Late last year I got an email from Oakland-based accordionista Tara Linda. She was coming up to Humboldt to visit and although she did not have any gigs lined up, she wondered if I might know how she could get on the radio. By chance, she was coming on a Wednesday, the day when my good friend Vinnie Devaney has his Fogou show on KHSU. (He refers to me as his co-producer since I regularly supply him with music for the show.) He's always happy to have a studio guest so I brought Tara up to the station to play a few songs on her button accordion and baritone ukulele. (She's a fine songwriter with a strong but sultry voice and true presence.) We talked a bit about her Texas roots and her local history and she left me with a couple of her early CDs and the "West Coast Accordion Babes Pin-Up Calendar" (she's Ms. November).
It was a return to Humboldt for Tara, who got her graduate degree in fisheries at HSU (she was then known as Linda Rao). As a grad student she had little time for music aside from a drum class with Eugene Novotny. She went on to use her degree to land fisheries-related jobs in Sacramento and elsewhere, but eventually, as she put it, "The calling of music took over."
Tara's music background included playing drums in punk bands in Texas where she grew up. "And I played drums in power pop bands for years," she recalled, "then I started hearing these waltzes in my head. I needed an accordion to play them. I'd heard Tex-Mex back in Austin -- when I started playing accordion I got back into my roots -- got into Flaco Jiménez and others like him -- and expanded my musical horizons."
When she visited last year, she was putting the finishing touches on a new album, Tortilla Western Serenade. Now that it's out, she's bringing her accordion back to Humboldt to celebrate. "Tortilla Western is a cross between spaghetti western music from the movies, rock and Tex-Mex," she explained. "For me boleros, tangos, rancheras and waltzes are a natural soundscape embodying the Wild West with tremolo guitar, accordion and Latin drums. It was music I wasn't hearing elsewhere -- I had to create it. The songs are about the West: ghost towns, missions, the landscape from California to Texas."
Tara Linda plays a Hohner button accordion and has an endorsement deal with the company. That led to an opportunity to interface with one of her heroes: "Hohner liked what I was doing, so they arranged to have Flaco appear on three songs. [He's another Hohner endorsee.] It was an amazing experience."
Tara's Tortilla Western tour is with a band she calls The Gila Men with guitarist Az Samad (who just played at Westhaven Center for the Arts) and Raphael Herrera on drums and percussion. Tara takes the lead on accordion, baritone uke and bass. You can hear her Thursday evening at Persimmons Garden Gallery, or on Friday morning on KMUD, where she'll help with the Fun Drive giving away CDs and Accordion Babes calendars on Brian's World between 10 and noon. Saturday night she brings her band to the Arcata Playhouse.
Some time earlier this summer I got a Facebook invite from Absynth Quintet for a gig in Berkeley where they opened for the Cleanliness and Godliness Skiffle Band, a resurrected hippie stringband with roots in the ’60s. Surfing the Web for info on that band, I came across a site called Chicken on a Unicycle, a massive archive focused on the Bay Area music scene of that era. It has a collection of band family trees including one showing the connections between Cleanliness and Godliness and Country Joe and The Fish, an infamous Berkeley band founded in 1965 that included Barry Melton on guitar. The Chicken/Unicycle tree ends in 1970. If it extended a few more decades it would show that Barry, now a retired public defender, still identifies as "The Fish" and still plays psychedelic rock. Fresh from a European tour with members of It's a Beautiful Day, Barry's headed our way with an all-star band that includes Lowell "Banana" Levinger III from The Youngbloods on keyboards and guitars, Peter Albin from Big Brother and the Holding Company on bass and Roy Blumenfeld from The Blues Project and Seatrain on drums. Oh, how the branches intertwine. Barry and friends play Saturday night at the Riverwood Inn, then on Sunday afternoon at The Peg House in another of those benefits for SoHum/Leggett high school music programs.
When a group of musicians joined forces in New Orleans in 1977 as The Dirty Dozen Social and Pleasure Club, they revitalized the second line brass band tradition of the Crescent City, spinning it in a new direction by adding funk and bebop elements. Before long they refined the name to The Dirty Dozen Brass Band and became a local, then international institution. Three decades later they're still playing funky music on trumpets, trombones, tuba, etc. and they still sound great. See for yourself Monday, Aug. 16, when DDBB hits the Red Fox Tavern for a Passion Presents show.
Blue Lake Casino's Wave Lounge takes a slight shift from the usual rock, country and karaoke Thursday, bringing in ace jamband Garaj Mahal for an evening of jazzy funk-fusion jams with forays into Middle Eastern sounds. If we're lucky, Fareed Haque will bring along his new Moog guitar. Meanwhile, Thursday at the Jambalaya The Bucky Walters share a bill with friends from Santa Cruz, Audiofauna, a chamber folk/rock outfit with Kelly Koval out front on vocals. (She's good.)
The Accident Slam returns to Accident Gallery Thursday. (Bring your best slam poetry game or just listen.) The next night during Arts! Arcata, A Reason to Listen slammer Vanessa Pike-Vrtiak is at Northtown Books with other Accident Slam poets and the Johnson Brothers. Vanessa has a new chapbook she's launching that night -- buy one and help her get to the Individual World Poetry Slam in Philly.
JUCE plays reggae etc. Friday at the Jambalaya. Same night, at the Red Fox, British dancehall star Tippa Irie and Humboldt's own Jah Sun are backed by The Redemption Band. Then there's more reggae Saturday at the Jam: Jamaica's King Hopeton "crying out for peace" with The Soulseekers and special guest King Jah.
The local outfit Western Science presents How The West Was Whomped, a dubstep DJ/live electronica bash Saturday at Humboldt Brews, in part to celebrate Psy Fi's birthday, but also because that's just what they do. They're importing what they describe as "the most innovative dubstep, glitch hop and slutstep producers around," Antiserum (from Dub Police), Zapper, Datgirl and Mykies McFilthy, all from San Fran, and of course Psy Fi will whomp the house too. Wear your best Western duds and you pay five bucks less at the door.
Saturday's SoHum Smoke Off at the Mateel might not be what you're thinking -- it's not another version of the Emerald Cup -- it's a barbeque and homebrew contest. BYO grill and food (enough for 200 samples) and/or beer and compete for prizes and "bragging rights." (Check www.mateel.org for rules.) The music is on the country and rock side with the venerable Merv George Band headlining, plus "original Western rock" by SoHum locals The Kent Stephenson Band, NightHawk spin-off SoHum Girls and Charlie Pecora's band, Way Out West. You'll want to wear your Western attire here too, but, sorry, no discount.
Another costume-ish event is the Humboldt Pirate Radio Collective Benefit Saturday at Nocturnum. Neil Diamond tribute band Solitary Men and Jourrrrnal faves Magnum rawk the house, helping the pirates get up and running at 88.9 on the dial. HPRC notes, "Wear anything pirate-ey or say 'arrrrgghh' while you pay and it's $10. Heck, it's a benefit, we will take anything!!"
As Piet Dalmolen from Full Moon Fever (and The Nucleus) noted on FB, it's a cover band throwdown that night with the Tom Petty tribute providing competition over at the Alibi. You can also catch FMF on Sunday afternoon playing for one of Arcata MainStreet's weekly Concerts on the Plaza.
In the 2005 Jim Jarmusch/Bill Murray movie Broken Flowers, Murray drives around the country listening to a mixtape his neighbor gave him that's mostly haunting Ethiopian jazz from the ’70s by saxophonist Mulatu Astatke. That style, dubbed Ethiopiques on a cool reissue series, is the starting point for the Oakland band Sun Hop Fat. Don't know much else about them except that the music on their MySpace sounds great and they're playing a show at the Arcata Theatre Lounge on Wednesday Aug. 18. Local alts Medicine Ball open. I'll be there. Maybe I'll see you.