Knock, knock, NAT: Miles Nielsen’s a-rockin’!

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-115514328115591.jpg’, ‘Image from video by Pablo Korona (’, ‘H.M.S.’s Miles Nielsen (left) and The Wandering Sons’ Cory Chisel conclude the two bands’ jam before the closing number July 8 at New American Theater.’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-115514329916604.jpg’, ‘Image from video by Pablo Korona (’, ‘As a final encore and special performance, Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen (left) and Bun E. Carlos (center, on drums) join The Wandering Sons (Cory Chisel pictured).’);

The Wandering Sons, H.M.S., The Elanors bring innovative sound to New American Theater Aug. 12

A new trick was played at New American Theater July 8, and this innovation is occurring again Aug. 12, this Saturday.

Rockford’s Miles Nielsen and his band, H.M.S., shared the stage with Appleton, Wis.’s The Wandering Sons for a two-and-a-half hour concert at New American Theater. Yes, the house that Jim Sullivan built for theater hosted a great living room-style concert, and the music and room were movin’!

The concert culminated with both bands on stage for a wild jam, and then Rick Nielsen (Miles’ father) and Bun E. Carlos of Cheap Trick sat in with The Wandering Sons to close the show.

Paralleling the sharing of a venue with music at the old Charlotte’s Web, Sullivan would have been proud of Nielsen’s attendance achievement. NAT seats 286. Nielsen and friends brought in 270 music lovers of all ages to hear H.M.S.’s Beatlesesque sound with Nielsen’s soaring vocals and The Sons’ bohemian folk with a gospel spirit.

Many people from many different walks of life and age groups sang the show’s praises. Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey enjoyed the show from the front row. Kathy and Bill Scarpaci beamed with pride at their son Andy’s performance. Veteran musicians Jodi Beach, Jim McDowell, Bill Olson, Mickey Rosenquist and his wife Dana were all impressed. Judge Rosemary Collins and her husband, attorney Paul Gaziano, were all smiles. Noted photographer Mike Graham (who has been kind enough to provide some shots for The Wandering Sons) and his brother, graphic designer Jay Graham, had a good time, too. Doc Slafkosky and Jerry Kortman bestowed their downtown-pioneering approval, as did former City of Rockford Community Development Director Diane Voneda. Pablo Korona was shooting the show, and all of Mark Muraski’s cousins added to the many teen-agers in the audience.

The lineup for H.M.S. is very strong: Miles Nielsen, lead guitar, vocals, megaphone (yes, megaphone; you’ll have to see it); Mark Muraski, rhythm guitar, harmony vocals, slide whistle; Tony Berkman, drums; Jim Westin, keyboards, harmony vocals; and Andy Scarpaci on bass and harmony vocals. Their Web site,, says they “owe as much to The Kinks and Elvis Costello as they do to any great band you catch accidentally for the first time of a Friday night somewhere in the Midwest.”

Maybe you’ve seen Nielsen’s solo shows with Westin or the band at Paragon, Krypto or Brio Restaurant, Wine Bar and Patio. If you haven’t, you’ve missed how strong Nielsen’s vocals have become. He attributes that to “more time in the studio, where I can really hear myself.” His compositions have fine melody lines and great hooks, with “Little Sister” and “Sugaree” being prime examples. The band works very well together, with Muraski providing nuanced accents, plus Berkman and Scarpaci’s strong back line and Westin’s effortless flow on the keys. As Bun E. Carlos said enthusiastically during intermission, “They sound like a real band!” Besides H.M.S.’s Winter EP ‘05, they have a new effort out, just ready for you to buy on their Web site.

You’ll also want to buy into The Wandering Sons—everybody at the show did. The band glows like a throwback to a 1950s, pared-down roadhouse band, with influences of big-band swing and John Lee Hooker on gospel.

On lead vocals and acoustic guitar, songwriter Cory Chisel proudly proclaimed his father was a Baptist minister, and then said of guest guitarist Stu Johnson of The Pimps, “That’s the toughest man I’ve ever seen in a kitty shirt,” adding Stu would readily wield a beer bottle in a bar fight.

Complete with a Dean Martin-type brim, Chisel is “The Man” of The Sons, with his slow acoustic guitar lead-ins to many songs and smoky vocals. They reflect the band’s influences as listed on their profile: “Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, John Hammond Jr., Howlin’ Wolf and Sidney Bechet.”

Rick Nielsen offers quite a compliment to Chisel’s pipes on The Son’s Web site: “This is some great stuff. Not since I first heard Robin Zander, many years and millions of records ago, have I been so knocked out by a voice.”

Adam Plaman adds the voice of his clarinet to help define the uniqueness of The Sons; it’s a swing thing with jazz that can also float a softly dark mood or raucously rock it up.

Dan McMahon’s guitar and accordion are another moody jump and more than respectable, as are the rhythm combo of Rick Sester on bass and Simon Nielsen (he’s not related to Rick, Karen, Miles or Daxx) on drums.

The size of the house was one reason Miles Nielsen picked NAT: “It wasn’t so big. Rockford has a history of not showing up for things. With the sight lines in NAT, there’s not a bad seat in the house. The quiet was a major ingredient. In other venues, there’s people talking, or TVs on and smoking. The listening is so important. I’ve had other people tell me it’s the best show they’ve seen in Rockford in 15 years. I don’t know if it is because people set their expectations so low, or people who are into music leave town and go to Madison or Chicago. People who told me it was the best show they’d seen in 15 years had never even seen our band before, so they didn’t have a preconceived notion that they liked or didn’t like about our music. That really impressed me. It was like having a sandwich with everything on it, if you like that sort of thing.”

The Dagwood served up at NAT was praised by many as an original idea, and those who attended said the show was like a living room concert.

Nielsen agreed: “We’ve had late-night concerts at our recording studio with about 20 people, and we wanted to recreate that.”

Nielsen is doing quite a bit of creating in his Mid-Town District recording studio—FUSE—the name of the late 1960s band made up of Craig Myers, Joe Sundberg, Tom Petersson and Rick Nielsen, which produced a fine Sony/Epic Records disk by the same name. FUSE was a precursor to Cheap Trick, as were The Sick Man of Europe, The Grim Reapers and Phaetons.

Happily carrying on the explosive energy of his father, Miles and Mark Muraski have been producing and recording a variety of work for two years. Along with tracks for H.M.S., The Carolinas, Cowboy Sweetheart, and Rockfordian Mark Willer, FUSE has mixed the Colbert Report’s theme song’s intro and outro, which is a Cheap Trick original. FUSE has also recorded guitar parts for ESPN’s Monday Night Football. Little Stevie put together the band for the jingle, including Joe Perry and Bootsie Collins. Add in more commercial audio for Rockford Airport, Rockford RiverHawks, Rockford Lightning and the Morrissey mayoral campaign, and the achievements really stack up. For more about the studio’s rates, equipment and contact info, visit them on the Web at

FUSE’s latest project is The Wandering Sons’ new CD, Little Bird. Previously, the Sons have produced an EP, Darken Your Door, which was also recorded live at FUSE. That EP has received airplay on the Local Anesthetic show with DJ Richard Milne of Chicago’s WXRT-93.1 FM, and their “music has been added to the new Einstein Wireless MP3 phones. For more information, visit,” according to the “News” update on The Sons’ Web site. Also noted there, they received airplay and an interview on Chicago Public Radio/NPR, and their single, “If You Come Home,” has been airing nationally in a Jimmy John’s commercial. Google “The Wandering Sons,” and you can come up with reviews, photos, blog comments and videos of them streaming on many Web sites. One of the most notable is; wait until you see the company they keep there!

Besides playing Chicago venues like The Double Door and The Mill, for the show July 15 with the Cowboy Junkies at Morton Arboretum in Lyle, Ill., the

band sold more than 100 copies of their EP, “which is impressive for an opening band,” Miles Nielsen said.

Yes, quite a few people are talking about The Wandering Sons. Part of the buzz comes from the news of who is playing on the upcoming Little Bird.

Cheap Trick’s drummer, Bun E. Carlos, is adding his legendary talent to the effort. In 1980, Carlos and Rick Nielsen played on John Lennon’s Double Fantasy. Their track was not on the original release, but it was released a few years ago by Yoko Ono. Carlos has also played for Alice Cooper, Jim Peterik’s World Stage (along with Rick Nielsen), Bun E. Carlos Experience, Live Bait, Bare Bones, H.M.S. and produced the Blues Hawks.

Another man of his roots, Auggie Meyers, of the Tex-Mex Texas Tornados with Doug Sahm, Freddie Fender and Flaco Jimenez, has agreed to play the Hammond organ, Fender Rhodes keyboard, piano and accordion for Little Bird, at FUSE. Miles Nielsen said some tracks are already down. Meyers has also played with Bob Dylan, Tom Waits and John Hammond.

Miles Nielsen is excited about the national depth of his and Muraski’s efforts at FUSE, and he should be. That kind of quality is exactly what Rockford needs to progress. He is a project-oriented fellow. “Next, H.M.S. and The Wandering Sons do the new show at NAT, Saturday, Aug. 12 at 8 p.m.,” he said.

Even the folks who went to the last show will want to go to this new twist. “It’s a little more Storyteller-ish, like a VH1 storytelling,” said Nielsen. “What the songs mean, and where they originated from. There’ll be different set lists from each band with newer songs. There will be some guest appearance, but that’s up in the air. We know members of Cheap Trick will be in town that day. Some other guests will be there, too. The Elanors from Champaign/Detroit/Chicago, will open the show with intro music as everyone filters into the theater.”

The idea of booking NAT came from Miles’ thought process by dreaming of putting on a show in town that nobody’s seen. Nielsen said: “I knew the Coronado was too big. I knew the Times Theater was closed. I knew the Midway was too big, and anywhere else there was the distraction of either alcohol, TVs and cigarettes, too. So I thought, well, I’ve never heard of anybody playing at NAT. What a perfect room. There’s not a bad seat in the house, and it holds just shy of 300 people. It was interesting booking the room. In a roundabout way, we were able to have Tony Vezner, the NAT director, come by the studio and listen to some of the music that was recorded and produced at the FUSE for H.M.S. and The Wandering Sons. That persuaded him to let us book two nights at the theater. It was a great place to play the first time, and I’m excited for the second show. I wish we could do it every two months throughout the year. I hope to see everyone there. Keep in mind it could sell out because it’s reserved seating,” he said.

By the way, back from L.A. and touring with surf-guitar legend Dick Dale, Miles’ brother, Daxx Nielsen, will be sitting in on drums for The Wandering Sons for this show—and who knows who else might show up? How about you?

From the Aug. 9-15, 2006, issue

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