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Gregg Allman, RIP

Gregg Allman, RIP

1947 – 2017

I was en route to Daily’s Place in Jacksonville, Florida for its inaugural concert, ironically featuring the Tedeschi Trucks Band, when I received the news that I had been dreading for months – Gregg Allman, founding member of The Allman Brothers Band, had passed away peacefully at his home in Savannah, Georgia due to complications from liver cancer. Fresh on the heels of losing Butch Trucks just a few short months ago, this is a bitter pill to swallow indeed. I thought perhaps that I was mentally and emotionally prepared for this crushing blow, but alas, I was not, and I am not alone. Reading through some of the many comments on social media, the outpouring of love for this beautiful man is overwhelming. With that gritty, whiskey-soaked voice, arguably one of the most soulful blues singers ever to grace our planet, Allman and his band mates (Duane Allman, Berry Oakley, Dickey Betts, Butch Trucks and Jaimoe) created a sound and style that was unlike anything before it and would forever change the lives of countless musicians. At Fillmore East remains one of the best and most influential live albums ever recorded. The band’s unique sound inspired the birth of so-called Southern Rock and also helped pave the way for future jam bands. After the tragic 1971 loss of his 24-year-old brother, Duane, followed very quickly by the death of founding bassist Berry Oakley, Gregg and the band somehow persevered and continued on, because it’s what Duane would have wanted. While his life endured many ups and downs, the one constant that remained was always the music, and Gregg had quite a successful solo career as well.

Thank you, Gregg, for the music and the memories. They were the fabric of so many lives, and through the music the flame will continue to burn brightly. There’s one hell of a jam going on in Rock ‘n’ Roll Heaven now, and the voice of an angel is their new lead singer.

Gregory Lenoir Allman – 12/8/47 ~ 5/27/17 Rest in peace, Gregg. The Road Goes On Forever…

rocklegendsphotographers.smugmug.com/BLUES-CONCERT-PHOTOS/GREGG-ALLMAN-WANEE-2016

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Trump Comes to Nashville

Trump Comes to Nashville

Full disclosure. I have always leaned left, as a registered Democrat, card carrying member of the ALCU and unabashed liberal. Webster’s defines liberal as “marked by generosity; broad-minded, especially not bound by authoritarianism, orthodoxy, or traditional forms.” I’ll take that. I’ll own that, every day of the week and twice on Sundays.

Like many I was sickened by the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, and like many, for reasons too numerous to mention. But, it wasn’t primarily because of his political positions (not that he has any) or the usual debate between liberal and conservative values (not that he has any), but rather, what he proposed to do in destroying our institutions and integrity (not that he has any). This battle is really about democracy vs. tyranny. And, as our TN House Representative, Jim Cooper, said at a recent Good Trouble workshop here in the Music City, “our country is in crisis”

So, also like many, I felt a sense of urgency and began marching in the streets, writing letters, emailing congress people, calling elected officials, attending workshops, sending in donations and subscribing to my favorite newspapers. This was going to be a grind, but the way the resistance rose up quickly, gave hope, and like the yin to the yang of Trumpism was inspirational.

When Trump announced he was coming to Nashville for one of his “rallies”, many of us in the resistance were excited at the opportunity to personally tell him how we felt, if a bit perplexed by his choice. We’re a blue city in a red state. It isn’t like South Carolina or Michigan, say. We’re even an “it city” according to many on both coasts, with the highest percentage of working musicians per capita in the world. Then news trickled out. Trump was interested in building a hotel here. Then, he was coming to honor Andrew Jackson on Jackson’s birthday, March 15, an idea likely planted by Geppetto Steve Bannon, who has apparently sold Trump the idea he is like Jackson. And, it is fitting in some ways.

One of the early negative byproducts of Trump’s administration is the anxiety it causes, the constant attention-seeking of a man-child who berates and bullies, combined with the overall fatigue of fighting something that seems one part evil and one part incompetence. In fact, in a February 2017 American Psychological Association/Harris Poll, nearly 70 percent of Americans said they were on edge about the future of the country and nearly 60 percent cited the current political climate as a source of stress. Also, overall stress levels were up – from 4.8 in August to 5.1 in January on a 10-point scale. In the days leading up to Trump’s rally event, I felt this anxiety building as if a strange orange rash was developing on the back of my neck. Decisions were difficult. Should I go inside and leave when he came on? (I’d gotten tickets on his website) or should I march with my brothers and sisters outside (ACLU, Planned Parenthood, Power Together Tennessee, etc.)?

Early that morning, reports came into my feeds about how folks were lining up outside around 6 a.m., even though doors weren’t to be opened until nine hours later. It was a particularly cold day for Nashville; mid-30s, and I was as shocked as the morning after the election. But, this was a good lesson, to see that the folks in the midlands of our state were still that dedicated to their man, forcing me out of my lefty bubble. After work, I headed down to Municipal Auditorium, getting there around 2. Municipal is an archaic venue, another fitting twist; built in 1962, and seating about 9,000 – although it was once a prime concert venue hosting everything from the Jackson 5 to the Roller Derby to Bob Dylan.

Leonard Cohen once sang about America being the home of the best and worst.

I had decided to begin with my sights on getting inside, standing in line with the Trumpsters and so I dressed inconspicuously, in plain black jacket, tennis shoes, and sunglasses. I even carried little American flags that I bought at Home Depot. As I approached the front of the auditorium I first passed obvious secret service men in black suits and mirrored sunglasses, wearing earpieces and serious expressions. Then, there were several vendors, selling “Lock Her Up” buttons, Hillary Clinton shooting targets, and Trump 2020 buttons, from canopied enclaves, like hucksters on the midway.

Then I hit the sea of red shirts and white faces, an endless line that snaked around the side of the auditorium for at least a mile, running parallel to our State Capitol. I became depressed. There were more Make American Great hats in one place than you could imagine. Little kids dressed in Trump gear, to match Mom and Dad. More women than you would think. . One couple with t-shirts that read “My uncle was killed by an immigrant”. Evangelical preachers. A Trump Impersonator, posing to take pictures with folks in line. I did not see anyone in line that I knew – unusual in Nashville – and my guess was when I did pass a couple in pea coats and hemp rasta hats, carrying lattes – they were molls. Like me.

When I finally got to the end of the line, I was faced with a dilemma. Clearly, the word got out and the Trumpsters drove in from around the state to thwart or plans. Would I even get in? If there were so few of us going in, would I make a greater impact on the outside? I could conceivably stand in line from 3 to 6:30 (when the show was supposed to start) and not get in. If I did get in and have to sit through the line-up from hell – Mae Beavers, Marsha Blackburn (two of our most “interesting” state legislators), Senator Bob Corker, “singer” Lee Greenwood and then Donald Trump. I thought of all the brave soldiers and wondered if I was too weak for that.

Where I stood, the crowd was mellow. I’d passed folks spitting at protesters and deriding “snowflakes”. I saw a man yell at a woman photographer, berating her as “fat-ass.” I would hear many other nasty stories later, but I also saw individuals in dialogue and overall, the day was very peaceful. This is what democracy looks like. Where I stood, I struck up a conversation with two fifty-something supporters, man and woman, very blue collar, who in gentle tones and slight accents, spoke of coming in to see Trump almost as if they were attending a Toby Keith concert. I wanted to ask them how they could’ve voted for a man who was so obviously against their best interests, a man who wasn’t really even a Republican, in a Eisenhower or even, Reagan way. But, I didn’t. Instead I just asked them if they thought we would get in. They said, they weren’t sure.

“Well, then,” I said, “I think I’m going then.” And I handed them two American flags. They thanked me. I silently hoped it would bring some good karma and do more than words could.

I went back to my car, got my protest sign, and the “Make America Rage Hat” my brother gave me, and walked across the bridge to the shadows of Nissan Stadium, where the marchers were gathering. I instantly felt energized and safe and for a moment I wondered if I was simply back in the bubble. I don’t think so, though, because we showed up, and as long as everyone shows up and does something, big or small, each day, we will move the needle.

The truth is also that the activism is bringing people together, like something out of a Frank Capra movie; only unlike a Capra, movie, you see all age, colors, and gender identifications represented. We wound up being 3000 strong, proud, committed, and sometimes hilarious, with signs that read “I Made a Mistake” (from a bold former Trump supporter) to “Nyet My President” to “If You Want to Defeat Isis Give them Trumpcare.” There were speakers from local activist organizations and the ACLU and other groups were handing out signs. I chose the one that read “We the People”. As anyone who has ever been in a relationship knows, “we” is an important word. Among the marchers, I ran into many folks I knew, past present and future, and in the latter category, gave one of my remaining flags to a woman who’d driven in from Paducah to protest. She and her sister seemed just as earthy and country as the couple I met in the Trump line. If the goal for the Russians was to interfere in our election as a means to divide our country further, they have been sadly successful.

That said, as we marched over the bridge and to the courthouse for our own rally, and then to the auditorium, to await Trump’s arrival, I carried my remaining flag with me, because as I had thought and my newfound friend from Paducah noted, we need to reclaim that. We need to let people know that this is about patriotism and love of country. Interesting enough, many liberals left the line because they couldn’t tolerate the Trump supporters, joining their protester friends, but many Trump supporters simply left because the venue didn’t start letting folks in to around 5 p.m. As a result, about a third of the auditorium remained empty.

Trump visited Andrew Jackson’s grave early in the day, and then rolled into the heart of the city. While most of us were marching and gathering in the cold outside, some persistent souls did make it in and walked out after Trump began speaking, including one brave woman who challenged him on health care. Her name is Dr. Carol Paris, President of Physicians for a National Health Program. There are heroes every day and she is one. There should also be a medal given to anyone able to brave Lee Greenwood and Donald Trump for the sake of country. Watching the news feeds later, I saw Trump’s crowd shouting “USA USA” while he bemoaned that the news would report on “the one protester.” As usual for 45, this was a lie. There were thousands of us outside and thousands more across the country, past present and future.

The personal is political and for me, it’s about at least three generations. I think of my Lithuanian grandfather who emigrated, came to southern Illinois and fought in World War I for this country. I think of my late father who was part of the greatest generation, fighting in World War II, surviving the Battle of the Bulge, and then after Reagan, flipping from die-hard Republican to Noam Chomsky-lover. But, most of all I think of my 14-year old son and his peers, those who will inherit this country. They have to know we can do better.

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Butch Trucks, RIP

Butch Trucks, RIP

1947-2017

Waking up to the news on Wednesday morning that founding Allman Brothers Band drummer Butch Trucks was gone flooded my head with shock, disbelief, hurt, anger, despair and grief all in rapid succession. My brain could not comprehend it, and still can’t. Knowing that I will never again hear his salty, sharp-tongued wit leaves me dumbfounded. Knowing that I will never again hear him play drums leaves me depressed. But knowing that he was an integral part of a musical legacy leaves me grateful. Fans are well versed in the band’s storied history, including the untimely demise of founding members Duane Allman and Berry Oakley. When Allman died, a little piece of all the Brothers died right along with him. Then Oakley left this world and it seemed almost too much to bear. But even after Oakley’s death, the band carried on because, really, they had to. Their music was a game-changer, and it left an indelible mark for legions of fans while paving the way for so-called Southern Rock bands to carve out their own little niche in music history.

Michelle Wilson

 

I was honored to spend time with Butch and to develop a close relationship with him over the past year and a half, but more importantly, to capture the sights and colors of Butch and his two current bands. Michael Yanko and I traveled the country to photograph The Freight Train Band and Les Brers at various shows and festivals including The Cox Capitol Theatre in Macon, Georgia, Wanee Festival in Live Oak, Florida, The Peach Music Festival in Scranton, Pennsylvania and Terra Fermata in Stuart, Florida, a favorite venue or ours. The Freight Train Band played there several times, the last performance just a few weeks back on December 27, 2016. Butch had endured some harrowing flight challenges en route from his home in France, and he arrived just in time to play the gig with very little sleep. He was tucked away in a hidden corner of the outdoor venue when we arrived, and we chatted with him while he and several Freight Train Band members grabbed a quick bite of dinner before the show. He was concerned that he might not make it through the entire concert due to jet lag, but anyone who knows Butch Trucks knows that he never missed an Allman Brothers Band show, except once. Not only did he make it through the show, but he thrived. Because it’s what Butch did – he lived and breathed the music. And even though he was a world-famous musician, Butch was extremely approachable and down to earth, never allowing his fame to prevent him from being himself.

On a personal note, I would like to extend my deepest condolences to the entire Trucks family and the extended Allman Brothers Band family. Butch was fiercely proud of his children and grandchildren, and he loved having them on stage with him at Freight Train Band shows. As a fan of The Allman Brothers Band, I have been fortunate enough through social media to connect with an entire community of like-minded fans, many of whom have become my close friends. I would like to share the words of my good friend, musician Mark Vormittag, because I could not have said this better myself. “Butch’s talent as a drummer was matched by his skill as a musician. He was all about the drive, the unstoppable ‘Freight Train’ that propelled the band. Duane Allman knew what he needed. Duane wanted a powerful rhythm section that could be strong but nimble, able to cope with and enhance the mid-song time changes and outright different rhythm component passages that strayed from the original pattern, and then come back into the structure of the song. He put Jaimoe with Butch and along with Berry Oakley, the magic was there. Butch was the timekeeper behind the extraordinary work of virtuosos like Berry, Dickey and Duane. And yes, even Jaimoe. Butch was the rock….the guy who was always there……every show. Farewell Butch. Thanks for being that guy.” Rest in Peace, Butchie. The Road Goes On Forever…

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The Cursed Year In Review

The Cursed Year In Review

No beating around the bush, 2016 blew. From the legends we lost to the horror of the election, the world seems to be living thru a curse that doesn’t seem to be letting up soon. But rather than documenting all we’ve lost, lets look at what sustained us during these troubled times.

Every year end list of releases has a similar feel to it, namely, the swan songs of two amazing artists. Most everyone puts David Bowie’s Blackstar and Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker at the top, for good reason. Both albums were created by people on the verge of dying, and both are brave, evocative testaments that contain not a drop of pity. Blackstar will be, as with most of Bowie’s work, a constant work of art, from the thoughts contained within to the actual vinyl of the LP, which holds hidden messages. Classic Bowie.

Leonard Cohen never minced words, never tried to shield the blow (give a listen to his album The Future – he warned us of Trump years ago- I’ve seen the future/And it is murder) and You Want It Darker is a chilling statement from a man with one foot in the ground, looking back at us. The title cut, with Cohen’s dark vocal is haunting, and as always, he paints a minimalist soundscape that only heightens the tension.

But for me, the album of the year is the Drive-By Truckers American Band. I first ran across DBT in 1996 at the tiny Star Bar in Atlanta, a few years before their first album, 1998’s Gangstabilly. You couldn’t help but fall in love with them, from “18 Wheels of Love” with the chorus of “Mama ran off with a trucker/Peterbilt, Peterbilt” or their ode to Slick Willie Clinton on “The President’s Penis Is Missing”. Over the years they have continued to push the envelope, examining the world around them as Southerners, with both pride and disgust in equal measure (that duality of the southern thing, as frontman Patterson Hood tells it on their Southern Rock Opera from 2001, which is a stone-cold masterpiece, btw). They are also are responsible for the beginning of Jason Isbell’s career- although they had to fire him to make it happen.

But the reason that American Band resonates so strongly with me is that I finally have protest music. I was too young to chant along with Country Joe’s “I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die” against the Vietnam war, and I never really got into the hardcore punk that the Reagan years gave us, but when I first heard “What It Means”, their song about Black Lives Matter, it clicked. Once I got the album I was blown away. It may well be their finest hour, from the angry anti-NRA rant of “Ramon Casiano” to the rallying cry of “Surrender Under Protest” and the weary, hear we go again of “Once They Banned Imagine”, this is loud rock and roll with a fucking purpose. And the fact that some longtime fans were appalled that they had a opinion that might be contrary to backwood rednecks in the South, well hell, that’s just icing on the cake. Because if 2016 has shown us anything, there is no neutrality anymore, no hiding out. Easy times make easy music. And easy music is nice and all, but it ain’t gonna change the world. And probably the Drive-By Truckers and American Band won’t either. But by-damn-god they’re gonna try.

Will you?

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Love Is A Drag

Love Is A Drag

I had my suspicions about my father’s sexuality during my high school years, his long absences from the house culminating in his leaving for good in my junior year. We didn’t speak about it. In fact, we never did. My mother knew, I suppose, but between her pride – and unwarranted shame – we never really addressed why he left. It was something unsaid. As a teenager, I was more focused on learning guitar so I could be the next Keith Richards or Mick Jones. After high school, and having dropped out of college after five weeks, I became a roadie. To supplement my infrequent income I would work at my father’s house for cash, helping renovate the older two bedroom home in Atlanta’s East Atlanta area- long before the area was gentrified. One Tuesday morning I arrived at 7 AM to be greeted by my father and his roommate, clad in boxer shorts and kimonos, drinking Mimosas and singing “California Dreaming”.

Mystery solved.

My father was a talented actor and writer, gifted with a magnificent voice. He joined the local church primarily to sing in the choir, for I really don’t think the actual message behind the songs ever meant much to him. He directed plays and would recruit me to assist – I can still recite much of Inherit the Wind to this day. Looking back I realize his intent – in addition to spending time with his only child, he was also introducing me to his other world, a world where whatever prejudices existed among “regular people” had no sway. Here were people united in talent. It didn’t matter if you were white, black, gay or straight- only if you could produce.

After the kimono episode, I would join my father at piano bars. There, in the dim light and after a few Harvey’s Bristol Cremes, he would use that wonderful voice to sing love songs- to men. He had found a place that he felt safe, sheltered, and his talent (and attractions) would be recognized and appreciated. Thankfully he had raised me right to feel completely comfortable in this environment -save for the come-ons from women older than my mother, that is. So when this reissue of the 1962 Love Is A Drag caught my attention, I listened not as a 54 year old man, but rather a 20-something child, and it felt good. Love Is A Drag consists of standards such as “Lover Man”, “He’s Funny That Way” and “The Man I Love” sung by “an unusual vocalist” (actually Gene Howard, singer for Stan Keaton) without changing the pronouns.

Just like my dad.

This release, with great liner notes from JD Doyle, the curator of queermusicheritage.com, revisits the history of the release, which in 1962 was released on the Lace Records label, and became an underground hit. And it had to be underground, because one wasn’t openly gay in the ’60s, at least not in Georgia, where my father and I were born and raised. The ice had broken somewhat in the ’80s, when my father and I would get tipsy around a piano and he would be able to express openly what he had to keep under wraps the rest of the day. My father died of AIDS in the early ’90s, and we never spoke of his sexuality. He had his reasons, of course- growing up in south Georgia most likely showed him the wisdom of keeping things to oneself, and sadly that extended to his son.

So this isn’t so much a review as a thank you. A thank you to Gene Howard and Lace Records all those years ago, and to Modern Harmonic for re-releasing Love Is A Drag. Because you gave me a little bit of my dad back. You’ll never know how deeply it moved me.

And thank you dad. For everything.

modernharmonic.com

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Shock and Consternation: The Night of Trump

Shock and Consternation: The Night of Trump

Few slept the night before, watching with anxiety as states turned red like a train of falling dominoes. For many reasons that I’ll leave to pundits and water-cooler talk to fathom, it was undeniably a false sense of security, and admittedly smugness in the Democratic sentiment that New York’s Javits Center, the site for Hillary’s supporters on election night, with its gorgeous glass ceilings, would be the symbolism to break it with the first woman president. And now uncertainty. And fear. And mostly, helplessness.

In retrospect, it wasn’t about losing the election. It was losing to Trump. Or rather, it was all that Trump embraced throughout the bitter election. But what did this say about us as a nation when we couldn’t build bridges instead of walls? Or joining the world in the war against climate change rather than wars of conquering lands where victors take the spoils? When love did not trump hate? When the message of intolerance for religious or gender preference prevailed? What have we come to? We had an incredibly flawed candidate in Hillary Clinton, but she was nowhere near advocating, or even dangerously pretending to encourage xenophobia and racism? And even if was all rhetoric, what damage did this create for those that held such views as gospel and now consider it a mandate? It was an alternate reality on order of Phillip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle.

This is what marked the day-long rollercoaster of emotions that clouded my head, and the energy all over the office. Like Hillary’s bout with pneumonia, I tried to power through, taking a couple of breaks to dry my tears with the cheap 1-ply toilet paper in the solitude of my bathroom stall. And I wasn’t alone. Many of us in the office did. Early in the afternoon, some gathered around a laptop streaming Hillary Clinton’s admirably honest and heartfelt concession speech, and just lost it. And we were no different than the thousands across America in trying to cope. In spite of the heavy brooding air of shock and loss, we also all powered through by burying ourselves in other work matters. That is, until there was this increasing muffle coming through our 8th Floor window, looking down on Broadway at the flood of people, facing Madison Square Park and the Flatiron building.

“What are they saying?” one colleague asked. “I think it’s just random stuff. It seems pretty disorganized,” another replied. I looked down, amazed at the slow but crowded march up Broadway. “I think they’re going to Trump Tower,” I added. One other remarked, “I don’t see the point. They’re not accomplishing anything by just protesting.” “Gosh, there must have been at least a couple of thousand people that passed by our view in the past 5 minutes.” Further comments flooded as at least 10 of us had our face and hands pressed against the double-paned glass, staring down at the crowd. “I’m going!” I exclaimed as I was grabbing my coat. “If I don’t come back tomorrow, I’ve been gassed or jailed.” I said it mockingly to get a laugh, but the thought of violent endings in other marches this election season did linger in my mind.

“What do I say” as I just merged into the packed crowd. I’ve never done this before. I just wanted to be out, walking and clearing my head. But there I was, just walking, and watching. Was I one of them?

The chants were sporadic. “Who’s streets?!? Our streets!” “Ho Ho Hey Hey, Donald Trump is anti-gay!” variations of that… “Ho ho hey hey, Donald Trump should go away!” “My body, my choice!” “Not our President!” and… “Fuck Donald Trump!”

I tried to participate with a couple of chants, but I felt more self-conscious and stoic. I figured that walking in solidarity was the best I can do.

The march went up Broadway, steered towards 5th avenue up until the early 30s streets before it was diverted cross-town to 7th avenue and merged back on Broadway near Times Square before going back east side around 57th street, and towards Trump Tower.

Some walked for a couple of blocks and veered towards a different destination. The march started at least farther south of where I was. Maybe they were all like me. There were no paid people. There was no plot to start a revolution. For most, it just seemed that there were a whole bunch of people trying to get out their frustrations and finding solace in one another; people of all ages in support for each others races, genders, and religions.

May Terry

I walked ahead to at least 3 different clusters of marchers. Some were more quiet than others. Some were just carrying completely unrelated conversations about work or school. And some just more curious about what it’s all about and maybe had nothing better to do. Many were slow-texting while walking. I found friends and couples holding hands in affection, bonding in a common cause.

As I passed Times Square, I looked up at the bright lights, walking right in the middle of the street, in between cars and taxis, and tourists that were taking pictures in their pop-journalistic tendencies of iReporters. Police officers were diverting traffic, as much as any other event. They were very professional, and actually rather cordial. At one point, there was an officer with a megaphone asking for the crowd to stop to some of the crosstown drivers can pass by. This was met with someone in front of me changing “Fuck the police!”…which was quickly met with me exclaiming “uh! I don’t think so!” and others moving away from that guy immediately. Admittedly, New York’s finest on that night, leaving me proud of our men in blue.

I never made it to the perimeter of Trump Tower, but it wasn’t not by choice. The crowds were packed in tight to the point where you can walk no longer, somewhere about one to two city blocks away. But, we all saw Trump Tower in plain view hovering over all of its surrounding buildings. There was no organized changing, no staged leads on platforms, nothing. Just a whole bunch of disgruntled folks occasionally repeating the same chants on the way up, with some giving the middle finger to the dark 58-floor monolith in defiance. After about 30 minutes there, I squeezed myself to an open space to get a breath of fresh air. It was enough to do what we perhaps all need to do now…breathe. Three deep breaths later, I knew it was time to go home.

May Terry

As I walked towards Penn Station, I passed a bronze sculpture of the classic see, hear, and speak no evil monkeys. I shed a couple more tears as I stood in front, heavy reflecting. I wasn’t going to be calcified and bronzed as our future events unfold.

I was going to speak up.

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The Fest 15

The Fest 15

The barest hint of a chill can be sort of, kind of felt in the air, and pumpkin flavored everythings are suddenly everywhere again. Halloween shops are open for business, and Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights billboards are spooking the tourists along the I-4 corridor. Oh, yes, Fall is sneaking up on Florida and that can only me one thing for punk rock fans: THE FEST!

Now in its 15th year, the annual Halloween weekend indulgence of all things punk, pizza, and party related in Gainesville is slated for October 28-30 (with a 2 day Pre-Fest kicking things off in Tampa on the 26th and 27th). Top billers this year include Propaghandi, The Ergs (one of several reunions of the weekend), Dillinger Four, Braid, Strike Anywhere, and Less Than Jake.

Plenty to get excited about there, but the Top 10 bands that INK 19 recommends you don’t miss are, in no particular order:
Big Eyes, War on Women, Mannequin Pussy, The Smith Street Band, Tenement, F.Y.P. (it’s to be their final show), Gouge Away,Mean Jeans, Underground Railroad to Candyland, and toyGuitar.

Get your tickets to the fun here: thefestfl.limitedrun.com/tickets

thefestfl.com

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Prince Buster, RIP

Prince Buster, RIP

1938-2016

There will never be another Prince Buster.

In a year that has seen some of the greatest talents in music pass away, I am sure that the same statement has also been made about David Bowie, Merle Haggard, and another extremely talented man with the moniker of Prince, but Prince Buster seemed to possess the best parts of the aforementioned musical idols who filled the latter half of the 20th century with their brilliance. The man born as Cecil Bustamente Campbell in Kingston, Jamaica in 1938 had the heartfelt soul of Prince Nelson, the hard life turned into song like Merle Haggard, and the inventiveness and audacity of David Bowie. Prince Buster didn’t have the greatest voice of his era of Jamaican vocalists, nor was he a virtuoso instrumentalist, and as a producer he could be a bit of a mess at times but make no mistake, The Prince would say, sing, and do anything to make his records sound more vital and unique than any of his contemporaries and that is why he inspired generations of musicians after him who decided to play the styles of music that he helped to make famous, and at times, infamous.

Prince Buster and Generoso Fierro, 2002

Prince Buster and Generoso Fierro, 2002

I worked with Prince Buster in 2002 when I helped produce a concert with him, Derrick Morgan, Patsy Todd, and Eric “Monty” Morris, all magnificent singers in their own right. It had been a dream of mine to see them all on a stage in Boston, a town where I lived for thirty years and did radio program, The Bovine Ska and Rocksteady, during the last twenty years before leaving for Los Angeles in 2015. The show took a lot out of us but in the end, in terms of music, it was one of the most satisfying experiences during my many years there. Buster headlined the show that evening and that decision was not just based on talent, it was simply because Buster’s reputation had preceded him and the people who heard about the show before it was officially advertised, usually reacted with amazement and with the question, “really?” I loved Buster’s music and his mystique, but I was impressed by the look of shock. Was it because almost every Two-Tone era ska group from Madness to Bad Manners to The Specials to The English Beat covered Buster songs, with Madness going as far as even naming their band after one of his hits? Or was it because Buster had popular songs back in the day like “Big Five” that were so filthy that the uncensored version would make Lil Wayne blush? I think that the answer begins in 1961, when Prince Buster, who had just begun a singing career, produced one of the most important records in Jamaican music history.

In the years prior to becoming a singer and producer, Prince Buster worked as a “bodyguard” and selector (deejay) for the very popular Downbeat Sound System run by Sir Coxsone Dodd of later Studio One fame, but Buster wanted to branch out on his own and after securing a loan from Tom Wong, better known to reggae aficionados as Tom The Great Sebastian, one of the earliest, if not the earliest sound system operators in Jamaica, Buster started his own sound system, “The Voice Of The People.” Like Coxsone and Duke Reid, Buster’s sound was doing well, but acquiring the precious new rhythm and blues records from the United States that were needed to stay competitive was becoming more and more difficult as trips to the States were getting harder to pull off, so Buster made another career move to become a producer and singer in the small, but rapidly growing Jamaican recording industry. For this new endeavor, Buster called on percussionist, Arkland “Drumbago” Parks, and guitarist, Jah Jerry, to help him assemble a group of instrumentalists for the recording studio which resulted in Buster’s first release as a producer and artist, a fairly forgettable Jamaican rhythm and blues track with sub-par vocals called “Little Honey.”

A few singles would follow to some success but Prince Buster needed a real hit for his young label to gain acceptance and being that he was not blessed with a show-stopping voice, Buster travelled to the Wareika Hills looking for a sound that would make his recordings distinct. On his return to Kingston, Buster brought Rastafarians, Count Ossie and his group of Niyabinghi drummers (then called Count Ossie’s Afro-Combo) back to the studio, where they played on “Oh Carolina,” a simple tune by the Folkes Brothers which The Prince made remarkable due to the inclusion of African-influenced Niyabinghi-style drumming and chanting, A few music historians have noted the precedent of “Oh Carolina” as being the first Jamaican recording to feature a Rastafarian performance, but to fully grasp the audacity of this collaboration you need a better cultural context.

By 2016, the western world has had over forty years of seeing iconic images of Bob Marley with his flowing dreadlocks and a joint in his hand and based on that, most non-Jamaicans normally make the assumption that Rastafarianism had always been an acceptable way of life in Jamaica, but let me assure you that when “Oh Carolina” was recorded in 1961 Jamaica, a country that was still under British rule, Rastafarians were viewed as a dangerous cult. Rastas were regularly harassed by police as the government saw them as a blight in a country headed for independence the following year with the hope of global acceptance. Despite the perception of Rastas by the people in power, “Oh Carolina” becoming a runaway hit helped solidify Prince Buster’s scofflaw reputation as the true “Voice Of The People,” a title that Buster would parlay into a folk hero persona that would become larger than life over his long career.

Throughout 1961 and the next year, Prince Buster would ride the success of “Oh Carolina” into a string of popular singles, some of which The Prince would sing himself, and other by a bevy of talented young singers including Frank Cosmo, Basil Gabbidon, Eric Monty Morris, and the man many describe as the first musical superstar in Jamaica, Derrick Morgan, who in one week had seven of the top ten songs on the Jamaican Hit Parade, a feat that has never been equaled. Derrick was indeed the crown jewel of Buster’s Wild Bells label, but Morgan’s sudden departure in 1962 from Wild Bells to work for the upstart Chinese-Jamaican ice-cream shop owner and record producer, Leslie Kong and his Beverley’s label would lead to a series of events that would further establish Buster as the undisputed “king of the rude boys.”

While at Beverleys, Derrick Morgan would continue as a hit machine and in 1962, he would score one of the biggest hits of his young career with the song, “Forward March,” a single that became the signature song for Jamaica’s Independence celebrations that year, but this continued success angered Morgan’s former producer, Prince Buster, a great deal leading a rather nasty exchange between the pair. Still upset over Morgan’s departure, Buster claimed that the solo that saxophonist Deadly Headley Bennett (late of this earth just a few weeks ago on August 21st, 2016) played on” Forward March” was stolen from one of Buster’s own hit songs, “They Got To Come”. As a form of retaliation, Prince Buster wrote and recorded the appallingly vicious track, “Black Head Chinaman”, which as you may have guessed portends that Derrick Morgan was not really black but Chinese. “You done stole my (Buster’s) belongings to give to your China Man”. Inflammatory lyrics that made the song a slam against Morgan and his producer, Leslie Kong. Derrick would respond to Buster with his own song, “Blazing Fire,” a composition that begins with Morgan reciting the following line in Chinese, “Shut up you idiot.” Things appeared pretty grim between the two former friends.

Subsequent offensive tracks were lobbed between the pair during the next year making this conflict the first record war in Jamaican music history. This battle would stir the interest of their individual fan bases, which at times even generated physical altercations between Morgan and Buster’s supporters with the real outcome being a huge boom in record sales and a furthering of Buster’s bad boy image. Surprisingly, when I interviewed both gentlemen in the early 2000s, they admitted to the entire affair was a fabrication created by Buster just to sell records. A pretty dangerous method to sell the public on some music, but Buster came out of the whole thing back in the day a bit richer and with his reputation as a man beyond reproach when it came to the music business.

After the “Blackhead China Man” stunt, the ska era would prove to be a great time for The Prince, but with the change of rhythm to rocksteady in 1966, Buster’s productions would take a backseat to rival producers, Coxsone Dodd, Duke Reid, and yes, even Leslie Kong, all of whom had the greater financial capital to lure the up and coming talent to their labels, most specifically the immensely popular vocal groups like The Heptones, The Paragons, and The Gaylads. Buster still had the talents of Roy Panton, Dawn Penn, and Larry Marshall for his new rocksteady imprints, Olive Blossom and Prince Buster (oh, yes he did), but the majority of his resources would be focused on his own singing career. There were some fantastic cuts by Buster during this era, including a mischievous sounding duet that The Prince would perform with a young Lee “Scratch” Perry entitled, “Johnny Cool,” but it was the series of “Judge Dread” records that Buster would talk his way through that would become of standouts of his rocksteady releases.

Though rocksteady saw a slowing down of the rhythm, it also saw an increase in crime in Kingston, as Jamaica was suffering from the post-colonial effects of independence from England. Foreign companies began rapidly destroying Jamaican agricultural land in their greedy attempts at removing tons of bauxite from the earth for aluminum production. Farmers who saw their livelihoods ruined flocked to Kingston in search of work, but with only a few jobs to be had in the city many of these displaced farmers turned to crime and thus, the “rude boy” was born. In response to this crisis, several musical artists began writing tunes about the rude boy’s exploits, some being sympathetic to their plight, while others, like Prince Buster, condemned their actions in song. To vilify the rude boy’s actions, Buster created the character of “Judge Dread” who would dispense wildly draconian sentences upon rude boys for committing crimes. These tracks, which had lyrics were never sung but spoken, were immediately copied by rival producers to limited popularity. To combat the mimicry, Buster would reprise Judge Dread in several subsequent songs including “The Appeal,” and “Barrister’s Pardon.” These releases proved so successful that years later, the English singer, Alexander Minto Hughes, would change his name to Judge Dread and like Buster, Judge Dread would assume a deviant persona that led to a two decade career which sold millions of the rudest records in UK history.

Once rocksteady had passed out of vogue and reggae had begun to pick up steam, so did the need to be more audacious on records. In 1968, Max Romeo, the lead singer of the rocksteady group, The Emotions, released one of the first runaway hits of the new reggae rhythm, “Wet Dream,” which is as filthy as it sounds. The race was now on to outperform the popularity of Romeo’s vulgar hit, and as he would not to be outdone in terms of scandalous material, Prince Buster would release the aforementioned, “Big Five,” a track eschews double entendre and so graphically describes the sex act that “censored” and “uncensored” versions needed to be released. Needless to write, “Big Five” was one of the biggest records of Prince Buster’s career, a record that was parodied by Judge Dread to equal fortune as “Big Six” “Big Seven” and yes, “Big Eight, Nine, and One too!” Years later when the whole Two Tone era took off, a blending of traditional ska and punk rock viscera, you can clearly see Buster’s influence. If bands like The Specials and Bad Manners weren’t covering Buster’s songs, they were embodying his attitude.

Throughout the remainder of his career, Prince Buster remained as bold and inventive as he needed be. In the short three days that I worked with Buster, I found him to be tough at times, joyous when the song worked, sweet at the end of the show, and pretty fucking exciting throughout. I threw that f-word in for you Buster, because I think you would’ve liked that. Rest in peace.

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The RockNRoll Chorus

RockNRoll Chorus

Celebrating a Decade of Dreams

Lauren Ferguson

It was any teenager’s typical July Sunday. That is, if in your teenage world, “typical” is defined by starting out the day at noon – performing the National Anthem in front of 20,000 Tampa Bay Rays / New York Yankee fans, and then commuting immediately (via a luxury tour bus) from St. Petersburg’s Tropicana Stadium to an afternoon soundcheck for an evening concert appearance at Orlando’s famed Full Sail Live. But for the teenage members of The RockNRoll Chorus, life on the road – touring across the country, playing to thousands of fans each summer is their definition of “typical.” And for the last decade, this celebrated New Jersey-based vocal troupe has been providing dream-come-true experiences for aspiring young performers, while building an impeccable reputation as a world-class concert act.

The brainchild of veteran vocal teacher and music biz insider, Joe Cantaffa, The RockNRoll Chorus was first launched in 2006 as the ultimate opportunity for high school-age kids to learn the ropes of the entertainment industry in a variety of authentic, professional settings. Despite operating initially on less than a shoestring budget, a handful of hungry teenagers in cutoffs and T-shirts believed in Cantaffa’s vision of creating a national-level, rock-appella-style, recording and touring group – and were all too eager to sign-on. In short order, their debut album, What They Didn’t Teach Us in School, had been produced and released. By 2007, a slew of live concert dates had been slated. And so it began.

Lauren Ferguson

The RNRC tagline is direct and to the point – “No instruments. Just voices.” And from the vocalized guitar parts (cue distortion effects), beat box techniques, soaring voices and arena-style audio / visual production, the group’s live show has developed into a bona fide rock and roll spectacle. As a result, there was considerable anticipation regarding their current 10th Anniversary concert tour – including tonight’s show in Orlando.

By 6pm, Central Florida fans already were being wanded by security and ushered into the Full Sail auditorium, while the group made final backstage preparations – primping, preening, body-stretches, vocal warm-ups and receiving pre-show instructions from its team of professional coaches and experienced handlers. Showtime – 7pm!

Lauren Ferguson

In typical fashion, The RNRC truly delivered the goods in O-Town, with each of the 25 members leaving behind a quart of sweat on Full Sail’s enormous, state-of-the-art stage. Throughout the high-energy, hour-long performance, fans cheered and sang along to much-loved classics by U2, Journey and Queen, as well as more recent favorites from the likes of Parachute and Coldplay.

Having delivered an amazing performance, most cast members clearly were experiencing a post-show, backstage adrenaline rush. However, for the group’s senior members who are heading off to college this fall, the Orlando concert evoked a mix of emotions, as it brought the tour one day closer to completion – the tour that would be their last with The RNRC – a cross-country trek that also would culminate in an appearance at the iconic Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

At the ripe old age of 18, Natalie Lorenzo is the cast’s “elder stateswoman.” Having performed with The RNRC throughout her entire high school career, the recent graduate reflected openly on her personal experiences with the group over the last four years.

“It’s been wonderful,” Lorenzo commented, while relaxing in the greenroom with fellow veteran cast members, following the Full Sail show. Preparing to pursue entertainment business studies in the fall, she spoke humbly, and quickly made clear that for her, being in The RNRC was not about trying to become a star, but rather, about building relationships. “The RockNRoll Chorus affects so many people in so many ways,” Lorenzo continued. “You could be in the group for two months, or four years, and can still have connections with people for years after.”

With plans of studying theatre this fall, Danielle Burg echoed Lorenzo’s sentiments. “It was better than great,” the retiring cast member recalls of her three-year RNRC run. “(Joining this group) was honestly, the best decision I ever made,” she continued. “I’m really not ready to leave yet.”

“It’s hard to think about what it will be like when I leave for college and I don’t have this – a show every day,” confessed Mackenzie Price, of her two years performing with the group. Soon to be pursuing a career in the fashion industry, Price added that she’s grateful for, “the friendships that I’ve made, and the experiences that I’ve had.”

Lauren Ferguson

“This group actually has helped me to define what my strengths are, what my weaknesses are, and what I love to do,” mused longtime member, Ethan Greenberg. As an incoming senior, Greenberg still has one more year with the group – and he seemed to hit upon the precise reason why being part of The RNRC has meant so much to so many members over the last decade. “Connecting with people is one of the reasons why I love this group so much. But it’s really the connection we have with each other.”

But as seasoned cast members bid farewell to the group, fans and life on the road this summer, new members who share the same hopes and dreams, stand in the wings, waiting to experience their big break. And as the cast evolves, and the brand continues to gain recognition, the future of The RockNRoll Chorus remains bright, indeed. In fact, the group’s latest album, No Guilt ‘Til Monday, (their 7th overall) arrives this October. And with founder, leader and visionary, Joe Cantaffa mapping out next summer’s tour, he’s also already planning to produce their next album – one that he expects will be the first RNRC record to contain ALL original songs.

rocknrollchorus.com

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Jule Vera

Jule Vera

US Pop/Rock Poster Kids Conquer UK and Prep New LP

DATELINE: April 3, 2016 – Sims Park (New Port Richey, Florida)

Sporting skin-tight jeans, an authentic denim jacket (adorned with a slew of rock and roll buttons), road weary Chuck Taylors, and accented by a stylish tweed flat cap, 22-year-old William Stacey peered (Killroy-style) over a six-foot-high, backstage wall – perusing the festival crowd just prior to show time. It’s been a colossal two-year climb, indeed – one in which the railroad spike-thin, super-long-haired bassist has experienced the global explosion of his Auburn, Alabama-based combo, Jule Vera.

Christopher Long

Having rocketed from small hometown gigs in 2014 to the 40-city Van’s Warped Tour in 2015 to a subsequent major cross-country trek in early 2016, an exhausted, yet triumphant Jule Vera stood waiting in the wings at Sims Park tonight – cocked, loaded and ready to hit the stage at 7pm – headlining the prestigious week-long Bay Area Music Showcase. Although this performance marked the official conclusion of the US leg of their year-long Friendly Enemies tour, the band would be afforded little more than a brief breather before embarking on the next frontier – the UK.

May 2016 found the newly-minted pop/rock poster kids traveling across “the pond” along with the Minneapolis-based band, As It Is, for an incredible 14-show outing that brought both acts to sweat-soaked concert stages in such legendary locales as London, Sheffield, Bristol, Liverpool and South Hampton.

Christopher Long

Possessing classic movie star looks, the voice of a God-sent angel, a flair for fabulous make-up and a penchant for Cap’n Crunch breakfast cereal, Jule Vera’s captivating frontchick, Ansley Newman, found the recent UK experience to be particularly memorable – for many reasons. “In Scotland, before we played the show, the whole crowd chanted, ‘Here we! Here we! Here we fucking go!’ It got the crowd hyped, and all of us hyped before we went on stage. It was awesome.”

In what could have been a scene ripped right out of the movie, This is Spinal Tap, Newman also recalls a certain travel mishap. “We were flying over to the UK and the airline misplaced our bag containing some very important gear. Luckily we made it through the first two shows okay without it. We got it back, but it was pretty stressful.”

Fortunately, Jule Vera’s UK excursion offered more than a tedious “all work, and no play” scenario, as the band members did manage the time for a little sightseeing along the way. “Probably one of my favorite places we visited was the oldest inn in England called, Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, in Nottingham,” Newman commented. “It opened in 1189 and had really good food and drinks. And the interior was super-cool. It was built into the side of the Nottingham castle, and the walls were carved from stone.”

Christopher Long


Christopher Long

Having returned stateside, safe and sound, Jule Vera is currently spending the summer holed-up in the studio, working diligently on material for their soon-to-be-released sophomore effort. While innovative guitar ace, Jake Roland, confesses that life on the road can be, “definitely hard sometimes,” he’s quick to also point out, “We’ve really made a lot of friends (on tour).” But after a year and a half of near-non-stop traveling, Roland is clearly eager to be getting back into the studio and finally working on a new Jule Vera record. He further revealed that the band has already written, and is now demoing dozens of new songs – a process that drummer, Kyle Horvath, refers to as, “a total group effort.”

Christopher Long

Featuring the super-catchy, crunchy earworms, “Light the Night,” “One Little String” and “You Can’t Mess it Up,” the musical bar set by the band’s acclaimed Pure Noise Records debut, Friendly Enemies, is extremely high, to be sure. However, based on the continued involvement of famed producer, Mitch Parks, and the strength of such recently unveiled new concert tracks as, “Bottom of the Line” and “Let’s Run Away,” the expectations of Jule Vera “splitting the uprights” (again) with their second record appear extremely realistic. #TheFuturesSoBrightIGottaWearShades

www.julevera.com