January 2005

Gigwise, January and February are looking awful bleak, I must say. I been sniffin' around and everybody's moaning about the same thing. Seems like work sloughs off for a lot of cats this time of year. What's a bass thwacking killer diller gonna do? Keep making calls, that's what. Keep letting everyone know I'm still here. Like Steve McQueen at the end of Papillon, floating out with the tide: "I'm still here!" An' I ain't gonna quit. Y'know why? 'Cause what else'm I gonna do? Huh? What? That's right. Nuthin'. Music is what I do.

Then again, I do enjoy long walks on the beach, some wine and stimulating conversation by the fire, no smokers no fatties. But those things don't pay, do they. No, they don't. I suppose the fatties would, depending. Smoking fatties would definitely pay but it just wouldn't be the same. I'd much rather play three sets of pocket rocket swamp gumbo than hose a smoking fattie. Wouldn't you?

So there you have it. That's why I play music.

GIG NEWS

12/8/04 Redbones Davis Square Somerville w/Geronimo's Cadillac - This one wasn't a whole lotta fun. I had a bad feeling as soon as I inquired about loading in. I had to load in the back which is fine but there was a chain link fence, the gate to which could not be propped open and left unattended for even a minute. It wasn't allowed. OK, so I propped it open with a mike stand, loaded inside the fence, then, in open defiance, left it propped open just an inch while I raced to park my car. Got back, it was shut. There I was in the parking lot, there was my gear inside the fence. No bell to ring. Nothing to do but wait. Which I did. For a long time.

When I finally did get inside I had to hump my gear down steep, narrow stairs that were slippery with rib grease, I guess it was. Some kinda funk, anyway. The Vegetarian Conversion Stairway.

We played downstairs in the corner. The room was full, packed with people pounding down pork. Setting up was a nightmare. It reminded me of the scene in the Marx Brothers movie where they're all in that cabin on a ship. It's a good sized band: bass, drums, guitar, keyboard, saxophone, two Bose towers, two vocalists in front, and we all had to fit in that corner with tables full of people close all around us. I don't know how I ever got set up. I would pick something up to get it out of the way, rotate 360, and put it down in the same place. I had to channel Escher just to find a place for my tuner. Due to the extremely limited space, the mikes were too close to the speakers so we had feedback problems all night.

And then there was the crowd. Redbones, as it turned out, didn't seem to realize that we were booked that night, so there was absolutely no promotion. The only people who knew what to expect were the ones who had come because of my Gig Update and maybe a few friends of the band who knew we'd be there. Otherwise, there were two long tables with about 50 Chinese celebrating something while the rest were college kids learning the limits of alcoholic intake.

Geronimo's Cadillac, fronted by soul singers Fred Griffeth & Gail Nickse, and backed that night by myself, Bob Enik, Paul Bosch, Amadee Castenell, and Paul Quattrochi, is a rootsy r&b band. It does covers by Ray Charles, Gladys Knight, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Otis Redding, etc. You know. The good stuff. So how'd it go over with the Chinese people and the college kids? Like a lead fuckin' balloon, that's how.

The Chinese party left en masse in the middle of a song. Right in the middle. You know how it feels when fifty people get up and leave while you're cranking out the best you know how? Guess.

And yet! And yet...the band was great. I dove into the music and didn't come up till I was done. You know, one of the great things about being this age is that just about everyone you play with is good. Real good. People in their 40's & 50's know how to play. If they weren't any good, they woulda quit a long time ago. Funny thing is, people in their 20's don't seem to hear it. Kids these days, I'm tellin' ya.

End of the night, I muscled my stuff up the Vegetarian Conversion Stairway and into the space inside the fence. Then I propped the gate open just an inch & ran for my car. When I returned the gate was shut. I waited. For a long time.

12/10/04 Dodge Street Salem w/Mattacks & Brown - We killed 'em. It was burning.

12/11/04 Dolphin Striker Portsmouth w/Brown & Syms - This was fun because David & I had a drummer we've never played with name a Bert Syms. Guy plays old fatback style a la Al Jackson. The funk was deep. Guy cracked me up when, after the first set, he raised his eyebrows & said "Oh, I see. On this gig you have to play."

12/15/04 Toad Cambridge w/Mattacks & Brown - We showed no mercy. We tore the place down.

12/18/04 Conley's Watertown solo/acoustic - There were a couple parties going on so the owner told me to keep it peppy. I took a deep breath & pounded my Martin all night. By the third set I had people dancing. Pretty good for solo/acoustic. I even did Mustang Sally (for an extra $20...see Mustang Sally essay below).

12/29/04 Dolphin Striker Portsmouth solo/acoustic - I played, they drank.

12/30/04 Les Zygomates w/Chris Stovall Brown - What a gas! Blues, baby. All night long. The masterful Stovall on guitar, great drummer Ed Sheer, and on vocals and harp, Chicago Bob who is the real deal up from Looziana. Man, I work with great players all the time, as I said, but now & then I get to play with some real heart & soul. This was it. We did a Fats Domino style walking blues that went up my back it was so good. What a voice on Chicago Bob. God. And this chick, Valerie Stephens, whom I didn't know, came up and sang Fever like you never heard, then belted a shuffle that made me want to drop my net and follow. Wow. Great stuff.

1/5/05 The Skellig Waltham solo/acoustic - This gig is different because it's a singer/songwriter thing where you get introduced & people actually listen. True, it's a bar & people don't have to listen if they dowanna, but mostly they do. I was a little nervous about it because I'm used to people not listening. I want people to listen, don't get me wrong, but I so rarely play in situations where they do that I get spooked. I didn't want to get too serious about it...I wanted to be casual...so I didn't write up a set list. I decided to wing it. Well, that was a mistake. I had no plan and nothing to say between songs except what came off the top of my head. Before my song Nickel & Dime I said "This song was inspired by hatred." Now, if you knew me & know how I am and had gotten a feel for my delivery you probably would have chuckled. But that night it just sat there like a turd.

Before my last song I gave 'em a choice of two styles of song (I had two originals in mind & I didn't know which one to play). Some of my fans who have heard my covers called out for an Otis Redding song. Not wanting to disappoint I played it. But I was angry with myself because the whole reason for this gig was to present my own material.

So it was a good learning experience. Next time I do an actual "show" I'm gonna be ready with a set list and some prepared outlines for between-song banter.

I understand I'm being hard on myself. Danielle Miraglia , who hosted the show, seemed to like it a lot. I suppose I was all right but you know what I mean. Coulda been a lot better. Will be next time.

Danielle played a couple songs up front. She was very good. Nice & pretty, too.

1/7/05 Toad Cambridge w/Mattacks & Brown - We ripped. It was killer. Pretty jumpin' night, too. Saxophonist Paul Almstrand was in the house. He had his horn with him so I invited him up & we cooked some more. His addition made Goodnight Irene especially beautiful.


MOVIE REVIEWS

Many of you have requested more movie reviews. I don't know why.

Maybe it's something you should see someone about. Before I get into it I should point out that I'm just one guy, one incredibly hunky guy, with one guy's opinion (the correct one, as it turns out). Couple wimins got mad at me 'cause I raved about the remake of The Time Machine (great movie!) so they saw it & thought it sucked. So be warned: if I tell you what I like & don't like, remember that I also do like Police Academy & don't like Jules et Jim. And boy was he stuffed.

The Last Samurai - Tom Cruise is one of those actors who seems to inspire either love or hatred. I am of the former camp. I think he's great. I think his acting is honest and invisible. And I think this is a very good movie. It's an engrossing story reminiscent of Dances With Wolves which stars another actor whom people either love or hate. Hey! Let's get Tom & Kevin together for Jules et Jim!

The Ring - Scary! I'm serious, man. This movie is great. And it's got Naomi Watts who is, let's face it, happening. And I mean it's creepy scary like you can't stand it and then when the chick comes out of the TV well Jesus Christ you're gonna jump out of your pants I'm not kidding.

Mulholland Drive - Speaking of Naomi Watts here she is again. This was the first time I ever saw her. It's one of those performances where you're going along OK everything's cool & then you start going wait a second this chick can act plus wow look at that. And the other one's got some snap to her too. Yeah this is a good one. Also it's one of those where you think you know what's going on but you don't.

Ray - As this movie was going by I thought the editing was a little hurried but then I got used to the pace. This movie stayed with me for days. Jamie Foxx is something else. Lotta people don't realize that he's a killer musician for real. I saw one of his standup shows on HBO couple years ago. At one point in the show he went and sat down at a piano. He played and sang like you wouldn't believe. He could make a living just playing music. I mean he was killer. So he brings a real musician's sensibility to the role. Another cool thing is that he declined singing the songs himself; he's syncing to the original cuts. It's extra cool because he really could have sung them. I know because there's one scene where he's working out a song in an apartment so he really is doing his own singing and I swear to God he sounded just like Ray. It's really good.

Bound - I reviewed this one before but I just have to review it again because man Jennifer Tilley wow. She is just man oh man. And Joe Pantalonagonio is great as a crazed fool but Jennifer Tilley please don't leave me I love you just tell me what you want.

Below - A haunted submarine. I started watching it expecting it to be awful. It's great. It's a ghost story, plain & simple, and fuckin' scary. I loved it.

Troy - Poorly received despite the title. I enjoyed it very much. It helps to be familiar with The Iliad. Brad Pitt is excellent and extremely hot. And Helen's not the killer on this set. It's Hector's wife, played by that chick in the shark movie with LL Cool J. There's sweeping panoramas & great battle sequences. Just relax & let the story unfold. Why's everybody bitching all the time? Christ, it ain't Saving Private Ryan, it's a bunch of mythic heroes offing each other. Somebody tell these critics to take it for what it is.

Bruce Almighty - When Jim Carrey came out with Ace Ventura I was swept along like most folks. I found The Mask very enjoyable, too. I also loved the one about the lying lawyer (Jennifer!) But after awhile his shtick began to wear. When Bruce Almighty came out and I saw the bad reviews & saw the ad with him miming I've Got The Power & setting off a fire hydrant, I took a pass. Then about a month ago it was on cable and I decided to give it a chance. It just about killed me. I was laughing so hard I had to stand up & hold onto something. Now I like him all over again.

City Of God - Really, really good movie. Only thing, it makes you never, ever want to go to Brazil. I mean, what's scarier than a buncha eight year olds with guns? And I mean all of 'em. All the kids in this town are armed and running around shooting whomever they feel like shooting. Sounds like a lot of places these days, don't it?

House of Sand and Fog - Well, it's got Jennifer Connelly so there you go right there. And Ben Kingsley. You just know it's gonna be good and sure enough, it is. It's a collision of three people, basically. Each one is following a line to what he/she wants & where those lines intersect is where the action is. I love action as much as anyone. I like something like The Matrix where it starts and you're in the thick of it right away but there's really nothing better than a story that draws you along so you start to care & wonder what's going to happen. And then when the action begins it's so much more shocking & suspensful. This one will stay with you.

OK that's ten. Enough. No wonder film critics are so cranky.


MUSTANG SALLY

Mustang Sally was written and recorded by Sir Mack Rice in 1965. But the version we all know and love was recorded by Wilson Pickett in 1966. There have been many other versions but Pickett's is really the only one that people remember when they think of the song. And think of it they do. Every night, in every bar, in every city in America, usually during the third set, they think of it. And when they think of it they request it. Well, actually, it's more of a command than a request. A drunken bellow from the dance floor. In all the bars across this land, as last call looms, Mustang Sally is demanded. Then it is trotted out by thousands of feckless bar bands that are hanging on for one more encore in a musical dead end of despair. This tired and bedraggled corpse of a song is hauled out of its vault nightly and pushed onto the dance floor by exhausted musicians, who could just about literally play it in their sleep, to be kicked around yet again by another jumble of juiced crackers, which is somehow appropriate because by this time, as they stagger into each other, they resemble, more than anything else, the cast of Dawn of the Dead.

What is it about Mustang Sally? Why do people, and I mean white people, love it so? No, not love. Need. They need it like a crackhead needs a match. Ever seen Mustang Sally Rage? I have. Just say no and see what happens. Mustang Sally saw Rocky Horror Picture Show come and go. Same with Porky's I & II. What was that gnat that flitted by? The Macarena? And contrary to its name, the seemingly interminable life of Flatliners on cable is merely a blink in the geologic timetable of Mustang Sally. Maybe it's the simple lyrics. Could be the easy back & forth tempo. Possibly the response in the chorus that everyone gets to shriek: Ride, Sally, Ride! Whatever it is, why people aren't tired of hearing it is a profound mystery to musicians everywhere who, I promise you, are pretty fuckin' tired of playing it.

To play Mustang Sally for a bunch of stupid drunks at the end of the night can be viewed in two ways. One, as an opportunity to transcend, to seek Nirvana in the Great Void, not at all unlike your mind's effort to dwell on serene landscapes as your rotten molar is being pulled by a dentist who braces himself with his shoe in your nuts. Two, as a flaming descent into Loser Hell, a wailing spiral downward and away from your youthful dreams of rock glory. Sadly, the latter usually obtains, possibly because we're tired by then, and not up to transcending. And I mean tired. I'm talking about fatigue so deep in your bones that the only thing you have the energy for is to suck on a muzzle & pull the trigger.

That's why, ladies and gentlemen, when one night a couple years ago someone hollered for Mustang Sally, I refused to play it. To the confusion and consternation of all, I said that no, I didn't do that song. You can imagine the uproar. People turned on me. They called me an asshole. There was real anger in the room. If you think I'm kidding, I'm not. It was a sobering experience and one that gave me pause. Was flat out refusal the most prudent course in the face of such volatile consequences? I realized that this wasn't going to be so easy.

It can be argued that I should play it sans quibble because I'm being paid to give the peeps what they want. I would counter that I have to weigh that obligation against my state of mind which, if untended, will grow rank and lead to outbursts confirming suspicions that I'm a coddled diva. Or divo. And let's not forget my obligation to the members of the band. How do I bear the brunt of their groans and rolling eyes as we all don the crown of Sisyphus and heave ho yet again? Surely I would lose their respect and believe me it's already hard enough dealing with these prima donna guitar players. God I hate them.

Drummer Dave Mattacks's rejoinder to this conundrum was to play the song, but in 12/8 time. This was especially cruel because people would hear me sing the opening words and excitedly hit the dance floor only to find that they couldn't get a handle on the rhythm, being, of course, again, white. Although it was fun and interesting for the band it wasn't quite the answer.

Then it came to me. More money! You want to hear Mustang Sally? Fine. Pay for it. $20 per man seemed reasonable and you know what? It worked. Folks ponied up. There's nothing like money to make a person feel appreciated. For my trio, all you need is 12 people to come up with the price of one beer apiece. Everybody's happy. What's more is that instead of some tired rendition you get a good version because the band is motivated so they get into it and it's actually fun.

So the next time you hear someone say money can't buy happiness you just tell 'em "Bullshit! It sure as shit can, moron! Boy, are you some kinda dumb bastard or what!" Because I'm telling you, you ain't seen happiness until you've seen a roomful of folks a-bumpin' and a-grindin' and a-holdin' on to the reins of good ol' Mustang Sally.

AND SO...

That about does it for now. Remember that all my newsletters are archived below if you want to go back & see how I came to this sorry state.

Also, I'm pleased to tell you that my CD is inching forward and will be finished someday. I don't know when. But I'm closer to the end than to the beginning. Ha. I'll call it My Life. Just kidding. I'll call it Just Kidding. Not really. I'll call it Not Really. OK I'll stop. I'll call it OK I'll Stop.

Tell your friends about me & come see me play. OK? OK.

Ciao,
John




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