Saturday, January 2, 2010

In Memorium: John Cephas

Cephas and Wiggins: Black Cat on the Line


The Piedmont is a region that stretches roughly from Richmond VA, south to Atlanta. More to the point, it is a style of blues native to this area, dating from before WWII. The Piedmont style is characterized by the guitar player playing a bass line with his thumb while playing the chords and solo lines with the rest of his hand. Well known players in this style included Blind Boy Fuller and Rev Gary Davis. But probably the best known performers of Piedmont Blues were the guitar and harmonica duo of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee.

Sonny and Brownie were active until the mid 60s, but in 1976 a new duo picked up where they had left off: John Cephas and Phil Wiggins. Cephas grew up in Washington DC, where many people from the Piedmont had resettled, and it was there that he learned the style. But Cephas always felt drawn to the country, and he was eventually able to move to Bowling Green.

Together, Cephas and Wiggins distinguished themselves with their ability to adapt classic blues tunes from other regions to the Piedmont Style. And Cephas also wrote new songs that were firmly in the Piedmont tradition, and sounded like they were old standards. Black Cat on the Line is one of these.

I hope that there are still musicians as talented as John Cephas to carry on the Piedmont blues tradition. It’s one of my favorite styles of blues, and I would hate to see it go.

In Memoriam: Vic Heyman/Sean LaRoche

Rachel Bissex: Just Like That


Denice Franke: Kindred Skin

[purchase] (on her Comfort CD)

I am weary of death - it has been a difficult year (major understatement)... and, in addition to my mother's passing, there have been a handful of others whose absence has shaken me mightily...

Two of those, while not musicians, were "movers and shakers" on the folk and acoustic music scene... and I was honored to call both of them friend - after I wrote, in my Eddy Arnold In Memoriam post last December 30, 2008, of my visit with Vic Heyman at his hospice bedside, Vic passed a week later... on January 6, 2009. His wife Reba has come back to South Florida for the winter, as usual, but it's still quite a shock to see her without him - a variety of articles have been compiled about Vic and, listening to Rachel's song about the couple, you'll get an inkling of how loved and respected he was...

Last April, Denice Franke performed in the UU church concert series I present - she's based in Texas and, having just gotten word that her former agent/forever friend Sean LaRoche was seriously ill in the Ocala area, she visited with him a few days before making it to South Florida. Soon after, he was admitted into a hospice program and passed away July 15 (4 days before my mom) - Denice sang and dedicated Kindred Skin to Sean at our concert, and she told me later that she had written it for him. He was a raucous, fun-loving, chain-smoking, heavy-drinking man whose spirit was as gentle as his voice was loud - he knew more about the music business than most people had forgotten, but the knowledge was always shared jovially, not pompously. He and I participated in a booking agent's panel together once, e-mailed regularly, talked on the phone sporadically and, one of his last work accomplishments was ensuring that John Gorka, who he represented, would play my series (the show will be next month... Saturday, February 13, 2010)...

These "folk angels" will be much missed - however, we can be comforted... knowing they are even now enjoying that great Song Circle in the Sky!

P.S. I had never heard of Scotland Barr before... but I feel as if I know him now after reading this moving piece by Lisa Lepine, who also managed Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer - as soon as I send this, I will listen to these songs intently... and then make a donation to the Finish the Album Fund, in memory of Vic and Sean (paying it forward... :-)

In Memoriam: Dewey Martin

Buffalo Springfield: For What It's Worth


Drummers often go unnoticed in the guitar-driven worlds of country rock and folk rock. But you know Dewey Martin's greatest hit - that steady, subtle bass-and-hi-hat heartbeat that kicks off the world's most recognizable war protest song, listed as #63 in Rolling Stone's The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. And Martin knew the cadence well, having lost a few months of his own early career to the US Army before serving as itinerant drummer for a variety of sixties performers, from Carl Perkins, Patsy Cline, and Roy Orbison to The Dillards and The Standells, going on release a few singles of his own, and, subsequently, joining Buffalo Springfield at its inception.

Martin died in January of last year, having spent much of his life as a well-respected session musician and Buffalo Springfield revivalist, though without the pop culture name recognition of his more famous bandmates Stephen Stills, Neil Young, Jim Messina, and Richie Furay. But thanks to countless Vietnam-era protest films, his beat will live on forever.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

In Memorium: Willy DeVille

Mink DeVille: Just to Walk That Little Girl Home


Willy DeVille had one of the most soulful voices ever, but far too few people ever got to hear it. He formed the group Mink DeVille in 1975, and made something of a splash at CBGBs in New York City. This was good for his career at first, but in the long run, his music never should have been associated with the punk scene. That was not what he was about.

The other thing that limited DeVille’s potential audience was the fact that he was a musical chameleon. His music had a foundation in R & B, but he stirred Cajun, salsa, and even French cabaret music into his musical stew. Late in his career, he performed with an acoustic trio. And he did not like to repeat himself. The thing is, many of the things he tried worked. And there was always that voice.

Mink Deville had a stable lineup for two albums. After that the lineup shifted constantly, until finally, Willy DeVille decided to continue his career under his own name. Whatever he called it, the music was always emotionally direct, and satisfying. I missed hearing some of his work. Now, unfortunately, I have time to get caught up.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

In Memoriam: Kenny Rankin

Kenny Rankin: Haven't We Met?


Kenny Rankin's album Silver Morning was released in 1974 - my then-boyfriend, now-husband and I were segueing to the next step of our college relationship, me still in school (my junior year) in Carrollton, Georgia and him in a post-graduate job with the Red Cross at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky. He would drive down to see me or I would take the bus up to see him... a 10+ hour round-trip journey of emotion: anticipation there... and heartbreak returning - we would alternate visits every three months... for two very long years...

We each had a copy of the album in our respective homes, and it was "our" music during that period of our courtship - for making love, for cuddling afterwards, for those special times when no words were required... Kenny's smooth voice and syncopated rhythms would serenade and soothe us. I knew nothing about him other than he had the power to make time stand still - he made us believe everything would be okay and we would eventually be together for life (and here we are 33 years later, but that's a whole other song... :-)

I never bothered to learn Kenny Rankin's backstory... and we didn't even invest in another one of his recordings (could it get any more magical?) - I only just found out about his June passing, because I was immersed in my mother's life transition this summer, and it feels as if I've lost a friend...

In Memoriam: Liam Clancy

Liam Clancy: Navvy Boots On


Originally the term 'navvy' was used for the navigators who were the men who first dug canals and performed inland navigation in Australia. Skilled at moving rock and earth by hand they were also known as excavators, bankers, diggers, and occasionally as pinchers, blue stockings, thick legs or bill boys tradesmen. They were considered an underclass of people who had their own style of dress and way of life that lasted from the mid-18th century to about the 1940s. The term, though not well known in the U.S. is still being used in the U.K. but with changed meaning: now used for a laborer,usually Irish. Because of that change, it has led many people to believe that all navvies were Irish but they were not. In fact most were English.

Liam Clancy was the youngest and the last surviving member of the original Clancy Brothers. He passed away on December 4, 2009. Regarded as the most powerful vocalist in the group, Bob Dylan regarded him as the greatest ballad singer ever. Tom Clancy died on November 7, 1990, Patrick Clancy died on November 11, 1998 and Tommy Makem died on August 1, 2007. Of his status as the last survivor of the band Liam said: “There was always a pecking order, especially when you’re working with family. But they all died off, and I got to the top of the pecking order, with nobody looking over my shoulder. There’s a great sense of freedom about that”

Being a huge fan of the Clancy Brothers and the Irish-Folk genre in general I was deeply saddened with his passing. Thankfully, they recorded enough music to keep me smiling through the sadness.

In Memoriam: John King

John King: Gavotte I and II (From J.S. Bach's Cello Suite No. 5, BWV 1101)


When John King passed away earlier this year, he left a gaping hole in the ukulele community. Though he only released two albums, John was a master of the tiny, four-stringed instrument, an author of numerous books, and a generous soul who often shared his extensive knowledge of the ukulele, classical guitar history, and Hawaiian music with anybody who asked, on various online forums and at ukulele festivals.

John was unique among ukulele players in that he played in a classical style known as campanella, originally developed in the early Baroque period for the five-course guitarra española, an early ancestor of the modern six-string guitar. Campanella involves playing each succeeding note of a melodic line on a different string, allowing each note to ring out with bell-like resonance, not unlike a harp. The results redefined what a ukulele could sound like.

Like all our featured artists this week, he will be missed.

In Memorium: Mary Travers

Peter Paul & Mary: Puff the Magic Dragon


I will get to Mary Travers, but first, let me set the scene.

In the late 1940s, there was a group of folk singers called the Almanac Singers. Members included Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie. Their songs were overtly political, and the group was destroyed by the blacklist. Seeger then formed the Weavers. The Weavers avoided political material, and enjoyed a few hits in the early 50s, but soon they too were blacklisted, and could no longer find work. But the Weavers showed that there was a sizable audience for the ensemble folk sound. The folk revival was in full swing, and soon the airwaves were filled with pop-folk groups. The songs were apolitical, and hit followed hit.

By 1961, Greenwich Village in New York City was a center of the folk scene. Mary Travers was one of the few who actually grew up there. That year, she joined up with Paul Stookey and Peter Yarrow to form Peter, Paul & Mary, and they began to play local gigs. The next year saw the release of their first album, which was an immediate success.

But Peter, Paul & Mary’s timing could have been better. The next year, the Beatles arrived in the United States, and the popularity of the pop-folk sound vanished. So how is it that Peter Paul & Mary did not? There were two reasons. Ironically, Peter, Paul & Mary stayed in the public eye by performing political material. They played at civil rights demonstrations, and then at peace marches, which is where I first heard them.

The other thing that kept them in the public eye was one song: Puff the Magic Dragon. This song became, (and still is), a classic kid’s song. The lyrics about the power and the limits of childhood imagination are certainly one reason. But the sound of these three voices are a vital ingredient, and it can’t work without Mary Travers. Of course, it can’t work without Peter Yarrow or Paul Stookey either. I find it hard to separate them.

The group would last until 1970, and then go their separate ways for solo projects. They would find that the magic that happened when they were together was essential, and they would regroup in 1978. From there on, they would reaffirm their commitment to social causes. And they would record two albums especially for children and their families, including a new recording of Puff.

One last thought. If you get a chance, catch a special on PBS called Lifelines. It shows up during fund drives. Here, Peter, Paul & Mary share the stage with some of their inspirations, some of their contemporaries, and some of the musicians they inspired. Mary Travers had lost her youthful figure by this time, but I have the strong impression watching her that she is a mother figure here. To me, hers is the strongest presence among some very strong personalities. It is a quiet strength, calmly watching over the proceedings. I don’t know if that is how it was in the group for all those years. But that is how I will think of her.

Monday, December 28, 2009

In Memoriam: John Dawson

New Riders of the Purple Sage: Panama Red


John Collins Dawson IV, nicknamed "Marmaduke", was the leader and one of the co-founders of the New Riders Of The Purple Sage. Born in Detroit he was the son of a California filmmaker. Before attending the Millbrook School for Boys near Millbrook, NY. where he studied music theory and history, he received guitar lessons from Mimi Farina, Joan Baez's sister.

By 1969 The New Riders were the opening act for the Grateful Dead. Original members of the group included three future members of the Dead; Jerry Garcia on pedal steel, Mickey Hart on drums, and Phil Lesh on bass. By 1970, Spencer Dryden and Dave Torbert replaced Hart and Lesh, respectively. Throughout '70 and '71 the New Riders and the Grateful Dead toured together and in '71 Jerry Garcia was replaced with Buddy Cage on the steel guitar, freeing up both bands to play independently of each other. It was during this same period when along with Garcia and Robert Hunter, Dawson co-wrote "Friend Of The Devil". He also appeared on three Dead albums during the same era.

"Marmaduke" became an English teacher in Mexico in 1997 when he retired from the music business and remained there until his death on July 21, 2009.

I first became acquainted with the New Riders back in the 70's when I first heard their now classic 'Henry' , a song about smuggling dope which I might add was posted by Darius back during the Drug theme.

For this post I've chosen another well known tune, Panama Red, written by Peter Rowan, the title track of their 1973 LP. and while it may be considered a bit mainstream, it's a fine example of this band's music.

In Memoriam: Koko Taylor

Koko Taylor: Wang Dang Doodle


It was a rough decade for the Blues, a genre still heavily dominated by an aging population of once-seminal musicians born in the twenties and thirties. And though everyone has their favorite, no one will be more missed in my household than "Queen of the Blues" Koko Taylor -- a Chicagoan house cleaner, discovered by the legendary Willie Dixon in 1962, who went on to become one of the most beloved and well-respected blueswomen in history, in no small part for her gritty 1966 recording of Dixon's Wang Dang Doodle, which sold over a million copies.

An earthy-yet-upbeat woman in a male-dominated world, Taylor's "rough, powerful vocal stylings" influenced the rasp and bellow of dozens of blueswomen from Janis Joplin to Bonnie Raitt and Susan Tedeschi. Her last performance, at the 2007 W.C. Handy Awards ceremony, marked her 29th win, making her the lifetime recipient of more Blues Music Awards than any other artist.