Being an opening act – as most opening acts will tell you – is an often thankless chore. The crowd is mostly not there to see you, may not have ever heard of you, and is just waiting for the lead singer to announce “Thanks! We’ve got time for just one more before [fill in the name of the headliner] comes out!”
But when the Gin Blossoms played the Houston House of Blues recently, the opening act certainly had the attention and interest of everyone. Hailing from the same Tempe, Arizona home base, the Black Moods (Josh Kennedy on vocals/guitar, Chico Diaz on drums, and Jordan Hoffman on bass) are a straight up, loud and proud rock and roll band.
Gin Blossoms lead singer Robin Wilson even came out early to guest with them on a cover of Tom Petty’s “I Need to Know.” And it turns out that he and Kennedy have a history. “This guy used to be my guitar tech and worked in my studio!” Wilson crowed like a proud father (or at least older uncle). And Kennedy elaborates on the bond.
“I grew up in the Ozarks in Missouri, and was a huge Gin Blossoms fan since I was 13 or 14,” he says today. “They had broken up and Robin was playing with his new band [Gas Giants] in a small club in Springfield, so my friends and from high school went to talk to him after. He told us to be a doctor or lawyer and not be in the music business. But if I was ever in Tempe, Arizona, to look him up. And I thought ‘Holy shit!’”
After Kennedy graduated high school and briefly worked a job, he decided to go to college for recording. And the place he chose was the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences based in…Tempe, Arizona.
Kennedy was able to catch Wilson playing an acoustic show in a small bar called Long Wong's, and had just enough time to speak with him. Wilson offered him an internship at his recording studio. Before details could be worked out, though, Kennedy was thrown out of the premises for being underage. The pair reconvened after the show in the band van for Kennedy’s group, where a little herbal refreshment was shared, and then they parted.
As his studies wound down, Kennedy was all set to move to Nashville to pursue his dream of musical success. But on the last day of classes he spotted a flyer on the bulletin board that read “Wanted: Conservatory student from Missouri. Smoky van required.” Kennedy dialed the number the flyer – and Wilson answered. Because he couldn't remember Kennedy's name, it was the only way he could figure out to contact him - though a few other students had already called. But they didn't have the crucial "smoky van" info. Before he knew it, Kennedy was on the road as a guitar tech for the reunited Gin Blossoms.
Kennedy and Diaz began writing their own material with a couple of friends in 2005, but the Black Moods self-titled debut (with bassist Ryan Prier) did not come out until 2012. Medicine, the 2016 follow up with new bassist Hoffman, showed substantial growth in music and lyrics. It offered plenty of meaty riffs and hooky choruses, and it partially showed the breadth of the band’s influences.
“I grew up in Phoenix listening to Cypress Hill and Metallica and System of a Down,” Diaz says. “Josh grew up in Missouri with Merle Haggard and Creedence Clearwater Revival and Blue Oyster Cult, and Jordan was from Toledo, Ohio in a family band playing classic rock. It was Josh who introduced me to Led Zeppelin, and it changed my life!”
The Black Moods have also taken a page from the Zeppelin playbook in that all original songs are credited to the band as a whole rather than any individual, regardless of who originated the idea, music, or lyrics. Or how much each member contributed to the creation of each song. The graveyard of rock history is littered with the tombstones of bands who fought or broke up over this very issue, since it’s songwriting and not performance or mechanical royalties that are usually the most financially beneficial – and lasting.
“It’s for the best. You don’t want one guy rolling into practice in his helicopter and another driving in and his drummer is the Uber driver,” Kennedy says – though stickman Diaz may feel differently. “We’re lucky to have each other and we can be in a van for 18-hour drives and we laugh and joke and like the same things. That inter band stuff has got to work.”
But looking across the landscape of the most popular artists and songs in 2019, it’s clear that hip-hop and pop dominated. Cue the media (and some journalists who should know better) to hoist up the “Rock is Dead” flag once more. And talk like that puts the Black Moods in…well…a black mood.
“They said that about bell bottoms too, and every girl I see these days is wearing bell bottoms. So don’t give me that shit!,” Kennedy laughs. “With technology the way it is, any zit-faced kid can make a record in their bedroom. You don’t need a band. And a lot of what’s on the charts today is glorified karaoke and you just push and play to do a concert.”
On the other hand, he says that rock band members who write their own songs and play their own instruments can get in that van and win over fans - one person at a time - by playing live. “Rock and roll is a breath of fresh air again. That’s why Greta van Fleet is doing so well. If I wanted to see people sing to tracks, they could go to any drunken karaoke bar.”
Hoffman adds “There was a moment that everybody was saying rock is dead, but people get tired of listening to the same thing. It always cycles through.” Though there is one new spoke in the cycle: the Black Moods have just hired a marketing director to specifically use social media and streaming services to boost the band’s profile.
The band’s most recent new songs have been “Bella Donna” (marketed in conjunction with the Arizona-based Desert Rocking Winery, which has a release that shares the song’s name), and newest single “Bad News.” Diaz notes that part of the band’s payment for “Bella Donna” was in wine, which he says the band thoroughly enjoys. “If it was shitty wine,” Kennedy adds, “We wouldn't be drinking so much of it!”
But what the bandmembers are most excited about is their current spring tour with hard rock royalty Whitesnake, whose sound is a far cry from the pop rock of the Gin Blossoms or the countryfied sounds of Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers, for whom the Black Moods have also opened.
“It’s the next level for us venue wise, we have a lot of new towns we’re going to play, and the new single is out. So it’s good timing all around,” Kennedy says. He even says there’s a bottle of Bella Donna with Whitesnake leader/vocalist David Coverdale’s name on it. If he wants it.
“Who knows, they might all be clean by now!,” he laughs. “We’ll knock them off the wagon!”
For more on the Black Moods or to stream “Bad News,” visit TheBlackMoods.com