Out of the Woods and Into the Weeds

“Once the music leaves your head, it’s already compromised.” Jack Brewer, from liner notes to Sonic Youth’s 1994 album, “Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star”

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Anybody here see what happened to the past month? Can you tell me where it’s gone? A lot of major things happened but I can’t seem to recall right now. I just looked around and it was gone. My apologies to songwriter, Dick Holler and performer, Dion DiMucci.

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In late June/early July I took two weeks’ vacation to get together with family and friends in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio. We did a lot of travelling and eating. It seems that visiting loved ones always involves food. As a matter of fact, it seems that music and food often go together. Before vacation, we saw Plow during the Bluegrass Brunch at Urban Solace on Flag Day, June 14, and again after vacation at the July 12, Bluegrass Brunch.

Bluegrass Brunch at Urban Solace, June 14 (Flag Day), and July 12, 2015

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Plow – L to R: Mark Markowitz (mostly hidden), Jason Weiss, Doug Walker, Chris Clarke, Joe Pomianek, and Dane Terry

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Plow, L to R: Chris Clarke, Mark Markowitz, Doug Walker, and Dane Terry

First, Urban Solace has wonderfully tasty modern, uniquely prepared American comfort food! But be forewarned, a steady diet of this could result in morbid obesity. First time there, pig out! On following visits try to be more discriminating, with the understanding that it is all good. On both occasions we saw the band, Plow. Every second Sunday, Plow performs during the brunch. The players were band leader, Chris Clarke: guitar, mandolin and lead vocals; Doug Walker: string bass; Jason Weiss: banjo; Joe Pomianek: guitar/mandolin; and also Mark Markowitz: percussion, and Dane Terry: harmonica and vocals. At the July show Weiss and Pomianek were absent. Although a bluegrass brunch, not all the music was truly bluegrass – some was a modernized bluegrass/old-time and Americana style. Mark Markowitz is the drummer for country band Three Chord Justice and Liz Grace & The Swing Thing. Dane Terry is part of electric jump blues band, Cadillac Wreckers. But they are “unofficial” players with Plow. Chris is an excellent songwriter, singer, and picker. They played some of Chris’ self-penned songs along with many popular and obscure traditional pieces. They create a pleasant atmosphere to enjoy a fantastic brunch all the while providing some quality pickin’ ‘n singin’; you provide the grinnin’.

Just a side note – while on vacation, I visited the area where my dad’s parents started out – the New Geneva and Greensboro, PA area. We have lots of history in that region, going back to colonial America. Some of the early glassworks and potteries were owned by my ancestors. Now all that is just a footnote in history, but it is fun to see a road named “Provance Hill Road” on the way to Masontown, PA, which also was laid-out by one of my ancestors. While in Greensboro, the mayor, Keith McManus, spotted my brother (who he knew) and we had a conversation about the artistic development in this small Pennsylvania village. Keith is a bluegrass player in The Woodticks (fiddle, banjo, and vocals) and is also a player in Stewed Mulligan, plus a professional story teller, and is instrumental in providing a music and visual art haven in Greensboro, besides being mayor. Immediately he and I struck up a conversation about music and he introduced me to another member of The Woodticks, Jeff Bush (banjo, fiddle sticks and vocals). Jeff used to live in La Mesa, and Keith also lived in San Diego (where they met). I mentioned some San Diego bands and when I said “Plow” they both acknowledged they had heard of the band. While at the July Bluegrass Brunch, I mentioned Keith McManus and The Woodticks to Dane Terry, and he said the names sounded familiar. It’s a small world. Oh yes – I left Greensboro with a free Woodticks CD! One song, penned by Keith, “Mannington #9”, is about the coal mining tragedy near Farmington and Mannington, WV back in 1968. It is quite a touching tribute to the miners lost in that tragedy.

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Blindspot Records 24th Anniversary Party – June 20, 2015 at the home of Patric Petrie

We attended the 24th anniversary party of Blindspot Records, founded by Bart Mendoza. Performing that evening were Casino Royale (Bart Mendoza, Normandie Wilson, David Fleminger), followed by Patric Petrie with friends & associates Tim Foley (both of world renowned World Beat Irish band, Skelpin) and David Lally (of Brogue Wave with Tim Foley) and accomplished violinist Ron Wild, followed by singer/songwriter Sierra West. Later, after we left, we understand that Marie Haddad performed (wish we could have stayed). The evening provided a much needed relaxed vibe. The music was awesome. Food was tasty. Drinks were abundant. More San Diego musicians in one house than you can imagine. Met and had a great time talking to Johnny “V” Vernazza, who has played with several notable national bands, but most prominently as a lead guitarist in the Elvin Bishop Group (he performed lead guitar in their 70s hit, “I Fooled Around and Fell In Love”). Also got to talk for a bit with Ron Wild as well as Normandie Wilson and David Fleminger of Casino Royale. Got to know a wonderful person, Molly Lynn McClendon, plus lots more people. Lots of centered, loving, artistic folks! The highlight was Casino Royale playing a series of Beatles tunes and we all sang along. Oh, wait, another highlight was hearing Patric Petrie and her friends perform some wonderful Irish music. Oh, and also hearing SD Music Awards winner Sierra West perform some of her intimate, touching song stories. Oh hell, the whole night was a highlight.

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Casino Royale, L to R: David Fleminger, Normandie Wilson, Bart Mendoza

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Moi with Johnny “V” Vernazza and his wife

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L to R: David Lally, Tim Foley, Patric Petrie, and Ron Wild

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Sierra West

July 11, 2015 – Liz Grace & The Swing Thing at Wynola Pizza, Wynola, CA

We decided to lease a 2016 Kia Rio and tested it out on some mountain roads headed to Julian. Stopped on the way at Wynola Pizza (in Wynola, of course) and listened to Liz Grace & The Swing Thing. Liz had a stripped-down band that evening consisting of husband Mark Markowitz on percussion and John Garner on acoustic guitar. John’s playing always amazes me. What a great player! And Liz is such a beautiful singer; doing standards from the 30s and 40s primarily. However, all that time I was thinking about the Sounds Like San Diego VII event at the Museum of Making Music in Carlsbad we were missing. I totally regret the fact that I missed this. Tough decisions, but the car won this time.

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L to R: Liz Grace, Mark Markowitz, John Garner

July 15, 2015 – two events: Normandie Wilson at Lafayette Hotel and Lance Dieckmann at the Jazz 88.3 Blues Jam at Proud Mary’s

Stopped by to hear Normandie tickle the ivories in the lobby of the Lafayette Hotel after work. I always enjoy hearing her sing and play. She did mostly her own songs this time, but one instrumental she did was a favorite of mine, “Dreamland” by Henry Mancini. It brought back many childhood memories.

After getting home, we decided to eat out at Proud Mary’s where the KSDS Jazz 88.3 Blues Jam was taking place, featuring Lance Dieckmann. This guy is a hard blowin’ harp player with a powerful singing voice to boot – one of the best players in San Diego. I’ve only seen him at the Spring Harp Fest in the past, but now I want to hear him with his own band the next time he plays close to us – he often performs at Hooley’s at Grossmont Centre and in Rancho San Diego. During the jam, Harmonica John Frazer stepped up and blew the roof off the joint. Of course, Lance had already loosened the ceiling bolts. Two great players in one evening. Plus, an 11 year old guitar player joined with Mark Augustin and company and amazed everyone with his skills. I noted that Mark brought his cherry red Gibson SG Standard with him and it brought back sad memories of letting my old Gibson SG go (exact same color) at a ridiculous price back in the early 80s. I’ve never seriously played since.

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L to R: Mark Augustin, Lance Dieckmann, didn’t catch drummer’s name

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The other players with Lance Dieckmann

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Mark Augustin with his Gibson SG Standard

July 17, 2015 – Whitney Shay Trio, Sheraton Hotel, Harbor Island, San Diego

I have heard Whitney on many occasions with Robin Henkel, singing old blues and R&B songs and have always appreciated her grasp and feel for that style of music. Now I wanted to hear her in a jazz format, and let me tell you – she is gooooood! She was accompanied by the amazing Rob Whitlock on piano and Jodie Hill on string bass. Fun to watch, exciting to listen to; what talent these three bring to the table! But again, tough choices – the local International Pop Overthow was happening at the Chico Club that evening. We decided not to go because those whom we especially wanted to see (True Stories and Normandie Wilson) were not playing until after 11 pm, and I had to prepare to get to bed early tonight so that I would be rested traveling to Macon, Georgia on Sunday morning. So last night I made a quick post to Facebook and then was in bed by the time my friends would be hitting the stage. But that’s okay. Whitney was a real treat to hear and visit with.

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L to R: Jodie Hill, Whitney Shay, Ron Whitlock

So Hear We Arrrrrgh!

It rained a little today. A little is better than nothing, but we really need a good, steady course of rain on a weekly basis for the next three years to get back to where we need to be in Southern California. Then I can sail my pirate ship across the seven seas, “going from this land here to that, in a sailor suit and cap, away from the big city where a man cannot be free of all the evils of this town and everybody putting everybody else down, and all the politicians making hissy sounds and all the dead bodies piled up in mounds, oh and you can’t help me not you guys and all you girls with all your sweet talk, you can just go and take a walk and I guess that I just don’t know. And I guess that I just don’t know.” Did I get that right, Lou? Sorry – got carried away. That was from “Heroin” by Lou Reed, recorded by Velvet Underground on The Velvet Underground and Nico album (the banana album) released in 1967, recorded in early 1966 and performed as early as 1965; produced by Andy Warhol. That song, as it appears on the album, is mandatory listening for anyone who wants to understand the underbelly of mid- to late 60’s American rock and the decadent social atmosphere of the impoverished areas of the inner cities that still remains barely unchanged in 2015. That song was a reminder that all was not peace and love and freedom in the late 60s. The Age of Aquarius never arrived for many. But for me, living in rural Southwestern Pennsylvania, armed with Life magazine and commercial television, I was able to see only the glamorized side of the world outside my local environs. Every perception was distorted as I could only imagine the realities based upon what I was exposed to in the media and in my personal, sheltered rural life. Ah, yes, it was sweet being 16 in 1969; living with the imaginary visions of wearing flowers in my hair in San Francisco. But then there was “The Underground” program on WAMO-FM in Pittsburgh, hosted by Brother Love (Ken Reeth), and thankfully, they were playing Lou Reed, who was telling a different story of alternative sex, drug addiction, and poverty. While it was so far from my experience, at least I had an inkling of what many go through daily. This was very formative for me. While I love the pop music of the 60s and the fond memories it triggers, I am glad for the exposure to the music “the bubblegums never played” as Ken Reeth would say.

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What’s Next?

Tomorrow morning I fly to Georgia. For the next four weeks I will only be home on Saturdays as I travel to Chicago, South Carolina, and Biloxi, Mississippi for a week each. Perhaps I’ll have some music happenings to report, but if I don’t, my next post will be about some of my favorite songs of all time. These could span every genre and every era of recorded music. But perhaps you will find something that is a favorite of yours as well. And if what I mention is unfamiliar to you, I encourage you to go to YouTube, or Spotify, or wherever else you can find it, and give it a listen. The world is full of wonderful sounds.

What’s Happening, Man!

“I said now Cecil’s got his new piece; He cocks it, shoots it BANG! between three and four. He aims it at the sailor; He shoots him down dead on the floor. Oh, you shouldn’t do that; Don’t you know you’ll hit the carpet, don’t you know you’ll mess the carpet?”

–  Lou Reed, from “Sister Ray” , The Velvet Underground – White Light/White Heat 1967

As I write, I’m listening to Air – “Sexy Boy”, from the album, Moon Safari. (All of Air’s albums are wonderful chill music!) Sort of apropo for all the LGBT backlash and Indiana political idiocy of the moment. But I don’t want to talk about that. I “just got back from Carolina” to continue my quote from Lou Reed’s “Sister Ray”, which in Lou’s own words “was done as a joke – no, not as a joke, but it has eight characters in it and this guy gets killed and nobody does anything. It was built around this story that I wrote about this scene of total debauchery and decay. I like to think of ‘Sister Ray’ as a transvestite smack dealer. The situation is a bunch of drag queens taking some sailors home with them, shooting up on smack and having this orgy when the police appear.” Greenville, South Carolina was a really nice, quaint town with a very developed downtown dedicated to the arts and fine cuisine. In other words, I enjoyed my visit. There was a piano bar at the Westin, which I walked past every evening when going to dinner. I never stopped by. So I ask myself “Why?”. And myself says back to me, “Uh, I dunno. Tired, I guess.” I’ll accept that. I really hated that while flying home Thursday night I was missing some great things happening in San Diego. First, there was The Zombies tribute at Bar Pink, hosted by Normandie Wilson and Bart Mendoza, with True Stories, Scott Mathiasen & Mojo Working, Wayne Riker, Shake before Us and others. And, at the same time over at Lestat’s we had Western Collective, 22 Kings, and The Yes Team. I was heartbroken. But I don’t want to whine. After all, I have seen some really great performances the past three Friday evenings!

Liz Grace and The Swing Thing

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Liz Grace fronts the excellent country band, Three Chord Justice, but has now branched out to apply her vocal skills to pop and jazz music, from the swing band era into the early ’60s. She was backed by her husband, drummer Mark Markowitz; saxophonist & keyboardist, Leo Dombecki; John (sorry, can’t recall the last name) on guitar, and a string bassist for whom I can’t remember his name at all….now, just because I cannot recall their names, please don’t think that this reflects on their abilities. On the contrary! These guys were new additions to the band, in place of Bob Ryan on guitar and Doug Walker on bass, who appear on their CD. We saw them Friday the 13th at Proud Mary’s Southern Bar & Grill in Kearney Mesa, proving that Friday the 13th does not have to be unlucky. They ran through a repertoir of great standards including: “Autumn Leaves”, “La Vie en Rose”, “Fever”, “Fly Me to the Moon”, “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66”, “Days of Wine and Roses”, “Summertime” and a few instrumentals like “Music to Watch Girls By”. The versatility of the band and Liz together made for a pleasant music experience. After seeing Liz with Three Chord Justice and hearing her solo CD, “No Justice”, I wondered if she would bring a country flavor to these standards. But no, she delivered them as if she had been transported to that era, with her very sweet, clear, perfect pitch voice. The band was tight, and each took turns with some incredible solo work. I was eyeing John’s guitar all evening, a gypsy-styled acoustic electric – he let me try it and I noted how amazingly light the instrument was, with a very crisp, pure tone. John’s solo work was thoughtful and tasteful – a little like Gabor Szabo, with none of the flashy “let’s see how many notes I can fit into a bar” kind of showmanship. Instead, he complimented the singer all the way. This is a band I want to see again, and again, and again.

Missy Anderson

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Taking a turn to soul and blues, the next Friday at Proud Mary’s we saw Missy Andersen and her band, consisting of guitarist Heine Andersen, Michael McKinnon on bass and Michael J. Minor on drums. Missy grew up in Detroit, spent time in NYC honing her skills, and now lives in San Diego, and man ‘o man am I glad. Missy has been nominated for best Soul Blues Artist, Female in the 2015 Blues Music Awards in Memphis; not a minor feat. Missy did a few covers, like Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child”, but there were also many self-penned songs from her latest CD, In the Moment. Heine’s guitar was so much fun to watch! He would move from groovin’ Cornell Dupree and Bobby Womack R&B styles to more frenetic fretwork akin to Mike Bloomfield. And Missy – Missy hit on every emotional heartstring with that soulful voice. Sometimes the words I choose just don’t do the singer justice and this is one of those times. Go hear her for yourself if you are in San Diego or Riverside Counties. I also loved the interaction between Missy and the players – especially drummer Michael Minor who was having way too much fun, we could tell. We left with huge smiles that would not come off for the rest of the evening. Yeah!

Chickenbone Slim and The Biscuits

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It was to Proud Mary’s again we proceeded to go this past Friday night. This time to have fun watching and listening to Chickenbone Slim and The Biscuits. As Chickebone’s Website says “If you like your blues with a down home greasy feel, …Chickenbone plays in a traditional blues style, part Chicago, part Texas, part Mississippi, and all right!”  That quote says it all. I can’t match it for describing their playing. I didn’t catch the name of the bass player this go ’round, but he and Dane Terry (of Cadillac Wreckers fame) were filling in on bass and harmonica. Drummer, Malachai Johnson, kept everything in order, laying down some solid beats while Chickenbone layed some blues on ya! All I can say about Dane Terry is – dynamite! I love hearing him play blues harp and he and Chickenbone played off each other on several numbers adding to all the fun. He didn’t disappoint, playing some of the favorites I enjoy hearing, like his theme song “Good Evening Everybody”, and Slim Harpo’s “Shake Your Hips”. They did several numbers from some of the great bluesmen, including one by local legend, Tomcat Courtney. Got to visit with Chickebone (Larry Teves) and Dane Terry during a break. Walked out with a Chickenbone Slim guitar pick! Another fun-filled evening.

In Other News

I am deeply saddened by the passing of two music legends this past month – Daevid Allen and Michael Brown. Daevid hailed from Australia, was one of the original members of Soft Machine, then when he could not return to the UK from France due to visa issues, he formed the band, Gong. Gong became a tremendous influence on me in the mid-70s with their merging of a jazz-rock fusion style and total psychedelic insanity. After leaving Gong in the mid-70s, and heavily influencing the group Can AM des Puig who recorded the legendary “Book of AM“, he moved to Majorca, Spain and recorded the album “Good Morning” with Spanish band Euterpe. The Gong albums of “The Flying Teapot Trilogy” as well as Gong’s selections on the Greasy Truckers’ Live at Dingwalls Dance Hall LP are some of my favorites of this genre. The “Good Morning” album is also a favorite. Allen came out of the beatnik era – heavily influenced by William Burroughs and Sun Ra. He was 77.

Michael Brown was keyboardist and songwriter for ’60s baroque psych band The Left Banke. He penned their two major hits “Walk Away Renee” and “Pretty Ballerina”. A hit for The Cherry People, “And Suddenly”, was also part of The Left Banke repertoire and penned by Brown. After leaving The Left Banke, he joined The Stories, who with Michael on keyboards and arrangements, had a hit with “Brother Louie”. He also had a hand in the formation of the band Montage. Brown was 65. Well that’s it for now. Tonight heading to 98 Bottles for the 6th Annual Women in Jazz concert. Then it is off to San Rafael, California tomorrow.