My article for Write-Away magazine.....including part 2!

    If you ask a sculptor what their latest work "means", the traditional art wisdom says you'll be deeply dissatisfied with the answer.  After all, that particular artist has clearly chosen to express whatever unique insight and whatever private pain they have....in clay.   If they wanted to work in words, they would have been a writer.  Logically then, we would expect a more satisfying answer when posing the same question to our friendly neighborhood songwriter.   After all, that person works in words, and actually spends hours trying to succinctly distill complex experiences into short, yet powerful, verbal snapshots.   That are, for lack of a better term: "catchy".  With some kind of musical notes glued on for the ride.  With, as in any other art form, the ability to at once seem completely familiar and natural--while also fresh....even revolutionary.   And, as in any other field of human excellence, the ability to inspire admiration, even awe, the "Wow! Can a human being actually do THAT!!" response.   Uh-oh, dear reader....as the semaphore flags on my parents' cocktail glasses used to spell out: "You are standing into danger"--this may be harder than we thought.
     Harder than we thought indeed, because, analogous to our first case, if the songwriter felt the need (and ability) to express his or her personal reality in straightforward prose, they surely would have worked in prose!   Not rhyming jingles!   And they CERTAINLY wouldn't have dragged that old emotional button-pusher MUSIC into the equation.  Having embarked on this attempt to analyze this odd human activity, we are, in one sense, immediately defeated....one central truth of the matter is this: no one really knows where these artistic impulses originate.   Having admitted defeat, however, we can attempt to describe the part of the elephant we can detect in our part of the room.   So we soldier on.
    People inquiring about songwriting often start with this question:  Music first?    Or lyrics first, music built to match afterward?    For me, it's almost always lyrics first.   The rhythm of the phrases will usually suggest a rhythm for the accompaniment, and eventually, some chord changes and such will suggest themselves.  Not quite as simple as "You see, Sally, major keys are for HAPPY songs, and minor keys are SAD" ( in fact, somewhere on my website there's a rant about the whole twisted world of blues, based on the possibly racist (certainly Eurocentric) assumption that the flat third and seventh must mean that the Africans are sad.....but i digress).....sorry, I'm back now....ANYHOW, some chords suggest themselves, and we're off!   In fact, tearing the daunting task of attempting to write a song down to a manageable trick: I'm looking for a title. Just a title.   If the title is powerful enough to suggest one brilliant insight into the human condition (or just a fun insight!), the goddamn thing writes itself!   And one insight is about the correct, pointed amount of wisdom that can conveniently fit into a 3 minute pop song .    Don't make me drag Aristotle and his unity of time, place and action into this article, 'cause you know I'll do it, you know I'll do it! But old Ari could turn a phrase or two, depending on whatever vintage he and Plato were throwing back.  Check these titles, submitted for your approval:  "I Second That Emotion"........"I Feel Like Breaking up Somebody's Home" ...."I Hope the Russians Love Their Children Too" (ok, I cheated on that one...title shortened to "Russians"....for good measure, I'll throw in my own "If You Ever Need A Friend, Buy A Dog", and perhaps " If God Can Make That, No Wonder He's In Charge". Each of those sets a scene vividly enough that, as songwriters, we're OFF!   Filling in the blanks....a thrust here, a riposte there....hell, pull out the rhyming dictionary and we'll polish this up in 15 minutes!
    Songwriting articles often extol the benefits of co-writing.....careful with your feelings there.   There are "pros" who write with other pros they've just met....insert joke of your choice about the pornography industry, but if you're the sensitive type, choose someone gentle to co-write with.   I used to co-write with a friend, and we kind of unofficially started using "well, maybe it needs a bridge" instead of "that song sucks"....a bridge IS a contrasting counter-melody, right? Anyhow, your friend may have an idea but no place to go with it (not a frequent occurrence)  but will more often be a brilliant help polishing what you've got.
   Ah, polishing.....yes, I definitely believe in that.   If the urge to express what seems like a great idea presents itself (it used to frequently hit me, when working for a heating company, as I was walking into a basement with a brush and a soot-vac), it needs to get written down quickly and immediately.   Almost every songwriter nods sad agreement with Duke Ellington's famous comment "The best song I ever wrote....I forgot".    Tell Mrs. Smith you'll be in to clean the furnace in a minute, and write that sucker down....in any sketchy form you can scrabble together.   The central idea that inspired you originally will surely rekindle itself when you look at your sketchy notes a week later.....if you can read the sketchy notes.   And yes, I am not above using Masterwriter or some other crutch at the polishing point.    Unlike the movies however, where the songwriter has a great line, and is floundering, trying to slap in a rhyming line..."What rhymes with Lemon?", I do believe in the rule that the killer line goes last.   If there has to be a weaker line for the sake of rhyme, make that the setup line.   I almost think the screenwriters always have the songwriter doing it the other way as a kind of cruel joke....." Look at this poor sap in writing hell.....he doesn't know what he's doing!   What an amateur!"
     Am unsure as to whether the discussion of the two sides of the brain are science....or pseudo-science.   But for our purposes here, the concept might be useful. Songwriters, and indeed musicians in general (ok, artists in general) have a judgmental side that edits the ideas and emotions that the other side of the brain demands they express.   For me, the constrictions of the blues form simplify some of the leap of faith form-wise, if that makes sense.  Often, musicians will suppress that editing side with drugs or alcohol, just so some of their innermost feelings will get out.   Often, they will get so good at damaging that judgmental side, that stupid shit, for want of a better word, will come out.   In that case, they gradually become an exaggerated version, then a parody of their original artistic selves, an embarrassing cautionary tale to future songwriters.    Or, they go to the other extreme, analyzing the beats per minute of the last 30 top forty hits, and noting that the listener is drawn in by the use of the word "you" within the first 25 seconds in 20 of the last 30 platinum singles.   Those people have already probably moved to Hollywood, but I would suggest that they go the final step, and move in with the Kardashians.  Not how I do it, not my part of the elephant, don't wanna hear about it......well....that's not QUITE true.   If I had something I needed to express, and I built a song out of it, and I really liked it; really thought it was good, maybe I would check it against some of these metrics.    Just to understand whether that's why I thought it was good, to sort of check my sense of what was really getting across to my fellow humans.     Because that, my friends, is the joker in the deck for all artists.    Yes, it's your message....on your terms.....sculpt it, if that's what you do......it's not about what's going on in history....it's not about what's going on in your life ("Shakespeare was clearly depressed about his business reversals")....you may not even be consciously aware of all that you've put in there....it's your bottle (possibly formerly full of the bottled bravery you needed to put your vision "out there")....but it is, whether you like it or not, a communication.   You've got to get this important message through....in code....maybe with a bridge

Mellow Yellow?

   I wouldn’t call it mellowing, exactly.  If you’re reading this with no personal knowledge of me, let me start by saying that, in the part of New York City where I grew up, when picking teams, you grabbed a hitter, a pitcher…..and an arguer….not necessarily in that order(yes, I was picked early).   I’ve offered countless game officials the use of my glasses, once arrived at a game where an opponent had threatened me...in a coffin, have berated musical sidemen who blundered badly (I once threatened the Super-Heavyweight Karate Champ of New England….”one more screw-up and I’ll Kill ya”).    So maybe I have a temper. How about this story as background: A few years ago, my wife and i were leaving the western Mass basketball tournament when the head of court security recognized us….and asked why we were in attendance. “Our son Willie was in one of the games tonight” I answered. “Oh”, he replied…”That bratty little thing...he was so mouthy when he got his 4th foul, I was amazed he didn’t get tossed….I should have known he was your kid”.  Pride of fatherhood.

   But one of the few benefits of getting older is perspective.   I don’t think anyone who knows me will confuse me with Buddha, but things that would have caused me to blow a gasket years ago, now actually make me happy.  You say you’ll need some examples before you buy that? As you wish.

  Late night service calls that are tricky…..at temperatures that are dangerous?  The new me thanks his lucky stars that he’s seen pretty much everything that can go wrong, made almost every kind of mistake already, and has a huge reservoir of parts, suppliers, specialty experts, friends….and strong young students….to get things back on track…intimidated by a problem? No longer a problem…..take fear away, and it’s amazing how your brains will grow back!

   My recent illness, for another example--besides the aforementioned army of contacts and friends, the familiarity of how my body usually reacts makes the process and timeframe clearer (it was nothing serious, btw).   It’s also worthwhile to notice how “urgent” day-to-day tasks can be pushed back by a sick day without the sky falling…..who knew in our 20’s, when we needed to get “straight to the top”.....immediately…..or…...what? I no longer even have to repeat “Jim Henson was busy too” as a mantra.

   Let’s go further out on a limb…...though I have no interest in donating him another plane, and though many people have questioned whether his actions match his words, I find the words of televangelist Joel Osteen often brilliant.   One theme he likes is this : “The Lord who carried you through life’s previous disasters will surely carry you through today’s…..why would you doubt that?” When a young person tells me about one of their disasters (sometimes asking why I’m so annoyingly positive in my old age)....I have an awfully long list of situations I never thought I’d survive, mistakes I thought were irreversible etc.  Perspective…. A beautiful thing

 

But I’ll still be having a cow if the refs cheat poor old Tom Brady tomorrow

The Tour blog!

The “On tour” blog       

 

     If, like me, you prepare for your first tour by reading everything you can get your hands on, related to the subject….you’re going to hear this phrase repeated :   “Going on tour is like being married to 3-4 people at the same time”. My solution? Fall madly in love with the band I brought west (Kathy Peterson and Mark Chouinard, who will be on every track of my next album, and Emily Duff, who has been on the last five!).  You will read that you need to have the right people with you….again, check--but let me remind you that, if you’re a perfectionist band leader (is there another kind?),you’ll need to focus on that word “people”.....you know, those imperfect individuals with their own hopes and dreams that inhabit our planet.  I suggest making a couple dumb mistakes right off the bat, so they’ll know in advance you’re gonna have to forgive theirs (again: Check!) But seriously, my band members were so considerate of each other, and so brilliant at each working their part of the puzzle, it was almost easy. If you decide to tour with two egomaniacs and a whiner, driving 880 miles, I have absolutely no idea how you’re gonna survive .   That’s right, driving! They got them some full-sized states out there, not like our little itsy bitsy practice states…..told Em “ Wake me up if we pass a big field of corn, with a little row of trees, and then another big field of corn” She said “Ok, but I’ll be waking you every 8 seconds”. Another time, while the female contingent were asleep in the back, we passed a sign that said “Oil changes, starting at $190”.    I said “Uh, Mark?” He confirmed “Tractor trailer”....I said “Where would they find any tractor trailers around here?”....in case you thought goods get to and from the middle of the U.S. by BOAT, you’d be mistaken. There’s a parade of double trailers on every highway in the Midwest (I think they might even sneak in some triple trailers). One of my favorite episodes was the tractor trailer guy who flipped us off in Indiana…..for having Massachusetts license plates!   This guy has skipped racism and sexism as too complicated, and conceived a simpler way to determine who the good and bad people are; just check the plates…..done!

 On to the music:   we played a whole bunch of clubs we can’t wait to see again….and maybe one we’ll see on Bar Rescue.  Most of the people did not know who we were, but the response was terrific. You’ll need to bring your confidence that, when you jump off the building they’re gonna catch you, ‘cause you can’t jump off a building gradually (next album title?)....but in a weird way, doing the same show a bunch of nights in a row, where the only change is a new audience, gives you a whole new perspective on what you can control, and what’s up to them.  Best audience was Indianapolis, where they still party like it’s 1969, but I was especially pleased in Buffalo, where the club design added the challenge that most of the audience were on the other side of a wall! Going around with the wireless helped, but mostly it was: finish the song….see if they liked it…..start another song….wonder if they’re liking it.

  You’ll read in those tour guides “don’t forget to schedule some sight-seeing”....check.   I don’t think a struggling kid band could afford to do all this, but I’m glad we did: Rock Hall of Fame, Chess Records Museum, Wrigley Field, Second City Comedy Club, brief stops at 2 Great Lakes….and Muddy’s House.  I posted one picture of his brick structure with the big X on it (which warns firemen and other responders not to enter this unsafe building)....I buried the ones of us smiling on the porch, because the situation is not a happy one.  In the toxic racial climate in which we find ourselves, it hurts a bit to realize the symbolism that the “off the radar” neglect of this historic site represents. Although I may have heard about this, I’m ashamed that it wasn’t on MY radar...I adored Muddy Waters, as a music legend, but also as the kind of self-assured yet gentle human being showbiz rarely encounters, completely comfortable in his own skin…..there is, apparently, a “mystery owner” who may be planning to renovate---that story is from a 2014 news story, repeated in another news story in 2017….no more recent updates….”DUDE!   Put a poster with a GOFUNDME address in front of the building….OR SOMETHING!” Rumors abound that it may be Buddy Guy, whom we did not meet while at his club(he’s touring). Speaking of which:

    Bringing your blues band to Chicago involves a special kind of leap of faith.   They already have those….perhaps you’ve heard…..and despite my New York-snob teasing of Kathy, it is DEFINITELY a REAL CITY!   It’s big enough that you can’t just ramble through it and guess your way to where you want to go (Kathy to the rescue there), parking is BRUTALLY difficult….an the folks there have their own shit going on, in a busy, hard-headed way completely familiar to a New York refugee like myself.   Despite that, our reception there was good. Old friend Scott Cashman showed up and shot videos of us (one with Kathy’s pal Linsey Alexander, who also shot a little of us next night at Buddy Guy’s), and you can hear even the world weary bluesmen gasp when Emily Duff GOES OFF! I play great on those videos, but Em pays even better (if I’m outplayed by the princess, I’m actually HAPPY about it, such is my level of admiration)....and, as Bill Belichek would say, we’re on to Indianapolis.

  

We arrived ahead of our scheduled show, and planned to promote a little bit at their jam night.  “Leave all the stuff in the car”, I said. “We’ll go in for dinner and find out if the host is nice….or a jerk”   No need to worry there, everyone was extremely gracious (it didn’t hurt that he broke a string during house band’s first song….and didn’t have one!   And you KNOW I carry spares)

 

Our real show started well, and never lost momentum….even the older folks don’t go home after dinner there, they get their second wind and start dancing (perhaps the large selection of Irish whiskeys might be involved).   I was on a mission, and the band was really happy and engaged (once again, Irish whiskey might have been involved). We slept fast, and left early for home, arriving in time to rest up for the crazy kid event back home: Shackstock, where our time together sharpening up things really showed, I think.    “Look out, young bands! We’re touring pros!” I think we felt. Hanging around home catching up on all the details I missed, I already miss the band (Shouldn’t we be riding somewhere in the car right now?)....a feeling that will only get worse when Em heads back to China after a few more gigs…

 

favorite memories---Em getting carded everywhere…...hearing the echo of the Chess studio (twice, when they played tracks from there...in there….my Howlin’ Wolf imitation actually sounded like him!) Mark and I rolling our eyes when Em and Kathy said they’d be ready at “the crack of dawn”.   Kathy proudly showing us Millenium Park and other sites of her “real city”. And best of all, the musical conversations(both onstage and off) with my beloved band. I certainly didn’t get rich on the deal, but I’m still walking on air (which you know is not me, right?)

A technical question....or is it?

     Back in my 20's, I remember being baffled while reading an interview with B.B. King....in Downbeat, I think.   He was asked a technical guitar question, something about scales, and what things he heard other guitarists doing.....and he replied with what, at the time, seemed to (the very young) me to be a complete non-sequitur.  He said something like " Let me just say this....you have to, at some point, be happy with how you play.  You don't have to be as old as me (he was then 44....which seemed hopelessly ancient to me then.....like when I helped John Lee Hooker limp out to the stage at the Four Leaf Window, and learned he was 54- you know, way younger than I am now!), but at some point, you have to be happy with how you play.  Otherwise, you'll end up comparing what you're doing to what other guys are doing....while you're doing your thing...in front of YOUR audience"  In other words, whatever it is that you thought you wanted to communicate to the audience must have been important....or at least you thought it was important....otherwise, why are you wasting everybody's time!   And you'd probably HAVE to agree that B.B practiced what he preached....he would build his solos with a precise logic and an unmatched clarity of purpose.   Likewise, when I would watch James Cotton work through the many styles and rhythms he used, it was always like he knew how the Rubik's cube was gonna turn out from his very first move.

    The flip side of this is....we're not all there yet.   At some point during my 5 year stint hosting a blues jam, I realized....or at least concluded, that all diva stuff, twitchy fussing with the sound, lengthy tuning adventures, fussing with effects etc...eventually turned out to be a cry for help---"HELP! I'm not sure I know what I'm trying to do"....and, I will admit confessionally that as I burned out on hosting, I lost all semblance of patience with trying to answer that cry for help.....I wanted to yell "COME ON!   GROW UP"....even though I had been through all those same neuroses many times myself....and still, after all these years, get thrown by minor glitches that should be water off a duck's back. But I keep trying.   And as i watch the development of young players around me, I see that confidence growing....and that gives me hope that....one day.....we'll all "like the way we play".  I told Emily Duff during our recent recording session  "Remember when I first met you, and complimented how you played?....That's because I knew you'd someday do what you're doing now!   That was some little girl....compared to this"

   A pretty good example of that is her work on our recent Advocate Sessions performance....and I do okay.... I hardly hate any of my part....keep repeating " You have to DECIDE to like the way you play" 

 

Just talkin' about Spaghetti

You know what? Spaghetti is really great. It’s a little spicier that the food boomers grew up on in the 50’s, and we really like it. Tons of people really like it , even if they’re not Italian. Some people say that you need to grow up in an Italian family to understand spaghetti, but lots of people have made a lot of money by making varying types. Some of them went back and studied the work of chefs that came before them, and some, not so much…..and sometimes people would get too weird and put pineapple or something in it. But basically, even people who could afford something way more expensive might order it. Not everybody likes it though, although they’ve all heard of it….and some Italian chefs have moved on to other cuisine that’s more radical...maybe lobster risotto or something. But, whether it’s made the classic way or not, I like it. Because, regardless of its history, or whether the chef is happy or getting divorced, I like it because it tastes good. And if it tastes REALLY GOOD, I think, “Can a human being really make something this good?” Maybe that’s what a genius is. Now if, as an exercise, we replace a few words, starting by replacing the word spaghetti with the word “Blues”......but that would bring in the poison of slavery, its “justifications”, and its aftermath...which would make a much more interesting (and controversial) story…..or would it still just taste good?  It gets kinda confusing when we forget that we love great art.....because it's great, No?  

My introduction to college....and alcohol!

Ok here goes.....might be a blog---"how I first met alcohol"--

     It's  my third night at sleep-away camp....oops, I mean Providence College.....and my roommate has been pretty quiet since arriving (with parents who were extremely concerned that I might be a smoker).....and, since this was the Middle Ages, or at least that's what our school thought, we have "lights out" at 11:30 ....and yes, they would have the camp counselors (oops, R.A.s) check....and in case they forgot, they had conveniently located my room 2 doors from the providence College Dean of Discipline (actual title), the unsmiling Father Bond, so we're laying in our unfamiliar bunk beds in the dark, when a loud knock at the door occurs....it's an upperclassman, a sophomore to be exact.....a VERY drunk sophomore to be exact, and he starts screaming about a beer can pyramid.   "Quiet down, Fr. Bond will hear you", I say, at which point he steps into the hall ans bellows "Fuck Fr. Bond!!  Fr. Bond SUCKS!".....he re-enters and points to some rings on the floor--"This room was the most PISSAH room on the whole campus, and this is where we had our 800 can beer can pyramid.....and you guys have to keep up the tradition....oh, and they have to be ALL BUDWEISER".....to which my shy quiet roommate answers " I like Miller High Life", which enrages the soph-- "SHUT UP!!! It has to be all Budweiser"...picture the look on my little Catholic school altar boy face as I say, as if to calm the lunatic "Yeah, Pete,... it has to be Budweiser,.... everybody knows that".   After a few more Fr Bond, you sucks, he decides we're going to his room on other side of the campus for a "starter kit" (It turned out he had 42 Bud tall boy empties for us....after all, he had been back for two days).....I mention "lights out" (foolish, foolish Wildcat) which just makes him louder, the Harkins Hall elevator creaks loudly, the empties wet the paper bags they're in and crash to the floor, each time fueling expectations of an apoplectic Fr. Bond arrival which somehow never occurs, but he's not done yet....nope....we have to stop and wake up every single person on floor (remember P.C basketball star Charlie Crawford not particularly amused) and order them to bring beer cans to our room for whole semester......and he did come back and check several times.....to my terror.....and yes, always bombed....we eventually bested his 880 can pyramid ( I think we approached 1100), until it became just too tempting to open our door, wing a tennis ball into the pyramid, and run out, leaving us to re-assemble the wreckage....and hiding the Schlitz cans on the inside.....so eventually, we had to stop being the most PISSAH room on the campus.

A True Giant has left us!

    What to say about the passing of Blues Legend James Cotton?  Well, when a famous person dies, it's frequently said "We won't see his like again"....problem is, in this case, it's probably true.    From the fields of Mississippi to Chicago backing Muddy Waters, through the rise of the blues to Rock and Roll prominence, playing with the Rolling Stones....unsure where we'd find this type of pedigree for a musical giant again.   And a giant he surely was, combining virtuosity with showmanship (he loved standing offstage with his microphone, playing the first few bars of Cotton Boogie before letting the audience see him), and modern rhythms with respect for blues heritage (equally comfortable with exact quotes of Sonny Boy Williamson licks, and "giving the young people some dance music").

  I first met James at the Tobacco Shed in Whately, a venue aptly named...it was so long and narrow that visuals of the stage actually reached the back before their accompanying sound.   Blues acts were frequenting the Pioneer Valley, and I had made the brilliant decision(I thought) to provide real blues opening act support for them instead of letting the rock bands screw things up....in other words, I had decided to be a Bluesman, and offered my services to Blues venues at whatever the market would bear....which turned out to be:....not very much.  But I didn't care, working up what I thought was a brilliant set that was SURE to impress the audience...and the master himself.    However.....about 50 seconds into the James Cotton portion of the evening, I realized just how far over my head I was.....James' band absolutely DESTROYED us.   A bit demoralized, I walked into the dressing room, desperate for guidance, which Cotton's drummer and bass player, Ken Johnson and Charles Calmese (still the greatest rhythm section I've ever seen) might provide....adding to my confusion, I found them embroiled in an argument about a missed cue during the set (which had seemed flawless from my perspective)....James walked in, and it was like dad settling a squabble among grade school siblings....complete with "he started it" and such.   Cotton got them calmed down, and they did give me some pointers.  Later, James came up to me with 6 hot dogs in his beefy hands. "I saw your check while I was getting mine, and you better take these before your band starves to death!", he said.  That was the start of a beautiful friendship.   A couple of gigs later, Matt "Guitar" Murphy's Fender Twin broke, and we loaned him an amp (might have been Henry Spadoni's), and steered him to a local repair shop, after which I was on the guest list for a LOT of James Cotton shows.   After Johnson and Calmese left the band, I watched him build up another dynamite group with Ray "Killer" Allison on drums....Kenny, who had settled in Greenfield, brought them in to eat at the Dove's Nest.   (He also occasionally recruited me to play in his Valley Blues all-star band).   Still later, when his voice began to fail, Cotton did a duet for part of the show, then brought out the opening act to back him (guess who?) on an electric closing set.   All of us here in the Valley were tremendously influenced by this brilliant, yet gentle blues genius.   Have already altered the new Wildcat album to include a James Cotton tribute....it wasn't that hard to arrange, since we all knew his stuff backwards.   Hope we come close to doing it justice 

A few memories of the late Art Steele

I first met Art in 1978, shortly after moving north from Springfield.....first conversation turned to a comparison of blues idols, with him suggesting that Buddy Guy was the most complete artist in the genre....while I defended the honor of Magic Sam....after I knew Art for a while, it occurred to me that, considering the number of notes I tended to play...and the partial chords and piercing tenor that he employed, it probably would have been more logical if we had reversed positions...I later would play a few songs during his Evening Pro Bluesica shows in S. Deerfield,(at the Hot-L, then managed by the late Buddy Rubbish) and we did many shows together over the years, including a stint where Art had me pretend to be him when his P.A. gigs pulled him away from home after booking the Art Steele Band (and his band would look to me for leadership...which I found weird...."Guys, I'm the SUB") In the shifting sands of our Valley music scene, Art was always ready to adjust on the fly, while still being completely present and in the moment to the audience. In recent years, I would bring Art in as a featured guest at my Sunday show at City Sports Northampton, where he was invariably a most charming, though mercurial, guest....my house band would hang on for dear life as he went "really Deep" in the Blues....oh, I forgot to mention his previous car accident, and the benefit we did at the Harp afterwards....the outpouring of love from the community...and the awe when he walked slowly to the stage..."Stay ready to cover, I lose feeling in my hand and drop the pick sometimes since the surgery" he whispered. "No problem, big guy" I thought to myself...."I'll be over here basking in the reflected glow if you need me"....it was a major trick finding room for all the artists who wanted to perform, a fact we laughed about the next day as I proudly handed him the benefit proceeds...I told him two key facts helped--nobody wanted to be the difficult diva in those circumstances....and the parking filled in so far from the club that they couldn't drag in a million sets of equipment. There's about 20 pictures of various area artists....all with my guitar!....
    We also would do an annual visit to the Radio-a-thon on WMUA to support Katie Wright, with Art usuall issue appeals like this:   "Blues on WMUA are a symbiosis with the community, where a continuum of Christo-mystical synergy makes the community more holistic....don't you agree, Wildcat?"I'd respond after a pause "Uhhh....Art, I was goin' with You gotta donate or KATIE GONNA CRY, MAN"...One way or the other, we'd get the phone ringing
    .One last memory: I got a call from a club in Holyoke a few years ago, which I had trouble locating when I tried to drop in with posters...I wandered further, eventually coming face-to-
face with three cop cars, who were blockading an apartment building, guns drawn....since the only avenue open was to the right, I turned and hurried away...and right ahead of me was this marquee: Live Blues tonight---The Art Steele Band....I went in and said: "You know, Art....I'm always glad to see ya......especially tonight"...Good Night, sweet Prince....you shoulda been Magic Sam

Preserving the Music

Preserving the music

 

Not to underestimate my ability to get myself involved in arguments, but I was surprised nonetheless recently to find myself rousing the ire of a blues legend. This gentleman, not a household word, but known to any in-depth blues fan, and an awesome player (and who will remain nameless) was ranting on Facebook about Ana Popvic, who had posted on Youtube a quite-inauthentic version of the classic One Room Country Shack, complete with pinup pictures of herself, and a reference to “ten foot sacks”.....having picked no more cotton than Ms Popovic, I was nevertheless aware that they are eleven foot sacks...but I was taken aback that this was supposed to be a sign of the Apocalypse, and always ready to defend blonde girls in revealing outfits, made some comment (innocuous, I thought) like “Everybody brings to the music what they can, it's not the end of the world....and are the pictures hot?”....this brought the wrath down on little old me! Good thing I didn't say what I was thinking (which was “It was supposed to end the Blues forever when the let the WHITE GUYS in.....which event should have been ABUNDANTLY familiar to the ranter, who was among the first in that cultural development).

Now I admit that those first few guys went out of their way to immerse themselves in Blues culture, and I would urge the current crop of youngsters to drink in all the nuances of the old masters...but I AM irked that, whenever something new is introduced to the music (be it blonde girls in short skirts or something more substantive), SOMEONE feels the need to protest that you're coloring outside the lines! Let me cut to the chase—leaving aside the question of who appointed guardians for the Blues, my MAIN question is: WHAT PART OF IMPROVISATIONAL MUSIC DIDN'T YOU UNDERSTAND? It would, by definiton, change.....it would, by definition, change all the TIME! Every major Blues book has someone who's “doing it right” and someone else who's a “lightweight dilettante newcomer”....and usually that perspective looks foolish a few years after the fact (I believe it was Charles Keil of Urban Blues fame who brought out a second edition 20 yrs later, in which he apologized for minimizing James Brown in this way!)

This is in no way to assert that any old Blues is just as good as any other Blues. When you have a music of three chords, you had better get used to the fact thats some people can cover those changes without providing us with much value...there's gonna be a whole bunch of chaff....which is to say, stuff you don't like. And, since we can't expect every music listener in the world to immerse themselves in Blues culture, SOME music that seems “lesser” may achieve sizable commercial success (it's said that older Bluesmen were mystified/annoyed by the success of Jimmy Reed...for example).

But, cutting to the chase: The very people who think they're PRESERVING the music are actually holding it back. What's the point of making the circle SMALLER?

 

Wildcat O'Halloran is a Blues guitarist, singer and songwriter. He has labored, mostly in small clubs for 45 years, trying to keep exciting Blues music in front of the public...mostly in New England (not Mississippi or Chicago). In that time, he has seen Disco lionized, along with Rock Shredders, teenagers with metal-shredder guitars (but with porkpie hats), and blonde girls (though he likes those). He has been called “one of the most entertaing songwriters in contemorary Blues” (LB2011)....and also “might be fun at a party, but NOT a serious blues band”

Inspiration Meditation

Inspiration underrated? Perspiration overrated?

 

It's been a while since I blogged....I thought about one on musicians relationship with substances....maybe another time (short version: The brain has its creative side and it's logical, judgemental side....musicians, or any artists need to quiet that critical side in order to make that leap of faith that presenting creations to the world entails....use drugs and alcohol to uninhibit....and usually overdo it! Often doing permanent damage to their “good judgement” side) But I digress, because the subject I want to address today is a term we use without really analyzing: Inspiration. We say something is “inspirational”...or someone “inspires young people”...what exactly are we talking about?

 

We could start with the views of the ancients...to them, it literally meant that a spirit had entered someone, just as, to them, a “genius” might be receiving secret insights from their personal genie!! Unclear whether every level of society took those ideas as symbolic or real (Remember in the Iliad when the goddess “Rumor” ran through the camp creating discord...there might have been a demi-god named Discord as well, but this may have been more “imagery” than actual literal religious belief...unless there were republicans even in those days)....but we don't believe in spirits...do we?

 

No, we're not going to church now. But this is what I think inspiration means: The ability to create in the mind of other people (or to recognize in oneself) the idea “Oh, wow! A human being can actually do THAT!” (Or solve that, write that, draw that)

Wow! I'm transported by that experience....I gotta raise my game!” When I hear Otis Redding, or Aretha....Mike Bloomfield or Tower of Power, I still think “Wow, a human being can do that!” Or it might be non-musical...Shakespeare, Richard Pryor...or even Lupe Fiasco or Manny Ramirez, or ...wait for it....Joel Osteen might have something that speaks to the inner person.....without inspiration, we're just ants scurrying around an anthill....with it, we have the opportunity to strive for our highest potential...to reach beyond our grasp.

 

And as for the actual existence of spirits....well, another time for that one. 

Advocate Sessions

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Upcoming Shows

Jun 21, 2019
The Rapids
Huntington Massachusetts
Jun 24, 2019
Gardner Ale House
Gardner MA
Jul 6, 2019
Liston's
Worthington Ma
Jul 19, 2019
South Deerfield Common Concert!
S. Deerfield Massachusetts
Jul 20, 2019
Shutesbury Athletic Club
Shutesbury Ma

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Upcoming shows

Jun 21, 2019
The Rapids
Huntington Massachusetts
Jun 24, 2019
Gardner Ale House
Gardner MA
Jul 6, 2019
Liston's
Worthington Ma
Jul 19, 2019
South Deerfield Common Concert!
S. Deerfield Massachusetts
Jul 20, 2019
Shutesbury Athletic Club
Shutesbury Ma

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acoustic Cat

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God's in Charge video

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Starry Night video

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