Friday MOLD columnist Larry Carlin ready to play some country music. Cool bolo by Jerry Logan Design.
Friday, August 22, 2014
More music power. As everyone knows, certain songs can trigger mighty responses in us. Three examples for me are Eric Clapton’s Tears in Heaven, Jay Ungar and Molly Mason’s Ashokan Farewell, just about any version of Amazing Grace, and Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer (the reason for this one lies a few paragraphs below). Two weeks ago in this space I wrote about the fact that I occasionally write movie reviews, something that I have been doing for 23 years for a show called Movie Magazine International, and then I went on to tell you about the documentary called Alive Inside, an amazing story about how people with dementia that reside in retirement and nursing homes react when they hear music from their past. You can read my review of Alive Inside here along with some of my previous efforts. If you have not had a chance to see the film, you can watch this short clip from the movie that has been making the rounds on the Interweb. Something new from Thailand, that I just came across yesterday, is this four minute video that also is very powerful, despite the fact that it is an ad for life insurance. Forgot about this part and just enjoy up until you see the logo at the end.
Let’s be frank. Another film that I got to review is one titled Frank, and it opens today in an octoplex near you. While it is also about music – a dysfunctional avant-garde band that is led by a “genius” named Frank who always wears a papier-mache head – it is loosely based on a British singer from a couple decades back, and it is, as the official description says, a bit “quirky.” If you read my take on it here, you can then put your $10 (or whatever it costs these days to go to the movies) and go see Alive Inside instead.
A very sound man. Tragedy has struck in bucolic Mill Valley, CA, the next town over from where I live. Sure, people get killed every day by guns, and unless there is a mass murder, these sorts of things become blips on the radar screen in the media anymore. But when it happens to someone you know, it really hits home in a big way. News arrived yesterday that there were two bodies found in adjacent yards in Mill Valley in an apparent murder/suicide. The person that was murdered was a man named Ted Rodden, who was the longtime soundman at the Rancho Nicasio nightclub and restaurant in West Marin County. I can’t say that I knew Ted real well, but I had worked with him a bit over the years while performing out at Rancho, and I have to tell you, he was one of the nicest and best soundmen that I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. The amazing thing about him was that – even though he worked with rock bands for many years – he wasn’t half-deaf or burdened with a bad attitude, like so many other rock club sound guys seem to be. The Marin County music community is shocked and saddened by this incredibly senseless loss – he leaves behind a wife and son – and shows out at Rancho will never, ever, be the same…
The return of Banjo Man. Stacy Samuels, the banjo-playing-beanie-propeller-hat-wearing fixture known as "Banjo Man", is a longtime fixture at Fisherman’s Wharf, 49er football and Oakland A’s baseball games – as well as a perennial all-night jammer the Strawberry Music Festival. He played at Niner home games at Candlestick for 32 years, and he has been invited to do his thing at the 49ers new Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. He lives in Fairfax, and he makes his living playing the banjo and selling the beanie hats…
This day in music history. Okay, this section is entirely personal, and hardy anyone is going to care about it, but I can talk about it because, well, it’s my column for the day, and I can write about anything I want to. It was 33 years ago on this date that I played my first gigs with the act then known as Elmo & Patsy, a bluegrass/country comedy act who, at this time in 1981, was having some mild success with their Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer song, which came out in December of 1979. A mutual friend put me in touch with them in August of 1981, and I got hired to play bass in their band without even having to audition, which felt really strange at the time. How often do people get hired for jobs without interviewing first? Elmo said that, “Our friend Gregg said that you were a great player, and this is good enough for us.” I was more than a bit skeptical about this situation, so I agreed to play two gigs on one day on August 22nd just to see how things would go. I then spent the next 31 years playing in some form or another with Dr. Elmo (yes, he is a real doctor – of veterinary medicine), as Patsy left the act in 1987. I had a great time playing with the banjo-pickin’ Elmo, as he was quite the showman. The band traveled all over the West Coast, went on many cruises, made a trip to Europe, and had a great time wherever we played. A few years after Patsy split we reformed the band and called it Dr. Elmo & Wild Blue, and we played a lot of traditional bluegrass along with some of Elmo’s novelty songs thrown into the mix. And, of course, we played the “Reindeer” song year round, because, as he used to say, “When you only have one hit song, you have to sing it whenever you can!” I figured that I performed the song over 1,000 times in 31 years, and I never got tired of it. And neither did Elmo. I owe a lot of the music stuff I do today – from performing, emceeing, booking, producing, etc. – to having learned at the feet of a master. Elmo doesn’t play out much anymore these days, but the “Reindeer” song lives on and keeps returning to the airwaves every year on the day after Thanksgiving and is played up until Christmas Eve. I feel quite fortunate to have met and played with Elmo for the first time on this date in 1981. And I can only wonder where I would have ended up musically otherwise, but I have no doubt that I wouldn’t have had as much fun and success playing with anyone else…
A view from the old country. There is an interesting story in the Irish Times, with the headline “10 Country Artists That Everyone Should Hear Before They Die.” Half of the artists on the list would never be considered “country” here in the US, and the other half couldn’t get airplay if they were still performing today. Best things about this list? I agree 100% with the writer, and there are no big-hatted, rock & roll current country artists on this list at all!
The man who would be king. There are some obscure shots of Elvis on this website here that were taken in 1956, before he was become known as “The King.” The anniversary of his death in 1977 was just last weekend on the 16th.
Pay to play? Who knew that the bands that play the halftime show at the Super Bowl did so for only for the exposure, but for no pay? Sure, they had their expenses paid, and heck, who wouldn’t want to play a gig like that, where millions are watching? But would you pay for the honor of playing? The NFL wants to charge bands next year, and you can read why here. Heck, they will get the money. If bands are willing to play $20 “application fees” for the right to apply for a gig where they make $300 in downtown Mill Valley – one of the wealthiest counties in the country – of course some rock bands will pay to play at the Super Bowl…
Old-time is still not a crime! This weekend everyone that is into old-time music is either headed up or is already there at the CBA sponsored Golden Old-Time Campout at Sonoma Lake. It started on the 21st runs through the 24th. Click on the link for complete information.
Music concert jerks. You’ve seen them. Heck, you may even be one. We’re talking about people that take photos and videos with cell phones, jerks that sing along off key, pests that won’t shut up during performances, etc. Fortunately there are few wankers like these at bluegrass festivals. And, to help the cause, music writer Aidin Vizari of the SF Chronicle has written a story titled "How not to be a total jerk at a concert - an etiquette guide."
It’s all in the genes. Or is it? We’re talking about musical talent here. Have you been confounded for years by your inability to master the didgeridoo? Does practicing the banjo drive your family insane because you never seem to get any better? Well, according to this study that was published in Scientific American, it may be that the saying “practice makes perfect” doesn’t mean a thing – that real talent lies in your genetic makeup. This could explain why the Pulitzer committee has never called me…
Fiddle fever. Anyone that has ever tried and failed to play the violin knows just difficult an instrument it is to play. But have you ever tried playing it while you were having brain surgery? Roger Frisch of the Minnesota Orchestra did. He was having issues with tremors, so he not only stayed alert while an electrode was inserted deep in his thalamus, but played the violin throughout the process. Check out the story and video here.
The music of Motown. There is a show now running for six weeks at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco called Motown the Musical, and you can read the backstory about it here in the SF Chronicle.
Is the CD about to become the new 8-track? According to this story that originally ran in the SF Chronicle, the compact disc is on the verge of becoming extinct due to streaming. According to the author, David Einstein, “Streaming music subscription services like Google All Access, Spotify and Beats Music are doing to CDs what CDs did to vinyl LPs a generation ago (and what LPs did to brittle plastic records a generation before that).”
Turn your radio on. If you are looking for some bluegrass or many other kinds of acoustic music this weekend, just go to KALW (91.7 FM) bluegrass radio show host Peter Thompson’s Bluegrass Signal web site and you will have no trouble filling your social calendar. Be sure to tune in on Saturday the 23rd from 6:30-8 p.m. This week’s show is titled Across the Tracks, featuring new releases and reissues, including additional tracks from albums featured last week by Larry Sparks, Crowe/Lawson/Williams, Roland White Band, and Seattle's Downtown Mountain Boys. There are also new sounds from Nick Hornbuckle (banjo player in John Reischman & the Jaybirds), Shawn Lane, Locust Honey String Band, The Littlest Birds, and Bradford Lee Folk, plus Dale Ann Bradley paired with both Steve Gulley and Alison Brown.
Music calendars. There are a handful of shows listed in this column today, but if you want to find out what kind of music is going on in your area, as stated above, look at Peter Thompson’s calendar or also check out the CBA or the Northern California Bluegrass Society event listings. Also, buy a Sunday SF Chronicle and hold on to the Pink Section all week.
Randy Pitts, one of five 2014 IBMA nominees for Best Liner Notes, is the man with his ear and nose to the ground on the streets of Nashville. Each week he contributes CD reviews and bon mots as well as stuff that, for all we know, he just makes up. But he is always a good read. Check out his latest album – that’s right, a real record – review below.
Randog's Daily Pick 8/21/2014
High Country Home To Me
In the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s, when I lived in the SF/Bay Area, I was fortunate to see a lot of excellent bluegrass music live, and a constant presence on the scene then – as it is today –was the Butch Waller-led band High Country. This album, from 1984, features one of High Country's finest line-ups, and perhaps my favorite. In addition to Butch on mandolin and longtime cohort Larry Cohea on banjo, this album also features the singing and picking – and songwriting – of Keith Little, who left the plow in the field, metaphorically speaking, for a few years, but has since returned to Northern CA after a lengthy sojourn in Music City, USA, working with and for the likes of The Country Gentlemen, Ricky Skaggs, Larry Cordle, and uh, Dolly Parton. This album features four Keith Little compositions and one co-write with Butch. Jack Leiderman is the fiddle player on this album, and also exhibits his fine vocal chops, particularly on an inventive arrangement of "Nearer My God to Thee." Bassist Steve Pottier also shows off some of his fancy lead guitar work on "Battle Mountain." Side One (this IS an album, after all) ends with an outstanding vocal trio of Butch, Larry, and Keith on Big Mon's "Can't You Hear Me Callin'." Side two proceeds with that same trio working out on Keith's original entitled "Say You Only Will Be Mine." Butch and Keith then proceed to tear up Pat Enright's "Who's That Knocking at My Door." Also worthy of note is Keith's outstanding vocal on "I Traced Her Little Footprints in the Snow," accompanied only by Steve Pottier's fine lead guitar and Larry on bass. Keith's original "Heaven Here on Earth" receives a gorgeous old-time gospel quartet treatment from the full band, and Butch shows how to sing Monroe on "Stay Away From Me." There are fourteen slabs of sturdy, hard core bluegrass on this album, pretty much all of it showcasing Butch Waller's great traditional mandolin playing and singing and though it might be hard to find, it is well worth seeking out. I remember seeing this band at Grass Valley on Father's Day around the time this album came out and being mightily impressed. Great color tinted photo on the front cover, too...
Comments, questions, quips and tips? Send an email to email@example.com. For more info than you need to know about Friday MOLD columnist Larry Carlin, go to his Carltone web site. Missed a Friday MOLD? Don’t fret, just click here to read past columns.