After the release of In a Fog in 1983, most of the players left town (just a coincidence...) Peter and Randy went to Florida for graduate degrees and eventually Mike headed for Nashville. I spent the next few years assembling local rhythm sections all over the Midwest and playing one night stands with a myriad of musical configurations. One band kept rising to the top and merging together in a special way: Clyde Stubblefield -drums, Jeff Eckels-bass, and Dan Kleiman-keyboards. They all lived in Madison at that time and were geographically poised to play many of my gigs. Being based further north in Eau Claire, I traveled alone and met the band wherever the gigs were.
Clyde, aka "The Funky Drummer," had landed in Madison after resigning from his post with James Brown in the 60s. I met him for the first time on stage at a jam session at the Club de Wash. That was the night I learned what a backbeat was supposed to sound like and more importantly feel like. My playing was immediately transformed.
Jeff was at the Berklee College of Music at the same time I was for awhile. He played bass in Phil Wilson's "International Dues Band" in which I was leading the student string section. He and his brother, Steve, were from Bayfield, WI originally and I had heard of them but didn't meet until we were in Boston together around 1980. When they returned to the Midwest they brought Dan Kleiman, a keyboard wizard from Philadelphia, to play in their band NEO. He added electric synthesizer sounds to the acoustic piano which added a fantastic palette to the sound of the band.
When it came time to record my second album there was no question who the band would be. On November 9-10, 1988 I returned to Studiomedia in Evanston, IL with Clyde, Jeff, Dan, and Mike Dowling back in the guitar slot. With Benj Kanters at the console once again, we recorded live for two days and mixed for two days. This time the material would straddle two eras - the swingin' years of the 30's-40's with the music my parents grew up with and the rockin' years of the 60's with the music that I grew up with. It would blend Ellington, Gershwin, and Hodges with the Allman Brothers, the Beatles, and the Grateful Dead and the glue that would hold it all together - the blues.
"Good Queen Bess" - this is a Johnny Hodges tune named for his mother. I really enjoy the small group recordings Duke Ellington made and Hodges' lyrical style of playing and composing translates naturally to the violin and jives with my musical sense. But I wanted to bring something else to the plate so I incorporated the opening riff of Muddy Waters' "Baby I Wants to be Loved" (which is similar to "Good Queen Bess") and the intensity of how his band played it (similar to how Clyde lays into the groove) into the arrangement.
"Summertime" - I took this familiar Gershwin standard and applied a Bob Marley reggae groove then plugged in a special pedal effect I heard Jerry Garcia use on his guitar. Later on in live concerts I would improvise a classical style cadenza on the melody as an introduction.
"Once Upon a Time" - another Johnny Hodges tune that's basically a swinging twelve bar blues. It's not hard to imagine why I would be attracted to this kind of piece.
"Lady Madonna" - like every other kid in my generation the Beatles loomed large whether you were simply a fan or an aspiring musician. Before I took my first violin lesson I was planning on being a rock and roll drummer just like Ringo. I applied the hard driving shuffle that Clyde is an expert at and played McCartney's melody over the top.
"Hot 'Lanta" - the first big rock concert I attended was the Allman Brothers in Iowa City around 1973. An unknown fiddler named Charlie Daniels opened the show. I learned every tune and just about every guitar lick on their "Live at the Fillmore East" record long before it ever occurred to me to play any of this stuff on the violin. This is basically a twelve bar blues in a fast jazz waltz groove. I think Jeff Eckels plays an exceptional solo on the electric bass.
"Shadowtime" - Mike Dowling and I were hanging out together the night before the first day of the session and he played this tune he had just written in Nashville and I thought it would be a beautiful piece to include. It closes the first side of the album - remember I was still thinking vinyl at this time.
"Things Aint What They Used to Be" - I start off the "second side" with another blues - this one is a classic from the Ellington catalogue but with a harder edged shuffle beat and a key change at the end with a chromatic move to the four chord I stole directly from the Grateful Dead's "Truckin'."
"It Don't Mean a Thing" - this was the first cut on the first side of the first Stephane Grappelli record I ever heard. The moment I heard it my life was changed. As a result of course, I had to learn this tune and over many attempts at sounding like Grappelli I had to give up and just sound like myself. I added a solo violin intro and an opening blues riff to set up the tune, mixed an open "space jam" in the middle and finished up with a descending chromatic chord progression to a funky beat and playing the same ending riff Grappelli used on the recording I heard thirteen years earlier.
"Black Peter" - this is a slow bluesy rock tune from the Grateful Dead. Just as jazz musicians in the 30's and 40's took the popular songs of the day and turned them into instrumental vehicles for jamming, I thought it would be interesting to do the same thing with pieces from the pop music of my generation.
"JD Meets the Rhythm Section" - another one of my original compositions written on the violin. It started off as a twist on the be bop standard "Jordu." It was nameless until bassist Hans Sturm shouted out "Call it "John Denver Meets the Rhythm Section!" from the bandstand at a gig at the Elvehjem Museum in Madison. I abbreviated it to JD. It's now another chart published by Alfred Music for string orchestra.
"Iko Iko" - I love the R&B melting pot of music from New Orleans - Dr. John, Professor Long Hair, the Neville Brothers, etc. This tune was always a big hit at Dead shows and I thought it would make a groovy closing statement for this album. You can hear Clyde mention something about red beans and rice at the beginning.
Once again I had a finished album with no record label so I approached Flying Fish since they had put out In a Fog but they weren't interested. I sent out a few other inquiries but had no bites so by the time the spring of 1989 rolled around I decided to create my own label and issue it myself on... cassette! That's right. Vinyl production was declining but CDs hadn't quite taken over. There was this short brief period in time when the cassette tape was the most cost effective medium for issuing professional quality recordings. I remember assembling the tapes by applying the stickers to the cassettes, folding the j-card covers, and inserting the tape and the j-card into the plastic case with no shrink wrap. One of my violin students, Jacob Lawson helped me with this chore at the dining room table of my family's vacation home on Shell Lake, WI where I was living at the time. I was either traveling to play gigs or at home fishing on Shell Lake.
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