Called “a fine and funky pianist” by Living Blues (July/August 1996), Craig Brenner has been voted “Best Musician” in Bloomington, Indiana numerous times in the Bloomington Independent. Craig & The Crawdads has been chosen best band.
Craig grew up in North Miami Beach, FL and graduated from Florida Southern College in 1970. While at FSC, Craig performed in the Concert Choir and in two bands: The Effect of Sound and The Horizon, both of which featured Craig on keyboard and vocal, Waite Willis on rhythm guitar and vocal, Raggy Ragsdale on lead guitar and vocal, Larry Stahl on drums, and Lyn Joyner on bass. After graduation, Craig returned to North Miami Beach and studied music for two years at Miami-Dade Community College North; his studies included classical piano with Elizabeth Fishbein, jazz piano with Wally Cirillo, arranging with Tony Pandy, and oboe with Neal Bonsanti. Craig performed in the Chamber Singers and in the Stage Band at Miami-Dade Community College under the direction of jazz trumpeter John Giorgini. In 1976, Craig moved to Bloomington, IN and attended the Indiana University School of Music from 1976 through 1980, where he studied piano with Enrica Cavallo, Joseph Rezits, and Alphonso Montecino, jazz improv with David Baker, oboe with Jerry Sirucek, and composition with John Eaton.
In the late 1970s, while attending the IU School of Music, Craig attended the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and appreciated first-hand Professor Longhair, James Booker, Tuts Washington, Dr. John, Fats Domino, and other piano players who were exploring the rhythmic and barrelhouse aspects of piano playing. Exposure to these New Orleans Piano Professors caused Craig to reevaluate his musical direction and style. Charles Brown, Memphis Slim, Ray Charles, the early boogie woogie players, and other jazz and blues stylists have since become part of Craig’s musical vocabulary.
In 1981, Craig and a few friends formed the jazz-funk band Kruise Kontrol. This was followed in 1984 by the fusion trio Sajonner, with Tj Jones and Saaku Saar; in 1985 by New Orleans R&B band Rhythm Method, with Kim Morgan, Jack Wilkins, Peter Roller, Kevin Newcomb, and Steve Johnson; also in 1985, rhythm and blues band Craig & The Crawdads first appeared. Their line-up has included guitarists Gordon Bonham, Mark Robinson and Stuart Norton, drummers Tim Brookshire, Lenny Marsh, Dan Hostetler and Jeff Chapin, bassists Nate Brenner, Brian Lappin, Steve Johnson and David Murray, vocalist Lori Brenner, sax players Joe Donnelly, Tom Gullion and Dennis Riggins, and occasionally Craig’s son Eli on percussion and accordionist David Wierhake, always featuring Craig’s piano. Since 2001, the group sometimes includes the Crawdettes, female vocalists including Lori Brenner, Sue Swaney, Jane McLeod, Laura Carlson, Sonja Rasmussen, and Andrea Fiedler.
In 1986, Jim Bracken, Gordon Bonham, Brian Lappin and Craig formed the legendary roots-rock Ragin’ Texans. With drummers Kenny Aronoff or Tim Brookshire, the Texans were one of the most popular bands in Indiana for seven years, and the band still performs for special occasions. The group has included several remarkable musicians in its long history. In addition to Bonham and Bracken, Jeff White, David Steele, and Stuart Norton have taken turns as featured guitarists; Kenny Aronoff, Tim Brookshire, Dan Hostetler and Shawn Pelton have occupied the drum throne; and several horn players, including Dennis and Tim Riggins and Tom Gullion, have been featured as “The Long Horns.” Special guests with the band have included Lisa Germano, John Prine, John Mellencamp, and many touring musicians who heard about the band and sat in. Through it all, Jim Bracken has been the sparkplug, and the band reunites whenever he returns from New Mexico.
Craig has studied with boogie woogie and stride piano master Bob Seeley and blues pianist Big Joe Duskin through a grant from the Indiana Arts Commission. Craig has played with Bo Didley and opened shows for B. B. King, C. J. Chenier, Queen Ida, Buckwheat Zydeco, Gary Burton, Richard Thompson, Wayne Toups, Honeyboy Edwards, Matt “Guitar” Murphy, the Radiators, Duke Robillard, Jimmy Rogers, and Terrance Simien. He has also regularly played piano at restaurants, clubs and festivals including Blues Piano Boogie Woogie Stomp, StoneSong, Hoosierfest, Oliver Winery, Taste of Bloomington, Indianapolis’ Circle Fest, Broadripple Art Festival, Broadripple Music Fest, Penrod Art Festival, the Ethnic and Sunburst Festivals in South Bend, the Uptown Jazz and Blues Festival in Lafayette, Washington Street Festival in Muncie and the Cincinnati Blues Fest.
Craig has performed live on many radio and television stations including WFYI (Indianapolis), WVPE (Elkhart), WFHB (Bloomington), WFIU and WTIU (Bloomington). His solo piano set at the 1997 Blues Festival in Cincinnati was recorded by the Blues Foundation of Memphis and broadcast worldwide on the radio program “Beale Street Caravan.” For information or to obtain a copy, contact the Blues Foundation at 901-527-2583. Craig returns to Cincinnati annually to join blues and boogie-woogie piano players from around the world appearing on the Arches Piano Stage at the Blues Fest. He also performs in New Orleans annually during the Jazz & Heritage Festival at one of the New Orleans Jazz National Park venues in the French Quarter. In 2014, Craig performed at the 16th annual Festival International de Boogie Woogie de Laroquebrou, Fr.
Craig’s first recording, Backstage Boogie (1990) is all instrumental, with Craig on piano and drummer Dan Hostetler. Play it Again, Professor! (1995), includes conga drummer and Professor Longhair collaborator Alfred “Uganda” Roberts (see more about Uganda in the description of Live At The Old Mint below), drummers Kenny Aronoff and Tim Brookshire, guitarists Gordon Bonham and Stuart Norton, bassists Brian Lappin and John Huber, tenor sax-man Dennis Riggins, and trombonists Tim Riggins and Dave Pavolka. The jazzy Man At the Piano (1997) features Craig & The Crawdads. Window On the Soul (2002) recorded at Echo Park Studios, includes ten original compositions and features Craig’s sons Eli and Nate Brenner as well as Bonham, Norton, Brookshire, Pavolka, James Campbell, Jeff Chapin, Joe Donnelly, Bob Dubinski, Pat Harbison, Janiece Jaffe, Jane McLeod, Jerry Morris, Sonja Rasmussen, Sue Swaney, Pete Wilhoit and others. Live to Love (2009) by Craig Brenner & The Crawdads consists of all original music, with the first appearance on record of expressive vocalist Lori Brenner.
Live At The Old Mint: Blues and Boogie Woogie Piano, released Jan. 1, 2014, includes eight tracks with Alfred “Uganda” Roberts on congas recorded at the Old U.S. Mint in New Orleans in April of 2013. Other tracks feature Craig solo at the Old Mint in 2012 and at the Artsgarden in Indianapolis, and one track with Lori Brenner on rubboard. New Orleans native Alfred “Uganda” Roberts is an in-demand conga/percussion player whose relationship with producer Allen Toussaint led to Roberts becoming house percussionist at Sea Saint Studios. Roberts played on recordings such as the Meters’ “Afrika” and “Hey Pocky Way,” on Toussaint’s Life, Love, and Faith (1972), and on The Wild Magnolias (1974). In 1972, Roberts was introduced to pianist Professor Longhair at the 2nd annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival by Jazz Fest producer/founder Quint Davis, and Roberts toured and recorded with Fess for eight years until Fess’ death in 1980. Roberts is featured on Longhair’s Rock N Roll Gumbo (1977) with Snooks Eaglin and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, and on Fess’ last studio album, Crawfish Fiesta (1980). The London Concert (recorded 1978) is a duo performance by Longhair and Roberts. Roberts toured with Willie Tee and the Wild Magnolias from 1980 until 1986, when he took a hiatus from the music industry, occasionally coming out of semi-retirement to tour and record on Dr. John’s Goin’ Back to New Orleans (1992), Craig Brenner’s Play It Again, Professor!(1995) and Man At The Piano (1997), and Dr. John’s Dis, Dat, or D’udda (2004). Primary recording engineers for Live At The Old Mint were Danny Kadar at the Old U.S. Mint and Jeff Mountjoy at the Artsgarden, with mixing and mastering by Jacob Belser of Primary Sound Studios, and graphic design by Merridee LaMantia.
Craig is also featured on the Cooler Kings’ blues CD Looks Like Trouble, on Cathi Norton’s Various Stages of Undress, on Piney Woods’ Big Blues Party, Sonny Carter’s Wings of Time, on CDs by Andy Ruff and the Dew Daddies and Red Eye Max, and on Music for Memory, produced by Mark Butterfield to benefit the Alzheimer’s Association of Indiana.
For over six years Craig hosted a radio program in Bloomington, IN, entitled “Play It Again, Professor!” on WFHB 91.3 & 98.1 FM Community Radio. The show focused on post-ragtime American piano styles and artists, featuring a different artist or genre each week. The show aired from January of 1993 until July of 1999.
In addition to performing and recording, Craig composes, arranges, and teaches advanced piano students the fundamentals of jazz, blues, and boogie woogie piano. Piano Music by Craig Brenner contains many original pieces and is available for purchase.