It is not often that one gets to ‘go home’, and it is even less likely that one gets to go back on their own terms. I was quite fortunate to be able to accomplish this bi-fecta (hah bet ya didn’t see that coming). On March 20, 2011 Big City Blues Magazine held a celebration of Spring at Kenny’s Castaways in Greenwich Village. It was a celebration of what might have been the birthplace of the folk revival, which in turn spawned talented musicians who have shaped our lives thru the decades and still do now.
Did I hear disbelief amongst you? John Hammond, Pete Seeger, John Sebastian, Maria Muldaur, Rory Block, more, The Holmes Brothers, The Lovin’ Spoonful, some guy named Bob Dylan. I’ll stop there, but you can do some research on it if you are still not believing, or wish to go deep on this. Check out the links at the end of story.
I grew up in NYC back in the 60’s, and goodness me, there was a revolution going on in the city long before it hit the media and press corps. The music was changing, it seemed like, overnight, Mr. John Sebastian recalled a night he was playing at Gerdies Folk City to a crowd of finger-tapping beatniks, when at the front of the house was but one, long haired girl, dancing what was soon to become the iconic dance of a generation. John, and Zal Yanovsky looked at each other on stage and mutually hoped she would return with her friends. She did. Within days the crowd had changed, gone were the beatniks whose understated coolness disappeared as quickly as it had appeared and they were replaced by ladies dancing to the music, becoming one with the groove and thus leading to the next great movement of American music.
All of this took place in and around Greenwich Village, a.k.a. ‘the Village’ which historically has been known to be the cultural center for Bohemian lifestyles. This has been the case since the earliest part of the 20th century when free (unaffiliated) small presses, art galleries and experimental theater thrived. By the late 1950’s it had become the spot for alternative theater. Known as ‘off-off Broadway’ it was in reaction to Broadway and Off Broadway which seemed all the same and mundane at best. But quite possibly it’s influence on music then and now is it’s claim to fame.
Enough of the history but I felt I needed to put into perspective how vital and influential it was to be growing up in NYC at the on-set of the musical and cultural revolution that ran from the 50’s thru the 70’s, and may be alive again in the Village. I say this because on this past First day of Spring I was treated to an unprecedented display of some of the most powerful Blues performers in the five boroughs and at least three adjoining states could provide, all at legendary music club, Kenny’s Castaway’s.
‘With a ‘3PM till . . . ?’ notice rakishly taped on the front door, I wandered in about 2:30 to say hi and claim a spot in front from which Leslie and I could do our thing. We felt we needed to be up front because we really only knew one or two of the performers and wanted to be sure to get the full frontal experience from the bands. There were some folks hanging around both in the club and on stage, shuffling about and seemingly starting to feel the edge creep in, when suddenly the stage erupts into a fierce number by the Michael Packer Band that left everyone slack-jawed and wondering what just happened. With a sly grin on his face, Mr. Packer steps to the microphone and wryly states the obvious ‘Good Morning’. Ohh-ohh, I think it’s time to hit the adult beverage concession cos it’s gonna be a hell-raiser. As if in step with my thoughts, Eddie Jackson steps away from the percussion and gives us what might have been the anthem for the day/night ‘Back At That Bar Again‘.
Now that’s pretty scary – this was the FIRST band. Our music coordinator for the event was Dave Fields, and let me say now, that he did an amazing job of keeping the musical threads in line. There were 14 (give or take 2 or 3) bands that would play for this day and never was there a hitch in the fabric. Mr. Fields would have made a fine ‘shnayder’ which is Yiddish for tailor (or from the Germanic Schneider). Mr. Tailor, errh, Fields, took the stage and formed a patchwork coalition of a band with some of his regular players, and various friends and entertained the crowd with so much energy and excitement. He ripped into a bluesy version of Zeppelin’s Black Dog. A special visitor had arrived during Dave’s set, Mr. Pat St. John from Sirius/XM and WCBS-FM radio. Pat is a legend in NYC music, having been a D(isc)J (now a Digital J) from the beginning of alternative/free-form radio with such classic stations as WPLJ and WNEW FM. Pat was thrilled to see Dave do some good Jewish Blues, and was ‘verklempt’ over the ‘Rabbi Blues‘ which Dave wrote and performs regularly to foot stomping Hora processions thru-out the land. Part of his ‘entourage’ was vocalist and energizer bunny Ms. Nikki Armstrong who gave new meaning to the old Hambone Willie Newbern song ‘Rollin’ and Tumblin‘ ‘. Ms. Armstrong has co-authored several songs with Mr. Fields and they seem very comfortable on stage with each other. I must say that whenever Dave plays one never knows what he will pull out of his bag of tricks, a truly entertaining performer and quite exceptional musician, in my book.
An import from the Motor City was Luther ‘Badman’ Keith, whose guitar slinging and vocals were reminiscent of what the Motor City made famous. POWER. Sporting a street legal, modified guitar and a voice that reflected tones of Gas, Tires and Oil (the GTO in GTO) Mr. Keith to me would have been a better player than Eminem for that Detroit is coming back commercial from the super bowl. More real, more believable and way more plausible than a posturing wanna be could ever be.
The harp hit was Mikey Jr, and the Stone Cold Blues Band. Hard hitting, genuine, and fun are all words that you can apply here. Mikey can get some serious tone on his harps. whether they be diatonic or chromatic. His songs are witty, yet poignant and this guy knows how to command a stage, brothers and sisters. A solid band are the Stone Cold’s, but the guitar player, young Mr. Matt Daniels looks like a rising star, oh yeh cool shoes Matt !
At about 6:20 or so, we all were exposed to the Alexis P. Suter Band. Holy crap people ! A seven piece band featuring Ms. Alexis P. Suter as the lead vocalist, Ms.’s Vicki Bell & Linda Pino offering much more than background vocals, Bennie Harrison (keys) Peter Bennett (bass) Ray Grappone (drums) and sitting in Arthur Neilson (Shemeika Copeland) on guitar. Man were we ever un-prepared for this band’s performance. Stunning baritone notes ring from Ms. Suters’ diaphragm, as the ladies accompany her and fill in the cracks with soulful harmonies and stylistic shouts and moans. Each band member contributes to this effort, they seem almost as one giant quaking construct of the music itself. They are currently touring and will be releasing their new album in April.
The event’s honorees The Holmes Brothers received the ‘Happy To have The Blues’ Award from Jr., and Sugar. The running gag for the day was we were all ‘Holmes brothers’ and when they took the stage for a few unplanned numbers we certainly to a person ‘happy to have the blues’.
For fear of over staying my welcome inside your eyes and brains, dear readers, I will quickly touch on one or two more things that stood out for me. Believe me I could do just what I did above for every act from the show – they were all that good. That being said, Mr. Bill Sims working with a broken string early in his set, proceeds to remind us that the Blues is made for a guitar, bass and drums and that it draws influences from everywhere. To the point, his breaking out a bluesy version of Neil Young’s ‘Down By The River’.
Bobby Radcliff pouring his heart and soul into this set, backed by Brad Vickers on bass. Blue-eyed soul indeed.
Big Ed Sullivan attacking his nicely worn guitar with a half filled Budwsier beer bottle (I knew Bud had to be good for something) and using it as a slide and pick, then him and Dave Fields battling it out in ‘king of the hill’ fashion on guitars. Lest we forget the ever on the spot, right there when you need him Mr. David Keyes on the ….keys !
The aforementioned Arthur Neilson, just tearing the place apart with his hi-powered, talent laden guitar work. Did you know he was the lead guitarist for Blue Angel ? Yeah Cyndi Laupers’ original band…..just sayin’…..He tore through his original composition ‘Fenderbender’ and then moved right into Pipeline, hottdamn. Currently Arthur is with the Shemeika Copeland band.
Ok so here we are in the village listening to Blues and who should appear on the stage (another one of those who they heck are they) but Better Off Dead ???? It was like Nick Lowe, Dave Edmonds, Conway Twitty, Carl Perkins and Dashiell Hammett collided and this is what was formed. That’s a good thing ! Appearing as a four man band toweringly led by (great name) V.D. King (told ya) on vocals and guitar, assisted by Don Kenny on guitar (lead) and vocals, these guys just jumped the place and when they ended everyone was wondering what hit them. They are the undisputed demented dukes of musical mayhem from Jersey City, check them out.
For me the true telling of the tale came to light when Brad Vickers and The Vestapolitans came on stage. Featauring Margey Peters on bass, and vocals and a licorice stick/saxaphone artist who just thrills the crowd. Here we were celebrating the music that formed in the Village back in the day, and every band did their best, to honor that goal. But what was that music that was being played back then? In it’s most primal form, it was folksy, old-timey music that tapped into the rag time tradition. Brad and the Vestapolitans brought that to light with their set. With get happy, swinging music they provided the musical link to what was then, and is, now one of the most creative and avant-garde spots on this planet – or any other – the Village.
LINKS (in no particular order):
www.alexispsuter.com, www.bobbyradcliff.com, www.davefields.com,
www.betteroffdead.com, www.arthurneilson.com, www.nikkiarmstrong.com,
www.kennyscastaways.net, www.theholmesbrothers.com, www.bigedsullivan.com, www.davekeyes.com, http://billsimsjr.com/ http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/Vestapolitans?sk=info
for more on Greenwich Village:
Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease,
photos courtesy of Leslie K. Joseph