Angular banjos sound good to me
Another Memorial Day, another mea culpa.
Yea, ghost of Bix Beiderbecke and old friend, I have sinned. I have trashed the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee year after year, based on some ancient resentments centered around a sadistic dentist, with an office filled with clown portraits he’d painted, who liked to perform root canals sans adequate anesthesia, to the tune of cranked-up revivalist Dixieland jazz. Between this Faubourg Marigny Mengele and a rather overbearing and now-long-deceased Dixieland jazz pedant with Godzilla breath and animated nose hairs who’d wander from his ivory tower at a public radio station a few miles south of here to periodically berate and terrorize a lowly young record-store clerk, I let myself grow to publicly malign and loathe an entire genre. For years.
Now, Dixieland ain’t all that bad. Louis Armstrong’s Hot Fives and Sevens were top-notch, and Kid Ory’s bands were godhead-hot, too, and even some of the revivalist stuff is pretty gosh-darned snappy. Or at least it’s preferable to Kenny G.
But what used to be called the Dixieland Jubilee is a lot more cosmopolitan these days, and this must be noted. Yes, there’s still plenty of parasol-dance tooty-toot for the blue-rinse set, but today’s Jubilee is booking a much wider spectrum. For example, somewhere along the line, they started roping in some pals of mine, players who cut their teeth in smoky blues bars rather than the pizza parlors of yore.
Now, how did guys like Leo Boots and Southside Shuffle get hustled into this boondoggle? Geez, I used to get into trouble with some of these guys. Same goes for Catfish and his Crawdaddies. A gander at the schedule for this coming long weekend’s lineup—with the above names, along with Johnny “Guitar” Knox, Jimmy Pailer, Marshal Wilkerson, Mick Martin, Linda Bracamonte and even Jeff Watson of Night Ranger fame (you may not be able to rock in America anymore these days, but you sure can sing the blues)—makes the $100 festival badge look pretty attractive. Not that I can afford that, but you might. (www.sacjazz.com)
I’ve been digging on Catfish and the Crawdaddies’ 2007 album I’m So Glad, which features a few old buddies from Tower Records, this past weekend. Frontman Ray “Catfish” Copeland once ran Tower’s Broadway store (now R5 Records), and multi-instrumentalist Phil Minas (drums, guitar, bass, organ) managed several locations. In their spare time, they’ve been playing hybridized blues for years, and this isn’t the first time the Crawdaddies have played the Jubilee—Copeland’s been gently ribbing me to knock it off with the Jubilee bashing for a while, saying that the lineup now includes ragtime, zydeco, Western swing and other barbecue-friendly forms. He’s right.
I’m So Glad is all over the map, covering tunes from such diverse sources as Skip James, Roy Acuff, Bob Dylan, Ivory Joe Hunter, Willie Dixon and Sleepy John Estes, and featuring a passel of fine band originals. Now, this 12-song set may not be Howlin’ Wolf braying from the crypt, but does have a percolating vibe that makes it a natural for blasting at outdoor cookouts, which may have been the band’s intention (www.catfish-crawdaddies.com).
At a recent cafe gig, transplanted Philadelphia folk-country-rock singer Kate Gaffney handed me an advance copy of her new Barry McGuire-produced album, The Coachman, which will be out on local label Dig Music around September. More on that closer to the release date, but Gaffney showed off a few tunes from the disc, tunes that displayed a pretty huge leap forward artistically. On several songs, Gaffney was backed by jazz singer Grady McKay, who’s also playing the Jubilee (www.kategaffney.com).
So see you frantically Charlestoning down Front Street with the other hopped-up geriatrics. I’ll be the one in the Hawaiian shirt.