Video Fridays: R.I.P., B.B. King

BB_KingI can think of no simpler and better way to sum up why B.B. King, who has sadly left us, so completely deserved his nickname, King of the Blues, than to point out that when I and millions of people around the world think of the blues, the sound we hear in our heads is B.B. King.

B.B. was the quintessential bluesman: raised a sharecropper on a cotton plantation, he knew and lived the hard life that is the very heart of the blues. Fortified by the gospel tradition, inspired by the blues from the very first time he heard it on the radio, he taught himself how to play the guitar, spent his Saturday afternoons, when done with work, busking and honing his craft, and was finally able to leave the plantation thanks to relentless touring on the Chitlin’ Circuit.

Though he was unsuccessful in marriage — two failed 8-year stints, 15 children with 15 women — by all accounts he was a very warm, friendly, and generous person, beloved by all of the musicians who were fortunate enough to know him and/or share the stage with him.

Beyond the sound that I hear in my head, as a musician myself, when I think of B.B. King I think of the depth of his immersion in the music, the visceral feeling he could wring out of his instruments, both guitar and voice, and the visual component, the wonderful facial expressions he’d make as he performed evidence that he was totally committed to authenticity. He also smiled a lot, and the overall impression, as you watch him play, is that he felt deep gratitude and joy for his livelihood as a musician.

I have the closest, personal connection with his biggest hit, The Thrill Is Gone, as I’ve performed it in several bands that I’ve been in. I love minor key blues!

And so, without further ado, here’s this week’s Video Fridays installment.

R.I.P., B.B., thanks SO much for your wonderful music, and Happy Weekend, everyone!

Out of Office: AbaloneFest 2015 Edition

diver
Me, at AbaloneFest 2011
Back in May 2011, I wrote about an epic road trip I experienced with some guy friends, driving from here in Bellingham, Washington to Mendocino, California and back in one long weekend. The occasion was my first ever AbaloneFest: a weekend of camping and merry-making and diving for abalone.

I made the trip again and posted about it in 2013, missed AbFest 2014, but today I hit the road, headed for this year’s festivities.

And, it couldn’t come at a better time. I’ve been feeling in a bit of rut lately, getting worn down by the day-to-day grind of work and other routines.

It’s tremendously therapeutic, taking a break like this, having concentrated time with friends, traveling through less-familiar landscapes, enjoying extended contact with and connection to nature, relaxing, and even reveling.

As a result, though, things will be quiet here at Fish & Bicycles.

While I’m gone, if you’re so inclined, please feel free to browse around in any of the following ways:

  • Tags: In the sidebar, under Stuff About…, you can click on any of the Tags and see all the posts I’ve done that have at least something to do with those topics.
  • Recurring Series: At the top of the page, hover over the Recurring Series drop-down menu and select from options like Celebrating Progress, which applauds businesses adopting sustainable practices; Eyecatchers, a collection of photos, graphics, and videos that have, well, caught my eye; Video Fridays, my favorite video of the week pick; and more.
  • Archives: Towards the bottom of the sidebar, select a specific month to see everything I posted in that time period.

Cheers!

Video Fridays: Legendary Band Breakups: Uncle Tupelo

utPutting a music group together is a fickle and challenging process, often filled with drama and angst, frustration and resignation.

You have to find a band of people who all like the same music, have similar levels of musical competency, have similar levels of availability for practice and gigs, have all the gear they need, among them have access to a practice space, and have similar levels of commitment to the project.

Given those parameters, and taking into account my own personal experience of putting together and being in rock & roll bands, it’s pretty easy to understand the mystique of the band origin story: those quasi-magical tales of when, for instance, Lennon & McCartney or Jagger & Richards met; of how The Beatles and The Who really weren’t The Beatles or The Who until they played their first gigs with Ringo Starr and Keith Moon, respectively.

Likewise, band breakup stories are also the stuff of legends, from irreconcilable artistic differences to sibling rivalries, or interfering spouses to the death of a member.

In the irreconcilable artistic differences category, one of my favorite breakup stories concerns a band I loved a lot in the early 1990s: Uncle Tupelo.

Uncle Tupelo slowly formed in the mid-1980s, going through several different lineups and band names, eventually solidifying as the trio of Jay Farrar, Jeff Tweedy, and Mike Heidorn. Farrar and Tweedy were the two songwriters and singers, together they concocted an infectious blend of American roots music and punk rock sensibility, and yet they only produced four albums before their acrimonious end in 1994.

Just as The Beatles could never have indefinitely provided it’s four members with enough individual artistic outlet to keep them all happy, Farrar and Tweedy both had the songwriting and musicianship talent to be frontmen of their own bands, and they both gradually grew frustrated with only getting to write and sing lead vocals for half of the songs they recorded and performed.

Proof came when both of them formed new bands, Farrar’s Son Volt and Tweedy’s Wilco, and recorded their first albums within a year of Uncle Tupelo’s breakup.

I was so sad about the breakup, that when I got the first Son Volt and Wilco albums, I recorded both of them onto a single cassette tape, one song at a time, alternating songs from the two albums, and it very nearly ended up sounding like an Uncle Tupelo record.

However, Wilco would soon break away from a predominant American roots music orientation, and by their third album, Summerteeth, Wilco and Son Volt were so entirely different that a mixed tape attempt to keep Uncle Tupelo together would have been an incongruent mess.

Well, thanks to YouTube user songhunter1966, for this week’s Video Fridays installment we have a real treat, Uncle Tupelo’s very last performance, an entire May 1994 show featuring their final lineup, a lineup that tells the future: within months of their breakup, Tweedy would form Wilco with the drummer, Ken Coomer, who had replaced Mike Heidorn two years ealier, and bass player, John Stirrat; and when Farrar founded Son Volt he called on Mike Heidorn to be his drummer.

Watching this concert, even just a little bit, makes me wish Uncle Tupelo would do some reunion shows, and I realize that band reunions are a third category of legendary music history tales, but that will have to be another blog post, some other time.

Enjoy, and Happy Weekend, everyone!

Alabama Shakes: The Real Deal

brittany-howardWhen I first heard the reverb-drenched, Soul-infused rock & roll of Alabama Shakes‘ 2012 debut, Boys & Girls, I was instantly hooked.

This band just seemed to come out of nowhere, fully formed and brilliant, a gorgeous mix of Memphis and Muscle Schoals, but with a guitar-centric rock approach, and a frontwoman, Brittany Howard, who is, in my opinion, an audacious superstar in the making.

That said, describing Alabama Shakes as “The Real Deal”, as I did in the title of this post, warrants some explanation.

See, pop music is littered with superficial formulaic poseurs, always has been, but it’s become a veritable pandemic in the music video era.

If I had to choose one musician who serves as a “Real Deal” benchmark, someone whom all other “Real Deals” must approximate, it would be the late, great Joe Cocker, circa the late 1960s through the mid 1970s.

In my obituary post for Joe this past December, I described him thusly:

If I had to use one word to describe Joe Cocker’s greatness, I would use the word commitment, because, when you watch and listen to Joe perform, you see and hear a man committing himself to the music to the fullest extent possible, giving himself over to it completely, giving all of himself without reservation.

There’s no way to fake what he did…

I’d add that Joe Cocker was no pretty face, and especially during his 60s and 70s heyday he’d never be mistaken for a fashion model.

With that in mind, consider this description of Brittany Howard, from an article in The Atlantic:

During the young band’s already-legendary concerts, she taps into what she’s called the “the spirit world”—“latching on to a feeling, riding it, trying not to come out of it. You stop thinking, you’re just performing—that’s the spirit world.” The ideal of a total-abandon performance, of being in the zone like an athlete, isn’t a new one for musicians. But it’s one that seems especially powerful in relation to Howard, a singer who rasps and booms in styles that recall icons from Robert Plant to Nina Simone.

Add the fact that Howard bucks the trend of the Barbie Doll pop singer, in all her voluptuous glory, and she more than meets the Joe Cocker “Real Deal” standard.

I’ve been listening to their sophomore album — Sound & Color, just released today — on repeat all morning, and as if they needed to garner any more accolades, they have absolutely earned them.

They could have easily played it safe here. Their first album sold respectably, but more importantly the tour that followed was marked by, as The Atlantic put it, “legendary concerts”, powerful TV performances, and critical acclaim.

But, rather than sticking musically close to their debut record, Sound & Color is stunningly bold in its variety, with some Southern Soul carryover accompanying elements ranging from jazz, funk, and disco to punk and psychedelia.

Quoting The Atlantic again, it’s “delightfully unglued”!

But, I’ll shut up now and let Alabama Shakes do the talking, with these recent SNL performances of Sound & Color tracks Don’t Wanna Fight and Gimme All Your Love.

Enjoy!

Video Fridays: Birth Of A Guitar

B&G Guitars
B&G Guitars
You don’t have to be obsessed with guitars, as I am, to appreciate this week’s Video Fridays installment.

In fact, I think it’s actually possible that folks who aren’t obsessed with guitars might actually appreciate today’s video even more than I do.

I’ve mentioned numerous times here at Fish & Bicycles, most recently this past Tuesday, that I play guitar and sing in a Rock & Roll band. As a result, I have a pretty good understanding of the various parts of a guitar and how they are constructed.

And still, I found the following video, of a GORGEOUS custom guitar being built by the folks at B&G Handmade Guitars, to be absolutely captivating.

I think there’s a good chance that for many people who don’t share the guitar obsession with me, this will be a very cool, eye-opening insight as to what this process looks like, engendering a new appreciation for the craftsmanship and artistry involved.

Happy Weekend, everyone!

Rockin’ & Rollin’ At The Green Frog

So, in the photo below, that’s me on stage on the left, performing last night with my band, Landing Party, at The Green Frog, a Bellingham establishment prominently featured in a recent post I did on, of all things, grilled cheese sandwiches.

The photo is courtesy of my friend Dennis, who admitted that the beer glass, rather than the band, is in focus because a man must have his priorities.

We had a blast, and we look forward to rockin’ The Green Frog again somewhere down the line.

LP-Green Frog

Video Fridays: Donovan

donovanThere’s a time to rock, such as last week’s post featuring the music of The Who.

And, there is a time — such as a sleep-deprived Friday, after an exhausting, stressful week — to listen to a simple, beautiful song, sung by one person playing an acoustic guitar and harmonica.

I’m not a HUGE Donovan fan, but there are a handful of his songs that I love a lot, and when I came across a video of one of these, posted by a friend on Facebook this morning, it felt really, really good to hear it.

Catch The Wind is only 2-minutes long, but it soothed my raggedness, and as outside the past few days of sunny weather succumbed to the clouds of an approaching rain storm, at least one verse of the lyrics seemed offered up just for me:

When rain has hung the leaves with tears
I want you near to kill my fears
To help me to leave all my blues behind

Whether or not you feel as worn out as I do, I hope you’ll enjoy this sweet little ditty as this week’s Video Fridays installment.

Happy Weekend, everyone!