Music

Happy Traum: Woodstock’s Own Music Legend

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Submitted by Iain Patience

Harry P. Traum is unlikely to register with many, a name that slips past with neither a nod nor a glance perhaps. Shorten it, however, pulling it together to read HAPPY TRAUM and it rings the bell, bangs the drum and resonates with roots music lovers worldwide.

A New Yorker, Happy is one of those rare musicians, a musician's musician. Revered by most in the musical know, he is easily one of the most significant acoustic-roots musicians and guitar pickers of his - and many other - generations. His guitar mastery is without equal or question and his importance to the development of many world famous - and aspiring - musicians is genuinely astonishing.

Traum recalls with evident glee and deserved wonder and amusement how as a young guitar aspirant himself in late 1950s/early 1960s New York, he picked up a phone book and rang Brownie McGhee to ask for guitar lessons with one of modern blues music's notable greats.

'At college, New York University, I'd heard Brownie's Folkways album 'Brownie McGhee's Blues'. I loved it. I rang him up and he said, "Come on down. Let's see what you can do and I'll decide." I spent the next two or three years with Brownie, visiting him every few weeks or so, just playing together. He'd tell me if I was going wrong and I'd ask him to show me what he was doing and where he was going. We'd spend two or three hours like that. It was wonderful. Sometimes Sonny Terry would turn up and we'd all just play along together.'

Alexander Mair – Drop the Needle!

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Submitted by Bill King

Editor’s Note: Bill King had the opportunity to interview one of Canada’s music industry pioneers Alexander Mair on his radio show and provided this one on one story to Cashbox Canada.

Bill King: At ten years old you said you began buying 78’s. What was the fascination?

Alexander Mair: This was around 1950 and obviously before rock broke through and every Sunday at Noon radio station CHML in Hamilton played the Top Ten in descending order. Sundays I’d situate myself in front of the old Philco radio and listen to the Top Ten which at that time was called ‘middle of the road.’ I also discovered WUFO in Buffalo and WOWO in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. WUFO was a black station in Buffalo which had an announcer called George “the Hound” Lorenz. WOWO would have been called a Top Forty station at that time. Both stations opened my ears to a lot of music that wasn’t available in Canada, at least on radio but possibly in record stores, if you found the right record stores.

B.K.: Is this is where your fascination with R&B began - the “doo-wop” era?

A.M.: Yes. At that time the Billboard chart was called the Race Records chart. No so called white radio station would play a black artist, so white artists would have hits covering the black hits particularly two artists from Toronto – the Diamonds and the Crew Cuts. Both built their careers almost exclusively on songs written and recorded by black artists.

Thoughts on James Brown

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Submitted by Bill King

James Brown can take his rightful place alongside Coltrane, Miles, Ellington, the Beatles, Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles, and Otis Redding. The guy had a remarkable music mind: a unique way of hearing. Brown camped on the off beats, a most unusual place to inject a clever twist or a hypnotic phrase.

It was 1964 when I first caught James Brown live. I was playing a prom at the coliseum in Louisville, Kentucky, in a side room, while Brown inhabited center stage in the sports arena. What a spectacle it was: Brown with his cape, three drummers and two bass players. The place burned with shrieking females and thundering rhythm. With the exception of the Count Basie band, I'd never heard a band play with such precision.

That summer, we followed Brown to Club Cherry in Lebanon, Kentucky. I was with the Shadows, a cover band playing mostly rhythm and blues classics of the day. Club Cherry was a black music venue next to a long stretch of railroad tracks. The joint was dim, its walls sticky with tobacco stains and evaporating body sweat.

Soon as we walked in, I beheld two large glass jars. The first held three or four forlorn pickled pigs’ feet submerged in what looked like pond water; its twin, next to the cashier, showcased a preserved pig snout. Posters of Arthur Prysock, Count Basie, Lowell Fulsom, and Cab Calloway graced the walls. The bands shared dressing quarters with the club owner, who on this occasion had failed to sweep away a recently spent condom. The place reeked of dirty clothes and the smell of fresh pomade.

BTW with Foggy Hogtown Boys, Harlan Wells, Grace Vonderkhun , Brock Zeman, New Year's Eve at Hugh's Room, Elliott Brood

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Submitted by Lenny Stoute
Photo at right: Foggy Hogtown Boys

Folks in the Ottawa Valley will tell ya nothing says Christmas like banjos, mandos, fiddles and beards. Since 2001,Foggy Hogtown Boys have been delivering the goods to bluegrass fans across North America and around the world. What started as a weekly bar gig among friends has grown into one of Canada’s most popular roots music acts.

The FHBs are known for having a sound that, although not bound to traditional conservatism, doesn’t sound like a bluegrass band trying to make new country or pop hits. They are noted for having the ability to slide between being a bluegrass band or an old-time band with remarkable ease and authority. Even a casual listener can tell that the FHB owe as much to the country music that happened pre-1945 as to the golden age of bluegrass.

The FHB has had a constant line-up going on 11 years now. This is a testament to the friendship and deep musical bond that is shared between the members of the band. There are no stars in the band; each member is a featured singer and instrumentalist, whose strengths are supported by the rest of the ensemble.

A Year of Bad, a Year of Good

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Submitted by Bill King

I’m not a gun guy! As kids pops took me and the brother to the woods handed us a shot gun and pointed at something roaming the grounds and said, “point and shoot.” Neither of us could do it. Can’t explain; just not in our DNA. I think he was pissed at first then wrote the incident off without much thought.

Dad was a hunter, therefore there was a living room gun rack, a Winchester standing in the closet, and he even had a ‘pistol’ as he called it under his recliner just in case someone was planning a home invasion. I never gave it much thought. I think I toyed around with the Winchester a bit having watched Chuck Connors in the Rifleman, but never cocked and loaded and fired.

Steve Boone Up Close and Unplugged

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Submitted by Don Graham

These days there are documentaries for every era of the music business. There are films on The Wrecking Crew, Muscle Shoals and the Motown era with The Funk Brothers. Steve Boone, bass player/songwriter and founding member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame group, The Lovin’ Spoonful, has decided to take this concept to a different level.

If You Can’t Dance - You Don’t Stand a Chance

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Submitted by Bill King
Janelle Monae Photo Bill King

The demands on musicians in hard times couldn’t be more evident than when you scan the top of the Billboard charts and realize the big stars are triple threats. We’ll give Adele a pass – she’s an anomaly. Otherwise, it’s all about theatrics, dance and voice. You rarely get a hearing if you can’t keep the visuals popping. Even double right-foot Drake created a diversionary visual with his “Hotline Bling video, a likeness to a Seinfeld Show episode when Elaine cuts a “gimp dance” in amongst startled onlookers; that keeps him in the high hoofing game.

When I first inhabited the bandstand in 1961 I never cared for dance. In fact, I got paid to play both eleventh and twelfth grade high school proms. I felt I came out on top. My dilemma? Should I pin a corsage on the baritone sax player or clarinet guy?

Music and dance are inseparable.

Musicians tend to celebrate Duke Ellington for his large ensemble masterpieces; those collaborations with Billy Strayhorn and bypass the early development years when he was scoring charts for dancers at the Cotton Club. This was a beautiful thing! Guys and dolls – music and motion!

BTW with Ben Caplan, Viet Cong, Braves, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Alessia Cara

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Submitted by Lenny Stoute
Photo at right: Ben Caplan

The mighty, mighty boss baritone of Ben Caplan has been filing up venues all across our fair land all fall. Caplan and his sprawling band, The Casual Smokers, have been criss crossing the continent since mid-September playing over fifty shows in two months that culminated in a two night hometown stand in Halifax with Symphony Nova Scotia. This week it's Toronto's turn, with Caplan and crew touching down at The Burdock Dec.4 for a full album performance of his strangely brilliant "Birds with Broken Wings” album. The work features over 30 different musicians and a raft of unconventional instruments. The eleven songs making up the album range from angry and edgy to dramatic and inspirational, to some of the most beautiful and unconventional work Ben's ever made. With his new release, Caplan’s soul-fired, charismatic music has moved leaps and bounds, exploding out in surprising new directions.

BTW- with The Bros. Landreth, Wilderness Of Manitoba, Riverdale Share, Lowest Of The Low, Ulrika Spacek, Whitehorse, Daniel Caesar

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Submitted by Lenny Stoute

Roots rockin' beardos and JUNO Award Winners The Bros. Landreth have dropped an EP of cover songs titled Undercover Bros., or rather a collection of “songs we wish we wrote,” says vocalist / guitarist Joey Landreth. Beginning October 9, the songs were released one-by-one with a new track appearing each week on the band’s Spotify playlist. The EP includes tracks by Steely Dan, Lyle Lovett, John Hiatt, Paul McCartney, and Ry Cooder.

"We’ve always leaned heavily on our influences and wore them on our sleeves,” says Landreth. “We wanted to find a way to say thanks to those whom we have borrowed so much from by recording our renditions of their tunes.

Each of the songs make their way into The Bros. live set from time to time, and the band has been on another extensive North American tour since October 17.Fans can let The Bros. Landreth know what other songs they would like to hear them cover and can vote on a selection of chart-topping pop songs that they’d like to see the band put their spin on.

Earlier this year The Bros. Landreth were honoured with the JUNO Award for Roots Album Of The Year. Their record, Let It Lie, is album about open highway and broken hearts, anchored by the bluesy wail of electric guitars, the swell of B3 organ, and the harmonized swoon of two voices that were born to mesh. Rolling Stone has called them “...four Manitobans who understand that in blues music, it's all about the swagger, not the speed.”

Ray Charles Confessin' The Blues

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Submitted by Bill King

When I first heard Ray Charles I knew that was the voice I wanted to inhabit – just borrow for my own. It was far different from the soft tones that surfaced on a.m. radio. This was a voice that carried a teardrop around – a bit of rural soil – you could mix and grow good things in it.

Nearly every band I’d played with the early years had Ray as a starting point. He was everywhere – The Ed Sullivan Show, his own specials, Johnny Carson Show, the neighborhood – a festival coming soon – country radio – pop radio – midnight soul radio.

Few performers have wielded greater influence over generations of aspiring musicians than Ray Charles. In fact, the best way to gauge the impact of a performer may be by counting the number of imitators. In Charles' case, they are too numerous to count. Although he himself had impeccable musical taste, formidable ability to meld genres in new ways, and sang with genuine integrity of feeling, the influence he had on mediocre singers is profound. During the decades of the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, you could travel the back roads and blue highways from Louisiana to California, stop in any juke joint or club and hear a Ray Charles wannabe belt out an off-key rendition of “Georgia” or “Unchain My Heart.”

Almost never did these karaoke clones on the Right Reverend Ray succeed musically.

Nevertheless, more than once I have seen approving eyes in the audience and smiles on the face of the singer, especially if they succeeded in mimicking a memorable Charles inflection.

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