Saturday, November 21, 2009

9 Maple Ave. Saratoga Double-Header

Long before the CBJExperience was formed, Colorblind booked us a gig in the dead of winter at a bar in Saratoga named 9 Maple Ave. (now a restaurant named MERA)-a double header (Fri & Sat nights). The tio consisted of Colorblind James (vocals, Guild guitar), G. Elwyn Miexner (vocal, ragetime Hawaiin guitar) and Thaddy playing a Kay double bass. After passing through the bar area there was a set of French doors that led to a back-room where Folk Music flourished. After Friday night's gig I was told that Margot and I would be staying the night with a woman named Lena--the owner of Lena's Caffe; where Bob Dylan played the first gig of his first tour.
We were led up a set of wooden stairs to her flat. Lena was a creepy looking old gal who sat in a winged back chair, chain smoking like a chimney. Her Majordomo was a balding older man that directed theatre in Saratoga; he waited on her hand and foot. He seemed to be in awe of her. Her Majordomo led us to a brass double bed, and just before we enter the bedroom he said, "Be careful, there if broken glass on the floor...I dropped a light bulb and haven't swept it up." Great, so we did the slow shuffle to our bed." Every once in a while a beam of light would appear on the wall opposing our bed, then the figure of a head and eye would appear like a closet Peeping-Tom--Majordomo was keeping a watchful eye on us; Creep factor 9. Had there been a trapeez and a rocking chair in our room, I would have given him a show: the infamous Flying Philadelphian Fuck; I imagined Majordomo cuffing his carrot in a freakin' frenzy with his eye glued to a peephole in the wall--probably covered by a painting of Elvis on black velevet.
Saturday night's gig was one to remember; a gang of 20 bikers came into the bar during our last set. As life would have it, a real to life bar fight broke-out; reminiscent of a Slim Pickens Western movie. A dangerous place for a wooden instrument; we planned our escape. We all made it out; instruments intact.
The thing to remember about Colorblind is that he was way ahead of his time; original Folk Music with a Rock-A-Billy twist. Ominous songs lamenting love lost, German Girls, the Ultra-Modern Boy, Kojak Chair, and cryptic lyrics,"Solid Behind the Times:...Cream of the only hat that ever fit me soup."

Sunday, January 04, 2009

WALLY THE WHALE: Starship Beer meets the Colorblind James Experience

The famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) Scorgies gig from 1985. Don Scorgie, owner and proprietor, was FURIOUS with Chuck for having Starship Beer open up for us. Their set featured one song only, Wally The Whale, which began with frontman P.J. O'Brien chanting "Wally The Whale" with a bucket on his head and ended 40 minutes later with the entire Experience on stage, each of us playing the wrong instrument. Me? I was on drums. Most of the crowd walked out but the core audience that remained loved it.

Starship Beer pioneered what they referred to as "nut music" and their first release, Free As The Squirrels, featured liner notes by Chuck. It was recorded above the Market House Music Hall on Water Street in Oswego, New York and came out in '79.

P.J. O'Brien is an artist and poet who received the kind of respect and admiration from Chuck that Chuck meted out to a scant few. Kevin Whitehead, Starship's guitarist, is NPR's jazz critic.

To this day, the loyal few whose eyes were opened that night will laugh, remember and for a moment feel again the delirious euphoria created that evening.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Route 66

In December of 1980 Margot and I left Oswego for San Francisco, why? Because we could, and took the southern pass and picked up Route 66 in Oklahoma. We arrived in SF on exactly the same day that John Lennon was assassinated--December 8th,1980--we connected with Colorblind and his wife Janet on Waller St. Chuck was in the bedroom...inconsolably weeping, his hero had died. A sad day to be sure. Eventually Gene Tigh left the CBJE and a bass player was needed. I answered the call, having played with the original Colorblind James Trio w/G. Elwyn Miexner on ragtime Hawaiian guitar. As time wore on, we rehearsed tirelessly--well I did get tired once! Gigs were few and far between. Although we did make it to the "I Beam" on Haight St. in the pan handle of Golden Gate Park. As life would have it I got the call to play in a pit band up in North Beach at the Old Spaghetti Factory--a regular paying gig Wednesday thru Sunday (2 shows on Saturday night, and a matinee on Sunday)--I felt like Stu Sutcliff leaving the Beatles. But money is money and I needed all I could get living on the edge. Much to my chagrin the CBJE went on to play the "Peel sessions on the BBC" and toured Europe twice! I felt like a moax. But ya pays yer money and takes yer chances. I try not to look back, yet find myself on memory lane thinking about what might have been. The unique community of Oswegonians that lived in SF in the early '80s all looked out for each other, and we remained friends. God, those were the salad days. At 23 I felt invincible and the old adage is true :"Why is youth wasted on the young?" But such is life. Those were some of the best days of my life and I didn't even know it. I'm giging in a Big-Band now (Google the Do Good Swing Band) a 17 piece jazz band with a monster horn section...every musician has been playing for at least 30 years and smokes every chart. How I got the call is still a mystery to me...yet I find myself keeping up with some seasoned veterans that ramp up my game...I don't want to be the slouch in the rhythm section so I play with a quiet elegance. My motto is "Less is more." Athletes peak in their 20's & 30's but musicians seem to get better with age, I'm still learning and listening and every once in a while I get the eerie feeling that Colorblind is looking down on me from above laughing with love, and keeping me on the straight and narrow--well let's not get too crazy. Bfn, Thad

Monday, September 01, 2008

Episode Nine: Final Podcast (Dylan Night '91)

OK, it takes me a while, but I do eventually get the things done that I say I will. Here is the promised second podcast of Bob Dylan material. This one is all taken from our show in 1991, and I'd honestly forgotten how fine that gig was. The sound is pretty good, too. Thanks again to Mike Rae for documenting the evening's activities. It's a beefy helping of Dylanesque goodness, so stand back, hit that "download" button and crank it up. It's almost 50 minutes long, so be patient... Here's the list, followed by the link:

From a Buick Six
Ramblin' Gamblin' Willie
Queen Jane, Approximately
It's All Over Now, Baby Blue (with Rick Petrie)
Golden Loom (with Bernie and Carol Heveron)
Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 (with Michael Hurley)
You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go (with Brian Horton)
You Ain't Goin' Nowhere (with Geoff Wilson)
Knockin' On Heaven's Door (with Stan "The Man" Merrill and Chas Lockwood)
Please Crawl Out Your Window

There are several things to comment on, but I'll try to keep it brief. Many standout performances happened that night, of which I'm only posting a fraction. I had some serious damage on one of the tapes (Florida's humidity wreaked havoc on a lot of my stuff, including this cassette) and so some sizzling material was rendered unfit for broadcast. Despite that, the band members (abetted by their guests) were in great form on this night. A few songs merit some explication:

Yes, I know I put "From a Buick Six" on the last podcast, and in a nearly identical arrangement, but this version was too good to cut. Phil's solos are fantastic, and it was nice to hear it again with Joe's trombone.

I did have to edit a sharp and unsubtle fadeout on "Golden Loom," at the point where the havoc-wreaked tape trouble started, but I couldn't bring myself to omit it. I'm unaccountably proud of Joe's and my little duet at the end, and it's a lovely song...

Rick Petrie's radical funk re-interpretation of "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" was a standout that night, and I wish that more of our guests had gone for broke the way Rick did here. And had the security to veer sharply away from the standard "authentic" interpretation. I'll personally never be able to listen to the original again...

"Rainy Day Women" is a deliriously loose version, with Michael Hurley adding hilarious new lyrical twists to the end of the refrain each time it comes back. That glorious, manic sloppiness you hear is due in part to the fact that Michael often didn't change chords at the expected moments. He also had a somewhat different take on the rhythm and inflection of the lyrics than we had. I seem to recall all of us watching his hands on his electric piano (which is very low in the mix) for clues as to when he would move to the next chord. By the third verse we were a bit more together. Also, for this performance we had no rehearsal with the guest (as if you couldn't tell...)

Brian Horton was a fine guitarist and songwriter from Rochester who helmed a fantastic band called Buffalo Road for a few years in the early 90s. I went to hear them often. Brian died in 1995. The band released a truly great cd after Brian's death, entitled 'Through the Sun,' which remains one of my favorite discs of all time.

I really like this version of You Ain't Goin' Nowhere. I wish I could remember who the background singers were but I can't. I am pretty sure that Peggy Fournier and Carol Heveron might be they; maybe Phil remembers.

As indicated in the title, this will be my last podcast. Maybe not forever, but certainly for the present. And I think that I've gathered what I feel is the finest material in my personal archives. Other stuff may surface, but this is what I've got for now. I've enjoyed doing these, and hope that they've had some resonance with listeners. My intent has been to offer some perspective on the band's work that I felt was insufficiently represented on our commercial recordings, and show a side of us that wasn't readily apparent to our European fans. CbJE was primarily a live band, and so I've emphasized live recordings. Most long-time fans thought we sounded 'way better live than on recordings. I'd agree with that sentiment, at least for the most part. If I didn't include your own favorite songs here, I am sorry, but there's a whole lot of 'em, and I have did my best. I also have been careful to only present material where I was present in its making. Lots of great things happened before I joined the group and continued to happen long after I left, but I felt it important to only deal with the stuff that I was witness to. It's a rather narrow slice of CbJE history, but a rich one. Thanks for listening.

Friday, July 04, 2008

New Blog! Colorblind James: Song By Song

I've decided to begin a different venture in retrospect to Colorblind James. Beginning with the first CD, the eponymously titled The Colorblind James Experience, I'm going to offer my reflections, memories and opinions on a song by song basis.

Thanks for stopping by,

Uncle Phil Marshall

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Episode Eight (Bob Dylan Vol. 1)

I am actually a day late with this episode, which I meant to have posted on May 24th. The fact is, when the semester ends, I stop looking at calendars for a while, and the day slipped past. Sorry about that... But here it is, a "jumbo big" Bob Dylan birthday episode.

Most fans noticed long ago that Chuck's songwriting was heavily influenced by the Bard of Hibbing, and so early in the band's history, the group started doing an annual Bob Dylan birthday show. This tradition began long before I joined and continued onwards after I left. Each spring we'd shut down for a month and learn about 40 Dylan songs, rehearsing many with guest artists. On the Saturday night closest to his birthday, we'd play through the whole gamut, nothing but an entire evening of Dylan. Over the years they gained in popularity, and former band members carry on the tradition to this day. We also occasionally did an Elvis birthday show and I remember us having conversations about doing ones for Van Morrison and Hank Williams. But the Dylan show was the only one that we did without fail, year after year.

This podcast is comprised of songs that were all taken from a single show, the Bob Dylan birthday show of 1992. This was in fact, my last performance as a member of the band. Joe "The Bone" Colombo had moved on by then (somewhere during our "long nap" through the winter of '92) and Chuck recruited Reece Campbell of the New Dylans to play keyboards with us for the show. This was a pretty good night for us, and the recording is a board tape made by Mike Rae, who recorded many of our shows. The venue was the Country Warehouse in Rochester, and I remember there being a sizeable audience that evening. I've included a number of songs featuring our guests, along with the band by ourselves.

here's the songlist:

From a Buick Six
Most Likely You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine
This Wheel's On Fire (w/ former and future CbJE member G. Elwyn Meixner, gtr/voc)*
Everything Is Broken (w/ Bill Lambert, gtr/voc)
Dear Landlord (w/ Carol Heveron, voc)
Dark Eyes (w/ Brian Horton, gtr/voc)
Solid Rock

As noted in the heading, this is Volume 1 of at least two Dylan show podcasts. Depending on how much good material I uncover, there may be one or two more. I played on five of these as a band member, but I only have tapes for '88, '91 and '92. And '92 has the best sound by far. Hope you enjoy it.

*I meant this in the sense that Gary had been a member before I joined the group, and he rejoined it after I left it. I realized later that the way I phrased that might not make sense to some folks...

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Episode Seven

Here is a brace of five songs all from a single gig in 1987. At this point, the new version of the band had been rehearsing for about six months. As you'll hear, the group was still honing its sound and we compensated for any lack of refinement with sheer raw energy. Sound quality is not great, but listenable. My clarinet is barely audible most of the time--you'll have to strain your ears a bit. On the last track "The Pin-Boy's Life," it's hard to hear me at all, but I take a solo trying channel the spirit of Albert Ayler through my clarinet. I almost make it, too... This track is notable to my ears for its ferocious groove and just plain weirdness; I'd also point out that the band's aggressiveness on this and other tracks could hold its own with just about any punk group of the era. (Note: on this track there was a substantial dropout on the tape. I did my best to make a smooth edit, but it's not very smooth...) We often played Willy Dixon's "Spoonful," and it was usually a powerful standout of our live shows. My tenor solo here is not me at my best, but I did get better, I can say that. Still, it's a song we played a lot that some might not have heard before. "Why Should I Stand Up?" has different lyrics than those on the studio album, and most subsequent performances. Chuck rewrote one of the interior verses, and the arrangement hadn't quite settled into its permanent form.

The songs are:

Why Should I Stand Up?
That's Entertainment
Why'd the Boy Throw the Clock Out the Window?
The Pin-Boy's Life

Here's the link:

Special thanks to Don Argus for sending me the tape of this show.