Thursday, May 31, 2012

To Hear Doc Watson, You Really Had to See Him

This appreciation of Doc Watson by Ry Cooder appeared in the New York Times artsbeat blog.
Doc Watson, who died on Tuesday at age 89, was the first truly great guitar player I ever saw up close. For me, growing up in Santa Monica, Calif., in the 1950s meant that great musicians were only manifested on records and radio, making it hard to catch a glimpse of the person behind the layers of sound and presentation. You knew people like Hank Snow and Merle Travis were great, but you couldn’t be sure how much the Nudie suits and custom boots had contributed to the sound you heard on KXLA radio. Then, Doc and the banjo player Clarence Ashley and some of the boys drove out to Los Angeles for the first U.C.L.A. Folk Festival in 1963. On the lawn by Royce Hall, the gothic classical music venue, they gathered around and sang “Daniel Prayed,” an intricate call-and-response-style gospel tune. The public was here and there, wandering around aimlessly, like they do at these events. It was casual and unannounced — we hadn’t entered into the hyperorganized way of music appreciation just yet — that came later with the big rock shows. Fred Price led the song with his old man’s ghostly voice, Clint Howard joined in on farm-boy tenor and Doc added his resonant bass, which was severe and shocking. In their tradition, the instruments are rested and the song is like a breathing exercise. Daniel prayed every morning, noon, and night, it says. I wondered if there were more people right there on the lawn than had ever assembled in their church back home in Deep Gap, N.C., to hear about Daniel and the nonstop prayer, but that didn’t bother Doc and the boys. Then, Ed Pearl, the owner of the folk music club the Ash Grove, took them away somewhere to get a sandwich. Their place back home would probably just about fit in between the lawn and the food tent, I remember thinking. I also remember thinking that these men know something about music I’ll never know, even if I practice and study all my life. You have to be born into it. That way, every note and word and gesture has meaning, and your notes and sung words line up with those of your friends and make a whole statement about life that is tiny but eternal. Now another rounder has gone. Doc made many good recordings, but you needed to be in his close presence to pick up the sound of his life and times; the microphone can’t do that for you, I’m sorry to say. Later that day, I was sitting on a bench playing guitar, and Doc and Ed Pearl walked by. Doc stopped and listened. “Who’s that?” he asked Ed. “That’s Ry Cooder, he’s a youngster.” “Sounds pretty good,” Doc said, and they walked on.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Gregg Allman blues...

Just got a cancellation notice from the place where I bought the signed Gregg Allman bio. According to an email the publisher discovered that their inventory of signed copies was signed Gregg Allman book! #$%^!
I guess I'll just buy the e-version and save myself some money. The e-book edition of Buddy Guy's new one looks really good on the iPad!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Quadrophenia Demos, volume 2

Thanks to Jesse who tracked it down and brought it home, I now have volumes 1 & 2. Oh, sure, I know...the songs are all on the Quadrophenia CD set, but that's not the point is it!?! It's all about the collecting. And...ummm...the storing. OK I admit, the storing does become a problem after the collecting part goes on for as long as I've been doing it, but I did sell off a bunch of vinyl 2 years ago and bought a bike with the proceeds. A pretty nice bike too. And...I could've traded all that vinyl in, for much higher And I didn't do that. That's progress isn't it? vinyl copies of Blunderbuss and Dr. John's Locked Down, are here too. Just waiting for my signed copy of Gregg Allman's autobiography to arrive. Problem? No I don't have a problem.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Steve Strongman, Live in Hamilton

Steve Strongman has introduced his new releases at Hamilton Place's Studio theatre for quite a while now. We've attended almost all of them. The audience is always filled with family and friends, neighbours and fans, so a good time is virtually guaranteed. He shows every time that he is following the advice given to him by his mentor Mel Brown, "Strong-Man, he called me Strong-Man, give the people what they want!" That he does. So when the people called out for both "Birthday Song" and "River" as encore choices, he said, "What the hell, I'll play 'em both." It took a long time, though, to get to the encore. Steve is looking prosperous these days, wearing a fine pair of Italian shoes, silk socks and a new grey suit. One imagines he treated himself to this finery after winning the Maple Blues Award for Best Blues Guitarist a month or so ago. He came out on a stage that was dressed up with some plants, and an old wooden dresser he found earlier that day sitting on the side of the road, marked 'FREE'. Homey! The new album is an acoustic affair. Steve played an acoustic for five years before switching to electric guitar, and says he still "loves the sound" and I love it too. He started things off playing a 12-string on "Haven't Seen It Yet" a tune from the new A Natural Fact CD. He would go on to play all 12 of that album's tracks, but that was the point of the was a CD release party, and the merch table had plenty of CDs for sale! He switched to the old Gibson J45 for a few songs, then blew harp and sang "Just One Thing" before bringing out the band.
His band was made up of olf compatriots and relatives. Colin Lappsley played a cool electronic stand-up bass, and added backup vocals; Dave King drummed alternating between a pair of brushes and the heaviest drumsticks I've ever seen. My wife said they looked like hockey sticks! And they had a beat you might imagine hockey sticks would have. Steve's cousin, the brilliant pianist Jesse O'Brien tinkled the 88s, and you might've thought it was Dr. John sitting on the bench. Jesse always adds to the excitement when he joins the band. Steve strapped on a thin-line cutaway Guild for "Full of You" and would alternate between this axe and a shiny new resonator guitar for much of the band set. Whatever guitar he held, he played beautifully. His finger-picking is precise, and his slide playing stings. He definitely understands dynamics and is not afraid of sharing the solo space with Jesse O'Brien who was his usual marvelous self. This is not to take away from Dave and Colin who provided solid support throughout the night. Everyone on-stage and off had a fine time.
As the clock edged toward 10:30 Steve and the band played a few older songs from Honey and Blues In Colour to keep the people satisfied. They were fired up and filled with energy, that was contagious. After the three song encore, we filed into the night, stopping only to pickup our own copy of A Natural fact. I should mention the opening act, local bluesman Alfie Smith whose gruff voice, and startling finger-picked country blues set the stage for Steve's more urban sound. All in all a fine evening of blues music.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Last night I went to the store...

I had to buy the George Harrison movie from Martin Scorsese. It's taken it so long to come out on DVD, blu-ray. So I picked up the blu-ray, and of course had to get a copy of Early Tracks, Volume 1 too...real demos and home recordings, but essential for a fan. And the new Norah Jones deluxe CD was a good price too, very mellow but good. Jesse got an Essential Rockabilly CD and a 2-disc Wanda Jackson set. So he'll be rockin' down the highway today! I also picked up the new issue of Sing Out! with Abigail Washburn on the cover. It has a Ry Cooder song transcribed, which I present as my gift to you. You should buy Sing Out! because Woody sez, "One little issue of Sing Out! is worth more to the humanly race than any thousand tons of other dreamy, dopey junk...I don't know a magazine big or little that comes within a thousand million miles of Sing Out! when it comes to doing good in this world." Hey! Woody said it...not me! I think that giving you this sample of what they give every issue, is in keeping with the folk process and here you go: