Happy New Year. I hope we all found some good things in 2014, and we find more of what we're searching for in the year ahead. - Jacob
Photos of Bobby Womack at City WineryRead More
Chicago soul group The Green Berets (a.k.a High Society, Walter & the Admerations, and, with Andre Williams, Velvet Hammer) made a return appearance to "Dig Deeper" (hosted at the Bell House). "Dig Deeper" has been bringing some incredible, under-appreciated Soul artists to NYC for over 2 years. Check them out Dig on Facebook for future events.
Sandy hit Norton Records hard. Their storage warehouse in Red Hook, used to store dry goods since the 1850's, was completely flooded, damaging the vast majority of their inventory which is estimated to be around 250,000 LP's, CD's, and books, along with irreplaceable historical archives and personal items.
While I'm also heartbroken at the destruction of entire neighborhoods and communities in the area, it's important to understand that Norton is much more than a record label run by a few people. Norton is a community that has existed as many years as I've been on the planet that has done an enormous amount of good for musicians and music fans. I know of no other label as broad and as generous in their fanatical advocacy of otherwise neglected and easily forgotten artists, often generating new opportunities for them to perform and earn income from their creative work. Every Norton Recording Artist is treated like a star in a business where if you haven't had a hit in 2 years (let alone 40) you are out with yesterday's garbage. Case in point, Miriam showed me the first letter typed on Norton stationary sent to a judge on behalf of Hasil Adkins, advocating for his release from jail. Norton got him out of the clink by convincing the judge of his prospects as a performing artist and by paying off his legal fees, a grand total of 93 dollars. Another Norton Recording Star was born.
As far as the culture of Real American Music goes, Norton should be considered Too Big To Fail. Below is a message from Miriam and photos from the clean-up efforts at Norton's offices. They need volunteers to clean and salvage their stock as well as monetary donations.
If you would like to volunteer with our salvaging effort and clean records at our Prospect Height, Brooklyn office any day or time between 11AM-11PM, please e-mail us at email@example.com with VOLUNTEER in the subject line or call 718-789-4438 (office) or 917-671-7185 (Billy’s cell phone) and we will give you directions and updated information. No text or Facebook replies for volunteering please.
Full statement (edited for clarity):
For the first time in Norton’s history, we are asking for your help. It has been entirely against our policy and nature to ask anyone for anything in the entire history of our magazine and label. It hurts us to even suggest that any of you who have supported the label and our artists by purchasing Norton records over the years support us over and above with a donation. But it has indeed come to this. We have added a donate button to our website.
Here’s the story: Every penny of what you donate will go into re-manufacturing record jackets and sleeves for the vinyl that we salvage. No donation money will go into our day-to-day expenses so long as we can go forward on a minimal budget. If we get to the point where we cannot meet our monthly budget, we will ask again. But now, all donations go into getting the Norton label records back out to the public. We will write more about the procedure in days and weeks to come. Several people have benefits in the works, and we are grateful to you all. Send us any benefit links and we will post and propagate on the Norton site. If any of you are computer, website, or internet geniuses, share your smart thoughts with us.
So, Norton Records and our print subsidiary Kicks Books have been savaged by Hurricane Sandy. Our stock and archive has been housed for the past seven years in Red Hook Brooklyn, at the historic Van Brunt Warehouses, pre-Civil War brick warehouses that were built to warehouse DRY GOODS -- tea, coffee, spices, and sugar. There was no doubt in our minds that the Red Hook warehouse was secure, it had withstood 150+ years of nature’s fury, after all. The insane and demonic combination of the hurricane, the high tide, the full moon and full-on interplanetary wrath resulted in a vortex that tore directly through the waterways separating Brooklyn from Staten Island and straight into the island of Manhattan.
Most of you know the history of the label. Billy Miller and myself (this is Miriam Linna here) started the label in 1986 as an audio offshoot of our Kicks Magazine, which we had been publishing since 1979. The label is focused on music that has been forgotten by the main veins that feed the public. It’s been a struggle from the start but in celebrating the label’s 25th anniversary exactly one year ago, we truly felt that we have reached a point where we could at least continue with releasing records and exposing people to the greatest rock ‘n roll on the planet. But here we are today, soaked to our skin with so much destruction.
Nearly all of the Norton Records stock – our LPs, CDs, 45s, picture sleeves, CD booklets, record labels and more, as well as the stock on other labels we distribute (Relic, Crypt and Stompin’) plus mail order-only stock, plus the entire Kicks Books and Kicks Magazine stock -- was destroyed. We have small existing quantities of things at our home office, but very little. Thankfully, two full printings of the latest Kicks Books, GETTING IN THE WIND by Harlan Ellison and LORD OF GARBAGE by Kim Fowley, are high and dry at the printer. Also, our new releases are scheduled in as soon as trucks are rolling- several new El Paso volumes, T. Valentine and Daddy Long Legs, the Horror Of Party Beach guys The Dynamic Delaires’ ZOMBIE STOMP, and Kim Fowley KING OF THE CREEPS LP/CD. Release date is Nov. 20 for all things new.
Our entire Norton archive went underwater, including all of our correspondence, photos, documents, reviews, master tapes, ephemera -- including posters, at least ¾’s of my vintage paperback collection (several thousand books) and virtually all of the old magazines and fanzines which went back to the 1940’s (again, numbering into the several thousands) -- interview tapes, original photographs, original rock n’ roll and movie posters, Norton business records, family items, furniture, and musical equipment, (including my Del-Aires-owned 1962 Slingerland drum kit), recording equipment, our 1948 Lady Robin Hood pinball machine, Billy’s baseball collection… all waterlogged, and most of it, if you will excuse the expression, dead in the water.
The shock and horror of the loss on every level is difficult to deal with, but we are clinging to the hope of surviving as a label by saving the records. We will then proceed with re-manufacturing 7” sleeves and LP jackets one title at a time. We are hoping to still ship new releases by November 20th, and hope you guys and gals will get aboard with these releases, as we try very hard to get on track.
We have a mind-boggling 2013 release schedule for Norton Records and Kicks Books and it’s our hope that we can still DO IT. Billy’s Ultimate Kim Fowley Singles Discography 1959-1970 which was scheduled to appear on our website to coincide with Kim’s new book and album has been postponed indefinitely. We thank our friends at Interfuel who have worked diligently to launch our new website, which is on hold right now until we can assess what we need to remove from availability.
Please let us know if any of you geniuses have ideas on how we can carry on and move forward. We think if we get even a few volunteers with scanners and laptops and maybe drying space they can help dry documents and scan them. Maybe one person would be willing to take a few artist files, separate and hang them to dry and then scan them.. how does that sound? That’s one thing that is a race against the clock. But vital is getting the vinyl washed and dried and re-sleeved.
We could not have even gotten this far without the help of so many amazing volunteers – friends, family, neighbors and complete strangers. Fellow record companies like Sundazed, Daptone, Telstar (US) and even Sony Legacy have sent their able people over to provide their muscle and hustle. Norton Records is still in desperate need of volunteers to clean vinyl. Some much needed good news - the wonderful folks at the Spin-Clean Record Washer Company have donated a dozen record washing machines and gallons of cleaning fluid to help our cause. We can’t thank them enough as this will speed up our recovery process. If you would like to volunteer with our salvaging effort and clean records at our Prospect Height, Brooklyn office any day or time between 11AM-11PM, please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org with VOLUNTEER in the subject line or call 718-789-4438 (office) or 917-671-7185 (Billy’s cell phone) and we will give you directions and updated information. No text or Facebook replies for volunteering please.
And remember...YOU CAN’T DROWN THE LOUD SOUND!
The Norton staff
Interview and Photographs - Jacob Blickenstaff
Some jazz aficionados might unfairly characterize Ramsey Lewis’ music as a "gateway" into more serious jazz, as if popular Lewis albums like The In Crowd were meant to lead the novice listener to Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come. But Lewis’ commercial successes should not be viewed as a liability to his legacy in jazz history. Lewis is one of the great musicians of his generation, and just as Ornette Coleman has, he's carved out his own singular voice that he has innovated and adapted with creative success for over half a century.
Lewis had major crossover hits with his exuberant interpretations of sixties popular music—"Wade in the Water," "The 'In' Crowd," and "Hang On Sloopy"—and, with the Earth, Wind & Fire collaboration, Sun Goddess, topped three charts simultaneously in 1974 (no. 1 R&B, no. 1 jazz, and no. 12 pop). In the meantime, he has released over 70 albums (seventeen of which preceded his first hit single), always keeping his elegant and heartfelt acoustic piano at the heart of his music. He is currently touring with a five-piece group to support his album RAMSEY...Taking Another Look, which explores both his acoustic and electric approaches to making music.
Lewis' music is no gateway, it is a destination in itself. His music offers the opportunity to connect with something universal, joyful and profoundly human. If the smile that he flashed repeatedly during his performance at the Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts on October 20, 2012 for the "Pace Presents" series is any indication, Ramsey Lewis has never had difficulty with that.
JB- How are you, Mr. Lewis?
RL- Life is good.
JB- Most people know you best for The In Crowd and Wade in the Water, but I didn’t realize that you had been recording for almost ten years before that.
RL- I started recording in the middle 50’s. Back in those days it was customary to do two albums a year, and when they put out a “Best of” and a couple of compilations, by the time I had done The In Crowd that was my 16th or 17th album.
JB- You were popular before that, but The In Crowd was your first gold record and really brought in a wider audience for you…
RL- That’s right. Eldee Young, Red Holt and I were fairly happy and comfortable with the way we were progressing. Because each year we sold a few more records and each year we drew a few more people. And we thought, “Ah, we got something pretty good going here.” And it was time to do another record and we put a song on there called “The ‘In’ Crowd,” and here we are.
JB- You guys go even further back to high school; you were in a band then called the Cleffs, correct?
RL- Yeah, well, we were in different high schools. Eldee and Red were in a high school called Crane High School, I went to Wells High School. They’re both on the West Side of Chicago. Wallace Burton, the leader, he was in college. Half the group was in high school and half of them were in college. And we played mostly weekends on Friday nights, Saturday nights for dances and whatever. I guess you’d call it a jobbing band.
JB- Is that when you began an orientation towards popular music, because you had to connect with people in a social environment?
RL- Well, Wallace Burton liked all kinds of music, not unlike me, and he was 4 years older than I am. He liked gospel, R&B, jazz; if it was good music he liked it. Consequently, in the dance band we played all kinds of music. But, being a jobbing band, we not only played for dances, we played at nightclubs, bars, social functions, what have you.
JB- What strikes me about your music over the long term is that you’ve had great rhythmic support with Red Holt and Eldee Young, and later Cleveland Eaton and Maurice White. Why do you think you have attracted such funky, rhythmic sidemen?
RL- Eldee and Red, they already had the band, and when their piano player left to go with Sarah Vaughn, Wallace Burton called me, I was chosen by them. And so I got spoiled playing with a great rhythm section. When it came time for the Cleffs to break up —the Korean War broke the Cleffs up—and later after that, Red, he was drafted—it became time for me to put together a trio.
I had heard Cleveland Eaton play bass and I knew he was dynamite, and I had heard Maurice White playing drums at our…not my recording studio…but the Chess Family owned a company called Chess Producing, and they had a house band, a production band, and Maurice White was in that band. I heard him play with jazz artists; he played with Sonny Stitt, Gene Ammons. He played with blues guys, with Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and I just liked the fact that he was just so all over the place, but great. He could really play all those genres differently and very, very well. When it came time that I needed a drummer, I asked him if he could come and he said he would, so I ended up with a wonderful trio. And you’re right, I’ve been so fortunate in having really great rhythm sections. And that makes it easier for me.
JB- I feel like they’ve always been a big part of your sound, as a trio, as a unit, the same way that The Three Sounds were a great, unified group.
RL- Yeah, the same thing. Andy Simpkins and the drummer [Bill Dowdy] of the Three Sounds had great rhythm, they were a rhythm section, a wonderful one.
JB- Speaking of Chess, all of your albums (except one on Mercury prior moving to Columbia) were on Argo and Cadet, which was part of Chess Records. Did the blues artists and jazz artists mix together, or was it more separated by genre and subsidiary label?
RL- It was fairly separated. When we were down there recording, sometimes the blues guys would come through to take care of some business but very seldom would there be more than one session going on. So if the jazz group was recording, there was mostly jazz musicians coming and going. Every now and then there might be a blues group in one of the other studios. But we never got together and played. That might have been fun.
JB- I bet! One of my favorite records of yours is Mother Nature’s Son, which was produced by Charles Stepney. I was curious if that record was more of a creative collaboration or if it was forced upon you by the label, the same way Howlin’ Wolf’s electric album was.
RL- It was less of a collaboration than Charles Stepney saying, “Ramsey, have you heard the Beatles album called the ‘The White Album?’” I said, “Yeah, I have it.” And he said, “You know, there’s some really nice songs on there, why don’t you do an album and use those songs?” Now, I would find it difficult to do a whole album of Beatles songs—before that I had done “A Hard Day’s Night” and a song called “And I Love Her” —and I just couldn’t conceive of it. He said, “Would you let me do some arrangements and you let me know what you think of them and we’ll go from there?” And I said, “Yeah.” Well, he did some arrangements and we rehearsed two or three songs and I’m like, “Wow, let’s do the album!” So I have to thank Charles Stepney for that.
But I have to thank Charles Stepney for a lot of things, he was going to be the Quincy Jones of his day had he lived. He died at a very early age. But as you know, he produced me, he produced Minnie Riperton, Howlin’ Wolf and others. [Rotary Connection, The Dells, Earth Wind and Fire, Muddy Waters, Terry Callier, Eddie Harris, The Emotions, among others]
JB- Charles Stepney’s work is fascinating and very complex.
RL- Quite a talent.
JB- So you enjoyed making that album?
RL- We had a wonderful time in the studio. We were still in those days recording live, meaning we didn’t overdub a bunch of stuff. We overdubbed little sound effects here and there but by and large most of that music was recorded with everybody in the studio. And everybody was having a great time, especially me.
JB- Was that one of your earlier exposures to electric keyboards? There are a lot of interesting synthesizers on that record…
RL- Yeah. I still have not gotten totally into electric keyboards. And once again it was Charles Stepney who said, in respect to the time and era that we were recording this music in, “Do you mind if I overdub a couple things here and there?” —electric sounds, mainly connecting the songs. You’ll notice that one song will end totally, and before the other song starts, there are some sounds. He did a lot of that, in good taste, and it only made the album better.
JB- In the 70’s, as you were moving from your traditional jazz trio work into electronic and groove-oriented music, what about those new techniques and sounds opened up and changed the music for you?
RL- Well, you know, curiosity. And I think it started with Charles Stepney. Once I saw the possibilities, I started experimenting and it was fun. Stevie Wonder wrote a couple things for me for electric piano and synthesizer, “Spring High” and “Love Notes,” and other things, and it was just fun experimenting with it.
I always have remained faithful and true to the acoustic piano and I don’t claim to be Chick Corea or Herbie Hancock —they go whole-hog off into the electronic world and I’ve never done that. I love and respect what they do, but I’m so hung up on the acoustic piano, I’ve never strayed too far away from it.
JB- I realize that as I listen to many of your 70’s and 80’s recordings there is still acoustic piano at the center of many of those songs.
JB- Was there any particular reason why Redd Holt and Eldee Young went off to form their own group? Because it seems like the music they did when they started was similar to the music you were creating together at the time, and it was doing well.
RL- We got to the point where after being together for 17 years, or however long it was, success had spoiled us. We got that hit record and at first it was, “Wow, here we go,” and then it was not more that two or three months after the big hit record that we started having personality clashes and problems. And it ceased to be fun, which is strange to go through the period of…we never had hard times and hard knocks, it was never that, but nothing nearly like the kind of money we were making when we got those hit records, “Hang On Sloopy” and “The ‘In’ Crowd.” So personality clashes took over and if you’re not having fun with what you’re doing, why do it?
I think it’s human nature. While we were a partnership, the same way The Supremes were a partnership and a lot of groups were a partnership, as popularity grows and one or two members become more popular (only because of radio, newspapers, interviews, etc.) and although your partnership and the money is split equally, human nature says, “Why is your name the name?” It just gets crazy. I’ve noticed that many groups have had that problem. Success has spoiled a lot of great groups.
JB- It’s a very common story in the music business.
JB- You’ve returned to electric music with your album, RAMSEY…Taking Another Look, and this tour with a five-piece ensemble. What was the impetus behind the album and the shift back into this mode of music?
RL- I had the trio and was having a wonderful time and my agent called me and said he’d been getting a few phone calls from performing arts centers, buyers, and producers asking if I was ever going to go back to the electric band. I hadn’t even though about it. This was the year before last, in October or November, and I said, “I’ll give it some thought.” We were touring with the trio and then the Christmas holidays came so I wasn’t playing. Right after the first of the year, though, Carol, my wife, said “Why don’t you have the guys come over?” So we went to a studio with the quintet just to play, just to see how it’d feel and, my God, I had so much fun that I called my agent and I said, “OK, this is it, let’s go with the quintet.” And the songs that ended up on the album, “Taking Another Look” are the songs we were jamming on at the rehearsal session. So only six or eight weeks after that I just booked studio time and said, “Let’s just go in and record these songs.”
JB- When you had a big hit with the song “Sun Goddess,” what kind of gigs were you playing at the time? Were you playing big venues?
RL- Just before that time we were playing a combination of nightclubs and performing arts centers. We were playing two or three thousand-seat auditoriums and also fair-sized clubs. And after “Sun Goddess” we were playing mostly concerts.
JB- And was that mainly to a jazz crowd, a rock crowd, an R&B crowd, or everybody?
RL- Everybody. I’ve always drawn everybody.
JB- Being commercially successful and engaging a lot of different audiences—through covering familiar music like folk music and pop music—how do you feel about labels such as “pop jazz” or “smooth jazz” or “easy listening?”
RL- I know nothing about labels. I don’t care about labels. I only acknowledge a fine piece of material, a nice song, a good melody, nice chord changes, a rhythm section, or something that catches my attention. The only “label” to me that had a lot of copycats was “smooth jazz.” I remember when Joe Sample, Al Jarreau, and George Benson, myself, and Grover Washington Jr. were getting a lot of play on various stations, and some company came along and said, “We’re gonna call these stations ‘smooth jazz’ stations.” Before I knew it there were thousands of copycats out there.
JB- And most of it was pretty awful…
RL- Most of them were pretty awful. And I think they ruined the name, actually. There’s nothing in a name except what it represents, and it no longer represented the higher quality of music that the original guys were doing. They watered it down, they took what we were doing and they watered it down, and many of them just couldn’t play.
JB- I feel like throughout your entire career there’s always been a substance and a unique quality to your music. As a 33-year old, I originally came across your music in my dad’s record collection. He had Wade in the Water and Live at Bohemian Caverns, among Bob Dylan, the Ventures and Iron Butterfly records. I agree with your feelings that its all very much one thing, and the overused Ellington quote of music being “good, or the other kind” is part of your approach.
RL- I totally agree with you.
Ramsey Lewis Quintet - Ramsey Lewis (piano), Joshua Ramos (bass), Charles Heath (drums), Henry Johnson (guitar), and Tim Gant (keyboards) performed October 20th at the Schimmel Center for the Arts at Pace University.
I was very excited to have a lengthy review and photo essay published in Mother Jones covering the Americana Festival in Nashville (The Romney Tapes went live the day after I confirmed the assignment!) This is the first time I've written a long-form (ish) piece about music, and it's probably harder than making the pictures, certainly more nerve-wracking to see it published. Anyway, I'm proud of it and pleased to see it given a great editorial home, and also expose new people to the amazing music that I experienced at the Americana Music Festival.
There was so much to see that many of my favorite images didn't make it to publication, so here's a more personal look at what I heard and saw.
The Ryman Auditorium, lit for a TV broadcast.
Shovels and Rope, Grimey's Basement
Mary Gauthier, Station Inn
Orchestra, "Songs of Big Star"
Robert Ellis, Cannery Ballroom
Buxton, Grimey's Basement
Luella and The Sun, Americanarama V at Grimey's
Kinky Friedman, The High Watt
Rodney Crowell and Band, Station Inn
"No Parking" at the Station Inn
I was sorry to hear about the passing of blues and soul singer Lou Pride, who I saw perform an exceptional show at the Dig Deeper series last year. Lou began recording in El Paso, Texas and later recorded some great singles with the Hi Rhythm Section at Royal Studios as well as an album with Curtis Mayfield. You can learn more about him at loupride.com and at Severn Records.
Photos from the Occupy Wall Street Solidarity Rally and March, May 1st in Union Square. A photo was published on the Mother Jones website as part of their coverage.
Here are some additional images from the day: Tom Morello leading the 'Guitarmy', Das Racist, Dan Deacon, Immortal Technique.
This fall I worked with Jon Paul, a talented singer songwriter, to produce promo photos and EP artwork for his debut release. Jon Paul and I spent an afternoon roaming the West Village looking for settings and light that would suit his music. After the sun went down we had a burger at the Corner Bistro and talked about NYC and music. It's a pleasure to collaborate with an artist who puts som much care and vision into their own projects - and the music, in my opinion, is excellent, establishing a clear identity that builds off songwriting influences such as Ray LaMontange, Paul Simon and James Taylor. Jon Paul will celebrating the release of the new EP at the Living Room this Sunday, December 18th at 7PM. The EP is also available on iTunes.
In the new January/February issue of Mother Jones magazine, I have 3 portraits created on assignment of early organizers of Occupy Wall Street - Amin Husain, Sandy Nurse and Bobby Cooper - at Zuccotti Park only a few days before the raid and eviction. If you'd like to check out the issue, MoJo publishes the entire issue digitally for free, just sign up on their mailing list to view.
Also, inexplicably, my giant head appears on the top of the contributors section (for alphabetical reasons only, I assure you). Big thanks to MoJo P.E. Mark Murmann for the opportunity to work with the magazine.
Over the past few days, 3 incredible and unique musicians passed away. I was very lucky to have the opportunity to make portraits with both Howard Tate and J Blackfoot (of the Soul Children) and photograph a performance of the third, Hubert Sumlin. I'm thankful for the music and for the brief moments spent with these extraordinary people.
Greasy Rock n' Roll connoisseurs Billy Miller and Miriam Linna of Norton Records will be releasing a new LP by R&B instrumental organ great Dave 'Baby' Cortez this month, his first since 1972's 'Soul Vibration' album. Effectively retired from showbiz for 40 years, Miriam Linna had tracked down Dave through his son David Clowney, a professional football player who recently played for the N.Y. Jets. With the help of veteran soul saxophonist Lonnie Youngblood and production Mick Collins (The Dirtbombs, The Gories), D.B.C is set to release a back-to-the-gritty-basics organ album that I am really excited to spin on the turntable.
Bonus: Here's a photo we shot in the stairwell of the recording studio, NY-HED, that I liked a lot.
Around the corner from the Waverly Inn and the Spotted Pig, a who's who of rock n' roll miscreants assembled at the Jefferson Market Library on 6th Avenue for the first notable social gathering of the Fall Season. In a room high above the former courtroom where Mae West was tried and convicted for obscenity, Nick Tosches washed down Parliaments with extra-dry Japanese beer, received guests from the erotic dancing trade and checked over his notes. He was at the library to read from his new book, 'Save The Last Dance For Satan' published by Kicks Books.
Kicks is an exciting new publishing venture by industry vet Miriam Linna, co-founder of Norton Records, former Strand employee and president of the Flamin' Groovies International Fan Club. Protegé sisters Charly and Gigi Himmel assisted Mrs. Linna with preparations for the evening and sold a limited edition perfume, 'TOSCHES', along with copies of the new book. (MSRP $12.95). Frank Collerius and Marie Henson of the Jefferson Market Library were exemplary hosts.
Other notable notables in attendance included Louise Murray (of the Jaynettes), her husband Donald Murray (of the Jesters), Lenny Kaye, Andy Shernoff and Scott Kempner (of the Dictators), Michael Downey (of Figures of Light), Eric Davidson (of the New Bomb Turks) and Countess LuAnn de Lesseps (or a she-male who wandered in from 7th ave, this reporter could not make a definitive call.)
The event was filled to capacity as Mr. Tosches waited for the right energy to build in the darkened library before he was to speak, on high, from the catwalk overhead. The crowd began to chant 'TAW-SHUS, TAW-SHUS' and as I banged along on a bookcase next to me a man turned to me, glaring, and snapped, "Hey Buddy! This ain't a pub, this is a LIBRARY!"
PROLOGUE: Lincoln Center wrapped up their 2011 'Out Of Doors' season with its 2-day Roots of American Music Festival, co-produced with Spike Barkin. One of the best things about being in NYC in the summer is all the fantastic free music. Summer Stage, River To River Festival, Celebrate Brooklyn, etc. are all great institutions. But pound for pound, Lincoln Center Out of Doors is by far the most varied, challenging, inclusive, multi-cultural, multidisciplinary and rewarding of the bunch. AND it is ALL COMPLETELY FREE (many of the other festivals reserve the best acts for ticketed fundraiser shows). After a typical good (and long) day at LCOOD, you feel as if you have just taken a great college course where your ideas about music are reshaped, re-contextualized, and made more exciting many times over. While the aforementioned summer series' fill the calendar with sure-fire crowd pleasers and 'it'-bands, Lincoln Center's public programming, helmed by Bill Bragin and Jill Sternheimer, plays to a higher musical intelligence. If some shows fail, it's because a risk was taken, not because the choice was too obvious. So thanks for filling my head, heart and eyes with some wonderful experiences this summer.
I shot a bunch of film there this year that will take a little time to sort and edit. But with all things worthwhile, I think there will be a greater value in that than the following day's hyperventilating blog post. (which I did as well, see the Girl Group review on brooklynvegan.com)
Photos and commentary (taken from my tweets from that day)
"Don't miss the greatest conglomeration of curiosities gathered under one tent..." (Jim Dickinson, 'Oh How She Dances' )
Sid Selvedge and Sons of Mud-Boy (Cody and Luther Dickinson): shambly, rambly, shaky and beautiful... stirring up winds and strange delta ju ju on 'Goin' to Brownsville'. Sleepy John and Furry in the metaphysical house.
Abigail Washburn is as gifted and innovative as any 'indie-folk' outfit I can think of. probably better. #cantfakethefolk
Ebony Hilbillies taking 'old-school' to a whole 'nuther level. #bigfatdaddy Barry Harris in da house too.
Smokin cigarettes and watchin' Captain...Kangaroo... (with Dailey & Vincent)
Love it when a music legend will still ham it up for a photo. Something sweet about it, or showmanly, or both. #sonnyburgess
Hayden Thompson still cuts an impressive figure...
Cowboy Jack Clement is certainly the smartest man in the room, although he wouldn't want you to know it. #genius
Rudy 'Tutti' Grayzell - no words neccesary
Marty Stuart's tele has a whole separate tele body bolted onto the back of it. #TWAAAANG
Rapt audience as Marty Stuart plays Johnny Cash's lost guitar on 'Dark as a Dungeon', another magical LC Out of Doors moment.
[on a roll of film, more to come...]
A Todd P show it wasn't, thankfully. Last Friday night, August 12, West Village resident Susan Spehar hosted the innovative roots ensemble Ollabelle in her historic townhouse on Hudson Street. A group of approximately 30 friends and supporters of the band sipped wine while enjoying the unamplified, intimate show gently unspooling in the home's large living room. The lineup featured the original members of the group including a very pregnant Amy Helm (daughter of Levon), Fiona McBain and Tony Leone (folk music super couple), Byron Isaacs and Glenn Patscha. This was the second time Ollabelle had played at the house, the first time being to raise money on Kickstarter to complete the recording of their 4th album 'Neon Blue Bird'.
A warm-hearted Susan and her effervescent daughter, Jules (who manages Brooklyn band Lucius, keep your eye out, they're good!), played excellent hosts, having prepared mozzarella sandwiches, cubed watermelon and home made brownies and blondies. The home itself is notable as the former residence of Jane Jacobs, author of the landmark urban planning essay 'The Death and Life of Great American Cities', written in one of the upstairs rooms.
After the official show, Tony, Fiona, Glenn and a small group of friends lingered whittling down the remaining wine and food. The gathering shifted to the patio where Tony picked up the mandolin, playing songs with Fiona and singer songwriter Liz Tormes. This photographer gladly put down his camera to sing shaky harmonies on a couple early John Prine songs. New York moments don't get much better than this.
words and photos ©Jacob Blickenstaff, 2011
Last year when I was in New Orleans for the roots music festival The Ponderosa Stomp, I had the great fortune to meet both Dave Bartholomew and Cosimo Matassa, two absolute giants and heroes of mine. If you've ever enjoyed a rock 'n roll record...ever... you pretty much have these two remarkable men to thank.
Dave Bartholomew is a prolific band leader, song writer and producer most famous for his symbiotic relationship with Fats Domino but when you start reading the credits on any significant New Orleans R&B record from the 1950's, you will see his name almost every time.
Cosimo Matassa is a humble genius who placed the mics, ran the tapes, and diplomatically managed the personalities of Rock & Roll's early royalty (read: Little Richard, Professor Longhair, Ray Charles, Guitar Slim, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, etc., etc.)
To know them is to love them. Thank you both sharing a bit of your time.
photographs © Jacob Blickenstaff 2010
NRBQ, or 'Terry Adams' New NRBQ', or the band formerly known as the 'Terry Adams Rock and Roll Quartet', depending on who you ask, played the Iridium on Sunday, June 26. There is fervent debate among Q-Heads about the rightful naming of this incarnation of the band. For more background on the issue you can read a statement from Terry on the NRBQ website here as well as this thoughtful article on boston.com here.
As an enthusiastic Q-neophyte lacking the decades of storied NRBQ shows under my belt to compare it to, all I can say with any authority is that this was a really enjoyable, rockin' show in a neon-lit basement club in Times Square on a Sunday night. Hal Willner hung out with a friend at a table in the back balancing out the table of baffled European tourists near the stage in the otherwise lightly populated room. The current line up features Scott Ligon on guitar, Pete Donnelley on bass and Conrad Choucroun on drums - Art Baron and Greg Ward sat in on trombone and alto sax, respectively . Everyone in the band had plenty of chops and musicianship to fill the big shoes of their predecessors, the band served as gifted support to propel the unique vision of Adam's music forward after 40+ years of being at it.