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Friday, March 30, 2007

Borrowing From Jimmy Burns

Tonight, the Mystery Band will be playing at C.J. Arthur's in Wilmette IL. Wilmette is one of Chicagoland's fancier suburbs; not a location generally associated with blues music. I have borrowed from Jimmy Burns, the great blues vocalist and guitarist for this gig. The Mystery Band will consist of me and Jimmy's sidemen tonight. They are a top-knotch blues band - James Carter on drums, E.G. McDaniels on bass and Anthony Palmer on guitar. It is an honor for an amateur like me to share the bandstand with these stars.

Tommorrow morning, at 8 AM, I must be on a jet headed to New Mexico. So this weekend will be hectic.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Kickin' in Cowtown

My day job has taken me to Fort Worth, Texas this week - it carries the "Cowtown" nickname due to its roots. The legendary Chisholm Trail, a major north-south route for cattle drives, passed through Fort Worth until some enterprising citizens of the town established the Fort Worth Stockyards - then the drives ended in Fort Worth. The Stockyards converted Fort Worth into "Cowtown," making it a major hub for the cattle industry (also for farming, ranching, meatpacking and railroads).

The community was established as a military encampment by Major Ripley Arnold in 1849, one of ten forts proposed by Willam Jenkins Worth to protect the Caucasian invaders from the indigenous Plains Indians. The original fort didn't have many engagements with the Indians - one skirmish in four years - so it was abandoned by the military. The beginnings of Cowtown blossomed in the wake of the abandoned military venture. Through the years, this town has grown in the shadow of Dallas - it was major training center for soldiers heading overseas to fight in World War I, it became a boomtown and energy center when the Ranger oil field was discovered 90 miles west of town, and it became a major military aviation center during World War II with the expansion of the Carswell Air Force Base and the building of the famed one-mile long Convair bomber plant. Lockheed-Martin still builds fighter jets in that old plant.

There is scads of money in this community - the Bass family, the Hickses, the Muses, and all the rest. The picture at the top of this entry in the Bass Performance Hall, a top-knotch, and over-the-top, musical venue. The two massive angels attached to the front of the building are blowing horns that jut out some 20 feet from the front of the facade - over the sidewalk and into the street. It is an oddly disturbing sight.

Dallas/Fort Worth beats the snot out of the place I visited last week, Orlando. Texans are very interesting people. Yesterday, I visited with a self-made multimillionaire, "CR," who is currently enjoying his "golden years" (I am guessing he is over 80 years old). This gentleman has his company's reins firmly in his grip. Every discussion with this sly old dog becomes a negotiation. CR is one ornery SOB and I mean this as a compliment. I think he could live another 25 years, and I bet he will retire only when his heart stops beating.

Last night, I had dinner with a group of customers, including "PM." I had not met PM prior to last night - he just joined my customer's company. This fella has a major twang, an extreme nicotine habit, and a powerful thirst for intoxicating beverages. He also uses the "F-word" as a verb, a noun, an adjective, an adverb and a general declarative exclamation. He was hilarious and horrible at the same time.

Earlier today, I met with the CEO of a smallish private equity firm. "JW" is a very successful African-American professional, a Baby Boomer who spent most of his career in municipal government (generally as city manager). JW had scads of interesting stories about his time as City Manager of Dallas. He completed lots of projects, and arguably left Dallas much better off than it was when he started. And his dealings with the major money players in the Dallas/Fort Worth area gave him an open door to a lucrative post-government career.

On top of these three delightful folks, I have had many brief encounters with everyday Texans. From the wait staff to the high-roller in his brand new cowboy hat, everyone is turned up a knotch. It is a energetic place.

A note on music - Dallas/Fort Worth has a pretty strong local music scene, with a number of decent blues players. Hash Brown, the guitarist/harmonica player/vocalist,is one of my favorite musicians in Dallas. Here in Fort Worth, the music is mostly country. You hear that ol' country two-step beat coming from most radios and restaurant sound systems. I have nothing against country music - some of the songs knock me out, and I dig Willie Nelson, Asleep at the Wheel, and Merle Haggard - but I will always prefer blues, jazz and funk.


Friday, March 23, 2007

Some Folks Should Not Go to Blues Jams

I hate to be cranky, but I like the players at blues jams to at least know the structure of a 12-bar blues progression. This was not the case for the players at the blues jam on Wednesday night in Orlando.

The evening began badly. The convention I am attending is located on the Disney property. I didn't realize how far Orlando is from the Disney property! So I jumped in a cab and found myself ponying up $55 when we reached our destination. I knew that the jam was trouble before I even walked in the door. The jammers sounded like a middle school garage band. I understand that many jams include musicians that have modest skills, but this jam seemed to specialize in that category of player. There were two people hammering on a keyboard (at the same time!!), a morbidly obese alto saxophonist with great tone but no knowledge of the improvisational blues idiom, a guitarist/singer who so mangled "Key to the Highway" that I didn't recognize it until the third verse, a bass player who could not find a note in the chord beyond the root note and a truly awful harmonica blower (I can't bring myself to call him a "player"). The redeeming feature of the jam band was a very feisty female drummer who kept great time and sang like a baritone version of Janis Joplin. The jammers stumbled about for a bit, then a second guitarist started playing. He equated great guitar playing with lots of volume and lots of distortion via his effects pedal. The crowd in the bar agreed with his assessment and lustily cheered his solos. Everyone was having a great time and everyone was super friendly. I am sure that they are wonderful folks. But I fled without playing. I guess Chicago has spoiled me - I am not willing to play with incompetent players anymore. I dropped another $55 on a taxi back to the hotel and felt like a big dummy.

I hope these folks never quit their day jobs.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Off to the Land of the Giant Mouse.......

.......Orlando! Not my favorite place, to be honest, but at least I will be warm. I am going to a convention tomorrow, a gathering of entrepreneurs that are servicing the needs of underserved markets. This is a trip to support my day job. It could be interesting. Or not.

Since I will be there on Wednesday and Thursday nights, I am going to see if I can find a blues jam. There seems to be a few, according to my Google search. Since there are a bunch of convention/Disney oriented gigs in O-Town, I would imagine that there are a bunch of terrific musicians that look for jams on their off-nights. I will throw a bunch of harmonicas into my duffle bag. It is always an adventure to send the bag with harmonicas through airport security. The TSA folks sometimes become pretty alarmed and dig through the bag expecting to find guns and ammo. It is always amusing to watch their faces when the see the harmonicas.

If I make it to a jam in Orlando, I will review it later this week.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Mystery Band on the Cusp on St. Patrick's Day

I am staying in the house on St. Patrick's Day - there are drunks stumbling around on the streets and many will be behind the wheel of large automobiles before the night is over. It is amateur night, a great night to stay home. And it is chilly. Plus my stomach hurts.

Mr. G and the Mystery Band is reaching an interesting tipping point. I have been booking three gigs a month for the group at a small collection of venues (Bill's Blues Bar in Evanston, C.J. Arthurs in Wilmette, the Morseland Cafe and Duke's Bar in Chicago). There are many other venues that would hire the band if they knew about us and had a decent promo package to review. I am beginning to use the same musicians frequently rather than assembling a group of different people from my Roladex every time a gig comes up. I have written about 8 original songs; I generally perform a few of them at every show now. The folks that attend my shows have asked if we have a CD available (we don't). I have a feeling that the Mystery Band could build a reasonable following and get quite a few more gigs if sufficient effort was expended.

I have been toying with the idea of cutting a CD. I would want to do it right. This means renting a decent studio (I know of many in Chicago) and setting up practice sessions prior to htting the studio.

I find myself hesitating.

There are impediments - I have a day job that is important to me, and I have a wonderful family that might not appreciate it if I spent many more evenings out performing/rehearsing/recording each month. So the band is on the cusp, at the tipping point. It may stay in that precarious position for a long time.

The Mystery Band is all about spontaneity and improvisation. I have been thrilled that so many great, great musicians have been willing to play with an amateur harmonica geek like me. If the band becomes better organized, more professional, starts (ugh) rehearsing, will we still have fun? Because fun is the goal of the Mystery Band - for the players and for the listeners, I hope.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

More on Paul deLay

Here is a shot of Paul playing the chromatic harmonica. He really was a master of the instrument. Unlike many blues harp players (myself included), Paul was not intimidated by the slide.

When he hit the button on the chrom to activate the side, he said he was "pulling the trigger." Yeah man.

Friday, March 09, 2007

More on Paul deLay's Passing

This is from an email I received from Peter Damman, Paul's guitarist and manager:

"Big loss to all of us. But his was a fast and graceful exit from the stage."

Amen, brother.

We Have Lost Paul deLay

I missed the news on Wednesday. Paul deLay was one of the greatest harmonica players in the world, and a terrific vocalist, songwriter and composer. His energy and passion lit up every show he played. He was a mountain of a man, and he got sick and died in a few days - undiagnosed leukemia. He played two long sets on Saturday night, for crying out loud!

I have Paul's CD's, I heard him play live out in Portland, I spoke to him and told him how much I admired his artistry. He was one of my musical heroes. He lived an epic life.

Here is the obit from the Oregonian. This one hurts, people.

From The Oregonian
Paul deLay, local blues legend, dies
Posted by John Foyston March 07, 2007 14:01PM

Paul deLay, the larger-than-life Portland bluesman who redefined the harmonica and its musical potential, died this morning at Providence Portland Medical Center from end-stage leukemia diagnosed just days before. He was 55.

"He was the most inventive harmonica player in the history of the planet," says John Mazzocco, who played bass with deLay for several years in the 1990s. "He was gifted -- he had incredible tone, but more important, he could look at things differently than any other harmonica player. He was the best in the world."

"He was the best harmonica player in the blues world," says bassist Jimmy Lloyd Rea, from Baker City. "His big body -- mind, heart and soul -- was in every note he ever played."

DeLay recorded a dozen albums in his four-decade career, won several music awards and was nominated for a W.C. Handy Award. He and his band toured constantly, and his last show was just last Saturday -- a benefit show at Klamath Fall's Ross Ragland Theater.

"What amazes me is the energy he brought to the show," says guitarist Pete Dammann, who played in deLay's
bands for the past two decades. "He wasn't pirouetting onstage, but he was joking and yakking with the crowd, and he played hard. We did two long sets, and nobody had any idea anything like this was going on."

Neither did deLay. After that show, Dammann says, deLay felt under the weather, presumably from bronchitis he'd suffered on the band's recent jaunt to Mexico for several benefit shows. But doctors found that deLay was suffering from leukemia so advanced that his organs began shutting down and he lapsed into a coma from which he apparently never recovered.

Paul Joseph deLay was born Jan. 31, 1952 in Portland, where he lived all his life. In the early 1970, he and then-drummer Lloyd Jones and guitarist Jim Mesi formed an electric blues band called Brown Sugar and played to eager crowds up and down the West Coast. They laid the foundation for Portland's reputation as one of the country's great blues towns.

Nineteen seventy-six saw the formation of the Paul deLay Blues Band, which toured hard for more than a decade. At the same time, deLay suffered from alcohol and cocaine problems. In January of 1990, deLay was busted for cocaine trafficking and eventually served time in the federal prison in Sheridan. But before that sentence, deLay cleaned up and started writing
and recording his own music with a new band.

While deLay was in prison, his band played on as the No Delay Band, and it was waiting when he got out. They went on to record ground-breaking albums such as "Ocean of Tears" and "Nice and Strong," and Evidence Records released his two post-bust albums -- evidence that whoever said there are no second acts to American lives had never heard of Paul deLay.