Spoth the ravin'

Mark Ridlen continues his sonic adventure

It's when Govenar describes Keaton that you recognize his thrill. Generally reserved in his demeanor, he gets animated when discussing any of the offbeat types that inhabit the blues. He and Strachwitz are unapologetically hooked on people's stories, and the chronicling of same. Although Strachwitz stopped releasing blues records years ago, he remains an active folklorist who has collaborated with Govenar on three films: Everything But the Squeak (about cajun fiddle-making), La Junta De Los Rios (Tex-Mex border music), and Sacred Steel (steel guitar in black Pentecostal churches).

While Govenar was researching his book Meeting the Blues (Taylor, 1988, reissued on Da Capo), he took his Nikon into the real homes of the blues, which are generally not in the parts of town the Gray Line tours visit. Yet Govenar was unhassled and even welcomed on his photo-treks: "If you move in worlds that mix," he explains, "if you're there for the right reasons, no one's ever gonna challenge you."

These days, one could hardly be blamed for thinking "blues" means Mattel-made SRV imitators and faux jukehouses. The fact is, however, that while high-spoken intentions and government spending don't seem to faze color lines, modest ol' blues can offer access to "worlds that mix" and should be a lesson to us all. The Govenar exhibition is just such a lesson, and highly enjoyable to boot.

--Tim Schuller

Meeting the Blues: The Rise of the Texas Sound will be on display at the African American Museum (3536 Grand) through March 20. For more information call 565-9026.

Horstman goes national
She's played at the wedding of Roger Clinton--the brother who at least used to get in more trouble than Bill--and favorably impressed the First Family, but right now local harpist Cindy Horstman is even more excited about her first album for North Star Music, a small national label. The album, Out of the Blue, contains cuts from her previous, self-released albums Tutone (1997), Fretless (1995), and In Flight (1994), as well as some new material. "In Flight" and "Blue," off of Fretless, were completely re-cut, while the other songs were merely transferred to the new disc with a bit of tweaking by Horstman's longtime producer and bassist Mike Medina.

In addition, three new songs are found on Blue: "Perusia," by local musician Floyd Darling; "There Are No Words," by Andy Timmons; and "Farewell," the solo harp piece (all the other cuts are with a full band) that closes out the disc.

The new album is a good example of the benefits to be gained from a few years toiling in the local trenches: It has a subtle shine that her earlier efforts lack, and--with the exception of the new compositions by Timmons and Darling--contains all original material, without the standards that filled out her previous three releases. With North Star's increased efficiencies in distribution and promotion, this may be the album that finally breaks her unique pop-classical-jazz approach on a national level.

--Matt Weitz

S.P. Leary, 1930--1998
S.P. Leary was the exception to the blues rule about Texans migrating to California while Mississippians went to Chicago. Born in Dallas on June 6, 1930, Leary left Texas by train in 1949 and headed for Chicago to become one of the most respected drummers in that genre's history. He died there on Monday, January 23, of cancer.

Leary went to Dallas' Lincoln High, where he took band under J.R. "Uncle Dud" Miller, the legendarily two-fisted instructor who also mentored James Clay, David "Fathead" Newman, and Cedar Walton. Lloyd Jefferson and Doug Finnell were local lights Leary fondly remembered working with, but his favorite was T-Bone Walker, whom he referred to as "godfather." Bone liked a drummer who was good with brushes and encouraged Leary in that direction; even in his later years, he was The Man to any Chicago youngblood who wished to have lessons in brush technique.

Leary accompanied virtually every blues heavy in Chicago: Wolf, Mud, Spann, Big Walter--everyone. (A little documented delight of 1975 was Leary's duo dates at the club Elsewhere with pianist Erwin Helfer.) He was the prime minimalist, kit-wise. Though he owned rack toms, he never took them to dates, preferring to use only bass, snare, floor tom, and cymbals. With this sparse equipment, he achieved a propulsiveness that was the envy of every drummer who saw him when he was "on." Times were many, however, when he wasn't.

He laconically admitted to being an "ack-olic" unfit for touring, and insiders knew it was all too possible that he'd be boozed to the gills. Yet for a Blue Cat date he did here in '95 with Hash Brown (his first return since the '50s), Leary was "on," a triumphant homecoming that particularly delighted Texas drummer Jason Moeller, who regards Leary as his main influence.

Another drummer who learned from Leary is Mot Dutko, who visited him regularly at his home, and later at Chicago's Trinity Hospital. Ironically, Dutko was on his way home from Junior Wells' funeral when he decided to visit Leary--only hours before his passing. (They'd met back in the '70s, when Leary was on the road with Big Walter.) Dutko cites "No More Doggin'" and "Ain't Nobody's Business," from Biggest Thing Since Colossus (a 1969 Blue Horizon collaboration with Otis Spann and Fleetwood Mac) as object lessons for drummers who want to know just how magnificently Leary could juice a song with a five-stroke roll.

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