Saturday Midnight Special Government Shutdown Blues — Samantha Fish, Nikki Hill, Mike Zito, Joe Louis Walker, and Popa Chubby

I have a number of colleagues, friends, and family serving the public interest and I am sure that serial dysfunctional governance by Continuing Resolution, critical positions at senior levels being unfilled, and now a shutdown that will affect their ability to make ends meet are weighing on them at this moment. Thus, a bit of blues music for our times seems to be apropos.

For those not familiar with the history or the form of the music, rather than a music that leads one to hopelessness and resignation, the blues catalogue through the human folk tradition the day-to-day worries and challenges of everyday people.

The blues were born from the work songs of African-American slaves–a brutal environment that punished summarily any sign of protest or rebellion. Thus two outlets were allowed to them–the use of music during heavy labor and mundane work that the slave owners encouraged as a way of ensuring quiescence and productivity, and in religious worship, which was thought as a means of pacification through the acceptance of sanctified music. The slave owners and slavery’s supporters did not fully understand nor recognize the subversive message in the lyrics of these two musical roots, which communicated human dignity, perseverance, and–yes–hope, in the face of oppression, rape, murder, and brutality. The rhythm of the music is organic, borrowed in part from the African rhythms of the different tribes from which the slaves originated, but also derived from whatever was at hand in the New World borrowed from the ruling white society and indigenous American tribes, many of whom accepted runaway slaves and, later, freedmen among their tribes. Thus, forged from the fire of oppression, came a music that embodied the aspirations inspired by the promise embodied in such ideas as freedom, democracy, and equality in a uniquely American way, The blues are the musical soil and soul of American ideal.

The blues carried itself into jazz, which elevated the simplistic folk forms, and has become an elegant, groundbreaking, and uniquely American classical music that continues to push the limits of musical improvisation and expression. It also carried itself into and influenced American popular music, where its deceivingly simplistic forms were imitated and evolved into other musical styles, merging and developing over time.With the great African-American migration to northern cities to escape Jim Crow, the music evolved and incorporated urban influences, with the added dynamics of electrified instruments, and a new defiant message that included elements of black pride, black power, and northern attitude.

Other countries adopted and unabashedly mimicked the music, reviving interest in the music during times when it was undervalued and ignored in this, its country of origin. The British Invasion of the 1960s reintroduced the music to the U.S. through the hybrid of blues-rock, thus anyone familiar with the Rolling Stones, Led Zepplin, early Fleetwood Mac, The Yardbirds, Cream, and others are listening to the blues adapted and recycled to a new generation. It continues today with a broader mix and diversity of musicians that have taken the music of those first generations of African-American blues musicians–Robert Johnson, Bessie Smith, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Son House, B.B. King, Albert King, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and others–and have broadened it, continuing in both the tradition and in extending the music to make it an urgent and vital expression of the human experience. It reveals in its best form the interconnectedness and basic humanity that we all share, across cultures, across generations, and across time.

Unfortunately many blues performers cannot be readily found on YouTube in authorized forms for sharing. No doubt, this post, as with posts in the past that covered blues and jazz will record below average traffic compared to even the esoteric and specialized subjects of Big Data and project management. Fortunately, however, individuals like Don Odell and his Legends studios in Massachusetts records the new generation of bluesmen and blueswomen and so I can share these artists tonight. Each of the musicians below–all amazing and talented in their own way–provide a diversity of perspectives of life and its challenges through their music.

The first artist is Samantha Fish. She hails from Kansas City, Missouri, a town that is rich in blues and jazz history. She lists her influences as visiting blues musicians who performed at Knuckleheads Saloon, a popular musical venue. She began performing in 2009 and she has been mercurial. Her blues album, Wild Heart, charted as the top blues album in 2015. Her latest album is Belle of the West.

 

Nikki Hill is from North Carolina and, if you aren’t familiar with her the clip that follows should bring you running to the store to find her music. She combines intelligent lyrics, strong woman attitude, and powerful vocals to her music–all hallmarks of a great blues vocalist. Her first album is Heavy Hearts, Hard Fists.

 

 

Mike Zito, like Samatha Fish, also is from the mid-west. In his case it is St. Louis. Born in 1970, he began singing at the age of 5, and performed locally in the St. Louis area for many years. In 2008 he gained his big break and was signed on by the Eclecto Groove label. The title song from his 2009 release entitled Pearl River won Song of the Year at the 2010 Blues Music Awards. In 2013 his album Gone to Texas also garnered critical reviews and was nominated for best album at Blues Music Awards in 2013. His latest album is Make Blues, Not War. Here he is covering “Fortunate Son.”

 

 

Joe Louis Walker is, of course, a living blues legend and a living national treasure. He took up guitar growing up in the San Francisco bay area. He hooked up with Mike Bloomfield, Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead and other musical pioneers that pushed rock and psychedelic music to new pathways. Burned out on blues after 1975, he turned to sanctified music. However, after attending the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in 1985 he returned to his blues roots. Here he is performing “One Time Around.”

 

 

Last, but not least, is Popa Chubby. The name is actually the nom de plume of Ted Horowitz, who grew up in the Bronx, New York. After working the woodshed for a number of years (he was born in 1960) he was finally “discovered” in 1992 by the public radio station in Long Beach, California, which sponsored a national blues talent search. Since that time his album production has been prolific, spanning and incorporating other musical genres within a blues structure. Idiosyncratic and eclectic, Papa Chubby combines showmanship, independence, and amzaing musical chops to keep the music vital and interesting. In the clip below Popa Chubby is the large man who plays lead guitar, and like a good leader who showcases the talents of others, has deferred to his keyboardist to take the lead vocals on the song, “Not So Nice Anymore.”

 

 

 

 

Saturday Night Music — Harry Dean Stanton Singing “Volver, Volver”

The world lost a talented actor last September when Harry Dean Stanton passed away. He was 91 years old. What many people do not realize is that Stanton was also an accomplished musician and many of his movie roles featured his singing. He also toured with the “Harry Dean Stanton Band” featuring a unique take on mariachi music.

His last role was in the movie “Lucky” in which he played a character much like…Harry Dean Stanton in real life. Unfortunately he was not able to live long enough to make it to the premier of the film.

In the movie there is a touching scene at a children’s birthday party in which he breaks out in music and, for those of you who can find a good interpretation of the song “Volver, Volver” you will immediately understand its significance to a 91 year old man who knows he is nearing the end of his life.  It really speaks to all of us who have garnered life experiences, and anticipates what the young faces at the party will experience on their own:

Yo sé perder, yo sé perder;
Quiero volver, volver, volver.”

Here’s to the memory of Harry Dean Stanton…”you are nothing.”

 

 

 

Weekend Music Interlude — Lukas Nelson singing “Forget About Georgia”

Lukas Nelson is the son of country singer-songwriter Willie Nelson and his current wife Annie D’Angelo. Lukas was born in Austin, Texas but grew up in Maui, Hawaii. He learned guitar and had a talent for singing, which he pursued in order to spend more time with his famous father. He moved to Los Angeles in 2007 to attend Loyola Marymount University, but soon dropped out of college to pursue a music career full time. In October 2008 he formed his band The Promise of the Real.

During their early years the band performed in various SoCal venues and their music, according to AllMusic, the band self-described as “cowboy hippie surf rock.” Since that time he and his band have accompanied Willie Nelson on tour, and have performed as Neil Young’s backup band. Despite the pedigree and promotion, Lukas and his band has not drawn considerable attention nor reached stardom, but that seems to be changing as he approaches his tenth year of performing.

Lukas Nelson’s music has matured over the years, and in 2016 he began to show his talent as a powerful singer-songwriter, drawing from a wide range of musical influences from the Country Outlaw musicians to Jimi Hendrix to Eric Clapton to Neil Young to the Allman Brothers Band, among others. WXPN radio just designated Lukas Nelson and The Promise of the Real band as artist to watch for November 2017. Their new self-titled album was released this past summer on Fantasy Records.

In the performance below the acoustic venue demonstrates the power of his songwriting and the powerful emotions that he elicits in connecting with the subject matter of his songs. His voice is very reminiscent of his father’s, but with a fullness and deepness of its own.

 

Sunday Music Interlude — Lydia Loveless performing “Somewhere Else”

Lydia Loveless, though merely 25 years old, has been on the music scene in a big way for about six years wowing critics and music lovers with her alt-country songs, which fuses elements of trad country, rock, singer/songwriter, and punk, about life and living.  She hails from the town of Coschocton, Ohio where she grew up on a farm and where her father ran a local honky-tonk for a while.  A member of a musical family, she performed in the band “Carson Drew”, which drew its inspiration from the father in the Nancy Drew books series, along with her father, Parker Chandler, and older sisters, Eleanor Sinacola and Jessica.

She released her first album in 2010 entitled The Only Man.  It was greeted by favorable reviews, especially on the alt-country scene.  A little more than a year later she released the album Indestructible Machine on Bloodshot Records.  This album of her original music dealt with issues regarding growing up in an insular rural town, dangerous relationships, and country staples such as isolation, drinking, and depression.  The hard edge of her lyrics which SPIN characterized as “utter lack of bullshit” by the “Ohio hellion” appealed to a wider audience and her music was greeted with rave reviews across the critical music spectrum.

She followed up Indestructible Machine with the EP Boy Crazy, which further solidified her musical cred and which served as a segue to the full album entitled Somewhere Else.  Anyone who doubted that Loveless was a major talent was converted with this album.  This past August she followed that one up with another gem entitled Real.  This album, as her previous efforts, has garnered almost universal praise.

As she has matured her voice, which is led by a Midwest twang, reveals great depth and control.  At the core of her talent, which is multi-faceted, is her ability to exploit an expansive vocal range–one greater than found in most rock and country singers.  Depending on the topic at hand she travels–sometimes in the same song–from a singer who possesses considerable pipes who can belt out a controlled and sustained melody, to verbal intimacy that expresses raw, scratchy emotion like a youthful Patti Smith.  Her lyrics are both mature beyond her years and reveal an openness and emotional vulnerability that only the most talented singers can maintain.  It is a high wire act by someone barely aware of what she is doing–and we can only hope that she continues to eschew any artifice of self-awareness that, even among the most talented, can devolve into self-parody and archness.

Here she is performing “Somewhere Else” on Audiotree Live.

Saturday Night Music Interlude — The Marcus King Band performing “Rita is Gone”

The lead singer and guitarist that provides the Marcus King Band’s moniker hails from Greenville, South Carolina, and plays what he calls “soul-influenced psychedelic southern rock,” which is an apt description.  Only 20 years old, Marcus King’s father, Marvin King, was a regionally popular blues and gospel singer, and his grandfather was a regional musician as well.  Growing up as a boy, young Marcus told eastof8th blog “I was listening to George Jones, Chet Atkins, and Merle Haggard with my granddad.  Later on, I was heavily influenced by jazz cats like Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Jimmy Smith.”

The legendary Warren Haynes has promoted Marcus and his band as a true believer, performing with them at concerts and inviting Marcus King to perform with him in the band Gov’t Mule.  The band has two albums to its credit: Soul Insight, a gritty blues, southern rock and prog rock-inflected debut, and the self-titled double disc Marcus King Band on the Fantasy label.

Touring in anticipation of their new album, they impressed at SXSW, jamming out with George Clinton, performed at Mountain Jam that included electric sets and extended jams with Warren Haynes, and–a last minute substitute booking–took the XPoNential Music Festival in Philadelphia by storm, becoming WXPN’s August Artist to Watch.

You can hear the musical influences that informed Marcus’ sound blend together in the mix of horns, drums, keyboards, and guitar, the band’s eclectic mix of blues, soul, prog rock, and southern rock producing a gumbo reminiscent of Tower of Power at their peak mixed in with a bit of Allman Brothers, a slice of John McLaughlin, a dash of Gov’t Mule, and a pinch of Hendrix psychedelia.  While still a bit raw and unfocused at times, this is one talent to watch as he matures and develops his sound.

Here is the band at WFUV performing “Rita is Gone.”

 

Sunday Music Interlude — RIP Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen passed away on November 7th in Los Angeles.  His impact on poetry and music over the past 50 years is immeasurable.  So broad are his accomplishments in these artistic spheres that it is very difficult to summarize them in a simple blog post.  As such, for many readers of his poetry and listeners of his songs, the way that he explored both human emotions and the human psyche are deeply personal.  His insightful songs have been covered by pop, rock, jazz, and other music artists across genres, and they have embedded into our culture through movie and television soundtracks, through music played where we shop and eat, and in our memories and the inner voice that speaks to us.  These songs speak to us because they are decent, human, and honest in their simplicity.  As with all great artists, Cohen records all aspects of the human experience in poignant, largely introspective, and thoughtful ways.  He will be missed and one can find an overview of poetic and music legacy at his website.

 

 

 

 

Saturday Music Interlude — Margo Price: A Midwest Farmer’s Daughter

Margo Price is a country music sensation, there is just no getting around it, but she has come to it the hard way.

Hailing from Aledo, Illinois, her Allmusic bio states that she dropped out of college at the age of 20 in 2003 and moved to Nashville to pursue her musical dreams.  She formed the band Buffalo Clover with bassist husband Jeremy Ivey in 2010, which released three albums until the breakup of the band in 2013.  Personal tragedy then intervened with the death of her firstborn son to a heart ailment.  After that unfathomable heartbreak her website bio confesses that she fell into a deep depression that involved alcohol abuse and a brush with her darker side that pitted her against the law.  Coming through that period with the help of family and friends led her to the conclusion that she was “going to write music that I want to hear.  It was a big turning point.”

Pain, heartbreak, tragedy, hardscrabble experience all lay the foundation for great art.  It is a great artist who can channel the energy from that passion and pain into their art without spinning out of control or falling into self-pity.  Margo Price is a great artist with an amazing instrument of a voice and it is great art that is achieved with her solo album entitled Midwest Farmer’s Daughter.

The first song from the album is entitled “Hands of Time” and here she is performing it at SXSW thanks to NPR Music Front Row:

My first impression of the video is that she looks and sounds for all the world much like the reincarnation of a young Lesley Gore.  One could make references to the obvious influence of Loretta Lynn, informed by the modernist attitude of a Kasey Musgraves.  But I say this with a great deal of self-doubt, because the music for this album is so special and so singular, that is sounds both familiar and new.  Margo Price has created her own tradition and it will be interesting to see where she goes from here.  For the fact of the matter is that her songs could be sung by either a man or a woman, and that’s what makes them special.  Rather than speaking from a overtly female perspective, as much of female country music has done in the past, Ms. Price speaks from the heart of some great consciousness that speaks to feelings and experiences that we all understand, with which we can empathize, and which we feel in our own psyches.

For something a bit more energetic, here she is performing “Tennessee Song”, also from SWSW 2016 and NPR.

 

Finally, here she is on CBS This Morning from March 26, 2016 performing “Since You Put Me Down” where she channels the spirit of Hank Williams Sr. and other country music pioneers.