Archive for February, 2011

It’s Johnny Cash’s Birthday

February 26, 2011

Rosanne Cash tweeted earlier today (she’s as good a tweeter as she is a songwriter – a must follow @rosannecash) that today would have been her dad’s 79th birthday. He left us too early but also left us a wealth of good work. In her tweet, Rosanne linked to this video, and it’s a great one. We get to see the Man in Black dressed in white, among other things.

That’s Tex Ritter introducing Mr. Cash and the Tennessee Two (Luther Perkins on guitar, Marshall Grant on bass), probably first broadcast in 1956. The song is Get Rhythm, first released as the B-side of I Walk the Line, then re-released as a single in 1969. Please enjoy!


Solidarity Now! Wisconsin Unions Need Us All!

February 21, 2011

Everybody knows what’s going on in Wisconsin. Governor Scott Walker is trying to bust the state’s public employee unions, and only the courage of 14 Senate Democrats is preventing him from doing it. These Senators are taking a huge political risk to do what they’re doing: they need your support, and you can give it here.

But there’s more at stake here than Wisconsin: in the wake of the Citizens United case, unions’ voices, already muffled, are in danger of being silenced. Many states have either filed or ar readying measures as punitive as Wisconsin’s. Their passage would complete the takeover of our political system by the Koch brothers and the financial industry.

It’s time to hit the streets again, gang!

The SEIU has a list of solidarity events scheduled all over the country this week. If there’s not one near where you live, move.

Here’s a video of the people of Wisconsin – that’s Arcade Fire doing the soundtrack. Time to stand and fight, now.

Taj Mahal in Boston Thursday Feb. 24

February 20, 2011

Taj Mahal is the official blues musician of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, but don’t hold that against him. He’s been playing his own blues-based mix of music from all over the world for over forty years, and he shows no signs of slowing down.

This week he’s in Boston on Thursday, at the Wilbur Theatre (good seats are, inexplicably, still available) and in NYC on Friday and Saturday, as part of the Jazz at Lincoln Center program (ticket info here).

My first Taj Mahal record was The Natch’l Blues – I was browsing in a record store and they played Corrina, Corrina – I was smart enough to buy it on the spot. My latest was Phantom Blues, which has my all-time favorite cover of Chuck Willis’s classic What Am I Living For. The one I love best is still Giant Step/De Ole Folks at Home, released in 1969 – it was a double LP then: Giant Step with a great band including Jesse Ed Davis on guitar, De Ole Folks at Home with solo Taj. It holds up just fine.

If you can’t be there for any of his shows this week (get the full tour schedule at Taj’s website), here’s a live Fishin’ Blues from 2008. Please enjoy!


Joe Val Festival This Weekend!

February 15, 2011

The Boston Bluegrass Union is hosting the 26th Annual Joe Val Festival this weekend at the Sheraton Framingham in beautiful Framingham, Massachusetts this Friday through Sunday, February 18th-20th. This time they’ve really outdone themselves, with an all-star cast of performers including J. D. Crowe and the New South, The Grascals, Tony Trischka and his band, and many more. There’ll be workshops, classes from beginner to master for every instrument known to bluegrass, and a kid’s academy open to aspiring bluegrassers aged 5-17.

The Sheraton is sold out, but tickets for most events are still available and you might still find a room nearby – the BBU has a couple of suggestions on its website.

Even if you can’t make it this weekend, you need to know that the Val Festival is only the tip of the BBU iceberg. They do a great concert series (Dailey and Vincent are next up on April 16), hold picking parties, and generally work hard every day to keep bluegrass music alive in the frozen north. Visit the site, they do a great job!

Joe Val himself was a typewriter repairman from Everett who loved bluegrass music and performed it beautifully and courageously. He led the New England Bluegrass Boys for about a dozen years in the 1970s and ’80s and recorded and toured prolifically before his untimely death in 1985. Here’s Joe and the Boys from around 1984, performing Fields Have Turned Brown and Sunny Side of the Mountain (there’s a little blackout between the two songs – keep watching!). Please enjoy!

The “It’s Still Winter” Blues

February 10, 2011

Now it’s called seasonal affective disorder, but the bluesmen and women who came up north from the Mississippi Delta and other points south might have gotten to the middle of a cold Chicago February and just called it the blues. There are plenty of blues songs featuring the weather: most commonly floods (see Charlie Patton’s High Water Everywhere and Bessie Smith’s Blackwater Blues for good examples). But I could only come up with a couple of cold weather songs (add yours in the comments, if you’ve got ’em). Maybe it just got too cold to write down lyrics or play the guitar.

Fortunately for those of us still freezing up here (I’m just outside Boston and it’s going down to 7º tonight) Sonny Boy Williamson came through with his classic Nine Below Zero. Sonny Boy tended to have trouble with women, but his usual procedure was to change his trouble into theirs if he could (and often right back to his – see his Your Funeral and My Trial for that turnabout). In this one, though, he stays both literally and figuratively out in the cold.

Here’s a video of Sonny Boy Williamson’s performance of Nine Below Zero, from the must-see DVD, American Folk-Blues Festival: The British Tours 1963-1966. On it, among others, are Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, T-Bone Walker, Lonnie Johnson and more, all in a sympathetic setting with great backing bands (that’s Otis Spann behind Sonny Boy).

Note that this is Sonny Boy Williamson II, born Aleck “Rice” Miller. There was another Sonny Boy Williamson, and Miller took his name for reasons that remain, to me at least, obscure. He later claimed he had it first, but no one believed that for a minute. Here’s a case where the original is decidedly not the greatest: Sonny Boy II is one of the best, and he’s at his best here. Nine Below Zero! Please enjoy.


Welcome Balloon Juice Readers!

February 9, 2011

The post DougJ® so kindly mentioned this morning is just under this one – before you go, a little intro – this is a mostly music blog that started as a commentary on a course I was teaching about Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music. Since then it’s branched out a bit, but I talk about country, Americana, old-timey, and whatever strikes my fancy, always with a video attached. Please feel free to look around – just make yourself at home and stay as long as you like.

The Times They Have A-Changed

February 8, 2011

Back in December of last year, the auction house Sotheby’s sold Bob Dylan’s original handwritten lyrics for The Times They Are A-Changin’ to a hedge fund manager for $422,500 (full story here). Dylan wrote it in 1963, right around the time of the March on Washington, and a few months before the assassination of President Kennedy, so while its lyrics directly address the new momentum the March gave the Civil Rights Movement, they proved equally applicable to the tumult that followed: what we now call “the ’60s.”

So my first reaction to the sale was a less-than-amused appreciation of its irony; here’s a zillionaire hedge fund guy spending nearly half a million for the lyrics that many of us, who thought back then that we could change the world, used as our blueprint for that change. And, of course, had that change come as we so naively hoped it would, there wouldn’t be nearly so many hedge fund managers out there as there are right now. But there are, and their obscene tax breaks (check it out here) make it possible for them to spend about eight years worth of income for the median US household (yes, eight years) for a sheet of looseleaf paper. A sheet of looseleaf paper with those lyrics on it. Ironic, yes.

But then I started thinking of another Dylan song – Ballad Of A Thin Man. You remember that one: “Something is happening here / And you don’t know what it is / Do you, Mr. Jones.” When that song first came out, I was pretty smug about it – I was one of those in the know and Mr. Jones was the bewildered fool. Now, forty-odd years later, the hedge funds are holding the lyric sheet and I’m Mr. Jones and it’s not a good feeling at all. The times, they have a-changed. The song? true as it ever was. The message? spun around by just about 180º. It’s me on the run now, and I don’t move near as fast as I did back then. Wish me luck.

The video? A marvelous version of The Times They Are A-Changin’ performed by the peerless Nina Simone. Please enjoy.