Scottish Woods on the Road - We share our travels
When band leader Scotty Morris was much younger, he met blues legend Albert Collins after one of Albert’s concerts. When Albert signed the poster for Scotty - “To Scotty – the big bad voodoo daddy” he never forgot it. When it came time to name the swing revival band he co-founded with drummer Kurt Sodergren in 1987, it just seemed natural to use it. The band self produced two albums and in 1997 got their big break. Three of their songs were included in the comedy drama movie “Swingers.” A Capitol Records contract followed and their careers took off.
It was around that time when this Ventura, California based band showed up on our radar screen. Our son Dylan and his future wife were avid swing dancers. Dylan even owned a Zoot Suit. We kept hearing about Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. But heck, that was the music of my parents. Why would we bother with that? That remained our level of interest until some friends of ours from Atlanta suggested we see them at one of our favorite live music venues – The City Winery in Atlanta.
As we approached The Winery that night, the sound of a trumpet echoed off the walls of the parking structure. The player was alone, standing next to a dumpster, blowing his heart out. The rich tones were just a prelude to what was coming.
When the entire nine piece band hit the stage it seemed we had suddenly been transported to Harlem’s Cotton Club in the 1930’s. For the next hour and thirty minutes we were treated to a set of songs, both old and new. Some were familiar standards that had been birthed by such greats as Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, The Mills Brothers, and the 3 Louis – Armstrong, Jordan, and Prima. Others sprang from the brain of Scotty Morris. If you weren’t familiar with all of the songs, it would be pretty hard to figure out which were old and which were new. This is a real testament to the love Scotty and the rest of the band members have for this music.
As the night progressed, the tightness of the band impressed us. I guess this should be expected from a band whose personnel had remained unchanged for over 20 years. It wasn’t until after the 8th song, Cab Calloway’s “Minnie the Moocher”, that we found out that the trumpet player who had been playing in the parking garage was actually a last minute substitute for regular Glen "The Kid" Marhevka. Atlanta trumpet player John Bradley filled in seamlessly. No wonder he was practicing. Another substitution was Los Angeles piano virtuoso Maxwell Haymer. He never missed a note either.
Scotty then explained that the band wanted to go back to their early inspirations with their new, soon to be released album. Louis Armstrong, Louis Jordan, and Louis Prima were the primary artists who pointed them toward their love and appreciation for the music of an earlier time. He then led the band in three songs from the not so surprisingly titled album – “Louis, Louis, Louis”. The songs were “Dinah” – Louis Armstrong, “Is You, or Is You Ain’t My Baby” - Louis Jordan, and “Oh Marie” – Louis Prima.
As the show moved toward the end, the aisles were full of dancers taking advantage of exactly the music they came to hear. For our part, we entered as somewhat skeptical observers but, after 90 minutes in the Winery Time Machine, we were sharing the joy. Thanks Vicky and Corrine for talking us into it.
Monkee Business in Atlanta
When many Baby Boomers were the teeny boppers in the mid sixties, The Monkees made their debut as a weekly series on television. The show was based on the concept of four young and crazy musicians wanting to make it big and become the new Beatles. While the show focused mainly on their wild and funny antics, it also included their music in the background and included them performing an entire new song every week. Their names were Micky Dolenz, Mike Nesmith, Peter Tork and the much beloved Davy Jones.
Last week we had the chance to see Micky at one of our favorite venues in Atlanta, “The City Winery.” How could we pass up seeing a real live Monkee, in person after so many years?
We weren’t sure what to expect from an aging, seventy one year old pop star. As we were waiting to be seated we couldn’t help but notice, first, that there was no one under the age of fifty and, secondly, they were all great fans. Many were wearing their Monkee t-shirts from back in the day. Everyone looked to be very excited and thrilled to be there!
As the music began playing, the screens flanking the stage began showing pictures and clips from the old Monkees TV shows. This continued throughout the entire show. In the clips the boys were wearing flower power bell bottoms, bright silky shirts, and Mike, of course, always wearing his signature beanie. There were guest stars in every episode; Ursula Andress, Annette Funicello, Frank Zappa and Sonny Liston to name a few.
The band walked on the stage; the drummer, bass player, lead guitar, and a keyboard player. Next, an older woman in a flowing blouse came out and took one of the two remaining microphones. The band started playing the Monkees’ theme song, then a voice boomed out - “Here’s the star…Micky Dolenz!” The audience was on their feet as Micky, microphone in hand, walked out singing an old Monkees’ hit, “Mary, Mary.” He had the confidence of a man who has been in the public eye his entire life. At the age of ten, he had the starring role in the fifties television show, “Circus Boy.” He later played in various pop bands and finally as one of the lead singers of the Monkees. Now, here he was sporting a dark blazer and a very dapper fedora. His signature curly mop of hair no longer visible, but his smile was still the same.
We noticed his voice had changed with age, not quite what it once was. That being the case, he still was able to grab hold of the audience, generating much excitement and had them all on their feet cheering.
After the first song, he introduced the woman we had noticed earlier. She turned out to be his older sister, Coco, harmonizing as they had done since childhood. She seemed to have true affection for him as he did for her. They smiled at each other while singing, and made a few sibling jokes throughout the show.
They followed the first song with another big hit of the sixties, “She.” The crowd seemed to know every word and sang along, probably remembering back to those good ole days. There were many of the songs from days past, as well as a few of his recent recordings. We were surprised at how well the audience seemed to know them all…true fans even up to the present.
In between the many songs we were entertained by past memories and anecdotes from when the band was at the top of the charts. One that we all thought was very funny was when Micky told of their first real tour outside the television studio. They needed an opening act. He had decided that a young, almost unknown Jimi Hendrix should do it. When Jimi took the stage the first night, he opened with his now famous “Purple Haze.” The crowd started calling out, “Davy, Davy…we want Davy!” Of course the audience at that time was made up of teeny boppers between the ages of twelve and fourteen. This gave the crowd quite a chuckle. Another fact we all were surprised to hear was that in 1967 The Monkees sold more records than the Beatles and Rolling Stones put together. Who would have thought?
Coco surprised us with her renditions of Linda Ronstadt’s “Different Drum” and Gracie Slicks, “White Rabbit.” She did a great job, showing that she is quite the singer in her own right. She and Micky danced and played around, teasing each other as only a brother and sister would do.
Many more sixties hits were performed;” Last Train to Clarksdale”, “I’m A Believer,” “Give Me Some Lovin” and Carol Kings’ “Pleasant Valley Sunday.” The crowd seemed to know every word and sang along, right to the last song.
Toward the end, as the lights were lowered, the screens next to the stage began showing pictures of Davy Jones as a child and scenes from the show when he sang lead. Davy passed in 2012.
As a tribute to his longtime friend, Micky dedicated his next song, saying “This one belongs to Davy.” The crowd was quiet as “Daydream Believer” began. Coco held a candle above her head while the entire audience slowly waved their arms upward to honor him. Soon everyone was singing and there were tears glistening from many eyes. When the song ended, Micky did a salute towards the sky and the spell was broken. It was an emotional moment for all.
Does a seventy plus former teen idol/pop star still have what it takes to please a room full of people? The answer is yes, he had them all in the palm of his hand. He was able to pull us back in time, when life was simpler and four silly young men entertained us each week.
Los Lobos "Stand and Deliver" in Atlanta
It was 1973, Garfield High School, East Los Angeles (the Jaime Escalante “Stand and Deliver”school,) when David Hidalgo met Louis Perez. The two bonded after discovering they both had a fondness for relatively obscure music – that of Ry Cooder, Randy Newman, and Fairport Convention (Richard Thompson.) The pair spent a year playing guitars and writing songs. They corralled singer-guitarist Cesar Rosas, bassist Conrad Lozano to form Los Lobos del Este (de Los Angeles.) Like most garage bands that played high school gyms and weddings, they were forced by popular demand to play mostly covers. Finding that to be creatively frustrating, they began to experiment with incorporating traditional acoustic Mexican music into their sets. It proved to be hugely popular as they played hundreds of parties and weddings right up to 1980. That’s when they moved to their current rock based music and, after opening for “Public Image” at the Olympic Auditorium, began their rise to fame and fortune.
They began this show at The City Winery in Atlanta with the title song off their 2010 “Tin Can Trust” album. Slowly building up for the rest of the show, they moved effortlessly to the rocker “Shakin’ Shakin’ Shakes” that highlights their garage band roots. A slightly up tempo version of “Short Side of Nothing” followed to keep the blood up.
Josh Baca, son of Tex-Mex virtuoso Max Baca, then joined show. He used his amazing accordion playing abilities to really set the mood for the rest of the show. The band then gave us a taste of their East Los roots by launching into “Yo Canto.” They kept the audience on its toes when they changed up again, playing the very bluesy title cut of their latest album “Gates of Gold” and rockers "Set Me Free (Rosa Lee.)" and “Georgia Slop” to end the set.
The band took a short intermission. It gave us time to reflect upon the road los Lobos took to their success, contributing to movie sound tracks such as “Colors” and the wildly popular “La Bamba.”
They returned to open with an extended version of “All Night Long.” The musical journey then went to Texas, beginning with the accordion heavy “Yo Si Quisiero.” “Evangeline” got wedged in before “Kiko and the Lavender Moon.”
The party really started when “Cumbia Raza,” and its infectious beat that filled the aisles with dancers. They couldn’t sit down when the band channeled The Grateful Dead with a well worn but never the less outstanding cover of the “Not Fade Away/Bertha” jam. Slowing down the tempo, they fooled those in the audience unfamiliar with the way The Dead would lull you into thinking it was over and then building to a new crescendo. You had to be “Dead” not to be on your feet.
The encore paid homage to their garage band roots by playing covers of Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl,” The Rascals “Good Lovin’,” ending with the almost obligatory “La Bamba.”
Personally, I was disappointed that some more of their original music – “Will the Wolf Survive?” and “One Time, One Night” in particular, had not been included. But it was fitting that the band that began with covers would end with covers. It was a great night.
"Dead Skunk" kills it at The Grey Eagle
Novelty songs have existed for a long time, probably going back to the first time humans put words to music. Those of us old enough to remember Sheb Wooley, The Chipmunks, Lonny Donegan, or Ray Stevens will probably recall “Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road.” If you can’t remember who wrote it, well Loudon Wainwright III was the guy.
One could wonder why anyone would stick “III” on the end of his name. Loudon has a pretty good reason. His father was a famous staff writer for Life Magazine. His grandfather was a very successful businessman who got wealthy in the insurance business. Following these acts, he felt he needed to distinguish himself. Through the years he has emerged from that perceived shadow to become noted Grammy winning singer, song writer, actor, and humorist.
When we heard that he was playing the intimate Asheville venue Grey Eagle, the lure was irresistible. Who could say “no” to real carnitas street tacos, craft beer, and folk music? Certainly we couldn’t.
Loudon hit the stage with a “hello” and a three cord sound check. He then immediately set to work with a bit of banter and “Breakfast in Bed.” His wry humor continued with “I’d Rather be Lonely;” punctuated with a rather odd flicking of the tongue at points during the song. The song and the body language set the mood for the rest of the night – he was going to show his personality and irreverence for convention. After 50 years of success, he was not going to be held back. As he started to sing “The Picture,” the phone of a guest in the front row started ringing with one of those cutesy ringtones. Loudon said – “First of all, you’ve got to change that ring.” (Long pause as the audience applauded.) “Second of all, turn that ****ing thing off!”
After finishing “The Picture,” homage to his sister; he continued the family theme by remembering his father. He recited a column his father had written about Loudon’s grandfather. It was titled “Life With and Without Father.” The symmetry was perfect as he flowed directly into a song centered on his grandfather; “First Loudon.” He followed with “Nanny,” about his unconventional grandmother Eleanor Slone. It became obvious that his style has been molded by this eccentric ancestor.
Moving on from family, he introduced us to another influence, banjo player Charlie Poole. Loudon’s Grammy winning album “High Wide and Handsome” was a product of this. After a couple of songs from that album, he moved on to another hero, the recently departed Mose Allison. Mose’s “Ever Since the World Ended” and “Feel So Good” were followed by Loudon’s Mose inspired “So Damned Happy.”
He then did a part of a song called “Haven’t got the Blues Yet.” After forgetting the end of the song, and a few self-deprecating comments, he got back to the family theme.
It began with a recitation from his father’s vast archive of columns in Life. It was a touching ode of his father’s encounter with another future father in the maternity ward while awaiting the birth of his first child. That segued into “Baby in the House,” “Your Mother and I,” and “White Winos.” The last song is a description of his mother’s love and dedication to white wine.
A remembrance of Merle Haggard followed with “If We Make it Through December.”
Things got political after that. Harkening back to his North Carolina roots, he sang his humorous assessment of Jesse Helms’ opposition to the National Endowment for the Arts. “If Jesse Don’t Like It” was followed with his prophetic “I Had a Dream” in which his visualized the election of Donald Trump to the Presidency a year before it happened.
Things got lighter with “Moving Day,” “One Man Guy,” and a few others as he wound down the set. A final sharing of one of his father’s columns about the death of the family dog led into “Man and Dog.” There were a few shout outs from his fans asking to hear Dead Skunk. He just laughed and said he charges extra money for that one as he left the stage.
His encore lead-in was a recollection of his relationship with his lifelong friend and boarding school roommate who happened to be in the audience. “White kids of privilege singing calypso songs” was a comment on those days. “School Days,” a reflection of those days, finished the show.
As he left the stage, we began to assess what we had just experienced. The artist who we knew as a writer and singer of novelty songs turned out to be someone entirely different. We now see him as a poet, son, grandson, father, and friend who spent his life tying all of those things together in songs and actions. We left the Grey Eagle understanding that he is very much a kindred spirit, aging along with the rest of us and becoming as retrospective and many of us have become.
"Man at Work" comes to Nashville
When “Men at Work” first came on the world music scene with their song “Down Under,” it became a hit in the US and the UK. The name Colin Hay may not ring a bell but it was he who co-founded the band in 1978 and was the lead vocalist. The group won a Grammy as Best New Artists in 1983. This was the apex of the band’s career. The original members broke up in 1984 after internal disagreements over creativity and management. Colin went on to perform as a solo artist until 1996 when Men at Work reformed with original member Greg Ham. After that he had sporadic forays into acting, voiceovers, and charity work. In 2015, the documentary "Colin Hay: Waiting for my Real Life" debuted at the Melbourne International Film Festival. This reignited his touring career leading him to this solo gig in Nashville.
As he took the stage it was apparent this would not be an ordinary rock concert. He spent the first ten minutes regaling us with stories that offered us a glimpse into his early friendships, career, family, and the challenges of balancing success with destructive addictive behaviors. His graphic description of his mate, Rodney, foraging in the dark for the “down under” version of Twinkies in order to satiate a drug induced hunger was hilarious. Just before the kitchen was lit, Rodney remarked that the cakes “tasted a bit funny.” When Colin illuminated the scene with a flashlight, Rodney’s face was covered with ants.
By the time he sang his first song, “Come Tumblin’ Down,” he had us in the palm of his hand. At the end of this initial offering, we all were reminded why we came here. The incredible guitar work, the power and range of his voice kindled pleasant memories and had all of us singing along.
He then spun more stories that exposed the deep influence his father had on him. From his old jokes to the dapper wool jacket and vest he was wearing, reflecting how deeply he misses his David Niven-like father.
But that’s not the only thing his misses. His next song, “I Just Don't Think I'll Ever Get Over You”, is an ode to the alcohol that he gave up over 25 years ago. Sobriety has done well for him.
As he continued the show, he peppered the lulls between songs with more stories. His parent’s music store in his childhood home of Saltcoats, Scotland introduced him to music and guitars. His father played the first Beatle record he ever heard. The world of music is a far better place because of it. As he continued, Sting (of The Police) and The Edge (of U2) provided targets for his good humored banter.
As he proceeded into his Men at Work material, he prefaced the songs with stories that provided insight into his assimilation into Australian culture and how the songs evolved. The stories were interesting but it was the music we were here for.
He then launched in the signature “Down Under.” Slowly building in volume and tempo, it concluded with an electronically enhanced reverb that echoed throughout the Winery. It was enough to make you look around for the rest of the band that had to be hidden away out of sight.
“Who Can It Be?” was next followed by “Looking for Jack,” his anecdotal story about his encounter with Jack Nicholson at the Greek Theater in LA. He continued for the rest of the show enhancing his singing and playing with more stories. As the show drew to an end, he reflected on how his career had begun to stagnate. He then gave credit to documentary filmmakers Aaron Faulls and Nate Gowtham for prodding him into cooperating in the aforementioned film. He then launched into a great rendition of “Waiting for My Real Life to Begin,” the song we had all been waiting for. His concluding song, “Next Year People,” was a forward looking statement looking at the brighter side of getting older.
After seeing this show, it was obvious he had shown us the artistic talent that we remembered from the heydays of “Down Under.”