Thursday, July 25, 2019

Thoughts on Leon Redbone on the day of his passing, May 30, 2019

Text by Brian Dickson, 2019 / FFanzeen
Images selected by Brian Dickson from the Internet

The Internet is loaded with trap doors. Today I reached the end of one random online article or another, and there at the bottom of the page was a selection of others. And, jarringly, one of them was titled, “Leon Redbone dead at 69.” A nice feeling when that happens, isn’t it? Jump over to Google, type in the name to verify, and there you have it. That old familiar jolt when someone you really dig is gone – forever.

I discovered Leon Redbone…when? You know, I can’t even remember. Let’s see. I’ve never seen him perform live, and I greatly regret not buying a ticket to see him at Hugh’s Room in Toronto in December of 2013. He played two shows on a weekend, intimate acoustic sets that would ultimately be among his last live performances. I never caught any of his guest spots on “Saturday Night Live” in the 1970s, nor did I see him on the “The Tonight Show” in the ‘80s and ‘90s. And I only recently learned of his stint at the Mariposa Folk Festival in 1972, and how he became exposed to a wider audience with an assist from Bob Dylan. This would lead to his signing with Warner Bros. and the release of his debut album, On the Track, in 1975.

I do have five of his albums on compact disc, though: On the Track, Champagne Charlie (1978), Red to Blue (1985), Christmas Island (1987) and Whistling in the Wind (1994). Island was sought out solely for Leon’s duet with Dr. John on “Frosty the Snowman,” but that album has been a Christmastime favorite at our house ever since. [Author’s note: Their rendition of “Frosty” takes on entirely new meaning this Christmas, as Dr. John has, in somewhat perplexing fashion, passed away only a week after Leon, on June 6, 2019.] But, for the life of me, I can’t remember when I became tuned in to Leon’s music and his rag-timey charm. And that seems just about right: mission accomplished on Redbone’s part. He once said, however, “I don’t do anything mysterious on purpose. I’m less than forthcoming, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m mysterious. It just means I’m not inclined to go there.”

The statement issued by his family today echoes the humor and eccentricity of his craft, and of the man’s enigmatic persona throughout his life in music:

“It is with heavy hearts we announce that early this morning, May 30th, 2019, Leon Redbone crossed the delta for that beautiful shore at the age of 127. He departed our world with his guitar, his trusty companion Rover, and a simple tip of his hat. He’s interested to see what Blind Blake, Emmett, and Jelly Roll have been up to in his absence, and has plans for a rousing sing-along number with Sári Barabás. An eternity of pouring through texts in the Library of Ashurbanipal will be a welcome repose, perhaps followed by a shot or two of whiskey with Lee Morse, and some long overdue discussions with his favorite Uncle, Suppiluliuma I of the Hittites. To his fans, friends, and loving family who have already been missing him so in this realm he says, ‘Oh behave yourselves. Thank you…and good evening everybody.”

Not long ago my wife and I had a nice little gas fireplace installed in a back room of our house, the one that leads out to the deck and then to the back yard. During cold winter months here in Ontario Canada, on nights when the wind and snow are howling outside and I am warm by the fire with my bulldog on the rug by my feet, I like to sip on an aged rye whiskey over ice while the firelight ripples across the ceiling. For a scene such as this Leon’s music is custom-made, and I felt a playlist of favorites would be just the ticket. And after a night or two of ‘settin’ by the fire,’ I was good with the arrangement of tunes on my list, and I made a copy on CD for my older brother. He spends a lot of time in his workshop; he occasionally enjoys a whiskey on the rocks, and the shop’s got stereo speakers and a big ol’ wood stove.

Here is the track list for that mixed disc. Another reason for my renewed interest in Redbone at the time was that I’d just discovered he’d released what would be his last album of new recordings, 2014’s Flying By.

Note: An excellent documentary short film called “Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone” was uploaded to YouTube today. Have a look, it’s good. 

Monday, July 22, 2019

The River Jacks, Rosalind, Alberta: July 20, 2019

Text and photos (c) Robert Barry Francos

This weekend - okay, yesterday - I attended a wedding reception in the small Alberta (Canada) town of Rosalind. The band that played there was the River Jacks.

Now, I'm more punker than a C&W guy, but this group was tight.  Yes, there were lots of covers I didn't recognize, not being up on the latest country hits (I was more of a country fan up-to 1975) and  they took me by surprise. I actually stayed longer than planned to hear them. That being said, they did a killer and much different version of "Take Another Little Piece of My Heart," one of the few pieces I did recognize.

The River Jacks are well known around the Camrose area (if I got the story straight, Chad went to Bawlf school with the Maid of Honor), and I'm not surprised. They are (alphabetically):

Tom Lichak (vox, guitar, bass)
Jeff Orom (drums / vox)
Myra Marshall (vox /guitar)
Garrett Richard (bass)
Chad Szott (guitar/vox)

If you get the chance to see them play at some fair or wedding or corporate event, and you're in a C&W bent, check 'em out.

Friday, July 5, 2019


Text by Nancy Neon Foster / FFanzeen, 1986
Introduction by Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2019
Images from the Internet

This article was originally published in FFanzeen, issue #14, dated 1986. It was written by the effervescent North Carolinian native Nancy Foster, now better known as Nancy Neon.

To be honest, I still am pretty unfamiliar with this Georgia-based band. They were mostly around for the period of 1981 through 1989, but have reunited on and off over the years. Often, they are compared to the scene that gave us quirky college rock bands like R.E.M., Pylon and Let’s Active. In total they produced one EP, four studio albums, nine singles, and a later live album. – RBF, 2019

Guadalcanal Diary has been lumped in with the Athens and Southeast scene. Yet, they are really a Marietta, GA, band with diverse influences that come together to make an arresting, hybrid. Some connect them with the Byrds-like jingle/jangle magic of R.E.M., others try to pigeon-hole them with the so-called country punk of Jason and the Scorchers and Rank and File.

Yet, Guadalcanal Diary defies categorization. Just as the Athens / Atlanta / Marietta axis is a crossroads where lots of transient influences and ideas meet, so is Guadalcanal Diary a blend of several styles. Whereas some bands sound like a variety show, jumping from one genre to another, they diversify without being incoherent; they’re stylized without being static or predictable.

I love the way they put the headbangers off guard with startling versions of Cab Calloway’s “Minnie the Moocher,” a decidedly non-headbanging, esoteric version of “Johnny B. Goode,” and a scathing, sarcastic rendering of Syndicate of Sound’s “Hey Little Girl.”

It is, however, their original material that really bewilders. Murray Attaway, the lead singer / guitarist’s command post is the eye of the storm. He stands at attention in the middle of the twin cyclones of Jeff Wallis and Rhett Crowe, who whirl dervish-like on either side.

They set up a scenario that is both musically and visually thrilling. Before their show, we had been talking about how someone who had been talking about how the dBs fail to push the audience past a certain point of excitement. I was coming out against histrionics and spoon-fed hysteria. They agreed, but they said that they, themselves, did not put an emphasis on entertainment. However, the spontaneous combustion that takes place onstage ignites because of their love for, and dedication to, their music. This isn’t choreography or rock star flexing, or self-parody.

We talked about how certain acts like Billy Idol had been reduced to a set of conventional poses, i.e., the pout and the fist. What you’re seeing with Guadalcanal Diary isn’t showbiz, it’s pure joy.

The band expresses some concern that their New York City Christmas Holiday ’84 debut had not ben auspicious. Yet, it was so inspiring to see them gradually win over the Peppermint Lounge Saturday night crowd, many of whom resembled “Dance Fever” outtakes as opposed to music lovers. Despite that obstacle, they bombarded the audience with their high-quality material. Pure Pop for Now People was “Pillow Talk.” Rhett Crowe was so powerful on bass, and despite what some myopic critics say about kudzu-covered confederate bodies, she is definitely female. Her grass skirt with t-shirt, lei, and cowboy boots was the fashion statement of the year. It’s the perfect embodiment of their cross-cultural pollination. It's what you wear to a “Watusi Rodeo.”

Being in a changing environment, experiencing the class of Old World Southern values and the modernization of cities like Atlanta is part of what establishes the tension in their music. When I asked whether being from the South brought a certain romantic and mystical element to their music, Rhett agreed. Religion is a big theme with songs like “Walking in the Shadows of the Big Man” (“Big Man” meaning God) and “Why Do the Heathen Rage?” The latter is highly reminiscent of fellow Southerners from Memphis, Big Star, circa 1974 [Big Star’s singer, Alex Chilton, sang “The Letter” and “Cry Like a Baby with the Box Tops – NF, 1986].

When asked if something about the water in Athens area makes great pop with a twist, the guys confided that once the B-52s made it, “lots of bands came out of the woodwork.” They are, as I am, amazed how every band with a Rickenbacker is called “Post-R.E.M.”

Other than their home state, they also share a producer with R.E.M., Don Dixon of Chapel Hill, NC. Dixon was suggested by their rec rod company, DB. They have played dates with the Psychedelic Furs, Beat Rodeo, the Bongos, R.E.M., etc. They get some of their best reactions in Rome, GA, Louisville, KY, Richmond, VA, etc.

One of the most unusual places they played was Greensboro, NC’s Secret Garden, which had a garden in front of the stage. Back to the show: the groovy Georgia quartet gradually won over the basically stoic audience. Enlightenment is usually a gradual process. Yet when Guadalcanal Diary moved in for the kill on “Trail of Tears,” it was musical cataclysm. Murray Attaway was especially moved and moving on this one. Maybe it was my own mist, but he looked misty-eyed.

Guadalcanal Diary accomplished a lot on their second New York City gig, especially for a band on an indie label with little exposure. Rave reviews of the album, heavy airplay for “Watusi Rodeo” and a push on their video is remedying that fast!

“Watusi Rodeo” was the rave-up of the night. Their Western influences (they did Johnny Horton, George Jones, etc.) showed on this hilarious portrait of a rodeo star doing his thing on a rhino, much to the dismay of African natives. Is this an exaggerated analogy of being a hardcore Southerner in the wilds of the North? It is culture shock for both parties.

As Jeff and Rhett said, “You can be wild in New York City and have no one give you a second glance. But once they hear a Southern accent, you’re an instant curio item.”

When I said that I thought it was a healthy trend for bands like R.E.M., Let’s Active, and themselves to stay in their hometowns instead of automatically moving to New York because of the changes it could cause in their perspective and the music, Rhett said, “I couldn’t live in New York City. It gives me claustrophobia. I think Southerners are very close to the land; very territorial. Like, my father lived his whole life in Smyrna (Georgia),” and they really want to keep the influences and change out. They would build a wall, if they could.

This was intriguing me. It was all becoming clearer: the world is changing so fast and vales are changing, too. In this modern world, the Old South seems like an ancient culture. It’s solid and secure. People like the music and are intrigued with the perspective because it’s exotic – all those snake handlers and faith healers. The Southern world seems as far away from cosmopolitan New York City as Hong Kong.

Guadalcanal Diary invites you on a trip into another world full of beauty, soul and mysticism.