What’s Old is New Again with Greta Van Fleet

Greta Van Fleet

Danny Wagner (Drums), Josh Kiszka (Singer), Jake Kiszka (Guitarist), Sam Kiszka (Bass Guitar)

I’ve often wondered if there will ever be another great, American rock and roll band. Would we ever see the likes of an Aerosmith, Van Halen or Journey, again? When will a voice stand out amongst today’s heavily populated, cheery, pop-driven Alternative music?

It may be too early to call but in my mind hope was restored when I was turned onto a band named Greta Van Fleet. After hearing their name I wasn’t even sure where they were from but after hearing their debut single Highway Tune, I was certain where they were going.

I was so blown away by Greta Van Fleet’s (GVF) sound that I played it for anyone at the AFN-Broadcast Center that would listen. Almost everyone immediately felt compelled to compare GVF to some of the classic rock greats (complete transparency, so did I). None of us knew the band but I think we were all comforted by a joyful familiarity of when we thought music was great. This new music re-kindles old flames and I am excited about the firestorm that follows. The singer evokes the living spirit of Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant on the track Highway Tune. There are flashes of Geddy Lee’s resonant vocal on the EP’s title song Black Smoke Rising. I’ve heard comparisons to The Who, Rush, The White Stripes, The Black Keys, and the list goes on and on. After playing the 4 song EP over and over again, I realized that I stopped thinking about whom they sounded like and I started to just enjoy them for who they are.

Angel Orozco (broadcaster for AFN Radio) interviewing Greta Van Fleet.
Angel Orozco (broadcaster for AFN Radio) interviewing Greta Van Fleet.
Music is a passionate topic amongst Greta Van Fleet.
Music is a passionate topic amongst Greta Van Fleet
Josh Kiszka explains his powerful singing style.
Josh Kiszka explains his powerful singing style.

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Greta Van Fleet is a band made up of 4 young men from the heartland of America, 3 of which are brothers, and of those, 2 are twins. The group’s name comes from one of the matriarchs (Gretna Van Fleet) of the Bavarian themed town Frankenmuth, Michigan, where they call home. Greta Van Fleet has a pure style that is influenced only by their desire to spread joy and love through their many musical talents.

AFN met with Danny Wagner (drummer) and the three brothers, Josh Kiszka (vocals), Jake Kiszka (guitar) and Sam Kiszka (bass guitar) in Hollywood, California early this summer. Below is the all-encompassing interview and music of Greta Van Fleet.

Angel Orozco, Contributing Writer
Angel Orozco, Contributing Writer
All photography by Natalie Wiser-Orozco: The Devil Wears Parsley

The Story of the Blues Brothers featuring Dan Aykroyd

Dan AykroydDan Aykroyd is a genuinely nice guy. That was my biggest take away after speaking to him on the phone. I produce an hour-long radio show called Radio Recon which airs on AFN Radio and features in-depth interviews with music artists. I thought the Blues Brothers would be a fantastic subject. Normally, these interviews require months to set up. It only took four days with Aykroyd. I sent an interview request on Friday and I was speaking to him on Tuesday.

When Tuesday arrived, I called the provided phone number at the appropriate time. When someone answered, I began to explain why I called and suddenly realized I was speaking with Dan Aykroyd himself. He answered his own phone. Interesting.

The blues have always been more than a passing fancy for Aykroyd. He grew up in the thriving blues community of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. He spent many hours in the legendary Ottawa coffeehouse, Le Hibou, which also served as a hub for the blues scene in Canada’s capital city. He took up the harmonica inspired by the performers he saw on stage. Aykroyd so dedicated himself to the instrument, he was soon considered a professional quality player. In fact, every single harmonica note on every single song ever recorded by the Blues Brothers… was performed by Aykroyd.

He is considered one of the most commercially successful bluesmen of all time, but he pointed out many times during our talk the Blues Brothers are much more than just a blues band. Their music incorporates elements of funk, R&B, soul, reggae, and even country. They have always strived to be more than a simple delta blues band. Whenever I listen to the Blues Brothers, one thing always happens. I tap my foot to the music. It’s not something I do often, but there’s just something about the Blues Brothers. They just have… a certain groove.

For me, the real magic of the Blues Brothers is rooted in the genuine friendship between Aykroyd and John Belushi. During our interview, Aykroyd called their first meeting “love at first sight.” They created the Blues Brothers the very same evening. Their goal was to simply express their affection for a style of music they both loved. That goal has never changed. Perhaps that’s why Aykroyd still draws audiences 40 years later as Elwood Blues. Elwood’s goals are simple. Love the blues and share the love.

As I was wrapping up the interview, I decided to take a chance. One of my best friends growing up is a MASSIVE Dan Aykroyd and Blues Brothers fan. Certainly a man in Aykroyd’s position who answers his own phone… I wondered aloud if I could shamelessly abuse the privilege of his time and asked him to say, “Yo, this is Elwood Blues. Jimi Schmitz is the bomb!” Elwood delivered the line flawlessly and that audio is now my friend’s ringtone. Yes, Dan Aykroyd is a genuinely nice guy.

Tune into AFN Legacy’s RADIO RECON featuring the Blues Brothers with Dan Aykroyd. Aykroyd brings you the complete story of the Blues Brothers. How did a simply hobby become the greatest selling blues band of all time? Elwood Blues calls in during the show despite being a fugitive from justice. And what aspect of the Blues Brothers did lead singer John Belushi absolutely despise? Hosted by AFN Legacy’s George Maurer… RADIO RECON featuring the Blues Brothers and Dan Aykroyd. Listen below or tune in on Monday July 11th at 3am, 10am, or 5pm CET/JKT… on AFN 360.

Special thanks to Ben Manilla of BMP Audio, producers of Elwood’s BluesMobile, and audio engineer Aaron Holmberg for making this edition of Radio Recon possible. Elwood’s BluesMobile airs Sundays at noon CET/JKT on AFN Legacy and AFN360.

George Maurer, Contributing Writer
George Maurer, Contributing Writer

Interview: Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo

Wow.  What a voice.  Even now.

However, that’s not what impressed me most as I watched Pat Benatar and Neil “Spyder” Giraldo perform at Pechanga Resort and Casino.  They belong together.  It’s just that simple.

Everyone is a unique combination of special talents and abilities.  Those who find a perfect place in life to maximize those talents are very fortunate.  Benatar and Giraldo found their perfect place 36 years ago.  Even more special, they found the perfect partner to join them along the way.

Pat & NeilWhile I was interviewing them earlier in the evening, they bickered like an old married couple…which is exactly what they are.  As Forrest Gump would describe them, they fit together like peas and carrots. Their connection is obvious after talking to them for 30 seconds.

As I ask the same questions they’ve been asked a million times, they employ a few of the old tried and true interview techniques.  Musician A compliments the talents of Musician B and Musician B reciprocates.  It’s a way to remind the interviewer of their talents without sounding like they’re bragging.  (Side note:  I was convinced long before this interview.)

However, it doesn’t take long before the true nature of their relationship reveals itself.  I ask how they met.

Benatar to Giraldo, “I’ll tell it because I tell it better.”

Giraldo says, “Tell the truth this time.”

Benatar replies, “I always tell the truth.  You’re the one who tells it wrong.”

As they talk about their first meeting, they squabble over the exact details.  Benatar says she was looking to hire a guitar player.  Giraldo, already an established musician, says he was asked to form a partnership with a young, unknown singer.  Benatar calls that first get-together an “audition.”  Giraldo calls it a “meeting.”

“He didn’t even bring his guitar,” Benatar adds incredulously, “I mean come on.”  She sounds like a wife who can’t believe her husband left his socks on the floor….AGAIN!  However, instead of stinky clothing, they’re discussing the creation of one of music’s most successful careers.

There’s no malice, of course.  They just seem to enjoy the back and forth.  As I watch them rehash that first meeting for the umpteenth time, one thought pops into my mind.  They’re flirting with each other.  That’s how they keep the sparks flying after all these years.

Sparks are one thing they can both agree on.  There were definitely sparks from day one.  “Love at first sight” as some might call it, but it wasn’t that simple.  Benatar was a military spouse.  She was married to a soldier.  As her career heated up, her marriage began to end.  Playing guitar right next to her was Giraldo.

Their musical chemistry was immediate as well.  From the very first time they sat down to create music, it just worked.  Giraldo was the guitar player Benatar desperately wanted to find. Benatar was the singer of Giraldo’s dreams.  They were and continue to be each other’s muse to this very day.

However, their story is not without its challenges.  When you read the lyrics of their songs, you see the story of a couple who faced and overcame many difficulties.  “Heartache to heartache, we stand.”  Song after song, you begin to realize how hard they worked to stay together.  “You want to be lovers.  You want to be friends.  I’m losing my patience.  You’re nearing the end.”  Through everything, they found a way to stay where they belonged.  Together.  The hardest fought victories are always the sweetest and most cherished.

The opening notes of, “We Live for Love,” explode across the audience.  I was hoping they would play this song tonight.  It’s one of their lesser hits, but it’s probably my favorite.  As Benatar and Giraldo perform, they interact with each other a great deal.  They sound great.  They look happy.  The strength of their relationship is obvious to all who watch them.  They are two people who were meant to spend a lifetime together.  I am witness to one of rock and roll’s great love stories.

Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo are currently performing across the United States on their 35th Anniversary Tour.

George Maurer, Contributing Writer
George Maurer, Contributing Writer