Thursday, June 30, 2011

Clarence Clemmons

Lately things have conspired to make me feel my age. I just spoke to a group about shooting concerts and the audience looked unusually grey haired but seemed to know all the bands.
Other things make me aware of time passing but are a bit harder to take.

Such was the passing of Clarence Clemons, The Big Man, Bruce's soul brother soldier in music. It's impossible to hear Bruce and the E Street Band in my head without Clarence's horn. What's Jungleland without that plaintive wail?
When I first photographed Bruce and band back in 1984 I probably couldn't name anyone else in the band except Clarence. I knew if I shot Bruce I had to have the Big Man in some shots too. The power he brought to the performance elevated the arena, the only power that could match Bruce's own on that stage. There was a closeness in the whole band but the link between those two was of a deeper level. Of course I may be reading more into this than there was but I doubt it.
I'm going to miss just knowing he was out there creating, sending his soul into sounds that I would soon get to hear. I don't know how the E Street Band is going to survive without him.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Ted Nugent turns 60

Today Ted Nugent turns 60. WhodaTHUNKit?
I went to this show unprepared for the level of noise, the loudest show I think I ever saw. When he came on, it was from a rope swinging in high from offstage and wearing only a loin cloth.  He was a wildman and put on a great show. 
Never would have guessed then that he was such a right leaning gun nut.

Happy Birthday Ted. I know he's a proud member of the NRA. Is he now also a member of the AARP?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Cab Callaway

Cab Callaway-American Original! 

A few years ago, I was cruising along the sidewalks of North Beach in Miami when I walked by a curb-parked convertible Caddy with some guys in it. At first, I thought they kinda looked a bit like mafia muscle. Then I noticed the one older guy in the back, grinning with a full set of shiny whites and instantly recognized him, Cab Callaway, one of America's premier Big Band leaders, Jazz performers and Scat singers (he supposedly learned scat singing from Louis Armstrong). Since he was there, smiling and relaxed (and his fellow passengers didn't appear armed) I thought he wouldn't mind a shot or two. I just leaned in and shot. He seemed to be having a  ball too.

Callaway first came to prominence in the 1930's with greats like Dizzy Gillespie in his band. That band was a semi-official co-host of the Cotton Club with Duke Ellington's band.

I guess I knew his famous face from too many viewings of the 1980 movie The Blues Brothers. In that movie he performs Minnie the Moocher, his most well known song, one he performed for the Betty Boop cartoons. Callaway made many appearances later in his life including Sesame Street, Wrestlemania, Janet Jackson videos and other movies and stage productions. Winner of the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, he passed away 14 years ago last week.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Leon Redbone 1980

Seeing Leon Redbone in 1980 was a trip...both in strangeness and that it was a trip to the distant past in American music. Redbone is a man of mystery who shrouds his identity behind false information. Few, if any, know who he really is. Anyone who's paid attention knows he's a master of real 'root's' music, from Tin Pan Alley to 20's jazz and minstrel shows. With his deep voice and unique style, his music is immediately identifiable.

The best moment of the show for me was when my friend and writer Denny Angelle interviewed him back stage. Let me let Denny tell you the story from his blog It's a super music blog.

Denny's Story...
One guy from the 1970s who seems to be unfairly forgotten is Leon Redbone. One could make a strong case that a large part of his current anonymity is his own fault - after all, when he was “hot” Leon made it very hard to know anything about him. We saw Leon in Beaumont, Texas, in the late 1970s … he skulked backstage and we went in a few minutes later to do an interview.

Although he was cordial and polite, Leon didn’t have much to say - at least anything we could understand. He muttered incomprehensible answers to our questions, talking about Romanian comic books and arcane musical styles. He did mention that one of his influences was Emmitt Miller, a minstrel show performer of the 1920s who often performed his songs in blackface. Onstage, Redbone was great: he is an expert guitar player, and at one point he performed an intricate piece with a handkerchief draped over the frets of his guitar. Always a polite young man (we think he was young), he tipped his hat to the audience and sought out friendly faces with a flashlight. He sings, he plays, and he does trumpet sounds with his mouth - and he’s done about 15 albums this way.

Redbone skulked onto the scene in 1975 with On The Track, a pretty good album from Warner Bros. with artwork featuring that company’s smart-ass singing and dancing frog (there was no WB television network back then, just that one cartoon with the frog). Over the years Redbone has appeared on TV shows and commercials, puts out albums sporadically and continues to perform in small venues. He’s as mysterious now as he was back then, and I guess that is the way he likes it.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Stevie Ray Vaughan 1983

Not many of my friends were that familiar with Stevie Ray Vaughan when I photographed him playing in 1983. He was still known more as a white blues guitarist from Texas, not as the great fluid sparkling electric superstar he'd become before he died. But when I went to shoot him, my music wordsmith and concert partner-in-crime-friend Kelley Bass knew very well who he was. We were both jazzed, even if it was a show at the old barn-like Hall of Industry at the Arkansas State Fairgrounds in Little Rock.

I'd seen Stevie Ray's brother Jimmy Lee Vaughan (see my earlier post) play many times in Austin with his band the Fabulous Thunderbirds. Through that exposure I learned of Stevie Ray before the world at large. But it was 1983 and the peak of MTV's influence on the charts and the tastes of music fans. So, great as his fan's knew him to be, he was relegated to opening for The Call. Their album "modern romans' was on the charts and heavy rotation at MTV with the song "When The Walls Came Down".

Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble were about to launch large, partly because of the about-to-be-released David Bowie album "Let's Dance". Stevie Ray did much of the searing guitar work on that release to great critical aclaim.

Meanwhile, in the Hall Of Industry, an old metal butler building with crummy sound, about 150 people gathered for the show. Thinking back, I can't decide if the crowd was there more for Stevie Ray or The Call. Stage Lighting was nearly non-existant. The stage itself rose only about 18 inches off the festival seating floor. With no chairs, everyone there just crowded up against the lip of the stage. I imagine most of the crowd wasn't more than ten or fifteen feet from SRV. Anyone who didn't know who he was quickly realized they were seeing something special.Stevie Ray and the band just walked out, picked up their instruments and started. SRV was wearing a pair of jeans, black sleeveless T-Shirt, boots and a great black hat with a band of silver medallions. He blazed, playing behind his head, behind his back, with his teeth, even on his back. He was working so hard he must have lost 10 pounds by the end of the set. Most of us could reach out and just touch him... or could have if our dropped jaws hadn't been in the way.

I was shooting with kodak Tri-X 400 ISO black and white film with a Nikon F2 and FM2. I would guess my lenses were a 24mm 2.8 and a 85mm 1.8. I was so close that the wide lenses were almost the only lens I could use yet there wasn't a way to back up.

We saw something that night that those before us probably knew but was a revelation that night in Little Rock. I was impressed that The Call even came out, let alone gave such a great performance as well. Lead Singer Michael Been was a class act..and brave to follow SRV. I did have another chance to photograph Stevie Ray shortly before his death when he played a double bill with Joe Cocker. But that's another story.

Also, there is a great Musicologist who has just published a complete Stevie Ray Vaughan chronicle. His name is Craig Hopkins and he's put a herculean effort, working with SRV's family, into documenting SRV's life and work. If you're a fan, you need that book. Order it from

Monday, July 7, 2008

Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown

AFter reading this, if you would, please continue reading the second posting from my great friend Denny. He is a super writer and has often played 'Master' to my 'Grasshopper' when it comes to musical knowledge and savvy.

Many times shooting concerts, I wasn't necessarily a fan of.. or even knowledgeable about the artist on stage. "Gatemouth" Brown is a perfect example of that. The first time I photographed him was in a small dark club in Southeast Texas, not far from his home. Before the show, I thought he was 'just another' of the local cajun musicians that all seemed, to my ear, to be similar and, fun as they were, a dime a dozen. When he hit the stage and started to play, I knew I was seeing someone special. Before Nirvana, before the Pixies, he perfected the 'soft-loud' dynamic that seemed so prevalent in the 1990's rock scene. But he didn't play Rock, he played an amazing amalgam of styles, synthesizing Blues, Cajun, Country, Jazz and R&B into his own unique sound.

He once told the NY Times that he played "American Music, Texas style", refusing to call it Blues, and was scornful of musicians who let themselves be "too easily understood by settling into a single sound". He thought "Delta Blues" too negative and hearing him play live was a truly uplifting experience. He dressed for performances in a Western Shirt and Cowboy hat, playing electric guitar, fiddle, mandolin, harmonica and even drums. His first public notice came when he filled in for Texas Electric Blues great T-Bone Walker in post-war Houston. T-Bone, one of the few guitarist Gatemouth admitted liking had developed an ulcer. Brown walked on stage, picked up Walker's guitar and supposedly earned 600 bucks in 15 minutes and a record contract with Peacock Records.

Many of his early records were as close to Rock and Roll as anything being played at the time. But the influence of jazz and swing artist like Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Louis Jordan kept him from being pigeon-holed, maybe, it seems, costing him the wider-spread commercial success he might have had in a single genre of music. His own influence is spread far and wide including Lonnie Brooks, Albert Collins, Johnny Copeland, Johnny "guitar" Watson and even Frank Zappa who said Brown was his favorite guitarist of all time.

When I saw him, he played fiddle as much as guitar and the barely audible delicate notes that would creep out of his bow and fiddle would have you leaning forward to hear only to have you blasted back into your seat by the power behind the next notes. I would not have wanted to be a sound engineer on his recordings.

Some years later in Little Rock I had a chance to photograph him in another club. I found out where he was staying that day and called him in his room. I had a shot I liked of him playing fiddle, head back and fiddle held high.The shot was in black and white (see above) and probably shot on Tri-X at 400 ISO and shot with a Nikon F2 60th of a second at 2.8 on a 180mm nikor 2.8 lens. I mounted two large prints, one for him and one for me and dropped by his motel room. The motel was cheap and dingy. It was a sunny bright noontime when I arrived but in his room it was darker than the clubs he played. He was sitting on the edge of an unmade bed in a T-shirt and boxers, rolling a fat joint while a little girl slept in the second double bed. I sat in the only chair and showed him the prints. He signed one for me and liked the one I brought him. I very rarely asked for autographs. But when I did, it was only if I could have them sign one of my prints for me and I always left one for them, what I hoped was a fair exchange.

That night in the club he was joyous as always from stage, playing for the audience and probably as much for himself, for the joy it seemed to bring him. He died of cancer at 81 in 2005, not long after losing his Slidell, Louisiana home to Hurricane Katrina. If you never had a chance to hear him live, it's a true shame. Buy some of his music like 1979's album "Makin' Music" with Roy Clark, his 1982 Grammy Winner "Alright Again!" or his last release while alive, "Timeless" from 2004 and you can still experience a true 'American original'.

And Now Denny's Post

Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown was one of the stars of the first Houston Juneteenth Festival in 1977. He impressed the audience there because he played blues on the guitar then picked up a fiddle and played country as pure as could be. Just like it was kind of weird to see white boys playing the blues (Fabulous Thunderbirds, Stevie Ray) even in 1977 it was equally strange to see a black guy playing stone country. Nevertheless, Gatemouth was a big blues star in Houston - he recorded for the Peacock label in the 1950s and put out some great blues sides. We saw Gatemouth at the Palace in Beaumont, a big ol' two-story wooden structure that you knew was going to burn down someday as part of an insurance settlement. Gatemouth always wore a big cowboy hat and western shirt and was proud to recall growing up in Orange, Texas, and learning to play fiddle from his father.
Gatemouth cut an album with Roy Clark of "Hee Haw" in 1979, he won a Grammy Award in 1982, and he played almost until the day he died. He died in Orange, the same town he grew up in, after evacuating his home for Hurricane Katrina in 2005. One of the last things he recorded was a song on the Los Super Seven tribute to border radio Heard It On The X. Gatemouth cut the blues standard "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean," and he went out the same way he walked the earth every day - with a lot of class.

Check out Denny's great blog in the links at upper right or at

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Jimmy Vaughan, Kim Wilson and the Fabulous Thunderbirds

This one is written by my good friend Denny Angelle. Denny and I covered music together for a number of years in South Texas, Denny with his wit and magic words and me with my camera. Hanging out with Denny is like a PHD classroom on music, so extensive is knowledge and love for it. He is also the author of a great Music blog. Please check it out in my links, it's one of the very best.

The Home Of The Blues

At the Port Arthur News in the late 1970s-1980s, we had plenty to keep us busy. But for some reason we also had a lot of time to goof off. Our editor sensed this, and he gave us a truly dismal assignment – drive to Austin and interview people who are from the Golden Triangle (Beaumont/Port Arthur) area of Southeast Texas.

It was 1980, and the first couple of expatriates were predictably boring. But one guy who ran a restaurant said, “You oughta talk to Clifford … he’s from Port Arthur.” Wha? Clifford Antone, the guy who ran the hot blues club in Austin. And the restauranteur offered to make a phone call to set it all up.

So, late in the afternoon, we found ourselves squinting in the darkness of Antone’s club and talking to a squat gentleman with unruly hair and a soft almost-Cajun accent. “Our original club, on Sixth Street, was a great success until we lost our lease,” he told us. “The owners wanted to tear down the building.”

Antone came from the Amuny family of Port Arthur, a family that owned a liquor store and other businesses in the area. Clifford grew up listening to the blues and rock on local station KOLE-AM and dreamed of one day becoming a musician himself. “That didn’t happen,” he snorted.

Antone’s in 1980 was in the northern reaches of Austin, in a suburban strip center. There were posters on the wall and foam fire retardant sprayed onto the ceiling. The funk factor in this joint was about a minus-5. But people came in, streamed in, and the band picked up their instruments.

The house band at the time was the Fabulous Thunderbirds – Jimmie Vaughan, Kim Wilson, Keith Ferguson and Mike Buck. The bluesiest bunch of white cats you have ever seen. They were road-managed by our good buddy Billy Cross (also from Port Arthur) and they had some attitude. Kim Wilson, the lead singer and harmonica player, would jive you and if you didn’t laugh, well, too damn bad. A few years later he read one of my writeups on the group and gave me some shit about saying he played the “harp.” “Who do you think I am,” he needled, “Harpo Marx?”

But they could lay down some blues – and Art was snapping away. He shot one of the best photos of any guitarist I’ve ever seen, the shot of Jimmie Vaughan, his bare toes sticking out of a cast, playing the guitar behind his head. Of course we couldn’t run the picture in a family newspaper (check the sticker on the back of his guitar) but for me it will always be a classic.

Clifford Antone died in 2006, a victim of the excesses he embraced throughout his life. But he left a giant shadow in Austin and the world – he helped begin the career of the T-Birds and Stevie Ray Vaughan, among many others, and the club that bore his name is still rockin’ and jumpin’ every night in Austin (now in a much hipper location). Art’s photos of Clifford may be lost in the files of a small Southeast Texas newspaper, but that shot of Jimmie Vaughan is the keeper – a look back at a golden age of Texas music and a moment that lit the fuse on a music that was about to be heard throughout the world.