BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
There's so much to do before leaving home to tour the nation in a rock 'n' roll band.
"I gotta bet batteries, strings, a foot pedal. There's hotel rooms to square away. Orders from the web site have to go out. A magazine wants a photo to go with an interview I just did. And who's gonna feed the turtles?"
This is an exasperated but excited Dwight Twilley. The Tulsa-based rocker hits the road this weekend — after a Saturday night appearance at Uncle Buddy's Roadshow in Claremore — for the first time in 15 years — since touring with Greg Khin.
Not only is he returning to the road — to support last year's CD release, "The Luck" — but he's heading out as the Dwight Twilley Band. The group heads through the Midwest before planning East and West coast legs.
Why is he touring again after all this time? It's business.
"We got roasted on 'The Luck,' " he said this week. "It's the first record on a label I own (Big Oak Recordings), we had a really good record to release, and we get it out there two weeks before 9-11. We'd done lots of prep work for it, but after that we were all just a bunch of zombies. So this tour is us going out to wave the flag and say, 'Hey, remember this record we put out?' "
The slimmed-down Dwight Twilley Band for this jaunt includes original guitarist Bill Pitcock IV, early drummer Jerry Naifeh and longtime bassist (and Nashville Rebel) Dave White.
The origin of the smaller ensemble has its roots in the recording sessions for Twilley's '99 "Tulsa" album.
"We've been doing the big show for so long, with the double drummers and everything, but there was a point during 'Tulsa' when just me and Jerry and Pitcock, no bassist, were goofing around and tracking it, and everyone looked at each other and thought it was pretty cool," he said. "So we thought we'd do the stripped-down thing for the tour — get rid of the bells and whistles and just leave the train."
The band is also rehearsing what Twilley called "the unthinkable" — a cover. He would not, however, tell us what song it is.
"I was thinking about Leon (Russell) doing that Rolling Stones song ('Jumpin' Jack Flash'), how he took a really standard song and really made it a Leon original. We've taken a standard like that and made it totally Twilley. I don't think I want to tell you what it is. I don't think it'll even be that noticeable. It'll probably sound like another Twilley song. Carl Perkins wrote it, as far as I know.
"I once did 'Money.' It's the only cover I ever recorded — the B-side to 'Somebody to Love.' It got massive airplay for a while, back in '79, and we loved playing it in the set because, for a while, people actually threw money onstage during the song. I remember Pitcock playing a solo that he couldn't tear his hands away from, and he was keeping this 20-dollar bill on his shoe. Some people threw checks — and they were good."
Twilley had Top 10 hits in '75 with "I'm on Fire" and '84 with "Girls." He was voted Artist of the Year at the first Spot Music Awards in '99.
This post contains complete reviews of this annual festival ...
Singer-songwriter Steve Young performance opens Woody Guthrie Folk Fest
BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
"It is raining right now all over the farmlands around, and I have never seen prettier nor heartier land" . . .
— Woody Guthrie in a letter to Moe Asch, July 8, 1945
OKEMAH — It came as no surprise Wednesday night when Steve Young darkened the skies over this small town and brought rain upon the land.
It happened just as he began playing one of his signature tunes, "Montgomery in the Rain." The song is restive and mournful, laced with memories of Young's youthful binges and nights toasting the great Hank Williams atop his Montgomery grave.
The lyrics resonated in the hearts of the crowd gathered to hear Young kick off this week's Woody Guthrie Folk Festival, the fifth annual celebration of the late Okemah native's folk legacy.
"I don't want to stay here, and I'm just rolling through your town," Young sang, his voice like pure cream shot through a fire hose -- powerful, direct and smooth. "I just came back here to remember the joy and the pain . . . go out to Hank's tombstone and cry me a thunderstorm chain."
That's when the beige stage curtain behind Young began to breathe, then flutter, than flap audibly. A backstage door had been left open, and the cold front plowing across the Okfuskee County fields was pressing its gusts into the historic Crystal Theater, the very place where Guthrie often came as a boy, where as the evening's emcee, scholar Guy Logsdon, pointed out Guthrie first heard the song "Midnight Special" in 1925.
There were flashes of lightning on the backstage brick walls, and a faint rumble of thunder underscored Young's performance.
Guthrie's Okemah tombstone is merely ceremonial. He was cremated and scattered at sea in 1967, but the thunderstorm chain cried just the same. Young looked back only once to acknowledge the commotion before someone got the door closed. He seemed pretty nonplussed. He's likely prone to these kinds of mystical accidents. He's definitely got his mojo working.
In my story about Young last week, I described his music as "darkly Southern." It's not dark as much as it is shadowy, and it's more worldly than Southern.
He played Tex-Mex tunes and Irish jigs, but the phrase worked to hint at Young's Gothic nature. His songs seem haunted, like a crumbling Georgian mansion draped in moss and memories. Songs such as the heaving, churning "Jig" seem conjured from a graveyard, ghostly reminders to live life to its fullest and that "if you want to rock the jig, you gotta play it real."
Most of Young's performances heave and churn. That voice -- better suited to evangelical preaching -- no doubt careens out of his throat with incredible strength and control, frequently pinching off a phrase like a wincing Dylan, and his guitar picking is lightning-fast. His right hand moves all over the strings of his acoustic guitar, ringing every one and filling the hall like an orchestra.
Alternately driving and delicate, I scribbled in my notebook that it reminded me of Windham Hill Records founder Will Ackerman, whose last album, oddly enough, was "Sound of Wind Driven Rain."
Largely unknown as a performer, which, after seeing him, is unfathomable, Young presented an impressive catalog of songs, songs about being "a dreamer and . . . a drifter," songs about Oklahoma ("What a good place to be born"), songs about his southern Appalacian youth.
He delivered a jaw-dropping tribute to Selena, the late Tejano singer, that swelled and hollered like a classic Slim Whitman lament ("She rode out of Corpus Christi into the old Tejano land . . . so they might understand that they had a hidden beauty"), even mentioning Judge Roy Bean, like some mythic tale off of Dylan's "John Wesley Harding."
He also presented two Guthrie songs, neither of which smacked of last-minute preparation in order to justify this particular booking. The precursor to his Selena song was a carefully considered reading of "Plane Wreck at Los Gatos (Deportee)," which he restructured almost like an Elizabethan ballad.
Near the end of his set, he added "Pastures of Plenty," played high on the neck of his guitar in minor keys, singing fully and richly, like Ralph Stanley singing "O Death."
The convictions of that song have never sounded so personal, so real. Even as he worked through a considerable number of songs by other songwriters -- Tom T. Hall, Lloyd Price, John D. Loudermilk -- Young was the master, controlling and often reshaping the songs instead of merely replaying them.
And, after a day of intense, choking heat, we all appreciated the cooling rain that greeted the audiences as we emerged, charged from the performance.
However inadvertent it may have been, it was yet another annual blessing that took the edge off a festival under the sun during a typically scorching July week.
Luke Reed opened the Wednesday night benefit concert (before the intermission, during which, oddly enough, the sound man played Jenny Labow's "everything but you" album).
A native Oklahoman who's been in Tennessee a long time, Reed played original songs weighted with homesickness and pining for these "Oklahoma Hills," with which he closed his set in a jazzy, swinging rendition.
I've been away a long time, and it comes out in my songs," he said between tunes about being a "descendant of the wind" and "missing you and wide open spaces."
Reed is a songwriter, first and foremost. He writes good, solid tunes, but his voice and delivery are unsteady, wavering in a manner that no doubt matters more in Nashville than at a folk festival. He sounds like what Patrick Williams of the Farm Couple probably sounded like decades ago as a novice: not yet smooth, but smart. Funny, too, as he ended his set with a humorous song, reminding us that in spite of all the songs written about horses, spurs, saddles and guns "there wouldn't be no cowboys if it wasn't for the cows."
Guthrie Folk Festival 'matures'
BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
OKEMAH — At most available opportunities, the organizers of this weekend's Woody Guthrie Folk Festival made announcements from the various stages to recognize the presence of members of the Guthrie family, from relatives of Guthrie's son Roy to the omnipresent firecracker that is Guthrie's sister, Mary Jo Edgmon.
Guthrie's family, however, is not limited to these blood relatives. If the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival has shown the world anything at all, it's that Guthrie's family those who embrace the music he created and the ideals for which he struggled is a vast, diverse crowd of folks. The festival has become an annual family reunion for "Woody's children," the folk singers and fans who relish the old songs and their renewing spirit. This year, the festival's fifth, they came from all corners of the globe six countries and countless musical genres to pay homage and have a major hootenanny.
How do I know it's a family gathering? Because this year everyone seemed to bring their girlfriends. Performers Ellis Paul, Don Conoscenti and Slaid Cleaves brought along wives and significant others for the first time. A few of the crewmen had girls in tow. Some organizers joked that if the spouses were consenting to Okemah in July, that spoke well for the careers of the performers, the stamina of the festival, or both.
But the most significant indications of the festival's family atmosphere are in watching the "children" grow up and in the consistent helping hands and support the artists give one another.
First, this year's festival featured few new acts — at least, none of the headliners were new names to the festival roster. Most have been here throughout the festival's history, and eight of this year's performers were honored with plaques for having participated at all five festivals (Conoscenti, Paul, Bob Childers, Tom Skinner, Joel Rafael, the Red Dirt Rangers, Peter Keane and Jimmy LaFave).
But the lack of new blood did not slow festival attendance as some, including myself, expected it might. In fact, the most interesting new act, Steve Young, drew a paltry crowd for the Wednesday night benefit concert in the Crystal Theater.
No, the clans still came to the festival grounds Thursday night's being the biggest draw yet and, more intriguingly, we got something more from the routine performances. The kids have grown up. The performers we've watched at this festival for up to five years have matured, gained confidence, come into their own.
For instance, Boston's Ellis Paul took the main festival stage Thursday night with, I dare say, a swagger. A kind, gentle, sweet-voiced poet, Paul has been a fairy of the festival for years, fluttering in with tunes spun of tulle and tales of intricate and tortuous(CQ) romance.. This year, with his lengthening hair, he donned a gnarly cowboy hat ("I want to be a Red Dirt Ranger, you see") and strutted onstage with never-before-seen power and assurance. He plowed right into a hard blues wailer, "Rattle My Cage," full of the strength we'd seen in him before but now apparently confident in it, flaunting it a bit, proud. He has come a ways, too. Five years ago, at the first festival, he was a wide-eyed dreamy songwriter still getting his road legs. Today, his songs score Gwenyth Paltrow movies, and Nora Guthrie, Woody's daughter, seeks him out to add new music to old Guthrie lyrics.
He played that song Thursday night, too his Guthrie collaboration, "God's Promise," an intricate musing on the double-edged facts of life that Guthrie wrote from his hospital bed in 1955. "It's the coolest thing I've ever done as a human being," Paul said of the posthumous collaboration. "Anyone who knows me knows that this was like me writing a song with Jesus."
Another branch of the family that's grown by leaps and bounds is the Oklahoma- bred Red Dirt Rangers, who rocked and rolled Friday night on the main stage harder than I've ever seen them. Of course, it may have just looked that way the festival crew used the Rangers' set as the opportunity to test drive a new fog machine, so much of their set looked like a Spinal Tap concert but the extended jam with a fret-wanking guitar solo in the title track to the band's new album, "Starin' Down the Sun," was no hallucination.
The bulk of their set concentrated the bulk of their set on Guthrie material, from their song "Steel Rail Blues" ("What would Woody Guthrie say if he were in my shoes?") and the Guthrie-esque "Leave This World a Better Place" to covers of " Cadillac Eight" (a moody number that really broke in the fog machine), the kickin' "Rangers Command" and "California Stars." When they closed with Jimmy LaFave's "Red Dirt Roads at Night," guitarist Ben Han was practically doing Pete Townshend windmills. R-a-w-k, rock.
LaFave joined the Rangers for that song, and therein lies the real other thrill of this festival's familial spirit: the family is pretty incestuous. Most of the artists respect, admire and maybe even adore each other. As a result, they take advantage of these rare opportunities to play together, to jam, to back each other up.
To wit: Don White joined Tom Skinner during his set. Later, Irene Kelly, an old acquaintance of White's from Nashville, asked him to join her during her Thursday night set. ("I guess I'd better go listen to her CD," he chuckled that afternoon.) Darcie Deaville brought the incomparable Mary Reynolds up to help her through Guthrie's "Union Maid," then added Conoscenti (who had just stepped out of his car arriving in Okemah) and Terry "Buffalo" Ware for a swingin' rendition of Guthrie's "New York Town." Conoscenti joined Paul, his old friend, during his set, as did Joel Rafael Band percussionist Jeff Berkley. Berkley and Ware, in fact, played with just about everyone.
Fayetteville bassist Melissa Kirper backed the Farm Couple, knocking out the Brick Street Cafe´ crowd by singing an "O Brother" staple, "I'll Fly Away" and sounding exactly like Gillian Welch. Bob Childers was backed by Skinner, Brandon Jenkins, and two DoubleNotSpyz members, John Williams and David Cooper. Amanda Cunningham joined him for harmony. The Rangers included fiddler Randy Crouch in their lineup and allowed Childers to come up and sing, once more, his classic song about Guthrie, "Woody's Road." The Rangers then joined Kevin Welch for an unrehearsed barreling through the bad-to-the-bone "Kickin' Back in Amsterdam." David R joined George and Linda Barton during their cafe´ set.
Fierce fiddler Wes Gassaway played the whole Wednesday night set with native Okie Luke Reed. Plus, in order to fill the main-stage slot left vacant by Abe Guthrie's band Xavier (an ill guitarist kept them from attending), festival organizer Mike Nave encouraged and helped to assemble the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival All-Star Band, a sprawling and unrehearsed-but-still-tight conglomerate that included Ware, Gassaway, Skinner, Reynolds, Deaville, Conoscenti, Don Morris, Greg Jacobs, Phil Lancaster (from the defunct Still on the Hill), T.Z. Wright. The band cycled through songs by Skinner, Reynolds and Jacobs, including Skinner leading the crowd through Arlo Guthrie's "Last Train to Glory," a rousing ballad about the railway to heaven that perfects Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready." The group had no rehearsal ("We wouldn't dream of it," Ware later joked) and still thrilled the crowd. That's a folk festival for you, and this one is indeed for all of us.
Around, about the festivities
BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
OKEMAH — Some sights and sounds from a week of concerts, panel discussions and camaraderie at the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival:
Interesting acts: Roger Tillison, an old cohort of J.J. Cale (he wrote "One Step Ahead of the Blues" for him) and Leon Russell, showed up Thursday at the Brick Street Cafe´ for a temperate run through some good old songs. Effron White, from Fayetteville, sounds exactly like the singer for the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and he wrapped his Brick Street set with the festival's most rousing reading of Guthrie's "Hard Travelin'" rousing because that gravelly voice sounded like it had actually done a lot of hard travelling. The best songwriter at the festival, though, surely must be Slaid Cleaves, whose economy with words creates gut-kicking images and butt-kicking songs. In "Broke Down," his latest Americana hit, he tells of a ruined suitor who tries to pawn the ring he bought for a girl; the next line skips a lot of narrative but lets us know exactly how the deal and his emotions turned out: "Somewhere at the bottom of Lake Ponchatrain there's a love note carved inside a wedding ring." Genius, even without his excellent yodeling.
The mother of all festivals: Mary Jo Edgmon, Guthrie's sister, is always in high demand at the festival. Appearing at panel sessions, pancake breakfasts and book signings throughout the week in Okemah, she brightens the event with her boundless energy and infectious cheer. At a local eatery one night, she stopped at my table to say hello. She was due at her tent near the festival stage 10 minutes earlier. But then a fan stopped her to relay her admiration, and a friend called her over to meet another couple. She made the rounds of the restaurant, leaving half an hour later after another family member, exasperated, cried, "She ain't left yet?"
Like an angel: I've printed it before, I'll print it again Mary Reynolds has the most beautiful voice in the world. A fixture on many stages, her pipes ring like the bells of heaven, from a jaunty run through "Union Maid" with Darcie Deaville to stopping the main-stage show Thursday night as part of the all-star band singing "I Can't Help Falling in Love With You" as a lullaby. Jimmy LaFave even got her onstage to sing "Hobo's Lullaby," her performance of which might as well be the festival's anthem. Sandpaper-throated Bob Childers joked backstage: "She reminds of me of myself before I started smoking."
Doctor's orders: Boston-based Vance Gilbert once again proved to be the funniest and most empowering act at the festival, in no small part because of the a cappella gospel prayer with which he closes his show.
Gilbert steps into the audience and shouts out this old-time holler without a microphone. He wasn't supposed to do that this year, though, under orders from physicians trying to heal his stressed vocal chords. "I'm not going to do it anywhere else, but if they think I'm not going to give my best show at this festival, well, uh-uh, no sir," he said later.
He gets around: One festivalgoer came all the way from Scotland for the event and wore his traditional garb, including kilt, the whole time. But if you really want an idea for the transcendent nature of Guthie's songs, ask performer Bill Chambers from Australia. "I've heard aborigines singing 'This Land Is Your Land' in the heart of the bush," he said.
The late show: Scheduled after-hours shows this year lacked a lot to be desired including attendance. Chicago's Cedarcase proved competent, at best, and Beaver Nelson from Austin, Texas, barely justified the buzz that's followed the band. The best Brick Street set, though, came from Tulsa's own marshallcity, which rocked the basement despite operating under a stern "no Led Zeppelin covers" order. One of their alt-country songs, though, still slipped in a few barks of "It's been a long time since I rock 'n' rolled."
A little ingenuity: Ohio-native, Texas-based singer-songwriter Michael Fracasso is a lone gunman. He holds the stage by himself with just his guitar and .,. where's that bass drum coming from? Ah, it's only Fracasso's foot. He taps a bass drum microphone with his boot for rhythmic support. Similarly, the Farm Couple added a trumpet solo to their closing number, "Ain't Misbehavin'." There's no trumpeter in the duo, but singer-guitarist Patrick Williams huffs out a mean impression of one through his moustache.
Someone didn't get the memo: Arlo Guthrie could not make this year's festival; he's touring with Judy Collins. However, the marquee outside the Okemah Mazzio's still read, "Welcome to Okemah, Arlo."
Documentary in works: An OETA crew was at the festival this year filming interviews to add to an upcoming extended feature on Woody Guthrie on the network's quarterly "Gallery" program. The piece is scheduled for the September episode.
Living history: Joel Rafael's new CD of Guthrie covers, "Woodeye" (officially released this week but available for the first time at the festival), includes the haunting ballad "Don't Kill My Baby and My Son." Guthrie wrote the song about a mob lynching of a black family near Okemah in 1911. Again this year, he and his wife drove some of the backroads in Okfuskee County looking for the site of that horrific vigilante crime. My companion and I did the same, discovering photos of the lynching on display at a small "Old West" museum just west of Okemah off the interstate. The museum also has newspaper clippings about "Pretty Boy" Floyd, the subject of Guthrie's famous eponymous song (one of the clippings attributes two bank robberies on the same afternoon one in Texarkana, one in Kansas City to the famed outlaw, expanding Guthrie's claim that "every crime in Oklahoma was added to his name"), as well as a copy of the McIntosh County Democrat from 1964 reporting on the progress of the Eufaula Dam. Festival regular Greg Jacobs sings a phenomenal song about that dam and the creation of Eufaula Lake, which submerged his family's farm.
BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
If you don't recognize the name Steve Young, he's got an impressive list of references.
"Steve Young is the second-greatest country music singer behind George Jones. He has no idea how great he is," said Waylon Jennings.
"Steve is in a league with Dylan and Hank Williams, and he sings like an angel." That's from Lucinda Williams.
"For that voice, that guitar and those songs to come together in one person is a wonder," mused the late Townes Van Zandt.
Gram Parsons played on his first album, "Rock, Salt and Nails" on A&M in 1969. Van Dyke Parks plays on his latest, "Primal Young" on Appleseed in 1999.
Young's song "Lonesome, Orn'ry and Mean" became Waylon's signature tune. Hank Williams Jr. covered Young's "Montgomery in the Rain." And, boy, everybody's covered "Seven Bridges Road" -- from Dolly Parton to the Eagles.
But Young -- take a minute to sweep up all those dropped names -- is one of those musician's musicians, a songwriter's songwriter. They know him well even though you might not.
Darkly Southern and musically restive, Young is a visceral poet of the backwaters -- or, as he likes to consider himself, a wandering troubadour in the old tradition. He lives part of the year in the Barrio in Los Angeles, the other part in glitzy Nashville, and he spends every possible moment on the road. His travels fortify his songs with lyrical and musical colloquialisms that makes listeners cock an ear and say, "Hey, that's my turf in that song."
That's what makes him one of the last great folk singers.
We caught up with him this week in Nashville to chat about wanderlust, Greenwich Village and the odd opportunity to play the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival.
You're too good a country singer to be in Nashville. What are you doing there?
It's not my favorite city, but I got rooted here years ago. My son's here. But yeah, I'm too diverse to be in Nashville. That's the problem. I don't consider myself a country singer, either. I'm more in the ancient tradition of the troubadour. I do folk, country and blues with a touch of rock. That pretty much makes it modern-day folk music. I'm fascinated by folk music. For instance, it's fascinating to me that the song "Streets of Laredo" originated in Ireland.
An Irish balladeer pining for the lone pray-ree?
It's originally about a sailor dying of venereal disease. But the same melody and sentiment evolved into a song about a cowboy dying in Laredo. That's folk music -- when it moves like that.
You must be a folk singer then, because you seem to be constantly on the move. Is a restless soul a necessity to be a folk singer?
It's the blessing and the curse, yes. Years ago, I tried to write in Nashville, tried to co-write and see if I could do it. One of these guys asked me one day -- and this just astounded me -- he said, "What's it like to be on the road and travel?" I assumed musicians and writers knew all about that. This guy just stayed in Nashville and wrote. He wasn't a troubadour, he was one of those Nashville craftsmen.
I can't stay put like that. What would I write about? The folk music process involves travel. It involves seeing different things, exchanging ideas, exchanging stories. I have fantasies of settling down and all that, but at this age I realize that's not gonna happen.
How old are you?
I'll be 60 on July 12.
Is your mix of styles endemic to that wandering, or does that spring from growing up in the South?
It's largely a product of growing up in the South. I grew up in the foothills of the Appalachians. The music of the mountains and its Celtic influence fascinated me. I was lucky to hear street singers in Gadsden (Ala.). There was music in church, too, from guitars to some pretty wild gospel. I heard all of that, plus the pop of the day, the standards. I even encountered flamenco guitarist Carlos Montoya when I was a teen, and I was blown away by that. I was open to music period, and I stayed open.
On "Primal Young," you seem to be quite open to folk music from Scotland. What inspired that exploration?
Well, there's that Scottish influence underneath all that music in Appalachia, but in high school, in a literature class, I completely fell in love with the writing of Robert Burns. He collected folk songs, you know. In fact, that's a lot of what he did. I studied that stuff for hours, reading the footnotes, trying the dialect, trying to understand completely what he was saying.
So what brings you to the Woody Guthrie festival?
I've always admired Woody Guthrie. When I was a teenager and starting to play guitar and absorbing music around me, I encountered Sing Out! magazine. I learned all about the New England hierarchy of folk singers, Pete Seeger and all that, and through them I encountered Woody Guthrie. I identified with him and what he had to say. I had grown up with similar people who were very poor and rural, down-to-earth people. My father was part Cherokee, and he was a sharecropper when he was 13 years old. The fact that Woody was willing to speak out against the wealthy powers that be and tell the truth about these kinds of people was very inspiring.
It was unusual. The country people I liked were great musicians, but they didn't have the same attitude. Indirectly they represented these poor as whatever, the common man, but they weren't saying it like Woody was saying it. They didn't want to get too deep into the dark truth of things.
Do you find it as easy as Woody to probe those deep, dark truths?
I live there. It's difficult to get me out of the deep, dark truth. It's healing to me, but I guess the masses see it as depressing.
Did you run into Seeger or any of those Sing Out! folkies when you hit Greenwich Village in the early '60s?
I ran into Phil Ochs, saw Dylan from a distance. I'd never been outside of the South when I moved to New York. New York completely blew my mind. I'd never heard people talk to each other that way unless they wanted to kill each other. It took some time to adjust. I did some auditions, and they said, "Yeah, we'll give you a job, but we're booked for three months." I couldn't wait three months for a job. I was using an apartment loaned to me by Dick Weissman of the Journeymen, so I was there long enough to absorb some things. Then I went back home to digest it all, but the South was harder to live with after New York. The South was never tasteful to me again.
But you mined it for so many great songs. The "Seven Bridges Road" is a real road, right?
It's an old road in the countryside outside of Montgomery. It turns into a dirt road and crosses seven bridges. It became this enchanted place, with moss hanging from ancient oak trees -- a beautiful setting, like something out of Disney. I thought my friends had made up the name, but it's actually the folk name for this road; it's not official. People have just been calling it Seven Bridges Road for over a hundred years.
There's a longing that that song comes out of. A myth has sprung up around it, that it's about going to Hank Williams' grave. That's not entirely true. Sometimes we'd go out Seven Bridges Road, then go back to Hank's grave and sing songs and drink at 3 a.m., which used to you could do. It's just part of the nostalgia for those times and that road. It's such an innocent little song, really. I thought nobody would ever understand it. Shows you how wrong I am.
What: Woody Guthrie Folk Festival benefit concert featuring Steve Young with Luke Reed
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Crystal Theater, on Main Street in Okemah
Admission: $20 plus service charge at the door or through www.okctickets.com
By Thomas Conner
© Tulsa World
Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey
"All Is One: Live in New York City "
(Knitting Factory Records)
Were this the forum for such academic criticism, I could dust off my Music Critic's Dictionary and really lay a few $20 words on you here. An examination of Tulsa's most unique band, the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, needs words like "contrapuntal," "polytonal," "harmolodics" or a host of music theory paradigms. But this isn't the place, nor is that the point of the Odyssey — or any odyssey, for that matter. No, this journey is about the travel, the path, the winds that both propel us homeward and blow us off course. It's about three insanely talented players finding their way in the world and the insane music they make simply by making the journey.
The Fred boys — keyboardist Brian Haas, bassist Reed Mathis and drummer Jason Smart — have certainly traveled. The presentation on "All Is One" is light years ahead of the Odyssey's '96 debut, "Live at the Lincoln Continental" (recorded at the Eclipse with the then seven-member band). What years ago often sounded like a bunch of yahoos banging on pianos and wanking on horns has evolved into a mythic and oxymoronic sound — considered abandon, controlled explosion, ragged grace. Closely networked — like a flock of starlings, turning with each other through the nebulous charts with a mind-boggling synchronicity — the three of them act as some kind of psychic lightning rod, absorbing the hot, high voltage of improvisational plasma and grounding it for us, delivering it in tingles and good vibrations, saving us from the shock. They are mediators, priests, shamans and "All Is One" is their finest interpretation of the cosmos yet.
Recorded live at the prestigious Knitting Factory nightclub in New York City, "All Is One" doesn't give away its setting. Rarely do we hear audience applause, and no one says, "Thank you, New York City!" from the stage. The recording is intensely focused on the instruments, which — despite the sweaty, raucous madness of a typical Fred show — is a blessing.
It allows us to really hear Reed Mathis' bass, which is a treat because Mathis doesn't play his bass very much like a bass. Rather, he tends to play it like Hendrix played his guitar, and sometimes he runs it through the eeriest effects. On "There Is No Method" his instrument sounds like a cat trapped inside a Martin guitar in a culvert -- a mildly funky exploration of the upper register, full of depth and astonishing lyricism — while on "Vernal Equinox" it's a fretless dobro under your pillow. "Lovejoy" showcases Haas' agility in switching between melodica and his Fender Rhodes piano within the same measure, all the while keeping this chugging, churning percussion romp utterly light and frothy. (The tune is named for guest percussionist Chris Lovejoy, from Charlie Hunter's band. Groove Collective percussionist Chris Theberge also is on board here.) Throughout, Smart shows himself to be the best drummer the band has had since the late Sean Layton helped found the band.
When all is said and done, your mind might not be blown — and that's OK. So many past Fred albums have worn their freak too well; "All Is One" approaches you like a guru, calmly, patiently, unafraid of speaking the truth but not preaching to you the entire gospel in one overwhelming homily. This record smooths out those rough edges, offers a spoonful of sugar with the medicine and satisfies the soul.
These online "clips" reproduce a self-selection of my journalism (music etc) during the last 20+ years. It's a lotta stuff, but it only scratches the surface. I do not currently possess the time or resources to digitize the whole body of work. These posts are simply a bunch of pretty great days at the office.