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SETTING THE BAR HIGH

The Claudettes stick close to home to record latest album

He and his bandmates are not big fans of gadgets, computers or “substituting the ‘virtual’ for the real experience.”

Nevertheless, pianist Johnny Iguana says The Claudettes agreed in March to stream a performance April 2 as part of the “Live Music From the Quarantine” concert series, presented by Americana Highways and available via Facebook Live.

Then came the City of Chicago’s stay-at-home order on March 21, so that meant the intended full-band show became a solo gig for Iguana.

“Luckily, I love going nuts on the piano,” he says. “And so I did just that, playing Claudettes music plus Gil Scott-Heron, Santo and Johnny, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, and Chuck Berry/Johnnie Johnson.”

He’d already been playing the piano a lot over the previous month, so Iguana’s preparation came down to making sure that the technical aspects were in order. His family was on hand to provide support.

“The Mrs. drank wine and showed people when to clap,” Iguana says. “My 12-year-old is an enthusiastic filmmaker, and I asked him to film it, and he took it seriously and did a great job.”

During the “Quarantine” show, Iguana steered clear of performing material from the new Claudettes album, High Times in the Dark (Forty Below Records).

“We made such a beautiful-sounding album, with such exquisite production, and that album was being released just hours later,” he explains. “I wasn’t about to desecrate it that way. We’ll play those songs live once we’re back in 3-D.”

Drummer Michael Caskey, who returned to playing live with The Claudettes a few years ago, makes his presence felt throughout the 13-song effort.

“Michael is one of my best friends and the co-founder of this band, and we’re so glad he was able to rejoin,” Iguana says. “He’s as excellent an entertainer as he is a drummer, so he brings a lot. He also plays piano and keyboards — that’s his first instrument, actually — and added some in the studio on top of the piano I played.”

For 2018’s Dance Scandal at the Gymnasium!, the self-described “garage cabaret” band traveled to Valdosta, Georgia, and recorded at Soil of the South. This time around, The Claudettes stuck close to home, tracking at Chicago’s Shirk Studios with Stephen Shirk and producer Ted Hutt.

“It’s just so much more practical and affordable to record in our hometown and sleep in our beds, too,” Iguana says. “Michael and I have recorded many times with many bands at Shirk Studios, and Stephen has great energy, which is important. We were comfortable there, I like their piano, and Ted OK’d their equipment after receiving a list. He and Stephen made for a great time, as I knew they would. We will record there again.”

Iguana doesn’t expect his bandmates to remain idle during Chicago’s stay-at-home order. Until they’re allowed to leave their respective homes, “I think we’re going to spend more time practicing our instruments, writing music, recording — just getting better during this time.”

The public will continue to hear from The Claudettes as well. There’s a forthcoming music video for the album-closing “The Sun Will Fool You” that Iguana calls “an animated masterpiece,” two extra songs recorded during the sessions for High Times in the Dark, plus clips of the band demoing new tunes.

“We’ll communicate with people on social media,” Iguana adds, “but dimly lit, acceptable-sounding — at best — ‘concerts’ online will not be a priority for us. There’s enough of that stuff all over the internet already.”

— By Chris M. Junior

Photo by Timothy Hiatt

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