Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Christmas Tale! Omar Sharriff

Wow-- once in a while the world takes a step forward.  Here's a great story about boogie-woogie and blues piano great Omar Sharriff (formerly Dave Alexander) being welcomed home to his hometown of Marshall, Texas.  They want him back bad!  Check it out HERE!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Adjoa, by the Super Sweet Talks

Decades ago in West africa this song would wake the dead.  Or anyway, wake drunks sleeping in a bar, and everyone else within earshot, causing them to break into dance.  I love that someone resurrected it as a tribute to Ghana's World Cup team.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Jesse Edwin Davis

Jesse Edwin Davis is a favorite musician that I know almost nothing about.  I have two records that feature him: TaJ Mahal's first album, and the second, entitled "Take a Giant Step."  Having struggled at various times to learn some slide guitar I read with profound jealousy once that Davis first played slide for the album "Taj Mahal."  (That sort of talent is alarming.)

Here he is, first day on slide (or so the story goes, and I like the story) playing a version of "Statesboro Blues" that was later copied by the Allman Brothers Band.  (They didn't even come close.)

I remember Davis as a charming figure in "The Concert for Bangladesh," which he evidently inserted himself into when some more famous guitarist failed to show.  But Davis was famous among the famous-- a star among stars.  Recently I saw a short news feature about a fabulous collection of photographs and snapshots of rock and roll royalty-- Beatles and Stones and the like, caught at parties, at the beach, hanging round.  A beautiful middle aged woman was showing the photographs that had been her private collection.  And standing or sitting next to all of those legends?  Jesse Edwin Davis.  It turned out that the woman was his old girlfriend.

But the real beauty of the man was his guitar playing.  Check out my favorite bits from Taj Mahal's version of "Six Days on the Road."

Turns out that I am far from the only one to admire Davis's guitar in this song.  While looking for video of Davis himself playing, I stumbled into this beautiful deconstruction of his introduction to the song.

I barely know the man, of course-- just a few albums, a few movies, a few youtube tidbits.  Taj Mahal knew him.

Check out the Taj Mahal group (with Jesse sounding like Hubert Sumlin) in this beauty:

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Utah Phillips

This is not a site I take proper care of.  Ah well.  But I was inspired a few weeks ago by a facebook post by Florida songwriter Ronnie Elliott.  He put up an interview with one of my old favorites, Utah Phillips.

I only saw Phillips once or twice, as I recall.  The first and most memorable was in some sort of nightspot out in the tomato fields west of Sacramento.  I don't recall too much about the place except that it was built mostly of corrugated iron, perhaps from an old barn or agricultural building, and it must have accepted minors, because I was one.  It had to be about 1976, and I think I had just learned about Phillips in a class I was taking about country western songs.  (Utah Phillips doesn't qualify, but close enough.  I didn't do much in school that year, but I guess I learned something, anyway.)  The teacher wrote songs himself, and played us "Starlight on the Rails," a song Phillips sang but didn't write.

Here's a version by Rosalie Sorrells.

According to Utah Phillips dust jacket the song was written by Louise Scruggs.  It was about perfect for me at the time, pulling paragraphs from Thomas Wolfe, the writer all young men read.  But there's something about a Utah Phillips performance.  Check this one out, pulled out at random:

Utah Phillips was a Wobblie, a great storyteller, great songwriter, and unabashed and inspiring radical.  He also told a good story.  I haven't heard this one before, but I trust it will be good.

He was also a wise man.  Here he talks about his songs, and about making a living instead of a killing.  (This is the one Ronnie Elliott posted.  I thank him for it, and for making me think about looking up Utah Phillips on youtube.)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

My Horoscope Told Me

... to listen to this West African blues from the group Tinariwen.  (Free Will Astrology-- always worth a consult!) 

I remember walking through the market in Lome decades ago and hearing music that sounded like Lightnin' Hopkins.  The world's an amazing place.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Satisfied in Seattle: Annieville Blues at Bad Albert's

Annieville Blues with Charles Brown
The more you dig, the more you find. A few weeks ago I went to Port Townsend, Washington to hear Daryl Davis, the great boogie woogie and blues piano player who, since 1983, has often backed Chuck Berry in concert. You can read about my trip HERE. Trips like that always have a bonus or two, and this one had many, not least of which was to learn about our Seattle home town boogie woogie and blues pianist Annieville Blues.   (Check out her website HERE).  The night I saw Daryl Davis, Annieville opened, along with a variety of talented friends and guests—but the performance was tarnished by a drummer without a rhythm. (I’ve seen this phenomenon twice recently. It is truly jarring. Makes you wince. How a drummer reaches middle age without a beat is a question!)

Anyway, back in Seattle I was happy to learn that Annieville makes regular appearances at a little bar/diner called Bad Albert’s in Seattle’s Ballard Neighborhood. If you don’t know Seattle, Ballard is a cool neighborhood for people who like music and food. Seattle’s best Mexican restaurant is there (La Carta de Oaxaca) and there are dozens more, along with half a dozen small bars with music.

Bad Albert’s serves giant good burgers and lots of fries and cheap drinks; and hey—there’s no cover on alternate Thursdays when Annieville plays with a guest.

My wife and I arrived during her first set, and the first several songs were wrecked by four yammering, yaking, oblivious guys seated immediately in front of the piano. (I was beginning to think I was cursed never to hear the woman play without some terrible distraction). But eventually they left, and we got to hear the piano.

I didn’t go to “review” the show, and don’t intend to. I went to enjoy the music, and intend to do so again. Annieville played an electric keyboard. I got to hear “Papa’s on the Rooftop,” which she played in Port Townsend, but this time without the distraction of the beatless drummer. She did a Jimmy Smith tune. Then she teamed up with her guest Jack Cook to do one of Cook’s orginals—a blues about the Columbia River and Hoover dam. (Cook said it was the only song he knew that mentioned Chinook, Washington, but I remember it for the line about Hoover turning current into currency.) They closed with Professor Longhair’s “Big Chief.”

Given my musical interests, I should have known about Seattle’s Annieville Blues a long time ago. Check out her website: pictures of Annieville with legends like Charles Brown, Dr. John, Pinetop Perkins and Johnnny Johnson.  Same with Cook—a guitarist, slide player, blogger, and musical curator of little known songs from the 20s to the 60s. His website is HERE, and includes some great stuff about well known and lesser known blues artists that he met on is “Blues Adventures” in the 1970s. 

Annieville and Cook have both been playing the blues for more than three decades. 
In my old age I intend to learn more about the music I’ve loved all my life.  It is cool to know that there’s so much music, musical wisom and blues history available right here in Seattle. And I get the feeling I’m only scratching the surface.

(On September 19, Anniville will perform at Bad Albert's with her friend Mark DuFresne.  Here they are at a party I think I might have enjoyed!)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Like a Fading Memory: Chuck Berry: Rock 'N' Roll Music, by Howard DeWitt

Howard DeWitt is an author and professor and a pioneer of Chuck Berry scholarship. I own a copy of the first edition of his book “Chuck Berry: Rock ‘n’ Roll Music,” but just got a copy of the Second Edition from the local library. I’d seen the second edition before, maybe 15 or 20 years ago, at a time when my Chuck Berry problem was in remission. By remission, I mean that I wasn’t totally obsessed-- but of course, when I saw a book about my man, I pulled it off the shelf and absorbed what I could while kneeling on the library floor.

Three things that I absorbed:

First, I saw instantly that DeWitt and I lived lives that were somewhat parallel geographically. He lived in Seattle, then evidently moved south to Central California. I lived in Central California and moved north.

Second, he attended one of the concerts I saw in California—a show at the Monterey Fairgrounds in the summer of 1974.

And finally—I think I met him there.

Memory is a funny thing. The meeting could be an invention of mine. But after the show I met a guy near the stage, somewhat older than me, who obviously shared a deep fascination for Chuck Berry. My memory is that this fellow spotted me, probably still delirious, and talked to me for a few minutes. It doesn’t take long to separate the fans from the true nuts. I don’t remember our conversation—only that it occurred, and that it was interrupted when a girl near me revealed a scribbled autograph she’d gotten on a tiny scrap of paper. When she saw how excited I was she gave it to me.

Those were the days!

The second edition is fascinating to me now in part because of hints about how closely my path and DeWitt's sometimes got to each other.  For example, it shows photographs of Bo Diddley with a San Jose blues singer, Guitar Mac, in (I’m guessing here) the early 1970s. If you read my other blog (here's the story!) you’ll know that once stood outside a San Jose area nightclub to watch Bo Diddley perform. I was too young to get in. It would be quite a coincidence if DeWitt saw or promoted that show.

And then there’s a picture and some discussion of Chuck Berry at a South Lake Tahoe Casino in 1982. I was definitely at one of those shows. Although professional it was the least impressive Chuck Berry concert I ever saw, simply because it seemed arranged and staged, big casino style. There’s a photo of Chuck Berry looking tired at one of the casino lounges. That’s how that show felt—expensive, and a little tired.

(I’m titillated, though, by the “news” from 1982 that I didn’t know—that Berry had four album sides of material that he was trying to sell to a label: one side of country, one side of blues, one of rock, and one of—well, he doesn’t say. Lordy, I hope it’s still around! I’d heard previously of a double album, but not the contents. Sounds like one I’d love to hear.)

All of this is why you ought to find a copy of Dewitt’s book—and especially and specifically this second edition, with its discography by Morton Reff. It’s a rough book, but with nuggets you’ll want. And scattered among the scholarship are rare photographs of Chuck Berry from throughout his career. The ones from the early 1970s look stunningly familiar and take me back.

Take me back, in fact, to shows like Monterey, the last of three full length shows that I saw in the early 1970s. (I saw a couple of Rock and Roll Revial shows around the same time, but they don’t fully count. Chuck would appear at the end to blow away the crowd for 25-30 minutes. I don’t consider them full Chuck Berry shows.)

The first, short and sad, was in Sacramento. It was short, and only partly sad, and fully satisfying. It got me hooked.

The second was two long sets at a tiny club in South Lake Tahoe. It was an outstanding performance, with a great backup.

And the third was Monterey, in 1974, after the success of The London Sessions.

DeWitt uses the show as an example of Berry’s fading glory. He talks about “mediocre concerts,” then says:

“An example of this occurred in Monterey, California, in the early 1970s, when a San Francisco oldies band, Butch Whacks and the Glass Packs, backed Chuck in a concert. After Butch Whacks and The Glass Packs finished their set, Chuck walked on stage and motioned to the drummer to start a song. Since the pickup band had not previously met Chuck, they had no idea what songs he was going to perform. After a forty-minute set, Chuck invited a portion of the audience to dance on the stage as he played Sweet Little Sixteen. Soon, almost a hundred people were dancing on the stage, and Chuck discretely exited the Monterey Fairgrounds. He was driving south on Highway 1 in his rental car when the concert ended. Chuck Berry’s disinterest in his concert performances, and his use of mediocre pickup bands often lowered the quality of his appearance in the 1970s and 1980s.”

I have no doubt about the veracity of that last line. I saw Berry at the end of the 1980s play with a band that was competent but boring, and that’s what the show was like. Same for the 1982 show at the South Lake Tahoe casino.

But my recollection of the Monterey show is completely different.

I know, for example, that Berry played at least 15-20 minutes before saying “with your permission, we’d like to start the show.” He came out first playing a long slow blues number—a luxury of long bent notes while he tinkered with his guitar and bent towards a monitor. After another number or so he did “Nadine,” one of his last big hits. He did it well but not great, probably on purpose, because it was only after that number that he said he would “begin our show.”

My memory after that—hours of music. The only songs I definitely recall are “Let it Rock” and “Reeling and Rocking.” (I passed him a note to play “Got it and Gone,” but he laughed.

I would suspect my own memory except for three things. If you check my earlier post about the show you’ll find a link to the Butch Whacks website, where the keyboard player calls the show one of his favorite memories and says they played more than two hours.

And then check the comments. The drummer read the piece and also chimed in. He, too, said the show lasted more than two hours.

What I know for sure is that I attended with three people who liked Chuck Berry, but not the way that I do. And they were fully satisfied.

I think it was a show where a revived Chuck Berry met a competent band (they did a show similar to Sha Na Na—i.e., 1950s music. They might not have been up to the best bands he worked with, but they did the job nicely.) He was happy and kept playing.

And there are other tiny inconsistencies. There was a significant break between the Butch Whacks show and the Chuck Berry performance. They got out of their Butch Whacks costumes and put on regular clothes. Someone gave away a car. We moved from the back of the yard to spots immediately below the stage.

DeWitt’s got the ending nailed, however. I have a strong fear that I was one of the 100 on stage. It must have been a terrible sight to see me dancing and carrying on. I have expunged it from memory, like a woman forgets childbirth.

And, as usual, Chuck did disappear in a flash. We have a photograph of the young cop who stopped us from chasing him backstage. My brother saw him get into a car and drive away. The girl got his scribbled signature.

Mediocre? Much of the crowd hung out by the stage afterwards. That’s where I may have met DeWitt. That’s where I got the autograph.

But all of this is just interesting—two huge Chuck Berry fans nursing very different memories of the same event. (As for memory-- my own is proven faulty. In my Go Head On post I write that the author of the book I'd read complained about the car giveaway during the middle of the show. Nope. Not a word about that in Mr. DeWitt's book. A figment of my imagination.)

The memories are sort of like my own instamatic photos of the show-- obscure and fading.

But Chuck Berry is a big enough man with a big enough career to support many different realities. Some people may know him primarily as a white suited singer from the fifties bashing out short portions of big rock and roll shows. Some might remember the 1960s revival with shows at Winterland and the Fillmore. People like me revel in the early 1970s. Others first met him in the late 1980s after “Hail! Hail!” Others only know him as an elderly gent at Blueberry Hill. And some people’s only encounter might have been a drab show at a casino or state fair.

Whatever—my view is that they got their money’s worth nearly every time. A piece of history, nearly guaranteed to eventually make you smile.

And a memory.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Still Dancing and Still Getting the Girls at 83 1/2!

Chuck Berry is 83 years old, going on 84, still duckwalking and and now playing with musicians he knows-- in this case long time bassist Jimmy Marsala and long time piano collaborator Daryl Davis.  The presence of musicians who know him and love him clearly puts him at ease, and you get performances like this one, which we're guessing is from June 26 at B. B. King's in New York City.

You get something similar, and more homestyle, at Blueberry Hill in St. Louis, where Marsala and a group of St. Louis blues musicians back up Berry at monthly shows that have become legendary.  When I read about Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf I realize that 95% of blues and jass was played in clubs either nice (B.B.'s) or homey (Blueberry).  It's great to see him return to those roots voluntarily, for the sheer pleasure of it.  (Anyone thinking he's doing it strictly for the money should know that Chuck Berry is probably one of the richest rock and rollers in the world, with many millions in cash and property, but few expenditures for enrourage and stupidity.)  The New York shows are not cheap to attend-- but in St. Louis you can see him for $30 and have a real good time and a little piece of history.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Too Young To Get In (The Usual Way)

I’ve been reading “Moanin’ at Midnight,” the biography of Howlin’ Wolf, and I loved a part where the teenage Hubert Sumlin, Wolf’s future guitarist, climbs up to watch Wolf through a window and accidentally falls onto the stage.

“I went around to the back of the club, where they had all these Coca-Cola cases piled up. I climbed up to the top of that stack to where I could see everything that was going on, ‘cause there was a window, right behind the drums. Well, these Coke cases started to come unbalanced and I fell through the window into the club, in the middle of a song. Over on the old Wolf’s head I landed—right on the dude’s head. He said ‘Let him stay. Bring him a chair.’ The lady brought me a chair. I said between Willie Johnson, Pat Hare, and Junior Parker…”

Music fans know this story personally. When I was 17 the Great Bo Diddley showed up at a club near my college and I went optimistically to the door to get my $5 ticket. No way said that man with the Harley vest and scraggly beard. I must have looked crushed, because the Hell’s Angel became an angel of mercy. I still remember his eyes. “Just stay here,” he said. Then, once the show started, he put me directly in front of the open door, which stood about 20 feet to the left of Bo Diddley’s microphone. It didn’t cost me a thing, and I had one of the best spots in the house. (Didn’t fall onto the stage though, and Bo never called, but this scene from "Let The Goodtimes Roll" is right from the same time.)

My hero Chuck Berry did the same thing when he was a teenager visiting Chicago, and wrote about it in his Autobiography. “During a visit to Chicago at sixteen with my boyhood friend Ralph Burris, one of the nightclubs we were too young to be admitted to was on 55th and South Parkway under the name of ‘The Rum Boogie.’ This particular night, the great singer Joe Turner was featured and the place was packed. Ralkph and I went around to the side of the building and climbed up to a high venitilation window and peeked in. Molded in my memory is the sight of Big Joe Turner rared back singing the song that Bill Haley covered for the then so-called white market, ‘Rock around the Clock.’ If ever I was inspired as a teenager, I was then.”

In his own excellent autobiography, B.B. King wrote about peering through “cracks in the sidewall” at the Jones Night Spot in Indianola, Mississippi , where he paid at least as much attention to the women as the bands. “Too young to gain admittance, I’d press my head against the slats and peep inside. Women in tight dresses of red and yellow and baby blue dancing with men all decked out in big suits and ties and wide brimmed hats… Dancing close, dancing sexy, dancing an inch away from my eyeball, where I could see the curve of a hip or the point of a nipple, smell the perfume and the smoke circling the room over the bandstand where—and this was the best part—Count Basie played.”

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Rahsaan Roland Kirk, 1975

(Photo by Del de la Haye, taken from this SITE).

Another memorable concert for me was Rahsaan Roland Kirk. I’d learned about him from my sister, and I’d purchased the album “Volunteer Slavery,” which I loved. I finally saw him at Keystone Korner in San Fransisco’s North Beach neighborhood. Keystone Korner was great because it allowed underage people to enter. I was under 21. My friend and I drove in from San Francisco and spent the afternoon in the neighborhood waiting so that we could get good seats. We wound up right beneath the stage.

This was sometime in the early to mid 1970s. Kirk had suffered a stroke. For anyone who doesn’t know, Roland Kirk exercised circular breathing and could play three saxophones at a time for as long a duration as the music required. The stroke left him with little or no use of one arm and hand, but since he’d formerly played three instruments at a time, losing one arm wasn’t enough of a handicap to stop the music.

Kirk came out draped in juju and bells, rattles and God knows what, a walking sculpture with a horn. I think I recall that the horn was modified in some way so that the second hand wasn’t required to do much movement. If I lack detail, it was a long time ago and I was mesmerized by the sound and the vision. I remember that he played “Volunteer Slavery,” though, and that he filled the sound with the rattles and bells and buzzing from his amazing musical suit. And now and again a whistle from his ring.

For blues lovers, here he is with Buddy Guy.  Dang!!!!
Here he is in 1975 with McCoy Tyner and Stanley Clarke:

And here's a website;

Friday, June 25, 2010

Best of the Biggest: Howlin' Wolf

When I first became interested in blues I lived in the sticks outside of Sacramento. The only place to buy records within miles of my house was a discount store called “Rasco Tempo, a Division of Gamble-Skogmo, Incorporated.” (You can’t make that up.) I don’t remember much about the place except for two things. Years before we moved from a more central location into the sticks, that’s where we bought a $50 pool table that eventually became rendered useless when an angry teenager (not me) flipped it onto its side and kicked a volcano shape into the particle board surface below the felt. That’s the first thing. The other thing I remember is the record section. It’s where I bought my first Chuck Berry record ( read that story here), and it’s where I bought, for 66 cents, a record from United Superior Records called “Best of the Biggest.” That might sound like a deal, but later I peeled off the price sticker and learned it had been marked up from 44 cents.

Sometimes you buy bargain records that are complete horsepucky. I remember picking up a “Jimi Hendrix” record for a dollar or so from a supermarket rack. The notes were by some French guy who wrote that “Jimi laughed ecstatically when he heard what we had created.” I’m sure he laughed, all right. (If he’d seen my face when I heard it he would have laughed harder.)

But sometimes you get what they say you’re going to get.

“Best of the Biggest” was a musical education in the blues and R & B.  It had two songs each by Ray Charles, B. B. King, Elmore James, John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf, and Bobby Bland. And these weren’t filler. One of B. B. King’s selections was “Rock Me Baby.” John Lee Hooker was represented by “Boogie Chillen.” Bobby Bland had “Drifting from Town to Town.”

 Elmore James—well, they kind of sort of cheated by giving us “Dust My Blues” instead of “Dust My Broom.”  It must have been an effort to avoid copyright problems-- but it was the same dang song.

And anyway, 12 songs, 66 cents. That’s 3 cents a piece!

So I felt I had a bargain there even after I peeled off the label and found that I had been cheated by 22 cents. (You can figure it in today’s dollar by knowing that in 1971, assuming I could drive, I could have bought a gallon of discount gas for 25 cents. Or, maybe, one McDonald’s cheeseburger.)

Anyway, I still love that album. At the time it was an education. I knew B. B. and Ray Charles, but I didn’t know any of the rest of them—so it represented my very first exposure to Elmore James, John Lee Hooker, Bobby Bland, and my favorite at the time, Howlin’ Wolf.

As I say, I didn’t know Howlin’ Wolf.  I was a kid from the suburbs. The sticks, at that point. But he was there, waiting for me, at Rasco Tempo.

I did know Wolfman Jack—the late night DJ we could hear playing old songs on long trips. You had to be further out in the sticks to hear him broadcast on 50,000 watt clear channel radio stations from far away that felt like visitations from outer space. Wolfman Jack would later become mainstream famous—a television celebrity—but at the time he was a ragged, pinched, nasal voice of mystery on late night radio.

He was Howlin’ Wolf’s voice, simplified, without the music or the soul or the power.  He took Howlin' Wolf's voice, or tried to. 

He didn't get it, of course.  But Wolfman Jack probably played a lot of Howlin' Wolf in his day.

Right now I’m reading “Moanin’ at Midnight: The Life and Times of Howlin’ Wolf,” by James Segrest and Mark Hoffman. It’s a great book with a great cover shot of Wolf’s face, close up, dragging on a cigarette and about to grab it with his pointer and thumb.  Here's a website for the authors:

Flipping through the photographs inside the book I learned, with a bit of melancholy, that one of Howlin’ Wolf’s last performances was a mile or so from where I’m sitting, at Sick’s Stadium, a minor league (and for one year, major league) stadium that I only saw once or twice when first visited Seattle (and which was then razed to build a concrete box that is now a home improvement store). The show happened a couple of years before I moved to Seattle, so I couldn’t have been there-- but it seems so close.

The song I used to love on “Best of the Biggest” was called “Riding in the Moonlight,” a seriously crazy and wonderful blues romp where Howlin’ Wolf asks his baby to “ride with daddy tonight.” ("Oh baby!  I'm'o give you an auto-mobile!")  I have played it thousands of times over the decades. Wolf sounds almost like he’s growling through an old fashioned megaphone, with drums echoing from a trash can. The guitar is close to shredding the speakers. The harmonica is wailing with a kind of crazy zazoo band feel. It’s a record that introduced me to everything Taj Mahal was trying to do in his great first album. It’s a record that has me riding along with Wolf and his baby, a participant/observer, wind in my hair, shivers up my spine, neon lights flashing in the darkness, a little worried about the girl, but knowing she’s in it voluntarily with a grin on her face.

I played this song for someone a month or so ago, after he told me he liked Howlin’ Wolf. I think it worried him.

What thrills me now, reading the biography, is knowing for the first time that it was the first song he recorded as a demo; with Sam Phillips; that he recorded it again with Phillips just a few weeks later; and that the version on “Best of the Biggest” was recorded for the Bihari brothers a few months after that. He recorded it three times in a year! That’s how good it was.

My copy cost me 3 cents, when Wolf was still alive.

The Bihari brothers paid Wolf $25 for it.

And he played one of his last shows, sick as can be, about a mile from here, after treatment up the hill at the old veterans’ hospital.

The world is a mystery as deep as Wolf himself.

Here's a version of 'Dust My Broom" from a man who used to travel with Robert Johnson AND Elmore James.

Dave Alexander a/k/a Omar Sharriff a/k/a Magnificent!

I like to marvel at the miracle of youtube. Youtube gave me my first vision of T-Bone Walker playing his guitar. Youtube let me see Charlie Parker listen to his friend Coleman Hawkins play saxophone. But it has its limits. Youtube hasn’t let me see Elmore James yet. And youtube couldn’t find Dave Alexander.*  (*Found Omar Sharriff, though!  See below.)

I first heard Dave Alexander in a coffee house at San Jose State University in 1973, where I spent three semesters before escaping. I didn’t know anything about him—but the poster said blues, so I went.

Before youtube I had to rely on real life to provide miracles, and that school-supported coffee house was the closest thing to a miracle that I found at the otherwise bleak SJSU. It gave me two gifts in the course of a few months: Alexander, and Mark Naftalin, another blues pianist then fresh from The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. The manager of the club must have been a smart guy.  At my request he even made a good faith effort to book an appearance by Jerry Riopelle.

Alexander, when I saw him, was a lean, serious man who played a mean piano, mixing boogie woogie rhythms, a bit of New Orleans and serious jazz chords with a rattling right hand that could replace the atomic clock. There were no supporting musicians. He didn’t need any.

What I didn’t know is that my sister Maggie and her husband Ty were going to see Alexander weekends down the road in San Francisco at a little place in the Fillmore District called Minnie’s Can Do Club. (My sister Ann got to see him there, too, but I would never have gotten past the ID check.) Read about Minnie’s HERE.

I’m sure that the scene at Minnie’s Can Do Club was a whole lot different than the dark little coffee shop where a few blues lovers got treated to a nearly private performance of solo piano. But I never forgot Dave Alexander. I got one of his two albums, “Dirt On The Ground,” a short time after the concert, and played it pretty much into the ground.

I saw Alexander again a few years later at an early incarnation of the Sacramento Blues Festival, where he was forced to play a blond wood upright that looked like it was taken from one of the classrooms at my old primary school! He grumbled, but the piano growled.  It's probably why modern piano players like to use digital pianos instead of relying on the promoter to provide something that's playable.

My understanding is that Alexander is now living in Sacramento, my birthplace, where he goes by a variety of names including Omar Sharriff and Omar the Magnificent. I hope he still plays his magnificent piano. And it looks like he does.  Minimal google research got me to Have Mercy Records where I see Alexander has recorded three new records!  The site is below, and if you have better technical skills than me, you can hear some of the tracks.

You can’t find him on youtube—yet—but if you’re smarter than me you can here bits of his older music HERE.  And you can find out about his newer recordings at Have Mercy's website:  (Now that I have done so, I'll have to track one down!)


Maybe I'll find Elmore, after all!  Here's a taste, 35 years after I saw him in San Jose.

And here's another bit (I was searching the wrong name is all!)

And this is probably more what Minnie's CAn Do Club felt like!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

B. B. King, 1968

I first saw B. B. King a year or two after this was made.  I think by then the processed hair was gone.  It was my first blues show, and one of the first concerts I went to.  Sometimes a person just gets lucky!

The wonder of youtube, is that this one was just sitting there waiting to be plucked.  There's almost more than you can fathom or choose from intelligently.  You just grab a nugget and run.