Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Failing Pedestrian Bridge

Failing Bridge looking west

Good morning, friends. Welcome to another Rose City Wednesday—it’s cool & soggy here; hope things are good in your world!

Today’s post takes us back to my neighborhood & will give you a look at one of the fun & interesting features in these parts. It’s known as the Failing Bridge or Failing Pedestrian Bridge locally, tho officially it’s called the N Failing Street Overcrossing (that’s “N” as in “North” of course.)

The Failing Bridge connects the Boise or Boise-Eliot neighborhood (which is my side of the tracks) to the Overlook neighborhood to the west. These neighborhoods are divided by the Interstate-5 freeway, which runs right thru North Portland.  There are other overpasses with sidewalks that carry cars as well as pedestrians & bikes, but the Failing Bridge is dedicated to just foot & bicycle traffic.

View of the Overlook Neighborhood from the west side of the bridge-that's the Yellow Line train on Interstate Ave

While the Boise neighborhood is especially known for the Mississippi District along N Mississippi Ave, Overlook has the bustling four-lane N Interstate Avenue with a number of stores & other businesses; the Trimet MAX Light Rail Yellow Line also runs right up the center of Interstate from the Rose Quarter Transit Center at the very southeastern corner of North Portland, up North to the Expo Center, which is close to the shores of the Columbia River near the Vanport Wetlands (for Vancouver/Portland.)  Since the Yellow line begins downtown at Portland State University, this is a major line connecting west & north Portland, & thus the pedestrian bridge is a great convenience.

Now while the idea of a foot & bike bridge might seem new0fangled & a product of our consciousness these days that it’s good to have ways of getting around that don’t involve automobiles when possible, in fact the Failing Bridge dates back to 1963, which was almost the peak of U.S. car culture—the days of the Eisenhower interstate system & V-8s, when the Detroit auto manufacturers were in a boom & gasoline seemed inexhaustible (so to speak), unproblematic & cheap. But some forward thinking people in Portland saw the need for this pedestrian crossings as the East Bank Freeway, which later became I-5, began to move thru North Portland, & federal funding for the interstate construction included money for two such bridges—the one at Failing & another one further north at N Bryant.

I-5 passing under the Failing Bridge

The Failing Bridge has not been without problems & controversy. It was closed in 1991 because there were concerns that criminals from the Boise neighborhood were using it as an escape route from the Overlook neighborhood. Throughout the 1990s, the structures fate hung in the balance, with some arguing for its demolition & others for its restoration.

By 1999, the crime rates in North Portland had dropped significantly, & the MAX Yellow line was also slated to connect the North to downtown; as a result, the voices that argued for restoration won the day &, complete with ADA ramps for wheelchairs (& also bikes & folks like me who don’t do well on steep stairways), the Failing Bridge re-opened in 2003.

Josiah Failing plaque on the structure's eastern wall

OK: I know your question—why “Failing”—& I know that saying it’s for “Failing Street” is not a sufficient answer! Josiah Failing was Portland’s fourth mayor, a native New Yorker who fulfilled a long-held dream & moved to Oregon Territory (as it was then called, still seven years before Oregon statehood) in 1851.  A successful businessman, Failing was elected mayor in 1853; one of his big projects while in office was the establishment of public schools. He served as a delegate to the 1864 Republican National Convention that nominated Abraham Lincoln for a second-term & also to the 1868 convention that nominated Ulysses S. Grant.

& now you know the story of Failing Bridge!

Official sign/official name at the intersection of N Mississippi & Failing

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

"Have you seen tomorrow?"

[Our favorite Rockstar Poet in Residence, Barbie Dockstader Angell, seems to be having a problem with time—I know you will enjoy this delightfully inventive poem!]

Have you seen tomorrow?

Tomorrow was kidnapped
so I’m stuck here for now.
I’m trying to find him
but no one’s sure how.
I’ve searched for a note,
I’ve searched for the clues.
I’d be glad to pay ransom
but I’m not sure to whom.
He was standing alone
at the start of the end,
then Today didn’t finish
so he couldn’t begin.
And then he was gone,
No trace of him left,
so I came to ask you
what you think is best.
Without him around
there's no future at all.
The police are no help,
so don’t bother to call.
They think he’ll show up,
that Tomorrow’s just fine.
He just cannot be rushed,
I should give it some time.
But I’m worried you see,
and I really can’t wait.
I know I’m impatient,
but Tomorrow is late.
And I’m done with Today,
and I have to move on,
so if you see Tomorrow
will you tell him I’ve gone?

Barbie Dockstader Angell
© 2009-present

Friends, don’t forget: you can check out Barbie’s “work-in-progress” book of children’s poetry that’s scheduled to come out this spring thru Grateful Steps right here at this link.  In fact, today's illustration is taken from the book—many thanks to Barbie for generously allowing me to use it here.  So please stop by, take a look at a wonderful book, & leave a comment for a wonderful poet & a wonderful person.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Any Womans Blues #19 – Ellen McIlwaine

Happy Monday! February is drawing to a close, so it’s time for another edition of Any Woman’s Blues, & as usual, we’ve got a great guitarist to discuss & listen to.

That guitarist is Ellen McIlwaine, a veteran professional whose playing, singing & songwriting deserve much more recognition than has come her way in a career spanning four decades & change. Ellen McIlwaine was an opening act for the likes of Jimi Hendrix, John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf & other greats; her first professional recording dates to 1969, with the group Fear Itself, & she began issuing solo records with the 1972 Honky Tonk Angel on Polydor. McIlwaine has changed labels often, as she’s also put out labels on United Artists, Blind Pig, Stoney Plain, Tradition und Moderne & others.  Her most recent release, the 2007 Mystic Bridge on her own Ellen McIlwaine Music label, is a true adventure, as she teams with tabla player Cassius Khan, soprano saxaphonist Linsey Wellman & harmonium player Amika Kushwaha (the latter only on the last track, which features spoken word over music); otherwise, the album features four McIlwaine originals as well as covers of Al Green’s “Take Me to the River," John Lee Hooker’s “Crawling Kingsnake” & Hendrix’ “May This Be Love.” Quite a set!

Ellen McIlwaine is particularly known as a slide player, & her technique & musicality with the slide are impeccable; her playing style is fiery but melodic, as the best slide work invariably is.  In addition—as suggested by the song line-up on Mystic Bridge
McIlwaine doesn’t simply use the slide to reproduce gutbucket blues. Her slide work is extremely versatile, ranging from a cover of Hendrix’ “Waterfall” to Middle Eastern music—as found in the second video below—& more. 

McIlwaine is a cosmopolitan person, which may in part explain her wide-ranging music tastes & interests. Although she was born in Nashville, Tennessee, she was raised in Japan, where her adoptive parents served as missionaries.  She has recorded for the German Tradition Und Moderne label, including the 2002 Spontaneous Combustion, which not only features more of her take on Middle Eastern sounds, but also includes a couple of duets with Taj Mahal; & she moved to Canada in the late 1980s, living first in Toronto & now in Alberta province.

As far as guitars go, McIlwaine favors Guilds both for acoustic & electric playing. I should also mention that her cds are all available on her website here. Remember: buying direct from the artist whenever possible is always best!

It was a bit of a challenge to find videos for this post. I like to stick with live video as much as possible because it’s ideal to be able to hear the performer without the mediation that can happen in a studio, & it’s also ideal to see she what she’s doing. Having said that, it seems that a high percentage of the live videos of McIlwaine don’t feature full performances. But I do think that these two videos, despite being cut off at the end, showcase her playing well.
Ellen McIlwaine is absolutely the real deal—enjoy!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Photo of the Week 2/26/12

Portland Skyline & I-5
Taken from the Failing Street Pedestrian Bridge
Thursday 2/23/12

Check in this coming Wednesday for more about this shot!

Friday, February 24, 2012

“Freeborn Man”

Happy Friday, friends. It’s the last Friday of February, so, how about some bluegrass banjo?

Actually, “Newgrass” banjo might be more to the point, but what a superstar band of newgrass/bluegrass pickers we have in today’s video! & an interesting song, too, originally penned by Mark Lindsay & Keith Allison of Paul Revere & the Raiders, & as such one that might not initially seem a likely candidate for a full-on bluegrass breakdown.  Actually, however, “Freeborn Man” had been covered by bluegrass legend Jimmy Martin back in the 1970s—in fact, one of the major retrospectives on Martin’s career is the CMH 2003 release Jimmy Martin: Songs of a Freeborn Man.

 Now for our purposes here in Banjo Friday we’re focusing on the banjo player in this super group, none other than Béla Fleck; we’ve had occasion to feature Fleck’s work before here, but in the past we’ve concentrated on his experimentation—his work in world music & even in adapting the 5-string banjo to classical & jazz music.  But like the other great contemporary banjo innovators such as Bill Keith & Tony Trischka, Fleck’s roots very much go back to bluegrass, & I thought it would be fun to showcase him in that setting.  By the way: Fleck gets both the first & the last solo in the video, so don't touch that dial!

Of course, given the talent of the players in this group, you’re not likely to switch the video off before it’s done! Tony Rice on guitar & vocal; Sam Bush on mandolin; Mark O’Connor on fiddle; Jerry Douglas on dobro; & Mark Schatz on bass—that’s about as good as it gets folks.  Rice is simply one of the best flatpick guitar players there has been in recent years—amazing technique, amazing inventiveness, amazing musicality; Bush is a dynamo, frenetic but on the money; Douglas a non-pareil dobro picker; & O’Connor is simply amazing—I had the privilege of seeing him live at the Weiser Fiddle Festival several years back & the room just crackled with energy when he played! As far as Fleck goes: his banjo chops can stand with anybody’s. 

This was recorded at the big roots/Americana music gathering MerleFest some time in the early 90s.  MerleFest is an event put on by the great Doc Watson in honor of his son Merle, himself a fabulous musician who died an untimely death in a tragic farm accident; Doc calls MerleFest “Traditional plus,” & it’s a venue where you can hear musicians as diverse as Earl Scruggs & Elvis Costello or Taj Mahal & Emmylou Harris.

I know you’re going to enjoy this tune—great uptempo bluegrass! 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Sending You Into The World I Should Say, Something

You will meet people, 
keep it simple, make eye contact,
touch their hand, push your hair back.

They may ask questions.
You can tell a person by their questions.
                                “Where has the money gone?” 
                                Say, “There was no money.”
                                “Not ever?”
                                “No not ever.”
                                “What should I say if they ask uhm. . . more?”
                                “Say the truth”
                                “If they ask where have I been, what should I tell them?”
                                “Tell them you’ve been right here all along, beside me. They will understand.”

Desire is an ancient city with four gates
The Gate of Longing
The Gate of Rage
The Gate of Resignation
The Mercy Gate.

You don’t get the choice often
Go in the last gate.

You will know the others already there
milling under the yellow stone arches
Take your time, take mine as well,
watch as people pass
And no matter what
you will  give two shekels to whoever is legless, or blind or widowed. 
And in the market it will be confused and hot,
piled with sacks of red lentils and barrels of olives. 
There will be a war just started or just ended
and the soldiers around the market will speak
either in the patois of defeat or victory.
Seasoned by experience they know “to endure”
does not always mean to outlast. 
It can also mean to forgive the hand that swung the club
and to know in the future to move aside.

This is how it has always been for someone
and at this time you are the one.
Never be the first to arrive anywhere.
Do this because you do not come from pioneers
but from survivors that follow behind,
gleaners that take what has been dropped along
another’s way and
                                from this we eat we understand.

So many last minute things I have meant to say,
re: fabric:  woven together linen and wool are forbidden.
Wisely, I know you pick wool
 it will be cool in heat and warm in cold 

Remember the rule,
the sense of distance, that awareness
arrives and awakens
only by wanting something closer.

Brittany Newmark
© 2012

Many thanks to my dear friend Brittany Newmark for making this eloquent & compelling poem available to Robert Frost's Banjo. Thanks, Brittany!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

When It Rains…

Traffic in the rain on I-5 from the Skidmore Overpass

it pours, right? Read on—& welcome to another Rose City Wednesday!

At least in North America, it’s a pretty well known fact that the Pacific Northwest is a rainy area. Both my newly adopted home city of Portland & Seattle have that reputation, & it is well-deserved—yes, it rains a lot in these parts.

But you may be interested to learn that neither Portland nor Seattle rank in the top 10 rainiest cities in the continental U.S.; Mobile, Alabama ranks #1 on the list, & in fact all of the top 10 cities are in the southeast, & most are along the Gulf of Mexico. Furthermore, if one looks at an extended version of the list, no Pacific Northwest cities appear until Olympia, Washington at #24.  Now, if you change the criteria from the amount of rainfall received to the number of rainy days per year, things change a bit; in this case Olympia has the dubious distinction of being #1, & Eugene, Oregon comes in at #5; but otherwise, once again you have all southeastern cities. 

Drizzle & soggy streets on N. Mississippi Ave

How can this be? Well, a few things to keep in mind. One, much of the rainfall in Portland is in the form of drizzle, as opposed to the out-&-out cloudbursts that happen in the southeast, & even along the eastern seaboard in general in the summer months.  That’s not to say that there are no soaking rainstorms, but it is to say that on many “rainy” days the rainfall is more of a nuisance than an absolute deterrent, even to those of us who travel a lot on foot & wait at bus stops.

Another thing to note in terms of the reputation that Portland, Seattle & the Northwest in general hold, is that it does get cloudy here. In fact, in a separate study of the U.S. cities with the most cloud cover, Seattle came in at #4 & Portland at #5, with all the top five cities being located in either Oregon or Washington (Astoria, Oregon, on the coast, is #1.)

Overcast? Yes, a lot!

In addition, Portland has the rainy/dry (or at least, considerably less rainy) season phenomenon. From October thru March, there is at least three inches of precipitation each month (October being the lowest on average with 3 inches even), peaking at 5.64 in November. Of the 26 plus inches of precipitation that falls on an average in those six months, only 2.5 inches on an average is snow (with February averaging 1.2 inches per year as the snowiest month), so a lot of rain is coming down in a 6 month period. & in fact, if we go back to the Weatherbill study I quoted earlier, we find that Portland (& Seattle of course) rank in the top five rainiest cities in the U.S. when we look just at that six month stretch (Portland being slightly rainier than Seattle during the first three months, & vice versa during the second three month period.)

The Spurs of the Moment at Garden Eclectica, Portland: Eberle Umbach, Dani Leone, Chris Leone & Yrs Truly

Of course, as this photo illustrates, it can rain here most any time—this isn’t California, where the Major League baseball teams frequently go a season or two with no rainouts. That photo was taken in June 2007!

So, as I was told when I moved here: an umbrella is often more of a nuisance than a necessity, but a hat &/or hoodie—yes, you’ll need that for sure!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


[Soup & music, past, present & future, all from LE Leone—enjoy!]


        She used to say, “Where do you see yourself five, ten years from now?”
        I used to say, “I don’t.”
        I never thought I would be dead, that wasn’t it. It was just all I could do to taste every single onion in the soup we were eating, just then, to see the colors on the coats blurring by outside the café’s rain-rivered window, to dance to each individual drop as it plonked our umbrella afterwards, walking away.
        Do I miss those times? Nah … It’s starting to cloud over and get cold. Everyone’s got a new coat now. And the call just came from the kitchen:
        Soup’s on!

L.E. Leone
© 2012

Monday, February 20, 2012

“Straight, No Chaser”

Happy Monday, friends. Today’s edition of the Monday Morning Blues is going to be looking at a great & justifiably renowned jazz standard that just happens also to be a 12-bar blues.

When I was a boy, I was fascinated by the classification of instruments into their various groups: wind, string & percussion. But what fascinated me most was the fact that the instrument I myself played, the piano, was sometimes classified as a stringed instrument (or chordophone) & sometimes as a percussion instrument (or idiophone.) Of course, the sound on a piano is ultimately produced by the strings, but in order to produce that sound there’s a lot of “striking” going on, both by the fingers on the keys & the hammers on the strings themselves. & anyone who has listened to the great Thelonious Monk know very well how much the piano can be percussive.

I love Monk’s music—it’s a rich & deep & playful & lyrical—& I love his playing.  Not all have shared this opinion; poet Phillip Larkin described Monk as “the elephant on the keyboard,” & as Monk was in the forefront of Bebop, he most certainly had his detractors among the Trad Jazz & moldy fig crowd. But by & large, history has borne out his significance; Monk’s compositions are the second most recorded songs in the jazz world, following only the compositions of the great Duke Ellington (who wrote considerably more), & some of them are among the best known jazz standards: today’s song, “Straight, No Chaser,” would certainly fit in that category, as would “Round Midnight,” “Well, You Needn’t,” “Epistrophy” & “Ruby, My Dear,” just to name a handful.

“Straight, No Chaser” is harmonically a straightforward 12-bar blues in the key of Eb that follows the “quick change” pattern—in other words, the IV chord appears in the second measure rather than waiting until the fifth measure.  In addition, there are chord substitutions in the eighth & ninth measures. In a completely straight 12-bar blues, the eighth measure would contain the I or tonic chord, while the ninth measure would contain the V or dominant chord; here, however, Monk substitutes the iiim7 & the VI7 in the eighth measure, & the iim7 in the ninth—these are all fairly standard jazz chord substitutions, & those of you who are up on your music theory will see that the progression there is moving along the Circle of Fifths. One characteristic of the song—& indeed, a characteristic found in other Monk melodies—is that the melody shifts in terms of how the notes fall in relation to the beat, which takes a relatively simple melodic idea & adds great complexity. Mary Lou Williams—who was a mentor to Monk & to the Bebop crowd in general—also did that with many of her melodies.

The original recording (which is the version in this video) was recorded for Blue Note in 1951. The session included Monk on piano, Art Blakey on drums, Al McKibbon on bass, Milt Jackson on vibes & Sahib Shihab on alto sax. Miles Davis recorded a famous cover of “Straight, No Chaser” (in the key of F) on his Milestones album, & Carmen McRae covered the tune as a vocal titled “Get It Straight.”

Great composition—enjoy!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Photo of the Week 2/19/12

Door Guardian Rocking Horses
N Beech St, Portland Oregon
Saturday, 2/18/12

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Raintown #8

polyester balloon bouquet afloat on
ribbons at the lobby desk—gas fireplace
upholstered orange chairs—the

cancer patient stares into electric indigo
natural gas flame, asks, “are you cold too”—
vacant lot on SW River Parkway the

grass the weeds alike shimmer amphibious
green thru streetcar windows—vein balks at
the first stick, catheter “rebounds” the

nurse explains—my voice: “I don’t
feel a thing”—water droplets bead on
vermilion parking strip willows’ pruned

limbs along N Mason Street—purple
bruise blooms inside the elbow, not
unfamiliar—musty February atmosphere these

green-tiled polygonal wings on Multnomah
Pavilion seen between a drizzle-glazed window’s
muntins—umbrellas blossom on

walkways beneath those flesh-colored
bricks—oxygen concentrator’s huff &
groan across the room—mantis green

moss encrusts limbs seen afloat thru the
infusion room’s aquarium window—
existence falling down like rain

Jack Hayes
© 2012

Friday, February 17, 2012

“Oh Death”

Banjo Friday is upon us again, & as you can see from the post’s title, we have another cheerful banjo tune for your enjoyment! Actually, if you’ve been following along regularly, you know what’s coming: more Dock Boggs.

I hadn’t planned on February being Dock Boggs month on Banjo Friday—but I also hadn’t planned on my own February being so busy. After two posts about Boggs on the previous two Fridays, I said, “What the heck—let’s make it a set of three.” Next week will of course feature bluegrass as always on the last Friday, so no Dock Boggs then.

In my post on “Country Blues” I mentioned Boggs’ version of the traditional “Oh Death”—for one thing, it shares the odd f#CGAD tuning with that song. But if “Country Blues,” & other Boggs’ standbys like “Sugar Baby,” “Pretty Polly” or “Danville Girl” are portraits of the “Old Weird America” (to use Greil Marcus’ term), then “Oh Death” seems to be even more ancient—Medieval in the sensibility of its lyrics, jaggedly modal in its tune & melody—the latter accentuated by the fact that Boggs didn’t record this until his “second career” in the 1960s, so when he made this recording for Mike Seeger & Folkways in 1963, he was well into his 60s. Not only did he have the perspective of a long hard life to bring to his performance of the song, but his voice was no longer a young man’s. Here the vocal “imperfections” almost all serve to strengthen the overall performance, & there’s no question that Boggs’ singing & playing were always, whether young or old, powerful, moving & singular.

There have been other versions of “Oh Death”—Ralph Stanley does a more bluegrass version, which is particularly notable for Stanley’s singing—another powerful voice—but which for all its vocal richness (including some hauntingly beautiful harmony singing) doesn’t have the force of Boggs’ more ancient & modal rendition. Once you start to introduce major chords into these real old-time songs something just seems to be lost. Of course, Boggs' melody isn’t strictly minor either—like much of the oldest Appalachian music, as well as the old blues (especially the old blues from the Delta region), the melody weaves back & forth between minor & major intervals & also involves what are called “suspended” intervals—tones that stand in place of the tell-tale minor & major thirds.

“Oh Death” can be found on Dock Boggs: His Folkway Years 1963-1968, which contains the material he recorded during his second career during the folk music revival.  There’s also a powerful live version on The New Lost City Ramblers Old Time Music on Vanguard, a really delightful disc that features the Ramblers not only with Boggs, but also with the likes of Mother Maybelle Carter, Cousin Emmy, Roscoe Holcomb & more, all recorded at the Newport Folk Festival.

“Oh Death” is an amazing song—prepare to be moved.

Photo of Dock Boggs performing in the 1960s links to its source

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Watch the Swing!

The aerial tram leaving Koehler Pavillion for the downhill trip
Happy Rose City Wednesday, friends. In today’s feature we’ll be looking at what is not only a distinctive feature of the Portland cityscape, but also something I make use of every week—the Portland Aerial Tram.

If you are a regular follower of Robert Frost’s Banjo, or if you know me personally, you know that I have a chronic respiratory condition—actually, strictly speaking, a genetic enzyme deficiency that almost always leads to chronic respiratory problems, as it has in my case. The condition is known as Alpha1-antitrypsin deficiency, & the most common treatment for it is regular enzyme replacement via IV infusion, using one of a few name brand plasma-based drugs. As a result, I go to the hospital weekly—it’s a routine with me that actually started in the spring of 2002, & likely will continue the rest of my days.

A view of downtown Portland from the tram (looking north)
Here the procedure is done at the large teaching hospital on Marquam Hill in the Southwest, Oregon Health & Sciences University. It’s a large & renowned medical center & medical school, as well as being the largest employer in the city of Portland (per the Wikipedia article cited below.) So the fact that it sits atop a hill that could only be accessed by winding streets & just one of the Trimet transit bus lines obviously presented some challenges. In addition, OHSU’s footprint on the hilltop is limited, & it began expanding down by the South Waterfront in the early 00s.

As a result, the city & OHSU partnered in constructing the aerial tram, a tramway that not only connects the South Waterfront section of OHSU with Marquam Hill, but which also provides a more convenient mode of transportation for a number of staff, patients & visitors, as well as some tourists—on a clear day, the views during the ride both of the Portland skyline & also of the mountains to the east & north can be breathtaking.  You can not only see Mt Hood but also Mt St Helens, as well as getting a rare bird’s eye view of the city itself.

The tram just past the tower
The tram ride last only about 3 minutes, & during that time it travels a horizontal distance of 3,300 feet (1,000 m) and a vertical distance of 500 feet (150 m) [per Wikipedia.] When you’re ascending from the Waterfront toward Marquam Hill, there’s a tower that’s reached by a steep initial ascent; as the tram goes past the tower there’s always a bit of a “swing”—hence the post’s title, which the operator invariably announces to the passengers. Following that, the ride levels out considerably, tho the tram is certainly climbing at all times.

The tram docks at Koehler Pavillion. The ride “uphill” is $4.00 for the general public, but free for hospital employees, patients & patient visitors.  There’s no additional charge for the ride downhill, however.

Mt Mood, the South Waterfront & the Willamette River viewed from the tram (looking east)
The tram hasn’t been without controversy. Although initial estimates put the project’s cost at a bit more than $15 million, the final cost was around $45 million. In addition, the tram’s route does go directly over a residential neighborhood for a significant portion of the trip. At one point a homeowner placed a sign on his roof stating “Fuck the Tram,” & it wasn’t removed until he’d negotiated with the city. The homeowner aimed the sign so it couldn’t be seen from the street, but only from the tram overhead.

I’m a newcomer to the city, & as such, I can’t really speak about the controversies with any depth of experience. At this point, the tram is an integral part of my week, forming as it does the final leg of a trip that uses—tram included—four types of public transit: also bus, train & streetcar. Despite the fact that I have a fear of flying & a fear of heights, the tram ride is always relaxing & usually enjoyable—occasionally it can get a bit packed, but usually there’s plenty of room in the cabin.

Just watch the swing!  

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

“The Silent Stranger’s Smile”

[A bit of mystery this time around with our favorite Rockstar-Poet-in-Residence, Barbie Dockstader Angell!]

The Silent Stranger’s Wish

Last nite I met Humanity
and he offered me a smile.
He lit my smoke and bought my drink,
then we sat and talked a while.

Last nite I found a part of Peace
that I had thought I’d lost,
while we spoke of Life’s absurdities
and Love’s ever rising costs.

Last nite I saw the breaking point
where Dreams and Niemares meet.
I saw them walking hand in hand
down a dimly darkened street.

Last nite I had a vision
and it made my Worries fade.
And I sat and wove this Wish for you
and dreamed of better days.

Barbie Dockstader Angell
© 2009-present


Friends, don’t forget: you can check out Barbie’s “work-in-progress” book of children’s poetry that’s scheduled to come out thru Grateful Steps right here at this link. Please stop by, take a look at a wonderful book, & leave a comment for a wonderful poet & a wonderful person.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Electric Spanish!

 Happy Monday, friends—time for some Monday Morning Blues. Once each month we’ve been turning our attention to one of the guitar that have contributed significantly to the great blues sound—& today’s instruments are truly exciting.

If you’re a fan of Gibson guitars or just an all-around guitar aficionado, you may well know that “Electric Spanish” is the full term behind the abbreviation Gibson’s renowned ES line.  A venerable line, at that, especially when you’re talking about guitars fitted with a magnetic pick-up—yes, in many ways the ES line, among its many contributions in terms of music & design both, essentially is the granddaddy of the electric guitar.  While the 1936 Gibson ES-150 wasn’t actually the first electric guitar, it was the first one to be a true commercial success.  In addition, the first noteworthy electric guitarist played an ES-150, that being the great jazzman Charlie Christian—in fact, the single coil pick-up used in this guitar is still known as the "Charlie Christian pick-up."

So make no mistake: the Gibson ES line has had an impact far beyond the field of blues. From major jazz guitarists like Barney Kessel, Joe Pass & Grant Green to early rockers like Chuck Berry, Roy Orbison & Scotty Moore & on to such “guitar heroes” as Clapton, Larry Carlton & Alvin Lee, the ES line has been heard loud & clear in many genres of popular music.

From the ES-150 on, this line of guitars has been revolutionary in design. The ES-150, for instance, departed from the typical practice of making an archtop guitar in that the guitar’s interior isn’t carved to match the exterior curve. This was an attempt to cut down on one of the problems with amplifying a guitar with a hollow soundbox: feedback. I played a hollowbody archtop electric as my main guitar for some time, & I can attest to this fact!

Later models in the ES line attacked this problem even more ingeniously. The Gibson ES-335, introduced in 1958, was the first “thinline” archtop electric. Here the “wings” of the guitar’s body are still hollow, but a solid maple block runs up the center of the soundbox, so in essence, the design combines aspects of the hollow body & the solid body—& indeed, the ES-335 & its latter offshoots are known both for their singing tone & for their fierce & powerful sustain. I get excited just writing about them!

In terms of the blues, some of the very biggest names have used Gibson ES guitars; BB King, for instance has used both the ES-335 & the ES-355, which is the famed “Lucille.” Freddie King, of “Hideaway” fame sometimes used an ES-335. Little Milton, “Gatemouth” Brown, & John Lee Hooker both played Gibson ES guitars, tho Hooker finally favored the Epiphone Sheraton, which he characterized as an “out-did 335”—still, by the time Hooker was playing a Sheraton, Epiphone had been purchased by Gibson.  

But I didn’t choose any of those players to feature in the videos, as worthy as they all are. Instead, I decided to feature one of the most influential electric guitar players ever—who has influenced guitarists from BB King to Jimi Hendrix & from Eric Clapton to Stevie Ray Vaughn.  That is the great T-Bone Walker, a man whose work is not as well known to the general listening public as it should be.  Walker mostly played the Gibson ES-175 during his career, tho early on he played an ES-150 & he switched to an ES-335 as his playing career wound down.  He’s playing an ES-175 in this video.

I also chose the standpoint Chicago blues player Otis Rush, who is featured in the second video.  You’ll notice that—like Elizabeth Cotten, who was featured last week in the Any Woman’s Blues series, Rush also is left-handed & plays the guitar “upside-down & backwards.” Rush is playing an ES-335, his standby guitar.

Enjoy that great Gibson sound in the hands of two formidable blues musicians!


Pic of BB King with “Lucille” is by Wiki Common user Roland Godefroy, & is available under the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation. Image links to its source.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Photo of the Week 2/12/12

Willamette River & the Burnside Bridge
Taken from a Green Line Train on the Steel Bridge
Portland, Oregon
Friday 2/10/12

Friday, February 10, 2012

“Old Rub Alcohol Blues”

Happy Friday, friends! The Banjo Friday is pulling into the station a bit behind its time.

It’s been a busy time for me of late—have been involved in proofreading jobs up to my eyebrows (a good thing, but time-consuming!), had a music show last Friday—again at the Bare Bones Café—very happy about that, as it seems to be turning into a semi-regular gig, plus I had a nice turnout of friends on a lovely day & evening here; & then managed to come down with a nagging cold over the weekend, which has been an energy drain this week.

All that is to say I’m a bit behind on everything right now! But as the Banjo Friday is a feature that’s near to my heart, I wanted to check in with a little music for you today—& since last week’s Dock Boggs feature got a nice response, I thought I’d post another of his songs; he is after all, one of my very favorite banjoists & musicians in general.

“Old Rub Alcohol Blues” is credited to one W.E. Myer, but beyond that I know little of the song other than Boggs’ amazing version.  Boggs recorded it in Chicago in 1929 for the Lonesome Ace label; it was the A side, backed with “False Hearted Lover's Blues.”  Eight of Boggs’ 1920s recordings were made for Brunswick, but he also made four sides for the more obscure Lonesome Ace label.   In the CD era, those had been available on the Revenant Records label (a John Fahey project), but that has been out of print for some time, & as of this morning a new condition copy is selling on Amazon for a cool $283.34; used copies start at $35. However, Smithsonian/Folkways recently released Dock Boggs-His Twelve Original Recordings.

Songs about drinking rubbing alcohol & similarly nasty concotions were not uncommon in the 20s—Prohibition was in force of course; another example from the blues side of things is Tommy Johnson’s “Canned Heat Blues.” In Johnson’s case, per both friends & family members who were later interviewed by the folkies, he really did drink canned heat (Sterno, typically soaked thru bread to remove at least some of the impurities.)  Boggs himself was known to be involved in the “moonshine” trade.

Old Rub Alcohol is played in another of Boggs’ odd D-modal tunings—actually just one note different from either the “Country Blues” tuning or the “Graveyard” tuning—here the banjo is tuned f#DGAD.


Thursday, February 9, 2012

Raintown #7

drunken noodles on blue plate—basil
leaves mushrooms bean sprouts—desk
lamp’s 40 watt incandescence under a

fern green shade lined & specked with
stylized trees in all directions—orange
spice tea, tickle in the throat, vague

sensation of moving underwater—this
drizzle sparkling bitter in the parking
lot’s jaundiced lights—a body’s failings:

example: abnormal amounts of protein de-
posted in liver cells—or, hell, a rhinovirus
for that matter—car wheels chafing

slick asphalt—the coming & going—
the chicken carrots egg—standing next to the
wrong car something happens that

can’t be explained—two bodies close for
instants & an aftermath of imaginings—
details of which occurrence—capsaicin dilating

membranes agitating nasolacrimal
ducts—golden light thru stylized limbs—
microtones of events vibrating the body

Jack Hayes
© 2012

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Monsoon Thai, or Lunch from the Laundromat

Happy Wednesday, friends! It’s time for another post about my new hometown, & this time we’ll be enjoying some culinary delights!

It was a dark & stormy night in December—as is so often the case!—& I was in my new apartment with a powerful hankering for Chinese take-out. If memory serves me, I’d just gotten off the bus into a cold drizzle some minutes before & thought that I’d noticed a whiff of Asian food in the damp air.

So I headed on a virtual search for Chinese restaurants in my area, & found that none were especially convenient by walking or bus, but that there were two Thai restaurants nearby—& I realized where that enticing aroma had originated.  Now on that particular evening, a combination of factors kept me from heading off to check this place out—the fact that my larder was not, in fact, empty; the rather miserable weather outside; & a general lack of funds. But I filed it away for future reference.

Fast forward to Monday: a lovely day here in Portland, sunny with temperatures in the 50s. Meanwhile, I was (still am) battling a ticklish throat & a bit of a cough since the evening before. Since I have great faith in the curative powers of curry, I decided this was the day to try Monsoon Thai.

Monsoon Thai is a lovely little restaurant situated on the corner of N. Mississippi Avenue & Skidmore, a mere two blocks & change from my apartment—on Monday, a most pleasant walk up tree-lined Mason & Albina.  One unique feature of the restaurant is that it shares a building with a laundromat—the laundromat faces Mississippi Avenue, while the entrance to Monsoon Thai is on Skidmore. In fact, as I later learned on Yelp, the restaurant is often called “Laundry Thai” or Laundromat Thai.”

I didn’t get any interior shots that are good enough to post, but I will say that the décor & lay-out are nice—orchids, carvings, lots of light, at least one booth & white clothed tables. There was a TV in the lobby, but the sound was turned off (I always think this is merciful), & I spent a pleasant 10 minutes waiting for my order wondering how a TV personality manages to have the exact same amount of assiduously tended 5:00 o’clock shadow for every show—I think this was on HGTV. Of course, I was only watching a single episode, but they ran a promo for the show during one ad interlude, & by golly, yes: the exact same 5:00 o’clock shadow in every shot. A true mystery.

The food? Not being a pro restaurant reviewer, I only got one dish (nor did I bring along a friend or comrade to expand the selections): mussamun (or massaman) curry—the titular curry paste in a sauce with coconut milk, & featuring potatoes, carrots, onion & peanuts; I got this with chicken (for the sake of the incipient cold), but it’s also available as vegetable only, with tofu, or beef or pork, or shrimp, squid, scallops or mixed seafood.
Beef is apparently the traditional meat for this curry, but I tend to go either the chicken or tofu route, depening on how the spirit moves me. I thought about adding salad rolls, but both from the standpoint of appetite & expense this seemed a little excessive for “just me.” Still, at $7.25, the price of the curry was most reasonable. I got it at “3x” in the spicy category.
The curry was good! It hit the spot, was reasonably spicy—some might even have called it hot, but I tend to have a high tolerance for hot food—& the portion reasonably sized—I was not left wanting more, tho I didn’t have any leftovers either, except for a bit of rice.  The restaurant has gotten a high percentage of positive reviews on Yelp, & based on this one experience, I can see why. I’ll admit that I’ve had more interesting Thai food: in my limited Portland experience, for instance, Chiang Mai on Hawthorne has some wonderful dishes—but this is tasty food at a reasonable price, & it’s certainly convenient, & with friendly service too. As I understand, the pumpkin curry & the drunken noodles are two particular favorites at Monsoon Thai—something to keep in mind for next time!

I’ll be back!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

“Science Fiction”

[L.E. Leone says: “I thought I would just go out and get something, and this is what I came back with.” & I say, “That’s the way to do it!”]

Science Fiction

The world's largest ball of twine. I forget
where that was but we liked the smell
of it. Put our hands on, and took pictures.
It was many times bigger than a cow, yet
smaller than the sun. 
In New Orleans
the sidewalks are evolving. They crack,
climb, crumble, drop off, disappear, re-
appear, move under your feet. Soon
they will lift off and carry you to work, or …

Today, the giant dumpster on my way
to the gym contains nothing but cardboard
boxes containing nothing, unbroken down
and empty. So Zen I could scream, or cut
myself. Or open a store and sell cigarettes
to children. I love it here, and life, the beads
hanging from branches and wires along
St. Charles. They've lost their color, but
sparkle like mud. Nobody recycles, never.

L.E. Leone
© 2012

Monday, February 6, 2012

Poor Boy Long Way From Home #10 – Mississippi John Hurt

A happy Monday to you—still morning out here on the Left Coast, so here comes another edition of the Monday Morning Blues.

Today we have our monthly installment in the ongoing Poor Boy Blues series—a post that almost didn’t happen, because the video I initially intended to post was taken down by YouTube due to copyright infringement claims. Someone recently re-posted a version of Mississippi John Hurt’s version of “Poor Boy Long Ways From Home” however, so—at least for the time being—it’s looking like the complete set of 12 I’d planned on posting may remain intact.

Mississippi John Hurt has long been a favorite of mine.  His precise, melodic & almost delicate style of playing is beautiful & distinctive, as is his rich, if subdued, voice, which can express tenderness & a sort of gentle humor in a way that few blues players can.  Hurt’s playing style is akin to the “Piedmont” style of fingerpicking usually associated with guitarists who lived along the U.S. southeastern seaboard in the Carolinas or Virginia. But Hurt lived in Avalon, Mississippi, which he famously sung about in “Avalon Blues”—thus, spent most of his life in the Mississippi Delta area, which is generally associated with a much “heavier” blues sound—one dripping with bottleneck slide, & made dark by lots of flatted thirds, fifths & sevenths in both the melodies & the accompaniment—even more so by the fact that a fair amount of the singing & slide playing involves microtones—notes slightly flat or sharp of a recognized tone. Hurt on the other hand, was never afraid of pure major triads & a light, melodic sound.

I’ve written elsewhere about Hurt’s “discovery” by musicologist Tom Hoskins, who was intrigued by Hurt’s songs on Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music (“Frankie” & “Spike Driver Blues”), as well as by other songs he’d recorded in the 20s that were still available to collectors on 78s.  As a result, Hurt had a short but successful second career as a full-time professional musician during the folk revival until his death in 1966. Although he’d made 13 sides for Okeh back in the 1920s, he’d spent most of his life as a sharecropper who made music in his community for dances & parties. 

Hurt’s version of “Poor Boy Long Ways From Home” is very typical of his style—there’s not the raw existential angst of Ramblin’ Thomas or Booker White; all in all, it bears a closer relationship to the Brownie McGhee version we heard last month, tho Hurt’s lyrics are different, & his playing & singing are—as always!—entirely his own & immediately recognizable.
Today's recording is from his album Last Recordings, made during the 1960s & issued posthumously in 1972.

Hope you enjoy this wonderful piece of music.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Friday, February 3, 2012

"Country Blues"

A happy Banjo Friday, folks! A rather quick post today involving one of the great old-time banjo songs, period—Dock Boggs’ haunting “Country Blues.”

For those of you who don’t know, Dock Boggs was a coal miner who also happened to be an extraordinary banjo player.  In fact, he was successful enough with his music in the late 1920s to record a number of sides for Brunswick Records.  Unfortunately, the Great Depression hit the recording industry hard, & musicians in southern rural areas weren’t recorded as much in the 1930s as in the previous decade.  Unable to make a living with his banjo, Boggs pawned the instrument.

However, when Harry Smith issued his landmark compilation, The Anthology of American Folk Music, two of Boggs’ songs were included: “Country Blues” & “Sugar Baby.”  Both are extremely dark songs played in different modal tunings that Boggs favored for such old-time fare.  As was the case with many of the musicians featured on the Anthology, Boggs was sought out, “discovered,” & found himself in a whole new musical career from the early 60s until his death in 1971.  Mike Seeger was particularly instrumental in getting Boggs his new start.

Boggs played “Country Blues” in an odd tuning: f#CGAD, which is somehow related to the more well-known “Graveyard Tuning” Boggs & many others used, but which has amazing possibilities for discordance.  In Boggs hands, the tuning doesn’t produce discords, but it certainly produces a whole lot of spookiness.  As you listen to the music, you’ll easily hear why critic Greil Marcus used Boggs as one of his prime examples of “the Old Weird America!”

In fact, Boggs used this same tuning for his great song “O Death,” which is one of the most harrowing old time songs I know—invoking scenes from medieval art with death personified, but all the while in a pure old Appalachian musical style. Other than Boggs, the only examples of musicians using this tuning I can find are Mike Seeger & John Cohan of the New Lost City Ramblers, & since they were associated with Boggs, I suspect they  learned it from him.

Boggs’ music often had a blues inflection. In fact he stated:

You think them blues ain't here on this banjo neck, the same as they're on that guitar? They're just as much on this banjo neck as they are on that guitar or piano, or anywhere else if you know where to go and get it, and if you learn it and know how to play it.

Boggs made this recording in 1927 for Brunswick recordings; it was the A side, with "Sammie, Where Have You Been So Long?" as the B side.

Absolutely great tune—enjoy!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Raintown #6

pink gray indistinct morning thru blind’s
slats—black silhouetted fir &
light pole—the dozen birds roosting a-

long the wire—a heater’s white noise, a lemon
yellow wall clock’s delicate
tick—security lights casting orange

reflections on car windows—in my
dream in a white hallway you shocked me laughing
someone else’s laughter—

sounds like goodbye—a glove left be-
hind on the concrete walkway at Rose Quarter
caught in that waving gesture—hushed

whistle of a shower in the next apartment—
on the eaves of the building next door the
crow carves guttural “o” & “zero”

cawing into gray air as if the words
“one” “impossible” “isolation” con-
sisted of all plosive consonants—pink

fades to yellow gray—a silver car pulls
out—orange lights die down—this
morning: another thing that has broken 

Jack Hayes
© 2012

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Crystal Ballroom

A happy Wednesday, friends, & welcome back to the Rose City.  I’m here to introduce you to a great Portland music venue!

In fact, this wasn’t the post I’d originally planned. But on Saturday, one of Portland friends of longest standing, David—a talented singer & guitarist who often sat in with Eberle & me when we played here in the old days—called me up to tell me that on Sunday night there was a free show: the Unholy Modal Rounders (an aggregation consisting of the surviving Holy Modal Rounders, a great local musician named Baby Gramps & a group called the Dust Busters), with a banjo wiz named Danny Barnes as the opener. Now I don’t have space in the course of a blog post to talk about the venue & also introduce you to the Holy Modal Rounders et al., so follow the links if you’re interested (you will, however, be hearing more about Mr Barnes here in the very near future!) But David went on to tell me that in addition to all the great music, the show was happening at the Crystal Ballroom downtown, which is a venue I had to see.

David was right, as you can see at from the photos. The Crystal Ballroom was built as the Cotillion Hall in 1914, & is located at 1332 W Burnside—yes, for you Portland neophytes, that means it’s on the street that divides north from south, but on the west side of the Willamette River.

The Cotillion Hotel was owned by one Montrose Ringler, but it fell on hard times during Prohibiton & was bought by Dad Watson in the 1920s. UnderWatson’s ownership, the Cotillion’s large dance floor was mainly used for square dances. When he died about a decade later, Ralph Farrier bought the property & re-named it the Crystal Ballroom.  Fro the next 25 years or so, square dancing remained the main event.  I should mention that the Crystal Ballroom has a unique floor, called “floating dance floor” or “sprung floor.” The Crystal Ballroom’s sprung floor is made of woven wooden battens.
But in the 1960s, the Crystal Ballroom started to bring in new acts, focusing first on R&B & then later branching out to include psychedelic artists as well—so when you enter its doors today, you see posters for shows from all sorts of 1960s & 70s star groups, from Ike & Tina Turner & Marvin Gaye to the Grateful Dead & Buffalo Springfield.  But the venue closed in 1968, & stayed shuttered, at least as far as concerned the general public, until the 1990s, despite the fact that the building was listed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1979.

However, two entrepreneurial restauranteurs & brewers, the McMenamin brothers, had been slowly amassing a regional empire of restaurants built in restored historic buildings, & in 1997 the McMenamin’s re-opened the Crystal Ballroom as a three story restaurant & music venue, with a pub-style restaurant called Ringler's on the ground floor, a smaller music venue called Lola’s Room on the second story, & the completely restored & refurbished Crystal Ballroom on the top level.

It’s a wonderful place—spacious, beautifully decorated, with paintings along the walls done by local artists—in fact, the McMenamins are to be commended on employing local artists & artisans—my friend David is a neon glass artist, & he is responsible for the wonderful neon work you see in the photos.  & while the McMenamins  do bring in bands with national renown to play at the Crystal Ballroom, they also hire a number of regional & even local musicians to play at their brew pubs, which at this point are liberally scattered throughout western Oregon & Washington.

By the way, as I assume is obvious, I didn’t take the photos for this post.  All except the one of the Crystal Ballroom’s interior are from Wiki Commons, & the relevant attributions are given at the end of the post.  I decided it actually sets a good precedent for me to do some of the Rose City Wednesday posts without feeling the need to get the photos myself, as I think that would be limiting in the long run.

Hope you enjoyed this overview of the Crystal Ballroom!

Note: I used both information supplied to me by my friend David & information from the Wikipedia article on the Crystal Ballroom in composing this.

Photo info:
Crystal Ballroom, north said: M.O. Stevens licensed
under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
Crystal Ballroom entrance: same
The interior shot links back to its origin
The distant shot is by Werewombat licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.