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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

End Page - 2008

Most people that hit middle age have had their share of New Year's Eve experiences where they ended up like the fellow pictured above. Tonight, I will not be in this condition.

I am still in Mexico with my family (or "my ladies" as I like to call them). They are not big party/night life people. The resort is having a massive blow-out party down on the beach - they have set up a restaurant, bar, bandstand and dance floor down there. The cost is 850 peso per person - about $65. That isn't a ridiculous price tag, but I couldn't get any takers among my ladies. We are going to have a quiet evening - well, as quiet as possible since there will be hundreds of party people on the property all night.

Since I have been at leisure the past few days, I had time to read and listen to music on the iPod. I am almost finished with my 6th book. My favorite of the six was the 1990 novel by Kurt Vonnegut, "Hocus Pocus." I somehow missed this book when it was originally published. Vonnegut is in top form, weaving multiple story lines and a large cast of characters into his satirical, cynical look at late 20th Century America. Best line: "The two prime movers in the universe are time and luck." This is a thought worth pondering as we enter a new year.

On the iPod, I have gone back into my library of tunes by the two Chicago blues harmonica greats Little Walter Jacobs ("LW") and Big Walter Horton ("BW"). I could write pages on each of these musicians. Only fellow harmonica-playing geeks like me would want to read it. LW didn't invent the Chicago blues harmonica sound (John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson gets the nod on that score), but he expanded it, changed it, invented musical techniques never used before, and continues to influence anyone who picks up the tin sandwich. BW is equally awesome, but he is about tone and rhythm.

A final note - remember New Year's Eve 1999? The Y2K freak-out? What a scam. On that New Year's Eve, my wife and young children braved the snow and rode in a horse-drawn wagon through the streets of Evanston IL. We ended up at a party in a seafood restaurant, dancing with our friends and neighbors until the wee small hours to tunes spun by a DJ that we knew well - he was the adult son of our next door neighbors. Now that was a good time.

Happy 2009.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Ending the Year Feeling Warm

I thought that I was done posting blog entries for the year, but I am waiting for one of my womenfolk to finish in the shower - down time.

We have escaped to Puerto Vallarta and the weather is a complete relief after the first blasts of what looks to be a wiched Chicago winter. Everything is terrific, except we all got sick yesterday - that miserable gastritis stuff that I won't describe in detail, but you know what I mean. So we were up all night and in misery until we finally dug out a doctor on Sunday to prescibe us the meds to end the insanity. We got on the pills last night. We are better today.

My wife is a native Spanish speaker, so we do well on our trips to Mexico. My family occassionally travesl to San Luis Potosi', which is where my wife's Mexican family lives. SLP is a very large village that is still mainstream Mexican. Puerto Vallarta is a vacation mecca that feels much llke other resort areas. There are many wealthy Mexicans in our hotel, but scads of Americans and a smattering of Europeans and Canadians. It's nice, but it isn't mainstream Mexico.

Since my wife is bilingual, she ends up acting as our family "mouthpiece" and interpreter. I feel guilty about this. I should be a fluent Spanish speaker, but I can't really communicate much in Spanish - I can order food at a restaurant and know several random words. Once we get into full sentences and such, I am dead meat. I resolve every year to become conversational in Spanish. So far, I haven't done it. It will be on my 2009 resolution list (again).

Iguanas are all over this resort - they are like squirrels in Chicago. A lean and lanky specimen jumped into the kiddie pool this morning, generating quite a lot of excitement for the kiddies and horror for their parental units. Bah! It was harmless, and very entertaining. Iguanas are very good swimmers. One of the staffers fished him out with the pool net. I was sorry to see him go.

Time to leave - the shower time is over.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve/2008 Wind Down

Heh, heh....Merry Christmas. The weather has been very evil here is Chicago. We had a goodly amount of snow this month, then temps dived to 8 below, then we had more snow and temps got above freezing, turning the snow to slush. Now we are back down in the teens and the neighborhood is a vast ice skating rink. It is "survival of the fittest" weather.

I just said goodbye to my pregnant daughter and son-in-law. We had a very nice British Christmas Eve meal - roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, roasted root veggies and apple pie with ice cream. I am quite full, facing a kitchen full of dirty dishes.

On December 19, the Mystery Band had its last gig of the year at C.J Arthurs in Wilmette IL. We did not fill the house - the weather was awful - but the music was magical. In the words of my guitar player, The Fret-burner, "When we make the music right, it is better than an orgasm." True words. We had to recruit a drummer at the last minute, Brian T. Brian plays with Koko Taylor; he was in the horrific auto crash that injured Koko's entire band last summer. Brian is still limping; can't put his full weight on his leg (it was severely fractured in the wreck). Brian is a monster drummer, bad leg or no bad leg. Darryl Coutts sat in on keyboards, so the Mystery Band had a lush, exciting sound. It was a great way to end our year of performances. Too bad we didn't have a couple hundred people in the audience.

This past year was very unusual. The U.S. elected an African American president - and a liberal, to boot! The credit markets locked up and the world has plunged into a "Great Recession." Like many people, I am much less wealthy than I was a year ago. But I really don't care that much - easy come, easy go, right? I am heading south for a few days to defrost and won't be back in the frozen U.S. heartland until New Years Day. So Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Happy Kwanzaa and Happy New Year. I will be back atcha in 2009.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Bobby Broom Trio at Pete Miller's Steakhouse

This past Wednesday night, I was a little bored and restless. After the family dinner and kitchen clean-up, I headed out to find some music. I went to Pete Miller's Steakhouse in downtown Evanston IL. Pete Miller's is the classic expensive steak and potatoes dinner house, with a collection of fancy single malt scotches, etc. etc. This restaurant format is very popular in the U.S. The portions are huge. No wonder Americans are so chubby. But Pete Miller's has also embraced live jazz, and on Wednesdays, you can listen to the Bobby Broom Trio - NO COVER!!! This is wild - Bobby is among the finest jazz guitarists in the world - I mean, WAAAAAY up there, with George Benson and John Pizarelli. He is in the Sonny Rollins band, fercyinoutloud! And every Wednesday, he plays to a sparse house in a suburb where people are too busy stuffing their pieholes and swilling liquor to pay attention to his amazing gifts.

Bobby opened his set with a wicked, hard-swinging cover of the Beatles tune "Can't Buy Me Love;" and the music just got better from there. I didn't catch the names of his bandmates, but they were as passionate about the music as Bobby. I had to move right in front of the bandstand to hear because there were a bunch of drunken braying donkeys hanging off the bar creating a wall of noise.

Bobby Broom has an amazing life story, which is described in detail on his web site. He has been playing professionally since he was 16 years old; he spent many years playing in Dr. John's band and then he decided to settle in Chicago. We are very lucky to have this guy in our town - he is the Michael Jordan of the jazz guitar. I hope that he gets better crowds and attention at Pete Miller's than he did this past Wednesday. Get out and support the brother, people!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Liz Mandville's CD Release Show - 12/13

Liz Manville is another under-appreciated blues artist (Chicago has an endless supply of talented folks that aren't well-known outside of a small group of true blues fans). She is releasing a new CD and is having the release party in Evanston on Saturday, December 13 at Tencat Productions, which can be found at

1316 Sherman Ave
Evanston IL 60201
Liz is also a painter, and her visual art is linked to the blues life. There was a great article on Liz in the Chicago Sun Times yesterday. Here is the link.

Liz is the real deal - she has an outstanding, powerful voice and she can play that blues guitar with the best of them.

Christmas Concert - Evanston Symphony and ETHS Singers

Blues, funk, jazz and soul are the musical genres that I prefer, but I ventured into the world of light classics yesterday.

My 16-year old daughter began singing with the Evanston Township High School ("ETHS") a capella choir this fall. On Sunday, she was in her first public performance, singing Christmas carols at the Evanston Symphony's Christmas Concert at the ETHS Auditorium. The student singers entertained prior to the concert and at intermission, and they were terrific. A capella singing is not for sissies - intonation can be tough to maintain, getting voices to blend is a challenge (particularly adolescent voices). My daughter and her 30+ colleagues pulled it off. The leader of the choir, Ms. Reed, is very passionate about vocal music and her students love her.

I caught the first half of the Evanston Orchestra concert; had to split after intermission. The Evanston Orchestra is a very credible group - one of the best community orchestras I have ever heard. The musicians are all volunteers and they have day jobs (one of the trombonists is a parter in a large Chicago law firm, for example). The orchestra was established in 1945 by returning WWII veterans. As a community orchestra, it has wandered among venues in Evanston, settling into the Pick-Steiger concert hall at Northwestern for some concerts and the ETHS auditorium for others. The Evanston Orchestra does five concerts a year (including the Christmas show).

The group was all gussied up in formal attire at Sunday's show. I always thought that it was odd that classical musicians are forced to wear tuxes and formal dresses when performing. Don't these clothes constrict movement and breathing (two important activities for orchestral musicians)? In spite of their stiff attire, the orchestra sounded luxurious, laying out lush arrangements of "White Christmas," "Sleigh Ride," and a bunch of other traditional carols. The orchestra was joined by the Evanston Dance Ensemble for a medley of themes from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker. The dancers were young folks - 12-18 years old, I would guess - and they were fun to watch.

I am ashamed to admit this is the first time I have heard my home-town community orchestra. It won't be the last.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

L.V. Banks in the Suburbs

A This picture of L.V. Banks by Joe of Joe's Corner (

Bill Gilmore, proprietor of Bill's Blues Bar in Evanston, IL, is fond of guitarist/vocalist L.V. Banks. The South Side bluesman hits Bill's Blues every 6 weeks or so. He was holding down the middle of the evening on this past Saturday (between the indie rock group and the reggae D.J. that came on after midnight). If you like your blues raw, unpolished, gritty and loose, L.V. is your guy. By the way, Mr. L.V. Banks is not related to the late, great Chico Banks (I checked with L.V. last night).

He is no youngster - he celebrated his 76th birthday this year. L.V. arrived in Chicago in the 1960's from Greenville, Mississippi - he is in the second generation of Delta blues artists that came to Chicago to try to make a living; about the same age as Buddy Guy and Eddy Clearwater. In L.V.'s case, stardom didn't come knocking. He has played the clubs in Chicago for over 40 years; he finally got his first record out in 1995. The second disc was released in 2000 (both were issued by Wolf Records, a European label). That is the sum total of his recorded output over four decades as far as I know. L.V.'s son, Tre' Hardiman, is one of the "young gun" blues guitarists in town - yeah, the apple don't fall far from the tree.

L.V. Banks and the Swingin' Blues Band is a casual group. They kick off their songs in a relaxed fashion and build the groove around L.V.'s stinging guitar tone and effective vocal style. Banks likes to banter with the crowd ("So what y'all want to hear next? Fast or slow blues?"). The band stuck to the Chicago blues repetoire - "Hoochie Coochie Man" was covered; so was "Rock Me Baby." An attempt to fulfill a request for an Al Green tune ("Love and Happiness) ended badly. But the band's blues was as real as it gets.

L.V. and I know each other, a little, so he called me up and I played harp and sang a couple of tunes. Mr. Banks is a gentleman and it was a joy to play with him - a very comfortable experience on a very cold night.

Anyone in Chicago that loves pure blues needs to see L.V. Banks. His music used to be played in every other tavern on the South Side in the 1950's and 1960's. Catch him before he is gone...

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Services for Chico Banks (RIP)

OSee Anderson just sent me information regarding Chico Banks' services coming up on Tuesday December 9 and Wednesday, December 10.

Visitation Tuesday, December 9, 2008 4-9pm Smith & Thompson Funeral Home 5708 W. Madison, Chicago, IL 60644

December 10: 4242 W.Roosevelt Rd. United Missionary Baptist Church.
Wake: 7:00pm-8:00pm; Funeral 8:00 - 9:00pm.

It will be sad to say good bye to such a talented young man.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Mystery Band CD Preview - Part 4

I dig this picture of me with Piano Willie. It was taken backstage at the 2005 Chicago Blues Fest. Willie is an awesome old-school piano dude. I have never seen him play an electric instrument.

So I spent some time with Grant Kessler today - he is designing the packaging for the CD. Grant is a great photographer and has terrific design skills. He is also a damn fine harmonica player.

So here is the track listing for the Mystery Band CD:

1. It’s A Mystery 5:42
First Guitar Solo – OSee Anderson
Second Guitar Solo – Anthony Palmer
2. My Dog & Me 8:08
First Guitar Solo – Anthony Palmer
Second Guitar Solo – OSee Anderson
3. Hey Jose’ 4:32
Guitar Solo – OSee Anderson
4. After Party 5:07
Guitar Solo – Anthony Palmer
5. I’m Tryin’ to Quit 6:03
First Guitar Solo – OSee Anderson
Second Guitar Solo – Anthony Palmer
6. Cheat Me Fair 7:57
Guitar Solo – Anthony Palmer
7. How Much Longer 7:45
First Guitar Solo – OSee Anderson
Second Guitar Solo – Anthony Palmer
8. Get Out and Walk 6:40
Guitar Solo – OSee Anderson
9. All I Need Is Your Love 6:21
First Guitar Solo – OSee Anderson
Second Guitar Solo – Anthony Palmer
10. Payin’ Taxes 7:36
Guitar Solo – Anthony Palmer
11. Work, Work, Work 6:38
Guitar Solo – Anthony Palmer

All songs written by Chris Gillock, published by G-FreeThoughts Publishing (BMI)
Arrangements by Chris Gillock and OSee Anderson

Mystery Band CD Preview - Part 3

Here is yet another "snip" from the CD Liner Notes:


Mr. G: Harmonica, Vocals, Percussion
OSee Anderson: Guitar
Anthony Palmer:
E. G. McDaniel: Electric and Acoustic Bass
James Carter: Drums

Producer: Jim Reeves
Co-Producer: Chris Gillock

Recorded March 22, 2008 and March 29, 2008 at Reeves Audio Recording, Evanston IL (

Engineer: Jim Reeves
Mixed and Mastered by Jim Reeves
Photographs: Grant Kessler
Art Direction and Design Grant Kessler

Thank You To: My wife and partner, Consuelo Alonzo Gillock, for her love, patience and encouragement; Joe Filisko, Harmonica Virtuoso and Guru, for introducing me to the history and heroes of the Chicago blues harmonica style; Jim Reeves, genius producer/engineer, for his meticulous mixing and sage advice on various musical and technical topics; Elizabeth Gillock Blackwell, for introducing me to the Old Town School of Folk Music and for being a wonderful daughter and a fabulous singer; Ben Gillock/Amanda Gillock/Sarah Gillock, for not being too embarrassed by their crazy dad; Bill Gilmore, Proprietor of Bill’s Blues Bar, for letting the Mystery Band launch in his club; E.G. McDaniel, Anthony Palmer, OSee Anderson and James Carter, for aiding and abetting in the creation of the music on this CD; Stuart Miller and Jeff Guylay, my partners at Colonnade Advisors, for putting up with my weird hobby; Ken Zimmerman, Proprietor of the Harlem Avenue Lounge (Berwyn IL), for bringing the Mystery Band to the western suburbs of Chicago; The Morseland in Rogers Park – Chicago, for its support of the Chicago blues scene; Neil Lifton and Duke’s Bar in Rogers Park – Chicago, for keeping the tradition of musical taverns alive and well in Chicago; C.J. Arthur’s in Wilmette IL, for booking gritty blues bands in their respectable establishment; Tom Albanese, harmonica star and friend, for his encouragement and support; Shoji Naito, triple-threat bluesman (harmonica/guitar/bass) for his quiet guidance and musical excellence; AND TO ALL THE GREAT MUSICIANS THAT HAVE PLAYED IN THE MYSTERY BAND!

Anthony Palmer, E.G.McDaniel. OSee Anderson, James Carter, Twist Turner, Shoji Naito, Sammy Fender, Mike Finnerty, Harlan Terson, Mike Wheeler, Illinois Slim, Tom Holland, Steve Arvey, Carl Davis, Jon McDonald, Tom Crivellone , Mark Wydra, Andy Meacham, Felix Reyes, Dave Herrero, J.R. Wydra, Karl Meyer, Adam Kraus, Steve Hart, Tom Susala, Kevin Summers, Mike Azzi, Smokin' Joe Pratt. Rudy Kleiner, Orlando P. Condon II, Tino Cortez, Highway RickEy Trankle, Merle "the Perkolater" Perkins, Mike Linn, Tim Austin, DeWan Austin, Louis Powell, Aaron Almon, Robert Pasenko, Brian James, Barrelhouse Bonnie, Darryl Coutts, Frank Catalano and Bob Centano (Mr. Centano is the only septuagenarian baritone saxophonist/flautist to perform with the Mystery Band).

Check out the Mystery Band’s MySpace Page:

Check out the Mystery Band’s website:

Check out Mr. G’s blog:

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Mystery Band CD Preview - Part 2

Here is another "snip" from the CD Liner Notes:

Here is a little info on the Mystery Bandsmen:

Mr. G, Harmonica and Vocals: Mr. G started out on the west coast in the San Francisco Bay Area. He soaked up the intense funk/soul/jazz scene out there, as a fan and as a trombonist in the horn section of various funk and jazz bands. After finishing his education in the Chicago area, Mr. G put down the trombone and began goofing around with the harmonica. He became a student of Chicago blues and found his voice as a barroom singer, songwriter and harp player. Mr. G has a day job, and he intends to keep it.

Anthony Palmer, Guitar: They call him “The Fret-Burner,” and other guitar players are awestruck when they hear him play. Born and raised on the West Side of the Chicago, Tony Palmer has supported many of the legendary blues players – Otis Rush, Lurrie Bell, Bobby Rush, Sugar Blue and many others. Tony was a member of the hard-touring Joanna Connor Band for 12 years, and then joined the Jimmy Burns Band in 2003. He provides Jimmy with virtuoso guitar support that is the backbone of the band’s sound. Tony has been a Mystery Bandsman since the first Thanksgiving night gig in 2003.

Greg “E.G.” McDaniel, Electric and Acoustic Bass: E.G. was also an original Mystery Bandsman on the Thanksgiving 2003 gig. He is Tony Palmer’s partner in the Jimmy Burns Band and one of the first-call bass players on the Chicago blues circuit. E.G. has provided the foundation for many blues notables, including Eddy Clearwater, Buddy Guy, Hubert Sumlin, Katherine Davis, Erwin Helfer and many others. E.G. was born into music – his father was the legendary Chicago blues/jazz guitarist, Floyd McDaniel, his mother was the wonderful singer/pianist Bessie Jackson McDaniel and his cousin was the late, great Bo Diddley (aka Ellas McDaniel). E.G. is a rock solid, tasteful player.

OSee Anderson, Guitar: OSee is a multi-faceted guitarist who has mastered the blues, jazz, funk and rhythm and blues. He began his professional career at age thirteen, and has performed with The Staple Singers, Al Green, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, James Cotton, Billy Branch, Albert Collins, Lonnie Brooks, John Mayall, Buddy Guy, Junior Wells and many others. He has also led his own band, The Hit Squad, in the late 1980’s. OSee is also a talented songwriter, and his songs have been recorded by many artists, including James Cotton. OSee has recorded three CD’s under his own name.

James Carter, Drums: James is the youngest Mystery Bandsman on this CD. He has mad percussion skills, built over 30 years of drumming (he started when he was 6). James works with E.G. and Anthony in the Jimmy Burns Band; he also played drums for many years for his uncle, the late, great bassist/vocalist Willie Kent. James has been hotly sought after by many blues greats over the years, including Sunnyland Slim, Johnny Littlejohn, Melvin Taylor, Byther Smith and many others.

More to follow......

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Mystery Band CD - A Preview

I am pushing to get this project completed. The liner notes are written; I am working with my buddy Grant Kessler on CD design and photography. I found a place that will produce 1,000 CD's in jewel cases with a four-page booklet and shrink rap for under $1,000. If I can sell all 1,000 at a decent price, I will break even (plus a little) on the project.

Here is a snip from the liner notes.....

The Mystery Band was born in a bar. Bill Gilmore, proprietor of Bill’s Blues Bar in Evanston, Illinois, had no band booked for Thanksgiving night in 2003. Being a hanger-on at the bar and an occasional blues singer/harmonica player, I offered to assemble a band for that night. It gave me an excuse to go out and work off my Thanksgiving dinner. I didn’t know who would show up to play; I just started calling my favorite musicians – so we became “the Mystery Band.” Several folks attended the show that night, looking for a break from family togetherness. Thus began the Mystery Band experience.

We remain a proud bar band. But we are different than a standard bar band. The mission of the Mystery Band is to bring Chicago’s finest blues musicians together and have a ridiculously good time. Over the past 5 years, more than 45 terrific musicians have joined the Mystery Band (maybe for only one gig). We almost never rehearse – it comes together on the bandstand, sort of. But I started scribbling out a few blues songs to amuse myself, and then people started asking if they could buy our CD’s. Well, we didn’t have any product. So this CD is our effort to respond to our small group of dedicated fans. It is unusual for The Mystery Band to get organized like this – improvisation and accident are our core values. But it has been a gas to get in the studio and cut these tunes. We tried to stay true to our roots – there is very little overdubbing on this disc, and the all of the tracks were recorded in one or two takes. And we didn’t rehearse – we pulled it together at Jim Reeve’s studio in Evanston. I hope you enjoy the songs.

The supporting musicians on this disc are among the finest blues/R&B players in the world, and they are my “go-to” guys – I use them on as many gigs as possible. It is an honor to play with them.

The band loved working at Reeves Audio, run by the legendary Jim Reeves – one of the unsung heroes of the recorded music industry.

More to follow......

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Oh No, Not Chico Banks .....

We lost a giant of the blues guitar today - Chico Banks died unexpectedly and way too soon. He was only 47 years old. He is part of the "killer guitarists" in the third generation of Chicago bluesmen (first generation included Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Jimmy Reed, Howlin' Wolf et al; second generation included Buddy Guy, Lonnie Brooks, Eddy Clearwater, Magic Slim et al, third generation included Melvin Taylor, Bernard Allison, Billy Branch, Chico Banks et al). Chico played the blues, he played R&B, he played funk, he played gospel and yeah, he could play rock too. Music was Chico's family business - his dad, Jessie Banks, was a fabulous guitarist that played with the great gospel group the Mighty Clouds of Joy.

Chico was also an engaging vocalist - his vocal stylings are guaranteed to bring a smile to your face. He was a fine songwriter. He was a great talent that was in the process of breaking out when he died. He was loved by his fellow musicans and legions of fans around the world.

I was vaguely aware the Chico had some health problems, but I had no idea that he was seriously ill. This is a huge shock to the blues community in Chicago.

Light a candle, people.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Schwing Daddies, The Tillicum Club - Portland OR

The Chicago branch of the family traveled west last week to enjoy Thanksgiving with the Portland branch of the family. The turkey was great (smoked outside, until the rain forced a transfer to the oven). And Portland OR is a unique place - great scenary, great beer, great coffee, great pinot noir, great seafood, great cheese and great music. If there is a heaven for Mr. G, it will look a lot like Portland.

On Friday might, my brother, my nephew and I were in the mood to catch some tunes. There were plenty of opportunities that involved a fairly long drive. But there was also a place nearby that had some music going on - the Tillicum Club (known locally as the "Tilly"). We drove less than five minutes to get there. It was pretty full; the crowd was skewed toward middle age. It looks like a neighborhood sports bar, but there is a small stage and a dance floor in the club. The stage was occupied by the Schwing Daddies (pictured above). The group was a very talented quartet, covering blues standards and Motown stuff. The group usually goes with two guitars, but for this gig, they had an organ player. It was nice to hear a big Hammond B3 with the Leslie speakers in such a small space. It was clear that many of the folks at the Tilly were regulars that knew the band members well. There was no cover charge - just a tip jar. I think these are guys with day jobs, doing music for the love of it.

Playing in a sports bar for no money, taking your wages in elation - that is a common fate for musicians.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Mystery Band CD - It's Done

So the Mystery Band CD project languished for the past five months. I have been busy, and trying to squeeze in the editing/mixing in the evenings was not working out well. I was slightly ill yesterday, so I did my "day job" out of the house. After puting in several hours, I called Jim Reeves (pictured above) and his studio was free. I went over in the afternoon and we worked into the night. We finished the mix and mastered the CD. Jim Reeves is an amazingly meticulous professional - I am lucky to have him working on my project. Spending time with him caused me to conclude that great sound engineers suffer from obsessive/compulsive disorder (but in a good way).

I feel very happy to have this product in the can. I spent this morning writing liner notes and credits for the CD package. I have the master and the specs for the recording; I need to design the artwork and layout for the case and find a good CD manufacturing shop. With luck, I can have it ready before Christmas.

The Mystery Band recorded these tunes back in late March. Some of the songs had topical lyrics that are already past their "freshness date." I think I will leave them on the record. This CD is a snapshot in time, sorta.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Slim Harpo Covers Johnny Cash

Slim Harpo (real name - James Moore) is a deceased harmonica player/vocalist/guitarist. Slim made this record for Excello in Nashville in late 1969, then returned home to Louisianna where he died of a massive heart attack in January 1970 at the age of 46. Slim Harpo invented the whole "swamp blues" thing and was a hero to many rockers (including Mick Jagger). His tunes ("I'm a King Bee," " Got Love if you Want It," etc.) have been covered by many. It is a hoot to hear him covering a tune by a country artist - Johnny Cash. Here is a link that will take you (eventually) to an MP3 of the record).

Monday, November 24, 2008

First Snow/Citigroup Bail-out

Those of us who live north of Chicago awoke to the first snow of the season. It was that lovely stuff that the forecasters call "wintry mix" - snow changing to sleet/rain, then changing back to snow. It is sloppy and it doesn't stick. The sweaters are out of the closet and the earmuffs are back on for those of us that trudge downtown in the early morning.

Here is my favorite quote regarding the Citigroup bailout (thus far):

In the news this morning is $20 billion of new capital to Citibank from TARP but still no money for the Big 3. I can already hear the scream out of Detroit. What’s the difference between the two? Well, to put it bluntly, giving cash to Citibank is like performing the Heimlich maneuver on a choking man while giving cash to the Big 3 is like giving mouth-to mouth to a recently dug up corpse.

John P. McNulty, Publisher, Private Equity Professional Digest

Bleah. But quite colorful.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Presidential Oratory

The nation is amazed by Barack Obama, a president that naturally speaks in complete sentences and doesn't blather. I remebered one of my favorite speeches from a president who was killed when I was a kid - JFK. And, thanks be to the Internet, I found the speech on line. Kennedy was another articulate leader who didn't blather much. Here is the link to the speech. I sometimes wonder if this speech, and Kennedy's move toward more peaceful rhetoric, may have unleashed the forces that killed him. I am not a conspiracy theorist, but I wonder nonetheless.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

On The Road........Phoenix

So I am in Phoenix AZ, home of Camelback Mountain and desert critters like the Road Runner pictured above (mmBeep beep). The weather is marvelous here - high 70's/low 80's during the day, upper sixties in the evening. Unfortunately, this is a business trip so I have been in conference rooms and offices for 12 hours each day. Once we have exhausted ourselves with work, I stumble out of the office building and go next door to the hotel. This project has hit a snag, I have a lot of time and energy invested, and it may go down the pipes. It is tough to get anything done with in this "fear and loathing" economy.

Last night, I went for a walk - there is an underpass that allows one to cross the busy 6-lane boulevard (Camelback Road) without dealing with traffic. On the other side is the Biltmore Fashion Park - a massive mall housing a Macy's, an Apple Store, a Tommy Bahamas, Williams Sonoma, Brookstone, California Pizza, Ralph Lauren and many other temples of consumption. There was a local shop called "This Little Piggy Loves Cotton," which I gather has something to do with children's clothes.

Also in the Biltmore Fashion Park - many fountains (fountains in the desert? This is disturbing). Elderly couples huddled on the benches near these fountains, engaging in heated, loud discussions (deafness may be a factor in the high volume). I finally got tired of strolling around the mall and found a joint called "Sam's Southwestern Grill." I stumbled in and ordered a Grand Canyon Margarita. Sam's was a little busy on a Tuesday night with young women drinking and complaining about their boyfriends/husbands. I drank up and fled back to the hotel.

The economy is a burning platform and we have invited Barack Obama to take it over and make it into a paradise. He is going to try things that won't work (every president makes mistakes). The liberal rhetoric on the current crisis is wrong - it isn't deregulation alone that caused our problem, it was collusion between the political class and the titans of the financial sector. It took a long time to create this mess; we will be in the shit for years to come. Obama has a very tough job.

I get to go home and see my womenfolk tomorrow. Can't wait.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Here is Scott Nev, The One-Man Band dude.

I found a picture of Scott Nev on my hard drive! Here he is with my good friend, the bass player E.G. McDaniel. Scott is on the right....

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Scott Nev - One Man Band

I don't have a photograph of Scott Nev, but I have a cartoon that represents him. Scott is a multi-tasker. He plays guitar, kick drum, hi-hat cymbals and harmonica all at the same time. And he is a great singer, too! Since it is all I can do to play harmonica, his ability to cover all these instruments concurrently astounds me. Scott has worked the blues scene in Chicago for many years, but he isn't a die-hard blues guy. He will uncork rock tunes, R&B and country if the mood strikes him. I had the opportunity to sit in with Scott during his recent gig at the Morseland in Chicago. The guy is a real whirlwind of musical activity.

Scott has a day gig and a young family. In addition to the Morseland, he sometimes plays the early acoustic set at Buddy Guy's Legends in Chicago. Scott also put together a "kiddie music" act which he performs at schools, birthday parties and the like. He claims that the kid gigs can be fun, but they also can be unmitigated misery. Ah yes - the exciting romantic life of the working musican....

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The REAL Surprise About The Presidential Election

The press and the people are all marveling that the United States has elected an African American president. Yes, that is significant. But the REAL revolution is that, for the first time in our country's history, our government will be led by a die-hard fan of the Chicago White Sox. Here is President Elect Obama throwing out the first pitch during the 2005 American League play-offs, back when he was still pretty much unknown outside of Chicago.

He is charismatic, intelligent, articulate and level-headed. AND he is a White Sox Fan. So we should be OK, people.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

RIP Mervyn's

So I heard the news that the owners of Mervyn's are throwing in the towel and liquidating the company. A massive "going out of business sale" will occur soon and extend through the holiday shopping season. The owners will get squat, and some of the lenders will get nicked, too. This causes a slight twinge of sadness for me. I shall explain.

Mervyn's was a classic post-war success story. In the summer of 1949, 29-year old Mervin G. Morris opened the first Mervyn's store in San Lorenzo CA, about 20 miles south of Oakland. I grew up in San Leandro CA, the first suburb north of San Lorenzo. My mother would drag me to Mervyn's every fall to buy my back-to-school clothes. Mervin Morris was an innovator. He was one of the first retailers to focus on young families with modest incomes; he was one of the first retailers to offer revolving credit accounts to customers; he was one of the first retailers to advertise sales in large newspaper ads. My family was right in Mervyn's target demographic and I spent many hours in that store in San Lorenzo. The company grew and opened stores all over northern California.

Mr. Morris sold his company to Dayton Hudson (aka Target) in 1978. They neglected it for 26 years, then flushed it in a sale to Cerberus in 2004. Cerberus is a vulture investor/hedge fund. They could give a hoot about the company's history or legacy. And of course, few people care about Mervyn's as a brand - Target, WalMart and the rest of the discounters repeatedly kicked Mervyn's butt.

In 1976, I graduated from college. The economy was pretty weak (sorta like it is now). I had two job offers - one was to join the management training program at Mervyn's, the other was to sell life insurance (gag me). I couldn't stand the idea of peddling budget underwear to the masses, so I went to grad school instead. In a way, Mervyn's is the reason I continued my education, ended up in Chicago, and have the life that I have had.

Thus the twinge of sadness.

RIP Mervyn's.

What's Happening at the Corner of Main & Chicago in Evanston, Illinois

In a word, nothing. The developers that got the plan approved to knock down The Main building have been unable to get enough condo pre-sales to secure construction financing for the building. With the housing industry meltdown in full swing, it is unlikely that the construction will begin any time soon. I wrote about this piece of property back in December 2007 (here is a link). So now all of us who live in the area get to see an ugly chin link fence that encloses a nasty dirt lot. It make me miss the old building even more.

The neighbors got a little press coverage at the end of September when they staged a "protest." Here is the article from the Chicago Tribune:

Guerrilla gardeners attack!

Protesters wage environmental strike on muddy vacant lot in Evanston
Barbara Mahany and freelance reporter Brian Cox
September 29, 2008

In the end, they ditched the guy-in-the-gorilla-suit concept. Same with the cloak of darkness. Instead, armed with a slingshot, souped-up lacrosse sticks, a plastic whiffle-ball thrower and six baskets brimming with 724 seed bombs—yes, seed bombs—the motley mob of guerrilla gardeners attacked in broad daylight Saturday, brazenly circling the cyclone fence that wraps a big dirt lot at Chicago Avenue and Main Street in Evanston. "Bombs away!" cried guerrilla-gardener-in-chief Carla Hayden as the sky filled with a mix of clay, compost and wildflower seeds in what looked like a storm of flying falafel balls. Along with the meadow-making armament, the botanic bombardiers unleashed their vitriol for the developer who had dug a giant hole last year, left it to ooze mud and dust and then, last week, called in bulldozers to fill it after funding for a condominium tower dried up. "We need to take it back," said Charlotte Briggs, co-conspirator of Trowels on the Prowl, the ad hoc group that organized the attack and is plotting more seed-sowing operations. "It's just an ugly hole, with an ugly fence. "You have to think: How can you make change by doing what might not be in other people's plans but you can get away with?"Attempts to reap the developer's reaction were fruitless. But none of the gardeners seemed worried about stirring the constable's wrath."If we do," said Hayden, "I'm going to handcuff myself to a wildflower."

Well, at least the lot will be covered with wildflowers next spring. Wouldn't it be nice if the developer turned it into a park while waiting for the market to turn around? It will never happen....

Thursday, October 16, 2008

I Don't Blog About Politics, But..........

I did watch that debate last night. My 16-year old daughter wanted to watch it (and had been encouraged to do so by her teachers at the high school), so I kept her company. Soon, the whole family was in the study gaping at the show. Here is my take - the answers to Bob Schieffer's questions were crappy. The United States is facing insolvency within a generation due to galloping Medicare and Social Security costs; this issue wasn't addressed by either candidate. Since there was no real substance to the debate, one is left with the visuals. Let me tell ya, McCain lost decisively on the visuals. His semi-maniacal smile remains me of the Penguin from the old Batman television series. He looked hunched, anxious and old. Obama looked slim, relaxed and in control. Turn off the sound and you would conclude that Obama had nailed the debate.

I spent some time on the telephone today (like every day). The financial panic and deepening economic downturn is grinding on people. I spoke to several Republicans. One of my Republican friends told me that he has decided not to vote in November - "I violently disagree with Obama on every issue and McCain is an idiot." Another Republican friend said "After eight years to prepare, the best my party could come up with was McCain? God, we deserve to lose." Republican voter turn-out may be below expectations this year.

The Republican base may be excited about John McCain (or Sarah Palin), but many garden-variety Republicans are not. John McCain is an admirable man, but he isn't carrying the day with Republicans, let alone independents.

Sorry, I will get back to musical topics next time.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Chicago Blues Harp Bash at Bill's Blues - Oct. 4, 2008

Joe Filisko came up with the concept - a Chicago blues harmonica confab with a superstar of the blues topping the bill and a collection of enthuisastic local harp blowers providing support. The show hit Bill's Blues Bar in Evanston IL last night - the first official Chicago Blues Harp Bash, featuring the legendary Billy Boy Arnold as the honored guest star. The enthusiastic locals included Shoji Naito (from the Eddy Clearwater Band), Morry Sochat (front man for the Special 20's), Corporate Kirk (from the Shakes), Highway RickEY and yours truly, Mr. G. Joe Filisko is one of the top harmonica players in the world, but he didn't play a note - he served as MC and impressario. Grant Kessler, also from the Shakes, sat in during Corporate Kirk's set. So we had seven different harmonica players in one night. It is not the type of show you see every night in Evanston.....

Shoji Naito is one of those disgustingly talented guys that make lesser musicians (like me) more than a little jealous. He is an excellent bass player, a fine guitarist and an extremely talented harmonica player. I think harmonica was his first instrument, and he plays it with great joy and skill. His phrasing and tone evoke emotionally-charged Chicago blues harp circa 1958. He delighted the audience with several instrumentals, covering Little Walter and Slim Harpo. Then he trotted out his surprise - he sang! Well, Shoji is a fine vocalist, too. He delivered Jimmy Rogers' "Money Marbles and Chalk" with panache, and his slightly Japanese-flavored English added to song's appeal.

Highway RickEY channelled Sonny Boy Williamson II. He also did a "crowd walk" through the club blowing through his wireless harmonica mic rig. We did not get to see HR's famous "tone cup" in action - this is a contraption that he rigged up so he could play harmonica and drums at the same time. The tone cup device holds the harmonica in a mic stand attached to a bullet mic so a drummer can use both hands to drum while playing the harp. HR's invention takes musical multi-tasking to a new level...

Morry Sochat has a 50's greaser thing going on - he looks like an extra from "West Side Story." His set had a heavy dose of West Coast Swing and old time rock & roll. He closed with a killer version of "Rocket 88." His steady gigging with the Special 20's has turned him into a confident and crowd-pleasing front man.

Corporate Kirk and Grant Kessler pulled off a wonderful "dueling harmonica" thing, with Grant on the 16-hole chromatic and Kirk on the trusty "G" diatonic. Grant's work on the chromatic was fabulous! I haven't heard him play the bigger harmonica and his tone and "low end" work was perfect. Kirk's set had high energy and high skill. His harmonica chops have progressed from good to awesome in the past year or two. Sheesh! My pal, Darryl, commented that Kirk looks like Charlie Sheen from "Two and a Half Men," and he has a point there.

Billy Boy Arnold strapped on his guitar and craded the harmonica in his hands and proved to the crowd that he is still a stone killa bluesman at the age of 73. He played his most famous original ("I Wish You Would," which has been covered by scads of artists, including David Bowie). He was fighting a cold but still laid out a 45 minute set that was meat and potatoes for a hungry crowd of blues harmonica fans.

And the crowd was huge! SRO in Bill's Blues Bar, and half of the audience consisted of harmonica players (including Chris Harper, the Swiss harmonica dude that has been hanging around Chicago for the past few years). Bob Stroger, Chicago's elder statesman of the blues bass, sat at the bar sipping a beer and smiling all night. Another stellar bass pl;ayer, Harlan Terson, was also in the house. This was a geeky crowd that cheered famous harmonica licks copped by the guys on stage.

All of these harp blowers were backed by the Billy Flynn Band (Billy on guitar, his brother Mike on bass, and the great Willie "Big Eyes" Smith on drums). Both Billy and Big Eyes are solid harmonica players, which explains how they can put up with seven harp guys on stage with them in one night.

I played a set of my Mystery Band originals and had a lot of fun. It was an honor to be included on this gig. It made me want to hit the woodshed - I really need to improve my harp chops given the strength of the players in the Chicago harmonica community.

I am sure this will become an annual event - it was a major feat to fill a club at a $15 cover charge for a blues harmonica showcase in these difficult economic times. Way to go, Filisko.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Credit Market Blues

So I am an investment banker during the day (bluesman at night). The day job has been pretty hair-raising over the past couple of weeks. This week has been particularly eventful. We opened with a 778 drop in the Dow when Congress turned down the bailout and we ended with another 158 point drop today - the worst week for the stock market in seven years. I spoke with a lender today and he said "it feels like Monday happened a year ago." Yes -- events are flying fast and furious and the space/time continuum has been disturbed. GE 's short term debt is priced to yield 10%. AIG is in the crapper. Lehman is gone, WaMu is gone, Wachovia is going.

This situation was over ten years in the making. Two core truths were forgotten: (1) Living outside of your means leads to disaster, eventually and (2) If the credit is bad, no amount of mathematic manipulation can make it good. Fulminating about greed and lax oversight is satsifying, but misses the heart of the problem. Lots of good intentions, small errors and moral failures created a firestorm. It will take a couple of years to flush this from the body of our economy. Yup, I am an optimist - just a 24 month decline and recession.

One of my fellow daytime businessmen/nightime harmonica playas just got the news that he will have more time to practice his instument - his employer laid him off. CKM is a bright young guy, an internet marketing professional, he will land on his feet eventually. There are hundreds of bankers treading the bricks; hundreds more will join them. It ain't going to be pretty.

My little firm is sailing along - the dislocation creates opportunities for small fry like us. I can't say how long we will continue to experience good fortune, though...

Thursday, August 21, 2008

So Long, Phil Guy; So Long, Little Arthur

Oh, Lord, it has been a week of losses. Phil guy died at the age of 68 after his battle with prostate cancer. He was a kind, generous musician; deserving of far more recognition than he received. As Buddy Guy's brother, he faced the challenge of overcoming a close relative's fame. Phil was always pleasant to wannabe musicians like me. This is a recent picture of Phil, from the Chicago Blues Fest last June

I knew that Little Arthur was at death's door. Her had a seizure from a brain tumor in April and hasn't left the hospital since then. He was totally authentic and I had the honor of hanging out with him once in a while. The picture above is from the 2004 Chicago Blues Fest, backstage after Little Arthur's set and before my band's set. A very sweet guy...Here is what Bob Corritore had to say about him in his blues newsletter.

RIP Little Arthur Duncan 2/5/1934-8/20/2008: It is with great sadness that we report yet another passing in this terrible week of losses to our blues community. Chicago harmonica ace Little Arthur Duncan passed away Wednesday morning, August 20, 2008 at Kindred Hospital in Northlake, IL. He was 74. He had been incapacitated for months with little hope of recovery. Born February 5, 1934 in Indianola, Mississippi, Arthur moved to Chicago at age 16, where he heard and befriended Little Walter, who inspired him to take up the harmonica. While holding down a construction day job, he began performing around Chicago with John Brim, Floyd Jones, and Hip Lankchan. He would later own and operate the Artesia Lounge on Lake Street, which moved to West Madison Street and reopened as Backscratcher's Social Club. Owning a club gave Arthur a regular place to perform, and he became a popular neighborhood attraction on the West Side. Twist Turner produced some of Arthur's first recordings, which appeared first on cassette and then on Cannonball Records' Blues Across America series. As Arthur's stature grew in Chicago, he recorded more, cutting two beautiful CDs for Delmark (Singin' With The Sun and Live At Rosa's Blues Lounge), and one forRandom Chance (Live In Chicago). He was a simply great vocalist, with tremendous power and expressiveness; and his sparse harmonica was always on the money. He specialized in third position and chromatic harmonica. His final band included Illinois Slim, Rick Kreher,and Twist Turner. He had a warm and gracious personality, and his passing leaves a huge hole in the Chicago blues scene, as he was one of a handful of the dwindling old school harmonica masters. We will miss you, Arthur.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Two Great Guitarists Cross Over - Too Soon

Obsessive obituary readers (like me) often notice that some deaths seem connected. Of course, this isn't true - unless your talking about folks who die with a bunch of people in an auto wreck or something. But the news today was quite eerie - Hiram Bullock and Joe Beck both died in the past week.

Hiram Bullock was an amazing player and a flamboyant individual. He was a very adaptable musician, but his music came from the pop/rock/funk side. He was best known for playing in the original band for "Late Night with David Letterman" (On Monday night, Letterman did a special tribute to Hiram). It is a shame that he is gone -- Hiram was only 52. Here is a link to his obituary in the New York Times.

Last week, Joe Beck died. He was almost 63 years old - still young . Like Hiram, Joe could play with everyone, but his music came from the jazz side. He collaborated with a wide range of artists - from Miles Davis to Frank Sinatra to James Brown. Here is a link to Joe's obituary from his hometown newspaper.

Hiram and Joe both played with David Sanborn (the great jazz fusion alto saxophonist). They also both collaborated with Gil Evans, the great jazz composer and arranger. These two fanatastic guitarists moved in the same circles, and left the scene together.

Yeah, its a coincidence, but still eerie.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Dragonfly Swarm

When the weather is decent, I take my exercise early in the morning, riding my Cannondale bike along the Evanston lakefront. The bike path winds north along the eastern edge of the Northwestern University campus. Many years ago, NU created a greenspace by filling in a bit of Lake Michigan and creating a small penninsula. Since this "lakefill" juts out into the water, its environment differs from the "natural" lake front. There are lots of gnats and midges, seagulls and mosquitoes. As I was riding one recent morning, I looked around and realized that I was in the middle of a dragonfly swarm! It was eerie - the morning sun sparkled on their wings and you could hear them humming. I didn't realize the these bugs swarmed; here is a chunk of info I found when I sniffed around the web:

Several species of dragonfly are known to collect in large swarms. In most cases this appears to be due to very favorable feeding conditions in the area. It may also be a "courting" group with males actively searching for females. This is less likely as males are much more aggressive to each other when looking for a mate.

Some dragonflies gather in swarms before moving to a new area (like a bird migration). The reasons for this are unclear but may be due to population pressures. There are records from the US of migratory swarms.

For some reason, being in a dragonfly swarm was uplifting.........

Monday, July 28, 2008

A Weekend of Gigs

As I rode my bicycle at dawn along Lake Michigan this morning, I was reflecting on the fine musical weekend that just passed. The Mystery Band was a pure blues unit on Friday and was a jazz/blues hybrid on Saturday. We had two musicians that played their first gig with the group over the weekend, and they handled the challenge well.

On Friday, I had the honor of playing with the great Felix Reyes, also known as "Uncle Fe." This was his first gig with the Mystery Band. Felix hails from Dallas and now lives in Chicago, but he spent quite a bit of time in Atlanta. His first band, in Texas, was called the "Weebads" (fabulous name!!). In Atlanta, his band, Felix and the Cats was a very important pillar of the Atlanta blues community. The Cats played B.B. Kings birthday party in the mid-90's and also played at the Atlanta Olympics. Mr. Reyes was also instrumental in the development of several young blues players, most notably the young guitar phenom, Sean Costello who recently died before reaching his 29th birthday. Felix and Sean are pictured together at the top of this post. Felix moved to Chicago several years ago and he is a fantastic guitarist, songwriter and vocalist (he wrote tunes for Susan Tedeschi and currently does music production work for the Oprah Winfrey Show and independent films). This cat is very heavy, and he just killed on Friday. The other members of the Mystery Band on Friday were all top Chicago blues veterans - Harlan Terson on bass, Tom Crivellone on guitar, and Aaron Almon on drums. These aren't my regular bandsmen, but the group sounded tight and we were having lots of fun.

The Friday night gig at Bill's Blues started slow, but turned into a frenetic dance party when a large group of folks came in at around 10:30 p.m. They had just left a wedding reception and were is a party mood (many had consumed a number of adult beverages prior to their arrival at Bill's). We had women down on the ground kicking up their legs and flashing their scanties to various interested observers. It was a very fine night for the Mystery Band.

On Saturday, a different Mystery Band assembled at Duke's Bar in Chicago's Rogers Park neighborhood. Duke's is a classic Chicago tavern with a small side room that contains a tiny stage and P.A. system. The Mystery Band plays there regularly (for the giggles, not the money). On Saturday, the Mystery Band consisted of Mike Finnerty and the Heat Merchants, with Mr. G up front on harmonica and vocals. Mike Finnerty is one of the tenor sax giants of Chicago; his band consists of Andy Meacham on guitar, Adam Kraus on upright bass and "Street Beat Pete" Castranova on drums (this was Pete's first gig with the Mystery Band). The Heat Merchants are not completely familiar with the various blues grooves typically explored by the Mystery Band, but the typical Mystery Band is not generally familiar with the changes to "Body & Soul." It was an interesting gig. We played blues, jazz and country tunes. We had some great moments and some not-so-great moments. Duke's Bar lets patrons bring their dogs into the joint, so we had two canines wandering around as we played.

These Mystery Band shows are always great evenings, full of stories and odd moments. They are times to be treasured.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Blues Life

Here is a beautiful picture of Howlin' Wolf with Jody Williams, Hubert Sumlin and Earl Phillips. This was one of the finest blues groups ever, no doubt. I always found Jody Williams' life story to be very interesting - he was in the blues life, and he bailed out. After getting "sampled" (but not paid) by various artists, and after getting snookered out of some songwriting credits by his old bandmate, Bo Diddley, Mr. Williams turned his back on music. He stuck his Gibson guitar under his bed and went off to study electronics. Jody did radio and television repair work, and later got a gig as a technical engineer for Xerox. He was with the copier company for 25 years until he retired. It was after he retired that he eventually decided to start playing again - he emerged in 2000. Jody probably did a good thing for his physical and mental health by leaving the blues life. Let me tell you another story.....

I have had the pleasure of playing with many fine blues people over the past 4+ years since I kicked off the Mystery Band. One of the men I have come to know is an especially talented musician. He has it all - technique, a huge musical vocabulary (blues, R&B, funk, jazz, country) and he still loves to play after over 4 decades of mileage. My friend is a deep well of musical wisdom and creativity. He also is struggling with health problems, relationship problems and acute money problems. This man is in a rough situation. He is neck-deep in the blues.

So check out this chain of events: (1) My friend's car develops problems; it is stalling unpredictably and he is nervous about driving to gigs. (2) The mechanic that looks at his car tells him "you need at least $800 worth of work." Lacking the bread, my friend reclaims his car. (3) An argument with his intoxicated significant other leads to a scene and she busts the windshield of the car. Now it can't be driven at all. (4) Unable to drive to gigs, my friend's cashflow declines - not much dough available to repair the car. (5) After tapping friends for a loan, my friend gets his car partially repaired. (6) My friend parks the car in his usual spot in a lot in his very tough Chicago neighborhood. The car gets towed. (7) After paying a large fine to re-claim the car, my friend parks it on the street in his neighborhood. Within three hours of parking it, the car is stolen. He is forced to cancel his gigs for the coming weekend.

This is the type of negative loop that will bring a strong man to his knees. Sympathetic friends can help somewhat, but that source is finite. The blues life is a total bitch.

Light a candle for all the working musicians out there. As Eddy Clearwater likes to say, it is a hard way to make an easy living.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Good-Bye George Carlin

I always loved this guy, since I was a high school kid. Here are some of his quotes, which I found on-line today:

"The weather forecast for tonight: dark. Continued dark overnight, with widely scattered light by morning. ... What we have here is a Canadian low, which is not to be confused with a Mexican high."

"If crime fighters fight crime, and fire fighters fight fire, what do freedom fighters fight? "

"If lawyers are disbarred and clergymen defrocked, doesn't it follow that electricians can be delighted, musicians denoted?"

"I'm completely in favor of the separation of Church and State. My idea is that these two institutions screw us up enough on their own, so both of them together is certain death."

"If the No. 2 pencil is the most popular, why is it still No. 2?"

"One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor."

"If a parsley farmer is sued, can they garnish his wages?""If the 'black box' flight recorder is never damaged during a plane crash, why isn't the whole airplane made out of that stuff?"

"Whose cruel idea was it for the word 'lisp' to have an 'S' in it?""Why is there an expiration date on sour cream?"

"If one synchronized swimmer drowns, do the rest drown, too?"

"One nice thing about egotists: They don't talk about other people."

"If the police arrest a mime, do they tell him he has the right to remain silent?"

"What if there were no hypothetical questions?"

"Atheism is a non-prophet organization."

" 'I am' is reportedly the shortest sentence in the English language. Could it be that 'I do' is the longest sentence?"

"The word bipartisan usually means some larger-than-usual deception is being carried out."

"Dusting is a good example of the futility of trying to put things right. As soon as you dust, the fact of your next dusting has already been established."

"Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?"

"I was thinking about how people seem to read the Bible a whole lot more as they get older; then it dawned on me — they're cramming for their final exam."

"If it's true that our species is alone in the universe, then I'd have to say the universe aimed rather low and settled for very little."

"Most people work just hard enough not to get fired and get paid just enough money not to quit."

"Some people see things that are and ask, Why? Some people dream of things that never were and ask, Why not? Some people have to go to work and don't have time for all that."

"When you're born you get a ticket to the freak show. When you're born in America, you get a front row seat."

And here is my all-time favorite:

"The most unfair thing about life is the way it ends. I mean, life is tough. It takes up a lot of your time. What do you get at the end of it? A Death! What's that, a bonus? I think the life cycle is all backward. You should die first, get it out of the way. Then you live in an old-age home. You get kicked out when you're too young, you get a gold watch, you go to work. You work 40 years until you're young enough to enjoy your retirement. You do drugs, alcohol; you party; you get ready for high school. You go to grade school; you become a kid; you play; you have no responsibilities. You become a little baby; you go back into the womb; you spend your last nine months floating ... and you finish off as an orgasm."

Thank you, George.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Blues Day Festival - July 12. Congress Theater

I received this message from Tyler Wilton. It sounds like he and Fernando Jones have organized a terrific event that will benefit a good cause. It is coming up on July 12. Fernando Jones is a terrific talent - one of the new generation of bluesmen (it isn't a large group, sad to say). Fernando is also a respected blues educator, received a "Keeping the Blues Alive" award from the Blues Foundation for his teaching activities. The artists booked at Tyler and Fernando's festival are top-knotch. Fruteland Jackson is a friend of mine and is keeping the acoustic blues tradition alive - he always puts on a great show. Two of Chicago's finest female blues singers will perform - Nellie "Tiger" Travis and Jackie Scott. Jose Cornier plays some smokin' guitar with a Latin groove. Coco Elysses is a fine jazz vocalist and percussionist who frequently appears at Fred Anderson's Velvet Lounge. And Lonnie Brooks is a GIANT! It will be a great day and evening of music.

Here is Tyler's message:

I wanted to let you know about a one-day blues festival my friend and I are putting on at the Congress Theater (Blues Day Festival). It is on July 12th and it is for a good cause. It is an event for the whole family and part of the proceeds will be donated to Blues Kids of America and the Koko Taylor Foundation. Doors open at 9:00am where a blues clinic for kids will begin. Kids will learn how to play the blues on various instruments. The music starts at roughly 3:45pm with the Columbia College Blues Ensemble. There will be 9 other acts throughout the evening and Lonnie Brooks will be the headline act ending at 11:00pm.

Tyler Wilton

Monday, June 09, 2008

A True Story of Blues Competition

I heard this story from a musician friend of mine. I am not including anyone's name because that wouldn't add anything to the tale, and besides - this is an unverified story. But it rings true to anyone that has worked the hyper-competitive blues scene in Chicago...

There is a fine young guitarist in Chicago - let's call him "Young Buck." Young Buck has been playing since he was a teenager, and has been a sideman for many of the blues greats, both in Chicago and in touring bands. Young Buck can truly play and he sings pretty well. He is ambitious, and has his own band - let's call them "the Buckaroos."

Now Young Buck was supporting a great, elder statesman of the blues - we will call him "Old Vet." Old Vet had been on the scene for decades and never quite achieved break-out, star status. He was heading in that direction though. He started playing some of the better rooms in Chicago (including Buddy Guy's Legends) and he got some dates in Europe. Things were looking up for Old Vet.

So Old Vet got 2-week tour in Europe, but he was going to be backed by local European musicians - he had to leave Young Buck and the rest of the band back in Chicago. Young Buck noticed that Old Vet seemed to have a double booking - he was scheduled to play in Germany on a Saturday night when he was also scheduled to play at Legends. Young Buck saw an opening.....

Buck called the booking manager at the club. "Hey, Vet is going to miss his date - he will still be in Europe." "That's strange," said the booking manager. "Vet told me he would be back in time." "Well," said Buck," I double checked the schedule and he is double booked. But don't worry, I'll take the gig with my band, the Buckaroos." The booking manager agreed to this since he had a hole in his schedule.

Buck then got on the telephone and called the other sidemen in Vet's band. "Hey, Vet's double booked and I am taking the gig at Legends. My band is going to play it. Sorry - your services won't be required." This did not please the other guys in Vet's band. No, sir.

So my friend (who was a member of Vet's band) placed an international call to Vet. "Old Vet, do you know you are double booked - in Germany and at Legends, same night?" "No I am not - that is an old schedule. I cut the tour short so I would be back in time to make the gig," said old Vet. "Hmmm," said my friend. "Buck called the club and told them you wouldn't be there and he has taken the date for the Buckaroos." "The FUCK you say," said Old Vet with a chuckle. "Well, tell the guys to get to Legends early with a substitute guitar player. We will give Buck a little schoolin'."

And so Vet and the band were on stage, ready to go, when Young Buck and the Buckaroos rolled into Legends for the gig. Buck was caught, deer in the headlights. Vet said, "I been all over this town playin' for 45 years and nobody, NOBODY, steals my gigs, Buck. Oh, and you're fired. Please leave the club quietly and quickly." Young Buck stammered a bit, then left. The Buckaroos all quit his band that night.

This is a small piece of the drama that happens in Chicago's blues community. In truth, there are too many musicians chasing too few gigs. This can cause bad behavior....

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Review of Chicago Blues Festival - Walkin' Around, June 7

I was busy this week, so I missed the Thursday and Friday performances at the 25th Chicago Blues Festival. I did make it there on Saturday, and walked about, checking out a few acts. The rain fell at about 4:45, so I left (I had a gig Saturday night and had to leave anyway). It rained again on Sunday, so I wussed out and stayed home. Shame on me. I caught some interesting stuff on Saturday, though.
The Juke Joint Duo - Cedric Burnside and Lightnin' Malcolm: Malcolm and Cedric are pictured at the top of this post. These guys ripped up the fest on the Mississippi Juke Joint Stage. They are, indeed, from Mississippi, and Cedric is the grandson of the great R.L. Burnside. These are young cats, doing that awesome drone-style North Mississippi blues made popular by the Fat Possum Records crew. Their "special sauce" was unison vocals - an eerie, keening sound that really worked well with the beats laid down by Cedric and the riffs pounded out by Malcolm. They had some intense energy, very much a hip-hop vibe. Thumbs up for these two!

Steve Arvey - Mr. Arvey is my friend and he is a fantastic guitarist. He was playing an acoustic set at the Maxwell Street Corner stage. Steve has left Chicago now; he spends most of his time in Florida where he says there is quite a bit of work for blues musicians. His set at Blues Fest was relaxed and quite interesting; I got the feeling that he had not played frequently with this group of back-up musicians. The set had a bit of a jam session feel to it (not that there is anything wrong with that). An interesting participant in the set was a blues harmonica player from Spain, Quique Gómez. Quique is a nice young man who has solid Chicago blues harp chops. The name of his band in Madrid is "Juan Bourbon, Juan Scotch, Juan Beer" HA! I love it.

Bumblebee Bob: Bumblebee Bob Novak is one of the Chicago blues guys that never got the attention he deserved. His music was stripped down, raw Chicago blues in the tradition of Hound Dog Taylor. A fine harmonica player, guitarist and vocalist, he is known for his work with the Chicago Slim Blues Band and his own group, Bumblebee Bob and the Stingers. Bob also played with pianists Sunnyland Slim and Erwin Helfer. He was the son of Russian immigrants and fell in love with the blues on Maxwell Street; he got into it before the "white college kid crowd" (Butterfield, Bloomfield, et al). Bob is also a fabulous painter (grad of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 1958) and has had many one-man shows at high-end galleries. - he also designed the Chicago Blues Fest posters for many years. I was really looking forward to seeing Bob, but it was not to be - he fell ill before the fest and was in intensive care, not doing very well. His band carried on, and my friend Tom Albanese played harp and sang a few tunes in Bob's absence. It was very entertaining, but sad. Bumblebee Bob is 75 years old now....looks like he is reaching the end of his road. Tough year for harp players - Little Arthur Duncan is struggling after brain surgery, now Bob is struggling, too. Say a prayer, people.

I saw some other acts, notably part of Otis Taylor's "Recapturing the Banjo" set. But these three acts took up most of my short visit.

It is always great to hit the Chicago Blues Festival - the fans are really into the music and there is great respect for the musicians. Too bad the folks in Chicago don't always give these great blues players the props they deserve during the rest of the year...

Monday, June 02, 2008

Bo Diddley - Another Giant Leaves Us

The news hit a couple of hours ago - Bo Diddley (aka Ellis McDaniel, aka Ellas Bates) has passed at the age of 79. I have been a huge fan of this gentleman - first tripped out on him about 36 years ago. His impact on contemporary music was massive. Some of his hits will live forever in the world of American pop music -- "I'm a Man," "Who do You Love?","You Can't Judge a Book by Looking at the Cover" and "I Can Tell." I have swiped a few of his licks and his fabulous "Bo Diddley" rhythm for one of the songs I wrote. The bass player in my band, E.G. McDaniel, is Bo's cousin. This caused me to feel connected to Bo Diddley (yeah, I know that is a stretch...). Bo had the cool square guitar, the freaky tremolo tone, the aggressive vocals...and I always loved the maracas in his tunes - awesome touch. Jerome Green shook the maracas for Bo (there is another unsung hero of blues and rock - Jerome Green). Bo was not a guy doing the Same Old Blues Shit.

I knew Bo was sick - heard about the stroke he had in Iowa. I had heard that his rehab was going well, but I guess his heart just gave out. He had diabetes for many years.

Bo was a giant; hugely inventive. His sound was instantly recognizable and broke new ground. Countless rock and blues artists covered him or imitated him. And he didn't make anywhere near the money that he deserved...

Thursday, May 29, 2008


My daughter was released from the hospital today - the antibiotics finally did their work and she is definitely on the mend now. Whew! My thanks to those of you who expressed your concern via comments, emails and telephone calls.

Now I can get back to work.....

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Knocked Sideways

My sweet 12-year old daughter has been in the hospital since last Saturday. She was suffering with a kidney infection - fever, back pain, nausea, etc. Since she couldn't keep antibiotic meds in her stomach, we were forced to check her in. After a day in the hospital, she developed pneumonia, so she is fighting two serious infections. My baby has been on IV antibiotics and hydration fluids since 6:00 AM Saturday morning; she finally improved enough to be disconnected from the IV this afternoon. So I have been in the hospital room, along with my wife and 16-year old daughter, since Saturday. We have been knocked sideways, ass over tea kettle. Attending to my daughter is the top priority and takes all of the available time.

All my major projects at work are on hold. The Mystery Band CD is on hold - I cancelled my studio sessions so I could be available in the hospital. My wife has not left my girl's hospital room, so I am looking after my elder daughter ( who isn't the most independent teenager in the world). I am beat and still worried.

Sorry, no music content today. Family trumps music.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Squeeze

Here in the Chicago area, gas prices are very high - between $3.99 and $4.19/gallon. Of course, the pump price seems to bump up a few cents almost every day as oil trades ever higher due to intense worldwide demand, tight supplies, a weak U.S. dollar and rampant speculation. If these prices hold or continue to increase, the level of waste and inefficiency in the U.S. economy will decrease over the long haul - people are already cutting back on unecessary travel, using mass transit more often and buying smaller, higher MPG cars. So in the long run, this spike in prices will lead to innovation and a reduction in our dependence on fossil fuels. But in the short run, there is pain. For example, one of the trips people don't seem to be making is the drive to local blues clubs in the Chicago area.

The Mystery Band played at the famous Harlem Avenue Lounge in Berwyn last Saturday. We had a great band, and we even had decent promotion for a change - the Chicago Sun Times wrote a positive blurb on the show in the weekend section last Friday. Despite this effort, the show was sparsely attended. OK - it was raining - but I think gas prices are having a negative impact on nightlife. Most blues fans are members of the middle class, and they are now flinching over the cost of a night out - gas is the biggest issue, along with higher prices for food, drinks and almost everything - and they opt to stay in with a DVD and a meal from Pizza Hut.

I felt bad that we didn't draw - our last show at the Harlem was pretty full - and it hurts in the pocketbook for both the band and the club owner.

But hey - the Mystery Band rocked out anyway. It doesn't matter if we have 10 people or 10,000 people - we are going to burn as hot as we can.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

A Story To Feel Good About...

The gentleman pictured above is Phillipe Quint, a rising young classical violin star. He left the Soviet Union in 1991 and is now a U.S. citizen (Yay!). The dashing Mr. Quint had a brain cramp on April 21 and left his $4 Million Stradivarius violin in a taxicab that took him from the Newark Airport to his crib in Manhattan. D'oh!! The driver, Mr. Mohammed Khalil, got the instrument back to Mr. Quint. The violoinist was quite pleased, so he threw a free concert for the guys at the cab stand at the Newark Airport. Here is the article on the event from today's New York Times...

May 7, 2008
Cabdriver Thanked for Returning a Stradivarius

NEWARK — The violinist stood on a makeshift stage between two lampposts crowned with a patina of bird droppings, under a weathered vinyl canopy hastily erected outside Newark Liberty International Airport in the taxicab holding area. The audience watched him in awe, about 50 drivers in three rows, their yellow cabs a few feet behind, some lined up neatly, others askew.

As Philippe Quint spent half an hour playing five selections, the cabbies clapped and whistled. They danced in the aisles, hips gyrating like tipsy belly dancers. “Magic fingers, magic fingers,” one called out. Another grabbed the hand of Mr. Quint’s publicist and did what looked like a merengue across the front of the “stage.”

Afterward, the virtuoso was mobbed by drivers seeking his autograph on dollar bills, napkins and cab receipts.

“It was so pleasing to see people dancing — that never happens,” said Mr. Quint, 34, a Grammy-nominated classical violinist. “These people, they work so hard, I doubt they get a chance to get out to Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center.”

So Mr. Quint took Carnegie Hall to them, in a miniconcert that was his way of expressing a simple sentiment: Thank you.

On April 21, Mr. Quint accidentally left a Stradivarius violin, valued at $4 million, in the back seat of a cab that he took from the airport to Manhattan on his return from a performance in Dallas. After several frantic hours, the Newark police told him the violin had been found and was at the airport taxi stand with the cabdriver who had taken him home. The two connected, and the violin was returned.

“Anybody out here would have done the same thing,” said the driver, Mohammed Khalil, waving a hand at his laughing, dancing colleagues.

The city of Newark awarded Mr. Khalil, who has driven a taxi here since 1985, a Medallion, its highest honor. Mr. Quint gave him a $100 tip when the violin was returned, but he wanted to do more, so he arranged for Tuesday’s concert in a parking-lot-turned-theater.

Clad in black, with his dark hair falling over his closed eyes, Mr. Quint dazzled the crowd with a theme from the movie “The Red Violin”; Gershwin’s “It Ain’t Necessarily So”; a Paganini Variation; and the Meditation from Massenet’s opera “Thaïs.” Joined by his friend Michael Bacon, a guitarist (and the brother of the actor Kevin Bacon), Mr. Quint played a piece they had composed, “Seduction Blues.”

On the horizon, there was the blocky spire that was the air traffic control tower. Every now and then a seagull would alight on one of the trailers where the cabbies play dominoes during their wait for fares. Occasionally, a silhouetted plane would glide by overhead, providing a rumbling accompaniment to the music.

But despite the setting — or maybe because of it — Mr. Quint’s audience seemed particularly moved by his gesture.

“I like that he came here,” Ebenezer Sarpeh, 46, said, in the accent of his native Ghana. “And, yeah, the music, I like it.”

It was Mr. Sarpeh who burst into spontaneous applause on several occasions and started yelling “magic fingers” during one particularly deft moment. Later, he took a turn in front of the stage and his fellow cabdrivers laughed and cheered while he shimmied and moonwalked, the Newark Taxi Cab Association’s answer to Justin Timberlake.

Like many of the cabdrivers in attendance, Mr. Sarpeh said it was the first recital by a classical violinist that he had ever attended. A few confessed that they had little more than a passing familiarity with such music. But they were proud to surround Mr. Khalil, who sat front row center in a black suit with a pink shirt and matching tie.

“If one cabby does something good, we feel like we all do something good,” said Patrick Cosmeus, 43, who has been driving for a decade and seemed a little sheepish as he admitted that he had seldom found anything more valuable than a forgotten cellphone in his taxi. “But everything we find, we always return it,” he added.

“Everything we find is valuable to someone,” Mr. Khalil pointed out. “If you lost your pen, you would think it was valuable.”

The violin that Mr. Quint left behind, which had been lent by two benefactors, was still being inspected for any problems from its journey, so he played the Tuesday program on a Guarneri.
Afterward, Mr. Quint posed for photographs with Mr. Khalil, whom he has also invited to a September concert at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall. As he signed autographs, he retold the story of his lost violin and its triumphant return.

“He saw how distressed I was,” Mr. Quint said of Mr. Khalil. “He just gave it back to me and he noticed I was in no condition to go home by myself. So he said, ‘Why don’t I give you a ride home?’ I said, ‘No, no, it’s OK, I’ll take a bus, I’ll take another taxi. He said, ‘No, I’m happy to give you a ride back, because you’re my last customer.’”

As he had planned for months, Mr. Khalil retired from driving a cab the day he took Mr. Quint home.

Don't you feel a little better about the world after reading this story?