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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

R.I.P. Davy Graham - Brit guitar virtuoso

It's a sad day for guitarists and guitar fans around the world!
R.I.P. Davy Graham (1940-2008)

For those who are not familiar with Davy Graham (born in Leicester to a Scottish mother)
he wrote a famous little guitar instrumental named "Anji" (sometimes spelled "Angi")
(not to be confused with Mick Jagger's song "Angie")
Graham was a pioneering young virtuoso guitarist who was equally adept at playing
English Folk songs, Beatles, American Blues, modern Jazz, and even Indian music on his guitar.
I recommend the album "Folk , Blues and Beyond" as a starting point that represents his best work
[ Folk Blues and Beyond on AMG ]

His Blues and Jazz interpretations were particularly fresh and innovative in the early 60's when most acoustic players were still deep in the Folk traditions, and I guess that is my attraction to Graham's music - his take on the Charles Mingus tune "Better Get It In Your Soul" for example, which echoed the John Renbourn/Bert Jansch take on Mingus's "Goodbye Porkpie Hat" from the same period. They were all part of the same scene of what I would term "Acoustic Avant Garde Guitar", pushing the boundaries of what one could play on an acoustic guitar at the time.
Graham was to me the most mysterious of the group because he was much less accessible than the rest - his recordings were very hard to find until recently when the digital download age resulted in an explosion of reissues of many of Graham's albums from the 60's (many of those are uneven or not up to the same standard as "Folk Blues and Beyond" and "3/4 A.D.", so you must preview each album before buying).

The song Anji was named after Graham's big love at the time (early 1960's)
and was recorded by Paul Simon on the album "Sounds of Silence" (1966)
Paul Simon also used the tune as the basis for his song "Somewhere They Can't Find Me"
Fellow Scotsman and friend of Graham's - Bert Jansch recorded the definitive version of Anji on his album "Lucky 13" (1966)
and continues playing Anji to this day in his regular repertoire on stage.

And of course, there is the Israeli connection to this story - a man named Sidney Katzenel (another Scotsman)
who was a friend of both Bert Jansch and Davy Graham, and lived in Israel from the late 60's onward
(Sidney lived in Nahariya, where he was a high school teacher and a musician),
Sidney claimed that he had a direct hand in the composition of the song Anji.

And more Israeli connections - the namesake of the song, Anji herself, apparently migrated to
Israel sometime in the late 60's, and was living in Rosh Pina.
I don't know if she is still alive or her whereabouts,
but some people in the Israel folk community have told me they once knew her...

Rest in peace Davy Graham...

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

In memory - Robert Lucas

A YouTube clip dedicated to the memory of recently departed Blues great Robert Lucas

see this entry I wrote about him: Robert Lucas R.I.P.

Odetta Gordon - another legend has left us

Holy crap!!!
that was my immediate reaction as I just heard from a friend about the passing on of Odetta Gordon.
Another legendary artist gone.

I heard in the Blues circles recently that Odetta was in hospital and that
she was expected to get back on her feet in a few weeks.
- I was hoping to send her a copy of my book while she was recovering...
- She was very much hoping to sing at the Obama inauguration in January...

I met Odetta in 1980 at the Toronto Folk Festival,
I was asked to accompany her from the artist's tent to the stage (where I was a stage hand),
she put her arm under mine and let me lead her across the festival grounds.
I was a bit nervous, I mean this is a person I had known as a legend since my early childhood, and here I was arm in arm, walking her through the festival grounds.
She was very dignified, had great poise and posture, was colorfully well dressed, but also smelled strongly of perfume and booze at the same time!
The minute she got on stage, there was no doubt who was the greatest singer at that festival...

Rest in peace great lady.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

R.I.P. Robert Lucas - an extraordinary Bluesman

I discovered Robert Lucas sometime in the mid-1990's when Audioquest records put out his recordings. With his rough whiskey voice, solid harmonica riffs, and powerful guitar playing, both electric and acoustic slide guitars, he had a very distinctive Blues style - as if he had been playing the Blues for 40 years or more. I had no idea that he was so young at the time, apparently he was in his late twenties at the time, but the album photos made him look much older. In recent years, after not hearing anything about him for a good while, I learned that he had joined the Canned Heat band as lead singer, a position he filled off and on up to very recently.
This week, as news of his passing due to drug overdose came over the internet, I was shocked to find out that he was only 46 years old. Some of his playing/singing at times was pretty dark stuff, I don't know what kinds of demons haunted him to make him turn to the drugs that led to his demise, but I hope he can rest in peace now, and that we can remember him for his contribution to the Blues.

I recommend exploring these two albums on Audioquest for starters (click on the links for a description):

Robert Lucas - Layaway Plan

*************** ^^^^^^ ********************
"Former Canned Heat frontman Robert Lucas, R.I.P.
By Reverend Keith A. Gordon, Blues

Former Canned Heat frontman Robert Lucas, a skilled slide-guitarist and harp player, died on Sunday, November 23rd, 2008 from an apparent drug overdose, according to his manager Skip Taylor. The Long Beach, California native was just 46 years old.
Lucas first became known to blues fans as a member of guitarist Bernie Pearl's late-1970s band, originally playing harmonica behind artists like Big Joe Turner, Lowell Fulson, Percy Mayfield and other West Coast blues and R&B singers. Lucas worked on his skills for years before launching his own band, Luke & the Locomotives, in 1986.
It was with the 1990 release of his self-produced cassette tape, Across The River, that Lucas began to make a name for himself as a solo artist. After receiving a complimentary newspaper review, Lucas came to the attention of the L.A.-based AudioQuest Records label, which signed the young blues prodigy to a deal.
The label quickly released an acoustic-blues collection, Usin' Man Blues, a mix of original songs and classics from Robert Johnson, Son House, and Sonny Boy Williamson, in late-1990. Lucas would go on to release seven solo albums throughout his career.
Lucas hooked up with boogie-rock kings Canned Heat in 1994 as singer, guitarist and harp player, and would first appear on the band's 1996 Blues Band album, the last featuring founding member and guitarist Henry Vestine.
Between 1994 and 2008, Lucas served two stints as the band's frontman, touring the world in front of the band and contributing songs, instrumentation and vocals to recordings like 1999's Boogie 2000 and the band's 2007 Christmas album.
Lucas recently left Canned Heat to pursue his solo career, and for a relatively young blues artist, he had endless possibilities in front of him. In a statement to the press, Taylor said of Lucas that "his unequaled fury and stage presence, together with his earth-shattering vocal delivery, gave him the ability to channel many of the blues masters through his words, songs and musical ability.
Continuing, Taylor says, "He [Lucas] has been recognized by blues fans and critics worldwide as one of the most inspired singer, player and songwriter talents of the past decade."

Robert Lucas - Built For Comfort

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Shake Hands with a Brother

A few months before going to Canada for our summer vacation, I realized that I could actually manage to attend some major concerts and see some of my idols for the fists time. One such concert was the beginning of the Allman Brothers Band summer tour of 2007, which was kicking off in Canada.
I went online to buy tickets as soon as I knew that I would be in Toronto at the right time, bought 2 tickets for the ABB show at Casino Rama which is a few hours north of Toronto, made sure I had booked a room at the Casino/Hotel, arranged the car rental, and we were all set, I was finally going to see not only the Allman Brothers, but Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks as well, since they are in the band in the last few years.

I remember the summer of 1973, the Brothers and Sisters album had just come out at the end of the summer vacation, I was in high school in the Boston area, and the local radio played music from that album all through the fall. That was my introduction to the Allman Brothers, and I have always loved their music, which is primarily based on Blues, it only took another 34 years before I could hear and see them live!

After checking in to the Casino Rama hotel, we were heading for the elevators to reach our room, and who should come out of the elevator but Gregg Allman!!!
Now, I don't like to be rude, or impose on celebrities, but before I knew what had happened, I heard myself blurt out "Hey Gregg!"
he turned around, I shook his hand and may have mumbled something like "It's a great honor to meet you", a half second of dead silence may have passed, and he turned back around and kept on walking. I later found out from the discussion group that he does this all the time, that he is just plain like that, not one to stand and talk with fans or strangers, and it's nothing personal...but I was star-struck nonetheless.

Anyway, the wife and I had a great time at the concert, Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks were nothing short of amazing, and the rest of the band was certainly what I expected too - classic Allman Brothers at the height of their game.

Friday, November 07, 2008

The Blues as Zen

This is an article that I wrote for a local magazine back in 1998,
I made some minor updates and corrections, and here it is:

The Blues As Zen

By Eli Marcus

What is the essence of Blues? I see the Blues as a kind of Zen. Like Zen the Blues at face value looks simple, easy. Actually the Blues is simple in its essence, however, as with Zen, a deep understanding of the Blues requires the student/disciple to travel along a path of gradual enlightenment. Brownie McGhee said: "Blues is life", i.e. the Blues is a way of life. It can also be understood that the Blues, like life, has complexity on the one hand, with levels and layers, changing and evolving in time but at the core - its essence is constant.

Willie Dixon said: "I am the Blues", expressing a level of Zen awareness about his life as a Bluesman. The origins of the Blues are quite diverse: not necessarily just musical, they are to a great extent a social/cultural expression of the enslaved and oppressed Black populations of America. Musically we find African melodies and particularly rhythms, intermixed with European musical forms, both folk and classical.

One of the inborn paradoxes of the Blues is that pain and frustration are expressed side by side with joy and spiritual elation, sometimes in the same song. This is a sort of Zen duality. The Afro Americans ("Blacks") arrived in America a few hundred years ago as slaves who were kidnapped out of Africa. With them came the famous "Talking Drums", which was both a form of percussion and an actual method of communication (like the telegraph).

White plantation owners soon understood that the drum-communication was a direct threat to their subjugating authority and a widespread ban of drums and drumming was enforced by the 1830’s. The result was apparently a strengthening of the singing rhythms as well as an emphasis on guitar (European origin) and banjo (African origin) as rhythmical instruments, a trend that has remained in the Blues to this day.

In the same token that rhythm was internalized or went "underground’, so did the Black slave's spirituality. The Black man brought with him from Africa a myriad of religious practices and beliefs which were quite foreign and strange to the Christian/European sensibilities of the White man. This included kinds of tribal witchcraft, Hoodoo and Voodoo.

The clash with Christianity, followed by a ban of Hoodoo and other ritual practices, caused the Blacks to hide these beliefs deep down inside themselves (much like the Maronites in Portugal - Jews who were forced to conceal their religious practices from public view and "officially" converted to Christianity). Again a duality arose with the Black man publicly embracing Christianity (producing Gospel music by the early 1900’s).

Many Blacks continued in secret the practices of Hoodoo and other pagan traditions, some of which are even witnessed in the Blues today. Muddy Waters was well known for the song "Hootchie Cootchie Man" (written by Willie Dixon) and also for "Got My Mojo Working", with lines such as:

"I got a black cat bone, ‘got a Mojo too,
I got a John the Conqueror root, I’m gonna mess with you...."
or -
"I’m goin’ down in Louisiana ‘gonna get me a Mojo Hand,
gonna’ have all you ladies right here under my command".

These ancient pagan religious references in the Blues may be the reason that "righteous" Blacks who were loyal to the church called the Blues "the Devil’s Music" and frowned on it or banned it outright in their homes and the community at large.
Gospel music, though really another musical form of the Blues, was strictly Christian and "White" in textual content, while the Blues have all the rest of the social and cultural content of the Black experience.

Much in the same way that Zen and Blues can be a process of enlightenment, the Black man has undergone a process of socialization and evolution in America. In the music itself we see lots of clowning and "hokum" in the Blues of the 1920’s and 30’s. The Black man in Vaudeville and early movies has no dignity, no self respect. His only expression of being a real person is his sexuality- the one thing the White man didn’t manage to repress. The White man was afraid of the Black man’s overt sexuality, leading to all the nasty stereotypes that exist about Black’s and their sexuality.

The expressions of sexuality that seemed natural and healthy in Black society, were too blatant for the uptight and even puritan White society in America of the 40’s and 50’s, and this was a major factor in keeping R & B and Blues from breaking the color barrier in the 50’s. The "softened" versions of the Black music that were hits for Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and other White performers were often simply "covers" of the Black originals that couldn’t break through, and were often stolen outright from the Black artists.

The late 50’s and early 60’s saw a maturation of the Black music scene, Chuck Berry became a star that appealed to Whites as well as Blacks, but just as the White audiences began discovering the wonderful Black heritage, the Black community began to turn away from the Blues as being archaic, and something they wanted to put behind them. For a while there was even a kind of shame involved in the old black culture and music, and only in the mid 1980’s did young Black artists find a renewed pride in the traditional Blues (witness Corey Harris, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Keb ‘Mo, Guy Davis, and Eric Bibb).

The great attention Blues has received in recent years in the media, including the United States government declaring 2003 as “The Year of the Blues”, is a "ship finally coming in" for artists such as John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy, and the recently departed Luther Allison- artists who have patiently practiced their Blues craft for 30-40 years before achieving real fame and fortune. A pop-rock artist may rise to fame in 5 years and then vanish overnight, but the Blues, like Zen, is a patient and enduring art.

Living with the Blues and learning as we go, brings us full circle, like Zen, to the starting point of simplicity, an expression of everyday life-
Brownie McGhee

© 1998-2008 Eli Marcus

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Blues for Advanced Beginners - Judith Podell

Here is the official "sequel" to
"Blues For Beginners" or "How To Sing the Blues" -

"Blues for Advanced Beginners"
by Judith Podell

"Woke up this morning and went back to sleep..."
-- "Epstein-Barre Blues"
attributed to Memphis Earline Gray

1. You have an inalienable right to sing the blues if you were born under a bad sign. Capricorn is a bad sign to be born under. Jesus was one. So was Nixon.

2. The right to sing the blues may be earned if you:
     a. suffer
     b. lose
     c. pay some dues

3. It's not the blues when your loss is tax deductable.

4. Some examples of dues:
    a. working for the man
    b. hating your day job
    c. losing your man

5. Some forms of suffering that will never be blues - worthy:
    a. anorexia nervosa
    b. low LSAT's

6. It's the blues if you:
    a. wish you'd never been born
    b. feel like a motherless child

7. If your mother is dead and you miss her it's Country.

8. Good times to have the blues are:
    a. Christmas
    b. Mother's Day
    c. every night when the sun goes down

9. You can't sing the blues in Chinese.

     "Mouth full of toothache
      Head full of network news
     Gonna go downtown
     Buy some alligator shoes"
      "Silverpoint Blues"
     attributed to Blind Drunk Johnson

10. Blues women never sing "Send in the Clowns".
       They pack heat and eat meat.

11. Just because you shot that two-timing man doesn't automatically make you a blues woman, but it's a good start. So is buying him an Armani suit, or paying his child support.

12. Blues sports are:
       a. drinking
       b. gambling
       c. running around

13. Blues men are not team players.

14. You can't sing the blues in Gore-Tex.

15. The following drugs don't belong in the blues:
       a. ecstasy
       b. speed
       c. multi-vitamins

16. Blues women don't wear Chanel. Other fashion no-no's:
       a. running shoes
       b. lace
       c. Botox

17. Blues men don't get born again.

18. There is no word in French for "hellhound".

19. You can't sing the blues in French,
       not even if you are blind.

Excerpted from "May Contain Nuts"
(Harper Collins, Perennial Currents imprint, 2004)
Copyright 2003 by Judith Podell
used by kind permission from the author.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Blues For Beginners - by Judith Podell

In early 1997, Judith Podell published an essay on "How to Sing the Blues" in Wordrights Magazine.  
Without her permission, it was transcribed and distributed around the world via email and various websites. In most cases, the text was modified, added to, some parts were completely changed, and in almost all cases the original author credit was missing.

By way of trying to right the wrong, I present the original text that was published in Judith Podell's book "Blues For Beginners and Other Obsessions" (Argonne House Press, 2001)

You can read a few more essays by Judith in my recent entries here
"Blues For Advanced Beginners"
"Animal Behavior"
"Death of the Blues"

Blues For Beginners
by Judith Podell

woke up this morning
cat threw a hairball on the bed.
said, i woke up this morning
cat puke all over the bed.
went to the kitchen
mr. coffee was dead.

"Post-Graduate Blues,"
(attrib. to Memphis Earline Gray)

1. Most blues begin "woke up this morning."

2. "I got a good woman" is a bad way to begin the Blues, unless you stick something nasty in the next line.

i got a good woman-
with the meanest dog in town.

3. The Blues are simple. After you have the first line right, repeat it. Then find something that rhymes.

got a good woman-
with the meanest dog in town.
he got teeth like Margaret Thatcher
and he weighs 500 pound.

4. The Blues are not about limitless choice.

5. Blues cars are Chevies and Cadillacs. Other acceptable blues transportation is Greyhound bus or a southbound train. Walkin' plays a major part in the Blues lifestyle. So does fixin' to die.

6. Teenagers cant' sing the blues. Adults sing the Blues. Blues adulthood means being old enough to get the electric chair if you shoot a man in Memphis.

7. You can have the blues in New York City, but not in Brooklyn or Queens. Hard times in Vermont or North Dakota are just depression. Chicago, St Louis and Kasas City are still the best places to have the Blues.

8. The following colors do not belong in the blues:
a. orange
b. beige

9. You can't have the blues in an office or a honky-tonk. The lighting is wrong.

10. Good places for the Blues:
a. the highway
b. the jailhouse
c. the empty bed

11. No one will believe it's the Blues if you wear a suit, unless you happen to be an old black man.

12. Do you have the right to sing the Blues? Yes, if:
a. your first name is a southern state.
b. you're blind.
c. you shot a man in Memphis
d. you can't be satisfied.
No if:
a. you once were blind but now can see.
b. you're deaf.

13. Neither Frank Sinatra nor Meryl Streep can sing the blues.

14. If you ask for water and baby give you gasoline, it's the blues. Other blues beverages are:
a. wine
b. Irish whisky
c. muddy water

15. If it occurs in a cheap motel or a shotgun shack, it's blues death. Stabbed in the back by a jealous lover is a blues way to die. So is the electric chair, substance abuse, or being denied treatment in an emergency room.

16. Some blues names for women:
a. Sadie
b. Big Mama

17. Some blues names for men:
a. Willie
b. Joe,
c. Little Willie
d. Lightning

Persons with names like Sierra, Sequoia will not be permitted sing the blues no matter how many men they shoot in Memphis.

Copyright - 1997 by Judith Podell and 2001 by The Argonne House Press
used by kind permission from the author.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Animal Behavior - further ponderings by Judith Podell

Animal Behavior
by Judith Podell

1. Cats never apologize and never explain. Dogs let it all hang out on Oprah.
Dogs are hot, but cats are cool.

2. John Travolta, Demi Moore, and President Clinton are dogs. Dogs get in your
face: they leave nothing to the imagination.
Lawrence of Arabia was a cat.

3. Cats do not play well with others.

4. Favorite teachers are dogs. Teachers you get crushes on are cats.

5. Opera singers are dogs. Ballet dancers are cats.

6. People who need people are dogs.

7. Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie were dogs. Any jazz musician who doesn't
shoot heroin is a dog.

8. Cats have the killer instinct. If you put your cat on a vegetarian diet she
will go blind.

9. Dogs let others do the killing and hang around for the leftovers. They are
natural born shoppers.

10. Dogs are shameless, but easily guilt-tripped. Cats are without guilt, but
sometimes you can embarrass them.

11. Dogs are resilient, courageous, and sentimental. They buy vacuum cleaners
for their wives, and neckties for their boyfriends. They hang their children's
artwork in their cubicles.

12. Cats despise cubicles. If they bother with gifts it's always what you wanted
but never thought to ask Cats are the ones who break up first.

13. Cats can handle high fashion but dogs look better in the classics. That
means no spandex, and no see through. It's more fun to design for cats, but the
money lies in making products for dogs.

14. No one wants a cat for a lawyer.

15. Dogs have sexual energy, which is not the same thing as sex appeal." I just
made love to a million people", Janis Joplin said after one of her concerts,
"but I'm going home alone".

16. Only dogs can sing the blues.

Excerpted from "Blues For Beginners and Other Obsessions" (Argonne House Press, 2001)

Copyright - 2001 by Judith Podell and by The Argonne House Press
used by kind permission from the author.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Sea Turtle Named Eli Marcus????

About a year ago, I organized a Jazz and Blues series of concerts at the "Beach-Bar" venue in ancient Caesarea on the beach of the Mediterranean in Israel.
It was also the occasion of my 50th birthday, so I set aside the night of Friday September 28th, 2007 for myself and a few friends to do an electric Blues concert to celebrate my 50th.
Publicity was sent out to local papers and radio 90FM, email messages, flyers and text messages to cell phones were distributed as well.

About 10 days after the series was over, a friend at work came up to me with a curious article in a local paper from the region of Caesarea stating the the giant sea turtle Eli Marcus had been rehabilitated and released back in the sea.

I found this very amusing of course, but it got me curious and doing a bit of detective work to try and find out how my name was tagged onto a distressed sea turtle that was rescued from strangulation by floating garbage.

I couldn't get any response from the contact names in the local paper. Nor could I find any direct references to the source. A bit of internet research came up with leads at the Society For Protection of Nature in Israel and another organization that has a sea turtle research center and shelter a few kilometers south of Caeasarea. None of the researchers or professors listed in the site responded to any of my inquiries, but finally I tracked down one of their log reports that stated that a giant sea turtle had recently been saved from strangulation by swallowing floating plastic garbage in the sea.
As it turns out, the volunteers working with the turtle were named Elie and Marco, and thus the turtle was given the name Elie Marco.
The person writing the piece in that local paper, must have seen one of the posters for the Beach-Bar the week before, and made the mistake of using my name for that turtle.
Some who dunnit, huh?
Sloppy journalism, and the power of the internet for doing research...

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Death of the Blues - humor by Judith Podell

In early 1997, Judith Podell published an essay on "How to Sing the Blues" in Wordrights Magazine. Without her permission, someone transcribed it and began mailing it around the world and spreading it all over the Internet. After years of following the "How to Sing the Blues" legend around and only finding cold dead-end leads, I found a copy of her collected essays "Blues For Beginners and Other Obsessions" (Argonne House Press, 2001) which contains the original essay. Determined to find the author, and following some intensive internet detective work, I recently managed to contact Judith and received her permission to publicize the closing essay in the book.
Please remember that this is copyrighted material, and if you like it, please give credit when you quote it!

>>We have all wondered and speculated from time to time about what would happen if a certain cultural icon or hero had not died young. What if Jimi Hendrix had awoken from his drunken stupor in that flat in London on September 18th and lived to be 66 years old? Judith Podell has answered some of these questions for us in the following essay.<<

Death of the Blues
by Judith Podell

copyright 2001

Vienna, 1902. Sigmund Freud seeking non-addictive cocaine substitute discovers Prozac. Revises Civilization and Its Discontents to add happy ending, repudiates psychoanalysis. Incidence of neurasthenia plummets, as does Jewish birth rate. Apprentice pastry-chef Ludwig Wittgenstein invents the Sacher-Masoch tort.

Prague, 1912. Franz Kafka moves out of parents' house, marries. Writes Metamorphosis, popular children's story about a man who turns into a great big bug and has many exciting adventures.

London, 1920.
T.S. Eliot tears up drafts of Wasteland, tells Ezra Pound he wants to write show tunes for shop girls and live on the Riviera. Teams up with George Geshwin to write Cats!.

Memphis, 1926. Bessie Smith quits Vaudeville, opens beauty parlor. Robert Johnson tries to buy back soul from the devil, struck by lightening.

Berlin, 1933. Metamophosis adapted for stage. Lotte Lenya sings the Ballad of Max the Roach. Burning of the Reichstag.

London, 1944. Churchill takes up exercise and quits smoking for the duration of the Blitz. House and Garden editor Virginia Woolf urges wartime Britain 'think Chintz'. 10,000th performance of Cats!.

1952. Dixieland legend Miles Davis quits show business to attend Dental School. Billie Holiday records White Chrstmas with Perry Como.

1956. Steep decline in alcoholism, Soviet birthrate. Nikita Krushchev tells U.S. "We will bury you - in cheap household appliances". Russia leads world in production of hair dryers and toasters.

1964. Lawrence Welk named Downbeat Musician of the Year. Battle of the Bands won by British barbershop quartet, Rolling Stones.

1970. Janis Joplin passes California Bar. Green Beret Jim Morrison missing in action. Billie Holiday stars in revival of Cats.

1978. Sylvia Plath marries Ernest Hemmingway, opens first bed and breakfast in Ketchum.

1984. IPO for Sylvia Plath Lifestyle, Inc. withdrawn after hunting accident.

2000, Memphis.
Stash of old records found in yard sale. rare performances by Robert Johnson, Bukka White, and Son House. Antiques Roadshow estimates value at $5.
Nobody gets the blues.


Click here to purchase your own copy of "Blues For Beginners and Other Obsessions" from

You can read more essays by Judith in my recent entries here:
"Blues For Advanced Beginners"
"Animal Behavior"

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Cotton Comes to Tel Aviv

I just got back from a wonderful show of James Cotton's Superharp with
his fantastic band (Slam Allen guitar, vocals; Tom Holland guitar,
vocals; Noel Neal, bass; Kenny Neal Jr., drums)
right here in Tel Aviv, Israel.

The whole band is a very hot group of musicians, starting with Tom Holland who sang a few numbers and played rhythm, solo, and lovely slide guitar.
The major entertainment of the show was handled beautifully by Slam Allen - a great singer with a rich gospel singer's voice, and a very solid guitarist in his own right. He was very funny at times, he has amazing stage presence, always smiling and doing all the intros and knowing exactly what to say at any moment - he had the audience completely at his mercy.

Noel Neal on bass was so much fun to watch,
he really cracked me up for most of the show - he was "hamming it up"
making funny faces and poses, playing the bass with his hand over the
top of the fretboard, but still maintaining full control and playing
amazing bass throughout the show, including a couple of very hot solos
that got the crowd whistling and cheering when his turn came around.

Kenny Neal Jr. didn't stand out much except for one solo, but was
definitely the steady backbeat of the band, which acted as a tight unit and responded to the slightest signs from Cotton or from Slam.

Cotton was solid and enjoyable as ever, he looked like he was himself
enjoying the band!
We should all be so lucky at age 70 plus to be able to travel the world
and perform on stage for hundreds or thousands of people.
What a great show! What an amazing band!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

R.I.P. Phil Guy

Not many people have heard of Phil Guy, Buddy Guy's younger brother and a Blues artist himself.
Phil passed away on Wednesday, August 20, 2008 in a Chicago hospital, following a battle with cancer.
Rest in peace Phil, you have made your contribution to the Blues legacy, your work here is done...

here is Phil Guy's biography from his website:


(by Lisa Mallen)

Born on April 28, 1940, Phil Guy was the fifth child and third son of his sharecropping parents, Sam and Isabell Guy. Along with his parents, sisters (Annie Mae and Fannie Mae), and brothers (Buddy and Sam, Jr.), Phil grew up picking cotton and pecans on the Lettsworth, Louisiana plantation – about 60 miles northwest of Baton Rouge. The Guys were very poor. They had no electricity or running water for most of Phil’s youth. Yet, the Guys were a proud family.

When Phil was nine years old (and oldest brother Buddy thirteen) the family made enough profit from their crops to obtain electricity. Besides the one light bulb that lit up their home, their daddy splurged on a radio and an old phonograph. They were intrigued with the sounds of Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, Little Walter, Howlin Wolf and John Lee Hooker.

Buddy started down the music road first with a guitar he made from screen wire and a lighter fluid can, and then progressed to a $2 guitar with two strings to eventually a Harmony f-hole guitar when he graduated from the eighth grade. Phil was not allowed to touch Buddy’s guitar.

However, when Buddy moved to Baton Rouge to attend high school and live with Annie Mae, he left his old guitar hanging on a nail on the wall of their country shack. Completely left handed, thirteen year old Phil stared at it mesmerized. He took the guitar down and tried to figure out how to play it. Upside down and backwards didn’t work so he forced himself to play right handed. Soon he began taking the guitar out on the levee. His cousin Ervin Hartford would join him playing harmonica.

Even though Phil’s influences were Lightnin’ Slim, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and Albert Collins, he said, “I didn’t know but one song, just a rhythm line of a Jimmy Reed song.” The echo on the levee captivated him, and so he’d play that one line over and over.

One weekend evening, when Phil was fifteen, musician Lightnin’ Slim stopped by Johnny McGlitcham’s Club in nearby Torres with his amplified guitar. Phil had never seen anything like it. Phil said, “Slim’s amp was the size of a radio. He said he was just going to play for a little while, but when people kept throwing money into the hat, Slim ended up staying for a week. It was Slim who gave me my first chance to play an electric guitar.”

In the meantime in Baton Rouge, after years of listening to Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Howlin Wolf and B.B. King, Buddy joined harp player Raful Neal’s band. They performed at many of the local joints including the Dew Drop Inn and

The Rock House.

Buddy yearned to see and learn from his idols, so on September 27, 1957 at 21 he moved to Chicago where they were. Before he left he told Raful that his younger

seventeen year old brother could also play the blues. Phil cut his musical teeth in Raful Neal’s band replacing Lazy Lester as rhythm guitarist. “From then on, I just started learning more and more,” Phil said. He stayed with Raful’s band until Buddy summoned him to come to Chicago. Phil ventured north in April 1969 and began working immediately with Buddy in his bands. Often, they played in the basement at Theresa’s Lounge on 48th & Indiana.

At that time, Phil’s (29) and Buddy’s (33) musical styles had gone different directions. Phil was more into funky songs by Jimmy Reed and James Brown. His method was a deep picking, penetrating and searing style like Albert King. Buddy’s approach was skilled Chicago blues like Muddy Waters, straight picking yet mixed with electrifying Guitar Slim style showmanship and powerful vocals. However, whenever these two blues brothers jammed together, their styles complimented each other exquisitely.

Soon after his arrival in Chicago, Buddy invited Phil to join his band on a trip to Africa sponsored by the U.S. State Department. “The trip was a huge success,” Phil said.

“The Africans had heard of James Brown and Muhammad Ali but knew nothing about the blues. They were so amazed with the music they thought Buddy’s strings were magic and stole them right off his guitar!”

Following one performance in Africa, Phil put his guitar on top of the equipment truck. Driving miles and miles over the bumpy, pot hole laden roads, his Fender Telecaster fell off. When they finally realized what had happened 30 or 40 miles down the road, they backtracked and retrieved it. To this day Phil continues to play with his beloved guitar, "Ludella."

The Guy blues brothers and Junior Wells had several high profile gigs in Europe, including opening for the Rolling Stones in 1970 and jamming with Eric Clapton. Buddy, Phil, and Junior Wells were much better known across the ocean than in our homeland where blues took root.

A year after Woodstock and Altamont, in the summer of 1970 Buddy and Phil Guy joined a collection of future rock and roll superstars, including Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead, The Band, and the Flying Burrito Brothers and others, on the infamous Festival Express. The Festival Express was a train that rock and rolled, jammed and partied, day and night across Canada – making concert stops in Toronto, Winnipeg and Calgary. It was a multi-band, multi-day extravaganza that captured the spirit and imagination of a generation and a nation. Long lost film, never seen before of the ride was found in the 1990’s and made into a documentary nearly 35 years later. Speaking of the rare footage of Phil and Buddy jamming on the train and performing in Winnipeg, Phil chuckled about his wild afro, beard and clothes recalling, “It was a great musical experience . . . I was a hippie back then.”

Phil spent quite a few years as a backing musician. Besides playing with Buddy, Raful Neal, and Junior Wells, he backed up Son Seals, Albert Collins, Koko Taylor, Memphis Slim, John Lee Hooker and Big Mama Thornton. “Big Mama Thornton was wild! She was kind of like a female Junior Wells!” Phil explained.

During the mid 1970’s and into the mid 1980’s disco, rock and roll, and pop were what audiences wanted to hear. There was no money in playing the blues. Phil needed to support his family, so he picked up whatever work he could.

Occasionally, good things happened in the dry blues years. In 1979, Phil and Buddy were on tour in France. Out of the blue, promoter Didier Tricard asked Buddy if he wanted to record an album. Buddy thought it was a joke, but insisted that if he was serious, he would only record if the label was named after their mother, Isabell. From that, right in the middle of the disco craze came, Stone Crazy.

Phil struck out on his own in the 1990’s and formed his band Phil Guy and The Chicago Machine. His albums include: Tina Nu (1994) JSP label, All Star Chicago Blues Session (1994), Breaking out on Top (1995), Chicago’s Hottest Blues Session, Vol. 25 (1998), Track 16 – A Selection of the Best Modern Blues (2000), and Say What You Mean (2000) – JSP label. *** 2006 Phil's newest CD "He's My Blues Brother" - Black Eyed Sally's Music label.

Phil’s highly praised Say What You Mean CD showcases his exceptional penned lyrics in “Fixin to Die,” “For the last Time,”and “Last of the Blues Singers.” Coupled with Phil’s intense tone and soul vocals and mixed in with his emotion-filled guitar playing, his performances are Chicago savvy, his audiences always wanting more.

Phil Guy has become one of Chicago’s most rock solid and legendary blues performers. Not afraid to tackle anything or any genre, he mixes his performances with R& B, rock-and-roll - and hip-hop - entertaining people of all ages.

Phil acknowledges that “the 1990’s are gone, and now in the 2000’s, everybody’s back on the floor dancing.”

Phil Guy is always ready to boogie and give the people what they want – whether it’s some down home Louisiana blues, Sweet Home Chicago Blues, Funky James Brown tunes, Rolling Stones “Missing You,” or today’s hip-hop – Phil delivers more than what audiences expect. “Fun” should be his middle name.

Phil Guy's website

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Hey Bo Diddley!!! Hey Bo Diddley!!!

Jacksonville, Florida, June 2nd, 2008,
The cigar box guitar has been silenced,
Bo Diddley has passed on...

"She rolled right up to my front door,
Knocked an knocked 'till her fist got sore,
When she turned and walked away,
All I could hear my baby say:

Hey bo diddley, oh bo diddley,
Hey bo diddley, oh bo diddley."

Bo Diddley - "Have Guitar Will Travel"

I think that one of the most incongruous and kitsch album covers I have ever seen was the Bo Diddley record album "Have Guitar Will Travel" from 1959, and now that Bo Diddley has passed on, I was thinking that this also may symbolize the man - a mix of kitsch and flashy facade with the "real thing" to back it up.

What I mean is that behind the gimmick of the rectangular bodied bright red guitar, the flashy clothes, glasses and haircut, this man could really produce the goods!!
He created a new style of playing the electric guitar, a new set of jumpy Blues rhythms, and a treasure of catchy new songs in the Blues and Rock and Roll idiom.

Between 1955 and 1959 Bo Diddley wrote and recorded a number of unforgettable Blues and/or Rock and Roll songs that have become both standards of the Blues and Rock and Roll tradition, as well as identifiable icons for Bo Diddley himself.
Among these are:
I'm a Man,
Bo Diddley,
Who Do You Love,
Hey Bo Diddley,
Diddley Daddy,
Before You Accuse Me
You Don't Love Me (You Don't Care)
Hush Your Mouth
Bring it to Jerome
Can't Judge a Book By Its Cover (written by Willie Dixon)

Rest in peace Ellas "Bo Diddley" McDaniel
the angels up in heaven must now be dancing to a funkier beat!!!

Who Do You Love?
Ellas McDaniel (Bo Diddley) 1956

I walked forty-seven miles of barbed wire, I got a cobra snake for a necktie
A brand new house on the road side, and it's a-made out of rattlesnake hide
Got a band new chimney made on top, and it's a-made out of human skull
Come on take a little walk with me Arlene, and tell me who do you love?

Who do you love? Who do you love?
Who do you love? Who do you love?

I've got a tombstone hand in a graveyard mind,
just twenty-two and I don't mind dying

Who do you love? (4x)

I rode around the town, used a rattlesnake whip,
take it easy Arlene don't give me no lip

Who do you love? (4x)

The night were dark when the sky was blue, down the alley a ice wagon flew
hit a bump and somebody screamed, you should've heard what I seen

Who do you love? (4x)

Now Arlene took a-me by my hand,
she said "ooh ee Bo you know I understand, who do you love?"

Who do you love? (4x)

Sunday, June 01, 2008

This month at the Fingerboard Coffeehouse - Champagne Charlie!!!

On Saturday, November 26, 1977, in the basement of the 519 Church St. Community Center in Toronto, Canada, Thom "Champagne Charlie" Roberts gave a command performance at the Fingerboard Coffeehouse.
The poster for the Fingerboard was designed and drawn by my multi-talented cousin Elliott Rovan.
I had just taken over the management of the Fingerboard at the end of August, and I had befriended Champagne Charlie earlier in the year. I was quite honored to have an artist of his professional caliber and style in the club, as most of the artists who performed there were not necessarily seasoned professional musicians - many were on their way to becoming established or even famous, but few had the stature or history that someone like Champagne Charlie had at that time.
Champagne Charlie would play with his big chimney sweep moustache, opened the Martin guitar case with the large Donald Duck decal on the back, and pulled out his Martin 000-28 (triple "O" twenty eight), a sweet sounding guitar that I dreamed of buying for myself for only the last thirty years...
I don't recall the exact repertoire that he played, but most likely it included a few Rev. Gary Davis songs and instrumentals, as Thom taught me some of them later as our friendship progressed. Songs like "Death Don't Have No Mercy", "the Maple Leaf Rag", "Cincinnati Flow Rag", "Buck Dance" were regular parts of Champagne Charlie's arsenal, as were "The Beat From Rampart Street", "Yas Yas Yas", "Windin Boy", and other Ragtime and New Orleans parlor type Blues songs.

"The Beat From Rampart Street", a song by Larry "Fast Fingers" Johnson from his first solo album, is an upbeat two-step with a tricky double-syncopated beat that was very hard to learn at first - I think it took me two months or more before I could play that pattern automatically. That song is still one of my favorites, and I perform it to this day.

Here are the humorous lyrics:

"Well gather 'round people, gonna sing a little song
Pay close attention, 'cause it won't be long
Gonna sing about that beat, down on Ramapart Street

Looky here people what Rampart's done
Made Grandma marry her young grandson
When she heard that beat, down on Ramapart Street

Playin'nice an' easy,
Soft and sweet
When you hear that beat, down on Ramapart Street

Now I have a little cousin named Cripple Lou John,
He dropped his crutches and walked right on
When he heard that beat, down on Ramapart Street

Yeah John, nice to see you standing straight again
come on over and do that two step for us

Now my old aunty loved my uncle so
That she dropped her drawers like years ago
When she heard that beat, down on Ramapart Street

Now when I die, don't bury me at all,
Just pickle my bones in alcohol
Gonna hear that beat, down on Ramapart Street

You can hear it in the alley
You can hear cross the fence,
By golly it don't make no sense,
Talkin' 'bout that beat, down on Ramapart Street

Playin' all night long,
Let me hear that band moan
Playin'nice an' easy,
Soft and sweet
When you hear that beat, down on Ramapart Street,
that's all!"

Thursday, May 15, 2008

R.I.P. Champagne Charlie a.k.a. Thom Roberts

Thomas Charles Roberts a.k.a. Champagne Charlie, Canadian Jazz, Blues, and Ragtime guitarist and singer, born in Ottawa on January 5th, 1945, passed away in Guelph Ontario on April 4th, 2008. Thom was a good friend, and important musical mentor to me.

"Champagne Charlie is my name
Champagne Charlie is my name,
Champagne Charlie is my name by golly,
and roguein' an' stealin' is my game"
- Blind (Arthur) Blake

Sketch of Champagne Charlie in concert
(copyright Eli Marcus 1977)

I first met Thom in the personage of Champagne Charlie, Ragtime guitarist extraordinaire, at the Fingerboard Cafe in downtown Toronto. It was a Wednesday night , March 16, 1977, and a young Colin Linden (almost 17) and also Dave McClean were on hand to make it the perfect evening of Blues music at the small Folk-club in the basement of the 519 Church St community center. I was very impressed with all three performers, but Champagne Charlie, with his chimney-sweep black moustache that covered his mouth, a dark cap of some kind and a nice black dinner jacket impressed me the most. Thom also had a distinctive guitar - a Martin 000-28 which is slightly more compact than a standard full sized guitar, yet has a much fuller and rounder tone.

The blue Martin hardshell case that carried his guitar also had a large Donald Duck decal on the back, so you could spot Thom a mile away just by his guitar case.
That night at the Fingerboard I befriended Thom, and over the next few months he and I would hang out at different clubs where he or Colin were playing. Thom had many colorful stories about his history in music and life in general, and even if they didn't all ring true, it was fascinating to hear him tell them. He definitely had a distinctive style to his voice whether he was singing or speaking, as well as a very unique and hearty laugh.

One late summer night, close to midnight, Thom and I were walking through the streets of downtown Toronto, when we came upon a nice chair that was put out on the corner for garbage. Now, you must understand that a nice chair with a good padded seat, no arm rests, and just the right height is something of value to an acoustic guitarist to be able to sit comfortably when you play guitar - so Thom gave me his guitar case to carry, and he loaded that chair on his shoulder, and off we went.

We stopped off at the co-op student rooming house where I lived at the time,
went into a vacant room with a wooden floor, Thom sat on his newly acquired chair, and I sat on a guitar case. It was sometime around midnight, the proverbial bewitching hour when Blues musicians sell their souls to the devil to acquire more musical prowess... Thom showed me a few Ragtime style chords and progressions to a Reverend Gary Davis tune (probably "Death Don't Have No Mercy"), and to a tune called "The Beat From Ramparts Street". That is how Thom became my musical mentor.

A friend of mine from the University had just opened up a little cafe on Brunswick Ave. and Thom and I spent hours playing music and just taking it easy there (the food was pretty good too!).
Later that summer, I had to leave the Innis College co-op residence, and I had no idea where I would find a place to live. Thom told me there was a little one room "bachelorette" apartment next to him up at 159 Walmer Rd. - I ended up living there for the next two years. During that time, Thom and I became great friends, and Thom had decided to study a bit of formal Jazz guitar, and he would pass on tips and songs to me, and sometimes we'd accompany each other on old Duke Ellington tunes and others he was learning at the time, the doors to our rooms were always open when we were home, and for a while Thom was like the older brother I never had...

I'll leave you with a song - one of Thom's favorite tunes at the time was a number written by Duke Ellington and Bob Russell, and covered by singers like Billie Holiday and Nat King Cole. Thom would sing it out loud and put special emphasis on the very last line:

"Do Nothing 'Till You Hear From me"

Do nothing till you hear from me
Pay no attention to what's said
Why one should tear the seam of anyone's dream
Is over my head

Do nothing till you hear from me
At least consider our romance
If you should take the word of others you've heard
I haven't a chance

True, I've been seen with someone new
But does that mean that I'm untrue?
While we're apart, the words in my heart
Reveal how I feel about you

Some kiss may cloud my memory
And other arms may hold a thrill
But please do nothing till you hear it from me
And you never will!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

42 IF - Jeff Healey's birthday - and a "Mess of Blues"

Jeff Healey would be 42 years old by now had he survived the cancer that plagued him throughout his life (Healey passed away in Toronto, Canada on March 2nd, 2008, and his 42nd birthday was on Tuesday March 25th, 2008 )
Well, Happy Birthday Jeff, wherever you may be!!!

Last month, hardly a fortnight after he passed away, "Mess of Blues", Healey's first commercial album in 8 years was released in Europe - an album chock full of Blues, Rock & Roll, and just plain fun music!

Starting with Sonny Thompson's upbeat Blues classic "I'm Tore Down" (often identified with Otis Rush), Healey is at home both vocally and on guitar as he goes from straight electric Blues to slightly more modern Rock territory. Next is the classic "How Blue Can You Get" with a very soulful guitar solo by Jeff. Four of the tunes on this album were recorded live on stage in London England, and at Healey's own club in Toronto (Healey's Roadhouse), but the studio tracks also have the quality of a live show because they were recorded with the same band that he played with onstage for a good number of years, and they are all very comfortable with each other both on stage and in the studio.
The next tune is a vintage 50's Blues-Rock & Roll chestnut named "Sugar Sweet" which Healey performs in his own inimitable way and then he ventures into the Lousianna Bayou, letting loose with the good time swamp tune "Jambalaya".
Next up is "the Weight", the old standard made famous by the Band back in the movie Easy Rider, which seems to be making a revival lately as at least 3-4 other artists have recently covered the tune on their newest releases.

The album title tune, the Doc Pomus song "Mess of Blues" was a hit for Elvis Presley way back when, and Healey has fun with this upbeat Rock & Roll number.

Neil Young's "Like A Hurricane" brings Healey's special emotional rendition and has all the makings of the designated "hit single" from the album, and hopefully it could become a posthumous commercial hit for the benefit of Healey's wife and young children.
The album closes with a light rendition of the folk/bluegrass/country Blues standard from the 1920's - "Sittin' On Top of the World", and the Rock & Roll standard "Shake Rattle and Roll".
Overall, this is a fun album filled with lots of Blues and the joy of music. The band is tight and professional all the way, but the session is pretty laid back, and Healey is playing to please both himself and his regular audience at the club...

Rest in peace brother Jeff, even though you left us much too soon, you've earned your place in heaven.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Kelly Joe Phelps - a style that's all his own

Kelly Joe Phelps -
“Tap the Red Cane Whirlwind”
live concert recordings
Rykodisc, 2004
A few years ago on the Blues discussion groups on the internet (Blues-L), I was reading the occasional comment about this guy out in the Northwest who was a new phenomenon of the acoustic blues and slide guitar. It took me a while before I could get my hands on his first three albums, “Lead Me On“, “Roll Away The Stone”, and “Shine Eyed Mister Zen”.

Kelly Joe Phelps soon rose to popular acclaim and fame in Folk and Blues circles. While the first three albums were classic solo acoustic ventures, his next two albums became more complex and filled with additional instrumentation and personnel, which spoiled for me the intimate, immediate and personal nature of his music.
Now comes a new album that was recorded live, with only a man and his guitar – pure, bare, personal, meditative, lovely!

The album opens with a 10 minute rendition of the classic Nehemiah (Skip) James “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” and also includes a cover of the Rev. Gary Davis tune “I Am the Light of This World” (which has been identified with Jorma Kaukonen’s repertoire for the past 35 years).There are plenty of evocative and lyrical singer-songwriter folk numbers penned by Phelps, alongside the Blues numbers which are his forte.

Kelly Joe Phelps is a fine guitar picker as well as slide player, playing with the acoustic guitar on his lap. He also has a very pleasant mellow voice with just a hint of that smoky rasp of singers like Dave Van Ronk. This album is highly recommended for late night listening, meditation, or for those who love hearing lots of fine acoustic guitar fingerpicking…

Geoff Muldaur - Blues with class

Geoff Muldaur
“the Secret Handshake” (Hightone Records, 1998)
“Password” (Hightone Records, 2000)

Geoff Muldaur has class, and that is a double entendre, because he not only has class in the sense of culture and quality, but he also has a thing or two to teach us, as if her were holding classes in Blues and Jazz appreciation.

I have always known that Geoff Muldaur has impeccable taste in music, his repertoire has always been a wide mix of styles that are both entertaining and instructive. More often than not, his repertoire has inspired me to go do a bit of research and discover new artists or musical sub-styles in the rich American Folk/Blues/Jazz heritage that I wasn’t previously aware of or familiar with. Longtime fans of Ry Cooder will know what I’m talking about, if he doesn’t already have one, Geoff Muldaur should have an honorary degree in ethnomusicology…

Geoff has always made music very personal, never compromising over the arrangements or orchestrations or complexity of musical ideas, nor the fine musicians that accompany him. He began recording in the mid 60’s with the (Jim) Kweskin Jug Band alongside his wife, singer Maria (born D’Amato) Muldaur, continuing with his own solo efforts with Maria, and also as part of Paul Butterfield’s Better Days band. He even had a bit of good fortune when his recording of the song “Brazil” was used as the theme song in the popular Terry Gilliam futuristic science-fantasy film “Brazil”.

I recently rediscovered the magic that Geoff does with music in a pair of solo albums on Hightone records – “the Secret Handshake” (1998) and “Password” (2000). Both records are similar in their scope and flavor, labeled by Muldaur as “American Music: Blues and Gospel”, ‘though for my tastes I would characterize the first one as more dynamic and eclectic, and the second one as more subdued and introspective.
Make no mistake, both albums are interesting and varied, but I simply feel a stronger connection to “Secret Handshake”.

The album begins with an acoustic rendering of “The Wild Ox Moan” (from the late 30’s Library of Congress recordings of Vera Hall) where Geoff does a beautiful falsetto moan. The opening number is followed by a full brass band and vocal choir for the Gospel classic “This World Is Not My Home” and then we suddenly switch to a Zydeco groove for the classic Leadbelly song “Alberta”. This is followed by a quiet personal tale of Geoff’s escapades as a youth in trying to find the grave of Blind Lemon Jefferson in East Texas in order to sweep it off as the classic Blind Lemon verse on the gravestone epitaph requests – “see that my grave is kept clean”- “Got To Find Blind Lemon – Part One” (part two can be heard on the album “Password”).
A couple more Zydeco style numbers follow, a country stringband number, a solo piano and vocal song, a lovely blues arrangement of Sleepy John Estes’ “Someday Baby”, and closing with solo vocal and guitar. I can almost guarantee that you’ll play this album over and over again before you have heard enough.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Some Memories of Willie P. Bennett

I keep getting the picture in my mind of a festival (probably the Ottawa Festival For the Folks, summer 1977 or 1978)
where it started pouring rain in the afternoon, and everyone was looking for shelter,
Willie spontaneously (or so it seemed to me) saved the day by starting to perform in some old dinning hall on the grounds,
completely acoustically, no mics or amplifiers,
as all of us huddled inside - it was hard to hear, but still a great experience - experiencing his voice live in front of you was always something special....

or the time that he showed up at the Toronto Folklore Centre (TFC) on Avenue RD. (in an old redbrick house on the west side,right near the bridge of the railroad tracks) right after he had shaved his head for the first time and everyone was inspecting and questioning him, and he just picked up a harmonica and started to play...he used to hang out at the TFC quite often in the middle of the day, sometimes trying out guitars, sometimes just resting (or waking up)...I wasn't on speaking terms with him, just on "hey there" nodding to each other kind of terms.

these are some of the nice memories I have of him

R.I.P. - Willie P. Bennett

I just received the sad news today -
legendary Canadian Folk/Country singer songwriter Willie P. Bennett
has passed on to the other side following heart trouble over the last year.
****Willie P. Bennett****
October 26 1951 - February 15, 2008
Some of you may have heard me speak in reverence of Willie P. Bennett and
I have sung his songs many times at the local Tel Aviv Folk Club and other venues,
songs such as "Take My Own Advice" or the song quoted at the end of this post, "Down to the Water".
I think that the best way we can help commemorate this man is by learning more about him and his music
you can hear many of his songs here:

I feel so lucky to have known Willie back in the glory days of Folk Festivals
and Folk Clubs in the late 70's in the Toronto area.
Willie was a one of a kind troubadour, guitarist, mandolin player, harmonica player,
and a powerful singer with a deep voice.
He was an amazing songwriter who could make you laugh, or melt your heart, or leave your jaw hanging in awe of his lovely words.
He was a man who "didn't take sh*t from no one", and dealt in the bare truths of life in his writing.

It is no wonder that three of his musical friends formed a popular band based on his music - "Blackie and the Rodeo Kings" or "B.A.R.K." (after one of Willie's classic songs)with Colin Linden, Stephen Fearing, and Tom Wilson, and sometimes Willie himself joined in.

here are the lyrics to one of Willie's classic songs:

"Down To the Water"
From "Tryin' To Start Out Clean"
LP originally released 1975

My mind was sinking in a sea of darkness
My eyes were blinded by the light of you
The reasons for leaving were not all that harmless
The lessons I learned both straight and true
The stars were rising in a light of triumph
The time for leaving was about half gone
The sun was drowning in sea of silver
My heart was as low as the sun in the dawn

So come on...
Let's go down to the water
And show me what you think is the truth
You know that you could
Let's go down to the water
I'd show you my crown if I could

My mouth was frozen in a thousand faces
My words were hanging in the air
My thoughts were scattered in a thousand places
How come you start out running scared
The time was running on a little further, and further
The moon was rising right beside your head
You always lose yourself in someone else's need
Always looking to find love in a bed

So come on...
Let's go down to the water
And show me what you think is the truth
You know that you could
Let's go down to the water
I'd show you my crown if I could

Thinking about the ways of the seagull
Spending my time on every one
You could keep on reaching out forever and forever
With out ever touching anyone

So come on...
Let's go down to the water
And show me what you think is the truth
You know that you could
Let's go down to the water
I'd show you my crown if I could

here is a message from Willie's website:
"Dear friends,

It is with pain in our hearts and deep sadness that we formally inform the music community that our friend, lover, troubadour, mentor, and musical artist Willie P. Bennett passed away suddenly at his home in Peterborough Ontario, Friday February 15th 2008.

More information will be available soon at the discretion of Willie's partner Linda and the Bennett family.

Thank you for your compassionate words and positive thoughts. Willie always expected the best from us, especially in our kindnesses to each other, and I am sure he is still proud to call us his friends.

Letters of condolence and support may be sent to:

his companion in love,

Ms. Linda Duemo,
272 Bold Street
Hamilton Ontario L8P 1W2

his family,

Mrs. Margaret Bennett
Box 526
Picture Butte, Alberta T0K 1V0

care of his mother Margaret, sister Esther, (son Richard Barrett, wife Judy,grand-nephews William James and Jason Alexander), and brothers David (Brian), and Paul (Shelley, nephews Ryan, Adam and Brandon)

".....we'll understand it all in time......."

Best wishes to you all

Robin "

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The previous 8 posts were formerly on another ...

The previous 8 posts were formerly on another blog that I thought might be a good idea - "Now Playing In My Car", record reviews combined with gripes about driving my car to work or elsewhere on the highway,
but alas, nobody seemed to notice.
So here they are again, maybe someone will take notice and try some of these recording out for themselves!

John Scofield - Blue Matter

Ok, so I'm driving home again after an annoying and tiring day at the office, where I also felt at one point like I had food poisoning from the onion soup at the vegetarian restaurant...I needed a cool kind of album to "chill out" on the way home.

I've got the windows down to enjoy some of the breeze of the fall night, as I slip in another of my favorite John Scofield albums - "Blue Matter" .
If "Still Warm" has a warmish texture to it, "Blue Matter" is a bit more cool and distanced, especially due to some of the seriously dated synthesizer sounds from Mitchell Forman - if there is one thing that seems to date an album more than anything else, it's the embarrassing synth sounds that are often used in many 70's and 80's recordings, in Fusion and modern Jazz in particular. Getting past that, this album still has some great tunes on it with a killer rhythm section in bassist Gary Grainger and super drummer Dennis Chambers.

I saw Dennis Chambers live once or twice, and he nearly stole the show the second time - he is such a powerful and funky drummer with an amazing groove, that I don't think anyone today can come near him in this niche, I mean he's like Steve Gadd, Billy Cobham, and Dave Weckl all in one, playing on amphetamines...

As I'm waiting for some of the congestion to clear up along the 2 1/2 lane boulevard that passes by the Yarkon river, I get a waft of the local sewage treatment station along the way - oh putrid!!! - gotta crank up the volume on "Now She's Blond" and try to ignore the olfactory affront. As I pass the Diamond Exchange business area, another waft of sewage comes up - you can also get that whnever you pass by the Sheraton City Tower on the highway heading north, it always seems to smell terrible around there, at least for the last 3-4 years...

I flip back to one of my favorites - "Blue Matter", the first track on this album and what originally sold me on it when I bought the fine German pressing of the LP around 20 years ago, and I used to sit with the album and try to pick out the tune on my own guitar.

Just a couple of years after that album came out, I managed to help persuade someone that it would be a good idea to have Scofield over here for a live concert or two, and I even got to meet my idol and get him to autograph my Ibanez guitar (a similar model to the one that he plays).

Cool, I've chilled out now...

John Scofield - Still Warm

On average,I have a 20 minute ride from home to work each day. Usually, this involves weaving in and out of high traffic areas and some driving on the highway. Every morning is a different story, and every morning there is a new set of "challenges" to face.
Music helps to take off the edge, to help me ignore or forgive the countless inconsiderate assholes and idiots out there on the road who are either a danger to you and everyone else, or just a nuisance for which you need supreme amounts of patience in order not to loose your cool...

This morning I placed in my CD player one of my all time favorite Jazz/Fusion guitar albums - John Scofield's "Still Warm" from 1986. I admit that I am a total John Scofield addict, and I have loved many of his albums over the years, but I keep coming back to "Still Warm". After all these years, I think that it has become a kind of classic. The different tones, colors, the rhythms, the mix of subtlety and boldness on this album are the result of an unusual team of players from different parts of the musical spectrum - guitarist Scofield and keyboard player Don Grolnick are from more mainstream and slightly traditional Jazz backgrounds, while drummer Omar Hakim and bassist Daryl Jones are from more commercial Jazz/Fusion/Rock origins.

As I'm winding through traffic on the main street in the city, I jump to track 5 - "Rule Of Thumb" which begins with a delicate keyboard rhythm, and then turns into a delicate but funky and upbeat collaboration between Daryl Jones lightly snapping the bass and Hakim on a solid funk riff, as "Sco" adds some pizzicato picking. As I am forced to weave in and out of different lanes to avoid the stupid rich-bitch that has double parked her car and has the door open - further obstructing the right hand lane...the music soothes my pain, makes it easier to grin and bear it 'till I actually get onto the highway.

The gentle but steady sounds of track 6 "Picks and Pans" begin, the fast pace of the traffic matches the music, and the idiots that can't seem to choose a lane to stay in are easier to ignore as I hold back a little and turn up the volume on Sco's long solo.

I flip back to track 2 "Still Warm", an up tempo but fairly quiet tune, very subtle and understated both in the playing and the harmonic composition - this is a great relaxation tune that doesn't put you to sleep. I'm rounding the corner now to the neighborhood of my office building, traffic seems fairly clear now, all the way up to a few meters from the entrance to the building - that's when all hell seems to break loose as all sorts of inconsiderate and impatient people are making U-turns and blocking traffic in both directions as other impatient people try to weave around them...all I can do is put up the volume a bit and wait in least another 5 minutes before the mess resolves itself and I can make it into the parking garage as the first track "Techno" starts playing.

There, I made it safely to work once more,
another annoying morning in traffic,
but I had John Scofield to keep me company
and I managed not to blow my stack...

the Pentangle - Live at Royal Festival Hall 1968

Last night as I drove home from work, I was feeling a bit ill and very tired, sort of like serious jet lag. I put in my CD player a recording of the Pentangle live in concert from the Royal Festival Hall, June 29, 1968...and I was already starting to feel a bit better.

I've been a big fan of the Pentangle and all of the individual members too for over 30 years, but I don't recall the last time I gave them a good listen in the past year. So last night as I was negotiating the tricky turns of the newly built but badly mis-planned bridge near the big Ramat Gan Mall complex, it was a great delight to once again hear the delicate tones of Jacqui McShee singing "Hear My Call" and "Way Behind the Sun". As her voice gives way to the rest of the band in improvisation mode, I recalled the greatness of this ensemble - who took Elizabethan style Folk songs and zapped them with pure Jazz and Blues feeling.

The bowed Bass riff that Danny Thompson plays at the start of "Let No Man Steal Your Thyme" invokes a real Blues feeling, as does the rhythm that is later established by the rest of the band - this song is probably 300 years old or more, but they have made it totally 20th century.

As I turn into the underpass that leads me home - only about 2 km left to go, I hear Bert Jansch's unmistakable voice begin singing "A Woman Like You" with his lovely acoustic guitar sounds in the background. Jansch is one of the first virtuoso guitarists that I ever became enamored with, and his playing can still make the hairs rise on the back of my neck to this day.

It's such a pleasure to be able to listen to the Pentangle again in this digital age where so much of the recent musical offerings seem to be a rehashing of yesterday's commercial trash over and over again. So go out today and get yourself a Pentangle album!!!

Root Doctor - "Change Our Ways"

I just received the new CD from Root Doctor Band a couple of days ago, so this morning I gave it a "test drive" so to speak on my way to work.

It was a fairly normal day today, with moderate traffic as I got onto the highway. But of course, the laws of "Carma" - the cosmological laws of driving and traffic, have a way of balancing out your experience sometimes. What you gain in a break in traffic at one part of your journey, you certainly will lose as you encounter a minor jam somewhere further on up the road.

Root Doctor are an interesting band of mostly young Blues musicians fronted by a more veteran vocalist named Freddie Cunningham. Cunningham has one of those soulful voices that have a rich rounded tone and deep vibrato or sustain in his technique. He wouldn't stand out that much among old style R&B/ Soul singers, but in the Blues idiom it adds a breath of fresh air and a different take on the Blues.

Root Doctor are a tight band with a good dose of Soul and Funk in their playing, but they can certainly prove their mainstream Blues roots as well. Their previous album from last year (Been A Long Time Coming - Big O Records 2406)impressed me as a fresh new band on the scene, and this new CD just keeps up that good feeling with a selection of original tunes, and some interesting covers.

One such cover, "Soul Shine" by Warren Haynes, is a very pleasant surprise since I am a very big fan of Warren and his band Gov't Mule, and Root Doctor do a fine cover of this inspirational song.

Well, I finally made it through that last surprise traffic jam just 800 meters from the office, and managed to slip into the parking lot without event as I flipped to the first track on the CD - "Blues Will Take Care of You", written by their keyboard man Jim Alfredson, a very nice Blues song to carry with me through my day...

Frank Zappa - OZ Live

I think that I first remember hearing Zappa back in high school at some friend's basement after school. I recall the song Dyna-Moe-Hum,so I guess it was the Over-Nite Sensation album that was on the turntable at the time. As I drove home tonight, facing the wind-down of the weekend, tired from the whole week of work and other little worries of life, I tried to play a Jazz album that I recently acquired, but my car CD player refused to register it properly - even though it was an official commercial pressing. So I slipped in the burned copy I have of Frank Zappa's OZ double CD - live from Sydney Australia back in January of 1976.

I love Frank Zappa, I have always thought of him as the greatest genius of the Rock/Pop/Contemporary music field - he could do it all - compose, write lyrics, play amazing guitar, sing, produce, promote, perform , conduct an orchestra, and of course, he had vision and an amazingly sharp wit.

A number of DVDs and video clippings have recently become available with segments from Frank's 1973 band performances with the great Napolean Murphy Brock on Sax and , mania, and vocals. Well, Napolean is also on hand at the Australian tour that is featured on OZ. It's always fun to hear some of Frank's on stage talk and antics from a live show, and this show is no different - die hard fans can probably pickup all the nuances and variations in this show over other performances, and that is part of what makes each live recording a unique experience and a fresh take on something you may have heard many times before.

As long as I can listen to the guitar solo masterpiece "Black Napkins", I'm cool. That tune is one of my top 5 all time greatest guitar instrumentals of all time and all music. It was originally presented on the album "Zoot Allures", where Zappa and his studio editing magic has it dissolve into the surreal song "The Torture Never Stops". I can't ever seem to get enough of that tune "Black Napkins"

I'm sure I'll play this double CD a number of times in my car in the months to come...

Bill Withers - Acoustic Soul!!!

Sunday morning traffic is always the heaviest around the greater Tel Aviv area, as well as other parts of the country. A large number of traffic jams seem to be unnecessarily caused by drivers who simply don't know how to use lanes properly - they hesitate too much, block exit lanes that could easily flow faster if they were surer of themselves or decisive in any way.
To compound all that, there is a fanning out or widening funnel effect caused by assholes who try to cut in further down the line and block additional lanes that are not part of the exit, this causes a chain reaction that slows down the rest of the lanes, causing a traffic jam backup of a few miles...So I wanted a mellow album to help me be patient, and also to try to wake up. I took along the new Bill Withers Super Hits compilation that I picked up last Friday.

Sundays are hard days to get back to work, the one and a half day weekend is short, and I'm quite often still very tired - the body wakes up at 6:30 in the morning, but the brain sometimes takes it's sweet time in fully waking up 'till around one hour after I arrive at the office...

I was just starting high school as Bill Withers began hitting the charts with songs like "Ain't No Sunshine (When She's Gone)", "Use Me", "When I'm Kissing My Love", and the following year, "Grandma's Hands" and his all time classic "Lean On Me".
I consider Withers to be a real crossover artist - someone with true R&B sensibilities - he started his career teamed up with Booker T. Jones.
Withers played acoustic guitar and wrote very catchy pop-oriented tunes, so it's not surprising that he made it big at the time as part of the Pop-Folk-Singer/Songwriter scene. Many of his songs are timeless, standing up today as well as they did back then when I would hear them on Boston radio stations all the time, and I have performed his classic "Lean On Me" quite a few times on stage over the years.

Well, maybe it was the karma of Bill Withers' music, and maybe it was sheer luck, but once I got past the unnecessary jam in the Sheraton City Towers area of the highway, the rest was smooth sailing, and I was in the office trying to wake up in no time...

Mingus is God

Tuesday, the middle of the work week, another one of those unexplained traffic slowdowns where the highway seems like a parking lot more than a thruway. Just as soon as I entered the highway from the La Guardia exit, I was already making my way back out at the Shalom exit, to continue up the main road parallel to the highway, that takes me northward to the edge of the urban center.

There is an old Jazz musician's joke about the musician who just arrived in heaven, and is sitting in at the big band rehearsal with all the great legends of Jazz, and there is one guy in the corner with a trumpet playing something awful. The punchline is: "oh, that's just God, he thinks he's Miles". Well to me, Mingus has always been and always will be God.

I finally cracked open that Mingus at Antibes CD that my buddy Yair gave to me for my birthday. This is a classic live session (so many of Mingus's recordings are...) from a festival on July 13, 1960 at Juan Le Pins, France. On hand with "Chazz" (Mingus never liked the nickname Charlie - he felt it was demeaning like calling a Black man "boy")were Ted Curson (Tpt), Eric Dolphy (various reeds), Booker Ervin (T Sax), and Dannie Richmond (Dms), with special guest Bud Powell sitting in on one song.
The first tune, "Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting" is true Mingus, a happy and upbeat Gospel song that allows each of the musicians to stretch out a bit and "present their case" as it were with Mingus egging them on with shouts and screams as well as his bass riffs.
The third track, "What Love" has an amazing blowing session as both Curson and Dolphy get to really explore some of the "outer limits", Curson soloing first, followed by Dolphy, who then gets into a direct dialog of call and response with Mingus's bass and the encouragement by Dannie Richmond from time to time.

As I make the turn into Devora Ha Nevia St. I see a bit of a slowdown, so I try the shortcut through the Ramat Hachayal residential neighborhood, only to find just as big a pileup on Raoul Wallenberg. Well, I finally get through it all as I hear the beginning of "I'll Remember April" with Bud Powell as a guest on piano.
It must have been a very hot day on stage at Juan Le Pins that day,
Mingus is God!!!

Todd Wolfe - Live

OK, my body is moving toward the car, but my brain doesn't seem to be fully awake yet.
I've got a piece of cake and my portable coffee mug (with a spring loaded seal at the top for drinking and driving) filled with hot Turkish coffee/swill.
I pop a live CD of Todd Wolfe in the player and get going while the getting is good.
It's a nice sunny day today, not hot, just pleasant. As I get onto the highway and start devouring the cake, I realize that some days you just gotta get tough with traffic - you gotta seize the moment and get past all the idiots who are hogging a lane while driving 60 kph while everyone else is up at 80-100 kph.
It doesn't hurt to have the hot guitar work of Todd Wolfe playing "The Cissy Strut" in the background, as I find the empty holes in traffic to maneuver around the slow-pokes and get myself ahead in line and into a more free and open zone of traffic going 100-120 kph.

"Cissy Strut" has become a minor classic instrumental piece favored by Jazz, Rock, and even some Blues artists, it was originally written and recorded by the New Orleans funk band the Meters. I first heard it on one of John Scofield's late 1980's albums, and in recent years I've discovered recordings by the Derek Trucks Band, Gov't Mule, Danny Gatton and Redneck Jazz Explosion, and by Jaco Pastorius playing with Hiram Bullock.

Two tracks later, and Wolfe is doing the early BB King number "Woke Up This Morning" from BB's first recordings in the 50's.
I've now managed to sip at least half the coffee and taste the strong Turkish coffee aroma from the Galilee with cardamom and ginger and other special Yemenite coffee spices that I put in this morning, this is no ordinary coffee at all, it is a festival of flavors.
A little background on Todd Wolfe - he's a hot Blues-Rock guitarist that I was alerted to by someone who returned from a year in New York and was a number one fan of Todd's live shows, and brought me a few CDs of his music.
Wolfe has a good bit of professional mileage behind him, playing in assorted Rock and Blues bands in the 80's on the east coast, followed by a five years working closely with Sheryl Crow both as guitarist and co writer, but then he turned his back on the Rock and Roll fame game, and decided to return to the Blues. More power to him!! for keeping the Blues alive and for reaching new and young audiences with the Blues.

As I approach the high tech industrial area where I work, Todd is singing the Peter Green classic "I Need Your Love So Bad"
I guess that getting tough paid off this morning as it was a relatively short ride with no serious nerve wracking situations...