Fiddlesticks, Footsies and Spoons

Stern. Reserved. Strict. Perhaps even judgmental or cold.

So she appears in this photograph from an indeterminate time and an unknown place, but as she herself might have said, appearances can be relieving [sic].

To her cousins, she was a caution.  To my mother, whose great-aunt she was, Rilla was just slightly dangerous, a force to be reckoned with, a strange, self-possessed woman whose refusal of rules and wicked sense of humor made her a favorite among the children.

She returned the children’s affection, although she often scandalized more conventional relatives with her baby-sitting techniques. Confronted with a passle of bored children, she was capable of sending them to the back yard with a stack of 78 rpm records and a hammer, essentially saying, “Have at it.” From what my mother recalled of the unfolding events on one such afternoon, “It was fun.” (more…)

Published in: on January 19, 2014 at 6:25 pm  Comments (112)  
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Remembering T-Model Ford

Cheating. Grudges. Abandonment. Shootings. Woman trouble. Man trouble. Too much whiskey. Not enough whiskey. Flophouses and fixin’-to-die. The blues has it all.

It’s a musical world rife with I’m-down-here-in-the-ditch-and-I-can’t-get-out resignation if that’s your preference, but there’s more to the blues than blank despair. If I were forced to describe my feelings about the blues in a single word, I wouldn’t choose sad or depressing any more than I’d choose anguish, tribulation or woe. When I hear the blues, I feel like traveling. The music overflows with highways and journeys, crossroads and railroads, picking up and leaving, heading home or wandering off  – to Chicago, to Memphis or Helena, to Anywhere-But-Here.

Robert Johnson went down to the crossroad.  Tab Benoit’s night train is rollin’.  R.L. Burnside did some rollin’ of his own, and a little tumblin’ for good measure.  R.L.’s grandson Cedric and his buddy Malcolm bought a lemon of a car and ended up having to hitchhike home. CeDell Davis says he’s gonna be moving on and suggests we might want to heave ourselves up out of our own chairs to start packing.  Sitting around’s not going to get us anywhere.

Unfortunately, James Lewis Carter Ford has done the last of his traveling – at least in this world. Known as T-Model to friends, admirers and detractors alike, he died at home of respiratory failure on July 16 at the age of 88 – or 83 or 93, depending on which report you read or whom you choose to believe. (more…)

Dobro Nights

Texans do love their dance halls. The ties remain strong even among those forced to leave the state, so strong that families often will hold annual picnics or reunions at their favorite pavilion or hall.

When the big oak at Crider’s burned, rumors began circulating that the dance floor had been lost, and people grieved. When the re-opening of Gilley’s in Pasadena was announced, urban cowboys everywhere rejoiced.

From Austin’s Broken Spoke to Gruene Hall to the old pavilions in Palacios and Garner State Park, Texans continue to waltz with Ernest Tubb, two-step with Willie and hoot-n-holler their assent when Asleep at the Wheel declares Bob Wills still is the King of Western swing.

But here and there, away from the halls and saloons, far from the honkey-tonks, pavilions and bars, music flows on, fresh and sweet like an underground spring, bubbling up through unexpected cracks in the routines of everyday life to provide beauty, solace and cheer. The harmonica tucked into a saddle-bag, the fiddle easily plucked from the wall, the well-worn guitar or mandolin carried onto the porch of an evening – these not only entertain, they help to give voice to the mysterious bond between a people and their land. (more…)

Published in: on June 24, 2013 at 8:32 pm  Comments (96)  
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Solstice ~ A Time for Turning

Woodworker and carver, sailor, musician, rememberer – Gordon Bok is an American treasure. You may know his work.  Two years ago I’d not heard his name and might have missed his music forever, were it not for the graciousness of a reader.

The topic under discussion had been music, and in an emailed post-script he added, “I can’t think of a better song than Turning Towards the Morning.”  Pointing me toward WAMC in Albany and their Saturday night broadcasts of the “Hudson River Sampler” he said, “I can almost guarantee you’ll hear something by Bok, if not this Saturday, then next Saturday for sure. And something by Stan Rogers as well. But you’ll also hear songs you’ve never heard before and will want to hear again.”

He was right. Since my introduction to Bok, to his fellow musicians Ed Trickett and Ann Mayo Muir and to their rich repertoire from an entirely different sea-faring culture, I’ve not stopped wanting to hear more. I’ve learned net-hauling songs and ballads of the Maine coast. I’ve marveled at Bok’s original work and delighted in his preservation of folk tales rooted in world-wide cultures. I’ve wondered at Bok’s pathway through life and been touched by his simplicity and kindness. I’ve even laughed at certain similarities between us.  “I didn’t understand what my father did because he worked in an office,” Bok says, “and there was nothing that came out of it that I could feel – you couldn’t put a coat of varnish on it.” (more…)

Published in: on December 20, 2012 at 8:50 am  Comments (67)  
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Incompetence, Enthusiasm and Joy

It seemed to be Plácido Domingo’s idée fixe, his improbable and just slightly amusing conviction that Oscar-winning filmmaker Woody Allen should be paired with the Los Angeles Opera. Following his appointment as General Director of LA Opera, Domingo tried tempting Allen with one suggestion after another. Over the course of four years, each new idea was found wanting and discarded, until at last an agreement was reached. The 2008 season would begin with a new production of three Puccini one-acts known collectively as Il Trittico, with Woody Allen producing Gianni Schicchi, the third and final opera of the set.

The first two operas, Il Tabarro and Suor Angelica, were produced by another filmmaker, William Friedkin, and later reviewed as “a pair of smart, beautifully crafted, beautifully designed and beautifully performed productions that gave grit, grandeur and even a hint of class to old-fashioned melodrama.”

Meanwhile, Allen and his longtime collaborator, Santo Loquasto, used sets and costumes to produce what The New York Times described as “the look and style of some old black-and-white film. Not one of those black-and-white Woody Allen films, [but something like] “Big Deal on Madonna Street”. Throughout the process Allen, who described himself to The NY Times as “not the greatest choice in the world” to direct opera, became even more self-deprecating than usual. Asked how things were going with the new production, he played down his suitability for the job. “I have no idea what I’m doing,” he told The Los Angeles Times, “but incompetence has never prevented me from plunging in with enthusiasm.” (more…)

Published in: on September 19, 2012 at 7:53 pm  Comments (80)  
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