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MUSIC | ROCKTALK

Husband-Wife Duo Team Up With Their Own Kind of Blues

March 19, 1998|JAMES E. FOWLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The husband-and-wife team of Janiva Magness and Jeff Turmes, performing at the Onion in North Hills Friday night, are a good match in more ways than one.

They're blues-based musicians, the kind who currently thrive here in L.A. And like all good teams, their talents complement one another in such a way as to create something that's greater than the sum of its parts.

Magness sings with a smoky, savvy quality. And Turmes writes intelligent, catchy songs that reveal a rare lyrical-melodic prosody.

Their new CD, "It Takes One to Know One," was released last year. It has a number of standout tracks, including the title song and another called "You Made Me."

"People seem to like the record a lot," said Turmes, though he admits that some blues purists find the recordings a bit too eclectic.

Darn Tootin'!

Magness and Turmes have taken a wide variety of musical influences and created something that's completely their own.

Magness is originally from Detroit. Her father was a transplanted Oklahoman who listened to a lot of country music around the house.

"I probably got my start lying on my bed listening to the radio, but I started working professionally in Minneapolis-St. Paul," Magness said. "I lived there for a long time, and I've been away from there a real long time too."

She said that the Beatles and the British rock invasion had a profound effect on her when she was a kid. As an adult, she has been influenced more by such blues artists as Etta James, Aretha Franklin, Memphis Minnie and Dinah Washington.

"When we play gigs, I joke--I say we do original material and songs by dead people," Magness said.

Turmes is a California native. Besides being a songwriter and singer, he's a multi-instrumentalist performing on bass, guitar, saxophone and piano. He worked with the James Harman Band for six years, playing the bass and doing the horn arrangements.

His influences include composer Kurt Weill as well as such blues and R & B artists as Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon and Percy Mayfield.

"It Takes One to Know One" took two years to finish. But, as they say in Chinese restaurants, "Good Food Takes Time to Prepare."

Last summer, soon after the CD's release, the duo toured Europe; they plan to tour there again this year.

But Friday night, they'll be in North Hills.

* Janiva Magness and Jeff Turmes perform Friday night at the Onion, 9550 Haskell Ave., North Hills. Al Rieman and the Diamond Anniversary Jazz Band will also perform. (818) 894-9251. $5.

*

Father's Son: A.J. Croce, who's performing Saturday night at B.B. King's in Universal City, is the son of 1970s singer-songwriter Jim Croce. A.J. Croce says being son to a famous father is not so bad, but don't ask him to play "Bad Bad Leroy Brown" or any of his father's tunes.

"Nothing's wrong with his music. He was a great storyteller and songwriter," A.J. Croce said. "But expecting me to do what he did is an insult."

In less than two years, beginning in early 1972, the elder Croce had several hit records including "You Don't Mess Around with Jim," "Bad Bad Leroy Brown," "Operator" and "Time in a Bottle," all of which have become American pop music classics.

Jim Croce's career was tragically cut short when he died in a plane crash in September 1973.

When A.J.'s career started, there were overtures from record company people to mold him into "Jim Croce Jr.," a born-again version of his dad. Instead, A.J. wanted to develop his own musical identity, which is decidedly bluesier than his father's.

The younger Croce, who sings and plays piano, has just released his third CD, "Fit to Serve," his first on the Ruf label, a German subsidiary of international giant PolyGram Records.

He recorded the CD in Memphis with veteran producer Jim Gaines.

"Jim Gaines was a pleasure to work with; it was the most enjoyable work I've ever done," Croce said. Gaines allowed more of Croce's personality to come through in the music.

The album covers a wide variety of R & B-flavored styles. Sometimes, Croce's voice is evocative of Randy Newman, a friend of his father's.

"I love his [Newman's] music," Croce said. "Everything you listen to becomes an influence--his music as much as Elvis Costello, or Tom Waits."

The CD also features his core band of bassist Dave Curtis and drummer Paul Kimbarow. Croce has been working with the pair for eight years, during which time he's opened for artists such as Ray Charles, Willie Nelson, Bela Fleck, B.B. King, Lyle Lovett and Aretha Franklin.

"This CD is a lot more rock 'n' roll," Croce said. "It's more like what my music is about."

* A.J. Croce performs Saturday night at B. B. King's Blues Club, Universal CityWalk, 1000 Universal Center Drive, (818) 622-5464. $14.

Short Takes:

* The Livingstons, another husband and wife team, are making a rare Valley appearance tonight at the Blue Saloon, 4657 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 766-4644. Barry portrayed Ernie on the TV sitcom "My Three Sons" in the 1960s, but now he and his wife, Karen, are performing their own songs, which have a folk-rock flavor, around town, most often at Genghis Cohen's in Hollywood. Check them out.

* Continuing in a long line of interpreters of Johann Sebastian Bach's music, the J.S. Bach Experience performs the master's music in a hard rock mode with drums and squealing electric guitars. The J.S. Bach Experience plays at the Club 21 at the Riverbottom Cafe, 4201 W. Olive Ave., Burbank, (818) 846-2342, on Saturday night, which coincidentally is Bach's 313th birthday.

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