June 9, 1998
To all you wonderful people who take time to write to us at our web site: Thank you, thank you, thank you. If you're wondering if the gator eats your messages, the answer is NO. I get them, read them, enjoy them and only rarely respond to them. Please don't stop writing just because you don't hear from me. The problem is, we're a tad busy, especially during the Spring, Summer and Fall. Okay, the Winter is pretty hectic, too. What we're trying to do is get to see you all in person so I don't spend a lot of time at the old terminal. I drag the laptop from town to town and pick up messages in batches. The guys and I all love to hear from you.
We had an unfortunate and unexpected lay-off of a couple of weeks this month but the band has taken advantage of the time. Drummer Chris Hunter and his wife are in Hawaii for a week then I suppose he'll be playing some gigs with his other bands, perhaps C.C.Adcock or Jesse Dayton. Soundman/photographer Johnny Medina is in Jamaica for a week getting sand in his cameras. Bassist Don Bennett and Debbie are in the water somewhere off St.Kitts. Saxman Dan Torosian is getting some family time in on Long Island. Guitarist Chris Miller is playing with those young coots the Panhandlers and hanging out on the farm. I'm at home, happily doing infrastructure maintenance like minor plumbing repair, shed cleaning and photo negative sorting. And listening to lots of music, live and on record.
It's hot and dry in Texas and Mexico is still on fire so we're in a kind of haze. Another week of this and those gigs around Cape Cod and up in Minneapolis and Ipsilanti are going to look real good. I hope we hit all your towns this summer, especially if you live in the cool, blue North.
Got to go, more later.
June 21, 1998
Well, we're out here! Irma, Tracy, Irma's band, Ed the Sound Man, Leonard the Driver and Ellen the Tour Manager, and ME in a big fine bus. Thank you Rounder.
FROM THE ROAD...
New Orleans was hot, Birmingham was stormy, Charlotte was pretty and Charleston was very cool. Thanks also to all my friends who have come to these shows and said hello and provided such warm hospitality everywhere we've been. So far, it's been a really fun time. The bus TV gets about 900 channels, the band plays cards and we women haven't run out of thing to talk about yet.
The e-mail I'm reading asks when we're coming to Louisville and to Florida and I have no good answer to that. We usually hit Kentucky sometime in the summer but this year we seem to have skipped. I hope we get to Florida this winter. Meanwhile, down there, look for our friend Jimmy Lafave next week in the Tampa Bay area. Californians, the MIT tour will cover all the festivals in September. Watch this space for news of a late fall tour of the Marcia Ball Band with some other friends of ours. I'll let you know when it comes together.
Stay cool and thanks for keeping the music live.
July 24, 1998
Ah, success! I have finally hauled this thing in and got it set up. It turns out that of the 444 e-messages accumulated in the past 3 weeks, 210 of them occurred when someone's computer hiccupped spewing the same joke (which I had already heard) all over my inbox. That leaves only 234 real messages and believe me I'm sincere when I say keep those cards and letters coming. It is so nice of you all to take the time to check in and stay in touch. Beside, the Supreme Web Gator loves the attention.
We're on our way to Colorado for one more week of the Summer of Truck. We've decided that this tour is a cross between summer camp without the horses and National Guard maneuvers. Yesterday we drove across that dark red spot on your weather map, the one in the 100's from Little Rock to Wichita, KS.
It has been a wonderful tour and I'd like to thank the world for all the fun I've had. We've crossed paths with many good friends at festivals all over the Northeast: Buckwheat Zydeco, File', Nathan and the Cha Cha's, Gino and Tony Delafose, Anna Ege, Greg Piccolo, Debbie Davies, Tommy Castro, Koko Taylor and lots more. Lowell, Mass. was its usual warmly hospitable party, the weather was beautiful on all three of our harbor cruises, our day off on Martha's (Marcia's) Vineyard was perfect including the fabulous meal that night at Lola's and the one the night before at the Red Cat and sailing that afternoon. What was maybe the high point of my summer was playing at the Washington Monument on the 4th of July. I was unprepared for how moving being in that place at that time would be. The fireworks were pretty cool, too. And I must say that although I miss my home and family (and dog) a lot, everywhere we've been has been cool, cool, cool compared to Dear Old Texas and Louisiana.
But one more weekend and we're home! See you soon in Dallas and Helotes. Next time you hear from me should be from Austin, TX., deep in the heart of my heart. Stay cool, everybody.
As an Added Bonus, here's some short book reviews from the road. Let the Gator know how you like 'em, and perhaps we can set up another section and prevail upon Marcia to provide us with more...
I have a paper bag full of books with me this trip, have shipped some home already and mailed others on to friends.
I found the play "Angels In America" in Chicago at a great bookstore on Michigan Ave. near the Artist movie theater. It's a Pulitzer Prize winner that I never got to see on stage. It's a good quick read and has great characters and more humor than one would expect in a story about someone dying of AIDS. Also picked up "Crimes of the Heart", the play which reads just like the movie. It's hard to imagine Beth Henley didn't write the play with the cast of Diane Keaton, Jessica Lange and Sissy Spacek in mind.
From the pile of books I borrowed from Lindy I've just finished "Under The Tuscan Sun" by Frances Mayes. It will make your mouth water and your feet itch to travel. Italy at Christmas sounds so wonderful. The only problem is I'd like to stay at Frances' house and let her cook for me and meet all her interesting friends.
Yes, I also buy books. I guess passing them around is a little like dubbing tapes for friends, which I also do. Gordon and I have bought and shared many copies of "Heartwise Guy" by Gary Cartwright. It's important to anyone concerned about their health and thinking about cleaning up, even just a little bit.
I love John Dunning and here I am in Denver, looking for a copy of his book called "Denver". What are the chances?
More later, gators. I'm going read myself to sleep.
August 10, 1998
What a wonderful time we had in Switzerland and Norway. In spite of cancelled flights, lost and torn up luggage and the long commute, being there was worth the trouble. Lucerne is a beautiful small city with great wooden bridges, ancient walls and lots of old churches to peek into. The festival was in the Union Hotel and at a stage on the lake. The weather was cool. The people were warm.
Norway, beautiful land of beautiful people. We were a couple of hours outside of Oslo in Notodden and they put the bands up in a hotel away from town where we felt like we were at a summer camp for musicians. The view, according to Chubby Carrier, was exactly the same as the view from his window in Kalispel, Montana the week before. My guitarist Chris Miller said it reminded him of home in Oregon. There were floes of logs in the river, wooded hillsides and farms that looked like movie sets they were so perfectly kept. We all ate at a true smorgasbord in the dining room and got to visit with some legends like Bo Diddley and Pinetop Perkins. We went to our friends gigs whenever we could and saw Deborah Coleman, Hans Theesink, Kim Wilson, Mason Ruffner, Chubby, Bob Margolin, David Maxwell. There were many European blues bands there and a lot of great piano players. Best of all, it was COOL.
And now we're home. I'm hearing from lots of friends and really enjoying that. We'll see you soon in California and Louisiana. It's Josie's birthday next week in Reno. It's also Johnny's and Don's birthdays Sunday August 16. Still nothing in Kentucky for '98 but we'll come as soon as we can and I'm hoping we can get to Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas sometime this winter.
The tour I mentioned with friends (Sorry to those who hoped it was with Angela and Louann) is with the Fab T-birds and it is still in the works, but not confirmed yet. This would keep us busy in November.
Well, that's the facts. No new jokes but blame it on jet lash. Y'all stay cool out there and send us some rain.
September 10, 1998
I GOT A ROADHOG ON MY MIND...
Once again I need to thank all the folks who are writing those great Gator-grams to us. It's such a kick to get home and hear from the people that we've seen at gigs and also from those who are wondering why we haven't been to see them in a while. We're working on that part. There's still a few months left in this old year and some open squares on the calendar.
We had a high humidity hoe-down in Lafayette a couple of weeks ago at Grant Street. It was one of the best crowds we've ever had there and that's saying a lot. Grant Street has always been one of our favorite clubs thanks to Mike and Camille (and Matthew) and all the people that have kept the place rockin' all these years.
We hugged the Gulf Coast that weekend from South Padre Island on a patio at Fisherman's Wharf to the Party on the Plaza in Houston with that terrific guitar guy Monty Montgomery and on to House of Blues in New Orleans, another favorite honky-tonk and a great crowd.
Then I gave my guys a weekend off and went to the West Coast with Irma and Tracy for four big shows and that was a blast. It's almost too much fun to get paid for. (Did I say that?!) I hope the folks at Rounder don't read this.
After that I came home for 45 minutes and then Gordon and I took off for Nuevo Laredo, our getaway on the Rio Grande where cabrito and green bottle beer beckoned. We ate mucho enchiladas, bought purple brooms and cheap flower pots, watched Mark McGuire hit #62 in Spanish.
Now here I sit, much too late at night, waiting for Tropical Storm Frances to arrive. I think we may get to look her in the eye. It's only a coincidence that Tracy and I are supposed to tape Fresh Air with Terry Gross here in Austin tomorrow. I hope the air isn't TOO fresh.
Catch you later. Your place.
October 28 - 29, 1998
Don't say bearings! Our trusty trailer which has faithfully followed us everywhere for several years, blew out a wheel at an unspecified location last weekend and we had to put her down. Couldn't even give her away. Now, I'm at the mercy of those gruff voiced guys at Feed and Heavy Equipment Stores who call me "little lady" and try to stick me up. It's a buyer's market out there though and I'm not afraid to deal. Next time you see us we'll be pulling a shiny new auxiliary equipment pod.
Meanwhile, it's been too long since I wrote you but I think about you all the time. (How many times have you heard that line?) I had to dig out the calendar and see where all we've been since October 7. Good grief! We've been everywhere.
Big fun: King Bisquit! What a great festival and free. Terrific acts on the acoustic stage and a great mix of old and new on the other stage. That one was with Irma and Tracy backed by mostly my band plus Irma's horn guys. We saw friends from all over the country.
The Shiner Bochtoberfest got half rained out. Unfortunately, it was our half. Ian Moore finished his set under threatening skies and we lemmings put our equipment out on the stage right before the bottom fell out. I would like to tell Mr. Avery Burdette at Yamaha Keyboards that you can pour water out of a Yamaha PF80, put it in its case, open it several hours later, set it out in the sun and play it the next night. Now that's a keyboard. The total devastation from that storm which covered central Texas for several days is of Biblical proportions. Many people lost, homes washed away. Texas has a habit of breaking its droughts in an extreme fashion.
I shouldn't mention one gig and ignore the others. We've had a fun October. It was great to play Tipitina's in New Orleans again, our first trip to BB King's in Memphis was a success, Billy Bob's in Fort Worth looks empty with only 750 people in it, but we had fun. No one rode the mechanical bull. Hell, I couldn't even find the thing. Jeff Fest in Metairie, La. is always fun and we got to visit with Rockin' Dopsie and the Twisters and some of Irma's band there. Last weekend we went back to George's in Fayetteville, Ark., played the Cotillion in Wichita for the first time, got a good visit in at the Grand Emporium in KC, put in our two cents for Kathleen Sebelius, Democratic candidate (incumbent) for Insurance Commissioner in Topeka and rocked King's Chapel at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa up there in the Amana country not too far from Vinton, Iowa after which my home town of Vinton, La., is named. A great big thank you to all the folks who came out and all the clubowners, promoters and compulsive gamblers who hired us for those gigs.
Well, enough of this drivel. I have a gig to go to and Jeopardy is coming on, the dog wants to be petted, I have to unpack so I can pack again. Thanks for writing and reading and listening and honky-tonking and going on the cruise (1 800 DELBERT) and donating to your favorite charity and volunteering and having garage sales and taking your vitamins and exercising and driving friendly so we can see you again real soon.
Addendum, October 29, 1998
I have done it! I've read a month's worth of e-mails and Gatorgrams and Guestbook entries and, once again and sincerely, I want to thank all of you who have written kind words, sent hot tips on venues in your area, shared news of the weird, or just said "Hidy". The Web Gator is usually the first to know of our schedule updates and if there is something that doesn't seem right (like the rumor of Kansas City on Christmas Eve. Wrong!) he'll fix it in a jiffy. So stay on him.
Somebody around here will try to take care of special requests as they come in. If you've had any contact with our office, I need to officially announce that my Exalted Factotum, Office Tom Druecker, has moved up in the world and is now teaching Printmaking at the U. of Texas and working on his own art. He's out of here. In his place you will find the Incomparable Charlotte, one of my better brainstorms and the exception to the rule about not hiring your friends. She will be holding down the fort.
Have a safe and happy Halloween. Trick or Treat.
November 17, 1998
Look out! Here come those holidays. Here's a couple of tips for enjoying the time with your friends and families.
TAMALE STUFFED TURKEY
Don't shop. Tell everybody you're donating in their names to the Salvation Army, Red Cross, Battered Women's Center, Honduras flood relief, Habitat for Humanity, the local food bank, you get the picture. Then do.
Don't cook. Take Mom, Dad, the kids, weird Uncle Al out to the Piccadilly, Threadgill's, Mother's, order a pizza. Set the table real nicely and sit around it not stressing.
Love one another.
Okay, I'm being hypocritical. I'm going to shop, cook, donate, eat out, stress, most of all love my friends and family. Do it all. It's the holidays. Who said it's supposed to be easy.
On the other hand, fun is where you find it and we found lots in the last couple of weeks. Nashville (Hi, Rusty Rae!), Atlanta (where I overslept and missed my plane having just a little too much fun), and four great nights in the midwest. We finally hit Louisville in '98 and the hospitality was warm. Thanks for the heart from the women there. St. Louis was great as always. Once a year is not enough to see the Lusty Mallards and Beatle Bob on his own turf.
Then in a paragraph of its own, I have to give a big thanks to Fitzgerald's in Berwyn, Il., the best bar in America. Sorry if this peeves my other wonderful favorites all over the country but even the Chicago paper, who rated all the clubs in that very venue rich city came up with the same conclusion. The Fitzgerald's, several generations of them, have become family to us. I always have to be dragged out of there at the end of the weekend. Bill's American Music Festival over the July 4th weekend is an extravaganza of roots music, a bargain and a blast.
Thanksgiving in San Francisco for Gordon and me. Tommy Castro, the Sweetwater, Slim's, the Music Hall, great food, great friends, great art, great book stores, wine, wine, wine. Happy Holidays. Don't take anything I say, or anything you say for that matter, too seriously.
January 3, 1999
My goodness, is Christmas over already? Did it seem to anyone else like the year just zoomed from mid-October to January 1st? Did you all get a Christmas card from me? Right!
BEARING DUE SOUTH
Now it's time to take down the tree and lights, unless you live in South Austin and plan to leave everything up through Lent. Our tree this year was an innocent little Norfolk pine. We will now set the unsuspecting thing outside and kill it. What doesn't thrive on benign neglect around here doesn't survive. We make efforts though. We have crammed two large philodendrons, a gardenia, a fern and a large aspidistra...uh, aspedis...uh, asspades...mother-in-law's-tongue, into our bathroom. Everything gets at least two showers a day.
Looking forward to the cruise. Yeah! We leave Friday, January 8, and this will be the last you hear from me for a while because I have only 105 more packing hours to go. If you're not going, it's not 'cause I didn't try to tell you. For the Millenium, that's 1 800 DELBERT. Butt rocking and boot skooting on the high seas.
After that, in early February, we have a few stops in Colorado and a full schedule in New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Check the Webgator's calendar for details soon. Our Jazz Fest date is April 30. And that's just a few of the high spots. Much cool stuff is happening in between and on into the summer. So keep in touch. As my friend Delaney says, "Webgator sees all, knows all, tells very little."
It occurred to me that I may not have properly introduced the band. I keep waiting for them to give me little autobiographies so we can post them but waiting has brought nothing but old lottery tickets and non-recycleable plastic containers. So here's my version:
DON BENNETT (bass)
, full blooded Kickapoo Indian...No, that's not right. Don's been working with me for 17 years and says he's the only person that likes to play more than me. He grew up in Wichita Falls and Eagle Pass, TX and was with Lewis and the Legends before I snagged him. We've been through so many hairdo's, halloween costumes and ragged out sets of wheels together, we're starting to look alike.
CHRIS MILLER (guitar)
, from the Pacific Northwest, really is the Indian of the group. He came from deep in the woods and his little radio was his best friend at an impressionable age. He soaked up a tremendous amount of music and is incredibly versatile. He has many side projects going including song-writing, studio work and a great swing band called the Panhandlers in which he plays steel guitar.
DAN TOROSIAN (sax)
, Mr.Science Guy, is from Long Island and moved down to Austin about ten years ago. He's way over-qualified for my needs but I learn a little every day. He's done the horn charts for a big batch of our songs and answers most of the hard questions we ask him like, "If the Summer Olympics are in Melbourne, Australia next year, which Summer will they have them in, theirs or ours?" and "Is a falling bullet going as fast as a shot bullet?" This question is important in New Orleans on New Years Eve.
CHRIS HUNTER (drums)
, grew up in Fort Worth, TX where the most soulful musicians come from and is the proof of my theory that if I stay in the business long enough, I can hire the children of the people I worked with in the 80's. His step-dad is Doyle Bramhall, remember what I said about soulful? Chris has played with so many great bands already, he's got chops beyond his years. I can think of Gary Primitch, Lavelle White, C.C. Adcock, Jesse Dayton. He's always busy but he saves the last dance for me.
, our sound man and photographer, is now moving into computer graphics as well. He's from San Antonio and won't tell me anything juicy about his past, so I just make things up. This is true: he has a Harley and a really cool GTO. He took my last batch of publicity photos and made me look pretty good. He keeps our act together with grace and patience.
That's us. Thanks for writing in and for keeping the Webgator company. He gets lonesome out in the cyberswamp and lives for compliments and chicken necks. Maybe next time I'll tell you all about him.
Stay warm, slow down, don't drive on the ice, merge. Bon Voyage.
March 16, 1999
Where to begin? 1999 has started off with such a bang that I had to pull out the calendar to remember all that's happened. I haven't written since before the DELBERT Cruise. Maybe you thought we were shipwrecked on some desert island without internet access. But no! The sailing was gloriously smooth and the music was exciting. New acts STEVE EARLE and ROBERT EARL KEEN added a lot and my personal favorite new discovery was LLOYD (have mercy) JONES from Portland, OR. But the best moment of all for me was laying out in a deck chair in a velvet breeze on a glassy sea listening to ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL play "Tumbling Tumbleweeds". I'm not trying to rub it in but if you only take one vacation in 2000, take it in January with us.
Then to cover the entire spectrum of meteorological variety we spent a week in Colorado in the beauty of the snow dappled mountains. On our drive from Beaver Creek to Steamboat Springs we saw a bald eagle and a golden. Then we went to Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Then I went to the Grammies in L.A. [Sidebar: We didn't win the Grammy but we lost in good company and Gordon and I had a great time at the parties eating free sushi and meeting Patti Page and Keb Mo (Dern his hide) and seeing Hubert Sumlin and Roy Rogers and at the really big show and going to the Van Gogh exhibit and the Gamble House] and then we went to Chicago for a weekend at Fitzgerald's in Berwyn. Okay, here's the weird part: The weather was perfect the whole time. (I'm knocking on wood here). Beautiful in L.A., cold and clear in the Rockies, cool and mostly clear in Louisiana, chilly and overcast in Chicago. No blizzards, no squalls, no hawk winds. Great crowds all around. I got in a day of Junking with a capital J in Berwyn with Kate Fitzgerald. Scored some good junk, too.
Now we're home watching Austin tie itself in knots over South By Southwest, the BIG annual music and movie fest. Usually we leave town but this year, except for a side-trip to Dallas on Saturday to play a fundraiser with the NEVILLE BROTHERS! (yes, I'm thrilled), we'll be around. In fact, I'm working with the all-girl extravaganza HENHOUSE. This group includes SARAH BROWN, CINDY CASHDOLLAR, ROSIE FLORES, and LISA PANKRANTZ. We'll be playing a showcase and backing WANDA JACKSON. There will be lots of cool parties most of which I'll hear about after the fact but I'll definitely go to the American Routes/Texas Folklife party and the Bug Publishing party. Whew!
I have to explain the gratuitous capitalization of people's names in this letter. In order to keep up with what I've been missing in Austin's new social whirl, I've been reading Michael Corcoran's gossip column in the local paper. He used to be the scourge of the music scene but now he's been unleashed on the community at large and, of course, he capitalizes every snide reference to Sandy Bullock or Quentin Tarrantino or the two or three other people he covers. I'm running a small betting pool on how long the powers-that-be allow him to insult them.
I will now admit that I have a birthday coming up and will be going bowling that day and eating the famous Dart Bowl enchiladas to celebrate. Hoist a cold one for me wherever you may be. And Happy St. Paddy's Day and may your St. Joseph's altar overflow with bounty. And Happy Birthday to JERRY JEFF and JIMMY VAUGHAN and MARIAN MCPARTLAND, too. And Happy First Day of Spring and Ides of March. And just happy in general. Okay?
June 15, 1999
Greetings from the road compliments of Northwest Airlines World Club! Your intrepid musicians are in Minneapolis heading for St. Louis and a gig at Mississippi Nights. Then on to Destin, then Denver and, boy, are our fingers tired. We've commandeered all the computers in the World Club and are trying to touch all our bases at once. Actually, I think some of us are playing solitaire.
DEAR WEBGATOR AND ALL
Okay, so it's been a while since I've written, letters, not songs. The songs are actually coming right along. The letters had to wait until the Incomparable Charlotte and I got this summer's logistics in order and a snail mail-out to many of you sent. I just kept saying, sure, we'll play that, until I figured out that I'd have to get Luke, semi-professional driver and full-time fire control specialist (and fortunately, my son, so I can kind of boss him around), to ferry the van from Des Moines to Denver while we fly to Duluth, St. Louis, Destin and finally to Denver. It's a lot like throwing the kids in the back of the station wagon and heading out to the Grand Canyon.
We've already had a busy, fun spring. We've played in some of the most beautiful settings you can imagine, one after the other. Memphis in May was hot, and I mean HOT! but you can't beat the view of the Mississippi from that stage. Then Dana Point, CA and the Pacific Ocean on our right. We had fun return engagements at Caravan of Dreams in Ft. Worth, Jubilee Jam in Jackson, MS and Taste of Addison, TX. Tracy Nelson and I played the Handy Awards in Memphis and had the pleasure of presenting two trophies to Robert Jr. Lockwood for traditional blues vocalist and album. Then Penn's Landing in Philadelphia set us right on the Delaware River and the Chicago Blues Festival had us looking at Lake Michigan. Honestly, it's hard to sustain a good blues when the scenery is as pretty as this. We also finally played Eureka Springs in the heart of the beautiful Ozarks where, among other things, we were taught the finer points of chainsaw sculpture. (You rough it in with the big McCullough and do the finish work with your little Homelite).
We're looking forward to our few days in the mountains. Look out Glenwood Springs, here we come. Look out everybody else after that. That rotton egg smell is hard to wash off.
After Colorado we get a few days off and Gordon (we just call him Vincent van Gordon around the house) has a studio show in Austin. In July, we're thinking of having a Band Garage Sale. I wanted to combine the art opening and garage sale but van Gordon vetoed the idea.
Mark your calendars for Bill Fitzgerald's American Music Festival July 1-4. It's worth a trip to Berwyn, IL in the greater Chicago area. We'll attend our annual Cubs game that weekend. It feels so American!
I better go, got a plane to catch! Have a great summer, stay cool, and keep a look out for us. We'll be coming right at you.
June 22, 1999
Now don't go getting spoiled. I know it's only been a couple of weeks since I last wrote but we're home now and I've been reading my accumulated e-mails and Gatorgrams. It's made me appreciate more than ever all the people who come and see us and then write and say hello and tell us they had a nice time and all. I'm a little concerned about the fact that, so far, we have nothing booked in Atlanta, Huntsville and Birmingham, Nashville, Louisville, Dayton, the whole state of Florida (but that's looking promising Ft. Lauderdale), Calgary, Milwaukee, Troy and Piermont, Cincinatti, Norfolk, the Carolinas and northern California. We want to come. Sometimes it's hard to find the right spot at the right time. Sometimes it's hard to convince the people who're doing the hiring that they need us. Badly! So if there's a place or an event that we should attend, tell us and tell them.
DISPATCHES FROM THE HOME FRONT
This last trip was a feat of logistics that may never be rivaled. It's right up there with going to Australia for the weekend. The Des Moines-Duluth-Destin-Denver routing makes me think that our agent uses a dartboard. But, really, I can't blame him. The fact is, I want to do it all, see it all, play it all. We had a really fun time and I wouldn't have wanted to miss a single gig of the whole three weeks. We got so busy, we completely forgot Dan's birthday on June 7. Oops. So happy birthday, Dan.
We got home on Father's Day and celebrated on the way in with lunch in Sweetwater, TX, at Allen's Fried Chicken family style cafe, a one-of-a-kind, all-you-can-eat. Bowls and bowls of vegetables, platters of chicken and roast beef. Other great culinary finds: The Cupboard in Memphis, Saigon Cafe in Denver, Hunan II in Destin, FLA., in case you wondered why we travel. To eat, of course!
So now we're back in Austin and I've had Mexican food, Artz barbecue and made a gumbo, in case you wondered why we come home. To eat, of course!
Read any good books lately? How about Memoirs of a Geisha, The Sixteen Pleasures, A Thousand Acres, Undaunted Courage, Into Thin Air, The Perfect Storm? Did you hear, Delbert's added John Hiatt to the cruise? Have you heard Dan Penn's album? How about Tiny Town?
But I digress. And say so long for now. More later. Stay cool. See you real soon, I hope.
July 5, 1999
There is a conventional wisdom that says that anything the singer says on stage is just amplified small talk. The lesson to be learned is," Shut up and sing." Well, according to one of the 100+ e-mails I read upon returning home, I have opened my big mouth and insulted someone in Florida, if not the entire state. What I meant to say was, "We'd love to come, but so far the interest was not mutual." No unfortunate experiences have kept us away, no axes to grind. We love the whole state: palm trees, beaches, rockets to the moon, DisneyWorld, alligator jumperoos, Cuban coffee, cigars, oranges and all. Meanwhile, we have begun to put together a very promising weekend in November in Florida so watch this space for further developments.
ME AND MY BIG MOUTH
Also, many apologies to anyone who was inconvenienced by the cancellation of our gig at Rockefeller's in Houston on June 25 and 26. After the gig fell through, we just kind of erased it from our on-line schedule with no explanation. For your own protection, especially if you're going to travel to any of these shows, please try to confirm the dates with the clubs listed.
On the lighter, brighter side: We had a wonderful weekend in Chicago and Sioux City, IA. The Cubs game on the 1st of July was a slugfest but our Cubbies lost 19-12. We should have been more disappointed but we were so comfortable in our skybox and our really good seats behind home plate, courtesy of some very well connected friends, that even Sammy Sosa striking out didn't make us spill our espresso. All that and music, too. Fitzgerald's American Music Festival is the best BIG festival in a small place. So many great bands, Nathan and the Cha Chas, Terrence Simien, Steve Riley, Bruce Robison, Ian Moore, Monty Worden, Monte Montgomery, Rosie Flores, Wayne Hancock, Hen House, many more. A BLAST!
Then Sioux City. Beautiful, hot day in the old park. We played and then saw Ziggy Marley and Delbert. And now the summer's almost half over and we've got a lot of country to cover. Apparently, you can't count on it being cooler up north this year. It was in the 90's in Iowa and in the 80's in Texas last weekend.
Did I mention the Cupboard in Memphis, last time? Great plate lunches. Well, today, breaking my hard and fast rule of always eating Mexican food first upon returning home, we found a great home cooking place right in our own home town: Hoover's on Manor Road. WOW. That's the only meal I need to eat today. Right! We're going to Artz Rib House right now for Bummer Night: Sarah Elizabeth Campbell and great barbecue. Then Maria's Taco Express tomorrow and I should be all caught up.
We're really looking forward to our trip to the Northeast at the end of the month. I know how corny it sounds but every gig in the two and a half weeks is very cool. We'll see lots of old friends and hopefully make new ones. So, in the words of those beloved varmints, the Mouseketeers: See you real soon. Every body sing...M-A-R-C-I-A B-A-L-L-L. (I know, extra L, but that's the only way it works out).
September 22, 1999
And how sweet it is! We still have some living plants on day 70-something of no rain. I've had plenty of Maria's tacos, Artz barbecue, Saigon Kitchen's noodles and Gordon and I ended our stand-off by going to the grocery store together, so now we can even eat at home.
HOME AGAIN, HOME AGAIN
It was such a great summer even though I was out of communication partly because of the constant touring motion and then because my laptop gave up the ghost. I don't blame it. It was old and tired and technology had passed it by. It probably died of embarrassment. So I'm forced to learn something about the office mega-Dell. At least enough to keep in touch.
The high point of the summer had to be the show at the White House, actually out in the yard in a tent. Now, I picture a tent with sawdust floor and bleachers, right? Nay, nay. The president will not perspire. He's sweated enough this year. This tent was air-conditioned, carpeted and chandelliered, white tablecloths and beautiful flowers. The real thrill, though, was that the headliner was B.B. King. Everybody, including the president, was geared up over that. B.B. was as gracious as could be. He introduced himself around the backstage, spoke to everyone, had his picture taken a hundred times. The other acts on the show were Cephas and Wiggins, a Piedmont blues duo who, I'm happy to say, have become friends of ours and Jonny Lang, who is a great guy really enjoying his success. The hostess of the evening was Della Reese. We were really in high cotton. The best part for me was that my mother was able to come to the show. The Incomparable Charlotte here in the office made last minute arrangements that worked for everybody.
After two afternoons of rehearsal and soundchecks, there was a reception in the White House before the show. I'd never been there, taken a tour or anything so I was trying to soak it up. I didn't cover as much ground as Don, though. He saw it all, even the ladies' powder room. The Clintons seemed to enjoy the show although I was afraid I'd look up during my ballad and he'd be asleep. The show was produced by WETA and will be broadcast on PBS in early November. It's called In Performance at the White House. Watch out for it.
So that was one big deal but, as I said before, it was a great summer. We went to our annual Cubs game at Wrigley in conjunction with Fitzgerald's American Music Festival over the 4th of July weekend. This year our seats were courtesy of Doug Brown and Bob Cooney and their families and our well-connected friend Janice. We had a sky box and 4 seats behind home plate. La ti da! I wish everyone could see the desert cart that calls on the sky boxes. It was cooler than Sammy Sosa's home run.
The National Folk Festival was in East Lansing, Michigan this year and we saw Cephas and Wiggins again, visited with Chris Ardoin and his brother Sean and dad Lawrence, saw Bill Kirchen and his whole family and lots of other great music and people.
We spent most of the summer in the Northeast and Midwest looking for cool weather, not finding it. It's hard to maintain the musician's traditional barroom pallor while playing sun-drenched festivals in Anne Arundel County and on Cape Cod. Our Ocean Mist, R.I. gig gave us an opportunity to hang out and EAT with the fabulous Christina family.
All in all, it was a lot like putting the kids in the station wagon and visiting relatives all summer. Now we're home again but not idle. In fact, just last week we played the Anahuac Gator Fest, a real thrill for me, you might imagine. I even made a special little camouflage cocktail dress for the occasion.
Unfortunately, that week the music community lost two of our best, Katy Webster and Beau Jocques. Our hearts go out to their families and we are reminded to live each day well and appreciate all the good things we've got.
I promise it won't be months before I write again, but I should close for now and do some much needed infrastructure maintainence. In plain English this means: I need a new car, a new band van, a new laptop, a new keyboard, some new songs, more groceries and the dog is limping. Home again, home again...
November 20, 1999
Let's face it! I'm a rotten correspondent. I'm so bad that even my mother gave up and quit writing me letters years ago. I love getting mail! I just never respond. I come in from the road, read all the nice Gatorgrams, take notes, plan to reply, forget it, go on the road, start all over again.
Here's what I do when I'm not writing to you: yardwork, dogwalks, talk on the phone, listen to music, watch Gordon's paintings dry, watch Jeopardy, read, talk on the phone, work on sheet music for the songbook that some folks have been asking about which I hope to have completed by the end of the year (1999), talk on the phone, play gigs, run errands. Here's what I need to do: finish the song book, write songs.
The most asked questions lately have been about New Year's Eve and Jazz Fest. On New Year's Eve we'll be in Lafayette, La. and it's a private function, I understand. I'm not sure who you have to know or what you have to join to attend but I think you have to be a well-connected Cajun to get in unless you're married to a band member. BUT...On New Year's Day (evening) we are playing a very public function at the House of Blues in New Orleans and I'm sure that they would love to have everyone attend. In fact, if you call them and express interest, they will probably pat themselves on the back for being smart enough to book us once again for what has been a great gig the last few years.
As far as the Jazz Fest is concerned, we rarely know when we're playing before the first of the year (or too late to get good hotel rooms). Also, there's sometimes some suspense involved in whether they'll book us at all. If you want to put in your two cents there, I'm sure they have a web site you can spam. Meanwhile, we are booked at Jimmy's for Friday and Saturday nights, first weekend in May, as usual.
Closer to home and closer to now, we'll be playing a big fundraiser for our friend Tary Owens who, like so many musicians, has no medical insurance and is fighting serious illness. This fundraiser, Wednesday Dec. 1 at Antone's in Austin, features Lucinda Williams, Joe Ely, Lou Ann Barton, stars after stars after stars. Just about every one in town. If you're around, come on by.
We missed Joe (Iguana) Cabral's birthday last month but want to wish him many happy returns. Sending all our love to Little Marcia.
And I have to mention, on a very sad note, the passing of a good friend and one of the most talented, generous performers I've ever known, Doug Sahm. He did so much for me at the start of my career here and for so many others and was still, 25 years later, showing younger musicians the way to play the real stuff. His two Antone's albums, Juke Box Music and The Last Real Texas Blues Band are classics and his duet with Angela Strehli on her new album is great. I was hoping to get him to help me on my next record. Boy, I'm going to miss Doug.
So all of you take care. Love and share during the holidays.
December 31, 1999
Briefly and most sincerely, and I feel that I'm speaking for all the guys in the band: Don, Chris, Dan, Keith, Johnny, and for the incomparable Charlotte in the office and for the Master Of All He Surveys Web Gator Page, all of us want to thank all of you who have taken a moment or an hour or a week of your precious time and shared it with us. At our gigs, in your letters, when you just say hello on the street, you make us happy by encouraging us to do what we love to do the most. There would be no show if there were no dancers, no clappers, no listeners. Every ounce of energy that comes of the stage is a reflection of the energy that comes out of the audience and our audiences are the BEST. Wherever we work, the clubowners compliment us on the quality of our crowds and we say, "We know. We draw the nicest people." That's you and we appreciate it enormously.
MULLING (NOT CIDER)
I can't help it, I'm really excited over being around for the end of the 1900's! Not just the turn of the century, which would have been cool enough, but the beginning of the unimaginable 21st Century. Only 24 hours left to make the biggest of resolutions. We'll see you in the future.
January 25, 2000
Boy oh boy, that was one great cruise! I hate to rub it in, but three days of fine snorkeling in January is pretty posh, even for a bunch of musicians used to a life of luxury like we are. And the music....this may have been the best yet. I'm trying to think of who in particular stood out but everybody shined. Joe Ely with David Grissom, Jimmy Hall, John Hiatt with Sonny Landreth, Patty Griffith by herself (and all the musicians were there to see her), Monte Montgomery, Tommy Castro, Wayne Toups and all the combinations of players that resulted from the willingness of horn players and keyboard players and guitar players to share the stage. Nick Connolly gets my vote for hardest working man on the boat for playing his very well attended happy hour sets, then playing with Stephen Bruton and then playing with me. Plus we recruited Delbert's horn players and Lloyd Jones' horn players who took turns making my arrangement dreams come true. What incredible fun. Friendships were made, dance partnerships formed, romances kindled. Just like the Love Boat only way cooler. Thanks again to Delbert and Wendy, Gary and Sandra and Robin for putting it all together and to all the folks who are willing to spend half their year's vacation in January with us.
And one week later, we got off the plane in Chicago and it was 11 degrees. There's not enough clothes in the world or at least in my closet to counter that kind of weather. But, you know, it was a dry cold, didn't feel a bit under 15. And was it worth it? Absolutely! Our annual winter excursion to Fitzgerald's in Berwyn has become, like our July 4th visit, an occasion we look forward to. What a great crowd. Warm from the inside out. We become "the thing that wouldn't leave", keeping everybody up too late. Keith and I took a ride downtown and looked at the frozen lake and the closed-for-the-winter Wrigley Field and dipped into the Art Institute.
Now we're back in balmy Texas and looking forward to a fun couple of months of regional shows in some new places like the Bait Shack in Monroe, La. (home of Sister Pearlie Tolliver) this Friday January 28 and in some of our favorite haunts like Grant Street in Lafayette on Saturday January 29. There are several special shows coming up like the Luckenbach Hug-In on February 12 and a show at the Paramount in Austin on February 26 with Barbara Lynn and Carol Fran. The first weekend in March is Mardi Gras! and you know where we'll be. Monday March 6 at Lundi Gras on the Riverwalk and Fat Tuesday March 7 at Tipitina's (tra la la).
I have to mention, so y'all are not the last to know, that there are some personnel changes going on in the band. Now don't panic, Don's not going anywhere and that great young drummer Keith Robinson seems to like it here just fine, but Dan Dan the Sax Man is seeking more educational enlightenment and quality time with his family and Chris Miller got an offer he couldn't refuse from a group called the Hollisters. So we're sending them off with best wishes and have regrouped with a couple of likely candidates: Brad Andrew on sax whose work with King Soul and other R 'n' B bands around here makes him highly qualified and Pat Boyack on guitar, he's got a couple of records on Bullseye you can check out. So we go forward with high hopes and fresh blood. You can still contact Dan and Chris through us here and, in fact, you can also send messages to Rodney and Steve and Paul, too. Paul and Steve went to Chicago with us last weekend and Paul may play Jazzfest with us this year. Our date, by the way, is April 30. Mark it big on your calendar. We do.
How many of those Millennial resolutions have lasted through January? Still working out? Not drinking? Dieting? Taking vitamins? Did you quit cussing, smoking, dipping, chewing, dancing, lying, telling dirty jokes, staying out all night, talking on the phone too much? Are you having any fun? I didn't think so. All things in moderation, even moderation, is my motto and in the words of that great songwriter, Bobby Charles, "Take it easy, greasy."
May 25, 2000
Greetings from the road. We're winding our way out of West Virginia and it's a sparkler of a day. We taped Mountain Stage with Peter Case, Tim O'Brien, Terrance Simien and BR5-49 to be aired, hopefully, on your local public radio station on July 9. Other media appearances to watch for are the House of Blues interview mentioned recently on our site and the June issue of Offbeat Magazine from New Orleans. Also, WWOZ taped our Jazz Fest set and that should show up on the air at some point and the set was also filmed (if you were there you couldn't miss the camera guys) and as soon as we find out when that stuff comes on we'll let you know.
ANSWERS TO YOUR QUESTIONS
It's already been a full and fun year and the season's just getting started. We've had lots of fun in New Orleans at Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest and even some gigs in between. Now we have to stay gone for a little while but we'll be back for a show at the Zoo on October 15 and our return to Our Lady of the Lake School in Mandeville across the lake on October 14. Speaking of returns, we're back at Jam on the River in Philadelphia on May 28 and 29, Frog Island Festival in Ypsilanti, Mich. on June 24 and Fitzgerald's American Music Festival on July 2 and 3. Check the Crystal Ball for all the other dates this summer.
I've been reading my mail and there are more questions than I can answer at one sitting so I thought I'd combine a bunch of info into this little letter. For instance, Ricky and Sandi and plenty of others want to know when there will be a new album. Good question! Uhhh, I don't know. But we're closer than ever. The songs are being written as we speak, well, not actually, but progress is being made and if you see us live this summer, you'll hear new material that will go on the record. One problem is that we're out traveling so much for a while that we can't find time to go in the studio, but soon. I promise.
Eliza wanted us to put a bio on the website and this may already be done or will be as soon as the WebGator, who has a busy travel schedule of his own right now, can get to it. We also have some new band members and I'll get some background on them, or make it up, and post that real soon.
Ken wants the story on the "little bat". That would be my souvenir Louisville Slugger that I got when Keith and I took the tour of the factory last time we played Jim Porters. I'm using it to beat the cowbell, which I also got in Louisville. Ken also wanted to know what that beat was that he couldn't help dancing to on that "Sing It" song. That's the second line, Ken. You wave your hanky or your umbrella in the air, get your backfield in motion as Irma would say and march downtown. It's the send-off at the traditional jazz funeral in New Orleans, a dirge on the way to the cemetery and a celebration on the way out because all the departed's earthly troubles are over.
Jack, so far there are no solo piano tracks on my records but this next one may be the one.
We have a full week's work in Colorado in the middle of July. Cool. I could go on and on. The road, I love it! I'm going to close this little letter now and go try to get the boys to talk about themselves for your enjoyment.
Have a great summer. No matter where you are, we'll probably be coming to see you soon.
BRAD ANDREW (Sax)
Just bought a '65 Mustang. Born in Teaneck, NJ, he started playing music at 13 or so, as a drummer then took up the saxophone at 18. He moved to Austin in 1983 after living in Colorado, California ,where he was a ski bum and cook at the Olympic Training Center, and Florida. In Austin, he has played with W.C. Clark, Jesse Taylor, Lavelle White, Blues Boy Hubbard, King Soul.and many more.
DON BENNETT (Bass)
Full blooded Kickapoo Indian...No, that's not right. Don's been working with me for over 18 years and says he's the only person that likes to play more than me. He grew up in Wichita Falls and Eagle Pass, TX and was with Lewis and the Legends before I snagged him. We've been through so many hairdo's, halloween costumes and ragged out sets of wheels together, we're starting to look alike.
PAT BOYACK (Guitar)
Born in Helper, UT, he's a Cancer with a bad moon rising. Moved to Texas in 1991 to play music and eat Texas barbecue on a daily basis. He lives in Dallas where he's played in numerous bands. He has a Bachelors of Music from Utah State Universary was working in the banking industry when we saved him from all that. He's made three albums with his band the Prowlers on Bullseye Blues/Rounder: Breaking In, On the Prowl, and Super Blue and Funky. He's married to the lovely Yvonne and has a beautiful little red-headed daughter named Savannah.
KEITH ROBINSON (Drums)
The educated drummer. A sports fan. He was born in Dallas, TX and lived in Plano, where his family had been for several generations. His degree in Percussion Performance is from Stephen F. Austin and he's played top forty, blues, country, jazz, rock and with symphonies and now he is mastering the art of New Orleans Rhythm and Blues with its second line and syncopations. He would have joined my band when I first started but he was only 13. He travels to play music and go to baseball games.
Our sound man and photographer, is now moving into computer graphics as well. He's from San Antonio and won't tell me anything juicy about his past, so I just make things up. This is true: he has a Harley and a really cool GTO. He took my last batch of publicity photos and made me look pretty good. He keeps our act together with grace and patience.
July 1, 2000
...than to be riding through the cool, blue north where the temperature might max out at 80 today and the little white puffy clouds are spaced just so evenly and the fields are SO green you expect to see the Yellow Brick Road and the Emerald City over the next rise. In fact, what is over the next rise is the Field of Dreams. We just passed through Dubuque but we're bypassing the Field and going straight to Cedar Rapids (for a slow waltz and a few hot jump-up dance numbers) at Third Street Live. We had a fine sell-out crowd at the Club Tavern in Madison last night and two really fun festivals in Michigan last weekend: Frog Island in Ypsilanti with Los Lobos and Buckwheat Zydeco (who was in fine voice and spirits) and Michael Arnone's Crawfish Boil at the Fairgrounds in Detroit with Gino, John Mooney, and Beausoliel. After Cedar Rapids, Des Moines and Minneapolis we head for our favorite weekend of the year, the best big festival in a small place: Fitzgerald's American Music Festival in Berwyn. There's no telling who will be there. The weekend traditionally includes a Cubs game, hopefully with lots of friends including the Browns and the Cooneys of Chicago and Janice up from Austin and miscellaneous musician/baseball fans from all over. Whoo boy. It's such an American way to spend the 4th of July weekend.
NOTHIN' COULD BE FINER...
Brief interlude/gas stop in Cascade, IA. Bought fried cheese snacks, met a local farmer who's raising 1015 onions and gave me a fresh-out-of-the-ground Kolerabi with instructions (slice it thin and eat it with a cold beer).
I have an excuse for not writing lately. (I have an excuse for everything!) Last week, the few days we were home, my modem got hit by lightning and I have now delved deeper into my Dell than I ever expected to. I couldn't fix it but the power talking, born again, hyper-technician the company sent out had it up and running and stocked with bible tracts and a link to a gospel music website in no time.
Before all that, we had a big fun week in NEW YORK, NEW YORK, the town so nice I had to write it twice. I spent the time with daughter Brandy, walked hours every day and ate great meals every night. I still wasn't ready to leave when it was over but the party in Greenwich, CT and the festival in Northampton, MA were a good way to end the week. It rained on Pioneer Valley but that didn't stop the Lone Star Shootout from burning it up.
The touring season is also the reading season and the junking season, although this summer it needs to be the songwriting season so my head's in the headphones and my eyes are in the notebook. But what fun it is to drag the thrift stores and library sales for great books and find them! I'm finishing James Salter's memoirs Burning The Days, then I have another memoir lined up called The Sacred Willow, four generations in the life of a Vietnamese family. Meanwhile, I found a book by Shelby Hearon, whose stuff I like a lot, called A Small Town. And Janet Evanovich's new one is just out.
My summer's resolution: several swims in Barton Springs and at least one float on the Guadalupe.
August 16, 2000
Oops. I haven't made it to the Guadalupe yet but I have spent several very productive afternoons at Barton Springs and Deep Eddy, sunning and actually swimming a lap or three. It's been so dry here anyway, there's not a lot of river anywhere for the time being, and tomorrow we hit the road until mid-September. Fortunately, when we return there will still be plenty of warm and hopefully more water. Come on, rain!
NOTES FROM HOME...
Today (8/16) is bass player Don's birthday and we're going to surprise him with a pizza and beer party. Not the kind where you jump out and yell. After a certain age, that kind of shock could kill a person. In this case, we're just going to keep showing up at his house until he figures out there's a party. It's also Johnny the sound guru's birthday and we're celebrating that, too, but his age doesn't have a zero on the end of it so he just gets cake (and presents and pizza and beer).
And then...tomorrow Gordon (my husband, the Van Gogh of the Hill Country) and I leave for Provincetown, MA, where he has an art opening on Friday night. Oh, tell me it's cooler on Cape Cod. In theory, we sell a bunch of paintings, chill out for a few days, he comes home and I stay and play three weeks of good fun dates in the Northeast. The band meets me at Wolftrap where we're playing the third of four dates with John Fogarty and Aaron Neville. What a thrill that has been. The shows are beautifully produced, everyone in the crew, bands and the headliners couldn't be nicer.
Then we shoot back up to Hyannis, MA for the Food, Music and Wine (not necessarily in that order) Festival. Three weeks later we finish up at the Bull Durham Blues Festival in Durham, NC. We've just been added to that so it may not be on the schedule yet but please check the Crystal Ball for all the dates in between. We're returning to some of our favorite places: Stephen Talkhouse, the Birchmere, Higher Ground in Burlington/Winooski, VT. Y'all come on out.
I'm going to take a moment to do something a little out of character. I want to get serious for a bit about social responsibility. The message is this: no matter what, no matter for whom, no matter how disgusted you are with the whole process and the people involved, PLEASE VOTE in the upcoming presidential election. If you can stand to pay attention to what the candidates are saying and what the analysts are saying about them, it will become obvious that there is a difference between the parties, the messages and the people. To be honest, I am an old fashioned yellow-dog liberal, used-to-be-a-hippie, pro-environmental southern Democrat, but frankly, I don't care how you vote, just VOTE. It feels good. It's not just one lonely voice crying out. If you do it, someone else you know will do it too and it matters a lot. VOTE.
And dance, and listen to music, and help someone less fortunate, and recycle, and read, and exercise, and drive friendly, and drink 8 glasses of water a day, and don't be a litterbug or run with scissors.
December 23, 2000
I can't even stand to look back at the last time I wrote one of these. It has been months, I know. What's up? I dunno! Things just kind of got piled up there for a while, lots of changes, but nothing bad. In fact, I hope that we were just setting the stage for a new burst of creative energy. So here's what's been happening:
JUST FOR THE RECORD:
In late summer we decided to go with a new booking agent, the Rosebud Agency in San Francisco. They have many acts that we admire like Charlie Musselwhite, Beausoliel, Tommy Castro and Robert Cray. We're hoping to extend our reach a little further and maybe hit some markets we've missed out there. At about the same time, we finished a long negotiation process and signed a new record deal with Alligator Records in Chicago. I'll miss working with all my friends at Rounder but I know Bruce and the folks at Alligator are going to be great as they are with all their artists. It must have been time for a change.
Some things I didn't change: Same band for a year now, Pat Boyack, Brad Andrew, Keith Robinson, the Permanent Bass Man Don Bennett and our sound and photo and computer guru Johnny Medina. Also, same husband, kids, dog, house, Web Gator, friends (plus some new ones).
Some more things I changed: my tires. I had Firestones on my Explorer. Songs. We've been writing and recording since October and boy, does that occupy some time and energy. Cruise lines. Well, this really wasn't my problem but the ship that Delbert's Sandy Beaches Cruise was originally on was repossessed so they had to scramble. We're still sailing though. Number 7 and a great line-up. It's not too late to go if you call 1 800 Delbert.
And then the Holidays arrived.
Who gets anything done between Thanksgiving and Christmas?
And I love this stuff! Shopping, cooking, visiting, eating, families getting together, everything but the wrapping. Two things that always smack me in the face at this time of year: how we should give in to our generous impulses all year long and not just at Christmas and how close to home many worthy recipients of this generosity are. I have to relearn this lesson every year and hope to do better in the future.
It has been a wonderful year in so many ways. We've had good visits with our old friends and made some new friends, played our best gigs (Grant Street, Fitzgerald's, Tipitina's, the Birchmere, Stephen Talkhouse, Grand Emporium, House of Blues in New Orleans, Antone's) and festivals (N.O. Jazz and Heritage, Philadelphia Jam on the River, Kansas City Jazz and Blues, the Luckenbach Hug-In, Lodo in Denver, Doug Brown's Birthday). Verenda took me in and cured my cold, the Regans took me on a folk art excursion, Richard and Vivian took us to the music box house, Ben took us to the Mother-In-Law Lounge, the Mushlins promised to show us their new house next year, Michael has kept me stocked with good books, Randy got all our Christmas presents delivered on time. The drought broke in Texas, we're having a real winter after a beautiful colorful fall which Gordon has recorded day by day, painting by painting. I've read a bunch of Shelby Hearon's and Lawrence Shames', Stephen Harrigan's, Lawrence Wright's, Bud Shrake's, Dava Sobell's and Barbara Kingsolver's newest. I've met Sweet Potato Queens, Mint Julep Queens and the Princess Diana Garden Club. Played lots of chickenfoot dominos with the girls. And that's just one turn around the sun!
Love one another, be kind, slow down, count your blessings, get a head-set for your cell phone, save the whales, the redwoods, the spotted owls, the salamanders, Barton Springs, your money, your breath. Keep on the sunny side, keep on truckin', keep your eye on the ball. Keep those cards and letters coming.
Thanks for everything.
P.S.: The election? Ick, gag, spew!
January 22, 2001
WaaaHooo! We're off like a rocket into 2001, a real spaced odyssey. Remember when you first saw that movie? 1967 or '68, in some Varsity Theater in some college town. Boy, was that futuristic or what? Computers talking, travelling to the stars. Groovy clothes. And one thing that hasn't changed: bands still running the roads in vans playing in honky tonks. In fact, playing in some of those same old theaters that are now honky tonks. And speaking of honky tonks:
OPEN THE BARN DOORS, HAL...
They hauled in a bunch of hay bales, some old lumber, Bevo and the Muleshoe mule statue and there were chickens driving Cadillacs to Washington, D.C. There were also barricades, Secret Service and metal detectors. And there we were, at the party for the wrong party. There! I've said it again. If you're reading this you might as well understand that I am a Democrat, yellow dog populist, environmental, pro-choice, liberal as all get-out.
And we played the Black Tie and Boots Ball for the Texas State Society the night before Bush's inauguration. This party, which we also played in 1992 for Clinton's first inaugural, happens no matter who wins although I suspect that it got a little more high-gear when it turned out that a Texan was coming to the White House. I was booked for the party in October hoping for a Gore victory. So it went. A deal's a deal. And as it turned out, I got an opportunity to voice my polite but strenuous opinion on the new administration.
The most frequently asked question: Is it exciting to have a Texan as president? What I tried to explain: I would be excited to have a statesman as president. Whoever sees his role as peacemaker, conservator of our civil rights and natural resources, watchdog over our air and water quality, advocate for our children and their educations, care-giver to our elderly and prudent manager of our economy is A-OK with me. Someone wise, fair and honest. Let the future tell the story. And let us back up a little...
...to the icy but fun New Year's Eve at the Ridglea Theater in Fort Worth with Lou Ann Barton and her band. A hearty WARM thank you to all who braved those streets to party with us. And to the New Year's Day at House of Blues in New Orleans where Richard delivered emergency (vegetarian) cabbage and black eyes so we could have a shot at good luck and money all year long. And then...
...the cruise. It never fails. A good time on the high seas, lots of friends, great music, too much food, two days in Mexico, mopeds, shopping for useless junk (and finding lots of it). One day we woke up and there was no light coming in our porthole. It was the largest liner on the ocean ("So was the Titanic," says Gordon) and it was docked next to us. When they left, Gene (the nutman) said, "There goes the neighborhood." Hell, there went my whole home town. We had more fun than all 3500 of them. The day before, some little boys on the ship next door mooned us as we came back on board. I thought Nancy was going to fall off the gangplank. But as those ships sank slowly in the west, there were lots of people hanging on their rails listening to our rockin' little boat and I know they were wishing they were with us dancing to the Derailers and Asleep at the Wheel. The most commonly heard quote on the boat: "Next year,..." So we hope to see all our cruiser friends next year and that they bring all their friends that they talked about who would just love it. Thanks again to Delbert and Wendy and their fine organization for making it happen again. (1-800-DELBERT) And then...
...we're coming to Chicago (Berwyn, to be exact) 1/26 - 27 and we're bringing Kaz and Gary for the "big horny" sound I like and our special guest is Tracy Nelson. It's Fitzgerald's anniversary and a reason to celebrate all year long. Tracy's also joining us in Madison at Luther's Blues on 1/25. Then my bunch is playing Jacksonville, Atlanta and Asheville and the rodeo in Houston (the Hideout). And then (TA DA!) Mardi Gras. So check the website for constantly updated and improved schedules provided by our Incomparable Webgator. And...
...while the rest of you were watching TV we were making a record and it's almost done but I think I'll save the details for another blast of blather.
Stay warm and wear a hat because most of your body heat and most of the inane things people say escape through the top of the head. I hope we see you soon at your place.
March 20, 2001
IT'S SPRING, AND A YOUNG WOMAN'S FANCY TURNS TO THOUGHTS OF...
Well, I'm glad that's over. THAT is winter, the almost five months since Thanksgiving which is about when we started recording our new record, PRESUMED INNOCENT (Yeah, right!) for Alligator. Not that I have even one little complaint about anything at all, but what a holiday season this has been.
The record, co-produced by that sweetheart Doyle Bramhall, is done, the photos are taken, the facts are checked (and are mostly accurate), the package designed. Let's put that sucker out! How about April 24? I can't say enough good about everybody involved in the project: my band especially, but also all the great Austin and Louisiana players and Wayne Jackson and Delbert and the incredible songwriters. You'll have to buy the record to see who all I'm talking about. The whole thing went as smoothly as possible BUT the job involves 3 million important decisions, at least. And here I am, on the cusp of Pisces and Aries, which means I want to be the one to make those decisions, I'm just not always sure what I want. Anyway, it's now in the hands of those folks at Alligator and they're going to push it, big time. We'll have a trailer load of them in New Orleans for Jazz Fest and all over the rest of the summer.
Meanwhile, we've played our usual round of very fine gigs for very fine people. It continues to amaze me how lucky we are in who comes to see us. Club owners always tell us we have the nicest crowds. I agree. For instance, we paid our lately annual winter visit to the Best Club in the World, Fitzgerald's in Berwyn, IL and had our usual warm and rocking weekend. Mardi Gras weekend was a bead catching, parade watching extravaganza. We even made a run over to the Dock in Pensacola Beach and spread the Fat Tuesday grease around. Those folks party like they know they're living in paradise.
Back in New Orleans after our Spanish Plaza gig, we picked up half a van load of adventurers and made it on over to the Mother-In-Law Lounge for an evening described by a friend in two words: Fellini Movie. People in costumes, people whose everyday garb outdoes the costumes, the neighborhood regulars, visiting celebrities, a band featuring Rico and his amazing keyboard, unbelievable bass tone, no cover, a free food spread in the back room courtesy of the gracious Antoinette and the presence of the Emperor himself, Ernie K-Doe singing classics and cuts from his new record. This will be hard to top.
But we'll keep trying. We had a couple of beautiful days in Charleston, SC. (see above mention of very fine people), and came home to South By Southwest, the festival of broken dreams. Nine hundred bands come to Austin hoping to get signed, get a break, get good enchiladas, get lucky. Usually we leave town, but this year we did a showcase at Antone's with Delbert and I'm glad we stayed. The worst part is hearing about the great shows you didn't see the night before.
In the middle of all this, Gordon brought home a Vietnamese artist he met on his trip to Hanoi last May. Dinh Luc, who is quite renowned in his homeland as a woodblock printmaker, spent a month with us and participated in the University of Texas' International Print Conference. We had no language in common except the language of art and the heart. This man exuded warmth and was game for anything. We had him drinking Shiner Beer and eating barbecue his first night here. By the end of his visit, he had taught a workshop at the U., been to the capitol, all the parks and gardens within range, several of our gigs, Houston for a week, and the LBJ Ranch. (Kind of like Gordon going to the Ho Chi Minh Museum). At the end of his visit, he had two shows of his prints which people bought like hotcakes so he went home with a little nest egg. I really miss him! He faxed us back a "thank you" wishing us "good health, success and happy".
Our personal sad news is that we lost our good old dog Gussie to illness last month and we resolved to try doglessness for a change. Gordon lasted 3 whole weeks before he brought home a puppy, handed it to me and said "Happy Birthday". This little guy, Sonny Boy Williamson III, is an Australian shepherd and, of course, he's perfect. Black suit, white shirt, brown socks. So we're back leading a dog's life and I have to admit, it seems more like home with little fuzzy drifts in the corners. And that reminds me, it's time to take him for a spin.
Reading "God Save the Sweet Potato Queens" (And they're coming on the cruise so before the boat fills up with Wannabes, call 1 800 DELBERT) Inspired by our houseguest, and since Brandy gave it to Gordon for Christmas, I'm now delving through "Our Vietnam", actually a very readable history of everyone's involvement in Southeast Asia. Working on my French and can now say floor, ceiling, wristwatch and handkerchief (you never know). Helping Gordon move paintings for his museum show at the Nave in Victoria, TX this week. Gearing up for Jazz Fest and a busy summer. Hoping you're all doing okay out there and that we see you soon. Happy First Day of Spring.
April 13, 2001
What happens when I'm not playing 15 gigs or so a month? Idle hands start big projects. So now we have a Fan Club. Page Hite, Maximum Web Gator, and Cathie Baker, Club President Extraordinaire, have cooked up the Marcia Ball International Fan Club. Yes, indeed!
WELL, LA TI DA...
We've got a hot batch of recruits who have responded already, thank you very much. Lots of friends from all over, truly international in scope. I just had to take a minute to poll the group and we've had responses from 32 states, the District of Columbia, Canada, Germany, Australia and Great Britain. Texas and Louisiana lead the pack with Massachusetts, Florida and California in close pursuit. This is very exciting. We're making a special batch of Big Shot Winking Gator t-shirts for members. Could Fan Club fans, 'Ball' point pens, refrigerator magnets, paper dolls and action figures be far behind? The whole project could be a boom for the premium industry. Nobody likes useless junk more than me. I want to especially thank our friends, Daniel Griffin and Ron Delhomme, who were concerned that this is an unauthorized promotion. We appreciate your looking out for us but this one is the real thing, so join up. Who knows, there could be putt-putt tournaments and official fan club flea market tours in the future.
None of this has taken me away from being the best surrogate mother I can be to Sonny Boy, the new Aussie that rules the roost around here. He's got a million dollar face and the softest fur imaginable but he's pure puppy. Like a plush toy with a razor blade stuck in it. It's a good thing I'm not real attached to any of my furniture or landscaping. The only exception to that is the Steinway. We're wrapping the legs in PVC. And, of course, I've locked up all my shoes.
We're flying out today for Seattle where we'll play at the Experience Music Project which is, I hear, magnificent. Part museum, performance space, an incredible building. I hope we get to see our friends Lloyd (have mercy!) Jones and his band while we're there.
I want to thank all the great folks in Columbia, SC for showing us such a wonderful time last week at the 3 Rivers Music Festival. We couldn't catch up with Irma Thomas face to face but we said hello to each other from our respective stages. We did share our stage with Taj Majal, who I have dearly loved since way back in the Giant Steps days and we got a good visit with him and our compadres from Texas and Louisiana who play in his band. I want to clarify something about that gig for those who were there. We had to quit one song short of a grand finale, left that Poodle just hanging out there, but it was not the fault of the promoters. I've gotten some very nice e-mails from people who worried that we left in a snit and this is not the case. Everybody went out of their way to make our stay there pleasant and it was!
Those of you who saw us in Tampa and at Mesa Park in Florida the week before were not hallucinating. Well, maybe you were, but that really was Paul Klemperer, our former sax player, filling in for Brad. A lot of folks were surprised and glad to see him, and we enjoyed our reunion.
The new record, PRESUMED INNOCENT (try not to snicker) hits the stores April 24. They're already playing it some around here. THANK YOU! All the folks at Alligator are perched on the edges of their seats waiting for the onslaught of orders so don't disappoint them. We'll be everywhere you can drive or fly to this summer playing the new songs, the old songs, anything you want, shamelessly pandering (now there's an album title!). The New Orleans Jazz Fest is right around the corner. We're all over town, actually mostly at Storyville and Jimmy's and we play the Fest on Sunday, April 29, the very best day if you ask me. Or even if you don't.
Hope to see you there, or somewhere, real soon.
May 16, 2001
On the land, air or sea, if there's a party that's where we'll be...
And you folks out there know how to throw a party!.
Well, we survived Jazz Fest with only a slight head cold on my part... Harder to get over was the complete onslaught of fabulous piano players that I heard all week long: Davell Crawford, David Torkanowski, Jon Cleary, Tom McDermott, Joe Krown, Dave Alexander, Scott Kirby, Josh Paxton, Eddie Bo, Dr. John, Allen Toussaint, and many many more. What a week!. Little Queenie brought out 2 of her choirmates to sing with us at the Festival and we were also joined by Larry Hamilton who sang the song he did originally, "You Make It Hard". It was great. We saw lots of friends from all over the world, ate our way across the fairgrounds and filled our ears with wonderful music.
Meanwhile, the new record "Presumed Innocent" is out there and making some waves. It's on the Billboard Blues chart, it was the top seller at the Tower store at the Jax Brewery in N.O. the week it came out, it's being played all over the place on public, AAA and Americana radio stations. If you're not hearing it in your town, call your local station and suggest nicely that they dig it out and put it in rotation.
Meanwhile, we're in road mode heading into the summer. We played Atlanta's Music Midtown and got to enjoy John Hammond's set and Steve Earle's. Last Saturday we brought the swamp to Birmingham with Terrence Simien and 16,000 pounds of crawfish at the Shaeffer/Beam fundraiser. The whole downtown smelled like crawfish. Then I went to Charleston, WV to tape Mountain Stage. A bunch of friends were there, too: Terry Hendrix and Lloyd Maines, Delbert, Buddy Guy, Jimmy Lafave.
Next Saturday, we're at Springfest in Pensacola and also broadcasting the NPR show, "What Do You Know?". I'm looking forward to some beach time. I don't know what you call the kind of tan I have - brown arms, white legs. I believe I'll work, carefully, on those old pedal extremities. I don't think limbs are supposed to be this pale, like I've been in a cast or something. Off with the Levi's!
Our fan club is growing. The T-shirts have arrived and will be sent out late next week, and we're brainstorming to see how we can make our members feel as special as we think they are.
My dog-boy is growing, too. Thirty pounds, I'll bet and a lot less likely to chew the legs off your chair while you're sitting in it. He's been the genesis of a new exercise program around here. If you don't take him out to the park and run him around for a while, he climbs the walls, the fences, you. He's a little four-legged health club.
I'll have more news from the road, as the summer goes, carrying my laptop, coast to coast. You all take care and we'll see you out there, somewhere, soon.
May 27, 2001
...to quote a Sarah Campbell song. It's May 24 and we're heading for Sarah's old hang-out, the Strawberry Music Festival at Camp Mather near Yosemite. It's SO beautiful here. We had to pause and salute the spot on Priest Grade where our past roadie, A.J., brought the van to a halt after we lost our brakes on the way down a few years ago. It was one hairy moment, I tell you, and A.J. handled it quietly. We were stopped at a wide spot before anybody else knew what was going on. Here's to A.J.!
IN A TINY TOWN IN THE SIERRAS...
Meanwhile, in present day gorgeous weather, mountain top, tall pines we're going to play with the Flatlanders tomorrow night.
May 25: And now, thirty hours later, we're heading back down that mountain chasing a little fingernail sliver of a moon to the horizon. The Flatlanders were wonderful and did a bunch of my favorite songs like the West Texas Waltz and Give Me A Ride To Heaven. Bill and Bonnie Hearne and Jim Lauderdale were also great. It didn't take us long to acclimate to being where the cell phones don't work but we had to bid farewell to KFAT and the Hog Ranch radio crowd and the fine hospitality at Camp Pig Out. We've got a plane to catch so we can fly over Pat's hometown of Helper, Utah and make it to Denver for Blues and Bones.
May 27: ...Which was cool, in every way. The weather held, Eddie Cotton and Curtis Salgado were both great. I got to see my nieces and nephew-in-laws and lots of friends including some charter members of our fan club. And now we're in Philadelphia, illustrating how not to route a tour. But you got to go where the great festivals are and the Jam on the River is one of those. We missed Buckwheat Zydeco and James Brown today but tomorrow we play with Little Feat and Tuesday we'll tape World Music Cafe at WXPN for later broadcast on 100 public radio stations, hopefully one in your area wherever you may be.
...THIS JUST IN... The Mountain Stage Radio Show that I taped solo last week will air on 127 public radio stations the week of June 22. Keep an ear out. Mountain Stage has also been filming for TV this season and the resulting shows will air in the fall.
I hope you've had a pleasant Memorial Day weekend with a picnic, a beach party, a cook out or clam bake or even just a good old porch sit or hammock swing. While you're at it, give a thought to the veterans in whose honor the banks close on Monday. They were our best and our brightest and they gave it all. At the risk of sounding like "Miss Congeniality", world peace isn't a bad thing to wish for.
June 29, 2001
Let's see, where were we? Or, rather, where are we right now? When last seen, our intrepid travelers were sending frequent dispatches from the East Coast of America. Now, after a long mysterious silence, we find them in the gorgeous, pine-scented, history-steeped shadow of Mount St. Helens. And what has transgressed (as Don would say) in the meantime? Oh, so much.
FROM SEA TO SHINING SEA...
True to our practice of staying north of the oatmeal-grits line in the summertime, we've covered the upper Midwest and northeast thoroughly and just in case we missed somebody, we're going back. After eating my weight in crawfish (and some of his daddy's good jambalaya) at Michael Arnone's crawfish boil, I dipped my toes in the cool, blue water off the deck of the Ocean Mist in Matunuck, R.I. That's where we caught up on the doings of the Christinas, Fran's family, and celebrated Gino and Adele's anniversary with them.
In Boston, we saw son Jeb and Paul Klemperer's dear parents at the House of Blues. We also got a good visit with those fine folks at Rounder, who still sell lots of our records, both Pat's and mine. Then we played up in Burlington, VT. What a beautiful town! The concert was in a tent right on the lakefront and we were co-billed with Francine Reed. We had the extra thrill of seeing a girl let her car roll down the boat ramp into the water. She screamed bloody murder and scared us so badly we wanted to throw her in the water too. If it had been my car, I would have snuck away and called it in missing.
From Burlington, we crossed Lake Champlain on the ferry and blasted down to Hampton, VA to play at a lovely little restored theater with the greatest audience on the whole trip. It was a wonderful high note on which to end that tour and we were ready to head for the house.
And now we're back out after only a brief turnaround to unpack, repack, get a little home cooking, a little home loving, a little Mexican food. Gordon and I got the pup, Sonny Boy, out of boot camp and he's just a little genius, I swear! I really did go from skeptical to impressed at what a good trainer can teach a 4 month old puppy (and his master). All in all, it's been a rocking good summer. We played with Koko Taylor in St. Louis, the Iguanas in Minneapolis and Terrance Simien at the Frog Island Festival in Ypsilanti (where they named me the "raining" queen of the festival). And it did but at least it held off until the show was over that night.
Since then, we've been on the West Coast being spoiled to death. New Orleans By The Bay was a food and music extravaganza in the tradition of the N.O. Jazz Fest with the Dirty Dozen, John Mooney, John Cleary, L'il Brian, the Funky Meters and Bonnie Raitt leading the line-up. Everybody turned into fans, bands mixed and matched, Bonnie sat in with just about every one, Maria Muldaur came out just to visit. The weather was gorgeous all the way up to Roseburg, OR where it never rains on Tuesday in the ten years they've been producing the Music on the Halfshell series. Until, of course, the "raining" queen shows up. I personally think it was Elvin Bishop's fault. Yeah, let's pin it on him. We played anyway and the people came and sat in their mackinaws under their bumbershoots. Elvin and his band were great, very fine and funky music. Continuing north to Portland, OR, we played at the zoo (and they all axed for you!). I wish we could have spent a week in Portland and in Vancouver, B.C. What beautiful cities! What great restaurants! Huge parks! And Powell's in Portland, what a bookstore!
In Vancouver, I didn't even know we were part of the Vancouver Jazz Festival which is an amazing 390 bands in 40 venues over a period of 10 days. We played with my hometown hero, Gatemouth Brown and he was swinging. It's always a challenge to get a band into Canada but the real relief is when they let you back into the US. You never know.
And we're only halfway through this trip, heading to the American Music Festival at Fitzgerald's in Berwyn, Il and on to the East Coast for another week. Too bad the Cubbies aren'tplaying in town this year. I thought that was a tradition. It was with us. We'll have to console ourselves with a trip to the Kane County Flea Market. Just looking!
Well, yak yak yak! How I do run on, but I wanted everyone to enjoy this trip with us and also to send a big thank you to each and every fan and promoter and hospitality volunteer who has smoothed our way across the country this summer. Special thanks to the family from upper B.C. who rode their Harley's down to Roseburg to see us on their way to Florida before they send their daughter off to college in the fall. Also, to the couple who came outin Portland because it was easier than flying to Lafayette, LA to see us like they did last time. Also, to Bruce and Barb from Austin whocame to see us while on vacation in Vancouver. Also, to Sarah Bird who released her new novel, The Yokota Officer's Club, just in time for me to have something to read on this trip. And to all the Big Shots out there: You're the best! More, I guarantee, later.
July 8, 2001
Well, they did it again! Those folks at Fitzgerald's in Berwyn, IL pulled out the flags and the sparklers and a blizzard of paper napkins and rang in Independence Day with Jimmy Lafave and the Morrells and Paul Cebar and Los Straitjackets and Terrance Simien and the Hackberry Ramblers and Robbie Fulks and Billy Joe Shaver and a lot of other bands and about 500 screaming fans and US. What a weekend! We went over to WXRT, that fine radio station that plays all the best music, and did a live set with Tom Marker on Monday and late that same night I visited with Steve and Johnny (finally in person) at WGN radio. We stayed so busy, it was hard to work in a whole afternoon at the Kane County Flea Market, but I managed. With my unfailing eye for a bargain, I managed to come away with a large bag of goodies that only lightened the ammo in my fun gun by about $40. Junk, my friends, for everybody. You'll know who you are at Christmastime.
STILL GOING STRONG
On the actual 4th of July, while everyone else was picnicking at the beach or watching baseball on the couch, we drove to Grand Rapids, MI and watched the fireworks from our hotel. They have a lovely performance center there, the Pinnacle, and a classy series of shows which we were proud to be a part of. And the hospitality - la ti da!
Then we hit WDET in Detroit and caught a plane to NYC. That pilot must drive a tour bus on his days off. The approach to the city was a travelogue. We flew over the south end of Manhattan past the Statue of Liberty, took a left and cruised up the length of the island like the opening scene of a good movie, circled Shea Stadium, banked hard and landed at LaGuardia. Now we're up on the Hudson River playing at Clermont, the estate of the Livingston family. Robert L. negotiated the Louisiana Purchase and partnered with Robert Fulton to build the first steamboat - two things for which I would like to personally thank him. Then his great-granddaughter left the property to the State of New York and they throw a blues festival there. It's one of those sites where it's hard to get a good blues on - it's so beautiful overlooking the river with the stage in a little meadow between the lilac trees.
So we're running the roads of New England in a matching pair of red Blazers and tomorrow, on our way to Duke Island Park in New Jersey, we're going to take a side trip to Woodstock - not the festival, which everyone here will tell you right away was not IN Woodstock, but the town where The Band and Bearsville are and where Cindy Cashdollar came from before she moved to Austin. I can't believe I've never dipped in there before. Maybe we'll have breakfast at Alice's Restaurant.
One more week of this tour and counting. Love being out here, love going home. We've got some family coming up to meet us in NYC and no plans but walking, eating, looking, shopping. Oh, and playing a gig right in front of Lincoln Center on 7/10.
Happy 225th Birthday to the good old USA. Let's go for another 225 and recycle, fix up the railroads and use them, develop alternative energy sources, provide good affordable health care to all, build beautiful buildings, leave the old growth forests alone, don't strip mine Bastrop County, clean up the air and the water, look after one another and dance.
Before I close, I have to mention the passing of one of the great original talents of New Orleans and the world, Ernie K-Doe. Often imitated, never duplicated. There will never be another like the Emperor.
July 8, 2001
The city so nice they named it twice. Well, we did it up from tip to top. It took all six of us and two wives but I think we covered every inch of the island. Debbie walked Don until his knees gave out. At one point, I called them on his cell phone and they were in Tiffany's. I think Debbie had forgot to bring any earrings. Oh, Don's aching knees! They also went to see "Fosse" and walked all over the Village.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK
John met up with Andra Mitrovich and they went backstage at the "Love, Janis" show that Andra is doing Off Broadway. John and Johnny also saw Buckwheat Zydeco at the Village Underground. Brad visited his brother and his mother in New Jersey. He also found a good Vegan restaurant in the Village and bought a new Halliburton suitcase. Now we have three matching cases for the guys.
I dipped into Saks Fifth Avenue, dipped right back out again, tried on some cute dresses at Betsey Johnson and left them for younger, smaller, hipper chicks, ate several great meals (never repeating an ethnic group). My best day was going to Sylvia's on 125th St and Lenox for her famous soul food and then walking down the street to the Apollo Theater. But I think the winner of both the quality and quantity award would have to be Pat. He and Yvonne went toEllis Island and around the Statue of Liberty and to a play on Wednesday, they were in the audience at the Letterman show on Thursday and ate at the Mesa Grill that night. They both bought watches. So romantic.
Johnny spotted Donald Trump, Debbie spotted Hume Cronin, John saw Lauren Hutton in the Village. I spotted Ruben Ramos, but that was easy 'cause he's from Austin and was in New York to play with Ricky Trevino on Wednesday night at the same place we played on Tuesday.
We stayed at the terminally hip, over-snotty, loud Hudson Hotel. In the elevator, I blurted out, "I just figured out what it is about this place that gets on my nerves." (Ans: the low light.) Before I could say that another passenger said, "Everything!" I guess I'm just not that cool. I missed the good old Gramercy Park.
Finally, Friday morning we turned in the red Blazers and flew to Ottawa for the Blues Festival there. What a great surprise to find all our old friends from the Rainbow days not just still there, but working the festival. Ronnie and Julia and Conner, who plied me with books, and A.J. were all on the scene looking real good and taking real good care of us. There was a jam session before our set with Tab Benoit, Tabby Thomas, Johnny Sansone, members of Gatemouth's band and many more. There was also the news that R.L. Burnside had been in an auto accident and wouldn't be there. I don't know any details. The headliners were Ike Turner and then Wilson Pickett who did a fabulous show with his ten piece band. He is truly the soul survivor.
Late to bed and early to rise and now we're moose watching in beautiful Down East Maine en route to the North Atlantic Blues Festival. It's about 80 degrees and we're complaining about the heat. Home tomorrow and Janice said don't bother to bring any sweaters. It's 101 and climbing but we can take it. I miss Gordon, Luke, Sonny Boy, the whole rest of my family, Janice, Paisley, all the Domino-trixes, my shower, my yard, my piano, and all the clothes that are not in this little suitcase I've been living out of for three weeks. Thanks to all of you Big Shots and potential Big Shots (that's all the rest of you) who came to our shows and said hello, danced in the dust and the mud, smiled and waved and partied like it was 1969. We've had a terrific summer so far and our new record is still on the Billboard blues charts. There's lots more to come including a festival in/on Sardinia with Irma and Gatemouth. I hope Joe Krown can sit in again on B-3 like he did in Ottawa. More keyboards, more horns. More later.
September 25, 2001
It's been two months since I've written anything here and any excuses I may have are feeble in the face of what's happened in the past two weeks. Ironically, the last Ball Bearing was sent after our wonderful trip to New York City when we were still all wound up about having so much fun there.
A MESSAGE TO MY DEAR FRIENDS
I guess I'm grateful that we had that trip. If you read these little scribblings or know me at all, you know I'm grateful for a lot of things especially now, with our daughter Brandy safe and after calling the roll of all of our friends and their children who live and work in New York and in Washington, finding them okay as far as I can discover.
From here, it's hard to conceive of the terror and the sadness of those directly affected. It's there on TV but it seems so far away. And yet, even in New York City, people are going to work and to school and getting on with life. I guess that's the resilience of the human spirit and right now, we need all the resilience we can get. We've been blessed with more bounty than most of the rest of the world and yet personal tragedy overtakes someone, somewhere, every day. It takes strength and bravery to get through even in the best of times. If, as a result of this enormous shattering of our complacency, we become more thankful, more thoughtful, more empathetic and generous, then I think we'll have taken the first step toward dealing with whatever the future may hold for us.
Give what you can. Love one another.
October 15, 2001
It's the middle of October. Soon we will Fall back and the lights will come on a little earlier, we'll cover the plants and turn up the heat. The mosquitoes will go back to wherever they hide when they're not torturing me and my dog. The colors are peaking in Vermont and last night a thousand people showed their colors in Austin. We didn't peak too soon.
The Soap Creek Saloon Reunion to benefit MEDECINO, a health care branch of the Simms Foundation in honor of Doug Sahm, drew 1000 old hippies and their children to La Zona Rosa. These are not people who used to be hippies - these are people around the age of 50 who are still hippies. What a blast! Denim, The Uranium Savages, Alvin Crow, Steam Heat, Greezy Wheels, Paul Ray and the Cobras, Joe King Carrasco, a Lubbock amalgam featuring Jesse Taylor, Ponty Bone, Joe Ely and Jimmie Dale Gilmore and a reconstituted Freda and the Firedogs, the band I was in in the early '70's (4 out of 5 dogs) played from 6PM until 1 in the morning. Midway through, Shawn Sahm fronted his dad's band and channeled Doug's spirit, which was heavy in the room anyway, like a true Texas Tornado. Augie Meyer's son Clay played drums. Jimmie Gilmore's son, Colin, sang a great version of White Freight Liner with his dad harmonizing proudly. Alvin's son, Jason, played bass with dad. George and Carlyne's son, Ross, ran the door. Jesse's daughter Carrie, my son Luke, Bobby Earl's John Mark and Eric, the Hancocks - parents and daughters were there celebrating old Austin and lending a helping hand today. Look out, future, here they come.
Well, it's been a month since the life-altering events of September 11. It's hard to know whether to be a hawk or a dove. Politicians are gutting the Bill of Rights in the interest of public safety. They took my toenail clippers away from me in the Lake Charles airport and now my toenails are dangerous. I still think every day about the heroes and the victims and I'm amazed at the ability of people to carry on with life in the face of uncertainty and fear. I've received many messages, some of them very useful and informative, about what to do in emergencies. I've also asked my friends who are on the front lines of disaster relief how someone out here on the edge can help. Most agree that if someone wanted to make a donation or contribution at this time, the local charities and the local blood bank and the local Red Cross could all use help because so much money has been funneled to New York and Washington. I guess this is a reminder that need exists every day right under our noses.
In spite of all, the last couple of months have been very busy for us. On September 11 we were in the middle of the Tour de Ville: Asheville, Nashville, Knoxville, Greenville, Charlottesville and Louisville. I'm not kidding. Plus, Morganton, North Carolina where Tracy Nelson and I got to reprise some of our greatest hits including the one we co-wrote for her album called "Got A New Truck". Unfortunately, this is not the case yet. Our first Boston Folk Festival was a lot of fun, especially the songwriter's showcase with Rosie Flores and Jimmy Lafave. The last week in September we played two gigs with Beausoleil in Wisconsin and Illinois and a beautiful theater up in Door County, WI. The colors (back to that) were almost happening.
This month started with the King Biscuit Festival in Helena, Arkansas which is, in my opinion, the "realest" of the blues festivals. Some of the buildings in downtown Helena are only open 4 days a year for the event and this year they needed them because a front blew through Friday that dropped the temperature and about 3 inches of rain. They closed the main stage and scrambled to put the music inside. Against all odds, it worked and the crowd was great.
Speaking of colors, my feet are turning blue because it's cold out here in the office and Shari's turning red because I won't get off her computer. I've got to take a few minutes to shop for a laptop because I'm green with envy since I lost mine and although they say this is a golden opportunity to buy electronics, I haven't seen any bargains that don't require a lot of silver to change hands.
I'm not through here though - I'm just taking a little break. Next time, I'll talk about cooking for Saveur Magazine and recording a little cajun Christmas song.
Take care, everybody. We're all we've got.
December 23, 2001
Dear Friends, Fan Club Members and Musical Family,
I'm taking a break from grocery shopping, vegetable chopping, gift wrapping and blessing counting to write a brief "holiday hello and thank you" from the guys in the band and me. It's been such and up and down year for all of us, it's hard to know what to say. Last week, I sent out a one-song cd of my little Christmas ditty to a few radio stations in Louisiana and on the back I wrote, "Thanks for a great year." After they were mailed, I thought, "That was a pretty short-sighted greeting." Considering the events of September 11, the tanking economy and layoffs and the loss of many of our friends and family members, mostly to untimely deaths, it was, at best, insensitive.
And yet, musically, we had a wonderful year playing good gigs for fun people, having unprecedented success with our new record, traveling and seeing so many of our good friends, making new friends, having Cathie Baker and Page encourage and organize our fan club. I got a new dog (as you all know), our children are all fine. I can't be grateful enough.
Also, I love the holidays. I know they're expensive, stressful and usually emotionally draining but they're also the time when people realize and give in to their most generous impulses. Now, if only they didn't drive so fast!
At our house, we have a tree. This may seem ordinary to you, but in the past we've decorated furniture, cacti, animals and each other. A tree is a big step toward the conventional for us. For outside, Gordon's son Jeb decorated his sailboat. Reminds me of a song. Our family is so extended, it takes several days for the children (all grown up now) to fulfill their many obligations, so tonight, December 23, is our night to get together for shrimp ettouffe and presents. It's a sparkling cool day here in Austin and that's perfect Christmas weather for us. Janice gets to ride her horse, Sonny Boy gets a big walk around Town Lake.
I'm working on New Year's resolutions and so far, paying more attention to my friends and neighbors is at the top of the list. Right now, the lunch bell is ringing and I'm paying attention to my stomach so off I go.
Remember to give in to generous impulses. Happy Holidays from all the guys in the band, Shari in the office and especially from me. We'll see you in 2002!
February 1, 2002
HELLO OUT THERE
I've been missing our little talks but the holidays: Halloween, Dia de los Muertos, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years Eve, the Delbert cruise and the upcoming Mardi Gras captured me and involved me deeply in real life. I got real busy being wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunt and friend. About a week after the new year had begun when I mentioned to Gordon that I was in a really bad mood, he suggested that maybe it was time for me to get back on the road.
So off we go! It's already stacking up to be a good year. I hope we get to every part of the country to see and say hello to you all. We're finally making it out to California in February and hitting the hot spots. We'll be back at the Grand Emporium in Kansas City in March where we'll compare cruises with the folks there.
Speaking of cruises - Delbert's Sandy Beaches was smooth sailing and cool grooves all the way. Tommy Castro gets my award for the hardest working man on the boat. From autograph sessions through his sets, sitting in with us then jamming 'til the break of day, he was Mr. Entertainment. But I could say the same for everybody on the boat: Lloyd Jones, Jimmy Hall, Wayne Toups, T. Graham, the Derailers, everybody played great and partied hearty. Bekka Bramlett, Teresa James, Stephen Bruton, I can't leave anybody out. Did I mention Delbert?
Interestingly enough, some of the most popular sets of the week were the songwriter showcases featuring Al Anderson, Bob DiPiero and Jeffrey Steele, all multi-hit writers and friendly rivals. The stories between the songs were almost better than the songs. And for serendipity, Nick Connolly's happy hour "solo" piano sets turned into 9 and 10 piece band shows. We even threw together a 5 keyboard Pianorama. The pictures are just starting to come in, alibis and excuses made up, disclaimers written and bets settled. Bon voyage for next year.
One extra fun thing on the cruise was the first in-person meeting of the Marcia Ball International Fan Club. There were about 2 dozen members signed up for the cruise and about 3 dozen more members when we docked. The meeting was a meet-and-greet with me and the band and it was run beautifully by Cathie Baker, the Prez-extraordinaire. She had help from Margie and Debbie, Van and Leslie, Nancy, Bill and Janice. Page (WebGator) was the emcee. It was a lot of fun and prizes were awarded.
Looking ahead, I'll be going to Australia without my band (very sadly) as part of the W.C. Handy Allstars to play the festival at Byrons Bay at Easter. April will find us at the Houston International Festival, May at the Jazz Fest in New Orleans and also celebrating Mama's 80th birthday with a crawfish boil in Lafayette. May 23 is also the Handy Awards show in Memphis and it's hard to play the piano with my fingers crossed but I hope to take home one of those big blue notes this year. The competition is tough - all my heroes.
And on and on. Thankfully. Speaking of thanks: everywhere I look, everywhere I go, I see reasons to be grateful. I wish I could name each one of you (heck, I just wish I had time to respond to your e-mails. How do people do that and still have time to sleep and eat?). Your letters, your presence at our shows, means so much to us. Last year especially we were reminded how much we have and how easily we can lose it. We saw many tragedies, public and private. It's hard to understand how to be happy in the midst of that and yet a smile breaks through, a song brings back a memory, friends gather and honor Champ Hood, John "Mambo" Treanor, Keith Brindell, Rio Nicholas, and the victims of September 11. And we go on, hopeful. Take care. I'll be seeing you.
February 18, 2002
Boy, is it pretty up here! I can see why old Meriwether had to make this trip. Tall pines, big rivers, cool weather, we are digging the Pacific Northwest. Good coffee helps, too.
NORTH BY NORTHWEST
Last night we played the Sky Church at the Experience Music Project in Seattle. What a building, designed by Frank Geary, in the shadow of the Space Needle. In performing there, the bands become a living part of the music museum. We shared the night with Alice Stuart and had a fine old time. There were lots of Jazz Fest alumni, a couple of Delbert cruisers and some very imaginative dancers out.
The night before, Saturday, we played at the Aladdin Theater in Portland. Lloyd Jones came by and finished up the night with us. I've got to say, in addition to the scenery, the food has been above average on this trip, especially the Vietnamese in Portland and the sushi in L.A. and I'm looking forward to more when we get to that gourmet ghetto, San Francisco. First thing I'll be doing there is working on a project with Maria Muldauar, Angela Strehli, Tracy Nelson and many more women with whom I'm proud to be associated. It's a tribute to Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the great gospel (and popular) singer/guitarist who was, I have been told, an influence on B.B. King. Interesting how the lines cross.
It was strange to not be in New Orleans for Fat Tuesday. We played at the House of Blues in the other L.A. with Leo Nocentelli, so there was some funk in the house. He had a great band and sounded real good. In the past, while marching down Royal Street dressed like a Venetian or Venusian or something, it was hard to remember that it was a regular workday in the rest of the world. My sources say it was a beautiful day and then Wednesday dawned as gray as ashes. I also heard that someone who hadn't recovered from the revelry lost control of a truck and plowed into the Mother-In-Law Lounge. We're sending our love and best wishes to Antoinette.
Back home, Pat and I worked on W.C. Clark's new record, Kaz producing, Alligator wisely putting this one out. The pictures from Sandy Beaches VIII are coming in and are they embarrassing. Well, some of them are anyway. There's the one where my brother Van and I are both playing washboard with Wayne Toups. Won't Mama be proud when she sees that one. There's Laura's big lips and the Sweet Potato Queens' big hips. It was a fine old time.
We're driving to the Portland airport, I'm writing this on my baby Mac, listening to New Orleans funk on the cd player, looking at Mount St. Helens. So hooked up. Check out our web site. The summer bookings are starting to fill in. Check out the New Orleans Jazz Fest site. They've posted the schedule. Check out Delbert. Check Mr. Popeye. (You might have to be from New Orleans to get that one). I've got to navigate. Check you later.
March 4, 2002
We've now touched both ends of Interstate 10 from L.A. to Jacksonville, FL in about ten days and while we're a lot more familiar with its middle section, it has been fun seeing the extremities. There are palm trees on both ends. Other than that, the things that grow are as different as eucalyptus and palmetto. Over here it's shrimp and grits, out there it's sushi and sticky rice. The best thing is that we're having it all.
WAY DOWN UPON THE SWANEE RIVER
We all enjoyed our trip to the West Coast. We started at the House of Blues in L.A. trying to make it Mardi Gras with a whole lot of help from Leo Nocentelli who funked it up like the Meter he is. Our percussionist friend Debra Dobkin helped us get in the groove that night. We met movie stars and had a day off to play which, in my case, meant shopping and eating with Linda and Starrs. Oh, Genghis Cohen, what you do to me.
The band guys stayed the next week at a hotel in San Francisco and I joined them mid-week after working on the exciting tribute to Sister Rosetta Tharpe that Maria Muldaur is producing. Tracy Nelson, Angela Strehli and Del Ray, a great Dobro player from Seattle were also there singing and playing for our part of the project. Meanwhile, I called the band to arrange our departure the next day for the Palms in Davis and caught them at 11:30 PM having a steady stream of sushi and beer delivered to their table. What a delicious city and what great coffee all up and down the coast. I only drink two cups a day. One all morning and one all afternoon.
As soon as we got back, Chris and Pat came down to Austin to work on Doyle Bramhall I's new album. I can't wait to hear. There's a huge article in the Austin American Statesman on Sunday, March 3 about Jennifer Warnes' new album,
, which she made with much help from Doyle. The duet they do of "You Don't Know Me" is worth the price of any record.
This weekend we've revisited good friends in fun places. If there's anything I like as much as singing and eating, it's going and doing so being back in Jacksonville with Tib and Sis and their darling daughter, Pepper, was a treat. Sis baked cookies, they both fixed us up with great vegetarian backstage food and Tib saw to it that the house was full.
(Screech!!! Unscheduled flea market stop. 45 extra minutes before we have to be at the airport. Okay, we're back. I got Tib some 45's to thank him for the impromptu listening party backstage after the gig.)
Saturday night we were in lovely Charleston, S.C. playing for Tom and Callie and all their friends. It was one of those times when I wished for a "One Free Day" token to plug in. I hated to leave so soon and miss out on Callie's newfound expertise at mole' and chilequilles.
It has already been a good year of playing and seeing our friends and there's more in the works. Jazz Fest is coming up. Byron's Bay Festival in Australia. The Handy's in Memphis. Jam on the River in Philadelphia. Fitzgerald's American Music Festival in Berwyn, IL. Summerfest in Milwaukee. Going and doing. Singing and eating. Counting blessings. Appreciating my family, friends, band, fans, careful drivers, school teachers, thoughtful congressmen like Lloyd Doggett and Elliot Naishtat. Looking forward to seeing you all soon.
March 25, 2002
Well, heck. There's either too much going on or too little to write about. Either way, a month goes by and I haven't made a dent in my resolution to keep people more up to date on the comings and goings of the Marcia Ball Band and fans.
I HAVE A GOOD EXCUSE...
Maybe I should use my birthday as an excuse. I told Gordon I was going to celebrate my "birthday week" and he said there was no such thing, that you have a birthDAY, period. I told him that if Sarah Elizabeth Campbell can have a "birthday month" then I could have a measly little week. Boy, did I use it up.
We gathered with old friends and band members at Saigon Kitchen for oodles of noodles on Wednesday and then on Thursday a group, and by no means all, of the Dominotrix crowd I run with met at my house for food and talk. The only thing we forgot to do was play dominos. Saturday, after our gig at the cow barn celebrating the Rolling Thunder Down Home Democracy Tour, Janice and Charlotte and I went to see a great young singer, Ruthie Foster. If this is the first place you've seen Ruthie's name, I want you to remember that. When she's famous you'll say you read it here.
We had a great time in the mid-Midwest last week. Full houses and fun people. As a way to avoid South By Southwest in Austin, a swing through Ames, Des Moines, Omaha and Kansas City fills several bills. For one thing, there are better restaurants out there than there used to be including a brand new Vietnamese seafood restaurant called Kim Son in Omaha. I asked the owner what Kim Son means. He said. "Gold mountain, I hope". We got a good visit with the Cabral family there and look forward to seeing them all at Jazz Fest when they come to support Joe and the Iguanas in New Orleans.
In Kansas City there was, as always, too much to do. Two nights at the Grand Emporium, two days to eat at Jerusalem, the Middle Eastern café in Westport and Napoleon, the bakery. We raided Ron's Record Exchange. We were visited by the future governor of Kansas, I hope, Kathleen Sebelius and on Saturday afternoon my chairman of interesting outings, Dave Ranney, took me to meet Jay McShann, the great piano playing band leader.
I need to mention the blues societies. In Des Moines and in Omaha they were out in force, sponsoring the gigs and mobilizing the fans. I can't thank them enough on behalf of all the bands on the club and festival circuit. This is what makes it happen. Blues society members are doing radio programs, promoting shows and coming out to support the acts. If there's a group in your area and you want to know what's going on, join up. If not, start one. We really appreciate it.
Maybe it's because of our article in Saveur, mentioned elsewhere on this site, but I've been reading a lot about food lately. There are two books of memoirs I've enjoyed by Ruth Reichl: "Tender At The Bone" and "Comfort Me With Apples". There is an interesting connection here that you'll figure out if you read the books. Also by Reichl, the book I'm taking to Australia with me is a collection of excerpts from Gourmet Magazine which she edited called "Endless Feasts". Oops! I have an advance copy. It comes out in mid-April.
Speaking of Australia, off I go and I need to pack, so enough of this stuff. I think it's warm and beachy where I'll be so I can pack light. I'll be doing two sets with Duke Robillard and the W.C. Handy Allstars at the East Coast Rhythm and Roots Festival. I hope I see a wallaby or a wombat.
Hope I see you all soon, too. When I get home, it's countdown to the Jazz Fest, my favorite holiday. Happy birthday to Wendy and Nancy Coplin. Get well, Vickie. Thanks to Cathie and Page for spectacular jobs at the Fan Club and the web site. And in the immortal words of the Youngbloods: Come on people, now. Smile on your brother. Everybody get together and love one another. Right now.
May 6, 2002
Whew! We're on our way home from Jazz Fest 2002 with our tails a-draggin' and suitcases full of sweaty clothes. It really is the humidity!
As usual, the week in New Orleans was packed with good friends, food, music and some other interesting adventures. Outstanding moments for me were the personal tour of Longue Vue home and gardens provided by Vivian and Susan and the evening at the Jazz Fest Foundation Gala where Henry Butler, the Zion Harmonizers with Aaron Neville and Fats Domino played. This was also masterminded by Vivian and Richard, who have opened so many doors to New Orleans for me with true generosity and hospitality. Fats looks and sounds fabulous, uncannily the same as he was in 1954. (I wasn't there personally in 1954, but I've seen the pictures and heard the records.) The band locked in to perfect grooves on all the songs and Fats' saxophonist since the early days, Herb Hardesty, is still there playing one hit after another, songs we all know so well we can sing the instrumental solos as well as the words. What a night!
We had three good nights at Jimmy's and a beautiful afternoon in Lafayette Park. One sign that miracles do happen was when Gordon and I, hungry after our flight over, got to Mother's and there was no line to get in. Greens and potato salad and fried oysters were just what I needed to get through the gig. I brought two foot-long oyster po-boys back in my purse and they never made it to the hotel but there were some greasy grins on the band's faces.
We ate good Mediterranean, good Thai, good Greek, and this was before we ever got out to the fairgrounds to start on the crawfish pies, crawfish boudin, softshell crab po-boys, key lime tart, sweet potato pone and mango freeze. Oh, they have music, too.
This year we played the "big" stage, now called Acura but still fondly referred to as the "Fess Stage", which is what it was when I started playing the festival. Professor Longhair's picture is still front and center. Bonnie Raitt headlined that day and it's always a pleasure to hear her. Other highlights were playing with Dr. John at Tipitina's, having Carol Fran play with us at the Fest, my solo gig getting my ears pinned back by Tom McDermott and Joe Krown at Snug Harbor, hearing Lonnie Brooks interviewed, Delbert's set in the Blues Tent. I even got to drag Magazine Street with my mother for a little while, one of our favorite pastimes.
Regrets? Not making it to the Lion's Den to see Irma, missing all the great music on the days I couldn't get out to the fairgrounds, not getting to visit with all our friends who wanted to say hello at the festival, declining many gracious invitations because of the need to sound check, nap, dress for the gig, etc. This work thing seriously cut into our partying but, I'll tell you, there was some serious crawfish boiling going on every day all over the place. The whole town smelled like Zatarain's.
This weekend, we're going to try to take the good feeling a few miles west and go play Grant Street Dancehall in Lafayette. The folks there have been enjoying their own Festival Internationale and I hope they're not partied out. And from here on, through September, we'll be rocking and rolling.
One little cautionary note: almost the last thing that happened in New Orleans was that while Gordon and I were having lunch with another couple in a good restaurant, an attractive, well-dressed woman sat down behind our friend and relieved her of her driver's license and credit card which were in her purse hanging on the back of her chair. I've observed that in New York City in many restaurants, they won't let you hang your purse on your chair like that, perhaps because of how crowded together the tables often are there, but also because it's so easy for someone to walk by and take your bag. As Don puts it so well, "Live and squirm." (And keep your purse between your feet, I might add.)
Well, look out everybody. We're warmed up and ready for the summer touring season so put on your dancing shoes, get out your waving hankies and prepare to shake a leg, 'cause here we come!
June 3, 2002
To all my dear family, friends and Big Shots who have sent Good Luck messages beforehand and Congratulations afterward, I can't thank you enough! It worked! My friends all crossed their fingers, my mother prayed and I think my brother sacrificed a chicken (not really) and the band and I came home with a beautiful blue bronze musical note that says W.C. Handy Blues Award for Blues Album of the Year, 2002.
A MESSAGE FROM MEMPHIS
So there I was, backstage, thinking there was no way, but if there was a way, what would I say? Okay, first, thank the band. Then Doyle, my co-producer. Then Alligator, then Rosebud, then families, friends, fans and Big Shots. And it went just like that. Except...I forgot to thank the band! Am I grovelling? You bet. I thanked them then and I'm thanking them again, right here, in front of everybody. Great guys, great music. Thanks again.
We were all nervous, about playing and about the possibility of winning (and losing) but I wasn't too distracted to remember a few highlights of the night:
Ike Turner changed clothes at least 4 times that night - a couple of times without actually going out on stage.
Tracy Nelson was a presenter teamed with Steven Seagal! Everybody told her he wasn't very tall. He's about 6' 4". He changed clothes a lot, too, always in heavy brocade Nehru jackets.
Ruth Brown held court backstage and you could just sit down with her and she'd talk.
After the awards show and going to eat with Doyle and Barbara and the band and a few friends and dropping in on the after party Jam at the New Daisy, my friend Margie and I were back at the hotel elevator when we heard music in the lobby and looked over. There were Keb Mo', Leroy Parnell and Shirley King playing and singing for each other and a half a dozen late-nighters.
There was some confusion, such as when the announcer said, "Accepting for (somebody) is Charlie Musselwhite" and I looked over and there was Charlie in the green room just taking a big old bite of barbecue sandwich.
Henrietta Musselwhite wore the most wonderful hand-painted Mexican skirt.
I got to meet Little Milton. Talked to Carla Thomas, Teeny Hodges, Sam Phillips, Dorothy Moore.
Dr. John was the emcee. Gary and Kathleen Sebelius said it was a good thing they found the big teleprompter screen because they could only understand about a third of what he said.
After they read the nominees for Album of the Year, they couldn't find the envelope for the winner. There was a pause during which my friends in the audience were yelling my name. (I love them!) Then somebody came out and whispered in Ike Turner's ear. I'm still not sure it wasn't fixed.
Howard Stovall and all of the crew with the Foundation and with Gibson, who hosted the parties, did a wonderful job.
We had a great time at the Handy Awards and the next night at Hopson Plantation down in Clarksdale. We played and then sat out on the porch under a big old Mississippi moon. It was a very special weekend and we owe all our "luck" to all the people who make music, especially the blues, such a big part of their lives. Our energy comes from you. Thanks for sharing.
June 4, 2002
Well, my friends, the Griswolds have nothing on us. For a while we thought this was going to be the Trip of Things We Almost Saw. We almost saw the Marfa Lights. We almost saw Lincoln, New Mexico, site of Billy the Kid and the Regulators big shoot out and escape. But when we started seeing things, it was amazing. We saw the White Sands, the Black Lava flow, the Acoma pueblo on top of a 365 foot high mesa, all in New Mexico. We finally made it to the first of my intended destinations - Canyon de Chelly in northeastern Arizona. Nobody was disappointed. Gorgeous, if you'll pardon the pun.
GREETINGS FROM THE AMERICAN WEST, PART 1
The "we" to which I refer consists of Gordon, who is at this moment painting a scene overlooking Mexican Hat, Utah, our friend Janice, who is manning the ice chest and mediating directional disputes and myself, whose big idea it was to see the Four Corners - all of them.
Today, Janice and I rode horses into Canyon de Chelly with a nice young Navaho woman named Christy whose family lives in the canyon. We saw pictographs, petroglyphs and ruins of pueblo dwellings dating back 1500 years. My horse was the tallest I've ever seen. I guess they said, "Put old long legs on Sundeck." I called him Skybox. He walked at a pace that completed the trip in exactly the three hours advertised.
After the Canyon we drove to Monument Valley where we were supposed to be remembering the great John Ford/John Wayne westerns but all we could think about was Wylie Coyote and the Roadrunner. Anyway, Gordon got to say, about three times, "This is where they shot that scene in "The Searchers", the greatest Western ever made."
Merrily we roll along. After overnighting on the San Juan River, we headed even further west to the Natural Bridges Monument where we finally decided to buy a National Park Passport. By the time we see Arches, Canyonlands and Mesa Verde we will have made out like bandits on our $50 investment. We looked at all the natural bridges and even stood under one and then...we kept going west. How far, you say?
Well, before you know it we were in Glen Canyon and when you top that hill, it'll make a profanity-spouting, drop-jawed believer out of you. What a view! And there, right in the middle of it all is HITE, Utah! Most of which is now under Lake Powell. Sorry, Page.
So we're here to testify that maps don't tell the story. It looks flat, you think you're in the desert, it's out in the middle of nowhere but I've never seen such majesty close up. This is all in Pat Boyack's home state and it's easy to see why he's so proud of it. Traffic? About 2 cars in 20 minutes. We're out here where the cell phones don't run. America, the beautiful, indeed.
By the way, Gordon says we need to jack up the Southwest fan base because nobody's recognized me in several days. He was reduced to telling the guy who was cooking our steaks on the swinging grill last night that I was a musician. The guy said, "I'm one, too. I'm a drummer." There you go.
More later, after we've begun our descent.
June 10, 2002
GREETINGS FROM THE AMERICAN WEST, PART 2
We've made the turn and are heading east and southish - which means toward home, however obliquely, and that always feels good. We've also left the red, rocky terrain of Arches and the Moab area and have climbed into the western foothills of the Rockies. Gordon is painting at the confluence of the San Miguel River and Beaver Creek and Janice and I are trying to figure out if the tracks we're seeing are big cat or small bear. This whole watershed is protected by a cooperative effort of the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service and the Nature Conservancy. It's cool and green and we're going to spend the night in Ouray and the next morning in the hot springs there. I haven't told Janice, who is not crazy about heights and bridges, about the drive from Ouray to Silverton. It'll be Tuesday before she gets any color back in her knuckles.
We survived the trip down from the mountains and almost went to the Red Ryder/Little Beaver museum in Pagosa Springs, CO, but decided to press on and try to get to Ghost Ranch by sunset. I'm so glad we did. This is true Georgia O'Keefe country and all the paintings by the Taos artists that I love are here in real life panorama with the same light and shadows. It would be hard to paint this more abstractly than it really appears. We've seen so much scenery on a monumental scale, we were afraid we'd be jaded but northern New Mexico is hard to beat. We missed dinner at Ghost Ranch so Gordon just set up and did a quick one of the mountain there and we went down the road to stay at the Abiquiu Inn which turned out to be great.
Our last day of vacation...
We starved ourselves so we could be in the right condition for the Rancho Chimayo restaurant at lunch and we hit it just right. I think I've finally got my fill of green chilis. We sat outside among the roses and the honeysuckle and I ate all of my food and half of the tamale on Gordon's plate. We had to get our strength up for an afternoon of gallery hopping and turquoise shopping in Santa Fe.
Success! Almost. I resisted most of the silver and turquoise and coral. Drooled seriously over some big art and then bought...furniture. Just one piece but it's a rather large Mexican ropero, or armoire. We really can use it but I think I bought that particular one because it smells like wood smoke and incense inside like it's been in a church. Oh, well. Meanwhile, Janice got all the good deals on jewelry and a cool rug woven in Chimayo.
So now it's time to get back to work and pay off this wonderful vacation and I'm ready. I miss the band, family and friends in Austin, my piano, Sonny Boy, friends on the road, Maria's tacos, Saigon Kitchen, my kitchen. I hope we see a lot of Big Shots in Zilker Park on Wednesday for Blues on the Green. W.C. Clark and Kaz and hopefully more special guests will join us for the evening.
There's no place like home.
June 27, 2002
A great milestone (or millstone or gallstone) has been passed. Our esteemed Webgator, Page and his partner, the intellectually superior Agnes, have scaled the mountain and are looking at the view from the top. In other words, they're over the hill. They have turned 50 and 50 and had the party of the century to celebrate the occasion. There were buses, hotel rooms, hospitality suites, gala dinners, commemorative T-shirts, bells, whistles, cruisers, guests from all over America and several foreign countries who have known the honorees since they were children and beyond. Fortunately, the Marcia Ball Band didn't get involved until the evening of June 22, thereby avoiding the long and painful recovery that some of the participants experienced. By the time we got there, Tommy Castro and his band and Teresa James had been entertaining the crowd and everybody was all warmed up. And it went on and on. What a party! Happy Birthday. I can't wait 'til next year.
ATTENTION BIG SHOTS AND ALL OTHERS WHO READ THIS:
Well, that may have been the highlight of the month of June but, really, there were no low-lights. In Santa Fe, we made a smooth transition from vacation mode to gig mode. We played the beautifully restored Lensic Theater downtown which I remembered from the Christmas night that Gordon and I saw the movie, "Scarface", there in about 1984. Snow inside, snow outside. It looks a lot different now and the crowd was wonderful. They danced and paraded like it was Tipitina's on Mardi Gras night.
Then we had a surprise in Midland. First of all, we attempted to get on the big stage in front of our hotel only to be told that that wasn't where we were playing. That was where Pat (unmentionable word) Green was playing. This turned out to be a good thing. We played on the shady lawn of the Museum of the Southwest and the Haley Library for a very appreciative group plus they provided some of the best hospitality we've ever received. And then there was the museum: the bell from the Alamo, a priceless collection of spurs, saddles, western art, books and a magnificent archive of photographs. Worth a trip to Midland in itself, then you can eat at The Garlic Press or one of the Mexican restaurants Tova told us about.
Moving on into the really busy part of our summer, we said hello and so long to Austin on a lovely night at Zilker Park and headed to Colorado where I saw my nieces Kristi and Catherine and many friends including Elmo and Linda who brought the most delicious coffee cake I've ever tasted. This recipe deserves a whole Ball Bearing of its own. Maybe we can get Linda to ulge it for our occasional "Mama's Cooking" column.
Speaking of recipes, the winemakers at Grande River Winery have it down. Doc on the barbecue pit, people sipping vino and dancing on the grass and then one more cool evening in Beaver Creek capped off by dinner at Brian Nolen's fabulous Chop House.
And then we shuffled, of course, off to Buffalo to play with the Filter Kings in front of the courthouse downtown where there were hundreds of fine motorcycles lined up for our admiration. We had a cool evening in Pittsburgh's enormous South Park and, in spite of Page and Agnes' late night event at the State Theater in Falls Church, we showed up at Norfolk's Bayou Boogaloo on Sunday in time to hear the Mississippi Mass Choir. Wow!
Home again and gone again. There will be lots more to report from the road and maybe I'll get some of the band guys to write about it. I'm getting tired of hearing myself write. I hope you all have some vacation time to enjoy this summer and stay as cool as you are.
July 16, 2002
Hoo boy! We're cutting it close. Just because we had smooth sailing on the way up to Eureka, I relaxed and moseyed through the Avenue of the Giants on the way back down. Now we're in bad traffic in Santa Rosa and I'm sweating the flight home. This would not be so crucial if we had more than 18 hours between our return to Austin and our departure for Europe. I still don't regret taking the time to see the redwoods. In fact, it's so beautiful along the Eel River that Europe is going to have to show me some STUFF to top it.
WRITING, NOT STRESSING
Eureka! What a great town and festival. Shemekia said it first and best: usually we're on shows with a bunch of other guy bands but this one had Koko Taylor, Debbie Davies, the Rhumba Bums with Carmen Getit, the Mahotela Queens and us. It was an especially beautiful day in Humboldt County even according to the locals and we owe a special thanks to Kelly and Good Rockin' Derrall and Don and Roland and Jomama and all the folks at KHUM.
When last we visited, the band was heading to the theoretically cool blue north of Wisconsin. Right! The night before we left Austin, it stormed. Thunder and lightning, sideways rain. We snuck out of town in a lull and the whole time we were gone, central Texas caught up on about a year and a half's worth of precipitation. You hate to complain, but...
Meanwhile, in Oshkosh, with Blood, Sweat and Tears, mainly sweat, we discovered that the nineties is hot, humidity or not. It was fun, though, and David Clayton Thomas still has those pipes that remind me of a Gulf Coast soul crooner. Our return to theTrempealeau Hotel was pretty durn triumphant, I thought. Even without the Fitzgeralds on their houseboat, there was a good turnout for the little hotel on the big river. The trains running right beside the stage and the barges on the Mississippi always blow their horns. I almost started "Sea Cruise" about 5 times that night.
The next night in Madison, we did do "Sea Cruise" right beside the lake where WMMM hosted a party in the middle of an ocean of people who were there to see the fireworks and hear the symphony. And the next night, on the shores of Lake Michigan we were so glad to be back at Summerfest, we said thank you and they, of course, said "No, thank youuuuu!" Monte Montgomery was there and sounded great.
Then we blasted off for Ann Arbor, which is always a little like going home. I've felt a musical kinship between Austin and Ann Arbor ever since the first time Johnny Nicholas and the Rhythm Rockers came to Soap Creek Saloon with Sarah Brown and Kaz and Ronnie Earle. They blew us away. Then the Reynolds Sisters and the New Oso Band, who just had a big reunion in New Hampshire last month, came to town and then Howlin' At The Moon, several of whose members played with me in the late '70's.
Now why, you're wondering, didn't Bill "Huck Finn" Fitzgerald come up to Trempealeau on the houseboat. Because, of course, the entire family was busy remodeling and preparing and enlarging and improving the club for the American Music Festival over the July 4th weekend. I loved it when Bill read me the line-up over the phone - and read, and read. I'm not even going to try to tell you - you just have to go, but after a long list including Mavis Staples, Terrence Simien, Los Straitjackets, Dave Alvin, the dudes and Bill Kirchen (of Ann Arbor) and many, many more, he asked me, "Do you think it's a little much?" YES. It's a lot much and all for a $20 per night ticket. Two stages, 10 bands a day. It's the best deal and the most fun this side of the New Orleans Jazz Fest.
I have to make a special announcement here: there is a person who is so nice, and who makes such an effort to come see us whenever we're in shouting distance that I want to thank him personally and in capital letters. PAT CROWE, YOU'RE THE GREATEST!
Meanwhile, back on the lake, Taste of Chicago was cool in the culinary sense and hot in every other way. We played WXRT's live broadcast from the Petrillo Band Shell in Grant Park. This was my first set there since the time I showed up at the Chicago Blues Festival with unmatched shoes, a dress that wouldn't stay zipped and a sore throat. Things went much better this time. I know Tom Marker and Timothy's recording crew made us sound good on the radio and Pat's parents said we sounded fine live. They wouldn't lie to us, would they?
I know I'm going on and on here, but I've got to get this done before we take off for Europe. Besides, if the Webgator thinks I'm longwinded he'll just serialize this one into episodes and dole them out
(Webgator Note - Moi? Impossiblé!)
. Anyway, I'm almost done. I just want to talk about a wedding.
Dan and Lisa, who obviously have impeccable taste, got married at the Denver Botanical Gardens, had their reception at the Art Museum and hired us to play. As if that weren't enough, they have a great bunch of friends who know how to party. Best of all, they didn't seem to mind that our version of Hava Nagila sounded a little like a cross between the Cotton Eyed Joe and Ghost Riders in the Sky. They paraded around like the Jazz Fest veterans they are.
And to wind up, let me praise two great West Coast waterfront festivals - Portland, OR and Eureka, CA. Portland, last week, lives up to its great reputation and they raise a lot of money for the food bank there. The recently rediscovered Howard Tate was a highlight but the show stopper for me was a keyboard player named Janice Scroggins who plays gospel the way it was meant to be played and according to Lloyd "Have Mercy" Jones, she's fluent in the other styles of music: rhythm AND blues. The festival also featured Austin's own Kick Butt Gospel group featuring Malford Millican, Sarah Brown, Papa Mali and Carolyn Wonderland, all singing great and rocking your soul.
And Eureka. Isn't that where all this started? Well, we made the plane. We get to go home for a few hours. I'm not lugging the computer overseas so I'll have to take notes the old fashioned way and try to remember the high points. Y'all take care of the USA 'til we get back and try not to let the greedy jerks do any more damage than they already have to the economy and the environment. That's not too tall an order, is it. I've got faith in you.
July 29, 2002
On The Train, 7/19
Hey, I'm doing what I said I would, taking notes along the way but really - this is hard! We're on a first-class TGV train floating through the wheatfields between Paris and Brussels under puffy clouds in a bleu sky sipping Merlot. I'm oooing and ahhing for all I'm worth. Okay, I know we've got wheat from the Panhandle all the way to the Arctic Circle but somehow these wheatfields look like Monets. It must be the light.
We started this morning in Vitoria-Gasteiz, the capital of Basque country and the playing card manufacturing center of Spain. We all still have some degree of jet lash so we mostly didn't sleep last night. We played the Jazz Vitoria festival opening for Buddy Guy and got a very gratifying reception. Good press, too. I think. Van Morrison played the night before we did and it was the best show I've seen him do. I was really wishing my brothers and my friend Krickett could have seen that.
What a nice group of people put on that festival. From the promoter to our intrepid driver Jose Luis, the two Maita's, the two Nacho's. Everyone. Even the two drivers who picked us up a half hour late, low on gas and without a clue how to get to the airport, were nice guys. Volunteers, all. Up early and up late.
We flew in and out of Bilbao but didn't get to go into the city to see the Gehry Guggenheim. Maybe another trip. Today, when we flew into Paris we had almost four hours before our train to Brussels. Now, you know I couldn't be that close to Paris and not zip in for a peek. I used Chris as an excuse - he'd never been to Paris. So four of us - Don, Brad, Chris and I - boarded the local for the ride to Ile de France/Notre Dame and a half hour later, came out of the Metro on the Avenue Ste. Germaine. Yes! (Oui!) We walked three blocks to the Seine, took pictures, bought postcards, drank coffee and threaded our way back through the Greek cafes of the Latin Quarter. Forty five minutes in Paris. Meanwhile, Johnny and Pat positioned the luggage and we made our connection with four minutes to spare.
Next stop, Brussels.
It's a town, Genk, Belgium, in the eastern, Flemish section of the country. This makes it harder for me to order food. I'm figuring out a few things like broodj and kaffe so I won't starve or get a headache but I'm beginning to crave fruits and vegetables and it hasn't been easy to find them. We're here to play the Belgian Rhythm and Blues Festival which Don and I played 14 years ago, that time with John Lee Hooker and Stevie Ray. They do love their blues here. Buddy Guy's on this one, too, and Duke Robillard played last night. The beautiful weather didn't hold and a storm swept in last night which made the whole gig remind me of the late, lamented Frog Island Festival in Ypsilanti, MI.
We spent one night in Brussels and, oh my aching calves! I walked from the time we arrived Friday until they picked us up Saturday afternoon. We all struck out in different directions and later I ran into Don and Johnny and we ate mussels and pomme frites at an outdoor cafe in the lane just off the Grand Place. Shopping in Brussels is fun for me because the women are tall and their feet are big. Everything fits. Best of all, there's a flea market every day in the Place de Jeu de Balles. Here's what I discovered: flea markets are the same all over the world - the things they sell, the people who sell them and the people who buy them. You could be in Round Top, Texas or Genk, Belgium, where I woke up this morning and, while looking for a waffle (of course) and kaffe, found that the whole town was filled with booths. You can call it puce, pulgar or flea, but you can still find a little ceramic donkey pulling a cart.
Another great group of people took care of us here: Wim and our drivers Tjen and Bob.
Well, bon soir, for now. I have a view of the lake. The swans are swimming, the skies are clearing and I'm going to go see if the sundial collection is open. It beats watching the financial news on CNN.
Riding that train...
Oh, Italy! Gas stations with full bars. An espresso maker on the bus. Truck stops with the best pesto linguine ever. Even Chris Miller would approve of the coffee here, and he's picky. But I'm jumping ahead.
On Monday we left Brussels on the Eurostar, once again first class, through the Chunnel. I don't know if I can afford this lifestyle but it's easy to become accustomed to it. When we got to London, Graham met us at Waterloo and the adventure began. This was one of my two best trips to London (out of a possible four). The other good one was when Gordon and I popped over for a food show in 1983. It was our first trip together and memorable.
This visit was memorable as well. The Stereo Chickens produced the gig, essentially as a gift to us and the smallish crowd that came to the Jazz Cafe. They treated us royally and we are so grateful.
[A side bar on the Stereo Chickens: they were born in exactly the right place at the right time. They were Mod when Mod was super cool and this means scooters, short black raincoats, Beatle boots and American soul music and the blues. They grew up (relatively) to be annual visitors to the Jazz Fest and travelers on the Nashville/Memphis/New Orleans/Austin musical byways. Their appreciation of American roots music styles is deep and wide. They like Jimmy Lafave and Slaid Cleaves and Billy Joe Shaver and that means they're still super cool.]
So they couldn't figure out any way to get me to London other than to throw themselves a party and invite the discerning public. We stayed in a lovely hotel on Sloane Street and after dinner on our night off I talked Shelley into going to see Mose Allison with me. Ah, Mose. He sounded as great as ever, played strong and I was wishing Nick Connolly could be there, too. Mose sends his regards to La Zona, the Continental Club and Jon Blondell.
I saw more of London in a short time than I'd ever seen before. We all did. Once again, we struck out in our various directions and regrouped later to share our adventures. The boys went to Piccadilly Circus and explored the environs which include Soho and Carnaby Street. Don said he really enjoyed just walking around Chelsea, where our hotel was. I went straight to Harrod's, was overwhelmed and went out to check the designer shops in the area. The clothes! The shoes! The PRICES! They make 5th Avenue look like a bargain basement. As for me, I'll save my few square inches of packing space for Italy. Besides, I had some ground to cover. I went to Portobello Road but the flea markets are best on the weekend. I walked, cabbed and bused to Oxford Square, Regent Street, Marble Arch (Several times. I was lost even with Verenda's map.), Albert Hall, Big Ben and the Parliament. It was absolutely fabulous and, as always, I'm just glad to make it out of town without one of us stepping off a kerb looking in the wrong direction and getting squashed by a double-decker bus.
Tuesday ended late and Wednesday started very early. In fact, they pretty much ran one into the other and now we're in Italy. Unfortunately, Air France still has Don's bass and Pat's guitar but that's another story for later. I've got to go. It's Abruzzo and Umbria outside. Ciao!
La Dolce Vita, 7/27
O, Italia! Have I said that already? I love this place.
First the good news: we got Don's bass and Pat's guitar back. It took a couple of days and we have no idea where they'd been in the meantime. Don's theory is that they went to South Africa with the preacher who was ahead of us in the check-in line. Fortunately, they resurfaced in the Rome airport and we were going there anyway to fly to Sardinia. Now if only we could have been so lucky about our CD's.
Time out: we're flying over the Costa Smeralda as we leave Sardinia and the colors of the land, the beaches and the water are breathtaking.
Okay, I'm back. It's Saturday and we've had the most wonderful time. Our little bus picked us up in Rome on Wednesday with Martina, the tour manager, and Serafino, our angel of driving, ready to go. Without our instruments, Martina arranged to borrow some from the opening act in Lama dei Peligna. You know, you can't tell anything by looking at a map. We drove east toward Chieti in the state of Abruzzo, then turned off the major highway, then off the minor highway. Sera looked at the map a lot which made me nervous but I should have trusted him. Then we turned off onto a small road that climbed and climbed. The best comparison I can make is that it was like going to Telluride from Denver and when we got there it was perfect. We were in a village not even at the top of the Apennines. You should see the road above that. The whole district is a national park, particularly devoted to the restoration of the delicious greens native to the area. The stage was set up in the middle of a small square with the church on one side. This is how Lucca hooked me on doing this tour anyway. He described the gigs as being in ancient piazzas in picturesque towns. He wasn't just a-whistling Dixie. (I'll tell you about that expression later) The opening act was a 10 piece horn band from the area called Cif and the Shuffle Band. They were quite good and did several Stevie Ray songs.
That evening we had the first of a string of spectacular dinners arranged by Martina. This one featured tagliatella with mushroom and truffle sauce, a mixed grill of lamb, pork and sausage, and the above mentioned native greens in a salad. We sat on a terrace and watched the moon rise across the valley. This is the very same moon that hits your eye like a big pizza pie when Perry Como sings about it because this is his home. Speaking of hitting your eye, it's also Rocky Marciano's home.
And this is just our first night.
After leisurely morning espresso, we descended the mountain and headed for Citta di Castello. You see what I mean about Lucca's strategy. You can just picture the castle and it turns out that the whole old town is a fortress in the middle of the Umbrian farmland. Fields of sunflowers, villages perched on seemingly inaccessible hilltops, huge terra cotta potteries. We skirted Assisi and Orvieto, two towns I'd love to return to, and settled in to play another piazza surrounded by wonderful old (very old) buildings. While the guys set up, I wandered into the next piazza over where a brass band was playing Dixieland music and people were dancing. That night we played with our good friends, the Holmes Brothers, who showed the people what American soul/blues/gospel is supposed to sound like. We had a good visit and after our set, the brass band showed up and played on the steps of the Municipal Building. Don said it reminded him of the wedding scene in "The Godfather". Everybody said buona sera and we went off to bed because we had an early call for the trip to Sardinia.
Here's where we met back up with our instruments at the Rome airport and flew to Cagliari. We were picked up by Mario who talked to Martina all the way from the airport to the gig. As Gordon likes to say, "You didn't need a radio..." Poor Martina just wanted a nap. We stayed at Hotel Des Gourmets and it lived up to its name. The proprietor was also the chef (and the desk clerk, concierge and porter). The menu featured very fresh fish, filleted at the table, delicious pasta and a platter of wonderful vegetables which were actually prepared for Brad but he had to fight for his share. It was another feast.
The gig was with the Holmes Brothers again and it was Popsie Dixon's birthday. They joined us for the final song and the crowd gave them all a lot of love. Such a night! Speaking of our friends: Tommy Castro and his band were there in Narcao, Sardinia the night before us and if you want another version of this travelogue, check out their website (www.tcband.com). Billy Lewis, the drummer, is writing his own and he's very literate (for a drummer). Just kidding! His description of their last trip to Italy was wonderful. Meanwhile, Mario delivered us back to Cagliari complete with running commentary and we got out of town with a final "ArriviDORCHEE" just before the airport closed due to a power failure. That would have really upset our itinerary. We have a Biker Fest to attend.
Live to ride, ride to live.
Homeward Bound, 7/29
Full plane, long flight, bad video, airline cuisine, but at least there's world music on the audio. It seems like the time flew by and it seems like Spain was a year ago. I think we all agree, it was a very good trip. Martina and Serafino dropped us off right on time at Malpensa (bad thoughts?) Airport in Milan and we were sad to say goodbye. They did a great job and I think Serafino and Chris could be even better friends once they learned more than three words of the others' language. On our last night after dinner and gelato, we wandered across the street to Luna Park and, like flea markets, carnivals are the same all over the world except that U.S. insurance rates might prevent the free-for-all team chair swings flying horizontally trying to snag the mophead prize. Of course, Chris and Sera had to give it a go and they weren't bad, but they were rank amateurs in that crowd. Chris is finding bruises this morning and saying, "I guess that's where that swing whanged into me." I guess so!
And so ended five lovely days in Italy. We were lucky to get off Sardinia when we did because of the airport closing but by then we were well on our way to the Rolling Cow Biker Fest near Tocino. It's the first time I've ever signed a CD to Hell's Angels France. Also the first time we've ever been followed by a Little Red Riding Hood (Capuchetta Rosa) lap dance. To the skin. There was also an illustrated man showing 95 percent of his tattoo covered body and a 10 foot python slithering around among the motorcycles. Just your typical biker rally in the shadow of the Alps. Two good Italian blues bands played with us including the Long's Valley Blues Band featuring Rooster, a fine harmonica player who sends his regards to Gary Primich and Tina Rose.
And now home we go and I'm ready, but I'll really miss the good people we met and friends we made and the coffee and gelato and pasta. We saw beautiful towns and countryside in all the places we visited but when you find yourself thinking, "That looks just like home," then I guess it's time to go. Adios, au revoir, ta ta and arrivaDORCHEE!!
P.S. I promised I'd explain the "whistlin' Dixie" reference. Here's the deal: at some point, one of the bands that Martina and Sera took care of taught them some American expressions that don't actually translate literally, like "Boy, Howdy" and "Get out of town!" so every time we'd think of one, and Texas is especially creative in its colloquialisms, we'd try to explain it to them. Let me just say that some things are better left alone but there are a couple of Italians running around with more than typically colorful vocabularies. This brings us to Mario the Radio's contribution to international language skills... Apparently, the Italian equivalent of Laurel and Hardy or the Three Stooges was a character who waved his fingers up next to his chin and said, you guessed it, "ArriviDORCHEE!"
August 15, 2002
Ahhhh! This is the life. I just woke up from my second nap of the day. Doesn't that sound nice? Actually, the first nap was on the flight from Cleveland to St. Louis and the second was on the flight from St. Louis to Austin. I guess I was excited about coming home because I just couldn't go to sleep last night so I'm a homecoming zombie. (That sounds like the title of an old Sissy Spacek movie.) I can look across the aisle and see Johnny snoozing behind his black shades. The plane is pretty empty so I'll bet Don is stretched out across three seats in the back. As usual when we're heading for home, we booked an early flight. This means we can be tucked in behind a plate of enchiladas by noon.
GIMME SHELTER (ISLAND)
Last time we flew in, Gordon and Sonny Boy picked us up. Sonny just trotted into the airport like somebody's champion service dog and laid at Gordon's feet pretending to be a suitcase. So discrete, until he saw me. Then it was an Australian shepherd rodeo.
Well, it's so good to be home. That was the last of the long trips for the summer and I think it was everything we hoped it would be. If we're going to spend a lot of time out on the road, it's best to spend it in cool places with nice people and that's what we did in the last two weeks starting with Easthampton, Long Island. They really know how to "summer" out there. There's the beach, the breeze, the restaurants and shops, plenty of culture, the beautiful houses, the beautiful people, even an antique show. One of my favorite things is how rural it seems. There are big farm stands selling fresh produce every few miles along the road. Gorgeous flowers in the yards. Huge hydrangeas, a deeper blue than I've ever seen before. I particularly like the North Fork where we came in on the Orient Point ferry, and I love Shelter Island. In another life, I would be the town librarian there. In this life, we played a fun party at a great house that Don had actually seen in a movie some years ago. Besides offering warm hospitality at their home, our hosts put us up in very nice bed and breakfasts and I mean breakfast with a capital B. After the first morning, I set my alarm so I didn't miss the second.
The next gig of the trip was one of my most anticipated of the year. We played in Oyster Bay with Ray Charles. Someone had told me about this venue but I was not really prepared for it. The tent and stage area are set in the middle of the Planting Fields Arboretum. There's a manor house, large greenhouses, a camellia house, a rose garden, a dahlia garden, acres and acres of woods and lawns. It's a green island at the edge of the city of New York. Ray's show was fabulous. He sounded great and had 13 horns and a 5 piece rhythm section. It was all wonderful, but to quote Nick Connolly's daughter Ariel, "Ray's jacket and the Raylettes stole the show." For me, Ariel's family, her three little boys in their Hawaiian shirts, stole the show.
From there, we cruised back out island to Amagansett to play that great little showcase, Stephen Talkhouse. The club is named after a native of the area who would walk the length of Long Island, stopping at villages along the way to tell the news. The big name acts that Peter brings in are especially amazing when you realize that the place holds about 125 people. They're doing a book to commemorate their first 15 years and we're here to wish them another 15.
So, zigging and zagging we go, back into New York City for the NYC Blues Cruise but first, a day off. In New York - capitol of art, books, food and shoe shopping. Yes, indeed. We dropped our bags at the Mayfair Hotel and hit the streets in 6 different directions. I backtracked to the Garment District where I had noticed some very interesting windows on the way to the hotel. Brad went to the saxophone stores, Don went to the bass stores, Pat went to the guitar stores, Johnny went to the electronics stores and Chris called home to catch up on the late-breaking news (there's something going on in Troup), then he went to the drum stores, of course. On my way back to the hotel, I found myself in front of the theater where "The Graduate" is playing and impulsively bought a ticket for the next day's matinee. Kathleen Turner and Alicia Silverstone are starring. Then I beat it uptown to catch the end of the New Yorker Magazine's softball game, which they won, and dinner with Roberta, Caroline and Larry "the ace of second bass" Wright.
How do you ever decide where to eat in New York? Do you ever feel like you know the best place when you've passed 20 great looking places to get there? Well, ours was the best. So there. And the company was the best, too. I miss not having the Wrights in Austin while they're working up in New York but it's good having friends in delicious neighborhoods. Speaking of which, Wednesday, gig day, Don and Chris and I took the subway (not the A train, but the 3) to 125th Street and Lenox Avenue to eat at Sylvia's, the deservedly famous palace of soul food. Then, they went to look at the Apollo Theater while I scooted back downtown to catch my play. It was good. It was Broadway. It was a little disconcerting when Kathleen Turner bared all in about Scene III. I don't remember that from the movie.
A change of clothes, a terrifying cab ride and I'm on the boat at Pier 16 and we're playing music while the sun sets behind Lady Liberty. It was a perfect night for a cruise and we had a boat load of friends. They held back as long as they could and then the dancing spread from stem to stern. But when we got to the end of the island and the view was striking because of what you don't see, there was a quiet moment because there's so much to feel and nothing, really, to say. We love New York.
And that's just Week One. Stay tuned for Week Two. Right now we're flying through fluffy, puffy central Texas clouds just like the ones Jim Franklin painted at the Armadillo World Headquarters. Bump. We're home. Down, Sonny Boy!
September 25, 2002
Oh, how I wish I were sleeping.
THE ENDLESS SUMMER
Lately it seems like I've budgeted for everything but that. Somewhere back about six weeks ago, I wrote about the first half of our trip to the Northeast and promised to continue soon. Liar, liar! Life just zoomed ahead of my ability to describe it. So much is going on. I know you understand. I just don't want all the people who have made this year so much fun to think we don't appreciate the heck out of them.
When I last wrote did I mention the restaurant, Big Mamou, in Springfield, MA? Whoa, those guys can cook. Our annual rendezvous with the Christina family at the Ocean Mist in Rhode Island was the usual beach party although we didn't have time to make it over to Gino's Sand Bar.
I want to make a special mention of Lowell, Massachusetts. When we first played there some years ago, we found the warmest welcome I think I'd ever experienced. Just great people, across the board and the hospitality has never cooled. Also, if someone from Lowell shows up anywhere else, for instance last night in Monterey, CA, they always say hello and pass on the same good vibes. Thank you, thank you. And, Lisa, I'll make it to Inizio Spa one of these days. We finished the trip with really fun gigs in Lancaster, PA and Cleveland, OH.
Since then, we've been weekend warriors adding impressive numbers to our frequent flyer mileage. We played our first ever show in Delaware at the Wilmington Blues Festival where I enjoyed seeing Jimmy Thackery playing with the Nighthawks for the first time in years and got a visit with Hubert Sumlin who we miss badly since he moved away from Austin. I'd like to thank the Ruduski's for NOT bringing a bottle of that potato vodka that caused so much consternation in Lancaster, PA. They have a new one-eyed cocker spaniel (a cock-eyed spaniel?) in the family. His name is Booker.
And speaking of dogs, I don't usually write about private parties but I'll make an exception. The night before Wilmington, we played up on the Hudson River at a birthday party for Patrick and Rachel, a couple of Mississippi transplants. Rachel has been an independent filmmaker who concentrated on the great authors of Mississippi like Eudora Welty and Flannery O'Connor. Then she founded the Good Dog Foundation, which provides for therapy animals in hospitals and wherever they're needed. And boy, are they needed. She said that after September 11, people who didn't want psychologists or clergy did want therapy dogs. I would be one of those.
Fly home, fly to Canada. All the good things I'd heard about the Edmonton Blues Festival were true. In fact, like Ottawa and Regina, I only hear good reports about the Canadian music festivals. I'd like to say it was cool up there but they had one of their two or three real summer weekends going. That was okay. The heat matched the music. Charlie Musselwhite did an extremely classy set and Roy Rogers knocked me out.
Fly home, stay in Texas. Labor Day weekend found us on the shores of beautiful Lake Austin having something of a friend and family reunion at the Pier. This lakeside honky-tonk has been there since Gordon was a 17-year-old rock 'n' roll guitar player and there are trees that have been planted, grown up, and died since I've been going there. Lots of Cajuns, several of Gordon's and my own kids and a bunch of our good friends enjoyed the steamy heat and W.C. Clark. The next day we went to the Bedford Blues Festival in the heart of the D-FW Metroplex. That show has grown and grown and had an impressive lineup this year. We played before Little Feat and they did a very strong show. Bill Payne is such a great piano player. He works a little Art Tatum and a little Chopin and a lot of magic into the middle of Dixie Chicken.
Hey, I'm catching up! And 'fessing up, too. The reason I'm not sleeping is that I can't pass up Peet's coffee and I had a big old cup of French Roast right before we got on the plane. Sleep! Who needs it? You can read this in segments. Take your time. It took us almost two months to do all this stuff.
I'll also interject here that I'm not sleeping all that well at home lately because Sonny Boy Williamson III, the flying Australian Shepherd, launched himself out the window of our son's pickup truck at another dog and badly broke his leg last week. He had a rough week and needed special attention which means the middle of our bed wearing one of those plastic Elizabethan collars. It's not that big a bed. He's sleeping fine. They gave him Tylenol 4 with codeine. I'll probably have to put him in rehab now.
Meanwhile, back on the road, fly to North Carolina and the Bull Durham Blues Festival in the great old Bulls stadium. Eddie Clearwater is definitely "The Chief" and a dear person, too. Also, we finally crossed paths with our good friends, Terrance Simien and the Mallet Playboys. It's been too long since I heard that beautiful voice and one of Danny Williams' good jokes. I introduced two of the nicest couples I know to each other and we had a delicious dinner at the Magnolia Grill. Some day, I'm going to book an entire tour based on great restaurants.
Speaking of food, another digression: if you're considering going on the Sandy Beaches IX Cruise and need a little push - this year's boat is a Holland American liner that's supposed to have the best food afloat. We'll be picky and let you know. If it's true, we'll gloat. 1 800 DELBERT.
Fly to Wisconsin. Finally, we found someplace cool - Green Bay was perfect and Beausoleil was, too. We asked at an Asian grocery store about restaurants and they sent us to a Thai place down the road in DePere that hit the spot. DePere itself is interesting. There's a strong presence of the French trappers and voyageurs that first explored that area. It was another reminder that you can't judge a place by the size of its dot on the map.
We went on down to Madison and had a full house at Luther's Blues - a club that is a monument to Luther Allison. It was a quick trip to Tracy Nelson's home town without even time to go to the St. Vincent de Paul store that has one of the best selections of used books around. And this in a town full of used book stores. I guess if you combine a big university and a long winter you get some surplus reading material. We really appreciate the size and the enthusiasm of that crowd which has grown over the years but still has its roots in our past gigs at the Harmony Bar and the Crystal Corner. And, hello back at you, Keith.
Boogie back to Texas (as Asleep At The Wheel would say) and the Rose Capital, Tyler, for Fest On The Square. There was quite a respectable turn-out but the crowd was about 40 feet from the stage. They didn't look like the sort of people who would rush us or riot so we incited an insurrection and the audience responded by dragging their folding chairs right up to where we could look them in the eye. All right, I admit, we had a couple of ringers in there. Cathie Baker, the Prez of the MBIFC, and Carl and Elizabeth Webb, our most traveled fans, and that crowd from Athens led the charge. There was dancing on the side.
Almost done. Are you still with me?
At this very moment, we're flying home from the Golden State and a very special weekend, indeed. We played at the Mystic Theater in Petaluma Friday and saw a bunch of our friends. Another meal in good company with Linda and Charles and a short night's sleep and we dove right in to the Monterey Jazz Festival. And how, you might ask, would we be described as jazz? Only if we were on a special day's line-up between Big Time Sarah and Etta James, I respond. Any day that I can hear Etta sing and Mike Finnegan sing and play is a good one. But that's not even the capper. After our sets, I was whisked (actually, it was a mini-van driven by Scott Billington, my old Rounder compadre) off to Mission Ranch where Clint Eastwood is directing one of seven films documenting the blues. His interest is in the piano and he's quite a good player himself but on this particular evening he had two legends, Pinetop Perkins and Jay McShann, sitting around talking and playing. I fell in love (sorry, Clint) with Pinetop all over again. Such a night. Today, all I can think of is what I didn't say, all the great players that may not get a mention because two hours might not be enough time to remember Gray Ghost and Roosevelt Sykes and Amos Milburn and Hadda Brooks. I'll just have to count on Dr. John and Harry Connick, Jr., both music historians, to fill in the blanks.
And that's the down side of sleep deprivation. When my mother sees the film she'll say, "You look so tired."
There! As Gordon once said, "That's what deserves you" for starting to read this at all. I'll try not to bother you for a while. There's another little project in the works. It looks like we're going to record a new album before the end of the year so we'll be sequestered for creative reasons and will barely see the light of day before New Year's Eve. Well, except for 12 gigs in October and that little trip to Juneau, AK in December. I'm serious. Got to find moose and squirrel. Thanks for a great summer. You are the best.
Tray tables and seat backs in upright and locked position. All electronic devices turned off and stowed. Prepare for landing. Now I get sleepy.
November 19, 2002
Pay the ransom! I'm locked in a box in South Austin and they won't let me out until I've recorded 14 or 15 songs. Fortunately, I'm in here with a bunch of very talented musicians and things are going great. Here's where I drop a few tidbits to tantalize you into bugging Page at the website for more information. What I can't tell are album title and release date (and he doesn't know anything, either). I will tell you that this is the funkiest record I've ever made. Right now, acting in my roll as co-producer, I'm going to go pick up some barbecue.
READ THIS OR YOU'LL NEVER HEAR FROM MARCIA AGAIN...
Stephen Bruton, acting in his roll as co-producer, is overseeing Pat Boyack's guitar solo on a song that Sarah Brown and I wrote called "Didn't You Know?" He's also coordinating the comings and goings of a great cast of characters (emphasis on the second syllable, a la Dr. John) like Red Young on B-3, Tom Fillman on drums, James Pennebaker on various guitars and Don Bennett, Yoggie Musgrove and Chris Maresh on bass (one at a time). Wayne Toups came in Saturday morning (!) to play accordion and sing harmony on my bet for the popular favorite on the record, "Honeypie" (not the Beatles song).
Our esteemed Webmeister, Page, pointed out that I haven't written anything in a couple of months. True, but I've got a good excuse. We went from zero to sixty on this project in a flash. Suddenly, I realized we had the songs, the time, the studio and the urge to make a record. All we needed was to spend every waking hour putting it all together. We did break out for a few gigs, like the Cotillion in Wichita, KS and the Sooner Theater in Norman, OK. Both shows were fun and we got to see a lot of new faces as well as some of our old friends like Tracy in Norman and Lewis Cowdrey in Wichita. And then we played a pre-election celebration party for the new governor of Kansas, Kathleen Sebelius. What a thrill it is to have her win. Onward and upward for Governor Sebelius.
We really had a busy October beginning at the Red River Revels in Shreveport where it DIDN'T rain. Then we went home because there was no electricity and many downed trees in Lafayette, LA in the wake of hurricane Isadore. I spent the week with Mama in Vinton enjoying some of that good food and spoiling and then the guys came through and snagged me for another run to The Docks in Pensacola. Large fun at the beach which, by the way, is smaller by quite a bit since their hurricane. We stayed in the Southeast and played The Variety in Atlanta and then, for the first time in a long time, Hal & Mal's in Jackson, MS. After our set there, we crashed Anson and the Rockets gig over at a really cool blues bar across town. Jackson is where I met Sam Myers for the first time years ago and the other night he was really ON. There was a woman singing with him and he was ad libbing lyrics that were amazing. You never have a camera or a recorder at times like that and it was the real deal. We closed out the month at a fund-raiser for Blue Lisa, the DJ at KNON in Dallas at Sons of Herman Hall. I love that old place. There's always something to discover there. This time they were restoring the four lane bowling alley in the room we usually use for a dressing room so they put us up front in a different room. This one had an old Steinway upright piano with chipped up ivory keys and a wonderful tone. You never know what you'll find.
So it's November and we're back in Austin, making up songs and saving them for posterity, whether posterity wants them or not. Last week before being locked up here in the Hit Shack (we can only hope!) Stephen and I went out to Fredericksburg, TX for one of my favorite gigs of the year. Every year about this time, Johnny Nicholas, one of my Pianorama buddies and hopefully a guest on the new record, produces a fund-raiser for the high school band program there. He puts together the best band with seven horns combining Kaz's Texas Horns and the West Side Horns from San Antonio. Cindy Cashdollar played steel, Floyd Domino played piano, and special guests included Joel Guzman on accordion with Sarah Fox and Max Baca, Johnny Bush and Joe King Carrasco, Bruton and I, Ernie Durawa on drums and Bill Campbell on bass. Quite the night. People danced and we all had a ball.
And in closing, one more note about the record. I've used different co-producers on each of the last three projects I've done. This does not in any way indicate dissatisfaction with the previous arrangement. In fact, these have been the most fun, pleasant experiences I could ever hope for. On "Let Me Play With Your Poodle" I worked with Kaz and Derek O'Brien and on "Presumed Innocent", Doyle Bramhall. Both times they brought great songs, arrangements and musical ideas. They brought something out in me that I wouldn't find on my own and I knew Stephen Bruton would work for me in the same way. In fact, he was very involved in "Gatorhythms" although not credited for anything but guitar playing and co-writing "Mama's Cooking". We're working hard at playing good and the results are exciting. I hope you like it.
December 9, 2002
Wow! I'm going to just jump ahead, skip all the talk about Thanksgiving holidays and get right to this trip we're on. It's 4 PM and the sun has gone down in Juneau, Alaska. From my hotel room window, I can see the lights coming on in town and up the base of Juneau Mountain. We arrived at 2:30, dropping down through the clouds and descending through a narrow valley, a sharp bank left and we were here. Galen picked us up at the airport and gave us a ride out to Mendenhall Glacier while it was still light. Even in the overcast twilight the blue of the ice was amazing. We just stood there staring while a bald eagle flew down the valley in front of us. On the way to the hotel Galen took us on a quick tour of downtown - the state capitol building, the Governor's home, the main street. We quizzed him about where to eat and hit the streets.
NORTH TO ALASKA
Well, you never can tell. We scoped out all the restaurants and ended up at a walk-up window that served Thai/Filipino/Italian/Greek food. The Pad Thai and the coconut milk curries were great. Juneau is self-contained in a couple of very important ways. They roast their own delicious coffee, Heritage, and brew their own beer, Alaskan, also delicious. After a lot of talk about meeting later for a beer, we all crashed at about 8 o'clock.
Friday dawned at about 10 AM and I went to KTOO, the public radio station to be interviewed by Susan Fitzgerald, then we all met up to continue our tour of the area. It's been so warm and dry that there's no snow on the ground but the trees are all frosted the way we snow-deprived southerners spray our Christmas trees with flocking. Who came up with that name? We drove out to Douglas Island and saw more eagles, a pair of sea lions and, best of all, a pair of whales. My first.
The gig at Centennial Hall in Juneau went great. The crowd had been primed to dance. There were people with Mardi Gras beads and spontaneous conga line parades. Every aspect of the event was covered by Pam, Susan, Linda and the others whose names I wish I could remember but especially Galen, our tour guide. He even helped to make a wish come true. My neighbor in Austin, Ruth, who is one of the sharpest octogenarians I know, and I know a few, said that if I saw one of those "big dogs" to get a picture. Well, Galen knows Vicky and Vicky owns Sarge, 149 furry pounds of Malamute sweetheart. After the show, who should be waiting backstage but Sarge. He slimed my suede skirt, shed on my wool coat and smiled for the camera. That one's for you, Ruth. I hope it's not another 12 years before we get to come back to Alaska. I'd love to take a ferry up to Haines and Sitka. Summer, winter, I don't care.
An early flight out got us to Anchorage in time for sunrise and breakfast. This club, Chilkoot Charlie's, which I thought sounded familiar, is the place where I saw Jesse Colin Young when I was up here years ago playing the State Fair at Palmer. On that trip, my son Luke was with me and being here without him made me very lonesome so I called him which only aggravated him since I'm here and he's not. Actually, he's pretty contentedly sitting in Austin selling off his collection of old Volvos. Once again, we dropped our luggage and went sight-seeing, this time down to Cook Inlet. Anchorage has grown a lot since I was last there but you still see the craggy mountains peeking between the buildings. I continued to eat salmon at every meal. Salmon and eggs for breakfast, salmon on a pizza for dinner. You should try it.
Once again, cold weather and warm welcomes went together. Mike McCormick's Whistling Swan produced a sold out crowd and he took very good care of us, as did Sonya at the club. I particularly need to thank the audience here because the sound system was not up to standard and I know the people were frustrated but they stayed and danced and partied anyway. After our show, we went to Blues Central to see Soul Man Sam - Memphis' own Sam Evans and my friend Stu Schulman, the guitar player in the band. They sounded great.
So now we're heading South to Louisiana and rounding out the year with dates in Lafayette and New Orleans, then up to Kansas City, Des Moines and then Fitzgerald's in Berwyn, IL for New Year's Eve. Meanwhile, we've finished the recording part of our new album and will be mixing it during the holidays. I'm still stuck figuring out what to call it but you'll be the first to know. Well, the first after the record company.
In other new developments, I'm sad to announce that Chris Hunter, our fine young drummer, is ending his second tour of duty with the band at the end of the year. He's going to go to school and as much as I hate to lose him, I think that's a good idea. Starting in January, Mark Wilson will be keeping the beat. He's a veteran of Anson and the Rockets and Mike Morgan and has played many a gig with our guitarist Pat Boyack in the Dallas area. I think he's going to work out very well.
And before I go, I want to thank the folks who have inquired about Sonny Boy's broken leg. As Don said when it happened, he's a young dog and he'll get over it and indeed, he has. We're still trying to keep him a little less active but I think by mid-month he'll be ready to accompany Gordon on the long walks.
We're wishing you all happy holidays and lots of love, friendship, generosity, and if I can have my heart's wish, peace.
February 20, 2003
To my friends,
NOT FOR THE SQUEAMISH
You may not want to read this. You can skip down a few paragraphs or click the back button now. There are some things I have to say about the bad things that are happening in our world today and until I say them, I can't seem to go on to the good.
Here we are, a few months into the Bicentennial celebration of the Louisiana Purchase, still finding our footing after September 11, 2001, chasing the wrong demons, starting a war, ignoring the needs of the elderly and poor people in our country and the world while allowing the biggest thieves in history to amass obscene fortunes, and spending the environment like there's no tomorrow.
A few years ago I observed that the word "integrity" was rarely heard anymore. This seemed to me an indication that the quality was also being lost. The recent spate of corporate crimes, euphemistically called scandals, has proven this to be the case. Lately, I often want to say to people, "Shame on you," but shame seems to be increasingly rare.
Now we're standing on the brink of war - brought here by the posturing of a marginally intelligent president and a group of power crazed manipulators with God knows what agenda. We who think this war is wrong, and there are so many of us, are talking to each other, demonstrating with each other. We remember what it took to move the government thirty years ago. Will it come to that again?
We have our cars and our bountiful stores and our computers and our stupid "reality TV" but the reality is, we have no power. Fifty percent of the population of Iraq is under 15 years of age. Won't we be proud of dropping bombs on those children. Anti-war is not anti-American. Environmentalist is not a dirty word. If we don't say these things to the people who don't want to hear them, then we're letting them win.
I'm going to send this and Page will put it on the web site. Tomorrow, we'll leave for a much anticipated trip to Reno, NV and California. We hope to see many of you at Bimbo's and the Belly Up and all the clubs along the way. I'll take my trusty laptop with its battery fully charged and catch up on the last couple of months of travel and recording. Thanks for being there for us. In the middle of all this rabble rousing, it is also our duty to boogie. So let's.
February 28, 2003
NOW WHERE WERE WE?
Here we are, heading north on I-5 with the blue Pacific Ocean on one side and Camp Pendleton, site of some of Gordon's most strenuous memories, on the other. In California, even the Marine Corps bases look pretty. It's amazing. Meanwhile, back in Texas and most of the rest of the country, it's raining, snowing, sleeting and blowing. I couldn't be more pleased with the timing of this trip and the gigs, they're going very well, too. Last night at the Belly Up in Solana Beach, Pinetop Perkins played with us and he'll do it again tonight in Long Beach. He's a wonderfully chipper 90 and although he says he's not Pine "top" any more, he's Pine "bottom", he deserves and wins the Handy Award for keyboards every year.
Speaking of the Handy Awards, people keep asking if we're going this year and the answer is, "I dunno". We haven't received our engraved invitations yet but after we find out, you'll be the first to know.
So, back in December, we were enjoying mild weather in Alaska and looking forward to the holidays. I'm blessed with family stretching from the Heart of Texas to the Heart of Cajun Country and I got some visits in with all of them and more, then the band took off for points Midwest. We had a good weekend in Kansas City and Des Moines. There was cold weather but no ice on the roads or in the audiences and when we got to Fitzgerald's in Berwyn, IL (my favorite club in America and therefore the world, as I've said here before), we were ready to ring in the new year. Friends gathered from all over. The new restaurant had its maiden voyage with Doug and Peggy Brown's party and we said "Ta Ta" to 2002.
There are times when our lives are like the sound track to a cartoon - Zoom, Zap, Pow. We blasted south from Chicago, dumped our down, tossed in our tropicals and took off for Florida and Delbert's Sandy Beaches Cruise IX. Before we cruised we played the Bamboo Room for the first time, I hope, of many. It's a beautiful room, very well run by nice folks. What more can you ask? The next day, we drove cross-state taking the old highway so we could pay a visit to Ruby C. Williams, one of Florida's treasures. She paints folk art scenes and sayings, usually on boards, in vivid colors and nails them up on her fence and in her shed. She's as warm as the Florida sun. I picked up a couple of goodies and we continued on to Skipper's Smoke House (they smoke anything) in Tampa for a great big Bon Voyage party. On the opposite end of the piano player spectrum, we were joined there by a 12 year old boogie woogie prodigy named Little Boy Flowers. He rocked out with the band and easily stole the show. Kids!
And then we sailed. I could describe what it's like to be on a Sandy Beaches Cruise but you'd think I was exaggerating or bragging. It was just your typical week long party on a cruise ship with non-stop music, great food, short visits to interesting places, reunions with good friends and enough down time to read a book or play dominos if you're so inclined. The new act on board was Fred J. Eaglesmith and he took many of us by surprise, not being Fred Heads when we went in. Now we all are. As usual, it's who you DON'T know that makes a difference on the SBC. Teresa James and her band and Jimmy Hall and whomever he plays with put on the best shows every time and if you don't go where they live (or on the cruise), you might never have the pleasure. Nick Connolly's previously solo happy hours have turned into great danceable jams with Bill Campbell on bass and all the other musicians in line to play. Next year is Sandy Beaches X and they're planning extra special stuff, so we hope to see you there.
And that's not all, folks. We spent some time at home. Really. And I wondered how I was going to keep my feet warm in Brrrrlington, VT in January. Here's the trick: big boots, big socks. What we found when we got there was a wonderland. This may change my long standing rule about not going north in the winter. Our dates were all co-billed with Beausoleil, the premier Cajun band, in very nice performance halls and restored theaters like the Flynn in Burlington, VT, the Lebanon, NH Opera House and the Carpenter Center in Richmond, VA. We also played another favorite gig of mine at the Birchmere in Alexandria, VA. All the shows were fun and the scenery was gorgeous. In Lebanon, NH, we met a guy whose Volkswagen Rabbit runs on cooking oil. Now there's an idea. Just pull up behind McDonald's and fill 'er up. Speaking of cooking - there's a great breakfast place in Burlington called Penny Cluse (I think). Those people know their way around an omelet.
But the best eggs are wrapped inside a tortilla at Maria's Taco Xpress on South Lamar Boulevard in Austin and that's where I was as soon as I got home from New England. For a day. In our next installment, I'll tell you about the Hackberry Ramblers, how the record's going and our new drummer, Marc, but for now, it's time to put this baby (that's me) to bed.
Take care of yourselves and others. Use whatever influence you have to get our country back on the right track. Share. Teach. Hope. Give. Love. Help. I know you will because you're good people.
P.S.: In case you read my recent political screed, you might be interested in knowing that the feedback is overwhelmingly positive for speaking out and negative about the current administration. Who are they polling out there? My favorite sign at the antiwar demonstration in Austin was "Stop Mad Cowboy Disease". It was right up there with the "Pooches for Peace" that I saw on a Poodle. What a world.
April 9, 2003
Can you believe I brought a Hershey bar to Switzerland, the home of cheese, Swatch, knives but, most of all, chocolate? It's my mother's fault. We always have to have an emergency stash in case, like Barney Fife, we need a little afternoon pick-me-up.
I wrote this installment of the junket journal in longhand because I didn't tote my laptop overseas. Other things I left at home: my long coat, a big sweater and a hat. That's okay because the weather was gorgeous. Of course, the TV meteorologist could be saying "Batten down the hatches" in German and I'd be blissfully unaware. But for the most part, it was perfect walking weather in downtown Bern where I marveled at the high prices on shoes (they're showing pointy cowboy boot toes on sexy high heels - this is for women, I may need to point out). There are fabulous bakeries and tea rooms. Even the open air Asian sidewalk stalls look good. It may be a weird side effect of jet lash but I was famished the whole time I was there. I went into a shop looking for a phone card and the place turned out to be a huge candy store like I've never seen before. I was like a...well, like a kid in a candy store.
By the end of day 2, we had pretty much covered the old part of Bern on foot. There's street music everywhere, many combinations of instruments and various nationalities. A duo playing Harlem Nocturne in front of our hotel on clarinet and acoustic guitar lulled me to sleep the first night. The cathedral "Munster" is hyper-gothic with major buttresses. On Tuesday and Saturday, the squares and several main streets fill up with farmer's markets, flower markets and cheese and meat stalls. It was hard to pass up the beautiful fresh goat cheeses and lovely little sausages but I couldn't see buying lunch for the first customs agent that smelled my carry-on bag. Instead, I bought a sewing machine, an antique Singer Featherweight (not if you're carrying it home from Europe, it isn't).
Meanwhile at the job site - the beautiful Innere Enge hotel with a view of the city and the mountains - we played at Marian's Jazzroom to a very responsive audience. I was a bit intimidated at first because many of the greatest jazz and blues artists have played the club and the festival that Hans has been producing for 27 years but the warm welcome of the audiences helped. Swiss National TV taped one whole night and will broadcast an hour of us later this year.
In the area of pleasant surprises, our friends Carl and Elizabeth Webb from Lake Charles, LA were waiting for us at the club on the first night. They were visiting friends in Europe and timed it so they could come to Bern while we were there. They made a side trip with me up to Kleine Schteddeg, the spot where you can see the Alpine Jungfrau and the Eiger right there in front of you. People were riding the train with their skis and sleds and dogs and getting off at the top to ski back down to the lower villages. Just beautiful. Elizabeth asked me if anyone had traveled more than her and Carl to see us play and I mentioned our friend Randy who, as I might have expected, showed up the next day. We're happy to be an excuse to travel far and wide and it was great to see our friends.
As pretty as the Swiss Alps are, I have to say that the past few days of driving from Santa Fe to Boulder to Durango and now to Vail have taken us through the most spectacular scenery I ever hope to see. From the red bluffs and mesas and cottonwood lined arroyos of northern New Mexico to the snow-capped top of Mount Evans in Colorado, it's America the Beautiful. Driving down to Durango we had sunshine one minute and snow flurries the next. There are beaver dams in the creeks, pinto ponies in the pastures, aspens and conifers and mountain bluebirds. We stopped outside of Durango after dark and looked up at the stars which seemed to be about ten feet overhead.
Our trip to Boulder was for a taping of E-Town, Nick and Helen Forster's syndicated radio show. It was a pleasure, as usual, to work with the talented Forsters, their great band and crew and the band DaVotchKa from Denver. The show will be broadcast in 4 to 6 weeks so look out for it - E-Town.
We're backtracking through Pagosa Springs, CO, home of Red Ryder and Little Beaver, on our way to Vail for two reasons. It may be the shortest route, although if you ask four people in Durango, you'll get four different sets of directions. But mainly, this route takes us back through Poncha Springs so we can eat at the Thai Mini Café. You have to see it to believe it. Authentic Thai in the high flats of the Arkansas River valley. We're heading for Winter Park and then to Laramie and Casper, Wyoming. I think Wyoming is one of the three states we haven't ever played. Hawaii and North Dakota are the other two.
I promised in my last installment to tell you a bit about Marc Wilson, our new drummer. He's working in very well and the grooves are a-grooving. He's originally from the Chicago-Milwaukee area and still has family in Milwaukee. He lives in Dallas and was recommended by Pat who has played with him for a while up there. Marc was in Anson Funderburgh's band and also in Mike Morgan's and he fits right in with our group, travels well, enjoys the scenery, the food and the people we encounter along the way. Once again, I feel lucky to have found the right person for the job.
And meanwhile, back in the real world in case you're wondering, I still oppose George W. Bush, his war and his domestic agenda. I also fly an American flag, wear a peace sign, watch a lot of CNN, read a lot of New York Times and Washington Post, worry a whole lot about our troops in Iraq and their families and the civilians who are caught in the middle of this conflict of regimes. I still believe that diplomacy involving the U.N. and a large consensus of nations would have been the better solution. The result of my voicing these opinions is that I was turned in to the hollywoodhalfwits.com web site and received a spew of vicious, sometimes obscene and threatening e-mails. It's stunning how well organized this group is and how misguided. I've been called a Communist, a Socialist, a terrorist, an idiot and a slut. And that's just the stuff I can re-print. I was told that, as an entertainer, I have no right to voice my opinion and should stick with what I do best, playing music. Well, the bottom line is, I think better than I sing, so what's a girl to do? Once again, anti-war is not anti-soldier. Anti-soldier is cutting veteran's benefits and who's doing that? Anti-American is cutting Medicaid and Medicare benefits to children and the elderly. So, in the face of the violence of the hawks, which I admit is frightening, we doves (and Dixie Chicks) need to continue to speak out. We need to vote. We need to support political candidates who care about people and the environment, another "hot button" issue. It's our right and our duty as Americans.
April 23, 2003
Yes, indeed, the barn door's open and the race is on. Yesterday was the official release of
So Many Rivers
, our second album for Alligator Records. With the help of our great Austin radio stations, KUT and KGSR, and our good friends at Waterloo Records, we proudly sent our newest project out to make friends for us. The record was produced by Stephen Bruton, a multi-talented South Austin neighbor who sings, writes, plays several stringed instruments, leads a top-notch band and has a whole raft of funky songwriting friends who sent more material than we had space to use. Among these friends were Donny Fritts and Danny Timms, Jodi Siegel and Gary Nicholson. I found a couple of guys, John Lee Sanders and Doug Duffey, from North Louisiana and Mississippi, with great songs to start and finish the album. Sarah Brown and I collaborated on one. This is the third time we've done that. As a matter of fact, for me this record is so about the songs that I dedicated it to the songwriters, not just on this project but wherever they're making up stories and setting them to music.
THE BARN DOOR'S OPEN...
There are many musical guests on the record that made it fun and funky. I should either name them all or not even try but I do want to especially mention Wayne Toups, Johnny Nicholas, Malford Millican, Randy Jacobs, Deborah Dobkin, Kaz, James Pennebaker, Red Young, those great L.A. Horn guys and on and on. Oh heck, get the record!
We're taking it on the road this weekend to New Orleans, Savannah, GA, Baton Rouge, some more New Orleans, Alexandria, LA and Thibodaux. The summer's starting to fill up and it looks like we'll be good and busy. Thank you all for checking in to our website, coming to the shows and continuing to support our music. We just feel so fortunate that we get to do this. Hope to see you soon.
P.S.: I am reminded by the Web Gator that having introduced Marc Wilson, our drummer, in the last installment is only halfway doing the job. I have been assigned the duty of getting a picture of him to put on the website. This is never easy. You'll notice that drummer hardly ever gets in the band picture. There's always a cymbal in front of his face. We'll provide proof that there's a person behind the kit soon.
June 1, 2003
And, of course, I don't mean in Texas. We're leaving New Jersey and Michael Arnone's Crawfish Boil. The music was great: Papa Grows Funk, the Radiators, Andre Thierry. The weather was dampish. Well, okay, it was raining but that didn't keep the crowd from staying, dancing and being a lot of fun. I figure it's those parties that happen in spite of the challenges that you remember the best. Of course, if you catch pneumonia, then you really have something to look back on.
IT'S RAINING SO HARD...
Papa Grows Funk did a great version of Irma's "It's Raining" and since we're going to play with them again today at Wolftrap, we'll probably get another chance to hear it. At least today the crowd will be covered. Mostly.
It has been an amazing couple of musical weeks for me. It started in Memphis. (Hey, somebody should write a book!) The day before the Handy Awards show I flew up to Little Rock and my friend Margie met me there. We drove straight to the studio in Memphis where Pinetop Perkins, 90 years old this July and the annual winner of the piano Handy, is making a new record. We fiddled around for a bit with some song ideas. The rhythm section was the best: Willie "Big Eyes" Smith and Bob Stroger. Finally, I just asked Pinetop what he most wanted to do that day and he kicked off a great "three-finger boogie" which we pounded out for about four and a half minutes. Done. Meanwhile, every time we'd take a break, Pinetop would go out and sit on the porch swing with Margie and smoke a cigarette. He talked and talked to her. Now I know more about his life, secondhand, than I ever knew before.
After that we had just enough time to check in, change into our fancy frocks and go to the Blues Foundation's Hall of Fame dinner and induction ceremony. Speaking of books, Hall of Fame member Nadine Cohodis was there to speak about Dinah Washington and she introduced us to Dinah's son Robert, who looks exactly like Dinah.
My job that night was to induct Fats Domino into the Blues Hall of Fame. It was a snap. Everybody knows all about Fats, hit after hit. If you live in New Orleans, you can even drive by his house. He's lived in the same place forever. Still, I was thrilled to get to say a few words about someone who has been such a huge influence on my music.
Then there was a party and jam and "old home week" for the blues players, press, societies, club owners, festival promoters, DJ's and fans. It's really about 48 non-stop hours of music and events. Whew!
A few much needed hours of sleep later and Margie and I headed out for some food and culture. Food first, naturally. We went to the Cupboard, recently moved down Union St. to a larger location, a great "meat and three" as they say in Tennessee. Sometimes we time our band road trips so we can be in Memphis at lunchtime just so we can eat there. After that, we needed a walk so we went to the Dixon Gallery and Gardens and played "guess the name of that plant". We got so into it that we didn't leave enough time to go into the new Stax Records Museum on McLemore. We just did a drive-by and it looks great. Oh well, next time. We had to get glamorous again for the Handy Awards and I had to learn my lines to introduce some of the acts.
Well, as always, Ruth Brown stole the show. She doesn't need much of an audience. Two or three will do. She has truly been there and done that, remembers it all and tells it well. We shared a limo with her and Kim Wilson over to the gorgeous Orpheum Theater and laughed all the way. Then the festivities began: Delbert played, Robert Randolph's steel guitar was amazing, newcomer Richard Johnston played Mississippi hill country blues with some of the members of Othar Turner's Fife and Drum Band, Charlie Musselwhite's father picked up his award for him, Shemekia Copeland won three, our hometown guy W.C. Clark won for Best Song, Magic Slim kicked out the jams and Solomon Burke capped it off by refusing to quit after only two songs and playing for another half hour. I guess if you set up a fourteen piece band, including a harpist, you want to play a while. He was in fabulous voice and did several of my favorites, including "Just Out Of Reach". Then Delbert, and Bobby Rush and I, your co-hosts for the evening, along with Ruth, who should be the perennial host, said "Thank you and good night." And it was.
Well, heck, it's stopped raining and we're almost to D.C. Let's call this an installment and I'll pick it up here when my batteries are fresh. You know what I mean. There's lots more and the summer hasn't even begun.
P.S.: Speaking of books, again, and rain. There's a terrific book about the loss of the Louisiana marshes and wetlands, which are actually America's wetlands and the breeding grounds of much of America's seafood. The book is called Bayou Farewell by Mike Tidwell and the crisis is real and urgent. There is also a solution. Good reading.
Also, politicophobes stop reading here. I'm preparing another salvo in the on-going fight to open American minds and close the moral, environmental and economic drain that the current presidential administration is perpetrating on the most helpless people in our country. This will contain some excerpts from such liberal mouthpieces as the New York Times and the Washington Post. This is not aimed at most of my audience since I think we agree on the problem but it is good information nevertheless. I would just hope to reach the reasonable but unconvinced.
July 1, 2003
Where to start? How about where we left off? No. I can't remember that far back. So let's start with last weekend. Good idea and a very interesting time was had by all.
SUMMER 2003, PART 1
Well, some of it was interesting. The part where we drove ten miles in two and a half hours on I-95 north of Richmond was not all that scintillating. The only thing that made it bearable was plugging in my Neville Brothers CD and rocking in place. Finally, we reached an exit, detoured and made it to Norfolk at about 3:30 AM. Apparently, an industrial crane had fallen off its flatbed and blocked the whole highway. So we slept fast and played the Bayou Boogaloo with The Dirty Dozen, C.J. Chenier and, yes, the Neville Brothers. Always a pleasure, they sounded terrific. Aaron in good voice, Charles in good tone, Cyril raising our spirits, and Ivan filling in for Art - looking like Art, playing and moving like Art who I'm supposing is dealing with a bad back. I missed the Funk Man but the show went on.
Early the next morning we struck out for New York to play at the Great Hudson River Revival celebrating the clean-up of the river and set on a beautiful point at Croton. If you watch the Weather Channel like I do, you're aware that it has rained non-stop in the Northeast for a couple of months and last weekend was like all the other weekends this spring. It poured on Saturday and threatened on Sunday while we were there. The grounds were marshy which isn't all that intimidating to bands like Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys. It also didn't seem to bother NRBQ and Marshall Crenshaw who all did the kind of sets that chase the gloom away. By the time we finished, the sun was peeking out from under the clouds in the west as it set over the river. One cool thing about that part of the country is that there are real diners about every five miles along the highway and since I missed mess call at the musician's tent before the show by shopping in the tie-dye and Teva booths, I found my way to the Executive for one of my favorite dishes - a spinach and feta omelet. And so to bed.
Once again, we had to sleep fast because bright and early Monday morning we played live in the studio on WFUV's Breakfast With Ball. Hey, that's me! Wake up and eat again. We (okay, I) got a little hyper and we arrived way early at the radio station but they had a very nice breakfast spread out and some strong coffee, a few intrepid guests who came to see what musicians look like in the morning and Claudia, ready to introduce and interview us. FUV has a large following in the city and we really appreciate their support. Also, we owe a tip of the bagel to Tim Kolleth at Alligator, who came up with the idea and saw it through.
And here's where it starts to get really interesting. Our friend, Bob, has been telling us about Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. It's where W.C. Handy, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis and King Oliver are buried. And more: Kress, Woolworth, J.C. Penney, Kleigl, Bat Masterson, Herman Melville. If the New Orleans cemeteries have houses for the dead, this place has mansions - some the size of small churches in Greek, Roman and Gothic styles on many beautifully landscaped acres. As Johnny said, "These people figured out how to take it with them."
And so we left NYC behind for the moment and went to the beach, Rhode Island style. There sits the Ocean Mist almost hanging out over the water. Kevin had the backstage fully stocked with fruit and cookies and the kitchen kindly added jalapenos to the homemade salsa until we got the proper heat level going, then we made it a Blue Monday in Mattunuck. I realize that we're supposed to be traveling to play music but a girl's gotta eat so I do want to thank Gino and Adele for sharing some of that famous Christina Italian sausage that we love. If only I could figure out what the name is - soupis? Soapy? Anyway, it's great and Gino said we should refrigerate it but the opportunity never came up. It was gone by the next day.
And so were we. We spent one night in Gotham City and almost missed the plane to Finland but we made it and that is another whole story. Let me just say - cold country, warm hearts. Details to follow.
July 21, 2003
We're leaving Iron City under a steel gray sky. The forecast is for donder and blitzen all the way to Ann Arbor. I hope the forecast is wrong. At least we're playing inside tonight. Yesterday, under clouds that looked like cornmeal scattered on a dance floor, we played the Pittsburgh Blues Festival at the Iron City Brewery with Tommy Castro and Anthony Gomes. It was a three day affair, a benefit for the Community Food Bank and Saturday featured Debbie Davies and Lonnie Brooks. I hated missing them but it was great to see our cruising buddies from Tommy's band. Randy McDonald joined us on "Crawfishin'" which he put on his own recent album. He even played a little piano with his fabulous pleather-gator pumps, an act that gets him in trouble wherever he goes.
Speaking of trouble, when I woke up this morning I realized where humor columnists get some of their ideas. The first thing I saw after I slapped my alarm clock across the room was a cluster of important features in every hotel room. High up on the wall near me were the smoke alarm, the carbon monoxide monitor and the sprinkler head - and here's what caught my attention: under the sprinkler was one of those "do not" signs, in this case, a red circle with a slash across a coat hanger meaning, "Don't hang anything up here, nine feet off the floor, on this delicate little mechanism". Sheesh! The things you have to tell people. It's hard to believe that people have to be reminded not to drive too fast, throw their trash out of the car window, e into three feet of water, light that big stinky cigar in a crowded restaurant. But you know that every time you see one of those warnings, somebody did actually try to stand on the little paint bucket shelf of the ladder, run with scissors, dig a bagel out of the toaster with a fork.
Speaking of warnings, here's one - if you're flying into the US from Europe, allow more than an hour to change planes otherwise you might find yourself spending the night in an East Coast airport. Everybody knows that, right? Well, we had such a terrific time in at the PuistoBlues Festival in Finland that we didn't really mind staying an extra day and playing the "wrap" party for the festival volunteers. I think the revelry started as soon as the drivers turned in their official cars the night before and by the time we hit the stage, nine other bands had played. We only heard the band right before us, a really good Led Zeppelin cover band from Lapland. We were followed by the Hungarian funk band who reminded me of Terrence Simien and his guys. There we were in Finland, drinking Irish whiskey with a bunch of Hungarians. I will say that, more than ever, I realized the universal appeal of music. There are no barriers, cultural, ethnic or geographical, when it comes to the appreciation of music. It should come as no more of a surprise that the blues is revered in Latvia than that opera is popular in San Francisco. And these people love their American roots music. One of my favorite moments came when Jouni (pronounced Johnny by us Texans), who met us at the airport, asked me if I wanted to ride in the van with the band or in his car - the metal-flake pink 1962 Cadillac convertible. To top things off, the festival featured women this year and we played with Koko Taylor and Bonnie Raitt. Thank you and kippis to PuistoBlues, Annu and everybody that took such good care of us. I hope it's not another 15 years before we get to come back.
Speaking of coming back - this year marked the Twenty-somethingth American Music Festival on the Fourth of July at Fitzgerald's in Berwyn, IL and we've been there for most of them. It's the best big festival in a small place and this year Gino Delafose, Los Straitjackets, John Dee Graham, Paul Cebar, Jeff and Vida, the Iguanas, Sonny Landreth and many more great acts played. The club is expanding into the buildings around it and now there's a restaurant, a tap room and a party room. Ever improving, always a blast, we love Fitzgerald's.
The next day there was a Wilson family reunion at Summerfest in Milwaukee. Our drummer, Marc, had a brother, sister, parents, nephews, I don't know who-all there and then everybody went over to his parent's house to eat. Then there was the jam session and band reunion at the Up and Under. It's good to have "people" in Milwaukee. My step-daughter Brandy was with me and we stayed around Summerfest for a while to see the Jayhawks and the always wonderful Los Lobos but my favorite "discovery" was The Thorns. I'm sure all you hipsters out there know about them but they were new to me and I really enjoyed their music. It's so..., so... musical.
Hey, bear with me, I'm catching up here! This is probably about half as interesting as Gordon's slide show from France which was actually pretty cool. He's newly digital and he got some good shots of the Loire valley and Paris. Our Webgator also sends pictures from France. Linda has been to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Gordon went to Jackson Hole. Verenda went to Alaska. Well, we went to California. And Carole King asks, "Doesn't anybody stay in one place anymore?"
Once again, the Neville Brothers! They're one of the few acts that I will always watch whenever there's an opportunity. There are so many facets to what they do and the combination makes an incredible show. At the Mountain Winery last Friday they had eleven players on stage. It was great to see Papa Funk, Art, holding down his corner, and the audience gave him an especially warm welcome. Ivan was there as well, and Ian. Six Nevilles and five more of the best players around in the band. Hearing "Yellow Moon" under a big old yellow moon made it a night to remember. We have another opportunity to play with them - September 19 at Humphrey's in San Diego.
It was cool and beautiful in California, just like it's supposed to be, perfect for the Sunday barbecue at Rancho Nicasio. Of course, it was great to see Angela Strehli and Bob Brown, delicious to taste Max's fine cooking, a pleasure as always to be "hosted" by Mike Duke, and big fun to visit with Maria Muldaur. But, it all came together when Mike and Angela and Maria joined us on stage for some of the songs from "Dreams Come True". Rancho has been around, in its present form, since the sixties, I think, and before that, there was a hotel on the site. Bob's really aware of the history of the place and proud to be Rancho's most recent "caretaker". We played outside facing the lawn and, across the fields and Angela's garden, the golden hills. Inside, there are many beautiful paintings of those same hills by Carol Satriani and she captures the unique light perfectly.
The next day, we made an easy ride up to Winters for a fun night at the Palms thanks to Dave with promotional help from our friend Bill Bowker at KRSH radio and then we went to Chico, CA. - my first visit there. My only regret is that we didn't get to stay longer. The town is great and our hosts at the Sierra Nevada Brewery did everything possible to make the evening special. Rarely do club owners say, "Go ahead. Try to drink us out of house and home." Sierra is the 9th largest brewery in the country and its founder is still very much at the helm. They have many fine beers that we've tasted in other parts of the country but we'd never had Big Foot - a 9 percenter that was like a meal in a glass. The food was delicious. In fact, the entire California trip was delicious, from the House of Nankin in San Francisco and the fresh cherries in Chinatown, Max's barbecue, Gene and Edwina's pistachios, to the beer-fed beef in Chico. We ate like kings and queens instead of the way itinerate musicians are supposed to - breakfasting in convenience stores and all.
And so, here we are. The forecast was right. It's still raining and we're still driving. We played Wilbert's in Cleveland Saturday night. It's looking good and we're glad Dave's back in business. Greg, the knucklehead (and he knows I mean that in the nicest possible way), was there with his mother, his novel, and a batch of music for the road. How did he know how much I love Jimmy Durante's singing? Food tip of the week: Minh Ahn at 5428 Detroit Road in Cleveland. Very reasonable, spotless Vietnamese restaurant with a market next door. I'm working my way through a one pound mango (is that anything like a one-ton tomato?) that I got there. Tonight we're at the Ark in Ann Arbor. I hope Chuck Covington is there 'cause it just wouldn't be the Ark without him. He's another cruiser, personally recruited by me. It's easy to spot cruise potential in the audience and he had it. If you have it, call 1 800 DELBERT. Tomorrow, before we go home we're taping Acoustic Café radio, a syndicated show, for later release. Watch our website. The gator tells all, even the stuff we'd rather not admit.
Next week we're staying in Texas. Whoa! We're at the Continental Club in Houston and the Oasis, for that great Lake Travis sunset (with music) in Austin.
I hope your summer is going well, your cool stays cool and your warm stays warm. And in the immortal words of those great American philosophers - Homer and Jethro - don't let the stars get in your eyeballs.
P.S.: Hard to believe I've left anything out, but I did. In the middle of the California trip, we went to Reno for a gig at the Hilton with (big sigh from all the girls) Sonny Landreth, the nicest really great guitar player in show biz and I know some really nice, really great guitar players. The Hilton has a stage the size of a foot ball field and a dressing room that they built especially for Frank Sinatra because he was superstitious and wouldn't enter from stage right. Our friends Lou and Suzanne came out and taught us the Pacific Northwest's answer to the Cajun football cheer, "Hot boudin, cold cush cush. Come on, boys, push, push, push". Their's goes, "Lutefisk, lutefisk, luffke luffke. We're from Ballard. Ya, sure, ya betcha". It must be getting late.
August 28, 2003
Oh, woe is us. How I hate to miss gigs. Only something as dire as a blackout on the entire East Coast would cause us not to get to Warren, Vermont for the show at the Eclipse Theater. It's the gig that was on, then off, then on, then off again. We wish to apologize to anyone who went there for the show that didn't happen and to the promoters who tried so hard to make something happen to replace the Friday of the Vermont Festival of the Arts. Bummer all the way around.
OUR STORY SO FAR...
Flights were so messed up and Memphis is so hard to fly in and out of and information was so sketchy until Friday morning that it wasn't even all that easy to get to Portsmouth, NH for the Blues Festival on Saturday but it looks like we're going to make it. On the semi-brighter side, we still had to fly into Burlington (long story) and now we're driving down through some of the prettiest scenery this country has to offer. Two weeks ago, we were in Norway and this is what it looks like there, too: high rolling hills, tall pines and white birches, rushing rivers alongside the road, lupines and black-eyed Susans. The down side is that I've always wanted to get off the main road and see the ski areas of Vermont and this was our chance.
Ah, Norway. We had a wonderful time seeing the Stax Revue with Eddie Floyd, Carla Thomas and Little Milton. Also, the Jelly Roll Kings with Pinetop Perkins, Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, John Primer and Sam Carr were there, and Shemekia and Omar and even Irma Thomas. It was a reunion and an education at the same time. The Stax band is first rate and Carla sounded fantastic. I remember about 15 years ago, Don and I were in London and we went to see Eddie Floyd playing in a little pub. We thought we were so lucky to catch him then and I feel even luckier and he sounds even better now. Our guide, Finn, and our driver, Bjorn, took excellent care of us throughout our visit and the festival promoters even provided something extra special. I've been whining for years about seeing a moose. There are just some things that you can't get in Texas and Louisiana and a moose sighting is one of those things. I've been to Alaska, the Yukon, all over New England, Norway, Finland. No moose. So, at the end of our set in Notodden, the emcee comes out, says he has a big surprise for me and out strolls a moose - or more accurately - two guys in a moose suit. I don't know who was more shocked - the band or the audience. And I could hear a little noise, so I leaned close to the moose's head and he was playing the harmonica in there. Just our luck. We finally get to see a moose and he wants to sit in.
So, we're cruising down I-89. It's Don and Johnny's birthday. We've already stopped at one flea market and have our eyes peeled for others (and mooses) We're waving as we pass close to Quechee.and our friends Pat and Miles, but we'll see them in Portsmouth. And we bid a fond farewell to Vermont, that great, green, independent state. It's Johnny's birthday and he doesn't have to drive anymore if he doesn't want to so I'm taking the wheel. Get out da way, as they say in New Orleans.
And so. It seems like I'm apologizing a lot these days for situations not under my control. First, a blackout, then a thunderstorm. And quite the thunderstorm it was. We got to Portsmouth, NH, and found the Strawberry Banke area, a section of 18th and 19th century houses rescued from neglect and decay and planted with cottage gardens all around. The festival was in full swing, the Campbell Brothers were playing great and the forecast was for severe weather. "Where?" we asked. It was beautiful where we were, but not for long. Right in the middle of the Sisters of the South's set everybody had to dash for cover and it crashed and boomed for about 45 minutes. And then, like the true blue music fans they were, out came the umbrellas, the mackinaws, the nor'easters, and the Cajun Tony Lama's (those white rubber boots the shrimpers wear), back came the crowd and the show went on. The Portsmouth Blues Festival benefits the Blues Bank Collective, a group helping to further awareness of Blues and its African American heritage, encouraging the use of music as a means of positive social change and working to eliminate all forms of racism, intolerance and prejudice. Now there's a mission statement I can get behind.
Well, we're sneaking up on Northampton, MA, taking the back roads and I've got to start paying attention. There's bound to be a stand selling watermelons along here somewhere and I don't want to miss it.
Somehow, I'll get on line this week and send this off. Meanwhile, keep your lovelight shining.
P.S.: Obviously, I didn't get on line last week. Now it's next week and I have lots more to tell about our days off in NYC, or "How To Survive In The Big Apple On About $300 A Day And That's If You Don't Buy Much Of Anything, Eat Cheap, Only See One Play, and Walk Everywhere."
November 14, 2003
Why I like Iowa:
My home town, Vinton, LA, is named after Vinton, Iowa.
Iowa, LA, is also named after Iowa.
Vinton, Iowa is the popcorn capital of the world. I can picture the kernels just popping off the stalks in the fields.
My friend Doug's hometown, Lenox, IA, is the egg-breaking capital of the world.
RAGBRAI - a bicycle ride across the state.
Davenport - the home of Bix Beiderbeck and the Mississippi Valley Blues Festival.
The Writer's Project at the University of Iowa.
Many fond memories of gigs in Ottumwa, Iowa City, the Mechanic Shop at Iowa State, John Venturini's French Quarter in Des Moines in a thunderstorm, So's Your Mother also in a thunderstorm, RAGBRAI, Sioux City, the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Cornell College, and that old mill on the river out in the country close to Grant Wood's home. (Where was that? Waubeek?)
Great Blues Societies
The Field of Dreams
The Little Brown Church in the Vale
Governor Tom Vilsack and Lieutenant Governor Sally Petersen, who are Democrats, good people fostering good government, and who came to our gig at Blues on Grand with at least 25 of their staff members. We had a great weekend, including A Prairie Home Companion, the airing of the Piano Blues segment on PBS and a House of Blues Radio Hour but the appearance of the Governor and party at our gig in Des Moines was definitely the high for me.
Time has flown. Even the months that look like fairly empty seem to fill up and September was one of those. On the calendar it appears we're hopping around on little week-end jaunts but there was plenty to do. In particular, I want to thank my band because they played two fund-raisers (meaning freebies) with their usual good will and grace. One of these was on September 11 and was sponsored by the fire fighters in Austin. They had a terrific line-up. I don't guess any band that was asked said no. Then the weather didn't cooperate and Jimmy Vaughan and Lou Ann Barton had to sit in with us because their set was rained out. I know Pat enjoyed that. He's always admired Jimmy's playing and they sounded good together trading leads and rhythm.
The week before, we went up to Lexington, KY to play a club called The Dame. What a crowd! These were really our people. Their response was beyond warm, it was red hot. And, next door to the club is the Mad Hatter where we tried on just about every hat in the place. My favorite was a wide brimmed black felt "church hat" with feathers, ribbon and a veil. It was a little too funereal, though, so I got a Kangol for my brother's birthday present instead.
The next day, before we left town, we found one of those great neighborhoods - a corner with a cafe (I'll come up with the name of this place before the next installment) serving plate lunches and "hot brown" sandwiches, a pie shop, and three, count them, three used book stores. They had to drag me away but we hit the road and took the blue highways through the hills of Kentucky and Tennessee. Once on the road, we hit another snag. There was a community garage sale that ran for about 15 miles. Every house and driveway had a sign up. We had to split the personnel in the two cars into the "local" - that's Johnny and me - and the "express" - the rest of the band. Finally, we rendezvoused in Cookeville where we met a great group of people dedicated to bringing music and fun to the center of their town. I also met Susan, my double. Now, I've had people say they were mistaken for me before and I've met people who bore some resemblance but when Susan turned around, we both started laughing.
Sometimes I wonder what people think when they read the names of the clubs we play. For instance, Bimbo's 365. Or Tipitina's. What does this mean? Some places are geographically correct like The Palms in Davis, CA which was flanked by two big ones and the Grand Emporium in Kansas City on Grand Street or Fitzgerald's in Berwyn, IL just chock full of Fitzgeralds manning every position. But when we play at the Sons of Herman Hall in Dallas, how many sons do you think old Herman had? About 300 judging from the crowd last time we played. It's one of those great sounding big old wooden halls. We hit there, ate Mike Snyder out of house and home at the All Good Cafe and then went on up to Ft. Smith, Arkansas for the Blues Festival where a minor miracle happened. It rained on us all the way to the outskirts of town. Hard. Heavy clouds hung over the town. Doyle Bramhall played, Sonny Landreth played, we played. It never came down. Those people up there must have some strong gris gris. I owe a special big thanks to the folks at Landry's Cajun Cafe. They sent over enough delicious etouffee and gumbo to feed me, Ruthie Foster and Cyd Cassone, Margie, Flora, Barbara, Linda and some of the guys in my band. And the bread pudding! I guarded it like a dog with a bone. Plus, Linda's daughter sent over a fabulous quiche loaded with spinach and bacon. It was a real lo-cal kind of a night, don't you know.
Reading over that last paragraph, I realized that people who worry about whether we're eating right on the road needn't. We may not be eating right, but we sure are eating.
We finished out September with a run to the Rhythm Room in Scottsdale, thanks to Bob Coratore, the musician/impressario who invited us out. Then we played the third of our three gigs this summer with the Neville Brothers, this one at a marina resort in San Diego. As always, the Brothers carried me away with their music. As Dr. John would say, "Such a night."
And yak, yak, yak. I could go on but I think I'll just go for now. In our next chapter, we'll explore why I love Minnesota, how being part of the Piano Blues film, A Prairie Home Companion, the House of Blues Radio Hour and NPR's Day 2 Day all in one day has changed our lives (Hint: NOT!), how to throw a Halloween wedding complete with costumes and Christmas lights, and more. Gee, it's just like O Magazine. Me, me, me. So, here's what else I'll do - I'll make the guys in the band spill some more personal information in answer to your requests for details.
Read Al Franken's book, Lies. See Michael Moore's film, Bowling for Columbine. (Couldn't help it - had to get that in)
December 29, 2003
To the greatest bunch of music fans in the world:
A FEW WORDS
Page says I've been remiss in my correspondence. He's right, of course, but what really got me on the job was the Gatorgram asking if I had joined the Witness Protection Program. No excuses. I am reading and enjoying the incoming messages and then...nothing. I'll catch up – starting with mid-Autumn, maybe while we're on our way to Falls Church for New Year's Eve. For now, with a complete lack of profound thoughts, I want to thank each one of you for a great year of gigs, friendship, hospitality, for sharing your time with us and supporting live music with your presence and your dancing feet.
Our holiday season was full of family and friends at home. We tried to make Christmas less material so it turned out to be extremely culinary. We cooked in the big pots, served in the big bowls and played cards and dominos around the table. All of Gordon's children – grown-ups really, Tracy, Jeb and Brandy – and my son, Luke, came in and out. Now that my nieces are having families of their own, there's a new generation of children to enjoy. Here in Austin, the holidays started with Luke and Shannon's wedding on Halloween, continued through our Thanksgiving trip to Mexico and will officially close at the State Theater on December 31. Maybe. We could stretch things out to include Mardi Gras.
I hope 2004 brings peace, comfort to those suffering hardship, assistance for the needy, and a renewed sense of sharing and generosity among those of us who are blessed with the bounty of this country and this time in history. Love one another.
February 12, 2004
It's your occasional correspondent trying to reacquaint myself with the computer keyboard. I've always thought it was funny that they call the traditional typewriter layout the "qwerty" keyboard after the six top left letters. My college roommate, who was, and is, really smart used to call it Assdefiguhjikle which is how you would pronounce the whole second line.
Speaking of second line, we played a great party last Saturday night in New Orleans. That's kind of a redundant statement. Great, party, New Orleans. But when the Krewe du Vieux lays it on, it really gets laid. Brass bands, salsa, drummers, Theresa Andersen, costumes, King cakes, beads, beads, beads. Their parade is the only one I know of that goes through the French Quarter because the floats are pulled by people, bicycle or mule power. Queen Colleen looked grandly royal and deserves all the honors we can pile on her for her lifetime of teaching and working to better the quality of education in Louisiana. We came away with a 12-pack of Abita Beer and a stack of King cakes from Michael and Lee White.
The cakes were refreshments for the Grammy party we had on Sunday night. I knew by the time the first guests arrived that Etta James had "taken the category" as the record's producer, Stephen Bruton, so gently put it. That's better than, "And the loser is...". We had a fun time anyway. This was the party we should have had when we heard about the nomination. Lots of friends, pizza, the cakes, plus a devilishly rich chocolate one from Nancy Coplin. We even watched a little bit of the awards show. My favorite act was Robert Randolph, doing with a five piece band what it took all those other people a cast of dozens to do. So, we didn't win the Grammy but we won the Goofy Grammy presented by the Krewe du Vieux and residing in a place of honor on my desk and we won in the "most friends who called and wished us luck and said they were thinking of us" category. That's really what counts.
It's been so long since I've written that my cruise tan has faded. As usual, Sandy Beaches was a blast, and the three gigs building up to the bon voyage were especially fun this year. The Bamboo Room in Lake Worth is one of the classiest joints we play. At the beautiful Florida Theater in Jacksonville, Tib and Sis and Pepper Miller were hoping they could make it through our gig before Sis had to go deliver their new baby. Welcome, baby Gram. And Skipper's Smokehouse in Tampa is an amazing organic creation that looks like it's built of driftwood that just washed up on the corner. That night, about 600 people came out to see us and Renee Austin and the temperature dropped down to 39 degrees. Who knew Floridians even had the clothes for that weather?
As for the cruise, John Hyatt was a highlight with Sonny Landreth and the rest of his wonderful band. Fred Eaglesmith is a personal favorite of mine and Gordon's. Gordon actually traded a watercolor that he did on the ship to a friend of ours in exchange for a Eaglesmith CD. Now he rides around singing about small motors and "How's Ernie?" and bread trucks full of chickens. You might have to be a Fredhead to know what I'm talking about.
From Florida, we went home long enough to empty our suitcases of tropical wear and refill them with arctic gear and, let me tell you, Texans don't have enough clothes for Madison when it's below zero. Actually, the people in Madison didn't look all that comfortable either. But they do come out and dance as did the people in Berwyn and the greater (greatest) Chicago area when we played Fitzgerald's the next two nights. It was actually the Fitzgeralds that made me finally break my rule about staying South in the Winter. They convinced me that people would brave the elements to come to a gig and that a little snow wouldn't kill us and they were right on both counts. Also, daughter Brandy is in school in Chicago and I needed an excuse to visit her although all too briefly. We scrammed the next day early and flew into Charleston, WV to tape that excellent radio show, Mountain Stage and guess who was there. Eaglesmith! Also, and this was a real treat, the Dixie Hummingbirds.
And that was just January. No wonder I can't keep up. To complicate matters, I've melted down all my electronic equipment. My poor little Sharp Wizard address book gave up the ghost and took most of my data base to the grave with it and then my laptop decided to come apart at the seams. You get dependent on these toys and when they fry the old Big Chief tablet starts to look pretty good.
2004 is booking up very nicely. We'll be back at some of our favorite events like Michael Arnone's Crawfish Boil and the Tampa Bay Blues Festival and the week of the Jazz Fest in New Orleans is filling in. You know that's where I want to be and I hope you're all there, too.
I'm sending my love to Johnny Morgan, to feel better and to Pat and Esther Crow. And a big thanks to all of you who hoped for us and encouraged us and bought our records and sang and danced to them and made your children listen to them until they could sing "La Ti Da" and "Red Hot" in their piping little voices. We get our energy and our inspiration from you. That's better than a Grammy.
March 16, 2004
MUSIC, POLITICS, FOOD
(Don't say you weren't warned - Web Gator)
We're pulling into Bakersfield and you just can't say that without a twang. Every time I say Bakersfield I hear the Buckaroos playing in the background. I'm looking all around for Buck Owens or Merle Haggard. Actually, we're about a hundred miles out around Selma, CA, the Raisin Capital of the World. This whole day's drive has been through America's Fruit Basket, the valley of central California lined with vineyards, cherry orchards, orange trees bent to the ground with fruit, and good Mexican restaurants. Imagine that! We stopped in Merced and asked at a wonderfully brightly painted carniceria and grocery store about a lunch spot and they directed us around the corner to La Casita where I continued my search for the best carnitas north of the Mexican border. These rated pretty well, about two forks up. Johnny got a burrito bigger than his head, and you know the rule about that, so he only ate half of it. It was a whole Mexican dinner wrapped in a giant tortilla. We're having California's most beautiful weather. Flowers blooming while you watch.
We're having California's best crowds, too. Both the Mystic and the Palms were full of old and new friends, past and future cruisers, a lot of people warming up for Jazz Fest in New Orleans. One of our former sax players, Craig Knudsen presently of the Edlos, showed up looking much like he did in the '80's. Heck, judging from the pictures on the Edlos "Retropella" album, he looks a lot like he did in the '60's. I'd feel better if he got a gray hair or something. We saw Edie, Mindy, Meg with a ceramic donkey cart (that's another story), Bill Bowker from KRSH Santa Rosa. I visited with Linda and Charles at their great house with the even greater yard. Their camellias made me want to go home and give mine a stern talking-to: "...and you call yourself a flowering shrub!!"
We had lunch with Roy Rogers (chops, not chaps) and Gaynell, who are seriously mobilizing behind Senator John Kerry as a candidate for the presidency. As am I. Gaynell is involved in forming a group called Musicians for Kerry and I hope to be a charter member. In previous Ball Bearings, I've expressed my opinion of George Bush, his administration and their policies. In return, I received some gratifying support from the people who agree with me and some admittedly frightening vitriol from those who do not. Generally, I try to avoid ambushing people, who look to me purely for entertainment, with the serious controversy of politics but this is too important. In fact, the reason that I don't write as many Ball Bearings as I once did is that I can't avoid the need to talk about women's rights, human rights, jobs, schools, true diplomacy, fiscal responsibility, the environment, Social Security, honesty, justice, this terrible unnecessary war in Iraq which is not the same as the search for Bin Laden and the September 11th terrorists. If you've read this far, you're probably at least somewhat in agreement with me and we have a job to do. That is: vote and encourage others to vote. If you disagree, then you should vote, too, but please don't try intimidating me with poison pen letters and don't threaten me. Ashcroft's Justice Department gets very serious about that stuff and, amazingly enough, we have friends there, too.
If you're still with me, I'll tell you about the gig in Bakersfield called the "No Stinkin' Service Charge" series presented by Pat Evans' independent record store, World Records. Let's hear it for independence! We were their 34th act in the series and the gig was in the Doubletree Hotel, the crowd was very nice, friendly and shy of dancing but willing to wave their hankies in the air when we played the second line. One side benefit of playing in a Doubletree Hotel - backstage with the hospitality food was a whole platter of those cookies you get when you check in. Talk about stuffing nuts and berries in your cheeks.
I guess I'm off on a food tangent because we have at least a placer in the carnitas sweepstakes and it's a franchise joint, no less. We stopped for coffee on the way out of Bakersfield this morning and found ourselves in one of those fast food gulches that are getting more interesting lately. Not just Wendy's and Taco Bell now, but Panda Chinese and, in this case, a little taqueria called Ruben's featuring the fish taco phenomenon. And there I found a serious carnita (that's fried pork to the uninitiated) taco made just right with onions, cilantro and guacamole on a teeny corn tortilla for $1. They call them street tacos. They also have a salsa bar that reminded me of our beloved and lamented Seis Salsas in Austin.
Well, hey! Did y'all want to hear about music? Okay, here's what we've been up to. Pat Boyack, our guitar man, has made a record of his own, his fourth. This one, called "Voices From The Street" is coming out on the Doc Blues label on Tuesday, March 16. It is very, very funky. His special guest singers include Sweet Pea Atkinson of Was Not Was, W.C. Clark, Larry Fulcher of the Phantom Blues Band who also played bass, the wonderful Ruthie Foster and me. He collected a group of topical songs with grooves you can't resist. Particular favorites of mine are the two songs written by his friend Shane Smith and sung by Ruthie, "Misery" and "Pushin' On". Also, the coolest version of the Chambers Brothers' "Time". As my daughter used to say when we were shopping, "Get it!"
Another music project that Pat and I worked on lately is W.C.Clark's new record. Pat played some guitar and I played some piano and sang a couple of duets with W.C. That one is on Alligator and will be out later this year. Get it, too.
I know I've skipped over a month of gigs. Our February trip to the Northeast U.S. was cool, in several senses of the word. Fortunately, the deep freeze they had been in broke about the time we got to Johnny D's in Somerville, Mass. and we enjoyed returning to some of our favorite clubs like the Stephen Talkhouse, the Birchmere and Joe's Pub in NYC. While in New York, I had lunch with Colman Andrews, editor of Saveur (my favorite food magazine). Oh, food again, but what a nice lunch it was. I wish I had asked about the wine. It was delicious. Instead I just ate and we talked about the upcoming Hill Country Wine and Food Festival in Austin which we're playing on April 3 along with the Barb Wires, a band made up of star chefs who can actually play their instruments. While Up East we also returned to some very nice theaters, the IMAC in Huntington, NY and the Community Theater in Morristown, NJ and made some first time stops in Princeton, NJ, Purchase, NY, Harrisburg, PA and in Westport, CT at Conte's Fish Market. You knew I'd do this, didn't you? Wow! Those people at Conte's know their way around seafood. They're presenting a series of Louisiana bands and serving some great food that go together like rice and gravy. Speaking of which, I'm going to end this ramble, promise more sooner than later, with a closing used by the great Louis Armstrong:
Red Beans and Ricely Yours,
P.S.: I've got to add this. We're on California Highway 152 heading west toward Santa Cruz and I've never seen it like this. In a couple of months it will be that beautiful gold but now it's blinding green with sweeps of orange wildflowers down the hillsides and flocks of sheep grazing under the trees. We're almost to Gilroy. Got Garlic?
June 29, 2004
6:15AM. Thursday, June 10. We're pulling out of Austin before I-35 locks down, heading for Wichita and the Sedgewick County Zoo. We've had two days of the kind of rain that washes cars off the roads, goes over the dam at Barton Springs and floods houses on Shoal Creek. My particular flood comes from above, a stubborn leak over the bathroom. It's been leaking for so long in that one little spot that the ceiling sags and yesterday, after crawling around in the attic and not finding the source, I was tempted to just poke a broomstick in the weak spot and let the whole thing come down. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and while I still plan on taking out the ceiling, I guess I'll wait until it's not full of water. But really, where's the fun in that?
IN THE EARLY MORNING RAIN...
We were cooking dinner for seven people last night and the company had just arrived when the power went off. I got to pull out my kerosene lamps which Gordon didn't even know we had. We called them hurricane lamps growing up in Louisiana because that's when we needed them and the chimneys are shaped like the drink glasses at Pat O'Brian's in New Orleans. They gave a beautiful soft light and we were cooking on the grill anyway so dinner was on time and delicious. Later, just about the time Gordon and I were bored enough to play chess by lamplight, the power came back on, he retired to "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and I finished packing with enough light to ensure that some things in my suitcase match. I hope.
So we're off to see the wizard (I hope not!) in Kansas and I'm realizing how long it's been since I've written anything here. I had to search out the last Ball Bearing. We were in California and it was March 16!
A few things have happened since then. Quite a few. In early April we played, among many unusual venues, the Houston Aquarium. We've played zoos in Ft. Worth, Kansas City, Portland, OR, and Minneapolis and the above mentioned Wichita before but never an aquarium with a three story tube of fish running the height of the staircase and tanks of sharks looming over the tables in the cafe. Almost as exotic, the next night we played for the Hill Country Wine and Food Festival and the patrons there were pretty sharkish as they made their way around the food prepared by famous chefs and some musicians like Ray Benson and Slaid Cleves and me. Then the chefs played music and then we played music. The very next day we played bayside in Tampa at the Blues Festival and it was a gorgeous day for a gig. I didn't see any sharks but I received one of the more unusual gifts of my career at that gig from the Florida Big Shots. That would be a personalized bucket good for multiple uses around the home.
Mid-April, we played in Richmond, VA at the Tredegar Iron Works, an old foundry on the riverside which has been restored and makes a wonderful resonant room for a party. Then, on to Roanoke, which has a suburb called Vinton, like my home town in Louisiana. We played in their beautiful Shaftman Performance Hall with the Dirty Dozen and Steve Riley, two of the finest examples of Louisiana music that you can hear. In Durham, NC we were at the Armory (is there another theme emerging here?) for a big dance thrown by the Triangle Swing club which has been teaching the classic jitterbugs, shags, lindy hops and pushes for 13 years. It was great to stand on the balcony and look down on a couple hundred people, some in vintage clothes, partying like it was 1949. The other band at that gig was Rebecca and the HiTones, a big classic swing band, and we enjoyed their hospitality after the gig until an obscene hour. How time flies when people are too nice to throw you out of their house.
And then...Jazz Fest. My favorite holiday. It's hard to describe if you haven't tried it. Personally, I just move to New Orleans for a couple of weeks and try to play a gig every day. The last few years, we've played at Tipitina's, the original uptown version, on the first Saturday and then Piano Night at Generations Hall on the Monday and Lafayette Park downtown on Wednesday. These are all deluxe gigs. At the Tip's gig, we're usually paired with someone we love like Dr. John or Terrance Simien or Jon Cleary. On Piano Night, all the greats of New Orleans, young and old, jazz, blues, ragtime or second line, play half hour sets with the cream of the N.O. rhythm sections on one stage or solo on the other. It goes from 6PM to 2AM and it's spectacular. Stephanie Lawrence produces it. WWOZ sponsors it. The wonderful Eddie Bo holds it together and gives it a magical groove.
And then, Lafayette Park - a little mini-festival preview. I should knock on wood but the weather has been perfect and the park fills up and it's free and there's food and beer and a lot of people are just coming in for the second weekend of Jazz Fest so they come straight from the airport to the park and e right in.
I've also been playing piano gigs with my friends Tom McDermott and Joe Krown at Snug Harbor during the week and that gives me something to fret about. Love it and am terrified. Boy, do I miss my band when it's time to take a solo, solo.
On the Thursday this year we played the House of Blues Parish and this coincided with the Handy Awards in Memphis. Since we were nominated but couldn't attend, much to our disappointment, we had people standing by on computers and cell phones in case there was any good news. And there was! Just as we finished our set, Johnny came up on stage, handed me his phone and said, "Someone wants to talk to you." It was our friend Lynn and she was on line and calling to report that we had won two Handy's: Contemporary Blues Female Vocalist and (ta da!) Contemporary Blues Album of the Year. Yay, "Rivers", Bruton, Chet, musicians and songwriters, Alligators, everybody.
Our last three shows were all outdoors and it was a weather year. We played in spite of the rain in Orange and the people came and stayed. It would sprinkle, the umbrellas would go up, Margie and Debbie would dance real hard and the rain would stop. A little while later, the same thing. And again. Those girls were worn out by the time we finished but we got to play and we got to see Barbara Lynn do "You'll Lose A Good Thing" and I got to visit with a lot of friends from Vinton who came over for the evening.
Then on Saturday we played at the Jazz Fest in spite of an approaching storm that should have been packing 60 mile an hour winds and boudin ball sized hail, but instead just slid over the crowd and even held off raining until our set was over. Amazing. As usual, I prowled the Fairgrounds eating crawfish pies and my new favorite - barbecued oysters on a spinach salad with bleu cheese dressing. Oh, boy. The first thing I told my running buddies was, "Don't let me buy a hat." I already have a hat (or six). The first thing I did was buy a hat. Just a little Mexican cowboy hat from the International trade area. We visited with Bill Hemmerling at the Louisiana Crafts area and I wish I had bought another one of his paintings, the one called "I Had Coffee With Jesus at the Cafe Du Monde". Checked out all my favorite artists' work and goodies like Thomas Mann's earrings and Inferno Glass' wine glasses with alligator stems. Bought t-shirts. We saw John Boutte and we walked up to the Fais Do Do stage just when D.L. Menard started his classic, "The Back Door". Saw a little of the Meters, Sonny Landreth, Little Band of Gold and lots more. My mother couldn't come this year because she's recuperating from back surgery but both my brothers were there and they both ate soft shelled crab po-boys in her honor. My girl friends Margie, Debbie, Nancy and Janice kept me company and I thought we did an excellent job of celebrating Jazz Fest, 2004.
We closed out the week at the Fireman's Fair in Thibodaux on Sunday after the rain had made a muddy mess out of the fairgrounds but they have a big concrete dance floor and the show went on. It's a family reunion down there for me. I have cousins by the dozens and we met up at Lydia and Mike's house. Mike had cooked and Lydia had picked up some stuff and Danny Bilello brought over what my picky, picky Cajun girlfriends called the best seafood gumbo they'd ever had (don't tell their mamas). Lydia's friend brought sinful brownies. My nephew Matt entertained. It felt like home and brought back great memories of summer vacations and holiday visits with Granny and Aunt Love and Aunt Joy.
And, oh my gawd, we've just made it to May! Well, I'm going to send this off to whoever is out there wondering what we've been up to. There's a pretty good chance we'll be in your area this summer. I'll finish up the May and June while we're flying around. A couple of things to look forward to: a show with Robert Cray at Ravinia in the Chicago area on July 14 (Vive la France!) and the Ottawa and Toronto Blues Festivals where we'll have Angela Strehli, Tracy Nelson and Kaz with the horn section on the same show. Hope you're having a good summer and thanks, once again, from all of us.
July 14, 2004
For that matter, where are we now?
NOW, WHERE WERE WE...
At this very moment, I'm backstage at the Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett, NY. That's the beautiful hangout of the rich and famous at almost the very east end of Long Island. Miles of beaches, shingle houses, antique stores, vineyards and vegetable stands, villages with Tiffany and Ralph Lauren stores, shoppers wearing all that stuff loading up the Range Rovers at T.J. Maxx and KMart. As I write this, Colin Hay is on stage downstairs singing his hits from Men At Work and telling stories between songs in his great Scots/Australian accent that rival the tales of Fred Eaglesmith. We are about halfway through our longest trip of the summer. Tomorrow we fly to Salt Lake City to play at the Red Butte Gardens. Pat will get to visit with his parents and I hope some folks come up from Helper, UT to see their hometown boy play the guitar.
This trip started way back in Ann Arbor at the Ark, just about the oldest living musical co-op I know of. In its new larger space, it's a great listening room and, if there's space around the edges, they don't mind if people shake a leg a little. While there, we went with Chuck and Chris Covington to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn and stopped along the way for great Cheeseburgers (with an intentional capital C) at a corner bar. The place reminded me of Sully's which was in the same neighborhood and was one of the first places we ever played in the Detroit area. My fondest memory of Sully's was the night Johnny Adams, the wonderful New Orleans singer, showed up and sat in with us. But we always had a good time there and still hear from people who first saw us there.
From Ann Arbor, we made our way to Milwaukee. We've been playing Summerfest for years and years, even back when it was in a smaller location a little ways up the lake. Now, it's on a huge fairgrounds, many permanent stages and pavilions, and we're one of very few "roots" type bands who were slated to play there this year. More fond memories, this time of Summerfests past: running from one tent to the other to see Dr. John and Zachary Richard who were playing at the same time, meeting The Band on their bus but not seeing their show because we played at the same time, hearing the Staples Singers with Pops, just last year seeing the Jayhawks and Los Lobos.
Speaking of memories and this chapter seems to be developing in that direction - we dropped by Fitzgerald's on Sunday because we just couldn't not be at the American Music Festival even if we weren't booked to play it. It was perfect to hear Terrance Simien singing The Star Spangled Banner on the eve of the Fourth of July and Dave Alvin, with our old guitar player Chris Miller sounding great, capped off another very special holiday at a very special place.
Then the guys went home and I stayed and visited with daughter Brandy for a couple of days. We worked out really hard the Marcia Ball way - walking miles carrying shopping bags. Both nights we planned to go to a movie and both nights, after some pretty good dinners, we landed back at her apartment and watched "make-over" TV. I love those shows. They could be doing a house, a yard, a person - it doesn't matter to me. I love before and after. We weren't entirely sluggish though. We did take a boat tour on the Chicago River, not the architectural one which was sold out, but another which went out into the lake through the locks. Let me tell you, it was not too toasty on Lake Michigan on July 5. The tour did actually impart plenty of info about the buildings downtown and set me up for New York City.
The thing about New York is to remember to look up. Also left and right before crossing the street. I stepped off the curb looking right and almost got it from a bicycle going the wrong way. Also, it's at least as dangerous to talk on a cell phone and walk in NYC as it is to drive and talk in most other places. But, about looking up: I'm not talking about the hick stare where you lean all the way back and say, "Geeyaw, I can't even see the top of that baby". What I like are the older 15 to 25 story buildings from the Golden Age that have incredible ornamentation at several levels. One, down near NYU, has huge owls on the ramparts and columns and a mansard roof. One, near where I was staying in the Murray Hill neighborhood, has statues facing 29th and Madison that look like Elizabethan characters, I think. I even noticed Tammany Hall which I had passed many times without knowing it. So, if I look like a hick, so be it. I'm getting a lot out of that city above the shopfront level. And, I admit, a lot out of the shopfronts, too. And from the street vendors. And the restaurants and the bakeries. It was a two canolli (my spellcheck can't help me here) trip out of a possible three days.
And why was I in New York anyway? Well, I had the pleasure of being a special guest of James Cotton at the Blue Note for three nights. His great band played a few, James played a few, I played a few and then we all joined together. I was pretty nervous going in but they are all such professionals and picked up on my songs in a hurry. The club is intimate and the stage is, too, so the drummer, Mark Mack, couldn't see me around the guitar player, Slam Allen. I couldn't figure out how he was following my cues for endings and stops during the first show. On the break, he pointed at the mirrors on the back wall of the club and from then on I just waved at his reflection. I remember (that's right, more memories) seeing Dr. John at the Blue Note a few years ago. They seated me so close to the stage I could have played the right-hand parts.
Our friends Bob and Gerry drove me up to Rhode Island to meet up with the band on Friday. I just realized that if they hadn't taken me, they'd have probably brought their dog, Tiffany. I would have shared the back seat with her. What good friends they are. I don't think Gordon would have done that if he had to make a choice between his dog and somebody who needed a ride. He swears "never again" after his 10 days in Montana without Sonny Boy. I guess our children might get their feelings hurt if they weren't just about as animal-goofy as we are. But that's how I got to the Ocean Mist and our rendezvous with Adele and Gino, with his four excuses for not being at our last gig. Kevin's club is still rocking and still clinging to its foothold on the beach. You can see Block Island from the deck. Many folks asked if we were coming back to Ninigret for Rhythm and Roots and, sorry to say, we're not this year but Chuck knows how much we love his festival so look for us in the future.
Oh, Lowell. You win the prize. Ever since our first trip there for the Folk Festival, I think, the Lowell crowd has been exceptionally warm. They have sat through heat and cold, wet and dry to see us play. And really, they don't just sit. Anywhere we go in New England, we see Lowell people, especially Arthur and his friends and, of course, Boston Billy.
From Lowell, we went down and caught the ferry at New London, CT and crossed over to Orient Point on the north fork of Long Island. That is one of my favorite things to do. We had to get up pretty early though, so when we got on the boat, we scattered and, it turns out, most of us slept the whole way over. I went up on the top deck, where the engine noise drove everybody else away, stretched out on a bench and wrapped my jacket around my head. When I woke up I had tanned the outline of my watch onto my left forearm. Oops. Well, so much for the traditional barroom pallor. To get to Amagansett from Orient Point, you take another quick ferry ride to Shelter Island, drive across, take another ferry to the south fork and go east some more through Sag Harbor, which looks like a place I'd like to spend more time. We just skirted the "quaintarea", one word in the band vocabulary, and it looks, well, very quaint. Have I said this before? In another life, I'd like to be the town librarian on Shelter Island. We had lunch on the island at the Star Cafe which just looked so good as we passed it that we had to turn around and give it a try. Good idea! Strangely enough, they had chicken enchiladas with green (tomatillo) sauce that were delicious. They had hummus for Brad and fried chicken for Johnny, good coffee, delicious guacamole and chips. One of those lucky finds.
And that finds us at the Stephen Talkhouse where this chronicle begins and it's showtime. Y'all have a great safe summer, talk a non-voter into registering, use your sunscreen and drink plenty of liquids (red wine counts if you balance it with water). Check out Pat Boyack's new record, Voices From the Street on the Doc Blues label. And a big hello from Don, Pat, Brad, Johnny and our new drummer (it's a long story) Corey Keller. He's great! Come check him out. 'Til next time...
October 14, 2004
Soon now, I'll be home. I've been screened, patted down and my purse upended with a thud, because I wouldn't take off my cheapo Walgreen's rubber flip-flops when I went through the airport x-ray machine. I just thought I'd go ahead and take the consequences.
Soon now, it will stop flooding on the Gulf Coast and my friends and family can come out of their mildewed houses and take a deep breath in the sunshine.
Soon now, we'll be in the Pacific Northwest getting a close-up of Mt. St. Helens and giving Canadian customs a shot at us. They always have a new surprise reason why we can't just come in and work a couple of dates. We'll be taking the ferry from near Vancouver to Victoria, B.C. and maybe there will be whales. I'll report back on this.
Soon now, the election will be over and I will either be contented, distraught or in jail. More on this later.
We played last night at the King Biscuit Festival in Helena, Arkansas. It rained. They think it's my fault because it always rains when I'm there but just a tiny bit of investigation turned up the fact that it has rained at about nine out of ten KBF's. October in the Delta and you better have your cotton in or it's going to rot in the field. This is probably why they're growing a lot of rice there nowadays. Rain or shine, King Biscuit is wonderful and unique. It's free, for one thing. The state of Arkansas built a great new stage since we were there last. The main street of Helena becomes a midway of food and blues related articles. The bands are the real thing. All of the living legends pass through or come home to Helena and the greater Clarksdale-Tunica area. Last night we played with Anson Funderburgh and Sam Myers, The Holmes Brothers, Robert Lockwood, Jr. and Gatemouth Brown. The Gentleman of the Hour was Pinetop Perkins. His homecoming celebration is today at Hopson Plantation and they're filming him for a feature length documentary. I look forward to seeing that. I've met many of my heroes who are in their 70's, 80's and even 90's now I and always regret the fact that there are so many stories I'll never hear. Their lives illustrate the history of 20th century music, civil rights and personal experience. The more of that which can be captured on film and tape, the richer our knowledge of that time will be.
I got home, emptied the suitcase into the washer, emptied the dryer into the suitcase, kissed the husband (and the dog) and we're off again. Oh, the glamour!
We flew to Seattle yesterday because you can hardly get where we're going to play tonight in one day. It's planes, cars and ferries. We stopped in downtown Seattle and found a very interesting Moroccan/Thai restaurant called Jasmine in the Pike Street Market area. Mmmm, delicious. Then we headed north to the border with no extraneous merchandise to complicate customs and our visas and work papers in order fully prepared for the ordeal that always occurs. At the crossing, the woman in the booth asked about ten questions and said "go ahead". I'll never figure it out but I guarantee you, we went.
Now we're on the ferry to Victoria, B.C. and I'm sitting out of the wind and in the shade while we're in open water but if somebody yells "Whale!" I'll be out there hanging over the rail in a flash. It's beautiful as we approach the islands and I'm hoping Paul Gartside, who designed the boat we're building in our back yard, comes to the gig tonight.
No whales on the outbound, but seals and otters. There's always tomorrow.
WAY BACK WHEN
Our Esteemed Web Gator reminded me that I haven't written in months. I'll never catch up and we've had such an interesting bunch of gigs this past summer that I hate for you all to miss them. Among things experience has taught me is the fact that the better the accommodations, the less time we have to enjoy them. When we played Hayesville, N.C., we were put up at a nearby lodge with about a mile of driveway, a creek running through the grounds, a golf course, beautiful southern Smokey Mountain forests. We checked in at midnight and were out by 8 AM. Curses. Our hosts, the Goldhagens, really went all out promoting the show and showing us a good time. Kirsten made the gig happen, got the backstage areas all remodeled and made the most incredible carrot cake I have ever had to follow the meal that her husband, David, prepared for us. He fired up the grill instead of his glass furnace and smoked some butt. They made Uglisich's shrimp and an incredible potato salad. But the capper on the whole event was Gabriel Benjamin Goldhagen, age 5, who has been to the N.O. Jazz Fest every year of his life. He and Don became fast friends and Gabriel gave me a line which I think will come in handy on many occasions. At the very tail end of the night while we were still trying to kill ourselves with the food backstage, Gabriel came over, gave me a hug and said, "Good night." I said, "Oh, are you leaving?" And he said, "No, you are." Good one.
A week or so later, we played the Gator Fest in Anahuac, Chambers County, TX, which boasts three alligators for every person. The day we played was opening day of alligator season. This didn't get as much national publicity as the opening of squirrel season in Ville Platte, LA. That was in the New York Times. We had a good turnout of my old friends from Vinton and some of our buddies from Houston, including Nuri Nuri, the Big Boss Man Of The Blues, and Mr. and Mrs. V, all favorite DJ's from KPFT. At the end of the day we got an airboat ride. Amazing! They run on water, mud, hyacinths, air. At least somebody tipped me to sit in the back row middle so when the driver bashed through the undergrowth I didn't end up with a mouth full of shrubbery. I was totally terrified the whole time and put airboat riding in the same category as jet skiing. Too loud, which is an ironic thing for a musician who has probably partially deafened a couple of generations of dancers to say.
The next weekend was our first appearance at the Austin City Limits Festival in Zilker Park, Austin. For me, the best things about the gig were the fact that you could walk there from my house and that on the day we played they had booked the Holmes Brothers, Gatemouth, and the Nevilles. The worst thing was that it turned out to be about the hottest weekend of the whole year. The festival is hugely successful in just three years and I can't imagine them squeezing any more people into the park. Our set was a brief 45 minutes but we had Kaz and Gary Slechta on sax and trumpet and Red Young on B-3 in addition to the regular guys all eager to play for the home town folks.
We finished up September in California at the San Francisco Blues Festival. Once again, the good thing about these festivals is getting to hang out with our friends and heroes. We played between Bobby Rush and Keb Mo. I get the biggest kick out of that Mo guy. He's been playing a more electric set with his band lately and it's great to see what's new with him. Bobby Rush has the dancers made famous by the Blues series for PBS and he plays what he told the audience that day is the real thing. I agree. Pat went later that night to see him play in a club and said it was possibly the best blues show he had ever seen. Before Pat went out for the music, he and a group of us were hosted by Bobby's manager, Jeff Weiner and his parents, at the Slanted Door for fabulous Asian food. When a restaurant is considered special by San Francisco standards as this one is, you know it's going to be a memorable meal and this was. It was made even better by the expertise of Jeff's friend, Kevin, who picked very interesting white mostly German wines to go with the food. A gold star food and music day!
Followed by two more - a Sunday barbecue at Rancho Nicasio and an audio and video taping at the Sierra Nevada Brewery in Chico, CA. The afternoon in Nicasio was one of perfect weather, an enthusiastic bunch of people dancing in the grass, special guest appearances by Angela Strehli and Mike Duke and a delicious supper prepared by Max and the Rancho kitchen. I'm hoping that Angela and I can do more shows together maybe along with one of our other friends. Something magic always happens when we get to sing together that's bigger than all of us.
Then we went up to Chico. I've mentioned before here what a great performance space they've built at the Sierra Nevada Brewery. Now they're planning to syndicate a music series and we're in on the first group of acts. Angela came up and sang on a few songs with us and I think we got a good show out of it. We played for about two and a half hours so surely we'll get forty minutes of usable tape. And another good meal, by the way. They have a first class restaurant on the premises and grow their own beef and are very picky about their supplies. Also, we can never resist the beer sampler which comes out on a specially marked place mat with each of at least twenty varieties in tasting sized glasses. Two ounces is the perfect size beer for me. Of course, I had to try several different beers so it adds up. Actually, my favorite beer is the ice cold first sip of a long neck. It's always downhill from there.
We have returned to the mainland from Victoria, B.C.. One of our hosts at the Central Bar and Grill last night said, "Have you noticed how slowly everything moves here?" Well, it wasn't the speed, it was more the gracious, friendly quality of the people that was striking. We really hope to return to Victoria for one of their festivals sponsored by the very active Jazz, Blues and World Music group. We also want to send our compliments to our opening act last night. Dave Harris is a one man band with an atypical repertoire of Slim Harpo and Earl King songs and he was a lot of fun to see and hear.
AND IN CLOSING
I need to ask you to send your prayers, your good vibes, whatever positive energy you can generate to our good friend LuAnne Keller who had a very bad car wreck on her way to see us in Chico on September 28. LuAnne is a Delbert cruiser and a big fan of all of the bands on the boat and more. She covers a lot of miles whenever her bands are playing on the West Coast and we were looking forward to seeing her in Chico. There is a website http://love4lu.blogspot.com. We love you, Lu, and hope to see you soon now.
January 5, 2005
It's all about priorities. Hello, 2005, the first few days of which I spent circling around inside the house like a shark, sorting through piles of piles, throwing out as much accumulation as I could, feeling that cleansing satisfaction. I cooked dinner for friends, talked on the phone for several hours, did some work on a children's book, started packing for the cruise. Then I baked a cake for Brandy's going back to Chicago party. Then I called the roofer, the tree man, my dentist, and my mother's doctor in hopes of plugging leaks and stopping deterioration. Then I watched Jeopardy and three back-to-back episodes of Law and Order. And now I'm starting the first Ball Bearing of the year – all of this to avoid sitting at the piano trying to be creative. This is why everybody's not doing it. It's fun but it's scary.
Gordon and I and our family had a lot of good time together during the holidays. We went to Mexico for Thanksgiving and our children and friends joined us in waves during the three weeks we were there. Our friend Linda and I took Spanish classes and we hablamos mas mejor ahora, but mostly in the present tense singular. Mainly we just walked around looking at the beautiful town of San Miguel, wandered in the market and planned dinner. I only had one rule and that was: guacamole every day. The time flew by.
When we got home, the band was relieved to discover that I hadn't forgotten all the lyrics to our songs, so we went to Baton Rouge and played a fund-raiser to Stomp Out MS. It was a really fun night at the Swine Palace at LSU. They turned the place into a silk purse for the party and danced the night away for a good cause. Then a stop at the Cactus Moon in Humble and it was time to be off for Christmas.
First we gathered our bunch at our house for pre-Christmas dinner on December 23 because everybody has so many extended family obligations, so we try to celebrate and get out of the way. My big Christmas present was a new dining room table built by Gordon's son Jeb. It's old long leaf pine and just a little larger than the old table so we can fit eight. That night we used the new table and the old table and an extra table in the living room and had an intimate dinner for 17. On Christmas Eve I drove to Lafayette and met up with my mother and brothers and all their families. That's where the little ones were and that makes Christmas fun, until you impale yourself with a Lincoln Log. Christmas night we did the natural Cajun thing and went to a bar. Actually, it was a very special evening at El Sido's nightclub and Buckwheat Zydeco was playing. Drummer Corey and his brother Mike drove in and they and C.C. Adcock were all there and lots of other friends. Buck and the band sounded great. And the next day, we went to Whiskey River Landing, down in the Atchafalaya Basin to hear Kevin Naquin at the Sunday afternoon dance and it was more good music and good times and dancing.
So after a decent interval, I dumped Mama back in Vinton and headed to Texas to pick up my pre-packed suitcase and go to Chicago for New Years Eve. Now, I'm thinking people aren't celebrating NYE quite as much as they used to, maybe since the big Y2K let-down but there was no holding back at Fitzgerald's. It was a full house and a ton of fun for both Paul Cebar and us. We rang in the New Year at the stroke of midnight by my official Timex wristwatch. The ball dropped, everybody sang and the party went on.
And I hope that your party goes on, too. I wish the best for all of you who are reading this. I hope your holidays were merry and bright and families who could be together enjoyed that wonderful good fortune. I hope that the beginning of this new year brings you fresh energy and enthusiasm. Also love, luck, winning lottery numbers, a new car, good children, scholarships, shade in the summer, down in the winter, funny jokes, health, happiness, friends, music, delicious food, the will power to quit your bad habits, organizational skills to spare.
Well, who wouldn't want all that stuff, plus of course, world peace. Personally, what I really want is a big old handsome Spanish speaking personal trainer/yoga instructor/nail technician to knock on my door at about 11AM every morning. Is that asking too much?
Well, thanks for another year of traveling along the road with us. Thank you especially for all the hand holding and commiseration during the political campaigns. There's a lot more to be said about all that and I will be saying it in future messages so don't be lulled into complacency. I'm the same liberal peacenik I've always been, only more so. And it's never been more important. Peace On Earth.
March 1, 2005
The lull: the time between Delbert's Sandy Beaches Cruise and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, often busy and a lot of fun, but not as relentlessly filled with music and complete abandon as the two events bracketing it. The lull is deceptive and often many projects are begun, relationships established and promises made which prove to be unrealistic when the frenetic pace of the true rock 'n' roll lifestyle resumes. The lull is also often interrupted by Mardi Gras which is in a class all its own in terms of frenetic activity and abandon. Enjoy the lull. It's brief. And then, prepare to party.
Back on (somewhat) dry land, sitting in the Ft. Lauderdale airport watching the rain and waiting out the delayed flights. When seven cruise ships disgorge their passengers on one Saturday morning, 10,000 people arrive at the Southwest Airlines counter at the same time and if one air traffic controller calls in sick, 10,000 people eat $5 cheeseburgers and wait and wait and wait. Janice and Nancy and I are staring at Sarah in her wheelchair with her little black cloud over her head. Of all the people to be on the broke down tender when it lurched, it had to be her. We're being treated to the same abrupt return to reality that the folks who are having to fly home to Milwaukee (-4) and Albany (15) are enjoying.
The Austin crowd has left but there are still little groups of musicians sitting around - Wayne Toups over here, Jeffrey Steele over there. Cruisers from everywhere are still in their tropical prints and straw hats. There were a lot of first timers on the Sandy Beaches this year and most of them are planning on coming back. It's great to see people discover someone's music and be blown away. The new guy this year was Paul Thorn and he stole the show. His stories will crack you up and his songs will break your heart. More than ever, the overall level of songwriting talent is amazing and the songwriter showcases are some of the most popular gigs.
Still, the dancers love to dance and Teresa James and Wayne Toups and the first time cruisers, Mingo Fishtrap gave them what they wanted. A large time was had by all.
We stopped at Grand Turk, maybe the first cruise ship to dock there. They were unprepared. When we left, there was no more cold beer on the island. It was actually very refreshing to go to a real island town, not built for tourists and shoppers. There are beautiful beaches, a few guest houses and cafes, a couple of e shops and some pretty Caribbean houses. They drive on the left but they don't drive a lot since there's not a whole lot of places to go. The first t-shirts we saw for sale were at the library and they were for the Turks and Caicos Philatelic Society. Now this would be a very unusual souvenir, especially if you happen to be into philately.
Can you tell I'm still in cruise mode? Really, nothing happened. It was great. When I got off the boat I had four messages on my cell phone and one was left over from last week. Of course, most of my friends were on the boat and everybody else knew I was gone.
I did buy the coolest pair of shoes in San Juan, Puerto Rico and you know that's saying a lot. Okay, I'll describe them, that's how little I really have to say here. They're furry leopard print with turquoise ribbon ties on the very pointy toes and a two inch stiletto heel with little turquoise heel caps. Yes!
Finally, they called our plane and we got to Jacksonville in plenty of time to set up, eat the wonderful homemade lasagna and chocolate chip cookies that Tib and Sis laid out for us, zip into our "gigwear" and play for a nice full house at the Freebird Cafe. Here's the connection I didn't know: the club is owned by the widow of Ronnie Van Zandt and named after the extremely famous song of Skynyrd's.
Later, much later. Oh, I had such good intentions. Write it as it happens, remember everything. Yeah, right. So we got off the boat and fell right into the whirlwind that is real life, at least until the next weekend when we took off for Louisiana for a gig at one of our old favorites places, Grant Street Dancehall in Lafayette, and what might become one of our new favorite places, Southport Hall in New Orleans. (More about this later.) I picked up my mother and fifteen pounds of crawfish tails and came home and cooked etouffee until the whole house smelled real good. Then we ate and ate and filled the freezer.
January closed with two fundraisers - one for a great radio station, WUKY in Lexington, KY. They really know how to throw a party. A few years ago, they had a bourbon tasting. You've never seen so many tipsy well-dressed supporters of the arts and more than a couple of buzzed band members. This year we tasted everything else Lexington had to offer, wonderful food and wine. Then the next night in Birmingham, AL, there was a Mardi Gras style event. Both shows had large community turnouts and we so appreciate a crowd willing to dance for a good cause.
Okay, I know we're a little spoiled living south of the Oatmeal-Grits line but we do like to dip our toes in the snow a couple of times a year so we went north in February. Down in New Orleans, they were shifting into high Mardi Gras gear while up in Blackwood, NJ we played with The Dirty Dozen and took the parade to the people. Then, at B.B. King's in New York with Buckwheat Zydeco, it was beginning to feel a lot like carnival. And speaking of NYC, I want to thank Joyce for calling me from under Christo's Gates in Central Park. We just missed seeing them when we were there. The weekend was capped off in Wilmington, DE with a terrific party at Delaware Tech. The whole building was decorated, there were life-size puppets, a chocolate fountain, a fun New Orleans style jazz band, good gumbo, fabulous hospitality courtesy of Regan, and our friends Don and Marti and Dan and Janet.
So I came home and brought some big Mardi Gras beads and the bronchial crud with me. It's sweeping the nation. Pierce Brosnan had it the other night on the Oscars. Instead of hello, the first thing people say to each other is, "Are you feeling any better?" I gave it to my mother. Then I took it out to California. And that's a whole other installment.
Meanwhile, I've got some explaining to do. First of all, all you Big Shots, you're the best. You signed up for our fan club and make us feel special wherever we go. You wear your fan club shirts and wave your Big Shot bandanas. We, on the other hand, are just learning how to do a fan club. The remarkable Cathie Baker founded the organization and has done a great job but I have not been holding up my end of the deal. So we're rethinking and perhaps regrouping. Perhaps not. We'll continue to contact you through these little (and sometimes not so little) tales of our adventures. I'm going to get some good advice from Valerie who does Delbert's fan club. We'll try to keep you as informed as you can stand to be by way of our website. I hope you'll bear with me. With or without a membership card, you're still Big Shots.
Speaking of informed, the Webgator is dying to spring some big news on you and I'm going to scoop him. At the Jazz Festival in New Orleans in April, we'll be carrying our new LIVE! album, Down The Road. This is the show we taped at the Sierra Nevada Brewery in Chico, CA last fall and it came out real good so we're very excited about getting to release it. We're slammin' and jammin' to get it mixed, mastered and in the package by mid-April. It will be another fine Alligator Records product.
And, speaking of Jazz Fest, and getting back to Southport Hall mentioned above, there are two additional really big shows the weekend of our April 29 Fairgrounds date that I want to talk up. In non-chronological order: on Sunday, May 1, Angela Strehli, Maria Muldaur, Tracy Nelson and I will be performing a tribute to Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the legendary gospel singer, at the Fairgrounds. Look for a great band and perhaps some more special guests. The night before that, on Saturday, April 30, the same three as will be joining us at Southport Hall for a show of everybody's more secular songs. We have a bunch of shows in New Orleans during the ten days of Jazz Fest including two piano nights that I'll take part in as a solo act on Monday at Generations Hall and Wednesday at Snug Harbor after we play Lafayette Park. You can't miss us. We're everywhere.
And so, we hope to see you there, or here, or in your town. Our summer schedule is booking up and looks like a lot of fun. We're returning to some of our favorite festivals and clubs all over the country. Spring is just around the corner and so are we. As always, take care, slow down, share the love, pray for peace, read, walk, pet the dog, stretch, relax and ignore all unsolicited advice. Happy 55th birthday, Miles!
May 5, 2005
This is what happens about a week after Jazz Fest, when I can talk again, when I've slept complete 8 - 10 hour nights a couple of times, when the smile has almost left my face. When the memory of seeing Kermit Ruffins' reunion with the real Rebirth (Brass Band, that is) blasting the roof off of a club on Frenchman Street, Nathan and the Cha Cha's on the Fais Do Do stage, Randy Newman from 20 feet away singing "Louisiana, 1927", the Neville Brothers closing the big stage at the end of the festival, when all of these things have melded into a single feeling of good fortune, that's the Rebirth. When the crawfish pies and mango freeze at the Fairgrounds, the fish at Nola and the duck at Delmonico's and the soft shell crab at Brigsten's and the oyster po-boys at The Corporation Bar and Grill on the corner by the hotel have all turned into a pinch-an-inch at my waistline and a stern look from my cholesterol conscious doctor, that's it, too. When I stop reading the review of Irma Thomas singing "Beams of Heaven" during our Sister Rosetta Tharp tribute to everyone who calls, which the reviewer called "in 2005, the single best, most moving vocal performance" and "a Jazzfest moment to treasure", and when I stop bursting with pride that it was my band, Don, Corey, Pat, and Brad, along with David Torkanowsky, Del Ray, Percy Williams and Emile Hall, who backed her and all of us, Maria Muldaur, Tracy Nelson, Angela Strehli and I, on that set, and that it was Johnny Medina unscrambling all that music and making it into "good sound", that's the Rebirth.
This is what happens when, after all that and many other trips and events, I get home and the patio needs a good sweeping, the rose bush needs pruning, the dog ignores me (not really, he's always glad to see me), there's a great big stack of mail, and I realize that I haven't written anything about our travels in two months.
I guess I could work backwards and say a few more things about the Jazz Fest. With the exception of a rainy Saturday morning the second weekend, I've never seen better weather in New Orleans for the festival. We were there for the first Friday at Tipitina's, which is like coming home for me. I do love that place and its big old picture of Fess over the stage. We left for a couple of days and then went back on Monday for WWOZ's Piano Night, this year honoring Allen Toussaint. Nobody in that city's music scene deserves the recognition more, in my opinion. So many of the songs identified with New Orleans, like "Working In A Coal Mine", "Mother-In-Law", "Ruler Of My Heart" and even later things like "Southern Nights" are all Toussaint's. At Piano Night, he played a set solo first and then came over to the big stage and played with the band and Dr. John. My favorite thing to watch at Piano Night is the way Eddie Bo works everyone up into a grand finale. He's truly a mix-master, calling people out, starting songs, playing and singing with his great rhythmic style and his beautiful smile.
On Wednesday afternoon, we filled Lafayette Park to capacity and saw many of our good friends from all over, just arriving for the second weekend of festivities or hanging over from the first. Jan Marie in from Yemen, a bunch from Winnipeg, the folks from Lowell, Boston Billy from well, you know where. Joe Krown played most excellent B-3 with us out there. Then he and I zipped over to Snug Harbor to join Tom McDermott for our solo piano show. They always say how much they enjoy that gig. I'm always terrified. They're both wonderful to hear. Joe ranges from great boogie-woogie to jazz and Tom plays ragtime in both American and Brazilian styles. Amazing, and I'm hanging over the upstairs rail watching every move.
Thursday, we had a fun night at The Parish while next door at the House of Blues, Dr. John did a tribute to Ray Charles with special guest, Bobby "Blue" Bland. I was tempted to give Pat extra long solos and pop over for a listen.
Then, oh my gosh, the Jazz Fest. I guess we didn't cut much into the Widespread Panic draw but we had a great big old crowd at the Sprint Stage. Following Randy Newman was something of a thrill for me. And, as ever, I wandered around the Fairgrounds with my posse of girlfriends, Margie, Nancy, Debbie and Janice, eating and listening to whatever music caught our ears in the beautiful breezy weather.
Saturday night, three of the "as", Maria Muldaur, Tracy Nelson and Angela Strehli, joined us at Southport Hall for a secular show, warming up for the next day. It was great singing together again, doing "Sing It" with Tracy, "Just A Fool" and "It Hurts To Be In Love" with Angela, and her great original, "Blue Highway" from her new album. Marie strutted her stuff on Jon Cleary's "Come On, Second Line" and Tracy sang "Mother Earth" and the song we wrote together, "Got A New Truck". It was big fun.
And the whole week culminated for me at the Blues Tent with the Sister Rosetta Tribute. In addition to my band (did I say how well they did?), we used Irma's horn guys, Emile Hall and Percy Williams, extraordinary pianist/organist David Torkanowsky and Del Ray, a guitarist skilled in many styles who played a note perfect Rosetta and, according to David, looks like a black and white photograph with her big acoustic electric guitar and her vintage dress. There were several special moments. For instance, when Tracy finished her first featured vocal and stepped off-stage, Ed Bradley of "60 Minutes" fame and an annual Jazz Fest presence said, "You can sing in my church anytime." But then when Irma finished her show-stopping "Beams Of Heaven", Ed said, "Irma owns my church." For me, the best was while I was singing my little number, "I Want A Tall Skinny Papa." David said, "Give George a solo", and I couldn't think of a George in the band but when I looked at the piano, there was George Wein, the founder of the festival, swinging away. What a day!
Oh, but it's not over. That night after dinner, a bunch of us went to The Lion's Den to see Irma. There, in the club she and Emile own, we put the cap on a wonderful Jazz Fest '05.
I'll just say "Hey" and thanks for the great gigs we've had since I last wrote. I hate to leave even one show out because we are so lucky to play night after night for such supportive, fun audiences but I want to especially mention the loud reception we got at the Mystic Theater in Petaluma, CA. They said that Tommy Castro had trained them how to act when a band came to town and that is: stand up, shake a leg, clap, shout and whistle. They're right up there with Fitzgerald's in Berwyn and Luther's in Madison for some serious audience response. We played the new Dakota in Minneapolis, which is a different animal altogether: a very nice refined jazz club which loosened up considerably by the end of the evening. We also played, for the first time, Sheldon Hall in St. Louis, a beautiful old concert theater with wooden seats and wonderful acoustics, Lynn's new Corner Pocket in Williamsburg, VA, and we had our biggest crowd ever, I think, at the State Theater in Falls Church.
Since I leaked the news about our live album in the last Ball Bearings, I'll report now that it came out officially on April 26 and entered the Billboard Blues Charts at #3. It's way up on the "adds" list at Americana and AAA radio, which means they're spinning it a lot in spite of their usual reluctance to play live albums. So it's off and running "Down The Road" and I am off to the Handy Awards in Memphis, where they're giving Pinetop Perkins the Lifetime Achievement Award and all of us piano pounders are gathering to pay homage where homage is due.
And I'm not packed. Heck, I'm not even unpacked.
As usual, let me close by nagging. 1) Watch this Social Security stuff. You don't get to keep your money and invest it yourself. It's a boondoggle and if you're ever going to write to your representatives in Congress, do it now, please. Getting old is a drag, according to my mother. How would she know? She's only 83. Getting old and broke is hell. Pay attention now or we'll all pay later. 2) When they drill in the Alaska Wildlife Refuge the oil doesn't just pop out of the ground and fly to the gas station. There will be roads and pipelines and trucks and barracks and heavy machinery, a trashed ecosystem and repository for much of North America's fresh water. All for what they admit is a drop in the bucket of our consumption. 3) Enjoy shrimp now. If nothing is done to reverse the loss of America's wetlands on the Louisiana coast, they'll be like caviar to our children. The solution is there but they need the money. Heck, enjoy New Orleans now. Scientists say the city is in serious jeopardy if a big hurricane comes straight in. Good luck to Rep. Melancon from the Third District in his attempt to get funding. Tab Benoit and I and all the people watching their home towns become inundated are hoping you can do it. 4) Support our troops. There are organizations all over who send books, CD's and care packages to the forces overseas. Find one and recycle your music and other goodies. (Remember I said a while back, less politics at the shows but not on the website? Well, there it is.)
And if you're still reading - and I trust you are - enjoy each other, love life, thanks for everything and I hope we see you soon.
August 9, 2005
For purple mountain's majesty. For fields of sunflowers and corn and maize. For craggy mountain faces and tumbling creeks. For puffy white clouds in the bluest sky. For The Band singing "Across the Great ide" while we drive out to the Grande River Winery in Palisades, CO. It's America the Beautiful, indeed.
AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL
So, it's been three months since I last updated our little travelogue. Got to tell you, it seems like longer. In May, we were still reeling from the Jazz Fest. Since then, oh my goodness, we've played a whole raft of gigs including some of our favorite return engagements like the Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival in Thomson, GA. We played in a theater in Augusta with John Hammond and after the gig we went downtown to look at the newly installed statue of James Brown. There he stands, life-size, so you can walk right up and take your picture with the Hardest Working Man in Show Business, the Amazing Mr. Please, Please, Please himself. And, of course, we did.
That trip was the first of the Interesting Routing Challenges, in the future referred to as IRC's, of the summer. Augusta to Raleigh, NC to Dana Point, CA. The tours are notable not only for the time spent booking airline tickets but mainly for the great bands we get to play with when we finally get where we're going. At the Doheny Blues Festival in Dana Point, it was Elvin Bishop and Roy Rogers. In San Francisco, Robert Cray. At the Strawberry Music Festival up at Camp Mather near Yosemite it was Susan Tedeschi and an amazing band from Mexico called Inspector - latino-funk-soul in Espanol. Plus, Norman and Sherry led us on a side-trek up to the beautiful reservoir and waterfalls nearby. And then we had one of those lovely afternoon barbecues at Rancho Nicasio with Angela Strehli.
The next week we bounded off in the other direction for a date in NYC again with Robert Cray. I just love those guys - Kevin, Carl and Jimmy Pugh. They are so solid and Robert always does a classy show - he's very particular about his sound and it pays off. Then we returned to the Western Maryland Blues Festival with our buddies, the Dirty Dozen and Larry Carlton's incredible blues band of great players and arrangements.
The Monday before, on Memorial Day, there was a terrific Texas-style thunder and lightning storm that woke me and apparently the whole city of Austin at about four AM. At five AM, the Lake Travis area was treated to a pre-dawn light show courtesy of The Oasis, which was struck by lightning and burned until the sun came up. People started calling me early to tell me we had an open Saturday night since that was our gig on the 11th, but people were wrong. They didn't figure on Beau Theriot and his crew. They didn't miss a gig. It helps to visualize The Oasis. It started as a bar and restaurant on a cliff facing west overlooking Lake Travis. There was a deck where people watched the sunset. Many, many people. So Beau kept building decks that stair-stepped down the hill until 1000 people could, and did, go for a drink and the view. Kind of like Key West without the bagpipes. What burned was part of the restaurant and about half of the decks, I'm told. Beau's employees got in there and cleaned and scraped and refitted and there was a gig there the very next Saturday night and they were well underway by the 11th.
It seems like we go months without playing in Austin. Well, actually, that's true. But in June we did more than our allotment. First, I played a solo fundraiser for the Paramount Theater. Just a couple of songs - once again made special by the company I was keeping: Joe Ely and Jimmy Dale Gilmore, Jimmy LaFave, the writer Marian Winick, and the original residents of Greater Tuna, Jaston Williams and Joe Sears. After the show, my friend (the real) Bill Smith and I offered Marian a ride back to her hotel but Bill had another plan. He's the master of what I call "the open or". Here's how it works: he says, "We'll drop you at your hotel, OR...", and there's a tempting alternative on the table. Marian was a sucker for the "open or". She used to live in Austin and missed the nightlife. So we went to see Warren Hood and the Hoodlums at Momo's. Then, at midnight we took Marian to her hotel across the street from the Continental Club and Bill said, "Well, goodnight, OR..." so we went over and saw Red Volkaert and Cindy Cashdollar and Earl Poole Ball, otherwise known as Heybale. For anyone who wants to know what's happening in Austin these days, those two shows are at the top of the list. You could start at the Saxon Pub with Stephen Bruton and the Resentments and really get the feel of the famous "Austin Scene". And that's just a Sunday night. Finally we let Marian go home and Bill and I stopped at La Mexicana for a two AM taco. About in the middle of that, I remembered I was having oral surgery the next day. Oh, well. I was going to feel like hell anyway.
Also in June, we played Blues On The Green in Zilker Park, a few blocks from my house. Sponsored by KGSR, it's a free Wednesday night concert series and several thousand people come out. I enjoy going to the shows even when I'm not playing. Last week was Lavelle White and Ruthie Foster. Before that was Hubert Sumlin and Pinetop Perkins. I can walk the dog down and he can socialize (or anti-socialize) depending on what breed we meet. Austin is a very doggy town. I think it has become a very doggy world. Everybody's playing with their poodles.
And then, the second IRC: Ruston, LA (Peach Festival) to Omaha, NE (Arts Festival with Michael Burks) to Norfolk, VA (Bayou Boogaloo with Delbert and C.J. Chenier). It is possible to fly this route but you have to go through Atlanta every time. The big surprise was how cheap it is to fly to Monroe, LA, should you ever want to. And why would you want to? Well, according to Sister Pearlie Tolliver, you could shop at J & J Fashions, eat at the Hen House, get some big bone buffalo fish at Bubba's Fish Market. (Bubba will not open his doors unless his fish is fresh!) Here's the trick: Delta Airlines started in Monroe as a crop-dusting company. Apparently, they still have a favored nations deal there but, as I mentioned before, you have to go to Atlanta first. The up-side of this situation is that we ate a Paschal's in the airport every day that weekend. Fried chicken and turnip greens. Sweet tea and corn muffins.
Should I go on? This is running long. I worry that if I stop here, it'll be another three months before I write again. Let me interject: I tried to write couple of months ago but what came out was a political spew and I know how you love those. I'll save that for later, stick it at the end, and you can read it or not. Deal?
So, onward through the fog as Oat Willie says. We've just come to that great annual institution, The American Music Festival at Fitzgerald's in Berwyn, IL. I can't list all the great acts we play with there every year. I just suggest that you go to their website, buy their book, plan to spend the Fourth of July in Chicago, catch a Cubs game and spend three or four days at Fitzgerald's. There's also Taste of Chicago (lots of food and music), fireworks, Millennium Park, the lake, the Art Institute, on and on. That toddling town, Chicago.
And so we spent July avoiding the heat, commuting to Chicago and Wisconsin. Chattanooga downtown was fun and the last time we were there was September 11, 2001 and there was no gig that night, so it was very moving to be playing there again. Then we had a late afternoon at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, IL. with a couple of thousand people on a beautiful day and Steve Lucky and the Rhumba Bums featuring Miss Carmen Getit on guitar. My adventure: I visited with Jack and Paula after the show until all the band guys had gone back to the dressing room. Then I headed toward the rent car and got about 50 feet in the wrong direction before I thought about fifteen hundred acres, 3500 types of trees, shrubs and bushes in the dark. I backtracked, too embarrassed to go back to the stage, and started hitting the panic button on the car key until I could see it through the woods. Not much of a Camp Fire Girl. I still remember the songs, though.
Back home. Back to Wisconsin. Waterfest in Oshkosh with C.J. Chenier again and Bastille Days in Milwaukee with Terrance Simien and Sonny Landreth. Waterfest has a beautiful new home at Leach Amphitheater in Riverside Park and Oshkosh is the kind of town you would enjoy spending the summer in, boating, biking, chilling. Then the Atlanta Jazz and Blues Festival. I've got to say - it was hot. Hot in several ways. Hot like 95 degrees and 95 percent humidity. Hot like Toni Lynn Washington and Bobby Rush and Little Richard. Hot like Hotlanta. Little Richard - "Oh, my soul!" he would say. "Shut up," he would say. "Boney Maroney", he would play. What a night.
And then, of course, back to Wisconsin for a party near Eau Claire at Max's Resort thrown for all their friends and neighbors by Rich and Laurie and hosted by Darlene, Maxine and Dody. Max was a concert violinist and his love of music and of people has been passed down to his three daughters, all retired or almost retired school teachers. Many of the guests have been going there every summer, all their lives. We had a wonderful time playing out by the lake and drinking Goody Goodies after the show.
And so. Here we are in Colorado, almost to Grand Junction and I'm about to hang it up, leaving this trip for next time`. And then, I looked over at the driver and realized that you haven't met him. He's our new sax player, Thad Scott, and he started about three weeks ago. I'll be picking his brain for biographical information to pass along in my next rambling screed. Also of interest concerning the band is the dual birthday on August 16 of Don Bennett and Johnny Medina, followed on the 22nd by Corey's. So easy. One cake, one trip to Dillard's, three shirts, three cards (already have them). Great big Happy Birthdays to my wonderful bandmates.
And now, the news. Political, that is. Time for the light of heart to sign off. Fair warning and here we go:
Down in Nuevo Laredo, which has apparently gone lawless on us, there is a dish called the Back To Life Cocktail. It's a combination of all good seafoods - fish, octopus, oysters, shrimps - steeped in an onion, tomato, cilantro and lime juice filled soda glass. It's considered a hangover remedy and I prefer it to menudo for that. I could use a dose right now. Not for the drinking, but because I feel like I'm awakening from a long depression-induced sleep caused by politics. I'm coming back to life and I'm ready to mix it up. Bush lied about the war. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, right in the middle of America, said so and , of course, everybody already knew. Nine hundred days, over 1800 U.S. dead, thousands more injured, 100,000 Iraqis dead; the war in Iraq is not going well. Amnesty International called Guantanamo a "gulag". Instead of confirming that even the FBI has reported abuses there and that, at best, the detainees are being denied due process of law, the administration is "offended" and the media debate semantics. The Bush "crisis in Social Security" is not what he says it is and his cure is far worse for the economy and for future retirees than the status quo. They are doctoring the statistics on global warming. The tax cuts benefited the rich and 11 million children don't have health insurance. There's more. You and I don't need an MBA or a PhD to understand or inform ourselves about these issues. An old friend fussed at me for using my website as a platform, making "non-analytical recommendations in an area where I have less than a professional level of competence." Amazing. This is why people don't vote. They think it's just too complicated, but it's not. These are facts and you can read them in a newspaper. I'm not telling anybody how to vote. I'll leave that to the preachers. And besides, voting is not enough. Now it's time to say it out loud: these guys are stinking up our country with their greed, their ignorance and their arrogant immorality. Don't take my word for it. Think, read and express your opinion. If you don't like my politics and that means you can't like my music, I'm sorry about that, but this is me and, I assure you, I'm holding back. My heroes are running serious political campaigns (Not you, Kinky), writing serious political songs and books and articles about righting wrongs and taking our country back. I hope we can come back to life and make it America the Beautiful again.
I read over that last paragraph and feel sad that after all the fun and festivities I have to be such a bummer. Once again, my apologies if you're trying to avoid the issues I brought up, but like real life, there is the bitter and the sweet.
And if you're still with me after all of that, I hope you'll come see us play. We have one more trip to Wisconsin and the Chicago area this summer and September and October are filling in nicely. Thanks for dancing in the streets, the aisles, the dust, the grass, the mud, the hay, the water, the mosquitos, the barbecue smoke and the thin mountain air. Just thanks.
December 11, 2005
Woohoo!! Well, I'm flying and I'm trying. Watching another beautiful sunset, this time looking down on pink clouds from an airplane. Three days ago it was a spectacular sunset show on the Sierra Oriental Mountains south of Saltillo, Mexico. Sarah Elizabeth wrote it in a song, "Mexico, it cures what ails me. Sweet Mexico". There's some more stuff in there about warm tequila and salty nights but we're not going to go into all that.
MERRY CHRISTMAS OR HAPPY HOLIDAYS?
It's been four months since I've written to you, dear diary, and I might as well get it said right off - I've had the blues. Not the serious clinical depression blues (I don't think) or the broke, homeless and sick blues. I'm way more fortunate than that and I know it. But the truth is that many of my friends are exactly that - broke, homeless and sick. Katrina and Rita just piled up on top of the anger I feel at Bush and his war and his inept cronies and their dishonesty. I lost my voice. Not the one I sing with, thank goodness, but the one that tells stories and writes songs.
So, I'm trying. Counting blessings, appreciating wonderful friends who have been so generous with time, money, and love to help the victims of America's huge natural and unnatural disaster, putting things back together, breaking bad habits, writing.
Way back in August, we were blowing and a-going. We had a full, sometimes wee bit too tight schedule. This is why I was changing from airplane clothes to gig clothes on the Richmond Bridge going in to play the Sausalito Art Fair. My mother taught me to buy wrinkle free dresses. Things, she says, that pack like a rag. Pull them out of the bag, check to see that they're not inside out, slip them over, slip the other stuff out from under, endure the weird looks from the guy in the toll booth, go play the gig. It only requires an elementary knowledge of yoga to do this in the front seat of a mini-van. Our routing that week took us from Charleston, RI to Detroit, MI to Sausalito, CA in three quick days but I didn't want to miss any of those gigs.
One first for us in August was the Philadelphia Folk Festival which has been going on for over 40 years. I got to play an extra workshop there with Ann Rabson, my friend from the Uppity Blues Women, and that was a bonus. As with the other big folk festivals we've been to like Kerrville, Lake Eden and Strawberry, the campground is where the action is. The one at Philadelphia pulsed with firelight and drumming. The guys in the band went in and wandered around. They said it's kind of Beyond the Thunderdome. I sat up on the hill in my little gig dress and gig shoes. Next time, I'm bringing my boots and going in.
Maybe it was our year for folk events We played the National Folk Festival in Richmond, VA in October and had a great time. There's so much to see and hear from a wide range of cultures. One night we were preceded by a salsa band, the next night by the Legends of Bulgarian Wedding Music. I know, we kind of snickered, too, but by the time they were halfway through their set, our jaws had dropped. They were mesmerizing, playing faster than you can see and in unison. Also on the bill were our friends the Savoit Family Band, Marc and Ann and their two talented sons and Bernard Allison. At that festival, it was the hotel that pulsed - little bunches of banjers and beautiful hand-made guitars and dulcimers and people who like to play like the wind and sing like angels and clog all night long.
The next week we started out in Clarksdale, Mississippi where the blues began. There is a movie being made about boogie woogie piano and they filmed Pinetop Perkins, Henry Gray and me, with my band doing the backing honors. Then, Jerry Lee played the best show I've ever seen him do. It seems like I play a show with Jerry Lee about once a decade and this time, he played whole songs, mugged for the audience and the cameras, really put on a show. The filming took place at Morgan Freeman's club, Ground Zero and Morgan was there. I've got to admit that when he came backstage and gave me a hug, I leaned into it. No grabbing shoulders and air kissing. Maybe that's when I started to cheer up.
Further cheering was done in California, celebrating Angela Strehli's birthday and anniversary at Rancho Nicasio. The girlfriends gathered; Tracy Nelson, Sista Monica, Maria Muldaur, Annie Sampson and I all pitched in to sing big Happy Birthday and a couple of nights full of other stuff. Angela's terrific band backed us up and I got to sing "Foreclose On The House Of Love" with the guy who wrote it, John Lee Sanders, who also plays great sax and keyboards. Also, in early November, Delbert passed kind of a sneaky birthday. No fireworks or anything.
Speaking of Delbert - he got nominated for two Grammies. Hey, and speaking of Grammies: WE GOT NOMINATED FOR ONE, TOO! And that's the big Wahoo! and the other reason I'm flying. Our "Live Down The Road" CD is nominated in the Traditional Blues Album category. Big thanks to my dear band, Bruce Iglauer and all the hard-working true believers at Alligator Records, Chet Himes who mixed it, Peter Berkow who filmed and recorded it and Bob Littell at the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. What a surprise.
Definitely worth coming back from Mexico for, although we had our usual wonderful time down there. I got a few Spanish lessons from Yadira, who is very patient and doesn't fuss about the fact that I made no real progress from year to year. Maybe next time I'll surprise her. This year we also met some very nice new friends who live and work in San Miguel. Just another reason to go back, like I needed one.
So now we're hurtling into the Christmas season - I can tell because I have three gigs in a row that are all about Christmas songs. I'm here in Washington, DC, to be part of NPR's Jazz Christmas show to be taped and offered to your local stations at their discretion, so listen for it. I'll be the not-jazz part doing an old Louis Armstrong song called "Christmas in New Orleans" and "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus". Imagine that. Then next weekend, in Chicago at the Steppenwolf Theater, Dr. John and I are playing pianos and someone from the Steppenwolf troup will read about New Orleans.
Then, flying back to Austin (and flashing back to the 70's) I'm playing the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar on December 18 with Sarah Elizabeth Campbell, whose brother Bill calls the whole event "a bunch of yard hippies making ear screws out of fish scales". But really it's twelve days of arts and crafts and music (yes, and hippies - hey, that's me!).
I hope to go caroling with Jerry Jeff and the musicians he and Susan gather together on the 23rd and then it's family time in Louisiana and Buckwheat Zydeco's Christmas show at El Sido's.
And continuing to hope, for you all - a safe, peaceful, happy holiday shared with loved ones. I read my Christmas list to my mother today - Meals On Wheels, Safe Place, Planned Parenthood, Capital Area Food Bank, Austin Children's Shelter, NOLA Relief. If you can't think of what to give the person who has everything, make a donation in his name. Beats the mall. Thanks to everyone who has sent money to help out our friends in New Orleans and on the Gulf Coast.
And as always, thank you for sticking with us. It's you who make this all fun. And speaking of fun, here's one little P.S.: For a treat, go to Tommy Castro's web site and download the free Christmas songs we recorded. Boy, am I lazy! Let Tommy do the work and take half the credit.
Congratulations to Bob and Geri on their grandson, the best gift of all. Thinking of you, Jeanne and Jade.
Don't forget to eat too much, if you drink don't drive, there's no place like home for the holidays, it's the thought that counts, it's better to give than to receive, good things come in small packages, share your toys, and if you can figure out which side to be on in the Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays/commercialism vs family vs religion controversy, let me know. Whatever, school's out and 'tis the season to be generous.
Share. Peace. Love.
Copyright © 1998-2011 Marcia Ball Band.
Last revision: June 8, 2011