Friday, May 28, 2010

B.B. King goes to Europe at age 84






If all goes according to plan, B.B. King and his fabulous band have crossed the pond by now and will be in Paris Sunday or Monday. I won't be going but I hope the Europeans will be as kind to B.B. as the Americans have been. Keep in mind, he is an 84 year old blues legend and that can never change.

Why, you ask, is this significant to me, a little (4'10-1/2") blogger like me? Two of my dearest friends are likely to meet somewhere in France in the next few days. B.B.'s keyboard player, Ernest Vantrease, a.k.a. The Deacon, as he was known during the 30 years he played with Ray Charles, will meet with one of the co-founders of Soul Bag magazine, Joel Dufour. There should be two dots over the 'e' in Joel but I don't know how to make that happen on my blog.

Joel has devoted many years to interviewing and writing about American blues musicians, mostly black (or if I'm going to be p.c. African American or is it now Afro-American?) We all know what I mean and no offense is intended toward anyone, obviously since many of these musicians are my friends.

In his quest to identify the musicians behind the musicians, those whose names are recognizable only to serious music fans, Joel has sought out the people who played horns, drums, keyboards, guitars, etc. in order to give them credit and keep their memories alive. He is truly one of a kind.

I've seen a lot of concerts in the past 6 months. Each front-man introduced the members of their bands but usually the applause was louder than their names. Clapton gives his musicians their due and so does Roger Daltry but the only names I remember from their recent tour was Peter Townsend's brother (whose name I didn't catch) who is playing guitar in Peter's place due to his battle with deafness.

I realize the musicians in the background change from tour to tour, but don't you think that Clapton hand-picked those who would back him up? Can you name them? I can't.

Leon Russell and Willie Nelson did a better job. I liked the fact that Leon had a young guitar player, introduced him and let him do one of the guitar player's songs with the spotlight on him. That was classy.

When I saw Tony Bennett, he gave credit to every songwriter who had written the song he was about to sing as well as the artist who originally recorded the song and made it famous. That was super-classy, but I guess when you are 80 years old you have learned humility although Bennett always struck me as humble. Maybe that is something you can't learn.

Michael Buble is a terrific crooner who puts on a great show but he has not written a single song; he co-wrote "I just haven't met you yet" with his keyboard player, whose name I can't recall. He gives no credit to any songwriters and the young fans who created an atmosphere that could only be called 'Michael-mania' screamed and carried on, throwing roses on stage just as a teenager might for the Jonas Brothers. I interviewed a few of these love-sick girls, who would be very disappointed to know that he has a steady girlfriend, and asked them if they knew who wrote the songs he sang. They all believe Michael did. He sang a song written by Leon Russell, one written by Bobby Darin and the list goes on. I also asked if the girls knew who the bandmembers were and they could not name a single one.

Alas, Joel Dufour has taken on a mighty task. Many of the great musicians he is trying to credit for their work are no longer alive but still deserve to be remembered. Leroy Cooper, of course is one of them. Most people don't know his name even though he stood front and center leading the Ray Charles orchestra for 20 years, doubling on baritone sax.

So it is with a happy heart that I wish for my friend Ernest Vantrease to meet with my committed friend, Joel Dufour to try to put together some of the musicians with the songs and albums on which they played and got no credit for on the liner notes.

Hats off to both of them for doing something that rarely gets done anymore, remembering the greats that are no longer with us but whose music will live forever.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Thanks for the Song - #fridayflash



The faraway song of the sirens had grown to a screeching wail before stopping abruptly. What seemed like nonstop footsteps replaced the wailing. I was expecting a loud thud as the emergency team broke through the door. The sound of the turning knob was somewhat disappointing. Apparently the door was unlocked. Uniformed firemen rushed into the bedroom. On the bed was a small figure propped up on pillows, arms wrapped tightly around the midsection. The wild words of pain were written across the face. No sounds were uttered. Eyes resembled those in “The Scream”.

Paramedics did their job. Checked vitals, carefully unfolded the trembling body and transferred it onto a gurney. There was a snap as the height of the gurney dropped and carried it down the stairs, only slightly heavier when then they’d brought it up. And then the sirens started again. They sounded buffered from inside the bus, enveloping the mind. The hospital was only blocks away. Again the snap as the legs of the gurney extended so the wheels would reach the pavement. Then, no more pavement—smooth floors—wheeled into an examination room. People in blue surrounded her. Voices were indistinguishable. It was just noise. This is what it is like to be in shock. Everyone was moving and doing something but all sensation was focused on the pain. Finally sleep came as a release.

The hospital room was quiet. The IV drip was infused with morphine. Pain was replaced with peace but the quiet was deafening. There was no TV in the room. No radio. No roommate. On the bedside table was a phone. After dialing the number a friendly voice finally broke through. WNEW, Vin Scelsa here.

“Hi Vin. It’s me. I’m in the hospital.”

“Oh my God. What happened? Were you in an accident?”

“No, I don’t think so. I woke up with so much pain I couldn’t move. I called 911 and now I’m somewhere in Teaneck in a hospital room.”

“Do they know what’s wrong? Can you hold on a minute?

“Yeah, I think so.”

“And that was the haunting sound of Leonard Cohen to cheer up those depressive listeners.”

A commercial could be heard through the phone.

“Are you there?”

“Yes, I’m still here. I love Leonard Cohen.”

“I know. What are you doing in the hospital?”

“Mostly just laying here enjoying the morphine right now. I woke up and the pain was gone but nobody’s been in the room so I assumed it was night and I took a chance and thought I might get through to you. I needed to hear a familiar voice.”

“Well, you’ve certainly got my attention. What do you think is happening?”

“I don’t know. I was okay when I went to bed but right now I’m hoping that death will come soon and put me out of my misery. If the drugs wear off I won’t be able to stand that pain again. I’d rather be dead.”

“Don’t say that! Stay on the phone with me while I get some music going. I’ve got something cued up. It seems only logical to follow Leonard with Joanie. You’re listening to Vin Scelsa on WNEW-FM. Okay, I’m back. Can you hear the music?”

“Yup. It’s so good to hear music.”

“I’m going to help you through the night, Suzi Butterfly. Just tell me what you want to hear and I’ll let you program the show. Will that help you hang in?”

“Just hearing your voice, Vin, helps. It’s good to know I have a friend who I can call in the middle of the night. The music is great. Weird to be in a room with no TV or radio. Mostly the radio. You know me, I can’t live without my music.”

“What do you want to hear?”

“Something bluesy by Clapton. How ‘bout Bell Bottom Blues?”

“Coming right up. Just relax and keep listening. Don’t let go, okay? I’ll stay with you through the night.”

The dreaminess was surreal. The darkened room. The telephone laying on the pillow next to her ear. Music flowing from the receiver interrupted by her friend’s voice and encouragement.

“There’s no place like home,” Dorothy said. That was the morning sign-off to his program that started at midnight with, “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.” Vin took his listeners on a trip to Oz every night and then brought them back again. Many of them were enjoying the trip anyway.

Vin was now talking in his velvety voice without interruption.

“The sun should be coming up soon. Are you still with me?”

“Yeah, I’m here. Sorry you’re going home, though.”

“Do you want me to come by the hospital on my way?”

“No. I’ll just wait for the doctors and find out what’s going on.”

“Alright Butterfly. Call me at home as soon as you know. Fredda should be up by then and you know I don’t go to sleep until later.”

“Thanks, Vin. If I live through this, this is a night I’ll never forget.”

“Don’t say that, Suzi. You’re gonna get through it. Call me.”

Reverie swept her into a place far away. Maybe this was Oz. A nurse came in and shattered the delusion. Time for vital signs again.

“The doctors will be in to talk to you in a few minutes.”

And then there were men in white jackets. Was this an asylum?

“The tests show your gall bladder is full of stones. We’re going to operate this morning. After we get it out of there you should feel much better.”

Widening eyes looked up at their blurry faces. Surgery?

“Do you have any questions? Who can we call?”

“Nobody. I’m on my own. Do I need to sign anything?”

“The nurse will be in with the paperwork. We’re getting the O.R. ready. You’ll have to stay here for a week after surgery and then you should be good to go.”

Alone again. The shuffling sound of feet brought back reality. The nurse was standing by the bed with papers to be signed.

“Why is the phone off the hook?” she asked as she picked up the receiver and put it back in its cradle.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Meeting Leroy Cooper - memoir of conversations


The great philosopher Yogi Berra once said, "If you come to a fork in the road take it." I had come to that fork. I have written a book that is near completion was not taking the right course. I had almost decided to ditch the book and close my business. I make a decent living writing articles and I thought that maybe I should stick to that for now.

Last week I had an epiphany. I saw my friend, Ernest Vantrease, keyboard player for B.B. King. The band was in town for a show. After visiting with Ernie and feeling the strong bond we share I considred our history and how we got to know each other. When I traced my steps back to our meeting I realized that I was taking the wrong approach to the book. My original plan had been to write Leroy Cooper's memoir. In fact, that project took on a life of its own during the 2-1/2 years that I worked with Leroy. I met many people who knew him, did interviews with a variety of people, many of whom played with Ray Charles when Leroy was his bandleader, and even had one of them visit and stay in my home in order to attend Leroy's funeral.

After seeing Ernie I realized that what I should be writing is my brief memoir describing the experiences since I met Leroy Cooper and how that first meeting led me to where I am today. Of course, Leroy's stories are a large part of my story but each one took me in a direction that I chose to pursue in tracking down old friends of his and forming some new relationships. And therein lies the story.

I have a new plan and will follow this path right up until the present. I have heard the expression, "Write about what you know." Well, there is nothing I know better than my own experiences told from my point of view. I was never intended to be a ghost writer on the project and I am not a ghost. I am a writer and have decided to start from the beginning, about 3 years ago and bring it forward.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

I don't care what they say...



There's an old song that was recorded by Peter & Gordon back in the '70s I think. It's called A World Without Love. The chorus goes something like this: "I don't care what they say I won't live in a world without love."

Of course I agree with those sentiments but I'd like to add that I wouldn't want to live in a world without music. As some of my favorites age I am looking for young musicians to listen to. I need to be prepared to replace my favorites with new ones.

In the past 6 months I have been to many concerts including: Willie Nelson, Eric Clapton, Roger Daltry, Leon Russell and B.B. King.

Russell has been a favorite of mine since I heard his first album A Song For You. He is 68 and has had brain surgery recently but is still performing and putting on a good show.

Nelson is 76. He's recording some great music and sings like a bird with his unmistakeable voice.

Daltry (not to be confused with Daughtry, an up and coming rock star who was voted off American Idol) is the only member of the Who left performing. Peter Townsend, the brilliant songwriter who brought us our first rock opera, Tommy, is stone deaf and expected to have implant surgery. If it is successful, Daltry said, they will be back on the road touring together within the year.

King is 84 and I would venture a guess that his recording career may be over. He has left us a great deal of music and will never be gone in my heart and ears. He is still touring but probably not for much longer. He has a GREAT band who should keep going when the time comes. His keyboard player, Ernest Vantrease a.k.a. The Deacon, played with Ray Charles until 2004 when Ray died (passed, as they say now). Ernie is still young and will find another gig when the time comes. He is my friend and I go to see B.B. every time he comes to town just to see Ernest and hear him play. (The picture above is from 5/4/2010 with my friend Ernie and my hubby.)

And then there's Clapton. I've been listening to Clapton since his first album with Cream, Disraeli Gears, was brought across the pond. I have watched his life take twists and turns. Nobody thought he would survive his addiction and then the loss of his son. His music has evolved in rhythm with his life and strangely enough, with mine.

I listen to him a little bit every day--or almost every day--at least in my head. I could not tell you which of his albums is my favorite. Every year I wait anxiously for a new one to be released and I fall in love with him--er, I mean his music--all over again.

Eventually, everybody has to die. I know the current politically correct word is "pass" not die but either way he won't be recording anymore. I fear that day.

Let me simply say that I hope he outlives me because I don't care what they say, I don't want to live in a world without Clapton! Okay, okay. I'm not going to do anything stupid but I think I've made my point. Have to go now, Eric's on TV singing Hoochie Coochie Man.

In line with my last post, I think I'll designate May 8 as Clapton Day. And maybe, May 9. And maybe, well, let's just say that every day is Clapton Day in my little world.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Blue Sweater - #Fridayflash


Here is my Mother's Day story for #Fridayflash (check it out on Twitter). Please comment and/or critique as you see fit.


“I can’t find my blue sweater,” Addy whined from her bedroom. Addy had that frustrated look on her face that is so common with tweens—you know, the ‘whatever’ generation. Her mother was preparing lunches downstairs for Addy and her brother and looked up with a half smile on her face. She recognized the tone of her daughter’s voice.

“Have you looked in your closet?” she yelled to her daughter.

“Of course I looked in my closet. What are you making me for lunch? Oh no, not peanut butter and bananas again. My friends all bring things like ham and cheese and they think I’m poor because you keep giving me peanut butter and banana sandwiches.”

It was obvious that her mother didn’t understand what being a 12 year old girl was like these days.

“What did you do with my sweater, Mom?”

“Did you look in your middle drawer? Why not look in all your drawers. Maybe I just put it in the wrong drawer after I did the laundry.”

That would be just like her mother, Addy thought, putting her sweater in the wrong place.

“No, it’s not in any of my drawers. I wanted to wear that sweater today. It’s my favorite. I’ve looked everywhere. What did you do with it?”

“Addy, what can I do to you if I come upstairs and find that sweater in your room? Hmmm?”

Silence.

“Can I ground you for the weekend?”

Silence.

“Can I spank you?”

Silence.

“Can I take away your cell phone for a week?”

Finally, Addy couldn’t stand it anymore. She knew her mother wouldn’t find it in her room so she yelled, “Yes! Yes! Yes! You can do all of those things. But you’ll never find it because it’s not There.”

Mom finished packing the lunches and walked up the stairs and stood in Addy’s doorway. Her daughter sat on the bed in her bra and jeans sulking.

“It’s lost!” she said.

Mom walked over to Addy’s closet. The floor was covered with clothes, some clean and some dirty. Bending over the pile, her mother lifted a pair of rejected jeans out of the stack. Under those there was a tee shirt with a peace symbol on it and spread out beneath that was a nightshirt.

“See? I told you it was lost,” Addy whined.

And then her mother picked up the nightshirt and there it was—the blue sweater. Without a word she picked up the sweater and smelled the armpits. It hadn’t been worn since she had washed it. She put it on the bed, smoothed it out while Addy looked on in amazement.

“You found it!” she wailed. “Oh mom, thank you!” she said as she slipped the sweater over her head.

“Turn around,” her mother said.

“What?”

“Turn around.”

“Why?” Addy said as she started to turn.

“Because I’m going to spank you, and then take away your cell phone and, by the way you’re grounded for the weekend.”

Addy’s face froze. “My cell phone? Grounded for the weekend? Go ahead and spank me but don’t take away my cell phone!” Panic had overcome Addy’s 12 year old face.

“Say please,” her mother said.

“Please, mom, please?”

“Okay, Addy. You’re blue sweater looks nice but you should take better care of your things. Go downstairs and get your lunch. You’re going to miss the bus.”

In a flash Addy was down the stairs leaving her mother standing there smiling. As she ran out the door her mother heard her say quietly, “I love you, mom.” She didn’t answer. She didn’t need to. Addy knew.

© Susan Cross May 2010