Archive for the 'Article' Category

02
Feb
11

A Hoe-Down Feast (with Drums on the Side)

The following article is about a recent Eugene, Oregon appearance of The Emmit-Nershi Band, Great American Taxi, and Danny Barnes. All  fine musicians with deep bluegrass influences.

But before I get to that article I want to share a related personal story of – something that happened over thirty years ago – the weekend I lost my virginity to bluegrass music. I’ll admit I was nervous, after all… I’d seen Deliverance.

Drums on the Side

Who Cares! - (L to R - Wayne, me, Felix)

Back in the early 80’s I was the drummer in a three-piece (sometimes four-piece, sometimes five-piece band – depending on who brought beer and a guitar) called Who Cares based out of Mountain Pass, California, Sorry, no hyperlink to that band – we were way ahead of our time and the internet. My band-mates Felix Lenox and Wayne  Elliott – both excellent guitarists – were talking one night about the Bluegrass in the Spring Festival, an annual event held in Calico Ghost Town, California. Wayne and his dad, Don, would be performing there as The Mountain Pass Drifters. Felix and I decided that we should pack up the van and head out to Calico and take in the Festival.

The next morning we started loading all the essentials – beer, peanut butter, beef jerky, sleeping bags, and beer. Felix put a couple of his guitars into their cases, grabbed his amp, took them out to the van, snatched a beer out of the cooler and sat in the open back-end of the van.

“Hey, Blake,” he yelled into the house, “you about ready to hit the road?”

“Almost, man,” I said as I came out the side door of our single-wide mobile home carrying my bass drum. “I’ve just got a few more things to load.” I hadn’t noticed Felix’s puzzled look as I set the 20″ drum into the van. I headed back inside, returning shortly after with my toms and cymbal bag.

Felix sat there, his beer bottle – not quite up to his open mouth – seemed blocked by the question that hung on his lips… “What the fuck are you doing?”

Now I had the look of bewilderment. “What the hell does it look like?” I said. “You’re taking your axe; I’m taking mine.”

“I really don’t think you should,” he explained, “Bluegrass people don’t like drummers.”

I smiled, “Shit, everybody loves a drummer.”

It was about a three beer drive (one and a half hours) to Calico Ghost Town from Mountain Pass, California. We staked out a spot in the campground, grabbed a couple more beers from the cooler, headed out to join the crowd and enjoy the music. There were a ton of guitarists, along with more mandolin and banjo players than I had ever seen in one place. As far as I knew, I was the only drummer around.

Mountain Pass Drifters (Wayne is front and center)

Felix and I watched the Mountain Pass Drifters compete with some other very good bluegrass bands. Honestly, I couldn’t tell you if they won or not; the day was long and hot, many beers were consumed. After Wayne finished with the serious music, he joined us on the streets of Calico as we performed some bluegrass standards for tips and beer. I armed myself with my snare, hi-hats, brushes, and a pair of sticks (in case I felt the need to get loud). We entered a talent contest at a theatre – that looked like it came right from the set of Gunsmoke – and we won FIRST PLACE! Maybe I read too much into it, BUT, we were the only group with percussion. Don’t tell me these people don’t like drummers.

The nightlife in the Calico Ghost Town campground was a real treat. Everywhere we turned – musicians jammed. Felix and Wayne joined in when it struck them. After making the rounds, we made our way back to the van. As Felix and Wayne picked their way through some tunes, I opened the back doors of the van, pulled my drums out – piece by piece – and quietly assembled them. What’s the worst that could happen? I was surrounded by fellow musicians… drunken bluegrass musicians that – I was told – didn’t like drummers . In my twenties, I didn’t always think things through.

For the most part, it went pretty well. We jammed and people listened. We played bluegrass, country, and rock (we may have even slipped in an acoustic version of B-52’s “Planet Claire”). After a couple of hours of jamming, we took a break. A tall kid in blue jeans and a cropped-sleeved t-shirt approached me at the back of the van. He looked to be about 15 or 16. He asked me if that was my kit and asked if it was okay if he sat down at them. I said, “Sure, go ahead,” figuring he came from a drum-deprived bluegrass family and had never actually seen a drum kit up close – I was wrong.

He tapped around on the skins, then turned around and asked, “You have a tuning key on you?”

I was a bit skeptical at first, but thought I could always re-tune them later. I dug the key out of my pocket and handed the key to him. I watched and listened as he tuned and tapped, tapped and tuned, until my drums sounded sweeter than ever.

He handed me back the key and said, “You mind if I play them a bit?”

“Hell no,” I said, “Thanks for the tuning. Knock yourself out, kid.”

His solo started out slow and unassuming and – as a crowd gathered around our little piece of the ghost town night – gradually built into a complex, melodic, piece of percussive expertise that would have made Neil Peart himself say, “Damn, That kid’s good!” He ended with an explosive crescendo of metal and taut skin that shook the air. The crowd cheered loudly as the young drummer handed me back my sticks and simply said, “Thanks, man.”

I talked to him just long enough to learn that he was 16 and had been playing since he was 8. I thanked him and then he disappeared into the campfire-lit night. Felix and I stood there silently for a bit until Felix said, “You want to play some more?”

“What?” I said, “I ain’t following that.”

“Yeah… me neither,” Felix said.

I thought – Don’t tell me bluegrass people don’t like drummers.

A Hoe-Down Feast

Drew Emmitt (Leftover Salmon) and Bill Nershi (String Cheese Incident) – both founders of popular jam bands – have done the sold-out-stadium, prestigious rock ‘n’ roll thing flawlessly. Over the years they developed a strong friendship as the paths of their bands crossed at shows and festivals. From that kindred-spirit bond grew the idea of forming a project together and returning to their roots as The Emmitt-Nershi Band. They didn’t waste much time focusing on the band’s name; instead, they focused on the music – some of the finest examples of modern bluegrass music you’ll ever hear. Their latest collaboration, New Country Blues, is like a cornucopia filled with the succulent fruits of their love of the music.

Great American Taxi

Great American Taxi

Bring Emmitt and Nershi together with their old friends of Great American Taxi – one of the best-known headliners on the jam band circuit – and you’ve got one hell of a show. Former Leftover Salmon singer, guitarist, and mandolin player Vince Herman is one of the founding members of Great American Taxi. The band’s music – a recipe of swampy blues, progressive bluegrass, funky New Orleans strut, honky-tonk country, and good old fashioned rock ’n’ roll – has been self-labeled “Americana Without Borders.” Their latest release, Reckless Habits, captures the raucous enthusiasm of which their live shows are legend.

Danny Barnes

Danny Barnes

If that’s not enough, genre-bending banjo man Danny Barnes will join them on stage. While incorporating digital technology and multiple effects pedals, Barnes takes the banjo where it has never been musically. His skill as an instrumentalist has ushered him to share the stage and record with countless multi-genre artists including Leftover Salmon.

This article was originally published in Eugene Weekly, November 4, 2010

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03
Jan
11

That Classic Country Sound Lives On…

It’s encouraging to hear young acoustic performers out there that are still strongly influenced by some of the greats of country music. Crooked River band mates Teri Jacobs (guitar/vocals/harmonica), Lana Dishner (guitar/vocals) and Rob Jacobs (mandolin/guitar/vocals) are old friends who, over the years, have shared laughs, food and their love of the classics – Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams and Marty Robbins to name a few. Less than a year after Rob taught Lana to play guitar, the three of them (with Teri on harmonica), were performing their treasured classics for friends and at summer garden parties.

Once bitten by that performance bug, Teri learned guitar, began writing songs like a woman possessed while Rob and Lana continued to polish their musical skills and also write songs. Rob also picked up mandolin, adding a crisp fresh layer to their already true-to-the-classics sound. Soon they had an impressive assortment of original songs.

The collection became their debut album – My Troubled Heart – which is filled with tales of anguish that a broken heart holds from the title track’s lonely story of betrayal, to the blithe account of loss (but just leave the beer) in “6-Pack,” closing with the tranquil journey of “I’m Home.” Staying true to their inspirations – Crooked River recorded My Troubled Heart in mono, giving it the warmth of a candle-lit living room performance. Join Crooked River as they celebrate the release of My Troubled Heart.

This article was originally published in Eugene Weekly, November 11, 2010

03
Jan
11

A Voice All Her Own

After spending ten years as the “sultry” voice of the Canadian female trio The Be Good Tanyas, Frazey Ford launched her voice to the forefront on her debut solo album Obadiah, released earlier this year. Proving that Ford is capable of delivering a solid album on her own, the smoldering Obadiah sounds more ambitious than any of her work with The Tanyas. Her palette expanded, Ford’s comforting voice – weaving easily from soothing jazz, smoky soul and somber country – brings new colors to light.

Obadiah has the spontaneous feel of a live performance full of honesty and heart, rich with stories about love, loss and life that unravel at their own colorful pace. Ford’s writing has matured, touching on subjects that come with experience of life’s ups and downs. Her long list of influences are an eclectic collection – Joni Mitchell, Bessie Smith, Al Green, Sean Hayes, Pauline Lamb, Prince, Ann Peebles and Joan Armatrading just to name a few.

A true teller of tales with an incomparable voice, Ford’s finest talent is her skill to take on the embodiment of her song’s characters. This is evident on the opening track “Firecracker,” where she’s a hard-drinker that talks to angels with an artful grin. On “Gospel Song,” she looks back on her family life through the eyes of country preacher. In a nod to one of her early inspirations, she covers Bob Dylan’s “One More Cup of Coffee” and makes it her own.

This article was originally published in Eugene Weekly, December 2, 2010

10
Oct
10

The Original Dawg

David GrismanThe number of decades that mandolinist David Grisman has been creating music is only rivaled by the number of genres that his brand of acoustical music spans. Grisman is the original master of “dawg music,” and it has nothing to do with hip hop or rap.

Grisman began piano lessons in 1952 at the age of 7. After three years, he lost interest in the piano and his attention swayed toward the mandolin. Like many budding folk musicians in the late 1950s, Grisman discovered folk music through the Kingston Trio and the lively Greenwich Village music scene. Grisman started his musical career in 1963 as a member of the Even Dozen Jug Band. His close friend Jerry Garcia gave him the nickname “Dawg” in 1973. They first met in 1964 at a Bill Monroe concert.

“Dawg music” is what Grisman calls his fusion of bluegrass and Django Reinhardt/Stéphane Grappelli-influenced jazz, as highlighted on his 1979 album Hot Dawg. It was Grisman’s amalgamation of Reinhardt-era jazz, bluegrass, folk, Old World Mediterranean string band music and modern jazz fusion that personified “Dawg” music.

In 1975 Grisman got together with guitar virtuoso Tony Rice, multi-instrumentalists Mark O’Connor, Mike Marshall, Darol Anger — and featured guests such as violin genius Stéphane Grappelli — and formed the David Grisman Quintet. Although the lineup has changed through the years, the DGQ continues to produce music with the same confidence and finesse as it did 35 years ago.

This article was originally published in Eugene Weekly, October 7, 2010

16
Sep
10

A Wild Ride — No Bull

Ryan BinghamRyan Bingham’s smoke and whiskey etched voice is quite deceiving. You might think you’re listening to some dusty, middle-aged, leather-faced guitar slinger instead of a brooding, good-looking 29-year-old former bull rider. If his rusty-saw of a voice sounds familiar, then you probably saw the film Crazy Heart. Bingham penned the film’s theme song, “The Weary Kind,” for which he received both a Golden Globe and an Oscar for Best Original Song this year. That’s a wild ride for a guy who didn’t pick up a guitar until he was 17 years old.

Bingham’s work on the Crazy Heart soundtrack brought him together with producer T-Bone Burnett, who produced Bingham’s latest album, Junky Star, a vehicle for his ever-improving songwriting skills and his raw out-in-front vocals. It also has all the markings of a Burnett project, giving it a stripped-down, timeless sound. The unobtrusive acoustic accompaniment of Bingham’s longtime band, The Dead Horses, never overdrives the vocals.

The 12 tracks of Junky Star are populated with characters from the harder side of life — junkies, murderers, strippers and thieves — clinging to a slender glimmer of hope. Bingham’s vocal style ranges from the Dylanesque “Direction of the Wind” to a Nebraska-era Springsteen on “Yesterday’s Blues,” with others bringing Steve Earl or Tom Waits to mind. In the standout track “Hallelujah,” a man robbed and shot to death tells one of the most compellingly tragic tales. He unwillingly wanders between life and the afterlife, refusing to abandon his passion for life and the lover he left behind.

This article was originally published in Eugene Weekly, September 16, 2010

10
Sep
10

What’s Become of the Bus

After Jerry Garcia died in 1995, the remaining members of the Grateful Dead officially decided to break up. Over the years, there have been a few reunions of the surviving members involving a variety of additional musicians. In 1998, former Grateful Dead band mates Bob Weir, Phil Lesh and Mickey Hart formed a band called The Other Ones, which later became The Dead; they went on hiatus in 2004.

Ken Kesey with the original "Furthur" bus in July 2001. Photo: Brian Davies

The latest Weir and Lesh collection of musicians, Furthur, formed in 2009. The band’s name comes from Ken Kesey’s prankster-filled bus of the ’60s. The bus’ name placard, designed by artist Roy Sebern, gave inspiration to carry on whenever the bus broke down. The bus died shortly after a trip to Woodstock in 1969. It currently rests on the late Ken Kesey’s farm in Pleasant Hill.

Acid Test Poster 1965

The ties between Kesey and the Grateful Dead go back beyond the beginning — before Jerry Garcia picked up that old dictionary in search of a new name for their band, turned to Phil Lesh and said, “Hey man, how about The Grateful Dead?” Before they were The Grateful Dead, they were The Warlocks, and they played at many of Kesey’s parties during the mid-’60s. Their first performance as The Grateful Dead was on December 4, 1965, at one of Kesey’s Acid Tests. From there, The Grateful Dead — with an eclectic style that fused elements of rock, folk, bluegrass, reggae, country, jazz, psychedelic and space rock — took that long, strange trip into rock and roll history.

Phil Lesh, Bob Weir and Furthur

In addition to Weir and Lesh, Furthur has a strong lineup: keyboardist Jeff Chimenti of Weir’s band RatDog; guitarist/vocalist John Kadlecik of the Grateful Dead tribute band Dark Star Orchestra; drummer Joe Russo, who first played with Lesh in 2006; and backing vocalists Sunshine Becker and Jeff Pehrson. The Grateful Dead’s music remains the same, but the Deadhead has changed quite a bit over the years.

"Old Joe" O'Hara

"Old Joe" O'Hara - Click picture to watch video of Widespread Panic performing "Old Joe" at the Riverside Theater in Milwaukee, WI.

I spoke with a longtime Deadhead, Joe O’Hara, also known as Old Joe. For you Widespread Panic fans, yes, he’s that “Old Joe.” O’Hara has been going to concerts since the mid-’60s when he was about 6 years old (thanks to his older cousins), and he’s seen the Grateful Dead countless times since the early ’70s. Regarding the Deadhead scene, he told me, “Before ‘Touch of Grey’ came out [in 1987], it was a very kind, peaceful scene. We were family; we helped each other out. I would make big pots of stew or chili and feed others and sell some of it. I’d sell beer and tie-dye too.”

O’Hara continued, “After ‘Touch of Grey,’ — which, believe it or not, was their biggest hit with that MTV video — all of a sudden, the scene filled with a bunch of wanna-bes. We, as a family, would try to help those that looked like they needed help. Did they appreciate it? No, it would be, ‘Thanks, what’s next?’ They didn’t get it. It lost a lot of its appeal. It was that way until Jerry died.”

O’Hara assured me, “Now it’s come back to calmer people at the shows just enjoying the music.”

This article was originally published in Eugene Weekly, September 9, 2010

19
Aug
10

Living on That Dusty Trail

Robert Earl KeenSince the mid 80s Robert Earl Keen’s songwriting styles have proven to be unequaled. His many loyal fans gladly venture into the vivid settings rendered in Keen’s songs – where his colorful and eclectic characters reside – to live the stories themselves. They know the gang that hangs out at Mr. Blues in “Feelin’ Good Again.” They’re in the alley with Sonny and Sherry in “The Road Goes on Forever” as that fateful shot rings out. They live to drink Mescal with the boys from the old Broken O at Amanda’s Saloon on “Sonora’s Death Row.”

Keen’s subject matter is as wide as the Texas skyline and can sometimes take you places dark and dreadful. He can cast you into a shadowy, paranoid persona where you know everyone is out to “Blow You Away.” In “Billy Gray” he shares the tender story from long ago of young Sarah’s tragic love for Billy. In the end, you’re there next to Billy’s headstone. Keen also has a very sharp wit that shines in the perennial favorite “Merry Christmas from the Family” and in the recent “Wireless in Heaven.”

Robert Earl Keen may very well be the father of Americana music (as some have called him). It’s unclear if he’s ever made that claim, so maybe he’s more like its illegitimate father. But he’s no deadbeat dad – after all, he’s nurtured and supported Americana for years and there are many singer-songwriters who claim him as their inspiration.
This article was originally published in Eugene Weekly, August 19, 2010

Read OKOM interview with Robert Earl Keen…




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