Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Focus on: English Charlie!

“English Charlie” - Bio by Scott Bucholtz

Known in other circles as “Charles Wyke-Smith” a corporate Vice President, a best-selling author, product/software designer, strategist, speaker, consultant and pioneer in the field of interactive media development, “English Charlie” has become a prominent member of the Lowcountry Blues Club. While his corporate image may not seem like a natural fit for the “Blues, Beer and BBQ” scene, I would counter with the fact that the same traits that have made him a success in business are the same traits that ultimately provide success in music. Drive, passion, talent, infectious enthusiasm and an outgoing personality. Far too often, the term “musician” has a negative connotation. In our efforts to dispel the myth, Charlie is a great ambassador.

Born in Derbyshire, England he grew up in a little village about 12 miles from Sheffield. His father was an acoustic player who had somehow managed to learn a bunch of Americana tunes. His mother was a classically trained pianist and used to play Chopin beautifully – Charlie still thinks Chopin’s Nocturnes are the most haunting and evocative music every written.

Having watched his Dad play since he was born, he surprised his father when he was about nine, by playing the flamenco tune “Romanza” to him. He’d been watching him play it for weeks and found he could copy it pretty easily. Charlie recorded a version of it just prior to his father’s death, and his family played it at the funeral – certainly that was a poignant tribute. Music can certainly communicate so far beyond words.

Of course, in England back in the sixties it was all the Beatles all the time. Consequently, he quickly learned all their stuff (and the Rolling Stones too). His older brother sang really well and they would perform concerts before they were 10 - his first taste of live shows and audience appreciation. Better to start young!

In his teens, he listened to Bob Dylan the Grateful Dead and a lot of English progressive rock – Family, Jethro Tull, Blodwyn, Pig, and off-the-wall artists like Pete Brown (who also wrote Cream’s lyrics). He was also heavily influenced by the singer-songwriter Roy Harper, who started as a folk artist and eventually produced multi-tracked vocal and guitar epics that blew Charlie away. Of course, Led Zeppelin recorded “Hats off to Roy Harper”. Charlie says, “Where do you think Jimmy Page got all that open tune guitar technique from?”

In school, Charlie joined a band with musicians who were a few years older and played Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, lots of Jethro Tull… He fondly recalls getting thrown out of clubs because he was only 13 and had to try to explain that he was part of the band (he often had to sneak back in for the next set). He still has some nice recordings from that time that they had made for the local BBC station.

Once he heard “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” by Genesis it changed his ideas of what live music could be and he started to write longer more complex music. He now identifies Peter Gabriel as the artist that he has most admired. Another huge influence was Steely Dan. A perfect blend of blues, rock and jazz, with its “obscure, nostalgic lyrics full of broken love and lost chances” – he cites “Aja” as his favorite song.

In his 20s, he was working for a lighting company in London staging big concert and conference events in London and even did a number of Pink Floyd shows at the massive Earl’s Court venue and toured Europe with Santana and Emerson, Lake and Palmer. He had a lot of fun but didn’t sleep for weeks and soon got burned out and focused entirely on the conference staging. There must be some good stories from those tours! He later got to work on and produced some big events in the 80s while traveling all over Europe and the States, and even South America and Africa. He eventually got a lot of work in San Francisco which provided the opportunity to leave cold, damp London. He lived in San Francisco for twenty years where he started a design company and got involved in CD-ROM development and later the Web. He did play in two bands there – Moving Partz, a 10-piece band with dancers, and then he started a jazzier band The Icons. That was his first effort at writing an entire show and it was exciting to play at venues like the Hotel Utah and Full Moon Salon in SF and have people enjoying the songs.

When he moved here in 2006, he started playing his songs at open mic nights so that he could meet local musicians and that is where he started playing with sax player David Sarnoff. They formed a band called Mental Note featured about ten of his new original songs and also revived some of the old Icons tunes – they played their first gig at the Music Farm in November of 2008, and then recorded a nine-track album with local engineer Jeff Leonard at Ocean Industries, the studio on Folly Beach Road owned by Eric Bass of Shinedown. He later met local guitarist J.R. Getches through a mutual friend and J.R. turned Charlie onto the Blues Club, for which he is very grateful.

Charlie says that the “Blues Club has just been a great way for me to get out and play live”. He is now involved with a software startup called PeopleMatter and just doesn’t always have time to rehearse and play out. He mentions that there are so many good musicians there and he especially enjoys listening to Dan Wright, Billy Gadol, Jack Downey and Charlie Kendall. He hopes to get back in the studio and record some new originals – he loves the whole recording experience. “I could spend every day in the studio”. He is trying to persuade his favorite drummer, Quentin Ravenel along with J.R. Getches to join him.

He states that he has “never felt so welcome anywhere as at Blues Club and it’s just a great pleasure to hang out and get to perform with so many good players”. He also volunteers a big “thanks to Dan, Greg Levkus, Big Tim, and Lua for putting it together every week, John Scott for the sound mixing, and Madison, Keith, Jill and all the crew at Home Team”. I’ll certainly second that emotion!

Another thing that Charlie has in common with our friend J.R. Getches is a personal B.B. King story. He met The King backstage at the Rainbow Theatre in London many years ago between his sets – “he just a had a charisma I’ll never forget and was very friendly – he sat and talked about the South in the 40’s while he picked out licks on his red Gibson 335, (Lucille) – he never put it down, and when they called him, he just said ‘Gotta go’, got up and walked right back on stage, still playing”. Outstanding!

Charles Wyke-Smith is another sterling example of the talent that stands next to us each and every week as part of the Lowcountry Blues Club. Each member’s BIO has highlighted the fact that we get to listen to, watch and perform with not only the Charleston area’s best talent, but talent on a regional, national and truly global scale. Spread the word!

This weekend the entertainment in Charleston is totally off of the charts!! The best $8 you can spend will probably be at the Music Farm Friday Night for the LESLIE CD release party. Opening for Leslie will be the incredible The SHANIQUA BROWN as well as HeyRocco! Another event that I HIGHLY recommend is the 4th Annual National Independent Record Store Day all day Saturday at Monster Music & Movies featuring in-store performances by LESLIE, Mac Leaphart, HeyRocco! and many others.

As always, our Blues Club friends will be featured all over this weekend. Captain Kirk will be with STARLING Friday night at Skynyrd’s in St. George and then at the North Park Grille on Saturday. New friends OLD YOU are at the Vendue Rooftop while Wet Willies will feature Shane Clark on Friday night or you can experience PLANE JANE at N. Charleston’s Wild Wing CafĂ©. If you haven’t seen them yet, you must see FOWLER’S MUSTACHE either Friday at the Windjammer or Saturday at O’Malley’s Bar & Grille. Sarah Cole & The HAWKES is at New Moon Pizzeria on 4/15, Sea & Sand Festival Saturday afternoon and Saturday night.

Don’t forget next Tuesday at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center you can catch the Steve Miller Band with Gregg Allman. Before you know it, it’s jam night then time to rest up for the weekend and await Skye Paige and The ORIGINAL RECIPE at the Village Tavern.



Our young friends in Heyrocco have a chance to go to the Bonnaroo Music festival! They are in a competition, and need your vote! If you have already voted - thank you!! If not, just look on their facebook page for a link - you hit "download" which gets you a free song, and they get a vote - easy - do it!

April's featured artist is Muddy Waters, born in April, 1915.

Join us on facebook and twitter, and check out some of our recordings from the Wednesday jams at

It's time to pay your dues for 2011 if you haven't already done so. Just come out to a jam, and give us $10 for an individual, $25 for a band or family, or $100 for a corporate membership. Or you can mail dues to The Lowcountry Blues Club, P.O. Box 814, Isle of Palms, SC 29451.

LMW, April 13, 2011

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