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.