By Buddy Blue
Several bluegrass-based bands proffering a variety of fresh takes on the music have come to the fore in recent years, and I approve of all of 'em, more or less. From "jamgrass" hippies Yonder Mountain String Band to local genre-benders Nickel Creek and the irreverent "slamgrass" group Leftover Salmon, it's heartening to consider any form of traditional American music enjoying a beneficial if mutated renaissance in the hands of young musicians who might otherwise have gone astray into commercial claptrap.
I discussed this phenomenon with no less a figure than trad bluegrass torch-bearer Ricky Skaggs some months back, and even he, much to my surprise, endorsed the recent metamorphoses. "That's part of the music growing," he said. "It's great even if it's not bluegrass as we've always known it. It's a hybrid, an offshoot, but it raises the issue that bluegrass is cool and you oughta check it out."
Amen to that; my only caution is that we don't summarily shelve the old school in the rush to embrace the fashionably novel. To that end, I'm here this week to recommend the Perfect Strangers in concert Sunday night at Normal Heights Methodist Church, the latest installment in the ongoing Acoustic Music San Diego series.
No one's going to offer up the Strangers as exemplars of evolution; these guys are so moldy fig you can smell boiling cabbage and saddle soap when they start to play. The vocals gets a bit pitchy, the musicianship is skilled if straightforward, you won't be dazzled by the type of stunt-chops a guy like Skaggs serves up, and that's all okay. This band reminds me of such old-time faves as Charlie Poole and the Carter Family, all nasal and creaky and musty and genuine. Cool beans, Bosco.
It was a depressing turn of events when under-appreciated local veteran Romy Kaye moved to New Orleans last year - I long thought her to be perhaps San Diego's finest female blues singer, and talent-rich Nola hardly needed the infusion of new blood.
Happily, I recently became aware of relative SD newcomer Michele Lundeen, who reminds me of Ms. Romy in many pleasant respects and perhaps stands poised to generate the kind of recognition that always seemed to elude my former cohort. Lundeen's "Song Inside Me" is an often scintillating debut CD which displays the singer's leather-lunged power, wise-beyond-her-years instinct and soulful-beyond-her- skin-color melisma to wonderful effect. The gal is a dynamo for sure.
If I'm less enamored of the CD's over-produced/overwrought funk workouts and run-of-the-mill roadhouse grinders than I am the sweltering R&B ballad "Song Inside Me," the back-porch country thump "All Day Blues" (featuring thrilling bottleneck work by renowned guitarist Roy Rogers) or the smoky jazz strut "No Money No Honey," well, credit Lundeen with writing a batch of wildly eclectic originals. With time, I hope she settles into a more consistent and subtle style, although that may not be in her best interests - no musician ever generated extra income by means of taking my advice to heart, that's for sure.
Meanwhile, Lundeen will breathe fire all over the stage at Tio Leo's Lounge in Bay Park on Friday night; check www.michelelundeen.com for several other upcoming local showcases.
The Grim Reaper has been working overtime!
Legendary jazz organist Jimmy Smith died February 8 of undisclosed causes at his Phoenix, AZ home; he was 76. It's impossible to overstate Smith's innovations or importance; his renown transcended the realm of jazz and crept into every corner of the pop music spectrum. Smith was that rare bird who enjoyed several instrumental hit singles over the course of his career, defying contemporary tastes and trends. His influence could be heard on everyone from R&B architects Ray Charles and James Brown clear through to just about every modern acid jazz artist on the scene; the existence of neo-trad
Hammond master Joey DeFrancesco is particularly unthinkable without Smith's lead.
Ray Peterson, discovered by Elvis Presley and best known for the 1960 hit teen melodrama "Tell Laura I Love Her," died of cancer in Smyrna, TN on January 25, age 69.
Clarence Bassett, last surviving member of doo-wop group Shep and the Limelites ("Daddy's Home") and a number of other groups including the Five Sharps and the Flamingos, died of emphysema in Richmond, VA, January 28, age 68.
David Lerchey, singer and founding member of pioneering, racially-mixed doo-wop group the Del- Vikings ("Whispering Bells," "Come Go With Me"), died of cancer in Miami, FLA on January 29, age 67.
Eric Griffiths, guitarist for the Quarrymen, the British skiffle group that later evolved into the Beatles, died of pancreatic cancer in Edinburgh, Scotland on January 29, age 64.
Keith Richards and Johnny Winter, however, somehow remain alive as of this writing. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>> By Buddy Blue
Although it's impossible to accurately gauge such things, Bob Marley probably remains the world's most widely recognized musician, even a quarter century after his death. Among his most ardent followers, Marley was more than a mere performer - he was a prophet, a spiritual icon.
Count Makeda Dread among the faithful. For 28 years, the San Diego-based, globally-active promoter has been a one-woman reggae whirlwind, spreading the musical, religious and political ideals Marley established decades ago. On Monday, Dread's WorldBeat Center presents the 24th Annual Bob Marley Day Festival at the Sports Arena; Jimmy Cliff, Steel Pulse, Alpha Blondy and Israel Vibrations are among the dozen performers appearing over ten hours. This month marks Marley's 60th birthday, lending extra significance to the event.
"Bob Marley's music is for the sufferer and we all suffer, no matter what race, color or religion we are," says Dread of Marley's impact. "You put Bob Marley's music on and it will give you an answer to your problems, it will give you strength. Anybody can identify with Bob Marley, and reggae music is a heartbeat. His music is psalms, it brings the truth."
In the '70s, Dread was owner of the Prophet, San Diego's first vegetarian restaurant. She met Marley backstage at a 1974 concert and her life was forever changed.
"There were a lot of John Birchers and right wing people here, San Diego was very hard on black people in those days and I had an activist spirit," she recalls. "I met Bob, and he loved all people but really loved African-Americans. In those days, reggae was drawing mostly a white audience and he wanted more African-Americans involved in the music. He was so happy to see me at his concert, he hugged me and we became friends and stayed close for the rest of his life.
"He was so kind. I started following him around and listening to his words - he was talking about love and peace and injustice, he talked about all people coming together. I liked his form of activism. Most activism left out the spiritual element, the consciousness needed to make a change. I wanted to spread his message - a love of all people, all races, with music as the weapon."
Dread, a San Diego native, started off promoting local reggae/ska acts like Trowsers, Rebel Rockers and the Dinettes, and soon branched out into booking national acts. The Marley fest has grown from its humble origin at the Jackie Robinson YMCA to Golden Hall until landing at the Sports Arena several years ago.
The passage of time brought radical changes to the music Dread loves. In recent years, reggae has become infamous for the violent homophobia advocated by such performers as Beenie Man, Sizzla and Butu Banton. Dread stresses this is anathema to reggae's core values, and that in Jamaica, the gangster sensibility has been roundly rejected.
"The young Rastafarians are back on top now," she asserts. "They won. They're not singing about violence and bad boys and homophobia anymore. There are new artists - Luciano, Chuck Fender, Richie Spice, I-Wayne. They're bringing back the old guys like Don Carlos and Barrington Levy, who never changed. Jimmy Cliff came back to Jamaica after not performing there for 15 years because of the negativity in the music. The homophobic concerts they used to stage have been replaced by consciousness concerts called Rebel Salute with no alcohol and no meat. They're tired of the violence. Roots reggae is back."
WorldBeat Center Presents the 24th Annual Bob Marley Day Festival, February 21 at San Diego Sports Arena, 3500 Sports Arena Blvd, 1 - 11 p.m., $45 - $65, (619) 230-1190, worldbeatcenter.org.
MAKEDA DREAD'S TOP THREE BOB MARLEY SONGS
SO MUCH TROUBLE IN THE WORLD We're living in the last days. The collective vibration we're putting out in the world is causing jealousy and hate and fear, war and tsunamis. When I hear this song, it's we the people talking.
WHO THE CAP FIT Here Bob says, "Who Jah bless let no man curse." People were jealous of Bob and tried to kill him. He was telling them, "If it's you who the cap fits, you can wear it."
CONCRETE JUNGLE I came from a hard life, I was a kid that didn't have anything, but I brought myself up. I came from a concrete jungle and I made it through. Now I bring reggae music to others from the concrete jungle.