Pat Metheny’s 42-string guitar, in action

May 16, 2015

Before I new much about him, back in the late 1970s I fell into tickets to see Pat Metheney and his band (with Lyle Mays) at the old Cellar Door in Washington, D.C. (If I recall correctly; anyone know better?)

The amplifier lineup, as I recall, was most impressive, long before the musicians got on stage.  There were two massive pillars of speakers that reminded me much of Blue Cheer and their claim to be the loudest band ever.  When Metheny opened up, it was by far the loudest concert I’d ever heard (no, I never did make it to hear Blue Cheer).

I was hooked.  It’s been fun watching his journey through many incarnations of his own band, and working with others including Joni Mitchell on the Shadows and Light Tour.  I can’t keep up with every release of bands I like, but we have several Metheny discs in vinyl and CD.

I’d heard he has some custom-built instruments, including a 42-string monstrosity.  But today on ran into a photo of the beast on Pinterest.

Pat Metheny's 42-string harp guitar, called a Pikasso guitar (I don't know why).

Pat Metheny’s 42-string harp guitar, called a Pikasso guitar (I don’t know why).

That made me curious, so I nosed around and found this video of Metheny and a band in performance, in which he plays this thing.  From a 2007 concert, Jazzaldia; the piece is called “The Sound of Water”:

In the video you can see a cord coming out of the instrument. How are the pickups set, and what kind does it use?

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Encore: Campaigning Obama visited the Dubliner on St. Patrick’s Day, 2012

March 17, 2015

(This is a slightly-edited encore post, for St. Patrick’s Day — I like the Corrigan Brothers’ droll tune.)

I’d forgotten about the birthers’ greatest nightmare — Obama’s got Irish blood in him!

Democratic Underground features a series of photos of President Obama with an Irish cousin at one of my favorite old haunts in Washington, the Dubliner.

President Barack Obama drinks a Guinness with his ancestral cousin from Moneygall Ireland Henry Healy, center, and the owner of the pub in Moneygall Ireland, Ollie Hayes, right, at The Dubliner Restaurant and Pub and Restaurant on St. Patrick's Day, Saturday, March 17, 2012, in Washington (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama drinks a Guinness with his ancestral cousin from Moneygall Ireland Henry Healy, center, and the owner of the pub in Moneygall Ireland, Ollie Hayes, right, at The Dubliner Restaurant and Pub and Restaurant on St. Patrick’s Day, Saturday, March 17, 2012, in Washington (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Many great memories of the Dubliner, including its own great business success.

In 1974, when I interned at the Senate, the Dubliner was just a small bar on the first floor of the Commodore Hotel.  Rocky Johnson of Sen. Mike Gravel‘s office, one of my roommates, introduced me to Guinness.  The Dubliner was the most reliable source in D.C. at the time.  The bartender was a guy named Paddy.  It was never crowded — and they had good fish and chips with a fine, imported malt vinegar. I wasn’t exactly a regular, but I made several a lot of visits.

Ironically, for my summer job later that year with the Louis August Jonas Foundation, we had a trip to D.C. planned with about 16 “boys from abroad” and the designated hotel was the Commodore — it was cheap and met our needs, being close to the Capitol.  I was asked to chaperone, and happily went.   So Freddy Jonas, the great benefactor of the foundation and Camp Rising Sun, and I could sneak down to the Dubliner for a nightcap after the boys were asleep.  Michael Greene, the foundation’s executive director at the time, warned me that Freddy would always ask if you wanted a second drink, but Freddy would not take one himself — and so, of course, neither should staffers.

One night while Freddy and I were capping off the evening we ran into a friend from my interning, Avis Ortner, a former rodeo barrel rider who had starred in a Kodak commercial series, and who worked in a Washington law firm.  She and Freddy struck it off very nicely.  I was surprised at how much Freddy knew about horses, and the questions he had about rodeo riding.  At some point in the evening he asked me if I were going to have a second drink, and of course I declined.  “Well, you only live once.  Avis and I are having a second one, and you should join us.”  People who knew Freddy well still don’t believe me when I tell them the story.  But it’s true.  It’s the magic of the Dubliner.  [Is Avis still cleaning up at bridge in D.C.? [Yes!]]

I was back in D.C. in 1975, again with the Jonas Foundation bunch, and again at the Commodore.  The Dubliner had a successful year, and had taken over the small cafe/dining room next door to bar.

In 1976 I visited again, and after a very successful year the Dubliner kicked out the gift shop of the hotel and opened a second bar there.  It was crowded on weekends.

In 1979 I moved to D.C.  Within a couple of years the Dubliner bought out the Commodore.  You couldn’t get a seat at the bar most nights.  St. Patrick’s Day 1980 the line wrapped around the block, and though the place never had a great or large stage, the live act was the Clancy Brothers with Tommy Makem, if I recall correctly.

Reconstruction and massive redecorating made the hotel into a great stop, and a sometimes pricey room.  Eventually the bar company sold the hotel, but kept the location for the bar.  After Kathryn and I got married, we’d walk over to the Dubliner for lunch at least a couple of times a month, and the fish and chips at the Dubliner got better.  I may have done in half the cod from the Grand Banks all by myself.

We’ve been in Texas now since 1987.  I miss the Dubliner.  Have been able to make it back only a couple of times.  Obama’s lucky he could get in, on St. Patrick’s Day.  I hope he appreciates his luck.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post.  Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.


Chess games of the rich and Famous: Marcel Duchamp and John Cage make music together

March 11, 2015

Duchamp was a chess-playing fool.

John Cage plays white, Marcel Duchamps plays black, on a chessboard modified to generate tones depending on where the chess pieces are.

Marcel Duchamp plays white, John Cage plays black, on a chessboard modified to generate tones depending on where the chess pieces are. Toronto, 1968. Teeny Duchamp at far left, camerman in the background.  This was a performance.

Composer John Cage sought him out in Duchamp’s last years, and made a point of meeting with the artist at least once a week. Cage experimented with a chessboard designed to generate music depending on the positions of the chess pieces on the board (hence, the wires).  This photo came from a performance at a festival in Toronto in 1968.

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Popular music as music history, or just plain history

February 20, 2015

Old Jules rambled on about Johnny Cash and Loudon Wainright III, and their differing versions, in different eras, of “The Man Who Couldn’t Cry.” Then discussion got into Johnny Horton.

Old Jules’s blog is always a good read.  Go see for yourself.

Cover of Jimmy Driftwood's

Cover of Jimmy Driftwood’s “Wilderness Road,” the first bluegrass and/or country album I owned; my father bought it from the remainder pile at a record distributor in the 1960s. He didn’t much like it, and it took a while to grow on me. Driftwood’s music is preserved by historians in Arkansas, now.

It got me thinking.  I posted in comments there:

Nice to find someone who remembers Johnny Horton.

My oldest brother went drinking with Horton in Twin Falls, Idaho, my brother claimed, after a performance. He was a great fan ever after.

I liked Horton’s performance on “Battle of New Orleans.” Wasn’t until the 21st century that I learned that song was written by Jimmy Driftwood, who taught 8th grade history before he turned to songwriting full time. Worse, Driftwood wrote it in the 1930s.

Thank God libraries keep old music around.

Ever hear Moby’s “Natural Blues?” Turns out he cribbed (“sampled”) the vocals from tracks Alan Lomax recorded somewhere in the South much earlier, “Trouble So Hard,” by Vera Hall.

Well, there you go.

Here’s the audio from which Moby sampled, Vera Hall singing “Trouble So Hard.”

And for the record, Jimmy Driftwood’s version of “The Battle of New Orleans.”  History teachers, do you find it accurate?  Do you use it in class?

Johnny Horton’s version, done for an 8th grade history class:


Stars at night leave bright trails at Kansas home on the range

January 29, 2015

Yeah, it’s processed.  Nice image, good photography, deft hand at the computer.

Happy Statehood Day, Kansas.

Photo from the Wichita Eagle. Caption there: Star trails paint the night sky above the Home on the Range Cabin. Home on the Range cabin built was 1872 by Brewster Higley, author to the words of Home on the Range song

Photo from the Wichita Eagle. Caption there: Star trails paint the night sky above the Home on the Range Cabin. Home on the Range cabin built was 1872 by Brewster Higley, author to the words of Home on the Range song. —The photo is a composite photo of more than 500 individual photos to capture the night sky. (May 2, 2014) Read more here: http://www.kansas.com/news/state/article8132118.html#storylink=cpy

Photo of a cabin built in 1872 by Brewster Higley, the lyricist to the so-old-and-loved-it’s-almost-traditional “Home On the Range.”  A bill in the Kansas State Senate proposes to designate part of U.S. Highway 36 as the Home On the Range Memorial Highway.

(Who took the photo? The Wichita Eagle didn’t give a credit!)


Star-spangled Banner’s 200th – with the Steep Canyon Rangers (again)

September 14, 2014

Now everybody’s celebrating.  Time for a quick reprise of this post from June.

Published on Jun 19, 2014

Grammy Award winning bluegrass band the Steep Canyon Rangers, well known for their work with Steve Martin, perform a special version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in honor of the song’s 200th anniversary.

The museum will “Raise It Up!” and celebrate the 200th anniversary by uniting the original manuscript with the flag at the Museum from June 14-July 6, 2014 and holding a special event at the museum on Flag Day (Saturday, June 14, 2014). Join the party: http://anthemforamerica.smithsonian.com/

Special thanks to the team at Wool and Tusk for their hard work and creativity: Scott Mele, Roger Pistole, Derek West, Joe Pisapia, David Bartin, Michael Freeman, Alexis Kaback, Daniel Walker, Jeff Rosen, Harvey Moltz, and Greg and Erin Whiteley.

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The flag that flew over Fort McHenry at the Battle of Baltimore, 1814. Smithsonian image.

The flag that flew over Fort McHenry at the Battle of Baltimore, 1814. Smithsonian image.

This is an encore post.

This is an encore post.


History in art: August 4, 1964, and the Dallas Symphony

August 4, 2014

On August 4, 1964, President Johnson awoke to the news that two U.S. Navy ships cruising in the Tonkin Gulf had been fired upon by North Vietnamese Navy gunboats; then the FBI called and announced that the bodies of three civil rights workers had been found, young men registering African Americans to vote in Mississippi.  Both of these events rumble through history like a Rocky Mountain avalanche to today; either was a make-or-break event for any presidency.  

Lyndon Johnson dealt with them both, the same day

“August 4, 1964,” is an oratorio covering a remarkable and fantastic coincidence in the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson.  On that day, the bodies of three civil rights workers who had been missing for nearly seven weeks, were found in shallow graves near Philadelphia, Mississippi — they were the victims of violence aimed at stopping blacks from voting.  The incident was a chief spur to the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

And also on that day, the U.S.S. Maddox reported it had been attacked by gunboats of the North Vietnamese Navy, in the Gulf of Tonkin.  The Gulf of Tonkin incident led to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which gave Johnson the authority to expand and escalate the war in Vietnam, which he did.

Cover for the CD of the Dallas Symphony's performance of Steven Stucky's

Cover for the CD of the Dallas Symphony’s Grammy-nominated performance of Steven Stucky’s “August 4, 1964,” Jaap van Zweden conducting.

The Dallas Symphony commissioned the work, from composer Steven Stucky and librettist Gene Scheer, in commemoration of President Johnson’s 100th birth anniversary — he would have been 100 on August 27, 2008.  The works were premiered in Dallas in 2008.

The music is outstanding, especially for a modern piece.  The Dallas Symphony was at its flashiest and most sober best, under the baton of new conductor Jaap van Zweden.  It was a spectacular performance.  According to the New York Times:

Mr. van Zweden, hailed in his debut as music director a week before, scored another triumph here. And the orchestra’s assured and gritty performance was rivaled by that of the large Dallas Symphony Chorus, both corporately and individually, in shifting solo snippets charting the course of the fateful day.

The strong cast, mildly amplified, was robustly led by the Johnson of Robert Orth, last heard as another president in John Adams’s “Nixon in China” in Denver in June. Laquita Mitchell and Kelley O’Conner, wearing period hats, were touching as Mrs. Chaney and Mrs. Goodman. Understandably, the taxing role of a high-strung McNamara took a small toll on the tenor of Vale Rideout in his late aria.

The entire thing deserves more commentary, perhaps soon.  There is stellar history in the choral piece.  And there is this:  Consider that Lyndon Johnson, the best legislator and second most-effective executive we ever had as president, got hit with these two crises the same day.  On the one hand the nation got the Voting Rights Act, the Fair Housing Act, executive orders and government support to end segregation and the evils it created.  On the other hand, we got stuck with the disaster of the Vietnam War.

How would the nation fared had a lesser person been in the White House on that day?

(August 4 is a busy, busy day in history; much to think about.)

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This is an encore post.

Much of this is an encore post.


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