Saturday, March 24, 2012

BB, Mick and Barack: Blues at The White House

It had to have been the smallest crowd that Mick Jagger had played to in decades when he headlined the recent “Red Hot and Blues” concert from the East Room at the White House. But it may have been the best all-star blues band he has ever fronted.

Of course, the First I-Pod stole the show when he sang the chorus of “Sweet Home Chicago” with B.B. King as a finale. And he showed his professorial roots with an introduction that began with a nod to Alan Lomax paying Muddy Waters $20 for two recordings in 1941. He also noted that the blues represented “music with humble beginnings, with roots in slavery and segregation in a society that rarely treated black Americans with the dignity and respect they deserved.”

The concert, broadcast on PBS and with clips still streaming at their website (, was a chance to pay respect to the troubadors of pain and poverty who have made this musical art form into a hallmark of American culture.

It began with the grand master, B.B. King doing “The Thrill is Gone,” and then the other senior statesman, Jagger, got the spotlight for several songs including, “Commit A Crime” by Howlin Wolf, with Jeff Beck on guitar.

Jagger paid his respects to the pioneers when he talked about the Rolling Stones’ first visit to Chess Records in Chicago in 1964 and meeting Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon, among others. And he had a corny joke about Sonny Boy Williamson (“These English boys want to play the blues real bad. And they do…play it real bad.”) But Mick, under the watchful eyes of George Washington and Teddy Roosevelt, could still make the ladies swoon and the men try to figure out how he does it.

Looking like a Harvard professor himself, was another veteran, Booker T. Jones, who presided with aplomb over his band from behind the Hammond B-3 organ.

For me, the excitement was generated by the younger folks on the card. People like Trombone Shorty doing “St. James Infirmary,” Gary Clark, Jr. doing “A Beat Up Guitar,” Keb Mo doing “Henry,” and Susan Tedeschi, Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes in a very credible tribute to Etta James on “I’d Rather Go Blind.”

But when the heavyweights joined forces, the guitar riffs were jaw dropping. Jeff Beck, Gary Clark, Jr., and Buddy Guy (with Mick) brought the house down with Eddie Boyd’s,
“Five Long Years.”

It was night when the price of admission seemed to be a bottle neck on your ring finger, and made you think there had not been this much musical talent under the White House roof since Thomas Jefferson dined alone.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

News & Notes: Grammys to Glasgow

As this blog enters a second year, and the televised awards season has washed over us, it seems appropriate to do a little reflecting on recent events and past posts. Let's start with The Grammys, which, despite the politics and the pandering (why do so many TV stars and sports guys get to present music awards?) and the endless commercials, still manages to put on pretty good show. For a show that gives aural accolades, it does some stunning production numbers and eye-catching visuals. You gotta love the slide shows of waves and surfboards behind the Beach Boys songs and how pale the setup bands seemed when compared to the real thing. “Good Vibrations” still sounds like a work of genius and it was touching to see Brian back with the band after all these (50) years. (See April 14, 2011 post).
It was a night for us seniors and those even older who were still performing. What a contrast between the simple solo of Sir Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett’s duet with the complicated production numbers of Taylor Swift and Katy Perry. Speaking of Taylor, didn’t she look fetching in her shredded dress plucked from a Tobacco Road shack? She sure looked different in the Cover Girl Ad that followed later! And it was ironic to see Sir Elton John in a Pepsi spot and not on stage.
The tribute to Glenn Campbell (Blog Post Feb. 21) seemed just a year too late as he stumbled a bit and the set-up bands made me want to reach for the original versions by Glenn and John Hartford. It was still a grabber when the Rhinestone Cowboy sang,
“There’s a load of compromisin’ on the road to my horizon.” One heck of a long road.
One other line deserves mention from the humble Bonn Iver, winner of Best New Artist, when he said, “I want to thank all the nominees and the non-nominees.”

Between glitzy award shows we spent a lovely afternoon watching sets from the performers at a memorial tribute to the late financier Warren Helman. It was streamed from the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass site ( and was great fun to see as well hear favorites like Steve Earle. Gillian Welch and David Rawlings wore matching red and white satin, rhinestone studded outfits that seemed as sassy as their line from Miss Ohio, “I want to do right but not right now.”

The folk songs sounded especially good coming out of the vintage KLH 17 speakers that are still strong after all these years. (A tip of the hat to my daughter who insisted we needed a cable so she could listen to her computer collection when she is here visiting).

One other note from the concert (which may still be up and streaming along with the service for Warren) came from the Dry Branch Fire Squad who announced that they had CDs for sale in the back. However they only had 12 of the Dry Branch Fire Squad Thought Repellent Hats left. “The one man looking at them must be a Hoosier and we appreciate his support.”

Speaking of daughter Jessica, her latest parttime job is being a minder for two boys, ages nine and ten, who are playing the young Tommy in the Rock Musical, “Tommy” (Blog Post December 25) which the graduate students at the Royal Conservatoire in Glasgow are presenting. She still has a tee shirt from the Broadway production of “Tommy” we took her to when she was too young to appreciate anything but the music.

Finally, a RIP to Davey Jones (Blog Post January 22), who was on the Ed Sullivan Show the night the Beatles appeared and said it changed his life from stage to singing. I have been amazed at the media attention his passing received and wonder if it is because of his young age (a boomer plus one) or perhaps just all the fun he created on screen that we wish we had back.