Old time-enthusiasts, scholars, banjo-slingers and guitar-pickers will converge on the campus of Appalachian State University in Boone this week for the Black Banjo Gathering. Stretching from March 24–28, the event features workshops, concerts, panel discussions, lectures, and late-night frolics all designed to commemorate the African, Afro-Caribbean, and African American origins of the banjo and recognize the merit of the black banjo tradition at large.
The Gathering is the second to unite this cross-section of practitioners and devotees. At the first, which happened in April of 2005, hundreds congregated to champion the sound and the artists who have persisted, notably Mebane’s own Joe Thompson, who went on to receive the NEA Heritage Fellowship for his lifetime of contributions in 2007. The 2005 event also has special significance because it marks the genesis of The Carolina Chocolate Drops, who met for the first time while in attendance and have gone on to garner national and international attention for their stringband inspired music.
It’s not a stretch to describe Bill Kirchen as one of the music world’s Zeligs. There he is back in his Ann Arbor, Mich., childhood in a school picture with Bob Seger and James “Iggy Pop” Osterberg, Jr. That’s him, Fender Telecaster in hand, in the team photos for Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen and for proto-new wavers (found in that big tent’s roots-revival corner) the Missing Moonlighters. Shots of Doug Sahm, Emmylou Harris, and Elvis Costello in a studio or on a stage would reveal Kirchen, guitar still smoking, nearby. Spot him backing Nick Lowe as an Impossible Bird, and then spot Lowe backing Kirchen on the latter’s 2007-released Hammer of the Honky-Tonk Gods, a genre-hopping gem. You can even catch his name in a George Pelecanos book.
Of course, the difference between Zelig and Kirchen is that Woody Allen’s fictitious chameleon was a passive bystander. Kirchen, while as unassuming as they come, is always right in the middle of the action. And with a new record due in May and a busy touring schedule, he clearly intends to stay there for as long as possible.
A standard Q&A phone call quickly turned into a roaming conversation between two music geeks—one just happened to be the King of Dieselbilly, a gent once described by Lowe as “a devastating culmination of the elegant and funky,” and one of the best guitarists in the land (the other decidedly none of those things). Below are just a few of the things Kirchen had to say.
Athens, Ga., trio Music Hates You aren’t about to let you off easy. Like Jesus Lizard sunning on molten, accelerated Black Sabbath grooves, the Athens trio are hot to the touch and likely to drop right through the floor of your third story apartment. Frontman Noah Ray’s performances are possessed. He’s always been comfortable as the center of attention. That goes back to the last time you saw him, when he was the skater boy digging around in that dilapidated house of R.E.M.’s video, “End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine).” It’s still that way today. After a recent show, a Waffle House waitress joked they could plug in there, and so he loaded in. She’ll think twice before she opens her mouth next time.
Tonight at Slim's, one of the best, The Kingsbury Manx, joins Inspector 22 for a benefit show for a friend with cystic fibrosis. I received this note Wednesday afternoon, after our print preview hit the racks.
Thanks for getting this weekend's The Kingsbury Manx benefit show into this week's Indy. It is very much appreciated. Our friend is getting the lung transplant as I type this.
See you there, I hope.
There’s a treacherous drive—alternating clay and gravel, and passing over a shallow creek—that turns off of a certain Chapel Hill road and leads into the trees. After several hundred yards, the red clay driveway opens, revealing a little house that’s more of a hermitage.
It’s the warmest it’s been in several weeks today, and I’m sitting in the sun with Adam Brinson and Joe Taylor—together, Blag’ard. They’ve recently finished their second album, Mach II. It’s a solid unit, a catchy if menacing rock record that squeals off the lot like a muscle car and handles like Luke Skywalker’s X-wing.
Being at Joe’s house is like looking through a window into his mind: There’s a kind of sacred disarray here that contrasts the piercing clarity of his thought process. It’s organized, sure, but it’s organized the same way a forest floor is organized. His black Gibson, the guitar from his Capsize 7 days, leans against a wall like a fallen branch. Fliers on the walls tell tales of shows and bands long gone. Looking out the windows of the little room where this loud, loud band practices, I again see the trees and a gentle slope that falls toward the creek. This could be anywhere. Joe’s pretty intense, and Adam’s one of those gleeful dudes who makes himself laugh on a regular basis.
They have agreed to take a verbal Rorschach test, of sorts.
Good news for Schooner a few hours ahead of their release party behind the Duck Kee Sessions: Despite only mailing the minimum of 150 promo copies of the EP to radio stations nationwide, the disc has broken the CMJ Top 200. Landing at No. 99, just behind Merge's Shout Out Louds and 10 spots ahead of the new Xiu Xiu record, this is the EP's first week on the charts. The big show starts tonight at The Pinhook at 10 p.m. For more, see our review of Duck Kee Sessions this week.
Oakland-based DJ Ripley comes from the branch of digital investigators like Wayne Marshall doing as much research on beats, ethnomusicology, or copyright as they are with their mixing skills.
So, it's natural she would be here for the C.H.A.T. festival, hosted by UNC's Institute for the Arts and Humanities this week. As the organizers put it, "CHAT will draw together the diverse digital resources of the Triangle area in a series of performances, discussions, exhibitions and workshops to showcase Collaborations: Humanities, Arts & Technology."
Among the panels and discussions that started yesterday and run through Saturday, music comes up in bleeps of talk about fair use and other topics, and in blasts of plain old floor-smashing rhythmic bliss.
Local steadfast folks Yugen, One Duran, along with WXYC music director Montgomery Morris, fill out the roster for Fuse.
In fact, tune into XYC tonight at 9 p.m. for the winning entries in the Locally Produced Digital Music Showcase, a contest curated by WXYC, in partnership with the festival.
Pop over to some of the events during the festival, then drop in to Fuse for the bass in yer face.
It was a good year for the future Queen of Rockabilly, Wanda Jackson. Yup, in 1952, still in her early teens, she won a talent contest, which led to her own radio show on a local station and, subsequently, an offer from bandleader Hank Thompson to perform with his Brazos Valley Boys.
And 2009 was none too shabby either. Jackson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with Rosanne Cash handling the induction speech honors. She had a street named after her in her home city, and she was the subject of a documentary, which is currently airing only on the Smithsonian Channel. And she finished recording an album, produced by Jack White, which is set to drop toward the end of 2010.
Of course, the nearly 60 years in between were hardly idle. There were shared bills with Elvis Presley, a couple decades’ worth of memorable rockabilly and country sides recorded for Capitol (including her signature song, “Let’s Have a Party”), some national hits, and countless tour miles. Her focus shifted to gospel music in the ’70s, and she did inspirational concerts with her husband and manager, Wendell Goodman. But a tour with Rosie Flores in the mid ’90s found Jackson rockin’ in the U.S. again.
As Jackson talks from her home in Oklahoma City, she’s excited about the release of a 7” featuring two songs from the upcoming record (an atmospheric, horn-dotted take on Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good” and a right-in-her-wheelhouse version of Johnny Kidd & the Pirates’ enduring “Shakin’ All Over”), and she’s preparing to leave for a brief tour that will finish in Raleigh on Valentine’s Day. But the Independent got to talk to her before she got out of town.
There were warning signs from the start. The first two Web sites encountered during a little table-setting—the Vapor Records site and Richman’s MySpace page—delivered direct hits to my optimism. “Please note that Jonathan Richman does not have any direct involvement with the Vapor Records Web site and does not participate in the Internet on any level,” offered the former in polite parentheses. And the latter helpfully (and equally as politely, although the host did raise his or her voice twice) pointed out, “Please be aware that I am NOT Jonathan Richman nor has he anything to do with this here site—it's strictly unofficial and fan run. Just as—to my knowledge—EVERY internet site dedicated to Mr. Richman is.”
Thus, I wasn’t surprised when his manager told me that Richman hasn’t done print interviews for years, engaging in only the occasional TV or radio spot. And with that, a rather crucial component of “Five Words with Jonathan Richman” went missing. But the show must go on though.
Please be aware that I am NOT Jonathan Richman nor did he have anything to do with these here responses.