TABLE OF CONTENTS: 2004 (most recent first)
2006 (most recent first) You Never Can Tell
The time limpet US Drive Thru Bar
What if Chicago Avenue
Emphasis on the absurd (a reviewer's rant) Lyons Den - End of an Era
2005 (most recent first) An email to the fans
The Giant Squids of Avonmouth and other stories Nine Miles to the Gallon
Goodbye Chicago (and other stories) The Chicago Reader Rock Critic and the Myth of Chicago's Southside Gets Blown Away - Maybe
Scott Free Anger Bus / Blues Intrigue - the Story of Killer Ray
Of Drunken Stuffed Duck Orgies and Ceiling Fans Chitlins
Taking Time Off to be a Big Shot in the Movies  Salt Sheep
Flood Brothers Have Their Revenge 2003 (most recent first)
Slipping The Light Fantastic T-Shirt Tales
2000-3 (no particular order) Women Jello Wrestling and Frankie Goes To Hollywood
Dancing Iguanas Code Purple
The 35 Pound Monkey The Saturday Night That Should'nt
The Cotton Club Saturday Night That Wasn't
Street Blues in Chicago; Fish Tales
Swinging Musicians of Lancaster Town and the Midwest US Promotor Flights of Fancy
Uh oh! English Rock Band In Chicago! Cock-A-Snook: Saddam Hussien Proclaims Iraq a Christian State (zine article)
Viva Las Vegas Ship Of Fools
Would You Like Ice With That? 2000-3 (no particular order)
  Another Saturday. Another Sunday (or Mardi Gras) in the Windy City
  Blues For No One There
  California Scheming
  Cruisin’ in The USA
  Gigs Gone Awry
  Good King Wenceslas - bunny wearing, slave driving, wenching tyrant (letter to the London Times)t
  Krispy Kreme. A Story of Love, Music, Chicago and Donuts!
  Last Weekend
  Monday Night Music
  New Orleans and Baton Rouge
  Puerto Rico

Time Limpet

The limpet sucked gently on the lime.

What time is this it’s radula rasped

There was no answer from the slapping kelp

The tide ran and the limpet remained

A mile high cliff of chalk gave up some ingots of splattering flint on the hardness below. A tangled dead tree wrestled the wind for possession of a polystyrene cup.

Sand puckered with razor shell exhalations and sky wheeled with gulls

Such was the time of man recorded on the shore as sea scoured oak hulls rescued the beach from it’s other noises and small crustaceans sought sanctuary from crushing boots of iron bolted leather.

And so who witnessed two ages collide in one brief salty breeze?

Not the limpet for it could not see like you or I, not the sodden raiders, not the gulls who only looked for odour. No one.

And a thousand times a thousandth time slips within time.


What if

What if countries that pride themselves on the separation of church and state separate themselves from church and state?

What if democratically elected governments did not lie to the people who voted them in?

What if some countries that tout themselves as leaders of democratic government actually acknowledge and bring into being proportional representation in that government so that we don't have two parties of equal and mendacious mediocrity?

What if religion is but a repeated inability to see enlightenment in any other form than in a man?

What if Jesus’ humility was adopted by those who fight wars over nuance?

What if Jesus had not proclaimed himself son of god and just preached love?

What if Jesus was wrong to choose himself, and to leave no doubt to his followers, that he was the "chosen one"?

What if virtually all the stuff of religion is written by man?

What if the experience of religion is not strictured by words of man?

What if at the moment of death the need for pain has gone?

What if tunnelling into softness only invites pain of life to burrow after you?

What if fear, pain, anger, in the healthy are manifestations of ignorance?

What if the fear, pain and anger in the truly ill are manifestations of the ignorance of the healthy?

What if the totemic inability to perceive enlightenment or the inexplicable around us as anything but in a human form leads us always to venerate yet envy, fawn over yet despise, those who fill our void but are yet still human?

What if love of power was to be superseded by the love of love?

What if the vast majority of human beings dared express an interest in their history?

What if each period in human history did not believe it was the natural improvement on the history that preceded it?

What if each period in human history did not have the arrogance that, worshipping of humans in positions of power that all other periods in human history have done, will not result in warfare?

What if no one ever lied?

What if everyone always asked a precise question so to answer incorrectly would be a lie?

What if Drug Stores sold heroin and pot?

What if street corners were undersold by the Government in heroin and pot?

What if folks didn’t think it was cool to take drugs anymore because the Government allowed it – like alcohol, coffee, sugar ? ? ? ?

What if cigarettes went out when you put them down?

What if cigarettes were just natural tobacco leaf?

What if cigarette companies cared about your health?

What if privatising energy providers was a good idea because they cared about your happiness?

What if nuclear fuel was a good idea because there was no high level nuclear waste?

What if known ways to fission Uranium 235 and burn high level waste to harmless elements was part of all new nuclear reactor designs?

What if wind turbines were cylindrical – some even lain on their side?

What if some folks considered wind turbines more attractive than nuclear power stations?

What if these what if’s are becoming too heavy?

What if rush hour was spread over the day so those poor sods who woke up late to find wankers who love to bounce around in the morning and had decreed the time for the rest of us to get up and work, have their own as to when to start work - like 10am or 11am or 1pm etc?

What if cars ran on alcohol?

What if folks put in diesel vehicles what they liked, bearing in mind that naming a petrochemical distillation as diesel after Joseph Diesel invented the thing to run on coal dust or peanut oil was a very smart and totally disingenuous way to make it hard for folks to pluck up the courage to pour vegetable oil into their diesel tank (we do with our minibus and it works fine)?

And on the way back from the pub there were some about Mohammad:

What if Mohammad was wrong about an earthly paradise in heaven?

What if Mohammad was wrong about the judgement and hell?

What if Mohammad was simply brilliant at getting what he wanted?

What if changing of one's belief did not necessitate violence to another?

What if any religion that ends in it’s supporters killing in it’s name is intrinsically warped whether by it’s founder/s or by it’s interpreters and those who obediently follow?

What if faith healing is not owned by any religion?

What if miracles are also not owned by any religion?

What if dance is a manifestation of love?

What if music is too?

What if faith, love and music together never end in murder, hate and war? Oh, they don't do they.

Oh, and what if much of the bloody war and horror, not to mention the insanity of Revelations, that is written in the Old Testament, especially in a cosmological sense is just plain bollocks because the writers just didn’t know what they were talking about, were suffering from ergotism, or simply barking bloody mad?

And, what if being a cynic of those who use science for their own enrichment does not lead to being a cynic of the science that’s abused?

And what if the only true torment left to this race is romantic love – surely that is enough bollocks to keep us occupied while everything else is sorted?

Except if you’ll ever meet again the lass you met but once last November as she sat on the steps in the Gregson centre engrossed on her mobile but who you fell in love with in one conversation even though she’d plowed through half a bottle of Smirnoff after a row with her 41 year old boyfriend, his parents recently dead. A supply teacher in Manchester who made a frog bog for her pupils and – and indeed.


Emphasis on the Absurd

I listen to your crap and I’m inspired, inspired to write, to write anything to eclipse this old dribble you've put in my head - Gad, no wonder you bemoan your 9-5 and your lost night

You spin more moon and june than moons around fucking Jupitar and Saturn

Yes, you couldn’t get backstage

The world is a cruel cruel place

Christ almighty, at least lets hear the gravity of your crying

Not another cliché – oh, downtown the crowd won’t let you in

The world might change, the world might let you in and you would be a rock star

Not enough moons round jupitar for that mate.

Is this what America is? A cultureless president and musicians without a lyric?

Oh, this is great

“I feel cold running through my veins

Don’t know what to feel there’s too much pain”

"What was your name, now it’s too late."

God, you look cute luv but your lyrics make me puke!

“You walked past and you looked cute, you smiled but I look the other way”

GAD if he heard the drivel you’re singing he would’ve RAN the other way!!

Too late my ass – not too late to run away from this mediocrity with the pretty face!!

How can you be so sure you want to rule the world and you can’t even bleed with your words.

Are the real songsmiths in Government then, or occasionally rolled out on Garrison Keeler’s Prairie Home Companion, are they the corporate icons or simply the advertising acumen?

They sure as hell don’t seem to be these down and out broke down brain numbing songsmiths that couldn’t give you an explanation of blues if Howling Wolf crawled along their apartment crappy beer stained floor, shagged their equally talentless girlfriend and bit them on the leg.

How many “souls and minds” do these cretins have?

Some larvly harmonies of the absurd that at least is true!!

Do they inspire by frustrating a lazy artist to finally write in exasperation at their lack of talent. Is it right to use them when all my response is “ oh, deep in side I know – I still feel alive” what bollocks!!

Gad! These guys CROWED about themselves and they SUCK! “Mind, drive, even change your mind!”

Don’t these people read the site and figure out that the DEMOLISHERS OF EMOROCK (WHATEVER THE FUCK THAT IS BUT I HAVE A CLUE!) are the originators of the CME?

Bless them really because although I hate trite lyrics no one can hear what I sing so why should I care if the music rates?





The Giant Squids of Avonmouth and other stories (aka Bulshitting the Americans)

While on our way with the American bands into Bath, Sean Rowe, acoustic guitarist of Mudfunk, asked about the existence of any animal dangerous to humans in the UK. I informed him that there really weren’t too many: the bears had been shot, the wolves had been shot and all the sabre tooth tigers had been sold to Jerusalem zoos during the Crusades. There are of course Crown protected dog drowning swans in the Avon river valley. Owned by the queen no less so nothing can be done about them. But their harm to mankind is mainly emotional and then only if the person owns a small easily swan despatched yap yap dog (that and they might break your legs with their wings to add injury to emotional trauma).

However, the occasional large runs of giant squid that ascend up the Severn river system during the autumn spring tides wreck havoc on the dog killing swans of Avon. The spectacle is quite extraordinary – large suckered tentacles whipping out of the weir pools and tearing swans apart.

And occasionally small children.

Yep, he bought it.

Mind you, the percussionist who was too sick to attend the Isle of Arran gig also believed that, yes indeed, Mungo Santamaria, on furlough between the Glasgow and Edinburgh Cuban percussion festivals, stopped by the gig on recommendation and even sat in with us ‘til 4am. Along with a bevy of Cuban dancing girls who were willing to dance in imaginative and fulfilling ways to foster more mutual cultural exchanges between our two weird nations and perhaps a chance of delicious defection.

Marco’s guitarist Sean (the squid believer) told him he thought Mungo was a bit of a show off really (Mungo must be 80 by now!)

Ah yes, then there's also the derivation of Bristol for women’s breasts. Seeing as we were gigging in Bristol at the time the subject inevitably presented itself. Most of us know the explanation as a Cockney rhyming slang (“Bristol City - ______”), but at least some of the Americans who played with us in that fair city (the Wellington Hotel – “Wellington”, of course, comes from the Weoling Saxon folks who lived near Woden’s glade, a place so heavily attended by Woden worshippers it soon became a quagmire, so they sold knee high Weoling boots for the worshippers) now understand it to refer to the success of the Bristol brothels eclipsing all other English ports during the Age of Enlightenment because of their domination at the great Tit Exposition of Britain in 1735.

As most well educated history boffs know, the Great Tit Fest was when brothels all around the country competed for the prestigious and rare aviary award for the best caged tits. As all history boffs also know, all brothels at that time were disguised as bird sanctuaries (giving us the explanation for the sexist term of “birds’) to avoid local government scrutinization. Many also operated as soup kitchens explaining clearly where the word “brothel” was derived. As a footnote, it is worth noting that the easiest birds to rear in these smokey and dim lit environments were of course coal tits: but also, blue tits and great tits. The fascinating etymology behind these bird’s names, as explained to the Americans, however, is too risqué for this gentle page, but let your imagination run riot and you’ll find you are probably correct.

The soup typically sold at these bird-exploiting dens was typically blue tit nest consommé.

The BBC (Bristol Brothel Consortium) was as corrupt an institution that has ever – well, maybe not, but don’t get me into contemporary politics. Anyway, the BBC was run my madams, cutthroats, pirates and other high ranking members of the Georgian Labour Party and had craftily infiltrated all it’s brothel competitors with their own employees who, two days before the contest, allowed specially trained harlot homing hawks from Bristol into the competitor’s workplaces where all the tits were thus eaten. Bristol, being the only place left with uneaten live birds won by default and so became renowned for its tits.

Yep, they bought that too, and these were super educated quite brilliant and liberal leaning musicians – so don’t be surprised at over half that great nation’s apparent political gullibility and bizarre interpretations of Christianity. Bless, them, the Whitehouse aside, they are but children in the gentle art of complete BS.

As this is the December issue of the Gauntlet it would be remiss of me not to remind our readers that the Convulsions will, as always, be performing at the John O’Gaunt Boxing Day extravaganza starting 9pm. And the bar will be open late too.
Cheers! Ben
Copyright Ben (not so foreign correspondent anymore) Ruth, 2005


Good Bye Chicago, Hello Costa Rica and Lancaster, Spill the Wine, and Jack Daniel’s Lunacy:

It was a testament to the musicians on the roof that the Chicago cop’s comment after responding to complaints from the neighbours was:

“It sounds pretty good to me, I tell you what, we’ll give you another hour and a half and if we still have complaints we’ll come back and ask you to turn it down”

I used to be in a blues band myself” was the parting shot.

Susan, bless her, had earlier that day shimmied onto the telegraph pole next to the roof of our 2nd floor apartment and attached a winch (she was the self titled winch wench) by which we proceeded to haul up the band gear (some musicians included) onto the roof. It helps that Susan rigs sailing boats for a living.

By all accounts the cacophony could be heard about 10 city blocks away (a mile). Too much Goose Island IPA dissolved the resolve to just play in spurts to keep the neighbours from getting too restless. Instead an orgy of smoldering amplified blues ensued and an hour and a half later the cops reappeared with 100’s of complaints from our Latin neighbours. Thus, despite the neighbours dancing on their roofs with us and the couple dancing in the street the live roof music component of the going away party was thus terminated.

A drunk cyclist pulling off the staircase banister and the University of Chicago philosophy professor peeing his pants on our couch while discoursing on the origins of beer and civilization brought up the rear of the party circa 4am.

Then it was off to Costa Rica. The band I was there to see, Gandhi, were a ballistic sweat fest of Zeppelin meets Santana underpinned by Bob Marley and Sister Sledge: during their second set they started playing a bunch of obviously popular Central American pop standards judging by the number of cariocas singing along (slang for fans). Centenaro rum fueled linguistic inspirations found me doing the same. It turned out all the songs they performed were their own (and you can judge for yourself as they are playing in the John O'Gaunt Sun. Dec. 3rd this year).

Fast forward to the Chicago Music Explosion Oct. tour in England and a needed edit to this original article:

The red Chilean wine spluttered across the white carpet of room 9 at the Aldersyde Hotel, Lamlash, Isle of Arran, like blood from a hurriedly sacrificed chicken. Wilem from Breaking Laces, New York City had opened the door on my glass of the stuff while stuffing dry muesli into his face. “Don’t let them blame me, they didn’t want me upstairs with the wine in the first case”. No worries, I went and fetched Verity the Landlady’s daughter and exaggerated the extent of the splatter to one of Hammer House of Horror proportions such that when she saw the stains she was not too upset. She ran off to the bar to retrieve soda water.

When she returned, sans soda water (all out) but with a squirty of flower-scented toilet cleaner, however, the room now looked like an abattoir. A full on messy heifer sacrifice with wine EVERYWHERE. In the interim of five minutes, Ig, keyboardist from Oh My God!, had jokingly tried to feed me some of the muesli off the carpet only to completely knock the rest of the wine out of my hand, over the carpet, bedding, walls, some on the ceiling. Glass act.

This was the second only real mess from the Americans on the entire tour. The second was at the John O’Gaunt: After a bit of well meant rebooking of Chicago’s Oh My God! at the John on a full moon Sunday night the lead singer decided to drink the worse part of a litre of Jack Daniels (behaviour forbidden in our contract). This was their only lunacy on the entire tour and it would have to be enacted at this correspondent’s favourite Lancaster pub on the eve of moving back to Lancaster! The whole debacle was (and they still didn’t break a single chandelier) to the delight of few folks except one gent who works in a lunatic asylum. To repay Robin, the Convulsions find themselves with a residency at the John O’Gaunt thanks to a landlord who combines the wisdom of Solomon with the patience of Gandhi (not the Costa Rican band but the other bloke who defeated the British Raj). We hope to provide shows at the John O’Gaunt that will be the testing ground for all our new material and future furniture rearranging and dissembling acumen.

So there you have it folks. The Convulsions start a twice a month Sunday residency at the John O’Gaunt starting on Boxing Day (which is not a Sunday), and continuing through March. Make mine a double JD and coke please.


Scott Free

The following narrative raises more questions than it answers:

I was in a hurry to escape the conversational clutches of the drunk, fellow at Rick’s bar in Napoleon, Ohio. Pity, because I was able to corroborate at least one of his stories:

In 1958 Robert Heft was the first American to design the current bloody flag you see everywhere in this self obsessed country – he was a high school student who received a B- in his class project for his design with 50 stars when there were only 49 states since Alaska had just joined the union. However, he had anticipated the joining of Hawaii to the Union and was smart enough to send his flag into Congress and thereby earn a career to this day on the patriotic lecture circuits of small town America’s historical societies.

Anyway, the story is that on New Year’s Eve, 1880, a retired civil war veteran, Scott Henry, a Yankee carpet bagger colonel who had moved to the small town of Napoleon after making his fortune in Virginia woke up the young newly married pharmacist assistant at the local apothecary in the early hours while out looking for his son. The fellow assured him his son was not there. Scott left only to return with more vehement demands to see his son. An argument ensued and Scott shot dead the pharmacist’s assistant. In his defense Scott claimed he didn’t know he had an army issue revolver in his coat pocket and that because he was cold he had his hands in his pockets and the gun must have gone off while his hands were shivering. The jury acquitted him and the phrase “Getting off Scott free” entered the lexicon.

Among other things I learnt on this cycle trip on Route 6 from Chicago to Long Island, New York (Route 6 – the Grand Army of the Republic (Memorial) Highway was named after veterans of the Civil War who helped fund and build it and was at one time the longest US highway (3652 miles in 1937) until California in 1965 requested it’s status start two hundred miles inland from its original origin in Long Beach in 1965. Route 20 is the longest now.):

The Amish peaches and apples in Nappanee, Indiana are the best in the world!

You can’t put your bicycle on the Amtrak train between Sandusky Ohio and Cleveland should you want to bottle out of that 70 mile ride because the easterly wind had been getting to you – but just as well because the cycle ride up Route 6 follows the shores of Lake Eerie and is delightful, especially when that head wind has stopped.

Cleveland Metro Parks are superb and the concession stands serve you a casserole dish sized banana split.

The Cuyahoga River in Cleveland and Lake Eerie once had a “flammable” sign next to it and last burned in 1969 prompting the US Clean Water Act of 1970.

In the town of Andover on the Ohio and Pennsylvania border they put pretzels around drinking straws in your orange juice (and don’t serv beer in the restaurants).

Meadville, Pennsylvania, is at the top of a bloody great hill, but the natives are very friendly if not extremely bawdy.

Oliver Perry (founder of the phase “Perry’s Luck” and the banner “Don’t Give up the Ship”) by winning the 1813 Battle of Lake Eerie arguably changed the whole course of the British American War and the destruction of the Shawnee Indians dream of an Indian Midwest (or a British client state). A fascinating account at

The sunsets from Presque Peninsula are world famous (so the folks of Eerie, PA assure me, though the one I saw was quite magic).

The Alleghany Reservoir has a LOT of carp – at least by the dam wall.

Western Pennsylvania has a LOT of mountains and hills over 1 mile of ascent, though the Harmony peaches are perhaps even better than those in Nappanee.

The last 4.5 miles down into the Delaware Valley town of Port Jervis is all down hill.

Bear Mountain, on the Hudson is 2316” and a bastard to cycle up on Route 9W (and you start at sea level as the Hudson is tidal at this point) but the views over the Hudson valley are stunning.

The Bear Mountain Bridge was completed in 1924 (without a single loss of live) and also carries the Appalachian Trail at a height of 135” above the Hudson.

Keith Richards lives in Weston, Ct. though the drug dealing and prostitution is more prevalent in nearby Bridgeport.

Blue fish for breakfast in Shelter Island is hard to beat – especially when all you’re going to be doing that day is going fishing with your dad and second cousins while the mud splattered wobble wheeled bicycle remains stationary in the garage for second cousins to use when their legs grow long enough.

This ride was dedicated to the memory of the amazing Amanda Buckney and helped raise funds for Leukemia Research.


Of Drunken Stuffed Duck Orgies and Ceiling Fans

It always comes to this – when stuck for stories I always fall back on my Aussie pal Paul Foulsham to provide the anecdote. It’s not that I have writing block per se – the weekends have been eventful with Toronto one week, Detroit the week before, then Green Bay Wisconsin. The Leo Frigo Memorial Bridge by the way is named after a former president of Frigo Cheese who later rummaged around garbage cans outside of grocery stores for the poor, thereby shaming the grocery store owners into giving their spare produce to the cause. But no one we met up there knew that so that’s why I looked it up. We blew up buckets of water with dynamite while shooting arrows with the bows provided by the mad drug dealing Mexicans who abducted us. So that took one paragraph.

As we contemplate another sweaty and destructive ceiling fixture encounter at the John O’Gaunt (Sunday, July 10 th) a fond story comes to mind (and one that heartened us all before playing the Silver Dollar Lounge in Toronto to the twelve folks who had survived the previous eight hour pot vaporizing party held in this auspicious club’s backyard).

Apologies Becka.

Becka hopped on the van a couple of years ago, taking a couple of days off of work at the Gregson to hang out with a rock band on the road (poor girl, the sadness of demystification) and off we went to London with Jim Swinerton on bass, Mike Howard on guitar, Matt Baumann from Chicago on drums, myself and several cases of Chicago’s Goose Island beer in the back. We stopped off for a gig in the Bell at Bath where Jim split his head open on the ceiling beam while leaping from the stage to the bar. Why he did this after the punters had left we don’t know. The next night we ensconced in my friend Paul’s flat in Wimbledon, dragging Jim and a case of Goose in across the gravel drive.

After the Goose case was lightened, and Becka loosened, she unadvisedly brought her stuffed child hood sweetheart duck to our attention. Mike, bless him, started applying a different starting letter to what was certainly ‘uck’ when he grappled with the unsuspecting completely insentient Quackles.

“Sick and wrong, sick and wrong!” brought out a curious Paul from the kitchen with vino .

“What’s that?!” exclaimed my Foster chugging chum seeing Michael applying Elvis mannerisms to a small stuffed animal between his legs.

“Sick and wrong, sick and wrong, that’s what, leave my Quackles alone!”

“Quackles?! I hate your Quackles – where’s my knife. I’m going to get your Quackles!”

Totally unnecessary, of course, but Paul has a history of spontaneous hatred of toy animals that goes back a couple of decades to the woggit era and Stoke College in Suffolk where we both went to school. The head girl, a bald headed lass named Amanda, had a woggit that disappeared one summer morn only to find its way on to the school air rifle range. While being beaten up by Amanda, Paul denied all knowledge, but he is Australian and it was a koala bear woggit. At least it was before it lost its skin, most of its limbs, head etc while gaining about a pound in lead.

We had much wine, Becka slept with Quackles in her arms, tightly..

I awoke fairly early in the morning to be a hung-over high number in the chain of Thames water recyclers and noticed a shadow passing over the kitchen tiles. Strange fruit indeed, for Paul had been true to his word and had managed to rouse himself out of deep drunken slumber to fulfil his evil purpose. Quackles hung by the neck and swung slowly and mournfully around and around from the kitchen ceiling fan. “Oh, boy there’s going to be a scream”. There was.

Marty, the mad philandering Irish drummer from Chicago who had hopped on the road with us for Toronto thought this all quite amusing and related a story about a girl he knew who was following him and some friends to a party. She was very attached to her Pee Wee Herman doll until she noticed it had become attached to the bumper of their car in front.

We played the gig in good spirits at the expense of undeserving anthropogenic bits of contrived fluff and their wanton abuse at the hands of sadists. On the last number I cracked my head open on one of the over head speakers. I don’t know it all connects somehow . . . .


Swinging Musicians of Lancaster Town and the Midwest US Promotor

The John O’ Gaunt 2:30pm last Saturday before Christmas, and a session was about to begin! Spider was there, Cheryl who used to bar tend had just stopped in, I was about to start chatting to this girl I’d never met before, and my best friend in London was on his way. What a lovely way to while away a few hours before playing an acoustic set at the Bull in Morecambe. Oh, and the Burton’s was just going down a wonderful treat!

Then the phone rings behind the bar and the session comes to an end (for me at least). My piano playing friend on the gig had to cancel due to flu. Bugger!

However, as really good luck would have it, I ended up playing two super fun sets with the Bull’s barman, Al, who turned out to be an accomplished guitarist, formerly of the Lone Sharks. There was even a kicking party to follow (ta, Paul of the John O’ Gaunt). Thank you, everyone who helped me try and find someone to cover that gig, especially Alan Duckles (Sun Street Stompers), and Sue Parish (Lancaster’s excellent jazz singer).

Every gig in December has ended up being lots of fun. Paul Guppy (bs), Mike Howard (gtr.), and Mark Thompson on drums played a marvelous semi-acoustic set at the Bowerham on Tuesday 26th. Enhanced and enchanted with the vigorous violin of Mark Demorney sitting in, initially on Watermelon Man, and then everything else (including an RnB version of Vivaldi’s first movement of Spring that melded through Irish reel to Got My Mojo Working – indeed). There was the much heralded gig at the John O’ Gaunt on Wed. 29th with Mark Townson (Swamp Dogs – gtr.), Boogie Bill Roberts (pno), Glen Knowles (Fontaines – bs.), and Mark again on drums. The roaring sax of Gerrard helped blow the proverbial roof of the place during the 2nd set. The balls of this line-up prompted my table dancing skills to be aired to the viewing public.

But it’s not just the gigs I’ve played on. The marvelous chorusing of The Gladly Solemn choir and Cat’s Chorus at St. John’s on Thursday 21st was superb, talented, and uplifting. The jolly good jazz sessions of the Stompers themselves on the Sunday lunch sessions at the John, and as the New Riverside Jazz band at the Waggon on Thursday s, is always a joy to anticipate. All this talent shows how wonderful the music scene is in this town! Even compared to a gig rich, musical happening place like Chicago.

Bill Roberts and Mike Atherton visited Chicago last summer for a "once in a lifetime event" that looks to be pretty regular now! With Bill’s help I was able to return here and play great gigs with a full band. The band that backed Bill and Mike in Chicago are coming over to England next August – already 7 gigs booked. Two more young Chicago bands I know want to come over. It doesn’t stop there. Already the main logistics of showcasing Lancaster musical talent in Chicago has been established (hopefully starting late July or early August 2001). This is becoming fun!!!

Cheers, and enjoy the snow – just remember for every minus degree here subtract a further ten for Chicago (the summers rock however)!


Another Saturday. Another Sunday (or Mardi Gras) in the Windy City:

Just bumped into Phil last night, lead singer of Strain Busy Sky.

"Hey Ben, Shawn wanted to thank you for taking care of him last Saturday night! Said you picked him up drunk off the street, took him home, and put him to bed."

I had to point out to Phil that Shawn Kelly’s story was absent of a few details:

The Convulsions had played a gig at Coyles’ Tippling House and some of us had elected to go out to a late night bar to squander the inconsequential remuneration from the gig. The meeting with the affable and highly abnoxicated Mr. Kelly occurred shortly after two English friends, Chris (who lives here now), and Owen (over here as an ambassador of British culture) and I were gently evicted from Estelle’s hostelry of revelry and bosom showing patrons at around 6am. With us was a very effusive and completely warped Puerto Rican girl called Carmen trying her every little bit of lush charm to live up to her Bizet’s namesake by kissing all the boys (you should have seen her reaction when I whipped out the trusty gob-iron and wobbled into a rendition of the Habenera!). It was only then, right after the buttocks of Owen had charmed passersby on North Avenue that, in an attempt to divert my gaze from his cultural statesmanship, I saw a bloody apparition of strange good nature staggering outside a loft known well for it’s parties and lesser known for it’s aggressiveness towards percussionist gate-crashers. It was Shawn. Bruised, bloody, but smiling. And VERY drunk. We elected to give him a ride to get him off the street and away from arrest.

At some point during the ensuing journey, Carmen rewarded Owen’s primeval babooning with a Mardi Gras display of her own that we all, bar the sotted Mr. Kelly who was not focusing too well, appreciated. It was only natural then that we should spend the next 3 and a half hours at Carmen’s house helping her diminish the bar’s worth of good ale and wine her real estate business had purloined from a foreclosed restaurant, while she flirted with us all in true gypsy fashion. My only regret was the onus of being designated sober. There was music, song, laughter and no more nudity, other than the failed attempts to get Shawn to button up his hairy belly showing shirt (as it turned out the yobs who had assailed him had ripped his shirt and all the buttons had flown). When it was time to find a place to eat thank goodness for the Diner Grill on Irving Park – a 24 hour diner that is staffed by ex-cons and not at all alarmed by shirt ripped, bloody, and drunk musical customers. With nickel juke boxes on the counter that play Patsy Cline no matter what you select, "Crazy" seemed just about right.

When Shawn finally came around we found out that he had over celebrated Strain Busy Sky’s huge win at the Park West’s Lucky Strike (big tobacco) battle of the bands. They brought in over 1500 folks to vote for them – and he apparently did a shot of vodka with each and every one of them. We told him he was in Hammond Indiana, and he believed us. Poor fellow. We never did find out what exactly had happened to him. All I can say is that he is one of the gentlest blokes you’ll ever meet who only noticed the blood on his hands five hours after we had gotten him off the street and his pancakes were placed before him. I never took him home, merely to the Park West where his car was parked. The only parts of the night he can remember never happened. Still, a super percussionist in a super band. You can check out Strain Busy Sky at

By the way, look forward to seeing you all at the Ruthless Brother’s Blues Band show Dec. 27th at none other than the fabulous JOG. Happy Holidays!

Cheers, Ben


Last Weekend.

Last Friday. Night Wolf. A 50 year old guitar, Hamer guitar that is, slinging blues man from central Pennsylvania playing in my friend’s coffee shop (Lisabet’s in Lansing, IL) to 25 folks. Just ripping into the old Chess stuff.

We played straight for nearly three hours – and all intuitive playing, locked in, second nature, don’t have to think just ride, kinda gig. Our host, Chris Lathrop, former lead guitarist for the rock group Mean Reds (Hamer guitarist that is) and current copy editor at Playboy introduced me to a ripping funk band at a local bar called Afterglow. Had to play with them of course! Yeah, pass the peas boys!!

Chris had managed to convince most of the nation’s small, but select group of Hamer guitar aficionados to converge on his wife’s shop that weekend – loved to have been there Saturday when most of them were going to show up to jam from places as far away as Maryland, Minnesota, and Colorado!

But Saturday I had to walk into Eddie "the Chief" Clearwater’s new bar, Reservation Blues, with his Jewish, platinum haired wife’s daughter, the lovely Heather Greenman. Heather, Epicurean extraordinaire, is doing the stained glass windows for the establishment. And who should I meet but Dexter the drummer.

"Man we don’t know what happened to our harp player, can you play with us?"

Hell yeah! The bandleader was none other than Sammy "Fender" Taylor (Koko Taylor’s brother in law, and also related by blood and music to Muddy Waters, Junior Wells, and Killer Ray Allinson to name a few). Definitely old school Chicago blues – some duplication of the night before. Excellent three set show. Sammy even wanted me to join his band – an opportunity I would have leapt at a few less busy years ago. Brock, the crew cut Australian bar manager that Eddie’s wife, Rene, had discovered running a club in China pretty much booked my band there on the spot. Heather’s nepotism, meanwhile, ensured a constant supply of margaritas. Not a bad night!

Then Sunday my folks arrived at O’Hare airport amidst blowing snow (welcome to Illinois in spring!). Whisked them away to the Goose Island Brewery for one of the few pints of cask conditioned beer in the States, followed by BBQ rib platters at Smokedaddy’s and the slap bass and acoustic Sun Record years strain of Rami Gitz’s excellent "Torturing Elvis" (had to sit in for four songs of course – Big Boss Man, Kentucky Moon, among them). Dropped my folks off at the hotel after they’d been up for 27 hours, and headed down to the wonderful Under Ground Wonder Bar to play two late night (1am – 3am) acoustic sets with the fabulous Dr. John style vocalist, gritty Fender playing, Pete Special (one of the artists coming over this summer).

The bar tender, Matt, was making up his special "mocha martini’s". Rather dangerous. This time I didn’t stay to serve the bar staff and lock in crew "Flying Kangaroos’", ala last Wednesday, as my band’s CD art still needed to be done (not to mention the mastering, duping and other fun stuff).

Both bands I’m in comprise identical musician line-ups (there will be a costume change between sets at least!), so this allows us to be the only group in Chicago that is TWO bands, releasing TWO CD’s on the SAME night, and at the SAME place – we are, in effect, opening up for ourselves! Hope I can play though - still have harmonica stitch from last weekend!

Cheers, folks!


Krispy Kreme. A Story of Love, Music, Chicago and Donuts!

We lurched the car into the drive-thru and bought a mixed dozen for the lads and carried our hung-over heads to the pre-gig practice.

"You know what we really need are Krispee Kremes – best donuts in the universe."

I didn’t pay Bob much mind, thinking KK’s were a special brand of sugar fried dough that Dunkin Donuts makes from time to time. Then, on our way back from a gig at Cal’s Liquors the following Saturday our trumpeter, Matt, from nowhere observes;

"Man, I wish you could get Krispee Kreme donuts in the city. Have you ever had them? No? They have a sign lit up when they’re baking so you know you’re getting them hot."

I was still not getting the message, I was still immune. Then there was the email from Carla, and I quote;

"Hmmm! One of my office admirers smuggled me a Krisppe Kreme. Ever had one? They’re like sex. Actually they’re better than two thirds of the sex I’ve ever had! I had an ex-boyfriend drop off flowers today, flattering, but he was always clueless. He could have gotten me a dozen Krisppe Kremes and a serious re-consideration!"

How American! But I was curious now, as you may imagine. It was at rehearsal that the ludicrous idea of a donut safari into the ‘burbs finally became unavoidable;

"Man, things aren’t so hot at the house right now. Seems one of my room mates bought a dozen KK’s, and left them unopened on the kitchen table. Well, you don’t do that unless you expect to share – a bit at least. So Amanda and I had a couple, - each. Then we left. Heck, we came back at 4pm to the hysterics of Pat:

"Who ate by f**kin’ Krispee Kremes, who did it?! I had to drive all the f**kin’ way to Glenn Ellyn to see my Goddamn in-laws and this was the ONE redeeming part of the whole trip!! And now they’re GONE!! I haven’t even had one! WAAAH!!!"

"Josh walks in, hangdog. "I’m sorry man, it was me", and they haven’t spoken now for a week."

So two days later there was Karla and I parked at 45th & Pulaski greedily licking frosting off our lips. They really are super, and you can see the whole process in the store! And I turned up to our next rehearsal with a dozen. Good for band moral that (though there were a couple short).

And the postscript to this daring tale of delicious fried dough? Well, here’s the news on "News Radio 780 AM" from Tuesday, February 13th, 2001;

"Two Chicago Police officers were indicted today on charges of being out of jurisdiction while on duty, after witnesses reported seeing the officers eating donuts at a Krispee Kreme Drive-in at Glen Elleyn, IL."

No kidding! The company went public in June, and apparently shares had gone up five fold by the end of the first day of trading. This is for donuts you understand!

I wonder if they need a band to do jingles for them!!


Street Blues in Chicago;

It is not too hard to describe the blues street scene in Chicago nowadays – there isn’t one. Maxwell Street Market, the legendary bustling busker paradise where many major Chess artists were discovered is now mostly a parking lot for the University of Illinois at Chicago. It is true that the market was relocated to Canal Street on the south loop with little protest, but the vendors are all licensed with the city now, and any musicians are encouraged to do the same with the enforcement of a $60 street performer license. Actually, apart from the summer stages, there’s very little street music at all in Chicago. What you do hear is mainly on the subways, usually the Blue and Red lines between Washington and Jackson Street exits. And it’s rarely blues.

Not that musically there was much left in the old Maxwell Street Market worth saving. The few times I was there, usually around four or five am after a Saturday gig (and bear in mind this is a seasonal phenomenon – few traders would be out in a Midwestern winter when the average daytime temperature may be –8C), the few blues bands that had set up were AWFUL. The first time in 91, after watching Junior Wells at the New Checkerboard Lounge, a large friend of mine, Big Jim McCreedy of the Cat Daddy’s, and I ventured there for the usual blues lover’s reasons. What we found was endless piles of junk, a fellow coming up to us with a set of golf clubs asking, "only $300 for my cocaine habit", and all manner of mendicancy on the make, that might have appeared "authentic" if there was some decent music. The two groups and one guitarist we heard playing were just bad, and not "hey man, you’re bad, real bad", they were just plain bad – there would not have been a club anywhere that would have hired them and their distorted out of tune guitars. The redeeming qualities of that visit was a super Mexican restaurant (though I mistook the dish of fresh Habeneros for sliced green peppers – I was new to town), and the outdoor Mexican grocery where bandana wearing machete wielding vendors quartered Florida oranges to wash the carpet mouths of drunks including us. Indeed, if you want to pimp daddy your dukes, the clothing stores on Halsted, just south of Roosevelt (12th Street) and just north of where the market used to me is still the place to go for value in outrageousness. The band was there last week on the recommendation of Killer Ray Allinson to look for some juicy stage gear and, although the leveled market is now sprouting condos, the stores appeared to be thriving, and boy did we tog up!

It would be super to be nostalgic about Maxwell Street, but the truth is, even blues lovers in the City were not so much passionate about saving it as about the ruthlessness with which the UIC proceeded to close out it’s lease. Most of the concern over Maxwell Street’s demise came from oversea’s blues junkies who probably had never even been there. Crime was rife in the area, most of the stalls were amazing collections of absolute junk, the place was a quagmire of mud, garbage, potholes, and associated disrepair, and pretty much the last Maxwell band that actually caused any kind of a stir was Hound Dog Taylor’s three piece in the early ‘70’s. If anything happened since, you can be sure that Alligator and Delmark would have snapped it up. Nothing did of course.

In case you think I’m just being crusty, and no fun, and don’t have a clue what I’m talking about, let me at least tell anyone who is interested in the blues scene in Chicago that it is alive, irrepressible, and better established now than in the late ‘60’s of ‘70’s. Those times when soul and then disco threatened the scene with near total annihilation was when the music was surviving in pockets, including, at the time the more presentable Jewish market at Maxwell Street. Now times are more enlightened in Chicago and blues is getting it’s mainstream support long overdue, so that any musicians worth their salt are back in the clubs, and not scratching around outdoor junk yards.

That doesn’t mean that outdoor playing itself has vanished. Far from it. The summer festivals usually have at least one stage dedicated to the blues (Taste of Lincoln, Taste of Chicago), and there is, of course, the great Chicago Blues Festival.

However, anyone who is an atavistic champion of the Chess sound, who would love to hear the real thing, and not the "tourist blues" of clubs like Kingston Mines, and Blues on Clark, anyone who would love to experience the intimacy of legendary clubs like Theresa’s and the old Checkerboard, won’t find this on the streets, or at the festivals, or from the tourist guides. It is there though.

But you’ve got to know where to look.

Next issue – Some of the places tourists don’t go.


The Cotton Club

The Cotton Club - where worship was of music, flare, and "cool". Where about a year ago, I discovered that the phenomenal, red-rimmed raging eyed, gargantuan gargling gargoyle of a drummer Killer Ray Allinson, was not dead as had been rumoured, but was still alive, still raging but now doing it standing up playing guitar and fronting his own band.

Playing ripping, riffing, lead guitar after picking the damn thing up only two years ago!

A couple of friends of a friend were in town from England for a week;

"IF you come down to the Cotton Club on a Wednesday, you will be forever grateful that you didn’t go to bed early, and actually heeded my advice. This I guarantee!"

Of this I was sure. Alas, they were not my friends, and all my earnest, and enthusiastic recommendations that have hitherto always resulted in utter glee for the lucky followers of my wisdom, had so far been completely ignored by this boring duo. Tonight was no exception.

And for better or for worse, that night at the Cotton Club sadly was. Killer Ray’s greeting was ebullient as always, but something was different.

Inconspicuous they were. To one side of the bar, on a small round ebony table, the flowers stood next to a photograph of a stunning young black girl.

Someone must have died. Someone I didn’t know, but even so . . . . .

I walked up to the bar where the ever-changing fashion queen and self-appointed blues’ Czarina of the Cotton Club, Deborah (pronounced "Dee-bora"), asked if I’d heard the awful news.

"Carla was killed in a car accident last week!"

Reeling – that photograph was of Carla! Carla, elegant, skinny, fun-loving charming, chatty, colorful, exquisite, and really tall. Carla!!? Regular of the club, befriender of my nervous north side friends, and Fast Eddie’s girlfriend. Fast Eddie!!?

"Oh, God, poor Eddie, is he okay?"

"We don’t know, he’s discharged from the hospital, but has brain damage and doesn’t remember anything – he probably won’t be able to play again."

Fast Eddie – gold toothed, sharp dressing, always grinning. Just LOVED playing with Killer. When he heard we were gigging in England the dapper funkster turned blues drummer wanted to know if he could get a Knighthood from the Queen – or at "least a cuppa tea".

So what do you do – one of Chicago’s undiscovered Wednesday night blue’s gems – now turned wake?? Maudlin was not an option – the band was here to play, and everyone kind of guessed that upbeat was the best way to handle the moment. That’s what Carla would have wanted right?? There was tasteless competition for attention by one blue’s singer touting her mother’s birthday as if nothing had happened.

But something special DID happen. A fellow in a blue sparkling suit (80% blue polyester, 20% metal), hunched shoulder, all soft soled gliding and jerking away with his limbs, grabbed the microphone at Deborah’s behest, and started singing a personal tribute to Carla over the "Soul Heaven" gospel refrain. And folks swayed and waved, and crooned in unison, and the Cotton Club was not a secular place anymore. Elsewhere, different, eerie, magic, and a communion with the dead.

Their car had stalled out on the highway on the way back from the gig. A friend of theirs was not far behind when he saw them pull over. A car doing about 80mph shot by him and drove over the back of their car while they were still seated in it.

"Carla was tall you know, that’s what killed her."

I wanted to do something, but didn’t know what.

The band was now on break and Deborah then grabbed me by the arm, took me to the front of the stage, and told the congregation that Carla had always loved the way "this English boy played his harmonica", and I was going to play a hymn for Carla.

I thought I was going to accompany Deborah, but she left me on the stage – alone.

And I played a hymn – at least that’s how it ended, finally, after a tentative start, in white golden light that you had to close your eyes to see.

I couldn’t stay much longer after that – and I hadn’t even known that lovely lady very well, or even her equally effusive boyfriend who now would have to live both without her, and without the longest love of his life, drums.

My band mates were gutted when they heard, and offered unconditional support – that was three weeks ago, and there should be a benefit soon. There will be quite a few Northsiders there.


Viva Las Vegas

Well you’ve got to go at least once right? The city the mob built from the money of addicted losers. Heck, not one of us in the band had ever been, but we were more than willing to go when Judy Alberti, VP of Entertainment at Boulder Station sent us an email asking if we wanted to play at their Casino.

They couldn’t pay our travel, but free food and booze, a two-bed hotel room for each band member (did we really have that reputation ahead of us?), and $1000. Had we but known they were willing to pay up to $5000 for the back-line we most certainly would have re-negotiated. Our back-line imaginations were stretching just to go beyond $2000.

So at 7am, Friday, May 18th there we all were on a plane filled with bachelor party gel haired twenty-something guys talking about renting Humvees and Harleys to take into the desert, and bachelorette party big haired twenty-something suburbanites talking about absolutely nothing, but doing it loudly. The journey to tack City had begun.

We looked for Boulder Avenue and found it on the map not far from the strip.

But the limousine was headed further, and further from the architectural colossi of the Strip. Miles in fact. On past Sam’s Town and beyond. Six miles actually, and into the desert to pull up opposite the "Redneck Express" – Nevada’s number one country music venue where you can stroll in for "Cold mugs, and warm hugs." An early morning prostitute tripped over her heels across Boulder Highway. We were well on the "other side of town". The limousine driver warned us not to hang out in the nearby trailer parks because of the daily shootings, and pulled up to the monstrosity opposite. It was vast this Boulder Station. Covering acres and acres, 7 restaurants, three theatres, and 5000 slot machines. A place where Las Vegans go, and not the tourists.

The buffet was extraordinary and nobbled everyone except Darin (our bassist) and I. We headed out in thirsty 96F heat to round up folks to see the show. We didn’t get to the Univeristy Library before it was time to head back, but we did meet our friend Rebecca on the bus again who had, on the ride out, offered to pass our flyers around the trailer park. We watched her eyes glaze over when she finally realized that we are an original band and weren’t going to play any George Throroughgood covers of covers. Knew then that she wouldn’t be there at the show (she’d just lost her Adult Videos telemarketing job anyway).

But the show was a blast – a stage 50 feet across and 30 feet deep. Brand new gear that looked nothing like the beat up stuff we lump around with us in Chicago (it was kind of eerie seeing how my amp looked like in ’96 before I embarked on a strict ageing regime to make the Tweed Bassmen look like an original from ’66). We buggered up the first song of course. "Bob what are you doing?" As our guitarist enthusiastically begins a gentle little ditty entitled "Smoking in Germany" that is normally started with the bass and drums. This had a knock on effect of course. Our bassist had a complete brain fart and couldn’t summon the riff for the second song, "Cissy Strut" – a Phish like mélange ensued before we found ourselves. For the third song of the set I craftily re-arranged all the verses to enable our drummer to miscue the bridge.

Somehow none of this mattered. Probably thanks to the urban legend oxygen that is pumped continually into the rooms. The crew and management loved us. We found out why later – there is no original music in Vegas. We also found out that the cab drivers are certifiably insane. The women at the Boulder Station Casino are large, drunk, and overly friendly. Roulette sucks (our trumpet player would disagree – jammy bugger). 25c slots rock, stage managers are Mafioso, though they get things done. You can drink way more than anywhere else, stay up longer, but there are no beers in the dressing rooms. The rock station that promotes your show never played one track from the album because an unsigned band out of Chicago's payola just isn’t ticking. The sound system is excellent. The 24 hour K-Mart does not sell size 14 shoes so our trumpet player could not discard his sneakers and get into Studio 54. One certifiably insane cab driver has a bizarre and unwholesome onanistic use for raw livers. Another certifiably insane cab driver giggles while blowing red lights at 85mph.

Romance in the city of sin was limited to our guitarist getting his leather clad buns pinched by a drunk guy in a yellow shirt, and me running away (literally) from a particularly large and overly friendly native of the city of sin.

Viva LV!!


Uh oh! English Rock Band In Chicago!

So, it all started on Sunday 12th when Stonefish's manager the illustrious Kirk Worley came into town.

Rather than attempt some form of literary genius to describe the visit, your completely shagged out commentator will merely relate some of the daily happenings during their rigorous stay:

Sunday, May 12th Noon -

Pick up Kirk at O'Hare Airport, meet The Chicago Music Explosion website designer at the Daily Bar and Grill on Lincoln and Montrose (Gia was having slap bass lessons at Old Town School of Folk Music). Have a beer. Truck down to Goose Island Brewery on Clyborn and Sheffield for food (and a beer). On way to dropping off Gia at her place stop of at Map Room. Several beers (from around the world). That evening we went to a party in the back of a Liquor Store to hear Chicago's oldest oldie band, Nightwatch. More beers.

Tuesday, May 14th evening -

Pick up the band (Rob, Warren, Dan and Will) at O'Hare. Fiesta Mexicana for food and margaritas, see Pete Special sans guitar (broke finger in car door) at Lilly's up the street. Guitarist Will from Stonefish sat in. Many beers. Show Kirk Estelle's - more beers 'til 4am. Lads crash at Gia's.

Wednesday, May 15th first gig -

Hog Head McDunnas. Promotor never told the club or soundman about the gig (flyers had been up three weeks too), had to haggle for an extra mic. The sound guy buggered off after setting up and left us to fend for ourselves. The lads absolutely rocked though. Took Kirk to Quencher's and then Estelles. Many beers.

Thursday, May 16th second gig -

Lyons' Den opening up for Sonic Voodoo - band sounded great but had to cut set short as bassist Dan nearly passes out with flu. Kirk and I trek down to Inner Town to promote band with shot swallowing Warren (fallen in with our trumpet player Matt you see), and then Estelle's to do the same. Many huge mixed drinks and jolly encounter with the effusive cleavage-held-pint-of-liqour-through-a-straw-slurping large Margaret.

Friday, May 17th the big gig at the Note -

Guitar strings break, bass guitar strap breaks, Warren's drum sticks break and fly everywhere - but nonetheless a very well received and attended show. Clubs's promotor very much wants to do this next year. Manager Kirk manages to disappear fro 24 hours. Band partys at Gia's house.

Saturday, May 18th the musical pub crawl on the school bus -

Playing and imbibing at Inner Town, Abbey Pub, Lyons' Den, Gunther Murphy's, Hideout, Prodigal Son, see Soulfix at Underground Lounge, finish at Funky Buddha night club. Neil Dixon, Miga, Stonefish, yours truly, play at most places (and always on the bus between bars). Much fun started at 5pm and ended at 1am - earliest night so far.

Sunday, May 19th live taping of the band at Chicago's "Chic-a-go-go" -

In studio dancing for kids of all ages (Chicago's version of "Ready Steady GO!"). A hoot! Hey, we even ended up writing a song dedicated to the show! Take Kirk to Smokedaddy's to see Torturing Elvis (they weren't playing), then Estelle's. End up seeing sun rise at the Pasta Lady's pad.

Monday, May 20th another gig at Quencher's saloon -

Bar full of beers from around the world. Convulsions also played - ended up at Estelle's to promote more gigs.

Thursday, May 23rd - Chase Cafe.

Strange gig, but turned out all right. Café not very well run by very stoned hippies but many large fresh fruit juices with ginger, ginseng and loadsa vodka. This time the entire band goes to Estelle's.

Saturday, May 25th -

Vnuks in Milwaukee opening up for Binky Tunny (Milwaukee's only all girl glam rock band - and they were a blast - Great show, but Gia has flu so we cut out early (though did see some of the Sin City Injector's set - incredible!)

Sunday, May 26th - after an afternoon at Quencher's sampling Goose Island's cask conditioned IPA, they all bloody leave!

Thank God! Gia thinks it a great idea to take yours truly down to Champaign (250 miles away) for my birthday. Monday have the worst hangover in years. Hear from Stonefish's manager three days later - he'd just managed to get out of bed.

And to think the Rolling Stones tour for 9 weeks at a time and have been doing this for decades??!

Stonefish are back in the UK, and if they are still alive, do check out their shows (


Another Saturday. Another Sunday (or Mardi Gras) in the Windy City

Just bumped into Phil last night, lead singer of Strain Busy Sky.

"Hey Ben, Shawn wanted to thank you for taking care of him last Saturday night! Said you picked him up drunk off the street, took him home, and put him to bed."

I had to point out to Phil that Shawn Kelly's story was absent of a few details:

The Convulsions had played a gig at Coyles' Tippling House and some of us had elected to go out to a late night bar to squander our inconsequential remuneration. The meeting with the affable and highly abnoxicated Mr. Kelly occurred shortly after two English friends, Chris (who lives here now), and Owen (over here as an ambassador of British culture) and I were gently evicted from Estelle's hostelry of revelry and bosom showing patrons at around 6am.

With us was a very effusive and completely warped Puerto Rican girl called Carmen trying her lush charm to live up to her Bizet's namesake by kissing all the boys (and an interesting reaction when I whipped out the trusty gob-iron and wobbled into a rendition of the Habenera!). It was only then, right after the buttocks of Owen had charmed passersby on North Avenue that, in an attempt to divert my gaze from his cultural statesmanship, I saw a bloody apparition of strange good nature staggering outside a loft known well for it's parties and lesser known for it's aggressiveness towards percussionist gate-crashers. It was Shawn. Bruised, bloody, but smiling. And VERY drunk.

We elected to give him a ride to get him off the street and away from arrest.

At some point during the ensuing journey, Carmen rewarded Owen's primeval babooning with a Mardi Gras display of her own that we all, bar the sotted Mr. Kelly who was not focusing too well, appreciated. It was only natural then that we should spend the next 3 and a half hours at Carmen's house helping her diminish the bar's worth of good ale and wine her real estate business had purloined from a foreclosed restaurant, while she flirted with us all in true gypsy fashion.

There was music, song, laughter and no more nudity, other than the failed attempts to get Shawn to button up his hairy belly showing shirt (as it turned out the yobs who had assailed him had ripped his shirt and all the buttons had flown). When it was time to find a place to eat, thank goodness for the Diner Grill on Irving Park - a 24 hour diner that is staffed by ex-cons and not at all alarmed by shirt ripped, bloody, and drunk musical customers. With nickel juke boxes on the counter that play Patsy Cline no matter what you select, "Crazy" seemed just about right.

When Shawn finally came around we found out that he had over celebrated Strain Busy Sky's huge win at the Park West's Lucky Strike (big tobacco) battle of the bands. They brought in over 1500 folks to vote for them - and he apparently did a shot of vodka with each and every one of them. We told him he was in Hammond Indiana, and he believed us. Poor fellow.

We never did find out what exactly had happened to Shawn. All I can say is that he is one of the gentlest blokes you'll ever meet who only noticed the blood on his hands five hours after we had gotten him off the street and his pancakes were placed before him. I never took him home, merely to the Park West where his car was parked. The only parts of the night he can remember never happened. Still, a super percussionist in a super band.

You can check out Strain Busy Sky at

Happy Holidays! Cheers, Ben


The Thirty-Five Pound Monkey

"The last time I went to rehab is the last time I'll ever be in rehab, but I tell you, it's with you day and night. I don't care what the people may say, it is my one greatest regret ever getting caught by that shit!"

"A booking agent buddy found me in my car, I was already kicked out of The Shivers, couldn't believe it was me. Hell, by that time the City owned my car anyway. I lost my house, my beautiful actress wife. My kid. And all my gigs. Even the voiceovers and jingles."

"I don't care what anyone says, I wouldn't recommend any kind of drugs to any kind of person. Hell, I thought if I smoked it - never into the whole needle thing - it wouldn't get me. How fucking stupid was that!"

"Mind you, most of the best songs I wrote were while I was high on that junk. I would take a hit and then stay up and write for hours."

"But now it's with me. Every Single Day. For the rest of my life."

"Back then everyone was partying - all the club owners, the agents. Christ, if the musicians in the band didn't have their fix, be it coke, junk, booze, or all three, we wouldn't have been able to play! Just stand there all jittery and stuff."

Well, that's part of Pete's story. Seven years ago Lefty Dizz was diagnosed with esophageal cancer and started chemo. Finally the Wild Turkey hip flask he always carried with him had appeared to undo him. Wisdom of hindsight - we all knew something was wrong, when after a show at the Crystal Corner in Madison Lefty threw up his shot of Wild Turkey -

"Man, too much booze, too much booze!"

Unbelievably, while undergoing chemo he didn't cancel any gigs. I've rarely seen a fellow look so ill, but he stuck it out as best he could. He was gray. Gray - battleship gray. Saw him two months later - and had never seen him look so well. And his playing was fabulous, crunchy, and tight, as never before - riffs poured out of him like wild whiskey. I commented after the show how excellent he looked, how great he sounded. I don't think he believed me. He was missing his buddy.

"Man, it's so hard doing this sober. Man, I miss the Turkey."

Another three months later he was dead from pneumonia.

Then there's Tommy there on the edge of the stage at the Wild Cherry, blood pouring from a sidewalk stumble-cut on his head, his guitar listless in his lap ("why did you ever let it go so far?").

"I don't know what I'm doing here."

He told no one in particular.

The band that went on to National fame (Liquid Soul) roared in embarrassed, faked oblivion, fronted themselves by an ex-junkie unable to help his junkie guitarist. Weeks later Tommy sold his entire life's collection of musical equipment to the waiting musical hyenas of Wicker Park. He was a triathlon athlete once - before Spies That Surf propelled him into Guy Who Shoots Up.

Then, as one of my roommates who just came in from a Seattle musical showcase at the Metro, there's Cedell Davis.

Wheeled onto the stage, his right hand mangled with arthritis barely holding a butter knife, his body contorted with pain, and a guitar on his lap. He sizzled slide work that blew all 30 people, and all the other performers at the under advertised event, away.

So the point of this amble? There is no point really, just questions.

Do really good blues musicians, any musicians, any other artists really, need to get high, sick, beat up and beat down to perform?

Can healthy guys; non-drugged out folks play (heck, look at Tommy Castro)? Look at Ravi Shankar!

This unquenchable fire that burns so ferociously for some people - but how, and for how long?

Pete again:

"Man, I just have to stay clear of any pain killers these days - I can apparently take nine times the lethal dose of morphine."

I saw Buddy Miles once at BLUES on Halsted - not on drums but playing guitar. One of the most emotionally wrenching blues performances I've EVER seen, and I've seen a few. The girl I was with couldn't stop bitching about what an awful man he was, beating up his girlfriend, stealing from all his friends, anyone really, to feed his cocaine habit.

"So what? What incredible music." Was all I could offer.

( The thirty-five pound monkey refers to the post second world war morphine, and later heroin, addiction of de-mobbed, wounded in action, US veterans described by Nelson Algren in his novel The Man with the Golden Arm.)


Blues For No One There

It’s been quite a week for some folks in Chicago;

There was the lad cycling down Ravenswood at 3:30am this morning with no T-shirt on after he’d seen that "No Dumping Allowed" sign nestled against the rail road track and found its message just too provocative to pass on. What better way to say goodbye to his "Jam With Pam" 100% cotton, T-shirt. Heck, his band had only been voted into the top 10% out of 500 bands around the USA anyway.

There was the other lad earlier the same evening stalled out in a 16 wheeler beer truck on Halsted Street – not allowed to drink on the job – finally being dragged through Chicago Rush Hour by the largest tow truck you’ve never seen. Together the tow and beer truck were over 60’ long. Alas, it took them that many minutes to crawl that many feet.

There was the seemingly sensible one out of the bunch reading a Times Newspaper (week old but still a better read than any US paper he’d ever read) in the beer garden of Resi’s Beer Strube. But he was waiting to hear a bass player hand in his notice. All happened to plan – but the bassist and he knew about the legendary John Speigal’s Birthday party at the Lyons’ Den a block and a half away. Jeff Jacobs from Foreigner ripping on keys, Dan Leahli from Liquid Soul flamming away at the drums, guest artists that blew, and blew and blew you away. Cog dancers and tap dancers, cage dancers and stage dancers. And the two musicians parted amicably, tipply, and completely.

There was last Sunday when I was sitting in with the band "Strain Busy Sky" at the Chicago Rib Fest (very good ribs by the way) and all I had to do was shout on the microphone. "Three Floyds is the BEST beer in Chicago" and our man Jimmy at the beer stall ensured that we all drank the best beer in Chicago for free. The manager from the House of Blues was in the audience and gave me full access passes.

There were "The girls from Kalamazoo" – now there’s a song right there – and a band is busted but not broke.

But there was nothing like working out two songs – "Mississippi" and "Blues for No One There" – with an angel of music. Pete Special. "I want to hear colours, none of that technical stuff – right here I want to hear frustration, anger and lonliness. Right here why don’t you try some cross-harp. Yeah, I Like what you’re doing. That’s what I call the beauty spot right there where the music gives you chills." Interspersed with stories of such detail and charm about the lives of Paul Butterfield, Levon Helm, Big Twist, and Chicago legends alive and gone. "So many wonderful voices now silent".

We used a tape player to record our musical arrangements. But the stories were as wonderful as the music, and there is nothing more wonderful than being wrapped in the world of a musical great - so I might have to bring my own tape player next time just for the stories as well.


Cruisin’ in The USA

A 1958 red convertible Ford Thunderbird, white trim wheels, and white leather upholstery. A girl with a ponytail by your side. Chuck Berry’s "No Particular Place to Go" on the AM radio.

Go forward a decade – a 1968 Cadillac Seville – The Temptation’s "Ball of Confusion" ghetto blasting on a Detroit Motor City FM station, or maybe Curtis Mayfield’s "Superfly" or "Pusher Man".

Heck, even in the early 80’s there’s at least some Dazed and Confused road tripping experiences. Take the following recounted by Derek Crawford, drummer for our band from 1999 to 2000;

"Ivan and Willie were also quite fond of other plant life, particularly in the form of what I like to call a "Jazz Cigarette." I was not the aficionado that my cohorts were at this time so it did not take much to get me effectively airborne.

Someone decided that we should go get a movie or two (and pizza, of course). Soon we were out the door and rolling down the road crammed into the cab of Ivan's Chevy S-10 pickup truck. We hear some asshole beside us honking his horn and turn our heads to identify the bassist and guitarist in a truck chock full of amps and guitars. We asked them where they were going.

"Dudes, don’t you remember? We've got a gig in ten minutes."

A blurred and chaotic instant later we were on stage, and I enthusiastically propelled the band in many directions other than the 4/4 time the set used to be in."

Fast forward to the romance of driving around Chicago, circa 2000.

It’s a 1994 Honda Civic hatchback (though I did once have a V8 Chevy 20 custom van that, unladed, could leave the competition at a standstill at a red light. Alas it spontaneously caught fire and died on the way back from a gig in Moline). I watched my car disappearing with the tow truck into the Illinois countryside, while sat next to a friendly woman State Trooper in her friendly yellow, black blazed squad car, cheerfully being informed that a suspended license, and suspended plates, was a "Class A Misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in State prison." I watched the tickets mount up - $2000 worth in all. All because I had not gotten an exhaust emission test. Never had a clue that my car was required to have one. Now I was a car dispossessed criminal. And very late for my recording date.

"Your car will be impounded at $80 a day until you’ve cleared your suspended license and plates. In the meantime you cannot drive any vehicle until you reinstate your license."

I quickly saw the Catch 22, and asked the officer how exactly I was going to get my emissions tested if I was unable to drive my car to the emissions center. Apparently (with certain glee) this was not her problem.

Fortunately, the band I was to record with drove down from Madison, bailed me out, and drove me home. I subsequently got through my emissions test using a spare drivers license, later found I had to retake the driving test (written and road), and spent two days with City Hall of Chicago clearing all that up.

Then there was that big yellow boot and clamp. All those parking tickets I’d contested – well, half of them were found in my favour, half were not. Needless to say, they didn’t send the findings to the return address on the contestations. I appealed (another day with the City Hall of Chicago). I lost.

It was with a certain resignation, that the day before coming over to England, I hear the screech. I feel the wham. And a Chicago Police paddy wagon rams me up the arse at a red light. I had to laugh. Cars don’t cruise in Chicago, they become prune wrinkled beat up - even when at a standstill.

I don’t know. I’m figuring ways of strapping my amp to a bicycle.


Dancing Iguanas

Not a lot to report from Chicago – dancing seems to be taking place at a slower pace, though that Brazilian birthday party last week down at the University of Chicago on the Southside was a seven-hour, salsa-merengue, marathon exception.

Actaully, so was my roommate’s iguana dancing around the house the night we finally let it have free roam. Same night, so too our two female room mates dancing around the room in what looked like an iguana/people tango, but was really Amy and Lori trying to get out of the way of a twirling Tasmanian devil of an equatorially disorientated lizard exercising it’s latent Jusrassic pogo hopping, and human female long head hair tangling abilities. Fun.

Okay, but most of the dancing has been of a slower pace for sure. That boogie laid down last week at Lee’s by Vance Kelly and his band. There was no better pace any place that night. The rhythmn was bone funk deep!

Yes, music is still playing in Chicago. The Chicago Reader is still over a hundred pages of live musical choice.

But there is also a softness to even the hardest grunge grind stuff you might hear at the Double Door.

Even the gentle laconic way the Forest Park police car pulled me over last night on the way back from a gig at Goldyburger’s ("Voted second best burger in Chicago 1997-1999" – no I don’t know where the best one is, nor the currently second placed) was so more relaxed than usual (someone has nicked my license plate sticker, and I will save you from an exhaustive account of all the stickers, plates, bits of paper, procedures and letter’s sent to The Secretary of State, that are involved in owning a car in this city).

Even the Christmas touch that flitted into our house just now ("the Perfect Christmas Tree" – says the legend on the box – just unfold, plug in, and wham! A Christmas tree with lights), has a carefree whimsy to it (or it might just be room mate Amy’s final surrender to her mother to "I got this especially for you, now go and put this up in that sordid bachelor pad you live in and get in the Christmas spirit for once"). Laudable! A bachelor Christmas tree made in China! Go figure the national ideological significance of this communist nation making artificial Christmas trees for lazy Americans (or pretendy Americans such as myself).

Well, bollocks to all that! Right now "Voodoo Woman" is being played by Pete Special – in our kitchen (simply the BEST new studio to come out of Chicago). We hauled gear from all over Chicago on a whim – and here is Gary the saint with the recording gear. AND IT WORKS! Chicago just woke up! At least at the house 2044 W. Rice, Chicago, IL!

Anyway, enough said but it is with absolute joy and anticipation that I look forward to a Christmas return to a favourite English city, super parents, the best watering holes, and to play with Lancaster’s (and London’s) finest. Here are the festive dates I rate in jolly Lancaster!

Boxing Day a bluesy evening of semi-acoustic music at the John O’Gaunt with the incomparable Mr. Guppy on stand up bass, Mike Howard on guitar, and the lovely Delia guest starring on vocals.

Saturday, December 29th, The Convulsions (UK version that is) at the Gregson Institute (tickets available at the John O’Gaunt too) with the fabulous Boogie Bill Roberts on keyboards, Mike Atherton on guitar and vocals, and members of the Hustle.

Sunday, December 30th, the evening thereof at the John O’Gaunt, after a sizzling lunchtime session with jazz dogs and sausages, also with Bill Roberts and Mike Atherton.


California Scheming

The House of Blues venues (yes, they are a chain) all have video cameras so no matter where you are in the bar, you can see the band on stage (which is a HUGE improvement over large sports screens).

It was the crescendo of the song, and my brief part in it. LA was a long way to go to sit in with two bands for a total of three numbers each night, so this was it. Be startling, go for it! Dive into the audience, rip off some clothes – or lose a shoe.

The shoe won - and was lost after much frenzied tossing (found the next day in the sound booth).

As the shoe graced a parabola into the crowd it went straight towards the video camera, getting larger and larger on the screen as it gently turned heel to toe, toe to heel, like some bizarre meteorite. It missed the camera lens by what must have been much less than a foot. Many folks ducked, or fell off their stools (even in LA some good screen effects can still catch ‘em unawares)! I was so proud!

Hmmm, LA. Wanted to move there the instant I stepped off the plane into the flower fragrant 75F air (the airport is miles away from the downtown smog which is mercifully negligible at this time of year). Another time zone away at O’Hare airport, Chicago, it was gently snowing.

My perception did not change as I cabbed through Mediterranean landscape, and enjoyed watching the abundance of flower graced summer architecture. This was not what I had imagined. No smog, race riots, (or musician horror at it’s worst - pay to play).

The gig was PACKED, and the crowd VERY appreciative. So far, great (packing when I get back!)

HOWEVER the backstage experience was bizarre: a larger bunch of enthusiastically selfish schemers of the superficial I have yet to meet. To be fair, I did meet some lovely folks. The lasses at that UCLA sorority I played at the next day (while they basked and studied in the sun) was a memory I will long cherish. But the maniacal self-interest groupies were unbelievable. Chillingly so. Without details, the following came to mind:

Bugger – I don’t want to write such dirt
But deceit in the land of sun can really hurt
Incandescent musical night
Won’t touch folks in this world – unless the price is right

Do I really want to slag the lifers in the sun?
Rampant inhumanity to others – can it really be one great sham?
Layer on layer of fawning for the almighty California fame buck
Can this really be the quaking truth, hidden degradation and muck?
With such a vital pretty face.

Souls like fractured glass
But no grace.
Know the name of every bit part actor and their part
Kaliedascope of hurts, colossus of wants
An industry of image. Convinced they are
Butterflies with hornet tails.

Do I really want to criticize the la la’s in the sun?
(just a visitor who knew no one)
And is it really true that all you backstage girls just broke up with someone?

(on a lighter note, next issue, ghost stories from Bolsburg, PA!);


Taking Time Off to be a Big Shot in the Movies
(Feb. 27th, 2005)

Had to take a “personal day” off of work last week to catch up on stuff all because of unanticipated base sex based complications.

Booked a great New Orleans style band at Katerina’s last Saturday featuring myself as special guest. Should have figured this out a long time ago – if your band resides in another continent why waste the time of US musicians with rehearsals etc when you can book a walloping tight band and put yourself on the bill. There’s also the added benefit of more fraternizing with friends and more time for drinkies.

Imagine my surprise when three musician buddies of mine, all who have played in the Convulsions at one time or another, show up, order their dirty martinis (Katerina’s is well known for her martini’s, as well as other alco-frolic decadences such as her 7 star Metaxas brandy) and tell me that one of my ditties is in a Hollywood movie.

“On the Road Trip” by all accounts features a soundtrack of some 20 US acts of which ours is one.

I vaguely remembered signing a release form 5 years ago – where you basically say you’ll allow the studio to put your song in the movie for no money unless they sell the soundtrack. They do give you a free copy of the movie though (oooh ahh!)

“Yeah”, says Derek, drummer for Starch Martins, Bleary, and once upon a time the Convulsions’ drummer (until the bass player quit and moved to Nashville where her band now regularly opens up for Bella Fleck – a good move on her part).

“It’s a porno. A bunch of people shagging across the USA!”

Ha ha ha ha! What CVP films apparently neglected to inform me 5 years ago was that the movie involved a road trip, yes, but one that rejoiced in nookie in and around national US monuments (St. Louis arch, Grand Canyon, the Tetons probably – I haven’t seen the flick yet for reasons that will become clear).

The gig at Katerina’s was a jolly one – the band I had booked was fronted by a manic, touched but brilliant piano player dubbing himself Professor John (he’s actually coming over to do some gigs with us at the Maryport Blues Festival at the end of July – we’ll try and sneak him in, topper, beads, Hawaiian shirt and all, on to the John O’Gaunt piano). At one point Prof John had the entire bar dancing on the street. He pretty much set a precedent for that weekend making it one that was very hard to let go of.

Nevertheless, I forced myself back on to the computer on Sunday evening to carry on the 3 weeks worth of web site work all due on March 1 st. At this time about 9 hours of creative brain-ache and some 35 files were sitting on my PC (too complicated for me to shut the damn thing off for two days). It was then that I remembered the porno and checked out the web site (it’s by the way- ha ha ha!)

There was a trailer which I attempted to open. It crashed my computer.

And all my work with it.

For my day job I administer the computer network of a Westside Chicago hospital, so you’d think I’d be wise enough to repeatedly save my work wouldn’t you? Right.

Buggered by a porno! Don’t even have my free copy of the damn thing so have no idea what ‘scene’ our song accompanies (the song title, which leads to imaginative scenarios, is "Don't Know What To Tell You").

Thus the moral - if someone tells you they're in a porno movie, among other things, that can mean d**k all or all d**k, or just d**ked.

The Convulsions will be conducting the next stage of the John O’Gaunt’s ceiling fixture renovations on Sunday March 27 th, we will be doing an acoustic 30’/40’s jazz and RnB set at the Sun Hotel on March 28 th. We will also feature a rocking young lady special guest on guitar and vocals from Dallas, Texas (Tiffany Shea).


Flood Brother’s Have Their Revenge (Feb. 1st 2005)

Now there was a sight: SUV’s sliding between each other like fatted bumper cows over a 100’ wide pan of packed snow that a few hours before had been Interstate 290.

In normal snowy circumstances the City of Chicago would have had the major roads salted and gritted before the storm (that lasted almost 2 days), but there has been a tremor in the civic infrastructure of late.

The City contracts out most of its municipal work (this is typical of the States – almost all services, even public transport and school buses are ALL private companies). The Flood Brothers were solely responsible for the salt and gritting of the city’s roads in the event of winter storms. However, they are being indicted by the Feds for pretending to be a WBE (Women Business Enterprise program), another fall out from the fraud and corruption trial of James Duff, a Major Daley chum, who’s fraudulent business interests garnered at least $100 million worth of City contracts.

So the good brother’s fleet of salter and gritters stayed indoors for a day and a night while the blizzard raged, the snow piled up and the SUVs slithered.

And what a pretty sight that was the next day. Always amazes me that these idiots who buy these four wheel drive gas guzzling monsters couldn’t drive in drizzle let alone a foot and a half of snow. It looked like the day after the apocalypse. Abandoned vehicles scattered everywhere, while my humble Honda dug out from my friend’s drive in Oak Park, weaved its way home through their derelict monuments to dumb ass consumption.

Only to find that the parking bandits had come out in force in my neighbourhood.

“Parking Bandits” These are the selfish bastards who place chairs, lawn furniture, planks of wood, whatever, to claim the spot on the street they dug their car out of. They seem to lack the comprehension that we ALL had to dig our cars out. I had to park half a mile away.

Under cover of night, I removed junk (apart from this rather pleasant and sturdy pine chair I’m sitting on while typing this missive) from at least 10 spaces – hiding most in an alley or in one case dumping a good proportion in one of the worst offender’s gardens.

A small gesture and one that has caused me to be a little circumspect about walking through that block in daytime, but maybe small gestures will stop the rot where it starts. After all, the selfish territorial buggers who block off areas of public highways for their own guzzlers are the sort of insensitive greed mongers who might end up pretending their mum is the owner of a company so they can get lucrative city contracts set aside for women and minority owned business. As for their stupidity in buying excessively large and highly inefficient vehicles only rising oil prices could stop that rot.

By the way, did you know the number one complaint of Hummer owners in the US is that their gas consumption is so high. God save the planet from idiots like these. And you just know who they voted for too.

Anyway, if anyone wants to visit me in Chicago in winter (folly if ever there was one - I'm coming over in March just to get warm!) I'll make sure there's a machine gun manned, barbed wire protected piece of public highway for your cab from the airport to pull into. Viva los vigilantes! Welcome to the bastion of civilization that can't wait to be an example to us all!


Ben Ruth


Slipping the Light Fantastic (Jan. 1st, 2005)

Folks just returning from family gatherings over Christmas and New Year to the John O'Gaunt for a tipple might notice that the new management - despite promising the contrary - has started on some improvements, in particular with the chandelier fittings in the front bar.

This is not an action to cause consternation for those locals who fear the pub might change too much after the Golden Years of Steve and Ula Thorn. Rather than a break from tradition the new fitting demonstrates a breaking of the old and the bringing in of the new. Totally appropriate for a new year.

The Convulsions debuted under the new management at the John O'Gaunt on Boxing Day night. It was a joyous reunion of the full line-up after our drummer had to cancel his place in our 2004 October tour due to a simultaneous encounter with both flu AND chicken pox (folks may remember that we flew in a young lady from Cincinnati, the fabulous Ms. Shorty Starr, who despite looking and sounding great, also played kick with her high heels on).

So it came to pass that raucous night as we approached the last encore that, in the absence of a disco ball, one of the chandeliers was spun to produce a coruscating chasing splashes of yellow light effect around the crowded bar - until it flew right off exploding (harmlessly thank goodness) amidst table dancing musicians and astonished punters. Right on the beat too!

All but one limp octopoid arm and one glass shade were destroyed (shoddy workmanship I say, and anyway, we only inadvertently hastened what gravity may have achieved given a few more decades).

When faced with yours truly's sad observation that "Really, it's never done that before!" the new landlord actually laughed out loud, said something about glad to have the Who alive and destroying in his place and promptly rebooked us two more dates.

Not the kind of response one could expect from most venue owners, so our band salutes Robin and wishes him well in the long years to come, though we are sad that the one improvement he had pledged (lap dancers for bands) was in fact a load of codswallop.

Other bands, though, please note that you should not try this chandelier busting at home and actually don't try it at the John either as the one remaining old chandelier in the bay window has had its wonky arm replaced from the one good arm left from the chandelier we broke. In fact, just so you know, fitting renewal in this way in the JOG is now the sole bailiwick of the Convulsions.

Thank you all very very much for such stupendous support and such a wellying good night on Boxing Day. I can confirm that this will now be a tradition.

A Happy New Year to one and all, and we'll see you in March!



You Never Can Tell

When you’ve been looking forward for most of the year to a solid two weeks and two days of gigs with all the bases and bass’s finally covered, it’s a sod for the band and your drummer when he comes down with flu AND chicken pox and has to cancel the entire tour four days before the first gig.

Then fate steps in:

Last week I took some folks down to Lee’s Unleaded for their first time. BB King’s daughter, Shirley King, made a surprise guest appearance with her drummer from Cincinatti, Shorty Starr, and they were marvelous. Seeing me in the crowd, Shirley started going on “ooh, I see me a sexy white boy” (I was the only white boy of course).

After a couple of songs, she looks down at me from the stage and says, “You going to perform for me white boy”

“Sure” I say (somewhat quaking in my boots) as I pull out a harmonica and walk right on up to the stage.

Brilliant! She goes straight into “Play that Funky Music White Boy” and off we go!

Not only did I end up with three bookings with her in Ohio for November, but last night, the day after poor Phil had to cancel his part in the Convulsions’ tour under doctor’s orders, but both Shirley and Ms. Starr show up for our show at Lee’s after driving at breakneck from Ohio. When asked about our tour, I told her our jeopardy and so that is how it comes that Shorty Starr has her UK debut with our band over the next couple of weeks culminating in our joint show with The Chicago Music Explosion (CME) at the Platform on Sun. Oct. 17 th.

The local gigs are below! Hope to see you all! Cheers! Ben

11-Oct-04 Mon Sun Hotel 63 Church Street, Lancaster LA1 1ET 01524-63828

13-Oct-04 Wed Dickie Doodles Yard 2, Strickland Gate, Kendal, 01539-738480

14-Oct-04 Thur Graduate Bar, Lancaster University

15-Oct-04 Fri Gregson Moor Lane, Lancaster

16-Oct-04 Sat Convulsions Aspinall Arms Hotel Mitton Road, Mitton 01254-826223

17-Oct-04 Sun Convulsions Aspinall Arms Hotel Afternoon jazz session

17-Oct-04 Sun CME/Convulsions/Special Guest Platform, Morecambe

26-Oct-04 Tue CME Sun Hotel, Lancaster – special acoustic set early evening

27-Oct-04 Wed CME Dickie Doodles Yard 2, Strickland Gate, Kendal, 01539-738480

29-Oct-04 Fri CME Aspinall Arms Hotel Mitton Road, Mitton 01254-826223

30-Oct-04 Sat As of writing, this event has been on hold due to a landslide at the Scottish Island venue the CME were due to play, and we’re still trying to fill it! Anyone want three great Chicago acts for a live music party!?


US Drive Thru Bar - Not a Good Concept for the John O'Gaunt (Dec. 1st, 2004)

Well this is a turn up! Robin has promised to radically take over the John O'Gaunt pub. So radical is this takeover that he plans to do absolutely bugger all to the place.

That said, there's one small, barely noticeable attraction: to promise to introduce lap dancers for band members - a movement that once started gained a certain momentum with the local instrumentality.


I had hoped to write some witty nostalgic piece about Steve's saxophone playing, fast cars, and strange party tricks with blindfolded harmonica players with teaspoons in their gobs, but it occurred to me that the Timothy Taylor's, the Black Sheep, the always fruity Burton Ale, the by-the-gallon guzzlable Tetleys, and delicious guest beers could speak for themselves.

So there you are! - Good night. "BEEE---ELLLCHH!"

Kidding! I should say something about Chicago before signing off for a while:

Last Saturday I walked into a great international beer bar here in Chicago called Quencher's with my new roommate Adam White, a stand up comedian from Louisville Kentucky. Our other roommate is cool too - just saw her with 13 other musicians in a big band playing funk and Serbia and Kleizmer and you name it and on the trombone at the Hideout.

Well, back to the bar! Our surprise was complete when we realized we had been preceeded by a car who had entered the bar a week earlier:

The mobile phone photograph shows quite clearly the surprise on the driver and his passenger's face. Right through the front door of the bar the car ploughed. No one was injured. Even the car's windshield was intact. The bar's metal door frame was ripped right off and landed across the nearest table. Someone ripped the license plate off and mounted it on the bar to ward off other such critters.

On the top of the print-out of the picture with the car wedged in the door is the biro scrawled legend:

"Quencher's Drive Thru"


What other news from the States?

There's some old news about a girl I knew, Lissa Schmidt, now married and worldly traveling who was treated most unreasonably at Arthur Anderson a few years ago (large unfriendly chest beating US jock male run place that ultimately went down the tubes). After quitting for a better job she was celebrating her new job a few weeks later with friends at Ranalli's pizza on Lincoln just north of Clark street when her former boss came up to her.

To take her order.

Always loved that one, had to share, and it's absolutely true!

And has no relevance to the last Gauntlet Article I write - but then if it did that would be a precedent and if it's the last article what's the point of a precedent.

Heck! Good luck Steve and good luck Robin and all who continue to sail in the greatest old pub in Lancaster!! See you for a tipple on Boxing Day with the band! Cheers, Ben


Chicago Avenue: Black Squirrels, Grey Squirrels, White Squirrels (Sept. 1st, 2004)

Chicago has always been a checkerboard city. Slovak, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Germans, Indians (not your native American variety, they are in short supply these days), and the descendents of slaves, African Americans. Not a melting pot so much as a series of cultural fortresses.

My summer walk to work is about a mile and half directly west from the borders of a Mexican enclave replete with mango sellers on the sidewalks and restaurants that sell tacos, burritos, flautas, sopes, fajitas etc with one reputedly serving the best margaritas in town (I don't beg to differ). My walk proceeds along a quiet residential, mostly tree-lined street, that runs parallel to the bumpy patched up clunking, diesal dirt, honking thumping thoroughfare that has avoided Chicago's Street and Sanitation department's attention to road repar for over ten years yet shares the City's name of Chicago Avenue.

The first blocks west of Damen Avenue comprise varied flat roofed buildings sharing similarity only in their bricks baked from the glacial clay to the south of the city and the yellow and blue Ukranian flags sprouting over their door ways. I do an ad hoc count of SUV's versus 'normal' cars parked on the street and find fully 3 out of 5 vehicles are gas guzzling monsters. I walk past a church whose vast gold dome looks Ottoman inspired. Grey squirrels hide around plane tree trunks as I pass and flowery front gardens compete with one another. Overhead cicadas clatter their wingcases like old typewriters.

Crossing the wide Western Avenue that once sported trolley cars (and before that 'grip cars' that held onto steam driven pulley cables that ran under the streets) I leave the largest population of Ukrainians outside of their native country and enter into a slice of Puerto Rico with no obvious difference from Ukranian Village other than a change in the doorway flags.

I see my first black squirrel of the day as I walk towards Rockwell and counting only one SUV to five of each 'normal' car. Strange that melanistic greys and grey greys show as much propensity to mingle as the humans in whose gardens they romp.

Crossing over Washtenaw and there's the first sign of this area's not too distant violent past (its violent present is constantly vectoring westward). A roundabout. A circle of garden in the middle of the road with a ten-foot Douglas fir as a centerpiece is a beguiling sign of a city noble in its aims to brighten up its poorer neigbourhoods. In actuality, these objects were a creative way to discourage drive-by shootings thereby avoiding the blocking off of whole streets and the disastrous results those policies had in NYC and LA.

Still, they are far more attractive than the latest experiments by the City. As I walk the last ten minutes to work past the Amtrak depot the first of Chicago's second wave of drug dealing prevention techniques becomes evident - three foot square white boxes on telegraph poles with blue fish eye lenses underneath and a rotating blue strobe light on top. At night, this part of Chicago Avenue is garishly lit every two blocks with bright penetrating blue lights strong enough to allow the 360 degree lenses piped to the nearest Chicago Police station to scan the streets and alleys for drug deals. They also constantly remind everyone who lives in this area just how highly the City thinks of their poor black neighbourhood.

Despite the friendly smiles, and the pretty gardens, even the knowledge that G. Bush only got 20% of the vote in Chicago during the last election, it was a real shocker walking back home last week to see two children who couldn't have been older than about 10 leafing through a colorful catalog while on the front steps of their home. The parents looked down benevolently, and, as the young boy points to a particularly unpleasant semi-automatic assault rifle - it was a real gun catalog - the father remarks, "Yes, that looks like the sort of thing that would keep them away."

This, of course, was in the white squirrel neighbourhood east of where the blue globes keep watch.


The Lyons' Den: End of An Era (Aug. 3rd, 2004)

One less superb music venue in Chicago. The Lyons' Den had its final night on Sunday July 25th 2004, with drunken bass player's staggering out shouldering swivel bars stools ($20 and all you could eat and drink). Inside Karaoke roar (it had been Pete Special's big band and Sonic Voodoo's deep funk mayhem the weekend before, now it was the time for all the punters to have a ball - and most had pitch, such has been the educating force of that wonderful place!)

Located on the north side in Chicago's traditional German Town neighbourhood the Den has hosted and recorded 100's of bands playing 1000's of nights. Three of the top five concerts I have ever witnessed happened here (the bands just mentioned and one gig with my own band that, after two years of regular weekly shows, suddenly, inexplicably, transiently - latest line-up excluded - hit the "sweet spot". Those recordings so surpassed any studio stuff we'd ever done that in one night we replaced 6 tracks on one album and had enough left over to start a second).

The Lyons' Den has also been a focus for the Chicago Music Explosion. Every act that has visited Lancaster from Chicago in the last three years has strong ties to the Den through friendship and concerts. The end of this era comes down simply to the lease renewal. Doubled! The Den will now be a Soccer Bar (Gad!), the previous lessees, Joe and Amanda Tozer were able to sell at price that reflected their immense effort in creating a venue that every Chicago musician respected for its hospitality and, just as important, its sound.

Fortunately, for those of you that are constantly invited to Chicago (i.e. anyone who reads this!) just down the street is Katerina's - although not a rock venue, all the roots music you could hear at the Den can now be heard there, and they won't feel guilty about it! Katerina's is a truly remarkable bar run by a truly barking mad Greek American lady (Katerina - see

Okay other news: The Peril of Sweat:

We played Maryport Blues Festival beginning of this month and were warmly, I should say fierily, received (by the incandescent stage lighting that burned, seared and roasted, unabated by fans for cissies, the band with specific emphasis on our drummer). Gallons of sweat drench and cymbals you could fry a Phoenix egg on. The first set was ballistic: the thirty enthusiastic punters in the 600 capacity boom-room hall appeared well impressed. Before the heat duress really distressed. So sodden were our clothes that for the second set we had to resort to the un-cool wearing of band t-shirts (that would otherwise have been optimistically for sale). That was when the folks started to steam in to see the rather popular (and now rather poppy) Trafficker fronted by guitar wizard Tommy Allen.

We had done one gig before with Trafficker down at the Cranleigh Arts Centre in 2003. It had been an occasion when we were on our 42 consecutive gig, I had slept for 4 hours the night before the gig, loaded the van myself, drove us from Trowbridge to Guildford where Mike and I had then busked for two hours in the shopping centre to guitar harp bellow up low advance ticket sales (we actually made good beer dosh), rolled up to the venue, set up, sound checked, started the gig and . . . . . and suddenly couldn't find anything - no mojo, no passion juice. Nothing. The worst gig we've every played. Exhausted but too exhausted to know we were exhausted until we hit the soggy spot!

It didn't quite happen again. The Cranleigh cock-up was indeed not magically redeemed in storybook fashion at Maryport but we did end on a strong note. That wasn't the problem. No. The real problem was getting paid and realising that the contract had been folded into fours in my right jean pocket for both sweaty sets. THAT was the problem.

It was sunny in Cumbria that day, and the sunshine eventually fixed the free flowing rainbow runs of ink. The large areas of contract that had conspired to form multitudes of small white pellets in my pocket didn't, miraculously, include the parts that displayed the salient payment details. Handed over with the "eh, sorry, accidentally got soaked during the gig", with no further explanation required, the limp thing was passed around ten friendly official's hands for close scrutiny and we actually got paid.

By the way, this month the Gregson will be exhibiting the dotty, spattering, stuckling, speckling, pointillism thingies I do when I'm not gainfully employed in other (relaxed) spheres.

Cheers, and see you in October!! Ben


An Email To The Fans (May 24th, 2004)

Hi Folks,

It's hard for me to be subjective here because this is a ten year dream come true, though how we got here is rather unexpected!

On Memorial Day Stan "Sarge" Davis, the club owner of my favorite south side club, Lee's (that I have been visiting for years) is driving four guys in suits from England in his convertable El Dorado Cadillac all around the south side juke joints as part of the final promotion of the June 1st event that everyone down there is talking about - the night that "Ben from England" brings the first British band ever to have played the south side of Chicago.

Wonderful though this is personally, this event is not just about my UK band having a night they will hopefully remember fondly for the rest of their lives, it is being used as an opportunity for north side and south side musicians to cross the great bloody divide that more Europeans cross than north side Chicagoans. It should also open up some great gig opportunities for frustrated north siders.

Billy Branch, Koko Taylor, Johnny Drummer, Minoura will now hopefully be joined by Melissa Ziemer, Molasses, PALA and more for a night of playing that will hopefully be a precedent for great things to happen and a celebration of north side, south side, Brit side and Japanese side musicians who share a love for "99.9% FUNKY stuff!!"
From England - one night only
with Special Guests!
Lee's Unleaded Blues
7401 S. Chicago Ave.
Tues JUNE 1st
8pm - 1am

To find Lee's from the north side, simply head down 90/94 and exit on 71st going East (you can use the express lanes), go about 1 mile to Cottage Grove then turn a soft right on to South Chicago going SE for three blocks. Lee's is no the east side of the street with plenty of street parking.

For those of you who harbor some irrational fear of the southside fear not. This is NOT the ghetto. If you want to go to the ghetto go west on Harrison west of Damen, or hang around 43rd street, or saunter through Cabrini Green, not here - this is a warm, friendly, dynamic neighborhood and one I've seriously considered moving to.

Ingrid and Aaron, thank you so much for the bedding for the Brits and everyone else who offered. The both of you have unfettered access to the ticketed shows we're playing later in the week. Aaron, I will find those jelly babies!

Cheers, Ben
PS if anyone wants to join me and some friends on Wed night I'm celebrating my b'day at Tecalitlan (Chicago and Wood - between Ashland and Damen on Chicago) where the tequila is the best and the margs are half price - this Wed. 7pm-9pm, then it's up to Katerina's for the Carlos Ortega Quartet and some thoughtless tequilered sitting in (1920 W. Irving Park)


Nine Miles to the Gallon (June 20th, 2004)

Nine miles to the gallon, 12 cylinders, engine capacity about 9 litres and a hood like an upturned boat.

Had to do it really. We had played a show at Dickie Doodles in Kendal on the Sunday night and it being a Bank Holiday weekend we had finished late. I was fortunate and could grab four hours sleep before catching my flight back to Chicago, but the rest of the band had a seven hour sleepless drive through the night to Gatwick.

After their layover at Detroit was postponed for an hour I picked them up at Chicago's O'Hare airport at 8pm with just time to bring them down to Lee's on the south side in a borrowed van. At about 3am UK time and no sleep for close to 48 hours the band was in a quiet mutiny mode. But we had to do it really.

When Lee's Unleaded Blues proprietor, Stan Davis, pulled up in his1977 Lincoln Continental dusted off from his private collection of classic cars (he would have brought the Cadillac convertible but for the steady rain) it was almost enough to lift David, Phil and Michael's fatigue and spirits beyond imminent coma. Almost. The full revival was to be left to Geno's.

Geno's East had saved a parking place and reserved a table. Johnny Drummer's band was booting, the MC heralded our arrival. The joint was jumping - it really was, and how wonderful it is to be able to say that without fear of an over-exaggeration! And very colourful. Our pale north England complexions added uniquely to the mix and then it was pizza, long island ice teas, chats with very attractive young ladies - and then up for one song. And another, and another and . . .

We finished the night with rib tips and doughnuts and everyone collapsed on the opera singer's floor!

And we hadn't even played a gig yet! This was Stan "Sarge" Davis' way of promoting our Tuesday show at his club.

Tuesday June 1st was the gig at Lee's, a dream come true for the Convulsions. The Chicago Reader did an article focusing on this gig (written by Ann Sterzinger - see May's Gauntlet), with superb photography by Mr. Joeff Davis (see and the main photo on our site). Many superb north side musicians ventured down for the first time to play with their blues counterparts on the south and the night featured some wonderful collaborations between them all (Melissa Ziemer for one). The place was packed! A roaring success outstripping expectations (except for that idiot Monster Love on keys).

Wednesday June 2nd was the Wise Fools. A low turnout but we met English photographer Andy Ford who adventured with me in Milwaukee this last weekend and is now smitten with that city as well as Chicago. Another superb photographer, his work is visible at where you can see us hamming it up at Colne last year along with many, many blues artists. Good music but no promotion from the club. Typical of a north side Chicago venue, we had to pay the sound guy. Load of bollocks that and really a pathetic comparison to Lees.

Thursday June 3rd was the video loft party in Wicker Park. The police raided and closed the venue in true Chicago fashion the next night after pocketing the gate receipts as 'evidence'. The Chicago police motto of 'we serve and protect' has long been bastardised by those who have felt the draft of the graft to the much more apt 'we serve and collect'

Friday June 4th was punk night at the Lyons' Den. After witnessing the pogo hopping mash of mohawks, chains, piercings and ribald tattoos writhing to loud and extreme music, the band was again struck with the desire to mutiny. "We could just not turn up" was Phil's suggestion to David while kitting up at Marcy's (the opera singer). Oblivious, Michael and I were at our second gig that night warming up the "Too Much Light Makes the Baby go Blind" 30 plays in 60 minutes theatre crowd. The lads opted for band t-shirts that made them look like Convulsions' Security and yours truly knicker wetting went as ballistic as is possible when twice the age of the other bands and most of their audience.

That set was only meant to be a half hour and even that was going to be stretching our punk repertoire, but one band did not show and we now had to play for over an hour. The peculiar thing is, and I say this in all modesty and still somewhat bemused - the punks absolutely loved us. They ate it up!! We have been invited to pretty much throw our lot in with the punk scene of America starting gloriously with a bourbon fuelled visit to Louisville, Kentucky in Easter of next year as guests of the Dead City Rejects. It truly is a strange world isn't it? We're a blues/rnb band in the UK and can play blues festivals with impunity, though rarely in the US (Lee's was an exception), and if we attempted to play a punk night in the UK we'd likely be bother booted off the stage and mashed in the mosh.

Saturday - off to Muskegon, Michigan (courtesy of the Ghettobillies) to play the Westside. Great food, free local beer (Bell's Oberon from Kalamazoo). Sunday a late brunch buffet of salmon, ribs, tamales, Caesar salad, bacon, and French toast, at Chicago Joes while basking in the sun with complementary champagne (all for under $10) and a return of the Convulsions to the US pretty much confirmed for Easter. Quick note: we play Maryport end of July, Ghettobillies at Dome on July 9th. CHEERS!!!! Ben (PS David loves burritos David loves burritos!)


The Chicago Reader Rock Critic and the Myth of Chicago's Southside Gets Blown Away - Maybe (April 25th, 2004)

"The sultry Ann Sterzinger, a young, exhibitionistic, Wicker Park-based dishwasher/mud wrestler-she wore a see-through dress with nothing underneath to the ULA press conference-who's the purported prize-writer."She's somewhat psychotic," Wenclas told me, but "in personality and energy she blows away any writer out there." (Taken from "Zine Team Declares War on New York's Literary Establishment
by Hillary Frey March 21 - 27, 2001)

"FIVE UNDERGROUNDERS were at CB's 313 Gallery the afternoon of February 8 to set up the U.L.A.'s press conference. The biggest fish scheduled to attend was George Plimpton." (

And yes, the great man showed and challenge rose, and what were the self proclaimed victor's shrewd conclusions of this literati war between the cohorts of King George's privileged trust fund brilliance and the starving vexed vixens of the East Coast underground?

"The bar bill was less than I'd expected. The effete literati may or may not be good writers, and for hothouse-grown Ivy League conformists they're not bad debaters--but they're certainly not very good drinkers."

Hmmm! And now one of these Underground Literary Alliance polemicists has been emailing me about a story to publish in the Chicago Reader?

A correspondence born of an interest largely ignored by this otherwise liberal publication: the dark derelict cityscape that begins a few blocks south of Cominsky Park's White Sox baseball stadium. Yes, you know that place where the black people live, where the property taxes are low and the illiteracy is high , where the sickest white suburban weekend thrill seekers soak up the crack that sustains the ambitions and economy of ghetto life. Gang bangers. Killers. Anarchy. Urban desolation. Surly festering resentment of whites.(1)

"I apologize for my lateness, but my boyfriend was having girlfriend problems."

"Hmm, and we're not talking about you as the girlfriend problem are we?" As you let that slide. Your own selfish and altruistic motives blended into a desire for a story to happen. Rescue the south side from the north side's culpable ignorance and misinterpretation could you please. The trip down there with a photographer was a success and maybe a story will result to insult that north side indifference and prejudice.

But if a journalist is writing about you, a reluctant subject wanting the story to be focused on situations involving us all but not yourself purposefully, and you find that journalist a story in their own right - and hey, when you're getting your back scritched don't you want to scritch right back??

Blood flecked sorrow eyelids, frustrated flaming stuck out hair. Green eyes - dreaming awake madness cascading, uncertainties about everything - all growing on themselves. And I thought the musician's lot was tough! 17 hour days most days of the week - passion player, lover vicarious through luck of the Irish man, flailing, careening, mirror of intense talent unrewarded.(2)

Ahhh, soothe, south side - charming and friendly like your Madison, Wisconsin haunts.

Ann, if only we can get your editor down there, maybe the story will run!

Cannot stay away! The Convulsions are playing the Puzzle Hall Inn at Sowerby Bridge on Friday May 28th, the Highwood at Leeds on Saturday May 29th, and you know we'll be supping at the John O'Gaunt for Sunday lunchtime jazz. Then we all head out to Chicago for a week of British RnB in Illinois!

1. In the US, perverse though it may seem, a state school's funding comes mainly from property taxes. Poor folks live in poor property and go to poor schools as a consequence. White suburban flight results in 97% of Chicago's public school students being minorities as richer folks move to richer areas with better funded schools. There is a Blair plan to adopt that here. Please don't let that happen in England.
2. Ann's latest short story is "Amy" on "Urban Bizarre" (type the title in at:

As a post-script, and after many collaborative edits (not the way these things are usually done, but a relief this one was) the story was run - see "Hands Across the Water" for a full transcript.


Anger Bus / Blues Intrigue - The Story of "Killer" Ray Allinson (March 31st, 2004)

Steamed up and soggy with early morning outrage, seething caffeine animosity, and commuter bus scrunched aggression. The anger lunker of the Chicago Transit Authorities' Damen (or "Damien" methinks) bus load of polite veneer stripping route 66 nastiness is not a ride I will endure anymore.

No more driver screaming at the passengers to "move to the back of the bus", the un-apologized barging of exit and entrance squash of passengers at the one a block stops, the foot stomped, the rib shoved, glare and dare stomach elbowed frustration of the rich brought to kneel and deal with the odiferous poor. All classes leveled, all subject to the driver's lashings and the buses laborious drunk to work diesel stinking stagger.

For me the end came early February. As all the above unfolded just west of Ashland Avenue a woman somewhat wider than tall pushed her spawn before her, barged her way towards the driver's door, hollering like a drunk Southern Baptist "Outta my way, outta my way!! Make way for my child, you people aren't making room! Get outta my way, I said outta my WAY!!"

Her bulk squashed me into the molecular interstices of the bus's steel sides and still she huffed, ranted and fumed her way furiously forward. It was then that it happened.

The horrible words fell out of my mouth before I was even aware they were there:

"Lady, maybe you should lose some weight."

There was a palpable pause, and a chill in the fetid angry bus atmosphere as inaudible gasps turned my way.

The social ramifications to myself should anyone on that bus have known me or later found out that it was I saying such a thing in PC USA, especially to a large black woman, cannot be overstated. I thus made the decision then and there that my riding the Damen bus was over. Completely needlessly, perhaps to convert others to the course of action I'd already decided for myself, someone seeped into the returning closed swelter an emission whose olfactory offense came close only to chitlins on a stove. Already ahead in the insult game, I was most tempted to carry on letting all my thoughts turn into words. However, "excuse me did someone unleash a dead thing from their arse" went unsaid. After all, whoever had allowed such a thing had probably not realized the consequences of their actions, unlike the rude woman, and must be experiencing mortal embarrassment.

Not so. Three blocks further on, with the funky miasma barely gone and the heat back up another 15 degrees in the Damen bus's sauna, another bomb of greater intensity but sharing the exact same ketone finger print gagged us all.

Evil CTA Bus 66 and the flatulant zombies who ride in her fetid carcass!.

Right, the other story. I first saw Killer Ray in '93 playing drums for Carlos Johnson and Herb Walker. Red rimmed, fire pit eyes and huge manic grin framed by huge manes of flying hair and threshing drumsticks. Man! What a devil of a drummer was Ray. So good he caught the attention, and a band contract, with Buddy Guy.

Then he disappeared, only to show up four years later playing guitar at the Cotton Club. What, no drums?

He won't drum anymore. And the reasons raise more questions than answers.

Those four years of absence occurred after being kicked out of Buddy Guy's band for contract breaking (doing commercial spots and playing other gigs). So Killer Ray goes down to Memphis where he sets up gigs with BB King's help. That's not all he sets up. Running off with BB's mistress Killer sets up shop in the western suburbs of Chicago. B.B's woman lends him slightly more than $100,000 of B.B's money to buy a house. Killer then kicks out the mistress who runs back to B.B. with tales of blackmail, deceit, bribery and theft. Mr. King contacts Buddy Guy who puts the word out that Killer Ray cannot play drums in North America - ever. And so it came to pass that Killer Ray Allinson picked up guitar.


Chitlins (Jan. 31st, 2004)

I've had slippery gizzards before - trekking out to Windber, PA to buy a custom Chevy 20 van for the band. Close to the historic town of Johnstown's inclined plane railway that was built after the dam burst of 1889. That event killed over 1200 folks. The inclined railroad saved about 500 more souls when the dams burst again in 1936.

Well, the haunted Windber Hotel boasted one of the few piss bars still in existence in the continental USA - the patrons face a tiled bar and stand above a trough running down the length of where streams of wee used to gutter past your feet. Yes, spit and sawdust behind, widdle in front. Slouch sharp now.

A bearded fellow with a Pittsburg Stealers baseball cap on, challenged me to a pickled turkey gizzard eating duel. Alas, poor soul, was unaware of the English predilection for roll mops herrings, pickled eggs, cockles, whelks - and, afterall, I was feeling pretty homesick at the time (I was also feeling much Kentucky B. too),

Turkey gizzards and other gastronomic oddities aside, it pains me to say chitlins are the foulest smelling most disgusting, stomach turning, olfactory offensive saddest part of the abomination of slavery and Jim Crow that could come to a culture evolving in isolation and on a diet of necessity. That anyone could conceivably consider biting down on this stuff without a nose peg, belly full of disinfectant, activated charcoal, and iron filings is beyond my humble comprehension.

It beggars belief. I thought I was oh so cool to be invited into the heart of southside Chicago culture, if not as an equal, at least as an enthusiastic oddity. A white man from across the pond, someone no one could be angry at (though we did supply, ancestorily speaking, most of the wankers who went on to to create the slave industry of the Plantations). But I baulked at the chitlins. As I approached the table I thought someone had died. Pray, the smell comes from a misapplied past on rodent under the bar's floorboards, but not that mound of innocent noodle like excresences.

Nope. It was them. They smelled worse than they should even considering their lowly role of dewatering bovine manure before it is cast forth upon the land.

My love affair with the black south side Chicago culture took a momentary pause as I, nonetheless, bit into a modest fork full of cow colon. Within seconds the bite and the plate it had come into town on, had discreetly been garbaged and a large Cosmo was downed in immediate relief.

The taste was one thousand times worse than the smell.

Well, so much for that piece of social commentary from Chicago. I was going to go on about how bloody cold it is here - car exhaust sticks to the street like candy floss and smoke and steam from building vents across the city is gray paint frozen against a bloody sky. In fact, there is sheet ice on the inside of our front door and windows, and even with the front room heaters on you can see your breath in the bedroom. At least my closet is the perfect temperature to keep a case of Goose Island Imperial IPA at the perfect temperature and you don't really need to change clothes much because you go to bed with the ones you have on.

Anyway, that said, I would rather drink a mug of bad American beer with ice sliding down the outside of the glass in this -20C weather than warm my belly with chitlins. I guess some things you do have to be born into.


Salt Sheep (Jan 3rd, 2004)

Salt licking sheep on the B6478 to Clitheroe - stuck to the road with glutinous tongues. Unmoving barrels of Pennine wool so hooked to the taste of the road that they ignore the cars carefully cruising around them. How stupid are sheep (except when young), they are passive (except when fighting for ewes), they care not about each other (except when they grieve the disappearance of a familiar face). Do they fathom the connection between snow and salt on the road and come up with spurious conclusions? Are they so similar to humans?

I couldn't quite see why the sight of the sheep licking grit reminded me of dancing in pubs requiring a dance license. But I do now. Why the ghost of Cromwell must be surely laughing with hollow grimness from the very walls of our houses of former merriment. Are we so stupid that we fail to see the cause of insidious change? From charging students to go to university while bankrolling a war, that, as far as any Briton can tell has nothing to do with us, the increase in outside drinking bans (helped by stupid louts, sure, but not helped by an unbelievably asinine closing time law), the increase in gun violence, the crusade of consumerism, the drop in real ale sales, the advancement of mediocrity and meritocracy. Oh joy - can't we cast this lot out, or at least reclaim our pubs from narrow beer lists, dance bans, sports TV, awful lagers, and expensive music entertainment licenses??? Or shall we just keep licking the salt we're fed, the happy pills of consumerism and stupid TV?

I don't have much music to report about from the USA because, of course, I'm over here playing with three superb local lads (Mike Howard, guitar, Phil Gibson, drums, and David Beale, bass). We are clambering over furniture like little kids, the show is the most exuberant! Heck, today we even practised vocal harmonies (ooh, what a concept!)! Most of the places we play are terrific places where live music is encouraged, if not indeed worshipped! Bowen and Margaret at the Palladium Club in Bideford, Andy and Tiggy at Riff's in Swindon, Paul and Dee at the Wellington, to name a few. And the John O'Gaunt of course. However, after hanging out last night with our friend Paul in Wimbledon on a night off that ended at around 8am, is not the best time to collect road stories for an article such as this. When David was asked what his highlights of the tour thus far had been, his reply was "I don't know, I can't remember anything."

What a bastard of a year it's been: Bust-ups, break-ups, job losses, friend losses, sickness, deaths, debts, divorces, a chill in the political air. Bollocks to all this! I really thought 2004 was going to be a terrible year, personally, and for everyone else. Now I'm not so sure. Complacency is dead, the nihilist philosophy of determinism is buggered by just a rudimentary appreciation that most processes in the world are non-linear, the materialist fallacy of cloning and modern genetics is thrown back to a more complex understanding (mulitple clones of mammals such as pigs and cows all appear different despite exactly the same genetic makeup). And, most importantly of all, the music industry is turned upside its head. In short, we can effect a different future. We can control our destiny, we can all make a difference, and just about everyone I know deserves a much, much better year than the last one. Everyone. Happy New Year folks, see you in the John for real music and real beer.

By the way, never say never again, right? Derek "Thunder" Jackson is playing with us at the Gregson Centre on Sat. Jan. 10th. Tickets are available behind the bar at the John or at the door.


T-Shirt Tales (Dec. 12th, 2003)

Finally got most of my clothes out of storage (a flurry, a freeze and a gloveless walk to work were all the incentives needed). As the thought of enduring yet another Midwest winter led to seasonal thoughts of packing it in and returning to England, I started separating out my warm clothes from the purely advertisal. A t-shirt purge in mind.

Top of the pile was a cotton tent built to house an all American large arse. It's the Wilton Ave. block party where I learned I couldn't learn basketball, but later played across the street in the grounds of the old people's home only to lose a shoe to a triumphant old lady who headed inside with it neither shoe nor lady to be see again.

Next in the pile was a black fragment from the Crystal Corner Bar in Madison, Wisconsin - signs of jolly punters entering the club on the front and the same lot lurching, lunging, binned, and purgatively exiting on the back. That was a gig with the great blues musician Lefty Dizz, who, after the owner handed us all t-shirts, did a shot of Wild Turkey with the band only to bring it right back up. The first sign of his esophageal cancer the complications of which were to kill him 8 months later. A heroic blues musician who had an infinity of riff based crunchers, who always encouraged new players, and who still performed even while undergoing chemo.

Then there was a musical shirt "Fish-a-wack O!" named after a song about a Massachusetts Indian Chief and a memento of a holiday romance with a school teacher from Great Barrington, there's a sweatshirt I printed with my band's name and November gig date I wore while running the 1998 Chicago Marathon, there's a black "Chicago Care's Charity" shirt from a charity gig we did in '96, a sweatshirt from a half marathon from '99 that half killed me (had a gig the night before), oh, and here's a beaut:

"Martin's World Engine - "It's A World Engine Thing - You wouldn't Understand It". Don Martin was a colourful old Chicago cat. Hadn't paid taxes since 1965, had a cousin who reared catfish and marijuana down in Louisiana at a place called "Space Park", and gave me a part-time job cleaning engine valves when I was penniless in '94. He raced speedboats too. Oh, and when he got paid in lobsters for fixing a trawler man's boat in Maine we had a great party of lobster, catfish, and "southern greens" at O'Donnell's Tavern.

Here's a black Pan Celtic shirt. Ahh, fond memories of the Yorkshire House celidahs. Jimmy McGuire rest in peace, you were the best MC. There's a "Blues Hounds" t-shirt - barely intact - and the first band I was in at Penn State (other than the "Bad Apples", but they were so dreadful they don't really count), there's one from the "Asylum" student union battle of the bands from Penn State '91 (that was "Little Evil and the Rhythm Saints"), there's a blue "Left Undone" shirt. Left Undone were a great funk band, sadly disbanded, that afforded me the opportunity to play major venues outside of Chicago culminating in the House of Blues in LA (my contribution to that gig was a kicked off shoe that landed somewhere in the sound booth but wasn't recovered until the next day leaving me hobbled for schmooze during the after party - some old lady may have taken it). There's an Aids Ride sweatshirt. The rural route we cycled through Wisconsin was stunning. 600 miles in all.

Last but not least, and the only one of the lot I ever paid for, a navy t-shirt for the Mike Watt Band's "Third Time to the Mast" tour of '98. One of the hottest shows I've ever seen. So good I had to buy something (they'd sold out of records while on the road).

Bugger, it may be summer soon enough, I'll give these folks one more season in the sun.

Oh, hey, afore I forget the Convulsions are gigging at the John O'Gaunt Wed. Dec. 17th and Boxing Day too. We'll be teaming up with the explosive Derek Jackson again at the Gregson on Sat. Jan. 10th. See you for a Yuletide tipple soon!

Cheers from Chicago, Ben


Women Jello Wrestling and Frankie Goes to Hollywood (Oct. 3rd, 2003)

Prancing around Britain with nine Americans is a source of stories enough. Indeed, but this a correspondence from the USA and all I have right now is this billboard outside Sean Kalley's in Lemont, Illinois spotted a week before coming over:

Fri. August 15th
Women Jell-O Wrestling / Frankie Goes To Hollywood

Obviously, the lads are still able to play the top spots around the USA. Where else would such a band like to be really?? 'Welcome to the Pleasure Dome' with a big wet 'Bang' no doubt.

Here is another fallback when short of material: God bless the innuendo clueless German puritans in Pennsylvania who named their townships without smirk. These are real places selected from a list on a placemat from Zinn's Amish Diner off of Route 21. The numbers in parentheses are the distance of the towns from Zinn's: Blue Ball Mountain (15), Bareville (17), Bird-in-Hand (27), Intercourse (26), Virginville (21), Peach Bottom (45), Mountville (27), Lititz (30), Puseyville (38), Fertility (18) and finally Paradise (32 - near all of 'em I guess).

Okay, here's a third fall back - a call-my-bluff kind of quiz selected from a Chicago zine (the Pink Squirrel). Just guess the correct answers to the following word descriptions (if you really care, email me at

1. Production of progeny from a Lapland niece/nephew marriage.
2. Soup consisting of fly agaric mushrooms (Amanita muscaria) and the stinkhorn toadstool (Phallus impudicus) consumed by Vikings in the 8th century prior to pillaging. The 17 hallucinatory compounds identified in the fly agaric were thought to have induced berserk like rage and the strong neurotoxins that caused irritation and inflammation of the Viking's seminal vesicles incited rape. The stinkhorn just looks like a willy.
3. The bacteria derived insecticide from the bacterial (Bacillus thuringiensis) gene transposed into most genetically modified crops.

Bath chap
1. Referring to homosexual fellows from Kenilworth who hang around natatoriums.
2. A friendly scrubbing device used during bathing to remove warts.
3. Baked pig cheek covered in breadcrumbs.

1. Curly protozoans on springs.
2. Curly pasta.
3. The basal part of the European badger's (Melee melee) baculum (penis bone).

1. A sexually transmitted disease. Actually a form of the foot fungus (Tinia pedis) infecting women's private parts and colloquially referred to somewhat differently than athlete's foot.
2. A small one-eyed aquatic plant that swims by means of a long thrashing tail.
3. The baked entrails of snipe (Capella delicata) spread on toast.

And last but not least (ooh! Another glass of Glen Moray from Mr. Thorn. Whoever suggested these pieces are written without John O'Gaunt influence? Not me. Cheers Steve, and Oliver Reed raises a ghostly tipple too as he bangs his spectral head through yon Gent's latrine wall and leaks ectopiddle on the shiny moist floor (well who else could it be?)). Where was I - oh, yes. A John O'Gaunt musical question.

If you were 14 again and could play saxophone what would you do?? As a musician with a few delicious regrets that still cause me occasional midnight aches including not starting blathering on the gob iron until the ripe age of 23, I would be out there honking away and giving the shopper's hell before ever considering chucking it in. And I would clean up too no doubt! I'd certainly toss a plucky kid a coin before laying out largesse to an untalented adult. Go William go!

Last mention. Mike Howard and Ruth Eborall recently got married. Mike is one of the bravest guitarists I know - he will tackle almost any piece of music even if it takes him years to master, but anyone who's toured with Mike without a Howard gag handy to deal with the constant outpourings loosely described by himself as wit, will realise that Ruth is definitely the braver of the two! Kidding! Good luck the both of you - a better match you rarely see.


Code Purple (July 27th, 2003)

Right, Russell is looking after the computer system, Ralph Covert from the Bad Examples is holding my organ (the Hammond), Flip is tossing through the vinyl collection, Big John is garaging the winter clothes and amps, the two German girls are sleeping on the bed, the City of Chicago is waiting to process an unknown quantity of parking tickets (but Zack the Squirrel man is going to keep the car moving). The job will wait until Oct (there's a bloody first). Got tickets, booked the last gig (yesterday), the posters are sent, the press releases are flying . . .. Even remembered this month's article.

Well, I was going to use the recollections and shenanigans of Jen St. Peter from Muskegon (Sugar), but they were just a little too blue. One did involve an embarrassing case of code purple (nookie in the dressing room). Well, we were all told that after the show there would be a naked bonfire barbeque. What she neglected to tell us was that it was the club owner who got naked while the girls demurely did not. Hmm. Most rock and roll. Made me question the veracity of her anecdotes - so let's leave Michigan be and bring some of the city on Lake Michigans Western shore to Lancaster:

Last year at this time, the Pete Special Trio was warming up for The Chicago Music Explosion. This year it is the Convulsions. We are playing all over England, but the gigs below are very much in the Lancaster catchment - and no two gigs will be alike.

Sun. 3-Aug-03. The Convulsions, John O' Gaunt: This will be our first warm-up reunion of the New Year line-up with Jim Swinerton on bass, Mike Howard on guitar and our phenomenal Chicago drummer, Matt Baumann

Tues. 5-Aug-03. The Ben Ruth Experience, Fleetwood Bowling Club: So enjoyable was our jazz set early New Year, that we were eager to have Eddy Simpson book us again. We have considerably extended our jazz repertoire - do check this out!!

Thurs. 7-Aug-03. The Convulsions, Ring of Bells: A semi-acoustic set in an intimate and alcofrolic, yet strangely intellectual, RnB loving environment. More Goose Hamish?

Fri. 8-Aug-03. The Convulsions, Mariners, Bowness: A high energy rocking set for the bikers!

Wed. 20-Aug-03. The Convulsions, John O' Gaunt: The second set! There will be some ditties you heard on the 3rd - but not many. We should have recorded in Devon by that time too.

Thurs. 21-Aug-03. The Convulsions with Derek Jackson at the Gregson. This is a truly unique gig. Some of us remember the Rock House phenomena of the mid-80's with the Thunderous Mr. Jackson tearing up the carpet and shagging the shag (and, dare I say, everything else). An on-stage maniacal perspiring inspiration to us all, it is with great pleasure (and trepidation) that we engage in a one night only event with Derek's romping new band. Mentor and mental go head to head. Adding to the fury will be Chicago's roaring saxophonist, Yaron Goldman.

Fri. 22-Aug-03. The Convulsions, The Super Road House Stage, Great British RnB Festival, Colne, 11pm. Oh boy, are we looking forward to this. And our lovely Goose girls Rosie, Stephanie, Karen, and Rachel will be there to anoint the thirsty with Chicago beer. Thanks David Beale for taking the bass helm.

Sat. 6-Sep-03. HERE IT IS!! We HAD to do this again after the last two year's response. It's shows like this that makes an expat want to move back to Blighty.

The 3rd Annual Chicago Music Explosion Showcase at the Platform!!

Folks will be delighted to know that the Ghettobillies and Melissa are returning. AND do we have a surprise for you. Look out for Scottish McMillan. Tickets same as last year, available at the John O' Gaunt, and all the shows we're playing. If you want, you can contact me directly on 07932-029336 for tickets and information (and to get together for a damn fine ale at the JOG)! Cheers, and see you soon, Ben


The Saturday Night That Shouldn't (July 25th, 2003)

Playing back the recording two days later the lead singer regretted not immediately destroying the CD while he had the chance (the guitarist heard it later that day and almost quit the band).

The show had started well enough that Saturday night - the lead singer, while jumping up on the Hammond organ, banged his head on one of the main speakers and blood flew everywhere from his leaping form. That outdid the Goth horror group of the night before who had drunk merely fake blood from a large chalice. Bollocks to that. Get real.

Then a guy jumped up screaming incomprehensibles into the microphone. The bleeding band had missed the opener and weren't sure if the interloper was part of the earlier act. They didn't wish to appear rude by kicking him off. However, on the play back it was all to clear of the errors of their ways. The fellow should have been dumpstered after five nanoseconds. Fortunately, the good folks in the Ghettobillies diplomatically forced this fool's exit with offers of acute violence should he next attempt to grab the mic again.

The harmonica playing wasn't too bad (thought the lead singer). Alas, the play back showed that most of the harmonicas used that night had decided to go flat in that unsubtle way that they sometimes do (metal fatigue of the reeds), and would only really have charmed pitch deficient rutting karoake cats.

After bearing, with mounting illness, the contents of this evil recording the band leader was suddenly delighted to hear the one song that always was never "quite right" actually sounding quite good. No mistakes - the difficult switch from organ solo to the octaves in the first bridge section worked at last! The solos ripped! The recording ended unobligingly four notes away from the end. The CD, brimming with awfulness, had run out of room at the one decent song. And all because the guitarist had whined for 10 seconds about doing the song. Whine time that could've been recording time. With no real sadness this plonker will not play with us again - our drummer nearly had laughter kittens when months later this hack asked him to play in his limp Wilco'esque group.

Ahh, if only the band, or rather the bassist, the lead singer, and two thirds of the Ghettobillies, had left it at that last song and GONE HOME. Don't battle the night anymore. Quit. Leave a bad night a bad night and just GO HOME.

But no, they all headed up to Lakeview Lounge, home of the fabulous Night Watch band mentioned warmly in these dispatches before, and a bar that stays open until 5am on a Saturday. The band enthusiastically greeted the lead singer and his friends unaware of the tragedy to come. A certain well-meaning friend asked the band if these musicians could do a turn on the stage behind the bar.

Alas they did, and as the American phrase goes, "Dude, they totally sucked ASS!"

A 15 minute instrumental funk jam known only to the guitarist who started it. The bassist playing a line from another song hoping it would fit (it didn't), the harmonicist finally realizing the degree to which his instruments were now out of tune playing very little of anything, and the drummer really too drunk to play at all and who ran out of the bar immediately after the Night Watch bassist, Raoul, had succeeded in getting the mess off the stage.

The bar owner berated the Night Watch band for their selection of guests. The band in turn berated the bar for telling them who they couldn't and who they could let on the stage. The bar owner then told them the stage was his stage, the band replied that it was their show. Ten minutes later and it was all screaming incomprehensibles. The band quit and were also fired.

Although I have nothing personally to do with any of this, and I'm merely relating events, I have yet to set foot in the Lakeview Lounge since that fateful night. Recent rumor has it that Night Watch are still playing there every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday as they had for the past 11 years before the clowns came in. I do hope so. Because, as Bette Midler used to sing, "one monkey don't stop no show."

©Benjamin Ruth, 2003


Saturday Night That Wasn't (April 27th, 2003)

NOTE: Hey folks! This was the article that was planned to run in March but got lost in cyberspace. Seeing as it's only 5C here at the moment there is a certain relevance printing it now. Also, the next month's article leads on naturally from this (that is to say other than slurping a large amount of Chicago Beer in good company at the Burnley Blues Festival last month, I really don't have anything else to report!)

Most Chicagoans will confirm that living in Chicago is like loving a person with bipolar mental disorders: As long as the love light shines brightly in your direction you can't conceive of a colder season. Then as the fulmination of the incomprehensible tumult of which you suspected nothing enwraps you in the maelstrom, you vow to leave as soon as the storm breaks. Well, maybe not that bad - the cold winters are one thing though, but the bloody springs!

Of all the "dark times" in Chicago, the month of February starts the seasonal nadir. Even in the first days of March the high temperature during the night may be only -15C. The hardier frontier folks go about outdoor winter exertions in this "spring" with no thought to cheek cracking, snot freezing cold. Not me. Folks like myself eschew all chilblain bravery for a moribund winter life of sloth and semi-hibernation. The churning, clattering, spinning wheel of an exercising hedgehog in a friend's apartment were a derisory torment to my larger mammal malaise.

And it's Saturday! Oh the choices! A party at 5025 N. Clark for a young CNN producer's 26th birthday. A vivacious redhead and one of those dancing behind the bar at Lakeview Lounge in February (see these ramblings do have occasional coherence). An opportunity to harangue a bunch of American media gurus doing nothing obvious to question their country's impending hegemony in the Middle East was tempting but no match for the excitement of introducing seven overseas Sicilians to Lee's Unleaded Blues on their last night in town.

A twenty mile drive down south and, bollocks! For the first time in seven years, Lee's asked for proof of age. One of the Italians (the cutest) had no passport on them. No entry. What an inspiring last night for them! You can guess what they thought of their sodding last night in the land of the free! Bollocks, here we go - this is why this is not a very musical article. Not through want of bloody trying that's for sure! Bloody stupid drinking age!

Yes, here we go! I mean, here you have ONE state (New Jersey) deciding to blackmail all the others in the 1980's. NJ jacks their drinking age up to 21. The number of teenagers killed in driving accidents across NJ state's lines to get booze now quadruples. NJ hypocritically points to these accidents and hollers the cry of abstinence, temperance, and accuses their neighbouring states as being responsible. The Reagan federal government then gets involved and refuses to hand out highway construction funds until ALL States increase their drinking age to 21. 1984 (Ha! - 1984 for Chrissake, think about that!) and every state in the union ends up with a drinking age of 21. Every last one of them! In the meantime these righteous twits have helped cause the deaths of 1000's of US teens.

These are the same asinine prats who, when building new housing estates, have enacted laws that make it illegal to place a bar within walking distance of a residential community. Oh, there's progressive thinking for you! Now the residents have to DRIVE to get a beer. The Door's 1971 "Roadhouse Blues" says it all. You drive to drink - if you have time and dosh for some tarts, "back of the roadhouse they have some bungalows", then bloody marvelous.

Sounds familiar? Welcome to the wisdom of US policy here and exported everywhere (don't even get me started on the American Dream - where anyone who owns land has to pay tax on their property. As high as $15,000 a year in some cases. And did you know this? State schools in the US are paid for by property taxes. That means poor folk's kids are in the poorest schools, while the kids in richer neighbourhoods get five times as much dosh per pupil per year. Did you know that in Chicago, over 90% of all children in the Chicago Public Schools are minorities?)

So much for music on a Saturday night. Got a puncture cycling home at 3am while the snow swirled, found the replacement inner tube was punctured and re-patched that (while the snow swirled), covered a good going out shirt with salt, snow and road grit, white tornados froze my fingers to the thick grease bike chain. Hmmm! All topped of with the exquisite joy of feeling the sub-arctic air whistling through your helmet cracks! Finally got the bike on the late night road amidst, by this time, twirling frozen ammonia flakes. Then slowed down, quickly and inexplicably, falling off in a conveniently placed puddle of brine at Western and Augusta.

Solution? Unwrap a 30 times wound sodden frozen bootlace from around the right pedal's swindle.

So Saturday was a wash. Fortunately, Brother Brother's 12 piece funk band have started playing every Sunday at the Lyons' Den. And they are bloody incredible! And they'll just get better each week. Chicago, you wench - one great band for free when its -16C outside and you think that will convince me to stay???? Bugger, bugger - wait 'til next year! One more year - that's all I swear!!!


Fish Tales (Mar. 27th, 2003)

So, Dutch boys used to use eel skin to tie their catapult rubber to the forked yew frame, Candirus. is an Amazon catfish small enough and suicidal enough to swim up the urethras of an immersed human peeing, folks living around Lake Malawi eat chironimid cakes, Nile perch in the same lake wipe out hundreds of cichlid species - those hundreds of colorful fishes evolved in 60 million years from an "Adam and Eve" couple that found their way into the new lake. Tuna muscle has such a density of mitochondria, and their counter-flow bloodstream is so remarkable in the fishy world that they maintain a body temperature greater than the surrounding seawater - they perhaps evolve towards warm-bloodedness. Dolphins race with them for sport. Eels have a sense of smell greater than sharks and second only to bloodhounds. Elasmobranches (sharks and rays) use urea as an osmoregulator instead of salt (hence the suggestion that you soak shark steaks in water before cooking them).

Eels. The American eel, Anguilla rostrata, was definitely the smarter of the two compared to the unfortunate European eel (Anguilla anguilla - the Europeans at least got to binomially name them first). As the Atlantic ocean opened up from the Sargasso Sea a huge few million years before the African rift opened up Lake Victoria (now Malawi), those European eels found they had to travel further and further to reach their freshwater (now European) growing grounds while the American eels had a relatively short jaunt. Three centimeters a year is not much. 65 million years later . . . . . . ~ 4000 km (3cm each way).

Samurai warriors were trained as teenagers to jump over maize seedlings. By August the maize plants were 6 feet high. Eels leave freshwater and swim over three thousand miles from Europe to spawn in the Sargasso - without eating during the entire trip.

30% of folks in the USA confuse thirst for hunger.

And now the over-fished Antarctic Chilean Sea bass has been found in the Artic circle - the furthest journey known to be taken by a single fish.

You could walk out into the sea with gill nets in Felixstowe in the 1930's and catch herring. Hundreds of them.

Talking of fishy tales - Americans LOVE clams. Brits do not, and yet our deep dark boggy salt marsh muds abound with them. As do our waters with eels. Japanese aqua-culturists have managed to breed eels in captivity by treating them with chicken sex hormones. Heck, even truffle farmers in France are getting closer to the cultivated truffle.

Our worldly demands are so disparate in fishy manners.

Carp are prized in England. They are shot with bow and arrow in the States when they spawn and tossed on the bank in disgust at their blameless invasion. In much the same way Zander are tossed on the bank in England, yet are prized game fish in the US (where they are misleadingly called walleye pike - they are not pike at all, but part of the perch super-family which includes sea bass and Nile perch).

Where you were in the past and how you behave in the future are very fishy things.

Humans are very fishy things, but at least we have strong mitochondrial laddend fishy leaders who all believe in one thing at least.

Alas, fishes can't drive SUVs or play the Skate Wing Hernia Blues. "Like a big blue catfish swimming in the deep blue sea". "Like a one-eyed cat (El Gato Puerto in Habana, Cuba) peeping in a seafood store, I can look at you - 'tell you don't love me no more." Them big fishes gone taken away all the fun for us small fry, whitebait, fried smelt, and chicken feed. My dear school of minnows, we seem to be swimming further and further to get to where we want to be. And when we get there it tastes like pee. And our individual effect on the world as its leaders go mad seems singularly as powerful as the effect of an eel larva on continental drift.


Saddam Hussein Proclaims Iraq a Christian State (article for "Cock-a-Snook" in the Pink Squirrel, May 2003)

In a move redolent of England's Henry VIII's Reformation when the good Platagenet king thumbed his syphilitic cock at the Pope Clement VII in 1534, SH, The Maniacal Overlord in Waiting, informed his country today that henceforth, Iraq was "born again". SH, The Global Terror Miester, had "seen the light and the light was JESUS!!"

According to Baathist sources who spoke to Western journalists under penalty of beheading (if they didn't), SH, The Great Holocaust Hastener was inspired by an article in the Sydney Gazetteer about an apparition of the Holy Mary appearing in a 15 year old fence post in Queensland. Reporting of similar apparitions in the US have not impressed the secular Iraqi regime, but once the respectable Aussies got on board, the Oily Magnificent is said to have been taken over by a spiritual epiphany.

Although the Great Despot maintains that the government will still be run as a secular entity and that other religious interests will be allowed to barely coexist in Iraq he is encouraging, by necessary force, the adoption of Christianity as the country's religion of choice. The Magestic Megalo maintained that, just like the US, there will be a complete separation of Church and State. Like the US for example the secular Government can invoke "God's decree", or "God's Right", or "God Told me to F**k You Over Because We Are God's People and you are Chicken Shit" whenever they see fit and without any prayer services or religious leaders' blessings.

In an interview with Nimbus Broadcasting Company's anchorwoman Elizabeth Poutface, the Axial Evil One denounced his country's little understood Arabic religious philosophies as alienating his people in a time of great crisis.

In a passionate outburst similar to a that of a "saved sinner" at a Tennessee Evangelical meeting, the Poison Gas Guru, described how, over a plate of burned falafel, a vision came to him of a quiet and dignified man in white cloth and sporting a halo who said unto him;

"Oh Evil Bastard Who Would Flay and Cannibalize The World's Children - hear the cry of your country's people! Hear your country's plight!! I am you Savior in your hour of great need!! LOOK! Look to the soil underneath your feet! Feel the coarse sand that robs your people's fields of their crops! But look, LOOK! and feel the juiciness of this wonderful land's blood as it squeezes between your tosies!!! Yes! The land wants to set your people free! Follow me, dedicate your life to me - and see how the Righteous Ones in the West have my blessing! They are the true, the blessed, the meek, and the humble that would inherit this YOUR land. But when they see that you have turned to me, their anger will be as mutterings at a 1-point stock slump on the Great DOW Jones.

Yours is the True, the Real Land of Great Potholes, of Large Rocks in the Highway, of Arid Tracks of Red Desert Torture, of Impassable Mountain Trails where only the Massively Tanked and Wheeled can pass. Yes! IT is IRAQ that is the chosen country!!!

My Peoples in The Great Land of the Free and Incarcerated has conveyances, no matter how humble, that would serve me, their master the best!"

"Yes" - the apparition said to the Galactic Overlord in Waiting -




Ship of Fools (Jan. 29, 2003)

Ship of Fools / Pirate bar - well trained crew. They had the Venetian blinds down before 11:30pm. Bar's opacity well achieved. No light shall escape! Duct tape smothered the escapes of illicit yellow splashes into the suspicious Wiltshire countryside.

The band played until the band couldn't play anymore and the dancers couldn't dance anymore.

Oh! So naughty! Names and locations withheld to protect the criminal from the Dance Puritans.

James and I twisted to music we made up a capella on the bar stools

Alas the crumpet had left. Sensibly so I guess.

The lifelike motif of Jimi Hendrick's and his guitar on the wall behind the stage was moving too by 2am.

Later, another place - names and locations withheld to protect the naughty - we danced on the ledges behind the bay seats. It was half past one. The girls invited us back to their place and we danced (well James did, I talked a lot, Matt didn't talk at all, and Mike table dusted with his head. Side to side, sweep sweep bottle caps flopple on the floor).

Girls went to bed leaving us on the hard cold floorboard. Sensibly so I guess.

Then there was the table dancing, stool prancing, Cuban rum pouring, lass dancing on the table on your back.
Yes. Another bar, another place (name and location withheld to protect the naughty). Of course, that kind of going on would never happen in Lancaster. No. Not allowed you see - dancing police everywhere (ha ha ha - there's a jolly thought - dancing police!)

Later, another place - names and locations NOT withheld to protect the naughty. It's back in the USA and the Nightwatch Band playing Jimmy Reed's "You Got Me Up . . ." behind the Lakeview Lounge Bar at 3am in Uptown. Half the bar joining them on the cramped stage. The owner explaining as we left at 5am - "maybe I got a little drunk tonight, but I just wanted to see you all dancing!"

Lecherous git! I bet you did! There were half a dozen brazenly revealing sinuously moving voluptuous women up there loving life (and to a noticeable degree each other).

But the women left, sensibly I guess.

Oh, remember last issue's burblings? ("Flights Of Fancy"). Well the infamous Paul Foulsham was at this Lakeview Lounge too - he'd heard my band was playing at the Goose Island Brew Pub, and that the beer was free for friends of the band, and so he flew over on a tipsy whim. Ha ha! All time audience member award.

Right. I'm not a particularly political fellow - but the entire USA is being completely bloody hoodwinked by some seriously lunatic berserk bestial baboon breast beating dinosaurs of an age that should have withered with the onslaught of love and reason. We're in a world besieged by the impudent stupidity of the greedy tribalistic Megalomaniacs of the new Corporate disorder. F**k OIL. The reason of alternatives is forgotten and the rush to chaos has begun.

Sorry for the interlude - the Bush speech tonight kinda triggered a delayed response to my otherwise jolly writing.

That said, at least the bars here in the USA stay open late. And dancing doesn't require a license. Neither does a bar with a few folks playing acoustic guitar if there is no charge at the door. I don't usually get political, but I wish US folks here could hear a reasonable debate about the Middle East (ask Americans if they heard about the World Summit and you get a blank look, ask them about Iraq, Bush and Oil and you get understanding, but you won't hear oil discussed on the media ANYWHERE not even National Public Radio - those NPR programmers should hang their head in absolute shame, and quit in the name of human decency).

Anyway, for all of you reading this who don't know about the catastrophic anti- live music legislation planned for Britain, please take some time to sign the email petition. Its fantastic enough that our Enlightened Leader has deemed it a good idea to drag Britain into Americas' oil garnering mayhem for whatever scrotally grabbed reason (because a sane fellow would only kowtow to the USA on this one if he was having his nuts crushed) BUT to cut back on our musical expression at a time when we need it most thanks to his plonkerish foreign policy, we now face possible emasculation of live pub music and more throughout the land.

Yep! In order to dim our musical escapism from the mess Bush's Poodle is helping create for y'all, ALL live performances (solo and duo music, theatre, comedy, juggling, the works) will now require an entertainment license, levied by local authorities. Unless you agree it's finally time to usher on the death of live pub music throughout the land, I suggest you DON'T take some time to go online and sign this one! After all there ain't enough techno nightclubs in the country yet are there (they're exempt I believe).

Did I start this off entitled "Ship Of Fools"? I guess I did. Boy, do you remember getting shanghaied, I don't?

Cheers, Ben


 "Flights of Fancy" (Jan. 20, 2003)

"I'm sorry Sir, but you can't drink that here." The rather prim stewardess on the Air India flight pointed out to us as we slurped through our duty free. Fortunately, there was quite a bit of "turbulence"" on the flight - "whoops, there goes yet more duty free rum flying out of the bottle, quick John catch it with your glass, Yaron, you too, Matt, quickly, catch it!"

Needless to say, the rum was successfully and repeatedly captured in all four of our plastic cups. Alas, with no one to meet us at Heathrow (August Bank Holiday), and a ton of bloody musical paraphernalia to cart through the London Underground, the London Overland system, and a half mile trudge through the rain to my mate's flat in Wimbledon we wished we had stoppered the rum somewhere over the North Atlantic.

Air India - use them at your peril. And not because of the rum episode. An organisation that is run by the intimidation of its employees is never one likely to please the needs of the punters. They don't take credit cards to pay for flights, are usually greatly rude at some point during your trip, and are complete b**stards at head office. We found out, weeks after buying our tickets that our return flights would not be honoured because our connecting flight from Manchester to London had less than a two and a half-hour stopover (they were an hour and a half).They just decided to change their rules and go hang the customers. We had to change our flights with BA in order to get back to the US.

Delta has stopped giving free drinks on international flights, so hang them too.

Foreign Entertainer Work permits - by declaring ours we were (well my travelling companions were) nearly all sent back on the next flight simply because they had work permits. They were not for the entire time we were over here, and immigration at London told us the return flights to the US had to be within two days of the last date covered by the work permits. Eventually, Pete's honeymoon, and John's visit to his girlfriend seemed to sway them and they let us through with 10 minutes to catch our connection to Manchester. I looked at all the fine print regarding our work permits later and determined that there are no written restrictions whatsoever - especially for visa waiver countries like the US and the UK. London Immigration were merely being d**ks.

British Airways - more like "Baggage Away ways".

While we were having fun with the Immigration, BA had our baggage sent to another destination. It took nearly a week to get it forwarded. That sucked for the Pete Special Trio because all the CD inserts for the albums we were selling were in the lost luggage. Folks still bought the CD but we ended up having to post loads of inserts to them later. Oh and when we did get our luggage back it looked like it had been through a tumble drier with rocks. Anything breakable (including my samples of bubble wrapped bottles of Chicago Goose Island beer) was shattered. My Himalayan, Rockies, all terrain, intergalactic alien attack withstanding rucksack was destroyed (though BA did replace it with a cheaper smaller version).

BMI - I do like them. Last Christmas I was tying flies for my dad (avid fly fisherman) on the flight, when one of the stewardesses asked what I was doing.

"Oh, my friend working in First Class fly fishes, do you mind if I invite her over to chat with you?"

Five minutes later I'm deeply engrossed in conversation with a truly beautiful woman - about fly fishing for cut-throat trout in the Colorado Rockies. I tied her several different flies to try out there and was rewarded with a bottle of champagne. That's flying!

My friend Paul Foulsham in London (who is wont to occasionally fly to the US, or anywhere for that matter, on a binge inspired whim - God bless him) always asks to be seated next to an attractive woman. He claims that this indeed usually results in his being sat next to an attractive woman. There is a definite social co-evolution at work here now as, subsequent to the many binge inspired flights of Foulsham, many ladies have learnt to ask NOT to be seated next to a boozed up Aussie male who falls asleep on them and plops his right hand on their nearest mammary.

On a completely unrelated note, now that our Chicago drummer Matt and I managed to fly here without ANY event at all (BMI) it merely remains for me to list the UK dates for my band in the Lancaster vicinity for this year, and to wish you all a very happy and jolly New Year. See you at the John!!! CHEERS!!! Ben.

6/1/03 Mon. Fleetwood Bowling Club Fleetwood Bowling Club, Upper Lune St., Fleetwood 01253-873903
7/1/02 Tues. Otley Junction 44 Bondgate, Otley, W. YORKS, 01943-463233
8/1/02 Wed. Lancaster John O' Gaunt 53 Market Street, Lancaster
9/1/02 Thur. Lancaster Ring Of Bells 52 King St, Lancaster,


MONDAY NIGHT MUSIC (Mar. 24, 2000)

The band is doing well – just nailed a gig at the Blind Pig, Ann Arbor, Michigan, and we played a gig at the Chicago Blue Note on Paddy’s Day that was very well attended (helped that we had a pre-gig party near the club with free, really good, beer). I have seen two marvelous bands in the last two weeks; Joanna Conner at the Harlem Lounge (superb guitarist – her hollow body slide makes me melt), and the Tower of Power equals, Brother, Brother, at the Lyon’s Den. These were all weekend events, however, and you would expect some musical juice on Fridays and Saturdays in Chicago (unlike England, folks expect live music at the weekends here). That is not to say that during the week you can’t see some terrific shows.

For example, Monday nights in Chicago you have the high energy funkadelic sounds of the Robert Cornelius Band at Schuba’s (one of the singers for Poi Dog Pondering), The Whisky Hollow Bluegrass band at the Hopcat Brewery, Chicago’s best known blue’s jam at Buddy Guy’s Legends, and the dulcet tones of the Patricia Barber Quartet at Al Capone’s old speakeasy, The Green Mill. These events all take place in venues well equipped for the thirsty.

So what the bloody hell am I doing in a boozeless coffee house listening to a woman loudly lament the departure of her girlfriend for another woman, a limp lank haired fellow comparing his love life to a parking meter, and an unintelligible caterwauling disharmonious trio of acoustic guitar battering blokes sharing a common disease of disnonounce and not a common chord between them?

I look at my date and she’s biting her bottom lip. We’ve downed three cups of coffee in 15 minutes. I’m biting my bottom lip too – and it’s trembling to let go. Each performance is 5 minutes of eternity taped for a media event entitled "Chicago’s Song Writer’s Showcase". I’ve been invited to attend, and all I want to do is go up there and be John Belushi in Animal House when he takes that hippie’s guitar and smashes it to pieces (though I would like to do this "musically"). Heather suggests I perform a customized version of "Old McDonald had a Farm" replete with harmonica farmyard noises. I notice the list of musicians; people have not been asked up in the order in which they signed. The last plastic melting straw and we leave instead. Running down the street screaming.


Try and avoid mixing music business with pleasure is an axiom I should have learned by now. Trouble was I really wanted to go out with Heather, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to meet folks in the industry, and I had practice Tuesday and Wednesday, so Monday seemed the ideal chance to combine the two. At least I’d warned her that this could be really totally not a good idea, not something I would normally do, but that we could duck in and duck out if need be (and at least check out some live music in the neighborhood).

Great. I’d never expected that venue to be caffeine stricken boozeless. And it took 20 minutes to find parking! The other music in the area was not too fulfilling: The band in The Morseland was a goth metal distortion thing, and the jazz band at The Heartland was a barely audible elevator mousse.

"I know a really good band at Schuba’s. Honest!" I offered.

"Really. After that I need some wine. Why don’t you let me take you somewhere instead?"

How could I argue with that? Defeated! Heather directs us to The Webster Wine Bar. Monday music plans shot, but at least a damn good sample tray of SW Australian Merlots or Shiraz awaits us.

We walk in, and there’s a band playing!

They’re cracking!

They’re really good.

A vocal reworking of Eddy Harris’ "Sidewinder". Marvelous! The wine’s terrific too! The place even has coffee.

© Ben Ruth 23rd March 2000


GIGS GONE AWRY (a sad selection of mayhem spanning 2000 to 2002)

Most gigs are just fine, some are bloody marvelous. However, along with the really good ones it’s the crap ones that often stays in your brain with greater alacrity and refusal to leave than any euphoria laiden musical ecstasy pleasure ride.

The Girl Who Wanted to Rock

It was one of our worst shows ever. The club’s name was the Cabana Beach Club (now the superb Beale St. Blues Club) in Palatine. The sound guy was very high on cocaine and had endeavoured to surround us with searing high end white noise static. We had not rehearsed recently, and it was obvious. I had not worked out recently, and it showed. We played with malaise showing glumly through the fake energy. "What are we doing here?" I asked our drummer of the night, Joe Dorenbos, on our torturous penultimate number wobbling as we were on an hour and a half of sanity sapping musical stodge. He couldn’t hear me. We leapt, or rather loped, into our final number of the night, an original, and in this case absolutely appropriate, "What are you trying to do?"

Determined to at least go out with something akin to a high note, with what little energy I had left to muster , I leapt off the stage and started my harmonica solo on the unoccupied dance floor. To my utter amazement, this rather attractive girl, obviously extremely drunk leaps on me, flings her arms around my neck and her legs around my waist and hollers into my left ear, "I bet you like to f**k!"

At that moment it was all I could do to hold on. She was quite shapely and was sporting the "rock chick" look of tight black lust above the knees slit skirt, and a partly unbuttoned blouse pushing a revealing glimpse of lacy black bra covered juiciness into my chin. She wasn’t overly large, but I could feel each and every 145 pounds of her voluptuousness dragging my shagged, exhausted frame to the ground. I thought to avert the embarrassment of dropping her by twirling her around to balance her weight. Mistake that. Thinking I was getting into this and that I was some strong rock dude, this girl lets go of her arms around my neck and flings herself back. I have no choice but to spin her faster to try and keep her head off the floor. Closer and closer, faster and faster. Pretty soon her hair is touching the floor.

Now we’ve all read the stories, or watched the movies, where the hero reaches deep down inside of himself, and taps that last residual reservoir of super power to save the heroine, and incidentally the whole world. I didn’t have a girl friend at the time and so wasn’t totally unattracted to the idea of this girl’s erudite invitation. I really didn’t want to spoil my chances of that electric first meeting by bouncing her head along the floor. "Try to be a hero." I told myself, "find that extra strength!" I really tried. Oh well, the girl’s head started bouncing along the floor. I let go. We landed in a pile. The band still played. Some rock dude obviously much more of a man than I picked her up. He said something rude to me. She left with him. I was the only ride back to Chicago for the coked up sound guy who yabbered non-stop about all that was wrong with our show, and how we should present ourselves in the future. I should have told him how he should’ve avoided mixing cocaine with sound, and conversation to a pissed off musician, but I didn’t. The club never booked us again.

The Bloody Mustard Incident at BW3

Now I don’t know if this restaurant cum sports bar chain has made it to the UK yet. Hopefully not. However, at the time, our band had cause to be grateful to the place because the BW3 in Chicago had offered us fortnightly gigs with a pretty good guarantee. However, it was a little disconcerting playing to a bar full of eating people, and later to a bar full of eating people watching huge screen sports instead of us. Fortunately, I suppose, our pride droop of playing at this club was destined to be short lived.

Middle of a harmonica solo, in walks a very drunk, 6’6" tall fellow who appears to think it would be very funny to sneak up behind me pick me up and place me on his shoulders while I’m playing. This he does, I roll with it, and him as he staggers around, the bar. He has at least gotten the attention of most of the people in the bar which was more than we had managed. Then he does something altogether not nice. He picks up a full squeezy mustard bottle off one of the tables and then proceeds to ejaculate mustard over as many folks sitting down as he can. It was like a scene from a horror movie. People screaming, running everywhere – but no blood, just the yellow of mustard. Everywhere. My clubbing the guy on the head with the microphone and screaming at him to stop worked to no avail. A flying leap from the assistant manager downed the fellow before he can reload. This sends me flying into a wooden pillar. I make my way back to the stage. The band is still playing. We finish the number, the stage drenched in mustard, and ketchup. Ketchup? Turns out I busted my elbow a bit on impact with the pillar. Still, a colorful set.

CD Release Party

If you are going to concentrate everything that can possibly go wrong into one gig it may as well be your first CD release party.

We had to sub our great bass player with a local record label owner who’s forte was really guitar. Both Scott, our guitarist, and I had the flu (the real stuff at 102F). The sound guy appeared to be similarly afflicted by the flu, but mainly in his ears. Our guitarist broke a string on the first song. This is minor. So was my picking up my harmonica on the first song and blowing the high end first (by picking up the harmonica upside down). My amplifier burning out in the beginning of the second song was a little annoying – I now had to play through the vocal mic and the monitors were SCREAMING and the sound guy, the flu now affecting his eyesight, was oblivious to my visual cues. The mic cable now lay across the set list, in fact right across the third song. I remember this part quite well. The third song was meant to be "Watch Your Step" (good advice sometimes) in the key of E, fast tempo, rock beat, whereas the song I enthusiastically introduced (Rufus Thomas’ "All Night Worker") was in the key of B, medium tempo, country two feel. I played that while the rest of the band played the right song. It took about 60 seconds of eternity to play the same tune simultaneously.

The fourth song was "Help Me", a Sonny Boy Williamson classic. Very straight forward and "usual". Unfortunetly, the bass player played the progression unusual and rather wrong right to the very miserable end.

Towards the end of the overall misery, Scott and I, pouring with sweat and practically delirious with flu and despair leapt off the stage and danced with all who would dance with us. Finally freed of the screaming microphones, I screamed accapella to folks finally happy to see us do something, anything, with balls, (and in time, and in the right key)!

There was a critic from one of Chicago’s major newspapers (The Chicago Tribune), another from the main Chicago entertainment guide, The Reader, and one from a local fanzine called "New City". We seriously considered changing our name after that one. As well as leaving the country. The New City actually reviewed us favourably – the other folks didn’t even stay to say hello and goodbye.

Jameson and the Large Bruise on the Bonce

As long as I’m on the subject of personal musical injury, I can think of no better story to cause my folks to clammer for my return from the captivation of energetic musical expression than the evening of the day I quit my job. I hadn’t actually told my boss I was going to quit, and I hadn’t decided just exactly when I would quit (a year and a half later as it turned out), but of one thing I was certain I was going to quit and I needed a drink. Fortunately, my band was in the middle of playing a backroom season at AliveOne every Wednesday. For this we were not paid much, but the owner was always willing to make his bar pretty much available to us. Especially if we joined him in his favourite drink: Jameson Irish Whisky.

To cut a long story short I was soon roaring drunk. As the show went into the second set I let all my frustrations with my lousy boss be translated into jumps. I jumped on the stools, the tables, the window ledges, the bar. I bounced all over the sofas they had back there (most fun). I bounced off of one very wobbly table that gave me a little concern at first, successfully, and right into Scott’s guitar neck. Head first. Clunk! The band played on and after a momentary black out I was able to join them.

Having a wallop on the cheekbone can be very useful if you’re too hung over to go to work. It didn’t hurt much at all but it was a priceless work of pastille bruise shades. Realizing the opportunity, and knowing full well I wasn’t going to hand in my notice just yet, I called my company’s answering service, left the appropriate message, and took two days off. I went in on Friday afternoon just so they could see the "damage" and was promptly told to go home again.

The Telephone Kiosk Groin Wrencher Table Buster

Kerouac Jack’s, a pleasant place to eat and play. Sometimes. On this particular night last winter, our encore number of Bo Diddley’s "Road Runner" had just reached the " . . . . . see you baby, somewhere hanging round" part that requires me to look around for a suitable perch, beam, fixture, ledge to hang from before the band’s last crashing crescendo at which I fall to the ground. Trouble was, the back room of Jack’s was seemingly devoid of anything other than the overhead heating ducts which are not a stable option. Searching around desperately (planning ahead gig acrobatics is something I should do more frequently) I noticed that the phone kiosk, the top of which just clears the ceiling, was just enough room to squeeze onto. Or so I thought. It’s while doing the last bit of song banter straddled over the kiosk that I became stuck. Realizing my predicament, a friendly fellow grabbed my legs to try and pull me back. Unfortunately, what was really causing my stuckness was the way a certain part of my anatomy had found itself lodged, sandwiched, and pivoted between the double wooden surround atop of the kiosk. A delicate matter, I didn’t feel inclined to explain for all to hear on the microphone the reason for my apparent disinclination to be dragged off the top of the kiosk. But dragged I was. Slowly. This was the first time I was ever aware of just how remarkably pliant, plastic, mutable this part of my anatomy could be. Probably because the pain involved in such distortion would preclude such investigation under normal circumstances.

Determined to hide the pain, I crouched and leapt, onto one of the tables for the grand finale. The table imploded into two neat halves which whacked me hard on both sides before the inevitable mess of wood and limbs became unextricated to the roar of approving drunken applause.

The Draught Behind At The Beat Kitchen

This was one of the first gigs we had in a club recognized for music (as opposed to the number of big screen tellys, Sat. night Karoake, or summer pig roasts). The Beat Kitchen has a terrific sound system and a sound guy who really knows how to use it. A double first for us, and, along with a crowd we’d worked very hard to canvas, reasons enough for the added exuberance of the performance.

About the third song ("Devil with a Blue Dress" as per Mitch Ryder) I was doing some leaping around on the tables, when I noticed there was a magic about the audience: expressive happiness, levity, enjoyment, and all aimed at you, the performer. As I broke the song down I commando crawled across the dance floor, Howling Wolf style, leaping back onto the stage, and basically just going nuts, and revelling in enjoyment of all this crowd adulation, even though it was tangibly more light hearted than our brand of RnB usually engenders. Towards the last verse, Tom Sorich, our drummer at the time, skipped a beat which was very unusual for him, and that’s when I noticed the draught.

My black suit trousers had split from the waist band, down, and around. I was wearing whities (scavengings of my last clean underwear before succumbing to the need for laundry) for all to see. And all there had seen. I was able to incorporate some ad lib to the occasion, but without any change of clothes at hand I was obliged to continue thus partly exposed for the next two sets.

Miscellaneous Misery

We played a gig at a bar’s outdoor festival in Moline, and then got stiffed because it opened on the same day as the city of Moline’s own festival that was free (so no one showed up at the bar). We then drove five hours to Bloomington, Illinois, a small college town for our next gig. En route, both vehicles broke down at great expense (the van was the most spectacular because it actually caught on fire). Somehow we started the gig on time with just drums, harmonica, and acoustic guitar before the rest of the band arrived in a tow truck. Judging by the audience’s approval we pulled that one off. The club owner stiffed us anyway because;

"You didn’t start with a complete band".

Several times we have arrived at a venue to find another band set up (Subterrranean, Hidden Shamrock twice). There’s showing up to find the bar is closed (Czar Bar, Sam & Joe’s). Showing up to find the bar is not only closed but condemned as well (Lower Links). Having just a god awful stage mix, and at the end of the set the sound guy is packing up, looks at your amp and asks, "Oh, is that yours?" (Round The Coyote). There’s the sound guy who used to work at a heavy metal club: he turns up the band on the main mix, the neighbor’s complain to the club, the club owner is furious and complains to the sound guy, so he tells him we turned up our amps. Gig gone (Map Room).

Never underestimate the joy of playing outside: Outdoor gigs and rain. Outdoor gigs with no generator. Outdoor gigs with one generator that blows up but the organizers still want you to play your electric guitars, electric keyboard, and anything else you can’t plug in anymore. Outdoor gigs 180 miles away, incorrectly sign posted so you drive around, arrive two minutes late and they’ve canceled you, you start back with no pay, get two miles out of town and get a traffic ticket, you then drive 85 miles the wrong direction down the interstate, while the hot stares of your fellow musicians get hotter.

Oh, the superlative experience of your majestic freedom or expression in a rock and roll band!



The execrable stuff had lurked malevolently on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator for over five months and three band parties ago. Abomination in the world of alcoholic beverages, its presence had spurred the creation of a drink rider on all our party invites since. "If you like really good beer, great, bring it on in, if you like crappy beer don’t worry we have loads left over from the last soiree." Mexican beer, bad Mexican beer, with lime juice and sugar added. That’s Tequiza for you. Pray it never crawls with the cactus meal worms it was begat from across the Atlantic.

Now, at 7:30am on a fuzzy Saturday morning, with 9 gallons of champagne punch, a barrel of Samuel Adams, a barrel of Red Hook ESB, and five bands, all totally drained, I finally saw the chance I’d been waiting for. Wreckin’ Ball, Chicago’s only pschyo-billy band, had turned up after closing Tai’s 4am Lounge, and had drained the booze they’d brought. Surely these self-avowed manic alcoholics would drink this stuff. Surely!

Joe Tozer 6’4" owner of the Lyon’s Den had just arrived to find nothing left of the keg of beer he had donated for the cause (since the first time we walked into his club to play with about 100 happy partiers he has been a jolly, actively participating sponsor of our somewhat legendary soirees) and was standing nearby after an impromptu trumpet solo in our cellar (first time he’d "played" trumpet). I kept him happy with a secret supply of Bass Ale while we tried to persuade Wreckin’ Ball’s crew to lance once and for all our cursed carbuncle of bad booze. They weren’t having any of that.

"Where’ the punch man, where’s the punch dude? We’re heard the punch was awesome dude, so where’s the punch?"

I was about to tell this chain-jangling tattooed black leathered spiky lot that party time was over, when Joe lent over and whispered in my shell like a simple equation;

"Punch = Tequiza. Tequiza = punch."

Worked like a charm – twelve bottles of fizzy sweet lime flavoured beer shook up in a plastic demijohn and dispensed in five plastic cups. They never knew.

And what a party it had been. The pop rock band Gertrude had opened up the proceedings with a wonderful 45 minutes of all originals starting at about 9.15pm. Then The Almighty Rogers leapt into the fray until around 11pm with instrumental 60’s soul ala Willie Mitchell, Booker T, Eddy Harris, and 70’s soul from the realm of Meter’s supreme Louisiana funk. Closed the house at 11:30pm for the gig four blocks away with The Convulsions. The place jumped and crackled until 1:45am and then it was back to the house with a ride in Holly’s hearse laced with jars of Holly’s cherry bombs for another Almighty Roger’s set with the in-cellar Hammond organ blazing through the PA until 4am. Then it was DJ time. A lot of Motown, swing, jump-jive, Parliament, Maceo Parker, James Brown and of course 50’s rock and roll until around 6:30am.

It’s amazing what you can cram into one night when the pubs close at a reasonable time, and the neighbours don’t complain. Actually, saying that, there was one complaint last summer. The police knocked on our door at about 9:30am, a few hours after the soiree had ended, to point out that the fellow who had passed out face down on our front lawn was not quite clad around the, now sun burnt, lunar parts of his anatomy and this was causing a little consternation to families on they’re way to Mass at St. Benedict’s Catholic church.

© Ben Ruth 22nd April 2000


Puerto Rico

Even the music in the taxi was brilliant.

"I used to play with "Puppy" Santiago six years ago" the driver, one Roberto Marrero, explained.

"And he’s played with the musician you hear now."

We both listened to Eddie Palmieri, Cuban pianist extrodinaire, on the cab’s stereo while crawling with half of Puerto Rico’s car owning population of three million into the fortress town of Old San Juan for a Saturday night of music.

Roberto stopped in the middle of the street outside of the club, and continued to chat about his previous life as a percussionist. Five cars backed up behind us, but no one honked their horn – it appears the population of this car crowded part of Puerto Rico will honk at anything except the quite acceptable behaviour of stopping in the middle of the street.

A determination to sit in with an all Cuban band, to feel actinic sunshine scorch off Chicago winter malaise (the spring has been crap here, up until now), visit my friends who live in Guaynabo just outside of San Juan, and to check out a job opportunity, all seemed damn good reasons to be here. And this Saturday night I had an invitation to sit in with an all Cuban band at a club called "Rhumba" (Cuban Spanish for "Shindig with percussion"). A dream about to come true.

"Puppy" recognized me (he was on break), and sure enough ten minutes later I was jamming with a group of phenomenal musicians; two percussionists, a guitarist, a flutist (who doubled on marimba), and a stand-up bassist, who between them rocked out the Cuban folk music. A sumptuous but hard, hard edged, blend of rhythms – blisteringly, really blisteringly tight with Tsunami changes and a percussive crunch that thundered like a juggernaut road race. And this is folk music! It rocked harder than Black Sabbath. I hung on for all I was worth – carried to a place of riffs and lines I never knew existed but must have always been inside. Now the way was illuminated! This band’s presence was ripping the notes and percussion out of me and my body was wracked with the pain of an extraordinary, and ecstatic explosion of music I just wasn’t physically prepared for! They were that bloody good! When the lead percussionist and I went head to head for two full breakneck minutes of staccato changes I really thought a heart attack was imminent.

A few folks who read this may be familiar with The Buena Vista Social Club, an album of Cuban musicians that was put together by a curious and dedicated American guitarist, Ry Cooder, and which has woken the world outside of Cuba to a marvelous music. "Puppy’s" band played a couple of tracks from that first album, but mainly their own interpretations of other songs – all were up tempo, and played with unbelievable stamina (I thought our band was high energy – this band put that claim to shame). And the coolest thing of all? This club in the heart of beautiful, and fashionable, old San Juan was packed with students – most of whom were dancing like dervishes. This is folk music, not house, or hip-hop, or rap. And the kids were eating it up! Bugger! I’m moving there!!

The following Wednesday, I’d been invited to play at La Querencia (100 Cruz) after the owner heard me playing traditional Puerto Rican "Plano" music at a hole in the wall called "Hijos de Borinquen" (which means "sons of the natives" who, incidentally, were wiped out under slavery during Columbus’s search for gold on the island - gold never existed in Puerto Rico). A strange experience playing solo harmonica to people eating, but it went down well (I was unfortunately paid in drinks and have only recently recovered the ability to look at a rum bottle without barfing). During a break I strolled over to Fusion and the Parrot Club just above the port. Nothing going on, so strolled north toward some rather loud music. Turns out a band, replete with horn section, had just set up on a side street with about 300 onlookers. And they were marvelous too. Great music on this island! And the musicians are so relaxed about it all. All you have to do is walk up, show your organ and you’re off!

There’s even music in the bat caves! In the Karst scenery about 50 miles southwest of San Juan where sheer canyons of 2000 feet are pocked with caves (my friend knew a remarkable field biologist who works for the US Fish and Wildlife Agency who took us out there) where 300,000 bat’s body heat keep their roost at a constant 96F. When they leave to forage you can hear the music of their wings and feel the breeze of their passing. Meantime boa constrictors hang outside the cave mouths hoping for a bat snack and thousands of fireflies dance their mating rituals (insect eating bats don’t eat fireflies), while cicadas deafen, and tarantulas creep across the leaf litter.

The women, of course, are musical too. They are so beautiful. They walk as if they are dancing. It makes you weep (me at least, they would have nothing to do with me – just not the hulking latin dancing, latin look, Spanish speaking smooth Lothario with lots of dosh I guess). However, back to the music.

With the encouragement of many of the Cuban musicians I met there, I have no rush to revoke British Citizenship. Afterall, it’s a pain in the arse to go to Cuba if you’re American – a must see next stop for island music.


Good King Wenceslas – bunny wearing, slave driving, wenching tyrant.

Richard Morrison of The London Times recently asked readers the following question of the Christmas Carol, Good King Wenceslas:

"Why was yonder peasant collecting wood outside of the Good King’s abode, if, as the page related, the peasant lived against the forest gate – why not collect wood from the forest instead of enduring what appears to have been Bohemia’s worst middle age winter and travelling "a good league hence" to scratch around the castle grounds?"

To whit, the band’s reply;

Although the conundrum of the wood-collecting peasant who lives near a forest is actually highly divisive, and has caused major European wars – first, there is the big question of the sanity of the saint himself.

Good King Wenceslas was neither a king (more of a duke circa C10 actually), nor a saint. He was, in all probability, a bunny skinning, slave driving, wenching, tyrant and petty overlord who’s one redeeming quality was a desire to thaw and warm the cockles of cavorting naked women looking for a good husband.

He was not mad, simply a man of his times trying to keep up with the Holy Roman Empires’ continuing war on paganism during the middle dark ages.

The carol explains it all (well, hints at most of it). Our good King doesn’t really get excited about the antics of the mendicant scrabbling outside the castle walls until the page mentions the peasant’s abode as situated near St. Agnes Fountain.

"St. Agnes! Of course! This bloody Feast of Stephen nonsense had me totally confused! Oh, buggering badgers, what’s the time? Ahh, they’ve already started! It’s late! Quick, get some victuals, wine, and blazing faggots by blazers, we’ve got to go!!"

As most folks interested in medieval ecclesiastical history will know, the Feast of Stephen was an awkward attempt by the Holy Roman Empire to cover up an ancient Celtic pagan ritual where unwed women "performed certain rituals to divine the identity of their future husbands". Such rituals were usually performed around January 20th, in heated fountains if you could find them, and with none of the usual impediments of the burlap nettle weave turnip carrier that doubled as clothing in those ancestral pre-Versace days. A saint with a less than erotic moniker – St. Agnes the Ugly - was first created by the church to hopefully eclipse the naughtiness that was associated with this particular event. Unfortunately for the clerics in Constantinople, the Bohemians who had a penchant for heated fountains, wine, and naked naughtiness, were not too bothered about names for their good times. They just carried on the pagan rituals and made fabulous sauna like use of the natural hot springs around the Augustine retreat around Wenceslas’ castle when they erected a large all year round fountain at the hot springs in Wenceslavania. The church tried a third time to disrepute this event, somewhere around 930 AD, and renamed the whole thing the Feast of Stephen after a very large hog rearing orchard owning prelate. All this served to do was to help start the massive fad of apple stuffed boar’s head’s.

The page may have thought the wine, food, and wood was for the peasant. Not at all! Our lecherous pseudo divinity was simply in a hurry to follow the peasant to the fountain, and lord it over, and help thaw out, the large group of single ladies who would be cavorting at St. Agnes Fountain that night. Also, mulled wine pungently flavoured with some of the resin from the pine logs his page was burdening would help make a form of retsina thought by Diane worshipping Ancient Greeks to arouse the passions of snow exposed naked ladies looking for a husband. Maybe a polygamous husband in this case.

And look at the hypocrisy associated with his apparent saintly act apparent in the whole footstep shenanigan!

"Tread gently in my warm footsteps you lazy, good for nothing blighter and get a move on for goodness sake will you! The ladies are waiting!"

Were the kindly king’s actual words. The flesh the page carried was of two snowshoe hares freshly slaughtered so the King could wear the warm pelts on his feet. Of course the "king’s" footprints were relatively warm, but the page still lost several toes to frostbite because Bohemian pages, serfs, slaves, call them what you will, did not have the luxury of footwear in those days, nor for several centuries hence. So much for his master’s incredibly magnanimous gesture! The page was sacked shortly after for being too slow on his feet now that he only had part of them left to hobble around on.

But what about the collecting of fuel outside the castle when the peasant lived right next to a forest? There is a game played in Czechoslovakia that resembles Call My Bluff, and is called "Guess Which Fence the Peasant Lived Under". This is also where the wars have started from.

There were at least three forest fences – and it has never been absolutely decided which one the serf lived by. One thing is certain, none of them afforded simple firewood collection.

The first fence never surrounded a forest, but instead a foris, a large extant of "outside" land used by Emperor Augustine himself during forays to the hot springs to improve his constitution and good humour – especially during the restorative pagan spectacles around January 20th. This fence was in fact a wall, and had long been breached in order to build the spectacular St. Agnes Fountain.

Maybe the Fright of Skulls -this was a very high and scary fence. The history of the fence goes back to a small band of Moguls who fled Genghis Khan’s empire shortly after the Great Mogul’s death. They built a wall at the western extent of their fledgling empire that incorporated the skulls of victims they had murdered and ate during their flight. This was grisly enough to keep most people out of the enclave, even though the original invaders developed an ardent taste for honey, making daisy chains, bathing in the hot springs, and all succumbed to a rare form of hot spring amoebic meningitis (or bumble bee botulism). The doomed inhabitants crawled away from the springs and into a tract of land now surrounded by the last fence.

The last fence surrounds a forest that did not exist at the time of the St. Agnes Fountain heydays. A now extinct carnivorous tree related to the oak had existed there for centuries until succumbing to QSP (Quercus Spongiform Phellodermititus) – a crippling disease that results in the shuddering off of bark, and falling apart of the heart wood after the uptake of the decomposition products of cannibalistic human remains. The resulting mulch is not much good for firewood.


New Orleans and Baton Rouge (pts. 1 and 2)

There is no place I every wanted to visit, growing up in England as I did yearningly listening to blues records, more than New Orleans: a mystic place blending a turbulent, decadent history with black cat bones, mojo hands, and the birth of blues and jazz.

My dreams of living and playing in the crescent city became a little closer to reality when I was finally accepted at Penn State University, in early 1989, as a graduate student in biology. At Penn State, I found out that I was expected to spend all my time (summers too) working on my degree (a Ph.D. on the "Visible polymorphism of the outer egg mass jelly layers of the spotted salamander, Ambystoma maculatum"). I candidly told my academic advisor that if he could not pay me over the summer (my assistantship extended only over regular term-time), that I would be better off playing harmonica on a street corner in the French Quarter of New Orleans. This went down not at all well.

However, that is what I did that summer (and for one hour busking outside the Jazz Heritage Hall I made a whopping $3.50, while breaking two harmonicas).

I hope all you fellow musicians who, just like me, have wanted to go to New Orleans are not too upset with my impressions of that once great musical port city.

For starters, New Orleans smells. Not of dew dripping Spanish Moss, and moldering timber frames, not of okra and lotus blossoms, not even of the pungency of Creole cooking. No, it stinks of piss and spilled beer, of fast food regurgitations and bursting sewers. The beggars are blatantly hostile, angry and mean. The restaurants serve seafood deep fried and straight out of the freezers of chain supermarkets. The blues bands I saw, bar one, were awful, the jazz was largely lame. The streets were packed with rampaging youths arseholed on go-cups of shitty beer, vomiting and urinating in the streets.

Hooray for the French Quarter of New Orleans! Now the only place in the continental U.S. where it is still legal to carry a beer onto the streets all year round. "Open container laws" everywhere else in the States have destroyed the culture of this once great city. It was, and largely remains, an appalling parody of my greatest expectations. New Orleans is not what it used to be. Its blaggard charm is hard to find, its great music is hard to find, its marvelous cuisine is unbelievably hard to find ("Mother's" off St. Charles, a 24 hour rail-car po-boy sandwich emporium with it's dripping spit roasts is a wonderfully delicious exception - though you have to ask a cabbie to find it).

N'awlin's tourist industry is geared to college drunks and conference goers who think drinking Pat O'Brian's Hurrincanes (they're AWFUL by the way) out in the streets and to vomiting excess is cool.

Again, the music was let down after let down:

I saw Irma Thomas playing at an outdoor street fair with a band as far removed from her roots as the RnB of Anita Baker is from the Coasters. There she is whining on the microphone about tourists who are videotaping the show making it hard for her to make it in the music business. For Chrissakes, the band was as exciting as linoleum - you would have had to pay me to record it!

A fellow Englishman staying at the Youth Hostel was shot at in the French Quarter. That was it. I packed my rucksack and left the colossal roach ranch. I had stayed only three days in the city that had been a dream of musical adventure for over ten years. Now I was going to hitch-hike north up Highway 61, following the route the music had taken so many years before, and with maybe a new understanding of why.

First stop on the route was to be Baton Rouge. After the violent mendicacy of N'awlins gave me concern for my safety, I postponed the hitch-hike for this part of the trip and bussed the 77 miles north of New Orleans instead. On arrival, and without hesitation, I headed towards the location of Tabby Thomas' Famous Blues and Jazz Heritage Hall on North Avenue: a street decidedly architecturally down-beat. Derelict actually. A ghetto really. I mean worse than Barnsley on a rainy day.

Then I heard it! A faint sound of electric blues guitar drifting over the dusty pot-holed street. This was too good! The scene looked like a blues movie - if any decent ones truly existed. As I followed the sound into the setting sun and 90 degree heat the dereliction increased, surely this "world famous place" must be like a beacon amidst this squalor - I mean I could hear the guitar! Then, just as I was passing a particularly mean broken up old warehouse with bars on the windows, I saw my goal 500 yards away.

The building was magnificent. Neons arched over the gateway of a huge black door. I picked up my pace. I noticed that the guitar was sounding fainter as I hurried on. Nevertheless hurry on I did. My expectations this time apparently on the ball. I looked the building over several times, too numb really to believe what I'd found.

It was a Hip-hop Palace.

A huge place, almost as blasphemous as a gleaming white church in the grinding poverty of rural West Virginia. A costly piece of black exploitation dedicated to the music most popular then in the urban ghettos of America. It was no blues hall. I back tracked.

What a fool! I had imagined that it was Tabby Thomas himself who had been playing that guitar. As he warmed up in his "World Famous" club, early on that Wednesday evening he and I would meet across a vast cultural difference to be united in music, as has happened on so many occasions before. That night I would be hired in his band. The band would boogie swamp blues throughout the U.S and I would never again remember another life involving the egg mass jelly of salamanders.

Well bugger that, it was obvious that my directions were quite wrong. I was passing by the small rusted iron door of the decrepit warehouse, dusty, hot, disappointed, when I realized the guitar was coming from inside the warehouse. Sure enough, in chipping white paint above the door was the legend: "Tabby Thomas' Blues and Jazz Heritage Hall"! I walked inside. Before my eyes could adjust I could smell the stale beer, mingled with a gentle smell of sawdust and old, old, old hardwood. On a wood stool on a black painted wooden stage, sat Tabby Thomas, tugging gently fluid blues notes from a Fender Strat. (To be continued)

New Orleans and Baton Rouge (pt. II)

The guitarman on the stool, proprietor and owner of Tabby Thomas' Blues Heritage Hall declined my offer to play harmonica with him. He then proceeded to exhort at some length how you could only play blues if you'd been brought up a cotton picker, slaving long back bending hours in the hot Mississippi sun. Strolling over to the Juke Box he pointed to a signed photograph of Sonny Boy Williamson II (aka Rice Miller),.

"All these guys on these walls have played in this place."

It was an impressive statement. It was an impressive photo gallery. As the strains of Sonny Boy's "Help Me" percolated through the dust mottled air it occurred to me that it might be true. After all, it was also an impressive Juke Box, and I'm sure it got a lot of playing.

The phone behind the bar rang. Tabby Thomas reached over to answer it.

"Yes, Steve, I got you the drummer, yes the guy's fine, I've also got a t'wfic harmonica player just arrived in town from London. Yeah, the cats really good - like Harmonica Red."

Did he mean me? Surely not. Tabby Thomas hadn't even heard me play. Who was "Harmonica Red"?

"You'll like Steve, just come over from Spain. He's looking for Slim Harpo's grave to finish writing an article for "Living Blues" magazine. This new guy he's found though, needed a drummer. I told him you would like to play harmonica with him too. You can play, right?"

So there it was. A gig. Not just any gig, but a gig in a bona fide blues club in the deep, deep south, all lined up without an audition!

Imagine my surprise when Steve Coleridge turns out to be a bass playing tax evader from Sussex who moved to Spain to get away from the IRS, fell in with a gorgeous gypsy called Andrea (Andrea played a hollow body 1964 Gibson - I still have a tape somewhere of us both playing one of her songs) and then came to the States so they could be closer to the blues.

And what a gig! We played Slim Harpo. We played Jimmy Reed. Muddy Waters. Little Junior Parker and Bobby Blue Bland. We played some stuff I'd never heard before. But we played all blues and RnB (not one hip-hop song in the set). The band burned. After one and a half hours even I was thinking of a break. There was no break.

We played for four and a half hours straight until the lights came on.

Now it was pay time. When it was the turn of the "hot harmonica player from London", I received a whopping $7.50. Not much more than the $3.50 I'd made busking in New Orleans a few days before. Steve gave as much as he could to the musicians he'd discovered in Baton Rouge, many of whom had little means. What he gave me was what he gave himself.

I spent ten days in Baton Rouge, mostly at Steve and Andrea's place. We played every night. Either in the band I'd played in that first night, or Clarence Edward's group, or sometimes a zydeco band called "Short Fuse" fronted by Rudy Richard on accordian. One of Slim Harpo's lead guitarists, Rudy was a cheerful player who's only regret was that he'd received virtually no recognition as one of Slim Harppo's sidemen. On the few nights we didn't have a gig there was always an open blues jam somewhere in Baton Rouge. Baton Rouge (Exxon plant aside) was beautiful and lazy.

Most days I would get up around 11am, head down to the corner store, buy a 6 pack of Abita Amber Ale, half a pound of cheese, and a loaf of french bread, and head out to the Louisiana State University lake where I would catch 10, or more, channel catfish (on the cheese). We had catfish dinner every night. I found a great recipe on the back of a packet of cornmeal (marinate the catfish fillets in milk, vinegar, and baking soda, rub the fillets with mustard then coat with cornmeal mixed with chili powder and paprika. Pan fry until golden. Yummy!).

Baton Rouge was so lush, humid and fragrant. Here was the Spanish moss dripping from oak trees with branches that bowed down to the ground and then up again. Cyprus trees looming prehistorically out of the bayous, magic places charmed with lotus blossoms like perfect kisses. Okra flowers, vines, and fruits in abundance. And heat, heat, heat. The heat that drips you in the morning, burns you in the day and cloaks you at night. Heat and night noise! If you walked out to the woods at nihgt it was so loud it eclipsed the music coming from the club. Ululating amphibian, insect roar.

The Turning Point. This was a gig that Steve was very excited about. Used to be the place where Buddy Guy first made his mark as a Baton Rouge guitarist. We played their two nights with Clarence Edwards. The first night Mr. Edwards was Muddy Waters. I have never had such an eerie experience - suddenly feeling closer to Junior Wells and Little Walter as never before. We played on the red carpet of a bar no bigger than most folk's living room. The entire night I had goose bumps but there was no A/C. A Hells Angel couple in their 40's saw Steve and I hanging outside the club and pulled up on their Harley to inquire if there was a band playing. When they found out that it was a black neighbourhood they were somewhat hesitant. By the end of the night they were dancing with everyone else. The night finished with the four Neal brothers doing an a capella harmonica rendition of Jimmy Reed's "Honest I Do" (later that year Kenny Neal got signed with Alligator Records and released "Bayou Lightning" - in my mind a sadly, but typically, over produced soulless blues record that was thousands of miles from Baton Rough).

I've never come across a place that worshipped the blues quite as much as Baton Rouge. Jimmy Reed and Slim Harpo are revered in the music there every night. In ten days it won a place in my heart and a constant yearn to return. Bottom line, however, was that I was making very little money, spending more than I made, and I still had Memphis, St. Louis, and Kansas City to explore.

A year later, I did return though, and even toured with Steve's two bands for two weeks through Mississippi, Alabama, and even New Orleans (where I met Eric Burdon, a personal hero of mine, at The Maple Leaf club, but of course didn't realize until later). I never found out if Steve finally found Slim Harpo's grave. He went on to form a Record Label, produce several albums (e.g. Clarence Edward's, "Swamps The Word", and Short Fuses', "Sting It"), and play in virtually every blues club in the U.S.A before the Immigration Naturalization Service finally caught up with him, and tossed him out.

I would love to know where they both are.