Monday, February 28, 2011

"See My Jumper Hanging on the Line"

It’s Monday—& in fact it’s the Monday Morning Blues—but, dear readers & listeners, you won’t be treated to my golden voice today.  I’m doing some shuffling of the schedule for the next month, & as a result, bounced myself off the usual Monday slot.  But that doesn’t mean my music shall vanish entirely thru this time period.  Patience—more will be revealed later!

In the meantime, I have a fantastic line-up of Monday Morning blues videos for your listening & watching pleasure.  One departure: they’re all electric blues!  For clarity’s sake, I should say that although I play acoustically myself (of course, I mostly play resonator guitars, which are a kind of special case), I’m not one of those oldtime music folks who scoff at electric instruments.  Fact is, I’ve played a fair amount of electric guitar & wouldn’t be at all surprised if I did so again at some point.  I know if I were financially flush these days (far from it) a Telecaster would look mighty appealing. 

Today’s featured artist is the great Mississippi blues player, RL Burnside caught on film by Alan Lomax, Worth Long & John Bishop in August, 1978.  “See My Jumper Hanging On the Line” is Burnside’s own composition & it typifies his hard driving style, propelled by a characteristic drone.  Burnside fingerpicks using only his thumb & index finger—an old method of fingerpicking that I suspect goes back to early styles of banjo playing.

Burnside, who was born in 1926 in Holly Springs, Mississippi was first recorded by George Mitchell in the 1960s, but he didn’t follow these up until releasing Mississippi Hill Country Blues in 1984.  Perhaps the biggest boost to his music career came when he was featured in the film Deep Blues: A Musical Pilgrimage to the Crossroads (1991).  Following this, Burnside issued 10 albums between 1992 & 2004 (admittedly, the final three contained re-mixed material).  He played regularly with the blues-punk band, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion & released the 1996 album A Ass Pocket of Whiskey with that group.  RL Burnside passed away in 2005

Burnside’s music is really moving & fascinating; hope you like today’s tune!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Photo of the Week 2/27/11

Barn, Fenceline, Pasture
Norwood Road, just south of McCall, ID
Tuesday 2/22

The promised post about Finnish accordionist Maria Kalaniemi will be up on Tuesday!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Any Woman’s Blues #4 – Jessie Mae Hemphill

Hey, it’s Saturday, which means it’s time for Any Woman’s Blues, & I’m surely excited to present today’s performer, Jessie Mae Hemphill—I love her style & I hope you will too. 

No one knows for sure what year Jessie Mae Hemphill was born—estimates range from 1934 to 1940—but she came from Senatobia, Mississippi (or environs) in the northern part of the state, east of the Delta region.  We do know that music ran in the Hemphill family: her grandfather Sid Hemphill was a bandleader who was recorded by both Alan Lomax & George Mitchell, & both her mother & father, as well as her two sisters, all were local musical performers.  Jessie Mae Hemphill began playing music at a young age as she took up both the bass & the snare drum in local fife & drum bands; a little later at seven or eight she began playing the guitar.  She made her mark as a professional musician much later with the guitar, but percussion seems always to have been close to her soul too:
throughout her career she regularly played a tambourine with her foot while playing guitar & singing!

Hemphill began playing in professional settings from some time in the 1950s on—after a stint playing picnics & other social functions around her community, she moved to Memphis, where she played until the 1970s.  At that point, she decided to return to Mississippi & to the country—the urban landscape had become too violent, she said.

But Jessie Mae Hemphill continued to play &, with the encouragement & support of Memphis musicologist David Evans, launched a serious solo career in the 1980s—this saw her touring Europe & also saw the release of her first album, She-Wolf on Vogue Records (a French label—since re-released on High Water Music) in 1981.   She continued touring during the 1980s & was featured on several blues compilation albums.  She also released a second album, Feelin’ Good in 1987 (online sources actually differ on the release date—I went with All-Music Guide’s date); in addition, Hemphill won the W.C. Handy Award for Best Traditional Female Blues Artist in both 1987 and 1988.

Now in her 50s, Hemphill seemed to be a rising star on the blues scene; sadly, life is often unfair.  In 1994 she suffered a stroke, & as a result, she was partially paralyzed on the left side of her body.  She was no longer able to play the guitar as her left arm was involved in the paralysis, but tho her professional career ended, she did continue singing, particularly in church.  Ms Hemphill lived until 2006, spending the last part of her life in Senatobia, Mississippi.

Jessie Mae Hemphill’s style is a fascinating mix of very old, modal blues with the modern sound of an electric guitar—mostly played in open D (a woman after my own heart).  Her music reminds me of RL Burnside—a real favorite of mine these days—& the two were friends—in fact Hemphill was friends with a number of major blues & R&B performers, from Mississippi Fred McDowell & Howlin’ Wolf to BB King & Junior Parker.  As far as her music’s similarity to Burnside’s goes, it isn’t derivative: the style that Hemphill, Burnside & others perfected is closely associated with the Mississippi hill country, & both Hemphill's & Burnside's music also have some of the feel of the neighboring Delta region. 

Jessie Mae Hemphill was truly a great blues artist.  I hope you enjoy the videos!

Photo at the top of the post is by Lisa McGaughran [Wiki Commons user LisaMcG] "depicting Jessie Mae Hemphill onstage talking to the audience between songs at a Beale Street venue (either a restaurant or The Center for Southern Folklore itself, which at one time was supposedly located on Beale) during a music festival that was held throughout the Beale Street area indoor and outdoor venues that year."

The photo is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license

Friday, February 25, 2011

Homegrown Radio 2/25/11 – Eberle Umbach

We’re a bit behind our time this morning—computer woes, busy schedules, & the fact that Eberle has gotten a bad cold in the past 24 hours have all acted in concert to put Homegrown Radio a bit behind its time.  But we’re here now, so let’s see what Eberle has to say about today’s song, “Picnic Dance,” again taken from our Moominpappa at Sea soundtrack:

This piece, like the one last week, was composed for a stage production of Tove Jansson’s Moominpappa At Sea and recorded in the Plum Alley Music studio/living room. The Moomintroll books are so wonderful, I really hope you check them out.

Picnic Dance takes place as the story’s storm has gathered to the breaking point. Tensions, both nameable and unnameable, are swirling across and around the island, and Moominmamma says one day: If we don’t have a picnic right away I know that something terrible will happen.

So the family sets out together with a basket of treats, and they frolic in the calm before the storm, chatting and cavorting in the moomintroll way that they used to know so well...

I’ve always loved the accordion- I started playing the melodica as a kind of substitute accordion before I fell in love with it on its own merits. The accordion had always daunted me a bit – but the great thing about writing music for a play is that it’s a chance for John and I to try out all those instruments we’ve been wanting to play around with. The bouzouki, bowed psaltry, yayli tambur and accordion were all new for me – also the first time for some new combinations – like thumb piano and cocktail drum kit – also my first compositions for steel drum.

I’d been listening to some Finnish music to get into the mood or mode of Tove (Finnish farmers were among the first settlers in the town where Moominpappa At Sea was performed) and my heart had been completely captivated by Maria Kaleniemi, a Finnish accordion performer and composer we’d seen on a very cool documentary called Accordian Tribe. Maybe John will post one of her songs (not very subtle hint—editors note: check in on Sunday for some Maria Kalaniemi!)  The color shifts in her music, the perfect summery joy that could change in a heartbeat to the moody solitude of long dark winters seemed just right for the play.  I just wanted, in the way of a novice, to echo what I heard in her music as best I could. On the video she says, in her glorious voice, that the accordion breathes, you must let the accordion become your own lungs – I have come nowhere near that in this song, which is a tribute to her. I hope you get a chance to listen to her gorgeous music.

Hope you enjoy this delightful song, & many many thanks to Eberle for providing us with such wonderful music this month!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Adams County Makes the News - Adams County Leader #25

The Adams County Leader - Official Paper of Adams County
Price $2.00 Strictly in Advance
Published Every Friday by E. E. Southard
Matter for publication should reach this office not later than Thursday noon – earlier if possible

June 22, 1923

The Leader is in receipt of a pamphlet containing an address by Elbert E. Gary, president of the American Steel and Iron Institute, at a big New York hotel on May 25.  Judge Gary in this address discussed “The Twelve Hour Day” for workers in the steel industry, deciding in his own august mind that “whenever there became enough workers in America to justify it, the 12 hour day should go.”

This paper would be ashamed to print such an address in its columns and tell its readers it was made by an American citizen.  For 40 years the steel industry has imported its workmen from southern Europe, ignorant, uneducated, unenlightened humans, dull as clods and knowing nothing whatever except that they were expected to show up for work promptly when the whistle blew and that they were permitted to totter home half dead when the same signal was heard at dusk, thousands of them perhaps never seeing daylight out of doors unless it were at a brief lunch period at noon.  For this service they worked from before daylight until after dark for a wage that an American citizen would well-nigh starve to death on.  With the exception of the textile industry, steel workers have been and are the lowest paid and hardest worked set of men in America.  And steel has paid fabulous dividends and is still paying them—blood money on human lives.

A man working twelve hours a day winter and summer twelve months in the year—what chance is there for him?  He has no home life.  He can have no time for recreation.  He can have no time to read or study.  He can’t even read the newspapers because when he comes home he is dog-tired and dead to the world.  He can have no interest in politics, religion or art.  In short, he is scarcely a human being, of less account than a machine.  A slave was better off because a slave was valuable and few owners jeopardized his life or well being by mistreatment.  No such fears are entertained in reference to the steel worker who labors 12 hours a day in Judge Gary’s mills.

Altogether Elbert H. Gary is perhaps the most despicable spectacle in public life in America today notwithstanding the fact that he may be several times a millionaire. Industry is one thing—a thing most desirable.  Drudgery is another and is in no way desirable.  What chance is there of making Americans out of foreigners brought here to work 12 hours a day in a steel mill for $2.40 an hour, mostly less? 

December 7, 1923


Work like a beaver and get rich. 
If men worked as hard as the beaver, there would be few in want.  There are some who seem to think the beaver is a nuisance because he sticks to his job of building dams and cutting timber.  He will take a small amount of timber and some mud and build a dam that a man could not build with three times as much material.  He is one of the fur-bearing animals that should be protected for the good he does in protecting the streams by storing the water, causing it to sub-irrigate and holding it in check so it cannot wash out and become a dry canyon.  If the beaver is killed off and the brush cut away from the streams, the channel will get so deep that check dams will have to be put in, and that will cost money.  Then the man will “dam” the man who “damned” the beaver that dammed the river.

I want the beaver on my farm to work for me.  They are the cheapest and best workers that I can get; have no bad habits.  If I were the game warden, I would not allow a single beaver killed if I could prevent it.  If anyone seems to think the beaver is doing damage, just tear down the dam a few times and they will soon leave and go to some other place where they may be wanted and appreciated by someone who is looking ahead for the good of his farm.  I would rather have the silt that the beaver dam stores than six feet of gravel thrown up by a swift stream.
G. E. Steward

Short Pithy Items Showing Progress Over State

Bonners Ferry – Flour mill to increase milling and warehouse capacity.
Idaho Falls – Pea cannery and seed pea warehouse costing $300,000 to be built this year.
Twin Falls – Rim-to-rim toll bridge 550 feet above Snake River proposed.
Wallace – Hercules mines employing 75 men in mine and mill.
Pocatello – Architects ordered to draw plans for $100,000 auditorium and library for
Idaho Technical School.
Nampa – Teams being brought in for grading Pacific Fruit Express car repair plant.
Blackfoot – Milk-fed poultry going by carload to Los Angeles and Butte.
Idaho Falls – Negotiations continue for location of paper mill.
Wallace – Pacific Telephone completes two more copper wire circuits from Spokane to
Missoula, Montana.
Boise – Plans are completed for $80,000 temple of the Mormons.
Swift & Co. bought 35,000 turkeys in southeastern Idaho.
Juliaetta – Local cannery completes season’s run, seven carloads of canned apples.
Paris – Idaho Phosphate company properties near here are now shipping commercial
General Electric company buys 2,000,000 feet Idaho white pine lumber for shipment east.

Mackay – From 10 cheese factories in this locality, 100,000 pounds of cheese being
marketed, bringing in $23,000.
Kuna – Local creamery turns out 1,740 pounds of cheese daily.
Coeur d’Alene – Local canning company handled 2,000 tons of fruit during past season.
Hamer – Mud Lake tract to be colonized with Mennonite families from Canada.
Fenn – district votes $35,000 bonds to finance last link in North and South highway between Lewiston and Weiser.

compiled by Eberle Umbach

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

“New Orleans”

[The latest from L.E. Leone—direct from Carnival!]


Of course, of course I glow
more glowingly where there is
hope. Who wouldn't? We
smile wider and laugh
harder for what
we love, like
fire cooks meat drips
flare, but

neverminding the
smoky mope of
rejection, for now
imagine the brilliance
and warmth of a love
actually (it's
Me, in it, as I have

been, before you. My smiles,
then. My laughs, my songs and
dances. I feel old. Now.
When you find real
love, Kemosabe, you will find
that planets revolve

around it. It isn’t what
romance is, it’s more
nowhere, more nothing, so …
so ... so wordy, so … beyond
weight, so much so that it floats
boats, keeps airplanes
in the sky, breathes freight trains, and
yes, bends. It's more than rad.
More than hot, its storms
affect the weather 90 million
miles away and can
bring down
whole communication
systems. Myself,

my preference is for
phone calls, when you can't
meet knee-to-knee, glass
to glass down the bar, due to
distance. Before you, btw, I didn't
text. Since, I have upgraded my plan,
hell, I would learn Morse Code, tap
tap my head against
the wall behind
this bed, New Orleans, all night
long, if
I thought you might
be on the other side, thank you

for clarifying. I'm back! I've got my glow on, it helps
to know. And I can't stay
out of the streets, this crooked
cracked town is overflowing,
for reals,
with music. My poetry:
raw, you are right. Like my heart,
my hamburgers, and everything
else that I do. I love
raw. I am raw. Thank you

for comparing the likelihood
of you
ever making out with a woman like me to
the likelihood of pooping your pants. It gives
me hope. Because I think,
sweetie, there's a pretty good chance
you are going to poop your pants
one day. When you are old
and lost in thought, and see

finally, through the clearing smoke
to what's raw in you. You you, not the you
who wants to meet hotties, whose girfriend, too
is still looking. Young you, who has to add her own
“I love you,” warmly, laughingly
to the
bottom of her father's
letters. I wish

I could hold you. Here,
lemme buy your next drink.

L.E. Leone
© 2010

Monday, February 21, 2011

“Whiskeyclone, Hotel City, 1997”

Monday morning already?  Must be time for some Monday Morning Blues!

As you’ve no doubt guessed from the title, I have something a bit different for you this morning: my take on a song from Beck’s extraordinary 1994 album Mellow Gold.  If you can wear new grooves into a cd, then I wore new grooves into Mellow Gold when it came out.  The musical stew Beck cooked up was pungent, savory (& unsavory too!) & just downright delicious to the ear. 

But of course, the further question is: why would I decide to add the song to my repertoire?  There are plenty of songs by any number of artists that I like a lot & yet wouldn’t consider playing myself simply because they wouldn’t fit with my abilities & strengths.  There are also songs that would work musically, but won’t work in terms of the lyrics, either because I personally find the words problematic or simply because they’d sound a bit silly (in my opinion) sung by someone who’s just months away from qualifying for the senior discount.  That’s not to say I can’t connect with a younger self when singing, but the more macho posturing lyrics (for instance) are just not me at this point in my life!

But “Whiskeyclone, Hotel City, 1997” worked immediately.  I think I got this on the second take, & with very little rehearsal.  The chord progression just seem to ask for slide work, as it moves thru an odd assembly of (by & large) major chords.  I assume the key center is A, tho I end the song on a C# chord.  I played “Whiskeyclone, Hotel City, 1997” on my Gold Tone resonator, tuned to open D & capoed on the second fret. 

As this post is being written, I've wound up the actual recording for the two cds I want to have in hand by the start of the spring performing season.  Now there’s some further mixing & mastering.  I feel really good about the recordings I’ve made this winter & I’m excited to see the project move toward completion.  There’ll be more news on this as things progress!

In the meantime: please enjoy “Whiskeyclone, Hotel City, 1997”!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Photo of the Week 2/20/11

 Abandoned Homestead with Old Style Satellite Dish
Petty Lane, Indian Valley, ID
Tuesday 2/15

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Any Womans Blues #3 – Memphis Minnie

Ready for some great blues this fine Saturday?  You’ve come to the right place, as we’re here with another installment of Any Woman’s Blues!  If you’re talking about seminal blues guitarists—without reference to gender—today’s featured artist has to be mentioned.  Both as a solo performer & in combination with her husband & music partner Kansas Joe McCoy, Memphis Minnie left an extraordinary legacy of musicianship not only as a guitar player, but also as a singer. 

It’s both interesting & disappointing that she’s not better known these days.  She was a star in her own time who recorded extensively & whose records sold well.  In those days of “race records,” Memphis Minnie was a star in the African-American community & much more popular than many of her contemporary blues artists who are much more well-known today.  As guitarist & musical historian Del Rey points out in an excellent biographical article (which you can read here): “Memphis Minnie's music remained popular over two decades because it was lyrically and instrumentally in tune with the lives of Black Americans. It remains vital and influential today because of her inventive, rhythmic guitar playing and her songs, which capture people and events and bring them to life across the years.”

Memphis Minnie—born Elizabeth Douglas in Louisiana in 1897—was an anomaly.  While it’s not clear how many women within the African-American community may have performed as guitarists in the pre-war period, Memphis Minnie was the one woman who became a big star doing so.   She also was one of the first performers to adapt to the electric guitar (she was also one of the first blues guitarists to use a National resonator), & her embrace of the electric guitar from about the mid-point in her career on may very well have hurt her reputation among the folks who created the cultural blues mythos—namely the folk revivalists.  We know that the folkies had an aversion to electric instruments & to showmanship.  Elijah Wald in his excellent Escaping the Delta tells how Big Bill Broonzy was “marketed” by John Hammond as a “primitive blues singer,” when in fact within his own community, he was an accomplished showman & performer.  When Broonzy played for his own community, he often played electric guitar—when playing folkie venues, it was acoustic all the way.  Wald tells similar stories of other performers, including darkly humorous tales of how revivalists would try to tone down T-Bone Walker’s showmanship when he was playing folk clubs.  Now when we consider that Langston Hughes described Minnie’s electric guitar playing as “a musical version of electric welders plus a rolling mill,” we can see why her music may have been neglected during the folk revival (you can read the full text of Hughes' beautiful description of Memphis Minnie here).

In addition, as Del Rey writes in the article I mentioned earlier, Memphis Minnie simply is hard to pigeonhole in the categories of blues that have been created (largely by white music critics & white audiences).  Rey writes: “Memphis Minnie doesn't fit the myth of the young, tragic, haunted blues man and she is too complex of a character to be easily marketed.” Fortunately, her music is available, & there are folks like Del Rey who are working to get Memphis Minnie the recognition she deserves. 

Because Memphis Minnie is such an important figure, I’m offering three clips of her music.  The first two are duets recorded with her husband Kansas Joe McCoy: “When the Levee Breaks” & “Pickin’ the Blues” (Memphis Minnie is playing slide on the latter).  Memphis Minnie’s part on “When the Levee Breaks” is a masterpiece & it is probably her best known song (with McCoy on second guitar & vocal).  Finally, “You Caught Me Wrong Again” features Minnie singing & playing some mean guitar.

Hope you enjoy this great music!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Homegrown Radio 2/18/11 – Eberle Umbach

A happy Homegrown Radio Friday to you!  We’re here with a piano composition written & performed by Eberle Umbach—a song sometimes called “Rootabaga Dreams” & other times called “Rootabaga Dream Train” that I’ve always liked a lot.  Let’s read what Eberle has to say about her song:

When John and I were writing music for a stage production of The Rootabaga Stories, John liked this piece much more than I did – he suggested that I listen to it again today and after a few years I do find that I like it much better. It gave me a new insight into our mutual musical development as well, now that what John and I play together is old blues. Our first band, the Alice in Wonder Band performed jazz and my own compositions – we really didn’t have any blues at all in our playlists. I wrote the Rocking Horse Fly Blues, but it was more Alice than Blue – involving recited text from when Alice meets the Looking Glass insects – the Bread-and-Butter Fly too! I have no idea how we persuaded the oboist to act the part of the Gnat, speaking through a megaphone, but we did.

I think I was uncomfortable with Dream Train back then because so little seems to “happen” in it – especially when I was first writing songs, I loved complexity and would get farther and farther out in unusual rhythms and harmonies – every once in a while relearning, with an abrupt return to humility, that simplicity was actually the most difficult and the most effective approach (but complexity was so much more fun…) It struck me today that since John began taking the lead in the music we play together, we have pursued this direction of harmonic simplicity – having moved from songs where the chords often changed on each beat to songs that sometimes have only one or two chords – but a great deal of action.

I seem to have what amounts to a serious psychic allergy to the 4/4 rhythms of mass-marketed popular music from the 50s on, and the kinds of chord progressions that so relentlessly accompany the rhythms. Anaphaletic shock is always just around the corner for me in the blaring aisles of the grocery store. But the landscape of my musical heart meets John’s in old blues – modal, rhythmically complex, more often about humanity than about the inflating and posturing of ego, about authentic individuality and not propoganda for the death-cult of consumerism, celebretism, and economic privilege... (When my conversation starts turning rampant like this, John often says: But tell us how you REALLY feel about it, Eberle…)

Back to Dream Train – I also hadn’t remembered that in this song I combined a simple blues riff with the major seven chords I associate with Bossa Nova and Brazil – I think because the time I lived closest to the kind of subsistence rural farming that Sandburg’s characters know (and that some of the old blues singers lived) was in Brazil. Even in the sophisticated urban sound of the Bossa Nova, a lived connection with the land is audible. Like in The Waters of March, which celebrates the rains that come at the end of the dry season, ending that yearly time of hardship for farmers. I asked John to post that song too [note: I posted a video of Jobim & Elis Regina performing the song yesterday at this link], although it will make Dream Train sound like the tiny mite that it is, clinging with tiny teeth to the running, powerful, mythical body that is great music – but what a ride – the mite is a happy little mite and feels herself a mighty mite just to be there.
Hope you enjoy this beautiful piece!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

"The Waters of March"

OK, it’s not yet March, so why I’m I posting this Jobim song this afternoon?  Great question! 

It’s not simply because the song is (in my opinion) a masterpiece, both musically & lyrically.  No—it’s actually a bit of prelude to tomorrow’s Homegrown Radio post with music by Eberle Umbach.  Eberle asked that I post the song since she discusses it in reference to her own composition that you can hear on Robert Frost’s Banjo tomorrow.  So stay tuned for the rest of the story.

If you don’t know, Antonio Carlos Jobim wrote both the music & the lyrics—in fact both the Portugese lyrics & the English ones I’ve provided here after the video clip.  There have been many versions of “The Waters of March” (“Águas de Março” in Portugese), from Art Garfunkel to Rosemary Clooney & from Sérgio Mendes to Al Jarreau.  I particularly like a version the late Susannah McCorkle did on her album From Bessie to Brazil.  But to my mind, the combination of Jobim on piano & Elis Regina is unmatched—they there was such synergy between Jobim & Regina, & her style matches the words & music so beautifully (note: the video clip is not the same version as on the Elis & Tom album).

Hope you enjoy it, & check back in tomorrow to see how it connects with Eberle’s music!

 The Waters of March

(Águas de Março)

A stick, a stone,
It's the end of the road,
It's the rest of a stump,
It's a little alone

It's a sliver of glass,
It is life, it's the sun,
It is night, it is death,
It's a trap, it's a gun

The oak when it blooms,
A fox in the brush,
A knot in the wood,
The song of a thrush

The wood of the wind,
A cliff, a fall,
A scratch, a lump,
It is nothing at all

It's the wind blowing free,
It's the end of the slope,
It's a beam, it's a void,
It's a hunch, it's a hope

And the river bank talks
of the waters of March,
It's the end of the strain,
The joy in your heart

The foot, the ground,
The flesh and the bone,
The beat of the road,
A slingshot's stone

A fish, a flash,
A silvery glow,
A fight, a bet,
The range of a bow

The bed of the well,
The end of the line,
The dismay in the face,
It's a loss, it's a find

A spear, a spike,
A point, a nail,
A drip, a drop,
The end of the tale

A truckload of bricks
in the soft morning light,
The shot of a gun
in the dead of the night

A mile, a must,
A thrust, a bump,
It's a girl, it's a rhyme,
It's a cold, it's the mumps

The plan of the house,
The body in bed,
And the car that got stuck,
It's the mud, it's the mud

Afloat, adrift,
A flight, a wing,
A hawk, a quail,
The promise of spring

And the riverbank talks
of the waters of March,
It's the promise of life
It's the joy in your heart

A stick, a stone,
It's the end of the road
It's the rest of a stump,
It's a little alone

A snake, a stick,
It is John, it is Joe,
It's a thorn in your hand
and a cut in your toe

A point, a grain,
A bee, a bite,
A blink, a buzzard,
A sudden stroke of night

A pin, a needle,
A sting, a pain,
A snail, a riddle,
A wasp, a stain

A pass in the mountains,
A horse and a mule,
In the distance the shelves
rode three shadows of blue

And the riverbank talks
of the waters of March,
It's the promise of life
in your heart, in your heart

A stick, a stone,
The end of the road,
The rest of a stump,
A lonesome road

A sliver of glass,
A life, the sun,
A knife, a death,
The end of the run

And the riverbank talks
of the waters of March,
It's the end of all strain,
It's the joy in your heart.

Antonio Carlos Jobim

Remembering OLGA (Again)

[Happy Thursday, all!  Today's post is a somewhat revised re-post from November of 2008.  Since the blog didn't have a wide readership then, this shouldn't be redundant to most folks.  I've been thinking about this lately as I've been wracking my brain figuring out settings for a few Captain Beefheart songs.  Oh, & fans of Writer's Talk: don't despair!  That series will be back soon!]

No, this post isn’t some nostalgia trip for a long lost love of Eastern European descent; it’s about the Online Guitar Archive—remember that? Home to page after page of chord charts & tabs, many of them not very well-conceived, but conveying at least some idea of how to play songs ranging from the most famous artists to the most obscure. OLGA has been shut down for quite some time now under the threat of legal action from the music publishing industry, tho of course scores of other chord sites are still available.

My history of OLGA in this paragraph was adapted from Wikipedia’s, so you can get pretty much the same info here. If you don’t feel like opening a new tab, I can tell you that OLGA developed from a newsgroup at the University of Nevada Las Vegas at which a host of folks started compiling chord charts & tabs. In 1992, these files
(which had been purged from the newsgroup every few days) were collected onto an ftp site, & this later developed into In the early, heady days of the internet the collection expanded like dandelions on an April lawn. Now, you can look at dandelions one of two ways. They are actually quite pretty flowers, & they also attract goldfinches. However, to most folks’ eyes, they’re just odd & unattractive when they go to seed. So it was with OLGA; the online guitarist community loved it, while the music publishing industry saw it as their worst nightmare. EMI filed a complaint with the University of Nevada Las Vegas in 1996, & as a result the burgeoning archive was booted off their server. OLGA found a new server, & then again was forced to shut down in 1998 following a threat of legal action from the Harry Fox Agency. A third version of the archive, now OLGA incorporated, was closed following a takedown letter in 2006 from lawyers representing the National Music Publisher’s Association & the Music Publisher’s Association.

So OLGA is no more, & realistically is not likely to resurrect itself. What is the actual basis of the Music Publisher’s objection to OLGA & similar sites? At first glance it would seem obvious: making a chord progression public without licensing must be a copyright infringement. Well, wait a moment there. A chord progression can’t be copyrighted; any number of songs share the same chord progressions; 12-bar blues is by definition a standard chord progression, & to name all the country songs built around a strict I-IV-V chord progression would result in a very long list. The "Heart & Soul/Blue Moon" progression also has been used in hundreds of songs, from the two old standards I mentioned to "The Tide is High" & "Hungry Heart." & then there’s the time-honored jazz tradition of “the head”—basing a new song on the chord progression of an old standard. Any number of jazz tunes—each itself a copyrighted song—are built on the chord progression of Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm,” which is also still under copyright. Some other famous heads (with the original song on which they’re based noted in parentheses) include: Thelonious Monk’s “Bright Mississippi” (“Sweet Georgia Brown”), Charlie Parker’s “Crazyeology” (“Back Home in Indiana”), Dizzy Gillespie’s “Groovin’ High” (“Whispering”), Thelonious Monk’s “In Walked Bud” (“Blue Skies”), Charlie Parker’s “Ornithology” (“How High the Moon”), & Billy Strayhorn’s “Take the A Train” (“Exactly Like You”). This is a very selective list, & doesn’t include any of the numerous heads based on “I Got Rhythm.”

But the publishing industry was within their rights, not about the chord progressions per se, but about posting the lyrics along with the chords (without the lyrics, it’s more difficult to figure out where the changes come), because lyrics are copyrighted. Also, tablature that attempts to give a note-by-note transcription of a solo would be considered a copyright infringement. At first glance this makes perfect sense, but logically (if not legally) it seems a bit more complicated. If, as has been asserted, a number of such tabs were actually incorrect, they actually were re-interpretations (willy-nilly, perhaps). Any melody played against a given chord progression will have notes in common with another melody played against that same progression—thus you can typically hear similarities between a head & its original. In country or rock songs with shared chord progressions, there tend to be fewer harmonizing notes, simply because these types of songs don’t tend to have melody notes falling “outside” the chord changes (notes that aren’t part of the scale related to a given chord). It is interesting that OLGA removed lyrics from the site at some point in the 00s, & was still taken down, even tho lyrics seem to be the one irrefutable case of copyright infringement.

Now, I’m a musician myself, & I’m all for musician compensation. Being a musician in a small town where folks often expect musicians to play for free at various events & can react with anything from surprise to indignation if you ask for any remuneration, I know it’s tough to make a living off music. I don’t think that Keith Richards’ quality of life is materially affected by some kid downloading tab to “Wild Horses,” but I understand this is legally irrelevant. Why the kid wants to play a song exactly like Keith Richards (or anyone else) rather than like him/herself is a more complicated question for another time. However, I have a few points to raise about this legal dilemma which I believe are valid (tho I’m sure they’re not “legally” valid—it’s just that they make sense).

At this point there is the MusicNotes site, which is backed by the afore-mentioned Harry Fox Agency. This site offers sheet music downloads of individual songs at a reasonable price: $4.00-$5.00, which is pretty much the going rate for piano sheet music. In addition, a recent random & unscientific search I did on the site showed me that they have some stuff I wouldn’t have expected them to offer; it’s not all the 100 best-known songs. 

But there’s still a problem. OLGA’s collection wasn’t based on what the music industry wants to peddle to us (even if they get sufficiently hip to realize folks want songs in addition to the best known or most aggressvely marketed). OLGA offered whatever some guitar player had the initiative to figure out & then post, so there was a lot of obscure stuff there; & frankly, once OLGA shut down, a lot of that stuff disappeared for good. So I guess one thing I wonder is: what’s the legal basis for enforcing copyright on material that publishers don’t make available? It seems to me (again, from a logical not legal standpoint) that the privileges & benefits of copyright should entail some obligation—i.e., “use it or lose it.” If you don’t want to go to the expense of making your copyrighted material available, I’m not sure that you really have moral high ground when you try to prevent others from doing so. Of course, I realize there’s a “real world” argument about this—do enough people really want the Yo Lo Tengo songbook to justify publishing it?  Unless the publishers actually make the material available for purchase, it seems difficult for the artist to profit by it.

Now in the "real" musician world, the fact is that figuring out a chord progression is simply a matter of time spent & work—including the work you have to put in to be able to do it in the first place.  The same goes for melodies & solos.  So in a sense, no matter what the music publishers decide to publish or not publish, the music is available.  But the fact is, it's not available to everyone who might want it.  While people who are serious about music probably should be able to figure out the majority of chord progressions by ear (& except for a blessed few, this ability will only come thru application & training), many guitarists are hobbyists—if they want to play & sing a particular tune they should be able to benefit from the experience of others.  They may not have a teacher to help them; & unless that song is one the music publishing industry decided to make available, they're out of luck.

& there’s another deep dark secret the music publishers may not want you to know as they bewail the lost revenue to artists from tab sites. There are a number of songs out there for whom the copyright claims are extremely dubious. One famous example: “Love Me Tender.” According to the Hal Leonard Ultimate Country Fakebook, the words & music to “Love Me Tender” are by Elvis Presley & Vera Matson, & the song is © 1956 Elvis Presley Music. This seems to ignore the fact that the music for “Love Me Tender” is identical to the song “Aura Lee,” which was written by George R. Poulton in the 19th century. While no one can deny that the words to Presley’s songs are different from “Aura Lee,” no one can deny that the tunes are the same—not similar but identical. I wonder: does Poulton have any descendants who are getting ripped off by this (again, I’m sure they probably have no “legal” claim, but it could be said they have a moral one)—should they have no remuneration simply because a rock & roll legend made a legal claim on music he didn’t actually write? In fairness, “Love Me Tender” is just an easy target—it’s by no means an isolated case. Another famous example would be the many 19th century parlor songs that RCA Victor had copyrighted in the name of A.P. Carter back in the 1920s. Just one other example—this one cracks me up: “Dance With a Dolly,” a tune from the 40s (that statement also should be in quotes); the Hal Leonard Ultimate Fake Book says the song has words & music by Terry Shand, Jimmy Eaton, & Mickey Lender, © 1940 Shapiro, Bernstein & Co. Now in this case, not only is the music identical to the old folk song “Buffalo Gals” (which may or may not have been written by minstrel show banjoist Dan Emmet, & writer of “Dixie,” but in any case was in existence in the 19th century), but the words are almost identical, too.

I’ll let you to draw your own conclusions—I’ll admit it’s a complicated issue, just as I’ll also point out the issue isn’t without double standards & misleading, self-serving arguments. I also don’t believe it’s any great secret that money & power & legal standing make a very cozy threesome of bedfellows….

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

February Moonsong

the moon turning round from white to
white in morning’s sky where mercy appeared
irrelevant, the cottonwood’s naked black

February limbs reached for that sky that after-
noon—a Union Pacific graffiti-tagged freight
train surging beside a black & blue river the

rain pinging the gray tin roof that evening, the
season’s first rain as if metaphorical tears could wash this a-
way—moonset along the mesa in nimbus

overcast & bitterbrush—a heart tattooed &
straining—a freight train inside the tunnel—a mild
edema, a waxing moon holding water, a white

rope hammock in graying snow between the
cottonwood & the locust—the unin-
habited house trailer atop the bluff where trees

did not take root, the rusted drag harrow
cast off in a sky gray snowdrift—gibbous moon
in an afternoon sky weighed down with

power lines, expectation, a promise of ice the
damaged heartbeat the naked trees the train’s
graffiti as far as the eye can see

Jack Hayes
© 2011

My mid-February poetry spasm continues today with another new poem—& a reminder: if you're interested in reading the poetry from my most recent book, The Spring Ghazals you can either read them on the dedicated blog at the rate of two per week (Wednesday & Saturday), or purchase the book from one of these fine outlets:
Barnes & Noble (new—& a bargain at $11.40 US!)
Amazon UK (£7.94)

Both Amazon & Lulu have the book for $12 US. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Time After Time

a diner coffee cup, white knuckle-white, the
flock of Trumpeter Swans at rest in the pasture—in-
exorable March wind, & Thorn Creek rippling

black thru the culvert & willow limbs gone
orange in February snow—a phone booth in
Vacaville, now this was a different time, palm tree

nodding in hot May streetlight evening—a
block of time, a mental block, the glass ashtray
choked with Marlboros—a pile of corrugated

north of the garden, the cock pheasant
pecks for grit in the road by the derelict ranch, the
Saxton River’s brown trout swirl, the

phrase from a song repeating—inexorable—a
white house brimming with roses but only in
memory—the grandfather clock’s

movement weighted with lead, a magnolia
blossom adrift on the back lawn—a color
photograph in which we are all present

Jack Hayes
© 2011

Monday, February 14, 2011

Mama Tain’t Long ‘Fore Day (Revisited)

Happy Monday, folks!  Of course it’s time for some blues again to get your day started right.  I had to think about a blues song that wouldn’t be too “dissonant” with Valentine’s Day, & I settled on “Mama Tain’t Long ‘Fore Day” because Eberle likes my take on it.  What better reason can there be than that?

“Mama Tain’t Long ‘Fore Day” as played by yours truly has appeared on Robert Frost’s Banjo before.  About a year ago, I did a performance video of this song using a cigar box resonator guitar.  I enjoyed the cigar box guitar, & it’s a really well-made & good sounding instrument (made by Big Daddy of Back Porch Mojo), but in the long run I found it limiting—I just couldn’t get used to only having four strings & really couldn’t get the sound I wanted.  My guitar style relies heavily on using the two bass strings for a foundation & I guess I was a bit lost without them.  But have no fear: the cigar box resonator guitar is still with us.  I passed it along to Eberle who is thinking up all sorts of fun & unusual uses for it!

Anyway, my earlier version of the song was in the key of D, but I think E really is a better match for my voice, so I’m playing the Gold Tone resonator guitar tuned to open D but capoed up to E.  At one time, open E was a fairly common tuning, but since it involves taking a few strings above standard pitch I’m leery of it both in terms of potential for string breakage & also strain on the guitar neck.  But then, caution has often been my undoing!

“Mama Tain’t Long ‘Fore Day” is by Blind Willie McTell, a great guitarist from Georgia who made close to 150 recordings between 1927 & 1956—the majority of these were made in the late 20s thru mid 30s.  McTell played a 12-string guitar & was one of the major exponents of what is called “Piedmont picking,” a form of fingerstyle playing that was prevalent along the East Coast.  He played some songs with a slide too, & “Mama Tain’t Long ‘Fore Day” was one of those.  In fact, this song comes from his very first recording session in October 1927.  I believe that McTell played this song in G.

Hope you enjoy my humble version!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Photo of the Week 2/13/11

 Cottonwood Tree Against an Afternoon Sky
Indian Valley, ID
Saturday 2/12

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Any Woman’s Blues #2 – Precious Bryant

Last week we got the Any Woman’s Blues series underway with the music of Sue Foley—electric (in more than one sense of the word) & contemporary, tho with a sense of deep roots.  One of the two Foley tunes I picked was her cover of a Precious Bryant tune: “Fool Me Good,” & in introducing the song, Foley spoke highly of Bryant’s musicianship.

But unless you’re a real blues aficionado, you may not be familiar with Precious Bryant & her music.  Born in Talbot County, Georgia in 1942, Ms Bryant has been playing guitar since she was nine years old—she started out on ukulele, & her first guitar was a Sears Silvertone—gotta love that.  She performed as a teenager, & then again in the 1960s as a married woman, often playing simply for the tips she could collect in her guitar case. 

Then she was recorded by folklorist George Mitchell in 1969, which led to some more exposure, tho it wasn’t really until the 1983 Chattahoochee Folk Festival (which Bryant played with Mitchell’s enthusiastic encouragement) that she began pursuing a wider audience—&, field recordings aside, it wasn’t until 2002 that she released her debut album at age 60—this was Fool Me Good on Terminus (which brings us full-circle to last week’s Foley post).  Fool Me Good was nominated for two Blues Music Awards, & in 2006 she was nominated for "Traditional Blues Female Artist of the Year," eventually losing out to the great Etta James.  She released two more albums in 2005, The Truth on Terminus & My Name is Precious on Music Maker.

Bryant is an acoustic player who uses a fingerstyle form of playing sometimes referred to as Piedmont picking.  A number of well-known blues artists have played in this style, which is usually characterized as “lighter” than styles used in Mississippi & Texas, for instance.  Among the prominent Piedmont style players are Reverend Gary Davis, Blind Blake, Etta Baker, Elizabeth Cotten & Blind Boy Fuller—quite a line-up, & Precious Bryant’s talent puts her right in the heart of this tradition.

Once again we have two songs: Precious Bryant's cover of the great Memphis Minnie's "Black Rat Swing" from Bryant's Fool Me Good album & a live version of "My Chauffeur." Hope you enjoy the songs!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Homegrown Radio 2/11/11 – Eberle Umbach

Friday is upon us, so it’s time for Homegrown Radio!  This week we continue with music by Eberle Umbach, & the composition for the week is a piece entitled “Moominmamma’s Painted Garden.”  This is taken from the soundtrack we wrote for a stage adaptation of Tove Jansson’s wonderful novel, Moominpappa at Sea.  If you’ve never read Jansson’s Moomin books, you’re missing a world of marvels & delights—I recommend them very highly.

Eberle sets the scene for the piece in her remarks today, so I’ll just say that this piece was composed & performed for her on piano, & recorded in her home music room/studio with a Shure KSM27 condensor mike.  Now, let’s see what Eberle has to say!

So – the Moomin family has gone to live on an island in the middle of the ocean because Moominpapa felt a great need to take his family far away from comfort and familiarity so that he could protect them from danger like a responsible father. They left the green hollows and undulations of Moominvalley for the barren island and lived in a lighthouse. Moominmama misses her garden terribly, and loses everything she tries to grow on the island, no matter how many masses of seaweed she piles up for soil. With picnics and pancakes and loving understanding, she tries to help her family through the trials they face – her young son falling hopelessly in love with a pair of lovely and frolicsome seahorses, her husband lost in moominmathematics and his hopeless attempts to predict the actions of the sea – they are both falling into despair – and the daughterly sarcasm of Little My as she comments pitilessly on their ridiculous plights…

Finally Moominmama just can’t take it anymore. She decides to paint a garden inside the lighthouse, her own garden, from Moominvalley. As she paints she drifts farther and farther away from family life – and finally disappears into the painting, where she sits blissfully under her apple tree. The family becomes aware of her absence and feel an unaccustomed desperation – does she return? Do the seahorses continue to scorn the lovelorn Moomintroll? Does Little My push them all over the edge by bringing their foibles into her harsh light? And what about the mystery of the missing lighthouse keeper? Read Moominpapa at Sea by Tove Jansson and find out!

I loved writing this piece for a stage production of the book performed in McCall – the director felt a real and immediate connection with Moominmama’s conflicting desires to both nurture and create, and she made this moment in the story come alive for me. This piece is solo, but John and I did some of our finest improvisation together for this play, in my opinion - even though we were both going through some real difficulties at the time. We worked very quickly and intensely, often coming up with a piece and recording it in the same session, with no written notes at all. That was very unusual for me – I have no notes on this particular piece and no idea how I’d play it again – but this had a liberating effect. Making up music without trying to capture it for future performance had its own energy and rhythms. It was a time of serious transition for John and I musically as well as personally. I learn once again that it’s only in looking back that I can really understand that emotional difficulties simply accompany the kind of change that creative work requires - I’m always reminding myself to trust the process and try not to be afraid of change. It took a great deal of interior turmoil for Moominmama, too, to pick up a paintbrush and paint for the first time – but her departure into creative work was important for herself and, ultimately, for the living heart of her family life.    

Enjoy the music—you can also listen to last week’s song, “Rootabaga Hoedown!”

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Adams County Makes the News - Council Leader #30

The Adams County Leader
Published Every Friday by the Council Publishing Company. 
Eighty-nine per cent of the stock of the above company
is owned by F.H. Michaelson.
F. H. Michaelson Editor and Manager

March 10, 1922

In the last issue of the Payette Lakes Star, our brother publisher Mark Bates says that the publisher of this paper is the only person in Council whom he does not like, and gives as a reason that we have never placed him on our exchange list.  Brother Bates charitably admits that he has no acquaintance with us.  Cheer up, man.  Things might be worse.  Chances are that if you did know us you would like us a darned sight less.  He complains that we have never sent The Leader to his desk.  Again, brother, your lack of knowledge provoketh wrongful wrath.  Our neglect was due to a spirit of mercy rather than discourtesy.  The altitude is high at McCall and somebody once told us you are fat.  We were reluctant to place undue strain either upon your intelligence or heart. In order to get even with you we this day place your name on our exchange list.

May 23, 1924

The Adams County Leader seems peeved because a Boise paper wants a road from that place to McCall.  The Leader shouldn’t get that way.  McCall boosted the north and south highway, and is still doing so.  Geometry teaches us that the straight line is the shortest line between two points, and the Payette highway, which is as much a part of the system as the north and south highway, is the shorter distance by half than the other.  Why shouldn’t we cooperate and make a loop line?  And why should the Leader get sore because McCall is coming into its own?  We are all up here together, and McCall is sitting on the top.     Payette Lake Star

The Star has gathered the wrong hunch on this thing.  The Leader is neither sore nor peeved, least of all against McCall, nor because McCall wants a road.  It has distinctly said that when the present road is completed and there are any funds available for such an enterprise, McCall should have our support here in building its road to Boise.  But just now the Leader is considering the people of southwestern Idaho and of northern Idaho, who by far outnumber the people of McCall and environs, and are in much more dire need of a road.  People of northern Idaho have even gone so far as to threaten to withdraw from the state and form an independent government if some means of furnishing them connection with the seat of government and the other half of the state is not provided.  Ever since the state was formed, one-half of it has been obliged to travel 500 miles or more through three states to reach the state capital or visit friends in other parts of Idaho.  Some may think this has gone on so long that people have grown to like it, but the Leader is not one of these.  In fact, if there were now money to build a road to a pleasure resort made available, and none to finish the road connecting the two segments of Idaho, the Leader is inclined to believe the people up there would be justified in breaking away from a state which showed such a complete disregard for their interests.  It is not, brother, that we think less of McCall, but that we think of the entire state more. The north and south highway still has a link missing—like a chain, it is very largely useless till that link is supplied.  The people generally know these facts and all reasonable men are demanding the same as this paper is demanding.

August 24, 1925

After eight years of effort in trying to give McCall a good local newspaper, Mark Bates, who some say is one of the best newspapermen in Idaho, has quit cold and has stopped publication of the Payette Lake Star, because of lack of local support.  McCall is now without a newspaper of any kind.  Considering the mounting prices of printing supplies which enter into the cost of publishing a newspaper, it is one of the miracles of the age how so many country papers are managing to hang on.  The Leader is very sorry to see old Mark drop by the wayside, because he has put in many of the best years of his life trying to boost the Payette lakes section and deserves a better fate.  But he has done the only thing possible under the circumstances in closing up.  Some of us may be forced to follow his example before local business men in the different sections wake up to their responsibilities. 

For Sale  - One full-blooded silver-laced Wyandotte rooster.  Mrs. Lester McMahan, Fruitvale.

You do things that are worth while, don’t you?  Why don’t you advertise your business, then?  Isn’t your business worthwhile?  If not, advertise it for sale.

Albert McDowell has received word that his bid was accepted for the four-year contract of carrying mail from here to Cambridge.

Pure Seed Pays – Alfalfa, red clover, timothy, blue grass and white clover seed at Cool-Donnelly Co.

The Leader has no desire to be finicky about this election thing, but this paper will support no man for public office who owes more than eleven years back subscription on his county bugle.  We have arranged for extra clerk hire and everything, so are not afraid of any rush on the bank.

August 18, 1922

When dry farming has stopped and every man has a silo and a bunch of livestock—
When the Council valley is criss-crossed by irrigation ditches flowing each one full of
mountain water—
When Idaho fields grow Idaho corn, fed to Idaho hogs, as Iowa corn is being fed to Iowa hogs—
When $20 farmland is converted into $500 orchard tracts—
When the population of Adams County is counted in thousands instead of hundreds—
When the P. & I. N. railroad discovers that Council is more than a just a way station to be sucked dry and the shell thrown away—
When a thousand beautiful orchards replace the half dozen now existing—
When these things have all been brought to pass, as they can very easily be, then Adams County will become the garden spot of Idaho, and Idaho the garden spot of the earth.

There is nothing here set down which is impossible or even difficult of accomplishment.  Their consummation means comfort and prosperity and better living and more wealth for many who are now struggling and in some cases unhappy.  And in the meantime, the great need is water—water and industry.  Give us these and all the others will follow easily and naturally.  Think it over. 

compiled by Eberle Umbach

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


[L.E. Leone herein examines relationships & portents.  Enjoy!]


My friend Nancy Krygowski, the poet who is the reason I write poetry, writes to tell me she needs to write a poem and isn’t feeling poetic.

Aww, I say. What gives?

It’s marriage problems. Goddamn. Her engagement ring broke and she’s trying real hard not to see it as a sign.

Nothing is ever a sign unless you want it to be, dear, don’t worry, I say.

And: I am here, if you need to talk.

Maybe later. She’s on her way out the door to see to getting it fixed, she says, at a vintage jewelry shop run out of a converted chicken coop by an old Jewish woman who, according to Nancy, will tell you ‘you are not a small woman.’

OK then, I say. Call me later.

L.E. Leone
© 2010

Monday, February 7, 2011

“Moon Goin’ Down”

Happy Monday, folks!  Hope your weekend went swimmingly & that you return to the week full of renewed vim & vigor.  But if you need a little extra something to get you going, here’s the Monday Morning Blues for your enjoyment.

These days the Monday Morning Blues is an easy post for me because I’ve been recording a lot & have somewhere close to two dozen songs at my disposal, with more on the way.  In case you missed the earlier post about this, I’ll be happy to have at least one CD & quite probably two for sale at gigs this summer.  I don’t expect this to bring in anything more than mad money, but every little bit helps.

Today’s selection is by one of my favorite Delta blues musicians, Charlie Patton.  Patton was one of the first wave of recorded Delta blues players, & he waxed 57 songs at four sessions between 1929 & 1934, including a memorable 1930 session in Grafton, WI where Son House, Willie Brown & Louise Johnson were also present.  In fact, Patton maintained friendships with House & Brown, & the latter duetted with Patton on several of his records, including Patton’s recording of today’s song, “Moon  Goin' Down.” There’s an excellent concise online biography of Patton by Elijah Wald here.  I’m quite intrigued by Wald’s take on the old-time blues scene as evinced in this article & in his excellent book, Escaping the Delta, but for a different view, you can check out Robert Palmer’s seminal work, Deep Blues.

Obviously, my arrangement of “Moon Goin’ Down” is different than the original—for one thing, it’s not a duet!  Patton played the song in open G tuning, while I’m playing it on my Regal resonator in drop D tuning capoed up so that the actual key is E.  This tune has been in my repertoire for a while, & I always enjoy playing it.   

Hope you like it too!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Any Woman's Blues #1 - Sue Foley

Greetings, folks!  The music continues here on Robert Frost’s Banjo with a brand new series for your listening pleasure. 

When we speak about women & the blues, we tend to think of the great vocalists first.  After all, the first blues recording stars were women like Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith & Ida Cox—it wasn’t until Blind Lemon Jefferson hit the scene that a man achieved similar stardom.  But when we think about blues guitarists—& let’s face it, the guitar is the instrument probably most associated with blues (with apologies to piano players, who could make an argument for the 88s)—women tend to get short shrift.  If you asked the average blues fan to come up with a list of great guitar players you’d probably see names like Robert Johnson, BB King, Lightnin’ Hopkins & Eric Clapton; if the fan was a devotee of old-time blues you’d probably see the likes of Charlie Patton, Son House & Blind Willie McTell on the list.

But the fact is there are lots of extraordinarily talented blues guitar players who also happen to be women.  I’ve often said that I might never have gotten into the blues as a performer were it not for the great Rory Block.  Seeing her perform this spring in Montana was a real highlight of 2010, & I can say that both her playing & singing live were every bit as good as expected.

So we’re going to devote our Saturdays for the foreseeable future to featuring some of these great blueswomen.  Now, you’d think given my high regard for Rory Block, she should be the lead-off feature.  I certainly considered that—& have no fear, she will be featured!—but since I’ve written about Ms Block in the past, I decided I’d start with an artist who hasn’t appeared on this blog before.

& we have a terrific guitar player to get the series underway.  Sue Foley hails from Ottawa, Canada.  She came to music early, & was already performing & composing by her teens.  She left home at age 18 & wound up in Austin, Texas by way of Vancouver & California.  In 1992, still in her early 20s, she released her first album, Young Girl Blues on the Antone label (now on the Discovery label), & has followed this with eleven more albums, most recently He Said, She Said in collaboration with Peter Karp. 

Ms Foley won the Juno Award in 2000 for best blues album for Love Comin’ Down; she’s also a 14 time winner of the Maple Blues Award & a three time winner of the Trophee de Blues de France.  But let’s face it: the proof is in the hearing, & I guarantee Ms Foley won’t disappoint on either of today’s tunes.  I’ve got to say: listening to Sue Foley reminds me why I occasionally have a yen for a Fender Telecaster—listen how she makes her Tele sing!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Homegrown Radio 2/4/11 – Eberle Umbach

Happy Friday, everybody.  It’s time for another edition of Homegrown Radio, & I have to say you folks are in for a treat today & every Friday this month, because our February Homegrown Radio artist is none other than my dear spouse, Eberle Umbach!

If you follow Robert Frost’s Banjo at all, you’re familiar with Eberle’s writing as well as with her skills at musical composition.  Eberle is a true multi-instrumentalist: she’s a proficient pianist, harpsichordist, marimba player, drummer, flautist, melodica player, bass player (both electric & upright), Appalachian dulcimer player, & has turned her hand (invariably with good results) to everything from banjo ukulele to cello.  She has a love for quirky instruments as well, & plays a mean kazoo & slide whistle! 

But Eberle has often said that she is much more happy as a composer than as a performer, &  her compositional skills are formidable.  She wrote much of the material in the Alice in Wonder Band’s repertoire, wrote the score for a dramatic production of Antigone, wrote much of the scores for two silent movies she & I composed & performed as the Bijou Orchestrette (the films were both by Nell Shipman: Back to God’s Country & The Grub Stake), & has written all or part of the scores for a number of dramatic productions, from Under Milkwood to The Second Shepherd’s Play.  These days her musical skills are much caught up with her newfound Catholic faith, & she has written a number of works in this direction. 

Today’s composition, which I adore, is from a soundtrack to a dramatic adaptation of Carl Sandburg’s Rootabaga Stories.  Let’s see what Eberle has to say about her piece, “Rootabaga Hoedown”:

I enjoy inventing ancient music. When John and I were writing and recording music for a production of Carl Sandburg’s Rootabaga Stories, I wrote some ancient Americana – a hoedown for psaltery and bouzouki. John gave me the beautiful psaltery and I’d been wanting to write a song for this exotic creature for some time (John or the psaltery…? you decide!) The bouzouki came from a chapter of my own ancient history – when I was 14 my family came home with this instrument from a trip to Greece, and I hadn’t thought about it for decades until my mother gave it to me not long before the Rootabaga project. I don’t think it’s an instrument of great value, but it sounded very cool – John had been playing it and I loved the sound. At that time, we only had a Sony MiniDisc (no multi-tracking) but I had a very particular idea for the sound of the hoedown and I wanted to play both parts. So I recorded the bouzouki part and John put it on a CD – then I played the psaltery along with it and recorded the whole thing in John’s cave-like sitting room, a perfect ancient setting!

I know you’re going to love this one!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Blameless Mouth – the Stories We Tell

Poet Jessica Fox-Wilson knows a basic & important truth: we are made of stories.  These are the stories we inherit culturally, the stories of family, the stories we tell about ourselves, the stories told by our peers.  But this poet knows something even more important—we have the ability to re-tell & re-shape those stories, to configure them in line with our own experience & to find a truth in them that isn’t the “received” truth of their packaging.

This is the task Fox-Wilson tackles in her debut collection, Blameless Mouth; she sets herself the task of exploring stories about hunger, consumption, satiety & want both culturally & in her own experience.  These are fundamental issues, speaking both to our overall human condition & more specifically to our situation as members of a consumer society.  But the poet doesn’t stop there.  She also specifically examines how these issues affect her & women in general—at its core, Blameless Mouth is deeply feminist.

Ms Fox-Wilson includes retellings—“re-visions” in a sense—of several important cultural myths.  There are at least a half dozen poems that treat the creation myth & the Eden story, all from Eve’s perspective.  For instance in the poem “Eviction,” which gives a title to the first of the book’s five sections, Eve describes herself as the coolheaded one, while Adam becomes hysterical about their eviction from Eden.  We read:

Even then, as Adam cried
about the loss of home and work and God,
as angels watched us pack, I calculated

our rations, how long we’d remain sated,
how long the fruit would last.

This introduces a theme that is central to the book: the woman’s role as provider, & how that cultural role affects her consumption.  While Fox-Wilson sees the consumerist society as preying on women in terms of body image & self-esteem, she also sees a built-in self-denial faced by women that makes them refuse to satisfy their own wants.  She discusses this most eloquently in the poem “The Day I Learned the Definition of Lacuna.”  Fox-Wilson writes:

    I saw
all the women in my family
who came before me, trimming the fat
off their own meat, slipping the best parts
onto a child’s plate.

This poem & others with a similar thematic concern (especially “Better to Eat Us With,” which I’ve reproduced with Jessica Fox-Wilson’s permission as a companion post) can be read against “Womyn’s Center Topless Spaghetti Dinner,” “Maenads” & “Daughter to Mother.”  The first of these describes a wildly exuberant spaghetti dinner at a Women’s Center, & as such seems to locate a form of healthy consumption in the midst of poems of insatiable want.  “Maenads,” which immediately follows “Womyn’s Center” is a somewhat darker vision of women being free to explore their appetites.  Finally, “Daughter to Mother” is an interesting re-telling of the Persephone/Demeter myth—in this case, Persephone welcomes her Underworld incarnation because the act of consumption has also given her power.

They do not ask anything of me;
their mouths forever shut.  I sit
on my black throne, gorge
on the sight of all
the heavy, full bodies.  I absorb
every nutrient I need
from their forsaken lives.

As in the “Lacuna” poem, again we have a dialogue between mother & daughter.  This poem is preceded by a piece entitled “Things My Mother Did Not Teach Me,” which describes how the poet’s mother could deftly slice an apple.  Apples again—Eve & Snow White, who appears in the poems “Waiting for Snow White” & in the very strong piece, “Inside My Glass Coffin.”  This is again a mother-daughter dialogue in which Snow White’s entombment in the glass coffin is contrasted with the stepmother’s fixation with her mirror.  & at that rate, Snow White’s release by Prince Charming takes on a whole new meaning in Fox-Wilson’s vision:

    I was no more
a beautiful girl, captured in her prime.  I was
like her, a woman imprisoned against her will,
in her own fragile and perishable body.

Blameless Mouth is a strong & engaging collection of poetry, & not simply because of Jessica Fox-Wilson’s willingness to handle deep & compelling themes.  As illustrated by the quotes (& I could go on at length with examples), Fox-Wilson also is skilled in her handling of poetic language.  Here are two more quotes I can’t resist:

Wrap your body in thousand thread count cotton sheets
and you can be the woman, sleeping at home, wrapped
in thousand thread count cotton sheets.
                                    “Magazine Says: You’ve Worked Hard”

                      At the heart of a shipwreck
                                                is a child

staring into a hungry mouth        broken boards/splintered teeth

                          descend into black depths,
                           learn to breathe water.
                                              "At the Heart of a Shipwreck"

This is writing by a poet who has a clear conception of voice, image & rhetoric, who can convey both strong emotion & precise thought. 

I give Blameless Mouth an enthusiastic recommendation.  You can purchase the book on at this link; & don't forget to check out one of the poems from the book, "Better to Eat Us With," in the post immediately preceding this one.  You also can join me in following Jessica Fox-Wilson on her excellent blog, everything feeds process.