Archive for September, 2011

Why Sly Stone Matters.

Posted in Uncategorized on September 27, 2011 by pulmyears

Before I begin, take a listen to “Family Affair” (there may be an ad to get through):

This week the web was alive with the NY Post story that Sly Stone, mastermind of Sly & The Family Stone, had lost his Napa area home and has been living in a van on Crenshaw Blvd. in Los Angeles. *click here*

To casual fans of 60s and 70s pop music, it might just seem like another story of an old-timer who lost it all, another dead man walking from showbiz’s past. But if you have been keeping track of his career over the last year, in articles like David Kamp’s amazing Vanity Fair story from 2007 *click here*, you just knew that, like Gil Scott-Heron, the man was not out of the woods yet. His demons may yet kill his genius.

And that, to me, is a shame and a tragedy.

Because Sly Stone matters.

And not just because, without him, Prince never would have had a template for his own funky pop.

Sly Stone matters because, high or not, his music represented a joyful coming together of white and black in American music. A tuneful celebration of everyday people and having fun in the summertime. But he wasn’t blind to the riot going on in the hot streets of his homeland. Up front, Sly was always sunshine and stoned bliss, but his imagery and the integrated lineup of the Family Stone, told the story of a funky pop mosaic. Just like the mixed race unity of Booker T & The MGs in Memphis, Sly & The Family Stone made their statement with the music. It was inclusive. Everybody could feel it. Everybody was welcome. Different strokes for all kinds of different folks but we’re all together moving as one to Sly’s communal groove.

But he was always on his own planet.

The story, in the sleazy NY Post and dutifully picked up by TMZ and the world, is actually kind of touching in places. Apparently, a retired couple lets Sly shower in their house (he’s parked outside) and makes sure he eats at least once a day, and their son helps out as a de facto assistant and driver. Besides being the potential plot for an awesome biopic, this act of fan kindness speaks to the loyalty and gratitude we feel towards true artists whose art has made our lives better in palpable ways. And furthermore, the 68 year old Sly is said to have a laptop in the van and is apparently working on music.

So there’s that.

“I like my small camper,” he tells the NY Post writer, “I just do not want to return to a fixed home. I cannot stand being in one place. I must keep moving.”

Should we take him at his word?

According to my Google search, he put out an album in August of this year, yeah I didn’t hear about it either, called Sly Stone: I’m Back! Family & Friends. According to Amazon, the album features remakes of old hits with guests like Ray Manzarek, Ann Wilson, Jeff Beck, Johnny Winter, Bootsy Collins, plus some dubstep remixes. Anybody hear it?

As always here on the Pulmyears Music Blog, I have a personal (if fuzzy) memory of an encounter, of sorts, with Sly Stone.

Like so many of my stories, the place was Toronto in the 1980s and the venue was the Nickelodeon on Yonge St.  The Garys, the top punk and alternative promoters (who also knew their soul and R&B) had brought in an act billed as “Sly & The Family Stone Band”. That added “Band” turned out to be significant, for when we arrived at the upstairs club for the 8pm show, the “Band” turned out to be an anonymous (if talented) crew of musicians, what we might call a “showband”. The “Family Stone Band” vamped their way through a set of pop and R&B hits, none of them by Sly, including Peaches & Herb’s “Reunited”.

But where was Sly? I know the old showbiz tradition, probably handed down from James Brown letting the Famous Flames warm up the crowd before his entrance and all, but was this the same? Would he even show up at all?

Eventually, and I mean after a solid 60 minutes of frankly bland pop R&B, we hear a ruckus from the back of the club. Two bodyguards are leading a shades-clad man who is either really really high or legally blind. It’s Sly. He’s being walked to the stage, although it looked a little like “perp walk” as the two strongmen seemed to have some personal interest, more than he did, in him getting there. He made it to the stage. The band kicked in to the intro to “Dance To The Music”. Sly sang a couple of intelligible lyrics, barked out like a guy calling in on a cellphone from the best party in the world. The one in his mind. Then, they switched gears midstream and played two verses of “Stand”, then two verses of “Family Affair” and a quick truncated jaunt through “Hot Fun In The Summertime” and about six others. Then, just as things got cooking, the two men appeared again and perp walked him out of the room. No encore. No nothing. The set probably lasted twenty minutes.

Funny thing. While we were all rightly let down at this version of the man and the “band”, I don’t any one of us felt ripped off. We kind of felt like we were just there to say thank you to the man. We also knew he’d never be himself again.

I sure hope the attention gets Sly back to the audience who loves him, but then again, I saw Gil Scott-Heron almost come back and not quite make it.

I live in hope, but you know…

Dig the man’s music either way. I wonder if Prince can do anything?

Because Sly Stone matters.

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“I’ve heard there was a secret chord…” The All-Hallelujah Channel.

Posted in Uncategorized on September 26, 2011 by pulmyears

AMENDED: When I first read that one of the previously unreleased bonus tracks on the upcoming R.E.M. compilation, Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982- 2011 (due out on November 15th), was a song entitled “Hallelujah”, I (like many) assumed it was the oft-covered song by Leonard Cohen. I even went ahead in an earlier edition and decried that it would be potentially one cover too many. Well, great thing about going on an unverified hunch is that you can get it wrong. I just heard from my friend Eric Gorfain, of L.A. string quartet The Section (who played with us at my Todd event at Largo last March). Turns out The Section were contracted on the R.E.M.sessions for  their “Hallelujah”, and he can verify that it is NOT the Cohen song but a brand new unreleased original.

But you can see why I immediately assumed, as many of you also did, that it was the Cohen song. I mean that song has been covered to death, and the “news” that R.E.M. had done it just fed into a blog I had already been cooking up about the staggering wealth of covers out there already.

For Cohen’s part, he has been commenting a lot lately that there may in fact be too many covers of “Hallelujah”, and like a sports star who refrains from signing his trading card to keep the value up, he suggests a moratorium. He may have a point. While the song is certainly serious, sombre even, I can’t help thinking a lot of people miss the humour in it. It’s like they only know the austere Leonard the Monk from high up in the tower of song, but miss the trickster Lenny, the cooing ladies man from Montreal. The best versions bring their own sensibilities to it, the worst strip it of any of its wit and reduce it to the folk equivalent of the Russian national anthem.

I have been collecting versions (informally) for years now.

Around 2005 or so, I was living in Vancouver and working in a variety of media jobs there. My radio show, The Paul Myers Show (on Vancouver’s Mojo Radio) had been canceled the year before (the station went “all-sports” overnight) and I was actively pursuing my (as yet unfulfilled) dream of moving to the esteemed airwaves of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). I had been doing a few one-off hosting things and was actively pitching a show to CBC Radio 2. We needed a sample idea as content for one of the pilot episodes (never produced). Among the topics I’d hoped to include in the show was a survey of the various cover versions of Leonard Cohen’s song, “Hallelujah”, first recorded by Leonard himself  (on Various Positions) and released during the Holiday season of 1984.

As you are likely well aware, the song has taken on a life of its own, and has become one of those songs that seems to have always been with us, like a sacred traditional folk hymn or, or some Canadians, the national anthem.

I have personally moderated, or vociferously taken part in, numerous heated debates on the topic of “What Is The Best Version Of ‘Hallelujah’?“. Perhaps surprisingly, Mr. Cohen’s original version isn’t actually my own top pick and, indeed, your own lists will be different. But as this is MY blog, allow me to list ten versions that are each, to my knowledge and tastes, definitive (or re-defined) renditions of this 27 year-old neo-standard.

I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah

Leonard Cohen.

A 12/8 time, gospel waltz and the lyrics, I’ve discovered in research, were a bit different, dwelling on biblical stories such as Samson and Delilah, and apparently from 1988 to 1993, Cohen would change up the lyrics quite a bit. Curiously, most cover versions combine parts of the different lyric versions.

Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty in the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

Here’s a much more recent Cohen performance of it, I think from 2009:

John Cale debuted his on I’m Your Fan , the 1991 Cohen tribute album, and it appeared Fragments of a Rainy Season (1992). It’s used in the actual Shrek soundtrack (on film) but not on the soundtrack album. Here, he does it on the UK TV series Later With Jools Holland:

Baby I have been here before
I know this room, I’ve walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew you.
I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
Love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

Jeff Buckley  John Legend reckon that Jeff Buckley’s interpretation is “one of the most beautiful pieces of recorded music I’ve ever heard.” I know plenty of people who reckon the same.

There was a time when you let me know
What’s really going on below
But now you never show it to me, do you?
And remember when I moved in you
The holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah

Rufus Wainwright Similar to the Cale version used in Shrek movie, recorded by Wainwright after Cale and Dreamworks couldn’t get paperwork done to put it on the CD soundtrack.

Maybe there’s a God above
But all I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you
It’s not a cry you can hear at night
It’s not somebody who has seen the light
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

kd lang  sang this at the 2010  Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Vancouver and practically eclipsed the event itself. She recorded it on an astounding album, Hymns Of the 49th Parallel, a collection of Canadian cover songs. Here, she does it in Winnipeg at the 2005 Juno Awards (the Canadian Grammys if you didn’t know):

You say I took the name in vain
I don’t even know the name
But if I did, well really, what’s it to you?
There’s a blaze of light in every word
It doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

Steven Page sang it a the state funeral of beloved Canadian Opposition Leader Jack Layton (August 27, 2011). There was nary a dry eye in the country, let alone the house.

I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

Other cover versions include…

Regina Spektor (audio only) at  Jewish Heritage Festival 2005, in New York City.

Willie Nelson

Bob Dylan (low quality audio bootleg recording)

Tangerine Dream did it (ouch) on their 2010 album Under Cover – Chapter One. (Tangerine Dream shouldn’t sing)

Neil Diamond recorded the song for his 2010 album, Dreams.

In 2005, “Hallelujah” was named the tenth-greatest Canadian song of all time in Chart Magazine‘s annual readers’ poll.

LET ME KNOW IF YOU FIND AN AUDIO COPY OF THIS: BBC commemorated the 25th anniversary of the first recording with an hour-long radio documentary, The Fourth, The Fifth, The Minor Fall.

THAT’S ALL FOR NOW. AS ALWAYS, PLEASE LEAVE YOUR COMMENTS, THOUGHTS OR MISSING COVER VERSIONS IN THE COMMENTS SECTION ON THE BLOG.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post.

It’s over now.

Hallelujah!

That’s Me In The Corner…

Posted in Uncategorized on September 23, 2011 by pulmyears

Interacting with R.E.M. over the years.

By now, everybody has heard that R.E.M. have decided to make it official and retire the brand that has sustained them for three decades. Well done chaps. Sure, I wasn’t really that interested in most of the later period stuff, although I rooted for them and respected their right to do whatever they felt they needed to do. They’d earned it. I still think they are one of the better American bands of their era, and live – augmented with Scott McCaughey or Peter Holsapple or Ken Stringfellow or Bill Rieflin or any combination thereof – R.E.M. were always impressive onstage. Although, to be perfectly frank, it never felt the same after Bill Berry traded in his drum kit for a tractor in 1997, his delayed decision after suffering an aneurysm onstage in Switzerland two years earlier.

That's me on the right, Andrew on the left, drummer Michael Wojewoda obscured.

Let’s begin at the begin, to the 80s in Toronto, when I was just another guy in a band back in the Alt-club scene. My band, Life Times Nine, a duo project with bassist Andrew Snell, had been trying to go somewhere and more often getting nowhere. We had come out of punk and new wave, we were the last men standing from our first band space Invaders, and had tried another short-term post-punk-funk-pop thing called Disband which had lived up to its name and concept a couple of years earlier. The UK music scene  had shifted toward synthesizer oriented slick pop and even our beloved Psychedelic Furs had become more production-y. Life Times Nine was us trying REALLY HARD to be commercial. And of course, with no idea of what WE wanted to be anymore.

There were exceptions to the crap, however, and ever since the Chronic Town EP, R.E.M. had been one of the best examples of post-punk guitar bands out there. Mitch Easter’s production really brought out Peter Buck’s Rickenbacker guitar, and while we couldn’t make out a word that Michael Stipe was singing, he and Mike Mills had a great, if unusual, vocal harmony style. R.E.M. reintroduced the word “jangle” to my vocabulary and soon I was full-fledged fan. My friend Howard Druckman was a local indie journalist and had befriended the band early on. He had regaled us all with stories of being in their Econoline van, hurtling down the 401 highway from Ottawa to Toronto where they were playing some small club, probably Larry’s Hideaway. After Life Times Nine failed to realize our dream of moving to England, just as The Smiths were breaking, I met a girl back home in Toronto named Shirley. Shirley came with me to see  R.E.M. at The Concert Hall, (the former Masonic Temple in downtown Toronto). Online research confirms this date as Friday August 16, 1985, and also reminded me that The Three O’Clock opened. (I also remember them getting heckled and that I felt sorry for them).

R.E.M. were touring Fables of the Reconstruction, and I still recall the thrill of hearing “Driver 8”, “Wendell Gee”, “Can’t Get There From Here,” and the oddball covers they would do, notably, Roger Miller’s “King Of The Road” and Lou Reed’s “Femme Fatale”.

They were still, of course, doing “Radio Free Europe”

and “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville”

This band had layers. Buck had a great vinyl collection from his years at Stipe was inscrutable (and impenetrable) under that mane of long, long hair (how hard it to recall that hair!).

Shortly after an argument about the merits of Crowded House (I was for them), Life Times Nine disbanded. Cut to several years later, and I was about to be married to Liza. My brother Mike was in town for the wedding, and staying at the Four Seasons Hotel that week. I had heard that R.E.M. were in town, but it was a busy week for us and I didn’t want to make any plans. I had been telling my brother about R.E.M. being in town this particularly day (he’d met them on SNL I think) but we figured we’d be busy anyway so we put it out of our mind and headed back to the suite. I pressed the elevator button. It opened. Out walks Peter Buck! R.E.M. were staying at the hotel! Celebrity pleasantries were exchanged and Mr. Buck (tall Mr. Buck)  insisted we be their guests at the show that night, down at Molson Amphitheater (research tells me it was Tuesday June 13, 1995, and Luscious Jackson (remember them?) opened the show.

This, you’ll remember, was their Aneurysm Tour, so named for the fact that it was a make-up tour for Monster after Bill Berry’s collapse, onstage in Switzerland, in March of that year.  I remember being a little freaked out the Berry was back on the drum stand so soon, and I wouldn’t be the only one who wondered if he’d keel over again during this show. But he was solid as ever, good as new and actually better than he’d ever been. Yeah, we had a blast at the show, Luscious Jackson were also awesome,  and I liked R.E.M.’s new, beefier guitar songs from Monster, such as “What’s The Frequency Kenneth?”

and “Crush With Eyeliner”

Backstage at Molson Amphitheater, Mike and I were joined by our friend Dave Foley in the VIP holding area for the post-show “meet n greet”. I glanced over and nodded at Mary Margaret O’Hara, our friend from the Toronto scene for whom I always had a special affection and who had become by now a cult personality, having become a UK press darling after backing Morrissey on his single, “November Spawned a Monster”. We chatted with Peter Buck and his wife, Stephanie Dorgan (owner of Seattle’s Crocodile Café) and I remember liking them both. Mike Mills was loquacious and friendly and quick to offer us beverages. Bill Berry was shy but no less amiable. Michael Stipe, however, was a man of entrances. Grand entrances. His arrival in the VIP area had a subtly staged quality; you knew the room had changed. He made a beeline towards, flitted over to, Ms. O’Hara, who was seated. Down on one knee to greet and her and kiss-kiss on her cheeks, it seemed like he was going to propose to her. His adoration for her was palpable, and Stipe was like Andy Warhol fawning over Liza Minelli. Mary, a down-home Toronto gal and no stranger to celebrity hangs (her sister is SCTV’s Catherine O’Hara if you don’t know), was bemused but unfazed by the treatment. I, on the other hand, was talking about it for days.

The next time, and the last time, R.E.M. crossed my path was when Liza and I had moved to Vancouver in the 2000s. Again, relying on the Internet for dates, it would appear to have been on a Sunday, December 15, 2002, at Richards’s On Richards.  John Moremen and his wife Suzie Racho, both my dear friends, were up visiting from San Francisco (I wouldn’t move back there until 2006) and their great friend (the man who introduced the couple) Scott McCaughey was up in Vancouver working with R.E.M. in the studio (I believe they were recorded the Around The Sun album but it wouldn’t be out for a few years). Scott’s band with Peter Buck and Bill Rieflin, The Minus Five had picked up a Sunday night show at the club. But since everybody knew that R.E.M. were in town, everybody also knew that they would show up at the Minus Five show. I had been tipped by John & Suzie of course, so we got there at the right time. The place was packed, but sadly packed with douchey people who just wanted to see the famous guys. They were jostling folks and pushing to get their cameras up to the stage and at one John and Suzie were being trampled by some tall dudes, oblivious to those around them. After a fine (but painfully loud) set by The Minus Five, and after a bit of a wait, the predictable happened and out came Buck, Mills, Stipe, along with with Rieflin an McCaughey. They premiered some songs they had been recording, and Stipe (in a New York City T-shirt) was reading the lyrics from an enormous book he had perched on a music stand. I honestly can’t remember what songs they did, I’m not even sure if the web is right about it being 2002, so I’ll just assume it’s a few of those from Around The Sun, and probably the single “Bad Day” which showed up on In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988–2003 compilation the following year. (Is it just me or is this “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It, Part 2”?)

Take a break Driver 8, Driver 8 take a break. We’ve been on this shift too long.

So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen, R.E.M.

They were here for thirty odd years now they’ve stopped.

Thanks guys.

I’d like to take it down now, and close with two of their most gentle songs, both of which I really loved.

The delicately serene “Nightswimming”

and their ersatz Brian Wilson tune “At My Most Beautfiful”

Drivin’ with Patti Smith’s Just Kids on Audiobook CD

Posted in Uncategorized on September 10, 2011 by pulmyears

I recently read Patti Smith’s excellent memoir of her days with Robert Mapplethorpe, Just Kids. No doubt you’ve heard about this stunning work, even if you’d never heard of Patti before or if you don’t enjoy her music, because it won the National Book Award for Non-Fiction. It’s a beautifully written and genuinely moving work. Smith writes with poet’s ear with an emotional journalist’s keen eye for detail. Here’s an excerpt of an excerpt that I cribbed from a Spinner piece on the book:

I was born on a Monday, in the North Side of Chicago during the Great Blizzard of 1946. I came along a day too soon, as babies born on New Year’s Eve left the hospital with a new refrigerator. Despite my mother’s effort to hold me in, she went into heavy labor as the taxi crawled along Lake Michigan through a vortex of snow and wind. By my father’s account, I arrived a long skinny thing with bronchial pneumonia, and he kept me alive by holding me over a steaming washtub.

My sister Linda followed during yet another blizzard in 1948. By necessity I was obliged to measure up quickly. My mother took in ironing as I sat on the stoop of our rooming house waiting for the iceman and the last of the horse-drawn wagons. He gave me slivers of ice wrapped in brown paper. I would slip one in my pocket for my baby sister, but when I later reached for it, I discovered it was gone.

When my mother became pregnant with my brother, Todd, we left our cramped quarters in Logan Square and migrated to Germantown, Pennsylvania. For the next few years we lived in temporary housing set up for servicemen and their children- whitewashed barracks overlooking an abandoned field alive with wildflowers. We called the field The Patch, and in summertime the grown-ups would sit and talk, smoke cigarettes, and pass around jars of dandelion wine while we children played. My mother taught us the games of her childhood: Statues, Red Rover, and Simon Says. We made daisy chains to adorn our necks and crown our heads. In the evenings we collected fireflies in mason jars, extracting their lights and making rings for our fingers.

As many of you who read my blog or know of my book on Todd Rundgren know, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Patti in a Greenwich Village cafe a couple of years ago (while she was preparing Just Kids) and I blogged about that here. I was struck then by her down-to-earth, almost folksy, nature and pragmatism about being a “worker” in art. My book has an entire chapter with Patti and the other members of The Patti Smith Group on the making of their final group endeavor, Wave (you can buy it on iTunes here)

In a New York Times article written last November, on the occasion of Patti winning the National Book Award, I found this quote from her speech: “I dreamed of having a book of my own, of writing one that I could put on a shelf. Please, no matter how we advance technologically, please don’t abandon the book. There is nothing in our material world more beautiful than the book.”

Now having quoted that, I am here to tell you that my wife Liza and I, who love audiobook CDs, recently purchased the audio version of Just Kids and listened to part of it on a long drive to and from Yosemite National Park. Read by Patti herself, it is a valuable document because not only do we get Patti the poet “performing” the book, we also get Patti the person just talkin’. She has an endearingly old world kind of American voice, droppin’ the g all over the place and pronouncing certain words in a rural twang, such as “fella” for fellow and “pillah” for pillow, and curiously, “drawling” for drawing. It adds a whole new humanized dimension to the work, which was already pretty human on paper. I highly recommend ANY format of Just Kids.

Finally, here’s a bit from a charming reading Patti gave, to give you an idea of her voice. She later breaks into a necessarily a cappella version of “Because The Night” employing the audience at Foyle’s as her foils.

Paulcasts?: A couple of podcasts I did.

Posted in Uncategorized on September 8, 2011 by pulmyears

Podcasts are the new radio. But you knew that. From time to time, I get invited to appear on various podcasts, and proceed to talk way too much on them. The hosts tell me they don’t mind. I’ll never know what they’re saying behind my back so I might as well take them at their word. By the way, I am in love with podcasting, and I guess I’ll have to start my own soon. Leave a comment in the comment page if you feel like encouraging me. And thanks in advance.

Recently I appeared on two very different podcasts, and I’d like you to hear them if you get a chance.

Waking From The American Dream with Kelly Carlin

Kelly Carlin is awesome. We “met” on Twitter and have since attended each other’s live events (she’s in L.A. though so it’s harder to do regularly). Anyway, I had a blast on her Waking From The American Dream program last week. We talked about late blooming, getting into a healthy place to create and being related to famous comedians (she’s George Carlin’s daughter). Also, she played two songs of mine as well, including the podcast premiere of a new song of mine called “Better Let Go” (the demo version!).

Here it is http://newdissidentradio.com/archives/waking/2011/september/wake-090111.mp3 And you can download it on iTunes, here.  

The Music Biz Weekly Podcast with Brian Thompson (Thorny Bleeder): Ep. 22 -Paul Myers Discusses Content Creation in the Digital Market

This was fun, too. Here’s how Brian Thompson describes it on on his Thorny Bleeder site:

“Today’s podcast is a hilarious, engaging and informative discussion with Paul Myers on content creation in the digital market. Paul has tons of experience in many different content types from music, book publishing, journalism, writing, broadcasting… you name it, he’s done it. He’s also a digital native and is involved online with both his music blog and twitter account, so he has a great sense of how to leverage the power of the internet to propel his content.”

The Thorny Bleeder site link: HERE.

Here’s a Soundcloud of the podcast.

Ry Cooder Slides Into San Francisco

Posted in Uncategorized on September 2, 2011 by pulmyears

Last night I was lucky enough to be invited to see Ry Cooder play at one of my all-time favourite venues, The Great American Music Hall here in San Francisco. The ornate, old-school and intimate music hall has been the setting for some great shows, including Robyn Hitchcock, Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe and the last time I saw Cooder, when he did a trio with Nick Lowe and Jim Keltner. Thanks to my friend Colin Nairne, who works with the company that works with Cooder, I went to the will-call booth to pick up my ticket and was already thrilled to spot the legendary Maria Muldaur and Bonnie Raitt ahead of me in the line (the dude in the ticket booth actually asked Ms. Raitt for photo ID to claim her ticked, before someone from the club intervened and ushered her inside.) They were with some guy whose face seemed familiar but I couldn’t place the name, wasn’t a famous person to most but I later realized it was Holger Petersen, the Canadian blues and jazz aficionado, and founder of Stony Plain Records and founder of The Edmonton Folk Music Festival. I had only “met” Holger on the phone before, when I was writing my book about Long John Baldry (It Ain’t Easy: Long John Baldry And The Birth Of The British Blues). Holger had signed Baldry to his final record contract (Long John died in 2005) and they had made Juno award winning records together. A cordial and enthusiastic man, it was nice to shake his hand downstairs at the Great American. I also ran into rock manager extraordinaire Steve Macklem down there, and he remains one of the good guys of music business.

Cooder isn’t actually on tour and apparently doesn’t do much of that these days, but he’s up here for two nights to promote his newest album Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down, and later next week he’ll return to promote his new book, Los Angeles Stories, at Herbst Theatre (Oct 5, 8 p.m.).

After a great Mexican-American set from Los Cenzontles, personally invited by Cooder, his own set got underway around 9pm, and as it turned out I was standing quite near the V.I.P. section and could see Raitt and Muldaur who were in heaven, as was everyone else, as Ry opened up on his guitar and made that sound that only Ry Cooder can make. His tone is so pure, so real and rurally authentic that for once, I can barely come up with adjectives. Maybe this is the music that makes speech and verbal language obsolete.

iPhone capture, sorry for the grain, I was lucky to sneak even this picture from the balcony. And yes, that's Bonnie Raitt's water glass in the foreground.

Pathetically, I will say that when he solos it’s as though a warm  knife is carving through butter, effortlessly melting all in its path. But why would I go that route? His band featured his son Joachim Cooder on drums, who told me later that he’s very influenced by Jim Keltner, but admitted (after I prodded him) that Charlie Watts is probably also a huge influence on his style. Cooder also brought up his long-time friend, accordion player Flaco Jiménez on much of the set and the audience went wild as he walked tenuously onto the the stage. He was also backed by 10 Banda horns who barely fit on the tiny stage, so four of them played from the right side balcony above. One number featured the lovely voice of Juliette Commagere, whose own band opened for Cooder, Keltner and Lowe last year.

Ry's Rack.

But no matter who was on stage with him, Cooder’s guitar was the star. Oh he’s an authentically croaky blues singer, and a funny guy onstage – it occurred to me that “Ry Cooder” sorta rhymes with “Wry Humour” – but when he solos on those guitars of his, well time stands still and we’re sailing over San Diego (his home town), Chavez Ravine, San Francisco and, inevitably, Paris, Texas. One of the highlights of the night was “No Banker Left Behind” from the new album:

Here’s a classic early version of a song they did last night, with Flaco “How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live”:

Thanks Colin for a swell night. And thanks Ryland Cooder for…well for being Ry Cooder!

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