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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Quote of the Day

This is from the Great David Byrne of "Talking Heads" fame (but he has many other claims to fame)....

"I'm loathe to advocate something because it's good for you or because it's morally or politically correct. I'd rather advocate something on the basis that it's fun and feels good."

I am with you, brother.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A Musical Winter Weekend in the Chicago 'Burbs

It was wicked cold last Friday night, January 25. Mr. G and the Mystery Band was booked at Bill's Blues in Evanston. We didn't think anyone would show up due to the bone-cracking chill and the blowing snow, but a reasonable number of hardy souls came out, God bless 'em. The Mystery Band did its best to throw some heat to the crowd. We covered as many bases as we could - shuffle blues, slow blues, funk, rhumbas -- even reggae. With the great OSee Anderson and Anthony Palmer on guitars, E.G. McDaniel on bass, and Cool James Carter on drums, I was fronting one of the best bands in Chicago. We had some transcendent moments. I am very lucky to have an opportunity to play with these guys.

On Saturday night, I drove the old Subaru out to Carol Stream, an hour away from my house, to hear the Harry Garner Band. Harry is an old friend and fellow harmonica geek/vocalist. He is an impressive sight on the bandstand, with his fedora and biker tattoos. Harry has charisma and an effective, gruff voice that nails every song. Harry's band included one of Chicago's top father/son blues teams, Mark and JR Wydra. Mark (the dad) is a veteran player who supported Eddy "the Chief" Clearwater for many years. His son, JR, is a young guitar slinger who brings energy and indie-rock sensibility to the blues. Mark was playing bass on this gig; the second guitarist was one of Mark's students. (I missed his name, but the guy could play!). Harry's band was playing a joint called "Manhattan's," a suburban bar & grill that was full of mostly middle-aged, middle-class Midwesterners. As Harry said to me, "Ya gotta read the crowd." He had them pegged, and added some covers of the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Elvis to the blues mix. It was effective, and the dance floor was crowded with inebriated baby boomers. Some of these folks could dance. Most of them had no clue and no sense of rhythm. But, what the hell, they were having fun.

One last comment - Harry has lived the life of a bluesman, even though he is from Philadelphia, not Helena, Arkansas. He has overcome some challenges, and he is an admirable person.

On Sunday, E.G. McDaniel took me over to Reeves Audio to meet Jim Reeves. Jim is one of those unsung heroes of the music industry - a top-knotch recording engineer. He is also a fine musician ( a multi-instrumentalist) and singer. Jim has been recording, mixing and producing records for well over 40 years. He was the bullmoose engineer on hit records by Edgar Winter, Johnny Winter, ZZ Top, Gregg Allman, The Manhattan Transfer and many, many others. He set up his recording studio in Evanston IL about fifteen years ago and it is a thing of beauty. Large, incredibly well-organized and tricked out with enormous amounts of equipment, this place had me salivating. I have decided that the Mystery Band will record its first CD in this studio. Jim Reeves is a grizzled New Yorker with a big heart for musicians. I think it has been a tough slog to sell the services of a fancy recording studio in this digital age - seems like everybody has a mini-studio in their basement now.

The temperatures became a little less brutal Sunday night, so I hung out at the Stained Glass in Evanston. No music there, but my eldest daughter manages the bar. The Stained Glass is a fine dining establishment with a deep wine list. I had a nice glass of bordeaux. It was a perfect way to finish a great winter weekend in Chicago.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Francis Clay, Blues Drummer - RIP

We lost one of the great ones. Francis Clay was THE blues drummer, second to none. Blues drumming is an underestimated art, requiring a very sophisticated and subtle sense of the beat. Here is a note from Bob Corritore's newsletter:

FRANCIS CLAY - NOVEMBER 16, 1923 - JANUARY 23, 2008: Another legendary Chicago blues master has left us. J.D. and Laura Diamond report the passing last night of drummer Francis Clay Born in Rock Island, IL, on November 16, 1923, Clay quickly found a love of music. He first picked up the guitar at age 5 and soon switched to drums. By age 14, he was playing professionally and found leanings towards jazz. He had an entrepreneurial spirit and dabbled in music lessons, a booking agency and a recording studio. He worked with George "Harmonica" Smith in the late 1940's, toured with jazz organ great Brother Jack McDuff in the early 1950's and landed a 4 year stint with the acclaimed Muddy Waters band in 1957. It was his time in Muddy's band that he is most famous for and great records such as "Got My Mojo Workin' ", "She's 19 Years Old" and "Walkin' Thru The Park " would not have been the same with out his brisk, interactive beat. In 1962, he left Muddy to form a band with James Cotton and then worked with Otis Rush and Buddy Guy before rejoining Muddy's band in 1965 for a two-year run. He would go on to work and record with Lightnin' Hopkins , John Lee Hooker, Jimmy Reed , Otis Spann , Shakey Jake , Victoria Spivey , Sunnyland Slim, Big Mama Thornton , and many others. Some classic albums on which Francis Clay performed are Muddy Water "Live At Newport", Muddy Waters "Sings Big Bill Broonzy ", Otis Spann "The Blues Is Where It's At", James Cotton "Pure Cotton" and John Lee Hooker"Live At Cafe Au-Go-Go ". He would retire from drums due to knee problems and crippling arthritis and settle in San Francisco, California where he was an honored elder statesman of the blues in his community. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Francis was a frequent guest of honor at Randy Chortkoff''s annual Little Walter Festival in Los Angeles, and was presented with the festival's "Hall Of Fame Award". His last recording, released in 2004, was a guest appearance on Johnny Dyer 's "Rolling Fork Revisited" (produced by Mark Hummel, where he plays a cut backing Johnny with fellow Muddy alumnus Paul Oscher . He was a kind and gracious man who was proud of great history in blues music. We will miss him greatly.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Pete Candoli and Bob Enos Join Gabriel - RIP

Sometimes I think that the Reaper uses the buddy system - he takes folks two-by-two so they have a partner as they cross over to the other side. Two great trumpeters passed away this week - Pete Candoli, the screech specialist who played lead with so many great big bands, and Bob Enos, the long-time horn man in the band, "Roomful of Blues." I have clipped their obits from their hometown papers. Here they are:

Pete Candoli, 84: jazz trumpeter
Known for his high-register work, the musician played with such big names as Dorsey, Herman, Kenton and Beneke.
By Jon Thurber
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
January 16, 2008

Pete Candoli, one of the top high-note lead trumpeters in jazz who performed with some of the leading figures of the big-band era, has died. He was 84.Candoli, whose brother Conte was also an acclaimed trumpeter, died Friday of prostate cancer at his home in Studio City, according to Sheryl Deauville, his life partner of 22 years.From a childhood in Mishawaka, Ind., Candoli forged a six-decade career and was featured in bands led by Tommy Dorsey, Woody Herman, Stan Kenton, Tex Beneke and Les Brown.While with Herman's First Herd during World War II, Candoli became known for his high-register work and even wore a Superman costume while performing the specialty number "Superman With a Horn."He moved to the West Coast in the early 1950s and established himself as an excellent studio musician. He can be heard on two of Henry Mancini's "Peter Gunn" albums and was sometimes seen playing in the background on the television show.According to his website, Pete Candoli also arranged and conducted for Judy Garland, Ella Fitzgerald and Peggy Lee. Frank Sinatra would often fly him to Las Vegas for gigs.When they weren't working in the studio or with "The Tonight Show" band for Johnny Carson, the Candoli brothers were a popular attraction at Southern California clubs, concert halls and festivals, often leading their own band.A gifted showman, Pete Candoli perfected an impression of Louis Armstrong that became near-legendary. "The first time I did my version of Louis was when I was touring in Japan with Benny Carter and a bunch of all-stars," Candoli told jazz writer Don Heckman some years ago."At that time the biggest thing in Japan other than the national anthem was [Armstrong's recording of] 'When You're Smiling.' So when somebody found out I could sing like Louis -- that was it, I had to do it at every concert."Candoli was born June 28, 1923. He and his brother, who was four years younger, were encouraged to take up music by their factory-worker father, who wanted a better life for his sons. Their father performed in an Italian marching band in Mishawaka, which is adjacent to South Bend, and the boys grew up in a house full of instruments, including the trombone and saxophone.A prodigy, Pete was mostly self-taught on the trumpet. He got his union card before he was a teenager and was playing gigs, including Polish weddings, around his hometown, Deauville said.He began playing with Sonny Dunham's orchestra in 1941 and went on to work with a long string of other name bands, including Herman's First Herd. While with that group, he recommended his brother Conte for a job, and Herman ended up hiring him.In the 1970s, Candoli established a nightclub act with his wife, singer Edie Adams. He sang, danced, played trumpet and directed the orchestra.His marriage to Adams and an earlier marriage to singer-actress Betty Hutton ended in divorce. Conte died in 2001 at the age of 74.In addition to Deauville, Candoli is survived by daughters Tara Clair and Carolyn, two grandchildren and a sister, Gloria Henke of Mishawaka.

Roomful of Blues trumpeter dies in hotel, heart failure suspected
January 15, 2008

DOUGLAS, Ga. --Bob Enos, who played trumpet in the band Roomful of Blues for 26 years, died at a Georgia hotel while touring with the band. He was 60. Douglas Police Chief Clifford Thomas said Enos appeared to have died in his sleep from natural causes Friday morning, hours after playing a concert at the Douglas Country Club. "Whether it was a heart attack or a stroke, I'm not sure," Thomas said Tuesday. "There was no sign of foul play."
Enos' last album with Roomful of Blues, titled "Raisin' a Ruckus," was released Tuesday on Alligator Records.
Enos joined Roomful of Blues in 1981, adding the powerful soloing voice of his trumpet to the eight-piece ensemble's punchy horn section and stylistic mix of blues, jazz, swing, R&B and soul. A native of Boston and resident of Wareham, Mass., Enos took up the trumpet at 14 and studied at the New England Conservatory of Music. He cited Louis Armstrong as his main influence. Before joining Roomful of Blues, he toured with The Platters and the jazz-fusion group Channel One. He played with the Roomful horn section on session recordings for Stevie Ray Vaughn, Pat Benatar and Colin James.
"Bob was one of a kind, a unique talent," Roomful of Blues guitarist and bandleader Chris Vachon said in a statement. "The band obviously feels devastated. When you work as closely together as a band like Roomful does, each person is family -- we're like brothers."
Bob Bell, who managed the band for 21 years until retiring in 2002, said Enos always wowed crowds with his ability to hit high notes on pitch. He also never let his performance slip despite demanding tour schedules that kept the band on the road up to 250 days a year.
"He was a road warrior -- he'd say that proudly," Bell said. "He'd look you in the eye and say, `This is what I do for a living.' And in the next breath he'd say, `I'm very lucky.'"

Despite Enos' death, the band opted to continue its tour and headed to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for its next gig on The Legendary Blues Cruise, a seven-day Caribean concert cruise featuring multiple artists. Former bandmember John Wolfe was replacing Enos.

Bell said Enos would have wanted the band to keep going. "It's a way of life for these people, and just to stop and say `We can't go on anymore' isn't going to get any bills paid," Bell said. "If it had been anybody else, Bob would've been just as torn up but said, `Hey, this is what we've got to do.'"

Monday, January 14, 2008

Chicago Blues Tour - January 19, 2008

Blues University is hosting the Chicago Blues Tour again in January. The start of the year is always a great time for blues shows in Cihicago - Buddy Guy plays his own club (Legends) all month, the Chicago Blues Tour is always scheduled for the middle of the month, and most of the top local players are in town - not as many touring opportunities in the dead of winter.

Johnny Drummer is one of the featured artists on the Tour this year. Here is a photo of Johnny at Lee's Unleaded Blues surrounded by his fans...

Here is the info on the Blues Tour. I would be there myself, but I have a gig that night...

7 clubs, 8 bands - live blues pub crawl
RSVP not required

Blues University® and the City of Chicago once again host the Chicago Blues Tour-- on Saturday, Jan. 19th. The tour, a “pub crawl” event connecting 7 of Chicago’s famous south-side lounges featuring live blues, departs from the Chicago Cultural Center at 77 E. Randolph St. Tickets include all transportation and admission charges for a nightlong blues adventure which this year includes classic lounges like Lee's Unleaded and East of the Ryan, as well as popular venues such as Linda's Place and The Tast. Buses depart from 6 p.m to 8 p.m., and then begin shuttling between clubs from 8 p.m to 2:00 a.m. Tickets (including discounted tickets through January 5th) are available through the Chicago Blues Tour website, Advance tickets are strongly recommended, as the tour often sells out. The website also includes details on participating clubs and performers.

A special advance party at the Chicago Cultural Center from 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. will feature Dale Anderson and Mark Riggenbach, collectively known as The Delta Jets, an alt-blues duo from Green Bay Wisconsin. They perform in a stripped-down drums & guitar format which has been popularized recently by bands such as The White Stripes, although the Jets’ music is more informed by the early Delta recordings of Charlie Patton, Robert Johnson, Son House. The Jets will also be featured on the tour, alternating sets with “Delta Crush” blues guitarist Chainsaw Dupont, fronting his band the Blues Warriors, at the Taste Entertainment Center, starting at 8 p.m.

Blues University® sponsors classes and events that expand the understanding and
audience for blues music. The Chicago Blues Tour began in 1990 as the West Side
Blues Tour and has expanded in scope to include live blues venues throughout
Chicago. The City of Chicago has helped promote blues tours through the Mayor’s
Office of Special Events since 1998. Blues U.® maintains an online archive of
blues information and is also launching a blues news service in 2008.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Some Thoughts on Being a Kid (by Arrested Development)

Arrested Development has been my favorite hip-hop group for ten years. They sent the following email out via MySpace yesterday....

Jan 5, 2008 2:55 PM
Subject: Those Born 1920 - 1979

THOSE BORN 1920-1979 -- TO ALL THE KIDS WHO SURVIVED the 1930's, 40's, 50's, 60's and 70's!! First, we survived being born to mothers who smoked and/or drank while they were pregnant. They took aspirin, ate blue cheese dressing, tuna from a can, and didn't get tested for diabetes. Then after that trauma, we were put to sleep on our tummies in baby cribs covered with bright colored lead-based paints. We had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, doors or cabinets and when we rode our bikes, we had no helmets, not to mention, the risks we took hitchhiking.....As infants & children, we would ride in cars with no car seats, booster seats, seat belts or airbags. Riding in the back of a pick-up truck on a warm day was always a special treat. We drank water from the garden hose and NOT from a bottle. We shared one soft drink with four friends, from one bottle and NO ONE actually died from this. We ate cupcakes, white bread and real butter and drank Kool-Ade made with sugar, but we weren't overweight because, WE WERE ALWAYS OUTSIDE PLAYING! We would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back when the streetlights came on. No one was able to reach us all day. And we were O.K. We would spend hours building our go-carts out of scraps and then ride down the hill, only to find out we forgot the brakes. After running into the bushes a few times, we learned to solve the problem. We did not have Playstations, Nintendo's, X-boxes, no video games at all, no 150 channels on cable, no video movies or DVD's, no surround-sound or CD's, no cell phones, no personal computers, no Internet or chat rooms.......WE HAD FRIENDS and we went outside and found them! We fell out of trees, got cut, broke bones and teeth and there were no lawsuits from these accidents. We ate worms and mud pies made from dirt, and the worms did not live in us forever. We were given BB guns for our 10th birthdays, made up games with sticks and tennis balls and, although we were told it would happen, we did not poke out very many eyes. We rode bikes or walked to a friend's house and knocked on the door or rang the bell, or just walked in and talked to them! Little League had tryouts and not everyone made the team. Those who didn't had to learn to deal with disappointment. Imagine that!! The idea of a parent bailing us out if we broke the law was unheard of. They actually sided with the law! These generations have produced some of the best risk-takers, problem solvers and inventors ever! The past 50 years have been an explosion of innovation and new ideas. We had freedom, failure, success and responsibility, and we learned HOW TO DEAL WITH IT ALL! If YOU are one of them CONGRATULATIONS! You might want to share this with others who have had the luck to grow up as kids, before the lawyers and the government regulated so much of our lives for our own good . Baba Oje' - Arrested Development

Friday, January 04, 2008

Wandering through Wisconsin

Now the holidays are officially over. I saw the New Year in at Bill's Blues Bar, with Eddy "the Chief" Clearwater rockin' out on stage. I left right after midnight and walked home through an absolutely beautiful New Year's snowfall. It was magic.

On New Years Day, we had a little open house, with Hoppin' John (black-eyed peas and rice) and sparkling beverages (Spanish Cava, beer, carbonated soft drinks). Music broke out - bass, snare drum and harmonica backing vocalists and rappers. Lotsa fun.

And on January 2nd, Mr. G and fam decided to escape to the north. We headed to Wisconsin with no reservations and vague plans. The Volvo was packed with two adults, two strapping female offspring, and the two dogs (psychotic cat, obese hamsters and the three filthy bunnies stayed home).

We ended up in Horicon, WI - the town at the southern tip of the Horicon Marsh. This is a fantastic natural wonder, over 32,000 acres of cattail wetlands. It is often called the "Little Everglades of the North" and it is home to a diverse collection of plants and animals. It is also a popular stopping place for migratory birds, most notable Canadian geese. We thought that we would do a little hiking and a little bird-watching - there are lots of raptors that frequent the Horicon Marsh in winter.

It was beautiful, but wicked cold. The marsh was coated in snow, frozen solid, with dead cattails sticking up and rattling in the wind. We tried to hike, but single-digit temps and a gusty wind made it a tad too raw even for hardened Chicagoans. We hit the Horicon Marsh educational center instead, and limited ourselves to scenery visible from the automobile.

We crashed in Horicon, at the Royal Oaks Motel. Mrs. G quickly dubbed it the "Bates Motel," and it did hold a passing resemblence. The proprietor was a quirky chap, eager to please, with a classic northern Midwest accent - "Oh, geez, if I'da known yer comin' I'da warmed up the rooms, then. Its pretty darn nippy, doncha know." And so on. The accommodations at the Royal Oaks Motel Indoor plumbing, a TV, rock-hard foam rubber pillows and a not-too-saggy bed. Oh geez. We decided to stay just one night.

So we got up yesterday and spent more time touring the marsh. Around mid-day, we decided to head farther north and trekked through Waupun and Ripon. The family saw the sign for Oshkosh - "Hey, isn't that where they make the famous overalls? Oshkosh B'Gosh?" So we spontaneously decided to head to Oshkosh and visit the Oshkosh B'Gosh factory store to buy some cool retro overalls.

Bad idea. Horicon was a lovely little town with a great diner (the Mothers Day Restaurant), a few bars, several churches, a John Deere factory and no fast food joints. Oshkosh is a generic middle-sized, midwest city that wasn't looking very attractive on a cold winter's day (and it had fast food joints on every corner). And the Oshkosh B'Gosh company went "blooey" over ten years ago - sold to a kids' clothing company; the factory and headquarters in Oshkosh are long gone. The adult-sized overalls are no longer made by Oshkosh B'Gosh - just kids' clothes. It seems wrong for a company to be slapping "Oshkosh B'Gosh" on kiddie clothes manufactured in China.

Our best option in Oshkosh was a Super 8 Motel that allows dogs. It was nicer than the Royal Oaks Motel, but it had no charm whatsoever. The dogs seemed to like it, though.

The 15 year old daughter was up at 8AM this morning, lobbying for an early return to civilization in order to visit friends in for the winter break. I was happy to accommodate. We are back in the E-Town abode, happy that we saw a little countryside. But happier still to be back in comfortable surroundings.