Big Head Todd & The Monsters new album, Black Beehive, is due out Feb. 4 via Shout! Factory.
It arrives a quarter century after the group’s debut album, Another Mayberry was recorded by the current and original lineup - Todd Park Mohr on guitar and vocals, Brian Nevin on drums and vocals and Rob Squires on bass and vocals (keyboardist/pedal steel guitarist Jeremy Lawton joined in 2004).
Black Beehive was produced and mixed by Grammy-winning multi-instrumentalist Steve Jordan (John Mayer, Keith Richards, Buddy Guy). Mohr and Jordan first met while planning a birthday party for blues guitarist Hubert Sumlin, who died in 2011. Jordan was the musical director.
Mohr says, “When Hubert passed away it ended up being a tribute concert at the Apollo Theater: Eric Clapton and Billy Gibbons and Keith Richards—there were probably 35 incredible musicians at this thing. I was immediately awestruck by Steve’s command of the material and his understanding of it and his ability to get it done on short notice with all these people. I thought this guy would be an unbelievable producer for me to work with.”
As he began writing material for the album, Mohr drew from both from his own life experiences and from events in the news. The title track, “Black Beehive,” which refers to the late British soul singer Amy Winehouse, was written following her untimely death.
“I love her voice and her performances, and obviously her shenanigans were part of her persona,” says Mohr. Several other songs were inspired by headlines, including “We Won’t Go Back,” which Mohr penned about the 2010 Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East, and “Fear, Greed and Ignorance,” whose topical lyrics declare that it’s those three dishonorable traits that are “driving you America off the edge of the road.”
Not every track is quite so pointed, however. “Hubert’s Dream,” is for the aforementioned Sumlin, while “Hey Delila,” which opens the album, is Mohr’s tribute to another blues giant, Memphis Minnie.
“I happened to acquire a great example of her instrument, which was a 1941 Spanish National resonator guitar. Plus, she has an incredible life story,” he says. “Everything About You” is dedicated to America’s space program, a nod to NASA which, in 2011, called upon BHTM (as their fans call them) to awaken the Discovery space shuttle crew with their song “Blue Sky,” the first time live music was ever used for that purpose.
Among the album’s other tunes, “Josephina,” and “Seven State Lines” are what Mohr describes simply as “blues-based themes,” while “I Get Smooth” is “a comedy piece.” The cautionary tale “Travelin’ Light” is the story of lovers who “threw away our hearts and fled” and the moving “Forgive Me Bonnie” is based on a true story of a “gentleman who got a love letter delivered to him 53 years later by the Postal Service.”
Guests on the album include Eddie Shaw, who played with Howlin’ Wolf for many years, on harmonica and saxophone, Ronnie Baker Brooks on guitar, and Steve Jordan, who played on almost every track.
“The other guys have shown great support of my songwriting and what I’m able to do, and all of the band members bring a lot to the plate, both musically and as a unit,” says Mohr. “No one ever expects a band to last this long. We’re very, very lucky.”
1. Hey Delila
2. Everything About You
3. Seven State Lines
5. Black Beehive
6. We Won't Go Back
7. Fear, Greed and Ignorance
8. Hubert's Dream
9. I Get Smooth
10. Travelin' Light
11. Forever Bonnie