Goodnight, Dr. John, May Flights of Brass Bands Blow Thee to Thy Rest

 

dr john keeper

Okay, Mac Rebennack’s dead, which means so is Dr. John, which means no more gumbo music, no more funkificated word coinages, no more “mos’ scociouses,” no more “desitively bonnaroos.”

Unique is too weak a word.  Dig this from his Nite Tripper days:

Although Dr. John put on great shows right up until recently (I’ve seen him three times over the last twenty years), I think his best album is 1974’s Desitively Bonnaroo.  Music critic Nick Deriso: “Even today, there’s really no roadmap for the crazy-eyed co-mingling of R&B, jazz, island beats, blues, boogie funk and hoodoo whackadoo splashed across this LP, recorded alongside fellow New Orleans legends Allen Toussaint and the Meters more than 35 years ago.”

I still got the copy I copped from a sidewalk record sale in ’76.  Take a peek at the musicians, if you’re interested, while you listen to a snippet of the title song.

The first time I saw Dr. John live was at an outdoor street festival, again in Columbia, and I’ll never forget his entrance, sporting canary yellow socks, bopping his cane on the sidewalk, strut-dancing his way up the piano to play and croak and banter.

After Katrina, my friends Jake, Keith, and my late wife Judy Birdsong saw him at the Newberry Opera house.  You could see Katrina had taken a toll, and he kept saying throughout the show, “They put me on psych meds.”  That was back in his way-over-weight days, and he occasionally got up from the piano and do these gyrations that didn’t quite qualify as a dance.

In 2013, I saw him for the last time at the Leaf Festival where he played the guitar. He had started out as a guitarist until he got a finger shot in a scuffle and turned to the piano.

dr on guitar

photo by Wesley Moore

Given his hanging out in smokey bars and strip clubs since his teens, his three-decade heroin addiction, his doing some time in prison, I doubt that Mac would ever dream he’d make it to 77, a lucky number.  At any rate, he follows Professor Longhair, Earl King, and James Booker, whom Dr. John once described as “the best black, gay, one-eyed junkie piano genius New Orleans has ever produced.”

So long, old friend. Gonna miss your music, gonna miss your rap.

jb_tragedy

James Booker

 

The Considerable Talents of Danielle Howle

photo credit: Fleming Moore

 

In November of 2014, I published a post entitled South Carolina’s Musical Heritage where I imagined The Oxford American had chosen me to curate a cd of songs produced by natives of the Palmetto State.  I complained that a few of the songs in the Oxford Southern Music series were “a bit too archive-y” and that my cd would not suffer from that preciousness.  You could listen to my compilation without reaching for the fast forward button to skip some pocket-comb-and-tissue band from the 1930s inserted into the mix to establish the curator’s erudition.

Here’s what I came up with:

Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs’  “Stay”

The Swinging Medallions’ “Double Shot of My Baby’s Love”

The Marshall Tucker Band’s “Can’t You See”

Eartha Kitt’s “C’est Bon”

Dizzy Gillespie’s “Salt Peanuts “

James Brown’s “Doing It to Death”

The Drifters’ “There Goes My Baby”

Chubby Checker’s “Let’s Twist Again”

The Brotherhood Gospel Singers’ “Mary, Don’t Cry”

The Reverend Gary Davis’s “Prodigal Sun”

Hootie and the Blowfish[1]“Only Want to Be with You”

Julius Cobb’s “Great Big Change in Me”

Uncle Walt’s Band’s “Gimme Some Skin”

Alphonse Mouzon’s “Funky Snakefoot”

Blue Dogs’ “Walter”

Danielle Howle’s “Oh Swear”

Well, last night, I finally got to meet the last name on that list – not last because least but last because youngest.  Danielle Howle is truly a treasure.  She’s blessed with incredible chops; a gift for melody; a soul capable of alchemizing suffering into poignant but not sentimental art; a sharp, dry wit that makes her stage banter funnier than most of the stand-up acts I’ve seen recently.  Oh, yeah, and charisma.  Obviously, you can’t learn charisma, you can’t will charisma, you can’t ask the Lord Almighty to grant thee charisma.  You either got it or you don’t.  And she gots it in containership loads.

See for yourself as she and keyboardist Alex Goyette playing at the Listening Room at Summerville’s Homegrown Brewhouse:

 

 

To say I’m a fan is obviously an understatement.  Check her out whenever you can,  Also, her opening act George Alan Fox and Jesse Pritchard were also  killer.

 

I-and-I backstage with Danielle Photo Credit: Fleming Moore

[1]Not a big fan, but it would be churlish not to include them.

Someone’s Son

 

My father had some admirable qualities, but equanimity wasn’t one of them.  For example, once, during my teenaged years, when the phone rang once too often to his liking, he ripped its wires from the socket and hurled the entire apparatus against the wall.  Although incidents like this were rare, they occurred often enough to put us on edge. Unfortunately, after I left for college and his business started to go under, financial pressure exacerbated his anger.  When my younger brother Fleming and sister Sue Ellen entered their adolescence, the household became more and more turbulent.

Not too surprisingly, Fleming started to get into trouble.  Anger is contagious – or at least it was for us.  While I was up in Columbia playing the role of angry young man, Fleming was back in Summerville mouthing off, experimenting with drugs, and getting arrested for this and that.  Eventually, he was expelled from Summerville High School.

Nevertheless, he earned a GED and later a BA in mathematics and got a job teaching high school for Berkeley County.

Thanks to a fairly robust his drug habit, his teaching career was short-lived, and Fleming spent years in and out of rehab, ultimately getting hooked on crack.  Oh yeah, before that, he suffered a couple of strokes and had a heart valve replaced while still in his twenties.

Young Fleming

Although I do not believe in a personal god, I know that Jesus can save lost souls, because he saved Fleming, who has been sober/straight now for going on a decade.

During this time, he has been writing and playing music.  Just recently, reverb.com invited him to Brooklyn for a recording session.

My hope is that some established star records one of his songs because they’re really good, both melodically and lyric-wise.

Here’s a clip from a recent gig at Bowties in James Island.

The song is entitled “In the Holy City,” a tribute to the love offering of the relatives of  the victims of the Charleston massacre.

Anyway, never give up on someone.  If you’re in the Charleston area, you can catch Fleming and his band at Bowties Thursday 18 October at 7.  I’ll certainly be there.

A Tribute to David Bromberg

I discovered David Bromberg late, in ’76, during my farcical impersonation of a graduate school student. Instead of [forgive the vulgar patriarchal terminology] boning up on feminist theory, I was tending bar with a broken heart until about midnight, and as you bartenders know (right Charlie?), you don’t get off and go straight home.  You go to some early morning alcohol dispensary to wind down, which makes showing up an eight o’clock class on 18th Century English journalism seem as unlikely as Jackie Collins winning the Nobel Prize for Literature.

From left to right, Bob Dylan, Leon Redbone, and David Bromberg

But I digress.  This post is about David Bromberg, whom I consider a woefully underappreciated American treasure.  The first record of his I copped was this one: David Bromberg Songs (1972).  Two tunes that really caught by attention were “Delia,” an obscure yet widely covered (if that’s possible) murder narrative and “Sammy’s Song,” a Hemingwayesque tale about a sixteen-year-old’s uncle-sponsored trip to a brothel.

Take a listen to this snippet from “Delia.”

 

And here’s “Sammy’s Song.”

 

Although most noted for his superb guitar playing, whether he’s laying down blues licks on a Son House cover or finger picking bluegrass at breakneck velocity, it’s Bromberg’s distinctive narrow ranged voice that slays me.  Rather than trying to imitate African Americans or white Southerners, Bromberg employs his very own Tarrytown baritone to great effect.  In addition to the acoustic, electric, and pedal steel guitars, he also plays fiddle and dobro in an eclectic array of genres: bluegrass, blues, folk, jazz, country and western, and rock-n-roll.

I finally got to see him live last March at the Pour House.  His quintet featured Nate Grower on fiddle, Mark Cosgrove on guitar and mandolin, Josh Kanusky on drums, and Butch Amiot on bass.  They ran through a fifteen song set whose highlights included his great cover of Ian and Sylvia’s “Summer Wages,” an acapella rendition of “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” and his signature version of  “New Lee Highway Blues.”

David Bromberg at the Pour House, photo by Wesley Moore

And, oh yeah, and “Delia.” He provided a more complete history of the song’s origin, which is absolutely fascinating. Delia Green was a 14-year-old girl shot on Christmas Day in 1900 in Savannah. For whatever reason, her murder inspired several songs, the two most famous by Blind Willie McTell and Blake Alphonso Higgs.  In addition to Bromberg, Bob Dylan, Josh White, Pete Seeger, Harry Bellafonte, Burl Ives, the Kingtson Trio, Bobby Bare, Waylon Jennings, and Johnny Cash have all covered the song.  Of yeah, one more, Pat Boone.

Pat Boone? WTF?

Anyway, do yourself a favor and go out and buy a couple of his records, and if you ever get the chance to see him live, jump at it.

I’ll leave you with this.

 

 

 

Goodbye for Good

On the train you get smaller, as you get farther away.
The roar covers everything you wanted to say.
Was that a raindrop or a tear in the corner of your eye?
Were you drying your nails or waving goodbye?

 Tom Waits, “2:19”


In “Madame George,” the second song of Side Two of Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, I love it when Madame George says to the narrator, “Hey love, you forgot your gloves.”

And then the narrator, (rather than Madame George, I think) says

The gloves to love, to love the gloves

The gloves to love, to love the gloves

The gloves to love, to love the gloves

The gloves to love, to love the gloves

To say goodbye to Madame George

Dry your eye for Madame George

Wonder why for Madame George.”

 

 

Wonder why about what?

In the last stanza, it’s as if the narrator has to self-hypnotize himself leave, as if he has to verbally will his very locomotion:

Get on the train
Get on the train, the train, the train
This is the train, this is the train
Whoa, say goodbye, goodbye, goodbye, goodbye
Get on the train, get on the train.

 

Glove equals love, liltingly. Gloves sometimes wave goodbye.

Goodbye for good?

I don’t pretend to know what’s happening here, but it’s something very, very sad; we’re in a world of woe, outré, impressionistic, hypnotic.

You can feel the inarticulate hurt, and it’s bad to feel so good to know you’re not the only one hurting.

We’ve all felt this. This is the train. Get on the train. Dry your eyes. This is the bed. Get out of the bed. Put Visine in your eyes.

Your eyes, your eyes, your eyes.

Miles Davis, John Coltrane, So What?

Miles Davis at the Vancouver International Jazz Festival, 1986

Miles Davis at the Vancouver International Jazz Festival, 1986

If it weren’t for his furtive, occasionally darting eyes, Mile’s Davis’s 1959 performance of “So What?” (see below) might serve as an ideal video embodiment of the word nonchalance.[1]

I.e., the projecting an aura of a relaxed, confident detachment.[2]

It seems as if no one’s all that into it, maybe not all that interested.

For example, at 2:41, notice Coltrane looking impassive in the background during Miles’s solo, eventually, however, nodding his head in half-assed admiration.

When Coltrane begins his solo, Miles splits for backstage. At 4:28, check out the two white fellows behind Coltrane actually conversing, seemingly deaf to gorgeous notes streaming from the tenor saxophone five feet in front of them.

At 4:40-ish there’s Miles himself in the background smoking a cigarette, detached.

At 5:03, though still offstage, he’s back into the flow of the music, swaying.

Throughout the entire performance, you see people who should be behind the scenes casually milling around, talking.

The obliviousness to momentousness of the music reminds me of that Auden poem describing an “untidy spot” on the canvas of an Old Master’s painting depicting an unnamed martyrdom where “dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse scratches its innocent behind on a tree.”

Anyway, when the camera’s on Miles in profile, his body appropriately takes the shape of a question mark.

It’s like Miles is cool cubed, which being too too too cool, threatens to heat up into violence.

There’s tension, calculation in those eyes looking backwards into their skull. They’re not looking at what’s ever opposite of them in that studio.

But it’s the music that really matters. Check it out for yourself. The trumpet saying so what, so what, so what.

Do it, Miles.


[1] I’m imagining an on-line dictionary that provides multiple multimedia examples so that you really get a feel for the word

[2] My definition.