For some reason the band portrait from San Francisco-based jamband New Monsoon had me feeling a bit nostalgic. I was a teenager living in the Bay Area when the Summer of Love rolled around 40 years ago. I know there's some sort of kinship between modern jambands and the bands I heard that summer, at what one might describe as the dawn of the jam era.
When I tracked down the band, they were in a studio in Marin (the other side of the bridge) making a good old-fashioned record (well, a CD anyway). Bassist Ron Johnson laid down his tracks a couple of days ago, so he's who I spoke with. The Brooklyn-born Johnson is new to Monsoon: he joined up in December after his last gig, with Karl Denson's Tiny Universe, was put on hold as T.U. went on hiatus. He's part of a leaner Monsoon, a five-piece that was once a septet.
"The band feels a little edgier," he noted. "The two percussionists are gone, so there's a lot more space. People say it's more focused."
Of course Johnson does not remember the Summer of Love - he wasn't even born - but he knows all about it. He looks back on it as a time of social change, with the fight for civil rights, the anti-war movement and so on, and is somewhat distressed at the relative apathy he sees in the youth of today.
"Everybody is still trying to sound like that era, but socially everything's different. It's a whole different world now, and it's kind of sad."
Then there's the music you hear on the radio today. "I don't even listen to the radio, it's crap." Most radio stations would not even consider playing music like what New Monsoon makes, a loose kind of rock with eclectic influences from all over the globe.
"It makes you wonder why we're making a record. Just to sell on the road? You make your living on the road nowadays. You don't make money selling records to some kid who can watch your band on YouTube or download the last show we played for free. Today one record gets passed around and is put on six or seven computers or more, if you're lucky enough to get someone to buy it."
Laughing Tiger Studio is "gorgeous" and the band is working with John Cutler, who once worked with the Dead. "And we're doing it on vintage analogue gear, 2-inch tape, it all sounds great. The whole experience harkens back to our heroes, those bands out of the Bay Area like Santana, Cold Blood, Blue Cheer, the Dead - it's a tremendous legacy. These guys [in New Monsoon] came to here from all over to live here and to be a San Francisco band."
There are hopes to shop the disc to a label and breakthrough to another level, but to some extent it's destined for the merch table.
"And we could just as well record a live show - we do that anyway. The fans make their own tapes and pass them around, shows are posted almost immediately."
I start to wonder aloud, and the bassman asks the question himself: "How do you get paid?" There's a cut of the door and merch. "You're not making it on record sales or off people downloading one song at a time. That doesn't put food on your table. You need to find another way."
Ready to do your part? Stop by the merchandise table when New Monsoon plays at Humboldt Brews Saturday, April 7. Give them a bit of gold to take back across that Golden Gate.
The subject line in the e-mail asked, "Bob, do you know what a Javanese gamelan is?" I think I do. My son Spencer actually played gamelan when he went to UC Santa Cruz. It's a collection of metallophones, xylophones, drums and gongs - heavy metal of a different sort - with unusual harmonies and a different scale than Western music. The e-note suggested that I might be confusing Javanese with Balinese, which is possible (I don't know all) and I was invited to attend practice in Arcata, which I did not get time to do. That local gamelan group Gamelan Sekar Sequoia is playing Saturday, April 7, at HSU's Gist Hall Theater accompanying shadow puppeteer Sean Powers as he presents Exit Us, a reworking of the Western epic of the Exodus story (in an event sponsored by HSU Jammers' League). As was pointed out, this is "one of the traditional uses for this music," and it sounds pretty cool. Too bad I'll be out of town. But wait, they're also performing in May at the Morris Graves Museum, so maybe I'll be able to attend a practice after all.
I try to keep my ear to the ground, but I was actually surprised to hear about a rumor that bluesman Clint Warner is leaving town - from Clint - who wrote to say, "There have been some rumors going around that Clint Warner is leaving the area soon and I did want to indeed confirm that I'm in fact leaving Humboldt for Seattle to focus full-time on music. I have an opportunity to expand my horizons and I'm excited about the change. I'll be around until July and coming back from time to time to see friends and family." OK, that's cleared up. Wanna hear him before he goes? The Clint Warner Trio plays Saturday in Cher-Ae Heights Casino's Firewater Lounge.
Birthday coming or just past? Thursday, April 5, Muddy's Hot Cup celebrates the Springfire Zodiac Party: Celebrate with those of the Aries persuasion with a piece of cake and music by members of AkaBella, Blue Monkey Galaxy Collective, The Burning Sensations, Weather Machine and Lost in the Deep, etc.
You saw both bands at Reggae last summer; they share the bill Saturday at Mazzotti's for something they call Humboldt Soundclash: Subliminal Sabotage throws down the hop hop; Ishi Dube and Massagana bring on the reggae. Will they clash? I doubt it; I'd say they mesh.
It's actually a relatively massive week for reggae in general. Ishi and company also perform Wednesday, April 11, for a People Productions and Passion Presents co-pro at Indigo with reggae legend Don Carlos, as in the original founder of Black Uhuru, with One Root Soundsystem spinning some sort of rootsy bass-heavy shit before and between.
The night before that, Tuesday, April 10, lanky rhyme-spinner Eek-A-Mouse plays at the Red Fox Tavern. Red Fox also has Dub Cowboy's usual Dancehall Reggae Massive this and every Thursday. Saturday night at the Tavern, Proper Presents presents Prezident Brown. Have you noticed how Prez Brown always has an entourage full of young, starry-eyed dreadlocked women with their hair in wraps? Is that because of some Rasta sect? Just askin'. BTW, Prez Brown and Eek-a-Mouse are among those booked for Reggae on the River, for what that's worth, and don't ask me what it's worth, not until the judge rules.
In between all that the reggae at the Tavern, my friend Rebba's That's How We Roll adds a splash of underground hip hop Friday with Ivan Ives out of L.A. making his Humboldt debut with Crew Stupidfresh and DJ Troma. Humboldt hip hop represents with J the Sarge and DJ Itchie Fingaz, the cat who spins two nights a week at Sidelines. (His day job is slinging CDs at the Metro.)
Let's talk benefits. No, not like medical and dental benefits (almost no musicians get those) - more like benefits for good causes of one sort or another (some of them medical). You may have heard that eco-activist Darryl Cherney is now a respectable member of the Southern Humboldt Healthcare District board of directors. Since benefits have long been his business, he's put one together for Saturday night at the Mateel to support the SoHum hospital, featuring folk-rockin' Americana by the Marjo Wilson Band out of Covelo, along with the requisite pre-show dinner and all that. Hospital folks will play chamber music during dinner. Darryl is listed as MC - do you think he might bring his guitar?
Female-fronted rock band Calamity Jane rocks the Bayside Grange that same night for a benefit they're calling Up From the Ashes, raising funds for friends Sarah and Joan whose house burned down. (They have no insurance - bummer.)
I got an e-mail last week from some woman who was coming into town and wondered where she and her friends might find some salsa to dance to. I steered her to Indigo, where Ponche was playing AfroCuban salsa for the Jazz Fest (which I hear did very well attendance-wise this time out). If she's still around, she may also want to take in the Ponche gig Friday night at the Kate Buchanan Room, this one a benefit for Make-A-Wish Foundation and Latinos Unidas.
The following morning, it's the big KHSU Record Swap, where you can shop for vinyl, CDs, cassettes, posters, T-shirts - anything music-related, from tables manned by music-loving vendors and traders. The soundtrack will be live, with music by the folky songwriterSarafae (at noon), KHSU's Friday Jamdown DJ Dub Cowboy (1:30 p.m.), Humboldt's top alt. rock cover band The Professional Superheroes (3 p.m.) and loudness from A Parting Shot (with school board member Shane Brinton) closing the show with a parting shot starting at 4 p.m. The fun and swapping starts at 11 a.m. Saturday at*HSU's Goodwin Forum in Nelson Hall East. A*$2 cover goes to KHSU, and if you've been following the college's budget story, you know they need the gold.