Monday, July 27, 2009

Where Do We Go From Here?

Over the weekend I did 3, count 'em, 3 big shows.

Not shoes, as (rock royalty) Ed Sullivan would have said.

I had 3 gigs and it was nice. The venues were pretty cool, the guys (and gals) I worked with were nice, and the insurance and utility companies have been satisfied for yet another month (do they work as hard? I wonder.)

There was, however, something missing that I couldn't quite place. An odd feeling, really. But then it hit me, after reading a letter from a club owner that is now out of business. His take on the industry was right on, and I found myself reflecting on my own life as a pro.

The first gig of the weekend was just a restaurant gig, a money gig.

A boring gig.

We need these, let's face it.

I did a duo show with a piano player. This particular venue used to employ quartets. Then trios, and now they've downsized to duos. Plus you have to pay for parking (downtown, ouch) and there is no drink deal for the musicians (not that it's absolutely necessary to drink at work. Or is it?) So really, the money gig was not that much money (although it was good enough, as they say, whoever they are.)

At least the gig still exists, although I wonder why, considering how oblivious the audience was (mostly) to us. Now I know that the people are there for dinner and drinks and trying to get some and all, but, tell me, how can you just ignore someone standing in front of you jumping up and down waving their arms in a frenzy. Even if you're not interested, you must know we're there, right?

Maybe not.

There was a woman sitting at a front table, eating dinner, reading a book, and actually listening to her I-pod while we were playing.

No kidding.

The next night was at a club. A large and well-known music club, at that. Capacity for the joint was around 250 patrons, but only about 100 showed up. One could blame the weather (it was beautiful) or the multitude of free things going on in the city, like Venetian Night, or the Lincoln Fest, or the Wicker Park fest, or whatever.

The size of the crowd was irrelevant, though. Rather, it was their attitude which was nothing short of blase. Sure, all in all a good time was had by all, and the show was very good and everything. But the people seemed very... I don't really know what they seemed like. But I had the feeling that they would have been just as happy sitting with a drink and listening to the radio.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with that, but at 15 bucks a least it's cheaper than a Jonas Brothers concert. Wanna know how they justify their costs?

Finally, I capped the weekend with an outdoor performance at a suburban village town hall. It was a beautiful venue, with tall trees, lush grass, and thousands of fairy lights all around, giving off an abundance of soft, pleasing illumination. People came out to see us, several hundred strong, with picnic baskets, lawn chairs, and libations in tow. Finally, a seemingly attentive, and therefore attractive, audience.

Hooray. Incentive to give a good show. I was ready for some real action.

The sound guys were terrible, though. Their incompetence was nothing compared to their nonchalant attitude towards actually getting the sound right. It was almost like they were phoning it in.

Buzz kill.

So now you've made it this far, and you're probably thinking, "But what about this letter you mentioned earlier?"

Glad you asked.

I was feeling down about the events of the weekend, and this guy just made things very clear to me. Here are a few samples:

"Dear Friends:

Ever since the creation of the (club), it was my sole intention to do nothing more, or less, than present the finest contemporary artists in this country, on the best stages and in the most pleasant halls.

The scene has changed and, in the long run, we are all to one degree or another at fault. All that I know is that what exists now is not what we started with, and what I see around me now does not seem to be a logical, creative extension of that beginning. Therefore, I am taking this opportunity to announce the closing of the (club), and my eventual withdrawal from producing concerts."

You can see why this caught my eye. He continues with his reasons for closing down:

"1) The unreasonable and totally destructive inflation of the live concert scene. Two years ago... I associated with and employed "musicians." Now, more often than not, its with "officers and stockholders" in large corporations - only they happen to have long hair and play guitars. I acknowledge their success, but condemn what that success has done to some of them. I continue to deplore the exploitation of the gigantic-hall concerts, many of them with high-priced tickets. The sole incentive of too many has simply become money. The conditions for such performances, besides lacking intimacy, are professionally impossible according to my standards.

2) I had always hoped to be able to present artists whose musical worth I felt was important: artists whose music was valid, whether commercially popular or not. There are more quality artists today; but many of those that do exist do not appear in public regularly. Therefore, in order to stay in business, I would be forced to present acts whose musicality fell below my personal expectations and demands. I could do this, and in having to book fifty-two weeks a year it becomes tempting because it is so much easier to do. Thousands might even to come to these concerts, but I personally would prefer not to present them. For who would gain?

3) With all due respect for the role they play in securing work for the artists, the agents have created a new rock game called "packaging"; which means simply that if the (club) wants a major headliner, then we are often forced to take the second and/or third act that the agent or manager insists upon, whether or not we would take pride in presenting them, and whether or not such an act even belongs on that particular show. To do so would be to relinquish the essential responsibility of being a producer, and this I will not do.

4) In the early days of (the club), the level of audience seemed much higher in terms of musical sophistication. Now there are too many screams for "More" with total disregard for whether or not there was any musical quality.

I sincerely thank the artists and business associates who contributed to our success. But, I warn the public to watch carefully for what the future will bring.

The rock scene in this country was created by a need felt by the people, expressed by the musicians, and, I hope, aided to some degree by the efforts of the (club). But whatever has become of that scene, wherever it turned into the music industry of festivals, 20,000-seat halls, miserable production quality, and second-rate promoters - however it went wrong - please, each of you, stop and think whether or not you allowed it, whether or not you supported it regardless of how little you received in return.

I am not pleased with this "music industry." I am disappointed with many of the musicians working in it, and I am shocked at the nature of the millions of people who support that "industry" without asking why. I am not assured that the situation will improve in the future."

So where DO we go from here? If any of you have something to contribute, please share it. I, for one, want to know what happened.

This letter, by the way, was written by Bill Graham in 1971, and published in the Village Voice on May 6th of that same year. The "(club)" was, of course, the Filmore, East and West.

So it goes...

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Another Blue Monday

Another Monday night at Buddy Guy's Legends.

The Blue Monday Jam session, don't you know. And as usual, there was a slew of characters that showed up. Holly "Thee" Maxwell was giving lessons on how she don't need no instant breakfast, done up with a huge blonde wig, a bright red (and big) bra that doubled as a shirt (?), black capri's, and a blue doo-rag.

Paul "Harmonica" Hanover was there.

Buddy himself was there, holding court at the bar with all sorts of well-wishers, autograph seekers, and hangers-on. He had said that he had just flown in from Denver from a gig he had the night before.

His arms must have been very tired. Hopefully his guitar was not destroyed by the airline.

As usual, he did not take the stage at any point in the night.

Tommy McCracken, the black Elvis, was a no-show. It's been a while since I've seen Tommy and his unforgettable vocal stylings (and unprecedented dance moves) on "Have You Ever Seen a One-Eyed Woman Cry?" I know that he's been out and about doing some things, most recently at the Slippery Noodle in Indianapolis (thanks to fellow drummer Robert Pasenko for the news- I'm guessing you did those gigs with him.) I'd like to see him again sooner rather than later. He makes the night interesting, to say the least.

Not too many surprises last night, as you have surely figured out by now.

What was a surprise though, was that the dashingly handsome and exuberant drummer known as Yours Truly (it's me, it's me!) took the stage at the end of the night as the front-man and vocalist.

That's right: I sang. Sure, I had played drums earlier in the evening with a less than memorable quintet (maybe it was a quartet, who knows at this point, a hazy day later.) I enjoyed it and all, but it didn't really scratch the itch. So I decided to ask Brother John Kattke, our gracious host, if I could sing one to finish the night. It was, after all, about 130am, and letting me get up there to howl wasn't going to cost anyone their job (although you would think that that was a possibility 'cuz you usually shouldn't let the drummer sing unless it's Levon Helm or Karen Carpenter.)

I've always wanted to be the front guy, because I like to ham it up (just in case you hadn't noticed.) I also really enjoy singing, and know the words to more tunes than, seemingly, most people.

I've said it before
and I'll say it again: You gotta learn songs.

I'm not a good singer, by any means. But I am a good performer, I bring the right amount of attitude, and I have no fear of the audience. Plus, it was 130am, so...

You can fill in the blanks.

I actually did a better than respectable job. The tune I chose was B.B. King's version of "Let the Good Times Roll". It's a standard up-tempo swing-shuffle with a few breaks in the last verse, for those of you that have never had an audience with the King. Nothing over the top or difficult to be sure.

I also don't sound at all like B.B. King, to be sure.

But it was rockin'. My man Bret Dale was on the lead guitar, Doug Corcoran was on keys, and Dave Russell was the drummer. As for the bass player and the second guitar man, I have no idea who they were. That's the beauty of the Monday Jam at Legends. You just don't know who you'll be teamed up with (like I said, the group I was with earlier in the night kinda stunk.) But these guys were solid and paid attention to all my cues and antics and everything they were supposed to be doing.

It was fun. It was ridiculous. It was exhilarating.

Another reminder of the joys of being a musician.

So it goes...

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Short Burst Series: Get a Contract

I had a corporate gig tonight at one of the museums in the city. Those are pretty sweet gigs: usually only a few hours, you get fed, and the pay is (generally) very good.

Having weekday work is nice too. Especially private weekday work.

Unfortunately, for the client, there was rain.

Heavy rain.

A tree was ripped from the ground, roots and all.

No joke.

As I said, it was unfortunate for the client. Not for us though. Why is that, you ask? Because we had a contract. And the contract said that payment in full is expected rain or shine.

That's the chance you (meaning the client/promoter/party planner) take when you want live music outside. And if there is not adequate cover or protection (water and electricity just don't mix), well then the show's over.

There were no problems or hurt feelings.

I know, I know. It sounds simple. Even mundane. A no brainer.

Yet there are too many cats out there that aren't taking the time to bother, for whatever reasons.

Protect yourself and, more importantly, your gear. Don't be afraid to broach the subject.

Nothing personal. Nothing malicious.

Just the price of doing business.

So it goes...

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Elvin, Mavis, Lonnie, and...Westmont?

Well, the never-ending tour of the Lonnie Brooks Blues Band took us to Lake Tahoe, NV and fabulous Westmont, IL this past weekend.

Consecutive days, no less.


You know, the joys of early-morning flights, with connections, originating out of O'hare.

Actually, the travel itself went surprisingly swimmingly (nice little summer motif, eh?.) All, and when I say "all" I mean all, of the flights departed and arrived on time. Four legs round trip. And not only is O'hare notorious for always having delays, but the Denver airport has the same bad rap as well.

Optimism was low, to say the least.

But all was well. We left Chicago at 6 am and arrived at our digs in Tahoe (a 70 mile drive, on winding mountain roads from Reno to Tahoe, for those of you who were wondering) around 1pm.

As an aside, we were picked up at the airport in a stretch Lincoln SUV, complete with a full bar, t.v., stereo, and snacks (can't forget about the snacks.) The rock and roll fantasy for sure. But hey, we were working one of the casino resorts out there. It's not like they're going broke.

Might as well go for broke.

For us especially.

(Don't you know whom we is?)

Anyways, back to the gig (you don't even want to know about the actual accommodations. Hoo boy. Ahem.) The show, billed as Blues on the Lake, was in an outdoor amphitheater set up in one of the parking lots. It held 7500, and the mountains circled the area (we were in a valley, after all.) All the stops were pulled out: big stage, big sound, big lights, quality (are you kidding me?) back line, and a competent (are you really kidding me?) crew.

Did I mention that casinos don't go broke?

As for the show, it was a chart topper. There were 3 acts.

First was Elvin Bishop, one of the great guitar slingers. I gotta say, he looked very rough around the edges. At the same time, he looked exactly like you'd think, with his scraggly and curly salt and pepper hair and the goofy overalls. Forty-five years in the biz will do that to a man I guess. But he played his ass off, despite not playing the biggest hit of his career (the cheezy, yet extremely lucrative, Grammy winning, used in a Harold and Kumar movie, Fooled Around and Fell in Love.) He played his set loud and proud, his band right there with him, showing the fire he still has since his early days as a member of the Butterfield Blues Band.

Next up was Mavis Staples. She's been in the game for almost 60 years. You wouldn't know it from looking at her, though, despite the fact that it was her 70th birthday that night. She was very elegant looking in her sequined top and dark slacks, ever the professional with the clothes to match.

Note to young players out there: Dress for the damn gig, would you?

She had a four piece band with her (not the regular guys I'm used to seeing. Hmm.) as well as a trio of backup singers, one of which was her sister. If you were looking for a blues show from her, you would have been sadly disappointed.

You would also be pegged as obviously never seeing Ms. Mavis perform before. She's got too rich of a catalog to stick to just blues.

Sure, there was a little blues, but she was very diverse in her set, pulling out a lot of tunes from her most recent album Hope at the Hideout (ANTI-), including Alice Wine's Keep Your Eyes on the Prize, Stephen Stills' For What It's Worth, and the ever popular I'll Take You There.

She even did The Band's The Weight.

Mavis was supposed to do 50 minutes and ended up doing 90. So much for keeping the schedule the promoters were so desperately trying to adhere to. And with our hotel pick-up being 3am to go back to the Reno airport...


Our turn.

The set was to be a little unusual tonight. Before bringing Lonnie up, we had Jimmy Johnson as a special guest. Jimmy is one of the elder statesman; 8o I've been told. He's got a lot of taste and smoothness in his guitar playing. Not a lot of notes, and certainly not a lot of flash. He just plays the blues. But he's very compelling. He sings as well as he plays, and doesn't add a lot of unnecessary filler to his tunes. Very no-nonsense. Jimmy was supposed to only do 15 minutes. Two tunes, really.

He did half an hour.

After Jimmy, we brought up Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater, sans headdress. Like Jimmy, he was supposed to do just a couple of tunes in 15 minutes. He ended up doing 4 in 30 minutes.

Whose idea was it to have those guys play such short sets, anyways. I mean, 15 minutes? C'mon.

So now it's time to bring Lonnie up. By this point, it's about 1030, our scheduled ending time. Mavis ran way over, Jimmy and Eddy ran over, and we've been travelling and moving non-stop since 3am (really 1am when you take into account that we had to adjust to Pacific Time.)

We should be done, but we're just getting fired up.

For those of you that have seen Lonnie over the years, then you know as well as I do that Lonnie is not gonna just come up for 30 minutes and do his thing and leave. It's not in his make-up.

We started the set with Voodoo Daddy, one of the signature classics, and an unusual choice for the first song of the set. Brooks wanted to do it up, though, having to follow Mavis like that.

He certainly didn't disappoint.
Eyeballin', You Know What My Body Needs, all the hits. His voice was strong, and his guitar chops were equally sharp. Lonnie's style is very unique, and when he's on, there's nobody better.

So as you'd expect, we did about an hour and then brought Eddy and Jimmy back up to finish the night.

Sweet Home Chicago.

Ugh. I know that the crowds love that song and all, and that will probably always be the case, and we'll happily oblige, but I, for one, never need to play it again.

At least I get to do it with Brooks, though. He does it better than anyone.

By the time we finish doing the glad-handing and the photos and all that stuff, it's about 1230 when we're ready to make the quick walk back to the hotel. Our pick-up is in just a few hours, we have to do all of the travelling we just did, only in reverse, and then be ready for our show the next night in Westmont, IL.

Muddy Waters' hometown for the last 15 years or so of his life.

So the fellas and I did what any self-respecting travelling circus would do when there's only 2 hours to go and going to bed is a silly notion at this point.

Remember, we were in a casino.

So it goes...

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Dreaded Fly-Gig

This weekend, the never ending tour of the Lonnie Brooks Blues Band will take me to fabulous Lake Tahoe, NV.

We'll fly in, do the show, and then leave the next morning to head back for a gig here in town.

On paper (or your digital screen), it sounds kind of exotic. Sexy even.

On one level, it is. After all, I'll be in Tahoe, albeit for less than 24 hours. And I'll be sharing the stage with some great musicians: Eddy "the Chief" Clearwater, Jimmy "the Bar Room Preacher" Johnson, Elvin "Fooled Around and Fell in Love" Bishop, and Mavis "Respect Yourself" Staples. The gig is in an outdoor amphitheater, at a large casino (poker anyone?), and we're getting cash.

It'll be so tempting to put it all on "Red."

I'm sure there's a pool AND a hot tub. Hot diggity-dog.

On another level, though, it will hardly be the "Days of Wine and Roses."

Flying is rough enough as it is these days, with the taking off of the shoes, the shaving cream and toothpaste in the zipper bag (can't say Ziploc due to copyright infringements which certainly gives me a strong, false sense of security), and the general dour attitude of airline/airport workers.

After all, in this post-9/11 country, you simply look guilty of something.

I've written before about the effect that life's "minor indignities" has on me.

I can't stand them.

Especially in airports, and especially when they come from people who clearly are low scorer's on the intelligence scale (how many airport workers are there, anyways, who have no H.S. diploma in concert with extensive criminal backgrounds?)

Almost inevitably, there will be issues with the guitars and bringing them on board into the cabin. You see, guitars generally fit in the overhead compartments, which are quite roomy (if the other passengers are able to find their modicum of good manners and don't just throw their crap up there all willy-nilly and spread out with no consideration for anyone else.) This is a fact. I've been doing this long enough to know how it is.

I don't even play guitar.

However, the flight attendants (waitresses) usually express disbelief when we board the plane, guitars in hand. More times than not, they're "sure" that the instruments won't fit and they'll need to be checked. As if they've never seen someone bring a guitar on board.

More times than not, they're dead wrong.

Sometimes, though, they're (gasp) right. The gear won't fit. This is especially true with small prop/commuter planes. So you're forced to check the instruments.

That is where fear is struck. You are at their mercy, knowing well in advance that they just.





About you or your stuff. Why should they? You paid your fare in advance, and good luck getting compensation should something happen to your $5000 Les Paul. Nobody within the airline, from the lowest baggage handler to the highest levels of upper management, will be inclined to take responsibility for anything. They will run you around in circles, with the hope being that you'll just give up one day due to lack of time or legal resources or both.

There is a musician from Nova Scotia, Canada, by the name of Dave Carroll, who experienced this familiar tale of woe. United Airlines (that's who I'll be flying on Saturday- hooray!) broke his guitar.

They actually compensated him for his repairs, but only after he made a video lambasting the company and posted it on You Tube.

It's called, appropriately, "United Breaks Guitars."

The video, as many of you may know at this point, went viral (that means it's a smash hit, no pun intended). United had no choice but to bow to the PR goddess and save face and fix the gear. How generous of them.

Only took a year.

Can't wait to go to Tahoe.

So it goes...

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Weirdo Club

I've been stuck trying to think about what to write, as my faithful (hopefully) readers are champing at the bit for something new, brilliant, witty, and utterly me.

So many things, and yet nothing at all.

Kinda weird.

Yet, that's what makes musicians (and writers and actors and other artists) who and what we are.

Above everything else, we're weirdos.

Societal misfits.

Not exactly cut from the same cloth as so many people seemingly are. We'd never make it in the 9-5, 2 weeks a year off, grind like most folks do.

Of course, we give up things like health care and home ownership in the process, but so be it. To us (to me, anyways) it's sort of a fair trade. We get to do what we do (and let's face it, I don't know what you do to get by, but I'm sure you do it better than anyone else) and that's that.

Sometimes, though, the work involved in being a musician (artist, et al) actually makes me kinda lazy. Right now, I have a lot to do, a lot to be done, and yet I feel very inclined to do none of it.

Things like sending emails to festival coordinators. Reminders to "fans" that there are shows coming up. Adding people to various "lists".

Practicing (ahem.)

It's so easy to NOT practice. Jeez.

A luxury and a curse, being among the self/un-employed.

Weirdos are we.

At least we're in good company though. David Bowie is certainly a weirdo. Ditto for Jackson Pollock. James Brown, too.

Michael Jackson was definitely a weirdo.

Bob Dylan has created an entire genre of music. It's not rock, it's not blues, it's not folk. He was given a Pulitzer Prize in a category created just for him because he didn't fit in any single category, and if anyone deserves to "win" a Pulitzer, it's Dylan.


So where am I going with this?

Oh, yeah. What to do with the time in my struggle for blogging ideas. Well, it's very simple. Since we are the lowest paid of public servants (of course we are, in the truest sense), I suggest that we all make our own salad dressing. I saw an article (an entire article! Can you friggin' believe it?) in today's Sun-Times espousing the virtues of DIY salad dressing. It actually saves you a lot of bread. I encourage you to do it. I've been doing it for years.

Did he just give advice about salad dressing?


So it goes...

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Music on the Move- Madrid?

In my musician's life as the (always trying to be) consummate professional, the gigs I have allow me to travel all over the world.

All of you regular readers surely know this (and are no doubt sick of hearing about it, too.)

Sometimes, the trips (within the States, usually) are boring and less-than-glorious, usually because our accommodations are in the middle of Nowhere, ID, with nary a sign of, well, anything (except for maybe the Sam's Club parking lot right outside my window at the Super 8.) Promoters will generally put the band up in the cheapest (and least expensive) place that's possible. It's almost always many miles outside of the town we're actually working in. And since we are relying on the gig for all of our ground transportation (forget your public options- there are none), we essentially end up stuck at the hotel doing nada.

Not exactly the best way to get geared up for a show (if you've ever wondered just how so many musicians can end up as alcoholics and drug addicts, well...)

Sometimes, though, it's completely amazing and mind blowing. Usually it's an overseas trip. That's where I have the most fun, European countries in particular. We almost always stay in the center of whatever town we're in, there's plenty to do, and there's plenty of public transportation (very inexpensive, too.)

So whenever I cross the sea, I'm usually thinking about what it would be like to live there. It's very different over there than it is here, and there are so many things that are appealing to my sensibilities.

Mainly, it's the fact that Europeans are so much more relaxed than Americans, working to live, rather than living to work (note to the powers-that-be: universal health care, and not insurance, is a key reason for that enviable attitude towards life.)

Here, in Chicago, I've got it pretty good, I must admit. I get to play with Lonnie Brooks, one of the last of the great Chicago blues men. He's the one that always takes me on the road. It's going on 8 years now, and I've played around 500 shows with him. I also get to play with BMR4, one of the best, most working jazz groups that you'll find almost anywhere. Not only are the guys in this group top-notch, but they're also my friends, which is who we all really want to play with anyways.

Chicago has a lot to offer a musician. There's a lot of work here for us.

This city also does everything that it can to make life very inconvenient for it's citizens, whether it's taxes (highest in the nation), scandalous corruption, parking meter fees that have quadrupled, or simply winter.

Just as an aside, the guy on the radio right now is ripping the city apart, talking about selling naming rights for everything under the sun, as Chicago desperately needs cash as a result of dismal city management:

"Rename the expressways. The Planetarium. The Aquarium."

"The Oxy-Clean Aquarium in honor of the late Billy Mays. It's easy to get to, plenty of parking (since nobody wants to pay the damn meters), and just off of that famous road, IKEA's Lake Shore Drive.)

So what would it be like, then, living overseas? For a guy like me, I mean. Could I actually do it over there? A certain girl in my life sure seems to think it's easy.

I tend to think it's easier said than done.

But then again...

I've been to Spain twice, now, within the last 3 months. It's an impressive country, to say the least. Inland or on the Mediterranean coast, the country is beautiful. You can go everywhere by train or bus without it costing a fortune. They're quick, they're very clean, and they're always on time. There's no screwing around, there.

Madrid is undoubtedly my favorite city. It's not as international, as European, as Barcelona is. It's not as expensive either (Barcelona is on par with London in terms of cost of Living, meaning sky high.) No, Madrid is very much a Spanish city. I was really impressed with the people, the food (oh, the food, yum,) the architecture, everything.

Businesses (almost all of them) close between 2pm and 5pm for siesta. People are very relaxed and seemingly happy with life.

Personal freedoms seem to not be constantly and incessantly legislated (the United States of No).

Cops seem to not come off as jack-booted thugs.

You can still smoke in bars.

Loved it.

Maybe this is the place.

I had been told ( I was asking around before I had left Chicago) that Madrid is not really a music town. It was a late-night town, to be sure, but not so much for live music. DJ's and dance clubs were the thing, with live shows going (gone) by the wayside.

That turned out to be not the case. In fact, I went out every single night I was there and saw a show. It seems that you'll find the live shows between 11pm and 1am, and then the clubs become DJ spinning night clubs.

Seemingly the best of both worlds.

One night it was a big band at a place called Bar Co., where hash smoking is overlooked, but being barefoot is not. Another night it was blues at a club called Junco. The group (Juan Bourbon, Juan Scotch, and Juan Beer- seriously) was a very traditional 4-piece, fronted by a harp (harmonica) player, nailing all the tunes from the likes of Junior Wells and Sunnyland Slim note for note (Europeans actually tend to learn songs from the records, I've come to learn, very much like the Japanese blues players.)

I saw flamenco music at a small taverna in the wee hours of the morning, the audience consisting of me and my ex-pat (white) friends and a group of around 25 hairy Spanish Gypsies (I looked the part, though, ahem.) There were 2 men singing and one other playing guitar. If I didn't know any better, I'd say that this music was nothing more than Spanish blues. There was a repeating form in the music and the words were obviously improvised. The players were fierce and passionate. Truly, this was one of the most unique concerts I'd ever seen. And it wasn't even a concert. It was very informal (of course it was, it was 3am!)

All of the performances I saw were very well attended, and I was out and about during the week, not the weekend. People were obviously very much into seeing live music.

I also found a "roots and grooves" jam session at a cool place called La Boca del Lobo (the mouth of the wolf- sweet.) I gotta say, it was on par with the jam sessions that I go to at Buddy Guy's Legends, albeit with the European perspective of the blues. There were a lot of players that had shown up, and for the most part, they were all pretty good. Certainly better than serviceable. Plus, there was not a whole lot of attitude oozing from musicians that you are apt to find at Buddy's.

I got to play a lot that night. After all, I was the only American there, and from Chicago, no less. The Spaniards were as excited to have me there as I was just being. Needless to say, I am fortunate to be able to carry a certain mystique with me, being in that "drummer from Chicago" category.

Big fish in a small pond, you know?

It was actually a very diverse group of folks and not just Spaniards. I met a bass player from Argentina and a singer/guitar player that came from Paris (she was real good.) We all had James Brown and Albert Collins in common, so we were able to have a real good time together.

We talked about the scene in Madrid over cocktails bought for me by the host of the jam ("That was in-cred-eeeeeee-bul.")

They, of course, were wondering about what work was like in the U.S.

So it goes...