Bob Wills shocker


I know we live in a sick world, where unhappy people are driven to senseless acts of vandalism.

And while I don't countenance it, I suppose I can fathom the motives behind this.

Or even this.

But I never imagined that anyone could be so troubled and twisted as to dishonor the memory of the King of Western Swing.

From the AP:

GRUENE, Texas—An eight-foot-tall carving of the king of western swing Bob Wills has been vandalized in Texas.

New Braunfels police say so far no arrests in the damage to the artwork in Gruene.

The carving in front of the Lone Star Music store was found toppled on Wednesday. The New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung reports one arm broke off.

The eight-foot effigy was carved from one giant piece of wood by local musician and artisan Doug Moreland. The statue is depicted as many remember Wills, smoking a cigar and holding his fiddle. He has been a popular attraction for tourists and locals since erected in early 2005.

The carving has been fixed for now with a sling apparatus.

Wills, a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame who died in 1975, formed the Light Crust Doughboys in 1931. A few years later, he put together the Texas Playboys.

His hits included "Faded Love" and "Spanish Two Step." In the 1940s, Hollywood discovered Wills, and he and the Playboys appeared in numerous movies.

Lone Star Music is offering a $500 reward for information leading to an arrest.

Good Lord. Is nothing sacred?

I hope they find the sons of bitches who did this, lock 'em in a cell and make 'em listen to "San Antonio Rose" until they repent of their misdeeds and master the Spanish Two Step.

Don't mess with Texas. And Bob Wills is Texas.

Posted by Rodger on May 20, 2006 at 03:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)


Only passing through


The music world lost a brilliant mandolin picker and songwriter yesterday.

Larry Rice died yesterday after a long battle with mesothelioma at 12:44 am at Citrus Memorial Hospital in Inverness, Florida. He was 57.

Bob Cherry writes:

Larry was an extraordinary mandolin picker who played with some of the finest groups in bluegrass and acoustic music. He started playing in his father's band, the Golden State Boys, with his brothers. Larry had three brothers who all played acoustic instruments and bluegrass music. Tony, who is world famous for his unbelievable guitar work, Wyatt Rice (guitar), Ronnie Rice who played bass. The last album that all four brothers performed together on was Tony Rice - 58957: The Bluegrass Guitar Collection.

The outpouring of love for this artist was amazing. Many benefits have been held for over a year and a half to supplement his bills and to help with the family. He recorded on at least 25 different albums with his brothers, J.D. Crowe, Chris Hillman, Herb Pedersen and his own albums.

After playing in his father's band, Larry formed his own band, the Haphazards, with his brothers Tony and Ronnie. In the '70s, he joined J.D. Crowe and the Kentucky Mountain Boys and the band, with this lineup, changed the band name to J.D. Crowe and the New South. In 1973, Jim Hatton was replaced by Tony Rice on guitar. Later, in 1974, Ricky Skaggs joined the New South and replaced Larry Rice.

Larry played and learned from the greats. He was a true innovator and contributor to the unique mandolinists of the last 40 years. His innovations and his unique traditional style are still the model for many others. His music stands on its own and because of his original style, is easily recognized. There are not many in the genre that stand out but Larry was in good company with the likes of Ricky Skaggs, Doyle Lawson, Chris Thile and just a few more who placed their mark on the music.

Larry's first solo album, Hurricanes and Daydreams, was released in 1985. Since then, he has released other albums including his 1996 release, Notions and Novelties and his last album Clouds Over Carolina released in 2005.

Larry's approach to the music was gentle and soft. His music was once referred to as "mellow grass." Due to his unique style, he was able to take familiar tunes and make them his own by applying his smooth and gentle arrangement. This isn't to say that he wasn't a traditionalist. Larry always held tradition in high respect and he didn't stray as much as his brothers Tony and Wyatt.

Larry also wrote one of the great bluegrass songs of recent years, "Only Passing Through," which he recorded on the Rice, Rice, Hillman & Pedersen album, Out of the Woodwork.

Wooden porches on rundown houses,
Mildewed sofas and grown-up yards,
Driving past them I am reminded
Of where we come from and where we are.

We are only passing through
Like it's all we have to do
And for all it means to me and you,
We are only passing through

Up on Wall Street, they shape the curve
By what we have and what we deserve.
And I don't buy it and they don't care
I can't say which of us is most aware.

We are only passing through
Like it's all we have to do.
And for all it means to me and you,
We are only passing through.

Worse case scenario: the world just keeps on turning.
Best case scenario: pretty much the same.
And all that seems to matter
Is the scramble for the credit
And the blame.

Big old houses and tall white columns,
Iron gates to keep what's bad outside,
Driving past 'em I am reminded
The price we pay just to enjoy the drive.

We are only passing through
Like it's all we have to do.
And for all it means to me and you,
We are only passing through.

We are fortunate indeed that Larry Rice passed through our lives.

UPDATE: I should have mentioned that Tony and Pam Rice been going through a very rough time lately. Pam's own brother just passed away last month—also after a prolonged and painful illness.

I want to extend my deepest sympathy to them both. They're in my thoughts and prayers.

UPDATE: For the love of bluegrass blog reports: "Larry died in the arms of his mother and Tony, surrounded by family. Godspeed Larry to that other shore, and may the loved ones left to carry on find strength and courage in the love you gave and the music you made." Amen.

Posted by Rodger on May 14, 2006 at 03:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)


Karaoke? Sayonara!


Karaoke night at your local watering hole may soon be a thing of the past.

From Associated Press:

March 21 2006

FAIRFIELD, Conn. — A popular karaoke night at the Bear and Grill restaurant drew more than crooning patrons a few years ago.

It also landed the owners in federal court over a copyright infringement lawsuit. An investigator from Broadcast Music Inc. was in the audience the night of Oct. 28, 2003 and took notes while amateurs took turns with their renditions of "Margaritaville," "Mustang Sally" and more.

His notes and the bar's lack of a license with BMI led to a federal judge's ruling Monday that the establishment was liable for violating copyright laws.

U.S. District Judge Janet C. Hall in Bridgeport must now determine at an April 28 hearing how much bar owners Pasquale Santangeli and his son, Patsy, must pay BMI. If the company gets what it's asking for, they Santangelis are looking at a nearly $40,000 fine. BMI wants $3,000 for each of the 12 infringements.

Eleven violations occurred during karaoke night, while the 12th was for a live band performance in 2004.

"Most people don't have a clue this law exits," said Anthony Musto, the Santangelis' attorney. "The lesson to be learned is: if you own a bar, restaurant or any business where you play music, offer live performances or have a television or radio, you need to contact BMI and ASCAP. If you don't, you risk the chance of getting sued."

ASCAP is the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, which licenses non-live performances, like records playing in a jukebox.

The owners offered an affidavit from a patron who claimed he was in the restaurant on karaoke night and played the songs on the bar's licensed jukebox. But the judge, instead, sided with the investigator's report.

Musto said his clients did not deliberately set out to violate intellectual property rights.

Pasquale Santangeli said he has an ASCAP license for which he pays $700 a year. He admits he does not have a BMI license, which would cost about $2,000 a year.

"Unless I get one, there won't be any live music," Pasquale Santangeli said.

BMI attorney John C. Linderman said letters, some requiring a signature, were sent to the bar, before the suit was filed. But Musto said the owners considered the letters unsolicited offers, which they routinely discard as junk mail.

As they're pushed ever closer toward irrelevance by digital technology, ASCAP and BMI—and the recording industry generally—are acting more and more like mob bosses running a protection racket.

If people want to assemble peaceably in a bar to amuse one another with off-key renditions of "Feelings" or "Don't Stop Believin'," it should be nobody's business but their own.

When the BMI attorney comes knocking on my shower door, I'll know it's time to move to Patagonia.

Posted by Rodger on March 22, 2006 at 09:48 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)


Tony Rice


I went back to the Mayville Bluegrass Festival last weekend to hear Tony Rice.

Tony is one of a small group of acoustic musicians who play a limited concert schedule to comparatively small audiences. They are practitioners of what I call "living room music"—an approach to playing that's rooted in an era when music was played, unamplified, for the edification of a select few.

Tony lost his singing voice a few years ago to muscle tension dysphonia, a condition brought on by overuse and strain. It was a difficult thing to listen to him play "The Last Thing on My Mind" in a purely instrumental arrangement, remembering how beautifully he used to sing it. But it's also evident that the loss has deepened his love affair with the guitar. Rice sees himself as a kind of medium, through which the guitar's voice is channeled.

And the voice speaks in many languages: bluegrass, "spacegrass," old-timey, blues and jazz. A highlight of the concert was a stunning performance of George Gershwin's "Summertime," performed as a solo and then a duet with bassist Bryn Bright (who may well be the finest performer on that instrument since the late Scott LaFaro).

There is nothing scripted or studied about a Tony Rice performance. It's a spontaneous movement of the heart, a flurry of notes that seems to come from someplace altogether beyond time. And time is something that Tony Rice seems to control from the moment he steps on the stage. Measures and phrases are infinitely extensible, and melodies linger in the cool evening air, somehow just out of reach.

"I quit adhering to any kind of schedule years ago," Tony says. "I take it a day at a time."

That statement evidently applies to touring as well. Tony will be making only a handful of concert appearances this summer. If he lands somewhere near you, don't miss the chance to hear him. (His recordings, wonderful as they are, don't begin to do him justice; still, you can find some free .mp3s that give you some sense of the range of his work here.)

Tony's an American original, one of the last of a vanishing breed. As George Gobel used to say, you can't hardly get that kind no more.

UPDATE: There's a nice review of the Mayville Bluegrass Festival—which at $15 for a two-day pass has to represent one of the greatest entertainment bargains around—in The Buffalo News. Festival founder Bill Ward better watch himself; he may wind up becoming a cult figure like Bill Graham or George Wein one of these days.

UPDATE: Guess I wasn't the only one who loved Tony's act. I discovered this comment at TonyRice.com:

Just caught the TRU performance at the Mayville Bluegrass Festival - great show. Looked like the guys (and gal - Ms. Bright) were having a great time, as was the audience. It was a little chilly, but that's early summer in Western NY for you. It looked like it took a few tunes to literally get warmed up! I hope Tony's comment regarding wanting to come back to Mayville next year comes to fruition.
Jamestown, NY - Sunday, June 19, 2005 at 22:28:35 (EDT)

Posted by Rodger on June 25, 2005 at 10:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)


Giant Steps


Schlegel called architecture "frozen music."

Animator Michal Levy provides the proof, with a little help from John Coltrane.

(If it's not in your CD collection—and it should be—you can purchase the definitive Giant Steps here.)

Posted by Rodger on March 6, 2005 at 06:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)


Don't shoot the piano player


One of my first posts on this blog, "John Kerry, rock 'n' roll wannabe," received a comment today from Jack Radcliffe, The Electras' former piano player:

As the piano player in The Electras, I can attest to the fact that not only does Kerry not rock today—he didn't rock 42 years ago.

Harsh words from a member of Senator Kerry's original "band of brothers," but Jack's a working musician who clearly knows his craft.

The liner notes for The Electras' eponymous album describe him as "a madcap pianist from New Bedford, Mass., who can play anything from Tchaikovsky to Jerry Lee Lewis (were he to give a recital he would probably do just that) without batting an eye, and the possessor of a musical imagination so feverish it must be experienced to be believed." (How's that for piling on?)

Today "Ragtime Jack" is back on the road, playing ragtime, stride and blues piano all over New England. You can check out his web site here. It's got a number of blues and early jazz CDs (plus, of course, the original Electras album) and a complete calendar of tour dates. (You can also apply here to be one of Jack's roadies.)

Don't know about you, but I'm definitely planning to add him to my playlist.

Posted by Rodger on January 4, 2005 at 11:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)


Happy birthday, Chris Hillman


The Big Trunk has a post on today's Power Line in celebration of Chris Hillman's 60th birthday (or 61st or 62nd, depending on which source you believe). As with Sonny Clark or Gerald Moore—in very different musical contexts—I can't think of an album that hasn't been improved by Chris' playing on it. The man can't seem to play (or sing or write) a weak note. Though he played second fiddle (bass, actually) to Roger McGuinn in the Byrds, Chris is truly one of the most talented vocalists, songwriters and mandolin players of the last four decades.

I was in a mandolin workshop with Roland White (brother of late Byrds' and Kentucky Colonels' guitarist Clarence White) in Mayville, New York, last summer, when Chris and his musical partner, Herb Pedersen, dropped by to pick up a few picking tips from their old friend. The two of them sat patiently until Roland had finished, then introduced themselves and launched into one of the most achingly beautiful versions of "Bury Me Beneath the Willow" I'd every heard. It was a magical moment. Later that evening, they closed the Mayville Bluegrass Festival with a set that spanned Chris' musical career from the Hillmen and the Scotsville Squirrel Barkers to the Byrds to the Flying Burrito Brothers to Manassas to the Desert Rose Band to, of course, Hillman and Pedersen. Only Chris could pull off "Turn! Turn! Turn!" with a mandolin instead of a 12-string Rickenbacker.

If you haven't kept up with Chris Hillman's prolific output since his Byrds/Burrito Bros. days, you owe it to yourself to pick up a few of the dozen or more albums currently in print. I'd be hard-pressed frankly to recommend one over another, though Bakersfield Bound and Way Out West spent a lot of time in the CD player of my car this summer. And if he's back at Mayville—or any other bluegrass festival this summer—don't miss his act.

So happy birthday, Chris. Here's wishing you many, many more.

Posted by Rodger on December 4, 2004 at 06:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)