By Michael Hamad
2:40 PM EST, March 4, 2013
You Scream I Scream w/ Dr. Westchesterson, Ladyhips
March 9, 9:30 p.m., $7-$10, Arch Street Tavern, 85 Arch St., Hartford, (860) 246-7610, archstreettavern.com
We've arguably reached a point where we measure a musician's global impact by how many views they've gotten on YouTube.
If that's the case, the career of Western, Mass. hip-hop artist Dr. Westchesterson, who shares a bill with You Scream I Scream and Ladyhips at Arch Street Tavern on March 9, is off to a good start. "413" and "(I'm From) Western Mass," two of his hometown shout-out vids, have been viewed over 100,000 times. (One web commenter suggested Westchesterson has accomplished more as a Western Mass-booster than any politician.)
Notoriety, even the hyper-local kind, can be a mixed blessing, however, if you're trying to stay on the quiet side of the law. According to his website bio, Westchesterson was busted with 20 lbs. of marijuana in the late '90s, when he was working as a medical doctor in Portland, Ore. Allegedly, he skipped bail, living either in Mexico or Canada for a few years before returning.
"It has elements of tragedy," Westchesterson said by phone from an undisclosed location. "It was bleak there for a little while. I did some shenanigans there in the '90s that tripped me up for a bit."
The Advocate hasn't been able to substantiate his claims. And anyway: why bother? The Agawam native doesn't appear to be milking his outlaw past for much of anything. He's a likeable guy who sounds more ashamed of his past than proud. (C'mon: it's just weed, a substance that's almost legal in the state where he was arrested.)
Westchesterson dresses well, sports a beard, wears sunglasses and smokes a pipe — presumably stuffed with decent pot. He has interesting friends — one owns the Dukes of Hazzard/General Lee-painted Charger Westchesterson rides in the "Western Mass" video. ("It kinda made sense to use it in the video because it matched the outfit," the Dr. said.)
Another pal is comedian Steven Wright, who also appears in "Western Mass." "We hang out and talk about crazy things," Westchesterson said, "things you might imagine talking about with Steven Wright. We're usually coming up with weird scenarios: wouldn't it be funny if this, wouldn't it be funny if that." One scenario involved Wright's cameo. "I said, 'Why don't we do something funny together?' He was great. Obviously, he's gracious. He's the greatest guy. It was nice of him to take the time and be in it."
"413" is essentially a comedy video name-checking Westchesterson's favorite WeMa landmarks: the Polynesian-themed Hu Ke Lau comedy club in Chicopee, the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, the Holyoke Mall. He's charismatic, and his music contains enough off-kilter squeaks and skronks to reward you if you watch more than once. He makes you wish your own medical doctor was funnier.
When "413" (a Western Massachusetts area code) started getting hits, Westchesterson grew concerned it would draw unwelcome attention from any agencies still involved in his case, although these days he's not sure there are any. "Marijuana laws seem to be loosening up," he said. "I don't know if some of these cases are high up enough on the priority list. I have friends in certain places that have checked on things for me, and there doesn't seem to be any immediate threat. But I do take certain precautions to be discreet and lay low, as low as you can lay when you're trying to be a hip-hop megastar."
The Dr.'s music samples well-known funk and rock songs; "Western Mass" draws upon the Staple Singers' "I'll Take You There," while "413" repurposes Buddy Miles' "Them Changes," a song he popularized with Hendrix's Band of Gypsys. He doesn't sell his music, fearing more of the wrong kind of attention. "I've gotten pretty good about not incriminating myself," he said. "Westchesterson is now my real name. I've changed it for all intents and purposes." This past winter, he spent a great deal of time in the studio, working more slowly and deliberately than he used to, using productions tricks he's learned along the way.
Because of the success of the two videos, Westchesterson said he feels some pressure to up his game every time he releases something new. "The production values are better, it's sonically more interesting, there are strings and horn parts on there," he said. "Thematically, it's the same old stuff: smoking weed, bitches, ballin', the everyday life of the modern-day gangster, pretty much."
Although the Arch Street gig will be his first in Connecticut, Westchesterson has plans to add more dates throughout the Northeast, although it will probably raise his profile even more.
"Again, it's tricky to do the dance and balance both things," Westchesterson said. "But you can't go through life looking over your shoulder all the time. You have to not worry about it and move forward... As far as drugs go, there are so many other things to be concerned with. I think a lot of people are finally realizing that."
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