Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The "season of giving" that never ends

We're entering a new year, about to leave that "season of giving" that consumes us so much.  For the general public, it's a season that seems to start as early as Halloween or even the days before then when Christmas displays start popping up in stores.

Thanksgiving's even becoming an afterthought.

For musicians, that season of giving can last year-round -- not just this time of year.  For that, we as music lovers should be giving thanks and showing our appreciation to those who give of their time and talents.

One of my Northern California musician friends -- Steen Berrig, a dynamite blues harp player -- has pointed out a time or two before just how much people like him donate to charitable causes just by bringing people in who love to be entertained by a tune.  They give of their time by practicing, hauling their gear to a venue, unloading, setting up, playing, taking down, loading, and hauling back home.

That's no little task.

A reminder of what it takes to give like that came up recently when some more local Utah friends of mine were among several bands and solo musicians who gathered at the Kafeneio Coffee House and music venue in South Salt Lake for the second annual "I Feed On Sound" benefit concert and food drive.  Admission came in the form of donations of non-perishable food items.  As is found so often, musicians gave of their time and energy to help the cause.

In the music venue, there was electronic dance music from Grim & Reaper, post-hardcore from The Infernal, pop punk from One Lump Sum, rock from Sektau, and a double dose of reggae to close out the evening from Rebel Zion and Bludgeon Muffin.

There was an acoustic area out front with even more musicians playing throughout the evening.

It was musicians giving of themselves as they do so often.  Their biggest payback came in the way of shouts of appreciation, hand claps and backslaps.  Their season of giving never seems to end.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Nelson Mandela: Remembering the movement in music

Nelson Mandela is gone.  May his legacy and all that he stood for live on.

Monday, September 2, 2013

'A friend of a friend of ...': Garth Webber

It was around a year ago that I launched the music blog you're reading right now.  It was intended to give a little exposure to musicians and music both known and unknown, to songs new and old -- songs that have been widely popular and tunes that deserve to be heard by more than they have been.

It was last Labor Day that I posted my first article in this blog, with notes and photos from a local jazz festival.  Now, a year later, I'm in the middle of a series looking at some of the people I've come to know personally, or more likely just gotten to know a bit about through common friendships online.

Garth Webber
The jazz music and the common friendships brings me to Bay Area guitarist Garth Webber.  He's played with the likes of jazz great Miles Davis in his fusion era, along with artists like Gregg Allman and Boz Scass to name a couple more.

These days, when he's not playing and recording himself, he's recording others or teaching some of the secrets of his craft to students who'd like to be "the next big thing" on the guitar scene.

For me, it's watching Garth Webber play with Miles Davis that brings the biggest smile to this jazz fan's face.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

For friends and fans of ... Lester Chambers

My "friend of a friend of ..." series may have been interrupted a bit lately, but it's not done yet.  Consider this more along the lines of "halftime" in that series.  None of the "connections" I've taken a look at so far would have been made if I hadn't had the opportunity to meet legendary blues and soul musician Lester Chambers in person at a birthday party in Petaluma, California, on New Year's Eve 2011.

Now, Lester Chambers' time has come.

Lester Chambers
After teaming with Reddit.com co-founder Alexis Ohanian on a successful Kickstarter funding campaign last winter, Lester has released a new album of music, "Lester Chambers' Time Has Come."  And, as of today, he also has a new website at www.lester-chambers.com.  The website has photos, videos, biographies, links to song samples, contact information, and a link to order the CD.

The album features Lester and his five-piece band, The Mud Stompers -- David Aguilar on guitar, Kenneth Roy Berry on keyboards and percussion, Marcia Miget on saxophone, Kenny "Mo" Susan on drums, and Baron Chase on bass along with music director, engineering, and producing duties.

Not surprisingly, the album includes a mix of rock, soul, blues, and gospel-tinged classics that harken back to the days when Lester and his siblings, The Chambers Brothers, rode the top of the charts in the 1960s and '70s on songs like "People Get Ready" and the timeless classic "Time Has Come Today," both part of the new album with a crisp, modern sound.

The band also shines on classic tunes like "Are You Ready?", "Let's Get Funky," "I Got The Blues," "Hold On," and "Boogie Children," along with the Christmas "teaser" tunes that were released early to Kickstarter donors, "Merry Xmas Happy New Year" and "Jingle Bells."

Now, after the fund-raising campaign followed by recording sessions and engineering and working out copyright issues, the album is ready.

Lester and The Mud Stompers are more than ready themselves.  The time has come.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

'A friend of a friend of ...': Mario Cipollina

Much like the Hayes siblings (Chris, Kevin, and Bonnie), Mario Cipollina carries a name that has quite a history in the Bay Area music scene.

Mario Cipollina
Aside from being a part of the musical merger that turned into Huey Lewis and the News -- cranking out a string of Top 40 hits and an Academy Award-nominated song ("The Power of Love" from "Back to the Future") in the 1980s and early '90s -- he's provided solid timekeeping on bass to the likes of Bruce Hornsby, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Ray Charles, Nick Lowe, Michael Bloomfield, Paul Butterfield, Paul Carrack, Tony Williams, Ronnie Montrose, Brian Auger, Billy Cobham, Narada Michael Walden, Jerry Garcia, Craig Chaquico, Steve Smith, and many others.

His bio is enough to earn recognition by itself.   The "family ties" in Cipollina's case come from being a brother to renowned Quicksilver Messenger Service guitarist John Cipollina, among the giants of the San Francisco psychedelic music era.

Make no mistake, though, Mario's earned a name for himself based on his own talent.  These days, his talent's on display with a newer trio, Reckless In Vegas.  It's a band that gives a hard edge to some classic songs from the classic Las Vegas era, with powerful drums, a more metalish guitar style, and some thick bass sounds from Cipollina.

When you recognize the music played by Reckless In Vegas (this ain't your grandparents' Vegas-style lounge sound), one thought can come to mind:  They really do make it "hip to be square."

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

'A friend of a friend of ...': Bonnie Hayes

There's a connection that runs deep in the San Francisco Bay Area music scene.  Mention the name Bonnie Hayes around people in that area, and chances are you'll get an enthusiastically positive response.

Bonnie Hayes
Her brother Chris is the former lead guitarist for Huey Lewis and the News.  Her brother Kevin has been a drummer with the Roberr Cray Band.  And then there's Bonnie, with an impressive musical resume in her own right.

She really started getting noticed in the days of New Wave with her band The Punts and the song "Shelly's Boyfriend."  If you saw the 1983 movie "Valley Girl," her song "Girls Like Me" played over the opening credits.  Remember the Bonnie Raitt comeback hit "Have a Heart?"  Bonnie Hayes wrote that.

Bonnie Hayes makes for a fine pop stylist, as a performer and a songwriter.  It's her songwriting abilities that have made other artists perk up their ears when it comes to her work, penning songs that have been picked up by Cher, Bette Midler, David Crosby, Robert Cray, Adam Ant and Booker T and the MGs, and she's produced more than 40 records.

She's performed with the likes of Billy Idol and Bruce Springsteen.  So she's perked up many ears through her performing as well.

It just keeps getting better for her too.  In the first part of September, Bonnie will assume a new role as chair of the Berklee College of Music Songwriting Department.

That's a resume to be proud of.

George Duke is gone, long live Duke's music

George Duke
It's only been in the last couple of weeks that I came across a video of keyboardist Greg Phillinganes trying out a new musical toy with another keyboard great, George Duke.  I came across the video as I was getting a more personalized taste of Phillinganes' talent.  I stayed there for a while in large part because of the gifts that George Duke put on display.

And now, George Duke is gone.  He died Monday at age 67 from chronic lymphocytic leukemia.  Another great in the music world has passed away, leaving us to revel in the wonderful art that's left behind.

Duke's bio is rich in music education, as a student and a teacher as well as a performer.  He earned a Masters Degree in composition from San Francisco State University.  It would serve him well in his career.  He played with jazz fusion favorites of mine, like Jean-Luc Ponty and Stanley Clarke and Billy Cobham.  His skill as a musician would especially be put to the test in his playing with that mad, avant-garde compositional genius known as Frank Zappa.

He more than held his own.

After getting the news of Duke's death, fans of Zappa and Duke now like to think of the two of them as being "somewhere up there" cranking out the tunes.

It's a nice thought.

Monday, August 5, 2013

'A friend of a friend of ...': Greg Douglass

The year 1977 was a memorable one for me.  I started earning some decent money (for a teenager working part-time, anyway), and part of the money I earned was put toward padding my collection of vinyl record albums.  It was in 1977 that "Book of Dreams" was released by the Steve Miller Band, and I snapped it up.  I'm sure I still have it in my collection to this day.

Greg Douglass
A big part of what sold me on the album was the song "Jungle Love."  Thirty-five years later, I could claim that one of the song's writers and performers, guitarist Greg Douglass, is a "friend of a friend" of mine on Facebook.

All these years later, "Jungle Love" still gets played at a Steve Miller show, and if Douglass happens to be in the crowd catching the show he just might get called up to the stage to play the tune he co-wrote with Lonnie Turner years ago.  Not too long ago, Douglass was hesitant to talk about hooking up with Miller again for fear of coming across as a "name-dropper."  No, saying you're a "friend of a friend of ..." is being a name-dropper.  Having a part in writing one of the Steve Miller Band's greatest hits is being a part of rock music history.

But -- as they say on late-night infomercials -- that's not all.  Douglass' guitar playing can be found on the 1983 hit song "Jeopardy" by the Greg Kihn Band.  He's played with the likes of Hot Tuna, Van Morrison, Eddie Money, Terry & The Pirates, John Cipollina from Quicksilver Messenger Service, Duane Eddy, Dave Mason, Rick Derringer, Nicky Hopkins ... some rock-and-roll heavyweights.

Douglass is still active, performing and teaching his art.  Click on a YouTube video of him out there and you might find a few comments from a student of his, excited to see their teacher playing for the world to see.  And he's still selling CDs.

In fact, this Friday night, August 9, he'll be doing a special show at the Art House Gallery & Cultural Center at 2905 Shattuck Ave, in Berkeley.  Doors open at 7:30 p.m. with an 8:00 show time.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

'A friend of a friend of ...': Michael Hinton

This is how it's worked out for me on Facebook since New Year's Eve of 2011:  Go meet some musical people in the Bay Area, make some new friends (mostly online, since we live several hundred miles apart), and after a while start hooking up with friends of friends ...

It's a social networking thing, right?  And if we're talking about musical friends in the Bay Area, you'd better believe that those Facebook friends were celebrating what would have been the late Jerry Garcia's 71st birthday today.

Michael Hinton
Then came the word that Michael D. Hinton died today after battling cancer with heart complications, and a lot of the same people who celebrated Jerry Garcia's birthday on Facebook expressed sadness after hearing of Mike Hinton's death.

Bay Area musicians make up a fascinating community.  It seems so many musicians there know each other, one way or another.  There's a connection, a web that somehow brings so many people together from throughout the area.

Mike Hinton played guitar on the musical score for the 1980s version of "The Twilight Zone," along with Jerry Garcia.  Mike Hinton played in the band High Noon with Garcia's mates Mickey Hart and Merl Saunders.  He played with Country Joe and Friends.  He recorded with Rick Danko.  He shared a close bond with the late Norton Buffalo.

Friends of friends, many of them that I've never met face-to-face yet gotten to know them through a computer with an Internet connection ... that's been my Facebook world since the early part of 2012, and it's been fascinating.  It's been a place to get to know musicians and music fans alike.  Mike Hinton joined that list fairly early in that "gathering" venture of mine in the early part of 2012, and there was a point in time I would often stop and read closely what he had to share with his friends.

I'd stop and read what Mike had to say because he'd tell marvelous stories about the people he'd played with or gotten to know through his playing -- Mickey Hart, Norton Buffalo, Merl Saunders, Joan Baez ... on and on.  Stories like this, from a blog he contributed to:

Michael Hinton
"When we were getting ready to do a session and record the soundtrack for the 'The Girl I Married' episode of The Twilight Zone which would air July 17, 1987, legendary rock guitarist John Cipollina and I were in the hallway at the coffee machine.

"John waited until I’d gotten through making up my cup of coffee and said, 'You done?' I said, 'Yep' and he proceeded to pour an entire bowl of sugar cubes into his cup. He then poured coffee over the tall pile of cubes, staring into my eyes with an utterly deadpan look on his face. When the cubes had melted, more than 20 of them, he grabbed the cup, still staring at me, and gulped it down in one long swig.

"Choking in laughter, I spit my mouthful of coffee all over myself. John wiped his mouth and said, 'I think I’m ready' [still deadpan] and we walked into the studio to get to work.

"My shirt was soaked and uncomfortable but we really rocked the session. Every track we put down, we were playing and hearing for the first time. Every piece was a first take. Merl Saunders [the musical director] had us do a couple of pieces that resembled the memorable 'Who Do You Love?' [Quicksilver Messenger Service] guitar solo jams for John to cut loose on. During the love scenes, Norton Buffalo and I played with the world famous Kronos Quartet. Merl told me, 'I’m using you on this stuff because you can make your guitar cry.'"
I'd read through the stories Michael Hinton would post on Facebook, and as a music fan I'd eat 'em up.  I told him how much I enjoyed them a couple of times, and he appreciated that.

Michael Hinton came up playing music in an era that many young music fans today wish they could have come up in.  It wasn't an era filled with a lot of flash and onstage dancing and lip-syncing and computer-generated sounds and tuning.  It was all done with skill, raw talent, heart, touch, feeling, emotion, a good ear ... you know, the things that make us human.

Michael had many stories to tell going back to that era.  I'm grateful to have been able to read some of them, as many as I could.  There are other "friends of friends ..." that are out there, just on Facebook alone, who I'm sure could share some fascinating stories of their own, one way or another.

I'd like to help people remember a few of those names in the days to come, through a "friend of a friend" series.  I've been thinking about doing this for a while.  It took Michael Hinton's death today to get me started.

Stay tuned.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Remembering the music of the one and only JJ Cale

I'm a little late when it comes to saying goodbye to JJ Cale, who died of a heart attack Friday at a California hospital at age 74.  But, better late than never.

JJ Cale was one of those songwriters who was mind-boggling when it came to taking in the body of his work through his career, and the variety of artists who covered his work.  Of course, there was Eric Clapton with "After Midnight" and "Cocaine," Lynyrd Skynyrd and Johnny Cash and the Allman Brothers boogieing to "Call Me The Breeze," Waylon Jennings and Dr, John doing "Clyde," The Band handling "Crazy Mama," Santana with "Sensitive Kind," Freddie King and Captain Beefheart on "I Got The Same Old Blues," Widespread Panic jamming to "Travelin' Light" at show after show, Kansas rockin' to "Bringing It Back" ... on and on.

JJ Cale
Yeah, JJ Cale was one of those kinds of songwriters -- someone who had a gift for telling a story through music, someone who made you just feel so laid back, someone you felt like you could party to his tunes all night long, someone who could rip your heart out through his words.

Cale seemed to have a special kinship with Clapton, who helped maybe more than any single musician to bring Cale's music to the masses.

A later video of Cale and Clapton performing together at a Crossroads show was a perfect example of how JJ came across.  As they started into a rendition of "After Midnight," there was Cale waiting for Clapton to take the lead as Clapton nudged JJ on instead with just a look and a small gesture, shaking him off, as if to say, "No, this one's yours."  Cale took it from there, looking like he meant and lived just what he wrote and performed -- a guy with the kind of looks and mannerisms you might expect to find at a smoky barroom, sitting on a stool while downing a shot and a beer.

He was one of us.  In all those songs, he was one of us.

Monday, July 22, 2013

What it takes to 'Be Alright'

A man becomes abusive in his home, leading his wife to hold a bottle of pills in her hand as she contemplates ending her life.

A family man sits at a table, agonizing over a stack of bills, worrying about how to pay them. A gun sits nearby, and he contemplates ending his life.

How do they make it through the desperation?

Bludgeon Muffin in their "Be Alright" video
These are the storylines involved in a new music video released over the weekend by Salt Lake City-area reggae/rock band Bludgeon Muffin. It's their first "official" music video, shot and edited by Eric Eschelbach. It features Misi Touhuni on vocals, Daniel Arellano on guitar, Nicolas Snarr on electric ukulele, Bruce Kamai on drums, and Michael Bailey on drums.

In the short time since its release Saturday night, it's moved up to No. 36 on the BEAT100 music video charts, where fans get to vote on what they like.

The quality of the video, the music, and the message behind it combine to make quite a statement.

Monday, July 15, 2013

What can happen while onstage and you say 'Trayvon Martin'

Unbelievable.  And, for me, too close to home last Saturday night.

Watch the video below all the way through to see what I'm talking about.

Read the story at my "sister blog" for more information at http://viewfrommiddleclass.wordpress.com/2013/07/15/east-coast-vs-west-coast-for-trayvon-martin/

Lester Chambers (center) is assisted after being attacked onstage Saturday night. (Photo courtesy Bobbi Goodman)

Lester Chambers waves to the crowd after being attacked Saturday night.  (Photo courtesy Bobbi Goodman)

Sunday, June 16, 2013

An examination of fatherhood through songs

Many songs written about mothers seem to be flowery, full of love.  Many, but not all.  Roger Waters' portrait of a mother in "The Wall" wasn't exactly complimentary, but that's more an exception to the rule when it comes to songs about motherhood.

For the most part, songs about mothers tug at the heartstrings in a touching way.

(Image via Billboard.com)
There are songs about fathers that can do the same thing.  But in many cases, it seems, they take a more complex look at the role of a father in family life.

For one example, there's Harry Chapin's song "Cats In The Cradle."  It tells of a father so busy working to support his family that he misses out on the "little things" in a child's life, and when the years have gone by and he finally takes the time, his son is too busy making his way up in the world.

There's closeness in many songs about fathers, but there's also distance.  There's something about those songs about fathers that runs deeper, with more complexity.

We are -- as fathers -- what we make of being a father.

Happy Father's Day!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

How to describe Marbin? It's taken a while to decide

My apologies go out to Dani Rabin.

From out of the blue, Dani sent me a private message several weeks ago on a progressive music discussion web site we're both members of, asking me to check out a YouTube video with a song from his group, Marbin, from the Chicago-based group's latest album, "Last Chapter of Dreaming."

Dani Rabin and Danny Markovitch, the foundation of Marbin.
The song was "Volta."  It started out in quiet, stirring fashion.  Highly enjoyable, featuring mellow chords from Rabin on guitar and some engaging saxophone playing from Danny Markovitch.  After that nearly minute-long intro to this band I'd never heard of before, the song broke into a stronger electric sound from Rabin while "easing" into a much more complex time signature punctuated by spot-on exchanges between Rabin and Markovitch, as well as some fabulous time-keeping from drummer Justyn Lawrence and bassist Jae Gentile -- not an easy task by any means when you listen to the kind of music they're playing.

It was my very first exposure to Marbin.  I was highly impressed.  No, more than that -- I was hooked.  I promised Dani that I'd give them some exposure in my music blog, but I wanted to give their music a better listen for a decent treatment.

Since first hearing from Dani in early May, I've watched their other YouTube videos, checked out their web page, hooked up with their Facebook page, even created a Marbin station for myself on Pandora.

I'm still trying to figure out how to adequately describe the kind of music Marbin plays.  Instrumental?  Absolutely, all the way.  Progressive?  Ditto.  Fusion?  Yeah, there's some of that.  It definitely rocks.  There's a "world" feel to it as well.  It's hard to pin these guys down on style, and maybe there's really no need to try.  It deserves just sitting back and enjoying.

There was one day while I was at work, I had all my Pandora stations in shuffle mode as I focused on a tedious task.  I wasn't paying extremely close attention to the artists playing the songs because I knew who a lot of them were, and if I was particularly captured by something that I heard I'd double-check to see who it was.  On one tune, I thought it sounded a lot like Pat Metheny.  It turned out to be Marbin.  Which wouldn't be surprising, since an important part of Marbin's history includes playing with perhaps Metheny's best-known rhythm section in drummer Paul Wertico and bassist Steve Rodby.

There are times when I listen to the talent of Markovitch on the sax, and I think, "Kenny G on steroids after getting some lessons on how to play truly complex music."

There are times when -- if he's not playing something reminiscent of Metheny -- Rabin can do something with a whammy bar on his guitar that reminds me of some of the cooler tricks practiced by Jeff Beck ... high praise, indeed.  Yet Rabin has his own distinct style.

If you check out Marbin's YouTube channel, you'll see Rabin give tips on how to make a living playing live music out on the road.  Rabin took time out from an extremely busy touring schedule recently to get married.  Otherwise, they're playing around 300 shows a year across the country.

And who are some of the musicians they've been touring with in the past?  Fusion folks like Scott Henderson, Mike Clark, and Jeff Berlin, not to mention an Allan Holdsworth trio with Yellowjackets’ bassist Jimmy Haslip and monster drummer Virgil Donati.

Marbin has an impressive resume.  But I still have to apologize to Dani Rabin for taking so long to find the kind of words to best describe them here.  Bottom line:  I'm hooked.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

There are moves, and then there are MOVES!

Not trying to brag, but I can do okay when it comes to dance moves.  There's nothing choreographed when it comes to what I do on a dance floor or anywhere where the music hits me.  I just get into the groove and let it take charge of my dancing muscles.

But I could NEVER do something as good as this ...