Although performing as a duo for the first time, the two had an “old soul” symbiosis, choosing tunes that suited them both extremely well. The performances were loose and joyful, clearly a labor of love.
Utilizing the intimate setting of Greenwich House’s second floor theater to full advantage – literally like having someone play your living room – each took turns explaining the unique history of a song or the artist who recorded it. Flemons demonstrated the term hokum with the double entendre riddled tune “Keep Your Yes Ma’am Clean,” while Reed related surprise at finding a “5” Royales song had been covered by a classic bluesman. They agreed on most “likes,” a mutual confusion over just what lyrics go with which Jimmy Rodgers “Blue Yodel,” and admitted only a good natured divergence on preferring “Sonny Boy” Williamson I (John Lee Curtis) or II (Rice Miller.)
Over the course of the evening they juggled instruments from guitars and banjo to piano. There were dueling harmonicas (“harps” to bluesmen) featured on “Polly Put the Kettle On” and Dom pulled out the “peculiar” castanet-like “bones,” panpipe styled “quill,” and coaxed bass notes from an old cider jug to augment the sound. The set ended with “Do Lord Remember Me,” an a capella call and response that brought the audience to their feet to clap and sing along.
Dom Flemons, formerly of The Carolina Chocolate Drops and currently on solo tour through August, will be back in NYC in April for the Brooklyn Folk Festival at The Bell House. Although not in his arsenal of instruments that night Flemons related purchasing a large 6 string banjo at Brooklyn’s RetroFret guitar shop, similar to the one played by Papa Charlie Jackson (author of “Salty Dog” and “Spoonful Blues”) whose “Baby Please Loan Me Your Heart” the duo included in the set.
Flemons’ current album is American Songster. It’s loose field-recorded vibe and detailed annotation is about as close to a modern day Folkways record as you’re likely to find. It’s available on the Music Maker Series label, as are the current recordings of other Chocolate Drops cohorts, Rhiannon Giddens and Leyla McCalla.
The Music Maker Relief Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping the “true pioneers and forgotten heroes of Southern music traditions.” See their website for what you can do to help.
In retrospect the event served not only as a wonderful night of music and unique pairing of two kindred souls but as a primer on the cross pollination of blues, folk, country, soul and balladry. Kind of like a live version of Barney Hoskyns’ book Say It One Time for the Broken Hearted. I hope Dom and Eli can find the right time in their schedules to do this again soon.
The Café au Go Go Revisited Series, conceived by Greenwich House Music School Director Rachel Black and compiled/curated by Jennie Wasserman, continues on Thursdays through April 24, 2014. Check the website for upcoming artists and ticket purchase information.
NECA (National Entertainment Collectors Association) displayed their prototypes for both Series 12 and 13 Predators at the recent NY Toy Fair, giving the press a peek at the still to be finalized designs for what will be on the shelves in the coming months.
In The Pines, In The Pines…
As the longest running of NECA’s action figure licenses Predator continues to be extremely popular and collectors anticipate where inspiration for the next wave will come from. For Series 12 the company looked to the printed page with two of the three figures representing characters in Dark Horse Comics’ four issue adventure Predators: Bad Blood from the 1990’s. The standalone story told of a “serial killer” Predator on a rampage in the wild Pine Barrens of New Jersey (also the home of the legendary “Jersey Devil”) and his battle with an Enforcer determined to thwart him. Fortunately for humanity the Enforcer did not have to use the George Washington Bridge on a bad traffic day to get to NJ.
NECA’s “Bad Blood” sculpt is one sweet looking piece, bound to make fans of the franchise happy, and I think also bring in the casual collector. He’s like a walking, stalking, trophy wall adorned in the bones of his victims. He appears blood spattered from a fresh kill, whose heads he’s happy to brandish. His nemesis, The Enforcer figure is clad in silver armor, with shoulder cannon, disk and rod ready to bring the rogue to justice.
The third figure in Series 12 is a revamped Series 3 character, the Elder from the Predator 2film. NECA says “Elder V2 features additional articulation, a shoulder cannon, new straps and belts, and new feet, all upgraded and improved from the original version.” The models sport 25 points of articulation and stand approximately 8” tall.
Expect to see these in their final form around June of 2014, followed closely by the revealed but undesignated Series 13 figures in August.
In addition to the series 12 abd 13 reveals, NECA showed off its first vehicle of the collectible cache with a really hot Predator Blade Fighter complete with Viper rider. It’s sure to bring back fond memories of those who collected Kenner Predator toys back in the 1990′s.
There’s more fun and nostalgia as NECA expands it’s spin on 8-bit video game characters. this time it’s Predator, looking sharp all in blue as depicted in the 1989 NES game. Expected in May 2014, it will be sold in a special flapped window package reminiscent of the original video game box and limited to one production run only.
More To Come…
I have plenty more NECA goodies to be posted in the coming weeks, including gigantic Pacific Rim Jaegers and Kaiju, an uncanny Dark Knight Joker, some amazing Planet of the Apes figures, Diablo and more.
When Super7 and Funko announced their partnership in producing a 3.75 inch Alien figure set last August, they promised the collaboration would yield a lot more surprises. That was probably one of the biggest understatements of all time. At Funko’s 2014 Toy Fair booth the companies revealed an over 60 figure roll out for the ReAction line. The retro feel of the characters harks back to Kenner’s Star Wars figures of the 1970’s.
Many under served franchises like Goonies, Pulp Fiction, Escape From New York, Firefly, and the original Buffy, the Vampire Slayer film are fully represented, although sadly the Rocketeer is missing a companion Betty.
Modern monster fans will get a chance to add to their Nightmare on Elmstreet, Halloween, Friday the Thirteenth collections and also enjoy miniature spins on Sam from Trick ‘r Treat, Hellraiser‘s Pinhead Cenobite and my favorite, a pretty awesome rendition of The Crow. The Terminator and Predator franchises are represented too, with a cool, clear, “active camo” version of a Yautja hunter.
A bit less off the beaten path, classic Universal Horror fans will have there choice of 8 figures, including a rather dapper Invisible Man in smoking jacket, though the Frankenstein Monster is looking a little strange in a grey suit. There’s also a selection of Nightmare Before Christmas characters.
The individually blister-carded miniature series will roll out through the end of 2014 and retail for $9.99 each.
This is a pretty amazing assortment of licensed items released in a short period of time. While I don’t see most collectors buying ‘em all, there’s enough diversity to make lots of people covet at least 50% of the offerings. If there’s a Wave 2 down the road, I’d love to see Dusk ‘Til Dawn, Reservoir Dogs and Kill Bill, and Sucker Punch represented.
Tend My Garden, Pull My Daisy…
February 1964 was a watershed moment for music. On the 9th day of that month The Beatles’ Ed Sullivan Show appearance hit American youth like a ton of bricks and triggered cultural and musical change that would evolve for decades; might still be evolving. A more quiet but ultimately no less influential debut happened just two days before, with the opening of the Café au Go Go in New York City’s Greenwich Village. I say no less influential because, while The Beatles may have been the “last straw” required to activate the wide scale cultural breach, “The Village” had a long established community with a fertile sack of social ideologies ripe for sowing by the teenaged baby boomer generation.
Today the mention of early 60’s clubs may elicit the cliché of guitar carrying “folkies” strumming protest songs but the reality is that club owners Howard and Elly Solomon booked a bogglingly broad range of acts. Blues, jazz, bossa nova, comedy, the experimental films of video artist Nam June Paik and Andy Warhol, were all part of the experience at the 400 seat basement space on Bleeker Street. Check Bruno Cheriotti’s complete performance listing for a detailed eye opener.
Although the club closed after seven years of business, in a sense its work had been done. A sensible lineage and evolution had been achieved. For instance, the Solomons had opened their doors to seminal blues artists like Son House, Bukka White, Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters. In turn they were rightfully recognized as stylistic godfathers by newly minted blues journeymen like Paul Butterfield, Michael Bloomfield, Canned Heat and The Blues Project. Only two years later Howard and Elly would book genre busting bands like the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane, and present the freeform psychedelic blues jazz of Cream (sporting full Marshall stacks) for two weeks. Jimi Hendrix played the club, both before and after his career launching trip to England with Chas Chandler.
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the venue’s opening the Greenwich House Music School is presenting a two month long tribute to the club. Looking over the upcoming schedule of Thursday night shows, which will continue through April 24, it is clear that curator Jenny Wasserman has compiled a series that emulates the breadth of Café au Go Go’s eclecticism.
The opening night event, called Scenes From a Café, was comprised of two sections, a panel discussion peppered with excerpts from Seven Years Underground: A 60’s Tale, – Jason Solomon’s 2012 documentary about his parents – and a performance by Steve Cuiffo as Lenny Bruce. Greenwich House Director Rachel Black welcomed the attendees and introduced panel moderator Ashley Kahn, a music journalist and author of books on the work of John Coltrane and Miles Davis. Kahn brought to the stage David Amram, Matt Umanov and Terri Thal for a spirited and fascinating discourse on the Café au Go Go and 1950’s – 1960’s New York City music scene in general.
Any single facet of multi-instrumentalist, composer/arranger/conductor David Amram’s musical résumé could be considered a life achievement, and it was a pleasure to hear the self titled “senior-bopper” share his stories. At 83 he still regularly performs “basket shows” at The Cornelia Street Cafe to keep in touch with his Greenwich Village roots. The 2011 documentary “David Amram: The First 80 Years” is an excellent overview of his life and work so far.
Luthier Matt Umanov, whose music store is a Bleecker Street fixture for 45 years, stressed the continued community bond. Although he did not open his shop until after the Café closed, his clientele as a local repairman was comprised of many of the club’s regular performers. He was happy to convey that his establishment continues to be as much a “hang out” as a retail and repair shop, with patrons like John Hammond Jr. still stopping by the shop.
Another Side of “Inside”…
Coinciding with this half century marker is the release of Joel and Ethan Coen’s Inside Llewyn Davis, a film which is in part inspired by The Mayor of McDougal Street, the autobiography of singer songwriter Dave Van Ronk. Panelist Terri Thal, was Van Ronk’s manager and wife during this time period affording her an insider’s perspective on the Coen’s spin. Thal was dismayed by the film’s “unpleasant” and overly competitive portrayal of the scene, which she said did not represent the real sense of community in the village at the time. While recognizing that the film is not a bio-pic and artists were competing to be heard, all panelists agreed that there was an overall “spirit of generosity” lost in translation to screenplay and screen.
Whatever amount of creative license the Coen Brothers allowed themselves in the creation of their film, one thing is certain, Inside Lewyn Davis has sparked a resurgence of interest in the music of and people involved in the Greenwich Village scene of the early 1960’s. Amram was most pleased to see that younger artists following their creative path have come to the realization that you’re not selling out if you aren’t starving or dieing in the street. To paraphrase him, “What you do to pay the rent has no bearing on your art. What you deserve has no bearing on what you get,” but striving for “creating excellence,” even in situations where “it’s not expected” is the goal.
The evening was capped with Steve Cuiffo’s brilliant reenactment of Lenny Bruce. It made me realize that, while music was the ignition key, it was iconoclastic comedians like Bruce, George Carlin, Irwin Corey and Mort Sahl who fueled change with an uncanny ability to expose the absurdity of then current societal mores. They took the hit for it, as did the Solomons for presenting them with a platform. Transcripts of the obscenity trails read like Joan of Arc’s inquisition, and Bruce often used the legal dogma to great effect in his post-arrest monologues, like the one Cuiffo presented.
Seven Years Underground: A 60’s Tale is available on DVD at the Official Café au Go Go website store.
Upcoming shows in the Café au Go Go Revisited Series are as follows:
• March 6 – DOM FLEMONS and ELI “PAPERBOY” REED
• March 13 – FALU
• March 20 – PHARAOH’S DAUGHTER
• March 27- MICHAEL DAVES and TONY TRISCHKA
• April 3 – JULIA HALTIGAN
• April 10 – Getz Au Go Go Revisited: Another Look at Bossa Nova in the 1960’s with VITOR GONCALVES, CESAR GARABINI, MARCOS KUZKA, SERGIO KRAKOWSKI, EDUARDO BELO and FERNANDA BRAVO
• April 17- DAVID AMRAM meets THE AMIGOS
• April 24 – DEVA MAHAL
Artist information and tickets to all upcoming Concerts are $20 or less - Available Now Online by Clicking Here.
Please visit the Greenwich House website for information on their mission and program offerings.
B.B. King Blues Club and Grill in New York City’s Times Square was packed to the rafters with blues music lovers and musicians on February 23, to celebrate the birthday of guitarist Johnny Winter. Winter is noted for his slide guitar work and cover songs which he invariably makes all his own. Over the last several years the Texas blues legend has played “A Season of Winter” residencies at the BB King club.
Along with recording his own best selling albums, Johnny got his dream of working with Muddy Waters, producing several albums for the Blue Sky/Columbia label that are the best of Waters’ post Chess Records work. It was a labor of love and respect for the seminal blues master that landed Water’s three Grammy awards. Now, at 70 years old and still playing his hard driving brand of blues rock, Winter finds his own stature – like Muddy’s – elevated to blues patriarch. A well earned and deserved recognition.
Amid shouts of “ROCK N ROLL” bursting from the crowd at regular intervals (mimicking Johnny’s patented exhortation) Winter and his band turned in a set loaded with favorites. Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” the Rolling Stone’s “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” Howlin Wolf’s “Killing Floor,” and “I got my Mojo Working” all got workouts augmented by a steady stream of musical admirers, like Popa Chubby, Jon Paris, Joe Lewis Walker, Debbie Davies, James Montgomery, Frank “King Bee” Latorre, and show opener Lance Lopez. Winter turned up the heat and turned out some blistering slide guitar leads, bringing wide grins to the faces of his musical compadres. Though each player is exceptional in his/her own right the gig was about homage to a master and mentor not a head-cutting session.
After confetti blasts and a Texas shaped birthday cake was presented, fellow Texan Mike Zito gifted Winter with a customized guitar. The capacity crowd knew what was coming as Johnny was handed his signature Gibson Thunderbird guitar and the band completed the night with their raucous take on Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited.”
True To The Blues Career Retrospective…
A career spanning overview of Winter’s work, called True To The Blues, will be issued February 25, 2014 on Sony’s Legacy Recordings Label. The 4 CD box set will include, new liner notes, kudos from his peer players and two previously unreleased live tracks originally recorded at the 1970 Atlanta Pop Festival. Here’s how the company describes the package.
“Halfway between the British blues revival of the ’60s and the southern rock renaissance of the ’70s, the six-stringed genius of Johnny Winter has caught countless listeners by the ears, from Houston to Woodstock and beyond. His high-energy approach to the blues – reverent to tradition but fiercely of a style all his own – made him not only one of the most sought-after new artists of his time, but a peer and equal to the blues legends he worshiped from the beginning. This career-spanning box set captures Johnny’s most electrifying performances over four decades of rock and roll and celebrates his 70th birthday which is on February 23, 2014.”
There is also a documentary film in the works called Johnny Winter:Down and Dirty.
It was a great night of celebration for an iconic blues player. As usual it’s lots of fun covering a B.B. King Club show along with PiercingMetal’s Ken Pierce. I also got to chance chat about six string things with NY Luthier Joe Kaufman of JKaufman Guitars, and was glad to reconnect with Elmore Magazine photographer Arnie Goodman.