Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Remembering Doc

The following is a reprint/re-post of the blog from back in March when WUMB was celebrating Doc’s 89th birthday. Sadly, as you’ve probably heard, he will not make it to his 90th. Stay tuned all day for our ongoing musical tributes to the man who was one of the pre-eminent folk/country flatpicking geniuses of all time.

-My youngest brother is a worldly type; born and raised in the Midwest, schooled in the deep south, and found his calling here in New England, eventually leading to gainful employment in such exotic places as London, England and Luxemburg. Which, in turn, has opened many a door for him both travel-wise (he regularly drives from country to country) as well as land him, shall we say, many friends and girlfriends from afar.

-Long story short: my dear Mom was celebrating her 80th in Kentucky a few years back, and my aforementioned brother wanted to show off his (then) girlfriend from Yugoslavia. Pleasant and unassuming, I couldn’t help but notice that she insisted on parading around with a beat-up old boombox, listening to nothing but…Doc Watson! On cassette no less!

-Obvious point being…the man’s music is and always has been…universal! Knows no boundaries!

-You’ve no doubt heard the story…Folkways records his family & friends in 1960 after having played in various incarnations for 20 or so years, he debuts at Gerde’s in NY in late ’62, then on to Newport, his crowning achievement being his flatpicking contributions to the groundbreaking Will the Circle Be Unbroken in the early 70’s. Despite being middle age when he was ‘discovered’, Doc continues to be active to this day, hosting the annual MerleFest music festival in honor of his late (also very talented) son Merle.

-Doc passed away quietly yesterday (5/29) leaving behind an unparalleled catalogue of  musics of all genres; join us as we pay homage to a man who’s contributions have entertained us for 50+ years, not to mention all the years to come.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Farewell, Levon…

Farewell, Levon…

Concerts can become such a vivid part of who we are.  You can trace a time and state of mind to the real special ones.   You can trace friendships.  You may have become friends at a concert.  There are some people you may only see at annual concerts—for example at  music festivals, at WUMB member concerts, Grateful Dead shows…  Certain concerts are not just music shows.  They become life experiences.
So when a group that’s meant so much to you breaks up, it’s like you lose a friend.
For the most part, it’s inevitable that a group will eventually break up.  At some point, members decide they don’t want to go on the road anymore.  They lose the creative buzz. Those old Artistic Differences crop up.  Etc, etc.  But has any group ended it with the panache of The Band? 
Talk about doing it right.  When The Band decided the time had come to call it quits, they had a farewell concert at Winterland in San Francisco, where they invited an all-star lineup of musical friends.  And they had the show on Thanksgiving Day (how poetic)… with dinner for the concert-goers.  Thankfully the concert was recorded.  We know it as The Last Waltz.  If you’ve not heard it, get the 4-CD box set version from the library and spend a rainy afternoon with it.  The spirit and the mix of emotions is evident in the recordings.  The liner notes make you feel like you are part of the concert. 

Of course, the individual members of The Band went on to do notable projects of their own.   In 1986, Richard Manuel tragically ended his life.  In 1993—17 years after The Last Waltz—Rick Danko, Levon Helm, and Garth Hudson reunited as The Band for three more albums (Jubilation in 1993, High On The Hog in 1996, and Jubilation in 1998).  Robbie Robertson maintained his solo status.   Rick Danko also did two albums in the 1990’s with Eric Andersen and Jonas Fjeldt, before he died of heart failure in 1999. 

 Levon Helm built a home studio in Woodstock, NY in 1975.  In 2004, it became the site of monthly concerts he’d do with his band and various musician friends.   Sometimes the music would start around 7:30 at night and wouldn’t end until long after midnight.  They came to be known as the Midnight Rambles.  Between those two events, Levon was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1996.  But he beat it.  His voice was a little more ragged for wear, but he continued to record.  His albums from 2007, 2009, and 2011 all won Grammies.  His daughter Amy of the band Ollabelle often sang with him.  That’s a nice comeback from being diagnosed with cancer.

 But as you know, the cancer came back and claimed Levon on April 19th (he had been well enough to perform in March, so the onset must have been quick).  Levon and Robbie Robertson were apparently estranged since the days of The Band’s break-up.  But at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ceremony on April 16th, Robertson made a speech sending “love and prayers” to Helm.  And he was able to see Levon in the hospital the next day.

 Saturday April 28th from 11am to Noon, WUMB will air a special on Levon Helm.  Tune in and re-experience your time with Levon’s music.  And by all means, feel free to reply and share your stories of Levon Helm--solo and with The Band.  Perhaps you attended a Midnight Ramble.  Or maybe you spent Thanksgiving 1976 at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco…

--Perry Persoff.                              

Saturday, April 14, 2012

April Centenaries, 2012

“History” is often the least popular of the core academic subjects.  The irony is that the subject notorious for stunning students into boredom with a litany of mind-numbing dates and places to regurgitate…is fed by perhaps more human interest stories than the other academic subjects.

It’s not always what you tell, but how you tell it.

Two examples—one international, one local—have their 100th anniversaries this month.

Long before “Molly Brown,” the passenger ship Titanic was supposed to be unsinkable.  The ancient Greeks would have said that such a public boast could only tick the gods off (including Poseidon, God of the Sea).  The Titanic left on her maiden voyage on April 10, 1912.  She struck the fabled iceberg late on April 14th, and went down in the early morning hours of April 15th, 1912.  As if April 15th isn’t already a difficult enough day…

Those are the dates.  It is because of the stories within the dates that the Titanic continues to live on in our imaginations.  There have been at least two films about it: one in 1953 with Barbara Stanwyck, and the recent James Cameron movie (also called a disaster of, uhm, titanic proportions by its detractors).  The Titanic has become part of the vast legacy of nautical disaster songs.  There is Spider John Koerner’s Titanic (it was sad when the great ship went down).  Other ship disasters have spawned dramatic  songs from Stan Rogers (The Jeannie C, White Squall, et. al), Gordon Lightfoot (The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald), and others. 
A few years ago there was a traveling exhibit about the Titanic that included replicas of passenger cabins, among various depictions of life on the great “unsinkable” luxury liner. 

There have been far too many tragedies at sea.  But the Titanic remains the Granddaddy of them all.  And not because of the dates and places.

Locally in Boston, Fenway Park turns 100.  This is a good time for a moment of silent contemplation [cue the stadium organ]:  “Dear Lord, thank you for not letting Frank McCourt buy the Red Sox back around 2000.  For had that happened, the occasion of this anniversary would not happen.”  McCourt was among the many who wanted to tear Fenway down.  For more reasons to be glad McCourt did not buy the Red Sox, spend two hours with any LA Dodgers fan.  [Cue “This Magic Moment”]

Fenway Park--what a cathedral of magic moments within that awkward band box.  Here are the dates:  April 9, 1912 was the first actual contest, an exhibition game against Harvard.  The first official game was on April 20th 1912 against the Noo Yokk Highlanders.  Of course, the dates alone do not tell the stories.I have been fascinated with Fenway Park since watching the fog roll in over the Green Monster on TV games as a kid in Los Angeles (where I worshipped Baseball at the cathedral of Dodger Stadium).  I’ve been very lucky to experience my share of spine-tingling moments at Fenway Park in my short time here:  John Valentin’s 7 RBI’s in Game 4 of the 1999 playoffs against Cleveland, which the Sox won 23-7.  Trot Nixon’s electrifying pinch-hit home run to win Game 3 of the 2003 playoffs against Oakland.  And Game 5 of the 2004 ALCS against the Yankees.  In the 10th inning of that game, my buddy and fellow Red Sox fan in LA Tony told me on the phone, “sleep is overrated--do not leave.”   In the 13th inning—three hours before I normally left for work—I nervously headed for the subway.  In the 14th inning, at the end of the State Street station, someone with a radio let out a WHOOP as David Ortiz singled in the winning run.  The rest is…History.

There are some terrific Various Artists collections of baseball songs out there.  And don’t be surprised to hear from Chuck Brodsky on WUMB.  His Baseball Ballads has many surprises from the sport’s history in song.  But for pure FenwayPark goosebumps, you’ve got to have The Impossible Dream, The Story of the 1967 Red Sox (narrated by Ken Coleman).  Thanks to my friend Troy who welcomed me to Boston with a vinyl copy of this! 

Thank you, Mrs. Wolf in 8th Grade, for being such a great storyteller before I realized you were actually giving History lectures.

And thank you for reading this.  Consider yourself invited to share your Fenway Park memories, as well as any songs that make History come alive for you (Dave Palmater talked about many WUMB artists with songs that bring history to life on a recent Blog post:

Until next time, make use of history to enjoy your present.

--Perry Persoff


Friday, April 13, 2012

A Tribute to Lowell George

Lowell George passed more than 30 years ago, but in his brief 34 year tenure on this mortal coil, he left behind a legacy that is as fresh as when he committed his particular vision to vinyl back in the 70’s.
What a life! He appeared on the Ted Mack Amateur Hour at the age of 6, and by the time he was in his teens, he had mastered the flute, harmonica, saxophone, sitar and most importantly, the guitar.
He then started a band called the Factory in the 60’s which included future Little Feat drummer Richie Hayward (who recently passed) as well as a fella named Fred Martin who co-wrote later Little Feat classics such as ‘Dixie Chicken’ & ‘Rock’n’Roll Doctor’. During this period, his band also appeared on such classic TV sitcoms as F-Troop (as the Bed Bugs) & Gomer Pyle, was a member of the Standells & the Mothers of Invention as well.
Little Feat came next, releasing 7 unique LPs of hardly conventional, but an always intriguing mix of southern-fried blues, r&b, country and rock’n’roll. In addition to fronting Little Feat, Mr. George also found time to play on other folks releases as disparate as John Cale, Harry Nilsson & the Meters, as well as produce not only for his own band, but the Grateful Dead & Valerie Carter too.
I was lucky enough to see Lowell & Little Feat (or Seat; see ticket stub) in their prime, once on a grossly under-promoted tour with label-mates Captain Beefheart & his Magic Band (again see stub) in 1972, the other time on a visit to Boston at an ill-advised ‘dance’ concert at the old Garden with Traffic & Lindisfarne on 9/13/1974, making the mistake of perusing said experience from the open-seated floor dodging beer bottles raining down from the loge and upper deck seats.
The remaining members of Little feat still tour to this day, and yes, they’re good, but without Lowell Goerge, let’s face it, it…just…isn’t…the same! Tune in throughout the day Friday for what would have been Lowell’s 67th here on WUMB for Little Feat music throughout the day, as well as H61 Saturday morning, 8A – 12P…on WUMB!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

It's baseball time!

We who are Baseball fans must seem like odd creatures to those who do not share the fever.  Growing up in Los Angeles, when that certain extra dab of warmth in the March air suddenly arrived--I did say March in Los Angeles--you could sense those who loved the game merely by the look in their eye.  Did I say “who loved the game?”  Pardon me, make that “those who felt the game.”  It was like creatures who react by instinct to certain environmental conditions.  I recall making that baseball fan eye-contact with my manager one March.  In two years working with him, that was the first real human connection we’d had beyond employee-supervisor. 

One of my first and best friends in Boston is a longtime baseball fan and lifetime Red Sox sufferer.  When he and I pass a baseball or softball diamond, we can’t help but look at it.  I don’t have to explain this to him.  He does not have to explain it to me.  We don’t need to say a word.  We understand.  More rational people are clueless about this behavior. 

As another Baseball season opens, the question is begged: What is it about this game?

My first September in Boston, I spent Labor Day Weekend in Newfound Lake near Plymouth, NH.  I met one of my contact person’s neighbors in the campground.  Let’s call him Tom.  Tom and I are standing by the lake in the dark trading baseball stories.  He tells me his experience from Bucky “Freakin’” Dent.  I tell him how I had to pull over on the freeway in LA after Jack Clark’s 9th inning home run for the Cardinals knocked my Dodgers out of the 1985 playoffs…and how I felt like slumping over the steering wheel.  Two hours casually dissipate, and it’s like this stranger and I are cousins. 

What is it about this game of Baseball?  Is it the combination of a park, the lure of summer, and the camaraderie of a team?  I got one of my best answers after doing a typically irrational baseball-fan thing.

When you get home from an airplane flight, you probably unpack, eat, and nap.  What did I do after returning from a west coast trip in April 2004?  Change clothes, hop the T to Kenmore Square, and get in line at Fenway Park for the Red Sox home opener--hoping against hope to buy a ticket.  Among the festive creatures and refuse in the street was a guy passing out postcards.  He turned out to be a playwrite named Brendon Bates.  Fenway Park’s future was still in doubt back then.  Brendon was bringing his play called “The Savior of Fenway” to Cambridge.

A month later I did a phone interview with Brendon.  At first, I felt a little silly asking him if there was a lot of “theatre” inherent in Baseball.  By the time the question came out of my mouth, it seemed an obvious point.  He agreed completely.  Brendon’s play won an award in New York and had a good run.  A play revolving around Red Sox fans in a bar in Quincy was embraced in New York.  ??  Funnier still, many people who loved the play said, “I’m not even a baseball fan.”  The main character in the play is pretty exhuberant in the first half of the play.  Throughout the second half, it’s clear his personal life is going through upheaval.  The tumult of the Red Sox-Yankees game in the play becomes a shadow to the emotional roller-coaster of this character’s reality.  Despite the trappings of the title, Baseball was just a vehicle.

Over the long haul of the season, Baseball is replete with the trappings of the travails of Life.  There are a number of Baseball-based books on that theme.  Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin grew up a baseball fan in New York.  As a girl, she was among those who dealt with the Dodgers taking their heart out of Brooklyn.  It connected to essential parts of her life.  It’s a part of her memoir, “Wait ‘Til Next Year.”  For thoughts of connecting to old friends who were like your second family, there is David Halberstam’s “The Teammates”  This covers the journey from Massachusetts to Florida of Dom Dimaggio and Johnny Pesky, to visit Ted Williams when Williams was dying.  Along with Bobby Doerr, who could not make the trip in person, the four were very close going back 60 years.  How about mixing Baseball with international intrigue?  Learn about former Red Sox catcher Mo Berg in “The Catcher Was A Spy” by Nicholas Dawidoff.

The promise of summer, the camaraderie of friendship, the connection to social history back to the 1800’s, and even simply—as WP Kinsella wrote—the thrill of the grass.  Wrap them up together and you’ve got a special brew that goes beyond the game itself. 

Throw out the first pitch on the regular season.  It’s BASEBALL TIME!!  

Friday, April 13th will be the 100th Home Opener at Fenway Park (come on, having the 100th on Friday the 13th doesn’t scare us after the 86 years we went through).  This morning I played songs about Moe Berg--the Red Sox catcher who was a CIA spy during World War II--shortstop Ozzie Smith, and all the generations of fathers and sons (and daughters) who have played catch with each other.  Share your Fenway Park stories with us and ideas for other baseball songs to mark the occasion.  Thanks for reading this…and thanks for supporting WUMB!   

-        Perry Persoff   

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Earl Scruggs - The Father of Bluegrass Music

Bill Monroe, often credited as the Father of Bluegrass music, had led his own bands since 1938, after parting company with his brothers. Briefly called the Kentuckians, he settled on the name The Bluegrass Boys in 1939. Oddly, considering what we think of as the Monroe sound today, the band often featured an accordion and did not feature a banjo player until 1942. Monroe's first banjo player was David Akeman, a musical comedian known as Stringbean. He was a "frailer" playing in the two finger style of his mentor Uncle Dave Macon.

While many of the elements that would characterize Bluegrass music were in place, it wasn't until December of 1945, when Earl Scruggs stepped into the studio to join the Monroe band, that the sound was complete. The tracks that Monroe recorded in 1946 and 1947, like "Blue Moon of Kentucky," "Molly and Tenbrooks" and "Bluegrass Breakdown," further defined the genera as we know it today.

Of course, no one person can create a genera but the story of Bluegrass Music is more complex than the idea that Monroe created it single handed leads one to believe. Yes, Bill Monroe was playing great music before Earl's arrival but it was not significantly different from the music played by hundreds of bands all across the south. When Scruggs joined the band with his innovative three finger style of banjo, the band became something truly different.

Perhaps calling Earl Scruggs the Father of Bluegrass Music is over simplifying things as well. What I think we can safely say is that without Earl Scruggs there would not be Bluegrass Music as we know it today.

Earl passed away quietly in a hospital in Nashville yesterday but he lives on in the playing of Bela Fleck, Tony Trischka, Allison Brown and hundreds of thousands banjo players not just here but around the world. I can think of no better legacy.

~ Dave Palmater

Saturday, March 17, 2012

She Exemplifies International Women’s Month!

The intimate, rapt audience leaned in to hear the wispy-haired woman with the sterling silver voice sing about how she faced a life-threatening disease. They appreciated her bravery and her music. The crowd at state representative Jay Kaufman’s “Open House” last night was peppered with about a dozen of Jay’s fellow Summer Acoustic Music Week campers who came to hear SAMW teacher Penny Nichols perform with Mark Dann and Glen Roethel. As Penny spoke and sang about her battle with breast cancer, I reflected on what that might mean in the context of International Women’s Month. Fighting and winning against a disease that attacks such a distinguishing feature of a woman’s body puts into relief the underpinnings of International Women’s Month... because one day is hardly sufficient to honor the contributions of half the population of the world. The fact that Penny’s music speaks for all of us made me realize how the music of so many women has done just that over history – relating to every aspect of human experience.

Let’s start with the reason for International Women’s Day (March 8, 2012) in the first place. It began in 1909 as an effort to draw attention to women’s rights in the workplace. The 1912 women workers’ strike in Lawrence, Mass., sparked an entire American movement that continues to the tune of the “Bread and Roses” poem set to music by the late Mimi Farina. Activism in song on behalf of women pursuing “men’s work” carried forward. C’mon everyone, can I hear a chorus of Peggy Seeger’s “I Want to Be An Engineer?”

Women, we know, are about much more than work. During International Women’s Month, it behooves us to look back, for example, to the unalloyed courage of the much storied-in-song Sojourner Truth whose speech “Ain’t I a Woman,” has been sung and sung and sung in many versions, most notably in the Rory Block song. Think about all the songs you know that sing of the strength and power of women. One of the oldest I know is the 16th century ballad of “The Death of Queen Jane” in which she pleads for the life of her unborn child. We have sung of strong women in every era and every endeavor: Harriet Tubman, Amelia Earhart, Rosa Parks, Isabella Gunn, Frida Kahlo... too many too list, of course. And the recording artists themselves have made history and sung the songs of women’s rights and accomplishments: Odetta, Ronnie Gilbert, Bernice Reagon Johnson, Holly Near, Ani DiFranco... just to scratch the surface.

All these thoughts ran through my head last night, listening to Penny Nichols sing about “The Sands of Time.” International Women’s Month lasts, officially, 31 days. Listeners to WUMB know that songs of indefatigable women are sung every single day.

-        Marilyn Rea Beyer

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Stuck in Traffic

I think one thing we can all agree on is that being stuck in traffic is one of the biggest wastes of time in history.  I find it frustrating because I inevitably start to think of all the things I could be accomplishing instead of staring at the same car in front of me.  My mind tends to drift and I think of the laundry that needs folding at home, how I’d love to run around in my backyard with my four year old, or even how sitting at my desk and going through some emails would be time better served.  With that being said, I was stuck in traffic last week, and I was actually upset when I meandered my way through road construction.  I was listening to Joe Pug’s new album called “The Great Despiser” and time was running out because I was now actually getting to my destination where the car and radio would be turned off.

If you’re not familiar with Joe, some quick background info:  Joe had an epiphany on the day before his senior year started at the University of North Carolina.  Joe was a playwright student and right before his first cup of coffee in the morning, the thought hit him.  The thought was “I am profoundly unhappy here”.  With that, Joe packed his bags, dropped out of school, moved to Chicago and started to pursue music on a full time basis.  (By the way…how great is THAT?!)

He’s been compared to the Dylan’s and the Springsteen’s of the world because he plays guitar and on occasion drops in some great harmonica.  Comparisons aside I can only stress to you that Joe Pug is the real deal.  He speaks from the heart.  He gets it

I will let you decide for yourself.  You’ll be hearing tracks off his new album “The Great Despiser” in the coming weeks, and the full album is out April 24th.  Maybe when you hear it, you’ll be as captivated as I was and will dread reaching your destination quickly and efficiently.

-        - Jay Moberg

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Carrying the Tradition Forward

Joe Thompson passed away last month. He was one of the last traditional practitioners of African-American String Band Music. This is music that has more in common with that of fellow North Carolinians Fred Cockerham and Kyle Creed than it does with Robert Johnson or Blind Willie McTell. This is music that dates back to before the record companies discovered that "rural" music would sell and then put everything into categories based on black and white. All white rural musicians were "country" while all African-American musicians played "blues" or worse yet, "race music." The reality, especially in the Piedmont, was more complicated and more interesting than that. Much like his white counterparts, Joe played for square dances and other community functions through out his life and was awarded both a North Carolina Heritage Award and a National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellowship. You might have even seen him perform in Lowell during the three years the National Folk Festival took place there. Joe was also a mentor to three younger players, the Carolina Chocolate Drops.

This North Carolina String Band style is just one of the elements that fuse to form the music of the Chocolate Drops. Their music joyfully blurs not just genera but racial lines, incorporating Jug Band and Hokum music, African American Fife & Drum music, and yes, even blues. As you might expect they are not strict traditionalist and have applied their talents to everything from "Hit'em Up Style" to Dylan's "Political World" and they make an appearance on The Chieftains latest album.

If pressed to describe their music they tell you that more than being a part of any genera, it has more to do with other musics from the Piedmont Region, namely North Carolina. And in fact, the two remaining founder members of the band, Dom Flemons and Rhiannon Giddens are both from there. They are joined in the band by the New York based mulch-instrumentalist Hubby Jenkins and, on the current tour, New Orleans based cellist Leyla McCall.
Yes, I said cellist, and you can bet I'm going to be asking them about that. I also expect we'll be remembering the gentle man who taught them so much, Joe Thompson, when the Carolina Chocolate Drops join me in the studio Live at Noon this Friday. I hope you will too.

-Dave Palmater

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Townes turns 69

We’ve all lacked foresight at one time or another, especially when it comes to musical tastes, mostly early on in life when it’s a healthy combination of immaturity and/or impatience. I vividly remember the day I first purchased Townes Van Zandt’s self-titled LP (his 3rd; 1969) on the legendary Poppy label. I had read reviews of his work to date as well as testimonials from peers I admired. And how could I resist that sleeve? Townes looking as if he was deep in thought at an old kitchen table centered in an antique, ornate kitchen, also recorded at the legendary Bradley’s Barn in Nashville.
But you know what? I dropped the needle and was…disappointed. His music didn’t jump up and down; it didn’t wear fancy clothes, it was concise and didn’t beat around the bush. I simply at my young age didn’t have the patience for music this subtle.
I actually think I sold that album (stupid!), probably to obtain something I haven’t and won’t listen to ever again in my life. We’ve all been there.
Cut to about 8-9 years ago. Heartworn Highways, the documentary about the rebirth of country music around Austin & Nashville in the 70’s is released. Townes is part of that stellar crew. I devour it. A year or two later Be Here to Love Me, the biopic of Mr. Van Zandt is released. I’m floored. I purchase the box set that includes his first seven releases from ’68 to ’78. I can’t listen to anything else. I even read his biography from 2005 To Live’s to Fly: compassionate, truthful, contradictory.
The point being…if you haven’t been knocked sideways by the man’s music yet, prepare to be wholly caught off guard…if you’re already a fan, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Especially now that we’re all ‘older’.
And be sure and join us as we celebrate what would have been Townes’ 68th this Wednesday the 7th, all day, on WUMB.

-        Albert O

Monday, March 5, 2012

Doc Watson at 89!

-My youngest brother is a worldly type; born and raised in the Midwest, schooled in the deep south, and found his calling here in New England which led to work in such exotic places as London, England and Luxemburg. Which, in turn, has opened many a door for him both travel-wise (he regularly drives from country to country) as well as land him, shall we say, many friends and girlfriends from afar.
-Long story short: my dear Mom was celebrating her 80th in Kentucky a few years back, and my aforementioned brother wanted to show off his (then) girlfriend from Yugoslavia. Pleasant and unassuming, I couldn’t help but notice that she insisted on parading around with a beat-up old boombox, listening to nothing but…Doc Watson! On cassette no less!
-Obvious point being…the man’s music is and always has been…universal! Knows no boundaries!
-You’ve no doubt heard the story…Folkways records his family & friends in 1960 after having played in various incarnations for 20 or so years, he debuts at Gerde’s in NY in late ’62, then on to Newport, his crowning achievement being his flatpicking contributions to the groundbreaking Will the Circle Be Unbroken in the early 70’s. Despite being middle age when he was ‘discovered’, Doc continues to be active to this day, hosting the annual MerleFest music festival in honor of his late (also very talented) son Merle.
-Doc turned 89 years young last Saturday the 3rd, and all day Friday (the 2nd) WUMB we honored this singular American guitar player, songwriter and singer of bluegrass, folk, country, blues and gospel music. Undoubtedly, there’s that one Doc Watson track that you’re especially fond of; for the next time we play his music -- lend us your suggestions, won’t you please? 

-Do you have a favorite Doc Watson story you'd like to share?
- Albert O

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

How does a Canadian end up in a recording studio in Somerville?

Rose Cousins grew up in one of the most beautiful places on earth. This is not just my opinion, it's called Canada's Garden Provence for good reason, and in addition to growing the best potatoes (and mussels) on the face of the earth, it is spectacularly beautiful from the White sand beaches of the south to the red sand of beaches in the north. It is also the home of "Anne of Green Gables." (You have at least seen the PBS series haven't you?) Rose actually grew up near the birthplace of Anne's creator Lucy Maud Montgomery and among the places mentioned in the books.

Prince Edward Island has a thriving folk music scene both traditional and contemporary. There is still an abundance of fiddle music, Scottish, Irish and Acadian. There has always, it seems, been a songmaking tradition which has been well documented by Dr. Sandy Ives with his books on Lawrence Doyle, Larry Gorman, Joe Scott and other 19th songwriters who's work has passed into the tradition. This tradition has continued with writers like the late Gene MacLellan (and now his daughter Cathlene,) Alan Rankin, Scott Parsons, Tara MacLean, Lenny Gallant and a seemingly endless stream of others.

As wonderful as the Island is, like so many young people from PEI, Rose took the ferry to the mainland in search of greater opportunity. She moved to Halifax which is not just a hotbed of contemporary music but theater and comedy as well. Once there she went from playing open mics (like the one hosted by folks from the Halifax Folklore Center) to open shows for established "stars" like fellow PEI native Lenny Gallant, and eventually headlining her own shows.

In 2002, her day job necessitated a business trip to Boston and, having heard of the songwriting mecca that is Club Passim, she convinced her boss it would be cheaper for her to stay in the states an extra day. She used that day to pay a visit to the Passim open mic where she really impressed people. One of the people she impressed was Matt Smith who, nine months later, booked for for one of the weekend long Campfire Festivals. This, in turn, led to a friendship with Rose Polenzani and to a mutual love affair with the rest of the local music scene and eventually to her new album.

She recorded previous albums at Ginger's Tavern and the CBC studios in Halifax with some of the cream of the Atlantic Canadian Music scene like Luke Doucet (Whitehorse,) Jamie Gatti (Barra MacNeils) and in demand session guy Ray Leger. For her latest, "We Have Made a Spark," she came to her home away from home, Somerville and Q-Division. The album is produced by Zachariah Hickman (Josh Ritter's band, Barnstar!, etc.) and features 15 other well know artists who call Massachusetts home.

For more about Rose, her new album and some live in studio performances of her songs, tune into "Live at " this Friday.

-Dave Palmater

Sunday, February 26, 2012

WUMB Program Changes

We have a few program changes that will take effect beginning tomorrow morning, which includes the addition of another 5 hours each week of locally produced programming…now starting at each day.

George Knight moves to a new time, hosting The Morning Show, Monday thru Friday, from 5a to 7a. At every weekday, he’ll be presenting a different daily 2 or 3-song special to start your day. For example, tune in 6:00am tomorrow for ‘Mandolin Monday’ to kick-start your week with back-to-back songs by mandolin musicians Tim O’Brien and Chris Thile Then there’s ‘Bluesday Tuesday’ featuring…as you’d expect blues songs and musicians. By mid-week, George figures we’ll all be ready for ‘Slightly Wacky Wednesday’ with fun and crazy songs by folks like Christine Lavin, Cheryl Wheeler (remember her crazy song “Potato” which she sings in the video above?) and Loudon Wainwright III. A song from the past and present by the same artist will give a great comparison of how well some musicians have developed over the years with ‘Then & Now Thursday’. To finish off the week will be ‘Faux Friday’ where George will play musicians "alter egos" like Bright Eyes or Traveling Wilburys. For you Garrison Keiller fans, the show will still include Keiller’s daily Writer’s Almanac thoughts and vignettes feature at .

If you’ve been a fan of shows that have previously been heard weekdays, don’t worry. Both Michael Jonathan’s Woodsongs Old Time Radio Hour (now Sundays at 6am) and Tent Show Radio (now Sundays at 7am) will be moving to weekends.

WUMB Music Director, John Laurenti returns to the airways, taking over the 7p-10p segment of our weekday evening programming in place of George.

And, we’re thrilled to announce that a voice familiar to New England public radio listeners, Naomi Arenberg, has joined WUMB as a fill-in announcer. You may remember Naomi as a long-time fill-in, and later as the host of The Folk Show at WGBH. More recently you may have heard Naomi on WCAI/WNAN, Cape Cod. Her first assignment will be to cover for Dick Pleasants as host of Acoustic Sunrise on Sunday mornings for the time being.

Let us know your thoughts about these changes.

- Pat Monteith

Thursday, February 23, 2012

3 Talented Songwriters in 24 hours

In a period of just a little more than 24 hours the WUMB Studios, and airways, will be
visited by three talented songwriters, all of whom defy categorization, and all of whom
have new albums that have just been, or are about to be, released.

Anais Mitchell, the daughter of a former professor and novelist, was raised on a farm in
Vermont. Her writing has always been adventurous but never more so than on "Hadestown"
which has been described as a "folk opera" that sets the story of Orpheus in
Post-Apocalyptic Depression-era America. Developed as a stage presentation in Vermont,
Hadestown has played to rave reviews across the country and a "cast" recording features
artists like Ani Di Franco, Justin Vernon and Greg Brown. According to Anais, her new
album, "Young Man in American" was "inspired by American Manhood, British Ballads and my
father." Anais will be chatting with me at 2 PM on Thursday.

Anne Heaton is equally hard to pin down. A pianist with classical influences that mix
easily with Jazz, Folk and classic pop songs of the "Great American Songbook," Her
lyrics carry the flavors of every thing from Elizabethan Poetry to Free Verse. In
addition to her own creations, she accepts commission for what she calls "Custom Made
Songs" and, inspired by a peace conference in Costa Rica, she has set about telling the
stories of others under the banner of "Life is Alchemy." And that's not even mentioning
the time she spent playing in a Latin Band or singing in a gospel choir in Harlem. Her
new album "Honeycomb" should be available shortly and she's joining me "Live at Noon"
this Friday.

When Barbara Kessler first graced our studios nearly 20 years ago, she had just given up
driving an ice cream truck on Cape Cod to spend more time on her music. She was one of
the centerpieces of the burgeoning songwriter scene that coalesced at the time around the
late lamented Kendell Square Cafe in Cambridge. From 1992 to the year 2000 she recorded
4 full length album and had her performances anthologized on at least a dozen
collections. Her songs have also been featured on TV shows like NCIS, Felicity and even
All My Children! And if that were not enough one of her songs appeared on the sound track
of a PlayStation game. A decade ago, she stopped touring to devote more time to her young
family. Lucky for us, not only is she performing again but she has a new album called
"What You Keep." She'll be visiting with Jay Moberg at 4 this Friday Afternoon.

-Dave Palmater

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Mardi Gras Spirit – New Orleans and Beyond

[Music cue: The Hawkettes, Mardi Gras Mambo:
     “Down in
New Orleans where the Blues was born. . . ”]
February 21st is Fat Tuesday. . . Mardi Gras Day!

Generally speaking, Mardi Gras is the culmination of about two weeks of celebrations ending the day before Ash Wednesday.  Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent.  Now, I am no religious scholar, so I could not begin to tell you about the religious aspects of this season.  But I think it means you are supposed to be really regimented and restrained – including a lot of fasting – and Lent lasts about forty days!  So I guess the idea of Mardi Gras is that before this period of solemn restraint. . . you go wild while you can.

And the most famous city in America for Mardi Gras is New Orleans.

I've been to New Orleans once, in August of my last year of college.  Many positive images of the visit are still with me.  Fortunately I was shaded away from the crime and poverty that unfortunately are a part of New Orleans.  The part of New Orleans heritage that would be tragic to lose is that cultural gumbo of the music, the food, the mythology (voodoo spirits, etc). . . and the spirit of celebration New Orleanians embrace so often.  Most of this I embraced in San Luis Obispo, California.

California???  San Luis O-What??  Yes indeed, I learned a lot of New Orleans music while I lived there.  And believe it or not, San Luis Obispo (SLO) had a small but vibrant Cajun scene.  The little town had a couple of excellent Cajun restaurants, a bar that booked a lot of Blues bands, and a community of Krewes that put on an annual Mardi Gras Parade through Downtown SLO every February.  People went all out with goofy costumes, goofy themes. . . and it ain’t Mardi Gras without those beads to toss or catch.  The parade got bigger and a little more unwieldy each year.  Two or three years after my move to Boston, my friend Joe (who was big into the local Krewes organization) told me the sad news: Mardi Gras had been canceled in San Luis.  But we sure had a lot of fun while it was around. 

[Music cue: Ellis Paul, Hurricane Angel]

With this in mind, maybe it won't sound so strange that when Hurricane Katrina hit, I felt pain for the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast via San Luis Obispo, California.  Besides the humanitarian concern for the people in the Gulf, there was a connection with my friends in California.  It was almost like my friends there and I took an emotional hit in spirit for New Orleans – feeling the loss of something that was a part of us.  

[Music cue: Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans]

Hurricane Katrina hit in August 2005. As February '06 approached, I felt a little guilty for wondering, “will there be Mardi Gras in New Orleans?”  Six months after the hurricane, New Orleans' population was still depleted.  What with rebuilding, infrastructure concerns, etc, there were more serious matters than putting on a city parade and celebration.  I called the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce to ask about it.  The woman who answered me said that yes, they were good to go.  Her voice had a friendly yet assured sense that may as well have said, “not have a parade in New Orleans you must be joking!?!

Cambridge, MA musician Shaun “Wolf” Wortis has been staging a local Mardi Gras concert for years to benefit musicians lacking health care (the 19th annual was Feb 18th – for info check  Most recently, proceeds have gone to the New Orleans Musicians Clinic.  In 2006, I asked Shaun if it was strange to have a Mardi Gras “celebration” when the city synonymous with Mardi Gras was in such trouble.  Myself, I had to admit it seemed a tad selfish.  Shaun's response was a tribute to the culture that will have a parade for any reason: paraphrasing, “to not dance, to not make a few toasts (to New Orleans and Mardi Gras, etc). . . is to give up.”

[Music cue: Professor Longhair, Go to the Mardi Gras]

Most of our human nature tends to emphasize grieving over our disappointments or losses. And sometimes you do need to grieve. But New Orleans culture does seem to celebrate the good of something even in the worst of conditions. This Mardi Gras, I wish you well in emphasizing the New Orleans philosophy.  I know I need to.

Whenever and however you can, Laissez Les Bon Temps Roullez (i.e; Let the Good Times Roll)!

Bring on the beads,

- Perry Persoff

Saturday, February 18, 2012

“If I had a dollar”….

Do you ever hear someone saying that expression “if I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say…..”, and then fill in the blank?   Here’s what I hear all the time:  “There is no more good new music out there”.  Well, as I have stated in previous blog posts (as well as something you will hear me say often in the future)…hooey!  If I had a dollar for every time that I have heard someone say that all new music is just terrible, well…I wouldn’t say I’d be rich, but I’d have some extra spending money for sure.  Here is the rule:  There is a ton of great new music out there, sometimes you just have to look for it.  The good news is that I am here to help guide you to some of the best that has crossed our paths here at WUMB. 

The Chieftains Voice of Ages.  The Chieftains are celebrating quite a milestone of 50 years together, and with their new release they gather some extraordinary talent.  Artists like The Decemberists, The Civil Wars, Bon Iver and many more help Paddy Moloney and T Bone Burnett put together this incredible new album.  It’ll be out on February 21st.

Anais Mitchell Young Man In America.  Anais has one of the most unique and gifted voices out there, and she also has a talent for not being formulaic.  Her last album Hadestown was a folk opera and the definition of adventurous.  Her new one is coming out on February 28th and isn’t necessarily as complex a theme as her previous, but it definitely jumps around a lot (and I mean that in a very good way).

Rose Cousins We Have Made a Spark.  Rose was born and raised in Prince Edward Island and is currently based in Halifax, Nova Scotia but she might just as well be a local artist.  Her new album features Billy Beard, Dinty Child, Charlie Rose, Sean Staples, Rose Polenzani, Jennifer Kimball, Laura Cortese, Duke Levine, Mark Erelli and Zack Hickman who also produced.  There’s actually more familiar names on this album, we’re just running out of space here.  It’s out on February 28th.

And finally…

Jay Faraar, Will Johnson, Anders Parker & Yim Yames New Multitudes.  There are lots of new Woody Guthrie projects that have already been released, and there are even more on the way.  It’s another example of Nora Guthrie hand picking artists to introduce unreleased Guthrie lyrics to new ears.  What separates this project from the rest is that these guys actually don’t revolutionize the music.  They basically let the lyrics do the talking with impressive restraint.  This one is out February 28th.

So there you have it.  Just a few examples of great new music out there.  And now, the next time someone says “there’s no good new music out there”, you can steer them to these releases and share the gift of knowing that statement will never be true!

- Jay Moberg

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Which Historical Event Would You Write a Song About?

Let me say this again: James Keelaghan is the best storytelling songwriter working today. Not only is he adept at creating stories out of whole cloth but he has a special talent for writing song based on history, and those are some of the best stories of all. His subjects have ranged from tragic forest fires to heroic rescues, from telling the story of sailors trapped on a sinking ship to the story of a Japanese women interned during WWII.

His appearance Live at this Friday got me thinking about what historic event I might right about if I were a songwriter. Let me see....
  • The "Little Ships" of Dunkirk? No, James wrote The Fires of Calais almost 25 years ago.
  • The Halifax Explosion? David Stone has done an album of songs on that. (Her Own War)
  • The seizure of Native Reservation Land to build Kinzua Dam - Peter LeFarge got there first.  (As Long as the Grass Shall Grow)
  • The Native American who helped raise the flag over Iwo Jima - Peter LeFarge again. (Ira Hayes)
  • Exxon Valdez - Geoff Bartley (Wreck of the Exxon Valdez)
  • Hurricane Katrina - Tom Russell, among others (Mississippi River Running Backwards)
  • The sinking of the Ocean Ranger off Newfoundland - As you might expect Ron Hynes has written that one. (Atlantic Blue)
Well, you can see what the problem is. All of which leads me to ask you, if you were/are a songwriter, what historical event would you want to write about?

Comment below and be sure to be tuned in on Friday when James Keelaghan joins me Live at .

- Dave Palmater

Monday, February 13, 2012

Eric Andersen turns 69!

Eric Andersen and I crossed musical paths relatively late in his career, 1972’s Blue River acting as my introduction to his muse, instigating my seeking out and exploring his previous seven releases. What impressed me from the outset was the fact that his ’65 debut was NOT your typical folkie doing traditional covers but was comprised of all original compositions (well, except for one)!

I also remember anxiously looking forward to a follow-up to Blue River…that never happened! And subsequently hearing about the consequences behind there not being a follow-up (I don’t think Eric had ‘tweeting’ capabilities in ’73-’74), empathizing with his plight (the lost master tapes that didn’t turn up until some 20 years later), but seeing and hearing him rebound nicely and continue to have a productive career to this day.

When Eric graced us with his presence this past year at WUMB, not only did he sound ageless still, but the stories he told about criss-crossing North America were fascinating, especially the legendary Festival Express tour across Canada in 1970 with the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin & the Band among others. Not to mention all the beat writers from the 60’s he used to commingle with as well. Oh, to be the proverbial fly on the wall as they say.

Eric turns a healthy 69 years young this Tuesday the 14th which is especially appropriate considering the romantic nature of most of his songs. Please tune in and join us in celebrating 45+ years of great music throughout the day w/Perry, Marilyn, Dave, Jay & John…on WUMB!

Friday, February 10, 2012

A brief history of the travels of the music known as Zydeco

The story starts in France, the departure point for 17th century emigrants who braved the perilous transatlantic crossing to settle New France in the part of Canada know as Acadie, now divided between New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
During the French and Indian Wars, the British, by now in charge, started to question the loyalty of these French speaking people known, for obvious reasons, as Acadians. In 1755 they began a concentrated and violent program of Acadian expulsion. People were encouraged to emigrate by having their homes and crops burned. Over the next eight years, more than 11,500 people were forced to leave, most taking to leaking ships. Whether you call it ethnic cleansing or merely deportation, the fact remains that over one third of these people perished.
Eventually these ships filled with Acadians found their way to Louisiana where they settled land so poor or swampy that no one else wanted it. There, they became known as Cajuns. Though much of the dance music they brought with them, tracing its origin back to France, was fiddle based, they quickly adopted the small accordions they saw played by German and other Eastern European immigrants in near by areas.
Like most American musical forms there is an African element. Upon arriving in Louisiana the Cajuns were befriended by the folks who were already living in the swamps. Some of these came from the Caribbean, some were freed slaves, but most often they were escaped slaves. They quickly adopted the French language and gave a defiantly African flavor to the tunes and songs the Acadians had carried with them. This music became known as Zydeco.
During WWII many of these Afro-Cajuns left for Texas to work in the oil fields while many more choose to escape the segregated south altogether and moved to California where they could vote and had a better chance at good jobs. During that period the Dance Halls flourished with Western Swing stars like Bob wills and Spade Cooley packing in thousands at competing halls on any given night. The very danceable Zydeco became popular as well, and by the 1950s Clifton Chenier, known as the King of Zydeco, had signed with the same label that had introduced the world to Little Richard and Sam Cooke.
The music has continued to take root on the west coast, and to grow, with artists like Queen Ida, Buckwheat Zydeco and many more winning Grammys and taking the music around the world. For a more in depth, and certainly more tuneful, retelling of this story, tune into Zydeco Nation, this Sunday evening at 6 on WUMB.  
- Dave Palmater