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.