Friday, May 30, 2008

Conservatives out of ideas?


I have to say I was loving listening to Rush Limbaugh yesterday, as he bashed his party's flag carrier John McCain, with the kind of vigor he usually saves for the Clintons.

McCain had offended the porker host by questioning the profiteering of telecommunications execs, an affront to those who claim there is a "free market," (not one that gets government boosts at every opportunity, something that McCain seems to understand).

I wanted to call in and say, "Rush, if this is the best your party can offer, what does that say about your party?"

But a great New Yorker piece said it for me. Check out "The Fall of Conservatism" here. It traces the roots of the current movement to Richard Nixon's attacks on the left, and shows that the current batch of conservatives, with their propaganda wing on radio, knows how to win elections far better than it knows how to govern.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Mississippi: Home of the Blues


Everyone knows that Mississippi is the home of the blues. It's the place Robert Johnson supposedly met the Devil at the Crossroads and was given the vision of the music, like Moses getting those tablets.

But until I went there, I don't think I really understood the blues, and I've been a big fan most of my life.

It didn't take a Devil to make this music. Just hanging in this land of blistering heat, sweltering cotton fields and bottomless poverty, the soul of this sad and heroic music quickly became clear.

The blues is living in a see-through home, where you can see always see daylight through the cracks in the wood walls.

(Tunica moon)

It's feeling like you are underwater, always weighted down by the humidity and heat. And this is only spring.

It's looking at buildings and not being able to tell if they are about to be torn down, or are open for business.

The blues is going to the local pharmacy, which has a quaint 1940s-style ice cream fountain, and an armed guard because people are cashing pay checks here to pay their phone bills. Even the cops are on line to pay their bill at noon, before the phone is shut off.

It's seeing Muddy Waters shack reconstructed in the lovely and new Blues Museum in Clarksdale (built in the old train station), and realizing that you can see the same shack, occupied, just down the street. (PS, every blues musician I met said he stole a piece of Muddy's shack for inspiration...and Billy Gibbon's of ZZ Top has a guitar made from it. Either that thing is going to fall down, or it's not all original anymore.)

(Muddy's cabin)

It's getting a bucket of crawfish and fighting hard with them for a tiny sliver of poor man's lobster, and knowing your hands and clothes will smell of it for a week.

It's smoking allowed just about everywhere. Why the rush not to die?

It's hearing music on every corner, late into the night. And then, when the bars close, jamming until dawn, and basking in a little bit of cool air.

I was passing through too briefly to attend the Blues Awards in Tunica, Miss. at a new Harrah's casino. Despite being new, there was a lot to be desired in this Disneyfied version of the blues.

The only food in the hotel after midnight was from vending machines or a hamburger stand and the vending machine was broken. The best thing about it? The air conditioning. And the wireless connection worked.

The awards were nice, especially seeing them go to people over 60, 70, 80 and hearing them say, "good things come to those who wait." I saw Bettye Lavette drunk in the hotel, dancing. I saw big winner Bobby Rush in the elevator. He had to skip getting two of his awards because he had to pack and hit the road by 3 a.m. for his next gig.

I saw too many bluesmen carrying their own bags through the airport.

Next day, I went to Clarksdale, the small town by the crossroads of Highways 61 and 49, a place of Baptists and blues. Realtors here put crosses on their signs, letting you know of their devotion: money and God.

Others try to capitalize on the blues. There's a cotton museum in town, that was never open while I was there, but you could see the big bale of cotton outside.

The rock museum had a lot of posters and a guy playing boogie woogie piano, who wanted $5 for the privilege of seeing his artifacts. "I gotta make a living."

I had been in Japan a few weeks earlier...and Mississippi was a lot more alien. I asked a woman for a bag to carry the T-shirt I bought from her.

"What?"
"A bag."
"A what?"
"To carry the T-shirt," I said with the same hand signals I used in Japan.
"Oh, you mean a sack. I haven't heard a Yankee talk in a long time."

The locals were friendly enough. More friendly than in Japan. They came right up to me and started talking, where ever I was. They could tell I wasn't from there, and were curious about why anyone would visit.

Yet, in all that poverty, the actor Morgan Freeman has a five star restaurant, and owns part of a blues club that has big-name talents all week long and draws more tourists than locals.

That's the real blues. The people born in the middle of it don't really listen much. A hip-hop club would do better.


Soul singer Jackie Payne, from Alameda, outside Ground Zero





me at delta hardware...

Backstage photos from Phil Lesh's last show

Here are some images of the last night at the Warfield.





Hey Lesh fans, wanna check out the hottest young jam band in the country? Check out some Jason Ricci videos below. He is the Derek Trucks of harmonica...and his guitarist is the Derek Trucks of guitar....check it out. You'll know what I mean.

PS: Lesh obviously has great ears, picking up on Jackie Greene, Trucks and others early.














Monday, May 19, 2008

REVIEW: Phil Lesh and Friends Close the Warfield



"This is like the old days,"Phil Lesh told the sold-out crowd at the last night of his 5-night Warfield run, the last night the leased venue will be controlled by Live Nation, which bought Bill Graham Presents, the company that ran the theater for three decades.
"We play what we feel like playing. I don't know Jerry, what do you feel like playing?"

WOW. Lesh, who spent the first four nights playing entire Dead albums, this time tried some wonderful experiments. He Bob Weir and drummer John Molo opened the first set as a trio, running through the Beatles "Come Together" and the Dead's classic jam, "Dark Star."

"We've always wanted to do that," Lesh said. It harkened back to the days when the Dead was the most experimental band on the planet, and it was refreshing after all these years without leader Jerry Garcia to front the long, strange trip.

A long wonderful night followed, lasting from 9 p.m. to 3:30 a.m., with an after party thrown by the Live Nation folks for their employees starting after that.

The band changed with each set: Jackie Greene and Larry Campbell did a bluegrass set, like Garcia used to do; Greene and Tim Bluhm from Mother Hips did a spacier set too. Lesh, Mark Karan and band played Dead tunes, like the Sugar Magnolia below.

They closed the night with "I Know You Rider," with its chorus "Gonna miss me when I'm gone," "Truckin," with the line "What a long strange trip it's been," and "And I Bid You Goodnight," which closed old Dead shows in the 1969 era.

This was the kind of week that makes you glad to be a Californian. Deadheads in other states and countries can only lust about the still blooming musical fruit we get here on a regular basis...

This was a night for the ages, and a week that will go down in Dead history.


Saturday, May 17, 2008

Buzzing off the Phil Lesh shows


Phil Lesh is covering Grateful Dead albums in order, as part of his farewell to the Warfield shows...

Here's a report I filed for Premiere Radio network....All I can say here is that the Workingman's Dead/American Beauty show was so good, so focused, so well played and adventurous, that I want to be a Deadhead again. It was some of the most joyful music I've heard in decades.

I'll be back Sunday....with a video....dying to see whether they play all albums in order, or skip to just the studio ones.

Also, I had written about Jackie Greene years ago from a singer/songwriter festival at Villa Montalvo, in Saratoga. Nice to see him taking on this role. I knew he'd be big and he really has been the best thing to happen to Phil and Friends in years.

Bands have recently gone back to play entire old albums live (Roger Waters with "Dark Side of the Moon," for example)--but the Grateful Dead's Phil Lesh took it to the limit this week, revisiting the Dead's LP career in order for a week. Friday night was the first time in four decades that Deadheads knew exactly what to expect next, as Lesh and friends covered "Workingman's Dead" and "American Beauty," the two 1970 albums that helped bring the jam band into the mainstream, with tightly-focused country rock songs and big radio hits such as "Casey Jones" and "Truckin'.'" Of course the band stretched them like Silly Putty. They sped up the "driving that train/high on cocaine" line faster and faster to close out "Casey Jones." Guest Teresa Williams led an almost a cappella "Attics of my Life" and sparked some of the best singing in Dead memory. Lesh's band included Larry Campbell on guitar, violin and pedal steel, John Molo on drums Steve Molitz on keyboards and Sacramento singer-songwriter Jackie Green, who does a great job channeling the voices of both Bob Weir and Jerry Garcia on vocals, piano and guitar. They were joined on songs he recorded with the band originally by David Nelson, of the New Riders of the Purple Stage. Guitarist Mark Karan joined them Wednesday night, as they played "Aoxomoxoa" and "Live Dead," and Weir guested Tuesday for 1967's debut "The Grateful Dead" and 1968's "Anthem of the Sun." The five-night set, spread over six days, ended Sunday and marked the closing of San Francisco's Warfield Theater, which was being taken over by AEG, after being operated for more than 30 years by Bill Graham Presents and Live Nation. The Dead collectively and in offshoot bands were the musicians who played the most shows at the theater, including a long 1981 run that was recorded for two LP's. Crowds outside the 2,200 seat theater were as thick as those inside. Deadheads set up a marketplace along San Francisco's Market Street and danced to recorded band tunes.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Back from Clarksdale Miss, home of the crossroads



That was Jason Ricci, the headliner of the 12-hour-long Delta Groove records show, Friday. Lot's more to come in a bit.

Stones fans and Zeppelin fans should check this band out. I think they are the best band on the road today.

Here's more:

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Tokyo Stories: Jake Adelstein and the Mob

One of the highlights of my recent Tokyo trip was meeting Missouri-born cop reporter Jake Adelstein, who covered police for a daily newspaper in Tokyo, and has run afoul of the mob there.

I didn't want to write anything until this article came out.

You can see why when you read it. Adelstein says he thinks this story may save his life, getting attention on the hit that has been ordered on him, and on the lack of response from law enforcement. I hear other newspapers, including the LA Times, are following the story today.

Adelstein took me and my friends around Tokyo, to a Euro-trash bar opening party and to a quaint jazz club. He had cops living in his house and watching him 24/7....but never mentioned, as he does in this story, that the Japanese mob likes to take out people around their victim as well.

I knew I felt a little twitchy around him for a reason.

Regardless, radio hosts will want to book him when his book comes out...He's a great story teller and has views of Japan that no other American has seen. At his home, he showed me a tape of a mob ceremony that members had to pay $10,000 a piece to view.

Monday, May 5, 2008

One inch wide; two miles deep; the Japanese mind


So says my friend Andrew Morse, who fancies himself a journalist.

Morse gave me an awesome tour of Tokyo, including a series of small bars in districts tourists rarely find. The bars seat nine or 10 people, and each has a specialized theme.

We saw three that did nothing but play blues music; one that only played the music of the Who; one that just played old jazz on vinyl records.

They were glorious, my favorite things about the spotless, thriving city of 12 million. You could walk in and communicate with music, the universal language, even when there was no common verbal language.

At one bar called Bar Comforts, the owner picked up a guitar and jammed with me on harmonica. All by telepathy. Then, he played the music of harmonica player Little Walter, on whom he was an expert.

That's when Morse made his comment about the Japanese mind.

"He won't know other music. He won't know rock, or reggae. But he will know everything about the blues. And maybe just a small piece of the blues, like 1938. But he will know everything about that. One inch wide, two miles deep."

I had some further proof of the Japanese love for music when I visited Tower Records there (it survives there; Japanese still buy disks and don't steal the music with downloads). There were two obscure Delta Groove albums I wrote bios and liner notes for, displayed prominently: "Command Performance," by the Legendary Rhythm and Blues Band; and "We Can Be Together," by Sean Costello, who died in mid April.

I've never seen them displayed stateside and had to buy them with the Japanese writing. I can't believe I had to travel 9,000 miles to find some great Delta blues.

I'll take the two miles deep, if it means that you get into what you are into with this kind of passion. Even, if it means you have to dress up like the Mariachi on this page.

(PS: I'll be at the Blues Awards in Memphis Thursday, with Delta Groove artists Jason Ricci, Jackie Payne and Steve Edmonson.)

Hell hasn't frozen over, but Savage got it right


He's slowly sounding more liberal, back to his 1960s purse-toting, gay-loving self, slamming Republican corruption and joining with animal rights groups.

I agree strongly with arch conservative Michael Savage's view of the Kentucky Derby and the shooting to death of the filly Eight Belles. Of course, Savage was reaching out of the box himself and agreeing with PETA.

I thumbed through 13 newspapers yesterday, including the New York Times, and never saw mention of how the young champion horse was killed.

Every story said it was "euthanized," implying that it was given some kind of humane lethal injection. Not one paper reported what probably happened: the horse was shot in the head, right there on the track, surrounded by drapes, so the public couldn't see.

Why wasn't the horse taken away by ambulance and treated, one wonders?

Some reports said that because both legs were broken, it couldn't make it into the truck.

Bull.

Savage got the reason right: Insurance will pay for a prize horse that dies in a race on the track, but won't pay for an injured horse that has to be treated and won't race again.

It's all economics, as is this disgusting "Sport of Kings."

You think in a country where we can transplant a heart, that we can't repair a horse's broken legs and let it live a life grazing peacefully?

PETA notes that in Europe, horses aren't allowed to race until they are three and their bones have fully developed. In the States, they start at 18 months, making them more prone to injury.

Also: there were 20 horses crowded on the field. Why? More betting money.

I'm disgusted with American journalism for not telling its readers and viewers how the horse is "euthanized, " and even for using this euphemism. What happened to telling the truth, to reporting the full details?

If someone shot a bank teller in the head, would they call that euthanasia too?

Every newspaper in this country is running scared, afraid to offend its readers and more importantly, its advertisers.

With half-assed reporting like this, maybe we really won't miss newspapers when they are gone.

They are euthanizing journalism right before our eyes.

Glory Glory Japan, Heaven for Electronics


As I walked around the biggest electronics store I'd ever seen in my life in the "Electric City" district of Tokyo that is also called Akihabara, the strains of a familiar song kept jumping into my brain.

It had happy Japanese words and was repeated over and over. What was that tune?

OMG: It's the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" with new peppy words that sounded like they were saying this is a happy place to shop. It's the theme song of Akihabara, which is a huge Times Square-like district devoted to electric necessities and toys ,and it has me wondering: is the Battle Hymn based on some ancient samurai tune, or did they rip this once solemn song from the public domain?

On weekends costumed anime characters wander around. The rest of the time, people with bullhorns shout out the latest sales.

Imagine the biggest Fry's you've seen. Add seven stories to it and high end products with testing rooms and then multiply it by 30 buildings and you have Akihabara. Don't forget to throw in a handful of goofy restaurants where Japanese women in Merry Maids costumes will bat their eyes at you and talk to you, if you buy a $20 cup of coffee (no pictures allowed, the signs say).

Basically, I wanted EVERYTHING there except the maids. The new tube amplifiers for iPods are genius. An iPod never sounded this good. I went back three times to listen, just waiting for the day I can afford one (a great system would be $3,200). They make the music sound "anarogue," as one of the jazz cafes I visited, that played only vinyl records boasted.

And, oh yeah, the toilet seats.

They may not be a big conversation piece in the States, but 70 percent of the homes in Japan have heated toilet seats with built in nozzles that shoot warm water at your private parts.

It seems that every foreigner who tries them thinks about buying one, and there are big toilet seat sections in the Akihabara stores with directions and advice in English for foreigners. There was a steady stream of them in Akihabara, including a Russian cardiac surgeon I talked to, asking about toilet seat voltage.

For a minute I thought that this could be my fortune, bringing the greatest toilet seats the world has known back to the U.S.

Then, I found out San Francisco entrepreneur Scott Pinnozzotto has done even better, building his own Swash seats for Brondell, and selling them at Bed, Bath and Beyond.

There goes my shot at the anarogue system.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

The mainstream media ignores corruption in Iraq, even when Congress hears about it

Read this depressing story in Mother Jones....Hello...talk show hosts.....why didn't I hear about this on the radio..

Hey, Dr. Bill Wattenburg....you helped get us over there, how about a reality check now??

Friday, May 2, 2008

Don't Miss KGO Live: a chance to meet your favorite hosts

This is really a great event: the Bay Area's most popular station brings out its hosts for a huge meet and greet.

Get the details here.