Joe South, 72, Walked Miles In His Own Shoes

by Michael Kinsman on September 6, 2012

Joe South, a spectacular cultural influence on so many genres and generations, died Sept. 5  of a heart attack at 72.

Joe retreated from the music business decades ago, but he left a lot of tracks before he did.

“Games People Play,” and “Walk A Mile In My Shoes” in the late 1960s were hits under his own name, appealing to the social conscience of the time.  But he also tinkered with the beginnings of  youth rebellion in the early 1960’s penning “Down In The Boondocks” for Billy Joe Royal.  He was also responsible for writing “The Greatest Love” for a young Aaron Neville.

It was about the song

A couple of years later, he found an unlikely ally in the British rockers Deep Purple.  The band remade Joe’s jangly “Hush” into an invigorating rocker that people sung along to with gusto.

His biggest hit was “(I Never Promised You A) Rose Garden,” a pop song with all the fury of a Hallmark card. Still, it struck a chord with Middle America and made Joe a ton of money.

As a studio musician, his Pops Staples-inspired guitar shows up on Dylan’s “Blonde on Blonde,” Aretha Franklin’s “Chain Of Fools” and Simon and Garfunkle’s “Sounds of Silence.” Others grabbed his songs for their own: King Curtis, Elvis,  Ernest Tubb, Lena Horne, the Ventures, Paul Revere & the Raiders, Dizzy Gillespie and Johnny Rivers.

From my perspective, though, “Don’t It Make You Want To Go Home,” was his finest hour.  Singers Carla Olson and Gene Clark created a magical musical moment when they sang of the weariness of all God’s children:

“There’s a six-lane highway down by the creek where I went skinny dipping as a child /And a drive-in show where the meadow used to grow and the strawberries used to grow wild /There’s a drag strip down by the riverside where my grandmother’s cows used to graze /And the grass don’t grow and the river don’t flow like it did in my childhood days “


Scott McKenzie, 73: One of the gentle people there

by Michael Kinsman on August 19, 2012

When Scott McKenzie died on Aug. 18, a little bit of the hippie generation died with him.  (I can hear you scoffing already.)

When McKenzie’s song “San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Some Flowers In Your Hair)” hit the radio in 1967,  it was no longer possible for Middle America to ignore what was happening to the country.

Infiltrating from inside America

Sure, tens thousands of teens from around the country were headed to Haight-Ashbury that year, but there was one from one town here, two from a town there and so on.  It was easy to believe that the peace and love movement of the times was nothing more than the latest dance craze, like the “Hully Gully” or the “Mashed Potato.” It would fade in a matter of weeks, just like those dances had.

Yet, all of a sudden the radio was filled with McKenzie’s soft voice singing a very non-threatening song to Middle America.  He was a lightweight. He was like your cousin who left a few months ago and now had a little mustache and was singing a sweet song. The song was masterminded and written by John Phillips, the leader of the Mamas & the Papas, and was his shrewd assault on America from the inside.  In the most subtle manner, Phillips gave the country a non-threatening song about peace and love that everyone would sing, and then they would think about the words and wonder what was happening to their America.

The song was a threat. It was mean. It told the truth, and Middle America finally got it.

Hippiedom was real. Peace and love wasn’t a craze, but a full-fledged political movement. The country was changing and you were about to grow your hair and sideburns to act like you changing with it.

All because of a simple song, and the lilting voice of McKenzie.  The Doors could have sung about the same thing – and they did – but no one listened to them.

Scott McKenzie was someone that Uncle Fred and Aunt Emma had known as a little kid. Now here he was with a voice that conveyed love and happiness. The power of the words only emerged as they sank into America’s soul. You finally admitted that America was at war with itself.

McKenzie didn’t have much of a musical career after that. At least, not a  successful one. And, he never stirred cultural waves again. But when he died at 73, he must have been happy for the generations of Americans that listened and sang along to him.


The Untaming of a Redneck Mother

by Michael Kinsman on July 8, 2012

Slowly and deliberately he has become Ray Wylie Hubbard

Flip on the lights in any building in Texas and you’ll likely see songwriters scampering every which way.

Like cockroaches, these Texas songwriters come out of nowhere, have hard, stubborn shells and are much too numerous to let you ever believe you might get away from them.

They thrive on the spirit of Townes Van Zant, Willie Nelson and Steve Earle. They are homespun like Billy Joe Shaver, Slaid Cleaves and Butch Hancock. And, they live off the words of Guy Clark, Robert Earl Keen and Terry Allen.

And, then there is Ray Wylie Hubbard.

He’s the deceptive one, a folk singer who stumbled into Cosmic Cowboy stardom four decades ago when he wrote the song “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother,” that Jerry Jeff Walker rode to fame on.

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Justin Townes Earle, his father’s son

by T. Michael Crowell on April 25, 2012

There are those among us who have no choice. Through no fault of their own, they become their father’s son – the baker’s son bakes, the carpenter’s son builds and the singer’s son sings. It’s in the bones.

Consider Justin Townes Earle, the son of supreme Texas songwriter/badass Steve Earle. It’s not that Justin sounds anything like his father (he does, a little), or writes songs his father could have written (not really). Justin Townes Earle is his own man, but those bones would never have let him be anything other than his father’s son – a singer of sad songs.

He’s paid a bit of a price for that, including picking up some of his father’s bad habits (gone now, he says). He’s also picked up his father’s ability to look deep within himself and find that kernel of truth that often speaks directly to us individually. It’s also what makes Justin Towne Earle’s songwriting so compelling.

Earle recently release his fourth CD, “Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me” (Bloodshot Records), that shows how the son has grown beyond the bones his father gave him. And although Justin retains some of the Earle flavor in his writing and his singing, he has grown into a stylish writer and singer of his own songs.

With its mix of folk, blues, rockabilly and Memphis soul, “Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me” finds Earle quickly grown beyond his last Bloodshot release, “Harlem River Blues,” a winner from a couple of years back.

Earle’s songs are full of emotional introspection, broken hearts and troubled living. His themes are not uncommon – being tossed away by a long-time lover, finding his way out of a troubled family life (Steve was not, apparently, an easy father to have) and overcoming his own tendency toward depression and regret.

His soulful, dark loneliness reaches out and grabs at you. His images are of shadows, dark edges and a tired, frayed existence. Still, “Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me” is not quite as bleak as “Harlem River Blues,” when he wished that river would close around him and drown his weary soul. But he’s still one dark motherfucker.

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Cleary’s piano speaks with a New Orleans accent

by Michael Kinsman on April 16, 2012

Pianist Jon Cleary admits to being intimidated when he first heard New Orleans musicians at work.

As a 17-year-old guitar player from Kent, England, Cleary got a dose of the real deal during his first stay in New Orleans. He planned on a two-week visit, but it turned into two years.He vowed right then and there that he was going to play New Orleans piano and play it the right way.

Now after nearly three decades as a New Orleans resident, Cleary says he still talks like an Englishman but plays music with a New Orleans accent.

Cleary has just released “Occapella,” a collection of 12 Allen Toussaint songs that Cleary has interpreted

Toussaint funk and street rhythms  in his own way.  He’ll  perform April 20 at Anthology in San Diego, playing the songs from his new CD.

Toussaint covers are nothing new. The prolific New Orleans songwriter and arranger has seen his songs recorded by such strange bedfellows as Glen Campbell (“Southern Nights”), Aaron Neville (“Wrong Number”), Boz Scaggs (“What Do You Want The Girl To Do”), the Rolling Stones (“Fortune Teller”) and Elvin Bishop (“I’m Gone”).

Cleary upends these songs by winnowing them down to the core, capturing their essence and then using sparse arrangements that tap into not only the innate power of the music, but their colorful shadings. The underlying funk and the percussive street rhythms of New Orleans are usually at the bottom of these songs.

“What you get with Allen Toussaint is not just great lyrics and chord progressions that are very creative,” he says. “You get a New Orleans sound unlike any other.”

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Candye Kane doesn’t let cancer derail her spirit

by Michael Kinsman on March 28, 2012

“Cancer …  schmancer,” is how blues singer Candye Kane summed her diagnosis earlier this year that revealed her second bout of pancreatic cancer. “I’m going to Finland.”

Only a couple of days of receiving news that her life was again in jeopardy, Kane stood up and plotted her own destiny, just as she has so many other times in her life when bleakness and inevitability harkened.

The Toughest Girl

You would think the rest of the world would notice: Candye Kane will not be denied.

A few of her friends have gathered to support her at a concert called Big Love, a benefit for Candye Kane.

Without a doubt Kane has lived a life of extraordinary resiliency.  Incidents that would sideline others or haunt them as they carried on are simply trampled by Kane’s spirit.  There is no need to provide a list of obstacles in her life; they have aready chronicled in her autobiographic play “The Toughest Girl Alive.”

Kane is currently wrestling with pancreatic cancer, less than four years after she was first diagnosed with it and managed to scare it off.  At that time, she changed her lifestyle, lost 140 pounds and had surgery. Within weeks, she was back out singing the blues..

Shortly after the latest diagnosis, she  took off for Europe to fulfill concert commitments. She’s facing some mounting medical bills and expenses that she will incur by not being able to perform after an operation, so she’s determined to work while she can.

That’s what she likes best.  It is in those few hours she spends on stages revealing herself that she feels most comfortable in life. Now that is threatened again.

When singer Janiva Magness learned of Candye’s newest cancer, she immediately went into action. “We have to help her,” she said one night. “She needs us.”

With that, Magness started calling some of the biggest names in the blues to play a benefit concert to raise money for Candye. Tommy Castro said “yes,” Rick Estrin said “yes,” Debbie Davies said “yes,” Earl Thomas said “yes,” Anson Funderburgh said “yes,” Kim Wilson said “yes.” Dave Alvin said “yes, and I’ll bring my whole band.” The Beat Farmers said they would reunite for the night.

Only a couple of her friends couldn’t be there. They are traveling to perform their own gigs, but each figured out a way to contribute to the cause.

“We have to take care of our own,” says Castro. “The blues community is a small one and we all have to look out for each other. You never know when one of us is going to need help.”

Big Love, a benefit concert for Candye Kane, will be help April 30 at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach.  It’s at Kane’s professional home base, the very same club she has been performing at for more than two decades.

The night will feature an all-star lineup of musicians – all friends of Kane’s who are volunteering their time and talents to help her. Kane herself won’t be there.  She’s schedule for cancer surgery just three days before the concert.

General admission tickets are priced at $30 and available at the Belly Up.  A handful of $100 VIP tickets still remain and are available through Donations may also be made through that site.

Candye actually tried to talk everyone out of this. “I’m going to get treatment, have an operation and I’ll be back singing just like I did last time,” she said.

Everyone hopes that’s true, but after a lifetime of standing up and pushing the agenda of others, it’s time for her friends to do something for her.  After all, The Toughest Girl Alive sometimes needs a hand, too.


Cooder and Alvin: Two from the Golden State

by T. Michael Crowell on September 5, 2011

Dave Alvin

Once, when times were troubled, things were changing and American culture was pushing boundaries, music and the people who made it had a nasty bite. Led by the New York folk crowd, musicians took on the establishment, banged the drums loudly and gave no quarter. The folkies led the charge, but it bled to other parts of the popular American mainstream. Even the non-mainstream was angry.

And, along with Dylan and his New York crowd, California helped lead that charge. From San Francisco to Los Angeles, pop musicians wrote songs that challenged the status quo, asked pointed questions about the way things were and generally became a pain in the ass to the established rules of life in America. Then . . . well, I guess they gave up, that or were assimilated back into the old-line mainstream.

When was the last time a song with the power to change, tunes like “For What It’s Worth” or “Break on Through” or “Chimes of Freedom,” found a place on the pop charts? Musicians turtled down and wrote tunes about kissing the girl, or bouncy dance tunes, or . . . well, whatever. They wrote about themselves, about the party or their own personal heartbreak, not about the shitty human condition.

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The Chitlin’ Circuit and the Road to Rock ‘N’ Roll

by T. Michael Crowell on August 18, 2011

Rock and roll was not a music born as much as hatched, incubated, according to Preston Luterbach in his fascinating new book “The Chitlin’ Circuit and the Road to Rock ‘N’ Roll” (W.W. Norton), along the back roads and small town “strolls” of the deep South.

The chitlin’ circuit was home to nearly every African-American musician making a mark on American popular culture beginning in the early 1930s. It was, and remains so to this day, a series of small clubs, juke joints and dive bars that gave black Americans a place to play, drink and, in nearly all venues, gamble. In fact, most of these clubs in the early days were secondary businesses for their owners, who often were numbers runners, bootleggers or brothel owners.

Preston Lauterbach will join T. Michael Crowell on Sunday, Aug. 21, on Offramp at 6:30 p.m. on KSDS Jazz 88.3 to chat about his "The Chitlin' Circuit and the Road to Rock 'N' Roll."

That’s not likely to surprise anyone with even the slightest knowledge of how music developed in this country. Crime has always been part of the entertainment world in America. What is surprising in Lauterbach’s book is just how deep that attachment was between these businessmen and crime. Even Al Capone has his hand in the chitlin’ circuit, but that’s quite a story unto itself.

Lauterbach’s is a book full of interwoven stories about the circuit and the men (mostly, but there were plenty of women making money in these clubs) who made the chitlin’ circuit so critical to the development of popular American music. There was Denver Ferguson in Indianapolis, who as a printer ran the numbers racket in that Indiana’s city’s “Bronzville” neighborhood and was one of the first to recognize that more money could be made through entertainment.

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On top of his game, Tommy Castro has the blues

by Michael Kinsman on August 17, 2011

Who do book if you want to have an interesting and exciting blues festival?

Everybody probably has an opinion about that, but I’m one of those fortunate guys who actually gets to do it. I am producing the San Diego Blues Festival and I faced a large number of options before choosing a headliner for the Sept. 17 event.

After considering various factors – live performance, cost, ability to connect with an audience and ability to sell tickets – I wound up hiring Tommy Castro.

Now, Tommy Castro isn’t exactly a household name, but you’d be surprised the number of big-name blues artists he can run circles around.  Tommy is an old-school musician, working night after night to perfect his craft, has been a road warrior for more than 15 years and is willing to take artistic challenges in his music.

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A sour taste of reality for Candye Kane

by Michael Kinsman on August 6, 2011

Blues musician Candye Kane has just been yanked from a blues festival in Pelham, Ala., because her past rankled some of the members of the region’s chamber of commerce.

Candye and her band had a contract to play the Shelby Blues & BBQ event Oct. 1 in the Birmingham suburb of 20,000 people.  Her Piedmont Talent booking agent was then told the reason she was not being hired is because she is allegedly gay and that she once engaged in a porn modeling career.

Candye controversy

“This is the first time I have ever had a contract for a show that has been invalidated because of my past,” said Candye from an airport in Detroit en route to an apparently more enlightened Kitchener Blues Festival near Toronto.

“I am outraged that my sexual preference or my career choices are being attacked. My show is empowering and positive.”

Candye opened a public debate on this when she posted news of the festival cancellation – and the reasons behind it – on her Facebook page on Aug. 6.  That posting has resulted in more than 100 notes of support from friends and fans, including the marketing director of a music magazine and record company president.

For the record, Candye Kane describes herself as both heterosexual and bisexual. And, while she doesn’t deny her past working in the sex industry, that occurred long before she became and internationally acclaimed musical artist with 11 albums to her credit.

Yet,  the Greater Shelby County Chamber of Commerce rescinded the contract offer after learning of Candye’s background during an Internet search.  Candye has been playing festivals and club gigs for two decades throughout the United States and Europe for two decades without ever having run across this attitude.

Meanwhile, the head of the Shelby Chamber said her organization has never had any contact with Piedmont Talent and denied that there was ever any verbal or written contract for Candye’s services. Jennifer Trammell, president of the chamber, told Frogger Dogger that there were no comments about Candye’s background as well. She said agents from the Magic City Blues Society had recommended Candye as a performer.

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