Friday MOLD columnist Larry Carlin
Friday, April 24th, 2015
I had a dream de udder night, when ebry ting was still;
I thought I saw Susanna dear, a coming down de hill.
De buckweat cake was in her mouf, de tear was in her eye,
I says, I'se coming from de souf—Susanna, don't you cry.
Oh! Susanna, do not cry for me
I come from Alabama, with my banjo on my knee
From the 1848 Stephen Foster song “Oh! Susanna,” sung here by James Taylor and Johnny Cash
In the overall scheme of things, the most maligned musical instruments – in no particular order – seem to be the accordion, tuba, ukulele, bagpipes, and, of course the banjo. Ah, the beleaguered banjer! There are websites devoted to making fun of the old five-string, such as this one here. And, just last weekend there was this story out of Brooklyn, NY, about a banjo-tossing contest. Which is all well and good, but when you think about it, where would bluegrass music be without the banjo? Short of the erstwhile popular band Chesapeake, rare is the time when you can name a bluegrass band that did not feature the not-so-easy-to-play instrument. And as for bluegrass songs in pop culture? Think of three of the biggest hit songs ever – “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” “The Ballad of Jed Clampett” (the theme from The Beverly Hillbillies), and “Dueling Banjos” – and what comes to mind and ear is the banjo. It has been around for about 200 years folks, and it ain’t goin’ nowhere. Long live (but please tune) the five-string!
The endless summer. Besides going to the 40th Annual CBA Father’s Day Festival in Grass Valley on June 18th-21st, are you planning a big summer trip of hitting as many bluegrass festivals as possible? If so, then you’d better consult the Bluegrass Festival Guide.
Ringo in the Hall. True, the Beatles as a band are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (heck, if not for them, would there have ever been a Hall?). And so are Paul McCartney and John Lennon as solo artists. But as hard as it is to believe, it wasn’t until last weekend that Ringo Starr was inducted on his own merits. Read about it here.
The Fifth Beatle. Speaking of the mop-topped lads from Liverpool, weren’t’ there only four of them? Officially, yes, but to many, their manager Brian Epstein was the driving force behind the band, and you can read about him here in the New York Times.
Dead to the world. Hey, if you weren’t one of the lucky ones to score tickets to any of the Grateful Dead 50-year-anniversary shows this summer, you can either watch the concerts in some movie theatres or in the confines of your own commune or inside your 1968 VW mini-bus on Pay-Per-View!
Life’s railway to Heaven. Bahamian R&B singer Johnny Kemp, who had a hit song in 1988 with “Just Got Paid,” was found dead on April 16th in Jamaica. He was 55. His body was found floating at a beach and was believed to have drowned. He had been scheduled to be on a Caribbean cruise, but he had not yet boarded. Kemp was nominated for a Grammy for his song, which reached No. 1 on the Billboard R&B chart and No. 10 on the pop chart. Bernard Stollman, who founded the free jazz independent record label ESP-Disk in the 1960s, died on the 20th in Great Barrington, MA. He was 85.
Pay to play. A coalition of recording artists, labels, managers and other industry players lined up recently in support of a bill introduced in Congress designed to require forms of terrestrial and digital radio to pay royalties to musicians for use of their recordings. The Fair Play, Fair Pay Act of 2015 would terminate broadcast radio’s long history of using sound recordings without paying performance royalties. The bill would also change the way satellite, Internet and streaming services pay for the music that is integral to their businesses. Read the full story here. Thanks to Maria Nadauld for this item.
Pickin' in the park. The annual CBA Pickin’ Picnic, hosted by Jeanie and Chuck Poling, will be happening on May 2nd in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. This is a fun, free event.
Just for the heck of it. Del McCoury and Jack Cooke singing “True Life Blues”. Thanks to Randog for this clip!
Benefit show for Richard Wodrich. There have been a few mentions in this column over the past few months about Chico bluegrass picker Richard Wodrich, who, for quite a long time, was waiting for a lung transplant. This happened a couple of weeks ago, but Richard and his wife Marci are still a bit behind in trying to raise $40,000 to help pay for the costs surrounding the procedure. There is a Kickstarter campaign underway, and now some musicians are stepping up to help out. Here are the details in Marci’s own words: “Richard and I are so pleased to tell you about a benefit concert happening on Friday, May 8th, with all the proceeds going to his lung transplant fund. Laurie Lewis and Tom Rozum are graciously fitting this concert into their busy performing schedules. If you have never seen Laurie perform, you are missing out! She is a talented Grammy award-winning musician, singer, song writer, band leader, and producer. Our good friends Josie & Rick Grant, with their band Rock Ridge, will be opening the show. This is such a great lineup, and we know it will be a memorable evening. We expect this concert to sell out, so be sure to get your tickets soon. We wish we could be there for all the great music, to see our friends and share in the fun! We expect all attending to send us photos sharing the night. Thank you for all the love and support, Marci & Richard.”
Mando mania. The annual San Francisco Festival of the Mandolins is set for the 26th at the Croatian American Center in the city.
Playing both kinds of music – country and western. At Rancho Nicasio in West Marin County on Sunday the 26th, from 5-7 p.m., see Blithedale Canyon, a melodious new country band from Marin whose members are longtime friends with decades of experience playing various kinds of music. Imagine old-school country songs, bluegrass, and Western swing with a bit of old-time rock and roll, with three lead singers and mellifluous three-part harmonies, and you’ll have a good idea of what to expect from this exciting new quartet. The members are Carl Tone on bass, Claudia Hampe on rhythm guitar, Gary Kaye on pedal steel, and usually Gary Bauman on electric guitar, but for this show it will be Gary Potterton. (It helps to have the name Gary in order to play with this band.) Rancho offers fine food and drink at reasonable prices in a family-friendly atmosphere. There is no cover, and children are welcome.
More for the heck of it. Hot Rize playing “Sally Ann” with their late guitarist Charles Sawtelle on guitar.
The Hag on tour. Merle Haggard is on tour this month, and you can see him play in Indio on the 24th, in Bakersfield on the 25th, Santa Margarita on the 26th, San Rafael on the 28th, Monterey on the 29th, and Redwood City on the 30th. Check out his The Bluegrass Sessions recording from a few years back. And, there is this recent interview with him from the Marin Independent Journal.
Cajun country in Sacto. Nell Robinson & Jim Nunally's Country Cajun Revival w/Tom Rigney & Flambeau will take place on the 25th at the Crest Theatre in Sacramento.
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 25th from 6:30-8 p.m. for a show titled What's Goin' On?, featuring songs by Della Mae, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Blue & Lonesome, Scott Nygaard & Joe Walsh, from the festivals Parkfield and Strawberry, and the BOTMC Spring Situation, and more.
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 final Redwood Bluegrass Associates show of the season will feature Della Mae on May 2nd. The Parkfield Bluegrass Festival is the place to be on May 8th-11th. The Strawberry Music Festival will be returning to Grass Valley on May 21st-25th. The Huck Finn Jubilee has an all-star lineup of acts set for Ontario, CA, on June 12th-14th. Everyone is going to the 40th Annual CBA Father’s Day Festival in Grass Valley on June 18th-21st. The Kate Wolf Festival in Laytonville, CA, will be happening June 25-28th. At the Lassen County Fairgrounds on on June 26th-28th the 6th Annual Susanville Festival will feature Karl Shifflet, Ron Spears, Red Dog Ash, and more. The Bowers Mansion Festival in Reno, NV, with Blue Highway as the headliner, will be celebrating 30 years on August 14th-16th. Go to all of the links for complete info listings.
The view from Nashvegas. On Fridays a popular regular feature in this column are the CD reviews and commentaries by Randy Pitts, the man in the know in Music City USA, a.k.a. Nashville. Here are a commentary, a fabulous find and a recording review.
“My wife Chris happened to glance over at the bookcase this morning and noticed a book of mine, Stagolee Shot Billy, by Cecil Brown. She said that a group she's been playing music with has been working up a song about Stagolee for a gig, but that prior to that, she'd never heard of Stagolee. Naturally enough, I sang a few bars – badly – of the ‘50s Lloyd Price hit, then played her a version on CD by Dr. Ralph Stanley, an out-take from his T-Bone Burnett produced album on Sony. IMHO it is better than anything on the completed album. Anyway, it got me to thinking about a version of the song I haven't heard and would dearly love to – a Library of Congress recording made in 1937 of Vera Ward Hall by John Lomax that is, according to Cecil Brown, ‘the most beautiful, soulful version of the Stagolee ballad ever recorded.’ Anybody out there heard it?”
Randog's Daily Pick 4/24/2015
The McCoury Brothers
Rounder CD 0230
This is the FIRST set of singing McCoury Brothers, not Del's sons Rob and Ronnie. I was moved to dig this out and give it a listen yesterday when Sky Powers posted a late ‘80s live festival performance of Del's band in reunion with his old cohort Jack Cooke, and I was so impressed by Del's younger brother Jerry's singing and slap bass technique--along with the youthful Rob and Ronnie's playing – and needless to say, Jack Cooke's guitar and singing – that I felt compelled to spread the word. In his exemplary liner notes, Neil Rosenberg says it best. "When it is no longer new and easy to find, this album will be considered a collector's item – a restatement of the essence of bluegrass." (No wonder he beat me in Best Liner Notes category at the IBMA last year...just a kiddin', no hard feelings). When this album was made in 1995, Del McCoury had been making records for Rounder for 23 years already, beginning with his classic High On A Mountain, and this is one of the best he ever did make, due in no small part to the ethos of the brother duet, exemplified by Del and Jerry here, albeit on a a higher and more lonesome plain than usual. The repertoire is a mix of new and old, and is quite imaginative as well; three members of the Johnson Mountain Boys at the time – David McLaughlin, Richard Underwood, and the estimable Eddie Stubbs (who not only played fiddle, but ransacked his record collection for material) – are all present as well. From Hank Williams' "My Sweet Love Ain't Around," (with additional lyrics by Del), to Jim Eanes' "I'll Pretend It's Raining," to Curly Ray Cline's "I'll Never Make You Blue," to Reno and Smiley's "Another Day," to Mr. Monroe's "Cheap Love Affair," and "I Was Left On the Street," to Buzz Busby's "Lonesome Wind," to The Delmores' "Some of These Days You're Gonna Be Sad," the traditional bases are all touched. And Del also brought a couple of his – new at the time – compositions to the mix. Throughout, Jerry slaps that bass, Del plays that git-tar, and they do the brother duets tradition proud. Even though this one is no longer new and easy to find, you need to find it, IMHO...
Randog's Fabulous Finds 4/23/2015
David Bromberg My Own House
This album, which I turned up recently at a thrift shop, was recorded in Berkeley, Sausalito, and The Inn of The Beginning in Cotati, CA, in 1978, and it reminds me once again of what a fabulous string band instrumentalist (and singer) David Bromberg was, has been, and still is. On this particular album, he is accompanied only by his long-time band members George Kindler on fiddle and mandolin and Dick Fegy on mandolin, fiddle, and banjo, while David limits himself – on this album – to vocals, guitar, and fiddle. One would think that the sparse instrumentation might limit the scope of the repertoire, and perhaps it does, but David still manages to explore an amazingly diverse number of genres – hey, maybe HE invented Americana!! – including pop ("Georgia On My Mind'), Celtic fiddle tunes, old-time country string-band music (a medley consisting of "Don't Let Your Deal Go Down," "Roanoke," "Possum Up a Gum Stump," and "Mississippi Sawyer”), and singer-songwriter fare (Paul Siebel's "Spanish Johnny"), and both flat-picked and (especially) finger-picked blues from the repertoires of the likes of Blind Blake and Blind Boy Fuller (David was an early student of the great Reverend Gary Davis, after all) and early teen angst – Phil Spector's "To Know [Her] is to Love [Her]." Call it eclectic, call it unfocused – and I'm sure it was called both by folkadoke pundits back in the day – this album is an impressive display of a powerfully diverse talent.
Comments, questions, quips and tips? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.