Press/Reviews

Lining up for High Rollers

French guitarist adds European flair to band’s country sound

By Jeff Mannix,  Special to the Herald

The seemingly omnipresent High Rollers, created and ably led by Andy Janowsky for the last 18 years, released its sixth CD on Friday at the Wild Horse Saloon to an adoring, dance-crazed crowd.

The mood of the throng waiting at the front door for admission was orderly and willful; they knew The High Rollers and were determined to get past the door and be part of the celebration without impediment.

With hands stamped and sobriety checked, the faithful congregated in the side patio before showtime to mingle with band members and renew friendships. Most staked out seats inside and all were there clearly as devotees.

The High Rollers’ new CD is called “Altitude” and 14 of the songs are written by Janowsky, who has been writing poetry for music since he was a kid in a musical family.

One track, “Colorado Girl,” is among the most requested singles of the year on KRSJ in Durango and KISZ in Farmington. And when the band played the song during its two-hour first set, seats emptied with a roar of appreciation and just about everybody on the crowded dance floor was mouthing the words. It appears that country music has a real hit, homegrown right here in the Rocky Mountains.

The High Rollers are rehearsed to what the French call “éclat” (we’ll come back to that word, meaning brilliant display or effect), and the quartet of musicians know their instruments and each other well enough that their performance is never short of tight and fully formed.

Their arrangements are sophisticated, their songs catchy and, while they appear to be having the times of their lives, their attention to precision is conspicuous – which is saying something for music that is driven by drums and heard two blocks away.

Now, back to “éclat.” The High Rollers were booked at this time last year to appear at a music festival in France. At the last minute, the band’s lead guitar player couldn’t go, and Janowsky informed the concert promoter they were unable to attend.

Disappointed because he had heard the High Rollers in Durango during a trip to the U.S., it was suggested that a French guitar player fill in. Janowsky said it was out of the question. What does a French musician know about country music? he said.

The producer told Janowsky not to worry, and he gave him the contact information for Jerome Desoteux, who lives in a provincial town in the south of France called Cavillon. Desoteux is known throughout Europe as “Mr. J” and his country-western band is an unembellished “Mr. J’s Band.”

He’s a career musician making a living playing cowboy music in France and throughout Europe. He asked Janowsky to send to him his recorded playlist and assured Janowsky that he’d be able to fill in.

The High Rollers took a big chance last year in France and found what Janowsky describes as the finest musical talent in the business.

Mr. J is here in Durango for the anniversary of that French collaboration; he recorded tracks on all of the songs in The High Rollers’ new CD. He is a genuine phenom who shouldn’t be missed.

Catch The High Rollers and Mr. J at the Main Avenue street dance Wednesday after the July Fourth parade. Even if country-western music isn’t your thing, you will be impressed with The High Rollers and dumbfounded at the virtuosity of Jerome Desoteux – now Durango’s own Mr. J.

 

Jeff Mannix is a local journalist and author. Reach him at JeffMannix.com.

 

High Rollers a hit with the French

Durango country band performs at Mayfest in Pontivy, France

High Rollers Jeff Johnson and Andy Janowsky are joined onstage by French guitarist Jay Desoteux on Sunday during the band’s set at Mayfest in Pontivy, France. Mike Canterbury is on drums.

Sometimes you’ve got to be lucky and good.

That’s how three of Durango’s High Rollers – Andy Janowsky, Jeff Johnson and Mike Canterbury – ended up in Pontivy, France, last weekend for the village’s annual Mayfest, playing to a crowd of some of the most rabid country music fans Janowsky can remember in the band’s 15-year history.

The band’s fourth member, guitarist Garrett Valencia, was unable to make the trip for personal reasons, and French guitarist Jay Desoteux played with the High Rollers in his stead.

“It was wonderful, the experience of a lifetime; a strange thing you don’t expect, but it was just a lot of fun,” Janowsky said upon the band’s return to Durango on Wednesday.

Last summer, a group of French tourists caught the High Rollers at a local Durango gig. That was when Janowsky first learned of the popularity of American country music in France.

Several of the French tourists were affiliated with Mayfest, a country music festival held in conjunction with an annual celebration commemorating France’s liberation from the Nazis during World War II.

Before long, the High Rollers had received an invitation via Facebook to play Mayfest 2011 – all expenses paid – and the trip culminated with Sunday’s concert and an unforgettable morning for Janowsky.

“The highlight for me was the memorial service,” he said. “We walked up a hill and here’s all these decorated French soldiers, some resistance members, then a guy pointed at me to play the (U.S.) National Anthem. It was one of the most emotional moments I’ve ever experienced, and it was very well-received. They really remember.”

The High Rollers’ set at Mayfest was just as energizing, and the band is now immortalized on the pages of Made in USA magazine, a French publication dedicated to American country music.

The music’s popularity in France cannot be overstated, and Janowsky said he’s never played to crowd in the U.S. that matches Pontivy’s.

“Seeing all these French fans in the cowboy hats, people were stomping and going nuts chanting ‘Merci! Merci!’ – it was so much fun it was hard to believe,” Janowsky said.

Locals can catch the now-international country stars one time before the band embarks on a summer of weddings and private parties. The High Rollers will play the Wild Horse Saloon on May 21.

Local band's CD a mix of old and new

High Rollers to unveil 'Ride Ride Ride' Saturday night at the Wild Horse Saloon

Local bands don't come any more local than the High Rollers, the Durango-based country band celebrating the release ofits first CD, "Ride Ride Ride," on Saturday night at the Wild Horse Saloon. Two members were born and raised inSouthwest Colorado, and the other two have lived and played here for 20 years or more. And being local has itsadvantages.

The High Rollers, from left, Mike Canterbury (drums/vocals), Andy Janowsky (bass/vocals), Jeff Johnson (fiddle/banjo/guitar/vocals) and Garrett Valencia (lead guitar/vocals).

"Since we're from around here, we get to see everybody grow up, I guess," said lead singer and bassist Andy Janowsky.

"In any crowd, there are usually a few couples that we played at their wedding, and (drummer) Mike Canterbury even has grandkids in Ignacio."

Durango locations also show up on the CD jacket, which lists 10 cover songs recorded at live performances during the last year, plus five of Janowsky's originals. The covers are eclectic and high energy, with a quality of musicianship and multipart harmony you'd expect from a national touring band instead of a bunch of current and former law-enforcement and road maintenance supervisors.

The only cover track that misses the mark is the band's version of "Mustang Sally," which may be the price a (mostly) country band pays for covering an R&B anthem. The rest of the live tracks are generally very good, from Radney Foster's "Texas in 1880" to lead guitarist Garret Valencia's conjunto-flavored instrumental "El Metate."

The High Rollers' local focus even extends to its song selection. The best cover is an up-tempo version of Charlie Daniels' 1975 hit "The South's Gonna Do it Again," which also highlights fiddle player Jeff Johnson's virtuosity.

Still, as good as the covers are, the real treats are the original tunes. These are songs with some meat on 'em, and the lyrics are written to be paid attention to.

"When I look at a new album cover, I pull out the lyrics first to see if I'm going to like the songs," Janowsky said, and it shows.

On "Breakout," two young lovers conspire to make a run for it, which in this case may be no farther than the county line.

The writing sparkles on two other tracks as well: "DARE! To Keep Kids off Trucks" is a tongue-in-cheek warning to parents who want their kids to safely grow up to be lawyers or movie stars (who all drive cars). They should be careful of letting impressionable youngsters behind the wheel of a "Cowboy Cadillac." The big winner, though, is "Ride Ride Ride," the CD's driving, inspirational title song. If a bullrider ever needed some juice to get himself psyched up to "get on, tempt fate, open up that gate," this is it.

Local color influences Janowsky's songwriting as well, with one tune - "The Jacks of this World" - being a plea to the Lord to take care of folks like a well-known Durango street character.

All five originals are thoughtful, and all serve to inspire in some fashion. In fact, the CD would have benefited from more originals and fewer covers, but the mix reflects the band's modesty onstage as well. If you've been to a High Rollers show and have not heard any original music, it's deliberate.

"People pay to hear us play the music they know, and we don't want to jam original songs down anybody's throat," Janowsky said.

The band plays many private events in addition to club dates, but if you're not invited to somebody's big shindig this summer, Saturday's gig at the Wild Horse or Sunday's performance on Main Avenue in Durango will give you a taste of the High Rollers' wide musical swath. From the sound of the CD, the original material will be at least as welcome as the songs you already know.

Mike Clark is a local country and western music afficionado and is an occasional contributor to the Herald. Reach him at mike@h2x.com.