« March 2006 | Main | May 2006 »

April 26, 2006

Sonny Lowe's Thursday Night Blues Jam at Jasper O'Farrell's, Sebastopol 4/20/06

Walking up the pot holed gravel back alley between the sushi bar and the pizza place, I could hear the band out the back door of Sebastopol’s Jasper O’Farrell’s Bar and the wail of Sonny Lowe’s harmonica. Sonny was playing that Thursday Night Jam one more time. This Thursday night gig has become a near weekly ritual for some, and at least a monthly ritual for others. I’ve gone a fair amount over the years and I really like it for it’s down home blues feel and the great wood dance floor. It’s always had that connection with the roots of the blues and the lack of artiness or looking back that made it fresh and the living blues. It’s always had that Juke Joint quality. Sadly, this was the next to last one as the management of Jasper’s has decided to “go in a new direction.”

Sonny had a new larger amplifier, actually an old Randall amp with the four ten-inch speakers favored by lots of harmonica players. He'd given it to his son and his son wasn't using it any more, so Sonny got it back. Good move. It 'cuts through' better and Sonny was easier to hear on top of the band. With his harp bullet mic he powered through the mix, his solos sharp and well defined. His solo on Sonny Boy Williamson's "You Gotta Help Me (I can't make it all by myself)" was really hot.

The band was a bit ragged at first. Drummer Steve DuBois (regular drummer James Foster had a previous engagement) was having a touch of a problem getting into the groove, but warmed up and really began to fire out, and they were all right. Steve really got into it as the evening moved along.

Steve played well, but I really missed James Foster. Quite a lot of people think he's the best along with Willy Jordan and Gary Silva. James just has a unique feel for the beat and sells it to the rest of the guys. James is more and more noticed among the musicians. Yes, that's James Foster: a body mover! James is likely to miss the final scheduled Thursday night as he has a gig that night. James is in demand as a drummer and plays with at least two bands. I heard James is trying to get Jasper’s to give them another Thursday in May so he can finish out the string.

Bass player Tom Bowers really held the band together, shining especially early when the band was a bit ragged. Tom really stepped up showing all his experience from his years with Johnny Nitro and the madhouse of the weekend San Francisco Saloon gigs. It’s no wonder that he’s a “On call” bassist and works all over the Bay Area. Tom really had all the classic bass lines that get the dancers out on the floor and hold the band right on the groove.

This gig and last weeks Jam marked the emergence of a new guitar player with his own style—long time Jam bassist Tall Paul Dowling. I’ve known that Tall Paul can play the guitar, but he’s much better known and comfortable as a bassist. I’m happy to report that Tall Paul was uncomfortable, nervous, turned his amp low so he couldn’t be heard (until we told him to turn it up), and played really well in a style of his own! Know how every wannabee flash guitarist runs way up the neck right away and “emotes” while doing repetitive noodling? Tall Paul doesn’t do that. He actually plays in the lower and mid ranges on the guitar and plays the basic riff groove of the individual song. He’s got groove all right.

”I’m A King Bee (buzzing’ ‘round your hive)” was a whole lot of thick swamp. “Killing Floor” had a lot of that ‘brutal’ feel. He played Magic Sam's "You Belong to Me (and I belong to you)"

You belong to me and I belong to you
And when we are together baby, I just love all the things we do
Darling, I really love you, I say, I love you

We swing and we skate, we go out on dates
We kiss and we dance and we love to make romance
Darling, I really love you, I say, I love you

You know I love you, there's no one above you
Crazy about you baby and I'm coming baby
Darling, I really love you, I say, I love you

Paul also played Magic Sam's "Every Night and Every Day", "Just Want A Little Bit" and a version of Freddie King's (also done by Magic Sam) instrumental "San-Ho-Zay" which was a whole lot of fun.

Paul was being overly modest with his guitar playing and was playing with his amp turned down early, which muffled his sound. Later he turned it up more and his Stratocaster guitar had more zing and honk to it. Paul and the Strat soul twang sound go together; he gets his own thing from it. Paul is having this thrust upon him in a way. He hasn't even got to vocal phrasing yet, he's just trying to survive on guitar. He's just being confronted with vocals now. His laid back personality isn't that of a vocalist either. He’ll get the vocals more when he relaxes.

Jasper's hardwood floor was great. Good dancing early when it was all experienced dancers and there was no bumping. It was one of the things that you go to Jasper’s for—a fine place to dance. Jasper’s is one of the three or four really good dance floors in Sonoma County. It’s only problem is that it functions as a corridor too, and when it gets crowded it’s a basketball game complete with elbows. Drunken young guys with no dance manners wander out on to it and seem surprised there’s someone dancing. It’s like the bars in the South and Chicago and Detroit where the modern blues was born.

During the second set as is traditional people sat in with the band. Rising Harp player Phil Harmonica (Berkowitz) was the big surprise. He really lit up the place with a short set of hot tunes. It was a powerful three songs and the band really went with him. Later he sat in again and was just as strong.

There was lots of bumping on the dance floor later, especially from the two blond sisters "From the Coast" who paid a taxi $50 to take them to Jasper's. The hefty one, who bumped me around on the floor a lot, kept talking about being “confined” for seven years. I didn't get the story. "Seven years of torture!" Divorce?

Let’s face it, I’m a writer and one reason to go to the Thursday Night Jam is stories. There are a lot of them rattling around the place, this jam brings out people of character. I think it has to do with Sonny Lowe himself. Sonny is a strong character and a long time musician who has diplomacy and a sense of humor. He’s kept this jam going for six years and weathered changes in personnel and changing fortunes in audiences. He’s kept the Jam going despite personal crises such as his partner’s cancer and chemotherapy (Tess is cancer free now).

Sonny has soldiered on. He’s just completed a new CD and he’s getting ready to extend his reach now that his child raising years are over. His mordant humor and dedication to the blues has made this a professional jam for the most part. There are a few long time friends who get to play in the second set from time to time who aren’t top of the trees, but they are part of the family who has grown up around the Thursday Night Jam. Sonny built a social circle that frequents the Thursday Jam, and not just a group of musician friends; he built dancers and fans into an institution. Angela was there with her amazing parlor trick of the full backward floor squat out on the dance floor. Anne and Paul's girlfriend Kathy along with Valerie, Furniture John and Joe Cable, Chris Marshall and Dee, and Mark the cook were all there. Lots of others whose names I don’t know yet but know by sight. I’m hoping many more show up for the last one. It was a down home night.

For a long time David Burke was a major part of the Thursday Night Jam, often it was the only place to see David. It was the only place for a long time to see David as the truly great guitarist he is, he was submerged in the Aces playing bass lines on the guitar, seldom getting to fire out the way he can. Then at the start of last fall the new management changed the sound system and the payment policies for the band and David got upset as he sometimes does. He quit the Thursday Night Band and Sonny got Evan and now Paul to play the guitar. I’m not sure what passed between Sonny and David but there’s a touch of distance there. Sonny announced David will play on the last night of the Jam, Thursday, April 27th.

Heh, last week, on the next-to-last night of the Jam, David Burke hung by the pool table for most of the first set waiting for Sonny to notice him, which Sonny studiously refused to do. David sitting at table number two along the wall in front of the band for the entire second set waiting for Sonny to notice him and ask him to play. Which Sonny studiously refused to do. David got a funny look on face. David plays this time, come and hear the best kept secret in guitar playing in Sonoma County.

The last set was a lot of fun with the regulars back on the stand and the floor more open again. The dancing then was very fine and I don’t remember too many of the tunes except that Sonny did his traditional tunes like “Miss Bessie” -- “yeah, Miss Bessie, you sure got good barbecue.” Finger lickin’ good! That hardwood floor had the best dancing of the night on it; I was able to do dance moves that can’t be done a lot of places that don’t have a wood dance floor. The dance floor, the people, and Sonny Lowe’s Thursday Night Jam, I’m gonna miss this blues jam.

Posted by Rolfyboy6 at 03:06 PM | Comments (4)

April 17, 2006


by Anne Exton

I don’t like big shows and, to loosely quote John Lee Hooker, "I do not like no rock and roll". But Bob Dylan at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds? In Santa Rosa? One mile from my house? Too good to resist. Found a ticket on the web site, didn’t have to stand in line or even get dressed. So far, great.

The night of the concert was stormy, another one of forty degree plus in a rain-drenched row. Lots of deep puddles in the parking lot, lots of umbrellas, and with everything soggy all around. Once I made it to the door, though, all hassles vaporized. No line for entry. The inside was roomy, organized, and comfortable despite the 4000 or so bodies pressing slowly towards the stage in anticipation. I managed to find a drink and a place down front. The crowd was a seriously eclectic mix of ages and life styles ranging from babes in arms to teens to prim yuppies to far-west county deadheads and beyond.

Dylan and the Band kicked it off with “Maggie’s Farm.” Fantastic! I love the late 60s material for its political edge. The irony and disgust are so in tune with present times.
Some folks complain about Dylan’s voice, which is roughly like complaining about William Faulkner’s vocals. This voice is what’s being said, the voice of a superb witness to the late 20th century, borne out with “It’s Alright Ma, “Highway 61,” and “All Along the Watch Tower.”

Love and loss on the personal front was another compelling theme. Dylan sang clearly, telling his own stories in “Boots of Spanish Leather” and “Don’t Think Twice.” Inner and outer universes fused with a heartfelt aside: “If you’re not happy, I’m not happy. It’s BAD out there.”

The musicians were uniformly excellent. Dylan played keyboards, comping Basie style, while his sidemen took turns in the spotlight. Each was strong, but the standout was Larry Campbell who played an aching pedal steel as well as banjo and violin.

All in all, it was a great show! We heard reality shaped and molded into poetry, sung and played in tune, in time, and at a heroically high level.
Not bad for a rainy Tuesday night in Santa Rosa.

Posted by Rolfyboy6 at 04:58 PM | Comments (0)

April 10, 2006

The Pleasers at Jasper O’Farrell’s 4/7/06

Wandering in the backdoor of Jasper’s and up the corridor I looked over at the bandstand and Lo and behold, there was David Burke’s Flying V guitar leaning against his amp. I hadn’t seen the Flying V out in public in years. David’s job in the Aces band was to play guitar rhythm bass on a telecaster in that bass-less band. His long work in the Aces hid the driving lead guitar work that was evident in his playing as the guitarist in Sonny Lowe’s Thursday Night Band. Seeing the Flying V I knew this was going to be the driving David. The added presence of the Stratocaster he’d played with Sonny confirmed which David we were going to see.

In an already crowded house I pushed to the end of the bar waving a five dollar bill at the harried bartender. Pleasers drummer Mike Gutch, another veteran of the Aces, was standing next to me. He had a black suit on his lanky frame and shiny black sharp-toed Florsheim oxfords. The guy on the other side of him asked him if he knew anything about the band playing tonight. “Yeah,” said poker faced Mike, “I hear they’re all right. Anybody know what their drummer’s like?”
I was unable to resist. “I hear he’s really got an attitude.”
Mike’s face never changed, “Attitude huh?”
“Yeah, and he’s got a weird style of playing, does it standing up.”
“Standing huh?”
“Yeah, he hovers over his drums like a vulture.”
Finally Mike smiled. “Vulture, I’ll have to remember that.”

It took a long time to get going, in the way of first gigs everywhere. The band has no established setting up method yet and they were consulting and perfectionist David was fussing with equipment. It was a late start before the band got going.

David, resplendent in two-tone shoes, did the opener right with a less common jumping blues tune, “Tanqeray”

“Come on baby
And do like I say
Come on baby
And do like I say
We're going down to the corner
And have a drink of Tanqueray”
(Johnnie Johnson, K. Richards)

Right from the beginning David screamed on guitar, it was wild. I’ve seen David have different ways of playing, for this show it was ‘up’ and edgy. David’s vocal prowess is one of his standout features. He has one of those ‘furry’ voices thick as molasses that has the ‘arrrgg’ in it. He proceeded to show us on “It’s Alright, Alright, Alright!”

Oliver Frankle on organ did some great comping on a funky “Hope You Are Coming Home!” He really cut loose in the solo and seemed loose from then on. The pleasers really have a sound of their own with the organ bass under David’s guitar. Mike was also getting into it and the Chicago 1950s blues feel he can generate started coming to the fore, with sometimes simplified unison riff drumming pounding along with David and Ollie.

Then the rockabilly songs started coming with hopping 8/8 time and the dance floor was full and bouncing. A fair number of the dance crowd was there (I’ll bet more find this band) and the house was energized; people started going nuts dancing in the small floor. People who don’t usually dance came out for a number or two. Camille in her concha hat was in full whirl dancing all over.

In the middle of the rockabilly numbers David hauled Bobby Blue Bland’s “Alone With The Blues” out of the song bag, and turned in a masterful slow blues that allowed the winded to go to the bar, and the fans to stand in front of the stage and sway. Somewhere in the whole flow of the rockin’ dance numbers David played a rockabilly-meets-surf-music song that had a lot of us dancing and laughing at the same time. “Lonely, Lonely Nights” was a country rocker weeper par excellance.

In the second set, the rockabilly blues dance songs continued with lots of tasty instrumental work. Several of us were sort of kidding David about playing the same songs fast and then when they ran out of songs to play them slow. David shut us up with a tender song, something about “Let’s Get Hugged”, the guys have range and Mike and Ollie are right there with David. Somewhere in this period Mike called a song they’d done years ago in the Aces that was almost smash rock. Mike should have worn a cape to play it.

I was dancing so much and so regularly, that I stopped taking notes or bothering trying to remember what was what. Somewhere in there they did a funk number with good strength. This band promises to have some real range. Somewhere in the midnight hour was another slow blues played with real feeling. And the dance songs went on. The applause was strong all night and very loud at the end. Lots of people stayed for the whole thing, it was a night to stay and have fun.

I’ve rarely seen a first performance that was as strong as this show. The Pleasers have a real future. They sure can play! Yeah, there were a few quibbles. David needs to get a better P. A. so his vocals are clearer. His amp needs to get elevated so it ‘throws’ better out into the club and is heard more. Ollie needs to get cool shoes like Mike and David. I’m impressed, they have a sound, and it’s danceable!

Posted by Rolfyboy6 at 04:09 PM | Comments (0)

April 05, 2006

Ladysmith Black Mombazo at Analy High Auditorium 4/1/06

The Cumulus Productions website had long had it in the upcoming shows. I was ready when the announcement came and trotted down to Last Record Store and got my ticket. I follow a lot of music, generally the kind of thing the big record companies can’t be bothered with in their quest to “move units.”

In the 1960s singer Joseph Shabalala was able to put together the beginnings of today’s Ladysmith Black Mombazo rising out of the competitions of Zululand in the Southeast of South Africa. He was able to produce a harmony in a small men’s singing and dancing chorus that was a breakthrough in Zulu music. Years of work brought his group to the top regionally and nationally in the Apartheid years.

Their official management website has the following excerpt:
“The name LADYSMITH BLACK MAMBAZO came about as a result of winning every singing competition in which the group entered. "Ladysmith" is the hometown of the Shabalala family; "Black" makes reference to black oxen, considered to be the strongest on the farm. The Zulu word "Mambazo" refers to an ax – symbolic of the group's ability to "chop down" the competition. So good were they that after a time they were forbidden to enter the competitions but welcomed, of course, to entertain at them.

A radio broadcast in 1970 brought about their first record contract. Since then the group has recorded more than forty albums, selling more than six million records at home and abroad, establishing them as the number one record selling group from Africa. Their work with Paul Simon on the "Graceland" album attracted a world of fans that never knew that the subtleties of Zulu harmony could be so captivating.

Their first album release for the United States, "Shaka Zulu," was produced by Simon and won the Grammy Award in 1987 for Best Traditional Folk Album. Since then, they have been nominated for a Grammy Award six additional times, including a nomination in 2001 for the album "Live From Royal Albert Hall." A documentary film titled "On Tip Toe: Gentle Steps To Freedom," which is the story of Joseph Shabalala and Ladysmith Black Mambazo, was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Short Documentary Film in 2001. In addition "On Tip Toe: Gentle Steps to Freedom" has been nominated for American television's Emmy Award in 2002 for Best Cultural Documentary. “

Parking for the Analy High School Auditorium was typically tough and I parked in the Safeway lot. It was quickly apparent that the show was a sellout. Getting a seat when I thought I thought I was early meant being against the right wall. The program included three songs by the Analy Honors Choir. The lights went down so low that I was unable to take notes and can’t give a true narrative.

The Analy Honors Chorus was technically quite good but two out of the three songs they did had terminal cutesey-poo lyrics, "It takes a village to raise a child", and something someone had written for them which was full of helpful motto-type statements. The good one was the big part-singing ancient church version of "Didn't My Lord Deliver Daniel."

Ladysmith Black Mombazo was outstanding. They are a powerful eight person male chorus with a musical referent system different than Western music. Ladysmith came out and the leader, who has a fantastic vibrato, was a power to be heard by all. Meanwhile the male chorus of basses and deep baritones was doing four-part harmony of incredible tightness. The whole set of cues and expectations among them were from Zulu folkloric music and not from Western music. Which meant subtly different effects and timing. What you might expect wasn't their expectation, although they very well know Western music.

Being that I was unable to take notes and I don't have the recordings to help out, I can only say the concert was a door opener for me and I will be going through that door some more. Being a devotee of an African-American generated musical form; the music of Africa will not escape my interest.

Posted by Rolfyboy6 at 09:42 PM | Comments (0)

The Friday Night Crawl--making the rounds 3/31/06

Making the Sonoma County rounds 3/31/06

Soho’s Grand Opening

Down rain slick Highway 101 to Petaluma, as usual almost missing the Washington Street exit, I went to the Grand Re-Opening of the old Zebulon’s as Jay Eisenberg’s new SoHo Club. Jay has done things in an organized step-by-step fashion. Now he’s changed the name of the club to his nickname (the old name was the previous owner’s name). Jay is building the club around quality music and a comfortable environment. It’s the best place in Sonoma County to see music up close and personal. A living room environment.

Fiasco was the featured attraction of the Grand Opening. Karl Marenko’s hot funk outfit did a lot of fine New Orleans funk tunes during the first set. This band has some fine chops and really made the tunes swing and funk. Lots of that good “Meters” type feel and the “second line” New Orleans parade beat. The guys in the band are disciplined about it too, there’s no slop or extra notes and the groove doesn’t get submerged. They are rapidly becoming a favorite funk band of mine.

In the second set Chris Miano on guitar joined the band and the soul jazz feel was strong. Great instrumentals. Such a personable up close feel to what they played.

My compliments to Jay and the band, I had a great time. I had a couple of other stops to make and left with regret. If you haven’t been to SoHo yet, just go. Jay is booking a big variety of good bands. Jay knows music.

At the roadhouse: Rhythm Drivers at Twin Oaks Tavern

Ron Corral, Brad Wilson and the band were doing some deep “slow drag” blues as I came into the crowded house of the Twin Oaks Tavern. It was a slightly wild looking house with a lot of people circulating up and down the bar. There were women looking for dance partners, people playing pool, and people schmoozing in the corners.

In the music room Ron Corral was playing some fine blues lead guitar. Brad joined him on harp, and they got a deep blues feel into the songs. Brad’s a good vocalist and works well with drummer Vic Brain and the band. I had a fine time boogying there for a while. This is a comfortable band with a good knowledge of the blues and some fine soloing. They get better every time they play. I’m looking forward to more from this band.

The Alameda Allstars at the Tradewinds.

It was a mob scene at the Tradewinds, the house was full of Rock and Roll ritual and bouncing up and down on the dance floor. Sadly, most of the people there weren’t very good dancers and I got bumped into constantly. After a while I gave up on dancing.

Tommy Thompson was NOT part of the band, his organ and vocals were very much missed, and he adds the molasses to the group’s sound. It was two guitars as Marke Burgstahler joined regulars Mark McGee on guitars, Tom Miller on bass, and Preston Thrall on drums for the evening. The players were seemed to vary from song to song as the Allstars had some kind of reunion of everybody they’d played with over the last twenty years. There were constant personnel shifts. This was not the strongest Alameda Allstars show I’ve seen and it never really settled down. Having given up on the dancing and realizing I wasn’t really going to hear much beside quick flashy solos I went home.

Posted by Rolfyboy6 at 01:34 PM | Comments (2)

Raisin Cane at Forestville Club & Sonny Lowe at Jasper’s 3/30/06

I drove through the rain and dark to Forestville on its hill and parked right alongside the club. Not a good sign for an Audience. I found I was the only audience in the band room. There were a couple of people shooting eight ball in the poolroom. Raisin Cane is Rod Gross on guitar, Steve Johnson on guitar and vocals, Chris Cane on bass and vocals, and Garth O’Brian on drums and vocals.

Raisin Cane is a guitar band; a whole lot of guitar. They’ve two lead guitarists and they are ready with your blues-rock and hot blues favorites. Did I mention guitar? Lead guitar? I walked in to hear them firing through Johnny Guitar Watson’s…

“I was looking back to see
If she was looking back to see
If I was looking back at her”

I’ve seen various members of this band at jams, and had noted their abilities. It was good to see them together in a band. Rod Gross is one hot guitarist at the Sonoma County Blues Society jams. I’d previously bought a pair of special pickups from him and we’d met then. Steve Johnson I’d noticed at the Twin Oaks jam (R.I.P) with solid vocals and good guitar work. Chris Cane handles bass chores and sings.

A jumping version of Junior Wells “You Don’t Love Me Baby” was a lot of fun with the signature guitar riff done strongly. The band has the ability to play very “Doomy” stuff. “Every Day I Have The Blues” felt like the dog died and the mother-in-law moved in. It was the Blues all right!

Moving over to the more country side of the song bag, they did Delbert McClinton’s “Two More Bottles Of Wine” with vocals by Chris. And then they showed their Texas roadhouse side with ZZ Top’s “La Grange” with vocals by growling drummer Garth, who has a big voice. Yep, lots of guitar screaming and very well done too.

A crazy “She don’t Love Me, She loves My Automobile” was a lot of fun. As I got ready to make it to the next stop on my rounds, they were about to start on Allman Brothers tunes. Yessir, a whole lot of guitar! Go see Raisin Cane, they can play.

Sonny Lowe’s Blues Jam at Jasper’s

As I got out of the car and headed toward Jasper’s backdoor I found harmonica giant Steve Judkins unloading his harp case from his truck. I was so happy to see Steve! It had been a long time as he’s been working the night shift on a utility job and hasn’t come out to play much. It was good to see him wanting to play out again. He had that old playing fire in his eye again.

Sonny Lowe and the band of Tall Paul Dowling on bass, James Foster on drums, and Evan Morgan on guitar were going strong as I came in the back. Their recent additions of Danelectro guitars and sharper clothes have given them a new sound and look. They sound even more down home than they used to.

Sonny was sounding good with his amplified harp rig. Evan was really playing with a new sound after switching to the new baby blue Danelectro. It gives him a simpler juicier sound. James Foster on drums was having one of his best nights really being physical with a drum set consisting of a snare drum, bass drum, high hat, and ride cymbal. He makes a delightful picture as he crouches over the snare and flail-beats the set. Tall Paul was playing a moving bass line on a Danelectro six string high bass and making it sound real good. It fit with what Sonny and Evan were playing. His brow was a tiny bit furrowed as he concentrated on the new sound and feel of the bass six.

Steve Judkins sat in during the second set and it was magnificent! It was the Steve Judkins of old. Timing, taste and tone were all there as he drove the house into a frenzy. Steve did a couple of numbers to whoops and hollers. Later I would get the chance to talk to him out front. He’s as discouraged as I am about the present state of the music scene in Sonoma County.

This was the finest night on the guitar I've seen Evan play at Jasper's. He didn't play as many notes like he used to do. He really made the notes count. The Danelectro guitar is really helping him too. Evan is definitely playing with more feeling and less fussiness in long, single string solos. Evan had years highly dedicated practice--at which he excelled. Now he's really getting the live playing experience -which is another animal.

More people need to come to Sonny’s jam on Thursday nights at Jasper’s. It’s very blues and it’s really got that spontaneous “Juke Joint” feel. Uncomplicated and comfortable, there’s no cover or anything, just a good band and a good dance floor—and the Blues.

Posted by Rolfyboy6 at 12:13 PM | Comments (0)