and keyboardist Jeremy Lawton joined in 2004.)

Ask fans of the band what makes Big Head Todd and the Monsters exciting and they'll wax ecstatic on the unique mix of powerful live performance and Mohr's strong songwriting, the latter often compared with that of Dylan or Springsteen, along with his guitar chops and gritty voice. He's written and guided seven studio releases and two live albums.

Another album is in the works, which "we'll be finishing up this summer for a winter release. It's going to be a straight-up rock 'n' roll record."

For collaborative highlights, check out "Boom Boom," which the band recorded with John Lee Hooker shortly before his death; "Tangerine," a part of "Encomium: A Tribute to Led Zeppelin" which it contributed after a tour with Robert Plant; and "Sweet Home Alabama," the acoustic version of the classic on "Under the Influence: a Jam Band Tribute to Lynyrd Skynyrd."

And, of course, there is "Blue Sky," the single and video featured at the launch of the Discovery and written at the request of the space shuttle program.

Big Head Todd and theMonsters' biggest strength, however, remains their live performances. The one Tuesday, Mohr says, will "include some Robert Johnson songs, coming off of that blues tour … but we have a large catalog of songs and we'll be playing a lot of them. I can't deliver a set list right now because much of what we play is what is requested online."

To request a song: http://bigheadtodd.com.

"We play much of what is requested. That is a Todd Mohr promise," he said.

The Knit concert will be a double treat since, although Big Head Todd and the Monsters will be the top-lined band, their stage mates, Toots and the Maytals, are hardly unknowns. In fact, many credit leader Frederick "Toots" Hibbert with coining the word "reggae" for the 1968 album "Do the Reggae."

Big Head Todd and the Monsters

What: Vocalist and lead guitarist Todd Park Mohr tours with bandmates Rob Squires on bass, Brian Nevin on drums and keyboardist Jeremy Lawton. Toots and the Maytals open the show.

Where: Reno's Knitting Factory, 211 N. Virginia St.

When: 8 p.m. Tuesday

Cost: $28.50 advance, $30 Tuesday, general admission standing; $50 reserved seating (all ages)

Information: (775) 323-5648, www.knittingfactory.com

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Read more articles by Mel Shields



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