Two Worthy Causes: Get Involved!

ELVIN BISHOP has opened his own purse strings to finance a CD to help defray medical costs for his ailing friend and mentor, LITTLE SMOKEY SMOTHERS. Afflicted with diabetes (he has lost both legs to the disease), Smothers has, as producer Dick Shurman notes, “plenty of financial wolves to keep away.” The CD, titled Chicago Blues Buddies, features studio recordings made in Chicago, plus exciting live tracks from shows in Chicago, San Francisco and Clarksdale, MS from 1992-2006, including seven never-released live cuts, plus a fascinating interview with both blues buddies conducted backstage at the Chicago Blues Festival in 1993. In an exclusive to, LINDA CAIN, owner/publisher/managing editor of the Chicago Blues Guide, offers the complete story of the Bishop-Smothers friendship and background on the CD project. All proceeds from the sales of Chicago Blues Buddies will go directly to Smothers to help defray his expenses, medical and otherwise. The album can be purchased at or at Bishop’s website, Buy several, and give ‘em to your friends. (Photo: Steve Brinin)

Musician and native-born New Yorker JEREMIAH LOCKWOOD is taking his band, The Sway Machinery, to Mali this month, with Emmy Award winning documentary filmmaker Jonathan Hock filming the event from beginning to end. Titled Pilgrimage, Hock’s film will follow Lockwood and the Sway Machinery on their extraordinary journey through the Sahara Desert and Malian recording sessions as ombudsmen of peace, reconciliation and collaborative musical discovery. Grandson of renowned Cantor Jacob Konigsberg, Lockwood is humbled at being chosen to carry the cantorial tradition deep into the Sahara. “I admire the festival organizers’ courage in having me as their first Jewish featured artist. Inviting the Sway Machinery shows that they really have their ears to the ground for new innovations in traditional music,” Lockwood says. Lockwood, the subject of a profile in the June 2008 issue of, now becomes a contributor. His self-penned “Out of Africa: Hazanut And the Blues,” reprinted from The Jewish Daily Forward, explains the animating impulse of his border crossing blend of cantorial music with the blues of African origin—a “New Jewish Music” he hopes will :bring a diasporic thread full circle.” The Sway Machinery can use your help. Please make a donation to help the band defray its expenses for the Pilgrimage Project. Click on the link here and give generously. It’s tax deductible. The band is making its appeal through an affiliation with a registered 501(3)C tax-exempt trans-denominational non-profit arts and education organization called Joodayoh, the Sway Machinery Pilgrimage Project’s founding sponsor

Had he lived, Elvis Presley would have turned 75 on January 8. Some have sought to tarnish his reputation and legacy but now, more than 32 years after his death in 1977, appreciation for Elvis the artist remains undiminished by time or by uninformed broadsides against his character and values. Curiosity about who he really was, the private Elvis, continues unabated, even after diligent research and scholarship by authors Elaine Dundy, Peter Guralnick and Ernst Jorgensen. It’s not easy to find something new to say about Elvis anymore. For one, the music speaks so profoundly still it seems enough to know about him. For another, so many of the facts of his life and career are public knowledge that little mystery remains what he did and when, if not why. In our birthday tribute to the Hillbilly Cat, we choose to attempt to investigate the latter—who was he, whom do we say he was, and what did he bequeath us? Three elements comprise this inquiry:
*A Date With Elvis—Reflections by David McGee: Thoughts on the Elvis phenomenon, the man, and the music spurred by the new four-CD box set from Legacy Recordings, Elvis75: Good Rockin’ Tonight and an accompanying exclusive interview with the world’s leading Elvis historian, ERNST JORGENSEN, who assembled the Elvis75 box set, which is only the latest of his acclaimed Elvis collections, and is the author of the essential and definitive chronicle of the artist in the studio, Elvis Presley: A Life in Music.
*Going South by Elaine Dundy—the author of the first great book about Elvis (Elvis and Gladys), who describes her late-life discovery of the power of the Presley voice, her initial research into his life, and how everything she read only raised more questions about how his personality was shaped, especially in his relationship to his mother. “I found it odd, for instance, that although Gladys, his mother, was certainly the pivotal influence of his life, his maternal line had never been explored. I was convinced that only with this kind of historical approach, with its emphasis on the interweaving of families, generations and customs, would the true meaning of Elvis' life unfold,” she writes, and then goes on in this essay to recount her introduction to Tupelo, Mississippi, to the American South, and to the people who knew Elvis and the Presley family in the boy’s youth. Taken from the late Dundy’s website, the essay is a vital addendum to her equally vital book exploring the single most critical formative influence in young Elvis’s life, as well as the Presley/Smith family’s genetic predisposition to certain afflictions that would eventually claim Gladys’s son at such a young age.
*Elvis, Private and Inscrutable—In 1978, a year after Elvis Presley’s death, came the publication of the single weirdest book ever published about the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Private Elvis, by Diego Cortez. Primarily a photo book, the small bit of text accompanying the images is something else again. In contrast to those Elvis fans who unquestioningly accept and adore all things Elvis—even “Old MacDonald”—and deny what Ernst Jorgensen refers to as “the erratic logic” of his recording career, Diego Cortez and his collaborator Duncan Smith go off the deep end the other way, turning themselves into the literary equivalent of Woody Allen’s girlfriend’s brother (fittingly portrayed by reigning cinematic psycho Christopher Walken) in Annie Hall, who tells Woody’s character of his desire to drive straight into oncoming traffic.In the end, though, their often recondite interpretations of the meaning and import of the minutiae of Elvis’s existence and its societal reverberations merit at least grudging admiration for their energy and vitality, even if these ideas careen headlong into oncoming traffic. Where else would you find a statement such as this concerning Elvis Presley? ‘The lips exercise the greatest interest: sensitive and anemone-like, their history of personal catastrophes shows his body at its most nervous, excitable, alert. To kiss the corpses that litter his past has produced a mouth of unending reverberation.’ Read on, and believe.

And to conclude our Elvis75 celebration, we offer pure, undalturated Elvis, performing on stage and on screen, in FOR EP LOVERS ONLY, a video album of Elvis in action—12 'cuts,' plus a 'bonus track.'

By David McGee

Elvis isn’t the only artist celebrating a special occasion this month. Blue Highway, one of bluegrass music’s most important and most honored bands, turns 15 in January, and is marking the occasion with the release of a new CD anthologizing some of the best music of its Rounder years (four albums, and a Rob Ickes solo album), which also includes two brand-new songs by band members Shawn Lane and Tim Stafford, plus a re-recording of one of BH’s most requested gospel tunes, “Some Day,” originally recorded for the Rebel label on the band’s debut album. In addition to a review of the album, we take in some Blue Highway history in a chat with SHAWN LANE and banjo master JASON BURLESON, in an exclusive to

Artists On the Verge 2010
We don’t give out awards per se at, but at the beginning of the new year we do like to single out new and unknown artists we think are headed for big things. Last year the spotlight was on Delta Spirit, Dawes, honeyhoney and Gabrielle Louise. This year we’re starting out with two exceptional selections whose new albums—one a debut, the other a third release—are formidable indeed.

*In ‘What, Indeed, Is In a Name?,’ we offer the first-ever profile of CHELSEA CROWELL, whose self-titled independent release introduces an artist with unusual gifts as a lyricist and a vivid imagination as an arranger and producer of her music. If the surname sounds familiar, it should: Chelsea is the daughter of Rosanne Cash and Rodney Crowell, two of the most important songwriters of our time, both of whom weigh in with their thoughts on their offspring’s musical debut.

*Roaring out of Pennsylvania with a blue-collar fury comes DESOTO RUST, with fully realized, unceasingly crunching, classic rock ‘n’ roll epic in its third album, Highway Gothic. In an issue celebrating the lasting art of Elvis Presley, we are proud to observe in this profile: ‘You don’t even have to get all the way through ‘All Riders…All Nighters,’ the leadoff track on Highway Gothic to know this band is for real, and understands rock ‘n’ roll not as some precious, artsy-fartsy intellectual endeavor (all Brooklyn bands take note), but rather as how it’s been defined in its purest form since the day in 1954 when a certain 19-year-old electric company truck driver celebrated elsewhere in this issue walked into the Memphis Recording Service and cut revved up versions of Arthur Crudup’s blues, ‘That’s All Right,’ and Bill Monroe’s bluegrass ballad, ‘Blue Moon of Kentucky.’” Chief lyricist and gritty lead singer RAY HUNTER and lead guitarist/songwriter DAVID OTWELL offer the specifics of DeSoto Rust’s modus operandi, raison d’etre and je ne sais qua.

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS by LAURA FISSINGER: ‘The Good Wife’: Headlines, Heroines, and Love Surviving Law—This month columnist Laura Fissinger waxes enthusiastic and insightful about one of her favorite new TV shows, The Good Wife, starring Julianna Margulies and Chris Noth. Contrasting the Margulies character’s animating impulse with the public demeanor of one Silda Wall Spitzer, Fissinger concludes her persuasive defense of the series thusly: ‘Somewhere pretty early in this series, the creative team behind The Good Wife made me forget about its link to Silda Wall Spitzer and all the women living through similar public scenarios. Alicia Florrick became fascinating on her own fictional merits. She and her world have grown into something worth an hour of my time every week.’ Tune in, please, to this column, and to the show.

This month’s department offers three fascinating installments from around the globe. First up is the abovementioned essay by Jeremiah Lockwood on the upcoming appearance of his band the Sway Machinery as the first Jewish artists ever to be invited to appear at the Festival In the Desert in the West African nation of Mali, a Muslim nation. ‘It is a meeting between cultures that I pray will be greeted with open arms on both sides,’ the eloquent, impassioned Lockwood writes. A followup report will be published upon his return to the States.

*From correspondent S.A. Stevens at comes word of a compelling multicultural project, CLASH OF CIVILIZATIONS from Boston-based composers Milan Kovacek (aka Hip Son) and Nikola Radan, both originally hailing from Serbia. ‘Clash of Civilizationsnot only puts musical traditions in a blender, but also sprinkles in those often taboo subjects, religion and politics,’ Stevens writes of an album he appraises as “full of searing hope and fierce optimism.”This is must reading, and the accompanying video, ‘Legacy,’ must viewing as well.

*And from FINLAND comes four men with harmonicas, collectively known as Sväng, described by correspondent Marko Latvanenasbeingrooted deeply in Finland's traditional music but also generously spiced with world music influences.’ He adds: ‘From the very beginning, Sväng have focused on writing and performing their own material and pushing the boundaries of the harmonica.’ Check out this exceptional and unusual aggregate, and enjoy a couple of live performances captured on video.

ROBERT CRUMB and his new illustrated Book of Genesis
occupy the debate this month, in a three-part colloquy (well, sort of a colloquy, even though the participants are not directly speaking to each other). In ‘So Crucify Him,’ LAURA HUDSON, Editor-in-Chief of Comics Alliance, examines the umbrage certain Christian groups have taken at the appearance of Crumb’s book. ‘The book is this bizarre cultural nexus where the hyperactive moralism and whitewashed Scriptural cherry-picking of many Christians runs headlong into the reality of a) life and b) the book that they consider literally infallible, and it's seriously incredible to sit here and watch them crash together,’ writes Hudson. In a related piece, NICK BAINES, Bishop of Croydon and also noted as one of the Church of England’s “blogging Bishops” (, weighs in on the Crumb controversy stirred up by the publication of Book of Genesis, claiming it was a bit of piffle stirred up by Mr. Leach’s call to Michael Judge of the Christian Institute—who also figures in Ms. Hudson’s piece—without which Bishop Baines asserts there would be no fuss made of Crumb’s four-year endeavor to depict the Bible’s first book in visual terms. Mr. Baines then proceeds to tick off five solid reasons for his opinion of Crumb’s latest work as ‘an excellent book and well worth the read.’ And not least of all, Crumb himself speaks, briefly, in email correspondence with a writer from the website Molossus (“An online broadside of intelligent world conversation” at seeking an interview with the fabled artist. Though he cannot grant the writer any time, Crumb does respond to a couple of email questions with typical flair, well worth reading, especially the part about him jumping on women’s back in Los Angeles. Some things never change.

GOSPEL REVIEW: IN GOD’S TIME, Barry Scott & Second Wind As an older 2009 release—June to be precise—Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver alum Barry Scott’s solo debut would seem to have passed its “sell by” mark as far as reviews are concerned. But your faithful friend and correspondent admits to overlooking it and thus comes forward begging forgiveness for his trangression. In God’s Time is one memorable gospel album, an outstanding display of high caliber musicianship, stirring harmonies and well crafted original songs, all serving Scott’s various messages about the nature of faith and the Heavenly experience as well as the tribulations besetting people of faith.

Sadly, we mark the passing of two of our heroes: ARNOLD STANG, nerd par excellence and the voice of Top Cat; and the epitome of cool as Amos Burke and Bat Masterson, GENE BARRY. Not only do we celebrate their achievements in prose, but this month’s VIDEO FILE is nothing less than a tribute to their work in film and television. Check out the Burke’s Law clip of Annette Funicello cast against type—for the only time in her career, as far as we could determine—as a go-go dancer and murder suspect in swingin’ ‘60s L.A.

ALBUM SPOTLIGHT: LIVE ANTHOLOGY, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers by JC Costa—In the liner notes accompanying this four-CD collection’s notes, Tom Petty says “the Heartbreakers have always been a live band first,” because “that’s where the blood gets spilled.” In his appraisal of the collection, our man JC Costa agrees, adding: “Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers: The Live Anthology­­could easily serve as a primer for what defines great American rock and roll.” Read on, rock on.

ALBUM SPOTLIGHT: HERE TO SAVE YOUR SOUL, The Jim Jones Revue by Christoper HillThe Jim Jones Revue practices a musical ethos that revels in tempting chaos. You listen in horrified fascination waiting for this careening thing to hit a wall or just fall apart at the seams. The band is here to remind everyone that there is no cataclysm like a rock and roll cataclysm. To show that the beast has sloughed off its old skin and emerged newly fanged, clawed and alive.

DUETS, The Blind Boys of Alabama—The Blind Boys of Alabama need no help in shaking a listener’s soul to its foundation. Still, every so often they’ve been asked to or have invited others to participate in one-off duet events. Finally, some of those—tracing a 15-year-history—are anthologized on Duets.

YOU GOT TO MOVE, David Maxwell & Louisiana Red David Maxwell and Louisiana Red, two masters of the blues craft, got together in a studio one fine day in 2007—“nothing planned, no song list (a few ideas), no ‘producer,’ according to the album liner notes—and went where their collective muse led them. In the end they emerged with a fine, unfiltered musical dialogue with a carefree, spontaneous spirit and appealing warmth emanating from seasoned pros that speak the same language.

BETWEEN A ROCK AND THE BLUES, Joe Louis WalkerOn a unique journey through the blues that has taken him through gospel, Memphis soul, Latin music (2002’s Pasa Tiempo, a meshing of blues, soul and R&B with a Latin foundation), funk and rock ‘n’ roll, Joe Louis Walker, with another able assist from producer Duke Robillard, gets back to the basics on Between A Rock And the Blues, his 20th album.

THE OTHER SIDE OF TOWNE, Grasstowne— Centered on the veteran artistry of Phil Leadbetter, Steve Gulley and Alan Bibey, with banjo man Jason Davis and bassist Travis Greer rounding out a formidable lineup, Grasstowne makes a memorable start in planting its collective foot solidly among the finest traditional bluegrass practitioners of the day.

NO FOOL FOR TRYING, Madison Violet Rarely has an album so tenaciously subdued seemed so electric. The Canadian duo known as Madison Violet—Brenley MacEachern and Lisa MacIsaac (sister of the duly celebrated fiddler extraordinaire Ashley MacIsaac)—ditch the alt-country of their previous (and second) album, Caravan, and turn fiercely inward, lyrically and musically. Their lovely, fragile voices betray influences ranging from the Scottish highlands to the Appalachians (not so far apart, when you think about it, except geographically); their enveloping melancholy evokes Lucinda Williams’s awe at seeing God’s hand moving mercilessly across the land and lives; their lyrics—now elliptical, now bluntly and personally piercing—are suffused with silences, too. In sum, No Fool For Trying sounds as if it might be an aural counterpart to an Ingmar Bergman film, saying as much in its pauses and hesitations and in its doggedly restrained musical accompaniment as Bergman’s tortured characters do in their lacerating internal monologues.

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Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
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