Author Archive

The P Speaks: Guy Clark, Folk Icon

8 July 2008

Homegrown tomatoes, homegrown tomatoes
What’d life be without homegrown tomatoes
Only two things that money can’t buy
That’s true love & homegrown tomatoes

– Guy Clark

It’s tomato season here in the dkpresents garden, so I’ve been thinking a lot about Guy Clark. I have a tomato fetish – cherry tomatoes specifically. Sweet 100s, Golden Nuggets, Black Cherries, Gardener’s Delight, Riesentraube and my favorite of the week, the spectacular Sweet Chelseas.  

Guy Clark has been singing in his wistful voice about tomatoes — and other things — since the late 1950’s. A native Texan, Guy was influenced by Texas blues legends like Mance Lipscomb and Lightnin’ Hopkins in his early days on the Houston-Austin folk circuit in the early 60’s, where he rubbed elbows with Townes Van Zandt and Jerry Jeff Walker. 

Clark moved to the west coast in the late 60’s – San Francisco and later Los Angeles – and started to write songs of personal experience, resulting in visual stories like ‘LA Freeway’ and ‘Desperados Waiting for a Train.’ Tiring quickly of Southern California, Clark – and his artist wife Susanna – moved to Nashville in 1971, and they were quickly surrounded by a talented fraternity of singer-songwriters: Steve Earle, Rodney Crowell, Billy Joe Shaver, David Allan Coe, Van Zandt and others. Johnny Cash and Jerry Jeff Walker were some of the earliest to release Guy Clark’s songs on their albums, and many collaborations with others have followed, including Lyle Lovett, John Hiatt, Joe Ely, John Prine, Emmylou Harris and Mary Chapin Carpenter. Clark has 12 albums to his credit, and my personal favorite is Old No. 1 from 1975. (For you gardeners, ‘Homegrown Tomatoes’ was released on 1983’s Better Days.)

Guy Clark has been a nonstop touring legend for close to 35 years. I first saw him perform in 1991, sharing the stage with the enigmatic Townes Van Zandt and a youngster named Robert Earl Keen, Jr. who has evolved into quite a storyteller himself. Guy Clark broke his leg in May of this year, and had to stop touring for a couple of months. Here’s to a speedy recovery and for full mobility in time for his scheduled appearance at Hardly Strictly.

In the interim, I hope he’s enjoying being home during tomato season…

Listen: L.A. Freeway [Live]

Listen: Homegrown Tomatoes [Live]
If I’s to change this life that I lead
I’d be Johnny Tomato Seed
Cause I know what this country needs
Homegrown tomatoes in every yard you see
When I die don’t bury me
In a box in a cemetery
Out in the garden would be much better
I could be pushin’ up homegrown tomatoes

The P Speaks: What kind of music…

21 June 2008

…is best for catching raccoons? 

It was hot in the Bay Area last night. We had all the doors open for a couple of hours and we knew there had been a raccoon visit to the cat food bowl around 10 pm – but we thought we’d scared them all back to the great outdoors.


The cats let us know about this oversight around 5 am, with a lot of warbling. The investigatory committee established that we had two raccoon cubs – maybe 8-10 weeks old – under the couch in the living room.

First report: Very cute. And very scared.

Second report: Well-armed with claws and teeth.

We opened all the doors and hoped they’d sneak out. 


We gently scared them toward the exits.


We left the room, to allow them to contemplate their next move.

They took this opportunity to scramble into the corner farthest from the open doors.

We took pictures.

They smirked for the camera.

We called our family wildlife expert in Rhode Island. 

The raccoons didn’t approve of – or fall for – her proposed solution. They napped in the corner as we contemplated our next move.

We thought about picking them up, wearing our falconing gloves. 

They snarled at the suggestion. 

We got busy with the longest handled brooms in the house. 

They split up. One went out the door.

There was premature celebration…

…while the other one snuck up the stairs to our bedroom.

There was extensive swearing amongst the committee. (Did I mention how extensive the swearing was?)

There was no swearing on the part of the raccoon. Just some grumbling.

More fun ensued, and ultimately we escorted the little man (or lady) back down the hall, down the stairs, out the door, down more stairs to the yard and hopefully the whole dang family has found each other and written a screenplay about their adventure. Meanwhile, we’ve been working on the soundtrack for their movie…

Twin Banjo Special


The P Speaks: Somethin’ Else

13 June 2008

Somethin Else - album

I’ve been surprised that dk hasn’t writen about this album in greater depth. It’s long been in his list of top Blue Note albums. And mine too. This recording captures some of the best work by two of the best soloists in jazz history – and recorded by one of the legendary behind-the-scenes figures in jazz, Rudy Van Gelder. (It’s no secret I have a little crush on Mr. Van Gelder.)

Named for the Miles Davis composition, this album is a conversation between Miles Davis on trumpet and Cannonball Adderley on alto sax. (The collaboration between Adderley and Davis continued in 1959 with Davis’s universally acclaimed Kind of Blue, by this same powerful group of musicians.)

But words don’t due this album justice: listen for yourself.

Autumn Leaves


Somethin’ Else

Cannonball Adderley

Cannonball Adderley (alto sax)
Miles Davis (tenor sax)
Hank Jones (piano)
Sam Jones (bass)
Art Blakey (drums)

1. Autumn Leaves
2. Love For Sale 
3. Somethin’ Else
4. One For Daddy-O 
5. Dancing In The Dark
6. Bangoon – (bonus track)

Original Release Date: March 9, 1958

The P Speaks: Alton Kelley

4 June 2008

I read an interview, I forget who, it was either Maxwell Parrish or Norman Rockwell. They were quoted as saying when you get the right idea, it rings the bell. I wait until the bell rings. – Alton Kelley, Rock Artist, 2007

Alton Kelley, with long-time collaborator Stanley “Mouse” Miller, created many of the psychedelic posters and art associated with the 1960’s rock scene in San Francisco. The art rock eye candy they created is part of our national heritage – and a few examples are in the Smithsonian.

In the fall of 1965, Kelley was one of the four people who called themselves the Family Dog. This group was a cornerstone of San Francisco’s music scene, and became known for thowing psychedelic dance parties in the Longshoremen’s Hall. At this time, the Family Dog was a small operation: Kelley often designed the flyers advertising their shows, and he needed help. Along came Stanley Miller. Under the name Mouse Studios, they produced art together: left-handed Alton working on one side of the easel, and right-handed Mouse on the other.

In the late sixties, San Francisco was graced with two competing music impresarios: the deal-making Bill Graham and the laid-back Chet Helms. Graham booked the Fillmore, and Helms the Avalon Ballroom. To promote their shows, they produced posters and handbills. Both realized early on that the posters they commissioned to advertise upcoming concerts – from a handful of artists – were collectors items, and began numbering their respective series. Now classics, the Fillmore/BGP series totals 287, the Avalon about 150. Other artists who contributed to this emerging genre of advertising included Wes Wilson, Rick Griffin, Greg Irons, Bonnie MacLean, Randy Tuten, Lee Conklin, David Byrd, Norman Orr and David Singer. [And to clarify for those that associate the Family Dog mainly with Chet Helms, in time he became the primary name associated with the Family Dog.]

Kelley and Mouse worked for both promoters, producing volumes of iconic work, much of it cheerfully indecipherable. Their studio was a converted firehouse in the Lower Haight. For inspiration, they scrutinized old photos, etchings, and collections in the public library. French poster-making techniques influenced their use of color. They copied an illustration of a skeleton from a 19th century edition of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, and it became first a handbill and later an album cover for the Grateful Dead.

The pair created dozens of rock posters and album covers for many groups, including Jimi Hendrix, Bo Diddley, Bukka White, the 13th Floor Elevators, Journey, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Captain Beefheart, Steve Miller Band, and Big Brother and the Holding Company. The two collaborated recently on the cover of the program for a recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction dinner.

Alton Kelley died this week. Age 67. Complications of osteoporosis.

As Joel Selvin, rock critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, phrased it years ago, “Kelley and Mouse drew the first face on rock music.”

The P Speaks: Radio Station HOBO

31 May 2008

Whitebeard the Pirate Signs Off…


photo credit: Christopher Dunn |

“In a mass marketing culture, a revolutionary song is any song you chose to sing yourself. Welcome to the revolution.”  – U. Utah Phillips

U. Utah Phillips died this week. Heart failure. Aged 73.

Utah Phillips was a folk festival staple in Northern California over the years – as a folk singer, labor organizer, peace activist, storyteller, and poet. He was also a very visible presence – full white beard, flowing white hair, and usually a big ol’ hat with a colorful shirt and suspenders. He was as much a historian as a singer – his songs educated his audience as he told the story.

A long time resident of Nevada City, in the Sierra Nevada mountains, he was the self-titled “Voice of the Great Southwest.”  Born Bruce Duncan Phillips, he took the name U. Utah Phillips as a tribute to fellow musician T. Texas Tyler. His other influences included folk singers Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Hank Williams.

An Army private during the Korean War, Phillips referred to this experience as the turning point of his life. Affected by the devastation and human misery he had witnessed in Korea, back in America he faced the now-familiar difficulties of returning combat veterans.

He became a drifter, riding freight trains around the country. Phillips got off a train in Salt Lake City, destitute and drinking, and wound up at the Joe Hill House, a homeless shelter. He later ended up working at the Joe Hill House, and Phillips credited Ammon Hennacy, the social reformer, pacifist and anarchist who operated the facility, with having provided him with a philosophical framework around which he later constructed songs and stories. In 1968, he ran for the U.S. Senate for the Peace and Freedom Party. And lost. He eventually left Utah for the folk community in Saratoga Springs, and released his first record in 1973. Most of the songs on his early albums are railroad related – a single from his first record, ‘Moose Turd Pie,’ tells the story of a work gang repairing railroad tracks in the southwest, and saw extensive airplay in 1973. 

He was a proud member of the Industrial Workers of America, the Traveling Musicians’ Union 1000, and Grand Duke of Hobos. He was also a member of the great Traveling Nation, the community of hobos and railroad bums that populates the rail lines in the Midwest, and has been an archivist of their history and culture.

He partnered with a number of people over the years – from filling in for Kate Wolf when she became too sick to perform, to Rosalie Sorrels, to Ani DeFranco. His songs have been performed by many, including Emmylou Harris, Tom Waits, Waylon Jennings, Joan Baez, Joe Ely and others. He received a Grammy nomination for his work with Ani DeFranco and was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Folk Alliance in 1997. After his ability to travel was hampered by heart disease, he hosted his own weekly radio show, Loafer’s Glory: The Hobo Jungle of the Mind.

Despite his 38-year career as a folksinger, he claimed that he never lost his stage fright before performances. Though he started out as a singer, he was hesitant about his guitar playing, and over the years his concerts became increasingly based on storytelling instead of just song. He claimed his personality brought him fans. “It is better to be likeable than talented,” he often said.

He had a way with words right up to the end… I particularly like the letter he sent out a few weeks ago to family and friends, knowing the end was in sight. “Utah here, with a rambling missive pandect and organon regarding my current reality…” You can read it all here. 

Among his many soapboxes, one of my favorites was his taking issue with NPR for accepting corporate donations, the ‘Talking NPR Blues‘. I’ve excerpted the end of it below, but it’s worth a full listen.

I got tired of being treated like a veg
So I called up the station and canceled my pledge
In a mighty act of liberation
Sent the money off to my community station

I said “I love you”

But if you blow it
I’ll sure as hell let you know it
I’ll knock the radio off the shelf
Buy a transmitter and do it myself

Whitebeard the Pirate

This is radio station H O B O
Broadcasting on a vagrancy of 60 to 90 days
Signing off
For now.


The P Speaks: Light Rock, Less Talk

22 May 2008

I went to the dentist the other day. I have a pretty decent dentist: nice punctual staff, renovated office with a view of a tree-filled park, all the latest gadgets for plaque removal, and none too preachy about my flossing regimen.

But the music. Whoa. They broadcast a local radio station who’s claim to fame is “light rock, less talk. And at least three commercials for every song.” I wasn’t consciously tracking the playlist during my hour visit, but it was just so bad I couldn’t help it. I did count – there were 9 songs in a 60 minute span, and most were lil’ shorties. So between Rod Stewart (who I understand is a shitbag), Lionel Richie, Mariah Carey and 6 other songs, they had 2-3 commercials. It reinforced the ghastly state of FM radio, and reassured me that I am missing nothing by leaving my dial at NPR.

And it reminded me of Dr. Kessler.

Dr. Kessler was my childhood dentist. He subscribed to Muzak, back when Muzak was a single bland channel, designed to fade into the background like the beige carpet and sofa. Except that the volume of the speakers in his office was loud… way too loud for Muzak. It made waiting for your appointment (and there always seemed to be waiting waiting waiting) that much more painful. These were the experiences that gave Muzak a black eye.

[The good doctor’s dental career came to an abrupt end when he took his wife hostage in their home with a kitchen knife, and it was widely reported in the local papers. Oddly, we seemed to stop going to him right about that same time…]

Quote Of The Day

6 May 2008

Nosey - photo

“My room was clean and orderly, and if I’d had my way it would have smelled like an album jacket the moment you remove the plastic. That is to say, it would have smelled like anticipation.” – David Sedaris

The P Speaks: Words, Words, Words…

31 March 2008


I came across this little quiz the other day. I started strong and then flamed out…  


The P Speaks: Lookin’ Good

14 March 2008

I came across a neat little Flickr site today: the Song Chart Meme.

A meme consists of any unit of cultural information, such as a practice or idea, that gets transmitted verbally or by repeated action from one mind to another. Hats off to the creative folks who pulled these together. 

I’ve given titles to a few of my favorites…

Pass the Kleenex

Clothes Whore
Too Sexy 

Hip-hop Rabbit
Hands In The Air 

Ode to Jack, Stan and Roy
Simon Says

Sleeper Cell
Sleeper Cell

1997 In A Nutshell

Another reason for my mom to hate The Beatles:
Walrus chart

Does anyone have the duet of Henry Rollins + Ru Paul doing this song?
Lipps Inc.

The P Speaks: Goodness Gracious, It’s Good!

5 March 2008

One of dk’s finds at the flea market this weekend was this Flatt & Scruggs album: The Mercury Sessions, Volume I.

Flatt & Scruggs - Mercury

Like so many other bluegrass legends, Flatt & Scruggs were graduates of Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys. But this post isn’t really about Flatt & Scruggs, or their band, the Foggy Mountain Boys, who brought bluegrass to international prominence. And it’s not about this album, which many critics consider to be among their best compilations.

This post is about flour.

Martha White Self-Rising Flour, with Hot Rize.

Martha White is a family of flour products from Royal Flour Mills, based in Nashville since 1899. The “Martha White” premium brand was named after the owner’s then 3-year old daughter.

In the early years, Martha White relied on country music, ever important to Nashville, to convey its advertising message. Betting their customers liked country music nearly as much as they liked biscuits, Martha White’s first advertising aired in the 1940’s with their sponsorship of the 5:45 a.m. radio show titled “Martha White Biscuit and Cornbread Time” on Nashville’s WSM radio. In 1948, with an advertising budget of $25 per week, Martha White sponsored its first segment of Nashville’s famous Grand Ole Opry. Martha White has been on the air with WSM-AM and the Grand Ole Opry every Saturday night since, and remains the show’s longest continuing sponsor for the country’s longest-running live radio broadcast.

The company’s popularity exploded in the 1950s thanks to a powerful new ingredient: “Hot Rize®”, which (according to their website) “brought convenience to the kitchen and changed home baking forever”. Yeeehaw! And gave way to a fantastic newgrass band by the same name…

[Listen to the Martha White Theme, performed by Hot Rize in 1984]

Take a look at the cover of the album: that’s the legendary Martha White Bluegrass Express in the backdrop. Talk about product placement! Flatt & Scruggs first performed the jingle, written by songwriter Pat Twitty in 1953, from the stage of the Grand Ole Opry. It has become a bluegrass standard – at least for those bands seeking sponsorship!

Martha White Theme Song

Back to Flatt & Scruggs: they released more than 40 albums between 1948 and 1969, when they disbanded. The duo’s popularity peaked in 1962, when they recorded the theme song to the television sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies, and in 1967 their instrumental “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” was prominently featured in the movie Bonnie and Clyde.

[Flatt & Scruggs & Oscar]