Thursday, November 11, 2010

Rads call it quits

Radiators fans are reeling from the announcement that the legendary New Orleans rock band will call it quits after a series of special hometown shows next June. It certainly is a sad moment for the hard core community of fans who've followed this group over the last 33 years. All is not lost, however. While the band cannot be replaced, and its passing certainly marks the end of an era, it may be possible for most of them to continue in a revamped lineup. One can easily imagine Tommy Malone, younger brother of Radiators frontman Dave Malone, joining the existing lineup minus Ed Volker. Though Tommy is not the prolific songwriter Volker is he's a talented writer, vocalist and guitarist, and he fits naturally with Dave and the others. Whether or not they call it the Radiators or the Headless Fish or something else it will still be good. As for Mr. Volker his extraordinary musical talents will merely be redirected, not lost entirely. He has his side project Jolly House to perform his songs and could also do solo gigs or sit in with other groups. Ed has expressed his desire to stop touring, so it's even conceivable that he might join his former bandmates at select New Orleans performances somewhere down the road. At any rate, the real surprise is not that the Rads are ending but that they managed to stay as fresh and engaging over such a long run.
Meanwhile the band will be playing shows all over the country for the next seven months. This is your last chance to hear what for my money is one of the greatest American rock bands in history. Once upon a time I fretted over the fact that so many tastemakers turned their noses up at a band that certainly hasn't tried to win any fashion awards. Well, those clueless jerks are the real losers. They missed out on one of the great moments in American culture and it truly is their loss.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Walter Payton Jr. tribute

The great New Orleans bassist Walter Payton Jr. passed away last week and was given an unintentional tribute last night on the David Letterman show. When Letterman announced that one of the rescued Peruvian miners would be a guest on the show Will Lee began playing the distinctive solo bass line that begins the Lee Dorsey hit "Working In a Coal Mine." That bass line was played on the record by Payton. Nobody mentioned the connection but the music was all you needed to tell the story. Nice to hear Walter's music surviving him on national television.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Betting Opportunity of the Year Retires

I heard from my Fair Grounds handicapping friend Col. Stingo, who claims to be related to the legendary 20th century horseracing tout of the same name. "Sad to see Rachel Alexander finally put out to pasture," the Col. noted. "Betting against her was one of the great opportunities of the 2010 horseracing year. It's really a shame when sucker bait of such fine quality goes to the sidelines."
That's OK Col. You can still bet against those grass Beyer numbers with both fists!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Go see The Big Uneasy!

Harry Shearer's highly acclaimed The Big Uneasy is doing an Oscar Qualifying run this week in Los Angeles and New York City from September 24 - 30.


In Los Angeles, the documentary will show at Laemmle's Sunset 5 theater.

In New York City, the documentary will show at the IFC Center.

The 90-minute movie is about the Drowning of metro New Orleans, the Army Corps of Engineers' role in it, and how something like this could happen again.


The more people who watch The Big Uneasy, the better. The documentary is chock full of data and information about the metro New Orleans Flood.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

OK Goes to the dogs

OK Go has a really good new video:

Apparently 4 lbs of dog treats were used per day in the making of this video.

OK Go has joined with The ASPCA to donate money to a special OK Go fund: "The Rural Rescue Dog Fund." Here's the link:

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Music Rising sponsors New Orleans music history program at Tulane

New Orleans, Louisiana (September 17, 2010) - Music Rising, an award winning initiative co-founded in 2005 by U2’s the Edge, legendary producer Bob Ezrin and Gibson Guitar Chairman and CEO Henry Juszkiewicz announced a $1 million program in partnership with Tulane University to develop a college curriculum that will provide a permanent, comprehensive and definitive study of the musical heritage of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region. The Music Rising program is administered by the Gibson Foundation.

Music Rising has worked closely with Nick Spitzer, professor of anthropology and American studies and creator of Tulane’s public radio program American Routes in creating the connection with Tulane. The curriculum for the program on music and culture of the Gulf Coast will be implemented at Tulane and available to other universities through web and print materials. In addition to drawing from field, studio and live interviews, programs and performances of the American Routes Collection, the curriculum will draw upon the resources of the William Ransom Hogan Archive of New Orleans Jazz as well as the Maxwell Music Library, the Louisiana Collection, the Southern Institute and the New Orleans Gulf South Center, all housed at Tulane.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without the unique musical heritage that is New Orleans,” said U2’s the Edge. “So much has come from that part of America. From the birth of jazz, the roots of Rock ‘n’ Roll and R&B, to the traditional celebrations in the streets, New Orleans has provided all of us with great musical traditions. This new curriculum, which I am personally very proud of, will help preserve this history and educate for many years to come.”

"Our goal has always been to preserve the musical culture of New Orleans and the Central Gulf. We started by replacing instruments that were lost in the hurricanes of 2005," said Bob Ezrin. "And now we are thrilled to be working with the wonderful folks at Tulane University to develop a course of study that will allow people from the region and all over the world to study and understand that culture and the music that creates it.”

The Music Rising curriculum at Tulane will preserve the great musical heritage of the Gulf Coast region and eventually be adapted to educational levels ranging from elementary through high school. Preserving the music of the region has always been the driving force behind the many initiatives Music Rising has supported since its inception in 2005 after the devastating hurricanes of Katrina and Rita. It is critical to the organization that the various styles of music which have borrowed from earlier traditions be understood and taught to future generations. New Orleans has been the birthplace of jazz, blues, Dixieland and even funk, all of which make the region arguably one of the most important spawning grounds for global musical culture. Building the Music Rising curriculum will also serve as a catalyst to develop a comprehensive system of archives that will preserve a vast amount of Gulf Coast based cultural history.

"Tulane University is the perfect partner for this venture. From their Music and Humanities departments which are world renowned to Nick Spitzer's American Routes and the amazing archives that they have built over the decades,” said Henry Juszkiewicz, Chairman and CEO of Gibson Guitar. "Now, all of these departments and disciplines will be engaged in a historical collaboration in creating this amazing course of study. We are very proud that Gibson Foundation could play such an integral role.”

Tulane Provost Michael Bernstein foresees that new public service opportunities for Tulane students could arise from the Music Rising curriculum. Tulane requires that all undergraduate students complete a specified number of service-learning hours, which are connected to their coursework.

“This is the kind of collaboration that lies at the heart of the service-learning commitment at Tulane – an enduring promise to our city, our state, and our region that the talents and imagination of our very best artists, scholars, and students will serve the interests and needs of the community,” Bernstein said. “Tulane is profoundly grateful to Bob Ezrin, Music Rising and the Gibson Foundation for their exceedingly generous support of a significant endeavor on behalf of the arts and culture of the Gulf Coast region.”

Through the project Music Rising hopes to create a new generation of students, scholars, musicians and community members who can perform, document, produce, preserve and advocate for the music and cultures of the Gulf Coast and create an opportunity to generate awareness of the significant importance of the musical heritage and traditions that originated from this region of the United States.

About Music Rising:
Music Rising, a campaign launched in 2005 to replace musical instruments lost or destroyed by hurricanes in the Gulf Region was co-founded by U2’s the Edge, producer Bob Ezrin and Gibson Guitar CEO and Chairman Henry Juszkiewicz. The campaign has since aided over 2,700 musicians and over 50,000 students and choir members in its initial three phases. In its fourth phase Music Rising plans on preserving the rich musical heritage of the Gulf Coast with a dedicated academic program which will be announced late 2010. Partners of Music Rising represent one of the most diverse partnerships in the entertainment industry and include MusiCares, Guitar Center Music Foundation, Musician’s Friend, Julien’s Auctions, Live Nation, Kennedy/Marshall,Ticketmaster, Hard Rock International, VH-1 Networks, MTV Networks, Real Networks, ABC News Now, The NFL, Rolling Stone Magazine, Mr. Holland’s Opus, ACT and the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund. Music Rising is the recipient of the prestigious 2005 Halo Award for Cause Marketing, 2006 Billboard Humanitarian Award, the 2008 PRISM Award and has been recognized around the world by various media organizations. Music Rising has launched Music Rising Nashville to aid the musicians who lost instruments in the May 2010 floods. Music Rising is administered by the Gibson Foundation.

About Gibson Foundation: Founded in 2002, the Gibson Foundation is committed to making the world a better place for children by creating, developing and supporting programs and other non-profit organizations in their efforts to advance education, music and the arts, the environment and health & welfare causes. For more information or to donate to the Gibson Foundation and support many of its causes go to

About Tulane University: Founded in 1834, Tulane is one of the most highly regarded and selective independent research universities in the United States. A member of the prestigious Association of American Universities, it is part of a select group of 63 universities with pre-eminent programs of graduate and professional education and scholarly research. Tulane’s schools and colleges offer undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees in liberal arts, science and engineering, architecture, business, law, social work, medicine and public health and tropical medicine. For more information on Tulane go to

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Crescent City Blues & BBQ Festival

One of my favorite New Orleans festivals, the Crescent City Blues & BBQ Festival, has announced a tentative lineup for the 2010 event, which is scheduled for Oct 16–17 at Lafayette Square Park.

This free festival, presented by the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation, features two stages of music, a crafts fair and the best barbecue in the South.

Saturday, Oct. 16, 2010:
Taj Mahal
Otis Taylor with Don Vappie
Corey Harris
The Stanton Moore Band with Anders Osborne
Henry Gray
Luther Kent & Trick Bag
Carol Fran
Honey Island Swamp Band

Sunday, Oct. 17, 2010:
Ruthie Foster
Jon Cleary
Shannon McNally & Hot Sauce
The Joe Krown Trio featuring Walter "Wolfman" Washington and Russel Batiste
Mem Shannon

Thursday, August 26, 2010

No music left on North Rampart Street

Got the following email last weekend:

Hi everyone,
Just a note to let you know that Charlie and I have decided to close Donna's
permanently. We have had a good run on Rampart St but it is time to move on. We
will never forget all the good times and the people who passed through our doors
to listen to the best musicians in New Orleans and to eat Charlie's good food.

Charlie is doing great. He is busy writing a cook book and re-inventing himself
as an author! :) I, of course, am still "Miss Dr. P" to my science students and
I enjoy every minute of it.

Please feel free to contact us via this email address. I will most certainly
keep the website active for a while until we know that our customers "across the
pond" and elsewhere in the world know that Charlie will not be "holding court"
any longer in Donna's kitchen! :)

Donna and Charlie
Donna's Bar & Grill ...where great food and live music come together under one
roof! Live Local Music & Dinner~ Thursday,Friday, Saturday, Sunday nights
800 N. Rampart Street, New Orleans, LA 70116 504-596-6914

Donna's closing finishes off what was once a great music scene on North Rampart Street. It was the first place I saw a waist-high Trombone Shorty, and the first place where I tasted Abita Purple Haze, which I had a brief, intense addiction to. I remember a moving night when Bob French brought up a young lady to sing. She was in the National Guard and was shipping out the next day for a tour in Iraq. There were several great nights listening to Tom McDermott etc. etc. Now Donna's has gone the way of the Funky Butt, where our house god Samantha came from as a palm-sized kitten in 1999. Got to write about the Funky Butt again in the recent cover story on Anders Osborne for OffBeat because his fruitful partnership with Monk Boudreaux began there. The city planners have been trying to drive music off of North Rampart for years. Now they've succeeded. They're not happy, though. Now they're going after live music in the streets too. They won't be satisfied until the only music left in New Orleans is at tourist festivals, convention parties and Bourbon Street. Except not on Bourbon Street itself. I call them the Blues Meanies. Stop asking for our votes if you're going to steal our music!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Herman Leonard passes

Here's the Times-Picayune piece:

Herman Leonard, photographer of jazz greats, dies
Published: Sunday, August 15, 2010, 10:27 AM
Dennis Persica, The Times-Picayune

Herman Leonard, a photographer who created some of the most famous images of
Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington and other jazz greats, died
Friday at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles. Mr. Leonard, 87, lived in
New Orleans until Hurricane Katrina struck and destroyed much of his

Mr. Leonard was best known for his smoky, backlit portraits of jazz artists
in New York, Paris and London, many of which graced the covers of numerous
jazz albums. He was born and raised in Allentown, Pa. When he was 9, he
became enthralled with photography when he saw an image being developed in
his brother's darkroom.

He attended Ohio University in Athens, which offered a degree in
photography. He left college to serve with the Army from 1943 to 1945,
serving with the 13th Mountain Medical Battalion as an anesthetist. He
returned to college after the war and graduated in 1947.

Mr. Leonard apprenticed under the master portrait photographer, Yousuf
Karsh. After a year, Karsh encouraged Leonard to break out on his own.

In 1948, he moved to New York and became involved with the jazz scene there,
making agreements with club owners to photograph rehearsals in exchange for
photographs for their marquees. Mr. Leonard said his aim was "to create a
visual diary of what I heard, to make people see the way the music sounded."

Quincy Jones, the musician and composer, once said that Mr. Leonard's images
"are documents of historic significance, cataloguing the development of one
of the greatest art forms in American history..."

"When people think of Jazz, their mental picture is likely one of Herman's."

Subjects of Mr. Leonard's photographs include Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett,
Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie.

In 1980, Mr. Leonard moved to the island of Ibiza, where he remained until
1987. In 1985 he released his first book, "The Eye of Jazz." In 1988, the
first exhibition of Leonard's jazz photographs was held in London. His first
U.S. show premiered the next year.

Mr. Leonard moved to New Orleans in 1992, immersing himself in the city's
jazz scene. He released his second book, "Jazz Memories," in 1995.

Mr. Leonard's home and studio were damaged in Hurricane Katrina and his
archive of over 8,000 prints were lost in the flood. Fortunately, his
negatives had been housed at The Ogden Museum of Southern Art and escaped

Mr. Leonard moved to Los Angeles and rebuilt his life and business there.

© 2010 All rights reserved.

Friday, August 13, 2010

A Night of Treme

“A Night of Treme” to Benefit Make It Right Foundation

August 13, 2010, New Orleans – HBO, Geffen Records, House of Blues and Make It Right are excited to announce “A Night of Treme,” a benefit show featuring the artists and music from the highly-acclaimed HBO series Treme. House of Blues in New Orleans will host the concert on the eve of the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Saturday, August 28 at 8:00pm.

Tickets go on sale through Ticketmaster on Friday, August 13. All of the proceeds from the ticket sales go to benefit Make It Right’s work rebuilding safe, sustainable and affordable homes for working families in New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward. In addition to the general admission ticket, guests can purchase a VIP ticket, which includes admission to the show and the after-party at House of Blues’ restaurant and Voodoo Garden. The after-party will include food, open-bar and special appearances by beloved New Orleans’ artists and luminaries.

"Make It Right has had a singular impact on addressing the housing needs of New Orleans after Katrina, particularly in the 9th Ward. The cast and crew of Treme are proud to be doing whatever we can to assist in those efforts," states Treme creator and executive producer David Simon.

“A Night of Treme” will feature a range of musicians identified with New Orleans’ music tradition. These include John Boutte whose “Treme Song” is the series’ theme as well as Lloyd Price, Kermit Ruffins, Coco Robicheaux, Paul Sanchez, Doreen Ketchens, James Andrews, Jon Cleary, Irma Thomas, Rebirth Brass Band, Guardians of the Flame Mardi Gras Indians as well as some special guests. A number of these artists have appeared in the HBO Series Treme and will be heard on the Treme Soundtrack album coming from Geffen Records this fall. Also releasing are exclusive musical video performances from various artists in the HBO series.

“House of Blues is proud to support Make It Right in their effort to rebuild homes in the Lower 9th Ward and all the musicians and artists who have made Treme the success that it is,” said Sonny Schneidau of House of Blues in New Orleans.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Zappa festival set for September 19



BALTIMORE - Since last month's confirmation of the September 19th date for
Baltimore City's dedication of a bust of Frank Zappa, community support has been
growing for a concert and festival in tribute to the legendary musician,
composer and social icon, whose birthplace is Baltimore. The bust, donated by a
Lithuanian fan club, will be placed at the Enoch Pratt Free Library Southeastern
Anchor Branch in Highlandtown, and plans now include an outdoor concert
featuring Zappa Plays Zappa (fronted by Frank's son Dweezil), and various events
at the library and nearby Patterson Theatre in support of the dedication

The date itself is especially significant as September 19th is the anniversary
of Zappa's 1985 testimony on Capitol Hill in favor of free expression by
Recording Artists at the Senate hearing instigated by certain congressional
wives (members of the PMRC) concerning record labeling. Frank Zappa's widow
Gail commented on the remarkable coincidence, stating, "Frank's legacy rests in
his uncompromising defense of the First Amendment and his uncompromising pursuit
of excellence clearly demonstrated in the standards he set in all areas of Music
and the arts and sciences associated with it. He was self-taught and
self-realized. It is hard to imagine how that is possible except for the 4
cornerstones he had going for him: a talent for music, a hard-core curiosity, a
keen sense of humor and access to a library. He was a cheap date for History."

The broader scope of events, being developed by Clearpath Entertainment in
collaboration with the Zappa family, the Southeastern Community Development
Corporation, Enoch Pratt Free Library, and the Creative Alliance, are intended
to help anchor the new Highlandtown Arts and Entertainment District and plans
now include a library exhibit, symposiums, and after party in addition to the
dedication and concert. Sean Brescia of Clearpath stated, "Baltimore has a rich
entertainment heritage dating back to its iconic theatres and jazz ballrooms,
and opportunities like this are a chance to re-capture that spirit. We wanted
to build an event that was a truly fitting tribute to the Zappa legacy, but also
something that can grow into a signature cornerstone event for the Highlandtown
Arts and Entertainment District, and Gail [Zappa] has shared that vision from
the beginning." In the interest of what the events could mean for the
community, Brescia reached out to a broad group of community organizations to
help plan and raise support for the events.

Echoing that sentiment of community interests, Chris Ryer of the Southeast
Community Development Corporation added, "The bust coming to Highlandtown and
these events are high-profile, flagship opportunities to position the
Highlandtown Arts and Entertainment District as major reasons for visitors to
come to Southeast while they're in Baltimore. We're excited to work with
Clearpath and the Zappas to leverage this year's events as a catalyst for great
things to come."

Remarking on the concert lineup, Clearpath's David Christensen said, "Frank
Zappa's musical genius and influence is undeniable and it has always been a must
for us that Dweezil headline this show in the ultimate tribute to his father.
This is going to be Zappa Plays Zappa, next to Zappa's statue, on Zappa's
street, on Zappa's day; it couldn't be more fitting."

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Philip Walker: Feb. 11th 1937 - July 22 2010

Singer/guitarist Phillip Walker, 73, died this morning at 4:30 AM of heart failure. Walker played guitar on the Specialty and Chess recordings of Clifton Chenier. He moved from Louisiana to California in 1959. Walker's first album, Bottom Of The Top, was released in 1973 on the Playboy Record Label. He also made recordings on Galaxy, Vault, Joliet, HighTone, JSP, Black Top, Rounder, Alligator, P-Vine, MC, and most recently on Delta Groove. Phillip was a noted sideman who contributed to albums by Lonesome Sundown, Eddie Taylor, Percy Mayfield, and Johnny Shines.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Threadheads for Gulf Aid

Check out this Gulf Aid song by an All-Star cast of New Orleans musicians including Paul Sanchez, John Boutte and Craig Klein: Knows Nothin' (Proceeds Benefit, by Threadhead Records

1. Nobody Knows Nothin' Released 08 July 2010.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Village Voice hates on Trombone Shorty

Very strange review of Trombone Shorty's Backatown in the current Village Voice. Tom Hull does back of the envelope reviews of 40-some releases in an installation of the "Jazz Consumer Guide," an idea of pretty useless merit to begin with. Naturally some flip put-downs need to be included for "balance." Out of all the releases out there Hull chooses Backatown for his "duds" section. Hull is creating a straw man to knock down because whatever you might want to call what Shorty is playing on this record, "jazz" is not the first description that comes to mind. Backatown is a an album of short songs played by what is essentially a funk rock band without significant solo passages. It's no more of a jazz album than recent releases by Galactic or Juvenile, two albums that are pretty similar in feel. Shorty is an outstanding soloist but you won't hear that on Backatown because that's not what the album is about. Hull's view is that it's a "New Orleans horn line" (what????) "tricked up with synth beats" (all the drum tracks are live in the studio, no samples or 'synth beats') "bogged down with guest vocals" (Shorty has many strengths but singing is down the list so the addition of Lenny Kravitz and Marc Broussard is hardly a distraction) "and a stab at grunge" (it's a jazz review, so the writer can be forgiven for such a complete misrepresentation of Pete Murano's guitar playing, which will never be confused with Kurt Cobain's). Just another example of the implosion of credibility the Voice's music coverage has suffered in recent years. The days when Robert Christgau and Gary Giddins made the Voice a must read music publication are as dead as the oysters in the Gulf of Mexico.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Reprieve for Mother-In-Law lounge

Betty Fox, daughter of the late Antoinette K-Doe and current proprietor of Ernie K-Doe's Mother-In-Law lounge, has changed her mind about closing the legendary club. Last week Fox announced she would be closing the club, but has apparently changed her mind. She plans to hold a fundraiser on July 4 with BBQ chicken, red beans & rice and live music by Guitar Lightnin' Lee. Obviously Fox has had a difficult time keeping the club going and it's future certainly depends on how effectively the community unites behind it. Unfortunately well-intentioned businesses like this that hang by a thread, constantly avoiding bankruptcy, usually end up going out of business permanently. Let's all hope this doesn't happen to Ernie K-Doe's Mother-In-Law lounge. Tonight (June 30) at 10 p.m. CST to Fox will be a guest on WWOZ during a K-Doe tribute hosted by A.J. Rodrigue.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Times Picayune backs big oil again

It really looks like the New Orleans Times Picayune editors are in bed with an oil industry that has destroyed Louisiana's fishing industry and severely damaged its tourism industry. Today's editorial supporting federal judge Martin Feldman's ruling against the six month moratorium on drilling in the Gulf is nothing but oil industry propaganda. Unless the industry immediately enacts strict and effective safety standards it should not be allowed to continue business as usual. Paying damages after the disaster occurs will not cut it. Strict oversight is imperative, but if the industry continues to deliberately ignore safety measures in standard operating procedure it should be shut down for the public good until it comes to its senses. Complaining that it costs jobs is a spurious argument. Arguing that jobs justify the continued use of unsafe practices is more than just a false premise. The oil industry has given no indication that it even recognizes the problem. Deepwater Horizon was not an accident. It was a predictable result. The irresponsible parties must be held accountable until they agree to revise their operating standards, and offer a plan to do so. They must not be allowed to pursue their criminal activities until then. Defending the oil industry under the pemise that it provides jobs is like saying that drug kingpins should be allowed to operate their present day version of Murder Inc. because they provide jobs. Murder is murder. The Times Picayune's disgraceful position is directly tied to the advertising money from the oil industry.

Here's the editorial:

In blocking President Barack Obama's broad moratorium on deepwater drilling, U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman cut straight to the heart of the administration's flawed reasoning.

The blanket moratorium, the judge wrote, "seems to assume that because one rig failed and although no one yet fully knows why, all companies and rigs drilling new wells over 500 feet also universally present an imminent danger.''

"The Deepwater Horizon oil spill is an unprecedented, sad, ugly and inhuman disaster,'' the ruling stated. "What seems clear is that the federal government has been pressed by what happened...into an otherwise sweeping confirmation that all Gulf deepwater drilling activities put us all in a universal threat of irreparable harm.''

That is the assumption behind the six-month moratorium ordered by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. It was challenged in court by three companies that provide support services to offshore drilling.

In Judge Feldman's eyes, the federal government hasn't justified what he called a "punitive'' moratorium. Instead, he said, the plaintiffs are likely to succeed in showing that the administration "acted arbitrarily and capriciously.''

That's critical. While the judge notes case law that says the court can't substitute its judgment for that of an agency like the Interior Department, the agency must articulate a "rational connection between the facts found and the choice made.'' That hasn't happened. In fact, Judge Feldman points out that the Interior Department report made no effort to explicitly justify the six-month moratorium and doesn't discuss the irreparable harm that would warrant a suspension of operations.

The court "is unable to divine or fathom a relationship between the findings and the immense scope of the moratorium.''

The judge criticized the report for stating that its recommendations had been peer-reviewed by seven National Academy of Engineering experts. The judge pointed out that five of those experts and three of the other experts who were consulted say that they do not agree with the blanket moratorium, a fact that was first reported in The Times-Picayune.

Judge Feldman also recognizes something that the Obama administration hasn't seemed to grasp: how vital this industry is to our region's economy. The judge called it "quite simply elemental to the Gulf communities.''

"The effect on employment, jobs, loss of domestic energy supplies caused by the moratorium as the plaintiffs (and other suppliers, and the rigs themselves) lose business, and the movement of the rigs to other sites around the world will clearly ripple throughout the economy in this region,'' the judge wrote.

Judge Feldman's ruling validates what Louisianians have been arguing for weeks: that the administration's broad drilling ban isn't justified and stands to cause even greater economic harm to this state than the devastating oil spill itself.

The preliminary injunction doesn't erase the likelihood that oil rigs will pick up and move to other countries. Companies are unlikely to gamble that the plaintiffs will prevail. The Obama administration was quick to say that it will appeal the ruling. Considering the grave economic consequences posed by the moratorium, the appeal should be handled as expeditiously as possible.

The administration's determination to fight the preliminary injunction is disappointing. Judge Feldman's ruling offered an opportunity for the White House to reconsider its action and take a more targeted approach to ensuring safety on deepwater rigs. Instead officials are digging in their heels, and while they might ultimately lose this legal battle, thousands of Louisianians could still be left without jobs.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Mother-In-Law lounge to close

Betty Fox, the daughter of Antoinette K-Doe, announced on her Facebook page that she is closing down Ernie K-Doe's Mother-In-Law Lounge for good. The colorful bar at 1500 N. Claiborne in Treme has been difficult for Fox to maintain since Antoinette died on Mardi Gras Day, 2009. Fox was hospitalized March 1 after a car crashed into the bar, damaging the front door and leaving her "physically and emotionally tired of doing this. I'm grieving, too. I'm losing weight. I've been living upstairs with no plumbing, or electricity, and mold in the room for a year and a half."

"I know a lot of people might not understand," she said. "But my mother and K-Doe been gone, and each one of us has our own memory of them. This is just a building."

Fox plans to hold the last in a series of garage sales of K-Doe and Antoinette memorabilia as well as some of the bar's fixtures on July 10. Though she is behind in the rent and the building has suffered structural and mold damage, Fox holds out hope that the Mother-In-Law could be turned into a museum, an eventuality that seems unlikely without a serious financial intervention.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Times Picayune: Drill Baby, Drill

The dreadful conundrum facing Louisiana's oil-drenched future is reflected in the following Manuel Torres editorial in The Times-Picayune. Big Oil's economic impact on the state gives it carte blanche to run roughshod over all opposition. If drilling cannot be done safely, the writer implies, it needs to be done anyway because jobs are involved. But what about all the livelihoods, and the way of life, being destroyed by this industry, which will ony exist at the most for a few decades more in the most optimistic of assessments?

Here's the column:

Louisianians understand that deepwater drilling is central to our economy; we know that the jobs provided by this industry go far beyond those on the rigs themselves -- more than twice as many people in oil-related jobs earn their livings on tugboats and supply boats and in shipyards, helipads, catering kitchens and other places on shore.

It doesn't take an economist to see what shutting down the rigs for half a year will do to all those jobs and the people who hold them.

But President Barack Obama doesn't seem to get it. His administration fails to grasp how Louisiana's economy works or what the six-month halt to exploratory drilling that the White House has ordered will do to people who earn their living from this critical activity. Either that, or his administration is determined to disregard the economic annihilation that its shutdown will cause.

The announcement this week of a $100 million compensation fund for rig workers affected by the moratorium is striking proof of this administration's myopia. In all, 18,000 to 24,000 jobs related to the 30 shuttered rigs across the Gulf are in jeopardy from the drilling moratorium. But this fund, which BP agreed to provide, targets only 6,000 to 8,000 Gulf Coast residents who work on the rigs themselves. Those workers make an average of $2,400 a week, counting benefits, which means the fund could dry up in as little as six weeks, with months left before the moratorium ends.

According to the LSU Center for Energy Studies, Louisiana residents account for 3,339 of rig workers who are likely to lose their jobs, but another 7,656 Louisianians who work in jobs related to drilling also face likely layoffs. That's 10,955 people who stand to lose their source of income, joining the fishers, shrimpers, oyster harvesters, charter boat operators, seafood processors, restaurateurs and many others whose livelihoods have already succumbed to the oil spill.

The Obama administration succeeded in persuading BP to set up a $20 billion compensation fund for economic losses caused by this unprecedented disaster, and that's a crucial step toward ensuring our recovery from this environmental nightmare. But it remains unclear whether workers left in the lurch by the moratorium will be able to get help from this fund.

Nor will the damage end when the moratorium is over. The harsh reality is that many deepwater rigs are likely to abandon the Gulf of Mexico for places like Brazil and western Africa. After spending millions to move a rig, it's unlikely that a company will rush back to the Gulf. That leaves support workers with little prospect of getting their jobs back. Over half of rig workers could keep their jobs if they are willing to endure greater separations of time and distance from their families. But the rest won't be given that choice.

President Obama said that he stressed the plight of Gulf Coast families in a private conversation with BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg.

"A lot of these folks don't have a cushion,'' the president said he told the chairman. "They were coming off Rita and Katrina, coming off the worst economy that this country has seen since the Great Depression, and this season was going to be the season where they were going to be bouncing back.''

Understanding the human face of those affected by the oil spill is vital, and President Obama was right to make that point in his meeting with BP officials. But Louisiana and other Gulf Coast residents whose jobs are now imperiled by their own government's action deserve no less from the president. They, too, lived through the storms of 2005. They, too, have struggled through a tough economy. Moreover, workers in jobs that support drilling make less money than those who work on the rigs. Now they face the prospect of joblessness, and so far, all that most of them can count on when the pink slips arrive is an unemployment check from the state.

President Obama has not heeded the voices urging him to reconsider the scope of the moratorium. Those include engineering and oil industry experts consulted by the administration, who are calling the broad moratorium a mistake that could cause more harm to the economy than the spill itself. They had endorsed different steps such as a moratorium on new drilling permits. They suggested a briefer halt at existing rigs, so that safety tests could be conducted.

That's still a viable strategy. A more nuanced approach would be far wiser and more compassionate than the punishing shutdown that the White House has ordered.

President Obama also needs to show that he's willing to learn about Louisiana's economic underpinnings. He missed an opportunity when he failed to appoint someone with that kind of knowledge to the commission that is investigating the BP spill.

Louisianians also need clarity on whether the $20 billion compensation fund will encompass losses caused by the moratorium. The White House has said that it expects BP to pay all claims for lost wages related to the moratorium.

At the very least, Gulf Coast oil industry workers who are worried about how they will pay their bills without jobs should have the assurance that their losses will be treated no differently than those of their neighbors.

La.'s oil addiction leads to call for gov't takeover

The following is an article by Providence Journal columnist Froma Harrop. Perhaps the most unsettling thing about the story is that it is not written by a right wing pundit paid off by corporate cynics but a thoughtful liberal voice. The bottom line of this debate is a contradiction that lies at the center of Louisiana culture. The state's economy is inextricably bound up with the oil industry. Even as the disaster that has destroyed the state's fishing industry continues unabated, very few people in the state are willing to contemplate a future without Big Oil calling the shots. It's an addiction that leads directly to the alarming conclusion this columnist makes.

Here's the column:

A modest proposal: The federal government should take over Louisiana. Might as well, at this point.

"We will do whatever is necessary to help the Gulf Coast and its people recover from this tragedy," President Obama said this week from the Oval Office.

Louisiana has had more than its share of tragedies in recent years, and some, such as Hurricane Katrina, could be deemed acts of nature. But whatever the cause, every calamity that befalls Louisiana is made worse by its corrupt civic culture. A protectorate could provide the structure of governance its people need.

It's hardly news that Louisiana's political class is not all it could be. But there comes a time when the U.S. taxpayer can no longer write blank checks to cover its dysfunction.

Louisiana should be a rich state. It has the climate, location, waterfront and all-around beauty that any director of economic development would die for. But Louisiana doesn't seem able to move beyond its dependence on oil.

Texas did it. Today, it is a major force in high-tech research, medical services, trade and manufacturing. Even its energy business is modernized. The West Texas plains are home to an enormous wind-power corridor, as entrepreneurs seek clever ways to make natural gas and wind work together. Thus, the Texas economy is one-sixth as sensitive to changes in the oil price as it was 30 years ago.

But in Louisiana, it's oil all the time. Mix a wealthy extractive industry with easily corrupted politicians, and you have makings for a Third World economy. (New Orleans has been called the best-run city in the Caribbean.)

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal appears fairly competent and smart. But look at the self-contradicting ideology he's tangled in.

A year ago, Jindal provided the Republican response to Obama's fiscal stimulus plan. "Democratic leaders in Washington," he said, "they place their hope in the federal government." (Never mind that as a congressman, Jindal ranked 14th in requests for federal pork.)

Jindal wants more than 100 miles of sand berms to supposedly protect his coastline. But the sand piles probably won't work and could actually make matters worse, according to The Wall Street Journal. Most of the oil would hit shore, anyway. The dredging could cause more erosion and kill fish by changing the water's salt content.

Though probably ineffective, the project is big and expensive. Jindal, meanwhile, is asking Obama to end the moratorium on the kind of new deep-water drilling that caused all this pain.

Much of southern Louisiana is under sea level and periodically floods. No sane person would build in these low-lying areas were it not for the federal taxpayer, who subsidizes flood coverage where private insurers would never tread.

The Mississippi Delta wetlands used to provide a buffer against storms. They've been largely destroyed by river-moving projects, levees and canals cut by oil companies.

Five years ago, U.S. taxpayers were asked to restore the Delta at an estimated cost of $15 billion. A lot of money, yes, but the region is a national treasure representing 40 percent of the coastal wetlands in the contiguous United States.

As the proposal progressed, Sen. David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican, worked at gutting a law that empowered the Army Corps of Engineers to protect wetlands in navigable waters. It seems some timber companies wanted to make a fast buck cutting down cypress trees and turning them into ... garden mulch!

Louisiana need not remain a permanent ward of the federal government. As in the case of General Motors, Washington could help change management, then set Louisiana free to run its own affairs. But something must be done.

Providence Journal columnist Froma Harrop's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. Her e-mail address is

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Vanishing oysters

Adolfo's, the great restaurant upstairs from the Apple Barrel on Frenchmen Street, is serving its last oysters. When the current supply is gone they're off the menu. Just one more reminder of the way the George W. Bush administration ruined life in Louisiana in exchange for windfall oil profits. Those who are blaming Obama are either disingenuous or just plain stupid. Bush VP Dick Cheney allowed BP and the rest of the oil cartel to write the rules on oversight of their reckless practices. That means you too, Dutch East Ind... I mean Shell Oil. Thanks for sponsoring Jazz Fest, but why don't you just jump in the river while you're at it.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Gulf Aid Art at Jonathan Ferrara Gallery

GULF AID ART: ARTISTS IN ACTION, A Fundraising Exhibition of Louisiana Artists Responding to the Gulf Oil Spill.
June 17-19, 2010 at Jonathan Ferrara Gallery

Jonathan Ferrara Gallery is proud to announce GULF AID ART: ARTISTS IN ACTION, A Fundraising Exhibition of Louisiana Artists Responding to the Gulf Oil Spill.

The benefit exhibition will take place from June 17-19th at the gallery located in the New Orleans Arts District. The exhibition will feature new works by over 25 well-known Louisiana artists reacting to the greatest environmental disaster in US history. Gallery owner Jonathan Ferrara and artist Dan Tague, both arts activists , conceived of the exhibition as a way for the visual arts community of New Orleans to respond to the disaster.

The exhibition will open on Thursday June 17th at 11am, with an artist reception from 6-9pm that night and will run for through Saturday June 19th at 5pm and continue online throughout the summer.

As this crisis has unfolded, citizens across the state have felt helpless in being able to respond the disaster.

What action can I take?
What can I do?
What is happening?
What is our future?
How can we help our fellow Louisianans who are being directly affected right now?

Inspired by actions taken by the musical community in organizing the recent Gulf Aid concert that featured musicians like Lenny Kravitz and Preservation Hall Jazz Band, visual artists are banding together to offer their creative talents in response to this disaster.

"Musicians have done their part and now visual artists are going to do their part as well to respond to this terrible disaster. We all are terrified, upset, anxious and damn mad about what has transpired and we have to use our creativity to speak up, comment, criticize and make our voices heard. We are all in this together and artists must take action!" - Jonathan Ferrara

Both Tague and Ferrara have a history of responding to disasters via artistic endeavors. In 2006, after Hurricane Katrina, Ferrara created New Orleans Artists In Exile, a travelling exhibition of artists affected by the hurricane. In 2006-7, Ferrara was instrumental in distributing over $40,000 in direct grants to artists in need recovering from Katrina. And in 2010, artist Dan Tague created a limited edition print (100), United For Haiti, which sold out in a week and immediately raised over $7500 for victims of the earthquake in Haiti. Those funds were donated to the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund.

For GULF AID ART, each artist was challenged to create a new print edition with the only criteria that they respond / react to the current crisis affecting their home, health, happiness and economic futures. Each artist has created a limited edition print of 10 that will be sold both in the gallery during the limited run exhibition and online via the gallery's website. In an effort to make the work accessible to the general public and raise as much money as possible, the prices of the works will range between $100 and $500 with the potential to raise $80,000.

For this fundraiser, Ferrara will take down his current exhibition and install the 25+ works in the galley for a three-day fundraising exhibition. A to Z Framing of New Orleans, who is generously donating the framing, will frame the works in the exhibition.

In addition to the works in the gallery , British photojournalist Charlie Varley will exhibit a slide show of his photographs taken since the April 20th explosion documenting the spill and its aftermath. Varley's photos are regularly published around the world in Time magazine, Newsweek, The Times, The Wall Street Journal among others.

The exhibition will open on Thursday June 17th at 11am, with an artist reception from 6-9pm that night and it will run for through Saturday June 19th at 5pm. Louisiana's own Abita Beer is also a sponsor of the event.

100% of the proceeds will be donated to Gulf Aid. Gulf Aid is a 501(c3) nonprofit corporation established in response to the biggest oil spill in US history just 50 miles off of the Louisiana Coast.

The mission of the Gulf Relief Foundation is to provide relief to the fishing community of the Gulf Coast and their families, and to address the long-term challenge of restoring and protecting America's coastal wetlands.

The fund will ensure all proceeds are distributed to organizations focused on supporting wetlands/coastal environmental issues & the well being of fishermen, and the regional seafood industry.

Exhibition Sponsors

Jonathan Ferrara Gallery (special thanks to Gallery Director Jessica Inman)
A to Z Framing of New Orleans
Abita Beer
Express Signs


The featured artists for GULF AID ART are:

Christopher Saucedo, Professor of Sculpture, University of New Orleans
Dan Rule, Professor of Imaging, University of New Orleans, represented by Jonathan Ferrara Gallery
Krista Jurisich, Art Teacher represented by Jonathan Ferrara Gallery
Dan Tague, Prospect.2 Biennial Artist represented by Jonathan Ferrara Gallery
Skylar Fein, Prospect.1 Biennial Artist represented by Jonathan Ferrara Gallery
Brian Guidry, Artist and Curator of Acadiana Center for the Arts in Lafayette, LA
Robert Tannen, Prospect.2 Biennial Artist, and Founder of New Orleans Contemporary Arts Center
Sandy Chism, Professor of Painting, Tulane University, represented by Jonathan Ferrara Gallery
Teresa Cole, Professor of Art, Tulane University, represented by Gallery Bienvenu,
Sally Heller, artist represented by Gallery Bienvenu, New Orleans
Ron Bechet, Professor of Art, Xavier University
Tina Girouard, Prospect.2 Biennial artist and Internationally known interdisciplinary artist since the 1970s, known for her art and activism in Haiti since 1980s.
David Bradshaw, artist, activist and collaborator with William S. Burroughs and Robert Rauschenberg
British Photojournalist Charlie Varley represented by news photo agency SIPA Press in New York and Paris and Jonathan Ferrara Gallery in New Orleans.
Douglas Bourgeois represented by Arthur Roger Gallery
Dawn Dedeaux, Prospect.2 Biennial artist represented by Arthur Roger Gallery
Kyle Bravo, printmaker and founder of The Front artist cooperative in St Claude Arts District, represented by Jonathan Ferrara Gallery
Jennifer Odem, art faculty, New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (NOCCA)represented by 511 Gallery in NY
David Sullivan
Rajko Radovanovic
Photographer Bob Compton
Daphne Loney
Cynthia Scott
Brian Borrello
Stephen Collier, one of the founders of Good Children Gallery
Michael Greathouse, Kelman Visser Gallery, Brussels
Matt Vis and Tony Campbell (Generic Art Solutions), Good Children Gallery

Jonathan Ferrara Gallery

Jonathan Ferrara Gallery is a collective environment of creative visions. A commercial gallery with a public conscience. Artist, activist, and entrepreneur Jonathan Ferrara opened the gallery in 1998 to give artists a greater voice. Since its inception, the gallery has focused on cutting edge works by local, national and international artists with a sense of purpose, mission, and message.

For more information about Gulf Aid, the charity, please visit

Thursday, June 10, 2010

100 years of Howlin' Wolf

"Always stop at the top"
-- Howlin' Wolf's advice to Eric Clapton on how to play the blues.

100 years ago today Chester Arthur Burnett aka Howlin' Wolf was born. Right now I'm listening to J. Monque D DJ a tribute to the Wolf on WWOZ. I've also been working on an article about the Black Keys for Relix magazine. It's really difficult to describe Patrick Carney's drum sound but when I heard "Moanin' at Midnight" again it clicked. It's the same kind of attack. It's blues, and it's old school, but it's not retro. That's because it's in the moment, just as these Howlin' Wolf tracks sound contemporary. Check that, they sound eternal, outside of time, in a continuum of their own design. I'm realizing that's the only kind of music I really care about. "I'm Ready."

Nice piece by Jeff Johnson on Wolf in the Chicago Sun Times:,howlin-wolf-blues-fest-060610.article

BY JEFF JOHNSON Staff Reporter
He looked like a member of the Rams’ Fearsome Foursome, sang in a voice so gritty it could cut diamonds and worked Chicago’s blues stages with the passion of a man grappling for possession of his soul.

Yes, the man born Chester Arthur Burnett — after our 21st president — 100 years ago this Thursday outside West Point, Miss., and known to the world as Howlin’ Wolf left an impression bigger than his size 16 extra-wides. Friends, family and his musicians still speak of his dominating physical presence, but ask the about the Wolf and they’ll first mention his complex personality, his street smarts and his dedication to his craft.

This week, when the 27th annual Chicago Blues Festival takes over Grant Park for three days starting Friday, the Wolf will be ubiquitous. And that’s likely the way he would have wanted it.

“I remember my mom [Lillie] telling me, ‘There aren’t a lot of things he needed or wanted, but one thing he asked: ‘Don’t forget me,’” his daughter Bettye Kelly recalled during a recent “Speaking of the Blues” program at the Harold Washington Library Center devoted to the 1991 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, who died in 1976.

Or, as his longtime guitarist Jody Williams puts it, “The Wolf deserves to be remembered.”

* * *

Howlin’ Wolf’s story is the Chicago blues in microcosm, the ultimate triumph of the African-American dirt farmer transplanted to the postwar industrial North. Wolf wasn’t among the early wave of bluesmen to join the Great Migration. As a teenager, he learned the blues at the feet of the great Delta blues guitarist Charley Patton, and built a recording and performing career while DJ’ing at KWEM-AM in West Memphis, Ark.

Sun Records founder Sam Phillips couldn’t believe what he heard when Wolf cut several sides at his studio in Memphis, Tenn., for the Bihari brothers’ Modern label and Chicago’s Chess Records. “I can say to this day there is nobody I loved recording more,” Phillips told Wolf’s biographers James Segrest and Mark Hoffman, who penned Moanin’ at Midnight in 2004. This from the man who recorded Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and a host of other greats.

By September 1951, both Modern and Chess thought they had “exclusive” deals with the Wolf, and Leonard and Phil Chess eventually prevailed. Wolf was off to Chicago.

“I’m the only one who drove out of the South like a gentleman,” Wolf later told Chicago music producer and blues historian Dick Shurman.

And that scene in 2008’s highly fanciful Chess biopic “Cadillac Records” where Wolf pulls up to the offices in an old pickup truck? That was probably a two-tone DeSoto, his daughters say. Still, the movie presented Wolf in a favorable light when it came to seeing through the plantation mentality he walked away from down South. Instead of taking Chess’ flashy Cadillacs in payment for royalties, Wolf insisted on keeping correct books.

“That’s how they did business with the artists, but my dad did not play that,” daughter Barbra Marks explained. “Our dad was depicted very well,” including a scene when he peeled bills from his bankroll to pay for harmonica superstar Little Walter Jacobs’ burial.

Williams took exception to Wolf’s portrayal as “a thug” in the movie. But another guitarist, Hubert Sumlin, who probably had the most longevity of any member of Wolf’s bands, said his boss was not above ruling by intimidation when the situation warranted. Wolf’s ballyhooed feud with fellow Chicago blues great Muddy Waters, which started from the time Wolf began taking club dates from the more established Waters, came to a head when Wolf fired Sumlin onstage and Waters quickly hired him. “The Wolf scared me so bad over this,” Sumlin recalled in a phone interview from his home in northern New Jersey.

Returning from a monthlong tour with Waters’ band, Sumlin hit Chicago feeling tired, sick and alienated by Muddy’s comparatively lax rules. “I called Wolf from a pay phone in front of the 708 Club. Muddy was with me, and he was drunk, man. Wolf came on in the door, pointed his finger at Muddy and told him , ‘Hey, man, I come to get my son.’ Muddy started to cry [out of fear he’d angered Wolf]. To tell you the truth, that made me feel a little important [having the blues giants fighting over him]. I learned a lot when I was with those guys.”

Sumlin admits the firing was warranted because he was “running over” the vocals with his heavy guitar picking.

“He said, ‘Don’t come back till you start using your fingers cause you’re a finger man, anyway.’ It didn’t take me long to learn. It made me a better player and a better musician. I had my tone, my sound, everything I needed.”

Now Sumlin regularly lands on lists of the greatest rock guitarists ever, and Eric Clapton cites him as one of his biggest influences. He owes it mostly to Wolf, he says.

* * *

Wolf left a great legend and an even greater musical legacy. Using his own band members and the finest Chess session men, he cranked out signature tunes such as “Smokestack Lightnin’,” “Evil,” “I Ain’t Superstitious,” “Killing Floor” and “Goin’ Down Slow.” Never a prolific songwriter, Wolf recorded many songs by blues poet laureate Willie Dixon, a Chess writer-arranger-producer who joined in on upright bass.

And while Muddy was top dog when Wolf arrived in Chicago, Wolf had the advantage of living in the South more recently. Thus when his devoted fans arrived in droves to Chicago, many feeling homesick, they showed up at clubs such as Silvio’s, the Zanzibar and the 708 Club to hear Wolf sing and play the sounds they knew best. He turned other blues fans into Wolf fanatics with his smoking-hot band and an animated stage presence that was said to have inspired James Brown and Little Richard.

In explaining his appeal, non-related namesake Peter Wolf, former J. Geils Band frontman, explained, “He was unique. He had a deep emotional impact, his style was totally recognizable as his own and he seemed to have a direct link to Charley Patton. I just found him to be like a great expressionist painter — unique and encompassing an amazing style. His performances were always unpredictable because he was always unpredictable. He got lost in the music and he always had a showmanship aspect to him, whereas Muddy Waters or John Lee Hooker didn’t, although all three had a great intensity when they sang.”

Peter Wolf and Howlin’ Wolf, who both were singers, harmonica players and DJs, found themselves in Harvard Square after a late night, and when the Bostonian opted for an early breakfast, his Chicago visitor delayed them when he became engaged in an intense discussion with a group of Harvard students.

Shurman, too, found Wolf to have an uncanny native intelligence, given his lack of formal education. He arrived in Chicago barely able to read and write, and with some help from wife Lillie, he was eventually able to do the payroll for his band, deducting taxes and even offering health insurance.

“I always said Wolf had quite a bit of street smarts, but I didn’t look at him like I did B.B. King,” said Shurman, who theorizes that given the opportunity, King would have made a great U.S. representative to the United Nations.

Shurman gives the Wolf his due, citing his childhood of extreme poverty, when he was banished from his mother’s home, brought up by an abusive uncle who beat him with a strap and a possible nervous breakdown and electroshock therapy in the military. Shurman poses this interesting hypothetical: If you could do away with the spirit-crushing poverty of the period, knowing that you’d lose the great music produced as a result of these social ills, would you do it?

“From a humanitarian standpoint, you’d have to,” I replied.

“Yes, but as a music lover, think of what you’d be losing.”

Fortunately, we agreed, it’s not a choice we’re forced to make.

Friday, June 4, 2010


Grammy Award winning roots-rock band Los Lobos has decided to cancel their scheduled performance at The Talking Stick Resort on June 10th, 2010. The band has made this decision based on the current call to boycott Arizona in response to SB 1070.

Through their management, Los Lobos issued the following statement: “We support the boycott of Arizona. The new law will inevitably lead to unfair racial profiling and possible abuse of people who just happen to look Latino. As a result, in good conscience, we could not see ourselves performing in Arizona. We regret the inconvenience this may have caused the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community, Casino Arizona, Talking Stick Resort and our fans, but we feel strongly that it is the right thing to do.”

The members of Los Lobos are Steve Berlin, David Hidalgo, Conrad Lozano, Cesar Rosas and Louie Perez.

Monday, May 31, 2010

A modest proposal

Lies, lies, lies. According to a report on MSNBC Sunday, BP Chief Executive Officer Tony Hayward disputed claims by scientists that large undersea plumes have been set adrift by the Gulf oil spill and said the cleanup fight has narrowed to surface slicks rolling into Louisiana's coastal marshes.

During a tour of a company staging area for cleanup workers, Hayward said BP's sampling showed "no evidence" that oil was suspended in large masses beneath the surface. He didn't elaborate on how the testing was done.

"The oil is on the surface," Hayward said. "Oil has a specific gravity that's about half that of water. It wants to get to the surface because of the difference in specific gravity."

Scientists from several universities have reported plumes of what appears to be oil suspended in clouds stretching for miles and reaching hundreds of feet beneath the Gulf's surface.

Those findings — from the University of South Florida, the University of Georgia, Southern Mississippi University and other institutions — were based on initial observations of water samples taken in the Gulf over the last several weeks. They continue to be analyzed.

One researcher said Sunday that their findings are bolstered by the fact that scientists from different institutions have come to similar conclusions after doing separate testing.

"There's been enough evidence from enough different sources," said Marine scientist James Cowan of Louisiana State University, who reported finding a plume last week of oil about 50 miles from the spill site that reached to depths of at least 400 feet.

Hayward is the same guy that made such outrageous claims as "Nobody wants this spill to be contained more than I do"; "I want my life back"; and my personal favorite "Why did this happen to me?"

Well, the oil rig workers who died in the explosion created by Hayward's shoddy practices want their lives back too. The thousands of fishermen and their families whose lives are now ruined by Hayward's folly want their lives back too. Countless, dolphins, turtles, redfish pelicans, migratory birds and other creatures would ask for their lives back if they could.

When a serial killer murders dozens of people does he ask "Why did this happen to me?" When a drug gang murders rivals in cold blood on the streets of New Orleans do we hear the gang members say "I want my life back?" Society is supposed to have a way of dealing with those who kill fellow citizens. Those who kill for profit are held in particular contempt. Hayward should be arrested and tried for crimes against humanity. Dick Cheney, whose secret meetings with oil executives in the first year of the most recent Bush administration established the energy policy that has led us to ruin, should be arrested and tried for treason. If the CEOs were held accountable the same way serious killers and gang leaders are we'd see a lot less of the irresponsible corporate behavior we have to deal with now.

There has also been a lot of talk about what Obama should and shouldn't have done since the spill. There's not much the government could have done to stop the spill once it happened. Where Obama went wrong, and he went very, very wrong, was when he gave a green light to deepwater drilling three weeks before the spill happened, claiming that the technology was so advanced that spills did not occur. He had a year in office to clean up the mess Cheney singlehandedly created. Not only didn't he do anything about the lack of oversight of drilling methods, he encouraged the insane rhetoric of "drill, baby, drill." This is what he really should be apologizing for. If stricter regulations had been in place demanding the fail safe mechanisms that other countries require of deepwater drillers the Deepwater Horizon disaster would never have happened.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Murder In the Gulf

Time for action! Join the protest at 1 pm, Sunday May 30, by Jackson Square. BP's greed & negligence murdered eleven human beings-- real working people, with real families, spouses and children -- and now BP is destroying the entire Gulf Coast while the Federal Government does nothing.

BP is killing us all, killing our wildlife, our oysters and fish, our birds, and our way of life.

Even if the capping procedure works the damage has already been done. The oil discharge is worse than the Exxon Valdez. This is more like Chernobyl in the Gulf. This is destroying the Gulf of Mexico for generations.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

On the Beach

Officials have done nothing to save the disappearing wetlands of Louisiana and Mississippi. Big oil, which has run the country at least as far back as the Reagan administration, has pushed back fiercely against any attempt to educate the public about this growing disaster. Oil greed is the real underlying reason for the New Depression as well. The only reason we wasted the countless billions to oust Saddam Hussein in Iraq was to further our geopolitical interests in the oil business. Oil makes us dependent on dictators and religious zealots in the middle east and enriches them, giving them the resources to fund terrorists who have attacked our country repeatedly.
The Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars has done a great job of trying to bring attention to this giant threat to our future. Cyril Neville has been forthright in speaking truth to power on this and many other issues, yet his messageis repeatedly derided or occluded. Dr. John has been blunt in his condemnations of the evil corporations behind this mess. One of them, Shell, funds the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, blood money that's supposed to get them off the hook for helping to destroy all of South Louisiana in the present and New Orleans in the near future. When Dr. John assailed Shell last year and admonished them to do something about the situation he was inundated with Shell-sponsored pushback and ultimately forced to make a public apology for his remarks in the Times Picayune.
Shell was a major part of the oil cartel that bought off congress in order to gut federal oversight of the offshore drilling industry. They bought relaxed standards that allowed deepwater drilling without safeguards that would have prevented the Deepwater Horizon disaster from unleasing a volcano of oil into the gulf.
Now it's too late. The worst has happened. Oil is inexorably fouling all of the South Louisiana coastline and is infiltrating the delta. It will take a generation to wash it away, unless the land simply disappears in the meantime. The entire fishing industry of Louisiana has been taken out by the oil industry, just like that. Corporate war. The national Republican politicians keep saying things like "accidents will happen" and clinging to the nursery school logic of "Drill, baby drill." Too bad, says Dick Cheney, Sarah Palin and BP officials. Even the Obama administration was ready to allow more offshore drilling before all this happened. We've been repeatedly lied to about the amount of oil being released into the Gulf, where it's going and what it's long range effects will be. But now it's on the beach. The lies won't work anymore. Nevertheless the damage has been done. I think it's interesting that the Republican governor of Louisiana now says that if another country came and took this land from us we'd go to war. We've already lost the war, Bobby, to the very people who financed your campaign. So shut up or switch parties and do something about it.
Today's Washington Post has an article that spells out just how bad things are.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Jazz Fest 2010 final thoughts

There was a triumphant air to the 41st renewal of the New Orleans
Jazz and Heritage Festival as it began. The afterglow of the Saints winning the
Super Bowl and the decisive endorsement the city gave new mayor
Mitch Landrieu with his landslide victory has given many New
Orleanians the sense that the trials of Katrina's aftermath were
over and a new era of hope and optimism was at hand. The spectacular
success of the French Quarter Festival augured a potentially
record-breaking Jazz Fest. Flights into New Orleans were overbooked;
hotel rooms were impossible to come by.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Joey Ramone birthday bash May 19

The annual Joey Ramone Birthday Bash is scheduled for May 19 at Fillmore New York at Irving Plaza. Hank III, Morningwood, Sick F*cks, The Independnts, Spanking Charlene and Heap are on the bill.

Mickey Leigh, organizer of the annual Joey Ramone Birthday Bash and brother of the late Joey Ramone, has announced an after party to immediately follow this year’s Bash.

Held to commemorate Ramone’s birthday every year since his passing in 2001 after a seven-year battle with Lymphoma, the Bash has become a highly anticipated event, bringing together some of music’s hottest acts to perform for a one night only celebration.

Ramone had a history of encouraging up-and-coming bands in New York’s downtown music scene by showcasing them at his special “Joey Ramone Presents…” events. Since Ramone’s passing, his brother and their mother Charlotte Lesher carried on the tradition “by featuring bands that make great music and getting together some of Joey’s friends to celebrate him on what would otherwise be a sad, somber day,” Leigh explained.

This is the first year for the after party, which is being organized by NYC based fashion coordinator Erin O’Brien and will be held at The Belmont Lounge, 117 East 15th Street between Park Avenue & Irving Plaza, from 10PM – 4AM. There is no cover charge and no tickets being sold so everyone is invited – providing they can show ID that they are over 21 years of age. Performing tributes to Ramones songs “their way” will be Killcode (, Panzie (, Patti Rothberg ( and Karen Curious ( DJ Oki will be spinning punk music all night long. Additional surprise guests are anticipated.

Among the items included in the silent auction are a Cyndi Lauper signed Barbie Doll; New York Dolls book and poster signed by photographer Bob Gruen; signed Rock Junket book and 2 tickets for the rock and roll walking tour; Michael H Rock Punk Coutoure Handmade Jeans (3 pair); Billy The Artist signed painting; signed Blank Generation DVD donated by filmmaker Amos Poe; “I Love Dick” t-shirt and book signed by The Dictators’ Dick Manitoba; and gift certificates from Houndstooth Pub ($50), Stitch Bar ($50), CBGB’s, St. Marks Bookstore, and Trash & Vaudeville. Additional items are expected from the B52s and Dropkick Murphys. Net proceeds from the auction go to benefit Lymphoma research.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Aretha cancels Jazz Fest show

Aretha Franklin pulled out of her scheduled performance Friday at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Earth Wind and Fire will replace her on the bill. Highlight for me is the Mardi Gras Indian Orchetsra making its first Jazz Fest appearance.
Thursday's festival was a beautiful kickoff for the second weekend. The weather was absolutely spectacular and the 101 Runners brought down the spirits. Great band, with a new album just out featuring an incendiary performance on lead guitar from June Yamagishi.
Amanda Shaw continues to grow and sounded great on the Gentilly stage, especially with Trombone Shorty backing her up. Please, Amanda, keep doing what you do and stop with the covers of "Devil Went Down to Georgia" and "Should I Stay Or Should I Go." It's frustrating to see someone as talented as yourself making like a Bourbon Street cover band. Of course if you stuck around to see Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint close out the day with versions of "Going Down the Road Feeling Bad," "The Race Is On" and -- of all things -- "Happy" you might well ask why I'm picking on you. And you'd have a point.
Bad idea of the day: Steve Martin. The comedian/amateur banjo picker played a desultory set enlivened only by the shtick of "King Tut." Spend some more time at the Fais Do Do stage, Steve, before you come back and try that again.
It's been so hot at the Blue Nile they should have fire trucks outside at all times. Tuesday night Dr. John was messing -- the place finally cleared at 7am -- Wednesday was the "Radiators Reincarnation," a recapitulation of wild days at the Dream Palace, which the Blue Nile was once called. Thursday night local band Doctor Gonzeaux played a terrific warmup set for an off the scale night of Trombone Shorty, who is all over town during Fest as usual.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Josh Charles channels Booker

I keep hearing raves about Josh Charles from New Orleans musicians. I've seen him a couple of times with his band and thought he was very talented but didn't get the full picture. Last night he played two solo piano sets at Checkpoint Charlie and I finally got it. Got why Cyril Neville compares him to James Booker. Got why Dr. John took a personal interest in tutoring him. Got why James Andrews chose him to be in his Crescent City All-Stars band at Jazz Fest, which was one of the high points of the first weekend. At Checkpoint, Charles played Allen Toussaint's "Life," a terrific vehicle for Booker. Charles seemed to channel the Bayou Maharaja under the full Taurus moon, his fingers dancing across the keyboards, producing clusters of sound with an otherwordly cadence. The normally boistrous Checkpoint crowd, which swelled to capacity as he played with all the shutters opened to Esplanade Avenue, hung on every note and showered him with applause at the end. People were throwing twenty dollar bills into the tip bucket.
It was the first solo piano gig Charles has ever played in New Orleans.
It won't be the last.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Fest season rolls on

Just walked out of Louisiana Music Factory where Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue played a spectacular showcase of material from the new album Backatown. "Something Beautiful," which Lenny Kravitz guests on, was a high point. The crowd already knows the shout-outs for "Hurricane Warning." Allen Toussaint's "On the Way Down" fits well with this material. And the title track really smokes. It's amazing how tight and professional Orleans Avenue is. Musicians know what to do in New Orleans, but the lo fi logistics of the small, informal stage at the Music Factory make for easygoing performances. But Shorty's band was letter perfect, the sound balance was extraordinary, and everything went like clockwork.
Monk Boudreaux Jolly House and Cyril Neville are still on tap.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Weather throws another curve at Jazz Fest

Jazz Fest fans unfamiliar with the unpredictability of south Louisiana weather got a real shock the last couple of days when the forecast was bass ackwards. Friday was supposed to be OK; Saturday promised tornados. The prognosis was so dire that a number of local bands were told their Saturday shows would be canceled. As it turned out it rained for most of the Fest Friday but the weather turned beautiful on Saturday. The tornados were as bad as predicted but the system missed New Orleans.
The radar screens are clean heading into Sunday, which promises to be a banner finale to the first weekend. Marc Stone, whose just-released album Trickeration and Rascality is well worth a listen, opens up the Acura Stage. Acura has a powerhouse lineup Sunday continuing with a doubleheader from Tab Benoit, first with Louisiana LeRoux then with Voice of the Wetlands. The Levon Helm Band follows with what will undoubtedly be a superb moment leading up to headliners the Allman Brothers.
Congo Square also boasts a killer lineup with Donald Harrison followed by King Sunny Ade, Juan Luis Guerra y 440 and Anita Baker. At the Blues Tent James Andrews and the Crescent All Stars will be followed by the Radiators playing a special set of pre war blues songs. Elsewhere, Theresa Andersson, Marcia Ball and Susan Cowsill all perform on different stages, the Blind Boys of Alabama are at the Gospel Tent and Big Chief Monk Boudreaux leads the Golden Eagles Mardi Gras Indians to the Jazz and Heritage Stage. There are a number of other great sets scheduled but you can't be everywhere at once.

Rain or rain at Jazz Fest

Jazz Fest has always brought a temporary influx of people to New Orleans from around the world, a pilgrimage that roughly doubles the city in size for the 11 days of the festival. Even if it's just for this small window of time, these people have adopted the city and consider it home. It's interesting to listen to the conversations, like the couple from Toronto I heard comparing notes with vistors from Colorado about dozens of local restaurants. They definitely knew what they were talking about. Now that Treme is showing how the magician does all his tricks everyone will be an expert on New Orleans. That can only help the city in the long run, and if you're a local and don't like the influx of tourists, you can sit home and listen to the festival on the radio, which is pretty cool, too.

Day One was a wonderful waterlogged world, although I can imagine some folks being a little upset that their ticket turned out to be for a water park more than a music festival. That's why they call it rain or shine.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Synth turns 40

Easter 2010 is the 40th anniversary of the first-ever live public performance with a MiniMoog.

On Easter Sunday 1970, David Borden and Steve Drews of Mother Mallard's Portable Masterpiece Co. - the world's first synthesizer ensemble --performed "Easter" (Borden's first tonal pulse-piece composed for the Moog) to audiences at Cornell University's Sage Chapel, in Ithaca, NY. They used the MiniMoog prototype, thanks to Bob Moog.

For Borden's reminiscence of this event, see his website:

Across the decades, Borden continued to lead Mother Mallard, whose synth instrumentation would expand to include additional electric and acoustic instruments -- and notably, Apple's new personal computers and eventually, laptop Macs. From his first days employed as the keyboardist to Cornell's dance program, Borden would eventually become Head of Cornell University's new Digital Music Program. Effectively, his career and the work of Mother Mallard's Portable Masterpiece Company formed a living bridge from Moog and the Analog Age to the days of Apple and Digital music -- the missing link, if you will, between MiniMoogs and iPods.

Recordings from Mother Mallard Portable Masterpiece Co. have been reissued by Cuneiform records as *Mother Mallard's Portable Masterpiece Co. 1970-1973" -- which includes "Easter"[19:23] -- and *Like a Duck to Water*,--which includes a Quicktime movie featuring Mother Mallard in its early, Moog-based days.

As a composer, Borden would go on to create some of the most significant Minimalist works of the 20th C. -- equal to the works of Riley, Glass and Reich, despite the fact that Borden has never been as widely known as those acclaimed masters. Critics have called Borden's "Countinuing Story of Counterpoint" series, released in a series of 3 CDs on Cuneiform, "the Goldberg Variations of Minimalism". Now retired from his Digital Music position at Cornell, Borden continues to compose prolifically today, and to perform live with his ongoing group Mother Mallard.

For Mother Mallard/David Borden works on Cuneiform, please see:

On April 17th, David Borden will be performing with Josh Oxford at the Museum of Making Music in Carlsbad, CA, as part of the "Waves of Inspiration" exhibit -- the first exhibit of artifacts from the Bob Moog's archives. Borden, on the MiniMoog Voyager, and Oxford, on the MiniMoog Model D, will perform Borden's landmark 1970 work "Easter" as well as his new composition "Dreams of Jimmy (in memory of Jimmy Guiffre)" The concert will be at 7pm.

Earlier on the 17th, at 1pm, Borden will lead a tour of the Moog exhibition with the exhibit's curator, Tatiana Sizonenko.

For more on the Borden concert and exhibition tour on April 17th, see:

For more on the Moog exhibit, "Waves of Inspiration," see:

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Treme co-creator David Mills dies

The first tragedy in the Treme series comes not to one of the characters but to one of its creators. The sudden death of one of the principal creators of the series, David Mills, casts an eerie real-world pall over this riveting tale about a city's attempt to resurrect itself. Here's the Times-Picayune story writen by Dave Walker:

'Treme' writer David Mills dies of brain aneurysm
By Dave Walker, The Times-Picayune
March 31, 2010, 10:28AM

David Mills, a staff writer and co-executive producer of the upcoming HBO
drama “Treme,” died of a brain aneurysm Tuesday in New Orleans, an HBO
spokesman confirmed Wednesday morning. He was 48.

A former newspaper feature writer, Mills went on to write for some of the
finest TV dramas of the era, including “Homicide: Life on the Street,” “NYPD
Blue,” “ER” and “The Wire.”

"Treme" is currently in production in New Orleans and will have an April 11

"HBO is deeply saddened by the sudden loss of our dear friend and colleague
David Mills," said a network statement. "He was a gracious and humble man,
and will be sorely missed by those who knew and loved him, as well as those
who were aware of his immense talent. David has left us too soon but his
brilliant work will live on."

Mills attended the University of Maryland and went on to write for The
Washington Post, among other outlets.

His first TV writing credit was for “Homicide" in 1994, according to the
Internet Movie Database.

Mills co-wrote the show's season-two episode "Bop Gun" with "Treme"
co-creator David Simon, for which they won the Writers Guild of America
award in 1995. Mills then went to work for "Picket Fences" and later "NYPD
Blue." He won two Emmy awards for co-writing and executive producing the miniseries "The Corner" for HBO.

In addition to his other credits, Mills was creator and executive producer
of the 2003 NBC miniseries “Kingpin.”

Mills was a member of a small “Treme” writing staff that also included
novelist and “The Wire” veteran George Pelecanos, and New Orleans writers
Tom Piazza and Lolis Eric Elie.

Mills said in a recent interview that he was first contacted about joining
the “Treme” writing staff by co-creators Simon ("The Wire," "Generation
Kill") and Eric Overmyer ("St. Elsewhere," "The Wire") long before the show’s
pilot was picked up by HBO. The pilot was filmed in New Orleans last year.

“I remember seeing their script before the pilot got picked up, which is
going back about three years,” he said. “Simon and I go back 30 years
together. We’re college newspaper buddies.

“By the time this new series came around, I don’t know if it was spoken or
assumed or if it was casually mentioned that if ‘Treme’ were to go, (Simon)
would love me to be a part of it, (and that) I would love to be a part of
it. The timing worked out right.”

Mills said he saw his contribution to the writing of “Treme” was as an
outsider attempting to help Simon and Overmyer interpret the show’s themes –
Hurricane Katrina recovery as expressed through the city’s musical and
culinary subcultures – for audiences beyond New Orleans.

“I will never know as much about New Orleans music as Dave Simon,” he said.
“I will never know as much about the social world and the social history and
the characters of the town as Eric. So I can’t bring any of that.

“What I can bring is the sort of simple story stuff, the stuff I would feel
like I can contribute to any show I happen to be on at any given time, which
is just, ‘How do we get the most out of these characters.’”

A music fan who wrote passionately about his love for 1970s funk music on
his blog Undercover Black Man – read it here: -- Mills had come to love New Orleans
and its music during his time here writing for “Treme.”

“I knew next to nothing about '50s and '60s New Orleans R&B, let alone
the earlier jazz that grew in the city, so this has been a very, very cool
musical education for me, the particular joy of knowing stuff newly,” he

Mills said he approached his New Orleans musical education with a new fan’s
fervor, and spoke enthusiastically about “walking into Louisiana Music
Factory and coming out with $100 of music CDs, almost like letting the
spirits guide you as to which ones to pick,” he said. “There will be no end
to it, it’s so deep.”

Mills wrote two of the series’ 10 episodes -- episode No. 3 by himself and
episode No. 7 with Davis Rogan, a New Orleans musician and former WWOZ-FM DJ
who is a model for one of the series’ characters, played by Steve Zahn.

As co-executive producer and a contributor to the show’s collaborative
writing process, Mills made his craft present in every episode of “Treme,”
which is due to complete first-season production at the end of April.

Accordingly, Mills said he was deeply curious about how “Treme” will be
received by viewers who aren’t familiar with second-line parades, Mardi Gras
Indians and the peculiar challenges of running a New Orleans restaurant
kitchen in the dark days after the 2005 levee-failure flood.

“I’ve got to say that that’s the thing I’m most curious about, because I
think it’s an open question whether it will work,” he said. “Meaning,
whether a lot of people will dig it. You just don’t know, because you can’t
say, ‘People love cops and robbers,’ or ‘People love Westerns,’ or ‘People
love gangsters.’ Here, the show is about the specificity of place. That’s a
hell of a thing to build a show around.

“Here’s one thing I absolutely know: The acting is superb, and the music is
amazing. That’s two things that I know we deliver on. And the rest of it, we’ll

"I look forward to eavesdropping in Internet forums or whatnot, or checking
out the TV critics who write online, to see what they think about the
episodes as they roll out.

“I suspect the power of the show is cumulative. We’re never going to explain
what Mardi Gras Indians are or why they exist, or what a social aid and
pleasure club is, but by the end of 10 episodes, almost without the viewer
knowing it, you’re going to just absorb the essence of the thing. You’re
going to understand the magic of the place.

“At the end of 10, (non-New Orleans viewers) will have seen maybe 60 to 70
local musicians who (they’ve) never heard of, and will have heard the full
gamut of musical styles.

“Its very ethereal, but the show is kind of about that in a way. The city is
about that. I think by the end of it, the cumulative effect will be what it
will be judged on.”

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Long live Alex Chilton

SXSW has always been about the future. Every year a new crop of eager, ambitious young artists and aspiring moguls flock to Austin for a frenzied exchange of contacts, ideas and spirit. I'm always struck by the optimism as well as the futility of this dance for a slowly dying entertainment industry. But that's OK because as the industry founders the creative aspirations of the people who inhabit it stand out in stark relief. Popular music is more than commerce; it's religion, or maybe I should say a lot of different religions, each one sustaining a core group of acolytes that meet each other each year in this pilgrimage to Austin. Every year it's a more difficult and expensive process, especially in light of the vast economic unwinding that the financial industry has imposed on the world. But these pilgrims will not be denied any more than the millions who sojourn to Mecca or Fatima for their comfort.

Though I'm no longer sure where I fit in the ecclesiastical hierarchy of SXSW I have the comfort of having witnessed it from its inception, when my own delusions and aspirations were part of the heady mix. Over the years I've watched with fascination as the venues, hotels and the city of Austin itself has shed numerous skins, each metamorphosis producing a larger and more rapacious beast. The sleepy, introspective college town I first visited, a hippy shire by comparison to its current monolithic status as the sharpened edge of a state intent on world domination, seems like the kind of image conjured up in fairy tales about places long ago and far away. Today the music that shaped SXSW is only part of a much larger creative partnership with film and a new world being created by social networking tools. The trade show, once a wild bazaar of independent publications and fledgeling record companies with ideas as delusional as my own, is now a restive glimmer of its former self, staffed mainly by representatives of corporate and governmental entites rather than the entrepeneurial renegades of yore (they're at the interactive part of SXSW, hoping to be discovered and bought out by those same corporate entities).

The hustle is still on, which is somehow reassuring in its own way. Instead of trying to sign artists to their small labels, today's budding moguls offer websites where artists can showcase their music via "free" downloads.

After all the dust settles the coin of the realm at SXSW remains live performance and the festival continues to deliver that in spectacular, undigestible fashion. The unofficial showcases, especially on South Congress, have become a major musical event in their own right. The Sixth Street corrider has become an undifferentiated din of overdriven PA systems
that swirl like a swollen river through the afternoon hours. The future of global pop is there somewhere, throbbing and sweating in its birth throes as its audience stares unassumingly back at it.

Now that the rock era is approaching an age roughly equivelant to the span of a human life it is no longer exclusively music for and about youth. This is certainly not news -- the greatest songwriters of the rock era have always contemplated aging and death. But when they were young that contemplation came from a distance either real or fetishized. Death now must be included as part of the experience and SXSW has done a remarkably good job of dealing with it. Last year's panel celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Sir Douglas Quintet's Mendocino album was really a rumination on the 10th anniversary of Doug Sahm's death. If the Austin spirit could be summarized by a single individual Sahm would have been it. His death left a gap that will never be completely filled, but his work is being carried on by his friends and relatives in the Texas Tornados, who performed songs from a great new album at SXSW 2010, and by followers such as the terrific San Antonio band the Krayolas, who also played SXSW this year.

This is the first renewal of the event, though, that was completely overshadowed by death. One of the main attractions of SXSW 2010 was a scheduled reunion of the critically acclaimed band Big Star. But the band's reclusive singer Alex Chilton died on the first day of SXSW 2010, turning the festival into an instant memorial for him. The reunion concert became a tribute show.

It was an ironic turn for Chilton. He was one of the rare popular musicians who hated the phoniness of fame and actually did something about it. Chilton was the person most likely to be dismissive of Big Star, a rock band that was more of an idea of how people obsessed with rock iconography viewed their heroes. The band's name itself contained an implied rebuke (those were different times, of course -- today a name like that would contain no irony). Shortly after I heard the news I tried to start the rumor that Chilton had faked his own death in order to avoid going through with the whole thing.

But this isn't 1970 and the myth of rock death no longer conjures romantic images or a fantasy afterlife. Jim Morrison is not living in South America and Jimi Hendrix is certainly gone forever despite the fact that he has a new album out on Sony/Legacy. Alex Chilton is a fitting icon for the comptemplation of life's end as its ultimate goal. Fame and fortune are commodities to be exploited by your enemies after death. What matters is how you lived, and Chilton lived up to his ideals, never accepting the cheap celebrity bestowed on him by those who worship false idols. Chilton didn't want to rest on his laurels, performing "The Letter" to adoring fans. He lived to write another song, for its own sake, and to do the work he himself, not somebody telling him what to do, thought was important.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Showdown at Oaklawn canceled

As expected the connections of Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra are skipping the Oaklawn Invitational after Rachel lost her first race as a 4-year-old Saturday at Fair Grounds in New Orleans. Owner Jess Jackson issued the following statement Sunday:
“Yesterday’s race while a disappointment, helped us define Rachel Alexandra’s racing condition. While she is healthy, just as I had anticipated, she is not in top form. Therefore, I decided today she will not be going to the Oaklawn Invitational on April 9. Steve (Asmussen) and I discussed this fully and we now regret we tried to accelerate her training in order meet the Apple Blossom schedule. We have a whole season before us to help define her greatness. She will tell us when her next race will be.”
Zenyatta, perfect on the racetrack over a 15-start career, has never lost anything except the vote for Horse of the Year. Having beaten Zenyatta at the ballot box there's no good reason for Jackson to let Zenyatta turn the tables on Rachel Alexandra at the racetrack. The way Zenyatta won in her return to action Saturday served notice to all comers that she is still a force to be reckoned with, Eclipse award or not.
Just as they handled her 3-year-old campaign like master promoters, Rachel Alexandra's connections know when to back off their challenge. Let's hope they don't propose any more bogus match races that they know won't be accepted.
Jerry Moss, owner of Zenyatta, was reached by phone at his home in Beverly Hills and asked to comment on Jess Jackson’s announcement that Rachel Alexandra will not run as originally scheduled in the Gr. I Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park on April 9.
“We’re disappointed that we’re not going to be able to face each other in the Apple Blossom. Hopefully, we can meet down the line. We respect both Steve (Asmussen) and Mr. Jackson as horsemen and they’re going to do what’s right for their horse. That’s all anybody could ask for. We’ll go on to the Apple Blossom as planned."
The weather at Fair Grounds was miserable this winter, a legitimate excuse for trainer Steve Asmussen, who was unable to condition Rachel Alexander in the manner he desired. Nevertheless Saturday's race was supposed to be an easy task for her and Rachel Alexandra couldn't handle it. Many fillies don't mature from their 2-year-old into their 3-year-old seasons, and now that Rachel Alexandra has become a 4-year-old she may no longer have as keen an interest in racing. Jess Jackson may be best off swallowing his pride and retiring Rachel Alexandra to broodmare work. It's unlikely she'll ever beat Zenyatta anyway the way she's running.
NB: One undeniable factor in the Horse of the Year vote was the feeling that Zenyatta had an unfair advantage in the Breeders' Cup running on her home track, Santa Anita. "You can't win a championship without winning an away game," reasoned one horseman, slightly distorting Zenyatta's record. But the fault here lies entirely with the Breeders Cup, which should never have made the mistake of scheduling the event two consecutive years at Santa Anita. You know Zenyatta would have competed at Belmont or Churchill Downs if the Cup was held there. She didn't make the questionable call to make Santa Anita home for the event in both 2008 and 2009. The Breeders Cup site selection committee gave the sport a black eye when it least needs it with this foolish move. So once again I will challenge this insulated group: either come up with a permanent site for this event that suits horsepeople all over the world or devise an equitable solution to the rotation. Personally I'm in favor of making Churchill Downs the permanent site. In Kentucky they know what horseracing is about.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Now who's Horse of the Year?

As a student of the fine art of horseracing I have the inestimable honor of a vote in the annual Eclipse awards for excellence on the track. Of the many awards we get to vote on, Horse of the Year is often a measure of the excitement and contentiousness that followers of the great game get to indulge in. Last year's contest was unusual in that the finalists were both fillies, the 3-year-old Rachel Alexander and the 4-year-old Zenyatta. Both fillies were carefully handled throughout the season, both fillies beat males in open company, but there was never a true measure of their respective greatness because they never ran against each other.

Jess Jackson, the owner of Rachel Alexander and the Kendall-Jackson wines, ducked a confrontation and suggested a bogus alternative race that was never going to happen anyway. His stated reason was that he didn't want to run his horse on the artificial surface at Santa Anita, where the Breeders' Cup, the Super Bowl of horse racing, was conducted last year. So Rachel Alexander ended her year before the traditional fall championship season even began, winning he final stakes race at the Saratoga meet in New York over the summer. At that point I was in Rachel's camp. She had beaten males in a Triple Crown race, then beaten older males in a stakes race with a game performance in fast time.

But Zenyatta had never been passed by a single horse in an undefeated career. Only Personal Ensign had accomplished as much. Zenyatta would make a profound case for Horse of the Year by winning the Breeders Cup Distaff, finishing a distinguished undefeated career and retiring to a life as a broodmare. But owner Jerry Moss, the "M" in A&M records along with trumpeter Herb Alpert, put everything on the line. Instead of entering Zenyatta in the Distaff he put her in the Breeders Cup Classic against what is traditionally the best field of older horses in the world. Moss risked everything for a grand gesture that would prove his filly was the best, while Jess Jackson sat on the sidelines with his filly, who wasn't even entered in the Distaff. Horseracing is a gambler's game, and Moss went all in with his horse's reputation along with millions of dollars in purse money. It was a classic owner's bravura move, a gesture that harkened back to the days when horseracing earned its nickname as the Sport of Kings. And Jess Jackson was smiling in his chardonnay when Zenyatta entered the top of the stretch in the Classic hopelessly beaten, far behind some of the best horses in training.

Then greatness happened, the throat-catching moment when horses reveal themselves as true champions. Jockey Mike Smith moved Zenyatta into a clear path in the middle of the track and Zenyatta didn't need to be told when to do. The filly lengthened her stride and flew past the field with astonishing acceleration. She looked like Forego, like Kelso, like Silky Sullivan, like Seabuscuit, like Pegasus himself swooping past these mere mortals on her way to one of the most stirring victories anyone had ever witnessed. Don't tell me about Beyer figures or par times -- this was a championship performance if there ever was one. Before the gates opened I was in Rachel Alexandra's camp. When Zenyatta crossed the finish line I knew there was only one way I could go in the Horse of the Year voting.

When the votes were counted I was astonished that Rachel Alexandra won. Her owners ducked the confrontation and sat on the sidelines as every other championship was determined. There are many injustices in horseracing but this one will stick in my throat for a long time.

But the story was not over. Moss decided to keep racing his mare as a 5-year-old. This is really an unprecedented move in modern racing, where breeding has become the real moneymaker in the game. It's especially gutsy when you're talking about risking an undefeated career. Now Jackson could no longer put off the inevitable showdown. He continued to propose what were essentially match races before finally settling on the most advantageous terms he could broker, agreeing to have Rachel Alexandra face Zenyatta at Oaklawn Park in the April 9 Apple Blossom Invitational. Oaklawn is a speed-favoring track which suits Rachel's running style and is part of trainer Steve Asmussen's winter stronghold along with the Fair Grounds in New Orleans, where he prepared Rachel Alexandra for her 4-year-old campaign.

Both Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra made their seasonal debuts yesterday. Fair Grounds offered the perfect prep for their Horse of the Year, the New Orleans Ladies Stakes, which appeared on paper to be a cakewalk for Rachel. Zenyatta was scheduled to face a more accomplished field in the Santa Margarita Invitational at Santa Anita.

Zenyatta's trainer, John Shirreffs, decided to send another mare in his barn, Zardana, to run at Fair Grounds in order to size up where Rachel Alexandra stood in relation to Zenyatta. Shirreffs watched Zardana and Zenyatta train every morning and had a good idea of how they compared to each other. Seeing how close Zardana could get to Rachel at the finish of the New Orleans race would give Shirreffs an idea of what Zenyatta would have to do to beat her.

Rachel Alexandra moved easily under Calvin Borel as the race unfolded, tracking the lead down the backstretch and slowly taking over on the far turn. Jockey David Flores asked Zardana for run and she took aim at the leaders on the outside, then put a head in front of Rachel Alexandra turning for home. Borel asked Rachel for acceleration, showing her the whip at first, then cracking her a couple of good ones. Zardana edged away then ran on, holding Rachel at bay through a long stretch run with Borel whipping and driving away. The Horse of the Year was well beaten in her return by Zenyatta's stablemate.

Zenyatta's turn came half an hour later. Once again she merely jogged out of the gate and was still in last place turning for home. Smith had her in traffic this time and couldn't get her clear on the outside. He had to pull her up once in the the stretch, then check again as paths closed in front of her. Zenyatta seemed to sense Smith's hesitation and took over. This time she looked like Reggie Bush, ducking sideways to pass one horse, veering at an angle past another then pulling to the outside for a clear run to the lead inside the furlong pole. This kind of agility in a big horse is seldom witnessed.

When the dust cleared Zenyatta was still undefeated and Rachel Alexandra was the first "Horse of the Year" in a decade to lose its next race. A surly Asmussen remarked that if he didn't think she would win he wouldn't have run her, and Mr. Jackson is now hedging his bets about facing Zenyatta at Oaklawn.