It was hotter than hell in Atlanta on July 1, 1991, when my good friend Jewel Harris and I heard Charles Brown perform at a long-forgotten jazz club in Underground Atlanta. The smooth-voiced former high school chemistry teacher was still in fine form that night, nearing 70, as charismatic as any of those other west coast blues crooners that were popular in the post-World War II years: T-Bone-Walker, Lowell Fulson, Amos Milburn, and Johnny "Guitar" Watson.
But the songs that the audience remembered the most were those two great Christmas songs that Brown made famous: "Merry Christmas Baby" (1947) and "Please Come Home for Christmas" (1960), both of which Brown reprised on that steamy night in Georgia, to the delight of Jewel and me and the rest of the adoring audience. Merry Christmas Baby!
Those few faithful followers of my Blog might recall my 11/21/2020 epistle that lauded Mississippi Hill Country Blues and those talented bluesmen who are continuing the musical tradition born in West Africa and sustained to this day in the rolling hills around Oxford and Holly Springs, Mississippi.
Among them, the latest Hill Country bluesman to be honored is none other than Cedric Burnside (pictured above), the grandson of the true Big Daddy of the genre, the late, great R.L. Burnside himself. Cedric started touring as the drummer for his granddaddy when he was just 13 and has continued to grow and develop both as an accomplished blues drummer and as an exciting guitarist and vocalist, working along the way with the likes of Jessie Mae Hemphill, Kenny Brown, Lightnin' Malcolm, Richard Johnson, Jimmy Buffett, T-Model Ford, Widespread Panic, and the Jon Spenser Blues Explosion.
Cedric Burnside and Lightnin' Malcolm
With several Blues Music Awards and two Grammy nominations already notched in his guitar, at 43, he has added still another Grammy nomination this year for his album "I Be Trying." In addition, he was recently presented with one of America's highest honors in folk and traditional music, a 2021 National Heritage Fellow award by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Keep up the inspiring work, Cedric! Lord knows, you be trying!
Veterans Day Weekend means our annual canoe/camping trip down the Black Creek in southern Mississippi. This year, we were thirteen men, one child, and three dogs.
Beautiful, clear weather, if a bit chilly Saturday night, but nothing that a fierce fire and few nips of cheap whiskey couldn't quell.
As usual, we had a great time and were able, by the grace of the benevolent river gods, to stay safe and mostly dry throughout another fine outing.
I was fortunate to grow up in the Kansas City area where it is said "while New Orleans was the birthplace of jazz, America's music grew up in Kansas City."
During the 1920s, 1930s, and up into the 1940's, the Kansas City style of jazz flourished in and around the all-night clubs on 18th and Vine: the Chesterfield Club, Dante's Inferno, HiHat, Hey Hay Club, Paseo Ballroom, and the Pla-Mor Ballroom, where my parents, even though they were strict Baptists, admitted that they danced the night away before I was born.
So, even though the heyday of the bluesy, hot-swinging Kansas City style had passed by the time I was old enough to appreciate it, the sound never quite died out, lingering in the midwestern air like a pleasant soundtrack to our lives. You could hear it everywhere. Count Basie and Jay McShann at local jazz festivals. Milt Abel and Betty Miller at the Horseshoe Lounge on Troost, and many, many others at cozy Milton's on Main, where you could pick and enjoy a tune from Milton's 5,000+ album collection.
My favorites were the great Kansas City saxophone players: Ben Webster, Lester Young, Buster Smith, and, of course, Charlie Parker, who actually grew up not much more that a stone's throw away from 18th and Vine.
But I'm here to report that the Kansas City alto sax sound of Parker and the others is alive and well and still swinging with the intensity of Depression-era Kansas City. Right here in Huntsville, Alabama, where last Friday night I had the pleasure of listening to the modern alto sax giant, Bobby Watson, straight out of Kansas City, who, thanks to the Tennessee Valley Jazz Society, performed at the Cooper House downtown. And wow! Was Watson and his quartet of veteran bassist Curtis Lundy, and youngsters Marc Payne on piano and Terron Gully on drums hot!
They truly brought me back home again for a couple of hours, as well as bringing down the Cooper House, as if we were all back at the Reno Club at 2am on a Sunday morning in 1930s Kansas City.
Last Sunday was Microwave Dave Day here in Huntsville. A day we now celebrate annually, since 2015, in appreciation of our resident bluesman who at 75 still performs and tours regularly, hosts a weekly radio show, supports a foundation for music in the schools, and now has a new coffee table picture/bio book out, entitled I'm a Road Runner.
Dave is truly a treasure and the real thing, with a genuine blues pedigree, having learned from fellow Alabamian Johnny Shines who played with Robert Johnson, as well as playing with the likes of Gregg Allman, Dickey Betts, Jerry "Boogie" McCain, and many others.
Sam and Dave
So every year on Microwave Dave Day all the best bands in Huntsville--R&B, country, folk, jazz, and blues--gather for an all-day performance to support the Microwave Dave Music Education Foundation, one of many charitable shows Dave and the Nukes participate in annually. And every year, in what has now become a cherished Huntsville tradition, we celebrate Dave and all the magic that he has bestowed upon us over the years. As the master bluesman says, "And that is why you play. To take part in that mystery."
There are so many ingredients that go into producing a good music concert: venue, sound, lighting, and, of course, talent.
I suppose when a seasoned star like Boz Scaggs books a tour venue he's undoubtedly unfamiliar with every place he ends up playing in. He just has to make do with wherever his booking agent puts him (usually in grand, old, renovated movie theaters). However, the Mark C. Smith Concert Hall in Huntsville, Alabama, where I saw Scaggs this week, is not the ideal house for a performer like Scaggs. It is a big, hollow barn of a place, built for full-blown symphony orchestras, where less sonic sounds ordinarily bounce around rudely as if trying to escape a giant tin can. That given, the first vibrant notes from Scaggs's six-piece band were surprisingly warm and reassuring, a comforting introduction to what lay head.
This welcome accomplishment was due in part to Scaggs's own professional sound system and an expert engineer, but just as much to a combo of first-rate musicians (shown above).
Often the top-line musicians like to stay close to home, away from the rigors of the road, and so are reserved for the studio, but Scaggs's road band can vie with any Class A session players. They were tight, well-rehearsed, yet still full of rock 'n' roll energy and improvisational fervor.
The lighting of the show was provided by more proficient Scaggs's technicians who provided a seamless warm and pleasing compliment to the music. Not too much and not too little. The spotlighters did miss a couple of cues, when, for instance, the keyboard player, surrounded by three instruments--a B-3 organ, an electric piano, and a synthesizer--was left in semi-darkness throughout an extended solo. But that's a nit, since I suspect Scaggs and his band sometimes vary the setlists and arrangements without notice, leaving the lighting folks (and, as a result, some soloists) in the dark.
Of course, it's Boz Scaggs himself who the people, mostly older, come out, even on a weeknight, to see and hear. And I'm happy to report that the 77 year-old rocker/crooner/bluesman still has the chops after all these years (50+) and all these albums (20+), his voice maybe not as resonant as it once was, but nonetheless still skillful, multi-ranged, and, most importantly, satisfyingly soulful.
After starting the two-hour show with several blues selections from his "Come on Home" and "Out of the Blues" albums, including the Bobby "Blue" Bland classic, "I've Just Got to Forget You," Scaggs gradually turned up the heat, with a bunch of old rockers and ending, fittingly, with Chuck Berry"s "C'est La Vie (You Never Can Tell)" that left his fans dancing in the aisles. Ushers with defibrillators at the ready.
Leonard Pitts Jr.
“If you want to leave, take good care, hope you make a lot of nice friends out there.” — from “Wild World” by Cat Stevens
This is for those of you who’ve chosen to quit your jobs rather than submit to a vaccine mandate.
No telling how many of you there actually are, but lately, you’re all over the news. Just last week, a nearly-30-year veteran of the San Jose Police Department surrendered his badge rather than comply with the city’s requirement that all employees be inoculated against COVID-19. He joins an Army lieutenant colonel, some airline employees, a Major League Baseball executive, the choral director of the San Francisco Symphony, workers at the tax collector’s office in Orange County, Florida, and, incredibly, dozens of healthcare professionals.
Well, on behalf of the rest of us, the ones who miss concerts, restaurants and other people’s faces, the ones who are sick and tired of living in pandemic times, here’s a word of response to you quitters: Goodbye.
And here’s two more: Good riddance.
Not to minimize any of this. A few weeks ago, a hospital in upstate New York announced it would have to “pause” delivering babies because of resignations among its maternity staff. So the threat of difficult ramifications is certainly real. But on the plus side, your quitting goes a long way toward purging us of the gullible, the conspiracy-addled, the logic-impaired and the stubbornly ignorant. And that’s not nothing.
We’ve been down this road before. Whenever faced with some mandate imposed in the interest of the common good, some of us act like they just woke up on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall. “There’s no freedom no more,” whined one man in video that recently aired on “The Daily Show With Trevor Noah.” The clip was from the 1980s, and the guy had just gotten a ticket for not wearing his seatbelt.
It’s an unfortunately common refrain. Can’t smoke in a movie theater? Can’t crank your music to headache decibels at 2 in the morning? Can’t post the Ten Commandments in a courtroom? “There’s no freedom no more.” Some of you seem to think freedom means no one can be compelled to do, or refrain from doing, anything. But that’s not freedom, it’s anarchy.
Usually, the rest of us don’t agonize over your intransigence. Often it has no direct impact on us. The guy in “The Daily Show” clip was only demanding the right to skid across a highway on his face, after all. But now you claim the right to risk the healthcare system and our personal lives.
So if you’re angry, guess what? You’re not the only ones.
The difference is, your anger is dumb, and ours is not. Yours is about being coerced to do something you don’t want to do. Like that’s new. Like you’re not already required to get vaccinated to start school or travel to other countries. For that matter, you’re also required to mow your lawn, cover your hindparts and, yes, wear a seatbelt. So you’re mad at government and your job for doing what they’ve always done.
But the rest of us, we’re mad at you. Because this thing could have been over by now, and you’re the reason it isn’t.
That’s why we were glad President Biden stopped asking nicely, started requiring vaccinations everywhere he had power to do so. We were also glad when employers followed suit. And if that’s a problem for you, then, yes, goodbye, sayonara, auf wiedersehen, adios and adieu. We’ll miss you, to be sure. But you’re asking us to choose between your petulance and our lives.
And that’s really no choice at all.
(Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Miami, Fla., 33172. Readers may contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
©2021 Miami Herald. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Keith Richards: I recognize power when I see it. And there's something incredibly powerful
about the blues—the raw blues. But then, there isn't
a piece of popular music
probably that you've heard that hasn't in some weird way been influenced by the blues. Even the most inane jingle or rap song—it's all influenced by the blues. I think it's probably the original musical form in the world, when it comes down to it. - Esquire
Charles Farley is an author who lives and writes in Huntsville, Alabama.