Trolling the underground

 marciabwsm.jpg

As I’ve mentioned before, the 2001 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival was a real eye-opener for me musically. That was where I got turned on to many new acts that I’d never heard of, and became a rock solid fan of a few that I’d heard of, but never listened to.  This weeks TtU addresses one of the former.

My traveling companion had been told by a friend in NYC to make SURE she didn’t miss Marcia Ball while she was in NO. I’d never heard the name before, and was already knocked out by the plethora of names I was familiar with. I mean, in one weekend, I was being offered B.B. King, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Clarence “Frogman” Henry, Koko Taylor, The Funky Meters, Dr. John, Buckwheat Zydeco, Max Roach, Harry Connick Sr., The Radiators, and Van Morrison (although I’m not a fan so I skipped him. I later heard that he’d done an awful and uninspired set.) I was there to learn, though, so unlike other times that weekend, I tagged along.

I’m glad I did. It was one of the musical highlights of the weekend. Since then, I’ve been a solid fan.

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Hailing from Louisiana, Marcia Ball has been a musician her entire adult life. When she started out, she left her home state for parts west. She made it as far as Austin, Tx., where the blues scene thrives, and settled right into it. Since then she’s made her mark as the “Piano Queen of the Bayou”, and rightly so. Many women have made their mark in music by singing as well as she does, but it’s her stunning piano work that really makes her the band leader. She takes her inspiration from influences such as Fats Dominoe, Clifton Chenier, Irma Thomas, and especially her hero Professor Longhair. She does them all proud.

Hers is the type of style that MAKES you get to your feet. Her rockin’ piano will force the toes to tap, the knees to spring, the boot to scoot. Her soulful voice locks you in to the slow tunes . She is “must see” music in my opinion.

marciaball.jpg

Here she is hanging with another legend I’ve met – Bo Diddly

I saw her again in Albuquerque, along with blues legends Duke Robillard and Charlie Musselwhite, and created a new fan by badgering a friend to go along. While the whole show was great, she was the high point. After the show, I learned of a habit she has. After each gig, she comes out with her Sharpie marker and meets with the fans, selling CDs and autographing until everyone’s gone. That is when my friend told her that he was blown away, and that he’s glad I talked him into going because he hadn’t wanted to. She looked at him and said “Well, you need to start listening to Joe!” It was at least a year before he stopped hearing about THAT.

When I returned to New Orleans in 2003, about a month after the Albuquerque show, I had already scoured the internet to see if she’d be playing. Not a hint of it, but no worries, this is New Orleans, right? Great musicians spawn from there, so I’ll see something good. When we got there, I picked up a copy of the free weekly paper that all cities seem to have, and there she was, playing at the famous Tipitina’s nightclub the next evening. I was right up front that night, as close to that piano as you could get. After she shook the roof loose, we met again and she autographed a concert poster for me. She even claimed to remember us from the month before, and seemed sincere. Even if she didn’t she faked it well! She is a very gracious lady with her fans, and it is always a treat to see her.

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She doesn’t seem to be well known outside of blues circles, but she is quickly becoming a big name within those circles. She was even included in Clint Eastwood’s Piano Blues documentary along with legends Ray Charles, Pinetop Perkins, and Dave Brubeck. As a pianist, it’s hard to be in better company than that!

For this installment, I have selected one of her most rockin’ party tunes. This song, called That’s Enough of That Stuff showcases her up front vocal style and her magic fingers, and shows why hers is the first name I think of when I’m in the mood for some hot piano blues. It was recorded at Zilker Park in Austin, Tx. on June 22, 2005.

You can listen to it here.

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Next time: When he died, far more attention was paid to his television career than his musical dabblings.

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Trolling the Underground

For the newbies: Trolling the underground is a formerly regular feature that has been sidelined since my home computer died. I still don’t have a new one, but I have cobbled this entry together over a few weeks and with the help of my friends. It will be regular again, but not until I get a new home rig.

Anyway, the idea behind this feature is to highlight my favorite hobby, the collecting of underground recordings that are not available through any official channels. Unlike “bootlegging”, the free trading of unofficial recordings is entirely legal. In the feature, I discuss the hobby, the music, my memories of live performances, and the artists themselves. Every TtU post features a song from one of the shows in my collection. At the end of each post, I give a clue as to what artist(s) will be featured next time. The first person to guess the correct name in my comments wins a copy of the entire show to be featured!  

 gabriel1.jpg “Shaking the Tree”

As you’ve probably gathered from reading these posts, I’ve seen a few concerts. In fact, if I’d put all the money I’ve spent on concert tickets into an IRA, I’d probably be sitting pretty by now. I don’t know exactly how many shows I’ve seen, but it numbers easily in the hundreds, with the number of artists well over a hundred by itself. Guessing conservatively, natch.

Given that, one would expect that I’d have a difficult time picking the best show I’ve seen. You’d probably expect me to make a “Top 10” list or somesuch. But while I’d have to do that if someone asked who my favorite musician is, picking my favorite live performer is actually pretty easy.

Peter Gabriel wins, hands down. Not one single doubt in my mind.

While there are many musicians who impress me enough to see more than once (I’ve seen the Grateful Dead, CSN, Neil Young, Jeff Beck, Bob Dylan, Adrian Belew, Yes, Pink Floyd, Little Feat, and Ratdog multiple times, among many others), no one can draw me into what is happening onstage quite like Peter Gabriel. I’m hard pressed to think of anyone else I would drive from Albuquerque to Phoenix with a flu to see.

A Gabriel show isn’t just a concert – I see it as a multi-media event. It’s not just lights and gimmicks, either, but in the way each song is presented. It’s a mixture of music, dancing, mime, lights, films, and interaction with the audience that is truly difficult to describe. Gabriel doesn’t just sing his songs, he performs them. I know that that is a weakass descripton, but bear with me.

When I saw him on the tour I’m highlighting with this post – 1994s “Secret World” tour, we came in to see not one stage, but two stages connected by a runway. There was the traditional square stage in front of the audience, with the runway projecting into the audience and connecting to a round stage in the center of the main floor. Everything was empty. I remember us saying that it was getting close to showtime, and they’d better start setting up the instruments, but no stage hands ever appeared. Then the lights went out.

We then heard music begin to play. As the lights came back up, we could see that several large holes had appeared in the stage. The musicians, already playing, were rising up through the holes on hydraulic platforms that filled the holes exactly. Gabriel himself was in an old-fashioned bright red british phone booth, singing into a headset mike but holding the phone as if he were speaking into it. The song, if you haven’t guessed, was Come Talk to Me.

gabriel.jpg  “Steam”

As the song progressed, he left the phone booth still holding the phone. The cord stretched as he pulled it (against, it seemed, great resistance) across the stage and down the runway to the other stage, where his background singer (the beautiful and talented Paula Cole) was standing. After they sang for a while face to face, the cord pulled him, seemingly against his great resistance, back to the phone booth where the song ended. And this incredible bit of theatrics was the opening number. The show progessed and intensified from there. (If you would like to SEE this, rent his Secret World Live DVD.)

Gabriel’s style was always theatrical. During his tenure as frontman for Genesis, he wore makeup, masks, and costumes, often changing guises more than once during a song (by taking advantage of long instrumental passages). That particular style was sidelined when he went solo. His performances were simplified, but always theatrical, and grew into what I just described, and I only described the tip of the iceberg. If you rent the dvd mentioned above and like it, you will also like the dvd of his more recent tour called Growing Up Live.

pg07.jpg “Growing Up”

When I found this bootleg, I was on cloud nine. A soundboard of the best show I ever saw!!!!! When listening to it, however, I realised that this was the next night’s show. The difference is the replacement of ONE song (The first night he played Kiss That Frog, the second night he replaced it with Shock the Monkey). Ah well, it still reminds me of that show. I’d sure like to find a soundboard of the one I saw, though.

It was difficult to choose a song from this show, as I like all of them and his band is fantastic. I’ve chosen a song called Shaking the Tree, about womankind’s emancipation (at least in the west) for three reasons. First, it might be less known to my reading audience. Secondly, Gabriel introduces the band during the song (so I don’t have to). Third, it was an aural and visual highlight of the show, and the first song of the show performed on the round stage. The square stage was for the harder, more masculine songs (such as Steam or Games Without Frontiers), and the round stage was for the softer, more feminine tunes. Visually, this song was a treat (as you’ll see if you rent the DVD), with the singers dancing in a circle around the band and a big tree popping up from under the stage in the middle of it all (and providing a great segue to a song called Blood of Eden).

No matter what, when Gabriel is on tour, I will do what I can to see a show. It’s worth the extra effort.

This is from The Rosemont Horizon in Rosemont, Il. on July 10, 1993.

Hear it here. Enjoy

genesis_petergabriel_live.jpg With Genesis.

Next time: Coming from Louisiana, this artist moved away to explore the wild world,  got as far as Austin and has lived there since.

Not Trolling the Underground Quite Yet

Between setting up the new works here, trying to prepare for tonight’s Microeconomics test, and just plain screwing off, I have to admit that I didn’t have time to write this installment of Trolling the Underground. That means that the contest has another week! No one has even come close yet, but that is, I think, largely because NO ONE HAS GUESSED AT ALL! Yeesh. So I guess I’ll provide another clue.

The first clue, as you no doubt remember from poring over every word I write, was:

One of the projects he embarked on in his 37-years-so-far career was an attempt to record music with monkeys.

(Yes, I usually put the clues in a different type and color, but those buttons seem to be missing at WordPress. Yes, this will be temporary indeed.)

The new clue is:

Another idea of his was to release albums as if they were issues of a magazine.

For those of you not familiar, the first to post the right answer gets a copy of the full bootleg that I will feature next Friday when Trolling the Underground returns!

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