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Introduction

This is a collection of stories gathered from all over the

world over a period of two years. My good buddy Johnny

Mayer, the creator of www.BluesForPeace.com, and himself

an unsung hero of the Blues, called me up one day and said:

“Hey man, let’s put together a book of stories and articles

about the UNSUNG heroes of the Blues, you know, all those

folks out there all over the world who love the Blues, can

play their hearts out, but never seem to get any recognition or

glory. Even some of the veteran Blues players that are local

heroes but not too many people have heard of them

nationally or internationally…and I want you to be the

editor”.

So we advertised on the Blues For Peace website and in

Blues forums, and invited people to send their contributions

or entries. Anyone out there that’s been “Touched by the

Blues” could send us their story, or the story of their own

local unsung hero, or an encounter they may have had with a

Blues hero.

We started receiving entries from all over the

world, little by little, and I put them into a book format and

edited them just enough to make them readable.

In the three years plus that I have been working on this book,

I have discovered literally dozens of Blues artists I never

knew existed, in countries and places that I simply didn’t

imagine had any Blues awareness. It seems that the Blues is

everywhere, but much of it is “flying low, under the radar”

and goes unnoticed by the major media channels. Many

artists that contacted me are such lovely people and amazing

musicians that it makes me wonder how they could not be

famous in some way, which is the reason for this book – to try

and in some small way increase the awareness that the real

Blues is alive and well. The Blues is out there and is being

played by many fine people, young and old. I think that being

a Bluesman (ladies included) means having humility and

patience, knowing that you are doing this because you love

the music, it makes you feel good, and you know that

someday your star will shine.

To quote B.B. King on the event of his 80th birthday (happy

birthday Riley B. King):

“I think of blues this way: It’s life as we’ve lived it in the past,

life as we’re living it today, and life I believe we will live

tomorrow. Because to me, it has to do with people, places

and things…”

“I haven’t been lucky like some of the rock ‘n roll players. A

lot of them go out for three or four months and then they stop

for two or three years. I’ve never been able to do that, I’m a

blues singer.”

I know that I cannot possibly hope to include every unsung

Blues hero that is out there, but it’s been an interesting

adventure discovering those that are included here. So if you

or someone you know was left out, please contact me, and

we can start collecting material for another book to celebrate

the Blues.

It’s been a privilege and an honor, thank you,

Eli “Dr. Blues” Marcus

www.EliMarcus.com

 

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Brownbaggin’ it with Brownie

by Eli Marcus (Israel)

I was walking across Yorkville Ave. (in Toronto) one day

with my Martin guitar in hand, the case of my Martin had the

inscription “Folk, Ragtime, Reds, and Blues” painted across

the back. An elderly black gentleman puts his hand on my

arm holding the guitar, and asks: “Do you like the Blues?”,

“Do I? Oh, yeah!” I replied, to which he told me that Brownie

McGhee and Sonny Terry were in town and he was playing

piano with them. He promised me that if I came down to the

Riverboat club that night, he’d introduce me to Brownie

during the break.

Now, I had grown up listening to a couple of old 10 inch

records my father had of Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, and

Coyle McCann from the early 50’s, and when I was just

learning the Blues, it was Brownie’s solid rhythm guitar

playing and basic fingerpicking that got me started. So I was

thrilled to be able to meet one of my Blues heroes in the

flesh.

My cousin Lisa from California was visiting at the time, so I

invited her to come down to the club with me that night to

share the experience. During the break, I discovered for the

first time the truth behind the Sonny Terry and Brownie

McGhee legend – they were a great team on stage, but behind

the scenes they kept apart and didn’t talk to each other at all.

I was kind of saddened to see Sonny sitting all alone in the

back room of the Riverboat, I told him what an honor it is to

meet him and what a big influence his music had on me.

Then I was called out back into the parking area behind the

club by the piano player (don’t recall his name at all). There

was a big dark colored Cadillac in the driveway, with the

initials B.McG. on the door. The rear door was open, and

Brownie was sitting sideways in the back seat with his legs

out the door. In his hand was a bottle of whiskey in a brown

bag!!! Here is a man who was in a hit show on Broadway

recently, in movies, etc. – he had “made it” in the celebrity

game, and he’s “brownbaggin’ it” in an alleyway. Old habits

die hard I suppose. When Brownie saw my cousin Lisa, tall

and lean and fairly attractive, he immediately straightened up

and seemed to hide the bottle behind him. We were

introduced to him, and I got him to tell some stories about

how he came up in the business – his earliest days in North

Carolina, living on a farm, etc. All the while we were talking,

he didn’t take his eyes off Lisa for a moment, and he also

invited us to come back every night that week to be his guest

at the show… I came back once with Lisa and once on my

own, and got a few more tidbits of his story from him. That

meeting with one of my heroes is an experience that I will

always treasure, despite the shock of some of the truths I

learned behind the scenes.

 

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Fare thee well Dave Van Ronk

By Eli Marcus

 

“Tell old Bill, when he gets home this mornin’,

Tell old Bill, when he gets home this evenin’,

Tell old Bill, when he gets home,

To let them downtown girls alone

This mornin’, this evenin’, so soon

Bill left here ’bout half past eight this mornin’

Bill left here ’bout half past eight this evenin’

Bill left here ’bout half past eight

Well he left here by that old front gate

This mornin’, this evenin’, so soon

Sall was home a bakin’ bread this mornin’,

Sall was home a bakin’ bread this evenin’,

Sall was home a bakin’ bread,

When she heard the news her Bill was dead ”

****

Dave Van Ronk was a troubadour, a real folksinger’s

folksinger. To him, even Jazz songs fell into the category of

folk and he certainly sang them that way, with his own

special vocal style, accompanied mostly on guitar, but was

also quite capable on the dulcimer, autoharp and harmonica.

I use the term “was” because a few weeks ago Dave Van

Ronk – the man, the legend, an icon of Greenwich Village –

titled the Mayor of McDougal St., succumbed to cancer at

age 65. Van Ronk was born in Brooklyn, and lived most of

his life in the heart of New York city in the Village. To me,

Van Ronk was a blues singer, to others he may represent the

father of eclectic folk revival.

He was perfectly comfortable singing an old traditional folk

song like “Tell Old Bill”, or sweetly whispering the a

cappella “Come All Ye Fair and Tender Maids”, followed by

the “Hesitation Blues”, “Sweet Substitute” (Jelly Roll

Morton), and even “Mack The Knife” or a Joni Mitchell or

Randy Newman song.

Dave Van Ronk was a great man in more ways than one, he

was tall and wide and had whiskers like a bear, had a very big

rough voice, he was a friend and great source of inspiration

to many and had a big appetite for liquor – which sometimes

marred his public image or performances. His career spanned

four decades, though his greater moments of fame were

probably in the 60’s. He was one of Bob Dylan’s main

mentors in the early part of the 60’s, giving him shelter

sometimes, teaching him some guitar, introducing him to a

vast repertoire of blues. It was Van Ronk who spurred

interest among the folkies in “House of the Rising Sun”, and

he was the catalyst that brought Dylan, the Byrds and Paul

Simon to record the folk song “He Was A Friend of Mine”

(which took on new meaning and became a eulogy to JFK

after the assassination).

When I finally met my hero, Van Ronk was spread across a

couch in an after hours get-together at the Toronto Folk

Festival in the summer of 1980. There was a small party

going on, and I jammed a bit on guitar with country blues

artist Andy Cohen and even sang fifth part harmony with a

cappella R & B group the Persuasions. At one point, I

approached Van Ronk, who was a bit drunk and reclining on

the sofa. He motioned me over, took my hand, and proceeded

to tell me a series of dirty jokes….that was the first and last

time I saw him up close, the man whose records I had worn

out while trying to figure out complex guitar riffs, or just

enjoying the humor in songs that he made his own such as

“Swinging On a Star”.

Fare thee well Dave Van Ronk.

 

“I ran into a restaurant ’bout as hungry as a bear

And like a raving maniac I grabbed the bill of fare

The waiter said what will you have – give me a steak I say,

He took my order, bowed his head, and slowly walked away,

And he never came back, he never came back,

Though I waited an hour or more,

Oh his face I will break, if he don’t bring my steak,

When we meet on that beautiful shore…”

 

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Champagne Charlie is My Name

by Eli Marcus

Late one night in Toronto, I was closing up at the

Fingerboard Coffee house, a once a week folk club that I was

running in 1977. Champagne Charlie had played a set that

night at the Fingerboard, and after the show, we were

walking back home together. Charlie saw an abandoned chair

that caught his eye, left out in the street. He sat down in it,

testing it out as a chair for playing the guitar – it had a

comfortable padded back and seat – and most importantly –

no arm-rests to get in the way of the guitar. Before I knew

what was happening, I was carrying his Martin guitar for

him, and he had slung the chair on his shoulder. I had only

known Charlie for a few weeks, having been introduced to

him by Colin Linden (another amazing Canadian Bluesman

at the time). Charlie had a fantastic black brush moustache,

and almost always dressed well for his stage shows, often

with a black tuxedo jacket and white shirt. The man certainly

had style.

I was asking Charlie about the Ragtime guitar styles that he

played, and he said he’s be more than happy to show me

some tricks. So when we got to the student cooperative house

that was my home at the time, we went up to the second floor

and into an empty room that had no furniture or anything else

in it as one of my roommates had just moved to

Australia.’Lucky thing we had brought that chair!! It was

around 1:00 AM, and the room was pretty dark, except for

some moonlight shining from the window. Charlie sat on the

chair, and I sat on the Martin hardshell guitar case, and just

like in the Blues fables of the famous Crossroads, I received

my first lesson in Ragtime guitar techniques after midnight

from a stranger…

When I took a year off from the university to pursue more

music activities, I moved into the same rooming house as

Charlie and we were the best of buddies for two years – until

Charlie fell in love with a lady named Theresa, married her

and moved out to Guelph, retiring the Champagne Charlie

moniker, to become a family man under his given name of

Thom Roberts.

Champagne Charlie has made one studio album to date – a

collaboration with Canadian Harmonica wizard Carlos Del

Junco, “Big Road Blues”.

 

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Shoplifting the Blues

by Avner Strauss (Israel)

I was all of fourteen years old, and I don’t really think I was

too aware of the blues yet. I had been taking some guitar

lessons from a local guitar guru at the time in Haifa, named

Dave Lichton, who told me a little bit about Josh White and

the Blues. I had an inexpensive locally made electric guitar

with a bright red finish and three silver pickups. Now, I had

received a slight taste of the blues from an American friend

living in Israel, who had some old Blues records in his

collection. I later became professional musician and a big fan

of the blues.

The selection of blues records available in Israeli shops in the

60’s was very limited and consisted of a few records by

Champion Jack Dupree, Memphis Slim, John lee Hooker,

B.B. King and Big Bill Broonzy. One day after my guitar

lesson with Dave, I was in the biggest record store in Haifa-

Beit Hataklit (the “Record House”), when I saw a Big Bill

Broonzy LP in a rare French edition (or so I thought at the

time – being all of fourteen years old). As I was admiring the

LP, examining the photo on the cover of Big Bill singing in a

dark club with his eyes closed. Trying to read the titles of the

songs on the back. I don’t recall all the details, but somehow

this fine LP found its way into my guitar case as I left the

store, making me guilty of the crime of shoplifting the Blues.

To this day, I still love to sing Broonzy’s “Black, Brown, and

White Blues” which I learned from that record…

Avner Strauss

Avner Strauss is a virtuoso guitarist in the Jazz,

Flamenco,and Classical traditions, and singer of the Blues,

as well as writing modern Israeli verse and songs. He is a

producer of music and theater in the schools, has four record

albums to his name, and has recently put out a new album

and a DVD of animated shorts of his songs for children. He

also happens to be the great-grandson of the philosopher

Martin Buber.

 

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White Trash Blues Girl

the story of Candye Kane

I’m Candye Kane. I was born in Ventura, California on

November 13th. I am a scorpio. I was raised in Highland

Park, which is in north east Los Angeles. I went to Franklin

High School where I became friends with many Mexican

Americans and first learned to sing and speak in Spanish. My

parents still live in the same house I was raised in. I had my

first child when I was 17 years old, and for economic

reasons, became a stripper, topless model and “plus-size”

porn star. Through it all, I used my money to subsidize my

musical ambitions and hired top notch musicians to play with

me. I learned to exploit the sex business to my own

advantage, and continue to exploit them, just as they

exploited me!

I started developing breasts at the age of 13. I was not happy

about my changing body, as I was a tomboy and wanted to go

topless all summer. Little did I know that eventually I would

go topless for hard cash!!

My first musical experiences were as a child, organizing

plays and musicals in my neighborhood. My first band was

with my cousins, Shawn and Shay. We were called “The

Gemini 3″. My money making band was called “Rawhide”

with Damon and Lissa Kaye. We played with many punk

rock bands at the now defunct “Cathay De Grande” in

Hollywood. It was a great time to be in music. You could see

Black Flag, Los Lobos, Dwight Yoakum, The Circle Jerks,

The Screamin Sirens, The Blasters and Rawhide on one stage

in one night. My next band was with Jumpin’ Jerry Sikorski

and American Patrol. In those days I was the receptionist at

the L.A. Weekly in between stripping tours. Later I formed a

country band in L.A. called “The Armadillo Stampede” with

Will Ray on guitar. We got a lot of great attention in the early

L.A. country scene and landed a developmental deal with

CBS/Epic. Eventually, I tired of country music and the

hypocritical Nashville country game. I started singing blues

when I was introduced to singers like Etta James and Ruth

Brown, Big Maybelle. I used to think that only blacks could

really sing the blues, untill I saw a blond white girl singing

the blues in San Diego one night, and I saw the light! I

realized that the Blues would forgive me for my controversial

past, and I sure wouldn’t have to lose weight to be taken

seriously as a blues singer.

I got married in 1988 to Paladins bassist Thomas Yearsley

and we had one son together. (His first, my second). We were

married for 14 years and the Paladins produced my first CD,

“Home Cookin'” for Antones records.

Today, I am a devoted single mom and a touring musician. I

tour about 250 days a year. In between touring and recording,

and raising my son, I lend my support to my fellow sex

industry workers. I believe everyone should have a chance to

realize their goals and live their dreams. I was told by many

that it couldn’t be done. I persevered and refused to give up,

in spite of all the naysayers who discouraged me. I had many

obstacles, being a large-sized, teenage welfare mom,

outspoken bisexual porn star raised in a dysfunctional

household in the ghetto. But I know that if I can be successful

as a singer, anyone can acheive great things. I hope to inspire

others to live their dreams and love and accept themselves in

the process, even though it seems like a daunting prospect in

todays world. If I could have people say one thing about me

when I am gone, it would be: “She had a big heart and she

made a difference!!”

Love and a whole lotta juicy kisses,

Candye Kane

You can get more information and read Candye’s stories

from the road at:

www.CandyeKane.com

 

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Portable Man

by Del Goldfarb

Born in Buffalo, NY 1950. My history begins with the five string

banjo and Pete Seeger’s red Oak Publications book

(acquired with Bar Mitzvah gift money). Pete’s voice and

advice sank into my head like no adult’s advice had ever

previously done. He talked about not being materialistic and

collecting stuff, and how important it was for everybody to

all join together and help each other. My Bar Mitzvah year

began after the Cuban Missile Crisis, when President

Kennedy spoke on television in the fall and warned Fidel

Castro against escalating the tension. We had all been

practicing air raid drills regularly at school and people were

building fallout shelters. My mother was crying after

Kennedy spoke: “This is the end, this is the end.” Well, the

missile boats turned back and we didn’t have to die. I turned

twelve and started exploring book stores and finding out

about Beatniks, the Village Voice, the Realist, Allen

Ginsberg…

That January, something special came out of my little

transistor radio. A tune called “Walk Right In” came on with

a distinctly non-“Four Seasons”, non-“Beach Boys” sound.

‘Totally gave me shelter from the storm, telling me to relax,

be myself, everything’s cool, make yourself at home. Not the

typical message to hear from a song in those days.

I Graduated from Amherst High School in 1968, a few years

after school mates Andy Kulberg (of the Blues Project) and

Eric Anderson had graduated from the same place. Shortly

after bar mitzvah age (October 63, right before JFK

shooting), I started hanging on weekends in the Village. The

speed limit on the NY State Thruway back then was 80 mph.

There were always rides available with University of Buffalo

people going back and forth to the Big Apple. Great ride

message board at the student union. I was touring with

mandolinist Frank Wakefield while still in high school. I was

actually in Alabama when Dr. (Martin Luther) King was

assassinated, and I marched in the funeral procession in

Atlanta. I came to Oregon from Memphis in 1977 but started

going back and forth five years later. Pretty much have

residency in both places ever since. The Great Hoboes tagged

me with my NYC upbringing. I actually told them that I

launched my journey from there.

Over the years, I’ve heard billions of arguments regarding

what is and what is not the blues. As far as I’m concerned, it

the words. Any type of tune or rhythm can work.

Furthermore, as a blue-collar worker, a person has other

certain advantages. It began for me when I memorized lyrics

and played them back in my head in cadence with hikes and

marching in the USMC. Later on in the work force, I found

myself side by side for hours with either a printing press or a

donut machine. Lots of clickety-clack assembly line sounds

provided a back drop to my inner-head tunesmithing. For my

blues history class, I demonstrated this idea by showing a

clip from the film “Blue Collar”, which opens with a massive

steel press pounding interspersed with a ripping blues riff…

I would say that music, and blues music in particular, did

“save” me in many ways, similar to what the author of

“Vietnam Blues” (J.B. Lenoir) described. I’ve spent lots of

time trying to examine where I’m going and where I’ve been,

so I’ll try to pinpoint some of the moments as best as I can.

My song “Portable Man” is quite true to life. I’ve added an

opening verse since recording it that is quite chilling. The

title came from an exchange between myself and my then

four year old daughter. We were driving past some people

sleeping on benches next to shopping carts and she asked

about them. I told her that the only difference between them

and us was that they didn’t sleep in houses, they were

“portable”. So as of late, my first ritual of the day is to figure

out where the hell I am… and I know that age is helping to

kick in the confusion a bit.

I recall a moment a few years ago when I went to visit

Napolean Strickland in a Hernando, Mississippi hospital.

He’d been in a car wreck, his cousin Jessie Mae (Hemphill)

had turned me on to him. I introduced (film director) Robert

Mugge to Napolean, a fife player, and he used Napolean to

open the film “Deep Blues.” Jessie Mae called him “Po-

Lene”. He’d been in a car accident and was laying in bed.

Even in the best of times, I never could figure out what he

was saying, and I don’t think he always knew what the hell I

was all about. But we always had a lot of laughs for some

reason, and he was going to teach me how to burn fifes out of

a piece of cane with a red-hot iron rod. I don’t think he could

read or write, but he could punch a few smoking holes right

where they’re supposed to be and then just start playing the

darn thing. He caused me to think with the simplest of

questions. This time at the hospital was a long quiet moment.

We never really yakked, mostly goofed around, so what was

there to talk about? The guy was ancient. Napolean asked

me, “Where you from?” and that got my brain going. New

York to Tennessee to Oregon had become a blurry cycle, but

actually to Napolean anything outside of Senatobia or Como

was all the same. I’d just come down from Memphis.

Now when people ask me where I’m from, I tell them I’m

from whatever’s just behind me. I’m from whatever is the

opposite of where I’m headed. Because if I look back to find

any semblance of a launching pad or home turf, there’s

nothing there.

 

Del Goldfarb

Among his accomplishments, and in addition to his role as an

active Folk and Blues musician, Del Goldfarb has acted as a

Blues historian over the years, here are some highlights:

  • Founded the first Waterfront Blues Festival (originally Rose City Blues Festival) in 1987, produced first five festivals presenting artists such as James Cotton, Charlie Musselwhite, Elvin Bishop, Jessie Mae Hemphill, Johnnie Shines, Lowell Fulson, John Lee Hooker, Bo Diddley, John Mayall, Frank Frost and many others.
  • Submitted presentation of the washtub bass (on behalf of Fritz Richmond) to the Smithsonian Institute. Received letter acknowledging my contribution in helping to preserve “this key chapter in popular music history.” (1988)
  • Discovered the grave of Gus Cannon nearly buried in overgrown weeds in N.Mississippi. With the Beale Street Blues Society (particularly Dennis Brooks), raised funds for the tombstone and coordinated efforts of John Sebastian and Eric von Schmidt in the design with a Memphis stone-carver.
  • Assistant to curator Richard Hite (Canned Heat bassist) Memphis Music Hall of Fame and Beale Street Blues Museum, (1992-1994). Worked with Stax and Sun artists cataloging their items, Isaac Hayes, belongings of Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis, Johnny Cash. 

See the story “Oral Historian of the Blues”, and

you can also see Del’s wonderful gallery of photographs and

Blues memories at www.DelGoldfarb.com

 

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Oral Historian of the Blues

Del Goldfarb recalls Blues heroes

 

Editor’s Note: In addition to his role as an active Folk and

Blues musician, Del Goldfarb has acted as a Blues historian

over the years, including working as assistant curator to the

Memphis Music Hall of Fame and Beale Street Blues

Museum.

*****

I once had landed myself a three-hour ride with Geoff

Muldaur, going from Portland to the coast. In an insightful

chat, he asked “Have you ever noticed that it is easier to talk

to old black men than to old white men? Why is that?”

Muldaur and I are similarly moved by strange, unseen spirits.

In his early days, he had travelled across the country with a

broom specifically to sweep off the grave of Blind Lemon

Jefferson. When I look back on what special ability lead me

to be a historian, I think it was a knack for talking with old

men. To me “history” is really “his-story.” How I became a

historian is simply by being a “helper” and a listener to old

men.

*****

Up on Beale St., the Center For Southern Folklore occupies

what used to be Lansky’s, clothier to Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis

and Isaac Hayes. In the 70’s I worked as a temp doing

inventory at the store. Now it was the Folklore Center. On

weekdays, Mose Vinson would play his barrelhouse style

piano and on occasion I’d sneak up behind him with a banjo

and give the tourists a run for their flashbulbs.

*****

You never knew who’s going to walk into one of the

museums (Memphis Music Hall of Fame and Beale Street

Blues Museum). It was usually pretty quiet. Situated on

Second, directly across the street from the 100 year old

Peabody Hotel, we were two blocks from Beale. Stomping

grounds of Rufus Thomas and Albert King. Pops Staples

popped in from time to time.

Being so close to the Peabody Hotel made us a real power

center. One day, a musician named Eureka Jones came into

the museum.’Showed me a photo he had taken of Fred

McDowell’s grave. The name had been mis-spelled

“McDewell.” At the time, Bonnie Raitt was in town across

the street, her guitarist Stephen Bruton was in the museum

right then; he said she was over at the Peabody. Eureka and I

ran over there and found her sitting in the lobby with Dick

Waterman and some of her band members. We showed her

the photo. She subsequently arranged for Fred to have a new

tombstone.

*****

A friend from the Peabody came in one day and told me that

Gatemouth Brown was over at the Peabody right now. I went

over there and found him seated at a small table in the deli

area. As he was alone, I worked my way into an invite to sit

down with the man in black. He pushed aside a bowl of

chicken noodle soup and bit into his sandwich. I asked if he

wasn’t going to eat the soup. He laughed and told me to help

myself, which I did. As I started spooning the noodles,

Gatemouth grinned widely beneath his cowboy hat and

picked up a dill pickle.

“You want this too?” he asked.

“Hell no,” I told him. “That’s going into the Blues Museum.”

*****

Another moment of serendipity at the Memphis Music Hall

of Fame. During the Handy Awards week, many wandered in

such as John Cephas, and Jimmy Rogers. I was showing Roy

Bookbinder around the place when he was taken aback by

the display of steel guitars. There on display was his exact

same guitar, except that his was all worn. The one behind the

glass was in mint condition. I told him to go get his bio pack

and I showed it to the owner/director of the museum. The

guitars were switched.

*****

In the 60s I had plans to be the “walk-on” boy for Sonny

Terry, years later in the festival business, I’m “walking-on”

John Lee Hooker, Lowell Fulson, and Johnny Shines.I

brought Johnny Shines to Oregon, flew him and his wife in

actually a few months before he passed away, and had him

situated in the ancient home of the blues society president. I

came over in the morning, and Johnny was shuffling around

in his bathrobe. I asked him if he wanted to hear some guitar

and he said: “sure”, while he lined up a couple dozen pill

bottles on the kitchen table. While I’m strumming some slow

blues, he points to them and tells me that’s how many pills he

has to take every morning and then in slow motion he opened

each bottle and tapped tablets and capsules into his hand.

Then to the rhythm of my tune, he headed for the fridge and

opened the door, reached in and pulled out a tall can of

Budweiser. With a snappy pop of the top and the slightest

whisper of fizz, Johnny slugged them pills down and smiled

out the window at the rising summer sun.

*****

I had been looking down at Albert King laying peacefully in

his box. Hair combed, moustache trimmed, little plugs in his

nostrils, eyes sealed shut. Dead a few days now, we were

alone in the visitation room at the funeral home, early

evening when I stopped by after work. As I dwelled upon the

silence of the big man and how less imposing he looked, sort

of deflated and there was no pipe clenched in his jaw, I heard

several people enter the room behind me. Rufus Thomas, a

fellow Stax alumnus, came in with a few companions. I

stepped back from Albert’s coffin while Rufus stepped up to

it. He looked down at Albert and placed a hand flat against

the dead man’s stilled chest. After holding that pose for an

extended moment, Rufus spun around bug-eyed and blew out

a “lucky-that’s-not-me” whooshing of breath.

Rufus sang at Albert King’s funeral service after Joe Walsh

played a slide version of “Amazing Grace”. It was the

greatest of honors to know Rufus Thomas and to hang with

him.

He was known for his quote “Once you’ve been black on

Beale Street, you’ll never want to go back to being white”.

See the story Portable Man, and check out

Del’s website at www.DelGoldfarb.com

 

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Furry’s Birthday Night

by Gershon Melnicove (Israel)

It was some time in 1971 that a number of my students at the

school of architecture in Knoxville Tennessee dragged me

across the state to Memphis to hear some real Blues. It turns

out, they had become buddies with an old Bluesman named

Furry Lewis, who once had a hit record with the song

Stakerlee back in the late 20’s. Furry Lewis was getting into

his 80’s and he had a prosthetic leg that caused him some

pain – so the boys would come by to sit with him and always

brought him a bottle of good whiskey. One night, the boys

told me it was Furry’s birthday, and they really wanted to

make sure he had a great one, so they organized a special

party at his home, and also brought along a young blonde

coed as his “birthday present”, as well as the mandatory

bottle of whiskey. Well, Furry and the young lady

disappeared into a room upstairs…and in the morning, Furry

comes out grinning with satisfaction, and the young lady

comes out right after him with an even bigger grin…

for more about Gershon Melnicove, see the story “The Real

Blues From Rosh Pina”

 

 

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The Real Blues From Rosh Pina

Introducing Gershon Melnicove (Israel)

“Blues is an expression of having been taken advantage of.”

Gershon Melnicove used to think of himself as the rebel in

the family – the one who didn’t conform, didn’t play the

traditional success game, did not settle down and raise a

family. But that was many years ago, and as it turned out,

Gershon now has a wife and three children and lives in the

Gallilee region in northern Israel.

Gershon Melnicove is the grandson of Jewish Russian

immigrants to the USA who settled in Baltimore. He recalls

his grandfather’s butcher shop in downtown Baltimore in the

late 40’s and early 50’s, and the old house that the family

lived in above the shop. Growing up in the Washington

(D.C.) school system which was predominantly black, he

remembers sharing with his (black) friend Charlie Pryor the

feelings of being “down and under”. Gershon has a rich

history himself, including playing college football at the

University of Illinois with the likes of Dick Butkus and even

making it to the Rosebowl of 1965!!!

Gershon went on to a graduate degree in Architecture, and it

wasn’t until he had a teaching position in Knoxville

Tennessee that he met up and fell in love with the blues. His

students dragged him across the state to Memphis a few

times and introduced him to the legendary Furry Lewis.

It was while picking cherries on a farm in Montana that

Gershon met a Sioux Indian named Buckwheat who gave

him his first harmonica and told him “Just put it in the wind –

it’ll teach you how to play”. Over the years, he also

developed a talent for improvising blues lyrics off the top of

his head to any tune and any situation. He has been singing

with the Blues Rosh Pina band for nearly twenty years, and I

rmember those very special Friday afternoons outdoors at the

Logos club in downtown Tel Aviv, as Gershon would play

some harmonica and improvise about 20 blues verses as the

Blues Rosh Pina Band would jam on with love, peace, the

Blues and the abstract truth.

 

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God Blues You

introducing Gor Delta Jr. (Israel)

Gor Delta Jr. sits back on the couch in his living room in the

desert town of Arad with a 7 string acoustic guitar in his lap,

a long metal “slide” on his finger, playing the blues. A hand

rolled cigarette is in his mouth, and a can of beer on the

coffee table, and one can see that the insides of his arms are

heavily scarred from some kind of serious injury. His homeproduced

recordings have been on the radio from time to

time, and have even been featured by a German DJ in a

discotheque on the island of Crete, but no one has really

heard of him in the general public – Gor Delta is an unsung

hero of the blues.

One of the first musical influences on Gor Delta Jr. was his

father. Gor was born Igor Chizhenok in in 1963 in Minsk,

Belarus. Gor remembers at the tender age of four years, his

father would come home drunk in the evening, and pull out a

trumpet. It was Gor’s job to put a Louis Armstrong LP on the

turntable and his father would play along with Satchmo…Gor

remembers that period of his life as a mix of sadness and joy,

the pain of his father’s drinking and rough behavior mixed

with the joy of discovering a world rich with music. That is

how Gor got the blues.

Gor learned to play the guitar in his early teens, buying a

guitar from a friend when he was 15 years old for a sum

equal to $2. He soon joined a school band, playing heavy

rock, rock and roll, and blues – this band even won a

competition of high school bands in Minsk. At the time, this

kind of music was not officially allowed by the government,

so Gor joined or formed a number of underground bands

such as “The Neighbors”, “Presence”, and “Visible

Invisible”. When the Perestroika arrived, he formed the legal

Rhythm and Blues band “Spoon of Honey”. They performed

at festivals like ” Gorki Park” in Moscow, and “Children of

Chernobyl” in Minsk. Gor also composed and recorded some

music for cinema and theater.

In 1989, Gor left Russia for Germany – settling in West

Berlin and playing festivals and recording sessions with

different bands for 2 years. It was during this period that his

drug abuse, which began after high school while still in

Russia, became more serious – Gor became heavily addicted

to heroin. This was also a time of great turmoil and confusion

in his life, leading to several suicide attempts, which

damaged the nerves and tendons in both his arms to the

extent that he could not play the guitar for a while.

Despite all of his suicide attempts (at least seven serious

incidents in ten years) the one thing in his life that Gor never

was willing to give up was the Blues – despite his injured

arms, Gor continued to play guitar. Due to a limited mobility

in his hands, he turned to playing slide guitar – which is

perfect if you are playing the Blues!

Gor married an Israeli woman in the early1990’s, and

together with their newborn son, they moved to Israel in

1993. That summer was the first time I met Gor – he played at

the Jacob’s Ladder Folk Festival in the Ezrael valley in the

north of Israel. After a few years in Israel, Gor was estranged

from his wife and decided to go wandering through Europe,

making stops in Minsk to visit his mother, and also managing

to record some blues in the studio with his old buddy from

the Spoonful of Honey band – Alex Tagunov. He then settled

for a while in the Netherlands. Upon joining Alcoholic’s

Anonymous (AA), he travelled to Tenerife, where he

performed regularly for a while. He later landed in Austria,

performing in the skiing resort town of Innsbruck. It was here

that he recorded a self-produced album of acoustic blues. In

the summer of 2000 he moved back to Israel, produced a

home-made but very professional album of electric and

acoustic blues, living in the ancient seaport town of Jaffa for

2 years, and then moving down to the desert town of Arad

where he now resides.

 

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Big Joe and Me

by Marc Miller (Israel)

It was 1965 or thereabouts and my date and I were at a club

in Greenwich Village in New York listening to music. The

room was enormous, crowded, smoky and loud. The tables

were miniscule with barely room for drinks and no room to

stretch out our legs under them. Featured were two folk rock

bands, flaunting their wares with mega-amplification. They

were young, attractive, fashionably hip and very loud.

Sandwiched in between the two sets, perhaps as an

afterthought, was the bluesman Big Joe Williams (not to be

confused with the jazz and rhythm and blues singer Joe

Williams who sang with Count Basie). He looked terrible.

He had a big bulbous aneuristic protrusion bulging out of his

forehead. He was equipped with a beat up old acoustic guitar

which I think had nine strings and sundry homemade

attachments and a wire hanger contraption around his neck

fashioned to hold a kazoo while keeping his hands free to

play the guitar.

Needless to say, he was a big letdown after the folk rockers.

My date and I exchanged pained looks in empathy for what

was being done this Delta blues man who was ruefully out of

place. After three or four songs the unseen announcer came

on the p. a. system and said, “Lets have a big hand for Big

Joe Williams, ladies and gentlemen; thank you Big Joe”. But

Big Joe wasn’t finished. He hadn’t given up on the audience

and he ignored the announcer. He continued his set and after

each song the announcer came over the p. a. and tried to

politely but firmly get Big Joe off the stage. Big Joe was

having none of it and he continued his set with his nine-string

acoustic and his kazoo.

Long about the sixth or seventh song he got into his groove

and started to wail with raggedy slide guitar riffs, powerful

voice, as well as intense percussion on the guitar and its

various accoutrements. By the end of the set he had that

audience of jaded ’60’s rockers on their feet cheering and

applauding vociferously.

Our initial pity for him was replaced by wondrous respect.

He knew he had it in him to move that audience and he knew

that thousands of watts and hundreds of decibels do not

change one iota the basic power of a song.

Big Joe Williams died on December 17th, 1982. He was

inducted into the W. C. Handy Blues Hall of Fame on

October 4th, 1992. His accomplishments as a singer, song

writer and musician are considerable, but to me he will

always be the man who won over an unlikely apathetic

audience of rockers with uncompromising Delta blues.

Marc Miller

Marc Miller is a New York born folk-blues and ragtimeblues

singer and guitarist who now lives on Kibbutz Afiq in

the Golan Heights, overlooking the Sea of Gallilee.

 

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Coming Up In Toronto

Micky Shaviv (Israel)

In 1969 I met Albert King, shook his hand and realized the

powerfully emotional range of expression in the simplest of

musical forms – the Blues. In 1971, I spent a week in a house,

in the middle of an upstate NY grey November, with Johnny

and Edgar Winter and Rick Derringer – they were just

forming their band “White Trash” and I heard some riveting

Blues from them, right in my face, all week long… I grew up

in Canada (my teenage years), seeing and hearing Lenny

Breau and Ed Bickert, and my touch (on the guitar) will

forever include the magic they passed on to me – especially

their interpretation of the Blues…

I was right there when “McKenna, Mendelson Mainline” and

the “Downchild Blues Band” each inspired everlasting Blues

power in me. I saw and heard Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi

Vaughan – and prayed hard to the gods in blue. I saw, in three

different concerts, the Miles Davis band with Pete Cosey on

9 different Stratocaster guitars!! In the summer of 1969 I saw

and heard and lived on – Muddy Waters and Led Zeppelin’s

first LP tour, when Page played nothing but the Blues.

Years later, I spent a night with a BB King’s bass player,

while they were touring in Israel, and learned some “outside”

stuff about the living Blues.

I also heard every note Allan Haynes played while on visit

here in Israel a few years back – and you bet, I believe it!

These are a few quick, life preserving vignettes, out of

thousands more that I was so fortunate to accommodate in

my blue hearted life. Thus far…

m shaviv

 

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Make Me An Angel, That Flies From Montgomery…

by Shelly Ellen (Israel)

In the 60s my brother Michael, was my influence in music

and it was folk rock then…but during the (Yom Kippur) war

here (Israel) in 1973 I met a girl who played blues and sang

with a froggy type voice..and when the wartime curfew was

in force and we had to be indoors at dark, I had her move into

my flat…We’d play all the time. There was Taj Mahal and

Mississppi John Hurt and lots of other fingerpicking blues.. I

was 20 yrs old then and my playing with her helped to form

my style. Later on, Jimi Hendrix & Bonnie Raitt were

influences, but still with a love for acoustic blues &

fingerpicking, I started at first with a thumb pick & fingers

and later to this day with a flat pick & fingers to have the flat

pick already in my hand.

Shelly Ellen

 

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Hanging Out with John Lee Hooker

by Ted Cooper (Canada/Israel)

I was 13 years old and had just started listening to the Blues.

I was already the drummer in a band with my best friend Jeff

Goodman. I had an old snare with real goatskin on it and a

broken bird cage on a stand that served as a cymbal.

Jeff called and said “John Lee Hooker’s playing at The

Mousehole in Yorkville”. That was all I needed to hear. By

8:30 that night, we were at the club dressed in suits with

Jeff’s mother’s mascara smeared above our top lips to

simulate mustaches. We knew from experience that even

though the Mousehole was a coffee house and didn’t insist on

customers being of legal drinking age, they sometimes didn’t

let you in if they thought you were a little kid.

John Lee came out on stage in a purple silk shirt and played a

hollow body Gibson electric. We were mesmerized as he sat

in a chair, eyes closed and played song after song taking us

with him to wild rent parties, lonesome road trips, and

women he’d loved with names like Fannie Mae and Ida.

He took a break and sat with some people at a table. Jeff

grabbed my arm and we walked over to John Lee’s table. Jeff

says,” Hi Mr. Hooker we have our own blues band and do

you mind if we play some of your songs?” He smiled and

said” Why don’t you boys come over to my hotel tomorrow

and I’ll play you a new one I’m workin’ on.”

We were so excited that we had to leave the club and run

around outside and celebrate and plan tomorrow. Also, we

had to be home by 10:30.

He was staying at the Ford Hotel. We took the subway

downtown the next day and knocked on the door. If you

knew downtown Toronto in the mid sixties you’d know the

Ford Hotel was a multi-storied “dive” at Bay and Dundas that

was later torn down to make way for the Eaton’s Centre

Mall.

The lobby smelled like stale sweat and tobacco. The door

was opened by a black man who ushered us in. John Lee was

lying on the bed playing his Gibson and watching a baseball

game with the sound off. Once in a while he’d take a sip of

some amber-coloured liquid in a water glass on a bed-side

table. After a while he sent the man who’d opened the door

for us on an errand. “Bill” he said.”Go get me some white

socks.”

John Lee asked us the name of our band and said he would

tell us the words of his new song that we could sing. He sang

the song and I wrote it down. It was called the Want Ad

Blues.

“I saw your ad this mornin’.

Said you want a real good man…”

The door opened and in walked Bill followed by two white

women. The first one was a hefty looking gal and said, “John

Lee. Wait til you see my new dress.” She went into the

bathroom and came out wearing a tight purlple mini-dress.

John Lee looked at her, slapped his knee and hollered “Hoo

Eee. Da meat’s on da outside.”

As you can imagine all this was pretty exciting for a couple

of suburban kids who had just started listening to the Blues.

We hung around a little longer and split.

That’s how I hung out with a blues legend when I was 13…

Ted Cooper

 

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Brownie & Me

by Yoram Getzler (Israel)

Special memories from The Ash Grove.

Sometime in the later 1950’s when I was newly married and

in my first year at Los Angeles City College, I took a job at

the Ash Grove, a folk club two blocks from where I lived. It

was the one and only folk club in the Los Angeles area. The

owner, Bernie Pearl was religiously committed to authentic

acoustic folk music. Any of the great folk musicians of that

era who would venture that far west from the Village, were

sure to play the Grove. I believe we were the only venue west

of Chicago.

One of the most enjoyable of the N.Y. characters that made

the Grove a regular performance venue was the wonderful

blues guitarist and singer – Brownie McGhee. For his initial

appearance he came out by himself. (Later he brought Blind

Sonny Terry the harmonica player with him.) Somehow,

Grove arranged for him to stay with a woman named Janie,

who had a cozy house in the hills of Echo Park with an extra

bedroom. Almost every night of the three week gig, many of

us who worked at the Grove and a number of Brownies fans

and those hoping to learn some blues licks would join

Brownie at Janie’s house after the last show of the night.

That usually meant between midnight and 2 am.

Janie was a woman with a regular day job, and would often

be asleep when we got there. No matter. Brownie would

plunk himself down on the couch and the rest of us would sit

around (“at his feet”) on the floor or on other furniture. He

would take out his ax and after playing for hours at the club,

set back and begin again to play and sing the blues.

Interspersed with the music were anecdotes (which he often

shared while on stage) of playing the blues in the south

where he originally came from as well as in NYC where he

had been living for quite a while. The evenings often ended

at dawn, with Brownie cooking all of us breakfast.

That was my first year at college and I did not do so good at

staying awake for many of the classes. Especially the 8am

ones.

In his childhood Brownie had suffered from Polio, or some

other deforming childhood disease. The result was a

deformed leg. He was a man of average height but of wide

girth. Together with the limp from the deformed leg he

was quite a sight. He moved gracefully like a ship in the

swells of the ocean. This physical condition made it

uncomfortable for him to carry his large guitar. So when I

would take him places, it was I who usually carried the

guitar.

I well remember one night when instead of going home to

Janie’s after the gig, Brownie asked me if I would drive him

up to Shelly’s Manne Hole up in Hollywood. We got to the

door, the big black man & I. Eyeing me carrying the guitar,

the bouncer asked Brownie “Are you the musician?”, “No”

answered Brownie, chucking his head in my direction, “He

is!”

When Sonny Terry began to appear with him, Sonny would

hold onto Brownies arm as they walked through the audience

to the stage. It was the most graphic expression manageable

of “The lame leading the blind”. Sonny had a system of

placing the different keyed harps in different pockets.

Brownie would play the opening chord, and Sonny would

reach unerringly into the correct pocked and put the properly

keyed harp to mouth and play. He always wear a vest, I

believe that added four pockets (two inside, two outside).

One of the highlights of our late night private parties were to

persuade Brownie to sing one of the “Dirty Songs” he knew.

He would never sing them on stage, but at 3 AM In the hills

of Echo Park, it was an opportunity. I never knew if they

were his original work or some kind of standards. The one I

most remember began with “Baby let me look under your

hood”, and went on the offer to check her oil with his

dipstick…etc. If anybody out here knows the rest of the

words, I would love to hear them.

Brownies style was tight and precise; he could play the same

song hitting the same exact notes, time after time. I was

always amazed how he could be both accurate and gentle

with his big fingers on the fret board.

NOTE: This is one of my fondest memories of Sonny Terry.

But I do not know if its proper to tell, after all his wife, or

children might be offended…

Now both Brownie and Sonny would regale the gang in the

after show gatherings. One of the favorite songs Sonny sang

on stage was “Hooray, Hooray, dis woman is akillin me!”

One night when Sonny retired early to his bedroom, I walked

by on the way to the bathroom and heard him bellowing with

great enthusiasm the well known refrain “Hooray Hooray,

dis woman is akillin me!” Not being able to resist, my eyes

moved to observe the room, there he was, lights on, door

open (remember he was blind) with this blond woman Mary

on top of him. While in my car after a show Brownie would

often tease Sonny…Sonny would say, “I saw Mary in the

audience tonight.”, “Whatcha talking bout, you can’t see!”

would respond Brownie. Then they would spend half an hour

discussing whether or not Sonny could see Mary, or the road,

or anything else. I kept the Ash Grove job through my two

years at LACC and the next two years at USC. I never found

out what eventually became of these two close friends.

 

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To be continued…

 

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