Chris Kleeman recently did Northern homegrown blues fans a huge favor by rereleasing his last two recording projects Sweet Home Ludlow and Scratch It While You Can on one CD titled Northern Blue. Kleeman’s mastery of the fretboard is evident immediately upon putting the CD in the player. His technical accuracy combined with his emotionally‑invested vocals takes his material to the apex of every genre he represents.
Northern Blue is a mix of traditional covers from inspirational artists such as Mississippi John Hurt, Willie Dixon, Elmore James, and Steve Winwood and well crafted originals. All of these masters should be honored to have Chris Kleeman play their songs. “Sweet Home Ludlow” the title track from his earlier release, is an excellent variation of “Sweet Home Chicago” from this native Vermonter’s point of view. The playful “Viper” (Fats Waller) uplifts the soul with its swing infused with scat trombone riffs. On covers “Hurts Me Too” and “Little Red Rooster” one cm easily picture Kleeman sitting on the porch in the bayou pouring his soul out to the gators and the bullfrogs. Original “Fitz’s Fun Palace” resounds with jubilant guitar extending through the full dynamic range building to a well planned crescendo.
From Kleeman’s Scratch It While You Can album, the more produced of the two, the evolution of an artist becomes evident. “Cold Winds a Blowin'” is reminiscent of a Crosby, Stills and Nash composition with its incredible guitar and soulful harmonies. The instrumental title track, “Scratch It While You Can”, takes off with jazzy bluegrass interplay between Barbara Hyde on piano and Kleeman on guitar. The fretless bass work by Reed Butler on the Blind Faith cover, “Can’t Find My Way Home”, is the beautiful centerpiece for this incredible rendition of a timeless classic. Kleeman shows us his country with the track “No Spare Parts” (George Gritzbach) only to turn around in the next song and play “a Jewish‑Episcopalian jig, based on the trials of an unwilling Unitarian on “Forty Years In The Sinai”.
Kleeman’s acoustic virtuosity combined with the sheer immensity of his vocals elevates each of these tracks to a level that Sparkles with the spirituality of an artist that is truly immersed in the love of his craft. ~ JC
Chris Kleeman & Bob Stannard
Made in Vermont: Live Performances From Obscure but Popular Places
(Self-released CD Howling Frog Records #002)
The homes of Chester, Vermont, bluesboy Chris Kleeman and his musical compadre Bob Stannard, from Manchester Center, are separated by some of the tallest mountains in Vermont, but it doesn’t seem to have gotten in their way, physically or musically. On their first joint album, Made in Vermont: Live Performances From Obscure But Popular Places, the two churn, choogle and sweat through an encyclopedia of blues styles. On this CD, 12 classics by Willie Dixon, Jimmy Reed, Robert Johnson, Chester Burnette and more are given loving treatment by two players with the knowledge and skill to make them work.
Kleeman can wail on an electric guitar, and really shines when he slides on his beat-up old National Steel. Stannard, who sounds like he came out of the womb armed with a blues harp, recalls the best of the Chicago blues harmonica players, melding passion with rhythmic riffs from the styles of Sonny Boy Williamson I and II, Sonny Terry and others. Throughout Made in Vermont, Kleeman and Stannard are backed by a number of pickup drummers and bassists. There are no lapses and the whole baby works.
The experience these guys bring to their music has been obtained from lots of road time. Kleeman and Stannard are both in their fifties, have been playing bars for decades, and are clearly not ready for AARP bus tours. From the energy and pump of the music, it sounds as if some of the “obscure places” mentioned in the title might be smoky roadhouses, so it’s surprising to discover that most of the album was recorded live in such relatively sedate venues as the Riley Rink in Manchester and the Old Firehouse in Tinmouth. A few tracks were laid down at Southview Arts, a fine little studio on a hill above Middletown Springs, and at Kleeman’s home studio. It’s clear that Kleeman, who has played with many musical partners over the years, and Stannard have found that rare thing: a musical complement that really fits.
© Seven Days Newspaper, 2004
Stannard and Kleeman approved for VAC’s ‘Art Directory’
Manchester Journal article date: 12/5/2003
MANCHESTER – Chris Kleeman and Bob Stannard are proud to announce that their application for consideration as “Juried Artists” with the Vermont Arts Council has been accepted and approved. On Nov. 24 the Vermont Arts Council endorsed the work of the acoustic Blues Duo of Kleeman (guitar) and Stannard (harmonica) and they will now be registered in the VAC’s “Art Directory.” Being recognized by the Vermont Arts Council elevates the status of any Vermont artists and allows artists and musicians to broaden their marketing efforts through promotional material as well as linking to VAC’s web site.
“To have our work be accepted by the Vermont Arts Council is a great honor for us and we would like to extend our appreciation to the Arts Council for this recognition. We are very pleased to have the Arts Council recognize American Blues as a venue worthy of their support. This is one of many wonderful things that have happened to Chris and me over the past two years.” Stannard said. In July of 2002, thanks to the support and generosity of Barbara Riley, the Blues Duo was sent to Montreux, Switzerland where they played the Montreux Jazz Festival with BB King and legendary keyboardist, Joe Sample.
Chris Kleeman, as a solo performer, has been recognized by the Arts Council for over 15 years. This is the first time their duo act has received recognition. It is also the first time Bob Stannard’s work has been chosen by VAC. Over a year ago, Stannard was recognized as a “Preferred Player” of Lee Oskar Harmonicas, Inc.
Over the past two years Kleeman & Stannard have shared the stage with many great performers like Maria Muldaur, Chris Smither, Susan Tedeschi, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, John Hammond, Buddy Guy and the undisputed “King of the Blues,” BB King.
Individually, Kleeman has performed with Dave Van Ronk, Taj Mahal, Rory Block, Johnny Winter, Leon Redbone, Koko Taylor, George Thorogood, and David Bromberg. Stannard has had the pleasure of playing with author, Stephen King; Delta Bluesman, David “Honey Boy” Edwards; and Joey Molland; founder of the ’70’s rock band, Badfinger.
“It’s been quite a ride, so far,” Kleeman said. Bob Stannard is recognized as a “Preferred Player” of Lee Oskar Harmonicas.
Stannard/Kleeman ‘Made in Vermont’ CD to have June 27 release
By Linda Maness 06/18/2004
Manchester Journal Correspondent
NORTHSHIRE – They have played all over New England and at the 2002 Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland.
They have sat in with the legendary BB King.
Now the blues duo of Chris Kleeman and Bob Stannard, both of Vermont, have produced their first joint CD, called “Made in Vermont,” subtitled “Live Performances from Obscure but Popular Places.”
On Sunday, June 27 the duo will celebrate the release of “Made in Vermont” at the Dorset Playhouse at 8 p.m.
“It was great of Dorset Theatre Festival’s John Nassivera and Barbara Ax to step up to the plate on our behalf,” Stannard said. “The DTF is hosting our CD release party.”
The CD features 15 cuts, with two from studio sessions and one other non-live recording. The remaining dozen were recorded live at various Vermont venues including the Perfect Wife in Manchester, The Old Firehouse Music Series in Tinmouth, the Wallingford Summer Camp at Echo Lake and Riley Rink at Hunter Park in Manchester.
Stannard, who admits to being 53 years old, and playing harmonica for 35 of those, said of the past three years, “It’s been an incredible time for me. I have had remarkable experiences. Chris Kleeman and I have been jamming together for many years, but it really has been over the past three years that everything has come together for two white guys playing the blues.”
He continued, “I have played with BB King, opened for Buddy Guy, John Hammond, the Fabulous Thunderbirds and Maria Muldaur. Much of this is due to Manchester’s greatest asset, Riley Rink at Hunter Park, and to Barbara Riley herself.”
In talking about Riley Rink at Hunter Park Stannard emphasized that the facility has been bringing world-class entertainers to the Northshire since it opened, “… and I have been fortunate, with Chris, to have hitched my cart to their pony on more than one occasion.”
Stannard and Kleeman began playing together as back-up musicians and played the bar scene for many years. At this point in their career they play venues which are, according to Stannard, “… a little more accommodating to our music.”
The idea for the CD itself came about after Kleeman bought a piece of recording equipment that could be set up at a venue and left running as the duo played their set.
Kleeman said, “I found I could get the audio work station set up and just let it run as we played. There was no engineer to set levels or change the settings. So, there is some input distortion.”
He explained that he really bought the audio work station for the purpose of his own songwriting, “… but then Bob thought it would be nice to finally record something of our, and his, own.”
Kleeman has appeared on four CDs as a featured artist and on another five as a sideman.
“Made in VT” is Stannard’s first CD.
“I’m pretty pleased with the music itself,” Kleeman said. “What we’re doing, how we consider ourselves, is being preservationists of the blues form of music.”
Stannard said, “The music we play is the music of African American artists who are long deceased. If we don’t play it this music will disappear.”
He went on to recall how he had been a drummer in high school but later at college there was no access to a drum set. So he settled on the mouth harp, better known as the harmonica.
“I’m self-taught,” Stannard said, “but I had a lot of outside influence, such as the wonderful James Cotton, John Mayall, Paul Butterfield and Memphis, Charlie Musselwhite.”
He said he has been playing everyday for some 35 years and, “… I felt it was time to record my own work.”
Kleeman feels the live recordings capture, “Bob’s and my kinetic energy. There’s a cool flavor in what we do.”
He admits that the CD, “… has got some cuts and scrapes on it because it is live, but it is representative of what we do. And do with the music we love so much.”
Stannard said, “Over the past couple of years it has happened more often than not that we have received requests for our music at the end of a gig. People ask us regularly, ‘Don’t you have a CD?’, Now we can answer, ‘Yes.'”
Of the CD release celebration, Kleeman said, “My expectation is that people will come. We’ll do something unique and open for ourselves acoustically. It makes sense to do this, acoustic and electrically, and fun too.”
“It’s fun to be throwing ourselves a party. Some of our core band members will be coming to play with us, Brian Hobbs of Rutland and Bob Gagnier of Peru.
Graphic designer Chris Champine was keen on the opportunity to work on the CD artwork. He knew Kleeman from working at Killington in the early 1990s.
Kleeman said, “I ran into him at the Perfect Wife. He is a great cartoonist and a graphic designer by choice with his own studio. We talked and I mentioned the CD. He jumped right on it.”
Stannard added, “Chris has done a magnificant job on pulling this CD together. And an honorable mention has to go to Chris Champine. We’re all proud of this effort.”
Stannard and Kleeman have been invited to return to the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, but due to financial constraints Kleeman is passing on the opportunity.
He said last week, “I told Bob I’m not going. I’m honored to be invited and I would love to go and sit with BB King again, but there has not been enough lead time. It’s purely a business decision.” He said Barbara Riley has indicated that they could go next summer.
Kleeman and Stannard’s 2004 summer calendar includes appearances at the Stratton Mountain Blues Fest on July 25, Manchester Concerts on the Green series on July 30 and an acoustic show for the Ludlow Summer series August 24.
“Made in Vermont Live Performances from Obscure but Popular Places” will be available for purchase locally at the Northshire Bookstore in Manchester.
Local musicians find lucky break in their own back yard
Article date: 08/02/2002 Manchester Journal, Manchester, Vermont
By Patrick Monroe
MANCHESTER – It is truly a Cinderella story. Bob Stannard and Chris Kleeman first played together at The Barn in Pawlet, Kleeman on guitar and Stannard playing harmonica. The audience reaction told how good they were, but this is Vermont. Who could have guessed that nearly a year later their music would carry them to New York City and beyond?
Things started to get exciting for the duo when local arts benefactor Barbara Riley Levin invited Stannard to a party at her home in August 2001. Stannard rarely travels without at least a couple of harps in his pocket, so when he was asked to sit in with the band for a few tunes, he was ready to play. Then Riley Rink general manager Bill Daiek asked Stannard to play at a VIP party for the supporters of the B.B. King concert at Equinox Pond held last Aug. 31. Stannard teamed up with Kleeman and his band for the performance, playing two sets over two hours.
In the second set, Stannard was asked if Claude Nobs could join them as another harp player for a song or two. Nobs is the founder and CEO of the prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival held in Montreux, Switzerland, and before leaving the stage, he invited them to play at the 2002 Montreux festival. “Well I guess so!” said Stannard. In the world of jazz, it was like being invited to perform in the World Series.
As Stannard and Kleeman were reeling over their good fortune, Floyd Lieberman, manager of B.B. King, asked if the band would be interested in playing at B.B. King’s Blues Club in Times Square, an invitation they gladly accepted. In what could only be described as a state of disbelief, Nobs then approached Stannard and Kleeman and asked if they would be willing to join BB King on stage at Riley Rink the next night. “That certainly didn’t take any thinking over,” said Stannard. “We were feeling like a couple of kids in a candy store.”
So, on Sept. 1, Kleeman and Stannard were joined on stage at Riley Rink by Harry Ralph, another local talent. Ralph is just 16 years old, and an awesome fiddle player. The three played for approximately 30 minutes with King and his band. “This was just a dream come true for me,” said Stannard. “I have been a huge B.B. King fan my whole life. He is a blues legend.”
True to his word, Lieberman invited Kleeman and Stannard and their band to come to New York and play at King’s club on 42nd Street, and about nine months later, they were the preceding act for King at the second anniversary of his club’s opening, June 21. They played not just the Friday night show, but again on Saturday night, and once again on Monday. “It was a remarkable experience, performing with major talents from around the country for a really hip jazz audience in the heart of New York,” said Stannard.
About 10 days after returning home, they were off to Geneva for the Montreux Jazz Festival. “We got in on Thursday, and were invited to dinner at Claude Nobs’ home. I expected that there would be about 100 other guests, but it was just Nobs, Barbara and Gerald Levin, and Bette Midler and her husband, Martin. Oh, and of course me, Chris Kleeman, and my wife, Alison. “We had a lovely meal, and then they asked us to play for them. Wow, it was scary, but we played a few blues tunes for this small, but very appreciative audience. They seemed to like our playing very much,” said Stannard. “But, I would rather play before 5,000 people than five people. Each of them represents 20 percent of the audience.”
On Friday, July 5, they played at the intimate Montreux Jazz Club. It was the opening night for this new venue, built specially for the festival. The club was filled to capacity, approximately 300 people.
“We were supposed to go on at 2 a.m. and play for an hour or so. But Nobs’ manager found us and asked us to go on at midnight even though RatDog [former Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir’s band] were scheduled to play longer. We were on stage for four hours, and at one point the pianist and sax player for RatDog asked to join us. We played just about every tune we knew. Finally stopping at 4 a.m., Kleeman and I were just exhausted. We stumbled back to the hotel and fell into our beds,” said Stannard.
Nobs had his secretary contact them early Saturday afternoon and asked if they would play in the larger Stravinski Hall that evening. “We were asked to open for [R&B artist] Issac Hayes at 8:15 p.m. for a short, 15-minute set,” Stannard recalled. “The hall was at full capacity of about 5,000 excited jazz enthusiasts. We did three songs, and then Issac Hayes performed. Later that night we were invited to once again join B.B. King for a jam session following B.B.’s regular show. We were joined by the world-renowned keyboard player Joe Sample and, of course, B.B. We jammed for an hour, finally finishing about 2 a.m.” This was the ultimate high honor for a couple of guys who play mostly for fun. Stannard has his own consulting firm and lobbies in Montpelier. Kleeman is the maitre d’ at Bistro Henry in Manchester and plays when he can find time.
“We are very grateful to Barbara Riley, who has done so much for our community,” Stannard said. “She and Gerald have been very generous benefactors for several local Manchester area organizations. She made our appearance at the Montreux Jazz Festival possible. Our town owes her and Gerald a great deal of thanks. I doubt I can ever repay her for what she’s done for me. But what I can do is play my heart out for her whenever I get the opportunity.”
A musical feast for the ears from the 2002 B.B. King Blues Festival
article date: 09/06/2002
By Linda Maness – Journal Correspondent
MANCHESTER – The traditional “end of summer” saw a feast of musical talent play the blues on Labor Day at Riley Rink as the B.B. King Blues Festival concluded the 2002 Riley Summer Music Series.
On Sunday, Sept. 2 the “afternoon-into-the-evening” line-up of blues singers/guitarists included Shane Henry, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Susan Tedeschi and the indomitable B.B. King. A two-thirds capacity audience, some 2000 blues fans, sat inside and out on the lawn, contributing to a five-concert fund-raising effort which according to Bill Daiek, General Manager of Riley Rink, generated $300,000 for the Jonathan Levin Scholarship Fund, Riley Rink at Hunter Park, and additional beneficiaries including the Smokey House Center, Northshire Museum and History Center, and East Dorset Fire Department.
Gates opened at 2 p.m. and the lawn quickly filled will blues aficionados who brought blankets and snacks, planning for a long day’s journey into night of top quality music.
Seats in Riley Rink filled little by little, with some concert-goers sitting straight through and others arriving only in time for their favorite band of the line-up. The show got underway at 4 p.m., kicking off with Vermont’s own Chris Kleeman Band. Kleeman said afterwards that he was happy to play at the Blues Fest at Riley Rink and added that, “Things just keep happening for the Chris Kleeman Band. Claude Nobs likes what we do and that’s great for us”, said Bob Stannard.
Nobs, who is the founder of the Montreux Jazz Festival held annually in the summer in Switzerland, invited Kleeman to play at the Montreux Jazz Festival this past July.
Monday’s Blues Fest continued with touring guest artist, nineteen-year old Shane Henry.
The youngster of the line-up was followed by the popular Fabulous Thunderbirds, led by founding member Kim Wilson. Wilson mingled with concert-goers after his band’s set, signing autographs and chatting with fans. Blues Fest guest artist, Susan Tedeschi, took the stage around 7 p.m. and quickly treated the evening’s growing audience to her trademark, “It hurts, it hurts, it hurts so bad!” for which she received a standing ovation. Prior to the evening’s featured act, B.B. King, Riley Rink’s Daiek thanked all the Riley Rink staff and all the concert volunteers who had made the 2002 Riley Summer Music Series a success. He then thanked all the concert-goers who had made the summer music series a financial success. He then acknowledged audience member, and founder of the Montreux Jazz Festival, Claude Nobs.
Finally, Daiek gave his personal thanks to, “…my friend, and partner in B & B Productions for many years to come, Barbara Riley Levin.” Levin came to the stage to accept a bouquet of flowers and nodded in acceptance of the appreciative audience applause.
Without further ado, Daiek turned over the stage to the BB King and his blues band.
With the warmth of the summer’s afternoon already cooled off, B.B. King’s blues from the stage heated things up very quickly. King teased the audience, telling his band, “I can’t see the people so well, but I can hear them.” With “Lucille” in hand, King delighted the audience with his signature soulful guitar playing, as everyone’s attention hung on every rift and every uttered syllable. Playing a “little Manchester blues”, B.B. King sent a message to concert-goers, “I’m from the old-school and every once in a while I have to shake something,” which received a roar of approval from the crowd. He responded, “At my age, it’s good to exercise.” As the concert came to a close and blues fans made there way out, a common thought could be heard out loud, “Wonder who the 2003 Riley Summer Music Series will bring to our Manchester backyard!”