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.