Posts Tagged ‘Blues’


“It’s all American music.”

–Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown

I had a long talk this pm with my pal George, an old-pro and great drummer I still sometimes play with, an Italian guy from New Jersey, who was Frank Sinatra Jr.’s drummer for years; we talked about music, musicians, and racism. (George loved Frank Jr., says he was a great guy.)

He told me a story about one of the first things that happened after he moved here (Tucson) from New Jersey. George has the gift of gab, and he got a job working for one of the local Ford dealerships. On his first day, he all but sold a Lincoln to one of the ranchers from up Route 77 north of town, and the jerk came in the next day, spoke to the manager, and said he wanted the car but didn’t want to buy it from an Italian. The manager saw George, said “stay out of the way, I’ll sell the car, you’ll get the commission, and from now on your last name is Joseph.”

George was shocked by the anti-Italian prejudice, something he’d never run into on the East Coast.

But race prejudice and anti-semitism was something he well understood, from anti-black, anti-white, and anti-semitic prejudice in daily life and the band scene in NJ. (There were white-racist and also all-black clubs where they didn’t want mixed-race bands, which is what George always played in.)

It’s so fucking stupid as to be mind boggling.

But it’s there.

And it breeds in isolation. In isolation from people of different races and ethnicities.

That’s one of the great things about most types of American music, especially blues and jazz: you end up playing, often for long periods, with musicians of other races and ethnicities. And you become friends, you come to understand the brotherhood of man (at least the brotherhood of musicians).

In my case, I’ve for years played with black folks, white folks, Mexicans, Native Americans, and Jewish folks. That’s pretty much par for the course for a blues musician. After a while playing with someone, you simply stop thinking about race or ethnicity. You just take them for who they are: Cliff, my black pal the drummer, becomes simply Cliff, my pal the drummer.

About the only places where you’ll still find race prejudice in the American music scene is in (yes — shocking, I know) country and certain types of hard-core rock and roll.

Other than that, we all tend to get along. We have to. It just works that way.

It works out the same in neighborhoods. I live in the most densely populated, most integrated neighborhood in Tucson, which is the most integrated major city in the country. My neighborhood (Keeling — neighborhood motto, “It’s better than it looks”) is about 65% Mexican, 25% white, and 10% black (almost no Native Americans or Asians). And we mostly get along fine. We’re on top of each other, interact every day. And it’s fine, very relaxed.

As a middle-aged ex-gang banger neighbor from Cleveland (a self-described “retired Crip”), put it, “it’s paradise.” In other words, almost no racial tension and almost no overt race prejudice. I couldn’t agree more. This neighborhood is dirt poor, “hard scrabble” as the local paper put it a decade or two ago, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

If you want to get rid of race prejudice, get rid of race isolation. That’s the way it works in bands, and that’s the way it works in neighborhoods. Isolation breeds fear and hate.

 

 

 

Robert Cray review 9-2-19 Tucson

Posted: September 8, 2019 in Music
Tags: ,

Technically, all of these guys (especially Cray and the keyboard player) were great. Sometimes it’s just nice to see good players do their thing, no matter how predictable.

Having said that, I was bored shitless. Cray played somewhere between 16 and 20 tunes (counting the two encores — kudos to him for that) but all of the tunes were in a very narrow tempo and rhythmic range: all in straight time, but for a single song, and all in very narrow tempo range I’d estimate at about 100 – 120 bpm. A lot of the time the drummer was just playing a standard rock beat and minor variations thereof. That ain’t blues, no way, no how, nowhere. The only remotely interesting beat was one the drummer did on the snare and floor tom, shuffling the first beat, and then doing the rest straight (One …. a 2 and …. and 4) while using a shaker in his right hand.

The horrible part is that most of the audience loved it (including the GF — about 10% of the audience walked out, to their credit). The only changes in the tempo were in the final tune before the encores (about 140 to start and ramped up a bit from there) and the second, slow encore, which was probably in the mid-80s).

I’m very glad that I got comps for this — yes, I’m biting the hand that fed me — but Jesus Festering Christ, seeing Cray playing this formulaic crap is pathetic. He’s so much better than this. Or could be.

If he continues this crowd-pleasing crap, I wouldn’t drive across town to see him.

 


Well, it’s finally happened. My favorite Mexican restaurant, El Torero, closed tonight and won’t reopen. By happenstance, I dropped in for some typically great Mexican chow and some beers with a few friends tonight, had one of the final meals El Torero served, and got to talking with the owner (and chef). He’s been threatening to close the place for a good five years, to which my attitude has always been, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’ll believe it when I see it.” Tonight, I believe it.

El Torero is a South Tucson institution, and has been around as a family place for over 60 years.

(South Tucson incorporated as a 100% Mexican, one-square-mile city in 1939 as a self-defense measure against the virulent racism in the City of Tucson. Things really didn’t begin to change here until the 1970s, and Tucson proper is now the most integrated city of over a million in the country, and the population within the city limits is currently close to 50% Mexican. Racism persists, but it’s a shadow of its former self; Tucson is at times referred to, with some justification [the arts and music scenes], as a “mini-Austin”; and the City of South Tucson [now entirely encircled by the City of Tucson, but still over 90% Mexican] persists as a poverty-stricken monument to resistance to racism.)

Enough with the history lesson.

El Torero is gloriously tacky with formica tables, a chewed-up linoleum floor, flame-throwing salsa, and a stuffed (or fiberglass) swordfish on one wall outlined with Christmas lights. It’s the only restaurant I know in Tucson where during slack periods the owner will sit down uninvited to shoot the shit with you, and during really slack periods the on-duty cook will come out of the kitchen and likewise sit down uninvited to shoot the shit. I love it.

As homey as it is, the food is (or was) great — every bit as good and a bit cheaper than the ultra-trendy Mi Nidito three blocks down the street (the food there is good and reasonably priced), which is the place to go for trendoids who don’t mind waiting an hour to be seated while there’s no waiting at El Torero. (Rigo’s, The Crossroads, Michas, and Guillermo’s are all at least close in quality and equivalent in price, within about a mile, and there’s never a wait at any of them. Mi Nidito became the place to go after Bill Clinton visited the place maybe 25 years ago, did his best impression of a human rotorooter, and consumed mass quantities.)

Anyway, El Torero is gone. When I spoke with him tonight, the owner (in the center in the photo at left) told me, “Just go to Lerua’s” (about two miles away on Broadway) — owned by the same family, with the same recipes. That’s good advice while it applies. Lerua’s will likely be axed when the Broadway “improvement” project kicks in sometime within the next few years.

Damn! but I’ll miss El Torero.

(P.S. For anyone in the area, my blues duo, Cholla Buds, will be playing two jobs downtown tomorrow, Dec. 1: from 1:00 to 4:00 at Crooked Tooth Brewery on 6th Street at Arizona Avenue, and from 5:30 to 6:00 or 6:15 at The Hut on 4th Avenue and 8th Street. Both shows are free. Please come on down and have some free fun.)


It’s always fun to see what other folks include on their “desert island discs,” so here you go. Since most such lists are for single genres and usually encompass ten discs, I’ve allowed myself more leeway here — listing all types of pop music — and am listing 25 discs, which seems fair given that they cover the following genres (jazz, blues, soul, funk, country, latin jazz, rock, and punk). I’m cheating by adding a list of “honorable mentions.” Whatever. Here ya go: my desert island discs, in no particular order:\

Desert Island Discs

  • James Brown Live at the Apollo (1960) — the seminal early funk disc. If you only listen to one cut off this, check out “I’ll Go Crazy.”
  • Kutche, by Saib Khaled and Safy Boutella — the best Rai disc. Incredibly good musicianship combined with intricate syncopation. Nothing else in the genre comes close.
  • La Cuna, by Ray Barretto — not for Afro-Cuban purists, this disc features a mix of genres (latin jazz, latin rock, funk, soul) with amazingly good musicianship by some of the best musicians of the late ’70s and early ’80s (including Barretto, Steve Gadd, John Tropea, and Joe Farrell). The next time you’re impressed by some guitarist playing fast scalar passages, listen to Tropea’s solo on “The Old Mountain.” That’ll put it in perspective.
  • Songs for a Tailor, by Jack Bruce. Impressively inventive song writing, and better than competent execution.
  • Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols.  The best, most driving rock album of the ’70s.
  • The Harder They Come soundtrack. Pretty much every great tune from this mind-numbingly boring, awful genre on a pair of discs. Huge fun and great lyrics.
  • Repo Man soundtrack. Minus the Sex Pistols, the best punk from the early ’80s all in one place. Iggy Pop’s title track is a gem.
  • The Sermon, by Jimmy Smith. My favorite type of music — hard-driving blues-jazz with great solos (especially those by Smith and guitarist Kenny Burrell).
  • Jacaranda, by Luiz Bonfa. Not available on CD, this ’70s Brazilian-jazz-rock album features great songwriting and very good musicianship. Not for those who expect sambas or bossas.
  • Tied to the Tracks, by Treat Her Right. A great, hard-driving blues-rock album by the forerunner to Morphine. The lyrics are twisted, the harp playing is mind boggling, and this disc is better than anything by Morphine.
  • Kind of Blue, by Miles Davis. Beautifully executed, the perfect background for a 3:00 am beer out on the patio.
  • Everlastin’ Tears, by Willie Edwards. Great contemporary blues. Edwards got totally screwed with this one, signing away the rights to all the songs to the producer. I can’t re-record any of this shit without dealing with the vampire who’s sucked Willie dry.
  • Are You Experienced?, by Jim Hendrix. Need I say more?
  • Strange Days, by the Doors. Every song is great, including two hard-to-play masterpieces, “Love Me Two Times” and “Moonlight Drive.”
  • Inner Mounting Flame, by Mahavishnu Orchestra. Great musicianship and proof that odd-time and compound-meter songs can drive. A whole lot of fun.
  • Are We Not Men?, by Devo. The best and by far funniest new-wave album. Contains the best cover ever recorded: Devo’s version of “Satisfaction.”
  • The Last Real Texas Blues Band, by Doug Sahm. Great, greasy R&B — a reminder of an era.
  • Sugar Thieves Live. Both a wonderful contemporary blues band and a throwback to classic material.
  • Losin’ Hand, by Al Perry and the Cattle. Well produced and very funny alt-country.
  • Ah Um, by Charlie Mingus. Probably the best, most intricate blues-jazz album ever recorded.
  • That’s The Way I Feel (Thelonious Monk tribute by various artists.) An absolutely fantastic, mind-boggling, at times hilarious (via Todd Rundgren!) tribute to the greatest jazz composer who ever lived (and, yeah, I’m counting Duke).
  • Bringing It All Back Home, by Bob Dylan. The first album that helped me focus my rage at the atrocities being committed to others and to me by the government and the corporations.
  • Barbeque Dog, by Ronald Shannon Jackson. A brutal, dissonant LP with one of the cuts simultaneously in different keys. Thirty years on, it sounds fresh.
  • How Shall the Wolf Survive?, by Los Lobos.  The first album by my favorite live band. A whole lotta fun, with uncomfortable things to think about.
  • Exile on Main Street, by the Rolling Stones. Not their best LP by a long shot, but the one I want to hear after having a few beers.

Honorable Mentions

  • Revolver, by the Beatles (best songwriters of the 20th century)
  • Abbey Road, by the Beatles. (see above)
  • The Doors (eponymous album).
  • L.A. Woman, by The Doors. Like so many other albums of this time, the first side was great and the second side sucked.
  • Beggar’s Banquet, by the Rolling Stones.
  • Let It Bleed, by the Rolling Stones.
  • Battered Ornaments (eponymous)
  • Harmony Row, by Jack Bruce. Damn near as good as “Songs for a Tailor” — the songs he saved up while being the bassist in Cream.
  • Thousands on a Raft, by Pete Brown. Fun stuff by Cream’s lyricist.
  • Raw Sienna, by Savoy Brown. Kim Simmonds’ attempt to match the Beatles. Not anywhere close to successful there, but a very good album in its own way.
  • Science Fiction, by Ornette Coleman.
  • Guitars Cadilacs, by Dwight Yoakam. Best country album of the ’80s.
  • In a Silent Way, Miles Davis.
  • Jack Johnson, Miles Davis.
  • Bitches Brew, Miles Davis.
  • On the Corner, Miles Davis. A great early genre-bending LP.
  • Jerry Reed’s Greatest Hits, most of the soundtrack from Jerry’s by-far best album, Smoky and Bandit II, plus the novelty hits (“Amos Mose,” etc.)
  • Junior High, Junior Brown. Huge tongue-in-cheek fun from maybe the best current guitar player.
  • Gravity, by James Brown. The best funk album of the ’80s.
  • L.A. is My Lady, by Frank Sinatra. I still can’t decide whether this is deliberate or inadvertent self-parody. Fun either way.
  • Birds of Fire, Mahavishnu Orchestra.
  • Treat Her Right (eponymous album). Contains a fantastic cover of Harlan Howard’s “Everglades.”

 


(I’ve been spending way too much time on work the last couple of weeks — I work, therefore I am — and so haven’t had time to write for the blog. I’ll be out from under the worst of it in a few days, but in the meantime I’m posting a few short things I think subscribers will enjoy, including this, part of which I posted a few months ago.)Willie Edwards Working Man CDThis new one is from one of Willie Edwards’ self-produced CDs. Willie got thoroughly screwed after signing one of the worst recording contracts ever written — the CD, Everlastin’ Tears, only sold about a thousand copies and Willie surrendered the rights to a dozen mostly great songs — so he’s turned to self-production. The lyrics below are from “Police State on the Rise” on his self-produced Working Man CD. (Sorry, but the song isn’t available online; the closest and only thing available is his “Helpless, Hopeless Feeling” from the Everlastin’ Tears CD, which certainly isn’t the one I’d pick as a sample of his work.) Anyway, here’s the first stanza from the all-too-pertinent “Police state on the rise”:

Police state on the rise
By the same old guys
With the same old lies
Comes as now surprise
Well it’s very plain to see
It’s about your liberty
Police state . . . police state . . .

If you live in Vermont (yes, Vermont), check the local music listings. I believe that Willie still performs occasionally, and I’d highly recommend catching him and his band.


Willie Edwards, "Everlastin' Tears"

Condemnation

To the global plantation

Bring it up

Elimination

On the road

To the company store

Won’t somebody tell me

Where I’m headin’ for

–Willie Edwards, “Company Store,” on the horrors of being enmeshed by the global corporate octopus, from the CD “Everlastin’ Tears” — a CD so rare that none of its cuts are up on youtube


by Chaz Bufe, author of An Understandable Guide to Music Theory

Decades ago, in my 20s, I took up piano en route to getting a degree in music theory/composition. I’d taken a couple of years of lessons as a ‘tween with an incompetent teacher who hadn’t even taught me to count, and then gave it up in frustration a couple of years after I started, thinking the problem was with me.

When I hit 25, I decided to go to school, and rather than choose a money-making, academic-track, or scientific career, I decided to do what I really wanted to do: music. I was essentially at ground zero, and had to learn an instrument. I chose piano, because I at least had some technical rudiments.

For the next five years, while taking a full load, working 20 to 40 hours a week, and shutting down the bars two or three nights a week (hey, I was in my 20s), I practiced three hours a day on piano damn near every day. I was fairly decent by the end of those five years.

For the next year and a half I was a t.a. in grad school (since you asked, Washington State), where I continued to practice three hours a day, while teaching 9 credits per semester (ear training and class piano) plus assisting with another 8 credits of classes in theory, all for $350 a month, out of which they took tuition. I spent an entire winter walking up the hill to the department with one of my feet in a cracked boot, with my foot wrapped in plastic bags to avoid the wet, but not the cold.

At the end of that time I was utterly disgusted. I hated two of the three people on my committee, they hated me — the department was giving m.a.s to outright incompetents, but me? Hell no; they simply wouldn’t do it — and I was tied to the written page. I could sight read like a son of a bitch, and could also realize figured bass at full speed at first reading, but could I improvise? Not a chance.

More importantly I was nauseated by the snake pit, by the departmental politicking, so at the end of my third semester I took my loan for the following semester, bought a 1961 Rambler, loaded all of my shit into it, and took off for San Francisco.

An Understandable Guide to Music Theory front coverThen I quite playing for eight years.

But two years after I escaped academia, I decided to put my time there to good use, and wrote An Understandable Guide to Music Theory: The Most Useful Aspects of Theory for Rock, Jazz and Blues Musicians. It was a wise move, as the book was well reviewed and has sold considerably north of 10,000 copies over the years.

A few years after I wrote the book, I started playing guitar in a regular jam session with some other SF musical hippies. My technique was nonexistent, but my time and phrasing — thanks to my time in academia — was right on. We were doing a lot of off time and compound meter stuff which was all over the map and which, thanks to Bartok, I had no problem with.

Front cover of The Drummer's Bible Second EditionAt that juncture, I talked my longtime pal Mick Berry, an excellent New Orleans drummer, who hadn’t played in ten years while pursuing a futile career in stand-up comedy, into coming out of musical retiremen and playing with us. That eventually led (with co-author Jason Gianni) to See Sharp Press’s best-selling music book, The Drummer’s Bible: How to Play Every Drum Style from Afro-Cuban to Zydeco.

Two years after that band started, by which point I was almost a semi-decent guitarist, my dad had a stroke, and my parents wanted me to move to Tucson to help. (A horror story all its own, which I won’t get into here.)

Once in Tucson, I realized there were only two ways to go: blues or country. (Jazz/avant garde shit was out of the question; punk paid as badly — not at all — as it ever did.) The choice was easy.

I shortly started making musical friends and playing in a blues cover band (yours truly, bassist, drummer, and vocalist). A few years into it, I started, in my late 40s, to write tunes.

Since then, it’s been a succession of ever-evolving blues bands, involving people I barely knew to people I loved dearly who killed themselves with booze and hard drugs. (See Slow Motion Suicideabout my closest friend and longtime bass player Randy Oliver.)

After that, more evolution. First as Pinche Blues Band, with just me, wonderful bass player Jaime DeZubeldia, and my now-longtime friend and musical partner Abe Acuña doing both drums and vocals. I loved it. So much fun. I could just stretch out whenever I wanted, without fear of running into anyone else.

Following that we went through a lot of permutations, most notably with the addition of extremely good player and nice guy Fred Hartshorn on keys/sax. Following a bunch of personality b.s., we just reformed and will be hitting the circuit shortly.

Throughout this time (2005 to present), I’ve been writing more material, sometimes with Abe, sometimes by myself, and sometimes with former bandmate, great vocalist, and lyrical genius Brian Hullfish.

Lately, I’ve also started playing with Paul D, a former session guy from NYC, who’s an extremely talented bassist, guitarist, and vocalist, plus Fred and drummer Dave Miller.

I’m mostly playing bass, plus doing occasional lead vocals, which has given me a fresh appreciation of how good the bass players I’ve played with over the years have been, and how hard vocals are.

It’s a revelation. Bass playing at least is a hell of a lot of fun. (At least so far, vocals not so much — I’m filled with shame.) And bass playing is challenging. Here are probably the best examples of the bassists I’ve played with:

I hope you find this at least interesting if not useful.

Hail to the bass players, if not Hail to the Chief (and fuck that lying, bullying, narcissistic, seriously mentally ill piece of shit).

Cheers,

Chaz