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The Hum by Bob Doran

Oct. 7, 2004

Photo and headline -- Woody GuthrieYOU COULD CALL THE CONCEPT BEHIND THE Spirit of Guthrie [photo at right] tour channeling. You probably don't think of Rob Wasserman, a master on the upright bass, as someone who would be immersed in the work of a folksinger like Guthrie -- he's better known for collaborations with rock icons ranging from Neil Young, Van Morrison and Elvis Costello to the Dead. But the bass player has been living with and absorbing the legendary folksinger's writings for a few years now, assembling a long term project, which in typical Wasserman fashion pairs him with a wide range of musicians.

In a call from his studio/office in Marin he explained, "We've been working on this recording project using Woody's words. His daughter, Nora Guthrie, who runs the Woody Guthrie archives, has given me access to all these journals and diaries, not necessarily lyrics, more like daily writings. I've been turning them into musical pieces.

"I read Woody's book, Bound for Glory, when I was a teenager; that inspired me to pick up my guitar and start hitchhiking around. I can't say it was just because of the book, but his philosophy had something to do with my start in music."

So far the album in progress includes sessions with Michael Franti, Lou Reed, Ani DiFranco, Studs Terkel, DJ Logic and Chris Whitley, and there are more to come. Wasserman recently brought producer Hal Wilner onboard to shape the disparate pieces into a unified whole.

The upcoming tour, which includes a stop at Six Rivers Brewery in McKinleyville Tuesday, Oct. 12, sees Wasserman's Guthrie project morphing into a collaboration with Vince Herman, lead singer for the Colorado-based Leftover Salmon, and Seattle-based songwriter Jim Page, a skillful tunesmith whose work, like Guthrie's, often expresses political and environmental messages in topical songs.

Wasserman explained, "I was jamming with Vince and Jim one day; it was the first time we'd all gotten together. I pulled out some of these things Nora gave me, since they're both Woody Guthrie aficionados. They flipped out when they saw these old journals full of drawings Woody did, all sorts of illustrations. That's what inspired us to do this tour.

"We had been thinking about doing something together, and we thought maybe we should create some new pieces incorporating some of Woody's words. We also decided to devote some of the evening to making up songs on the spot, which was something he used to do. And we wanted something centered around the upcoming national election, thinking about what Woody would be doing to make a difference, since he was such an activist."

On the tour Herman, Page and Wasserman will play together in trio and duet settings, and each will do a solo set, and yes, that means we get to hear some of Wasserman's stunning solo bass work.

"I will also do one piece at every gig where I read something from Woody's work and make up a solo bass piece around the words," he said. "I don't usually do that -- I don't usually even open my mouth at my own gigs, but I'm doing it to keep in the spirit of the whole thing."

Those who know Guthrie's work will not be surprised to learn that the Spirit of Guthrie tour includes a political element: Folks from the voter registration project HeadCount will be present at all shows. And in case you haven't registered yet, remember, you only have until Oct. 18.

Ready for something heavy? Thursday, Oct. 7, at the Alibi, catch my favorite metal band, The Hitch, playing what I believe is their first gig since Steve and Amy got hitched in Vegas (congrats!). Also on the bill, from Portland, Ore., a band called Diesto: three guys pumping out very dark, very hard music, inviting you, as they put it on their Web site, to "experience the new violence sound."

On the hardcore side, there's a Placebo show Friday night with level-plane recording artists Hot Cross plus Winston Smith, and the return of Rob Riordan's band Candy Muscle. If you haven't seen Rob lately, it's because he's been spending most of his time down in Ferndale helping out the ever-kinetic Hobart Brown.

Hip-hop? Check Humboldt Brews Friday night where Hip Stop presents Psalm One, DJ Precyse, Long Shot and Overflow (and probably DJ Brooklyn Science).

Out at the Blue Lake Roller Rink Friday night, Electronic Legion of Feminist Sounds and DJ Christian Clark spin for a Roller Disco Party with visual stimulation by CPEACH and OM. They promise: no slackness.

Alt. folk rockers ThaMuseMeant are at Rumours Friday with the alt. Gypsy folk band, Absynth. That night at Mazzotti's Particle plays funky electronica that they call, appropriately enough, "funktronic" music. Meanwhile down the road apiece at Muddy Waters it's the "genealogical groove duo" known as The Lymbyc Systym. And nearby at Redwood Yogurt it's folk pop songstress Gigi Love. And way down at the Riverwood Inn, Kulica grooves in Phillipsville for the first time.

Start Saturday with a morning trip to the Arcata Farmers' Market to hear the Arcata Interfaith Gospel Choir, who are sounding very fine under the leadership of new choirmaster Bill Allison.

Saturday night choose between old time Delta-style blues by Don Haupt at the Westhaven Center for the Arts, and old timey mountain music by Wrangletown Muddy Waters, with Absynth opening.

The Humboldt International Short Film Festival is a long way off, but the fund-raising gets under way Sunday night, Oct. 10, at the Kate Buchanan Room, with a cross-genre benefit featuring hip-hop by Optimystic Populists, politi-punk by Winston Smith, who-knows-what by Ape Launcher, and, on the wall, the classic, revolutionary Argentine documentary Hour of the Furnaces. BTW, W.S. guitarist Tim has Woody's quote "This Machine Kills Fascists" painted on his guitar.

Sunday night at the Bayside Grange, it's another show in the Jam the Vote series, this one featuring Garaj Mahal, an all-star jazz/world music fusion band including Fareed Haque on guitar, Alan Hertz on drums, Eric Levy on keys and bassist Kai Eckhardt. It was pretty amazing to watch these guys coalesce as a band a few years back when they were playing regularly at Café Tomo. At this point, they sound even better.

The Jam the Vote jams continue Monday, Oct. 11 (Columbus Day) with Lotus playing their psycho-acoustic-groove music; once again it's at the Bayside Grange.

Muddy Waters hosts an evening of spoken word and poetry Monday with readings by six women, including Jennifer Savage from the Arcata Eye, who will probably not read anything from the newspaper.

You probably have not read about it in the paper (because there was no press release), and there were no posters around town (since the show sold out in a heartbeat), but the truly amazing Gillian Welch is coming to town for a show next Tuesday at the Kate Buchanan Room. I discovered Welch when Emmylou Harris used her song "Wrecking Ball" as the title track for an album a few years back. Man, the woman can write a song. If you missed out on tickets, pick up Welch's new disc, Soul Journey, another fine piece of work, one that she describes (perhaps with a hint of irony) as "the sunniest record I've ever made!" My guess is she's not talking sunny like Hawaii or some tropical beach, more like that beam of sunshine that breaks through the clouds lighting up some distant hillside. Simply beautiful.

Bob Doran



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