Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Another Blue Monday Jam Session


The weekly blues jam at Buddy Guy's Legends was happenin' last night. Seems like all the characters came out to prowl the city at night.

I had the pleasure of playing with the house band, Brother John Kattke, subbing for his regular guy, Marty "Boom Boom" Binder. The Legendary Paul Stref was on the gig, playing bass (awesome), and the horn section was there, sans Marqueal Jordan (and the cool Otis Redding stuff he pulls out- too bad).

A great lineup, for sure.

I've played with John's group quite a bit over the last dozen-or-so years, but I'm not his regular guy, by any means. So whenever I do this gig, I'm never on auto-pilot. I'm always thinking about the tunes, remembering different changes and "hits", watching for cues, etc; the usual stuff you gotta do when you're a sub.

John's got extensive repertoire, so there really is no way to prepare for one of his gigs. I've got about 9 CD's of the various tunes he does, and that's still not the complete Kattke collection. So I listen to a few, and hope that those are some of the tunes that he picks. Luckily, they're all GOOD tunes, and I pretty much (key words being "pretty much") know them all more or less.

Sometimes more, sometimes less.

So we did our set, about an hour long. Some of my personal faves of the set were "Blackjack", by Ray Charles, and "I Got Loaded", the Los Lobos arrangement. We ended our part of the show with "Hillbillies From Outer Space," from the Vaughan Brothers. It's a very hip Texas shuffle (which is a little lazier than a Chicago shuffle) that I played brushes on, not a typical way to end a set. John even tossed me a solo to finish off the set. Totally cool, and the band sounded great.

Bring on the jammers.

Actually, the talent level was quite high. There were a handful of guitar guys that I had never seen, but they were more than serviceable (hey,at least they're trying). Otherwise, the quality was high. Some good bass players came through as well, including Melvin Smith, bass player for Koko Taylor's Blues Machine. I hadn't seen him in a while.

Another old friend, Homie (honestly that's his name), was there too, hanging with Sammy Fender. He used to be a drummer back in the day, as they say (whatever day that was, anyways), working for Buddy way back as far as the Vanguard days.

Gave it up to make a living.

Smart guy, I suppose. He was certainly in fine form, though, holding court for a while at the bar, and then in the VIP section, which is stage left, telling stories I can't repeat and sipping on his seemingly never empty glass of red wine.

Homie's cool.

Tommy McKracken was there, the black Elvis. I've written about Tommy before, as some readers (hopefully) may recall. He's a riot. Far and away, he's the hardest working guy you could ever hope to see on a Monday night. Each time I see him, he gives it his all. That's quite an accomplishment, considering that he does the same. routine. every. single. time.

His set starts with big hits on the "C", then the "F" then "B flat" (or whatever chords he calls), and then into a swing shuffle, "Have You Ever Seen a One-Eyed Woman Cry." He's got his hips gyrating, the microphone swinging, the mic stand bouncing, and the people are wrapped around his finger. He's dancing and clapping and snapping, passing solos around, singing a verse or two, then doing it some more. You'd never believe that this guy could work a crowd so well if you haven't seen him up close and personally.

Then it's his slow blues, "Little Blue Bird." A classic B.B. King tune.

The end of the song always is a sort of preaching section, giving props to waking up in the morning ("a wonderful thing happened to me this morning; I woke up"), and crying the blues about the woman that can't be satisfied and left him. After each little statement that he makes, he cues the band to hit a chord, quick and short.

He makes a lot of little statements.

He gets off the stage with the same swagger he got on with.

The players got switched around after Tommy's set, and it was time for Holly B. Maxwell to do her thing. She's the self proclaimed "new blonde bombshell," and she certainly is. Holly is a large woman, over 6 feet. She always wears bright and stylish outfits, tight around her hips and thighs which are quite large and round (baby got back). And she's got the BLONDE wig.

It's screaming blonde.

It totally completes her persona.

Holly always starts with a medium tempo shuffle, singing about how, "I don't need no instant breakfast, 'cuz I'm hongry..." (Notice: hongry, not hungry.) That's how she sounds, in that loud, throaty, growling blues mama voice that you'd expect from a woman of her, uh, stature.

HONGRY.

And her schtick is as you would expect from a blues mama. She oozes sexuality, whether it's with the band on the stand or the guy sitting in the front row with his wife and mother-in-law. Lot's of hip shakin' and rubbing and bumping and grinding. Blues cabaret, basically.

Just like that, seemingly, the clock reached 1:00. Show's over. Time to go.

Another successful Monday.

So it goes...

Monday, March 30, 2009

Sorry Strikers

The Fraternal Order of Police is going to picket City Hall on Thursday, angry about and offended by the proposed 16% pay raise, over 5 years, that's on the table right now.

Also on Thursday, the International Olympic committee will be in Chicago, visiting the city as part of the "process" for trying to get the 2016 games.

Coincidence?

Of course, the cynical me (is there any other kind?) would never see it that way. It's obvious, isn't it? The cops want a better contract, so they're gonna picket on a day where the IOC has wide eyes and the mayor is (potentially? maybe?) vulnerable. It certainly could help 'em get what they want. It makes sense.

Very bold.

The FOP is not generally bold.

Very European, too.

In France, for example, there are strikes and protests all the time. People will take to the streets for almost anything. Say what you will about those crazy Frogs, at least they do something when they're pissed. Far too often, here in the good old U.S.A., folks are inclined to just sit and complain; feign outrage.

Write stupid blogs.

Nothing really gets done.

The French, though? When Paris was an Olympic bid city (for the 2012 games), the public transit workers went on strike during an IOC visit. No bus service. No subway service. It affected commuter trains, and ultimately, flights at the airports were delayed. All of the main trade unions went on strike as well. Paris was brought to a virtual standstill. What kind of impression do you think was left with the IOC?

London was awarded the games.

Now, the FOP has come out publicly saying that the timing of their protest IS, in fact, a coincidence, and that the visit from the IOC has nothing to do with anything. That's just how the chips fell. No hard feelings.

Huh?

Why would the FOP just give away a bunch of (very rare) leverage by claiming the timing of the protest is just coincidence. They could have taken the ball and run with it; they were already on a roll anyways. Last week, they gave Supt. Jody Weis a vote of "no-confidence." This week their protest will take place. Dare I say that they could have actually had the mayor by the proverbial you-know-what?

Nobody gets that opportunity.

The CTA already stinks, so a strike by them couldn't possibly carry much weight.

Not that I'm pulling for the cops pay raise OR the Olympics in 2016, anyways.

So it goes...

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Thanks for Coming


I just wanted to take this opportunity to say thanks to everyone who has been reading my crap. Some of you are coming every day. I appreciate it.

I encourage you to become a follower of my blog so that you can keep up on a regular basis with my rants and rambling rubbish. Also feel free to look at my new(ish) page, The Chicago Photo Blog. It's just a site of pictures that I've taken around the city that I think are cool. My hope is to post a new one daily for your certain enjoyment. We'll see if I have the gumption.

http://thechicagophotoblog.blogspot.com

Feel free to send me your pics to put up there. I'll do it if it's a cool one (and you actually took it).

Really.

Tell your friends too. They'll dig it.

So it goes...

Cub Cackling


Well, we're going into week 7 of the seemingly longest spring training in the history of Major League baseball, and there is fresh snow on the ground. I can't decide whether to laugh or cry at this point.

More snow?

Not exactly inspiration for the follies of the boys of summer.

Nevertheless, the season starts in just a few more days, and everyone seems very giddy for the start of the real games. Rightly so. The WBC didn't exactly excite the fans, not in this country, anyways (kudos to Japan.) The U.S. team couldn't get all of the players it wanted for the showcase (Lee, Ramirez), and while respectable, the team's results were less than stellar. Whose idea was it to have this tournament during the U.S. spring training, anyways, Mr. Commish?

So now, with only a few days remaining, Fukodome needs to get on track, as does Ted Lilly (making his first start of the spring today.) As of this writing, a closer was not yet named, and there is still a reserve spot or 2 to fill. I'm, personally, in favor of So Taguchi making the team. He killed us when he was a Cardinal, so maybe the ex-factor will be in our favor, for a change. Plus, he is a defending world champion (albeit with another team, but so what.) He's also Japanese (WBC champs), which means he brings a high level of respect and professionalism to the game, as is customary of players from that island nation. There are some important decisions to be made for sure.

Big Z looks good (and big) and ready, so I'm cool with him right now. He's a stud, let's face it. Plus, he's going to be taking his U.S. citizenship test soon, which means that his mood is probably good (fat contract, citizenship, Chicago baseball god- not a bad life, eh, Carlos?.) We all know what kind of meltdowns can occur when Carlos is upset.

Despite everything, though, this is the Cubs, after all. The expectations certainly aren't, how shall I put it nicely, that high anymore.

Now if I could only decide to go out and shovel.

So it goes...

Friday, March 27, 2009

90 Miles Munch

The first ever restaurant review to grace these pages.

Hallelujah, right?

Ok, so I'm not exactly a food critic. However, this isn't exactly your typical restaurant review.

I like this Cuban joint in my 'hood quite a bit, called 90 Miles Cuban Cafe. I seem to be making the block and a half walk quite regularly, usually in the late morning/early afternoon.

The restaurant is small, with only a dozen or so bar stools lining the walls of the place. It's quaint and convivial, airy and bright, the walls adorned with old newspaper clippings and ads and fliers from Cuba circa 1950. They make an excellent cafe con leche and an even better guava and cheese empanada, the pastry being crisp and light. Yum.

The actual (non-dessert) food is great too. The house specialty is the Cubano sandwich. It's basically a panini with ham and pork (yes, I know that ham is pork, as well, so just stop right there), melted cheese, pickle, onion, and mustard, and garnished with home made plantain chips.

Real Cuban food.

Delicious.

(Why, yes, another pastry DOES sound good , thanks.)

What's really nice about this place, though, are the people who run the joint, Alberto and Christine, a very cool and hospitable couple. It's obvious that they love the enterprise they've built and that they are very genuine in terms of delivering something that is excellent, as well as unique. They also finish every conversation/transaction with, "Thank you. See you tomorrow."

There's a sticker on the cash register saying the same thing. Funny.

Cuba is a place I've always wanted to visit. Obviously, as an American, we are verboten from visiting those commies. For some reason, the U.S. still hates and fears the tiny island nation, even though the rest of the western world considers Cuba an extremely attractive tourist destination (the value of Cuban currency is based on the Euro and not U.S. dollars any more, by the way).

Castro has been rubbing the proverbial egg in the face of America since the revolution.

And he's still in charge, despite all of the States' best efforts to stop him.

Talk about having a good run of it.

One day, sooner rather than later, I'll be taking the flight from Negril to Havana during my annual Carribean Christmas romp (the Cubans, after all, DO want us there.) It takes relatively no time to get there, and you can do it with relatively little fear of getting caught by our ever-so-watchful government.

(They should fear us. Have I said that lately?)

Havana is supposed to be happenin' and hoppin'. A city full of life and living. There's live music and dancing and singing and eating and drinking and swinging from the chandeliers all night long. It's one of the last places in the world, really, where you can still go out and have fun at all hours.

Is there any place left to hear live music all night long?

See you tomorrow.

So it goes...

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Short Burst Series- Still, More Cameras?

I'm reading the paper, waiting for laundry to finish.

Present tense.

There is a little blurb about even more legislation involving cameras on the road. This time, Sen. Terry Link (D- Vernon Hills) has introduced a bill in Springfield that would ,"authorize cities within Cook County, the collar counties and two counties near St. Louis to erect speeding cameras, beginning next January."

You'd receive a possible $100 fine in the mail (but it would not, miraculously, count toward your 3 moving violation limitation).

The good Senator said the purpose of the bill was to, "Save Lives. Period. If you want to save lives, this is the way we've got to do it."

Uh, yeah. Right. Save lives. Got it.

So we're not talking about yet another friggin' revenue stream via the proverbial ankle hanging?

Uh, yeah. Right. Save lives. Got it.

The government will save my life, 'cause they're so effective with everything else that they do for my, alleged, benefit.

Sigh.

So it goes...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Short Burst Series- 3 for 1, chicago style



I've recently read a great book. Unbelievable, really.

It's called Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets, by Sudhir Venkatesh.

The book is non-fiction, documenting the author's life as a University of Chicago grad student and the "project" that he takes on, which in the beginning is basically "what is it like to be black and poor."

No, this is not going to be going on and on as an intellectual exercise in literature, as some of you may (hopefully not) fear. Don't worry.

This guy, the author, just a kid from the 'burbs, really, basically walks into an apartment building in the Robert Taylor Homes with a clipboard and a questionnaire. As you can imagine (or not), the building is run down, dirty, dangerous. Typical for the projects. A bunch of gang bangers are acting as " security detail" for the building. Needless to say, the author is detained, hassled.

The story begins, then. What happens is that Venkatesh actually develops a bond, a friendship, really, with the gang's leader. They start hanging with each other. Daily.

For years.

It's unbelievable, like I said. This was an actual, functioning, underground society, with it's own economy and hierarchy, both within and outside of the gang. It's not like anything you could imagine, unless you've had first hand experience (I certainly don't, although I may or may not have some degenerate friends that may or may not have crossed those lines, though I can't be sure, wink wink.)

And at one point, the author actually IS in charge of the gang for a day. Meaning that he was the one to make all of the important decisions for the leader to implement, which were all about the economics of the projects and the drug business, and how all of the people in the community are intertwined as a result; relationships, friendships, where your loyalties lie. It's not just about ass whooping and drive-by shooting, as one might expect. Far more interesting, to be sure.

So that's it. It's a good book, a quick read, and one of the most interesting stories you could come across.

********************

Parking meters.

Hate them.

A lot.

I've complained on these pages before about the mayor selling off the city, and I'm doing it again. I've read in today's Sun-Times about the "boycott" of meters that is seemingly going on. Carol Marin is the writer, and she tells of all of the empty spaces available in traditionally congested areas where parking is a challenge, usually.

Is the public actually taking a stand on something, for a change?

I've noticed myself, and it's no surprise, really. Last week I did this gig downtown around Dearborn and Huron. The Gold Coast (aptly named). It was a Thursday, usually a big going out night in Chicago. I had my pick of spots up and down the block.

I also needed, I believe, 7 quarters for the last 35 minutes of "pay time" (I parked at 8:25. You only have to pay up until 9:00. A stroke of luck!).

Pick me up by my ankles and just shake the change out. It's quicker and easier.

Maybe.

********************

I made an unprecedented appearance, yesterday, in Traffic Court.

Glorious.

That's the only word to describe it.

It started off in typical, post 9/11 fashion: Please line up against the wall (for the x-ray machine and metal detector). Take all of your belongings out of your pockets and put them in your coat or purse. Take off your belt. Take off your hat. Stand single file.

Is this traffic court or O'hare?

The officer in charge of keeping "order" was almost like a carnival hawker, barking out the rules over and over and over and over.

And over.

I stood in this line for an eternity (ok, maybe 15 minutes). Of course, there were plenty of people in line that still didn't get the memo (equal criticism is my motto), asking if they needed to put their coat through x-ray. People were actually oblivious as to what the purpose of this line that they were standing in was.

After the (in)security check, I go to my courtroom, check in, and take a seat. Another deputy is barking orders for conduct in the courtroom. Basically, sit down and shut up. Take off your hat. Turn off your phone. No talking. Ah, the feeling of civic pride becomes overwhelming.

Did I mention that this was BEFORE court was in session?

Once the festivities started, things moved seemingly very quickly and efficiently, with each case lasting just a minute or two. Most cases were dismissed because the officer that wrote the ticket(s) was not in court.

Aren't we in a budget crisis, Mayor "I'll sell your soul, too" Daley? Shouldn't these officers be in court for the coffers to get nice and fat?

My case was dismissed AND my officer was there. Funny, huh? At first, I was pretty irked because my cop was the only one that showed up.

The only one.

I went to court banking on the cop not showing. Everyone said, "Oh, you gotta plead not guilty. The cop probably won't show up. You'll get off just for the effort."

Great.

However, in the city that works, it seemed as though the cop had to go do his. Work, that is. You see, since I pleaded "not guilty", that means that they have to give me a trial, not just a bench decision. The trials occur after all of the bench decisions are done. So the trials are at the end of the day. I can only assume that the officer did not want to spend who knows how long in traffic court so that I could get my trial. After about 45 minutes sitting in there, the officer gets up, says something to the city's prosecutor, and then leaves. My name is immediately called again.

"The officer does not remember the incident, so the city has decided to drop the charges," says the judge, his beady little eyes peering at me over his glasses.

Success. He gives me my license, and I'm outta there. The city does not get my dough.

Not picking me up by my ankles.

This time, anyways.

They'll keep trying, though.

So it goes...

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Musicians Mind on a Murky Monday

"Life is short. Life is dull. Life is full of pain."

This is a quote from the most recent Woody Allen movie, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona." It is also the theme of the movie, and, perhaps, a strong theme in life (at least my life, anyways).

One character in the film, Vicky, believes (and tries to convince herself) that she knows exactly what she wants out of life and has actually attained it, only to realize that it's not really what she wanted. You know, the successful fiance and, ultimately, husband, the house on Long Island, membership in the club (literally and figuratively), etc., etc.

The American dream, right? Only with Woody Allen's sensibilities (and dialogue.)

Her counterpart, Cristina, is quite the opposite. She doesn't know what she wants out of life. But she indeed knows what she doesn't want. She's tried various forms of "traditional stability", but it just doesn't suit her. So she tends to be more experimental and open to new adventures.

I've been thinking about this movie, that quote, really, and about my life and music and the music business. About the relationships I have and the track record I've accrued. I see both of these characters' perspectives in me.

I've done some of the best gigs in the world, all over the world, sharing the stage with the likes of B.B. King and Jerry Lee Lewis.

I've gotten to play with some of the best talent that's in the city of Chicago; guys with very high levels of musicianship, versatility, and professionalism.

Obviously, my current gig with Lonnie, a Chicago blues legend, is an opportunity that very few players are able to realize. He's one of the last of the older generation. The real bluesmen. So, as I've said in previous posts, "I'm a lucky mutha****."

I play with guys like that because I belong there. I've put in the time and paid the dues, as they say. I'm on that level. I'm very good and I know what I'm doing. This is not vanity. It's just a fact, simple as that.

I've seen a lot of the world.

I've also made some good bread most of the time.

"Life's been good to me so far," to quote Joe Walsh.

I've also done some of the worst gigs in the world with guys that, really, are just not very good (again, just a simple fact, not an indictment). Playing 4 sets from 11-5 in some dump in Schiller Park, stuffed in a far corner, for a chicken sandwich and the door (split 4 or 5 ways), changing in the bathroom, being extra careful not to step in the puddle of pee, and then paying for drinks at the end of the night.

Thanks a lot pal, you were great. See ya next time. Kiss my ass.

I'll probably do some of these type of gigs again at some point, too. Ugh.

Life is certainly short.

Chicago has made many changes for the worse in the last few years. The city (and state) has seemingly become a cesspool of corruption, nepotism, and nanny laws. The taxes for the city, county, and state are very high, as you know, giving back very little in return, and they are about to go up. Again. We've got red light cameras. We've sold our assets for quick cash (parking meters, skyway, Midway). It makes it tougher and tougher just to be here, let alone live here.

Life is dull.

Then there's the proposed "Promoters Ordinance" that's been hanging around in the city council. This could prove to be detrimental to live music in this town, as it would be the final nail in the coffin for what I like to call "the crackdown on fun". I thought the smoking ban was gonna kill the clubs, but alas... Bars and nightclubs won't have live acts anymore. They'll just stop. Or move it to the underground economy. The insurance and licensing would cost too much. It just won't be worth it to them. It's hard enough to make money on live music as it is.

The death knell.

So much for Chicago being a major player in the music industry. I guess the Olympics are more important.

Life is full of pain.

No matter what, though, life is never gonna be the days of wine and roses 24/7. There are always bumps in your road, whether it's your job, your girl, your family. Whatever.

I'll always need more gigs and a few more dollars. I'll always have to do my hustle. I'll always have to be diligent about it. To what end, though?

I still pay for my own health insurance, which only covers 80%. Still just a commodity.

Maybe it's time to think about expanding my horizons; branch out to another town where musicians might actually been seen as an asset and not a burden on the economy. See what I can do out there. After all, I have a unique set of skills that I've spent a lifetime working on and honing. New players would only enhance and improve what I do. Give it a freshness of sorts.

Besides, Robin would dig it, too.

So it goes...

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Bowling with Barry


President Obama, it seems, made a disparaging public remark on Leno this week.

When asked about the White House bowling alley and the plans to replace it with a basketball court, the President said that he'd actually been been practicing and bowled a score of 129 recently.

Respectable, I guess. Like anyone really CARES about his bowling, except for maybe the Bowling Lobby, which I'm sure exists somewhere out there and will be filing an official complaint against yours truly at any time now.

He said it was like "watching the Special Olympics."

Whoops.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, he shouldn't have said it. At least not in public and not on Leno (what a weird looking guy, eh?). We're very P.C. It's unbecoming of any public figure, let alone the POTUS to spew such drivel. He's a big meany. Whatever, whatever, whatever, and whatever.

Lets face it, folks: It's not the end of the world.

Surely there must be bigger and better things to be outraged about.

Universal health care, and the lack thereof, for example.

Getting taxed to death without receiving anything worthwhile in return (retirement, anyone?), for example.

Sarah Palin's mounting legal bills, for example.

Now I know that the President of the United States, the leader of the "free" (hardly) world, is held to a higher standard than us regular folk. Rightly so. After all, he's got the most eyes cast upon him, and has more responsibilities than just about any regular person could possibly imagine. I certainly wouldn't want to be the guy having the task of straightening out the world economy, cleaning up after the last, um, President.

As an aside, at a meager salary of $400k, he's grossly underpaid.

However, what he said was Not. That. Bad.

Besides, the world could probably use a few more off-color jokes(Archie Bunker lives). At this point, political correctness has been applied to just about everyone and everything in America, so we're all equals. Hooray. Maybe we'd laugh a little more instead of just being constantly "outraged."

It's not like he said that he looked like a retard (ok, lemme have it). And in all likelihood, it was probably a very accurate description. I'm guessing that the "Obama Cool" does not exactly translate well on the bowling lanes.

It really would be in our best interests to stop getting "outraged" at the smallest, insignificant things (yes, I know, the Special Olympics are not insignificant. Give it a rest.) We need, instead, to be getting "outraged" at real, tangible things: corruption, racial inequality, gender inequality, funding for the arts.

The fact that we fear the government when, truly, the government should be fearing us.

These are the things that are important and significant. Hurt feelings and "outrage" via press channels are not. It's grandstanding, it's being a blowhard, and it's silly. It's also a bit irresponsible. Ultimately, we let those who are in charge off the hook for not getting things done right the first time around.

When will we learn.

So it goes...

Friday, March 20, 2009

Rent-A-Cop

The Sun-Times, today, ran a headline saying, "Rent-A-Cops to the Rescue." The headline goes on to say that a couple of aldermen on the Far South Side "want to give private security guards the power to write tickets".

Alderman Anthony Beale (9th) said, "It gives the community more control over illegal activity. Police are there to serve and protect. If we can give them some extra help to serve and protect, that's a win-win for everybody."

Everybody that's on the receiving end of the city payroll, that is.

Selling off yet another part of the city.

Just another example of fascism. We already see it at the airport (it's only a matter of time before O'hare gets sold off too), the benchmark standard for the illusion of security, overseen by TSA rent-a-cops. They're running the metal detectors, x-ray machines, eyeball scans, etc.

Eyeball scans? You gotta be kidding me. Who the hell would do that?

TSA workers are mainly minimum wage workers with little education and often-times shaky backgrounds. Not exactly an attractive combination.

Hmmm. Let's see. Overworked, underpaid, un-motivated. Yep, I feel safe. It already pisses me off that they feel that they have the right to treat you like a chump using "national (in)security" as their justification. God forbid that you should SAY anything during your hassles, lest you want the ol' "up your nose with a rubber hose."

I'm assuming that the rent-a-cops from the private security firm that would get this contract are not trained like cops. I'm guessing that their background checks will be minimal, and so will their pay. They will, however, be given a dose of power that could be detrimental and set a very bad precedent.

(Isn't the city broke, by the way? Who pays for it. Oh, yeah, right. The taxpayer. My mistake. My government can't give me health care, but they'll supply mall cops. Yippee.)

This amounts to nothing more than vigilante justice; gang mentality; Lord of the Flies and all that. Jimi Hendrix said that the only way to know peace is when "the power of love overcomes the love of power."

This is not the direction for our society to be moving in.

So it goes...

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Short Burst Series- Police Brutality

More police brutality in the news, today, it seems.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the beleaguered Chicago Police Superintendent, Jody Weis, was given a vote of "no confidence" by almost 200 out of 11,000 cops under the rank of sergeant. A small, but mighty number to be sure.

The paper said morale was low and implied that perhaps he won't last more than a year on the job.

Ouch.

Brutal.

So it goes...

On Tour With Lonnie Brooks- Spain, pt. 2


The best show of the 2009 (spring) Spanish tour was the Terrassa Jazz Festival. Hands down.

The Voodoo Daddy delivered like I've never seen him do before. I'm not kidding. I've been doing this gig for 8 years now (holy crap) and this was the best.

The.

Best.

First off, this particular festival is one of the biggest and most important European music festivals. The town of Terrassa is essentially a suburb of Barcelona, about half an hour by train (the trains in Spain are incredibly efficient). Terrassa Jazz is in it's 28th year. It started off as a very small event: one venue, one or two bands, and that's that. At this point, the festival lasts an entire month. There are performances Thursday through Sunday, with several venues hosting various events, some free, some not.

And the people come out in droves.

Our performance was in Cava Jazz (the Jazz Cave), a fantastic nightclub in the heart of Terrassa and the cornerstone venue of the festival. The club has everything that you would expect from an old jazz club. There are pictures and posters and record jackets of all the old time greats. People like Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Billie Holliday, and Herbie Hancock (another Chicagoan). It's very dark and and smoky (smoky bars have such a good vibe), the sound system is top notch, and capacity is about 400.

It was a full house.

Packed and enthusiastic for some Chicago blues.

We were slotted to do two (2) 45 min. sets with a 15 minute break in between. Honestly, that's a bit unusual. Normally, it's a 90 min. "hit it and quit it": you get up there on stage, you do the show, you're done. Maybe you do an encore.

The first set was on fire. The band only did one song before bringing up Brooks. Normally it's 2 or even 3 sometimes. So we open with Albert King's Born Under A Bad Sign, and do our thing. Of course, it's hot and tight and right, and the vibe onstage is that we're gonna have a good show. Then we bring up Lonnie with the classic Don't Answer the Door. He had an intensity like never before. That first note rang out of his guitar like an explosion and off we went. His singing was strong (he's very underrated as a singer) and his playing was flawless.

Fingers and the brain in sync.

The set seemed to end in a flash. We took a break and then came back up. One song up front, like last set (an Elmore James shuffle), and then Lonnie came up with Don't Take Advantage of Me, a staple song. Again, the first note took control of the band, and we were back at it. The set was rock solid and the people were going nuts. We did a slow one, Cold Lonely Nights, about midway through, to the approval of everyone in the room. Brooks brought it way down at one point. It was so low that you could hear the ice clinking in glasses. Most Europeans don't even have ice in their drinks.

Awesome.

The show ended with Shake it Little Mama, a Chuck Berry-type rocker. He hasn't pulled that out since I don't know when. Usually, at the end of the night, Brooks will want to sit down and play some of the old "in the alley", gut bucket blues. Things like Hoochie Coochie Man, Stormy Monday, etc. The real deal. But when Bret Dale (stage tech) brought out a new guitar and asked the boss if he wanted a chair, he just smiled at him and said, "I want to rock these mutha****." And then he just started the song.

Bang!

We played that sucker for a good 15 minutes. Nothing but pure energy. The set ran long, the people were freaking out, and we were off the stage. A few minutes later we had to go back up. Nobody was leaving, nobody was quiet. So Brooks kicks off Sweet Home Chicago. We give it to 'em for about 10, solid, minutes, shuffling better than a Thorazine junkie.

Hit it and quit it.

These are the kind of shows that we, as players, all live for. That rare and special moment when everything is EXACTLY the way it should be, on the same page, among all the musicians on stage.

I'm a lucky mutha****.

So it goes...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

On Tour With Lonnie Brooks- Spain, pt. 1


So I was on tour for the past week with the legendary Lonnie Brooks, the Voodoo Daddy, my boss and friend.

This time around, "the life" took us to beautiful Spain. We had four dates in four towns on four consecutive days: Alcoi, Terrassa, Oliva, and Alicante, respectively. These towns are all situated on the east coast of the country, on the Mediterranean sea (for the most part, anyways), and predominantly in the southern part of the country; the Valencia region. Terrassa was the exception. It is a northern town, essentially a suburb of Barcelona.

Alcoi was the first stop. The people are currently celebrating the town's 750th birthday. 750! Talk about an old city; I could feel the history as I walked the streets. I would touch some of the buildings and feel the hair on my arm just stand up. (Not unlike how I felt when I took a tour of Hitsville U.S.A., the old Motown studios. But that's another story for another day.)

Alcoi is situated in a ravine, with mountains on either side of it. As you get deeper into the ravine, you can actually see parts of the ancient city, getting a fairly good idea of how things might have looked back then.

You'll certainly not find anything like that on this side of the Atlantic, that's for sure. They've got a good 350 years on the U.S.

The venue for the concert was a place called the Teatro Calderon, located in the Alcoi Centro (city centre) , the ancient part. This was a fantastic venue. It was split into two levels, the main floor and the balcony, and had a capacity of about 500. The stage was a very good size, and the back line equipment (drums, organ, piano, and amps) were particularly good. Usually when we do these European tours, you never know what kind of gear will be there. More times than not it's less than stellar. Sometimes it's so bad that you just shake your head and wonder, "What the hell are these people thinking, spending all this dough to get Brooks and his band over here, only to go on the cheap with the gear." That was not the case for this tour.

Thankfully.

Mercifully.

They did (whoever they are), however, spell Lonnie's name wrong on the promotional posters which were plastered all over the city. Chuckleheads.

Lonnie was in good form for day 1, despite the jet lag (fortunately, we had a day to recover from the flight before the first show). His voice was strong, the fingers and the brain were in sync, and he even pulled out a few tunes that we hadn't done in a while, particularly Watchdog and Cold Lonely Nights.

The show was not a sell out, unfortunately. One could say that the crowd was small but mighty. However, the one thing that European audiences have, pretty much across the board, is an unbelievable enthusiasm for music. Particularly for Chicago blues. And Lonnie, with that big hat and even bigger grin, people just eat him alive. They can't help but embrace him.

Seems that this recession is being felt far and wide, which is a bummer, for sure. It cost about 35 bucks per ticket (20 euros). Not expensive, but not cheap. Strike one.

And it was a Thursday. Strike two.

But, we were still in Spain.

As opposed to, say, Schaumberg.

Base hit.

So it goes...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Short Burst Series- Barcelona


I was riding the subway in Barcelona today. Nothing unusual, for sure.

What was unusual, though, is that there was a street musician (ok, not a musician, but he had a portable karaoke system with him) that was actually performing ON the train.

Not the platform, not the entrance, but actually on the train.

That would never be allowed to happen in the states without someone bitching and complaining about the noise.

So it goes...

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Police Brutality- continued

Another person was killed by police, yesterday. During a traffic stop.

I don't know any of the facts, except for what I read in today's Sun-Times. I wouldn't be surprised if the kid's mom was arrested, too, just for birthing him.

Why does this only (ok, usually) happen on the south side of our town?

So it goes...

Friday, March 6, 2009

200 Hookers


Tom Dart, Cook (Crook) County Sheriff, is going to sue Craigslist.

Better not cross the sheriff: "I am fed up. I am tired and this is going to stop," Dart said.

Just as an aside, Tom; you're not a patron of these arts, are you? It's a fair question. This is Illinois, after all.

Seems that prostitution, the world's oldest profession, by the way, is now public enemy numero uno in Cook County. Apparently, he didn't read the memo saying that the economy is in the tank despite Cook County having the highest sales taxes in the country, homes are being foreclosed on, and there is very little public support of County government these days.

Oh, and that it's impossible, don't you know, to eradicate prostitution.

Impossible.

My opinion as to whether or not prostitution is an acceptable profession is irrelevant. Same goes for yours. What is relevant is that there are way too many, and much more important issues for us to spend our (few) dollars on.

Like what?

Well, the infrastructure is crumbling. Public transportation is crumbling. Employment rolls are, uh, crumbling.

Schools and forest preserve land: crumbling.

Basically Cook County is crumbling. You don't need me telling you these things.

From today's Sun-Times: "Since January 2007, sheriff's police have arrested 200 people on prostitution charges," specific to Craigslist users. That seems like a very small amount of people to arrest in a 2 year span (that's right, two years). Is this where our tax money is going? Again, Cook County pays the highest sales tax rate in the entire country.

200 hookers on Craigslist? Over a 2 year period?

2 arrests per week?

Like our famous/dreaded "war on drugs," eliminating prostitution is a futile effort. Prohibition of anything generally doesn't work. We (meaning they, whoever they are) should know this by now. If adult services ads are removed from Craigslist, they'll just appear in another form somewhere else.

Guaranteed.

After all, it IS the world's oldest profession.

So it goes...

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Free Drinks- Bet on It



When I woke up today, I turned on WGN radio and heard a report saying that a bill was introduced in the Illinois Senate that would allow gamblers in Illinois casinos the luxury of free drinks.

I might as well have written the rest of the story (r.i.p Paul Harvey).

I very swiftly made a comment to my girl along these lines: "Of course they want to. The casinos are losing tons of cash ever since the smoking ban went into effect. All the other states around us don't have the ban. Even Iowa, (they've got a statewide ban too), lets you light up in the casinos."

It's not rocket science.

The radio report continues, saying that revenues are, you know, down, and with the economy, you know, the way it is, maybe we (meaning the state of Illinois) should consider doing something to, you know, lure people back to Illinois casinos.

Free Drinks! Finally!

Something like that.

So I searched around to get the juicy quotes (is this really news, here?). Today's are from the State Journal Register, out of beautiful Springfield, where all the magic happens. When it comes to legislating fun (read: nanny laws), the darndest things are said by the usually typical characters:

1) The Lawmaker- “It wasn’t a huge issue until you had the smoking ban. It was kind of like a one-two punch,” said Sen. Dave Syverson, a Rockford Republican (Republican?) and the measure’s co-sponsor. “When you take away smoking and you take away drinking, you create a real disadvantage for our boats.”

2) The Church Lady- “Studies have found that when people start drinking, they tend to gamble until they have lost everything,” said Anita Bedell, a spokesperson for the Illinois Church Action on Alcohol and Addiction Problems. “I think (casinos) are out there looking for more money, and alcohol is a good lubricant.”

Uh, she THINKS casinos are out there looking for more money? And who conducted these so called studies anyways? You drink and gamble til you've lost it all? Why, that's unheard of. Preposterous. Nobody in their right mind would do that.

Never mind.

3) Management- “Casinos are required to be very cautious when serving drinks,” said Tom Swoik, executive director for the Illinois Casino Gaming Association. “In most cases, it is not going to be free drinks for everybody. There are certain players that frequent the casino that are larger gamblers than other people that would be served the drinks.”

Did he just say that only high rollers would get free drinks?

Honestly, who comes up with this kind of stuff? I'm not gonna sit here and tell you what you already know. About how people who like to gamble usually like to drink. About how people who like to drink (who knows, maybe lots of people) also like to smoke. About how some people like to smoke AND drink while they gamble. About how when people who like to smoke AND drink might be inclined to leave the casino because they are forced to do one without the other and they aren't happy about that and they're already outside anyways and already lost enough as it is so maybe I should just leave now...

Wait, I wasn't going to tell you that stuff. Sorry.

So, for all you folks, Dems and Repubs alike (equal opportunity, you know), who like to legislate how, when, where and in what variation/order/combination we are allowed to have fun, I say to you:

Stop telling me what to do, give me health care, and leave me alone.

So it goes...

Just say "Whoa": an update

And the ball starts rolling...

This is from today's Chicago Sun-Times:

"People suffering from cancer, AIDS and other diseases could turn to marijuana for pain relief under a plan approved Wednesday by an Illinois House committee despite claims that it would be a step toward legalizing pot."

Of course, there is the typical, conservative dissent in the article as well:

"Rep. Patricia Bellock (R-Hinsdale) said the bill raises serious questions. Will it be misused by people who don't really have a medical need for marijuana? Would it open the door to outright legalization of pot use in Illinois?"

Sheesh, can't you come up with something original? Something? Anything? Hello, is this thing on?

I, personally, believe that "the No. 1 drug that introduces young people to other drugs," is probably the dreaded cigarette, (not the dreaded weed) which is legal, and heavily taxed. In fact, tobacco tax revenue is something that this country is very addicted to, smokers and non-smokers alike. So many things that are paid for by tobacco.


So it goes...

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Just Say "Whoa"


Do we really need another opinion or comment article about legalizing pot? It looks like we do, actually.

For the sake of fairness, I'm talking about being on either side of the fence, here. You're either for it or against it, you've got your reasons why, and that's that. It's pretty difficult to get someone to switch sides, so to speak.

But here goes.

As it currently stands, THE DRUG is illegal in the eyes of the federal government. In some states, though, it is either legal or "tolerated", meaning it doesn't make you a criminal, worthy of spending significant amounts of time during your life locked in a cage at the behest of the prison industry, a powerful revenue generating machine.

(Holy cow, drug laws in this country really are cruel and arcane.)

California probably gets the most press and notoriety for their weed, pardon me, cannabis laws. As most of you (hopefully) know, "medical" marijuana is legal. You can get a prescription for it (can I get an "AMEN" from the Vicodin, Xanax,and Ritalin crowd?). All you have to do is see a doc, give him/her your "reason" (just about any will do), and there you have it. You've got your 'script. You go buy it.

You buy it tax-free.

The Feds still have the right to bust you for having it, though. They can bust the ones selling, too. Under the Bush regime, states' rights were quashed regularly. Drug laws were heavily enforced. The War on Drugs continued to be waged with misguided force and might.

The prison industry was, and still is, thriving. One of the few government budgets that gets regular increases, actually, despite the recession and/or depression. God bless America.

Just last week, though, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said that the current administration will not make federal enforcement a priority (read: bigger fish to fry). And the state of California is totally broke.

Big time.

Wait a minute, so is Illinois. Chicago sold off all of the parking meters for a quick fix, right (get it? quick. fix... never mind)? Midway airport was also sold off.

A friggin' airport.

Come to think of it, there are a lot of states in the country that are teetering on the edge of destruction (how about yours, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal?).

So you know what that means, right? We're going to have no choice but to legalize it because we need, repeat, need, the tax money. And just as the drug is currently illegal, so is collecting tax money from it. So principles be damned; there's a lot of dough to be had, that's for sure. After all, the black market has been alive and well since I don't even know. (In today's Sun-Times, columnist Steve Huntley, whom I usually find annoyingly conservative, lays out some of the specific economics of what legalization would mean to California. It's fascinating. Read it yourself if you can.)

There can be no tax money to be had if the laws don't change. Just like it was during the prohibition of booze. The economy was in horrible shape then, too. Funny how the ol' catch-22 gets us in the end.

So it goes...

Monday, March 2, 2009

Police Brutality- Enough Already


"On Friday in Seattle, the King County Sheriff’s Office released video showing a sheriff’s deputy kicking and throwing punches at a 15-year-old girl in police custody, after the deputy was charged with fourth-degree assault in the case and pleaded not guilty."

This is the opening quote from the NY Times blog, The Lede, from today, March 2. You can see the video here, as well.

She's 15.

It's horrifying.

On New Year's day, this year, in Oakland, CA, a kid named Oscar Grant was shot and killed in a crowded BART (subway) station. He was subdued and handcuffed before he was executed.

That's right, executed. Shot in the back. It's easy to find this video on You Tube, if you haven't seen it yet.

Also horrifying.

Just last week, Lorenzo Wiley (possibly drunk, probably mentally ill, likely cold in the dead of winter, and definitely not being aggressive) was verbally and physically assaulted on a CTA bus for not paying his fare (fair?).

The video shows the cop slamming the man's head into the bus window. He's also punched, and "challenged" to a fight.

Are you kidding me? Is all of this real? This is going from sublime to ridiculous. What is happening to us? Has this country gone so security crazy that now anyone with any type of "official capacity" is someone we should fear? For our lives? Should we worry about meter maids and crossing guards kicking our asses soon?

Yes, i know that civilized societies need laws and law enforcement. Yes, I know that being a cop means putting your own life on the line every day, dealing with the dregs of humanity up close and personally, something most people are not willing to do. And, yes, I know that, in fact, most (meaning the majority- here are the cops' props) officers are not bad cops and should be highly commended.

But there are enough bad cops out there. More than enough. Which of course means way too many. This is what fuels distrust and anger and a general lack of respect for the police. It's outrageous. It's wrong.

It's completely fascist, and out of control.

It's your own fault, too. No matter what you say or think, (what exactly do you think, Mayor Daley and Jody Weis?), you cannot convince me that the guy on the bus deserved to get his head smashed into the window.

Same goes for the 15 year old girl in Washington.

Same goes for Oscar Grant.

You all are on notice, and on camera. Don't forget who you work for.

So it goes...