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The Hum by Bob Doran

April 29, 2004

photo of Kitchen Syncopators

"I'VE BEEN PLAYING MUSIC FOREVER," CLAIMED Frank Lemon, guitarist and vocalist for a jug band known as the Kitchen Syncopators. [photo at right] Born in Louisiana, Lemon drifted out to the West Coast as a young man; when I caught up with him he was in Portland, Ore. The Northwest is where he ran into one of his musical mentors. "I met this guy, Baby Gramps, and became good friends with him; I learned a lot from him. When I was headed back to Louisiana to visit, he gave me a number for a lady down there, Lissa [Drisscol], a veteran street musician in New Orleans. I started playing in the streets with her and her band, playing guitar, National steel and a little harmonica and singing. That's the scene down there; it's part of the tourist industry; we played the street for the tourists."

Eventually he invited some friends from Oregon to join him and the Syncopators were born. The music? "I usually sum it up in four words or so: We're a washboard country/blues and ragtime band; I'd probably put New Orleans in front of that, so it's New Orleans washboard country-blues and ragtime. I guess that's more than four words."

Where did this interest in old time blues and country arise? "We were all into Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan and we started working our way back through Brownie McGee," he explained, "then we went further back to the origins of songster music, early blues and jazz. Back in the day, songs became standards, but they weren't connected with [specific] songwriters. That's the music the songsters did, people like Mississippi John Hurt. It was popular music before we had pop music."

I've been listening to a couple of discs by the Syncopators all week and it's good. In fact, I'll sum it up in two words: good timey. Catch the Kitchen Syncopators Friday, April 30, at the Red Radish along with Slim Pickens (with Frank's little brother, Jacob) and special guest David Isley.

Democracy Rocks once again Friday, April 30, at Fortuna's River Lodge where the Friends of Paul Gallegos are throwing a big party to try to retire a $25,000 campaign debt. It starts early with Paul and Joan hosting a dinner catered by Avalon; there are the usual auctions (with Supervisor John Woolley and Mayor Peter LeVallee as auctioneers), plus a touch of comedy and lots of music, acoustic and otherwise, including Randle Lundberg and David Bradley, Francine and Nymiah, Eileen Hemphill-Haley, Youth Jazz Ensemble, Swing Shift, Ruben Diaz and Friends and the Non Prophets.

It's Chicago blues time at the Riverwood Inn Friday night with the Steve Freund Band up from SF, featuring Steve Freund (of course), formerly Sunnyland Slim's guitar player.

Randy Rutherford, a Bay Area-based performer kind of in the Jeff DeMark-ish introspective, autobiographical one-man show vein, is up north presenting his latest piece, My Brother Sang Like Roy Orbison, a story about coming of age in the `60s and the impact of the war, and yes, it includes a couple of Orbison numbers. He's at the Garberville Civic Club Friday, at Westhaven Center for the Arts Saturday; Sunday he's at North Coast Rep.

Friday night at the Saffire Rose, Speakeasy mixes poetry and jazz. They dropped off a copy their new box set, two discs and a book, very cool stuff, kind of in the beat vein, but with richer musical settings than the beats typically used. I'll tell you more about it another day, after I speak with Speakeasy poet (Dr.) David Gans.

Saturday is May Day, an international workers holiday and a day to celebrate the coming of spring, or if you're a pagan, Beltane. (And believe me, there are plenty of pagans in Humboldt.) The Arcata Farmers' Market celebrates with music by the Humboldt Folkdance Band and the traditional winding of the Maypole at noon.

At the Blue Ox it's the May Day Living History and Artisan Faire with demonstrations of many traditional crafts plus storytellers, the Vagabond Players, puppeteers and a major assembly of Humboldt's old timey music bands: Huckleberry Flint, Slackjaw and Wrangletown, and for the finale, all of them at once. Since it's Arts Alive that night, it's likely they will be busking in Old Town later; as usual, Slackjaw seems to be the only one with an indoor gig (at O.T. Coffee and Chocolates).

That night at the Blue Lake Casino, K-SLUG celebrates its third anniversary with Nobody's Star and Que La Chinga plus Dub Cowboy who, under his other alias DJ Receiver, is now a K-SLUG DJ once a week. (Saturdays at 10 p.m.)

There's a lot of jazz to choose from this weekend. Legendary trumpeter Clark Terry plays at the Van Duzer with the HSU Jazz Orchestra May 1, a program that includes two pieces he made famous with the Duke Ellington Orchestra: "Perdido," Terry's featured number with Ellington, and "Launching Pad," a tune he composed for the Ellington Orchestra's 1959 album Festival Session. HSU Jazz Orchestra leader Dan Aldag says he read in the liner notes that "even though Clark had written the tune, Ellington didn't have him solo on it. We decided to perform `Launching Pad' on this concert, and let Clark solo on it this time!"

There's "Jazz in the Redwoods" that night at the Graves Museum, with Susie Laraine and the Blue Notes playing tunes from the `50s and `60s. Sunday afternoon it's the Darius Brotman Jazz Trio at the Graves with Astrum Dance Theater. (Not simultaneously.)

Saturday night at Saffire Rose, Queen of the Alto Ylonda Nickell holds court early. Later Antietam from SF plays fiery guitar rock featuring hot female guitarist, Tara Key. Hot Whiskey opens.

Monday, May 3, at the Kate Buchanan Room (moved due to popular demand) it's an interesting convergence: jazzy jam trio the Slip plus intellectual turntablist DJ Spooky (Tha' Subliminal Kid) and outspoken spoken word artist Saul Williams. The flier bills it as "The Slip vs. DJ Spooky" implying some sort of collaboration, but it isn't. It is a good indication of the trend towards a breakdown in barriers between genres. The night before the Slip plays with Jurassic 5, and if you look at the festivals this summer you'll find a no-boundaries mix of hip hop, jazz, bluegrass, rock and just about any other music you might think of. BTW, my son brought me a copy of Spooky's latest, Dubtomety, a remix thing where he collaborated with the Mad Professor and Lee Scratch Perry -- very cool.

Speaking of expanding boundaries, Blues by the Bay Vol. 8 (coming July 10 and 11) is reaching towards a new demographic by adding avant-jazz/bluesman Olu Dara, the Laura Love Band and the Funky Meters to the line-up alongside bluesier acts like Charlie Musselwhite, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Tommy Castro and Walter "Wolfman" Washington.

Big nights for reggae this Thursday and next: April 29 at the Venue (in an industrial park between Redway and Garberville) Rocker-T and the More Luv Band offer conscious dancehall music with special guest sing-jay Jus-Goodie. Then next Thursday, May 6, Dub Cowboy presents the Jamaican trio the Itals plus locals Juce and DJ Aera One at Mazzotti's. Meanwhile that night at the Mateel, People Productions have Toots and the Maytals. Toots is touring behind a new disc, True Love, one of those star-turn duo things with an incredible array of Toots' friends, including Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Trey Anastasio, Ben Harper and Gwen Stefani. Sorry, none of them will be along, but they do have Thicker Than Thieves opening the show.

Bob Doran



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