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Mark your calendars on Sunday, September 29th, at 2:00 PM for a movie premier at the Mauch Chunk Opera House in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania. The film, Jim Thorpe: The Old Mauch Chunk History Tour, a new documentary will be shown, appropriately, in the town’s Victorian theater, followed by a reception.

Jim Thorpe History - Old Mauch ChunkThe film takes you on a walk among Victorian homes and into private historic gems such as the Asa Packer Mansion, the Molly Maguire courtroom, the Inn of Jim Thorpe, the Mauch Chunk Opera House, the Mauch Chunk Museum, and St. Mark’s Church. No other filmmaker has attempted to cover Jim Thorpe’s Historic District.

Jim Thorpe History - Old Mauch ChunkAt the premier the 90 minute DVD will be available for sale. Jim Thorpe: The Old Mauch Chunk History Tour is already on sale at the Mauch Chunk 5 & 10, Sound Check Records, and the Mauch Chunk Museum. Price $15. For the website, see JimThorpeHistoryTour.com.

The Musical Matrix

The Musical Matrix
A Q&A with Joe Louis Walker

By Geoff Gehman

At age 16 Joe Louis Walker played house guitar in a San Francisco club called the Matrix, where on any given night you could hear everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Thelonius Monk, Magic Sam to Pigpen. At age 63 Walker is a matrix all by himself. For nearly 30 years he’s been plugged into an electrifying grid of blues, rock, soul, R&B and gospel, tripping the circuits with the likes of Buddy Guy, Bonnie Raitt and Ron Wood.
On Aug. 9 Walker will turn the Mauch Chunk Opera House into a rollicking roadhouse church. He’ll sample his 2012 CD “Hellfire” (Alligator Records), a terrific collection of wicked rockers (“What It’s Worth”), sneaky soulful tributes (“Black Girls”) and sacred-secular showcases (“Soldier for Jesus,” featuring the Jordanaires, Elvis Presley’s favorite backup singers). Exploring the stretch between heaven and hell is natural for Walker, who sought refuge from his demons by joining the Spiritual Corinthians gospel group and who befriended Mike Bloomfield, the immensely talented electric guitarist who succumbed too soon to his demons.
A 2013 member of the Blues Hall of Fame, Walker recently singed the telephone lines with candid comments about inspiration, fame and the importance of letting the game come to you.

Joe Louis Walker - Blues at the Mauch Chunk Opera House in Jim THorpeQ: “Hellfire” was a deep, important record for you. What goals did you have making it? And what did you get out of making it?
A: I was trying to make a record that hopefully young people can enjoy, to get some newer people listening to the blues. And I was learning to trust my instincts in the studio. That’s a big deal for me.

Q: One of my favorite tracks on “Hellfire” is “Black Girls,” a tribute to the female singers who really give soul to rock and roll. I know you watched some of these ladies in action: the Ikettes, Margie Hendricks of the Raelettes, Merry “Gimme Shelter” Clayton—all of whom are featured in the new documentary “20 Feet from Stardom.” Have you ever considered cutting a record with some of these fabled backup vocalists?
A: I’d love to do something with those folks. But, then, I’ve done a lot of different vocal stuff with a lot of different people. B.B. King. Bonnie Raitt. The Jordanaires. The Gospel Hummingbirds. My old group, the Spiritual Corinthians. I’m open to pretty much anything and everything.

Q: Do you have a favorite moment, or moments, from your decade in the Spiritual Corinthians?
A: One of the most enjoyable experiences was a 50th-anniversary concert with the Soul Stirrers–the real Soul Stirrers. We had the Clark Sisters, the Truthettes, just a bunch of great people. We even had [Soul Stirrer patriarch] R.H. Harris. We didn’t have drums or a whole bunch of instruments because R.H. wouldn’t play with drums or electric guitars.

Joe Louis Walker - Blues at the Mauch Chunk Opera House in Jim THorpeQ: I envy folks who went to the Fillmores West and East like I envy folks who went to Ebbets Field to see the Brooklyn Dodgers play. After reading about your high-flying times at the Matrix, I wish I had been a fly on the wall there, too. Can you remember your first hair-raising, spine-tingling, earth-quaking time at the Matrix?
A: Well, there were a million clubs besides the Matrix back then. To be honest, there were better clubs, too. But when you look back, I don’t think there was any better club when it comes to making a cultural statement. The Matrix was a very special place because it booked the old groups and the new, the white with the black. It was a premier place to listen to older blues guys like Lightnin’ Hopkins and Magic Sam, up close. People like John Cipollina from Quicksilver Messenger Service or Pigpen from the [Grateful] Dead or Tommy Johnston from the Doobies got a chance to hang out with the old blues cats. You could see all the young hippie groups, too. It was all mixed up, and it was cool.

Q: Larry Coryell, who will be playing Mauch Chunk on Aug. 17, says that Miles Davis gave him a great piece of advice: “Never finish a phrase.” In other words, keep the phrase open so you remain open to something better. What’s the best wisdom you received from Mike Bloomfield, your old roommate and role model?
A: The one thing I really admired about Michael was his standing as a musician. He was so versatile. You could hear him playing on “Like a Rolling Stone” and Muddy Waters’ record “Fathers and Sons”; you could hear him playing with the Woody Herman Orchestra and Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels. On certain nights he could be the greatest, just like on certain nights Elvin Bishop could be the greatest. The only person I could put in a category with Michael is Taj Mahal. Taj could do Robert Johnson and then turn around and do the country song “Six Days on the Road” and be just as viable.
Joe Louis Walker - Blues at the Mauch Chunk Opera House in Jim THorpeIt’s almost as if in that particular time [the ’60s and ’70s] people were open in the way that Miles told Larry to leave the phrase open. They were open with their music, their art, their movies, their actions. It was a time when whites and blacks could play together in groups like the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and Booker T and the MGs, when everybody was searching for what they thought was right.
It’s that mixed-up element in America that’s inspirational. People from all over the world grab it and hold it close to them as a beacon, whether it’s music or politics or FM radio or sports. If you ask anyone what inspires them, it’s usually something against the grain. It could be Muhammad Ali. Or it could be Pete Seeger, one of the greatest Americans who ever lived. I’m glad they put these “American Masters” [programs] on TV so you can really see that what really makes us great, as a country and a people, is our collective soul.

Q: Did you gain a new understanding of America, a new appreciation for your country, when you lived in France for over two years?
A: France is a special place. You get up in the morning and you have croissants or a baguette and coffee at the bistro and you read papers and you talk about topics of the day. One time I came back home after a tour and my French friends said: “Joe, why are they letting New Orleans drown?” I didn’t really understand until I turned on the television and saw people on the roof [after Hurricane Katrina]. I remember Charlene Neville in her tribulation driving a bus over a bridge, running through a blockade, trying to get kids to safety.
A good friend of mine, who was born in Algeria but raised in France, turned to me and said: “You know, Joe, did you ever wonder why America has to always be in a war?” And I told him: “I’ll be honest, I don’t know, man.” Maybe it’s because people are just numb; maybe they think that war is a natural state because that’s the way the country was discovered. Things might be different if more people could see the effects of somebody getting shot in the head, if the picture had a human face.
That’s why I’m glad I’m a musician. I have a release for what I do. And my release is positive, whether I’m playing music for 200 people or 2,000. And I can give them a positive release, too.

Joe Louis Walker - Blues at the Mauch Chunk Opera House in Jim THorpeQ: You’ve said that your biggest fans were your mother and the late Lee Atwater, the former Republican Party chair who probably loved to play blues guitar more than he loved to lobby. What did Lee do for you besides getting you an invitation to play at the first George Bush’s presidential inauguration?
A: Go figure, right? That’s the dichotomy; that’s the power of music. Lee just liked the blues. By him liking the blues, he treated the blues guys—and the rock guys—he hired with respect. Because of Lee, I got to go to the White House on a couple of occasions, I got to give the first George Bush a guitar. I also got to play in this big inauguration concert. It was, believe me, a very, very strange thing.
I was the first act to come on and at the table of honor were Coretta Scott King, Barbara Bush, Martin Luther King III and old man Bush. The only one not there was George W. Bush; he was backstage with Lee Atwater, leading the fun parade [laughs].
I had my own segment and I played with the Willie Dixon Dream Band. There was Koko Taylor; Cash McCall, Willie’s guitar player, and [Rolling Stones guitarist] Ronnie Wood. And then I did a bunch of different combinations with Stevie Ray and Jimmy Vaughan, Albert Collins, Joe Cocker, the MGs without Booker T.
It was more like a rock concert I found out, way later, than I thought it was. Let’s just say it was very interesting to see how everybody enjoyed themselves; let’s just leave it at that [laughs]. Normally, at affairs like that, it’s divided according to political parties. Well, for that one night, it was just a party. Let me tell you, it wasn’t about to not be a party [laughs].

Q: Is there something that you recently discovered that’s made life easier for you as a professional musician, some hard-won epiphany?
A: I’d say that the last seven, eight, 10 years I’ve started enjoying my career a bit more. I enjoy my fans. I enjoy being around Taj Mahal or Ronnie Wood or Mick Taylor or Phil Neville or whoever. These are my kind of guys.
When you’re working all the time, it’s not easy. Musicians really don’t have a day off, unless you’re a really, really big musician; then you have a few days off from a tour. But even that’s not happening that much these days. Even the big acts are touring because the music industry is in such bad shape. The record companies are in dire straits and the clubs aren’t having it easy by any stretch of the imagination. And uniqueness and originality are being questioned.
When I was 17, 18, I was living in houses with people like Michael Bloomfield and seeing all sorts of folks coming through, with a lot of people dying—Jimi [Hendrix], Janis [Joplin]. I saw how they were just totally unprepared for what became the classic rock and roll industry, or, if you want to call it, the cash cow. It’s that classic situation where everybody’s struggling for that slice of pie, that success which is linked to stardom which is linked to “Oh god, when I get there I’m going to feel so much better and my life’s going to be so much better.”
It’s like that line from that Eagles song [“Hotel California”]: “They stab it with their steely knives but they just can’t kill the beast.” Well, that beast has grown so much it pretty much ate up the mother and father.
I guess my epiphany is that I’m glad I started when I did because people have been aware of me for a long time. They know that I like to play all styles of music, with blues being the most important. They know that I like experimenting, that I like to get out of my wheelhouse. They know that I’ve stayed true.

Q: So, Joe, what do you do on the road to keep yourself comfortable?
A: I like to warm up by singing gospel songs, like my grandmother used to do. It just loosens you up. It’s important to stay loose on stage. The tighter you get, the more it takes the fun part out of it.

Q: What projects do you have on the front burners? I’ve read that you’d like to cut a record with Johnny Winters, a fellow blues-rock guitarist and your soul brother, and that you’d like to write an autobiography.
A: I’d like to do both projects. A friend of mine told me that if you start writing so much about the past, you sort of start neglecting the future. I was one of those guys when I was young I always wanted to be older. Now that I’m older I sort of want to be younger. I’ve imbibed everything known to mankind, but I’m not too worried because my grandmother lived to 100 and I have great genes.
I feel great. I love playing with friends of mine. Now that we’re older it’s special that we can sit around and talk about stuff and laugh. I could laugh with Ronnie Wood about that inauguration concert and the fact that between the two of us we saw just about everything—and, man, I mean everything.

Joe Louis Walker: The Scoop

(1) The first song he couldn’t forget: The Drifters’ “I Count the Tears.”
(2) His father played blues piano and his mother played B.B. King records.
(3) He received degrees in music and English from San Francisco State University.
(4) He’s written songs (“Black Girls,” “Too Drunk to Drive Drunk”) with JoJo Russo, a car-shop owner and car renovator-designer in Pittsburg, Calif., where Walker once lived.
(5) On his 1997 CD “Great Guitars” he duets with the likes of Otis Rush, Bonnie Raitt and Little Charlie Baty.
(6) His song “Highview,” which appears on his 2008 record “Witness to the Blues,” honors his friend Peter Green, the original lead guitarist for Fleetwood Mac and a rare musician who has given B.B. King “the cold sweats.”

Geoff Gehman is a former arts writer for The Morning Call in Allentown. He can be reached at geoffgehman@verizon.net.

Jedi master, Zen warrior

A Q&A with Larry Coryell

By Geoff Gehman

“Never finish a phrase” said Miles Davis to Larry Coryell, the trumpeter dropping a nugget of wisdom on the guitarist like a Zen koan. Leave the phrase open so it leaves you open to play something bigger, bolder, better. Why tunnel through the pipeline when you can build it or, better yet, blow it up?
Inspired by Miles’ mantra, Coryell has made his entire career a sonic pilgrimage. The composing guitarist is renowned for fusing jazz to rock to classical to country to funk to psychedelic soul to what-have-you hybrids. He’s recorded seminal albums (“Spaces,” 1974), led pivotal bands (The Eleventh Hour) and transformed classics (Ravel’s “Bolero”) into cosmic kaleidoscopes. Mix in his influential columns for Guitar Player magazine and you have a musical Jedi warrior.
Coryell plays the Mauch Chunk Opera House on Aug. 17, returning for the second time in 11 months with his fellow fusioneers, bassist Victor Bailey and drummer Lenny White, alumni respectively of Weather Report and Return to Forever. The concert continues a jam-packed half-dozen years for Coryell, who is acting half his 70 years old. During this stretch he’s published a free-spirited autobiography, toured with a reformed The Eleventh Hour and a Miles Davis tribute group, cut records with everyone from a Charles Mingus Big Band pianist to a trio of Bavarian jazz guitarists. Oh yes, he’s also written an opera inspired by “War and Peace.”
In a conversation from his home in Orlando, Coryell discussed paying tribute to his heroes Wes Montgomery and Martin Luther King Jr. and recovering from ailments with the help of a cat named Mozart.

Coryell,Bailey, White at the Mauch Chunk Opera House in Jim Thorpe PAQ: What was the first tune you couldn’t forget, that absolutely laid you flat?
A: The first song I really liked was probably [Hugo Alfven’s] “Swedish Rhapsody [No. 1].” The first jazz tune that killed me was Wes Montgomery’s “Green Dolphin Street.” I first heard it in a club when I was underage and I borrowed an ID from an older person. I remember they played “Black Orchid” by Cal Tjader and then they played “Green Dolphin Street.” The thumbnail on Wes’ right hand was glittering like silver. I had the impression that he put fingernail polish on it; he didn’t.
Two of my favorite guitar players when I was coming of age—and I know I’m going to leave out hugely influential guys like Kenny Burrell and Charlie Christian—were Wes and Jimi Hendrix. Wes had the thumb thing and then Jimi had the left-hand thing. But both had a very different approach to music. They were both saying: Okay, this is the way I hear music, this is the way I think it should be. Both of those cats were so important; both of them were such marvelous innovators, all the way. And they both died way too young.

Q: Why did you decide to write an opera based on “War and Peace”?
A: Because a very dear mentor of mine told all of us, four or five years ago, if you want to impress anyone, tell them you’re reading Tolstoy. He was joking and I took him seriously. I said to myself: Let me see if I can write a piece of music about this scene and that scene. Before you know it, I had written scenes for an opera.
My mentor is Daisaku Ikeda, leader of a Buddhist group I joined at the encouragement of [keyboardist] Herbie Hancock, [saxophonist] Wayne Shorter and [drummer] Tony Williams. I’ve always had musical mentors, good people like [vibraphonist] Gary Burton, [flutist] Herbie Mann, Miles Davis. All these people made me think differently about music; all of them gave me new perspectives. In jazz you want to stay in that pipeline of fresh ideas from people who are better than you, or are at least doing the same things in your field. Miles always told me: “Never finish a phrase.” He was basically telling me: You need to stimulate your energy to go beyond.
You know, I’ve been working for over a year in band called Miles Smiles with [trumpeter] Wallace Roney, who had unbelievable experiences with Miles and Herbie Hancock, as well as a world of perspective. We listen to Miles’ classic takes on music and we like to talk about what set him apart from his contemporaries, most of whom went on to become iconic musicians. Miles definitely beat a different drum; he definitely didn’t want to play regular.

Coryell,Bailey, White at the Mauch Chunk Opera House in Jim Thorpe PAQ: Why do you like working with Victor Bailey and Lenny White? Victor told me last year that you and Lenny allow him to play more naturally, to let him be him.
A: It’s the same deal for me. If it were billed as Larry Coryell’s trio, if I were the band leader, I’m not going to tell you what to play; I only want you to do what you can do best. I have no business telling anybody on the level of Lenny White or Victor Bailey what to play. Occasionally, if Lenny wants to know how many bars there are in this particular passage, or when to make a key change at this juncture, then I’ll be glad to tell him. Mostly I want what he brings to the table—uncensored, unfiltered, unfettered. Because he’s played with everybody and if you let him just do his thing, somewhere along the way the influences of Miles Davis or Freddie Hubbard or Wayne Shorter or Stanley Clarke are going to come out.

Q: Victor told me he would like to show off more of his strengths, including his singing. So why haven’t you sung on a record since “Lady Coryell” in 1969?
A: I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know [laughs]. I have no answer for that. Actually, I did sing on a DVD I did in Los Angeles about five years ago. I think [I don’t sing] because I’m so focused on my instrument. But who knows? Maybe I’ll sing a little for the folks up in Jim Thorpe.
You know, Miles loved Paul Robeson. I remember we were in a room once and he threatened if anyone was not able to give him a detailed biography of Robeson, including highlights of his life, they would have to leave the room and leave the house. That’s how strongly he felt. And I was so inspired that I got [Robeson’s] famous recording of “Shenandoah” and wrote an arrangement for orchestra. I’m very proud of that.

Q: In 2011 you released the CD “Montgomery,” a tribute to the civil-rights movement and Martin Luther King Jr., one of your role models. How has he guided your life?
A: I went to his lecture when I was a student at the University of Washington; I was 20 and, fortunately, I had enough sense to go. It was a great speech and I was in the presence of a great man. Fast forward and I’m on tour with Gary Burton and [drummer] Roy Haynes in Southern California when we learn that Dr. King was assassinated. I’ll never forget that Roy was devastated; it destroyed him. And I made a determination to somehow right that wrong somehow down the path of my life.
I finally got a chance when [pianist] Mose Allison gave me this book by Taylor Branch, a very detailed account of Dr. King’s leadership of the civil-rights movement. I was alive during those times but I was too young to understand the impact. Another key event was when my wife dragged me, kicking and screaming, to a lecture on Lincoln at Ford’s Theater, around the time I was playing with Victor and Lenny in Washington, D.C. Sitting there where Lincoln was assassinated, listening to his great deeds, had a profound effect on me. And then we went to the bookstore and my wife had to drag me, kicking and screaming, to get out of there. All of a sudden it opened up a part of me that was empty: our heritage as Americans. There’s such a clear relationship between Lincoln and Reconstruction and the Gilded Age and that horrible, disgusting film “[The] Birth of a Nation” and then Billie Holiday singing “Strange Fruit.”
Coryell,Bailey, White at the Mauch Chunk Opera House in Jim Thorpe PAWes Montgomery, [trumpeter] Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis, musicians I worshipped from my knees–all these guys had to put up with segregation and hatred. It made me appreciate their genius even more. So I studied sections of the story of the Montgomery bus boycott and I wrote music thinking of people who were playing in New York at that time. You know, what would [saxophonists] [John] Coltrane and [Charlie] Parker have been doing there? That was “Joy at the Jail.”
I don’t care if you’re white, black, from India or from Norway: everybody deserves the opportunity for a level playing field, to play fair by the rules laid down in our society. That means anything to do with the American Dream, which for me was becoming a jazz musician. Let’s say you have me and Lenny and Victor and someone wants to play with us. It doesn’t matter where they’re from. It’s very simple: Can you play or not? [Clicks his fingers] “C’mon baby, let’s hear what you got.” And jazz brings people together because it’s mostly an instrumental music. It’s about emotion, and emotion is universal.
“Government by the people for the people”: it sounded corny to me when I was in school, but now it makes sense.

Q: You’ve been prolific-plus the last half-dozen years. What’s the secret? What lock have you finally unlocked? Did Tracey, your wife and manager, play a key role?
A: When we moved into this town home six years ago, I wasn’t working that much and I was going through a lot of obstacles. So she played only Mozart and maybe a little Beethoven for literally 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And that had a lot to do with not only my recovery, but my productivity. I also started reading Tolstoy and Dostoevsky and Steinbeck; they raised my consciousness a bit. Tracey just allowed me a place to go where I needed to go, to stimulate my juices.

Q: Can you tell me a composition of yours with a strange afterlife, a career you could never have mapped?
A: There was a thing from the “At the Village Gate” album in 1971 with [bassist] Mervin Bronson and [drummer] Harry Wilkinson. I was walking up the stairs for the first set and this idea came to me and we played it right there. It was called “The Opening” and I said to myself: “Oh, that’s a throwaway.”
Well, about 30 years later it was covered by a pop group in London called Cornershop. They changed it around and called it “Candy Man.” And we got $100,000. We split it up and I was left with probably one of the biggest paydays of my life.
In other words, keep the faith, baby. Never allow that negativity to creep in.

Coryell,Bailey, White at the Mauch Chunk Opera House in Jim Thorpe PAQ: So Larry, if you had to do it all over again, would you pose with your first wife as a kind of hippie Adam and Eve on the cover of your 1969 album “Coryell”? And who were those children you and Julie posed with anyway?
A: They were my doctor’s kids. Of course I would. I mean, we weren’t naked; we were wearing bathing suits and stuff. It was reminiscent of the John and Yoko thing [i.e., posing nude on the cover of the 1968 album “Two Virgins”], although we didn’t want to be radical. We were just saying: Look, it’s a beautiful, hot summer day; let’s celebrate. And Julie is very pregnant with Murali [the Coryells’ guitarist son], who is finally going to India in November, 44 years after getting his Indian name. I think that’s really cool.

Larry Coryell: The Scoop

(1) In high school he set records as a pole vaulter.
(2) From 1977 to 1989 he wrote a column for Guitar Player magazine
(3) In 1978 he recorded an unnamed, unreleased song produced by Miles Davis, who played synthesizer on the track instead of his customary trumpet.
(4) He’s said that his recovery from alcohol and drug abuse began with the backstage chant of a Buddhist mantra by his musical friends John McLaughlin, Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock.
(5) In 2000 he released a record, “The Coryells,” made with his guitarist sons Julian and Murali; the latter has played with guitarist Joe Louis Walker, who is booked to perform Aug. 9 at the Mauch Chunk Opera House.
(6) He made the chapter titles in his 2007 autobiography “Improvising: My Life in Music” fun and funky to honor a 2003 “symphonic” novel with a 20-word-plus title by Ed Vega, the late stepfather of singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega, who performed last year at Mauch Chunk. “It was the best way to flatter him for a beautiful story about jazz, Vietnam and New York,” says Coryell. “His descriptions of Puerto Rican picnics in parks in Brooklyn are just wonderful. I like writers who are very good at emotional descriptions: Steinbeck, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky. As a musician I feel a strong kinship.”

Geoff Gehman is a former arts writer for The Morning Call. He thinks that Larry Coryell’s solo acoustic-guitar version of “Bolero” is worth dancing a bolero. He can be reached at geoffgehman@verizon.net.

The Mauch Chunk Opera House and Penn’s Peak are Jim Thorpe’s unexpected alternatives to the typical urban venue. Penn’s Peak seats 1700 and has PA’s best views to go along with fantastic music and Roadies Restaurant. Meanwhile, the Opera House in downtown Jim Thorpe seats 380, and provides an intimate listening experience with impeccable sound.  Enjoy a one-of-a-kind show! 

10/30, Thursday, $10, 40 Story Radio Tower – Like Prairie Home Companion without the budget, 40 Story Radio Tower delivers plays, comedy, poetry, and special musical guests The Day Rubies(Mauch Chunk Opera House)

michale graves at the Mauch Chunk Opera House10/31, Friday, $20, A Michale Graves Band Halloween Be part of a never-done-before stage experience by Monster Rock performer and former Misfits frontman, Michale Graves: this Halloween, before he performs a full band in a full make-up monster rock performance, Michale Graves will star in a live stage production of the recently released “Zombies” film. (Mauch Chunk Opera House)

10/31, Friday, $27, Robin Trower – The Robin Trower story started in the mid Sixties when he began his recording career in the Southend rhythm and blues band the Paramounts. But the first time Trower truly surfaced on rock’n’roll’s radar was in 1967, with Procol Harum – house band of the Summer of Love.  (Penn’s Peak)

11/1, Saturday, $25-35, Boolesque – Back for a 5th annual performance, hostess Madame Corsetiere infiltrates the Mauch Chunk Opera House on Saturday, November 1 with a night of ghoulishly glamorous Halloween-themed Burlesque guaranteed to make your spine tingle.  (Mauch Chunk Opera House)

tubes11/1, Saturday, $18, The Tubes – The Tubes will go down in the rock history books as one of the most exciting, in-your-face tight-knit group of musicians who epitomised the hilarity of popular American culture by making it into a the ultimate rock’n’roll extravaganza.  (Penn’s Peak)

11/7, Friday, $24, Jerrod Niemann – The Kansas-born Jerrod Niemann—who once lived in the actual Dodge City—explains that there are a number of meanings to his latest album’s title, but clearly, it stands as a challenge and a mission for his music. “High Noon represents taking chances,” he says.  (Penn’s Peak)

BandPhoto11/7, Friday, $20, Battlefield Band- Natives of Scotland, they pioneered the integration of bagpipes with fiddle, keyboards, guitar and voice, and mix the old songs and tunes with new self-penned material, playing them on a unique fusion of ancient and modern instruments. It’s not about rock, it’s about Celtic music.  (Mauch Chunk Opera House)

loggins11/8, Saturday, $41, Kenny Loggins – Kenny Loggins’ remarkable four-decade-plus career has brought him from the top of the charts to the toast of the Grammys. He’s had smash hits on Hollywood’s favorite soundtracks, rocked worldwide stages, and found his way into children’s hearts while bringing his soulful, beautiful voice to platinum albums of a stunning variety of genres.  (Penn’s Peak)

11/8, Saturday, $23, Craig Thatcher Band- Led by the area’s favorite guitarist and vocalist, Craig Thatcher, his ace band also features the electric Nyke Van Wyk on fiddle, Craig Kastelnik on keyboards and vocals, Wayde Leonard on bass and vocals, and Don Plowman on drums – each a remarkable, superbly talented musician in his own right..  (Mauch Chunk Opera House)

shawn phillips at the Mauch Chunk Opera House11/14, Friday, $20, Shawn PhillipsOne of most fascinating and enigmatic musicians to come out of the early ’70s singer-songwriter boom, but his music is difficult to categorize. His refusal to shape his music – which crosses between folk-rock, jazz, progressive, pop, and classical – to anyone else’s expectations has allowed him to hold onto a large and dedicated following..  (Mauch Chunk Opera House)

11/15, Saturday, $26, Last Waltz CelebrationThe Last Waltz Celebration features a 3-piece horn section, as well as the full 5 pieces of the ‘The Band’ Band. One in the audience last summer said “I had no idea how much I loved The Band!” (Mauch Chunk Opera House)

11/16, Sunday, $20, Serafin String Quartet – The Serafin String Quartet debuted at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall in 2004 and has consistently received superlatives in the press and ovations in the concert hall. They have received overwhelming critical acclaim including in Fanfare, American Record Guide and Gramophone. (Mauch Chunk Opera House)

 

 

 

 

Flying into the Sun to Make Notes
A Q&A with Todd Snider

By Geoff Gehman

Todd Snider writes songs dosed with sneaky sociology. He believes it’s his job—maybe even his sacred duty–to hang out with strangers for the express purpose of musical storytelling. After all, if he hadn’t accepted an invitation to enter a drug den, he probably would never have written “America’s Favorite Pastime,” a delicious ditty about a pitcher who during his LSD-laced no-hitter views the mound as birthday-cake icing.

Snider is typically sly and wry on his latest CD of originals, “Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables,” released last year on his own Aimless label. Recorded intentionally as a “mess,” the fine-tuned tunes range from “New York Banker,” a deceptively jaunty chronicle of a teacher ripped from his retirement savings by a bond built to fail, to “Brenda,” a tough, tender tribute to the tender, tough marriage of Keith Richards and Mick Jagger. This sharp-minded hippie vibe also colors “Time As We Know It” (Aimless), Snider’s 2012 funky, affectionate collection of numbers by Jerry Jeff Walker, Snider’s role model. It was 27 years ago, in an Austin bar, that Walker convinced Snider to start writing tunes, learn guitar and make music that mattered all by himself.

Todd Snider at the Mauch Chunk Opera HouseSnider, 46, will bring his top-hatted, bare-footed, rambling, laser-etched, Woody Guthrie-meets-William S. Burroughs self to the Mauch Chunk Opera House on July 19. During a recent conversation from his home in East Nashville, near the bar where he collects characters, he discussed his devotion to instinct and craft, passion and compassion, hymns & fables & pretty much everything else on life’s fretboard.

Q: Your new record includes “Brenda,” an ode to Keith Richards and Mick Jagger and their engaging, enduring, crazy-assed marriage, as well as their commitment to keeping the feeling honest for six decades. What was the first Stones song that really made you admire their partnership?
A: It was “Little Queenie” and it was from the version on “Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!” I first heard it in the movie “Gimme Shelter.” I was a big Stones fan but it wasn’t until I made my first album that I understood what their arranging meant. The more I learned, the more I respected the gravity of their talents. It wasn’t just being lucky or cool; it was knowing a whole shitload of stuff, from writing songs to engineering to choosing photos. As a musician I feel the same way that a plumber or a doctor feels about a master of their trade. I’d say I admire the Stones and Bob Dylan more than anyone, especially when it comes to longevity.

Q: Would you say you’re more like Keith—you know, the devil-take-the-hindmost rebel? Or do you also have a little bit of Mick’s control-freak side–you know, the put-all-my-euros-in-a-basket mentality?
A: Well, I’m a very disorganized person. I have no idea how much money I have. My bills don’t come to my house; my accountant tells me I don’t spend much. But Mick Jagger is my Stone. Maybe it’s because Keith Richards is everybody else’s. I think Mick is just as cool and hip and artistic as Keith.
You know, I know their producer and he says their reputations are crap. He says they’re totally old black blues men with the soul of the earth at the core at their hearts. Both of them give lots of orders; neither one is out of control. They may be three hours late for the session–but they know they are.
I’ll tell you something else: Mick Jagger is not a control freak, either. I’ve seen him spend a total hour fucking with the guitar.

Q: That reminds me that Keith in his autobiography insists that Mick is a killer harmonica player, something that even ardent Stones fans overlook.
A: You know, I made up that song [“Brenda”} after reading Keith’s book [note: “Brenda” is one of Richards’ sarcastic nicknames for Jagger]. I mean, after you’ve [written] that someone you know so well has a small dick, well, you have to praise him for something, right? [laughs]. Although I also know [fabled ex-rock groupie] Pamela Des Barres and she says otherwise about the size of Mick’s dick. “That’s not true,” she says. “He’s a healthy gentleman.” [laughs]

Todd Snider at the Mauch Chunk Opera HouseQ: In “America’s Favorite Pastime” you absolutely nail the Dock Ellis I admired: the corn-rowed, drug-taking free spirit who was also a splendid pitcher. Do you have a favorite story about how the baseball world reacted to your tribute to Dock?
A: Well, I was invited to go on ESPN. And I got an autographed ball from Robert Earl Keen [another keen singer/songwriter/sociologist]. The thing I like about Dock Ellis is that a certain part of our society delegates people like him to a lesser status just because they do something unconventionally well—like throw a no-hitter on acid. You can take the worst part of a person and paste it up and not show the good sides.
I have a story about that. I was at a party at a restaurant owned by Phil Lesh [co-founder of the Grateful Dead]. Now, whenever Phil Lesh is there, there are going to be about 22 people in the parking lot whose lives are going to be destroyed by hallucinogenic drugs. But I’ll tell you something else: The guy who oversees this restaurant also took acid. And I’ll tell you something else: Bob Weir [another Dead co-founder] took acid, too, and you should see the gorgeous studio he has.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that you don’t have to be afraid of Dock Ellis just because he pitched a no-hitter on acid. I mean, he pitched a no-hitter on acid; that’s pretty remarkable from every angle. It’s not the drugs that make you live in a fuckin’ dumpster; you could live in a fuckin’ dumpster even without the drugs. Happiness doesn’t have favorites.

Q: Do you feel that you’re misrepresented as just a bare-footed, pot-smoking, free-wheeling hippie, that many folks overlook that you’re also a sneaky sociologist who tries to get under the skin of all sorts of people in all sorts of settings? I mean, in “Devil You Know” you get under the skin of a gang member who doesn’t want to work in a fast-food joint and in “Big Finish” you hit the bull’s-eye with the line “It ain’t the despair that gets you, it’s the hope.”
A: No, I like my reputation. I’ve earned it. I think it’s fair. I think it’s good in my line of work. If someone describes me, in any way, I say thank you; I don’t interrupt them or correct them. I feel like my job is not to ask people how to feel, but to feel. If they clap, I’ve done my job. If they boo, I’ve done my job.
I first thought about songwriting as a way of being understood. Then I learned that songwriting is a way of getting over wanting to be understood.

Q: I like to have three uninterrupted hours to write, some of which I may just spend thinking about writing. Do you need a certain kind of mental space to write? Do you hang out at Drifters, your neighborhood bar in East Nashville, specifically to tune into songwriting vibes?
A: I do the same thing every morning. I get up at 5, make a huge thing of coffee, put on music, and write for a few hours. Then I smoke some pot and edit or just look at what I’ve written. Then I smoke the rest of the pot and play guitar for one or two hours. Around 11 or noon I’m done working on songs, but I’ve given it a good five or so hours.
Then I return the phone calls. My phone is in the basement, so you can’t hear it; you have to look at it to see who’s called. Usually, it’s a call from my manager asking: “Do you want to play here? Do you want to play there?” I tell him: “Okay, I’ll take that one; okay, I’ll take that one.” Then I go to the bar and come back a little drunk.
Most of what I write that day will hit the floor. If it’s a good day, one line will sit there for a year or two until it makes its way into something. I mean, my next album is made up mostly of lines from the last three years.
What I have is a kind of mental disorder similar to what people have when they have to turn the light off five times. I could take medicine and I could quit. But I like it. And, you know, my wife isn’t complaining

Todd Snider at the Mauch Chunk Opera HouseQ: I’ve been interviewing musicians for 33 years—yes, I feel a bit like Jesus Christ–and I’ve never met a musician with more stories about chance encounters that morph into songs and more stories about accidentally hearing your songs played on CD by strangers. Do you feel like a tuning fork for tales?
A: I do feel like a freak magnet; my family has always said so. I also think that’s part of the job—as much as I feel I have to spend five hours a day working on the songs. If a guy with a weird nickname asks me to get into a car, I have to go and spend five hours with him. My job is to go into basements and find out things. It’s my job to be alive. If I had a metaphor, I’d say I’m supposed to fly into the sun and make notes.
I don’t feel bad that I’m an alcoholic or a druggie. I’m a part of that; I am that; I’m the guy your parents warned about. People party when they’re in pain, and I like to go there. I wouldn’t have come up with songs like “Moon Dog Tavern” if not for reverie.
In fact, I got [“America’s Favorite Pastime”] from sitting around in some person’s house. I was with Jeff Austin [singing mandolinist with the Yonder Mountain String Band] and it was one of them “You should come with us” deals. So we did and we ended up with somebody on acid. We were all laughing about that and within the joke me and Jeff said that the only job in the world where you show up on acid and you’re not fired would be ours.
And this one guy says, “Not true, man. There’s a pitcher who threw a no-hitter on acid.” And we say, “No way, man, c’mon.” And then he showed me about Dock Ellis on the Internet. And that’s when I said: “I’m on this; don’t worry. Next time you see me, I’ll have something.”

Q: Have you made any strange-bedfellow fans along the way, like Christian conservatives or New York bankers?
A: There’s a bunch of people I get to meet. Movie stars. Lots of rock stars–sometimes really, really big ones. I’d have to say my favorite is Jerry Jeff [Walker]. He’s just like my dad; I just love him. Whenever I’m around him, I feel like I don’t want to screw up.

Q: So what does Jerry Jeff think about your record of his tunes? It’s certainly not a tribute record; with that deep hippie groove it’s more like Todd Smokes Jerry Jeff.
A: He’s changed his mind several times. At first blush he said: “What the fuck, man! It sounds like a bunch of dope heads. You didn’t do any arranging.” And I told him: “We didn’t have arrangements. We did smoke dope. It’s just a hippie record, Jerry Jeff.” So I went to speak to his wife and 20 minutes later he says: “So alright, I’ve gotten my head around it. Man, I love it; I get it. It’s fuckin’ great.”
Two days ago he was driving in his car and he heard my version of “Derby Day” on the radio. He said he was moved. And I was moved because I think [“Derby Day”} is the best track on the record.
You know, yesterday he called our machine and just yodeled for five minutes.

Todd Snider at the Mauch Chunk Opera HouseQ: I know you’re not crazy about setting goals; your record label, after all, is called Aimless. But are there any things you’d like to do within reason within the next few years—like writing with Jerry Jeff?
A: Ooh, I’d love to do that. It could be a bit tricky, though. When we get together, I’m always asking him to teach me things–you know, “What about that turnaround in ‘Hill Country Rain’?” So the song sort of gets lost in there.
Actually, I’ve been pretty busy lately. I’ve got a record coming out this fall with a hippie band called The Hard Workin’ Americans. We play tunes by cool well-known songwriters like Kevin Gordon and cool underground songwriters like Hayes Carll. We’re doing a two-month tour next year. And I have a book coming out; even if I die, it comes out [laughs]. Da Capo [Press] came to my show and offered me a book deal and I said “Fuck yeah!” So I started typing and I did 90,000 words, which they wanted, and they liked it! There’s a story in there about Jerry Jeff’s balls. But it’s not as gross as it sounds.

Q: So, Todd, my 90-year-old English scone-baking mother wants to try a pot brownie before she dies—a goal she’s had since the late ’60s, when she saw a pot-brownie-baking happy hippie chick in the movie “I Love You, Alice B. Toklas.” Do you have any advice for her?
A: For sure. Do it and don’t have one–have two. One’s not the deal; two’s the deal. And I’m being serious. You have to eat two to get the deal going.
And then don’t panic. Ride the wave. Don’t be like the cop who ate pot brownies and called the ambulance and said “I’m dead.” So tell her you can’t die.

Todd Snider: The Scoop

The first song he couldn’t forget was “House of the Rising Sun,” minted by the Animals. “I couldn’t have even been in first grade when I first heard that,” says Snider. “The next one was [the Hollies’] ‘Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress.’ Although, actually, no, I think my absolutely first [influential] song was ‘Run Through the Jungle’ by CCR [Creedence Clearwater Revival]. That was the first one my dad played for me, my first memory of what rock ‘n’ roll was and turning it up way loud.”
He had a major-league jones for Tom Petty until people kept telling him his third album sounded like it was made by Tom Petty. Snider exorcised his embarrassment by including a joke about the comparison on his fourth album. He still thinks Petty is “maybe one of the finest writers of his generation.”
His songs about musicians include “The Ballad of the Kingsmen.” “Heavy Metal Has-Been” and “Talkin’ Seattle Grunge Rock Blues,” the tale of a band that becomes more popular the more the members refuse to play music or play the success game.
“Greencastle Blues,” his hilarious “Alice’s Restaurant”-like epic about his pot bust, includes a reference to a sheriff-fan who attended a Snider concert the night Snider was released from custody.
He was inspired to write “New York Banker” after his pal Rahm Emanuel—former White House chief of staff, current Chicago mayor—told him that investment bankers needed to be taken down.

Geoff Gehman is a former arts writer for The Morning Call in Allentown, Pa. His favorite Todd Snider lines have a Christian twist: “When I was a child I spoke as a child/I wish I could remember what I said”; “I’m broke as the ten commandments/Sometimes I’m harder to follow.” He can be reached at geoffgehman@verizon.net.

De(a)dication

This weekend, the Mauch Chunk Opera House in downtown Jim Thorpe features three bands with reputations for playing phenomenal concerts, that go long and late, and never fail to surprise.
 
Cabinet and East Bound Jesus take the stage this Friday, June 28. Then it’s Dead On Live on Saturday, 6/29 bringing us their flawless take on the music of the Grateful Dead. Both the Friday and Saturday shows are only $20. It’s a perfect way to enjoy summer.
 
The following is an interview with Marc Muller of Dead On Live, whose Jerry Garcia show is featured on Saturday, June 29. DOL is a group that plays note-for-note renditions of the amazing Dead catalog. And they’ll surprise you with stuff no one plays. Read on!
 

De(a)dication

A Q&A with Marc Muller of Dead On Live

By Geoff Gehman

Marc Muller is 52 going on 16 or 13. The multi-instrumental impresario gets to roll and rock back time every time he gigs with Dead On Live, an ensemble that plays fiercely faithful versions of records by the Grateful Dead, for which Muller has been eternally grateful for nearly 40 years. Up to 18 musicians, all cast by Muller, perform his transcriptions of the Dead’s every note and every mistake. It’s an act of faith that redefines high fidelity.

Muller launched DOL with a 2010 show devoted to the 1970 albums “Workingman’s Dead” and “American Beauty.” They were the Dead’s popular-music coming-out parties; they were also Muller’s coming-out parties with the Dead. Since then he’s shepherded concert duplications of later Dead LPs (the live “Europe ’72”) and solo records by Dead founders (the live “Jerry Garcia Band”). He calls the recreations “little eras, little chapters.”

Dead On Live at the Mauch Chunk Opera HouseOn June 29 the Mauch Chunk Opera House will become a Jerry Garcia shrine. Muller and his DOL mates will mix Dead classics co-written by Garcia (“Scarlet Begonias,” “Dire Wolf”) with non-Dead standards minted by some of Garcia’s musical heroes (Bob Dylan’s “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” Jimmy Cliff’s “The Harder They Come”). A much smaller, much looser group will feature violinist Gary Oleyar, who played in a band led by Vassar Clements, who fiddled with Garcia in Old and in the Way, a bluegrass juggernaut, and on the original recording of the Dead’s “Mississippi Half-Step.”
Q: You started Dead On Live after being invited to program anything you wanted for a 2010 concert at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, N.J. Why did you pick the Dead? What part of your soul did you need to feed?DOL expands Muller’s evolution as a sonic weaver. In college he earned pocket money by transcribing Steve Morse’s guitar parts for fellow students. Before forming DOL he performed “ridiculously accurate” recreations of Beatles LPs in a band with Glen Burtnik, a former Styx guitarist. For him, music is a grand tapestry and the Dead’s members are grand loomers.
During a recent phone conversation from his home in Neptune, N.J., Muller discussed the challenges of channeling the recorded Dead and dealing with Deadheads who think he’s deadening the Dead.

A: This project started by design and by accident. I thought it would be fun to pay tribute to the 40th anniversaries of “Workingman’s Dead” and “American Beauty.” They were released nine months apart, and I was given nine months to prepare the concert. There’s a nice symmetry there.
I started by transcribing “Friend of the Devil.” I thought: well, it’s edgy, okay, and it goes to a C chord. Then I noticed: What the hell is [bassist] Phil Lesh doing here? Most bassists, when you’re jamming with them, will do a descending line or an oom-pah. But Lesh is not just putting out G-to-C; he’s playing an odd syncopation, almost rootless. After I figured that out, I realized that without Phil’s part, you’re kind of just playing a song; without this bass line, why bother?
So I started to go deeper. I thought: well, I can figure out Bob Weir’s guitar part; why don’t I show my buddy how to play it? Before you knew it, I had three songs down. The first tune we rehearsed was “Uncle John’s Band.” The [original recorded] vocals are very irregular, which made them very difficult to reassemble and weave together. If you took 20 very knowledgeable Grateful Dead musicians and put them in a room and had them sing the melody to “Uncle John’s Band,” you’d get 20 different versions. I spent a lot of time following each [Dead] guy’s voice, singing each part measure by measure. When I figured out the vocals and dealt them out and we sang them together, it just blew us apart. That’s when I knew we had something special.
Talk about the circle coming around. It was like I opened up the closet, saw my favorite shoes from high school, tried them on, and said, “Man, they still feel great.”

Dead On Live at the Mauch Chunk Opera HouseQ: Why note-for-note renditions of Dead records? Why not, say, authentic performances with vintage equipment?
A: I didn’t want just another jam band that does Dead songs. I didn’t want to be like Dark Star Orchestra, which likes playing in the style of the Dead. I really wanted to pay tribute to how I remember the Dead’s records sounded when I first heard them, when they first became part of my life. I still remember “Brown-Eyed Women” from “Europe ’72”; when I sing it, I remember the melody from that album. I think that many Dead fans share those original feelings from those original records. They remember “Uncle John’s Band” from the turntable; they remember “Mama Tried” from the turntable. When they hear that version they’ve been carrying around for so many years played live, in front of them, it knocks them for a loop—hopefully in a good way.

Q: I’m especially fascinated that you copy the Dead’s recorded mistakes, even the loss of a quarter beat in “Cumberland Blues.” Man, that’s not just fidelity, that’s high fidelity!
A: It’s the same thing in “St. Stephen,” which we’ll be doing in the next show, which will have ’60s stuff. On the record half of the [Dead] is playing in four, and the other half is playing in three, and they crescendo and crash in the same place.
So I told my musicians that you have to mute one side, and count it as one-two-three, one-two-three—a waltz—and you have to mute the other side and count it as one-two-three-four. It’s pretty funny, actually.
All that “Europe ’72” stuff is so well choreographed and symmetrical, so beautiful and majestic. It came together when [the Dead’s members] were all young and full of fire. You can’t believe they were playing as high as they could be [laughs].

Q: What do you tell Dead fans who think you’re deadening the Dead by not changing the tunes night to night, the way the Dead did in concert? I’m thinking of that Deadhead who posted you on http://www.jambands.com: “The magic is in the moment, not recreating a moment that no longer exists.”

Dead On Live at the Mauch Chunk Opera HouseA: It’s an odd conundrum. People want you to sound like the band, but they will bust on you for trying to sound like the band. What I’m saying is that there’s no way to play “Friend of the Devil” bad. What I’m doing is honoring the feeling of the original records, that when I perform “Europe ’72,” I feel like a 16-year-old again. I’m like an actor saying Shakespeare’s lines, or a musician playing a Mozart piece. When I’m playing that long solo at the end of “Tennessee Jed,” I feel as majestic as the song. I know I’m just acting and miming. But I’m there, inside the song.
I’ve gotten some incredible emails along the lines of: “My son couldn’t be there to watch the Dead in ’73, but last night he was in ’73 with me.” That’s the sort of stuff that makes you feel great, that makes all this hard work worthwhile.
Actually, the current show, the Garcia show, is much looser, much more open. I play Jerry’s pedal-steel part in “Dire Wolf” dead on, basically. But some of our best moments are when we improvise and have fun and just see what bubbles up.

Q: What do you think of changing the term from “tribute band” to “tributary”—a body of water fed by, inspired by, the source?
A: I don’t like “tribute band.” “Tributary” is a nice spin. It reminds me of something Jerry said: Making a studio record is like putting a ship in a bottle, and playing the record live is like taking the ship out of the bottle and putting it out to sea. We’re doing something that hasn’t been done since these records came out—on a bigger ship, in a bigger bottle.

Q: What do you appreciate about Garcia as a singer that you didn’t appreciate as much before DOL? I love his voice the way I love the voices of the Band’s trinity of Rick Danko, Richard Manuel and Levon Helm. It’s earthy and ethereal, smiling and heart-breaking, a watercolor sunrise/sunset.
A: He’s not an accomplished singer, but, man, he’s an effective singer. I’m not an accomplished singer, either; I couldn’t do a Beatles show and sing Paul [McCartney]. But when I dial in my voice to recreate Jerry’s mournful, beautiful voice on “Stella Blue,” well, it just gives me chills.

Q: What do you appreciate about Garcia as a guitarist that you didn’t appreciate as much before DOL? He had such a malleable, magnetic sound: nicely weighted, effortlessly spacious, a sort of bar-room bluegrass.
A: I really appreciate his distinctive sound, the way you can hear just one note and you just know it’s him. If you put a $50 Sears guitar in Jerry’s hands and he played one note, you’d still know it’s him. To me, that’s beautiful; to me, that’s the ultimate success.
Actually, I could teach a pretty good class on Jerry’s development as a guitarist. You can hear when somebody told him about the modes; you can hear when he began playing the kind of pentatonics Dickey Betts plays in the Allman Brothers. Jerry’s solos from 1971-’72 are more melodic, more like he’s singing them. Then in ’73, ’74 he’s playing more scales; he’s getting scale-lier–if that’s a word. In fact, what I thought would be the toughest solos—in “Weather Report (Part 2)”—turned out to be fairly easy once I figured out they were just a scale run. It’s just something I’ve been practicing since I was a kid.

Q: What do you appreciate about Garcia as a songwriter that you didn’t appreciate as much before you began really digging into his tunes? One of my favorite songs of his is “China Cat Sunflower”; to me it sounds like a sunflower blossoming.
A: His ability for melody. I love the melody of “China Cat,” although I don’t know what the hell they’re talking about in the lyrics. My favorite [Dead] song to play, though, is “Jack Straw,” which is like the ultimate Jerry and Bob [Weir] number. Put on headphones and listen to what Bob is playing on guitar in the middle and what Jerry is playing on guitar over there and what [keyboardist] Keith Godchaux is playing over there—a New Orleans honkytonk mixture. That is the biggest teamwork song for Jerry and Bob; they’re writing and performing so together. That’s just a beautiful tapestry. That’s the bible

Q: Have you had any memorable encounters with Dead alumni?
A: A few years back I sat in with Steve Kimock [former guitarist in such Dead spinoffs as The Other Ones] and Donna Jean Godchaux [former Dead vocalist]. There I was, standing next to her singing “Eyes of the World” and “Scarlet Begonias,” which she sang at the first concert I attended [in 1973]. I told her about [Dead On Live] and she seemed interested, and maybe confused: “Wow, that sounds hard: I could never do that.”
At our last gig at the Stone Pony [the fabled club in Asbury Park, N.J.] our emcee was Sam Cutler, who was the Dead’s manager during the whole period I’m doing, from 1970 to 1975. That’s when he was the man; that’s when he was sailing the ship. He was sitting backstage with us, telling stories off the cuff, and we were listening in amazement. He said the Watkins Glen concert [“Summer Jam,” a 1973 gig with the Dead, the Allman Brothers Band and the Band for nearly 600,000 at a racetrack in upstate New York] was held at Watkins Glen because [Band keyboardist] Richard Manuel was always sick and didn’t want to travel [from his home in upstate New York]. So Sam, who was running the show, brought the festival to Richard Manuel.

Q: How far can you take Dead On Live? Are you planning to venture into ’80s material like “Touch of Gray”?
A: Actually, we’ll play “Touch of Gray” during our Halloween concert at the Count Basie Theatre. The first set will have “Slipknot,” “Help on the Way,” “Franklin’s Tower.” We’ll be covering the first double-drumming period, when Mickey Hart joined the band. The second set will be a nonstop dance party: “Estimated Prophet,” “If I Had My Way,” “Shakedown Street,” “Touch of Gray,” every Bobby [Weir] rock ‘n’ roller, every Garcia uptempo [tune]. We’re calling it the Halloween double-drummer dance party.
You know, it’s a tough ship I’m sailing. I’m never going to be a millionaire doing this. I would like to leave our Northeast quadrant and take our show to San Francisco and Colorado—the garden–and see what they think. But it’s a big, expensive package and I don’t know how to do it.
I spend hours trying to get things done; sometimes it seems like working against gravity itself. But when it works, it’s really big fun. I’ll keep doing it as long as people come. [Pauses and laughs] Maybe. As long as it doesn’t kill me in the end.

Marc Muller: The Scoop

He attended his first Grateful Dead concert, and his first concert, in September 1973 at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., a favorite Dead venue. He was chaperoned by an older brother who owned a VW Bug and who turned him onto the Beatles.

His first truly influential musician was guitarist Jeff Beck, whom he first heard live in 1979 at the Palladium in Manhattan, sitting in a sixth-row center seat with a scalped ticket. “I was this little teen-age Deadhead with his Dead T-shirt and hole-y jeans. When Beck played “Space Boogie,” I just stood there and my jaw dropped and I went ‘Oooohhhh!’ After that, I found my way to all the classics: Miles Davis, Jaco Pastorius, Clifford Brown.”

His Dead On Live cast includes drummer Joe Chirco, who performs in a band led by Donna Jean Godchaux, an ex-Dead singer.
In 1995-2004 he played steel guitars in Shania Twain’s group.

His latest solo record, “Topsky,” contains “Southern-fried” jazz instrumentals featuring Victor Wooten, the hyper-imaginative bassist. The title is a word that Muller heard endlessly during rehearsals with Twain’s band. “Play it again, guys,” said Mutt Lange, then Twain’s producer-husband. “From the top—topsky.”

Geoff Gehman is a former arts writer for The Morning Call in Allentown. He attended two Grateful Dead concerts at the old Spectrum in Philadelphia, the last one in March 1995, nearly five months before Garcia died. He can be reached at geoffgehman@verizon.net

Stretching 26 miles from downtown Jim Thorpe to White Haven, Pennsylvania, is an ancient rail bed that affords much opportunity for cyclists of all levels. Consisting of only a small portion of the D&L Trail, the Lehigh Gorge Rail Trail or “The Gorge” as I like to call it is a prime destination and a key element of the Jim Thorpe cycling community.

Bicycling Jim Thorpe PA Being a local to Jim Thorpe and an endurance mountain bike racer, my connection to The Gorge is very spiritual yet undeniably simplistic. The Gorge serves as a critical link to get me from Point A to Point B on an extensive, all day road ride and as the last spin back to town with a quick dip in the river after a 40+ mile trail ride. The Gorge also serves me as a place to recover from a long race, or to pack a picnic basket for a gentle cruise to my favorite swimming hole.

The Gorge has all the essential amenities for a great day on two wheels. With no residential development, The Gorge is a true piece of Pennsylvania wilderness and an amazing place to view wildlife. Plus with the lack of automobile access, the fresh air is unbeatable!

Don’t just take my word for it. Explore The Gorge and unleash its wonder on your next cycling adventure!

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