Monday, August 21, 2017


It's fitting that I spent a good part of the day rendering advice to my daughter because this eclipse song mentions motherly advice--nothing like it. Wish JoAnne were still here to share her wisdom. I've already posted a blog about the day I let my Mama down when this song showed up on the radio in my Mama's car.
The punch line of Manfred Mann's song:
Mama always told me not to look into the eyes of the sun/
But Mama, that's where the fun is!

Of course the first song that came to mind last week apropos the solar eclipse was Carly Simon's. Fittingly, there is a vanity quiz for guys in GQ this month. It made me laugh on Saturday when I got my glossy fix. One of my medical school classmates with a boat once told me I had a thing for vain guys. I guess I have finally learned my lesson…. And I laugh to think in the summer of 2015 on my way home from Martha's Vineyard, a man did offer to take me to Saratoga. Fortunately, my son came to the rescue!

"Then you flew your Learjet up to Nova Scotia to see the total eclipse of the sun."

I thought of a third song this morning, but that acoustic memory has been eclipsed. So thanks to Pat McDonald, let's just say my future's so bright, I have to wear shades.

"I got a crazy teacher who wears dark glasses/
Things are going great and they're only getting better"

Monday, June 5, 2017

Songs from the Wood, Er, Vinyl

Let me assert the joy of owning an album is not the cover art. It’s the songs you never knew you loved until you bought the album.

Can we talk Elton John, Honkey Chateau: “Susie (Dramas)”
“Down by the river where we share a little lovin in the moonshine”

Can we talk Lady Gaga, Joanne: “John Wayne”
“Every john is just the same/I’m sick of their city games”

Can we talk Ian McLagan, United States: “Mean Old World”
“People will talk and when they do/Like Chinese whispers, truth takes a walk”

I’m sure you can think of more examples. Today I heard something off Honkey Chateau and smiled to think that record was my first. And so it began.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Silent Knight

People from Japan and Kentucky ask me: How was that Resentments show? And I just say I’ll blog about it.

Short answer to the question: Resentments shows rock steady. I base my response on 15 years of Sunday night visits to the Saxon Pub. That’s so many years that my beautiful daughter now takes me to dinner then drives me down Lamar in her Civic.

In the early years, I’d turn north on Lamar from 71, drive past Hether on the right, and make an easy, breezy left into the overflow lot to the south of the pub strip mall, pay my cover, and find a good seat 30 minutes before the show.

But Lamar has changed dramatically over the past decade. A multistory condo has gobbled up the overflow lot. That imposing edifice towers close enough to the Saxon strip mall to usurp it.

I was already used to seeing homeless people beg for money in front of Barton Creek Mall. Now on Lamar there’s a man wearing a South Austin Music tee asking folks for five bucks to park in their section of the strip mall lot. I know because I arrived late for a Matt the Electrician show on a Tuesday and drove right on out of the lot, away from the temple with the money collectors, to Manshack where I found Brannen Temple with the Apostles (of Manchaca) and free parking. And man, did I ever hit free parking. (Shuichi remind me to explain this Monopoly reference to you.) I got to hear Dave Scher's cover of "Crosstown Traffic" again.

Austin is changing, and some would say not for the better cause of all the money changers. I ain’t much for advice, but get thee early to a Saxery on a Sunday night to see the knights in shining armor. You can still park directly in front of the Saxon for free if you can snag one of those spots.

The knight lineup on Christmas (yes, Christmas, how else could I be certain of ear bliss on my birthday?) included Jeff Plankenhorn, John Chipman, Bruce Hughes, and Scrappy Jud Newcomb, roughly in their order of arrival through the stage door. Bruce started us off with his newly enhanced “People Ask Me,” and Scrappy followed with a Howlin’ Wolf cover. Plank played "Silent Night." 
But these knights, they're not silent. There's stage talk and banter aplenty. They always have something funny to say, and I’ll never forget the time the late, great Stephen Bruton didn’t show; the band joked about seeing him in orange collecting trash on the side of the road. I saw him the next day at Waterloo Records (not in orange) and we shared a chuckle about the joke.

This Christmas Stephen was absent only in the physical plane. The band still plays songs like “Heart of Hearts.” And just when I thought I might cry, Scrappy came through with comic relief, saying Stephen called that genre the sappy boy love song. Those songs are alright.

It’s not all sad songs and waltzes. I’ll never forget the night Plank called blues legend Lavelle White to the stage to give us our funky education. And the first time I heard “Snake Farm,” Ray Wylie Hubbard was sitting in. Part of the fun of a Resentments show is the surprise of who’ll sit in with the band.

You wonder who sat in this Christmas? I’ll tell you who sat in: Shawn Pander, Dave Scher and Robynn Shayne. Robynn sings like an angel and fittingly spends time in the heavens (as a fight attendant, per my YouTube search).

They may have friends in high places, but these musicians are still friendly! Bruce (whose credits include Cracker) approached us at the break to see if we were enjoying the show. He asked if I had a request. His question stumped me because Scrappy was ticking everything off my mental wish list with originals like “Damaged Goods” and “Repeated Mystery” and “Where Did the Time Go?”

I’ll tell you where the time went: straight into my acoustic memory. Time flies when you’re having fun, but this show is the best entertainment value for ten bucks in South Austin.  Er, make that fifteen bucks if you pay to park. And don’t forget to tip the wait staff. With money? Yes, with money. We all laughed when Bruce said, “They don’t want a massage.”

So Shuichi and Susan, the show was soulful, funny and fortunately unforgettable because Christmas won’t fall on a Sunday again until 2022. See you there!

People ask me all the time, Bruce just exactly what is it that you do?/
People ask me all the time how I did it, but what they really wanna know is how they can do it, too.

-Bruce Hughes, “People Ask Me”

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Loathe to Grind an Ax

Last weekend a print essayist posited there are some things in life that are just too long.

The piece evolved into a rant about everything that is too long. I smiled in agreement at so many of the items mentioned. Then the writer said something that ticked me off. But before I tell you why I loathed him, does the name Laith mean anything to you?

I won’t publicly admit to liking the television show “The Voice.” In the first place, nowadays it’s not so cool to say you watch TV. Many of my friends don’t even have cable, and if you mention you have cable, you are going to set yourself up as the oddball. Not that my friends who don’t watch television read Proust in their spare time--well one of them probably does--but the point is, people posit TV is fluff. Yet I’ll confess there’s no better TV porn than a medical drama series. Given all the time I spent in the Texas Medical Center as a young doctor, my penchant for this genre shouldn’t be a head-scratcher. Those TV dramas transport me back to a time when I was more…nubile.

Not too surprising, either, that I also watch music on television. “Austin City Limits.” “The Voice.” “The Voice?” My cool factor just went way down, didn’t it?

Last season I watched “The Voice” one night because I had seen a No Doubt music video from the 90s, and I was curious what Gwen Stefani would be like decades later as a coach on the show. Once her interfaith romance with fellow coach Blake Shelton ensued, I couldn’t make plans for 8 on Monday and Tuesday nights because I was watching Gwen and Blake for tells that they really did like each other (like the tabloids said they did). That is so last year.

This year Gwen is gone, and I latch on for Laith.

Laith is an anomaly as far as “The Voice” contestants go.

Laith is old. How old is he? Oh my God, he is 38!  He’s roughly two decades older than the rest of the contestants.

Laith has long hair. Seems like he doesn’t have the same hair stylist as the long-haired lady coaches. Humidity might be his beauty secret.

Laith has an untrimmed beard that suggests weeks of being “Naked and Afraid.”

And can you put a bluesman in on the spin cycle and have him come out ready for gross consumption? Well, he went straight to the top of the iTunes charts once Pharrell Williams suggested America check out Laith’s electric blues records on iTunes.

For those of you who don’t watch “The Voice,” last Tuesday on the results show, there Laith stood onstage waiting to find out if he could be instantly saved by viewers who would vote him on to next week’s final round on the basis of his cover of “All Along the Watchtower.” If you watch Laith’s last stand, you’ll see he spent some of his precious time on guitar solos, causing Adam Levine, his coach, to plead with American to pick him in spite of, or maybe because of, his rare penchant for ax-toting on a show about vocals.

When Carson Daly, the host, invited the viewing audience to tweet which of the three remaining contestants they wanted to save, I had one thought. Uh-oh! I don’t tweet. And I worried that most Laith fans might not be in the Twitter demographic.

America voted. Turns out guitar solos are okay after all.  And I am guessing that Laith could have made his solos longer and still gotten the save.

So yes, some things in life are too long. Blue jeans off the rack are way too long, but electric blues solos are not.

Now for an acoustic memory, here’s one of my all-time favorite blues guitar solos. I probably first saw Louisville’s own David Grissom play this solo live in Houston at a Thursday Party on the (Jones) Plaza with Drs. Gregg and Barrow Barré in 1996. And bonus! You can still see David Grissom (pictured below) play long blues solos every Tuesday night at the Saxon Pub in Austin.

Perhaps this year’s presidential election has you down. Maybe there is no way to win with your vote in November. I say, cast a vote in May for Laith. You’ll be endorsing long guitar solos. What could be more important?

Did I tell you about the newspaper essay last weekend that said guitar solos are too long? 

"So let us not talk falsely now/The hour is getting late"
-Bob Dylan, "All Along the Watchtower"

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Some Acoustic Memories Shaken Loose upon Screening Shuichi Iwami’s Loose Diamonds Documentary

One night at the Continental Club, while Scrappy was putting away his guitar after a Toni Price show, I asked him if he had written any songs of his own. Scrappy told me that he was in a band called Loose Diamonds.

The next day at Cactus Records, I purchased two Loose Diamonds CDs. Those CDs contained an interesting mix of songs written by Scrappy and his bandmate, Troy Campbell. The Troy cuts were Bobby Darin influenced ballads.  The Scrappy cuts sounded like bootleg, unrecorded Stones songs. I was hooked and needed to see the band live.

But before I ever saw Loose Diamonds, I went to a Kris McKay CD release party at Cactus Records. That CD, Things That Show, included a cover of the Jo Carol Pierce song “Loose Diamond.” At the time I had no idea of the connection between that song and the name of Scrappy’s band. It turns out a long-haired fella (Willie Nelson) that Red Duke had already introduced me to in the doctors’ dining room in Hermann Hospital, had taken the name the Highwaymen for his project with Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson, without regard for the younger, scrappy band.

The year was 1996. I lived less than a mile from an acoustic venue called the Mucky Duck, and I kept their pub calendar on my refrigerator. The previous year, during my fellowship at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, I bought an acoustic guitar at Guitar Gallery and started playing songs that I would have never played in the 70s when I stood on the altar and played songs like my mother’s favorite (well, her mother’s name was Rose), “Bring Me a Rose,” at my church named after a Byzantine bishop, St. Athanasius. 

In 1996 I would go to Mucky Duck shows and come home and play my Yamaha guitar and try to write my own songs, which I later shared in my living room with friends like Gregg, who altered my lyrics ("alone in my room, again" became "a bone in my nose, again"), or Antonio Estevan Huerta, who already had a few songs of his own. But I digress.

Thanks to advance notice from the Mucky Duck, in the form of a calendar they mailed and I taped to my refrigerator (yes, millennial reader, venues used to snail mail their calendars), the next time the Loose Diamonds played the Duck, I had an advance ticket to see the band play in front Rusty and Teresa’s red velvet curtain on Norfolk. I recall sitting out back at the Duck between sets, talking to Troy and Mike Campbell for the first time that night.

It struck me that Troy wore his soul on his sleeve, and I liked the open way he shared when he sang or spoke. In fact, I felt like I had known Troy for five lifetimes. He told me about riding the coal truck in Appalachia. I told him about visiting Susan there one summer when she and other University of Dayton students worked with youth in the hollars. Troy’s time in Appalachia sure gave him the street cred to cover Ralph Stanley.

The Loose Diamonds played at the Mucky Duck a few times more than once that year that I discovered the band. They seemed to have worked out all the kinks Troy mentions in the documentary; Scrappy sure looked comfortable on lead guitar. At the time I had no idea how much Robin Shivers, a cofounder of Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, had done to promote the band.  But I do recall Scrappy singing the praises of Stephen Bruton, who produced a couple of their CDs. I never got to meet Robin, but I came to love Stephen in the next decade as I watched him play with Scrappy on Sundays at the Saxon Pub in Austin.

As time wore on and I moved away from Texas, I still played the band's CDs, including Fresco Fiasco, the one that brought them NYT acclaim. Loose Diamonds reunion shows have provided many an excuse to return to the Lone Star State. This November in Houston I had the pleasure of reuniting with Troy, Scrappy and Mike while meeting some other die-hard LD fans--Scott, Brad, Jeff and Pats.

I look forward to meeting Shuichi Iwami, and I’m grateful to him for creating his wonderful documentary, Diamonds in the Life. Aside from shaking loose some memories, the video taught me a few things I didn’t know:

·      How Scrappy Jud got his nickname
·      What words Stephen Bruton used to describe the band to Bonnie Raitt
·      Why rolling a third might be unrelated to cannabis
·      What fresco fiasco really means

“Excess is a sin I know, but it’s one in which I only seem to grow.”

(Jud Newcomb, “Advice” Slow Roses/ASCAP)

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Mac in Sellersville, October 2014

This blog entry won’t be particularly well thought out because tonight I write from the heart. I haven’t been able to blog about music since Mac died a year ago. It’s not that Gregg didn’t ask me over oysters and beers at Felix’s in New Orleans to start writing again.  It’s not that the Loose Diamonds reunion in Houston last month wasn’t brilliant enough to blog about. It’s just so tangled up in there when I try to narrow my focus to write about that night in Sellersville last fall when I saw Mac for the last time.

Do I write about Mac as a person? No, prolly not since he and I weren’t bosom buds. We did spend some time together after shows over the years in Texas and North Carolina and yes, that night in Sellersville. (The photo is from many moons ago at the Lucky Lounge.) Mac treated everyone he met like a long lost pal so our limited interactions really shouldn’t preclude me from discussing what a great guy he was. When Mac spoke to you, you were his only friend.

Do I write about Mac as a musician? Well, I’m not an academic and my grassroots approach to music appreciation would likely falter. Mac’s flair and style at the keyboard are unrivaled and yet he was no diva. His performances didn’t always run perfectly, and some nights he forgot a few lyrics, but he never forgot to tell a joke or give the audience advice. (“You can say shit but always make sure you smile when you say it.”) He was the dude who played his heart out then stole the hearts of the audience before climbing into a white van with his band to do it again the next day in another town.

Do I write about Mac as a friend? Not my friend but Ronnie’s friend. How many times did Mac raise a Guinness toward heaven in Ronnie’s name? The way he kept a flame burning on Earth for Ron Lane….

Do I bring my dearly departed mother JoAnne into this story? Well by all means it bears mentioning that she called that time she held me on her lap each morning before I left home for kindergarten “Itchy Coo Park.” That takes us back to about 1968 in Louisville, Kentucky, the home of stations like WAKY radio that I just knew harbored the likes of Paul McCartney and Ian McLagan in their studios each time I heard a favorite song on the car radio. I can’t express how ecstatic I was roughly thirty years later when driving my son in the car in Chapel Hill, I heard on NPR that Mac had decided to give up the fight and record Itchy Coo again. That day my son rode in the car with his mama, hearing Itchy for the first time.

Do I write about the set list that night in Sellersville? Suffice it to say it was a rock and roll show.  I thought I might wiggle out of my seat. For some reason when Mac played “Little Troublemaker,” I felt I’d never before heard it live, and so for me, that was the best part of the show. Of course Mac played lots from United States, explaining that he intended the term to conjure relationships, not a country. I was taking a course on Pops and Jelly Roll at Franklin & Marshall so I can say with certainty he played the tantric “I’m Your Baby Now” from that album.

I’m out of control/
I’m jelly roll/
I can’t take it anymore

Do I write about the night of the show in Sellersville itself? Well first I should start with that morning. I don’t know how I found out about the show—likely Facebook. Before I could finish my Rice Chex I had produced the plastic and bought the ticket. Google maps put the Sellersville Theater an hour and a half northeast of my town of Lancaster. In actuality it took me much longer (and Scrappy told me the band thought it took them much longer than anticipated to reach Sellersville), and once I drove out of daylight and into a rural area with no T-Mobile coverage, I started to wonder what the hell I thought I was doing going on this pilgrimage solo, on a school night.  You see I was taking two courses in the music department (for credit) and working my day job. I am the geek who sat in her Highlander in the parking lot of the Washington House studying minor scales during the warm-up act. I had paid extra to be close to the band so I was able to walk right in to a prime reserved seat. By the end of the show I knew buying that ticket had to be the best decision in my life.

Do I have pix from the show? Yes and no. My BlackBerry takes blurry shots. It also goes on the fritz when you lay it down on a table. I had Mac and Scrappy all teed up for a picture when my camera powered off. And being a BlackBerry, the phone is slow to power up. I expressed disappointment when the phone stalled, but Scrappy insisted, “Take a mental picture.” They beamed at each other.  I reached up with my hands and pantomimed the click. I will never forget that sight; it is burnt into my visual cortex. By the time I had the camera ready again, I still had Mac but not Scrappy. “Where’d Scrappy go?” Mac asked. “I know he’s your friend; we need to take a picture.”

Is there a moral to this story? We all need to take more time to ride on dark roads to live music shows where we can snap mental pictures of our beloved friends and raise a glass to those friends in the great beyond.

Sunday, April 6, 2014


Scores of reasons to think about the Bluegrass this week:  the NCAA tournament, the spring meet at Keeneland, and notes from cousins and friends who call Kentucky home. 
One note about a bus ride brought back an acoustic memory of my ride on a Blue Bird bus.  In fourth grade my family moved from the parish boundaries of St. Athanasius Church to a more pastoral area by the apple orchards on Fegenbush Lane.  We weren’t the only family to make that move, and the parish elders did some "gerrymandering" to retain some of the flock.  That redistricting necessitated some long bus rides to and from school.  In 1976, my rides were on a Blue Bird bus. This video about the making of Blue Bird buses says no two of the corporation's buses are alike (really?), but mine was special because there was an awesome stereo on board. The bus driver, a gentle soul with curly hair and sparkling blue eyes, really liked the song “Bluebird,” and I heard it daily on his Blue Bird bus.
Hadn’t really thought of that song in a while, but it flew into my heart with some others this week.  Happy surprise. Those who know me know I prefer Mick and Keef to Paul and Linda. Yet Paul and Linda's lyrics inspired more work on my piece of creative writing about anam cara. John O’Donohue writes about this special soul friend connection in his book Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom: “Often secrets are not revealed in words, they lie concealed in the silence between the words or in the depth of what is unsayable between two people.”  My friend Scrappy Jud Newcomb touches on this connection in his song “Space Between,” (“What the fearless heart has seen/It lives in the space between/ The once and future king and queen”), and that song makes me think of another Celtic term, thin place, a portal to access a magical realm.  Although finding thin places, let alone parking spaces, can be a strain in today’s world of cement, bards can still point the way. 
The bards Paul and Linda inspired me to write more about the magic of love in my novel manuscript yesterday, ironically just in time for some Cardinals to turn Kentucky blue (bluebirds!) for the NCAA games. The final game might transport some Kentuckians to Bluegrass bliss. Ultimately, the soul friend holds the key for the journey beyond the Bluegrass.

Late at night when the wind is still/
I’ll come flying through your door/
And you’ll know what love is for