Posts Tagged ‘Tucson’


“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.

 

 

 


“The only thing hurts now is the pain.

 

My good bud Al Perry will have a new CD out soon, and I’ll be doing the graphic arts design for it, but for the cover graphic by Winston Smith.

As if to prove that Tucson is the smallest million-plus town in the country, one late recent night I met a guy at a Q-T to buy an equipment rack in the parking lot around midnight off craigslist. He stepped out of his truck, and it was Loren Dircks, guitarist from Gila Bend. One of Al’s longtime close friends, and a fantastic guitarist and good guy.

Another thing about another good guy — I wrote to Junior Brown recently and heard back from his wife, Tanya, about the guitar stand he uses in place of a strap. (I could probably use four of ’em — one for a solid body, another for an acoustic-electric, a third for a six-string banjo, a fourth for another acoustic-electric or solid body tuned in open A.)

The guy who built Junior’s stand, Michael Stevens, was good enough to write back and tell me how to build such stands. He didn’t have to do it — it was just out of the goodness of his heart. What a nice guy.

Yeehaw!

This sort of shit happens all the time around here. You think Austin’s cool? It is, but welcome to Tucson.

 


Yep, that’s $155 combined for the guitar and the amp. Both were made in Meridian, Mississippi back in the late ’70s to mid ’80s, and the guitar cost me 75 bucks, and the 55-watt amp $80 off of Craigslist.

And they sound fantastic, proof that you don’t need a $2000 boutique tube amp and a $2000 ultra-high-end boutique guitar to sound good. I think my $155 rig would beat the crap out of any such combo. (Check out the video of tonight’s gig — which should be coming within a day or two, friends willing.)

What are the magic ingredients? A slightly upgraded Peavey Patriot solid body electric guitar, with SuperFerrite pickups (a beginner-level bolt-on solid body with ultra-hot, quiet pickups) and a slightly downgraded Peavey Bandit 65 solid-state amp. (“Downgraded” refers to the speaker.)

Tonight, I played a gig and ran into the guy I bought the Patriot from seven or eight years ago. He did me a huge favor by selling me that guitar for 75 bucks; he wasn’t mercenary, and decided to do some random guitar player — me! — a solid. I love the guitar: it’s fantastic; since then, I replaced the original crappy toggle pickup switch with a high quality knife switch, replaced the scratchy volume pot, and had it professionally set up. That’s all. Another 75 or 80 bucks.

As for the amp, it cost me 80 bucks off of Craigslist about ten years ago. These things originally had very high quality Sheffield Scorpion speakers, with heavy magnets. For no apparent reason — I hadn’t played it above about “5” and no one else had touched it — the speaker started buzzing a couple of years ago. I disassembled it, reassembled the magnet assembly a couple of times (yes, you can do that with these speakers), and the buzz didn’t go away, so I pulled the speaker, checked out what I had on the shelves, and replaced it with the only one that’d fit: a cheap, no-name 12″, 50-watt Chinese speaker (yes, lower wattage than the 55-watt Bandit’s rating) from a complete piece of shit Crate tube amp (but I repeat myself) I’d cannibalized years earlier after the power supply blew up because of construction defects. (As an aside, don’t bother with the more recent Peavey “trans-tube” models.)

Anyway, if you’ve ever heard an old Silvertone Twin from the 1960s, with tiny output transformers that super-saturate very easily, and deliver an incredible blues-distorted tone, this rig with the shitty Chinese Crate speaker essentially delivers the same. This is probably a one-off, so please don’t buy a Bandit and pull the high quality Sheffield and replace it with a random piece of shit speaker — you’ll likely be very disappointed. Bandits typically go on Craigslist for between $75 and $150, and they sound way-good as is.

As for the guitar, the Peavey Patriot comes in two flavors: one with two single-coil pickups, the other with a single bridge pickup, which is as useless as you’d suspect. (Anyone who’d buy such a guitar is forgiven as a 14-year-old moron who might eventually learn better, but it’s useless nonetheless.) Look before you buy. You should be able to find one on Craigslist for somewhere in the $100 – $250 range depending on condition and on whether it has a case.

There’s a near-equivalent model, which should sell for about the same: the Peavey T-15, which has a slightly shorter neck and slightly different body shape. Other than that, they’re identical.

As for the other Peavey “T” models, the Peavey T-60 has become fashionable in recent years, is the most in-demand, and typically sells in the $500 to $600 range. It’s the guitar Jerry Reed used on the “Smokey and Bandit II” album — with the great cut “East Bound and Down.” It has the two SuperFerrite humbucker pickups, but with a split switch to give you a single-coil tone if you want  it. The downside is that these thing play great, sound great, and, unless you’re young, strong, and will learn better by the time you’re 30, they’ll give you major back problems. The weight varies, but they’re far heavier than Les Pauls, with some weighing over 13 pounds. If you have the money and will use it only in the studio, get one. For day-in-day-out bar gigs, get something lighter, unless you have masculinity issues.

As for still other “T” models, I’ve owned Peavy T-25s, T-26s, and T-27s. I didn’t like any of them. The Strat-like T-27 (I believe, could be wrong about the model number) wasn’t good — equivalent action, but noticeably worse tone than my standard Strat. I’m rebuilding the one with SuperFerrite humbuckers (I believe the T-26), and, once I have new tuning machines in it, will set it up for slide (which is about all humbuckers are good for). Sorry for the confusion about the “T” Peaveys — the only ones I like are the 2-pickup Patriot, T-15, and T-60.

Enough for now. Time to pull apart my Peavey Classic 30, see why it’s howling, and fix it.

Cheers, Chaz

* * *

Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia (pdf sample here). He’s currently working on the sequel and an unrelated sci-fi novel, and is the author of An Understandable Guide to Music Theory. He also was the guitarist in Ass Deep In Hippies (in San Francisco), Pinche Blues Band (In Tucson), and is the guitarist in an upcoming a yet-to-be-named blues/rock/jazz/country band, mostly featuring old bandmates and both originals and covers in Tucson. Should be huge fun. For a sample of the originals, click here. (Scroll down to the bottom of the page for the free mp3s.)

Free Radicals, by Zeke Teflon front cover


Howdy y’all (as we say in these here parts),

It’s time for spring/early summer planting.

As usual, I grew a ton more starts than I needed so as to give ’em away to friends, neighbors, and other folks in order to encourage their planting gardens. This year, I grew maybe 300 to 400 starts and have used about 75.  The rest have gone to the four winds, to whoever I think (oh please, whomever) will plant them and tend them. This is in deliberate contrast to Home Depot and Lowe’s, who don’t even sell six-packs anymore and charge the gullible $3 to $5 a start. (A fellow gardener, formerly a commercially gardener, who’s getting a new nursery biz up and running, told me yesterday that people buy them so as to have instant gratification, and will ignore them after they inadvertently kill them in a month or so through over or under watering or other sins. Thinking about it, she was right.)

I’ve given away maybe 175 to 200 starts, mostly tomato plants so far; there are about 25 left. Totally cost to me? Counting water, compost (I roll my own) for planting seeds [potting soil is unnecessary], and the bottoms of recycled cut-off plastic bottles (to hold the compost and seeds), and a tiny bit of fish emulsion fertilizer? Maybe two or three cents per start plus daily watering diligence. Not even 1% of what the big-box stores charge.

One of the oddities of producing starts is that they have their own minds as to when they come up. Tomatoes are always the first. Then the squash and melons, and then bell peppers and chiles. Some veggies you just want to plant directly in the ground. For summer, the primary one I’ve found is Yard-long Asian Beans (taste like wax beans, genetically more similar to black-eyed peas).

I’m also preparing to go to the downtown library and give them a ton of seeds for their seed catalog (enough for maybe 500 to 1,000 packets, which will be available to whoever wants seeds): Romaine, Bibb, Yard-Long Asian Beans, Okra, Broccoli, and White Chard. It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement: they give me seeds for veggies I don’t already have, and I give them a ton of seeds for redistribution to other community gardeners.

Harvesting seeds can be a pain in the ass. It can be extremely difficult, for example, to harvest carrot seeds. So, I concentrate on the easier ones and get carrot seeds etc. from the seed catalog.

The broccoli has been going to seed since late February, and I still haven’t harvested all the seeds. Ditto for the Romaine, which went to seed in April. I won’t be able to replant those beds until I’ve harvested the seeds later this month, by which time summer planting will be marginal. I’ll put in onions in the worst sun-drenched plot, and they might grow. Might.

I’m letting two beds go fallow until the fall, one is smack dab in the middle of the sun-scorched yard, and the other is the best bed in the place, but I’ve been planting it every year for the last quarter century (yes, rotating crops). My goal, pretty close to fruition, is not to use any shade cloth at all, and all of the beds I’ve planted are in at least partial shade from trees.

I’ll be putting in more fruit trees, too. In years past, I did it the hard way: shoveling down the 18 inches or so to the caliche (calcium carbonate mixed with silt, sand, gravel, rocks, and small boulders), and then down another four to five feet through the caliche with a pick axe, shovel, and breaker bar.

This time, in the fall, I’ll rent a jack hammer (neighbor has a compressor) and chip out the concrete slabs on the west side of the house. Then I’ll rent a backhoe and dig a hole in the one remaining spot in the backyard for a fruit tree (a fig), and then dig a couple of pits for fruit trees on the west side of the house with the backhoe. (I’m a lazy sod, and feel a bit guilty about doing things this easy way rather than busting my ass doing it the “right” way as I did in years past with the other fruit trees, manually; did I mention that I’m ex-Catholic? Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. To paraphrase the Church, Pain is good. Extreme pain is extremely good.)

So far this year I’ve planted spaghetti squash, golden melons, watermelons, collard greens, and  red cherry and Zacatipan tomatoes (the two types I’ve found that will bear all summer in 105+ heat). Also yard-long Asian beans directly in the ground, the various chiles (Hatch, jalapeños, Cayennes, Japanese, Thai, serranos, Anaheims, Chiles de Arbol) and red and orange bell peppers. (Helpful hint: there ain’t no such thing as green bell peppers — they taste awful and are simply immature red bell peppers; why anyone buys them is beyond me.)

Survivors from last summer’s garden include red cherry and zacatipan tomatoes, plus red bell peppers, orange bell peppers, and black beauty eggplants. The peppers, eggplants, and chiles might last for another year or three. The surviving tomatoes will likely be done by June or July. The basil plants come back year after year, so I never have to replant them.

As well, I continue to work the compost pile, digging it out from the left, tossing the crap on top to the right, digging out the good compost on the bottom, then adding compost buckets to the top of the crap on the right. There’s no reason on earth to buy expensive composing gear: just rotating it left-to-right and then starting all over again works just fine.

I buy a couple of straw bales per year (about ten bucks apiece), spend nearly nothing on fertilizer (may a buck per year), spend maybe twenty-five bucks per year on manure (about a cubic yard), spend nothing on seeds or starts, and too damn much on water. I have my roof/patio set up to channel rain water to the fruit trees, use about 90% of my water on the garden, and bear about 80% of the Tucson Water bills on “sewer” fees — I recharge water; it does not go down the drain.

More on this later. (Photos to come)

Cheers,

Chaz

 

 


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.)


Yep, a lot of white folks are scared shitless of losing majority status in this country. Listen to the fear-mongering racist jerks and they’ll have you believing it’s a coming apocalypse.

It’s not. In my neighborhood, where white people are a minority, there are plenty of problems, but they aren’t related to race.

A lot of that has to do with Tucson’s being the most integrated million-plus city in the country, and my high-density neighborhood being the most integrated neighborhood in Tucson. People just get along here. We have to.

I moved here (The Keeling Neighborhood — Official Motto: “It’s not as bad as it looks”) in 1992. At the time, it was probably 55-60% Mexican, 30-35% white, and 5% to 10% black, with a scattering of Yaquis and Tohono O’odhams. When I moved in, in terms of violence it was somewhat like, though not as bad, as what I was used to in the North Mission in San Francisco: being constantly on edge and hypervigilant. (A few weeks before I left there, around dusk walking down Mission Street by the armory, I flattened against the wall as I heard rapid footsteps approaching coming up behind me — it was a guy with eyes wide as plates being chased by an equally crazed motherfucker brandishing a machete.)

When I moved in here, there were shots every night, but they were mostly a good half-mile away, not pleasant background noise, but far enough away to ignore. After living in the North Mission, this neighborhood was a relief in comparison.

Since then, things have gotten progressively more peaceful. The DEA hasn’t busted a meth lab on the block in over 15 years (there was only one such bust); it’s been almost as long since they busted the Hell’s Angels clubhouse three blocks south of here; there hasn’t been a murder within half a mile in over seven years; there hasn’t been a shootout on the corner (a hundred feet away — duplexes owned by slumlords) in well over five years (there have been two while I’ve been here); and the last real excitement was about two or three years ago when some asshole half a block down got busted by the ATF for building pipe bombs. Anymore, it’s rare to hear shots — no more than maybe once a month.

It’s become a safe neighborhood. Poor, but a pretty decent place for kids (but for the shitty, underfunded schools).

And you know? That improvement in the neighborhood has corresponded to a decrease in the white population. Right now the neighborhood is probably 65% Mexican, 10% to 15% black, and only 20% to 25% white.

Guess what, folks — we don’t need to fear our black and brown neighbors. All of the real problems, especially the economic ones, are systemic, not due to race. Let’s worry about those real problems, not made-up ones such as white people losing majority status.

 

 

 


This afternoon I was shooting the shit with a friend, swapping stories, and he related one of the better bar-gig tales I’ve ever heard:

In the early ’80s he was playing in a country band in Tucson, and they had a regular weekend job playing in a bar out in Avra Valley (west of the Tucson Mountains, and at the time still very much a part of the wild west). The clientele consisted of shitkickers and bikers, who of course didn’t mix.

As one would expect — what with the cost of a new Harley running to close to $30,000 — the bikers were a lot better off than the cowboys, and a lot of them held well paying jobs; their head honcho, for instance, owned a wrecking yard.

Anyway, there was a regular, a local who worked as a postman, who was enough of an alkie that he’d sometimes stop at the bar in his mail truck for a beer or two after completing his route before returning to the station.

That wasn’t so bad, but on weekends he’d drive his Cadillac to the bar, get tanked, and turn into all hands, harassing the waitresses.

This didn’t apparently didn’t sit well with at least some of the bikers, who didn’t like the guy anyway, but rather than resolve the situation in the normal manner (violence), they decided to teach the asshole a profitable (for them), expensive (for him) lesson.

One Saturday night, after the gig ended, my pal was packing up his drum kit, when he and the rest of the guys in the band heard a blood-curdling scream from outside. They ran out and found the drunk postman yelling his head off.

When he went out the door to weave his way home in his Cadillac, all he found was a chassis. What was left of the car was up on blocks, the wheels gone, as were the windshield, hood, doors, and rear window.

The bikers had done this with people going into and out of the bar all night. Evidently, people disliked the jerk sufficiently that they ignored the dismantling of the vehicle or were afraid of the bikers, or both. In either case, the bikers had taken a good hour or two to dismantle the car in public view — okay, in an unlit dirt parking lot — and no one reported them.

This incident likely cost the asshole a good two or three grand and likely netted the bikers at least several hundred bucks through sales of the parts at the wrecking yard.

I hope they threw a great party with the money.