Saturday, October 11, 2014

Urge for Going

This song was on my solo play lists for all the early years I was a performer in the local clubs and restaurants.   I'd learned it from the cover by George Hamilton IV on a 45 my family owned.   I wouldn't know about Joni Mitchell for some years to come.  It was the evocative haunting imagery that captured me and remained with me.

A few days ago I decided to cover it with friend, RickVan Nostrand.   A song of the season so to speak.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Percy Sledge and The Jackson County All Honky Band

Even on the D-list as a player your path will occasionally cross with the B-list and A-list famous.  Over the years I've met and worked with some rather famous people not because I am or should be but because it is a business where sometimes one is hired to fill a space and if one can reasonably do that, one does,

That is how I played a gig in a pick-up band for Percy Sledge.   I am reminded of this because today in Sheffield, a historic plaque was erected on the spot where Percy recorded his hit, When A Man Loves A Woman.   Percy attended, members of the Muscle Shoals elite were there and a concert to help him pay his bills is being held.   The Tribe looks after its own when they can't help themselves and A-list or D-list, they do what they do best:  put on a show.  And that's a grace of being a musician.

But that's not the story of the Jackson County All Honky Band.   This is.

Without naming names, the club owner, a courtly Italian fellow, hired a local lady who played minimal keyboard and sang to hire other musicians to be his backup band at a one night stand. Some of the people hired are names locally so I won't name names.    Most are dead and one is dangerous.

Most had never played together before and had been given lyrics with single letter chord changes, and few had ever heard any Percy excepf for WAMLAW. The songs as a lot of soul is seemed simple but it's all in the rhythm and if you don't know it, you can't fake it.    Me,  I can play Bach but in those days I did not boogie so I was a space filler because another musician backed out or wouldn't work the gig for the scratch offered.   The Other Guitar player who recruited me said it would be easy, he'd show me the licks and off we headed to Scottsboro, a city famous for selling lost airline suitcases full of other people's clothes and a miscarriage of justice still talked about whenever someone wants to play the race card on PBS.

We got together the afternoon of the show for the half hour of rehearsal Percy allowed. As usual he rolled up in a limo-of-sorts driven by his nephew, a rather quietly intense kid.  He looked at us and asked "Do YOU know MY music?"   We all smiled and said we did.  We didn't but this is entertainment and entertainment is about faking it even if you aren't making it.   We played the hit ok and then he got to the rest of his thirty minute set. At one point he turned around, looked at us and laughed a deep serious laugh.  I figured we would all be fired on the spot.. Then he said, "How long have y'all played together?" The other guitar player who was actually a rather good player said, "About 45 minutes. We're the Jackson County All Honky Band." Percy laughed out loud and said, "I thought so."  He just smiled and headed back to the limo with his nephew. 

The show was way way underattended.   In a room meant to hold a thousand plus, maybe a hundred people came.  We waited an extra half hour but then they turned on all the disco lights and Percy led us through the fog of our pasty whiteness.   It could have been worse except for two black gals who danced the daring dance and every time he hit a long high note, they screamed like they were having the ultimate expression of female fecundity. "AHHHHH!!!! PERRRRCY!!" The band sucked bad and the nephew dressed as Percy was in a fine tux, stood on the side looking at me like he was going to personally take me out back and teach me the beat one beating at a time. 

You had to give Percy credit; he sang, he sweated, and occasionally looked over his shoulder at the band with a look of pain, as if he could summon with his own personal magic soul some semblance of a beat he could stand on from a band that was as pale as the moon above.  He was relentless.  He gave it all he had for fifteen minutes then he ended the show.  

The courtly Italian dude was obviously losing his shirt but Percy was going to be paid regardless. One of the band members was crabbing because he expected his wife whom he brought as a backup singer to be paid. The manager told the other guitar player to get him out of there quick.   In music circles, that is a let-off, meaning if we did as we were told, we were off the hook and the Italian would square it with his backers.  Not a meeting one wants to go to, best to do as asked and we did.

Percy was being real polite and nice because he could see we were ... embarassed and said some nice and totally untrue things about our playing.   The Other Guitar Player thanked Percy, grabbed me and said "Let's split, pronto". And we did,   tails tucked and pedal to the metal all the way back to Mad County.

Percy Sledge is a real professional and a legend.  My guess is none of that evening registered and he forgot it all on the drive home through the cool green hills of North Alabama.   I don't want to run into his nephew these decades later because I still can't play soul worth a beating.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Thank You, Patrick Macnee. Salud, John Steed!

Television has a long history of heroes from the virile Wyatt Earps of the 1950s to the rough hewn Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs of today.  Yet few have ever been as cunning, classy and laissez faire as The Avenger John Steed.

While the series changes considerably in cast, tone and special efffects over the eight year run, John Steed is the single constant throughout.  As young boys, we all fell in love with his beautiful assistants, yet it was Steed who shaped our characters, who demonstated qualities that would serve us well as young men and older men.  He was polished, unfaiingly polite even when he took advantage of his assistant's skills, always the courteous companion.  Even when taken by their charms, he was ready to serve, ready to defend and never stood in their way or questioned their judgement.  He was in fact, the perfect gentleman.

This is a character almost impossible to find on television today and as we wind through the zeitgeist when everything about men's behavior toward women and others is being questioned, young boys would do well to emulate the ever bowlered John Steed.  If in fact the character of Steed owed his witty ripostes to his writers and his wardrobe to the best of British and French clothing designers, he owed his gentlemanly manners to the actor that portrayed him, Patrick Macnee.   While Macnee would go on to play other TV characters including the notorious Cylon Nebeli in the original Starship Gallactica, he is best remembered for his portrayal of John Steed.

As an older man, a Southerner, someone born in the counry to the country folk of Alabama, it seems right to thank Patrick Macnee for John Steed.  Art reaches further than we know and molds characters in ways and at distances often unknown to the artist.  Macnee showed us how a man could be both refined and a man of action, cunning and kind and that a woman must be treated as an equal and a partner.  If his diction was crisp, he was never condescending.  If his walk was slow, his back was straight.  And every person be they high born or the village drunk was accorded courtesy. 

This is what it is to be a well-bred man and whether it is a quality of birth in some or self-made character in others, it can be taught by example. If ths is a credit to Macnee's acting skills or to the evolution of the character, it little matters. Both achieve a perfection of an archetypal good man, admirable, to be respected, cherished and remembered.

So my hat is off to Patrick Macnee and wherever he is, let him know he taught well and for that many are grateful.  I wish there were more of him.

Salud, John Steed.  Thank you, Patrick Macnee.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Little Bird Whispers

A little bird whispers into the ear of a monster, Qaddiysh,
A secret that wounds the heart of darkness.

There is a light that cannot be unshone.
There is a love that cannot be undone.
Two sparks separated by a million years
Two hearts with a single rhythm
Can never be apart, can never be alone
Are ever one. Dark Angel, one.

Space pushes every point in heaven and earth
Time shares every cry in the pain of birth
Your strength, your will, your malefaction
Are swallowed without your satisfaction

What cannot be counted cannot be destroyed
Your impotent pleasure strikes into a void.

Though the fires you set rage across the fields
The corn still stands, the wheat still waves
The winds blow gentle, the hot sky yields
The rains that harvest's bounty saves.

Though demon legions you command to come from hell's dominion
To scar the faces now upturned with eyes firm fixed on heaven
I sit here on your shoulder freely singing that song given
By love to all from whom the light your presence now is driven.

len bullard - sept 17 2014

Saturday, September 13, 2014

You Have Cancer: You WILL Beat This

So far so good.

Cancer treatment is orders of magnitude better these days as they are much better with dosing in chemo. Radiation is still a bitch. There are a few pointers.

Attitude is everything.

People will hear and become somewhat death obsessed. If you are the patient, the first day you are told is just... awful. Scary. And the next week or so aren't much better. Then attitude kicks in, the sense of humor and that is good. But people start dropping by who think they are seeing you for the last time and you want to be polite but don't listen. Get this fixed in your mind: YOU are going to beat this.

And the odds are good you will.

You have a long stretch of the legs to travel, so this is a time that it is ok to put yourself first. Selfish isn't.

Steroids: if your treatment includes steroids, they don't call them rage roids for nothing. Word. I took a good friend's head off one night on FB for nothing important. Soooo... when taking roids, social media isn't.

Depending on the treatment, it's mostly inconvenient but what you will see at a cancer institute is often worse than what you are enduring. I won't get into it here but if you are even mildly empathetic, some of it is heartbreaking. On the other hand, the staff at these centers do the work of saints and you'll be treated as well as you ever will be in your life. Keep in mind they are seeing what you are seeing every day. Appreciate that. Attitude is everything,

Last and touchy for some, if medical marijuana ever comes up in your state, vote for it. It works. Enuff said.

Treatment is not without side effects. The main one is fatigue. Over the course of typically six months it will wear you down. Get sleep, don't fret about it. You need it. Not everyone loses all their hair. Agains it depends on the treatment. Most thin out but that comes back. There was a lady in our group who had a box of wigs and every one was named. She pulled out one long red haired wig and said "My husband really likes Raquel" and smiled.

Attitude is everything.

Another problem is your immune system will go to zero. Some people choose to stay home for most of the treatment. I worked in a surgical mask because I had a job where people needed to know I could be there. Some can; some can't. Choose for yourself but this is a good time to have a hobby you can do alone because you do need to control who has close access to you. I composed a Latin mass (with full orchestration and four part harmony in the spirit of Arlo Guthrie). When asked why, I said that when I die I don't want the funeral home to play bad Amazing Grace and at my last gig, dammit, it would be MY music. If that seems odd, the point is simply take this time to do the work that makes you feel most satisfied. That way you keep anxiety down and you will feel better. Whatever you do best, whatever makes you feel that you are in control of your life, do that.

Attitude is everything.

Cheers. It is tough but you are going to beat this and when you do, you will change and for the better. This is a disease that will get your attention, make you cherish what is worth cherishing, and rise up.

Good hunting!

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