2008 In Review

The years started off on a good note, appearing in the Steve Lukather video EVER CHANGING TIMES. After 25 years I finally made it to MTV. Too bad you can't see my face in the video! That same month was the 2nd Annual J.J. Vicars Birthday Jam at Ben's Cafe. Since I know none of my cheap-ass friends are gonna throw me a party I throw my own every year. Now I get to spend my birthday the way I want to; jamming and partying with my buds. Also at the beginning of the year I had to cancel my Midwest tour, but that turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it led to my trip back to Texas in April. In early spring there was the "three countries in three weeks" jaunt. Played Saturday night at the Barge Inn near Narita airport then got on a plane for New Delhi, India early Sunday morning. Back to Tokyo the following Saturday then played the Cherry Blossom festival at Atsugi Naval Base on Sunday. Monday, a week later, it was off to Houston, TX for a much needed trip back home. The trip to Houston was one of the biggest highlights of the year. It had been 7 years since I had been in Texas and 'homesick' doesn't even begin to describe it. All I can say about that is one of the reasons I'm such a big HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY fan is because I identify with Arthur Dent. And Kate Shecter from LONG DARK TEATIME OF THE SOUL. Try being an American looking for a decent pizza in a foreign country and you'll get the idea. Try finding decent Mexican food and you'll go nuts! In Houston my old friend and former bandleader Kenny Palyola and his wife Kelley were extremely gracious in putting me up and just generally being a big help overall. Words don't begin to describe my gratitude for what they did. And I was not the only guest, had a bit of a family reunion going on at their place. Going out for Mexican food and a Blues jam... it's those simple pleasures I miss the most. Drove out to Austin to visit several more old friends and stayed with my old bandmate, former Cannabis Rex bandleader Todd Moore at his beeeyoootiful place on the river. It was the tranquility I needed while sorting out some head-pounding bureaucracy. I stopped by to see one of my all time favorite guitarists and good friend Don Leady (cut my teeth on the first Tailgators album SWAMP ROCK) and we recorded a guitar boogie duet together. Don also showed me a few guitar moves that I'm still working on. After several failed attempts to contact him I finally got in touch with my tocayo J.J. Barrera (bass, Tailgators) and hung out a bit before heading back to Houston where I went to a Jazz club to see Larry and Joe Slezak. Joe and I are the same age (our musician dads were friends) and started playing around the same time. He stuck with Jazz drumming and I went on to Blues/Roots/Rock guitar which I'm much better suited for. I love Jazz but I'm definitely not a Jazz player! Larry (Joe's dad) was blowing that sax even better than ever! Hard to believe as he was heads and shoulders above the rest 20 years ago, but yes he really has gotten even better since then. The next night I sat in with Kenny P on his gig (I swear his guitarist looks like Tom Waits Jr.) for some more much-needed Texas Blues picking. Food for the soul. Met up with Glen Davis, formerly of FCCJ in Tokyo and now living back home in Tejas, bought a couple hats and then early Monday they practically had to force me on the plane at gunpoint. July 4th saw another major event, playing the Fourth of July festival at Atsugi with Max Blues and Tara Tinsley. I met Tara two years previous when she played Atsugi during her first trip to Japan. We stayed in touch and I took a few liberties with a demo of her song SWEET MUSIC. For this show Max Blues was already playing so I had them back me during my set, at the end of which I brought out Tara to do SWEET MUSIC (the only time we've played it live together) and Ike & Tina Turner's BABY GET IT ON which her guitarist Dan Quigg joined us for. There was some video shot but the person who did so punked out on me, so it remains buried in his archives. If Tara and/or myself has a big hit record I guarantee it will surface. Nonetheless, we stole the show with our grand finale and later we had some Texas BBQ where Tara failed to understand what a bypass is. I guess she never saw ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS. Summer saw the start of two very important projects, the LONG WAY FROM HOME album and the first J.J. Vicars signature model guitar made by Broken Guitar (if it's Broken, it's mine!). While I had hoped to have both of these projects finished before year's end the delays have worked out for the best; both are turning out better than anticipated. I had originally wanted Bill Concello to play on the album but wasn't sure if he would be available. As it turns out we're recording at his Sunshine Studio and he's played a vital role as co-producer. Bassist and Broke Guitars honcho Mark Schwarz is playing his Rocket Revenger, and a couple other interesting basses, on the album while building the J.J.V. signature model which will be featured on about half the songs. And yes, the Firebird is also featured on a few. Several local musician friends make guest appearances and other musician friends back in the States, Jeremy Gloff and Glenn Rios, have helped out with the arrangements. To top it all off Colleen Kelley Murray, formerly Mrs. Palyola, has given me permission to use one of her photographs on the front cover. I won't say which one -got to leave a few surprises for when the album comes out- but it was the type of pic I was looking for after my cousin -Electro/Freestyle musician Jason Goldsmith of VA- gave some recommendations regarding the jacket design. Coincidentally, Mark came up with a very similar idea regarding the jacket, although he didn't know what I had planned. That convenient coincidence made it clear what direction to go with the design. As with SCI-FI DINER, great care is being put into the jacket design so that it complements the music on the disc hand-in-glove. Another highlight was all the new video. Five solo acoustic videos were added to the YouTube page back in January and three from the Christmas gig with Mac "the Knife" Okuyama were added a couple days after the gig, all shot and edited by Chiharu Kawai. In between those Connie 'cricket' Smith of Mississippi did two slide show videos for TAKE ME ON DOWN TO MEMPHIS and ROCK MY WORLD, available on her page. Yet another interesting development was a new twist on the old Jewish tradition 'keep the money' in the family. My regular bass players being out-of-town during some important gigs led to Suzi V holding down the bottom end. She's like a cross between Keith Ferguson and Poison Ivy and having a female on the stage sure did help attendance. Oliver Richter shot some great pics last time we played at the Barge Inn and they're on the website. Everybody knows what an important election this was but for me it was important in different ways. First off, as a result of some political Blogging I became acquainted with singer Jill Jones. Most folks remember her from her time with Prince when she appeared in the 1999 video and as the waitress in PURPLE RAIN. Like most I knew little else about her until finding her on MySpace. I vaguely recalled a Paisley Park album from the 80's. After making her acquaintance I found the album on eBay. Anybody who is a fan of Prince's 'glory years' ('80 - '87) would be well off to find a copy of this overlooked gem. In 2001 she did another album, TWO with Chris Bruce. This haunting masterpiece is a feather in both their caps and a little of that influence seeped into one of the tracks on LONG WAY FROM HOME. I'll leave it to you to figure out which one. She also released the download-only album WASTED as The Grand Royals, a guitar & vocal duet. I reviewed both albums on CD Baby and iTunes. Jill's BAD! Via Jill Jones I also became acquainted with musician Jeremy Gloff of Tampa, FL. A helluva songwriter, his album 1987 is a 'must-have' for anyone who was a teenager in the 80's. He uses the writing devices to perfectly capture the mood and feel of the times. I also reviewed this album on both CD Baby and iTunes and have been performing the title song on recent gigs. Outside of my usual Blues/Roots/R&B/Southern Boogie listening TWO and 1987 are the most played albums on my stereo and iPod. The election was also important to me in that it opened up a whole new dialogue with several right-leaning friends. As someone who usually votes Democratic (lesser of two evils) or Independent I have no problem with right-of-center. It's the Extreme Right (and also the Extreme Left) that I so vehemently despise. I was surprised to learn that there are actually a few Republicans doing something good, like Ron Paul and the current Governor of Ohio. Hard to believe after the last 8 years. This is what makes democracy healthy, the open exchange of ideas. If you live in Indiana my friend Bill Bruton is running for State Senate. His primary goal is defending the Constitution, a worthy goal no matter which party you're aligned with. Sadly though, politics also severed or injured a few friendships. The funny one was the Canadian guy who wrote back to express his disapproval of my post-election letter to Senator McCain because of the Vietnam war. As an American living abroad it seems that wherever I go I always run into a Canadian who wants to show off how hip he thinks he is on American politics -as if 100% of the population supported the neo-cons and Canada had never done any wrong. Since it's an average of 1 in 10 that means 9 in 10 are cool, but I'm sure they find the 1 to be an embarrassment just as I find the neo-cons an embarrassment.. However, the saddest part about the election is that after Obama won everybody stopped talking about it as if there were no more work to be done. The real work is just beginning. While on the 'sad' note here's the obituaries; Buddy Miles, Jeff Healy, Bo Diddley, Issac Hayes, Jerry Wexler, Earl Palmer, Bettie Page, and George Carlin. Most were old (80's and 90's) but Carlin's passing bummed me out the most. Forget politicians, George Carlin is my 'public voice' of social commentary. N other single person in the limelight comes as close as him -about 90%- to saying what I want said. The Seven Dirty Words, his take on the 10 Commandments and his later one about how politicians are a product of OUR society... these speak volumes. It seems we need his voice now more than ever yet he's gone. One more reason for me to fire up my engine- most of my heroes are gone, if I don't say and do what I want said and done nobody else will. Last but certainly not least for the obituaries, Tippy the tipped-up cow passed away shortly before summer. Tippy was a good dog... odd, a lot of our pets have the same names as Carlin's pets- Annie, Grannie, and Tippy. He didn't have a Stinky, though. Back to a happy note, some long lost friends were rediscovered, including former Albert Collins & the Icebreakers bassist Johnny B. Gayden, and there were new friends made such as Tara Tinsley's guitarist Dan Quigg. Jin Nagami filled in on bass for Max Blues during our July 4th gig and became a regular in our 'musicians circle'. In turn there were more musician friends joining the fold as a result. Look for more collaborations in the coming year. And while researching an article for Skynyrd that I'm still working on I became acquainted with Scott Hill (from the FL/GA line) and had a brief exchange with former Honkette JoJo Billingsley. There's also guitarist Tony WIlson of GA who found my site via Steve Moore's Firebird Tribute Site. He sent the Two Wolves story that I posted. All in all there's been a lot to celebrate in 2008; the videos, the new album, the signature model guitar, trip to India, trip back home to Houston/Austin, July 4th, the election and most of all the people involved in these events- they are what them significant. Hats off to; Kenny Palyola, Colleen Kelley Murray, Joe Slezak, Larry Slezak, Don Leady (and Vicki & Ryan), J.J. Barrera, Todd Moore, Glen Davis,Tara Tinsley, Dan Quigg, Courtney Morrison, Candy Definbaugh, Heather Baxter, Shanti Carter, Bill Concello, Mark Schwarz, Jin Nagami, Sparky, Mac Okuyama, Sugi, Oliver Richter, Bryan Harmon @ the Barge Inn, Paul Perry @ Atsugi Darren Howells @ Blues Matter magazine, Connie 'cricket' Smith, Johnny B. Gayden, Jay Lang, Glenn Rios, Jeremy Gloff, Jill Jones, Howard Glazer, Scott Hill, Tony Wilson and -as usual- the Dagobah Klumps, including our newest addition, Flash. Oh yeah, can't forget Mom & Dad!