Saturday, July 12, 2008

twelfth 'hood

‘hood twelfth part
When Joey was recovering from his pneumonia he shared a hospital room with a guy who plays the piano in a jazz group who's hoping to make a life in making new music. Joey tells this guy that even if he's truly creative he's going to have to learn some other popular music and 'cover' some of the pop songs just to make some money; that people will not pay for unknown artists. You gotta pay your dues by playin live on the road and covering some music that people are already familiar with. Music unites other forms of expression and is re-produced for a lot of different reasons. I guess money is probably the biggest reason to ‘cover’ someone else because even a share of the recording can be worth big bucks. If its’ been covered, it has good roots.

But I told Joey that sometimes it’s not the money.
Gary Carawan first introduced “we shall overcome” to the student non-violent coordinating committee in Atlanta in 1960. Pete Seeger got the credit for writing what was first sung as a blues ode in the cotton fields. It became the anthem of the civil rights movement, a song with good roots and covered by a lot of artists but, the folks who picked the cotton never got paid! This tendency to copy and cover folk and especially rhythm and blues found its way through to rock and roll.

In my ‘hood there were only a couple of guys that knew about the origins of rock n’ roll in Chicago – Joey was one of those guys. Another was Carlo Orlandini who took me to a bar where ‘Howlin Wolf’ took the stage – a black man from Mississippi who could shudder your soul with a shout that is used by “rock” musicians around the world to this day. This bar was on Roosevelt Road and Damen Ave where Carlo risked my life though I didn’t know it. The three story apartment building housed a mid-fifties inner city juke joint that had live music on Saturday nights – and the place was packed with black men and women dressed up special

ready for................... a long night out.
I was just in high school, youngest person in the joint, but the men in the bar were watchful over me ‘cause they could see I’m lovin’ the music they feel. The ‘Wolf’ made my blood curl with those electrified and amplified guitar riffs and the wail he let loose in nearly every song. He played one called ‘I Asked for Water’ and he made it sound like he was really dyin’ on stage.

“Oh I asked her for water, she brought me gasoline
That the troublenst 'WOO-HOO' woman

that I ever seen
The church bell tollin’, hearse come drivin slow”

Years of searching for this song yielded a realization of blues and country roots to me. Songs from the delta and the fields and the mountains of Appalachia and the inner city streets were rarely written down. These musicians were not songwriters: they were storytellers. Tales passed to them over time by people unknown. In this way I’ve come to know more about cultures than I could ever know if their stories had not been put to music. The 'Wolf' song was not written down and I never found a recording of "I asked for Water" but when he sang it, I was living the music of my 'hood.

Carlo, who was about nineteen, was drinkin wine while I had a bottle of Coke that I drank very slowly ‘cause I didn’t have money. During the ‘Wolf’s break, Carlo went outside and had a ‘meeting’ with two other guys – it didn’t take too long and besides, I had the ‘Wolf’ howlin to me. Right after Carlo came back in he said we had to leave. It’s okay ‘cause I got about forty rich minutes of west side blues. I wished Bobby and Dom and Joey were with me.

Joey knew that Chicago blues/rock came out of Mississippi during the late forties into the sixties; he knew about this guitar man by the name of Bo Diddley, the self-proclaimed “Father of Rock and Roll” who showed up on the streets with his ego blistering up from his own heat. Well, Bo walked right into one of the producers’ studios on south Michigan Ave.; they let him play on his square guitar and then they threw him and his black hat out the door saying they couldn’t understand him. Joey says Bo walked straight across the street to another studio called Chess Records run by some Jewish fellas and he did 37 takes and recorded a song he wrote called “I’m a Man”

I’m a man, made twenty one
You know baby, we have lots of fun
All you pretty women, stand in line
I’ll make love to you, for an hour’s time
I’m a man, I spell m-a-n …. man!

Bo later wrote a song called 'Mona' and The Rolling Stones covered it on their first album and I’m thinkin they met at Chess?

(Yes, the same Chess Records building at 2120 S. Michigan Ave. where Chuck Berry recorded Johnny B. Goode and the Stones, in 1964, recorded their only instrumental and titled it ‘2120’.)

That record company that threw Bo onto the street was right about one thing; you gotta hear the poetry, the story in the song. First comes the verse – you shine a light to it and the words leap off the page and suddenly you see movement – the work now has physical space. It’s square, it’s round, it is red and yellow and morphs to glad and sad then ultimately shows its life as the poetry combines with the essentials of melody, harmony and rhythm to create tones and gives birth to new, until in that moment, never before heard combinations of word and sound, and only then it’s called

m u s i c

I remember ‘Louie, Louie’ reaching #1 and I can’t tell you why – maybe it was because the scene was so dry. Yes, it did have a good beat but you couldn’t understand the Richard Berry lyric as sung first by the Pharoahs, then the Kingsmen - when the song ended, you really didn't know what they had said – they’re worse than Bo!

I know folk music gives a lot to rock and roll but it isn’t their banjos or flat tuned guitars I’m talkin’ about; it’s their stories – their clarity, their meaning, their delivery – allowing repetition to somehow not sound boring. The stories in blues music is the heart rending verse of hard living, telling the story of survival through adversity in a tempo devised by magicians; country and western music’s got a million stories; jazz, not so much new stories as new styles of a story and gospel that shouts out their message in ‘world’ music. All of these are parts of what I’ve come to feel in my bones is so precious to me. Music moves me; it makes me glad all over; it makes me sad all over; love is better with it; hate is erased by it – I can dream with it, as it speaks to my spirit and I can work with it, it is my muse – it’s become one of the themes in my life.

“back beat, you can’t lose it”

It was not far from my ‘hood; straight east on Roosevelt Road, right past St. Ignatius hi-school, about a mile and a half to Halsted Street where a right turn would place you onto the mecca of ‘near west side blues’ –

______Maxwell Street!

Always considered part of my ‘near west side’ it’s different ‘cause it’s mostly all black with Jewish shop owners who always closed up before dark. I was never there after dark – only during the day did Joey and I go for the music.

Albert King was there. Little Walter and his blues harmonica was there. Buddy Guy and Junior Wells (who later moved south side) all met nearly every Sunday morning to play in an empty prairie between Halsted and the ‘Hill Street Blues’ police station on Morgan Street. There was always a drum set with the two guitars and harmonica though I never knew who those drummers were. Albert would almost always start up with a few licks to establish the bass beat and Lil Walter worked the chords on his harmonica searching for the right pitch. Then Buddy kicked in with his free wheeling style blues on his Fender guitar and Bassmans amp. He’d take the center and enter some vocal humming in the first few bars. Buddy’s poetry started a little soft until he knew he was pitched; only then to explode to an ear shattering volume. All amped and electrified as Buddy’s gunslinger technique took the lead with his fierce intensity. Buddy has a reputation as the man whose music could not be captured in a studio - studios were confining and left little room for improv. Buddy would string together eight chords and they would never again play out the same way. His call is to perform! Who could record with him?

Luther Allison always showed up late for these jams as third guitar and he plugged in to play to the prisoners in ‘the Hill’ three blocks away! Luther would walk in playin

“gotta move from the ‘hood
move away from the ‘hood
do it now or
your life ain’t no good”

There was never a lack of good guitar. There were sometimes four or five bands lookin for space to play and some good days you could find Robert Nighthawk and there was Sonny Boy Williams, Lightnin Hopkins and Daddy Stovepipe and local boys who would fill in and were lookin to learn from the masters.

The Master.
McKinley Morganfield.
AKA Muddy Waters.
– from Mississippi – with his electric guitar and his “mojo workin”.
The man who played “the right notes”. I never got to see him, but later bought his records. Muddy recorded with Chess Records and gave Bob Dylan and an international magazine and a British rock and roll Band their greatest gift –
a rolling stone
Anyone who wanted to learn the roots of blues/rock wanted to get next to him and learn from him – and he gave his wisdom, unselfishly, to many.

One of them was John Lee Hooker who came up to Chicago by way of Mississippi and Memphis and he didn’t know Muddy very long, but in a Chess studio he listened hard to the clear, uninterrupted masters’ chords. Together they recorded
“Big Leg Woman”.

She so fine, she so mellow, the rest I can’t explain
Way my baby stacked up
‘nough to drive a cat insane
she got great big legs, so pleasing to the eye
the preacher walked by, said my, my, my

Lonnie Johnson

Joey and I did see John Lee workin’ those chords one Sunday morning. John Lee came to Chicago about 1955 by way of Detroit so he had to break into the scene and his gig with Muddy did it for him. This Sunday, however, he sat on an old wooden chair right outside some diner, makin' his music and his name known on Maxwell Street and he opens
‘Boom Boom Boom Boom’

"i love the way you walk
i likes the way you talk"
John Lee

and the folk on the street gathered ‘round.
Albert King showed up and they jammed and finally they did 'Born Under a Bad Sign'

"bad luck and trouble's my only friend

I been down ever since I was ten

if it wasn't for bad luck

i'd have no luck at all"

Booker T. Jones

I had the musical experience of my young life –
in the open air

it sounded and smelled like my city on the streets of my ‘hood.

It is amazing how the music of these men from Mississippi turned Chicago and Chess Records into legends. As I’ve listened to this music from my ‘hood over the years, I’ve come to realize how much of their original music from Mississippi that was awakened by plugged in guitars and electrified amps and new found freedoms all served as the most fertile roots ever for today’s’ rock and roll. My ‘near west side’ inner city provided cover material for so many great rock musicians: the Stones and Clapton and Zeppelin..............

makes me

"glad all over"

It’s now September 26 and James Meredith will make his second attempt to open the doors at Ole Miss.

Friday, July 11, 2008


I like to smell grass.
Feel the touch of lips on mine.
Hear laughter.
And see just everything right now
Because it all ends
and you don’t get to know

-Jerry Wendt

Monday, July 7, 2008


A re-Write by Lou Stanek, based on an original story by Bob Kowalski and reviewed and panned by Jerry Wendt.

They lurk all around the house. -- mechanisms, gadgets, contraptions, the devices of life, and there’s no escape from them. Every corner is infested with skulking, snickering inventions, calling to me, tempting me with their levers or wheels or bolts. Finally, I succumb. I’m a man. How can I resist? What danger can these intruders hold for a mature adult?
And that’s when they bust me.
It's not that I have multiple thumbs; it’s more like gas on the brain, or a shameful birth defect.!
My wife has this chair that turns into a ladder after its done being an ironing board.
I can't close it! After all the tinker toys and Lincoln Logs and Erector Sets that prepare boys to be men, I'm stymied by this low tech device of life that she went out of her way to find in a junk store called the Fuzzy Pig. This ironing board / bench / ladder / chair doesn't even have an electric cord, let alone a self powered logic chip… Not like her broken laptop computer that she hands me along with a hi-tech screwdriver, saying, "it probably just needs tightening".
She assumes that being born a guy equates to a genetic affinity for hand tools. She believes all it takes to "fix the fridge" is desire and "something in that tool room of yours.” “Just fix the humidity setting so the cheese doesn't turn green".............WHAT!!

Like I don't care if the kids get dead from eating old green cheese? What do I know about humidity? Has humidity become a device of life?
Then, as if house things aren’t enough to baffle me, along comes “The Beast”, the ultimate device of life; the four-wheeled invention that replaced walking as a daily human activity. So many colors, so many shapes -- you can get one from Korea or England or Italy or France or Mexico or Germany or Brazil -- So many “beasts,” all with electronic ignitions and transaxle alignments and power windows. I don't even have power windows in my house. “Beast” ads promise glamour, happy memories, individual expression , the realization of all our dreams! I buy one. Then comes reality. My “Beast” sits empty, quiet, - silent in an un-ignited state, patiently waiting for new ways to bust me. I often stare defiantly at the monster, then sigh and just give up The last time I successfully fixed anything on a car was when my father showed me where to pour the water into the radiator. This device of life, warns me in writing that I may not even open the cap without a special instrument. AND, when "they of the instruments" do so, they pour in a pea-yellow-green liquid for which I pay twelve dollars a gallon. What, may I ask, was wrong with my dad’s tap water? This process, I can at least explain - though I am not actually allowed to do it without violating the warranty. But imagine how badly I get busted when my wife re-creates a sound and carefully explains where it comes from and all I can say - (dull-wittedly) - is "did you change the oil"?These encounters with the devices of life go on and on. They’re never-ending.. I thought it would be better now that my kids are grown. Instead, I have a dark notion that my granddaughters knows far more than I do about the devices of life, like the iPod and the
electronic servants her dad has installed in their “smart house”. She’s already relegating that hard won and time tested phrase, "Grandpa will fix it" to the dusty attic of dead platitudes to stand beside “Be good. Santa’s coming.” and “It won’t hurt a bit!” Meanwhile, she flashes me a giant smile. She’s too polite to shout,


Tuesday, July 1, 2008

'hood 11

'hood 11
President Kennedy was not in a very good spot!
It’s a good thing he’s a young man and can handle stress.
It’s like this - he had three things to worry about that were happening outside the country. (foreign policy things) There was the failure of the Bay of Pigs that happened three months after he took office and it caused Fidel Castro to look more to the Soviet Union and Nikki as an ally to support his new revolutionary government. Castro called Bay of Pigs the first defeat of Yankee imperialism. Jack knew nothing of the amateur invasion that was funded, secretly, by the CIA, yet he had to eat the public outcry over its failure and lose face and influence over a new government in Cuba. Then the Berlin Wall got built beginning in August of 1961 and it became a symbolic and actual barrier in the Iron Curtain. Jack could only make some polite protests even though a treaty had been signed at Potsdam. The wall ended up being 96 miles long and had guard posts all along it to watch for East Germaners trying to cross. Then Jack took a beating in Vienna from Nikki over the secret war in Laos – we gave half the country to the communists and even that didn’t stop them from spreading their influence, and allied troops, to another country called Viet Nam and we already were getting in over our head there. With all this bad stuff happening in such a short period of time, Jack believed that another failure on the part of the United States to stop communist expansion would destroy our allies trust and damage his own reputation.

Even small triumphs turned into shit; like the time – July 23rd 1962 – that Jack and the President of France were going to exchange the first Trans-Atlantic television broadcast. The technology people and politicians and a few of the Camelot celebrities were all on hand for a small incursion into their “New Frontier” and Jack was late. Seems that we could only broadcast when the Telstar satellite covered a certain range in order for the beam to reach both sides. Somebody in a responsible position gave the President the wrong time to be there. The French President was in place, expecting to see the U.S. President. Pols and techs were running around the U.S. offices tryin to do something, when finally a tech guy found a strong enough signal to send up to Telstar. It was the Chicago Cubs – they were playin the Philadelphia Phillies and the French delegation saw Tony Taylor fly out to George Altman. When Nikita Khrushchev found out he wasn’t invited to the party he was pissed off. That anger turned to glee when he found out that the President of France had to watch a baseball game – hell, they don’t even play baseball in France!

A song afar fades in a dream
In this night that will end too soon

Midnight in Moscow”

Plus, the desegregation trauma

amongst our own people was growing.

# # # # # # # # # # ## # # # # ##

Marie introduced me to a fellow named Jerry Buss who we walked with from the restaurant. He was known as an ‘activist’ on campus and he was preparing a document that would be copied and passed out to people who were against the U.S. getting involved in the wars in south east Asia. He had a lot of information that he said came from his brother who’s in the U.S. Air Force working directly for a general named Curtis LeMay and that sounded, to me, like a pretty reliable source.
Here’s what Jerry told me: that after the Laos agreement (I guess everyone at the table lied), the U.S. Air Force began helping the South Vietnam troops beginning in late 1961. There were different ‘actions’ going on in 1962; one was called ‘Farmgate’ – the U.S. was doing combat training and support missions for the North Viet Nam army; another one called ‘Mule Train’ was carrying and dropping supplies to strange named places like Pleiku; and ‘Ranch Hand’ where big C-123’s flying out of Laos began defoliation of roads and trails (like the Ho Chi Minh trail) using something called Agent Orange. Lastly, the Bell helicopters began missions in April, 1962;
they were dropping South Viet Nam soldiers into North Viet Nam. Two helicopters got shot down and after eight American soldiers died the general ordered our guys to shoot first!

McNamara came back from Viet Nam in July and told Jack, “We are winning the war”. Jack became more determined to "draw a line in the sand" and prevent a communist victory in Vietnam. He said now we have a problem with the way the world sees our power and Vietnam looks like the place to take a stand, so Jack increased the number of U.S. military in Vietnam from 800 to 16,300.

Jerry Buss said it could only get worse unless something were to stop it now.

If I had a hammer
I’d hammer in the morning
I’d hammer in the evening
I’d hammer out danger, I’d hammer out warning
Peter, Paul & Mary
# # # # # # # # # # # # # #
It’s not that we were drinking or smoking dope – we should have been tired after the dinner and the walk under the stress of that fight at the no name and listening to Jerry Buss but we arrived at 85 Mount Vernon and set passions free onto each other. Our bodies engaged in an intense battle to keep up with the demands of our desires; I cannot recall a moment in time when I lost every point of reference to the purity and tenderness of making love; replaced with wanton carnal lust. I moved into her and our glow seemed red. Arms around each other again, it felt like this was the place I could live forever. I could both hear and feel her breath and it sounded searing as she raised her arms and moved that thick lowering lock of hair back toward and over her ear. I lay soft against her skin listening to the rhythm of our heart. I held inside her and the pulsing of her hips created a heightening of emotions sweeping into and through me that I passed on to her. Drained, we slept and when I awoke I stood; seeing her lying naked and wanting her again. It is plain to me that I desire to feel that connection again, but I wonder, unknowingly and naively, if we should – is there a rule for counting or other measure I should know of?
There were flowers in small vases on the sill of her lone window, finally fragrant to me though nearby all the time we loved. I had prayed the morning please not come, but was changed when she turned to me beaming like the first day we met. The bouquet of those flowers, emboldened by the sunrise, and wanting to adorn her body in some way - burst their petals to become as bright as her smile.
Marie says to me “I am a woman in love".
a woman in love, woman in love
I put my life in music
my heart is like a song
Paul Baillargeon