Monday, February 23, 2009

A musical interlude

Strumbum apologizes for the interruption in service. We have been on a great run, an incredible run really. And hopefully we'll be back soon.

Until then, do yourself a favor and conquer a new song (how about Dylan's "Desolation Row'' -- I heard a great version on The Loft the other day), discover music that takes you to an exotic place (I always recommend Cesaria Evora's Cafe Atlantico). And always listen to your heartstrings...

Saturday, February 21, 2009

L.A.'s gonna eat him alive, unless ...

Did you catch Conan O'Brien's final show last night? I remember when he had just come on 16 years ago as host of Late Night, with that wild red hair and goofy Andy Richter as his sidekick and all those ridiculous skits. And even though I was a fan of those early shows I remember thinking: This poor bastard doesn't stand a chance.

And 2,725 shows later, as predicted, O'Brien finally tapped out. As Richter, who left the show in 2000, proclaimed during his return on the finale: "I knew you wouldn't make it without me.''

Of course O'Brien isn't done yet. He's headed to the Tonight Show, succeeding Jay Leno in the premier night show slot beginning June 1. And good luck with that. Some believe O'Brien is somehow being sabotaged by getting Leno's enviable slot but still having to follow him (Leno moves into new territory at 10 p.m.) As John Mayer sang in a taped video greeting to acknowledge O'Brien's move to the early late show:

L.A.'s gonna eat you alive
L.A.'s gonna eat you alive
Look at me, I used to live in NYC
Now I'm as douchey as a man can be
L.A.'s gonna eat you alive

It's safe to say this cut won't appear on Mayer's next album, but I admire him for calling himself a douche, and for possibly inventing a derivative of the word.

As for O'Brien, the poor bastard doesn't stand a chance. Unless: he changes the format and puts the musical guest on first instead of last, and lets the artist hang around to close the show. Why has nobody thought of that?

Friday, February 20, 2009

Mysteries of the Cotton Queen

Here she is, what do you think of her? She's a vintage Gibson LG-2. I picked her up at Willie's Guitars in St. Paul a few years back. Nice small body, with surprising volume and very mellow tone and sustain. And the neck, my goodness, what a neck. You should run your left palm up and down that neck. You could melt butter doing that. This guitar was built for the songwriter in you, and no doubt she has helped write a few.

There's an old decal on the top of the soundboard that reads "Cotton Queen'' and takes you to mysterious places you've never visited, whispering stories you've never heard. There was a girl, maybe 15, who ran away from home in Alabama and made her way down Mississippi, along the Natchez Trace. She got away for good. And one day she became the Cotton Queen...

There was a surprise waiting for me the next time I walked into Willie's. Molly, who had sold me the guitar, handed me a World Traveler magazine. "I've been meaning to send this to you, but I figured you'd be back,'' she said.

Inside the magazine was a page spotlighting Willie's Guitars with a large color photo of Molly, sitting in the acoustic room, holding the Cotton Queen. Of all the beautiful vintage guitars in that crowded picking parlor, she had chosen that one for the photo shoot.

It was painfully cool, just like Willie's guitars.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Name that band

My son Zach is in a band that mostly plays basement parties in the Twin Cities. They've only been together a short while, and there is hope the gigs will improve as they tighten up their playing and write more original material.

They are Crimson Red Guitar.

The editor in me has a problem with the name, but the father in me is reluctant to intervene. No telling how many hours were spent -- and how much beer was consumed -- coming up with that name. Let somebody else tell them it's stupid and redundant. Or is it?

You'd like to think that any band's fortunes are determined by some magical combination of talent, energy and creative chops. The name shouldn't really make a difference. John, Paul, George and Ringo would have sold just as many records with "Crimson Red Guitar'' stenciled on the Ludwig drum head. Or would they have?

I'm not so sure. John Fogerty, with his unique sound, musicianship and song writing genius, was going to make it one way or another. But might it have taken him longer fronting the Golliwogs, which was the band's name before Creedence Clearwater Revival? We can never be certain.

If you've heard of the Nashville-based The Deep Vibration you probably know the story behind their name. They were previously The Attack! until they realized that a British group had beaten them to the punch -- 40 years earlier. (And just what in bollocks did the name do for them?)

Enter Lou Reed (actually, exit Lou Reed), who had just finished a performance at the Ryman Auditorium. Here's the account that appeared in the student paper at Belmont University, where the band had been assembled:

“It was pretty weird that night. The moon was like purple,” says [guitarist Jeremy] Fetzer, describing the scene outside the Ryman after a performance by Reed, whose rock legacy dates back to the Velvet Underground. Of course, you couldn’t ask for better conditions to seek the counsel of Lou Reed. And Reed’s behavior was also perfect for the occasion. “He comes down the stairs . . . No one’s really talking to him; people are just handing him things and he’s signing them,” [singer/songwriter Matt] Campbell recalls. “And so I lean in and was like, ‘Lou, we need a band name.’ And so he keeps signing things and his head’s down. And he kind of lifts his head up and goes, ‘Deep Vibration.’ ” “And that was all he said,” Fetzer adds.

So The Attack! became The Deep Vibration, and now they have a hot five-song EP on Dualtone Records garnering impressive critical acclaim, and next they're headed to the South by Southwest twangfest in Austin.

Has the name change boosted their success? I have no idea. Irregardless, I am strongly encouraging members of Crimson Red Guitar to attend a Lou Reed concert.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Pass the Biscuit, please

It was known as the King Biscuit Flower Hour and it was as comforting and reliable as a roach clip.

Ah, stoner radio what became of you? Sitting in a lumpy chair armed with Koss headphones, the Pioneer tuner locked on a favorite Orlando station, and a blue haze enveloping the room. Good times.

At least that's what an old friend told me it was like. OK, I did have a lumpy chair. And I did tune in to King Biscuit from time to time, back when FM radio provided the essential link to music we needed to hear and the world seemed like a more manageable place.

You didn't need to be a pothead to appreciate the great music streaming into households and hippie pads around the country on Sunday nights. It was a chance to hear concert performances by some of the top rock bands of the day, or catch the new sounds of emerging artists who were receiving their first major exposure. King Biscuit tried to be hip and edgy, and when the new wave and punk bands arrived it made room for them as well.

Having a flashback, Strumbum? Nope, it's just another anniversary that deserves proper mention. King Biscuit debuted on this date in 1973 with a show featuring Blood, Sweat & Tears, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and a 23-year-old rocker from New Jersey who had just released his first album.

Fortunately, incredibly, many of the original recordings broadcast on King Biscuit were preserved, and some of them -- including the '73 Bruce Springsteen show from a New York club -- can be streamed free at Wolfgang's Vault. If you're not yet familiar with this superb concert archive, go to

King Biscuit's eclectic run ended in 1993, although some stations were rebroadcasting shows until recently. As Neil Young would sing, the King is gone but he's not forgotten.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Nothing can stop the Duke of Earl

Good morning, I might have a joke to share with you today.

I'm waiting right now to receive a password in my email so I can return to Gene Chandler's website and read his Joke of the Month. Apparently there is a chance the joke contains "adult'' material and this roundabout is a way to dissuade kids from having some cheap dirty fun.

If you remember the name Gene Chandler you certainly recall his biggest hit, "Duke of Earl", which began a three-week run at No. 1 on this date in 1962. Damn, I'm getting old. "Duke'' still receives steady airplay on Oldies shows, and was one of the three songs played by Sha Na Na in the drug-crazed morning at Woodstock -- although by then hardly anyone noticed. (A reminder, there is never a charge for trivia obtained at Six String Sanctuary.)

Gene Chandler was actually Eugene Dixon before the success of "Duke'' changed him forever. Before long he was wearing a top hat and cape and appearing on stage with a monacle and a cane. I mean, can you blame him? He had become the Duke!

I don't remember the get-up. But I admit I still get fired up upon hearing the first lines of that memorable song:

Duke, Duke, Duke, Duke of Earl
Duke, Duke, Duke of Earl
Duke, Duke, Duke of Earl
Duke, Duke, Duke of Earl ...

(Give or take a Duke.)

Anyway, it's good to see the Duke is still touring. He was in Rahway, N.J. for Valentine's Day, and next up is Norfolk, Va., this Saturday. Before long he'll be visiting my neck of the woods, and I'll have a big decison to make.

But I'm not doing anything until I receive that password.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Pssst: A presidential pardon

Good morning, it's Presidents Day, a golden opportunity to write something nice about ... Richard Milhous Nixon?

Now don't throw stones at me. This is going to be OK. Don't George Washington and Abraham Lincoln get enough credit already? One's the Father of our Country, the other's The Great Emancipator. We celebrate their birthdays every year and name schools and streets after them. Both appear on U.S. currency. Their faces are chiseled into Mount Rushmore. I'm not saying they don't deserve all of this, just ...

This is a music blog, and sometimes we even discuss music. And that's exactly why, it being Presidents Day and all, it's time to give a different Commander in Chief his due.

One magical evening during the Nixon presidency was captured for all of us. It was a night when laughter filled the White House, glasses clinked to countless toasts and some of the most beloved jazz artists of the day assembled for a poignant musical tribute.

That memorable night was April 29, 1969, and the guest of honor was Duke Ellington, who was there on his 70th birthday to receive the Medal of Freedom. And he brought some players with him: pianists Dave Brubeck, Hank Jones and Billy Taylor, saxophonists Paul Desmond and Gerry Mulligan, trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie and Clark Terry, guitarist Jim Hall, and vocalists Joe Williams and Mary Mayo. There were others.

And the band played on. They played "Take the 'A' Train'' and "Satin Doll'' and "Don't Get Around Much Anymore'' and "In a Sentimental Mood'' and "Moon Indigo'' and many other standards and medleys. And it was grand.

And it took 33 years, but the music finally became available in 2002 with the release of "Duke Ellington 1969: All-Star White House Tribute'' on Blue Note. It's a splendid disc.

There is no 18-minute gap.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Last American Sport

I love the smell of burning rubber in the morning.

Hurray, the Great American Race has returned. The thing about stock car racing is you either get it, or you don't. And even if you don't, there's a chance if you read Tom Wolfe's "The Last American Hero'' you will discover some true meaning that otherwise would have escaped you.

I doubt the readers of Esquire magazine in 1965 ran out and bought NASCAR tickets and Junior Johnson memorabilia after the story was originally published. More likely what happened is they became REALLY afraid of Southern rednecks and vowed to stay the hell away from dusty bullrings like North Wilkesboro Speedway. At the same time, they surely developed an abiding respect for these hard-driving racers and the dirt and grime and hell and fury that make up the fabric of the sport.

But forty-four years is a long time and a lot of miles later. Stock car racing has morphed into a different beast than the one Wolfe depicted. It's been years since a songwriter has even tried to slip in a good line about racing -- or allude to Junior's "other'' occupation.

James Dean in that Mercury '49
Junior Johnson runnin' thru the woods of Caroline
Even Burt Reynolds in that black Trans-Am
All gonna meet down at the Cadillac Ranch

God willing, they'll still race hard for 500 miles today on the steep banks of Daytona, and the champion will spin a donut in the infield grass, stand on top of his machine and spray cola on his pit crew, and maybe even do a back-flip or climb a fence.

It's still the Daytona 500, you know? Where it all begins each year. Where Richard Petty won an amazing seven times. Where Junior Johnson -- Junior! -- in 1960 got his only win by beating Fireball Roberts to the checkered flag. Where the Allison brothers in 1979 ganged up on Cale Yarborough after a final-lap spinout, leading to this memorable quote by Bobby: "Cale's chin just kept running into my fist.''

And where Dale Earnhardt in 2001 died after smacking the wall on the final lap.

How tragic was Earnhardt's death? Stock car racing feeds off its heroes and villains, and Earnhardt was the consummate multi-tasker: he filled both roles, maybe better than anybody before him, certainly better than anybody since. It's been eight years, and racing still hasn't recovered. That's tragic.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

A Valentine's Day IOU

My favorite song for February 14 is a sweet ballad from Steve Earle's 1996 album "I Feel Alright.'' The artist has been married seven times, most recently to Allison Moorer, so I'm pretty sure that his forgetting Valentine's Day is an honest sentiment. This song may have actually gotten the slacker off the hook -- at least once.

And you might be off the hook, too. If you haven't bought the flowers or chocolates yet, might as well just sit down and figure out how to play and/or sing this great song. Or download the song or CD.

I can't get the chord letters to match the lyrics below, but you should be able to figure it out, especially if you're familiar with the song.

If the tablature police come after me for posting this I'll tell them Cupid made me do it. Enjoy...

By Steve Earle

A C#
I come to you with empty hands
I guess I just forgot again
Dm A
I only got my love to send
E7/G# A E7/G#
On Valentine's Day

A C#
I ain't got a card to sign
Roses have been hard to find
Dm A F#m
I only hope that you'll be mine
D E7/G# A
On Valentine's Day

D A/C# E7/G# A
I know that I swore that I wouldn't forget
D A C# F#m E7/G#
I wrote it all down, I lost it I guess
A C#
There's so much I want to say
But all the words just slip away
Dm A F#m
The way you love me every day
D E7/G# A
Is Valentine's Day
D A/C# E7/G# A
If I could I would deliver to you
D A C# F#m E7/G#
Diamonds and gold, it's the least I can do
A C#
So if you'll take my IOU
I could make it up to you
Dm A F#m
Until then I hope my heart will do
D C# F#m E
For Valentine's Day
D E7/G# A
For Valentine's Day

Friday, February 13, 2009

You say you want a revolution

This morning the words of the great poet and spiritualist John Lennon are whispering in my ear:
“You say you want a revolution
Well, you know...
We all want to change the world”

A wonderful and enlightening comic strip you haven't yet seen (unless you pick up the Bradenton Herald, St. Pete Times or a couple of niche magazines) is drawn by Sarasota artist Rick Hotton, a karate instructor and math tutor who started doodling in the classroom a while back to lessen the boredom.

The result was Holy Mole, which offers a thoughtful message each day without being religious or preachy. Rick would like Holy Mole to change the world, one panel at a time, but there is a heavy burden attached to such a noble undertaking. And timing, well, timing is everything.

"I'm afraid I was born 200 years too late for martial arts, and 30 years too late for newpapers,'' laments Rick (who, by the way, has trained 48 black belt martial artists. That's like a baseball manager with 48 players in the Hall of Fame.) But I think Rick arrived at just the right time, and that's why I have joined the Holy Mole crusade.

There is great wisdom and spiritual energy in what Rick draws -- and the world could surely use a daily dose of that. The strip, featuring irresistible characters you will want to adopt like housepets, represents a place where high aspirations of existence intertwine with the practicality of everyday living. Click on the panel above for bigger impact, and check out other strips at

It may be true that newspapers are an almost impossible sell these days. Good heavens, they seem determined to kill themselves (starting with their Managing Editors). But there must be venues for Holy Mole, and we will find them, in papers, magazines, on websites, atop billboards or rooftops. And the world will become a better place, one panel at a time.

I have met devoted fans who plaster their refrigerators with Holy Mole strips and pass copies along to family and friends. Believe me when I say it's a beautiful thing.

Pass along the strip. Listen to the drumbeat. Join the revolution.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Pssst: Here's the other side of Nashville

In describing his East Nashville neighborhood, songwriter Todd Snider says: "Shit man, we're living in a dream world over here.''

It's easy to roll into Nashville and never get past the honky tonks of Lower Broad. But just a few minutes from the glitter of downtown, heading east over the Cumberland River, there's a cool place with a vibe all its own. "Our skyline ain't very high, but we love it,'' says Snider in his talking tribute "From a Rooftop.''

Even though it's still gritty in places, "East Nasty'' has become a desirable hangout and home for songwriters, hipsters and people of all persuasions. And today we take you there with Pssst (Personal Six String Sanctuary Tout) No. 2:

Red Beet Records in 2006 released a two-disc compilation titled "The Other Side: Music From East Nashville'' featuring artists who live in or hang around the neighborhood. There are a generous 31 cuts, some by familiar names like Snider, Jon Langford, Thad Cockrell and Chely Wright.

But you also get Kevin Gordon, Jon Byrd, Eric Brace and Peter Cooper -- artists you easily could stumble on in popular East Nashville joints like the Alley Cat or the 3 Crow Bar. Cooper, the Nashville Tennessean music critic and master storyteller, offers "Ol' Strom'' an ode to the late senator from his native South Carolina.

For more information about Red Beet and its artists go to

Good stuff. May the Beet go on...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Get some midweek mojo

Good morning, young rockers, will you please go out there and make something happen today? For you, for your hit-starved countrymen, for your music-depraved world?

Not to go transcendental on you, but historically there have been some strange musical forces at work on this day. Forces that offer hope. Events that warrant closer scrutiny. My friend Natasha, the psychic lady, consults the tarot cards. We review the music charts -- and they are off the charts on February 11:

Way back on Feb. 11, 1946, Al Dexter placed the nation on a boogie woogie full alert when "Guitar Polka'' crossed the charts for a No. 1 hit. Four years later Red Foley put Blue Lick, Ky., on the map for good with "Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy'' -- his first of three No. 1 songs that year.

On this day in 1962, Joey Dee and the Starliters were shimmy-shaking "The Peppermint Twist'', and exactly eight years later the Shocking Blue made it to the summit with "Venus.'' Shocking Blue? Not even Lady Natasha could have predicted a Dutch group would rock like that. There's definitely something gurgling on this day.

Polyester alert: On this day in 1978 the Bee Gees topped the charts with 'Stayin' Alive.''

Birthdays? We give you Vincent Eugene Craddock, aka Gene Vincent, of "Be-Bop-a-Lula'' fame (1935), "Monster Mash'' maestro Bobby "Boris'' Pickett (1938), Brazilian bossa nova baron Sergio Mendes (1941) and sweet rocking Sheryl Crow (1962).

(As one-hit wonders go, we loved Bobby Pickett, who would get up at Oldies shows and declare, "Now I'm going to do a medley of my hit.'')

Mix these in blender (disco is optional), hit the puree switch and ... drink at your own risk.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

All in the name of research

My friend Bob has been working in his "lab'' late at night to perfect an invention that will revolutionize the art of guitar playing. If I told you more he'd shoot me.

I am not kidding, at least about the invention part.

Bob's problem is that he is always surrounded by guitars. Now this is normally a pretty cool thing, but too many guitars can be a major distraction when you are trying to refine a revolutionary idea, even if it happens to involve guitars. Last night, for instance, I went back to the "lab'' to check on his progress and found him doing some vigorous 12-string bottlenecking on a Danelectro doubleneck.

Now Bob is an excellent player, and the sound coming from that Danelectro was truly splendid. But his picking seemed a bit off point. Fiddling while Rome burns, so to speak.

My role in this brilliant undertaking, as a business partner and designated project prodder, is to keep my inventor on task. And being that we have a patent deadline approaching, it's high time we generate some results.

Bob convinced me he was working on something that was crucial to our success, and he was kind enough to invite me back today to join him for some important "research.''

Which is where I'm headed right now. Wish us luck today...

Monday, February 9, 2009

The abbreviated Grammys

Good morning, today's edition of Six String Sanctuary is rated PG (Post Grammy).

No gold or glitter here, no speeches or lavish television production. Just a link to the list of winners. Isn't that what you really wanted?

I was happy (and surprised) to see "Raising Sand'' win five awards, including album of the year, and found myself scrambling this morning to find it in a stack of CDs. There it was, sandwiched between Pieta Brown and Andres Segovia (now that would be an interesting pairing). It's playing now.

Congratulations to Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, who proved that the aging rocker/bluegrass fiddler pairing can work, especially if it's produced by T Bone Burnett.

Come to think of it, the 2002 album "Let's Leave This Town'' with Chip Taylor and Carrie Rodriguez is also stellar, and more upbeat, but somehow that one stayed under the radar.

Did you know that the complete list of the 2009 Grammy winners includes 110 categories, is 1,932 words and would take six pages to print?

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Dusting off an old LP

You wouldn't call my parents music fanatics, but there was always a turntable in the house and LP records to be played. They exposed their children to songs and music we might never have discovered, much less embraced, without their influence.

I remember a record titled "Songs That Brought Sunshine into the Depression'' that received some serious play when I was a kid. What brought back the memory was a movie showing recently on IFC. It was the 1992 flick "American Heart'' with Jeff Bridges and Edward Furlong (who that year became a 15-year-old star after being cast as John Connor in "Terminator 2'').

"American Heart'' has a nice soundtrack that's heavy on Tom Waits' songs, including "Jersey Girl'', but the tune that got my attention was performed by Bridges, who was playing a tiny guitar I mistook for a uke until I noticed it had six strings. He did a stripped down version of "Sunny Side of the Street'' and immediately I was transported back to Gene and Mavis Smith's house on Blair Street circa 1960.

Grab your coat and get your hat
Leave your worries on the doorstep
Just direct your feet
To the sunny side of the street

Strummer alert: Here's a link to some simple guitar chords for the song, with lyrics. It's guaranteed to break you out of any depressing set you may have strummed yourself into: (Just overlook the incorrect song title.)

With the mess we're in today, it might not be a bad idea to bring back some of those memorable Depression-era chestnuts. No doubt the music of that time helped folks cope with the difficulties of the day. Playing off the old game of Records to Take on a Deserted Island, I submit a short list of Old Songs to Kick the New Depression:

1. All of Me (Gerald Marks/Seymour Simons)
2. Pennies From Heaven (Arthur Johnson/Johnny Burke)
3. Let's Have Another Cup of Coffee (Irving Berlin)
4. We're In the Money (Al Dubin/Harry Warren)
5. Brother Can You Spare a Dime (Yip Harburg/Jay Gorney)

And I'd have to add "Sunny Side of the Street'' from that long-ago LP, which provided audible lessons and insights on the Great Depression that couldn't be uncovered reading history books.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

They came, they conquered

Good morning, it's Saturday, February 7. Oh, yeah, I'll tell you something. I think you'll understand.

That's right, on this date in 1964 The Beatles arrived in New York for their first American visit, and the world shook forever. "I Want to Hold Your Hand'' -- considered one of the most significant singles in music history -- was riding high atop the charts, and two days later the group would make its first live appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Quivering mothers and fathers turned to each other and uttered these now-famous words: "Uh oh...''

(Little known fact: The mopheads' arrival in the U.S. stole the thunder from Garth Brooks, who was celebrating his second birthday back home in Oklahoma and already toiling over early drafts to "Friends in Low Places'' with his No. 2 pencil.) Just kidding, it was his birthday but everyone knows that song was written by Dewayne Blackwell and Bud Lee.

The Beatles transformed ... well ... EVERYTHING. It's hard to imagine, especially after 45 years, how they were able to make such a profound and lasting impact in such a relatively short span of time. The Stones are still touring, for crying out loud. The Beatles ended their touring career in 1966 and moved into the studio, where things really got interesting. They were done as a group by 1970.

Contrarian music fans continue to start fights by asking "Stones or Beatles?'' but I'm not going there. Not today, on the anniversary of it all.

1. I Want to Hold Your Hand, Beatles
2. You Don't Own Me, Lesley Gore
3. Out of Limits, Marketts
4. Surfin' Bird, Trashmen
5. Hey Little Cobra, Rip Chords

Friday, February 6, 2009

That's snow baloney

It's been so cold here in Florida these last few days that I had to park the flip-flops and fish out a pair of shoes. I know, it's been a tough winter everywhere ...

The cold weather has tripped some brrrriffic memories of growing up in Wisconsin, where every winter night we kids brushed our teeth, washed our faces, bundled up for bed and said our prayers just like all the other kids around the world. We probably prayed for our moms and dads and families, good health, happiness and world peace, but during the winter I only remember praying for one thing: snow.

In addition to providing a fresh layer of powder for our toboggans and sleds, snow -- if it came down long enough and hard enough overnight -- might just get you out of school the next day. There is nothing quite like a snow day, or even the anticipation of a snow day.

We'd awaken by 6 a.m., peer through frosted windows into the icy darkness and listen for the unmistakable sounds of tires crunching over fresh snow. If it was really cold -- I'm talking below zero, which is all too common -- we hoped to hear car starters grind repeatedly and engines fail to turn over.

And we would have our six-transistors tuned to a radio station 40 miles away that would ultimately decide our fate. An official-sounding voice would announce school closings as they became known throughout the frozen coulee region. Town after town, school district after school district, would be called out. And if we were lucky, at some point we would hear "No school today in the ... Whitehall school district.''

Even today, living 1,400 miles away, I find myself rooting for snow days for the kids back home. And I hope, if they still listen to the radio up there in the morning, they hear sounds on news radio that will stick with them like a bowl of warm rumagrout. One station, I think it was in La Crosse, used to continually play the words to an old Irving Berlin tune that drove me crazy:

Oh ... how ... I .... hate to get up in the morning!
Oh how I'd love to remain in bed!

Some of the commercials were also unforgettable. The one I can still hear in my head is a deep, serious voice making this bold declaration:

Maloney's baloney
is the best baloney --
and that's no baloney!!!!

While home last December I stopped into a cafe in a neighboring town for breakfast. After scanning the menu I asked the waitress if their sausage was any good. She stared at me as if I had just questioned her sexual preference, and exclaimed:

"Sir, we serve Maloney's here!!!''

And that's no baloney.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Last of the daydream believers

I was plunking around on my guitar the other day with the Kasey Chambers song "Runaway Train'' (How many songs have that title? A dozen, a hundred, a thousand? And which one is your favorite?) when I stumbled onto a different beat that sounded familiar but was severely testing my limited recall. Finally, after repeatedly downbeating an A minor chord, a few words tumbled out:

When the lights go down in the California town...

Ring a bell for you? I had no real recollection of the song, the artist or even the era during which I had listened to it. You know how the elements of a forgotten song -- the title, the artist, the lyrics or some other minutae -- will escape you and drive you crazy until you think of them? Many of us grew up in the pre-Google days when you either had to think of it yourself, make a phone call to a buddy at 1:30 a.m. (good luck) or become more and more irritated until, hours or possibly even days later, it finally came to you.

I took the easy way out, googling that one remembered line. The buzz in my head turned out to be "Gold'', by John Stewart, who took the song about the music biz to No. 5 in 1979.

When the lights go down in the California town
People are in for the evening
I jump into my car and I throw in my guitar
My heart beatin' time with my breathin'
Drivin' over Kanan, singin' to my soul
There's people out there turnin' music into gold

Hopefully Stewart collected some gold of his own, as a former member of the Kingston Trio whose writing credits include "Daydream Believer'', the Monkees' last No. 1 song, and also a hit for Anne Murray.

I clicked around until I found the sad news: an obituary on LA Weekly's website dated Feb. 6, 2008 and penned by Michael Simmons. A link folos, but you can read the lead here:

John Stewart — singer, songwriter, guitarist, artist, husband, father, grandfather, Californian, American — was scheduled to perform at McCabe's in Santa Monica on Saturday, February 2. He missed the gig, but he had a good excuse. Stewart suffered a sudden stroke at the age of 68 and died on January 19 in San Diego at the very same hospital he was born in.

They say obituary writing is an art, and who can argue?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Pssst: One for the listening room

Good morning, are you ready for the first-ever PSSST (Personal Six String Sanctuary Tout)? OK, then. Here we go ...

The really good writers, whether they're penning songs, sonnets or pulp novels, can paint a vivid scene that places you there beside them. Musicians have the advantage of being able to create a beat and sound to match the mood. Some start with the lyrics and add the melody, others get the beat down first and the words follow. It doesn't matter. When it works, it works.

And it usually works for Jeffrey Foucault. Even though he's a homeboy from Wisconsin, I hadn't discovered his music until Signature Sounds released his "Ghost Repeater'' album in 2006. It became one my favorite discs of that year, and one that still gets steady play on my IPod. It features songs with rich layers and tumbleweed textures boosted by Bo Ramsey's biting electric guitar and the pedal steel work of alt-country king Eric Heywood (Son Volt, Ray Lamontagne, and currently touring with Chrissy Hynde and the Pretenders).

There's a favorite song on "Ghost Repeater'' which immediately takes you to a very lonely place:
All alone in a Mexican joint
In Mesa, Arizona
With a mariachi band
On the jukebox
And an empty Corona

I don't know about you, but I'm ready to walk into that cantina and buy the man a beer to try cheer him up. Of course he needs to be alone. The poor sap is thinking about some girl and he's trying to sort out his feelings, which immediately become obvious:

And the sun gone down
In the pale thin pink
There’s no one to talk to
All I can think
Is your eyes are full of train smoke
And your mouth tastes like rain
And I know when I know nothing
I will always know your name

She's the one, he sings, the only one. We have no doubt that she is, and we find ourselves wishing him good luck with that.

I couldn't find an audio clip for the song "Mesa, Arizona'' but you can get a taste of Foucault's music here:

He has a new Signature Sounds release out Feb. 17, after which he'll be hitting the road again. For tour dates go to

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Today's feel-good story

I'm spending more time cruising headlines at my computer now that the local newspaper has raised its single-copy price. I still enjoy the print edition, and always maintained it was a great bargain for 25 cents. But any time somebody doubles a price on me, I'm going to step back for a moment and consider the ramifications.

Anyway, I wonder if I had slipped two quarters in the box this morning I would have been rewarded with this Associated Press lede:

CHICAGO - Kids on both sides of the Atlantic are smoking less pot and going out less often with friends at night, a study of 15-year-olds in 30 countries found.

Does this mean there are seafaring boats cruising the Atlantic where all the kids go to party? Surely we would have heard about this. Here's a link to the complete story:

It's time to point out: In no way does this blog condone or encourage the recreational use of marijuana or other illegal drugs. But I do think it's important for all of us to look at studies like these and assimilate information that might help us, in some way, become more knowledgable and contributing members of society.

The article also pointed out that marijuana use increased only in Estonia, Lithuania and Malta, and among Russian girls. Interesting...

What does all of this have to do with music? Well, we know just about every kid these days wants to be a rock star -- they even make an energy drink with that name. And we know they've been "investigating'' the use of marijuana by musicians for decades, trying to determine if cannibus might have either helpful or harmful effects.

Way back in 1938 a reporter for "Radio Stars'' took it upon himself to try some "hay'' so he could write authoritatively about rampant marijuana use in swing bands. Here's a link to that story:

Perhaps if newspapers had done more investigative journalism like this, and written catchier headlines like "Exposing the marijuana evil in swing bands!'' they wouldn't be in the fix they're in. And maybe, just maybe, our kids wouldn't be boarding party boats to hit the "high'' seas.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Getting your groundhog groove

The chatter this morning at the Salvation Army pancake breakfast on Mahoning Street should center on the Steelers' latest Super Bowl triumph. There might even be some talk over coffee about the Springsteen halftime show. "Say, Helen, did you hear that fella say he's goin' to Disneyland? Now why would he go all the way to California to visit a theme park when Disney World is just down the road?''

I've not yet visited Punxsutawney, Pa., so I can't say for sure, but the locals there must have something to talk about other than groundhogs, at least the other 364 days of the year.

Of course, this is that OTHER day of year when the fate of another dreary winter is ceremoniously decided. So if they're going to talk groundhogs today, I'll give them something to talk about. Like:

How in the world was the best song of the movie "Groundhog Day'' left off the soundtrack? The Ray Charles classic "You Don't Know Me'' is nowhere to be found on that disc.

Instead, listeners get an Ottmar Liebert instrumental. Nothing against Ottmar, who is an outstanding flamenco stylist. But his version can't replace Charles' tender voicing of the song from his 1962 album "Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music.''

That terrific album, which also includes "Born to Lose'', "I Can't Stop Loving You'' and "Bye Bye Love'' deservedly makes many favorites lists. (Rolling Stone had it at No. 104 on its Top 500 albums. When I get around to my list, it will be much higher.)

Not that you'll be out there shopping today -- thankfully this day doesn't carry with it any gifting responsibilities. But if you're looking to get your groundhog groove, skip the soundtrack and pick up Brother Ray's album -- if you can find it. Rhino reissued it on CD in 1988, but I just checked Amazon and it's only available there through third-party sellers, and it's $60 new or $20 used. If you own the record or disc, consider yourself lucky. It's a timeless beauty.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Greatest (12-minute) Show on Earth

Good morning, we made it to February and Super Bowl Sunday. It's time to stir up a fresh pot of chili, pull on my old Starter alternative black mesh Brett Favre jersey, and officially curse another season goodbye. Yes, yes, so many of us are still residing in the past...

Last night I found myself watching "Trapeze'' on TV hoping that Gina Lollobrigida would have a midair wardrobe malfunction. That Super Bowl halftime show with Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake just ruined me for all time.

Maybe that's why I'm just a little nervous about tonight. No, no -- nothing will go wrong on stage -- nobody can flawlessly nail a set, even a 12-minute power set -- like Bruce Springsteen. But I've gone from thinking it's very cool for the E Street Band to be rocking tonight to ... why is he doing this? He must have had good reasons for previously turning down this gig.

The Jefferson Memorial pre-inauguration show, that made perfect sense. But the Super Bowl, with its glitz and hype and carnival over-production, is a little more dicey. It's not a critical page-turn in history, it's just another Roman numeral. Is there anything for the world's greatest rocker to gain being in that spotlight? Well, sure. Apparently he hasn't convinced everybody yet (see earlier blog commenting on subject).

The Stones made it through, no worse for the wear (but there was an awful lot of wear going in). Tom Petty, and Prince, made it, too. There's really nothing to it. Still...

Springsteen actually appeared at a news conference in Tampa this week, something he agrees to do, like, once every 20 years. That's just not the Boss, you know? But then -- and I really hate to bring this up now -- neither was the Tunnel of Love tour in 1988.

We know he's going to nail it, just like Burt Lancaster nailed that rare triple summersault in "Trapeze.'' However, Burt did walk with a cane after that.

With all the rampant speculation about tonight's playlist I sought guidance from my main Springsteen man, a true devotee who thinks there should be a new Mount Rushmore with the Boss' likeness chiseled into it. My man believes we'll see, in addition to a new song, "The Rising,'' "Born to Run'' and either "Glory Days'', "Badlands'' or "The Promised Land.''

He doesn't see "Born in the USA'' -- which would have been one of my picks. And we both fret about "Dancing in the Dark.''

There also will be a football game played before and after intermission between the Arizona Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers.

AND THE PLAYS WERE ... 10th Avenue Freezout, Born to Run, Working on a Dream, Glory Days