Saturday, November 19, 2005

Seattle Superharp Showcase

The New Orleans Creole Restaurant
October 14 – 15, 2005

We had a great time at the third annual Superharp Showcase this last October. As usual, the gig happened at the New Orleans Creole Restaurant in Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood, and the Midnight Movers did a sterling job backing up the six featured harp players (including yours truly).

Steve Yonck, Jeff Herzog, and the Mighty Mite.

I opened the show each night with a set of Midnight Movers tunes and then turned the show over to the featured players. On Friday night, Jeff Herzog (Jeff & the Jet City Fliers) played a great second set, followed by Seattle’s resident Little Walter expert, Dave Prez (the Combo Nation). The show was wrapped up (Friday and Saturday) by our friend from Salem, Oregon, Ray Beltran. Ray was killing us with the big, juicy tone he was getting out of his low-power Fender Twin Amp clone (manufactured by Mojo Tone, I believe). Mercy!

Ray Beltran and Mike Lynch

The harp amps of doom!

Friday’s gig was fun, but Saturday really rocked, stoked in part by a standing room only crowd from the very beginning on the night. Also, Tom “T-Boy” Boyle (Becki-Sue & Her Big Rockin’ Daddies) filled in for Steve Yonck on guitar on Saturday and did a tremendous job for us. Northwest veteran harpist Steve Bailey (the Crossroads Band) tore up the second set, followed by another old friend, Kim Field, for the third set. I wish we could see Kim play more often – we usually only get to see him at these occasional harp shows, and he is always great. We wrapped up the show with Kim and Ray both playing harp, while I sang the last few songs with the Midnight Movers.

Tom "T-Boy" Boyle and Steve Bailey. Photo by Tom Hunnewell.

Kim Field - Photo by Phil Chestnut.

My thanks to the owner (Gaye Anderson) and the staff at the New Orleans for doing their usual great job of hosting this show, and for continuing to support the blues (and jazz) all these years. And thanks to all of the fans that made it a great weekend for all of us!

Please drop by the New Orleans when you’re in Pioneer Square for dinner and a show – it’s just about the last roots music club left in the neighborhood.

The New Orleans Creole Restaurant is located at 114 1st Avenue South in Seattle (206-622-2563).

CD Review by Mark Dalton

Blue Universe
Jeff Simmons
Blue Fox Records

There was a popular cartoon image back in the day (both in New Yorker-type cartoons, and the Warner Brothers kind) that you don’t see much any more, but which strikes me when I think about Jeff Simmons and this fine CD he just released – the image is these guys in white uniforms with giant butterfly nets, chasing after a guy in a hospital gown with a gleeful, manic grin on his face… the guy looks smart, if a little crazy, he is quick on his feet, the uniforms look a little slow and none too bright, and you just know our boy is going to get away, at least for now!

This cartoon image, I believe, plays on a classic American archetype, Br’er Rabbit – that quick-witted hare who is always a couple steps ahead of somebody who is seriously irritated with him, usually with very good reason. “Stop! Stop, I say! You can’t get away with that! Somebody stop that man!”

To get to the point here, the will o‘ the wisp Seattle singer and all-around musician, Jeff Simmons, a man with his heart in the blues no matter what he’s doing, has a hilarious persona as a performer that draws from this same well. Simmons has written a whole cycle of great tunes about “Treatment,” for example – with a couple such tunes residing on this CD. Simmons’ ner-do-well musician character is always one step ahead of those pesky treatment program guys - whether he’s “Breakin’ Out of Treatment,”or kicking back and enjoying the life of a “Treatmon’ Center Playboy” while he’s there, as he does on this CD.

This CD is a result of work-in-progress for the last 20 years or so, going through many sessions and many musicians. I used to play some gigs around town with Simmons in his alter ego as Robert Sumpner (aka Little Bobby) and his band, “The Stump Blasters.” Guaranteed big fun with Little Bobby, let me tell you! One time I showed up at a Simmons recording session, and Guitar Shorty was onboard for the evening, but he didn’t make it on this CD. Blues harpist Dave Prez is here, and has been an onboard contributor for many years, as has sax ace Billy Joe McPherson. Simmon’s pals from Vancouver B.C. are also here, along with a great mixture of original tunes and a handful of carefully chosen, duly Simmonized covers.

There are a couple of different bands at work here – one is a group of Canadian studio guys that play a kind of commercial blues sound that is just a little bit slick and generic for Simmons, in my opinion, but over which he handily triumphs - on the radio-ready “Bucket of Blues” for example, where Simmons’ pounding piano and Shaft-style wah-wah guitar are notable, along with good lyrics. Simmons’ accurate rockabilly reading of the classic “Bertha Lou” boosts this tune above average, too - but it could be bristling with manic energy – a little more dangerous, you know?

Things start to heat up real nice on the jazzy “Vancouver by Night,” with its funky organ holding things together, and the stuff that really knocks me over begins ha-pen-nin’ next with “New In Town.” Remember “The Shining?” This tune sounds like it was recorded in the lounge of the Overlook Hotel – in the dead of winter – the production is just spectral enough, and Simmons’ wonderfully smarmy delivery has those ghostly bootleg jazz babies swooning… “New in Town” is the first one hit over the fence by Jeff and his long time compadre, Billy Joe, whose sax is perfect here.

“Warned You Baby” is another radio-ready cut, this time in a kind of funky Texas shuffle vein that will sound fine midway through your favorite weekend blues show, but it is really a warm up for the next two great tunes in a row, again with our resident Br’er Rabbit and the Overlook Hotel Band (playing those hotel chords, too you bet!) – the impeccable (send out for a) “Bucket of Beer” (and while you are up, “Send out, for a gallon of wine, if the other men drink it, all their women could be mine!”). Then comes the Simmons classic “CD Party” – “with no cassettes!” The title is also an obvious play on Seattle’s Central District, or “the CD”- a neighborhood that used to be for musicians, adventurous souls and the wildest parties in town before the forces of gentrification spoiled that party too.

For my money, these two tunes capture Simmons (left - photo by Phil Chestnut) at his exuberant best. If this was a better world, Jeff would have a house band gig, Thursday through Sunday, in the lounge of someplace old and plush like the Sorrento Hotel, for the rest of his life, playing tunes like these to his heart’s content. And the rest of us could go down there and sit in, and play them too! Wouldn’t that be heaven?

In the home stretch, “Sweet Little Hobby Rocker” is another great cut – rolling piano, great vocals, and cool lyrics about one of those coast-to-coast teenage dream girls that get further and further out of the reach of grizzled old rockers like us – still fun to write songs about though!

This CD ostensibly winds up with an instrumental – pounding Fats Domino piano and stuttering Hammond organ with some wild guitar flowing over the top, a musical hot fudge sundae of sorts with a tasty glissando conclusion… but wait! Don’t touch that stereo! They haven’t got our boy yet…

“Yon’ come the bus, for the L.A. County Home… I’m going back to Canada, where I’m better known! They try to grab you, put you on the treatment farm, I’m going back to Canada, where you can’t do nobody no harm!”

Things keep on like they are ‘round here, I’m gonna be crying “Take me with you Jeff!” ‘fore you know it!" Meanwhile, I can put this excellent collection on the box, and get a smile back on my face! Check it out!

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.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

I was rummaging through the old Caldonia web site vault and came across these pieces written by the late aspiring Blues musician, Tom McFarland. I believe that these were created around 1996. Enjoy!

The first time I met the blues.

By Tom McFarland

In order to figure out when things happened in the past I have to pick an event that stands out in my mind and count backwards. For instance, I know that if I had graduated from high school, it would have been in 1962 at age 17. Therefore, I should be able to figure out when I was in the third grade. Counting backwards, and remembering that I skipped the sixth grade, I can determine that I took a year of piano lessons in 1953-54 at age eight and nine (my birthday is in January). The next year after, after seeing the movie "The Glen Miller Story" with Jimmy Stewart, I switched to trombone.

I started dabbling with the guitar in 1955 at age ten. My brother had an electric guitar and amplifier (Silvertone) which he didn't have time to play and was kept in a closet in the living room. When everyone was gone from my house I would drag it out and fool around with it. When my brother caught me at this, instead of getting mad he gave them to me. And so it began.

Most of the electric guitar I heard on the radio in those days was country, except for Les Paul. My brother had 78's of him and Chet Atkins. In 1955 or 1956 I heard Elvis singing "Milk Cow Blues" on a jukebox. The thing that got me was Scotty Moore's guitar. Soon after, a cousin from L.A. turned me on to Little Richard and Chuck Berry. By 1962 I was listening to Duane Eddy and then the Ventures. I also had three jazz LP's: An Oscar Peterson Trio record with Barney Kessel on guitar, an album by guitarist Billy Bauer and an album by Herb Ellis called "Nothing But The Blues." On the first Duane Eddy album there is a song called "3:30 Blues" which knocked me out. I was starting to wonder - what is this blues stuff?

In Byrd's Market, in Grants Pass, Oregon, there was a record rack. Crown Records was the label. LP's for 99 cents. Most of it was country artists you never heard of, along with polka music and some comedy. One day I was searching through these records in hope of finding something I could relate to, and there IT was: "B.B. King - King Of The Blues". Here was this guy smiling at me, wearing a white shirt with French cuffs, and holding a Chet Atkins Gretsch guitar, the same model Duane Eddy played.

Needless to say, I forked over my 99 cents and rushed to the nearest turntable. The first thing I noticed when I opened the album was that the record was red. I put it on the turntable. After a brief horn intro I heard this heavenly voice singing "I've got a right to love my baby," followed by a three note guitar fill. I literally fell on the floor. It was what I had been looking for all my life. I felt as if my every need had been met. That sound went into the marrow of my bones, AND ALL THINGS WERE MADE NEW.

The King - B.B. King.

By Tom McFarland

Way back yonder in the days of old there was a record store on Union Avenue in Portland called Bop City. This was the local ghetto blues and gospel music source. I scored many a B.B. King side there on the Crown label. I found a store just like it in Oakland called The Pink Pelican. From there I bought the Phil Upchurch album with the instrumental "You Can't Sit Down," among other things. Around this time I also had an EP on Capitol by T-Bone Walker.

In 1962 I moved to Las Vegas and promptly began searching for the record store. I found it in North Las Vegas. It was called Larry's Music Bar. One day I was astounded to see a poster in the window saying, "Live-In Person-B.B. King And His Band!" I could hardly believe my eyes. Needless to say getting to that gig was my top priority. B.B. was appearing in The Gold Room at the convention center. This was a room about the size of the New Orleans that you could apparently rent from the city.

When the big night finally arrived I dressed in my only suit and drove through the desert. The place was packed. I was the only white person there, but no one seemed to mind or notice. The opening acts were Marvin Gaye and the Drifters. B.B.'s band of the time was one of the classic urban blues line ups: piano, bass, drums, and tenor, alto, and trumpet. After the opening acts and a few instrumentals by the band, B.B. made his appearance.

A small sea of humanity rushed to the stage. This was in 1962, so B.B. was 37 years old. He was wearing a black suit, a white shirt and a black tie. He was playing a sunburst Gibson ES-345 with a Bigsby (which he never used) through a tweed Fender Twin amp.

He opened with his hit "Please Love Me." This is the one that has the Elmore James-type intro, but in the key of E-flat. He looked like a preacher, sang like an angel and played like the devil. I remember thinking if any of those people in the audience (although it wasn't really an audience, it was something else) had been onstage singing with the guitar they would have sounded much like B.B..

Later, in the book "Urban Blues" by Charles Keil, I came across the phrase, "Spokesman for his people", and a bell rang. This is really all I remember about my first experience of seeing B.B. King live because shortly into the first song, I became entranced. In fact, I don't remember much of anything that ever happened after that.

Tom McFarland and Mike Lynch at the Owl Cafe - Seattle, about 1989.