By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Deadheads are a persnickety, obsessive bunch; the only group with a comparable fascination with minutiae, trivia, and detail are baseball announcers: "Sorry, Clint, I doubt it--the Dead have rarely gone from a second-set-opening 'China-Rider' directly into 'Dark Star' when 'Deal' closed the first set, and never on a summer tour!" If you understood that last sentence, then you'll probably love Dead to the Core: An Almanack of the Grateful Dead. The 'ck' spelling of almanac was required because of the conflict with the Grateful Dead Almanac, official organ of the aforementioned band. There is no word (yet) on plans for an Almanak.
Core is impressively dense. A staggering number of shows are listed, usually with annotation and anecdotes. It's a trip into bizarre world of hard-core Deadheads, where concerts stand with the weight of legal precedence, referenced only by a date. Author Eric F. Wybenga has listened to a lot of tapes, and he cross-references and compares with surprising fluidity. He also does an unexpectedly good job finding new ways to describe a subject already worn smooth by description. Therefore, if you do not find "Bobby going over Niagara Falls in a barrel" a very informative bit of song description, you may not wish to purchase this book.
The rest of the book is pretty standard, but livened up by the inclusion of quite a bit of recorded stage patter and a bunch of "Hey! I was there!"-type lists. Wybenga is one of the first archivists to begin wrestling with unpleasant truths such as the band's generally lackluster run through the '90s.
It's a beginning, but Core suggests that that may be all you could expect from people who can pull out three "Morning Dew" references to support an argument about a tour that ended 12 years ago. Still, as a fan, Wybenga makes progress in at least addressing issues like the band's now-punishing rain of official products, but he's nowhere near being able discuss issues like the role of Almanacks and their contributions to the situation.
While offering little besides bafflement to the uninitiated, Core is a kick-ass book for Deadheads--packed with short bursts of trivia and interesting groupings of topics, and therefore perfect for the bathroom. In fact, Wybenga does such an impressive job with the musical issues that the reader can't help but miss an equivalent effort to explore the other areas. It probably wouldn't be the book Wybenga wanted to write, but as of now, such a book is conspicuous by its absence. The real benefit of Core may be the way it points that out.
Big Bad John
John Stedman hates American blues labels.
The way they produce, whom they record, their philosophies in general--they all come under his fire, and he shoots from a considered position. His London-based label, JSP, may be the most energetic blues indie in existence. JSP's ad in a recent Living Blues touted no fewer than nine new releases; of these, three are by Metroplexers.
U.P. Wilson, Andrew "Junior Boy" Jones, Tutu Jones, Bob Kirkpatrick, Joe Coronado, and Alanda Williams are locals who have cut albums for JSP in just the last three years. The first three artists have since enjoyed a significant increase in renown. Kirkpatrick, the eldest, is a singer-guitarist whose estimable Going Back to Texas might well have never been made had it been up to American labels.
Kirkpatrick, who plays in such neighborhood bars as T.B.'s Lounge and Muddy Waters, is a retired federal employee with a pension and a nice house. It's unlikely he'd care to leave this well-earned comfort to go live out of a van for a few billion miles. Yet, unless you're rigorously touring, most American indies deem you unsignable. They figure (with some accuracy), acts that move units are acts on the road.
"Perverse!" wrote Stedman in reply to a query on the subject, noting that if Sun had had this policy, it never would have signed Elvis Presley. "It seems any act can get signed if they're touring," bellyaches the Brit. "It's a crazy policy and accounts for much of the garbage that's out there."
He says that "certain labels and managers who should know better" are to blame for the proliferation of "rock/blues," which he loathes because it siphons attention from the Real McCoy, which is precisely what he finds in Texas. "My personal take on Texas blues, particularly the D-FW people, is that their music has that raw power that grabbed me when I first heard blues back in the '60s. Other blues areas have lost that, or the music has become 'touristy,' as in Chicago," writes Stedman. "The fascinating thing about Dallas' blues scene--given the enormous amount of talent that is in town--is how little covered it is by record companies; also, the lack of a serious local label that could take that talent further." Soul-blues labels Malaco and Ichiban he slags for their reliance on synths and drum machines. Other labels, he reams for multi-tracking and slickness.
The Chicago label Alligator and JSP had a fairly zesty legal slugfest over harp blower Carey Bell, but save Alligator chief Bruce Iglauer, most blues fans regard Stedman as, at worst, a benign carpetbagger and, at best, downright beneficial. His label gives legs up to deserving artists and won't hold them to a contract should they get an offer from a bigger company (as did the Joneses, Andrew and Tutu, when they went with Bullseye). He sees nothing untoward about a British label specializing in an idiom so quintessentially American.
"In the days now of a global economy, there is no difference in JSP being in London and recording in Dallas, as Imperial being in L.A. and recording in New Orleans," Stedman says. "The Dallas scene is in fact comparable to New Orleans in the '50s. A jumping scene, really creative--but most of the record companies involved were from out of town."
He continues: "A U.P. Wilson, a Tutu, a Junior Boy, are equal to just about the very best of the classic '50s artists we refer to as 'the greatest.' They may be a little different, or have wider influences, but they will come to be seen as on equal terms with the best of what has gone before."
Chris Douridas, once a familiar voice to area radio listeners who tuned into KERA (90.1 FM) a few years back, can be heard--and seen--again on "Sessions at West 54th," a 26-episode TV show Douridas hosts that premiered on KERA-TV (Channel 13) last July 5. The show, which airs locally Saturday nights at midnight, is an unusually warm and intimate look at a featured artist that mixes brief interviews and performance. Artists who will appear include Taj Mahal, Billy Bragg, Ben Folds Five, and Patti Smith...
Blue Face has a new drummer. Bill Shupp--late of Fletcher--joined up several weeks ago. Shupp will help singer Analisa with harmony vocals. The band has a cut, "Letter," on the new Son of Eat Yer Vegetables from the music business class of Collin County Community College...Brad Thompson and his Undulating Band have a new album, 9,000,000 beats per minute, due out at the end of August...Tickets are on sale now for Euless' Starlight Theater's production of Cole Porter's musical comedy Anything Goes at the Texas Outdoor Amphitheater in beautiful Euless. The show will run two weekends: Friday and Saturday, August 8, 9, 15 and 16; for more information call Anicia at 1-817-685-1649...
Call it the Funland effect, but Austin band Citizen Lane, subject of a recent Observer profile, has broken up or undertaken a reorganization/reshuffling/period of reflection, depending upon whom you ask. Fists flying between band members figure in some accounts. Glad to help!
Call it the anti-Funland effect: Just last week we were reporting on the demise of favorite blues haunt Schooner's, and now we're reporting that Nathan Peck, owner of Nate's seafood restaurant in Addison, has bought the club. Peck is joined in reopening the Lakewood-area watering hole with David Vincent. The two have ambitious plans for the spot--including extensive remodeling and renovation and the addition of a full kitchen. Both men are familiar with the difficulties former owner Dick Isley encountered--and some say brought upon himself--and look forward to refurbishing the club's somewhat tarnished reputation...
A note of explanation
Of course we know how to spell the name of professional colleague Thor Christensen. The extremely Nordic first name fairly telegraphs the less-common spelling of the second, yes? We deliberately misspelled it, because perversity is the oven in which the bran muffins of irony are baked.
It must have been hard, being the token grown-up at The Met, but departing Music-then-Senior Editor Keven McAlester handled it with dignity. His finest moment came when someone at the feisty young weekly had the idea of using its male editorial staff members as models for a fashion layout. A concise--if unintentional--photo-essay on the shared attributes of fashion models and journalists (none, apparently), the spread revealed the faces behind the names, most of which were twisted by vain attempts to look cool. Only McAlester addressed the camera honestly, on his face the same mixture of discomfort and embarrassment that the reader was by then feeling. Such guileless courage should take him far in Los Angeles. Wish him well, then send all of your tips, pointers, recipes, lies, damn lies, and statistics to Matt_Weitz@dallasobserver.com. Ta-ta.