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L.A. Times story
|Steve White & The Barstool Pigeons are a cookin' blues band, based in Oxnard, California. The band features Steve White (lead vocals, saxophone, flute, keyboard, harmonica and guitar) Mike Fishell ( lead guitar, vocals), Bernie Travers (bass, background vocals) and Kelvin Ammons (drums, background vocals).
Although the band members have all known each other since high school, Steve and Bernie were the first to play together in the Elmo Nails band in the mid-Seventies. They got a gig touring the U.S. with The Drifters; Kelvin joining them halfway across the country. After the tour, they went their separate ways for a few years, rejoining in the Eighties as Hot Link (jazz) and The Vipers (reggae). As the decade came to a close, Steve, Bernie & Kelvin hooked up with Mike to join his band, The Convertibles with Mike's sister, the famous leopard-clad Mary Kay, sharing lead vocals with Steve. The Convertibles were a popular dance band that played soul, rock & roll and blues around Ventura County for years.
The Pigeons were formed about four years ago out of a desire to record and perform Steve's original tunes. Soon after, they produced their first recording effort, a five song tape. When Mike bought a Roland VS-1680 digital recording system, the band immediately set to work recording a full length, all original CD, What's a Man to Do? which was released in January, 2000.
As a baby, Steve White was often parked in front of the Hi-Fi speaker by his babysitting teenage aunts and treated to a Hulabaloo style dance show featuring the big boxes of 45's they'd bring over. Their collection included rock and roll and R&B greats such as The Dominos, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Cozy Cole & Lloyd Price .and they knew all the latest dances. And then there were Mom and Dad's records: "their collection was nuts," says Steve, "Ray Charles, Louis Armstrong, Gene Harris, Al Hirt, New Orleans jazz & dixieland, German beer drinking records, pseudo Latin jungle lounge records, and of course, Mitch Miller."
By junior high, Steve was playing guitar at his first gig, a backyard pool party. After high school, he linked up with Bernie Travers and before long they were touring the US with a sixties-era R&B vocal group, Steve expanding his repertoire to include Hammond organ, sax, flute & harp. One of the singers in that group, Freddie Houston, was a big influence on Steve, "'Cuz he sang sooo good. He put so much felling into every song, you just knew he meant it."
Although Mike Fishell, the Pigeons' lead guitarist, was a music fan from an early age, it was The Woodstock album that inspired him to take up the instrument. "There are so many great guitarist's on that album: Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana, Pete Townsend and Alvin Lee to name a few," noted Mike, who also shares writing and vocal duties in the band with Steve, "after hearing that album, I just couldn't resist picking up a guitar."
Mike credits an album called Fathers & Sons with fostering the beginnings of his blues guitar style. "I bought it because Mike Bloomfield & Paul Butterfield were on it, but it turned out to really be a Muddy Waters record. It was my first real blues album, Chicago blues. I played along with it quite a bit. Later I got into Big Bill Broonzy, B.B. King, Peter Green, Charlie Christian and Duane Allman. I'm not really a purist, I love all kinds of music but the blues has had a major impact on me"
Mike is an accomplished musician and educator who has worked with a number of successful acts, including Big Bad Voodoo Daddy (on a short lived Fox Network game Show!!) and The Reverbs ( featuring the late, great Rudy Ruiz). He engineered and produced the band's latest project at his home studio, The Refinery on a Roland VS-1680, virtual studio.
Kelvin Ammons, the bands' explosive drummer, has been playing drums as long as he can remember. "At least after my first year of drum pad playing and reading charts and exercises with my 7th grade beginning band teacher--a real taskmaster--Mr. Floyd Llewellyn at Fremont Junior High School in Oxnard."
"Growing up, I was always banging on something. My grandparents on both sides owned nightclubs at the time and my uncle "LB" played keyboard in a jazz/dance ensemble that played there as well as a few other places, so I got some close looks at quite a number of live gigs. You could feel the electricity. Frankly, the drummer seemed to be having the best time of all with his shamelessly exposed silver front tooth.
"Finally my grandparents and parents pooled their money together to buy me my first mini, beginner kit as a birthday gift. And I played it until it feel apart. I did a couple of bands along with high school stage and marching band for a while where I was provided drums to play until I was able to save enough from part time work to buy my first real 'name' drum set."
Kelvin has backed a wide range of acts including: Proud Flesh, Sweetback, Pleasure, Thee Enchanting Souls, The Poachers, The Usuals, Hot Link, The Convertibles, Collage, The Drifters, Rosie and the Originals, The Penguins, The Coasters, Mary Wells, Cecil Womack, among others. He names "Frosty" (Bartholomew Smith-Frost) from his brief stint with Lee Michaels, David Garibaldi from Tower of Power as his greatest influences. Kelvin also cites Grady Tate's days on Quincy Jones' sound stage CTI recordings as a major style shaper.
"Play true to the groove and everything else will usually fall into place".
Bernie Travers is the most dependable member of the band. He's the designated driver with the big van, always available to bring the P.A. In his own words he describes his musical history with and without the band:
"When I was in my teens (eons ago), I loved a lot of the rock of the Sixties.. Especially groups like the Beatles and Stones. But the thing that drew me into playing bass were the basslines in Motown & Soul music. James Jamerson played on a lot of these records. I also like rock players like Noel Redding, John Entwhistle, Bill Wyman.
When I came to California from Maryland in the early 70's, I was inspired by a local bassist named Sal Isaac. He probably will never know how much he influenced me to play bass after not playing for 4 years prior. I met Steve around '73 or '74 at a festival at Santa Clara High School. He was playing flute & singing.It was a short time later when we got together for the Elmo Nails Band.Eventually we went on the road in '77 with the Drifters Show. The rest is history. I quit playing for a few years for various reasons, but Steve brought me out to play in the reggae band "the Vipers" and other various bands. In '87 Steve & Mike convinced me to join them in The Convertibles."