Tunes on the Dunes 2017

The Duke Robillard Band
At Misquamicut Beach, RI, August 9, 2017

Every so often I’m able to deliver on what might otherwise be just a well-intentioned promise.

A short time ago, in the J. Geils post, I mentioned a band and guitar player I’ve been listening to since 1979. That’s when the  self-titled Roomful of Blues album appeared, seeming to land almost immediately in the cut-out bin.

That first album (which is what it was always called by the band’s fans; someone got the message because the recent reissues call it that) featured a wide range of material sitting atop a blues foundation. You knew from a glance at the cover, which featured a band photo, that these dudes in their snappy clothes and hats were not going to rip it up like a Chicago band, say Buddy Guy‘s or Paul Butterfield‘s.

That was a mistake. Sure, there were horns but that didn’t matter. The opening instrumental, “Red, Hot and Blue” sounded  like a Swing Era blues tune you could dance to. Side one progressed to a slow blues, “Love Struck,” which begins with Duke Robillard, band co-founder, guitarist and vocalist, growling, “Something hit me…,”followed by the uptempo “It’s My Life,” then a jazz/blues original instrumental, “Duke’s Blues,” closing side one with as raw a “Texas Flood” as you ever heard, despite the horns.

Showtime at the beach.

I was hooked before I even flipped the record. The other side contained five more gems including Big Joe Turner‘s “Honey Hush,” a tune that until then I thought was owned (if not penned) by NRBQ. It also contained “Stormy Monday” in a guise closer to T-Bone Walker‘s original than the Allman Brothers Band version I knew very well. It was probably the first time I’d heard Walker-style, jazz influenced playing with its odd 9th and augmented chords, flattened sevenths and long fluid lines of melody.

Obviously I was naive, but in all fairness I was seventeen and only just starting to get my ears on.

Duke left the band after the third record. I’m sure there’s a story, there always is, but those things never interest me as much as the music. Oddly enough, that’s when I first saw them in a club in the Back Bay section of Boston.

What stands out about that early 1980s show was the opening. The band lit into Gatemouth Brown‘s “Okie Dokie Stomp” and the then guitar player, Ronnie Earl (another under-rated great who hails from the outer boroughs of New York; I’ll have to get to him someday) walked off the stage still playing, a roadie unspooling guitar cable from a garden hose reel the way Albert Collins used to, through the crowd and out the door of the club, making a left and soloing as he strolled towards Boylston Street.

It was a lovely evening even if you didn’t care about the tunes. (Alors!)

But that was 35 years ago and I’m here to talk about this past Wednesday and the concert at the beach.

The town of Westerly has been running a beachside concert series for twenty years now and although I first visited the area in the late 1980s, I missed the start of this annual fiesta.  A friend bought a house nearby, though, making it possible for me to reacquaint myself with one of America’s great East Coast beaches and discover this concert series. It runs twice a week, every Monday and Wednesday, with jam sessions starting the week and ‘name’ acts appearing second, during July and August.

Many of the acts appearing here have some local connection and in little old Rhode Island, Roomful and Duke are royalty. The crowd was a little bit older than other shows and the mix seemed to include more folks from the working class neighborhoods of Providence and it’s environs and the Blackstone River Valley. The generation that grew up with Roomful is approaching seventy and that was apparent, too.

Whether they knew it or not, these folks had the best seats for listening in the house.

Ever the purist, Duke opened, as the ‘original’ blues bands did, with an instrumental. (I always thought that was meant as much to showcase the musicianship of the other players as to tease the headliner. All  the greats did it.)

I’m reasonably sure the opener was “Jumpin’ the Bone,” from the 2009 album, “Stomp the Blues, Tonight!” but I could be wrong. I wasn’t taking notes or recording. If you want that kind of song-by-song recap you’re in the wrong place. For some reason “Stomp” was the CD being hawked, even though there are more recent records. Also typically, every band member soloed.

For 90 minutes, the man and his band played. The tight, four-piece unit–just Duke and a rhythm section–handled everything that came along. They played a mix of originals and standards and when I say standards those could as easily be from bluesmen as Tin Pan Alley.  One of the things that distinguishes Robillard, for me, isn’t just that he writes–Gregg Allman and Eric Clapton write–it’s that he can write in the 32-bar form as well as the forms more typically taken by blues and pop writers.

That magic hour on the beach at the end of the day.

So we heard “Avalon” and “I Can’t Believe You’re in Love with Me,” songs from before WWII. We heard T-Bone Walker. We heard originals that included “Fishnet,” a song sure to rankle feminists, and “Do the Memphis Grind,”which closed the show with an instrumental bookend.

Throughout, the man just stood there, smiling, in a pink shirt and Panama hat, playing and singing. Here’s another distinguishing feature of a Duke Robillard show: the guitar he starts with he plays throughout. It’s not as though, like many players, he doesn’t have a lot of guitars. The album covers alone showcase dozens of models.

This time he played a Telecaster and you’d be forgiven if you thought that was a guitar best suited to chicken picking and Collins-like raunch. There was no guitar tech running out every couple of songs with a new guitar. Hell, there wasn’t even a guitar tech. It’s the exact opposite of the rock-guitar-God nonsense that requires multiple instruments to achieve the proper sound for each song.

Wednesday night’s show proved that a lie. Jazz, blues, raunchy, clean, over-driven tube, whatever the song required came out of one guitar, one amp and one pair of hands.

The Gods should be so talented.

VIDEO BONUS

Here’s the band tearing up T-Bone Walker. I’m no camerman so apologies in advance.

 

 

To Believe in this Living

A Patchwork Planet
Anne Tyler

Have you crossed paths with your angel yet?

I’m not talking about your Guardian Angel. I was raised with that comforting idea–that there was always one of God’s helpers ready to steer you from harm. No, I mean the person, perhaps sent by God, whose sole interaction with Continue reading

Them Belly Full

Best Food Writing 2008
Edited by Molly Hughes

It’s a good thing, I suppose, that books about food don’t come with a sell-by date.  If they did I’d ignore it in the case of this volume .

I’ve admitted I’m a sucker for annuals. Sports. Science. Music. They’re one of the great cheats in my reading life. So when  this food annual showed up in the discount bin Continue reading

Bring Your Lawyer

Rumpole Rests his Case
John Mortimer

Most readers, I imagine, turn to the printed word for escape, relaxation, fun.

Me? I’m up to my ears in newspaper columns, academic papers and social science. It’s not as though I don’t enjoy a good yarn and a belly laugh, though. Continue reading

Lunch All by Yourself

Brooking Dissent: The To-Do Over David Brooks
Latest Column

Allow me to start with a confession: I don’t eat sushi and I am addicted to American cheese. I know, I know, American cheese isn’t even properly cheese. It’s cheese food, whatever that means.

Why does this matter? Because such small Continue reading

A Workin’ Man Can’t Get Nowhere Today

Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right
A Journey to the Heart of Our Political Divide
Arlie Russell Hochschild

Welcome to Tea Party America with your host, Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States. Many people find this fête unsettling. I’d rather understand why my worldview differs so much from that of the party throwers.

Luckily, I am not alone in that desire. Continue reading

In Congress, July 4, 1776

(Because it bears repeating.)

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that Continue reading

Watch the Parking Meters

Leadership–It’s a System Not a Person
Barbara Kellerman
Daedalus, Summer 2016

By now it should be apparent I rarely seek information where everyone else does. I don’t even really look for it. I just tend to stumble across things and find a use for them later.

That’s certainly the case with the Summer 2016 issue of Daedalus, the journal of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. In what has to be one of the more fortuitous Continue reading

He Knows all the Chords

J. Geils
1946-2017

Just over two months ago J. (John Warren) Geils passed away at the age of 71.  He was best known as the lead guitarist in the eponymous J. Geils Band, a group that had their heyday in the 1970s and were last heard from, in recorded form, in the 1980’s.

In recent years,  Geils had reinvented himself in a way few aging members of Baby Continue reading

To Try to Save a World

Summerland
Michael Chabon

It had to happen. It happens every time.

I get a few novels and some literature under my belt and start to feel cocky. “See,” I think, “I still know how to do this. Maybe I even learned something since the last time.”

Then reality intrudes. Continue reading

Days of Miracle and Wonder

Goodbye Columbus
Philip Roth

This week I’m revisiting a modern classic. You didn’t think I’d lived this long without reading Roth, did you?

Roth is Philip Roth, the one-time enfant terrible of American letters, a man who long ago crossed the great divide into the land of literary writers. This volume, originally published in 1959, contains the title novella and Continue reading

Time to Sit Back and Unwind: A Six Pack and Playlist

Memorial Day 2017

Rituals are important, they remind us of what is not trivial. So while there will be plenty of sales and BBQs this weekend there will also be parades and moments of remembrance. That’s appropriate given why we have Memorial Day in the first place.

Unofficially, it’s also the start of summer. Last year I kicked off the season with a baker’s half-dozen of Continue reading

In Every Dream Home

The Sense of an Ending
Julian Barnes

Two novels in a row. They’ll pull my union card if this keeps up.

Years ago, I worked for an entrepreneur who favored enigmatic statements. Why, for example, address a staff issue when you can say, “A job is a problem that takes care of itself.”

Unfortunately, I picked up the habit. Here’s a favorite: Continue reading

Hear Me Roar

I Am Charlotte Simmons
Tom Wolfe

Readers of the last post should have seen this coming.

Before the sociologists got to the subject of campus sex, the novelists had gotten there first.  Well, one novelist and because the scrivener in question is Tom Wolfe you get a two-fer. Wolfe the novelist is also Wolfe the Continue reading

Physical Conversations of Different Kinds

American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus
Lisa Wade

As a young social science student  I took a class sure to be easy. A 200-level course, it promised to use popular culture to illustrate major concepts in sociology.

Piece of cake, I thought. I like to read, it’s popular culture. How hard can it be?

Sixteen weeks later I was  dead from the punishing pace of reading 600-page novels, such as Thomas Mann‘s Continue reading

I Hate People When They’re Not Polite

Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness
of Everyday Life
Lynn Truss

I think Lynn Truss might be one of those people who instantly understands what’s wrong in this story:

A little more than a year ago I attended a compulsory ‘training’ session organized by the firm for which I then worked. Thinking people will recognize these as Continue reading

Your Momma’s Gone Away

S is for Silence
Sue Grafton

Editors, I think, are a lot like brand managers. At least the ones striving for commercial success. I don’t envy them that job. Soap doesn’t push back or have an ego that needs tending to.

It also has to be easier to maintain consistency with soap.

Successful mystery writers generate franchises. That Continue reading

Dancin’ in a Ring Around the Sun

Love is the Song We Sing: San Francisco Nuggets 1965-1970
Varrious Artists Boxed Set

I hesitate to write about music. In part that’s because I know others do a far better job of it than I ever will. It’s also in large part because I am skeptical of treating commercial products as though they  belonged among the great art works of western Continue reading

Kids Growing Up Too Soon

67 Shots: Kent State and the End
of American Innocence
Howard Means

The first unsupervised business trip I ever went on with a client took me from New York to Tampa, Florida. But I went by way of Ohio to pick up Larry so we could work on the plane.

You’re riveted, aren’t you?

Here’s what I discovered at dinner that night. The mild-mannered man sitting across from me, deacon in his Continue reading

Paranoia Strikes Deep

The Paranoid Style in American Politics
Richard Hofstadter

Americans are a famously ahistorical people. And so, like a bad dream scripted by George Santayana, the same tropes, for better and for worse, keep turning up.

The rhetoric in these parts has been ugly for the past couple of years and its pace seems to have accelerated since the calendar turned. What, I have found myself Continue reading

Too Much Money in Too Few Places

Other People’s Money: The Real Business of Ecance
John Kay

opm_kay“I’m just a banker, doing God’s work.”
Lloyd Blankfein, CEO, Goldman Sachs (11/2009)

“The culture of anonymous trading is divorced from economic context, devalues or eliminates personal relationships and fosters the self-aggrandising self.” (p. 269)
John Kay, 2015

American economists don’t make statements like the second  quote above. Doing so could be hazardous to their career health. Thankfully Dr. Kay is British and so is Continue reading

Dig That Jazz Band Ball

Snoopy jazzMusic  gets me through the day and I can be a bit fascistic, especially when it comes to breadth. My kids don’t even get much TV since I think the radio is a better alternative. And the station they listen to most often is WBGO, the jazz station hereabouts.

I might be the most improbable person to listen to jazz since, in musical terms, I don’t know what I’m listening to. I just followed Continue reading

A Whizz of a Wiz

the_producer“Did you know there’s no Academy Award for producing?”-Stanley Moss in Wag the Dog

Years back I’d spend countless hours with a pair of Creative Directors I know trying to make sense of why the Grammy Awards needed to separately recognize the Song of the Year and the  Record of the Year.

The distinction we settled on was that Record of the Year was the producer’s award, which makes little sense once you realize that, unlike the Academy Awards, the Continue reading

Lies Lies Lies Yeah

Tangled Webs
How False Statements are Undermining America
from Martha Stewart to Bernie Madoff

James B. Stewart

tangledWe live in an era of truthiness and alternative facts. That makes me wonder if ether the title or the cover image of this book will  be recognized by all but a narrow, possibly aging, swath of the public.

For those who don’t know  the author, James B. Stewart has been found between hard covers for just about 25 Continue reading

Be Fire Next Time

Wildfire
Nelson DeMille

wild_fireWhat should we make of best-selling books bearing  cautionary author’s notes?

Under other circumstances I might not be diverted to pondering such a question. But the 45th President of the United States was sworn in the other day and he pledged to “unite the civilized world” in removing “radical Islamic Continue reading

Solitary Man

One Shot
Lee Child

one_shotI don’t always interact with the popular culture on a timely basis. This year, though, I find myself hiding in best-selling books. I seem to do that every winter but this year, with the extra time I’ve gained from a career interruption, it seems the only thing I’m capable of.

Off to the library I went, intent on stocking up on the light stuff. Among my haul was a new, for me,  writer. That makes me clueless since Amazon says he’s the #17 author based Continue reading

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

Dinner with Edward: A Story of an Unexpected Friendship
Isabel Vincent

edwardIn a former life we’d play the film pitch game.   You know that one. You describe a recent (or yet unmade) film in terms of existing films. Allegedly it’s how business is done in Hollywood where seeing every movie ever made is evidently a requirement for employment.

You can do the same thing with books. Witness: the Continue reading

Like a Christmas Tree on Boxing Day

LPThe Year in  music: A Titular Playlist

It’s time for my annual listing of the songs from which I borrowed my post titles. And in keeping with an old C-90 era custom I’ve also provided a Spotify playlist.

This year, I toyed with the idea of adding a blurb to each song listed below. But I think some things ought to just speak for themselves. These are all really great albums, Continue reading

You Must be Real Far Gone

Exuberance: The Passion for Life
Kay Redfield Jamison

exuberanceHere’s a head-scratching editorial proposition for you: much of the psychological literature is about depressed states.  Our author suggests that going back to the time of the ancient Greeks, melancholy and other less-sunny moods have dominated thinking about, and interest in, mental health. So why not examine the opposite end of the spectrum?

The short answer was given in the first sentence: there’s a Continue reading

Everybody Hurts

Regarding the Pain of Others
Susan Sontag

sontag_painI have said before that I have a dead spot in my brain when it comes to that  iconic triumvirate of 60s writers,  Didion, Vidal and Sontag,  You may recall that I came up goose eggs when I ventured beyond Didion’s masterwork into Continue reading

Give ’em the Old Double Whammy

Double Whammy
Carl Hiaasen

double_whammyA holiday week calls for a holiday sort of book. So it’s appropriate that I’ve finally finished what was supposed to be my vacation reading this past August.

It’s even sadder that half way through I realized the book, which I’d checked out of the local library,  was already sitting on my shelf. Pitiful. And also instructive because as Continue reading

Hotel, Motel, Holiday Inn

Hotel Bemelmans
Ludwig Bemelmans

hotel_bThey left the house at half past nine
In two straight lines in rain or shine-
The smallest one was Madeline.

Those lines ought to be instantly familiar to anyone who’s spent time reading as, or to, a child. My love of Paris may have started with childhood exposure to the Madeline Continue reading

Your Soul to Keep

Faust Pt. 1
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, trans. by Randall Jarrell

faustBack to the heavy stuff.

As I’ve said before, there are books you’re supposed to read if you fancy yourself a product of the Enlightenment. That doesn’t mean mindless adherence to the canon but it does suggest you have to be more than merely dismissive of it.

Still, I am a busy, perhaps more accurately a lazy, man , and I Continue reading

A Good Job in the City

A Big Life (in Advertising)
Mary Wells Lawrence

big-lifeFall, it seems, exists so I can renew myself. I know, the light is dying, the sky is more likely to be gray than blue and the nip in the air will soon turn to unwelcome arctic blasts. Why that seems to turn me back to the literature of my trade will have to remain a mystery.

Enough about me, let’s talk about Mary. Continue reading

You Were Temptation

The Screwtape Letters
C.S. Lewis

screwtapeSin. What a quaint term. No one cares about sin anymore, do they?

Maybe they do. It’s hard to imagine that a trilogy about a lion and a piece of furniture is solely responsible for most of the works of a long-dead author still being available in Continue reading

Light in the Darkness of Insanity

The Economic Consequences of the Peace
John Maynard Keynes

consequencesOnce I read a novel, by Camilo José Cela, that was published under the most wonderful imprint ever to appear on a spine: Lost Books of the 20th Century.  Judging by the number of extant editions, the present work is anything but lost even though I’m thinking of Continue reading

Hello Old Friend

A Man Without a Country
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

amanwithoutacountryI hate giving up on people although I’m not quite sure why that is. I suspect that it verges on hopelessness and I have this deep, abiding belief that hopelessness is the greatest sin.

Still, you must know what I mean. Everyone has, lurking in their past, a person or two they were once close to and Continue reading

The Rush is On

Looking for Alaska
Peter Jenkins

alaskaGasoline. I couldn’t shake the thought that this entire book, if not the entire state of Alaska, existed only because of the availability of gasoline.

It was not what I’d expected when I set forth.

For decades now Alaska has loomed large in my imagination. In an earlier lifetime, when I had reconciled myself to existence as one half of a couple, I planned to Continue reading

In Walked Bud

Too Soon to Tell
Calvin Trill

too_soonI’ve visited with Calvin Trillin before and it’s usually a reliably enjoyable sojourn. The man is one of the more amusing fellows to peck at a typewriter, especially when the subject is food and/or travel.

Trillin is also one of those guys who is too versatile to be believable. Just when you think you’ve got him pigeon-holed as a humorist, you pick up his Civil Rights era Continue reading

Back in the Garage

Little pink houses have been known to come with built-in bullshit detectors.

Little pink houses have been known to come with built-in bullshit detectors.

We come from garageland….

Roget, were he alive, might be persuaded to list authentic as a synonym of garage.

That thought occurred to me this week as I crisscrossed the back roads of LSD. Prompted, as I often am, by a particular song I realized that there is one genre that Continue reading

The Living is Easy

DE_Beach_codeEndless Summer

Comes the middle of August, when the days are noticeably shorter and the light is longer and yellower, I yearn for the beach.  With the water at its warmest and the crowds beginning to thin there’s no better place to be.

Maybe next year I’ll kick  summer off with music. This year, I was set to thinking by a Mark Spitz post on Salon. Spitz has a late summer ritual built around a Continue reading

The Values that we had Once Upon a Time

Part of Our Time: Some Ruins and Monuments of the Thirties
Murray Kempton

time_kemptonIf print media are dinosaurs then newspapers are  apatosauruses .

But I grew up with these now-lumbering beasts. We were a two-paper a day household and my first job was delivering the now long-defunct Long Island Press, a broadsheet like the Times. Our competitor was Newsday.

I don’t know why we were a Press household. We also took the Daily News and that was the paper I preferred–it had better (and more) comics, including Bill Gallo in the sports section. Like Newsday, it was Continue reading

Fruit of Sweating Golden Inca

The Tupac Amaru Rebellion
Charles F. Walker

TupacWhat do a dead rapper, a failed group of urban guerillas and colonial era insurrectionists have in common? Stick around, you’ll find out.

History grabbed hold of my imagination more strongly than fantasy ever did. And if it happened in the western hemisphere I was on top of it. I honestly can’t keep all the dynastic nonsense and interminable warring of Europe Continue reading

Upside Down

Photo by Grey Villet/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images no infringement intended

Photo by Grey Villet/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images
no infringement intended

When I was trying to get into the  ad business I quickly learned to be shameless. Wallflowers and polite young people taught to say Mr. and Ms. were at a distinct disadvantage.

So I changed my ways in order to get someone, anyone, with a job in advertising to hire me. A friend of a friend worked for legendary copywriter Tom Messner, pictured at right, who was part of an attempt to reconstitute the Tuesday Team, that group of top shelf ad guys who created Continue reading

When Your Bird is Broken

That Girl from Arizona

LRWhen it comes to writing about music I seem to find myself stuck in the 70s. Maybe it’s easier to make sense of the songs I’ve been listening to  for most of a lifetime.

Or maybe I just can’t stand today’s Swedish-produced pop music.

In any case, no female performer from my teen years stands out more than Linda Ronstadt. More than once I’ve referred to her as the first Mexican-American girl I ever had a crush on. That ethnic bit is true. The Ronstadts were immigrant farmers from Continue reading

From Diego to tha Bay

Where I Was From
Joan Didion

Didion-WhereOver the course of my life I have, on more than one occasion, had the opportunity to meet a ‘native’ Californian, a rare breed that harkens back to covered wagons and geographic touchstones in the middle of nowhere in a way that certain New England families, even those of what might be termed a lesser station, trace their origins to the Winthrop Fleet or the Mayflower.  So aligned are the tales that one wonders whether the proper way into either is through a frame labelled immigration, flight or protest.

There’s a reason that paragraph reads the way it does that I’ll come back to. For the moment let us turn to this early 21st century work by Joan Didion, formally Joan Didion Dunne,  which she published in the year of her husband’s death. That event led Continue reading

It’s a Gas Gas Gas

Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt
Michael Lewis

flash_boys

In a perfect storm of coincidence the subject of this book was legitimized the week I finished reading it. Legitimacy is welcome since this is a tale, in part, about selling the immeasurable as the irreplaceable even though what it may really be about is behavior that is irredeemable.

That’s a lot of  words starting with im- and ir-. If I were you I’d be wondering just what had gotten  ahold of me.

The subject, once again, is Wall Street. Most of the time I Continue reading

I Must be Rhythm Bound

The Anthologist
Nicholson Baker

AnthologistI had novel-reading days. Great heaps of literary fiction inhaled at a ferocious rate. Then I stopped and I’m still not sure why.

Maybe I got to a point where the thrill of the first encounter was gone.  Maybe I was dismayed, having burned through all the writers I’d discovered whose work resonated with me. Maybe feeling I was always missing something finally caught up with me and I gave up.

So I stopped almost cold turkey. There were a few false starts, moments when I hoped I’d encountered a new voice–maybe one more Continue reading

Running into the Sun

The  Best American Sports Writing 2015
Wright Thompson, Guest Editor; Glenn Stout Series Editor

Best_Sports_15Cutting corners. It’s what we do to survive.

And yet I have a suspicion that doing so doesn’t sit easily with many of us. In my own case, blessed with the near-eidetic ability to recall every flub and deliberate act of incompleteness, it’s a glued-on hairshirt. Others, I  hope, have saner ways of coping.

Perhaps that explains the general  fascination with sports. I have said before that I have a complete inability Continue reading

My Grammar Ain’t So Good

grammarTrue confession: most of what I know about grammar starts with ABC. That’s why this post about language will devolve into math.

I’m certain that would be unwelcome news to the Sisters of St. Joseph who did everything in their power to make the prescriptive case for language. Their chosen texts, as I recall, were arranged in numbered sections, like a technical Continue reading