Monday, November 29, 2010

Dark Star Orchestra at the Crest 10-11-28

Set One: Iko Iko ; Hell In A Bucket ; Loser ; Cassidy ; Dupree's Diamond Blues ; C C Rider ; Deal

Set Two: I Need A Miracle > Bertha ; Playing In The Band > China Doll > Jam > Drums > Space > Playing In The Band > Black Peter > Sugar Magnolia ; One More Saturday Night
Encore: Keep Your Day Job

Filler: Let Me Sing Your Blues Away Show from 86-6-9 Cal Expo TJ was pretty sure she was there.

We had a good time. Me, still kinda thinking it was the real band expected a long line of people waiting to get in, wanted to get there the moment the doors open. TJ being a cooler head(heads ARE cool, like our sticker, "if You're Not A Head You're Behind")
got us there about 45 minutes before the advertised time and we walked right up to will call and had our pick of seats, in the 5th row. Hall never got much more than half full.

Band hit the stage on Dead time, about 20 minutes late, immediately hit a strong groove with Aiko. First thing I noticed:Jeff Mattson is a bad ass, much stronger presence than Stu Allen.

Well I got to say, that the slight cheesiness of it all is forgotten when the band starts cooking. These guys have learned their lessons well, they breath together like the Dead, actually tighter musically and way better vocally. And the Dead have never had a keyboard player like Rob Barraco, and keys play a much bigger role. Rob is a great singer, did all of Brent's tenor parts strong and crisp. I think it's the quality of that gives it legitamcy.

The other thing is : IT WORKS!!!!! IN spite of a crowd that was a bit small to generate high energy, we did get it off the ground. I think with a couple hundred more than the 500 or so it would have been a better party, but it kept it comfortable for the old folks. And I think that is what the DSO is about. letting middle aged hippies be Dead Heads for a few days. I heard many people talking about the 2 nights before at the Regency in SF, (sample: "It sucks being 50, I am so sore from dancing)

But the main thing is, this is one hell of a band, really listen to each other and really hear, maybe like the Dead without hard drugs The schedule they keep(1876 shows in 12 years) is James Brown worthy, they got to be in great shape. They really look like they are having fun, and when the music turns weird they are right there ready for it. Rob Eaton the guy that does Weir, leads the band on stage just like Bobby did(people always say Gar was the leader, but from what i've seen it was Pig Pen in the old days, and Weir later, at least on stage).

They played a really long 2nd set, and I think they kinda lost the crowd with drums/space and the monster jam after it, before the playing in the band reprise. it started to feel like a yuppie Sunday night, quite a few bailed. The ones that did missed out on one real high pont, Rob Barraco doing Sing Your Blues Away. Not only is he a way better singer than Keith was, he is a way better singer than anyone ever in the Dead and offshoot, even better than Warren Haynes who is one singing white boy in my opinion. I think Rob, having been with Phil gives them a bit of street cred, at any rate he may be the most underrated musician around.

In closing let me say there is nothing like a DSO concert except a Dead show.

Come on honey let me sing em away!!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Feast or famine.....

is the story. After the maybe the best summer I've had in years and a great month of August, everything slammed to a halt last week. Down to 1 or 2 gigs a week and 13 students.

For a long time it seemed like that old saw about entertainment thriving in hard times was true, I have ridden out more than a couple downturns and it seems to start like that, people party to forget, but after a while people just flat out run out of money.

Why am I typing this? 2 reasons: 1. Joe needs work and students, just trying to put that out there everywhere I can. 2. We all need to support the arts and each other, support local small business, even it if it costs a little more, the big stores sell below cost to squash the competition.

If not us, who? If not now, when?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Summer times come and gone my oh my

And what a great summer it was!!! Played a bunch of great summer type gigs with The Jokers, Wingnut Adams, The Bayou Boys, The Stardust Cowboys, Frankie Lee and my band and more. Put thousands of mile on my car, saw some amazing sights, and even made a little money. I love my job!!
A few highlights: The Crawdad Festival in Red Bluff, The Cowboy Poetry Festival in Big Bear Lake, Redwood City Blues Festival, Goldhill Vineyard, Lake Alamanor Country Club, The Frankie Lee benefit, Cindy and Paul's wedding..............

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

I'm a cowboy....

It was with some trepidation that headed to Big Bear Lake for the Cowboy Gathering to play with the Stardust Cowboys. It's long drive from Sacramento, 470 hot dusty miles.

I am in no way a cowboy, I wasn't sure how I would fit in, would Iget my ass beat for not driving a pickup truck? I was told we had a 5 o'clock sound check, left home around 9:30. At 3 I am outside of Victorville and I get a call that the sound check was moved up to 4 and how soon could I get there? So I jammed the last 80 miles got there about 4:45. Walk into the venue, sound check stalled on crappy monitors. Beautiful state of the art theater, with a former Neil Diamond rotating stage set as part of the stage(gotta love Southern California), but two Kustom semi pro monitors. Eventually we do our sound check and I check into my room. Big Bear Lake is a big time resort for people from San Bernadino and LA. It reminds me of Tahoe(the town does, not the lake) an old resort town stretched out over miles of highway.

Vicki, the band co leader hands me a shirt and scarf, retro cowboy all the way. My cowboy duds weren't cowboy enough. I head back to the venue, the Performing Arts Center and we close the show with a 45 minute set. Next day we play one set outside and one set back at the PAC.

What I found out that this is not a rodeo, didn't see one horse, it's a cowboy poetry and music festival. The attendees were poets, history buffs, lovers of legend,story tellers mixed with some real working cowboys. very nice folks, thoughtful and soulful.

One of the other performers was the great Sourdough Slim, last of the Vaudeville Cowboys. Think of a mix of WC Fields and Will Rodgers, he plays the accordian, guitar, harmonica, sings, tells stories and does rope tricks sometimes at the same time.

Another guy I enjoyed was cowboy poet Russ Knox, a working cowboy. I really like his work.
All and all it was a very fun weekend, and I hope to back there with the Stardust Cowboys again next year.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Jam Culture

When I was young, my buddies and i would call each other and say "let's jam today", meaning lets get together and play some music with no real goal other than playing. Later on when we said "jam" it meant improvising with no predetermined structure, as in "jam band".

Later on, when I started playing clubs there were after hours jams and Sunday jams at clubs. These often attracted top area players, and the Sunday music was often way better than what happened all week.

In the past 20 years we have witnessed a whole "blues jam" culture sprouting up. From maybe 2 a week at the old Torch Club we now have 10-20 a week just locally. What is cool is that it gives players who don't play gigs a chance to play regularly, gives pro payers a chance to hang out and play with people they don't normally work with, people get to network, hone their skills.
It's also a way to get a crowd any night of the week, a well run jam will draw players and listeners who get a multi act show for usually no cover. Some nights and Sunday days there might be 4 or 5 happening in town.

Each jam seems to have its own culture, it's own set of unwritten rules. The tone is set by the hosts, each one does it a little different. Hosting a jam is not an easy task, the jammers show up with high expectations of a great musical experience. For some it is there only chance to play and they got a lot invested in it.

The challenge for the hosts is to let everyone who signs up to get a chance to play and hopefully have a good time, while keeping the show rolling a long and the quality of the music high enough so people will come to listen. We need those listeners, they fill the seats and keep the till ringing.

It's a hard job, harder than it looks and you are never gonna satisfy everyone. It's like soup: you got to have the right mix. The jammers can be demanding, they want to play at this time with these people, and sometimes it gets ugly when people don't get their way.

At it's best a blues jam is a combination of the excitement of a big revue type show, a place to learn the art of playing in musical ensembles and fellowship akin to church.

Monday, August 9, 2010

It doesn't matter what they say about you.............

A few weeks ago my friend Kathleen McCoy Grover asked me if she could interview me for a column she writes in the Lincoln Messenger. She came down to the shop and talked to me for an hour or so, and whipped up this:

Folk music made a huge impact on Joe Lev
Behind the Bars column
Kathleen McCoy Grover Special to The News Messenger

If ever there was a musician’s musician, it would be Joe Lev.

He was born in 1952 into a family of musicians steeped in the controversial melting pot of Chicago’s folk-music community.

“My parents, Milt and Marge Lev, were part of the big folk-music scare of the late ’50s and early ’60s,” Joe said. “My mom studied guitar at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago with Frank Hamilton, a replacement for Pete Seeger in the Weavers. I remember going backstage at a Frank show and seeing how entranced I was. He told my mom, ‘Get that boy a banjo.’”

His family moved to Sacramento in 1958, where his parents joined the newly formed Folk Music Society.

“My folks soon were officers. We went to concerts, workshops and hootenannies,” Joe said. “I remember my parents dressing me up in my little wool suit to hear people sing about sharecropping, gambling, drinking and women of ill repute. Sitting in the dark, I was captivated by the magic one person with a guitar, some stories and good song could weave.”

One milestone event was bringing the then blacklisted Pete Seeger to American River College. Joe may have just been 8 years old but the memories and the messages he heard made a huge impact on him.

Music surrounded Joe. His mother gave guitar lessons and classes; folk music was it for him until he was 12 when his older brother, Ben, brought home a Fender guitar and Silvertone amp.

Soon, bands were practicing in his garage every week and Joe traded his banjo for an electric guitar.

Music has been the one constant in Joe’s life, “a unifying thread, a fascination bordering on obsession.” Growing up in the north area of Sacramento near Carmichael, he and his friend, Paul Narloch, had a whole series of bands.

Just after graduating from high school, Joe and Paul were in his first “good band,” Buckwheat.

“We were Americana, 30 years too early,” Joe said. “We had a sparkle like the Flying Burrito Brothers. It was an idyllic time; I was out of school and still living with my parents. My friends lived nearby and we played a lot … just a bubble in time, hanging out with my friends, playing down by the river almost every day. We played a lot a hippie-type gigs and had a really good following.”

When he was 20, Joe met “Bongo Bob” Smith who introduced him to Oscar Robinson. Oscar ran a music school in Oak Park where Joe learned to play bass.

“I was like a musical monk, taking classes, practicing and playing for 10 hours a day for the whole year,” Joe said. “He taught me being a musician was a respectable profession. You have to be willing to do the hard work. It just depends on how much you’re willing to suffer.”

It was a new mindset for Joe and changed the path of his musical career.

Oscar put together a band called The Hustlers (1972 to 1974). “It was my debut as a bass player, which turned out to be the best decision I ever made.”

Since 1970, he has played on average 200 gigs annual in bands that cross over into nearly every genre of music.

He has been married to his best friend, visual artist T.J. Lev for 16 years. They make their home in downtown Sacramento.

Joe has played with Steve Foster and the Jokers, Bayou Boys, Jahari Sai Quartet, Frankie Lee, Wingnut Adams Funky Soul Brigade, Mick Martin and the Blues Rockers, The Bayou Boys Band and the Stardust Cowboys.

He teaches at The Guitar Workshop in Sacramento and volunteers with Blues in The Schools. He played at Dillian’s Bar and Grill with Two Tone Steiney and The Cadillacs, and currently hosts two weekly Blues Jams with along with The Jokers in Rocklin and the Jimmy Collazo Band in Roseville. Joe jams with Olen Dillingham, a Lincoln resident and member of Western Swing Hall of Fame.

Last spring, The Jokers played their Sun City Lincoln Hills debut concert to a full house.

”The harder we rocked,” Joe said, “the more they liked it. I witnessed the magic only music can create as boomers, octogenarians and better were transported to another space and time, through the music of their youth.”

Joe is not only a musician’s musician. He embodies the best parts of the ‘quintessential unrepentant hippie’ by bringing people together to celebrate life in joy and harmonious humanity.

For more on Joe, see

Friday, August 6, 2010

1012 views and counting!!!

Thank you all for checking out my random musings about my little life. Y'all must have too much time on your hands or something.

Now for my next trick I think I will continue the story of the origins of my secret identity, how I got to this place in life.

I sometimes ponder how incredibly lucky I am. Over and over I took the hand I was dealt and did my best to blow it up. So to be here with work I love and thrive on, owning a house(well the bank owns most of it) the love of a great woman, kids, grandkids and more friends than I can count I can only attribute to that old saying "angels protect fools"!!

Ah, it's good to be alive!!!!

What a long long time to be gone and a short time to be there!!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Jerry Garcia (August 1, 1942 – August 9, 1995) One Man Gone

This being Garcia Week (between his birthday and his yahrzeit (anniversary of his leaving) I figure this to be as good a time as any to ruminate on his meaning to the world and his meaning to me.

I didn't snap to the Dead as quick as my friends did, there was so much new music every week, they were just one out of many. I remember a photo spread in Look Magazine on the SF bands, and the Dead looked scary. I heard the first album, it was OK, Anthem and Aoxomoxoa kind of went over my head. In October of 69 we went to the KZAP(underground radio station) 1st birthday party at Cal Expo, in Building A, the amphitheater was years away and the Dead headlined. They had some technical difficulties, but certainly got my attention. Still got memories of an early Cumberland Blues, High Time, Pig Pen singing Good Morning Little School Girl and Weir telling the yellow dog story. Years later I was gifted with a tape of the second set, only High Times was on it from the memories. I was pretty blown away, it seemed like a three ring circus, all seven of them seemed to be doing something significant, who to watch???

Couple months later, night before New Years eve, Paul shows up at my door with a very early copy of Live Dead and some 60s style refreshment. At the proper time we put on Live Dead and I GOT IT!! never been the same since. I had been trying to play free improvised music with my friends for a couple years, it was always more miss than hit but occasionally amazing things happened, but these guys DID IT!!! The Dark Star on Live Dead still blows me away to this day. What a feat of collective improvisation!!

So I started listening to them all the time, went to shows at Winterland when I could. They touched me on so many levels, they seemed to be doing something different than all the other bands. It was like church!! It was so keyed into life and so renewing!

As the years went by I kept on listening and reading everything I could find. When I learned of Garcia's folkie roots a lot of threads of my life were tied together. I came to love them like big brothers I admired from afar and tried to emulate. They were rock stars but not, they seemed to bring their real selves onto the stage, and what a motley crew they were. I loved them all but it was Garcia that got my attention the most.

In early 71 I got a copy of American Beauty hot off the press. I was kind of let down, no more "machine eating" jams, it was a record of songs. As years went by I came to realize that it was a landmark work of art, art for the ages. It seems timeless, never gets old.

As my musical career progressed I pursued jazz and funk. The Dead became a sort of guilty pleasure, one I didn't let on about. I saw em in 74 and a few times in the 80s. I missed the whole Deadhead phenomenon, by the time people "toured" I was a night club musician with shiny shoes and a family to feed.

I remember being in SF in the 80s for my bass lesson and eating in a little cafe I read about Garcia's heroin bust. I was pretty flabbergasted, hard drugs seemed the antithesis of everything they meant to me.

A few years later I remember hearing a live broadcast of a solstice show and Garcia sounded quite awful, sometimes in the wrong key. Hmmmm?? What was happening?????

Later when my hippie reformation began I reconnected. I bought CDs of Anthem, Aoxomoxoa, and Live Dead. They became a soundtrack of what was happening to me. Went to a couple shows at Cal Expo, just loving the communion and fellowship.

Aug 9, 1995 TJ woke me up with a call. She said, please don't flip, but Jerry Garcia died last night. Man, I felt a piece of me die right then, like losing a family member. I went to the garage and brought in a big stack of speakers and my bass amp, turned on the radio and the rock stations were playing nothing but the Dead. I plugged it into my amp turned it up. Went across the street and I couldn't hear it so I went back and cranked it up even louder.

That night we went to a hastily organized vigil in Capitol Park. The radio station basically co-opted the event. I remember the DJ saying "don't bring drugs to the park, thats what jerry would have wanted" yeah right! When we got to the Rose Garden(how perfect) the station had set up a big mobile unit and insisted on playing a long interview from Bob Weir from sometime in the past and plenty commercials. I went looking for Bob Keller(great DJ) and told him how weak that was. But try as they might they couldn't contain the event. it turned into the biggest drum circle I ever saw, with hundreds of people, people dancing, people crying, dozens of people in the trees.

I went home and wrote a song, a blues song called:

One Man Gone

Woke up the other morning, didn't have the blues
Till my baby said "honey I got some real bad news
One more good one has bit the dust and there's nobody left that we can trust"
One man One Man Gone, left us here to sing this song

So I got a bunch of speakers from out of my shed
I didn't give a damn about what the neighbors said
Hooked em all up, turned it up to eleven
So they would know who was knocking on the doors of heaven
One man One Man Gone, left us here to sing this song

We went down to the park later that
From miles around, from left and right
Dance and drum, sing and shout
Till the heat came 'round and threw us out
One man One Man Gone, left us here to sing this song

Dark Star crashes on the Golden Road
I still don't know but I've been told
On the other hand I'm here to say
Don't let the music stop, we won't fade away
One man One Man Gone, left us here to sing this song

Rest in peace, and thanks for a lifetime of inspiration!!!

Let there be songs, to fill the air!!!!!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Joe Lev and Friends

Of course by now I need to tell you that I do most of my work as a sideman for various recording artists and bandleaders. I love being an "essential sideman" to paraphrase Ron Carter.

On occasion I get a call for a gig myself and I usually assemble some of the fellas under the name "Joe Lev and Friends". This time I was contacted by the great jazz piano player Jim Martinez. He said a friend of his worked at a winery and was interested in doing a a blues show and he thought of me!!

So after some negotiation, I booked a show for JL &F at the Gold Hill Vineyard Aug 28th @1 PM.
Now the fun part!! I have a lot of very talented friends so who to get?? I told Bryna at the winery that I was gonna bring her a band of bandleaders. Putting together a band is like casting a play or making soup, you need ingredients that compliment each other. I was also loking for maybe some guys that could help sell tickets. I really want this to be an off the chart success.

I got the line up booked, it's an embarrassment of riches, the Miami Heat of the blues.
Read it and weep: Steve Foster guitar/vocals
Aaron King guitar/drums/vocals
Kevin Burton keyboards
Wingnut Adams drums/harmonica/vocals
and your humble blogger on bass/vocals

Looks good on paper, I just hope there is enough ball for LeBron and Dwayne to stay happy. Everyone of these guys can carry a whole night by themselves, it's a gas to call them my friends.

Advance tickets are just $20 and you get lunch and wine or beer.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Back home patching my bones

Well I made, and better than I had any right to expect. I guess there are a few more rodeos left in this old guy.

Played 5 gigs in four days, drove 700 miles. Played a lot of great music. The set with Frankie Lee at the Redwood City Blues Festival stands out. Frankie rose above his recent health problems and put on a stellar show, turned back the hands of time for 45 minutes. That's the power of music, it's life!!!!!

Had a good time with Wingnut too, so good in fact I hired him to be a friend on my JL&F gig coming up next month. I already got Steve Foster too. It's gonna be a band of band leaders, all people that I have worked for and with many many times.

The last gig was last night down in Madera with the Stardust Cowboys. It was hot and miserable in Madera and I got there with several hours to kill(my GPS took me a quick way there from Groveland) Now waiting is the hardest thing and musicians got to hurry up and wait all the time.
It being like 104 and with no place to land, I went down to Fresno and saw the latest very forgettable Tom Cruise movie "Knight and Day". Pretty medium stuff, but it was cool in the theater and the light weight entertainment was just what I was looking for.

Then back to Madera to set up in the Lion's Park. It was hot and sticky, the PA sucked and we were all drained, but the smallish crowd loved our Western Swing and Stardust Cowboy originals. I guess there is a tradition of Western music there, our fiddle player Olen told me of a Bob Wills veteran living near there.

So a little teaching today, a jam session gig, then a well earned day off tomorrow, if I do say so myself.

Friday, July 23, 2010

On the Road

I'm gonna be burning up the highway this weekend, it's always a part of being a musician.

I've always loved traveling, starting with our great family vacations as a small child, reading Kerouac as a teenager inspired more highway dreams. Hit the road quite a bit with club/casino bands as a young man. (plenty of stories there)

I still love to travel, but sometimes it just becomes a chore driving 3 hours to play a 45 minute set somewhere. Don't get me wrong, I love to work, love my work, but as I get older it gets tougher. And getting better gigs usually means traveling more.

For example this week: last night(Thursday), was an easy drive to Lodi to play the Farmer's market with the Bayou Boys. I was home on my couch by 10 PM. Today it gets a bit harder; tonight it's a couple hours to Groveland with Wingnut Adams, Saturday afternoon it's 3 hours to Redwood City for the blues festival with Frankie Lee then another 3 back to Groveland. Sunday you can find me in Madera for a park concert with the Stardust Cowboys, then back another 3-4 back home.

Like I said I do what I love and love what I do. I love seeing new things, meeting people, playing music in a variety of places. But many hours this week will find me out on the freeway on the open road, winding over a mountain pass, or making my way through bay area traffic. If you see a dusty gold Chevy HRR, honk and wave!!

TJ and Lindsey bought me a GPS(we call her Mandy) for Father's Day. What a great invention!
It's been especially helpful on the bay area freeway system, which always confounds me, being directionaly challenged.

Time to get back truckin, see you next week!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Making hay while the sun shines

Thats' what they say about show biz or business in general: feast or famine. Right now it's feast, August is shaping up pretty undernourished(have bass will travel!!! Call me please).
5 gigs this week:Monday at the Station, Wednesday at the Hacienda, for the weekend Friday with the Jokers in Sacramento, then I hit the road with the Stardust Cowboys, ending up in Lake Almanor on Sunday.

I have spent hours slaving over a hot computer learning the Cowboys songs. They do mostly originals plus some great Western Swing mostly by Bob Wills. I am really falling for the whole Western Swing thing, it combines many of my favorite musics:Jazz, Blues, Country, Bluegrass into something entirely it's own. Makes me want to get another upright(bass violin), it's the right instrument for the style.

Next week 7 gigs. After the usual Monday and Wednesday jams, Thursday it's the Lodi Farmer's Market with the Bayou Boys, then I hit the road: Friday, the Iron Door in Groveland with Wingnut Adams, Saturday Day the Redwood City Blues Festival with Frankie Lee, then back to the Iron Door for Sat. Night. Sunday, I head down to Madera to the Cowboy Festival with The Stardust Cowboys.

I am a bit nervous about working so much in so few days, but I got to get it whilest I can. I can sleep in August! Doing double gigs and working night after night really wear me down these days, even though I am in maybe the best shape of my life, the years do take their toll.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Still here......

I have been real busy these past couple weeks, lots of gigs with the Bayou Boys, the Jokers, and Frankie Lee. Now I am knee deep in Western Swing getting ready for my gigs with the Stardust Cowboys. Takes a lot of time to learn a repertoire and I am dealing with diverse styles.

So rest assured there will be more stories of the past and present and until then thank you and leave it on!!!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Honkey Tonk Heroes

Seems to me that there is an inordinate number of great musical artists laboring in obscurity here in the Sacramento area. I imagine there are other clusters but this one is pretty damn amazing.
I'm not talking about up and coming rock bands, or the few rock bands to make it big out of here, like the Deftones or Tesla but more the older cats with many years of experience that are still playing like they mean it, with love and intensity. Anyone of these guys, coulda, woulda, shouda been famous, some have been there(I know at least three players in the area that played at Woodstock) but for various reasons it never happened. Sometimes it's a choice, sometimes it's bad luck, sometimes good luck( who can handle rock stardom?)

I think talent is a not a really rare commodity, it takes so much more to be successful. Scott Joss(Dwight Yokum, Merle Haggard), one of the ones who did achieve big time success told me that being a great player is the first step, maybe 5% of the total picture.

All you music lovers out there know this:Any night of the week you can go out to a bar and hear great music, not that much different than what you pay $100 for an OK seat to see. And you can get up close and personal and if you are an aspiring player, ask questions. I spent many a night for many years going out watching the areas best do there thing, it was a big part of my education.

I think from time to time I will profile some of these greats, just as a tip of the hat to these wonderful artists, who I gratefully consider friends.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Zydeco Weekend

Summer is Zydeco season and I spend a good part of it playing festivals, fairs, wineries, park concerts and more with Ron Bombardier and the Bayou Boys. For our kick off weekend we played three days: Friday night we played another in the Amador County Arts Council TGIF concert series at the 49er RV Park in Plymouth(I played the opening concert last week with Wingnut Adams). You got to love these gigs. People of all ages come out with their picnic dinners, just in the mode for some musical fun. Nothing is so inspiring as a good size crowd there for the music. It's so different than your standard bar gig.

First couple of gigs each year serve to shake the rust off, and Friday was no exception. I think the audience could'nt tell but our friends and family kept talking about us needing WD 40, so I did my Tin Man impression: Oil can! Oil Can!

Saturday morning at 7:15 I rolled out of town to make a 10:30 downbeat at the Red Bluff Crawdad Festival. I rendezvoused with RT, our drumbo du jur(subbing for Rat A Tat Pat) by the airport off ramp off I 5 to caravan. Lucky we did that because 30 miles south of our destination sure enough his van lost all it's power and cruised to a stop. After scratching our heads for a bit, we crammed enough drums for the gig into my HHR, RT was holding a floor tom on his lap and made to the gig with 30 minutes to spare.

This festival is called the Isleton Crawdad Festival in Exile. For years they did it in the little delta town of Isleton, but it got more and more out of hand. it had basically become a bike run and at the same time a party for east bay gangbangers. Moved to Red Bluff, it became a Louisiana food and music celebration and a wholesome good time.

We played our 2 sets, hung out with musician friends ate, drank and were merry. When we were done I took Rick back to his van to wait for the tow truck.

We had an option for free lodgings at the R Wild Horse Ranch, the sponsors of the festival. never one to turn down a free room I headed for the ranch, which lies about 35 miles east of Red Bluff. After wandering around the big ranch, I was shown to my cabin, or monks cell. It did have a sink and toilet and 5 beds. Very rustic. Later on some of the other musicians from the fest showed up, and sounds of music and voices filled the barbecue scented air.

I got up early and headed back to the grounds, we played from 1:30 till 3:00 with Pat, our regular drummer, this time on the main stage. Big fun!!!

All and all it was a great time, lots of good friends, good music , good food. A little taste of New Orleans right here in Norcal.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Searching for the Sound

I have read pretty much everything written about the Grateful Dead. It is a quintessential story of American ingenuity, but my favorite is the one written by a guy that can tell the story with authority, someone who was there every step of the way

Phil Lesh took the time to write his story himself, no"as told to" or ghost writing. What comes through is Phil's intelligence, humor and great good will. It is one of my favorite books on the 60's revolution San Francisco style along with Stephen Gaskin's "Haight Ashbury Flashbacks". For those of you too young to remember it is dripping with 60s flavor, you can just FEEL that this is the real deal.

Phil tells the story with great candor, not even sparing himself from the ugly details. He talks at length of the pitfalls of rockstardom Grateful Dead style and the combination of brilliance and disfunction that turned the Acid Test house band into one of the biggest brands in all entertainment.

Ultimately it is a love song for life, music, family and the musical brotherhood.

Long live Phil Lesh.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

And another..........

Another great gig, 2 back to back. I played at Constable Jack's with Mick Martin and the Blues Rockers last night. This version of the Rockers: Mick, Bruce Pressly, Russ Skarsten and Ted Stancliff. This was far from Mick's regular band, we had never all played together. In spite of that we had great chemistry right from beat one and a splendid time was had by all.

What made it so good once again was the ensemble concept of all the players. Everyone listened, blended and grooved. Lots of dynamics, lots of funk. What a joy to play with such great unselfish musicians!!!!!

It's all about ensemble playing, music is a team sport. You are only as good as you are at playing together. Some get that, some don't. These guys get it!!!!!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Another Great Gig

Hardly a week goes by for me without a musical peak experience or 3, isn't that what we are always going for? As the years go by it seems to happen more reliably, magic is almost taken for granted. That's the gig!!!!!!!!!

Last night was no exception. I was playing a gig for the Amador County Arts Council with The Wingnut Adams Band at this small outdoor amphitheater at the Kennedy Mine historical park in Jackson. These foothill arts council gigs always have the best vibe, people of all ages show up with their picnic dinners and an expectation of a musical good time.

The stage was in the process of being turned into a set for a production of Treasure Island. We didn't plan this but we all came out from backstage together from under what is going to be a pirate ship bridge and the people started clapping. What a great appreciative crowd they were for the next 2 hours. Wingnut thrives on a good crowd and he just had a ball. He is a true funkimeister, he certainly brings the funk out of the band(Wingnut, Paris Clayton on guitar, Barry Duncan on tenor sax and me). What he is about is groove, soul, hard work and good vibes.

Next week I will be playing the next show of the series with the Bayou Boys.

I love summer!!!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Few More

Any bass player that played with Miles: Mike Henderson, Darryl Jones, Benny Rietveld(sp?)
Jimmy Garrison, Paul Samwell-Smith, Oscar Pettiford, Brian Wilson(for his playing and for the parts he wrote for the Wrecking Crew bassies), Bill Wyman, Bob Babbit, Tommy Cogbill, Lewis Steinberg, all the greats that played on the classic blues albums(have ask Johnny Knox who they are)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

More Bass Heroes- Partial List

Bass influences: James Jamerson, Paul McCartney, Nathan East, Todd Johnson, Paul Chambers, Family Man Barret, Jackie Jackson, Jack Cassidy, Phil Lesh, Rocco Prestia, Bootsy Collins, Duck Dunn, Ray Brown, Ron Carter, Steve Swallow, Larry Graham, Marcus Miller, Noel Redding, Paul Jackson, Chuck Rainey, Jerry Jemmot, Will Lee, Pino Palladino, Sam Jones, Alphonso Johnson, George Porter Jr. Erik Kleven(RIP), Marty Holland, Dave Holland, Charlie Haden, Larry Taylor, Percy Heath, Willie Dixon, John Jones, Christian McBride, Rockette Morton, Robbie Shakespeare and yes Jaco. and 100 more

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Bass Heroes

When someone lists their bass heroes the list usually starts with Jaco, Victor Wooten, Stu Hamm, Billy Sheehan, Marcus Miller ect. People seem to focus on chops, flash and soloing.
Nothing wrong with any of that, but I am much more drawn to bass in service of the music and the song. My pantheon starts with James Jamerson, Paul McCartney, Nathan East and Phil Lesh.

I was lucky enough to hang out with Nathan East(thank you Bob Fogle) at a trade show for bassists called Bass Quake. We sat there listening to a whole line of world class bass virtuosos doing their solo thing, lots of slapping, tapping, looping, thumping. Nathan turned to me and said "I don't know how those guys get that shit out of their bedroom" I mean it was certainly impressive what these guys did with the instrument, but it struck me as musical junk food.
When Nathan's turn came, he set a laptop on a stool and said "this is the first million seller I recorded with Anita Baker" and proceeded to play his killer part along with the track. Ahh!! at long last some musical nutrition.

The bass players I love have great chops and harmonic knowledge but they also think like producers(many bass players end up producing). It's all about the end product, every part makes a contribution. Bass is such a big slice of the musical pie but it's the frame that everything hangs on. My bass heroes use their skills to furthur the songs and to facilitate the creation.

Having said that let me also say there is a time and place for everything, times for the bass player to step out front, be it for a bar or for a 15 minute feature. There is more than one way to skin a monkey, a lot of things work. I think the key is to put the MUSIC first, get in the pocket and listen. If you do that you will do no wrong.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

I love my job

I ain't rich, I ain't famous, but I consider myself a truly blessed person. I love my life and I love my work. Being a sideman totally suits me.

I started out as a guitar player, but I never made much progress. I had friends htat were gobbling up Hendrix tunes and such, but it just wasn't happening for me. I had a bass(Mosritre) an amp(Showman clone made from Air Force surplus parts) and a Webb cabinet and I got an opportunity to join a band as the bass player(more about this later) and it just worked for me.

Turns out it was the best move I ever made!!!!! Seems to me that the ego that drives people to be performers is something that just sabotages rhythm section playing so there is always a lack of good drummers and bass players. I was jamming at the old Torch Club with Johnny Knox and we were just having a hell of a time with the guy on the drums. Played too loud and too much. Johnny said "he needs too much attention to be a drummer." True words for sure.

I think the key to being a real sideman is putting the music and the SONG ahead of anything. Be a facilitator or an enabler if you will. I joke that I make a living by making guitar players feel good about themselves.This might not be the sexiest attitude but it makes for good music. Gotta have a foundation for the house, you gotta have a cake to put the icing on. Bass and drums is the carrier wave everything else rides on. if ain't in the section it won't be there. I can make a singer sound good but a singer can't make me sound good.

I've said before that I am not trying to be the "best"(iffy concept at best) I just want to be the busiest. Bottom line: I get to play with all the great guitar players around here not compete with them.

And as usual: In the words of Tony Dey, if you don't want the gig call me.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Beatles

The weird thing was that during this time, 6th to 8th grade, is that an amazing thing happened that made my surf music and Jerry Lee Lewis obsolete. And that thing???? The Beatles.
I have always been on the wrong side of current fashion and this was that in spades. I don't remember learning any Beatles songs except maybe Money which was a cover tune for them as well, done by all the surf bands, until 9th grade at least.

First I heard of them was a little tiny picture in Life magazine of bobbies carrying fainted girls out of a hall in England. Within a few weeks they hit like gangbusters. I remember laying in the dark and having I Want to Hold Your Hand Coming on KXOA. When it hit that part at the end of the bridge with John's chugging Rickenbacker rhythm I just went nuts. I had never heard ANYTHING so cool. Within a few more weeks the Beatles just dominated pop music. I remember a week when they had 7 of the Top 10 hits. Soon they were on Ed Sullivan. I also remember going downtown to see a close circuit broadcast at the Fox Theater of The Beatles, The Beach Boys and Leslie Gore(It's My Party.......) Being a natural contrarian I was waving the Beach Boy flag right up to the point when the Beatles came on, when they hit it was all over. I remember getting caught up in the hysteria and screaming my head off like a little girl!!!!! They were just overwhelmingly great. Pretty soon the rest of the invasion hit and I got turned on to bands like The Rolling Stones, The Kinks and the Who all who have stood the test of time but also I dug Jerry and The Pacemakers, The Searchers, Peter and Gordon, the Dave Clark 5 and a bunch of others. My world and the whole world changed then, but little did we know what was right around the corner.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Nameless Ones become "The What?"

Back at school in 8th grade,Paul, ever the instigator found some more guys for us to play with: Jim H(bass player, I was playing lead); John, guitar; and Jim S., vocals.

We started rehearsing at Jim H's house. His step father was a professional bass player, the first real picker I knew. He let us use some of his gear and would hang out when we were rehearsing and would smack Jim with magazine when he messed up. With Dad's direction we learned a bunch of tunes he knew by Jerry Lee Lewis and maybe some Elvis. I remember being in the car when Jim's Mom dropped him off at a North Sacramento dive bar for his gig. One time they took us to Travis AFB where his friends Sandy and the Showcase where playing at the NCO Club. We got to listen to a set then get up and play a couple tunes. What a thrill!

Now we just needed a name. Our first draft was The Nameless Ones but after seeing the Who on TV we changing the name to "The What?" and got some business cards made. Apparently we had identity problems.

I don't remember a lot of gigs, but we did play a school dance on a bill with the Transients, the the other band at school. They inherited the name from one of the better bands in the neighborhood who just changed their name to The Working Class. I remember them kicking our butts because they were playing a lot of hip stuff like Secret Agent Man and Keep On Running.
We were hopelessly behind the times playing Great Balls of Fire.

We entered a battle of the bands and made it out of the first round. We got to go to an agent's office and have our picture taken. When it came time for the second round my guitar quit working just as we hit the stage and our set was just a disaster.

I got a call the next day and the band imploded amongst great finger pointing. Now that could have been a wake up call, if I realized at the time that all this stuff was show biz as usual, I might have made an informed decision to find another life path.

Probably not!!!!!!!!!!!!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

16 years!!!!!!

Today TJ and I celebrate our 16th wedding anniversary!!!!! 16 years ago I married my best friend and our love has only grown!! We are headed up to Nevada City, our stomping grounds back when we were courting(do people still court?)

Life is good, my friends!!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Music Store Rat

So the Pursuers lasted for most of 7th grade. That summer Robert and i discovered Sherman-Clay Music. I it was basically a piano store but it had a good sized combo department. The guy who worked there, JW was(and still is) a classical guitar player and teacher. He kind of talked like a beatnik, very hip. He called his guitar his "horn" which I thought was the coolest thing ever.

JW took a liking to Robert because it was becoming obvious that he was piano prodigy. At one point JW lent us a bass(St. George with the pistol grip cutout) a guitar(a Kapa I think) and a bass amp right out of the store.
I think we had them all summer. I remember playing at the teen center with Paul and a bass player not Robert. I guess I had custody of the gear. These were my first gigs, we would split the KoolAid money, maybe $3 between us. I think I may have commandeered my brothers amp for these shows when he was out on a Kerouacian road trip or went surfing somewhere.

Paul and I spent that summer hanging at the Teen Center, playing music in garages mostly and hanging out in music stores. There were a bunch of music stores in town then, more than now, but no big box stores like Guitar Center. We would hang a Sherman Clay, then go to Jacks House of Music across the street and gaze at the beautiful Gretch guitars. Some days we would take the bus downtown and make ourselves nuisances at Melody Land(I think that was it's name), C and H Music and the Sherman and Clay main store. I just loved being around all the guitars and just the music store smell. I would read catalogs and play when they would let me.

to be continued........

Monday, May 17, 2010

Surf Music

So my next big music hit was surf music. I remember being maybe 11 years old and hearing some sounds out in the living room. I go in there and my brother and a few of his friends are dancing to the Beach Boys singing "surf bop dip dip, bop bop dip dip" I thought it was the coolest thing ever.

Soon after that Brother Ben(4 years older than me) brought home a Fender Musicmaster and a Silvertone 2-12 amp. Pretty soon we had surf bands rehearsing in our garage. I just loved it!!

One day Ben said "hey do this" and showed me how to make an E chord on the guitar, and how to bar it into an A and a B.

Then he showed me what a "progression" was, what we now know as "blues changes". We played songs like "Surf Beat" and "Wipeout". Pretty soon I had my own guitar, an unplayable Kent, and I had my own band. My first band was the Pursuers, with my good buddy Paul on drums, Chris Petersen(he went on to play with the Pure Prairie League) and Robert Schwartz, my musical genius friend on piano.

We practiced a lot and I remember playing at school talent shows and a pancake breakfast. We probably knew 30 surf songs, most of them had the same rhythm guitar part(my part). We lasted through the school year and then broke up, I don't remember why.

Years later, I re-encountered Paul(he has a continuing role in this story). He hired TJ to take pictures of the Surf Liners his instrumental surf band. he was totally obsessed with the music, pure surf, not the vocal kind that the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean did. Now another 15 years has passed and he is still at it leading the Vibro Counts. You might see them at a car show or grand opening

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Towards Blues and Rock

I spent many hours with my parents record collection, I would put a stack of albums on the changer(remember changers?) and let the wonderful sounds just take me away. I remember loving the Weavers, the famous folk group that included Pete Seeger. They played with such energy and conviction and I already idolized Pete.
Other records I dug were by Sam Hinton, a folk singing marine biologist from San Diego who we got to know, Ed McCurdy and Oscar Brand. Another record I just loved was called Sandhogs. It was a folk opera written by Earl Robinson about the poor Irish immigrants who built the tunnels under the East River in NYC.

One day I discovered a record on the Folkways label whose name I have long forgotten. But it was a blues record featuring Brownie McGee, Sonny Terry and Big Bill Broonzy being interviewed by the incomparable Studs Terkel and performing songs. The first song was Key to The Highway and it just blew my mind. I must have listened to that record 100 times that month. Somehow the music just grabbed me and the interviews as well. When Studs said "Charlie Parker said you got to live it or it won't come out of your horn" I had no idea who Charlie Parker was but I wanted to LIVE IT too.

Thus began my life long love for the amazing art form of blues music.

Sing on brother, play on drummer............

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Still here......

I'm in the midst of 2 real busy weeks hence no blog posts. Got 4-6 gigs each of these weeks. Next 2 weeks not so much so I promise more flashbacks and some posts on what I am doing now.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Folk Music

Folk music is the source, Big Bill Broonzy or someone said "It's all folk music
you never heard no cow singing it"

My first musical memory was seeing a Pete Seeger children's concert. It made a huge impression on me when Pete took an ax to a log and sang an old chain gang song:Take this hammer(whup!) carry it to the captain(whup!).....

My parents were part of the big folk music scare of the late 50s and early 60s. My Mom studied guitar at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago with Frank Hamilton, a replacement for Pete Seeger in the Weavers. I remember going backstage at a Frank show and seeing how entranced I was he told my Mom "Get that boy a banjo".

We moved to Sacramento when I was 6, and we joined the newly formed Folk Music Society. My folks soon were officers and we went to concerts, workshops and hootenannies.
I remember them dressing me up in my little wool suit to hear people sing about sharecropping, gambling, drinking and women of ill repute. Sitting in the dark I was captivated by the magic one person with a guitar, some stories and good song could weave.

The FMS grew into producing concerts I remember Brownie McGee and Sonny Terry pulled a no show(my introduction to the world of the blues. I saw Judy Collins, Sam Hinton,Walt Robinson, and many more great folk singers.

The high point was bringing the then blacklisted Pete Seeger to American River College. I don't remember how it happened put Pete ate dinner at our house and asked for desert. The concert was a sell out at $1 a ticket and Pete tried to give back some of the 90% of the door he got.

Exposure to real folk music(we hated the cheesy Kingston Trio/New Christy Minstrel kind)led me to fall in love with songs. They just took me away, each one was like a little 5 minute novel that came to life between my ears.

I was exposed to so much great music that laid the foundation for all I have done since.