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October 12, 2006

If you follow this column, you are aware of the ongoing resurgence in old-time music -- young folks picking up banjos, guitars and fiddles to play music that came from America's southeastern states some time at the first part of the last century. Of course, this isn't the first old-time revival. Guitarist/banjo picker/fiddler Tom Paley discovered old-time music when he was in high school in NYC back in 1945.

"New York is not normally known as the home of southern mountain folk music," Paley told me, "but I found it. I never cared much for the ordinary pop music of the time. Then I heard some people singing folk songs, not professionals, just people at gatherings singing something. Often it was a bit political, leftish or with some sort of message, not what came to be called `protest songs.'

"For example, I recall hearing this song `Kevin Barry,' from the Irish uprising about a man who was arrested by British soldiers and hanged. It was a ballad about that. I heard someone sing that, they weren't Irish. And there were songs from the South connected with the hard lot that black people had, and songs about general hard times for working people. These songs seemed to actually say something real, and people sang them in a straightforward way without mannerisms you'd find with pop singers. I liked it much better. It was the music of the people."

Paley found like-minded folks who felt the same way, and after some time he found himself founding one of the seminal bands of the folk revival, the New Lost City Ramblers, which included, among others, Mike Seeger, brother of Pete. The band recorded some records and found a degree of fame, but then the '50s Red scare came along.

Paley was definitely on the left, but not really a Red. Nevertheless, he refused to sign something like a loyalty oath when the band was scheduled to play on The Jack Parr Show. The band was blacklisted, which did not make his bandmates happy. They were equally unhappy when he suggested scuttling a tour of the South if it meant playing to segregated audiences. The upshot was a schism in the NLCR, followed by a decision by Paley to leave the states for Europe.

He's lived there ever since, in Sweden and then England. His interest in old-time American music did not wane -- he merely expanded his repertoire, learning old British songs and Swedish fiddle tunes. Occasionally, he comes back to the U.S. to tour the country, playing some of the songs he's learned over the years. He's in Humboldt County over the weekend, first for a show on Saturday, Oct. 14, at the Fortuna Monday Club, then for a second show Monday, Oct. 16, at Trinidad Town Hall.

What to expect? "I'll play some old ballads with roots back in Europe, some humorous type songs, maybe a couple of blues numbers, a few Swedish fiddle tunes, and I'll talk a bit about the music and where it comes from, and make feeble jokes along the way."

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Also in the old timey vein, a couple of shows at Muddy's Hot Cup organized by the Humboldt Folklife Society: First on Saturday, Oct. 14, featuring Heidi Clare and AtaGallop, led by former Covelo resident Heidi Clare, an old time fiddler/clogger who used to play with The Reeltime Travelers. Then on Wednesday, Oct. 18, it's fiddler/stepdancer April Verch, a Canadian wonder touring with some other fine musicians. Opening that show is The Rob Diggins Jazz Duo, with yet another hot fiddler (Rob) paired with stand-up bassist (and stand-up guy) Shao Way Wu.

Those who enjoy the sound of fingerstyle guitar will want to check out Richard Gilewitz, who plays at Jambalaya Wednesday, Oct. 18. "It's an unplanned night, no set list," said Gilewitz, calling from Florida before taking off on tour. "The music I play can be anything from `Embryonic Journey' to a prelude by Bach to a John Fahey tune or something I've written. I play a little bit of everything in the fingerstyle guitar realm, and in between I tell tales of life on the road, talk about origins of tunes or maybe about how I once mailed a fingernail to Leo Kottke."

Gilewitz is currently working on a book for Mel Bay called Nylon to Steel. He wrote another called Fingerstyle Acoustic Guitar Workshop. "It's basically everything I know, even a chapter on how to deal with the sound man. That's some of the stuff I'll do in the workshop." The workshop he refers to is the following night, Thursday, Oct. 19, from 6-7:30 p.m. at Arcata Music in Sunnybrae.

"It will be a combination of me playing, and a Q&A session afterwards; all levels of players are invited," said Gilewitz.

Guitarist Tom Carter from Charalambides (and Zaika) is back Thursday, Oct. 12, for another evening of high-level improv guitar manipulation (more than merely picking), this time joined by the like-minded Shawn David McMillen. Show up at the Accident Gallery around 9 p.m. for the opening set by local noise fanatics Starving Weirdos.

It's a pretty good week for the Deadheads out there. First you have Play Dead, who do just that (along with tunes from the JGB songbook) at the Clam Beach Inn on Thursday, Oct. 12. Then on Saturday, Oct. 14, The Ripple Effect offers its Dead tribute at Mosgo's (that one's early, starting at 7 p.m.). Wait, there's more: Monday, Oct. 16, Dark Star Orchestra, one of the top Dead cover bands around, plays at Mazzotti's. If you've heard about DSO, you probably know their method: They'll take a set list from some specific night in Dead history and cover each song in succession, not trying to reproduce the song exactly -- "taking inspiration" is how they put it. Since they're playing on a smaller stage, not big enough for two drum kits, I'm guessing they'll be drawing from the early years, back when Pigpen was still around. That's when I first saw the band: Oct. 23, 1966, Las Lomas High School Gym (my alma mater). DSO can't really do that show though -- no set list exists, and I sure can't remember exactly what the band played.

A note came from Ryan of the Absynth Quintet saying, "Life in Absynth land has been fun, lots of great jams with all sorts of good folks, fun shows and some rewarding time in the studio with our headphones on. We have been diligently plugging away on the new CD and are happy to report that we have actually made some progress ... We figure we're about halfway there. In celebration of this great achievement we are throwing what promises to be an incredible party at Humboldt Brews Friday night (Oct. 13): The First Annual Absynth Quintet CD (not) Released Party!!!!" You can also see the jazzy slackers at Paddlefest on Saturday afternoon, or after dark that night at Fire Fall, a woodsy overnight event somewhere near Fieldbrook with many other bands and lots of fiery business by and for the pyromaniacs among us. Tickets (available at the usual outlets) tell you where to go, or check

What the...??? Could it really be true? Que La Chinga has been around for four years? It is true. And to celebrate the band is playing another set of twangy, punky rock at the Alibi. Order a whiskey and water (easy on the water) and toast the Chingas' perseverance. Sharing the bill, Leopold and his Fiction, a rockin' duo from S.F.

The following night at the Alibi it's Shellshag, another rockin' duo, formerly from S.F. but returned to Brooklyn. Jen and Shell are the coolest punkers I know, the kind of people who provide support for numerous bands and friends (they helped nurse Michelle back to health) and on top of that, they totally rock. The local support for that one is my buddies Henpecker, playing what they call "homemade in-yo-face folk rock punk country music."

More rock Monday, Oct 16, at the Boiler Room, this time more on the alt. side, with Bad Kitty presenting Polly Panic, a singing cellist from Portland who plays with a drummer, here with Seattle's Darlings of the Lo-Fi and veteran locals The Widdershins.

Looking for some quality jazz funk jams? The John Ellis Band plays Tuesday, Oct.17, at Six Rivers. You may remember Ellis from his years as sax player for the Charlie Hunter Band. He's been leading his own combo lately and just released a new disc, By A Thread, which you can preview on his MySpace page (/johnellisband). Sounds good!

Come to the cabaret the next night, Wednesday, Oct. 18, at Humboldt Brews -- Vagabond Opera, a combo with that neo-cabaret feel, playing a mix of Bohemian folk punk, dark, twisted French café music and, yes, the occasional opera tune, fronted by this accordion-slinging, classically-trained (in opera), kinda scary-looking dude, Eric Stern. Those who caught the act at the Radish last time will be back with their friends.

This just in from Ray of The Buffy Swayze: "Last minute show this Sunday, Oct. 15, at The Pearl, 8 p.m. Park the Van Records artists The Capitol Years (from Philly) on tour with The National Eye. I'm sure it's too late to get this in the Hum ... maybe not. Yer Dog will be playing too..." No, it was not too late.

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