Dr. Harp – Blues for food

In the latest example of the music scene giving back to those in need, a blues show benefiting Friends of Forgotten Children will be held on November 22 at their headquarters in Concord.  The family-friendly event begins at 3 in the afternoon, and features two of the area’s most venerable bands, Dr. Harp’s Blues Revue, along with the Brooks Young Band.

The show is free to the public, but guests are urged to bring a frozen turkey.  “It’s a first-time event,” says the organization’s director Andy Barnes.  “If we get 60 turkeys, I’ll be thrilled.” Donations of other perishable food items or cash are also welcome – the suggested amount is $10.

Friends of Forgotten Children are the Concord area’s largest private service provider.  “First and foremost, we’re a food pantry,” says Barnes. “We serve over 5,000 families a year.”  Their pantry also stocks items like soap, detergent and toothbrushes, that can’t be purchased with food stamps.

Tough economic times have caused demand for the organization’s services to grow, says Barnes.  “We’re on a pace to be up about 30 percent higher than it was last year.”

The idea for a benefit came after Dennis “Dr. Harp” Martin had a conversation with Brian Tilton, host of the weekday Bulldog Live program on Bow talk radio station WTPL-FM.

Dr. Harp asked his longtime friend for help locating a venue for a show to help feed hungry families at Thanksgiving. “Immediately, I thought of Friends of Forgotten Children,” says Tilton.

Bulldog made a quick call to Barnes, and the wheels for the benefit concert were in motion.

“Dr. Harp is giving a very special gift to the community,” says Tilton.  “I have no doubt it will respond well to enjoying a free concert in exchange for donating a turkey, cash or other food items to help the needy of our community.  It’s a perfect fit.”

Asked why it’s important to do this kind of event, Martin says simply, “I’m going to sit down with 15 people in my family [for the holidays]. I’m fortunate enough to have a home now, and I know what it’s like, because I’ve been on that other end of that – going to a soup kitchen just to have a Thanksgiving dinner.”

Martin’s four-piece band specializes in the driving boogie blues popularized by Johnny Winter, George Thorogood and the J. Geils Band; a sound that owes equal debts to Chuck Berry and John Lee Hooker.  Martin took up the harmonica at age 10; over a 30-year professional career, he’s performed all over the world, including the former Soviet Union, and opened for everyone from B.B. King to Steppenwolf.

Brooks Young is a rising star in the blues world. He and Martin met at a Dr. Harp-hosted open mike night at Blues-ology in Belmont a few years back and have been friends since.  “He’s a great guitarist, very focused and he’s doing well,” says Martin.

Young has sat in on guitar with the Dr. Harp Blues Revue Band in the past. Lately, he’s been in the studio working on an upcoming album of original material, and will share the stage with James Montgomery and J. Geils in Franklin next month.

 

Who: Dr. Harp’s Blues Revue Band, Brooks Young Band

Where: 224 Bog Road, Concord

When: Sunday, November 22 3 – 7p.m.

Admission: Frozen turkey, perishable food items or $10

For More: www.fofc-nh.org

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Donna Jean – No time like now

During the Sixties, she was present at the creation of many legendary R&B records at the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, and spent most of the next decade singing in rock’s most successful touring band, the Grateful Dead.

But for Donna Jean Godchaux, there is no time better than now.

“I have a much clearer idea of who I am as a vocalist as well as a person and so I have a lot more confidence,” Godchaux said recently from her home in Florence, Alabama. “I’ve never had the liberty that I have now, both in my songwriting, in my singing, in my life and every expression of who I am and so it comes through … I’m having the time of my life.”

These days, music is a family affair – husband David Mackay plays in Godchaux’s band, and both of her children are successful musicians. Zion Rock Godchaux, her son with late Grateful Dead piano player Keith Godchaux, is one half of the dance rock duo Boombox, while Kinsman Mackay leads the hip-hop Grown Folks Band.

All three bands performed at last summer’s Grateful Fest at Nelson Ledges Quarry Park in Ohio. Though their musical styles don’t exactly mesh, Godchaux seized the moment.

“I got to sing with both of my children,” says Godchaux, the excitement rising in her voice. “Call it our golden years or however you want to say it – we have everything going for us as a family.”

Musically, the Donna Godchaux Band featuring Jeff Matson, opening for Dark Star Orchestra at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium on Saturday, November 21, is never far from the band that brought Godchaux to fame. “I’m not gonna get away from that, and neither is Jeff,” she says, “Our musical history, heritage and everything that’s valuable to us in music really comes out in the that kind of expression.”

To that end, a typical DGB set includes “St. Stephen,” “Bertha,” “Samson and Delilah” and other Dead chestnuts. But, says Godchaux, “this band has a little bit more range in what it does in that we’re really incorporating the soulful Muscle Shoals and Memphis sound, as well as reaching very deeply into our Grateful Dead roots.” The band’s original songs, many recorded for the 2008 release, Donna Jean and the Tricksters, reflect those influences.

As a teenager, Godchaux lived across the river from Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, where soul greats Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Arthur Conley and others recorded. “The stars fell on Alabama, and there was a great surge of energy directly at this little Podunk west Alabama burg,” says Godchaux.

“I got studio fever at age 12, and by the time I was 15, I was singing on demos,” she says. “By high school, I was singing on hit records.” Godchaux backed Percy Sledge on “When A Man Loves A Woman,” and sang as part of the three-woman group “Southern Comfort” on records by Elvis Presley and Cher.

Duane Allman later became a member of the Muscle Shoals house band, and rockers like the Rolling Stones and Traffic began making the pilgrimage to Alabama, looking for that special sound. One of them was Boz Scaggs, who recorded his eponymous debut album there.

Godchaux, who sang backup on “Loan Me A Dime,” says Scaggs’ record was “an anomaly as far as Muscle Shoals music goes. Most everything that had been recorded there was basically R&B, and then Boz Scaggs comes in with this kind of San Francisco R&B thing, which was very different than what we were used to. Duane Allman also had that psychedelic edge, which was not your usual Muscles Shoals fare.”

She was intrigued by the new sound, and a few months later, Godchaux left Alabama for California – a move that eventually led to her joining the Grateful Dead. But she says it was wanderlust, not music, which spurred her to head west. “I think [recording with Scaggs] contributed to my curiosity about different musical expressions from what I was used to. Everything in the studio was very arranged and very perfect and produced and pristine and that may have had a little bit to do with it.”

But, she continues, “I would have to say that I knew that I knew” – she says it twice for emphasis – “that I was supposed to go out to California. I just knew it. I don’t know how else to explain it, except that I had an itch, an urge and an inspiration to go there that I could not deny. I had to go to (Atlantic Records president) Jerry Wexler and tell him I was going to quit the voice group and all of that. You know, it’s a heavy thing. I was in the middle of a very lucrative career and I just knew that I needed to be in California. I wanted an adventure and I think I not only wanted it in the physical and the geographical sense, but I wanted it in a musical sense as well.”

When she met Keith Godchaux, neither knew the other was a musician. “Keith and I fell in love before he ever heard me sing or I ever heard him play the piano,” she says. “Keith and I got married and I came home one day and said, let’s listen to some Grateful Dead. He said, I don’t want to listen to it any more – I want to play it. I said okay, let’s go get in the band.”

The couple went to see Jerry Garcia at Keystone Korner, a San Francisco nightclub. Keith was too shy to speak with the Grateful Dead guitarist, so Donna took over. “Keith is your next keyboard player,” she told him – unaware that the band’s regular keyboard player, Ron “Pigpen” McKiernan, was sick with a liver disease that would eventually kill him.

“Once again I was in the right time and place,” says Godchaux. “Within a couple weeks, he was in the band. So it worked out!”

Local Rhythms – Tricks of the trade

I have the greatest job in the world.

For someone who considers “have you heard this?” the perfect conversation starter, being tasked with finding and exposing talented musicians is as good as it gets.

Radio, MTV, and cheap multiple band concerts used to guide my personal quest for great music. These days, the gurus have changed.

I have to work harder, but the reward is often greater.

This week, I’m going to share a few of my secrets.

First, how to pick a show?

MySpace, for all its busy purple unicorn screen noise, is still the best place to hear what a band sounds like, because everyone’s there. Before I recommend a local show, chances are I’ve streamed a song or two on MySpace.

Lately, though, I’ve been checking out ReverbNation, because it’s cleaner and more musician-centric, with a built in music player, and better event listings.

Facebook is getting better at music every day, but MySpace combines streaming and event listings more effectively. Eventually, however, I expect Facebook to bury MySpace in this department (as they have in every other way).

For local music, though, a stop at the Yellow House Media web site is a must. There are top-notch events listings and many full-length songs posted there.

When you don’t know what you’re looking for, things get challenging.

Rhapsody, Napster and a few other commercial sites will deliver channels of music based on your tastes. I think every serious music fan should have an account. For the cost of one CD a month, it’s a bargain.

But in this economy, you may not have an extra 13 to 15 bucks a month to spend. Free options like Last.fm, imeem or Pandora are good substitutes.

Search for music on Google and you’ll probably get a link to lala.com, a recent entrant into the digital music market. It’s a hybrid of Rhapsody and iTunes that charges ten cents a song stream.

Lala has a compelling fan playlist component, but I expect the dime-a-dance aspect will get old fast.

If you have cable or satellite television, you may have Sirius/XM and not even know it. Pick a genre, and if you can get past the often-annoying air talent, there’s a treasure or two to be had. But there’s been a steady downhill slide in quality since the merger.

Of course, satellite is still deeper than terrestrial radio. If you’re patient, it’s worth the trouble.

On to the rest of the week:

Thursday, Nov. 19: Richard Shindell, Flying Goose – Few musicians possess the literary voice of Richard Shindell. His songs read like short stories, with an eye for detail and a knack for parable that would please fans of Raymond Carver or Flannery O’Connor. That he’s not an international star in a world where Bon Jovi sells out football stadiums is, to my mind anyway, a crime against good taste. Go see him and you won’t be disappointed.

Friday, Nov. 20 Two Man Gentleman Band, Salt hill Pub – Is Dr. Demento still on the radio? He’d love this duo. Though you can’t dance to them (a liability in any other bar), they’re a lot of fun, with songs that touch on everything from bar snobbery (“Fancy Beer”) to the girth of America’s largest President, “William Howard Taft.” They can be bawdy too – one of their songs is called “When Your Lips Are Playing My Kazoo.”

Saturday, Nov. 21: Spectris, East Buffet – The progressive rockers turned power trio have a new album, Industry, with touches of metal and blues along with the spacey stuff.  Bassist Josh Mosher anchors a more aggressive, guitar-forward sound that takes its cues from power trios like Tool (and Rush, which means they haven’t completely forsaken their progressive rock roots). East Buffet is a fun music room too.

Sunday, Nov. 22: Tuck’s Rock Dojo Show, Windsor Station – Guitarist Tuck Stocking spent time with many area bands, most notably Syd and Conniption Fits, before turning his attention to teaching young musicians. Tonight Tuck showcases his students – SWAGG, No Smoking and Whether List, who cover Tom Petty, Taylor Swift, Green Day, All Time Low, Paramore, The Almost, Forever The Sickest Kids and others.

Tuesday, Nov. 24: Gillian Joy, Canoe Club – Hanover’s most musician-friendly club presents a piano player who’s been compared to George Winston – subtle but skilled, nuanced yet strong. Last year, Canoe Club impresario John Chapin called her “totally promising.” She’s been asked back several times, so things appear to be working out.

Wednesday, Nov. 25: Ted Mortimer, Quechee Inn at Marshland Farm – A true local treasure who wears many different musical hats, but is always an elegant, stylish guitarist evincing a wonderfully soft touch. Mortimer’s song selection at fine dining events like this one (prix fix, tres chic) typically draws from standards like “Misty” and “The Way You Look Tonight” – very pleasant indeed.

This Week’s Hippo

Trans-Siberian Orchestra comes to town this weekend, and I spoke with founding member and musical director Bob Kinkel, who told me:

“We never want to do the same thing twice, we always want to do better,” says founding member Bob Kinkel. “We keep raising the bar and then we go ‘Oh no, we gotta jump over that!’ We do it to ourselves, but it’s a labor of love. It’s so worth it for us.”

I also wrote about a good benefit for a worthy cause. Blind Lemon Aid, a charity run by blues man Brian Templeton, is doing a show for the Liberty House Veteran’s Shelter:

For bluesman Brian Templeton, the idea to do a show for Liberty House Veterans Shelter came last Memorial Day, as he watched a Londonderry honor guard lay a wreath at the grave of a fallen soldier. Afterward, a representative from Liberty House, a Manchester transitional home founded in 2004 by Vietnam veteran Don Duhamel, talked about the organization and its mission. During his remarks, the speaker mentioned problems at the shelter with a leaking roof. Said Templeton in a recent telephone interview, “I had this vision in my mind of these guys that fought for our country, and not only are they homeless, but there’s water leaking on their heads.”

Nite Roundup looks at other weekend options.

 

Local Rhythms – Still a small town

MariaMuldaur25web-25This week’s column begins a bit off-topic, but stick with me.  It gets back to music eventually.

Though I try to steer clear of politics in this space, a meme circulating after last week’s resounding win by pro-growth forces in local elections forces me to weigh in.  The results, say the losers, prove that Claremont isn’t a small town any more.  If we talked more and knew each other better, they say, things would have turned out differently,

The opposite is true. This was Claremont’s first Facebook election, and it proves we’re more connected than ever.

The pro-growth S.O.S. group used Facebook very effectively to support their positions and debunk their opposition – practically in real time.  I don’t diminish the power of a letter to the editor – heck, I write for a newspaper.  But the immediacy of information during this election cycle, coupled with an ongoing comment dialogue, was a very energizing force.

Back in the 1990s, these conversations happened slowly and selectively, at church coffee hours or during civic gatherings.  The very nature of the meetings limited participation.

Today, it’s possible to be out of the room but still in the loop.  I learned much more about this election from written exchanges than face-to-face conversations.

Here’s the important part – it brought me closer to the action.

Ubiquitous technology is a powerful and democratizing force.  The pro-growth forces understood this, and used it to carry the day.  Their constant campaign networking went beyond anything I’ve seen in the 30 or so years I’ve been in Claremont.

Without Facebook, Nick Koloski wouldn’t have stood a chance.

The new council member used it to announce and promote his candidacy.  Before the election, I was reasonably acquainted with Nick, but it was only after we connected online that I really got to know him.

One negative in all of this is the potential for too much information.  But while choosing a side in the health care debate is like drinking the ocean, picking a mayor is more akin to floating down a river.

I’ve taken this approach with music for a long time, turning a network of possibilities into a power grid of connections that cumulatively provides me with all I need, but never stops growing and giving me more.

The net effect (no pun intended) is that there has never been a better time to be a music fan than right now – except for perhaps tomorrow.

On to the rest of the week:

Thursday, Nov. 12: Loose Cannons Acoustic, Silver Fern Grille & Bar – These guys rock pretty hard for an all acoustic band, covering guys like Clapton and the Beatles, as well as grooves from Bob Marley and Stray Cats rockabilly.  Eclectic is the word that best describes them, with a musical outlook spanning decades and styles.  Silver Fern has a great beer selection, with several draft choices and a few big Vermont craft varieties.

Friday, Nov. 13 Acoustic Truffle, Salt hill Newport – Their name comes from the Beatles song, “Savoy Truffle,” and they’ve been wowing Seacoast audiences since the mid-80’s with their blues-infused, up-tempo rock. Truffle has two incarnations; the acoustic version leaves out the drums, but keeps the energy level high on stripped-down versions of songs like “Developer’s Blues,” a tune the Dead could have called their own.

Saturday, Nov. 14: Maria Muldaur, Bellows Falls Opera House – She’s best known for her early 70s hit “Midnight at the Oasis,” but Maria Muldaur has traveled the world of music, from her early Greenwich Village folk days, when Dylan was still playing pass the hat shows, to her current combo. the good time Garden of Joy Jug Band which features a banjo, a real washtub and, of course, Muldaur’s singularly soulful voice

Sunday, Nov. 15: Celia Sings Sinatra, Canoe Club – This downtown Hanover restaurant has great food, an inventive beer list and interesting drinks.  But none of that matters to me as much as Canoe Cub’s commitment to live music, 363 days a year.  Nights like this one with Celia are particularly special – he’s a dead ringer for the Chairman of the Board, and a lot of fun to boot.

Tuesday, Nov. 17: Adam McMahon, Windsor Station – Good blues from a nice guy who’s also an Iraq veteran, while enjoying tasty bar food, a party vibe on Tuesday night and the occasional drone of a train lumbering by.  How many more reasons do you need to head to the Station to see Adam McMahon play?

Wednesday, Nov. 18: Mark & Deb Bond, Ramunto’s – Now in residency at my favorite place to get a pint and a slice (or calzone) is this musical dynamic duo, who pack a big sound into the little corner fronting Puksta Bridge.  They’re best with dreamy pop rock like Peter Gabriel or the Beatles; their pirate karaoke version of Pink Floyd’s “Breathe” is audaciously good too.

Local Rhythms – How not to run a business

Screen shot 2009-11-05 at 10.30.28 AMThis is a story about two industries, one fat and complacent, the other hungry and scrappy.

The first is record labels and the second is music.  Believe me, they’re not the same business.

Remember the fanfare last September, when the remastered Beatles catalog finally came out? Turns out EMI didn’t make enough of the most coveted item to satisfy demand.

As a result, my copy of the Beatles Stereo Box Set took nearly two months to arrive.

Big labels always blame fans for declining revenue, then sue customers and lobby Congress to do their bidding.  Yet when the most popular band in history made its biggest announcement in years, fans were made to wait in line to spend $300.  How does such a thing happen?

You’d think someone might have seen this coming.

Leave aside the fact that 10 years into the MP3 revolution, Beatles songs still aren’t sold digitally (300 USB apples don’t count as far as I’m concerned), or that the reissues contain no new material.   The suits at EMI need to spend less cash on lawyers and more on market research.

9-9-9 was the Beatles big release date.  It’s also the number that you dial in England when there’s an emergency.

I think it’s time to pick up the phone.

Contrast the behavior of annuity holders like EMI with bands that actually have to work for a living.

I’m not just talking about the musicians I write about, the ones with day jobs. Phish posts audiophile-quality soundboard mixes of every show for download. On Halloween, they played the Stones’ Exile on Main Street in its entirety.  I bought it the next day.

One of my favorite new records is Sainthood, from Canadian alterna-pop duo Tegan and Sara, not just for the bristly love songs, which are great.  I also like it for coming in enough flavors to make everyone happy.  The crazily passionate fans can buy a limited edition package with three books and a signed, one of a kind Rorschach print.  A vinyl version comes with a free CD of the pair’s last album, The Con.  Or, you can just get it on iTunes.

 

The other night at the Claremont Moose, a packed house watched the Agonist top the bill with Hexerei, TranScenT, Hung and three others.  The Agonist’s lead singer Alissa White-Gluz worked the merchandise table right up to the start of the band’s set.

That’s pretty impressive for a headliner.

If record labels reached out to their customers in the same way, things might be different.  But I’m not holding my breath.

On to the rest of the week:

Thursday, Nov. 5: John Gorka, Four Corners Grille – Gorka writes literate songs, rooted in place and time.  “Houses In The Field” looks at the costs of progress; on “Bottles Break” he crawls inside the mind of a denizen who wants nothing more than “to buy this town and keep it rough.”  “Mean Streak” would have been a smash hit if John Mellencamp recorded it. I could go on, but you should see him and get it for yourself.

Friday, Nov. 6 Heather Maloney, Sunapee Coffeehouse – A memorable season continues with singer-songwriter Maloney, whose balance of upbeat and plaintive will appeal to fans of Paula Cole, Joni Mitchell and Beth Orton.  The just-released Cozy Razor’s Edge is a taut, layered work with a big sound.  In a coffeehouse setting her songs will be quieter and intimate. Either way, Maloney is worth checking out.

Saturday, Nov. 7: Ansambl Mastika, Immanuel Episcopal Church – The band call its sound the New Balkan Uproar, a musical melding of wide-ranging influences: the clarinet ‘miroloi’ of northern Greece, Macedonian gypsy music, Serbian, Turkish, Middle Eastern chalgi, Klezmer, Bulgaria wedding band.  The list goes on, but like they used to say on American Bandstand when a song got 90 or better – it has a beat and you can dance to it.

Sunday, Nov. 8: Dartmouth Gospel Choir, Hopkins Center –This fall’s concert by the well regarded student ensemble explores heaven in its many forms– what is the afterlife?  Choir Director Wes Cunningham said in the program notes that he’s looking for “heaven on earth” with contemporary songs like “I’ll Take You There” and “Circle of Life” alongside more traditional fare – “Oh Happy Day,” “Amazing Grace” and “O Give Thanks”.

 

Tuesday, Nov. 10: Mark LeGrand, Windsor Station – Known for down-home Americana with the Lovesick Bandits and romantic country-flavored songs with his wife Sarah Munro, LeGrand is a regional treasure.  The chance to see him in an intimate setting like Windsor Station shouldn’t be missed.  The restaurant has really beefed up the musical offerings of late – it’s worth a visit.

Wednesday, Nov. 11: Tad Davis, Skunk Hollow – Tad Davis helms this weekly affair. If you’ve ever wondered whether you should take your playing to another level, this is a good starting point. Bring your axe and your songs. You have 15 minutes. The best part is that Simon Cowell is nowhere to be found, and the food’s better.