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Mike Dillon

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Vibraphonist, percussionist, and songwriter Mike Dillon is an eclectic, highly adventurous musician with a sound steeped in post-bop jazz, funk, and avant-garde rock. Drawing upon such wide-ranging influences as Harry Partch, Thelonious Monk, Tom Waits, and Frank Zappa, he has led and co-led numerous ensembles, including the Dead Kenny Gs, Garage a Trois, and Critters Buggin'. As a sideman, Dillon has also worked with a varying cadre of acclaimed performers, such as Primus' Les Claypool, Karl Denson, Ricki Lee Jones, and Ani DiFranco. In addition, he has released his own genre-bending albums, including 2007's Battery Milk with his Go-Go Jungle band, 2014's New Orleans jazz- and R&B-influenced Band of Outsiders, and 2020's inventive covers album Rosewood. In 2021, he released an ambitious, deeply personal trilogy of albums: Shoot the Moon, Suitcase Man, and 1918. A native of San Antonio, Texas, Dillon started playing percussion around age ten and participated in his school's music program and the local youth symphony. After high school, he studied classical music in college, played in jazz ensembles, and was a member of his school's marching band. He also began investigating Latin and African rhythmic traditions. By the late '80s, Dillon was playing in the progressive art-rock band Ten Hands, after which he founded the group Billy Goat. It was during this period that he discovered the music of Thelonious Monk and decided to shift gears, focusing more on jazz improvisation and developing his skills on the vibraphone. He began accepting work as a sideman, playing on such varied projects as MC 900 Ft. Jesus, Brave Combo, and Pigface. He also joined the genre-bending outfit Critters Buggin', recording 1998's Bumpa and 1999's Amoeba. In the early 2000s, Dillon moved to New Orleans, where he quickly found a home in the city's vibrant and eclectic music scene. More sessions followed, including albums with the avant-garde ensemble the Malachy Papers, guitarist Karl Denson, and bassist Les Claypool. He also joined drummer Stanton Moore's Garage a Trois ensemble, appearing on 2003's Emphasizer. There were more albums with Critters Buggin', including 2004's Stampede and 2005's Monkeypot Merganzer. In 2007, he debuted his own Matt Dillon's Go-Go Jungle band with Battery Milk. Two years later, he released his sophomore album as leader, Rock Star Bench Press. There were also notable recordings with Ani DiFranco, David Egan, Ruthie Foster, and the Polyphonic Spree. He led a collective called the the Dead Kenny GS with Skerik and Brad Houser, together releasing 2011's Operation Long Leash on Royal Potato Family. Also in 2011, he was back with Garage a Trois for Always Be Happy, But Stay Evil. In 2012, Dillon released his own Urn on Royal Potato Family, and played on Doug Belote's Magazine St. He also recorded with Stuart McLamb's The Love Language and participated as a member of Karl Denson's Tiny Universe for 2014's New Ammo. That year, Dillon joined trombonist Carly Meyers, bassist Patrick McDevitt, and drummer Adam Gertner for the quartet album Band of Outsiders, recorded in Miami with co-producers Gary Vandy and Richard Maloney, Jr. Along with continued work with DiFranco, Dillon also played on projects during this period with Primus, Papa Mali, the New Mastersounds, and others. Another incarnation of the Mike Dillon Band -- featuring guitarist Cliff Hines, bassist Nathan Lambertson and an alternating cast of drummers including Claude Coleman Jr. (Ween), Simon Lott, G. Maxwell, Doug Belote, and Paul Thibodeaux -- entered a Crescent City recording studio and continued to explore the connections between NOLA street beats, ska, funk, punk, and jazz. With co-production by Richard Maloney and engineering from Rick Nelson and Robert Mercurio, the group emerged with Life Is Not a Football in April 2017. A year later, he released Bonobo Bonobo, a New Orleans funk- and punk-influenced album recorded with his Mallett Men ensemble. Following sessions with Rickie Lee Jones, Karl Denson, and Toronto's Bedouin Soundclash, Dillon relocated to Kansas City, Missouri. In July 2020, he released Rosewood, a solo vibes and percussion album that found him playing originals alongside covers, including a reworking of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt." By the end of the year, he had released a trilogy of albums recorded during lockdown for the COVID-19 pandemic, Shoot the Moon, Suitcase Man, and 1918.
© Matt Collar /TiVo
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