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The Hum by Bob Doran

Sept. 2, 2004

Photo and headline of David Ross Macdonald

IF YOU'VE HEARD DAVID ROSS MACDONALD [photo at left] play before, it was probably as drummer for the Waifs, the wonderful Australian folk rock band who have seen their latest album go double-platinum since they played here last, thanks in part to exposure from spending a good deal of time as an opening act for Bob Dylan.

"We did 20 or 30 dates with Bob," said Macdonald, sounding anything but nonchalant. "I thought my career had finished at that point; there's nothing to top that. There was one point, and this is my moment of glory, Josh [Cunningham, the Waifs' bass player] and myself were at a sound check just playing and jamming, and this piano starts clanking in from the sidelines -- Bob Dylan has started jamming along with us -- we couldn't look at him. It was just crazy, I broke out into a sweat and I'm sure I was blushing as well."

It turns out drumming is just one of Macdonald's musical talents. He is also an amazing fingerstyle guitar player and a songwriter, skills he combines on his latest album, Far From Here, a collection of "dark folk songs" inspired by, among other things, Chinese pearl divers and the opium they smoked, John Steinbeck's Cannery Row, the poisoned lakes of the mill town where he grew up and his early work as an underground miner in Australia's outback.

Right now Macdonald is traveling the states on his own while, as he puts it, "It's weaning time for the Waifs," with Vikki Simpson on maternity leave.

Macdonald's musical life began early. "My father was a jazz trumpeter who later went into dentistry to feed five children, so there were always musical instruments to muck around on when I was growing up," he recalled. "I learned a bit of piano as a kid, then classical guitar as a teenager, then I focused on getting a degree as a geologist and music kind of fell away."

A fascination with Stewart Copeland, drummer for The Police, led him towards percussion, and he got serious about drumming when his geology career began to wear on him. Returning to college in Perth, Australia to study jazz drumming methods, he fell in with a local band.

"We ended up touring to the West Coast of Australia, and that's where the Waifs heard me play and asked if I'd be keen to do a few gigs. That was back in 1998; it's been my gig since."

On the side he played with another band fronted by a fingerstyle guitarist. "I loved watching him play, he gave me a few lessons and I bought some books and taught myself some more."

When he felt his skills were sufficient, he headed across Australia on a musical walkabout recording his first album. "I rambled around with a laptop and a microphone. I had 12 luthiers I was keen on visiting; I hung out with them playing their guitars in workshops and kitchens, making this record [Southern Crossing]. I think it turned out fairly well."

Macdonald is quick to admit that "returning to self booking gigs and couch crashing after touring with Dylan has been a good wakeup call." Those who would like to give Macdonald a listen can find him playing solo at the Red Radish on Friday, Sept. 3, (showtime 8 p.m.) He'll also be back again Nov. 16, playing with the Waifs at the Van Duzer.

Don't forget the big Reggae on the River CD/DVD release concert down at Benbow Thursday Sept. 2, with reggae legends Toots and the Maytals and the Marley Brothers. For a preview of part of the Galactic show that same night in the Kate Buchanan Room, tune in KHUM at 5:30 to hear JJ Grey from Mofro, who opens for Galactic with a solo acoustic set.

Most probably see the Festival by the Bay, on Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 6, as just a family thing what with the barbeque, games for kids, KEET's big duck race and so on, but there are also five fine local bands playing, too: The Rhythmethod starts things off at 10 a.m. with blues and reggae; Clint Warner Band follows at noon with just blues (no reggae); Dr. Squid plays good ol' rock `n' roll at 1:25 then backs Sari Baker at 2:35; the always groovin' Kulica, who seem to be everywhere since they came back from tour, close the show with a set starting at 4:15.

The intimate Larrupin' Patio series winds down this weekend with jazz saxophonist Francis Vanek playing Thursday and Friday followed by jazz/blues chanteuse Karen Dumont on Saturday and Sunday.

Friday, Sept. 3, at Rumours, Annihilation Productions presents a splash of underground hip-hop from Los Angeles featuring J-Roz and DJ Ethos, the Semiotics and Metronome, plus locals Optimystic Populists and DJ State of Mind, and an MC battle with prize giveaways.

There's still more underground hip-hop Wednesday, Sept. 8, this time at Placebo with Qwell Makers, Mestizo and Kip Killigan, plus the aforementioned Optimystic Populists.

That night at the 330 Club, Bongzilla, Dragged by Horses and The Hitch play loud and hard. The Hitch takes it to Humboldt Brews Thursday, Sept. 9, joined by low desert rocker Brant Bjork, formerly of Kyuss.

Sorry, but Sunday's legends of rock show at the Van Duzer with Bo Diddley and Johnny Johnson Band has been canceled. Mr. Diddley has been having health problems and ended up in the hospital mid-tour. Let's hope he gets well soon. Call the CenterArts box office for refund information.

Bob Doran



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