Taking Time Off to be a Big
Shot in the Movies (Feb.
Had to take a “personal day” off of
work last week to catch up on stuff all because
of unanticipated base sex based complications.
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.
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.
the Road Trip” by all accounts features
a soundtrack of some 20 US acts of which ours
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
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).
a porno. A bunch of people shagging across the
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).
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.
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 www.adventuresex.com
by the way- ha ha ha!)
was a trailer which I attempted to open. It crashed
all my work with it.
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.
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").
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.
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
Have Their Revenge (Feb. 1st 2005)
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.
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
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.
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
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.
to find that the parking bandits had come out
in force in my neighbourhood.
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
the Light Fantastic (Jan.
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.
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.
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).
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!
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).
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.
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
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.
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.
Happy New Year to one and all, and we'll see you
Never Can Tell
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”
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!
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
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,
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,
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!?
Drive Thru Bar - Not a Good Concept for the John
O'Gaunt (Dec. 1st, 2004)
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.
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.
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.
there you are! - Good night. "BEEE---ELLLCHH!"
I should say something about Chicago before signing
off for a while:
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.
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:
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.
the top of the print-out of the picture with the
car wedged in the door is the biro scrawled legend:
other news from the States?
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.
take her order.
loved that one, had to share, and it's absolutely
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.
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!
Chicago Avenue: Black Squirrels, Grey Squirrels,
White Squirrels (Sept. 1st, 2004)
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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."
of course, was in the white squirrel neighbourhood
east of where the blue globes keep watch.
Lyons' Den: End of An Era (Aug. 3rd, 2004)
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!)
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).
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.
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 www.katerinas.com).
other news: The Peril of Sweat:
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
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
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.
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.
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.
and see you in October!! Ben
An Email To The Fans (May 24th, 2004)
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
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!!"
England - one night only
with Special Guests!
Lee's Unleaded Blues
7401 S. Chicago Ave.
Tues JUNE 1st
8pm - 1am
NO COVER - EVER
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!
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)
Miles to the Gallon (June 20th, 2004)
miles to the gallon, 12 cylinders, engine capacity
about 9 litres and a hood like an upturned boat.
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.
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.
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.
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 . . .
finished the night with rib tips and doughnuts
and everyone collapsed on the opera singer's floor!
we hadn't even played a gig yet! This was Stan
"Sarge" Davis' way of promoting our
Tuesday show at his club.
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 http://www.joeff.com 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
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 http://www.bluesimages.co.uk 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
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'
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.
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.
- 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!)
Chicago Reader Rock Critic and the Myth of Chicago's
Southside Gets Blown Away - Maybe (April
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)
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
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
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
And now one of these Underground Literary Alliance
polemicists has been emailing me about a story
to publish in the Chicago Reader?
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)
apologize for my lateness, but my boyfriend was
having girlfriend problems."
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.
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
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)
soothe, south side - charming and friendly like
your Madison, Wisconsin haunts.
if only we can get your editor down there, maybe
the story will run!
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
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
Bus / Blues Intrigue - The Story of "Killer"
Ray Allinson (March 31st, 2004)
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.
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.
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
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.
horrible words fell out of my mouth before I was
even aware they were there:
maybe you should lose some weight."
was a palpable pause, and a chill in the fetid
angry bus atmosphere as inaudible gasps turned
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.
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.
CTA Bus 66 and the flatulant zombies who ride
in her fetid carcass!.
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.
he disappeared, only to show up four years later
playing guitar at the Cotton Club. What, no drums?
won't drum anymore. And the reasons raise more
questions than answers.
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)
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.
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
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),
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.
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.
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
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.
taste was one thousand times worse than the smell.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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
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.
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.
Tales (Dec. 12th, 2003)
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.
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.
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
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:
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
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.
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).
it may be summer soon enough, I'll give these
folks one more season in the sun.
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!
from Chicago, Ben
Jello Wrestling and Frankie Goes to Hollywood
(Oct. 3rd, 2003)
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:
Women Jell-O Wrestling / Frankie Goes To Hollywood
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.
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org):
1. Production of progeny from a Lapland niece/nephew
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.
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.
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
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!
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
Purple (July 27th, 2003)
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.
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:
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
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,
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!!
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
8-Aug-03. The Convulsions, Mariners, Bowness:
A high energy rocking set for the bikers!
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.
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,
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
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
3rd Annual Chicago Music Explosion Showcase at
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
Saturday Night That Shouldn't (July 25th,
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).
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
they did, and as the American phrase goes, "Dude,
they totally sucked ASS!"
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.
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.
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
Night That Wasn't (April 27th, 2003)
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!)
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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?)
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.
Unwrap a 30 times wound sodden frozen bootlace
from around the right pedal's swindle.
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.
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).
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).
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.
of folks in the USA confuse thirst for hunger.
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.
could walk out into the sea with gill nets in
Felixstowe in the 1930's and catch herring. Hundreds
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.
worldly demands are so disparate in fishy manners.
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
you were in the past and how you behave in the
future are very fishy things.
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.
Hussein Proclaims Iraq a Christian State (article
for "Cock-a-Snook" in the Pink Squirrel,
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!!"
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.
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.
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.
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;
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.
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!!!
Peoples in The Great Land of the Free and Incarcerated
has conveyances, no matter how humble, that would
serve me, their master the best!"
- the apparition said to the Galactic Overlord
in Waiting -
ME and SET YOUR PEOPLE FREE - FOR EVERY IRAQI
A CHRISTIAN BLESSED BRAND NEW SPANKING . . . .
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.
band played until the band couldn't play anymore
and the dancers couldn't dance anymore.
So naughty! Names and locations withheld to protect
the criminal from the Dance Puritans.
and I twisted to music we made up a capella on
the bar stools
the crumpet had left. Sensibly so I guess.
lifelike motif of Jimi Hendrick's and his guitar
on the wall behind the stage was moving too by
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
went to bed leaving us on the hard cold floorboard.
Sensibly so I guess.
there was the table dancing, stool prancing, Cuban
rum pouring, lass dancing on the table on your
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
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!"
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
the women left, sensibly I guess.
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.
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
for the interlude - the Bush speech tonight kinda
triggered a delayed response to my otherwise jolly
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).
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.
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).
I start this off entitled "Ship Of Fools"?
I guess I did. Boy, do you remember getting shanghaied,
of Fancy" (Jan. 20, 2003)
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!"
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
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.
has stopped giving free drinks on international
flights, so hang them too.
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.
Airways - more like "Baggage Away ways".
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).
- 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
my friend working in First Class fly fishes, do
you mind if I invite her over to chat with you?"
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.
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.
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.
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
9/1/02 Thur. Lancaster Ring Of Bells 52 King St,
MONDAY NIGHT MUSIC (Mar. 24, 2000)
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 Paddys
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 Lyons 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 cant see some terrific
example, Monday nights in Chicago you have the
high energy funkadelic sounds of the Robert Cornelius
Band at Schubas (one of the singers for
Poi Dog Pondering), The Whisky Hollow Bluegrass
band at the Hopcat Brewery, Chicagos best
known blues jam at Buddy Guys Legends,
and the dulcet tones of the Patricia Barber Quartet
at Al Capones old speakeasy, The Green Mill.
These events all take place in venues well equipped
for the thirsty.
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?
look at my date and shes biting her bottom
lip. Weve downed three cups of coffee in
15 minutes. Im biting my bottom lip too
and its trembling to let go. Each
performance is 5 minutes of eternity taped for
a media event entitled "Chicagos Song
Writers Showcase". Ive 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 hippies 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.
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 couldnt 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 Id 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).
Id 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
know a really good band at Schubas. Honest!"
After that I need some wine. Why dont you
let me take you somewhere instead?"
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.
walk in, and theres a band playing!
vocal reworking of Eddy Harris "Sidewinder".
Marvelous! The wines terrific too! The place
even has coffee.
Ben Ruth 23rd March 2000
GONE AWRY (a sad selection of mayhem spanning
2000 to 2002)
gigs are just fine, some are bloody marvelous.
However, along with the really good ones its
the crap ones that often stays in your brain with
greater alacrity and refusal to leave than any
euphoria laiden musical ecstasy pleasure ride.
Girl Who Wanted to Rock
It was one of our worst shows ever. The clubs
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 couldnt 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?"
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!"
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 wasnt
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
weve 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 didnt have a girl friend
at the time and so wasnt totally unattracted
to the idea of this girls erudite invitation.
I really didnt 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 girls 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 shouldve avoided mixing
cocaine with sound, and conversation to a pissed
off musician, but I didnt. The club never
booked us again.
Bloody Mustard Incident at BW3
Now I dont 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.
of a harmonica solo, in walks a very drunk, 66"
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 Im 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
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.
had to sub our great bass player with a local
record label owner whos 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.
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.
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
was a critic from one of Chicagos 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 didnt even stay to say hello
and the Large Bruise on the Bonce
As long as Im 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 hadnt
actually told my boss I was going to quit, and
I hadnt 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
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
Scotts guitar neck. Head first. Clunk! The
band played on and after a momentary black out
I was able to join them.
a wallop on the cheekbone can be very useful if
youre too hung over to go to work. It didnt
hurt much at all but it was a priceless work of
pastille bruise shades. Realizing the opportunity,
and knowing full well I wasnt going to hand
in my notice just yet, I called my companys
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.
Telephone Kiosk Groin Wrencher Table Buster
Jacks, a pleasant place to eat and play.
Sometimes. On this particular night last winter,
our encore number of Bo Diddleys "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 bands last crashing crescendo at which
I fall to the ground. Trouble was, the back room
of Jacks 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. Its 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 didnt 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.
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.
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 wed worked very hard to canvas,
reasons enough for the added exuberance of the
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 thats when I noticed the draught.
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.
We played a gig at a bars outdoor festival
in Moline, and then got stiffed because it opened
on the same day as the city of Molines 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 audiences approval
we pulled that one off. The club owner stiffed
us anyway because;
didnt start with a complete band".
times we have arrived at a venue to find another
band set up (Subterrranean, Hidden Shamrock twice).
Theres showing up to find the bar is closed
(Czar Bar, Sam & Joes). 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).
Theres the sound guy who used to work at
a heavy metal club: he turns up the band on the
main mix, the neighbors 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).
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 cant plug in anymore. Outdoor gigs
180 miles away, incorrectly sign posted so you
drive around, arrive two minutes late and theyve
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.
the superlative experience of your majestic freedom
or expression in a rock and roll band!
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 dont worry we have loads left
over from the last soiree." Mexican beer,
bad Mexican beer, with lime juice and sugar added.
Thats Tequiza for you. Pray it never crawls
with the cactus meal worms it was begat from across
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
Id been waiting for. Wreckin Ball,
Chicagos only pschyo-billy band, had turned
up after closing Tais 4am Lounge, and had
drained the booze theyd brought. Surely
these self-avowed manic alcoholics would drink
this stuff. Surely!
Tozer 64" owner of the Lyons
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 hed "played" trumpet). I
kept him happy with a secret supply of Bass Ale
while we tried to persuade Wreckin Balls
crew to lance once and for all our cursed carbuncle
of bad booze. They werent having any of
the punch man, wheres the punch dude? Were
heard the punch was awesome dude, so wheres
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;
= Tequiza. Tequiza = punch."
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
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 60s
soul ala Willie Mitchell, Booker T, Eddy Harris,
and 70s soul from the realm of Meters
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 Hollys
hearse laced with jars of Hollys cherry
bombs for another Almighty Rogers 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 50s rock and roll until
amazing what you can cram into one night when
the pubs close at a reasonable time, and the neighbours
dont 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 theyre
way to Mass at St. Benedicts Catholic church.
Ben Ruth 22nd April 2000
the music in the taxi was brilliant.
used to play with "Puppy" Santiago six
years ago" the driver, one Roberto Marrero,
hes played with the musician you hear now."
both listened to Eddie Palmieri, Cuban pianist
extrodinaire, on the cabs stereo while crawling
with half of Puerto Ricos car owning population
of three million into the fortress town of Old
San Juan for a Saturday night of music.
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.
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.
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 bands
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 wasnt 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.
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.
"Puppys" 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!
Im moving there!!
following Wednesday, Id 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 Columbuss 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 youre off!
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 bats 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
dont eat fireflies), while cicadas deafen,
and tarantulas creep across the leaf litter.
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
the encouragement of many of the Cuban musicians
I met there, I have no rush to revoke British
Citizenship. Afterall, its a pain in the
arse to go to Cuba if youre American
a must see next stop for island music.
King Wenceslas bunny wearing, slave driving,
Morrison of The London Times recently asked readers
the following question of the Christmas Carol,
Good King Wenceslas:
was yonder peasant collecting wood outside of
the Good Kings 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 Bohemias
worst middle age winter and travelling "a
good league hence" to scratch around the
whit, the bands reply;
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
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 whos
one redeeming quality was a desire to thaw and
warm the cockles of cavorting naked women looking
for a good husband.
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.
carol explains it all (well, hints at most of
it). Our good King doesnt really get excited
about the antics of the mendicant scrabbling outside
the castle walls until the page mentions the peasants
abode as situated near St. Agnes Fountain.
Agnes! Of course! This bloody Feast of Stephen
nonsense had me totally confused! Oh, buggering
badgers, whats the time? Ahh, theyve
already started! Its late! Quick, get some
victuals, wine, and blazing faggots by blazers,
weve got to go!!"
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
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.
look at the hypocrisy associated with his apparent
saintly act apparent in the whole footstep shenanigan!
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!"
the kindly kings 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 "kings"
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 masters 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Khans
empire shortly after the Great Moguls 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.
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.
Orleans and Baton Rouge (pts. 1 and 2)
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.
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
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).
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.
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.
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
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.
the music was let down after let down:
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
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.
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.
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.
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
was a Hip-hop Palace.
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.
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.
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)
Orleans and Baton Rouge (pt. II)
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),.
these guys on these walls have played in this place."
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
phone behind the bar rang. Tabby Thomas reached over
to answer it.
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."
he mean me? Surely not. Tabby Thomas hadn't even heard
me play. Who was "Harmonica Red"?
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?"
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!
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.
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
played for four and a half hours straight until the
lights came on.
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.
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.
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!).
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.
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).
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.
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
would love to know where they both are.