Music Friday Blog

  • Aretha Franklin. #respect

    650x350_aretha_franklin_young.jpgWe will miss you. 

    You will always have our R.E.S.P.E.C.T

  • Farewell for one of America’s greatest fiddlers: Bobby Bruce.

    BobbyBruce.jpgAlthough you may not know the name Bobby Bruce, you have likely heard his music.  If you are of a certain age you saw him weekly on the Lawrence Welk show, or you swung to his fiddling with bands like Spade Cooley or Asleep at the Wheel. Or you might have seen him perform live with Johnny Cash, Ry Cooder, Charlie Daniels, or Willie Nelson.

     If you saw the movies The Sting or Jerimiah Johnson, that was his fiddle you heard. Or perhaps you saw Roots, for which Bobby won an Oscar for his work with Henry Mancini. Or maybe you heard him play on the Barbara Mandrell Show, Green Acres, Columbo, or Little House on the Prairie.

    This list goes on, but it ended Feb. 28 when Bobby passed from this world or moved on to the next band as the case may be.  My wife was a relative of Bobby’s, not a close one but we were friendly enough to see him and host him for dinner at our house.  We attended the memorial service for Bobby at LA’s Descanso Gardens, a 150-acre wonderland of landscaping, streams and twinkling lights in the dry San Gabriel Mountain foothills.  The family opted for a small service, mostly relatives, and musicians who had played with Bobby over the years.

    And there were many years. Born in Chicago in 1925, Bobby started violin lessons at the age of 6 and by the age of 9 he and his mother and older sister Eileen would do acrobatics, tap dance, sing and play music on stage in a Vaudeville act called the Personality Kids.  He went on to develop his remarkable music skills at the Chicago Musical College,  studying classical violin with one of the finest teachers in the world, Leon Sammantini. But it was the jazz clubs he snuck into on his way home from school that changed his life.  Listening and sometimes playing and improvising in the clubs seeded the versatility that marked his career for the rest of his life.

    When World War II started Bobby joined the Marines and took his fiddle with him, even as he saw some of the Pacific theater’s worst fighting in Guam, Saipan, and Iwo Jima. But the Marines saw his talent and soon he was arranging music and directing 125 men in music ensembles in the islands, keeping morale up in a very tough war.

    His education and experience honed him into an extraordinarily versatile violinist and fiddle player.  Jazz, country, classical, popular music, studio,  live, television, film;   he could do it all.  And he started doing it all when he moved to Los Angeles in the 1950’s.  He played on CBS radio with top country bands like Tex Williams and Jimmy Wakely.  He did solos and live television with Lawrence Welk. He found himself onstage with Dolly Parton and Ike and Tina Turner, among many, many others. And he became the go-to fiddler/violinist for LA’s many recording studios.

    As the years rolled by, Bobby became one of the most prolific studio recording violinists in the industry, as well as an equally prolific musician and arranger for film and television and a mentor to upcoming artists.  In 2014, he was inducted into the National Fiddlers Hall of Fame in recognition of his countless contributions to music and the music world. But he was never too busy to bring his violin to dinner at a friend’s or family’s home and play a few tunes.

    Memorial services for musicians are sweet and sour.  Many of Bobby’s musician friends were there telling stories about his penchant for practical jokes and how he put many of them over on them.  And of course, they brought their instruments and remembered Bobby with notes as well as words.  But between the laughter and tunes, of course, there were the tears.  There won’t be any more practical jokes, all night recording sessions or family dinners followed by a few licks on the fiddle.

    After the service, when the last cookies were eaten, the tea and coffee gone, and the instruments packed back into their cases, many took a walk around the grounds, inspired by the lushness of the oasis in the dry SoCal hills, the burble of its streams and brooks, and the musical notes – not Bobby’s – floating from hidden speakers.  Life goes on and so does music, but it won’t be quiet the same without Bobby.

  • The Marias mesmerize the Skirball

    MARIA_WITH_GUITAR300.jpgThe Marias brought their unique psychedelic jazz-rock to the Skirball Cultural Center on the West Side of LA and packed the place with mesmerized, swaying fans.  A Latina-led, bi-lingual band with a growing national following, the Maria's seem to take special pleasure in entertaining outdoors in major art institutions.  Last time I saw them live was at MOCA downtown. But it doesn't seem like the venue matters - every time I see them, it is with a full house of their fans and friends.  And the crush afterward for autographs and selfies is amazing (and amazing about how patient and gracious Maria is, making each fan feel like they are the only one there, especially the many, many little girls who know all of her songs. Maybe one day I will brave the crowd, wait for the girls, and get my selfie too.

  • X.ARI blows away Hollywood

    aams_out_300sq.jpg When we think of “healing music” what often comes to mind are the languorous strains of Steve Halpern or ragas for meditation.  That music can be healing, but they are not the only kinds of music that can restore us; there is music that can also turn personal pain into power, the power to defeat your demons, to live life no matter what, to shed fear.  This is what the electro pop singer X.ARI has been doing for most of her musical life, using music to turn pain into power. She showed us how she does that at Hollywood’s edgy Sayers Club in the release show for her breathtaking  new EP, Dis-Order.

    X.ARI’s interior world has always been different, painful, sometimes close to suicidal. Music is her treatment, her unapologetic voice that rocks, croons and screams in catharsis.  She is always on the edge in her performance, her costume, her songwriting.  Her concerts are a kind of electric shock treatment cum psychotherapy done in public.  They come leavened with a strong dose of love from and to the stage.  By way of explanation, she says that “I became a psych major so I could figure out what the hell was wrong with me  --  I actively avoided music because of previous experiences I’d had. However, I ended up in the music building.”  Her fans – which include me – are so glad she did. 

    Sayers was perfect for X.ARI. Intimate, yet not small, comfortable, yet packed with the latest in concert technology, high end sound, swirling smoke and lights.  It allows her to create not only a mood, but to draw us into her interior world. She started this process of breaking down the walls, pushing out conformity and letting us see the calm and chaos that can inhabit her with debut album Tunnel Vision.  The performance at Sayers took the next step into Dis.Order.

    With her hair shortened and slicked back, a black and white halter with “Love Me” across her chest, and gleaming pantaloons, she presented a joyful, if unusual creature on stage.  Reaching out to the audience with her long muscular arms she welcomed the room with “Kingdoms Fall”, and immediately the crowd gave her it’s full attention. 

    Dancing across the stage, X.ARI set the tone – this was not going to be a run-of-the-mil- pop concert.  “Kingdoms Fall” was not a warmup song;  it was fully engaged.  She moved onto the previously released  “Vapors”, a high gloss, almost sunny song musically whose lyrics tell a dark story of a couple in an addictive toxic relationship.  Eyes glittering with excitement, X.ARI then ramped up the energy with “Stay v Go” as the audience followed her stage gyrations with cheers and sang “If you wanna stay say BOOM BOOM” along with her. 

    The night moved from the stratosphere into outer space as X.ARI turned to the heart-wrenching “Miss You”,  a metaphor for more than just lost love.  We had heard the X.ARI scream earlier, but in “Miss You” she took the mic forcefully, threw her head back and filled the room with the cathartic primal scream she is known for, repeating it again toward the end of the song as the strobes flashed blue and she receded into a fog of light and sound.

     

    The blue lighting shifted to blood red as X.ARI sang “Flashbacks”,  lamenting the pain of over and over again, dancing across the stage with the statico beat of her drummer. Everything came to a stop as the music wound down and X.ARI readied herself for the angry “Cattle Call”. After setting up her program and dancing away from the keyboard and computer rig, she stood still in front of the mic, head down, eyes closed, arms lose at her sides, and went silent.  We watched in real time as she stared into her interior, a dreamy Theremin soundtrack rose behind her.  More than the singing, the screaming, or the dancing, the 15 seconds X.ARI let us watch her be unafraid of silence, created a bond. Then the drum began its volley and she losed the anger. 

    “Cattle Call” was released earlier this year as a single with a striking cover of nude female statue who’s arms lay on the ground – a symbol of beautiful helplessness.  X.ARI is beautiful both inside and on the surface, but she is anything but helpless, and she showed it by launching into a power scream that lit up the room and energized the audience ever more than they were.  It was what they were there for.  X.ARI wrapped up the night with the unreleased “Breakpoint”, not yet part of the digital EP but hopefully out soon.  Then, covered with sweat but glowing with energy,  she thanked the audience and bid a happy, if wrung out room, good night.

  • Hollywood Hills music magic with Moira Smiley

    Unzip-the-Horizon-COVER-500px-OPT.jpgMusic Magic in the Hollywood Hills. Moira Smiley releases "Unzip The Horizon"

    LA is the only county in America cut in half by a mountain range, the Santa Monica Mountains, which separate the almost 2  million people in the San Fernando Valley from the 8 million or so people in the LA Basin. Located on the south side of this mountain range are the Hollywood Hills, a set of low rise peaks and valleys that overlook the city of Hollywood and greater La.  They are the home of the Hollywood Sign, the Hollywood Bowl, and homes of Hollywood stars and workhorses – actors, producers, directors, and writers.  This past weekend one of those homes was the site of undoubtedly the best album release party I have ever been to.  It was the celebration of stellar Unzip the Horizon by folk/Americana/world singer and concert mistress Moira Smiley, and it was magic.

    The home belonged to Peter Hastings, six-time Emmy-winning television writer, producer, director, and actor.  Hastings, who was involved in series like  Kung Foo Panda: Legend of Awesomeness, The Epic Tales of Captain Underpants, and Animaniacs among others, is also a very accomplished musician, collector of rare musical instruments and supporter of the musical arts.  Part of that support is the “Music Room”,  a music venue built into his home above Hollywood.  The Room, as configured for the release concert, featured a stage area with a baby grand piano, small backline, mics and music stands for  6 people, a sound engineer (David Weber, Moira’s producer), PA,  lights and seating for 70 people in chairs, benches and pews, plus another dozen or so in the balcony. 

    Every chair, pew, bench, and corner was full.  Some of those in the audience were professional singers taking a night off from their own recording and performing to support Moira and enjoy what we all knew was going to be a unique and exhilarating evening.  And it was.

    MOIRA_AND_CREW_ARMS_UPcompressed.jpgMoira gave us two full sets of songs, stories and love, performing both solo and with guest harmony singers. And,  being a consummate music educator and concert mistress, she led the audience in call-and-response and choruses in many of the songs.  Given the voices in the audience, the effect was amazing. A roomful of beautiful voices led by one of the nation’s most beautiful voices.  The term “raise the roof would have applied if it wasn’t for the fact that the “Music Room” was already two stories high.  Moira sang A Capella and accompanied herself on guitar, accordion, piano and various body parts she slapped for rhythm.  When not singing solo, she was accompanied by Hastings on the standup bass and mandolin, and percussionist Chris Wabish.

    Over the two hours that Moira entertained us there were many, many highlights.  Each song was preceded by a story of its background, how or why she created it, and its mirroring of deeper meanings  -- or not – and many laughs.  The evening combined a tale-telling assembly with singing around the campfire, although my campfires never sounded this good.  Moira set the tone from the very beginning by starting not on the stage, but far out in lawn, singing haunting, melodious calls as she strolled in through the garden doors and threaded her way to the stage.

    the_music_room_at_Peter_Hastings_home._compressed.jpgThe setlist for the night ranged from the heart-wrenching ballad  “Refugee” to the banjo-led folk song “Wiseman”,  to the tongue-in-cheek joke about technology, “Rotary Phone”. Every song was a moving work of art, framed in a beautiful home and lit by a roomful of powerful voices. When you compare what I saw at Peter Hasting's home with Moira’s YouTube videos from Disney Concert Hall (1 million views and climbing!) there is little difference emotionally.  She went right to your heart with every note.

    But by far, the most moving moment of the night for me was the final song when Moira brought up her singers and pulled others out of the audience for an A Capella version of Lead Belly’s “Bring Me Little Water, Silvy”.  I had seen the video of her performing it in 2016 in the Disney Concert Hall with 1000 singers for the Los Angeles Master Chorale's 28th Annual High School Choir Festival so I knew what to expect.  What I didn’t expect was how she created the same level of joy and emotion in the Music Room as she did in a 2000-seat concert hall. The room disappeared and we were transported to a place of pure, loving sound.

    Four days later, I am still vibrating from that song and from all of Moira’s music.  I am also vibrating from the people I met in the kitchen sampling wine and beer and chips and salsa, swapping stories of concerts, record production stints, and music festivals. It was a natural music high that we were all on.  But most of all I am vibrating from Moira’s ability to bring people into music – to follow the wish “when we are divided, make art”. Peter Hasting’s generosity in not only turning his house over to art, but to design and build it so it can be a place where music flourishes and heals amplified that.  The Hollywood Hills have been called magic by many for their celebrities. But the magic I found there was not in the celebrities, it was in the music and the music maker.

     

     

  • back with Latin Fire

    ALEXANDRA_SPOTLIGHT_300SQ.jpgWe are back from Mexico with two great Latin music bands, Jenny and the Mexicats and Alexandra Jackson.  Jenny is Mexican Spanish (although she is an English girl who plays trumpet) and Alexandra was born and raised in Atlanta and now plays the Brazilian bossa nova.  Music knows no borders. No creo las fronterias, as Las Cafeteras says.

     

  • MUSIC FRIDAY ON VACATION

    clown_300.jpgThe broadcast team is in Mexico collecting music and meeting bands.  Our interns are in the studio, but are not broadcasting.  We will be back on the air July 27.

  • Two ends of the music spectrum, but I suspect they will mesh nicely.

    alezzandra_300sq_curled_up.jpgAlezzandra is coming into music from a new direction - determination, steel toughness, unashamedly and nakedly erotic, plus over-the-top talent in multiple fields. El Dusty has almost single-handedly turned my birthplace, Corpus Christi, Texas, into a music center - not quite Austin, but really cool. And he has created a new genre in the process, South Texas nu-cumbia,  These will be very very dent interviews but in a way, they are about the same things: power and change.

     

  • Alicia Blue lights up the Hotel Cafe

    alicia_blie_300sq.jpgSunday nights at LA's prestigious Hotel Cafe are often review nights - a promoter puts together a group of related acts, everyone brings their friends, the Second Stage room at the Hotel Cafe is crowded, the house makes money, the talent gets exposure (and a little money) and the audience has a great time and is introduced to artists they might never have known. This Sunday night Sound Collective produced a review with Alicia Blue, Lucy Clearwater, Nora Murray, and Daniel Blake...three women and a guy, but there were lots of men onstage with them. 

    alicia_blue_500.jpgThe evening's two highlights were Clearwater and Alicia, but Alicia delivered one of the best performances that I have seen yet. Backed up by a full band, she delivered a strong six-song set that ranged from her funny Christmas in LA to classic Joni Mitchell cover, Both Sides Now. Her voice was clearer than ever and her stage presence was so sunny and inviting that you just had to love her. I have only previously seen her as a solo;  the band added depth and texture, but it also seemed to pop the colors in her voice and expand her conversational contact with the audience.   

     

  • Halo Circus back home- with gold. This Friday

    halo_cuircus._headshot.300.jpegHalo Circus started out on tour several months ago as a four-piece al rock band with two good albums and a growing national following. They have returned a two-piece electro-rock duo with a sold-out 30-city tour behind them and a new album, Robots and Wranglers that is brilliant music and social commentary, been called Album of the Year by Vents magazine, has been nominated for 3 LA Music Critic Awards and landed them TV and radio shows nationwide.  And we get them this Friday.  Plus, Texas blues rocker Johnny Chopps is on tour with his band and The Randy Rogers Band and he has a new album out, Johnny Chops & The Razors, which we are going to play.