Friday MOLD columnist Larry Carlin
Tuesday, July 28, 2015
I’d like to teach the world to sing
In perfect harmony
I’d like to hold it in my arms
And keep it company
From the song “I’d Like to Teach the Word to Sing” by The New Seekers
Standup people. With all of the stories about murder, mayhem and turmoil on the front pages of newspapers (remember them?) and on CNN and other news outlets, it can sometimes be daunting just to leave your house. The media continues to live by the credo “If it bleeds it leads, if it thinks, it stinks.” So it is quite heartwarming when not only a positive news story appears, but even more so when the source is not some big media monolith but right here on this website, on the CBA Message Board. On July 18th Richard Brooks started this post on the MB stating that a 1/4 standup bass was for sale for $399. The next morning CBA webmeister Rick Cornish answered the post by saying “I'll kick in fifty bucks towards buying this bass for the CBA Kids Lending Library. Anybody with me?” and within 24 hours, due to the generous donations of fellow CBA members, enough money was raised to purchase the bass for the Lending Library. However…then the seller changed her mind, and decided not to sell the instrument. But, when offered their money back, all of the doners decided to let the library keep their donations so that other basses could maybe be found and purchased for the kids to use! People coming together for the common good of others...is this a great organization or what? If only we could get the politicos in Washington to act this way! In the meantime, let's keep on trying to get the rest of the world to sing in perfect harmony…
Friends of Bill. A gaggle of banjo pickers that included Bela Fleck, Tony Trischka, Noam Pikelny, Mike Kropp, Eric Weissberg, Marc Horowitz and Mike Munford got together and honored 75-year-old banjo player Bill Keith on Friday the 17th at the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival in the Catskill Mountains in New York. Keith, who is having some health issues, was helped on stage with the aid of a walking cane. He was too frail to bring a banjo on stage and play. Read about it here in Bluegrass Today
The Godmother of Rock and Roll. A special shout out to Randog, whose contributions fill about half of this column each week. He brought Sister Rosetta Tharpe to our attention, and man, check her out playing electric guitar here in this video from the early 1960s. And make sure that you read Randog’s comments about her below.
One heckuva Bulova repairman! Legendary blue/newgrass guitar player Tony Rice – who, in his spare time (of which he has way too much of these days) restores Bulova Accutron watches – has been lying low since his last big public appearance on the stage at the IBMA World of Bluegrass in October of 2013. He has been resting his voice and his arm, both of which he has been having well-documented problems with. Yet he does have the urge to get out and perform again. He did play briefly in Eden, NC, at the Charlie Poole Music Festival recently. Read this real nice story about him on the Greensboro web site. And, Randog has a CD review below about Tony.
30 Best country albums of 2015. Really? Already? Aren’t there, oh, I don’t know, five more months left in the year still? Didn’t these “best of” lists used to wait until the end of the year? Is the media so desperate for news that they have to start these kind of lists halfway through the year? All of this being said, this is a cool list. First of all, it comes from a British publication, and it is a bit mistitled, in that a lot of what is on this list is not “country.” At the same time, there are a lot of artists that the staff here at Carltone World Headquarters has never heard of, so it is time to do some research. It is cool to see Della Mae, Willie and Merle, Asleep at the Wheel, Jimmy LaFave, The Punch Brothers, and Tom Paxton on the list.
Country music in a crisis? According to this story in The Tennessean, there is not enough good country music out there anymore. Hey, maybe some of the artists in the section above stand a chance after all!
Road mangler. Phil Kaufman, the longtime music roadie and erstwhile band manager of some renown – in 1973 he stole the corpse of country-rock singer Gram Parsons from the LA airport and took it out to the desert to burn it – was critically injured in a bike accident in Nashville last weekend. Riding a motorcycle at age 80? He also penned an autobiography titled Road Mangler some years back. Show of hands here: Who even knew he was still alive? Thanks to Linda Rust for this item.
K-Bar in BU. Kathy Barwick and Pete Siegfried got a nice review in Bluegrass Unlimited for their new CD titled The Trestle.
Life’s railway to heaven. Man, after two weeks of columns with no mention of any artist passings, the Grim Reaper has made up for lost time! Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member Wayne Carson, who had a hand in writing classics such as "Always on My Mind" and "The Letter," died on the 20th at age 72 after suffering from several health problems, including congestive heart failure. Also, Eddy Arnold had a hit with Wayne's song "Somebody Like Me" in 1966. Troubadour, character actor and social activist Theodore Bikel, known for the role of Baron von Trapp in the original Broadway production of “The Sound of Music” and as Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof,” died in Los Angeles on the 21st. He was 91. Writer E.L. Doctorow, author of the critically and award-winning novels “Ragtime,” “Billy Bathgate” and “The March,” died on the 21st of lung cancer in Manhattan. He was 84. Songwriter and record producer Buddy Buie, who helped propel the Classics IV to pop prominence with the soft-rock hits “Spooky,” “Traces” and “Stormy,” died of a heart attack on the 18th in Dothan, AL. He was 74. Ettore Stratta, who produced records by Barbra Streisand and Tony Bennett and also conducted symphonic arrangements of everything from bossa nova to the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, died on the 9th in Manhattan. He was 82. Tom Moore, longtime cartoonist of the Archie comic series, died in El Paso, TX, on the 20th. He was 86. He was diagnosed with throat cancer within the past week and chose not to undergo treatment. Country singer Daron Norwood was found unresponsive in his Hereford, TX, apartment on the 23rd. He was 49. He had a hit with "Cowboys Don't Cry" in 1994 and later his song "If It Wasn't For Her I Wouldn’t Have You" reached No. 26. And finally, what happens after the burial? Looks like a search for a new lead guitarist, as Justin Lowe, the 32-year-old guitar player for the metal band After the Burial, was found dead in Somerset, WI, on the 21st, having either fallen or jumped from a bridge. Recently “he offered a conspiracy-filled rant on his reasons for leaving (the band) that included a series of events involving the alleged sabotage of his computer, a set up that included the staging of a friend’s death and allegations of drugs, abuse and sexual impropriety.”
Just for the heck of it. Glen Campbell and a very young Carl Jackson on banjo, from 1973, playing “Dueling Banjos” like you’ve never seen or heard it before.
The view from Nashvegas. On Fridays a popular regular feature in this column are the CD reviews, commentaries and observations by Randy Pitts, the man in the know in Music City USA, a.k.a. Nashville. Here are a few commentaries, a review of a weekly radio show, and two CD reviews from the archives that never appeared in this version of the MOLD column:
Randog's Rant 7/18/2015
Stephen Betts just posted something that made me aware of Sister Rosetta Tharpe's absence in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I guess I'd always just assumed that she had been inducted in the “Pioneer” category, though I've long since stopped paying much attention to anything that august body does. In this case, though, Rosetta's absence just points out the lack of diligence and ignorance of the learned folk charged with making the institution relevant. There is evidently a Facebook page devoted to righting this egregious lapse. In the meantime, check out this video of her singing “That’s All.”
Randog’s Observation 7/20/15
We went to see the great Sonny Throckmorton at a rare public appearance tonight at Douglas Corner. Sonny is one of Nashville's great songwriters – “Friday Night Blues,” “Middle Age Crazy,” and many more – though he doesn't live here anymore, and he was accompanied by another great, Don Henry, as well as possibly Sonny’s daughter. Bobby Braddock also showed up and did a guest spot – perhaps the roughest live performance all-time of his co-write with Curly Putman of the song some call “the greatest country song of all” –“He Stopped Loving Her Today.” Bobby's daughter did the Milly Kirkham bit. It was a not atypical Music City night – sometimes it approached Nashville's version of watching the sausage being made – but interesting for all that. There was one undeniable fact about what transpired at Douglas Corner tonight: it couldn't happen anywhere else in quite the same way.
Randog's That's Entertainment? 7/21/2015
Is this a great country or what? I killed an hour this morning watching a show about an Elvis imitator/hoarder who softly sang “Are You Lonesome Tonight” under his breath to keep from breaking down while his “friends” bullyragged him into ridding his apartment of his stuff. A program note afterwards hyped the network's new show promoting the dating efforts of a couple of blonde female “giants,” a move beyond the “little people “ shows that proliferate on their channel at present...
Randog's Daily Pick 7/23/2015
America's Back 40 radio show with Mary Tilson
KPFA, 94.1 FM, in Berkeley, CA
I've been sitting here listening (on the computer) to Mary's show from this past Sunday for the last couple of hours, and figured that this would be as good a time as any to mention the show in considerably more depth than has been my habit of late. I'm not sure how long Mary has been broadcasting America's Back 40, but I've been listening since 1980, when I happened across her show one Thursday night, I think – it was an evening show for the first twenty years or so, I believe. She was playing something called "The Immigrants," from The National Lampoon crew, allegedly describing the trek of Europe's hillbillies to America. It was narrated by a fake Gregory Peck, and it featured such lines as "I don't like it here in It'ly; you cain't git no D-I-V-O-R-C-E," delivered by Gilda Radner in her best Loretta-ish voice. Well, that got my attention, and Mary held it by playing a solid two hours of some of the most eclectic, imaginative programming one could imagine, the best stuff I'd heard since the fabled KFAT went soft. And, she's held it ever since. I discovered later that Mary had labored in the vineyards (or perhaps more accurately, the "garlic fields") of KFAT for a time before hooking on at KPFA with her own self-produced show, whose name was taken from Jonathan Edwards' song "My Home Ain't in the Hall of Fame." I'm still listening, 35 years later, and Mary and I have long since become fast friends -- well, I'm not as fast as I used to be -- as well as musical fellow travelers. We don't agree on everything musical; far from it. But one can always count on Mary for thoughtful, provocative, and laugh inducing musical programming. I just now heard a line, something like "Whiskey, shots and tater tots ain't much of a menu," for instance, and so far on this show she has played Bessie Smith, Merle Travis, Dolly Parton, Uncle Earl, and Jimmy Dale Gilmore, as well as a song called "Common Law Wife" that I immediately decided was one of my new faves, by someone I'd never heard of but will be on the lookout for from now on, and other songs and tunes that lean toward, well, what people in the back forties of America – both for real and spiritually – tend to like. She's on Sunday afternoons now from 1-3 p.m. PST, still on KPFA, which is the country's oldest, and still the best, listener sponsored radio. And due to the magic of the Internet, you can listen online, live or archived. The latest show is always archived for two weeks, and there are other select shows in the archives as well. Now if I could just get her to play JD Crowe's version of "My Home Ain't in the Hall of Fame," just once...
Randog's Daily Pick 12/18/2013
Carroll Best Say Old Man, Can You Play the Banjo?
Copper Creek CD CCCD-0175
In 1994, I helped produce a show for The Freight and Salvage in Berkeley of the touring Masters of the Banjo tour, of which Carroll Best, a picker from North Carolina who had been playing three-finger style (with finger picks) banjo, he said, since he was 12-years-old, which would have been 1943. This was surely a revelation to those in bluegrass who have believed for many years that Bill Keith brought the style to the fore, perhaps with some foreshadowing by the great Bobby Thompson and some bolstering from citybillies Eric Weissberg and Marshall Brickman. Best never referred to his style as “chromatic” or “melodic,” preferring “fiddle style”; he didn't regard it as bluegrass, either, calling it “three-finger, old-time, fiddle style” after the most important characteristic to him, of his style, that of playing fiddle tunes note for note. And what a wonderful player he was, as the 36 tracks here will attest. He never received much commercial exposure and was never a full time musician. A period in the ‘50s with The Morris Brothers on their local TV show probably afforded him more attention than anything he did musically until the 1994 Masters of the Banjo tour, but he was certainly a wonderful musician. Five cuts here are from that tour, (accompanied by Laurie Lewis, Dudley Connell, Kurt Sutphin, and Jimmy Trivette) and there are two cuts with accompaniment by Kenny Baker and Josh Graves from the ‘70s, along with home recordings and live recordings from folklore oriented events. I was lucky to get to see and hear Carroll up close and personal in an informal jam session at Eric and Suzy Thompson's house after the Freight's concert, and enjoyed it immensely, as I have this album.
Randog's Daily Pick 12/16/2013
Tony Rice Tony Rice Sings Gordon Lightfoot
A recent Gordon Lightfoot feature on CBS Sunday Morning reminded me of this album, and I'm glad it did. Lightfoot has been Tony's favorite songwriter for a long time, and here are seventeen of Lightfoot's finest (including the previously unissued “Whispers of the North”), receiving the most sympathetic interpretations possible, in my humble opinion. From the time Rounder 0044 – JD Crowe & The New South -- hit the bluegrass world like an atom bomb, Tony has been widely considered the best and most influential guitarist in the genre. What is less often mentioned is that his burnished baritone lead vocals had an equally wide appeal at the time to many folks who had not given much thought to bluegrass prior to that landmark release. His versions of “You Are What I Am,” “Ten Degrees (Getting Colder)” and “Cold on the Shoulder” quickly became staples in the repertoires of 'grassers and ambitious folkadokes as well. All three are here, of course, as are 14 other classics, like “Early Morning Rain,” ‘Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” and (especially) “Bitter Green,” “Let It Ride, and “Go My Way.” Rounder claims that this is the "complete" Rice/Lightfoot collection, and alas, it probably is, given Tony's vocal problems of the last 15 years or so. If that proves to be the case, the collection is a wonderful reminder that he has been not only a major (perhaps THE major) instrumental influence on the genre of bluegrass, but also a major force as a vocalist. He is accompanied by many of his musical revolutionaries and band mates, including Jerry Douglas, Bela Fleck, Sam Bush, Vassar Clements, Todd Phillips, Mark Schatz, and his brothers Wyatt, Larry, and Ron, among many others.
Turn your radio on. If you are looking for some bluegrass or many other kinds of acoustic music this weekend, just go to KALW (91.7 FM) bluegrass radio show host Peter Thompson’s Bluegrass Signal web site and you will have no trouble filling your social calendar. Be sure to tune in on July 25th and August 1st for shows titled What Hath Ralph Wrought? On the anniversaries of (7/25/27) Ralph Peer’s first recording sessions in Bristol (with Ernest Stoneman & the Dixie Mountaineers) and (8/1/27) the first recordings of the Carter Family, a celebration of the “Big Bang of Country Music” and its legacy.
Music calendars. There are a handful of shows listed in this column today, but if you want to find out what kind of music is going on in your area, as stated above, look at Peter Thompson’s calendar or also check out the CBA or the Northern California Bluegrass Society events listings. Also, buy a Sunday SF Chronicle and hold on to the Pink Section all week.
Coming attractions. The Bowers Mansion Festival in Reno, NV, with Blue Highway as the headliner, will be celebrating 30 years on August 14th-16th. Down San Diego way the 13th Annual Summergrass Festival on August 14th-16th will have The Boxcars, Sideline, Bluegrass Etc., High Mountain Road and much more. Wendy Burch Steel & Redwood will be appearing, along with Ira Marlowe, at The Monkey House in Berkeley on August 14th. The CBA’s Golden Old-Time Campout is the place to be from August 27th-30th at Lake Solomon in Sonoma County. The Strawberry Music Festival is moving to yet another location in Tuolumne County over Labor Day Weekend September 3rd-7th. The 19th Annual Celtic Festival will get your toes a tappin’ at the Nevada County Fairgrounds in Grass Valley on October 2nd-4th. The Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park is set for October 3rd-5th. Go to all of the links for complete info listings.
Comments, questions, quips and tips? Send an email to email@example.com. For more info than you need to know about Friday MOLD columnist Larry Carlin, go to his Carltone web site. Missed a Friday MOLD? Don’t fret, just click here to read past columns.