Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Since they changed YOUR life, how about YOU changing someone else's?

The recent deaths of Lemmy and David Bowie have caused a mighty ripple through humankind. People that I never would've guessed to be "fans" have shown their true colors. An old lady I know, it turns out, is a huge Motorhead fan. Folks I work with, who seem much more at home listening to bland modern country, have vocalized their lifelong love of Bowie's music and movies. These two musicians changed a lot of lives for the better.



Both died of cancer.

As a two-time cancer survivor, as well as being a musician, their death hit home with me...and hit hard. I was lucky enough, both times, to not only survive but to also have decent health insurance at the time. My out of pocket costs were minimal. Many aren't so lucky.

With Obamacare we're all forced to pony up for affordable health insurance...or be fined. For many, it's just not feasible. One of the groups hardest hit by the US health care nightmare is musicians. Professional musicians make their living making music. A fortunate few make a good living and can probably afford Obamacare. The majority struggle to get by and cannot afford Obamacare or even the fine. What are they supposed to do when they get sick?

Here's a thought: If you'd like to find a way to personally memorialize Lemmy or Bowie, why not give a donation, of any amount you can afford, to a free clinic? As a musician who has been lucky enough to find a free clinic and benefit from it's services, I'll tell you first-hand, those places are a Godsend.

If you know me, you know the story. If you don't, here's the short version. I was well past broke and had no way to get my heart medication...which I kinda need to stay alive. I found out about the Birmingham Free Clinic and they took care of me. They made sure I got the check ups and blood work I needed, as well as my medication.

At one point, I was helping a friend paint houses and almost fainted. I chalked it up to being fat and 48 with a bum ticker painting a house on a hot day. I had a few more dizzy spells throughout the next week. So what did I do? I went to the Birmingham Free Clinic. They sent me for more blood work and I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes (The Beetus!). Again, at no charge to me, they got me the medication I needed, got me started on a path to getting healthier, and within a few months I was dropping the pounds, monitoring my blood sugar, and was feeling so good about life that I finally found a new full-time job. I happily shared that bit of news with the folks at the clinic and have since donated money, when I can, to them. I know for a fact that every penny I give them is helping someone who really needs help.

No one asks to be broke. No one asks to be sick. No one likes to ask for help. If you honestly believe that free clinics are a hand-out to lazy people, you don't know what you're talking about. From the working poor to the unemployable and homeless to the person just a little down on their luck, the clinics help anyone they can.  The clinics are also often part of the education of the people working there. I've met student nurses and student pharmacists there. The latter, especially, were really enlightened to see how their chosen profession helps people.

So give it some thought. If you can donate a few bucks to a clinic near you, do it. You can tell them you're doing it for Lemmy or Bowie. It just might help another musician with cancer and that musician just may go on to change a few more lives.

Here's a link where you can find a clinic near you: http://www.nafcclinics.org/find-clinic

Thanks!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

That moment I realized just how awful I really am...

I've been a lifelong musician. If you know me, you already know that. I've been playing guitar for almost 40 years. Some will tell you that I'm really good. I've even had my moments when I thought I was.

But, any artist, regardless of their medium, has to grow. My first guitar hero was (and still is) Joe Negri. His jazz playing is astounding. So beautiful, skillful, and even...and that's one of the trickiest parts!

Blues, rockabilly, surf, rock & roll, punk, metal...none really require a great deal of discipline to play well. Just bash, bend, and twang. And it's a lot of fun! But (again....that 'but')...there comes a point when musically one wants to do more.

For the past couple of years, I've become a huge fan of a Brazilian guitarist named Naudo Rodrigues. If you're not familiar with him, don't be surprised. He's not a huge recording star. He probably could be if he wanted, but that doesn't seem to be his motivation. He makes his living playing in resorts in Spain. Just him and his guitar. And he'll blow you away. He can play pretty much any song and make it his own. He can take a song that you might loathe and turn it into a thing of beauty. He's just that good.

I watch videos of him playing and think "I wish I could...."

I finally decided that yes, I probably can, if only I start to rebuild some of the discipline I had in my younger days. Hell, I never practice. I just pick up the guitar and bash out the same old crap. I've decided to change that.

I bought a cheap flamenco guitar. I love the sound of nylon strings, and the wide, flat neck makes me work harder. I've started working on chord melodies...my goal to be able to play for hours without a band, without being boring.

Wow! I just made a quick demo of a song I'm trying to learn. It's a beautiful song called "Sabor A Mi". WOW....do I really suck! I can hear myself trying not to bash, bend and twang. I can hear the unevenness of my playing. I can hear every weak note. And you know what? That's a good thing! Recognizing one's weaknesses is necessary to turn them into strengths.

This is going to take awhile...but I'm patient. I know that at some point, I'll have an "aha" moment, just like I did with slide guitar. That said, I don't see it happening any time soon.

I'm taking myself back to the rudiments. Scales. Modes. Finger exercises. I'm training my right hand to do a lot more work. No pick for this stuff!

For years, people have asked me for lessons. I'm a lousy teacher. Now I'm looking to become a student again! I hope I'm a good one.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Thanksgivus


Thanksgivus...the 10th year anniversary edition


I post this every year. Why? Because some folks ask for it....also because I like it. I hope you will too. We probably shouldn't need a holiday to remind us to be thankful for whatever we have...but I'm glad we do. So with out further adieu....

Thanksgivus

Thanksgivus: that's what she called it. The 'she' in question would be a very short, loud, middle aged black woman with retardation who I supervised for years. Her name is Omega...fitting because she truly is THE END!

Omega didn't exactly have a speech problem but I think her hearing wasn't 100% on the mark, as certain words would get slurred together such as "Thanksgivus". Another fave was her version of Social Security, which often sounded more like "sociable secretary" (of which I've known a few).

Thanksgivus (which is what I now prefer to call the US holiday Thanksgiving) is the last Thursday of November (this is for my overseas friends who may not be fully knowledgeable of the subject). It is the holiday where we Americans give Thanks to God for giving us BIG tasty birds, punkin pie & cranberry sauce...all courtesy of a tribe that we soon took great pains to wipe out. In short, when those Pilgrims (essentially English religious nuts) 1st landed at Plymouth Rock, they didn't have a CLUE what they were doing or what they were in for!

After that 1st winter (what do you mean "No Central Heating"???), most of the Pilgrims had died off. A few hearty ones remained (probably by eating the others...but that story seems to have vanished in the annals of history) and it was looking bleak for them, as they didn't know SQUAT about farming North American soil. Luckily, the Indians (bite me, I will NOT be PC) took pity on them, showed them what to do and the Pilgrims survived. They did sooo well, in fact, they had a big feast and invited the Indians. When the Indians showed up, they realized that white folks are either really bad at planning feasts or are just stingy, so they sent some braves to go kill a half dozen or so deer....gotta make sure ya don't leave the table unless yer ready to burst....STILL an American Thanksgivus tradition. NOWHERE on the menu was green bean casserole....PLEASE make note of that! (the Americans reading this will get the humor)

Finally, sometime in the 19th century, after decades of confusion as to what this "New England" holiday was and when it was supposed to be observed, some mad woman wrote everyone in the colonies suggesting the last Thursday in November...just in time to mark the start of Xmas shopping season!

Now, contrary to what some of my English colleagues have been lead to believe, Thanksgivus is NOT the American Xmas. Trust me, NO ONE on this planet overdoes Xmas like the Americans! Here it is, the Sunday BEFORE Thanksgivus and I'm looking out my front door at my neighbor's Xmas lights! 1 month 5 days before we celebrate the Man's b-day (even though we have the date wrong)...1 month 5 days of looking at those damned lights! Don't get me wrong, I love the holidays as much if not more than most people...but I like things to be done for the right reasons...not just to be the 1st, best or brashest.

For the holidays, I wish you all peace, happiness and a full belly. May your homes be filled with laughter (and not just the canned version coming from your TV). May your pockets never be empty, maybe your fridge always be full (with at least 1 6pack of decent beer...in case I should stop by lol) and may your troubles be few & far between.

In fact, I don't just wish you these things for the holidays...I wish them for you all EVERYDAY.

I'm having a few friends over (as usual) this year for Thanksgivus. It might not be the fanciest dinner but I hope to guarantee all a good meal, a full belly and someplace to sit and digest and enjoy some good company after (and before...as long as they stay OUTTA MY WAY in the kitchen.).

We will revel in the death of a turkey. We shall take delight in the taters, which will be mashed. The rolls will hopefully not be slightly burned on the bottoms...but if they are, that's what butter, gravy & butter knives are for! The veggies will be plentiful and not overcooked. The pie will be chocolate cream...NOT PUNKIN! (my tradition...not yours, OK? ) And yes Virginia...there will most likely be cranberries of some sort...JUST NO DAMNED GREEN BEAN CASSEROLE...PLEASE!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Fixing Leo's Mistakes

I don't like Stratocasters. Never have. Oh sure, Buddy Holly, Dick Dale and Jimi Hendrix made them sound good, but those were flukes. Dave Alvin gets a pretty fair tone from his too...but hell, he made a Mustang sound killer!

So, I bought a cheap Strat today. I couldn't resist. It's just so damned ugly...and did I mention cheap? I couldn't say no to the price!

But...it's still a Strat.

Not for long.

This will be an interesting project, turning a Stratocrapper into a Memph-O-caster!

Step one, those pickups gotta go! Sweet Jeebus they sound plinky. Luckily, I have some Texas Specials that have been waiting for a forever home. Problem solved!

That 5-way switch...gonna be gone! Hate those things!

That damned volume knob and those ridiculous dual tone knobs...GONE! Leo proved his lack of guitar playing knowledge when he put that damned volume knob so close to the strings. Hell, a midget with stubby fingers would be hard-pressed not to accidently kill the volume while playing.

Sure sure...lots of  "tonal variety" with a Strat. Too bad most of it sounds like a guitar being played through grandma's transistor radio...and not in a good way. Seriously, they're the most overrated guitar on the planet.

OK, Leo got a few things right with the Strat. The body was ingenious for it's day. It was the Atomic Age and the Strat looked futuristic. It didn't look like a guitar. The double cutaways and the contoured body....nice! The recessed input jack, pure genius! The neck was just a slight variation on the Tele...and really, that's where most of a guitar's magic comes from. If the neck ain't playable, ya might as well make a lamp out of it.

Now that I have this thing...it's time to make it rock! Here's some of the changes you can expect to see:


  • New pickups
  • New knobs
  • New Pickup Selector Switch
  • New Pickguard
  • New Nut
  • New Bridge Saddles
  • New Wiring (maybe...we'll see how things work out)
  • New Tuners


When I'm finished, it's gonna be a keeper, not a weeper!

Stay tuned!



Saturday, August 1, 2015

We'll just call this a personal update....

For those playing along at home, I haven't been as "active" as usual lately. There's a reason for that.

I FEEL LIKE CRAP!

A year or so ago, I was diagnosed at diabetic. Then "not". Then probably diabetic. Then, probably not.

It's been a roller coaster. It looks like diabetes but doesn't act like it. So, lifestyle changes, lost 70 pounds, eat healthy, check my blood sugar often, worship at the altar of St. Wilfred...and now, for the 1st time since my diagnosis...I feel like crap.

I never felt bad before. But lately, my blood sugar has been tanking. It's been too low to be considered a diabetic since day 1. Therein lies the confusion for the docs. But the past few weeks has been a mess.

On a good day, if I eat like a pig, I can get my blood sugar near 100. Most days it starts out around 80 and tanks from there. 60s...50s...a few days in the 40s. I've passed out a few times. It ain't fun. I've also been feeling weak, fatigued (and I mean seriously so...like can barely move kinda tired), and irritable as fuck.

However, my A1C is around 4. That ain't diabetic by any stretch. So, the docs are weening me off my meds...see if that helps. Hasn't so far.

Factor in all of my other health issues...well, it's been interesting. I'm used to feeling, at least, halfway decent. Not so lately. I just always want to go back to bed. I was ready to get violent with an old friend last week...that's when I knew something was seriously wrong. I left work early last Monday and stayed home until Wednesday. Almost left early again then...but made myself stick it out. My blood sugar went down to 50. And did every day the rest of the week.

OK...I'm following doc's orders...doing what I'm supposed to do....and really feel like crap...but I'm OK, as far as I know.

Hopefully, we'll get to the bottom of this ASAP...really, I don't have this to do. I have too much going on to get sidelined like this.

So, for those asking...this is what's going on. Catch ya on the flipside!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Chizmo Charles

I just heard that we lost the great Chizmo Charles. Damn....this sucks.

For the uninitiated, Chiz was, without a doubt, the Burgh's own King of the Blues. He'd been active in the local music biz for at least 60 years. No one sang like Chiz, nor was anyone that cool.

When I moved back here in 1990, I'd hear his name. He was already a well-established legend. One night, down at the old Blue Note, he was fronting The Mystic Knights...and knocking the place dead. The stage was up on the tiny balcony, and Chiz was down on the main floor, walking around with his million foot long mic cable, singing and shmoozing all the women. He was the ultimate entertainer. My buddy Doc was the guitar player in the band at the time, and he invited me up to sit in on a couple of songs. Chiz never noticed me heading up the steps to the stage. When it came time for a solo, I cranked up and blasted out some crazy, doublestop-filled licks. I remember Chiz turning and looking up at the stage wondering just where the hell that racket was coming from!

He later complimented my playing, and coming from the likes of him, that was a serious compliment. He'd played with everyone.

I'd run into Chiz at The Decade now and then, or at various shows. He was everywhere. When I used to wear my hair in a giant pompadour, he always told me I had the best hair in show biz! He was a riot.

The world will be a much sadder, quieter place now that he's gone. At least he left us some music...and I highly recommend checking it out.

Rest In Peace Chizmo! That great band in the sky finally has a singer!


Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Dog

I'll tell you this story as it was told to me, by my 2nd grade teacher, Mrs. Wise.

When I was a kid, our school was right near a cemetery. As the school budget was iffy at best, a lot of our field trips, when we had them, were cost effective, to say the least. This meant that all they cost was time. In all honesty, these were the more memorable ones...at least for me.

One day, our 2nd grade teacher took us on a field trip...to the cemetery. This might sound creepy or morbid to some, but really, it was pretty cool. Union Cemetery, was behind the school (and possibly where the really bad kids ended up). As cemeteries go, it's a winner. I read once that it's considered one of the most beautiful in the country. Folks have prom and wedding photos taken there. It's as beautiful as any park.

On this field trip to the cemetery, we were taught about different types of trees, plants, customs, and local history. To me, one of the more memorable bits of information was about the dog statue.

The story goes that the dog's owner was an elderly bachelor. Popular among his small group of friends, he died alone with no family to really mourn him...just his faithful companion, a spaniel.

The dog was so heartbroken at his master's passing that he laid down on the grave and wouldn't budge. Friends came by to feed him, but the dog wouldn't eat. The dog eventually died there, on his master's grave...presumably of a broken heart.

One of the bachelor's friends was an iron worker, and apparently a true friend. He wanted to memorialize this tale, so he formed a statue of the dog out of metal, painted it, affixed it to a stone platform and placed it at his friend's grave, where it still sits today.


When I made plans to go to Ohio today to visit the old graveyard, one of my goals was to find this statue...if it was still there. I 1st heard the story 40 years ago, and it was old then. Who knew if it was even still there. My memory being swiss cheese since the coma, I'm lucky to not get lost in my own house, let alone a large cemetery I haven't visited in decades.

After wandering around for a half hour or so, I ran into a lady. She, like me, is a fan of the cemetery and visits often. I asked if she knew where it was, and she admitted she'd not seen it nor heard the story. A recent transplant to the area, she was tickled to hear the story.

Finally after walking all over the cemetery, I remembered that it was up on one of the hills, so uphill I went. I finally found it. To my pleasant surprise, someone had recently placed a ribbon on the dog. The statue itself is looking pretty beat and weathered...but you would too after decades outside. This was the first time I really took a good look at the dog. The artwork is impressive! The iron worker seemed to capture the dog's feelings of loss. See what you think.