In 1954, a young surfer-musician walked up to guitar maker Leo Fender and said, “Hello, my name is Dick Dale, I got no money, can you help me out?”
Simple question, and one that Fender answered by allowing Dale to play one of the first Fender Stratocasters.
“I picked it up and I held it upside-down and backwards and I was playing it, and Leo fell off the chair laughing,” Dale says. “He says, ‘How come you’re playing it that way?’ And I say, ‘When I got my first ukulele, I held it that way because I was strumming with my left hand, and the book didn’t say, ‘Turn it the other way, stupid,’ and it’s been that way ever since.”
That encounter began an association that arguably led to hard rock, heavy metal and amps turned up to 11. Dale pushed Fender to create the amplifier electronics and heavy-duty speakers that would let Dale play louder and louder, chasing the swing-era sound of Gene Krupa’s drums that Dale wanted to hear coming from his guitar. There’s a reason why one of Dale’s compilation albums is titled “Better Shred Than Dead.”
The Eagles guitarist posted a Facebook photo last week that was picked up by multiple music blogs, showing an impressive group of musicians with him in the studio (above from left): blues man Keb Mo’, bassist/producer Don Was, Mick Jagger, Jeff Beck bassist Tal Wilkenfeld, keyboardist Mike Finnegan, Walsh and his brother-in-law Ringo Starr, and another pretty fair drummer, Jim Keltner.
Walsh posted a second photo of himself with R&B icon Bill Withers.
In the post, Walsh said only: “Cooking up something here at Capitol Records. I think you’ll like it.” Wilkenfeld posted: “Thursdays in the office are usually pretty mellow. Like today … when I wrote a song with Bill Withers, Mick Jagger, Keb Mo’ & Joe Walsh. LOL.”
Rockers took over the stage for the third night of Twangfest 16 at Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room on Friday, and they were greeted by a sellout crowd, the largest in recent memory.
As the hour crept past midnight, the audience remained strong, active and loud for Ha Ha Tonka. And the Ozark band once again delivered a smashing set of music that mixes an indie rock vibe, Midwestern sincerity and Southern mysticism that no other band can match.
Ha Ha Tonka had to be on its game, because it followed co-headliner Langhorne Slim (the two acts are touring together), who brings boyish charm and energetic angst to a deepening catalog of rich music.
Opening was Kasey Anderson and the Honkies from Portland, Ore., a straight-ahead, four-man group of three-chord rockers fronted by Anderson, who connected to the crowd right away. His St. Louis references were delivered with self-aware irony: He knew he was pandering, so did the crowd, and both parties enjoyed it.
(Thanks to recording fiend Jeff Regan for an mp3 of “Wet Vac.”)
Friday night’s thunder and light show again flummoxed University City’s storm and sanitary systems. As drains backed up and the tide rose across the floor of Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room, I remembered that Nora O’Connor had the perfect song for the occasion in her catalogue: her cover of Tom Waits’ “Looks Like I’m Up Shit Creek Again.”
It wasn’t needed, because she and the rest of the crowd on the third night of Twangfest 15 listened in delight as headliner Robbie Fulks riffed twice on improvised songs.
As fans in sandals and flip flops sloshed in an inch or so of stinky water, Fulks and O’Connor battled a wet vac droning what Fulks judged to be middle-E and inspired what we’ll call “Wet Vac”:
“While the water came into the club/ the wet vac worked very hard./ Twangfest would not be ruined by the water/ so we diverted it into someone’s back yard./ While the rain in St. Louis couldn’t stop the Twangfest when they brought the wet vac out/And to the sound of the wet vac E/ all the (unintelligible) got to scream and shout/ (shouting) WET VAC … WET VAC … WET VAC … wet vac.”
Later, Fulks improvised the more involved “The Duck Room’s Goin’ Down.”
“Doesn’t anyone care about truth anymore?” roots rocker Hayes Carll asked Wednesday night at the Pageant, then answered his own question: “Maybe that’s what songs are for.”
That lyric, from the wonderfully titled “Bad Liver and a Broken Heart,” closed out Carll’s encore and the opening night of Twangfest 15 at the Pageant, and a lot of what came before it from Carll and Elizabeth Cook had a lot to do with truth, broken hearts and, yes, bad livers.
Both artists are veterans of St. Louis’ roots music festival. Cook was making her third visit, Carll his second. But Carll’s represented a huge career leap from three years ago, when he opened for the Old 97’s at the same venue.
This time, fronting a full band led by guitarist Scott Davis, Carll was talkative, funny and charming, both in song and between them. He played 10 of the 12 songs from his new CD “KAMG YOYO,” military slang for “kiss my ass guys, you’re on your own.”
Carll and band brought out the CD’s stunning musical variety, from the rock of “Stomp and Holler” to the Irish-folk of “Bottle in My Hand” to the classic country sound of “Chances Are.”
This blog is intended as a place for fans of roots music — country, alt-country, roots rock, blues etc — to get together and discuss and critique our favorite music. I’ve been writing about music for many years for mainstream newspapers, and I’m looking forward to freeing my inner fan.
For the past 10 years, I have worked as a copy editor for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, writing about music for the Everyday, Get Out and A&E sections: CD and concert reviews, concert previews, artist profiles, and Best Bets and Critic’s Picks. A link to those stories can be found on the Story Library page of this blog, or here.
Future posts will consist of original stories and reviews, as well as stories published by the Post-Dispatch, with links to the newspaper’s website, STLtoday.com.
I’ll also pass on links to other websites, blogs and music-releated places that catch my eye.