Like any roots artist worth his weight in salt, Matthew “Jackie” Stahl knows a thing or two about working with his hands. When he’s not behind the drums in one of his various local bands (The Blue Collar Boys, Catfish Mafia, and Bixy Lutz, to name a few) he’s getting grime under his nails working as a professional tile setter.
“I’m a master artisan basically,” Stahl, 47, says. “I’ve been a tile man for 27 years. Right out of high school, I’ve been in the trades. It’s great stuff.”
Stahl has been playing drums for 30 years, and says he considers that his main occupation. Now he’s fast on his way to mastering a new hands-on skill: playing piano.
“Not always having enough drumming gigs to keep me busy, over time I just built up the piano thing enough to write some songs,” he says. He took a one-hour lesson and set to teaching himself the rest by ear.
The first tune Stahl wrote on piano — “Girlfriend” — was featured on the 2013 album “Jackie Does Love.” Stahl says he adapted a new approach to composing the material for that record — forcing himself to sit down and write as opposed to “getting cerebral and letting the creativity flow,” as he had done with his previous projects.
The album was cut over a handful of nights in his home studio with a few friends and a couple of bottles of whiskey. After its release, he formed a band and took on the moniker of Jackie Stahl & the White Russians. As lead singer and pianist, he then released a six-track EP, called “Used,” featuring piano-driven covers of some of his favorite tunes, including tracks by Morphine, Nazareth and Depeche Mode.
And on Friday, the band will release “Time,” its third record in three years, at Sinbad’s in Detroit.
The White Russians, whose personnel are a rotating cast of musicians, conjure a heady blend of blues, jazz, soul and gritty Detroit rock ‘n’ roll that is often dubbed “dirty Americana.” Stahl says he thinks genre labels are often too limiting, but he’s happy with the one his band has been tagged with.
“The ‘dirty’ part is, we’re not over polishing anything. I’m not going to put a pretty facade around something to try to get your attention,” he says. “When you’re working with something physically, you get it dirty because you’re touching it, you’ve got oil on your hands or whatever. This stuff is not going through the Hollywood filter.”
The party Friday at Sinbad’s will feature another premiere of local import: the live debut of Tony DeNardo’s solo project DUDE. DeNardo recorded the album “Kid Gloves” in 2012 to clear his songwriting vaults and prove himself again as a writer and musician after suffering a hemorrhagic stroke in 2001, which caused him to lose control of his right arm.
“Kid Gloves” established DeNardo as a singular songwriting talent with its clever psychedelic pop melodies and deeply personal lyrics about everything from divorce to facing death. The record has become a local cult favorite, and DeNardo, who is still in recovery from the stroke, says he is both nervous and excited to finally take his songs to the stage. For this performance, he’ll be joined by Steven Garcia (guitar), Charlie Pelazzola (guitar) and Todd Glass (drums).
“Quite honestly, it was terrifying for me at first,” DeNardo says of his 14-year recovery effort from the stroke. “Slow and steady wins the race. The kind of stroke I had, there’s like a three-percent survival rate. I’ve been lucky, but I work harder than everyone else. It’s the journey in life that matters to me, so I just put my nose to the grindstone and keep on working.”
Steven Sonoras is a Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.
Jackie Stahl & the White Russians
“Time” album release concert
with DUDE, Bixy Lutz
8 p.m. Fri., $10 cover
Sinbad’s Sohar Room
100 St Clair, Detroit