2, 2008 AN APPRECIATION
The night Bo Diddley banned the Beat
How do you play with a legend without doing it the legendary
way? By learning his lesson of keeping himself new.
By Dave Alvin, Special to the Los Angeles Times 3:35 PM PDT,
June 2, 2008
"Whatever you do, DO NOT play 'the Beat!'"
was the first thing Bo Diddley said to us before we walked onto
the stage of the Music Machine club in West L.A. for two sets
back in 1983. We were a mix of members of the Blasters and X
who had agreed, with great enthusiasm, to back up one of our
greatest heroes for free at a benefit show for the Southern
California Blues Society.
To say that we were upset by his announcement/warning would
be an understatement. How could you play Bo Diddley songs and
not play the powerful, infectious and sensual Bo Diddley Beat?
Bo's first records for the Chess label back in the mid-'50s,
his "Beat" (a primal and relentless mix of the old
shave-and-a-haircut riff, Chicago blues grooves and Latin rhythms),
had been borrowed, stolen or adapted by everyone from Buddy
Holly to the Rolling Stones to David Bowie for their own hit
even though Bo had utilized various permutations of the beat
over the course of his long career, he was asking us to abandon
it entirely in favor of . . . What? It's sort of like asking
an actor to do Hamlet, but don't use any of Shakespeare's words.
drummer Bill Bateman and X drummer DJ Bonebreak, who were sharing
the drum and percussion duties for the night, asked Bo to clarify
what beat they should play. He tapped out some rhythm that stressed
a different accent but, to be honest, I couldn't tell what the
difference was. Fortunately, Bill and DJ picked up on his instructions
and by the end of the first song Bo seemed pretty happy.
was a very good band, with Bill and DJ teaming up for the essential
duties on drums, timbales and maracas, X's John Doe and Blasters
bassist John Bazz sharing the bass position while my brother
Phil, who also played some harmonica, and I followed Bo as best
we could on guitars.
of the songs in the first set were new songs that Bo had recently
recorded but none of us had ever heard, let alone studied. We
(and just about every other musician in the modern age) had
been dissecting all of his old records for years with the passion
of theology students pouring over the Dead Sea scrolls or physicists
debating string theory. A couple of the songs in the set were
straight blues that easily fell into a comfortable pocket, but
the rest were extended one-chord, semi-funk jams that wound
up sounding as much like "Bitches Brew"-era Miles
Davis as they did classic Bo Diddley.
the set progressed and I began to get comfortable with Bo's
new beats, I started thinking that it was close-minded of me
to expect him to play the old songs the same old way. Wasn't
Bo Diddley as much of a musical revolutionary as Bob Dylan?
Weren't his original recordings of "Mona" or "Who
Do You Love" as musically unique, pivotal and influential
in their day as Dylan's?
Bo wasn't the genius lyricist that Dylan is but in rock 'n'
roll (or blues and folk), lyrics aren't everything. If Dylan
could change the melodies, grooves and even lyrics to his songs
in order to keep exploring the possibilities of his art, why
couldn't Bo Diddley?
people would argue that Bo was one of the architects of funk
and, if that's the case, why shouldn't he be allowed to follow
his own rhythmic path to wherever it might lead him? Why should
Bo Diddley have to be stuck in the past just because that's
where a part of his audience (and perhaps his backing bands)
wanted him to remain?
remember smiling on stage like a goofball as I realized all
of this and came to the conclusion that if you really dig Bo
Diddley, then let Bo Diddley be Bo Diddley! I was a young guy
at the time who was trying his best to replicate old music --
and that's the best way to learn, believe me -- but that night
Bo taught me a lesson about growing and surviving as an musician/artist:
Stay true to yourself.
the first set I approached Bo backstage and told him what I
had been thinking while I played with him. "That's right,"
he said laughing. "I already made all them old records
years ago. Now I'm keeping myself new."
as we walked back onstage for the second set, Bo turned to us,
smiled and said, "You know, you boys are pretty good, so
I'll tell you what: The first song is gonna be 'Mona' and you
can play with the Bo Diddley beat." And we did.
you Bo, for all your incredible music over the years and, especially,
the wise life lesson you taught me.
songwriter and guitarist Dave Alvin has been a member of the
Blasters, X and the Knitters and leads his own roots-rock group,
the Guilty Men.
Gaffney 1950 - 2008
other big brother, Chris Gaffney passed away Thursday morning,
April 17, 2008.
really don't know what to say right now but I feel that I have
to say something. First of all, I want to again thank everyone
that sent messages to Chris and donated funds to his cause.
It means more than you'll know to Chris, his family and me.
We are still raising money at www.helpgaff.com to help with
the existing medical bills and other various expenses including
a forthcoming memorial service.
twenty-some years I have thousands of memories of Chris. Through
those years of songs, laughs, countless barrooms, eternal highways,
broken hearts, screw-ups, bail outs, close calls, busted strings,
elusive dreams, flat tires, stalled engines, hard hangovers,
bad gigs, great gigs, in between gigs, tragedies, triumphs,
secret jokes, bad TV, worse food and now, tears, Gaffney always
had my back. I never had to worry about nothing or nobody if
Gaffney was with me. I don't know what I ever did to deserve
it but, God, I was blessed to have Chris Gaffney as my best
and my friend, B.J. in Omaha, said it best for me in a email
yesterday. She said that I now have a "wild angel looking
out for me." Yeah, I do believe that's true.
still see you in Cuervo, brother.
8, 2008 Dear friends, fans and everyone else:
want to sincerely thank everyone who has gone (and will go)
to helpgaff.com and donated to the Chris Gaffney cause. I'm really at a loss
for words regarding the overwhelming response from so many people
to our call for help. Beside your financial donations, your
many heartfelt messages of love and support have deeply moved
Chris, his family and me. I don't think Chris ever realized
how much his music touches people and how truly beloved he is.
These are rough financial times for many of us, but your selfless
generosity in the face of that hard reality, has gotten me a
bit< misty eyed on more than a couple occasions lately.
also like to thank all the people who are putting together benefit
shows across the country. Shows are currently being planned
in Austin, Omaha, Houston, San Francisco, Nashville and several
other locations. Please let us know at helpgaff.com if you're
doing a benefit for Chris so that we can plug it on the site.
Later this year I plan on doing a benefit performance in southern
California with many longtime friends of mine and Chris's. Check
back here or at the Gaff site for information about when and
where that will be happening.
"other big brother" Chris is a fighter and having
all of you in his corner have made me even more positive that
he will win this fight. Thank you all very, very much.
29, 2007 RADIO BLUES
with deep sadness that I write these words. Two people recently
passed away who did so much to keep roots/folk music alive in
the past 30 years: Howard Larman and Laura Ellen Hopper. I was
blessed to have known both.
along with his wife Roz, hosted the venerable folk music program, FOLKSCENE on radio station KPFK for over thirty years. He and Roz gave
early exposure to artists like Tom Waits, Richard Thompson and
Jackson Browne before most people had heard of them. Just as
important, though, Howard and Roz championed the music of countless
lesser-known artists whose songs and musicianship would never
be heard on mainstream radio.
I listened to FOLKSCENE semi-religiously growing up and, if it wasn't for Howard and
Roz, I never would have discovered amazing songwriters like
Kate Wolf, Jim Ringer, Steve Young, Katy Moffat and Steve Gillette
or have been properly introduced to the soulful and sorrowful
world of traditional Celtic ballads. I always felt inspired
and a bit more educated after listening to FOLKSCENE (I still do) which is a hell of a lot more than most radio or
tv shows can deliver these days. Howard's broad definition of
"folk music" (encompassing everything from his beloved
Celtic music to traditional fiddle tunes to sensitive singer-songwriters
to western swing to blues to rockabilly to jug bands and beyond)
certainly influenced my wide view of what folk music is and,
for that, I'll be forever in his debt.
to say, I had butterflies the size of elephants when I first
appeared as a guest on FOLKSCENE in 1988. I felt that I didn't deserve to be on the air with
Howard interviewing me. I felt the same way every time I returned
as a guest over the next 18 years. I never should have have
worried though because Howard was a perceptive and gentle interviewer
who knew how to make his guests feel welcome, comfortable and
part of the great folk music tradition. Thank you Howard for
the musical education, kind laughs and for being so patient
with me over the years. I'll miss you very much.
good news is that Roz (along with their very musically astute
son, Allen Larman) will continue to do the FOLKSCENE show and keep the tradition alive.
Ellen Hopper was the founder and the strong guiding spirit of KPIG Radio up in Watsonville, California. Regarding her passing a KPIG dj, John Sandige said something like "losing Laura was
like losing a great redwood." That's very true. Like Howard
Larman, she was a champion to countless artists who don't fit
in on the tight playlists of today's corporate rock or country
broadcasting. Laura made KPIG the home for radio renegades like Joe Ely, Robert Earl Keen,
Tom Russell, Iris deMent and Steve Earle as well as for many
blues, r+b and rock and roll acts. And she somehow made it commercially
successful. Laura was business smart but had an artists soul
(not a common combination) and I always enjoyed shooting the
breeze with her. She didn't pull her punches and I appreciated
that. We agreed on a lot of what was wrong with radio and what
could be done to keep roots music alive. With her passing we
lost a tough advocate for music that doesn't fit neatly into
a nice, little programmed package. Hopefully, in the future, KPIG will be able keep up the good fight she fought so well.
that the rest of us can do, as Curtis Mayfield said, is "keep
to my new website. I think it looks pretty swanky for a barroom
very excited about having my own website and I'm looking forward
to having some fun here. One of the fun things I plan to do,
over the next weeks and months, will be posting some new and
some not-so-new, rare recordings on the site that aren't currently
available anywhere else. The first of these songs should be
available early this summer and every few weeks or so I'll be
adding more songs. Please check back for more info as I get
also a fairly up-to-date (and as complete as my memory made
possible) discography of all the music I've been fortunate to
be a part of. This list covers everything from my work as a
solo artist to appearances as a guest vocalist, band member,
sideman and producer. There are links on the recordings that
are still available if you wish to purchase them. Unfortunately,
the out of print records on the list may only be available at
some serious collector's rare record stores or maybe in some
discount cut-out bins. Good luck if you feel like hunting them
The site also has a page listing of all my upcoming gigs (whether
I'm playing solo and acoustic or loud and electric with my band,
The Guilty Men) as well as a news page that will have information
on upcoming recordings, tours or any oddball stuff I find myself
wrapped up in.
like to take this opportunity to make some serious "thank
you's." First of all, my eternal gratitude to Scot Kleinman
for all of his time, labor and patience the past several years
hosting DaveAlvin.com. He's done an amazing job and I am forever
in his debt. I intend to remain involved with Scot's site and
will continue answering the questions ad messages that come
to his dot-com site (I really enjoy the back and forth dialogue
I get to have with everyone who writes to me there). Speaking
of "forever in his debt," I want to thank Billy Davis
for his very hard work and eternal enthusiasm at TheBlastersNewsletter.com.
I honestly can't calculate how helpful, generous and inspirational
Billy and Scot have been to me. Hell, they even convinced my
brother Phil and I to reform the original Blasters for a couple
of tours over the past few years. Anyone who could do that is
damned good in my book. Thanks guys.
with the thank you's, I say this with no exaggeration, this
new webpage wouldn't exist without the tireless efforts and
visionary zeal of Heather Lilly, Jane Terry and Nancy Sefton.
Everything that's good about this site is because of them and
I owe them more than I can ever pay them back.
I'll be adding a lot more content to the site over the next
few weeks and if you have any suggestions for the site, please
let me know. I'm a bit of a computer illiterate but Heather,
Jane and Nancy will more than make up for my 21st century shortcomings.
for stopping by and see you down the road,
2007- Every now and then, someone asks me to write some liner notes
for some album or another. It's a nice honor to be asked and
I get a big kick doing this. Hell, I've even gotten paid a couple
times for doing this. I hope you enjoy reading them. DA
notes for TERRY ALLEN: JUAREZ Sugar Hill Reissue 2004
A few years ago in Italy, I watched Terry Allen pull an electric
piano off of it's stand, raise it above his head like an angry
Moses on Mount Sinai, then violently throw the helpless instrument
to the floor with such righteous fury that the piano shattered
into a hundred useless pieces. He stood calmly above the wreckage,
he did it, I don't know but I have to admit that I was more
than a little scared. I was standing just a few feet from him,
performing a Bo Diddley song in one of those end of the show
jam sessions/sing-alongs with Terry, Guy Clark, Butch Hancock,
Peter Case, Tom Russell and the Austin band, Loose Diamonds,
when he murdered the piano. What scared me wasn't seeing someone
destroy a musical instrument on stage (I'd seen plenty of that
over the years) but the look in Terry's eyes. These weren't
the eyes of Terry Allen, world renowned sculptor-legendary songwriter
and west Texas visionary, but these were the cold eyes of Jabo,
the homesick, killer pachuco from JUAREZ.
Terry Allen's first masterpiece, is one of the great "songwriter"
records. Originally recorded and released in the early 1970's,
it stands equal with other mandatory 70's songwriter classics
like Dylan's BLOOD ON THE TRACKS and Randy Newman's GOOD OLD
BOYS. And it stands equal (or above) most songwriter records
made in the decades since. Like Dylan's and Newman's work, the
songs on JUAREZ work on so many levels that they defy easy categorization
or neat explanations. Like old, anonymous folk ballads, the
narrative songs on JUAREZ tell one story but inside the seemingly
simple story is a universe of other stories, myths, lovers,
barrooms, highways, dead ends and meanings. You can appreciate
each song on the level of "That's a great love song"
or "That's a good drinking song" or, if you're so
disposed, delve into their deeper meanings. Is JUAREZ a commentary
on the history of the wild west, the conquest and colonization
of the Americas, the alienation and dislocation of modern American
life or . . . all of the above?
are many moments on JUAREZ that are as scary as that crashing
Italian piano. "There Oughta Be A Law Agains't Sunny Southern
California" is one of the baddest bad boy ballads to come
out of the still wild west.
But there are also bittersweet moments of honky tonk existentialism
- "La Despedida" stuns me with it's sad beauty every
time I hear it - as well as moments of transcendental humor
like "Writing On Rocks Across The USA." There are
even songs that mix the humor and violence with touching innocence
and desperate passion.
Not an easy task. Just ask any poet or songwriter.
reason JUAREZ was so powerful when first recorded (and is still
as intense today) is the simplicity and intimacy of the recording.
With only his words and piano, plus some excellent subtle guitar
and mandolin accompaniment, Terry Allen manages to paint the
border town whorehouses, the small mountain town trailer park
and the dark desert highway with all the vivid colors of a Maynard
Dixon painting. The sparseness of the arrangements allows his
voice to inhabit every character with a credibility that might
have been lessened with more elaborate settings (although the
the 2 beautiful new songs, included on this cd, use more instrumentation,
they manage to keep the original recording's intimate mood intact).
Like Hank Williams or Robert Johnson, Terry Allen is capable
of making you believe every word he sings. The anger, disappointment,
lust, loneliness, love, hope and hopelessness of the characters
Jabo, Chic, Spanish Alice and Sailor come fully to life by way
of Allen's "been there and back" vocals. As I saw
in his eyes as he killed a piano on stage, perhaps the JUAREZ
characters possess Terry as much as he possesses them.
is an intense of a work of art or poetry or music (or whatever
you want to call it) by a master songwriter. It tells a story
with maybe no ending, with perhaps no noble heroes and possibly
no uplifting moral to learned but, none the less, it's a story
that had to be told. Just like that piano had to be destroyed
one night in Italy.
SHINES - SKULL AND CROSSBONES BLUES - Hightone 2003
Shines was, without a doubt, one of the greatest blues singers
that ever lived. Like Roy Brown or Big Joe Turner, he could've
sung opera if fate had pointed him down that road.
was also an amazing guitarist capable of both weaving intricate,
complex patterns on acoustic guitar or slashing his way through
tough Chicago electric shuffles. The influence of Robert Johnson
is in his playing (as the included version of "Crossroads
Blues" shows), and that's to be expected because of Shine's
well documented close relationship with Johnson, but Shine's
off beat rhythms, clever riffs and dead-on slide work were,
like his vocals, utterly his own.
you say "blues" to most people they tend to think
of one or two types of blues music and one type of blues singer.
The stereotypical blues singer is supposed to be the hard living,
hard drinking, illiterate, itinerant, "sold my soul to
the devil" type. But just as there are numerous styles
and shades of blues music, there are just as many types of blues
singers. Johnny Shines was a hard working, educated man who
had wide interests and dreamed of seeing Africa. He felt deeply
that the blues stereotypes negatively affected the profound
influence that the blues had on American music and culture.
J.B. Lenoir and Skip James, Johnny Shines didn't fit any preconceived
mold of what a blues musician should be or what he should write
and sing about. And sadly, like all the greatest blues singers,
his kind will never be seen again. Fortunately for those of
us who had the great fortune to see him perform when he was
alive and especially for those who didn't have that unique opportunity,
we can, thanks to this Hightone reissue, still listen to the
pure blues of a true original.
ARTISTS - ROCKIN' BONES - 1950's Punk And Rockabilly - Rhino
always been just another branch on the old folk music tree.
I know some folk purists (and rockabilly purists as well) disagree
with me but, like other post World War 2 folk music offshoots
- urban blues, rural bluegrass, suburban singer-songwriters,
for example - early rockabilly grew directly from the old time
blues, ballads and breakdowns that are the rich roots of our
folk music. A rockabilly band blasting the roof off some beer
joint along the highway is just as much an integral part of
America's folk music history as any acoustic guitar strumming
singer-songwriter singing in a college town coffeehouse.
been more than 50 years since the first rockabilly records were
released and rockabilly is still too raw or too simple or too
loud or too fast or too dangerous for some people to appreciate.
To me, though, because it has retained all those impolite "negatives,"
rockabilly remains as gloriously primitive as any true folk
music should be.
notes for FREDDIE KING: LIVE AT THE ELECTRIC BALLROOM 1974 Shout
was a skinny 14 year-old kid when I finally got up the guts
to speak to Freddie King.
was back in 1970 or 71, and he had just finished blowing the
roof off of the Los Angeles blues/folk club, the Ash Grove.
He was standing in the lounge area talking to one of his band
members and seemed relaxed and somewhat approachable. Back then
I was one of those kids who actually read the small print on
records that listed who wrote the song, and I had to know who
Billy Myles was. His name was on one of King's signature songs,
"Have You Ever Loved A Woman?"
have to admit that I was scared to death as I slowly walked
toward him. By that time, my brother, Phil, and I had seen a
few Freddie King shows and we were always devastated by his
performances. We'd collected his old King/Federal 45's and out-of-print
LPs, and as great as they were, they didn't quite match the
sheer power of seeing him live. First of all there was his physical
presence. He was a big man who dwarfed his Gibson guitar and
dominated the stage like few artists I've seen before or since
(Big Joe Turner was one of the only performers who matched King
in that department). You would never want to be on his bad side.
there was Freddie King's total mastery of his instrument. His
playing was melodic yet propulsive, tasteful yet overwhelming,
technically perfect yet emotionally pure. I'll never forget
witnessing a jaw-dropping guitar duel between Freddie and B.B.
King at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. They swapped stunning
chorus after chorus until they fought to a mutually admiring
standstill. I've never heard B.B. play better but I don't think
I'm wrong in my opinion that Freddie was still holding back
some of his abilities out of respect and affection for B.B.
King smiled at me as I approached him. His hair was still styled
in a perfect processed pompadour and he wore a dark sharkskin
suit. As he reached down to gently shake my small nervous hand,
I stuttered something about how many times I'd seen him and
how great a guitarist I though he was. He thanked me, and then
I asked him who Billy Myles was. "Was he another great
guitarist I should listen to?"
King started laughing and looked at his band member and said,
"Can you believe this boy asking me about old Billy Myles."
I felt embarrassed and apologized for asking such an apparently
stupid question. Then Freddie King said something I'll always
not a stupid question, son." He said. "Billy Myles
was a friend of mine who wrote some songs for me. He was my
friend just like you're my friend." I walked away on cloud
this day whenever I hear Freddie King, I'm still moved by his
incredibly fierce talents as a guitarist (not to mention what
a strong, soulful, expressive vocalist he was) and reminded
of what a gentle and kind man he was to a boy he'd never met
2, 2008 HIKING WITH DAVE
of the ways I keep my sanity in our sometimes insane world is
by hiking in the hills of southern California. It's a good way
to recharge my batteries after a few months touring in a van
and playing barrooms. Although much of So Cal's beautiful and
unique landscape has been altered/destroyed forever, there are
still many wonderful areas that have survived and where you
can escape for a while from the seemingly endless urban sprawl.
Some of them I consider secret places that most Californians
have never seen, been to or even know exist. So I guess now
these locations will be our little secret. I also stress that
I don't consider myself a photographer by any stretch of the
imagination, not even as a hobbyist. All of these photographs
were taken on those "throw-a-way" cameras and were
taken by me just to commemorate a good day of hiking. Look out
for coyotes, rattlesnakes and mountain lions.
took this picture from the crest of the Verdugo Hills looking
north to the San Gabriel and Santa Susana Mountains. It's
difficult to imagine that millions of people live within
twenty minutes of this panoramic view.
west from Lasky Mesa to part of the Las Virgenes Open Space
Preserve in the Simi Hills. A lot of old movies were shot
here including Gone With The Wind and hundreds of westerns.
shot of the mission church of La Purisima Mission outside
of Lompoc. My favorite of all the California missions. The
entire complex of buildings has been restored to look as
close as possible to it's heyday in the 1820s and is surrounded
by miles of good hiking trails.
is a photo of Chessebro Canyon in the Simi Hills looking
south towards the Santa Monica Mountains. The canyon is
part of a large, contiguous open space preserve of almost
20,000 acres that includes Los Virgenes and Palo Comado
picture of one of my favorite plants, the prickly pear cactus,
was taken on a trail above Sycamore Canyon in the vast Point
Mugu State Park in the Santa Monica Mountains near Oxnard.
took this shot of poppies, the state flower of California,
in the Angelus National Forest near the western end of Antelope
is not a very good photo but I wanted to capture some of
the immensity of the dramatic Carrizo Plain and a "throw-a-way
camera" isn't the best at capturing a vast landscape
that calls for Ansel Adams. The Carrizo Plain is one of
California's biggest secrets and most primeval landscapes.
A gigantic 300,000 acre National Monument, home to Tule
elk, antelope and the endangered San Joaquin Kit Fox, the
Carrizo Plain is a beautiful, wild and tough landscape that
most Californians have no idea exists.
years back I released a book of poems called ANY ROUGH TIMES
ARE NOW BEHIND YOU. Since then some people have asked me when,
or if, I'll ever do another. Well, I honestly don't know. Until
then, though, here is a recent poem I wrote for a anthology
of poets paying tribute to the great poet, Gerald Locklin. I
was very honored to be included in this talented group from
the small press underground that includes some of my favorite
writers like Edward Field, Gerald Haslam, Ron Koertge, Fred
Voss and Ray Zepeda. The book was put together by Paul Tayyar
to celebrate Locklin's retirement from his long, distinguished
and legendary teaching career at the University of California
those of you who don't know, Gerald Locklin is one of the most
published poets in America (Hell, he may indeed be the most
published). Gerald is with out a doubt one of our greatest living
poets. He was a close friend of Charles Bukowski's but, though
they share some stylistic similarities, Locklin's poetry is
uniquely his own. Funny, subtle, wise, bittersweet, hard edged
yet compassionate. There is absolutely no bullshit in his poetry.
Besides all that, he was also one of the people who taught me
how to write years ago. When I write something good he deserves
some of the credit, when I write something not so good, well,
I take all the blame.
anthology is called SOME FOR THE ROAD and those of you interested
in getting the anthology, or some of Gerry's many books, please
go to www.worldparadebooks.com or to geraldlocklin.com.
yeah, to explain the title of the poem, Toad is one of the many
aliases Gerald Locklin goes by.
MEETS LITTLE JULIAN HERERRA
Gerald Locklin never treated me
like I was an idiot.
me, he had plenty of opportunities
to do so when I was one of his students
back in the late 1970s.
drunk or sober,
in a classroom or a barroom,
I said some pretty stupid stuff,
most of which I fortunately can't remember,
about Chaucer, Catullus, Hemingway
and the old LA Rams.
would usually respond
with his Irish Buddha grin,
eyes squinting behind his black rimmed glasses
and then, with a soft but deep laugh,
he would slowly and reasonably explain why
whatever I said was completely wrong.
did it, though, with such gentle humor
empathy and wisdom that it was okay with me.
it was okay with hundreds of Locklin's students
throughout his teaching career
(I can't tell you how many times
in my years of touring the world as a musician,
strangers have approached me in strange places
to share their Gerald Locklin stories
and their appreciation of him
as a poet, teacher and friend).
compassion for his students
and his unique skills as a teacher,
may have come from his working class roots
or his natural bohemian instincts
or from some great teacher who had once taught him,
I don't know.
do know that Gerald Locklin,
being an intelligent and patient professor,
understood that in order to be educated,
students needed to be encouraged
not just to say smart things
but stupid things as well.
I still remember
the dumbest thing I ever said to Gerald Locklin
and it occasionally haunts me late at night.
know I didn't say it to him in a classroom
so I probably said it in the Forty-Niner Tavern
(or Carl's Little Bavaria or the Nugget or the Reno Room
or any of the old Long Beach bars)
because there's little doubt in my mind that
I had certainly had one beer too many.
Ray Zepeda or Leo Mailman were there
as well as Minnie or Allison or Murray or Penny
or any of the other students, poets, journalists,
factory workers, exotic dancers, off duty cops
and waitresses who tended to congregate
around Locklin's table in those wilder days.
don't recall what great literary discussion
was taking place that evening
but it could have been anything or anyone
from Beowolf to Bukowski.
the topic was,
my inebriated twenty-something year old mind
(whether out of intellectual insecurity
or just youthful contrariness)
decided that Little Julian Hererra
(an obscure 1950's rhythm and blues singer
from East Los Angeles who only recorded two 45s
before disappearing south of the border
never to be heard from again)
was a more important and deserving subject.
abruptly, loudly, passionately
and certainly obnoxiously
declared to the shocked and silent group
that Little Julian Hererra
could kick the ass of whatever
or whomever they were talking about.
guess I seriously thought that I'd impress Locklin
(who can knowledgeably discuss jazz artists
like Miles Davis and Clifford Brown,
who taught me to appreciate
John Donne as well as Edward Field
and whose poetry made me see the poetic possibilities
of the 605 freeway and Bellflower Boulevard)
with my unique understanding
of the power, mystery and sadness
of Little Julian Hererra's do-wop artistry.
a few awkward moments of silence,
as everyone at the table stared at me,
Locklin spoke in his usual even measured tone.
that's an intriguing theory Mister Alvin,
stated with passion and eloquence,
and you may very well be correct.
This is something I would gladly debate with you
if I had even the slightest fucking idea
who the Hell Little Julian Hererra was."
that verbal balancing act
he gently shut me up
and went back to his conversation.
it was okay with me.
it still is.
learned music from the old blues men
but I sincerely believe that I learned to be a poet
and songwriter from Gerald Locklin
(as well as Elliot Fried and Richard Lee).
the years I've deeply treasured
his unsurpassed poetry, generous advice
and continuing loyal friendship.
can't thank you enough Gerry.
CHARLES - GENIUS AND SOUL: THE 50th ANNIVERSARY COLLECTION -
Rhino Records 1997
rode in a freight elevator once with Ray Charles. It was several
years ago in San Francisco where an odd variety of artists from
Lou Rawls to Ed McMahon to George Burns to my band at the time,
The Blasters, were performing at some beer company convention.
The only other person in the elevator was Ray's road manager
who nodded his head silently as I got on. His serious, businesslike
demeanor seemed to say, "That's right kid, you're standing
next to THEE RAY CHARLES! And he doesn't care to hear or make
any small talk because he's only here to sing 'America The Beautiful,'
get paid and split. So be cool and we'll let you ride with us
and you can tell your grandkids about it when you get old."
I stood staring at Ray who was smiling and humming a melody
to himself. I tried to think of something original to say but
what could I possibly tell him that he'd never heard before?
"Ah, gee, Mister Charles, I'm your biggest fan!" or
"Brother Ray! What's shakin' baby?" I don't think
I could have told Ray about when I was 14 in 1970 and the corner
drugstore was selling cut-outs of his old ABC albums for 69
cents, and how I bought two or three of them a week until I
owned them all. No. Nobody wants to hear about their records
being in cut-out bins. Maybe I should have told him how much
I learned about American Music and songwriting from listening
to those old records and reading the writer's credits. How he
made me see that the same tough blue soul in a song written
by Percy "The Poet Laureate Of The Blues" Mayfield
could be found in one written by country singer Buck Owens or
one by Broadway's Harold Arlen. How, more than just about anyone
else in the history of American pop music, he had bulldozed
the walls separating blues, gospel, country, jazz, r+b, Tin
Pan Alley and show tunes (What other artist could claim to have
made records with jazzers Milt Jackson and Betty Carter as well
as bluesman Guitar Slim, soul diva Aretha Franklin AND country
crooner George Jones?). And he did it without changing his unique
vocal style which was based as much in the church as it was
in the juke joint. Would he really care that I based my approach
to songwriting on his eclectic philosophy and how much solace
I got from his example when people tried to pin me down to playing
or writing in only one style?
Ray Charles really need some stranger in an elevator telling
him how much of a revolutionary he's been in a country so musically,
culturally and racially segregated? Or how his music represents
everything many of us believe America is ideally supposed to
be: open-minded, compassionate, independent, adventurous. Willing
to explore the new without discarding what was good in the old.
just kept my mouth shut and listened to Ray's humming.
I have told him about driving my family and neighbors crazy
on my student tenor sax, honking and screeching while trying
to learn his snaky alto sax intro to "(Night Time Is) The
Right Time?" Maybe he'd relate to how I sat up until sunrise
one adolescent night listening to "I Can't Stop Loving
You" over and over after my first girlfriend dumped me?
What difference would it make to him that on the day I turned
21, and I walked into a air-conditioned bar for the first time
on a miserably hot afternoon, that the first thing I did, after
buying my first legal drink was, play his version of "Ruby"
on the jukebox and make a silent toast to adulthood and to Ray
for being there to initiate me.
elevator doors opened and before I'd said a word Ray and his
road manager were out the door. I followed them out, watching
as they were immediately surrounded by smiling faces and out-stretched
hands, everyone saying things like "Mister Charles, I'm
your biggest fan" and "Brother Ray! What's shakin'
baby?" I still kick myself for not saying anything to him
but I like to think that Ray Charles knew what he means to all
of us without some kid in a freight elevator having to tell
oh, yeah, I'll definitely tell my grandkids.