“Brother Ray meets the Ramones…Chopin meets Minutemen.” So ventured Tony Sarabia of WBEZ radio (Chicago NPR) as he took at stab at describing the band in the studio with him. The Claudettes fuse Windy City piano blues with the full-throttle energy of rockabilly and punk, jazz-age echoes of burlesque and vaudeville and the sultriness of ’60s pop-soul to write a thrilling new chapter in American roots music. Group founder Johnny Iguana mashes the piano alongside singer Berit Ulseth, bassist/singer Zach Verdoorn and drummer Matt Torre. Johnny, who toured for years with his cult-favorite rock band oh my god, is also a member of two Grammy-nominated groups: Chicago Blues–A Living History and the Muddy Waters 100 Band. He has toured or recorded with Junior Wells, Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, James Cotton and more. In between legs of their fall tour, the Claudettes are heading to Soil of the South studio in Valdosta, GA in September to record a new album at the invitation of producer/wild-man Mark Neill (who helmed the Black Keys’ “Brothers” plus albums by J. Roddy Walston, Paladins, Old 97’s, J.D. McPherson, Los Straitjackets and more).
“I hear a whole mess of different things across these new songs,” says Claudettes pianist Johnny Iguana. “I hear the trippy roots-punk of Meat Puppets in ‘November.’ I hear Beastie Boys backing Carole King in ‘Give It All Up for Good.’ That gonzo Raymond Scott stuff I love rules the day in ‘Dance Scandal at the Gymnasium.’ And the sleazy blues of ‘Utterly Absurd’ sounds like T. Rex meets Creedence to me. That’s why the band is beyond psyched to have Mark Neill joining us in the fashioning of this record,” Iguana says. “Mark calls indie rock his ‘bread and butter’ but he’s really a rockabilly and blues guy. This couldn’t be more perfect.”
Johnny first formed the Claudettes in 2011 with drummer Michael Caskey as the all-instrumental house band at a tavern in Oglesby, IL called Claudette’s Bar. Johnny and Michael named their duo the Claudettes after the bar’s somewhat unhinged proprietor, who started following the band around to their other gigs, looking to sell beer from their stage (and often working out deals with venues to do just that). Claudette, who kept the band on salary, next added a dancer/singer named Yana to the band, but Johnny has now succeeded in taking control of his personnel. When Michael had to leave the Claudettes due to a host of other obligations, Johnny brought back the mighty rhythm section of his earlier band Software Giant—bassist/singer Zach Verdoorn and drummer Matt Torre—and, after parting ways with Yana, brought in a sublime new singer who’d been in a country band with Torre. Berit Ulseth, a Minnesotan of Norwegian descent, studied jazz vocals at the New School in New York City; her lush voice combined with Zach’s powerful, versatile vocals makes for a whole new harmonic element at the front of the Claudettes’ sound.