Monday, October 31, 2005

Amplified harp tone tip – channel jumping.

By the Tone Chaperone

I blow harp through a Victoria Bassman clone that I bought from Stoop Down about a year ago. A damn fine amp, it’s a clone of the classic 1959 Fender Bassman amp that was a flop as a bass amp but became very popular with guitarists. The original Fenders are collectors items now – originally costing about $340, these amps in very good condition are selling for over $4,000 these days.

The Bassman is also a great harp amp. In fact, it’s kind of unusual to see pro blues harp players not using a Fender Bassman or a reasonable facsimile. With 45 watts of power and four ten-inch speakers, this amp can deliver the big, fat harp tone that has been heard on gazillions of blues recordings.

Like most gearheads, I’m always fooling around with my amp, mics, cords, etc. in the never-ending quest to improve my tone. I recently discovered that, by jumping the two channels in my Victoria, I can sort of supercharge my sound. I guess this is a trick that guitar players have known about for ages. Here’s how it’s done:

1. Plug the mic cord into the No. 1 jack of the Normal channel.

2. Plug one end of a patch cord into the No. 2 jack of the Normal channel.

3. Plug the other end of the patch cord into the No. 1 jack of the Bright channel.

Now the Volume controls on both channels are active and affect the volume and tone of the amp. This seems to add more punch and presence to an already great sounding amp. The channels can also be jumped the other way - that is, from the Bright to the Normal channel. I really dig this sound and patch the channels together on my amp all the time now.

Normal to Bright channel jump.

However, channel jumping might not work too well for a rookie harp player having the usual problems with feedback. Getting the two volume controls balanced will be a lot easier for an experienced player with good mic technique.

Next up: I’m probably going to replace the Chinese and Russian tubes in the Victoria with New Old Stock (NOS) tubes. I’ll keep you posted.

Thanks and a tip of the hat to Nick Carnavalli for hipping me to the channel jumping technique. For an excellent reference on Fender amplifiers, check out “Fender Amps – The First Fifty Years” by John Teagle and John Sprung. Good stuff!

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Blue Monday do's...and don'ts.

Blue Monday Jammers - Hwy 99 Blues Club

Harmonica Playboy & the Midnight Movers have been hosting the Blue Monday jam session at the Highway 99 Blues Club in Seattle for ten months now. We've sort of modeled the gig after the Blue Monday jams that occurred for years at the late, great Owl Cafe (now the Conor Byrne Pub) in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood. That is, the house band plays the first set and jammers play the next two or three sets. If there's time, the house band plays another short set at the end of the night.

I never use a sign-up sheet at Blue Monday, because I prefer to have the freedom to arrange sets of jammers that I think will probably be compatible. Sometimes this arrangement works, and the crowd gets treated to some excellent music. Sometimes it doesn't work, and the result can be an agonizing sonic train wreck.

There are three things that I like about Blue Monday: (1) we get to play with other pros from around town that we don't see very often otherwise, (2) we get to meet the occasional blues or rock celebrity - for instance, pianist Pinetop Perkins sat in with the band a few months ago, and (3) it's a great place for upcoming talent to play and network with other musicians that might be looking to put a band together.

Anyway, here are some tips for jammers new to the Blue Monday concept:

1. Do bring your own axe - It is unlikely that anyone in the house band is going to lend you their guitar, bass, or drum sticks, not even if you just flew in from Toronto and stumbled into the gig by accident. And don't even ask about my harps, thank you very much.

2. Do keep it simple - It is unwise to get on the stand with a stage full of people you don’t know and expect them to play Percy Mayfield’s “River’s Invitation” flawlessly. It’s also a good idea to give the band some clues about how you want to start and stop the song, and who will take the next solo. I have noticed that, for some reason, musicians’ telepathic powers seem to be diminished during Blue Monday. See the “train wreck” comment above.

3. Don’t wear your leather pants – Take a look around. Almost all of the Blue Monday Jammer Guitar Army are guys. Save it for the weekend, pal.

4. Don’t bring your Marshall half-stack – It will be too loud. Thank you.

5. Do hang out – Get to the club early and socialize with your fellow jammers. You might make some new friends and learn some new chops while listening to the others play.

6. Do have some basic blues chops – There’s nothing worse than trying to play with a drummer that can’t keep time, a guitarist that can’t play in tune, or a harp player that can’t play single notes. I have noticed that some players are totally clueless when their amateurish playing is eliciting giggles from the audience. Don’t let this happen to you!

7. Don’t get wigged out because you didn’t get to play with the house band – Hey, sometimes I only get to play one set with my band at Blue Monday. I can’t guarantee what the set lineups will be before the gig. Sorry!

8. Do bring your whole band to Blue Monday – Your Blues band, that is. I’ll always try my best to get bands up that have made the trek to downtown Seattle. A word to the wise, though – the guy that books the bands at the Highway 99 is not there on Mondays, so don’t consider your set an audition for a gig.

9. Do be patient – Sometime so many guitarists show up that I’ve got to get three guitar players on the stage per set. Your time will come, Grasshopper! Please – don’t show up at 10:15 then start whining to me at 10:30 about when you’ll get to play. This annoys me mightily.

10. Do be nice to the club staff – The staff at the Highway 99 are great and do everything they can to ensure that the clientele has a good time. Don’t pester the staff for free food or drinks because you’re going to play that night. Show some class.

OK, ‘nuff said. Now grab your axe and come on down to Blue Monday and show us what you got!

The Highway 99 Blues club is located at 1414 Alaskan Way in Seattle, across the street from the Seattle Aquarium. The Blue Monday gig starts at 8:30 PM most every Monday.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

CD Review by Mark Dalton

David Brewer and the Intimidators
Crossed Arrows Music

The chorus for one of my favorite tunes on this excellent disc says "You don't know me that well..." and it is true that I don't know David Brewer, the man, that well. We have friends in common however, and I've never heard anything said about Brewer except that he is a good, true friend and a righteous man. What I know better, personally, is David Brewer's music. I remember the first time I ever heard him play very well. It was at one of the Seattle Blues Review shows put on at the old G-Note Tavern out on 85th by promoter Jim Hamilton. I can refresh my memory of this 1977 show, because we got it on tape, including performances by Tom McFarland, Isaac Scott, Kim Field, and a scorching set by David Brewer and his band, Blueseye. He did a tune then called "Texas Strut" that blows me away to this day - all the energy of Freddie King in his Shelter Records prime, with explosive solos that also reflected Brewer's then-recent apprenticeship with Albert Collins - louder than hell, with an edge that cut like a machete. Complex, funky arrangement that turned on a dime. To say I was impressed with Brewer's debut in my musical life that night would be a terrible understatement.

Our paths continued to cross over the years as Brewer settled into the Seattle Blues scene as a major player. I have a tape of a jam in Twist Turner's basement in the north end, just before Twist pushed off for Chicago to seek his fortune, with Brewer, Isaac and Brian Butler all playing guitars together, making a hellacious, wonderful racket - screaming Blues like you rarely hear in a more civilized Seattle of 2005.

I was hanging out on a break at the Salmon Bay Eagles last week when a friend of mine gave me a copy of Brewer's (right, at the Jolly Roger Roadhouse in Seattle in the mid-'80s) new CD and said "here - you have got to have this." Okay...I took it home and put it on, and you know what? This is a really good CD. I mean a really good CD. This is not another local blues band CD - you know what I'm saying - a relatively unadorned, low budget, live in the studio, what-you-hear-is-what-you-get any night out in the clubs type-CD. This is an album of good songs - a mix of covers and original tunes - with creative arrangements, and good engineering and production. Some songs have a very cool wall-of-sound effect - layers of guitars in harmony, a solid horn section that sounds like Phil Spector himself at the board; these are compositions, obviously approached song-by-song with as much time, energy, and creative thinking as necessary given to each one to make the man happy! Listening to this album over and over hearkens back to a time for me when I would anxiously be awaiting a new release from Freddie King, or Albert Collins, or the Allman Brothers Band, and as soon as I had my hands on it, I would just play it non-stop until I'd crawled all the way inside and the cuts were as broken-in and familiar as a good pair of boots.

Brewer's always interesting take on the Blues is strongly in evidence here - listen to what he has done with an old saw like "Walkin' By Myself" - a tune you've heard hundreds of times if you've been around Seattle Blues for any time at all - and yet, with Brewer's able hands and well-worn voice on the job, it sounds fresh and new. Another familiar tune, the old Animal's hit, "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," is given new life, in a convincing reading that, like all of Brewer's music, seems to come straight at you, from the heart. One of Chuck Berry's several delightful continental-flavored songs, "You Never Can Tell," gets the full studio treatment here - horns, vocal chorus, big fat sound - and the result works just great in my book.

Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic" was perhaps the choice of a song that surprised me the most - but a couple times through and I was sold completely. The ringing guitar chorus, backed by a horn section that will make your feet vibrate, is just a great sound, and Brewer sings this tune with deep soul. As it says on the cover of this satisfying set, "Not everything that counts can be counted..." Believe it! Get it!

Originally from Nebraska, Mark Dalton moved to Seattle in the early '70s. He is an accomplished bassist and stalwart bluesman. He currently plays with the Chris Stevens Band. Photo by Ronda Lee.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

A mystery, wrapped in an enigma...

I was reminiscing the other day with my buddy, Seattle bassist John "The Savage" Lee, about a memorable gig we played with the late, great blues guitarist Isaac Scott back in the late '70s. This job was at a tavern on Vashon Island. Guitarist Jerry Christie was also on this gig, but neither John nor I could recall who the drummer was.

Have you ever heard the Wild Child Butler tune "Hippie Playground?" Well, that was a pretty apt name for Vashon Island in the '70s. Especially in the fall, you know, during the mushroom harvesting season. Such lovely dancing by the bar patrons during that time of the year...

But I digress. When we arrived at the tavern, Isaac was complaining that he didn't feel well and had an upset stomach. Just before we were to begin playing, he started looking really bad. He suddenly took off towards the end of the stage where an old upright piano was parked. He then pulled open the front panel of the piano and threw up into the piano for a good long time. When he was done puking, he closed the piano up, and, apparently refreshed, commenced to playing the gig.

Now here's the mystery - I was telling this story a couple of weeks ago to Kim Field, another harp player that worked with Isaac many times. Kim said that he was familiar with the story because it happened at a gig that he was playing! What the...?!

So, here's what the inquiring minds at Jet City Blues want to know: how many players recall gigs where Isaac Scott threw up into a piano? I mean, this is going to turn into an apocryphal story into a few more years.

We await your feedback on this vital issue.

Isaac Scott, playing a different piano at the G-Note Tavern in Seattle, sometime in the mid-'80s.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

KT's Kicks at the Salmon Bay Eagles - 10/20/05

Man, I just love it when a plan comes together! Midnight Movers drummer Kirk (KT) Tuttle (left) assembled the KT's Kicks band in June 2004 to play at the Salmon Bay Eagles during a visit by one of his sisters to Seattle. He picked some of his favorite players for the band, including yours truly on harp and vocals, Ron "Sweet Talkin' Jones on tenor sax and vocals, Mark "Tall Cool One" Dalton (Chris Stevens Band) on electric bass, and Tom "T-Boy" Boyle on guitar. The band has continued to play occasionally since that first date, every time at the Eagles club.

Now, this is a great collection of players, but, in my opinion, this lineup never really jelled until our gig at the Eagles last Thursday. I dunno what it was, but the band was swingin' hard all night and we finally were able to do justice to a couple of Ron Ussery's tunes. Of course it helped that there was a good crowd at the Eagles that was ready to rock, as usual.

Ron (right) is a long-time veteran of the Northwest rock and R & B scene, and if you're not familiar with him, you've got to check him out! He's a great tenor player, with a mellow tone and laid-back phrasing that is great for the blues. Plus, he's a terrific blue-eyed soul singer. I mean, this cat can sing! Two of the songs I dug the most this night were his versions of Junior Parker's "Next Time You See me" and Big Jay McNeely's "(There Is) Something On Your Mind." Ron also helped me out on some background vocals on Z.Z. Hill's "Down Home Blues" and Lee Dorsey's "Everything I Do Gohn Be Funky."

Another highlight of the night was when Becki-Sue (Becki-Sue & Her Big Rockin' Daddies) sat in with the band during the third set. Tom Boyle and Becki-Sue are both in the Big Rockin' Daddies, and they are quite a team. I dig Becki-Sue's style - she's a strong singer that doesn't do the typical over-the-top Janis Joplin impersonation that we've all heard too many times.

Anyway, come out to see KT's kicks at one of our Eagles' gigs. Mark and KT are one of Seattle's best blues rhythm sections and T-Boy is a hella guitar player. See you at the nightclub!

KT's Kicks at the Salmon Bay Eagles Club - Seattle, October 2005

KT's Kicks next gig at the Salmon Bay Eagles will occur on January 19, 2006. All photos in this article were created by Phil Chestnut.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Ballard Blues - The Salmon Bay Eagles Club

If you're a blues fan, you need to check out the Salmon Bay Eagles club (left), located in Seattle's north end Ballard neighborhood. Yes, that's right, the Salmon Bay Eagles, as in "Fraternal Organization of..." This club has been hosting blues bands on Thursday nights for 15 consecutive years now, and many of us musician types consider it to be our official blues clubhouse.

There is never a cover charge, the drinks (served up by the hostess with the mostest, Jimmie Jean) are strong, and Marcia (the Kitchen Wench) is usually cooking up soul food dinners for under $10.00. So what's not to like? There is also a pretty good juke box, with local blues CDs mixed in with the Eagles' favorites such as Guy Lombardo and Frank Sinatra.

Jimmie Jean (right, serving up one of my favorite libations) has been working behind the bar every Thursday for all of those 15 years. The musicians get treated with respect in this joint - there's nobody on our back telling us what to play, or how loud to play it. Also, the Eagles popped for a decent PA system a few years ago, so I don't have to lug mine down there when I play with the Midnight Movers or KT's Kicks. Nice!

Most of the bands invite their friends to join them when they play at the Eagles, so you never know who you might see sitting in. We usually have some great harp players sitting in during the Midnight Movers gigs, and Mark Dufresne (vocals/harp for Roomful Of Blues) sometimes drops in when he's in town.

Here's a couple of the bands I've seen recently at the Eagles:

The Hudson Blues Band

So, waddya waitin' for? Get down to the Eagles and support live Seattle blues on Thursdays. And tell Jimmie Jean I said hi. If I'm at the bar, say hey and I'll buy you a drink.

The Salmon Bay Eagles is located at 5216 20th Ave. NW in Seattle (206-783-7791). The Thursday night gigs happen from 8:30 PM to 12:30 AM.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Weird Gig No. 1 - Beware the Hipnotizer!

By Mark Dufresne

Note: This piece was originally published on the old Caldonia web page around 1996. Mark Dufresne (left - photo by Michael Kurgansky), a Seattle resident since the late '70s, is currently employed as the lead singer for the band Roomful Of Blues.

You know, there's just nothin' like trying to play blues and R & B at a good ol' county fair. First you park your auto in the mud about a mile away from the gate. Then you put your amp on a school bus that takes you to the gate. Then you walk another half mile with the amp to the stage. Not the medium size stage across from the main stage, but the tiny-ass
one between the bovine pen and the dog kennels, nestled next to the honey buckets, which are routinely vacuumed during your show. Nice.

You find the stage covered in tissue paper. Strange? Well, you're sharing the stage with the Hipnotizer. It's part of his act, I guess. He's a nice guy, however. His show gets about 200 folks each time. Our show gets about two folks that stay and gawk. People come and go while we're playing, wondering what the hell were doing there and frankly we are also wondering what the hell were doing here. We play three one-hour shows and head back to Seattle from Enumclaw. We did this for three days. By the third day my old dishwashing job was beginning to seem pretty damn rewarding again.

While taking a little break, Laura and I had a brew across the way from the stage where The Shoppe (a professional State fair cover band from Dallas-they played 18 shows over 12 days) was playing. On their break we saw an Elvis imitation show complete with decline-period cape, jewels, and lamb chops. There were possibly 200 or more folks in attendance witnessing the entire 1975 MGM Grand Elvis Vegas act. The amazing part was - no band! Yes indeed folks, Karaoke Elvis, or as I prefer to call it, Hellvis! We then returned to the hypnotist and his 200-plus audience who eagerly ran away when we hit the stage so they could enjoy the llama exhibit next door.

Above: Unknown country band - Skagit County Fair, Mount Vernon, WA (late '80s).

In fairness, we were paid well for this ordeal so it was hardly the worst gig ever. But check this out; a month later we went to play the county fair in Mount Vernon. We get to the stage that was supposed to have a sound system, and there was none except for two small Peaveys mounted on the side and a 50-watt power amp. On the stage was a pile of tissue papers again. I made the sign of the cross.

This time it was not the man in Enumclaw who out-drew us, but a young, personable 22 year-old woman. She out-drew us 200 to two, and she was the daughter of the hypnotist in Enumclaw. Apparently, the wife was also in the game and was working another fair elsewhere.

Above: One man band - Skagit County Fair, Mount Vernon, WA (late '80s).

So remember, if you work one of these fairs and a cowpoke comes and asks you what kind music ya'll play, tell 'em "Both kinds, rhythm AND blues."

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

CD Review by Mark Dalton

Wes Montgomery
Pacific Jazz/Blue Note CD

I'm sure all you readers out there have noticed that there is a lot of great jazz available these days, at very reasonable prices. Many of these fine sounds are available through CD reissue programs which are restoring to print some of the major jazz catalogs of the '50s and '60s. In fact, these programs are certainly encouraging the resurgence in interest in the classic small combo acoustic jazz of this era. Not long ago, these recordings were strictly on used vinyl and the exclusive province of cluttered jazz record shops, typically manned by aging, but extremely knowledgeable hipsters in the larger cities of the U.S.A. In addition to their great music, these albums were treasured for their cool cover photos (musicians in continental suits, women in sheath dresses, the cigarette smoke drifting languidly...), and their lengthy and informative liner notes. These discs were handled like delicate china, played only on the best of equipment (AR turntable, if you please!) and were passed from hand to hand among a dedicated group of collectors. No longer. I go into the Tower Records store here in Seattle, and I am dazzled by bins and bins full of lovingly remastered, thoroughly documented, and bargain priced reissues of classic Blue Note, Riverside, Prestige, and Pacific Jazz albums of yesteryear, to name just a few labels. I want to talk about one of these reissues here, but there is a longer story to this review.

The Montgomery Brothers, Buddy, Monk and Wes, were from Indiana. Buddy played vibes, and wrote a lot of nice tunes. Wes, of course, played electric guitar. He played with his thumb, because he liked the tone it got him. Playing with his thumb led him into playing octaves more frequently than most jazz guitarists (playing a melody line on two strings, simultaneously, an octave apart), which was to become a trademark, and, later in his career as a big money pop-jazz artist, a bit of a burden. Monk (above) played bass. Electric bass. He was the first jazz player to pick up Leo Fender's then-new invention, the Precision Bass, in the early 1950s. And brother, was he roasted for it at the time!

I can recall first reading in Downbeat about Monk's innovative step in the early sixties. One of the elder statesmen of jazz critics was completely mystified as to why an otherwise decent player would want to pick up such a worthless instrument. To lose the warmth of the wood in jazz seemed nothing short of criminal. Charles Mingus was still furious about this incursion some years later when an interviewer made the mistake of asking him about the changing role of the bass in jazz. "I'm not an electrician, man... a real bass player will tell you... once a microphone touches the wood, the wood is no longer wood. It's something beyond human control. Get rid of the steel strings if you want to hear good music, straight music. You must go back to gut."

I can appreciate Mr. Mingus's comments from a musician's perspective. Any player worth a nickel develops a strong love for, and bond with their instrument. You love the way it feels in your hands and you love the sounds you make together. Mr. Mingus spent years becoming an absolute master of the gut-stringed acoustic bass. That instrument, and the sound of that instrument is central to the music he made, and it defines the concept of "bass" for him.

But there have been other bass instruments used in jazz. If you go way back to the beginnings of jazz in New Orleans, the tuba was the bass instrument of choice, and to my ears, New Orleans jazz doesn't sound right without a tuba. There was musical progress made when jazz bands switched to the string bass, but something was lost as well.

Those kicking bass pedals in organ jazz are another example. When some players like Jimmy McGriff started adding electric bass to their tunes in the late '60s, to catch onto the funk thing happening then, the results were less than satisfying to many of us. Part of the attraction of the Hammond B3, and the jazz that has developed from it, is that deep surging pulse of bass from those pedals as an integral part of the sound. Without kicking pedals, the organ often seems to become just another instrument in the band.

The fact remains, however, that Mr. Fender's invention was not not well received in jazz circles. In a 1977 interview published in Tom Mulhern's excellent book: "Bass Heroes," Montgomery states that when he picked it up, "the electric bass was considered a bastard instrument - conventional players despised it." So why did he he start playing it? Because Lionel Hampton told him to, according to Montgomery. It was 1951 and he had just been hired for a tour (which stretched into a two-year steady gig) with the Hampton band, hired on as an upright player, when Mr. Hampton approached him one night, handed him a Fender Bass (one of the first made - 1951 was the year they went into production), and said "play this - it has the sound I want."

Monk Montgomery (on bass) with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra - 1955

Anyone who has heard recordings of the Hampton band around this time (I have a live album, recorded in Paris) knows they were one a hell of a loud, rocking organization, often edging closer to the rhythm and blues bands of the period than the sophisticated swing of the Goodman band. Montgomery's initial misgivings about the Fender Bass evaporated over time, as he realized he could hold the bottom for this band, be heard clearly and with an even volume from top to bottom of the fretboard, no matter how raucous the action got around him. Aside from a brief flirtation with with the standup during a gig with Cal Tjader in the mid-'60s ("it just wasn't the same.."), Montgomery never looked back.

To bring us back to the review then; after 30-some years of reading fleeting references to Monk Montgomery, variously describing him as a pioneer of the electric bass, and as a desecrator of jazz, I finally got a chance to hear the man play, for myself, with the CD release of some of Wes Montgomery's first sessions in an album called "Fingerpickin" on the Pacific Jazz/Blue Note label. The ten cuts on this album are culled from sessions recorded in Indianapolis on December 30, 1957, and at the Forum Theater in Los Angeles on April 22, 1958. There are lengthy liner notes with this set, copied from a 1975 double vinyl release, with additions for the CD. It may be worth noting that the only comment about Monk Montgomery's playing in these liner notes, new or old, is that he "confines himself to time keeping," and a general observation that this is "a good bebop rhythm section." Perhaps the authors thought they were being kind in not bringing up the bottom-end instrumentation!

So, how is it, you ask? It's a good album. The music ranges from the solid "hard bop" of the period - Energetic and feisty (the rollicking opening cut, "Sound Carrier" for example), to a tasty quartet arrangement of Hammerstein and Kern's classic ballad "All The Things You Are." Wes Montgomery is a blast on guitar - his thumb-style playing does give him an unusual tone and a slightly dirty edge to the sound when he really bears down. His playing is inventive, fresh, and distinctive right out of the gate. The famous octaves are present as embellishments, and they work well.

Brother Buddy is all over this collection on the vibes as well writing several of the tunes. Indeed, if I were to pick a session leader just on the evidence of music in these tracks, Buddy would be the obvious choice. Other players (including a seventeen year-old Freddie Hubbard making his recording debut) are fine, and the album hustles along in a well balanced set that any jazz lover will enjoy.

As for Brother Monk - steady as he goes! What you have here is mainstream jazz bass, walking all over the place, sliding notes, blasting along the fretboard highway on Charlie Parker's "Billies Bounce," stepping up front for a "Fever"-type introductory riff on "Bock To Bock"- All with the sound, the tone of the Fender Bass... Nice fat, well defined notes. No drop-off notes due to the peculiarities of a vibrating sound board. If "confining himself to keeping time" means Monk isn't dancing up to the front of the stage for a roaring electric solo ala Jaco Pastorious (that came later!), it's okay with me. If it means he isn't climbing on a battered "doghouse" upright to slap, thump and ride it across the stage as some of our crowd-pleasing rockabilly brethren are wont to do, that's okay too. When I listen to this music, I can see Monk Montgomery up there on stage, with his Fender Bass well-polished, a dark continental suit and a skinny tie, button down collar and wing-tipped shoes. Seven and Seven for sipping between tunes. Looking and sounding sharp.

A modest revolutionary, perhaps. Cool, you know? But a revolutionary all the same. Committed to the sound and feel of the instrument he fell in love with, just like Charles Mingus. My hat is off to you, Monk, wherever you are!

Originally from Nebraska, Mark Dalton moved to Seattle in the early '70s. He is an accomplished bassist and stalwart bluesman. He currently plays with the Chris Stevens Band. Photo by Ronda Lee.

Lionel Hampton photo from the Lionel Hampton Story web page.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Adventures with bikers - Pt. 1

Oh yeah, then there was this time my band, the Bluestars, was playing at this biker hangout in Seattle called the Fremont Tavern. This would have been in the late '80s. The Fremont was owned by this great guy that had been a flight engineer on Chinook helicopters in Vietnam. There was always at least two or three handguns of various calibers in the drawer underneath the till at the Fremont.

The Fremont Tavern - Seattle, 1987

The only audience members during the first set this night were three bikers (members of a well known gang - not the chaps-wearing accountants we are so familiar with these days) sitting at the end of the bar. Come to think of it, Uncle Ray might have been there that night also.

For some reason, two very drunk frat boys came into the bar and decided that it would be amusing to sit next to Turtle John and repeatedly knock the baseball hat off of his head and onto the floor. In a tremendous show of restraint, Turtle John told the idiots to stop it TWICE. When the hat was knocked off for the third time, the bikers stomped the closest poor fool near to death (including pounding his testicles with a hammer that appeared from somewhere), then thoughtfully dragged his limp body out to the sidewalk - sort of an example for any other geniuses that might be lurking around, I guess. His pal was a gone Johnson - he was running down the street so fast that his feet weren't touching the ground.

The band immediately called it quits, and I had to call 911, as the bar (and the whole corner, come to think of it) was suddenly deserted. Even the bartender was gone. You could've heard a pin drop...

Saturday, October 08, 2005

L.V. Parr Interview

Interviewed by Mark Dalton and Mike Lynch in Seattle, Spring of 1996. The transcription was created and edited by Mark Dalton. This piece originally appeared on the (long gone) Caldonia web page, and was republished in the May 1997 edition of Blues and Rhythm ("The Gospel Truth") Magazine (UK). L.V. Parr died in Seattle in 1996.

We caught up with Elven "L.V." Parr (left, at a Washington Blues Society meeting around 1994) at a First Hill retirement home, in a room he shares with another resident. The room is impersonal, institutional, much like a hospital room, except for the Washington Blues Society Award on the wall above L.V.'s bed. L.V. is blind now, from the effects of diabetes, and he has slowed down some from the accumulation of 70 years of living, but he was up for talking with us, laughed readily, and occasionally we could see the years drop away as he touched on a happy memory of a free and easy moment, living the blues. Here's L.V.'s story:

I was born in Osceola Arkansas in 1925. My dad ran a cotton gin for many years there. My mother was a housewife, and I was their only child. My dad played piano, and I was exposed to all kinds of music growing up. I didn’t listen to that much blues when I was a child. I sang in the church choir, and was in a gospel quartet as a teenager.

I got into some trouble with the law as a young man, and I really picked up on the guitar while I was in prison. I didn’t have much to do but practice, and I had music books and teachers there too. I had a few guys I could play guitar with, who would show me different things playing, and I began to like it when I was playing with them. Guys would teach me this and that and I was very into listening.

I started playing professionally in 1950. We had a band in Osceola called the "In the Groove Boys" and we were on the radio every day at 3pm. I think the station was KOSE. We had guitar, piano, and drums. We did our own show and also backed up special guests.

I used to know Albert King back in Osceola. He was Albert Nelson back then, that's before he got famous. We used to play together a little bit, but he couldn't play nothing but, you know, soul or blues. He didn't know any chords at that time, but he made it big. I wish I was in his shoes!

I started going to Memphis regularly after I'd been playing awhile. (Editor's note: Osceola, Arkansas is a town right on the Mississippi River, close to Memphis.) I had a hotel gig there, and would go out on the road with various bands and singers that needed a guitar player. The hotel was owned by a guy named Sunbeam Mitchell, who was also a music promoter.

Sunbeam Mitchell started off promoting B.B. King in the early days. During this period I played with Bobby Bland, Jr. Parker, Johnny Ace and Percy Mayfield, among others. I played a gig with Ray Charles at hotel in Atlanta. There were so many guys I played with... I was working all the time back then.

I also did quite a bit of recording at that time. I was...what do you call it, a studio musician? I did a lot of work at Sun Studios, where Elvis Presley made his first recordings. (Editor’s note: While Sam Phillips is best known for discovering and nurturing young rockabilly artists like Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and others, he made an incredible number of great blues recordings as well.) I recorded there with Johnny Ace, Bobby Bland and Earl Forrest, among others. B.B. King was a friend of mine back in those days. We never played together because he had a pretty good guitar player in his band already! (laughs). We used to hang out. He was also a disc jockey at that time. I played quite a bit on Beale Street in Memphis. I played with all the local guys, and then Sunbeam would send us out on the road. I did a long tour with Johnny Ace, not too long before he died. We were out for about six months, mostly playing theaters. We were being booked out of New York City. I played the Apollo Theater back then, and all over the country.

They claimed Johnny Ace killed himself playing Russian Roulette. I think that was a lie. I knew Johnny too well. He wouldn’t do himself that way. What happened was Johnny was fooling with a girl, a white girl. I had just left the tour in Kentucky. This girl had been following Johnny around the south for awhile. Every show he did, she was there. The guys in the band told me that the night Johnny died, this girl's brother and her uncle came to see Johnny, that they went up to his room, and brought down this story that he was playing Russian Roulette. I think one of them shot Johnny. (Editor's note: The controversy over the death of Johnny Ace has been going on ever since the event. L.V.'s version here is one of several explanations we've heard.)

Johnny Ace was a fun guy to be with. He kept everyone laughing. He could just let himself go. I played on some of his records, including "The Clock." That one was really my tune - I pretty much wrote that one. I worked with him off and on for a couple of years all together, after he went out on his own. Before that he played piano in B.B. King's band.

Mark Dalton and L.V. Parr in Seattle - unknown date.

Another guy I played with down south was Earl Forrest, a good rhythm and blues singer. He was just starting out. We played all down through the south, down into Mississippi. He had a hit record out called "Whoopin' and Hollerin'." I'd be talking to pretty girls and Earl, he'd come up and say "I'm the bossman here!" (laughs). The girls, they'd say "Who?"

I met Fenton Robinson in Cairo, Illinois around that time. He was about eighteen years old then. I left the little group I was in to go on this tour, and Fenton came in to take my place. I used to show him different stuff, techniques when he was getting started. He played in my place until I got back off the road. (Editor's note: Tom McFarland confirmed this story with Fenton Robinson, who spoke highly of L.V. as a mentor.)

I came out to Seattle in 1959. I got into trouble with the law again, and was basically paroled to my dad, who was living out here by then. I played all over the Northwest when I got here. Things were jumping. I played at first with a guy named Gerald Frank, who had a band and also owned a lot of property, after-hours joints and stuff, around town. He played with Duke Ellington at one time, and could play drums and organ. We played at the Black and Tan, Birdland, the Drift Inn, the Cotton Club, the Mardi Gras, those clubs on Jackson Street. All over. I played with all the local guys, most everyone in town at one time or another.

I played with Dave Lewis off and on. Joe Johansen used to play with him too, and that kid that made it big, Larry Coryell, he played with Dave at one time. I knew all these guys. Jimi Hendrix used to come around. He was just a kid then, I used to practice over at 20th and Madison with James Thomas and a couple of old guys. Every time we were over there, Hendrix would come over and be asking me things, asking me to show him this or that. I don't if you'd call it teaching him or not, but I used to show him a lot. (Editor's note: Hendrix's relationship with L.V. and bass player James Thomas has been confirmed by other sources. Look here for some more insight into the NW Rock & Roll scene, specifically regarding the old Spanish Castle club in South Seattle)

In the early years I always used a hollow-bodied guitar. I had an Epiphone that was my favorite. Later on I used a Fender Stratocaster. I took a few breaks from playing over the years, drove a cab. I started playing down in the Pike Market in 70's. Hanging out on First Avenue was fun in those days.

I used to hang out at Pig Alley a lot. (Editor's note: "Place Pigalle" was the formal name of one of Seattle's premier dives in the 70's, not to be confused with the French restaurant of the same name in the same Market location these days...) Also at the Ridge. I bartended at the Shellback for awhile. I hung out with Isaac Scott some back then. We played the same places. Tom McFarland was a good friend. A lot of the time I played with (Hammond B3 organist) Donny Osias. Donny has tapes of us playing together back then, but I never got into a studio in Seattle. (Editor's note: Seattle's recording opportunities, particularly for black artists, were very limited in the sixties and seventies.)

I followed Tom McFarland into a house band gig at the Boulder Cafe at First and Pike around 1976, and we played five nights a week there for year or two. Those were some good times in Seattle. Getting the "Living Legend" award from the Washington Blues Society a couple years ago was great. My friend (local musician and social worker) Joe Martin took me up there to the ceremony. I've got it hanging right here by my bed.

Seattle blues singer Charles White and L.V. Parr - Seattle, 1994

L.V. Parr's health prevents him from playing any more, but his music lives on in others. There are many unsung musical heroes like L.V., people whose daily work helps to create and maintain the rich musical matrix that nourishes the young Jimi Hendrixes and Larry Coryells of the world, and which makes life a little easier and richer for us all.

Elven can be heard on the Charly Records release "Boppin' the Blues," one of their "Stars on Sun" series. Parr is heard backing Billy "The Kid" Emerson on "Hey Little Girl" and, as "Elven Parr and the In The Groove Boys" doing the tune "Mean, Mean Woman."

Our thanks to Joe Martin for providing the L.V. Parr photos!

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Honey...I'm home!!

Speaking of Tom McFarland...I was playing with Tom's band at the old White Eagle in Portland, OR one night many moons ago, when an exceedingly drunk woman staggered out of the dark towards the bandstand.

On her way, she plowed into a table near the stage, knocking it over along with the three patrons sitting there and all of their drinks. As she was laying there, flat on her back in the pile of broken chairs and glass, the ever-observant Mr. McFarland looked at me and said, "Hey Mike, isn't that your ex-wife?"

Oh, the horror! He was right, of course. Fortunately, the bartender threw her out before we got a chance to catch up on old times. See, sometimes good things DO happen to good people...
Who you callin' a Bluesman?!

This rant was written by the late great Northwest blues guitarist Tom McFarland (left, at the Owl Cafe in Seattle, around 1989) for my old Caldonia web site in the late '90s.

In the sixties, amongst the hair and flowers, there was Blues in the Bay Area. There was a club in Berkeley called Mandrakes that I used to play. One night Big Moose Walker came and sat in for four hours with my band. John Lee Hooker played that club, as did Muddy Waters. In 1964 I saw the first West Coast appearance of The Paul Butterfield Band at the Fillmore Auditorium.

There was a small club on Haight Street in San Francisco called the Juke Box. LC "Good Rockin" Robinson appeared there frequently. One night T-Bone Walker played there. In addition to bass, drums and second guitar, Bert Wilson, the tenor sax player who now lives in Olympia, WA, was playing with T-Bone. I must say, on that night I heard more T-Bone Walker licks than I ever heard in my life. He was playing his Barney Kessel guitar, his ES-5 having been stolen in Europe.

In addition to all his hits like Stormy Monday and T-Bone Shuffle, he played the old standards Perdido and Willow Weep For Me. T-Bone had the ability, like Kenny Burrell, to give Blues a Jazz flavor and make old standards sound like Blues. Unlike the so-called blues-rock of today, the musicians actually knew how to play their instruments and had respect for the music. Needless to say, seeing and hearing T-Bone was a once in a lifetime experience.

If it's needless to say, why am I saying it? Because I want people to think about where this music came from. T-Bone was the true father of electric blues guitar. Read what B.B. King has to say about him in his autobiography. Buy T-Bone's music, which has been reissued on CD. Read his biography, "Stormy Monday" by Helen Dance. Learn how to play the guitar solo from Honky Tonk. Study Wayne Bennett's playing on Bobby Bland's version of Stormy Monday.

Get rid of those Strats and get a real guitar. That's spelled G-I-B-S-O-N. Oh, Buddy Guy plays a Strat? Well, let me tell you something my friend: Buddy Guy is a Bluesman-you're not! I'm not either. The most we can hope to be is aspiring blues musicians. To be a BLUESMAN or BLUESWOMAN there are certain qualifications. Look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself: am I descended from African slaves? Get the video "Chicago Blues" put out by Time/Life. The one that has Dick Gregory in it.

Now don't come around asking to sit in when you don't even know the basics. And last but not least, don't bother arguing about what I'm saying - I been there and gone.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

August Wilson, 1945-2005

By Mark Dalton

A great American Bluesman has gone. August Wilson died here in his adopted hometown of Seattle, of liver cancer, last Sunday morning, October 2nd, at age 60. He wasn't known as a singer, or as an instrumentalist - Wilson's ax was the stage. He wrote an amazing cycle of ten plays about being Black in our country that spanned the 20th century. Wilson was a great story teller, and his plays were all informed by and infused with the Blues. All of them.

He is quoted in the Seattle Times as saying "The Blues is the best literature Black Americans have. It's our cultural response to the world, an emotional reference point. Five million years from now, if people have these records they'll be able to piece together a lot about us." In the New York Times, an interview quoted Wilson on his influences, which he labeled the "four B's" - the first and primary influence being "The Blues." (The other "B's" were the "magical realist" writer Jorge Luis Borges, the playwright Amiri Baraka, and the painter Romare Bearden.) NYT reviewer Frank Rich wrote that Wilson's work "floats on the same authentic artistry as the blues music it celebrates."

Two of Wilson's plays, "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" and "Seven Guitars" celebrated the Blues directly, recreating the world and the artistic struggles which created the music that so many people take for granted in today's profit-driven, disposable culture. Yesterday's news to some, the Blues formed the foundation of Wilson's magnificent body of work.

I saw Wilson once, standing on the steps of 600 First Avenue in Pioneer Square, the lovely old stone building behind the Pergola where his office was located. His name was on the building directory, and his name and office address were (and still are) in the phone book. Wilson liked being in Seattle, from all accounts, because he could avoid the trappings of celebrity here - he didn't need an unlisted number or a secret office here. He reportedly did some of his writing in a coffee shop on Capitol Hill. I was walking through Pioneer Square on a sunny spring day, and there was Wilson, standing on the steps, rapidly smoking a short unfiltered cigarette, smoke wreathing around his head, lost in thought. He was clearly taking a break, and in the space of about a minute, that cigarette was down to the nub, and he flicked it away, turning quickly back to the door, looking for all the world like a man chasing ideas with intense concentration.

The only comparable experience I've had was seeing Otis Rush, with his guitar, hop onto the El in Chicago at 2:30 am one morning when my pal Paul and I were on our way home from loading trucks at United Parcel Service. In both cases, it wasn't just that these guys had recognizable faces - it was the aura around them - that indefinable aura that somehow surrounds great Bluesmen - something about style, something about self-assurance, something about a stubborn insistence on living life on one's own terms. Whatever it was, August Wilson had it in spades. I walked away from that sighting feeling kind of proud of Seattle - our town, and August Wilson's town too. For all its shortcomings, its politically correct and trendy facade, there's still something here, some real heartbeat deep in Seattle somewhere, that understands and is capable of nurturing the Blues.

Originally from Nebraska, Mark Dalton moved to Seattle in the early '70s. He is an accomplished bassist and stalwart bluesman. He currently plays with the Chris Stevens Band. Photo by Ronda Lee.

Monday, October 03, 2005

New Orleans Musicians Benefit - Highway 99 Blues Club

Here we have three fifths (left to right: Dennis Ellis, John Lee, and Steve Bailey) of Seattle's Crossroads Band tearin' it up at the New Orleans Musicians Benefit at the Highway 99 Blues Club last night. Four bands played at this event, including Jeff & the Jet City Fliers (featuring the Mighty Mite on bass), The Crossroads Band, The Wild Rhododendrons, and Becki-Sue & Her Big Rockin' Daddies. I also played a short set with a pickup band (David Hudson-drums, Tom Roesch-bass, and Jack Cook-guitar).

The benefit was organized by bassist John Lee with help from the Washington Blues Society. John tells me that they collected around $2,500+ for the Tipitinas Foundation which will disburse the money to needy musicians living in the Gulf Coast areas wrecked by the recent hurricanes.

All of the bands came to play, for sure. I could only catch three hours of the show, which included the last half of a rare performance by John Marshall's (left, with drummer David Hudson) Wild Rhododendrons, minus the horns I have seen with them in the past. Good stuff, Louisiana blues and rock and roll, with lots o' second line beats.

I also dug the Crossroads Band's hot set. These guys have got four (count 'em) lead singers, a guitar player that also plays great piano, and the harp blower and tenor player that make a pretty good horn section. What's not to like? Hey Steve, lemme know if you get tired of that '55 Bassman - I'm sure that I can find a good home for it!

My hat's off to everyone involved in this project, including the owners and staff of the Highway 99, which is usually closed on Sundays. Man, it was great to be in a club full of fans rooting for the local blues heroes for a change. A gentle reminder, folks - these bands need your support at their regular gigs around town too.

See you at the nightclub!