Monday, May 31, 2010

Remembering those who served

The tall man in the middle, that's my Uncle Gale.  He served his country. So did his brother, my Uncle Swede, the guy with the floppy hat in the lawn chair in front of Gale.  They were among the 100 or so folks who gathered this morning under the stately pines in Lincoln Cemetery to honor our veterans on Memorial Day in Whitehall.  It is always a solomn ceremony, especially during the Reading of the Roll of local veterans no longer with us. That list grows longer every year and includes more and more names of people we grew up with. The ceremony still concludes with a 21-gun salute and the playing of Taps, but kids no longer scramble for the empty rifle casings.  I guess we finally grew up.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Sweet as an Iris

Welcome to Sundays at the Sanctuary, wherein we hand our blogospheric pen and headphones to friends and followers who share our love of music and provide inspiration and support for Club SSS. Consider them Guest DJs, if you will, and feel free to comment as always on the perspectives offered.

By Jim Reck

Every song tells a story. At least that’s what most artists will swear to, with maybe the exception of Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll, Part 2.” But most are just plain lyrics while only a small percentage actually transcend to meaningful stories that evoke your senses in a four to five minute span.

Among the best is Iris DeMent. The best example of her deep storytelling talent is “Our Town.” From beginning to end of this melancholy song ( one can’t help but smile at times, while wiping a tear or getting a lump in the throat that seem to demonstrate her talent on much of her work. All hymns aside (and mom singing along), Iris can take you to the party with “Sweet is the Melody” or provoke deep introspection with “Let the Mystery Be.” If you have a chance, see her live. It’s a hell of an experience.

Though Iris is my favorite (for now), there are others out there that strike me as being possessed by the same talent for telling the story with melodies as sweet as an Iris. My top-of-mind list includes:

Iris DeMent, Our Town
Iris DeMent, Sweet is the Melody
Leonard Cohen, The Sisters of Mercy
Robert Earl Keen, Feelin’ Good Again
Paul Thorn, Where Was I When You Stopped Loving Me?
John Prine, Lake Marie
Ian Tyson and Tom Russell, Canadian Whiskey
Bob Dylan, Tangled up in Blue
Gordon Lightfoot, Canadian Railroad Trilogy
Woody Guthrie, Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)

(And a hell of a lot more if it weren’t for lists stopping at ten.)

Jim Reck taught Strumbum how to play "Go Now" on the piano outside the guidance counselor's office at Whitehall High School. It's not his fault the guy never learned another song. "The Recker" is a retired PR/marketing guy who loves non-mainstream music, dabbles in guitar, mandolin and ukulele and plays in a jam band. He is not a music critic but knows what he likes.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

On, Wisconsin!

The few. The proud. The Wisconsin natives who crawled out of their holes long enough to make a mark in the music biz.

Hey, there’s not that much to sing about around here. Or so it would seem. Not that “Mockingbird Hill” isn’t a great song. Or “Tennessee Waltz.” If those chestnuts written and performed by two of our favorite sons don’t send you down memory lane then nothing will. But we don't need much to get our feet tapping around here.

Growing up we thought the Rhythm Playboys were the cat's meow, especially when Dewey hammered the ivories for a vigorous rendition of "From a Jack to a King."  Polka bands were the rage in our neck of the woods and nobody brought it like Ernie Reck, whose "Arcadia Polka" was the best dance song this side of the Mississippi.  Make that both sides.

Wisconsin became the 30th state on this date in 1848 and we can't let the day pass without acknowledging some of our favorite home-bred musicians and songs that gave them at least some degree of acclaim.  Think of the barn dance you could have with this lineup:

BoDeans, Waukesha, “She’s a Runaway”

Woody Herman, Milwaukee, “Woodchopper’s Ball”

Pee Wee King, Milwaukee, “Tennessee Waltz”

Al Jarreau, Milwaukee, “We’re In This Love Together”

Violent Femmes, Milwaukee, “Blister in the Sun”

Les Paul, Waukesha, “Mockingbird Hill”

Patty Larkin, Milwaukee, “Me and That Train”

The Chordettes, Sheboygan, “Mr. Sandman”

Liberace, West Allis, “I’ll Be Seeing You”

Friday, May 28, 2010

One for the Record books

We loved the Chi-Lites.  We don't recall buying their records and we certainly won't claim we ever saw them perform live, but when we hear one of their hits we can't help but sing along.

The group had 11 Top 20 R&B songs during their heyday but it took patience and time to get there. They formed in 1960 and finally broke through with "Have You Seen Her," which made it to No. 3 in 1971.  A year later -- on this very day -- they made it to the top with "Oh Girl."

Credit former cab driver Eugene Record, who wrote and produced the song and provided the soulful falsetto lead to the group's sweet harmonies.  Here was Billboard's Top 5 at the time:

1. Oh Girl, Chi-Lites
2. I'll Take You There. Staple Singers
3. The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, Roberta Flack
4. Look What You Done For Me, Al Green
5. Candy Man, Sammy Davis Jr.

Record is proof that no matter what kind of shitty gig you've got yourself in, it's possible to reach out and grab your elusive dream.  He died of cancer in 2005 at age 64, but not before leaving an indelible mark with songs like this that are so easy to cozy up to. Put it on your iPod now and it'll always be there when you need it.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Another girl bites the dust

We admit it: American Idol is out of our league.

You probably knew it when we first weighed in about halfway -- and half-heartedly -- through the ninth season and saw Crystal Bowersox as the only true talent among this year's menagerie of wannabees.  We did mention somewhere along the elimination trail that ultimately the competition would be decided by tweens who love their boys to win.

So it really wasn't a surprise to anyone, except possibly Crystal, when upstart Lee DeWyze pulled off the win last night.  Another admission: We caught only the last four minutes, preferring to watch the Brewers get shut out at home by the Astros rather than endure two hours of the dreadful finale.

Not only is Crystal not a boy, she apparently was viewed as a bit of a smartass by many would-be supporters.  This naturally made her the Sanctuary shoo-in favorite. We loved this Q&A from her Idol webpage:

Question: What one performance in a past season will you always remember?
Answer: I don't own a television.
For our money -- wait, we wouldn't pay for any of this -- the best perspective on American Idol is provided by Washington Post reporter Lisa de Moraes, who seems to have the pulse on the fading show, which is some cross to bear.  We're posting a few graphs of her story below, and here's a link to her recap, which is usually presented chronologically, making it unnecessary to ever watch the show live. Thanks for that!

   Once again, texting tweener chicks and perimenopausal women, having not yet slaked their thirst for Super-Safe Rocker Boys, have added Lee to their list of "American Idol" winners, beating early front-runner Crystal. Lee becomes the franchise's third consecutive Super-Safe Kinda Beige Rocker Boy winners.
   DeWyze follows the super-safe Kris (Allen) who, similarly, in 2009, beat the spectacularly talented but ultra-polarizing guy-linered Adam Lambert, and 2008'super-safe David Cook, who beat out the spectacularly talented but creepily daddy-dominated David Archuleta.
   Weirdly, tweener girls and middle-aged women seem to love to vote for these super-safe guys - they just don't buy their albums or download their singles much.

We will miss Simon, who has found something better to do, and the chemistry -- contrived or not -- that once held the show together, albeit like loose baling wire.  The rest, not so much.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Kickin' up some good dirt

Outside of good friend Tom "TKO" O'Neill, our favorite drummer of all time is Levon Helm. And with all due respect to Tom, last seen hitting the skins for the Bradenton-based Alternators Blues Band, Helm had our boy in the category of vocals. In fact Helm,  despite a bout with throat cancer a few years back, still has one of the most distinctive and enduring voices in all of Americana/folk rock/whatever you want to call it. Witness the Grammys he snagged in 2008 and 2009 for Dirt Farmer and Electric Dirt.

Of course we remember Helm mostly for his significant contributions to the Band.  In an outfit that had other great voices (Richard Manuel and Rick Danko, both sadly R.I.P.), Helm often provided backup vocals that gave the music an earthy, grounded feel. But two of the group's most memorable songs bear his indelible vocal imprint: "The Weight" and "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down."  It was his duty, being a Southern boy in a Canadian rock band.

We mention Helm today because it's time to wish him a happy 70th birthday.  Keep on keepin' on, man.  Let's raise a glass of Spotted Cow to him and other members of the May 26 Birthday Band:

Peggy Lee (1920-2002): Singer
Fever, I’m Just Wild About Harry, I’ve Got the World on a String, Mr. Wonderful

Levon Helm (1940): Drums/vocals, the Band
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, The Weight

Ray Ennis (1942): Guitar/vocals, The Swinging Blue Jeans
Hippy Hippy Shake

Verden Allen (1944): Keyboards, Mott the Hoople
All the Young Dudes, Ballad of Mott, All the Way to Memphis

Garry Peterson (1945): Drums, the Guess Who
These Eyes, Laughing, No Time, American Woman, Share the Land

Stevie Nicks (1948): Singer, Fleetwood Mac
Dreams, Don’t Stop, Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around

Hank Williams Jr. (1949): Singer
All My Rowdy Friends, Whiskey Bent and Hell-Bound, Family Tradition

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Our new favorite guitar shop

We had gone so long without coveting a new guitar that we thought we might be over the hump. Wrongo.  All it took was a recent visit to McCabe's Guitar Shop in Santa Monica.  If you are ever on the West Coast and you care a lick about stringed instruments, whether you play them or just appreciate them, a visit to McCabe's will be akin to a pilgrimage to Mecca.

Although the pickings were slim for vintage acoustics -- our usual downfall -- there are too many other reasons, recounted below, to make McCabe's your destination. Many of our favorite artists have walked through the door at 3101 Pico Boulevard and could provide their own testimonials: Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle, Bruce Springsteen, Taj Mahal, Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Raitt, Dave Alvin, Gillian Welch, David Lindley, Lucy Kaplansky, Townes Van Zant, Guy Clark, Ry Cooder, Elvis Costello, J.J. Cale ... where do you stop?  Pat McLaughlin? Randy Weeks? Kasey Chambers? We're just scratching the surface here.

Most of these performers did more than stop by McCabe's between gigs to pick up a guitar and play a riff.  They played concerts in the the back room, and quite possibly bought an instrument off the wall or had one tweeked in the repair shop.  On $10 Sundays this summer you can see Jim Lauderdale (June 18), Roy Book Binder (June 25) and Mary Gauthier (July 10), just to give you an idea. On a recent Sunday evening a line was forming at the front door for the Parson Red Heads and two other local favorites.

The joint has mojo. You can see it, hear it, smell it and feel it as you walk through the shop and learn of its history. Here's what Dave Alvin has said about the experience of playing here. "I've never felt entirely comfortable playing McCabe's. There's been too many astounding musicians, iconic songwriters, broken strings, legendary jams and historic performances on that small, dark stage for me to ever completely relax. That doesn't mean, though, that I don't love playing McCabe's, and treasure the memory of each gig I've done there."

You don't need our 10 Cool Reasons to Visit McCabe's, but here they are anyway:

1. History: They've been here almost as long as we've been on the planet: 1958.
2. Live music: As noted above, legendary artists and performances in the back room.
3. Workshops and lessons by experts: Why not get good?
4. Variety: Dulcimers, ukeleles, dobros, mandolins, psaltries, bouzoukis, sitars, ouds...
5. Teach the children: They hold concerts for kids (under age 2 admitted free!)
6. Quality repairs: They fix stuff and get it right.
7. Below retail: All sorts of sales and bargains. They don't try to gouge you.
8. Upstairs: An impressive photo gallery featuring iconic images of artists who pass through.
9. The first McCabe pick is free: All others, 23 cents.
10.  The Collings OM on the wall:  We compared it to a Martin D-42 and it won handily.

It's almost enough to take the sting out of a $50 parking ticket, which you can avoid by keeping enough change in the meter.  Forty minutes is obviously not enough time to get through McCabe's. Maybe they'll knock that off the price of the Collings...

Monday, May 24, 2010

A leap of faith

WAIMEA BAY, Hawaii -- There is some unfinished business Zach and I intend to take care of on my next visit to Hawaii. We happened on Jumping Rock on Oahu's North Shore late in the afternoon and we simply weren't prepared.  No swim suits, for crying out loud.  We might have showed those kids a thing or two. Or got hurt trying.

I can still hear the sound of that poor boy hitting the water smack on his back.  Ouch!  It's only about 50 feet, maybe less, from the top of Jumping Rock to the Pacific Ocean below, no problem if you time the waves and land correctly. But if you're going to try a flip, you best hit the water upright. This kid didn't and paid the price with a back side flop that must have smarted like a severe sunburn.  Next time he'll rotate on his way down.

We had just left Pipeline, which is famous for the spectacular waves we've seen in Hawaiian surfing videos. But the Pacific was fairly tame on this afternoon, so we continued along the Kamehameha Highway to Waimea Bay.  That's where we found Jumping Rock and later, at a Mexican joint in Haleiwa, made our pact for a return visit to take on the cliff.

If you ever find yourself on the Kamehameha -- it's one of the most spectacular road trips you'll ever enjoy -- drop some Allman Brothers in the player. That was Zach's choice and I'm happy to report the kid seems to have the music down.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

First, there is a mountain

Editor's Note:  Today we launch an occasional feature Sundays at the Sanctuary, wherein we hand our blogospheric pen and headphones to friends and followers who share our love of music and have been providing inspiration and support for Club SSS. Consider them Guest DJs, if you will, and feel free to comment as always on the perspectives offered. Look for future contributions on -- where else? -- Sundays.

By Wayne Shelor

It’s been said, without much argument from any quarter, that all popular music is derivative: think of Chuck Berry or Bo Diddley. Without them, rock wouldn’t know many of its best-loved licks and beats, found in so many songs. But if one listens to music, you’ll find that rock ‘n’ roll is every bit as incestuous as it is derivative. Consider, today, Great Britian’s psychedelic hurdy-gurdy man, Donovan.

Donovan Leitch’s reputation is that of a hippy-dippy Scotsman who penned pretty flower-power songs in the ‘60s, trippy tunes such as "Mellow Yellow" and "Sunshine Superman." But this so-called English Bob Dylan’s influence on American musicians resulted in some of the most recognized and honored “variations on a theme” ever put on wax.

Al Kooper, a New York musician/producer who’d played with Bob Dylan, and Stephen Stills, a Texas guitarist with a folkish bent and a close friend of Jimi Hendrix, made Donovan’s 1966 Season of the Witch  into an 11-minute musical incantation on the hallowed Top 20 album “Super Session,” an LP gleaned from the tapes of a remarkable nine-hour studio jam. "Season of the Witch" is clearly a magical tune, for it’s been reinterpreted many times by many others, including Lou Rawls, Vanilla Fudge and even Courtney Love’s Hole.

Then there’s Donovan’s 1967 Buddhism-inspired There is a Mountain, the soul and spine of the half-hour long musical meditation known by millions as the Allman Brothers’ Mountain Jam. The Southern rockers took a throw-away song and made it an impressive improvisational masterpiece.

So now, the rock ‘n’ roll incest: Duane Allman first dissected Donovan’s "There is a Mountain" while sitting in with The Grateful Dead at a Fillmore East show in 1970; you can hear several bars of  "There is a Mountain" in the Dead’s song Alligator .  Duane and the other Brothers later made the lengthy "Mountain Jam" famous on the album Eat a Peach, and if one listens to the 33-minute song you’ll hear the muse of another of Al Kooper’s recording mates: Jimi Hendrix’s "Third Stone From the Sun" is invoked at about the 22-minute mark. And, it turns out, Donovan asked Jimi Hendrix to play -- way back in 1968 -- on what became the Top 10 hit "Hurdy Gurdy Man," but the guitarist was unavailable. There’s more, but you get the picture.

A special 11-track gold CD of Donovan’s “Greatest Hits” was released in March by Phantom Sound & Vision of Great Britain, complete with Donovan’s original versions of "First There is a Mountain" and "Season of the Witch."

Now, there is no mountain.

Wayne Shelor, a former newspaperman, is a life-long Florida resident and music collector specializing in blues and British Invasion rock. His favorite group is the Allman Brothers Band. He still collects vinyl LPs and is one of the Sanctuary's alert tipsters to news and releases we might otherwise overlook.  

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Trying to get in ship shape

NAVAL STATION PEARL HARBOR -- I was thinking of taking the "Home of the Brave" historical military tour of Pearl Harbor, then something better came along:  A personal tour of the base and the USS O'Kane by my son the Petty Officer.

For a father to gain access to his kid's floating home and work station, in this case a guided-missile destroyer, is quite a thrill.  (Sorry, no photos.) It's like a parent getting to visit his or her kid's dorm room at college orientation.  Well, sort of.  There are only 11 "dorms" in the world with advanced electronic warfare systems and armaments like the DDG-77.

Even though the O'Kane is undergoing major servicing and updates for a deployment to ports unknown, it was possible to get the feel -- and thrill -- of what it's like to be on one of the Navy's modern fighting ships.  It's 505 feet long, weighs nearly 7,000 tons and has a reach of 4,400 nautical miles at 20 knots.  The crew numbers about 300, including officers, when it sails, but we met only a handful of sailors during our visit.

Zach turned the O'Kane into an obstacle course, hustling top to bottom, fore to aft, and zipping up and down enough steep, tight steel grated stairways to make me come to terms with my failing athleticism. A highlight: a trip to the Pilot Room, where we watched the late afternoon light strike the Arizona Memorial in the harbor in front of us.

Nice digs, Zach. And safe sailing to you and your crewmates.

Friday, May 21, 2010

A dog day turns memorable

HONOLULU HARBOR -- Before you begin to think this blog is no more than a Bar Hopper's Guide to Hawaii, please know there is a bigger plan.  Not a well-crafted plan, mind you, but a sort of rough sketch of what could happen if we had an official tour guide.  But if you ask me, my sailor is doing just fine...

While Petty Officer Smith was in class yesterday morning I sat through an orientation to learn about the tours offered through our fine hotel.  There are some impressive activities like visiting majestic waterfalls and hidden emerald green isles, snorkling with the dolphins, hiking Diamond Head and of course the prerequisite tour of Pearl Harbor.  The Hale Koa's luau is supposed to be a spectacular event. Nowhere, however, is there a tour bus taking visitors to Try My Dogs, the best hot dog joint in all of Hawaii and possibly the world, if you believe the gushing reviews.

After a day of being a water dog, it was time to take the hot dog challenge.  We drove up to the Hawaii Maritime Museum and walked over to the adjacent Aloha Tower marketplace. Massive freighters -- imagine vessels twice as large as a Mississippi barge, stacked high with giant crates -- cut through Honolulu Harbor behind the historic Tower.  (Maybe it's the mother lode of iPads finally being delivered!)  These working ships give the harbor a distinctive nautical industrial flavor, which only spiked our appetite for a good blue collar meal.

Memo to Try My Dogs:  WE WOULD TRY YOUR DOGS IF YOU DIDN'T LOCK YOUR KIOSK BY 6 P.M.!!!   What's up with that?

Feeling dejected and betrayed, we wound up on bar stools at Don Ho's Island Grill, ordered pints of Primo and scanned the menu for Pupu -- an odd name for appetizers but somehow appropriate to this journey. The wait staff here wears commemorative T-shirts reminding us that Don Ho, Hawaii's most famous singer and entertainer, has been gone but not forgotten since 2007.  We clink our glasses to his memory, and give silent thanks to management for not insisting that "Tiny Bubbles" play perpetually through the restaurant speakers.  Let the man rest in peace.

It wasn't long before our Pupu order came out.  It may have been a strange twist of events that got us here, but we're delighted to report that Don Ho's serves the best quesadillas we've ever eaten.  How good are the Kalua Quesadillas? So good that I won't mind a bit if the guava barbeque stain on my shorts is permanent. It eliminates the need for a commemorative T-shirt.

PICTURED: The giant ship Nona takes aim at a bar patron's head. Who knew the dangers that lurk at Don Ho's?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Assault with a water noodle

HONOLULU -- A former Water Safety Instructor who still enjoys a challenging swim, it's an eerie feeling to suddenly be at the mercy of the brutal power of waves.

The famous Pacific Ocean undertows?  No, they can't stop us.  It's the white caps generated in the Hale Koa pool by the morning aqua aerobics class.  Goodness these ladies can whip up some tidal waves while working their noodles. The red flags should be out when this class is in session.  The truly great feat is that they can somehow get your newspaper soaked without ever dampening their hair.

So much for swimming a few morning laps.  As a service to SSS readers here is the aqua aerobics play list, a dance mix of Beach Boys hits that can also inspire a crossword solver :

Little Deuce Coupe
Da Doo Ron Ron
I Get Around
Surfin' USA
Wipe Out
Fun, Fun, Fun
Do You Wanna Dance
Theme From Hawaii Five-O

Now book 'em, Dano, for assault on our Honolulu Advertiser.

PICTURED: You can visit Diamondhead, or simply gaze at its spectacular beauty from a patio chair at Duke's while swigging a Kona Longboard Lager.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

When slacker meets island, nothing has to give


After all these years the word finally has true meaning.

Even at first light this is a fine Pacific Ocean view Zach has put us on.  And although he is already off to Ford Island in his sharp NWUs (Navy Working Uniform), he has left his Breedlove acoustic out for some easy picking.  No need to scramble over to Diamondhead or some other exotic locale.  There is plenty to see and ponder right here from our balcony, and an ocean just a short trail walk below.

The first thing you notice about Hawaii -- after the breath-taking scenery and views -- is the birds.  They must be very happy to be chirping and singing like they do. That is a good sign. We are listening to them now, and they seem to be saying: Don't rush out and be a tourist like so many others; let the day come to you.

At least that's what I heard.

The Kona beer of last night is being replaced by the Kona coffee of early morning.  It is an easy cycle to fall into. Maybe we'll tune down the strings of the Breedlove and play a little Hawaiian slack key music today.  Who says we don't have ambition?

To join us in spirit click here and listen to the music. Mahalo, mahalo very much...

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Taking the high road

SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- A funny thing happened on the way to McCabe's Guitar Shop yesterday. What are you supposed to do when you first drive past McCabe's Bar and Grill?

You hit the breaks. You find a parking spot,  you walk through the front door into the darkened pub and you grab a stool at the bar.  And you learn more than you could have bargained for.  The first thing you realize after ordering a pint of Smithwick's is that in this nearly empty pub you have taken a stool immediately next to Michael, a regular who is playing the juke box.

He comes back from his play and, realizing you are now elbow to elbow with him, you apologize and offer to move down a stool.  "That's all right," he says.

"Yeah," you reply. "Everybody can use a friend."

"No," says Michael, an elderly gentleman with a ruddy complexion.  "I do not need a friend.  I have the juke box and Tracy."

And soon you find out Michael is right.  If you have this juke box, and Tracy behind the bar to serve you, humor you and keep tabs on you, you already have two of the best friends in the world.  The juke box takes credit cards and Michael, who still has 11 selections left, plays them one at a time, sipping his beer in between songs.  Here is what he was playing yesterday during our pit stop:

Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom Time, Perez Prado
People Get Ready, Chambers Brothers
Puff the Magic Dragon, Peter, Paul and Mary
Begin the Beguine, Artie Shaw
Shine Little Glow Worm, Mills Brothers
Can't Find My Way Back Home, Blind Faith

Michael explains that "Puff" was for the young girl who had come in with her mother.  We assume "Glow Worm" was for the same reason.  The plays, all in all, were brilliant and we said so.  We were even going to buy Michael a beer but he was getting up to leave.

"Tracy, would you like me to leave my nuts here?" Michael asks our new favorite Scottish bartender. Michael had brought some almonds with him in a snack bag and there were some left.  Tracy looked as if she had heard this line before.

"I'm sorry," says Michael.

"Don't be sorry," replies Tracy.  "Be careful."

How was McCabe's Guitar Shop going to top this?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Have story, need publisher

SANTA MONICA, Calif. --  You'll find all sorts along the Promenade.  This is fertile pavement for people watching, and the street musicans you meet run the spectrum from young to old, well-dressed to unkempt, talented to just plain wishin'.  There are flute players, guitarists, singers and percussionists. They play folk, hip-hop, classical and country. A lot of their music is original, so give them that. Some draw healthy, responsive crowds of people that fill their tips jars and buy their CDs for $5 to $10, fueling the dreams.  Others, even though they've been playing for years, don't do nearly as well. Everybody has a story; this guy has a book.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Words of the Prophet Tony

SANTA MONICA, Calif. --  Sheryl Crow, how is this supposed to work?

All I wanna do is have some fun
I got a feeling I'm not the only one
All I wanna do is have some fun
Until the sun comes up over Santa Monica Boulevard

We love the song, and we would have loved a shot of Sheryl Crow last night. Do you know what a $12 cover charge and a $35 bottle of Bare Foot Cabernet will get you on Saturday night in Santa Monica? Lousy music in your ears and a wicked taste in your mouth.  At least at the club we were at. But we can't really complain, even if the bands we heard were awful. Wait, make that unspectacular.  Everybody's nice around here.

We did have some fun.  And we certainly weren't the only ones.  But when we got up this morning just a few blocks from the Boulevard there was no sun to be found. Only a few surfers stripping down in the parking lot in front of our hotel window.  Strange place.

It's time to take out the Tacoma Papoose and make some sense of this scene.  But first a bowl of Kellogg's Frosted Flakes because, unlike the music last night, they're GR-R-REAT!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Farewell to the original Highwayman

Look up Highwaymen in the Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll and you get: See Johnny Cash; Waylon Jennings; Kris Kristofferson; Willie Nelson.

Those were the hell raisers that comprised the country super group and had a No. 1 hit with Jimmy Webb's "The Highwayman" and also charted with the Guy Clark staple "Desperados Waiting for a Train." But they weren't the original Highwaymen.

That group came along about 25 years earlier -- in 1961 -- and had its own No. 1 hit, a traditional song originally sung by Georgia slaves in the 19th century.  We can't forget the words to "Michael" and we'll sing it today for the Highwaymen's organizer and lead singer Dave Fisher, who died recently of a bone marrow disease. He was 69.

The Highwaymen, five members from a fraternity at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, charted a year later with "Cottonfields," another popular folk song that we won't need sheet music to sing.

Here was the notice posted on the group's website:

"Our leader, colleague and friend for over 50 years, Dave Fisher, died early last Friday morning in Rye, NY, from myelofibrosis, a disease of the bone marrow. His death was painless and peaceful, and his family, close friends and all of the Highwaymen were able to be together with him in his last few days to say thanks and farewell."

Michael row the boat ashore, hallelujah
Michael row the boat ashore, hallelujah
River Jordan is chilly and cold, hallelujah
Chills the body but not the soul, hallelujah

Friday, May 14, 2010

A guy stops by with his CD...

Tom Lesions stopped by yesterday afternoon to drop off his new CD.  We love it. And we wished while we were drinking those Miller High Lifes that it had been later in the day because there ain't nothin', if you can believe his song, like "Drinkin' in the Dark."

Late at night when I get home
Sit it down no need to roam
Come on in turn off the lights
Yeah me myself and I

Everyone has gone to bed
But I'd rather stay up instead
A restless man and a lonesome heart
I'm drinkin' in the dark

How can we not love an album titled "me, my songs ... & BEER?"  These are great songs from Tommy's days with the XCleavers, who reunited recently at Shank Hall in Milwaukee for a riotous evening we captured right here.  This album is just Tommy, his Washburn D10N acoustic and an occasional Rhythm Frog, Shakey Egg and assorted beer caps and bottles.

We're giving a good ol' Six String Sanctuary boost to the disc, which is receiving airplay on one of the local stations. This is stripped down punk that hasn't lost its beat or backbone.  Nobody has ever come up with a good description for XCleavers music, so let's just call this version alt-folk-punk-reggae and leave it at that.

Meanwhile, somebody posted a video from the Shank performance that suffers in audio quality and doesn't quite capture the spirt of the night. We'll share it here anyway. Kind of like drinking High Life in broad daylight.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Everybody say 'yeah!'

They were both at the Regal Theatre in Chicago on that early summer day in 1962 for a Motortown Revue performance.  It would be two years before America discovered Mary Wells with the release of her only No. 1 hit "My Guy."  Not so long for Little Stevie Wonder, who was 12 years old at the time.

The genius of producer Barry Gordy was already at work.  Wonder, a promising singer and harmonica player, was there to record a live version of "Fingertips" which had been recorded previously in the studio but was too long to release as a single.  The live song, or rather its flip side "Fingertips-Pt. 2" would become the first live recording to make No. 1.  That was the side on which the kid gets the groove going by shouting "Everybody say 'Yeah!', and during a reprise a musician can be heard yelling "What key? What key?"

It was the key of life for Stevie Wonder, who would have his first of eight No. 1 singles. Wonder and Wells could only have dreamed that day what might become of their careers.  Did they even know at the time that they shared the same birthday?

Ritchie Valens (1941-1959): Singer
Donna, La Bamba

Mary Wells (1943-1992): Singer
My Guy, Two Lovers, You Beat Me to the Punch, The One Who Really Loves You

Danny Klein (1946): Bass, J. Geils Band
Give It to Me, One Last Kiss, Freeze-Frame, Centerfold, Land of a 1000 Dances

Overend Pete Watts (1947): Bass, Mott the Hoople
All the Young Dudes, Ballad of Mott, All the Way to Memphis, Saturday Gigs

Stevie Wonder (1950): Singer/songwriter
Fingertips (Pt. 2), Superstition, You Are the Sunshine of My Life, I Just Called to Say I Love You

Paul Thompson (1951): Drummer, Roxy Music, Concrete Blonde
Do the Strand, Editions of You, Street Life, All I Want is You, Out of the Blue, Joey

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A true Billboard hit

Here's a video of country singer Del Reeves performing his only No. 1 song, "Girl on the Billboard," which topped the Billboard country chart on this day in 1965.  We probably just weren't paying much attention back then, but it was never easy telling Del Reeves from Jim Reeves.  (This was not so much a problem with Martha Reeves and the Vandellas.)

It shouldn't have been that difficult. Jim Reeves, who died in a plane crash shortly before his 40th birthday in 1964, had more hits during his career. Among them are a couple of true weepers: "Four Walls," "He'll Have to Go," "Blue Side of Lonesome," and "Distant Drums,"  the last two of which were posthumous No. 1s.  They even spliced together the voices of Jim Reeves and Patsy Cline for "Have You Ever Been Lonely (Have You Ever Been Blue)", which received plenty of airplay after its release in 1981.

Franklin Delano Reeves -- now who do you suppose his mama and daddy liked? -- had a fine career himself, notching his share of Top 10 songs, joining the Grand Ole Opry in 1966 and performing into the Eighties.  But nothing outside of "Girl on the Billboard" really caught fire.  He died three years ago, at 84, of natural causes.

A lot of folks complain about billboards, but nobody had a problem with the one Del sang about back in the day.

Who is the girl wearing nothing but a smile
and a towel in the picture on the billboard
in the field near the big old highway?
Rolling down the highway in my Jimmy hauling freight
from Chicago to St. Louis Lord I see her every day
A double clutching weasel like me can hardly ever
get a girl to look at him that way
Smiling like the girl wearing nothing but a smile
and a towel in the picture on the billboard
in the field near the big old highway

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The calm before the storm

If you want to know how much simpler our crazy old world was at this time in 1963 you need only consult the Billboard Top 5 for the week of May 11:

1. I Will Follow Him, Little Peggy March
2. Can't Get Used to Losing You, Andy Williams
3. He's So Fine, Chiffons
4. Puff (The Magic Dragon), Peter, Paul and Mary
5. Baby Workout, Jackie Wilson

Little Peggy March? A pipsqueak with a sweet little voice to match her moniker. She was 15 years old and we loved her.  Andy Williams?  Not only did he have the No. 2 song in the country, it was not bothersome at all to listen.  We might not have run out to purchase the record but we didn't move the radio dial when it came on.  The lyrics to the chorus are still embedded in our musical peabrains:

Can't get used to losin' you
No matter what I try to do
Gonna live my whole life through
Lovin' you...

We were reasonably content with the music of the day.  Stations were playing just enough soul and R&B to give us variety, and in a few weeks the Beach Boys would be making their way up the charts with "Surfin' U.S.A."  (We must acknowledge that Bob Dylan was already making his large imprint, but word was slow coming out of Greenwich Village.  At this time Peter, Paul and Mary were the popular voices of folk music.)  Life was good, and yet...

Few people knew something was brewing over in Britain that would blow the doors off this safe little scene.  John Lennon and Paul McCartney, to borrow a clever line from Dylan, were in the basement mixing up some medicine.  "I Want Hold Your Hand" -- actually written in a basement at about this time in '63 -- would be recorded in October, and by the following February it was all over.

As Beatles manager Brian Epstein was trying impatiently to crack the U.S. market, one can't help but wonder what the lads from Liverpool -- deeply influenced by American music that was not at all popular among its own people -- were thinking when they viewed this scene from across the pond.

Easy pickings, one would think.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Make room for a real Pistol

He couldn't play the bass guitar worth a damn, was in a band less than two years and died of a heroin overdose at age 21 while on bail for murder charges. How did he make it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

He was Sid Vicious, aka John Simon Ritchie, who would have been 53 today if not for the needle and the damage that was done. He was a member of the Sex Pistols.  A poster boy for punk rock.

And though not a founding member of the Pistols, Vicious was included when the Hall came calling in 2006.  Not that the band, which was inducted with Black Sabbath, Lynrd Skynyrd and Blondie, thought much of the honor. In a message posted on their web page at the time they called the Hall "a piss stain" and defiantly declared:  "Were not coming. Your not paying attention."

Those Pistols.

We're making a wild guess that Vicious might not have cared much for being included in today's Birthday Band lineup. And that's fine.  Mother Maybelle can play bass.

Mother Maybelle Carter (1909-1978): Singer/musician, Carter Family
Keep on the Sunny Side, Foggy Mountain Top, A Jilted Love

Henry Fambrough (1938): Singer, Spinners
I’ll Be Around, Could It Be I’m Falling in Love, Rubberband Man

Danny Rapp (1941-1983): Singer, Danny and the Juniors
At the Hop, Rock and Roll is Here to Stay

Donovan (1946): Singer/songwriter
Mellow Yellow, Sunshine Superman, Atlantis

Dave Mason (1946): Singer/songwriter
Alone Together, Hole in My Shoe, Just for You, Feelin’ Alright, We Just Disagree

Jay Ferguson (1947):  Singer, Spirit
I Got a Line on You, Nature’s Way; group: Jo Jo Gunne

Sid Vicious (1957-1979): Bass, Sex Pistols
Anarchy in the U.K., God Save the Queen, Pretty Vacant

Bono (1960): Singer, U2
Sunday Bloody Sunday, Pride [In the Name of Love], With You or Without You

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Momma, please let your babies...

Happy Mother's Day to moms everywhere, from Mavis Gabriel Smith right here in Whitehall to the great but troubled Mother Earth in whom we are all greatly invested.   Let's do everything we can for them today and every day forward.

Here's what Holiday Mathis, our favorite horoscope queen from the Boston Herald, has to say about May 9:

How helpless human babies are in comparison to other young animals. We are utterly dependent on mother or on one who assumes the role. This Mother's Day begins under the spiritual Pisces moon and ends under the childlike Aries moon. Gratitude will extend to mothers and beyond as we remember all who have nurtured our development.

You probably knew that.

It's hard to imagine that members of today's Birthday Band could've made a lasting imprint without a good momma to provide love, guidance, square meals and even a good swift kick when it was absolutely needed. Get a load of this lineup:

Hank Snow (1914-1999): Country Music Hall of Fame singer, songwriter
I’m Moving On, Rhumba Boogie, Hello Love, I’ve Been Everywhere

Nokie Edwards (1935): Guitar, Ventures
Walk Don’t Run, Perfidia, Hawaii Five-O Theme

Sonny Curtis (1937): Guitar, the Crickets
Not Fade Away, That'll Be the Day, Peggy Sue, Maybe Baby

Pete Birrell (1941): Bass, Freddie and the Dreamers
I’m Telling You Now, You Were Made for Me, I Understand, Do the Freddie

Tommy Roe (1942): Singer
Sheila, Sweet Pea, Hooray for Hazel, Dizzy, Jam Up Jelly Tight

Richie Furay (1944): Guitar, Buffalo Springfield/Poco
For What It's Worth, Pick Up the Pieces

Steve Katz (1945): Guitar/vocals, Blood Sweat and Tears
And When I Die, You Make Me So Very Happy, Spinning Wheel

Billy Joel (1949): Rock and Roll Hall of Fame singer, musician
It’s Still Rock ’n’ Roll to Me, Tell Her about It, Uptown Girl, Piano Man

Tom Petersson (1950): Bass, Cheap Trick
I Want You to Want Me, Ain’t That a Shame, Dream Police, Voices

Friday, May 7, 2010

She learned the truth At Seventeen

Remember Janis Ian?  Hard to believe it has been 44 years since "Society's Child" stirred up the country with lyrics about an interracial romance.  Today she turns 59, which doesn't seem all that old until you consider she was 15 when she recorded the song.

Our favorite song by Ian didn't come until eight years later when she seduced us with the beautiful ballad "At Seventeen," which won a Grammy.  Sweet voice, great songwriter, and yet there's not much to talk about since 1975, except ...  this 2007 video from a Dutch TV program.  Here she performs "At Seventeen" with bass player Richard Bona and reconfirms what we always knew about her and the message she delivered. 

It was long ago and far away, the world was younger than today

Let's break out some SSS bubbly for Ian and the rest of today's Birthday Band, which is quite an impressive gathering:

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897): Composer
Requiem, Symphony #1 in C Minor, Symphony #4 in E Minor

Peter Tchaikovsky (1840-1893): Composer
1812 Overture, Swan Lake, Nutcracker Suite, Romeo and Juliet

Teresa Brewer (1931-2007): Singer
Music, Music, Music, Ricochet, A Sweet Old Fashioned Girl, ’Til I Waltz Again with You

Jimmy Ruffin (1939): Singer
What Becomes of the Brokenhearted, Hold on to My Love, There Will Never be Another You

Ricky West (1943): Guitar, The Tremeloes
Twist and Shout, Do You Love Me, Here Comes My Baby, Silence is Golden

Janis Ian (1951): Singer
At Seventeen, Society’s Child

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Here comes a memory

In the midnight moonlight I'll
Be walkin' a long and lonely mile
And every time I do
I keep seein' this picture of you

We were learning to drive a stick shift about the time these lyrics arrived as a bouncy single with infectious laughter and great harmonies.  If you need a refresher click here.

The band receives just one scant paragraph in the Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll, between Randy Travis (don't ask us) and T. Rex.  Their name was changed to an incorrect spelling because of a typo in a newspaper story. They had no No. 1 songs in the U.S., and their original frontman Brian Poole was gone before things really heated up for the band.

But we liked the Tremeloes well enough. So, too, did Decca Records -- more than the Beatles. Or so the story goes.  Decca was scouring the U.K. in 1962 looking for talent and after auditioning two bands they decided to sign the Tremeloes.  The other band managed quite well despite the slight, with members named John, Paul, George and Ringo.

The Tremeloes had three Top 5 songs in Britian that are remembered here today: "Here Comes My Baby" (No. 13 in the U.S. ), "Even the Bad Times Are Good" (No. 36) and "Silence is Golden" (No. 11) -- all in 1967 after the band had switched labels to Epic.

You don't need a stick shift to enjoy this ride.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The envelope, please

Tonight American Idol viewers were treated to a performance by Lady Gaga, whom host Ryan Seacrest described as an artist who is "pushing the pop culture envelope."  That dude gets to read all the clever lines!

We decided to duck in because we had missed the previous two competition nights and wanted to see how the Sanctuary's early predictions were panning out.  (Also, the Brewers are on the West Coast so we wouldn't need to miss any of the game.)  Back on March 24 this was the SSS Top 5:

1. Crystal Bowersox; 2. Big Mike Lynche; 3. Casey James; 4. Katie Stevens; 5. Lee Dewyze

Cross off Katie, who was eliminated a few weeks ago, and you have the Idol Top 4 now that Aaron Kelly (our No. 6) has finally, mercifully, been sent home. So we had four of the Top 5 five weeks ago. This is no Idol boast; we admitted the pickings were easy and it would be just a matter of time before Crystal and Big Mike duked it out for the title.  Casey will be the next to fall, and then it will become interesting to see if sneaky Lee Dewyze can mess it up for the contenders.

If viewers can just make it through next week's Songs of the Cinema, which sounds very much like another dreadful night of karaoke.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Don't keg me in

As if Milwaukee Brewers home games aren’t fun enough with the Racing Sausages, fans also get to belt out “ Beer Barrel Polka” during the seventh-inning stretch.

It's more than a reminder that beer sales will soon be halted for the night. It also helps brace fans for Trevor Hoffman’s inevitable blown save in the ninth – that is, if the boys aren’t being shut out as they were three out of four games this past weekend in San Diego.

We mention the song today because it was on this day in 1939 that the Andrews Sisters recorded it for Decca Records. The raucous beer-swilling tune hardly seems a fit for LaVerne, Maxene and Patty, whose standards included “Ferryboat Serenade,” “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” and “Don’t Fence Me In” (with Bing Crosby). But if Liberace could turn “Beer Barrel Polka” into a signature song, it’s anybody’s game.

(It’s worth noting the Andrews Sisters’ also dabbled in hard stuff by recording “Rum and Coca Cola,” another song we’d be happy to sing at games if only we knew the words.)

Unless our ears are failing us, the version played at Miller Park is by the legendary Frankie Yankovic, whom the Sanctuary credits for a lifelong appreciation of oom-pah-pah. If “Beer Barrel Polka,” “In Heaven There Is No Beer” and “Too Fat Polka” don’t comprise the finest Slovenian-style trifecta out there we’ll eat our souvenir beer cups. After downing the contents, of course.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Have swig with Nig

Even for "All the Gold in California" we're probably not going make it to the Crystal Grand Theater in Wisconsin Dells on May 15 to see Larry Gatlin.

Nothing against Larry, who's had a fine career as a Grammy Award-winning country crooner. We think we might even have an old album somewhere signed by members of the Gatlin Brothers Band circa 1980, a bit of graft obtained at a professional golf tournament gala in Florida.

We saw tickets going for $370 on the secondary market, and that just can't be right. To see Gatlin perform in Wisconsin's famous tourist trap? If you haven't visited the Dells before think of Gatlinburg, Tennessee (say shouldn't he be performing there?) without the Great Smoky Mountains. The Dells has its own natural beauty; it's just that they've built up the place so much it's impossible to get through there without a major hassle.  Can't see the forest for the water slides, so to speak.  But millions love the place, and it is easy enough to stay on I-94 avoid the slides, souvenir stores and fudge shops if that's not your bag.

We do promise the next time through to stop at Nig's Bar and hoist a shot of Cuervo for Larry and other members of today's Birthday Band.  You can get a taste by going to

Link Wray (1929-2005): Guitarist, composer
Rumble, Raw Hide, Jack the Ripper

Engelbert Humperdinck (1936): Singer
After The Lovin’, Release Me, There Goes My Everything, The Last Waltz

Goldy McJohn (1945): Organ, Steppenwolf
Born to be Wild, The Pusher, Magic Carpet Ride, Rock Me

Leslie Gore (1946): Singer
It’s My Party, Judy’s Turn to Cry, She’s a Fool, Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows
Larry Gatlin (1948): Singer
Broken Lady, I Don’t Wanna Cry, Houston (I’m Comin’ to See You), All the Gold in California

Lou Gramm (1950): Singer, Foreigner
Feels like the First Time, Cold as Ice, Double Vision, Hot Blooded, Blue Morning Blue Day

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Happy Mudders Day

It's the first Saturday in May and you know what that means.  Children gathered around maypoles for the traditional Old World dance?  No!  That quaint tradition, along with small baskets of candy left at sweethearts' doorsteps, seems to have gone by the boards on May 1.  A shame.

And when we heard yesterday that inclement weather might halt today's Kentucky Derby we thought: This world really is going to hell in a May basket.  Of course they'll run today at Churchill Downs! They always run the race. It's getting to the point where you can't believe a single thing you read on the internet.  It'll be sloppy and it'll be grand -- even if they run it under lights for the first time.  That's the latest gossip coming out of Louisville on Race Day.

To get in the mood we recommend our favorite racing song of all time. You might be thinking of Dan Fogelberg's "Run for the Roses," but that's a little too tame for our liking. When they're rounding the sloppy turns with hooves pounding and nostrils flaring we will be well primed, having spent the day with that George Jones classic "The Race is On."