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The Hum by Bob Doran

Sept. 30, 2004

headline -- wide as the Texas skiesphoto of Robert Earl Keen

ROBERT EARL KEEN [photo above] COMES FROM BANDERA, TEXAS, a place he describes as "a town full of cowboys and saloons; as close as you can get to a Hollywood cowboy town as you've ever seen."

How does an erudite singer-songwriter from Houston fit in? "I don't. I just happened to land there. One of the town's slogans is `the town where misfits fit in,' so I guess that's how I fit in."

Keen, well known for his fine-honed lyrics, studied journalism and poetry before joining the ranks of Texas singer-songwriters. "One thing I could always do was write in complete sentences and make up little poems. Everything I did well in school had to do with writing. When I went off to college, I dragged along on old guitar my sister had. Once I'd learned how to play a few chords, I thought, `Wow, here's the answer. I'll write some songs.'"

Asked if there's some common thread in Texas songwriting, Keen notes that Don Henley, Roy Orbison, Steven Stills, Steve Miller and Meatloaf are all from Texas. "When you look at the bigger picture, it's as wide as the Texas skies, as someone might say. In general I would say that within the group that are considered Texas songwriters, the common element is that the landscape plays as much a part in the songs as the emotion does."

Case in point, one of Keen's signature songs, "The Road Goes On Forever." The landscape also plays an important role in "The Front Porch Song," a number that was requested at Lyle Lovett's exceptional concert last week. Lovett explained that he and Keen collaborated on the song. I asked how that came about. "Co-writing is as varied as the people that do it," said Keen. "In this case, I wrote a song with a few verses; Lyle said, `That's a cool song,' and wrote some more verses, then we sort of wrapped it up." When I noted that his honest answer was somewhat unexciting, Keen supplied another. "No, we were in rehab and had relapsed, and we were hanging around on the front porch of this halfway house and stuff. There was this guy who had a guitar with only four strings and it only had five frets and we took turns trying to tune it and like that, and in between trying to make sure our guy came in with all our drugs and us trying to get the tuning right, we figured out the song. How's that?" Much better.

Robert Earl Keen plays tunes from his latest, Farm Fresh Onions (but not exclusively) on Friday, Oct. 1, at the venerable Eureka Theater, with Kulica and Kaydi Johnson opening. While Keen heads down that road that goes on forever the next morning, Kaydi is sticking around for a show the following night at Mazzotti's, once again with Kulica.

The Eureka Chamber Music Series kicks off Friday evening at the Calvary Lutheran Church with the award-winning Daedalus Quartet playing music by Purcell, Bach, Ravel and Sibelius. This is the first of eight concerts at the church organized by Pearl and Robert Micheli. Coming up on Friday, Oct. 15, the return of the San Francisco Opera Center Singers; Nov. 12, it's Anton Nel at the piano; in February they have both the Avalon String Quartet and the Pacifica Quartet; next April 8, it's the Raphael Trio, with the S.F. Opera Center Singers back to close things out May 6. Of course, there's a discount if you sign up for the whole series. Call 445-9650 for details.

Friday night at the Blue Lake Casino, it's the Clint Warner Band playing for what seems to be the kick-off party for Saturday's Bikes by the Bay. Saturday night Clint and co. play for the first time at Hum Brews. I caught their set at the North Country Fair, where they decorated the stage with a banner reading, "Rockin' blues at its finest!" And I'd have to say, they lived up to the statement.

Saturday morning, Oct. 2, you'll find me on the Arcata Plaza on my once-a-year stint as a two-dimensional "artist" for Pastels on the Plaza. And once again, providing background music for the event (and the simultaneous Farmers' Market) it's the always amazing Joyce Hough Band, who I'm told are only playing a couple more gigs before disbanding, or moving on to the whatever the next phase might be.

The "Jam the Vote" series, supporting the Redwood Peace and Justice and Democracy Unlimited, moves to the Bayside Grange Tuesday, Oct. 5, for a show by RAQ, a four-piece from Vermont who describe their sound as "retro and futuristic" and/or "enigmatic and often paradoxical" shifting from "warp-speed progressive rock hooks" to "perusing the cosmos, floating gracefully through improvisational bliss."

Hot tip of the week: pc munoz and the amen corner, a hard to describe spoken word/hip hop/funk/gospel outfit from the South Bay Area, plays an unplugged set at Borders in the Mall on Wednesday, Oct. 6. Among his fans, Kate Klein from KMUD who calls him "an absolute inspiration musically, ideologically, compositionally!"

As you know by now (if you read the rest of the paper) the big show with Capleton has been canceled along with the whole Nor-Cal portion of his tour. Without adding any more fuel to the fire, I'll point out that there is still a lot of great reggae and dancehall coming in this weekend. First there's the St. Croix Rastaman Midnite Thursday, Sept. 30, at Mazzotti's. I caught his set at Reggae on the River and he truly tore it down to the serious roots.

Friday night Mazzotti's picks up a portion of the canceled show with Brooklyn-born Rasta Rocker-T sharing some positive dancehall, including tunes from his latest Positive Sound Massive disc, More Luv. He'll have one of the album's producers, Jah Yzer, with him. The show, assembled last minute by Dub Cowboy, host of the Friday Jamdown on KHSU (and a couple of other radio shows), also includes DJs Mystic-1 and Sergeant. Guaranteed, no slackness.

Saturday at Six Rivers Brewery, it's Mother Culture herself, Sister Carol, a veteran roots and culture reggae empress who I'll always remember for her appearances (as an actress) in Jonathan Demme's movies Married to the Mob and Something Wild, which ends with Sister Carol offering her take on "Wild Thing."

Coming up next Thursday, Oct. 7, the Branford Marsalis Quartet playing some fine jazz at the Van Duzer. When I checked before press time there were still tickets. Get them while you can. More on this show next week.

As noted elsewhere in this edition of the Journal, KZPN has finally switched over to the Jefferson Public Radio feed, which does not always come from Oregon. For example, my old buddy Good Rockin' Derral, who had a blues show locally for many years on KXGO, is now living over in the Redding area, and that's where he will be this Saturday night when he hosts "The Blues Show" as part of JPR's Rhythm and News feed. Old fans of "The Blues Revue" will want to tune in 10 p.m.- 2 a.m. this Saturday.

"I'm loaded for bear," he says, since he just got back the S.F. Blues fest with a pile of new CDs. "And I can't wait to reconnect with my many longtime listeners and friends on the coast."


Bob Doran



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