This queen of blue-eyed rock n’ soul, who grew up loving equally the sweetness of a Memphis horn line and the raunch of an electric guitar riff, whether played by Muddy Waters, Keith Richards, or Pop Staples, teased her blonde hair into a beehive in honor of Ronnie Spector and never looked back, picking up a guitar and forging a career as a songwriter in the process. She’s the current, long-time vocalist with the Saturday Night Live Band (SNL40’s anniversary post-show concert also featured her star turn onstage with Jimmy Fallon, Elvis Costello and the B-52s), whose latest CD, The Deep End, was honored on five national Top Ten lists and features special guests/duet partners Ian Hunter, Dion DiMucci, and Marshall Crenshaw, plus Levon Helm, GE Smith, Andy York, Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, Catherine Russell, Big Al Anderson, and others. Ohlman topped the Alternate Root.com’s Readers’ Poll as top Americana vocalist, joining other winners Paul Thorn, The Mavericks and Rodney Crowell.
Ohlman’s legendary voice and stage presence (she’s known as “The Beehive Queen” for her towering blonde hairdo) have most recently been featured at the 2016 AMA Conference in Nashville; The PBS series “Music City Roots” with Bonnie Bramlett, Sarah Potenza and the McCrary Sisters during June, 2016; 2016 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival’s Tribute To David Bowie; on numerous guest vocal shots on the HBO series “Vinyl" that feature a duet with Elvis Costello; on SNL’s 40th Anniversary telecast (pulled onstage by Jimmy Fallon at the after-party concert at the Plaza Hotel, she tore the roof off with the B52s as her backup vocalists), “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” (guest shot with Black 47); the 2012 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Concert in Cleveland (filmed by HBO); the Carnegie Hall tribute to the Rolling Stones; the 2012, 2013 and 2015 Little Kids Rock galas in NYC (taking the stage with Bruce Springsteen, Brian Wilson, Elvis Costello, Steve Miller, Graham Nash, Bill Medley, Tom Morello and others); and the 2012-2015 WC Handy Festivals (she was the special guest of the Blind Boys Of Alabama and soul queen Candi Staton, and helmed a sold-out tribute to legendary producer Jerry Wexler; in 2015 she was the festival’s Grand Marshall and co-billed with iconic guitarist Travis Wammack), as well as on both SNL’s 25th and the aforementioned 40th Anniversary telecasts; Bob Dylan’s 30th Anniversary bash at The Garden (with George Harrison, Chrissie Hynde, and others); the 2013 Obama Inaugural Gala in Washington, D.C.; The Lincoln Center “American Songbook” series with Sting, Lou Reed and Van Dyke Parks; and the Central Park Summerstage Tribute To Janis Joplin (where she fronted both Big Brother & The Holding Company and the Kozmic Blues Band).
She appears on Grammy nominees A Tribute To Howlin’ Wolf (with Taj Mahal and Lucinda Williams) and Charlie Musselwhite’s One Night In America (with Marty Stuart); sings the theme song for NBC’s 30 Rock; worked on a musical with the late Cy Coleman (who compared her sense of timing to Peggy Lee’s); duets live with friends like the aforementioned Miss Spector, Mac Rebennack (two private evening of duets she calls “absolute highlights”), Americana stalwart Paul Thorn, Bonnie Bramlett (who has become a longtime friend), Muscle Shoals legends Donnie Fritts and John Paul White of the Civil Wars, and New Orleans mainstays The Subdudes (she joins The ‘Dudes, BB King, Irma Thomas, Richard Thompson and others on Get You A Healin’ to benefit the New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic and has guest-hosted five editions of “Down On The Bayou” during successive Jazz & Heritage Fests with Widespread Panic’s JoJo Hermann, again to benefit The Clinic); worked often with the late blues giants Hubert Sumlin and Eddie Kirkland; collaborated on critically-acclaimed tracks with Marshall Crenshaw (Labour Of Love: The Music of Nick Lowe), Big Al Anderson (Pawn Shop Guitars), and Ian Hunter (When I’m President and Shrunken Heads); edited legendary Rolling Stones producer Andrew Loog Oldham’s autobiography 2Stoned and appears also on Oldham’s historic 2013 release “Andrew Loog Oldham and Friends Sing The Rolling Stones Songbook Vol. 2”). A musicologist of note, Ohlman is a cover-story-writing contributor to Elmore Magazine, and worked with Bonnie Raitt, Ry Cooder & others on the Rhythm & Blues Foundation Awards.
Ohlman tours relentlessly, torching clubs up and down the Eastern Seaboard in support of her recordings (Strip, The Hard Way, Radio Queen, Wicked Time, 2008 career retrospective Re-Hive, the aforementioned The Deep End, 2011 concert DVD Live Hive and 2016’s upcoming “The Grown-Up Thing” with her band Rebel Montez (Michael Colbath-bass; Cliff Goodwin-guitar; Larry Donahue-drums).
“I’ve come here tonight to set your souls on fire,” she’ll tell an audience. And she will.
The heart of Christine Ohlman has belonged to rock n’ roll from just about the moment she could walk and talk. By the time she traveled from Boston to New York on an overnight train to make her first record at the age of 16, writing the “B” side on the way to the studio (that “B” side. “I Don’t Know Why,” was reissued in 2012 in the UK as a part of a Mainstream Records compilation All Kinds Of Highs on the Ace label), she was already a veteran of the local coffeehouse circuit around New Haven, Connecticut. “Bob Shad, the owner of Mainstream, flew down from New York City to hear the band; he signed us the same day,” she says. “We were in the studio practically before we knew what hit us recording a version of Al Kooper’s ‘Wake Me, Shake Me.’ The next thing we knew, we were on the charts and I was in heaven!”
Christine was a founding member of The Scratch Band, legendary throughout the Northeast for their incendiary and eclectic live shows, and her stark, piano-accompanied version of Dusty Springfield’s “I Only Want To Be With You” from their first LP was a turntable hit in the U.K. A portion of The Scratch Band reunited in the studios of NBC’s Saturday Night Live with Christine joining guitarist/vocalist/musical director G.E. Smith and bassist Paul Ossola, both former Scratch Band members, in the SNL band. Ohlman has now been the featured vocalist with the SNL Band for 23 years, appearing on both the 25th and recent 40th Anniversary SNL telecasts; in addition, SNL40’s post-show concert also featured her star turn onstage with Jimmy Fallon (pulled onstage by Fallon at the Plaza Hotel, Ohlman was treated to Elvis Costello and the B-52s joining her as back-up vocalists). At one show, the 11-member SNL Band, featuring in its repertoire a heavy dose of Christine’s favorite music—southern soul—took the stage (joined by Ry Cooder, Steve Cropper and Maceo Parker) as the house band for The Rhythm & Blues Foundation Pioneer Awards, a performance that was, in Ohlman’s words, “just about the biggest flat-out thrill of my life. We were doing ‘Tell Mama’ and I looked around to catch Steve Cropper’s eye only to spot Clarence Carter, who wrote the song, standing in the wings waiting to come on. I thought—well, it just doesn’t get much better than this” (although she admits that the 2012 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction in Cleveland, where she was part of the house band, 2003 Central Park Summerstage Tribute To Janis Joplin, where she fronted both Big Brother & The Holding Company and the Kozmic Blues Band, and the Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Tribute Concert, where she sang with George Harrison, among others, edge out everything for sheer historical vibe).
Ohlman topped the Alternate Root.com’s Readers’ Poll as top Americana vocalist, joining other winners Paul Thorn, The Mavericks and Rodney Crowell. While touring and recording with Christine Ohlman & Rebel Montez are the main focus, she has numerous all-star concert appearances to her credit, including numerous guest vocal shots on the HBO series “Vinyl” that feature a duet with Elvis Costello; the 2016 AMA Conference in Nashville; The PBS series “Music City Roots” with Bonnie Bramlett, Sarah Potenza and the McCrary Sisters during June, 2016; the 2016 New Orleans Jazz Festival’s Tribute To David Bowie; aforementioned 2012 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction; “The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon”; the 2012 Carnegie Hall Tribute to the Rolling Stones (where she appeared with Ian Hunter); the 2012 & 2013 Little Kids Rock NYC tributes, on stage with Bruce Springsteen, Brian Wilson, Steve Miller, Tom Morello, Bill Medley, and Elvis Costello; the Lincoln Center “American Songbook” Series (with Sting and Lou Reed); the 2013 Obama Inaugural Gala; “Celebrate Brooklyn’s” Tribute to Bill Withers (with Nona Hendryx and My Morning Jacket’s Jim James) and recent sit-ins with Ronnie Spector, Mac Rebennack (two evenings of solo duets that she calls “some of the highlights of my life”), Muscle Shoals icons Donnie Fritts and John Paul White of the Civil Wars at NYC’s Public Theatre, Bonnie Bramlett, soul queen Candi Staton, and the Blind Boys of Alabama, historic sit-ins at the 2012 & 2014 WC Handy Festival in Muscle Shoals, Alabama and Ohlman’s sold-out 2013 Handy Fest Tribute To Jerry Wexler; in 2015 Ohlman was the fest’s Grand Marshall and teamed with iconic guitarist Travis Wammack), and a host of New Orleans legends at six sold-out editions of “Down On The Bayou” during successive years of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Ohlman of course continues to perform with the SNL Band, appearing on the aforementioned 40th Anniversary broadcast and with Al Green on the show’s 25th Anniversary Special as well as in hilarious commercial parodies like “Carter n’ Sons Barbeque.” She is a sought-after studio guest vocalist, appearing on 2013’s “Andrew Loog Oldham & Friends Sing The Rolling Stones Songbook Vol. 2,” a historic release (chosen by Little Stephen’s Underground Garage as “2013’a Coolest Record Of The Year”) by the legendary Rolling Stones producer (a close friend and himself a 2014 inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame); Ian Hunter’s latest, When I’m President, as well as 2007’s Shrunken Heads; Big Al Anderson’s Pawn Shop Guitars; and three CDs by esteemed Irish punk group Black 47 including their latest, “Last Call”. Labor of Love: The Music Of Nick Lowe features her vocal collaboration with Marshall Crenshaw on Lowe’s “Cruel To Be Kind.” And her commitment to the blues runs deep, as her scorching duets with the late Eddie Kirkland on his CD’s Where You Get Your Sugar and Lonely Street; her guest-shots with Charlie Musselwhite on his Grammy-nominated One Night In America; and her appearance on the Songs Of Willie Dixon (with Sonny Landreth & Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown) and Grammy nominee A Tribute To Howlin’ Wolf (with Taj Mahal & Lucinda Williams) give statement. In 2011 she contributed vocals to Mac Rebennack’s BP oil spill saga, “All Washed Up.”
Dedication to preserving the soul in rock n’ roll has been the hallmark of Christine’s work from the days of The Scratch Band through a stint with Christine Ohlman and The Soul Rockers to her present band Christine Ohlman & Rebel Montez’ (Cliff Goodwin-guitars, Michael Colbath-bass, Larry Donahue-drums; original guitarist Eric Fletcher passed away in May, 2006). Her earliest idols were Etta James, Ray Charles, and Jackie Wilson. “My mom taught me to love those artists,” says Christine. “When she was growing up she used to frequent Cafe Society in New York City to hear Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Lena Horne. I just naturally picked up on blues and jazz through her. Then of course there was Elvis, and Jerry Lee, and the artists on Stax and Atlantic. At some point I also began to listen heavily to Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Elmore James. So my songwriting reflects influences old and new. I always tend to lean toward wild guitar bands—you know, the ‘crazies’.” (Ohlman continues this fascination with musical tradition via her work as a music writer and musicologist. She was an original editor of the All-Music Guide, edited Andrew Loog Oldham’s autobiography 2Stoned, and is a cover-story-writing contributor to Elmore Magazine)
Ohlman’s six CDs with Rebel Montez are The Hard Way, Radio Queen, Wicked Time, Strip, 2008 career retrospective Re-Hive, and 2010’s The Deep End, her first CD of new material in five years. Co-produced by Andy York (John Mellencamp), it features duets with Ian Hunter, Dion DiMucci, and Marshall Crenshaw and guest shots by Levon Helm, Big Al Anderson, G.E. Smith, Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, and others. The Deep End was honored on four national 2010 Top Ten lists. In July, 2011, Ohlman & Rebel Montez released their first concert DVD, Live Hive. She is currently at work on “The Grown-Up Thing” projected for 2016 release.
No stranger to tragedy, Ohlman suffered, in addition to the loss of longtime musical collaborator Fletcher, the death in 2005 of her mate and producer of more than 25 years, Doc Cavalier. Re-Hive is dedicated to his memory (as The Deep End is to Fletcher’s). Following Cavalier’s passing, she produced a now legendary memorial concert that featured 26 acts and nearly 100 musicians pivotal to the professional life she shared with him. “This is a time of reordering in my life,” she said recently. “There are no words to describe the empty spaces left by these losses. I feel I honor the memory of Doc and Eric by creating, by writing, and by performing. It hasn’t been easy by any means. But friends and fellow musicians have been extraordinary in their generosity and support. Michael Colbath, Larry Donahue, Cliff Goodwin and I look forward to the next record and to future collaborations.” Ohlman says, “The songs on The Deep End deal, in some ways, with the subject of loss, but much more importantly with the ways that love intersects with life to bring a kind of joy into one’s heart that is sometimes bittersweet.”
With her trademark mile-high platinum beehive hairdo and enviable collection of sequins and rhinestones, Ohlman looks like a lady to be reckoned with, and when she opens her mouth to sing, the truth comes out. But underneath it all lurks a no-frills approach to music. In her own words—”I give it to an audience straight, which is the way I like it myself. Yes, I like to shout, and I like to croon, and I love to wail. I just need to get in the groove and rock---not think too much about it– tear it up or soothe it over. I’ve loved rock n’ roll since I was a little girl, and I’ll love it forever. It’s my greatest kick and my greatest privilege to be able to get up on a stage and rip it apart. That’s rock n’ roll to me. I’m here to set your soul on fire.”
Cliff Goodwin - Lead Guitar
Cliff Goodwin, a native son of Worcester, MA, came up, as a founding member, with legendary New England rock n' roll gods The American Standard Band, appearing on their self-titled LP. In 1976, he answered the call to become Joe Cocker’s lead guitarist, where he stayed until 1988, sharing the stage with Nicky Hopkins and Bobby Keyes; recording Luxury You Can Afford (Asylum), Cocker (Capitol), Live In Central Park (Casablanca), Standing Here, and Live in Montreaux (famously appearing on singles like “Leave Your Hat On” and Grammy-winner “Up Where We Belong”); and cementing his reputation as an musical director par excellence when he assumed that role for Cocker upon joining the band. Along the way, Cliff worked with John Mayall, Steve Miller, and Robert Palmer, appearing on Palmer’s Secrets, (and, again famously, on singles “Bad Case Of Loving You” and “Suspicion”), three Billboard Hot 100-charted singles with the New City Rockers, and the million-seller Twisted Christmas with The Bob Rivers Comedy Corporation.
Goodwin is profiled in the Sept. 2013 issue of Vintage Guitar Magazine. His ongoing tenure as MD and lead guitarist with David Foster & The Mohegan Sun All-Stars has brought him to stages across the country with Delbert McClinton, BB King, and other notables of the blues world. Goodwin’s production projects have taken him most recently to Amsterdam, and he continues a career as a sought-after sideman both on-stage and in-studio. Additionally, he consults with the Bose Corporation as Musical Director for Research and Development for the new L-1 Amplification Speaker System and leads the band that demos the system worldwide.
Goodwin stepped seamlessly into the musical shoes of Eric Fletcher (1954-2006), Rebel Montez’s charter member and guitarist, who passed away suddenly in May, 2006, bringing with him, then and now, a wealth of musical knowledge and a rock n' roll sensibility that is soulful, fresh and inspiring.
Cliff Goodwin endorses Yamaha guitars and Moerite amplifiers.
Michael Colbath - Bass Guitar
Michael started out a jazz freak, and in many ways it's still his first love. But from the time he picked up his first bass to the present, his interest in music has been truly global. Mike got his start working out with R'n'B soul groups in Hartford's North End and continued to cut his teeth on the Hartford scene with the Hibachi Brothers, a World Beat band, while at the same time playing with a succession of jazz combos.
Known as "The Buddah Of The Bass" for his unflappable Zen-trance stage presence, Colbath goes to the well of Duck Dunn, James Jamierson, and John Paul Jones for inspiration. He says, "Playing with Christine allows me to work on music in an original context, which is very gratifyng to me as a musician." Michael brings many influences to his playing style and bass lines and a spark that few can match when he straps on his axe.
Larry Donahue - Drums and Percussion
The heartbeat of the Rebel Montez sound resides within the heart, hands, and feet of Larry Donahue. Joining up after a stint in LA's turbulent music scene, Donahue brings to the band an unshakeable sense of timing and a musical sensibility that is open to a world of inspiration, from the elegant Stax stylings of Al Jackson, Jr. through the garage/rockabilly madness of Travis Wamack's "Scratchy" and Frank Kirkland's jungle-drum excursions with Bo Diddley.
In addition to his recordings with Christine Ohlman & Rebel Montez, Larry guests with Lucinda Williams on 1998's Grammy-nominated A Tribute To Howlin' Wolf. Donahue's motto of "Have Drums, Will Groove," is borne out every time he picks up a pair of sticks.
Chris Bickley (Touring Lead Guitar)
The “man in the black cowboy hat,” Chris Bickley--a proud native son of Chapin, South Carolina--joined Rebel Montez on the road in 2010, firing up main stages from The Rochester Jazz Festival to MusikFest and beyond. Chris’s instrumental album Tapestry Of Souls (featuring Outloud/Talon vocalist Chandler Mogel, Mike Vescera, Dino Fiorenza and other guests) made Hard Rock Haven’s Top Ten best albums of 2012. He is a contributing member of Southern rock band Thunderhead; also look for his guitar playing on R&B sensation Arika Kane’s debut album (charting #69 on Billboard’s Hot 100). He brings fire, passion, and a great sense of wit and humor to life on tour.
Chris uses Randall Amps, Rick Hanes Guitars, Modtone Effects, and InTune Guitar Picks.
Eric Fletcher, 1954 - 2006: A Personal Remembrance
On Saturday, May 27, 2006, the members of the band assembled on the beach in Madison, Connecticut at one of our favorite hangouts, the Wharf, for what was to be a Memorial Day blowout. Eric Fletcher, with whom Michael Colbath and I have worked for the past 22 years, and Larry Donahue for the past 11, was late--very unlike Eric. As time rolled on we became increasingly concerned and began searching for reasons. We found there were no traffic tie-ups, no evidence of an accident on the road. We called the hospital in his home town and, finally, the police, asking them to go to Eric’s home. There, they found him. He’d quietly slipped away, apparently in his sleep. Just like that. Our friend, gone.
Eric was first and foremost a gentleman, and a gentle man. He was also a great, inventive guitar player, totally dedicated to his craft, steeped in the lifestyle, way into it, which is the only way to be if you’re truly “in” it.--and he was. He let the guitar do the talking, which, in our business, earns you respect. He had that, from Michael, Larry, and myself--his musical brothers and sister--and from the many, many fans, fellow musicians, and admirers who dug his playing and his stage presence, honoring him with the nickname “The Blonde God.”
Remember our brother, who has left us so soon.
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