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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Bye Bye Bill's Blues Bar

Back in August 2003, the first "real" blues club in Chicago's northern suburbs opened its doors. On November 10, 2009, those doors closed for good. Bill's Blues Bar is another failed small business.

Bill Gilmore, the leader of the club, deserves respect for his determination and grit. Lots of people invested money and time into the club (including me). The club never did well; it was always barely hanging on. Over the past few months, things got worse. While the recession played a role, the primary culprit was accumulated desperation - as things got tougher, service deteriorated and fewer customers came out - it was a spiral.

Bill Gilmore brought big-time blues to Evanston IL. James Cotton, Son Seals (RIP), Magic Slim, Rod Piazza, Lurrie Bell, Big Time Sarah, 'Lil Ed and the Blues Imperials, Eddie "the Chief" Clearwater, Melvin Taylor and the Slack Band - just to name a few. Bill's Blues Bar is also where my band, Mr. G and the Mystery Band, was born. We are coming up on the 6th anniversary of the Mystery Band's first gig (on Thanksgiving). Bill's Blues played a significant role in the development of my blues harmonica addiction.

I am sorry to see the club go, but I never thought it would stay open for six years -I thought it would be gone in 36 months. So it was a valiant effort. Think good thoughts about Bill Gilmore, and go out to hear some live blues in your community - if you don't, the clubs that present these acts will all die.

Bye Bye Bill's Blues Bar

Saturday, October 31, 2009

RIP Norton Buffalo

I posted about the great harmonica player and singer Norton Buffalo earlier this week and his battle with cancer. Well, its over now and we have lost another great harp player. It was quick and brutal - diagnosed on September 2 and gone on October 30.

So many will mourn him; so many will miss him.

Good Bye, Norton.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Income inequality - is it real?

It is one of those things that "everybody knows." In the United States, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. The middle class is getting squeezed and we are becoming a society that includes a small, wealthy elite class and a mass of struggling humanity. This "narrative" underlies much of our policy and legislation (and our tax system). Productivity in the U.S. economy has been improving (on average) at a decent clip, but wages are stagnant - and this is what is causing inequality to increase. I tended to believe it.

In my town, Evanston, Illinois, there is a university - Northwestern. One of the grizzled old tenured professors at that university is Robert Gordon, an economist with a Harvard/MIT pedigree. He is a middle-of-the-road guy (not a raging University of Chicago "free marketeer"). He wrote the "Macroeconomics" textbook that is used by college students around the nation. He is mainstream, baby.

So apparently Professor Gordon has been looking into productivity and income inequality. His results were summarized in a recent Forbes Magazine article. Cutting to the chase, Prof. Gordon's research allegedly demonstrates that most of the difference between productivitiy growth and income growth for the middle class can be explained by adjusting for government sector employment (17% of the workforce!!) that has zero increase in productivity (since it is an activity that generates no profit), smaller household sizes (leading to more households but not necessarily lower income growth per individual) and differing rates of inflation by region and by income level. So the great increase in income inequality isn't very great at all, apparently. Huh.

BUT Gordon does confirm that the top 1% of all earners in the U.S. are pulling away from the other 99%. So THOSE are the culprits!! Off with their heads!!!

To be a "top 1% culprit," you would need adjusted gross income of $410,096 in 2007. The top 1% earned about 22.8% of adjusted gross income in 2007 (according to the IRS) and paid 40.4% of all income taxes in that year. So it looks like these wealthy folks are carrying a decent share of the tax burden, right? And their tax rate is the highest of all income brackets - over 22% after all deductions and other hoo-ha that wealthy folks do. Oh wait - back in 1980, the top 1% culprits had effective tax rates of 34.5% So it has been good to be wealthy, right? Except that these numbers don't reflect state income taxes, property taxes, etc. But, hey, those are details - the tax rates have been cut back in a serious way since Jimmy Carter sat in the Oval Office. Remember those fabulous Carter years? Good times, man.

So how much more can we tax these top 1% culprits? Should we take 40%? 80%? 99.99%? And what is the impact on revenues if we put the screws to the wealthy in a serious way? Will our national budget be in better shape? Will we improve as a society?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Keep Norton Buffalo in your Thoughts

Norton Buffalo is one of the best harmonica players of my generation. He is an old Oakland CA boy, came into his musical prime in the 1970's and has recorded on his own and with many others (Steve Miller Band is his regular gig, and he has played with Bonnie Raitt and the Doobie Brothers). He is a major studio harmonica player and is on many movie soundtracks and commercials. Remember the awesome harmonica solo on Bonnie Raitt's version of "Runaway?" That is Norton Buffalo (I think he used 4-5 different harps on the tune, switching between them with lightning speed).

Norton was on the road with the Steve Miller Band all summer and felt crappy much of the time. His doctors thought he had pneumonia but they were wrong - he has lung cancer, Stage 4 Adenocarcinoma of the lower right lobe - and it has spread to his brain. He received his diagnosis in September and is going through the extreme challenge of trying to beat the disease. Please keep him in your thoughts. You can drop him a card, too - the address is:

Norton Buffalo & Lisa Flores
5905 D Clark Road
Paradise, CA 95969

There is going to be a benefit/fund raiser for Norton to cover medical expenses - I guess his health insurance situation is inadequate. If you can attend, do it. If you can't attend, consider buying a ticket anyway. Here is the info on the benefit:

Norton Buffalo Benefit //Tell the folks you know

Tickets for the first BENEFIT FOR NORTON BUFFALO at The Paradise Performing Arts Center ARE NOW AVAILABLE!!! CARLOS REYES and FRIENDS, TOM RIGNEY and FLAMBEAU, and ROY ROGERS & THE DELTA RHYTHM KINGS have agreed to play at Norton's request.

The benefit will be held Sunday evening November 22nd. Call Bill Anderson toll free 1-877-397-3363 (10am-4:30pm & 6pm-9pm) to order your tickets with a credit card, or you can call to reserve your tickets and send a check payable to PPAC to Bill Anderson, 6848U Skyway, Paradise, CA 95969. Tickets for Norton's benefit will be $40 General Admission. I will either mail the tickets to you or hold them for you at Will Call. Doors will open at 5:30pm, show starts at 6:30pm.

Looking forward to seeing all of Norton's friends at the show! For those who cannot attend but still want to support the benefit, donations may be sent to LISA FLORES, 5905D Clark Road, Paradise, CA 95969.

Tickets will also be available at Diamond W Western Wear in Chico, Country Touch, and Paradise Coin in Paradise, and at The Performing Arts Center starting next week. PPAC's box office is open 11am-3pm Monday-Friday.

Bill & Penny Anderson
6848U Skyway
Paradise, CA 95969

Norton is not yet 60 years old.

It seems especially horrible that a harmonica player should be afflicted with a lung disease - to play harmonica, one must breathe very deeply.

Get Well, Norton........

Monday, October 12, 2009

A Loss

I haven't been writing many entries for this blog lately. There have been many other things consuming my time, and a blog is a self-indulgent exercise - as bad as Facebook and Twitter. Who cares what I think and what happens in my life? Very few people outside of my family.

But I thought I would indulge myself today.

About a year or so ago, my youngest daughter (now 13) managed to beg and wheedle her old man into letting her adopt a kitten, a stray that was abandoned at the front door of the local animal hospital. The kitten grew to be a spirited tomcat, named Smitty (pictured above). He had all of the characteristics that make cats admired and reviled - independent, graceful, predatory, curious, and vocal. Smitty noticed the great outdoors when he was a small kitten - he was determined to break free of the "big house." He would hide around the doors and bolt whenever someone came in or went out. We tried to keep him indoors, but he simply refused to stay. So we put an identity microchip into the scruff of his neck, got him a collar with a bell and let him be an outdoor cat. He was much happier, and would occassionally reward us by bringing home a dead mouse.

On Saturday at 7:30 AM, Smitty was yowling and the dogs were barking. All of them wanted out, so I opened the door to the back yard and let them go. Then I made coffee and turned my attention to the newspapers.

On Saturday at about 10:45 AM, our doorbell rang. A man was at the door, holding Smitty. The cat had ventured onto the busy street in front of our house and was hit by a car. We thought that Smitty shied away from the street - he had never been seen near traffic before. I knew immediately that he was gone, but I rushed him to the vet anyway. I didn't want my girls to see the him. So Smitty was crushed; I don't think he had much time to suffer. It was sad and weird to carry his body - limp and bleeding from the mouth. Smitty was all muscle and energy - where did it go?

My 13-year old daughter cried and cried. My 17-year old daughter wept as well, even though she didn't have much to do with Smitty. My wife was very sad also. And I, who don't really like cats that much and never wanted this cat, felt the loss as well. He was the first living thing I saw when I woke in the morning (I am the first one out of bed). He was the only other male in the house besides me. Smitty was a proud, aggressive tomcat.

Good-bye Smitty. I hope to see you on the other side (if there is an "other side".

Monday, August 31, 2009

Losses - Jesse Fortune and Others

Jesse Fortune collapsed and died last night at Gene's Playmate Lounge, 4239 W. Cermak in Chicago. He was on stage, singing his heart out, and went down. He was 79 years old. There is something to celebrate here - a blues man living deep into his eighth decade, then passing while performing. If you have never seen Jesse perform live, you can see him on the Jimmy Burns Band DVD, "Live at B.L.U.E.S." He was a terrific blues singer, one of the greats. It is a painful loss.

We have had other serious losses recently - the legendary Les Paul, blues queen Koko Taylor, pianist Eddie Bo, human jukebox Snooks Eaglin, rockabilly great Billy Ray Riley...many of the greats that laid down the foundations of today's music have headed across the divide.

And now Ted Kennedy has joined them - not a musician, but a man with weaknesses, flaws and pain who achieved greatness in spite of (because of?) these features.

And we lost Tom Hebbard, the unfailingly cheerful and kind Viet Nam War veteran who worked the front desk during the night shift at the McGaw YMCA in Evanston. All of the early morning work-out people benefited from Tom's warm greetings and everyday concern (I am one of those early birds).

Mortality is the great leveler. We all will weaken and die.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

The Mystery Band CD - Ugh!!

Yep, I sweated quite a bit putting the first Mystery Band CD together. I financed it myself, no record company involved. I wrote all the songs so it wouldn't be another disk full of blues covers (not that there is anything WRONG with that; I just wanted something different). The final product is pretty good - I can still listen to it without puking, which is saying something in view of the number of hours I spent on this. I usually get tired of listening to a CD if I play it repeatedly. The CD got decent reviews in the May 2009 "Illinois Entertainer" and the July issue of "Blues Revue." I have been pitching it at all my gigs for the past several months.

And it ain't been selling, folks.

Yah, well, I haven't been working it real hard, I guess, and I haven't tried to get a label to pick it up. I have a day job, and I have to take care of my non-musical profession (it generates all the cash, and for the past two months, I have been humpin' trying to offset the recession with increased effort). But I have gained a deeper realization that making a living in music during this age of downloads and piracy is damn near impossible for a lunch-bucket musician like me. Folks under the age of 45 just don't buy CD's anymore. Many, maybe most, of them steal music. I have family members that are big-time music pirates. This bleeds over into live music, too - folks refuse to pay a cover charge, even a small one, to hear local music heroes. Soon, these working class musicians will stop trying.

Musicians will continue to make music, but the number of professionals has been shrinking and will continue to shrink. The level of techinical skills among musicians might decline. Talented people are giving up and this trend is likely to continue.

So I have about a thousand copies of this disk in my basement. Guess I can use them for drink costers.....but if anyone reading this is interested, you can find the record on CD Baby:

Friday, June 26, 2009

Micahel Jackson - RIP

The media and the folks on the street are all focused on Michael Jackson's sudden death. With a comeback on the horizon, his death feels all the more tragic. The picture above captures Michael as I like to remember him - in his full regalia from the "Thriller" days of the early 1980's, holding a Grammy.

Sometimes success in popular music is not correlated with talent and energy. With Michael Jackson, that was not the case. He was a brilliant entertainer; he picked up where James Brown left off. His music made me feel that he was placed on this earth to bring us all joy.

He leaves behind an amazing body of work, and I am sad that he won't be able to add to it.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Good Bye, Koko

It always hurts to say good bye to a giant talent. I had the good luck to see Koko perform in her prime. She made the earth move. I am very sad. Good-bye Koko. Here is the info from her web site:

“QUEEN OF THE BLUES” KOKO TAYLOR 1928 - 2009 posted: 06/03/2009
Grammy Award-winning blues legend Koko Taylor, 80, died on June 3, 2009 in her hometown of Chicago, IL, as a result of complications following her May 19 surgery to correct a gastrointestinal bleed. On May 7, 2009, the critically acclaimed Taylor, known worldwide as the “Queen of the Blues,” won her 29th Blues Music Award (for Traditional Female Blues Artist Of The Year), making her the recipient of more Blues Music Awards than any other artist. In 2004 she received the NEA National Heritage Fellowship Award, which is among the highest honors given to an American artist. Her most recent CD, 2007’s Old School, was nominated for a Grammy (eight of her nine Alligator albums were Grammy-nominated). She won a Grammy in 1984 for her guest appearance on the compilation album Blues Explosion on Atlantic.

Born Cora Walton on a sharecropper’s farm just outside Memphis, TN, on September 28, 1928, Koko, nicknamed for her love of chocolate, fell in love with music at an early age. Inspired by gospel music and WDIA blues disc jockeys B.B. King and Rufus Thomas, Taylor began belting the blues with her five brothers and sisters, accompanying themselves on their homemade instruments. In 1952, Taylor and her soon-to-be-husband, the late Robert “Pops” Taylor, traveled to Chicago with nothing but, in Koko’s words, “thirty-five cents and a box of Ritz Crackers.”

In Chicago, “Pops” worked for a packing company, and Koko cleaned houses. Together they frequented the city’s blues clubs nightly. Encouraged by her husband, Koko began to sit in with the city’s top blues bands, and soon she was in demand as a guest artist. One evening in 1962 Koko was approached by arranger/composer Willie Dixon. Overwhelmed by Koko’s performance, Dixon landed Koko a Chess Records recording contract, where he produced her several singles, two albums and penned her million-selling 1965 hit “Wang Dang Doodle,” which would become Taylor’s signature song.

After Chess Records was sold, Taylor found a home with the Chicago’s Alligator Records in 1975 and released the Grammy-nominated I Got What It Takes. She recorded eight more albums for Alligator between 1978 and 2007, received seven more Grammy nominations and made numerous guest appearances on various albums and tribute recordings. Koko appeared in the films Wild At Heart, Mercury Rising and Blues Brothers 2000. She performed on Late Night With David Letterman, Late Night With Conan O’Brien, CBS-TV’s This Morning, National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, CBS-TV’s Early Edition, and numerous regional television programs.

Over the course of her 40-plus-year career, Taylor received every award the blues world has to offer. On March 3, 1993, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley honored Taylor with a “Legend Of The Year” Award and declared “Koko Taylor Day” throughout Chicago. In 1997, she was inducted into the Blues Foundation’s Hall of Fame. A year later, Chicago Magazine named her “Chicagoan Of The Year” and, in 1999, Taylor received the Blues Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2009 Taylor performed in Washington, D.C. at The Kennedy Center Honors honoring Morgan Freeman.Koko Taylor was one of very few women who found success in the male-dominated blues world. She took her music from the tiny clubs of Chicago’s South Side to concert halls and major festivals all over the world. She shared stages with every major blues star, including Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King, Junior Wells and Buddy Guy as well as rock icons Robert Plant and Jimmy Page.

Taylor’s final performance was on May 7, 2009 in Memphis at the Blues Music Awards, where she sang “Wang Dang Doodle” after receiving her award for Traditional Blues Female Artist Of The Year.Survivors include Taylor’s husband Hays Harris, daughter Joyce Threatt, son-in-law Lee Threatt, grandchildren Lee, Jr. and Wendy, and three great-grandchildren. Funeral arrangements will be announced.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Quote of the Day

"The source of the problem is really quite simple: Give smart people go-for-broke incentives and they will go for broke. Duh."

Alan S. Blinder, Professor of Economics, Princeton University

In my day job, I hob-nob with lots of financial types, including guys who invest and manage Other People's Money ("OPM"). Mr. Blinder has nailed it - when gains accrue to the gambler but losses are absorbed by others, it is rational to gamble like a drunken sailor, all day, every day. The Other People providing the Money have to step up and figure out a way to make the gamblers suffer the losses. That will do more to moderate booms and busts than all the regulations, past and future, that the government might dream up.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

"Illinois Entertainer" Reviews "It's A Mystery" by Mr. G & the Mystery Band

I picked up a copy of the May "Illinois Entertainer" yesterday and was pleased to see the that the publication wrote a reveiw of the Mystery Band's debut CD. I am grateful to Beverley Zeldon-Palmer for her attention to our work. By the way, folks - you can buy the Mystery Band CD at CD Baby the link is
Here is the review:

By Beverley Zeldin-Palmer
Illinois Entertainer
May 2009

It’s A Mystery is the title of the debut solo CD by Mr. G and the Mystery Band, which is led by harp man/vocalist/songwriter Chris “Mr. G” Gillock. “Investment banker by day, musician by night” is how Gillock describes himself on his blog, “Mr. G’s Thoughts for Free.” The Mystery Band was born in an impromptu fashion when Gillock offered to put a group together and perform at Bill’s Blues in Evanston on Thanksgiving night in 2003. It has undergone a number of transitions since then, but the core of the band has coalesced around a group of stellar musicians the include guitarist Anthony Palmer (full disclosure: my husband), bassist Greg “E.G. McDaniel, guitarist OSee Anderson and drummer James Carter.

The original, concept of The Mystery Band was to bring Chicago’s finest blues musicians together to jam and have a good time. But you can’t keep a good band down. The sheer firepower of the band led to a local following at clubs like the Morseland in Chicago and C.J. Arthur’s in Wilmette. The logical step was to go into the studio, where “It’s A Mystery” was born.

Mr. G is the harp-playing vocalist, songwriter and impresario who holds it all together. He wrote the 11 tunes that comnprise the CD, featuring blues, funk, reggae and New Orleans soul. He is a cutting songwriter whose often humorous lyrics are reminiscent of musical satirist Tom Lehrer. On Get Out and Walk,” a folksy tune with a Sonny Terry-inspired harmonica opening, he addresses the high price of gas and a public that doesn’t have a clue: "Well, gas is $4.50 a gallon / Gonna cost a lot more soon / You’re complaining while your driving your big old Hummer / Hey Man! What the hell you doin’?/Get out and walk, ride a bike, get on the bus.” He bemoans being levied to death on the slow blues “Paying Taxes,” which features a fierce, in-the-basement guitar solo by Palmer. The title track is a Junior Wells-inspired groove that explores the mystery behind human behavior of all finds along the lines of “Why can’t we all just get along?” Anderson and Palmer wail on this one, complementing each other’s playing with their different but equally compelling blues approach. The rhythm section of McDaniel and Carter is solid through out, especially on the funky “My Dog and Me,” a semi-humorous song about the pain of divorce: “When I first met my wife, I thought she was so fine / But the longer I lived with that woman the more I loved my canine…../But now she’s gone and I must confess I feel dead inside.”

Despite the occasional foray into the serious, Mr. G and the Mystery Band are all about the fun. Their promo material should read, “For a good time, call….”

Sunday, April 26, 2009

New Life

This blog has been neglected for the past month. Unlike my other periods of inactivity, this time I have a decent eldest daughter gave birth to my first grandchild, pictured above. Patrick Christopher arrived on April 8 at 4:35 AM Central. Hangin out with a new grandson is a great way to spend time.

I also squired my middle daughter around to colleges earlier this month - she is a junior in high school and that is the year when a teen's thoughts turn to the future. And today is my youngest daughter's 13th birthday party. Rounding out the story, my eldest just landed an awesome teaching job in New Mexico (quite a feat for my son in the midst of this recession). Oh, and he is getting married in a few weeks.

The small stories of family life are what sustain and occupy us all. Economic calamity, swine flu pandemics and the deaths of great people (Bud Shank, jazz saxophonist, April 6, 2009 RIP; Steve Raitt, musician, soundman supreme and elder brother of Bonnie Raitt, April 6, 2009, RIP, and on and on) may distract and depress - the household stuff continues and carries us forward.

So here is to little Pat Chris - I am grateful to be able to rest my eyes on the first face of the next generation of my clan. He seems to like it when I play the harmonica for him......already humoring the ol' grandpa.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Bernard "Pretty" Purdie - Great NYT Ink

Bernard "Pretty" Purdie got some well-deserved press today in the New York Times. Here is a link to the article. I had the honor of meeting Pretty Purdie in New York several years back. I was attending a meeting/party that was hosted by Wade Schuman, harmonicist and front man for HazMat Modine; Mr. Purdie was in HazMat Modine at that time if I remember correctly. He was a delightful guy, very warm and cheerful. Of course, he is the grandmaster of funk drumming and he has played on over 4,000 records including some huge hits. Pretty was working the high-hat on "Theme from Shaft" by the late, great Isaac Hayes. He was playing the drums on James Brown's "Cold Sweat." He was adding his incredible syncopation to Steely Dan's "Aja." He helped out Aretha on "RESPECT." And he also backed cats like Lou Donaldson, Miles Davis, Marvin Gaye and Paul Simon.

Yes, I think this is my favorite drummer.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Daryl Coutts Band at the Blue Bayou - 3/27/09

Daryl Coutts is one of my good friends and he often plays keyboards in my band. As an immensely talented musician, singer and keyboardist, he has several projects going on simultaneously. One of his projects is the Daryl Coutts Band, a blues/R&B/rock band that plays around the Chicago area. I trekked over to the north side of Chicago to the Blue Bayou (a New Orleans-themed joint across from the Music Box Theater on Southport) to catch his gig last night.

Daryl had his 88-key Nord keyboard, a big, red monster with lots of buttons and such on the console above the keys. He also had his Leslie speaker cranking last night, so the Nord could sound like a big ol' Hammond B3. This unit also has a clavinet feature, phlanges and lots of other bells and whistles. Daryl knows how to use all of them, but he also went with an unadorned piano sound on many tunes. Daryl will always choose to play an acoustic piano if he has a choice.

The band hit some of the classic Chicago blues standards (Killing Floor Blues, Feel So Bad, Shake Your Moneymaker, etc.) but also played some very tasty funk (Out-a-Space - a great instrumental). Daryl's band was full of killers and everyone was right in the pocket all night.

Scott Tipping was handling the guitar - this was my first chance to hear Scott play. He has lots of chops, but he doesn't over-play (most Chicago guitar players with technical prowess feel compelled to shred all night). I especially liked the way Scott threw in horn-like riffs behind Daryl's solos. This guitarist also adds an interesting visual dimension to the band - he is solidly-built, bearded and looks like he just stepped out of a tractor-trailer rig. Scott also has a great voice and sang several tunes.

Roger Femali was handling the percussion duties and his time was impeccable. He has mastered a broad range of beats and was tightly attuned to his bandmates - never stepped on anyone. Roger is also an interesting-looking person - shaved head, an earing in each ear - sort of a "Mr. Clean" persona.

Roberto Agosto plays a 5-string bass and can lay down some very tricky, yet tasty, bass lines. He really was impressive when the band shifted into funk mode. Roberto and Roger are joined at the hip - a terrifc rhythm section.

This is an outstanding band worthy of support. They had a very small crowd at the Blue Bayou last night - I was surprised. Wrigleyville/Lakeview is full of party people. I guess they are pinching pennies along with the rest of us in the crappy economy. The Blue Bayou is a nice venue, and they don't even charge a cover, so it seems like a pretty inexpensive entertainment option to me. Get out there and support your local musicians, folks!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Fun Facts to Know and Tell

As a semi-dedicated oenophile, this day marks an important anniversary for me. On this day in 1860, a device which, officially, was called a “covered gimlet screw with a ‘T' handle” (aka "a corkscrew"),was patented by M. L. Byrn of New York City.

Today is also the birthday of Sarah Vaughn, aka The Sassy One, aka The Divine One. She was and is my favorite female jazz vocalist, and she would have been 85 years old today if she was still alive. Sarah started here professional career after winning an amateur contest at New York's Apollo Theater in 1943.

And here is the most incedible Fun Fact of all - In the past six years, according to the Bank for International Settlements, the global financial derivatives market exploded as a global haven for speculative investment - growing from $127 Trillion in 2002 to $684 Trillion in 2008! And the Fun Fact about this - in 2008, financial obligations amounting to 12 times the ENTIRE WORLD'S GROSS DOMESTIC PRODUCT were written and traded and re-traded among financial institutions. When the music stops (like now), that is a whole lotta leverage that needs to come out of the system. No wonder the world is shakin' and bakin'!!

This last Fun Fact makes me want a nice tall glass of Bordeaux.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


Some days buzz by due to frenetic activities and excitement. Other days remind me of the old country song, "If the Phone Don't Ring, You'll Know Its Me." This has been a no-connection day. Every call I made failed to connect with the intended party; the incoming calls were not helpful. I turned to the backlog of reading and such; made a dent in the pile. The best news of the day was an incoming wire transfer - a client paid his bill (something that can't be taken for granted in this stinking economy).

So I learned a new trendy term today - "pessimism porn." This phrase refers to the dire predictions put forth by seemingly credible people, usually on the Internet, about the coming meltdown/apocolypse/end of western civilization. Reading these accounts can generate a guilty thrill for the reader - and it can become addicting. The media amplifies pessimism porn; half-baked theories get repeated until they enter the nation's collection of accepted wisdom. And pessimism porn also fuels the mob psychology - "the media and the government said that bankers are evil, so I think I will through a rock through the local banker's window." It is hard to see this as a path forward.

In its effort to connect with the majority, the new administration seems to be willing to add to the supply of bile and anger that has built up over this whole "Ponzie economy." A few powerful executives didn't create the problem, in spite of what Congress has been saying. It was a massive shared delusion that led to this, amplified by financial institutions and fueled by the human desire of many Americans to satisfy short-term gratification. If you want the big house, you were able to borrow 100% of the price at a "teaser" rate. "I will worry about the increase in rate and payments later - hey, I can always sell the house for more than I paid for it, right?" This was crazy thinking.

So the thing to do is to start working again. Stop searching for people to tar and feather. Get on the phone and make things happen. Look forward. This, too, shall pass.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Another Living Musician I Love- Shuggie Otis

Shuggie Otis is one of those musicians that other musicians know about. He hit the scene at fifteen years of age. His background was quite unusual. His father is Johnny Otis, a Greek-American musician who decided to live in the African-American community. Johnny made this decision in the 1940's when it was definitely an unusual path for a white guy to take - and he married a black woman (illegal in many states at that time). I can (and will) spill about Johnny Otis because his story is crazy and amazing. But let's stick to his boy, Shuggie, for now.

As a teenager, Shuggie was acknowledged as a guitar phenom, mentioned by some in the same breath as Jimi Hendrix and B.B. King. But he wasn't satisfied to be just a guitarist - he mastered bass, keyboards, drums and vibraphone. He also became a gifted writer and arranger. Shuggie started playing professionally at the age of 12, using disguises to appear older (phony beards & moustaches, dark glasses, hats, elevator shoes, etc.) so he could get into nightclubs. When he was 15, he was drafted by Al Kooper to be part of the second "Super Session" album (this was Kooper's project after he founded Blood Sweat & Tears and completed the first album). Shuggie released his first album as a leader in 1970, called Here Comes Shuggie Otis - he was around 17 at the time. In 1971, he released "Freedon Flight," an album that was way ahead of its time - and in 1974, he released "Inspiration Information," his masterpiece. And that was really it - he started to fade as a bandleader/solo artist and and basically disapeared by 1980. He is still alive and well, hip hop artists and others are covering his fanastic tunes (remember Strawberry Letter 23 by Brothers Johnson? That is Shuggie's tune).

Sly Stone, Stevie Wonder, Prince and other trippy/funky/soulful genre-mixers owe a lot to Shuggie Otis. I often think that Prince deliberately copped all of Shuggie's shit. The Rolling Stones tried to hire this guy in the mid-70's, but he said "no, thanks" because he figured he was going to rock the world on his own. Things didn't turn out that way, but his music stands the test of time - still sounding exciting and fresh 35 years after it was recorded. Shuggie used drum machines in the early 1970's; he played almost all of the instruments on his albums, he incorporated jazz, blues, rock and R&B. It still is wickedly great stuff.
I think Shuggie Otis is still living in Northern California. He records on occassion and has played a few concerts. While he missed stardom and celebrity, he also missed the drugged-out evil scene, so he is alive when many other pop stars died before they reached 50.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Lester Davenport - Another Harp Man Done Gone

Lester "Mad Dog" Davenport died last Tuesday - I missed the news because I was in New York. Lester was one of the best harmonica cats in Chicago, and he had brushes with fame. None of those brushes led to riches, unfortunately, but he did play on some of Bo Diddley's hit records when he was a young man. Bob Corritorre sent out this remembrance of Lester last night:

March 23, 2009
RIP Lester Davenport 1/16/1932-3/17/2009: Word has just come in from Kevin Johnson of
Delmark Records that Chicago blues harmonica great Lester "Mad Dog" Davenport passed away on Tuesday, March 17, 2009, after a long battle with prostate cancer. He was a respected figure in Chicago blues, best known for his stunning harp work on Bo Diddley's 1955 recordings of "Pretty Thing" and "Bring It To Jerome". Lester Davenport was born in Tchula, Mississippi on January 16, 1932, and moved to Chicago at age 14. Lester soon found work as a blues harmonica player working with Arthur "Big Boy" Spires and Homesick James before landing a gig with Bo Diddley that led to the famous recording session and a gig at the Apollo Theater. In addition to harmonica, Lester also played bass, drums, and guitar, which ensured him lots of work in the active Chicago blues scene. During the 1970s, he worked with W.W. Williams, Kansas City Red, Illinois Slim, Steve Cushing, Tchula childhood friend Jimmy Dawkins, and many others. In the 1980s he toured extensively with Big Daddy Kinsey & The Kinsey Report. Lester Davenport's career yielded 2 beautiful CDs: When The Blues Hit You on Earwig Music (1993) and I Smell A Rat on Delmark (2002). He also had a couple songs released on an anthology called It's Great To Be Rich on the Red Lightnin' label, and a song on Chicago Blues Harmonica, an anthology on the Wolf Record label. Lester's recording credits as a sideman are extensive: Bo Diddley for Chess records, Big Smokey Smothers for Red Lightnin', Willie Johnson, Maxwell Street Jimmy Davis, Johnny B. Moore for Wolf Records, Big Smokey Smothers, Big John Trice for Red Lightnin', Aron Burton on Earwig, and Bonnie Lee and Willie Kent for Delmark. Aside from all of these great credentials, Lester was just a wonderful man who was eager to welcome new friends and share his harmonica secrets to aspiring players. He had a warm smile and the ability to add humor to any situation. His harmonica playing will be remembered for its glorious, sweet tone and perfect phrasing. Though he never achieved great fame, he will always be remembered as one of the greats. Funeral services will be this Saturday, March 28, 2009, 10am to 12pm, at A.R. Leak Funeral Home, 5000 W. Madison, Chicago, IL 60644.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Hard Times = Music Lessons

The recession is deepening. Pink slips are abundant. Unemployment levels are headed north. This year is gonna suck, and 2010 might suck, too. What ever shall we do?

I know - take a music class!

I heard that the March 1 class session at the Old Town School of Folk Music (which isn't just about folk music, by the way) had record enrollment. I guess this is one of those "hard times" activities - learn how to play guitar, join a singing group, find an artistic outlet with like-minded folks. I also suspect that unemployed people with time on their hands are using a piece of their unemployment checks for musical education. Joining a community and picking up a new skill helps the psyche that is bruised and battered by a nasty economy. The world might end up a little more musical. Downturns do have upsides.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Rebel Alliance Jazz Ensemble in Dallas - Follow Up

Sounds like tonights show at Pearl at Commerce is going to be very HOT! Wish I could be there. If any of my readers are in Dallas, you should head down to the Pearl tonight.

I just got this message from the leader of the Rebel Alliance Jazz Ensemble in Dallas:

Hey Mr. G,

Thanks for the kind words in your blog! We do appreciate that--wish you were here with us tonight. We're doing an unofficial Maynard Ferguson tribute with the big band. Even have Maynard's lead trumpet and drummer sitting in with us! Plus Jaco Pastorius' tenor sax!

Pretty awesome!

Until next time,

Chris Evetts

Monday, March 16, 2009

Rebel Alliance Jazz Ensemble - Dallas TX

I was in Dallas early last week and was at loose ends after dinner. After a little research, I discovered that there is now a music bar (blues and jazz) in downtown Dallas. Well! This is very good news! It is called the Pearl At Commerce (because it is on Pearl St. at its intersection with Commerce). And it was walking distance from my hotel! Yay!
I strolled on over and had a seat in a very attractive space - great bar, decent stage and sound system. I ordered a "Bail-out beer" (The $1.00 special, a local brew called Pearl Lite) and settled in for some tunes. The entertainment was the Rebel Alliance Jazz Ensemble (see picture above). This group has two versions - the full big band ,which is the subject of the above picture, and an octet. I caught the octet - trumpet, trombone, two saxes and a four-man rhythm section. Every musician in the band was a monster. Many were grads of North Texas University (the school in Denton TX known for its outstanding jazz program). Two of the musicians are band leaders at local high schools, the trumpet player is a locksmith. I am always amazed at the talent that lurks among us in almost every big city.
The RAJE was laying down standards - "In a Mellow Tone," "Two-o'clock Jump," "New York, New York" and so forth. The crowd was sparse during the first set, but grew during the second set - it wasn't horrible for a Tuesday night. The guys in the band obviously weren't going to make any money - this was all about love of music. They were very tight and in tune; the solos ranged from good to mind-boggling. The locksmith trumpeter had impressive range and was nailing those high notes clearly and with great authority. The leader of the group played alto sax, baritone sax and clarinet. He was the master of all three instruments.
Yes, a very nice club and an excellent band. It was a great surprise for a weary traveler.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Tower of Power - I am just a fan...

Here is a great picture of the early 1970's version of Tower of Power. This band had a huge impact on me when I was an impressionable young trombone player. They are still very active - as a matter of fact, they will be playing at the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond IN next month (Hell, I might go see 'em even though it is on a Thursday night).

TOP took James Brown grooves and added a little more melody and complexity. The famous TOP horn section invented a new approach to funk licks - staccato, man! They would just spit that shit out. BATTA BOP. And the Funky Doctor on that bari sax was (and is) a force of nature. Out of the folks that passed through the band, the most famous might be Lenny Pickett, the sax freak that leads the Saturday Night Live band in New York. I can remember seeing the guys live in 1974 at the Keystone in Berkeley. This was not a huge venue - it could hold 200 or so comfortably - but the night I was there I think there were 400 people jammed in. Folks were smashed together and bopped up and down in a mass to the acid funk of TOP. Stunning experience. Lenny Pickett was wearing a white tuxedo and was dancing frenetically the entire night (he danced while he was playing, he danced even harder when he wasn't playing). I still listen to their classic tunes - "Down to the Night Club," "What is Hip," "Soul Vaccination," "Sparkling in the Sand," "The Skunk, the Goose and the Fly."

I last heard TOP at a concert in the Chicago area several years ago - they were the opening act for Ray Charles. The horn section was still kicking it, but the lead vocalist had more of an arena rock style - I wanted Rick Stevens and Lenny Williams. I still enjoyed the show, but it wasn't quite the same.

Some people might say that TOP hasn't done a thing that James Brown didn't do first (and did better). That is a defensible position. But TOP at its best is a crazy tight outfit that knows how to bring the funk. I am, and always be, a fan.

Monday, March 09, 2009

The Morse Theater - Paris DeLane does the "last show"

So the Morse Theater's current management team managed their last show last Saturday night. I stopped by to check it out. There was a definite "wake" feeling among the staff, but the folks that showed up to hear Paris Delane seemed mostly oblivious to the sub-text. Paris was full of energy, and he does have a most impressive voice - basso profundo, but with a very wide range (his falsetto is excellent). Paris also can do many parlor tricks - he can do a spot-on Macy Gray impression that is pretty funny. I have been hearing about Paris for years and I have enjoyed some of Sonia Dada's stuff (Paris was a member of this jam band for some time). I was really excited to see the man perform, at last. But I have to say, I wasn't feeling the show on Saturday. The rhythm section sounded a little mushy, the arrangements were a little sloppy and the guest artists broke the flow of the set. It was a pretty big band - four horns, three percussionists, three guitarists (including Paris) and bass. Maybe there were just too many folks. Paris is awesome and he has a huge personality - and crowd was in fanboy heaven. I think there must be something wrong with me - I couldn't catch the love thing at all.

There have been news reports that the Morse will re-open soon under new management. I learned that the "silent partner" that put up the bucks to re-build the old theater is a member of one of the wealthiest families in the world. Andy McGhee, his son and his partner will get bought out, I suppose, and the money folks will bring in their own team. It is a shame, but it would be a bigger shame if the place shut down for good.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Stayin' In and Catching Up

It is a chilly Saturday night in Chicagoland, the last day of February. The Mystery Band had no gig this evening. I thought about hitting the clubs to hear some of my buddies play, but my energy failed me - I stayed home with my girls and my dogs (the picture above is a demon-eyed version of Jenna and Brandy, the house canines). There was a big pile of mail that I ignored all week; it is now processed and dealt with. I got on YouTube and called up President Obama's February 24th speech to Congress, which I was too busy to watch live. Whooooo! That dude sure can speechify. I bought a big 120 gig iPod to replace the one that was lost/stolen at the Evanston YMCA. It took a long time to synch the 10,000 songs in my library to the new device. Now I am enjoying Nina Simone in my earbuds. I paid bills. I started getting my 2008 tax return organized. I had a couple of adult beverages. I practiced on my E-flat chromatic harmonica. I basically stayed in and fiddled around. Now it is almost midnight and I am ready to sleep.

I feel schizophrenic. On a personal level, I feel pretty optimistic. There is no discernible disaster lurking. My day job is OK because my little company is nimble and we are finding ways to make money in spite of the economic crisis. But then I read the papers, or talk to my friends that work at big companies, or listen to the news and I feel pretty pessimistic. This economy hasn't hit bottom yet. The massive debt reduction that is going on ("de-levering" is the business buzz word) is unlike anything we have seem in well over a generation. The savings rate of the average American is moving quickly from negative 1% to positive 10% (10% was close to the average in the 1960's through the mid-1980's). This process will mean a whole lotta pain - less spending, more debt defaults, higher unemployment. But the only way out of this is through it.

As I said earlier, I am ready to sleep. Goodnight.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A Different 17th Birthday Party

Yes, this is a photo of a young Dakota Fanning. I didn't know much about her, being a cretin when it comes to topical, current culture and movies. But my wonderful teenage duaghter asked for a different present for her 17th birthday - she asked me to watch the entire 10-episode "Taken" series with her that aired on the SciFi channel back in 2002. Each episode lasted about 90 minutes, so we are talking 15 hours of viewing time. In one day. By a guy who generally doesn't watch TV or go to the movies. But it was what my wonderful daughter wanted, and it was not a costly present.

It was a challenge.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this mini-series, "Taken" tells a tale about alien abductions and related hoo-hah dating from 1947 through 2002. The stories have a certain amount of cleverness, and there is some pretty good acting (young Dakota was quite good, actually). The decent acting masked the extreme improbablility of the premise and the questionable motivation of the key characters. This is not great cinema, and it is not even good TV. Steven Spielberg produced it. This is not Spielberg's best work, that's for sure. I did like watching the little grey men, though.

I also learned that you can get a hangover from too much television viewing. We did 12 hours on Saturday and quit at 1:00 a.m.when my headache and deep fatigue forced a halt. I woke up this morning feeling like I had drank a fifth of whiskey even though I hadn't touched a drop. We finished the series today at 1:30 PM. So in one weekend, I spent as much time in front of a TV as I normally would in nine months or so.

So happy birthday to my marvelous teenager, and thanks for a very different 17th birthday party.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Quote of the day

"I am an eternal optimist. That doesn't mean I am a sap."

Barrack Obama, 44th President of the United States of America.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Morse Theater - Bad News

I opened the Chicago Tribune today and read bad news about the Morse - a dispute between the operators and the "silent partner" who funded much of the construction of the place is headed to court. The venue may close soon. I am hoping that this can be resolved so the Morse will at least have a chance to succeed. Andy McGhee, the main operator, has poured his heart into this project. Here is the Tribune article.

This place is such a gem. Over $6 million was spent to bring this venue to life. It would be a shame if it all fell down over a legal dispute.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Mystery Band CD Is Out!!!

It took 10 months, but the first CD by Mr. G and the Mystery Band is finished, packaged, manufactured and ready for consumption. It is on CD Baby - click here for the link. The CD will be available on iTunes in a couple of weeks or so.

All the tunes on this disc are originals so you can blame the whole thing on me. I have lots of copies of this CD in my basement, so help me clear them out.

Monday, February 09, 2009

The Morse Theater, Chicago IL

The two pictures above represent the present and the past of the Morse Theater on Chicago's far north side. Opened in 1912 as a nicklelodeon, the Morse has gone through many incarnations - a furniture warehouse, an independent cinema house (with air conditioning!), a synagogue and an abandoned wreck. I got to know the building during its sad years as a deteriorating, unoccupied space. The Morse was empty for thirty years. Now, the place is a bright and shiny state-of-the-art new music venue - an unbelievable change, really. And this change happened due to the dreams of three guys - Andy McGhee, Willam Kerpan and Devin McGhee (Andy's son).

I have a feeling that these three did not conduct a scientific consumer demand study prior to launching this project. It is driven by heart and soul, not flinty-eyed calculation. This venue is very musician-friendly (Mr. G and the Mystery Band got to play there on January 31, so I was able to experience the joy of a top-knotch venue with dedicated, attentive professionals in charge of the operation), I know Andy McGhee pretty well, and i think he is inspired by a deep love of music and an equally deep love of the East Rogers Park neighborhood. The trio behind the Morse went through hell to get the joint open - zoning hassles, construction delays and even an arson. The least we Chicago area folks can do is get out and support this marvelous place

You can check out the Morse Theater's schedule and story here.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Passing of an Obscure Harmonica Player

I was emailed a link to the obituary of a gent who made it to the ripe old age of 98. He sounds like a terrific person, and he understood the comic power of the harmonica. Here is his story:

ATLANTA: Henry Leff, 98, played harmonica
By Holly Crenshaw The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Thursday, January 22, 2009

Wherever Henry Leff went, his harmonica went with him -- tucked into a pocket, ready to amuse. His repertoire consisted mostly of tunes from the 1930s and '40s. But one of his favorite songs to play was "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," a nod to his days as a batboy for the Atlanta Crackers.

Mr. Leff, 98, of Atlanta died Jan. 14 at Hospice Atlanta. A graveside service was held at Greenwood Cemetery. Dressler's Jewish Funeral Care was in charge of arrangements. The Atlanta native lived independently and was still working until two weeks before his death. For years, he cared for his wife, Ida Leff, until she died of complications from Alzheimer's disease in 1996. He would take her to the Weinstein Center to join in activities, then stick around to entertain folks with a few harmonica tunes.

Mr. Leff sold advertising promotional items -- calendars, notebooks, pens, letter openers and the like -- to businesses. Some customers stayed with him for 40 years. He was an optimistic soul and a creature of habit, said his grandson Scott Butler of Marietta. Mr. Leff lived in the same house for 55 years and drove nothing but Chevrolets. He was a regular at the Colonnade restaurant and a loyal member of Congregation Shearith Israel. On Sundays, he'd go to his local pancake house and order exactly the same breakfast -- half an omelet and a cup of coffee -- week after week.

On every anniversary and every holiday, he sent greeting cards to his loved ones. And every year on their birthday, they'd pick up the phone and "all you would hear is the harmonica playing 'Happy Birthday,' " his grandson said.

Additional survivors include two daughters, Eleanor Schwartz of Louisville, Ky., and Nancy Minkoff of Atlanta; a son, Frank Leff of Atlanta; five other grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.

Henry, you sound like you were a true mentsh. Sorry we never met.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Winter in Chicago

It is "survival of the fittest" weather. It is popsicle toes weather. It is weather suited for stoics and masochists. The temperature dropped to way below zero; now a high of 19 degrees sounds toasty. I spent a few moments staring out my kitchen window this morning, contemplating bare branches, mounds of snow and hyperactive squirrels in my back yard. It is nine degrees on MLK Day and all eyes are on Washington D.C with the run-up to the inauguration of President-Elect Barack Obama. Dr. King would have been 80 years old today.

I stay away from political commentary and social observations on this blog - it is mostly about blues music and such. But I have to say that this is an amazing, unsettling time. Mr. Obama is a breakthrough figure, taking on the top job in a country facing incredible stress. He gives us hope, but as the old saying goes, "Hope is not a strategy." Buena suerte, Senor Obama.

My wife tells me that I have a negative attitude and she is absolutely right. It is winter in Chicago, the financial system continues to melt down, the Mideast is in flames and the Bears missed the playoffs.

Here is my best shot at thinking positive - things are definitely going to get better someday. And I think Barack Obama has a good shot at leading us to that better day.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Popping into the Jams

I have behaved like a butterfly the past few days. On Saturday, I chased down my buddy, keyboardist Daryl Coutts, at Joey's Brickhouse (on Belmont). DC and his trio sounded good, and I sat around long enough to get an invitation to play. I played one tune and split. On Monday (Jan 5), I stopped by Bill's Blues Bar to check out Paul Doppelt's jam. It was cool, and Daryl Coutts was there, too! Dave Herrero was playing tunes off his new CD, and he sounded great! I played one tune, then split. Tonight, I headed back to Bill's Blues for Tom Crivelone's blues jam. It was rockin'! I played one tune with Tom & split. I can't stay up to late now that I am old and have a day job.

Hitting these scenes and playing one tune is like hitting a bar for a quick shot of whiskey. It is a good thing, but not enough. I feel so lucky to have friends that will let me sit in on short notice.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Four days in...and Belated Farewell to Freddie

It is four days into the New Year, and I am one week late in bidding farewell to the great Freddie Hubbard. Freddie is one of the few jazz superstars I had an opportunity to know, slightly. He was the featured artist at the University of California - Berkeley's Collegiate Jazz Festival back in the mid-1970's, and I was in the trombone section of the UC-Berkeley Jazz Ensemble at that time. The picture above (swiped from my old UC-Jazz Ensemble colleague, Les Golden) shows Freddie with UCJE director Dr. David Tucker. Dr. Tucker passed in 2003 (RIP).

I remember Freddie as a gracious genius. He was kind to the white college punks that were struggling to learn the arrangements for the concert in a compressed time frame. The performance was a success, and we filled the large auditorium on campus that night. It was very exciting for a wanabee jazz guy, which is what I was back then.

Freddie played with passion and power. When he was at the peak of his talent, he was the top trumpet player in the world. I thought he beat the hell out of Miles in the 1970's, and he was more contemporary that Dizzy. It seemed the Freddie was playing with every major luminary in jazz - Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Oliver Nelson, etc. etc. Shortly after he played at the UC Jazz Festival, he formed the great VSOP quintet with Hancock, Shorter, Tony williams on drums and Ron Carter on bass (the same group that was on the great Miles Davis records of the 1960's). The VSOP records are truly awesome.

Unfortunately, Freddie damaged his chops in 1992 and was never the same player after that. But his compositions have entered the list of jazz standards - "Red Clay" and "Little Sunflower" are two that jump to mind immediately.

So I have been feeling kind of bummed the past few days as I have reflected on the Freddie Hubbard's death. He was 70 years old, which doesn't sound that aged to me now that I am trudging through middle age. Freddie had some high points, but his star faded at the end. He was a giant, and a gentleman. Farewell, Freddie.