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Tuesday, August 20, 2019




I was lucky enough to be filling in on the air for Albert O on Thursday August 15th, 2019.  Lucky to get into the start of the 50th anniversary of Woodstock?  Yes, a little.  And I did sign off with Arlo Guthrie’s “Walking Down The Line” from that first night of Woodstock in 1969 – which included Arlo’s famous reference to the larger-than-expected crowd in saying “the New York Throughway is closed, Man!”  Why was that surprising, considering the incredible line-up?  Let’s consider that some of those legends were not yet well known, let alone “legendary” (Santana, for example). 

In that spirit, I was certainly lucky to be at WUMB that day to interview Martha Scanlan and her guitarist Jon Neufeld. 

It’s a funny thing about music.  For most people, if it’s not well known, it’s not worth their time.  And then there are pieces of music that just slip into you, regardless.  You could be barely conscious of their presence because of how they simply become a part of what you are doing while listening to them.  Walking, driving, sitting on the porch overlooking the sunset.  Martha Scanlan’s music inhabits that space.  A good way to explain that came from Martha herself during our session.  To paraphrase her, she talked about how everything has a rhythm.  “The rhythm of places” is a phrase that comes up in her online bio at MarthaScanlan.com.  As she talked about her music, that phrase made more and more sense.


Martha’s musical collaborator for many years now, Jon Neufeld, certainly contributed to that.  During the session, I caught myself thinking how Jon’s playing slipped into the background.  And then suddenly he would have these compelling lead guitar parts.  He came off as one of those guitar players who without a doubt is all about serving the song.  There’s much talent but little ego in his demeanor.  It was nice of Martha to plug Jon’s website as well as her own (neufeldjon.com).  Jon noted just a little that he was in Black Prairie, the side project of many of The Decemberists.  I was tempted to ask Jon about his guitar style being similar to David Rawlings, but decided not to in deference to this being Jon’s showcase.  Later that night at their gig at The Burren, I did approach Jon about that.  He related it partly to the type of guitar they both play.  If you know guitars, I wish you’d been there with me for that conversation.  But Jon did seem happy that someone else could talk about that style of picking and about the Rawlings connection.

When we have guests in studio, generally they play three songs from their newest release.  Martha and Jon played songs from throughout their catalog.   They started with “Las Cruces” from the most recent album, The River and The Light, released last October.  Next was “Honey Blue” from Feb 2018’s The Shape of Things Gone Missing, The Shape of Things To Come (and one of my favorite album titles…I forgot to mention that to Martha).  And they finished with “Guardian Angel,” which comes from the Feb 2011 EP Tongue River Stories: Autumn.  I recommend all these songs for a long drive through rolling hillsides and ocean/lake views.

Remember that if you are a member of WUMB, you will have access to whatever we post from our in-studio sessions.  So if you are thinking of becoming a member, you can take care of that at wumb.org (hit the “Donate Now” button and follow the steps from there).  Then search for Martha Scanlan and Jon Neufeld, in studio 8/15/19.

Thank you, Martha and Jon, for a terrific in-studio session.  And thank you, dear reader, for your support of WUMB

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

WUMB's "Spinning the Blues" Host Holly Harris Chats With Blues Legend Bobby Rush





Bobby Rush with WUMB Host Holly Harris.

WUMB's "Spinning the Blues" host Holly Harris recently chatted with Grammy Award-winning blues musician Bobby Rush ahead of his show at City Winery in Boston on Tuesday, August 20th. You can hear "Spinning the Blues" every Saturday night from 6-9 on WUMB. Tune in at 91.9 FM in the Boston area or stream at wumb.org.

**
HH: Bobby, I'm so thrilled to be talking with you and that you're coming to Boston in a couple of weeks. I hope you're having a good summer. I'm loving the new CD, Sitting On top Of The Blues. Are you currently on tour?

BR: Yes, I am, like always.

HH: We had that nice sit down out in Shirley, MA right before you won a Grammy for Porcupine Meat. That was a memorable interview and evening. Can you tell me about this new CD and how it's different?

BR: I don’t think it’s any different, it’s as good or better. Trying to compete with your own self is one of the hardest things to do, but I did it…and I’m blessed to be able to do that. I want to thank you for being apart of that Grammy winning record's success, and I think you’re going to be apart of that again with this one.

HH: You always have such good players and dancers. You certainly have a smokin' band this round too. I see Vasti Jackson has a big part in the production and playing. Can you talk about some of the other world-calss musicians on here, and I just want to say how sorry I am about Lil Buck Sinegal's passing.

BR:Yeah Lil Buck was an inspiration to me, because I’ve been knowing him a long time. I had a chance to record with him on this record. I wanted to have him on the last album, but we had too many great guitar players on that last one. I had plans to do more with him on future recordings. The other musicians I didn’t know as well, but I know they play with other artists. I saw how they played and who they played with.

Scott Billington was with me from A to Z on the Grammy winning record and A to Z on this record. Not in production on this one aside from a couple of songs, but spiritually, with picking the songs, bouncing off his head to my head and there as a friend. I look up to him as a producer and professional.

I also had Patrick "Guitar Boy" Hayes. He played in the band with me at one time. He knows the licks with me like Vasti knows, but he knows me as a band member.

HH: All the tunes are great and there are some real varied styles and stories. I've been rockin' out to "Good Stuff' and "Bobby Rush Shuffle'; love that harmonica, Bobby! What will you be playing for us at the Boston show from the new CD?

BR: Thank you. [We'll be playing]“Good Stuff”, “Get Out Of Here” and “Recipe for Love”. I’ll be playing the show solo, so that changes the set a bit.

HH: What's on tap in the Fall for Bobby Rush?

BR: [I'll be] working harder than I’ve ever worked before in my life to make this record comparable to the Grammy winning one.

Monday, July 15, 2019

July Birthdays on WUMB's Spinnin' the Blues

James Cotton and Willie Dixon
By Holly Harris, host of Spinnin' the Blues from 6 - 9 PM every Saturday at 91.9 FM in the Boston area or streaming at wumb.org.


(James Cotton)

(Willie Dixon)

This month we’ve celebrated the birthdays of Blues greats, James Cotton and Willie Dixon, both born on the same day 20 years apart. Dixon was not only a noted bass player, but a prolific writer and penned many of the classic Blues tunes that we know today such as, “I Can’t Quit You Baby”, “Back Door Man” and “Spoonful” to name a few. I met him personally only once at a lunch in Memphis in 1989, where he was the keynote speaker. He  came around and spoke to everyone in the room. 



I am also fortunate to have spent some time with James Cotton over the years. My favorite interview was done with Cotton, as he was known, on a scorching hot day at the former Quincy Blues Festival. I was the emcee and he was headlining the event. There was no place to go that was private and cool except my car, so that’s where we went. We did the interview with the ac on. He was wonderful and gracious. I recall people peering into the car around us. It was before his throat cancer so he had his full voice. He talked about his life and played a little harp. He left a nip bottle in my car which he signed and I’ve kept to this day. I always went to see him when he came to the Northeast whether at a festival or local club. It was a sad day when he passed away in March of 2017. His music lives on. 




Later in July, Holly will feature specials to Lonnie MackScreamin’ Jay Hawkins, Mike Bloomfield, Buddy Guy and more.

Monday, July 8, 2019

David Allan Coe Discoveries

DAVID ALLAN COE
By Jon Gersh, host of the Dixie Bee Line on WUMB, Saturdays 9 P to Midnight

(David Allan Coe)

Friends, you know I take requests on the Dixie Bee Line. Well, I’ve got some fans up on the North Shore of Massachusetts that I know always give particularly interesting requests. So when they asked for David Allan Coe, I said "Sure! No problem."

Short story: It was a problem. I didn’t have any. Nary a lick of David Allan Coe. So, I immediately went online and ordered some CDs for immediate shipment. No, I don’t tend to download music. For one thing, we need higher quality recordings to broadcast to you! And I like to “own” the music in my collection. Plus the liner notes are sometimes helpful. They weren’t so much with these CDs, but I got them on the next week. Well, I got ONE of them on the next week! One of the turned out to be this X-rated collection of songs... I mean, these things were nasty! In the interests of science (of course) I listened through to this album. Can’t say I didn’t laugh out loud a few times, I did. But the other album was just plain good songs, and I’m glad to have this void in my collection filled. Songs like “The Ride”, that’s a great song. Kind of about the ghost of Hank Williams picking up this songwriter/hitch-hiker on his way to Nashville. I’d like to share the refrain with you, ostensibly Hank Sr. talking to this hitch-hiker:

“Mister, can you make folks cry when you play and sing? Have you paid your dues, can you moan the blues, can you bend them guitar strings? Boy, can you make folks feel what you feel inside? Cause if you’re big star bound, let me warn you it’s a long hard ride.  “  


Anyway, his rendition of this was really excellent; he didn’t write it, but he owned it. It was a bona-fide radio hit in 1983, a little more recent than I normally spin on Saturday nights, but it has that “old” sensibility. Now Coe DID write “Take this Job and Shove It”, another big radio hit. But it was Johnny Paycheck that owned that song, really made it come alive. I play Paycheck all the time, from his early years appearing as “Donny Young” (why did they use pen names in those days?) up through his cigarette-and-whiskey sounding years which included the Coe song. 


So listen in! You might hear some David Allan Coe now. Have a great July! Please join me any Saturday night from 9-Midnight right after Holly spins the Blues.  It’s fun.  

Sincerely, Jon G.
p.s. write to me!  jon.gersh@umb.edu

Friday, June 21, 2019

Ray Davies & the Search for Sartorial Bliss


Ray Davies & the Search for Sartorial Bliss
By WUMB Blog contributor, Mike Mellor

Happy birthday to Sir Ray Davies, who turns 75 on Friday, 6/21/2019. Albert O. will feature Davies's music this week on Highway 61 Revisited, Saturdays 8 AM to noon (and re-broadcast Sundays at 8 PM). Listen at wumb.org.

***

Has anybody here seen a chick called Dick?
He looks real burly but he's really hip

So is this song about him, written by Ray Davies 42 years ago.
  


Before we go any further, let's make a few things clear. There are many motivations for people who dress differently from how their assigned gender and cultural Identities dictate. Cross-dressing is a distinct self-expression that is often separate from gender identity and sexual preference. Cross-dressers are not necessarily gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, though they may also be any of those. Though it is sometimes an introductory behavior on the way to identifying as L, G, B or T, many cross-dressers are in fact cisgender heterosexuals (if not exactly "heteronormative").

This is where we find Dick, the protagonist of Davies's song. He's a married, assumed heterosexual man who discovered that he just feels restricted in conventional clothes. Now what's a fellow to do about that?

I can't answer that, but it's clear that the appropriate thing for a human to do is experiment with what makes them feel healthy and happy. Dick did that and, lo and behold, when he puts on that dress, he feels like a princess.

Davies wasn't a newcomer to writing about gender benders or clothing fetishists. In 1966 he wrote "Dedicated Follower of Fashion", a send up of the mod dandies of Carnaby Street. And of course there's "Lola", the 1970 tongue-in-cheek tale from a London cross-dressing bar.

"Out of the Wardrobe" is different from those songs, though, in its sensitivity and positivity. Even if the ‘66 underground knew that The Kinks had an affinity for deviance (just look at their band name), “Fashion” still has a sneering overtone that hasn’t aged well. “Lola” does a little better with its frenetic ambivalence and open ending, but neither come close to the tenderness of “Wardrobe”.*

Dick's wife, Betty Lou, is the difference maker. Her reaction to her husband's reveal can be summed up in the four lines:

Betty Lou didn't know what to do at first
But she's learning how to cope at last
She's got the best of both worlds
And she's really in a state of elation

After a period of readjustment it appears the couple found a situation that suits them both. She wears the trousers and smokes the pipe / And he washes up and she helps him wipe.

A happy ending if I've ever heard one! Ray finally got it right.

* One can argue that there are offensive words in the song--unrepeatable here--that shouldn’t be there. That's a fair critique, but I think it's important not to throw the inclusive baby out with the slur bathwater. 1977 England was a different time and place, and Davies often uses crudeness as a satirical tool to get his points across.

--
Mike Mellor is a librarian and music lover. He was editor for the Boston Blues Society in 2009-2010 and ran The Killing Floor blog from 2009 to 2013.

Mike is interested in U.S. history through the lens of its music, both as primary source and revisionist narrative. He believes the musical artifacts left to us tell stories that were largely untold by other media and offer a uniquely diverse look into American life.


Thursday, May 23, 2019

2019 WUMB "Day of Dylan": A Conversation


Friday, May 24th of 2019 marks Bob Dylan's 78th birthday, and to celebrate WUMB will play Dylan songs all day - interpretations, collaborations and his own recordings- from 6 AM until 10 PM. Tune in to 91.9 FM in the Boston area or stream at wumb.org for "Day of Dylan".

--
The following is a conversation between WUMB Morning Show host Brendan Hogan and blog contributor Mike Mellor.

Mike Mellor is a librarian and music lover. He was editor for the Boston Blues Society in 2009-2010 and ran The Killing Floor blog from 2009 to 2013.

Mike is interested in U.S. history through the lens of its music, both as primary source and revisionist narrative. He believes the musical artifacts left to us tell stories that were largely untold by other media and offer a uniquely diverse look into American life.
--
DYLAN CONVERSATION: 
Brendan Hogan: It's no surprise to people who listen to WUMB that I love Bob Dylan's music.

He is our Shakespeare, and people are already writing about Dylan like they write about the Bard of Avon. Someday, as with Shakespeare and other cultural heroes, we'll lose the connection with Dylan as a living, working artist of our time. (Was Shakespeare one person, after all, or a collective of writers?)

There will forever be a "before" and "after" in reference to him, but we're lucky to experience at least some of his sorcery firsthand. Magic can't be quantified, though, and it's not even worth trying to account for it. It just is. Any cultural impact Dylan has had can't be measured, either, because he has changed our culture. Dylan is like a cultural portal; he exists and so our dimension has shifted. That which could not exist before someone like him, or that which was inaccessible, is now laid out in the open.

Yes, I think highly of Dylan's art. But to me, his music has always has always been personal. Why? Because Dylan isn't magic. He isn't a figment of our imagination or a hybrid of legends passed down, written into a static, unreachable figure by history. He's a man who has shaped his own story, who has absorbed influences, and who exists in the makeup of our time. That's what I'm interested in talking about today.

Mike Mellor: You bring up an important point. Whenever I get going on Dylan I'm afraid people think I'm hero worshiping when I actually care very little about who he is as a day-to-day human being. Unlike some "Dylanologists" I don't collect paraphernalia or gossip about his affairs.

What I care about is his artistic contribution to the world: what he took, what he did with it, how it came out, and how it changed society. He's the most prolific and influential popular artist when it comes to bridging the American folk tradition with "arts and letters". His art made it a regular thing to express Post-structuralist ideas in songs about sailors and homeless people, or to tell Existentialist dirty jokes. It brought Mississippi Fred McDowell up to the Ivory Tower and F. Scott Fitzgerald down to the gutter. He's never settled long on genre or instrumentation, but his work has been a consistent cry for egalitarianism and compassion.

That is some pretty serious stuff. But where did it all start? Well, the legend goes that his ambition upon graduating high school was "to join Little Richard".


Brendan: That's the thing about Dylan: We're never really sure of who he is. Is he a man of the heart like a blues musician, of the mind like a poet, or does he want to sing about sex like Little Richard? He's all those things because he can be. Dylan is the ultimate manifestation of what it means to be an American; to be whatever you say you are. It's something he has cultivated from his earliest days as a public persona, and he's carried on laying down the chaff ever since.

Dylan doesn't use his given name, for starters, and even in his very first radio interview he spun a story about running away with the circus as a young boy. All that coupled with the mysticism and canny insight of his writing makes him a very compelling figure. I couldn't care less about his personal life, either, but I definitely filter the way I perceive the world through the lens his presence as an artist has shaped.

It's interesting that you suggest Dylan leveled the playing field between "high" and "low" cultures. I've heard people suggest that Dylan came along and broke all the rules, as if he alone had the power to do so. It's true that he did affect and represent a massive change in the way music was published, marketed, and sold, but that's not art; that's commerce. Bob Dylan is an iconic figure because he managed to exist in both the worlds of art and commerce while maintaining a high level of integrity. But nobody exists in a vacuum.

Tell me Bo Diddley's "Who Do You Love" from 1956 doesn't stand up to anything on Bringing It All Back Home.



Mike: I'd never tell you that. I'd even go a step further and say Diddley's guitar beats anything Mike Bloomfield put on the Highway 61 album. Even the cartoon mythology of "Who Do You Love" seems like a prototype for "Highway 61" the song. So much of Dylan's "electric period" is right there.

I don't think Dylan leveled the playing field, if by "playing field" you mean society. If you mean "playing field" to be his own worldview, where he believes there is artistic and philosophical merit to be found in every station from beggar to king, then I agree with you. A large part of his gift is to amalgamate it all into something new, yet wholly referential and reverential. He is essentially a pastiche artist.

Speaking of running away with the circus, I wouldn't doubt it if he stole that biographical detail from Ramblin' Jack Elliott. Elliot was an important figure in Guthrie's life when Dylan went to find him laid up in a mental hospital, and was an important figure for Dylan when he was finding his folk sound.

Dylan eclipsed that moon only a few years later but Jack is still around today to tell us the stories, and to perform amazing renditions of Dylan's early material. But before Elliott ever recorded a Dylan song Dylan (under the pseudonym Tedham Porterhouse) played harp on a Ramblin' Jack record.



Brendan: It's funny how Dylan was copying Ramblin' Jack Elliott copying Woody Guthrie. He did a good job of it, too. Some of those very early Dylan recordings sound exactly like Ramblin' Jack, down to the way he phrases words and even speaks. It's a wonder Elliott was so forgiving and their friendship endured. Artists imitate, though; genius steals.

Dylan must really be a genius, then, for lifting the melody and story of "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)" for his song "4th Time Around". A lot is made of his influence on The Beatles, but it actually went both ways.



Mike: Then he must really be a genius 12 times over for his love and theft of Junichi Saga's Confessions of a Yakuza.

I understand why this was a controversy, but in a way it's just Dylan being Dylan. He understands that the folk tradition knows no such thing as copyright and he made a completely separate and self-sufficient work with pieces of another. The vast majority of art does this sort of "stealing" all the time. What is Art History, after all, but a catalogue of who riffed off of whom?

My only beef is that Dylan could at least have thrown Saga's name in the liner notes. You know, credit where credit is due, especially when you borrow from a living source so unlikely to be noticed by others.



Brendan: That's his argument, too, and I tend to agree with him. An idea has to start somewhere, and more often than not it starts where someone else left off, or in the exact same place. He has the ability to internalize and codify his influences in such a way that his writing expresses a hybrid of wide-ranging ideas. It's personal and universal at the same time, and I don't think you can set out to do that. It just happens.

I suppose problems usually arise when one party makes money and the other doesn't. Dylan happily cashes his checks, I'm sure, but I've never been under the impression that he got into the game for that. In fact, he's made some pretty heavy sacrifices himself.

But stealing is a murky subject. And from Edison to Jobs to Dylan, it's very American, too.

Friday, May 10, 2019

John Paul White Interview






Morning Show Host Brendan Hogan recently chatted with Singer/Songwriter/Producer John Paul White ahead of his show at Once in Somerville on Monday, May 13th.

BH: Congrats on the new record! By the summer of 2014, after years on the road and much success with The Civil Wars, you decided to move on. I imagine that must have brought a sense of relief; to have time ready to spend with your family. Now you're back with your second solo album in 3 years. How are you feeling?

JPW:  "I’m feeling more comfortable with this vagabond style of life than I have in a while. It’s been a bit of a learning curve - how much is enough, how much is too much - and it probably always will be. I’m getting better at balancing my need to connect with people through my songs and my longing to just sit and hold my babies" 



BH: Tell us about The Hurting Kind. On this album you enlisted the help of some Nashville icons to help co-write (i.e., Whisperin' Bill Anderson and Bobby Braddock) and create the sound of the album (i.e., Pat Bergeson and Lee Ann Womack). Seems like you were going directly for a big countrypolitan/Nashville sound?

JPW: "I was going at it indirectly. I wanted those countrypolitan elements involved, but I wanted to steer clear of making a retro, throwback kind of record. Early on I realized that my voice and melodic sensibilities were always going to give it a unique spin, as I’m not a traditional country singer. That allowed me to immerse myself in the instrumentation and arrangements, but not worry too much about sounding dated."



BH: You are a tremendously gifted singer and songwriter. Which came first, and do you still approach your music that way?

JPW: "That’s very kind! I’m the most self-deprecating guy out there when it comes to my voice. I’m tweaking constantly to try to improve. Singing was my first love, by far. I never wanted to be a songwriter when I was young. I just wanted to sing and catch the girl’s eye. It was college before I started seriously realizing why I loved this, and that was due to my songwriting. I dug into the bones of what really was going on inside me when I’d get those chill bumps from music. 



BH: The Shoals region of Alabama has for decades been a hot bed of great music via FAME Studio, Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, and all of the incredibly soulful records that came out of those places. Today it's artists such as yourself, The Alabama Shakes, Jason Isbell, The Secret Sisters, Patterson Hood and others. Any thoughts as to what makes the area special?

JPW: "Back in the day it was sheer determination and ignorance. Our founding fathers and mothers around here were blissfully unaware that you had to be in New York Or LA or Nashville. They figured a hit was a hit was a hit. That sort of blind confidence seeped into the town and the generations that followed. I think we all had a leg up on other communities, knowing that if you build it they will come - instead of the other way around. That allowed us to create in our comfort zone instead of a rat race. 



BH: Anything you want to share that is on the horizon for John Paul White?

JPW: "At the moment I’ve got my head down and am stoked to tour for the next 4 months. I’ll be hitting pretty much the whole lower 48, and then off to the EU. But...songs are starting to pop in my head left and right. That really makes me excited about the future."