Friday, December 21, 2012

Sharon -- David Bromberg

You’re probably sick of the boring tales from my days as a volunteer DJ at KFAI-FM in Minneapolis.  Get ready to cure your insomnia, because I’m doing it again.  You have yet to hear the tale of my first time on the air.

You may recall a semi-running character in my blog posts by the name of Kent.  He was my only Blues Music ally back during my college years.  Kent and I were probably the only two guys in our fraternity who ever even heard of KFAI let alone listened to it (no offense to any former frat brothers).

One day Kent heard about some deal KFAI had going on Saturday mornings called “The Wave Project.”  The Wave Project basically let anyone come on the air and take up an hour slot for whatever they wanted to do.  You could play music, talk about politics, read fiction, whatever...the hour was yours.  Kent thought it would be a good idea if we went on to do a Blues show.  So he signed us up.

The Wave Project started at 6AM Saturday mornings.  On Friday night, I did something really stupid.  I went out and got wasted.  I barely got two hours of sound sleep before I had to pull my sorry ass off the couch.  I dragged my bag of bones down the stairs to my car and headed off to pick up Kent.  It felt like I had a sandbag in my head.

Way back during these early days of KFAI Community Radio, there were not a lot of funds to keep the station going.  KFAI had to survive on the donations of a small community of listeners.  KFAI also benefitted from the generosity of an old church in south Minneapolis.  The studios were located in a makeshift studio in the top of the enclosed church bell tower.  You literally walked up spiral staircases to the 2nd level where the record stacks were located.  Then you went up another floor and squeezed into this tiny studio with just barely room enough for 3 people, two turntables and an old radio console with circular knobs for volume control and mixing.  The place was being held together by chewing gum, duct tape and paperclips.

The station provided an engineer to us since we didn’t know how to operate the board.  So we just sat back, handed him the records to play and then occasionally we spoke into the microphone thinking we were cool.

The show went very well.  The engineer liked what we were playing.  So did another guy who called into the studios to give the local music venue schedule over the air with background music.  We started to get listener phone calls too.  However, they were not the phone calls we were fantasizing about.

Kent answered the first one and it was some punk who requested The Circle Jerks.  Kent said, “That sounds great, why don’t you guys sit in a circle and jerk off.”  I didn’t have time to stop and laugh my ass off because another phone call quickly came.  The engineer said I had to go downstairs to get the other line.  So I leaped down the spiral stairs and grabbed the other line.
I need to divert from the narrative for a moment.  You will recall my blog post from July 19th, 2012.  The harrowing story of my near death experience in Indiana.   The song in question for that post is “Will Not Be Your Fool” by David Bromberg.

Well, it so happened that that was the song playing when all these phone calls came in.  If you listened to the track on that post, you will recall the lyrics making a disparaging remark about “faggots.”

Anyway, I answered the phone call and it was a gay guy who didn’t find the song amusing.  At first I got defensive and was trying to dream up a good comeback like Kent.  But then it occurred to me that he was right.  I apologized and said that we didn’t put the song on to make a statement, we just put it on because it was an awesome Blues song.  He accepted my apology and we parted peacefully.  I felt good about that.

Kent and I were having such a good time, we didn’t want it to end.  The sandbags in my head had disappeared.  

Buried someplace in a cardboard suitcase full of old cassette tapes, is the on-air recording of that Saturday morning on The Wave Project.

Since I already played “Will Not Be Your Fool,” I will offer another classic Bromberg song, “Sharon.”  It is a great tale of a guy who goes to see a carnival tent stripper.  I have to strongly recommend you listen.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Don't Stay Out All Night -- The Paladins

As if you didn’t know this already, I used to shop for Blues records all the time at the Electric Fetus record store back in Minneapolis.  One of the bands I stumbled upon from the Alligator Records label was The Paladins.  They were (and possibly still are) a houserockin’ cross between Texas Blues and Southern Cal Rockabilly and they always put on a rockin’ good show.  I saw them a couple times, once at the now famous Wilebski’s Blues Saloon (famous thanks to me of course) and another time at the famed Twin Cities venue, The Cabooze.

It was not until some time later that I realized that The Paladins were from San Diego.  So when I moved to San Diego back in the early 90’s, I figured San Diego would have at least one good band for me to check out when I got there.  It turned out to be a bit of a disappointment.  I checked the San Diego Reader weekly to see if The Paladins were playing anywhere.  I never saw them booked. 

Flash forward about three years.  My girlfriend and I had moved up to Los Angeles.  My buddy Mark and his girlfriend Crystal came over from Phoenix for a visit.  It so happened that my girlfriend worked with a woman whose husband worked for one of the big record labels.  They asked us if we wanted to join them at this Rockabillly music festival somewhere down south of L.A.  This guy was going there to scout out bands.  The festival was either in southern L.A. County or northern Orange County, I can’t remember for sure.  Either way, it was up in the the middle of the woods somewhere in the foothills.  I wanted to go because The Paladins and Reverend Horton Heat were playing.

So we get to this festival and it becomes immediately apparent that we are not dressed for the occasion.  Now if you have ever lived in Southern Cal, you know that people don’t go just part of the way.  They go all the way.  If they make Rockabilly their music of choice, they dedicate their entire life to it.  They make a commitment.  The women were all decked out in fifties style dresses and bobby socks.  The guys wore dungarees, had cigarette cases rolled up in their white T-shirts and hair slicked back with Brillcream like Elvis.  And parked all along the dirt road leading to this gig were custom rebuilt cars from the fifties--’57 Chevys, Lincolns, Cadillacs and so on.  And this was not some kind of Halloween like event either.  These people were living it.

We, on the other hand, pull up in my Nissan Maxima and are dressed in shorts and golf shirts.

When I first visualized the festival in my mind, I envisioned a good natured outdoor concert with people drinking beer and having a good time.  Not quite.  There was definitely a vibe of repressed violence.  This was not the Ricky Nelson fifties we were imagining, it was the Vic Morrow fifties for sure.  When we first walked in, the first stage we saw was not people having fun and dancing, there was a menacing mosh pit in front of the stage.  Definitely not what I expected from a Rockabilly/Blues festival.

My girlfriend took off with her friend and her husband so they could go backstage and hob-knob with the show biz folks.  This did not interest Mark, Crystal or myself so we sought out a safe place to hide from the miscreants of the music festival.  

We found a nice place in the grass under a big shady tree behind this metal fence backstop from the softball field.  We peacefully sat there drinking our very expensive beer away from the crowd.  Before long, three suspicious looking young men (dressed in full thug rockabilly regalia) came over and leaned up against the backstop.  One of the guys was big--easily 6’3” and over a couple hundred pounds.  This guy had a very intense look on his face.  He was preparing for something.  We could not hear what they were saying to each other, but they certainly were not joking around and having some laughs.  They were up to something else.

Just then, this huge group of young men (all dressed exactly like the guys leaning against the fence) moved in on these three guys and starting beating the hell out of them.  They were punching them in the face and body and when they fell to the ground the gang took turns kicking them.  I’ll never forget that big guy’s face when the violence was about to start.  He just clenched his teeth with intensity daring this group to do their worst.

The whole assault lasted probably less than twenty seconds.  The gang stopped the assault as suddenly as they began.  It turned out to be a friggin’ gang initiation.   The victims got up, dusted themselves off and the rest of the gang started hugging them and shaking their hands and giving them other sorts of congratulations.  

What fun, right?  Come to have a good time and listen to some music and instead we see a fucking gang fight.

The fun was just beginning at this “festival of peace and music” in the Southern Cal woods.  Trying to make the best of the situation, my friends and I walk back over to the beer tent to get a drink and calm our nerves.  As we leave the tent, Mark and I see these vendors selling various paraphernalia.  One of the items that caught my eye were these Hillbilly Teeth.  They were like plastic Dracula fangs only like decaying Hillbilly teeth.  They were funny and I thought about buying some.  The problem was that nobody was manning the table.

I saw some girl sitting behind the table next door and asked, “Are you the one selling these Hillbilly Teeth?”  Pretty innocuous question, right?  Apparently not to this young lady.  She was insulted at the implication.  “What the fuck do you think I am?”  My friends and I were speechless.  “I’m sorry, I mean, I didn’t...” I stammered in amazement.  How could she have been so insulted?  Afterall, she was sitting behind the vending tables.

My friends and I stood there uncertain whether this was all some kind of sick joke.  But then she insulted us again and stormed off threatening to get her boyfriend and others to come and take care of our asses.  

Now that’s what I call customer service.  I bet they sold a whole lot of those Hillbilly Teeth.

Anyway, after seeing the gang initiation, Mark and I made haste away from there and immediately went on the search for our girlfriends. When we found them, we said it was time to leave.  We had had enough.

Anyway, that was the one fateful effort I made to see The Paladins while living in Southern California.  In commemoration, here is The Paladins.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Turpentine Moan -- Canned Heat

You’re going to start thinking that I’m making this stuff up.  But it is true when I say that I have two dubious distinctions.  The first one is that I used to work for Playboy.  The second distinction is that I was fired from Playboy.  Now, I could continue by weaving a fable of some scandalous reason why I was fired from Playboy.  But unfortunately, I didn’t go that way.  The fact is, the real reason I got fired is so dumb it’s not actually worth telling.

Technically, I actually worked for Playboy TV in Los Angeles, not the magazine.   It was a pretty interesting place to work to say the least.  But not just for the reasons you may be imagining.  Sure hot chicks were roaming around the office frequently.  They would have casting calls every so often and the lunch area would be filled with dozens of hot chicks in bikinis or lingerie.  Also, every month someone would escort the Playmate of the Month around the office and introduce her to everyone.  One of the playmates I recall meeting was Lorenzo Lamas’ old sweetback girlfriend, Shauna Sand.

Of the people who worked at Playboy, about 50% were women and 50% were men.  But, of the male population, about 75% were gay.  I theorized that this was because management didn’t want any dingleberries working for the company hoping to get lucky with one of the playmates.  But I’m also guessing it was because gay guys have a great grasp on glamour.  And Playboy was all about glamour.

Another interesting thing about working there was the art.  Many of the original paintings commissioned for the magazine were hanging on walls everywhere, including original Leroy Neiman paintings.  There was this one Neiman piece that blew my mind.  He used his famous paint bloches to render this portrait of life at a fancy Chicago lounge from the early 60’s.  People drinking martini’s, bartenders with bowties, a jazz bassist...all created with these bloches of paint.  If I ever become a cat burglar, this painting would be my first target.

Anyway, I had two primary responsibilities at Playboy TV.  One was to schedule the programming.  I put together the schedules and disseminated the information internally and to the TV listing services.  The other duty I had was to find what they call “interstitial content.”  Basically that is a fancy word for filling in programming gaps.  For instance, if a program was scheduled for 90 minutes, but it was only 77 minutes long, then you fill the gap with “interstitial content.”

It was my job to go through the Playboy video archives and look for quality material.  I couldn’t just schedule anything.  There had to be a certain standard of erotica.  Not quite hard core porn, but it least had to have foxy naked babes and it had to have simulated sex.  It couldn’t be from some bygone era, either.  It had to be fairly modern for the time.  It couldn’t be from, say, Playboy After Dark programs from the late 60’s or something like that.  

Which segues perfectly.  While looking through the library of Playboy material, I stumbled onto a whole section of old 3-quarter inch tapes of Playboy After Dark episodes.  I got to hand it to Hef.  He invited lots of cool musical guests to play on the show.  He had the Original Fleetwood Mac, James Brown, Deep Purple, Steppenwolf and a whole bunch of other musical acts including Jazz and Blues artists like James Cotton or Buddy Rich.  Amazingly one of the segments I saw (that is also miraculously posted on YouTube) is this performance by Canned Heat.

Well, that’s it.  That was the whole reason I blabbed on about Playboy.  Now if you ask nicely, I might be persuaded to conjure up a reason to tell more Playboy stories.  Those stories include...

-The day the national director of sales got rejected by a porn star.
-How I became acquainted with that same porn star.
-What it was like working next to the guy whose job it was to preview all incoming material and why playboy had a fleet of attorneys to process the material.

Below is Canned Heat from Playboy After Dark in 1969.

Friday, October 26, 2012

It Hurts To Be In Love -- John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers

The date was Wednesday, January 16th, 1991.   Two things happened that day.  The first Iraq War started and I just coincidentally happened to be on the air at KFAI-FM in the Twin Cities.

Like I have said before, KFAI was a community radio station back in Minneapolis.  I was one of the volunteers.  I wasn’t a regular DJ on the station at the time.  I did not have my own slot.  But I was a reliable substitute host.  I hosted a jazz hour a couple times, I did a few Friday night punk shows, and of course, I was totally the right man for the Blues shows.   On this particular night,, I just happened to be in the Wednesday prime time slot from 3:00PM to 6:00PM filling in for some other Blues DJ.

The presumption of war certain.  It was only a matter of time.  The showdown had been built up in the media big time.  There was all this talk about Saddam Hussein’s formidable army.  The media always referred to Iraq’s infamous Scud missiles.

Despite this, I didn’t even consider the possibility that the war would begin while I was on the air.  The thought never entered my mind.  There I was cuing up another song on the turntable when the station’s news director blasted through the door and said, “The war started!”  

I was speechless.  I was like,”What should we do?”  The news director ran back into the news room and quickly came back with a sheet of paper.  “Read this”

The sheet was just a simple newswire feed.  In the middle of this big list of more innocuous news events was one simple sentence.  “U.S. bombers begin  attack on Iraq.”  Or something like that.  I can’t remember exactly.  I took the sheet, interrupted the song and turned on my mic.  I started out by telling the audience that I had to interrupt programming.  Then I read straight from the newswire text. “U.S. bombers begin attack on Iraq.”

That was it.  That was all I had.  I asked the news director if I there was anything else and he said no.  Again, I was lost on what to do.  Being the cynical young man I was at the time, I made some dumb comments and then I said, I kid you not, “I guess the time has come for the new world order.”  Then I cut out the mic and faded back into the music.

I don’t know if you all remember back then, but during a press conference a few days later President Bush said that we now have a “new world order.”  It became a sort of mantra that was repeated in the mass media.

I just want you to know, it was me, not Bush who started the whole “new world order” thing.

Anyway, my shift ended pretty quickly after that.  That was OK with me because I could practically hear every person in the city tuning to CNN as soon as I made the announcement.

On the way home from the station, I stopped at the store and grabbed a 12-pack of Budweiser.  Pretty callous, huh?   People were getting bombed and I was about to.

The reality was that I already had plans for my friend Pat to meet me at home to drink some beer.  Pat was already there with my roommate watching CNN’s coverage. 

While I was in the kitchen putting the beer in the fridge.  I could overhear the CNN news guy again talking about Iraq’s military and their Scud missiles.  I went back into the living room when Pat said one of the funniest things I ever heard.  He said, “Hey, pass me one of those Scud twelve ounce missiles.”  

I spit out my beer and literally fell to the floor laughing my guts out.  The timing of this joke was just perfect.  Just another one of the many ironies on the day the first Iraq war started.

Now for what you came to this blog for, right?  The music.  It so happened that at the time I had to interrupt the music to make the news announcement, I was playing this song.  I apologize for the bad recording fidelity, but this song “It Hurts To Be In Love” is a cool British Blues number by an early gathering of the Bluesbreakers including Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce in the line-up.

Friday, October 19, 2012

It's My Own Fault -- Willie Murphy and The Bumblebees

In high school I danced to the beat of my own drummer.  Instead of following the pack and listening to Billy Squire, April Wine and REO Speedwagon, my friends and I forged our own path listening to DEVO, Gary Numan and The Specials.  However, after high school I drifted away and entered my Blues phase.  It was another way for me to consciously differentiate myself.  I was trying to make a statement, right?  I needed to show the world how cool I was.

Anyway, it was sometime in the late 80’s when I tried to comeback to my original alternative rock roots.  After all, pretty much every friend I had was still into it.

It was around this time that a big local Minneapolis band was playing at the premiere showcase in the Twin Cities, First Avenue.  That band was Soul Asylum.  I hadn’t really heard much of their music but my friends kind of liked them.  Besides this was the biggest show to hit the Minneapolis music scene that year.  All the other big Minneapolis alternative bands like The Replacements, Husker Du and The Suburbs had kind of hung it up by this time.  Soul Asylum was the only big act still around. 

The place was packed.  We could hardly move.  We were boxed in from all sides.  It took like 30 minutes to get a drink. 

First Avenue was an old Greyhound Bus station.  It had an upper level and two big, semi-spiral staircases that wound down to the main floor.  Since it was senseless to try and roam around, we stole a spot by this railing that looked down upon the staircase.  My friends and I watched this young lady who was wasted out of her mind.  She was stumbling and falling all over the people packed on the stairs.  Then she just flat passed out.  She was out cold.

Somebody got the attention of one of the staffers and he came by to help.  I should note that First Ave didn’t have huge, roid-raging and ominous bouncers all over the place.  It was a more peaceful environment and the staff were these Alternative Rock characters with pierced tounges and all that shit.    This particular guy was pretty wimpy.  He probably weighed 140 pounds wet.

The girl, on the other hand, was a biggum.  She wasn’t fat really, she was just thick and muscular like you might generalize a girl softball player to be like.  She must have weighed 180.  

God bless this guy.  He took on the responsibility of getting her out of the way.  He thought about dragging her down the stairs by her legs but she would have bonked her head all the way down.  He finally took the daring, albeit misguided, action of trying to pick her up.  His body spasmed as he struggled to lift this girl to his chest.  

Hell if that guy didn’t do it.  

Once he had this broad cradled in his arms, he started gingerly walking down the stars.  It became apparent about three steps down that he wasn’t going to make it.  FLOP!  She fell from his grasp and bonked down on the cement stairs.  He finally got a clue and went for help.  

Why do I tell this story in a blues blog?  Because the place was such a drag and the music wasn’t my style.  It had no down beat.  My friends weren’t all that excited either.  Most of all, we couldn’t get a damn drink it was so crowded.  So we decided to leave.

We ended up going over to the West Bank to The Five Corners Saloon and took in Willie Murphy and Bumble Bees.

So it all ties back.  Below is a recording of the great Willie Murphy.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

All About My Girl -- Albert Collins

In St. Paul, Minnesota, they have this event every summer called Riverfest.  It takes place out on this island in the middle of the Mississippi river.  It is like any other city festival with stages spread around with one big stage for the headliners.  One particular summer, Albert Collins was playing at Riverfest.  There was no way I was going to miss it.

The stage where Albert was due to play was an old relic of a bandshell.  It was probably there back when F. Scott Fitzgerald was still roaming Summit Avenue.  They probably played old John Phillips Sousa music back in the day.

Anyway, there are about 15 to 20 rows of benches about twenty feet back from the stage.  When we arrived, all the benches were already filled.  It was probably just me being weird, but I got an indignant vibe from all these people as they sat there stiffly with their arms folded.  In retrospect, it reminded me of that Lil’ Ed show back in San Diego (see post from 9/7/12).  The people just sat there like they were waiting at the DMV.

Eventually The Icebreakers took the stage.  They started out good as usual.  But after a couple songs it just seemed wrong standing twenty feet away from stage.  No one was dancing, no one was rocking out.  Personally, I wanted to get up close and see the action.

Now I’m a very self-conscious person.  I was afraid that if I walked up in front of the stage that the backbenchers would get all pissy.  I decided that I didn’t care.  All by myself I walked up and stood in front of the stage.  

To this day, it still amazes me how fast the ice broke on that one.  My friends quickly followed my lead and before two more minutes went by, scores of people had moved in front of the stage.  All those early arrivers sitting on the benches were screwed.

As I said, I’m not one to draw attention to myself.  But I have to say, the energy in that show changed.  The action got hot.  People were laughing, rocking out and having a good time instead of standing back like they were watching a piano recital.

The interesting side note to all this was that Stevie Ray Vaughn played the main stage later that night.  Why is this interesting?  I am not positive, but Stevie’s gig at Riverfest was the same summer that he played in Alpine Valley near Milwaukee.  It was from the gig in Alpine Valley that Stevie took off in the helicopter that ultimately crashed and killed him.  To this day I wonder if that gig at St. Paul’s Riverfest was his 2nd to last show.  

I like to think it was.

Here is a track from each of these blues masters.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Gotta Find My Baby -- Memphis Slim

I’m sure I wrote something in the past regarding my experiences playing in the blues jams back in the Twin Cities.  This is the story of my first time.  

I had played the drums ever since 4th grade.  I played in the Jazz Band from 5th grade to high school.  After high school I occasionally dabbled in it with my fraternity during a charitable event called Campus Carni.

I had been a few years out of college and I hadn’t played the drums in a while when I caught wind of these Monday night blues jams.  I kept putting it off because I was insecure about having not played in a few years and I didn’t want to suck in front of all those people.  However, I couldn’t NOT do it.  I sucked it up and made the decision to go, but I wanted some friends to come for moral support.  My roommates Bob and Pat and our frequent houseguest Craig were kind enough to indulge me but they weren’t terribly enthusiastic about it--which made me even more nervous.

Regardless, I was on my way to Whiskey Junction to play some blues.   I sat at the bar anxiously listening to others jam while I waited for my turn to take the stage.  No amount of bourbon could calm me down.  Finally my name was called.

I had no idea who the other guys were except for the guitarist who happened to be Lee Tedrow from The Minnesota Barking Ducks.  The others gathered around the drum set and we tried to decide what kind of tune we were going to play.  Was it going to be a slow blues, a jump blues, a funky blues a la Jr. Wells...?  Personally, I didn’t care what we played.

The decision was ultimately made by this guy who played harmonica.  The whole time I was waiting to go on, I couldn’t help but notice this guy.  He was strutting around the place like a rooster in a hen house.  He thought he was the man and it kind of bugged me.  He was pretty determined to play a song that would feature the harmonica because he was putting the make on two ladies sitting at the table in the front.

I’m copacetic, so when he suggested a swinging blues, I didn’t argue.  Harmonica Boy took on the role of band leader and got us started.  We went right into it and got into the groove right off the bat.  I looked down towards my friends who had been sulking most of the night and now they were smiling.  I could see others in the place tapping their feet and bopping their heads.  Two couples got up and started dancing. We were really cooking.  And you know something else?  That harmonica guy was pretty good.

We finished the jam and the crowd burst into applause.  The rules of the blues jam are that you get one song for free.  You have to pay for the second song with talent.  Needless to say, we were staying on for another go at it.

We finished that tune to hefty applause too.  I was bummed when it was time for me to give someone else a shot.  Regardless, I was revved up.  It was really fun.

Before we went to the jam, I tried to mentally rehearse for the gig by listening to blues records and air jamming along with them.  One of those songs was this one by Memphis Slim.  The first song we improvised at the jam, was very much like this one only with harmonica and guitar instead of saxaphone and piano.

Friday, September 28, 2012

T-Bone Shuffle -- Buddy Guy

I was a Mass Communications major back in college so I took a lot of fun TV and radio production classes.  In one of these classes was this girl teaching assistant.  It wasn’t like she was older or anything.  She was my age but had already taken the class so therefore was a teaching assistant.  She was kind of nerdy but she was pretty pleasing to the eyes.  Her long flowing brown hair sort of did it for me. 

Her and I got along really well during class but there wasn’t any mojo going on between us that I could tell.  She was kind of a square so that may have put a damper on it for me.    

Anyway, on the last day of class, a bunch of us went to a bar and celebrated.  The teaching assistant got pretty lubed up and so did everyone else.  We all had one more for the road and then parted ways.  This girl and I walked back to campus together.  We were both pretty wasted.  We had some laughs and started to flirt with one another.  We got back to campus and found a hidden little spot and started making out.

Needless to say we set a date to see one another again.

This girl seemed kind of sheltered and it was soon confirmed when I called her and found out that she still lived in the suburbs with her mom and dad.  Not only that, she still didn’t have a driver’s license yet.  This meant that I had to drive way out to this Suburb of Minneapolis called Maple Grove.  It didn’t really bother me that much at first.

This girl had spent most of her bar time in college bars or at the Maple Grove TGIF.  I was about to rock her world when I decided to bring her to the Buddy Guy show at this biker bar called The Cabooze (or so I fantasized).

At one point in the show Buddy and his band just cut loose into a groovy jam.  I could tell this girl was liking it.  We had a really good time but unfortunately, I had to have her back home at a “reasonable time.”  We smooched again in the car out in front of her house.  

On the long road trip back to campus from the suburbs, I did some thinking.  I started to rack up all those miles back and forth between campus and Maple Grove in my mind.  Not only that, she was kind of nerdy and definitely sheltered.  I figured it wasn’t a very good match.  Like a jerk, I just stopped calling her.

Flash forward a year or two.  I’m hanging at this place called Whiskey Junction listening to The Minnesota Barking Ducks.  My buddy Bob and I were being mellow and feeling fine.  As I sipped my beer, I noticed what appeared to be a pretty foxy mama over at the bar hanging all over this biker guy.  It was pretty unusual to see a woman that hot hanging out at a blues show in Whiskey Junction.  A beautiful woman in Whiskey Junction was something akin to a Bigfoot sighting--extremely rare and you’re not sure you can believe what you saw.

She had beautiful flowing brown hair and her ass fit perfectly into her tight jeans.  She was ahead of her time donning a sexy wife beater that exposed her luscious, slender shoulders.  Her flowing brown mane flopped over towards Bob and I as we observed from a safe distance.  Her eyes met mine.

It was that teaching assistant.  

I wasn’t sure it was her at first.  I was struck with stunned silence.  I think she recognized me to, but we both just stood there occasionally glancing at each other trying to confirm in our minds that we were actually seeing who we thought we were seeing.  Of course, it wasn’t long before it occurred to me that “She could have been mine.”  But how could I have known that she would have morphed into the sweetback standing before me?

Anyway, in honor of Buddy Guy I offer this finger-snapping track "T-Bone Shuffle" from an awesome album called "Buddy Guy & Jr. Wells Play The Blues."  It is a stellar sampling of early 70's blues scene where Rock N' Rollers and master bluesmen like Buddy Guy were collaborating.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

You Need Meat -- The Doors

I can’t help it but popular music has never been my thing.  For some reason I have always been attracted to the obscure.  It may have had something to do with a family that moved up the street from me when I was an elementary school kid.  This family was out of the ordinary.  Unlike the wholesome conservative suburban family life of the early 70’s, this family was a little more progressive.  There were four boys in the family, at least two of which were teenagers in the late 60’s and early 70’s.  My older brother became friends with the younger boys and I hung out with them on occasion too.

This family of five boys influenced my brother who in turn influenced me when it came to music.  While all of my classmates in elementary school were listening to The Grass Roots and the Bay City Rollers, I was being introduced to The Doors, Jethro Tull, Blind Faith, Humble Pie and The Allman Brothers.

My brother borrowed several of their albums and I listened to them myself.  As I was listening, I would read the album liner notes and song credits.  I kept seeing the name “W. Dixon” on several of the songs.  There was “I Can’t Quit You Baby” and “You Shook Me” by Led Zepplin, there was “Spoonful” by Cream, then there was “Back Door Man” and “You Need Meat” by The Doors.     

I soon began to see other initials on rock song credits like “E. McDaniel” (aka Bo Diddley), “J. Wells” (aka Junior Wells), “R. King” (aka B.B. King), "R. Penniman" (aka Little Richard) and the list went on.  It was these anonymous people in the credits that ultimately piqued my interest in The Blues.  

Here is one of those songs introduced to me by the family up the street, Willie Dixon’s “You Need Meat” by The Doors.

Friday, September 21, 2012

A Good 'Un -- John Lee Hooker

If you recall, my last post was about this big record collection in my son’s grandma’s garage.  I found a good 20 or so cool albums among the 200 or so that were in the collection.  The rest were, how should I put it, really white and really boring.  It was really safe old fashioned music with little or no soul.  However, many of them had really cool album covers.  I took some of those and framed them.  They make great office decorations and the frames are only about $10 at Target in case you’re interested.

But I digress.

Shortly after I sifted through my mother-in-law’s albums, I stumbled upon this place in San Diego called The Thrift Trader.  Thrift Trader is not your ordinary thrift store.  They specialize in selling vintage clothes, used CDs and used DVDs and they even sell old stereo equipment.  The thing that makes this place unique is that they accept trades.  You bring something in and can take something out in return.  It’s a very communal bohemian thing and it works great.

One thing seemed apparent about The Thrift Trader.  They appear to accept just about any album someone brings in.  It doesn’t matter if it’s Iron Butterfly or Julie Andrews, they will take it.  I decided to take advantage of this and hauled the whole mess of crappy old albums I just inherited down to the Thrift Trader.

They offered me one album for every ten I brought in.  Now since I had almost 200, that meant I had to find 20 albums.  Seems easy, right?  Not in Thrift Trader.  This place has, by far, the most colossal album collection in the history of mankind.  You walk in the place and they have shelf after rickety shelf stacked with albums.  They have box after box of albums lining the floor.  They have so many boxes they had to stack them one on top of the other about three rows high and then make a sort of maze out of the them.  I walked up and down the aisle of album boxes fingering through a few as I went by.

I headed back toward the front counter and I noticed this framed picture of Robin Trower with text over it saying, “Ask about our secret record room.”  Secret record room?  Is this guy kidding?  I would have had to go to this store 7 days a week for 10 hours a day for a month before I could sift through all the albums that were within my eyesight.  Regardless, I had to ask about the secret record room.

The owner lead me to the back of the store past all the racks of thrift clothing to this big black sheet tacked up against the wall.  He pulled the curtain aside and led me into the secret record room.

Let me tell you, it was not a secret record room at all.  It was a labyrinth of secret record roomS.  The back hallway went to left about 15 yards to a dead end.  To the right it was another 15 yards.  But it didn’t end there.  The hallway turned right again and then looped around in a giant square.    On one side of each hallway were album boxes stacked three rows high.  They went all the way to the left and all the way to right and around the loop.  Going in either direction were several rooms.  Those rooms were stacked to the ceiling with album boxes.  In one of the larger rooms, this guy had set up a smaller version of the album box maze.

It was rather intimidating, let me tell ya.

I had to go back to the place three times before I finally found 20 albums.  The fact was that most of albums he had stacked all through this building were crap.  But like a good miner searching for golden nuggets, I pressed on.  I found this really funny Woody Allen double album of his standup material.  I found a copy of the Peter Gunn TV soundtrack and the More Peter Gunn soundtrack.  Both had cool album covers and also had some great Jazz by Henri Mancini.  I also found several K-Tel and Ronco compilations.  When I saw the one I owned as a child, “22 Explosive Hits” with the 70’s electronic pop hit, “Popcorn”, I snapped that sucker up.

However, of all the items found in this vein of gold, was an album by John Lee Hooker called “Endless Boogie.”  Back in the early 70’s John Lee made a little comeback with the help of the San Francisco hippie scene.  These hippie musicians, all influenced by The Blues, paid their homage to Hooker on a couple of albums.  These albums had featured guests, Steven Miller, Carl Radle (drummer for Derek and The Dominoes) and Mark Naftalin, a keyboardist who started with Paul Butterfield and went on to jam with all kinds of the artists.

This album is rocks out a little harder than John Lee’s original material and I like that.  This double album was basically recording a jam session and putting it on wax.   Here’s a song off that album, “A Good ‘Un.” 

The whole album is great.  It has a great version of "House Rent Boogie" and great cautionary song as a tribute to the drug overdoses of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin.  You can buy the whole album or just this song.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Beale Street Twist - Lynn Vernon

This is the story of Grandma’s Garage.  For a short while, my wife and son and I lived with my in-laws in the San Diego area.  My in-laws are pack rats bordering on hoarders.  They save just about everything.  While living there I noticed two huge boxes of old albums sitting on a shelf in their garage.  A couple years later after my family and I had moved out, I asked my in-laws about them. They said I could have them if I wanted them.  They were going to throw them out, which seemed odd for people who didn’t seem to throw anything away.  

Anyway, this was like a small fantasy.  As you know, I love fingering through old albums.  It is like fingering through an old art gallery.  It’s like fingering through little time capsules from the not too distant past.  My hopes were not too high about finding many hidden gems.  Most of the records came from my mother-in-law’s mother and her 90-year old 7th husband.

I started a fire in our fireplace, poured myself some Jack and Coke then one by one went through the records.  I listened to track after track.  It must have taken me a week to go through the whole collection.  Most of it was crappy show tunes soundtracks or obnoxious Christmas collections, but one out of every fifteen records or so wasn’t too bad.  A lot of of it different too.  I had to open my mind a bit and step out of my comfort zone.   I ventured into the past to find something new.

I found some gems by Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Lloyd Price.  There was a neat old country album buy Webb Pierce.  There was a Vegas lounge act called the Mary Kay Trio.  There was some swinging action numbers by the Ray Martin Orchestra.  They even had a mint condition Elvis movie soundtrack from the flick “Harem Scarem.”  God that was some baaaaaaad Elvis music.  

Of course, there had to be at least one awesome blues gem in the pack, right?  Otherwise, why am I writing this silly blog post.

This was one of the blues gems mixed in that old album collection.  It's by this obscure fellow named Lynn Vernon and this is his song, “The Beale Street Twist.”  It starts off kinda hokey, but it starts to swing pretty quick.

Amazingly enough, they this track on if you feel so inclined.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Pride and Joy -- Lil' Ed and the Blues Imperials

I moved to San Diego in November 1992.  Having lived in Minnesota for all my life at that point, I really had no idea what to expect.  It seemed like a cultured place and I figured it would have a similar social scene as Minneapolis.  I was wrong in regards to one thing.  San Diego did not have a great blues scene.   Little did I know how well I had it back in the Midwest.

First off, it was hard to find a blues band at all.  There were a couple places downtown, but the talent level wasn’t quite the same.  I had been spoiled.  Chicago blues greats from the Alligator label would come up to Minneapolis all the time.  Albert Collins, James Cotton, Junior Wells, Willie Dixon and so on.  A lot of that blues culture from Chicago rubbed off on the rest of the Midwest.  The Twin Cities, Milwaukee, Fargo and Omaha all developed great blues scenes.

So anyway, in San Diego I was left yearning for the way things used to be.  Then one day I saw that Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials were coming to town.  Color me there!  I’m going even if I have to go by myself.  

And that’s exactly what happened.  My two new So Cal roommates weren’t aware of the blues music genre at all, so they weren’t very willing companions on that night.  Since I didn’t know anyone else, I had no choice but to go alone.  

It struck me as odd for some reason that the bar was in the middle of a strip mall.  That threw me off right away.   Regardless, I went inside and there was no energy in the place at all.  It was strangely quiet.  People were sitting in folding chairs right in front of the stage.  They all sat there motionless observing Lil’ Ed as though he was some anthropological case study.

Another thing seemed wrong.  I stopped the waitress and asked, “Is this a non-smoking establishment?”  She proudly smiled and said, “Yes.”  Now understand that this was before the Clean Indoor Air Act.  You could still smoke in bars and you could expect a lot of smoking at the blues shows where I came from.  Worse of all, it appeared as though I might have been the only person drinking in the place.

I was very disappointed.  I came to see Lil’ Ed rock the house.  I expected to see some cool people getting a buzz on and having some fun.  It was the furthest thing from that.  I decided to leave.

Now let’s go back in time to another Lil’ Ed event back home in Minneapolis.

It was in the middle of winter.  It was an unusually cold day even for Minneapolis.  It was at least 20 below zero.  I had just come back from Williams Arena having watched my beloved Minnesota Gopher basketball team lose at home to the hated Bobby Knight and Indiana.  They spanked us and the vibe leaving the game was bad.  

“Something needs to break our way” was what my friend Jerry and I were thinking.  It so happened that Lil’ Ed was playing at The Fine Line, a club in downtown Minneapolis.  The routine when bar hopping on a 20-below day was to, believe it or not, leave the coats in the car.  You didn’t want to go into a crowded bar with a coat on because then you would get hotter than hell.  So we left the coats and sprinted a couple blocks from the car to the bar before the sub-zero temperatures turned our blood into slush.

My buddy Jerry and I flew through the door and into the nice warm club.  The crowd was still a little small but building up.  Lil’ Ed started off mellow and built up momentum.  Jerry and I bumped into a couple of friends of his, Jack and Mike.  They were totally into the blues and into drinking too so we hit it off right away.

Before long, the frigid Minnesota night turned into a house rockin’ furnace.  Lil’ Ed and the band cut loose.  People were wasted, dancing and puffing on cigarettes.  Lil’ Ed connected a long guitar chord and roamed out into the crowd wailing on his slide guitar.   He came right over to our fearsome foursome, got down on is knees, laid back and started wailing away while we screamed “Yeah!!”  in his face.  It was a jam that totally brought the house down.

So you tell me.  Which show do you think was better?

Here’s a nugget from Lil’ Ed himself--playing it the Blues the way it was meant to be played.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Not My Cross To Bear -- The Allman Brothers

I have another one of those signature moments that defined a song’s place in my life to share with you.  Only this time it was not a chipper light-hearted moment.  You might even say that it gave me the blues.

All through junior high and high school I was friends with this guy.  We had been there for each other through bad times and good.  He had seen me at my worst and at my best.  He had always been a bit mischievous but once we graduated from high school he fell into a slow decline.  We still hung out and partied together but while I had started a life of working hard and playing hard, he blew off the hard work part and went head first into the play part.  He blew off his college classes and ended up having a report card that looked like Bluto Blutarski’s--zero point zero zero.  He eventually dropped out and started drifting from meager job to meager job.  

A lot of times when you're young, you fail to grasp the severity of this kind of stuff and that was what happened to me.  He was still the same old buddy to me.  I didn't judge him and I figured he would eventually find his way.  But it didn’t happen.  

I started to get a clue finally when he would start bragging about how he was scamming his employers.  He would work to gain their trust and when they gave him their trust, he would betray them by stealing merchandise and sometimes lifting money from the till.  It was around this time that I started to hang out with him less often.  

One day my roommate and I were sitting on our porch on a nice summer night drinking beer.  After not seeing my high school friend for some time, he suddenly appeared out of the blue.  We chatted for a bit and drank a couple more beers.    It was then that he revealed that he stopped by to ask us a favor.  He needed us to drive an hour or two north of Minneapolis to some cabin in the woods he was living in.  He needed us to help him move all his stuff out because the next day the sheriff was coming to evict him.  The water and power had already been turned off.

So there we were in the middle of the woods in rural Minnesota at one o’clock in the morning moving crap from his place to the house next door.  The guy next door wasn’t home, but our friend was telling us how cool this dude was because he sold opium.  Our friend offered to pay us in opium once we finished moving his stuff.  I politely said, “Maybe some other time.”

We were almost done at about three in the morning when this friend came up to me to thank me and he said, “This is what friend’s are for, right dude?  You can always count on them.”  I nodded half agreeing and then said, “Yeah, but you can’t be blindly loyal either.”  He didn’t respond to that.  I don’t think he got what I was saying.  

It was a long blue ride back to the city with my roommate.  We had known this guy for a long time, but we both knew that our friendship with him had come to an end.

We popped in this Allman Brothers tape for the long silent drive home and I will never forget the poignancy and timing of this song, “Not My Cross To Bear.”  Until this night it had just been another song in my collection.

Sorry I was such a bummer this time, but I highly recommend this song and the whole album. A pretty good deal for both.