Tag Archive: blues music


April Showers

For a number of reasons, April seems the most hectic month of the year, and showers are a major contributing factor – showers of paperwork.

Yes, the weather is definitely a culprit – “Hey, it finally feels like Spring!  Wait – what happened to the sun?  Why is it so cold, I’m sick of gray cloudy days…  SNOW!?! You’ve got to be kidding me, I just want to be out in the Sun where it’s warmmmm.”

Yes, I wish it was warm and sunny, but right now I’m dealing with a shower of  TAX paperwork which, along with monthly bills, budgets, webwork, etc., keeps me inside staring at a computer screen. Ugh. The joy of being a full-time self-employed musician means my income tax preparation is complicated and joyless.  There’s income from many different sources to report, 1099-Misc forms to issue to musicians I’ve hired, receipts and credit card statements to mine for deductions.  (Yes, I keep track throughout the year, but there are always some that I miss).  But thankfully there is also TurboTax!  Sure, a professional tax whiz could fill out the forms, but I’d still have to dig up all the information, and that’s what takes all the time.

But there are other paper showers, too: contracts and stage plots.  One of the things musicians really look forward to is performing at summer music festivals, out in the open air with big enthusiastic crowds that don’t normally go out to the nightclubs where we mostly play.  Arrangements to play at these festivals are generally made in January and February, but the paperwork is due in April.  This season’s paperwork includes 2 PSU Alumni functions, 2 Summers’ Best Music Fest appearances, 2 Arts Fest appearances, a couple Musicians Performance Trust Fund programs, and several weddings.

All these dismal showers shall soon pass, however, and there will be plenty of time to enjoy the lovely flowers.  I’ll see you out in the garden!

 

Blues, Trivia, and TV

GovPubSignSpotlight on Bellefonte

It’s a special night at the Governors’ Pub in Bellefonte this evening – JT’s playing Blues and hosting Pub Trivia.

OK, that’s normal. But also, Sarah Lagerman from WHVL-TV will be in to film a segment for “The Centre of it All,” their program that covers local events and businesses.

Come early to get a seat and order one of the Guv’nor’s World-Famous Reubens.

Music starts at 7:00, Trivia begins at 7:30, and the beer flows all day long.

 

 

 

Summertime Blues at Elk Creek Cafe

Doubling up this Sunday!

Playing some serious down-home Blues with Rmblin’ Dan Stevens and harmonica maestro Richard Sleigh in Millheim on Sunday afternoon, 5:00-7:00.

And as soon as we get all boogied out there in the valley, I’m cruising on up to State College to host the Darkhorse Music Jam, which I’m sure is gonna be jammed up as the hordes of PSU students have descended upon Happy Valley for Fall Semester. see you out there!
Dan Stevens Elk Creek poster 8-24-2014

Joy and Sorrow… RIP Lotsa Poppa

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!

2013 >>> 2014

Of course I’m playing for New Year’s Eve!
This will be the 5th year in a row that I’ve had the pleasure of ringing in the New Year with Maxwell Strait and all our Phyrst Phriends. It’s been a real honor to share the stage with my amazingly talented bandmates: Molly Countermine, Rene Witzke, Ted Mccloskey, and Jack Wilkinson. Thanks so much for all the great music and great friendship. See y’all tonight!
Maxwell Strait's photo.

Just Another Sunday…

Sunday’s jam got CRAAZY! I knew it was going to be good when I walked in just in time to see the Steelers roast the Ravens. And there was more heat when John Guyer brought his funky guitar to the stage, along with his harp-blowing-guitar-ripping friend Dave. Trevor twanged out some sweet riffs, and Anthony tore up the eight wires on his Schecter for maybe(?) the last time before he ships back Down Under. Jon and Nate thumbed some serious four-string bottomness while Joel & Josh & Arup kept a steady Mojo working.

But the joint really got to jumping when Natascha & Jackie & Joy & Eric put their voices to the microphones, powered by Cheech taking out his Ravenous frustrations on Stubby’s skins.

Of course, we couldn’t do it without Nolan keeping our glasses filled along with Phil’s tasty concoctions sliding out of the kitchen.  Sure beats sitting on the the couch tube-watching.

Just Another Week in Happy Valley

Rolling along, watching the leaves change, and playing music. Already have one rehearsal and two piano lessons out of the way, now it’s time for gigs.
Happy Valley Sunflowers
Thursday @ The Governors’ Pub in Bellefonte, 6:30-9:00. Stop in after the BHS Homecoming Parade; be sure and wave Hi to Grand Marshall Patti Hilliard, a fellow classmate.
Also Thursday @ The Phyrst w/Maxwell Strait, 10:30-2:00. Laying down the grooves w/Molly Countermine, Ted McCloskey, Rene Witzke, and Jack Wilkinson. Yes, we will rock you.

Friday @ Zeno’s w/The Triple A Blues Band, 7:00-9:00 – Serenading the PSU Homecoming Parade. If I wasn’t playing I’d be marching with fellow alumni in the Penn State Glee Club, along with Bill Besecker.

Saturday, PSU Homecoming – and I don’t have a gig. Really. What the hell am I going to do? Anybody need a piano player this Saturday?

Sunday we’re Jammin’, Jammin’, Jammin’ at the Darkhorse Tavern, 8:30-11:30. Bring your axe, sign in, and play some tunes. we welcome anyone willing to get up on stage. PA and backline (drums, keyboards, guitar and bass amps) all ready to go.

Thanks to WPSU for featuring my essay on “This I Believe”.
~~~~~~
Like most people, I get to feeling bad from time to time about one thing or another. Things don’t always go my way, and the march of daily disappointments often leaves me in the dumps.

But what gets me through the blues is music — music simply called “The Blues.” Blues music emanates from the roots of our difficulties. It’s music that has its genesis in the blood and sweat and toil of men and women who worked hard in the dirt and the dust and the mud and the grime of fields and forests long ago; men and women for whom music was one of their few salvations.

Some people still work like that, but many more of us in this day and age do our work sitting on our butts, talking on the phone, staring at a screen, pecking away at a keyboard. Now, I happen to love my work – pecking away at a piano keyboard. It’s not backbreaking hard labor. But I still get the blues, and playing blues music helps me deal with the bad stuff that inevitably happens.

The rhythms and chords and scales of the Blues may seem simple, but to me the sound of the Blues is as complex and contradictory as our lives. Minor melodies of experience play against major chords of desire, over a groove that pushes fast and pulls slow, creating a harmonic richness full of dissonance and resolution. I find great joy and satisfaction in hearing and playing through these moods of the Blues.

The stories this music tells are those of the human experience: our woes and sorrows, our joys and triumphs. When I play the Blues, the music has a way of distilling complicated troubles. It addresses the thing that’s really getting me down and brings it to light, allowing me to sing and dance in its face. When BB King cries “The Thrill is Gone,” Charles Brown warns about “Bad Bad Whiskey,” and Otis Spann proclaims “It Must’ve Been the Devil,” I know I’m not alone. Someone else has suffered just as I have.

The Blues also brings me together with a community that is not distinctly liberal, conservative, religious or secular. Rather, it is all those things. It is universal – everybody gets the Blues. There are Blues lovers and musicians all over the world who support live performers, listen to Blues radio stations, go to Blues festivals, form Blues Societies. They publish magazines, create podcasts, sponsor competitions, and present awards.

They do this because the Blues means something to them and the music speaks to their soul – just like it speaks to mine.

So whenever something gets me down, I get down to the roots of American music and rejoice in the immortal words of Little Milton who sang, “Hey Hey – the Blues is all right, Hey Hey – the Blues is all right.”

So yes – I believe in the Blues.