Thursday, February 28, 2013

Sad Face at Jazz Window

 Don’t go February – you’ve brought so little joy so why leave at a snail’s pace? My street looks like one giant snot bucket of gray matter put there by the sleet God - Von Herbert of Hell Froze Over.

I have heard the musicians cry – where were the gigs, I was available. I’ve seen street faces all searching beneath the soles of their shoes for sympathy. Not even a frothy cup of stew beef will revive the dreary grip of winter’s chill.

The dogs have spent the month holed up in the bedroom closet like adopted zombies. The joy of unlocking the back porch door has faded. That slow drag around the back lawn, sudden spin and gift dump all but forgotten. Just a whiff of inclement weather brought dog sadness and extreme lethargy. I threw a ball and it rolled – they watched then went back to bed.

So today, I will wave out my office window at each passing cloud - curse the snow greased sidewalk, laugh out loud to hear laughter, and reassure myself I paid something on every bill. March on!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

I Am Still that Man..

Tonight my spouse proclaimed – ‘You haven’t cleaned the bathroom in 44 years – of which I responded – I’m quite humble about these things and go about without fanfare – no need to brag!

Look, I am man – I only see things in my limited field of vision. The bathroom is totally out of focus – I barely see the carpet in my office which at times looks as if the living dead come there to hibernate.

I see my computer, my Smartphone clearly – my iPad through a glaze of greasy fingerprints. I see my piano like my eyesight was 50/50 – I never miss. My rack of movies from a distance is an Adam and Eve garden of delights in fact ‘No Country for Old Men’ and ‘There Will Be Blood’ sit there like gargoyles guarding voyeur perimeter. 

I have never missed target hitting the recliner spot on. I don’t complain about a thing – in fact, I’ve forgotten how to complain. I’m easy around the house. I bring you coffee in the morning, listen to your compelling news mash ups. I rarely believe you when you say the weather tomorrow will be catastrophic; I will in all likelyhood engage without warning - maybe one day to my peril.

You can try and rearrange me but no matter which parts you reassemble I will still come out oblong. I am man – garden variety – you can purchase at Home Hardware.

Forty years ago I would have ran alongside a train to just impress I’m the fastest, wrestled a land shark, beat the snot out of ten would be assailants, starred a serial killer into cuffing himself but tonight I just want to wish the pain in my right leg away. Christ sake – it’s been throbbing two weeks.

Tomorrow I will rise and let the dogs out and you will sleep. I will read the paper and you will sleep. When you rise I will have a big smile reserved for you and you will settle into the recliner warmed like angels placed soft coals underneath. All of this my love, ‘Cause I’m still, your man!

Last Day of February! Yes…

The longest month of the year is about to close and good riddance. Twenty-eight days in February is like time served beneath ground. There’s no humor to this month – witness the hostile reception for Seth MacFarlane’s tasteless Oscar antics – but then again this is the Family Guy.

Laughter during February is most difficult. Someone sprays a joke on you and the response – huh? This is the, ‘I don’t get it month or I don’t care to get it month’

I laugh continuously basically because I was born with a laugh gizmo stuffed between lungs and heart. That’s why I can react out of synch at punch lines from medical jokes – in fact CSI television puts me in Shecky Green laugh trauma.

Above the gizmo is the same frayed dread blanket all of us share this month. Please cover my feet!

March will be upon us and a whiff of spring will be in the air if you live in North Carolina – Toronto – mid - April. Here it will snow March 26th – just because you thought flowers were in near bloom witnessing a few slivers of tulip stalks pop through the sidewalk. The jokes on us – flowers have a sense of humor too.

We will walk with our heads down - curse the shivering winds and ask ourselves why won’t winter die or why isn’t climate change doing a proper job – we’re paying for it.

You will closely monitor those fattening buds on trees and tell a friend or spouse – ‘See, spring is two days away.’ You will likely leave the house wearing a sweater and running shoes and return after purchasing a parka and rain boots.

Whatever the case without winter life is so wrong! The price we pay for cruel February is returned in a jeweled cased exotic moment when first we inhale the birthing of spring. Does anyone have a date for that yet?

Monday, February 25, 2013

And the winner is Michelle Obama?

Hollywood and politicians have made strange bedfellows from back in the days of Charlie Chaplin whose independence sealed a lifetime beyond the cherished reels and busy work of the war lords consigning him to distant shores until the final redemptive days. You are either with us or against never upon us.

Lord Louis B. Mayer gave the Republican Party a say in the 1920s in building a solid propaganda machine. Edward G. Robinson fought Nazi’s – Ronald Reagan and George Murphy darlings of the high flying right served as presidents of the Screen Actors Guild. Depending on which side of the aisle you inhabited, politics of the day influenced the type of movies being made. We went from gun toting Vietnamese slayer John Wayne in ‘Green Berets’ to Jane Fonda’s Oscar win in the anti-war ‘Coming Home.’
Last night’s appearance of Michelle Obama although predictable did come as a surprise. When I first caught a glimpse I knew political interference was in play but willing to abide the show.

Obama is probably the most elegant well-spoken first lady of our times. She exudes perfect health, ambition, opulence, beauty – the impossible woman. She is style central; in fact last night in her Naeem Khan Gatsby era art deco dress she put the entire flock of starlets to shame. I ask? Should this be the case?
Jack Nicholson is the real deal but up against Lady Obama he looked like the guy who missed the last bus. In fact, he looked like he couldn’t afford a token.

I think where I’m going with this – I found it a truly uncomfortable moment and not for anything Seth MacFarlane might have said. It’s that spooky mix of Hollywood and Washington politics that leaves me dry. Separation of Hollywood and State?
I’m an old lefty so for me to fess up to this takes a bit of reflection. I never liked the stink of Chuck Norris hanging around or gun-crazed Charlton Heston, so in all fairness, beautiful – gorgeous perfect First Lady – rethink these spectacles. Please don’t make this a habit. Your words were too completed and cultured – remember America eats at Denny’s and parents work a dozen menial jobs a day and can’t afford ten sequins on that dress. We know Ben Affleck was gobsmacked by your cameo – but remember, that’s the guy who couldn’t get the Argo story straight even when Canadian truth slapped him silly at every turn. And do remember FOX News will replay and dissect and stoke their crazed club of lunatics into a Obama hate-filled frenzy – that in itself should give one pause to consider.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Life of Pi, Argo or Lincoln?

OK – I hid from the Grammys … that was on purpose. I try to avoid eTalk with Ben Mulroney but CTV is the only channel I get downstairs on the flat screen and Ben always seems too squeak in just after the news. Oh, how much do I loathe this show?
I met Mulroney several years back and found him quite affable and pleasant and for trash television this gets an A but that’s where common courtesy ends. You need an extra large green garbage bag and a twist tie to get through. You also need a spew cup and lots of paper towels and cleanser.

I love films and watch many, many, many during the year. This season I made a point of catching as many of the main players possible and must say it’s been a delightful experience.
So tonight, I will be watching. I do so because the academy treats film with such reverence and high regard the show gets my attention. I think Seth MacFarlane will be highly entertaining. What I won’t savor is fifty support cast run on stage at the same time and dry wrestle the microphone then thank those whose names pass quicker than the closing screen credits. And again, thank you Harvey!

I remember Marlon Brando’s snap at the academy – David Letterman’s very funny one shot at hosting – Jack Palance’s one handed push up – the best of Billy Crystal – it was all highly entertaining.
Hollywood has always partnered with social conscience even when investors are polar opposites. It`s a untidy relationship that has worked well for the most part.

Argo will most likely take best picture – I`m still not convinced of its veracity or quality next to `Silver Linings Playbook`- `Lincoln`- `Life of Pi`- Àmour`, Django Unchained, Zero Dark Thirty etc. Ìf its Argo – it’s a win for producer George Clooney – a favourite in this house who I still think got shafted last season with The Descendants` – his best work to date. You have to give it to the handsome man – he sure knows how to charm defeat!
I always dig it when Toronto Sun film critic Jim Slotek drops in on Ted and I at Newstalk1010. This is a rare opportunity to talk film with someone who does this for a living and a disciple who truly knows the medium. We all have opinions not always learned ones so it’s a good high hearing the man`s thoughts and probing on and off air. That`s how us fans play! I`m always curious why people give so much credence to a popular work or level serious criticism on another. I`ve got to know for sure..

Truthfully, I`m a Life of Pi guy. We stole center front seats ten rows up for Imax 3D experience. You can`t get this kind of buzz from Argo. That voracious hyena kept me squirming long enough to make me seriously feel I was the next raw meat buffet setting. I have to give director Ang Lee the big, big up chop – I never envisioned the film being as powerful and possible as Yan Martel`s grand fantasy.
Silver Linings Playbook? I wasn`t sure I’d catch this then I read enough grand reviews I caved. Bradley Cooper had me from the downbeat – then toss in Jennifer Lawrence. Tears were never far away mostly rimming the eyelids. I bought in.

Lincoln was superb and as always Daniel Day Lewis puts the Bo Jackson smack on this hitting farther than any park could contain.
Beasts of the Southern Wild – that was truly a WTF movie. A bath tub is a tough place to reside and all those mosquitoes, crawdads and dying. Great film but not a repeat.

Zero Dark Thirty - enjoyed but it didn't stick - just glad Osama is elswhere. Django Unchained - Tarantino never dissappoints yet this upsets as much as it delights.

Basically, I watch movies like everyone I know .. certain actors never disappoint, the same for high prized directors, yet it’s still all about the story. Blow-up crap like the Expendables will always serve an audience of costume survivalist, which is cool but for me 2012 was a righteous high quality movie season. Tonight, I get to cheer my favourites and thumb down those I have no connection. Dammit – that’s big fun! As for Ben, Joan and Melissa I just bought a large bottle of Pinesol.

Friday, February 22, 2013

My Brother Deserves an A+

My brother is the funniest person I know. Tonight, he’ll be luxuriating at a casino in Louisville, Kentucky.
Since the both of us got iPads we not only communicate every day - we Face Time each other in the eye. Now, I remember looking at this guy from an adjacent crib when at age two he worked magic on the bedroom wall with his epic study in brown. Today, as photographer Henri Cartier Bresson says, as we age we get the face we deserve. We look at each other and ask WTF, do we really deserve this?

Every guy should have a brother. Brothers are solid! I had two sisters one passed away and the other excommunicated not by church but by her own doings. Don’t ever mention her name around brother he’ll dial 911 or threaten to bust a cap in someone’s ass.
Bro read my FB review of the female-sing off on American Idol the other night and asked if I saw the dudes implode last night. Fortunately, I was caught up with the film - Seven Psychopaths – Christopher Walken time! Brother goes on to describe the debacle with a serious tone of desperation in his voice. You see, bro and I have worked with some great singers over our musical lives and this messy wasteland of disposal singers doesn’t play in our world. We were around for Marvin, Otis, Little Anthony, Lloyd Price, Joe Williams, Sam and Dave, Johnny Taylor, excuse me – Jackie Wilson, Little Jimmy Scott, Billy Paul, Pebro Bryson, Luther Vandross, excuse me again, Clarence Carter, Eddie Floyd.. stop me – I’m out of breathless soul! We were even around for a scream ranting Jerry Lee Lewis in Indianapolis.

We are singer friendly. Most jazz guys dismiss singers as evil plants there to shorten lengthy sketch-less soloing. Not us! I love a good horn solo yet a good horn and great singer keeps me from poking my eyes out with a nail clipper. I used to love long solos spread across the band but these days it’s like rote snoring. I would pay someone walk on stage and lay out a fresh twenty and pay them stop one course in. Long boring solos should have died out with the Grateful Dead. It’s as if jazz guys abide by a civil code - I solo, then you, then you, then you, then you, then you, - give the drummer some, maybe. No one asks the audience who politely clap then text these words – “Christ sake – another solo. Kill me!”
Most days, bro and I talk technology. My sibling is up on everything. If we could have started life together now we’d probably be successful techno vipers. We love this shit!

Bro kills on those iPad editing suites. I’m still in gooing stage. I hack along and cut the basics but bro is smooth and instinctive. I love his work.
The reason I’m writing this is for many years we existed in parallel spheres. I never really knew the depth of his talent and he’d probably heard enough of my music nonsense. When someone grieves about the golden years I want to push them in front of a speeding Pachard – these times are far better than envisioned. Something as unique and revolutionary as the iPad has given me a daily connection with that little brat who painted masterpieces from his diaper. Dammit, he’s gotten so much more artistic these days!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

American Idol 2013

Some shows stay beyond invitation and drag on like road kill. American Idol needs an exit strategy.
I watched the sound off between the young women last night and found it painful - maybe one voice with potential among the cheery warblers.

I’m a hug fan of singers but not this kind of singing. I caught Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes on Saturday Night Live Saturday past and she truly gave one of the best live vocal performances in years on a show usually fronted by unstable singing. The previous week Justin Beiber was heard raw absent auto tune and colorization - let me find the words – Big Stank!
Throughout American Idol’s history three singers have cut through with serious skills – Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Jennifer Hudson. That’s not to say there weren’t a few other decent singers who found traction on Broadway and a few with mesmerizing vocal technique. Adam Lambert should have been my fourth choice but somewhere along the way he hitched himself to the bizarre and never returned.

Singing is still about the song and the person the message and big heart – the connection. American Idol is about the package.
Brittany Howard is in no way American Idol material. She looks wrong. When she opens her mouth the face contorts in a way that makes American Idol lip cooing dreaminess resolve into Mad Magazine cartoon. That wouldn’t be acceptable on AI. Cute is a must! Big curves a winner. Cute, big curves and doe-eyed humility – top twenty.

Don’t even get me started on the judges. I’ve always enjoyed Keith Urban but I’m sure he’d rather be somewhere writing songs and hanging with family. Nikki Minaj – what can one say – American Idol has dumped the entire history of the show down a drain pipe putting this clumsy speaking Muppet in a judge’s seat. Credibility Zero! Mariah is all about showcasing her body. She looks as if she’s perched on a throne and contestants court jesters.
American Idol is still about making every young aspiring bathroom yodeler believe they will be a world- wide singing phenomenon. Stretch limousine rides, a continuous flock of paparazzi in chase, long weekends in a Malibu beach house, worldwide adoration and a dozen handlers there to repeat two words – You’re Great!

The show will walk the same terrain as previous seasons -jack the masses and the results will be the same. By next season they will be looking for another set of judges and the cycle will repeat. Thousands of Mariah wannabees will line up around city blocks never understanding Carey was born with an unusual gift and is an absolute original.
More than anything the remote will now shy away another season and avoid collision. That’s a good thing!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Eric Clapton - The Chase, The Blues, the Cream!

I’ve been severely chased cross country three times in my lifetime by recordings, the first – the Doors, ‘Break on through to the Other Side’ secondly, –The Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton and thirdly the Beatles , Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
The mid 60s, The Doors were resident house band playing Gazzari’s on Sunset Strip long before success and Break on Through was just getting hold of local radio. I was trying to get into Local 47 Los Angeles Musician’s Union so I had to do all sorts of weird calls during the six month probation period - one being – picket the Doors. Gazzarri’s was a non union establishment. The gig paid $16 a night so I went with it. First night on strip I’m joined by a singer/actress Lynn Carey - Mama Lion. The picket thing quickly became a diversion - Mama Lion - main attraction. This woman was voluptuous in every manner. The Door’s – who gives a damn, – the Lion ruled. Mama had more followers than Jimmy Swaggart. Any intentions I may have had got swallowed in the surrounding crowd. By 1971 she was a Penthouse go to playmate.

I had a habit of traveling across America and following the hippie trail. My pockets were empty and accompanying me a Farfisa organ and amp – a few clothes and no coin. It didn’t matter which small town or sleepy city I crossed the Doors were breaking all around.
Heads shops were popping up like newly minted super market chains. I’d drop in get my bearings and inquire about the local music scene. Playing in the background far from mainstream radio – John  Mayall’s Blues Breakers with the champ of blues guitar Eric Clapton.

This was stone cold - one of the best recordings I’d ever heard; jazz, blues, rock whatever. Clapton had a killing sound and the backing band, serious groove. John Mayall had one sweet blues voice. July 1966 was pure magic.
The Blues Breakers cover is eye catching. Evidently, Clapton was in a sour mood and began reading a British children’s comic, Beano. That capture gave Clapton stand alone mystery man appeal one that would stick the coming years.

Clapton played a sunburst 1960 Gibson Les Paul Standard a sound that would shape the future of rock and roll. Gone was that Duane Eddy twang, thin picking style in comes full throttle overdrive. I’d only heard one guitarist before Travis Wammack come near. Wammack played our high school gymnasium back in 1964. He put the small amp in overdrive and blasted away at his instrumental hit ‘Scratchy’ then rolled around the floor picking with teeth then up behind the back ‘Distortion Pt.1.” Wammack would move on to be Little Richard’s music director from 1984 – 1995.
I arrive in New York City totally unclear where the future lie knowing I’d have to move quickly to stave off homelessness. I hooked up with some street musicians who began showing me the ropes or how to avoid the use of rope. I walked night after night – club to club. On one occasion I hung front of the Café Au Go Go, the basement night club -152 Bleecker Street and saw that a new British band called The Cream was making its big club debut.

I had already purchased Fresh Cream in a super market in South Los Angeles a few weeks before and burned the grooves to the core. I was working with this duo Roy and Don playing a few soul venues. Roy could sing like Joe Tex – Don couldn’t really get a grasp of Steve Cropper but was always near. I dropped by their parent’s home and popped the disc in place. The album roared. Don swore he was tossing his guitar to the curb Roy, couldn’t get a read on it and just attacked the singing. Me – I’m bled Clapton.
From September 26 to October 1, 1967 the Cream were holed up at the Au Go Go. I kept going back night after night. It was full frontal assault. Ten Marshall amps stacked no more than twenty feet from patrons all sitting like parishioners in church pews. Clapton wore a tan rawhide fringe jacket. Did that make an impression? I went shopping the following day and located a knock- off at the Mercury Gift Shop lower East side. The gift shop was my style central. I could get a Nehru shirt of my own design done in two days and wear on street that night. That kept heads buzzing and hippies ordering.

The Cream gave you thirty to forty minute jams propelled by the fire-bombing semi jazz drumming of Ginger Baker. I studied him with intense observation – followed his eyes and warn myself never go near. There was an explosive vibe on stage understating there could be spilled blood if egos got seriously juiced.

Much like the Blues Breaker cover Clapton seemed oblivious and just did what he always did – drive those vibrating strings deep past skin through every person in attendance. Jack Bruce played more bass that most of us associated with rock – but this was evolution and it made perfect sense.
I had no idea Clapton sang until he cut into `Crossroads`. Up against Bruce`s piercing vocals Clapton’s seemed weak and near buried under the weight of electric force. Still to this day, I don`t know how I survived the bombardment but it was extraordinary.

I`m working with this soul band from Brooklyn and decide the guitarist should have a clear view of the future so I invite him to join me night three. Jack Dina was notorious. He was bred on Memphis soul and knew every Steve Cropper lick and how to studiously apply. Dina was also crazy nuts. He could sing and he could frustrate and instigate. He drove for the mob and did many unsavory things which I wasn`t connected too and over the top hilarious.
He`d arrive late at nearly every gig after a stop in Brooklyn for the ‘boo’ – or hash or other head clams. It`d take him a while to settle. Once in the pocket he moved in a twisted tight manner slicing the Telecaster cross the rhythm pocket. He was manic but perfect. He could sing like Wilson Pickett and keep the stage in fits. He was big laughter sporting a Brillo head of red wiry hair and protruding chin like a cartoon mafia Don.

I really thought I could tame the chunk of burning coal long enough to appreciate the Cream.

Dina arrives late but fully loaded with drink and drugs. He`s loud and funny and set for the kill.
I scam seats two rows front of a few minutes before show time.

`Why the fuck so many amps on stage – I thought you said this motherfucker can play – it looks like a music store up there. Is that shit for sale?`  Dina then goes deep into himself laughing at his own observation.
By now, I`m getting fully embarrassed, when Dina starts talking to the drum set, amps and most anyone nearby ripping the band before it arrival. “Ì bet they don`t play any Sam and Dave,” he says.

I tell Jack I have to hit the men`s room and back soon. I slip into a dark corner of club and watch Dina fidget around when suddenly the band centres themselves on stage. Dina starts throwing barbs of which they ignore until Jack Bruce has a few words. Dina then looks back, big chin bouncing a satisfied smirk certified he`d gotten a righteous response.
The band kicks in at maximum volume - Dina near flat lines. I see Jackie’s head tilt and slide safely below demarcation then nod approval. He then points at Baker and gestures a couple improvised drum rolls - suddenly stands up and screams `Clapton you suck!’ – Dina’s head rises, lips quiver then a mammoth eruption of puke rockets above the front row. Holy shit! – I couldn`t believe I witnessed. Sooner than expected Dina starts stumble walking down the aisle covering both ears - holds balance until at entrance. He then looks back – waves, slips the middle finger – ‘You suck, Clapton!’- this is my gift to you. Fuck you all.’

We’re standing outside the club and I’m speechless. ‘Billy, I know you meant well bringing me down here to hear this shit – but that band don’t have no soul. Where’s the fucking beat?” Nuff said!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Levon Helm - Music from Big Pink (1968)

Greenwich Village was a hotbed of sounds and new faces back in 1968. Blood Sweat and Tears was a quartet, Stevie Winwood was seen sporting a fashionable Afghan jacket, Donovan strolled in and out of folk retreats floors coated in saw dust, Jimi Hendrix was rumoured the best village sleepover, the Cream recently blew the roof off the Café A Go Go, Todd Rundgren was holed up at the Café Wha - Neil Diamond the Bitter End – and Miles Davis proclaimed the Electric Flag the best band in the world.

During the golden age rock music had a distinctive voice– no band played or sounded the same.
I was sharing a flat with bassist Stu Woods and pile of current pop and jazz recordings. Eric Mercury was a mainstay, Miles Davis, Chick Corea, Santana and a lot of classic soul.

Every few days I would dig through piles of new releases at a vinyl store up on Eight avenue when I come across this side called ‘Music from Big Pink’. It wasn’t the title that caught my attention but the colorful sketch on cover. Secondly, I liked the song titles. – ‘Tears of Rage’ – written by Bob Dylan and keyboardist Richard Manuel, ‘The Weight’ by Robbie Robertson, ‘Chest Fever’, the classic ‘Long Black Veil’ – Dylan’s, ‘I Shall be Released.’
Talk about a drop the needle experience! Rarely does a recording spin the head as such.

 Mountain music was all around us as kids. Those trips through Tennessee and lower Kentucky put us in the heart of twang country. Flatbeds with pickers and fiddlers, Grand Ole Opry, roadside juke boxes, next of kin, conveyed a sound born of sorrow and lifted by the glory of redemption. I loved real church music not the stuff imported from England that made Jesus sound like a stiff contained in a wooden box but those that shined light through tall Georgia pines and instructed heavenly angels carry out their earthly duties governing the blue ridges. The lush countryside scarred by war was a place where neglected bodies lay buried in unmarked graves and arrowheads had a way of puncturing earth hundreds of years after the last kill.
The moment I place the stylus in the first groove Levon Helm’s drums come snapping at the knees. This is loose to the ground rhythm of a hundred raggedy dressed children falling about in some kind of slump dance.  There’s a pulse so laid back it barely register but all of this inside sticking kicks the band in all the right places.

That singing? – Oh that singing! At first I thought it all come from Robbie Robertson and Richard Manuel but on closer inspection I get the message, it’s the drummer. Now, – drummer’s never sing this good or urgent. I knew one, Kent Sprague from Quincy, Illinois a gospel singer these days in Los Angeles. We worked together mid-sixties and he was a positively divine soul master. Later he formed Boone’s Farm. Even then, I watch Kent sing and play and couldn’t put it all together but looked on envious someone could make such a powerful relevant tone while pounding a beautiful groove.
Levon was big southern landscape and it traveled wherever he went. I remember seeing him and Sissy Spacek in Coal Miner’s Daughter. I had no idea what his acting chops would be but did he ever nail the part. Levon was ever particle of earth he was delivered from.

When we first arrived in Canada we lived in shared eight room accommodation on Hallam Street with Ronnie Hawkin’s pianist Scott Cushnie, bassist Rick Birkett – guitarist Freddy Keeler and drummer Frank Defelice would always be around. They were putting together a band that played The Band – ‘Jericho.’ It seemed like Jericho rehearsed twenty hours a day and did we ever get a heavy dose of those songs. After awhile you wanted to change the playlist yet it offered one a great appreciation for the craftsmanship that went into producing and writing those epic songs.
The Band was experts. Keyboardist Garth Hudson was the resident genius who knew how to take the basic tracks and color to perfection. His keyboard work is up there with the best ever. He comes from a place where originals originate.

The real beauty of Big Pink is the singing – those delicious harmonies that flow past one another – bend and tail away leaving just a scrape of rust and bitterness for all to savor. There is enough mournful coloring in the delivery to bring tears of joy and plenty pain when called upon. Phrasing like this comes from hanging outside Pentecostal Sundays and humming the big jam to yourself. Not all the voices heard separately were tuneful but together they rage with community emotion and immediacy.

Whenever I watch The Last Waltz possibly the best concert documentary ever – Levon is the glue. Not every player is consistent or performance redeeming but Levon is positively masterful. His drumming rides the concert from beginning to end. It’s quirky and from a place of collective history. By the final bar you know you’ve been on a glorious journey few with ever travel. With Levon’s recent passing so goes with him a beat that cracked perfect time and made the planet dance on his own terms.

Monday, February 18, 2013

And Here is the Voice of Jazz

I always crack up when I hear the moniker thrown around. Yes, he’s the voice of jazz in Toronto, no, the voice of jazz for Canada, I heard this said at a recent function – let`s get with it - God stamped jazz pope on this person`s face.

There is no such thing or authority. There are folks who play jazz on radio, write reviews, fatten basement collections but they are fans with a fans knowledge of music. There are others that have held an instrument – labored transcribing and learning – they get it.

Musicians are the ones who understand. It comes through their hands, their souls, minds, and music. You would never hear one lay claim to being the voice of anything other than themselves.

There are some great jazz writers who play with words in rhythm with the players. They come the closet.

I`m always amused at top ten lists – it`s like film. In reality, there is no top ten. There are top ten opinions.

I`ve seen nearly every major film this season and to me there is no number one. If I were to have my say it would be `Life of Pi.` There, I said it. Saw Argo`` – good not great, Silver Linings Playbook`` – awesome, Lincoln``- a classic - `Zero Dark Thirty` - already forgotten. Àmour` - I`m not ready to watch an aging spouse tragedy.

There will be many who disagree and that`s cool – I`m just saying. We all know Kenny G`s `Duotones`is the greatest jazz side ever!

Mae West and the Queen of Drag!

It was a good thing I had nearly twenty years of gigging under my belt by the time I met female impersonator Craig Russell. It would have been near impossible deciphering each unpredictable moment spent in his company.

 My first gig paid $2.40 a high school prom in a dance band led by our trusted bandmaster Mr. Hugh Scott. Scott was a nervous fellow who tolerated me but never fully engaged and swing was not his thing. It was 1960 and rock and roll was here to stay and Scott was more in tune with music with a bit of a march to it. I even remember him throwing the baton at me, I don’t recall the reason other than he didn’t like the way I looked at him and the fact brother Wayne and I were in orchestra together and that meant trouble. I truly believe he raided the band cupboard and collected a few parts from the Sound of Music for the prom gig. By senior year he tossed both of us out of band. He just couldn’t take a good laugh and a couple of unstoppable pranksters.

A year or so later I get a call from Mingus tenor sax man Bobby Jones to play a strip bar - Iroquois Gardens. I was truly not versed in life much more than a trip to church and or a run up the river in dad’s cabin cruiser. Jones was crazy insane. I knew possibly three songs and a bunch of Scarlatti. The stripper wants 'Shangri-La'. Nothing like the sound of drums, piano tuned to A 330 and clarinet. Jones doesn't give a shit he wants the stripper. We're playing along - me in some foreign key clueless of chord changes. Jones would yell ‘G7’ and laugh his ass off. As we conclude the rhapsody when stripper yells.. ‘You stink! Jones looks at her and says, ‘You stink too, I can smell you from here.’

 Not long after I'm at the coliseum in Louisville and Jamey Aebersold is opening for the Count Basie Band. His bassist is a recovering addict. After Jamey's set bass man comes and sits by me. Basie is killing. Bass man leans over and whispers 'can you feel the vibrations? I haven't a clue what he's getting at. He then looks at me and says ‘Orange’. We are vibrating orange in here.’ Ok.

That's just a sample of the necessary steps needed to endure and appreciate a Craig Russell. I always say the two craziest music icons I've ever worked for we're Ronnie Hawkins and Craig Russell. You couldn't tell them apart. Every moment in their company brought hilarity most would grimace or dial 911.

 I’m down in Boston with Craig and we’re playing a gay disco converted to show theatre this occasion. I’ve already spent six months in gaydom which I will admit at first uncomfortable but after playing for drunken rock crowds brought serious comic relief.

 Russell began as Mae West’s biggest fan and president of the Mae West fan club. I think he eventually moved to Hollywood for a time and hung around West. It was the indie movie 'Outrageous' that would launch his career a brief but roaring one it was.

 For the Boston gig we needed a big band so I hit up Pat LaBarbera for names. Pat was with both Lionel Hampton and Buddy Rich bands so he still had a directory of first call musicians. I made contact and band was organized.

 We rehearsed the first afternoon absent Russell for ten day stint. Way cool – no mishaps.

 The night of opening I’m in dressing room with players just chatting and run my hand across a wooden box and come across a quarter of a joint with a bit of lipstick on it. I think – this is crazy if I light. Back then one never gave a second thought. I take my prize to a corner and have a couple hits. In the background the hall is bouncing to ‘Another One Bites the Dust.` A minute or so passes when suddenly my heart starts pounding a hundred thumps a second – five minutes to show time. Fuck me – what did I do?

 I walk through crowded room heart jumping from chest and banging tables. It dawns on me that hit was PCP – something I’d been given once before that was way beyond fear weed – horse tranquilizer.

 I steer myself to piano bench and sit there while band takes stage. I keep talking to myself – ‘you will live to see another day – you will never do this again, you are loved.’ The next three minutes stretch into ten as we wait for Craig’s arrival, meanwhile, ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ is swirling in my brain like a noxious stew. I’m beginning to think the song was scripted for me when the front door pops open and the queen arrives. And yes she arrives full costume and dressed as Bette Midler – Yes! Bette Midler.

 I could judge Craig’s mood depending on costume – Bette fun – Judy Garland – lights out!

 I count the overture in flip open score and there before me is a dangling pair of testicles cut from a porn magazine. I look up at band and it was like facing a dark mountain side inhabited by racoons just flickering eyeballs. I start laughing uncontrollably from whence drummer hits a body switch and a round of colored lights clinging to neck starts flashing off and on. Then the whole band starts laughing and can barely play. Craig just parades on oblivious to happenings. By now I’m laughing so hard my teeth  stick to piano wood.

 Next up – ‘The Rose’ – perfect Bette showcase. I flip page and there’s a long schlong taped the length of page. I sit there startled and start flipping through the evening’s score and notice every page had body parts perfectly cut around song titles. By now the band was on the floor and drummer flashing like he’d hit Vegas jackpot. There was nothing one could do but laugh and try regain control.

 Somewhere half way through Craig reaches for glass of water resting on piano lid. He holds up to lights – sips and has a second look. ‘My, my I’m drinking dick juice. Tasty, tasty.’ Funny man had cut a penis part and stuck to bottom of glass. Craig looks at me and says – you hired this band for ten days?

 Every night was wickedly insane. Craig got even with one of the sax players during the Peggy Lee medley. He slipped next to him bent down and drove his tongue through eardrum to the inner part of his brain. The guy flipped out. Band was on fire.

 A few weeks pass and Craig calls about a gig in Saskatoon. By now price is becoming an issue. It was going to take a fair bit more money  to endure the weird stuff. Craig agrees and off we go.

 A stretch limo pulls up outside and I catch a view of a giant white wig with a big mouth red with lipstick. This is seven in the morning.

 Russell is in full Mae West mode. He’d been up all night coking and drinking and was in fine form. “Come sit back here with me big boy.” It was if Mae was going into overdrive and there was no point of return. I figured as long as Mae was in room and not Judy we could maintain.

 Imagine standing at ticket counter at Pearson with this costume shouting at everyone who walks by. Embarrassment with a triple E! ‘Where do you want to sit, I’m sitting with the pilot– you with the stewardess.” I knew better than sit close by so I booked front of room.

So we’re flying above the clouds when I hear – ‘Bill’s my music director – he’s from Indiana – Bill stand up and take a bow.’ I don’t dare look back. “Hey Bill, Mae calling – back here honey.” I turn slightly and every passenger was either laughing or in fear. “ If you don’t take a bow, I’m coming up there.” I raise my hand. “There you go, the boy’s in show business and he just showed some.”

 We arrive to another stretch limo with a female driver. Bags were near curb and she ignores. “Honey, pick those bags up and be careful my toys are in the purple case, don’t  harm and put gently in trunk.” The woman ignores and gets in limo. By now Craig is situated in back seat killing the bar. “Honey, we are not leaving with bags sitting on curb.” I interject – ‘I’ll take care. “No, I’m paying her so get your ass out of the car and take care.” The woman just sits there. Craig gets on telephone and calls her employer. A bit of chatter and then she grudgingly stuffs trunk.

 We’re cruising along when Craig says ‘You know your trouble bitchy – you need a man – Bill she’s all yours.”  I ignore but Craig persists. “You ain’t never had a man – that’s your problem – and you won’t ever be Mae, I understand women and you are not getting laid and that’s a problem.”

 Craig eventually turns his attention to the road. He opens back window and starts yelling at everyone – “It’s Mae – come see my show – I’m not dead – see me -believe me.” Hey soldier, I can get you in for half price, you can take me home on a stretcher, I’m into bondage, bandage me - please.”


Sunday, February 17, 2013

Little Richard - Bronze Liberace - Queen's University 1971


It’s been decades since I’ve smoked a bowl of hashish and none finer than sharing with the Bronze Liberace - Little Richard at Alumni Hall January 1971 – Queen’s University.

I was keyboardist/vocalist with Toronto outfit ‘Homestead,’ an act that caught the attention of Guess Who producer Jack Richardson in 1970. Jack understood my position with the American military and opposition to the Vietnam War and did all he could to rectify. I just made the task near impossible.

Homestead concerts were testimonials against war and degradation of the environment. I wore more Canadian flags than springtime on Parliament Hill. Jack just rolled with the situation.

We were invited to open for Little Richard – 7:30 set. The stage was outfitted in these humongous Traynor speakers. Back then they were cheap and sounded like stampeding caribou when fully exercised.

We play our opening set which was received as if we had been sentenced to an embalming until my ‘save the planet’ pitch – things then heated up. We won round one..

  Now we are downstairs in dressing area and Little Richard is yet to arrive due to a bomb scare over Cleveland. Richard refuses a chartered flight to London, Ontario fearing plane would crash. He arrives at 11PM half hour after second show was to start by ground.

I’m killing time with a quarter ounce of Lebanese hashish. I don’t think anyone other than me and I smoked. Suddenly, Richard’s band arrives and catches the action.

Hey bro,’ what’s that you smoking,” says horn section. ‘Hashish’, I reply. ‘Well, give me some.’ Smooth huh? So I cut a couple grams loose and the guys disappear in the john find a toilet roll, unravel foil from a cigarette pack, punched a few holes – Wah la – ‘Big High!

I’m kicking around with promoter when Richard walks in demands pay. The promoter tells him to play first. Not far away is Richard’s bodyguard packing heat and sinister look. ‘Pay me mutherfucker or I don’t play.” Well, I have to go up to box office and count the money, I hope they will do this.” Get moving”, says, Richards”

So I’m sitting there looking at this made up cosmetic icon not knowing what to expect when he goes off and lectures about ‘taking care of business’ then horn section returns. “Give me more of that good shit.” I can’t believe the audacity of this clown. Quickly, Richards jumps in – “what shit? The hippie got some bad hashish,” says the viper man.

Richards looks at me – “Is that so, I ain’t never smoked hashish – is it any good.” I look at him and think – fucking Little Richard! “Yeah man- this is Lebanese and it’s got a nice froth on it.”

‘Light me some hippie guy – I need to get high.” I do just that and LR gets his love on. “This shit is outrageous.”

The next half hour we continue bowl lighting. “What’s your name? It’s Bill! Your band? Homestead! Tell you what Bill – I like you man. Paul McCartney is playing on my next album and me on his – then I’m playing on yours.”

I’m young and cynical and don’t give a shit. Little Richard is in the house. He's playing me for the remaining gram.

Richard collects half pay and hits stage and rocks the room. I feel like a miniature entertainer. This was big bold history and I’m a witness. The sound was horrible but who gave a damn. His foot hit the floor like a sledgehammer and he sang in ungodly tones – ‘Lucille, Blueberry Hill, Be Bop A Lula, Good Golly Miss Molly, Satisfaction, Midnight Special, Tutti Frutti’ and on. I’d rocked with Chuck Berry in 1968 but it in no way compared.

Half time! We’re back in waiting room. “Hey B, got anymore of that killing shit? Sure do – light me a bowl. “That I do. Band arrives – “give us more.” Are you kidding I’m with the man and ain’t blowing anymore on greedy horn section.

Paymaster fucks up. “Sorry Mr. Richard. We have to wait until closing time.” Richard – ‘ What are you saying? Get my money or the night is over.” The dude reaches down and touches Richard. “Get your fucking fingers off me queer. Then bodyguard moves in and clutches hidden gun.” Richard intercedes- “Did you get the message – get my money”

Richard looks over at me – “fill the bowl Bill - looks like a long night – you say that shit is Hebanese?”

Eventually, promoter pays up and Richard does second show.

We’re on our way home and stop at one of those unfriendly late night diners. I walk in with Kris and the catcalls start. ‘Hippie, dick sucker, fuck face…when suddenly this tall lanky black dude in pimp suit strides in and slithers to bathroom. All action ceases. Not a sound - everyone hesitates. A few minutes pass and the guy exits and you can see a gun under short jacket. He taps – looks about and gives one of those stares that freeze the fearful then exits. The last words heard were – “Fuck me, who was that – Shaft”!


Gambling on Gambling

To be honest gambling creeps me out. I have a curious habit of estimating money dropped on lotto tickets at my corner store when I see a customer clutching a stack of spent coupons then discard in that cardboard box where all dead money goes. Most don't even bat an eye but I suspect an agony play rips inside. 

I follow the mayor’s flirtation with a massive casino on the waterfront with great interest. I'm by no means puritanical but to me these places rob the soul - destroy lives - defile communities and drive deep sorrow. Yes, they are big fun and all that too.

Revenue is the big scream but do they really pay as advertised. I would suspect the payback to communities is on par with the pay back on individual slots - dimes and nickels in comparison to profits. 

I've worked Vegas and Tahoe and had a blast. I invested possibly $40 gambling and that covers a lifetime. I didn't enjoy gambling. I was more enamoured with the countryside - adventure away from casinos – horseback riding – hiking wilderness.

I feel uneasy watching gambling movies. It's the loss, the persistent soul wrenching pain and recovery that makes one squeamish.

Years back I watched Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards drop thousands at a craps table at the MGM Grand. I must say the man wore the shine of big money. He showcased suits that reflect the sun, teeth glistened and hair so perfect only a mannequin would dare compete. He was the big loud dog at a table surrounded by gorgeous women and much like the movies a crowd of goobers. The big rooster mesmerized, embraced the dice, held hand high and launched down table. Then came the wind suck and gasp from onlookers. Loser! It was terribly amusing and truly sad. Edwards would eventually go to jail caught embezzling state funds for amusement, let me guess?

A good bit of lottery dollars have gone back in circulation and done a wealth of good. In times as these it’s necessary to be creative in finding dollars to keep a teetering economy afloat. I would think Woodbine Racetrack would be a more suitable location for a casino. Plenty land and long experience. The waterfront should be held in higher regard and we as citizens deserve a far more reflective, creative vision that the one celebrated by the mayor. 

Truly not worth the gamble!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Devil Wears a Suit!

I have seen the outfit since childhood and it’s impressive. Talk about individualism the dude’s got it. Red is hot!

‘The devil gonna get you.’ Oh man, how many times did we hear that line or, ' he’s down there in hell pulling at your feet.’

I was baptized Catholic then kidnapped evangelical and absorbed a double whammy devil dip.

This guy hung around like a bad stink. I’d see him in my dreams – he’d fly by and sneak a look in my bedroom window – laugh on the rooftop and slap the pigeons silly. I was scared shitless.

Kids have a way of seeing everything in amplified fear Technicolor.

Through the years the red runner lost most of his mystique. When you wage that much war and cause so much grief the color fades.

Those Sunday morning ministers spent to much time with the guy. They talked about him every weekend liked he’d drop by for a late night dinner and helped fill in a few pages of the next day’s text. 

 We had a preacher whose head would near explode with devil trash talk. “God be my witness stuff.” Then he’d march in some dictator from Panama and ask we give money.

Then one day the teen years roll in and you start thinking of Mr. D in comedy terms and try to spook your friends. “ Why don’t you go over and peek behind the cellar door’ – then pop out and scare the person nutty or recite stories of the undead. Scary stuff.

The eighties sort of back paged Mr. D – horror films came with more abhorrence than imagined, the work of Hollywood suits. I can’t watch any of those 'saw me up' episodes or blood bowls of mutilated body dip. I know the devil wouldn’t do that – he was into fry panning.

Today Mr. D has no credibility. Special effects and real life have neutered the poor ape. We now have something more frightening in our midst - we have bankers and lawyers!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Cruise Me to the Other Side

The recent Carnival cruise ship fiasco is one killing disaster. That wasn't an asteroid that skimmed by earth today that was a mound of  exploding feces courtesy Carnival fun holidays.

I worked a cruise ship nine weeks in 1998. I really wanted the experience, one I’d heard about but never encountered.  Ex DJ Larry Green was booking and looking, so he sold me on this scam. I won’t go into details other than pay didn’t add up in end and he wasn’t perfectly clear about the mental capacity of my lounge partner.

I was locked away with this Romanian diva who marched about like a perfumed duck giving orders and imposing her CD on every sap. We played the Midnight Lounge. She called me American shit - I her - Queen Warthog. To say I couldn’t feel the love would be me soft balling the insanity.

Every time we left port something broke down. We'd be crossing from Cartagena to Montego Bay and the engines would die. No air conditioning and after awhile a bouquet of ripe shit would sting the nostrils. I was cell bound two decks below with no windows. Once all air had been siphoned I'd slide into a panic, abandon room and run for the stairwell. I developed unexplainable anxiety attacks. I know this isn't something that happens to most but in light of this recent mess worth revisiting.

I loved sailing and lounging about the sun table near pool with the week's resident house comics, mostly Brits. If you ever sail as such insist on a cargo of Brits - they are clever, come with a wicked sense of humour and get every joke. They are also a pile of fun chatting back in forth on deck - Canadians not so much. They are pretty much like fallen lumber. Americans tan and complain.

There was this hilarious scene with this fire fighter from the Beaches in Toronto who invested himself in  daily poolside trivia matches. The guy recognized me as music guy from a local jazz festival so he invented me as his new best friend. Not so fast dude.

El fire jerk took trivia seriously but never won. Most questions were slanted towards British history. So after a week-long losing streak he protests and ship entertainment acquiesce and throw in some solid Canadian questions. He hits sixteen out of twenty. Still loses but is feeling good about his chances. I tolerate the cluck until one of the band members from the show drops by and sits. El fire jerk interrogates. .. ‘Aren't you crew and prohibited from socializing with passengers’? I cover for the guy and say he's my friend. El fire jerk then asks why I'm allowed to sit at the same table as him. I explain I have status bestowed by the sea goddess Naomi that allows me to pick my cabin and toss anyone I feel annoyed with overboard. He doesn't buy so he slithers off to pursue the ship’s wizard then returns in a righteous huff and succeeds in getting all musicians banned from above deck except for me. Fire dude was pissed. I reminded him if I see him in the Beaches during jazz festival I'll have him tailed by a lunatic busker preferably a fire starter.

Nights on big sea were magnificent. I brought nothing but classics. 100 Years of Solitude, Lolita, Farewell to Arms. Nothing like sailing past Panama and Colombia reading Gabriel Marquez Garcia and in the distance the silhouette of a steam drenched mountain chain for background. This was one of the old ships built in 1975 that still had the fifth floor wood deck and antique Captain’s clock.

The Norwalk Virus is a fact. Listen up – you are likely to experience. I caught it and didn’t leave my room for two days until Costa Rica and even then there were still eggs hatching in me. I called home from an outdoor station with a hundred other locals standing in line under the most repressive heat since hell was announced and must say I gasped!

Back to the lounge. So after seven weeks of the Romanian Duck and her CD – which played exclusively in the lounge I dropped some Joni Mitchell singing –The Man I Love’ with Herbie Hancock. The Filipinos waiting tables and manning bar applauded. We all fell into an ecstatic period of relief, even porpoises which accompanied us from time to time sang tunefully. It was like a Disney movie when suddenly the beast of the Caribbean tank marches into room – stabs the CD player until Joni comes popping out - grips the recording and flings across the room. “Nobody sings in my room but me – do you understand?”  It was if Satan had a master plan and was sticking to it.

I kept a log of all 64 days and reread at times and laugh my ass off. Six months later the wild and crazy Romanian and her husband cruise the Pacific when evidently the uncontrollable spouse commits a serious infraction and gets tossed onto some nearby vacant atoll and has to find a way home. Do I hear the Banana Boat song?

I thought about that and the many times he belly-lurched under the forbidden rope that kept lunch monkeys from stampeding before flag dropped and the fact he paraded his near exploding shirtless gut like it was fashioned by Fat Albert. He became the ship's twenty four hours a day stalking cartoon figure.