Thursday, September 30, 2010

Marc Cohn Surpasses

Listening Booth:1970--Marc Cohn--This guy, a Narrows fave and best known for "Walking in Memphis," may finally put that song behind him with this interesting recording of important tracks from 1970. "It was the year that the Beatles broke up. Simon and Garfunkel too...but it wasn't really 'the '70s' yet. 1970, at least musically, still felt like the '60s somehow," he writes in the CD notes.

When I saw the song listing on the CD, I was less than enthused about another cover of Paul McCartney's "Maybe I'm Amazed"--a great song, but hasn't it been covered enough? But Marc makes it worth hearing with new ears, along with Cat Stevens' "Wild World," Bread's "Make It With You," and Badfinger's "No Matter What."

But he makes this more than a trip down memory lane for those listening to Top 40 radio at the time. He reaches for deep tracks, like John Lennon's "Look at Me," from the Plastic Ono Band album that contained the better known "Mother," and "Working Class Hero," and blends it with the Beatles' "I Am the Walrus." And "The Only Living Boy in New York," from Simon and Garfunkle's Bridge Over Troubled Waters album containing the better know title track, "Cecelia," and "The Boxer." And the Dead's "New Speedway Boogie" from Workingman's Dead, an album containing the better known "Uncle John's Band." Frankly, I don't think I've heard "The Only Living Boy in New York" or "New Speedway Boogie" before, so this is an introduction to those songs for me.

As for moving beyond "Walking in Memphis,": "Listening Booth: 1970" surpassed it on Billboard. So there.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

His Name is Luka

A packed, enthusiastic Narrows audience Saturday night greeted Ireland's Luka Bloom for his first visit to our fabled stage.

He charmed us with his own compositions as well as inspired covers such as "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," written by late Englishman Ewan MacColl and made famous by Roberta Flack. His beautiful guitar sound was also of note, filling the space with acoustic warmth.

Though he may be from the Emerald Isle, his is not a Celtic show, although his accent is--or more precisely Irish, dropping the "th" sound and filled with self-deprecating wit.

If you missed this visit, be sure to catch him next time.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Working Artist

Marc Ribot was one of the first musicians ever to play the Narrows, way back in 2002.

We were pleased to have him return after so many years to do what might be termed an "avant garde" set at the Narrows Thursday night. And as you can see in the photo, he seriously preps before a performance.

Not surprising, since he is the "go to" guy for Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, producer T-Bone Burnett and others. If you heard Raising Sand by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, you heard Marc Ribot. It won a slew of Grammys.

Most recently he performed on John Mellencamp's mono release, No Better Than This, recorded in a hotel room in San Antonio, Texas, where Robert Johnson recorded in the 1930s; at the oldest African-American church in America, which is located in Savannah, Georgia; and in Memphis, Tennessee at Sun Records, where Elvis, Johnny Cash, Howlin' Wolf and others cut sides in the 1950s. "The experience of doing that in that room was amazing," he said, noting with a chuckle that perhaps more studios should have been built with parquet linoleum floors.

Marc's most recent solo release is called Silent Movies.

Though I didn't get a chance to ask him about it, he apparently will be appearing as part of the back up band in the upcoming Elton John/Leon Russell collaboration.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Top 10 Most Influential Guitarists of the 1960s

I was looking at the Rolling Stone's list of the greatest guitarists of all time--and got to musing if greatest meant the same as most influential.

I concluded it didn't, because the prowess on the frets award probably should go to a jazz guitarist that comparatively few listen to.

How about the top 10 most influential guitarists from a single era? How about the 1960s? A time which began around 1963 and ended in the early 1970s. Here's my thinking:

1. George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney (yes, Paul played guitar on those records too)--I've counted these three guitarists as one because the records they produced inspired at least one generation to play guitar. That's influence.

2. Brian Jones, Keith Richards, Mick Taylor--These guys, of course, played guitar in the Rolling Stones, and as an ensemble they made great and influential guitar-centered records.

3. Bob Dylan--He changed the world when he went electric. Now, that's influence.

4. Dave Davies--One song: "You Really Got Me." His brother Ray wrote the tune, apparently on a piano. But, unless a session guitarist (rumored to be Jimmy Page) sat in, Dave gets the credit. The riff won't go away, and overshadows Ray Davies' other songs, many of which are arguably better.

5. Roger McGuinn--The jingly-jangly sound that was his trademark was lifted by Tom Petty, one of the most important recording artists over the last 3 decades, who, at times, seems to be a Roger McGuinn tribute artist.

6. Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir--They influenced the whole jam band movement through their work with the Grateful Dead.

7. John Fogarty--It's easy to forget how important Creedence Clearwater was in the late 1960s. For all intents and purposes, Fogarty was Creedence. Love his version of "Suzi Q."

8. Eric Clapton--Cream. Derek and the Dominos. Period.

9. Jimi Hendrix--Clapton, Hendrix and Jimmy Page (below) were important in launching the influential Album Oriented Rock phase.

10. Jimmy Page--He influenced several generations of air guitarists. Try to listen to Led Zep's "Black Dog" without moving your hands.

Honorable mention: Gram Parsons, who wasn't much of a player, but his vision of Cosmic American Music was critical in spawning the guitar-centered country rock in the 1970s, and later Americana.

Agree? Disagree? Who are your top 10?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Electric Blues Guitar 101 from a Guitar Hero

So you want to be an electric blues guitarist. What do you need to know and do?

I posed such questions to a guitar hero, Kim Simmonds, who was at the forefront of the late '60s wave of British blues that gave the world the Yardbirds, Cream, Eric Clapton and others, including his band Savoy Brown.

I interviewed him before the Savoy Brown performance at the Narrows Center for the Arts on Saturday, September 18, 2010. I wanted to get hands-on practical advise for the aspiring guitarist. And he gave it.

First of all, "my advice has always been to focus in on one particular music," he said. "Hone in on the style at the exclusion of everything else. I mean to this day I can't play a Beatles song." When he became interested in guitar, he listened to jazz, old style R & B, etc., but by the time he was a teenager he realized he wanted to play the electric sounds emanating from Chicago courtesy of Muddy Waters and others. So he focused on that style as he learned to play his instrument.  

Another piece of advice to the would-be electric blues guitarist: "Don't start on the acoustic guitar because it's very difficult to make the swap...The first thing you should do if you want to play good electric blues guitar is start with electric guitar and an amp. Because it's a different head space altogether." While he plays acoustic blues when he performs solo, he says he's still learning how to play the acoustic guitar.

Thinking about becoming a lead guitarist in a blues band? "You don't play scales. You don't do anything start off listening to records, you start off getting licks, you know, you get one or two licks, you play those, you get a couple more licks, and you build up a library of guitar licks..." He never knew what a scale was until he was in his 30s, well after he became a blues guitar star. "It's all about feeling, you know, and playing scales is too technical." 

He adds new original licks to his repertoire nearly every performance. "Which is a big surprise to myself. I'm trying that hard every night to play the's a very nice feeling to have. It means that you're on the edge, it means that you're really pushing yourself, and you're trying to improvise."

Anybody out there can play what I play, he says. "But can you play it and mean it? That's the only difference." When you play a simple phrase, it has to carry meaning. "You've got to find a way to make that full of meaning," like Muddy Waters and other classic old-time blues guitarists did.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

"I intend to live to a ripe old age"

Tonight British blues guitar pioneer  Kim Simmonds returns to the Narrows with his band Savoy Brown.  Figured I'd  dig up the 2007 interview:

During your last visit to the Narrows you played with such joy. Is it always fun these days?  

KS: The "joy" is always there. It's a blessing. Tough to hold on to if you take it lightly. I try to not make it "work" which this business of being a traveling musician can quickly become. Therefore I take less gigs so that the ones I do play, I can give 1000% to the audience and to the music. I can't give any's the way I'm built.  

What recordings are you listening to these days? Any recommendations?

KS: I like listening to the artists I grew up with. All the old blues and rock records are still fresh to me. I like people like Mose Allison and Tony Joe White and Dion and so forth. Older artists that still make great new music. I've been also listening to The Smiths lately which will tell you just how crazy my tastes are!  

How about your recording plans?  

KS: I'm currently recording my next solo acoustic CD tentatively entitled "Out Of The Blue" for release next May. I have the songs written but now I'm waiting on a special Martin from the Martin factory and also I've been promised a couple of newer Guilds so there will be a guitar shoot out in my studio soon....may the best guitar win.  

Solo performing versus playing with a band...any preference?

KS: The positives and negatives for each. I was surprised to hear James Taylor talking of the difficulties of putting on a one man show. I would have thought it was second nature to him. There is a real challenge to standing on stage alone with just an acoustic guitar. I love the challenge. With a band you can relax on stage and just let it happen (if the band is good) can't relax just by yourself. Of course on the upside there is a wonderful solitary vibe that goes along with traveling and playing alone which appeals to the Celt in me.

What kind of gear do you use, and why?

KS: I use Gibson guitars because they give me a beefy sound and one that exemplifies the "UK blues sound" that I am apart of. I was also using Marshall amplifiers for the same reason but recently I've switched to a Dailey amplifier that has much the same characteristics as a Marshall but with hand made components etc.

What's your favorite kind of audience...quiet and attentive, or kind of rowdy, shouting out requests, that kind of thing. The Narrows has both, and in-between.

KS: For solo acoustic performances I like an audience that's not too quiet because then I may get too self conscious. Attentive but responsive I suppose is what I mean. As regards the band shows...I don't mind...quiet is good...boogie loud is also good...crazy maniacal is also good!!! Really, with the band, there is nothing better than a loud, ready for the moment audience.

What are your long-term future plans?

KS: I intend to keep being a traveling musician until I'm.......really old. It keeps me healthy and inspired. I also draw and paint every day at home (as well as practice the guitar) so even if I wasn't a professional I would still do those things. More and more I am grateful for the ability and blessing that have made me able to make a living at doing what others consider a hobby. I will continue to record band and solo records and with luck, I intend to live to a ripe old age!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Old School Returns

More from the Narrows Festival 2010 last Sunday:

Deep funk hit the outdoor stage with Nashville-based the Dynamites featuring longtime soul vocalist Charles Walker.

Mr. Walker's story reminds us of that of Narrows fave Bettye LaVette: Starting in music decades ago; tasting mainstream success but never breaking out huge; taking a hike from the music biz; rediscovery by a new generation.

There's an old school soul movement, wrote USA Today back in 2008:

"This summer artists such as James Hunter...Ryan Shaw, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings and The Dynamites featuring Charles Walker are doing more than waxing nostalgic. Though commercial radio bypasses them in favor of glossier R&B and their niche-label record sales remain modest, these acts are wowing live audiences coast to coast with fresh songs and slamming performances."

James Hunter, by the way, played to a packed Narrows house a few months back, so maybe there's something to this.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Not Just a Regular Joe

Continuing with coverage of the Narrows Festival 2010:

On the inside stage, a Chicago fellow named Joe Moss (above) gathered his troops around 3 p.m. Sunday.

Your humble blogger, who was emceeing two stages (one inside the Narrows proper and one down the street at a park sporting the "Gates of the City"), wasn't able to hang out and listen. But fortunately we had the ears of morning host (5:30 to 11:00 a.m. M-F) Laurel Redington tucked next to the sound board:

"Joe Moss completely blew my mind. He plays it off like he has no talent, a humble, gracious guy...and then he launches into his set and your jaw drops! Joe should be known by circles outside the die-hard blues fans! His voice has depth and raspy passion. His guitar playing is outrageous...plays as well behind his head and with his teeth! His band is tight, soulful and groove-y!"

'Nuff said!

Monday, September 13, 2010

She is the Morning DJ on WMVY!

Continued follow up to the Narrows Festival of the Arts 2010, held Sunday:

Our friends at were at the festival recording the performances for future archiving for your enjoyment on their website.

Program head and mid-day host Barbara Dacey (right), celebrating 25 years at the station, was overseeing production at the main stage. In the photo above she's introducing headliner Shemekia Copeland. Morning host Laurel Redington (left) worked the inside stage.

The station is based on Martha's Vineyard, but truly serves the world via the Web with a programming mix rarely, if ever, found on commercial radio. If you are unfamiliar, give a listen!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Narrows Festival 2010

The 9th annual Narrows Festival of the Arts is now in the history books, and it was truly a memorable one.

The weather, while a trifle cool Sunday, stayed dry for the outdoor stage performers, from Amy Speace (photo) at 12:30 p.m. until headliner Shemekia Copeland's encore at 7 p.m. A few minutes later, some raindrops sprinkled the area.

Indoors, roots-oriented The 'Mericans kicked the day off at 11:30 a.m., followed by jazz fusionists Marcus Monteiro Quartet, blues guy Joe Moss, and singer/guitarist Andrea Belanger.

Also performing on the outdoor stage, funkster Charles Walker and the Dynamites, rushing in from New York City, and Entrain from Martha's Vineyard.

More photos coming up.

Friday, September 10, 2010

A Stomping Good Time!

A sold out room greeted the Carolina Chocolate Drops Friday night as they made their Narrows' debut.

The group's repertoire reflects the forgotten black string band tradition down south. Thanks to National Public Radio and others, including the Narrows, this tradition is once again being explored.

It all sounds so serious, but it wasn't Friday night as the band members joked around, stomped their feet and led the fans in sing-alongs.

Our friends at streamed the show live; it should be archived on their site in a few days.