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Last week was an incredible musical journey! Over the course of four days, I played 11 performances with 7 different ensembles. The Central PA Festival of the Arts was blossoming all over State College, and in addition to my regular gigs there were six festival gigs. By the time the Triple A Blues Band finished on Sunday afternoon, I was exhausted but also exhilarated by the experience.
GSB PeoplesChoice 2014 23b


That joy was soon tempered by sorrow, as I found out Monday that Lotsa Poppa, the great Blues singer from Atlanta GA, had passed away early that day.

LotsaPoppa smiling

I played keyboards behind Poppa for the last 6 years I lived in Atlanta, and he was without a doubt the best entertainer I’ve ever worked with. Using his powerful voice, he not only sang his heart out but told many stories as part of his show, a show that contained a lot of language that, well, as he put it:
“I’m a grown man. If I wanna say ‘shit’, I say ‘shit,’ I don’t say ‘doo-doo.’ SHIIIIIT!!”
There were quite a few references to the female form in his show, too.

These stories were all humorous, and despite having heard them hundreds of times, we band members still laughed along with the audience, an audience that he commanded everywhere we played. When Lotsa Poppa was on stage, everybody from the front to the back of the room was paying attention – a feat that few club performers can pull off consistently.


Strokin’ – Live at Blind Willie’s

He had a big voice, a big smile, and a big presence. His moniker “400 Pounds of Soul” was not an exaggeration. As he once told a policeman who pulled him over in his Cadillac for not wearing a seatbelt,
“Wear a seatbelt? Does it look like I’m gonna fall out of the car?”

08-Poppa&31Cord

He was born Julius High Jr. in Atlanta GA in 1935, baptized by Martin Luther King Jr, and sang in the Ebeneezer Baptist Church choir from the time he was 5 until his mid-20s. He began touring as “Little Julius” and recorded several singles in the 1960′s. There are links to them at www.LotsaPoppa.com.
While in Chicago with Sam Cooke and Dinah Washington, he was given the nickname “Lotsa Poppa,” and continued performing until 2004 when ill health landed him in a nursing home.

Lotsa Poppa & The Atlanta Heat Blues Revue at the Atlanta BBQ & Blues Festival

Lotsa Poppa & The Atlanta Heat Blues Revue at the Atlanta BBQ & Blues Festival


The band I was in at the time, the Atlanta Heat Blues Revue, began backing up Poppa in 1995, and continued to do so until his retirement in 2004. My last gig with them was New Years Eve 2001, after which I moved back to Pennsylvania.

In addition to the gigs, performing with Poppa was also a big part of my courtship with Christy, my wife. She loves the Blues, and she loved Poppa and the great times we had playing around Atlanta, notably Darwin’s and TTurning (sic) Point in Marietta, the Peckerhead Brewery in Douglasville, The Newnan Riders Club, the Auburn Avenue Elks Club, and of course, Blind Willie’s. We’ve been to Atlanta several times since moving away, and always stopped to visit Poppa in the nursing home, remembering to bring a few Planter’s Peanut Bars. He would sing a couple songs, and talk about the show posters on his wall.

His 400 pounds melted away over the last decade, but his soul lives on, and he leaves an indelible mark in the memories of the many musicians who played with him over the years, and the audiences who adored him. As he joins the Heavenly Choir, the Angels may welcome him with a bit of trepidation, but they’ll be laughing along with the rest of us soon enough.

We love you, Poppa – sing on >>>> If You Don’t Know Me By Now

Christy, JT, and Lotsa Poppa: New Years' Eve, 1999

Christy, JT, and Lotsa Poppa: New Years’ Eve, 1999

Dance Little Sister Dance

Andy and I recorded this at the Billtown Blues Festival in June, and you can hear us do it again this week at the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts in State College.

When and where you might ask? Both Thursday and Friday afternoons 4:30-5:30 in front of the Municipal Building on Allen Street.

And you can also hear it like it I recorded it, with the Zeropoint Horns and Pure Cane Sugar singing: The Denicats play it 1:30 Friday afternoon on the Festival Shell Stage. One more time! Yes, The Gill Street Band will also play it at Peoples’ Choice Festival in Boalsburg on Saturday 6:00-8:00.

So, your little sister can be dancing all week!

Happy Independence Day, USA!

Mixing It Up….

Last weeks gigs certainly ran the variety gamut:

Wednesday’s gig was a Bike Night with the rock/country band AC Express, Thursday I played solo and hosted Trivia Night at the Governors’ Pub, Friday was a long-standing gig with Triple A Blues band, Saturday’s was a trio gig in Sunbury PA with Ann Kerstetter and her guitar player, Sunday was a huge party at Brookmere winery in Belleville Pa with me and Tommy Wareham trading tunes via dueling pianos.

And Monday I helped commemorate the 150th anniversary of Memorial Day at Boalsburg Cemetery by setting up the PA system so our esteemed dignitaries – US Representative Glenn Thompson, State Representative Kerry Benninghoff, and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett – could share in honoring our military dead, and one of our living – Boalsburg’s own Margaret Tennis.

And Tuesday is a day of rest? No – mow the grass, give piano lessons, work on some new posters, write a new blog post, take Ginger to the vet, etc., etc., etc.

Heartbleed – What passwords to change

As far as I can tell, my identity has not been compromised, my credit cards haven’t been maxed out, and my bank account has not been drained. I’m just not that interesting or lucrative a mark for the cyber criminals, at least not yet.

So I haven’t been in panic mode about the latest internet security flaw – Heartbleed – but I have been paying attention. And this IVPN blog post has the most sensible advice I’ve found so far. Check it out and change the passwords that need to be changed.

Heartbleed – What passwords to change | IVPN Blog.

No-Feedback Microphones Coming Soon

Courtesy of Andrea Alu, Researcher and Professor at UT Austin, that squealing and rumbling that emanates from speakers on many a stage may soon be a thing of the past. As with any new technology, the first products will rather expensive, but this design looks like it could scale out petty quickly.

One-Way Sound
(article from Bloomberg Businessweek)

HAVING A GREAT TIME AT SXSW!

What a great town, what a great scene, what great music! Kudos to Music Think Tank

HOW TO GET ALL THE CRED OF PLAYING AT SXSW WITHOUT THE TIME AND EXPENSE

We’re No Longer Puzzled

Christopher Kent

Chris Kent has finally made it to YouTube!

For a number of years I’ve been recording piano tracks for various artists at Bill Filer’s studio, and one guy who’s given me a lot of work and credit, and has always been a pleasure to record with is Chris Kent.
Who is this guy?
His songs are intelligent and humorous, and his meticulous attention to detail is always guarantees a great recording. For this project he pulled out all the stops, enlisting some of State College’s top musicians to get everything right – which you can hear in the recording.

There’s jazzman Steve Bowman on saxophone, smooth-as-silk Pete Jogo on bass, Grammy-nominated Jack Wilkinson on drums, and the legendary Andrew Jackson on congas.
Plus, Chris called up some of the best voices in the area to be his choir: Kate Twoey, Trace Baker, David Whitmer, Stacy Tibbets, Ray Najjar, Morgan and Margaret Higgins, Linsdey Lane Lorefice, and Lynn Yost.

The song/video “Piece Of The Puzzle” is actually just one part of a larger project which ties together a 12-song CD and a book, “Staying Off The Wheel Of Misfortune.” The book’s pretty cool, nicely written and full of great advice that’s hopefully going to help keep me away from a bad ride.

Find all you need to know at ChristopherKent.com

Dancing With The Stars fires Longtime Band
Apparently a well-directed group of highly-trained musicians is not cool or hip enough for today’s younger TV viewers, who, according to highly-crunched data, polling algorithms, and ABC executive Lisa Berger, prefer machine-made dance music and DJs spinning mp3s. And there was also something about an 18-piece big band not being able to adequately cover songs by that ballroom dancing favorite, The Clash.

DWTS Will Sound Different in 2014
Trouble: Big Band Arrangements of Pop Tunes

Of course, I’m showing my age by using words like “cool” and “hip,” so the DWTS bean counters aren’t worried about my demographic anyhow. OK, so I never really watched the show, but I don’t like it when fellow players lose a gig for any reason other than doing boneheaded musician things.

Perhaps this is just an extension of today’s prevalent attitude that music should be free, that musicians don’t need to be paid to perform. Just give away the recordings, and we’ll buy the t-shirt. (Throw in a free sticker, too).

Dispatches from Sarge’s Garage

Dave Sarge is the go-to guy for amplifier repairs in this area, the guy that knows electronics, tubes, and speakers inside and out. You know the type – if he can’t fix it, then it ain’t broke. So, I felt both disheartened and relieved when, after checking on the status of my busted keyboard amp, he began his response with “Well, I certainly will not be charging this on an hourly basis.”
Traynor K4 Keyboard amp
Apparently neither he nor the Traynor/Yorkville company amp tech in Canada has come across this particular issue of loud constant popping from the speakers whenever the amp is turned on.

(Cool, my amp is SO hipster).

So, whenever Sarge does get it figured out, I suspect there will be an addendum made to the Traynor K4 Service Manual, and I can feel happy that I was able to fund his latest opportunity to further contribute to the knowledge base of amplifier repair, and make the Universe a better place.

(For the record, I love this loud, aggressive, multi-featured keyboard amp and miss it terribly… It enables what happens on my side of the stage to be more than just support staff to the guitar-gods I’m fortunate enough to play with).