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    MOLD columnist Larry Carlin back in the day


    Friday, July 31st, 2015


    Someone's in the kitchen with Dinah, someone's in the kitchen I know.
    Someone's in the kitchen with Dinah strumming on the old banjo.
    Fee fie fiddle eeii o, fee fie fiddle eeii o, fee fie fiddle eeii o,
    Strumming on the old banjo


    From the nursery rhyme “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad”


    Ah, the beleaguered banjo. The instrument has been the subject of countless jokes over the years, and about the last thing it needed was this story from Vancouver, WA, earlier this week. A slightly deranged man held off a SWAT team for a couple of hours after first – while in his birthday suit – chasing his father around the neighborhood with a knife. But then he went back into his house, put on a pair of shorts, and then stepped outside with his banjo, played it (rather badly) for a while, and kept the authorities at bay until they could figure out what to do with him. He was finally subdued by non-lethal methods. In court the next day he said that he'd "lost his temper" and was “mentally ill,” and was pretty sure he was going to lose his job. Wow…do you think? But serious questions have gone unanswered as of press time here. Such as: What songs was he playing? What make of banjo was it? Will he be charged with assault with a deadly weapon for brandishing a banjo without a license? And when will his first solo album be coming out?

    Rowdy festivals. There were two incidents recently at nearby festivals that have some veteran concertgoers thinking twice about going to big music concerts again. The first was a performance by the rockin’ country band The Mavericks at the Strawberry Music Festival in Grass Valley over Memorial Day Weekend. The Mavs closed out the fest on Sunday night. The way things have always worked at Strawberry is that dancing was permitted off to the sides of the stage so that attendees in the chairs could watch the acts without distraction. But Mavs lead singer Raul Malo took it upon himself – at 7:10 minutes into the show – to invite all of the dancers to the front of the stage, something that is a huge no-no at the fest, and of course dozens of excited folks gladly rushed forward and began doing the hippie hop en masse, thereby blocking the view of all the people that had gotten up earlier in the day in order to put their chairs out. In this video you can see what transpired, and notice how many people storm out of the show once the alcohol-laden dancers start hopping up and down. And then two weeks back, at the Dawg Day Afternoon show in Rohnert Park, some more over-exhuberant dancers caused a ruckus. According to this story in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, “Drinking and dancing are expected at outdoor, summertime music festivals. Or are they? Some Green Music Center patrons are sounding a blue note over a recent show they say got out of hand when drunken concertgoers crowded onto the front lawn, blocking views and creating a noisy distraction that ruined the event." Fortunately this has never happened at the CBA Festival in Grass Valley, and the betting here is that is has also never taken place at the San Francisco Symphony. But at many nightclubs – especially the Sweetwater in Mill Valley – this type of behavior is the norm, so you stand forewarned…

    Megafests. Another problem with some music festivals these days is the corporatization of them. There has been a growing trend among some events whereby big moneyed interests come in and take over existing fests, turning them into huge gatherings where maximum profits and advertising rule. Check out the story in the Huffington Post (and thanks to Maria Nadauld for this item). Thankfully the CBA fests and the upcoming GOF one listed below have not been swallowed up by anyone…

    Going goofy. Everyone is getting ready for the 22nd Annual Good Old Fashioned Bluegrass Festival in Hollister on August 6th-9th. This is the big fest by the Northern California Bluegrass Society, and it is great fun. Some of the acts you can see there are Barwick & Siegfried, Dim Lights, Dave Earl & Friends, Sidesaddle & Co. , Central Valley Boys, 35 Years of Trouble, Dark Hollow, and the GrassKickers. The betting here is that there will be no wild and crazy dancing in front of the stage

    Maybe they should change their name to the “Don’t-Be Brothers.” There is a duo in the SF/Bay Area that has been playing out some and calling themselves The Doobie Decimal System. It turns out the pop/rock band of yore, The Doobie Brothers (there are no real brothers in the band, nor is it someone’s last name), is not only not amused, they are suing the Decimal guys in order to make them stop using the “Doobie” name, as they claim they have a copyright on it. Really? Did the band members make up this word themselves, back when they first started playing together? Methinks not. While the Doobies have big management and lawyers on their side, Roger McNamee, of the Decimal System, made millions in Silicon Valley before venturing into the music biz, so he has some cash of his own should a serious battle ensue. Read more here.

    Git along little doggies! By now, after all of the Grateful Dead 50-year-anniversary shows have come and gone, Deadheads all over the globe are probably wondering what to do with the rest of their lives. But help is on the way! It was announced this week that Bob Weir, the lead singer of the band, is going to record – and are you ready for this? – an album of cowboy songs! While bluegrass fans were disappointed to learn that Weir opted to bypass bluegrass music in order to connect with the cowboy crowd, they have not given up hope. Thanks to Randog for this hot tip.

    More Mavs. Even though they created a bit of a ruckus at Strawberry, these guys are a favorite here at Carltone World Headquarters. Lead singer Raul Malo is one of the finer singers around, and they do have a great sound. But they have often been considered – as they are described in The Village Voice – as “too country for Miami and too Cuban for Nashville.”

    Driving solo. There was an interesting segment on NPR’s All Things Considered radio show on the 30th about Jason Isbell, formerly of the band Drive-By Truckers. His new album, Something More Than Free, is number one on Billboard's country, rock and folk chart. You can listen to the interview and pieces of his songs here.

    Serious toe tappin’. If you thought the Irish stage show Riverdance was inspiring some years back, you have to check out these three young Irish guys in a piece titled “Freedom.”

    How can I miss you if you won’t go away. The fact that country stars Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert’s marriage is now history is not groundbreaking news, as the story has been making the rounds in the country music gossip columns. What isn’t well known – except to followers of the questionable website TMZ – is that Shelton supposedly had some workers at his ranch pack up Lambert’s belongings that she left behind, put them on the porch, and then had them hauled away in a U-Haul. This is a nice buildup to the reunion tour that will take place in a few years…after both of their careers go into the tank…

    Just for the heck of it. The late Harley Allen singing the Hank Williams song “Cold, Cold Heart.” Man, what a voice! Thanks to Randog for this link.

    Life’s railway to heaven. Steel guitar pioneer and legend Buddy Emmons died on July 29th at age 78. He joined the Little Jimmy Dickens band at age 18, and then went on to record with Ernest Tubb, The Everly Brothers, Ray Price, Linda Ronstadt, The Carpenters, and countless others. Vince Combs, a Monroe-style mandolinist from Kentucky, died on July 25th after a four year struggle with bone marrow cancer. He was 81. He worked at General Motors in Dayton, OH, for almost four decades, and also toured with his group, Vince Combs & Shade Tree Bluegrass. Van Alexander, a composer who arranged the nursery rhyme “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” into a song that was a breakout hit for Ella Fitzgerald in 1938, died in Los Angeles on July 19th at age 100. He began his career arranging for big bands in the 1930s and later composed for film and television. Renowned drummer and drumstick manufacturer Vic Firth, who also was a timpanist in the Boston Symphony for 40 years, died in Boston from cancer on July 26th. He was 85. Bobbi Kristina Brown, the only child of the pop stars Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown, died, tragically -- and eerily -- like her mother, on July 26th at age 22, six months after being found unconscious in a bathtub on January 31st. Don Joyce, the lead singer of the SF/ Bay Area experimental music band Negativland, died on July 22nd from heart failure. He was 71.

    Nashville cat. Randy Pitts is the man with his ear and nose to the ground on the streets of Nashville. Each week he usually contributes bon mots and CD reviews. Here are two new commentaries along with a CD review from the 2013 archives that never appeared in this Friday column.

    Randog on documentary filmmaker Les Blank 7/27/15
    Les Blank Comes to Turner Classic Movies

    This was very exciting. I posted something about this when it was first announced, and I want my friends to know what happened this past week. Turner Classic Movies aired some of the finest films ever made about music and culture in America...and other places, too, probably. It began on the 28th with les valentine de New Orleans music, Always For Pleasure (with great footage of Irma Thomas and Professor Longhair in full flight), and continued through the night with Les’s classic films about the Cajuns of Louisiana (Spend It All), his wonderful film about old-time music great Tommy Jarrell (Sprout Wings and Fly), his work on “black French” musicians Boisec Ardoin (Dry Wood) and Clifton Chenier (Hot Pepper), as well as Texas bluesmen Mance Lipscomb (A Well Spent Life) and Lightnin' Hopkins (The Blues According To Lightnin'). I daresay that, after you've witnessed a little of American vernacular music through the eyes of Les Blank, you will hear it differently than you did before. I know I have, and my life is way richer for it. I watched a lot of them. And then on the 31st, I get to see his newly released movie about Leon Russell, A Poem Is A Naked Person.

    Randog on songwriting 7/24/15
    How Many People Does It Take to Write a Song?

    Oh, all right, a folk song. While listening to the vintage Country Gentlemen album Play It Like It Is I noticed that the great tenor singer-mandolinist John Duffey had written "He Was a Friend of Mine," a song on which he also sang lead on this wonderful album. Strange, thought I, since – coincidentally – I had recently pondered the authorship of this particular number, a favorite of mine since the ‘60s when I was a little folkadoke and first heard Dave Van Ronk and many Van Ronk imitators sing it. Well, there was, it so happens, an article about the origins of the song in last December's Oxford American Annual Music Issue, an article which traced the song back to a John Lomax recording of a Texas convict named Smith Casey (or Cason, as Lomax originally erroneously identified him). On his field recording, Lomax entitled the song “Shorty George,” which was the name of a short spur train that carried prisoners from the main line to their new homes in prison. Well, sir, evidently Eric Von Schmidt and Rolf Kahn – two names familiar to anyone who ever conducted a Folkways inventory (me) – heard the Library of Congress recording, and recorded it themselves. And, as Dave Van Ronk explicates from the Oxford article: "I learned this song from Eric Von Schmidt, who learned it from Dylan, who learned it from me." Dylan claimed sole composer credit when he recorded it for his self-titled album for Columbia, though he later claimed he wrote it with Chicago street singer Blind Arvella Grey. Wish I could have been a fly on the wall at THAT session. Then Roger McGuinn heard it and liked it so much that HE “wrote” it. Ditto Bobby Bare. And now today's discovery: that John Duffey “wrote” it as well...Will wonders never cease! Folk music truly IS the sound of America singing! AND, I also learned this morning, Duffey, along with Charlie Waller and Eddie Adcock, also wrote "The Banana Boat Song!"

    Randog's Daily Pick 12/3/13
    Harley Allen Live at the Bluebird Café
    American Originals CD AMO-4008-2

    One of the great joys of living in Nashville for the last 15 years or so has been the opportunity to attend shows at the famed Bluebird Café and seeing and hearing the real heroes of Music Row – the songwriters – show off their wares. That joy has been tempered somewhat recently by the popularity of the television show Nashville. The club is prominently featured there, and it only holds 165 people, so it has become virtually impossible to get into the place if one decides to drop in on a whim. But when we first moved here, we went to the Bluebird a lot, often as not to see the late, great Harley Allen, one of the most successful Nashville writers of the ‘90s and the early years of the New Millennium. Harley was also a great bluegrass tenor singer and mandolin player, and a wickedly funny man. Red Allen was his father, and he inherited his dad's bluegrass chops and attitude, but in his songs and in his life, he seemed to be pulled equally and oppositely by his mom's influence; she was a strict Southern Baptist who, Harley often said, "believed that if you had any fun at all, you were going to hell." From that tension came some of his most memorable songs, some of which Chris and I heard for the first time at the Bluebird, perhaps most memorably, “Stray Dogs and Alley Cats,” which is included here. His shows were always memorable, often hilarious, (unless, for some reason, you aroused his ire and he focused his in-between song patter on you or someone at your table). Also included on this CD, accompanied only by Harley's own guitar, are: "The Little Girl" (two days later John Michael Montgomery cut it; it was a sensation already, as Harley documents here), “Another Good Reason Not to Drink,” “Between the Devil and Me,” “Free and Easy,” “Everything I Love is Killing Me,” and “Learning to Live With Me.” There are twelve in all. Wonderful stuff, and a strong reminder of what a gaping hole Harley left in this town…

    How do you write a good country song? Well, it only takes one person to do such, and longtime and successful country singer/songwriter tells you how in this story from the New York Times.

    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 August 1st for a show titled What Hath Ralph Wrought? On the anniversary (8/1/27) of Ralph Peer’s first recording sessions in Bristol of the Carter Family, a celebration of the “Big Bang of Country Music” and its legacy.

    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 events listings. Also, buy a Sunday SF Chronicle and hold on to the Pink Section all week.

    Coming attractions. The Bowers Mansion Festival in Reno, NV, with Blue Highway as the headliner, will be celebrating 30 years on August 14th-16th. Down San Diego way the 13th Annual Summergrass Festival on August 14th-16th will have The Boxcars, Sideline, Bluegrass Etc., High Mountain Road and much more. Wendy Burch Steel & Redwood will be appearing, along with Ira Marlowe, at The Monkey House in Berkeley on August 14th. The CBA’s Golden Old-Time Campout is the place to be from August 27th-30th at Lake Solomon in Sonoma County. The Strawberry Music Festival is moving to yet another location in Tuolumne County over Labor Day Weekend September 3rd-7th. The 19th Annual Celtic Festival will get your toes a tappin’ at the Nevada County Fairgrounds in Grass Valley on October 2nd-4th. The Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park is set for October 3rd-5th. Go to all of the links for complete info listings.

    Comments, questions, quips and tips? Send an email to l_carlin@hotmail.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.
     
     


    Our Welcome Columnists
    Welcome Column Archive
      Bluegrass needs More Comedy
    Today's column from Ted Lehmann
    Saturday, August 1, 2015


    (Editor’s Note: Ted’s point in this 2011 Welcome column has never been truer than in today’s milieu of divisive politics, killer drones, economic uncertainty and mass killings. String Bean, who himself was the victim of a whacko, has never been more missed in bluegrass music. Enjoy Ted’s column. Marcos is up tomorrow. And we’re at fifteen days and counting for launch of the new CBA web site, with one big bunch of busy beavers working in the background.)

    Bluegrass music is a pretty serious business, taking itself seriously and committing itself to presenting a particular kind of string band music hearkening back to its first generation roots and the multiple musical traditions from which it has been drawn. Often the attention to its roots overcomes what I'll call the entertainment value necessary to make bluegrass performances a significant commercial draw. Recently, I sat for a few minutes with Mike Armistead of Leroy Troy and the Tennessee Mafia Jug Band, a band which recreates the sound and humor of old time music with zeal and a very positive effect, to discuss this issue. Mike easily listed a range of humorists, comedians, and baggy-pants comics who were integral to early bluegrass performances, adding significantly to their entertainment value. Among the historical comics Mike listed were David “Stringbean” Akeman, Cousin Goober, Uncle Dave Macon, Grandpa Jones, Kentucky Slim, and Snuffy Jenkins. These men, and others, brought fine musicianship along with many of the conventions of vaudeville to early bluegrass performances and the Grand Old Opry.

    David “Stringbean” Akeman was an important transitional figure in the development of bluegrass music, playing with Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys during the late thirties and into the 1940's, when his work was replaced by the virtuoso inventions of Earl Scruggs. Later he performed at the Grand Old Opry until his murder in 1973, recently memorialized in Sam Bush's song “Stringbean & Estelle.” Grandpa Jones (Louis Marshall Jones 1913 – 1998) became best known as a member of the Grand Old Opry and the cast of Hee Haw for his combination of singing, old-time banjo playing, and comedy, sometimes in conjunction with Stringbean. According to Wikipedia, Uncle Dave Macon (David Harrison Macon 1870 – 1952) represents an important link between the vaudeville of the nineteenth century and twentieth century recording and radio-based musical delivery. While elements of this comedy remain in bluegrass today, there's a seriousness to the music which seems not to invite humor and wit in. I've heard bluegrass represented as “five white guys standing in a line playing and singing.”

        Continue...



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