Archive for August, 2008

The Mind of a Critic

August 28, 2008

Today’s Tripel

August 27, 2008

Brewed a Belgian Tripel today.  My first.  Lots of malt and sugar for a big beer.  I wanted one of those pale but sweet and yeasty brews like the St. Bernardus tripel.  One of my favorites.  The brewing went really well, but it looks a good bit darker than I intended.  The malt flavor, though, seems really solid and I can’t wait to see how it turns out.  But it’s a big beer, so maybe for the holidays?

Here’s the day’s recipe:

1/2 lb Dingeman’s Carapils steeped in 1 gallon of 170 degree water for an hour and sparged with 1 gallon 170 degree water
9.5 lbs Northern Brewer Gold malt syrup
1 lb clear Belgian candi sugar
Enough water to get a full 6 gallon boil
.5 oz of 17% Summit hops boiled for 60 minutes
.5 oz 3.8% Saaz hops for 5 minutes
.5 oz 3.8% Saaz hops for 1 minute
Cooled to 80 degrees
Pitched a 2 cup starter of Wyeast Trappist high gravity yeast
Original Gravity = 1.066
Will ferment in my basement which is running about 70 degrees

As I say, it tastes like I would imagine at this point, but it doesn’t really look like I imagine. Nevertheless, an exciting new beer for me. Next up, a hybrid steam/oktoberfest. I want to brew an oktoberfest, but I don’t have the temperature or time to use a lager yeast at this point. The Steam yeast though can still give me that nice clear, rich malt profile, so I’ll go with that. Hopefully I can brew one next week. ‘Till then, Prost.

Rock Primer 101

August 26, 2008

With the recent passing of Jerry Wexler, it seems right to come back to my earlier discussions of Elvis and Rock ‘n Roll history. Wexler, who died at the age of 91 on August 15, was one of the producing greats, having co-founded Atlantic Records, coined the term “rhythm & blues” in reference to what were then called “race records,” and produced Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Picket, Bob Dylan and Led Zeppelin over the years. Before I get into my own discussion, here as a bit of homage, is Wexler’s own list of what he considered his 20 best produced songs:

1. Professor Longhair, “Tipitina” (1953)
2. Ray Charles, “I Got a Woman” (1954)
3. Big Joe Turner, “Shake, Rattle and Roll” (1954)
4. LaVern Baker, “Tweedlee Dee” (1954)
5. Champion Jack Dupree, “Junker’s Blues” (1958)
6. The Drifters, “There Goes My Baby” (1959)
7. Ray Charles, “What I’d Say” (1959)
8. Solomon Burke, “If You Need Me” (1963)
9. Booker T. & the MG’s, “Green Onions” (1962)
10. Wilson Pickett, “In the Midnight Hour” (1965)
11. Aretha Franklin, “Respect” (1967)
12. Dusty Springfield, “Son of a Preacher Man” (1969)
13. Dr. John, “Iko Iko” (1972)
14. Doug Sahm, “(Is Anybody Going to) San Antone” (1973)
15. Willie Nelson, “Bloody Mary Morning” (1974)
16. The Sanford/Townsend Band, “Smoke From a Distant Fire” (1977)
17. James Booker, “Winin’ Boy Blues” (1978)
18. Etta James, “Take It to the Limit” (1978)
19. Dire Straits, “Lady Writer” (1979)
20. Bob Dylan, “Gotta Serve Somebody” (1979)

That’s pretty damn impressive. And the early items on the list are at the heart of today’s discussion about the roots of rock. In a previous post, I mentioned that maybe I should dig into Elvis’s roots a bit, rather than just showing an Elvis video.  I also mentioned that some people would say he “stole” from his roots and influences.  It’s an overplayed argument at this point that rock ‘n roll was stolen from African-American artists.  The influences that came together into the amorphous thing that became rock are vast and cross-cultural at best.  That’s not to ignore the essential role that African-American music played in the development of Rock, just to say it’s not such a simple who stole from whom equation.  More importantly, I don’t think the issue is one of stealing to begin with.  The argument is that white musicians stole black music, but surely we’re beyond such racial essentialism by now, aren’t we?  Artists “steal from” artists–that’s true in any medium; I think the more accurate term is “are influenced by.”  As Woody Guthrie once said, “I think he stole that from me, but I steal from everybody.”  Find me a musician, a writer, a painter who doesn’t “steal.”  It’s this ridiculous notion of the individual artist, creating in a vacuum, except for those white musicians.  Don’t get me wrong here; this isn’t to say there wasn’t a serious problem.  The heart of the problem was that white musicians got rich off their music and were acknowledged and black musicians weren’t.  It was a business problem. Most of the influential african-american musicians died in relative poverty.  Black musicians weren’t given credit or copyrights that would have allowed them control of their music and any financial interests in the music.  And, yes, this is a historical issue that should not be overlooked.  My point, though, is that rock as a musical idiom is not inherently black and stolen by whites; rock is inherently cross-cultural.  What happens when Howlin’ Wolf meets Hank Williams?  Well, somethin’ new.

Anyway, I’m not trying to get onto a soap box here.  I just wanted to give my perspective on a now over-played argument.  Let’s just listen to the music, ok?  So, here is my top 20 most influential musicians in the development  of rock ‘n roll.  Some of them well-known, some of them a little lesser so.  Here goes.

20. Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five.  Listen to Choo-choo Ch’Boogie and tell me you don’t hear the early strains of rock.  Louis’ music was lively and funny; because of its humor it’s often overlooked, but it’s great stuff with a kickin’ band behind him. It was swing with a new beat emerging.

19. Hank Williams. As much as rock clearly emerged from its blues and then rhythm & blues roots, it’s just as much the result of the blues intersecting with the twang of people like Williams. And no one had that heartbreaking twang more than Williams.

18. Les Paul. He’s on this list as a musician but also as an inventor.  Essential in the development of the electric guitar,his other innovations include overdubbing, delay effects, tape delay, phasing effects, and multitrack recording. And yes he was primarily a jazz guitarist, but listen to some of this stuff–it’s the first wave of the guitar rock solo.  Besides, he was the first to recognize Hendrix as a guitar genius, before he’d made any kind of name for himself and was still opening for the likes of John Hammond.

17. Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup.  Here’s one that the issue of royalties hit really hard.  The writer of such classic tunes as “That’s All Right Mama,” “My Baby Left Me” and “So Glad You’re Mine,” Crudup stopped recording in the 1950s and wound up as a laborer to supplement what little royalties he was able to receive.

16.  T-Bone Walker.  One of my all-time favorites, the smooth singer and even smoother guitar player.  Interestingly, Chuck Berry who has said that he fashioned himself on white musicians and wanted to play “white” actually “borrowed” quite a few of T-Bone guitar licks, almost note for note.  Jazz, blues, and just a little bit of that somethin’ new. Listen to Walker’s collected and you’ll be amazed how many Chuck Berry riffs you can pick out.

15.  Wynonie Harris. Raucous and risque, no one does it quite like Wynonie. “Good Rockin’ Tonight” is a classic, but his list is extensive.  All of it fun.

14. Doo-Wop.  OK, I’m cheating here.  I’m lumping a genre together, which is really unfair but I never really claimed to be fair did I?  How about all those bird groups, like the Ravens, the Orioles, the Penguins?  Great stuff.  I admit I didn’t really have an ear for it until I heard Frank Zappa’s versions of doo-wop and then I got more interested.  Now I love it.

13. Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys.  I know, he’s the father of bluegrass not rock ‘n roll.  In fact, he pretty much despised the long-haired liberal music of rock.  But his influence is there nonetheless.  Sure, there’s the obvious influence like writing songs that became Elvis classics like “Blue Moon of Kentucky.”  But I would suggest that his sense of orchestration and composition affected songwriting and instrumental dynamics across the board.  That high lonesome sound of his singing was critical as well.

12. Sister Rosetta Tharpe.  Gospel, rhythm & blues, and rock ‘n roll all come together in this unbelievably powerful gospel singer.  Hypnotizing.

11.  Sticks and Brownie McGee.  “Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee.”  Their influence is wide, but I think this song alone puts them on this list.

10.  Woody Guthrie. I know this one may seem out of place, but he belongs on the list if for nothing other than his influence on Bob Dylan. But the influence is much wider as he opened the door for a generation of musicians to believe that their music could and should be socially relevant. Now, if you read an earlier post about NRBQ you may know that I’m a bit ambivalent about whether this is a good thing or not for rock musicians. But its impact can’t be denied.

9.  Tiny Bradshaw.  The swingenest of the swingin’ bands.  Like Wynonie, this is good, raucous fun.  As my favorite DJ Pete Lee of KFAI says, “I can’t imagine a world without Tiny Bradshaw.”  “Well Oh Well”, “Breaking Up the House”, and “Soft” as well as what would become a rock staple, “Train Kept a Runnin’.”  All classics. And I’ll put Red Prysock in here as well, one of the honkinest of the honkin tenor saxophonists who started out with Tiny Bradshaw but left because he didn’t want to wear a kilt on stage as Bradshaw required of all his band members.  Prysock went off and blew that saxophone on his own.

8. The Producers. As with the doo-wop list above, I’ll lump a few together: Jerry Wexler, Ahmet Ertegun, Leonard and Phil Chess, and Sam Phillips. Yes, some of them were partly to blame of the rip-off of black musicians as they maintained many of the copyrights, but their vision at picking out the great musicians, developing them and pushing the music further is unmistakable.

7. Howlin’ Wolf.  Come on, it don’t get no better than this.  Howlin’ gave the blues it’s dark energy that surely was the cornerstone of the music that emerged. I wouldn’t even know where to start to list all his great and influential music.

6. Big Mama Thornton. Probably shows up on a list like this for her song “You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Houndog” but that’s just the beginning. Her powerful voice and strong r&b rhythm make her one of the best.

5. Pete Johnson and Big Joe Turner. Pete Johnson was a jazz and boogie woogie piano like no one else. He spent much of his time collaborating with Joe Turner, the Kansas City bluesman and shouter. Johnson’s “Rocket 88 Boogie” (possibly “stolen” from an earlier Jelly Roll Morton song) is often considered one of the first rock ‘n roll songs and went on to influence Jackie Brenston’s and Ike Turner’s later “Rocket 88.” Turner’s “Shake, Rattle, and Roll” was also one of the early classic rock songs.

4. Fats Domino. R&B meets Cajun with a rollicking good rhythm and boogie woogie piano that’s unmistakable. My list is really geared toward music that isn’t quite rock yet, but of course Fats is on the cusp from the very beginning.

3. B. B. King. A guitarist with a sound distinctly his own. B.B. revolutionized the electric guitar and was named as one of Rolling Stones top 100 guitarists of all time. His cousin Bukka White was equally influential, if less popular, in his early renditions of the Delta Blues into powerful rhythmic expressions.

2. Junior Parker. He started out as a harmonica player was Sonny Boy Williamson, with whom he worked before moving on to work for Howlin’ Wolf in 1949. Around 1950 he was a member of Memphis’s ad hoc group, the Beale Streeters, with Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland and B.B. King. But it was in 1951 with his formation of the Blue Flames that he made his mark. He is most known for “Mystery Train” (another Presley hit of course) but his songs have been covered by countless others over the years.

1. Muddy Waters. I’ve moved through this list somewhat randomly, but with at least a bit of chronology to it. I have not been moving from least to most important or least to most favorite of mine, yet here I am with a fine sense of serendipity to find at the end a natural, as one of the most important musicians I believe of the 20th century and, well, just one of my damn favorites. Listen to “Folksinger” just for starters. Then listen to “Hoochie Coochie Man” and tell me you don’t hear the very soul of rock ‘n roll at its finest. This was not intended as “Who’s best” list, yet here it is: Muddy is the best.

Yes, I know it’s mostly an arbitrary list. Many who didn’t make it. I will say that some didn’t make it because they had clearly made the cross-over into actual rock rather than “roots” of rock. Bo Diddley of course with his infamous Shave-and-a-haircut bo diddley rhythm that became a staple of music ever after it (incidentally, Diddley was one of the worst hurt by copyright scams, dying in virtual poverty in Gainesville Florida. David Lindley has a great version of “Hey Bo Diddley” in which he changes the lyrics to “Pay Bo Diddley”). No Ray Charles? Yes, it seems wrong, but he also seems more well known so I guess I stuck at least a little more to the margins. Many arbitrary decisions along the way. But it’s just a list, right? Plenty of good listening in here folks, so give it a listen. See what you like and see what else you uncover along the way.  That is the point of such a game, anyway, the discover of more and more good music.

Farmhouse Ale

August 21, 2008

Trying to get some brewing done before the school year kicks into gear.  Brewed a farmhouse ale today, with a tripel on slate for next week.

Here’s today’s recipe:

6.5 lbs Northern Brewer gold syrup
1 lb Northern Brewer dried malt extract
1/2 lb Briess Caramel 20 degree
1/4 lb Briess Caramel 60 degree
Steeped Caramel malt in 150 degree water for an hour.
Sparged and brought water up to 6 gallons
Added Malt and boiled for 60 minutes.
2 1/2 oz Strisselspalt hops added for 60 minutes
1/2 oz Strisselspalt added for 10 minutes.
1 c. Malto-Dextrine and a Tbsp Irish Moss in boil for final 10 minutes
Pitched Wyeast French Saison yeast at 80 degrees.
I’ll ferment in my garage which is a pretty steady 75 degrees these days.
O.G. = 1.054
Now, as Bob Dylan says, I’ll just sit here and watch the beer bubble (or some such paraphrase).

It tasted pretty good as I put it in the fermenter. What’s interesting with this style yeast is that I can’t quite fathom how it’s going to change. I can brew an IPA or any ale really and even before it ferments I have a pretty good idea how it’s going to finish, what it’s flavor profile is like. Once I get into these french and belgian yeasts, though, the characteristics are a little more unpredictable. It’s an X-factor that I really love. So, is this really a farmhouse ale? is it really a saison? potentially even a golden ale. True, I’m using a saison yeast, but so many factors go into how that yeast really works. It’s the joy of homebrewing, I guess, playing with style but then just waiting to see what comes out.

In his honor, I am naming this one the Isaac Hayes-on Saison.

Isaac Hayes

August 20, 1942 – August 10, 2008

Rest In Peace


August 19, 2008

My careful editor friend pointed out several glaring errors in my last post:

1) “It would be possible to know that nothing has even happened.”  Ok, yes, yes, I was writing ahead of myself.  How about “it would be possible to think nothing has happened” if you live outside the flood zone, or “it would be possible to not know what has happened elsewhere” or, or, or…  It’s true, if I’m going to call myself a writer I should be more careful.

2) A 1968 Harvey Keitel movie?  OK, this one at least is just a typo.  Finding Graceland is from 1988.

3) I suppose it was kind of strange to put a Harvey Keitel video in a post that was really about Elvis Presley.  So here’s Elvis doing the same song in 1970:

And just for comparison, here he is in 1957:

OK, enough Elvis.  Soon, a post on the important musical figures he actually got (stole many would say) his music from.

Random Late Summer Stuff

August 18, 2008

As I acknowledged in my last post, the Street Parade has been less than active these days.  Quite a few things came up recently and I found myself a little busier and more distracted than I intended.  Some of it has been ongoing: I’ve been collaboarting a good bit this summer with a Biology faculty on a course we are going to team teach this year.  It’s exciting but much more intensive than I had anticipated.  Then a few weeks back, I got word that a book I have had an essay in for some time has finally found a home.  This is great news of course, but it’s also meant a great deal of last minute revising and formatting to get it ready for publication.   But keep an eye out for Compelling Confessions: The Politics of Personal Disclosure from Fairleigh-Dickinson Press with an essay on John Berryman by yours truly.  Publication date as yet unknown.  A few other odds and ends that crept into my life and suddenly the last few weeks slipped away.

We have as of late, though, been thoroughly enjoying the August weather and our gardens.  The berry patch I planted a few years ago has finally taken hold and is big enough that it can hold its own against the deer and rabbits.  They, of course, still take a good chunk of the berry patch, but it’s at least a fair fight now.

Though we generally aren’t able to garden vegetables (see the above comment about deer and rabbits, as well as the strange fact that, even though we’re in Iowa, our yard is mostly clay) and don’t really have the energy to put into really changing this overwhelming yard to make it vegetable garden friendly, nor the inclination to stay in this house more than another year tops, we do have some nice flower gardens around the yard that have been quite productive and beautiful this year.  Here’s one along one of the side retaining walls (yes, it’s quite hilly here which is why we’re all clay):

And here’s another one a bit further back in the yard:

With this recent nice weather and all the great local produce, we’ve been grilling out almost nightly.  We’ve made Baba Ghanoush several times, plenty of corn, veggie and tempeh kabobs, etc.  Last night grilled veggies with pasta and goat cheese and pine nuts.  We enjoyed that with a fire in the fire pit, a bottle of Boulevard’s Double Wide IPA (I’m happy to say that John’s is now carrying Boulevard’s Smokestack series. This was my first sampling of these beers, and it was really quite nice; tons of caramel followed by a nice, dry hoppy finish) then a bottle of Cline Zinfandel we brought back from California.  Really the way a summer evenings ought to be.

Of course, it’s not that way for most of Cedar Rapids.  It’s quite surreal the way the city has become two cities.  In the unaffected areas, it’s hard to know what the floods have even done to this town; it would be possible to know that nothing has even happened–except for the aroma of mold and muck that still drifts on the breezes.  And for most of us in unaffected areas, it’s hard to know what to do anymore.  Most of the salvage work at this point is really for professionals, so there are odds and ends that we can jump in and help with, but it’s hard to know how best to help.  The flooded areas remain devastated, though.  I recently took a drive through the hard-hit Czech Village and it is completely surreal.  No power.  The grass and weeds have overtaken lots.  Piles of debris still line the roads.  Many houses are just gutted shells at this point.  Some houses are out into the streets and alleys.  It’s a different world, with very slow progress to see.

On a completely different note, in keeping with the Street Parade’s observance of musical holidays, we must of course honor today’s anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley.  Too much great stuff to listen to, but I’ll generally suggest the early recordings.  Don’t get me wrong, I love his later stuff like Suspicious Minds as anyone, but you can’t beat his early material.  So give his 1956 debut a listen or go to his complete Sun Sessions (of course, listening to Sun material in general is good to help put Elvis in context).  Then I’d also suggest 1969’s Elvis in Memphis, a great comeback.  In fact, thinking of his comeback, if you haven’t seen his 1968 “Comeback Special,” definitely give it a look.  It’s really pretty brilliant.  And one other strange little plug since I mentioned “suspicious minds.”  There’s  a little-known movie from 1968 with Harvey Keitel and Bridget Fonda that I think is really good.  But even if you don’t like the movie all that much (and I’ll admit that I seem to be in the minority among people who have seen it), the Harvey Keitel Elvis imitation doing Suspicious Minds is really worth watching; it’s ridiculously good at capturing the over-the-top Elvis.

OK, you are getting real time blogging of course.  As I wrote about Harvey Keitel, I started thinking “Oh, it must be on YouTube,” and well, of course…

One other little Elvis plug: listen to a little El Vez, the Mexican Elvis if you haven’t.  The man is a rock ‘n roll revolutionary and a comic genius and a damn fine musician all at the same time.  I highly recommend Graciasland and Gi Ay Ay Blues.  In the latter, his “JC Lowrider Superstar” is a classic.

OK, I think that’s enough random notes for now.

Happy Birthday Terry and Joey!

August 16, 2008

Well, the Street Parade has been missing in action for awhile–got quite busy here in mid-summer and blogging took a bit of a backseat.  During the unwitting hiatus, we’ve missed quite a few birthdays to celebrate.  I’ll let most of them slide, but I can’t ignore Terry Adams’ birthday on Aug. 14, especially since it coincides so nicely with Joey Spampinato’s birthday today.  Yes, that madman keyboard player and the rock-steady bassist of NRBQ have just turned 58.

NRBQ, one of the longest-running bands around, took a pinch of Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and that Sun records sound, mixed it with some Thelonius Monk, Sun Ra, Chuck Berry, and a little bit of Beatles and cooked it up into their own strange, fun blend that’s been making folks dance for over 40 years.  The band has changed personnel a bit over the years, and shifted early on from the New Rhythm & Blues Quintet to the New Rhythm & Blues Quartet, but Adams and Spampinato (there’s a song on “Message for the Mess Age” in which Terry Adams drills it into our heads how to spell it) along with drummer Tom Ardolino have always been at the heart of it.  They made sure to keep humor in rock & roll.  I mean these are the guys that hired wrestler Captain Lou Albano as their manager and made a song in his honor (and with his crazy rantings in the mix).  They even have an album for the collaboration, Lou and the Q.  These are the guys who for many, many years had the “song hat” at shows in which people could suggest any tune they wanted and they would pick random suggestions from the hat and come up with a version of it.  One reviewer refers to them as “Moe Howard meets Marcel Duchamp” and, yes, if you go see them, be prepared to answer “What are you grinning about” for quite some time.

Oh, but what to suggest for a listening tribute?  It’s a tough call.  There’s so much damn good music to get to for a 40 year career.  Tap Dancing Bats?  Live at Yankee Stadium?  Grooves in Orbit?  Boppin the Blues, that classic session with Carl Perkins sitting in?  Of course the Peek-A-Boo collection is always a good option.  It’s all great stuff and you can’t go wrong, but for my listening suggestion for the day, I’m going with the “Scraps Companion” album, recorded with a small invited audience in the studio in conjunction with the release of Scraps. It’s classic stuff:

It’s got the early version of the band with a bit of the Whole Wheat Horns on it.  Besides, you also get the groovy picture of Joey on the cover looking quite mafioso.  So, as usual, turn it up really loud and make your neighbors dance.

And just in case you don’t have any Q (what’s your problem, anyway?), here’s a little snippet:

Happy Birthday Garth Hudson!

August 2, 2008

The Street Parade wishes a happy birthday to one of its favorite musicians. The inimitable organ player and creative genius of the band, Garth Hudson turns 71 years young today.

Garth always hid behind his stack of organs and such, shunning the spotlight, so he never got the recognition that, say, Robbie Robertson got.  But the Band could not have been the Band without Garth.  His is the element that brings all those different Americana elements together and casts them into its own strange light.  Garth was always the mad-scientist looking guy behind the band, with the stagelights streaming through his wild hair.  Here’s a little vintage footage of them back in the 70s:

For your listening pleasure today, I recommend the Band’s “Rock of Ages.”  Turn up Garth’s jazzy improv “The Genetic Method” really loud and enjoy.

Here’s to many happy returns Garth!