Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sun Ra Speaks

You got to watch these piano players from Alabama. Here's Sun Ra, as quoted in Graham Lock's fine book, Blutopia:
"The impossible attracts me, because everything possible has been done and the world didn't change.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Christmas with T99

Seasons Greetings to all -- in the form of another unreleased track (now offline) by the great Jimmy T99 Nelson, with yours truly on piano.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Jack Knifed and Wasco'd

When Junior Brown first appeared on Austin City Limits back in 1995, he probably had no idea that one of the best male country singers to come along since George Jones was sitting right behind him on the stage, playing drums.

I can't really blame Junior for the oversight. I've been guilty of the same thing myself.

Paul deLay and I both had Jeff Minnick in our bands. We'd let him sing one, maybe two songs a night. The dance floor would invariably fill right up, but I guess we thought that was just because the songs had a good groove. (Shows how much we knew.)

I did know Jeff was a good writer. Artists like Gary Primich had recorded his tunes. I even sang one of them myself ("This Place Has Changed") on my last CD, Serve Me Right to Shuffle.

Now Minnick has really gone and done it. He's got his own band together, and it's top-notch. The outfit calls itself The Wasco Brothers, and they record for Portland's brand-new PsycheDelta Records label, where they know what they're doing.

The talent in this band is deep and wide. You can hear a couple of tracks on their web site, or you can go straight to CD Baby and get a copy. Trust me, you're not going to find this album in the cut-out bins.

By the way, the CD is on iTunes as well.

Hardly anyone is writing songs this good, nobody could sing or play them better than these guys do.

I didn't really expect records to ever sound like this again.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Takin' a Trip Down Highway 99

This coming Friday, Nov. 21, I'll be playing in Seattle at Highway 99 Blues Club. Last time I played Highway 99 was a few years back, with Paul deLay.

This time I'll be joined onstage by Jim, Les & Jeff from Becky Sue & Her Big Rockin' Daddies, one of my all-time favorite bands, plus Peter Dammann from the deLay band on guitar.

We plan to get started at 9:00 p.m. and rock on "as long as the flavor lasts."

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Open Door

Why would anyone need to plow through an open door?
"If there is an open door in '12 or four years later, and if it is something that is going to be good for my family, for my state, for my nation, an opportunity for me, then I'll plow through that door."

-- Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R), quoted by the New York Daily News, courtesy of Political Wire.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

How Does it Feel?

"I feel like I've died and gone to America."
-- Barry Franklin (the poet, not the composer)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Monday, October 27, 2008

News Not News

People everywhere confuse what they read in newspapers with news. -- A. J. Liebling

Sunday, October 12, 2008

"There was a roaring in the wind all night"

Jacco Maccacco, the Fighting Monkey, weighing twelve pounds, had a standing challenge to kill any twenty-pound dog in Jane Austen's England. He had a considerably greater public reputation than Wordsworth.
-- A. J. Liebling

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

After Bush, Is the Worst Yet to Come?

Workin' in a coal mine,
Goin' down down down,
Workin' in a coal mine,
Whoops, about to slip down ...

So it turns out that Enron (remember Enron?) was just the canary, and now the entire coal mine is caving in on the miners. That would be us. Believe me, it isn't "clean coal" dust we'll all be eating.

Nothing's more dramatic than a mining disaster, especially when you and everyone you know is trapped in it.

How long before the air runs out? Will the media lose interest before hope is abandoned? Is Wolf Blitzer right now beseeching his reporters to "get out there and find me a missing teenager!" before the Situation Room goes dark?

Good old Wolf. "When we come back, right after these messages, we'll have a spokesperson for the serial killer community, to give us the other side of the serial killer debate. Don't go away."

A lack of oxygen can sometimes work wonders, and not just underground. Henry James might as well have been describing the current occupant of the White House when he said this in praise of a fellow novelist: "Whenever hallucination settled upon him, he was prepared to believe whatever was necessary under the circumstances."

President George W. Bush, in his few brief appearances of late, looks for all the world like a man lost in some bizarre delusion, a cross between Dr. Strange and Hunter S. Thompson, adrift in the 9th dimension, wandering among the Hell Beings, crying "I only have escaped alone to tell thee."

(Soon now, in your presence, someone will say, "You know, I almost feel sorry for him." That will be your cue to say something unpleasant.)

Anyway, things have caved in. And behold, it came to pass that a Bipartisan Rescue Attempt was begun.

It didn't start out as a Rescue, mind you. At first it was a Bailout.

It was born again when Senator John McCain suspended his campaign, flew back to Washington and suggested a name change to make the transfer of wealth from the public treasury to Wall Street more palatable.

The subsequent re-branding was Senator McCain's only apparent contribution to the process.

Barack Obama, busily monitoring the situation, knew a good idea when he saw one, and smoothly shifted gears in mid-landslide. If the American people preferred a Rescue to a Bailout, so be it.

The Great Rescue of 2008 was, unfortunately for you and me and everyone we know, designed to rescue not the miners trapped in the rubble -- of course not! -- but the mine owners and operators.

Some of these objects of our collective sympathy were last seen recovering at the St. Regis Resort in California, enjoying manicures and massages, and no doubt spreading fistfuls of rescue cash around as tips for the staff.

Can anyone blame them? The stress of living with the stigma of multi-million dollar severance packages must be enormous. Ask yourself: if someone paid you upwards of $40 million to sit at a table in Washington in an election year, while being lectured by the People's Representatives and wearing no expression whatsoever, would you be up to the rigors of the job? The sheer blankness of it all!

The Democratically controlled Congress, which didn't want to impeach President Bush, hell no, is now back home campaigning for re-election, soliciting the votes of people who shudder to think what further catastrophes may befall the United States before Bush leaves office. Why is no one among all these candidates demanding that Bush, Cheney and their entire cabinet resign? And take all their minions and myrmidons with them!

Here's a poll question for you: what percentage of voters are just hoping that the country survives until January?

After two misbegotten wars, both of which it was long ago evident that we are losing, the shredding of the Constitution, the explosion of the deficit and the collapse of the financial system, will anything be left undamaged? Will there be nothing left but a smoking rubble?

Should we all be listening to "We're Living in the Last Days Now," as recorded in the 1940s by the Bailes Brothers?

According to Leon Panetta, "It's close to an impossible situation. The next guy, whoever he is, will be a one-term president -- if he is lucky."

So here we sit, pondering the distinct possibility that whatever comes after Bush will be worse!

Optimistic Republicans can look forward, if they dare, to the swearing in of President John McMaverick, who promises to continue the same economic and military policies as Bush, but with more reform and fewer earmarks for "my fellow prisoners."

Pessimistic Democrats are trying not to imagine a President No Drama who would lack the money (or the will) to introduce anything more than minor variations on those same Bush policies (such as more emphasis on the war we are losing in Afghanistan and less on the one we're losing in Iraq), but with better rhetoric and fewer mispronounced words.

In two debates now, neither candidate has had anything compelling to say about the worsening financial crisis.

You don't have to be a third party supporter to imagine how different those debates might have been had Ralph Nader been included. Substantive things would have been uttered, possibly by more than one candidate, who knows?

(On the other hand, has anything substantive ever been said anywhere, by anyone, when Tom Brokaw was in the room?)

If John McCain still wants to save his campaign, he should throw yet another Hail Mary pass and announce his intention to offer Nader a position in his Cabinet, arguing that the one politician who saw all this coming should be sitting at the table when the fate of the American economy is being decided.

Barack Obama, with his lead in the polls, can probably run out the clock without taking any such risk. Whether he will ascend to a presidency still worth having, or spend his weary term cleaning up Bush's miserable mess with the country forced to live on a shoestring, is another story.

Maybe people who are counting on Obama to reveal himself as something like a true progressive in his Inaugural Address are right. Maybe this situation is sufficiently appalling to shock the corporate centrist out of him. Stranger things have happened. For the moment it seems merely to have stunned him.

Maybe the pundits, for all their predictable gushing about history being made, are in fact underestimating the symbolic power of having a mixed race person in the White House. Maybe "how does it feel?" really is a better and more urgent question than "what does it mean?"

Or do the nation's prospects after 16 years of Clinton and Bush warrant putting a new sign on the White House gate: "Abandon Hope, all ye who enter here"?

It could be that the best argument for voting for Obama is the one put forward by an old cynic in my hometown: "Throw the bums out, we need some new bums."

I know this: Waylon Jennings said, "Be careful of anything that's just what you want it to be."

So Democrats beware.

The Republicans had everything they ever wanted: eight years of a right wing Republican president, with conservative Republicans running both the House and the Senate for six of them.

Look where it got them.

If the Democrats control the White House and both branches of Congress for 6-8 years, and manage only to make things worse, then both major parties will have been exposed as frauds, and maybe our two-party/one-agenda regime will come crashing down along with everything else in this system-eating system of ours.

"You say that like it's a bad thing," I imagine the reader responding.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Northwest Pianorama at the Winthrop Blues Festival

Three short videos from the Northwest Pianorama set at the 2008 Winthrop Rhythm & Blues Festival have been posted online.

See them here, here and here.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Waterfront Blues Festival Time

This week I'll be in Portland for some appearances at the Waterfront Blues Festival.

On Thursday, our Northwest Blues Pianorama show will debut at the festival in the afternoon. Then I'll do a boogie-woogie workshop, and that night the whole Pianorama gang will wail away at the University Place Hotel, a few blocks from the festival site.

Friday it's a blues cruise with my trio, then another evening show at University Place Hotel, this time with my pal Reggie Houston, direct from Fats Domino's band.

To celebrate, here's a live track recorded during our set at last year's festival. Maybe someday we'll put the whole thing out. It's a free download, so knock yourself out!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Backstage with Bo

Peter Dammann is blogging the Waterfront Blues Festival this year, and he has a nice account of our gig with Bo Diddley in 2005, shortly before this article appeared in Rolling Stone.

I'd like to add a couple of things. Our gig with Bo came 45 years after I first saw him perform, when he was at the height of his fame. To this day I have never seen an artist destroy an audience the way Bo Diddley did that day in Birmingham, accompanied only by Jerome Green on maracas and Clifton James on drums.

Nearly every article since Bo's death has listed all the major artists who were supposedly "influenced" by the Bo Diddley beat, from Buddy Holly to Bruce Springsteen and U2. That's one way to look at it. But it's one thing to extend "credit," and quite another to deal in cash. There's an old saying: the dollar make you holler.

I guess it depends on whether you regard the blues as a quarry to be mined, or as a community you'd like to enter. If it's nothing but some kid of resource deposit, loot it and leave. The sooner you go away, the better.

But if it's a community, and you want to be part of it, then you need to show some respect.

Bo made no secret how he felt about it; to him, the "Bo Diddley beat" was "not just a beat; it's a melody and a rhythm pattern." If you're a musician, and you wrote a song using Bo's signature beat, then to my mind you had two choices: respect his contribution and pay him for it, or go on paying him "tribute" by refusing to listen to his opinion.

Obviously I'm not talking about bands just starting out or playing low-money gigs. I'm talking about people getting rich off somebody else's creativity.

Even the New York Times obituary described Bo as a man 'Who Gave Rock His Beat.' I can just imagine Bo saying, "I didn't give them anything. They took it."

The silver lining, if there is one, is that -- again, according to Bo -- of all those bands that appropriated his beat, not too many of them got it right. Most didn't even come close. If you don't believe me, go listen to some of them. Then let the needle drop on "Bo Diddley." The first ten seconds will explain it far better than I ever could.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Carol Sanders, R.I.P.

I learned yesterday that singer Carol Sanders died this week. Carol and I worked together for a couple of years in a Houston jazz combo called Straight No Chaser. She was a dear friend, an authentic trouper, and a real professional. She treated everyone she met with the same decency and respect.

I had the opportunity to play many gigs with her and the late drummer Irv Feldt (usually with Jimmy Ford on alto and Jay Berg, who had played with Charlie Parker, on trumpet). She showed up and brought her 'A' game to every one of them.

Although I hadn't seen her in almost ten years, I held her in the highest regard. She did me the great honor of singing one of my songs, just one of her many kindnesses. My condolences to all who loved her -- and deepest sympathy to any Houston musician who never got to play with her.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

On the Radio -- Sort Of

My thanks to Tom D'Antoni and Art Levine for having me as a guest on their new Blog Talk Radio show.

You can listen online anytime at

The segment was called "Should Progressives Try To Get Democrats Elected?"

We had a pretty interesting discussion with Tim Carpenter of "Progressive Democrats of America" about the 2008 presidential election.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Sneak Preview

Watch a short video of Jean-Paul Vest and Last Charge of the Light Horse, in the studio at work on their next CD. Their last one (Getaway Car) was named indie album of the year in 2005.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Drop the Coin Right Into the Slot

Actually, you don't need any money. The all-new NW Blues PIANORAMA jukebox is officially open. Hear portions of the January 10 Seattle performance, recorded live at the Triple Door.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Thank You Seattle, Tacoma and Port Townsend!

Last week's NW Blues Pianorama shows were a blast! DK Stewart, Kenny 'Blues Boss' Wayne and yours truly were backed by what is surely now the hardest working band in show business, the rhythm section from the Paul deLay Band.

All three venues were packed, and the crowds were amazing. We get to meet a lot of cool people at blues shows, but it usually happens at summer festivals, not in the dead of winter! The turnout at the Triple Door in Seattle -- on a midweek night in January -- was especially gratifying.

It was a real treat to join up with such great piano players. On the numbers where we all played together, all I can say is that I've never had so much fun onstage.

We're just gonna have to do this more often!

Monday, January 7, 2008

But He Doesn't Believe In Evolution!

In the mood for footage of presidential candidate Mike Huckabee -- in his previous capacity as governor of Arkansas -- being duped into congratulating Canada for "preserving your national igloo"?

Saturday, January 5, 2008


I'll be playing some PIANORAMA shows this week in western Washington:
I'll be joined by two great piano players who both know how to get the butter from the duck: DK Stewart, a real "musician's musician," and the fabulous Kenny 'Blues Boss' Wayne.

The highlight should be the boogie-woogie summit when we all play together, backed by the award-winning rhythm section from the Paul deLay Band.

The show has received some nice press attention in Seattle and Tacoma.