Friday, June 12, 2009

Richie Havens

I first saw Richie Havens on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. I loved him then. Open tuning, fretted with his thumb, cool. I tried it. My guitar didn't like being tuned to an open E, and my thumb hurt like crazy! Besides my voice isn't as rich as it didn't sound the same anyway, and just how did he play minor chords? I bought a copy of his first album in NYC on a trip there with Lester Bilbo. Same trip where we saw Performance and discovered Ry Cooder.
Then Richie became a star with his featured role at Woodstock (the festival and the film). The next year he played at the Burlington Arena! Lester's mom drove us to the show, and Richie was right there, to talk to. We listened in on a conversation, got an autograph, and then watched the concert. I remember best a long rendition of "Rocky Raccoon" where he left the stage still playing, circum-navigated the arena and found his way back to the stage...well he was not so lively this week at Hugh's Room in Toronto. He's 68 now, and he's slowed down. When we spoke he seemed frail, and tired. His concert this night was only a little over an hour long, and featured at least one long, rambling narration about stickball, Superman, and "truth, justice and 'the American way[?]'" We could've done with another song instead of that. And yet, there we were in the presence of an icon. He still plays a big Guild guitar, tuned to open E, he still frets with his thumb, and goes through a pick in two songs! He is a rhythmic guitarist, doesn't need a drummer (although he used to travel with at least one percussionist). Now it's just Richie and Walter Parks (the lead guitarist) and a bunch of new songs Richie is writing about peace and love and goodness. Sure, he still does a couple of the favourites. "Here Comes the Sun" and "Freedom" but many others have been lost along the way. No "Just Like a Woman" this time, although everyone called for it. His guitar playing has got a bit sloppy, he missed the 5 chord once or twice, and he seemed to get lost with the lyrics of The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again" but everybody had a good time.
We met Susan, an old friend of Richie's, and she introduced us to him. He was gracious and charming and posed for a photo or two. Again...a wonderful night. And when I got home...the newly released 40th Anniversary edition of Woodstock was waiting for me.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Jackie Washington

On Wednesday night McMaster University celebrated the life and music of Jackie Washington. Months of preparation had gone into this evening, and it paid off because a spledid time was had by all.
Jackie received an honorary doctorate from "Mac", and has donated his archives to the University. Those archives include copies of all his albums, an old 45rpm vinyl record which features King Biscuit Boy on harp, the infamous Jackie Washington songbooks (which are essentially a storehouse of the popular music of the last century). Over 1200 songs, lyrics and guitar chords, all the songs Jack has sung over the last eight and a half decades. That's right...he's been performing since he was FIVE years old! His mother bought a guitar from Eatons for his brother to play so the boys would sound more like the Mills Brothers, but it was Jackie who took to the fretboard (he also plays piano) like a duck to water. Oh, and there's, posters, diaries (with some very interesting entries), and some delicate pen and ink drawings of trains. Jackie loves trains, he worked as a porter for Canadian Pacific back in the day.
The night began with a bit of a scare. Mose Scarlett and Ken Whiteley were tuning up, when a phone call came in. Jennie was driving Jack to the event and she was worried...the man of the hour was having trouble breathing. Should she drive him to Emergency? I ran downstairs to meet the car, and found a very wheezy Jack, and a pretty nervous Jannie. But Jack started breathing a bit better and agreed to go ahead with the night. By the time he got upstairs, and he was surrounded by well-wishers, he was beaming, and he just got better as the night went on.
Chief Librarian Jeff Trzeciak welcomed all the guests and introduced the event, President Peter George (who six years ago had presented Jackie with his Doctorate) spoke about Jack's achievements, and then yours truly Rylander Dave himself got to speak. I talked a bit about the importance of music and the active scene that has existed in Hamilton for as long as I could remember, and then introduced Ken and Mose for a set of good old fashioned toe-tappin' music. They played songs they've been playing with Jackie for the past 20 years, and finally invited the guest of honour to join them. Jack had said he wasn't going to sing, but he loves an auidience and couldn't resist. He sang along with a couple, and then did a risque recital of a Woody Herman tune and thanked everyone for such a great night. And it was a great night. Tom Wilson, Brent & Liam Titcomb, Eve Goldberg, Marg Stowe, Michelle Josef, Festival of Friends founder Bill Powell, members of the Friends of Jackie Washington Committee, McMaster's Provost, Donors, folkies, rockers, little kids, they all came to pay tribute to Jack.
Thanks to everyone who played a part in this event. Thanks especially to Anne (you know who you are) for all your hard work. Thanks Doctor Jackie! For the healing power of music...and love!