Saturday, June 18, 2016

Hizzoner Saves the Day - Baron Von Rumblebuss, Chatham Community LIbrary, 6/17/16

The Baron and his Barbie fans
Want to hear a good story?

On Friday, I had a gig with Baron Von Rumblebuss at the Chatham Community Library. BVR is a kids rock band (music for kids, not by them) started by Tray Batson some years ago. Tray is a music therapist at Duke hospital, and BVR is a logical extension of his work as well as his love of good power pop music. The Baron writes the tunes and sings lead on most, with capable backing from his cohorts Princess Lulu La Li (Kathleen Batson on vocals, keys and wind instruments), Pofus Fimonfen (Mark Simonsen on drums) and yours truly, The Black Hole (on Fender bass).

Recently, I've been having issues of soreness in my left hand and arm.
Comparative sizes
of P-Bass (L)
and Mustang Bass (R)
Tray, who moonlights as a bassist, offered me the use of his Fender Mustang Bass which is far lighter and shorter than my own Precision Bass. So that was the plan going into the library show.

I drove out to Pittsboro and got to the library around 4:15, forty-five minutes before our show was scheduled to start. Tray and Kathleen were already setting up the PA, and Mark had pulled up to unload his kit. I looked around for the Mustang case. Tray realized he had forgotten to bring it and looked stricken. We were bassless, in a manner of speaking.

We began looking for possible options. I said, "well, I can use your twelve-string and fudge the low stuff on that" which was met with blank stares. That conjured up images of the Cramps, sort of. We also started trying to think of anyone in a nearby radius that might be in possession of a Fender bass. Former BVR lead guitar whiz Peebo Flash (noted high-end amp builder Steve Carr) got a call and a text message, as did Beth Turner who was BVR's original bassist; I even tried Jeff Crawford from Arbor Ridge Studio, about 8 miles back up the road. Nothing.

As we cogitated our next move, a tall bearded man entered the room and walked toward the stage area.

I'm not the kind of guy who does this ordinarily, but I looked up at him and said, "Do you have a bass?"

He paused, looked at me and said, "Well, actually I do have a bass."

"Where is it?"

"At home."

"How far away is home?"

"About five minutes away."

"Let's go."

We began walking toward his car and continued our conversation along the way to his house. 

He was apparently aware of who I was and had seen me play a number of times and guises. I asked him his name and what he did.

"Actually, I do have a bass."
His name was Randolph "Randy" Voller, and his prior occupations were Mayor of Pittsboro NC for four terms, after which he became chairman of the North Carolina Democratic Party. I was fairly stunned by this, but Randy and I talked easily of many things like different eras of Kinks fans, state politics, and his radio program and house concerts. 

We swung by his lovely home, and he let me borrow his 'house bass.' I met his wife Lesley who rode back with us to the library. Randy and Lesley let me off out front, and I raced in to join the band, about five minutes before the show was scheduled to start.

So it began.
We rocked the kids, the show was saved, but the story is not over.

At the end of the show, Beth Turner came up to me and said, "That's my bass." I said, no, it belonged to the mayor as I'd just gotten it from him. Beth said, "No, it actually belongs to my husband. Randy's brother." I said, "oh," and she continued "And don't call him 'the mayor,'" rolling her eyes. "He's not the mayor anymore."

After all was said and done, Beth very kindly returned the bass, her bass, to her brother-in-law, Hizzoner, the former mayor of Pittsboro and head of the NC Democratic Party. I drove home to Durham, shaking my head at the circumstances and grateful to have made several new friends out of a case of the direst necessity. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

Update from my branch

Well, here it is mid-June and no record yet.

My apologies to those waiting breathlessly for it. Parts of it are really finished. Others, not as finished.

I am not the world's biggest self-starter or multi-tasker, so this bidness of getting a record together is slightly challenging.

Test pressings were not pressed well, so I'm sorting that out. Cover art has been sent to a professional (Skillet Gilmore) who is making it so I can send it to the folks making the covers.

I'm also getting ready to put together a video of the a-side since it's bound to be a natural for that sort of treatment. More on that later.

I have shows coming up which feature my record's producers
James and Mark
James Wallace and Mark Simonsen and their talented and adaptable pals Aaron Oliva and Evans Nicholson, a quartet collectively known as the Forryst Bruthers. We play a short set at Stand Against HB2 - NC Musicians United for EqualityNC and QORDS (4:00 p.m.) in Winston-Salem, NC Sunday, June 26. This band sounds good, turns on a dime and makes me feel confident about rocking the songs we're doing. This unit is also playing at the 37th Annual Festival For the Eno on July 4 at 4:00 p.m. which is apparently when we are at our best. As tempting as it may be, we will not be performing "Needles in the Camel's Eye."  Although we probably should.

Also at the Stand Against HB2 show on June 26 will be the first performance in 41 years of the original Little Diesel, Winston-Salem's first punk band. You will not want to miss this.

So maybe I have been multi-tasking after all. Anyway, I didn't want you to think I'd forgotten about putting the record out. It's well underway and worth the wait, but the wait is just a little longer than I'd thought.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Heroes and other humans - R.I.P. Henry McCullough

Henry McCullough died today after a prolonged incapacitation following a severe heart attack four years ago. He is survived by his wife Josie. 

You would likely best know Henry as the Irishman on the Woodstock stage with Joe Cocker playing lead guitar on "With a Little Help From My Friends"; you might know him from the remarkable one-take solo he played on "My Love" by Paul McCartney and Wings when he was a member of that band. But you've heard him play on records like the original Jesus Christ Superstar, and Henry's song "Failed Christian" has been covered by Nick Lowe and Dave Alvin. And you and 50 million other people have even heard him at the end of "Money" by Pink Floyd on Dark Side of the Moon saying "I don't know, I was really drunk at the time." That's all Henry.

For me, Henry McCullough was THAT guy from the Grease Band, whose first self-titled album on Shelter Records has been a cornerstone of my listening since it was released in 1971. Four, sometimes five guys, trolling along on a song like a motor boat, grooving like there's nothing else to breathe in but the notes...easy stuff, completely engaging and contagious but played recklessly and dangerously. A take on "My Baby Left Me" that kicks that album off features some of the loopiest guitar picking I've ever heard, courtesy of Henry McCullough, like Jeff Beck's cousin on beer and roller skates. Imaginative, inventive and a little insane. I was hooked.

That album is full of great tunes. Alan Spenner's rolling bass and Bruce Rowland's steady propulsion work in tandem with Henry and Neil Hubbard's guitar parts. Henry also wrote five songs on it, including one he'd brought with him from his Sweeney's Men days, "Mistake No Doubt." All are winners. I think I read once that Johnny Nash was a big fan of the album, too. At no time have I ever not owned that Grease Band album in some format since it was released. 

When I was a kid, my family employed a cleaning person who also was a preacher at her church. One day, she heard me playing the piano along to the Grease Band's rendition of "To The Lord" and she joined right in on the chorus with me and the record. It was a truly indelible experience, to hear how one song could pull people together. I told Henry about this in an email, and I think he was pleased and amused slightly.

When The dB's recorded our second album at Ramport Studio in Battersea, I was pleased to see that Henry's first solo album Mind Your Own Business! was immortalized in stained glass on the wall alongside Who Are You and Johnny The Fox, among other albums recorded there.

I'd followed Henry's career for decades, and my New Orleans musician friends Jeff Burke and Vida Wakeman made contact with him in Belfast years ago. They gave me his email address and said it would be okay to write to him. So I did, which began a few lovely years of communication with Henry. It was not a lot of email traffic, but I was grateful for it and more so today.

Some of my heroes have turned out to be duds, but not Henry. He was a sweet, patient man who certainly didn't need to respond to a middle-aged fan across the ocean but did. In so doing, he helped prove to be the cool guy I'd always imagined him being.

Rest in peace, Henry. 

Friday, June 3, 2016

Dave Swarbrick R.I.P.

I just learned of the death of Dave Swarbrick, flash fiddle genius of British folk music. He'd been wrestling with major health issues for years, even having survived a premature obituary a while back.

The first track on the first side of Friends, that free A&M Records sampler album I sent away for in high school, was "Walk Awhile" by Fairport Convention. Swarb's mad playing and deep, sweet vibrato hooked me and thousands of others worldwide on Fairport, an attraction to which few have yet to surmount. Further digging brought me to his incendiary work with Martin Carthy, like "Byker Hill."

But it was the Fairport era, especially around Full House, that I keep going back to, even after working backward to the earlier lineups with Sandy Denny and Tyger Hutchings. This was a very different band, which the accompanying live document House Full confirms. 

When the Continental Drifters performed as the backing band at the tribute to Sandy Denny at The Arts at St. Ann's, we were fortunate to have had Deni Bonet covering Swarb's parts with aplomb and character of her own.

Here is about a half hour of that Fairport Convention lineup, which is brilliance and beauty incarnate. If "Dirty Linen" alone doesn't thrill you to the core, take your pulse. 

Rest in peace, Swarb, and thanks for all this.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Rascal Flatts, Purple Rain and a Comedian

NOTE: Written on Thursday night after the show, finished Sunday night, posted Monday morning.

I have no pictures of tonight's show in downtown Greenville, SC, so I'll try to get near 1000 words.

Drove down from Durham yesterday afternoon, and I got an automated calendar reminder that said rehearsal was at 6. I got in touch with music director and Hootie bandmate Mark Bryan who cooled my jets and told me it was nine, as I'd originally thought. So the rest of the drive was all about playlists on repeat and water bottles.

The show was part of the entertainment for the BMW Charity Pro-Am golf tournament held in the city. Mark and Dean Felber, Hootie's bassist, were among the celebrities playing golf and Mark has provided the entertainment for the tourney for several years. This was my first time, joining my adjunct Hootie percussion buddy, Gary Greene, Mark and Dean as the house band.

We were rehearsing and staying at the Westin Poinsett Hotel which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. The Poinsett was built in 1925 but was most recently rehabilitated in 2000, and it's been the top-rated hotel in Greenville since. With staircases that evoked M.C. Escher and Hogwarts, I got turned around a few times getting between parking deck, the front door, the Poinsett Ballroom where we rehearsed and my commodious room, significantly numbered 219 (my birthday). Stairs delivered you to mezzanines and ballrooms at each level. The first few times, I turned once too many and ended up in front of the same wall again and again. I'm not a very good lab rat, I don't learn from my mistakes.

Drew Copeland
Javier Colon
House band practice was running songs with Wendy Bryan, Andrew Copeland and Javier, all folks we've worked with in the past and whose tunes we have arranged in the past. Wendy and Mark have a duo called Sittin' in a Tree and we worked up two songs from their EP to start the show. Got to rock on my twangin' dual Pro Jr. rig and break out the mandolin.  Drew plays with Sister Hazel, a very cool band who are contemporaries and friends with the Hooties. He’s also an excruciatingly funny guy to be around, and we laughed so hard between going through his tunes. Javier Colon has come and sung at so many Monday After The Masters shows I’ve lost count. He always turns in an exceptional, emotional performance, and his songs for this gig were very cool, especially his new single “Gravity.” which has a sweeping and luxurious sound we aimed to make as well. (We even had a guest apparition of Doug Jones, lead singer for Cravin Melon, another long-time friend band for whom Gary is drummer. I wrote a couple songs with them once upon a time, too.) 

Absent were the two members of Rascal Flatts who were to join us on Thursday, guitarist Joe Don Rooney and bassist/pianist Jay DeMarcus. We weren't absolutely sure how they wanted to do one of their hits, and I prayed I wouldn't have to play the piano on it. It's good they didn't come because we couldn't plug in our piano anyway. All rehearsal on keyboards was done on my trusty NORD with the not-great piano sound; the RF song would have also required a larger range of keys than the NORD offered.

When we were done, I was pretty well beat from an early morning, but we hauled our gear (Gary and I brought our own hand trucks!) to a vacant ballroom in the hotel that we were told was not in use. But not five minutes after we were finished, hotel security informed us that THAT ballroom had a breakfast in it at 8. So we moved to another ballroom that was absolutely, positively uninhabited for the foreseeable future and called it a night after that.

This morning, I slept in, having remembered to turn off my regular 5:30am alarm. Gary took me down to Greenville's stunning Falls Park on the Reedy.

While you could feel the bridge wobble a bit when joggers ran past, the compelling view was just unreal. Gary said that the area had been in bad shape until all this was built. The waterfalls were loud! A pair of teenagers had sat on a sloped boulder with a 20-foot drop, and my inner parent cringed.  I had wanted to return after the gig to see it all lit up, but did not. For another trip to Greenville, I guess!) 

Soundcheck was made lively by the realization that a piano had not been acquired. But the production company was able to bring one in, right in time for the show. Crisis averted.

My Les Paul Jr.
The rain was really a mist most of the afternoon, but it was steady. My Les Paul Jr. had a thin sheen of water on its yellow face by the end of the night. I didn't have to use it. The Telecaster was at its best, staying in tune and allowing me to sound good on all the guitar parts I did. 

How was the show, you ask? Pretty good, I would say. After a long, tight set from a Spartanburg horn band whose name I managed to forget, we took the stage and went pretty much straight through all the tunes we'd rehearsed, mostly sounding great. We even did some Hootie songs, with Mark taking the lead vocal. Wendy, Drew and Javier's tunes were all played fairly impeccably, considering there wasn't a lot of time in rehearsal (read: I didn't screw up Javier's songs after slogging through them the night before, yay me!)

Joe Don and Jay
Then we had Joe Don and Jay join us. Jay went to the bass, and they started out with Dan Baird's Georgia Satellites classic "Keep Your Hands to Yourself." We've played that song a lot over the years so no surprises there. Then I crouched behind my amps as Jay sang the RF hit "Bless the Broken Road" from the piano. Everyone in the crowd knew the song--in fact, I may well have been the only person present who was unfamiliar with it. I did, however, develop a theory about the subject matter as I crouched, but I think I may keep my theory to myself.

Then I was behind the NORD once again for the RF cover of Tom Cochrane's "Life Is a Highway." (It took all my restraint not to grab the Fender and do the repeating triplet guitar octaves that are in the original, but RF left that hook out of their version and substituted a lot of rote three-part harmonies in the chorus. I guess that the band's marketing department felt the triplets might confuse their audience.)

TV's Gary Valentine
Not TV's Gary Valentine
At the end of the show, everyone was on stage for a well-meaning version of "Purple Rain" as the mist became more prominent to the assembled crowd. "Everyone" included television comedian Gary Valentine who is also a long-time MAM participant and who took a verse of the song as lead singer. (He is not to be confused with the former Blondie bassist/The Know frontman/author Gary Valentine who has nothing to do with this show or the comedian.) 

Then the RF guys beat a hasty retreat to their tour bus which was parked behind the stage. Never saw them again. Mark did some tv interviews at side stage, and I went to retrieve my van from the hotel parking deck. With my hand truck loaded up with damp gear, I rolled down past the tour bus where the party was rockin' apparently and popped everything into the van, ready to return to Durham, the family and general normalcy in the morning. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

From the Old Tapes - Where'd You Get That Thing - 1992

My bungalow was at the end of the drive on the right.
In 1992, I was living in a bungalow complex on Blix Street in North Hollywood CA. Located conveniently behind a Mexican restaurant with loud live bands on the weekends and a chop shop, it was an adorable little bohemian love pad, with a Tijuana-bought hammock strung between an olive and a magnolia tree and cheap beer in the fridge. 

Tascam 388 (not actual size)
In my tiny residence, I had a Tascam 388 set up, a bulky combination of 8-track reel-to-reel and mixer that took up considerable real estate in the tiny front room. But having it there, in proximity and at the ready for inspirational moments, I felt prompted to record all the time, any hour of the day or night (similar to those carefree days living in the practice space at the Music Building in mid-Manhattan in the decade before, but more on that in future posts). 

I had joined forces with the Continental Drifters who had a regular Tuesday night residency at Raji's on Hollywood Boulevard--they're a topic for posts to come, too. 

Susan and Peter
This brief tune is one I did with the gracious cooperation of my partner and Drifter bandmate at the time, Susan Cowsill. Susan is among the most versatile of vocalists ever to stalk the Earth, and she added her force-of-nature personality to the song. We laughed all the way through recording it. I think it was Susan who also came up with "why don't you give it to Ray" in the lyrics, referring to our fellow Drifter Ray Ganucheau, who may have never actually heard this heartfelt-if-vague miniature tribute.

It's the tip of a tiny iceberg, what with these ancient reels of tape transferred to digital awaiting reconsideration, and the first of several archival blasts to come. Hope you like it!

Where'd You Get That Thing - Peter Holsapple (with Susan Cowsill)

Monday, May 16, 2016

Revolution of the Mind - The dB's at Haw River Ballroom May 15, 2016

Photo by Rod Abernethy

On Sunday, The dB's took the stage at the Haw River Ballroom in Saxapahaw NC as part of Stand Against HB2 - North Carolina Musicians United for EqualityNC and QORDS. Because there were so many musicians participating, short sets were the order of the day. 

1. That Time Is Gone
2. Amplifier 
--going directly into
3. Before We Were Born
4. Big Brown Eyes
5. Love Is For Lovers
6. Happenstance 
--going directly into
7. Revolution of the Mind (with revised NC-centric lyrics)

It was the classic line-up of Chris Stamey, Gene Holder, Will Rigby and me, aided and abetted by Brett Harris. Gene flew in for the gig and returned to New Jersey later that day.

We were introduced by Senator Mike Woodard, Durham's state senator in the NC Legislature and a staunch opponent of House Bill 2. 
Photo by Diana C. Keever
Here's a picture from after the show of Will and me with Senator Woodard and his wife, Rev. Sarah Woodard.

I wasn't able to stay for the entire show, but I did get to hear:

Sarah Shook and the Disarmers - high energy country with great songs, and John Howie Jr. on drums (always a treat) and former dB's lead guitarist Eric Peterson.

Tres Chicas - a family favorite with gorgeous harmonies and general happiness radiating from the stage.

Skylar Gudasz - another friend with a glorious voice and songwriting chops whose Oleander album is in steady rotation around the house. 

John Howie Jr. and the Rosewood Bluff - stone country with that deep, DEEP vocal, and a surprise version of "When You Were Mine" by Prince.

I also got to join in with Jon Heames' Secret Surprise directly after our set, where I shared the mic with Howie, the Chicas, Chip Robinson, Robert Kirkland and a host of others, all singing "All You Need is Love" with the cats from Yeaux Cats providing the backing.

It was a fine and beautiful day, and a good time was had by all. Mike Allen, Heather LaGarde, Rod Abernethy, Phil Venable, Angie Santiago and everyone else put so much effort into making the day run smoothly and help this worthwhile effort to raise awareness of the injustices in HB2. The dB's were proud to participate.

Photo by Jelisa Castrodale