From Deep Inside the Forest

Another Part of the ForestIn early 2011 a business called Classical Glass moved from Main Street in Over-the Rhine to a new location. Shortly thereafter Mike Markiewicz showed me the space they’d left. Classical Glass was a studio as opposed to a storefront, and the room looked dirty, dark and dingy. I had a hard time imagining it being transformed into a record store.

Mike Markiewicz didn’t, however. After all, he’d overseen Kaldi’s, Sibylline Books and Iris Book Cafe as they went from nothing to something. Each helped to make Over-The-Rhine a better place. But could he do the same with a record store? He believed he could.

Progress at the store moved at what like a glacial pace, to the point where I wondered if it was ever going to open, whereas Mike knew it would. Mike and I talked a lot back then, and he was pumped about the store. “This will be my masterpiece,” he said.

Even then, though, he was thinking beyond that. He kept talking about moving out into the woods and living a bare-bones existence after a few years of the record store. There would be music, but not the massive collections he had accumulated (and then disposed of) repeatedly. “Two hundred albums,” he said. “That’s it. Only the essentials.”

another part forest again

What Mike would take to the woods was revealed in bits and pieces to me over time. After Another Part of the Forest was in full swing, with records filling both floors, I continued to drop in on him. He always had a record he wanted to play me that he had to search to find, and sometimes it eluded him. In fact, it often eluded him. But when he did find the record I needed to hear, my musical universe expanded. Often during those visits our discussion would return to the records that he would take to the woods. The three artists he made it clear would definitely accompany him to the woods were the twentieth-century classical composers Martinu and Messiaen and the jazz musician John Surman.

Heavyweight stuff, in other words: the kind of music that, even though you listened to it while busses zoomed past and sirens howled in the distance, you left OTR and entered a different world, a place that was often dark and turbulent and was full of the “ugly beauty” that inspired a Thelonious Monk song title.

Mike passed away a week and a half ago. His death come suddenly, although the extreme exhaustion that was evident when I visited him during his last several months made the fact that he was extremely ill less of a surprise. When the store was getting up and running he predicted that he would head to the woods after three or four years. Ever since he passed I’ve been thinking about that trip he wanted to make but didn’t. On the other hand…

another part forest again again

On the other hand, when a person names a record store Another Part of the Forest you have to wonder how far away the woods really were in the first place. Maybe he entered the woods when he opened the store, or maybe he’s there now. He always seemed oblivious to the noise and the commotion surrounding him. Quiet and introspective, he was tuned into something else. As many times as we talked, and as often as those conversations focused on big fat metaphysical issues, I must say that part of him remained elusive. “The world is too much with us,” Wordsworth said, but for Mike it wasn’t. He kept it at bay. He did his thing. He lived the way he wanted to live, a nonconformist who in spite of crazy odds did all sorts of good things for the best neighborhood in a city that people are finally starting to appreciate. I miss the guy more every time I return to his masterpiece. I wish that just one more time he could drop the needle on a record. This time, though, it’s my turn to drop the needle. Listen close, my friend. You’ll recognize the tune:

http://youtu.be/fXchqOO8xYY

 

Rare King Records Gem Reissued on Vinyl

Lula ReedLula Reed is a rhythm and blues singer who recorded for King Records during the same period when James Brown, Little Willie John and Hank Ballard were active. She never became as well-known as these artists, nor was she as prolific. In fact, along with some singles on King and Federal (and, later, a couple other labels), she only recorded one album, Blue and Moody. This 1958 gem consisted of singles that were recorded for King between 1951 and 1956. It wasn’t a best-selling record, and I suspect there are many people who like the King Records sound who’ve never heard the album. Therefore I was pleased to learn that Blue and Moody was just released on vinyl by Sundazed, a label with a long history of putting high-quality reissues of both well-known and obscure old gems. Mastered from the original analog session tapes and pressed at RTI, the LP is on 180-gram vinyl. With some of the more soulful vocals you’ll ever hear and great songwriting by King mainstays Sonny Thompson, Henry Glover and others, Blue and Moody more than deserves such red-carpet treatment.  It’s worth adding that original copies of this album are insanely rare, and they do not come cheap, making the release of a good-sounding reissue on vinyl all the sweeter. Here’s a recording of Lula Reed singing “I’ll Drown in My Own Tears,” a song that was later a big hit for Ray Charles:

Ten Favorite Bogart’s Concerts: The Honorable Mentions

Bogarts-logoA month ago (or was it longer?) I promised a list of my ten favorite Bogart’s shows. A long processions of phone calls from people who wanted me to help promote upcoming events—which I’m always happy to do—delayed the process, but now I’m finally ready to share my top ten.

Or almost, anyway. Before I delve into the best of the best, I should mention some of the shows that that didn’t make the top ten but were memorable for one reason or another. My  honorable mentions would include the following:

Human Switchboard. A Cleveland band I’ll always associate with the early days of punk or new wave or whatever you want to call what was happening then.

John Cale. His show ended with a full-throttle rendition of “Mercenaries (Ready for War)” that made a lot of sense at the time (and still does).

Sonny Rollins. Boy am I glad that I went to this show. It taught me how much I didn’t know. Although I loved Sonny’s earlier work in a bebop vein, I was blasé about his later stuff. On the first song of the second set, “Don’t Stop the Carnival,” Sonny displayed an endless supply of energy and creativity for fifteen or twenty minutes. Truly a jazz god.

Casual Gods. Jerry Harrison from the Talking Heads wasn’t much of a vocalist, and that wasn’t my only misgiving about the show. It was the only chance I’ve had, however, to see guitarist Chris Spedding whose resume includes work with Jack Bruce and The Sex Pistols.

Charlatans UK. It surprises me what a sparse crowd there was for this show, as Some Friendly was a hit with the college rock crowd and Between 10th and 11th was just as good. Catchy pop tunes with a hint of psychedelia.

Iggy Pop. Those who know his work better wouldn’t have been surprised to hear him break out “Louie Louie” when I first saw him in the early 1980s, but I certainly was, and I got great pleasure out of hearing him thrash that one out. That was the same show where, at 2am, the power went off and all you could see were exit lights.

Everything But the Girl. I was shocked to learn that EBTG was coming to Cincinnati. Although I’m not as fond of the more club-oriented sound the band eventually developed, there’s nothing they could do to make me not love them. Toward the middle of the show the band shut off the rhythm machine and played two wondrous cuts off Idlewild, the second being Ben Watt’s “Caruso.” I’m glad that the college and young professional crowd (who in Cincinnati chatted through the entire concert) tapped into EBTG—otherwise the band never would have come to Bogart’s. Still, I have to think that their jazzier early sound could have connected with a much wider audience.

Sonic Youth. When I saw this band they were touring on the heels of 1992’s Dirty. For me the tune that stuck out most was “Youth Against Facism,” which I hadn’t heard yet, but it resonated instantly.

King Crimson. Had Bill Bruford been on hand, this show would have made my top ten list for sure, but the drummer that night was a mere mortal. That was the second time I saw Crimson, and this gave me a much deeper appreciation for Robert Fripp’s guitar playing in the post-Red era.

King Sunny Ade. A fabulous show; I also caught them at the zoo.

JJ Cale. Of the three concerts I saw by JJ Cale, one was pure magic while the two others (one at Bogart’s) were merely great. Actually some of my top ten shows are by artists I don’t like nearly as well as JJ Cale but who brought something very special on the evening that I happened to catch them.

White Stripes. Although there were only two musicians in the band, the White Stripes had such a huge, billowing sound that Bogart’s almost seemed to small for it! The show included a cover of Dylan’s “Love Sick” on which Jack White played keyboards.

Before I go the top ten, I also want to sneak in some official awards for past Bogart’s concerts:

The loudest show: Ministry.

Most entertaining show. Mojo Nixon/Skid Roper. They played upstairs, and Mojo was absolutely nuts. At one point he started banging rhythms on a water jug, and then—taking advantage of the short ceilings upstairs—he bounced the jug off the floor so hard that the jug in turn bounced off the ceiling and landed back in his hands. He did this without pause and repeatedly, and right on the beat! Surreal. After the show I asked him to sign my harmonica case, and he did. First, though, he rubbed it on his tallywacker.

The smokiest show. Mudvayne. I believe that show was sold out, and if I’m not mistaken every single person in the club was smoking that evening…except for me.

The biggest bunch of attitude: Ministry and Wolfgang Press. The way these two bands walked off the stage without acknowledging the crowd and in fact acted dismissive toward the people who came out to see them inspired me to quickly sell their records back to Mole’s.

Best opening act. Tracy Chapman opening for 10,000 Maniacs. This was, for the Maniacs, the In My Tribe tour, which is the only time you got to hear them play “Peace Train” live. Tracy, who played solo and was hard to hear over a chatty crowd, closed with “Talkin’ bout a Revolution.” I saw her shortly thereafter with a full band opening for Neil Young at Riverbend, but I found her solo performance in a smaller setting more powerful.

Most unusual performer. Timothy Leary saw fit to visit Cincinnati and talk about turning on, tuning in and dropping out. He definitely had a sense of humor about it all, however—in fact, I think he always did.

Best 1-man band. I liked how Michael Hedges strutted out to the front of the stage while exuding confidence that one acoustic guitar and a voice could provide entertainment for an entire evening. No gimmicks, no light show, no electronics, no flashy American Idol type persona—just music…and it worked.

 The Bogart’s show I most wish I’d seen but didn’t. There’s been much talk over the years about some of the mythical Bogarts shows by folks like The Police, U2 and Prince. The band I most wish I’d seen there, however, was Shakti w/John McLaughlin, who had just released Natural Elements. I almost made it to that show—and then heard detailed accounts from people who made it clear that I had missed something extraordinary. I did catch him a couple years later with a band that included L. Shankar (from Shakti) in the band, and they played a duet from a Shakti album.

 

My Favorite Bogart’s Concerts

Bogarts-Corryville-CincinnatiHow do you know you’re a music nerd? One hint is that you have a vast collection of memorabilia devoted to concerts you attended over the years. That could include posters, handbills, ads and reviews from the paper, tickets…I’ve got all those things and more. Today I scanned all the Bogart’s tickets that I’ve kept since I attended my first show there back in the ’70s.

This precedes my upcoming blog entries dedicated to my 10 favorite Bogart’s concerts. As I started to make my list I realized that this was going to be a painful process, as I hated to leave out some fabulous shows. For that reason my first round is going to be devoted to honorable mentions, of which there will be many. I have lots of other Bogart’s memorabilia that I’ll dig out for this series.

These tickets, btw, represent a fraction of the Bogart’s shows I attended, as I didn’t keep everything. Also, there was a period during the 1980s when I used to hang w/some folks who worked there;  I killed some time backstage and caught some freebies. That was an exciting period musically, and Short Vine was happening, with Bogart’s bringing in lots of good shows and a fine laundromat across the street. There was also a period when I reviewed concerts for the Cincinnati Enquirer. I’ll get to all that – but for now, here are the tickets stubs that managed to make it home. (btw, if you click the image it will magnify, making a lot easier to read the names)

Bogarts tickets 1

Bogarts tickets 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bogarts tickets 4

Bogarts tickets 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Check Out the Bogart’s Memories Facebook Group

Bogarts-logoBogart’s Memories (Cincinnati, OH) is a Facebook page where hundreds of people write and read about concerts they attended at the iconic music venue since it opened in 1975. There’s lots of memorabilia—ticket stubs, posters, fliers, pictures, videos, etc.—and people discussing memorable shows in every conceivable genre. Everyone who lives in Cincinnati has been to Bogart’s, and it’s also been a significant regional draw. When I contacted the person who formed the Facebook Group, Robert Wendel, he wrote, “I got the idea after one day cleaning out a closet. I found the old fliers that Bogart’s used to mail out back in the 80’s, informing what bands would be playing there in the near future.

“With those and the ticket stubs I had saved from most of the concerts I attended @ Bogarts, I decided to make a FB page to keep the memories going. The general manager of Bogarts Karen Foley loves the page so much, she used my fliers and stubs to make cool collage on the wall @ Bogarts.”

The Facebook group members aren’t just fans, either: “A lot of them are members of bands that played @ Bogarts at one time or another, the latest being David T. Chastain.”

This comes at a good time, as Bogart’s recently underwent significant improvements and will be creating new memories for many years to come. Their Facebook page is a work in progress, and your entry doesn’t have to be decades old—for example, I recently posted on their page a blog entry about a recent Todd Rundgren show that took place at Bogart’s. So check it out, join it, and share your own memories and memorabilia!

Mandela by Santana

Nelson Mandela on Day After ReleaseIn 1987 Santana released an album that contained the song “Mandela.” At that time Nelson Mandela was still in prison, but people around the world were drawing attention to the injustice he was experiencing. Along with being a call to action, the song was a tribute to Nelson Mandela, who passed away yesterday. Time hasn’t diminished the relevance of this song; in fact, it has only deepened it. Three of the musicians appearing in this video performed at the amazing Bogart’s show that took place in 1983: guitarist Carlos Santana, who was wearing a John Coltrane t-shirt; percussionist Armando Peraza, who first appeared on the 1972 release Caravanserai; and keyboardist Chester Thompson, who was so new to the lineup that he had not yet shown up on a Santana album. With a band comprised from musicians of different races, from different countries and radically different musical background, Santana embodied, long before most of us even knew who Nelson Mandela was, the spirit of his message. Here’s Santana performing “Mandela:”

A Thanksgiving Tale

coffee

Please note that Sitwell’s is having a Hobbit trivia night this Wednesday (December 11) at 8pm, with lots of great Hobbit-related giveways – should be a great time!

This story took place back when Sitwell’s was in a different location. Back then the coffee house was in the basement of Tudor Court Apartments. At that time I lived about a block from Sitwell’s.

People see Thanksgiving in different ways. Many people see it as an opportunity to be surrounded by other people, and who can blame them? Many writers, however, see four-day holidays differently—especially novelists, who, in order to write books that are hundreds of pages along, engage in the verbal equivalent of an endless series of marathons.

Marathons take time. Like many novelists, I had mastered the art of forging ahead with a book in spite of the fact that I worked a nine to five—but nothing beats four days in a row with nothing to do but write. I was stoked when I woke up on Thanksgiving morning. All I had to do was get some coffee, since I had run out. I figured I could get some from Sitwell’s, which wasn’t open for business, but had a tradition at that time of hosting a free Thanksgiving dinner.

When I got there, I asked if I could buy a pound of coffee, and even though I was a regular I was turned down. Nor could I buy a cup of coffee. They weren’t open for business, and I couldn’t give them an IOU or any of that business.

Can I function without coffee? Sure, but let’s face it: coffee, to many fiction writers, is like whiskey is to a blues artist. In many respects writing a novel is an endurance battle, and caffeine helps. So, while I was contemplating the possibility of writing dull, flat prose for the rest of the day an employee started talking about the free dinner that day. I had assumed that it was only for the needy. The employee emphasized, however, that it was open to anyone who wanted to come. “Why don’t you come back?” she said.

At that moment a humongous 5,000-watt light bulb went off in my head.

A couple hours later I returned to Sitwell’s. The room I walked into was full of people, many of whom I knew because they too were regulars at Sitwell’s. I hung and out and chatted with folks and ate lots of good food, including turkey, which has lots of Triptophan, which has long regarded as an enemy of potentially productive writers.

I more than counteracted that, however, by drinking massive amount of caffeine—and after leaving Sitwells, I spent the rest of my long weekend writing.

What happened that day taught me something. For one day a year, no matter how much you plead, there are situations where people absolutely refuse to sell you something – and believe me, there was absolutely no way the employees at Sitwell’s were going to allow me to make a cash transaction.

They were more than happy, however, to give me something. For me that reinforced what Thanksgiving is all about. Here’s hoping you receive a little reinforcement yourself this year.

Remembering JJ Cale

After guitarist, songwriter and vocalist JJ Cale passed away a few days ago, memories started popping up of a musician who, in his own understated, behind-the-scenes, low-profile way left a big mark on music.  Yesterday I typed up some of those memories and sent them to a website I’ve never submitted to before – popmatters.com – and discovered this morning that my article is now in print. Here’s a link to my piece in popmatters.com:

 

 

 

 

The New James Brown Release

A half-century ago James Brown took a huge risk, self-funding his first-ever live album because the main man at Cincinnati’s own King Records, Syd Nathan, assumed it would tank. Nathan was wrong and James Brown was right, and the rest is history: Live at the Apollo became a huge success. The Godfather of Soul continued to perform and record at the Apollo, and two later releases from the historic theater chronicled the evolution of an artist who was constantly breaking new ground. A fourth Apollo live concert was recorded with plans for a release and then shelved. Selections from all four of those recordings appear on Best of Live at the Apollo: 50th Anniversary, which you can order online or buy at local record stores such as Shake-It Records and Everybody’s Records.

Because three of the live records were double LPs, there was a lot of material to choose from. The emphasis from all four shows remains on uptempo numbers of moderate length, with no ballads to be found; the groove is established early on, and it never stops. And while the music here spans an almost ten-year period, the record flows along smoothly, getting a little funkier with time, but that seems like such a natural progression that there’s nothing strained about it. Best of isn’t focused exclusively focused on the biggest hits, but there are plenty of songs that even casual James Brown fans will know, including “Cold Sweat,” “Please, Please, Please,” and “Sex Machine.” I recommend this release to anyone who wants to throw in a CD at their next party and know that, from beginning to end, everything on it is danceable. Continue reading “The New James Brown Release”

The Acetate I Found: “Band Practice 1963”

The other day when I was flipping through some records I ran across two 33s that were recorded at 501 Terrace Ave., which is right down the street from me. One of the LPs is an acetate dated 1963, but between tracks at a couple points someone announces that some of the tracks were recorded a couple years before that. (Acetates, by the way, are made in very limited quantities, with no intention, usually, of a commercial release, so I’m always curious when I find one – but their quality declines quickly, and the next time a needle drops I’ll be downloading it digitally, to make sure the music survives.)

The music on the acetates consist of “traditional jazz” (Dixieland or “hot jazz” or other terms that are used to define this style). Presumably the music was never officially released, and of course I wanted to know who recorded it and what their history was. Did they play around Cincinnati, and did they continue to play music?

Fortunately two between-track monologues listed personnel (which underwent some changes) along with the instrument each person played. The musicians included: Bob Heidrich, trumpet (and apparently the tracks were recorded at his house); John Cantrell, clarinet; Jack Fessler, banjo; Jack Horning, drums; Jim Osborne, trombone; Bill Sporr, piano; Ken Steagman, sousaphone; and Tom Harter. (In most cases these spellings are what linguists refer to as a phonetic stab in the dark).

1963 was awhile ago, and there was no guarantee when I visited cyberspace that any information would surface about the musicians—but a quick search proved fruitful. It turns out that at least two of the musicians still play traditional music, although not in Cincinnati; I’m pretty sure I got the right people because their name, instrument and genre all matched.

Interestingly, one of the musicians is the father of Mark Boone Junior, who’s played (more often than not) a bad guy (including a crooked cop) in dozens of movies and TV shows. His biggest roles include the Christopher Nolan films Memento and Batman Begins and FX’s Sons of Anarchy, where he plays Bobby Munson.

I’ve taken the initial steps in trying to track down some of the musicians involved with this project, and thus far it’s been a bust, but it’s still early in the process. I’m curious, though, if anyone reading this has any idea who any of the musicians are and how to reach them. I’d love to find out more about these musicians.