April 28, 2017

A quick little anecdote about Dave Alvin before I dive into this show. This ties to the previous post, Dead Reckoning at Johnny D’s. 

In the post-show euphoria of the August 4, 1995 Dead Reckoning show at Johnny D’s, when the crowd would not disperse, Marvoni and I struck up a conversation with another couple as we milled about the room. I have no recall about how we happened on the subject of Dave Alvin—of whom, at the time, I had only cursory knowledge. He once was in the Blasters. They sang Marie Marie, and beyond that I knew nothing. Well, the woman (who I believe is Cousin Kate of the Sunday morning radio show, Sunday Morning Country, 10 to 2 on WZBC 90.3 FM,) became very animated when the subject somehow turned to Dave Alvin. She told us we should do ourselves a favor and see Dave. He is the greatest, his band is tremendous, yada yada. Truthfully, her enthusiasm over Dave Alvin was memorable. I say memorable because we ran into her eighteen years later at a 2017 Dave and Phil Alvin show at the Sinclair in Harvard Square, and after that show we approached her to reintroduce ourselves and remind her of her enthusiastic endorsement of Dave—an effective endorsement at that, as the Sinclair show made it more than a half-dozen times seeing Dave and the Guilty Men/Ones. Having taken her up on her suggestion, Dave has become an all-time favorite in our household. We got a chance to thank Cousin Kate. She unknowingly (until that June 2017 night) opened the door through which Marvoni and I entered into the straight-up badass musical world of one Dave Alvin, guitar slinging troubadour from the Golden State. If you don’t know it, I’m telling you, the dude is a treasure! In hindsight it’s easy to understand Cousin Kate’s over-the-top ardor for this treasure, because to catch a live Dave Alvin show is to walk away stone cold sold on his musical brilliance. I’m not joking. It only takes one time, and you’re hooked – kind of like musical cocaine.  

So now it’s March 2017 and we have information our friends Debra and BraveJoe Chromy are setting up permanent residence in Arlington, VA sometime in the late spring. We have a case of the blues over this news. I don’t remember the specific timeframe, but seemingly out of nowhere Marvoni dropped a swell surprise on me by announcing two of our favorite musicians (Dave Alvin and Marty Stuart) are playing back-to-back nights at the Birchmere in Alexandria, VA. Unknown to me, he hatched a plan to get tickets for both shows for us and the Chromys. We would then use this as an excuse to make our first visit to Chromy Castle South. Debra and Joe came quickly on board and in late-April we showed up on their doorstep where they graciously hosted us for a weekend of top-shelf musicology. 

Before we go any further, I’m going to advise any readers of this blog, if you don’t know Dave Alvin, or know his music, or are aware of his chops, stop what you’re doing and swing over to YouTube and give him a listen. Go for something live: Johnny Ace is Dead, Jubilee Train, Dry River, Marie Marie. It’s important to know just how exquisite is this guy’s musical prowess.

Dave Alvin & The Guilty Ones
The Birchmere, Alexandria, VA
April 28, 2017
©2019 Cindy Regan Design

Okay, good. Let’s go.

Friday April 28, 2017. Late afternoon, Marvoni, BraveJoe and I drove over to the Birchmere to stand in line for general admission entrance to the show. Bill Kirchen and Too Much Fun were opening, and we wanted to be in our seats when Kirchen and band took the stage. Debra joined us after clocking out of her job downtown  in DC. Bill Kirchen, of Hot Rod Lincoln fame, opened with a rollicking set of old school rockabilly. The man was in full possession of his instrumental chops and his set was the very definition of F-U-N! He played lots of favorites: the bitchin’ truck driving classic, Semi TruckSmoke Smoke Smoke That CigaretteHillbilly Truck Drivin’ Man, and of course, Hot Rod Lincoln. It was a robust and joyful set that knocked the crowd on its ass and put us in the right space for the whirlwind that was Dave Alvin and the Guilty Ones. We were already getting pretty well oiled when Dave and crew took the stage. We didn’t let up and neither did Dave and the band. They opened with a ripping version of Harlan County Line with Dave’s familiar stinging guitar licks, and the badass Lisa Pankratz furiously holding down the beat behind her drum kit. They steamrolled right into Jubilee Train and we were off. The rest of the set list is as follows:

Southern Flood Blues, (Big Bill Broonzy), King of CaliforniaJohnny Ace is DeadLong White CadillacAbilene,ShenandoahAshgroveDry River, and Fourth of July, which closed the set. They then followed with a three-song encore: The Gardens (honoring Chris Gaffney), Out in California, and the Blasters’ classic, Marie Marie. There was no letup in intensity until the beautiful, spare ShenandoahDry River and Fourth of July returned us to the heat. Then the encore kicked our ass. This classic set of tunes was the whole Dave Alvin package: Alvin’s own beautifully written contributions to the American roots music canon, inspired covers, furious rockers, austere ballads, all delivered with virtuosity, intensity, and joy. This was the sort of show that diminishes your hearing. Ears ring through the next day and maybe there’s a twinge of regret for the potential hearing loss, but in the moment there’s only a fuzzy headiness. In that fuzzy headiness lies strange pleasure. 

Midway through the set we sent up a beer to Dave from our table, 218, and he thanked 218 for it! O sweet validation. It made me swoon. The beer flowed crazy all night. Two things are consistent for every Dave Alvin show I’ve ever attended: the drinking always gets out of hand, almost as an expected reflex to the sparks flying from the stage. Despite always feeling like shit the next day, it ALWAYS feels worth going overboard because in the moment this band’s mastery of its gift is flat-out conducive to drinking. They’re a real-deal-honky-tonk-good-time-rock-and-roll tornado. The natural response is to drink along. The second consistency is this: any time we’ve brought friends to Dave for the first time, they can’t help but acknowledge his badassery, and they always come away freshly-minted Dave Alvin fans. It’s futile to resist falling for him and his killer band. This is what Cousin Kate imparted on us twenty-four years ago. It still holds true. Man, we owe Cousin Kate a major debt of gratitude! 

The hallmark of any of the great shows is that feeling of floating away when it ends. A lightness carried us off to downtown DC where we indulged in adult milkshakes and late-night munchies, and shared good fortune to have witnessed rock and roll magic once more. 

I have thought of this often in the past two years: I wish every year were like 2017. That year Marvoni and I got to see Dave Alvin three times—three different shows, three amazing shows. The Birchmere show was super special in that we got to share our love of this singular artist with our friends, Debra and BraveJoe. It was a wonderfully memorable night. 

One of the great nights. 

Rock on, my friends. 

xo

In the 1990s when I was avidly exploring country music, I sought it wherever I could find it. Marvoni and I made a number of trips to Nashville where we had begun our survey in 1988. Ultimately, what we found in Music City led us to explore other geographic areas where music was deeply embedded in the firmament and from where it flowed: Appalachia and the Delta primarily. But that’s another story for another day. Today’s story starts in Nashville and follows a winding path to Holland Street in Somerville. 

I followed a similarly winding path to arrive at my love of country music. That love started in my subconscious and took root serendipitously when we found ourselves on vacation in Nashville in the late 1980s. I was exposed to country & western music in the kitchen of a childhood friend’s home. His mom listened to a local C & W radio station playing both hard honky tonk and the smooth countrypolitan sounds of the early 1970s. Despite the musical stylings of George & Tammy, Charley Pride, Lynn Anderson, et al, flowing through my ear canal straight to my brain, nothing gained a toe-hold that would cause me to even acknowledge its existence in my consciousness. Or so I thought. 

Fast forward 15 years and Marvoni and I are in Nashville on a trip having nothing to do with the signature industry of Music City. We arrived in town from Memphis, where we chased around that town’s musical heritage, chiefly, Elvis and the rest of the cats recording at Sun Studio in the 1950s. When we hit Nashville, on a lark, we leaned into the music. We tuned into local radio and started listening to top-40 country and the chart-toppers of the minute. Nothing more than a ‘when in Rome’ move. As luck would have it, at this very moment in time, a portal opened in commercial country music and a bunch of genre-bending, roots-influenced, and other actual country-sounding acts came flooding through. For a brief sliver of time these guys fared well in the commercial realm. Rodney Crowell, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Steve Earle, Dwight Yoakam, K.D. Lang, and others got significant airplay not just on commercial country radio but on my turntable, too. I slightly digress. The point I’m trying to make is this: on this brief three-day visit to Nashville, through the briefest exposure to the hits of the day, I had a real eureka moment. One that has lasted to this day. I fell in love with what I was hearing. I fell fast and hard. At Ernest Tubb’s Record Shop I loaded up on country music. At the Country Music Hall of Fame I binged on country music history. On Music Row I basked in the story of this company town.   

I was hooked. That’s a lot of words to make a small point. My love of the genre was so all-encompassing I sought to consume country music wherever and whenever I could. 

Fast forward seven years from discovery. Marvoni and I are couch-bound on a random week night watching Crook & Chase on the Nashville Network. The Crook & Chase show was a country music talk show, totally generic in presentation, but incorporating acts of all stripes and sizes: commercial Hot Countryacts, old-timer acts, roots-acts, etc. On any given night you might see a guest combo of Trisha Yearwood (contemporary hit-maker), Merle Haggard (classic country artist), and Hot Rize (repping No Depression acts.) On this particular night—and this recollection is crazyvivid 24 years later—Crook and Chase were spotlighting Kieran Kane and Tammy Rogers. Kiern Kane was best known as the former partner of Jamie O’Hara in the well-regarded O’Kanes (early practitioners of sub-genre Americana – though not yet dubbed such,) and Tammy Rogers was a session fiddler. Together with Kevin Welch (singer-songwriter), Harry Stinson (session drummer), and Mike Henderson (blues-rock guitar slinger), Kane and Rogers formed an independent record company called Dead Reckoning Records. They made this move after being dropped from their respective labels, and—going forward—desiring to create music not product. They did two songs, the first of which, I believe was Dirty Little Town, and the second was a stripped-down, exquisite cover of the Hank Williams tune Ramblin’ Man. Both were eye-opening in their simplicity and beauty. When the interview wrapped, the production crew posted a graphic showing upcoming shows by the Dead Reckoning Records roster. One of the shows listed was Johnny D’s Boston. After taking righteous umbrage at the dis to Somerville, I immediately pursued tickets to the show. If you were on the ball getting tickets for a Johnny D’s show, you also reserved a table for dinner, thus guaranteeing a prime seat for the show. Tickets and table in hand, so to speak, Marvoni and I walked the three blocks from our Somerville apartment to the venue on a beauty of an early August night. We had no clue what we were in store for. 

Imagined ticket stub (Johnny D’s didn’t have tickets.)
Created in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop,
finished with Retro Supply Co. and Mr. Retro filters.
©Cindy Regan Design

There was a warm up act, the Swinging Steaks. They were pretty good, not terribly memorable, outside of their name. As the Steaks finished up, there was a restless energy shooting around the room. I can’t really say if that is just a nudge of nostalgia, but I remember a palpable buzz going through the crowd as the Dead Reckoners took the stage. Or it could be that the energy exploded the second they started into their first song. This Night of Reckoningwas just the five principles of the record label. They were out on the road to introduce themselves and their brand. They had this new collective and they were bringing it to the people in loud and fiery fashion. They fucking rocked this room to its core. Everybody got their turn as they cranked out roots-rock, blues-rock, bluegrass, country … beautiful, late 20th century country music. For real, this audacious brand of country music laid to waste the sophisticated Somerville throng. This crowd was impressively receptive. We were gripped, and rowdy, joyful, sweaty, and bouncing off one another. 

The November 1995 show.
If I had a digital camera I’d probably have a lot more than one photo from that night!

I don’t think I’ve ever said this out loud, but these guys blasted their way straight into my country-loving heart. I’m pretty sure I was not alone in that emotion. When the show ended, the crowd milled around for a long while, not sure what to do; we didn’t want to leave because then we’d be leaving behind that euphoria, we’d be leaving one another—we couldn’t do that so soon after this perfect show. Gradually we cleared out, we were chatting and smiling and recollecting. I’m pretty sure Marvoni and I drifted home on air. 

Right here I just want to say, musicians/bands/acts aside, Johnny D’s was a spectacular venue, wicked conducive to this very sort of show. A small, intimate space, a too-small stage overflowing with players, great staff, flowing libations, crazy, riotous crowds. Perfect. 

Dead Reckoning left its mark on everybody in attendance that night. A straight-up unexpected, fortuitous happenstance. A cosmic merging of artistry and energy. In a perfect setting. Once-in-a-lifetime.

Except it happened again three months later, in November 1995. They came back. It turns out that little go-around-and-introduce-themselves-to-America tour had the same effect on every audience as the Johnny D’s show. How could they then not give the people what the people wanted? The second show was almost as mighty as the first—they brought a band this time: drummer, steel player, bass. Beefed up the sound and overcrowded the stage! The wow-factor, while still impressive, didn’t quite pack the same wallop as the first show, but it stood as a solid reminder of this group’s power and virtuosity. 

There’s no disputing my memory when I say, the first Dead Reckoning show at Johnny D’s Somerville landed squarely in the top-5 all time concerts I’ve attended. TOP-5! That’s some powerful music.

xo


This poster’s been hanging in our house for 24 years.

 

Marty Stuart at Indian Ranch, September 24, 2011
Photo © Cindy Regan

Somebody say howdy… I haven’t a clue where this expression originated. I’m guessing it came from the mouth of a country & western performer, or maybe a non genre-specific performer, stepping onto a stage somewhere and imploring of the crowd in front of him: somebody say howdy!

I love this expression. 

Every time I’ve seen Marty Stuart perform he’s uttered these words. He opened his (now defunct) RFD-TV show, The Marty Stuart Show, with the phrase. Heck, maybe Marty originated the phrase? That wouldn’t surprise me. Marty is the Soul of Country Music– so say I. I’ll bet a lot of other in-the-know aficionados of the genre, whether they’ve said it or not, acknowledge it on some level—that Marty Stuart is the soul of country music. 

As sayings go, somebody say howdy certainly has an old-timey feel. You can practically hear it coming from the mouth of a guy in a jug band making his 1934 Opry debut. The expression is tinged with an old-timey patina. That image also fits with my thinking Marty just said it out of the blue and instantly created a tag for himself, having never heard it before that moment. Without fail the expression always puts a smile on my face. Thus when I hatched the idea for this blog, I thought first of the concept, and second of this exact moniker. 

The concept: Initially I envisioned strictly music-centric content. Specifically, I wanted to marry my love of music with my design skills. For example, I would use a live performance I’ve attended as the jumping off point. Then I’d create a poster for the show, scan the ticket stub (or create one if none exists), review the show as best I can, post a set list (if I have one), maybe add links to YouTube videos of the artist, and hopefully generate a conversation among interested parties. On further review of the concept, I question if a strict focus on music is sustainable long-term. So naturally, I thought the focus should be broadened. What if we include all things that come under the pop culture umbrella? That feels like it could be fun, particularly in the part where it will generate good conversations. So to the moniker, I’ll add a tagline: musical musings and pop-culture jive. 

The monikerSomebody Say Howdy. Let’s circle back to Marty Stuart. I love Marty Stuart, and this is my blog: it’s a marriage made in heaven.   

Let’s go.

koko taylor nightstage 4-27-90
Made in Adobe Photoshop
©cindyregandesign

In the early 1980s I became infatuated with blues music. Chiefly, I fell for the mighty blues stylings of Koko Taylor, the Queen of the Blues. My initial exposure to Koko’s music was through the Saturday late-night blues radio show on WGBH, Blues After Hours, hosted by the incomparable Mai Cramer. Mai Cramer was the conduit through which I came to love blues. Marvoni and I came to know of Mai’s radio program when she contacted us to produce her promotional t-shirts sometime around 1983. We happily took this commission and in short order we were rabid listeners to Blues After Hours. I was hooked on Koko Taylor from the jump. Her brand of Chicago blues was as raw and powerful as any coming out of the Windy City by way of the Deep South. Gut-bucket blues. Her band, the Blues Machine, was crackerjack, too. Straight up mighty.

Nightstage was a club for a minute. For fewer than 10 years; it opened in 1985 and was gone for good by the close of 1993. It’s a shame, too, as it was intimate, accessible, and it hosted all sorts of established acts and up-and-comers of the period. It sat on Main Street on the edge of Central Square. If I’m not mistaken it originally opened as a blues club, but morphed—no doubt out of necessity—into a place where just about any small to mid-level act could showcase its musical acumen.

By the late ’80s, having never seen Koko Taylor live, I was on a mission to see her. Marvoni and I spent a week in Chicago in the summer of 1989. We left for home a day before Koko was to play a free concert at a local venue. We left Chitown disappointed. Our disappointment lingered only a short while, maybe a few months, as sometime in late-winter 1990 there was an announcement of an upcoming Koko Taylor show at Nightstage in early-spring. Naturally we jumped on tickets as soon as they went on sale. Nightstage was a GA venue with no assigned seating. A situation that’d work out in our favor. On the afternoon of the gig, Friday April 27, I turned up at Nightstage super early and parked myself in front of the main entrance. There I waited, first in line, for a couple of hours in order to get the best seats in the house for our inaugural Koko Taylor show. The ploy paid off as we landed the table at the front lip of the stage. The mighty blues queen would be performing, for all intents and purposes, directly to us. Well, that’s what it felt like anyway!

If you happened to have seen Koko Taylor around this time, you certainly would not have been dissatisfied. She was a powerhouse performer fronting a powerhouse band. Still in possession of every ounce of her fierce gift, she put on a two hour tour de force performance. In my recollection, I will tell you it felt like a tornado swept through that room. I wish I could tell you the set list, but I neglected to keep notes and it’s nowhere to be found on any of the set list sites, suffice it to say she sang all my favorites: I’m a Woman, Come to Mama, I’d Rather Go Blind, Let the Good Times Roll, Jump for Joy, Wang Dang Doodle. She showcased her band, letting each member shine in his own right. On stage Koko was a total pro but she also emanated immense joy, and it was clear without question she was doing the very thing she loved most: singing the blues. With that approach, she had a deft hand with her audience, instinctively sensing what we craved and delivering on it. That would be her singular brand of Chicago blues—old school, passed down to her from the big boys: Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Howlin’ Wolf, et al, honed on the chitlin’ circuit and ridden to greater acclaim on the wave created by British blues bands in the sixties. Koko was the real deal, the undisputed Queen of the Blues. And owing to her royal stature in the blues realm, she delivered the goods in impressive and memorable style. So memorable that nearly thirty years on, the force of that performance still thrills me.

When she finished her set we made our way to the stage door and asked to meet the Queen. She graciously allowed us into her dressing room where we gushed like fools in her presence. After a brief chat she signed the back of my Kingston Mines t-shirt and we happily floated off to a nearby barbeque joint—the long-gone Jimmy Mac’s—for a post-show feast.

In the years since that Nightstage show we saw Koko Taylor and Her Blues Machine at Boarding House Park in Lowell, back in the $5.00-per-show days. On that night, in the pouring rain, Koko rocked us with another 2-hour set. Pro that she was, that rain did not deter Koko in the slightest. Nor did it bother us in the least. Koko was like the US Postal Service that night:  “neither … rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night …” nor any old thing, could stop that incredible force of nature from giving it everything, “all up in here!”

Then, our love cemented, we caught Koko’s sets at the 2001 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, and the 2005 Chicago Blues Festival. We saw a final show at Boarding House Park in summer of 2006 where it felt like the passing of a torch as Koko performed a potent six-song set opening for Shemekia Copeland. And that, friends, was the cherry on top of our experiences seeing the amazing blues legend Koko Taylor live and in concert. And it all started with a powerful show at Nightstage on that hot spring night in 1990 …

Man, we were lucky, for sure. All up in here.

Re-created ticket stub. Made in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop
©cindyregandesign