Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Tradition? I Don´t Need No Stinking New Years Gig

It´s true. Who needs it? Sick of the game, anyways.

The oh-so-fabulous NYE (that means new year´s eve to all you rookies) gig has become a thing of the past, I fear. Used to be that, traditionally, NYE was the golden goose for musicians (amateur hour for everyone else.) As a general rule, one would expect to make about triple of what a normal Saturday night gig would be. Pay the rent in one night, and all.

As a general rule.

That´s changed now. A lot of places are just eliminating live music altogether (thank you, karaoke, Rock Band, and recession.) Other joints are just trying to manipulate, wanting to pay you just a bit more (maybe) in exchange for doing an extra set.

Or two.

Mainly, though, places that will still hire players are offering the standard wage (50 bucks and a chicken sandwich?) Ok, not that bad, but for some, it most certainly is. It may be again for me someday, too. Who knows.

This is my second year in a row for having the night off. Almost unheard of in this biz. Nevertheless, this is the state of affairs in my world.

And I´m not the least bit fazed.

See, I´m Europe. Spain, to be precise. I´ll be staying in Madrid, for the most part, near Anton Martin (a barrio.)

Mui fantastico!

(Just to get it out of the way, the weather is great. I hear that there´s about a foot of snow in Chicago, so I´m very well off. Today in Seville, where I am spending just a few days for New Year´s, it´s about 60.)

I decided, very early in the year, that I´d be in Spain for much of the winter. It was gonna be Jamaica (mon) as usual, but a little bird convinced me that Spain would be the tops, since we were there earlier in the year. So with some planning, saving, and having resigned myself some time ago that New Year´s was not going to pay many bills, like usual, I decided that I´d bag the idea of gigging, come here, hang with some very good friends, and do it as differently as I ever had done.

So that means there´s no having to haul my gear through the snow (did you say 12"?), not having to deal with the horrible driving conditions, and not having to play music that you can chew your steak to (wonder if I´d even get one of those steaks. My gut says nay nay nay.) I´m not gonna have to worry about drunk drivers everywhere, police check points everywhere, and I won´t have to bitch about being underpaid.

What a relief.

Instead, I´ll be having cerveza and tapitas and pescado (?) and jamon.

And then 12 grapes at midnight.

There is a tradition here ¨en España¨ that when the clock strikes 12, you must eat 12 grapes before the end of the chimes (can you imagine an entire country glued to the tv or radio or church bells? Me neither, but I´ll let you know.) This, naturally, will bring you good luck for the rest of the year. If you fail to eat them, then watch out. There may be a surprise visit from ¨el diablo¨(ok, I made that part up. But you never know...)

Now that could be a pretty nice new tradition to start.

Feliz Año Nuevo.

So it goes...

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Loss and Lunacy at Legends

This is a post that I hate to write.

A good friend of mine, Chris Neal (saxophone for the Brother John band), had his horn ripped off at Buddy Guy's Legends a few days ago.

Chris has been in John's band for years, and that band has been the house band at Legends for years, playing every other Monday night. I've written about the Blue Monday Jams on these pages on many occasions, so those of you who are familiar with me, you know how much I like going to Buddy's on a Monday. The characters that you encounter time and time again are like none you'd ever meet in "real life".

Apparently, Chris' tenor sax (Yamaha Custom EX- it's a nice instrument) was lifted from the green room at the club (on the second floor and away from public access, by the way), which makes this tale of woe all the worse. For those of you who are not in a band or have never seen an episode of Oprah, the green room is reserved for the talent. It's a place where you can hang and chill, be away from the audience, and not have to be "on".

The break room, if you will.

And, of course, it's the place where you can keep your personal stuff, allegedly secure and out of harms way.

So basically, someone in the club went through the VIP area, up the stairs to the green room, took the horn, came back down the stairs, and probably walked through the club with said horn in tow.

This is a travesty. Legend's has a reputation as a leading music venue in Chicago, the so called "Home of the Blues". The club's owner is also reputable, famous, remarkable, and one of the world's foremost ambassadors of the only true American music.

Buddy Guy is Chicago Blues. Something like this should not be happening in his club.

So who's to blame? Was it a patron of the club or a Legends employee that took it, I wonder? It was one or the other, that's for sure.

Unless, of course, it was another musician. Now there's a thought.

And if it was another musician (not an unusual possibility, to be sure,) it's not like he/she will be able to bring it out on a gig. Ever.

Which could only mean...

As Steely Dan once sang, "So I'll pawn my crown, for a ride uptown..."

Hopefully Buddy and Legends will take care of Chris as best as they can.

So it goes...

Friday, November 27, 2009

BMR4 Year in Review

So it's the end of November, Thanksgiving dinner has been eaten (in some cases multiple times), the holidays are in full swing, and the year is coming to a close.

All in all, it was a good year for my jazz group, BMR4. We've done a bunch of cool gigs all over the area, and have had some fine moments as a band. No doubt, the solid gold dancers at the Halsted Market Days festival will register as highlight numero uno (at least for yours truly.)

What we've got left is going to send out 2009 with quite a bang. Among other things, we'll conclude our Thursday night residency at Andy's Jazz Club, with performances on the first 3 Thursdays of December. Those gigs are always a blast, and we look forward to it every time.

December 9 is certainly a date to circle on the old calendar (do people still use those? besides me, I mean?) We'll be performing a special concert in honor of the late Master, John Coltrane at the Jazz Showcase in Chicago. It is the 45th anniversary of the release of the legendary "A Love Supreme" album, and we're going to give our homage and interpretation of the record (wish us luck! a bold challenge, for sure.) We'll also be performing other Coltrane favorites that have come through email requests (if you haven't made one yet, there's still time.)

This, proudly, will be our first time at the Showcase, so we hope that you can make it out for that one. It's a FREE concert, and sponsored by WDCB, 90.9 FM, College of DuPage (special thanks to Ken Scott for the continued support of BMR4 and live jazz in Chicago.)

With that, we've got 2010 ahead of us. 10 years of BMR4. That's a long time. So what does a decade old band do?

New stuff, of course!

We did a record a few years ago that we never released. It was to be called Fixin' a Hole, with that tune (yes, the Beatles' tune) as the lead track. Back then we were, um, how shall I put it, broke. We couldn't put it out, nor could we get someone to do it with/for us. But that was then, and this is now, and we think that we should be able to do something with it. This will most likely be released as a digital download only. We're thinking about doing that so that you can hear new stuff, and we can spend the time to do it all right.

And by the way, we're still less than flush, so if there are any patrons of the arts out there...

ahem, anyways...

We've also got a few things cooking in terms of recording new material. It's been about 2 years since we released Turning Point, we've finally broken even on the project, and so it's time for something fresh (not that you shouldn't pick up another copy or 2 as a worthy stocking stuffer for that special someone.)

We've been writing some stuff, we've been talking about other tunes we'd like to tackle, and we're just about at that point of getting that proverbial ball rolling. There's been some talk among us that maybe a few guests will join us on the record. We've worked with a lot of great players over the years, so that might be something for us to consider.

Last but not least (another stupid cliche. ugh!), we've gotten together all of our recordings from the Morse Theater shows that we did in the beginning of the year. There were six performances at the now defunct venue (too bad, it was really nice,) and we were fortunate enough to have had them all recorded. We got a lot of good material covered, with some very good performances. There's certainly a record in there somewhere (it's something like 19 hours worth of music- including sound checks, some of which weren't half bad.) We shall see what we come up with. Stay tuned!

Of course, the band would like to give a special thanks to the vocalists who participated on the shows with us: Lisa Roti, Allison Ruble, Nicole Kestler, Typhanie Monique, and Petra van Nuis. You all did a fabulous job.

No matter what, though, live music IS best! Please continue to support it wherever you are.

So it goes...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Short Burst-More guns, please

So, let's see.

We've had 3 mass shootings in the last week: one on Ft. Hood military base, perpetrated by a soldier against other soldiers, and the other two committed at (unrelated) office parks.


I've also heard the phrase "lock down" used over and over as well. Thought that phrase was reserved for penitentiaries and philandering husbands.

We're slowly losing our humanity.

What do the three incidents have in common? Guns, of course.

For all of you who like to cling to the second amendment (no, not Commandment), maybe now you can see that we have too many guns.

They don't keep us safe. They just make us crazy.

So it goes...

Friday, October 30, 2009

Dylan Review

I went and saw Bob Dylan last night.


First of all, I'm a huge Dylan fan, so I'm biased. But I've also never seen a Dylan show that I've liked. So I was a little wary.

This was way different.

The gig was at the Aragon Ballroom, the "Brawlroom" as we used to call it, when it had a staple of metal acts on a constant basis. Craziness abounded indeed for many a reckless teenager.

That was not how the Dylan show was, though (no kidding.)

No, despite the lack of a mosh pit, the Aragon was the absolute perfect place for Dylan to play. Like I said, I've not seen a show of his that I've liked, and after last night, I learned why.

It was the room. I'd forgotten how cool the Aragon is.

Dylan is a genius, as most of you know (or will at least acknowledge.) He'll probably have a reputation along the lines of Beethoven and Mozart a century from now (provided we have blown ourselves up or died off as the result of an uninsurable, I mean incurable, disease.) And, really, the best way for that genius to be performed is in a small and intimate setting. This just doesn't happen in a stadium or arena or festival. Dylan is subtle, dynamic, and always changing. It just doesn't seem to work, in my opinion, in a large venue.

The listed capacity for the Brawlroom is 4500, though I doubt it. I'd say more like 2500. No matter, there was probably only 1000 people in the audience (which was fine with me. A lot of people missed out. Suckers.)

He kicked off the show with two rarities. First was Watching the River Flow, released only as a single, and then Girl From the North Country, released on both the Freewheelin' album and Nashville Skyline (one of my faves.)

This really set the tone of the show. He was doing older stuff, but in the current style he's been developing over the past decade. That's standard for him. And if you're really a fan, then you already know that, really, this is a blues band. The last 4 albums that he's put out, going back to '97's Time Out of Mind, are a collection of true roots/blues/americana music. He's been going back to the beginnings and developing something very much minty fresh while being true to a bygone era.

Certainly better than most of the blues bands in Chicago, the so-called "Home of the Blues".

He was sporting a 6-piece band (2 guitars, bass, drums, keys/horn/3rd guitar, and Bob, who played guitar, keys, and harp,) basically the same unit he's been using for the last few years. Last night, the lead guitar player for the gig was Charlie Sexton, who is, in a word, smokin'.

And this is what makes Dylan so great, especially at this point in his career. His m.o. has always been re-invention, from the folk days, converting to electric at Newport and rocking, to finding God and putting out gospel (those were not very good records, his "godrock".)

Nowadays, he's clearly paying homage to Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, and Hoagy Charmichael, but making it Dylan.

Off of his latest album, Together Through Life, he played Hell's My Wife's Hometown, in the vein of Willie Dixon's I Just Want to Make Love to You, with dynamics that were so effective and well executed, you would have thought this was a bar gig (I saw Dylan in a bar once, but that's another story for another day.) The bass man was playing an upright, the drummer was using brushes, and Bob was playing leads, using sparse phrasing, and mostly picking single notes.

He also played Beyond Here Lies Nothing, also off the new record. This is in the style of Otis Rush's All Your Lovin' , done entirely as a rumba. The drums were powerful and tight, and the interplay between Dylan and Sexton was flawless and easy. They've been together a while, now, and it shows.

Most of the tunes were newer, which I enjoyed. I really like the recent catalog. Some were hits: Stuck Inside a Mobile, Highway 61 Revisited, Just Like a Woman, and of course the money song, Like a Rolling Stone (everyone has to play their signature. It's almost mandatory.)

None of them were done as they were on the album.

He even re-invents the old stuff. And the small venue is where you can really see (he's an outstanding band leader, and his guys never take their eyes off of him, lest they miss something) and hear it all unfold.

Really, though, my words cannot express what really went down. I feel bad about that. You really should have been there.

I'm going back to see him again tonight.

So it goes...

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

More health care

I received an email from I wanted to share it with you so that you can make a statement to our (non) government that we all need health care.

Especially for your favorite artists and musicians and kids that go without or without enough...


The Senate is closing in on a health care bill with a public health insurance option, a key ingredient of meaningful health care reform.

But conservatives and insurance companies are fighting hard against the public option, so Senate leadership has compromised by including an "opt-out" clause, which would allow individual states to choose not to participate in the program.[1]

There's a real danger here. In the stimulus fight, we saw Republican governors and legislators refuse federal dollars for political gain. The same thing could happen with health care reform, with everday people in states like Lousiana, Alabama, and South Carolina -- states with large Black, poor, and working-class populations -- left out.[2]

That's why I've joined's campaign calling on Congress and the White House to make the public option available everywhere. Please join me:

I understand the need for compromise and negotiation, but I also want to make sure that no community gets negotiated away in the process.

Including "opt-out" may be the best way to get a bill through the Senate with a public option--but that won't be the end of the process, and it doesn't mean "opt-out" will be in the final bill. The House still needs to decide exactly what will be in its health care bill. And once both the House and the Senate have passed legislation, they'll have to negotiate with each other, and the White House, to reconcile the differences between the two bills.

That's why we need to make it clear that we're watching and that we will demand a public option that's available in every state. Please join me in sending this message to Congress and the White House, and ask your friends and family to do the same:

Thank you.


1. "So what is the 'opt-out' compromise?" Talking Points Memo, 10-26-2009

2. "Public option opt out denies help to those who need it most," Fire Dog Lake, 10-8-2009

This is getting so tiring.

So it goes...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Here's to your Health

Life's endurance test.

Part of the title of the blog you (and hopefully your friends) are currently reading.

Being a musician means being self employed, for the most part.

The idea of going to work in the pro musicians' world is way different from most everybody else who has to do something to earn their gold doubloons.

Being a musician also means that you've accepted the idea of never really making a whole lot of dough. Or having some sort of retirement fund. Or having someone pay your health insurance bill for you.

You want a raise? You're joking right?

Vacation time? Holiday pay?

Ha and ha.

That's a tough concept for most people to swallow.

We accept these conditions, though. That's just how it goes. We playas do what we do. We're not really suited to do anything else (you probably wouldn't want us doing anything else either.) Mostly we're weirdos and misfits, the square peg trying to fit into the circular hole.

But, we're still people (and yes, we are going to be playing during the Bears game. Did you think we were just setting up our stuff for fun?)

And we need health care, just like any and everybody else.

Now, I've got health insurance. Really, it's not, though. It's more like bankruptcy insurance. I've got to spend thousands up front before the company starts kicking in.

Plus, since I'm paying my own premiums myself, the money I send to them is after-tax money (those of you who get coverage through your jobs don't get to boast such good fortune. Count yourself as lucky.)

So, as you've obviously figured out where I stand on this issue (if you didn't, you do now,) I am very much in favor of a complete health care overhaul. Personally, I believe in a single-payer system, similar to the dreaded French system, but part of the Obama plan "
offers a public health insurance option to provide the uninsured and those who can’t find affordable coverage with a real choice". I suppose that's, at least, a good start.

Sadly, the U.S. is a nation of sides. you're either for or against Obama; you're either a democrat or a republican; you either think Fox News is real news or you don't.

You either believe everyone should be able (entitled) to see a doctor or you don't.

Today I got one of Barack Obama's mass emails. I get them a lot. He urged us to call our senators and representatives and let them know where we stand. After all, it's up to Congress to craft the bill, not the President's. He simply signs off on it. Now of course, he's put it out there as to what he deems acceptable or not, and pressures Congress to do it. But they write it.

And they write it based on our wishes (presumably.)

So I've made the calls today. I hope that you will too. Remember, they work for us. We should not fear them. They need to fear us.

Here is a portion of the email I received:

Health insurance reform
is finally ready for consideration by the full Congress, and hundreds of insurance company lobbyists on Capitol Hill are working overtime to kill it. Calling is quick and easy, but effective -- and your voice has tremendous power at this critical moment.

After you make your call, tell the staffer who picks up where you live and that you're counting on Congress to deliver on health reform. Let them know that Americans like you support the President's plan -- and that if your representatives are working to pass it, they have your thanks.

If we hit 100,000 calls made or committed to, we'll send an unmistakable signal that this time, families must come before insurance companies. We'll be tracking progress toward our goal publicly -- make sure to report your call back to us so we can count it:

The link gives you Durbin's and Burris' phone numbers at the Senate, as well as Quigley's in the House (5th district). If you're in a different district (or in another state altogether), there is a link to get your guy (gal).

Ah, the beauty of checks and balances (and you thought I wasn't a patriot.)

So it goes...

Monday, October 12, 2009

Shameless Promotion- Band Photos

I'm doing a gig at the world famous Jazz Showcase in Chicago in mid-December.

It should be pretty cool. It's the band's first time in the place and we're gonna do an all-Coltrane (all the time) performance, including every selection from the great Love Supreme album.

No cover charge (try getting that from your doctor.)

Ooh and aah.

Just like any other company offering goods and services (are we still clinging to capitalism in the wake of nationalized banks and compassion for insurance companies' well being and proper place in society?), we need to promote the event in hopes of attaining fortune and glory and money for parking.

So we had a post card printed up with all of the info for the gig at the Jazz Showcase on Dec. 9 starting at 8pm. Maybe you are on our list to receive said postcard via U.S. Mail (another foolishly outdated institution.)

The card also has a band photo.

"So what?" you say?

Well, as any of you who have spent time in the trenches on the road know, EVERY band has to have a band photo. It's part of the package. So the group dons it's "look", whatever that is, which has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not the band is any good (and usually they're not.)

For the rest of you, who have not seen the latest action shot of Dr. Love and the Milk Monkeys, there is a great website that I was turned on to by my friend, colleague, and bass player of BMR4, Chris Bernhardt, who incidentally will be performing on Dec. 9 at 8pm at the Jazz Showcase in Chicago.

The website is

Check it out. It is one of the funniest things I've seen online that wasn't dirty or banned in Southern states.

806 S. Plymouth Ct. in Chicago at 8pm on Dec. 9, by the way.

So it goes...

Monday, October 5, 2009

Rolling Along

For those of you that have been wondering about me (and I'm sure that number is quite large), I'm alive and well and rolling right along.

Like a stone, as one might say.

Autumn always seems to bring a lull with it. Things have certainly slowed down. Guess that's why they call it the fall (whoever "they" are).

The summer, for both the working player and the weekend warrior that undercuts the working player, is and was lively and full of action. Lots of fun was had by yours truly. I had a great deal of work with both the Lonnie Brooks band and the BMR4, as well as the fine Mississippi Heat and Matt Stedman bands. I did a gig with an old pal, Vince Agwada, and another with an even older set of pals (Ron Shanaver, Buzz Kilman, Pat Brennan, "Dangerous" Dave Forte, and the All Bubba Blues Band/Heirs of Moe.)

Neil Young wouldn't have been prouder.

I also did a few clunkers. You know, the gig was average, the band (and the dough) was only average, the venue was average, and the wardrobe was average (if you look like a hack...)

But that was then, and this is now, and there's only looking forward. And even though things drop off a bit right about now, meaning the bread gets lighter in concert with the workload, it's by no means a disaster. Simply an adjustment in lifestyle.

And it is a lifestyle, not just a job.

Which is why it kills me that some of these younger cats out there can be so shortsighted. As you have by now surmised, I recently did a gig with a young bass player (always with the bass players.)

Green as a frog.

To again quote the late, great L.C. Walker (it's becoming routine these days, it would seem): "Let me elucidate."

You gotta do what you gotta do, and I understand that. But if you're gonna go ahead and take that $50 or $75 gig (yeah, I hate it too, but sometimes...,) the first thing to remember is that it's not really a good idea to bitch about it while you're on the gig. Nobody wants to hear it. Not the other guys in the band (they're getting screwed too, don't forget,) not the band leader, and certainly not the boss at the gig (even though he knows he's screwing you.)

Complaining will only give you a bad reputation in your young professional life. And since I am looking over at the kiddie table, remember that you don't exactly have one yet. We all deserve to make more, but we took the gig and that's that. If you really don't dig it, then don't do it (and believe me, I've turned down as many cheap-o gigs as I've taken.)

I know you think you're Jaco (who?), but, um, you're not. Maybe someday though.

Doesn't really matter if you're perceived as a whiner right out of the gate.

It's easy to find someone who'll do that $75 hit for 50, know what I mean?

The other thing you shouldn't do is spend half or more of your dough at the bar. It's not the smartest thing to be doing, don'tcha think? I mean, if you're complaining that the money's low, and you deserve this and that and such and such and your rent is due Monday and you gotta pay your over charges on your phone bill, then it's probably not a good idea to just give your paltry salary back to the boss.

Like I said, he knows.

As for me, I just roll along. Taking the good with the bad. Keeping my complaints close to the vest. Staying in the good graces of band leaders for the side work that fills in some of my blank spaces (which means I've got dates to fill. Don't be shy in calling.)

So it goes...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Rules of Conduct

In the midst of all of the public bickering going on these days, something very significant actually happened.

Kanye dissed Taylor (cue the groan from the peanut gallery.)

I know, it's shocking, what with the relevance of the prestigious VMA's.

Now, what's important here is not how you feel about the so-called Captain K. Is he a jerk? Is he a hero? Is he tellin' it like it is? Keeping it real?

(Will he go to rehab within the next month? Boost the sagging CD sales? Remember, you heard it here first.)

Rather, what is important is the fact that he didn't act like a pro. He certainly gets paid like a pro (unlike yours truly.) So he should act like one.

There are a lot of "rules" that need to be followed when your a pro musician. All of them seem pretty obvious, but the mentality of the typical musician never ceases to amaze me. They're simple, really.

You gotta do things like show up and be ready to play on time (which means you're not walking through the door to set up 10 minutes before the hit- are you listening, guitar players?) You need to have professional gear that is actually in working order (still looking at you, guitar players.) Your gear includes chords, cables, power strips, extra strings and 9 volt batteries. Oh, yeah, and an amp, too.

And a guitar strap.

(I was on a gig once where the guitar man forgot his guitar- huh?)

Other responsibilities include having to dress appropriately, even if it is a jeans and t-shirt gig. Bands should have a look, even if it's the dirty, grungy, uncaring look. So make sure that you're part of it. You should also stay (relatively) sober. You were hired to do a job, so make sure you are still able to perform.

"A man should know his limitations."- L.C. Walker

Finally, you are not supposed to fight with your band mates (co-workers) while you are on the stage. If there is some point of contention going on, save it for the back room. Not only do you make a fool of yourself, but you give all of your colleagues a bad name, you embarrass them, and chances are that you're not going to get called again to work with so-and-so.

These are our rules of decorum.

Hmmm. Sounds like just about anybody's job requirements, no? You would almost certainly be fired for berating your boss in front of your co-workers

Which brings us to Rep. Joe Wilson (R.-S.C.)

South Carolina, by the way, still flies the Stars and Bars atop the statehouse. Nice.

Is he a hero or a jerk? Remember, it's not what he said, but where he said it (and before you start yapping and getting off-topic, all of our so-called leaders lie.)

The rules of decorum in the House of Representatives are very clear:

As stated in section 370 of the House Rules and Manual, it has been held that a member could not:

  • call the President a “liar.”
  • call the President a “hypocrite.”
  • describe the President’s veto of a bill as “cowardly.”
  • charge that the President has been “intellectually dishonest.”
  • refer to the President as “giving aid and comfort to the enemy.”
  • refer to alleged “sexual misconduct on the President’s part.”
If you still think he's a hero, then I feel for you.

So it goes...

photo credit: Jason DeCrow/AP

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Bubbas and the Blues

This past weekend I had a bit of a musical reunion.

Old friends*...

Buzz Kilman and the All Bubba Blues Band. The 25th anniversary show at the soon-to-be-famous Good Old Days Festival in beautiful Winfield, Il.

Ok, so I wasn't in the band 25 years ago. Come to think of it, I wasn't even in high school yet. I started playing with the band around '93 or '94 until the end of their run, 4 or 5 years later. Basically, it was the first "high profile" gig that I had ever had.

Now, when I say high profile, I'm not talking about working with such industry greats like Kanye West and Taylor Swift. If only.

Buzz was the star. The draw. The name.

The reason why the checks were very, very good.

He was a radio jock in Chicago, working as the right hand man to Jonathan (Johnny B.) Brandmeier. This was in the early '80's. Johnny B. was one of the original "shock jocks" (Howard Stern wishes he was that cool) of radio, taking a page from the ultra-original Steve "Disco Demolition" Dahl playbook. He was a character. Wacky. Zany. Goofy. Silly. Didn't need to have strippers or tell fart jokes while on the air.

Johnny B. was that good, and hugely popular. Buzz was hugely popular, too, as a result.

Buzz plays harp (harmonica) and tends to favor the style of Sonny Boy Williamson. He knows the history of the music, and has a pretty large repertoire.

The band leader was Ron Shanaver. He plays guitar and sings.

...sat on their park bench like bookends*...

Ron and I go all the way back to 1989. We met at the Wise Fool's Pub, when it was one of the best blues clubs in Chicago. He was running the Tuesday night blues jam, using the Bubba band as the house band. He also managed the club. I was playing with the late, great L.C. Walker on Sundays. Even though I was 18, and underage, and just getting into the game, Ron let me hang at the club anytime.

Most likely because I brought a lot of friends on Sundays, typically a dead night for taverns. The bar usually had a good ring when I was playing. Sure, my friends were mostly underage too, but no matter. It was the '80's, when fun was still had without much guilt involved.

To make a long story short (and believe me, it's a very long story, the entire historical recollection and all) Ron and I developed an actual friendship (most of us musicians are more colleagues than friends, truth be told.) And when the drum chair became available (the previous drummer, though exceptional, was constantly late, which got him fired- hint, hint young playas,) Ron gave me the gig.

Like I said, that was around '93/'94. So the 25th anniversary show was only 15 years for me. Nevertheless.

...can you imagine us years from today*...

The show came in 2 parts. For the first hour, the Heirs of Moe performed. The Heirs is simply the Bubbas, sans Buzz. Ron had gotten the Heirs going during the waning days of the Bubbas, getting us extra work to keep our calendars full, without having to secure the money Buzz commanded. We didn't do a ton of gigs as the Heirs, but enough to get by. We played rock and roll: Blind Faith, Green Day, the Troggs, Leonard Cohen, Los Lobos, Bob Dylan, and a bunch of Neil Young tunes (Almost Cut My Hair, Ohio, Keep on Rockin' in the Free World.)

We had a blast playing those songs together, again. Ron, myself, and the bass player, "Dangerous" Dave Forte, had a couple of rehearsals, before the gig, in my kitchen. Good thing, too.

"How does that go again?" "What key is this in?" "Are you sure?"

These guys are all really good musicians, though, so we got our "sh-tuff" together quickly and efficiently, as we always had done. Never a worry (well, Dave worried, but that's just his m.o. It's not his fault.)

After the Heirs set, we morphed into the Bubbas. Buzz came up onstage, and it was deja-vu all over again. All of the songs came back like they had never left: Rainin' in My Heart, Walkin' the Dog, Walkin' Blues, Can't Sing the Blues in an Air-Conditioned Room, et al. We even did a coupla "new" ones like Dylan's Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat and Rainy Day Women #12 and #35 as if they were part of the previously regular repertoire.

The show was very, very good. The crowd was even better, giving us a call for a second encore (which, incidentally, Winfield's finest would not let us do. Hey, I wouldn't be me if I didn't rip on something, right?) Everybody had a good time. Personally, it was one of my favorite gigs of the year so far. I miss playing with those guys. incredibly strange*...

So it goes...

*Old Friends, lyrics by Paul Simon

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

An Open Letter to YOUR Representatives

I've written a letter that you all should copy and then send to your senators and representatives. You can find all of their contact info here (senators), and here (house reps).

If you are concerned about the state of health care in the U.S., then it would be in your best interest to do this. I've done most of the work. This makes it extremely easy to be part of the chorus demanding real change.

Again, the contact info for the Senate is

For your House Reps, go to

Senator Durbin,
I wanted to write you this quick letter, since the President will be addressing the nation on his health care "plans" tonight.

I find it unbelievably distressing that there may not be a so-called "public option" left on the table when all is said and done. This cannot be allowed to happen. We elected the people who are currently in office because this particular situation has gotten out of hand, and Americans will die in the street, regularly, if real reform is not accomplished. The insurance companies, by their very design, are a conflict of interest, and the best possible care available is unattainable if the bottom line (profit) is part of the equation. We're either giving total, appropriate care to those who need it, or we're not. This should not be a profit driven industry. Really, it should not be an industry at all. It should be not-for-profit across the board. A blogger that I enjoy reading has written extensively about the woeful health care in the U.S. in his blog:

Please read that post that I've sent the link for.

Anything short of a single-payer system is a failure, as far as I'm concerned. Having 60 dems in the senate was supposed to be a boon for the President's agenda, which, in fact, was the reason I voted for him (and other dems) and I feel that the opportunities we, as a people, voted for are falling by the wayside.

If these goals are not accomplished, then I will be forced to vote you out of office. I will be forced, in fact, to vote against every single person currently holding public office, dems and repubs alike. And I will be forced to use a loud voice in hopes that other voters will follow suit to vote all of you out.

Surely, you understand the gravity of all this, and will work with your congressional colleagues accordingly.

Thank you for your time and attention.

Mike Rodbard, Illinois resident and registered voter

So it goes...

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Rock Band Rebels and Barry O.

I've been listening to non-stop radio coverage about President Obama's planned, televised, speech next week. The day after Labor Day, in fact. He is going to be addressing school kids directly about that hot-button, partisan tainted, politically motivated issue:

The importance of education.

I know. I know. It's a polarizing topic (it is now, anyways.) After all, it's common knowledge, at this point, that the U.S. lags far (and sadly) behind most Western (capitalist) nations in terms of the quality of education.

Education is supposedly very important to Americans. Didn't our last president at least appear to try not to leave any children behind? I mean, he was in a classroom on 9/11. Of all places.

The importance of education, for those of you snoozing through the second paragraph.

So here's the short end of it. As I said, the President of the United States is going to make a speech on t.v. touting the importance of education. This speech is supposed to be aimed directly at students, during school hours.

Not surprisingly, schools across the nation will be showing it for the students. It seems kinda appropriate. You know, kids in school get to hear a speech from a sitting U.S president. An educational experience, no?

Allegedly, he'll be speaking of becoming smarter, more creative (gasp), and setting goals for yourself to become the best person you can be. Something to that effect, anyways.

Hardly a political ploy to advance any personal agendas. Propaganda? Sure, I guess. Although, any time a leader of anything opens his/her mouth about anything, I suppose that could be construed as propaganda.


Anyhoo, because of these planned words of wisdom and encouragement, parents are...what?

You guessed it: outraged.

The particular 50,000 watt blowhorn I'm listening to is citing Dallas, TX as a place where parents are expressing their outrage so strongly that schools are now making watching the speech optional, extending all the way to the teachers. A political speech in disguise, to be sure.

Optional for all. God bless Texas and the power of outrage.

In a country that is increasingly trying to legislate every. single. movement. that. we. make. or. think. about. making, I guess that we should just add this to the list. We now want our education to be clean and happy and sanitized. No harmful words or views or opinions will filter through our children's obviously under-developed (but well protected by the mandatory helmet) brains. Junior won't have to hear about real things about the real world from real people. We'll add to our shelter of protection for our little guy. Don't worry, little Billy or Sally, the nanny will protect you. Mommy's gotta run now to close that big real estate deal in the new, exclusive, gated community tucked away from the immigrants, the uninsured, and the, gulp, criminals (wink, wink) that don't have jobs and get Link cards while I work hard for my 97" plasma.

Now grab a juice box and go and watch your Lucky Charms commercial, you little fat ass. Maybe play a friendly game of World of Warcraft with your imaginary online friends afterwards.

And then maybe a little Rock Band.

After all, if you were in an actual rock band, the poor education you're receiving won't exactly give you inspiration (or fodder) to play or write anything interesting, and why would you want to be a musician anyways?

There's no money in that.

So it goes...

Monday, August 24, 2009

A Healthy Industry

What do you do for a living?

Doctor? Lawyer? Banker? Car Salesman?

CEO of a major pharmaceutical company?

It doesn't really matter.

Not really.

As you know, faithful readers, I am a musician, and these pages are dedicated to the life and lifestyle of the working musician. I write about the positive and the negative aspects of my occupation; the trials and tribulations; righteous treatment and minor indignities.

The good, the bad, and the ugly (cue the music.)

However, just like the majority of you all (from what I've observed, anyways,) the main thing on my mind these days is health care and how to overhaul this shaky-at-best industry. Hence the lag time since my last diatribe of demonstrative drivel.

I haven't had the heart or the muse by my side to say anything. It all seemed irrelevant.

Now, I don't want to bore you with the gory details of the 1000-plus page health care reform bill that is sitting at the crossroads of America's future. You can read it yourself if you want (hey,you'd have a leg up over virtually all of our so-called (non) representatives in government- kudos to you and your tenacity.)

Better brew a few pots o' joe. It's gonna take a while.

My intention here is not to convince you of anything within the bill. Personally, I'm in favor of "Death Panels". I think it makes life just a bit more spicy.

(For those of you who can't seem to find your sense of humor, that was a joke.)

Rather, as a living instrument of providing pleasure, entertainment, and a general diversion from your everyday worries and concerns, my purpose is to remind you that we are all in this together and nobody, I mean NOBODY, is better than anyone else.

Something that I've been hearing a lot of, lately, is the fact that some people think that what they do in life holds a level of importance that is higher than other peoples' paths. I assume you've been noticing it too.


"I do such and such and I've been doing it for so many years, and I work hard, and why should so and so deserve what I have because so and so only does such and such and that's hardly fair."

The American mantra. Our, gasp, religion if you will. Money money money. The solver of problems and the root of all evil. The purveyor of flat-screen t.v.'s and thirst quencher for the taxman.

The bounty that gave you "Cash for Clunkers". How cute. I love the pet names we give things. Right up there with the "Passenger's Bill of Rights".

So who's more "productive"? Better yet, who's worthy? That seems to be the question. Is it the brain surgeon? The Wall Street exec.? The garbage man? The gremlin who spends the day writing parking tickets?

Maybe it's the web designer. Or the librarian. Or the taxicab driver.

Or the person who volunteers at the food pantry.

Seems to me that they are all valuable in one way or another. They all do their job, presumably well, and they live their lives.

This certainly holds true with me. I'm a highly trained, highly skilled specialist. Sure, I can't repair your frontal lobe (nor would you want me to), but you probably can't play a shuffle worthy of the price of admission (which is becoming free in more and more places.) Sounds trivial? Sure, on some level, I suppose, but it's a valid point. I've worked long and hard to be able to do what I do. I do it at a high level, and that cannot be trivialized.

My point is that we should all be able to go to the doctor (or dentist or shrink or marriage counselor.) There are too many resources in our once-great country for anybody to be left behind (another cute title; another bureaucratic failure.)

None of us should have to be concerned about life-long bankruptcy should something bad happen to us. None of us should be concerned that we had a cold once as a child and now, as an adult, we have pneumonia and it's suddenly a pre-existing condition.

There should be no fear of getting sick because of the cost (you're scared enough, now that your coughing blood.) The premise is un-Christian, un-Jewish, un-Muslim, un-Buddhist, and unkind. This kind of attitude will inevitably lead to people just dying in the streets. You think I'm kidding? This is where we're headed. Who lives and who dies? There will be no "Death Panels" deciding fates like this. It will be your senators, congressmen, governors, and presidents deciding these things.

Indirectly, of course, but that will be the result nonetheless.

And then there will be a revolution, violent and ugly. It most certainly WILL be televised too.

The only solution to all of this, of course, is to eliminate the pairing of "health" with "industry". Our health is not a commodity to be bought and sold. It certainly is not to be compromised for the benefit of someones profit. That's a conflict of interest. The rub, if you will. If the "industry" is concerned about turning a profit above all else, then your health, and your health care, is compromised. It doesn't matter what the wording of the bill or law is. If profit comes first, then you and your family do not.


So the single-payer, government run system is the only choice we have. We cannot, in good conscience, "reward" and "penalize" people based on their so-called contributions to society. Everyone is different, we all make different choices. The American way (allegedly) urges us to do our best and be our best. We teach our children that "if you put your mind to it, you can do anything and be anything you want to be."

Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and all that.

So it goes...