Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Talkin' Neil and Bob with Bill Maxwell of Cowboy Angel Blue

Earlier this fall I heard some people from the Duluth Dylan Days team talking with unrestrained enthusiasm about a group that was playing in Superior called Cowboy Angel Blue. I was out of town that weekend, and as luck would have it, the following month I was again out of town on other business. This past week I was reminded that John Bushey, host of KUMD's Highway 61 Revisited, and some others would be heading to VIP Pizza on Tower Avenue in Superior to hear Cowboy Angel Blue as they were back in town. This time, I had the good fortune of checking in and checking them out. I was not disappointed.

Bill Maxwell under the lights.
Their first set began with I Walk the Line and included a whole lot of Neil Young and Dylan favorites including Old Man, You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go, Ramona, Heart of Gold, Forever Young and Buckets of Rain among others. At which point I stopped my note taking and just enjoyed the music.

James Paavala, who has been a cement finisher much of his career, now makes music for a living. Bill Maxwell, originally from Fargo, is an attorney by day in Virginia, MN.

Ennyman: How long has Cowboy Angel Blue been performing together? And tell us a little about the band.
Bill Maxwell: James Paavala and and I have been playing together since late fall 2003--a bar owner in Virginia asked if her two favorite guitar players/singers could play together one night. It went well with no rehearsal--we knew a lot of the songs we both did and started playing jobs as they came up. We didn't start calling ourselves Cowboy Angel Blue until about a year or two later--I was playing benefits and church services with another group called Bill Maxwell and Friends (not my idea for the name). I wanted a way to distinguish the two groups which has not been entirely successful to this day.

James has a unique lead/rhythm style that sounds very full and lively and I believe fits well with what we do. About 7 years ago, John Ely joined us on steel guitar and plays with us when the money is there for a 3 piece. John is a world class steel guitarist (toured with Asleep at the Wheel for over 8 years) who is very versatile on the steel--can play it as a bass/rhythm instrument as well as a solo instrument.

EN: Where does the name Cowboy Angel Blue come from?
Bill Max: I first came in contact with the name Cowboy Angel Blue from Dylan's book "Tarantula" which I believe is the title of a chapter in that book. Later I became aware of a bootleg album of his called "Cowboy Angel Blues." Something about those words together caught my fancy and I had it in my head that if I ever had the right group I would like it to be called Cowboy Angel Blue. (I remember discussions at some point in my life regarding the phonoaesthetics of the words "cellar door" and it seems Cowboy Angel Blue had some hold over me for a similar reason.

EN: Why the fascination with sharing Neil Young and Bob Dylan songs?
Bill Max: I think the fascination with Neil Young and Bob Dylan comes from the songs both these artists have created. They evoke in us performing them -- and to the right audience listening -- a shared experience, thought or emotion that affirms what we consider to be important as being human.

EN: You must get asked this a lot: what is your favorite Dylan album?
Bill Max: My favorite Dylan album is "Blood on the Tracks"- and in general I like his songs about relationships and dealing with or observing inevitable change in life--be it love, art, politics, or religion.

James Paavala (left) does some nice work on the blues harp as well.
EN: Dylan songs that most significantly speak to you personally would include...
Bill Max: The songs of Dylan that speak to me as I write this are You're a Big Girl Now, My Back Pages, Tangled Up in Blue, Tomorrow is a Long Time, Desolation Row (MTV unplugged version), Shelter from Storm, Sweetheart Like You, I and I, It's All Over Now, Baby Blue, All Along Watchtower, Idiot Wind, Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again.

EN: When’s your next gig in the Twin Ports? 
Bill Max: Upcoming dates around Duluth are...
December 27--Beaners w/John Ely and Bill Bulinksi on bass/guitar (birthday party for Lisa Radosovich Craig) 7-10pm
December 28--Players, 8-12pm
VIP Pizza-Superior: January 24, February 14, March 14, April 11, and May 9; 8-11pm

EdNote: Mark your calendars and check 'em out. 

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