Covered the VSLive conference in S.F. Just started on second TechTarget Web site known as TheServerSide.Net. Chanced to hear the Chicago Blues Reunion band. Listening now to Stand Back Here Comes Charley Musselwhite’s Southside Band. Here’s how I got to here.
Inside the Lobby. Sir Francis Drake Hotel. San Francisco. Three Japanese business men and a Hindi She Doctor. The new has worn off the crystal chandeliers since I was here in utero. Voice comes to me, as I finger the Financial Times, and sink into the upholstery. “The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter.” Time for my ride.
Five o’clock exact – Dave and Jim show up – all of us ever pressing time – they, eating fiddlefaddle and calling out for wine. We hug, up from Union Square, natty drakish doorman in red and pontoons – there is a Dump Bush Demonstration in the Square -- pretty much like old days but for four or five helicopters hovering overhead. It is night of State of the Union. “Up for the demonstration?!” say I. “No, dinner!” is the answer. And we are off.
So we go up the hill – and the destination is suddenly less determinate – although Jim has a plan – Dave is driving – possession is some significant part of the law. And North Beach seems to call - Up; Grant – lo a place to park - hey just down the street from the Savoy Tivolli – where Dave and I went on the night we arrived in San Francisco together in 1977 – it’s closed but the guy opens the place for us. Doors are opening. We wander to dark pool tables – ordering shots and beers...then talking about pasts and passings. La France. Pat Burke. Lucky Cue. The now. The kids. It is warm - it is like Doug’s Pool Hall in a way. Coming and going. “Nothing is as energizing as being with your old pals.”
I was a stranger here. City of Psychotic corners, ruled by many kings. My Hope is flown away. Had hope, and expectations, when I first got here, but lost it somewhere, dont expect a thing. Now I see the bums – say why not me – and feel the cold. Whadya think about that? Says Dave “it's death.” You dont know how much time you have left.” And so, he suggests, you think that way.
In the car: Pickett sings Funky Broadway, Walter sings Long as I have You. Townes Van Zandt. Dan Penn sings You Left the Water running. at the end El Cannenero. When Walter plays Your Baby Aint Sweet as Mine always I recall Milwaukee...
Dave and Jim had jobs involving welding. Dave stopped with fellow worker for beer after work on a Friday. Some discussion ensued, and the fellow says "Your baby aint sweet like mine" out of the blues. Dave runs home. Hey, he says, it's not just music, its a way of talking, and a way of thinking. And I came again to this idea when meeting Sunnyland Slim with Paul DeMark.
Whenever he gets in a car on Thanksgiving Dave recalls... the pumpkin pie that went flying when he, the kids, Carole, Cecelia and I pulled out of the driveway in a flash.
Now down toward Columbus we skedaddle. Joke starts: Were you shooting at me? I call the Italian restaurant Ukranian because I never did sat in a room with some many colors. Easter Egg colors. Wierd trinkets and boats aloft as decor. Faces on the seats Nothing better for old time socialsim than the Italian dinner. Courses of green pesto pasta, red meaty ricottis, voluptuous mussels, $30 chianti, my suggestion of eggplant shot down but hey I am having a good time. Prawns in pearly cream oninon sauce. Must finish it all. That is an old boys trait. The old times carry on. They boys ponder the Mexican help – the kitchens of the world every now Latin – These Italian Mexicans keep pouring the wine. Punch line of the bear hunting joke: You dont come here for the hunting, do you?
And again Billy Ittner wields a ruler on monitor Stetka. Ruler king Sister Vincent demented tells the story of Leopold and Loeb. The hunter contines to shoot at the bear in the joke. You like writing poems about drinking and riding in cars, says Dave. That’s true. Jim recalls our prowls: the UWM dorms.
Down from a bar where I saw Bloomfield, a store is dark and closing where I want a Burroughs' shirt for Jake. But, again, lo, the door opens. And more than the Burroughs' shirt I find. Get Pull My Daisy, Jack Kerouac’s only movie. It turns out we are at The Beat Museum. Was on and off the itinerary a couple of times. Now I cant credit totally the idea of a Beat Museum. And the living residing place of Beat has to be City Lights. This is a store, but they are planning movies and displays. The owner is nice. Dave buys On the Road pins for each of us, and a Beat Museum baseball hat for future golfing jaunts.
So we had an original plan for New Orleans music downtown. But the fact arises that Nick Gravenites, Barry Goldberg, Harvey Mandel and some other folks are playing too. For $25. Yikes. That’s a bit. I’m thinking “Harvey Mandel!” The other folks are: Tracy Nelson, Corky Siegel and Sam Lay. Yikes – stripes! A lot of talent. And it unbelievably starts at the fiftogenarian time of 7.30 pm! So...
We go to the inevitable Club du’ Nord [‘Hit the North,’ in English] .. of course there is convenient parking, popcorn, and we found money machines on the way - cash is carrion - and we enter as the band hits the stand. Sycnhro in The City.
It’s Chicago Blues. Actually: Chicago Blues Reunion. A package. Sixties’ blues stars. Which has the drawbacks of the revue - Tracy Nelson could have sung every number to our thinking .. but it’s got the up-points of a revue too .. things keep moving.
The roominess in the club is tight, and we just see bobbing heads and bits of the artists behind that – a lot of people got here before us. This is an old band and many of the majors are sitting on chairs – but hey-yah!
They kick it off with Born in Chicago. There follows I’ve Gotta Find My Baby. Wine. Buried Alive in the Blues. Boogie. Walk Away. Hound Dog. This is all homey stuff for us. Broke our teeth on it stuff. Room is tight but we find the pool table. And the blues music flows.
So writing this started with me listening to ChaCha The Blues – I keep coming of late back to Charlie Musselwhite Vanguard records that back in the day were vastly overshadowed by Paul Butterfield, who too got vastly overshadowed soon enough as I found Muddy Waters, B.B. King. But sitting listening to ChaCha The Blues now .. I think .. if it was only Ethiopian, the retro hipsters would gorf it on up. Put it on soundtracks. And VW commercials. Pipe it into the Flagship iPod electronic audio jewelry store down on Powell And it would flower money for the Northsiders. The guitar burns, the organ is ethereal. Its Mandel and Goldberg.
Now listening to Mandel .. I hear the Ventures. Blues, of course. And spores of psychedelia. I knew he auditioned for the Stones. Didnt know he was with Canned Heat at Woodstock. But I am pickin up on this stuff. Bloomfield got back in the conscious with his stiletto presence in Bob Dylan PBS Special No Direction Home [Best guitarits I ever hear I think is how Dylan put it.] – and when you listen to the old Musselwhite stuff you realize Mandel was just a step away. I sure was ready to grab a chance to see him.
Takes a while for Harvey to warm up. His moves are slight. Very unguitar-heroish. He holds notes, pierces, hovers, snakes and stings. He is a major contemporary of creators – and a creator himself of – a style whose elements have gone baroque and pervasive. His playing still is from first principles. Over powering but not flashy.
You can call these cats North Side Bluesmen. If it matters to you, I don’t care a whole lot about such distinctions anymore. I snake up to the stage for just one number, which turns out to be Wine. Which I first heard myself from Gravenites with Electric Flag. This is guaranteed to pump a crowd. Pass that bottle to me!
Tonight, as I can imagine in a thousand bar nights through time Tracy Nelson’s singing positively soars above all including microphone amplification. Classic blues mama gets the feeling in the vibrato. Finds it inside and blasts on Walk Away. Take these chains and set me free. [This material can be found on [entitled Buried Alive in the Blues CD.]
Bar music is the magical key. When the Great Eight Nations collapse and nanobots are rusting in the mire, there will be blues in bars. My recollection of one of our great avant garde Milwaukee moments was a poetry meeting Dave did that ended with us stealing him off-stage in mid poem, and piling in a 57 Chevy delivery truck and ending up at a [Corky]Siegel-[Jim]Schwall Band performance. Was blues, daddy. It is comfortable to be together. Playing pool. With the blues music in the air. Chat of now. Recall then. Taunt the guy who missed the easy shot. Tomorrow we all have jobs. Tonight we are as we were when we heard Johnny Young – with Lee Jackson and S.P. Leary – in 1970 or 1971 at St Stephen’s Company in Racine.
With the record of Chicago Blues Reunion you can get a DVD with the band in performance, and talking kind at length about the long strange trip. What Tracy Nelson said burns this evening in steel: “Nothing is as energizing as being with your old pals.” Those who in Nick Gravenites’ by way of Muddy Waters’ phrase: “Remember me when I was a young man.”
At the end I buy a CD and get Tracy Nelson to sign it, and introduce her to Dave and Jim and tell her we’re from Wisconsin. “Badgers,” she says, “we are all Badgers.” “Yes, we are Badgers!” we exclaim. I’m back on Union Sq. at 10.30. The State of the Union has been described. Farewell for now oh gang o’ mine.