This week, Makin Waves chats with Mike Montrey of the Mike Montrey Band and his keyboardist Karl Dietel, also of Karl Dietel Five, both of whom will perform July 21 at the Makin Waves Jam N Groove Fest, among many other tasty upcoming gigs. Read all about it!
Guitarist Mike Montrey and keyboardist Karl Dietel have been playing together in … water …, The Samples and Mike Montrey Band since 2003. But the spontaneity and sheer joy with which they traded licks and runs on June 26 during MMB’s dynamic set during Happy Mondays at the Wonder Bar in Asbury Park would make a new listener think that their enthusiasm was new, too.
Those old friends also have been friends of mine since the late ’90s and were the first two people I thought of to play the Makin Waves Jam N Groove Festival on July 21 at American Spirits Roadhouse in the Asbury section of Bethlehem Township, in celebration of this column’s 30th anniversary. Dietel will be particularly busy that night not only with Mike Montrey Band, but also his own Karl Dietel Five, and the beloved Southern rock band 90 Proof.
Other artists performing are 10-year-old bass phenom Lil’ Asmar and his same-aged drumming buddy Lil’ Josh, Joe Stuby & Rocking Horse, Alan Grant Band, Waiting on Mongo, Garden State Line, Danielle Illario Band and CC Coletti Band. The last two acts will feature Jersey guitar great Anthony Krizan. And joining 90 Proof in a Midnight Rider Jam in tribute to the late Gregg Allman will be Bones Weedsley.
I recently chatted with Mike and Karl, who also leads the popular Billy Joel tribute act We May Be Right, about their longtime friendship and musical partnership, their bands’ other upcoming doings, and balancing music with parenthood — which, for Dietel and his wife, Pattie, is brand new with 2-week-old twins who inspired the new song “Pace Yourself.”
A: So Karl, your wife, Pattie, recently had twins. How do you like fatherhood squared?
Karl: I am fascinated by our two little miracles. They were 2 weeks old on Monday. I am also amazed to witness Pattie’s relationship with them, even at this early stage. She’s a natural, and it’s fun to see all the love she has for the babies.
Q: Mike, any advice for Karl on balancing fatherhood and musicianship?
Mike: Parenting is a fairly intuitive process, and Karl is a caring and intelligent guy, so I think he’ll be just fine. That said, it is time-consuming, and often unplanned, but the most rewarding thing you’ll ever be involved with. You just have to go with the flow; fatherhood and musicianship can live in perfect harmony.
Karl: I do remember having a great talk with Mike about his son. They had just watched “Empire Strikes Back” and the boy asked him if the bounty hunters were good guys or bad guys. Mike said that was a tough one to answer, because up until then, the allegiances of all the characters were pretty cut and dried. So we had a great talk about explaining the motivations of mercenaries to young children, which then led to a discussion of the gig economy, which obviously led to the state of the live music business. In the end, we decided that it wouldn’t be out of the question to realize the bounty hunters were probably musicians on the side.
Q: (Laughs) How did you guys meet?
Mike: Karl and I met at his house … when Matt Angus suggested I use him as a sub to play keys in my band, …water… The year was 2003, I think. Karl tells the story quite well in the MMB documentary, “Inside the Basket,” which was filmed during the recording of 2011’s “Weaving the Basket.” You can watch it on our YouTube channel … or Karl can describe it again.
Karl: I was looking for work between Samples tours one year, and Matt Angus suggested I play keyboards with Mike’s band …water…, which had just recorded a CD at Black Potatoe. So I filled in on a few gigs while Mike’s keyboard player was traveling overseas. If I remember correctly, Mike stopped into the farmhouse in which I was living at the time in Tewksbury with a cassette tape of music. He played me a few songs and I thought, “Well, I can contribute to this sound.”
Q: I met you both through Matt Angus, the founder of the Black Potatoe Records and Music Festival. Comment on how he has influenced your music and careers.
Karl: Matt always spoke of the value of having a marketing plan. And that was good to hear. His knowledge of the business was always impressive and helpful. And he gets things done. I do remember one year, before I teamed up with The Samples, I told Matt I was going to record a post-grunge CD at his studio in a two-guitar band with no keyboards. He suggested it might be a better career move to record a CD that had more piano-based songs on it.
Mike: I first met Matt Angus through Jack Devaney, who used to work for Atomic Productions/Black Potatoe. Jack was friends with a good friend of ours, and when …water… wanted to record their first album, Jack suggested Matt. Matt came to see us rehearse one night to firm up the deal, and we played one song for him. That song was “Ron Cey.” A song we wrote for, well, Ron Cey, the former Dodger, Cub and A’s third baseman. Little did we know at the time that Matt was also a baseball freak. Needless to say, the relationship grew from there.
Matt has been very kind to me over the years, including having my band at Black Potatoe Music Fest almost annually, including this year on July 13, getting us into House of Blues, and assisting in producing our sellout of New Brunswick’s Crossroads Theatre in 2003. That said, the most important thing he ever said to me was this: “Take all the money you want to spend on new gear, and pay a good promoter.” That is, for better or worse, the truth.
Q: What specifically got each of you into music? Was there a moment that you made you say, “I want to do that,” and then actually go out and do it, or was music passed down to you through family, and if so, how? Or did both things happen to you?
Mike: My mom was a classically trained pianist, and while she never pushed music on me at all, she bought me a Celebrity Deluxe Ovation guitar for my high school graduation gift. I had never even played before. It is a guitar I use to this day to teach with. It became the only thing I wanted to do for the next five or six years, until I finally formed a band. She was very serendipitous in that way. She just passed away in April. She was the biggest influence I’ve ever had in music … and in life.
Karl: It wasn’t passed down, no. I had taken piano lessons since age 6, but I never figured it all out until I took an AP Music Theory class in high school. That’s when I figured out the relationship of the notes to all the other notes, after which, I started to play by ear. So that enabled me to study what the keyboard players in rock bands were doing. I played along with the radio for hours at a time until I could hear the chord progressions. I enjoyed that, figuring what all the notes were.
Q: How long have you been playing together formally and did you jam together before that?
Karl: I realized the second guitarist of The Samples was leaving to pursue family obligations, so I brought Mike out to Red Rocks to be his guitar tech for the last show. Everyone liked him, so he became the obvious replacement and we spent years touring the country together.
Mike: We did the Samples thing for about five years together, including two national tours.
Q: Karl, what do you like most about playing in the Mike Montrey Band?
Karl: Mike’s got a great melodic sense. And he’s a proficient songwriter. It’s fun music to play, never gets boring, and it’s a high-energy set. He’s got a unique vocal delivery and strong lyrics, too. By now, the camaraderie among the band members is pretty strong, so that’s an added bonus.
Q: Mike, what you like most about the Karl Dietel Five, and have you ever seen them live?
Mike: KD5 and MMB shared a bill at John & Peter’s in New Hope, Pa., last year. I think the band is great. The music is interesting, and progressive. Knowing Karl, it is truly representative of his tastes in a genuinely musically way.
Q: Who are in Mike Montrey Band and Karl Dietel Five, and what do they bring to the stage and studio that makes you really happy?
Mike: Anthony Duca plays bass. He’s been with me since the beginning, and knows how to play every song I’ve ever written. He is a great singer, too. Jen Augustine is a fantastic harmony vocalist and soulful lead singer as well, with great stage presence. Adam Garnys, tenor and alto sax, is a great improviser and contributes great melodic lines. He’s a jazz-trained player. Vincent Smith is a rock-solid drummer and extraordinary percussionist.
Karl: KD5 consists of Jim Ruffi, drums; Luke Kessel, bass; Derek Davodowich, guitar; and Perry Andrews, multi-instrumentalist. Jim and Luke are one of the best rhythm sections in New Jersey, if not the tri-state area. Derek is a very disciplined guitar player who is comfortable on rhythm but who can also play a great solo. Perry always seems to know what to add to a song, be it some type of sax, flute, percussion or second guitar. He is a great listener. Luke, Jim and I laid down 10 rhythm tracks in one day for the KD5 CD at PonderRosa Studios. Luke called it Ten-Song Tuesday, and for the next session, I put Perry in one sound-proof room and Derek in another, and they played along to the 10 tracks. They are all extremely versatile and possess a wide arsenal of music from which they can play different styles.
Q: What’s the funniest shared memory that you both have?
Mike: Most of these probably shouldn’t be printed (laughs). There are many, but I’ll choose this one: In August 2016, MMB did a gig at The Stone Pony with The Avett Brothers. I broke a string during our set, which has probably only happened like three or four times in my 18-year career, and Karl smoothly transitioned into a solo piano version of (Bruce Springsteen’s) “Thunder Road.” He had the entire Stone Pony — of all places — singing along. It was classic impromptu Karl Dietel.
Q: Why did you want to play the Makin Waves Jam N Groove Festival?
Mike: Mike Montrey Band wanted to play because we know anything that’s put together by Bob Makin is for the right reasons, and there are so many talented acts involved.
Karl: I always love to see what my fellow musicians are up to. We don’t always get to hear one another play due to our schedules, so this is a good opportunity to catch up with and support each other, just as you have supported local music, local musicians and the Jersey music scene over the last 30 years. All the musical dots are there. We are grateful to you for all your efforts in connecting them!
Q: What is coming up for Mike Montrey Band, Karl Dietel Five, Mike Montrey solo acoustic, and Karl Dietel solo as far as area shows, tour plans, recordings, videos, and anything else you want folks to know?
Mike: Our full schedule is on our website: mikemontreyband.com. Some highlights include July 1, Beneduce Vineyards, Pittstown; Jams on the Sand (with Hip Abduction and Gang of Thieves), Anchor’s Bend, Asbury Park; a solo set on July 13 at Black Potatoe Music Fest, Clinton, and this show on July 21. Most importantly, though, we’re heading to L.A. in early August to do a record with Grammy Award-winning producer Jim Scott (Wilco, Tom Petty, Tedeschi Trucks Band). We’re super-excited about this. Ideally, it will come out late 2017/early 2018.
Karl: KD5 just finished putting together a 10-song video shoot of a live show we played at PonderRosa Studios. We’re looking at the footage now, which happened to capture us in good form. We’ve been playing out enough, and I think that rubbed off on these video takes. If we don’t release the entire concert, we’ll use the individual videos for promotion.
Q: Karl, you also have a Billy Joel tribute band called We May Be Right. What do you like most about paying tribute to Billy Joel and why? How does he rank among your influences, and is there any artist who has influenced you more?
Karl: I enjoy We May Be Right because of the challenges the whole project provides. These songs have really pushed me, as a singer, to be in strong voice, and it’s not easy to recreate his vocals. The songs in our list are very fun to play, and we get to throw in some Latin styles and extend a few solos. Of course, we grew up with his music.
I am most influenced by Paul McCartney. His creativity is endless, as is his sense of melody.
Q: Mike, how is your guitar school doing, when is your next showcase of students, how does it feel to influence youngsters with the math-enhancing and creative power of music, and how can folks get lessons?
Mike: This is just as rewarding as playing music, and an extension of my mom, who was also a music teacher. I love everything about it and am honored to share this gift of music with all of them, kids and adults of all levels. We just had a showcase on June 24 at Old Bay in New Brunswick. It was awesome.
Q: Karl, what do you enjoy most about being organist-pianist at Clinton United Methodist Church?
Karl: I grew up in the church, and I enjoy the old gospel tunes as well as some of the Contemporary Christian Music albums that have come out recently. I am happy to be able to add any music to any positive experience. I find their community very warm and embracing, and I work with choir director and international conductor, Victor Shen.
Bob Makin is the reporter for MyCentralJersey.com/entertainment and the former managing editor of and still a contributor to The Aquarian Weekly, which launched this column in 1988. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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