Sunday, September 27, 2009

The further adventures of Pete and Pete (and Steve and Scott and Linda)

Smart wife and I got a babysitter last night and hauled our ordinarily sleepy selves over to Cats Cradle for an evening of music from Steve Wynn, Scott McCaughey, Linda Pitmon and Peter Buck. They're travelling around the country in a Sprinter, playing each other's songs and generally having a great time.

And there's a wealth of material being performed, too. Steve and Scott have vast and deep catalogs from which to draw. There were Young Fresh Fellows and Dream Syndicate classics roaring through the set, along with music from this band's latest CD The Baseball Project: Volume One, Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails. I'm not a baseball guy, to say the least (hell, anyone who knows me knows that sports are not very important in my life, outside of Tarheel basketball), but the songs on Volume One are great and enthusiastic paeans to the Great American Pastime. "Ted Fucking Williams" may not get a lot of commercial radio airplay, but it's got a singalong chorus that's a hit in my book.

I got called up during their encore to play on covers of "Teenage Head", "Sometimes Good Guys Don't Wear White" and "Ballad of John and Yoko" on Pete's Eastwood Mosrite-esque electric guitar (he was running bass for most of the night except when he picked up a solid-body Rickenbacker 12-string for songs like "Medicine Show".) It was great fun to play with those folks. Steve, Linda and Peter and I have a lot of history together over the years, and I'm glad I share a little of the modern-day Baseball Project vibe onstage with them.

PS: I borrowed the picture from So It Goes, hope they don't mind but they can let me know if they do, and I'll take it down.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Meet Me at the Station, Don't Be Late

(No pictures yet, but I'll try to add them if any surface.)

Part of our trip to New Orleans was the aforementioned birthday for the Sweet Sixteener. Another was to perform a show at my old haunt, Carrollton Station, where the Continental Drifters had reconvened several months before.

I assume I don't have to tell my readers that I was a bandmate of the illustrious Susan Cowsill for ten years. We made some great music together, and despite our parting of the ways, we've remained friends. A couple years ago, I wanted to come back to New Orleans to perform Richard and Linda Thompson's Shoot Out the Lights album as part of Susan's Covered in Vinyl series, in which she and the band learn an entire album end to end. Unfortunately, my schedule got crazy, and I had to bail on the show and Susan's band.

Fortunately, we were able to snag a Saturday at the Station that had been the property of the talented Kinky Tuscaderos, whose bassist Mary LaSang also plays with Susan in her band as well as the Cowsills.

We had a little confab beforehand so that everyone's minds were put at ease; I had worried that we'd need to learn all the words without cheat sheets (not one of my high suits these days), and Susan was afraid she wasn't going to be "Linda" enough for me. She said, "It's like my brother Bob with the Beatles songs," and I knew what she meant. My reputation for, ahem, authenticity precedes me, I'm afraid. "Persnickety" is what her brother Barry had called me. In the C. Drifters, I was referred to as 'the professor' sometimes (and countless other terms as well), but I let her know that it was about her singing the songs in her style and not trying to replicate what was already there. Heaven knows, I'm not RT on guitar, so anyone expecting that would be better served buying the record instead! And she told me that lyric sheets and chord charts were completely acceptable. You could probably hear our respective sighs of relief as far away as Baton Rouge...

Susan, her husband and former Drifter drummer Russ Broussard, and Mary were already running through some of the songs when we arrived on Friday. Susan and band had just finished learning and performing The Jackson 5's Greatest Hits, which took a lot of work. So for them to jump back in and start up on a new record right afterward showed their tenacity and respect for their craft. I was, to say the least, humbled and impressed.

We got through six of the songs together, me with my borrowed Stratocaster, trying to remember what life with a vibrato bar was like. Mary had to leave and wouldn't be available for a Saturday day-of-show rehearsal, but she'd obviously done her homework so thoroughly I was not sweating it. At least where the bass was concerned....

It's a weird experience, learning a whole album. SOtL has only eight songs (the CD release had "Living in Luxury" on it, but Russ and I had agreed that we should stick with the vinyl release specifically). Some of the gigs Susan and Russ have done with the CIV series have featured albums with a lot more material, so it was like a vacation for them to do this (so they said). Plus with me handling the Richard lead vocals, Susan was off the hook for a bunch of it. We could have had her sing all the songs, I suppose, but it was more fun to split it up; in the Drifters days, we'd done a lot of RT and Fairport and Sandy Denny songs, some of which appeared on our Listen, Listen EP from 2001.

Saturday arrived, and Russ, Susan and I ran through the rest of the album without Mary. We talked about what else to play, and some of the other Drifter/RT choices were suggested. (Mary'd already charted them, naturally.)

We got to Carrollton Station around 9, loaded in, and listened to and enjoyed the Kinky Tuscaderos. Great energy, wonderful harmonies and topnotch songs, including some intriguing covers of Pretenders, Pixies and Paul Revere and the Raiders. I'd worked on guitarist Ruby Rendrag's solo album a few years ago, but I had no idea how superb a performer she was live.

My pedal board decided to die on me, after having worked splendidly at rehearsal that afternoon. Having dumped into a bag all the alternate power sources I could've used, I ended up with my tuner and a Danelectro delay pedal going into my Hot Rod Deluxe. None of that fancy Rotovibe pedal and tremolo I'd practiced with.

Susan gave a short introduction, turned the mic over to me. I asked the assembled to enjoy themselves, and we started up the chug of "Don't Renege on Our Love". I could barely stop smiling, even with the dreadfully aggravated lyrics. Apart from a reaming of the little riff that went into the ending by yours truly, it seemed like the evening was going to be just fine.

Once again, I'll make the broad assumption that most of my readers are familiar with the Shoot Out the Lights album, and if you're not, you definitely want to remedy that situation.

Song by song:

"Don't Renege"
"Walking on a Wire" handled beautifully by band and Susan, as I'd expected. The vibrato bar note going into the second line of the second verse was really springy, but the solo was good. The very ending was long and elegant.
"A Man in Need" I had a lot of fun singing. Two days later, I'm still singing it. Even without a Watersons to provide background vocal support, Susan and I covered what we could and it was more Delaney & Bonnie than Richard and Linda.
"Just the Motion" was the one I'd always hoped to hear Susan sing, and she did not disappoint. I think the crowd was completely bowled over by it. I know the band was.
"Shoot Out the Lights" was where the string broke on the Strat. Oops. Celebrity guitar tech Bill Davis (founder and guitarist of the legendary Dash Rip Rock) fixed it, but I did the song on my Telecaster/Esquire. It was very powerful, and I tried to evoke some of RT's stuff, but ended up ripping through on my own merits. I think I done purty good. (One person came up at the end of the night and said he didn't know I even played guitar. That's what happens when you don an accordion too long, I guess.)
"Back Street Slide" riotous fun, ala "Matty Groves". Russ is a grad from the UNC School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, so the slippery time signatures that come along with music from the Fairport school is no problem for him. Mary and I were counting away alongside him. Once again, Susan and I tried to hit the highlights of the background vocals, and I think we did admirably.
"Did She Jump or Was She Pushed" required my repeated dexterity on a Dm7sus4 chord. I'm not going to make the leap of faith that I have earlier that my readers are intimate with this chord, but I'll tell you it's a stretch to get all your fingers to cooperate and fret it over and over again, and it's a stone drag when you can't get all the notes to sound. Mostly, my digits obeyed me, although I discovered I hadn't retuned my low string to E--I got it there before the first chorus, albeit clumsily. Susan's lead vocal was suitably spooky. We got to do that nice modal (I think it's modal) harmony on the second verse ("she used to live life, she used to live life/with a vengeance".) My solos, again, were attempting to channel RT's originals, but it cross-faded with my own notes as well. Hopefully, the cross-polination worked.
I jumped right into "Wall of Death" as the applause for "Did She Jump" was still going. That one was valedictory as it is ending the record. We had a lot of fun playing it and singing together.

And just like that, eight songs later, it was done. We did some more cool stuff after that, including more tips o' the collective tam-o-shanter to Richard and Linda:
"I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight"
"The Poor Ditching Boy"
"The Rain, the Park and Other Things" (The Cowsills) joined by our friend Paul Sanchez on vocals
"Sit Down, I Think I Love You" (Buffalo Springfield) also with Paul on guitar and vocals
"Nowhere Man" (Beatles) with Bill Davis on guitar and vocals--funny how we all knew what harmony to take
"The Rain Song"
"Someday" which I don't think I'd ever played on guitar before!
"1952 Vincent Black Lightning"/"Matty Groves" with me and Russ
"River of Love" by Susan's late brother Barry, my first contact with their talented musical family

It was a splendid night, with a lot of old friends in attendance. Even the little flubs didn't matter in the long run; we made a game showing and did right by an album that has always meant a lot to us.


Thanks to Russ and Mary for holding down the bottom so proficiently. Thanks to the Kinky Tuscaderos for their fine set and allowing us to invade their night. Thanks to Eric at Carrollton Station for agreeing to it as
well. Thanks to Sarah and my kids for being so cool and bearing with me learning and stressing over it. Thanks to Richard and Linda for putting the thing out in the first place, and most of all, thanks to Susan for wanting to do this and making it happen the way it did.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


Yesterday, my daughter turned sixteen years old. Her stepmom and stepsiblings and I piled into the minivan for the long ride from Durham to New Orleans so we could be there for the celebration.

You don't turn sixteen every day.

I can clearly recall my own birthday back in 1972. The night before, I was supposed to rendezvous with my friends at a golf course shelter we would inhabit and drink Mickey's in after midnight, so that we could all trip on some new LSD in town. (Yes, I know... but that was then...) This was to require sneaking out of my parents' house and traveling about half a mile in the newly fallen snow.

So sometime after my parents were fast asleep, I made my way to the shelter and dutifully ate my tab of acid as the snow fell silently. I must have waited for at least two hours, but my friends never showed. Psychedelia aside, I was starting to get really cold. The walk home was a little more difficult, to say the least. The crunch of the snow underfoot was deafeningly loud. I felt like I was on auto-pilot. Trying to creep back inside without waking my mom and dad sounded like a demolition derby. I slipped back in my bed and made patterns with the black and white acoustical tile instead of sleeping.

Still woozy and slightly trippy as daylight broke, I sat with my parents and opened some presents in their bed, trying not to belie my mental state. After breakfast, my dad and I walked across the I-40 bridge to Thruway Shopping Center, where I spent some of my birthday money on the first Blue Oyster Cult album. I listened to that record all day; that night, I finally connected with my pals who were in much better shape than I, and we decided that BOC was excellent.

My daughter's birthday celebration was far more civilized. Her mom had engineered a confusing scenario which involved a scavenger hunt that was scheduled for the next day, basically avoiding much of any acknowledging of the actual birthdate itself. Surreptitiously, she'd arranged for a party bus with sixteen of her closest friends from school to come pick her up at her house, for an evening of deranged teenage fun, which fortunately now doesn't involve LSD or alcohol or snow. They rode to a high school football game and to a local dessert bakery called Sucre for a special cake. From there, a few of her pals (chaperoned by her mom) spent the night at a nice hotel in downtown New Orleans. We haven't seen her yet today, but I bet she had the time of her life and feels utterly overloved.

And even though she didn't get to bed until 6am (just about when her sibs were waking up), I bet she feels better than I did on the day after my sixteenth birthday.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Children of all ages

I'm the parent of three children, ages 16, 6 and 2. They're at varying and appropriate stages in their social development, it would seem. They are a source of pride in that their upbringing includes manners which get used a lot. "Thank you" has always been a part of their vocabulary--to hear the six-year-old acknowledge a snack feels really great as his dad. My teen is polite too, and people always comment to me on her abundance of grace, charm and ease. (The two-year-old is learning how to use the potty, and that's plenty for her at the moment.)

It's not out of the realm of belief that people reflect their parents' upbringing. And even in cases where the parenting was either neglectful or wanting in quality, people have the ability to see what kind of difference civility makes and try to retrofit it and implement it in their own lives.

But nowadays, civility and manners and tact have taken a back seat to shock value and saying what's on your mind right when you think it. Because heaven knows, that sort of stuff is far more important in 2009 than anything as arcane as behaving in public or thinking before you speak. Trash-talking in sports is celebrated and encouraged; airing complaints in public is also completely accepted. Don't ever hold back your feelings, it would be untrue to yourself.

Yesterday was a banner day for that, with Serena Williams and Kanye West and their bad behavior. I guess we simply have better access to that with communication advancements, assuming stuff like that's always been going on. Now we just get it on live feed on TV, and the world can revel at it. Gee, come to think of it, all of last week was pretty ripe for interruptions and rudeness. Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) shouting at President Obama during his speech to Congress defied decorum handily, and in a place where decorum has always been and always should be paramount.

Yet what I find when I look on the commentary that accompanies news stories about these celebrities is even more shocking. Many people feel that they were well within their rights to yell and threaten, that their behavior was acceptable because they were speaking the truth. Decorum is so 'old school' that it is unimportant. Manners are for the weak and gullible. It's the only way things can get done in 2009. They speak for those who feel the same way but are too restrained to say anything. It's justified because they feel it.

That kind of acquiescence is depressing. Someone's failing here. It's hard to stick this one to their parents, because all three of these folks are adults. And they should know better. And they probably do, but they're forgiven and embraced by so many other people that they get wholly validated for their bad behavior. And if there's any attempt at an apology to the wronged party, it's usually couched in some way that suggests that the feelings expressed are to get people off their backs, rather than that they're actually ashamed of their actions.

I wish parents would keep these shining assclown examples in mind when they're raising their youngsters. They might want to invest in the Munro Leaf volume illustrated above. It's still pertinent, and it's an entertaining way to make your point.

While you can't police your kids when they become adults, you can do your best while they're in your care to inform them that manners and thoughtfulness are always the preferred way. We have the six-year-old count to ten when he's mad, so that he doesn't say something he'll regret later. Would that Kanye West could muster up that kind of preventative measure so the rest of us don't have to cringe at his constant public rudeness.

Sunday, September 6, 2009


I've been worried lately because I didn't pre-order the Beatles mono box set that's coming out on Tuesday like all the smart kids did months ago. My friend from New Orleans, Joe Adragna, equipped me with mp3s of mono mixes, and that's kept me going and my appetite whetted for months now. But my family has also developed a ravenous taste for the Beatles and would love to be able to simply slip a disc into the player rather than trying to weed through Daddy's iTunes to try to figure out where "Taxman" is (the six-year-old's favorite song, along with "I'm a Loser").

So that just means that I'll be standing at the front door of my local cd store Tuesday morning, like so many folk will be doing that day, in hopes that the people who pre-ordered the mono box will a.) have already found it elsewhere or b.) have forgotten to come and pick it up. The chance of that happening, of course is almost nil. So I may be empty-handed upon my return home.

Meanwhile, thanks to the generosity of some of my dear friends, I do have advance copies of both the Big Star and the Chris Bell remasters.

Anyone who knows me even slightly is aware that this canon of work is probably the basis of most of my songwriting and my audio qualifications. I've had Big Star albums since they were in vinyl, those thick cardboard sleeves in which Ardent proudly housed them all those years ago. They have always sounded great to these ears, even when I was trotting around a cassette of the Chris Bell mixes that a Memphis friend slipped me--obviously not the highest of -fi, but that was part of the mystique at that point, like some unearthed treasure.

Well, here's everything in its most pristine state and replete with bonus tracks and alternate mixes. I'm a wowed state. The shocking brightness of stuff like Radio City sounds, of course, completely natural to me now (what wouldn't, after thirty-five years of constant play?), but the intense clarity of the instruments is very exciting and powerful in a new way.

Four cds of Big Star. Two cds of Chris Bell. An embarrassment of riches. So much to work through and enjoy anew.

My recommendation for those of you still unfamiliar with Big Star and Chris Bell: if your local store is sold out of Beatles, go home, wait a week, grab these two packages up and settle in for some high quality songs, performances and production.

Then you and I will pick up the mono box later on, after the initial tsunami has subsided.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Summer vacation?

Naw, not so much. Probably the world's crummiest blogger, knowing there's no excuse like no excuse to keep from writing.

Plus I'm back on Facebook, and that's a big ol' time vampire... if you need to know my status updates....

Actually, I did have a nice summer. I put out a cool album with Chris, do you have it yet? We did some shows, played on the radio a couple times too. (There are more coming up, so if you've missed us so far, you still have more chances to miss us down the line.) Some rock gigs with Luego around town. I started my kids' shows again at the Regulator Bookshop in Durham. Finally got my father's ashes interred in the cemetery in Hudson, NY. Got to play with my little kids a lot. Some of this stuff is unfamiliar to me, having been a touring summer dad for many years.

I have good news, though. Thanks to the nice people at Arbor Ridge, I am about to launch my for real website at in about a week. It looks beautiful, is completely navigable, will be mostly staffed by myself and is bound to get spammed hard very soon after 'going live'. Don't try to go there now, it'll just take you back here again.

But now that I have your attention, watch this space for details!