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March 23rd, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Art, Film, Photography, Fine Printing & Design; Music, Bands & Radio; Urban Life & New York City

Remembering Woody Guthrie’s Sad Convalesence at Greystone Hospital

Wardy Forty postcardFriday night at Valentine, the gallery in Ridgewood, Queens, Kyle and I attended the opening of a very powerful exhibit, “Woody Guthrie’s Wardy Forty,” also the title of an accompanying book by photographer and curator of twentieth century ruins Phillip Buehler. It refers to the name Guthrie himself assigned to the section of Greystone Psychiatric Hospital, in Morris Plains, NJ, where he lived from 1956-61. On WoodyGuthrie.org, the site maintained by the late folksinger’s daughter Nora, the biographical sketch of Woody explains the circumstances surrounding this chapter in his life (edited for length below, I suggest you make time to read the whole sketch):

“Toward the late 1940s, Woody’s behavior started to become increasingly erratic, moody and violent….He was beginning to show symptoms of…Huntington’s Chorea, a hereditary, degenerative disease that gradually and eventually robbed him of his health, talents and abilities….It was later discovered to be the same disease which thirty years earlier had caused his mother’s institutionalization and eventual death. Shaken by inexplicable volatile physical and emotional symptoms, Woody left his family…taking off for California with his young protégé, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott….Woody met Anneke Van Kirk, a young woman who became his third wife….Becoming more and more unpredictable during a final series of road trips, Woody eventually returned to New York with Anneke, where he was hospitalized several times. Mistakenly diagnosed and treated for everything from alcoholism to schizophrenia, his symptoms kept worsening and his physical condition deteriorated. Picked up for ‘vagrancy’ in New Jersey in 1954, he was admitted into the nearby Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital where he was finally diagnosed with…the incurable degenerative nerve disorder now known as Huntington’s Disease or HD. During these years, Marjorie Guthrie, family, and friends continued to visit and care for him. A new generation of musicians took an interest in folk music bringing it into the mainstream as yet another folk music revival. Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, The Greenbriar Boys, Phil Ochs, and many other young folksingers visited Woody in the hospital, bringing along their guitars and their songs to play for him, perhaps even to thank him.”

For his part, Phillip Buehler explores, photographs, and appreciates modern ruins. His website is called Modern-Ruins.com. When he stumbled on to Greystone the grounds had been abandoned for more than forty years. As it’s described in an statement accompanying the exhibit,

“After coming across thousands of negatives in the deserted darkroom, he researched the hospital and discovered that Woody Guhtire once lived there. He reached out to Guthrie’s daughter Nora…who gave him Guthrie’s case number. Buehler was then able to pull negatives from Guthrie’s file…beginning a ten-year journey that led to Wardy Forty: Greystone Park Hospital State Hospital Revisited.”

Copies of the book, a landscape format photography album with illuminating captions and text, were on hand at Valentine, while on the walls were hung small snapshots, many black & white, of Woody and family at Greystone; large format 4-color photos of the crumbling structure that was Greystone as Buehler found it; a slide show with the original text of Woody’s intake interview at the hospital running at timed intervals, which strikes the viewer with the singer’s innocence of the fact that his interlocutors seemed as it went along to increasingly believe he was mentally ill; and projected images of photographs taken of Woody at widely differing times, sadly showing his inexorable decline in health and demeanor. In a hallway off the main room is a display of intake photos of many Greystone patients with their patient number hovering above them, including that of Woody.

Nora Guthrie and Phillip Buehler were both on hand Friday night at Valentine. When Kyle and I came upon them, they were talking among themselves, but they welcomed us into their conversation and we enjoyed talking over the next little while. Nora told me with enthusiasm about the Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which she’s recently helped to establish in her father’s home state. She explained that it’s a study center for researchers, an educational facility for students of all ages, and a concert space for live music performances. Nora’s a warm and friendly person and it was a privilege to meet her this night. Buehler is also full of enthusiasm for his enterprises, and I was excited to tell him I share his interest in industrial archaeology and physical artifacts, as with my website photography of maritime and architectural artifacts, such as the Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge.

I recommend you check out Phillip Buehler’s book, which A.M. Homes has called “hauntingly beautiful.” It is available for purchase at WoodyGurthrie.org. I also urge you to see the exhibit, which will be up at Valentine until April 13. Below is more info on the exhibit and the gallery, along with pictures I took the other night, including this one of Nora Guthrie and Philip Buehler.Nora Guthrie&Philip Buehler

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February 25th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Music, Bands & Radio; Urban Life & New York City

Pete Seeger Tribute Night at the Jalopy Tavern

Jalopy photoAs a follow-up to the post below, Celebrating Pete Seeger & Enjoying “Mr Personality”–a Music-filled Weekend in NY, the Pete Seeger tribute turned out to be a fun night. The program, well organized by folksinger Jan Bell, was held at the Jalopy Theatre in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn. The Jalopy, and its next-door tavern, are a combined performance space, instrument store, bar and restaurant. About ten acts peformed Sunday night, playing from a single song to several tunes. Most of the songs were compositions of Seeger’s, or songs the performers believed influenced Pete, or were influenced by him. Proceeds from the sold-out show benefited WhyHunger, a social service organization that is a legacy of the great singer and activist Harry Chapin. $900 was raised to support their important work.

Below are pictures from the show, with captions describing what the artists played. In addition to the musicians pictured here, artists who performed at the tribute included: Tamar Korn, Ernie Vega and Samoa Wilson, Wyndham Baird, Geoff Wylie, and Feral Foster. If you’ve never been to the Jalopy, I recommend you take in some shows there. The venue offers great company in a mellow setting, superb musicians, and very fair admission and food and drink prices. Also, please note that April 18-20, the Brooklyn Folk Festival, organized by Eli Smith (pictured below) will be held at Bell House. I give the Jalopy and the Festival my highest recommendation.

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February 23rd, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Music, Bands & Radio; Urban Life & New York City

Celebrating Pete Seeger & Enjoying “Mr Personality”–a Music-filled Weekend in NY

Good musical weekend unfolding. Tonight Kyle, Ewan, and I are going to a Pete Seeger tribute show at the Jalopy Theatre in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn. We enjoy the music and the community that surrounds the Jalopy, where one of the house bands is the Downhill Strugglers, a group that includes people who will be playing tonight, such as John Cohen, founding member of the New Lost City Ramblers, Eli Smith and Jackson Lynch. Smith is the founder of the Brooklyn Folk Festival, coming up soon on its sixth year April 18-20 at the Bell House. I hope to post some photos and a report later on about tonight’s tribute to Pete Seeger.

Lloyd PriceWe kicked things off on Friday night when Kyle and I went to see rhythm & blues legend Lloyd Price, aka “Mr. Personality.” The hitmaker behind such chart-toppers as the eponymous “Personality” and “Stagger Lee” began his performing career in 1949, as a singer with a band that included Fats Domino on piano. He will turn 81 on March 9. We were guests of our friends Mike Shatzkin and Martha Moran, who also invited two other old friends of theirs. One was Linda Davis, originally from Liverpool, England. She still has a charming accent, if not, she says, as pronounced as it was when she first came to the States in the ’70s. She told us that back in the day she worked as a coat check clerk in dance halls where the local Liverpudlian music scene of the early ’60s unfolded. She saw twin bills with Gerry and the Pacemakers and the Beatles. Imagine! Mike and Martha’s other friend whom we enjoyed meeting was Tracy Young, a magazine writer. Linda and Tracy had also not met each other before then. All the ingredients were assembled for a great evening, thanks to Mike and Martha.

There was, however, a fly, or a flaw, in the soup: The venue stunk. It’s called The Cutting Room, and it should be cut out of the address book of any live-music fan who expects a club to be run to a minimal standard of consideration and courtesy, with fair value for the customer. I won’t even link to it because it really doesn’t deserve your traffic, either the Web kind or walk-in. I will though link to its Yelp page where my friend Mike left his comment which begins “This is the worst-run club in my 47-year history of going out to hear live music in New York City.” None of us will ever go there again. Fortunately, the company was first-rate and it was a special treat hearing the ebullient Lloyd Price, who moves around on stage, singing and performing with tremendous ease. Not only does he make it look easy, he does it all with great good humor. He put on a fun show with an excellent band that was so numerous on stage there were several horn players I never did actually see, given our partial view. Below is a youtube clip of his 1952 hit “Lawdy Miss Clawdy.” Also, more of the photos Kyle and I took from our perch above the stage.

http://youtu.be/nQZVufJfcG0

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February 13th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Canada; Honourary Canadian; Music, Bands & Radio

Sam Roberts Band Launches New Album, “Lo-Fantasy,” at Mercury Lounge

SATURDAY MORNING TV UPDATE: On Feb 15 the Sam Roberts Band will appear on CBS This Morning as part of their ‘Saturday Sessions’ series. According to press materials, they should go on at 8:45AM.
—-Sam Roberts Band
Had a blast Tuesday night as the Sam Roberts Band of Montreal blew into town for one night to launch their terrific new album “Lo-Fantasy,” drawing a boisterous crowd to a sold-out Mercury Lounge. It was my first time hearing them live, after years of enjoying their music on CBC Radio 3. They are a tight rock n’ roll machine, starting with a tremendous rhythm section of of bassist James Hall and drummer Josh Trager, who played on a clear see-through kit allowing the audience to peer through the armature and really see him bashing away on the skins. I stood directly in front of Hall and Trager, and for the first half of the show I thought maybe that was why they sounded so good, then I decided, nah, they’re just great players. At center-stage was frontman Roberts, a small guy and a powerful rock n’ roll package–a handsome man and a lithe performer who bursts with vocal energy while striking insistent guitar chords, and moving around a lot on stage. On the far side of him from me were a keyboard player, lead guitarist, and saxophonist. The 6-piece outfit ripped through the 11 songs on the new album. Several I had heard already, like “We’re All In This Together”–with good lyrics expressive to me of a communitarian ethic. There’s an extended video of it below, and the process of making the new album. Once they worked through the new record, they took a bow and left the stage. It was clear though they’d be back for more. When they came back out for encores, they really gave the crowd full value, by playing another four songs, all from earlier albums. The sound was a mix of pure pop propulsion–most songs were uptempo, driven by the bass and drums–with Roberts’ vocals and strong riffs and tasty licks from the other three instrumentalists.

Lo-Fantasy Sam Roberts BandYesterday was Paperbag Records‘ official release date of “Lo-Fantasy.” They put out many of my fave Canadian bands, like Elliott Brood, Cuff the Duke and Rural Alberta Advantage. Sam Roberts is well known beyond Montreal and Canada, with the current tour taking him and his band to many US cities between now and March 28: Chicago; Grand Rapids, MI; St. Paul; San Francisco; San Diego; Seattle; Portland; Boston area; Washington, DC; and Philadelphia, where they’ll be playing World Cafe Live, a show that I’d bet will end up on public radio here in the States.


As good as Sam Roberts Band turned out to be, I also liked the opening act, Heaven’s Jail. I walked in as they started and was glad I had arrived on time. Love when that happens at a live show, walking in on the first notes to a new sound that’s immediately likable. Going to hear live music ought to be as much about discovering new bands as hearing longtime faves. Mercury Lounge did a smart thing booking them as the stage-setter for the evening. Based here in NYC, they’re a basic drums/bass/lead guitar trio, and so offered a clean sonic appetizer that went down real easy. For reference, their sound reminded me in the vocals of Warren Zevon, and in their bright jangling guitar-driven riffs they made think of the Felice Brothers from upstate New York who I heard open for Josh Ritter last year. Heaven’s Jail also have a current album, “Angelmakers,” which you can hear at their bandcamp page. I look forward to hearing them again.

After the Sam Roberts Band left the stage for the last time, a lot of the crowd melted away in to the cold NY night. I had already met some great people during the course of the long evening–like Emily Curran, a NYC schoolteacher who had seen Sam Roberts several times–so I stuck around, eager to meet other folks who’d enjoyed the evening, either from among the audience or the musicians. It being a release party it’s no surprise there were lots of music industry people on hand, like Ben Liemer of music distributor The Orchard who I really enjoyed talking with. Next I recognized two of the three members of Heaven’s Jail, and so chatted with them–Francesco and Ethan, guitarist and drummer. I complimented them on their set and we launched in to a spirited discussion of our rock n’ roll upbringings. I mentioned mine in Cleveland, and the great shows I was able to see in my early days as a live music fan, beginning with a Canned Heat and Cream bill back in the day. These conversations–plus one in a group with Sam Roberts’ brother Tom, who I learned lives in NY, and with his friend Jim, a bass player, capped off a fun night.

Via this link are more pictures from last night’s show, two black & white publicity shots of the Sam Roberts Band, and two videos of them performing.
Cross-posted at my blog Honourary Canadian.

 

 

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February 1st, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Music, Bands & Radio; Philip Turner Book Productions

#FridayReads–Barry Lancet’s Thriller, “Japantown” & Dan Richter’s “The Dream is Over,” Memoir of the 60s

Japantown#FridayReads, Jan 31–Barry Lancet’s thriller, Japantown and Dan Richter’s The Dream is Over, a memoir of the 60s.

I’d made Japantown my #FridayReads last weekend, when I had read only about 140 pages of the nearly 400-page fast-paced international thriller. The rest of the book was every bit as riveting, and overall, hugely enjoyable. I liked it so much that, on Wednesday night, heading out to hear live music–I stowed the hardcover book in my knapsack, along with my handy bike flashlight–and read deep in to its last chapters between sets in the dimly lit music room at Pianos, inching toward the suspenseful climax which I reached the following morning. Here’s an abbreviated version of the plot rundown from my post last week:

“The book is at first set in San Francisco where protagonist Jim Brodie works as a dealer in Asian antiquities, while also maintaining connections with the private detective agency his late father founded and ran in Tokyo. Brodie’s widowed, a single dad living with his grade school-age daughter, Jenny. Brodie is the new go-to-guy when the San Francisco Police Department find itself investigating a grisly mass murder with Japanese victims and Japanese cultural characteristics. At the crime scene, Brodie finds only one clue, a paper artifact emblazoned with an obscure written character (kanji in Japanese). Brodie doesn’t realize, though the reader sees, that even as he surveys the scene of the brutal killing he and his Homicide Dept confidant are being surveilled with lenses and cameras by unknown agents. Though not understanding the full extent of the danger he’s in, Brodie senses he’s being watched, at his gallery and even at home with Jenny. With the obscure kanji in hand, Brodie undertakes an investigative trip to Japan, first putting Jenny in to the protective embrace of a police safe house. Once in Japan, the malign forces behind the killings begin taking aim at Brodie and his trusted Japanese colleagues.”

Good set-up, huh? Trust me, it’s much more exciting than my synopsis. After finishing Lancet’s totally satisfying thriller, I’m really excited he’s working on another book set in Jim Brodie’s world.

After finishing Japantown, I needed a nonfiction tonic and so picked up  The Dream is Over, Dan Richter’s personal account of London in the ’60s, his friendship with Yoko Ono and John Lennon, and his struggles with addiction. Richter’s book, released in hardcover in Britain in 2012, carries a Foreword by Yoko. I met Dan in the early 2000s, when I edited and published his first book Moonwatcher’s Memoir–A Diary of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Dan was in his twenties, working as a mime actor, when Stanley Kubrick–searching for the right sort of performer to play the role of the marauding ape wielding a club in the opening scene of the 1968 intergalactic time travel epic–met Dan and cast him in the part. Working with Dan, I learned that he’d met Yoko in the ’60s through his theater work and her early works of performance art. Later, he would meet John Lennon through Yoko. His verbal accounts of those years were fascinating to hear about, so I’m delighted he’s written this second memoir. It focuses on 1969-73, when he was living in London, putting on poetry readings at the Albert Hall, and running with a literary set that included Alan Ginsberg, during his frequent visits to London, and Beat writer Alexander Trocchi, a bad-boy Scotsman who wrote Cain’s Book, a notorious and transgressive book in its time. Dan recently got in touch and asked if I might be able to help him find a US publisher for The Dream is Over, so I’m reading it as work and for the welcome evocation of a rich era that it paints. Characters who walk in and out of the narrative include Eric Clapton, Andy Warhol, Bob Dylan, the rebel psychiatrist R.D. Laing, members of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. I don’t know yet about the prospects for finding a US publisher, but I’m glad to be reading the book. I’ll try to post more about it once I’ve read more. The flap copy promises an intimate account of the making of the album “Imagine.”Moonwatcher's Memoir
Dream is Over

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January 24th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Canada; Honourary Canadian; Music, Bands & Radio; Urban Life & New York City

Rural Alberta Advantage, Another Great Indie Band from Canada

Had a great time last night at a live music show put on by the Toronto trio, The Rural Alberta Advantage, my first time hearing them live after enjoying them the past few years on CBC Radio 3. They played a sold-out show in front of a boisterously appreciative full house at the Mercury Lounge on the lower east side of Manhattan. I have a full post with pictures at my other blog Honourary Canadian. Here are shots showing all three band members, first Amy Cole, keys with Nils Edenloff, guitar and lead vocals, then Paul Banwatt, drums. I hope you enjoy the rest of the post over there.Mercury Lounge Jan 24 2014Mercury Lounge Jan 24 2014

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January 22nd, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Music, Bands & Radio

Forthcoming in March: Album of “Rediscovered” Neil Young Teasures

Announced at the website of Third Man Recordson Exclaim.ca

Third Man Records unearths NEIL YOUNG’s “A LETTER HOME”

An unheard collection of rediscovered songs from the past recorded on ancient electro-mechanical technology captures and unleashes the essence of something that could have been gone forever. — Homer Grosvenor

And Rolling Stone provides a brief Q&A with Neil himself in which he discusses his fondness for old microphones, his belief that “We’re entering a very good period for recorded sound” and calls the new album, due out in March, “one of the most low tech experiences I’ve ever had.”

Cross-posted at Honourary Canadian

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December 25th, 2013

By Philip Turner in: Music, Bands & Radio; Personal History, Family, Friends, Education, Travels

Enjoying the Holiday with the Music of Ralph Vaughan Williams


Going back to my days at Franconia College, when a professor there, Bill Congdon, introduced me to the work of English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) I’ve adored his music. And though I’m Jewish and don’t observe Christmas, I also enjoy RVW’s “seasonal” music. So, just like this day last year, I’m listening to some of my treasured LPs, one with songs he collected in the field with early recording equipment from nonprofessional musicians and singers. This was similar to the work of Alan Lomax in the U.S., in later decades. RVW was part of a worldwide interest on the part of symphonic composers who cultivated folk idioms, such as Smetana and Dvorak in Hungary and Czechoslovakia; Sibelius in Finland; and Aaron Copland in the States. It should be said, that Vaughan Williams didn’t just take folk themes and rework them–-he was also a bold, original composer with an edge, exhibited in such works as his modernist Fourth and Sixth symphonies. Having enjoyed the album of songs pictured in my tweet above, I’m now playing a gem of RVW’s called “Five Tudor Portraits.” If you’ve never had the pleasure of listening to RVW’s music, I urge you to discover his work. For starters, here’s his Wikipedia page.

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