Part Trois…


I had all of Monday off to relax and get acquainted with my surroundings. I took a walk to the “Arc de Triomphe” and shot some photos. It’s an amazing structure to see in person after seeing it so many photos and videos over the years. The stone work and carving are massive but I was also struck by how this is really just a monument to war, oppression and death. It’s fascinating as a structure and for historical relevance but I couldn’t stop thinking about all of the violence it celebrated.

I was able to pick up free wi-fi at a nearby McDonald’s and check my email, facebook etc. Our hotel charges a decent amount for access and I’ve been trying to save my money, although today (Thursday) I broke down and got the three day package so I can be connected until the end of the trip. I was still feeling a little tired from the jet lag so I returned to the room to read, rest and recuperate. It feels like I’ve been going non-stop for the last few months and having some down time in a quiet room was just what the doctor ordered. My father had given me a few Cormac McCarthy books for Christmas and I started reading ‘Outer Dark’ to take my mind off of things.

Monday was James Anderson’s birthday and I received a message on a slip of paper under my door that I was invited to go out and celebrate with the gang if I was down. The note said meet in the lobby at 10pm. At 10:55 pm Thornetta, James, Simo, Skeeto, Keith and myself headed out to the Latin Quarter in search of a few clubs that had been recommended to us by our good friend and fellow world traveler Brett Lucas (who plays guitar with Bettye LaVette among other artists.) We initially planned to take the Metro/subway over but were faced with a very long line to buy tickets after climbing down the stairs. One question for the French metro system repeated itself in my mind: Why is there only one ticket machine? Seriously. There was plenty of room for more machines and they had ONE machine with a ‘que’ of about 40 people behind it and things were moving SLOWLY. After waiting 10 minutes with little advancement in our position we decided to take a cab. We found a mini-van cab that could accommodate the whole group and headed out into the night.

We checked out one of the clubs that Brett had recommended but there was no music playing when we arrived. We were told there was a boogie woogie piano player and his group who would be on later. Cover was 12 Euros per person so we decided to keep on moving. We walked through the narrow crowded streets full of souvenir shops, sidewalk cafe’s, piano bars and Gyros vendors.

We stopped at a little pizza place, order two pies and beverages and toasted James on his birthday. After this refueling we set off in search of more music, however the places we went to didn’t have anything going on (this was a Monday night.) Not sure what we were going to do we walked by another bar called “Aux Trois Mailletz” and heard a young woman singing along with a piano player. They sounded good so we decided to listen. We were told there was live music in the basement so we headed downstairs. We descended into what looked like catacombs with arched ceilings made of many small stones. There was no cell phone reception down here. This place had been here for awhile, and Keith later found out that John Coltrane and other jazz greats had played here back in the day. The house band sounded good but there was a 20 Euro cover charge per person. While we wanted to stay and listen we all felt it was a little bit too extravagant a cost. Luckily ‘Detroit Hustles Harder’ and after some negotiation and explanation of who we were and what we were doing the club waived it’s cover charge and let us in as long as we order some drinks (done and done son…) We entered the small, warm room and sat at the front of the stage with three of us on each side of a long table which went down the center of the room. There were also tables along the side walls full of couples enjoying the music and libations. There was a young girl in a black dress vigorously  dancing on the long table and a great band laying down serious afro-pop grooves as well as a number of different singers giving it their all. It looks like we finally found a spot we could hang!

We ordered our drinks and enjoyed the show. The band consisted of bass, guitar, keyboard, sax/violin, percussion and a drummer playing (slight gasp of horror) V-drums!

These guys were good and it was a pleasure to listen to them. It appeared some of them were from Senegal and they had a warm welcoming spirit about them that reminded me of bass player/singer Pathe Jassi. The material they played ranged from really great grooves to some very passionate and slow ballads. Many of the songs were in French (surprise!) and it reminded me of how strong the cabaret culture is here. The singers performed in a round robin style (there must have been at least 10 of them) often joining in with each other to either duet or take the next verse and they encouraged the audience to sing, clap and dance along with each number. Eventually James Anderson got up and sat in on the congas and soon after James Simonson sat in on the 5-string Music Man bass. Our homeboys represented fiercely and Simo eventually ripped an amazing solo over a three chord ‘Fela’ type of groove that had the audience and the band howling for more.

Thorn and I later got up to join the band and when we returned to our table we learned that our 92 Euro tab (…seriously ??!!!) had been taken care of by the club owner! BONUS! We eventually performed “Use Me” and “Please Send me Someone to Love” around 2:30 am as an entire group along with the house guitar player. Keith Kaminski unfortunately did not have his saxophone with him so he listened from the audience. This turned out to be important because he was able to inform us that the house engineer  turned us down once we started and didn’t give us the same mix treatment as the house band (are we noticing a trend here?) Skeeto was not happy to have to play the V-drums and I don’t blame him. From where I was sitting at the keyboard it sounded like bad Roland Sound Canvas drum samples and it really took some of the fire and energy out of the sound we’re used to hearing. (I guess they must get complaints from the neighbors about volume) Still, we put it over and the crowd seemed to enjoy what we did (though to be honest it was totally different from anything they had heard all night.) The night wound down and we left to catch a cab back to the hotel. We were unable to find another mini-van capable of transporting us all together so we had to take two cabs. Upon returning to the hotel once again I couldn’t sleep so I ended up grabbing breakfast at 6:30am and then I finally was ready to fall hit the pillow and crashed out around 8:00 am.

I slept most of Tuesday. We were to be in the club to set up at 6:30pm. They had a new portable Hammond B3 with a Leslie 122 for me as well as my preferred keyboard the Nord Stage 88 which was plugged into a Peavey Keyboard amp which rested upon the Leslie. It’s like the keyboard equivalent of a Marshall stack! I’ve played the new Hammond once before when I was at the Jakarta Jazz Festival with Harvey Mason and Perry Hughes in 2009. It’s a nice piece of gear and it sounds very close to the original especially when put through a Leslie speaker. I don’t think they’ve nailed the exact sound of the Chorus/Vibrato (it’s subtle but I can hear it) and again I think the keyboard is too stiff but it was a lot better than the last organ I played. Once again the volume pedal had a Leslie switch on but at least there was an additonal switch mounted on the left hand side of the organ. The drums were behind one of those plastic/acrylic drum barrier things which I guess is necessary when you have a really loud drummer but isn’t so necessary with a master of subtle dynamics such as Skeeto Valdez. It seemed to be the house policy to have it up there though so we made do. We weren’t allowed to make any ‘noise’ during set up so we went to grab dinner in the employee cafeteria and returned to sound check at 9:00 pm. We got a decent mix and hit the stage at 10:15pm. Our show went well and the audience and staff seemed to dig it. One minor complaint. Our breaks are SUPER short as in 15 minutes. We play three sets. The first is an hour, the second is 75 minutes and the third is 45 minutes. 15 minutes goes by SUPER quick and it’s been quite an adjustment for us all to get used to. You’ve got barely enough time to hit the WC, grab a drink and relax a moment. But it does make the night go by quicker. I took a hot bath to relax after the show and hit the pillow.

I awoke early again and grabbed another delicious breakfast while reading the newspaper. I decided to set out on a walk after finishing the McCarthy book and headed off down the Champs Elysees. It was a beautiful day that got very warm and I took in the sights and sounds of the afternoon.  I have to say I’m really in awe of the amazing stone work and detail that exists on so many of the building in Paris. I walked passed the Grand Palais and through beautiful gardens until I eventually ended up at the Louvre. The Louver is stunning in it’s size and full of intricate carving and stone work on just about every square inch of this massive, sprawling structure. I got my ticket for 10 Euros and headed off into the galleries. I saw many great works of art and got within 20 feet of the Mona Lisa. I proceeded to check out a little over half of the museum. I really enjoyed the more ‘primitive pieces’ of art as opposed to thousands of paintings and sculpture of war and religious imagery which seems to be the main focus of most European art. (Not that I don’t respect the technique and skill required to create them, but it’s really not my cup of tea.) The museum is massive and I don’t think that you could really even check out the whole place in the course of one day. I walked around in a state of amazement thinking ‘this is unreal, I can barely believe how much art and history is here.’ I had been walking around for the last five hours and my legs and feet we’re starting to let me know it was time to get some rest. After studying a map and noting the similarities to the New York subway I ended up hopping on the metro and got off at the stop nearby our hotel saving myself another 4 mile walk back. I met up with Simo, Skeeto, Thorn, Keith and James in the employee cafeteria and then took a short nap after dinner.

We started our Wednesday night show to an even bigger crowd than the night before and proceeded to give the audience a great show even getting some of them on to their feet and dancing. After the show I returned to my room to rest and got a few hours of sleep but it seems that my body clock is now set to wake up at 7:30 am so I was up and started to get ready for the day. I was able to pop on a free wi-fi network that popped up for a little while and discovered I had an overdraft in my bank account that was caused by a bounced check from a gig I did a few weeks ago. I’ve sent the offending check writer a message about it and we’ll see what happens, the ball is in his court.

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Trip to France Part Deux…

PART Deux….

The next afternoon we headed over to the Palais Littoral for our soundcheck. There were some problems with the electrical in the building which caused some bizarre buzzing and forced James Simonson to use the Mark Bass amplifier through the SVT instead of the preferred Ampeg amp. The Hammond they had for me upon closer inspection was a handyman special in a home made case. The key action was very stiff and uneven and the organ made a loud buzzing noise when I changed the volume from normal to soft. The Leslie fast/slow switch was attached to a moveable volume pedal (which we had to tape down) instead of mounted on the left where it normally is. I’m not a fan of this configuration. I’ve played organs a few times that were set up this way and it’s useable if I’m playing bass lines with my left hand or foot but I really prefer to ave the option to change speeds with my left hand. It’s too easy to “foul tip” and change speeds accidentally plus. Later on during a solo one of the notes on the top manual got stuck somehow even though the keys looked normal and I had to play the rest of the show on the bottom manual. Getting a decent back-line Hammond is really a crap shoot. The Nord Stage EX they had for me was the compact model with 76 unweighted keys. This was also a drag because I use this for my piano/Wurlitzer parts and it’s difficult to play blues/boogie piano licks on non-weighted keys because there’s no resistance to work against plus it lacked the full 88 note range. I made it work because that’s what you do as a professional but it looks like I need to make a few updates to the rider. That being said, I’ve definitely been in situations where the back-line has been worse.

Once we finally got all of the technical details out of the way we were able to get a good mix on stage. We had dinner upstairs again and I admit I was disappointed by this meal. It consisted of rice and chicken with a cream sauce and it was marginal at best. I was craving vegetables or a salad because I was quickly approaching  “starch overload”.

We hit the stage at 8:30 pm and were greeted with polite applause. We had a large attentive crowd but it’s certainly a different vibe than playing to an American audience. They were much quieter and reserved than we are used to. I jokingly wondered if they had put glue on the chairs because despite Thornetta’s attempts to get them up and to “dance away their blues” they remained firmly in their seats. We did receive a large round of applause afterward and we were called back for an encore so all in all I think we had a good performance. After we finished there was a band who put on a musical tribute to the late blues rocker Gary Moore.

Most of us (except Bassett and Mark) decided to go to the jam session after the concert. This was held in a small club a few minutes from the venue. There was a band setting up inside when we arrived. It took a long time for the music to get started. Skeeto and I hung outside for awhile because the club was getting packed, hot, and loud. Keith got up and sat in with the band first. Later Thornetta and Simo got up and killed it. I eventually sat in on the keys and it was here I realized that the guitar player had a serious “it’s all about me” attitude, was not gracious, and had no intention of being shown up by any Americans. (He told Keith that one tune they were going to play was in ‘B’ but it was actually in ‘F’…nice.)  It might not be visible to an audience member but there are many subtle (and not so subtle) vibes and cues given off by musicians to each other on stage and this guy was clearly giving off an “ass clown” vibe. We played a shuffle in G and he kept telling us to turn down while he took chorus after chorus of marginal guitar gymnastics. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some major league guitar talent (Hiram Bullock and Perry Hughes to name two) so it takes more than playing guitar behind your head to impress me. After we finished Rutherford suggested to the guitarist that I sing a tune (We really wanted to play something that wasn’t a ‘I IV V lumpy de lump’) but my microphone was off and he ignored our request and brought up two other guitar players who did (surprise!) a slow blues in A. Once again the spirit of selfishness reared it’s ugly head as they made sure they were the only soloists on the tune.  I had enough at this point and walked off the stage after the tune ended. The experience was disappointing from my point of view and I was glad when we all finally got in the van and headed back to the hotel. I’m not sure whether it was the jet lag, the distasteful behavior of the musicians or the couple of cokes I had late at night but unfortunately I couldn’t fall asleep. I tossed and turned in the small bed (which my feet hung off of) until the sun rose.

We had an 8:15am Lobby call to catch a 9:45 am train to Paris. Mark, Keith, Simo, Bassett and I were in one train car while the rest of the group was with Didier in another. We tried to get some sleep on the way to Paris but it’s hard to rest in an upright seat with little leg room. We finally arrived, exited the train and made our way towards the street. We crowded into two vans set off for the hotel hotel. On the way we passed the Moulin Rouge and a street full of small music stores (one was called “bass maniac”.) We came around the ‘Arc de Triomphe’ and were soon at Le Meridien (our hotel.) The rooms were not ready for us and we had to wait a few hours in the lobby. I had been up for way over 24 hours at and many of the group had only gotten a few hours sleep. We tried to make the best of it but it was not an ideal situation. I finally got into my room about 3:30 pm and laid down. I was much happier with this room because it had a king sized bed and I was able to fully stretch out without hanging off the end. I was exhausted and slept until 10:30 pm. Eventually I got up and met up with Keith, Rutherford and Skeeto and we took a small stroll around the surprisingly quiet streets of Paris. I returned to the room after grabbing a small salad (yes!) in the employee cafeteria, and fell asleep again. I awoke around 7:30 am and headed down to the hotel’s amazing breakfast spread. I had fresh squeezed orange juice, coffee, and a delicious ‘made while you wait’ omelet. I’m going to be enjoying a week of great breakfasts for certain.

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Trip to France: Day 1

I’m on tour right now with not only a great group of musicians but some of my closest friends. It’s a veritable “super group” of Detroit based musicians including Johnnie Bassett , Thornetta Davis-Anderson and her husband James Anderson, Keith Kaminski, Mark Byerly, John Rutherford, Skeeto Valdez and James Simonson. I’ve been making music with these folks for many years and it’s a rare treat to be on the road with what I consider to be my musical family.

We left Detroit on Thursday September 22nd via US Airways and flew to North Carolina where we had a few hour layover. Our flight to Paris left around 4:50 pm. I passed the time by watching “Thor” and playing Bejeweled on the in-flight entertainment center. The six hour flight actually passed by pretty quickly. I’ve found that if I can keep myself distracted and not looking at the clock constantly I’m less anxious to get out of “the flying jail cell.” I also enjoyed a nice glass of Cognac after dinner which put me in a nice mellow mood.

The plane touched down in the darkness and I breathed a sigh of relief. We got through customs and picked up all of our luggage without incident. We had a brief moment of anxiety when we did not see anyone holding up a sign with our names on it after walking out of the baggage claim. It turns out our drivers had gone to the wrong terminal. After a quick phone call we were assured they were on there way and they found us shortly thereafter and loaded us and our luggage into two mini vans and station wagon. We drove about three hours to the town of Grand-Synthe near Dunkirk where we are to stay two nights and play at the Bay-Carr Blues Festival.

We arrived at our hotel tired and ready to get some rest. I checked into my very small but comfortable room and after spending a few minutes trying to figure out how to get the storm shutter to close to facilitate darkness I got some much needed sleep. I awoke around 6:30pm and got ready to go the venue where we to play the next night to get some dinner and hear some music.

We were served a delicious meal including a baked potato and chili con carne with some excellent French bread with some delicious beer and wine (in a box!) I sat with Johnnie, Thornetta and her husband James and our contact Didier and enjoyed Johnnie’s stories about playing in Detroit in the old days. After dinner we went to check out the venue. It’s a very large building with many rooms and it host many different events and activities. There was a belly-dancing class going on next door to the dining room area. The main room with the stage was very large and sounded surprisingly good, I’m sure in part due to the extremely large curtain that covered one of the sides of the room. It really cut down on the sound reflections. The first band we saw was the James Hunter band and they sound really good. I was glad to see they had a chopped Hammond C3 with Leslie and a Nord StageEX on stage. After they finished we watched Preston Shannon do his thing with the guitar backed by a group of French musicians. They opened up their show with the classic “Sissy Strut.” It’s good to know that some things never change….

We were considering going to a late night jam session but decided to head back to the hotel and get some rest. But you know the saying “There ain’t no party like a Detroit party…” and after we learned that the hotel bar was closed we decided to hang out in John Rutherford’s room (he got the suite) which had a window which opened out to a small terrace. We climbed out the window and enjoyed the cool night air while James Simonson played us groovy tunes from his iPhone through a small pair of speakers. Life is good.

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