Friday, September 19, 2014

Starling songs and the Hesitation Blues

Basically, I live in the suburbs. A few businesses operate nearby, but we're on a mostly residential grid, complete with sidewalks and a smattering of trees lining the streets. In the bird department, we get Western bluebirds and goldfinch, hummingbirds and house finches, brown towhees, crows and scrub jays. A predictable bunch of birds for Northern California,  whose songs I readily recognize. So I rushed to the window along with the cat when I suddenly heard a  racket one morning, both of us straining our necks to get a better look. Ah-ha, I saw, deflating slightly, a hundred or so starlings had alighted on the telephone wire in a sudden burst, singing and trilling and chattering away as only they know how. And do starlings know how to make a sound. While I was a little disappointed at finding these prolific and invasive birds in the spot containing my potential wonder of the day, I was nonetheless respectful of their ability to learn and recite the songs of other birds. Starlings are like the ultimate cover band, err,  flock. The European variety evidently haas 15-20 songs ( a whole set!) of other birds' songs that they've learned to imitate and are  ready to sing at any time. The even have local dialects of those songs.
I don't want to identify too closely with a starling, but thinking of starlings reminded me of a song that has become a stalwart in my long sets, 'Hesitation Blues.' (I may have mentioned the song here before ). A traditional song that's been adopted by popular writers (including WC Handy) in the early part of the 20th Century, versions of the tune have been covered by a whole bunch of folks since,  including Louis Armstrong, Willie Nelson and Janis Joplin, varying its feel (blues, Western swing) and lyrics accordingly. I 'found' the song listening to the radio when the DJ played an hour's worth of Hesitation Blues versions. While I sometimes improv my own lyrics based on where I'm singing* (local dialect!)  I typically do a version using the lyrics Willie Nelson plays:

*KALX plays a very Berkeley-centric version I recorded of the song 'KALX Hesitation Blues' after playing a late-edition of KALX-Live in 2013.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Read.Eat.Listen: Full

Read: The dear writing-group friend LJ recommended 'Things I Don't Want to Know: On Writing' by Deborah Levy and I ate all but all of it up on the flights to and fro LA a couple weeks back. A free night looms and I'm about to devour the rest. Any writer/creative sort will appreciate her eye for detail, hard-stories-to-write-when-it's you material. This books isn't so much about how to write rather than the mysterious why we write (her chapters are titled 'Political Purpose' 'Historical Impulse' 'Sheer Egoism' and 'Aesthetic Enthusiasm.'
Eat: Oakland's Eat Real Festival is a foodie's dream (9/19 – 9/21) Oakland Local -  This weekend marks one of the quintessential Bay Area foodie events of the year as the 6th annual Eat Real Festival sets up in Jack London ...
I was one of the musical acts at the first year of the big foodie shindig that is theEat Real Festival. I'm returning to play at Jack London Square during the party this coming Saturday, Sept. 20.  Look/listen for us  2:30-3:30pm on the Lot Stage. There will be plenty to eat. I'll report back on what I actually ingest while there.

Listen: I'm a sucker for the ever-prolific, heart-on-his sleeve,  perhaps 'hard'-songs-to-write/writing-them-anyway truth-telling badassery of Ryan Adams whose got plenty new music with which to fill one's ears.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

KCDC Your Own Reaction Released!

I'm pleased to announce that the KCDC "Your Own Reaction" Cd is now available worldwide, online via CDBaby, Amazon, iTunes, etc.! We're proud of these songs and had a great time playing them live in Berkeley on Sunday. If you weren't at the show, I hope you'll take a listen and order a copy ...or two or three!
KCDC: Your Own Reaction
Representing about two years of focused work, from the time Kwame and I challenged one another to co-write an album, to recording the basics of 10 songs at Lost Monkey Studio, to overdubbing, working out the vocal parts and the artwork, and mixing the tracks, the disc represents more than the production cycle: it's actually the result of about a century of combined experience of scribbling in notebooks, practicing scales, playing shows, etc. et. al. by the individuals that form the band and who helped produce the CD. When the box of KCDC Cds finally arrived on our doorstep a month or so back, we took one out and sat a moment with it, looking at the credits, awed and grateful for how much expertise came with each name  (be it design, audio engineering, playing specific instruments, writing, listening) and the day-by-day process that led to a finished result.  It was humbling to hold the finished product, a marker on the path that has taken us through all sorts of terrain of collaboration and consensus and expression, and satisfying. We'd seen these songs through.

 On the surface, KCDC's debut CD "Your Own Reaction" is a guitar-driven batch of California-made roots music played by a veteran group of musicians who appreciate a good riff and an infectious beat. But really, the 10 songs on "Your Own Reaction" are about putting your heart on the line, surrendering to love and taking responsibility for your actions. It's meant for listeners who love real instruments and authentic writing; listeners who are seeking out truth and beauty in their lives and think this world deserves the best they've got. Recorded with band mates drummer Mike Stevens and bassist Andrew Gibson at Stevens’ Lost Monkey Studios in Hayward, CA, and co-produced by Crooks, Copeland and Stevens, the album is a truly collaborative effort. Mastering by Ken Lee; design by Harper Design Group.

Friday, September 12, 2014

KCDC CD Release 9/14 @ The Starry Plough

Yes, the KCDC CD release show is this weekend, Sunday September 14, 2014, 4-7pm, at The Starry Plough in Berkeley. We'll be sharing the bill with Seattle's wonderful Joy Mills and Tom Parker who will kick things off at 4pm. KCDC goes on at 5:30pm and play til around 7pm. We'll have the new CDs, as well as cool hand-printed shirts by Kate Fire, and I'm even playing an electric guitar! Please join us! It's free, all-ages and everyone is welcome. 

KCDC (CD Release) & Seattle's Joy Mills & Tom Parker @ The Starry Plough, Sunday, September14, 2014 4-7pm   Facebook Like Button

Joy Mills & Tom Parker Following the release of their balladeering and soulful country album, Trick of the Eye, The Joy Mills Band brought forth their 2nd full-length record, Cat & Mouse, in May of this year, exploring a well-grooved blend of roots, rock ‘n’ roll, folk and country. They'll be touring as an acoustic trio, with guest Julian Martlew on Dobro.
KCDC Born of a songwriting challenge, KCDC's debut recording "Your Own Reaction" finds Deborah Crooks and Kwame Copeland displaying their literary, post-punk and twang tendencies on 10 new tunes. "KCDC's debut CD "Your Own Reaction" is a guitar-driven batch of California-made roots music played by a veteran group of musicians who appreciate a good riff and an infectious beat. It's meant for listeners who love real instruments and authentic writing; listeners who are seeking out truth and beauty in their lives and think this world deserves the best they've got." KCDC will perform at The Starry Plough as a full band featuring Crooks, Copeland, Waters and Andrew Gibson (bass) and Whitney Jacobson (drums).
Rootstime Review
KCDC received some review love from my friends at Rootstime, a music magazine in Belgium. Nice words for the project included: "That the two musicians can create excellent songs is [not only] proved in abundance through songs like the ballads "Jesus And The Jed," "Gone Missing," "Oh Oh" and "Love Some More," but also by the uptempo charged and handsome guitar riffs on songs such as "Put Away the Year," "Sweep Out the Dust," "What To Say (Come Here)" and the album title track "Your Own Reaction." ...we'd love to hear more quality music from this duo on record."
LISTEN TO 'What to Say (Come Here)" from the new KCDC CD (click link or view in browser if player doesn't appear)

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Climate change, birds & wonder

I started my second year volunteering as a hawk watcher for Golden Gate Raptor Observatory a couple weeks back, which involves being part of a team tracking the fall raptor migration of raptors, adding to a large effort "to inspire the preservation of California raptor populations." It's very hard not to be inspiring standing atop the Marin Headlands, looking over the amazing Bay Area, as the largest west coast migration goes flying by. I recommend anyone with a few hours to spare, get themselves up to Hawk Hill in the next few months.
I came off the hill yesterday, wonder restored, only to read the article Climate Change Will Disrupt Half of North America’s Bird Species, Study Says. The New York Times report on the National Audubon's findings that 'the ranges of some species are predicted to shrink at least 50 percent by 2080,' was chilling.  My momentary cold thought was that I was thankful I likely wouldn't be around to see it, as I don't know I could bear it. But the truth is, 'it' is happening now, it just might not be so obvious yet.
Climate change = shrinking habitat

 So much of my experience of being in place, of living, is affected by the birds around me: hearing the sound of a towhee peeping when I wake up, seeing a hawk learning to fly from a coastal stage, and watching Western bluebirds flitting along a fence line at the park provide context.  I see a bird and something in me remembers hey, the world is vast and marvelous beyond my wildest imaginings.
I know not everyone is this way.  I've lived in enough urban environments where the diversity of birds is slim to know that many people's life experience simply doesn't account for feathered animals, while my sensibility is shaped by having grown up in the country surrounded by trees and birds and insects. My family charted the seasons by swarming bees, returning swallows and Pyracantha-gorging waxwings. Volunteering to Hawk watch puts me back in that stream, which reminds me to care.
Back to the very uncomfortable topic of climate change, the UN is having a summit in New York in a couple of weeks, and climate activists are rallying to call for action. As environmental author and leader Bill McKibbon writes 'Marching doesn’t solve anything by itself. But movements can shift political power—in fact, little else ever does.'
You can sign up to march or donate to the cause here

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Songs upon songs

We found a stack of songs books — Great American, sing-along, Bob Dylan, bar songs, 'traditionals,' you name it — at a yard sale the other day.  A trove of books giving voice to everything from gambling and drinking, cheating and lying, loving and losing, to winning and bruising, and everything in between. We picked up a few, some likely out of print, and I've been thumbing through the pages, marveling at how such a clear snapshot of humanity can be preserved in a few lines.
Railroads songs, of course, were in the mix:
The wind it blew up the railroad track, 
    It blew, it blew, 
the wind it blew up the railroad track, 
   It blew, it blew;
The wind it blew up the railroad track, 
It blew away up and half way back, 
   And the wind it blew, 
   Holy Jiminy! how it blew! 

As were slave 'day spirituals':
I know moonlight, 
I know starlight
I lay this body down

I walk in the moonlight
I walk in the starlight, 
I lay this body down

And I'm a bit partial to the chapter that included 'Darn Fool Ditties' such as this one:
I had a gal and her name was Daisy
And when she sang the cat went crazy
With delerium — St. Vituses —
And all kinds of cataleptics. 

Yup, you never know what songs will be hits, or persist!
There are millions of songs, billions of people, and still some of us write more. Why not?
This moment. This mood. This. Now. There's nothing quite like it.

There's gotta be a song left to sing
'Cause everybody can't have thought of everything
One little song that ain't been sung
One little rag that ain't been wrung out completely yet
Just gotta a little left

 — Gillian Welch 'One Little Song'

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Guitar talk: Desio Guitars & The Secret Identities

Last week,  I was privileged to take part in a night of guitars at The Monkey House with a dozen or so other Desio guitar owners. For the past several years now,  local luthier Mario Desio has quietly been building custom guitars for a lucky group of musicians. It was a real treat to see and hear a bunch of these artist-owners discuss and play their very special no-two-alike acoustics. From my little parlor model to baritones and everything in between, it was an inspiring display of artistry and commitment on many levels. Yay Mario!
Mario of course, was a guitar player long before he became a guitar maker, and he'll put aside his luthier orders Friday, September 5, to perform at the CD release for his band The Secret Identities at the Starry Plough. More good music — The Secret Identities are sharing the bill with Shelley Doty X-tet (Shelley's a great guitarist & gifted performer) — and another chance to see Desio guitars in action.

FRIDAY:: September 5th - The Secret Identities (CD Release) with Shelley Doty X-Tet  @ The Starry Plough, 3101 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA