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Monday, July 30, 2007

Hash Brown's Blues Jam at the Mardi Gras - Dallas TX

Hash Brown is one of the busiest blues players in Dallas. He slings a mean guitar; he is also an outstanding harmonica player and a convincing vocalist. He served as best friend/driver/helpmate for Sam Myers, the legendary Texas bluesman, during his final years with us (Sam passed a year ago). Hash Brown is a big-hearted man who loves the blues, and whenever I am in Dallas, I try to find one of Hash Brown's jams. He runs at least two jams each week. The jam that he used to run at The Bone on Tuesday nights was unbelievable - full of great players, serious dancers and hard drinkers. The picture of Hash at the top of this entry was taken at The Bone at a jam back in 1998. The Bone was a great club - in the heart of the Deep Elum district of Dallas; a funky honky-tonk full of music-loving Texans.

Well, the Bone decided to kill its jam last year, and the other venue that hosted Hash Brown's Wednesday night jam (The Hole in the Wall) also decided that they couldn't afford to pay the band anymore. But Hash Brown never gives up - he found new venues. I attended the new Wednesday night jam venue during my last trip to Dallas in mid - July. The joint is called the "Mardi Gras," obviously a New Orleans - themed place. I have to say that this was one of the weirdest locations for a music venue I have ever seen - it is on the ground floor of a high-rise office tower located next to the I35E highway. The good news - there is lots of free parking. The bad news - it is in a nightlife desert; nothing else is open in the area because it is all office towers.

Hash kicked off the jam with a set of instrumentals, including a rousing version of "Honky Tonk" and a passable version of "Blue Bossa." Hash also threw in a number of Dick Dale-style tunes, with lots of glissandi from his guitar and jungle beats from the drummer. The drummer in Hash's band was just right - a Texas blues beat guy, well-versed in West Texas and East Texas shuffles, swing, blues rock, latin and jump blues beats. I sat in with the group and blew out a reed on my "A" harp on the first tune. I had hit the road with just two harmonicas in my bag, (A and A flat), so my ability make music was pretty limited.

The jam was sparsely attended. The bartender sat in the back at a table with some regulars since business was slow behind the bar. Two heavyset women got up and danced together, shaking their ample asses a little too hard. A couple sitting at the bar were alternating between drinking martinis and necking. They were really going at it, lots of spit-swapping and groping. They would break for a little air and more alcohol, then go right back into their clinch. I wanted to yell, "Get a room!"

I guess the lunch trade sustains the Mardi Gras; the evening business seems pretty pathetic.

I stayed to listen to one of the jammers, a young guy (teenager?) with a guitar. He was an intermediate player, not quite there yet, but his instincts were good. He sang, too. His singing was a little less successful than his guitar work. He could turn into an excellent player if he keeps working.

I rolled out and headed back to the hotel. It was great to see Hash Brown and I enjoyed sitting in with the band, but the Mardi Gras jam couldn't hold a candle to the Hash's old sessions at the Bone.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Bill Perry, Blues Guitarist, Passes Suddenly

Very sad news. I just received this in an e-mail from Blind Pig Records:


With great sadness, Blind Pig Records announces that New York guitarist Bill Perry died on Tuesday, July 17th. According to Greg Schwark, Perry's road manager for seven years, the musician was found at his apartment in Sugar Loaf, NY. Emergency medical personnel tried to revive Perry, but he died on the way to the hospital, an apparent heart attack victim, although no official cause of death has been determined.

Perry was known as an outstanding guitarist whose go-for-broke technique combined effortless fluidity and incredible attack. Guitar One magazine called him a "six-string superman more powerful than a locomotive." He was also gifted with a distinctive, raspy voice full of grit and gravel that particularly suited the drama and emotion so essential to blues music.

Perry first made his mark in the clubs of New York City in the 1980's, where he was spotted by folk-rock singer Richie Havens. Perry spent four years on the road as the featured guitarist in Havens' band. During the same period, he also did some touring with The Band's Garth Hudson and Levon Helm. In 1995 he signed a deal with Pointblank/Virgin and released two albums for them. In 1999 he released a live album recorded at New York's blues hotspot, Manny's Car Wash. In 2001 Perry released the first of four titles for Blind Pig Records, with Jimmy Vivino, music director of "The Conan O'Brien Show" serving as producer on the first two CDs.

Good friend and labelmate Popa Chubby produced Perry's next two releases for Blind Pig, the most recent being 2006's Don't Know Nothin' About Love. Upon hearing the news while on tour in Germany, Popa said, "The best thing about Bill was that his talent was effortless. He was a natural. He could sing the phone book and draw you in. He didn't have a mean or a bad bone in him. I never heard him say a bad word about anyone. He was a brother and I'll miss him dearly."

Richie Havens issued a statement, saying, "I'm shocked and saddened to hear the news. Billy was a great friend, a truly gifted guitar player, and one of the funniest people I've ever known. Our times on the road together were some of best times I've ever had." Havens recorded a haunting acoustic duet version of the Rolling Stones' "No Expectations" with Perry that appeared on Bill's 2002 album Crazy Kind Of Life.

Buddy Fox, Perry's manager for four years and the long time booking agent for Manny's Car Wash, said, "Bill was a very singular and unique talent. He had a natural blues voice, and an uncanny ability to sing at the same time that he was playing a virtuoso guitar solo."

Blind Pig President Edward Chmelewski said, "We are indeed saddened by the loss of Bill and his incredible talent. His intensity on the guitar was frightening. He was a mesmerizing performer who played with passion and excitement, and he had that wonderful sandpapery voice that you could listen to forever. Truly a unique artist that will be missed."

Perry, age 49 at the time of his death, is survived by his only son, Aaron, 25, three brothers, and a sister. Details of a memorial and funeral have not been announced.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

May this Texas Character Rest in Peace

I am in Dallas for a few days and saw this obituary in the local paper. I think I would have liked this guy...

Edgar "Heavy" Clayton Jr.: Junkman became a legend

08:03 AM CDT on Saturday, July 14, 2007
By JOE SIMNACHER / The Dallas Morning News

Edgar "Heavy" Clayton Jr. refused to conform during his 75 years of freestyle living. The Cedar Hill junkman became a small-town legend in the process.

Seemingly oblivious to convention, Mr. Clayton lived his life without a public school education, a driver's license or insurance, among other things.

Mr. Clayton died Sunday of complications from lung cancer at a Cedar Hill nursing home. Friends plan to organize a memorial. His body was donated to MedCure Inc. for medical research.

"He was a fixture to the city," said Cedar Hill Mayor Rob Franke. "He had been here forever, and people knew him and liked him in so many ways."

Mr. Clayton picked up the nickname Heavy as he grew into his powerful 300-pound, 6-foot-3-inch frame as a teenager.

In 1989, Mr. Clayton cemented his legendary status by physically breaking up an armed robbery of P&S Foods in Cedar Hill.

Mr. Clayton was taking part in a backroom game of dominoes when two men tried to rob the convenience store.

"I told them I didn't think it was a real gun and started to fuss with them," Mr. Clayton told The Dallas Morning News at the time.

Mr. Clayton was shot while trying to wrest the gun from one of the robbers.

"The bullet went in my neck and came out in my mouth," he said. "I chewed on the bullet a bit, then spit it out. ... It didn't knock me out."

The robbers were apprehended, and life went on for Heavy after a stay in the hospital.

Mr. Clayton was the youngest of the eight children in his family.

"He was the baby; he did what he wanted to do," said his sister-in-law Dorothy Clayton of Cedar Hill.

Born in the former Florence Hill community south of Grand Prairie, Mr. Clayton moved with his family to Cedar Hill when he was 11 or 12 years old, his sister-in-law said.

He never learned to read, but he knew math for calculating scrap transactions, friends said.

Mr. Clayton held a number of jobs before settling into his role as the beloved but regulation-ignoring junkman.

Mr. Franke said conflicts with Heavy grew along with Cedar Hill.

"The sad part about it was that as the town was growing around him, having a junk business just didn't work quite the same way," he said. "The city had to become involved from time to time."

Mr. Clayton inherited a home on Hickerson Street from his mother. His property became home to his junk business, which was a problem for the city and neighbors.

The house fell into disrepair and was set afire by what friends say was an adolescent who liked to torment Mr. Clayton. He rebounded by living in a camper on the property until 2005, when he moved into a nursing home.

G.W. Gorman, a friend of more than 60 years, said Mr. Clayton was an independent person of great physical strength.

"He was always trying to help people; he was good at that," he said. "He was a great fellow."

Mr. Gorman said he once saw Mr. Clayton pick up a flathead V-8 truck engine with the transmission attached and place it in the bed of a truck. But Mr. Clayton used passive cooperation rather than brute force to deal with confrontations with civil authority.

"He was the only guy I know who pretty much had the system his way," said Jan Sorok, a longtime friend.

While many others might not want to be jailed, Mr. Clayton was always willing to do his time, Mr. Sorok said.

"'OK, when do you want me to show up?' " Mr. Clayton would say, Mr. Sorok said.

Mr. Clayton is survived by two brothers, Thomas Clayton of Cedar Creek and Alton R. "Pete" Clayton of Cedar Hill; and two sisters, Willie Mae Justin and Janie Pogue, both of Mesquite.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Nick's Beer Garden - Saturday July 14, 2007

I found out the regular guitarist for the Mystery Band, Anthony Plamer, was going to miss the July 28th gig at the Morseland. OSee Anderson was confirmed, so I had one hot guitarist - I wanted another player. I have been thinking about adding a keyboard player for some gigs, so I called my bass player, E. G. McDaniel, last Saturday for a recommendation. He mentioned Daryl Coutts, a young long-haired fellow who has played with Ronnie Baker Brooks for several years. And Daryl was appearing with vocalist Katherine Davis at Nick's that very evening. I resolved to go and check this fellow out.

Nick's Beer Garden is in Wicker Park, on Milwaukee near North Avenue. Wicker Park is one of Chicago's biggest party neighborhoods on a Saturday night. Traffic is miserable and the sidewalks are crowded. The three - way intersection of North Avenue , Milwaukee Avenue and Damen is the congested heart of the neighborhood, and Nick's is near that intersection. This is not a neighborhood that is generally associated with blues bands, and Nick's is a bar first and a music venue second. There is no stage at Nick's, and bands must bring their own P.A. systems.

But the crowd at Nick's comes to party.

Katherine Davis is a seasoned performer, in her early '50's I would say. Most of the folks in the audience were half her age, but she had them in the palm of her hand throughout the evening. As the evening progressed, some of the audience members became seriously impaired. The musicians were at risk of collision as drunken dancers lurched perilously close to the band. But no accidents occurred while I was there.

Katherine used the Jimmy Burns Band plus Dary Coutts. Daryl had two sets of keys - a piano/synthesizer and an organ keyboard. He brought out a B3 set up, with the spinning horn. Daryl is a killer player, and he did take the Mystery Band gig at the Morseland. I am very excited about adding this fine musician to the Mystery Band mix.

I sat in with Katherine and the band, using my little Fender Princeton amp. The Princeton was overwhelmed by the heavy firepower that the other players brought to the gig. It was LOUD! The crowd was even louder than the band. Whew!

I hope to get the Mystery Band booked into Nick's Beer Garden. I know we would do well.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Friday Night Crawl - Lubriphonic and Jimmy Burns

Well, I had to talk to Ken Zimmerman, owner of the Harlem Avenue Lounge last Friday night. The Mystery Band will be playing at the HAL on Saturday August 11 (BE THERE!!!) so I had to drop off some promo materials to Ken. The band that was holding down the fort was Lubriphonic. This group falls into the "jam band" category - they cover the same terrain as Phish and String Cheese Incident, but they are much blusier. The band includes two brass players - Johnny Cotton on trombone and Ron Haynes on trumpet. I always like a horn section in a band - reminds me of my misspent youth playing trombone in funk bands in the San Frnacisco Bay Area. Lubriphonic is the brain child of guitarist Giles Corey and drummer Rick King. These two guys played with many of the major name blues stars in Chicago - Koko Taylor, Junior Wells, Bo Diddley,and Otis Rush. They are tied into the Chicago blues tradition, although they don't have traditional Chicago blues backgrounds (Giles is a econ graduate of the University of Chicago). Bassist J.R. Fuller is a young fellow (early thirties, tops) and he has backed a ton of major names - Albert King, Ziggy Marley and Branford Marselis to name a few. So yes, this is a group of musicians with serious chops. I caught about half their first set, delivered to a virtually empty club, and had to leave. I was early - I hope the joint filled up for these talented cats later in the evening.

On the way from Berwyn to Evanston, I stopped by Andy's to catch the Jimmy Burns Blues Band. Jimmy's sidemen are the guys I try to hire for my Mystery Band gigs - I can't always get them because they are in such demand. Jimmy Burns is underappreciated - he is the real deal, a guy who can handle Delta blues and jazzier versions of the blues. He has a rich baritone voice and he plays soulful, spare guitar lines. It is always terrific to see my Mystery Band brothers - James Carter on drums, E.G. McDaniel on bass and Anthony Palmer on guitar. Jimmy connected with the audience - he had beautiful women dancing between the tables (there is no dance floor at Andy's).

I was back home by midnight or so. I had a busy family day on Saturday, then headed out again Saturday night to hear Katherine Davis at Nick's Beer Garden. More on this in my next post...

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Jam At Bill's Blues Bar

I haven't been hitting the Tuesday night blues jam at Bill's Blues lately. Late nights combined with early mornings don't work for this 52-year old guy; at least not very often. But I needed to dig up a drummer for my gig on August 11, so I headed down to the club to network. Hey, it was awesome!

My friend Tom Crivellone and his band, Two for the Blues, have been running the jam at Bill's for a while now. It has developed into a bit of a ritual, with regulars and a comfortable vibe. There were some top blues cats hanging out last night - Sammy Fender, Toronzo Cannon, Shoji Naito and several other blues professionals. But it is always the jammers, the less-than-professional musicians that amaze me. A jam can be a "blues school" with the experienced players leading the less experienced, and the results can be surprisingly good. But sometimes a few too many inexperienced players hit the stage at the same time and a train wreck occurs. But that's OK too. Bad music played sincerely beats good music with no heart.

So I got to sit in with Sammy Fender. What a great showman - he kills me!! I got to get this man to play with the Mystery Band some time.

Oh, and I did hire a drummer - the solid and delightful Twist Turner!

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Ska at Summerfest

So we ditched Evanston on July 3 to spend a few days in the wilds of Wisconsin. The goal was to catch a ska concert on the 4th of July at the Milwaukee Summerfest. Summerfest is a wild scene, kids. It has been going on for 40 years and the party runs for almost 2 weeks. There is gobs of music, with 4 stages operating simultaneously for 12 hours each day. There is lots of food, too.

My 15 year-old daughter likes the whole ska-punk thing. This is OK with me - ska can be terrific music, requiring considerable skill to perform and full of energy and humor. The headlining ska bands on July 4th were Less Than Jake and Reel Big Fish. Both of these groups started up during the so-called Third Wave of ska, which kicked off in the late `1980's and early 1990's. I have always been fond of Ska because the bands feature horn sections, often with a trombonist as the focal point. As an old slip-horn player, I get off on seeing a trombonist in the spotlight, and the cats can play!

Less Than Jake was a little bit lame - they seemed to be overly fond of dropping "f-bombs" at every opportunity and they broke up their show with a ill-conceived game show parody that was devoted to making fun of fans and touting the awesomeness of the band. Feh. When they quit screwing around and played, they rocked. The trombone dude, Buddy Schaub, was hyperkinetic and talented.

Reel Big Fish was a very talented and cohesive band. Their between-tune patter was less annoying and insulting than the Less Than Jake crew. Their music was considerably more "hooky" and they had more horns - two trumpets and a trombone vs. trombone and tenor sax for Less Than Jake. Reel Big Fish's songs have a great sense of humor - "She's Got a Girlfriend Now" is a hoot, so is "Don't Start a Band." Their biggest hit, I think, was "Sell Out," which actually got some radio play. I learned that the core members of this band attended the University of Hartford (in Hartford CT), which apparently has a terrific music department (who knew?).

The ska-punk scene is interesting. There were hundreds of people jammed into the Harley Davidson Stage at Summerfest; when Reel Big Fish played their tunes, the whole audience (except me) sang along. It was an intense communal concert experience; I haven't seen anything like it in a long time. Of course, I haven't been hitting too many rock concerts in the past 25 years....

My teenage daughter was one of the folks singing along on every song. She was thrilled to be at the concert (but perhaps less than thrilled to have her old man as her companion).

Friday, July 06, 2007

Johnny Frigo, Rest In Peace

Johnny Frigo was my favorite jazz violinist. He lived a long time - 90 years - and he didn't start focusing on the violin until his late 60's (he played mostly bass before that). A stalwart Chicagoan, he remained a local institution even though he could have lit up New York or Paris. Here is the obit from the Washington Post:

Johnny Frigo, 90; Jazz Violinist and Bassist

By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 6, 2007

Johnny Frigo, 90, a highly respected jazz violinist and
bassist who helped start the Soft Winds Trio and co-wrote
such standards as "Detour Ahead" and "I Told You I Love You,
Now Get Out," died July 4 at Weiss Memorial Hospital in
Chicago. He suffered complications from a fall.

After playing in Jimmy Dorsey's big band, Mr. Frigo formed
the Soft Winds jazz trio in 1947 with two Dorsey colleagues,
guitarist Herb Ellis and pianist Lou Carter.

The Soft Winds was not a major commercial success during its
five-year existence, but the trio recorded many songs and
developed a fine reputation in later years among

The members co-wrote "Detour Ahead" and "I Told You I Love
You, Now Get Out," both of which have been widely performed
by other artists.

In 1969, Mr. Frigo also wrote "Hey, Hey, Holy Mackerel" to
honor the Chicago Cubs during their promising but ultimately
ill-fated championship run that year. Even after the team
lost to the New York Mets, the Frigo tune remained a popular
chant at Cubs games for years.

Mr. Frigo spent much of his career in Chicago, his home
town, as a backup bass player on radio and studio bands as
well as on commercial jingles and in nightclubs, especially
Mister Kelly's. Starting in 1951, he was a fiddler for 13
years on the country radio program "National Barn Dance,"
backed by his band, the Sage Riders.

He accommodated a variety of musical styles, performing with
such strikingly different jazz entertainers as clarinetist
Pee Wee Russell, guitarist Charlie Byrd and bassist Oscar
Pettiford as well as singers Barbra Streisand, Dinah
Washington, Helen Merrill and Mahalia Jackson.

John Virgil Frigo, the son of poor Italian immigrants, was
born Dec. 27, 1916, on the south side of Chicago.

"The ragman would come around every Saturday, and we'd sell
him stuff we'd found in the alley during the week," he told
the Chicago Tribune. "His son played violin, and he gave me
my first lessons."

He taught himself the upright bass to improve his chances of
getting more professional assignments -- and meeting
girls -- during the Depression. After the 1960s, he learned
the electric bass to keep in demand.

As a teenager, he sat in with boogie-woogie pianist Albert
Ammons at the Club DeLisa and also sang at the Drake Hotel
in a group misleadingly called the Four Californians.

His singing career ended abruptly when his voice cracked one
night while in the middle of a high note in the ballad "One
Minute to One." When Mr. Frigo tried to repeat the song the
next night, a bouncer took him by his neck and dragged him

One of his more memorable assignments came in 1941, when he
was asked to join the touring big band of movie comedian
Chico Marx, the Marx Brother who specialized in ludicrous
Italian accents.

They worked out a recurring gag where Marx would say, "Aye,
Johnny, bringa da violin down. Do you know 'Gypsy Love
Song?' "

Mr. Frigo: "I don't know the verse; I know the chorus. If
you play the verse, I'll noodle on the violin."

Marx: "Okay, you noodle on the violin, and I'll spaghetti on
the piano."

Decades later, Mr. Frigo called the bit "ridiculous. But,
little by little, it became a good routine. Every theater we
played, it would extend itself. I would play a beautiful
crescendo and slide down, and he'd say, 'You'd better pull
up to a gas stand. You've got a slow leak.' "

During World War II, Mr. Frigo served in the Coast Guard and
formed a band with several others stationed on Ellis Island,
including such leading bebop musicians as pianist Al Haig,
baritone saxophonist Serge Chaloff and trombonist Kai

After the war, he spent two years with Dorsey and appeared
in the biographical film "The Fabulous Dorseys" -- about the
rivalry between bandleader brothers Jimmy and Tommy.

As a bandleader, Mr. Frigo recorded one album in his prime,
"I Love Johnny Frigo. . . . He Swings" (1957) featuring his
Soft Winds guitarist Ellis as well as bassist Ray Brown,
pianist Dick Marx and trumpeter Cy Touff.

Although he recorded regularly, Mr. Frigo did not enjoy much
recognition as a leader until the late 1980s, when he
started making several well-received jazz albums that
featured, among others, father-son guitarists Bucky and John

After one of Mr. Frigo's engagements in Southern California,
Los Angeles Times music critic Don Heckman wrote that the
musician "made a convincing case for himself as the premier
violinist in contemporary jazz."

About that time, Mr. Frigo appeared twice playing violin on
"The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson. When the host asked
why Mr. Frigo waited so long to become famous, he replied,
"Because there won't be enough time left for me to become a

In 1995, he orchestrated a Soft Winds reunion on a jazz
cruise aboard the S.S. Norway that included Ellis, Carter
and Washington-area bassist Keter Betts. They subsequently
released the album "Soft Winds Then and Now." Mr. Frigo
remained a vital figure at jazz summits and other musical

His marriage to Dorothy Hachmeister Frigo ended in divorce.

Survivors include his second wife, Brittney Browne of
Chicago; a son from his first marriage, jazz drummer Rick
Frigo of Chicago; a sister; and three grandchildren. A son
from his second marriage, rock guitarist Derek Frigo, died
in 2004 of an apparent drug overdose.