The Wonder of Wyrd

“Nothing may happen without wyrd, for it is present in everything, but wyrd does not make things happen. Wyrd is created at every instant, and so wyrd is the happening.”
Brian Bates – The Way of Wyrd: Tales of an Anglo-Saxon Sorcerer 1983

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Finally or Firstly

Spilling over from my last post, and my list of beloved classical pieces, I totally missed Gustav Holst’s “The Planets”!!! Gracious sakes, how did I miss that one? That puts my count to a nice round twenty-one selectable and delectable Pisces, which is where I shall astrologically leave it. Speaking of astrology, I have promised for several months to write about the concept of wyrd in music. So now that the Popeswami’s Moon Unit is in the 7Stones’ house of The Rising Sons, and Jupiter’s Child is aligned with Martians, then the 21st piece is “The Planets”, and the band, Love, will steal the stars. Could it be the awning of the sage of equestrians?

Going back to the subject of Martians, “You’re a Martian” was a musical observation of Schwump when he first recorded this odd-ditty in 1976 with The Residents. And, in 2013 The Residents toured under the theme, The Wonder of Weird; so this brings us full circle to the Wonder of Wyrd. See what I did there?

Henceforth I shall attempt to give the square roots of the concept of “wyrd” and how this influenced a fascinating genre of music that began to flourish in the 1990s, blossomed in the early 2000s, and continues today.

NOTE: My primary reviewer feels that this is far too analytical and cerebral for a blog post. So be forewarned. It does get rather detailed.

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Hand/Eye Wyrd Folk Compilation

Isn’t Esoterica Lovely?

The term “wyrd” is closely associated with an ancient Anglo-Saxon view of the universe that goes back well over a millennium, and probably back to oral traditions. The word “wyrd” has an etymology that stems from Common Germanic “wurdiz”, and to the Proto-Indo-European root “wert-“, meaning “to turn” or “rotate”. It is associated with today’s usage of the words “fate” and “destiny”, but has a deeper meaning than the simple application of those words. The spelling “weird” first appears in Scottish and Northern English dialects in the 16th century. But by the 18th century the word “weird” began to mean “odd” or “strange” in connection with the supernatural, and eventually began to be applied as it is today to everyday situations that appear to be unusual. Modern paganism and mysticism has attempted to restore the use of the term “wyrd”, as well as the original meaning of the word “weird”.

In “What is Wyrd?” which was published in Cup of Wonder No. 5 (October, 2001), Arlea Hunt-Anschutz writes: “The most fundamental concept of heathenry is wyrd. It is also one of the most difficult to explain and hence one of the most often misunderstood…Wyrd literally means “that which has turned” or “that which has become”. It carries the idea of “turned into” in both the sense of becoming something new and the sense of turning back to an original starting point. In metaphysical terms, wyrd embodies the concept that everything is turning into something else while both being drawn in toward and moving out from its own origins. Thus, we can think of wyrd as a process that continually works the patterns of the past into the patterns of the present.”

The British psychologist, Brian Bates, has written extensively about the concept of wyrd. In his introduction to The Way of Wyrd” (1983) he wrote: “Wyrd is the unfolding of our personal destiny…But…It does not see our lives as “pre-determined”. Rather, it is an all-encompassing view which connects us to all things, thoughts, emotions, events in the cosmos as if through the threads of an enormous, invisible but dynamic web. Today, scientists know intellectually that all things are interconnected. But the power of Wyrd is to realise this in our inner being, and to know how to use it to manifest our personal destiny.”

Continuing, Bates says “…our Anglo-Saxon ancestors believed in a universe where lines of power ran through the earth, spirits inhabited the trees, streams and stones, and where magicians were able to look into the future through the mysterious power of runes. People understood their universe as held together by an interlaced web of golden threads visible only to the wizards. And still today, The Way of Wyrd transforms our experience of personal destiny – who we are, and how we can manifest our personal potential. It is a way of personal healing… Today, through a deep connection with wyrd, we are inspired to see our lives in a new and empowering way. It restores our experience of the healing power of love, nature and creativity. It is about letting into our lives the guidance of an extended universe of spirit. It brings ancient wisdom together with modern science in the service of enhancing our lives, and the integrity of our human presence on the planet.”

I bet many of you didn’t know any of this. I bet many of you didn’t care much, either. But there is no one reading this that hasn’t for at least a moment in their lives, considered “the big picture” – considered their destiny and asked why things were the way they were. I’m not referring to attending religious ceremonies, and performing rituals, but digging deep into ourselves and wondering what it is all about.

So what does this have to do with music? Well, we are all familiar with the close association music has with every aspect of our lives, from the sacred to the profane. From the time the first human uttered words tonally (or atonally), created instruments or contraptions to blow through, vibrate, pluck, or pound, we have associated these sounds with everything we do, we dream, we ponder, or imagine. Today we have music representing various cultural and religious traditions and customs, and dealing with all sorts of social concerns as well as our relationships with nature, with the cosmos, and with each other. When the concept of wyrd was revived in recent times, music began to be associated with that concept.

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The Birdtree – Orchards & Caravans

The Music of Wyrd

My first exposure to wyrd folk was through a now-defunct Website that mysteriously appeared with the title “Psychedelic Albums”. This was late in the year 2003. In 2004 the owner of this site created a category he referred to as “Wyrd Folk” but later changed this to “Psychedelic Folk, Drone, Improv, Experimental Acoustic”. This is where I learned about some of the current big names in the genre such as B’eirth of In Gowan Ring, Prydwyn of Green Crown, and Tim Renner of Stone Breath. The owner of this site turned out to be a fellow named Simon Allen, from Sheffield, England. We corresponded frequently and he shared many music sources with me. One source was Brad Rose of Tulsa, Oklahoma, who had two imprint labels, Digitalis and Foxglove, and an online newsletter, Foxy Digitalis. He also recorded under the name, The North Sea, and was part of other bands such as Juniper Meadows and Corsican Paintbrush. Another Website, The Unbroken Circle, was run by Mark Coyle from the UK. It was an excellent historical resource that described “wyrd folk” and the artists that performed it. Coyle also had a sister Website, Woven Wheat Whispers that served as an outlet for CDs and downloads for these artists. Simon Allen also began an imprint label, Barl Fire, where artists performing wyrd, experimental, and other related acoustic music forms released some wonderful albums. Unfortunately, Allen pulled the plug on the Psychedelic Albums site in 2006, and by early 2008, Barl Fire was gone as well. Likewise, Mark Coyle closed both The Unbroken Circle and Woven Wheat Whispers sites in 2008 after someone hacked into the site and caused him several problems. Brad Rose continued on with his imprints and Website for a few more years but finally discontinued his recording labels and then in 2013 his Foxy Digitalis site merged with Decoder, an Internet ‘zine with a broader focus, and so it was no more. Tim Renner, from Southeastern Pennsylvania, not only has formed several groups in a variety of folk sub-genres, but has operated a Website and album store, Some Dark Holler, that continues today under the name Dark Holler Arts. Groups formed by or associated with Renner include Stone Breath, Breathe Stone, Moth Masque, Mourning Cloak, The Spectral Light and Moonshine Firefly Snakeoil Jamboree, Crow Tongue, and others. There are several other Websites catering to those interested in wyrd folk, experimental folk, and other related unconventional music forms that sprung up in the late 90s and early 00s and many still exist. I believe the biggest heartache for me was the closing of The Unbroken Circle, for it was a treasure trove of information about the beginnings of wyrd folk, with an immense reference section related to the many sub-genres of modern folk.

A characteristic of these artists is to release their music independently, often on homemade CDrs on their own imprint. Another characteristic was to form music collectives such as the San Francisco-based Jeweled Antler Collective, where a small core of artists, or an artist, works with a continuously rotating list of artists and a “music session” is represented by a group name under which they record. Many of these sessions are totally improvised, and the “recording studio” may be outside near a stream or meadow incorporating all the sounds around them into the music; artists like Juniper Meadows from the US, Sedayne from the UK, and Anaksimandros from Finland come to mind. Recordings often include sounds by the artists themselves such as coughing or sneezing, or even talking to one another in the background. Generally the music is acoustic, but not always. For example The Does and Family LSD use traditional electric rock instrumentation.

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The Franciscan Hobbies – Masks & Meanings

Many of these recordings are wordless, with the human voice being used as an instrument or as part of the ambience if heard at all. The music can be anything from a traditional Western structure with beautiful melodies and harmonies, to a Middle-Eastern sound such as from Josephine Foster or Mike Tamburo, or to atonal free-form chaos, and everything else in between. When there are lyrics, they leave no aspect of the human condition untouched, with an emphasis on subjects that are often avoided in more conventional music forms. One can sense the feeling of darkness, existential loneliness and pessimism, and of fateful resignation in some of the lyrics. Sometimes there is an ominous concern but yet a curious wonderment regarding the unknown or the spirit world. Some artists will uncover lyrics from centuries old songs that reflect similar dark, fatalistic views and superstitions. But not all the lyrics are about fearful and depressing subjects. Some are happy, even joyous, but still have that element of fate tied to it. Such lyrics, old or new, I believe are what make these songs part of the wyrd folk genre. The instrumental recordings, while often by artists who also perform lyrical wyrd folk, are another sub-genre and perhaps this is why Simon Allen changed his listing of such artists from “wyrd folk” to “psychedelic folk, drone, improv, and experimental acoustic”, which is a more accurate description of the variety of sounds. A more recent word used to group all these styles together is “neofolk”, with “free folk” being a sub-genre.

Many people associate the idea of “wyrd” with pagan traditions, Wicca, or Satanism. This genre does not represent such religions or traditions any more than any other music form. There are indeed Christian artists, such as Caedmon, who have been classified as “wyrd” just as there are others who are committed pagans such as Omnia. And yet there are others that are “unclassifiable” when it comes to spiritual orientation, such as Stone Breath, Sharron Kraus, Marissa Nadler, and Terry Earl Taylor. Some artists, such as Pamela Wyn Shannon, Circulus, The Wyld Olde Souls, and Spires That in the Sunset Rise, tap into the ancient Anglo-Saxon heritage of magic and mysticism, but without overtly making a definitive commitment to these beliefs; they are merely observing and reporting. Spires is more avant-garde in musical structure than the others mentioned here.

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Bert Jansch – Jack Orion

Wyrd folk, as in psychedelic music, has its primary origins in the 60s, when the youth of that era were experimenting with psychedelic drugs, Eastern religions, mysticism, magic, alternative lifestyles, and the like. Just as psychedelic rock of the 60s reflects these interests, so does 60s folk. While the term “wyrd folk” did not come into usage in modern music until the late 1980s, it has been retroactively applied to artists from the 60s onward. Music that has retroactively been given the label “wyrd folk” has a more metaphysical aspect to it, and in the UK the artists tapped into the ancient Anglo-Saxon shamanistic expressions described earlier. Early popular artists that could be tangentially connected to the genre include Donovan and The Incredible String Band. Also notable would be Fairport Convention, Pentangle and specifically John Renbourn and Bert Jansch. Jansch’s album “Jack Orion” is noted as an early example of what would later be considered wyrd folk. In the early 70s this really took off in the UK, with groups like Comus, C.O.B., Magna Carta, Forest, Trees, Fresh Maggots, Spriguns, and a host of others. However, in the US, it did not seem to catch on, and psychedelic music gradually melded into either progressive rock or hard rock and metal. Psychedelic aspects of music continued to bubble under the surface around the world for decades, surfacing mostly within the rock genre. But something happened in the late 90s that was a turning point. I have yet to figure this out. Some of the earlier artists of this genre, beginning in the late 80s through mid 90s, were Current 93, Sol Invictus, In Gowan Ring, and Mourning Cloak.

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Stone Breath – Songs of Moonlight and Rain

Around 2004, these related folk styles began to spring up everywhere, especially in the US and the UK but also throughout the planet. From Ireland come United Bible Studies and Agitated Radio Pilot. From Russia (with love) we have Julia Vorontsova who follows the traditions of the Russian bards. Japan’s Makoto Kawabata is noted for his work with Acid Mother’s Temple and the Melting Paraiso U.F.O. and related groups, but some of his solo work could be classified in this genre. In Scandinavia you have groups from Sweden, Norway, and Finland but the Finns seem to have been the most prolific, tapping into ancient folk traditions. There are artists such as: Anaksimandros, mentioned above; Paivansade; Uton; Pekko Kappi; Lau Nau; Islaja; Es; Keijo (Virtanen); Vapaa; Kukkiva Poliisi; and one of my favorites, Kemialliset Ystavat. Most of these Finnish groups/artists are classified as “free folk”. Most are instrumental. In New South Wales, Australia there is a collective of musicians centered around brother and sister, Michael and Kristina Donnelly. Groups related or attributed to them include Brothers of the Occult Sisterhood, Terracid, Alligator Crystal Moth, 6majik9, ffehro, Soarwhole and are primarily in the free folk sub-genre. The Jeweled Antler Collective is centered around Steven R. Smith, Loren Chasse, and Glenn Donaldson. Groups to come out of this collective include Thuja, The Birdtree, Skygreen Leopards, The Franciscan Hobbies, Hala Strana, The Child Readers, The Ivytree; The Buried Civilizations; The Once and Future Herds; and D. Smolken (who was originally from Poland). What seems to set these artists apart from the others mentioned here is that there are Eastern European elements that seem to run through the music coming out of the Jeweled Antler Collective, perhaps due to the influences from D. Smolken of Dead Raven Choir, Garlic Yarg, and Wolfmangler. Wolfmangler actually veers into dark metal drone more than folk.

Other notable US artists would be: Fursaxa from Philadelphia; Poppy Sward and Green Mistletoe from Oswego, NY; Hush Arbors and The Golden Oaks from Virginia. From Tyne and Wear, UK comes Sean Breadin who is responsible for several artists: Eleanor’s Visceral Tomb; Shibboleth; Venereum Arvum; and Sedayne. All are grounded in ancient Anglo-Saxon music, with many handmade instruments designed to be true to ancient construction and sound. The album “Winter Heresy” by Shibboleth is a very dark, primitive, instrumental work that sounds like it is performed by ancient spirits in a dank, dark dungeon. Malaysian born David Tibet (now living in the UK) has been instrumental in the promotion of wyrd folk and was one of the earliest artists in related sub-genres, recording as Current 93. He is also closely associated with the dark ambient sounds of Nurse With Wound and the more rhythmic acid house of Psychic TV. Phil Legard from the UK is another prolific artist recording as Xenis Emputae Travelling Band and The Pneumatic Consort. And I must not forget English Heretic, which mixes paranormal experiences with psychedelic folk and electronic sound. Do not listen to English Heretic recordings alone and in the dark as you never know what might visit you!

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In Gowan Ring – Abend the Knurled Stitch O’er the Glinting Spade

Recommended Albums

The following are just a small sample of items that I strongly recommend. Some are nearly impossible to obtain today with some titles having releases of less than 100. Others are much easier to locate.

1. Stone Breath – Songs of Moonlight and Rain
2. Stone Breath – A Silver Thread to Weave the Seasons
3. In Gowan Ring – Abend The Knurled Stitch O’er The Glinting Spade
4. Current 93 – All The Pretty Little Horses – The Inmost Light
5. Kemialliset Ystavat – Alkuharka
6. English Heretic – The Sacred Geography of British Cinema: Scene One: A Hilltop Hanging From Witchfinder General
7. Paul Giovanni and Magnet – The Wicker Man (original soundtrack album)
8. The Juniper Meadows – Pine Needles and Cones
9. The North Sea – Locust Grove
10. Hush Arbors – If There Be Spirits, Let Them Come / Cleaning The Bone
11. Green Crown – Washed In Her Blood
12. Green Mistletoe – God of the Blood of the Woods
13. Poppy Sward – Fawn
14. Xenis Emputae Travelling Band – Under a Soular Moon
15. Shibboleth – Winter Heresy
16. Sedayne – Astray Volume 6: Green As God The Touched Brow Of The Winter
17. Terracid – Transcendent Reign Inheritor
18. Brothers of the Occult Sisterhood – Animal Speak
19. Charlotte Greig and Julian Hayman – Live at Resonance FM
20. The Franciscan Hobbies – Masks and Meanings
21. The Birdtree – Orchards & Caravans
22. Omnia – Chrone of War
23. Sharron Kraus – Beautiful Twisted
24. Spires That in the Sunset Rise – Four Winds The Walker
25. The Spectral Light and Moonshine Firefly Snakeoil Jamboree – Scarecrow Stuffing

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The Spectral Light & Moonshine Firefly Snakeoil Jamboree – Burning Mills

And these compilations are totally necessary:

26. Lammas Night Laments, Volumes 1 – 14: a collection of wyrd-folk music from 1966-1980 (14 CD set compiled by Mark Coyle)
27. John Barleycorn Reborn, Volumes 1 – 3 (6 CD compilation in 3 sets of 2 CDs each)
28. Invisible Pyramid: Elegy Box (6 CDs)
29. Gold Leaf Branches (3 CDs)
30. Wailing Bones, Volumes 1 – 14 (14 CD set of extended instrumental compositions)

From the 60s and early 70s we have the following:

31. Donovan – Fairytale
32. The Incredible String Band – The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter
33. C.O.B. – Moyshe McStiff And The Tartan Lancers Of The Sacred Heart
34. Comus – First Utterance
35. Caedmon – s/t
36. Stone Angel – s/t
37. Seventh Sons – Raga
38. Peter Walker – Rainy Day Raga
39. Pearls Before Swine – These Things Too
40. Forest – Full Circle
41. Trees – The Garden of Jane Delawney
42. The Trees Community – The Christ Tree
43. Jade – Fly on Strangewings
44. Trader Horn – Morning Way
45. Mandy Morton and Spriguns – Magic Lady
46. Amazing Blondel – Fantasia Lindum
47. The Sallyangie – Children of the Sun
48. Linda Perhacs – Parallelograms
49. These Trails – s/t
50. Agincourt – Fly Away

So that’s it. Don’t ask me to do this again!

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The Mystery of Long Life

“I made up my mind
If this is the way life has gotta be
I’m gonna do the same thing
The same thing they been doing to me”
B.B.King – I’m Gonna Do What They Do To Me

It seems that musicians either die very young, from an excessive lifestyle, or they live very long lives – especially in the world of jazz and blues. Pittsburgh’s Joe Negri is 89, Les Paul died at the age of 94; Chet Atkins at the age of 77. Local blues legend Tomcat Courtney is 83 and jazz saxophone great, Joe Marillo, is going to be 82 this month. Jazz guitarist, Bucky Pizzarelli, is 89. Kenny Burrell is 83, as well as Joao Gilberto and John Pisano. Singers Bob Dorough and Jon Hendricks are in their 90s, and Tony Bennett is not far behind at 87. Is it the music that keeps them going? Most continue to perform into their 80s and 90s. Marian McPartland had a show on NPR, “Piano Jazz”, nearly until her demise at age 95. Pittsburgh’s great doo-wop DJ, Porky Chedwick, was 96 at his death and still had a radio show. Some of these players had a life of excess in their early years but then calmed down as they matured. Others have had a hard life in other ways, yet they persevered. Many have had a life on the road for most of their adult lives. Yet, they seem to live longer than the norm. Life insurance companies should take note of this. I have had this realization come to the forefront of my thought lately.

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Mundell Lowe

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Left to right, Jaime Valle, Bob Boss, Bob Magnussen, Jim Plank

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Mundell Lowe and Alicia Previn Lowe

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Left to right, Jaime Valle, Mundell Lowe, Bob Boss, Bob Magnussen

Mundell Lowe’s 93rd Birthday Celebration

May 10th was Mothers’ Day. It was also the evening we got to see jazz guitar virtuoso, Mundell Lowe. Mundell’s birthday was April 21; he turned 93. But he was in Europe, on tour, when he turned 93, so the celebration was on Monther’s Day, at Dizzy’s. Ever since I became aware that this legendary jazz guitarist lived in San Diego, I kept watching for when he would perform locally. I had actually written it off thinking that he had retired from performing. Luckily, I was wrong, and was home when he performed on May 10. This performance included two other jazz guitar greats, Jaime Valle and Bob Boss; together, they were called “The Three Guitars” that evening, supported by string bassist, Bob Magnussen, and drummer, Jim Plank. Also, for two numbers, Mundell was joined on violin by his step-daughter, Alicia Previn Lowe. Yes, that is “Previn”, as in Andre Previn, her father. Sometime after Andre Previn (age 86) and singer Betty Bennett (age 93) divorced in the late 50s, Mundell and Betty were married, making Mundell Alicia’s step-father. Bob Magnussen and Mundell Lowe have performed and recorded together on and off for decades. Just a sampling of other people Lowe has performed or recorded with include: Billie Holiday, Bobby Darin, Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Bill Evans, Charles Mingus, Stan Getz, Doc Severinsen, Andre Previn, Barry Manilow, Sarah Vaughan, and Harry Belafonte. I’m leaving out several others.

The evening began with two songs performed by Valle, Boss, Magnussen, and Plank, which gave us a rich taste of what was to come. Since we had front row seats I got a close up view of their fretwork. Their playing was impeccable, with sweet, delectable solo work that simply amazed me. Then, Mundell Lowe joined in for several more popular and jazz standards, with each of the three guitarists alternating solos. Each has a distinct style with a distinct tone. Age has not affected Lowe’s abilities – his playing was still jaw-dropping. There were also a couple bass and drum solos where both Magnussen and Plank were able to show off their vast talents. At one point the others left the stage for Lowe to perform solo guitar on “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face”, which was performed delicately and beautifully. Alicia did two songs with Mundell, the first with just solo guitar and violin. The second added the bass and drums. Alicia is violinist in an Irish band, In Tua Nua, and was a founding member of the Young Dubliners. Her violin was green. After the show we got to talk briefly with the players. It was quite a wonderful way to end Mother’s Day.

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B.B. King Dedication

B.B. King passed away on Thursday, May 14 at the age of 89. On Friday evening we went to Proud Mary’s for dinner and to see Cadillac Wreckers. I’ve written about this jump/swing blues group before, and they did not disappoint. On a chair, in front of the band, the group had placed the album “B.B. King Live at the Apollo” and a rose. In addition to their standard repertoire, they performed some King-penned numbers including his huge hit, “The Thrill is Gone”. As singer/blues harpist Dane Terry said, “we are here to celebrate B.B. King’s life and his contributions to American music”. Larry Teves (Chickenbone Slim) also stopped by to watch the band.

My first exposure to B.B. King was in 1964, when my brother, who lived in California sent a reel-to-reel album home to my parents in Pennsylvania. The album was “A Salute to Tommy Dorsey”, with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra led by Sam Donahue, recorded in 1961. On this album, the vocals on “Yes, Indeed” were sung by someone named B.B. King and an unknown female vocalist. This album did not feature King’s distinct guitar playing. In fact, as an 11-year-old, I knew nothing about King at that time. Later, when listening to WAMO-FM in Pittsburgh, I noted they played many blues artists, including King. Two songs I distinctly remember were “Chains and Things” and “I’m Gonna Do What They Do To Me”. These were played on the program titled “The Underground” and hosted by Porky Chedwick on weekend afternoons and Brother Love (Ken Reeth) most evenings. The B.B. King songs were mixed with folk, blues, psychedelic, and other obscure rock and jazz songs. It would be common to hear a song by Tim Hardin followed by B.B. King, and then followed by The Doors and jazz flautist Jeremy Steig. Later, in college in the early 70s I got to hear many blues artists as well as more of B.B. King. In the era of CDs, I purchased the B.B. King box set, “King of the Blues”, spanning his entire career on four CDs. It is amazing to see how his style moved from solid electric blues to more popular music with more singing than guitar playing. And then, he moved back to more standard blues later in life. King had a distinct style that was never fast and flashy, and instead went for a more deliberate, emotive style as if the guitar was talking, or wailing. In all cases his music made total sense musically and emotionally. A classic song that I have and love is a recording of his live performance with Bobby Blue Bland on the song “Sorry”. Here, he talks to the audience about relationships as he and Bobby play and sing. It is fun to listen to and easy to imagine being part of that audience.

Other Stuff

I don’t mention much about classical, or serious music here. Well, here is a listing of the top 20 of the classics for which I have a warm spot in my heart:

1. George Gershwin – Rhapsody In Blue
2. Darius Milhaud – La Creation du Monde
3. Zoltan Kodaly – Hary Janos Suite
4. Serge Prokofiev – Symphony No. 1 (Classical Symphony)
5. Johannes Brahms – Symphony No. 4 in E minor (Tragic Symphony)
6. Bela Bartok – Concerto for Orchestra
7. Richard Wagner – Tannhauser Overture and Venusberg Music
8. Lucas Foss – Baroque Variations
9. Paul Hindemith – Mathis der Maler
10. John Cage – Variations IV
11. Johann Sebastian Bach – Nun Komm der Heiden Heiland (orchestral version)
12. Igor Stravinsky – The Rite of Spring
13. Philip Glass – Powaqqatsi
14. Luciano Berio – Visage
15. Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky – Manfred Symphony, Op. 58
16. Modest Mussorgsky – A Night on Bald Mountain
17. Sir Edward Elgar – Symphony No. 2
18. Ralph Vaughan Williams – Symphony No. 7
19. Hector Berlioz – Symphonie Fantastique
20. Robert Schumann – Manfred

And that’s it for this time. I head to the heart of Minnesota on Tuesday. The following weekend is jazz saxophonist, Joe Marillo’s 82nd birthday celebration at Dizzy’s. I am planning to go.

A Slice of My Life Working Backwards

“If the doors of perception were cleansed
Every thing would appear to man as it is,
William Blake

“There are things known
and there are things unknown,
and in between are the doors.”
Jim Morrison

“Between thought and expression
lies a lifetime.”
Lou Reed

We keep going to music events and I then get caught up in the weeds and do not have time to write about them, let alone all the other things I’ve planned to write about. But there’s a lot swimming about in this old head that needs to come out. I will dispense with recent events and then move on to other important matters.

Across the Street at Mueller College – May 1, 2015

Friday night we went to the Across the Street music event at Mueller College to see Connor Correll with Q Ortiz, Red Willow Waltz, and Jamie Shadowlight. It was an evening of peaceful, spiritually uplifting, and thought provoking acoustic music. And it was the first time I had seen Jamie play guitar and sing! In fact, seeing her play guitar and sing her songs was my original motivation for going.

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Jamie Shadowlight with Mandi Griggs and Jasmine Commerce

Jamie was up first. For the first few songs she had a friend, Jasmine Commerce, accompanying her on violin, and Mandi Griggs (a member of Red Willow Waltz) kept rhythm on cajon, while Jamie played acoustic guitar and sang. Then Jamie went solo voice and guitar for the remainder of her set. While Jamie is noted for her artistry on violin I don’t understand why she has not done more with vocals. She has a breathy, ethereal, sensual alto vocal style. The lyrics to her songs are pensive, a bit metaphysical, and observant. While she claimed to be just learning guitar, she is obviously a quick learner. The mood was relaxed, with a room full of loving friends, so everything built upon everything else to create a resplendent ambiance.

Connor Correll with Q Ortiz

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After Jamie’s set, Connor Correll with Q Rich Ortiz was up. Connor played guitar and sang while Q played cajon. Connor continued the mood with songs of a spiritual nature, some of which pondered our purpose in life, some bearing much soul searching, and some full of joy. They were beautifully written, and beautifully sung. Q’s rhythm patterns complimented the rhythm guitar; a very enjoyable duo.

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Red Willow Waltz with Jamie Shadowlight

The final set was Red Willow Waltz, consisting of Vanessa Contopulos on vocals, guitar, and ukulele, Mandi Griggs on cajon, and Laura Rose Anderson on vocals, ukulele, guitar, and harmonium. Jamie joined them on violin. This set was of a lighter, more exuberant nature. Vanessa’s clear, sweet vocals blended perfectly with Laura’s robust, emotive singing style. Both did solo vocals that were outstanding. I noted a bit of country twang to some of Laura’s vocals, especially when she played guitar. It made me wonder whether she had ever fronted a country band at some point. Vanessa and Laura switched back and forth from guitar to ukulele, depending on the song. For the final two songs Laura played harmonium and Vanessa played guitar. All songs were originals, penned by either Laura or Vanessa, with one dedicated to what was happening in Baltimore this past week. Vanessa and Laura are music therapists by profession and some of their songs tapped into that experience.

This was an uplifting way to spend Friday evening after a hectic work week.

Adams Avenue Unplugged

Going back a week, we had planned to spend the entire weekend of April 25 and 26 at Adams Avenue Unplugged. As fate would have it, our first destination was to the veterinarian’s office where we unexpectedly had to drop off our little doggie for observation and treatment. Once that was taken care of we headed to the event. With 25 stages and over 170 performances it was hard to decide who to see, but prior to the event I had planned to see HarpO first, and that was nixed because of our dog’s situation. (Due to HIPPA laws I cannot reveal her illness, … or is that just for people?). The day was unseasonably cool and windy. It was overcast and it tried to rain for a few seconds here and there throughout the day.


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So next on the agenda was the bluegrass band, MohaviSoul. This was our first time seeing this group. It was a very enjoyable set with a mix of covers and originals. I really liked their cover of “Midnight Train” but unfortunately it is not on either of their CDs. Talking with the band afterward I found that the fiddle player, Dan Sankey, is from Connellsville, PA, which is close to where my ancestors settled before my grandfather moved to the Washington, PA area. And, the guitarist, Mark Miller, was originally from Wheeling, WV, where my oldest brother now lives and within minutes of where I grew up in PA. Small world. Other members include Randy Hanson, Jason Weiss, Orion Boucher, and Will Jaffe.
During the MohaviSoul performance, we got a call from the vet that our dog, Sandy, was ready to go home. So, we rushed to the vet’s, then home, and then back to Adams Avenue. We parked close to where we had parked earlier. We were so lucky to find this space!

Joe Marillo

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We were hungry, so we headed to the end of the block from Kensington Park where MohaviSoul had played, to The Haven Pizzeria for lunch, where Joe Marillo would be performing. After getting seated, Joe spotted us and came over to talk. He will be celebrating his 82nd birthday in late May. We chatted about aging, keeping a positive perspective, and some of the books he was reading. Somehow we got on to the subject of MSNBC and the fact that we both loved to watch the Rachel Maddow Show. Joe is known as “the Godfather of the jazz scene in San Diego”. He has won several awards, including one for lifetime achievement and another from the NAACP for his efforts in hiring African-American musicians. In the 60s he worked with Stan Getz among others. I am told that in the 50s he once bought Charlie Parker a drink at a bar next to Birdland.
Joe was performing solo tenor sax and flute that day, with a backing tape of a variety of standards including a few by one of his favorites, Antonio Carlos Jobim. His improvisational skills on tenor sax are without equal. He did not play his flute until the end of his set when he realized he had not played it, and so he did one more song with flute. There will be a musical birthday celebration featuring Joe at Dizzy’s later in May and we hope to attend.

Dead Rock West

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We then headed down to Java Joe’s to catch Dead Rock West. It was packed but we were lucky to find a couple seats together. We got there in the middle of their set. They were an acoustic duo for this performance, consisting of Frank Lee Drennen on vocals and guitar and Cindy Wasserman on vocals. All songs we heard were originals. Frank has a dynamic presence and plays his acoustic guitar hard, and loud! Both Frank and Cindy are commanding vocalists and their harmonies are awesome. I would love to hear their full band some time.

Gregory Page

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We stayed at Java Joe’s for the next performer, Gregory Page. I found it curious when this sharply dressed gentleman set up a gramophone and placed a 78 rpm on the spindle. Gregory played guitar, “gramophone”, sang, read poetry and told stories. Smooth is a word that keeps coming up in my mind when I try to find words to describe his performance. Although many of the songs were penned by Gregory, they were done in styles from before WWII. He played the gramophone while reading his poetry, and on one song he segued to the gramophone, incorporating it into the song – all seamlessly done. He told stories about his family, about his visit to the hinterlands of Australia, and tied them in with his music. He was accompanied by a drummer, with only a snare and high hat. Musically, the style moved from early 1900s to more modern folk and pop styles. His guitar playing was subtle and refined, and he actually did some slide work on one song, all with masterful execution.
I had planned to see Joey Harris after this, but we had to get home to take care of the dog, so this was the last set for us that day.

The Western Collective

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We returned Sunday to a much warmer and sunnier day. And our dog appeared to be much better. Western Collective was first on the list, at Adams Park at 35th Street. I have written about Western Collective before. They are: “Fast Heart” Martin Stamper on guitar, banjo, and vocals; Justin Werner on guitar, harmonica, and vocals; Trent Hancock on bass and vocals; Chad Farran on cajon; and Jamie Shadowlight on violin. To call them simply a bluegrass band would be myopic. The group embraces a variety of styles, penned by several of the band’s members who bring with them their own unique musical and life experiences. There was one cover, which also happens to be the only cover song on their CD, Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem”. There is always a happy, relaxed vibe when they play.

Caitlin Ashley

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After hearing The Western Collective, we dived into El Zarape for some tasty Mexican cuisine. They were packed, so it took a bit longer than we expected. However, the next group on our agenda was Robin Henkel and Whitney Shay, and Lestat’s was running a little off-schedule, so when we arrived there Robin, Whitney, and Caleb were still outside, taking selfies. It was another packed house, listening to Caitlin Ashley. Just as we did at Java Joe’s we watched for someone to leave and then snatched-up their seats. So, we got a chance to hear this young and relatively new singer, with a distinct style and interesting lyrics. I was glad to see so many in the packed room being supportive. Caitlin was accompanied by Mason James on acoustic guitar, and three unknown persons on electric bass, cajon, and ukulele. She sang and occasionally accompanied herself on ukulele. She has a very nice stage presence, great song writing and a pleasant vocal style. I think this event was a terrific boost to her ego. She appeared to be authentically amazed at the positive response to her songs. Sorry for the horrible photos of Caitlin Ashley and  Robin Henkel & Whitney Shay – just haven’t got the hang of taking them at Lestat’s.

Robin Henkel with Whitney Shay

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We stayed right where we were to hear the next group …someone who we have seen and enjoyed on a multitude of occasions…the peerless Robin Henkel with the lovely and dynamic Whitney Shay, accompanied on double bass by the entertaining Caleb Furgatch. Either I have a very short memory or this was the best performance I have seen by these three. While a lot of the songs we have heard them do before, there was something about them that sounded fresh and new. Perhaps subtly different arrangements or maybe it was just the improvisation was exceptionally hot? All I can say is that this was an exciting performance. Caleb is so much fun to watch on bass as he closes his eyes and gets deep into the music and keeps everything moving in the right direction. Robin continues to convince me that he is thee authority on Delta/country blues guitar. And how Whitney can make gutsy, gritty blues and r&b singing sound pretty and nasty all at once is inspiring. We walked out at the end, totally energized.

Blue Frog Trio

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Left to right: Dave Keefer, Patrick “Blue Frog” Ellis, Jackson Patrick

Next stop was the Air Conditioned Lounge. I love names like this. At one time I considered writing a novella titled “My Generic World”, and the Air Conditioned Lounge would fit right in. However, what we heard there was not generic. I had first heard Blue Frog Ellis in an electric blues band at the 2014 Spring Harp Fest. He is a dynamite blues harpist. What I didn’t realize is that he is just as good on guitar. Since Lestat’s schedule was running late and it was a bit of a walk to the AC Lounge, we did not see the beginning of the set. But what we saw confirmed my memory from the Harp Fest. What we had was Patrick “Blue Frog” Ellis on vocals, guitar and harmonica, Dave Keefer on vocals, acoustic guitar and resonator, and Jackson Patrick on bass and vocals. They played a mix of 70s rock standards such as the Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rambler” and “Melissa”, as well as some originals and blues standards. All three sang, and Dave and Blue Frog took turns with rhythm and lead – both being accomplished players. After their set we got to talk to the guys. I know that Patrick “Blue Frog” Ellis and Jackson Patrick are US Navy Vets; Blue Frog was a Seal. Not sure if Dave Keefer is a Vet, but the band was promoting their work with the Wounded Warriors Project, in helping to teach music to disabled Vets. Some great guys, there. The Blue Frog Band will be performing at “Gator by the Bay” at Spanish Landing Park in San Diego later this month.

Bart Mendoza & True Stories

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I have wanted to see True Stories for a long time, but it never seemed to work out with my crazy work schedule taking me out of San Diego whenever they were playing. Finally, I got to see what I have been missing – staying in our spot at the AC Lounge. True Stories’ lineup consists of: Bart Mendoza on vocals and guitar; David Fleminger on vocals, guitar, and keyboard; Danny Cress on drums; Orrick Smith on bass; and latest addition Normandie Wilson on vocals and keyboard. Now, I have seen Normandie, Bart, and David in Casino Royale and in other musical arrangements, but I had never realized that they could rock out like they did! This was such a pleasant surprise. They covered many songs from great 60s bands like The Beatles, The Byrds, The Yardbirds, The Zombies, The Who, and others. They also did some originals that were arranged in a style much like the mid-60s rockers. In fact, I tried wracking my brain to figure out who they were covering only to find they were covering themselves. I never realized David played keyboards, and could play in such a wicked 60s psychedelic style, akin to Ian Bruce-Douglas of Ultimate Spinach. His guitar lead work was also quite impressive. Bart took most of the lead singing parts and was right at home whether covering The Who, The Beatles, or anyone else.

Blue Frog Ellis stuck around to hear them. He was quite impressed, also. They really kicked some ass and got people dancing! Suddenly I was transported to The Aftermath coffee house near Claysville, PA circa 1969 and my teenage years.
Now, I understand this event is titled “unplugged” and with the exception of some amplification for electric bass and vocals, most of the acts we saw complied with the “unplugged” concept. So how did True Stories sneak onto the roster with a fully electric band? In my mind it is exactly what 60s rock was all about – defying the rules! So if I was asked about this, my response would be, “The kids are alright”.

Other Thoughts – Bits and Pieces

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To balance out my musical experience, I have obtained a couple new prog metal releases on the Sensory CD label, Iris Divine – “Karma Sown” and Jaded Star – “Memories from the Future”. Iris Divine is from northern Virginia, playing in a metal style similar to Pantera, Alice in Chains, and even a hint of Dream Theater. They seem to reach beyond just heavy metal to more of a progressive synth-based metal style that is edgy and exciting with a fantastic male vocalist who actually sings. Jaded Star is a Swedish prog metal band with an amazing female vocalist, Maxi Nil, and virtuoso guitarist, Kosta Vreto. This is a strong debut album with lots of power and emotion.

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I also landed a near mint copy of Nat Freedland’s double LP documentary “The Occult Explosion” from 1973. It will fit nicely with my other LPs in the same genre by Barbara the Gray Witch, Louise Huebner, Anton LaVey, Coven, Jacula, Antonius Rex, Abiogenesi, Paul Chain, Aleister Crowley, Charles Manson, The Manson Family Jams, and Lucifer/Black Mass (Mort Garson). I guess Will Jima also fits into this category with his two spoken word albums about “the UFO people” and the end times, with electronic sounds as background. All make for a lovely trip into the dark side of human imagination. Nothing you would want to have as a steady diet. Some of these are definitely not for the faint of heart. Others are as funny as Hell (no pun intended). Note that these recordings are not in any way like the death metal and black metal groups that flourished in the late 80s and continue to spread a very depressing or destructive message, often tied to various hate groups.
This leads nicely as an introduction, or advertisement, for the future blog entry I have planned to do for several months on “The World of Wyrd”. I plan to discuss the area of pagan folk, wyrd folk, and perhaps some other musical phenomena that are related tangentially.