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Our Springfield friends coming to FitzGerald's (far left Ruell Chappel, Nick Sibley, Abbey Waterworth, far right Donnie Thompson and the late great Bobby Lloyd Hicks on drums--

A few of our Springfield friends coming to FitzGerald’s in Berwyn (from far left Ruell Chappell,  Nick Sibley on guitar, Abbey Waterworth, far right Donnie Thompson (and there’s the late great Bobby Lloyd Hicks on drums).

SPRINGFIELD, Mo.—The unadorned beauty of American regionalism can be heard in the songs of Abbey Waterworth. The 20-year-old musician is majoring in History and minoring in Museum Studies at Missouri State University (MSU) in Springfield. Her voice is as pure as mountain rain and filled with the promise of the morning sun. Waterworth is on the fast train to be to the Ozarks what a pop-country Dolly Parton is to Appalachia.

Waterworth came up with the idea to make her latest recording “Rose Bridge,” a sincere tribute to music that was created in the sticky flotsam and jetsam around Springfield.

Waterworth sings and plays banjo, Donnie Thompson (Skeletons, Morells, Steve Forbert) guests on lead guitar, the late Bobby Lloyd Hicks sits in on drums and former Ozark Mountain Daredevils John Dillon and Supe Grande guest on mouth-bow and spoons respectively–lending that cute Ozark touch. The album was recorded at Nick Sibley’s studio in downtown Springfield and Sibley filled out the record by playing drums, bass, harmonica and keyboards. He hired trumpets, violins and cellos for finishing parts.

Around Springfield clubs and coffee houses, Waterworth is backed by her band NRA (Nick Sibley on guitar, Ruell Chappell on keyboards and Abbey), and NRA will headline the Springfield Jamboree at 8 p.m. June 1 at FitzGerald’s in Berwyn.

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Donnie Thompson and Waterworth will open the evening with an acoustic set. “Rose Bridge” features covers of the Brenda Lee hit “I’m Sorry” (written by Springfield’s Ronnie Self), “The Letter,” (written by Springfield’s Wayne Carson), “Blue Kentucky Girl,” the Loretta Lynn-Emmylou Harris hit written by Springfield’s Johnny Mullins and even the pop-rock hit “Sugar Shack,” written by Keith McCormick, who had lived in Springfield since the early 1970s.

All those Springfield songwriters are dead.

“I wanted to know everything I could about where I came from and where this music came from,” Waterworth said during a conversation in Sibley’s spacious studio. “My interest in music history became an interest in art history and history of culture.”

I wanted to know if her college peer group is curious about her roots music interest.

“No,” she answered quickly. “I told someone last year I was studying history and might minor in Ozarks History and they were like, ‘Really, Ozarks History?’ That sounds like the nerdiest thing.’ But that’s what pumps my heart. Every time I talk about it, it fills me with joy. People in my age group aren’t really considering where they came from–yet. I’m not sure when that happens or why I have thought about that forever.

“Maybe it is because my family was from around here and I was never displaced like lots of people were when they were young. Oral tradition lasts three generations. A lot of music and culture is being lost because oral traditions are going away and people aren’t recording it. Especially in this area, there’s lots of untapped history. It’s still kind of a secluded region and it especially was 50, 60 years ago.”

“It is an area people don’t think about.”

The album is named “Rose Bridge” as a tribute to one of Si Siman’s publishing companies. Siman was a co-founder of the Ozark Jubilee concert series and ABC-TV show that in the mid-1950s was the first to broadcast country music across America–from the since-razed Jewell Theater in downtown Springfield.

“Rose Bridge” was named after Si’s wife Rosie and Wayne Carson’s wife Bridget.

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Sibley said, “Abbey is only twenty, but has an encyclopedic knowledge of music of many genres and periods. She has an amazing voice. No auto-tune was used on this CD. She plays guitar, banjo and bass. She wanted to do her own interpretations of the varied types of songs that have come out of the Ozarks. Some were worldwide hits. Some are local favorites. And one is totally unknown–that would be mine.”

Sibley, a former member of the Springfield pop-rock-country-punk-surf band The Skeletons, wrote the novelty song “Cheesey Bread” for “Rose Bridge.” It’s just a few tracks ahead of the “Top Gun” Academy Award winning song “Take My Breath Away,” written by Springfield’s Tom Whitlock.

“Rose Bridge” is Waterworth’s second independent CD. Her 2015 acoustic self-titled debut includes Sibley originals, Elizabeth Cotten’s “Shake Sugaree (popularized by the Grateful Dead) and an honest cover of Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe.”

NRA has been playing around Springfield since 2014. The Nick Sibley-Ruell Chappell partnership began in 1974 when they debuted at a Shakey’s Pizza Parlor in Springfield. Chappell is a Springfield native who was a mid-1970s member of the Ozark Mountain Daredevils and in  1989 was a cast member of the popular musical “Pump Boys and Dinettes.”

A native of El Dorado Springs, Mo., Sibley has been writing and producing jingles for companies across America out of his Springfield studio. Sibley built the studio out of the shell of a former warehouse and has owned and operated the space since 1981.

The Ozark Mountain Daredevils and Brewer and Shipley of “One Toke Over The Line” fame have recorded at Sibley’s studio and Brad Pitt did movie voice overs there. “He still owes me forty bucks,” Sibley cracked.  “He was home for Christmas and he came to record on a Saturday morning. This was twenty years ago. He told me to send the tape to Miramax in New York and I never got paid. (Original ‘Newlywed Game’ host) Bob Eubanks did an ‘American Express’ commercial here.”

Sibley does spots for Lay’s Potato Chips, Bass Pro Shops and O’Reilly Auto Parts among others. Bass and O’Reilly are headquartered in Springfield. Ozark Mountain Daredevils Steve Cash and John Dillon laid down the original “O-O-O’Reilly” vocals, charging the company one dollar. “We do about 200 O’Reilly commercials every month here,” Sibley said. “I did the music 15 years ago. They come in and record in Spanish and English.” Sibley’s studio is just two blocks away from the late Lou Whitney’s studio.

Nick SIbley in his studio

Nick Sibley in his studio

Springfield’s music history is deeply rooted in NRA.

Chappell worked for Si Siman, playing on country records produced by Siman and Wayne Carson. NRA’s repertoire includes Sibley originals like “Albino Farm” (a true story about the 1930s albino Sheedy family that farmed at night outside of Springfield), the lite-country anthem “Life in the 417″ (Springfield’s area code)  and the irresistible 2017 pop anthem “Bang-Bang Summer.”

Waterworth explained, “There’s something about these older songs that people made for the sake of making art. That’s what folk tradition is. People making this for the pleasure of sharing, That’s one reason I’m drawn to it. It wasn’t set up for commercialism. I had the pleasure of playing ‘Blue Kentucky Girl’ for Johnny Mullins’ wife and she was so happy that somebody was still interested in it.”

Waterworth works part time in Archives and Special Collections at Missouri State. She transfers old recordings into videos for the Gordon McCann Ozarks Music Collection.

McCann audio and video taped more than 3,000 hours of regional fiddle  music, house parties and compiled 200 notebooks filled with lyrics and transcriptions of conversations. McCann, 86, is a Springfield native who spent his youth floating on johnboats on rivers in the Ozarks. “We’re putting his videos on YouTube so they’re accessible,” Waterworth said. “It’s Smithsonian level stuff.”

And of her essential “Rose Bridge” recording Waterworth explained, “I wanted to show people all of the beauty that comes from this area that we don’t think about. And maybe get people to discover more. You don’t have to go to St. Louis or a bigger city to hear good music. This area has made a lot of music. Whenever you play a good song and people realize it was written here, they’re surprised.

“They don’t think that kind of greatness  can happen in their hometown.”

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Abbey Waterworth is from Clever, Mo, in Christian County about 20 miles south of Springfield. The clever small town name reminded me my interview with the then-unknown Faith Hill, who was from Star, Miss.

“Not much goes on in Clever,” Waterworth said. “There’s a Murfin’s Market, the local grocery store and two gas stations. It was a farming community for a long time and now people are drawn to the school systems there.”

Waterworth attended Clever RV, a consolidation of five one-room school houses. “Yes, it sounds like something from a camping trip,” she said. “It adds to the ‘hillbilly value’ a little bit.”

Her mother Connie has been a successful stay at home mom. “My Dad (Bryan) has driven a truck as long as I can remember,” Waterworth said. “He hauled diesel fuel for Burlingt0n-Northern Santa Fe. Railroads were a big part of Springfield’s economy at one time.”

Her great grandparents were from St. Louis and moved to Competition, about two hours north of Springfield. Her great-grandmother played guitar until she had a family. Waterworth’s grandfather was a barber who bought a 1937 Gibson and learned how to play it for rural Friday night house parties.  “They would go house to house every Friday night and play music,” she recalled. “Mostly bluegrass, but they’d play Ernest Tubb and old folk songs. He loved Jimmie Rodgers. I heard all that. My Dad learned guitar from listening to the Ozark Mountain Daredevils. Dad would get on his bicycle and ride down to the Nixa Trout Farm (in Nixa, Mo., outside of Springfield) where the Daredevils practiced. He would listen to their practices. My oldest brother learned how to play and then my second brother learned how to play. I was the last. So there really wasn’t an option.

“It was something I felt I had to do to be part of the family.”

Music filled the halls of the house in Clever and plenty of CDs were packed for family road trips. “I grew up on bluegrass but I love the Beach Boys and Rolling Stones,” she said. “I started singing when I was seven and started guitar when I was nine. Then I picked up banjo.”

Waterworth has been singing as long as she can remember. “My family needed a singer.” she said. “We had a guitar player, a bass player and a mandolin player. My brother told me I was singing melodies before I could talk. When I was growing up the Dillards were a influence. Some of them lived around here. As I got older, I got into John Hartford, who was from St. Louis and who played with the Dillards and then Gillian Welch–she was a huge influence. But there was a point where all I did was listen to music that I hadn’t heard before.”

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Nick Sibley and friend.

Nick Sibley’s sense of a musical pop hook is in the rarefied air of Nick Lowe or Marshall Crenshaw. His playful approach to songs about cornbread and buried cats reminds me of Chicago’s Chris Ligon. Sibley’s hilarious true story about a Missouri undertaker, “Don’t Be Drinkin’ No Beer While Your’e Working on my Mama” has been recorded by Ray Stevens but has yet to be released.

“You write a song, open it up and then the song appears,” Sibley explained. “I come up with the germ of an idea and let it unfold. Look for rhymes. I feel I find a song more than I write.”

Sibley inherited an eye for detail from his mother Peggy Thatch Sibley while growing up in El Dorado Springs, an hour south of Springfield. His father was a grocer, his mother is a piano player and painter.

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Mrs. Sibley’s art.

“She paints pictures of bridges and flowers and all kinds of stuff,” Sibley said. “You see her prints at Wal-Mart. I’ll go into a hotel room and find my Mom’s painting on the wall. Let’s say bird houses are big this year. She will do a series of bird houses. She paints photographs of those styles but she aspires to loosen up and be more expressive.

“I find myself writing the same way she paints. In order to fight that I’ll throw some more paint on the canvas. It’s contrived random. Do I rhyme where it should be or don’t do a rhyme? People who do it for real, that’s genius stuff. Me? I pretend to be a genius. I write jingles. That’s what I do.”

“About every three weeks, TV stations coast to coast, north to south fly me in. California to New Jersey. They bring their clients in   every hour and a half. They tell me about their business for 30  minutes or so and I find some germ where I can write about something.  They leave the room for 20 minutes and I write their jingle. A jingle is 30 seconds  long. And you want to say something good about the client. They come in and I play it for them. If they like it, I come back here and produce it with real singers and stuff. Then the TV sends me a contract.

“ I’ve written thousands and thousands of jingles. The client takes it home. He says, ‘I know you’re an expert, but my daughter thinks it should sound more like this.’ You’re always pleasing the lowest common denominator, just like in popular music. That’s what you’re going for.”

Sibley’s approach is not unlike what hot pop (Taylor Swift, Lorde) songwriter Jack Antonoff told the New York Times earlier this week: “The heart and soul of pop is newness, excitement, innovation. The music business is built on chasing that ambulance–‘someone did it, let’s go that way.’ I don’t want to be a part of that. I want to be away from it.”

Antonoff should move to Springfield.

Sibley came to Springfield in 1971 to study marketing at Missouri State. “But Springfield bands would come to El Dorado Springs every Friday and Saturday night,” he said. “They were big stars to us. They knew all the right chords to the songs and I would be the guy standing by the PA watching them play That’s how I met Lloyd (Hicks, all-world drummer. He was the drummer for Lord Mack and the Checkmates. Supe (Michael Granda of the Ozark Mountain Daredevils) came to my town.

The late Wayne Carson

The late Wayne Carson

“The first studio in Springfield was started by Si Siman in 1968. It was called Top Talent. That’s where Wayne Carson (The Box Tops, Gary Stewart, etc.) did his demos and it became kind of a party place. Then Si said, ‘I’m outta here.’ He told me when I was going to build this place, ‘You’re going to regret it.’ Because I’d be using musicians (laughs). About 1972 Si sold his studio to a group of investors whose core group was local preachers. They made a gospel studio out of it. They’d do an album a day on Saturdays and  Sundays. I knew everybody who played in every band in town.

“For me, Springfield music was like collecting baseball cards.”

 

M. Ward.

M. Ward solo. I’m a fan.

 

Bobby Lloyd Hicks, 1947-2017

Bobby Lloyd Hicks, 1947-2017

“Bobby” Lloyd Hicks.

What a great name, what a great man.

Bobby Lloyd Hicks–it sounded like he came from somewhere big and dusty, like Texas, an old Kansas City steakhouse or a Gary Cooper western. But no siree Bob, the modest Mr. Hicks was born in 1947 in tiny Marshalltown, Iowa, where in 1852 future Baseball Hall of Famer Adrian “Cap” Anson became the first European born in the farming community.

And Mr. Hicks was an ace of hearts.

He was the drummer-vocalist for the Skeletons/Morells/NRBQ and about 63 other bands, including the Ozark Mountain Daredevils where revolving members are known as “Sparedevils.” Mr. Hicks died early Sunday in his adopted home town of Springfield, Mo. He had been fighting lung disease.

Springfield mayor Bob Stephens named Jan. 22, 2017 as Bobby Lloyd Hicks Day in Springfield and that night the local music community turned out in force for a benefit-tribute concert at the Fox Theater in Springfield to pay back for Mr. Hicks’ goodwill towards Springfield arts. In the more than quarter century that I’ve been documenting the far-reaching Springfield  music scene, Mr. Hicks was a reliable vessel for history, insight and networking, He always returned calls and e-mails, even last week. He always smiled.

In the 1980s and 90s the Skeletons and Morells gained attention in Rolling Stone magazine and other national media outlets because their engaging sound was a hybrid of the mystical flotsam and jetsam in Springfield, the birthplace of Route 66. Mr. Hicks was the loyal time keeper that revealed a spirit with no musical prejudice. How do you describe the music he played to someone who never heard it? Beach Boys/Ramones/Dictators/Waylon Jennings/The Box Tops/Swingin’ Medallions/Monkees/Sonny & Cher and that is only a beginning. The beat goes on and on.

The deep musical well was not lost on Grammy winning singer-songwriter Dave Alvin, who had kept in touch with Mr. Hicks over the last few months. In 1991 Alvin hired the Skeletons as the touring band behind his “Blue Boulevard” album. By 1993 Mr. Hicks was playing drums alongside iconic rhythm and blues saxophonist Lee Allen on Alvin’s “Museum of Heart” record. From 1993 through 2006 Mr. Hicks and Skeletons keyboardist Joe Terry were part of Alvin’s Guilty Men band.

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“ I can throw anything at them and they can play it,” Alvin once told me. “When we did that (1998 North American) Bob Dylan-Joni Mitchell-Dave Alvin) tour, Joni had Brian Blades playing drums, who was just amazing. His brother plays in Spyboy with Emmylou Harris. Those are the two best drummers I’ve seen in a long time and I’d put Bobby right with them.”

“A lot of drummers don’t understand harmony. Bobby understands music theory. I don’t. And (the late) Donald Lindley (Alvin, Lucinda Williams) and Bobby were two of the best guys ever for understanding what it takes to be a song—different from just coming up with a drum part–to actually listen to the song, listen to the lyrics.”

Over the years, under the considerable charms of late Skeletons and Morells bassist-producer Lou Whitney, Mr. Hicks, keyboardist Joe Terry, keyboardist Kelly Brown, guitarist D. Clinton Thompson, harmonica-vocalist Nick Sibley and others became Springfield’s own “Wrecking Crew,” playing behind the likes of Eric Ambel Scott Kempner, Andy Shernoff (The Del-Lords), Robbie Fulks, Jonathan Richman, Syd Straw, Boxcar Willie just to name a few.

Mr. Hicks moved to Springfield in 1965 to become a music teacher. His father William Herschel Hicks was raised in the Ozarks by Mr. Hicks’ grandfather, an itinerant preacher. During the summer the family would travel from Iowa to the Springfield area to see family and enjoy the pristine lakes.

William Herschel Hicks managed the Kresge department store in Marshalltown. When Mr. Hicks was two years old William Herschel and his wife Genevieve gave their son a children’s record player from the store.

The deal was done.

“The fascination of those spinning disc and the sound coming out of  the box,” Mr. Hicks told me several years ago. “My Mom said I was on my knees all day. Then I’d take my records to bed. It was those (children’s) Golden records but my parents had a lot of ’78s. Big Band stuff and the crooners. We had a lot of novelty records too, for some reason.”

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Bobby Lloyd Hicks, courtesy of NRBQ

This is probably why Mr. Hicks would sign holiday greetings, “Merry Christmas Cousin and a Happy Doodle-ee-dee!”

Mr. Hicks did not recall hearing African-American rhythm and blues and soul music in Marshalltown. “Black people all lived in one little neighborhood in Marshalltown,” he said. “When we got in hight school we discovered WLAC (AM, nighttime rhythm and blues out of Nashville, Tn.) Wolfman Jack and all of that.”

The family had a Grand piano in the living room. Genevieve was an accomplished pianist and Mr. Hicks’ two older sisters took piano lessons along with Mr. Hicks. “But the Beatles changed everybody on what was fun to play,” Mr. Hicks explained. “In fourth grade I went to play drums. We had a little band in high school called the Cooties. We played high school dances and stuff.”

Mr. Hicks always remembered the first two albums he bought: Sandy Nelson’s “Let There Be Drums” and the Jose Jimenez comedy LP “The Submarine Officer.” He laughed, “I don’t know which one had the biggest influence on me. But both of them did.”

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His parents were very religious. “They would rarely go to dances and movies,” Mr. Hicks said. “They would complain every time I bought a rock n’ roll ’45, ‘You’re throwing your money away!’ that kind of thing.”

Later, behind the parental scenes, Mr. Hicks idols became jazz drummers Joe Morello (Dave Brubeck) and Louie Bellson. “Gene Krupa of course,” he said. “I admired those guys but by fourth grade you’re thinking you need real big sticks and rubber pads. I never had jazz chops. Bossa nova came along in the early ’60s and that was fun and easy to play. But I’ve never had a good left hand. It was February, 1964 when the Beatles came out. Everything changed that night. In fact, in early 1964 we had a little folk group that won second place in competition at Grinnell (College in Grinnell, Iowa). The top three finishers got to do a spring concert with the Gateway Trio from San Francisco. In the meantime the Beatles had come on Ed Sullivan. So when we came back with our ‘folk group’ we had drums, Beatle jackets and we did ‘She Loves You.’ The judges were aghast.”

In a deep folkloric drawl, Mr. Hicks loved to tell stories of the late 1960s rock music scene in Springfield when anyone could be a star. Mr. Hicks’ measured manner and gentle country grin made him something of a Mark Twain character. He found that small town dreams were always approachable in Springfield.

“Oh yeah, to have a ‘45 here was a big deal,” he said. His best pal through the 1960s was local soul-saxophonist Mike Bunge. “He had a band with horns, steps and suits, kind of like Bob Kuban and the In-Men (the St. Louis outfit who had the national 1966 soul hit with “The Cheater),” Mr. Hicks recalled. “They were called Lewie and the Seven Days. And there was only six of them”

Mr. Hicks enrolled at Southwest Missouri State University to obtain a teaching degree, but music got in the way. “It was a vibrant music scene in the late 1960s,” he said. “A lot of bands.  No DJs. There was an atmosphere. In college it was mandatory to take two years of ROTC. So no guy in this town could grow hair over their ears. The first band I was in was Lord Mack and the Checkmates (band names were even awesome in the 1960s).  We made a contract where you can’t play with other bands,  you have to make practice several times a week. And we buried way down there, ‘Cannot cut hair for the contract year.’ I took this to the ROTC commander and he signed a little paper that said I didn’t have to cut my hair.. So there was only three of us on the entire campus of 3,000 that had long hair. I got stopped all the time by student officers. I’d have to get out my wallet, show them the paper and they’d get pissed.

“It was fun even though Viet Nam was looming overhead.”

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The Skeletons fax a record deal. From left, Bobby Lloyd Hicks, Joe Terry, Lou Whitney, D. Clinton Thompson, Kelly Brown.

Mr. Hicks played Animals, Beatles and Rolling Stones covers. “Then I saw Lewie and the Seven Days,” he said. “I thought, ‘Yeah, this is where it is at. Really tight.’ And they were managed by Si Siman and Si booked our band too.”

“Si” Siman was a conduit for the Springfield music scene. He started the “Ozark Jubilee” television show in 1955 on ABC-TV. The Ozark Jubilee was the first television show in America to feature country-western music. The show was broadcast live on Saturday nights from the  since-razed Jewell Theater in downtown Springfield. Patsy Cline,  Johnny Cash and Webb Pierce all appeared on the Jubilee. Rockabilly singer Carl Perkins made his television debut on the Jubilee.

“Mike and I would get out of theory class and go hang out at Si’s  office,” Mr. Hicks recalled.  “Every day. (Late Springfield songwriters) Ronnie Self and Wayne Carson would come in We’d read Billboard magazine. They had a mono recording studio upstairs. Ronnie and Wayne recorded a lot of demos there. The radio station (KTWO-AM), “Keep Watching The Ozarks” was there.” Siman was the station’s vice-president.

Carson and Self wrote for the Earl Barton Publishing Company, also co-founded by Siman. Self wrote the Brenda Lee hits “I’m Sorry” and “Sweet Nothin’s,” and his “Waitin’ For My Gin To Hit Me” became a Skeletons staple, while Carson was Barton’s biggest success penning the Box Top hits “The Letter” and “Soul Deep,” the late Gary Stewart country hits “Drinkin’ Thing” and “She’s Acting Single (I’m Drinking Double)” while co-writing the Elvis Presley smash “Always On My Mind,” also a hit for Willie Nelson.

Mr. Hicks was going to school.

Dave Alvin was sold on Mr. Hicks’ musicology while recording his acclaimed 1994 acoustic album “King of California.” “I didn’t have money in the budget to have Bobby on the whole sessions,” Alvin said. “We at least got him out for a couple days of vocal harmonies because he is such a great singer. We had gone through two or three great drummers, Donald Lindley being one, that could not come up with a drum part to ‘King of California” We cut that track live with the exception of the drums. Bobby walks in the studio, He’d never heard the song. He plays this drum part that is absoultely genius. And that was it. I feel this way about the Morells and Skeletons: if they weren’t living in Springfield, if they were living in Nashville or Los Angeles, they’d all have been session guys making major money.”

Between 2013 and 2015, Mr. Hicks was  drummer for the fine  pop-rock band NRBQ. When he was off the road with the Q, he gigged around Springfield. In the fall of 2014 I drove in from Chicago to see Mr. Hicks play 1950s-60s country music at  Luttrell’s Auction and Live Music Barn on the north side of Springfield, There was little money in this gig. Mr Hicks promised this would be a memorable experience and he delivered.

Auctions started in the small, rickety barn in 1955, making it the oldest auction house west of the Mississippi River. Leona Williams, former wife of Merle Haggard was an occasional guest vocalist.  If  you liked the joyful old RR Ranch in downtown Chicago, you would love Luttell’s Auction and Live Music Barn.

Bobby Lloyd Hicks and the auction house band, 2014 (photo by Rene' Greblo)

Bobby Lloyd Hicks and the auction barn band, 2014 (Photo by Rene’ Greblo)

During my visits, the auction barn band featured Ozark Jubilee steel player Roger Blevins and country jazz guitarist Jerry Menown, sort of an Ozarks version of Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant.. “I bring the rock,” Mr. Hicks told me after the show. He even sang a sterling version of the 1954 La Vern Baker hit “Tweedle Dee,”

Mr. Hicks smiled and said, “ We play from 7 until 9. They like to get home early so they can go to church the next day. When these guys take a lead you have to smile because they still got it. Fat chords. Swing stuff. It’s a joy to do it. My older brother lives in Detroit and came out for a show. He said, ‘Man, this is a time warp.’ People applaud anybody’s solo. It’s like a Porter Wagoner show from 1963.

“It’s still unfiltered here.”

One of Mr. Hicks’ many gifts was to hear such purity even through the static of contemporary culture. Commitment and honesty always helped Bobby Lloyd Hicks recognize the American beat. That is no small thing.

Visitation for Bobby Lloyd Hicks is 5-7 p.m. Feb. 27 at the Gorman-Scharpf Funeral Home, 1947 E. Seminole St. in Springfield. A celebration of life begins at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 28 at the funeral home.

Courtesy of National Blues Museum

Courtesy of National Blues Museum

ST. LOUIS–The National Blues Museum is in a former department store in downtown St. Louis. The museum got a lot of love even before its April 2 grand opening, as the $14 million center was named a top travel destination by the New York Times and Smithsonian Magazine.

I waited until the doors opened to get my mojo talkin’.

The National Blues Museum is a snappy, well told story with lots of panels, posters and photographs. It has an ambitious vision. It is billed as the only institution of its kind dedicated exclusively to preserving and honoring the history of blues music and its impact on American and world culture.

There’s also the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Ms., the Blues Hall of Fame in downtown Memphis and the quaint River Music Experience  in Davenport, Ia.

Am I missing any important blues cities?

The majestic St. Louis building was born in 1906 as the Grand-Leader department store. The 23,000 square feet of the museum gives it ample room to grow and evolve, just like the blues itself. That’s what is exciting to me about the St. Louis development. I’d like to see more interactive exhibits, more source interviews and sounds and more original artifacts at the National Blues Museum.

For example, the museum points out that W.C. Handy “The Father of the Blues” lived in St. Louis circa 1892-93. On display in front of his picture are a random coronet and a regular trumpet that denote his instrumentation. In 1967 the new St. Louis Blues hockey team was named in honor of Handy’s legacy.

Conversely, the interactive highlight comes from a $100,000 gift from rocker and Paramount Records blues archivist Jack White. [The eagle eye will notice the museum’s “Ma Rainey’s Mystery Record,” recorded in 1924 at Paramount in Grafton, Wis.]

Jack White: 21st Century blues man.

Jack White: 21st Century blues man.

White’s “Mix It Up” room is the end result of a series of touch monitors throughout the museum that allow visitors to create their own blues persona, music (with harmonica, guitar and piano), lyrics and album artwork.

Each monitor visit can be mashed up into a unique song delivered in the “Mix It Up” room at the end of the museum tour. Guests received a free mp3 “Mix It Up” file as a souvenir.

During my visit on a rainy weekday afternoon, the “Mix It Up” room had the most visitors–and the most young people.

The museum tells the story of the blues through its migratory path from Mississippi through Memphis, Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis and Canada while also branching out west to California. It moves on up to modern day, illustrating the blues imprint on hip-hop artists such as Kendrick Lamar.

It messed me up to read about Chicago’s rich blues history in a St. Louis museum. One museum panel paid homage to the blues inspired jazz and vaudeville artists who performed at The Chicago Theatre. Around the corner I saw wall sized portraits of Chicagoan Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers.

That’s as lame as seeing an image of Stan Musial in a Chicago baseball museum.

Chess Records architect Willie Dixon--his family runs a modestly visited tourist site in Chicago.

Chess Records architect Willie Dixon–his family runs a modestly visited tourist site in Chicago.

There are Chicago connections at the museum. Interpretative manager Jacqueline K. Dace was formerly project manager for the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, Ms. and collections manager  at the Du Sable Museum of African American History in Chicago.

And the first person I bumped into after walking through the front door was the friendly volunteer docent, Paul Bruce, retired director of safety from METRA. The Chicago native’s daughter lives in St. Louis. He showed me the museum’s 150-seat music venue, deployed with four HD (High Definition) cameras for internet screening. Regular live performances just began.

The museum is part of the new MX (Mercantile Exchange) district, an emerging downtown destination that includes an Embassy Suites on one side of the museum and Sugar Fire Smoke Barbecue on the other side. Most important the museum is two blocks from the America’s Center Convention complex.

Let’s see. In Chicago, the Chess Records studio and the historic Record Row is within walking distance of the McCormick Place convention complex.

But NOOOOOOH, our mayor wants to borrow more than $1 billion for a Star Wars museum filled with Norman Rockwell paintings? Wonder if it’s because he has a brother with Hollywood ties.

Executive Director Dion Brown (Courtesy of the National Blues Musem)

Executive Director Dion Brown (Courtesy of the National Blues Museum)

National Blues Museum founding executive director Dion Brown came to St. Louis in June, 2015 after serving as Executive Director of the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center in Indianola, Ms..

How did St. Louis pull off what Chicago has so sadly failed to accomplish?

“I’ve followed this museum since 2011,” Brown answered during a conversation in his office. “I even asked ‘Why St. Louis?’ The answer I got was that it belongs wherever people wanted it. St. Louis pushed for it and had the donors who actually wanted to see it here.”

That’s how I felt about the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame.

I thought it should have been built in Memphis, but Cleveland worked the hardest to get it.

Brown said, “If you look at the central location to Chicago, Memphis, down to the Delta, geographically, St. Louis is the best place for it. Everybody can come to it. They started talking about this in 2010 and they pulled this off in six years. That’s something. And this is only going to get better. It has so much room to get better.

“I’m a dreamer. Being the  National Blues Museum, what’s wrong with having a branch in Chicago? It’s about branding and growing the museum.”

Besides Jack White’s involvement other notable museum supporters include St. Louis native and actor John Goodman, Devon Allman, Morgan Freeman, and Chicago’s Buddy Guy. The turning point in making the museum a reality came in 2012 when Pinnacle Entertainment, which formerly owned the nearby Lumiere Place casino and hotel, invested $6 million into the project. Prior to that bet the museum had raised $1 million.

Freeman provides narration for an introductory blues film.

Maybe Rahm can hire R2D2 to do the voice over for a Chicago blues museum.

The National Blues Museum in St. Louis (courtesy of the museum)

The National Blues Museum in St. Louis (image courtesy of the museum)

“We had Bonnie Raitt come here before we opened,” Brown said. “She just fell in love. We didn’t ask her to do anything, but she believes in what we’re doing so much she went and raved about us at her sold out concert here in town (at the Peabody Opera House). That’s from the heart. We weren’t there, it’s not like we gave her a script.

“That’s what I love about this.”

The National Blues Museum was designed by Gallagher & Associates, who also did the B.B. King museum, the National World War II Museum in New Orleans–and The Mob Museum of Las Vegas. The ceiling design incorporates original railroad ties from the area while the gift shop and performance area uses reclaimed wood from the Mississippi River.

Brown is from Decatur, Ill.–the hometown of former Chicago Cubs great Bill Madlock. Brown’s father worked at the since-closed Wagner Castings plant and his mother worked at Decatur Memorial Hospital.

“I’m a die-hard Cubs fan,” the 51-year-old Brown said with a proud smile. “Actually on media day I had my Cubs hat. They go, ‘ You’re not going to go on stage with that cap on. You’re gonna’ close that museum before it even opens.’ Jose’ Cardenal. Big Cubs fan.”

American poet and Cardinals fan Chuck Berry recognized with his "Special Occasion" Gibson ES-355 that he deployed in the 1987 documentary "Hail!, Hail!, Rock n' Roll" (Museum photo by Bill Motchan)

American poet and Cardinals fan Chuck Berry recognized with his “Special Occasion” Gibson ES-355 that he deployed in the 1987 documentary “Hail!, Hail!, Rock n’ Roll” (Museum photo by Bill Motchan)

Brown obtained a Bachelor of Science degree (Magna Cum Laude) in Human Resources from Southwestern College. He is also retired from the United States Air Force after 21 years of service. Brown grew up as a fan of jazz and sports talk radio.

After leaving the air force, Brown was first hired as Director of Human Resources at Exploration Place and was promoted to Chief Operating Officer at Exploration Place in Wichita, Ks. He moved to the B.B. King museum in December, 2010. In 2013 the Delta Business Journal as named Brown as one of its “Top Minority Business Leaders.”

“My last job there was to bury Mr. King there at the museum,” Brown said. “We buried Mr. King on May 30 (2015) on the grounds of the museum, drove my wife back to Kansas on May 31 and drove here June 1.”

And now, the blues are reborn in St. Louis.

merelhaggard33-x600

LOS ANGELES, Ca.—Merle Haggard was a friend of mine. And if you liked America’s back roads, honky-tonks and remembered to open car doors for women, he was a friend of yours too.

Haggard died April 6 on his 79th birthday.

He died at his home in Northern California,. which was poetic. Haggard is as essential to the California landscape as John Steinbeck or Cesar Chavez. No person was too small for this musical giant, whose reach went beyond country into jazz, swing, blues and pop.

Merle was an empathetic songwriter, a bandleader, a romantic and a huge slice of American history. He was a loyal friend of the downtrodden. This one hurts.

Merle, his long time road manager Frank Mull and publicist Tresa Redburn never turned down an interview request from me. The music business is fickle. I could always count on Merle Haggard.

We last talked to Merle a little over a year ago for the Springfield, Missouri music documentary we’ve been working on. Haggard was gracious with his time before a show with Marty Stuart in Springfield.

Here’s a link to Merle in our trailer:

On that spring afternoon Merle and I got to talking about transportation as we almost always did. Merle spoke of taking a bus to Springfield to try to get on the Ozark Jubilee television show but wound up getting some gigs at a strip club in Kansas City, Mo. Merle also worked his UFO theories into our conversations as he always did.

Bob Dylan is known for his never-ending tour, and indeed one of the great thrills of my life was seeing a few of the Dylan-Haggard shows (on Haggard’s birthday) at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago. Haggard won over the Dylan fans.

Merle was never-ending America.

He got a kick out of my left field questions.

In the fall of 2000 I was sitting in his “Silver Chief” bus outside of St. Louis, the only place in America where the Mississippi River meets Old Route 66. I asked Merle which path he would choose.

“The road,” he answered with a smile and a sly pause. “Because the river goes to the ocean. And then you have to go around the world again to get back on the road.”

Merle lived a life of somewheres.

He liked to keep moving but he wasn’t a fan of change.

“Kern River” is one of the greatest songs about the fading American landscape ever composed. It moved me so much that I actually once drove to Bakersfield from Los Angeles just to see the dried up Kern River.

Merle grew up in a converted refrigerator boxcar in Oildale, Calif, just across the Kern River from Bakersfield. “I was at a truck stop in Bakersfield when I wrote that,” Haggard told me. “We had been there two days. It had been 22 years since I finished Kern River (in 1984). I woke up that morning. I didn’t know anybody in town. The whole place had changed. I wondered if I could finish Kern River again.”

Anybody who throws Merle under the tour bus for the tongue-in-cheek crowd pleaser “Okie From Muskogee” is stupid. Haggard wrote about the migratory paths down the Will Rogers Highway (Route 66),   the seeds of the Dust Bowl in the San Joaquin Valley, angels and silver wings in the sky. In “Kern River,” Haggard’s aching baritone declared:

I may drown in still water

But I’ll never swim Kern River again.”

“I was a stranger in my own hometown,” he said. “I’m a time traveler.”

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Haggard then asked me where I got my brown cowboy boots (Alacala’s Western Wear in Ukranian Village) and then offered me a shot of George Dickel Tennessee whiskey. I’m a tequila guy but I did not turn this down.

I’m writing from the Best Western Sunset Plaza—which Jerry Buss sold to buy the L.A. Lakers—and the faux honky tonk Saddle Ranch Chop House is across the street. Probably will have a shot for Merle there tonight. Or maybe the Frolic Room,

Merle and I were talking and drinking under a full moon in 2000 when he was promoting his album “If I Could Only Fly.” Merle sang the Blaze Foley title track at Tammy Wynette’s funeral.

Merle recorded “If I Could Only Fly” in his Tally Studio at the foothills of Mt. Shasta near Redding in the Sacramento Valley. Merle had been making records out of his home studio since 1985.

“ I believe in trying to reproduce honesty, what really exists,” he told me. “I give them the bad with the good, which is against the grain of technology. Everybody’s temptation is to perfect everything, and that makes everything bland. It’s refined to the point it’s boring.

“Everything is controlled to where it can’t get out of line. Nobody can get too close to the mike. You’re not going to hear somebody’s lips pop. You won’t hear a guitar scratch, no human noises at all. If everybody’s 8 feet tall, then basketball don’t mean much anymore.

“There’s nothing as boring to me as perfection.”

This is why Merle and I got along.

More than 25 years ago before he appeared at a county fair in Elkhart, Ind., Merle told me about the night that he was booked on the first worldwide ‘Ed Sullivan’ telecast with country singers Jeannie C. Riley and Minnie Pearl.

 

He never appeared.

They had me in for the part of Curly in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s `Oklahoma!’ So
I learned all that stuff and sung all them songs,” Merle said, very seriously.
“As the week progressed and we got closer to the time of broadcast, they kept working these dance steps in for me. Now, I told them at the beginning, ‘I don’t dance, I don’t do choreography and I don’t want to. I might later on in my life, but not right now.”
Merle Haggard, 1961, Tally Records promotional photo

Merle Haggard, 1961, Tally Records photo

Merle tossed  out a crooked laugh.
“Well, they just kept shoving in a little more dance and a little more choreography and pretty soon I was dancing around this big set with each of those girls (Minnie and Jeannie) on my arms, when one of them fruiters (backup dancers) pinched me on the ass! That’s just the truth.
“I went around the circle and Fuzzy (Owen, his manager) was standing in the wings and I said, ‘Fuzzy, I’m heading for the bus after this next circle.’ So we went around the circle and I waltzed right behind the curtain on to the bus.
“Jeannie C. Riley came out to the bus and cried for the next three hours trying to get me to come back in, She said I was going to ruin my career, and I said, ‘Maybe so, but I’d rather do that than  embarrass myself in front of all the truck drivers and people I’ve built up over the years.’
About 10 years later I was on a talk show with Minnie Pearl and she said, ‘I’ve always loved you, but the thing I love the most was the night you walked out on Ed Sullivan.’ Ha! I’m not afraid of gay people or anything. I just didn’t want to dance.”
Johnny Mathis replaced Haggard.
Merle's beloved tour bus.

Merle’s beloved tour bus, a calming retreat..

Merle  had his first and most lasting success with Capitol Records producer Ken Nelson (Gene Vincent, Wanda Jackson, the Louvin Brothers) who basically left Haggard alone. “He sat there and diddled on a piece of paper while I recorded,” Haggard said. “He made me feel like I had some wisdom, some information to give. But he also wanted to make sure we didn’t offend anybody.

“One time he says, ‘Merrrrle, do you suppose we should say anything about this interracial love affair?.”  Nelson was referring to Haggard’s 1969 ballad “Irma Jackson.” Haggard wrote the song about society’s intolerance of interracial relationships at the same time he wrote “Okie From Muskogee.”

“I said, ‘You’re the publishing house’,” Merle recalled. “I’m just the writer. You make the call.’ So they didn’t put it out. I’m just giving the news. Don’t kill the messenger.” A few years later Capitol Records finally released the “Irma Jackson” ballad.

I traveled the country to see this American treasure: a smoky honky-tonk in Taylorville, Ill., Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa, Ok, the mountain wineries of Saratoga, Calif. and of course the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.

And I saw him with Willie Nelson in Branson:

“I felt like I was under more scrutiny in Branson than when I was in San Quentin,” Haggard told me. “You couldn’t go anywhere. The traffic was so bad you couldn’t move. If you were sick, you’d have to puke in the parking lot. Willie and I agreed it was absolutely the worst year of our entertainment lives and we should have been given purple hearts for our contribution to Branson.”

Merle and Willie, Feb. 7, 2013

Merle and Willie, Feb. 7, 2013

One of our most meaningful conversations was outside a dance hall in Indianapolis where Merle spoke of his donations to the permanent “America on the Move” exhibition at the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. In 1966 Merle had his first number one hit with “I’m a Lonesome Fugitive” and he pledged:

I’m on the run/the highway is my home.

In 1935 Merle’s parents, James and Flossie Haggard migrated down Route 66 from eastern Oklahoma to Oildale, Calif, near Bakersfield.

Merle and his sister Lillian Haggard Hoge donated nearly 30 objects the family saved from their migration. American history to the core. Lillian was 14 when the family left Oklahoma with her late brother James Lowell. (Merle was born in 1937).

“My family was of more fortunate nature than most,” Merle said in measured tones. He seemed to enjoy to be talking about something more than music, but this DNA informed his art. “My family didn’t come to California for the same reasons as others. They had a fire and got wiped out. They were doing all right in Oklahoma, as hard as the times were.”

James and Flossie Haggard were farmers, but the fire destroyed the barn, a 1933 Model A Ford, cows, horses and feed and seed grains. To make matters worse, a 1934 drought starched the Oklahoma plains and the family made no money from crops.

“In those days, insurance wasn’t around,” Merle said. “So they decided to go out to California to see if it was actually ‘The Promised Land.’ They told me about the trip.”

“They said it took them seven days to go from Checotah, Okla. south of Muskogee to Oildale, They had been out there before. They went in 1927, I believe and the roads weren’t even blacktopped, They crossed the desert on railroad ties. Sometimes the sand would blow across and you’d lose the road altogether. In 1935 my dad drove a 1926 Chevy and they had everything they owned in the cargo trailer.”

Country music will never again come from this point of view.

And there’s more. Merle continued: ‘There was a guy with a bicycle climbing this long hill. My family had stopped for water. My dad said to the bike rider, ‘Hey, throw that bicycle on top of the trailer.’ And the guy hung on the side of the car on what they called a running board in those days. Dad took him up that hill. And after he got him up that hill, he got the bike and rode along the back while holding onto the trailer. He pulled him nearly all the way to California.

Route 66, then and now: Tulsa, Ok. 1991 (Photo by Dave Hoekstra)

Route 66, then and now: Tulsa, Ok. 1991 (Photo by Dave Hoekstra)

The journey was full of surprises and self-reliance.

Haggard recalls, “My dad lost his transmission just as they started to cross the Colorado River in Needles, Calif. I remember him telling me how he worked on it all afternoon. Some bolts had broke He used wire from a nearby fence to wire it together. They left that night to start across the desert because it was so hot. And it was still 114 degrees at midnight in Needles.”

The Smithsonian received a metal trunk that held the Haggard’s family possessions during their journey and Flossie’s metal-box Empire camera. Flossie’s snapshots depict the 1926 Chevy, the cargo trailer and Route 66 scenes.

Merle was always fussy about awards and stuff but he was truly  touched that his legacy would be part of the Smithsonian. He wanted me to mention the gift of  gospel songbooks Celestial Joys (published in 1932) and Leading Light (published in 1935) from his father’s collection. James Haggard sang bass in a gospel quartet.

I did. And I will again.

Merle had a concert shtick that I never grew tired of. He would introduce his excellent band The Strangers to each other, The band would amble around the stage shaking hands with each other while Merle looked down with that wry, approving smile of his.

But Merle Haggard was no stranger to the American spirit.

His music and his emblem championed all that is good, hopeful and true. He was a friend to anyone who listened with an open mind.  I’m going to miss him being part of this world.

 

 

 

Allen-Toussaint
Allen Toussaint’s elegance and humility informed the beauty of all his music. Look no further than his recent cover of the late Jesse Winchester’s “I Wave Bye Bye” available on “Quiet About It,” from Jimmy Buffett’s Mailboat Records label.
I refrain from posting archived stories, but this one is almost 10  years to the day of his passing. From the Sun-Times.
Sail on Allen.
Nov. 20, 2005—
Allen Toussaint has taken New Orleans music all over the world.

He wrote New Orleans R&B classics such as Ernie K. Doe’s “Mother-in-Law,” LeeDorsey’s “Working in a Coal Mine” and “Southern Nights,” popularized by Glen Campbell. His “Whipped Cream” was recorded by Herb Alpert and became the theme for “The Dating Game.” There are many others, and you’ve heard more of them than you might realize.

 Born and reared in New Orleans, Toussaint, now 67, started playing piano at 7. His
father, Clarence M. Toussaint, was a railroad mechanic and a weekend trumpet
player. His mother, Naomi Neville, was a homemaker; Toussaint later would use
her name as a songwriting pseudonym (Otis Redding’s “Pain in My Heart”).
The songwrirter-producer-vocalist never left for Los Angeles or New York. Toussaint sacrificed business for the heartbeat of his hometown.
For years, Toussaint has lived in the shadow of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage
fairgrounds. This is like Ernie Banks living across the street from Wrigley Field. But
his house was gutted by Hurricane Katrina at the end of August.

“All my stuff downstairs is destroyed,” Toussaint said last week from his temporary digs in New York City. “My Steinway piano. Equipment. My filing cabinets–with loads of handwritten music — is gone as well. It’s a disaster zone. But I’ve resolved it’s the rearview mirror. I’ll move back in the same neighborhood, but I will no longer depend on my lower level. I’m optimistic about the future. The city will be better.”

During the storm, Toussaint held out until the last minute, which for him, was Aug. 31, two days after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. Early reports had Toussaint missing and/or an evacuee in the Louisiana Superdome. He did leave his house and checked into the Astor Hotel on Canal Street.

 “By that time the water was seven feet high,” he said. “There was no hope. I was able to get on a charter school bus that night and get a ride to the Baton Rouge airport. I was safe at all times. The next morning I boarded a plane to New York.”

The move has not slowed him down. In the weeks since Toussaint relocated to New York, he’s become acquainted with Elvis Costello. Last week, they began recording an album together. Costello is following the lead of Paul McCartney, the late Robert Palmer and Paul Simon, all of whom have collaborated with Toussaint.  Toussaint is also the centerpiece of “I Believe to My Soul” (Rhino/ Starbucks Hear Music, Work Song), the Joe Henry-produced project that also features Mavis Staples, Ann Peebles, Irma Thomas and Billy Preston. The album is a fund-raiser for Hurricane Katrina victims.

Toussaint plays piano throughout “I Believe to My Soul,” which was recorded in a week at Hollywood’s historic Capitol B studios, and contributes four new compositions to the project.
 “Joe gave me a call, but I had never heard of him,” Toussaint said. “I said yes
because of the way he described what he wanted to do. He’s also working with me
on the Elvis Costello project.”
Toussaint’s spiritual ballad “We Are One” closes the record. “It was a piece that I
had written to do at the end of New Orleans Jazz Fest a couple of years ago. I
never planned to record it, but for some reason it came up this time,” he said.

On “I Believe,” Toussaint even revisits the disco beat in “Mi Amour,” while his fellow Crescent City songbird Irma Thomas offers one of the most powerful pure soul tracks by wrapping her voice around Tom Jans’ “Loving Arms.”

 Toussaint cut his chops under the spell of Huey “Piano” Smith. At 17, Toussaint
was recruited to replace Smith in the late Earl King’s band for a show in Pritchard,
Ala. Smith went on to have hits such as “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu” and  “High Blood Pressure,” but in 1970, he banked the proceeds of a Coca-
Cola commercial and became a Jehovah’s Witness. Smith, 71, is now a preacher in
Baton Rouge. Rumors of a comeback appearance always float around before Jazz Fest, but nothing has ever materialized.
“He’s consistent,” Toussaint said. “He never looked back. He had a magical touch on the piano. When he was on Earl King’s 1955 hit ‘Those Lonely, Lonely Nights,’ he played fills on the piano that sounded like he was in a a saloon. His writing? Sheer genius.  If he stayed in the business, he would have come up with more magic. It flowed out of him.”

Toussaint has embraced all kinds of music throughout his life. The Gilbert O’Sullivan 1972 hit ballad “Alone, Again (Naturally)” is one of his all-time favorite compositions.

“When I first heard it, I loved the melody and the way he told the story,” Toussaint told me. “It was touching. The bridge went up to a nice level and came back to sit in a very good place. I liked that.  I know there was much more where that came from, but I don’t thik we heard many more things from him.”

Toussaint admitted he wrote the upbeat instrumentals “Whipped Cream” and its
predecesor, “Java” (a 1964 hit for Al Hirt), while trying to be humorous. “Al Hirt
came out with ‘Java’ while I was in the military,” said Toussaint, who was stationed in Ft. Hood, Texas.
“On weekends I played in a small band off-base. The other members knew I wrote that, and they thought that was outrageous. They associated me with R&B and K-Doe’s 1961 hit “Mother-in-Law.’ So  I wrote songs like ‘Java’ for that band to play, kind of like, ‘Well, take that.’ And ‘Whipped Cream’ was one of those songs.”
 Just before Toussaint was discharged, Joe Banashak at New Orleans’ Minit
Records took the band into the studio to record the Latin-tinged instrumentals.

(Toussaint had played on almost all the Minit hits before joining the Army in 1963.)

Toussaint later branched out to write the horn arrangements for the Band’s “Rock of Ages” album, and in 1983, he worked with New York percussionist Kip Hanrahan’s free-form group Conjure on “Music for the Texts of Ishmael Reed.”

“When I write, I don’t usually hear a plot without a melody,” Toussaint said. “I might hear two people talking and that will inspire a story. But a little melody always comes with that. Always.”

Dylan,_Cash,_and_the_Nashville_Cats_-_Bob_Dylan_Nashville_Skyline_album_cover

NASHVILLE, Tn.–Bob Dylan began recording “Blonde on Blonde” in the fall of 1965 with the Hawks, the Ronnie Hawkins band that was still navigating the departures of Garth Hudson and Levon Helm. The sessions were sluggish and producer Bob Johnston moved the show (with Robbie Robertson and keyboardist Al Kooper) to Nashville, Tn. 

Country Music Hall of Fame member Charlie McCoy became the connector.

The Nashville session player was visiting New York in the summer of 1965 to see the World’s Fair when Johnston invited him to play acoustic guitar on the 11-minute “Desolation Row” for Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited” album. McCoy helped open the doors to one of the most prolific eras of Dylan’s career. Dylan recorded “Blonde on Blonde” “John Wesley Harding” “Nashville Skyline” and “Self Portrait” in Nashville with generous session players that became known as the “Nashville Cats.”

Dylan also buddied up with Johnny Cash, which is the point of the new “Dylan, Cash and the Nashville Cats: A New Music City” that runs through Dec. 31, 2016 at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville. The cats were popularized in the 1966 Lovin’ Spoonful hit “Nashville Cats.” Cash taped his ABC television series “The Johnny Cash Show” between 1969 and 1971 at the Ryman Auditorium.

McCoy had been a member of the Escorts that also featured ‘Nashville Cat’ drummer Kenny Buttrey. Dylan likely heard the root source of the Escorts that he was looking for in the Hawks. Dylan also found a recording process that was more democratic and less rigid than New York studios, which begins to explain how the double-album “Blonde on Blonde” zig zags through country, rock, folk and rhythm and blues.

During a charming interview in late April at the Country Music Hall of Fame (the same day Dylan appeared with his pop combo a few blocks away at Andrew Jackson Hall) McCoy figured Dylan knew of his harmonica playing on the 1962 Escorts hit “Harpoon Man.” The exhibit companion CD was released this week and includes “Harpoon Man” as well as a previously unheard Dylan outtake of “If Not For You.”

“Somehow I didn’t see Bob Dylan checking out the country charts,” McCoy said. “It was a strange deal. He never talked in the studio. And I’m the leader so I’m supposed to be the go between between the artist, producer and musicians. Every time I asked him his thoughts about what we’re going to do, his answer was, ‘I don’t know. What do you think?’ I told Bob Johnston, ‘Listen, I’m not getting any answers from him so I’m going to quit asking. If he doesn’t like something, maybe he’ll speak up. He never said a word. Ever. So that’s what we did.“Maybe I should have been paid as producer.”

The cats were led by McCoy but also included Charlie Daniels, guitarist-producer Norbert Putnam (J.J. Cale, Linda Ronstadt) and many others. McCoy did the arrangements on “Blonde on Blonde.” “You listen to ‘Blonde on Blonde’, there’s not a lot of solos,” he said. “A lot of songs are real long, too. It was just another session. But it was a strange session for us. In the country world, nobody had budgets to have a room full of musicians sitting around all night.”

McCoy’s favorite track remains “Lay, Lady Lay.” “The (Pete Drake) steel on it was magical,” he said. “Many people swear we overdubbed, he did not over dub. I sat there and watched it.” McCoy went on to play bass on “John Wesley Harding,” “Nashville Skyline” and “Self Portrait.”

Michael Gray, museum editor and co-curator of “Dylan, Cash and the Nashville Cats” said, “When Dylan and others were coming in the late 1960s they were working with that second wave of studio musicians. Bob Dylan was 24 when he first came to Nashville. The musicians he was working with were about that same age. ‘Blonde on Blonde’ is a much different record than ‘John Wesley Harding’ or ‘Nashville Skyline’. It’s more of that R&B based rock n’roll. I think Dylan was impressed with the fact Charlie McCoy and the Escorts, the core band on that album were a white R&B band.”

DCNC-Nashville_Cats_Charlie_McCoy_and_the_Escorts_01

Charlie McCoy (far right) and the Escorts (Courtesy of the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum)

Dylan, McCoy, Johnston, Robertson and others began recording in Columbia Studio A, 34 Music Square East. Cash, Dolly Parton and Patsy Cline  found magic in the studio walls and relaxed atmosphere that includes a living room.

In 2014 the studio was restored and reopened through an estimated $10 million donation from the Curb Family Foundation. Studio A is closed to the public but in recent months Ben Folds and Kacey Musgraves have recorded there. After hosting Dylan, Studio A became home to folk-rock artists.

“The great thing about Dylan is that it exploded the town,” McCoy said.  “The ‘A’ team guys (The Nashville “A-Team” session players included Floyd Cramer on keyboards, Bob Moore on bass) were as full as they could get. They couldn’t do anymore. All of a sudden there’s this new  volume of recording. There became a need for a lot more players.“The studios started springing up right and left.”

This is where “Dylan, Cash and the Nashville Cats” gains traction.

For example the exhibit pays homage to Paul McCartney, Neil Young and others who came to Nashville to record as well as the outsider’s Quadrafonic Studio, a.ka. “The Quad” where Steve Goodman’s self-titled 1971 debut album was recorded with Putnam and Kris Kristofferson.

“Quad” co-owner Putnam produced the early hit records of Jimmy Buffett at the studio that also attracted Jerry Jeff Walker and J.J. Cale. “They built that studio thinking they would be the home for hippie artists with their ‘alternative’ lifestyle,” McCoy explained. “Because smoking grass and all that was absolutely not allowed in mainstream studios here. Although I did not agree with it I think David (Briggs, co-founder) and Norbert were smart in they let guys do what they want.”

The Nashville A-Team had already sat the bar so very high.

Nashville Cat Lloyd Green's Show-Bud pedal steel which was used on the Byrds 1968 album "Sweetheart of the Rodeo," introducing pedal steel to rock audiences. Green also played this instrument on Tammy Wynette's "D-I-V-O-R-C-E." (Photo by Dave Hoekstra)

Nashville Cat Lloyd Green’s Show-Bud pedal steel which was used on the Byrds 1968 album “Sweetheart of the Rodeo,” introducing pedal steel to rock audiences. Green also played this instrument on Tammy Wynette’s “D-I-V-O-R-C-E.” (Photo by Dave Hoekstra)

“Pursuit of excellence,” McCoy said. “Those guys were doing three or  four sessions a day, cutting hit after hit. When I started playing in 1961 my first session was with the A team. I was inspired by their work ethic–in a relaxed way. And it was all good. Of course the music was relatively simpler then. It was incredible.

“One day on three back to back sessions for Mercury they cut three number one records with three different artists: “Ahab the Arab” for Ray Stevens, “Wooden Heart” on Joe Dowell and “Walk on By” for LeRoy Van Dyke. In the same day.”

Bob Johnston’s name appears as producer on Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel and Leonard Cohen records, but he did not have the high profile of a modern day Don Was or Joe Henry.

“Bob was a songwriter from Texas who came to Nashville to demo songs to get into Elvis movies,” McCoy said. “That’s how he and I knew each other. I was leading sessions for him with Kenny, Pig (Robbins, keyboardist)–that group. He took songs they turned down for Elvis to New York. The Columbia producer said, ‘These are great demos. Where did you record these?’ He said he did them in Nashville. He then asked the age old question, ‘Did you produce these?’ And he said ‘Yes.’ Don’t say ‘no’ to a question like that. Say ‘yes’ and figure it out later.”

So Johnston was assigned to produce Patti Page in Nashville. He later  became the head of Columbia’s Nashville division. “He revived Patti’s career and made him the golden boy for Columbia Records,” McCoy said. “That’s when they offered Dylan to him, after the Patti Page record. Bob (Johnston) was a smart guy. He wasn’t totally musical but he had a good instinct for tempos and grooves. He could converse with these artists and make them feel like they were in the right place. He stayed out of the way of musicians, too.” Johnston, now 83, went on to produce Jimmy Cliff’s 1978 “Give Thanx” reggae record and Carl Perkins’ 1996 all-star record “Go Cat Go.”

Chicago artist-country-rock musician Jon Langford contributed the exhibit’s artwork, CD cover and the engaging rustic atmopshere of the museum rooms.

The wonderful work of Jon Langford (Courtesy of the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum)

The wonderful work of Jon Langford (Courtesy of the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum)

Gray said, “We considered different artists and painters. The staff here knew Jon Langford had done paintings of Johnny Cash, Hank Williams and Bob Dylan. We knew he understood the story and had a love and appreciation for it. We called him out of the blue and said, ‘Would you be interested in creating the art for this exhibit?’ The primary piece we commissioned is a picture of Dylan and Cash together and the names of the Nashville cats are scrawled all around it. Shortly before the exhibit opened he sent us another painting he did on his own because he has a passion for this, and that one was of all the Nashville Cats that we feature in the exhibit.” The museum took Langford’s look and style to the exhibit graphic designer who used the same feel and fonts to create the rest of the exhibit.

Langford, country singer Deana Carter and others were guests in a Nasvhille Cats band led by McCoy during the exhibit’s opening weekend in late March.

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Jon Langford at work (Museum photo by Dave Hoekstra)

McCoy was born on March 28, 1941 in Fayette County, W. Va. “The same town Hank Williams died in,” he said. “I got my first harmonica when I was eight years old. I saw an ad in a comic book, 50 cents and a box top for a harmonica. So I conned my mother out of 50 cents. After about a day she said, ‘Could you take that thing outside?’ That same year I got a guitar for Christmas.

“My Dad lived in Florida. My Mom lived in West Virginia. I was kind of an anemic kid and they figured the warmer weather would be good for me. I went to school in Florida in the winter and went back to West Virginia in the summer.”

On one lonely night at the age of 15 McCoy heard the grinding blues of Jimmy Reed on WLAC out of Nashville. “It was so strange,” said McCoy, who was also listening to Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins. “My father didn’t like rhythm and blues music. So there was a kid in the neighborhood whose Dad was a ham operator. He took my clock radio and put an ear phone jack on the back of it. So I could listen to WLAC late at night and my Dad wouldn’t hear it. I’d hear Howlin’ Wolf. All the blues stuff. Then I discovered Little Walter and that was it.  He’s still the greatest for blues harmonica.”

McCoy came to Nashville in 1960, the day after he graduated high school and by May, 1961 he was hired for his first session. McCoy played harmonica behind singer-starlet Ann Margaret. “It was like I  died and went to heaven,” he said. “There’s God. Chet Atkins. His disciples, the Nashville A-Team. There’s the heavenly choir, the Anita Kerr Singers. And there’s an angel–an 18-year-old Ann  Margaret. The bass player on that session asked me if I was free Friday. I was free the rest of my life. He said, ‘Come back to the studio and record Roy Orbison.’ So we did ‘Candy Man.’ (Elvis Presley sideman) Scottie Moore was playing guitar. Floyd Cramer and Boots Randolph were on it. After that record became a hit my phone started to ring.

“It was like a charmed, magic dream that I’m still in.”

McCoy played empathetic harmonica on the George Jones hit “He Stopped Loving Her Today” and in 1995 some of his  fellow Nashville Cats (Pig Robbins, Buddy Spicher on mandolin, the Jordaniares singing group) backed alt rockers Ween on their excellent “12 Country Golden Country Greats” tunes that included “Piss Up a Rope” and the peppy “Japanese Cowboy.” The 10 song project was recorded at Bradley’s Barn in Nashville under the production of Ben Vaughn. “They did their homework,” McCoy said. “They came here and knew all about everybody which was amazing especially how young they were. Some of their lyrics were over the top, but musically it was good. And they were nice guys.”

Charlie McCoy

Charlie McCoy

McCoy also was the long time  musical director for the hit Buck Owens-Roy Clark variety show “Hee-Haw.”

“First I was called in to play one show behind Ray Charles,” he said. “At that time they were filming in a television station in downtown Nashville. They would tape for a month and every time they would tape the City of Nashville police department had a field day writing department tickets. There wasn’t enough places at that station for their own employees more less 60 or 70 people that it takes to do a major TV show.

“A year later the producer called me back and asked me to consider playing in the band. I was working around the clock. I tried one shot and 18 years later I was still trying one more shot. It was such a great show and every day you went to work you were surrounded by legends. Buck Owens, Roy Clark, Grandpa Jones, Roy Acuff, Minnie Pearl.

“Later it became evident to me how important this show was to country music. Today, when I go out and play people say, ‘We miss ‘Hee-Haw’. It was our Saturday night routine. If you can’t laugh at yourself, that is too bad. That’s what we were doing. We were laughing at ourselves.”

No session player in Nashville had the gritty blues textures of McCoy, a fact that was not lost on Dylan. “In my formative years I was trying to play as much like Little Walter as I could,” McCoy said. “For a while here (in Nashville) that  was a novelty. Then it started to wear thin. I’d get comments like, ‘Could you play maybe not quite so funky? That nasty tone and all that stuff.’ I realized if I was going to stick around I’d have to do something different. I started copying fiddles and dobros and cleaning up the sound. I tried to play melodies. You don’t hear many harmonica players play melodies. The combination of all that stuff together gave me a sound. 

Bob Dylan? I didn’t realize he was playing tonight. The last time I saw him was when he did ‘Nashville Skyline’.”

Look at this resume of Charlie McCoy, (he’s playing the Hatfield-McCoy Reunion tonight in West Virginia.) McCoy took a long pause at the end of our conversation. He looked around the room, smiled ever so gently and added, “You know I worked with so many artists and Steve Miller (McCoy is blowing harmonica on Miller’s 1970 “Number 5” record)  was the only one who has given me a gold record.”

It should not come as a surprise that Bob Dylan loved Calvert De Forest, a.k.a. Larry “Bud” Melman.

Melman was an everyman David Letterman character with jiggly jowls and huge Harry Caray glasses that blurred boundaries between image and reality, just as Dylan does.

bob-dylan

Melman was often placed within an incongruous setting–always a key to a fun time. Something like Dylan doing an album of obscure Frank Sinatra songs.

In his 2009 memoir “We’ll Be Here For the Rest Of Our Lives–A Swingin ‘ Show-Biz Saga” “Late Show” bandleader Paul Shaffer wrote that Dylan was fascinated with Melman.

“He mentioned he always saw Larry Bud [walk on] with those gorgeous models,” Shaffer told me in 2009. “Dylan said, ‘Why is he with those chicks?’ It is as simple as that.”

Melman made his name  during the 1980s “Late Night With David Letterman” run on NBC. Back then Dave had a bigger budget, sending Melman off to South America in a Winnebago to harvest his unfiltered observations on culture and food. Back on his home turf Melman once distributed hot towels to grimy travelers at the New York Port Authority bus terminal.

letterman-calvertdeforrest1

When Dave moved to CBS from NBC in 1993, NBC said “Larry ‘Bud’ Melman’ remained as their intellectual property. Dave simply continued to bring De Forest on stage at the same wide-eyed character, except he was “Calvert De Forest.”

On the May 13, 1994 “Late Show” Dave promised that Johnny Carson would deliver the Top 10 list. De Forest appeared as “Johnny Carson.” Just after De Forest waddled off the stage, the real Johnny Carson appeared. It would be Carson’s final television appearance.

De Forest died in 2007 at the age of 85.

I’m gonna miss you Dave. I’m pulling for “Like a Rolling Stone” tonight.

Or “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go.”

johnny-guitar-watson-hit-the-highway-20120412062410

SCOTTSDALE, Az.—De Jon Watson is in his first year as Senior Vice-President of Baseball Operations for the Arizona Diamondbacks. He oversees the franchise’s professional, amateur and international scouting and player development functions including the hiring of minor league managers and staff.

It has been a bow-wow-wow-yippi-yo-yippi-yay ride for Watson, 48.

His father is the rhythm and blues guitar hero Johnny “Guitar” Watson, whose “bow-wow” poetry was borrowed by George Clinton and rapper Snoop Dog.

In 1996 Watson had a fatal heart attack after taking the stage in Yokohama, Japan. He was only 61.

Watson was a major influence on Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Sly Stone. Hard core music fans know this, but his son is working to help his father gain entrance into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame.

On an early March morning in his office at the D-Backs Salt River Fields spring training facilty, Watson has a lot more to do than field questions about his father being the father of rap with his 1980 hit “Telephone Bill.” Or, how Steve Miller covered and referenced the 1961 Watson hit “Gangster of Love.”

But Watson is a patient man.

Before landing in Arizona, his baseball journey took him to Los Angeles (The Dodgers Vice-President of Player Development), Cleveland (Director of Professional Scouting, 2004-06), Cincinnatii (Reds Director of Scouting during the Marge Schott era  1998-2000) and even the Midwest League, where in 1987 he was a first baseman (and teammate of former Cubs-Sox pitcher Greg Hibbard) on the Appleton Foxes.

“This is fun,” Watson says with a warm smile. “Working with Tony (La Russa, the D-Backs new Chief Baseball Officer) and Stew (Dave Stewart, the former A’s pitcher and new GM) and the dynamic of relationship we are growing and building here.” And some of the new building blocks are at Kane County, the D-Backs new affiliate.

De Jon Watson, a baseball lifer.

De Jon Watson, a baseball lifer.

 

Watson knows the Midwest League. He recalls, “My prior club we were in Midland, Michigan (the Great Lakes Loons Dodgers affiliate) so I know the competition. I don’t consider it a ‘Low A’ league. ‘A’ ball is ‘A’ ball. The pitching is very competitive and a little more mature than first year players are used to seeing.

“I remember the Midwest League. I just saw Greg Vaughn (former Brewers first baseman) in Tucson. The year I was there he hit .305 and drove in like 120 runs (105 with 33 HR) for Beloit. Chip Hale (new D-Backs manager) was in the league when I was in that league. He played for Kenosha. When I worked for the Marlins (as a scout), we opened Kane County so I know how well they draw. (Former Seattle Mariner-Detroit Tiger) Rod Allen who was the (Cougars) hitting coach (‘94 and ‘95). He’s my cousin and he’s now doing radio for the Tigers. I can’t wait to get back to Kane County and see how it has changed over the years.”

The D-Backs have as many Chicago connections as a cactus has needles: former White Sox GM Roland Hemond is a special assistant to the President & CEO, former Cub Joe Carter is Stewart’s new assistant, former Cub Mark Grace is assistant hitting coach, former Cub Mike Harkey is pitching coach, former Cubs manager (1974-76) is senior advisor for Pacific Rim Operations and even former Bulls GM Jerry Krause has surfaced as a part-time scout.

Watson was destined for baseball even though his Los Angeles home was filled with music. Watson played drums as a boy and his father wrote the instrumental “De Jon’s Delight” for his son. “Music was my dad’s passion,” he says. “I wanted to find my own path. Sports was my avenue to search and pursue.

“Not many people know who my Dad was and I usually don’t say much about him. But as a kid I loved instrumentals. I always wanted him to do a jazz album but he would never do a jazz album. (Jazz guitarist) George Benson came by the house. Marvin Gaye was a close family friend. Natalie Cole bought me my first guitar. Barry White was our neighbor. I played Pop Warner football and Pony League baseball with his son (Kevin White). Don Buford, Jr was on our team. He’s now an orthopedic surgeon (in Dallas). After he quit baseball he went back to med school.” Buford, Jr.’s number was retired by the Daytona Cubs and he is the brother of former Cubs outfielder Damon Buford.

Watson listens to his father’s music “often.” He draws from a personal  catalog of more than 750 songs. “I Want to Ta-Ta (You Baby)’ is one of my favorites,” he says. “‘Superman Lover’ is a true classic. There’s some ballads I like, ‘Love Jones.’ He was under the radar for sure. Me, my sister and brother are working on getting him in the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame.”

A scout’s anthem would be Watson’s gritty “I Got Eyes,” recorded in 1953 in Los Angeles with session players like Harold Grant on guitar and T-Bone Walker drummer Robert “Snake” Sims. Watson was a musical pathfinder and also served up memorable album covers like when he was saluting in front of a jeep on “Funk Beyond The Call of Duty” and being pushed on a tricycle by three women in 1979’s “What The Hell Is This,” which included the comical pop-funk track “I Don’t Want To Be President.”

WATSON_ JOHNNY GUITAR _A Real Mother For Ya_

 

The musician taught his son to dream big.

Watson, 6’4,” 190 pounds, played baseball at Santa Monica High School and at West Los Angeles Community College. He was a third round draft pick by the Kansas City Royals and played minor league ball for five seasons. He retired in 1989 and returned to school when he got a call to work in MLB’s RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities).

“That’s how I got back into baseball,” he said. “Gary Hughes (the Marlins first scouting director in 1991) gave me my first job as a scout in the inner city of Los Angeles. That was during the (1992 Rodney King) riots, as a matter of fact. Some scouts were scared to go in the inner city. I said, ‘Come with me, we’ll  be all right.’ You see guys getting chased through the parks but that’s just part of it.”

1988starbbc25watson

 

Watson is featured in the 2012 documentary “Harvard Park” with Darryl Strawberry, Eric Davis and Frank Thomas. Between 1982 and 1994 the park was an urban training ground for baseball prospects and minor leaguers. The documentary debuted on BET.

“If you were playing professional baseball we all met at Harvard Park (in South Central L.A.),” Watson explains. ‘You’d hit in the order of where you were playing at that particular time, big leagues or Triple Guys would throw to each other. This was the grass roots of teaching. Shane Mack was there. Barry Larkin would come out, Kenny Williams. I was fortunate enough to go to scout school with Kenny.

“These guys would share their experiences. It helped us mature and grow to understand there were other young African-Americans going through the same struggles of trying to reach their goals. That’s where I got my passion for this. They kept pushing me to keep pushing forward. I still talk to Eric Davis three times a month. He played for Tony (La Russa) and I knew they had a relationship. I told him I was interviewing so I called him and got some background information.”

LaRussa heard many good things about Watson.

In a separate interview while looking for game tickets for his friend Bobby Knight, the Baseball Hall of Famer says, “It’s a new experience for me being in the front office. So I contacted people I knew over the years for recommendations and De Jon was guys recommended quite a few times. It was the first time I had been around him. I can see why he got all those recommendations. He’s smart. He has an extensive background from scouting director to player hard work. He’s energetic and he has personality. We want to make sure nobody beats us in hard work.”

Watson’s work ethic pushed him forward.

Just the day before our conversation Diamondbacks GM Stewart tells U.S.A. Today, “Baseball is the greatest game there is, but baseball has had a tough time dealing with minority issues. And it probably still does.”

The game has to reach out to minorities at a seed level. Watson says, “Today you have kids who are cookie cutter. They just play basketball. They just play baseball.  Basketball, AAU, they’re taking our kids at 13 where they should be playing Pony and Colt league. We need to market the product. Major league baseball is opening up academies in different places. We’ll provide education and opportunity for work and be able to enhance your talent pool. Right now there hasn’t been a ton of ways for us to enhance the talent pool.”

Johnny "Guitar" Watson in 1987.

Johnny “Guitar” Watson in 1987.

 

La Russa was also attracted to Watson’s resume’ because of his work in Latin America, particularly in Venezuela with the Dodgers. Kane County fans may see Cuban right hander Yoan Lopez this year. Lopez, 22, starred in Cuba’s 18U national league in 2011 with a 1.74 ERA and 88 strikeouts in 78 innings. He signed with the D-Backs for $8.25 million. He told Baseball America that Arizona was his favorite major league team while growing up in Cuba. Lopez is 6’3” and weighs 190 pounds.

“He has a really clean arm and it works exceptionally well,” Watson says. “He’s up to 97. His first outing this spring he was 92, 93, but he was throwing strikes. He got hit a little and fiddled around a bit, but that’s okay. He was by far one of the more advanced pitchers in the international pool. It creates more depth and the more depth you gives you a better chance to sustain success. Mike Bell, our farm director does a tremendous job of putting together strong rosters. We had five teams in the playoffs last year so I look forward to us having another competitive ballclub in Kane County.”

 

 

 

Frankie Knuckles

Frankie Knuckles

Most people don’t eat the same meal every day.

I search out different music to nurture my changing moods. Calypso for fun, old country for loneliness. My knowledge of house music is pedestrian but I’ve always been intrigued by its deep Chicago roots.

This became very clear on Saturday night when Chicago house music DJs Derrick Carter, Darlene “DJ Lady D” Jackson and Marea Renee “The Black Madonna” Stamper joined me live in studio for my Nocturnal Journal radio show on WGN-AM. The station’s Allstate Showcase Studio was filled with an expressive joy I won’t soon forget.

We explored the seed sounds of house in soul Chicago churches, Disco Demolition and the legacy of hearing music on Chicago streets, especially in the anticipated endless nights of summer time. We paid tribute to house pioneer Frankie Knuckles who would have turned 60 years old on Jan. 18.

On Martin Luther King weekend, we played Carter’s Cratebug Edit of  “Dreams,” an example of the technique that Knuckles used, where he mixed Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech with house records and other sound effects. You hear part of Knuckles “The Whistle Song” that became part of a Lipton tea commercial and a portion of Knuckles final set at the Smart Bar, Thanksgiving 2014. Stamper is talent buyer and resident DJ at the Smart Bar.

DJ Lady D

DJ Lady D

 

I found out  just a couple of weeks ago that in 1995 DJ Lady D moved in with three other DJs to a 3,000 square foot loft space at 120 N. Green at Randolph (now restaurant row). Carter and DJ Mark Farina were also living in the 120 N. Green building during the early 1990s.

At the same time I was in a post-divorce bachelor loft across the street at 131 N. Green. I lived above the S&S Restaurant where the greasy scrambled eggs danced off the rye toast. My neighbors were also house music DJs and I bet I drove them nuts with my Martin Denny records blaring across my tiki bar.

A second or third version of the Warehouse dance club was just a block away on West Randolph and there was a club called Alcatraz on North Green Street. House music roared late into the night and then a new morning.

Always a new morning.

Derrick Carter

Derrick Carter