Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Pay To Play (But Keep Love In Your Heart)

Welcome to Chicago, Illinois -- a place long celebrated for its great pizza, beautiful lakefront, and wonderful music scene. It's surely just a matter of time before folks around the country figure out that our city and state are also noteworthy for the dead-fish stench of political corruption that has, for decades, filled the air here in the Land of Lincoln.

The Blue State Cowboys hit the studio last night to record their musical take on this political cesspool:


PAY TO PLAY (But Keep Love In Your Heart)

Matt Farmer

All my life I’ve been a workin’ man
On Chicago’s northwest side
Livin’ check to check, never gettin’ ahead
No matter how hard I tried

I had an old friend from the neighborhood
He grew up to do just fine
He couldn’t read or write to save his life
But I guess his boss didn’t mind

Now, I never quite knew what my old friend did
To get that money rollin’ in
But life, I guess, can be pretty good
For a state committeeman

So, one night over beer at the local bar
I said, “How’d you make your dough?”
My friend just grinned a wicked grin
And said “Here’s all you need to know”

CHORUS
You’ve got to pay-to-play in this town
If you wanna make that deal go down
It’s who you know inside the Big Machine
Just find the man that’s behind the man
And put some money in his hand
That’s how we try to keep our city green

VERSE
Well, the liquor flowed and the stories flew
And my old friend bared his soul
About rigging bids and getting neighbor kids
Good jobs on a ghost payroll

He said he’d be happy to help me out
If there was anything he could do
Like try to arrange a zoning change
Or put me on a movie crew

Well, we talked and talked until last call
And then I told him I was beat
Then he climbed aboard his hired truck
To see a man about a Senate seat

And late that night as I lay in bed
You know I finally figured it out
My friend didn’t need to read or write
Cause he had himself some clout

CHORUS
You’ve got to pay-to-play in this town
If you wanna make that deal go down
It’s who you know inside the Big Machine
Just find the man that’s behind the man
And put some money in his hand
That’s how we try to keep our city green

CHORUS
You’ve got to pay-to-play in this town
If you wanna make that deal go down
It’s who you know inside the Big Machine
If you wanna standout
You gotta know who gets the handout
That’s how we try to keep our city green
It’s a daily job to keep our city green


Thanks to Mouse and Fig over at Reelsounds Chicago for making time to get us into their wonderful recording studio on short notice. Extra special thanks to my music-making buddies for braving last night's Chicago snowstorm to join me on this project. You guys are the best.


Brian Wilkie works his steel guitar magic.


Peter Strand (bass) and Peter Manis (drums) hold down the bottom.


Stevie Doyle spanks the plank.


Annalee Koehn's harmonies can make even political corruption sound angelic.


Thom "Fig" Fiegle works the big board.

Since this is the holiday season, the BSC gang asks all of you to heed the words of our governor (recently channeling Elvis) and try to "keep love in your heart."

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Pre-T'giving Fun (Version 2.1)


It ain't the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade, but as far as holiday traditions go, I've had a good thing going for eight of the last ten years. I’ve managed -- with my wife's blessing, of course -- to kick off the long Thanksgiving weekend by playing an after-work gig in a Chicago tavern, and I've been lucky enough to have a lot of my musically-inclined friends sign on for the event.

One of the highlights, of course, has been the willingness of the St. Louis Horns, my music-making compadres from Missouri, to make the 300-mile trip to town for the near-annual November bash. This year, however, scheduling issues and a global economic meltdown have conspired against such a large-scale musical onslaught. So I've implemented Plan B -- which means adapting and getting back to the basics.


This year, be sure to jump-start your holiday weekend on Wednesday, November 26, by joining me and my guitar-pickin’ buddy Stevie Doyle (pictured above) as we knock out hours of jukebox favorites at McKellin’s Pub, 2800 W. Touhy (at the corner of California and Touhy), in Chicago’s West Rogers Park neighborhood. We’ll cover a lot of musical ground (e.g., Hank, Haggard, Prine, Kristofferson, Cash, Elvis, Jerry Lee, Buddy, and Carl) and we may even have some special guests.

Mr. Doyle -- an honorary Blue State Cowboy, whenever I can get him on a gig -- has been working his Telecaster magic for over twenty years with numerous Chicago bands, and some of you have probably learned a few things from him through his classes and private lessons at the Old Town School of Folk Music. Over the years he’s shared stages with folks like Pinetop Perkins, David Bromberg, Dale Watson, John Primer, and Smokey Smothers.

McKellin’s is a great neighborhood tavern, and there’s plenty of parking. It’s an early start time. We’ll play from 6:30 p.m. until about 9:30 p.m., and there is no cover charge. Hope to see you down the line.

Some Love From Joe Nick Patoski


A couple of days ago, while having my morning coffee, I e-mailed "Crawl Back To Crawford" -- my band's musical farewell to George W. Bush -- to Joe Nick Patoski, a guy I consider the dean of Texas music writers.

Now, I'd never met Joe Nick, but I've been reading his work for decades. (In fact, I highly recommend his recent biography of Willie Nelson -- a perfect gift for any Willie fan in your family.) Truth is, I sent Joe Nick the song on a lark, thinking it might be nice if someone in Texas dug it.

Turns out he dug it and quickly asked me if he could post the song on his blog. That was a no-brainer for me.

I don't know who visits Joe Nick's blog, but it did make my week to know that a writer whose work I've enjoyed for a long time wanted to post my tune (along with a very cool song -- "Do The Soul President" -- from some serious studio cats in Dallas) on his cyber-forum.

Life's simple pleasures . . . .

Saturday, November 8, 2008

A Stax Saturday Night


I was in musical heaven last Saturday night. Booker T. & the MGs hit Chicago, along with Mavis Staples and her fine band.

And my wife and I had third row seats.

Now, over the years, I've been lucky enough to see a lot of my musical heroes play live -- e.g., Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Art Blakey, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Bo Diddley, Albert King, B.B. King, Andres Segovia, Dan Penn, Kris Kristofferson, James Brown, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Eddie Palmieri, Gil Evans, The Temptations (w/ Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin), Jay McShann -- but I've never been able to catch a performance by Booker T. & the MGs. I don't think they've played a lot of Chicago dates during the last couple of decades.

The guys are obviously a little older and grayer than they were when they served as one of the greatest house bands ever (see clip below), but old age hasn't slowed them down on the bandstand. They still bring it.





As for Mavis Staples -- a fellow Chicagoan -- I have been fortunate enough to see her perform over the years, and she still sounds great. Her new record, which was recorded live at The Hideout in Chicago and released this week, captures the feel of the show I saw on Saturday. Her current band features a fine guitarist, Rick Holmstrom, who obviously absorbed a lot of Pops Staples's playing.










If I die tomorrow, I'll die having seen Booker T. & the MGs perform live. (And, yes, I'll look up Al Jackson, Jr. when I get there.) Pretty cool.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Crawl Back To Crawford

The Blue State Cowboys offer their musical farewell to George W. Bush.



CRAWL BACK TO CRAWFORD
(Matt Farmer)

VERSE
Well, for eight long years we’ve been payin’ your rent
But now your lease done run
And all our money’s been spent
So pack up your bags
And take a last look around
At how you drove a great nation straight into the ground

CHORUS
And don’t let the door
Hit you in the ass on the way out
Don’t bother with the goodbyes
Just make sure that you stay out
There ain’t no need to call
No need to write
We don’t even need you to turn out the light
Just crawl back to Crawford, brother
Promise that you’ll leave us alone

VERSE
Every step of the way, your story’s been the same
Just cruisin’ through the world
On your daddy’s name
You had the oilmen friends
You had the Skull and Bones
But it never would have happened if your name was Jones

REPEAT CHORUS

BRIDGE

Slam dunk, privatize, deregulate
Tax cuts, trickle down
The politics of hate
Flag pin, waterboard
Intelligent design
You were handed your throne by just five of the nine

REPEAT CHORUS
____________________________________________
Thanks to my friend Don Grayless (pictured below) for recording this song on short notice.


Thanks, too, to my music-making friends Brian Wilkie (guitar), Stevie Doyle (guitar), Peter Strand (bass), Peter Manis (Drums), Diana Laffey (background vocals), and Gerald McClendon (background vocals) for their work on this tune.

Unfortunately, we couldn't get The St. Louis Horns to town in time to record with us -- not that they would have even wanted to get involved with these partisan antics . . . .

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Eight Long Years


When I started this blog, I decided that music would be its focus. That's why, for the past six months, I've avoided posting entries about sports, religion, sub-prime mortgages, or the joys of alpaca farming.

We are, howevever, counting down the hours until Election Day, and I remain a political junkie -- albeit one who has tried hard for twenty-five years to kick that particular habit. And, to date, I've successfully resisted the urge to write about presidential politics.

This blog entry is no exception. It's about music. Really. It's about a song I penned earlier this month. Granted, the song is my musical farewell to George W. Bush, and its current working title is "Crawl Back to Crawford," but this blog entry is about music - not politics.

So, musically speaking, I'm thrilled to announce that many of my all-star, music-making friends (Brian Wilkie and Stevie Doyle - guitars; Peter Strand - bass; Peter Manis - Drums; Diana Laffey and Gerald McClendon - background vocals) are going to join me in the recording studio on Monday night (October 27) to bring this little ditty to life. We hope to have it ready for your Election Day parties.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Pleasant Surprise


A couple of weeks ago, after the family had turned in for the evening, I wandered down the street to hear Jimmie Dale Gilmore perform a late night set. I've seen Jimmie Dale perform a number of times -- both on his own and with the Flatlanders -- so I knew what I was getting. Nice show, no surprises, the usual stream-of-consciousness rambling between songs.

The wild card for the evening was Jimmie Dale's opening act, Eilen Jewell. Being a music geek, I generally try to learn something about an act -- even an opening act -- before I walk into a club or theater. That night, however, I walked in a blank slate, not having done my usual due diligence. My tuned-in musician buddy Stevie Doyle, with whom I attended the show, hadn't heard of her either. Nevertheless, we were both impressed with what we heard.

The Boston-based singer-songwriter hit town with her crack band and played a tight set of intelligent, swinging music. Her relaxed, behind-the-beat phrasing evoked Willie Nelson, Gillian Welch, and even Billie Holiday. (After citing Lady Day as a big influence, Jewell and the band did their own take on "Fine and Mellow" -- and it worked well.)

I thought enough of Jewell and her band that I bought a copy of their most recent CD -- 2007's "Letters From Sinners and Strangers" (Signature Sounds) -- in the lobby after the show. The disc is excellent. I'm not sure how I missed out on hearing about this band last year.

Here's a clip of the band performing the opening cut from that CD:







Check out Eilen Jewell when she hits your town.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Blue State Bliss (Part Two)

The Blue State boys had a lot of fun playing in the battleground state of Ohio last Saturday night. Several members of my geographically-challenged band (based out of St. Louis and Chicago) flew into Cleveland one day early. As a result they were able to hit some local attractions -- e.g., an Indians game, The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the Flats, etc.


To ensure that we had guitars, amps and drums at the event, a couple of us loaded up the family truckster and drove from Chicago to Cleveland on Saturday morning. It made for a long day, but we managed -- despite some rainstorms right out of the Old Testament -- to make it to the gig in time for a mid-afternoon soundcheck.





It was undoubtedly the first time that any of us had played a show in an old red barn, but the guys and I gave it our barn-dance best. We even came away with a bit of rough video footage.







Thanks again to the bride and groom for having us out. We were honored to be a part of your special day.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Blue State Bliss


Yes, I’ve studied logic. Yes, I understand the fallacy of “post hoc ergo propter hoc” (“after this, therefore because of this”). Nevertheless, I still feel that a bride and groom can lay a strong foundation for their marriage by having my band play at their wedding.

Why? Well, to date, the St. Louis Horns and I have performed together at three weddings. All three of those couples are still happily married; in fact, two of them are closing in on their ten-year anniversaries.

To be completely accurate, the Horns and I have actually played only two wedding receptions together. The third event on our list was an amazing wedding rehearsal bash, held one night before the wedding. But since that bash was a swanky, private party held at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, and since the bride and groom flew our band in from Chicago and St. Louis, and since we played a full show for hundreds of guests, it stays on the list.

All of which brings me to tomorrow night. On Saturday, September 13, the St. Louis Horns and I look to extend our streak by setting the table for yet another happy marriage.

This time our traveling salvation show hits Akron, where the Blue State Cowboys will plug in for an evening of music at the Conrad Botzum Farmstead. The farm is located in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, and from the pictures on the farm's website, the place looks gorgeous.

We hope the weather cooperates, but rain or shine the Blue State boys will do our best to make the event a bucolic barn-burner -- figuratively speaking, of course.



We are honored that the bride and groom, whom we had never met until they wandered into one of our tavern gigs a few months back, thought enough of our band to invite us to travel from Illinois and Missouri to be a part of their special day in Ohio.

Expect a full rundown of all the fun in upcoming posts.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

"Down Goes Frazier!"

"Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!" Howard Cosell's staccato delivery of those words during the 1973 Frazier-Foreman fight was one of my favorite TV moments as a kid. (I used to do a pretty fair Cosell impression back when Nixon was in the White House.)

That said, and with apologies to Howard's estate, down goes Dallas Frazier as one of my favorite country/soul songwriters. Never heard of him? Then check out "The R&B Sessions," the recent release (on Australia's great Raven reissue label) of some of Mr. Frazier's work from the mid-1960s. It'll be time well spent.

Dallas was the guy who penned "Mohair Sam" (Charlie Rich), "Elvira" (Rodney Crowell, The Oak Ridge Boys), "Alley Oop" (The Hollywood Argyles), "There Goes My Everything" (Jack Greene), "True Love Travels Down a Gravel Road" (co-writer) (Elvis Presley, Percy Sledge), and many other classics. (The last two tunes listed are not on this reissue.)

Although Mr. Frazier's career as a recording artist never really took off, this pair of albums from the mid-1960s is a great listen. It's a wonderful blend of country, soul, and gospel delivered in two- to three-minute doses. If you're a fan of Charlie Rich or Buddy Miller, give it a listen.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Let's Hope This Deal Gets Done


Legendary music executive Jerry Wexler died last Friday at his home in Florida. If you don't know who Jerry Wexler is, read "Sweet Soul Music" by Peter Guralnick; better yet, listen to just about anything issued on Atlantic Records from 1953 through the late 1960s.

At the time of Mr. Wexler's death, he was working with my good friend Alan Elliott to bring to life a documentary about the making of "Amazing Grace," Aretha Franklin's great gospel record from 1972.

The film, which was orignally shot by the late Sidney Pollack, ended up in the Warner Brothers vault because the production company was never able to reach an agreement with Aretha.

Alan told me several months ago that he was working with Jerry Wexler to get this movie financed and released. I'm confident Alan will figure out a way to secure the financing to get this done.

After Mr. Wexler's death, Alan discussed the project with writer Ethan Smith for an article that appeared in Saturday's Wall Street Journal:

"Jerry always would say, 'My contribution to that session was that I brought a profane rhythm section into a sacred space,'" recalls Alan Elliott, a former Atlantic staff record producer.

* * * * *

"All the energy he poured into these phone calls at 91, you can only imagine what he must have been like 50 years ago," Mr. Elliott says.

* * * * *

Mr. Wexler and drummer Bernard Purdie felt that the rehearsals for "Amazing Grace," which Mr. Pollack also shot, were even more powerful than the actual sessions. Mr. Wexler was overseeing sound mixing on the rehearsals near the time of his death. The film is now being edited.
Over at Al's blog, he describes, as only he can, the events that sparked his involvement with this project.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this documentary hits the big screen one of these days.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

"Elvis Has Left The Building"


Because today is the thirty-first anniversary of Elvis Presley's death, you can bet that there are folks around the globe donning white jumpsuits and jet-black wigs to attend screenings of "Clambake" and "Flaming Star." I won't be among them. That's not the Elvis that hooked me as a kid.

I've been a fan of EP's music since I was a toddler. I sat glued to the tube as a four year-old, when the 1968 comeback special aired. (I still get goosebumps watching his performance of "If I Can Dream.") And as I got older, I came to appreciate the writing of folks like Peter Guralnick, Robert Gordon, and Greil Marcus, whose books shed light on the larger cultural and musical contexts in which Elvis crafted his body of work -- the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Yes, I'm a fan of Elvis, but being a music geek, I guess I'm also a student of Elvis -- in the same way I'm a student of Duke Ellington, James Brown, and Hank Williams.

Back in mid-2002, it was the "music student" in me that initially got a charge out of meeting Al Dvorin. My family and I had just moved into our Rogers Park home, and Al and his wife, Bernice, lived across the street.

As I later found out, Al loved to chat, and on one of the first Saturday afternoons we were in our new house, Al stopped my wife on the sidewalk and engaged her in a long conversation. During the course of that conversation, Al mentioned Elvis. My wife took that as a cue to tell Al, "You really need to meet my husband."

A couple minutes later, I wandered out of the house to meet Al. He was almost eighty years old, but that day we began a friendship that lasted until his death in August 2004.

You see, I knew about Al from Peter Guralnick's two-volume biography of Elvis -- and Al got a big kick out of that fact. And when I told Al that I was a part-time rocker and was probably the only guy in the neighborhood who had performed "Suspicious Minds" in Japan and "Burning Love" at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, he knew he'd met a kindred spirit.

You never would have guessed it by looking at the octogenarian who walked cautiously from his Rogers Park bungalow to his old blue station wagon, but Al was the man whose voice was heard at the end of the King's concerts: "Elvis has left the building. Thank you and good night."

During the short time I knew Al, he spent most of his time caring for his sick wife. After she passed away, he used to talk to me about his desire to go back “on the road” to attend the many Elvis festivals and conventions to which he was always invited. He said, “My family will think I’m nuts, but this is what I need to do right now.” And it was what he needed to do.

Al eventually went back "on the road." Sadly, in August 2004, he was killed in a car accident near Palm Springs on the way home from an Elvis tribute show.

Shortly before Al died, he was excited when a local pinball machine company – Stern, I believe -- wanted to license his voice for use in an Elvis game it was designing. Al asked me to review the proposed contract for him. I don’t know whether the game ever hit the market.

I’m glad I got to know Al Dvorin. I miss him, and I think of him often -- and always on August 16 -- the day on which Elvis left "The Building" for good.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Papa Jack -- Thanks for the Threads

Jack Weil, America's oldest living CEO, passed away on Wednesday . . . at the ripe old age of 107. He founded Rockmount Ranch Wear in 1946.

When it comes to cars, cameras, toothpaste, and most other consumer goods, I've never had much brand loyalty. Jack Weil's Rockmount shirts are the exception. When I put one on, I'm ready -- at least in my own mind -- to rock.

Most of the calendar year, I'm a lawyer. As a result, I have way too many lawyer clothes in my closet. They weren't fun to buy and they are not fun to wear. Every now and then, I get to shed the lawyer skin (no snake jokes, please) and lead my bar band. For those occasions, I keep a small section of music clothes in my closet. Those were fun to buy and they're also fun to wear. Most of those duds came from Jack Weil's company.

Elvis had Bernard Lansky; Gram Parsons had Nudie Cohen. Legends all.



But even without the talent or the checking accounts of Elvis and Gram (both of whom I've managed to outlive), I look forward to playing tavern gigs in Jack Weil's Rockmount shirts for a long time. Good Lord willing and the creek don't rise, I hope to be doing it when I turn 107.

Rest in peace, Papa Jack.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

If You Only Knew Him From "South Park" . . .

If you only knew Isaac Hayes -- who died earlier today -- as the voice of "Chef" from the TV show "South Park," you've missed out on a lot of music -- and a lot of music history. (Same is true if you only knew Buck Owens as a cornball character from TV's "Hee-Haw.")

Grab Rob Bowman's book "Soulsville USA: The Story of Stax Records" if you want the best account of Mr. Hayes and his contribution to soul music. Had Isaac Hayes never made a record as a solo artist, the songs that he wrote with his partner David Porter (e.g., "Soul Man," "Hold On, I'm Coming," "B-A-B-Y," "When Something Is Wrong With My Baby") would have ensured his place in any number of musical halls of fame. His performance credits, however, were equally noteworthy. Isaac Hayes was a massive talent.

To my ears, one of the more interesting -- though least popular -- records in his discography is his first Stax offering, "Presenting Isaac Hayes." It's a late-night piano trio record from 1968, and it features Ike's piano and vocals along with "Duck" Dunn's bass and the magnificent drumming of Al Jackson, Jr. The session, it is said, followed a Stax company party, and Isaac Hayes sounds, shall we say, quite relaxed. Check it out. The trio covers several standards and digs into some gospel and blues, as well.

The live clip below is not from that 1968 date, and it features a mega-star Ike with a larger group; nevertheless, his treatment of T-Bone Walker's "Stormy Monday Blues" carries a vibe similar to the one you'll feel on that first Stax record.



Isaac Hayes was 65 years old.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Ask and you shall receive . . .


In my July 19 post on this blog, I wrote about a recent Christie's auction of many of the late James Brown's possessions. The auction (and the ugliness that gave rise to it) disturbed me. After reading about an auction house selling off James Brown's hair rollers and gel, I asked:
Couldn't the Godfather's estate have figured out a more tasteful way to raise some cash? For example, there has got to be a wealth of old James Brown performance videos out there. I've been trying for years to track down a decent copy of James on the T.A.M.I. Show, but I've had no luck. I realize the JB estate may not own any rights to that particular video, but surely it owns rights to a lot of other great footage. James was too shrewd a businessman to have given all that away.
So imagine my surprise this afternoon when I stumbled upon a 3-DVD set -- just released yesterday and officially licensed by the Godfather's estate -- entitled "I Got The Feelin': James Brown in the '60s" The set features not only the documentary "The Night James Brown Saved Boston" -- a night more Americans should know about (see trailer below) -- but also footage from the T.A.M.I. show.



Spectacular. Buy it. Savor it. Share it with your kids.

"Can we hit it and quit it?"

Saturday, July 26, 2008

JG & KG


Within a four-hour span yesterday, I picked up two seemingly unrelated pieces of information about a couple of saxophone players. First, I learned that the great tenor-man Johnny Griffin passed away yesterday at his home in France. He was 80 years old. Mr. Griffin was born and raised right here in Chicago, but left the United States for Europe in the early 1960s, finding it easier to make a living as a jazz musician over there.

Second, while having a friendly chat with a seven year-old neighbor -- one of my daughter's playmates -- I learned that he listens to the soulless soprano sax stylings of Kenny G when he has a hard time falling asleep at night.

The strange confluence of my learning, within that four-hour window, about both JG's death and KG's role in my neighbor's life got me thinking. I'd wager that everyone in my office has heard of Kenny G and that most of my co-workers are generally familiar with his music. I'd also wager that no more than two of the roughly twenty people in that same office could tell you a single thing about Johnny Griffin. Sad but true.

If you never had the pleasure of seeing him play at the Jazz Showcase during his annual April visits to Chicago, you missed out. The little man had big chops. Check out this clip from a date at The Village Vanguard.



I don't know whether my little neighbor will ever learn about Griff (or Lockjaw, or Jug, or Long Tall Dexter, etc.), but his night-time reliance on the soporific sounds of Kenny G brought to mind Pat Metheny's screed -- from eight or nine years ago -- about the G-Man's decision to dub his own playing over a Louis Armstrong recording ("What A Wonderful World") and release the CD to his adoring public. (If you're a jazz fan who somehow missed this cyber-squabble years ago, click the link above.) Here's a taste of Mr. Metheny's invective:

Kenny G is not a musician I really had much of an opinion about at all until recently. There was not much about the way he played that interested me one way or the other either live or on records.

* * * *

But he did show a knack for connecting to the basest impulses of the large crowd by deploying his two or three most effective licks (holding long notes and playing fast runs - never mind that there were lots of harmonic clams in them) at the key moments to elicit a powerful crowd reaction (over and over again). The other main thing I noticed was that he also, as he does to this day, played horribly out of tune - consistently sharp.

* * * *

Of course, I am aware of what he has played since, the success it has had, and the controversy that has surrounded him among musicians and serious listeners. This controversy seems to be largely fueled by the fact that he sells an enormous amount of records while not being anywhere near a really great player in relation to the standards that have been set on his instrument over the past sixty or seventy years. And honestly, there is no small amount of envy involved from musicians who see one of their fellow players doing so well financially, especially when so many of them who are far superior as improvisors and musicians in general have trouble just making a living. There must be hundreds, if not thousands of sax players around the world who are simply better improvising musicians than Kenny G on his chosen instruments. It would really surprise me if even he disagreed with that statement.

* * * *

But, like I said at the top, this relatively benign view was all "until recently".

Not long ago, Kenny G put out a recording where he overdubbed himself on top of a 30+ year old Louis Armstrong record, the track "What a Wonderful World". With this single move, Kenny G became one of the few people on earth I can say that I really can't use at all - as a man, for his incredible arrogance to even consider such a thing, and as a musician, for presuming to share the stage with the single most important figure in our music.

This type of musical necrophilia - the technique of overdubbing on the preexisting tracks of already dead performers - was weird when Natalie Cole did it with her dad on "Unforgettable" a few years ago, but it was her dad. When Tony Bennett did it with Billie Holiday it was bizarre, but we are talking about two of the greatest singers of the 20th century who were on roughly the same level of artistic accomplishment. When Larry Coryell presumed to overdub himself on top of a Wes Montgomery track, I lost a lot of the respect that I ever had for him - and I have to seriously question the fact that I did have respect for someone who could turn out to have such unbelievably bad taste and be that disrespectful to one of my personal heroes.

But when Kenny G decided that it was appropriate for him to defile the music of the man who is probably the greatest jazz musician that has ever lived by spewing his lame-ass, jive, pseudo bluesy, out-of-tune, noodling, wimped out, fucked up playing all over one of the great Louis's tracks (even one of his lesser ones), he did something that I would not have imagined possible. He, in one move, through his unbelievably pretentious and calloused musical decision to embark on this most cynical of musical paths, shit all over the graves of all the musicians past and present who have risked their lives by going out there on the road for years and years developing their own music inspired by the standards of grace that Louis Armstrong brought to every single note he played over an amazing lifetime as a musician. By disrespecting Louis, his legacy and by default, everyone who has ever tried to do something positive with improvised music and what it can be, Kenny G has created a new low point in modern culture - something that we all should be totally embarrassed about - and afraid of. We ignore this, "let it slide", at our own peril.

* * * *

There ARE some things that are sacred - and amongst any musician that has ever attempted to address jazz at even the most basic of levels, Louis Armstrong and his music is hallowed ground. To ignore this trespass is to agree that NOTHING any musician has attempted to do with their life in music has any intrinsic value - and I refuse to do that. (I am also amazed that there HASN'T already been an outcry against this among music critics - where ARE they on this?????!?!?!?!, magazines, etc.). Everything I said here is exactly the same as what I would say to Gorelick if I ever saw him in person. and if I ever DO see him anywhere, at any function - he WILL get a piece of my mind and (maybe a guitar wrapped around his head.)
Maybe my little buddy is making the best possible use of Kenny G's music by using it to put himself to sleep.

Rest in peace, Johnny Griffin.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Papa's Got A Brand New . . . Set Of Hair Rollers?


As if the news of the day -- mortgage meltdowns, bank runs, endless war, and yesterday's big-screen release of "Mamma Mia!" -- wasn't depressing enough, it pained me to read Guy Trebay's piece in today's New York Times about Christie's recent auction of 328 items that once belonged to the Godfather of Soul.

Christie's held the July 17 auction in an effort to raise money to pay down the outstanding bills and taxes owed by James Brown's estate -- an estate over which many heirs and would-be heirs are now battling.

Mr. Trebay's account hammered home the weirdness of the event:

"The most curious lot of the day was not the bracelet, however, or the singer’s platform shoe collection ($15,000) or the paranoid note he once scrawled on loose leaf paper alleging that his record label was out to kill him ($7,000.) It was not the suite of red leather furniture that conjured up images of the recreation room on a mother ship ($40,000.)

It was the single-lot offering of 80 hair rollers, accompanied by spray styling products like Smooth Sheen, Finisheen and Volumax, a Polaroid of Brown with his hair up in curlers, and a variety of picks and combs.

* * * *

After spirited bidding, Lot 242, simply labeled “Hair Supplies,” was hammered down to a private collector for $4,800, plus the auction house’s 25 percent buyer’s premium."

Couldn't the Godfather's estate have figured out a more tasteful way to raise some cash? For example, there has got to be a wealth of old James Brown performance videos out there. I've been trying for years to track down a decent copy of James on the T.A.M.I. Show, but I've had no luck. I realize the JB estate may not own any rights to that particular video, but surely it owns rights to a lot of other great footage. James was too shrewd a businessman to have given all that away.

Until some of those wonderful old JB concerts are released on video, we fans will have to content ourselves with clips like this one:

The Man and his band were just too cool . . . .

Friday, July 4, 2008

The Secret Life of Collier, Mitty


















It's telling that I have to rely upon folks from outside the country -- in this case, the good people at Kent Records in the UK -- to fill me in on a lot of great music that came out of Chicago back in the 1960s.

A couple of days ago, Kent released "Shades of Mitty Collier: The Chess Singles, 1961-1968," which compiles all fifteen of Mitty's Chess 45s, plus several of her B-sides. I took a shot on this disc even though I was familiar with only a couple of Mitty's records. I'm delighted I did because this one's a keeper. Why she wasn't a major star, I'll never know.

If you're not familiar with Mitty, check out this clip from Hoss Allen's mid-1960s TV show, "The Beat," which was filmed in Nashville -- and is now available on DVD courtesy of, go figure, Germany's Bear Family label. Here, Mitty is lip-synching her biggest hit, "I Had A Talk With My Man," while Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown is pretending to lead the band.



(Although "The Beat" did feature some lip-synching, the six DVDs, which feature twenty-six episodes, showcase a lot of blistering live performances.)

Mitty turned 67 a few days ago and, rumor has it, still runs a church here in Chicago. I should probably make a pilgrimage soon.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father's Day


The folks at Hallmark tell me this is my big day. But it's not. I love being a father 365 days a year, and I'm grateful for each day I have with my kids -- even the days when they do or say things that make me want to bang my head against the wall.

My dad dropped dead at age 39, when I was just 14 years old, so I value greatly each moment I have with my kids.

One of the many things my dad sparked in me was a love of music. He didn't play an instrument, and he certainly never had money to take me to concerts, but through the magic of long-playing records and AM radio, he introduced me to much of the music I still listen to today. I've tried to spark that same love of music in my kids, and I have tried -- probably as a tribute to my dad -- to pass along to them a lot of the same songs, stories, and musical insights he shared with me.

So thanks, Dad, for turning me on to Little Richard, Johnny Cash, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Charlie Rich, Bo Diddley, Ike & Tina, CCR, Johnny Horton, Arthur Prysock, Wilson Pickett, Roger Miller, Ray Price, Ray Charles, Willie Nelson, Jim Croce, and Fats Domino.

Thanks for introducing me to "Black Slacks" (Joe Bennett & The Sparkletones), "Chantilly Lace" (J.P. Richardson a/k/a The Big Bopper), "The Johnny Cash Show," "Jubilee Showcase," and "Hee-Haw."

And thanks for sitting me down, way back in 1971, with the lyrics (printed on the Monument record sleeve) to Kris Kristofferson's "The Silver Tongued Devil And I" album. That little exercise taught a curious seven year-old that poetry and popular music weren't mutually exclusive.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Kindergarten Meets the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame


My youngest child finished a wonderful year of kindergarten today. A couple of days ago, the kindergarten class, along with many parents, grandparents, and teachers, filled the school gym for the annual Kindergarten Talent Show.

When the show was announced, my daughter had to decide which of her "talents" she wanted to display. In an effort to keep things simple (and keep her stress level low), I suggested to her that she memorize and recite a couple of poems by Shel Silverstein or Ogden Nash. She politely rebuffed my suggestion, telling me she wanted to play the piano and sing. The catch, of course, is that my kid doesn't play the piano.

Having hung around enough of my band rehearsals, however, she knew that plenty of folks had made hay (and even gold records) out of some basic chord progressions. She favored the I-vi-IV-V progression in the key of C, and ended up parlaying that bit of knowledge into a heart-felt talent-show performance of Dion's "Teenager in Love" that made my wife and me smile.

On June 2, while my daughter was honing her performance of a classic by one member of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, another member -- the sorely under-appreciated Bo Diddley -- passed away.

Bo's passing reminded me of another special moment I shared with my youngest daughter at the start of her kindergarten year. Last September, during a break in one of my Sunday morning basketball games at the local YMCA, she brought her little basketball onto the floor and began to dribble it for me. She told me to listen to her dribbling pattern -- Boom, Boom, Boom . . . . BOOM, BOOM. I laughed because I knew what we she was thinking. She said, "Daddy, I'm dribbling with a Bo Diddley beat."

It was a priceless moment I will never forget. God bless Bo Diddley.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

St. Louis Sit-In


I had to travel to St. Louis on business a few days ago, but during my free time I was able to catch up with my bandmates -- and good buddies -- Rob Endicott and Neal Connors (a/k/a The St. Louis Horns). In fact, I even had a chance to sit in with Rob and the rest of the guys in the Voodoo Blues Band during their weekly jam at Hammerstone's in Soulard. Thanks again to singer/guitarist/bandleader Raul Consuegra for allowing me take part in the fun.

As enjoyable as it was to jump on stage with a fine band in St. Louis, I got an even bigger kick out of something I saw at the bar later that evening. After the Voodoo Blues Band finished its show, a two-piece act -- at least, I thought it was a two-piece act -- took the stage to play until closing time.

The front-man played a beautiful Gretsch electric guitar and sang a lot of old country songs. He appeared to know hundreds of tunes, and he did a nice job of keeping the crowd engaged. His companion onstage was a guy with an upright bass.

He was the guy who really held my attention.

For starters, no one in the bar could hear a note this "bassist" played, so I'm not sure why he was even on the stage. I only stuck around for five or six songs, but it was obvious to me that this low-rent Mingus was playing some variation of "air bass." The catch was that this guy played "air bass" on an actual instrument, and he did it during an actual show.

In any event, my man worked the neck of that bass with fingerings and facial expressions worthy of Ray Brown or Ron Carter. As for his right-hand technique, this guy switched from pizzicato to bow no less than two or three times during each two- or three-minute song. There was no musical reason for these random switches, but since he wasn't really playing music, it didn't matter.

He definitely looked the part with his tousled hair and his old suede jacket. He even occupied prime on-stage real estate just a few feet to the right of the singer, yet somehow the singer managed to ignore him completely.

Of course, I didn't have the singer's discipline -- so I was riveted.

I asked around, but none of the regulars at the bar could explain the man's musical role to me. They told me only that he lived in the neighborhood and "sat in" with the singer nearly every week.

But since that guitar-pickin' front-man didn't seem to mind, who was I to complain?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

How Did I Miss This One?


Time keeps ticking, and the number of great books I've yet to read keeps growing. So, too, does the number of wonderful movies I've yet to watch. (And, as Kris Kristofferson noted forty years back, "There's still a lot of drinks that I ain't drunk, and lots of pretty thoughts that I ain't thunk.")

But I finally set aside two and one-half hours for a film that I'd been meaning to watch for years, and I'm glad I made the time for it. It's one that I'd wanted to check out as much for its score as for its acting, its script, and its direction.

Talk about a movie-making Dream Team: Jimmy Stewart, Otto Preminger, and Duke Ellington . . .

Not only was watching "Anatomy of a Murder" (1959) a great way to spend an evening, it reminded me again just how worthless most of today's movie "soundtracks" are. I'm also fairly sure that scores like Duke's help keep my West Coast compadre Alan Elliott inspired to continue writing music for movies and TV shows.

Scoring films has become a wholly under-valued art form in our throw-away, least common denominator society. But that's a topic for another day.

Duke set the bar high with just about everything he did; the music he wrote for "Anatomy of a Murder" is no exception.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Thank You (Falettinme Be Home With My Family Tomorrow Night)


If you're one who likes to fly frequently, you know it's always a fair bet that your airline will cancel your flight due to "weather" -- even if it's seventy degrees and sunny in both the city from which you're leaving and the city to which you're traveling.

If you're one who likes to Sly frequently -- Sly Stone, that is -- you know it was always a fair bet that Sly, back in his touring days, would cancel a show in your city (for just about any reason) rather than perform.

Nevertheless, when tickets went on sale a few weeks ago for Sly & The Family Stone's May 3 concert at Chicago's Vic Theatre, I thought long and hard about lining up on a Saturday morning to buy some. After all, it's Sly Stone. On top of that, Sly hasn't been to our fair city -- at least, as far as we know -- in many years. (Chicago photographer Jim Newberry, whose fine camera work graces this post, shot a Sly show in suburban Chicago back in 1982. Be sure to check out Mr. Newberry's impressive photo-blog.)

My friends and I joked about whether Sly would even show up for the May date at the Vic. In the end, I decided not to buy tickets in advance, figuring I could always get some on the night of the show.

Turns out, my instincts were right. Sly bailed out a few days ago, and no makeup date has been announced. Looks like I'll be hanging out at home tomorrow night. It's a family affair.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Country Music Treasure Trove


A few weeks ago, Time-Life released an amazing set called "Opry Video Classics." This eight-DVD package contains more than one hundred live (no lip-synching in this set) performances from country superstars like Webb Pierce, Patsy Cline, The Louvin Brothers, and Ray Price. Many of these clips were filmed at the Ryman Auditorium between the 1950s and 1970s.

There's no fluff or filler in this compilation. It's just wall-to-wall great music. I'm talking about duets by Conway and Loretta, George and Melba, George and Tammy, Porter and Dolly, and John and June. Where else are you going to find live performances by Jean Shepard, Del Reeves, Dave Dudley, and Don Gibson?

Check out this clip from Connie Smith (featuring steel great Weldon Myrick), which was shot back in October 1966, when Connie's now-husband Marty Stuart was just eight years old:












If, like me, you're a fan of hardcore country music, you'll want to grab this set while it's still on the market.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A Most Productive Week For Shotgun Willie


Willie Nelson turns 75 today, and he shows few signs of slowing down. Willie's been an American institution for several decades, but had he retired from music back in 1963, when he was a clean-shaven songwriter, he'd still merit his own flavor of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream.

Why? Well, during one seven-day stretch in Houston -- probably in 1959 or 1960 -- he wrote "Crazy," "Funny How Time Slips Away," and "Night Life." By 1963, each of those tunes had become big hits (for other singers).

Forty-five years later, we now know just how big those songs have become. Simply put, during that one week in Houston, Willie penned three standards. Quite a feat.

I'm not sure what Willie's doing for his 75th birthday, but when he turned 70, he celebrated with an all-star concert that featured a lot of his friends and admirers. There's one clip from that concert that always brings tears to my eyes.

Maybe you can make it through this rendition of Leon Russell's "A Song For You" with dry eyes, but I can't and neither could Willie. About a month after this performance, Willie's good buddy Ray Charles was diagnosed with liver cancer. Ray died about a year later. Watch the video. These guys loved each other.



Happy Birthday, Willie.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Hannah Montana Goes PG-13


Sure, my six year-old daughter loves Buddy Holly and The Beatles, but she's also a big Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus fan. And who am I to discourage that? Lord knows when I was her age I logged my share of hours watching The Partridge Family (even as I was trying to memorize all of the songs on Kris Kristofferson's "The Silver Tongued Devil and I" album).

Now, however, Miley's all over the scandal sheets. Seems her parents thought it wise to make her Annie Leibovitz's latest pop tart-of-the-month, and their decision has sent tabloid reporters and cable commentators into a tizzy.

So, what's the father of a six year-old fan to do? Shred my daughter's Hannah Montana t-shirt? Tear up her Hannah Montana school folder?

Hardly. I plan to ignore the fuss because my daughter doesn't read Vanity Fair, and I don't let her surf the internet or watch The O'Reilly Factor.

I also predict that my daughter's Miley Cyrus phase will last about nine more months. Of course, if, during that nine-month period, Miley shows up in a bootleg R. Kelly video, I'll reconsider my position, and my daughter and I will probably have to have a little talk.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Muddy And Me: Two Degrees Of Separation?


I know I'm lucky to have my friend Stevie Doyle (lower left corner of the photo) playing guitar with us on our gig tomorrow night. I was reminded yesterday just how lucky I am when I saw an ad for a gig Stevie is doing next weekend.

He'll be plugging in next Sunday night (May 4) with a couple of Muddy Waters' old bandmates -- drummer Willie "Big Eyes" Smith and guitarist John Primer -- as well as with Chicago blues greats Carl Weathersby and Jimmy Burns (all pictured with Stevie in the photo above).

It's nice to have talented friends like Mr. Doyle, who will occasionally slum with us music-making lawyers. Of course, Stevie is probably just hedging his bets, figuring that if he's ever named a defendant in a securities-fraud suit or a point-shaving prosecution, he'll need someone to answer his phone calls.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Thanks For The Music, Mr. Gaffney


The music world took another hit last week when Chris Gaffney, lead singer of the Hacienda Brothers, passed away from liver cancer. He was 57 years old.

He never enjoyed super-stardom and he never got rich; but he was able to spend most of his life doing something he loved, and he did it well -- whether working as one of Dave Alvin's Guilty Men or leading the Hacienda Brothers.

Hell, he even got to hang with one of my musical heroes, soul legend Dan Penn, who wrote, co-wrote, and produced a number of sides for the Hacienda Brothers. Penn makes a cameo appearance in the video below, supplying some background vocals on "What's Wrong With Right," the title track of the band's 2006 release (Proper American).








Chris Gaffney certainly had soul. And based both upon what I've read about him and what I picked up during the concerts I attended, he seemed to have a pretty good sense of humor, too.

I know he'll be missed.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Jazz Comes To Rogers Park


I was thrilled to learn just a few weeks ago that some arts-minded Chicago entrepreneurs are about to breathe new life into an abandoned movie theater (and one-time vaudeville house) here in Rogers Park by reopening it this September as a state-of-the-art jazz venue.

From the looks of of its website, The Morse Theatre will be quite a place. I look forward to seeing a lot of great shows there.

Of course, operating a profitable jazz venue, even in a city like Chicago, is a mighty tough undertaking. I'd run out of fingers and toes in a hurry if I tried to count the number of jazz clubs that have opened and closed since I started going out to hear the music. (If you're scoring at home that would be since July 1980, when I spent my sixteenth birthday -- with my long-time friend and bandmate Neal Connors -- listening to Dexter Gordon at the now-shuttered Jazz Showcase.)

I wish all the best to Andy McGhee, Devin McGhee, and William Kerpan, the local entrepreneurs who have spent more than three years trying to bring their vision to life.

Friday, April 18, 2008

A Household Name, But Only In The Gnahore´ Household









I was excited to hear that Dobet Gnahore´-- an amazing singer/dancer/percussionist from the Ivory Coast -- will hit Chicago on Sunday, July 13, as part of the Chicago Folk & Roots Festival, which takes place every summer in lovely Welles Park.

My friend (and fellow music geek) Tom Morrissey hipped me to Ms. Gnahore´ and her music last year, and I was smart enough to heed Tom's recommendation and spring for some concert tickets.

I even insisted that my teenage daughter attend the September 2007 show with me, because I was anticipating it would be something special.

It was.

My daughter, at this stage in her life, has little interest in acknowledging that she enjoys any music that I like, but even she was blown away by this show. Her quote, upon leaving the theater: "You see a show like that, and you wonder how Britney Spears can be famous."











Later that week, my friend Steve Hochman, a California-based music writer, was trusting enough to heed my recommendation to check out Dobet's show. He, too, was impressed. Check out Steve's review of the Santa Monica show -- he describes the music a lot better than I ever could.

Block out July 13 right now, and you'll be in for a treat.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Downloads And Ringtones


There's a solid chance that my kids -- ages six and sixteen -- will go through life having very few encounters with rotary-dial phones, typewriters, or black-and-white television sets. Technology has largely rendered these devices museum pieces, garage-sale kitsch, or landfill detritus. At the end of the day, however, my kids' lives will be no less rich for having missed out on these products.

But what about record stores?

They're disappearing faster than the women in Drew Peterson's life.

And it saddens me to think that my kids and their friends are probably not going to be able spend quality hours during their teenage years thumbing through racks of LPs and compact discs at the soon-to-be non-existent neighborhood record shop.

I learned an awful lot about music hanging out in good record stores. I loitered, I read liner notes, I chatted with knowledgeable customers and employees, and I watched some great in-store performances. My kids' lives will be a little less rich for not having those same opportunities.

There aren't many great music shops left in this country. If you happen to live in Chicago, make it a point to take your kids to the Jazz Record Mart, 27 E. Illinois, and wander the aisles with them. Explore the racks of records and discs with your kids. Buy something for them. Ask my friend Ron Bierma (the Mart's manager) anything you want to know about jazz, blues, gospel, or R&B. The JRM is a Chicago institution. Enjoy it while it's still around.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The St. Louis Horns: A Decade Of Service







Since 1998, two of my good buddies, Neal Connors (saxophone) and Rob Endicott (trumpet), both lawyers based in the St. Louis area, have continued to humor me by making semi-regular trips to Chicago to blow their horns in my semi-regular bar band. And make no mistake, it's The St. Louis Horns that keep people coming to our shows.

While I'm not yet ready to bestow upon them the bar-band equivalent of the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, I do owe them a great deal of thanks.

Why do these guys do it?

Why would Rob, who earned a Master's degree from The Juilliard School before going to law school, continue to make the ten-hour round trip to and from these Chicago gigs? It isn't for the money. And it surely can't be for the "challenge" of playing trumpet lines on tunes like "Domino," "Ring of Fire," and "Take a Letter, Maria"? Let's get serious -- this guy used to play Hummel and Haydn with the Rotterdam Philharmonic.

Why would Neal, who spent seven years kicking around the University of Illinois jazz program, while earning his undergrad and law degrees in Champaign, fill busy weekends blowing over three-chord rock-and-roll tunes, which are all too often in sharp keys?

Why go through all that trouble? You'd have to ask them. But for my money, singer/songwriter John Sebastian nailed it when he wrote, "You do it for the stories you can tell."

Over ten years, we've amassed a lot of them. Neal, Rob, and guitarist Joe Roach (currently on unpaid paternity leave) have hung with me through it all. We've gigged in Japan (courtesy of our federal government), played a private party at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and had a chance to record at the legendary Sam Phillips Recording Service in Memphis. We've also met a lot of great people along the way.

Of course, one of the guys who inspires all of us is Neal's dad, Maurice Connors. He's now 93 years old, but he still plays gigs with a couple of different bands in Chicago's western suburbs.

Will we be so lucky? I certainly hope so.

But whenever our time comes, I can assure you, paraphrasing the late Charlton Heston, that they'll have to pry our instruments "from [our] cold, dead hands."

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Two Score And Fourteen Years Ago . . .

Big Joe Turner released "Shake, Rattle And Roll" on Atlantic Records fifty-four years ago today. I'm not sure that popular music has gotten any hipper since then.

Of Batman, Cocaine, and the Chicago Cubs . . .


One of the tunes we've been rehearsing for our April 26 show is a song I've been singing since 1968, when I was four years old. The album off of which I learned that tune was a chart-topping smash. It was also in heavy rotation on my dad's record player in our little apartment in Hillside, Illinois.

The singer was a superstar with his own weekly TV show. Back in 1968, I ranked him right up there with Ernie Banks and Batman. (N.B., I still hold all three in high regard.)

As for the song, I certainly had no idea, back in 1968, what the words meant. And I'm sure my parents never worried that the violent, misogynistic, drug-heavy lyrics could warp my young brain like so much model airplane glue.

In any event, I escaped childhood unharmed -- I think.

Forty years later, however, the landscape has changed. Just as I wouldn't consider putting my kids in a car without seatbelts -- something I never used as a kid -- I also wouldn't think of playing this record while my youngest child (age six) is within earshot. Same holds true, though for slightly different reasons, for a lot of my favorite cuts by Prince, Marvin Gaye, and the Isleys.

The kicker, as far as this particular tune is concerned, is that it wasn't even spawned by the drugs and violence that were everywhere in 1968. No, this song had first been a hit -- for singer Roy Hogsed (pictured above) -- twenty years earlier, back when Harry Truman was in the White House.

Still, it's strange for me to think about the days when I used to walk around our apartment, decked out in my Batman pajamas with the feet in them, singing:

"Early one mornin' while makin' the rounds
I took a shot of cocaine and I shot my woman down
Went right home and I went to bed
I stuck that lovin' .44 beneath my head"

God bless Johnny Cash.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Life In A "Cover Band"




Hands down, the best account I've read of life in a cover band -- more accurately, in a series of cover bands -- is Mike Lankford's "Life In Double Time: Confessions Of An American Drummer."

http://books.google.com/books?id=hAQWlGg8QYUC&dq=lankford+life+in+double+time&pg=PP1&ots=kO42hWqgki&sig=YIJrT8Ih2Nx6vuJRYA0min1tyw4&hl=en&prev=http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=lankford+life+in+double+time&sa=X&oi=print&ct=title&cad=one-book-with-thumbnail#PPA115,M1

Lankford wrote this book about ten years ago, and I have loaned it out (and had to re-purchase it) so many times that I've probably padded his Amazon sales numbers.

Lankford's book chronicles his upbringing and his introduction to music in rural Oklahoma (where he actually met Elvis before Elvis went white-hot), his decision to learn how to play the drums, and his decade-long journey in and out of numerous cover bands. From his initial experiences in sloppy high-school bands to his cross-country exploits with the professional (but troubled) trio Salt & Pepper, it's a highly entertaining read. Check it out.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Return of the St. Louis Horns


On Saturday, April 26, the St. Louis Horns return to the Windy City to join the Blue State crew for three sets of horn-driven, jukebox favorites. All the fun takes place at Candlelite Chicago, 7452 N. Western Avenue, in Chicago's West Rogers Park neighborhood. Showtime is 9:00 p.m., and there is no cover charge.

Joining us on the guitar all night long will be our friend Stevie Doyle, one of Chicago's finest pickers. And if the planets align properly that evening, we might even be able to talk our buddy Gerald McClendon -- one of Chicago's premier soul singers -- into joining us onstage for a couple of tunes.

The schizophrenic setlist will, of course, cover all the bases -- from Elvis and Dion to Cash and Haggard; from The Band and Van Morrison to Huey "Piano" Smith and R.B. Greaves.

Candlelite is a wonderful neighborhood pub and restaurant that serves some of the finest thin-crust pizza in the entire city.

We hope to see you at Candlelite on April 26.