Pub Stories…That Time I Told Belushi I Didn’t Care For His Joe Cocker Bit

Belushi (adapted by JOtwell from https://flic.kr/p/2p5Ju5) under Creative Commons https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
Belushi (adapted by JOtwell from https://flic.kr/p/2p5Ju5) under Creative Commons https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Watching the SNL anniversary show, with the Belushi clips, brought to mind an encounter I had with him in NYC, before the Not Ready For Primetime Players burst into our consciousness. I was in Manhattan with a business partner, pitching some new r’n’b product to the labels, and one evening we dropped by a modest comedy club that was featuring a revue by the name of “The National Lampoon Show.” Many of the future SNL troupe were in the cast, including Gilda Radner, as I recall, but the shining light, already, was Belushi……until he broke out the Cocker bit, to which I took offence, Joe being an acquaintance of mine and a good lad.

It was an informal place, with no backstage to speak of, so, emboldened by certain substances, I wandered back to take issue with the Cocker bit. I button-holed him, and as soon as I started in he said ” Is that accent for real?” and immediately assumed a credible Fab Four voice as I berated him for what I considered, at the time, a cruel parody of Joe.

“No! No! You got it wrong….I love Joe Cocker. That’s why I do the bit!”

We had a drink and he went back for the second show. I hung around, as my biz partner was away for an early night. Another drink was had, the way you do, after the second show, and he and I strolled out into the Manhattan night.

We ended up in a bar somewhere in the West Village until the wee hours, in most stimulating and stimulated conversation lubricated by nectar and the occasional Peruvian moment. Mostly the conversation was about music. He was extremely knowledgeable, and  liked that I was a Liverpool guy who’d moved to the American south to realize my dream of doing  r’n’b  and rock ‘n’roll in the cradle of the form. When we reeled out in companionable disarray, he made sure I got a taxi back to my hotel, and that was that.

When I first watched SNL, it was like…I know that fella…then a couple of shows in, he did the Cocker bit for the first time on national TV, and the rest, as they  say, was history. I never ran into him again and never tried to connect through channels.

It was a one-off, a wonderful, cool one-off, when he was on the brink of so many things, good and bad. I hadn’t thought about that night in years, but last night’s show brought the memory back.

RIP, Belushi. RIP, Cocker…..yiz were made for each other!

On The Fly…Twilight Joys

Waltz Across This Cake With Me by JOtwell Perspectives (click for more)
Waltz Across This Cake With Me by JOtwell Perspectives (click for more)

One of the pleasures and perks of being a studio-owning muso in the relative twilight of one’s career is the ability to take on little projects for the sheer fun of it. One such for me has been a string of wedding songs written and recorded specifically for the nuptials of the members of our extended family.

I started this  tradition after my son, who was first out of the chute in the marriage stakes, got hitched, so he and his spouse  don’t have one, but from my daughter onward, and including all the cousins, there’s been a song for the occasion.

These are full-blown studio productions complete with packaging, and we usually make up 100 as keepsakes for the wedding guests. I like the fact that stylistically I can tailor the piece , in some fashion , to the couple in question , either suggested by their professions, or interests. I can stretch out musically – who’s gonna stop me ?-and it’s a one of a kind personal giftie.

There have been some suggestions that it could be a profitable sideline, but doing it for hire would take the joy out of it for me, so that isn’t an option, although I did branch out and do one for a dear friend of ours.

The Bells Are Ringin’…

On The Fly…Banjo, really ?

My First Banjo by JOtwell Perspectives

Banjo was the first string instrument I got my eager hands on, when I was  nine or so. There was an upright piano in our house, at which I was already flailing away , but the first whispers of skiffle were being heard, and guitars were starting to appear on TV, along with banjos, so I was primed…

My elder cousin, Pauline, was dating a fellow who was already playing in local string bands, and was in possession of a long-neck, four string tenor banjo, which was often to be found at Pauline’s house. Many a Sunday, my folks would park me there while they and the other  relatives would repair to a local pub for afternoon libations, which gave me a couple of hours with the banjo, flying blind, but figuring bits and pieces out , the way one does when there is strong interest. I also did a swap of some comics with a lad in our street who had a tacky plastic ukulele, but that banjo was a bona fide grown-up instrument, and consequently of more importance  to me than a toy-town uke.

When I got my first acoustic guitar at age eleven,  banjo retreated to the far periphery of my musical interest for many years. Electric and acoustic guitars, keyboards and bass in various forms became the tools of my professional trade, which didn’t have much need for the old plink plonk.

When I moved to Nashville in 1973, I became aware of the locally favored 5-string banjo and the high-octane stylists who had followed in the wake of Earl Scruggs’ ground-breaking  innovations – scared me to death, to be honest. However, when my father-in-law passed I inherited a vintage open-backed Savoy short-neck tenor banjo from him, which had a lovely old-timey sound to it, so I began to plink and plonk again, just for fun.

Interestingly enough, tenor banjo (played with a pick) had remained in fashion in traditional Celtic music circles, and the upsurge in interest that occurred in that form of music  from the ’80’s on gave Irish-style tenor banjo a new lease on life. Being first generation Irish myself, I’d become re-interested in the form and the great young (and not so young) artists who were producing thrilling neo-traditional records on both sides of the big pond, and for the next few years I immersed myself in it, aligning  with practitioners in both live and recording situations. I really enjoyed that period, becoming adept at bodhran and getting the chops up on cittern and Irish bouzouki as well as the trusty old tenor banjo.

During that time my dear globe-trotting pal Bob Saporiti found the magnificent closed-back Concertone tenor banjo that was featured in the blog, and kindly gifted it to me. I now have it strung with nylon banjo strings, which give it quite a different tone, while I keep the Savoy steel strung .

Although I’d never consider myself to be a bona-fide banjoist, it’s been my pleasure to plink and plonk away on quite a few albums that needed the flavor of the old-time plectrum tenor…grand fun always !

Check out these other Banjo entries- they are fan favorites: http://wp.me/p2W71Q-dy and http://wp.me/p2W71Q-hG

On The Fly…Our First Country Christmas

Urban Snow
Urban Snow by JOtwell

Forty years ago, we experienced our first Nashville White Christmas, not the sooty snow of London or Liverpool, but pristine powder, shin deep on the side roads, ankle-deep on the main stems. We were nesting in Madison at the time, which was still a town on its own, rather than a bedroom community of Nashville, and as our little girl was safe with her grandparents in Florida, we decided to venture out on foot to seek some Christmas cheer. The nearest tavern on Gallatin Road was about half a mile away and the streets and the main road were hushed and muted , bereft of traffic, either motorized or pedestrian, except for us foreigners in the Southland….until we arrived at the bar, which was full of locals, creating their own warmth, and willing to share it with us.

Thus fortified, we trekked back through the drifts…the only people walking, or so it seemed. The experience led to a song, natch, as such was the way of things in those far off days. A sorry effort  at a country tune, it was, as that genre was still as foreign to me as I was to it….I didn’t even know that the general area was referred to as Middle Tennessee, so my little refrain referred to” the only people walkin’ in Central Tennessee”. When this faux pas was later pointed out to me, I dropped any further effort on the wee tune, reasoning that if I couldn’t even get the geography right, I was not yet ready to be attempting to write country songs.

Over the years we developed the British tradition of a Boxing Day party on the 26th., which grew and grew until people were marking it on their calendars in January, and our initial Xmas adventure was stored away in the memory banks as our legion of friends brought the season to us, White Christmas or not, and that first adventure receded, except for the very real warmth two strangers experienced in that little snow-bound tavern so many years ago.

May your season be filled with precious warmth, kindness and love !

Studio Pink is COMPLETE!

 

It took a little while to get it finished but Oh Happy Day! It’s Done! First recording session was this Monday with Junior Jukebox Vol. 4 off and running.

Papa Snow’s Junior Jukebox Volume 3 is in stock at Amazon right now.

Papa Snow's Junior Jukebox Volume 3
Click the Pic and get your copy today!

On The Fly…A House Is Not A Home

Pink
Pink

The great lyricist Hal David wrote that memorable phrase, and I’ve never felt the deep truth of it until now. We’re gradually settling into our painted lady, vintage 1875, but are still clearing out the house in which we lived for twenty seven years, fifteen miles west of here on the Memphis road, but now it’s a hollow shell….just a construct of bricks and mortar and nice floors, waiting for life to be breathed into it again. The walls are stripped of art and photographs, the studio relocated and our memories are with the children and grand-children who thrived at that house, but now feel only like ghosts around the place.

The creek is babbling away, down that steep hill, on its way to the nearby Cumberland, neither knowing or caring that we’re gone. Our neighbors, the groundhogs, generations of them, are similarly disinterested…they’ve got their own residences to tend to in the warrens of the creek bank.

Now the Nashville skyline is at the bottom of the street, over the river, but closer than I’d ever imagined it would be. The charming historic houses of Edgefield are our new reality, the only sound of running water the fountain in the back garden. The old place wasn’t truly rural, although when we first got there the county line was just up the road, and the big box stores and heavy traffic were yet to come. We’d been living in the thick of mid-town, Elliston Place, so it felt pretty country to us at the time, out there on the Memphis road.

Transitions are part of the life experience, and as yet the sea of cardboard boxes is still a reminder that although the move has taken place, we’re still not truly moved. Somehow, although we had decided not to do a farewell party, it happened anyway, a smaller gathering than the riotous Boxing Day bashes that welcomed hundreds over so many years, but no less fun, with the nearest and dearest in attendance, the last hurrah of our basement pub.

And suddenly, while I’m writing this at Pink, I’m knee-deep in kiddies- some of my lineage, some not, all scurrying around among these new four walls, boxes notwithstanding, pumping the place full of the unexplainable.  Feels like HOME.

 

On The Fly…The Skelly’s Thoughts on 20 Feet From Stardom

Doris Troy
Doris Troy

 

I just watched a showing of ‘20 Feet From Stardom’ the much praised documentary, and rightly so, which puts the spotlight on the whole sub-culture of female background singers. It was wonderful to see Claudia Linnear and Mary (Merry) Clayton still alive and well, along with so many other of the legendary voices, but I wish they’d have touched on Doris Troy’s amazing contribution, especially when those girls came to the U.K., where Doris was both fixing agent and den mother to those ladies, along with Rosetta Hightower, Madeline Bell, Barry St. John and Liza Strike. It was always a great thrill to get the call to provide one of the male voices on so many of those sessions…and in retrospect, a great honor too. Viva Las Divas!