Saturday, January 22, 2011

Music For Finding A New Car

Well, this is sort of about music this time.  I had a car accident at the end of my last day at work on Tuesday morning just past.   I was tired and made an error in judgement and the short of it is the car is totaled, I'm out of work a week recovering from a minor injury and Karen and I need to find a new car,

This would have been easy thirty years ago if we had the money we have now. I remember buying three cars in one year back in the 70s and I don't think I spent more than $250 total for the three of them.  One was $50.  All I really required was that it ran and had a radio.  It HAD to have a radio that WORKED, because I have to have music while I drive. These days you can't get a reliable car for less than $2000 without buying a whole mess of someone else's headaches.

This need has often been a source of friction between my current wife and I as she will often ask for silence while she is driving, which isw most of the time while I am in the car with her.  Infer what you will, but she feels safer if she drives while we are both in the car. It is a rare occasion that I drive while she is a passenger.  But back to the music.
When I travel more than just to work (which is just 5 miles away and hardly worth listening to anything in depth past the radio's offerings, I usually bring music to listen to in the form of mixtapes or CDs. Right now we have borrowed her son's car until we find another so it's tapes (the departed car had a CD player that struggled to play MP3 CDs, so in that sense it will not be missed).  That means that later today I will be pulling oh, at least ten for what may be a four hour stint in the car.  Now we actually won't be in the car for four hours, but I will bring along enough to cover that eventuality.  That means I will gather a selection of tapes from a rack just outside my door leading to the garage where I've been snaking titles from my 25 cassette long boxes.

I have about 5000 cassettes from the mid-80s through the early 90s when I was still accumulating cassettes as they were cheaper than CDs for me at the time.  I converted wholly to CDs in the mid-90s but still buy the odd cassette (and vinyl and shellac, but that's a different tale to tell) here or there when I see a title I like or don't have (I hope) in any other configuration. So I have a lot to choose from in my cassette archive. I know I've pulled a couple of my 90s mixtapes and some of the more esoteric collections to the side as I've browsed through the boxes that appeal to me and are deserving of being heard again.

There's something wonderful about controlling the music that you hear in the car.  On short trips I'm okay with whatever the local NPR affiliate has on, be it music or talk.  We'll be getting close to the 'City' today, so I am sure I'll tune in to the NPR/Americana station for a while, too. But I'm also sure that I will do my best to match the mood of the day, the weather, our ('new' car) expectations and road conditions with something I hope will provide an appropriate soundtrack to our traveling.

This is something most Americans have gotten used to in the last fifty years.  In fact, it seems to be almost a Baby Boomer necessity that there is music while you drive.  I don't think I've had more than three cars of the fifty or so I've owned that didn't have a radio, 8-track, cassette or CD player on board. We had a rental for three days and I got to use the CD player twice. It was a 2009 Chevy Impala so I was able to not only play a couple MP3 CDs without problem but also experience the next wave of technology by being able to plug my phone's MP3 player into the car and hear it plat through the car speakers for the first time. I know. I am SO solid behind the times.

So I did make a mix for the other day when we wennt up to pick up my stepson's car and drop off the rental (they only give you THREE days of rental when you total the car). I called it "Looking For Some Outside Help".  I give all my mixes a title, hoping to define the mood or expectation as to how it will be used. This time I was doing my best to be positive. When I make a mix, often It's a compilation of songs I have recently acquired that allows me to sample what I hope is the best of my choices.  That's what this one was on one level, but the other purpose was to soothe and uplift my wife and myself during this time of woe and inconvenience.

Hopefully you'll find some of the same HERE also, providing I can imbed the link.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Raising The Bar

It seems strange to be gearing up for something new as I get ready to end my 59th trip around the sun. Not strange that I should be looking for change, because I am always open to that. Strange that I should be approaching 60 and still want to do something new and demanding.I guess I was already doing that when I started my latest band, Pied By Moe. That's Me, Fran And Kendall below, left to right.

It just started as Fran Cary and I getting together and playing music. I needed to have someone to play with, someone I could bounce ideas off of and someone who could play just a little better than me on guitar to pick some leads between verses. We both found each other working nights at the same group home and discovered we had a lot in common musically. Suddenly we had a setlist and started playing benefits for two local Hospice Houses. I also called in some of my friends to help at these gigs which helped to make it seem like old times: the Dady Brothers, Hunu, Dave Donnelly & Frank Selitto, Don Christiano & Rita Coulter, Maria Gillard, Jeff Riales & Jedd Curran, Steve Piper and Dave and Dee Adams (lotsa links to the right for most of these guys). Soon Fran and I added a third, Kendall Wilt, whom I had met while I was a substitute teacher for my first several years in Naples. It had been 'Duncan, Fran & Friends' on the cards someone made for us, but as the group began to congeal with Kendall, it only seemed fair to have a group name. Through polling friends on Facebook, I was reminded of the name Joe Dady had thought of based on a personal tale of my past. I had used it briefly when Don Christiano and had a musical partnership and so I dusted off 'Pied By Moe', which seemed to fit us three stooges very well.
I had moved south out to Naples, NY from Rochester back in 2002 and left the easy access I had to music venues and weekly meeting places filled with the crew of musicians I'd become accustomed to seeing and playing with on a regular basis. I still had ties to Rochester because I was booking The Park Ave Festival and The Brockport Summer Arts Festival since 1998. But moving 60 miles and an hour away did ask me to sacrifice interfacing with a lot of my friends and subtracting myself from being available and floating on top of the pool as it were. And there was something else missing.

Out here in Naples there were no record stores, no extensive news stands, no place to plug in to the information stream I was used to; I would have to drive back to Rochester to get my 'music' fix. That usually meant making a choice and picking up a copy of Mojo, Uncut, Q, (these first three usually had an attached compilation) No Depression, Paste, Dirty Linen, Sing Out, Acoustic Guitar and /or Guitar Player and trolling the cheapo ($1-3) bins at the local indie stores and maybe picking up one mid-priced used selection or really springing for a new CD.

At least my new wife, Karen had a working computer and an internet connection, which (due to my life choices) was more than I had at the end of the century. So I began exploring the brtave new world of online music. At first I accumulated record company lists and applied for promo status banking on writing for the local papers. I was offered free MP3 downloads by many forward thinking labels and artists, but at the time our computer was sputtering along with barely enough speed and memory to stay online. I think I tried to download one song and it took me 35 minutes so THAT wasn't working for me. Our computer was for basic email and that was it!

However, times got a little better and we thought we could afford it so we took a risk on a Dell from QVC (not a good deal, we were later to find out) which got us an up to date computer with ample memory and storage (funny how little 150 GBs seems now), a flat screen monitor, a CD burner, wireless keyboard & mouse and with a high speed Roadrunner connection suddenly we were up and running. Time to go looking for some music. Somebody told me to check out Bear Share. Next I moved to Lime Wire. Then I found the Usenet. Then I found Mp3 Music Blogs.
As I wised up and saw how it worked, I ditched the P2P which seemed risky for viruses and nasty and unknown sneaky agents. At first I punched in names on Bear Share and Lime Wire testing what was out there. Rarely did I get a hit which meant there weren't too many people using those services who were in the same league as I was or into the same music as I was. After all, I had owned over 250,000 recordings in my life so far (78s,45s, LPs, Cassettes, CDs) and worked in Record Stores from 1971 to 1998. There really wasn't TOO much I didn't already know about (or so I thought; more later on that) through my own collection or from working in new and used stores for so long. In fact I was (in)famous for my encyclopedic knowledge of music.

Then one buddy hipped me to the Usenet. BINGO! there was plenty there I could relate to and if I was willing to take what showed up there, I would be able to download huge amounts of music for a low monthly fee that seemed altogether very reasonable. Pretty soon I needed an external hard drive, an extra 150 GB just to free up the CPU hard drive to operate efficiently. Pretty soon I moved up to a 500GB drive and started to fill THAT one up. It took a while, almost a year but I did fill it, mostly because I'd found the last missing piece of the puzzle for me...the MP3 Music Blogs.

And this is where I am heading, one small step at a time.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Time to re-energize this site with new posts and a new focus. Watch here soon!

I've been increasingly aware that it is time for me to step up and share more on my own site than on the myriad blogs I leave comments on as I wander among many of my favorites.

So, I am beginning to acquire the tools I believe I need to do so: upload sites for mixes I create, a shout out box (you'll see if you don't know already) , a blogroll of favorite sites I frequent (that I can share with friends and blog readers) and beginning to assemble what playlists & CD size mixes I already have that I can share with readers.  I will link to this site through my Facebook page hopefully drawing many of my friends there to this site.

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Looking for the next...

Paul over at Setting The Woods On Fire has had this quest to find the next Tom T. Hall for the last little while.  I really don't know how long he's had this obsession, but I understand it. When someone like Tom T. (or any other number of great ones, many of whom I can and will feature as time goes by) kind of fades from the scene you look for someone to fill the void.  Often it leads back to somone like Ray Wiley Hubbard who slipped away from your conscious focus years ago and has now returned stronger than ever with new cache and weight.  SOMETIMES IT'S EVEN SOMEONE YOU KNOW.

Paul Jeff Riales still has that warm Southern drawl 20 years after he moved to Rochester from Memphis, Tennessee. It complements his strawberry blonde hair like beer complements fried chicken.

 His Southern roots run deep in his music and his life. There’s a beguiling gentility about him. He cherishes his friends with a familial loyalty that extends to his values. He’s hardworking, patriotic, prolific, polite, good-humored and flawed.

How does he write so many great songs? Admittedly, this is not usually considered a flaw. But to some frustrated second-rate songwriter [like myself] it can be very intimidating. I can appreciate his talent and believe in it, but I am a bit jealous of his effortless capacity to document his world in song. That hasn’t stopped me from gleefully championing him to all my friends and handing out his CDs like they were candy to anyone who will listen.

Riales’ songs are extraordinary portraits of true life mixed with inspired fictions that feel real and never fail to connect with his audience. Coming from Memphis, the “other” Tennessee music town, you expect him to be soulful and you wouldn’t be disappointed. Growing up, he was baptized in the Mississippi Gospel, Country, Blues, Soul and Rock that makes Memphis a musical Mecca. He took a turn at the star machine 25 years ago, rising fast, writing his first songs and making the scene. He even won a couple of contests doing it…AND watched a rooster sing the blues. (He still has the tape to prove it!)
His young son’s death took a toll on his soul and his first marriage, sending him packing and deserting his home ground for the North. His music seemed to stay in Memphis. He remarried and spent the next 15 years doing exacting post-fire reconstructions and trim carpentry. He may have suppressed outside evidence of his past, but he still kept listening and penning the occasional song in private, sharing them with no one.
Finally, fate decided enough was enough and placed Jed Curran and Willie Arrowsmith in his path. Curran was guitar player, singer and a budding songwriter himself with some connections around town and an easy manner that gelled well with Riales. Arrowsmith also sang and played very decent harmonica and brought a welcome dose of levity to the equation. Armed with three 90 minute cassettes full of rough demos, Riales (and the newly christened trio, BACKWATER) began to retrace his steps back to the music that had been set aside for so long. He was determined to follow through this time, and rededicated his journey to his son’s memory. First he had to endure the costly break-up of his second marriage and loss of a house laden with the effort he had dearly invested in restoring. But as his spirit emerged from storage in his newfound musical collaboration, his luck began to change. A new mature loving relationship matched his new determination and surprised him with unfettered support for his music.  
Backwater rehearsed Riales’ songs (and a few of Curran’s) and soon started making the rounds at open mikes and coffeehouses. Response was always favorable, and Riales’ tunes soon became the talk and envy of the local songwriting community. Before you knew it, they were installed at Dynamic Studios in Rochester recording Backwater’s debut CD, “Load Full of Memories”. Featuring Riales, Curran and Arrowsmith with sympathetic support from a slew of local guest stars, LFOM was evenly split between Riales and Curran song-wise.  
The ten songs by Riales dominate “Load Full of Memories” 16 tracks, even by Curran’s reckoning.  
 The lead off track, “Daddy’s Train Whistle” sets the prevailing spirit of the CD in motion, waxing nostalgic for the trains of yesterday and a father doomed to die, riding the Southern rails. The image of young brothers straining to hear the promised whistle reflects Riales’ yearning for his personal past, gone but not forgotten.
 “The Things You Left at Home” delves deep into the country side of Riales, and though it passes through time worn paths trod by almost every other country songwriter worth his salt, it still manages to transcend cliché. Riales’ effortless lyrics walk through an empty house and create a harrowing snapshot of a devastated man, seeking answers in the ruins of love.
 Drinking and cheating get their due by Riales (with help from his wife, Doreen) in “Whiskey Lies”, a classic barroom sing-a-long. You can imagine hearing quarter after quarter drop into a thousand jukeboxes from Biloxi to Lubbock.
 Perhaps the most poignant of Riales’ songs on the CD, “Goodbye House” documents the aftermath of a marriage or any other relationship at an end.
 “Black Cat Blues” is more fun than a blues should be and a perfect example of how Riales can transcend a cliché with the finesse of a master. There’s even a cameo by his two cats of the moment.
 “Front Porch” was the first sign of how good it would get. This seemed like a lost John Prine song to me the first time I heard it and was the first song Riales handed to me to produce and mix. It would set the tone for the CD and give Jeff a launching pad for all of his ideas and a reassurance, I hope, that he was on the right track. This is a classic.
 ‘A Load Full of Memories’ takes its title from this loving look back into his own family. “Granddaddy’s Dirty Black Pickup” includes vocals from Jeff's sister Judy, who shares the memories and feelings Jeff captures so well in this song. It reappears released intact on Riales latest CD, ‘The Ticket’.
I never asked him, but I suspect “Keep the Back Door Open” comes from Jeff’s earlier output down in Memphis. I may be wrong, but there are subtle hints of his other life here.
 “The Riverboat” stood out on the original cassettes Jeff entrusted with me. I remember riding with my musical partner, Don Christiano, on a fairly long road trip to a gig and this being one of the standouts on the two tapes, along with “The Avalanche” and “Front Porch”.
 On both the Backwater CD and on his second CD Jeff ended the projects with small half songs, designed to keep you hoping for more. “Small Love Thing” accomplishes just that, whetting the appetite for what’s yet to come.

The band continued for a time, but slowly the priority of each individual’s commitments became apparent. Jeff was obviously the most driven, constantly and impossibly writing new song after new song while Jed basked in the glow of such talent and began awakening his own muse. With so much creativity happening so close, how could he not be inspired? Willie had the most outside distractions and was the least attached to the musician’s life and soon began to slip away, missing practices, gigs and finally recording sessions. Though he appears on 7 of the next 18 released tracks, Jeff had already begun to replace his harp playing with his own in the studio and obtained a neck rack for live excursions also.
 The next project was already underway and it wasn’t stuck in the ‘Backwater’ anymore; it was to be a full blown Jeff Riales solo CD. Jeff had amassed 50+ tracks already sketched out in homespun demos constructed in fevered late night solo sessions on his multi-track cassette deck. Some of these ended up on the Backwater CD, joined by a slew of the new ones popping up like weeds along the highway. The new CD entitled ‘Right Rear Wheel’ [try saying THAT real fast five times] showcased new tunes Boss 302, Vicksburg Hill, When Senorita Played, Sugarman, Things, Hello Mr. Johnson, Hijacked By Love, Memphis Line, Finger and a Toe, Luther and Cornbread. There was even a cover of Townes VanZandt’s Blaze’s Blues culled from his earliest connection with Duncan Walls, a beer-fueled listening session with discs from his insane CD collection. .
 Jeff reassembled most of the same backing crew: Curran playing right hand man again, Chris Brazener doing the engineering and Duncan Walls repeating his collaboration with Jeff on the production and soundscapes. There were some new faces plugging in here and there: Bob Halperin lent some greasy slide guitar on Sugarman and Sherri Resse dueting on When Senorita Played and Maria Gillard joining Sherri doing backup vocals on Vicksburg Hill. There was a noticeable leap forward in the sound of this CD, with some radical sound treatments designed to spice up the listening experience on selected cuts. Among the highlights are:

 “Silvertone Express” has this weird mix of Rockabilly, Country and an African High-Life feel to it, reminiscent of the best of Paul Simon’s Graceland period and not inappropriate for a man who once cleaned out Elvis Presley’s private plane and still has a piece of gum that once was chewed by…
 “Sweet Lila Jane” sounds like a lost Carter Family song, stuffed away in an old trunk in some holler somewhere just waiting for Jeff to find it and whack his pen on the strings to make it come alive again.
 What seems like filler to Jeff is better than hits by some big leaguers. “Goddess of the Highway” stands strong in Jeff’s catalog.
 Sweet and country-styled, “Nothing Learned” seems like one that didn’t make it to the Backwater CD but still captures the feel.
 “Boss 302” was a confident and concerted effort to mix a new textural sonic element into the musical palette of ‘Right Rear Wheel’. It succeeds on many levels as a great story song [one of Jeff’s best], an intriguing contrast to what could be considered Jeff’s ‘signature sound’ and an experiment in mood lighting.
 “The Touch” is Jeff’s declaration of love for his woman, but also a lighthearted indictment of ‘Northern Urban East Coast’ loving as practiced by men in opposition to the ‘Southern’ way. Its languid bluesy slow but steady relentless pursuit of this woman’s affection has struck a chord with many, many listeners over the years and remains one of Riles most requested numbers live.
 Jeff’s effortless ability to dig into American history is clearly apparent in “Vicksburg Hill”, one of his strongest message songs that never once panders unnecessarily to trite emotion. There aren’t many Southern songwriters that will give such an even handed view of the Civil War in their songs. This is a rare exception.
 “Things”
 “Finger and a Toe” contains the memorable line, “…I lost a finger and a toe to a chain saw and a hoe”. What kind of mind is at work behind lyrics like these?
 Jeff chose to share the lead vocals with Sherri Reese, [at the beginning of what has become a successful career for her as part of Americana duo] giving “When Senorita Played” a feeling unlike any other Riales song.
 Here’s a story song that can stand up against tracks by the best of the best, not only in the Country field, but in Blues as well. “Sugarman” packs an emotional wallop, strong as lightning skittering down a fishing pole and the double slide guitars of Riales and buddy Bob Halperin give just the right flavor to that Sunday lunch bucket banquet.
 When was the last time you heard somebody playing their shins and thighs? “Cornbread” revives the lost art of Hambone percussion and strips the meat right off the bone and dips it in the sauce.
 “Luther” tells the tale of a life reconsidered inside a well. By the time this song is done, you’ll feel Luther’s heart pounding against the stone walls as he attempts to drag his broken body back up to the light.
 “Memphis Line” closes the CD at the riverside drying off after the baptism.

 Now Jeff was making people sit up and listen. He looked out the window of his home one morning in 2003 and saw the U.S. flag flying in front of the elementary school across the street and penned “I Am Old Glory”. Dynamic Studio owner Dave Kasperson flipped over the song and arranged a session immediately and also funded a ‘rock’ remix session and the CD single was offered in local stores and online. The song made it to former President George H.W. Bush, Sr.’s desk and Jeff became the proud recipient of a personal letter back from H.W. soon thereafter. He was becoming a regular fixture at area Open Mikes and began headlining his own gigs more often at the best acoustic venues and festivals around town. He even ventured out of town to a songwriters’ festival in Florida, making new friends and gaining access to the main stage almost TOO easily. Everyone who heard his songs came away a believer.
 With a brand new digital recording studio installed in his home, he began to knock off high end demos that have to be considered finished product these days, though he has taken some into larger studios for sweetening.
 In 2005 there was a limited private release circulated among friends and used for getting gigs called ‘Long Way To Buffalo’, consisting of 13 songs Jeff fired off on his new toy, essentially playing everything, save for the occasional drum tracks laid down by his neighbor, Joe____. The subtitle, ‘Homespun #5’ refers to his previous four full length collections of demos which started out on tape and now reside in CD form, closely guarded and rarely shared except in redone new versions. Kind of a goldmine for Jeff.
 Jeff and Jed had also embedded themselves in The Flipside Grill with a regular Thursday night Open Mike of their own, backed by an ever changing roster of local high caliber Americana veterans who gladly showed up, plugged in and added to the beauty of each moment. This small bar became the destination point for most serious singer-songwriters in town and soon enough caught the ear and eye of the local Public TV station, WXXI. One of their in-house producers was looking for local acts to feature in a state-funded music series. Jeff became the first act filmed, recorded and presented in the ON STAGE series, which has been promoted across the country to other PBS markets. A DVD release of the hour long concert and interview is imminent.
 Spring 2008 also saw the release of Jeff’s official second solo CD, The Ticket, chock full of 18 songs, an embarrassment of riches once again. Topping off the list is Jeff’s strongest story song to date [at least that he is willing to share with us NOW] the title song, a tale of the lottery of one sad sack’s life explained by his ex-wife’s convenient choice of numbers. This song has wowed audiences since Jeff premiered it and has to become his “Ticket” to the big time if there is any justice in the world,  
 This CD was almost completely a homegrown affair, save for a re-release of “Granddaddy’s Dirty Black Pickup” from the out-of-print Backwater debut, ‘Load Full of Memories” the title track and Jeff’s tribute to Johnny Cash, “Tall Man in Black.”. Jeff tops himself on several tracks, most notably his second Civil War song, “100 Rings of Life”, which has the hallmark of a Smithsonian Institute collectible, bound for the Library of Congress’s shelves. This features the guitar work of my buddy Frank Selitto (whose photos appear in earlier posts in this blog), who fretwork also appears with special guest vocalists Dave Donnelly and Connie Demming on “North Mississippi Mojo Queen”, a steamy Swamp Pop character study of one of Jeff’s old friends from down South. “No More Whiskey’ and “I’m Taking the Fifth” are natural candidates for the country hit parade, with strong hooks and a keen sense of humor. One could see any number of high profile acts covering Jeff’s songs without a question; let’s say Willie Nelson or Hank Williams, Jr. When was the last time either of these singers had songs as strong as these?

Jeff continues to grow as a performer and artist. This writer knows for a fact he’s got songs he’s been sitting on for years that are every bit as good as the ones he’s released so far. If you see him ask him about "Daddy Was A Rebel". It's my particular favorite and as far as I know he hasn't even demoed it yet.  It’s only a matter of time before Jeff Riales is discovered by the greater Americana & Country community for the incredible writer that he is; once he gets some notice, you’ll be able to count the days to complete acceptance across the board for this talent.

Let's see if we can get a few of the best songs posted here.  Please be patient.  This is new to me.  Just give me a little room.  Once I get this, I'll never stop, believe me!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Lots to talk about

So I want to expand a little beyond what I've done so far and
still keep plugging away at promoting these friends of mine.  
I'm still looking how to imbed music in my own blog (don't worry; I'll figure it out)
but in the meantime I'm going to start linking to specific posts I've found on other sites
in the hopes that some of you will check them out and enjoy them as much as I am.

One of the first I'm going to suggest linking to is
a great post at Bag of Songs
of Bruce Springsteen and & The E Street Band doing 'The Ghost of Tom Joad'
(please note Nils Lofgren's accordion playing)
with guest Tom Morello
(from the incredible activist group Rage Against the Machine & Audioslave
and as a solo known as The Nightwatchman) playing in Anaheim, CA this last Monday.  
In case you are unfamiliar with Morello, he truly is an incendiary guitarist
who pushes the edge in so many ways and
has opened up a new approach to guitar playing that is truly mind boggling.
Just listen to his second solo at the end of 'Tom Joad'.
I just got my copy of the latest edition of Guitar Player in the mail yesterday and
happened to read a lengthy article on Morello's technique.  
I had also read of his playing with Springsteen recently and
was tickled to see a link to a YouTube posting of them playing together.  
You gotta check this is truly a magical moment and
DO make sure you listen to Morello's solos, BOTH of them!
Click here for the treat!

Speaking of guitar players who shake up convention,
I have to mention my friend William Nowik.  
I've known William for over thirty years
ever since we both lived
in the Park Avenue neighborhood of Rochester.  
He was clerking at a Liquor store and I was buying.  
We began a friendship that has seen a lot of changes for both of us.  
William has been around the world a few times and I have not,
except in my fevered mind. However, he has the fever, also.
Here he is, too close to the flame as usual.

He has, as of late, returned from Afghanistan,
where he spent most of 2007
exploring and actually playing music in clubs.  
I sent him a whole bunch of CDs to take with him to listen to and share wherever he chose.  
They liked the Ry Cooder and Manuel Galban CD the most.
Not the usual place to go tour, to be sure, but William is not
one to ever be considered normal in any sense.  
He enjoys confounding expectations, confronting convention and confusing perceptions
most of us hold sacred for reasons we can often times not explain when pressed.
Most of my musical friends are reluctant to let him share a stage with them
because he is so unpredictable.  

I understand completely.  
I have occasionally booked myself using the label
'up close and uncomfortable music'
because I tend to perform in-your-face songs that force listeners to pay attention or leave.  
I'd rather get THAT reaction some times instead of passive acceptance.  
I guess I really honed that skill doing hour long presentations at drug rehabs
singing songs to confined addicts that made them laugh, cry and think
(and maybe just entertained them a little).
Like me, William has skirted the edge with drugs and alcohol
with varying results most of his adult life.  
But more importantly, he has flirted
with the edge
of existence  spiritually 
(He studied to be a Wan Buddhist monk in South Korea 
at one time but got pissed off when they locked him in his room once too often and left)
through his writing, art and music.  

I've described him as a one-man Pink Floyd,
but that would be a pitiful excuse for what he does musically.  
He wouldn't bristle at a comparison to the late Chris Whitley
and to tell the truth they are similarly drenched in darkness.  
But that's not fair to William either.  
His legacy will include forays into psychedelia, country blues and
modern progressive pop and still I struggle to nail down a picture
that flies away every time I get close.

Recently someone somewhere found a copy of his 1974 LP,
locally produced in Rochester entitled
Pan Symphony in E Minor
andoffered it for sale on eBay.  It was going at $50 or $75  
when William e-mailed me in amazement, not quite believing
that something he had done so long ago and seen nothing for
was now drawing interest.  
I wrote back that he hadn't seen anything yet,
prices being what they are for
obscure low run regionally produced psychedelic-progressive music from that era.  
He flipped when the seller's reserve price of $250 wasn't met
despite bids well in excess of $150.  
I had to explain that that's the way it is now
that the better known LPs from that era have all been harvested and reissued.
(There are more of them available for sale on eBay now.)
William's one of the only people I know from that era
who actually got it together enough to put something out
that really isn't embarrassing to listen to now. 
Maybe Pan is caught like a fly in the psychedelic amber, 
but it isn't an insipid pop bubblegum 
cheap shot at commercial product.  
No, it is every bit truly and uniquely William Nowik 34 years later.
Ten, almost fifteen years ago now I helped him produce a CD
that accompanied a novel he had written and illustrated
with his drawings and photographs.  Did
War Access Display Room 
contain clues as to he really was? Or is?  
I still don't know. 
All I know is I love and fear him
and welcome his presence in small doses which thankfully are all I get.  
In 2004  someone finally paid attention to him and gave him a chance
to do some thing up to date and representative of his talent. 
Man, did he step up and do it!

You can listen to tracks from 
Notes From The Underground 
Here and HERE.  
I really like his originals which certainly put me in mind of Peter Gabriel's work IMHO,
but you may want to start with his interpretations of
Dylan's 'Mr. Tambourine Man' or the Rolling Stones' 'Moonlight Mile'.  
They will at least give you a taste of his kimchee. 
Hmmm...maybe I can even find you a copy if you want it that bad. Let me know.

I appreciate his relentless committment to his muse.  
I don't think he can help being who he is and though
I know he turns a lot of my friends off,
but I still enjoy hearing him play.  
He claims to have conquered his playing space finally,
mostly as a result of attempting NOT to get noticed
by the local Mullahs in Afghanistan.  
I'll believe that when I DON'T hear him blasting at an ungodly
(an appropriate adjective for him)
volume in a small room,
one of his beautiful you-gotta-see-this-one guitars plugged into a loop station,
two delay units, a distortion stomp box and
various other boutique compressors,
vibratos and tone modulators
cycling through the air. I love the unfettered indulgence of the whole deal.  
Just plug in,  turn it on and play you son-of-a-bitch!

Maybe it's that 'ungodliness' I favor.  
Probably;  I have so many friends who toe a safer line than William.  
There's something reassuring about knowing someone who doesn't play it safe
and is still moving about freely these days.  
I'll bet he did more for U.S.-Afghani relationships than George Bush did last year.  
Some times I don't think anyone can get any respect anymore.  
I admire his determination, but I guess he often suffers from his decisions.
Sometimes the best you can do is the worst you can do at the time.
I can relate, you know?  
I've been there, though not down the same path.
I've got my own.  
I wouldn't insult him by saying any less or by phrasing anything I've said less honestly.
I think his intentions are good...but maybe not.  William? 

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

More Local Music Friends

As I hinted last post, I will feature a lot of local musicians in this blog.  This time I'll branch out to some of the ladies out there who are long time friends.

I first became aware of Maria Gillard with the release of her vinyl LP (that long ago!) back in the 1980s on Local Folkel Records and through the buzz in Rochester's Golden Link Folk Singing Society.  I saw her play a number of times into the 1990s at coffeehouses and festivals, but it wasn't until we worked together at Borders Books & Music#22  in Henrietta, NY that we became friends.  She was already working in the music department when I joined the staff in 1994 and we soon became fast friends due to our compatible age group and love of all this acoustic-wise musically.  We actually did a little singing together, most notably a version of the Kendalls' "Heaven's Just A Sin Away" that made us both laugh.  I admire Maria for her unrelenting commitment to writing her own songs and her ability to reach so many people with her stories and music.  I know she struggles to give birth to each new song and consequently each one is special and has a great impact on her audience. Currently she is a music teacher at Finger Lakes Community College in Canandaigua, NY, out there doing her solo shows and joining with John Dady, Steve Piper and Scott Regan in The Crandels.   Maria's catalog spans over 20 years now.  
I wonder if she's getting ready to do another CD soon?

Lisa Bigwood kind of appeared out of nowhere to a lot of us in the early 1990s.  I was living with my buddy, Tim Clark (of children's music faves The Dinner Dogs, Dang! and Stone Boy fame) while a student at R.I.T. and we were working on promoting his career with a newsletter and staging a songwriter-in-the-round called The Big Drum.  I don't know where Lisa came from; maybe Tim or Kate Silverman found her, but the next thing you knew she was mesmerizing all of us while her dusky alto pipes, dark musical dramas and intricate finger-picking.  I featured her on WITR-FM at R.I.T. while I was the program director there and also running the weekly live music show.  Her songs were drawn out of a cross-cultural meld of backwoods Appalachian characters dipped in Natchez delta mud. She quickly cranked out a couple of CDs and got nominated for Folk Grammies fer Pete sakes.  She's in the midst of finishing up not one but TWO CDs, one soon to drop and the other close behind.   

I knew of Connie Deming long before I really met her.  Her passion for music was obvious hearing her two CDs released in the 1990s.  We carried them at Borders while I was working there and if memory serves (which it sometimes doesn't!) she also performed in the Music Department.  Connie made an appearance when Don Christiano and I hosted our songwriters invitational nights  at the Honeoye Pub in Honeoye, NY (alternately known as  'Sing For Your Supper' and 'Send More Money, Ma!').  Though her own 
songs were very strong personal statements and musically very sophisticated,  when she stepped outside her originals she blew us away.   As she dug into Patsy Cline and Emmylou Harris territory I realized this lady had talent to spare.  Besides that, she is a tireless crusader for Autism research & support, fueled by her experiences raising her son which fill the pages of her gutsy book, 'The Thing That Heals You: Gifts From A Wondrous Autistic Son'.  All this and more at her website.

Still to come in future posts...Rita Coulter (currently with Hunu? and ex-Colorblind James Experience) , my old friend Kate Silverman and late singing partner Lisa Hopkins.  This is just for starters, okay?

Don't forget to check these ladies websites out and go out and see them soon...and if you're from out of town and like what you hear online, buy a CD and let them know where you read about them, please!

Next Time...more history...

Thursday, March 27, 2008

These are my friends...

The picture is by my creative friend Frank Selitto
and taken from the stage we
(The Bad Report Card featuring from left to right,
Don Christiano, Yours Truly and Frank Selitto)
just exited back in the mid-1980s
at the Irondequoit Steak House in Rochester, NY.
Don (on Bass and vocals), Frank (on guitar) and I (on keys and vocals)
were backing up Dave Donnelly (along with drummer Dan Bonamie)
playing Honky Tonk Soul for a regular weekend crowd
used to us slipping from Merle Haggard to The Stray Cats
to Johnny Rivers to Little Richard without missing a beat.

Dave & Frank are out there playing again
as Dave Donnelly and the Donwannabes doing the same wild mix
of Americana live around Rochester, NY, especially at The Flipside Bar & Grille
where Jeff Riales (in the color shot above left) and Jed Curran (above center)
hold their weekly Open Mike on Thursday nights staring at 9 PM.
Dave Donnelly doesn't have a website yet, but I intend to do what I can
to remedy that in the next few months.
It's not like you can't see he is above, again
from one of Frank Selitto's great black & white images from back in the 1980s
(not sure who the guy in the hat is!)
Frank used to set his camera up on stage in front of the drums and
take pictures of the dancers in front of us while we were playing
using a bulb remote foot release.
He has an amazing back catalog of images that
I hope I can feature here from time to time.
He and I go back to 1972 and Disc World, the first record store I ever worked in.
Frank, Don and I played together jamming quite a bit for a while.
Then Frank started playing with Dave Donnelly back in the mid-1970s
and sooner or later we all played with Dave.

Don Christiano (now the shaved-bald guy in the back center with sunglasses)
is with HUNU? (who knew?) playing a bit more alternate mix
of the same with refugees from the late lamented Colorblind James Experience.
After he and I spent some time writing songs together in the mid-1990s,
he began getting gigs playing guitar and bass
behind all these 'hot' chick singers in town
(Maria Gillard, Lisa Bigwood and Tammy Brackett...more on them next time, I promise).
Don's got a style all his own.
He's the kind of guitar player who hasn't got a clue
what he's going to play until he 's in the middle of doing it.
Yeah, sometimes, he'll make a wrong turn, but not too often.
Most of the time he plays something that just makes you beam
or weep it's so beautiful.
I miss having him play behind me and always look forward to
the Annual Bob Dylan Birthday Party that Hunu hosts
(carrying on a 21+ year tradition started
by the Colorblind James Experience and
carried on by the surviving members that are in Hunu).
It happens in May and I get to be the MC and sing a tune myself.
I've even chosen which one it will be already this year (I'll tell you later.)

We've all benefitted from our association with The Dady Brothers,
arguably the most sucessful Rochester area acoustic musicians.
They specialize primarily in doing the Celtic (read Irish) thing,
but their musical interests are SOOOO much wider and deeper than that
(Beatles, Dylan & The Band, Country, Blues, Folk and so on).
For years they ran an open mike that I frequented that was THE place
in town to be seen and heard if you were a singer-songwriter or a hot instrumentalist.
I spent a bunch of years playing with these guys and
watching them empower everybody who hit their stage
at the many clubs they hosted in oh so many bars.
Jeff & Jed are doing the best they can to recreate
the same kind of fertile musical playground the Dadys did.

Among the other regulars is my buddy, Steve Piper,
who (along with Riales) lets me crash at his place whenever
I come up from Naples (an hour away down South of Rochester)
to play at the open mike.
He's about as crazy as they come and talented to boot.
He and his wife Julie run a video business doing weddings and
Steve also shoots pictures of a lot of us for CD covers these days (Curran, Dadys).
He's in to a lot of the same music as the rest of us and
holds a special place in my heart because he likes the Marx Brothers, too.
I feed him CDs of Groucho, Homer & Jethro and
other weird and obscure artists that I find.
Steve has done time with the Dady Brothers when John broke a finger and
when not playing as a solo, a duo with Maggie Herman,
as part of the local singer-songwriter super-group The Crandels
is currently occupying the lead guitar chair of Watkins & The Rapiers,
another local act of note. A busy guy, for sure.