Radoslav Lorkovic is a world class musician and one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. I had a chance to talk with Rad at the Mississippi Valley Blues Festival in Davenport Iowa.
Billy Rose: Rad great to see you again! Thanks for sitting down and talking to me.
Radoslav Lorkovic: Yeah, no problem. Good to see you too.
Billy Rose: So you were born in Croatia, correct?
Radoslav Lorkovic: I was, yes.
Billy Rose: So how old were you when you moved to the United States?
Radoslav Lorkovic: I was six.
Billy Rose: Were you into music at that time?
Radoslav Lorkovic: Well I had this tiny little transistor radio. When I was seven I was poolside at our apartment in Saint Paul, Minnesota. There was this pop radio station WDGY, I would listen to the station all day, all summer. I was just little then, but I started buying records when I moved to Iowa City. I started figuring stuff out and started singing and playing.
Billy Rose: So as I understand it you were into classical music as a kid is that right?
Radoslav Lorkovic: Well it was expected of me to be a classical pianist. I was surrounded by it. My grandmother was the premier pianist in our country for a number of years. About three decades. She toured all over the world, had quite a recording career. She was a professor of piano as well. So that was a huge influence. The more hands on grandma was on my mom’s side. Her father was a conductor of the opera in Slovenia. She was a singer; she taught me how to sing. I was surrounded by serious music from birth.
My hands first hit the piano when I was about seven years old. But I was sorta happening. The music wheels were turning. I hit the ground running. I started out playing classical. In the tenth grade this buddy of mine had this blues scale. I took in this blues scale, this little left hand bass pattern. Well there went four or five hours a day after that. I couldn’t stay out of it. Then another buddy of mine took me to a Grateful Dead concert. After that we put a band together and we worked up pretty much every tune on Europe ’72 (laughs). Off we went to the races. A while after that I started playing around town and Bo Ramsey came by and said he was putting a band together. There went about fourteen years right there (laughs).
Billy Rose: How did you meet Bo Ramsey?
Radoslav Lorkovic: That was a serious, serious evening. I was doing a gig at The Sanctuary having a good time. All of a sudden this really serious looking cat comes in. He had a shark skin suit on, looked like a mob guy. He was hanging at the bar. The odd thing is that like a week or two before I heard the whole story about Mother Blues Band breaking up. I heard it was really heavy and got real intense. I heard all the different versions of it and everything. So here’s this guy and he says (in a soft deep voice) “My names Bob Ramsey and I’m putting a band together”. I said oh you’re that guy from Mother Blues. “Yeah, yeah right. Listen man I want you to come to a rehearsal in Washington (Iowa) tomorrow”, I said I can’t tomorrow man I got a date (laughs). He got a little pissed off and said “well alright come the next night” (laughs). It was heavy and it was serious (laughs). But I knew it was the best music I’d ever play. Then for a long time after that I was out on the road in a Dodge van, in the middle of winter going to all these clubs. The first gig was right here in the Quad Cities.
Billy Rose: Was that at the RKO Theatre?
Radoslav Lorkovic: That was our second gig (laughs). Now you’re talking a legendary gig there (laughs). That was a trip. We were opening for Head East.
Billy Rose: I was there. Pat Travers had cancelled.
Radoslav Lorkovic: Oh yeah it was…the whole thing was like out of Spinal Tap or something (laughs). Pat Travers cancels and Dwight Dario, our drummer, a Jersey guy, crazy little dude, gets the gig. Ramsey is a little skeptical, but we’re gonna go for it, It’s the RKO! Anyway Head East comes in and they got six semis. These union stage hands come in and say okay let’s bring in the opening act. They’re ready for like another six semi’s. We come in with one old ’68 white Dodge van. We unload about three twin reverbs and a couple Gibson guitars, a bass and there’s an old piano already there. This roadie says is that all you got (laughs). We set up and they couldn’t believe it (laughs).
The crowd was like…bloodlust…they wanted some metal. They wanted some movement in the air. We come in and da doomp da doomp da doomp da doomp (laughs). They are just confused…it’s like three thousand confused people. The front row was kinda groovin’. The back row is pissed off; they want to get their ass kicked. We were shufflin’ and groovin’. We survived but the back row were pissed off and throwing stuff at us. The front row was kinda like embarrassed to let the back row know that they dug us (laughs).
Billy Rose: It’s funny that you say that. I went with some friends and they were pissed that Pat Travers wasn’t there. They wanted to see Pat Travers more than they wanted to see Head East. That night I became a Bo Ramsey fan, and I still am today. As far as I’m concerned you guys kicked ass that night.
Radoslav Lorkovic: Right, right. Blues was relatively new on the scene at the time. Blues was something that was happening on the south side of Chicago. The Mississippi Valley Blues Fest was a long way from being started back then. It was much more of a regional thing.
Billy Rose: It was Bo Ramsey and the Third Street Slider’s right?
Radoslav Lorkovic: It was just The Third Street Slider’s at that time. We ran with that for a couple years. We took a little break and came back as Bo Ramsey and the Sliders. We did that for about three or four years and we were makin’ records.
That first record was an amazing experience for me. Basically I was just a kid in college. Bo Ramsey at every recording session he would bring me in and I’d just kind of hang back. Bo would look to me as a reference. I say yeah (gives thumbs up) or I’d say uh not so sure. We recorded Brand New Love in a really beautiful studio outside of Champaign Illinois. We were there off and on for the better part of a year working on that. We went on to record Feeling’s Getting Stronger and Northwind. Those last two title cuts were mine. Bo just pitched them as title cuts. I was pretty fortunate to have him do that. Feeling’s Getting Stronger was recorded in a very beautiful studio in Northwest Iowa. This band, they called themselves The Hawks. They got a big record deal. They got about a half a million bucks. They got invited to a major label and they built this studio. Then Northwind, we recorded in Cedar Falls. That studio went on to Slipknot fame.
Billy Rose: The Unidynes recorded both of their CD’s at Junior’s Motel up in Otho.
Radoslav Lorkovic: Oh did they! Yeah, Otho, Iowa. Then at night we went to Fort Dodge to hang out. We had some times (laughs).
Billy Rose: How did you hook up with Dave Moore?
Radolsav Lorkovic: Dave Moore…I think we became good friends when I borrowed some of his Flaco and Tex-Mex albums. I borrowed them and promptly lost them (laughs). For some reason we became buddies after that (laughs). We’d hang out. I was always checking out Greg Brown when I was a kid. He even had The Greg Brown Band. That was Greg Brown, Dave Moore, Chuck Hendersen and Mike Morris played drums. Greg asked me to sit in with them at a KUNI session. So I kinda sat in with the Greg Brown Band every now and then. So Dave Moore and I got to be friends and our friendship was really sealed when I was doing some gigs with Greg Brown in Austin and Dallas Texas. Dave Moore was on the bill at the Cactus Café in Austin. We ended up going over to Mexico. Those guys were all winding down and went to bed. Dave Moore and I went to Boys Town. That was the most surreal night of my life. It all started with this leather pearl accordion. These guys played accordion for a buck. You gave them a buck and they’d play a song. Dave Moore asked if he could play, ‘because he played that kind of accordion. He still had to pay him a buck even though Dave was doing the playing (laughs). Dave played and we kinda got in and they thought we were cool. So we started drinking this very interesting Tequila (laughs). And it just got stranger and stranger. Then not to long after that Dave invited me to play a gig with him on his Italian tour. His record Over My Shoulder on Red House Records was really doing well in Europe. I sat in on one gig and the promoter went crazy and added me to every gig.
When Dave was recording Over My Shoulder, he had these hot Minneapolis guys and he was kinda freaking out. He called me and said “Rad what ya doin’ “. I said I don’t know, watching basketball. “Get up here man; I need some of that Iowa City soul brother blood” (laughs). I drove up there and we finished out the record (laughs).
Billy Rose: Tell me about some of the other artists you’ve played with.
Radoslav Lorkovic: When I was over in Italy I started playing with a guy named Richard Shindell. He’s gone on the make a pretty big name for himself on the folk scene. Anyway he got me to pack up the Uhaul and go to New York City. My sister had a rent control apartment I shared with her. So, I’m in New York and I started doing gigs with Shindell, and I kind of connected with the whole east coast folk scene. I was playing some of the festivals up there.
Then I met this Texas guy, named Jimmy LaFave. He brought me down to Austin. I started working a lot out of Austin. I was with Jimmy LaFave’s band about four years. We did Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco and right after that we did a record (Cimarron Manifesto).
Then I joined the Ribbon of Highway Endless Skyway, a really amazing tribute to Woody Guthrie. That occasionally comes together and we play generally theaters.
It wasn’t long after that I got an e-mail and an offer to be Odetta’s pianist. That was a big step. It was a hell of an experience. I got to be her road piano player. I did most of her touring gigs for the last three years of her career. The last gig we did was in Toronto Canada. When she died it was a bummer. I was just starting to get the material (laughs) the pressure was starting to ease (laughs).
Billy Rose: I was talking to Vicki Price about Odetta. She was a huge Odetta fan.
Radoslav Lorkovic: It’s really cool talking to Vicki about Odetta. I’ve heard all these people say they started music after seeing The Beatles on Ed Sullivan. With Vicki it was after seeing Odetta on Ed Sullivan (laughs). That’s a great and wonderful thing. To get to have an experience like that.
I’ll tell ya, those shows I played with her…I can’t imagine any human being singing more powerful and any better than she did. I think that age improved her voice. Every show completely freaked me out. Not out of fear but out of wonder! I could never forget that grace, that elegance, how she looked on stage. She would look over at me extend her hand to mine and bow. It was just heavy, heavy stuff.
Billy Rose: You have played the Quad Cities, Iowa City, New York, Austin, Toronto and many points between. I even remember you playing in Clinton.
Radoslav Lorkovic: (laughs) Oh I’m gonna go out on a limb here. I might get in trouble, but it’s a cool Clinton moment (laughs). This very good and very kinda shrouded manager guy in Iowa City. When Clinton put on their first Jazz Festival. I was living in New York City. This guy in Iowa City billed me as this major New York City jazz guy (laughs). You know jazz/blues guy. It paid really well and I was in New York City (laughs). I played the gig and they had another band from Des Moines I think. I just tore it up, everybody loved me and they were hooting and hollering they figured I was a New York guy. I get done with the gig the people who put on the show where standing there and some guy yells hey Rad; you still up in Bellevue (laughs). They look at me and say “are you local” (laughs).
Billy Rose: That’s funny! People from around these parts always think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. They always look for musicians to bring in from outside this region.
Radoslav Lorkovic: I know it’s like that everywhere. That’s funny though.
Billy Rose: Right now you are based in Austin. You pop up here and there all around this area. Do you come back to Iowa often?
Radoslav Lorkovic: Well yeah. My girlfriend Sandy Dyas lives here. So I get back as much as I can. It was a real treat to be invited to appear at The Mississippi Valley Blues Fest this year. I’ve always loved and supported this fest. I was here last year in support of The Holmes Brothers. I wound up working with them for a couple weeks, through Odetta. I spent the most amazing two weeks of my life with them in Hawaii. The Holmes Brothers, Odetta and Marie Knight, a tribute to Sister Rosetta. It was an amazing revue show. Of course I became a Holmes Brother (laughs) after about twenty minutes. I became brother Radoslav Holmes (laughs).
Billy Rose: How about your newest CD, Blue Parade. How is that doing?
Radoslav Lorkovic: I don’t know, you just put these things out and they sell (laughs). When you go and play and turn the crowd on a little bit, they buy a CD. You know it’s always nice when you gotta re-order (laughs). The whole industry seems to be going that way. Put out a CD and sell it at your gigs.
Billy Rose: Are your earlier CD’s still available?
Radoslav Lorkovic: They are! Yep, they are available again. You can check that out at www.radoslavlorkovic.com.