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

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.