Music News & Reviews

This is what happens when the president adds your song to his playlist

Most bands are encouraged to make music by fans, friends and family. Few get that kind of support from the president of the United States.

But that’s just what happened to Low Cut Connie. In 2015, President Barack Obama put “Boozophilia,” a 2012 song from the Philadelphia-based rock 'n' rollers, on his summer playlist, eventually landing band leader/singer/songwriter/showman Adam Weiner an invitation to meet the president.

"“That was mind boggling," Weiner said in a recent phone interview. "It really is an amazing thing because we’re a DIY band. I had to start my own label because no one would put out our records. I don’t have a manager. We’re just doing it ourselves.

"When I met President Obama, he said to me, 'Hey, when's your next record coming out?' I told him we're working on it. He said, 'Well, I like what you do. I like your style. Keep it up.’ For a guy who doesn't make a lot of money and is working so hard, it meant the world to me."

That next record, "Dirty Pictures (Part 1)," came out in spring 2017, a disc kicked off by the song "Revolution Rock 'n’ Roll," on which Weiner pledges himself to the real rock 'n' roll that has driven his life for most of a decade.

"This is a crazy life, this rock 'n' roll life I lead," Weiner said. "It's a dangerous life, very messy. It's tough on your body, tough on your spirit, tough on relationships. A lot of people quit. A lot of people don't make it. I'm still here. I haven't achieved a very high level of success, but I’m somewhere ... With 'Revolution Rock 'n' Roll' I wanted people to know I'm here as long as I can do it."

A piano player par excellence, Weiner was working in New York piano bars when, in 2010, he assembled the band that became Low Cut Connie. The fledgling group traveled to the Florida garage of one of the members to record some song that became, intentionally or not, the band’s debut album.

"We did this thing as kind of a weekend getaway (mess) around," he said. "We didn’t have a name for the band or any experience. I pressed up about 200 CD-R copies of what we'd recorded and sent them around."

A couple weeks later, Robert Christgau, who was at the Village Voice then, gave it an A-. The next thing I knew, we’re in Rolling Stone, on NPR, USA Today, Guitar World and on and on and we hadn’t played five shows."

Taking its name from a waitress known for her low-cut tops, the band released the recordings as "Get Out the Lotion" and followed that album with 2012's "Get Me Sylvia" and 2015’s "Hi Honey" – all critically acclaimed. Then came the Obama playlist and, after the release of "Dirty Pictures (Part 1)" another "out of left field" endorsement of the band – this one from Elton John.

John started playing the song "Dirty Water" on his radio show, then called Weiner out of the blue. Soon thereafter, the two were talking piano on the show, exposing Low Cut Connie to listeners who likely had never heard of the band until John started playing its music.

That kind of attention, starting with the 2010 reviews, put the pressure on the then-inexperienced Low Cut Connie to deliver the goods live. "I knew we had to come up with the live band, to make it something special, something that everybody that saw it remembered," Weiner said. "About three years ago, we started doing those kind of shows and our reputation changed from a critics' band for records to begin a live rock 'n' roll juggernaut."

Bashing away on an old upright he calls Shondra, Weiner recalls the work of piano greats past. That starts with boogie-woogie and blues player Mose Vinson – "He had a very sloppy whorehouse deep blues piano style" – and extends to New Orleans masters Professor Longhair, James Booker and the late Fats Domino, for whom Weiner penned the Billboard magazine remembrance.

Then there are the two quasars of rock ‘n’ roll piano – Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard. "Jerry Lee Lewis is a world in and of himself," Weiner said. "Ain't nobody ever going to touch Jerry Lee for rock 'n' roll. He and Little Richard are like 10,000 firecrackers going off all at the same time. Nobody would have thought that Jerry lee would still be around, the 'Last Man Standing,' as he says."

That longevity, Weiner says, is something to be admired and, with any luck, emulated. "Starting a rock 'n' roll band isn’t exactly a secure and smart business investment or life investment," Weiner said. "This band has been a mess. We've had 13 people in the band. I'm the only original guy and the consistent force throughout."

The newest member of Low Cut Connie is vocalist and tambourine player Saundra Williams, who spent seven years with Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings. "She's singing amazingly with us," Weiner said. "I don’t think six, seven years ago, somebody from Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings would want to be in our band, musically, professionally, everything. I think we’ve come a long way. And with her, the show's gotten a lot more powerful, soulful, more dynamic."

Low Cut Connie played 80 shows in 2017, the most of any year, and it made its first trip to England in December. Now it's back out in 2018 for more shows and the release in May of "Dirty Pictures (Part 2)," the follow-up to the current album. Don't be surprised at the shows if Weiner climbs atop his piano, tears off his shirt and ventures off the stage to embrace audience members. It's part of a main goal of the show. "We have to win people over," he said. "You have to be in 100 percent to do that."

Low Cut Connie

When: 7 p.m.April 3

Where: The Holy Diver, 1517 21st St., Sacramento

Cost: $13-$15