Monday, December 31, 2007

more on musicians who have been role models, who have influenced me, etc. i would say that i'm trying to get this in under the new year's bell (it is 11:18 here) but who knows what the post will say when it happens, and, it is already new year on 2/3 of the globe anyway. it's kind of old news, in that i've been mulling it over for weeks. but have been set back by a number of events, both time and access to computer have been limited here. here goes-

candy davis- i start out with my partner because she is truly inspirational. leader of our band, she just keeps writing and performing music, making cd's, and doing pr for the band, entirely on her own time and her own terms.

dave lynch- a guy who probably has no webpage- was a guy who employed me as a house painter in the 1970's in rural iowa and actually invited me to be part of my first band, the dogs of love, though we only played at one gig that i remember, at an american legion hall. dave had leanings toward hank williams and beer, though the beer came as a natural complement to house painting. he's the one who once sent me to the paint store saying, an iowa paint store only has three colors, farmhouse white, john deere green, and international red- and we're painting houses, so i'm sure you'll bring back the right color.

sarah mclachlan- who figured out how to rise to the top of the folk world, then made this, a video about how the music industry wastes money that could be feeding people. either a political, heartfelt statement or masterful pr move, either way, it moved me.

greg brown, was kicking around iowa city at the same time i was, wrote songs about iowa, life and fatherhood; was more determined to make it than i was; always got a great bass and rythym section to join him, and really made it by going up to st paul and joining up with garrison keillor and prairie home companion; now i understand he has married iris dement and moved to kansas city. though i'm sure he wouldn't remember me, i did meet him once or twice; once he gave me a word of encouragement on my music, when i was playing at the mill- and i actually was his paperboy for a while, when he lived on brown street, but even then he paid his bill by mail, and i didn't have occasion to see him, at 6 am, in the bitter winter mornings of the late 70's.

yvette burns and marnie leverett- my first piano teacher and my mother- i list them here, because they have encouraged me for a lifetime, and it's really paid off. they would both say: just do it. you can get a lifetime of enjoyment from it. and they were right.

odetta, who showed that all christmas music is not the same, nobody owns it, different takes on it can show it in light you might have never seen. similarly, when jimi hendrix did the star spangled banner at woodstock, though many people thought he was being disrespectful, i thought it was the best version ever. it was full of his own soul, his own take on it. once, at a fourth of july party, i took out my fiddle and did my version of his version of the star spangled banner. maybe not the same musical accuracy that i could have had if i did it tonight. but, i learned that he was right. put your soul into it, really lean into it, and they'll recognize it for the best you can do. and they'll take their hats off to it.

i met tom petty one night at about 3:30 am at a rest area of the ohio turnpike. i'm tom petty, he said. i'm tom leverett, i said to him, not, at the time, knowing who he was. he'd just become big; i remember, i heard one of his songs that same day, a little later in the day, but didn't know who he was at the time he'd said that. most likely he was on tour; why else would someone be so wide awake at 3:30 am? for me, it was because i was back in northern ohio.

a bagpipe player in toronto, who taught me that if you go busking, pick a good city (toronto, i figure, is the best in north america)- then, pick a good instrument, one you can hear for about a mile. then, pick a day when a northern city is warming up, say, in april. then, and maybe only then, you can make a fair pocketful.

robert russell, a friend of mine here in town, loves the delta blues, but plays for a band called creole stomp. sticks doggedly to delta blues in his heart; if he can, he goes down to the crossroads to hear the masters. a town as small as this can't appreciate him fully, as he's really good, but now that he's with the band, he gets out, and lots of people hear him. dennis stroughmatt, lead fiddler in the band, went down to louisiana, learned both cajun fiddle and the language, now there's a role model for you. or, for me, one who loves cajun, loves french, and loves fiddle.

missed a few, i realize. but it's late, it's been a while, i've lost track a little. life has been busy, but i finally played fiddle again tonight, first time since t'sgiving and the hole in my head. some operations, flu in the family, and hosted a good holiday in spite of it, but now, still trying to finish and move on with our lives. in fact i tripped on the plug in the middle of this post, and the post alone took me days; i started it back in is, after all, now a new year, and i wish you all a good one.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

musicians who have influenced me, been my role models, my mentors, my guiding spirits - in no particular order (part 1):

margot leverett, my younger sister, made it in new york and europe, at the top of her game, as a klezmer clarinetist. think carefully about what you want, she told some students here one time when she was visiting. you can do it. she put every ounce of her expressive ability into her clarinet, and you can hear it. every whine, laugh, moan, cut, rag, nag, loving smother, etc., that i heard as a child- it's right there.

phil ajioka and his partner tom albanese, may have the partner's name wrong, a couple of blues players in iowa in the seventies. they called themselves mudcat- phil lived in my house. iowans, 95% white, would blink on hearing blues from a japanese-american (from hollywood) slide player and an italian-new jersian harmonica player, but the music was excellent. the desire to play fiddle was born in me when i could hear things banjos couldn't play. for years they played up iowa, wore it out, & left. too bad for iowa.

chrissie hynde who is from my hometown of cleveland (or nearby) and not ashamed of it, and decided, rock is what we do, in the anchor of the rust belt, & i can do it as well as anyone. you can be proud of a hometown, even if it has a complex about itself. pretenders- a good name for a band, too.

scotty hayward, kalimbaman, plays african thumb piano, in the heart of iowa, has ten kids, two more than me, and rocks. one of the first guys to get me to hear african music, more about that to come.

john hartford, followed his spirit, sang about what he loved, steamboats; went to nashville and made it, but came back to the river to go up and down the river playing dinky towns like murphysboro, where i heard him once before he died. could fiddle and sing at the same time, but also made music with mouth, lips, feet, various extremities, giving the sound of a soul orchestra virtually every time he played. wrote dozens, hundreds of songs, gentle on my mind, one of the best i know of.

linda ronstadt, cashed in her pop fame and did canciones de mi padre, on my list this season. my own padre wasn't much of a singer, but i've heard scottish and quebecois bands that must have touched something on my mother's side, one year i went to the winnipeg folk festival, quite by chance and liked the way they used "folk" to mean everything from american r&b, pete seeger to the tannahill weavers & ma tante alys.

robert hoyt, made his own cd (listen to "this star"), may have given up music, don't know, cd looks a little like mine would, if i made it today, which reminds me, got a book and calendar to print, & it's snowin' like a dog.

more to come. i do this for regina rodriguez, who's a great singer, a blogger, and in a funk about music. hope i'll find some that reach y'all, i have still about twenty more, maybe. don't give up.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Thomas Arthur the juggler- makes noise when you open it. But, a good juggler is always worth watching.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

dear reader, i'm afraid i've failed you. i have reasons- wife in surgery, leaky roof, end of semester, computer crash at office, weighty heap of research papers, sick pets, and finally, a dramatic fall from a ladder, getting down off the roof, when a wooden ladder backed up and sunk into the soft ground somehow, dropping me ten feet and landing me flat on my face on the walkway, requiring 12-15 stitches in my face, and some rest and letting the world go on by without me temporarily. as i sit here, my left eye, the good one, is still usually shut from the swelling; the stitches won't be too bad in the end but it will take days to get the swelling down and now i'm doing things to avoid thinking about grading, which will have to be finished before i really relax.

it took them a while to tell my wife that she doesn't have cancer, at least not that they know, but any other informatiion they could have, that might explain what has been bothering her, they haven't been forthcoming at all with. so, for a while, i was driving around a lot, getting out of work early, staying up late grading. as a cold rainy spell settled in (ice in st. louis, snow and ice further north) it got very grim and gray here, and the dripping in the back rooms got worse. i'd listen to an old afel bocoum cd in the car- he's a malian artist who is hard to listen to the first five or ten times, but then grows on you, and now that i don't drive as much, i miss him. a kind of chanting, haunting sound, with intense rhythms and a great voice- he was playing whenever i was just going from here to there, picking someone up. the day of the lights parade, a football game and a basketball game were also in town, and of course, one can't deny one's children the lights parade, so, we went down there, the boys and i, and got caught behind game traffic, and they wouldn't let us get anywhere near the actual parade. we had to walk all the way across campus, only to find that they'd moved the parade a little north, away from campus and away from our usual safe hostel, warm and with bathroom, the interfaith. when we finally got down onto the side of the street where the last of the floats were coming round the corner, it was cold, but there were lots of people, and no place for a man, boy and stroller to just stand. we walked a little ways further and finally stopped to watch- the clydesdale horses, a float of people dancing, a firetruck with a dalmation-person in it. and finally, the float with santa, who looked right at the boys and said hello, before i even noticed. i was still catching my breath, i think. but this was santa himself, what the kids come to see, and my little guys, i think, didn't give the usual squealing response, maybe they were even a little perplexed. santa moved along, and asked a student if the salukis had won, and, finding out that they had, said, go salukis! there weren't a lot of kids in the immediate area; in fact, we were at a beauty salon, where young women, who apparently worked there, were sharing some wine in the cold- but this was a spot where a stroller could sit and not severely obstruct traffic. what i had trouble with, at that moment, really, was the realization that, seeing santa meant it was over. that was it. time for the long walk back.

the afel bocoum cd is now a memory- not driving, i've been at home, taking long naps, trying to get my spirit up to finish the term, reading my e-mail with my right eye, the one i usually use for peripheral vision. the fall on saturday was terrible, a visit to the heart of emergency room procedures- but i think it will all be ok- i look like i've been in a bar fight, in fact, so i've been saying i got into a barfight with a roof, a ladder, and a walkway. some people came and rigged up the roof so the dripping would stop at least until good construction could start- maybe in the spring. we're back to a schedule- getting boys off to school, trying to get out of it ourselves, trying to get to where we can even think about the holidays and all the decoration, etc. most of all i'm grateful. i fell flat on my face, opened it wide, yet still have my thinking, my eyesight, my family- my experience seems to have brought out lots of other stories- other people i know who have fallen from ladders, are suffering in some way, or even dying- and, altogether, i was lucky, and still am. the little boys still love me, though they look at my eye funny, and ask about it, occasionally. my wife brings me medicine and protects me from the high-speed work culture that wants to finish and get out of there- which i'm actually getting sucked back into, because i, too, want to finish and get out of there. my students did well this term- i have good stuff to show, but, enough is enough. what i really need is a break. what sounds, here on the computer, like afel's african fiddle, or something like that- brings me a faraway melody, escapist it may be. i'll get back on my feet- get stuff done, get ready for the holiday. the grim weather report brings more rain. i am grateful that i've gotten as much support as i have- that friends and family have stepped in- that now, finally, i feel better enough at least to blog, and let folks know what's happening. didn't mean to keep you in the dark so long. i'll get on to more pleasant subjects, a.s.a.p.