Friday, July 28, 2006

Adventures of a Different Sort
May 2005

John flew out of the B-H-M on Tuesday morning. He left so early that waking me to say goodbye was not an option. I got up around 6:30 am to get ready for work and found the guest room empty. I smiled. What a good weekend. Seriously. I felt like I had thanked him a thousand times for letting me a part of the weekend, if not in so many words, but there are only so many times you can say it with out sounding like a skipping record....just like I found myself saying and replying "That's awesome!" to everything I saw and heard.

Last Friday morning, John did a good bit of exploring while I worked. He drove out to Bessemer to search for an old studio. He stopped by the Music Center downtown, talked to the guy who ran it for a while. Took some pictures, bought some records. I called him to tell him that I would be getting off soon and suggested we go explore the Museum of Fond Memories. He eventually joined Josh and me there, to discover the strange wonderland that is Jim Reed's little book store. Walking up the stairs to the walls covered in newspaper and magazine clippings and publicity photos and movie posters could not prepare anyone for what was in store.

Turning the corner to a Alice- like hallway that seemed to get longer as you walked down it, it was so full of treasure. Room after room of books and toys and magazines. Old boxes and cardboard cutouts. Josh found a desk of random personal papers. A journal from 1958 that started out everyday with someone's experience of the weather and what they had to eat for breakfast. A letter from a man to a jewelry store about his wife's mounting debt there. A picture of a boy and girl sitting on a couch in a circa 70's orange and brown living room. With my recent fascination of all things old Hollywood, I stood transfixed under a window, salivating over another Cary Grant Bio and the book How to Dress by Edith Head. I finally settled on a Fred Astaire biography and a 1907 edition of Nathaniel Hawthorne's Twice Told Tales.

Josh went to work. John and I went home. We hadn't any plans, really. He had heard from the guy at Music Center that a favorite soul diva of his had opened a small jazz club down by the Platinum. We tried to get directions and find the number of the club in the phone book. Finally John used the number off of the CD he had picked up earlier in the day and got Roszetta Johnson on the phone. We drove downtown to the Platinum and circled the block. An old white and purple building stood there with MEMBERS ONLY spray painted in block letters on the side. We pulled up and parked. The gentleman in the parking lot opened the door for us and when we walked up to the bar, the bartender, a short, pretty lady with expressive eyes told us that it was a member's only club. She explained to us the rules and the fees and John spoke up. He introduced himself and said that he was looking for Roszetta Johnson. She broke into one of the most beautiful smiles I had ever seen and exclaimed "You're looking at her!" She invited us to be her guests. John and Roszetta spent the next couple of hours in enthusiastic conversation. We had a few beers and became members of her club (I became a member and then she looked at John with surprise and pointed out that he had not signed up). We left there, heart happy. We met Josh at the Firewater Grill and then on to the Nick to see Jesse Payne play.

Saturday morning, we got up early. Drove out to the Bessemer Flea Market. Went to Pepper Place for the Farmer's Market. We then drove home and packed to go up to the Shoals. After a visit with my best friend Darla, a meeting with Don Teansley (Sp?) and his sweet wife and son, and a short search through the records at a local thrift store, we were on the road to Dick Cooper and Killen, Alabama.

That I can drop off a much sought after album by the Birmingham Rhythm Section at 5 o'clock in the evening and by the next morning John hold it in his hands (probably hugging and kissing it and whispering sweet nothings to it). It's amazing. Birmingham to Chicago in a matter of hours.

I never did finish my story. The saga of Sara and John. Their journey into the land of song...Northwest Alabama....the Shoals. That hallowed Saturday, John drove us in his shiny rental up 65 to Athens, Alabama, and over to Killen. The drive seemed to fly by. I slept a little. We didn't talk much. I had bought several books already during the weekend and had brought a few with me. I thumbed through one over and over, reading passages here and there. John talked on the phone, fumbled through his cds. When we arrived in Killen, we met up with Dick Cooper and followed him over to his friends' house. There we were greeted with a very warm welcome and red beans and rice. It was great seeing everyone again and getting to know the new faces in the crew. We talked and ate and laughed until after the daylight faded. Then off to Dick's to settle in and freshen up before we gathered at the Bayou Blue for the Heart of Gold.

At the show, John was everywhere. Talking to Donna Jean godchaux and her son. He talked for a very long while to a tall man with a dark hair and a long white beard. I walked over and was introduced to him..."Lew" had been the bus driver for the Grateful Dead. On this night, talking to me, he was fact, the only thing I remember him saying to me was "Can you type?" And when I replied to the positive he smiled wide and long and I knew I was in trouble.

The next morning, after Tom's wonderful coffee and a saunter around the house and grounds with Becky and Dick, John and I drove to Lew's house. We turned into his lane and edged up to his strange fortress. A three story structure made out of wood and glass and a rather noticable red vehicle (a truck or van). We gingerly made our way up the path to the front door and through to a hallway filled with the joyous sound of two records playing to the west and one to the east of us. "Lew?" "Lew?!" John sighed and gasped and pointed at boxes and posters and records and signs. Lew stuck his head out of the front room and smiled. He gave us a short tour of his chateau of Rock. Light filtered into the musty gorgeous space, showing walls and a ceiling covered in old juke box glass and pin ball machine backs. There was a fringed jacket hanging on the wall (John later informed me that it was given to Lew by Abby Hoffman). An of f-white coffin sitting in the corner with an old flyer bicycle. So many wonderous things to look at.....and then Lew walked us back to a darkened room filled with boxes and shelves of 45's. I believe I heard John's battle cry of "Amazing" ring across the room. Lew supplied him with a flash light and we let him be.

As we walked over to the room Lew first had come from, he repeated the question from the night before. "Do you type?" I replied that I did and followed him into his office. The walls were lined with row after row of albums. In front of his computer console, which was crowned by a vertical turn table, there stood a bus seat, firmly attached to the ground and well worn. He sat down and peered back at me. I stood, transfixed, staring at the opposite wall which held the insides of that red vehicle that could be seen from the outside. " I lived in that van", he said, motioning across the room, "for several months in a parking lot of an amusement park in Ohio. Thought I'd keep it around."

He turned back to his computer, and started to show me how to index in his lenox program each album. He showed me his filing system and for the next 3 hours I input album after album while listening to Bessie Smith on the overhead. Lew told me that he had an apartment upstairs if I wanted to come and work for him full time. I declined but told him that I'd love to help out when I can. He's indexing all of his albums so when he leaves this earth, the Alabama Music Hall of Fame will know what they're getting.

The hours passed by quickly and suddenly I stood up and looked at my phone. We had a barbecue to attend at Dicks...and although I knew John would be content to search though those shelves of albums for a few days more, we had to go. But what an incredible experience.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

"A beer and a chocolate donut"

Seriously, Dan've driven me through this day with your morphy dylan/drama voice and rolling groove rock. I love Destroyer. Another Travis Morgan gift. He's so good at that, knowing my tastes, throwing another suggestion of music sublime my way. I'll listen from now on, Trav, I'll listen.

I've been dethroned.
I've given up my title as Connect Four Queen of the Universe.

After extended volley of beer pong last night, Amber and I settled down in the freshly (and beautifully) painted Skybucket suite to play a bit of the old Connect Four. I think more than anything we were happy to get out of the muggy evening air of the warehouse and into the air conditioning. That's one thing I love about our new office in this wonderful season of drought and dreariness. I love the cool, cool air flowing from those vents.

Les showed up late in the evening to challenge the checker dropping champion for her newly won title, but to no avail. Amber continued to amaze us all with her cunning and verve.

Speaking of amazing, Tomorrow night (Thursday) is the Skybucket Songwriter's Round. I hope that you'll plan to attend. It is to be the very last of the Skybucket shows at the Moonlight, as this sweet little venue is due to close it's doors at the beginning of October. This makes me very sad. I've been with the Moonlight in some shape or shadow since 2003, and have been witness to some extraordinary shows over the years.

While I was in the hospital with my second MS attack in the Spring of 2004, I sat in the evenings with the phone to my ear and on the other end of the line, Joni held the phone in the air while Jason Bailey and friends played and played. It made me want to get better, get back to the music, that which I loved the most. That is what this place has always been about, the music. Keith has given so much to keep it alive these past three years... It's absolutely incredible to me.

In any event, please come out if you can:
Skybucket Songwriters Round

Moonlight Music Cafe
628 Montgomery Hwy
Birmingham, Al 35216

Thursday July 20 8pm

With performances by:

Jody Nelson (of Through the Sparks)
Wes McDonald
Brad Armstrong (of 13ghosts)
and friends...
This is what will happen...
These three amazing songwriters, some of the best in Birmingham, will rotate around playing a few songs at a time, sometimes solo, and sometimes collaborating. They'll trade up every so often and will randomly be joined on stage by various other musicians in the audience. This is a very unique offering that I can assure you is not a common thing for musicians and performances around here, or likely in many places. Judging by the last songwriters night, this should prove to be quite an amazing performance.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

So much to do. So much on my mind. Everything is racing past.

I'm on my last few pages in the brown book. It's hard to believe that I've filled it all within a few short months. I started writing in Austin. In fact, the book was specifically purchased for that trip, to record all of those little moments, little gorgeous details that made each day incredible. And I did record so much, from the deep-fried avocado on my first night in town, to Joe Henry's polka dotted scarf, the guy from Of Montreal's sweaty chest (and Travis's reaction to it), and my friend Shaun's incredible eyes. There are quickly scribbled sketches, terrible ones, of bands and people and things... After I arrived home, I kept on, I wrote in my book about every single show I attended, every evening of note, little thoughts and weird awakenings, tiny uneven poems and shadowed blotchy portraits...and this little book is almost finished. Amazing to me.

13ghosts were incredible tonight. The acoustic setup at the Moonlight works well for them and to have the piano, well, it enabled Bradley to play a few songs that I don't believe they normally would have played at a regular show. I found myself sitting in the center of the small gathering, holding tight and intent upon every little note.

They co-billed with Andrew Bryant, a song writer from Memphis whom Bradley met while on tour with Maria Taylor.

Notes on Andrew Bryant (brown book rambling):

"He closes his eyes, leans forward, and croons sad stories of cowboys and dust and blood and lust. I love it how he rides the low notes on his guitar like a rolling road beneath a traveling car. You can imagine it - staring with him out of the window into the distance - at this moment I see the backroads, at home in Illinois, North of Brownstown, the flat and endless rows, the curving cracking roads and overgrown ditches full of weeds and wildflowers. The sky is turning a mellow gold and orange and pink, blue and dark behind. You rest your hand on the warm exterior of the car, elbow propped out of the window, the wind and movement pulling you further out into the evening. All of this, I hear and see. All of this from a song."