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.