Sure it's a cheesy cliché suggesting Andy Koch is feeling the blues because Southeast Alaska is going to the dogs. But, like his music, looking beyond the obvious is necessary to get the full tale.
Koch, a singer/instrumentalist from Bellingham, Wash., is raiding his "dog pound orchestra" and adding some local hounds for his eighth annual extended summer trip to the Alaska Panhandle. His band, the Badd Dog Blues Society, is scheduled to play most of next week in Juneau and the following weekend at the Southeast Alaska State Fair in Haines before going to Petersburg for what's become a yearly stint of several weeks.
"It was a stroke of luck, one of the luckiest things ever, getting hooked up in Southeast Alaska," Koch said. "My drummer (eight years ago) had family in Petersburg, and he dropped off a CD at a bar and the owner called me. I just about dropped the phone ... usually the routine is you have to pester them."
Koch said he's been looking to reach out to more Southeast communities since that first seven-week gig, that included stops in Juneau, with the Haines fair a new addition this year. The concept of branching out comes naturally, since it's a core element of his band's music and makeup, which Koch said "covers the range of human life."
"The blues a lot of people tend to think of as a downer - 'my heart is broken'," he said. "To me, the blues is about getting past the negative, and to me there's also 'I'm in a great mood and I'm going to tear up the town tonight.'"
It's also worth noting Koch is a clown and puppeteer who warps classic fairy tales with updated plots, such as "Snow White And The Three Dwarfs," since he can't play all seven, so a merry state of mind isn't a huge stretch. He's bringing some of that cast for a show at the Haines fair, plus some performances and workshops in Petersburg.
"It's audience participatory, so no two shows are ever the same," he said. "I actually encourage hecklers, to a point."
Koch has penned numerous originals during the band's 13-year existence, with some of his recent material including "Glitch and Glitter" (he said it's about "how showbiz looks all bright and beautiful, but often you end up sitting alone at end of the night") and "The Grass Is Always Greener" ("you jump, only to find out the place before was better").
"Alaska's been a great source of original material, from getting dumped long distance to the scenery and the people really being an inspiration," he said.
Koch, whose instrumental talents include guitar, harmonica and keyboards, started playing as a youth in Seattle and spent three years as a street musician between there and New York. He's ascended to a professional career featuring numerous associations with musicians such as Lee Oskar, Jim McLaughlin and Phil Wiggins.
His album credits include harmonica on Jumbalassy's "Live Jumbies" from 1994 and his band's "Howlin'" from 1999.
A large "kennel" of familiar and unfamiliar talent is tapped when Koch goes on the road. His shows in Petersburg will feature lead vocalist Brian Hillman from the Bellingham rock band "Spaceband," who Koch says has a talent for making unusual composition twists musically appealing. Also performing is drummer Kevin Chryst of the Bellingham band, Taphabit And Vaghn Kreestoe, and vocalist/bassist Shakti Hayes of Vancouver, B.C., whose album, "Touchwood Hills" was nominated for Best Folk Album at the 2007 Native American Music Awards.
"I like the fact we're kind of a village when it comes to having different backgrounds," Koch said, noting Hillman and Chryst, in their 20s, are a generation younger than himself.
In Juneau and Haines, he will perform with guitarist Hal Vaughn, drummer Rich Eaton, who he learned about through a friend who works on an Alaska state ferry, and Regan O'Toole. They will play at Doc Water's Pub at 9 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, with shows scheduled at the Alaskan Hotel & Bar on Tuesday, July 15 and Squire's Rest on Saturday, July 19. Their performance at the Haines fair is scheduled at 6:30 p.m. July 25.
Koch will then stop in Petersburg for five weeks, performing four nights a week at Kito's Kave. He said the band typically rehearses three of those four days, taking the rest of the time to fish, hike and relax.
"It's sort of like music camp for adults," he said. "I really do like it because it gives me more time for writing."
Mark Sabbatini is a professional music critic scouring the globe for jazz in the world's most unlikely and remote places.
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