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Saturday, April 30, 2005

Photo by Rick Trankle

Doug "Badman" Randall  Posted by Hello

Doug "Badman" Randall RIP

The Chicago harmonica community has lost another stalwart. Doug Randall played just about every type of harmonica invented - not just the little diatonic "blues harp" that has entered the American mainstream, but the chromatic harmonica and even the bass harmonica. Doug was a killer blues player, but he could lay down the Harmonicats stuff, too ("Peg o' My Heart", "Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White," etc.). They called him the "Badman" because he looked a bit crazed - a wicked toothy smile, the mustache, combined with hair-raising stories of a mis-spent youth. He always would reach out to a fellow harp player - a warm, kind-hearted person. As the years passed, Doug ratcheted back his lifestyle - he quit smoking and drinking. His work with a local band here, Big G and the Real Deal, was intense and edgy.

Liver cancer snatched Doug. He kept his condition under wraps - very few people knew of his illness. He played up until the very end.

This has been a tough spring for Chicago harmonica fans - first we lose Harmonica Kahn in March, now Doug Randall.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Northwest Arkansas

Here is a fun fact to know and tell - the Northwest Arkansas metropolitan region is the second-fastest growing region in the United States after the Las Vegas region. Why is this happening? Two words, people - "WalMart Effect." The retail leviathan has been gradually re-creating the region. Not too long ago, folks that had business with WalMart would take a puddle-jumper from Cincinatti or St. Louis into a funky little airport in Fayetteville that had the ambiance of a Greyhound bus station. WalMart muscled through funding for a very nice regional airport that is out in the country, 10 miles away from Springdale, Fayetteville and Bentonville - Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport (XNA). There are now lots of non-stop flights between major US cities and XNA. My trip from Chicago went from a 4 hour ordeal to a quick one-hour hop. Then WalMart told their suppliers that they would only do business with firms that placed a senior executive with decision-making authority in the Bentonville area. So there are tons of new executives moving into Northwest Arkansas. This ain't hillbilly heaven anymore - you got big-ass executive houses, country clubs and lots of brand new schools opening up. The tax base is growing; the job opportunities are, too (if you have the "right skills" - high school drop-outs need not apply). In addition to WalMart, Tyson Foods and J.B. Hunt Trucking add to the business activity. And the University of Arkansa in Fayetteville provides lots of activity (jobs, culture, sports). Northwest Arkansas is frothy right now.

Folks in my neck of the woods (Chicago) don't like WalMart (Target is fine, though - this mystifies me, since Target and Walmart pay identical average wages and are equally brutal on local retailers...). A store on the rugged South Side of Chicago was blocked, mainly due to the fierce efforts of liberal folks - local and non-local. Some people in the neighborhood wanted the store, but they didn't have the clout to get it through the zoning board. Sam Walton re-invented retailing, and many people don't like the changes. The constant squeeze on costs to keep prices low leads to outcomes the rile up some people. Radical change in retailing is tough to swallow, especially for small retailers and union people.

I spent 2 days in Northwest Arkansas last week, working on a deal for my client. I can't reveal any details - it is all tied up by a non-disclosure agreement. I can reveal that my role was to serve as advisor and "stage manager" as my client met with potential business partners. It is interesting work, and loads of fun for a student of human behavior and relationships. Think of several dogs sniffing each other at the fire hydrant, trying to decide whether to fight or mate, and you have the picture.

I love my job, man.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

April Blues

April is the cruelest month -- ol' T.S Eliot nailed it. In the Chicago area, April is a bi-polar experience. The sun comes out, the land warms up, people start to smile, the coats come off and folks head outdoors. It feels like the cold weather is gone for the season, then WHAM!!! In comes a cold front, the temps fall 30 or 40 degrees in 30 minutes and the skies look like slate. Add on the April 15 extraction of taxes by Uncle Sam (and the State of Illinois) and the April blues can hit - hard.

So I went down to Bill's Blues Bar last night to work out my bad attitude at the blues jam. I spent some time talking to the operator of the joint and, surprise, the blues business stinks in April. Cash ain't flowing. I left after I blew my harmonica on a couple of tunes with some reasonably good blues musicians. In spite of the music, I felt more downhearted going out than I did going in.

I just got back from running some errands. The weather is raw and obnoxious. I parked outside the Citibank branch and ran in to get some cash - it took five minutes, tops. When I came out, one of Evanston's finest was writing a nice parking ticket for me. I ran over, jumped in my car and waved him off. I avoided the ticket, but it helped to darken my mood. Feh!

I think it is time to retire to the bedroom and pull the covers up over my head. This dismal day is a wrap. I am heading down to northwest Arkansas tomorrow to meet with clients. I hope the sun is shining in the Ozarks.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Piece of my Dead Father

I was pawing through the flotsam that collects on the top of my dresser and came across a piece of my father - his old eyeglasses, tucked into an amazingly slim clamshell case. These glasses were U.S. Army issue, circa 1943. My dad's serial number was written inside the case. The old lenses were held in place by these cool retro frames - wire, round, with the flexible earpieces that wrap around the back of your ear for a tight fit even when you are getting bounced around in the back of a Jeep going down a rough road in France in 1944.

My dad died suddenly at the age of 76 - it has been fourteen years since I got the 3 a.m. telephone call from my mom from the hospital. My mom died shortly thereafter - in 1994 from cancer. She smoked heavily most of her life, so the Big "C" took her out early - she was a hale and hearty 72 when the tumor broke out of her bladder and invaded her lungs and her brain. Those unfiltered Camels did the job. My dad died of vascular failure - he smoked too, but quit in his 50's. He had a massive pot belly and sat on his ass for the last 35 years of his life - it is amazing he lived to 76.

Well, I can't say that I was real close to my father. The reasons for this are many and varied - it would take too long to explain in this blog, and no one is interested in my mopey family history. I left California to go to business school at Northwestern and never moved back out west. We would see each other once or twice a year after I left the coast. But looking at those old glasses, I realized that there are many things about my father's history that I don't know. He never talked about his World War II service, for example. And he wore those glasses as he rolled through Europe. He got frostbite right before the Battle of the Bulge and was sent to England for treatment - so he avoided that horrible battle and lived. I exist due to my father's frozen feet.

I took the old specs down to my local optometrist and had them fitted with prescription tinted lenses - now I have a pair of retro shades. And I can meditate on my father when I wear these glasses - the things I know about him, and the things I will never know.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Second Hand Tunes

"Second Hand Tunes" is the name of the local independent record (CD) store in my neighborhood. When I am feeling at loose ends and in need of a deep dive into an old school music retailing environment, I step into this corner shop. Almost all of the CD's are used, and therefore sell at a significant discount to the price of new CD's. This is a classic hunting and gathering exercise - you really don't know what you might find in Second Hand Tunes. I bought 10 discs for about $70. Here is the list:

1. Eddie Harris - "Eddie Who?"
2. Muddy Waters - "Hard Again"
3 Billy Boy Arnold - "Back Where I Belong"
4. Miles Davis - "The Best of Miles Davis: the Capitol/Blue Note Years"
5. J.J. Johnson - "Jazz Quintets"
6. Steve Miller Band - "Young Hearts/Complete Greatest Hits"
7. Robert Bonfiglio - "Through the Raindrops"
8. Bonnie Raitt - "The Bonnie Raitt Collection"
9. Bobby Blue Bland - "Midnight Run"
10. Solomon Burke - "Don't Give Up on Me"

Yes, I am heavily tilted towards old blues and R&B. And jazz. These musical forms pull on me - grab my head and my heart. They feel timeless and passionate to me. I have some rap and hip hop in my iTunes library, and I appreciate the talent it takes to perform in these genres. As Miles Davis allegedly said, "There are only two types of music - good and bad." But I get tired listening to all the spoken word stuff - I need melody, musical skill. Music is part of all cultures and throughout history it has served as a humanizing force that is common to all. Music connects the past to the present. Muddy Waters, Mozart and Dexter Gordon still speak to us today.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Otis Clay hits E-Town

We have an election coming up here in E-Town, beautiful Evanston Illinois. Its a local thang - mayor, school board, aldermen/women, etc. The incumbant mayor, Lorraine Morton, had a benefit at Bill's Blues Bar this afternoon. Now, "her honor" has been warming the mayor's seat for 12 years - she is our version of Ritchie Daley. She has done a pretty good job, and she seems likely to be re-elected again. Heck, I'm voting for her.

This benefit was pretty fabulous. Hecky Powell supplied his excellent barbecue, so we were all chowing down, licking our fingers and drinking beer on a Sunday afternoon, in a funky bar, on a beautiful sunny day. Oh yeah - decadent! And we had LIVE MUSIC!! Not just any live music, but the Mighty, Mighty Otis Clay! Otis is about 62 now, but let me tell ya - he is still a huge presence and full of soul man passion!! The benefit was packed with mostly middle-aged, African American folks and the feeling was intense - serious communication was in progress. "Respect Yourself", "Love and Happiness", "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay", Otis' original tunes, a dash of gospel - this was a very fine show by a great showman,backed by a tight band.

I am 50 years old, and I hope I can be like Otis Clay when I grow up.