BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
Stocks aren't the only sector of American industry
reeling from last week's terrorist attacks. The folks who
create the artistic expressions that offer both escape and
insight into the world situation have been derailed and
befuddled by the new world order, too. Here are some items
illustrating the attacks' ripple effect in the music
The hit list
One of my favorite episodes of the old TV series "WKRP in
Cincinnati" involved a radical preacher named Dr. Bob who
asked the fictional radio station not to play a list of
certain songs he and his followers found offensive. It's a
pretty poignant discussion of artistic expression and
censorship — for TV, anyway — and it features Mr. Carlson
(Gordon Jump) reading the words to John Lennon's "Imagine,"
which the preacher dismisses as anti-God and "communist"
despite its lack of any offensive words.
"Imagine" allegedly made another hit list this week when
Clear Channel Communications, the Texas-based company that
owns nearly 1,170 radio stations nationwide — including six
in Tulsa — circulated a list of 150 "lyrically questionable"
songs and suggested its stations consider the wisdom of
playing them in the wake of last week's terrorist attacks,
according to the New York Times.
It's a curious list (see page D-4). Some selections are
obviously insensitive for this particular moment in history
-- Soundgarden's "Blow Up the Outside World," Billy Joel's "Only
the Good Die Young" or "You Dropped a Bomb on Me" by Tulsa's
own GAP Band — but others are truly bizarre and
overreaching. Some poor, pin-headed exec somewhere must
have racked his brain for titles that might allude to
anything related to the tragedy, such as planes (the
Beatles' "Ticket to Ride," Elton John's "Bennie and the Jets")
or New York City (Sinatra's signature song "New York, New
York," the Drifters' "On Broadway").
Some songs, though, are even patriotic, like Neil
Diamond's "America," or universally uplifting, like Louis
Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World."
Clear Channel was quick yesterday to issue a denial. It
was carefully worded, denying the fact that they actually
banned any songs but not denying that a list was
circulated. Accoridng to the Times, the company's corporate
headquarters generated a small list of songs to reconsider,
and an "overzealous" regional executive expanded it and
circulated it widely.
Tulsa DJs never saw one, anyway. Rick Cohn, vice
president and marketing manager of Tulsa's Clear Channel
stations, said he had seen no song list from his corporate
headquarters. What he had seen was a statement "suggesting
that each program director should take the pulse of their
market to judge the sensitivity of listeners given the
circumstances now," he said Wednesday.
"We voluntarily went through our playlists to see if
there were things we might want to avoid in good taste,"
Cohn said. "I mean, `Leaving on a Jet Plane' just doesn't
seem like the song KQLL `Cool 106' needs to be playing
Wise choices, surely, as long as they aren't mandatory
and lasting. After all, in times like these, music is what
we should be turning to, not running from. One of the songs
on the list, Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled
Water," gives voice to a narrator who assures the listener
of help through whatever trials and sadness we encounter.
Of course, Lennon's "Imagine" is the ultimate sing-along in
times of desperately needed unity:
You may say I'm a dreamer
but I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
and the world will live as one.
You ought not be in pictures
Three months ago, DJ Pam and Boots Riley holed up with
their Photoshop manuals and produced what they thought
would be a cool and controversial image for the cover of
their new CD. They had no idea how controversial it could
The image features the two rappers standing with the
World Trade Center Towers looming behind them. DJ Pam is on
the left holding drumsticks while Riley, on the right, is
pressing a button on what is assumed to be a bomb
detonator; the towers behind them are exploding in flames
and smoke — at what look like the exact spots where the two
hijacked airplanes hit on Sept. 11.
Needless to say, the duo's record company, 75 Ark, has
ordered all the covers destroyed and replaced before the
CD, innocently titled "Party Music," is released Nov. 5.
"The intent of the cover was to use the World Trade
Center to symbolize capitalism," Riley said this week. "This
is a very unfortunate coincidence, and my condolences go
out to the families and friends of the victims."
This is the second album release interrupted by the
attacks. Neo-progressive rock group Dream Theater's "Live
Scenes From New York" was yanked back from shelves last week
because its cover depicted the Manhattan skyline, complete
with WTC towers and the Statue of Liberty, in flames.
Local benefit song
Michael Jackson has already written his benefit song for
the victims of last week's terrorist attacks, which he
hopes to cast with big stars (a la "We Are the World") and
release within a month. For my money, though, I'll stick
with Bristow native Alan Pitts' tune, "She Still Stands
Tall," penned last week after the tragedies and already a
KOTV, channel 6 has played Pitts' song several times,
complete with a video montage assembled by the station. The
song has rocketed up the country chart at
www.soundclick.com since it was posted on Sunday. Pitts
also may perform the song at the Tulsa State Fair;
arrangements are pending.
Demand for the song has already overwhelmed Pitts and
his Tulsa-based band. Until full-scale production of a CD
can be completed, Pitts has been burning copies on his home
computer. He hopes to have them available soon for $10,
with a third of the money going to the American Red Cross.
For information about obtaining a copy, call Redneck Kid
Productions at (918) 582-5316.
Off the road
The attacks last week interrupted the music business,
namely some tours that were making the rounds on the East
Coast. Some of the bands that canceled shows around the
country in the wake of the attacks were Aerosmith, the
Beach Boys, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Clint Black, Jimmy
Buffett, Coldplay, Billy Gilman, Phil Lesh, Jerry Seinfeld
and They Might Be Giants.
Oddly enough, the Pledge of Allegiance Tour — featuring
such deathly metal acts as Slipknot, System of a Down,
Rammstein and Mudvayne — was scheduled to begin last week.
The first four dates in the upper Midwest were rescheduled
for later in October. Also, the annual CMJ Music Marathon
has been rescheduled from its original dates last weekend
to Oct. 10-13.
Carol Anderson of CMA Promotions reported that most of
the Christian pop shows she represents are moving ahead.
"They feel that the kids need words of hope even more than
before," she said.
Most of the artists' publicists we deal with as
journalists are headquartered in Manhattan, and it's been
nerve-wracking checking in with them the past week. Gary
Bongiovanni, editor in chief of Pollstar, posted an
editorial on the magazine's web site last week encouraging
Americans not to hide at home throughout the aftermath.
"If you afraid to buy tickets and attend public events,
then you let the bastards win," he wrote. "Make no mistake
about it, no one can completely guarantee your safety as
you walk through the turnstiles. But then, no one can
guarantee it as you sit on the couch at home, either."
A final word
Jessica Hopper at Hopper PR in Chicago summed up the
nation's sudden readjustment of priorities in an email to
industry insiders last week: "Nothing like profound tragedy
to make our myopic punk world and scene squabbles seem
By Thomas Conner
© Tulsa World
Last time I saw David Garza, he brought me to my knees.
Quite literally — a park in Austin, a year and a half
ago, and Garza strutted onto the outdoor stage under the
black clouds of a brewing storm and dared the lightning
bolts to fly by the bald audacity of his guitar playing.
All he had at his disposal was his clipped, cat-like voice
and a revved-up Rickenbacker guitar, but no plaintive
singer-songwriter was he. All by himself he rocked harder
than every lineup of Starship on a single stage, yelping
and growling and playing that guitar so hard and fast and
with such conviction and clarity, well, I actually worried
he was hurting himself.
But he brought all the layered, looped tracks from his
Atlantic debut album to life with the sweat of his brow
instead of the flick of a switch, and by the time he
finished "Discoball World" I was on my knees at the edge of
the stage, clawing at my face and bellowing. Fortunately, I
was not alone.
So if you're headed down the 'pike this weekend to catch
matchbox 20 (whatever) and Train (snore), don't linger in
those overpriced Bricktown restaurants too long and miss
the opening act, 'cause it's David Garza (that's dah-VEED
to you, gringo) and that same, lone guitar, and I guarantee
he'll justify the ticket price and the gas money in 30
"Yeah, that's what I'm doing on this matchbox 20 tour,
and it's real fun," Garza said in an interview last week
from a tour stop in El Paso, Texas. "I'm coming off a string
of shows in clubs, solo stuff, you know, but you don't get
to bring out the loud amps in these small clubs. On those
outdoor stages and in those arenas, I can crank it up."
He says this with an obvious timbre of relish, even
though Garza — Billboard magazine compared him to
"trailblazers such as Prince, David Bowie and Prince" — is as
gut-wrenching with a slow hand as he is when he's smokin'.
His particular oomph makes him a bit of an anomaly in the
laid-back, folkie Austin, Texas, music scene from which
he's been based since landing at the University of Texas on
a classical guitar scholarship.
After dabbling in cover bands — "playing Billy Idol and
INXS and Big Audio Dynamite for dances" — Garza thrust a band
called Twang Twang Shock-a-Boom into the scene where the
likes of Asleep at the Wheel shuffle along as politely as
possible. Record label execs showed up at his shows like
lawyers in an emergency room — so fast that Garza rebuffed a
few offers until he felt his songs were ready for the big
"I guess it happened somewhat fast back then. I got my
start playing solo guitar at an Italian restaurant. I was
the guy who wandered from table to table, and I had to hold
my own with the single instrument," Garza said. "Now that I
get to travel a little farther and wider, I try to push it
a little. So much music today is so dense and thick, with a
lot of beats and loops and programs and samples. For me
personally, the most revolutionary thing I can do is play
unaccompanied, loud electric guitar."
His affection for stripped-down r-a-w-k rock only hints
at the irony of his latest album title, "Overdub," his second
release for Lava-Atlantic Records. A chunkier, rougher
record than the previous two — "This Euphoria," his dreamy
debut for Atlantic, and "Kingdom Come and Go," a solo
acoustic record on Garza's own Wide Open Records label --
"Overdub" symbolizes more personal philosophy than studio
"A lot of what I've done over the last 10 years is
overdub things. You know, there's a redemptive idea in
overdubbing. Spiritually, lyrically — as I'm growing older I
start looking at how to fix things in my life, similar to
the recording process. It's not as clean in real life. You
don't get to fix your mistakes by patching in an overdub,"
"This album sounds rougher basically because I got to
produce it. I had the time and the budget, and I got to
work with bassist Doug Wimbish (Tackhead, Sugarhill Gang)
and drummer Will Calhoun (Living Colour). When those guys
step, the earth shakes. That sound is the crumbling of
buildings as they're ringing their terror in the tracks. We
got a bold, old rock sound — just three humans playing in a
"It's different from the way most albums are
made, and have been made for since '92 or '93 — the whole
building of tracks, not necessarily the performance of a
song. It starts with that perfect time loop, over which the
drummer plays some funky drums. Then the bass player stops
playing Nintendo and puts in his line. Then you call the
guitar player on his cell phone and tell him to come in do
his guitar parts. Then you wait for your special guest
stars to come in from the limo. The way this was done was
we three guys shook hands and started playing rock 'n'
roll. `Bloodsuckers' was the first thing we played
together, and I said, `Oh yeah, this is going to work.' "
There were a few guest stars in this process, though --
Craig Ross, a fellow Austin rocker who contributes much of
the six-string stomp heard on his phenomenal 1996 release
"Dead Spy Report" and everybody's favorite lovelorn indie
waif, Juliana Hatfield, whose bright voice adds to the lilt
of "Keep on Crying."
For now, though, Garza's on the road by himself,
standing on the shoulders of giants even though his sound
is just as tall.
"Like I said, I can turn it up on this tour," he said, "and
man, if I can make your ears bleed, I'll go for it."
Matchbox 20, Train and Garza play at 7 p.m. Wednesday
(Sept 12) at the Myriad Convention Center in Oklahoma City.
Call (405) 297-3300 for information and tickets, or buy
tickets online at www.tickets.com.
BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
Before going on the air, Davit Souders mentions this
band from Coffeyville that's been bugging him — in a good
way. They're called Pheb:ate, they've got a fresh debut CD
and for the last several weeks the band and its small
legion of supporters from the Kansas border have been tying
up the phone lines during Souders' late-night local music
radio show, "Home Groan," begging him to play something from
the new CD.
"These crazy kids," Souders says, "they still want to get
on the ol' radio."
So the show starts — 11 p.m. sharp, as it does every
Sunday night on KMYZ 104.5-FM — and pretty soon the phone
lines are blinking again. This time, though, one of them is
a cellular call. The producer patches it into the studio
"Look out the window!" cries a jubilant young woman
through the satellite static.
We go to the window and eight floors down in the parking
lot is a gaggle of young'uns, waving hysterically and
brandishing an acoustic guitar. For the next half hour, the
crowd grows, and the young woman on hold keeps begging to
be allowed into the studio. At one point, things get a
little loony, with the band's female fans so eager to show
their support that they show, well, more of themselves than
their mommas would have appreciated. It's one video camera
away from becoming "Home Groan Girls Gone Wild."
Souders — a true rock 'n' roll warrior, but a businessman
who enjoys at least a modicum of control — eventually
relents, and the band is ushered upstairs for a quick
on-air chat and an impromptu performance in the studio.
After the show, the whole group hangs outside and plays
guitar, confident their assertiveness has scored them a
major marketing triumph.
"That's as pure as it gets in my book, right there,"
Souders says later that night. "I mean, Jim Halsey (local
music entrepreneur) is always talking about the psychic
payoff musicians get from things like this. Boom — there it
is on those faces right there. Because when it comes down
to it, it's not really about money and girls and sales
figures, it's about getting played. It's about getting to
feel like the work you've put into something means
something, anything, to even one little radio host like
In the nearly six years he's been hosting "Home Groan," a
weekly show dedicated to Tulsa-area original music, Souders
has been buttered up by bands hoping to score a spin on his
show. They know when he's due on the air, and sometimes
they lie in wait in that same parking lot outside the
station, thrusting CDs in his hand and sometimes a pizza or
two — learning early lessons of salesmanship the hard way.
As America's — and Tulsa's — radio landscape becomes more
vanilla, monochromatic and pre-recorded, "Home Groan" has
survived as a refreshing oasis, largely due to madcap
moments like this one. More importantly, though, is the
influence the show has maintained — the impact radio airplay
(even in the worst possible timeslot, late on a Sunday
night) has on the evolutionary spark of a local and
regional artistic scene. Why else would two or three dozen
kids from Coffeyville drive an hour in the dark of night to
harass an innocent DJ?
Souders, of course, is more than a DJ. He's been
formulating fiendish local concerts as Diabolical
Productions for more than a decade, having worked
hand-in-hand for several years at the Cain's Ballroom when
Larry Shaeffer was there, and having owned and operated his
own nightclub, Ikon, in three Tulsa locations.
He's also a musician, once a member of a local band
called Lynx and currently singing for a revolving forum of
local players called D.D.S. He even makes his own kilts,
but perhaps that's another story (best told by the
His radio career began in the eighth grade in the late
'70s, when he was the voice of Tulsa Public Schools lunch
menus on KAKC. For this duty — reading the advance warnings
of tomorrow's institutional slop — he created an on-air
personality called Dr. Psycho Fanatic. Everything you need
to know about Souders (other than his obsessions with Elvis
Presley and his idol, Alan Freed) likely is summed up in
this fact: to this day, the Dr. Psycho Fanatic gig is still
on his resume.
From 1990 to 1994, Souders hosted the "Teknopolis"
electronic music show, which bounced between three
different local stations. In '96, he picked up the "Home
Groan" gig, replacing its original host, Admiral Twin
drummer-singer Jarrod Gollihare.
He has certainly made the show his own. In particular,
he has been instrumental in applying the show's brand to
occasional "Home Groan" "low-dough" concerts featuring local
bands as well as two "Home Groan" CD compilations. The former
have been especially illustrative of the show's success.
"We had a show at Cain's a couple of years ago where we
had about 500 kids," Souders said. "Of course, I emcee a la
Alan Freed, and you know I end all the radio shows with my
little catchphrase: 'I'm not evil, I'm just Diabolical.' So
I get up on stage at this show and say, 'I'm not evil, I'm
just . . .' and the bulk of the crowd shouts, 'Diabolical!'
I was blown away."
Souders hopes to one day produce another CD compilation,
probably of live performances from those low-dough shows,
but the plans to reopen Ikon are in the deep freeze.
Meanwhile, Diabolical continues bringing interesting shows
to Tulsa. But Souders is clearly in his element behind the
microphone, scratching his head underneath the trademark
bandana and directing a new band into the public arena.
By Thomas Conner
© Tulsa World
When Dwight Twilley released "Tulsa" in 1999 — his first
album of new material in more than a decade, his ninth in a
quarter-century — the CD garnered high critical praise (and
won him two Spot Music Awards), particularly in Europe
where critics and fans snatched up the disc indignantly,
practically scolding Twilley for being absent from
music-making all those years.
Little did they know — he was absent from the
record-store shelves but not from studios.
In the early '90s, before moving back to Tulsa from Los
Angeles, Twilley — who scored Top 20 hits with "I'm on Fire"
in 1975 and "Girls" in 1984 — recorded an album of new
material and called it "The Luck." Ironically, the album had
no luck at all. Producer Richie Podolor wasn't happy with
the offers he received for the album from record labels,
and the tapes wound up shelved, written off and eventually
Now "The Luck" is seeing daylight due to a sequence of
happy windfalls — the critical success of "Tulsa," the
formation of his own record company (the Big Oak Recording
Group, named for the most prominent feature in Twilley's
midtown Tulsa front lawn), and the addition of the Dwight
Twilley Band to the eligibility list for the Rock and Roll
Hall of Fame. "The Luck" will be released internationally on
"It's been very frustrating to have these songs
collecting dust," Twilley said in a recent interview. "I
think it's a really serious studio record."
Some of the tracks from "The Luck" have shaken off that
dust in the last couple of years, appearing on the Twilley
rarities collection "Between the Cracks, Vol. 1." The title
track was re-recorded for "Tulsa," "because I think it's a
good song and I thought it would never come out," Twilley
Fortunately, Twilley's brand of rock 'n' roll — rootsy in
the tradition of a meaty, Sun Records backbeat and classic
in the sense of the purest pop classicism a la the Beatles --
is so timeless that "The Luck" still sounds as fresh as the
day it was recorded. Even the song with Tom Petty's backing
vocals — from tapes that are much older.
"Petty's on another album of mine and he probably doesn't
even know it," Twilley chuckles. "When he came in to do
'Girls' with me (in 1984), we also cut a song called
'Forget About It Baby.' I discovered those tapes while I
was working on 'The Luck' and — since I never let a good
song go — decided to redo some of the drums. I always loved
the song but I hated what the producers did to it. Then we
redid the bass, and then this and then that. Now the only
thing remaining from the original sessions are my and Tom's
Twilley's first outing to promote the "new" album
is a doozy: on Sept. 28, he's headlining the Serie-B pop
festival in Calahorra, Spain. Other acts on the eclectic
pop-rock bill include Mudhoney, Bevis Frond, Cotton Mather
and Death Cab for Cutie.
The new band assembled for the show includes Dave White
and Bill Padgett (the Nashville Rebels behind local
rockabilly stud Brian Parton), Jerry Naifeh (original
percussionist for the Dwight Twilley Band), guitarist Tom
Hanford and bassist Sean Standing Bear. Despite the
European success of Twilley's band and solo efforts in the
past, this will be his first-ever European performance.
"We recorded over there, but we never played live,"
Twilley said. "Clive (Davis, former head of Arista Records)
had this policy not to play his acts there. And last year,
we did this press tour across the continent behind `Tulsa,'
and the first question out of every journalist's mouth was,
'When are you coming?'"
That media tour opened Twilley's eyes to the differences
between American and European music markets — as well as the rebirth of his
own popularity there. One music-industry representative in
England floored Twilley by informing him that he had named
his son after him, James for James Paul McCartney and
Dwight for Dwight Twilley.
"Sitting down personally with the press over there, it
apparent that there's still a deep appreciation for the pop
song there," Twilley said. "When I was a kid in the music
business, the philosophy was, 'I'll give 'em the record
they can't refuse.' That's all disappeared here in America.
The song is no longer the focal point. It's the packaging.
The song won't save you here anymore. The business has
gotten too big. There are great bands writing
great songs over there, and they're getting by on those
songs. And, I mean,
they're still talking about great acts like Paul Revere and
the Raiders. Who over here still knows who they were?"
One American honor has edged within reach, though. This
year, the Dwight Twilley Band — the original mid-'70s
lineup, which included the late Phil Seymour, a local pop
talent of equal stature — has become eligible for induction
into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
"There's no letter or announcement for that kind of
thing. You just suddenly
appear on the magic list. All of a sudden we were getting
tons of e-mails from people saying, 'Congratulations!' and
we had no idea what we'd done," Twilley said. "I figured no
one would remember me. I'm honored to just be on the list."
Other new eligibles include Bruce Springsteen, the Sex
Pistols and Blondie.
"Some people campaign for that, you know. They write
letters and take
out ads and really push to get inducted," Twilley said, then
paused. "I'm a little too busy for that."
After the jaunt to Spain, Twilley said he hopes to begin
recording a proper follow-up to "Tulsa." The album won Best
National Album and Twilley won Artist of the Year at the
first Spot Music Awards.
BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
It's a warm October night in Manhattan, and whenever the
doors open at the Irving Plaza a swirling racket spills
into the street, turning heads on 14th Street and in Union
Square. A light crowd is milling around inside the Cain's
Ballroom-sized music hall. They're New Yorkers, they're
cool, sophisticated, surprised by nothing and amused by
everything. But the poker faces are falling, and the kids
are — gasp! — dancing.
"Jesus!" exclaims one young man the second he lays his
eyes on Brian Haas, who's wincing as if he's just been
stabbed and pounding out his pain on his poor Fender Rhodes
piano. "What the (heck) is his problem?" he asks. Thing is,
the man's smiling as he asks this — wonderment rather than
annoyance — and for the next half hour he hardly moves a
muscle, riveted by the sonic freakout on stage.
His girlfriend catches up to him midway through the set,
her face contorting in horrible confusion. Her little
mental label-gun is misfiring, unable to classify the data
flooding her aural inputs. She stammers for a moment, then
says, to no one in particular, "That's . . . that's . . .
crazy. My God . . ."
"What did he say? What are they called?" the man asks,
with a hint of desperation, afraid to let the moment slip
away without obtaining some kind of quantifiable
"That," I interject, proudly, "is the Jacob Fred Jazz
• • •
Back in Tulsa, just two weeks ago. The
living room floor of Brian Haas's house is lined with six
slumping sacks full of provisions procured from Wild Oats
Market. The coffee table is stacked with nutritional
supplements, organic soaps and plastic bottles labeled
"herbal liquid." It's almost midnight, and the band needs to
blow Tulsa by 3 a.m. in order to make tomorrow's gig in
Indianapolis. They've been home a day and a half.
Haas sighs. "There's still cooking to do, too," he says.
He points to the herbal liquid bottles. "That's the fuel
of the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey right there," he says, in
perfect earnest. "It's all about nutrition. We eat well, we
keep ourselves healthy while we're on the road — that's what
keeps us getting along, keeps us happy."
On the dashboard of the band van is a dog-eared copy of
The Tofu Tollbooth, a book detailing the location of every
health-food store in America. Turning debaucherous rock 'n'
roll road myths on their heads, when the Jacob Fred Jazz
Odyssey boys hit a new town they make a beeline for the bee
pollen, throwing back wheatgrass shots at the juice bar
instead of whiskey shots at the beer hall.
"We're wheatgrass connoisseurs now," chuckles bassist Reed
Mathis. "We can tell the difference between sun-bloomed and
They've even written two new songs about their daily
focus: "Daily Wheatgrass Shots Burned a Brand-New Pathway
Through My Brain" and "The FDA Has Made Our Food Worse Than
"They're instrumentals, of course, but they still get the
message out about healing yourself," Haas says. "Goes hand in
hand with music, right? Especially ours."
• • •
The Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey certainly couldn't be
healthier. Two years ago the band trimmed down from a
seven-piece to a trio before signing a management contract
that's kept them jogging around the country constantly ever
since. The incessant touring has paid off in supple, sinewy
new tunes — and a new recording contract. The band is
currently in negotiation with the independent Shanachie
Entertainment label for a six-CD contract.
The trio these days comprises two founding members — Haas
and Mathis — and a new drummer, Richard Haas, younger
brother of Brian. Richard joined the group in April,
replacing original percussionist Matt Edwards, who's now
making films in the Tulsa area. (The band's name comes from
Brian's CB handle when he was a tot. Alas, there is no
The two brothers have played together off and on since
grade school — in fact, the first-ever incarnation of the
Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey was this trio jamming at the Haas
home after homework had been completed — and Brian credits
the "spiritual unity" of playing with his lil' bro with the
bigger and bigger crowds showing up to Jacob Fred shows
around the country.
"Richard is so simple, so primal. He comes out of that
African school of drumming where the role of the drum is to
get you dancing," Brian said in a recent interview. "It has
really freed Reed and I to get into this free-jazz
freakout, but at the same time, everybody's dancing. We've
finally mastered the best of both worlds."
The crowds are, indeed, growing. Some clubs, including
the Irving Plaza, ask all patrons who they've come to see
each night; that way they can determine whether or not the
opening act was a significant draw. At that October show,
there were 15 people who'd come especially to see the Jacob
Fred trio. When the boys returned to the same venue four
months later, the tally was 130.
"We've refused to dumb it down or do anything the music
industry has asked us to do, and yet people keep coming
out," Brian said, with no small amount of wonder at his
• • •
It's not all luck, though. The Jacob Fred formula — if
there could possibly be a construct to the band's free-form
musical journeys — takes the strength and will of Medeski,
Martin and Wood and spreads it like seedy, all-fruit jam
(organic, of course) across the improvisational landscape
terraced by jazz pioneers from Mingus to Monk. The word
"unique" is often applied lightly in music, but these
wide-eyed, intense young men fashion songs and shows that
attract all the benefits of that word and none of the
It's paying off, too — the record deal, the booking
contract with the London-based Agency Group, numerous
high-profile opening slots (most recently Tower of Power,
Mike Clark, Project Logic), an average of 200 mp3 downloads
daily from band's web site, and nominations for Artist of
the Year at the Spot Music Awards every year thus far. But
more than physical gains, these three musicians are high on
their own creative energies.
"Remember the song 'Good Energy Perpetuates Good Energy'
from the 'Live in Tokyo' CD?" Brian asked. "For the first
time, we're realizing that every single night. But then,
playing 25 shows a month from coast to coast kind of forces
your music to evolve. Really fast."
Funny thing about that old CD, too, the "Live in Tokyo"
set. It was recorded here in Tulsa — at the Eclipse, no less
— but the band soon might actually make it to Japan.
"I started noticing this Japanese couple at every one of
our shows," Mathis said. "In New York and in California, it
turns out they flew out to see us. They were flipping out,
they loved us. They said, `We've got to get you guys to
Japan.' We're supposed to have distribution (for the CD)
over there by next spring, and these are people who've
brought other bands over before. They were shocked to hear
we hadn't been before. They heard `Live in Tokyo' and
The band's current CD of new material is "Self Is Gone,"
its title swiped from a Tulsa World headline about the
disembarking of a University of Tulsa coach. Also available
is "Bloom," a compilation from the band's early albums
spanning '96 to '98, plus several previously unreleased
JACOB FRED JAZZ ODYSSEY
with And There Stand Empires, the Mad Laugh and Brad
James and the Organic Boogie Band
When 8 p.m. Friday
Where Curly's, 216 N. Elgin Ave.
Admission $7 at the door
BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
He was the quiet one, but the silence he has left behind
has carved a cavern in the Tulsa music scene that will not
be easily filled.
Sean Layton, 29, an immensely talented Tulsa drummer,
died last weekend, ending a career that invigorated the
creative spirits of countless local musicians and music
A funeral took place Monday morning, but the real
tribute occurred that night at Living Arts of Tulsa when
dozens of Layton's friends and fellow musicians — one and
the same, in most cases — conducted a drumming circle in
Layton was the first drummer for the Jacob Fred Jazz
Odyssey. After leaving the band in '99, he joined Steve
Pryor's Neighbors, which also included Jacob Fred bassist
Reed Mathis (who is already planning a retrospective
tribute CD of Layton's songs). Until several months ago,
Layton was ubiquitous in the Tulsa music scene, providing
the pulse for projects from Mummy Weenie to Leslie Brown.
I have interviewed Layton maybe a half dozen times. He
rarely spoke up, but when he did, it always mattered. It
was usually the last word on a particular subject. I
remember a typically circuitous interview with all seven
members of Jacob Fred, a discussion of the band's reasons
for recording all of its records live. Layton seized a rare
pause in the harangue and said, "We're just a live band and
there's nothing we can do about it." End of discussion.
For Layton, that's how life and music was — a spiritual
compulsion. He spoke little about his art, choosing to
channel all those things he couldn't do anything about into
his drumming and singing. His work on kits for the
Neighbors was certainly enough, but in that band he began
to expand his talents into composing and singing. His voice
was unmistakable — a lot of Leon Redbone and a little
Charlie Brown. He sang beautiful lyrics capturing his awe
at everything from the majesty of a forest to the dancers
It's those positive messages his friends will remember
"I went and looked at my bookshelf after I heard that he
died," said Jacob Fred keyboardist Brian Haas this week.
"There are at least 30 titles in there that he gave to me.
He spread so much knowledge and goodness in his life. He
also introduced me to so many people I know in the Tulsa
music scene. He affected my life in ways that will always
be remembered and deeply, deeply appreciated."
As a mere listener, I am cautious about claiming that a
musician affected my life as deeply as he did a fellow
player. Then again, those of us in the crowd are who
they're making the music for, and it is their mission to
affect us. Layton never failed to lift my spirit, and I
rest easier believing at least that his is now lifted as
high as it can go.
This post contains complete reviews of this annual festival ...
Community, kin embrace annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival
BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
OKEMAH — Arlo Guthrie drove into town by himself in a
pickup truck. Before he appeared on stage Wednesday night
here at the Crystal Theater, Woody Guthrie's younger
sister, Mary Jo Edgmon, insisted the audience sing "Happy
Birthday" to him, his 54th birthday having been Tuesday.
Like a good relative, he grinned and bore it, waving to the
A young woman behind me sighed and chuckled, "It's a
family affair tonight."
And every night this weekend.
That comment nailed the overriding spirit of this year's
Woody Guthrie Folk Festival, the fourth annual folk music
celebration in the late balladeer's hometown organized by
the intra-state Woody Guthrie Coalition. It's all about
family -- immediate, extended and created.
The first two rows at Wednesday night's tribute concert
were full of Guthrie relatives. Don Conoscenti and Ellis
Paul shared the stage that night, and Conoscenti ribbed
Paul about his new haircut; they've spent the week tagging
around town together as if they were actually brothers. As
fans arrive in the campground and at the various Okemah
venues, there are numerous jubilant reunions of old
friends, many of whom see each other once a year -- at this
Larry Long, who is scheduled to perform on the main
stage Saturday night, said in a conversation earlier this
week that this family feeling is exactly why this festival
has remained successful in these early years. Long, an Iowa
native, struggled with a Woody Guthrie tribute concert in
1989 here in Okemah, when the town was still somewhat
divided over honoring its hometown hero (a dispute that
arose because of the communist company Guthrie sometimes
kept in the 40s).
"This festival has a great capacity to do good work and
honor the place that Okemah is," Long said. "When we were
trying it, that's what we wanted to achieve: to make this a
celebration of the traditions that nurtured Woody, his
sense of love of community and place and the family
traditions that make places like Okemah so delightful."
A sense of community and a laid-back spirit made Wednesday
night's tribute concert all the more enjoyable. For the
first time in the festival's four years, though, the
Wednesday night show had a handful of empty seats, largely
because previous kick-off shows have featured big-name
talent. This year the Wednesday fund-raiser was the annual
tribute concert modeled after the bi-coastal tributes
following Guthrie's death in 1967. Nearly two dozen
performers cycled through the show, performing Guthrie
songs between readings of Guthrie's prose.
But the lack of mega-commercial giants on the historic
Crystal stage hardly dampened the energy or worth of the
ticket. Instead, performers and audience were able to let
their hair down and experience the occasional magic that
occurs when everyone laughs and thinks, "Well, we're all
Of course, when a reviewer begins carping about the
laid-back spirit of a performance, that usually means the
sound system was bad and the performers forgot some words
and there were some production mistakes. Some and maybe all
of these things were true Wednesday night. The crucial
difference is that nothing seriously derailed the show -- or
the moments of magic -- and if there's somebody out there
complaining I'd be real surprised.
The first magic moment came early, on the fourth song.
Conoscenti and Paul together sang Guthrie's eerie portrait
of a Vigilante Man, accompanied only by Conoscenti's
Kokopeli-painted banjo. He played the song with a ghostly
tension and foreboding, and Paul's piercing harmony gave it
an unearthly feel. The song marched like a posse through
the darkness, evoking Stephen Stills live performances of
"Black Queen." They kept their eyes locked on each other from
start to finish -- who knows if they'd ever performed this
together before? -- and the audience barely breathed.
The second breath-taker was nicely balanced, the fourth
song from the end. Mary Reynolds, a native of Oklahoma
City, played and sang "Hobo's Lullaby." It's not as important
to say that she played the song as it is to say she sang
it. Reynold's voice is a clarion call, a beautiful and
controlled birdsong, and with the help of two friends
backing her with harmonies, the performance was as if three
angels were hovering over a lonely hobo in a dank boxcar,
their voices alone filling him with hope.
Those were the jaw-droppers. Other great moments
included Slaid Cleaves' chilling reading of "1913 Massacre,"
a festival repeat that never gets old; a fiery (but not
brimstony) run through "Jesus Christ" by the versatile and
spunky trio Still on the Hill; and the playful -- and only
barely cheesey -- dialogue between the Farm Couple on
After the all-star finales -- with every performer from
the night crammed on the stage for "Hard Travelin'"
(jumpstarted by Paul, who belts it out with gusto),
"Oklahoma Hills" and "This Land Is Your Land" -- half the
audience hung around chatting and meeting the musicians.
The theater sweepers eventually had to shove people out the
door. There was no boundary between star and fan, no
rushing off to an ivory tour bus. This is folk music, after
all, and the folks gathered here this weekend are one big
Audience heats up on opening evening
BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
OKEMAH — Pity the band with that first set.
It's Thursday evening at the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival
-- on an outdoor stage, in July, in Oklahoma, for Pete's sake
-- the sun's still high enough in the sky to make misery, and
nobody is fool enough to be out in the heat.
Well, some folks were. A dedicated stage crew and about
30 fans when the first band started.
"What in tarnation are we doing out here?" asked a fan to
no one in particular.
By the time Xavier finished its opening set, though, the
crowd was coming on, hauling lawn chairs and fans into the
field where the Pastures of Plenty main stage looms. By the
time the Red Dirt Rangers brought down the rafters, the
audience was several hundred strong.
Xavier is the band featuring Abe Guthrie -- son of Arlo
Guthrie and thus grandson of the festival's honored
namesake. They've come a long way, baby. What was once a
clunky and often ill-advised heavy metal band has matured
over the last decade into a tight and buoyant
Southern-sounding rock band.
The quartet opened the main stage festival by singing an
a cappella version of the Beatles' "Nowhere Man," no doubt a
ringer in their repertoire but an ironic opening to the
festival; the song describes an anonymous slacker who
couldn't be more the reverse of Woody Guthrie's do-or-die
gumption. The rest of the band's set chugged ahead
unfettered, maintaining the same sharp harmonies through
rootsy rock that see-sawed between Alabama's rockin' side
and Little Feat's country side.
But the heat was getting to them, too.
"We're from Massachusetts, so this hundred degrees is a
bit different for us," guitarist Randy Cormier said from the
stage. "We just shoveled out our last bit of snow up there."
As the sun dipped behind the Okemah hill, the Thursday
night main stage bill continued to shine. Grammy-winner
Pierce Pettis slipped by, and Lucy Kaplansky (who's
performed with everyone, from Shawn Colvin and Dar Williams
to John Gorka and Bill Morrissey) played a beautiful,
subdued set, which included a surprising cover of Roxy
Music's "More Than This."
Slaid Cleaves moseyed his way through a batch of songs
that further proves he is one of the most talented singers
out of Austin, Texas (if not the reincarnation of Cisco
Houston himself). He led off with his current hit, "Broke
Down," before singing a character sketch of a very colorful
character. The song included a couple of yodels, which both
generated their own applause. When fellow Austin musician
Darcie Deaville joined him onstage, she ribbed him about
the yodeling. "I got that from Don Walser," Cleaves said, and
the two of them then played a Walser tune. Cleaves later
added his own, festival-centric verses to Guthrie's "I Aint
Got No Home" and then closed with a haunting, pre-"Mermaid
Avenue" collaboration with Guthrie: Cleaves' tune to a 1940
Guthrie lyric, "This Morning I Was Born Again."
The Red Dirt Rangers closed the show with their usual
backbeat, once again being the first festival act to get
audience members on their feet dancing. They opened with
"Rangers Command," a groove-greased Guthrie original and the
title track from their latest album. Later, they played a
tune by the late Benny Craig, a former Ranger and a
much-missed and talented multi-instrumentalist. The tune,
called "Leave This World a Better Place," was unusually funky
for Craig -- or was that the Rangers? -- but its lyrical
sentiments were perfect for a festival honoring a scrappy
songwriter who tried his utmost to leave the world just
Off-stage activities sometimes outshine headliners
BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
OKEMAH — The Woody Guthrie Folk Festival has grown
substantially in its four years, so much so that the
experience involves much more than the evening headliners
in the pasture. Music and other activities continue
throughout the day, especially on the weekend. Here's a
round-up of some of the magic moments from around Woody
Guthries hometown this weekend:
It's not in the brochure
This festival offers an awful lot of music for the
hungry folk fan, but there's even more available than fans
find printed in the official schedule. Sometimes the best
shows of the week occur at about 4 in the morning in the
parking lot of the OK Motor Lodge. That's the only motel in
town, and during the festival it's full of musicians and
concert organizers. Musicians often live by the slogan,
"I'll sleep when I'm dead," so when they get home after the
night's gigs, many of them pull lawn chairs into a corner
of the parking lot and swap songs until dawn.
Friday night (er, Saturday morning), for instance, found
Jimmy LaFave, Bill Erickson, Bob Childers, Terry Ware,
Emily Kaitz, members of Xavier and scattered Red Dirt
Rangers camped out with several fans and budding musicians
softly strumming tunes in the cool July night. Kaitz had
her stand-up bass on the blacktop and lightened the mood
early on with a song about bass players taking over the
world and righting its fret-ful wrongs.
Erickson tried unsuccessfully to lead a sing-along ("I
guess they're too tired," he later muttered; of course, he
actually said tarred), and LaFave coursed the group through
"You Ain't Going Nowhere." Dawn usually found a handful of
these desperados still fumbling through "Sweet Home
Coffee, black as night
Those all-night parking-lot sessions take their toll,
though, when you're scheduled to perform the next morning.
Of course, 12:40 p.m. isn't morning to most of us, but it's
the crack of dawn to most guitar-slingers. Bob Childers
needed a lot of coffee Friday morning.
His early afternoon set at the Brick Street Cafi may
have been slow going at first, but Green Country native
Childers is armed with a wily charm that squeezed through
his own squinting eyes. Thanks to a Brick Street waitress
who kept his coffee mug topped off on stage ("I'm loving you
right now," Childers said as she poured him coffee at the
microphone, "I'm gonna write a song about you"), the
early-bird crowd learned or was reminded of Childer's tall
talents as a songwriter. He muddled his way through
original classics such as "Sweet Okie Girl," "Restless Spirit"
and his appropriate finale, the eloquent "Woody's Road." Just
when he thought he was off to bed, the crowd hooted for an
encore, a rarity on the afternoon indoor stages.
Can I see some I.D.?
At this or any other music festival, the surest way to
find great performers is to follow the performers. See the
shows the musicians see, and your eyes and ears will rarely
be sore. Case in point: the crowd for Dustin Pittsley was
practically half the festival roster.
Pittsley is another hot blues phenom, a teenager fresh
out of Chandler High School. He recently placed third in
the "Jam With Kenny Wayne Shepherd" contest, and his looks
and licks are dead ringers for that blues guitar upper
classman. He wailed on an acoustic guitar Saturday
afternoon inside the Brick Street Cafi while pal Smiley
Dryden huffed on harmonica and main-stage star Kevin Bowe
sat in on a few of Pittsley's groove-jammed originals. A
name to know.
A harp with no strings
"We got accused once of being a bluegrass band," said
DoublNotSpyz singer John Williams midway through the band's
Friday set at the Brick Street Cafi. "We had all the
instruments. It was an easy mistake."
He then launches into a song with a Jew's harp solo.
Easy mistake, indeed.
The DoublNotSpyz (ask a "Beverly Hillbillies" fan to
explain the name) are more than mere bluegrass, though, and
Williams is often the proof. He was tapped as a favorite
harmonica player throughout the festival, especially during
Wednesday night's tribute concert and that's the instrument
through which he rocks the hardest.
He's more interesting to listen to than big-shots like
Blues Traveler's John Popper because Williams wailing isn't
just self-aggrandizing improvisation; Williams sticks by
the melody being steered by singer and co-songwriter Larry
Spears and keeps his audience in the song, not the
spotlight. His harp-heaving alone received a standing
Coming into his own
Austin-based singer-songwriter Michael Fracasso started
his set Saturday afternoon in the Crystal Theater with his
poignant, droning reflection on the 1950s, and he ended
with a song called "1962." The timespan framed him well: his
naked, honest songs are deeply rooted in that era of folk
music's second great revival, the same era that inspired a
In white T-shirt and cuffed blue jeans, Fracasso's
rugged Rust Belt looks belied his sensitive nature. It's
that sensitivity that produces such beautifully crafted
original songs ("Wise Blood," inspired by the novel "The Last
Temptation of Christ," was enormously uplifting) and is able
to tap into vast new realms of emotion buried deep within
His reading of Guthrie's "1913 Massacre," for instance, is
a masterpiece of vocal and acoustic dynamics. I've heard
that song and even his rendition of it dozens of times, but
I must confess: Saturday's performance of it flooded my
eyelids more than a bit. That's how folk songs stay alive
in the hearts of the people.
Everything's new, again
This happens every year, and Friday afternoon was no
different. A young guy or his girlfriend stumble wide-eyed
down Okemah's bustling Main Street. They're brand new to
the festival, no doubt, and they stop a stranger to ask
about the goings-on. Then one of them asks, from a well of
perfect innocence, "So when does Woody Guthrie perform?"
Woody, we hardly knew ye.
Woody Guthrie Festival draws together friends and family
BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
OKEMAH — Near the end of his Saturday night set
headlining the Pastures of Plenty main stage, Arlo Guthrie,
son of the namesake of this weeks Woody Guthrie Folk
Festival, started a sweet old tune by one of his dad's
"There've been enough people playing songs by my dad. I'd
like to play a song by one of his friends. That's kind of
what this festival is about a festival of friends," Guthrie
Indeed, the four-day festival this year glowed with the
jubilation of reunited friends and renewed family ties, in
the audience and backstage. Some company used to offer a
long-distance calling plan called "Friends and Family," and
this fourth Woody Guthrie Folk Festival could have flown
that same banner.
The unseasonably cool and clear weather, which came
through late Thursday night -- just before the festival
schedule reached its full intensity outdoors -- aided both
attitude and attendance. Friday and Saturday shows at the
outdoor stage were crowded, despite organizers nervousness
about not having a big name on the festival bill this
All that big-name talk is more than a little insulting
to Arlo, though, who is hardly a slouch. For a festival
honoring his late folksinging father, he's plenty big
enough and clearly draws and holds a large crowd.
Austin songwriter Jimmy LaFave mentioned during his
Friday night set that he wishes the festival were called
the Woody and Arlo Guthrie Folk Festival. Arlo has
performed at each Guthrie festival thus far and has
remained dedicated to the gathering, which brings together
a good chunk of his relatives, too. After his performance
at Wednesday night's tribute concert, he hardly had time to
talk to fans and media; there were too many relatives to
greet. For Arlo, this is a family affair, in every
In fact, backing him up Saturday night was Xavier, the
band featuring Arlos son, Abe. (Sara Lee, Arlos daughter
who thrilled audiences at last years festival, could not
attend this year because she's finishing an album.) Xavier
had opened the outdoor stage on Thursday night with a
powerful blend of homey harmonies and taut rock, which
beefed up Arlos songs considerably.
We've heard Arlo strumming and wheezing through his
songs so many years now that we forget how tightly they
usually are written and how easily they can rock if given
to the right band. The Xavier boys gave Arlo some muscle
and breadth through "Coming to Los Angeles," "Chilling of the
Evening" (which opened the show as a tribute to the weather,
perhaps?), and a springy version of the blues classic "St.
Preceding Arlo was the Joel Rafael Band, another family
affair. Playing violin for her dad was Jamaica Rafael, who
also sang a creeping and eventually moving version of
Woody's "Pastures of Plenty."
Joel sang a few Guthrie songs with his inimitable
patience and grace, as well as his talking tune about his
first visit to Okemah and this festival a few years ago.
The song describes his surprise upon being unable to find a
parking space outside of Lou's Rocky Road Tavern in Okemah
that first night. As a result of the song and the familial
friendship kindled between Joel and Lou, there's a sign up
outside the bar reserving a space especially for him in
Friday nights main-stage lineup was almost one big
Vance Gilbert, Don Conoscenti and Ellis Paul have been
close friends for several years now, and they played the
Woody Guthrie Folk Festival this year one after another, in
"We hardly ever get to play together, or even see each
other for long stretches of time, being out on the road as
much as we are," Paul said Saturday afternoon.
From the stage Friday night, after inviting Conoscenti
to join him for a couple of songs (including "3,000 Miles"),
Paul said, "I haven't played with Don in about six months.
It's a lot like not having sex for six months."
Go ahead, snicker, but these guys really think that much
of each other. Gilbert even performed a song he had written
years ago for Paul, a semi-bitter broken-hearted lament
about Paul's plans to move from their Boston base to
Nashville. Its an amazing song, "Taking It All to Nashville,"
expressing deep love between two (heterosexual) men, and it
was the jewel of Gilbert's set.
"I'm not mad at him anymore," Gilbert said from the stage
after finishing the song. "He moved back to Boston."
Gilbert's performance was amazingly powerful. He dished
the sass between songs, joking that "LaFave sounded blacker
than I do, like a cross between Bob Dylan and Al Green," but
his songs couldn't be sweeter or more delicately
constructed. His voice is like butter, and when he was
called back for an encore -- not a given occurrence at this
festival, by any means -- he showcased it by stepping into
the audience, sans microphone, and singing a moving myth
called "The King of Rome." He is definitely a new member of
the festival family.
Oddly enough, though, for all the spirit of camaraderie
and family, I never heard anyone on stage Saturday night,
the festival's climax, wish Woody a happy 89th birthday.
That is, after all, the reason this festival occurs in the
hottest possible part of the summer; Woody Guthrie was born
on July 14, 1912.
If the festival maintains the strength it enjoyed this
year (on what organizers thought might be a slow year), he
may be reborn again every July in a pasture west of his old
BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
Kevin Bowe and his band, the Okemah Prophets, performed
in Okemah for the first time at last year's Woody Guthrie
Folk Festival. They lucked out with an indoor cafe show
during the heat of an afternoon, and their Ramblin' Jack
Elliott-meets-the Replacements songs bowled over a crowd of
Guthrie fans, including Guthrie cohort (and last year's
headliner) Pete Seeger. After the Prophets' fiery set,
Seeger even remarked, "That's different, but of course I
Kevin Bowe and his band will be back at the Woody
Guthrie Festival this week -- with a high-profile slot on the
outdoor main stage Saturday night -- and Bowe says he's eager
to return. His road to Okemah from his native Minneapolis
has been a long and winding one (appropriately for an
acolyte of the festival's namesake) and owes its coming
full circle to the magic of the Internet. Last year, one of
the festival organizers entered "Okemah" into an online
search engine just to see what returns would come up;
suddenly he was reading about this Minneapolis-based band
called the Okemah Prophets and led by a widely acclaimed
songwriter (who's written for the likes of Jonny Lang, Leo
Kottke, Peter Case, Chuck Prophet, Delbert McClinton and
more). Two phone calls later, they were booked.
In an interview from his Minnesota home this week, Bowe
retraced his circuitous route from young punk to
Guthrie-influenced songwriter and band leader.
TC: How and when did you discover Woody?
KB: Well, I'm 40 years old. My musical coming of age was
in the '70s. Music had gotten so awful by the late '70s
with the corporatization of rock. I mean, I first listened
to radio as a young teen, when FM was freeform and had no
playlists. You'd hear Led Zeppelin segue into John Prine.
The first record I bought was by Taj Mahal because I'd
heard it on the radio and liked it. By the late '70s it was
all Foreigner and Heart, and I felt very disenfranchised by
the shift. So I started listening to older music. I
discovered country through this weird genealogy: "Exile on
Main Street" (by the Rolling Stones) has pedal steel on it,
and investigating that I found Gram Parson, and through
that discovered the Byrds' "Sweetheart of the Rodeo," and
then you get to Hank Williams Sr. and it's all over. I
probably discovered Woody through Bob Dylan. I mean, I'm a
Jewish guy from Minnesota -- who else am I going to be
listening to, right?
TC: What grabbed you about Woody's music, though?
KB: By the time I discovered Woody Guthrie, I was more
of a songwriter than a band guy. I was focused on writing
more than performing. That's what grabbed me about him. In
the introduction to (Guthrie's novel) "Bound for Glory," Pete
Seeger says that any damn fool can write complicated, but
it takes a genius to write simple. Also, the humor in
Woody's stuff -- that grim humor.
TC: The sense of humor is crucial to understanding
Woody. Someone mentioned to me the other day that the
reason they don't like the film of "Bound for Glory" is that
David Carradine (who played Guthrie) has no sense of
KB: Sure. I mean, it seems to me like Woody Guthrie was
having a great time. He was pissed about certain things,
and rightfully so, but he was all about having a good time
while bringing down the man, you know? ... I was reminded
of Woody a little bit recently when I was watching a
bio-pic of Abbie Hoffman called "Steal This Movie." I rented
it because I have a song in it, which I just found out
about. Anyway, I'd always regarded Hoffman as a bit of a
clown, but this movie's position was that he was into using
humor to bring down the corrupt forces in government. That
reminded me of Woody.
TC: Tell me why you wound up primarily a songwriter
instead of a front man.
KB: When you pick up a guitar at 13, you don't think, "My
goal is to make a living writing songs for people younger
and more talented than me." I've been in moderately
successful bands, but when you hit 30 and the people you
went to high school with are becoming really successful,
you start to evaluate your strengths. I was sitting there
going nowhere, playing in a bar one night, and there was a
producer in the audience named David Z (Prince, Jonny
Lang). He talked to me afterward and said, "Your band is OK,
but your songs are really something. Maybe I could use some
sometime." Our first project together was placing my song
"Riverside" on Jonny Lang's first album. We've worked on a
lot of projects since, and my career now is flying around
to work with different artists, writing songs.
TC: I read somewhere that Paul Westerberg was
instrumental in your turn from performance to writing.
KB: For me, it's all about Bob Dylan and Paul
Westerberg. I don't know if this goes over well at a folk
festival, but punk rock was a huge thing for me.
TC: Of course, it goes over well. The first year of the
festival Billy Bragg was on stage explaining how Woody was
the original punk.
KB: Well, yeah. You're either
someone who gets punk or doesn't, and that's part of my
enjoyment of Woody Guthrie. He was more punk than most
punks. The Replacements -- well, there's never been a better
band, but I don't think Westerberg thinks of himself as a
punk. He happened to be an unnaturally gifted songwriter in
a punkish band.
TC: Your bio makes a point of mentioning your childhood
in Minnesota, how you were half Irish and half Serbian in
the land of Scandinavian settlers. How did that affect your
songwriting, and do you think it was anything like being an
Okie in California?
KB: Oh yeah. Actually, I feel the same way up here that
Woody must have felt in Okemah -- a stranger in a strange
land. We've never fit into the scene up here. When we play
here, we can't get arrested. But when we play in Nashville
or Austin or Okemah, it's a big deal. We refer to Okemah as
TC: And why did you call your Minneapolis band the
KB: In Bound for Glory, Woody describes the town lunatic
and calls him the Okemah prophet. He's this guy in the town
square who babbles and dances. I've spent a lifetime on
stage doing just that. The prophet doesn't think he's
babbling, of course, but the people walking by are going,
"Yeah, right, there's the prophet." It's the story of my
life, playing in bars. That's why it's nice to get to
Okemah where the prophets are now at least listened to.
This post contains my complete reviews of this annual festival ...
Singer-songwriter's sincere performance a fitting opening to festival
BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
OKEMAH — Most music fans my age missed the boat on
Jackson Browne. We were just coming around when "Lawyers in
Love" was being foisted on Top 40 radio (a silly song that
was not surprisingly missing from Browne's 1997 greatest
hits collection) and the tepid but memorable "Somebody's
Baby" was the coda to the quintessential teen-sex film "Fast
Times at Ridgemont High."
These were not Browne's greatest artistic achievements.
They were Jackson bollocks.
What we young'uns missed were the crucial years of
lyrical songwriting eloquence long before that early-'80s
wash-out and the equally important years of political
proselytizing that followed. As rock critic Dave Marsh has
said, Browne's career is like Bob Dylan's in reverse:
Browne was first an intensely personal songwriter and then
became interested in the politics and social causes of his
This gave Browne the advantage of employing artful and
romantic lyricism to his political songs; the loving detail
of these individual pieces helps link his artistic vision
to his political idealism. At a gritty event that simply
vibrates with Dylan's brave, wheezy influence, Browne's
tenderness, humility and grace spearheaded the third annual
Woody Guthrie Free Folk Festival with a refreshing and
apropos concert Wednesday night in Okemah's historic
"Folk music is what made me want to start playing music,"
Browne told the sold-out crowd during his show. "Woody, Pete
Seeger, Leadbelly -- these are the people who lit a fire
Of course, what else would you say on stage at a Woody
Guthrie festival? But he proved his sincerity with a
three-hour solo show (he even donated his time for this) of
his "more folkish stuff," switching between acoustic guitars
and piano to perform nearly 30 of his own carefully drawn
classic songs from the last 30 years. He sang an old
Rev. Gary Davis cocaine blues tune ("I learned this from a
Dave Van Ronk album," he said), Dylan's "Song to Woody" ("Ah, I
love that song," he said as he finished) and then Guthrie's
own classic "Deportee."
Between these, he invoked the nervousness and purpose of
every folk singer ever born: "Boy, singing these songs on
the edge of your bed is one thing. Singing them in front of
other people is, well . . . But, you know, I started
singing them not because I was a good singer but because I
The songs Browne did write, he sang beautifully. After
the show, he was mildly distraught, convinced that his
voice had been terrible that night. It was not. Thick with
its own natural peat and the mid-summer Oklahoma humidity,
his voice resonated through the hall with as much
reassuring purpose as it always has.
It's not a dynamic voice, and Browne's one weakness is
that he writes songs within his limited vocal range; he
uses the same keys and modulations so that, after a while,
the songs tend to sound the same. (The occasional
finger-picking and slide guitar Wednesday night threw a
nice country-blues change-up, though.) However, Browne's
music stands tall over the rest of his ilk -- the laid-back
southern California sensitive singer-songwriter stuff of
the '70s -- because he somehow managed to avoid the cynicism
that corrupted his peers.
While Linda Ronstadt tried to prove she was everywoman
by singing in Spanish, and the Eagles reunited to sing
acidic songs of contempt and charge $300 a ticket, Browne
quietly continued through the late '80s and '90s writing
songs with quizzical questions and wry social observations.
He's no optimist, but -- in the spirit of Guthrie -- he
operates from a live-and-let-live perspective that brings
an audience to an awareness of personal or political
foibles without humiliating the ones at fault. It's a more
graceful, humanitarian approach to empowerment through
As he illustrated Wednesday night, this approach works
on both sides of his music. The confessional songs show it
just as readily as the socially conscious ones. "Fountain of
Sorrow," he pointed out, is about an old girlfriend, and "it
turns out the song is better than she deserved." Still, he
sang its words at the piano with none of the bitterness we
might expect from the situation: "You could be laughing at
me, you've got the right / But you go on smiling so clear
A politically fierce song, "Lives in the Balance," rails
against the United States' "secret, covert wars" around the
world not by calling the president names but by
illuminating the toll exacted by these unwise policies:
"There are people under fire / There are children at the
cannons." It's the same process of focusing on the "right"
details that Woody employed. "Deportee" is a song about the
victims, not the perpetrators. Empathy is a stronger
motivator than anger.
Even though, as mentioned, early songs such as "For
Everyman" and "Late for the Sky" were unflinchingly personal,
the seeds of Browne's social conscience were evident from
his first solo hit, "Doctor, My Eyes." Despite its catchy,
pleasant Brill Building groove, the song is an early
expression of a social observer's initial squint into
life's harsh light (lyrics above).
Again, here's Browne swiveling the camera around to the
person struggling -- in this case, himself -- instead of
setting sights on those causing the struggle. It's a cry
for help, but not in the sense of whining or welfare;
Browne instead seeks validation of his own feelings of
sadness and frustration about the world's situation. In
this song, he hasn't learned yet how universal that feeling
is -- a lesson Guthrie himself learned at about the same
point in his own songwriting career.
His performance of "Doctor, My Eyes" was part of a medley
that began with that song and ended with another early
standard, "These Days." As he see-sawed the groove on the
piano, Browne began to brighten noticeably. Throughout the
bulk of his show, he had been fairly sober, concentrating
on songs he hasn't played regularly in concert and closing
his eyes in serious songwriter mode. Perhaps it was the
song's upbeat momentum or the relief of a relatively
stage-shy performer realizing that the concert was nearing
its end, but Browne started smiling. His eyes stared at a
distant point, then he would suddenly focus on the crowd
before him and smile.
By the time he launched into "The Pretender," his most
iconic hit song and the most frequently shouted request of
the evening, Browne was revived -- and leading a revival. He
liked the feel of the line "I'll get up and do it again /
Amen" so much that he did it twice with gospel fervor, the
same with "Get it up again" later in the song. He seemed so
into the flow of the tune that he didn't want to finish the
song, telescoping the ending with extended riffing and much
satisfied nodding to himself.
How many times has he played this song? Thousands? Tens
of thousands? And he's still this into it?
So when he came out for an encore and played "Take It
Easy," the Eagles' breakthrough hit he co-wrote with Glenn
Fry, it was clear exactly how much taller Browne stood than
his contemporaries. He so easily switches gears between
singing about "the blood in the ink of the headlines" and
standing on that mythical corner in Winslow, Ariz. But when
you hear him in concert, you realize that even "Take It Easy"
encourages us to "find a place to make your stand."
This undercurrent underscored how much Browne belonged
at the opening ceremony of this festival, honoring a
songwriter who could also switch gears swiftly -- one minute
decrying the fascist menace, the next minute bouncing up
and down making kiddie car noises. It was a strong
beginning to a worthwhile festival gathering more strength
and purpose every year.
Seeger sparks Guthrie Festival
BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
OKEMAH — Folk music, you know, is not about showmanship.
This is its saving grace and sometimes its most
frustrating trait. It is folk music, after all -- by and for
folks -- and each of its practitioners labors to keep their
own songs and themselves as close to The People as
possible. No fancy clothes. No fancy shows. Sometimes, it
seems, not even a simple rehearsal.
This is fun and even noble when performing in a coffee
house or hootenanny. When entertaining a throng of
thousands from a 50-foot stage rig in a spacious pasture
east of Okemah, however, folk music's struggle against
separation from the masses becomes a tougher fight.
Saturday's final concert at the Woody Guthrie Free Folk
Festival here was such a brave battle -- full of glorious
triumphs and tragic defeats.
Leading the charge was folk's figurehead, Pete Seeger.
Indispensable as a living archive of American folk, Seeger
commanded the Pastures of Plenty main stage with a
childlike charm, telling the tales behind the songs and
leading the audience in sing-alongs with every one.
Seeger is the epitome of folk music's anti-showmanship.
He'd been in town for days without being mobbed by fans. He
has no entourage. He strolls confidently but slowly wearing
faded jeans and an untucked knit shirt. He walked by fans
and musicians alike in downtown Okemah, most of whom had no
idea who the old man was until someone whispered, "Hey,
that's Pete Seeger."
This is how he took the stage Saturday night -- jeans,
untucked, cap askew -- picking at a tall banjo and leading us
right away into a sing-along of "Midnight Special." Scruffy
looking, scratchy-throated and rarely keeping the beat, the
thousands clustered in the steamy Okemah Industrial Park
pasture swooned, sang and lit up the late night with an
electric storm of flashbulbs.
Over the next hour and a half, Pete got the crowd
singing not only because he prompted us with each line
before he sang it but because the utter joy radiating from
his ruddy-cheeked smile was impossible to disallow. He led
us through "Turn! Turn! Turn!" with such exuberance you'd
think he had composed the tune in a Biblical revelation
backstage that evening, not nearly 50 years ago. He sang
several of Guthrie's children's songs, such as "Why Oh Why,"
and led the crowd of all ages through the cheery tune of
wonderment. We sang along because he wasn't talking down to
us as if we were children; rather, he crackled with the
obvious thrill of sharing the song and the joy its has
brought him with one more huge crowd of people.
All of this was off the cuff, and while Seeger's undying
passion for American folk song charged him for the
situation, his compatriots on stage didn't fight the good
fight with the same conviction. On stage with Seeger and
his grandson, Tao Rodriguez, were the Guthrie clan: Arlo,
his daughter Sara Lee, his son Abe and Sara Lee's husband
Johnny Irion. As the pendulum swung back and forth between
Seeger and the Guthries, it was clear the latter suffered
most from the spontaneous nature of an unrehearsed mass
The Guthries rumbled through a rousing rendition of
Woody's "Sinking of the Reuben James," supported by Seeger.
But when the Guthries' turn came around again, there were
often lengthy deserts of no music. Arlo had a tough time
keeping his guitar in tune, and he told mildly amusing
stories while cranking his strings -- the same stories he
told at the first and second Guthrie festival here.
Sometimes he would sit helplessly and wonder aloud what
songs they could play that everyone knew. These were always
the moments when a family or two would decide to pack up
the chairs and blankets and call it a night.
Rodriguez saved the show a time or two by belting out
some Cuban songs, including an enlivening duet with his
grandfather on "Guantanamera," a hit for the Sandpipers in
1966. The show wrapped up with an all-star jangle through
"Will the Circle Be Unbroken," featuring a stage full of most
of the evening's performers.
Preceding the Seeger-Guthrie set Saturday night was
another charter performer at the festival, the Joel Rafael
Band. A quiet treasure, Rafael brought down nightfall with
his patient, comforting roots music. The band consists of
congas, acoustic guitars and viola -- a wellspring of wood
creating wholly organic and soothing sounds. In addition to
being the only performer in three days to point out the
bloated, bright full moon shining over the festival
grounds, Rafael evoked Guthrie with a most weathered and
righteous approach. He first sang "Way Down Yonder in the
Minor Key," one of the Guthrie lyrics Billy Bragg and Wilco
put to music, then he tackled a rare Guthrie tune called
"Don't Kill My Baby and My Son" about the planned lynching of
a black woman, her young son and her baby near Okemah early
in the century. During his "Talkin' Oklahoma Hills," though,
he summed up folk musicians' burgeoning perspective on
Guthrie, saying, "Will Rogers is the most famous Oklahoman
in the whole country, and Woody Guthrie is the most famous
Oklahoman in the whole wide world."
Pastures of Plenty: Oklahoma town draws wealth of talent to honor Woody Guthrie
BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
OKEMAH — The July afternoon heat was hard and brutal,
even with an uninspired breeze. Triple-digit temperatures
radiated from Okemah's downtown pavement, and shoe soles
foolish enough to be tramping up and down Broadway at
highnoon stuck to the blacktop. Townspeople hibernated in
air-conditioned places of business, peering warily out
And yet . . . where was that accordion music coming
In the heart of downtown Okemah, in the little patch of
park that now boasts a crude statue of Woody Guthrie, sat
Rosemary Hatcher huffing on her squeezebox. A former music
teacher from California, now living in Payola, Hatcher was
visiting Okemah for the third annual Woody Guthrie Free
Folk Festival, a festival that took over the small town
with live music events from Wednesday to Sunday. On
Thursday, she had setup her stool and music stand in the
tiny park and was pumping softlyunder the shade of her
straw cowboy hat and four huddling pinetrees.
"I just got this Woody Guthrie songbook," Hatcher said,
clothes-pinning the pages to the music stand. "I'm playing
through a lot of songs I haven't played before. You know,
they were meant to be played on guitar. This book even
tells you where to put your capo. But I think they sound
nice with accordion, too. Do you know this one, `Oklahoma
"I just like to travel and play my music," she said,
echoing the sentiments of the majority of musicians playing
at the festival, most of whom donate their time for the
privilege of offering up their songs in Guthrie's
Feeling hot, hot, hot
Erica Wheeler started her set on the festival's Pastures
of Plenty main stage with a song called "Hot," she said "in
honor of all of you who are."
She'd been battling the 100-plus heat index all day
Thursday, refusing her 2 p.m. sound check (as all of the
day's acts did) because of the oppressive temperatures. On
stage that evening, the sun had just begun to ease off as
the Maryland songstress began strumming her pretty,
"It gets to hot / I ain't complaining / No, I am not," she
sang, and she meant it, despite her wardrobe: long sleeves
and an ankle-length skirt, all black.
The following day, bluesy singer Peter Keane voiced his
own ideas about the heat.
"Today is Woody's birthday," he said, "and that's why they
have the festival here. Makes you kind of wish he'd been
born in March or April, doesn't it?"
The protest against Woody Guthrie in his hometown has
dwindled to a feeble poster in a storefront window. It's a
blown-up copy of an anonymous newspaper column from a 1989
edition of the Oklahoma Constitution, and it's posted in
the window of Okemah's American Legion building.
The column, titled "Woody Was No Hero," lambasted the
Oklahoma Gazette, a weekly newspaper in Oklahoma City, for
honoring Guthrie through its Oklahoma Music Awards. The
actual awards were called Woodys.
"He loved the totalitarian dictatorship of Josef Stalin,"
the author proclaimed about the songwriter, on whose guitar
was scrawled the slogan "This Machine Kills Fascists," and
the column wrongly described Guthrie as "a militant
A woman in a nearby clothes shop, when asked about the
sign, discouraged investigation of the matter.
"That's not how the majority of this town feels anymore,"
A good sign
J.R. Payne knows how Okemah used to feel about Woody. He
also knows something about signs that pop up when the
festival comes around.
"This town for a long time was pretty hooky-hooky over
all that propaganda," he said, making a see-sawing so-so
motion with both hands, "though none of it amounts to a hill
Payne tends the Okfuskee County Historical Museum,
downtownnext to the Crystal Theater where several festival
performances take place. He's quick to point out a long
sign that sits atop a case of Guthrie artifacts in the
museum. The sign reads, "This Land Is Your Land."
"I had that sign made several years ago, and one morning
I noticed that it had disappeared," Payne said. "But then,
when all this Woody Guthrie hullabaloo started just last
year or so, well, suddenly that sign came back out."
Among three rooms full of regional memorabilia, the
museum shows off several Guthrie photographs, including two
classphotos (you can quickly pick out Woody's aw-shucks
smirk without the aid of the notations) and one photograph
of a girlish, near-toddler Guthrie standing outside his
family's original Okemah home.
Payne, 82, remembers Guthrie from these school days. His
first year at Okemah High School was Woody's last year
"He was living back in the trees there," Payne said,
pointing toward the east where Woody had lived alone in his
old gang clubhouse behind his family's last Okemah home. "He
was just a guy, you know. Funny. He was the joke editor for
the school paper. But he was just like anybody else."
Real roots music
In addition to the main-stage concerts each evening,
this year's festival included live music all day long at
two Okemah mainstays: the Brick Street Cafe and Lou's Rocky
Road Tavern. Several main-stage acts reappeared on these
stages -- Ellis Paul played for a while Saturday afternoon at
Lou's -- and even more new artists played here, including a
new band with an incredible legacy.
The group was called Rig, an acronym for the members'
last names -- Tao Rodriguez (Pete Seeger's grandson), Sara
Lee and Abe Guthrie (Arlo's kids), John Irion (Sara Lee's
husband) -- and they played an unadvertised show Saturday
afternoon to a packed house at the Brick Street Cafe.
Playing mostly old folk songs from their respective family
lineages, they opened with a rousing rendition of Guthrie's
"Union Maid" and closed with an equally ferocious "Rock Island
Line," both belted out with real passion by a red-faced
Seeger and Arlo Guthrie were in attendance, beaming with
Some of the most exciting performances at this year's
festival were at the late-night All-Star Jams in the
spacious basement of the Brick Street Cafe. Hosted by the
Red Dirt Rangers, the shows carried on after each night's
main-stage concert and featured the Rangers as a house band
for whichever performers happened to be in the cafe with
This is where fans could see real musicianship unfold.
For instance, Michael Fracasso took the basement stage
Thursday night and unleashed a more raucous side of
himself, shouting a series of chords to the band before
beginning the song and letting the players improvise parts
as each song plowed along.
George Barton, from Barton and Sweeney, led the band --
which that night featured Don Conoscenti, the Neal Cassady
of folkmusic, on drums -- through a visceral blues song,
singing, "You don't have to be black to feel blue / Any
color will do." Scott Aycock, host of the "Folk Salad" show on
KWGS 89.5-FM, led the band through a haunted, wailing
rendition of Dylan's "One More Cup of Coffee." Friday night,
Stillwater's Jason Bolan and the Stragglers took over the
stage for three songs and had the entire basement full of
people on its feet dancing.
The Rangers held court a while each night there, too.
Friday night they performed "Dwight Twilley's Garage Sale," a
song singer-guitarist Brad Piccolo wrote about stopping at
a garage sale run by Tulsa's own pop legend Twilley. "I wish
I could afford that guitar," Piccolo sings, "I'd take it home
and write a hit song / Say adios to the bars."
The Oregon tale
This year's Guthrie festival included a film screening
among all the music. "Roll On, Columbia: Woody Guthrie and
the Bonneville Power Administration" is a documentary about
Guthrie's 30-day job in May 1941 writing songs about the
dam projects along the Columbia River in Oregon and
Washington. The video was released in February and was
produced by Michael Majdic, an associate professor at the
University of Oregon.
The film neatly sums up this pivotal chapter in
Guthrie's career, featuring interviews with Arlo Guthrie,
Pete Seeger, Mary Guthrie Boyle (Woody's first wife), Studs
Terkel, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Nora Guthrie (Woody's
sister) and numerous BPA dam workers. It was during this
unusual assignment that Guthrie wrote some of his most
sparkling work, including "Pastures of Plenty," "Hard
Travelin' " and "The Biggest Thing a Man Has Ever Done."
The three screenings of the film this weekend in Okemah
were part of a larger program that included performances of
the songs by another Oregon professor, Bill Murlin, and
Guthrie impersonator Carl Allen.
Ellis, himself and us
Bill McCloud, McCloud is the president of the Orphanage
Society in Pryor, which puts on the festival with the Woody
Guthrie Coalition, introducd Boston singer Ellis Paul,
saying, "People said we'd never get Ellis Paul this year,
that he'd gotten too big for us. But that's not what Ellis
Paul, who's performed at all three Guthrie festivals
thus far, told the large crowd Friday night that he plans
to play the festival every year he's asked to.
Paul's song "The World Ain't Slowing Down" is featured
prominently in the latest hit film from the Farrelly
brothers starring Jim Carrey, "Me, Myself and Irene." The
only thing the new prominence has brough Paul is the
ability to retrieve stolen goods, as he said in a story
from the stage.
"I went to the premiere of the movie and the party
afterwards, and I decided not to take my cell phone inside.
I figured, it's a Hollywood party, everyone's going to have
the things, I don't want to be one of those people," he
said. "When I got out to my car that night, my phone had
Later that week, Paul was singing the National Anthem at
the baseball game between the Boston Red Sox and the New
"A friend of mine there said, `Hey, Ellis, I just talked
to the guy who stole your phone.' So I called the number
and said,`Hey, you've got my cell phone.' The guy said, `I
know. You're famous.' He'd been talking to my old girl
friends and probably doing interviews. I think he's doing
Letterman next week."
Paul played a thrilling, albeit brief, set with fellow
singer-songwriter Don Conoscenti and Joel Rafael Band
percussionist Jeff Berkeley. He included his rousing
rendition of Guthrie's "Hard Travelin'."
Shy rockers in flight
Ellis Paul has charted higher than the northeast
Oklahoma duo of Barton and Sweeney, but the Oklahomans'
music has soared much higher -- physically.
Earlier this year, NASA astronauts took Barton and
Sweeney's latest CD, "On the Timeline," with them on a space
shuttle mission. The space walkers heard Barton and Sweeney
in a bar one night, bought the disc, then called later to
ask if they could take it with them into orbit. One morning
during the mission, the astronauts were awakened with one
of the tracks.
That's a little consolation for Sweeney, who recalls
when Paul got the better of him at the 1994 Kerrville New
Folk Contest. Paul won first place; Sweeney got second.
"That's why his name's a little bigger on the festival
T-shirts there," Sweeney laughed.
BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
The Mystery Band has managed to live up to its name
Rumors are rabid about the band's club gig this weekend:
just who is this Doug Wylie, the Mystery Band's new
Is it really Dwight Twilley, or just some Twilley
The Mystery Band certainly has a history with Twilley.
Drummer Jerry Naifeh played drums and percussion on several
of Twilley's pivotal early records, including the 1975 hit
"I'm on Fire." Naifeh and Mystery Band guitarist Bingo Sloan
played on Twilley's latest album, "Tulsa." Longtime Twilley
guitarist, Bill Pitcock IV, was also once a member of the
The other current members are not enigmas to local music
fans: Barry Henderson, guitars and keyboards, from the
"Mazeppa" show's Bo Velvet and the Desert Snakes; and Rick
Berryman, bass, who fans might remember from the Push.
Twilley himself has performed with the Mystery Band. In
1990, the band lost two of its members — Chris Campbell and
Jim "Tank" Parmley — in an auto accident. Twilley and his
longtime songwriting partner Phil Seymour played with the
band in the interim. In fact, it was the last time the two
local icons performed together on stage before Seymour's
death from cancer in '93.
Now the Mystery Band is back in action, and this week
they're adding the shadowy Wylie. The band claims he looks
like Twilley and sounds like Twilley but that he's really
just a hot new talent they discovered in Okfuskee.
The band's new single, "Come Together," has received
airplay on KMOD this week. It's a sharp pop song, but that
voice sounds an awful lot like Twilley.
Twilley is cagey when you broach the subject.
"He apparently does all my favorite old rock 'n' roll
songs. He thinks songwriting is stupid. He's doing `Good
Golly Miss Molly' and stuff. He does it pretty well, too,
so I'm told," Twilley said.
"I hear he even tries to do his hair like mine," he said.
"I wish him luck."
Wylie himself could not be reached for comment. He's
been in seclusion with Chris Gaines.
Figure out the Dwight Twilley/Doug Wylie mystery for
yourself when the Mystery Band plays at 9:30 p.m. Friday at
The Break, 4404 S. Peoria Ave. Cover charge is $3.
BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
Pete Seeger is the godhead of American folk music, but
like most folks, he was bowled over when he first saw Woody
"It was a magic moment," Seeger said in a recent interview
with the Tulsa World. "Woody had hitchhiked from New York to
California for a midnight benefit concert to raise money
for the California agricultural workers, most of whom were
Okies. I was working in Washington (D.C.), and Alan Lomax
drove me up for it ... I was on the program with one song.
I got a smattering of polite applause; it's quite
embarrassing to think about now, really. Woody was the star
of the evening.
"He strolled onto that stage with his hat on the back of
his head, and he just started telling stories. He started,
‘Oklahoma's a very rich state. We got oil. You want some
oil, you go down into a hole and get you some. We got coal.
You want coal, you go down into a hole and get you some.
You want food, clothes or groceries, you just go into a
hole and stay there.' And he did that all night, singing
songs and telling jokes.
People were just charmed by his laconic control of the
situation, and I was one of them."
As a close friend of Guthrie's for the next 30-plus
years, Seeger would collect countless tales of Woody's
musical magic — all the while becoming a folk legend on his
Extraordinary common folk
Seeger's destiny ran parallel to Guthrie's throughout
the most productive years of their youth. While Guthrie
found his path to folk music in his travels among the
country's migrant workers and poor, Seeger discovered his
way at home. His father, Charles Seeger, was one of the
country's premier musicologists. Young Pete fell in love
with folk music when he and his father attended a folk
festival in 1935 in North Carolina.
But Seeger wasn't sure at first where he fit into folk
music. After dropping out of Harvard University, he spent
much of his time helping Alan Lomax at the Library of
Congress' Archive of Folk Song. There he got to know
Guthrie, another regular at the archive. The two became
fast friends, and Seeger learned everything he could from
Guthrie about music, politics and social commitment.
After the two songwriters traveled to Oklahoma together
in 1940 (see related story), Seeger went back to New York
City and formed the Almanac Singers, the precursor to his
more famous — and influential — folk group, the Weavers, in
the early '50s. With these groups, and on his own, Seeger
became a repository of American folk music. He learned the
songs and the stories behind them, from centuries-old tales
of struggle to new songs from an early '60s upstart named
Seeger is 81 now, and he doesn't perform as often as he
used to. ("I'm 70 percent there from the shoulders down and
30 percent from the shoulders up," he jokes about himself.)
Still, he's decided to come to Oklahoma for the third Woody
Guthrie Free Folk Festival simply because he can't turn
down the opportunity to honor his late friend one more time
— especially on his home turf.
"I'm glad the people in Okemah are welcoming their
friends and neighbors and fellow Oklahomans. It's actually
a very brave and noble thing to do this," Seeger said.
"Okemah, I don't think, hasn't always been so welcoming. One
of the singers at this festival is Larry Long. He's one of
Woody's musical children. He never knew Woody but through
his songs. He came and worked in the Okemah schools for a
year or so, teaching the kids all of Woody's songs. There
was a local banker there who was quite upset about that. He
felt Woody was best forgotten. He was quite outnumbered."
Seeger himself has had his moments of doubt about Woody.
When Woody would shove songs into Seeger's hands — freshly
ripped from Woody's typewriter — Seeger said he often
thought they were too silly, simple or even dumb. Over
time, however, Seeger began to see the beauty of Woody's
simplicity and innocence.
"Over the years, I just gradually realized what an
absolute genius Woody was," Seeger said. "He fought long and
hard for his beliefs, and he created instantaneously. He
rarely rewrote anything. He had the genius of simplicity.
Any damn fool can get complicated. I confess that when I
first heard ‘This Land Is Your Land,' I thought it was a
little simple. That shows how wrong people can be. That
song hit the spot with millions."
Seeger's own songs have hit the spot with millions.
Seeger's songs, though, were most often commercial hits in
the hands of other performers — "If I Had a Hammer" for Trini
Lopez and Peter, Paul and Mary or "Turn! Turn! Turn!" for the
The same was true for Guthrie. Most of the young folkies
paying tribute these days discovered Woody by way of Dylan.
Even Billy Bragg, who made the critically acclaimed "Mermaid
Avenue" albums of lost Guthrie lyrics with the band Wilco,
heard Dylan first.
Guthrie's legacy, though, did not fade, even after his
decline throughout the '60s and his death in '67. The
opening of the Woody Guthrie Archives in New York City in
1996 spurred an appropriately grassroots revival of Woody's
songs and spirit, part of which resulted in the Okemah
festival taking off from its inception three years ago.
It's a legacy that's too important to ignore, Seeger said --
it simply can't die. Long life, if not eternal life, is the
very essence of the folk tradition.
"Woody's legacy will not die, ever. I'm not just saying
that. (In the '70s) Woody's second wife Marge went to
Washington to seek money to help fight Huntington's
Disease. President Carter said to the assembled group there
one day, ‘I'm not sure if any of you realize that this man
Woody Guthrie, centuries from now, will be better known
than anyone in this room,'" Seeger said. "I think he's quite
right. Who remembers President Buchanan's name? But
everyone knows Stephen Foster."
BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
It was the spring of 1940, and Woody Guthrie was
becoming a star — or as close to one as he'd ever let
In May of that year, Woody stood alone in Victor
Records' New Jersey recording studio and sang out some of
his best — and now best-known — songs: "Dust Bowl Refugee," "I
Ain't Got No Home," "Do Re Mi," "So Long, It's Been Good to
Know You" and many more. He was paid $300 for the session,
more money than he'd ever thought a man could be paid for
singing "dusty ol' songs."
Immediately after the session, Woody wrote to his
younger sister Mary Jo back in Oklahoma about his recent
good fortune in New York City. "I just bought a new
Plymouth, and it really splits the breeze," he said. Then he
added, "I'm coming to Oklahoma as soon as I get a check from
Months later, he began that journey back home, and his
traveling companion was fellow folksinger Pete Seeger. It
would be a pivotal journey for Woody's political
motivations and a crystallizing moment in his personal
According to Joe Klein's Woody Guthrie: A Life, the two
young folkies headed south and rolled through the
Appalachian Mountains "carrying on a running conversation
about music and politics."
Along the trip, they stopped briefly in Tennessee to
visit the Highlander Folk School, a training center for
labor organizers. The owners, Myles and Zilphia Horton,
were focusing on the use of music as an organizing tool.
From then on, Woody became preoccupied with writing union
songs, and later in the trip he would pen his ultimate
They traveled through Arkansas into Oklahoma, stopping
in Konawa to visit Woody's family. It was a tense reunion.
The Guthries had been split up years before after Woody's
mother Nora went to the mental hospital in Norman. After
that, Mary Jo was sent to a relative's in Pampa, Texas, and
Woody's father, Charley, moved to Oklahoma City. Woody and
his older brother were left behind in Okemah to fend for
themselves. Woody's inherent restlessness got the better of
him, and he left soon after high school.
Charley was in Konawa during this visit, but as Klein
wrote, there was "a real tension between them, and the visit
lasted only a few hours."
They pressed on to Oklahoma City, where they spent a
night with local Communist Party organizers Bob and Ina
Wood. The Woods put Guthrie and Seeger to work, singing for
the poor people in the Hooverville shantytown on the banks
of the Canadian River. It was during this stay that Woody
wrote one of his most recognizable songs, "Union Maid."
Later in his life, Woody wrote that the song was
inspired by the story of a southern Tenant Farmers' Union
organizer who was badly beaten, but in a recent interview
with the Tulsa World Seeger recalled the more direct
inspiration for the song.
"We were in the (Woods') office, and Ina said, ‘Woody,
all these union songs are about brothers this and brothers
that. How about writing songs about union women?' " Seeger
said. "Well, it was true. The (union) meeting that night
might have been broken up had it not been for the women and
children singing songs and keeping it peaceful."
"Union Maid" — with its chorus, "Oh you can't scare me, I'm
stickin' to the union" — was written that night as a parody
of an older song called "Redwing." At first, Seeger thought
Woody's song was silly, but he said its simplicity and
directness soon won him over.
"His words now are much better than the ‘Redwing' words,"
he said. "Who would think that ‘stickin' to the' would be
such a fun line to sing?"
The rest of the trip was personally difficult. Woody and
Pete continued to Pampa, where Woody had left behind his
first wife and children. That reunion also was tense.
Seeger didn't stay long, opting to continue travelling west
after a few days. Woody left soon after that, leaving his
wife the $300. He headed back through Oklahoma City and
picked up Bob Wood, taking him back to New York City for a
huge Communist Party convention at Madison Square Garden.
When the convention was done, Woody gave Wood the
Plymouth so he could get home. It was the official car of
the Oklahoma Communist Party for several years after that.
By Thomas Conner
© Tulsa World
" 'Til We Outnumber 'Em"
(Righteous Babe Records)
This long-delayed recording of an all-star 1996 Woody
Guthrie tribute concert at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
(which celebrated the opening of the Woody Guthrie
Archives) is as uneven, prickly and poignant as Guthrie's
own life and legacy. Sketchy performances of brilliant
songs, jaw-dropping renderings of mediocre movements, oddly
edited bits of readings from Guthrie's writings — "'Til We
Outnumber 'Em" is a joyous jumble, a striking collage
artwork showing how many colors, styles and genres of music
make up the current ideal of Woody's vision. Aside from the
jerky sequencing and a few hard travelin' renditions, there
are some crystalline moments: Ani DiFranco's spare,
sweeping shattering of the preciousness built up around "Do
Re Mi," Billy Bragg's rascally cooing through "Against th'
Law" (tuneless lyrics to which Bragg wrote new music), Bruce
Springsteen — the king of car songs — sputtering and vrooming
through "Riding in My Car" and the full-cast, full-on, fully
transcendent "Hard Travelin' Hootenanny," featuring everyone
from Billy Bragg to Arlo Guthrie. Alternately frustrating
and fascinating, just like the man in question.
BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
Billy Bragg & Wilco
"Mermaid Avenue, Vol. 2"
The first round of this unique collaboration — British
folk-rocker Billy Bragg, American roots-rock band Wilco and
various friends interpretting previously unrecorded lyrics
by songwriting icon and Oklahoma native Woody Guthrie --
simply begged for a sequel. In fact, according to Bragg and
members of Wilco, the first Grammy-nominated "Mermaid Avenue"
album, released two years ago, was created with this
follow-up in mind.
"We knew we'd need another shake when we put the tracks
together for 'Mermaid Avenue,'" said Wilco's Jay Bennett,
guitarist and co-author of some of the music here. "We even
chose songs for the first record based on that. The first
album gave a broad view of Woody. It was intended to draw
people in. This album is less folky."
Less folky, indeed, but much more expansive, ambitious
and eclectic. "Volume 2" builds on the pleasant, accessible
(and historically important) introduction of the first
outing by stretching Woody's ideas through a constantly
changing landscape of musical styles, from ramblin' country
blues to '60s folk-rock to rollicking roadhouse protest
punk. The result, though, is still somehow cohesive.
Instead of flying apart in a whorl of splattered Jackson
Pollock mess, "Volume 2" holds together like a pointillized
Seurat painting — a million separate moments of color that
unite to create a single image or impression. Even
lyrically, they are disparate subjects, from flying saucers
and airplane rides through heaven to Stetson Kennedy and
What unites these songs is difficult to describe. It has
to do with attitude, spirit and what Tom Wolfe once called
the Unspoken Thing, but mostly it's the fact that the
musicians assembled here understand and transmit the
optimism and humility of the man in question.
It's important, too, that this record is such a tangled
collaboration. Were it simply Bragg's solo tribute to the
late Guthrie, the inevitable tunnel vision would exclude
the multiple opportunities available in these lyrics. A
solo effort also would focus the attention selfishly on one
performer — an approach not at all suitable to the legacy of
the ultimate Everyman. In addition to Bragg and Wilco
(sometimes together, sometimes backing each other up,
sometimes completely separate), Natalie Merchant — a guest
on the first "Mermaid" — turns in one song, the child-like "I
Was Born," and deliberately anachronistic young blues singer
Corey Harris takes the lead on "Against th' Law." The
constant mix scatters any professional egos that might
otherwise spoil such a project and therefore keeps us
listening to the songs themselves — their humor, their
poignancy, their simple and direct expressions of both
trivial and earth-shattering themes. It's about the music,
not the messengers.
This was the case on "Volume 1," but it's almost more
successful here largely because of the musical integrity of
Wilco's input. Bragg is still at top form, bouncing
cheerily through "My Flying Saucer" and spitting out "All You
Fascists" as if it were one of his own anti-fascist rants,
but Wilco's alternative innovative and derivative
fashioning of music for these lost lyrics makes this volume
of "Mermaid" a richer, more compelling experience. Bennett
and singer Jeff Tweedy fashion "Airline to Heaven," a
light-hearted daydream about soaring through heaven on the
wings of a prayer, into a stomping, kinetic flight, Tweedy
singing through his nose like Dylan the whole time. "Feed of
Man" is a socially urgent lyric, and Wilco's bluesy, British
Invasion stroll helps the words to grab the listener by the
collar, with Tweedy this time spitting out his lines in
about two notes as if he were the Animals' Eric Burdon.
"Secret of the Sea" rings like the Byrds, and "Blood of the
Lamb," a nakedly religious hymn, wobbles along on a woozy
Farfisa and Hammond organ like it's being delivered by a
These new sounds, these old shades — once again this is
the testament to Woody's immeasurable importance as a
songwriter. Strangers and stragglers still find redemption
in these old lyrics, and musicians continue to turn
half-century-old songs into brand-new, brilliant creatures.
In an era of quick-burn stars, it's almost difficult to
comprehend the impact a man could still make 33 years after
his death. But here's another example of Woody's continuing
imprint — long may it last.
By Thomas Conner
© Tulsa World
Jacob Fred Jazz Trio
"Live at Your Mama's House"
The Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey started out several years
ago with the jazzy name but an overly funky sound. The
improv thing was there in spots, but sometimes the boys
seemed more concerned with being MCs than emissaries. After
the first couple of years and the first thousand Medeski,
Martin and Wood bootlegs, Jacob Fred evolved into a true
jazz odyssey — and never have its members so deeply explored
the innocently psychedelic spirit of improvisation than in
this side project, a trio of keyboardist Brian Haas,
bassist Reed Mathis and drummer Matt Edwards.
The Jacob Fred Trio has been playing weekly at the Bowery for six
months, and this single disc captures a handful of the
band's best moments there, including Haas' invigorating
"Good Energy Perpetuates Good Energy," a meandering
Thelonious Monk medley that morphs into an original tribute
to former Tulsa bassist Al Ray ("The Man Who Adjusted
Tonalities") and a rhapsodic opener, "Pacific," by Odyssey
trombone player Matt Leland's father, Max. All of it moves
in the same impressionistic space, not leaving you with any
lasting tunes but leaving your ears a little looser.
BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
Negativland is a band of self-described "culture jammers"
whose musical collage art has landed them in hot water
during the last decade.
The band's music is a process of cutting up, splicing
together and warping various sounds and recordings, netting
the flotsam and jetsam of our media culture and fusing it
back together in striking, poignant and sometimes grotesque
new shapes — and often, new statements. It's just like those
art-school collages, only in aural, not visual, art.
It's a less-traveled road which has made all the
difference for Negativland.
Two decades and countless lawsuits into its career,
Negativland is touring for the first time in seven years.
The True/False Tour brings the band's culture blending into
a live and ultimately more bracing setting. The multi-media
show incorporates musical instruments and countless sound
devices, as well as eight film projectors and three slide
"It took us two years to develop this show because we
wanted to be able to do it right and to create something
that very few people have experienced before," said Mark
Hosler, a charter Negativland member. "About 85 percent of
the show, too, is all original material that nobody has
heard before. We actually even collage our own material
from our own records."
Indeed, by 1986 — when a group showed up named Pop Will
Eat Itself — Negativland already had established the recipe
for that meal. Raiding the sonic junkyards of suburban
culture — television, telephones, other people's records --
and juicing up the sounds with occasional keyboards and
percussion, Negativland began in 1980 making records that
were disjointed aural sculptures.
The core members of Negativland met at an after-school
job: conducting telephone surveys about people's favorite
TV shows. Discovering a shared fascination for tinkering
with noises, they followed a friend's advice and assembled
their first collages into a self-titled album.
"The covers were all hand-made, not because that's what
we wanted to do but because we didn't know how you got
things printed, how you turned a piece of artwork into
printed pieces of cardboard," Hosler said. "So I spent my
senior semester of art class making the covers by hand,
using old wallpaper books and such. The covers, basically,
were collages, too."
In the visual arts, this appropriation rarely raises any
concerns, but in music — particularly since the advent of
hip-hop and sampling — the word "appropriation" attracts
lawyers like blood attracts sharks. Negativland has
received more than its share of mail with "Attorneys at Law"
in the return address, starting with 1989's "Helter Stupid"
album, the cover of which featured a photo of convicted
Minnesota mass murderer David Broom. The album was a
disturbing masterpiece on media manipulation.
The most famous run-in with the law, though, occurred a
couple of years later when Negativland picked on someone
much bigger. The band released a single called "U2," which
made fun of Bono's band by picking out the melody of "I
Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" on kazoos and
included tapes of a profanity-laced studio tantrum by
swell-guy radio star Casey Kasem. The resulting legal
battle with U2 galvanized the band as crusaders for
redefining the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. The
battle and the band's resulting theories are chronicled in
a book, "Fair Use: The Story of the Letter U and the Numeral
2," and the group's web site is now a clearinghouse for
discussion of the limits of sampling and collage uses of
other musicians' work — the difference between piracy and
"the transformative re-use of material from multiple sources
to create new, original works . . . Collage is not theft."
"In the visual arts, collage is making one-of-a-kind
pieces, and it's under the label of fine art. Music,
though, is mass produced. It's pop culture. The monied
interests are more involved and they make it into a whole
new ball game," Hosler said. "Nobody cared when we were doing
this back in the '80s. Only with hip-hop becoming a bigger
part of music did things change.
"The mentality has changed. We saw it happen with the
`U2' single, and now it's happening with computers and the
Internet. Napster is a front-page story on USA Today, and
it's all about the issues we started dealing with in '90
and '91. Once it becomes digital, the concept of theft and
property is turned on its head. The original and the copy
are the same. And the way the music industry makes money is
by having tight control over the distribution, so once that
becomes endangered, they freak out. These threats against
Napster are the terrified screams of a dying industry that
wants to stop the future from happening."
Hosler, in fact, sees virtually all art as collage art.
In other words, every new idea is simply the recombination
of other, old ideas into a new form.
"That's the natural creative impulse — it's
transformational more than purely creative, as in starting
from nothing," he said. "We take chunks of actual things and
recombine them. It's not outright counterfeit when you
create something new. But now these businesses want to stop
that, stop people from being creative. Time-Warner and all
that — they want total control of everything and they want
us to sit back and be passive consumers. If you follow that
logic all the way through, it's the death of culture. It's
mean-spirited, and it's just dumb."
When: 8 p.m. Thursday
Side, 6906 S. Lewis Ave.
Tickets: $15 at the door
BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
The Isley Brothers did OK with "Twist and Shout," but the
Beatles made it a monster hit. Same story throughout the
'60s with "Respectable" (the Yardbirds, the Outsiders),
"Nobody But Me" (the Human Beinz) and "Shout" (Lulu). These
other groups copied the Isleys' blueprint pretty closely
and somehow scored bigger hits with the same songs.
The Isleys eventually got their due — with R&B hits such
as the shimmering "This Old Heart of Mine," "It's Your Thing"
and "Who's That Lady?" — and they look back on those early
days not as struggles but as a time when their influence
helped direct the flow of modern music.
"The Isley Brothers have always been there as some sort
of reference point," said Ernie Isley in an interview this
week. "We're in the fine print, in the details of rock 'n'
roll. Our name may not be called out first, but you always
see us in connection with many of the greats. People talk
about Hendrix blah blah blah — and the Isleys are there.
People talk about the Beatles blah blah blah — and the
Isleys are there ... Now with rap and hip-hop, we're the
most sampled of anybody. We're still in the mix."
Indeed, the Isley Brothers have been there from the
beginning, when the first trio of Isley siblings — Ronald,
Rudolph and O'Kelly — traveled from Cincinnati to New York
City to record a string of doo-wop singles in the '50s.
These first songs didn't take the group far at all, but
during a 1959 performance in Washington, D.C., they added a
line to their spirited cover of "Lonely Teardrops." The ad
lib: "You know you make me want to shout." The audience went
An RCA executive saw the show, and when he signed the
Isleys soon after, he told them to build their first RCA
single around that catch phrase. The song "Shout" was born,
and though the Isleys' debut of it never cracked the Top
40, "Shout" would become an oft-covered classic, becoming a
hit all over again with Lloyd Williams' version in the 1978
movie "Animal House."
"We show up in movies all the time," Ernie said. "That
movie 'Out of Sight' with George Clooney uses (Public
Enemy's Isley-sampling hit) 'Fight the Power' and 'It's
Your Thing' running throughout. I didn't know that when I
went to see the movie. I felt proud and humbled at the same
time. I thought, 'Lord, have mercy. Did we do this music
that keeps pushing these buttons?' "
Ernie Isley joined his older brothers in the family
business just as the group was hitting it big. His first
job was playing bass on the Isleys' No. 2 1969 hit, "It's
Your Thing." He backed up his brothers with bass, guitar and
vocals until he and two other family members — brother
Marvin and brother-in-law Chris Jasper — joined the older
three on 1973's "3 + 3" album, featuring the next huge Isleys
hit, "Who's That Lady?"
"That was my official coming-out party," Ernie said.
The inclusion of Ernie added a new dimension to the
Isleys' lite funk. Trained originally as a drummer, Ernie
found his way to guitar, largely inspired by Jose
Feliciano's cover of the Doors' "Light My Fire."
Not that he didn't have one of the greatest living
guitarists living in his house. During the Isleys' 1964
tour, they recruited a young guitarist from Seattle named
Jimmy James. He played on "Testify," the Isleys' first single
for their independent record label, T-Neck. A couple of
years later, at the Monterrey Pop Festival, the world was
introduced to this guitarist under a modified name: Jimi
"I was 12 years old when Jimmy came around," Ernie
recalled. "All I saw was a very talented musician. I
couldn't understand why he practiced all the time, because
he was already so good. But the thing I saw was more real
than the thing everybody else saw. I saw the unsimonized,
unhyped, real, living, breathing person living in my house.
My brothers bought him his first Stratocaster.
"People used to have conversations where they'd ask,
'Who's the better guitarist: Clapton or Hendrix?' I was
never popular, because I'd say Jose Feliciano. I mean, he
took this song by the Doors and showed how melodious it is --
and he was playing acoustic, and he was blind. I thought
Hendrix was great, too, but not because of 'Purple Haze' or
'Foxey Lady' but because of what I heard him play without
an amp. Nobody wanted to hear that, though."
The Isley Brothers and Jimi Hendrix both were inducted
into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. During the
ceremony, Ernie joined the all-star band to sing "Purple
Haze," even playing the guitar behind his back.
The Isleys have found new life in the era of hip-hop,
too. As Ernie mentioned, more rappers sample Isley Brothers
songs than even James Brown.
"It started with Public Enemy doing 'Fight the Power.'
That was one of the first samples. That was before there
were any ground rules as to how the songwriters and
publishers were going to deal with this. After that, it
seemed we started getting about a dozen requests for
different songs out of our catalogs on a daily basis. We
The current Isley Brothers lineup includes Ronald, Ernie
and Marvin, the same trio that recorded the group's latest
album in 1996, "Mission to Please." That record was the
group's first gold album since 1983's "Between the Sheets."
"We're working on another CD," Ernie said. "We gotta keep
going. This Isley Brothers banner has been flying for more
than 40 years, and I get the feeling there are some people
who are just now starting to pay attention. I mean, what
these guys do seems to dictate which way the wind is going
to blow against the flag. You know, people know what
Britney Spears is doing and what the Backstreet Boys are
doing. But what are the Isleys doing?"
The Isley Brothers
When: 8 p.m. Thursday
Where: Brady Theater, 105 W. Brady
Tickets: $40.50 on the
floor, $36.50 in the balcony, available at the Brady
box office and all Dillard's outlets
BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
"This Time Around"
(Island Def Jam)
Anyone here heard Mitch Ryder?
OK, let me rephrase: has anyone under 40 heard Mitch
He and his quintet, the Detroit Wheels, did for soul
music in the '60s what Elvis did for rock 'n' roll in the
'50s: introduced it to a white audience. Ryder, the Spencer
Davis Group, the Animals — these groups comprised the bridge
from the underlying groove of Temptations and Four Tops
hits to the soul influences that showed up at the turn of
the '70s in groups ranging from Joe Cocker, Traffic
(featuring Steve Winwood, the engine in the Spencer Davis
Group), all the way to Springsteen.
Ryder, in particular, was an indispensable shaman. With
his frayed, dizzying wail, Ryder led the Wheels'
piston-pumping backbeat through a string of tightly wound
hits in '66 and '67 — "Jenny Take a Ride," "Sock It to Me,
Baby," "Devil With the Blue Dress On/Good Golly Miss Molly" --
all of which evoked the pioneers of soul before him while
laying down his own tread on the music. Without Ryder's
shot of energy, it's questionable whether fellow Detroit
rockers like Bob Seger, Ted Nugent, the MC5 and even the
Stooges would have had enough gunpowder to explode out of
The Hanson brothers know a lot about Ryder.
They covered a few of his hits in concert and on the
resulting live album largely because they were raised on
that music. Living abroad and being home-schooled here in
Tulsa throughout their youth (which ain't over yet), they
enjoyed a unique isolation with those old rock and soul
collections and fed on that same high energy — so much so
that when they themselves finally emerged into the musical
world, their own unique gifts transmitted the same power.
On the trio's eagerly anticipated follow-up to its
multi-platinum debut, they finally seize that opportunity,
like Ryder, to divine the hidden glories of American soul
music to a new generation — a new, white, affluent
generation — as well as to define their own sights,
synergies and sound.
In summary, it RRRocks.
"This Time Around" could have been a wreck. Early reports
were not good — initial sessions with former Cars frontman
and producer extraordinaire Ric Ocasek had been scrapped
for murky reasons (translation: the record label didn't
hear another "MMMBop"), and Hanson had been shoved back into
the studio with Stephen Lironi, the producer of Hanson's
smash debut, "Middle of Nowhere." The debut was certainly a
good record, but had Hanson merely retreaded it for the
follow-up, they'd be destroyed. Too many eyes were on them,
too many ears — too many expectations for a great leap
What a leap they've made. Lironi's presence on "This Time
Around" can be heard in the pitiful scratching sounds that
dumb down otherwise solid tracks like "If Only," but the new
record is clearly a committed assertion by three willful
youngsters determined to avoid being written off amid the
boy-band craze they helped to create. There's still not
another "MMMBop" here. One wonders how much they had to fight
the corporate money-changers to take the steps evident here
— the unabashed soul, the high-octane rock 'n' roll — and
whether the marketing department at Island Def Jam is
stymied as to how they'll push the record.
They certainly can't be worried about the record's
potential. "This Time Around" could play on virtually any
radio station — that is, within any confining format. Send
"Dying to Be Alive" to a classic R&B station. Drop "Save Me"
among the silly modern rock balladry of Kid Rock and Third
Eye Blind, or at least send it to adult contemporary. Make
sure to twist the arm of mainstream rock moguls so they
play "This Time Around." Heck, they don't even have to
back-announce it — run it up against a Black Crowes song and
your average KMOD listener probably wouldn't even blink.
The worry is whether or not those other radio stations will
deign to give Hanson a chance this time around. After all,
Hanson's a kiddie band, right? They're like the Backstreet
Boys, they don't belong at the table with the adults.
That attitude is pretty prevalent (especially among the
audience this record could hit the hardest — people my age,
on either side of 30), and "This Time Around" likely will be
a slow burn compared to "Middle of Nowhere." There's plenty
of fuel for the fire, though. The tunefulness and the hooks
they mastered the first time around are still here, but the
tunes are more complex, the hooks more skillfully cast. The
title-track single tip-toes out of the gate with a soft
piano introduction, but by the chorus it's chugging with a
300-horsepower riff and see-sawing between the contrary
powers of Journey and Stevie Wonder. "Dying to Be Alive"
draws heavily on the boys' soul influences and features a
small gospel choir led by Rose Stone (of Sly and the Family
Stone). On "In the City," Hanson dances on the edge of
accessibility, bleeding off the sunshine from the
arrangement and singing a pretty desperate plea to an
adulterous partner. "You Never Know" opens the record as if
the boys have gone to War, brightening a heavy groove and
singing, perhaps portentously, "You never know, baby / You
never know, baby / You judge the song by a lie that was
Or he could be singing "soul." As with all great soul
singers, it's hard to discern the words accurately. Taylor,
the middle Hanson boy and its forthright lead vocalist, is
certainly a great soul singer, possibly one day to be
hailed among the best of Generation Y (though Macy Gray is
going to give him one hell of a fight for that title). His
voice is immensely powerful and dynamic — if that come-back
line "Do you know why I died?" at the end of the title track
doesn't stop your heart, double-check that you're still
actually alive — and when, as he grows older, it becomes a
partner to his passions, he might rewrite the story of
Jericho. It's a SOULFUL voice, too, full of chewy
inflections and gritty, guttural wails. It seems to come
from an unspoken inner drive, a burgeoning catharsis, more
than a heady desire to convey a literate message.
Granted, soul music is virtually dead today — replaced by
slick, machine-driven R&B, which has nothing whatsoever to
do with the rhythm and blues that created the acronym in
the first place — but Taylor's pipes and his brothers'
developing rhythmic chops on this CD could be cracking open
the coffin. (And to the credit of Isaac's and Zac's
instrumental talents, this album's guest players like Jonny
Lang and Blues Traveler's John Popper wholeheartedly fail
to steal the show.) Ryder & Co. translated the music across
lines of color; Hanson could transfer the music across
lines of age and experience. Either way, "This Time Around"
is one teeth-rattling, high-energy rock fest.
BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
In 1971, Willis Alan Ramsey cut his first record. The
self-titled debut, released through Leon Russell's
Tulsa-based Shelter Records, sold modestly, but it packed
an influential wallop in Ramsey's adopted home state of
Texas. That one record, it has been claimed,
single-handedly spawned the alternative-Nashville stance
that has made Austin, Texas, the so-called live music
capital of the world.
Just don't ask Ramsey when his next record will appear.
"That's an area I really don't want to go to," he says,
dodging the requisite inquiries about his work since that
first — and, thus far, only — album ("Have you been writing
all this time?" "Has anything been recorded?" "Will we ever see
a second album?").
"Willis Alan Ramsey" remains the songwriter's one-hit
wonder, and nearly 30 years later many musicians still
invoke it as the fountainhead of their inspiration. A
Ramsey show was the first concert a young Lyle Lovett ever
attended, and he has reported that it inspired him to start
writing songs. Lovett also has covered songs from that
"Ramsey" album, as have such artists as Jimmy Buffett,
America, Waylon Jennings, Sam Bush, Shawn Colvin, Jimmie
Dale Gilmore, Kate Wolf, Jerry Jeff Walker and, of course,
the Captain and Tenille, who made Ramsey's "Muskrat Love" a
Top 5 hit in 1976.
Indeed, never has one batch of 11 songs had such
stamina, and rarely does one find a songwriter so humble --
almost insecure — about such influence. While remaining
enigmatic about his affairs during the last 29 years,
Ramsey frequently writes off his initial experience to the
pure luck of youth and happenstance. "I was just a kid
knocking around," he said, in a rare interview last week, in
which Ramsey eked out a tale of time, Tulsa and tenacity.
Born in Birmingham, Ala., and raised in Dallas by his
Georgia-native parents, Ramsey graduated high school and
"got away as quick as I could." He dropped south to Austin
where he explored some of the guitar-picking he'd been
tinkering with. Ray Wylie Hubbard's fledgling band took
notice of his skills and asked Ramsey to open some of its
shows in 1969.
"I was playing the UT coffee house, and I heard that Leon
(Russell) and Gregg Allman were in town playing a festival
and staying at the same hotel. So I walked in, knocked on
both their doors and told them I thought they should give
me a listen," Ramsey said. "It was a pretty asinine thing to
do back then, and I guess they thought I was so cocky they
gave me the chance. I played my songs for Leon and his
roadie, and then for Gregg and (Allman Brothers guitarist)
Dickey Betts, right there in their rooms."
Both musicians heard promise in Ramsey's material, and
both offered him contracts on their record labels — Allman's
Atlanta-based Capricorn Records and Russell's Shelter,
based then in Los Angeles. Ramsey sought Shelter — with
possibly purely personal motives. "I've never really
thought about this," Ramsey chuckled, "but I guess since my
whole family was from Georgia I liked the idea of going to
L.A. better than being closer to Atlanta."
Mad dogs and Southerners
Ramsey headed to L.A. to cut his record in Russell's
home studio, "probably the first professional home studio
anyone had in the world," he said. He was largely left to
his own devices, as Russell had decided to move back to
"At that point, Leon decided he'd had enough of North
Hollywood and wanted to move back to Tulsa," Ramsey said. "He
and Denny (Cordell, Russell's and Ramsey's producer and
manager) had good luck with Shelter, so they took it home.
Leon bought that whole block with a church on it and put in
a studio . . . He left me in his L.A. place, so I got to
learn how to work in a studio — by myself. I learned how to
write in the studio. That's something Leon taught me: how
to use the studio as a writing tool."
Most of Ramsey's record was completed in L.A., with
Russell helping out and adding piano to one track, "Goodbye
Old Missoula." It was that work directly with Russell that
made Ramsey feel every bit the lucky kid just knocking
"I was a kid musically, and I was stretched and stretched
to the point where I was way past my musical abilities," he
said. "Leon would put you in a studio with Jim Keltner on
drums, Carl Radle on bass and Don Preston on electric
guitar, and he'd sit at the piano. He'd say, `Well, this
song needs an acoustic guitar solo. Willis, why don't you
just play a solo here.' I was 20 and not in the space where
I could just do that on the spot yet. I was definitely over
Ramsey's record came out in 1972 and sold moderately --
not well enough to give Ramsey the escape he needed. Ramsey
-- like nearly all Shelter artists, from Russell to Phoebe
Snow — fell out with Cordell, but without big profits he
couldn't get out of his Shelter contract.
"I didn't have enough sales to be able to just leave and
tell my lawyers to clean it up. Tom Petty did, Phoebe Snow
did, I couldn't afford to," he said.
So he sat out his contract — all eight years of it. By
the time it ran out, it was 1980, Ramsey was in the
doldrums of a divorce and had been all but forgotten by
non-musicians. He bought some synthesizers and "fooled
around with those," but he quickly found that there was no
place for a shy, sensitive songwriter in the "Urban Cowboy"
"I just didn't want to play in a place with a mechanical
bull in it," Ramsey said.
I will survive
Since then, Ramsey says, cryptically, he's been writing.
He wants to record again, but he's not sure he'll ever get
to do it on his terms — which is the only way it'll happen,
"My No. 1 goal right now is to have more kids. No. 2 is
to make more records," he said. "But making records these
days requires a record label, and label budgets are small
these days. That record of mine cost $80,000 to make, which
would be about $300,000 in today's dollars. It was a pretty
expensive first-time record in 1972. I'm not the kind of
guy who can make a $30,000 record. It takes me longer.
There's too much I want to do."
He still performs around the region — "some old songs,
some new" — drawing a sizeable cult following. He's even
appeared on a record recently, coming out of the woodwork
to sing on two Lovett records in the '90s, "Joshua Judges
Ruth" and "I Love Everybody."
Last year, Koch Records reissued "Willis Alan Ramsey" on
CD, and the record has begun to find a fresh audience.
"It still gets around," Ramsey said. "It's been a real
work-horse all this time."
Ramsey on Oklahoma
Willis Alan Ramsey recorded his one and only record for
Shelter Records back in Leon Russell's heyday. That meant
hanging out in Tulsa at Russell's many area studios, where
"you'd go to pick up the phone, and it would be George
Harrison or someone," Ramsey said. Here are a few of his
recollections and praise of his Okie counterparts: "I
was in the process of finishing up my record and got to
work with people like Leon and Jamie Oldaker. J.J. Cale
took me in the studio. I was hanging out with guys like
Gary Gilmore and Jesse Davis, both of whom played with Taj
Mahal. Chuck Blackwell, too. Some pretty serious musicians
came out of Tulsa. I mean, Jimmy Lee Keltner — he and
Oldecker . . . if Tulsa can produce two drummers like that,
well, they're the best, in my opinion. Those Tulsa boys
raised me in the studio."
"When I was playing the Cellar Door Club in (Washington)
D.C., this long-haired kid would come sit on the back
steps, and I'd get him in for free. He was going to the
Peabody Institute in Baltimore. When he finally got up
enough nerve to play the acoustic guitar for me, he turned
out this amazing stuff. He said, 'What should I do with
this?' and I said, 'I dunno, but you'd better do
something.' It was Michael Hedges."
"I still say this, and most people I know say it, too:
Leon Russell is a musical genius. He still is. He's so
incredibly talented, and he's a free thinker. Lots of
Tulsans are . . . But I don't think he ever really
scratched the surface of his ability."
"It was in the '60s when I figured out I wanted to write
and say some things. In New York, I found a book called
Born to Win, a compilation of Woody Guthrie's songs,
stories, poems, letters and drawings. It was this fabulous
direct hit from his pen, with his own unique voice. Even
when I think about that book today, it still really does
motivate me. He was another free-thinking Okie. There was
something about the way he could connect with the thought
and deliver it to you totally unvarnished. So visceral, but
so elegant . . . (My song) 'Boy From Oklahoma' is sort of a
romanticized version of Woody."
By Thomas Conner
© Tulsa World
OK, yes, Hanson is comprised of three boys. This does
not, however, make them a boy band.
At least not in the strict sense of that new
colloquialism. The Backstreet Boys, 'N Sync, 98 Degrees --
these are "boy bands." They're pretty, preened and packaged
for ready sale. They hire European professionals to write
their songs, and they sweat through vigorous choreography
The Hanson brothers might be young and fresh-faced, but
they have no time for synchronized dancing because they're
actually playing instruments. They also write their own
songs and even co-produced their new album. They are boys,
for now, but they are definitely a band.
"From the very beginning, we tried hard to do our own
thing, to write our own songs and to be as involved in the
whole thing as any other real musician would be," said Isaac
Hanson, the eldest member of the brotherly trio.
In two weeks, the world will see what happens when three
brothers — Isaac, Taylor and Zac — stop being polite and
start getting real. "This Time Around," the Tulsa band's
follow-up album to the '97 multi-platinum hit debut "Middle
of Nowhere," hits record store shelves on May 9. The new
record pumps up the volume a bit, leaning more heavily
toward guitar-driven rock and featuring some high-profile
In person, the differences between Hanson old and new
would be quite apparent. Isaac's braces are gone, and he's
now the middle child height-wise; Taylor tops him by an
inch. On record, the contrast is almost as clear. Where the
hit single "MMMBop" hearkened back to the sweet grooves of
the Jackson 5, the new single — the title track — is a
piano-driven shot of Southern soul that could land Hanson a
slot on a new H.O.R.D.E. tour.
"When you're the one evolving, of course, you don't
notice it much. To us, it feels like a natural change,"
Taylor said during this week's conversation from the band's
promotional duties in Tokyo. "Those changes you do hear
right away are, OK, the voices are lower, so there's a
slightly different sound to accommodate that, and in that
sense it has more of an edge to it."
The increased soul quotient is no surprise, really.
Before the Hanson family — now seven children strong --
settled in Tulsa, they followed father Walker Hanson's work
transfers around South America. In their home-schooled
foreign isolation, the Hanson brothers soaked up Mom and
Dad's collections of '60s soul music. "When you hear
Aretha Franklin sing 'Respect,' that's like an undeniable
sense of musicality that can't help strike you, no matter
who you are or what you want to do," Taylor said.
This time around, Hanson hooked up with one of those
early soul icons. One track on the new album, called "Dying
to Be Alive," features a gospel choir led by Rose Stone of
Sly and the Family Stone. Working with her was a humbling
experience for the Hansons, Isaac said. "She does that
scatting thing on the end, and she was very sheepish about
doing it. The 10 people in there said, `Rose, what are you
talking about? You should do it.' So she wailed. She's this
little lady, too, and this huge sound came out. It was just
amazing. We were standing in the studio, looking at her in
the tracking room, and she belted it. All of us looked at
each other like, `Wow!' We thought, `We're just going to
retire right now.' All that singing we thought we were
doing — we realized how far we have to go," he said.
Blues guitarist Jonny Lang — who's Isaac's age — plays
three solos on "This Time Around," and Blues Traveler
frontman John Popper does some wailing of his own on
The resulting sound is indeed miles distant from the
boy-band clique, which often flies under the banner of R&B
(an acronym whose antecedents have been somewhat forgotten --
it's rhythm and blues.
"The early R&B had a big influence on us," Isaac said.
"Aretha Franklin is R&B. But Lauryn Hill is great, and she's
R&B. The Backstreet stuff is closer to what I call rhythm
pop. It's just pop, really. We're pop, too, in a sense, but
this is more rock 'n' roll in its essence."
"The (new R&B) is more drastically different," Taylor
said. "Now you're layering loops and it's a completely
different style of music. It's not even the same thing
anymore. The only thing (today) that touches on original
soul is someone like Lauryn Hill, who is still vocally in
that real R&B sense. She's one of those people who really
The key to "This Time Around," if you haven't yet noticed,
is that it's an album that might finally be discussed for
its musical offerings rather than generating mere useless
gossip about three cute pinups and their dating prospects.
The fans of the first album are older now, a little less
prone to hysterics and probably listening to music more
than simply reacting to it.
That doesn't mean the gossip mongers have lost any work.
The boys are still amazed at how quickly the minutiae of
their daily lives is reported on someone's Hanson web
"Sometimes you wonder who's telling people all this
stuff," Zac said. "We got a dog at one point. I mean, we'd
just gotten it. We hadn't told anyone, and the next day
what kind it was and how old it was was out there (on the
web). There's not much you can do about it." Some
personal information is sought after just to check the
status of the band, though. Two waves of rumors about Isaac
quitting the band to go to college palpitated the hearts of
local fans last year. A home-schooled student like all of
his siblings, he is technically finished with high school
now and is auditing a few college courses (physics and, go
figure, music theory). He said college plans are on the
table for the future, and he has looked at some schools.
What that would mean for Hanson's future remains
unclear. Isaac himself said probably very little, because
the music is the driving force for the family.
"I think we all want to continue this as long as we can,"
he said. "I saw Les Paul two months ago in a little jazz
club in New York City. He's 83 now and still playing
guitar. He invented the solid-body guitar and multi-track
recording, and he's still playing, still doing it. I hope
we can do that."
Hanson brothers ready for another busy year
BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
Children seem distracted? Are they having trouble
focusing on schoolwork? Newly shellacked nails already
bitten to the nub?
Relax, it's probably nothing to worry about. They're
just anxious for the new Hanson album, "This Time Around,"
which is due in record stores May 9.
The three Tulsa-native Hanson brothers — Isaac, Taylor
and Zac — took time out from promotional duties in Tokyo
this week to phone home and chat with the Tulsa World about
the new record and its amplified rock 'n' roll chops.
The boys are ready for another busy year of circling the
globe to promote the record.
"I hope it's a crazy year," Zac said. "That's a good thing.
That means somebody likes it."
"This Time Around," on the reorganized Island Def Jam
record label, is the trio's fourth album, but it's the real
follow-up to 1997's multimillion-selling "Middle of Nowhere"
disc, which featured the hit single "MMMBop." After the debut
record came a Christmas album ("Snowed In") and a live set
("Live From Albertane"), but "This Time Around" is the first
full-length recording of all-new material since Hanson
opened the Top 40 floodgates for bright teen pop.
It's a bit overdue. The new record was scheduled for
release last fall, but original recording sessions with
noted producer and former Cars singer Ric Ocasek were
scrapped for still-murky reasons. The boys rehired "Middle
of Nowhere" producer Stephen Lironi and tried again.
"We actually did take longer than we thought to make this
record, and that's just the way the dice fell," Isaac said.
"We felt confident about it, though."
Most of the songs were written and demoed in the
Hansons' home studio in Tulsa, and three more were created
in the California recording studio.
No touring plans have yet been set to support the new
album. Hanson leaves Japan on Sunday for more promotional
events in South America, and they said they look forward to
coming home again — whenever that might be.
BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
Tulsa's own Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey is about to launch
an exhaustive national tour, circling the continent in a
few months and headlining some of the country's premier
improvisational music venues.
"Two nights ago, Eric (Gerber, the band's new Los Angeles
manager) read me just the confirmed stuff. It's
unbelievable," said JFJO bassist Reed Mathis this week.
The band's summer tour — it's fifth national go-round --
will consist of 52 concerts, taking them to headlining gigs
in New York City and Boston, south to Memphis, through
Tulsa ("We might actually get one day off here at home,"
Mathis said) on their way to a week of shows in Colorado
and points west. They'll return in time to play the
Greenwood Jazz Festival in August.
The band is still riding the acclaim of its third album --
the first to reach a national audience — "Welcome Home" on
Massachusetts-based Accurate Records. The May issue of Jazz
Times hit the streets this week with a story about the
nation's improvisational music scene focuses on seven
bands, including Phish, Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey and
Medeski, Martin and Wood.
"Things have really started changing," Mathis said. "I did
a Web search of radio playlists the other day. We're
getting played alongside Zappa; Medeski, Martin and Wood;
and Mingus. These people haven't seen us live. They just
assume we're huge because they can get our record now. ...
Plus, people are recognizing the music now. At a recent
show in Chicago, Matt (Edwards, drummer) started the beat
to `Seven Inch Six' from `Welcome Home,' and people started
clapping and cheering."
Fans have begun to tape shows, too — just like
"And that's fine, 'cause we're an improvisational band.
If you have 'Welcome Home' and three bootlegs of our shows,
you've got four completely different records, really."
This weekend's all-ages show will feature some of the
band's newest material, which Mathis said is on a new level
from the band's work thus far.
"Like Mingus or Ellington, we've begun to write for the
band we're in, instead of just creating music and making
each guy fit it and not the other way around," he said.
"We're able now to conceptualize the parts for the people,
to give each player the chance to show his strengths."
Like most Odyssey members, Mathis has plenty of extra
work on the side. In addition to playing in the Jacob Fred
Trio (each Wednesday night at the Bowery), he plays in the
Neighbors with local blues legend and Spot Music Award
winner Steve Pryor. Expect to see a Neighbors CD released
within the next month, featuring Pryor chiefly on pedal
steel and some very un-blues music, including covers of
John Coltrane and Eddie Harris.
Catch Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey while they're home, playing
at 8 p.m. Saturday at The Delaware, 1511 S. Delaware Ave.
It's an all-ages show, and the Western Champs — an
eight-member band featuring some former Blue Collars — open
the show. Tickets are $5 at the door.
By Thomas Conner
© Tulsa World
Nearly 15 years ago, I took a date to a great date show. Brave Combo was playing on the lawn at an art museum in Oklahoma City. We took a picnic, we languished through the warm evening on the cool grass, and later, as I laid back on our blanket, the band started playing "The Bunny Hop." Lead singer-accordionist Carl Finch stepped into the crowd and picked up a long line of children behind him. They meandered around the grounds doing "The Bunny Hop," and Finch led the entire processional stepping right over my head.
So it was really no surprise when we caught up with Finch this week as he and the band are working on their next record — a children's album.
"It's definitely a natural step for us," Finch said from his Denton, Texas studio. "People have told us for years how much their kids liked our music, and these were all albums not (solely) intended for kids."
The children's album will be a typically quick follow-up to Brave Combo's current CD, "The Process," which was just released and is itself a significant departure from the band's norm. Brave Combo, you see, is a polka band.
Polka is their musical base, anyway. In the last two decades — for they just celebrated a 20th anniversary — Brave Combo has served as a freewheeling crash course in world dance music, creating new songs based on old forms and turning rock 'n' roll classics into something you could dance to cheek-to-cheek — those being literal cheeks or the, um, other body part. Their early polka remake of the Doors' "People Are Strange" definitely raised their profile, and "The Process" turns Foreigner's "Double Vision" into a smoky, seductive mambo.
Brave Combo, however, is not a novelty act. Twenty years later, Finch is still having to defend himself and his band — though not as much as he used to — and this week he talked about that, about the overlooked genius of polka music and about winning his first Grammy award.
Thomas: If someone had promised you, back in 1980, that you'd still be making records and even winning Grammys in 20 years, how would you have reacted?
Carl: With great disbelief. I knew I dug the music, but I had no idea how large the polka world really was. I thought I was kind of onto something, but I realized a lot of other people were thinking along these same lines. For me, it's been a process of figuring out that I fit into a picture already, not that I have to paint my own ... So I've been able to get swept up in it. I like the power of polka, the tension and release. I like how polka musicians are aware of the power of this formula, how this happens technically within the polka and how they work to maximize that impact of the tension and release. A lot of music does that but not to the degree polka does it, and so many cultures have latched onto that power — Tejano, Slovenian, Czech, Polish, German.
Thomas: Some people out there are laughing at this by now — polka music. Why does polka get that derision?
Carl: Well, it's changing. The youngest generation with any listening and buying power now don't have as many preconceived ideas, and a lot of younger musicians don't have the old connections with squareness. It's a dying concept leftover from square TV and perceptions of polka as this bland, Lawrence Welk thing — though even he, when he was younger, was hopping on buses and going from town to town. There was mission behind what he did ... People who think polka is square are the most square and uninformed people around. The hippest people know it.
Thomas: Just a month ago, you won the Grammy for Best Polka Album for your record that came out last year, "Polkasonic." Has that helped your own mission to nationalize modern polka?
Carl: Actually, our challenge now that we won that Grammy is to not be considered ungrateful outsiders within the polka world. We have to make sure that those in the trenches know we're serious and committed.
Thomas: Being somewhat irreverent and pop-oriented, it's probably harder to play for a polka-loving crowd than a rock club.
Carl: Some of the polka fans get livid about us, saying we shouldn't even exist. They don't think we're serious. They also usually come from the belief that polka should be played only one way: their way — in a certain style like Slovenian or Czech, etc. We're a weird mixture of all the styles, and we've been around doing this for 20 years, so our (musical) vocabulary is pretty good.
Thomas: About five years ago, Brave Combo issued a collaboration album with the late Tiny Tim — certainly a mixture of new attitudes and old. Your band is pretty well-armed with irony, while Tiny took his music very seriously. The album is fantastic, but how did that pairing work?
Carl: There's a lot more irony there than you would imagine from him, and we in turn were a lot more serious. The record took a long time to do, but we were conscious throughout that we didn't want this to throw us further into the novelty bin people always channel us into. We didn't want this to be a cheap knock-off for him, either. That's why we had him go into his big songbook to get stuff from the turn of the century and the 19th century, in addition to, you know, the Beatles songs we did.
Thomas: Like "Sly Cigarette," which is such a great old song.
Carl: Exactly, it's my favorite of that batch. "Sly Cigarette" — how politically incorrect can you get? That's why we chose it. And we still play it.
Thomas: The Grammy for "Polkasonic" was awarded in February, then your new record, "The Process," came out in March. Wasting no time, I see.
Carl: "Polkasonic" was on another label, and we certainly didn't plan on the Grammy. But it was released by a label, Cleveland International, that got behind it and pushed it really hard. It made serious headway into the polka world, and it actually won the Grammy, beating some pretty heavy-duty guys. "The Process" came out the next month, which is both great and unfortunate at the same time. A little confusing.
Thomas: "The Process" is your most accessible, pop-oriented album yet. Was this the plan or just the next evolutionary step?
Carl: The total effort behind this record is to find more airplay. We were working on the songs and writing a group that fit us but reached out in different directions. We wanted to make a record that might confuse critics and our fans but open some new doors into radio.
Thomas: Was it difficult to fit the polka elements into the pop songs?
Carl: It's different than usual, different than putting the dance style first. For me, part of it was a catharsis, using music to help deal with some internal struggles. I made those the reason and meaning this time out. It's about a process not just of writing and expressing but of living and being human. The song "Golden Opportunity" sums it up: even the (bad) things are supposed to happen.
Thomas: And you've finally written a song called "Denton, Texas," your home base. Why did it take you 20 years to do that?
Carl: Just kind of time, I guess. We've been treated so well here. They've named it Brave Combo week here, and we've become sort of ambassadors for Denton. We're working on becoming the kings of Denton. We're very recognizable here.
Thomas: How did Denton, Texas, come to be so supportive of a polka band?
Carl: When we got together this was a big jazz and prog-rock town. So when we came around doing polkas, they kind of understood the sophistication of it.
Thomas: Tell me about the children's record.
Carl: We're doing it with a couple of kid album veterans, Marcy Marxer and Cathy Fink. We were doing a festival in southern California, and they were there. They saw our show and were staying at the same hotel. We hung out, and they said they'd like to do a record with us ... I'd never thought about it seriously until this. To be honest, the songs and content may be more for kids, but the songs sound like Brave Combo songs. Musically, it's just as sophisticated and adult, but the themes are for kids. We're doing an old Harry Belafonte song, "Real Simple Thing." It's concepts kids can relate to — mountains, water, valleys — but adults will be able to put their own meaning to it, as well. One song is about not wanting to clean up your room, and we've put it to a sinister cha-cha beat. Whatever it means, you know, it doesn't matter. It's just a song.
This post contains my complete running coverage of this annual conference and festival ...
© Tulsa World
Tulsa band Fanzine gets a chance to shine at SXSW showcase
By Thomas Conner 03/19/2000
AUSTIN, Texas — The sound man at Opal Divine's Firehouse
was filling the pre-show dead time with his own selection
of classic-rock greatest hits: a couple of cuts from the
Eagles' "Long Run" album, a smattering of Zeppelin, a lot of
Journey. A few minutes before showtime, he played Cheap
Trick's live cover of "Ain't That a Shame," and Fanzine
drummer Don Jameson started air-drumming.
"Oh, yes!" he said, tapping into the song's lengthy
introductory groove. "This is what it's about, right here.
It's not, 'Won't you step back from that ledge, my friend' "
— making a face, making fun of the Third Eye Blind hit
"Jumper" — "It's about the shaking of the booty. It's about
being larger than life . . . There isn't an arena big
enough to hold us."
This weekend it wasn't arenas, just a small club patio
on the edge of Austin's hottest nightclub scene and in the
middle of its yearly music-industry lottery.
On Wednesday night, Jameson and his Tulsa-based rock
band, Fanzine, kicked off the South by Southwest music
festival, an annual congregation of music-business talent
scouts and international media all searching for the Next
Big Thing. Nearly 1,000 bands — a record — from around the
world were scheduled to play hourlong sets in clubs
throughout Austin this weekend, and Fanzine had the
daunting task of playing in the first showcase slot on the
first night of the festival. In just a few hours, and
certainly over the four days of the festival, these four
players would learn what, indeed, it was all about.
It's all about the gig
South by Southwest is basically a live-music mall.
"Buyers" from record labels, management companies and music
magazines stroll up and down Austin's nightclub-lined Sixth
Street and shop for the hottest new fashions in pop music.
So when your band is fortunate enough to land a showcase
here, you want everything to be perfect. For Fanzine,
it very nearly was.
"How lucky are we to be playing right before the
Mayflies?" Jameson asked when the band finished sound check.
The Mayflies, an up-and-coming pop band from Chapel Hill,
N.C., were listed by many SXSW forecasters as one of the
most interesting acts to see this year. They would thus be
drawing a crowd of scouts and record company reps, and many
of them would come early — and hear Fanzine.
"We're blessed tonight. This feels good," Fanzine singer
Adam said before the show.
The band arrived in Austin on Tuesday and immediately
went to work with staple guns and smiles, tacking up
posters advertising the Wednesday night gig and thrusting
handbills into the palms of any passers-by.
"We came all this way, I just want someone to see us,"
Jameson said. "Tonight's all about being seen — eyes on us."
And, of course, ears.
It's not about the gig
Still, Jameson and the other Fanzine players weren't
expecting miracles. Their set coincided with the Austin
Music Awards — a ceremony honoring the best of local talent,
much like Tulsa's Spotniks — the big event of Wednesday
night. The band's 24 hours in town wasn't a lot of time to
spread the word about its showcase. Most music reps and
media don't arrive until late Wednesday or Thursday,
anyway. "I really expect very little tonight," Jameson
said. "It's the first night, and this club's off the beaten
path, but this sure is great to put (in the press kit). It
means we've been chosen among some kind of selected upper
The World Wide Web was certainly an aid in advance
promotion. Word of the showcase spread quickly on, oddly
enough, Web sites and newsgroups for fans of the Toadies.
Plus, Tulsa radio music directors e-mailed their record
company contacts en masse, advising them of the Fanzine
One of them, KMYZ 104.5-FM music director Ray Seggern,
attended Wednesday's show. Seggern is an Austin native,
having worked with the city's popular modern rock station
for several years. He knows people, and he dragged as many
as he could with him to see the Tulsa band.
But even Seggern was realistic.
"It's not about the gig," he said. "The gig is the least
important part. (What's important) is the networking, the
experience, the mindset. Just being here and wearing a
badge is important."
Case in point: Hanson. The young Tulsa trio spent
several days at SXSW early in the '90s. Too young to even
play in the local bars, they strolled the streets and
softball-park bleachers, singing for anyone who would
listen. An astute music manager did, and the rest is
It's about support
For Fanzine's show, though, Opal Divine's was packed.
Most importantly, the crowd stayed and stared. Many SXSW
showcase audiences often are indifferent groups of jaded
music-industry mavens concentrating on wheeling and dealing
with other industry folk rather than listening to the
bands. Fanzine's crowd, though, stopped, looked and
listened. The band was on point, too. Tighter than
they've been in many months — and fueled by more adreneline,
no doubt — they tore through 40 minutes of their
groove-stuffed, flashy and unrelenting rock 'n' roll. Adam
threw off his bright orange jacket ("You like me mack?") by
the third song and was soon shaking his tambourine all over
the club's outdoor wooden deck and dancing with Beatle Bob,
an eccentric music-industry analyst who came to the show
and danced his trademark swingin' dance.
Many in Wednesday night's crowd were Tulsans, checking
out their hometown band on Austin's turf. Tim Kassen, a
Williams Company agent who also books bands for Tulsa's
Bourbon Street Cafe on 15th Street, was in town and said he
made a beeline to Fanzine's show. "Nobody performs like
Adam, with all that energy," he said. "Heck, if I had the
money, I'd sign them."
Also looking on were T.J. Green and Angie Devore, the
husband-and-wife team at the helm of new Tulsa band
Ultrafix. They weren't scheduled to play in Austin this
weekend; they came down just to attend the conference and
meet music-business folks and other musicians. They had
planned to arrive in Austin on Thursday but came a day
early to be present for the Fanzine show.
"It's all about support, man," Green said.
By George, we got us a rock show
By Thomas Conner 03/19/2000
AUSTIN, Texas — When South by Southwest occurs each
March, the Texas capital is literally overrun by music
businesspeople and musicians. How invasive is the
conference? Just ask presidential hopeful George W. Bush.
When the Texas governor realized he was going to sweep
Tuesday's second big round of Republican presidential
primaries, his campaign staff decided to book a local
ballroom to host the celebration and inevitable victory
But they couldn't find one. Every ballroom, theater and
public venue in town was booked up with SXSW events. Bush
and his supporters wound up in far northwest Austin,
patting themselves on the back in a gymnasium at the Dell
Jewish Community Campus.
Talk about rocking the vote.
Rangers in command
Storms raked the Texas hill country late Thursday
afternoon. The Ray Price show in the park surely was
doomed, so we headed for indoor shelter. The fact that it
had tortillas, margaritas and the Red Dirt Rangers made it
The Oklahoma roots-music band played the first of its
five SXSW-week gigs ("Six," Ranger John Cooper said later — "We
actually got one that pays!") at Jovita's, an authentic
Mexican restaurant south of downtown Austin.
And I mean authentic. The walls were arrayed with rich,
colorful murals, mostly depicting masked rebels in olive
drab, including a giant portrait of Che Guevera. The tables
were so sticky we had to paper them over with copies from a
stack of someone's Spanish-English poem entitled
"Crossroads." Our waitress had two breathtaking parrots
tattooed on her shoulder blades.
As the storm pelted Jovita's corrugated skylight, the
Rangers blasted through their typically invigorating set of
Okie rock 'n' soul, opening the show with two Woody Guthrie
covers, "Rangers' Command" (the title track to the Rangers'
latest CD, recorded in Austin) and "California Stars" (one of
the Woody lyrics put to music by Billy Bragg and Wilco) — a
nod to Woody's younger sister, Mary Jo Edgmon, sitting in
Also watching the Rangers was fellow Stillwater native,
now Austin-based songwriter Jimmy Lafave. The Rangers also
played his song "Red Dirt Roads," rocking it more than Lafave
probably ever envisioned and using it as a sparring match
between electric guitarist Ben Han and new steel guitarist
Roger Ray, also of Stillwater's Jason Boland and the
Stranglers. Whoops and yelps all around.
This ... is Wanda
Conversation overheard on the sidewalk outside the
Continental Club, Thursday night in the freezing cold,
waiting in vain to get inside and hear Oklahoma City
rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson:
She: "We'll never get in."
He: "They're full? At eight o'clock? Who is this woman?"
She: "I don't know. She looks like Loretta Lynn."
He: "Loretta Lynn never had a stand-up bass player like
She: "Can you see her hair?"
He: "That's all I can see. I could be back at the hotel
and still see that hair."
She: "It's not that big."
She: "Nothing. I was wrong."
Talking 'bout Tulsa
Tulsans protested the derogatory mention of the city in
a recent Best Western ad campaign, but our hometown creeps
into the world's consciousness in strange and mysterious
Take, for example, a song by Astrid, a spunky and
tuneful guitar band from Scotland. Near the end of the
band's hard-hitting showcase, they played a song called
"Cybersex," which the singer was good enough to point out "is
about cybersex." The refrain, from the point of view of the
narrative's libidinous web surfer: "It's 3 p.m. in Idlewild
/ Kansas, Tulsa, Arkansas."
Norman band Starlight Mints were lucky enough to land a
SXSW showcase this year, but it was nearly ruined by
equipment problems that delayed them 20 minutes — nearly
half of their allotted playing time. (And SXSW showcases
begin and end on time, or else.)
Still, the embryonic rock band impressed a capacity
crowd at the intimate Copper Tank North club with its
herky-jerky melodies and noises. My notes include this
absurd but revealing description of the band's music:
"Gordon Gano (Violent Femmes) singing, Thurston Moore (Sonic
Youth) on guitar, chick from the Rentals (Maya Rudolph) on
keys, all aboard a carousel at Wayne Coyne's (Flaming Lips)
For the record
While SXSW takes over Austin with live music, another of
the country's biggest musical events occurs here at the
same time. This one involves recorded music: the annual
Austin Record Convention, the largest new-and-used record
sale in the country.
Hundreds of record dealers from all over the country
huddle over tables in the Palmer Municipal Auditorium and
hawk more than a million CDs, LPs, 45s and even 78s. With
the world's music business leaders in town, these dealers
have to face a particular and knowledgeable clientele.
"This is the reissue, though. See, it's dated '92. You
don't have the '84 original with the six extra versions?"
That's pretty standard discussion fare at the
convention. One dealer from Minnesota boasted a
pristine, still-wrapped copy of former Tulsan Leon
Russell's "The Wedding Album." Asking price: $100.
A C-note? Has he heard it?
"No, but my books tell me that's a steal."
A rose by any other name ...
Part of the fun of perusing the SXSW schedule is the
humor and daring of some of the band names. The chucklers
on this year's list: Alabama Thunder Pussy, ... And You
Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, Bastard Sons of Johnny
Cash, Betty Blowtorch, Camaro Hair, Del the Funky
Homosapien, the Dino Martinis, Fatal Flying Guilloteens, I
Am the World Trade Center, Man Scouts of America, Maximum
Coherence During Flying, the Psychedelic Kinky Fellows,
Roar! Lion, Sci-Fi Uterus and the Tremolo Beer Gut.
Food for the soul
If you want music media to come see your band, set up a
free buffet. A table of sumptuous Texas barbecue and an
absence of cash registers filled La Zona Rosa with SXSW
registrants Thursday afternoon to see the Nixons open for
Texas guitar hero Ian Moore. Greasy hands clapped for the
Nixons' timeless (as in, stuck in 1993) grunge rock.
The band sported a new record label (the showcase sponsor,
Koch Records), new songs ("P.O.V." and the wildly cheery
"Blackout") and, well, a new band. Singer Zac Malloy is the
only original Norman-native member left, having jettisoned
the rest of the crew for a new batch of Dallas-based
The Nixons started in Norman as a cover band, scored a
modern rock hit early in the '90s with "Sister" and now are
based in Dallas. A new album is due April 11.
'What about the amps?'
Austin is full of colorful, sometimes downright
eccentric, characters, so when we noticed the guy talking
to himself on Fourth Street, it was no big shock.
He stood in the hot afternoon sun, pacing in circles,
gesturing wildly and talking, talking, talking — by himself.
"What about the amps?" he kept asking. "Where are the amps?" We
skirted him just off the curb, thinking to ourselves, "So
young, and already so nuts." Then we noticed it.
The earpiece, the hidden microphone — a hands-free cell
SXSW snapshots: The high, mighty and downright loony go wild in Austin
By Thomas Conner 03/22/2000
AUSTIN, Texas — More than 30 years after his death,
musicians — and, indeed, Americans — are just now figuring
out what Woody Guthrie was about.
Greg Johnson, owner of Oklahoma City's revered Blue Door
nightclub, summed it up ably during a South by Southwest
panel discussion entitled "Made for You and Me: Woody
Guthrie's Dust Bowl Legacy."
"Woody was about freedom and community," Johnson said. "He
was about propping people up. Bruce Springsteen used to say
it this way: 'Woody was about the next guy in line.' "
Veteran music journalist Dave Marsh led the panel, which
also included Austin-based songwriters Jimmy Lafave and
Michael Fracasso. The star of the panel, though, was
Guthrie's youngest sister, Mary Jo Edgmon, who regaled the
crowd with homespun tales of her proud father, her
misunderstood mother and her iconic older brother. "I
was reared on music all the way up to here," Edgmon said,
pointing over her head. "Woody taught me chords on the
guitar. I got really good at that C chord, I guess it was."
Edgmon spoke proudly of the "1,000 percent turnaround" in
America's perception of Woody, particularly in his Green
Country hometown of Okemah. She said she's thrilled to see
the misunderstandings about Woody's political and spiritual
beliefs clearing up.
"I want the world to understand that the Guthrie family
was not trash, that Woody was as good a man as there is,"
Lafave and Fracasso both punctuated the panel session
with performances. Fracasso sang Guthrie's "1913 Massacre"
and one of his own songs directly inspired by Woody's
songwriting (Fracasso's chorus: "From the mountains to the
valleys / from the prairies to the sea / If you ain't got
love, you ain't got a nickel"). Lafave sang a song about
Woody called "Woody's Road," written by acclaimed Oklahoma
songwriter Bob Childers, and then closed the afternoon
event with a rendition of Guthrie's "Oklahoma Hills," joined
by members of the Red Dirt Rangers and Edgmon herself.
Paint the town Redd
Austin's Top of the Marc is a clean, classy place — not
your usual SXSW mosh pit. The clientele shows the proper
amount of cuff, and the bar has drambuie. Festival
organizers couldn't just stick another all-girl Japanese
punk band in here. They needed class. So they called
upon Charlie Redd and his boys.
Decked out and dynamic, the Full Flava Kings brought
Redd back home in style. "Bring it on home, y'all!" Redd
would shout in a song's closing jam, though it was unclear
which home he was referring to — his native Austin or his
new Tulsa HQ. Either way, his Austin friends and fans saw a
new Redd on Saturday night: more groovy, more gravy and
drizzling a more honeyed baritone over the band's dense
rhythm-and-funk. In addition to charter Kings Dave
Kelly on guitar, Brian Lee on keyboards and Stanley Fary
beating the drums mercilessly, the Full Flava Kings debuted
new guitarist and veteran Tulsa funkmeister Travis Fite
(Phat Thumb) to the Austin crowd.
Their response? Ask the female stranger who tried to
start The Bump with me during the show.
Here come the brides
Tyson Meade, the colorful leader of the Norman-reared
Chainsaw Kittens, used to wear dresses on stage as a rule.
After his Friday night SXSW showcase, he took the fixation
to a bold new level by getting married to another man in
full white-gown fabulousness.
Before the next band (the bizarro but like-minded Frogs)
took the tent stage outside the Gallery Lombardi Lounge,
Meade reappeared in a wedding processional that parted the
crowd. The wedding party included several maids, matrons
and misters of honor in various degrees of Mardi Gras-esque
garb, all of whom surrounded the officiating Hindu priest
for the brief ceremony.
In a flurry of toasts and funny-but-heartfelt vows,
Meade and Skip Handleman Werner — who was always preceded by
the mysterious title "international pop star" — were
pronounced unlawfully married. They smooched, and the
wedding party bunny-hopped from the venue as "Y.M.C.A."
Reports of this high camp should not overshadow news of
the Kittens' triumphant return. Still without a record deal
after the sad demise of the Smashing Pumpkins' Scratchie
Records, the Kittens blasted back into action Friday night
with an explosive set of old and new glam-punk songs.
Meade, juiced by pre-wedding jitters, took the stage in a
royal blue feathery jacket and furiously belted and
screamed his way through the serrated set of Kitty classics
reaching all the way back to the band's debut album,
I can't chaaange
Billy Joe Winghead's lead singer, John Manson, took out
his personal angst about Meade's marriage (he was
distraught over not getting to, um, kiss the bride) through
BJW's two sets of roadhouse rock. The OKC-Tulsa band
blew into Austin late Saturday and played back-to-back
shows at the Hole in the Wall, a University of Texas
hangout, and Cheapo Discs. Shoppers at the latter venue
were typically unfazed by the blaring band over in the
corner — until they played "Free Bird."
A cliche request that normally turns off young rock
audiences always turns heads when its coming from the
five-piece Billy Joe Winghead. Tulsa bassist Steve Jones
sings over the guitar grind while Manson waves out the
melody on his green theremin. Amid the band's repertoire of
songs about rest-stop sex, doomed B-filmstars and car
salesman lingo, "Free Bird" is practically the crown jewel
and always a crowd pleaser.
Hit me with your best shot
Readers of the Austin Chronicle voted David Garza the
city's second-best musician of the '90s. (Ask a blues fan
who was first.) It's not simply because he writes
well-rounded pop songs and executes them gracefully on
record with his band; it's that he really doesn't need his
band at all.
On the Waterloo Park stage late Saturday afternoon,
Garza held his own with only his pretty red Gibson guitar
to keep him company. Songs that on record seem pieced
together by clever arrangements of drum machines, acoustic
guitar and Garza's versatile voice — like "Discoball World" --
evened out in frenetic and energetic solo jams. Near the
end, he took requests, cheerfully tearing his fingernails
off by barreling through "Take Another Shot."
Thank you, sir, may I have another?
The good, the bad, and the ugly
Rumor of the week: That Neil Young was the mysterious
"special guest" billed immediately before Steve Earle's
Friday night set at Stubb's. Young was in Austin for South
by Southwest, but not the music part. His latest concert
film, "Silver and Gold," was premiering. The special guest
was Whiskeytown singer Ryan Adams.
Patron saint of the festival: Doug Sahm. The drive-train
for the Sir Douglas Quartet may be dead but he hasn't left
Austin. From two star-studded tributes to him — one at
Wednesday night's Austin Music Awards (featuring Shawn and
Shandon Sahm), another Friday at the legendary Antone's
blues club (featuring former bandmate Augie Meyers and,
straight from the where-is-he-now bins, Joe "King" Carassco) --
to posters in Mexican restaurants advertising prints of his
portrait for sale, Sahm has edged out Townes Van Zandt as
the bandwagon who bought the farm.
Best TV footage no one could use: Steve Earle's Thursday
morning keynote address. Earle delivered his words of
wisdom wearing a T-shirt that read, "I'm from f—-ing outer
Comeback of the week: Former Byrds icon Roger McGuinn,
whose Friday night performance brought overplayed standards
back down to earth with grace and style.
Best T-shirt: "My lawyer can kick your lawyer's ass."
Most shameless self-promotion: Dallas rap-rockers
Pimpadelic not only drove around downtown blocks in its
giant tour bus with the band's name emblazoned along the
sides, the band also spent its free time walking around
Austin with dancers it hired from the Yellow Rose strip
club, all of whom, of course, sported tightly cropped
T-shirts bearing the band's name. Watch for the band's
debut on Tommy Boy Records.
Most prominent foreign country: The Netherlands, buoyed
by waning interest in the annual Japan Night and extensive
lobbying by the Dutch Rock and Pop Institute.
Best non-SXSW show: Austin's ear-splitting Hotwheels Jr.
on Friday afternoon in a tiny CD shop way out in north
Austin. They spell it r-a-w-k.
Favorite new discovery: Scotland's newest guitar pop
band Astrid, with a debut album, "Strange Weather Lately,"
out now on Fantastic Plastic Records.
Best diversion on the way to another gig: The strolling
horn band Crawdaddy-O, which braved the frigid cold
Thursday night livening people's steps with funky Dixieland
jams, including — at Adam of Fanzine's request — some
sizzling James Brown.
BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
Twenty years ago, "Star Wars" creator George Lucas would
not have returned a phone call from a guy called "Weird Al"
Yankovic. Packages bearing such a moniker likely would have
been routed to Skywalker Ranch security.
Today, though, everyone knows "Weird Al." He's famous.
"I've skewered enough famous people that they kind of
know who I am now. Sometimes that helps, sometimes not,"
Yankovic said in a conversation this week. "At least now I
get phone calls returned."
Even with George Lucas,
though, Yankovic was nervous. Just because he's sold more
comedy albums than anyone else didn't mean Lucas would sign
over permission to skewer the context of "The Phantom
Menace," which Yankovic does in the first track on his
latest album, "Running With Scissors." The song, "The Saga
Begins," recounts the tale of young Anakin Skywalker to the
tune of Don McLean's "American Pie" ("So my, my, this poor
Anakin guy / may be Vader someday later / now he's just a
Yankovic recorded the song, set a release date for the
album and booked the tour. Then he sent Lucas a tape of the
song. Fortunately, Lucas loved it.
Song parodies are Yankovic's stock in trade, and over
the last two decades his witty gag covers have established
the largest and longest career for a musical humorist. From
his first parody — turning the Knack's "My Sharona" into "My
Bologna" — to his latest transubtatiation — turning the
Offspring's "Pretty Fly for a White Guy" into "Pretty Fly for
a Rabbi" — you haven't really made it big until "Weird Al"
makes fun of you.
"I've never made fun of the actual performers, though — I
mean, nothing mean-spirited," Yankovic said. "It's all in
fun, and most of the artists are very positive about it.
It's not about them, really." Sometimes the fans of the
artist being parodied don't think so, though.
"Well, there's one letter in a hundred from someone who
completely misses the point. They say, 'How can you make
fun of Michael Jackson or Nirvana?' But they're the ones
who gave me permission to do it, and they think it's very
funny," Yankovic said.
"Weird Al's" passion for parody began when, growing up in
California, he discovered "The Dr. Demento Show," a popular
weekly show of humorous music that just celebrated its 30th
year on the air. Tuning in each week, Yankovic heard the
musical wits of Spike Jones, Tom Lehrer, Stan Freberg and
Allan Sherman. He was hooked.
"Comedy and music were the two driving forces in my life,"
he said. "To have them together, I thought, would, well,
save a lot of time."
Yankovic saw Dr. Demento as a "kindred spirit," and when
he was 13, Dr. Demento spoke at his school. He was
conducting a song contest at the time, and Yankovic gave
him a tape of his recordings he'd begun at home with
"I didn't win — the stuff was awful — but it was the first
thing I gave him, and I decided to keep sending him tapes.
I got better over the years, and pretty soon we kind of had
a relationship, and he played my songs," Yankovic said.
The first "Weird Al" song Dr. Demento played on his show
was "Belvedere Cruising," a pop song about the family
Plymouth. It was driven by Yankovic's trademark accordion,
and it received great feedback from listeners. The song
that set him up, though, was "My Bologna" in 1979. Not only
did listeners love it, the Knack themselves enjoyed it and
persuaded their record company, Capitol Records, to release
the song as a single.
After that, all chart-toppers were targets. Queen's
"Another One Bites the Dust" became Yankovic's "Another One
Rides the Bus." Joan Jett's "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" became
Yankovic's "I Love Rocky Road." Toni Basil's "Mickey" became
"Ricky," satirizing both the hit song and the TV show "I Love
It was the latter song that ensured Yankovic's immense
stardom. The humor of the song could now, in 1983, be
amplified with visuals via the fledgling MTV music video
network. Yankovic's relationship with MTV would become his
main source of success — and excess.
"We've had a symbiotic relationship," Yankovic said. "It's
often difficult for me to get into radio playlists, but MTV
loves to put my videos into rotation, so people have always
known that I've had a new album out. Plus, you get more
dimensions to the humor. Background gags and sight gags
allow you to flesh out the humor a lot."
Since then, Yankovic has resurfaced just in time to
remind us that pop stars are not gods and can be taken down
a peg or two. He's been rewarded for his efforts, too,
winning Grammy awards for his note-for-note (and, in the
videos, scene-for-scene) versions of Michael Jackson hits --
"Eat It" (Jackson's "Beat It") and "I'm Fat" (Jackson's "Bad").
"I've been lucky, but I think what I do is important on
some level. We need satire in the culture to keep balanced
and keep things in perspective."
"Weird Al" Yankovic performs 8 p.m. Thursday at the
Brady Theater, 105 W. Brady St. Tickets are $28 at the
Brady box office and all Dillard outlets. Call 747-0001.
Tulsans remember Al, filming of `UHF'
Tulsans know "Weird Al" Yankovic a bit better than most
Americans because, as his career took off, Yankovic wound
up here filming his first — and, so far, only — feature film,
In 1988, Yankovic shot the bulk of the film in the
then-vacant Kensington Mall on 71st Street (now the
Southern Hills Marriott hotel). The film — about a TV
station owner who tries to keep his UHF channel alive by
programming very off-beat shows — co-starred quirky "Saturday
Night Live" alum Victoria Jackson and was the film debut of
future "Seinfeld" star Michael Richards.
"We got a really good deal on the use of an empty mall
there, so we were able to rent it and set up nearly all of
our soundstages there," Yankovic said. "Almost all of the
interior shots were filmed there, plus we did some exterior
things around town."
Other locations used throughout Tulsa included the
former Joey's Home of the Blues club, where fans of the
fictional station protested, and Woodward Park, where
Yankovic was made up as Rambo for a slapstick fight,
complete with bulging, latex muscles. The First Christian
Church downtown was used as a city hall building. Tulsa
songwriter Jerry Hawkins ("I'd Be in Heaven in a Truck") was
one of the many local extras hired for several scenes in
"UHF." He remembers some of the goofy fun on the sets.
"They had the `Wheel of Fish,' a parody on the `Wheel of
Fortune' (game show)," Hawkins said. "As the show host would
ask the contestants, 'OK, now, which do you prefer — the box
on the table containing some terrific prize or the fish on
the spinning board on the wall?' We, as extras in the
audience, would yell out ... 'The fish! The fish!' It was a
Hawkins also recalled the "incredible amounts of
attention" Yankovic got around town, "and all without saying
much at all and without doing much."
"He was one funny dude," Hawkins said, and "definitely
Yankovic said he's been too busy with the current tour
to think about making another film, but he enjoyed his
Tulsa experience. "I loved it there," he said. "We spent
the whole summer, despite that insane heat."
By Thomas Conner
© Tulsa World
At the end of the interview, Carlton Pearson stood up
and gave himself away.
Throughout the conversation, Pearson gleamed, looking
immaculate as ever — trimmed hair, silk paisley tie, a
glittering ruby ring and a shirt so crisp you could strike
a match on it. He looked every bit the well-to-do,
business-like bishop of the multi-racial multitude at
Tulsa's charismatic Higher Dimensions Family Church. As
we chatted on our way out of the church office, though, I
couldn't help but notice his worn, faded Levis and
weather-beaten cowboy boots.
"Well, I didn't know if you were going to take pictures
today or not, so I put on a tie," Pearson said, smiling big
and broadly. Pretty and professional on top, earthy and
rooted down below — that's Carlton Pearson.
It's this personal philosophy of staying rooted that has
propelled Pearson into the top rank of his church and into
the top slots of the gospel charts. Aside from leading one
of this city's largest congregations, Pearson records
highly successful gospel records with his church's crack
band and choir. The latest, "Live at Azusa 3," is another
The boundary between Pearson the preacher and Pearson
the entertainer is barely traceable, though. The "Live at
Azusa" records are simply recordings of Pearson in action at
his annual Azusa religious conference in Tulsa. He preaches
a little, he sings a little, and he shares the stage with
other gospel stars — such as Fred Hammond and Marvin Winans
on the current album.
"This is just church. It's what we do every Sunday
morning," Pearson said. "I wanted to capitalize on it, and
share it. When I started playing with recording things,
people were writing songs for me and trying to mold me as
they would any other gospel singer. But I said, 'Let me
just do what I do. Let me tell stories and sing songs.' And
it has touched people."
Pearson's albums are reaching the audience at which they
are aimed. Pearson unabashedly calls them "old folks." The
subtitle of "Live at Azusa 3" is "Reminding the Saints of the
Hope," and Pearson said this album in particular was
tailored for the older members of the flock.
"I'm trying to do what that title says: remind them that
the hope is still alive," Pearson said. "The world is
changing so fast — without their permission. These people,
like the Bible, have come out of Egypt, but Egypt has not
come out of them."
"Live at Azusa 3" features Pearson and the immensely
talented Higher Dimensions band and choir, directed by
David Smith. While radical gospel stars like Hammond and
Kirk Franklin have juiced-up the genre with hip-hop beats
and loud sounds, Pearson's album captures a similar feeling
of excitement — but by using old, traditional black hymns.
No funky new stuff for Pearson, much to the dismay of his
"I try to play my stuff for my kids, and they say, `No,
Daddy, play something cool!' They want (Franklin's)
'Revolution' or anything Hammond does. I have pictures of
young people jumping up and down at my shows, so it's
reaching them . . . but these songs are meant for the
saints," Pearson said. "These old songs aren't written
horizontally; they're written vertically. The new songs are
evangelistic, taking a message to the people from God.
These old songs are singing directly to God. They're church
"These old songs are the ones that really seemed to touch
people the most, and they helped tear down those racial
divisions that often separate us," Pearson said earlier.
"They also remind us of the hope. I felt those old songs
gave us a sense of stability and a sense of security and
safe-keeping, because that's what kept us through the Jim
Crow lines, civil rights riots and the assassinations of
Dr. King and President Kennedy in the '60s."
Crossing racial lines has always been the driving force
behind Pearson's ministry. He's full of stories about
people of all colors and creeds who have found inspiration
through the songs he performs — the South African man who
explained how popular Pearson's videos and music were there
("You sing old hymns that carried the church here," the man
told Pearson) and the Muslim woman who attends Higher
Dimensions because of her attraction to the message of a
Pearson's music and ministry began at the same time,
when as an eighth-grader in San Diego he was captivated by
a performance of the visiting Oral Roberts World Action
Singers. The group was recruiting students, and Pearson's
mother said, "When you go to college, that's where I want
you to go." Lacking the funds to pay for college, Pearson
shut himself in his room for a week, emerging only to
shower. During that time, he prayed to God to find a way to
attend Oral Roberts University. At the end of the week, a
family friend called and offered to pay not only the
college tuition but a monthly allowance as well. In 1971,
he enrolled at ORU.
Soon he became a member of the World Action Singers with
a full scholarship. By 1975, Pearson was hitting the road
as an evangelist under the tutelage of Roberts himself. In
1981, he founded the Higher Dimensions Evangelistic Center
at a service of 75 people. The center's first building was
a storefront in Jenks — which at the time still had a 6 p.m.
curfew for blacks on the lawbooks. Within a year, the
congregation neared 1,000 people of every race and color.
Today, the church stands in a large building near 86th
Street and Memorial Drive, along with an adoption agency, a
home for unwed mothers, a preschool and a food pantry for
"I never wanted to be known as the singing evangelist,"
Pearson said of his beginnings. "I wanted to be an
evangelist who also sang." That's how he sounds on "Live
at Azusa 3." He introduces songs sung by such gospel
luminaries as Beverly Crawford, James Morton and Joshua
Nelson. He talks a little bit, giving brief homilies with
titles like "I Love Old Folks" and "Remind the Saints of the
Hope." These are often elongated introductions to other
songs, "I Know the Lord Will Make a Way Somehow," "Near the
Cross," and so on.
"These old songs — people just don't want to let go of
them," Pearson said. "For some reason people just want to
hold onto a good ol' piece of fried chicken, even though
they're out there every day eating sushi . . . I mean, when
I win an award for these albums, people aren't out there
clapping for me. They're clapping for their grandmas and
grandpas and all those saints that came before them and who
were kept going by these songs. And they're still going, so
we might as well keep these songs going, too."
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.