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Category Archives: Influences

“Let ‘er goooo, boys”…

The King of Blue Grass, Bill Monroe, would be 100 years old today. Probably no other artist in the 20th century impacted Country and Blue Grass than mandolinist supreme, William Smith Monroe. His love of music was evident in his performances and in his impact on other artists. Consider “Blue Moon of Kentucky“, likely his most recognizable hit.

And, renditions by some folks you may be more familiar with:

The King of Rock & Roll

The Queen of Country Music

A Few Lads

While they all went up tempo, I still prefer Bill’s original version. Bluegrass is such a guttural genre. It is hurtful, introspective and joyous, all at the same time. Bill Monroe almost single-handedly brought Bluegrass out of the mountain hamlets to the masses. Other “disciples”, like Barbara Mandrell, would continue the message through the years but perhaps the best known is a young boy who first got to play with Monroe on stage at age six:


While this performance is with Flatt & Scruggs (part of Monroe’s original “Bluegrass Boys”), Ricky talks about his first experience of playing with “the man” hisself here:

Likely my favorite, Bill Monroe tune in Uncle Pen, a song, that ironically, became a #1 hit for Ricky Skaggs many years later:

Bill Monroe. A true American icon, lover of music and consemate mentor. Happy Birthday, old boy.

 
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Posted by on September 13, 2011 in birthdays, Country, Influences, music legends

 

The Help

Last fall, my sister-in-law and BFF recommended a book that her book club was reading titled, The Help by Kathryn Stockett. She thought that I would enjoy it because of my relationship with Rose, the lady that basically raised me and was so important to our family.

It was the first book I downloaded to my Kindle app on my new iPad. As I began to read the story about early 1960’s Jackson, Mississippi and the struggles of black maids working for white families, pangs of familiarity began to churn in my gut. It wasn’t so much the dreadfulness of Civil Rights’ indignities of the day — I am all too familiar with the effects of those days — as it was the stories of the women who were charged with white parents’ most precious possession (their children), but were not allowed to use the restroom inside the lily white homes of these Southern hypocrites.

I was captivated by the historical context and of course, by the personal story of Skeeter Phelan, who sets out to write a book about stories of “the help” — both good and bad. Yes, there were some good stories about relationships between the races, even though very few see the light of day. I read it in two days and was touched in a way I hadn’t been since I read The Horse Whisperer many years ago.

Perhaps the story resonated so deeply with me because of Rose. Throughout my childhood and early adulthood, Rose was a constant except for the year or so that she and my mother had a falling out…but more on that later.

My parents were married in May, 1952 and my father moved into my grandparents’ home with my mother so they could save up to build a house of their own. They had my sister nine months after they were married and starting building their house “in the country” about six miles from “town”. My father owned a plant nursery with his father right around the corner from their new homestead. Once the house was finished, they prepared to move their small family into the home that they would occupy for the next 40 years.

My parents were not rich folks, but it had been decided that my mother would need “help” as she only had the use of her right arm, her left arm paralyzed from polio when she was two. Additionally, they had just found out that their daughter was deaf. My father employed alot of field hands at the nursery and was particularly close to his foreman, nicknamed Shawee (which, incidentally, means racoon in french). Shawee’s wife, Rose, also worked at the nursery. They had a growing family and some of the older kids helped out at the nursery in the summer. My father arranged a meeting between my mother and Rose to see if she would be a good fit to “help” my mother in the house. They immediately hit it off and Rose became a fixture in our house and synonymous with our family for the rest of her life.

A short while later, my brother was born and became Rose’s child. He called her “Mamma Rose” and followed her everywhere. He spent most of his days with Rose as my mother was taking my sister to speech therapy and classes each day, trying to prepare her for school. Rose’s kids often spent time with our family and were fantastic playmates.

Rose had nick names for everyone, particularly her kids. Pictured above is Gros Bay Bay (meaning Big Baby in French). There was also Tougi, Tee-an, Sis, and Teeny. The twins would come later…but, more of that later. She also was instrumental in assigning my brother’s moniker as she called him a “chip” off the old block. Since he was a Jr., the name stuck — Chip, or Chippo as she preferred.

Nine years after my brother….surprise, surprise, my mother was pregnant. My sister was off at school in Baton Rouge and came home most weekends, but the house had basically been my brother’s domain with Rose attending to his every need. Rose indicated that this new baby would be a girl and decided upon Suzy-Q as an appropriate name. Rose’s youngest son, Teeny, was a toddler, but she hadn’t had a little girl to spoil in a long time. So, when I was born in the fall of ’64, Rose was in her glory. Many nights, she and one of her daughters would spend the night and baby sit, dressing me up like a little doll and of course, spoiling me rotten.

We loved that lady. I mean truly loved her. Then, when I was about five, Rose was gone. I don’t remember anyone saying why or what happened, I only knew that she was gone and another lady was there to “help”. She was nice enough, but she was no Rose. I missed Rose so much, but I didn’t know where she was. Then, almost magically, she returned when I was starting 2nd grade. It was like she never left. I was soooo happy to have her back. It appears that I had acted out pretty severely at the new lady and looking back, I’m sure I saw her as an impostor and wanted the real deal.

I would find out, years later, that Rose and my mother had a falling out around Rose taking up with a new man after she and Shawee divorced. Not that it was her business, but my mother was concerned for Rose and her children so she applied some kind of tough love and basically told her not to come back if she was going to continue living with the man. So Rose quit or Mamma fired her. After a few months, Rose’s older daughter, Sis, let Mamma know that Rose was pregnant, with twins. My mother was NOT happy and I’m sure she let it be known. She was pissed at Rose because she knew how hard her life was already and now she was supporting a man and two babies and dragging young Teeny through it all. To my mother’s credit, she finally came to her senses and asked Rose to come back. I don’t know if she felt sorry for Rose and wanted to help or if she really just missed her best friend, but I was happy as pigs in shit that Rose was BACK!!

My mother and Rose had an unusual relationship for black and white women in the South in the ’60s. But, then again, southwest Louisiana was a little different in terms of tolerance. Not that there wasn’t racism, but there were more accounts of close relationships between black and white families. My parents demanded our respect for Rose. If we talked back, we were punished just as if we had disrespected one of them. My mother trusted Rose with her most intimate secrets and as a true confidant. Rose knew and understood all our family dynamics and she was often the sounding board for problems, cheerleader for accomplishments and overall, just an objective observer of our lives.

I learned so much from her. Friendship, loyalty, humbleness, integrity, compassion, faith and love, not to mention how to cook the perfect round steak. Probably the most touching part of the story of The Help was the maid, Aibileen, trying to instill confidence into Mae Mobley, the toddler in her care and whose mother was a bit “detached”. Each morning when Aibi arrived and took the little girl from her crib or when she read her story books, she had Mae Mobley repeat: “You is kind, you is smart, you is important.”

Rose did the same kinds of things, making us feel good about ourselves and setting her expectations high for us, even though she was always right there and helping to pick up the pieces when we stumbled. Rose died the week of Thanksgiving, 1993 on the same day and hour that my brother’s daughter was born. It was such a bittersweet day in our family, but we knew that this new baby was likely kissed and blessed with Rose’s spirit. A few days later, I delivered the eulogy at her funeral…it was such an honor. Her headstone reads: “In Loving Memory from ALL her children” and lists her name as “Mama Rose”, a tribute from all of her children.

I tell this story because there’s so much talk about racism, bigotry and inequality, but little about love and mutual respect between the races. When little children find a caring, loving and trusted friend who instills self-confidence, the color of their skin or the differences in their cultures fade away. There is only love…and loyalty…and remembrance. So, when I read the book and found out that the movie was being made, I made a promise to watch the movie, alone with Rose. Since I couldn’t have her next to me, live and in person, I brought along this picture of her from my grandmother’s 90th birthday party and of course, her spirit. I laughed and I cried at familiar and compelling parts, knowing that Rose was laughing and crying right along with me.

So, needless to say, I highly recommend going to see The Help. And, when you do, consider the relationships of those women with those children and what an integral part they were in forming these children and giving them such a strong foundation — some who grew up to be priests, teachers, businessmen, doctors, authors and others who are simply “good” people, in part, from the values and teachings of the “help”.

 

The Quest

My Parrain, My Daddy, My Mamma, & My Nanny (on accordian)


Currently, I am 46.3 years old.

For the greater part of my adulthood (roughly 30 years), I have been searching for a song.

As I have reminised here frequently, when I was growing up in my idyllic small, Cajun town, every weekend was a celebration of being alive. Even as a young girl, I looked forward to my parents’ parties. Everyone was happy. There was great food. There were other kids MY age. And, there was MUSIC.

My mother’s cousin was a fabulous clarinet player, a la Benny Goodman, and I remember him frequently entertaining us along side of my Godmother, who was an accomplished musician. However, her REAL talent was that she did it all by ear. Guitar, piano and accordian…and all she had to do was hear a song once and she could replicate it perfectly.

Many a night, I sat in awe watching her play and sing, modulating with my mother in perfect-pitched harmony. Now, the men always joined in toward the end of the night and they were ok, most of the time. But, every blue moon, my Parrain (Godfather), who was also my accomplished musician Nanny’s (Godmother)
husband would treat us to “their” song. Beautiful harmony generally resulted and I saw what love could be…what I wanted it to be.

I sought that song for a very LONG time. They never could remember who, exactly, sang it. For their 50th Wedding Anniversary a few years ago, I tried dilligently to find it based on my memory of the melody and lyrics, but to no avail.

I am a researcher…on many levels…and I take pride in being able to find something, so I never gave up. Tonight I tried a new theory and I found it! HELL YES!! Finally. And, it was oh so sweet listening to it for the first time with the familiar refrain resonating in my brain. Amen. Finally. Strike one off the bucket list.

So, ladies and gentleman, kats & kittens, with no further adieu I bring you one of THE best songs ever written and that I KNOW you’ve never heard. From one Mr. Johnny Ace, Saving My Love For You

(click on “Watch on YouTube”)

And, love was just as I thought it would/should be.

 
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Posted by on February 20, 2011 in family, harmony, Influences, Louisiana, love

 

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Jazz Fest 2011 - Jimmy Buffett by Gordon Robinette

So, this week the came the official and announcement of the 2011 Jazz Fest poster. The poster is a highly sought after commodity for many music consessieurs and collectors. Both the subjects and the artists vary through the years since the poster advertising the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in 1975. The great Louis Prima was immortalized by the great Tony Bennett last year — a true collectors’ item on several levels.

Louis Prima 2010 - Tony Bennett

Probably the most identifiable and beloved Jazz Fest posters were done by James Michalopoulos. He uses the splendid French Quarter architecture as a backdrop for several New Orleans legends who have been mainstays of Jazz Fest and of New Orleans music. The series of Dr. John, Louis Armstrong, Fats Domino and Allen Toussaint all convey exactly what Jazz Fest is about and the greats that have made IT great.

Dr. John, Louis "Satchemo" Armstrong, Fats Domino, Allen Touissaint

And then there’s the great Cajun artist, George Rodrigue, of Blue Dog fame — and recent savior of the Youngsville Heritage Oak. Rodrigue combines his iconical dark oak tree and ever-popular blue dog to immortalize Louis Armstrong (once again), Pete Fountain and the great Al Hirt.

Satchemo, Pete Fountain & Al Hirt

Again, these images capture the essence of these great talents and their impact on Jazz music and making New Orleans its “Mecca”.

So, imagine my surprise at this year’s poster. First, the artist is Gordon Robinette. Robinette IS well known in New Orleans, but not as an artist. He is best known as a talking head/talk show host at WJBO radio station. I must say that as an artist, he is quite accomplished. I do like how he borrowed from the much beloved concept of Michalopoulos’ use of French Quarter architecture and I am impressed that he includes a future Jimmy Buffett looking over his shoulder at the young, broke street performer behind a Falcon, no less. (Which reminds me…I have a long, lost story about a Falcon. But I digress…that’s for another day.)

However, I am perplexed at just why Jimmy Buffett is featured on a JAZZ FEST poster? Now, don’t get me wrong. My Jimmy love is strong. See here, here & here. But this choice seems a bit indulgent. Is it a payback for Jimmy’s fantastic support during last year’s oil spill crisis and his wonderful free concert that many homies considered his “homecoming” to the Gulf Coast?

Or, perhaps it was meant to bolster Jimmy’s spirits after his recent dive off the stage in Australia? A pat on the back for investing in the coast by expanding his Magaritaville franchise in Pensacola, FL and Biloxi, MS? Dunno. But one thing I DO know is that Jimmy Buffett is not the impactful son of the South that the other icons that graced Jazz Fest posters before him.

I DO love Jimmy…but I’m conflicted. He is from Mobile, AL…where I live. He has played here ZERO times since he graduated from McGill Institute back in 1966 (He was a cheerleader, for Christ’s sake). His concert at the Gulf was the first time he’s played there in forever, even though his sister, Lulu, has a VERY popular bar/restaurant on the Intercoastal Canal in Gulf Shores. Jimmy is more a child of Key West and the Carribean. A few years ago, he started playing Jazz Fest, but he has NEVER been a staple there. While Robinette’s portrait refers to Jimmy’s street performing in the late ’60s, the fact is that Jimmy Buffett spent a relatively short period of time on the gummy, stinky streets of the French Quarter before heading out to Californina and ultimately, grounding himself in South Florida.

So, to wrap this all up…I am pumped up about the Jimmy poster because of the awesomeness that is Jimmy Buffett and all he stands for. But in true Libra fashion, I am disappointed that something that has generally been pure and true to its’ core concerning subjects chosen to promote one of the most fantastic musical experiences on Earth has chosen a subject that is, well, not exactly true to itself.

And, just to quench that burning question of MY favorite Jazz Fest poster EVAH?

Because, IT’S IRMA, baby!!

 

Charlie Louvin – Harmonizing in Heaven

1927 - 2011

Country Music Hall of Famer, Charlie Louvin, passed away yesterday at the age of 83 of pancreatic cancer.

While you may not recognize his name or that of his brother, Ira, as the Louvin Brothers, they brought close harmony into the mainstream in 1950s, subsequently influencing groups like The Everly Brothers, The Beach Boys and Gram Parsons/The Byrds. These groups, of course, have been sited influences to modern harmonic groups like Boyz 2 Men, The Backstreet Boys, Brandi Carlile and The Secret Sisters (one of my new favorites — but that’s another post). As a pioneer of harmony, Charlie Louvin stands as one of those who quietly make a lasting impact on music. While he and his brother may have been largely forgotten by the larger music industry, their impact is deep and lasting.

My professed love of harmony is well documented here, and I still love it so. So, thank you Charlie Louvin. Thank you for your talent and your influence on generations of musicians and singers. The thread of harmony through generations…

If I Could Only Win Your Love, The Louvin Brothers

All I Have to Do is Dream/Cathy’s Clown, The Everly Brothers

Don’t Worry Baby, The Beach Boys

Turn, Turn, Turn, The Byrds (Gram Parsons)

I Want it That Way, The BackStreet Boys

Have You Ever, Brandi Carlile

Tennessee Me, The Secret Sisters

 

2010 Kennedy Center Honors

Aw, yeah!  Last week, CBS aired the Kennedy Center Honors that featured two of my all time favorite musical artists — Sir Paul McCartney and the fantabulous Merle Haggard.

Broadway composer Jerry Herman and dancer-choreographer Bill T. Jones were also honored, in addition to Oprah Winfrey. 

Side rant:  Can I just say that I am SO sick of Oprah?  When will we be freed from her excessive exposure and self-promotion?  I find her so insincere and disengenuous.  She sucks people in like she’s the “every woman” and “just like you” when she’s a kabillionaire who certainly doesn’t have to worry about college tuition or paying the mortgage.  Besides, anyone who needs a TV show, radio network, magazine and now a TV network, has got to be filling some kind of hole in self-agrandizement.  And people just continue to fawn all over her….blech!

For the Kennedy Honors, you’d swear that it was the Oprah Honors and “the others” were just there to bask in her glory.  She cannot help but to usurp everyone else’s attention….but I digress.

I’ve chronicled my Beatles love many times on this blog (see Beatles tags), but don’t know if I’ve ever delved into my Merle-adoration.  Merle Haggard is one of the legends of music — not just Country music — and is one of the good guys who has made things better for those around him.  And, his music is just, well…good.

Vince Gill gives a great retrospective of Merle’s career at the Kennedy Honors ceremony:

and performances of Merle tunes by Kris Kristoffersen, Sherly Crow, Brad Paisley, Vince Gill and pal, Willie Nelson.  Note:  it’s a little long, but well worth it.  Also, notice Oprah trying to sing along.  Really?!?  You think she’s got a bunch of Merle CDs at home?

It’s no coincidence that Merle Haggard is such a friend of new artists and is so loved by his fellow performers since he decided to pursue music after hearing Johnny Cash at San Quentin when Cash was trying to bring a little joy to those less fortunate.  Just goes to show that paying it forward has ever-implacating rewards.  Personally, I’m torn between these two as my favorite Merle tunes:

That’s The Way Love Goes

My Favorite Memory

….Merle.  A TRUEadour.

Finally, I can’t overlook Sir Paul.  Perhaps the greatest tribute to Paul is this medley featuring Apple Records recording artist, James Taylor, the irrepresible Mavis Staples and rock legend, Steven Tyler.

Note:  Check out Oprah (AGAIN) trying to hog the limelight.  GAH!

I couldn’t help but think that Paul was thinking about John Lennon with this program being so close to the 30th anniversary of John’s death.  Must have been surreal….and lonely.

 

The Original Guitar Hero

les%20paul

Les Paul, 1915 - 2009

A real revoluntionary of the music business is gone.

Les Paul, inventor of the electric, amplified guitar and picker extraordinnaire passed away today from complications of pneumonia at the age of 94.  Born in 1915 with a love of music, Les Paul began playing harmonica and guitar on the street, while still in his childhood.  When a listener critiqued the volume of his guitar playing, Les was determined to find a way to increase the sound.  While gainfully employed as a musician throughout his teens and early adulthood, Les continued to tinker until he created “The Log” — a 4″ X 4″ with amplified strings with a guitar body attached for asthetics.  

As early as 1939, Les Paul brought his “invention” to Gibson Guitar company where he was summarily laughed off the property.  However, they eventually worked with Paul to create the legendary solid-body design that caries his signature and name.  Probably one of the most famous Les Paul models is “Lucille”, B.B. King’s infamous instrument.

bb king lucille 

Generations of guitarists have chosen the signature Les Paul Gibson as their axe of choice, including guitar greats Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Elvis Presley, Keith Richards, Pete Townsend, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, John Mayer, Mark Knopfler and Les Paul’s close buddy, the late, great Chet Atkins.  Chet’s half-brother, Jim, was a member of the Les Paul Trio, who famously played throughout the 50s and 60s.  Both Les and Chet have been major influences in the evolution of the guitar as a forefront instrument.  They were good friends with a strong, mutual respect for each other.

  The Birth of the Blues, Les Paul & Chet Atkins

Amazingly, Les Paul could not read music.  However, his superb ear and creativity provided ingenuity in playing that basically made the guitar speak.  He brought personality to guitar.  He also brought it to the recording studio.  Using his wife, Mary Ford’s pure voice, Les Paul began over-dubbing and multi-track recording, revolutionizing how recordings were made and producing rich sound that resonates deeply within.

There are so many facets to Les Paul and the genius of his 94 years.  I strongly encourage you to look him up on YouTube and Google and watch the documentaries and performances about this icon who literally changed the face of modern music. 

Perhaps Guitar Hero will add a Les Paul version to honor the Original Guitar Hero.  (They may need to add a looping accessory….)

 

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Example of Legacy

Thanks to @johncmayer on Twitter:

  The Way You Make Me Feel, David Ryan Harris

The great ones live forever….

 

The Day the Music Died: Finale – Buddy Holly

buddyholly

1936 - 1959

By now, you know the details of the crash fifty years ago that shocked the music world.  Graham Nash explains it best:

  Graham Nash talks about “The Day the Music Died”

 At 22, the lanky kid from Lubbock, TX  had been re-writing music rules.  At the tender age of 18, Holly had taken the sagging Rock & Roll scene by storm with stark rhythms and the strains of non-traditional instruments.  No hearthrob, Holly’s attraction was purely “the music”.

While Holly was quite a personality, it’s his music that has had the most lasting affect.  Many artists of the 60s and 70s, point to Buddy Holly as a major influence.  A young Robert Zimmerman’s life changed the night he watched Buddy Holly perform on the Winter Dance Party tour in Diluth, MN.  As Bob Dylan, he would also influence generations of music.

More after the jump

 

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Fathers

It’s not particularly easy to write about Father’s Day as this year is truly our first “fatherless” Father’s Day. Having lost Mr. D’s Dad back in late January, there are no cards to buy nor phone calls to make to express appreciation for all of the love and patience over the years.

When my own father passed away in the fall of 2005, I shed very few tears. Perhaps it was the detachment of making all of the arrangements, assisting my mother through her own grief, or a disbelief that he was really gone, but I remember feeling very strange about my outward lack of emotion.

However, just over two years later at my father-in-law’s services I was near inconsolable. I’m not a very demonstrative person emotionally, so I think my visible sadness was a little concerning to my husband’s family. While I was sad for my husband and his loss, I think the grief I was expressing was more for my own father and my own loss that I was finally able to “see” and feel only after time had passed.

So, lately, I’ve been reflecting on my father and his impact on me and my family. First, this is/was my Daddy…

For me, this picture epitomizes my father. From the cynical smirk on his face, to the ever-present cigar, the camera in his pocket and surrounded by the plants that defined his life. A horticulturist for nearly 60 years, he saw beauty in plants and flowers and loved growing and propagating all types of flora.

My Daddy experienced a significant amount of hurt and disappointment in his life, but he never used it as an excuse for anything. He was highly intelligent and intellectual with a side order of honesty and sincerity. He was a very principled man and he expected no less from his children.

In preparing this post, I scoured my vast library of pictures for a picture of he and I together when I was younger and I could not locate one. He was usually behind the camera and he wasn’t very demonstrative with us when we were growing up. A quiet and private man, he didn’t go in for a lot of hugging and kissing, so we were left to just “know” that he loved us. As an adult, however, he became much more “open”, particularly with his grandkids. In the one picture I could find of he and I together, look who is the center of attention.

He dearly loved his grandchildren and was so proud of each of them. This is one of my favorite pictures. It’s Mini-DD with my Daddy for Easter, when he was two and a half.

The joy on both of their faces is so evident. Also true to my father’s nature was his sense of “habit” and routine. Just about every picture I could find of my father in later years has him wearing this burgundy plantation shirt with all of his “essentials” packed into his breast pocket.

When he died, my mother gave Mini-DD one of my father’s pocket knives. For those who knew him, the significance of those knives is relevant as he was never without one and could always be relied upon to open a box or cut an apple. It is one of his grandson’s prized possessions.

As for his daughter….his youngest child….the girl he called “BooBoo”….I wasn’t left with a prized possession. More importantly, he left me an understanding of living a life of integrity, a love of family and history, and an example of loving a partner until your last breath.

So fathers, be good to your daughters
Daughters will love like you do

Daughters, John Mayer (from Where the Light Is DVD to be released July 1st) — performance at The Nokia, L.A., 12/07.

 
 
 
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