Security Camera Footage…

… from Castle Gormogon.

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An Evening with Steve Katz

Yesterday evening, the Berries gathered some gear, loaded it into my van, and headed to a lovely home here in Mondoville for a house concert, where we were opening for Steve Katz, about whom more in a moment. Because this was a living room show, we went acoustic (except for very small amps for keyboards and bass) for the second time this week (and in our history) — I played a conga drum, a flashback to my percussive origins on bongos.

We had tried the acoustic thing earlier in the week at a college-sponsored coffeehouse/open mike night. We didn’t play badly (except when the conga slipped out from between my knees — turns out that khakis don’t let me grip as well. I wore shorts last night.), but the audience wasn’t exactly into the kind of stuff we do. We hoped last night would go better, and I think it did.

Mr. Katz showed up as we were setting up. We were introduced, and I got him to autograph my booklet from the Nuggets box set, in which he appears as a member of these guys:

He said it was the first time he had autographed one of these, and seemed a bit amused.

The living room was pretty well filled by the time for us to start, and some folks had spilled into adjacent rooms. We did a ten-song set, including some tracks from our CD and some new songs, and the response was pleasant. On a side note, some members of our keyboardist’s family showed up, and one told me later that she really liked the acoustic performance because it gave her a better understanding of the songs and harmonies.

But of course, we weren’t the main attraction, so after we put our stuff away, I found a chair and settled in for Steve’s show. I was startled, however, when our hostess spontaneously asked me to introduce him for the crowd. Taken by surprise, I did what folks who know me would recognize as a patented “Mondo Information Dump.” I mentioned Steve’s early work, his work with the Blues Project and Blood Sweat and Tears (which he co-founded), his stint in American Flyer, his time producing Lou Reed’s Rock and Roll Animal album, and his work with Horslips. By the time he sat down, he said, “You forgot the harmonica solo on the first Skynyrd album,” and it drew a laugh.

His performance was a retrospective of songs he wrote and songs that influenced him, from his days as a pupil of Dave Van Ronk in the Village to his time in American Flyer (where he said he drove producer George Martin to distraction with questions about his work with some band from Liverpool). His voice remains in fine form, and Larry (our guitarist, who had grabbed a seat in the first row) said that Steve’s guitar work was a clinic. He also shared a few stories that will be in his memoir, which will be released next year. There was one particular revelation he shared about the Rock and Roll Animal production that he said Lou Reed had never known that I thought was a perfect story, and I’m sure the book will be terrific.

By the time his set was finished, even the folks who slept through my introduction realized that we had been listening to someone who was both an observer of and contributor to some of the significant moments and movements in contemporary culture. After the set was over and his CDs had been signed (I got one, and yes, I made sure he got a copy of the Berries CD as well), the kitchen was nearly empty. He and I were standing there, and I told him how much I had enjoyed the opportunity to play on the same bill. He told me he enjoyed it as well, and said, “You know, the songs you were doing, I think when they’re electrified… they would sound like they would have fit in times I was talking about.”

I flew the six blocks home.

Posted in Culture, Music, Why I Do What I Do | 1 Comment

Leaving Scratches on the Wall

I’ve mentioned before that I quit trying to be a rock star a long time ago, when I realized I was too old and too fat for the job. I saw this as a liberatory moment — since I’m never going to have to worry about making a living as a musician, I can just make whatever music I want to make, and people can listen or not. Likewise, the fact that I have a very satisfying day gig allows me to write whatever I wish.

However, that doesn’t mean I long for oblivion as a musician or as a writer. It’s nice to establish some sort of small-but-respectable presence, to think that when I’m gone, there’ll be some hint of my creative work that remains and can be remembered for a while, even if I’m not remembered by name.

And that’s why I’m happy to report that The Berries are included in the latest edition of The Knights of Fuzz, Timothy Gassens’s encyclopedic survey of the garage rock revival movement from the early 80s to the current day. To wit:

These boys describe themselves best: “A little surf, a little fuzz, a little psych, a little Merseybeat… and a whole lot of garage. It’s The Berries, and they want to install the spirit of 1966 in your head.” Though more gentle than a really nasty fuzz-garage combo, “Candy Apple Sky“, from their 2013 self-titled CD (on the Go Zombie! label) is a fine manifesto of their garage love. Welcome to the fuzz, lads!

So it’s a paragraph or so, out of 500+ pages — a tiny scratch on the walls that time wears away. But it’s much more satisfying than leaving no mark at all, and like the peasant who carried a single stone for the wall of a great cathedral, there’s satisfaction in realizing that I’ll always have been a part of it.

(And it’ll also be a kick to think about before our acoustic gig tomorrow night, as we open for Steve Katz for a house concert here in Mondoville. I’ll tell you how it went on Sunday!)

Posted in Broken Glass Waltzes, Culture, Music, Why I Do What I Do | 1 Comment

Weighty Matters

One of the more interesting characters to come from my old Northern Kentucky stomping grounds is former University of Kentucky star quarterback and ex-NFL player Jared Lorenzen. A remarkable athlete, Lorenzen was all-State in both high school football and basketball, with startling agility for a man of his size, which he even demonstrated in a recent comeback in the world of arena football.

Alas, it’s that “of his size” that has cost him a great deal, in his career and in his life. At, Tommy Tomlinson profiles Lorenzen, discussing his career, his personal life, and his ongoing struggle with his weight. This last is something with which Tomlinson has considerable personal experience — as do I. I’m about Lorenzen’s size, and I get this. Even if you don’t, though, it’s worth a read.

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It Isn’t Easy Being Green

When I hear people going on about the horrors of our carbon-fueled civilization, I’m willing to acknowledge that our current energy sources are imperfect, but I’d like to hear what alternatives my friends have in mind. Solar, of course, is the typical favorite; if I had a nickel for every bumper sticker or Facebook post telling me that a solar energy spill is what we typically call a nice day, I’d have quite a few nickels.

But solar has its flaws as well. There’s the whole energy density issue, for one — barring a spectacular increase in efficiency, it just isn’t sufficient. But as the AP’s Ellen Knickmeyer and John Locher report, there are other, less expected, drawbacks:

Workers at a state-of-the-art solar plant in the Mojave Desert have a name for birds that fly through the plant’s concentrated sun rays — “streamers,” for the smoke plume that comes from birds that ignite in midair

Federal wildlife investigators who visited the BrightSource Energy plant last year and watched as birds burned and fell, reporting an average of one “streamer” every two minutes, are urging California officials to halt the operator’s application to build a still-bigger version.

The investigators want the halt until the full extent of the deaths can be assessed. Estimates per year now range from a low of about a thousand by BrightSource to 28,000 by an expert for the Center for Biological Diversity environmental group.

[...] Federal wildlife officials said Ivanpah might act as a “mega-trap” for wildlife, with the bright light of the plant attracting insects, which in turn attract insect-eating birds that fly to their death in the intensely focused light rays.

Suddenly, I’m in the mood for chicken — extra-crispy.


On second thought, maybe a burger.

A tip of the Mondo Mortarboard to Tony Schreck, via Facebook.


Posted in Culture, Politics | 2 Comments

There Are Reissues, and Then…

… there are reissues. I’m late to the party on this one, but in the latest issue of Shindig! (my periodical drug of choice these days), there’s a review of a release that came out not quite a year ago, from the late Herbert Khaury, better known as Tiny Tim. There has been a resurgence of interest in Tiny Tim’s career in recent years (Penn Jillette is a serious fan), and an acknowledgement that he was an important figure in the preservation and promotion of late 19th- early 20th-C. popular music. It can also be argued that he was one of the most successful “outsider musicians” in memory.

In  any case, as I said, a rediscovered track from Tiny Tim, “(Nobody Else Can Love Me Like) My Old Tomato Can” has been released in a rather old-school format: the Edison Wax Cylinder. The release was limited to a run of fifty units and is sold out, but interested modern-day buyers can pick up a card for a download… of the cylinder playback.

Or if you prefer, you can go to this site and watch a video of one such cylinder being played on an Edison phonograph. (I would have embedded the video, but YouTube tells me the video is “unlisted”, and discourages sharing of it. Therefore, I’ll let you view it at an authorized site.) Now tell me vinyl and cassettes are retro. Kind of makes me want to release The Berries’s album on 8-track.

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Good Man Gone

Lawrence Block reports that mystery writer and former law professor Jeremiah Healy has taken his own life at the age of 66. Healy’s John Francis Cuddy series of PI novels (which I highly recommend) was one of the first detective series I discovered, and I was thrilled to meet him at a conference in Muncie during my Ph.D. years. He was kind and encouraging. In later years he focused on men’s health issues (most notably prostate cancer, which he had survived), moving away from the Cuddy series in favor of this more important work.

In a statement, Mr. Healy’s wife said that he had struggled with depression for a number of years. I wish peace to her and others who knew and loved him, and hope he found the peace he sought as well.

Goodbye, Mr. Healy, and thanks for the stories.

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