Saturday, September 30, 2006:

Shuggie Otis -- Aht Uh Mi Hed

Shuggie Otis -- Aht Uh Mi Hed
In college I was roommates with someone named Shuggie, a tall muscular man with a moustache and an afro. He said the nickname came from "Sugar," itself a reference to his boxing in high school; apparently he could knock the shit out of somebody. He spent most of his spare time running and at the gym, though I don't know how he had any spare time; he was double majoring in physics and electrical engineering. I spent most of my spare time reading or playing guitar on the plaza; I was majoring in English. I doubt it was as demanding as any of the sciences.

We didn't have a lot in common except for a love of dark comedies; the day The Big Lebowski came out on DVD we'd both bought it. We smoked a sack together watching it; it was safe to say we were friends after that.

He didn't talk about boxing much, though one of my friends downstairs said he still used the punching bag at the gym. Shuggie's conversations always seemed to be about physics or music. In music, he'd get excited talking about ways to mix psychedelia, soul, funk, blues, and jazz. He didn't play anything, though, or at least I didn't think he did, and there weren't yet any good programs for making mashups. I guess it was just the concept that blew his mind so much; I had a cheap 4-track and I tried to get some of his ideas to work but couldn't.

One day I came back from class to find him playing my guitar. We'd been roommates for about three months. He wasn't bad; I wanted to hear more, but he was embarrassed and just apologized and put the guitar away. I didn't press the issue. I don't know how long he'd been playing; if it was only a few months then he learned faster than anyone I'd met. I meant to ask him about it again but I never did.

One night he started talking about the nature of space and time and how a planet's gravity warps the time around it like a ball bearing on rubber sheets. I didn't understand him, but when Shuggie was talking about physics I rarely did. Maybe it was the same for him when I talked about transcendentalist yearnings in pop fiction. I guess he got tired of the conversation; at any rate, he went to his desk and started writing something; and when his CD was done I put on a Charlie Mingus LP. I lay there stoned, listening to the bassline, and dozed off; when I woke up he was soldering some wires to a circuit board. It put an acrid smell in the room but it seemed oddly pleasant.

Over the next few days he set the circuit board into a big metallic box he'd assembled with wires running off in all directions. I was curious about it and he answered my questions, but they were the kind of answers that were highly technical and--to me, at least--unsatisfactory. I decided he probably didn't want me to know, so I'd just leave him alone about it. After all, he wasn't asking me about the non vidi citations in my paper on systemic inhumanity in Catch-22.

The week before Thanksgiving, he asked what I would do if I could go back in time but only about thirty years.
"Why only thirty?" I said.
"Suppose you'd got just enough energy for it."
"What do you mean? Like you had a nine-volt but it took a car battery?"
"Something like that," he said, in the kind of voice he used sometimes when I was trying to keep up but failing.
"I don't know." On TV, The Dude was dancing down a flight of black and white stairs and teaching Maude how to bowl. "I guess I'd try to prevent Martin Luther King from being assassinated."
"You think you could do all that?"
"Maybe. I don't know. Probably not. What would you do?."
"Probably just go to college."
"Well, don't go to Kent State."
He laughed ruefully. "No. And I'd burn my draft card."
"Yeah," I said. "I need another hit"
"We smoked it all."
I prodded the pizza box. "And the pizza is gone."

In the morning Shuggie was gone too. He left all his stuff but he took my guitar. I called his parents two days later to ask if he'd gone home early. They said he hadn't. When he still hadn't come back by the end of the week they showed up in town and the police came around to ask some questions. I didn't mind; I could understand how they felt. At the end of the semester his parents came back to collect his stuff. They seemed dazed but polite. A couple of semesters later we fell out of contact. I don't know what happened to him; you'd think he'd have finished the degree and taken a job teaching physics. Maybe he decided to be a boxer instead.
[Inspiration Information @]
[Inspiration Information @]

None of this post is true, but Inspiration Information is ahead of its time.

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Thursday, September 28, 2006:

The Roots Canal: Bill & Bonnie Hearne

Bill and Bonnie Hearne -- New Mexico Rain
Bill and Bonnie Hearne -- Fusion
When they first walk out to play, you wonder what you've gotten yourself into. They're not hipsters, to put it mildly. Bonnie's completely blind, and Bill's not far behind. He leads her out wearing glasses thicker than the beer bottle you're drinking from. They're both stocky, rough-hewn, flashing crooked smiles, perhaps best described as "frumpy." You wonder if you've just wandered into an old movie. Then they start tearing up the joint on guitar and piano, taking turns singing with sweet expressive voices, and you think, oh my god where in creation have these guys been hiding?

New Mexico, actually. Bill & Bonnie have been playing the honky tonks of Texas and New Mexico since before a lot of their listeners were born. After meeting at the Austin School for the Blind, they became fixtures of the Austin scene in its heyday before exiling themselves to northern New Mexico in the 1970s. But they kept in touch with their old friends and still get together to record and tour with the likes of Lyle Lovett, Nanci Griffith, Tish Hinojosa and Emmylou Harris. They're still there, knocking around from town to town in the Southwest (although Bonnie's not well enough to play anymore, so Bill formed his own trio).

Their best record is Diamonds in the Rough, their first on a major label (there are three left on Amazon, and it's available on iTunes). But I've got a particular weakness for these two songs from an earlier record, New Mexico Rain. The album's never been released on CD but these songs are available on a collection of their earlier work called Most Requested Plus (available on their own website). Bonnie's got an album of her own that I've never heard, Saturday Night Girl. There's also a so-so album of road songs called Watching Life Through a Windshield (available on iTunes). There's a live album from La Fonda Hotel in Santa Fe, where you can still hear Bill when he's not on the road. And Bill recently put out his own CD, From Las Cruces to Santa Fe (available on CD Baby). They're also featured on a strange record called The I-10 Chronicles along with people like Willie Nelson (who Bonnie used to back up on piano in the old days) and Joe Ely of the Flatlanders.

This article, reprinted on their site, is the best I've seen about Bill and Bonnie.


Bonus Tracks: Oh, what the hell. I can't resist posting a few more songs. Here's a couple of duets from Diamonds in the Rough:
Bill and Bonnie Hearne -- Going Back to Georgia
Bill and Bonnie Hearne -- Wild Geese
Wednesday, September 27, 2006:

Paul Phillips & His Band -- Naked City

Paul Phillips and His Band -- Tenderly
Paul Phillips and His Band -- In the Still of the Night
An argument:
1. The soundtrack to The Naked City is awesome.
2. There is an LP titled Naked City.
3. Some of the tracks on that LP are awesome.
:. The tracks are from the film The Naked City.

If this were in Introduction to Logic I'd have to question the conclusion. See, there might be other audiovisual entities named Naked City, for instance a TV show that was popular a decade after the film. There's also the premise that some tracks on the LP are not familiar to a viewer of the film. And one could introduce the premise that there are tracks on the LP which stop at "good," but by that point one would be making qualitative judgments and edging away from the purely mathematical/logical. Let's just say that the conclusion is not supported by the premises and try for another, avoiding any hint of linguistic hanky panky.

How about "There are millions of tracks from films, and these might be some of them"? No. Not a good conclusion--where it's not flippant it's vapid, the statement of a politician with few convictions beyond the necessity of his own re-election. And, besides, it doesn't follow necessarily from the premises.

Maybe we could escape the strictures of logic altogether, abandon the argument, present simply four premises, no conclusion?

"4. The full title of the LP is The Sound of Midnight: Naked City, by Paul Phillips and His Band, arranged and conducted by Joe Harnell, Kapp Records release MS-7517."
[LP out of print]

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Friday, September 22, 2006:

The Roots Canal: Blue Alert

Madeleine Peyroux -- Blue Alert
Anjani -- Blue Alert
I got lucky tonight. I stopped by one of my local hangouts where Madeleine Peyroux was tuning up for a new tour by playing the "early bird special," as she put it, in the back room. Just her and a terrific bass player named Matthew Penman and a pretty good keyboard guy from Australia. No drummer, which she bemoaned but I kind of liked. I have mixed feelings about her work. I really enjoy listening to her, but she's been over-hyped. I think her popularity is partly due to a kind of shtick, that her voice is so reminiscent of Billie Holiday and, at times, Edith Piaf. But if you don't get hung up on that kind of extraneous stuff and just listen to her, she's very enjoyable. It was a real treat to hear her in such an intimate venue, maybe 30-40 people at most, where she could be more informal than in a big concert hall. She played a bunch of songs from her new album, which I hadn't heard yet. I was really struck by this one, which she said was written by Leonard Cohen.

When I got home, I looked up the song online and found out it was actually co-written by Cohen with a young jazz singer named Anjani Thomas, who must think she's a Brazilian soccer player because she only uses her first name. Wow. What an unforgettable performance. If you want to hear a sultry singer who knows how to make a song come alive -- and even provides the songs herself -- you have to check this out. This is the title song on her new album, her first on a major label. (She also has an earlier vocal album and a religious album available on emusic, which seem to be pretty good but not as spectacular as this one.) It's a gorgeous song. The lyrics are worth repeating here:
There's perfume burning in the air
Bits of beauty everywhere
Shrapnel flying, soldier hit the dirt
She comes so close you feel her then
She tells you no and no again
Your lip is cut on the edge of her pleated skirt
Blue alert

Visions of her drawing near
Rise, abide and disappear
You try to slow it down, it doesn't work
It's just another night, I guess
All tangled up in nakedness
You even touch yourself, you're such a flirt
Blue alert

You know how nights like this begin
The kind of knot your heart gets in
Any way you turn is gonna hurt
There's perfume burning in the air
Bits of beauty everywhere
Shrapnel flying, soldier hit the dirt
Blue alert, blue alert

She breaks the rules so you can see
She's wilder than you'll ever be
You talk religion but she won't convert
Her body's twenty stories high
You try to look away, you try
But all you want to do is get there first
Blue alert

[repeat chorus]
If you're in the neighborhood, it's not too late to catch Madeleine Peyroux. She'll be there a few more nights, playing the early shift before the regular shows begin.

[Half the Perfect World]
[Blue Alert (album)]
Thursday, September 21, 2006:

Bettye Swann -- Don't You Ever Get Tired (Of Hurting Me)

Bettye Swann -- Don't You Ever Get Tired (Of Hurting Me)
I just saw Battle Royale and I think I can safely say that I don't get it. It's a film in which a classroom of students is gassed and brought to an island, collared with explosive devices, given food and weapons with which to kill each other. The students are warned that trying to remove the collars will cause them to explode, and warned also that the contest will last only three days: if more than one student survies by the end of it, every collar will detonate.

The story strikes me as "The Most Dangerous Game" crossed with Lord of the Flies, but unfortunately it has none of the brevity of the former or the mounting dread of the latter. It has a real visual audacity; and the plot is superficially transgressive but deeply flawed. The scenes range from suspenseful to predictable to downright silly; and the film, in spending so long on gore and spectacle, hints at an intellectual emptiness: a blood-soaked impaling commands the attention, yes, but the more troubling premise is not how to survive, but what to do with yourself after.

The film probably makes most sense when seen as part of a dystopian sci-fi/action tradition, but it doesn't have the satisfying conclusion of either Death Race 3000 or the more recent District B13, in which citizens put through their paces for the gratification of a corrupt government manage through pluck, cleverness, or sheer cussedness to bring that part of the government to its knees. No, these citizens manage to kill their most immediate tormentor and then escape, leaving the system itself intact. It's a callous film not just because of the body count but also because of the inherent selfishness of the conclusion, which considers atavism a briefly shameful memory rather than an ongoing threat and which posits that escape in itself constitutes a happy ending. The characters indicate in dialogue that they just want to sweep the last few days under the rug; and if polite company doesn't talk about barbarism, maybe it should. At least Lord of the Flies was sensible enough to posit paranoia and destruction of community as a tragedy.

Director Kinji Fukasaku was diagnosed with prostate cancer shortly before his last film, a sequel to this one which is generally held in poor regard. He refused treatment so that he could make the sequel, and he died shortly thereafter. I like to imagine the sequel is one in which the surviving contestants spend the entire time in painful unfolding self-realization: a Bergmanesque sequel to a Bruckheimer original.
[Bettye Swann @]
[Battle Royale @]

A half-ton of awesome clips at Youtube. Mississippi John Hurt, Howlin' Wolf, Professor Longhair, Muddy Waters, Sister Rosetta Tharpe.... Amazing.

15 ways to get more out of Pandora Music.

Chavez shows a talent for hyperbole, calls Bush "The Devil." If anything, he's more like a shit demon.

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Monday, September 18, 2006:

Blind Willie McTell -- Dying Crapshooter's Blues

Blind Willie McTell
[Blind Willie McTell, with 12-string guitar, hotel room, Atlanta, Ga. Photo from The American Memory Collection]

Such a strange song--cadences flowing, changing paths, unpredictable yet non-negotiable--water running down an arid hill.

Blind Willie McTell -- Dying Crapshooter's Blues
Take one: young, hoarse, slow pace, melody like your grandfather's voice settling into a long story.

Blind Willie McTell -- The Dyin' Crapshooter's Blues (live)
Take two: Older, stronger, fiercer. Decades later, McTell in a casual concert, putting away a pint of bourbon.

Here's the long story, the song's background--a song written over the course of three years at the request of a friend shot by the police. The cadences (unpredictable, organic, non-negotiable) took some time to figure out. What do they want? What are they after? McTell didn't write the song; the song chose a venue to be written in. How many attempts at this did it take? How many bottles of bourbon am I listening to?

Both takes: bonus points for the funkky high-pitched strums which sound like NES sound effects.
[Atlanta Twelve String]
[Last Session]

Boingboing has an interesting post about This Film Is Not Yet Rated, a documentary about the MPAA's idiosyncratic and intermittently Puritanical ratings system.

Maybe it's the sci-fi aspect of this cartoon that distances it enough from current events to allow me to laugh at it.

The stolen election of 2004: a compelling report which is just as disgusting as it is enraging.


Friday, September 15, 2006:

The Roots Canal: Joe Liggins & The Honeydrippers

Joe Liggins -- The Honeydripper
Joe Liggins -- The Honeydripper, Pt 1
Joe Liggins -- Dripper's Boogie, Pt 1

After going bonkers for his kid brother Jimmy, I would be remiss to ignore the pioneer in the family, big brother Joe Liggins. His music may sound relatively tame in retrospect, but in his day he was one of the most important figures in the evolution of R&B from swing to jump blues to rock'n'roll. I already posted Joe's Goin' Back to New Orleans (yes, that's the song covered by Dr. John on his album of the same name) back in April, but here are some more.

If ever a musician was defined by a song, it was Joe Liggins with The Honeydripper. Joe quit Charlie Franklin's big band when they wouldn't cut a record of it. He formed one of the small combos that would become a hallmark of jump blues, called it The Honeydrippers, and got a regular gig at a place called the Samba Club. There was a midnight curfew in LA because of the fear of Japanese bombing after Pearl Harbor, so every night they'd play The Honeydripper from quarter-of-twelve until closing. He cut it as a two-part record on Exclusive Records in 1945. It sold two million copies and spent 18 weeks as #1 on the R&B charts (then known as the Race charts), still tied for longest with Louis Jordan's Choo Choo Ch'Boogie.

This version of The Honeydripper is a remake Joe made after joining his brother at Specialty Records in the early '50s. It's basically an instrumental, and is actually patterned after Part Two of the original. Part One, less known today, was predominantly vocal. He followed that up with a similar but even hotter two-part song, Dripper's Boogie, the next year. I've only posted Part One of that song.

Like so many other R&B pioneers, Joe's music was considered too old-fashioned to survive the onslaught of rock'n'roll in the mid-'50s. Joe hung around, though, and actually reformed The Honeydrippers during the blues revival of the 1970s and '80s. He continued playing The Honeydripper right up to his death in 1987, even performing at the Monterey Jazz and Chicago Blues festivals that year.

There's a fabulous double-CD import of Joe's music on Proper Records. I highly recommend it. A lot of this post came from the liner notes. There are also a couple of CDs of Joe's later work on Specialty Records on emusic.

[The Shuffle Boogie King]
[Joe Liggins & The Honeydrippers]
[Dripper's Boogie]
Wednesday, September 13, 2006:

Yusef Lateef -- Blues for the Orient

Yusef Lateef -- Blues for the Orient
Yusef Lateef's oboe is humble, taciturn, uncomplaining, quietly efficient. If it were a man it would be the kind of man people barely notice as he moves through a company making sure that everything that needs to happen happens--the kind of man who helms a crack crew, turning in critical work ahead of schedule and well-executed, then immediately moves on to the next thing and gets passed up for a raise.

The bass, drums, and piano hang out with him because of the work, which is unusual and challenging; afterwards they smoke outside alley doors under the eaves in the rain, then head off in different directions: the nearest bar, the movies, a party across town, the subway home. In the morning they yawn and stretch and lie in bed, smiling, wondering what will happen today.
[Eastern Sounds @]

Target loses a lawsuit brought against it about providing a commercial website which is not very accessible to the blind.


Monday, September 11, 2006:

The Roots Canal: Jimmy Liggins & His Drops of Joy

Jimmy Liggins --That's What's Knocking Me Out
Jimmy Liggins -- Saturday Night Boogie Woogie Man
Jimmy Liggins -- Drunk
As the song says, Jimmy Liggins knocks me out. His hard-driving, bluesy proto-rock'n'roll gets me right in the guts. His voice isn't pretty, like his big brother Joe's. His diction is rough. Sometimes he's not singing so much as talking to the music. And his guitar work isn't dazzling. But his band lays down a groove that grabs you like a locomotive and doesn't let go until you're halfway to Santa Fe. Boogie-woogie piano riffs, powerful bass lines and a nasty horn section just wring you out.

Jimmy started out as a chauffeur for brother Joe, whose smash hit The Honeydripper put Los Angeles at the center of the R&B universe in the mid-'40s. He put together his own band in 1947, patterned after his brother's but with a more aggressive style, heavier on the rhythm and dominated by surging, growling saxophones. It captured the spirit of the times, riding the shift from smooth, jazz-oriented jump blues to the rockin' R&B of the late '40s and early '50s. His second record hit the charts with Cadillac Boogie (precursor to Jackie Brenston's Rocket 88) on the B side. He had a string of R&B hits for the next five years but faded from view when rock'n'roll went mainstream. Jimmy's music was just too grown-up for the teenage market. His last hit was a bit of rhythmic funk called Drunk without a single chord change.

I can't believe Jimmy Liggins isn't better remembered. In a way, he was one of the first great rockers. The difference between Joe's smooth jump blues and Jimmy's aggressive R&B is like the difference between the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Polite vs. pushy. Nice vs. nasty.

I don't know where to begin with Jimmy's music. There's not one song that stands out above all the others. At least half a dozen are just as good as -- or better than -- his biggest hits. So I just picked a few of my favorites. Enjoy.

Specialty has released a great collection of Jimmy's work, along with a second volume if it turns you on as much as it does me. Both are available on emusic:
[Jimmy Liggins and His Drops of Joy]
[Jimmy Liggins and His Drops of Joy, Vol. 2]
Friday, September 08, 2006:

Lee Dorsey -- Confusion

Lee Dorsey -- Confusion
Here's an energetic track about love and confusion--having your world turned upside down and shaken until everything falls out.

According to wikipedia, Lee Dorsey's highest-charting tracks were "Ya Ya," "Working In The Coal Mine," "Holy Cow," "Ride Your Pony," and "Do-Re-Mi," which leaves me wondering what happend to "Night People," "Draining," and "Yes We Can" (yes we can, I know we can, yes we can can).

According to the liner notes of All Ways Funky, Lee Dorsey worked in an auto shop and went out and cut some records whenever the pay was good and he had the time and inclination. And according to Dorsey, usually others would work out the track's instrumentation and arrangement; he would just go in and provide the vocals, occasionally suggesting changes on the rest. It's a disarming admission that he saw himself as nothing more than a hired gun; if it's true, maybe it points to the influence (read: brilliance) of Allen Toussaint that most of Dorsey's work is so good and has aged so well.

Aside from Toussaint, another frequent collaborator (director?) was The Meters. This track has Toussaint but not The Meters--that's Allen Toussaint on piano (but you knew that as soon as you heard it, didn't you?), Frank Trepanier on trumpet, Wendell Eugene on trombone, Nat Perilliat on tenor sax, Carl Blouin on baritone sax, Walter Peyton on bass, and June Gardner on drums. There's some doubt (confusion) about who it is on guitar--Roy Montrell, or maybe Vincent Toussaint, or maybe John Moore.

All Ways Funky is out of print; the track is originally from New Lee Dorsey, which considers to have two great tracks and the rest just good; it's also on Wheelin' and Dealin', a greatest hits collection that has higher regard for.

"Funtwo" with Pachelbel's "Canon in D maj". The New York Times looks into it, finds his identity (Jeong-Hyun Lim, from Seoul); NPR covers it, helpfully pointing out the obvious (he plays tastefully & with great skill), then saves the piece with a mention of a man playing a twelve-string guitar with a spoon for a slide. Now this is amazing, and it's also a good tune. As for the man's identity, Beware of the Blog says his name is Hannes Coetzee and the clip is from Karoo Kitaar Blues, which IMDb doesn't know about and which seems to sell for $295, a price guaranteeing that the film will remain obscure.


Thursday, September 07, 2006:

The Roots Canal: Freddie Bell (courtesy of Bob Dylan)

Freddie Bell & The Bellboys -- Hound Dog
Here's a new one on me. On Bob Dylan's radio show, he played a version of Hound Dog by a band I'd never even heard of. I always assumed Elvis picked up Hound Dog directly from Big Mama Thornton. But according to Dylan (and confirmed by a Google search), Elvis actually heard it performed live by Freddie Bell & The Bellboys in Las Vegas. Once you hear this track, you'll believe it. Elvis's arrangement is much closer to this than to the original.

According to Wikipedia, Freddie Bell was an Italian kid (nee Belo) from South Philly who formed a band to start playing R&B in the early 50s. It was pretty rare for white kids to play R&B back then. Bill Haley also got his start in Philly around that time, and Jimmy Cavallo was doing the same in North Carolina and upstate New York. The Bellboys covered Hound Dog in '55. Elvis heard them play it in Vegas the next year, and politely asked their permission to record it himself. Freddie and his band went on to star in a few films, notably Rock Around the Clock, but faded like most early rock groups by the end of the decade.

I trimmed this song from an mp3 of the radio show. I left in Dylan's patter at the beginning and end of the song. I still can't get over Dylan doing a radio show. Kind of like Zeus coming down from Mt. Olympus and opening a corner coffee shop. Still, the guy's got an amazing knowledge of American music. I guess you'd have to expect it.

Bonus track:
If you've never heard Big Mama Thornton's original, you're in for a treat. It's down and dirty, backed by Johnny Otis's band with Pete Lewis on a mean guitar. (You'd never guess it was written by a couple of white kids, Lieber and Stoller at the start of their career.) It spent seven weeks as the #1 R&B hit in 1953.
Big Mama Thornton -- Hound Dog
Monday, September 04, 2006:

Brook Benton -- Singing the Blues

Brook Benton -- Singing the Blues
Brook Benton -- Chains of Love
Brook Benton -- Got You on My Mind
Brook Benton was a baritone known for his smooth R&B tracks, his sassy duets with Dinah Washington, and his melancholy song "Rainy Night in Georgia." His work on Singing the Blues is unlikely to impress listeners expecting a "pure" blues record--the guitar tends towards rhythmic accents, not minor keyed progressions and scorching solos; the vocals are more hot chocolate with marshmallows than unsweetened dark chocolate; the tracks as a whole tend towards the affable: easy melodies, easy harmonies, violins, backbeat, lazy piano. Still, in spite of the misleading title, I've been listening to this LP a lot, because sometimes hot chocolate with marshmallows really hits the spot. And Benton is an excellent vocalist.
[out of print]

Neurons and the universe.

I recently signed up for a Blogger Beta account, at's Help Page suggestion, tinkered with it for a day, was logged out, and then could not log back into the Dashboard to continue testing it. Still, the new features--especially comments feeds and labels for posts--look good, and I'm eager for Blogger to work out the bugs so I can start tagging the posts. As Harry Tuttle pointed out, better still would be feeds for labels--if you're interested only in certain genres you wouldn't have to bother with the rest.

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