2009 In Review

2009 was a rough year for a lot of folks, and I'm no exception, but as I sit here writing this on December 31st the good stands out and bad becomes "necessary self-correcting measures". The album I was working on, LONG WAY FROM HOME, was shelved halfway through recording. It sucked and I stewed over it for quite a while, but now that it appears the album will be finished elsewhere with a different rhythm section it looks like I'll have two halves that together will make both an accurate musical diary and an overall top-notch album. The guys on the first half couldn't do what the guys on the second half will do and the guys on the second half couldn't do what the first did. Regardless of any personal differences I stand 120% behind what we recorded. In February I interviewed vocalist Jill Jones. That article became my first nationally published piece, appearing in Florida-based magazine GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS and may appear again in UK mag BLUES MATTERS. BLUES MATTERS deserves a serious tip of the hat for publishing many of my letters to the editor and getting me back into writing. I don't know what it is that people like so much about my writing but as long as they like it I'll keep doing it. The article avoided the usual Prince gossip that journalists have bugged her with and focused on her actual work as a vocalist, covering all of her albums. Engineer David Rivkin and Grand Royals bandmate Ian Ginsberg both contributed lengthy in-depth quotes. Jill and her manager liked it so much it now appears on much of her promo material. Thanks, Jill! I've been discussing musical collaboration with her and it looks promising. A few months later I played the only Jerry & J.J. Vicars gig to date. The more both of us get back to our Blues roots the more similarities I hear in our playing. Not surprising, some of the songs he taught me when I first picked up guitar I'm still doing; COMIN' HOME, MEMPHIS, HONKY TONK, CHICKEN SHACK. Don't be surprised if I play all those on my last gig before shuffling off the mortal coil. When we lived in Cincinnati I played bass with his group, Jerry & the Hipswingers. We shot two videos but the one on my YouTube channel from Cincy is my favorite. Once he played on my gig, a private party, nothing special. This time we did a duo gig at Ben's Cafe with Mark Schwarz on bass and Jimmy Mack on drums. Mark recorded it and MP3s are on my website for download. There's also footage from a film crew who were making a documentary about Americans living in Tokyo but I don't know what happened with that. We repeated the show last week by recording his arrangement of Charles Brown's MERRY CHRISTMAS BABY, again with Mark on bass and available on the website. This year's CD release was LONGHAIRED LEFTOVERS, a collection of leftover songs from Jindaiji Monkey studio. These were done for fun and when an album's worth of material was accumulated it was decided to eventually release it. Since LONG WAY FROM HOME was shelved indefinitely and I needed an '09 release it got bumped up. I made my keyboard debut, Suzi V plays organ on one track and Jeremy Gloff piano on another. I covered his "1987" as a disc-only bonus track. Mark Schwarz designed the jacket adding all the background items to a photo he took that includes the Modbird in her early stages. The best came towards the end. A new venue opened up in Akasaka named Crawfish. Excellent room, fantastic gear (Fender tube amps!) and Carl and Jake are some of the best venue owners I've met. Chiharu Kawai was present for the first show there and filmed four songs which are now on my YouTube channel; WANG DANG DOODLE, STINKY TWINKY and DOWNHOME. Back at the Barge Inn, one of my all-time my favorite venues (in Narita near the airport), manager Bryan Harmon spent quality time with me, Mark and drummer Masaki Shibata fixing up the sound and lights. Our friend Oliver Richter brought out his camera and filmed all three sets, performed in front of a very enthusiastic crowd. Four songs in three videos have been posted to YouTube; TAKE ME ON DOWN TO MEMPHIS/ROCK MY WORLD, J.J.'s BOOGIE and BOOGIE ON DOWN all from the 1st set. Video from the 2nd and 3rd sets is being edited right now. The full unedited audio is available for download on the website, minus the first set. The Barge Inn gig was the debut of the Modbird, the custom guitar Mark Schwarz built for me. Mark has been building guitars for years, his Rocket Revenger bass is well known around town. This is the first one he built to order and she's a beauty. The body draws its design from the Gibson Moderne and Firebird, though much smaller, and has a Strat bridge. The P-90 from my Les Paul Jr. I had when I was a kid sits in the back position with Fender Fat Strat in front. The pickguard is similar to a Les Paul Jr. A Fender neck does the job for now, until a custom neck is ready. The Modbird is now my main guitar and playing her is not only the most fun I've had on any axe in years she's also a feather in both our caps, the luthier and the player. But the most lasting impression came from the least likely of sources, the TV. There was a short interview/documentary with an old woman who owns a barber shop under the train tracks near one of the busiest station in Tokyo. Didn't catch the station but it looked like the Shinkansen (bullet train) stops there. She lives in a two-story building ; the barber shop is on the first floor, her residence on the second. Many of her customers have been coming to her for 40 years. Sometimes they fall asleep in the chair. She lets them sleep. She charges customers according to what they can afford and if they're broke doesn't charge them at all. She lives modestly and always has enough. When the interviewer asked for her thoughts on the global economic meltdown she said, "People have been working for the country, money went to the bureaucrats. When they work for PEOPLE money will return to the people and it will get back to normal." Many folks I know back in the U.S. decided not to buy Christmas presents, or only select few, or to make a present to give. To me, that makes it one of the greatest Christmases ever; the crass commercialism normally surrounding the holidaze was dealt a sever blow, the vacuum filled with genuine concern for one another. At least that's how it looks to me. Some say it was a bad year but I disagree; it was a difficult year but that doesn't make it a bad year. People lost a lot of selfishness and remembered what's important.

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