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The historic Muddy Waters house is rolling and tumbling into another chapter.

On Friday Larry “Mud” Morganfield, the oldest son of Muddy Waters and long time Chicago music attorney Jay B. Ross are scheduled to place an offer on the vacant home at 4339 S. Lake Park.

Waters (a.k.a. McKinley Morganfield) lived in the house between 1954 and 1974, the fertile years of the merging of blues and rock n’ roll. The house has been listed for a $100,000 short sale.

The Muddy Waters house was built in 1879. It was on the Landmark Illinois 2013 Ten Most Endangered Historic Places list.

Ross said that if the bank accepts the offer, the group has 90 days to raise a minimum $120,000, which would also cover liens and closing fees. Donations are accepted at Morganfieldfoundation.org.

“Enough is enough,” Morganfield said Thursday in a conference call with Ross. “I called a handful of relatives from Rolling Fork, Miss and my brother Big Bill (Morganfield, Blind Pig recording artist) and asked Mr. Ross to spearhead this for us. We want to save the property.”

The house could be the same kind of tourism magnet for Chicago as was the early days of Graceland for Memphis or the still lively Louis Armstrong House in Queens,  N.Y., which should be a model for the Muddy Waters House.

Muddy jammed with his piano player Otis Spann and drummer Willie “Big Eyes” Smith in the basement of the house. Howlin’ Wolf stayed briefly in the North Kenwood home before finding his own pad. Chuck Berry visited the house and Mike Bloomfield held court with Muddy in the living room. All that was electric mud.

Courtesy of the Muddy Waters Estate

Courtesy of the Muddy Waters Estate

 

Ross said, “We have a tall mountain to climb. The alderman has to help us get a zoning variation if we want an educational center and a museum to be part of the house. But most people realize the importance of Muddy Waters to Chicago, to Illinois, to the United States and the world.”

This is where I get as mad as a Delta catfish in a barrel.

On Thursday the Sun-Times and Tribune featured reports of the city’s excitement about a potential George Lucas Museum. What does George Lucas have to do with Chicago? That won’t stop Mayor Emanuel from establishing a “task force” to identify sites.

Where’s the “task force” for the Muddy Waters house? The Chess Records studio, still one of the city’s most untapped musical sites. The mythical Chicago Blues Museum? A Gospel Music Hall of Fame?

Chicago should be ashamed of the way it treats  its deep musical heritage. City of Chicago Cultural Historian Tim Samuelson told me the Muddy Waters house is the most historically significant home in Chicago.

And it sits empty and boarded up.

There is currently an effort in St. Louis to have a historic plaque placed on the downtown site where the prostitute Frankie shot “Johnny” and became the blues standard “Frankie And Johnny,” covered by Lead Belly, Mississippi John Hurt and many others. That site is actually on a concourse near section 102 or 103 of the new Scottrade Center, according to Bill McClellan of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Earlier this week Ross reached out to Dylan Rice, Director of Creative Industries-Music for the City of Chicago’s Dept. of Cultural Affairs & Special Events.  ”Any time someone has a plan to celebrate an iconic Chicago blues legend like Muddy Waters, I think it’s fantastic and very exciting,” Rice told me in a Thursday e-mail. “As a legacy genre, Chicago blues keeps inspiring the masses all over the world. I look forward to learning more about their plans.”

The late Willie “Big Eyes” Smith lived next door to the house. In a 2006 interview he told me, “With his experience in real estate, Leonard Chess [of Chess Records] looked the house over to make sure it was in good shape.” The house later featured outer storm doors with aluminum grilles with flamingos and Muddy’s name cast into the bottom. In the 1970s Muddy modernized the house, replacing the original wood porch with the metal canopy that remains today.

Chandra Cooper, a relative of Waters is sole owner of the house. Foreclosure activity began in the fall of 2012. The four-bedroom house was sent into Cook County Housing Court in the spring of 2013. The non-profit Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS) was appointed receivers of the house and had exterior repairs done on the north and south brick walls.

Over the summer Cooper’s attorney Erik Miles issued the statement, “Ms. Cooper’s intent is to preserve this historic landmark, which the entire community enjoys.”

Last fall Waters’ grandson Steven McKinley Monson launched a noble online fundraising campaign to save the house and held a Waters tribute at the Checkerboard Lounge in Hyde Park. His plans stalled.

Ross said, “The family is not as close as one would hope they would be.”

Morganfield added, “Muddy was ‘The Mojo Man’ but there’s Bill, there’s me, Roslyn, my sister Mercy in New York City, Joseph Morganfield and kin folks in Mississippi and California. And my step mom Marva. ” Morganfield, 59, lives in his native Chicago.

MUD MORGANFIELD

Ross has been practicing law for 46 years and has represented more blues artists than any attorney in America. He has handled the estates of Bessie Smith and Thomas A. Dorsey as well as Chicago soul singer Gene Chandler and the late James Brown for 15 years.

Muddy Waters was his first major client. “He introduced me to Willie (Dixon), who I represented and to Albert King, who I represented and Junior (Wells),” Ross said. “We were together 15 years. I personally owe him so much.”

Ross said he is trying to reach out to the Rolling Stones representatives through a client who works with James Brown’s estate. Mick Jagger co-produced the upcoming James Brown biopic “Get on Up” and certainly Keef could drop a few bucks as a nod to one of his musical mentors.

“We have a couple people in town who are considering lending us the money so we can acquire the house immediately,” Ross said. “Then we can worry about zoning and rehabbing later. The key is to get a lock on that house before some third party sees the potential and tries to buy it out from under us.”

Morganfield said, “Wouldn’t that be a shame? No one tried but Muddy’s grandson and myself.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hobo Marlin Wallace (Courtesy of Marlin Wallace)

Hobo Marlin Wallace (Courtesy of Marlin Wallace)

 

SPRINGFIELD, Mo.—Of the many things to know about Marlin Wallace, it all starts with a strong handshake. His meaningful grip was once seen on a union waterfront and along a cattle trail.

Say hello to forgotten America.
With his right hand the songwriter creates a vice-like covenant that flattens the fingers of a stranger. It is an old hand that has been hardened from 17 years of riding America’s rails as a hobo. Connections can be made in trains and in music and Wallace has spent his life chasing them down and taking notes.

He is America’s most prolific songwriter.
He gives you a gotcha-smile as he shakes a hand.
Wallace was born in Springfield in 1937, and as a teenager played his father’s violin at Springfield area square dances. He has no memories of his birthfather who died at age 47. In 1953 Wallace  got into a fight with his stepfather, who was a train operator. His stepfather’s leg was broken. Wallace was kicked out of the house. He spent time at a couple of relatives homes to live. There were no helping hands. Finally, Wallace was sent to a psychitraist. He spent three months undergoing electroshock treatment at a state hospital in Nevada, Mo.
“It slowed me down but it didn’t help nothin’,” Wallace says during a February, 2014 interview at producer Lou Whitney’s studio in downtown Springfield. “One time there was a faulty machine that didn’t knock me out. It felt like a log chain went in your spine through your head. That’s how much pain I felt. They had us lined up taking that shock stuff.”
After he was discharged and a short stint in the Army, Wallace began riding the rails.

He had to get away.
His most memorable journey was in the spring of 1966. Wallace jumped down to New Orleans, got on the Chilean freighter “Maule”which took him through the Panama Canal and down to Callalo, Peru. From there he grabbed a small airplane to Iquitos, Peru. He then floated 20 days alone in a small canoe on the Upper Amazon River.
He can prove it.
He took black and white pictures and faithfully sent postcards back to his mother in Springfield. There are several hundred postcards which documents a man’s journey into the unknown.
Wallace settled back in Springfield in 1972 and established The Corillions, which at different times is his singing group, recording label and home recording studio. He chose the name because of the Cordillera mountain range in the Philippines. Roughly translated, “Cordillera” is Spanish for “cord.”
Of course nothing has kept Wallace down.
He has copyrighted over 1,000 songs and in the late 1960s was briefly under contract with Dolly Parton’s “Parlowe” records which pressed his debut ’45 “Reno/”The Planet Mars.”
In the summer of 2004 Lou Whitney, the avatar of modern Springfield music, introduced former Morells keyboardist Dudley Brown to Wallace.
Brown immediately took Wallace under his wing.

Lou Whitney (L), Marlin (C), Dudley Brown (R), Feb. 2014 (D. Hoekstra photo)

Lou Whitney (L), Marlin (C), Dudley Brown (R), Feb. 2014 (D. Hoekstra photo)

Since that first meeting, Wallace has recorded 50 full length CDS—more than 750 songs–in less than a decade.
The DIY CDs are themed: “Drinkin’ Songs,” Train Songs,” “Outer Space Songs” and “Prison Songs” (where  the cover art is of the United States Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield where mobster John Gotti died in 2002.) All artwork is done by Springfield artists.

Brown accompanies Wallace on keyboards and produces the wonderfully unfiltered music. The duo is currently working on “Country Songs, Vol. 15.” “In 16 months we’ve done 15 CDs,” Brown says. “There’s more to go. It’s a natural part of our lives.” Brown discovered several three ring notebooks filled with sheet music along with the historic collection of post cards all stored in Wallace’s backyard shed.
“You feel the positive energy of it all being creative,” Whitney says while sitting across from Wallace in his downtown Springfield studio. He grins and adds, “This is worker productivity.”
Wallace got some nice ink in the 2012 coffee table book “Enjoy The Experience (Homemade Records 1958-1992) [Siinecure Books, New York, Los Angeles] that spoke of what Wallace is mostly known for in “outsider art” circles: he believes  Communists are zapping him with lasers. Even some of his current compact discs say, “FIGHT COMMUNISIM.” But to label Wallace as “outsider music” in the manner of the late Hasil Adkins is a grave disservice.
Wallace incorporates country, rockabilly, a smidgen of blues, rural gospel, and innocent pop (think NRBQ or Springfield’s own Skeletons.) I bought a copy of “Jungle Songs” and in an exotica background Wallace touches on primitive rap (“Jungle Jim”) and the rave-up rocker “The Jungle In Flight” where he imagines monkeys flying through the air.
Brown looks at a monkey on the cover of “Jungle Songs.”

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He says, “This is actually a local macaque. The plumber that does work on Marlin’s place owns that guy. His name is Jo Jo. When I took his picture the plumber says, ‘If Jo Jo likes you he is going to come up and do his thing.’ He didn’t really say what his thing was. So I bent down and he was super nice, but my they smell.:
Jo Jo got real close to Brown and started sucking on this neck. “I was okay with it,” Brown says. “But then I’m doing research I  learn that all macaques in captivity have this herpes B virus. And if you get one splatter in your eyeballs it can be fatal. Well, I had my glasses on, but I thought, ‘This is how I’m going to go out, getting herpes from a monkey’.”
All in the name for a Marlin Wallace CD cover.
A common thread in Wallace’s music is about longing and searching for sense of place, where Wallace draws on his hardscrabble childhood and his hobo years. “Memories of places have a bad side,” Wallace says. “You’d think a carefree hobo’s got no worries and there’s times like that. Other times I was depressed. I grew up with a lot of hate in me. I had had hate in me for years and it sticks in your gut. The Bible says ‘As a twig is bent so goes the tree.’  It’s nothing how Dudley grew up. He had a good home and a good upbringing. That didn’t happen for me.  It’s like trying to outrun the devil. I’d be traveling but going a lot further than I needed to go.
“It was like something was driving me.”
On the galloping country “Ghost Train” vocalist Alton Davis sings in bass tones about how “the devil is the engineer/keeps his crew standing near….” “Heart Full of Rain” recalls the organic guitar strumming of J.J. Cale, who was from Tulsa, just down the road from Springfield.

“Wanderin’ Soul” is another tune set rolling Tulsa-country rhythms.  Wallace’s “wanderin’ soul” is being chased by Satan with train whistles blowing in the distance.

Here is a snippet of “Wanderin’ Soul.

“Wanderin’ Soul” is the closest Wallace has come to being discovered by a mainstream audience. In 1975 late Arkansas vocalist Gary Atkinson sang “Wanderin’ Soul on the Corilllion label. In 2006 “Wanderin’ Soul” was re-released by the U.K. based Fat City Records in the compilation “45 Kings III.” That compilation wandered into the House Music scene where the gospel bass break that leads into the lyric “…Oh Satan, I hear you callin’” became a popular sample. The original ‘45 now sells for a minimum of $75 on eBay.
Wallace has never seen a penny of royalties.

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Marlin Wallace began recording music in 1977 at Nick Sibley’s Dungeon Studio in Springfield. The studio was known for nationwide commercial and jingle work. Wallace found other Ozark area vocalists to cover his songs. Wallace has sung on just two of his songs including “Wildcat Mabeline,” which ends with glass being broken and coffee cans being rattled.
“Marlin heard about me being a guy who had an ability to do this and that,” Whitney says. “He came out to see me at a bar on the south side. I was getting ready to go on a two month trip and couldn’t do it. I really, really wanted to do a song with him. Then I didn’t hear from Marlin for quite some time. We later talked songs and I think Marlin got miffed with me thinking  I was one of ‘them.’ He went home and woodshedded.”
A few years later Wallace walked into Whitney’s studio.
He carried a large briefcase with 61 cassettes of his songs.
Whitney called his long time Morells-Skeletons drummer Lloyd Hicks (now with NRBQ). “We listened a lot of the songs,” Whitney says. “I wanted to get them down a little better so Marlin didn’t have to worry about  recording. So Marlin came in on Tuesday mornings and we’d record on 10-inch reels. Every Tuesday morning. Marlin would sit there and play guitar and sing and I’d record. Marlin used local session guys at Dungeon. Lloyd played on some of them. But we never used a band.
“And we got them all.”

Marlin Wallace's lifetime of music

Marlin Wallace’s lifetime of music

In 2000 Whitney had hired Brown to play in the Morells since original keyboard player Joe Terry was on the road with Dave Alvin. Brown was a member of the Morells from 2000-05. Whitney told Brown about Wallace.
Brown, who was born in 1960 in Springfield, Mo., earned Wallace’s trust by becoming the songwriter’s advocate in shady real estate dealings. Wallace’s home and home studio is on the northwest edge of the downtown area. “Marlin was being maneuvered out of his property,” Brown says. “So I just stepped in and bought Marlin’s property. It’s the house that Marlin lives in and a bulding next to it.”
Wallace lives alone.
He says he was married once, “for about 20 years.”
Wallace sighs and says, “I could have left my house. But I had nowhere to go.”
*                                 *                                *
The singer-songwriter-hobo from Springfield, Mo. likes to wear his tattered baseball cap low as a teardrop over his eyes. His narrow face and wispy southern drawl recalls the late Levon Helm.
But one thing becomes clear: Wallace has unbending pride in his body of work, ranging from his heartfelt music to the postcards from the road which he mailed to his mother Theo Walls, a Springfield homemaker.
Brown gently picks up a large plastic binder of the postcards. Each card is organized in plastic sheets. “This is a one of a kind historical record starting on Sept. 11, 1955 and going all the way through 1972,” Brown says. “There’s some from South America. Others are just the (blank) two cent kind you could buy at the post office. Some of these stamps are awesome.”
Whitney says, “It’s chronicled. You can’t argue with it.”
Wallace explains,  “When I changed railroads I sent her the name of the railroad I was at. Each card has the initials of the railroad. I didn’t ride all the railroads, maybe 48. I rode the L&N (Louisville & Nashville), Florida East Coast.”
His first post card (9/11/55) is like a Tweet from today:
I’m in Poplar Bluff, Missouri. We’re headed for Kentucky. So long.
Springfield is a crossroads of railroads. The city was constructed on American optimism. Even the Worman House at the mega-popular Big Cedar Lodge in Branson, 30 miles south of Springfield, was built in 1921 as a rural retreat by Harry Worman, President of the Frisco Railroad.
Wallace can remember jumping his first train. He says, “In 1955  had a ‘42 Packard that broke down before I got into Pittsburgh. So I hitchiked into Pittsburgh and got freights going back to Springfield. I learned fast. When you run after it (the train) and grab the latch you get into a box car and swing your body up; they call that ‘catchin’ the train on the fly.’ Naturally, you try to get them when they are still. But jumping them is where I got the handshake.
“The boxcar grip.”
He also brought along a fiddle for his road trips. “I played in bars and passed the hat at bars in New Orleans,” he says. “I had a duffel bag with the fiddle in it and I would toss that on the train first. I was in Houston one time trying to catch the Rock Island. Boy when that came, I was running full steam and I swang that duffel bag around like it was a rag doll. You can die real quick.”

Marlin & his piranhas from his Amazon trip (Courtesy of Marlin Wallace)

Marlin & his piranhas in New Orleans before departing on his Amazon trip (Courtesy of Marlin Wallace)

In 1966 Wallace ventured out on the mother of all hobo trips when he went to South America.
“I wanted to get away from civilization,” he says. “I wanted a break from conformity. I wanted to get down to the jungle. I got a job washing dishes at the Monteleone Hotel in New Orleans waiting for this freighter to come in. I got a big double cabin to myself. I paid $150. I had a passport. I was on the ocean for three weeks. I got off at Lima. I was trying to get to the Amazon. I finally got to Iquitios (Peru), boy the river is wide there. I bought a small boat there and floated down to Leticia, Colombia (a major Amazon River port on the border of Peru) . About 360 miles. The river is pretty spooky especially when a big rain comes up. The first night I lost my flashlight.
“I decided to go to the bank of the river to take a leak. I tied up to a tree. Something was stinging all over my hand. I took the flashlight and saw my hand and arm was covered with fire ants from the tree.  I dropped my flash light and got out of there as fast as I could. I went to the middle of the river. I had trouble swimming around that Amazon.”

Marlin's picture of his New Orleans hotel before  departing for the Amazon

Marlin’s pictures of New Orleans before departing for the Amazon

But wait. There’s more.
Brown pulls out a fat, yellowed ledger. “In these sheets he documented the mileage he went on these trips,” Brown says. He then reads from the penciled notations, “South Dakota, June 9, 1961; Muskogee to Kansas City, 247 miles. K.C. to Omaha, 237 miles. Those are hot-shots, right? (No stops).” Wallace nods his head in agreement.
Brown continues, “Omaha to Sioux Falls, 177; Sioux Falls to Fort Dodge (Iowa) 197; Fort Dodge to Minneapolis 414! Minneapolis to Chicago 395, that’s a good haul too, Chicago to K.C. 414, K.C. to Springfield, Missouri 196.”
Wallace hears the numbers add up and says, “I’d come home and take out an atlas and look at the scale. I’d measure off so many miles by inch, 180 miles and so forth. Every time I made a big run I’d write it down.
“I’ve gone around the world four times, stretched out in one line.”
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Marlin Wallace still churns out songs with the force of an old steam engine.
He works each song out on guitar and then puts it on a cassette. Moving to keyboard, he will write out sheet music with staff notation along with a detailed lyric sheet. He has not performed in public since his nascent teenage fiddling days around Springfield.
“I don’t write as much as I used to,” he admits. “It takes time to finish them. Some are quick, some are slow. Sometimes when I don’t finish them people steal the material before I finish the songs. It may take me 10 years to finish a song. I can name songs they stole from me by spying on me in my own home.”

For example, Wallace says he had “Who Let the Dogs Out” poached from him. And while the 1998 Baha Men hit (which in truth came from Trinidad & Tobago Carnival season) sounds like a Wallace title, there’s more than enough good Wallace material that hasn’t been “stolen.”
Brown watches over Wallace’s songs. He says, “We make a copy of the song and do the poor man’s copyright. Then Marlin brings over the cassette, song sheet and lyric of the songs he decides for us to work up. We bang them out on the piano and get it into the computer. We now have a huge reservoir of songs to pull from.”
Wallace is a modern day Woody Guthrie. Woody was considered a “Red.” Marlin is tormented by the Reds. And just like Guthrie, his considerable travels have informed his music. “The Amazon River influenced me quite a bit,” he said. “I drank water right out of the Amazon. I’m writing a book right now.
“But I’m waiting for something good to happen.”
Whitney listens with wide eyes and the open heart that has made him one of the most empathetic producers in America. Whitney leans over and says in firm tones, “Marlin, let me tell you. If you don’t do anything else in this whole world but write all the songs you did, you have done one bunch of good stuff. Period. It doesn’t seem like that when you inch along……”
Wallace tenderly  nods his head and says, “I know it.”
Whitney continues, “…..But if you take a look at the things you have accomplished. The places you have been. The songs you have written and the interest you generated. You have accomplished quite a bit. Talking in generalities, songwriting is a young man’s game. You have to be young to think everything you do is great. As you get older you think, ‘That’s been said before.’ Marlin totally transcends that. Marlin sees material in things he knows about. He knows a lot about black widow spiders. He knows a lot about the animal kingdom. He knows a lot about history. And he writes about that stuff.
“If anybody paid attention they would see it is transformative.”
Wallace says the Communists are still harrassing  him and this angle is where people get sidetracked off the music. “It’s still happening but not as bad as it was,” he explains. “In the ‘70s it was terrible. I was kept awake all night long. The Reds put radiation attacks on me. I figured it was from satellites. They were torturing me, trying to drive me insane. They could hit me right now. The probe feels like somebody tapped you with a finger. Then they hit you with the laser, a series of twitch attacks. They have to zero in on you first. I’d hold a piece of ceramic over me to stop the attacks.
“In fact the toe on my right foot is broke from one of those attacks. In 1972 they hit me on the head with a laser. It was like my head was exploding.  I jumped out of bed and ran into a door.
“Psychological warfare.”
Just like the music business.
Communist-inspired laser attacks are one genre’ that Wallace has declined to address in an album. He reasons, “It wouldn’t be received very well to say you’re hit by lasers and tortured by reds. But I’ve written four songs about the reds like ‘Machine Guns And Machetes’ about the reds in Central America.” The track is from his “War Songs” CD that also includes “General MacArthur,” “Brave Men of Uncle Sam” and “Mekong.”
Whitney says, “Some people would read his liner notes, and Marlin and I have had this discussion, and form some kind of opinion right off the bat. A lot of people get more interested what he writes on the back of the album rather than listening to it. But if you have a chance to go deeper–you’re fortunate to have a chance to go deeper.”
The instrumental Wallace track “Judgment Day” is a work of beauty, flavored by tropical steel guitar. * I love this.

“I came back from South America and started writing those,” he says. “Somebody in Nashville started to mimic my material with the flat notes I had in there. They put out ‘Hawaii Five-O’ and all that. I came back and hit them in the head with ‘Theme From Corillions’. This isn’t ‘outsider’ music. Anybody who does anything different is ‘outside.’ It is misleading.”

Marlin Wallace Citizen Journalist (Courtesy of Marlin Wallace

Marlin Wallace Citizen Journalist (Courtesy of Marlin Wallace

Wallace grew up in the Pentecostal church but strayed as an adult. He includes scorching contemporary gospel in his repertoire such as the country-jubilee “I Will Follow The Lamb,” flavored with profound bass vocals. “You get this emotionalism in religion awfully easy,” Wallace says “Follow the Lamb’ is one of the first religious songs I wrote. It seemed real easy to write. But they tell you to pray away your troubles. I can’t go that route.”
Whitney laughs and says, “That’s like faith based toxic waste removal!”
Brown earned a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from Missouri State University. He is Manager of Information Systems (MIS) for MD Publications, Inc. (Transmission Digest, etc.) He finances the CDs.

Marlin's notes on the family (right)

Marlin’s notes on the family (upper right)

 

 

“Over the years it has added up to a lot of money,” Brown says. “It is hard to estimate what we’ve spent since 2004. We spent around $10,000 to produce the first 5 CDs. That included re-mastering of all the old vinyl recordings and then the CD production. We pressed up to 1,000 each. After that, since we hardly sold any CDs (vinyl was sold to hard core collectors) we would only press up to 50 of each release. We don’t have to book studio time. We recorded them at my home studio (in southeast Springfield.).
Wallace interrupts, “Before he came along I spent $20,000 out of my own pocket working hard labor jobs. I was a janitor at the Colonial Hotel in Springfield. I hung turkeys at Hudson’s Foods.”
Wallace worked at a now-defunct poultry processing plant in downtown Springfield. When a truck of turkeys were unloaded, a person was assigned to take the turkeys out of their cages and hang them by their feet one by one onto an overhead assembly line conveyor belt of live turkeys. The turkeys were then taken to the “kill room.” This job helped Wallace fund his DIY LPs.
In the early 1990s Brown was recruited by Skeletons-Morells guitarist Donnie Thompson to play bass and sing in The Park Central Squares (named after a park in downtown Springfield) along with drummer Katie Coffman of the Debs.

My favorite  band The Skeletons (Lou center)

My favorite band The Skeletons (Lou center)

At age 17 Brown took piano lessons from Pete Schuelzky (Queen City Punks) who schooled him on the blues scales and improvising in the classic 1-4-5 chord pattern. Schuelzky also helped Brown deconstruct Miles Davis’s “All Blues” (from 1959’s “Kind of Blue”) which gave him the sensibilities to play in ensemble and eventually collaborate with Wallace. Brown counterpoints Wallace with appointed instrumentation that is playful and purposeful.
“Marlin’s music is organic,” Brown explains. “It’s not rootsy, it is  kind of like folk. We start straight from his song sheets and his demos. We have so many songs we’ve been trying to get down for the past 10 years.  Over a thousand. We just sit down and bang out the chords on the piano. While I’m playing the piano Marlin will sing a track to a metronome where in most cases we’ve got the vocal down and a chord structure. That’s the roots of it all. You can take that and go anywhere with it. We have a nice easy pace. We work Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and maybe an eight hour day on Saturday if we get in a groove–which is no more time than I would spend if I was playing in a band.”
Wallace adds, “We experiment with different things. We pick a marimba or an organ to back up a song, whatever brings a song in. Brown says, “With a computer you have a pallate of sounds to choose from. So you can pick what kind of flavor  you want to add to the music.”
Just like any other artist and producer, Brown and Wallace endure creative tension.
“We’re quite a bit different in a lot of ways,” Wallace says. He looks at Brown and says, “He’s a meticilous clean freak. I’m an old hobo. He flies off the handle. I just let it slide it off.”
Brown says, “But I’ve gotten better. A lot of time when you’re doing songs you put all this effort into it and get it to  a certain state and you don’t want to turn loose of it. But you know it’s not working. Marlin can spot that stuff miles down the road way before I can. I’ve learned over the years to trust his judgment. For one thing, it is just one song out of over 1,000 so ‘chill out.’ I am more like ‘get the drums done, get the bass done’ and get it up to the level where it starts working for the song. Marlin has the gift of knowning what not to do. And in a creative process, that overall taste is  important.
“It is recognizing the flavor of something and knowing what the real song is.”
In early June, 2007 Brown and Wallace made a cordial eight hour drive from Springfield to Chicago to do a half-hour song-documentary on the 17-year-locust. His “The Seventeen Year Locust” tribute to the locust from his “Buggy” album is an infectious combination of New Orleans Second Line rhythms and Cajun dance music. In his documentary narration Wallace explains there are 15 broods of the locust (the Biblical name for cicadas) in North America and they only appear east of the Great Plains. “They have little fear of man or beast,” he says in the doc.
Like Wallace, the locust are a mystery.
“Seventeen is a recurring number for Marlin,” Brown adds. “Seventeen year locust, seventeen years on the rails.” Wallace recalls, “We got in the car with a camera and got to Chicago and couldn’t hear one cicada. I thought, ‘Where did these bugs go?’ So I said, ‘Let’s drive south.’.”

8040509-illinois-route-66-sign-as-found-on-the-historic-route-66
Brown and Wallace took I-55 along Old Route 66 before finding a park filled with chirping cicadas. “We had a birds-eye nest,” Wallace says gleefully. “We took pictures of the trees covered with them.”
Brown says, “They were landing on us.”
Wallace stops to reflect. He says, “One of my best memory places was in Muskogee, Oklahoma. I was six years old and living in this boarding house. There was a big empty lot next door. I’d get out there and climb those trees. I’d see other kids walking down the street but I didn’t want to be with them. I discovered three or four cicadas down there at this young age. That was one of the best times of my life.
“I just stayed alone in this world of nature.”
There is no rhyme or surface reason for Wallace’s prolific nature. “I’ll come up with the idea first,” he explains. “I’ll get to thinking about a certain subject. Say a warthog.”
Of all the things Wallace could reference, he references a warthog.
“I start thinking about the warts,” he says. “Then the whole hog will develop. Then I have a song ‘Warthog’. Lookin’ out of the eyes of an animal, you have to get on their level and write from their viewpoint.”
Bob Dylan isn’t this succinct.
“Give Me Your Love” is a scorching blues track Wallace recorded in the late 1970s with Maurice Rock, a black singer from Springfield. “One Good Soul” was written by Wallace reflecting on his hobo days. “I was driven by these forces to ride the rails,” he says.
Back in her space age beehive hair days, Dolly Parton signed Wallace to her Owepar Publishing Company she had started with Porter Wagoner. The late Frank Dycus (“He Can’t Fill My Shoes” for Jerry Lee Lewis and “Is Forever Longer Than Always” for Dolly and Porter was a Owepar staff writer. Whitney says, “Back in the late ‘60s they took two songs of mine. I was writing songs and pitching them in Nashville. One was a country recitation song I wanted Porter to get. It was called ‘World’s Biggest Clown.’ They picked up a tune of Marlin’s too. Marlin had a bad experience. I had no experience.”
Wallace still has his contract, signed by Parton in cursive with a pair of breasts.
Wallace met Parton in her 17th Avenue South office on Music Row. “I played some tapes of songs,” he says. “She (accidentally) broke the tape of the one called ‘Mekong’ (a dark folk ballad sung by Jim Grandstaff) while she played it. On Feb. 13, 1969 Parton signed a contract to purchase the rights of Wallace’s “The Planet Mars.”
Trust is imperative whenever people make music together.
“Until I ran into Lou and Dudley I was always given a hard time by people,” Wallace says in measured tones. “It’s a bad story. I room full of staff writers steal people’s ideas. I never got anywhere. I’m not trying to promote myself as a singer as much as my material. I’m a non-conformist and forced into a corner by myself. I have to occupy my time. But as long as I’m kicking, I’ll keep kicking them out.”

Marlin and Elvira on the Maule ship (Courtesy of Marlin Wallace)

Marlin and Elvira on the Maule ship (Courtesy of Marlin Wallace)

 

MarlinWallace_ElviraOnTheMaule2

 

 

Dudley Brown has spent more than $10,000 and invested countless hours in his efforts to share the considerable music of Marlin Wallace with the rest of the world.
He, too, is a hobo with a strong helping hand.
Why?
Brown considers the question for a few moments. He finally answers, “It is is a great endeavor. When I met Marlin I was interested in the ‘45s and how neat ‘Wanderin’ Soul’ was and then how neat the albums were. I was blown away trying to figure it all out. Somewhere along the line your realize this guy has written thousands of songs. Thousands. There’s only a handful of people on the planet that have ever done anything like this. And there’s only one Marlin Wallace. No one has done what he’s done. It is all so massive. The post cards, the maps, the music.”
Whitney adds, “If you sit down and visit with Marlin you either get it or you don’t. My visits with Marlin convinced me that one, he is productive. Two, his songs are good. And three, he’s an honest human being. I got the entire package but I couldn’t step up and do what Dudley’s done. And Dudley got it immediately without even meeting Marlin. The way Marlin meticulously put his cassettes together. If he’d do something and change his mind or made a mistake–in the unlikely event he made a mistake–he’d hit that record button, there would be a little kechang and it would carry on. That takes focus. Intuitiveness. And patience. It is wealth. You can’t go out and spend it, but it is wealth and it is valuable. It reflects effort, time and investment. It reflects belief and creativity.
“That’s wealth beyond what a lot of people ever dream of.”
Marlin Wallace looks around the room and asks, “How do we cash it in?”

To purchase the excellent music of Marlin Wallace please visit his Corillions website, intro by Lou Whitney.

Copyright, April,  2014  Dave Hoekstra

 

White Sox fans Earl and Sharon (Courtesy of Marina Jason)

White Sox fans Earl and Sharon (Courtesy of Marina Jason)

 

Earl Pionke always had big dreams.

He was a White Sox fan.

The beloved nightclub owner, mentor to countless musicians of the 1960’s Chicago folk boom and ex-boxer died on April 26, 2013 after battling pancreatic cancer.  He was 80.

Earl loved life more than most people and even saw his White Sox win a World Series. In 1993 he left the north side for Pullman, a far south side neighborhood built on the escape of distant train whistles.

He wanted to open a bar in Pullman.

In 1993 Pionke and his long time girl friend Sharon Biggerstaff moved upstairs of the Landmark Inn at the corner of 111th and Langley. The bar and grill were functioning when they arrived and Earl always told me to get ready for his grand opening day.

Just like a Cubs World Series, it never happened.

The Inn closed in September, 1993.

Earl wound up using the bar as a storage space for his stuff from the legendary Earl of Old Town and Somebody Else’s Troubles, which he ran with late Chicago singer-songwriter Steve Goodman and Ed and Fred Holstein.

Earl showed me the bar in a May, 2012 visit and it was filled with more than 3,000 record albums, three jukeboxes, Victrola radios, sealed bottles of booze  and boxes of Playboy magazines he acquired at flea markets.

What a party!

Sharon and Earl’s son Joe (from his first marriage to Anasta) cleaned up the bar and restaurant after Earl’s death.

You can now see the long mahogany and oak Brunswick bar that can serve up to 25 people. A pink neon sign still flickers “Hamburgers.”  Four burgundy leather booths remain from the restaurant.  The ground floor bar and restaurant covers 2,500 feet.

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D. Hoekstra photos

 

The jukebox rescued from Somebody Else’s Troubles has the mid-1980s Zydeco hit “My Toot Toot” by Rockin’ Sidney and Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five.” A phone booth with a phone remains by the front door.

The historic Pullman bar is now for sale.

$159,900.

And negotiable.

The bar was part of the Lake View Hotel, built in 1880. The three-story building has 13 individual bedrooms on the top floor, a two-bedroom apartment and one bedroom apartment on the second floor and a kitchen adjacent to the main floor restaurant.

“It was the second hotel (to the Florence) in Pullman,” said Mike Shymanski, President of the Historic Pullman Foundation in a weekend conversation.  The Chicago Police Department has an outpost at 727 E. 111th St, east of the hotel. The police station site used to be the shores of Lake Calumet.

“Sports and athletics were a big part of the Pullman community even though people worked 10 hour days,” Shymanski said. “There was a place called ‘Athletic Island’ that had field and aquatic sports as well as boating and fishing. There were baseball fields at the corner of 111th Street.”

Maybe Earl knew that.

The Town of Pullman was constructed between 1880 and 1884. A railroad station was built across the street from the hotel. According to Shymanksi the hotel was to be used for travelers  arriving at the station but the Rock Island Railroad elected not to route passenger trains on those tracks.

The Pullman Company reached its peak in the 1920s, according to the fine 1996 book David Perata “Those Pullman Blues (An Oral History of the African American Railroad Attendant).  Nearly 35 million passengers a year slept on the trains and the company was the largest single U.S. employer of African Americans with over 9,000 porters.

Earl’s dream neighborhood bar was jumping in the 1940s through the 1970s when Pullman-Standard was actively building passenger cars. It was patronized by car builders and residents, according to Shymanski.

Biggerstaff  recalled, “When we came it was the Landmark Inn and it was open. But we never ran it as a bar. I don’t have an explanation why it never happened for us.”

 

Sharon Biggerstaff in front of the old Landmark Inn, March 28, 2014

Sharon Biggerstaff in front of the old Landmark Inn, March 28, 2014

 

She picked up an April, 1959 Playboy magazine from a box in the rear of the restaurant. The light of spring filtered in from a large porthole window on the south side of the eatery. “These magazines didn’t come to the house,” she said. “He was kind of sneaky sometimes. I did keep this one. It’s so old the centerfold has her clothes on.

“Earl would say, ‘You hate my stuff.’ I really didn’t. I’d say, ‘I want to see the good stuff underneath all the junk’. But he could tell you to go downstairs, go about ten feet to the left of the filing cabinet……”

I used to tease Earl about who would make the trek to Pullman, listen to music, have a few drinks and drive home. Unless, of course, you reside in Pullman. About 2,000 people live in Pullman, according to Shymanski, who has lived there since 1967.

In the 1950s and early 1960s the bar and restaurant was the site of Stanley Jay’s, a live polka club that served the Eastern European population of the far south side. The last incarnation of The Landmark Inn coincided with the landmark status of the Pullman district.

“The bar could have done business,” Biggerstaff said. “The police station is not very far away. This place is so big that Earl’s idea was I could have four folk music shows a year or something like that, not trying to get people to come out this far every weekend.

“We never executed that and I’m kind of glad we didn’t. I don’t think I would have had as much fun with him if we were running a bar. We ran Earl’s Pub together on Lincoln Avenue.  We were older here. It is hard to run a bar. I actually used to tell him, ‘Don’t give me this building.’ I didn’t mind living in it, but it is a lot to handle.”

Stuff I saw in the old Landmark Inn kitchen.

Stuff I saw in the old Landmark Inn kitchen.

 

A few people have recently looked at this old hotel and bar.

One group was interested in using the space as an artist gallery. Biggerstaff said prospective buyers are overwhelmed by the size and the amount of work needed to fix up the place.  Permissive zoning has lapsed and good luck on getting a liquor license in the City of Chicago.

Biggerstaff 53, met Earl when she was a 21-year-old server at the Fox Trap, the future Somebody Else’s Troubles Lincoln Avenue bar that was operated by Joe Pionke,  “I knew Earl close to 30 years,” she said. Her voice trailed away in the empty bar. “I wish there were 30 more,” she said.

It was Earl’s idea to relocate to Pullman.

“He didn’t want to live on Lincoln Avenue anymore,” Biggerstaff said. “All our tenants were collegiates.  He did want to have a bar and that’s what brought him here. But I don’t know who told him to come here. This is so far away. We had a drink in here. He said, ‘I’m going to buy that building and we’re going to live there.’

“I’m like, what?”

The bar and hotel are just a half mile west of I-94 and a straight shot north to U.S. Cellular Field, where I often found Earl in the upper deck eating his homemade sandwiches.

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The Landmark Inn kitchen has been closed for 20 years, although it looks like someone just stepped out for a break.

 

“I would drive to the ballpark and we’d park at Schaller’s Pump for free,”  Biggerstaff explained. “And we’d walk to the ballpark. We did that many times. In the past 20 years we missed two opening days, actually up until he got diagnosed. The last opening day we went to was April 13, 2012. I have the ticket stub upstairs.” Jake Peavy beat the Detroit Tigers 5-2.

Earl’s brother Raymond taught him how to keep score at a baseball game. They used reclaimed wallpaper samples as scorecards. “He got started on the Cubs, actually,” Biggerstaff said. “Earl knew all the players on the 1945 (National League champion) Cubs.  But when I met him he was all White Sox. He would go to Cubs and Sox games with Steve (Goodman), it’s not like he wouldn’t go to Wrigley Field.”

Earl was excited about getting into U.S. Cellular Field on opening day. Earl and Sharon really didn’t care where they sat. “We’d stay in our seats for two innings and go down to the bullpen bar,” she said with a laugh.

Biggerstaff drank vodka and Earl would drink anything but scotch and tequila. He liked gin martinis. “They knew us in the bullpen bar,” she said. “I don’t know if they knew he was the Earl of Old Town, but they knew he was the crazy guy with the beard that gave them gold dollars.”

Actually, Earl looked like he played first base for the House of David.

“He handed those gold dollars out to everyone,” Biggerstaff said with a smile in concert with a memory. “Busboys. Waitresses. And if he really liked you he would give you a whole roll, which was $25. Regulars would tell us, ‘I still have those gold dollars.’ They saved them.” Of course.

Dreams are meant to be remembered,  loved and shared.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

D. Hoekstra portraits

D. Hoekstra portraits

 

Crabby Kim’s is a warm and shabby sports bar near the corner of North Western and Waveland avenues in Chicago.

It is the kind of place where the jukebox is muted when basketball games are on. Old Style Tall Boys are $3.

Owner Kim Kirchoff grew up in the neighborhood; he graduated from Bell School in 1964. The sorta Hemingway look alike admits to being crabby. But he hires happy female bartenders who wear skimpy bikinis. This place gives me goose bumps.

And it gives the women goose bumps.

I’ve driven by Crabby Kim’s thousands of times but have never been in the bar. Did it have something to do with Kim-Jong-un? He loves basketball.

A couple months ago I decided to stop in.

I wanted to see how the bikini bartenders were getting through the tough winter.

I met Rachel (she does not want to reveal her last name). The 33-year-old bartender wore a thin purple and red bikini, accented by leg warmers and low cut Chuck Taylors.  I couldn’t make it to Key West this winter.

So this was my Key Western Avenue.

She said the weather hasn’t bothered her. “I’m a Chicagoan, I’m used to it,” she said. And the six female bartenders do have hoodies when it gets extremely cold.

Paul the Manager just celebrated his 12th anniversary at Crabby Kim’s next month. He didn’t want his last name to be used either. “I don’t dig being in the newspaper, man,” said Paul, 35. We here at Dave’s Word Press  try to reveal as much as we can.

“The women bartenders and the weather?,” he asked. “They complain in the summer when its hot outside and we have the air conditioning on. It’s too cold. They complain in the winter when it gets below 50 and we crank the heat to 100 degrees. And if they tell you anything different, they are liars. I’ve worked with 40 different girls. They all complain. But they deal with it.”

Pretty soon they won’t have much to complain about.

Crabby Kim’s is for sale.

The Crabby Kim

The Crabby Kim

Kirchoff has been dealing with health issues and by summer Crabby Kim’s may be a Mexican restaurant.

Crabby Kim’s began as a bar in a 1962 joint called The Cameo Lounge. Kirchoff opened Crabby Kim’s in 1989 in the two-story brick building.

“We were at a Crabby Bill’s Crab Shack in Florida,” said Kirchoff, who attended the Florida Air Academy (in Melbourne). “We thought that would be a good name.”

Crabby Kim’s is known for its burgers ($4 with fries) made on an open hood range behind the bar. “We used to have a little space heater behind the bar,” Paul said. “Customers would ask, ‘How come the girl never moves from that spot?’ Well, because there’s a space heater you don’t see. But during the interview and hiring process they are made aware that it could be cold. You’re hired to wear a bikini and that’s what we deal with.”

Crabby Kim’s is different from your neighborhood Hooter’s because Kirchoff does not allow children in the bar. The south wall is blessed with a wall of fame of past bartenders.

Rachel knew what she was getting into, so to speak

“I was just looking for a job at the time,” said Rachel, who has worked at Crabby Kim’s for 10 years. “When I got behind the bar it was a little strange.  It’s like your first time on stage in front of people. Everyone is watching every move you make. I was a little nervous. I didn’t expect to be here this long.”

Rachel is studying to be a radiologist. Paul said, “This has always been a place where you can make a sustainable amount of money, pay your bills and get a degree.” Rachel has worked at other bars but can’t say for sure if she get better tips because she is in a bathing suit. “When the economy was better, the tips were better,” she said.

Despite an urban beach motif, don’t expect lots of tropical drinks at Crabby Kim’s. “We don’t do too many umbrellas and Margaritas,” Rachel said. “We’re more of a neighborhood beer and shot place.”

DSCN6081

Rachel of Crabby Kim’s.

Around 10:30 on a Saturday night there were about a dozen people in the bar, four of them women. Two couples had just come in from bowling across the street at The Waveland Bowl.

“There’s never women in there,” Paul said. “We used to get a lot of business from the bowling alley when they were open 24 hours.”

I was watching highlights on ESPN until a customer asked Rachel to find motocross competition on cable. I went to the bathroom and saw a rusty condom machine that looked like it hadn’t been used since when “Surfer Girl” was a hit. But props go to the cool 9-inch table side color television sets along the south end of the bar. Each television has its own non-HD table box. “They’ve been there since I started,” Paul said. “We used to have those four and in the corner we had a 25-inch boob tube.”

He said that, not me.

Crabby Kim’s, 3655 N. Western [(773) 704-8156] is open from 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Monday through Sunday, until 3 a.m. Saturday.  There is no website.

 

 

30th-anniv-4-1-12 117

Jim Stoecker and his antique cash register
(Courtesy of Alex’s Washington Gardens)

 

During this endless winter, Jim Stoecker had to get away from the quaint Italian restaurant he runs in north suburban Highwood. In late January  Stoecker drove to New Orleans, hopped on a cruise ship and went to Mexico for five days. He ate pizza on the ship. Every day. It wasn’t good pizza but it maintained his streak that never seems to end.

Stoecker claims to have eaten pizza for 2,450 days in a row.

He is the Lou Gehrig of garlic.

“I don’t get tired of eating pizza,” Stoecker said  during a conversation over four 12-inch pizza pies at his Alex’s Washington Gardens in Highwood.

“I get tired of there not being good pizza.”

About two years ago Stoecker sent an e-mail to his customers explaining his unique slice of life. “I realized I had owned this place 775 days and I had pizza 1,774 times,” he said. “ I try pizza wherever I go. Even if I’m driving around Chicagoland and I see a place that says ‘Slices’ and I’ve never been there, I’ll pull in. I know how to make almost every kind of pizza. Even before I bought this place I was collecting pizza cook books. I’m like a pizza anthropologist.”

Every March Stoecker attends the pizza convention in Las Vegas, sponsored by Pizza Today magazine. “The pizza industry is like $40 billion,” he says.

Stoecker, 56, is 6’1” and weighs about 235 pounds.

He looks like actor and fellow man of action Chuck Norris.

On his New Orleans trip Stoecker stopped in his home town of Peoria to have a thin crust pizza at Agatucci’s.

“It was the pizza I grew up with,” he said. “Their pizza morphs between Chicago thin crust and St. Louis thin crust. St. Louis uses a (white) provel cheese blend. Chicago uses mozzarella with parmesan. I took Agatucci’s pizza with me for the drive. On the way back I came through Champaign and went to Papa Del’s, my favorite thick crust place.”

When pressed like cheese to a pan, Stoecker admitted he has missed one day in the streak. That’s okay.

It was on the January trip home from New Orleans.

“I drove from New Orleans to Champaign with a muffuletta sandwich from Central Grocery on the seat next to me,” he said. “So on that day I probably didn’t have pizza.”

Alex's pizza and the Stoecker's dog Mandy in their home kitchen.

Alex’s pizza and the Stoecker’s dog Mandy in their home kitchen.

Stoceker has chosen from 62,044,840,173,323,943,936,000,000 combinations. “I’ve checked this this with two math majors who said we calcuated it right,” he explained. “Here we have 25 toppings and two crusts. And we’ll put anything else on it if you ask. So 25 toppings factorial is that number, it is like 62 quintillion.”

Stoecker stared at his 12-inch Italian beef, hot giardiniera , green olives, garlic, onions and mushroom pizza. It is sort of like a muffuletta.

He smiled.

“This isn’t my pizza,” he said. “This is a Scornavaccao family pizza. I haven’t changed it. I added ingredients like Italian beef. This recipe was invented in 1944. Pizzeria Uno (in Chicago) started in 1943. Pizza was a fad.”

Tony and Ellen Scornavacco, the parents of Alex.

Tony and Ellen Scornavacco, the parents of Alex.

Alex’s Washington Gardens’ began in 1932 when Angelina Scornavaccao sold sandwiches and beverages out of her yard to people who got off the train. “There was an inter urban line that ran along the North Shore,” Stoecker says. “The stop was at Washington and Railroad (now Green Bay Road). Her yard eventually became known as a beer garden, thus ‘Washington Gardens.’ Her sons Tony and Armando built that into a restaurant called Scornavaccao’s Washington Gardens.”

Grandson Alex split away in 1982. He opened his 85-seat restaurant in the current location, which is a 1920s bank building. Stoecker’s basement office is in the former vault.

Stoecker is former CEO of Lufthansa Technik North America Holding Company, Inc., an independent provider of maintenance and repair services for civil aircraft.

He saved the family restaurant.

“My wife and I were customers,” he said. “We’d come her for date nights. We’d split a pizza because I’m a pizza guy. I retired from corporate life about 10 years ago and was looking for a small hands on business. Alex wanted to retire. There was no next generation of the Scornavaccao family stepping up. He was going to let the lease run out and shut it down. I was like, ‘Cannot let that happen to my favorite thin crust pizza’.”

Date night at Alex's with Jim and Michele often features pizza.

Date night at Alex’s with Jim and Michele often features pizza.

 

Stoecker took over the restaurant on May 1, 2007. He didn’t have a deep background in the restaurant business.

“In college (Illinois State), I made pizzas and was a bartender,” he said. “The great thing about this place is that we open at 5 o’ clock seven days a week and we close at 9 Sunday through Thursday and 10 Friday and Saturday.”

The restaurant has about 75 items on the menu and everything is made from scratch. Stoecker’s wife Michele created a breezy gluten free pizza crust with cauliflower. She is a fitness instructor. The rich cheese is purveyed from a small dairy co-op in far northwest Wisconsin.

Stoecker stopped and suddenly pointed at the crust of his pizza. He was a a happy man.

“See the little brown specks?,” he asked. “Most places put corn meal on the pizza paddle. The Scornavaccos used Italian bread crumbs. What we don’t use in our bread baskets we dry out and grind. We put the bread on the bottom where it sits on the stone and roasts up into the crust. It gives it a nutty character. The other is thing is it is drier than corn meal so it makes the crust crispier. Being a pizza anthropologist I had never seen that before.”

Of course this was before Stoecker had the world by his fingertips.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GeneSimmons

 

When the spirit has been dragging like a comb in the hair of Gene Simmons, you find out who your true friends are.

And I’ve been fortunate.

Really fortunate.

This updated website has all kinds of stuff. There’s categories of travel dispatches, baseball stories, things on food-ways and immediate, unfiltered musings on life passages. I’ll also be keeping my eye on breaking Chicago cultural news, issues  that are near to me like why the city ignores its musical heritage.

I wanted to share this rather blunt link with my friend and collaborator Paul Natkin of Photo Reserve, Inc., who had the misfortune to be with me in a road trip from Chicago to St. Louis on the day I left the Sun-Times.

 

You see I had been at the Sun-Times for 29 years, plus another 3 1/2 years at the Suburban Sun-Times under the helm of the late Lon Grahnke. He was a tough editor, but he did not suffer from myopia.

We all could be ourselves. Isn’t that what you want in any job?

I grew up in a Chicago Sun-Times/Chicago Daily News family.

As the newspaper editor at Naperville Central High School, I tried to learn from  the great writers from these papers: Bill Newman–how great a stylist was he?— the balls of Mike Royko, the poetry of John Schulian, Ray Sons, a consummate gentleman,  and many others.

Working at the Sun-Times was a dream come true.

cfiles23130

If I had the skills of a good baseball player, filing stories from 401 N. Wabash  would have been the same thing as playing at Wrigley Field.

I remember the magical night of writing my first deadline story in the summer of 1984 (I was on a part-time thing) in the Features Department.

Glenna Syse had just come marching in from a theater review. Roger Ebert was walking around talking to reporters as a warm-up exercise before writing. I think deadlines in this pre-computer age were later than they are now!

I had read Don McLeese in the Reader and his Sun-Times rock criticism had the rare blend of clarity and no-snob-factor that I came to appreciate.  I looked out a window at the Chicago River.

It was not green.

It was gold.

So thanks to everyone for your kind  messages, Facebook posts and most of all for reading my stuff all these years. I have to work on self-promotion and will try to minimize that noise. But I sincerely hope to repay you with measured words, adventures and incongruous looks at this amazing  life.

I will also keep an eye out for a good editor.

 

 

 

D. Hoekstra photo

D. Hoekstra photo

 

The National Blues Museum is virtually completed in terms of design and slated to open mid-2015.

The downer for Chicago blues fans is that the $14 million museum will be in downtown St. Louis.

Members of the Chicago music community have talked about a Chicago blues museum almost since Muddy Waters plugged in.

In the summer of 2012 there were rumblings of  “The Blues Experience,” a blues museum-nightclub with classrooms to be built in the former Block 37 shopping center on State Street. Last fall it was reported that “Blues Experience” developers Bill Selonick and Sona Wang moved from downtown in favor of being folded into  Navy Pier redevelopment plans. The first phase of the $150 million pier redevelopment is slated be finished by mid-2015.

Nothing has happened. A Navy Pier spokesman had no comment. Selonick and Wang did not return repeated calls, although sources say an extravagant interactive Navy Pier blues experience is in the works.

Lots is happening in St. Louis.

The $14 million National Blues Museum will be a 23,000 square-foot educational and cultural facility that anchors developer Amos Harris’ $142 million Mercantile Exchange downtown district.

“It will be in a very cool building originally built as a department store,” Harris told me last month. “One part was built in 1906, the other was in 1915. We converted it into an (212 room) Embassy Suites Hotel and upstairs apartments. We will begin construction on the museum at the end of June or early July.”

Although the museum portion of the building is empty, the ground floor has a wine bar and Harris is planning to add a a barbecue restaurant in conjunction with the blues museum. The building a block west of the America’s Center convention center and one block south of the Edward Jones Dome, the home of the NFL’s St. Louis Rams.

The National Blues Museum would be a blow to tourism plans of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, unless Chicago comes up with a bigger and better blues museum. Emanuel’s goal is to attract 50 million visitors annually to the city by 2020.

But Chicago has no major musical tourism destinations besides a zillilon summer festivals.

“Why is the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland?,” Harris asked. “They decided to do it. Why is the Arch in St. Louis? We did it.”

DSCN6161

 

Michelle T. Boone, commissioner for the City of Chicago Dept. of Cultural Affairs and Special Events said, “Congratulations to St. Louis. While the blues is part of Chicago’s DNA, there’s lots of places around the country and the world that have a connection to blues. The more museums we have toward blues, the better blues music will be. We don’t have just one art museum in the country.”

Alligator Records founder Bruce Iglauer added, “In Chicago we tear down our historical places. I was asked by a writer from a guitar magazine to take him around to all the locations of all the blues clubs I hung out at in the ‘70s. They were all vacant lots, except for the Theresa’s building (4801 S. Indiana). There aren’t historical markers. There aren’t plaques, other than 2120 (S. Michigan, Chess Records studio; there is also a marker at the Muddy Waters House, 4339 S. Lake).

“I would love a dedicated blues location in Chicago, but most music museums don’t make money,” Igulauer said. “Supposedly they bring in new exhibits because people go once and don’t come back. I’d love to see something historic as well as a performance situation and maybe a teaching situation so it wouldn’t just be ‘Here’s what used to be’.” Boone added, “We have places where people can go. We’ve got a city populated with clubs and one of the oldest blues festivals in the country. We live it every day.”

What the St. Louis project has that Chicago lacks is major financial support.

In December, the museum received $6 million from Pinnacle Entertainment, Inc. and Lumiere Place Casino in downtown St. Louis. The National Blues Museum website also cites support from St. Louis native John Goodman who posted a You Tube video in support of the museum, Derek Trucks and Chicago blues great Buddy Guy of all people.

Museum co-founder Mike Kociela of the event production team Entertainment St. Louis said, “We asked Buddy for an endorsement at a gig. We’re honored to have his support. He’s not actively involved but he’s in in favor of the musem happening.”

In terms of presentation Harris points to the successful City Museum in downtown St. Louis.

The City Museum is an interactive kids playground in the former Interational Shoe building. The playground features lots of repurposed architectural and industrial objects–and a statue of St. George from Saint George’s Catholic Church in Chicago.

“The culutre of rock spews out artifacts, where the culture of blues doesn’t spew out so many artifacts,” Harris said. “As we’ve been developing this people call with donations. That’s a chunk of it. The City Museum is completely different, but it is the same highly interactive idea that we’re trying to drive towards. In the case of the blues museum we’re leveraging technology to make it highly interactive, where the City Museum they have wild stuff that the kids climb all over. The National Blues Museum won’t be artifact driven. Hopefully one of the experience threads of the museum is as you move through the gallery areas you can create your own blues riff and leave it on a digital graffiti board. We’re hoping we can encourage young folks to pick up blues as a genre’.” Bob Santelli, formerly of the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame and Experience Music Project in Seattle has advised the National Blues Museum.

“This could be transformative for downtown St. Louis,” said Harris, a downtown St. Louis resident. “We could put a stake in the ground around music in St. Louis in a way we haven’t done. St. Louis has lots of roots in blues and jazz and we are in some sense a music town, but we don’t market it that way at all.”

 

 

 

 

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COMSTOCK PARK, Mich.—It is a month before opening day for the West Michigan Whitecaps of the Class A Midwest League. The drive out of Chicago is part of a search for a new beginning. The Greg Brown CD plays “Never So Far.” A large billboard on the right side of U.S. Route 31 reads “Never In Doubt.”

The sign is in reference to the April 8 Whitecaps opening day.

Nearly half of the team’s 20-year-old ballpark was destroyed in a Jan. 3 fire. Investigators said that a trash container placed next to a space heater in a suite caused the fire. Multiple suites were destroyed and part of the Fifth Third Ballpark roof collapsed. The home clubhouse, right field concession stands and bathrooms were lost. The fire was contained at the first base side of home plate. No one was injured.

The fire caught the imagination of America’s baseball community. When a ballpark goes up in smoke, so do memories and moments. The only major baseball stadium fire I know of is the all-wood Russwood Park in Memphis, Tn. (1896-1960, Elvis played there in 1956] that burned to the ground after an Easter Sunday 1960 exhibition game between the Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians.

“There may be nothing as immediate and shocking as seeing a ballpark engulfed in flames,:” Whitecaps CEO/Managing Partner Lew Chamberlain tells me in mid-March. “A ballpark is a symbolic place for a community. Our community feels, and rightly so, that everybody has a little piece of this place. That’s why it becomes a bigger deal than a tool and die shop burning down. It does catch national attention.”

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The blaze was extinguished by fire departments from five neighboring communities, including Grand Rapids, about seven miles south of the ballpark.  The fire was out in a half hour, according to Mickey Graham, Whitecaps Director of Marketing and Media Relations. He watched the fire from center field. Chamberlain was in Chicago and immediately drove to the scene.

On June 17 the Whitecaps host the 50th Midwest League All-Star Game.

The first goal was to make Fifth Third Ballpark functional by the opening day game against the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. The second goal is to make everything in tip-top shape by the all-star game.  “It’s an opportunity to show off your ballpark,” Chamberlain says. “I wanted everyone in this community and in baseball to be amazed at what we were able to accomplish.  We’re very proud of this community and we’re going to do a lot of fun things revolving around our ‘Beer City U.S.A.’ designation, our shore line and everything this region has to offer.” The all-star game logo is a beer label that appears as a mug filled with gold beer and white froth. The Grand Rapids area is a hot spot for the craft beer movement.

Fifth Third features offerings from Founders Brewing and Mitten Brewing (both in Grand Rapids), Perrin Brewery in Comstock Park, New Holland Brewing  Company (New Holland), Bell’s from Kalamazoo and Mt. Pleasant Brewing in Mt. Pleasant.

You can bet the Whitecaps will be toasting to Midwest moxie.

“I listened to (Whitecaps president) Scott Lane being interviewed the other day,” Chamberlain says. “He talked how difficult it was to see a place where you spend so much of your time and energy burn to the ground. But he said how quickly his thoughts turned to, ‘What do we do now to get it back?’ That is true of all of us. Yeah, you take a minute to reflect on what an unfortunate circumstance it was, but almost immediately your mind starts working on how we are going to make it better and get it done in three months. In a way that helps you get over your grief.

“There never was a doubt.”

I could phone it in and compose a story by looking at pictures on social media. But by going to the ballpark I see the scope of the damage. I feel it. With the March 11 backdrop of a snowcapped field, scores of workers are toiling up to 12 hours a day rebuilding the clubhouse, video room and suites. Even a few hundred smoke damaged seats along the first base line are in need of being replaced. It still appears to be a daunting task.

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Chamberlain, 62, was born and raised in Grand Rapids. (Chamberlain and his Whitecaps co-owner Denny Baxter were also part of the Cougars ownership group in 1991-92.). “We got involved in baseball in the mid-1980s with the idea of bringing minor league baseball to our hometown,” he says. “Little did we know we’d become involved with Kane County along the way.” In 1993 Chamberlain and Baxter purchased and moved the Midwest League’s Madison, Wis. franchise to West Michigan.

Chamberlain has gathered some baseball memorabilia in his journey and much of it was lost due to water and smoke damage in his office. “There’s a lot worse things than losing pictures of Gerry Ford at the ballpark or autographed Ernie Harwell books,” he says. “Nobody was hurt. We’re going to play baseball. What we do every day at the ballpark to me is more important than any piece of memorabilia. I’ve always been an experiential guy. My love of baseball has everything to do with the experiences I share watching baseball. I can’t tell you who hit what for the 1968 Tigers. But I can remember being there with my Dad and my brother. The sharing of baseball is most important to me.”

Photos courtesy of West Michigan Whitecaps

Photos courtesy of West Michigan Whitecaps

He did manage to save his most precious item, a papier-machae “Magic 8 Ball” type container made by his son Joe when he was 12 years old. The container came into play in 1997 when West Michigan switched its affiliation from Oakland to Detroit. “I had a lot of respect for Oakland,” Chamberlain says. “Especially in terms of their ideas of community service and getting the ballplayers involved in the community. At the end of the 1996 PDC (Player Development Contract) we won the Midwest League championship with the Oakland affiliation. Joe just wrote the answers out on little cards. It tells  you what to do. It was hilarious. I’ll pull a few out.”

And Chamberlain read:

“Let Scott Lane decide.”

“Whatever is best.”

“Call Bill Clinton.”

The container was rescued in early January, albeit wet. He says, “It had to re-papier-machae itself.”

Chamberlain was educated as an attorney and had a grandfather and uncles who were attorneys. “The family heritage nonwithstanding, I didn’t like the practice of law that much, “ he admits. “After a few years I became involved in the family business (Grand Rapids Steel & Supply), which we sold in the mid-1980s. That’s when I turned my attention to baseball.”

Was there any lessons Chamberlain learned in the business world that were applicable to the tragic fire?

“Denny and I spent eight years trying to get baseball off the ground in Grand Rapids,” he answers. “Which means getting a stadium built, financed and the whole nine yards. I learned perseverance. That is the key. We had any number of deals we thought we had put together for baseball in West Michigan and they all went by the boards. But we never gave up because we thought it was a good idea. And fortunately, it turned out to be a good idea.”

Baxter and Chamberlain financed their stadium and they own the ballpark. Ownership reinvests in the park annually, which they wouldn’t be able to do if it was in the public sector.

It took seven figures to rebuild Fifth Third Ballpark (cap. 9,684). The majority of costs were covered by insurance. “All the numbers aren’t in,” Chamberlain says. “But you can safely say that the cost of this repair is going to equal or exceeds the cost of the entire construction in 1994.  Even a situation like this provides opportunities. We had been going through a strategic visioning process with the ballpark  because it has been part of our DNA and we will continue to reinvest there.” Expect the ballpark to be better than ever.

That’s how dreams roll with these Whitecaps.

 

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John Prine (center) and band, Jim Shea photo courtesy of Oh Boy Records

March 16, 2014–

The circle of travel helps you find the center.

And this is where John Prine was on Friday night, standing in front of an adoring hometown audience at center stage of the Symphony Center.

Prine, 67, is back on the road after December surgery for operable lung cancer. He loves the road. He met his wife Fiona Whelan in Dublin, Ireland. He gets restless in recording studios and in a November statement he said,  “There’s nothing I hate more than cancelling shows.”

Prine stands tall and strong like the old trees he sings about in his remarkable “Hello In There,” which was so eloquently covered on Friday.  He represents a faded sense of a multi-generational Chicago community.

They are falling away like leaves from aspen: Earl Pionke of the Earl of Old Town, Cowboy Jack Clement, Richard Harding, Roger Ebert, Minnette Goodman, the mother of Steve Goodman—and as my friend and former Prine drummer Angelo Varias pointed out Friday-can you believe this fall will mark 30 years since Steve Goodman died?

Prine typically dedicates “Souvenirs” to Steve Goodman, on Friday it went out to his late brother Doug, a Chicago policeman. He dedicated “Angel From Montgomery” to his peer songwriter and Old Town School of Folk Music teacher Eddie Holstein, who was working the aisles with a Broadway smile. These voices, near and far are Prine’s center.

The Symphony Center gig—which Prine still calls Orchestra Hall—was just his third outing since his surgery. His voice picked up steam as the 110-minute  show rolled along.

Only once did he seem to call an audible, after chugging through “Iron Ore Betty” he mumbled how his lung needed a ballad. He dialed  it down to the regal version of “Angel From Montgomery,” followed by the loopy “Fish and Whistle,” accented by his gritty, son-of-a-tool & die maker/union leader’s vocals.

Prine was in typical good nature.

Wearing a black suit, black pants and starched white shirt he looked as happy as a Sun City undertaker. After “Angel From Montgomery” a lone female voice called out, “I love you John.”

Prine smiled and cracked, “I can’t see you but I love you too. And that hasn’t been the first time.”

Prine has settled into a groove with his long time sidemen Jason Wilbur (multi-guitarist, harmonica) and acoustic-electric bassist Dave Jacques. They delivered understated ambiance to “Humidity Built The Snowman,” a ballad Prine rarely covers  from 1995’s “Lost Dogs and Mixed Blessings,” and Wilbur’s mournful harmonica accented the fact that the themes of “6 O’Clock News” are even more timely today than they were when Prine wrote it in 1971.

 

Wilbur’s extended slide guitar on “Storm Windows”  gave the song some moxie it did not have on the recorded version and by the trio was full tilt by the time Prine closed his set with the power anthem “Lake Marie.”

Prine called out his opening act Iris DeMent for an encore of their goofy “hit” “In Spite of Ourselves,” a 1999 album of duets which was his first release after beating throat cancer (unrelated to his recent cancer.)

In her opening set DeMent remarked how Tammy Wynette was her favorite female country singer before launching into “Making My Way Back Home,” which she wrote after reading a Wynette biography.

Again, the gift is the center, the essence.

Jim Rooney is the beloved right-hand man of the late Cowboy Jack Clement who produced Townes Van Zandt and “In Spite of Ourselves.” On March 14 Rooney released a new memoir “In It For the Long Run (A Musical Odyssey)” [University of Illinois Press, $24.95] of which Prine gave the blurb: “Wonderful fellow with an interesting life equals great story.”

Rooney writes about the Prine-DeMent sessions and how they came to understand the classic 1960s country hits were less than three minutes long.  Prine makes every word count.  “They said what they had to say and get out,” Rooney writes. “It was definitely before Jerry Jeff, John Hartford and Kris Kristofferson changed the songwriting rules. Hearing John and Iris together just made me smile.”

End of story.

John Prine has to sing, just as I have to write.

No matter where life takes you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dec. 25, 2013—

Christmas Day may seem like a bad time to introduce your Mother to hospice care.
Do you hear what I hear?

But my brother and nephew have Dec. 25 obligations in Nashville, Tn. so we usually don’t celebrate Christmas until Dec. 26 when they come to Chicago. Medicare for Mom’s tool box of pills runs out at the end of the  year and the results from her echocardiogram come in on Dec. 26.

Mom’s dementia has gotten worse over the last few months. Her 92nd birthday was Dec. 10 and that was a fleeting moment. Forgetting birthdays isn’t such a bad thing. Baseball poet Satchel Paige asked, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old  you are?”

She has trouble distinguishing her right from her left and the gotcha moment was Thanksgiving when she fell in my former bedroom of their west suburban home. The caregiver and I took one of those wide beige leather belts you use to move furniture, wrapped it around my Mom’s waist and lifted her up off the floor.  
I knew it was time.

Mom still knows who we are and she loves posing for the camera. There is a calm radiance about her pure smile. 

She likes to eat ice cream.

On a good day she can still crack a joke and then I feel guilty about our recent decision. She has at least a half-dozen health issues and on a bad day I think I’ve waited too long. Over the last couple weeks I’ve visited with Rich the hospice social worker. I told Rich I try not to get too high and not get too low. He says that is a good approach.

Rich has coached me on the next transition.
When the snow has cleared on Christmas Day I will hold my Mother’s hands as she once held mine. Her eyes are filled with a trust I was too self-absorbed to  recognize as a younger man. I will speak to her in soft questions, which gently opens the door for her thoughts. There will be love in the room. 

These steps will be supported by the arrival of my brother and nephew as it has been by visitors she has seen in recent days. The modest house rings true with a caring choir. Good family and friends are a year round thing.

I’m not going to be filing a journal or Tweeting about my Mom’s decline like NPR’s Scott Simon. I respect dignity and privacy too much. I also try to live in every moment of this journey and not to be distracted by outside forces. That is often very difficult, but I try. But if there is a note I can share with a wandering reader along the path of this holiday season than it is worth it.

The course of action , I am told by the social worker, is basic:

Gather all information.
And then make decisions with love.
And isn’t that the best Christmas gift of all?

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