Category Archives: Reviews

Songwriter Explores Inner Space

Fagen, Donald. Eminent Hipsters. Penguin Group: New York. 159 pages. 2013.

Donald Fagen bookThis book is not about the jazz/rock band Steely Dan. The author Donald Fagen is co-founder and tours with this legendary group, but in this tale he is on the road with the Dukes of September and writing a daily journal about his experiences. The journal is a long concluding chapter to this book.

The first eighty-five pages consist of ten essays describing hipsters Fagen encountered through 1969, the year of his graduation from Bard College. The essays are followed by the lengthy journal that painfully chronicles a two-month tour conducted in 2012 with a large band headlined by Fagen, Michael McDonald, and Boz Scaggs. This journal is not about band mates or music but the suffering Fagen. While McDonald and Scaggs live and sleep in their respective touring buses, Fagen exits his bus, checks into a hotel, and acquires meals by calling room service and retiring with pay-per-view movies or jazz playing on his laptop; the hotel swimming pools are sought for exercise, but the water is brackish. As for stage performance, he disparages his audiences frequently; for example:  “. . . those people in the audience who can’t experience the performance unless they’re sending instant videos to their friends: ‘Look at me, I must be alive, I can prove it, I’m filming this shit.’” Omitting from your read this lengthy concluding chapter and journal will enable avoidance of the gloomy and grouchy side of Fagen, but you will miss out on a few laughs and insights into cultural blemishes you may actually agree with.

Fagen frequently uses the term TV Babies to “mean people who were born after, say, 1960, when television truly became the robot caretaker of American children and therefore the principal architect of their souls.” These individuals populate his performance audiences and may be clamoring for a Steely Dan hit when Fagen wants to give them something more relevant to the moment. When playing to a San Antonio audience, the TV Babies, believed to be right wing tourists from Arizona, disdainfully sat through soulful Ray Charles covers from the sixties, a condition Fagen attempts to trace to having an abnormally large amygdala, a primitive part of the brain. “That’s why, when you hear a Republican speak, it’s like listening to somebody recount a particularly boring dream (122).” Also to be found in the book is a funny description of hotel desk and room service clerks with perkiness using the term “absolutely” repeatedly. He attributes this annoying behavior to some corporate employee training program.

The ten essays range from three to sixteen pages in length. The essay subject matter dates from the 1950s and 1960s, but it is unclear when they were written. From the copyright page: “Parts of this book appeared in different form in Harper’s Bazaar, Jazz Times, Premiere, and Slate.” The essays strive to elevate impressionable characters in Fagen’s music past to hipster status; the individuals include Connie Boswell, Henry Mancini, Ray Charles, and Ike Turner. Other essays are devoted to radio/TV personality Jean Shepherd, disc jockey Mort Fega, and filmscore writer Ennio Morricone. Fagen also writes of having read much science fiction in his youth and visiting as a teen the jazz clubs of New York City; he also produces a relatively long piece on his four-year English degree earning years at Bard College. With this college-days chapter the essays end, and we have completed an interesting set of chronicled life experiences through 1969. The 1970s Steely Dan years through 2010 are only sparsely addressed in this volume; for its brevity, this is Fagen memoir, not autobiography. The writing shows flashes of literary brilliance, however, as he employs interesting metaphor to further fortify points near the end of discussions.

Fagen demonstrates his music writing prowess in a chapter devoted to the vocal and arranging work of the Boswell Sisters in the 1930s swing period: “. . . they imitated jazz instrumental effects with their voices, devised tricky phrasing, switched from straight time to swing time, employed ‘speed singing’ and even raced through whole choruses in ‘Boswellese,’ a childhood language of their own invention (9).” These sisters, Connie, Vet, and Martha, who preceded and inspired the more commercially-succesful Andrews Sisters, specialized in transposing popular ballads into fun-filled up-tempo bluesy numbers that captured Fagen’s attention and was a topic for one of the more revealing and uplifting chapters of this book.

Fagen elevates hipster Ray Charles to an equally high level. “Ray brought soul out of the closet. . . Elvis borrowed from Ray. . . Horace Silver, Count Basie, and Charles Mingus owed Ray Charles.” Comparing Ray to the funk musicians of the 1970s there is no holding back: “James Brown, Isaac Hayes, and Barry White seemed less interested in pleasing a woman than in collecting body parts. In contrast, Ray’s sage interpretation of ‘America the Beautiful’ in 1972 was once a taunt, a healing gesture and a blind man’s dream of the Promised Land. . . Ray’s work, even in decline, was always wiser and subtler than that of the new breed. It was music for adults (65).”

A more difficult task of creating legacy lies with the person of Ike Turner. The story buildup begins with describing Ike’s broad and varied experience in the music industry and the premise that his composition “Rocket 88”, an R&B chart topper, may have contributed more to rock ‘n’ roll than any other single tune. Ike penned fine tunes for his wife Tina and the Ikettes, including “A Fool In Love” and “I Think It’s Gonna Work Out Fine” and others. But, he was incarcerated for seventeen months for various legal offenses. When Tina came out with her book and subsequent movie, “What’s Love Got To Do With It,” Ike was forced to bear the label “wife-beater” along with the “ex-felon” and “heavy drug user” tags. Nevertheless, Ike persevered with his music and won an album Grammy as recently as 2006. This engaging story earned for Ike Turner the Fagen designation “eminent hipster.”

Fagen admits to suffering from many ailments. There are frequent references to panic attacks and an anxiety disorder. The book “Appendix” is actually a categorization of a disorder he coins Acute Tour Disorder (ATD)–why not “Fagen’s Disease?” ATD is a set of psychological and physical responses to stressful experiences, poor sleeping patterns, and bad diet during a multi-month performance tour. If the ATD is allowed to continue post-tour unmanaged or untreated, it will result in Post Tour Disorder. PTD is a post-traumatic stress disorder conceived by “Dr” Fagen for categorizing behavior of some aging touring rock musicians. With discussion limited to the Appendix, one can omit this theory without a difficult conscience; also, the individual essays and journal content in this book are independent of one another and may be read and enjoyed separately.


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From Lettsworth to the Checkerboard

Guy, Buddy, with David Ritz. When I Left Home: My Story. Da Capo Press. 2012

Buddy Guy and Junior WellsThis book is more about people in Buddy’s life than the music they created. He acknowledges the roles and support of these influences. So many of the blues greats from the South started at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder and received little education—they scratched together a life while pursuing their music passion and migrated North at a young age with nothing but hope. There are many humorous passages in this book; however, there are also a few gruesome ones. The book is a thorough memoir, but discussed here are the challenges of Buddy the young musician.

Buddy Guy (BG) may rank as the greatest Chicago blues man who has not been knifed, shot, nor injured seriously in an auto accident. He has never been jailed, and has been in jails only to bail out his music partner, Junior Wells. For all the tales of guns and knives and early deaths, it is remarkable for any Chicago bluesman in his 70’s to be alive. His closest death encounter may have been when he awoke to his wife hovering over him with a letter opener. A divorce followed shortly thereafter, and Buddy plays on. Buddy’s life story begins in Louisiana.

There was no electricity in the first Buddy Guy sharecropping family house in Lettsworth, Louisiana, way out in the country. The first music he heard was from a family friend who visited at Christmas, Coot (aka Henry Smith). Coot would play John Lee Hooker’s “Boogie Chillen” on his two-string guitar in exchange for drinks. There were no screens on the windows, and big “skeeters.” When the family finally got window screens, Buddy pulled out two strings and made a guitar; when he got caught and had to return the strings, he attached a rubber band to two nails on the wall to see what sound he could produce. A short time later, Buddy was in the general store when Lightnin’ Slim walked in with his guitar and amp; he got the proprietor to coax Slim into playing for 30-minutes in exchange for a few beers. And with that Buddy was hooked on electric guitar for life.

There is no technical language describing music in this memoir. Like many folk blues musicians, Guy cannot read music. There was no written music in his world to learn from. Formal education was limited to periodic sessions at a church school and some high school. His first guitar or makeshift instrument had fewer than six strings. He worked the fields of cotton and corn for his family in Lettsworth. When a teenager, Buddy moved to Baton Rouge to live with his sister’s family; he worked in a full-service gas station and on the campus of LSU doing maintenance work. At age 22 he rode the train to Chicago in search of a better paying job–it was 1957.

In the beginning, at the 708 Club, Guy got initiated to the blues stage when he was thrust into a challenge on the stage with the Otis Rush band. The musicians were sitting down while playing—Buddy feared he may need to read music, but the music stands were only for show. Rush just “had to let me go. I believe he had to let me go. I believe no force on earth could have kept me from letting go. See, the spirit of Guitar Slim entered my soul—not just the spirit, but the showmanship. I wouldn’t sit down, I couldn’t sit down, and after I played the opening notes I watch myself move to the edge of the stage and jump into the crowd, just as I’d seen Slim do (76).”

In those early days, Guy established his club performance demeanor described as wild and crazy. Describing a cutting contest with the prize a pint of whisky on the barroom table, and feeling fear he was overmatched against Earl Hooker: “Hooker would hand me my ass on a platter—I didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell. But on a night when there was three feet of snow, I hooked up my 150-foot Guitar Slim-styled cord and started playing from inside a car parked outside the bar . . . when I finally did step through the door (of the club), the yelling was so loud that the owner handed me the pint.” BG never began his set on the bandstand; instead he marched out from within the men’s room, or the women’s bathroom, ever trying to please the tough bar crowd. And he turned the amp volume up loud to be heard. To Buddy, Chicago blues was “nothing more than country blues jacked up with big-city electricity (84).”

Buddy developed his reputation in Chicago by playing for years in the blues clubs and as a sideman in the studio of Chess Records at 2120 South Michigan Avenue. His first club dates were at the 708 on the South Side and the Squeeze Club, also called the Bucket of Blood, on the West Side. These were very tough places, and Guy is not shy about discussing the presence of weapons: “I was playing my guitar when one cat drove an ice pick deep into another cat’s neck. That way you bleed on the inside and there ain’t no mess. When the cat fell to the ground, they dragged him outside and dumped him on the corner. Seeing all this, I got sick to my stomach. . . When the cops saw the dead man, they couldn’t have cared less. To them it meant only one more dead nigger (p. 86).” Not only was the scene occasionally violent, but the pay from the club owners was occasional for assuming the risk. Guy also says he got little money from Leonard Chess for the recording sessions. But, Chicago’s Chess Records was where it was at, having recorded the likes of Muddy Waters, Little Water, Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Jimmy Rogers. Buddy’s music life strategy was to play wild and loud in the bars and keep his mouth shut in the recording studio—it has seemed to pay off.

So, what was the bar crowd like? In the fifties the steel mills and slaughterhouses were running shifts for 24-hours. “They wanted to forget the pain of trucking steel and killing cows. They wanted to get happy in a hurry. They wanted music that would blast ‘em into outer space, sounds that would carry them out of this mean ol’ world into another world of good feeling (77).” You can read about the action at places like the 708, Theresa’s, Curly’s and the Checkerboard Lounge in Chicago; and the F & J Lounge in Gary, Ind. And, then there’s that place called the Squeeze Club on the West Side, where a man walked in with his woman’s head in a paper bag.

In the 1960s work became more scarce for blues musicians—Elvis was delivering blues to white audiences in the 50’s and rock ‘n’ roll followed. Chicago blacks left the blues bars for the Regal Theatre to see the Isley Brothers. Motown and R & B were hot. And then, the British invasion took over. The blues never totally went away, however. The popularity of white blues musicians like the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton lead their fans to dig a little deeper for the source of their sound; with that, the blues resurgence was born. Playing to white audiences in the 60’s, Buddy partnered with mouth harp player Junior Wells to become successful recording artists just as Muddy Waters and Little Walter in this guitar and harmonicist front man duo style had done.

The men who influenced Guy in his music career are discussed at length here—one or more chapters dedicated to each—and are fondly referred to as “daddys.” Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, B. B. King, and Junior Wells are modern contemporaries. Buddy remembers his early inspiration sources; upon receiving a Grammy, or some other award, BG will thank the musicians who paved the way and received little or no fame or money—Guitar Slim, Lightnin’ Slim, and Lightnin’ Hopkins are his influences. BG expresses the most love for Muddy Waters, who helped Guy develop professionally in Chicago, and B. B. King, who has been the most dependable source of friendship. Guy dedicates his book to “the memory of Muddy Waters, father to us all.”

My review of the KUVO 89.3 FM playlist in recent months indicates that you will most likely hear the music of Buddy Guy on two programs: The All Blues show with Sammy Mayfield hosting on Saturday afternoon, and Rockin n’ Rhythm with JC on Friday evenings. Thanks to these volunteer on-air hosts for helping keep the blues alive!

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The 2013 Hyde Park Jazz Festival

Gerald Clayton by Dragan Tasic
September 27–Introduction. Much of the music at this two-day event will be presented on the campus of the University of Chicago in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago. The founding organization for this Festival that began in September, 2007, is the Hyde Park Jazz Society; the University of Chicago’s Office of Civic Engagement stepped up in that first year to provide the necessary funding. Additional non-profit organizations and corporations have added sponsorship in years following. The purpose then and now is to honor the rich jazz cultural history of the South Side of Chicago and keep the tradition of creative arts alive. In addition to the Chicago ensembles assembled, several of the national and international performers on the schedule have strong ties to the City.

The performance locations include 11 indoor stages in the Hyde Park and Kenwood neighborhoods, and two large outdoor stages on the Midway Plaisance of the UC campus. I expect to walk easily, but briskly, between venues; excepting two stages, the venues are close together. My tentative plan has me at the Smart Museum of Art for one-hour sets by the Frank Russell Group at 1PM and the John Wojciechowski Quartet at 2:30PM on Saturday. Thirty performances are on the schedule for day one of this two-day fest; a few other names include the Ari Brown Quintet, Frank Rosaly’s Green and Gold, Gerald Clayton Trio (Clayton is pictured above), Dana Hall Quintet, and Ken Vandermark Ensemble: Music of the Midwest School. The final performance on Saturday is Anat Cohen and Douglas Lora Duo at the Rockefeller Chapel ending at Midnight. The music is FREE.

Lest Denverites think I am slighting my current home town, I enjoyed a flight on Denver’s Frontier Airlines to travel to my former home town Chicago. I was a bit discouraged to learn that in-flight beverages were no longer complimentary; however, a cup of hot, fresh Boyer’s (a Colorado company) coffee was served for the price of $1.99 and they accepted my First Bank of Colorado debit card. A beautiful thing.

To get to the Festival from my lodgings at the International Hostel on Congress Expressway and Wabash, I rode the Green Line of the City elevated train system. I disembarked at the end of the line, 63rd Street and Cottage Grove Avenue. I walked north on Cottage Grove to 56th and Ellis and found the Smart Museum of Art. Surprise—the stage is outside in front of the museum and the seats are in the sun. I sat there while others headed for the shade of a few trees and took the folding chairs with them. I claimed one remaining chair in front of and near the musicians with maybe 30 other people—it really was not that hot and the sun was at our backs. I enjoyed two one-hour sets with a 30-minute break.

frank Russell albumThe Frank Russell Group. The leader Russell is a Chicago-based electric bass player. He was sporting and used three electric 5-string Lakland bass guitars and said, “I represent a music company. . . they want me to play all of them.” The personnel included Vijay Tellis- Nayak, keyboards; Marco Villareal, guitar; Charles Heath, drums; and Tim McNamara on various reed instruments. The band played songs from the 1970’s fusion period including works by Miles Davis, Chic Corea’s “Spain,” Bobby Irvin’s “Code MD,” and Herbie Hancock’s “Dolphin Dance.” September 28 is the date of Miles’ death in 1991 and Russell acknowledged the date.

The last two tunes included a rendition of “Oleo,” a compositon of Sonny Rollins dating from the early 1950’s and recorded by many. This piece featured a well-received drum solo; and, unlike his many other solo sections, Russell advanced with his instrument to the edge of us sun-resistant audience members to demonstrate his prowess on bass. At the onset of the eighth and last piece, Russell was informed he had but two minutes remaining in his one-hour set; instead of 2, he played a 7-minute song entitled “Ladysmith (Black Mambazo),” a song named after the African vocal group Frank Russell said he was associated with for six years. This is one of sixteen songs you can find on the Frank Russell album, Circle Without End, released in 2011 (and pictured above). I got the opportunity to talk with Russell and sideman McNamara after the set; while speaking of my association with public radio station KUVO in Denver, I learned that Russell’s band played at the Telluride (Colorado) Jazz Festival in 2012; and, McNamara was interested in my discussion of Chicago area locales I haunted in my youth. Talking about my two home cities is always a pleasure.

After a 30-minute break at the Smart Museum, we welcomed the John Wojciechowski Quartet to the patio. From the Festival program, “Saxophonist, composer, and teacher, John Wojciechowski (JW) has performed or recorded with The Chicago Jazz Orchestra, The Woody Herman Orchestra, The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and Toskiko Akiyoshi, among others. Completing the foursome are Ryan Cohan, piano; Clark Sommers, bass; and Dana Hall, drums.”

This musical set included five songs and all but one are Wojciechowski originals. The first three are from a project entitled Lexicon, beginning with the song “Pentatonic Tune.” That was followed by the title song “Lexicon” from this CD released in 2009. Then we heard “Lion and the Lamb;” the uptempo section (lion-like) was especially pleasing as the pace really quickened and intensified. Sommers soloed on his upright bass. The fourth song of the set was a slow ballad composed by Ryan Cohan entitled “Kampala Moon” with Cohan showing his virtuosity on the Yamaha piano and JW moving from his tenor to the soprano saxophone; this pleasant piece results from Cohan’s interpretation of his recent experience in Africa. Drummer Hall, whose own quintet was scheduled to play later on the main Wagner Stage this evening, sought some respite shade for this tune. The final number is another JW original and entitled “Title,” at least for now; lacking a suitable moniker, our leader says the title has become the default name from his composition software.

Keeping with my preference, I have sought out and written of the performers that come out early in the day of these quality summer festivals in the City of Chicago. All of the acts are good, the musicians are enthusiastic, and the early-in-the-day crowds are cerebral. I would estimate attendance at this early afternoon session on a pleasant, sunny day at 200 to 300 people.

Ben PatersonFor the last show of the day (that I was able to catch) it was with pen again in-hand taking notes that I experienced the Ben Paterson Organ Quintet. Paterson (pictured at left) seemed to enjoy and excel at talking to his huge audience at the West Stage at the Midway Plaisance near 60th Street and Ellis Avenue. I made note of his between-song quips. After playing a strong groove Jimmy McGriff “blues” tune, Paterson said, “There is not nearly enough blues in New York. It’s great to be back in Chicago playing some blues.” Spoken by a man who knows–although now based in New York, Paterson said he went to school here (UC) and identified the locations of his former Hyde Park apartments. The musicians in this group are young and they stepped up and played. The second song was the jazz standard, “Perdido,” composed by Juan Tizol and first recorded by Duke Ellington in 1942.

The third and fourth tunes were not named or recognized, but Paterson introduced the first as a “funk” tune and the second as a “ballad.” “Funk” they did, with saxophonist Scott Burns and trumpeter Marquis Hill demonstrating again that these two horns in an up-front duo segment blend well! The next song was identified by Paterson as a Dizzy Gillespie funk tune recorded in 1970, “Alligator.” At times the two horns will retire to a back corner of the stage, only to return to the fore to blow hard a duel solo for a wall-of-sound effect of a kind that we grey-haired people should recognize. Ben Paterson provides the deep bass groove and repetitive bass runs on the organ. The last selection was the Cole Porter tune “Silk Stockings,” featuring Burns on tenor sax and Paterson with his long bass lines forming the groove. No dancers–Paterson tried coaxing dancers throughout. Nevertheless, another pleasing performance at the HPJF.

Paterson’s most recent album is Blues for Oscar, a tribute to Oscar Peterson. As seems to be the custom at blues and jazz festivals, there was a brief sales pitch for the CDs and, “visit my web site” at And, so ended the first day for me at the Hyde Park Jazz Festival.

Additional musical one-hour sets I was able to catch the first day of the Festival included: Ari Brown Quintet, Gerald Clayton Trio, and the Dana Hall Quintet. On Sunday I enjoyed the performances of three ensembles with vocalists: the Chicago Yestet; Jeff Lindberg’s Chicago Jazz Orchestra with Tammy McCann; and the Dee Alexander Quartet. All are recommended!

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Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers featuring Edie Brickell at Denver Botanic Gardens, Chatfield Unit July 20, 2013 by Geoffrey Anderson

            All my life I’ve wanted to play a concert in Littleton, Colorado. Tonight, I feel like I’m one step closer to my goal.

            Steve Martin first hit the national scene in 1977 when he released his first album Let’s Get Small. The album started off with him playing the banjo. After a few seconds of snappy banjo licks, Martin said, “Hey, this guy’s gooood.” That simple beginning revealed two Martinesque aspects that define him to this day. The first, and most obvious, is his banjo playing, something he has been doing much more of in the last few years. The second is a style of humor based on how great he is. (What’s the opposite of self-deprecating humor? Self-aggrandizing humor?) Both of these characteristics were well represented Saturday night at the Denver Botanic Gardens, Chatfield Unit.

            Some nights I play the banjo fantastic. Sometimes I play good, it could be better. I went to see Eric Clapton in concert a few weeks ago. I didn’t think he was so funny.

                About the same time as his first album, Martin really became a wild and crazy guy and started hosting Saturday Night Live. A movie career followed kicked off by the erudite The Jerk. During that time, the banjo seemed to play second fiddle. Now the banjo is back.

            We’re enjoying the excellent weather, the beautiful sky and playing for your cellphones.

            Over the last few years Martin has been recording and touring with the Steep Canyon Rangers, a straight ahead bluegrass band from North Carolina. The five piece band does everything a bluegrass band is supposed to do: instrumental prowess, if not virtuosity, on the main bluegrass instruments, guitar, banjo, fiddle, mandolin and bass (all acoustic) and tight three and four part vocal harmonies essential for creating that high, lonesome sound which is indispensable to true bluegrass.

            I’m doing two of my favorite things right now, comedy and charging people to hear music.

            For the most part, Martin played his banjo and told jokes. He provided some “response” vocals on the hilarious “Atheists Don’t Have No Songs,” a Martin original. See link, below. Another comedy song was “Jubilation Day” which was actually a break up song. The majority of the tunes, however, were fairly serious bluegrass fare. Most of the songs in the program were originals written by the Rangers, Martin or Edie Brickell. The originals were in traditional bluegrass style and would fit right in next to standards like “Rocky Top” or “Wabash Cannonball,” had the band chosen to play tunes like that.

            Coming back on stage after the Rangers played a tune without him: I got to do something just now most of you didn’t, I went to the bathroom. In the bathroom was a sign that said, “Employees must wash hands.” That couldn’t be referring to me! Me?!? An Employee?

            Coming back on stage later for the encore: There’s quite a commotion backstage. The police are there. It turns out I am an employee and they were insisting I wash my hands. They had soap and towels….

            Edie Brickell seemed to be a fairly unlikely candidate to be part of a tour like this. Best known for the hit “What I Am” from her first album in 1988 and married to Paul Simon, she didn’t exactly seem to ooze bluegrass. Her comedy resume also seemed somewhat lacking. (Wait, that’s Martin’s department. Never mind.) But earlier this year she released an album with Martin called Love Has Come for You which gets down to the earthy bluegrass sound with the Rangers backing. Martin wrote the music for the album and Brickell wrote the lyrics. Several songs from this album were on the evening’s set list.

            You could follow us on Twitter. Or you could do something meaningful with your life.

            Brickell was on stage for about half the show. Her presence added some vocal diversification to the evening. The Rangers can sing, no doubt, but the female vocals in the harmonies were a pleasant addition.

            I don’t think of the Rangers as my backup band. I think of me as their celebrity.

            Comedy and bluegrass; two types of entertainment that usually don’t go together, but Steve Martin can do both and he pulled it off.

Atheists Don’t Have No Songs:


Set List

Katie Mae
Daddy Played the Banjo
The Crow
Get Along Stray Dog (with Brickell)
When You Get to Ashville (with Brickell)
Yes She Did (with Brickell)
Love Has Come For You (with Brickell)
Instrumental, Rangers only
Just Got to Heaven (a cappella)
Atheists Don’t Have No Songs
Jubilation Day
The Great Remember (Martin solo)
(Brickell on remainder)
Sun’s Gonna Shine
You Can Stay with Me
Pretty Little One
Sarah Jane and the Iron Mountain Train
Auden’s Train


Dance at the Wedding
Remember Me This Way
Pour Me Another Round/So Long Now

The Band

Steve Martin, banjo, vocals, jokes
Charles Humphrey, bass
Graham Sharp, banjo, guitar, vocals
Nicky Sanders, fiddle, vocals
Mike Guggino, mandolin, vocals
Woody Platt, guitar, vocals
Edie Brickell, vocals, guitar
Mike Ashton, percussion

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Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters at Red Rocks, Denver July 10, 2013 by Geoffrey Anderson

           Image Sometimes a man has to get back to his roots. After several years, a couple albums and a couple tours exploring American folk, roots and country music, Robert Plant has returned to the music that first grabbed him as a teenager in the early ‘60s. The blues provided the underpinnings of Led Zeppelin’s early heavy metal sound and Plant has been revisiting his home base on his current tour by revivifying many of Zeppelin’s original mainstays.


            The first four Zeppelin albums were the source of most of the evening’s material. The other major inspiration was Plant’s 2005 album Mighty Rearranger which was his last before his extended dalliance with Alison Krauss and, later, Patty Griffin, whom he married. (Did Krauss turn him down? Did he ask? Enquiring minds want to know! Well, maybe not.)


            Mighty Rearranger paid homage to blues and R&B greats like Bobby Bland and Ray Charles. It had a dark and menacing sound throughout. Wednesday night’s show recreated that ambience, and no wonder because Plant reassembled nearly the whole Mighty Rearranger band for the current tour. The only changes were David Smith on drums and, notably, the addition of Juldeh Camara from West Africa.


            Camara only played on about a third of the songs, but his contribution was unique and immense. He played a couple different African instruments, one resembling a violin and the other similar to a banjo. His playing Africanized the proceedings. However, unlike the results with bees, this Africanization proved to be much more pleasant and satisfying. 


            A particular highlight was Plant’s cover of “Spoonful,” a tune usually credited to Willie Dixon from around 1960, but with versions going back to the 1920s by Charley Patton, Papa Charlie Jackson and Luke Jordon. Howlin’ Wolf recorded one of the more well know versions. Plant’s interpretation incorporated the brooding and mysterious sound of Mighty Rearranger and some of the darker Zeppelin sound. This rendition sounded like it could have been arranged by a band of Ring Wraiths. Camara entered the creep-show about half way through with his violin-like instrument and transported the proceedings from Mordor to West Africa. Although his playing changed the flavor, the mood remained the same.


            “Black Dog,” a blues rave up from Zeppelin’s Fourth Album, was another that benefited from Camara’s African sensibilities. This version, less bombastic than its original incarnation, nevertheless oozed the blues and continued to express concern over the eternal salvation of big legged women. Camara made an appearance on this tune, this time with an Africanized banjo and again shifted the dimensions of the familiar song to something heretofore unknown and unheard.


            Although Plant and company rearranged most of the familiar subject matter, the band played straight-up versions of several songs including the opener “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You” from Zeppelin’s debut album which set the stage for the blues-based festivities to come. “Going to California” also received a treatment fairly close to the original version and provided a brief respite from the dark and the blue.


            The Sensational Space Shifters closed their main set with an epic version of “Whole Lotta Love.” The classic guitar lick was intact and by the time the band got around to it, the tune sounded a lot like it does on Led Zeppelin II. However, it took a few minutes to get there. Zeppelin was criticized (and rightly so) for ripping off blues tunes and failing to give attribution to the songs’ authors. “Whole Lotta Love” is one of those. The tune is but a minor variation of Willie Dixon’s “You Need Love.’” Certainly, the heavy, distinctive guitar lick played a big role in the song’s popularity, but justice, fair play and good sportsmanship all demanded that Dixon’s name should have been added to those of the four Zeppelin band members who were credited as the composers on the early editions of the album. (Later CD versions have added Dixon as a composer).


            In any event, Wednesday night’s version at Red Rocks began with a long introduction that featured Plant singing the original lyrics somewhat in the style of 1950s and ‘60s Chess Records, from whence the song sprang. Interestingly, the vast majority of the audience didn’t catch on until the electric guitar started to do its thing.


As veterans of the 1970s well know, the Led Zeppelin II version of the song has a spacy interlude with Plant yelps and other noises shifting back and forth from speaker to speaker. (Scene from a dorm room at CSU circa 1975: several freshman are gathered there listening to this song on a pretty good stereo with, shall we say, a little volume, and stuff. About a minute into the spacy interlude, one of the attendees blurts out, “Oh wow, they must have made this for people who are stoned!!!” (DUH!) Never has so much incredulity occupied such a small space.) The interlude in the 2013 version, instead of offering space shifting sounds, featured Camara for an African interlude. While the dorm denizens of the mid-70s may not have thought this idea was necessarily a good one, it sounded pretty good to 21st Century ears.


Plant chatted with the crowd, commenting on the majestic rocks and the altitude. He also explained his early love for the blues and how he got a chance to see many legendary bluesmen in the early ‘60s when they came to England and were welcomed as heroes at a time when they remained in obscurity in their home country. One of those bluesmen was Bukka White and Plant covered one of his songs, “Fixin’ to Die.” The other blues cover (in addition to “Spoonful”) was a brief taste of “Who Do You Love” tossed in the middle of the aforementioned “Whole Lotta Love.” Besides the blues covers, the early Zeppelin and the Mighty Rearranger tunes, Plant played two others; “I’m in the Mood for a Melody” from his second album, 1983’s The Principle of Moments and “Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down” from Band of Joy which is actually his most recent album.


The voice: Plant sounded good. He no longer goes into the stratosphere, but he can still reach higher than Colorado’s 14ers. Wednesday night, he displayed power, the ability to set a mood and much of the drama he’s been known for over the past four decades. Also, according to recent interviews, he has been relishing the freedom to sing unchained from the need to harmonize with another singer. Getting back to your roots can be a liberating experience.


Set List

Babe I’m Gonna Leave You (I)

I’m in the Mood for a Melody (The Principle of Moments)

Tin Pan Valley (Mighty Rearranger)

Spoonful (Willie Dixon and others)

Black Dog (IV)

Another Tribe (Mighty Rearranger)

Goin to California (IV)

The Enchanter (Mighty Rearranger)

Free. Percussive jam

Four Sticks (IV)

Friends (III)

Fixin to Die (Bukka White)

What Is and What Shall Never Be (II)

Bluesy intro You Need Love (Willie Dixon) >>

Whole Lotta Love (II) >>

African interlude >>

Who Do You Love tease >>

Whole Lotta Love


Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down (Band of Joy)

Rock and Roll (IV


The Band

Robert Plant, vocals

John Baggott, keyboards

Justin Adams, guitars

Skin Tyson, guitars

Billy Fuller, bass

David Smith, drums

Juldeh Camara, African instruments


Muddy Waters, “You Need Love:”

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Chicago Blues Festival 2013—Day 1 by Peter Furlong

Terry "Harmonica" Bean

Terry “Harmonica” Bean

The headliners of this huge free festival come out at night.  By then, I need a respite from seven hours of mostly standing and listening to the daytime blues performers; and, I want to be fresh tomorrow for more of the same.  In Chicago the nights have been cool and still cooler at the Fest with the off-the-lake effect created by breezy conditions.  Today, the day hours were beautiful and sunny; the breeze was welcomed by the daytime festival-goers.  Starting at 11AM, I got in seven hours of live music and conversation­­–a solid day’s work.  The day began with the Mississippi Blues Trail panel at a table on the Mississippi Juke Joint stage—one of five stages at the Festival.

A Panel Presentation  Jim, Allison, and Scott made up the panel—a researcher/author, tourism and development manager, and educator/author, respectively.  Both Jim and Scott have made significant contributions to Living Blues magazine; Allison has radio experience.  Scott served as leader.  Grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and others have made funds relatively easy to acquire in order to commence the Trail marker project and keep it going.  Starting out with 3 markers in 2005/2006 and quickly expanding to 10, the number of historical markers is now over 200 per one estimate.  The first three were in the towns of Holly Ridge, Greenville, and Greenwood, MS.  There are approximately 50 in the Delta region in northwest Mississippi and 9 in Clarksdale, MS, the birthplace and home to many blues musicians.  Markers have expanded beyond the Delta to Arkansas, Chicago, Florida, Maine, and Norway to commemorate some relevant historical Blues aspect.

Allison cited three “standpoints” to explain the Blues Trail success: an economic perspective has been advanced given the embracing of tourism by the State in the 1990s; secondly, the Blues defines the cultural heritage of the State; and third, there has been increased interest in preserving the Blues culture for future generations.

After one hour of presentation, discussion, and audience questioning, this panel was applauded for their work and the musicians took over the Mississippi Juke Joint stage.  Here are reviews of a few acts:

Terry “Harmonica” Bean.  A solo performer from Pontotoc, Mississippi, excelling with electric guitar and harmonica playing.  He has “no blues band” and began his set with a version of “I’m a Man”, a song that has had parts credited to Bo Diddley, Willie Dixon, and Muddy Waters.  Next was “Sweet Home Chicago”, a tune played by at least one other performer today.  Harmonica enjoyed talking to his audience.

“Everyone havin’ a good time?  I’m Harmonica Bean, ladies and gentlemen.”

“You all doing alright?”

Some of his song lyrics you may have heard:

I don’t want you to be true,

I just want to make love to you, love to you.

And, from a John Lee Hooker song,
I’m in the mood; I’m in the mood for love.

One of his songs speaks of a snake in the lake and a frog on a log having a dialog.  Folk music.   A nice size crowd was listening, but he reminded us of why we were here when he uttered this remark:

“Everyone seems to be home with their wives today. I got me one too, but she’s on to someone else, but I’m going to get her back.”  A tribute to the blues; and, these song lyrics followed:

Baby, what you want the man to do.  You got me where you want me.

In concluding his set, Harmonica expressed what he is all about:

“Playing the blues by myself…harmonica…on the back porch.”

Lightnin’ Malcolm   A second rather solitary blues musician from Mississippi hill country; sometimes he has a trio, but today it is only Lightnin’ and a drummer.  Lightnin’ acknowledged his drummer often—I believe has name is Marvin; just the two of them really working hard and getting a great response. His fingers were just flying over both the bass and lead high registers.  Lightnin’ could work solo in a joint and get everyone dancing; he is a very skilled and experienced musician, having begun touring in his teens.

At one point he spoke of the t-shirt he was wearing— blue with a white image of Willie Dixon displayed; a gift from the widow of Dixon.  It appeared to be topped by a gold necklace medallion in the shape of an “M”; a proud statement of State loyalty one would think.  He said he had to be in Gulfport, MS, Saturday night, but he played a full set plus extra time today.

John Primer and the Real Deal Blues Band.  John Primer is a Muddy Waters protégé who played extensively throughout the South Side of Chicago in places like Theresa’s Lounge and the Checkerboard Lounge.  Late in Waters’ career Primer served as the band leader.  One would expect a healthy serving of Waters’ tunes and he served them up to a very receptive crowd in the late afternoon sun.  Today he was accompanied by three musicians—a soloing and accompanying harmonica player, bass player, and drummer.  Primer plays lead guitar and slide guitar.

Other musicians to perform on the daytime bill of the Mississippi Juke Joint stage included Bill “Howl-N-Madd” Perry and the Kenny “Beedyeyes” Smith blues jam.  The headliners of the Festival on the big Petrillo Stage this Friday night included Ernest “Guitar” Roy, Irma Thomas, and Bobby Rush and his Blues Band.

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Amina Figarova Mount Vernon Country Club, Golden, CO March 6, 2013 by Geoff Anderson

 What do “jazz” and “Azerbaijan” have in common? Both have a “z” in their names. And jazz pianist  is from Azerbaijan.  That’s probably about it. Azerbaijan produces about as many international jazz stars as Cuba produces downhill ski champions. But there are exceptions to every rule. Figarova brought her international sextet to the Mount Vernon Country Club Wednesday night and proved that top drawer jazz can come from unlikely places.Image

             The sextet, which has been together for a few years now, hails predominately from Europe including the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. Figarova explained that her home country is at the crossroads of Asia, Europe, Africa and the Middle East which accounts for her wide ranging influences. The band had been based in Holland for several years, but moved to New York City in 2010. They are currently on a cross country tour learning, no doubt, just how big the United States is. The night before playing in the Denver area, they had played in St. Louis and driven from there the morning after their show. The day after the Colorado show, they were scheduled to play in Kansas City; driving back across the plains. (Who set up that schedule?)

            The longevity of the band and the European background informed their playing. Figarova’s classical training was evident in both her playing and her compositions which comprised the entire program. Figarova’s husband, Bart Platteau played flute. He was joined in the front line by Ernie Hammes on trumpet and flugelhorn and Marc Mommaas on tenor sax. Their extensive time together paid off not only in tight ensemble playing, starting and stopping and turning on a dime, but also in sweet, intricate harmonies that were a hallmark of the evening. Each played a number of state of the art solos emphasizing touching melodic lines for the most part and only occasionally laying down a blizzard of notes. Bassist Jerden Vierdag always seemed to be busy providing a low-end lyrical counterpoint to the proceedings up above. Drummer Chris “Buckshot” Strik constantly came up with a different way to play. He regularly switched from mallets to brushes to standard drums sticks. During his solo toward the end of the evening, he started out playing his trap set with his hands, sometimes pushing on a drum head with one hand to vary the pitch and hitting it with his other hand. He didn’t limit himself to hitting the drumheads and cymbals, but also used the edges, stands and sides of the drums to create an infinite variety of sounds.

            As the leader, Figarova played a number of solos, not only with the band, but some entirely by herself. Here, again, the pyrotechnics were employed only sparingly. Her focus, too, stayed on the lyrical, graceful and poignant and sometimes ethereal and atmospheric. Her compositions are quite impressionistic for the most part. She explained that “NYCST” stood for New York City Subway Tango and the frenetic tune musically described the kind of scenes one might encounter on the subway around three in the morning. The band played a suite of three songs about the ocean; “Another Side of the Ocean,” “Sneaky Seagulls” and “Shut Eyes, Sea Waves.” Another tune described a favorite time of the week, “Morning Pace,” about a Sunday morning with nothing planned.

            Almost all the songs for the evening were from the band’s latest album Twelve (In and Out Records, 2012). It is Figarova’s twelfth album, so the name seemed obvious. The release date was 2012, it has 12 songs and the title song is in 12/8 time complete the symmetry.

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