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Memphis Commercial Appeal
Nearly a decade after first forming, Philadelphia rockers Low Cut Connie seem to just be hitting their stride. Acclaimed for their scintillating live show — a throwback rock ‘n’ roll revival — and a catalog of increasingly sharp albums, the group has won the hearts of a devoted following, as well as high-profile fans from Elton John to former President Barack Obama.
The fact that the band ever formed, much less has lasted long enough to taste real success, is something of a shock to its leader, Adam Weiner.
“I always say that this band was an unplanned pregnancy,” Weiner jokes.
The arc of Low Cut Connie’s career has been an odd one. Initially intended to be a one-off recording project, the band has morphed and changed multiple times, its music evolving along with its lineup — leaving piano-pounding Weiner as its driving force, and sole permanent member.
“The first few years we operated in this ramshackle state. It was not what you would call a tight band or focused band. It was a mess — a charming mess,” he says. “But the thing that drove us was total sheer force of will on my part to push this thing forward no matter what the cost. I felt like I’d gotten my hooks into something that was really special, and I didn’t care if it was going to take 15 years, I was going to make it happen.”
Low Cut Connie is about to embark on a short summer tour that will bring them through cities including Memphis, LA, Seattle and Omaha, Nebraska, ending May 3 in Atlanta.
Weiner, a New Jersey native, attended the University of Memphis, where he studied under blues expert David Evans while working as an intern for the syndicated “Beale Street Caravan” radio program.
After leaving Memphis in the early 2000s, Weiner started a spooked-out rockabilly/doo-wop project called Ladyfingers, which released a series of albums and toured the U.S. frequently. While playing a show in New York, Weiner first crossed paths with Birmingham, England, native Dan Finnemore. A singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Finnemore was playing drums in a band called The Big Bang. He’d come up as part of Birmingham’s Cold Rice scene, a garage-rock record label, club night and collective in the mold of Memphis’ Goner Records.
Like Weiner, Finnemore had been similarly shaped by the music of Memphis — Jerry Lee Lewis, Stax, old-school rock ‘n’ roll — and the two eventually recorded a set of songs that ended up turning into the first Low Cut Connie album, “Get Out the Lotion.”
The band’s debut vividly defined the Low Cut Connie aesthetic: ’50s-flavored melodies, greasy boogie rhythms, salty lyrics and a sometimes-boozy, but always-lively approach. In 2011, they decided to print a few hundred copies of the album and mail them out to media and labels just to see what might happen.
A couple months later, the first of their many press plaudits came in the form of a rave review by Robert Christgau, the dean of American rock critics. Then in rapid succession came glowing features on NPR and in Rolling Stone, and spots on scores of year-end best-of lists. For an album that was self-released almost as a lark, with little or no expectations, the response was more than a little surprising.
“Nobody had any ambitious thoughts about this as a project. But within six months we were in Rolling Stone, reviewed on ‘Fresh Air’ — all those things happened before we’d played five shows. All that set me on the path with this thing, and I’m still trying to figure out what this is,” laughs Weiner.
The band continued with Weiner and Finnemore at the helm for several more years, as they released 2012’s spirited “Call Me Sylvia” and 2015’s soulful “Hi Honey.” In 2015, Finnemore left the group and returned to England. Since then, Low Cut Connie has become Weiner’s baby. He took a bold step releasing a pair of R&B-steeped albums titled “Dirty Pictures Vol 1 and 2” in 2017 and 2018.
“Musically, and artistically every year that’s gone by I’ve changed, and the band has grown. I like that our fans are going along with that,” he says. “We’re not stuck in a moment from 2011 or 2012 of what the band was. Each year I try and open up people’s expectations of what the band is and can be.”
The changes have brought the group some serious notice. In 2015, Low Cut Connie ended up on Obama’s iPod playlist. The president proved to be a real fan, and Weiner ended up visiting the White House the following year. Then, last year, piano man Elton John became an outspoken supporter of the group, playing them on his Apple Music radio show and talking them up on stage. Critics, too, have started to write and think about the band differently.
“Our first few records were received well, but not taken seriously, if that makes sense,” Weiner says. “We were seen as a party band, this red-blooded rock ‘n’ roll thing. I think I’ve changed the conversation a bit. But it took a lot of work.”
The group’s tireless touring schedule has been rewarded as well. Now represented by the William Morris Agency, the Connies have developed into summer festival favorites.
“Last year was our coming out party at all these festivals: Newport Folk, Bonnaroo, BottleRock, Pickathon,” Weiner says. “With our own shows, the crowds have grown a lot. It’s all been a cumulative effect — it hasn’t been one silver bullet thing. We had the Elton John thing, we did ‘Late Night with Seth Meyers,’ which was our national TV debut. All the festivals, a tour with Social Distortion and, mostly, a lot of word of mouth. Every time we go back to a city it’s a little bigger.”
Amid the road work, Weiner has been busy self-producing a new album. He started the still-untitled project last year at Ardent and has since recorded at studios in Northern California, Louisville and Philadelphia, with Memphis sound ace Adam Hill flying in to engineer the sessions.
“During that time there’s been a lot of changeover in the band, and we’ve brought in different session players for things, and then there’s songs where I play all the instruments,” Weiner says. “‘The ‘Dirty Pictures’ albums were two concise, short little rock ‘n’ roll records. I’m making a big mess now. Hopefully it will turn out just right.”
Nearly 10 years into it, Weiner finally seems assured of the band’s future, and his own.
“I stumbled into this thing,” he admits. “Low Cut Connie has essentially become a solo project for me, but it’s still a band — weird as that sounds. As I grow and change, so does the band. So far, people have been responding.”
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