Archive for the ‘Music’ category

pat mAcdonald’s Long Game

June 26, 2017

For years, I’ve thought pat mAcdonald (that’s his idiosyncratic spelling)  is a musician of lasting merit. The kind whose recordings will be played 50 years from now and whose songs are a good bet to be revived decades from now by musicians not yet born.

Last summer, when I was having a casual drink at the Weary Traveler in Madison and chatting with bartender Josh Harty, who’s a stellar singer-songwriter in his own right, I learned that mAcdonald  had a bad case of cancer.

That’s when I decided I had to profile him. I wanted to shine a light on his work.

Here’s how my story started in Isthmus:

Oh, he’s lost a few things during 40-plus years of living the Bohemian life of a musician. For instance:

— That Mussehl & Westphal musical saw, the renowned Cadillac of musical saws. The young Pat MacDonald bought it in 1974 in Fort Atkinson from Clarence J. Mussehl himself, then a nonagenarian and long-ago vaudevillian, who tossed in a free lesson.

— That autographed album the great country tunesmith Billy Joe Shaver gave him in Nashville in 1973 after hearing MacDonald’s demo songs at singer Bobby Bare’s music offices: “To my friend Pat MacDonald: the last of the great songwriters.”

This scrawny long-haired troublemaker from Green Bay was all of 20 at the time, knocking around Madison, making music to survive after an unsuccessful try at drug dealing. His future was not yet clear.

At some point in the intervening decades of countless moves — including his 1984 journey from Madison to Austin with wife and musical partner Barbara Kooyman in their soon-to-be celebrated band Timbuk3, and later his sojourn in Barcelona, to lick his wounds, after their marriage and band broke up — he lost the damn saw and his records.

But not much else, it turns out. “I’m kind of a pack-rat,” mAcdonald says over coffee recently in Sturgeon Bay, in picturesque Door County on Lake Michigan. “Who could throw out a Christmas card that was sent with love?” We’re at his 18-unit retro cool Holiday Music Motel, an improbable but genius choice as a base camp for a cultural shaman like him. And, yes, note the typography of his moniker. Tired of the habitual misspelling of his last name as “McDonald,” he now labels himself pat mAcdonald.

Who’s to argue with this single-minded artist? Especially when in the space of 24 hours I meet three musicians who, trusting their instincts, packed up from good lives in San Francisco, New York City and Madison to be part of mAcdonald’s creative circle in this out-of-the-way port city.

These artists — and a whole bunch more from across the country — will be front and center at the Steel Bridge Songfest June 8-11 that mAcdonald puts on annually in Sturgeon Bay. (For details see page 18.)

“This place is like a dream incubator,” bassist and longtime Madison blues stalwart Tony Menzer tells me. It’s late night, and he’s packing up after backing a powerful blues singer named Cathy Grier at the Stone Harbor Bar across the street from the motel. Menzer put in 10 years with Clyde Stubblefield and 15 years with the Westside Andy-Mel Ford Band. Three years ago, at mAcdonald’s invitation, Menzer bailed from Madtown and moved his music equipment business from a Madison storage facility to a rambling warehouse showroom that mAcdonald and his investors own next to the motel. But I digress….

It’s legacy that weighs on pat mAcdonald’s mind, and we eventually get around to the spook in the breakfast nook. It’s not just that he turns 65 in August, but that 2016 found him confronting Stage 4 cancer — non-Hodgkins large B-cell lymphoma — and 10 months of on-and-off chemotherapy that exacted its own toll on his body. He’s now in remission and getting stronger.

That face-off with cancer — “It’s hell going through that shit,” he says matter of factly — has compelled him to not just put his creative work in order but to advance it, while there’s time.

To read more, please go here. Alternatively, the story can also be found on the No Depression website. I also wrote about mAcdonald in a recap of my favorite concerts .

 

When Clyde Met Karl

March 7, 2017

That would be the great funk drummer Clyde Stubblefield sitting in with jam band leader Karl Denson at the Majestic Theatre in Madison on March 29, 2009. Stubblefield’s death prompted me to rummage through my musical archives to find an audio of their meeting. It’s killer.

I wrote about it for Tone Madison, the online arts chronicler:

When the jam ended, Denson’s band of young African-American players gathered around Stubblefield to shake his hand and hug him. They were in the presence of their hero. “That was a big deal for me,” a blissed and happy Denson told the cheering crowd. “If anybody recorded that, I need a copy. Throw that up on YouTube right away. You know what I’m saying?”
I don’t have the video, but here—eight years later—is the audio of that perfect moment in the late Clyde Stubblefield’s extraordinary life in American music.

You can read the post and hear the jam here.

A Fan’s Notes: 10 Years of Great Concerts

January 19, 2017

I started logging notes on concerts when I was hanging out with Clark Anderson.   He was a childcare worker, union organizer and a dear friend from the old days in Kenosha. Talking music was easy because I was a fan and Clark was a  gifted slide guitarist. I started taking notes.

Clark died in 2010. You can read about him and (hear his music) here. This ten-year retrospective of favorite concerts, written for my old paper Isthmus,  is dedicated to Clark.

The story begins:

Yeah, I got a music jones. About 500 concerts and shows’ worth over 10 years.

I love being caught up in the moment of live music. Swept away and transported. Lost in the shared sway of the cosmic boogie. In jaw-dropping awe of masters like Yo-Yo Ma and Leonard Cohen. Melting before Cassandra Wilson. Transfixed by Shelby Lynne. Glimpsing the abyss with the fearless Jon Dee Graham. Zoning out with Philip Glass. Stunned by Greg Allman’s howl of pain. Brought to tears by Beethoven’s 9th and Gorecki’s 3rd.

I’m there. I’m all in. It might be jazz. it might be country. It might be opera or classical. Or even freaky-deaky electronica. For 10 years I’ve written a year-end summary of my favorite shows for Isthmus. A critic I’m not: These year-end perambulations are a fan’s notes.

So here are my favorite shows and artists in Madison from 2006 to 2015; at the end, I toss in a few more from Milwaukee and Chicago. They are in roughly descending order of my liking. My original comments (lightly edited) are followed by italicized afterthoughts and music links.

I will ’fess up that I seem to be drawn — how to delicately put this? — to guy music, alt-country division. Am I telling a secret here? That all guys know deep down that temptation, chaos, despair and ruin are always lurking around the corner. Yep, even if we live the most proper lives imaginable, those bad-boy songs resonate with us. Like the compelling and scary songs of Jon Dee Graham.

To read about Jon Dee Graham and lots more great musicians, please go here.

Favorite Concerts of 2016

January 1, 2017

Well, hey there, here’s my 11th annual roundup of favorite concerts for Isthmus.

I got around in 2016. Upwards of 80 shows in Madison, Milwaukee, Chicago and beyond. I listened to jazz, alt country, rock, classical, experimental — none of it was the stuff that dominates the music charts.

And sometimes I just I stumbled into a felicitous and serendipitous musical moment:

Harris Lemberg’s weird but enjoyable surf/instrumental band, Compact Deluxe, at Tempest (Jan. 22). Jim and Mike Blaha of Shadows in the Crack raising the roof at Mickey’s late one night (Oct. 28) with their noisy twin guitars. Madison’s grande dame jazz singers — Gerri DiMaggio, Jan Wheaton and Lynette Marguiles — trading choruses and killing on “Summertime” at Genna’s (July 23).
Or walking through Atwood Fest (July 31) with my dog Blue and hearing keyboard monster Jimmy Voegeli with horns and thinking: I gotta see this guy more often. Or 15 minutes earlier, breaking into a big smile hearing Jane Lee Hooker — an all-female southern soul band out of New York — rave up, howl and seize the music that may be the last redoubt of male privilege in the music world: southern boogie.
Or poking my head into the Harmony Bar music room (Dec. 8) during a fundraiser for a sick musician at the exact moment “Westside Andy” Linderman unloads a perfectly sculpted harmonica solo that stops me in my tracks.
There’s a lot of good music out there.

You can read about my favorite shows at the Isthmus website.

My older roundups are here: 2015, 201420132012201120102009200820072006.

Favorite Concerts of 2015

January 2, 2016

For  ten years, I’ve been writing an online roundup of my favorite concerts for Isthmus, the Madison weekly where I wrote and edited for many years. I’m not a critic, but I see a ton of live music.

My tastes are far-ranging. Opera to op’ry. Free jazz to dub. Classical to indigenous. Occasional rock. Blues if I can find it.

Last week, while traveling, I saw the Paris Opera’s widely panned restaging of Berlioz’s “The Damnation of Faust.” This was a cheeky new twist to  the age-old tale of a desperate man making a deal with the devil. Director Alvis Hermanis brashly uprooted the  opera from its traditional Middle Ages setting and placed it in the near future on the eve of a Mars space mission. This had audiences booing and critics howling.

I loved it. But 2015 was that kind of a musical year for me. The brasher the better. As I wrote in Isthmus:

I was looking for disruptive and challenging music. Some of this, frankly, was a reaction to our politically pissant times. They make you want to holler, to quote Marvin Gaye. If I were still writing about politics, I’d be tempted to raise my hand at press conferences and politely ask our leaders: “Are you fucking serious?”

Dark edgy music, at least on some nights, was where my head was at. It didn’t help I was playing Ben Sidran’s fine new album Blue Camus nonstop on my car’s beat-up CD player. Displaying a jazzman’s innate outsider sensibility, Sidran nailed the gestalt of certain precincts in Madison (and elsewhere) — a profound weariness and frustration with politics.

If they would just back it up or pack it up. Lead, follow or get out of the way,” he exclaims in “Wake Me When It’s Over,” before delivering his homily. “Because sometimes good things can happen to bad people. But, man, baaad people happen to good people every day.”

To read more (some 5,000 words worth), please go here.

My older roundups are here: 201420132012201120102009200820072006.

Allen Toussaint, RIP

November 11, 2015

The death of Allen Toussaint at age 77 is a profound loss for American culture.

I saw him perform in 2011, and it was my favorite concert of the year.

Here’s what I said in a year-end music piece for Isthmus’ website:

1. Old Man River

Allen Toussaint, Orchestra Hall, Chicago, Jan. 14

The crowd broke into “Happy Birthday” when Toussaint announced he had turned 73. Like a handful of other living legends I’ve seen (Gil Evans at the Village Vanguard, Alberta Hunter at the Cookery, Stephane Grappelli at the old Capitol Theater), Toussaint came joyously alive on stage, the deprecations of age seemingly banished by the magic of his art. This New Orleans icon was surrounded by an all-star band, featuring traditionalist trumpeter Nicholas Payton and hipster sax player/clarinetist Don Byron performing the wondrous songs on the Joe Henry-produced Bright Mississippi. This was an elegiac performance ranging from Louis Armstrong’s foundational “West End Blues,” to Toussaint’s own syncopated hit “Night People.” A sly and encyclopedic pianist (he mixed in a few classical licks on a long solo), Toussaint was the embodiment of American musical history. I left the show elated, knowing how lucky I was. When Toussaint passes, an era will pass with him. That’s why finally seeing Allen Toussaint was my most memorable concert of the year.

– See more at: http://www.isthmus.com/music/my-favorite-concerts-of-2011-mahler-and-mikrokolektyw-sinatra-and-sacred-steel/#sthash.ZbuZsaTz.dpuf

 

 

Free Concerts Are Bad For Madison Music

August 26, 2015

Madison is a great town, but not always for artists. Most people seem to like their art free or cheap, if at all. That’s one reason we’re blessed and somewhat cursed by the cavalcade of free music each summer. Finding that dark cloud on a sunny day, I write in the online arts journal Tone:

[T]hese free shows… have a downside. A serious one, I would argue. They undercut the economic viability of the local music scene. When so much great free music is available from regional and even national groups, why should fans dig into their wallets to hear a local band at a corner pub? Usually they don’t, unless it’s a weekend. That’s why I sat on the deck of Mickey’s not long ago, listening to the fine gypsy swing/Hawaiian group Mal-O-Dua without paying a cover.

Yep, there was a tip jar, but that’s demeaning. Musicians shouldn’t be expected to work for charity, any more than plumbers or lawyers should. Here’s the problem. In Madison, music is often considered a free (or “nonexclusive,” as economists would say) public good. Like the Fourth of July fireworks, the parks, clean streets. We all get a free pass to share them.

Four years ago, I wrote at length for Isthmus on the failure of the local music  to take off. You’ll find that cover story here.

If you’re interested, you can search this archive to find my annual roundup of favorite concerts. This is the 2014  story.


%d bloggers like this: