Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Blame Game: They're Missing the Point

Very good and dare I say fair and somewhat balanced report on Obama’s policy in Mideast and South Asia war zones.  Whose strategy would you prefer?  

Fact Check: Did Obama Withdraw From Iraq Too Soon, Allowing ISIS To Grow?

Heard a BBC story earlier this morning about group think and the Army’s retrospection on how could they have gotten it so wrong (i.e. going into Iraq unprepared for the occupation following cessation of combat).  They interviewed an Army colonel who was to the Iraq war what John Paul Vann was to Viet Nam (Bright Shiny Lie Lt. Col. whose reports to Pentagon as early as mid 1960s went ignored).  This Army intelligence officer spoke of being in Kuwait during the run up to war and how his unit worked along CIA operatives “preparing” for aftermath of invasion.  He came in contact with the Shiite Muslim cleric that the CIA was working with to be the pro U.S. Imam and therefore head Shiite cleric in Post war Iraq.  The imam asked the Colonel how long the U.S. was preparing to stay in Iraq following the cessation of combat.  The Colonel deferred by asking back how long the imam thought we should stay.  The imam stated that it would take at least as long as we have stayed in Germany following WWII.  Unfortunately for the imam his prediction looks accurate.  He was killed in Iraq on the steps to a mosque in the weeks following the invasion. 

Listen to BBC story on Group Thinking starting at 4minute 45 second mark or Download MP3

One must never forget it was Bush (Cheney and Rumsfeld) who disregarded their hand picked General, Jay Garner’s call for 300,000 U.S. troops to manage the occupation, fired the General and replaced him with the State Dept. manikin, Paul Bremer.  Bremer was sent in with a set of General Orders scripted by the White House that disbanded the Iraqi Army which had a general waiting on standby to recall his troops and work with us on restoring order to Post war Iraq.  Bremer also brought in that piece of Shiite Chawallabee (sp)aka Ahmad Chalabi  who had the White House believing would be the prodigal son returned from exile in the West to lead the Iraqi people to Democracy.  Only problem for the Bushies was they did not vette this imbecile or would of known he fled Iraq back in the 80s not because of Saddam so much as because he was a much hated fraudster who had bilked many Iraqis out of their investments and therefore had absolutely no credibility with the Iraqi people.  When we cut off his stipend of over $300,000.00 per month and had the Iraqi government issue a warrant for his arrest he promptly fled next door to Iran and leaked secret intelligence methods and practices he learned from an intoxicated general at a Bush admin era White House Dinner Party.  

I could go on and on but the cold hard facts are unquestionably that the GW Bush Administration, unlike his father’s administration, (which knew of the downsides of bringing down Saddam and creating a vacuum for an even more dangerous enemy, the Islamic Republic of Iran, and wisely decided against it and actively attempted to dissuade his son from it), forged ahead in the biggest foreign policy debacle in our nation’s history.  Therefore for the Republican Presidential candidates to flail away at the current administration and blame President Obama or by proxy former Secretary of State Clinton for the disaster that is the Middle East, is not only pathetic but misses the point:  unless you are ready to commit to the long term occupation of a defeated foe by hundreds of thousands of troops at the cost of American lives and our country’s treasure, be careful of regime toppling, the new boss could be much worse than the old boss, to misquote the Who lyric.

When you take the two stories, from different sources (NPR and BBC) and from slightly different perspectives (U.S. vs. U.K.) I think you will agree it is a much more complicated fix then Republican bromide of blame Obama and if anything it is much more accurate, but not any more helpful, to blame GW Bush.  Like most real world problems it comes down to a choice in the form of least bad alternatives and currently the Obama Administration approach of a light footprint and not feeding into the ISIS narrative is the least bad of many bad alternatives the Bush Administration left us with.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

New Orleans Music Impresario Allen Toussaint January 14, 1938-November 10, 2015

It is with profound sadness that I report the passing of one of America's greatest musicians.  A performer, arranger, songwriter, producer and New Orleans music impresario, Allen Toussaint, died of a heart attack following a concert today in Madrid, Spain.  God bless you Allen and thank you for a lifetime of class, creativity and elegance.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Music Lovers Lend Me Your Eyes: No Depression Back in Print

No Depression magazine, the authority in roots music, is back in print after a seven year hiatus during which time they built up an online presence that is second to none.  The good news is that the new print edition is Gob Smack gorgeous.  When my copy arrived yesterday in the mail I thought this must be some kind of mistake because I received a book.  At a time when my other magazine subscriptions have become so thin and the content mostly advertisements, the quality and depth of No Depression's first quarterly edition is truly impressive.

Packed with beautiful photography with quirky subjects such as rarely seen by the general public green rooms of famous venues.  My personal favorite photo in the new edition was taken by Sandy Dyas and caption by Kim Ruehl, and is a subject that I am intimately familiar with.  It is a picture of the Motley Motel in Motely, MN which I have driven by countless of times on my way to visit my former receptionist Bernice's family farm just outside of Motley or on my way to see Coach in Nimrod.

The good news is that the original community editor, Kim Ruehl, is now the editor in chief and has done an admirable job to date in making the transition.  The sad news is the departure of long time publisher Kyla Fairchild, who along with co-founder editors Peter Blackstock and Grant Alden put No Depression on the music world's map.  Kyla was truly a gem and will be sorely missed.

The magazine new stable of writers include Terry Roland who has a great article on Robert Earl Keen in the Fall 2015 edition.  Roland has impecable taste and his articles are always worth the read.

My only concern going forward is that No Depression will loose some of its alternative or progressive roots as it seems to be heading for more of a mainstream bluegrass and traditional country focus, possibly due to the fact that the publisher is now Fresh Grass the longtime online bluegrass publisher.  Let's hope that this isn't the case.  After all, it was No Depression's early focus on artists like Wilco and Alejandro Escovedo, who early on it named its artist of the decade, that gave No Depression its cred and readership among music heads.

All in all the return of No Depression is a triumph for all concerned but especially for the music listening public.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Mastersons Live at the Barrymore Theater: Give Them Half an Hour to Earn Your Love

Let's get one thing clear from the outset, I love this band!  I have been trying to write this review for a couple of weeks now but have not quite been able to pull the trigger.  No, it’s not a case of writer's block. I just cannot find anything to be critical about alt country's most talented duo. So with that as a disclaimer I throw objectivity and caution to the wind.
The venue is the Barrymore Theater, in Madison Wisconsin.  For the uninitiated, the Barrymore is a funky throwback to the late 60's, no pretentions, proudly not fancy.  Just a great place to see live music for a reasonable price with a nice selection of craft beers.  Although it is about an 8 hour drive for me roundtrip, a show at the Barrymore is well worth it and has quickly become one of my favorite venues to see music.
Taking the stage promptly at 8 PM, The Mastersons are introduced by the night's headliner, Steve Earle.  After pimping the meat loaf at the little place across the street and proclaiming his love for the venue, Mr. Earle expresses his admiration for the husband and wife duo that also make up one-half of his band the Dukes.  Wasting no time, the Mastersons tear into one of the gems off their latest cd, "Nobody Knows".   As much as I love the full band version on the disc and Chris Mastersons beautiful electric guitar work, Eleanor Whitmore's beautifully strong voice and perfect melodies with Mr. Masterson will soon have you forgetting about versions and instrumentation and just digging the music.  Between songs Eleanor explains they get only about half an hour to win us over before setting up the next number.  She dedicates "Cautionary Tale" to all the people she sees in restaurants and bars who are buried in their hand held devices and smart phones instead of paying attention to the person they are out with.  Being I was sitting fairly close to the stage holding two devices, one to take notes and the other to take pictures, she made me feel ridiculous and self-conscious, touché.
I would love to be able to report on the next several songs they performed but thanks to Eleanor's "Cautionary Tale" and her gravitas, I cannot read the cryptic notes I sneaked to peck into my iPod whenever she was looking the other way, resulting in unintelligible gibberish.  That and the fact that I have reached that stage in life where my medium term memory is not as good as it used to be, I am left with that corollary to the Rumsfeld Doctrine, "I Only Know What I Know". Consequently, what I do know is that Eleanor introduced their final number, the title track to their latest work, "Good Luck Charm" by explaining the inspiration for it came from Texas politics and the shenanigans that the party in power pulled a few years back (if I am not mistaken I believe the overreaching conduct was recently overturned by the courts) and by the reaction of the audience, something most Wisconsinites can relate to as well.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Gregg Allman and the Restorative Powers of Music

One of my most cherished bootlegs is a dub of the board tape from the Scorpion from the opening (and closing) night of the Nighthawks and special guest Gregg Allman tour.  I was waiting in line outside the Bayou in D.C. the next night, a line  that stretched all the way down the block and will never forget the bouncer coming out and telling everyone to go home as Gregg was a no show or as I like to say "he was doing a mean impression of No Show Jones".  

Gregg has more than made up for that disappointment over the years including most memorably the night after John Lennon was murdered.  It was December 9, 1980 and the Allman Brothers were playing the Met Center in Bloomington Minnesota and just like everybody in the audience that night, you could tell the band was hurting and confused.  But instead of wallowing in the hurt and pain of it all, that night the Allmans provided "musical healing" to paraphrase Marvin and got us through the day we truly thought the music had died.  (That same night in downtown Mpls Curtiss A and his band turned the night into a tribute to Lennon and has played a Lennon tribute show at First Ave every Dec. 9th since, again proving the healing powers of music.) 

And just to prove there was no hard feelings,  in 1986, some 8 years after walking off his tour with the Nighthawks, Gregg was a special guest at what was then thought to be the Nighthawks farewell show at the Carter Baron Amphitheater in D.C.  As it turned out, reports of the bands demise following the departure of Jimmy Thackery from the Hawks  had been greatly exaggerated.  The Hawks resurrected like a Phoenix and have been burning it up ever since.

Perhaps Gregg's greatest legacy is his resilience.  I cannot think of another musician who has suffered as much tragedy, personal setbacks and most recently health battles that would have sapped the  life out of most people, but he keeps coming back, coming back for more.  I gotta believe Gregg perseveres due in large part to the restorative powers of his music.  And for that I thank him.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Steve Earle & the Dukes Give Madison the Blues: Live at the Barrymore Theater, Madison, WI August 8, 2015

"Well did you ever wake up with that one woman on your mind? Sit there laughing, laughing just to keep from crying? "   William Harris knew it.  Steve Earle knew it more times than he would probably care to remember (6 to be precise, but hey, whose counting?)

Elmore James knew it too: "...ahh, you cats with your Madison shoes we do this thing we call the Madison Blues we do the Madison Blues ...we do the Madison Blues baby rock away your blues".

Returning to one of his "favorite places to play", the Barrymore Theater in Madison. WI, a jovial and truly inspired Steve Earle turned a night dedicated to the blues into a joyous occasion that will be forever cherished by all those in attendance.  No, Mr. Earle and company did not play the William Harris song popularized by Canned Heat/Gallagher/Thackery and a songwriter as gifted as Steve doesnt need to stoop to something as hackneyed as playing the great Elmore James song In a city named Madison, leave that to the amateur music critics. 

What America’s most interesting songwriter and his crack band consisting of long time rhythm section of Kelly Looney on upright and electric bass, Will Rigby on drums and the incredibly talented husband and wife duo of Eleanor Whitmore on vocals, electric and acoustic guitars, violin and keyboards and the country’s most versatile, tasteful, ensemble or lead playing guitar genius, Chris Masterson on vocals, acoustic, electric and pedal steel guitars (aka the Mastersons) did do was over 3 hours (including the Mastersons shimmering beautiful opening set) of blues music showcasing Earle’s mastery of the genre from all periods of his career. 

Along the way a down right chatty Mr. Earle took the time to put his songs into context whether reminding audience members that this was not his first foray into the blues before playing an old chestnut like “My Old Friend the Blues” or how he knew exactly where he was when he wrote the next song because it was the first song he wrote sober.  There was acknowledgement of his recent divorce which served as the inspiration for doing a “blues” album but it was never mean or bitter just brutally honest, which is the hallmark of any songwriter who is worth a damn.
Of course he had to throw the obligatory Copperhead bone but for a change he did it fairly early in the show thus setting up the reference to that part of his fan base stuck in the past and the punch line, “this next one is for those of you who need to get home early because you’re on probation or electric home monitoring,  the rest of you stick around because we have a lot more to do”.

Another highlight for me was the ferocious version of the Chester Burnett classic “44 Blues” that had Steve channeling the Wolf both on vocals and with some nasty harmonica and Mr. Masterson playing slide like the great Lowell George.  Always the respectful one, Steve paid tribute to the late King of the Blues, B.B. before sequing into a rip snorting electric blues finale including a refreshing and interesting version of “Hey Joe” thanks to the aforementioned Mr. Masterson.  The encores were broken up with a beautiful instrumental that a fellow concert goer and the one kind enough to let me take a picture of the official set list, said was a Donovan cover which got me thinking if it was the same Donovan number referred to in the Mother Jones interview that got him kicked out of his first blues band at the age of 13?  

The crowd just wouldn’t let the band leave summoning them back for more.  This time we got a real treat, a brand new protest song that they played only for the second time and one they planned to release as a single this week:  Mississippi Take It Down.  Again proving why he is the best songwriter out there it is a great song telling the Governor and people of Mississippi that it is time to retire the Confederate Stars and Bars as part of their state flag.  In light of the debate set for this week in the Mississippi legislature, this one is sure to garner attention and sales.  Next up was the soon to be election year call to arms, the “Revolution Starts Now” before ending with the Troggs “Wild Thing” that had Will Rigby using 2 sticks in one hand bashing out the cymbals like Nick the Bruiser.
Donovan song?Mississippi Take It Down
Down the Road I go
The Revolution Starts Now
Wild Thing

This is the second time that my son and I have made what now can only be described as a pilgrimage from Minneapolis to Madison to see Steve & the Dukes with the Mastersons at the charmingly friendly and funky Barrymore Theater.  Because we had  been listening to Terraplane since it came out and read Steve’s published interviews including the excellent Steve Earle interview in Mother Jones (April 2015) by Jacob Blickenstaff  we knew this tour, like the album, was going to be about the blues.  The running joke this trip was “we were on a mission from God”.   

On our first trip almost two years ago to the day, we fell in love with Madison, a progressive jewel of a city in a state that, sadly, remains under the control of a failed regime and its despotic ruler.  While Wisconsin's weak chinned look-a-like to Syria's Assad hasn't resorted to dropping barrel bombs on his own citizens (at least not yet) he has fired off defamatory missives in Trump like fashion; most infamously equating his states hard working and underpaid public sector employees to Isis fighters.  Like Steve and the Dukes we share an admiration and respect for the oppressed working class citizens of Madison and the State of Wisconsin.  As anyone who read my review of the 2013 show knows, that show was held in such high regard, we thought it would be almost impossible to match so we had prepared ourselves for a letdown.  Little did we know that Steve and the Dukes had other plans.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Lakers Back in Mpls: Secret Stash Records Revue Takes Over First Ave

There’s a new juggernaut in town.  The Lakers dynasty is back in Minneapolis where it all started.  No, I’m not talking about that current bunch of bums also known as Kobe & Kompany.   No, I’m not even talking about the storied NBA franchise led by big George Mikan and Coach John Kundla that won 1 BAA, 1 NBL and 5 NBA titles in Minneapolis before moving to Los Angeles in 1961.   What I’m talkin’ ‘bout Willis is none other than Secret Stash Records Sonny Knight and the Lakers who along with their stable mates took over and then blew the roof off the house that Prince built, First Ave, in downtown Minneapolis last Knight. 

I had been a little depressed lately about the state of soul music in this country.  With the exception of the great Billy Price/Otis Clay cd project, “This Time for Real”, that came out in May things had been pretty bleak in the world of soul music.  Doesn’t seem like a week goes by that I don’t read of the passing of another one of my soul idols like most recently Don Covay and Mighty Sam McClain.  That’s what makes this story so sweet and why one Sonny Knight, a formerly obscure survivor of the Twin Cities little known soul and funk scene of the 60s and 70s, at the age of 67 and at the zenith of his career, the happiest man on earth.  Pops may have sang “…when you’re smiling the whole world smiles with you…” but last Knight Sonny had them believing and smiling.

But first a little of the back story:

Twin cities drummer Eric Goss,  who along with Cory Wong founded Secret Stash Records, is my new hero (sorry Jimmy, but Eric if you read this please give Mr. Litwin a call).  Move over Scott Bomar and the Bo-Keys there’s a new man (band) in town.  (That one’s for Mighty Sam.)

to be continued

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

DOJ cites Ferguson for deploying snipers. Assad in MO?

  1. cites Ferguson for deploying snipers during unrest. Didn't know Assad in MO. Stop Militarization of U.S. Police

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Make No Mistake, Price and Clay Put the Music World on Notice With “This Time For Real”

About every five years or so a Soul album comes out that is so good, so right, that you are scared your turntable’s stylus will melt down.  I think of Eddie Floyd’s, William Bell’s and Otis Reddings great records on Stax in the 1960s, Al Green and the Hi Rhythm sections records produced by Willie Mitchell in the 70’s, out on the West Coast it was  Charles Wright and the Watts  103rd Street Rhythm Band.  You can’t forget Tyrone Davis, ZZ Hill,  Syl Johnson or Mr. Bobby Bland down South. Back East you had Gene Chandler and Curtis Mayfield in fact sometimes it was hard to tell them apart.  Down in New Orleans there was Eddie Bo, Willie Tee, the Meters and later the Nevilles.  God I love sweet soul music.  I sure wish they still made music like that... 
Well my Christmas wish came early this year or more precisely on May 19, 2015 because that is the day that two of my favorite soul singers still fighting the good fight, Otis Clay and Billy Price joined forces and released their absolutely wonderful new album, “This Time for Real”.
I know coming from me, you’re thinking “For Real?”  No Really, it is that good.  From the opening strains of “Somebody Changing My Sweet Baby’s Mind” you are transported to that musical Loveland where songs like Davis’ “Can I change My Mind”” and Floyd’s “I Never Found A Girl” serve as sweet inspiration, all the way through to the albums last track, an inspired version of “You Got Me Hummin’” that finds Clay and Price channeling Sam and Dave so authentically it is downright spooky.  Along the way the former Hi Records stable mate to Al Green and the Hodges and Billy Price aka William Pollak of Roy Buchannan and the Keystone Rhythm Band fame prove.
Everything works on this disc, ably produced by Duke Robillard a man who knows just a little about working with great horn sections.  Robillard, a cofounder of Roomful of Blues,  tapped two of the current members of Roomful, Doug Woolverton on trumpet and Mark Earley on Saxes , to round out his current band of Mark Teixiera on drums, Brad Hallen on bass, Bruce Bears on keys and of course Duke handling all guitars.  Add the excellent backup vocals trio of Theresa Davis, Dianne Madison, Diana Simon and the result is a band that will have you doing double takes to the liner notes (for which I thank you Bill and Mark!).  
I would be remiss if I did not mention that Mr. Earley arranged all the horns on this record.  Just listen to the horns on tracks like "All Because of Your Love" and "Too Many Hands" and you will agree that the arrangements and execution are top notch.  Woolverton and Earley deserve a big share of the credit for giving this record its timeless, authentic feel and tone.
Besides the above mentioned tracks, highlights for me include something funky, Syl Johnson’s “Goin to the Shack” which is perfect pacing in follow up to the sugar rush from the opening track and the slow burn of "I'm Afraid of Losing You" which follows.  The previously mentioned “All Because of Your Love”  is so good I am without words …You get the picture.   For the romantically inclined listen how Clay and Price handle "Love Don't Love Nobody".  The two singers voices compliment each other very nicely and the phrasing throughout the album is impeccable.   For Americana and country fans there is a great version of Book of Memories complete with Bruce Bears' honky tonk piano and Duke adding some Nashville inspired licks on guitar.
I also just love the selection of Los Lobos “Tears of God” which brings to mind Ruthie Foster’s cd “Let it Burn” from a few years back.  Like "This Time For Real" Ruthie did an album of mostly covers for "Let It Burn" but the arrangements were so fresh and the performances so killer, you did not care.  Like Price and Clay she also covered a Los Lobos track, "This Time" and made it her own.
No detail was overlooked in this labor of love with beautiful art and design by MaryBianchi and Hyla Willis.  Add David Aschkenas very cool photography and the end result is a gorgeous product that must be owned in its tangible form.  

Let's hope that Clay, Price and Robillard as well as the the Roomful horn players can coordinate their schedules this summer and Fall  to do some live performances showcasing this material.  If you do get out to see Mr  Clay and/or Mr. Price buy the cd directly from them at their show or, if like me, you can’t wait, it can be purchased at

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Riley Ben "Blues Boy" B.B. King: September 26, 1925 - May 14, 2015

When I learned of the death of Riley Ben "B.B." King my first thoughts went to my old friend and former client Ron Levy.  Ron was blessed to be the keyboard player in the B.B. King Band from 1969 to 1976.  Due to the number of condolences he received, Ron prepared the most beautiful tribute to Mr. King I have come  across to date.  With Mr. Levy's express permission I republish the following tribute:

"My B.B. King” by Ron Levy

I was privileged to have the unique and special honor of working with one of the greatest American artists of all time, B.B. King. A great man known and loved around the world for his grace, soulful musical genius and genuine humility. Mr. King is not just ‘King of the Blues’ but a beloved man whose personal qualities and examples of leadership earned the love and respect of every one of us that worked for and knew him.

B.B. often called me his “son” on and off stage and treated me like one he truly loved. The feeling was mutual and always will be. As a personal and musical role model, I never saw him fail to take the high road, or give less than 100% of himself.

I described and detailed many specific examples of this in my book, “Tales of A Road Dog” (published by devoting five chapters to Mr. King and the B.B. King musical family I grew up with on the road performing on every continent short of Antarctica. A family that B.B. nurtured and a family whose devotion and familial bonds are still strong today. Every musician who played for Mr. King either before or since my tenure (1969-76), shares this same fraternal kinship and always will, as well as our mutual friends.

Lately, many have wondered, “Why is B.B. still working despite his advanced age and declining health?” The answer is simple. Mr. King has always felt an unwavering responsibility for “his” people, the musicians whose livelihoods and families depended on him. He also felt a great responsibility and love towards his unwavering fans. I never saw him leave a venue until he had signed autographs, posed for photos and spoke or listened to every single fan that came to him. He was always a true gentleman. So many times over the years he would remember the names of these fans, and their children and relatives. Some of whom he might not have seen in decades. He loved all people with a king sized heart and was giving of himself to a fault, pained if he felt he ever let anyone down.
B.B. has given me many fond memories. I still cherish his hearty laugh and broad smile when remembering his response to one of my crazy stories or jokes, youthful naiveté or something I played well he liked. Sometimes he’d grimace when I played, said or did something back-asswards too! Yet he was just as gentle at those times; setting me straight and making sure ‘I got it’. Combining the patience of Job with the wisdom of Solomon and his Delta country parables, he won my total respect and admiration. His wholehearted paternal pride inspired me to work harder to do my very best, just like him.

I was only sixteen years old when I first met Mr. King in 1967 as a fan. Now in my sixties and 23 years older than B.B. was when we first met, I know it still amuses him to regard me as a grown man. During our reunion after a concert last year, we were able to share things with each other man to man, that grew quite personal and emotional. Unspoken, we both realized this could be our very last time together. He graciously asked me to play on his next album even though we both knew it would never be. Eventually he tired and we bade each other our fond farewells, and hugged goodbye. We had reached deeply inside each other’s hearts and souls once again.
And, it was very good and complete.

Ron Levy

For more on Mr. Levy's life and times, not only the B.B. King Band but in Albert King's Band as well an incredible life in music, order his wonderful book "Tales of a Road Dog:  The Lowdown along the Blues Highway" at  and I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

A nation will not survive morally or economically when so few have so much, while so many have so little.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Alejandro Escovedo Brings His Sensitive Boys Back to the Dakota Jazz Club

Fresh off successful gigs in my two favorite cities on earth, New Orleans and Memphis, Alejandro Escovedo brings his Sensitive Boys back to the
head waters of the Mississippi this Thursday May 7, 2015 to a room which defies its name, the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis. 

Despite the name, the Dakota and its mercurial owner Lowell Pickett has been quietly booking some of the better Americana, Roots and Blues acts to his first rate restaurant and music club located on the first floor of an office tower at the corner of Tenth Street and Nicollet Avenue in downtown Minneapolis for years now.  

While to some the idea of béarnaise and the blues may seem as out of place as, say, escargot and Escovedo, the naysayers couldn’t be more wrong.  And if you think that the club formerly associated with the white hair, white shoes and white belt crowd might even subconsciously effect the type of show that Americana and Roots fans favorites like Dave Alvin and Escovedo perform when at the Dakota, just check out my past reviews.
At one recent Dakota show witnessed by yours truly, Escovedo even took perverse pleasure in breaking down the staid stereotype of the home of jazz denizens by mockingly apologizing for the volume level of his performance just before turning it up another notch ala Dylan gone electric.

So if you have not yet o.d.’d on boxing analogies in the aftermath of the “fight of the century”, if you are within driving distance of the Twin Cities this Thursday do not miss a chance to see the True Believer son of a prizefighter, the “Man of the world” who openly boasts “I can take a punch, I can take a swing” and unlike the suckers who paid too much for a mediocre fight on pay per view, you won’t be disappointed. 

Sunday, February 8, 2015


Like a Pineapple Express, last night at the MusicCares Awards banquet, where he was honored as its person of the year, Bob Dylan opened up and let out a torrential downpour that lasted for over a half hour.  A torrent of thanks to those who have helped him, especially early in his career, let us in like never before on how it was that he came to write, no channel, the Zeitgeist of one of America's most iconic periods, the Sixties, deliver with Joan Baez like "devastating honesty" his critique on various aspects of the music industry and music press and, along the way, gets a few things that have been welling up off his chest.

This might seem strange to some coming from a guy who was the Brian Williams of his day when it came to his personal biography, apparently so insecure, ashamed (or resentful) of his Minnesota roots that he invented a music resume that included time spent in the Southwest under the tutelage of a blues master.  But who can fault him, or Williams or Rather (Dan) for that matter?  Certainly not I.  If you are genuine and have been around for any length of time you will discover that what makes up a person are not isolated incidents, but rather who one is as a person are the sum of a lifetime of incidents and as far as I am concerned all three of the aforementioned gentlemen are well out of the red and into the black in the great Neil Young ledger book of life.

So when my brother, a great admirer of Dylan, emailed me earlier this morning that I had to hear his acceptance speech from last night I scoured the net for reporting on the event and hopefully a recording of his speech but the best I could find thus far is the following transcript reported by the L.A. Times

After being introduced by national treasure and everything Ronald Reagan was not, President Jimmy Carter, Dylan took the podium and delivered the following:

I'm glad for my songs to be honored like this. But you know, they didn't get here by themselves. It's
been a long road and it's taken a lot of doing. These songs of mine, they're like mystery stories, the
kind that Shakespeare saw when he was growing up. I think you could trace what I do back that
far. They were on the fringes then, and I think they're on the fringes now. And they sound like
they've been on the hard ground.

I should mention a few people along the way who brought this about. I know I should mention
John Hammond, great talent scout for Columbia Records. He signed me to that label when I was
nobody. It took a lot of faith to do that, and he took a lot of ridicule, but he was his own man and
he was courageous. And for that, I'm eternally grateful. The last person he discovered before me
was Aretha Franklin, and before that Count Basie, Billie Holiday and a whole lot of other artists.
All noncommercial artists.  Trends did not interest  John, and I was very noncommercial but he stayed with me. He believed in my talent and that's all that mattered. I can't thank him enough for that.

Lou Levy runs Leeds Music, and they published my earliest songs, but I didn't stay there too long.
Levy himself, he went back a long ways. He signed me to that company and recorded my songs
and I sang them into a tape recorder. He told me outright, there was no precedent for what I was
doing, that I was either before my time or behind it. And if I brought him a song like "Stardust,"
he'd turn it down because it would be too late.  He told me that if I was before my time ­­ and he didn't really know that for sure ­­ but if it was happening and if it was true, the public would usually take three to five years to catch up ­­ so be prepared. And that did happen. The trouble was, when the public did catch up I was already three to five years beyond that, so it kind of complicated it. But he was encouraging, and he didn't judge me, and I'll always remember him for that.

Artie Mogull at Witmark Music signed me next to his company, and he told me to just keep
writing songs no matter what, that I might be on to something. Well, he too stood behind me, and
he could never wait to see what I'd give him next. I didn't even think of myself as a songwriter
before then. I'll always be grateful for him also for that attitude.

I also have to mention some of the early artists who recorded my songs very, very early, without
having to be asked. Just something they felt about them that was right for them. I've got to say
thank you to Peter, Paul and Mary, who I knew all separately before they ever became a group. I
didn't even think of myself as writing songs for others to sing but it was starting to happen and it
couldn't have happened to, or with, a better group.
They took a song of mine that had been recorded before that was buried on one of my records and
turned it into a hit song. Not the way I would have done it ­­ they straightened it out. But since
then hundreds of people have recorded it and I don't think that would have happened if it wasn't
for them. They definitely started something for me.

The Byrds, the Turtles, Sonny & Cher ­­ they made some of my songs Top 10 hits but I wasn't a
pop songwriter and I really didn't want to be that, but it was good that it happened. Their versions
of songs were like commercials, but I didn't really mind that because 50 years later my songs were
being used in the commercials. So that was good too. I was glad it happened, and I was glad
they'd done it.

Pervis Staples and the Staple Singers ­­ long before they were on Stax they were on Epic and they
were one of my favorite groups of all time. I met them all in '62 or '63. They heard my songs live
and Pervis wanted to record three or four of them and he did with the Staples Singers. They were
the type of artists that I wanted recording my songs.

Nina Simone. I used to cross paths with her in New York City in the Village Gate nightclub. These
were the artists I looked up to. She recorded some of my songs that she [inaudible] to me. She was
an overwhelming artist, piano player and singer.  Very strong woman, very outspoken. That she
was recording my songs validated everything that I was about.

Oh, and can't forget Jimi Hendrix. I actually saw Jimi Hendrix perform when he was in a band
called Jimmy James and the Blue Flames ­­ something like that. And Jimi didn't even sing. He
was just the guitar player. He took some small songs of mine that nobody paid any attention to
and pumped them up into the outer limits of the stratosphere and turned them all into classics. I
have to thank Jimi, too. I wish he was here.

Johnny Cash recorded some of my songs early on, too, up in about '63, when he was all skin and
bones. He traveled long, he traveled hard, but he was a hero of mine. I heard many of his songs
growing up. I knew them better than I knew my own. "Big River," "I Walk the Line."
"How high's the water, Mama?" I wrote "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" with that song
reverberating inside my head. I still ask, "How high is the water, mama?" Johnny was an intense
character. And he saw that people were putting me down playing electric music, and he posted
letters to magazines scolding people, telling them to shut up and let him sing.
In Johnny Cash's world ­ hardcore Southern drama ­­ that kind of thing didn't exist. Nobody
told anybody what to sing or what not to sing. They just didn't do that kind of thing. I'm always
going to thank him for that. Johnny Cash was a giant of a man, the man in black. And I'll always
cherish the friendship we had until the day there is no more days.

Oh, and I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Joan Baez. She was the queen of folk music then and
now. She took a liking to my songs and brought me with her to play concerts, where she had
crowds of thousands of people enthralled with her beauty and voice. People would say, "What are you doing with that ragtag scrubby little waif?" And she'd tell everybody in no uncertain terms, "Now you better be quiet and listen to the songs." We even played a few of them together. Joan Baez is as tough­minded as they come. Love. And she's a free, independent spirit. Nobody can tell her what to do if she doesn't want to do it. I learned a lot of things from her. A woman with devastating honesty. And for her kind of love and devotion, I could never pay that back.  

These songs didn't come out of thin air. I didn't just make them up out of whole cloth. Contrary to what Lou Levy said, there was a precedent. It all came out of traditional music: traditional folk music, traditional rock 'n' roll and traditional big­ band swing orchestra music. I learned lyrics and how to write them from listening to folk songs. And I played them, and I met other people that played them back when nobody was doing it. Sang nothing but these folk songs, and they gave me the code for everything that's fair game, that everything belongs to everyone.

For three or four years all I listened to were folk standards. I went to sleep singing folk songs. I
sang them everywhere, clubs, parties, bars, coffeehouses, fields, festivals. And I met other singers
along the way who did the same thing and we just learned songs from each other. I could learn
one song and sing it next in an hour if I'd heard it just once.

If you sang "John Henry" as many times as me ­­

 "John Henry was a steel­driving man /
Died with a hammer in his hand /
John Henry said a man ain't nothin' but a man /
Before I let that steam drill drive me down /
I'll die with that hammer in my hand."

If you had sung that song as many times as I did, you'd have written "How many roads must a
man walk down?" too.
Big Bill Broonzy had a song called "Key to the Highway."
"I've got a key to the highway /
 I'm booked and I'm bound to go /
Gonna leave here runnin' because
walking is most too slow."

I sang that a lot. If you sing that a lot, you just might write,

Georgia Sam he had a bloody nose
Welfare Department they wouldn’t give him no clothes
He asked poor Howard where can I go
Howard said there’s only one place I know
Sam said tell me quick man I got to run
Howard just pointed with his gun
And said that way down on Highway 61

You'd have written that too if you'd sang "Key to the Highway" as much as me.

"Ain't no use sit 'n cry / You'll be an angel by and by / Sail away, ladies, sail away." "I'm sailing
away my own true love." "Boots of Spanish Leather" ­­ Sheryl Crow just sung that.

"Roll the cotton down, aw, yeah, roll the cotton down /
Ten dollars a day is a white man's pay /
 A dollar a day is the black man's pay never pay that back./
 Roll the cotton down."

If you sang that song as many times as me, you'd be writing "I ain't gonna work on Maggie's farm no more," too.

I sang a lot of "come all you" songs. There's plenty of them. There's way too many to be counted.

"Come along boys and listen to my tale /
Tell you of my trouble on the old Chisholm Trail."


"Come all ye good people, listen while I tell /
the fate of Floyd Collins a lad we all know well /
 The fate of Floyd Collins, a lad we all know well."
"Come all ye fair and tender ladies /
Take warning how you court your men /
They're like a star ona summer morning /
They first appear and then they're gone again."
 "If you'll gather 'round, people /
 A story I will tell /
'Bout Pretty Boy Floyd, an outlaw /
Oklahoma knew him well."

If you sung all these "come all ye" songs all the time, you'd be writing,

 "Come gather 'round people where ever you roam, admit that the waters around you have grown /
Accept that soon you'll be drenched to the bone /
 If your time to you is worth saving /
And you better start swimming or you'll sink like a stone /
 The times they are a­changing."

You'd have written them too. There's nothing secret about it. You just do it subliminally and
unconsciously, because that's all enough, and that's all I sang. That was all that was dear to me.
They were the only kinds of songs that made sense.

"When you go down to Deep Ellum keep your money in your socks /
Women in Deep Ellum put you on the rocks."

Sing that song for a while and you just might come up with,

"When you're lost in the rain in Juarez and it's Easter time too /
And your gravity fails and negativity don't pull you through /
 Don’t put on any airs /
When you’re down on Rue Morgue Avenue /
They got some hungry women there /
And they really make a mess outta you."

All these songs are connected. Don't be fooled. I just opened up a different door in a different kind
of way. It's just different, saying the same thing. I didn't think it was anything out of the ordinary.
Well you know, I just thought I was doing something natural, but right from the start, my songs
were divisive for some reason. They divided people. I never knew why. Some got angered, others
loved them. Didn't know why my songs had detractors and supporters. A strange environment to
have to throw your songs into, but I did it anyway.

Last thing I thought of was who cared about what song I was writing. I was just writing them. I
didn't think I was doing anything different. I thought I was just extending the line. Maybe a little
bit unruly, but I was just elaborating on situations. Maybe hard to pin down, but so what? A lot of
people are hard to pin down. You've just got to bear it. I didn't really care what Lieber and Stoller
thought of my songs.  They didn't like 'em, but Doc Pomus did. That was all right that they didn't likThese songs didn't come out of thin air. I didn't just make 'em, because I never liked their songs either. "Yakety yak, don't talk back." "Charlie Brown is a clown," "Baby I'm a hog for you." Novelty songs. They weren't saying anything serious.

Doc's songs, they were better. "This Magic Moment." "Lonely Avenue." Save the Last Dance for Me.
Those songs broke my heart. I figured I'd rather have his blessings any day than theirs.

Ahmet Ertegun didn't think much of my songs, but Sam Phillips did. Ahmet founded Atlantic
Records. He produced some great records: Ray Charles, Ray Brown, just to name a few.
There were some great records in there, no question about it. But Sam Phillips, he recorded Elvis
and Jerry Lee, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. Radical eyes that shook the very essence of
humanity.   Revolution in style and scope.  Heavy in shape and color.  Radical to the bone. Songs that
cut you to the bone. Renegades in all degrees, doing songs that would never decay, and still resound to this day. Oh, yeah, I'd rather have Sam Phillips' blessing any day.

Merle Haggard didn't even think much of my songs. I know he didn't. He didn't say that to me,
but I know [inaudible]. Buck Owens did, and he recorded some of my early songs.
Merle Haggard ­­ "Mama Tried," "The Bottle Let Me Down," "I'm a Lonesome Fugitive." I can't imagine Waylon Jennings singing "The Bottle Let Me Down."
"Together Again"? That's Buck Owens, and that trumps anything coming out of Bakersfield. Buck
Owens and Merle Haggard?  If you have to have somebody's blessing ­­ you figure it out.

Oh, yeah. Critics have been giving me a hard time since Day One. Critics say I can't sing. I croak.
Sound like a frog. Why don't critics say that same thing about Tom Waits? Critics say my voice is
shot. That I have no voice. What don't they say those things about Leonard Cohen? Why do I get
special treatment? Critics say I can't carry a tune and I talk my way through a song. Really? I've
never heard that said about Lou Reed. Why does he get to go scot­free? What have I done to deserve this special attention? No vocal range? When's the last time you heard Dr. John? Why don't you say that about him? Slur my words, got no diction. Have you people ever listened to Charley Patton or Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters. Talk about slurred words and no diction. [Inaudible] doesn't even matter. "Why me, Lord?" I would say that to myself.  

Critics say I mangle my melodies, render my songs unrecognizable. Oh, really? Let me tell you something. I was at a boxing match a few years ago seeing Floyd Mayweather fight a Puerto Rican guy. And the Puerto Rican national anthem, somebody sang it and it was beautiful. It was heartfelt and it was moving.  After that it was time for our national anthem. And a very popular soul­singing sister was chosen to sing. She sang every note ­­ that exists, and some that don't exist. Talk about mangling a melody. You take a one­syllable word and make it last for 15 minutes? She was doing vocal gymnastics like she was on a trapeze act. But to me it was not funny.  Where were the critics? Mangling lyrics? Mangling a melody? Mangling a treasured song? No, I get the blame. But I don't really think I do that. I just think critics say I do.
Sam Cooke said this when told he had a beautiful voice: He said, "Well that's very kind of you, but
voices ought not to be measured by how pretty they are. Instead they matter only if they convince
you that they are telling the truth."   Think about that the next time you [inaudible].

Times always change. They really do. And you have to always be ready for something that's coming
along and you never expected it. Way back when, I was in Nashville making some records and I
read this article, a Tom T. Hall interview. Tom T. Hall, he was bitching about some kind of new
song, and he couldn't understand what these new kinds of songs that were coming in were about.
Now Tom, he was one of the most preeminent songwriters of the time in Nashville. A lot of people
were recording his songs and he himself even did it. But he was all in a fuss about James Taylor, a
song James had called "Country Road." Tom was going off in this interview ­­ "But James don't
say nothing about a country road. He's just says how you can feel it on the country road. I don't
understand that."

Now some might say Tom is a great songwriter. I'm not going to doubt that. At the time he was
doing this interview I was actually listening to a song of his on the radio.  It was called "I Love." I was listening to it in a recording studio, and he was talking about all the
things he loves, an everyman kind of song, trying to connect with people. Trying to make you think
that he's just like you and you're just like him. We all love the same things, and we're all in this
together. Tom loves little baby ducks, slow­moving trains and rain. He loves old pickup trucks and
little country streams. Sleeping without dreams. Bourbon in a glass. Coffee in a cup. Tomatoes on
the vine, and onions.  Now listen, I'm not ever going to disparage another songwriter. I'm not going to do that.  I'm not saying it's a bad song. I'm just saying it might be a little overcooked. But, you know, it was in the top 10 anyway. Tom and a few other writers had the whole Nashville scene sewed up in a box. If  you wanted to record a song and get it in the top 10 you had to go to them, and Tom was one of the top guys. They were all very comfortable, doing their thing.  This was about the time that Willie Nelson picked up and moved to Texas. About the same time.  He's still in Texas. Everything was very copacetic. Everything was all right until ­­ until ­­Kristofferson came to town. Oh, they ain't seen anybody like him. He came into town like a wildcat, flew his helicopter into Johnny Cash's backyard like a typical songwriter. And he went for the throat.

"Sunday Morning Coming Down."Well, I woke up Sunday morning With no way to hold my head that didn't hurt.   And the beer I had for breakfast wasn't bad So I had one more for dessert Then I fumbled through my closet Found my cleanest dirty shirt Then I washed my face and combed my hair
And stumbled down the stairs to meet the day.”

You can look at Nashville pre-­Kris and post-­Kris, because he changed everything. That one song
ruined Tom T. Hall's poker parties. It might have sent him to the crazy house. God forbid he ever
heard any of my songs.  You walk into the room With your pencil in your hand You see somebody naked You say, “Who is that man?” You try so hard But you don’t understand Just what you're gonna say When you get home You know something is happening here But you don’t know what it is  Do you, Mister Jones?

If "Sunday Morning Coming Down" rattled Tom's cage, sent him into the looney bin, my song
surely would have made him blow his brains out, right there in the minivan. Hopefully he didn'hear it.  

I just released an album of standards, all the songs usually done by Michael Buble, Harry Connick
Jr., maybe Brian Wilson's done a couple, Linda Ronstadt done 'em. But the reviews of their
records are different than the reviews of my record.  In their reviews no one says anything. In my reviews, [inaudible] they've got to look under every stone when it comes to me. They've got to mention all the songwriters' names. Well that's OK with me. After all, they're great songwriters and these are standards. I've seen the reviews come in, and they'll mention all the songwriters in half the review, as if everybody knows them. Nobody's heard of them, not in this time, anyway. Buddy Kaye, Cy Coleman, Carolyn Leigh, to name a few.  But, you know, I'm glad they mention their names, and you know what? I'm glad they got their names in the press. It might have taken some time to do it, but they're finally there. I can only wonder why it took so long. My only regret is that they're not here to see it.

Traditional rock 'n' roll, we're talking about that. It's all about rhythm. Johnny Cash said it best:
"Get rhythm. Get rhythm when you get the blues." Very few rock 'n' roll bands today play with
rhythm. They don't know what it is. Rock 'n' roll is a combination of blues, and it's a strange thing
made up of two parts. A lot of people don't know this, but the blues, which is an American music,
is not what you think it is. It's a combination of Arabic violins and Strauss waltzes working it out.
But it's true.  The other half of rock 'n' roll has got to be hillbilly. And that's a derogatory term, but it ought not to be. That's a term that includes the Delmore Bros., Stanley Bros., Roscoe Holcomb, Clarence Ashley ... groups like that. Moonshiners gone berserk.  Fast cars on dirt roads. That's the kind of combination that makes up rock 'n' roll, and it can't be cooked up in a science laboratory or a
studio.  You have to have the right kind of rhythm to play this kind of music. If you can't hardly play the blues, how do you [inaudible] those other two kinds of music in there? You can fake it, but you
can't really do it.

Critics have made a career out of accusing me of having a career of confounding expectations.
Really? Because that's all I do. That's how I think about it. Confounding expectations.
"What do you do for a living, man?" "Oh, I confound expectations."  You're going to get a job, the man says, "What do you do?" "Oh, confound expectations.: And the man says, "Well, we already have that spot filled. Call us back. Or don't call us, we'll call you."Confounding expectations. What does that mean? 'Why me, Lord? I'd confound them, but I don't know how to do it.'
The Blackwood Bros. have been talking to me about making a record together. That might
confound expectations, but it shouldn't. Of course it would be a gospel album. I don't think it
would be anything out of the ordinary for me. Not a bit. One of the songs I'm thinking about
singing is "Stand By Me" by the Blackwood Brothers.  Not "Stand By Me" the pop song. No. The
real "Stand By Me."  The real one goes like this:

When the storm of life is raging /
Stand by me /
When the storm of life is raging /
Stand by me /
When the world is tossing me /
Like a ship upon the sea /
Thou who rulest wind and water /
Stand by me
In the midst of tribulation /
Stand by me /
In the midst of tribulation /
Stand by me /
When the hosts of hell assail /
And my strength begins to fail /
Thou who never lost a battle /
Stand by me
In the midst of faults and failures /
Stand by me /
In the midst of faults and failures /
Stand by me /
When I do the best I can /
And my friends don't understand /
Thou who knowest all about me /
Stand by me

That's the song. I like it better than the pop song. If I record one by that name, that's going to be
the one. I'm also thinking of recording a song, not on that album, though: "Oh Lord, Please Don't
Let Me Be Misunderstood."

Anyway, why me, Lord. What did I do?  Anyway, I'm proud to be here tonight for MusiCares. I'm honored to have all these artists singing my songs. There's nothing like that. Great artists. [applause, inaudible]. They're all singing the truth, and you can hear it in their voices. I'm proud to be here tonight for MusiCares. I think a lot of this organization. They've helped many people. Many musicians who have contributed a lot to our culture. 

I'd like to personally thank them for what they did for a friend of mine, Billy Lee Riley. A friend of mine who they helped for six years when he was down and couldn't work. Billy was a son of rock 'n' roll, obviously.  He was a true original. He did it all: He played, he sang, he wrote. He would have been a bigger star but Jerry Lee came along. And you know what happens when someone like that comes along.  You just don't stand a chance.  So Billy became what is known in the industry ­­ a condescending term, by the way ­as a one-­hit wonder. But sometimes, just sometimes, once in a while, a one-­hit wonder can make a more powerful impact than a recording star who's got 20 or 30 hits behind him. And Billy's hit song was called "Red Hot," and it was red hot. It could blast you out of your skull and make you feel happy about it. Change your life.  He did it with style and grace. 

You won't find him in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He's not there. Metallica is. Abba is. Mamas and the Papas ­­ I know they're in there. Jefferson Airplane, Alice Cooper, Steely Dan ­­ I've got nothing against them. Soft rock, hard rock, psychedelic pop. I got nothing against any of that stuff, but after all, it is called the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Billy Lee Riley is not there. 

Yet I'd see him a couple times a year and we'd always spent time together and he was on a rockabilly festival nostalgia circuit, and we'd cross paths now and again. We'd always spend time together.  He was a hero of mine. I'd heard "Red Hot." I must have been only 15 or 16 when I did and it's impressed me to this day.  I never grow tired of listening to it. Never got tired of watching Billy Lee perform, either. We spent time together just talking and playing into the night. He was a deep, truthful man. He wasn't bitter or nostalgic. He just accepted it. He knew where he had come from and he was content with who he was.  And then one day he got sick. And like my friend John Mellencamp would sing ­­ because John sang some truth today ­­ one day you get sick and you don't get better. That's from a song of his called "Life is Short Even on Its Longest Days." It's one of the better songs of the last few years, actually. I ain't lying.  And I ain't lying when I tell you that MusiCares paid for my friend's doctor bills, and helped him to get spending money. They were able to at least make his life comfortable, tolerable to the end. That is something that can't be repaid. Any  organization that would do that would have to have my blessing.

I'm going to get out of here now. I'm going to put an egg in my shoe and beat it. I probably left out
a lot of people and said too much about some. But that's OK. Like the spiritual song, 'I'm still just
crossing over Jordan too.' Let's hope we meet again. Sometime. And we will, if, like Hank Williams
said, "the good Lord willing and the creek don't rise."