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...