february 2011

Late Breaking Urgent News:

Engineer Roger Nichols, Diagnosed With Cancer, Needs Help

nicholsRoger Nichols, one of the great recording engineers of the modern era, whose resume includes a long association with Steely Dan (the group and its members’ solo projects) and projects for Roseanne Cash, The Beach Boys, John Denver, Rickie Lee Jones, Take 6, Johnny Winter, Placido Domingo and others too numerous to mention here, was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer this past summer. Medical costs have nearly bankrupted his family, and supporters are appealing to the music community—fans, musicians, critics, industry execs, et al.—to make contributions to ease the load on the family. Read George Peterson’s EQ Magazine blog on Roger’s plight and achievements here, and donate whatever you can to help out a good guy who has assisted in the creation of a multitude of wonderful music.

Reality Check

debraThe bigger picture of the Tuscon shootings, from Debra Hughes, author of Albuquerque in Our Time: 30 Voices, 300 Years. She is a native of New Mexico, and her writing about the state’s land conservation was awarded an International Regional Magazine Award. Hughes and her husband and their two sons call southern Arizona and northern New Mexico home. In her essay “The Tucson Shootings: Words and Deeds” published in the Winter 2011 edition of Narrative magazine, she notes: The Tucson shooting and its aftermath are being followed around the world, especially in places where violence is a problem. Venezuelan magazine editor Sergio Dahbar wrote, “The Giffords shooting is being followed very closely in Latin America because we also have this illness. We have the illness of intolerance.” A well-known maxim from Victor Hugo commenting on unrest in France in the 1830s runs, “The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but the one who causes the darkness.”

frankFrank Rich, The New York Times, ‘Wallflowers At the Revolution’, February 5, 2011, commenting on the American media’s fixation with social media as a driving force in the Egyptian protests against President Mubarak’s repressive government:

Perhaps the most revealing window into America’s media-fed isolation from this crisis—small an example as it may seem—is the default assumption that the Egyptian uprising, like every other paroxysm in the region since the Green Revolution in Iran 18 months ago, must be powered by the twin American-born phenomena of Twitter and Facebook. Television news—at once threatened by the power of the Internet and fearful of appearing unhip—can’t get enough of this cliché.

The social networking hype eventually had to subside for a simple reason: The Egyptian government pulled the plug on its four main Internet providers and yet the revolution only got stronger. “Let’s get a reality check here,” said Jim Clancy, a CNN International anchor, who broke through the bloviation on Jan. 29 by noting that the biggest demonstrations to date occurred on a day when the Internet was down. “There wasn’t any Twitter. There wasn’t any Facebook,” he said. No less exasperated was another knowledgeable on-the-scene journalist, Richard Engel, who set the record straight on MSNBC in a satellite hook-up with Rachel Maddow. “This didn’t have anything to do with Twitter and Facebook,” he said. “This had to do with people’s dignity, people’s pride. People are not able to feed their families.”


‘Admirable, Principled, Conscientious’
In our September 2009 issue, we paid tribute to Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who had passed away in August but left behind a marvelous legacy in her aggressive, unstinting leadership of the Special Olympics. Mrs. Shriver’s husband, R. Sargent Shriver, who died from complications from Alzheimer’s Disease on January 18, lived a remarkable life himself, one that benefitted an untold number of lives, here and abroad. Rejected as a Presidential candidate after serving in the JFK administration, he returned to public service and for the rest of his life succeeded in being a positive force in the world, all the while keeping a low profile for a man with such high-profile connections. His daughter, Maria Shriver, was better known than her father, both as an NBC News reporter and as the wife of former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Shriver’s politics were a mix of liberal and conservative values—he was anti-war, as George McGovern’s running in 1972, and anti-abortion, as signatory to “A New Compact of Care: Caring about Women, Caring for the Unborn,” as published in the New York Times in July 1992—and rather than being considered a political chameleon, he was respected by both sides. Writing in American Conservative on January 24, 2011, Daniel Larson noted: “Shriver was an admirable, principled, and conscientious man who respected the dignity and sanctity of human life, and he also happened to be a contemporary and in-law of Kennedy. Not only did Shriver represent a ‘link’ with JFK, but he represented a particular culture of white ethnic Catholic Democratic politics that has been gradually disappearing for the last fifty years. A pro-life Catholic, Shriver had been a founding member of the America First Committee, and more famously he was also on the 1972 antiwar ticket with George McGovern. In short, he represented much of what was good in the Democratic Party of his time.”

Most impressive, though, were the reflections of Shriver’s biographer (Sarge: The Life and Times of Sargent Shriver), Scott Stosell. In his column “The Good Works of Sargent Shriver,” published January 18 at The Atlantic online, Stosell put Shriver’s achievements in proper, and daunting, perspective, noting in part:

I won't spend much time here rehearsing his many achievements and his historical importance—I spent more than 700 pages doing that in my book. But I do want to emphasize a few things. As I wrote in the biography, Shriver's achievements make him one of the major figures of the second half of the twentieth century. Among many other things, those accomplishments include:

*His pivotal role in getting John F. Kennedy elected President in 1960;
*Leading JFK's "talent hunt," staffing the cabinet and the upper levels of the Administration;
*Founding and leading the Peace Corps;
*Launching Head Start, Legal Services for the Poor, VISTA, and many other programs critical to the War on Poverty;
*Presiding over the Paris Peace Talks on Vietnam;
*Helping his wife to found the Special Olympics;
*Cultivating a generation of public servants who will continue to exert a powerful influence on American history for years to come.

It is, as my wife (herself a former Head Start teacher) said recently, "criminal" that Shriver is not better known. (She also says that no one she has ever met better exemplified the best parts of the Christian faith.) And a good case can be made that Shriver, through the programs he started and ran, and through the generation of public servants he inspired, may have positively affected more people around the world than any twentieth century American who was not a President or other major elected official or Martin Luther King.

Many well-meaning pundits and journalists go for the easy “America is diminished by his/her loss…” when attempting to pay tribute to a meaningful life, but in the case of R. Sargent Shriver’s passing, the sentiment is warranted. He was a rare breed, difficult, at best, to replace.—David McGee


Enough Already!

xtinaWe’ve had all we can take of Christina Aguilera trashing the national anthem. Impossible as it may seem, she was even worse at the Super Bowl than she was at the 2010 NBA Finals, when she sang the anthem prior to the start of Game 6 between the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics. Essentially unlistenable that night, she was inexplicably invited to return for a repeat performance before Game 7, upon which occasion reasonable people would agree she sucked and blew simultaneously.

Certain members of TheBluegrassSpecial.com staff witnessed her appearance before Game 6 this past June in the company of enthusiastic Lakers and Celtics fans at the MGM Grand Sports Book in Las Vegas (the Lakers contingent far outnumbering that of Boston’s, L.A. being but 300 miles away from Sin City). To her credit, Ms. Aguilera proved a unifying force, as Lakers and Celtics fans stood side by side in enmity towards her, hooting and booing the bottled blonde (or bewigged—either way it’s fake) wobbling onto the court. As one they howled, “Sit down! You suck!” Whereupon the hapless harlot spasmed and convulsed her way through a tortured approximation of a soul singer that would not have survived the first round of American Idol. Hers was the nadir of big-game national anthems…until she showed up in Dallas and lowered the bar to a sub-aquatic level. By our count, her self-immolation at the Super Bowl was strike three, and she’s out, big time. Take note, Brooklyn Cyclones, a minor league affiliate of the woebegone New York Mets, which, in keeping with the franchises’s dismal history (the latest shame: the team owners are now implicated in the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme), apparently has attempted to book Aguilera to sing the anthem at one of its home games this coming season. In response, we urge fans to stage Cairo-like demonstrations of protest before Aguilera can trash herself and our country’s anthem again. Because when you’re trashing the national anthem, you’re walkin’ on the fightin’ side of us. Was Martina McBride booked on Super Bowl Sunday? How about Kermit the Frog? Tyler Perry as Moms Mabley could have done a better job. Even better, maybe pro teams in all sports should simply forget about hiring contemporary, vocally challenged, manufactured celebs to make fools of themselves in public and instead install on their stadiums’ giant video screens, as the official kickstart to all signal events, the clip of Marvin Gaye’s nuanced, soulful, still unsurpassed performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the 1983 NBA All-Star Game. To paraphrase Jimi Hendrix, “May you never hear Christina Aguilera again.” Don’t even get us started on the Black Eyed Peas at halftime…

For reference, here’s a woman who could sing…

Janis Joplin on the Tom Jones Show, ‘Little Girl Blue’ (1969)


(Charlie Louvin photo by Sanford Myers)

By David McGee

An appraisal of the life and times of Charlie Louvin, reaction to his passing on January 26, plus an unabridged 2007 Q&A with Charlie prior to the release of his self-titled album for the Tompkins Square label. In talking about the new album, which happened to be populated by several songs made famous by the Louvin Brothers, Charlie began reflecting on his life and times with Ira and turned our meeting into a history lesson.

Our tribute to Charlie Louvin also includes:
*‘A Real Human Being Who Left No Question Of Where He Stood’
By Rhonda Vincen
Exclusive to TheBluegrassSpecial.com
In a piece penned exclusively for this publication, Queen of Bluegrass Rhonda Vincent remembers with warm affection her close personal and professional relationship with Charlie Louvin. Also, tribute to Charlie Louvin from: TERRY SMITH and JAMIE JOHNSON of THE GRASCALS; VALERIE SMITH and BECKY BULLER of VALERIE SMITH & LIBERTY PIKE; J. GREGORY HEINKIE of BELL BUCKLE RECORDS and the BELL BUCKLE CAFÉ; and MIKE T. LEWIS of the TWANGTOWN PARAMOURS.



rattle the pots and pans and stir up a heaping helping of energized traditional bluegrass at the same time.
By David McGee


Mike T. Lewis and MaryBeth Zamer—aka THE TWANGTOWN PARAMOURS—make sweet music on stage, on record, and at home.
By David McGee


Grounded spiritually and musically, THE ROYS grab the brass ring on Lonesome Whistle
By David McGee


Champagne Charlie Cutting New Album of American Hobo Songs
By David McGee


Holland’s blues and roots masters CHAMPAGNE CHARLIE are examining American hobo life in song on their next album. In an exclusive international preview, the band’s lead singer, SJEF HERMANS, discusses the forthcoming long player and how his countrymen are viewing America at the Obama administration’s halfway mark. (Photo by Jan van den Berg)


A Bill Monroe Centennial Moment


Let the rest of America celebrate Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday. At TheBluegrassSpecial.com, we’re more interested in honoring BILL MONROE, the father of bluegrass, who would be celebrating his own centennial come September. In honor of this impending momentous occasion, we are presenting monthly installments chronicling how Mr. Bill’s music and/or personality influenced the music of his time. This month: “When CARL PERKINS Discovered Bill Monroe’s Music.” Also, a report on plans for a Bill Monroe celebration on a grand scale—in fact—it has already started—at the INTERNATIONAL BLUEGRASS MUSIC MUSEUM in Owensboro, KY, a short shot down the road from Mr. Bill’s birthplace in Rosine. EARL SCRUGGS, STEVE MARTIN and THE PUNCH BROTHERS are among the all-star bluegrassers scheduled to show up to honor the father of bluegrass over the course of three festivals taking place between June and September. All the pertinent details and contact info can be found here.


cash bootlegALBUM SPOTLIGHT: JOHNNY CASH, From Memphis To Hollywood: Bootleg Vol. 2 The overarching theme of this overview is the artist’s continuing quest to define himself through his music. There’s not necessarily blood on these tracks, but verily, there is real sweat, real work in relentless pursuit of an expansive vision of himself, his time, his country. Ride this train.


The Ascendant Moment
By David McGee

Couldn’t Stand The Weather was the 1984 followup to Texas Flood. After a year of steady touring SRV and Double Trouble—bassist Tommy Shannon and drummer Chris Layton—were a well-oiled unit, having been together since 1981 and, since Texas Flood’s release, on the road for a year and half solid. Now they were playing with even greater power and confidence than they had displayed so impressively on Texas Flood. With John Hammond behind the board as executive producer and weighing in with pithy, on the mark observations about the performances that helped steer the whole exercise in the right direction, Stevie Ray and company cut loose, and you can sense exactly how loose in what became the album’s opening cut…


By Michael Sigman

Reflections on a great American songwriter, spurred by a reading of his new book, Finishing the Hat, which, our roving contributor Michael Sigman reports, ‘comes as close to holiness as many a religious text.’


News & Notes

NEWS & NOTES: Michael Cleveland Strengthens Flamekeeper Lineup by Adding Charlie Cushman
As good as they are, Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper is getting better with the addition to its lineup of Charlie Cushman, one of the most respected banjo players on the scene.

haranNEWS & NOTES: When The Moon Was Blue
By David McGee
, an exalted practitioner of the Great American Songbook, whose exquisite voice graced many a classic pop tune but especially favored and ennobled those of Lorenz Hart, died on February 5 in Deerfield Beach, FL. Two days earlier she had been struck by a car while bicycling and never regained consciousness. Ms. Haran emerged at the end of the golden age of cabaret in New York City, fittingly at one of the era’s foremost establishments, The Ballroom. She made an immediate impact as a classy, inventive stylist and a classy woman to boot, one who seemed thoroughly of her time in attitude but projected the style and sophistication of a more elegant time in American life. A remembrance of a singular presence among interpreters of timeless, transcendent pop music.


tPLEASURES OF MUSIC: My Taste In Classics
by P. I. Tchaikovsky

A new monthly feature on how music has been experienced through the ages, by the artists, by fans, by novelists, by regular folks. This month, the great composer, Pyotr llyich Tchaikovsky, writing in his Diaries (1886), explains “what were my musical predilections and prejudices, especially since I seldom gave opinions in verbal conversation.” Mozart comes off well; Beethoven, not so much.


An examination of the young pianist’s critically acclaimed new album, Bach: A Strange Beauty. Says the artist of her own musical predilections: 'The art I love—Piero della Francesca, for example—is always a little bit wrong, the dimensions aren't exact, the perspective isn't perfect, there's some distortion. And when it moves away from perfection, it becomes mysteriously human.'


A Personal Reflection on Margaret Whiting by David McGee

Margaret, you dream maker, wherever you’re goin’, I’m goin’ your way. Plus: The Essential Margaret Whiting Discography



By Michael Sigman

Our roving contributor files a warm reminiscence of the late Don Kirshner, “a publisher, producer, impresario and entrepreneur, Kirshner was key to the development of American popular music from the 1950s into the '80s.” Rather than recounting the usual obit facts about Kirshner’s storied music career, however, Sigman files an account of a classic personal encounter with “Donnie” that, as the writer notes, “had more to do with basketball and the phone book than music.”


The Gospel Set

canton*The Album, The Mindset: Canton Jones on Dominionaire
By Bob Marovich

"This generation is dying and they need hope," says award-winning singer, songwriter, producer, vocal arranger and entrepreneur CANTON JONES. "We want to give our young people the truth and the truth will make them free." In his chat with our gospel editor Bob Marovich, Jones discusses his potent new album, Dominionaire, and why he wants his message to be ‘a family affair,’ appealing to all ages.

This month’s select recordings:

caesarSHIRLEY CAESAR, A City Called Heaven—The old saying is that everyone wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die to get there. So with the Mayan calendar suggesting that 2012 is the end of the world as we know it, there is a temptation to see irony in Shirley Caesar’s GRAMMY-nominated A City Called Heaven, because it handles subjects such as death and the Rapture with, well, rapturous enthusiasm.

windycityWINDY CITY GOSPEL ON SOUTH COTTAGE GROVE: 1947-1959—When one thinks of Chess Records, what springs to mind are artists such as Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry and Etta James.  Little Walter. The film Cadillac Records. But like most post-war independent labels, Chess/Checker carried a gospel catalog. Although its catalog really grew during the 1960s, after signing such top stars as the Soul Stirrers, Violinaires, the Salem Travelers, and the Meditation Singers, Leonard and Phil Chess’ involvement with gospel went all the way back to the beginning. All the way back to Aristocrat Records, the label they purchased that predated the company’s eponymously titled imprints. The two-CD Windy City Gospel on South Cottage Grove, with liner notes by Opal Nations, devotes its attention to these early Aristocrat/Chess/Checker offerings, released during the heady days of the genre’s Golden Era.

johnsonBISHOP SAMUEL R. JOHNSON, SR. PRESENTS THE SOUNDS OF LIVING WATER, Kingdom Keepers—It’s been thirty years of toiling in the musical vineyard, from writing and singing R&B (with the Determinations) to moving into the gospel music industry, but Bishop Samuel R. Johnson, Sr. is about to realize his life-long dream. This month, the pastor and founder of Living Water World Ministries in Dayton, Ohio will release a full-length CD, Kingdom Keepers, featuring the church’s house group, The Sounds of Living Water.

eumikaEUMIKA BODY-GRIFFIN, The Greatest Gift—During the opening track of her debut solo CD, The Greatest Gift, Eumika Body-Griffin shouts, “We come to blow the roof off this house tonight!” Yet the most interesting selections on the CD are when Body-Griffin, the Gospel Choice winner of Best New Artist for 2008, is not trying to blow the roof off the house. It is on selections such as these where the CD shows true character and distinctiveness.



Border Crossings

*Iraqi Maqam: Casualty of Modernity and War by Jacques Clement: ‘Victim of the country's growing modernity and years-long violence, the poetic form of music that came to symbolize the newly-born Iraq that emerged after the fall of the Ottoman Empire is now played by fewer and fewer groups.’
*To Give Voice To The Voiceless: Iraqi-born, New Mexico-based RAHIM ALHAJ advances the traditional music of his country and sends a message of peace, compassion and love. A profile, plus a review of AlHaj’s stirring new album, Little Earth.



countryCARRIE RODRIGUEZ and BEN KYLE, We Still Love Our Country—Albums twice as long as this rarely get to as profound a place of loss and longing as what Rodriguez and Kyle discover in these eight songs, theirs included. Flat nail it, they did.


gravesTHE ALL STAR JAM: LIVE AT GRAVES MOUNTAINAn amazing day of music captured in all its vibrancy and collegiality. It never gets old. But then, Rural Rhythm figured that out about 55 years ago.


hymnsJOE MULLINS & THE RADIO RAMBLERS, Hymns From The HillsHymns From the Hills serves double duty as Mullins’ personal statement of faith and a tribute to the hymns and gospel songs—and not least of all, to the artists—that have had so profound an impact on his life.


Beyond The Blue

big man downBIG JOE AND THE DYNAFLOWS, You Can’t Keep a Big Man Down—Good from the first drop to the last, You Can’t Keep a Big Man Down delivers musically on its title assertion, as the man himself has done physically—and then some, on both counts.


time slips on byRICH DEL GROSSO/JONN DEL TORO RICHARDSON, Time Slips On ByWith its solid songwriting, clever arrangements and masterful playing, Time Slips On By is a keeper of an album, and yet more proof of the blues’ continuing vitality.


tomTOM PRINCIPATO, A Part of MeNow into his fourth decade as the majority party in the Washington, D.C. blues scene, guitar master Tom Principato has hit a real high water mark with his new album, A Part of Me. What we get here is pretty much all shades of electric blues, the tender and the tough, the funky and the hard hitting, on the first album of all-original songs Principato has ever released.


Christine Santelli’s Video Of The Month

From the artist’s ‘100 Videos in 100 Days’ project, ‘She Wasn’t Wrong,’ one of the most compelling songs in her catalogue, from her masterpiece album, Tales From the Red Room


Meaningful Matters


In our second installment of BILLY THE KID
lore drawn from the pages of Walter Noble Burns’s definitive biography, The Saga of Billy the Kid, published in 1926, we hear tell of the Kid’s sweetheart, who lived at old Fort Sumner and to whom Billy journeyed after his blood-soaked escape from prison in Lincoln, NM. “For the one woman of his dreams he risked his life in his life’s most desperate chance,” Burns writes. “For love of her he died.”




This month Jules visits with a previous visitor to 7 Imp’s pages, PAUL SCHMID, who was featured in Jule’s February 2010 7 Imp blog on the publication of his debut title as an illustrator, Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s The Wonder Book. Mr. Schmid is back this month talking about the first title he's both written and illustrated himself, A Pet for Petunia, as well as his experience as an inaugural recipient of a MAURICE SENDAK Fellowship, which allowed him to spend a month in Connecticut with the great author/illustrator “talking about books.” Says Schmid: “Maurice is a funny, generous, brilliant man, who lives deeply. I'm convinced that is the reason his books are so substantial and enduring.” Jules got the whole story.


The Blogging Farmer

peanutsAlex Tiller’s Blog on Agriculture and Farming
“Behold the Lowly Peanut”

It's neither a pea nor a nut—but it's a lot closer to being the former. A member of the bean family (which includes peas), the peanut is often disparaged and the butt of many jokes. "Living on peanut butter sandwiches" is often associated with extreme poverty (after all, commercial peanut butter is cheap, though better, organic brands will cost you a buck or two more). But the fact is (at least for those of us who don't suffer from potentially lethal peanut allergies), peanuts represent an amazing source of nutrition—and more.



By David McGee

Early February was certainly a cruel month for former sex kittens. MARIA SCHNEIDER (Feb. 3), LENA NYMAN (Feb. 4) and TURA SATANA (Feb. 4)—stars, respectively, of Last Tango in Paris, the I Am Curious (Yello) (Blue) films, and Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill—all passed away leaving mixed legacies in their wake. And yes, this section contains clips from a RUSS MEYER film. Our readership stats are likely to soar this month.

Jack LaLanne Does His Last Pushup—Only The Grim Reaper Could Stop Him

Well ahead of the fitness boom curve, a decade before Dr. Kenneth H. Cooper introduced and popularized aerobic conditioning, Jack LaLanne was pleading, badgering and lecturing Americans as to the health advantages of getting their backsides in gear and into the gym. to get off their couches and into the gym decades before it was cool. True to his word, he refused to let advancing age slow him down: he continued pumping iron and pushing fruits and vegetables as the most beneficial diet right up to January 23, when he died at his home in Morro Bay on California's central coast. The cause was respiratory failure due to pneumonia. He was 96. Plus, sweat it out with Jack in this month’s VIDEO FILE—some clips from his exercise shows from the ‘50s and ‘60s, including diet tips.


Remembering David Nelson

As it happened, David Nelson, who died on January 11 following a long bout with colon cancer, had three lives. By far the most famous of those lives was playing himself, or a version of himself, along with the rest of his family—father Ozzie, mother Harriet (both musically inclined, Ozzie had been an orchestra leader and Harriet Hilliard his lead singer, starting together in the early ‘30s; married in 1935, they continued working together for the rest of their careers) and “irrepressible” little brother Eric (or Ricky, as he was called)—starting on radio in 1949, then, following the success of a 1952 theatrical film, Here Come the Nelsons (which also featured a young Rock Hudson) on the popular, indeed groundbreaking, television sitcom, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Until surpassed recently by The Simpsons, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet held the distinction as the longest running live or animated sitcom in TV history. (It still holds the live title.)


By David McGee

There was much more to British film director PETER YATES than met the astonished eye in arguably the greatest car chase scene in film history, in his second movie, Bullitt (1968), starring Steve McQueen, who steered his 1968 Mustang GT was behind the wheel of his 1968 Mustang GT up, down and around the vertiginous hills of San Francisco, sometimes going airborne, while chasing and being chased by a couple of ne’er-do-wells. This multi-part tribute to Mr. Yates includes:
*An overview of his career and aesthetic
*A guide to the Essential Peter Yates Films
*The story of the real-life Breaking Away: Dave Stoller was no mere fiction, and once upon a time a Cutters team really did beat the Greeks to win the Indiana University Little 500 race
*The Rise of The Real Cutters Championship Bicyling Team

Recent Issues

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Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (www.johnmendelsohn.com)
Website Design: Kieran McGee (www.kieranmcgee.com)
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY; www.flickr.com/audreyharrod), Alicia Zappier (New York)
E-mail: thebluegrassspecial@gmail.com
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024