Sell-out crowd goes ‘Crazy On’ Heart tribute band
By Larry Coffey
I recall telling school friends about an incredible new rock band led by two Canadian sisters living and performing in Seattle. I was a 16-year-old senior at Knoxville’s West High School. Rock & roll was primarily a man’s world.
I had purchased Heart’s “Dreamboat Annie” album over the weekend. Ann Wilson’s “Crazy on You” vocals made me crazy on her. It was love at first listen.
A 40-year military career sent me everywhere Heart wasn’t. So, I never saw my beloved Ann Wilson live. I did, however, experience the next best thing May 15 when Nashville-based “Barracuda, America’s Heart Tribute,” performed before a sold-out crowd at Knoxville’s Open Chord.
Barracuda lead vocalist Shareen King portrays Ann Wilson. Dare I compare her driving, dramatic soprano vocals to Wilson’s? I’m no professional music critic, but yes.
Music critics and listeners alike describe performances giving them chills. Now I get it, having literally felt those chills as King sang “Crazy on You.”
“Wow,” I thought. “That’s a first.”
King and her husband, Barracuda manager and sound man Doug Brace, started the band as “Back to Avalon” in late 2017. Several years and name changes later, they’ve settled on Barracuda, America’s Heart Tribute.
“I started this band out of my passion for Heart's music,” she said. “We knew they had taken a break from touring. We wanted to pick up where they left off and keep it going!”
A Rochester, N.Y., native, King cut her musical teeth with her church’s worship team. Her professional music career began singing radio-commercial jingles and recording song-writer demos writers use to market their work to bands.
Originally a country artist, King moved to Nashville in 2000 for more opportunities and continued recording song-writer demos, playing in several bands before starting Barracuda.
Powerful lead vocalists like Shareen King often succeed backed by an average to good band. That’s not the case with Barracuda. The musicians - all of them - were amazing.
Jenn Janét delivered a striking Nancy Wilson vocal performance, whether solo or as half the renowned Wilson sister vocal harmonies. She played acoustic, rhythm and lead guitar, going toe to toe with lead guitarist Chris Reynolds during dueling guitar breakouts that brought the crowd to its feet.
Janét is a busy woman, performing with five bands. She drives or flies from her native Louisiana to Barracuda performances.
“This is the best band I’ve ever worked with,” said Janét, who estimated she’s performed with about 24 bands in her 20-plus years as a professional musician. “Everybody is an incredible, humble musician. I just love them.”
Lead guitarist Reynolds is one of those musicians. His 35 years of experience are evident in his playing, showmanship and presence. He’s good – very good – but never in your face. He said Eddie Van Halen was his greatest influence.
“It was like he was letting you in on the biggest party around,” Reynolds said.
When the spotlight turned to Reynolds, he flashed a warm, welcoming, Van Halen-like smile, letting his creative riffs and power chords do his talking and letting his audience in on the biggest party around. And they loved it.
Barracuda musicians also included Jeff Gibson on keyboard and Billy Jones on drums. Bassist Ronnie Kimball unexpectedly became ill and was covered by Bobby East. Of note, East took the stage with no rehearsals, though it was not noticeable.
Open Chord’s packed house included local radio personality J.J. Jeffries from Knoxville’s 104.9 Lake FM. With 40-plus in the radio and live music industries, he said he’s very critical of bands.
“This is an incredibly well-crafted band,” he said after the first of two sets. “Their stage presence is amazing. There’s no sign of egos or competition. I love the way they share the stage with one another. The lead vocalist is unbelievable. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear that’s Ann Wilson on that stage. This is how professional musicians are supposed to sound.”
Jeffries said Lake FM’s ‘70s- and ‘80s-focused programming includes Heart’s music and he intends to talk about Barracuda’s performance when the next Heart song comes up in the rotation.
So, what’s my verdict?
I admit to feeling no teenage heart flutters during Shareen King’s “Crazy on You” vocals. But she and the entire band were crazy good! Do yourself a favor. Go see Barracuda. You’ll be singing, “Ohh, barra-barracuda…”
Larry Coffey is a retired Navy journalist who worked 40 years as a newspaper and TV reporter, and radio and night club DJ and MC.