Thursday, December 20, 2007

Ramblings:-->Randy Travis & Other Goodies

"Seventeen and wild I hit the bottle.
Doing anything I dang well please.
Burning down life's highway at full throttle.
While mama burned a candle on her knees."
Randy Travis

A truly enjoyable site is..."Shorpy's Historical Photographs".
Every day, new offerings of beautiful black-n-white vintage photos can be found...of the everyday common ways of life.

Each photo can be clicked on to enlarge your entire screen for easier scrutiny. And...if coming across one you especially may purchase it.

I've always found vintage b&w photos haunting. Beautifully so.
And calming...almost like an out-of-body experience. Lost moments in time.
Good stuff!

I finally took the plunge and installed the Operating System..."Mandriva 2008" by Linux...and I'm glad I did.

My E-machine was carrying a virus I could not lose. XP was running slower and slower. And my Windows boot was dropping drivers and hanging.

After playing with user-friendly "Mandriva"...I wiped off my hardrive and installed this Linux badboy...and have not looked back. And it was so easy.

On install..."Mandriva"...goes out and finds all the drivers your system needs...with no help needed from me. It grabbed all my files I wanted to keep before formatting...and quickly allowed for my wireless needs.

I encourage everyone to check out "Mandriva".
Did I forget to tell you...this OS is totally free. Open-source operating system. Easier to enjoy than Vista...right now. Good stuff!

An awesome video of the Beatles (almost) covering "Stairway To Heaven'. Good stuff!

Beatnix do "Stairway To Heaven"

Some really nice ...MashUps.. can be found over at DJ Earworm.
This cat is very studio savvy.
I recommend downloading ...
But take the time to check them all out. Very professionally done! Good stuff!

Randy Travis is just one...of a very small group of country singers...that make me feel happy...simply from the way they sing. (Haggard and John Anderson are two others that come quickly to mind).

"Rise And Shine" (2002) is a beauty of an album. It's country with a Christian message.
In is a Gospel CD...with some of the best country flavor you'll ever hear.

Randy won a Grammy for one of the songs...("Three Wooden Crosses")...and he wasn't even trying. The record wizards had long since dropped him from their labels...and were caught eating a considerable piece of crow.

Randy performing "Three Wooden Crosses"

No apologies need to be made, though. This is simply one of the best country CDs of 2002...that will hold up longer than whatever the newest flavor in country may be today.
Good stuff.

Randy Travis:-->"When Mama Prayed" (Rise And Shine) (2002) (Must Own)

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Track 4:-->"Black Licorice" - Grand Funk - We're An American Band - (1973)

"Watch out, whats that noise...
there's somebody at the door.
It must be black licorice...
she come back to make me cry some more."
Grand Funk

"We're An American Band" was Grand Funk's seventh studio album...and it certainly turned out to be their lucky number.

The band dropped "Railroad" from their name. They brought on-board a terrific keyboardist into their fold (Craig Frost). And they handed over production duties to an already recognized studio wizard...Todd Rundgren.

Stir all these variables together and you have a band loaded for bear...with the attitude and energy to bring one back.

Track 4 - "Black Licorice" is a rockin' number that was absolutely meant to be played loud. A forgotten highway song if ever there was one.

The trade off between Mark Farner's guitar spanking...and new member, Craig Frost barely hanging on to his keyboard is classic. And it creates a powerful driving force.

More guitar work from Farner would have been choice...however...Frost working his keyboard like a man possessed by a..."Reefer Madness" piano-playing stunt double....more than makes up the difference.

Vocals, usually handled by Farner...were handed over to drummer...Don Brewer on this number...and he earns his allowance by providing the listener with some delicious...manic beat the devil. Whoa!

Mel Schacher rounds out the sound with his creative bass playing.

We never hear "Black Licorice" played on FM...though it definitely merits some Classic Rock rotation. Good stuff.


Grand Funk:-->"Black Licorice" (We're An American Band) (1973) (Must Own)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Interview:--> Craig "Twister" Steward - "Days of Harp & Frank Zappa"

"Hey Hey Hey all you girls in these
industrial towns.
I know you're prob'ly gettin' tired
of all the local clowns."
~ Frank Zappa ~

Craig "Twister" Steward
, who has played with some of the greatest musicians of our time and has been described as the "Hendrix of the Harp",...was amazingly discovered by Frank Zappa while performing in Wichita, Kansas.

Frank was quoted as saying "He (Craig Steward) sounds like Coltrane on the harmonica. And I mean fast like you won't believe. This guy is like the Al Di Meola of the harmonica."

Zappa, (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, winner of two Grammys, ranked #71 on Rolling Stone's list of 100 Greatest Artists of All Time), invited Craig to record on three of which..."Joe's Garage" (1979) has been recognized as a 5 star-must own by All Music Guide.

And although Craig still finds time to perform...he is presently our Wichita arborist.  As Craig says..."I am a tree trimmer who got to go inside of a bubble."

On November 28, 2007, while blowing some cool tasty harp at Remingtons, Craig "Twister" Steward agreed to sit down for a fascinating little one-on-one.

The following is an excerpt:

Casey Chambers:  Well, many may not know this, but you played alongside the legendary Frank Zappa.  And that's really something.

Craig Steward:  I'm glad you say that. I...forget me as a person...but yes, Frank Zappa was one of the top ten...I think... musicians of the 20th century.

Casey Chambers:  Tell me about how you first met Frank.

Craig Steward at Remingtons

Craig Steward:  The first time I met Frank there was a place...and I should know the name of was on Central just west of West Street. And it's called Caesar's Palace.

So there was a group that I used to play with. David Carey, who was this monster guitar player/musician here in Wichita and he had a group called Bliss. B-L-I-S-S.

They were playing Mahavishnu Orchestra back in 1972 and George Benson stuff and all this. Anyway, so I sat in with them.  And Frank...he first went to some hip places, but then he said, 'Is there anywhere where they're playing something more avant-garde?  More aggressive?'  And they said, 'yeah' and brought him there.

And I was playing with Tony Garcia of Ruben and the Jets, and when I finished, Frank stood up and called out my name and said, 'I'm gonna go up and play some guitar. Will you come up and play with me?'  Later, the guys in his group told me, 'He never does that.'

So I think he had this...most guitar players want sometime to play with a blues harmonica player. It goes back to Robert Johnson and Willie Dixon.  All of those people.

So I went up and played and he said, 'I'll be getting in touch with you'.  Well, I really didn't believe him, but it did happen. And that was where I first met him.  He also had a drummer who played and I talked to him a little bit and I really liked this guy.  He was real handsome.  Big guy, blond hair. Well, he was Jim Gordon. The drummer on "Layla" for Eric Clapton, y'know. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  Cool that!  Where was Frank playing in town that night?

Craig Steward:  Well, I'm really not too sure. I didn't go hear him.  (Editor's note: Zappa performed on Friday, Dec 1, 1972 in Wichita, KS, at the Century II Convention Center; Steely Dan was the opener).  But, see, Jimmy Carl Black, his original member who played drums...he was from Kansas.

Jimmy Carl Black

So there's been this Kansas connection with Frank from the beginning.  On his first album, there was a song..."It Can't Happen Here".   (singing) "...In a swimming pool.  In a swimming pool.  Somewhere in a swimming pool in Kansas. In a swimming pool."  That was on his first album.

Casey Chambers:  Yeah!  "Freak Out" (1966).

Craig Steward: Yeah, and we all got off on that "in Kansas" thing y'know?  Right?

Casey Chambers:  Oh yeah.  And so he really did get back in touch with you.

Craig Steward: Yes. And uh...actually it took several months because he lost this car.  And this girl came back from California and she said, 'Frank Zappa's looking for you.'  I didn't really believe it.  You almost don't want to believe it.

Casey Chambers:  Right.

Craig Steward:  And I will say this. You do have to be able to play.  On my first solo tryout, I did a song called "King Kong". ("Uncle Meat" - 1969)  And uh, Jean-Luc Ponty had his whole million dollar thing going on with Jimi Hendrix, and I'm thinking...'Golly this guy's killing!'  I didn't even have my own stuff, but I did okay.

But I couldn't play ensemble. I couldn't hear it. It was too technical. Plus, I'm not the sharpest tack in the box. And after three days Frank said, 'What do you think?'  I said, 'Well Frank, I think I should go back home.'  And he goes, 'Oh!' Because I guess he never heard anybody say that to him before.

I knew what the score was.  Frank said, 'Well, I agree, but don't think of it as a failure.'  I said, 'No, no, no. It's not every day that someone like me gets to jam with people like you.'  So I headed back and played here in Wichita for five more years. (This was in 1973).

I played with a supper club band called Donn Salyer and the Family.  Don was awesome.  He played an accordion.  It was an electric accordion and he made it sound like a B-3.  It was a trip.  He was kind of my mentor.  He got me more advanced musically.

Five years later, I called Frank and his secretary or his wife Gail, I can't remember, got me in touch with him.  I played him a few notes over the phone and Frank said, 'I'll get you right out.'  I said, 'Well, this time, I'll pay my own way and I'm gonna bring my wife.' And he tells me, 'Well, why don't you bring your wife and I'll pay both of your ways and I'll put you both up.'  So...pretty nice guy.

Casey Chambers: Yeah, that was pretty cool.

Craig Steward:  He had an edge to him, y'know?  My favorite moment and time with Frank was when he had Ahmet on one knee and he had Diva on the other.  It was Christmas Eve and I'm in his his studio by myself with the family.

Casey Chambers:  In California?

Craig Steward:  Yes. And so I got to see Frank as a loving father. So, how's that?

Casey Chambers:  That's a nice memory.

Craig Steward:  And that's my favorite thing. I got to see the musicianship. I got to see all that. I used to go over there about every four months or so and he'd play me things that he was working on and ask, 'Whaddaya think?'
And it was like a whole symphony and well...c'mon...give me a few months to digest what I just heard. And so finally, after awhile, I ended up not going back to him anymore because I wanted to be myself.

Casey Chambers:  Maybe go your own direction.

Craig Steward:  And I don't mean that in an arrogant way or even in a selfish way, just...there's a certain place in time where you need to have your own signature.  Because it may mean something for everybody as opposed to always being a part of someone else.

Fantastic Jazz Guitarist, Robben Ford

I mean, I got to play with some great musicians. Robben Ford...and Vinnie (Colaiuta), Steve Vai and Greg Phillanges.  That's Eric Clapton's keyboard player on some of his albums.

Casey Chambers:  Oh, yeah!

Craig Steward:  A whole bunch of different people, y'know? So, I have wonderful credentials, but my tree industry profession has been what's buttered my bread.

Casey Chambers:  Well, let's jump to..."Joe's Garage" (1979).  It's been hailed by many as one of Frank's greatest albums ...and is certainly one of my favorites.  That was the first one you played on. Is that right?

Craig Steward:  Yes. And here's a little vanity, okay?  When we recorded "Joe's Garage", we would all come in.  That was the ensemble performance...of any of Frank's groups.  And we played live.

Now Frank dubbed over his voice and some things later, but it was Ike (Willis), Vinnie, and I...and everyone were there playing live.

"Crew Slut" -  Frank Zappa / Joe's Garage (1979) 

And so we all came into the studio and Frank plays it back and with all these great musicians...turns to the tree trimmer...and goes, 'Oh, and not a bad harmonica song.'  Now that!  I mean, it was almost embarrassing, in a way. But, I really appreciated that, y'know?  He noticed.

Casey Chambers:  How did the "Joe's Garage" sessions differ from the sessions on "You Are What You Is" (1981) and "The Man From Utopia" (1983)?

Craig Steward:  We were more present (on "Joe's Garage"). I came in on "The Man From Utopia" and "You Are What You Is" with almost everyone else having already laid down their tracks.  And see, that's basically what happened after "Joe's Garage".  There wasn't really...the whole group wouldn't be present.  It'd be done by channels and you'd come in and put in your part.

"Cocaine Decisions"- Frank Zappa/The Man From Utopia (1983)

Casey Chambers:  That would definitely have a different feel to it.  What was your favorite Frank Zappa song that you played on?

Craig Steward:  Well, my favorite would be "Crew Slut" ("Joe's Garage") because he really lets me play on that.

Casey Chambers:  That's a good one.  And how about one of your favorite Zappa songs that you did not play on?

Craig Steward:  "Bamboozled By Love" is one I recorded on, but Frank didn't use my playing on "Bamboozled...".  But I did get to play it live at the Santa Monica Civic Center.  He really let me play out in Santa Monica.  I really got to play a lot.  We just traded back and forth, back and forth.  And that's when Steve Vai was on the stage. We had some great people.

Steve Vai & Frank Zappa

Casey Chambers:  Frank has always been known for only taking the top of the line musicians...

Craig Steward:  Well, I used to say to him, 'Frank, there are other great harmonica players.'  And there are.  But, what Frank would say was, 'Yes, but they don't put the notes together like you do.'

Casey Chambers:  That's pretty sweet!  Let's back up for a minute. Where was the best place to play here in Wichita back in the late '60s and early '70s?

Craig Steward:  Well...A Blackout Taverwas the first integrated place in Wichita.  And it was really like the Haight-Ashbury and Greenwich Village of Wichita in '66. It's where all the music, the progressive stuff, percolated.

Casey Chambers:  Where was that located?

Craig Steward:  It was at Erie and 21st Street. (Two blocks from Wichita State University).  It was awesome. We had rich people, professors, black, white, yellow, American was a melting pot of people and ideas. It was fabulous.  It was hedonistic.  But, y'know...that's the whole thing about the time I came from. It was hedonistic.

Casey Chambers:  When did you first start playing the harmonica and what influenced you to pick up that particular instrument?

Craig Steward:  In 1968...and it had to do with the sign of the times.  I graduated in '67. The summer of love.  And there was this brand new music on the face of the earth that nobody had ever heard before which was the sustain of guitar in rock music and I was drawn to that. And some of the bands that I really liked had harmonica. The Cream, Jack Bruce, and, uh, Canned Heat. And that guy was 'Blind Owl' Alan Wilson.  He wrote "Goin' Up the Country" and "On the Road Again"... kind of the anthem of Woodstock.

Casey Chambers:  That's good stuff.

Craig Steward:  And there was another great integrated place in Wichita where jazz was played and I played so much with the jazz players there.
That was unusual for a diatonic harmonica player and they gave me ideas of how to play. And then there was Charlie McCoy, the country and western harmonica player.
So I'm not prejudiced in the sense of music. I love Mozart.  I love Ravi Shankar.  I love country and western, blues, jazz, rock. It doesn't matter if it's got passion.

Casey Chambers:  Oh, yeah.

Craig Steward:  So, am I saying I'm great? Yeah, I think I am. There's a certain level you can reach, and you would hope you would be great after playing 20 some years or 30 years, okay? If you had any talent. If you worked at it.

And if you can just get a little bit of all that and put it into something. I don't think of myself as being original. I'm an establisher. I take from different things and then try to hold up my end.
I'll be dead one day. Could be soon. So, if I've been blessed to have something to goodness...gotta do it. Right?


"Joe's Garage" - Frank Zappa / Joe's Garage (1979)

If one has any doubts of catching just a little piece of lightening in a bottle...let Craig "Twister" Steward serve as a reminder to treat every performance like it's an audition. 'Cause you just never know who'll be out there watching.

Good Stuff!

Casey Chambers
Follow me on...FACEBOOK & TWITTER

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Ramblings:-->A Few Tasty Blogs To Visit - & - Manfred Mann

"Down, down in Hollywood town...
The lost and found come to find their way."
Manfred Mann's Earth Band
<--Manfred Mann or Austin Powers?

Today, I wanted to mention a few musical blogs that continually hold my attention...with their variety...with their writing...and with their song offerings.

I'm preaching to the choir for most...but for those who haven't stumbled upon these sites. Check'em out.

There are a couple of rarely heard Christmas songs posted daily over at Big Rock Candy Mountain. They are Country & Rockabilly & Blues mostly. And Am, Then FM is working his Christmas Mojo with a few daily holiday jams, as well. Both are always interesting!

One of the hardest working guys in blog land...The Late Greats seems to offer something of interest all the time. A daily stop for this blogster.

Tom, out east, has another - 5 on a Friday - selection of jams over at Bag Of Songs. A regular feature I never miss.

For a musical blog with some slam attitude. - Bleedin' Out never fails to entertain. In fact...if you don't take everything too seriously...Nomad's sarcastic attitude is a breath of fresh air. He offers a terrific variety of music to sample, as well. Good stuff.

Finally, Whiteray over at - Echoes In The Wind - has a Baker's Dozen of winter songs. Baker's Dozen is a regular feature and always seems to be well thought out...with explanations for many. Good stuff.

Do you enjoy MashUp mixes?
I do...when someone talented really nails one together. I encourage you to visit Nemozob. All are pretty tasty...but I especially enjoyed "Northern Soul"...beautifully done. Really good job!

If you know where any more really good Mashups can be found...please let me know.

If all you know about the Manfred Mann's Earth Band is...they covered a couple of songs by "The Boss", then you don't know them at all. Putting out several tasty CDs since those days...MMEB has at least two must own albums to grab.

And Manfred Mann is one underrated keyboardist...with great vocals.

One I particularly enjoy is their 1979 release..."Angel Station". Almost 30 years later, this CD holds up strong. Sounding like a cross between Alan Parsons and the best parts of Yes..."Angel Station" is a gorgeous listen. Made for headphones...and catchy as the flu.
A lost classic! Good stuff!

Manfred Mann's Earth Band:-->"Hollywood Town" (Angel Station) (1979) (Must Own)

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Ramblings:-->Tin Man - Gladys - & - Sugarloaf

"I would give you nearly everything...
if you would only tell me just how much
you really, really, really, really love me."
Clever. Very clever.
I've been recording the Sci-Fi channel miniseries..."Tin Man" and just finished watching part 1.
I'm really digging this updated homage to the classic "Wizard Of Oz".

"Tin Man" is totally different...and many references from the classic movie are thrown in...that this mini-series is easy to warm up to.
Did I is very, very clever!

Of has to throw away all expectations and leave critical comparisons to the classic aside. I could anything measure up? But with that out of the way...I recommend climbing on board. Good stuff.

My great-grandma passed away last week. She was 98. And as cool as a glass of sweet tea. Her name was Gladys. "Call me Glad-ass or Happy-butt".
She never took any medicine, 'cept for an aspirin when her knee would ache. Looked 20 years younger than her age...with a mind sharp as a Randall knife.

My great-grandpa...Jack passed away about 20 years earlier, and from stories handed down...he matched Gladys...step-for-step.

My dad grew up with them when he was younger. And this was in Peterstown, West Virginia (right beside the WV/VA border)...where every house had a front porch. It was on Jack and Gladys' front porch where everyone would congregate. Thicker than bees in a hive, my dad would say. is a short epistle from my dad he left in the memory book.

November 23, 2007
Through all my life, the most wonderful place to be...was on the front porch of Glad & Jack's house.

So many family members and friends have walked across that front porch...enough to fill a long Amtrak train.

When I think of all the young babies who went crawling across that beautiful front porch...myself included...only to quickly grow and become mommies & daddies themselves...with babies of their own...crawling across that very same front porch...well...that was our view of the Chamber's family of life.

There were times on Glad & Jack's front porch...when there was so much it was SRO...standing room only...with many having to carry conversations out onto the sidewalk.

I remember times it got so loud on Glad & Jack's front porch...with everybody talking at the same time about so many different things...and the volume of laughter traveling from both sides of that front porch...It was magical. It was music to the ear.
Quite was the sounds of peace and love.

And it was Glad & Jack that drew all of us there. We all knew where we needed to go...who we needed to be help us feel better. To help make the trials of life make better sense.

I firmly know...that Glad (as well as Jack) in a much better place. But what I wouldn't give to share the front porch glider with Gladys and Jack just one more time.
My prayers to all who will miss her.
And that's the kind of front porch I want to have. God bless.Glad and Jack

When we think of keyboard players...we almost forget about the tasty swirling chops by Jerry Corbetta of the underrated group...Sugarloaf. Jerry made any song better with his cool keyboard play.

Plus the playing of guitarist Robert Yeazel was pretty slam.

And they easily made radio a little bit more enjoyable to listen to.

The songs by Sugarloaf...even today...has an original sound. A bit dated...but in a good way. And, though I never got to see them perform...I can easily see them jamming...stretching out their songs to allow each member to blow.

Usually, I shy away from "best of" offerings...however this one is a great introduction, covering the early '70's...and not a wasted track among them. A budget price.
Good stuff!
Sugarloaf:-->"Tongue-In-Cheek" (Sugarloaf) (1993) (Must Own)

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Book Buzz:-->"Blaze" by Richard Bachman (SK) (2007)

"She cast her spell all over me...
and had this poor boy screaming...
Is it real...or fantasy?"
Billy Thorpe

The wordmeister ...Stephen King has always delivered us pretty good stories. And over the length of his career...(with the exception of a couple of clunkers)...his books weigh heavily on the "good stuff" side.

Let's be upfront from the get-go..."Blaze" is Good King. The story grabs you from the beginning...and you will not want to put it down.

This gritty crime tale revolves around Blaze (aka Clayton Blaisdell, Jr.). Blaze is big and strong...sweet, actually...but very simple-minded. He's hooked up with this friend, George...who different towns pulling small-potato crimes that are obviously lame. However Blaze looks up to George like he's Al Capone.

In a series of well-told flashbacks...we learn how life was for Blaze growing up and we find ourselves sympathetic to the big hoss. And even though Blaze is walking on the wrong side of the law...we hope he at least breaks even...without causing too much damage to himself...or others he may encounter.

It is in these flashbacks that King brings to light the social damage many children encounter when faced with parental and adult violence. Becoming fenced in a circle of which there is no gate for escape.

Character development has always been King's bread-and-butter. First, make the reader understand them...and then throw different circumstances in their direction to help carry the story along. King has that formula clicking on all cylinders in this gem.

Richard is widely known...was the pseudonym Stephen King used while writing stories in the late 1960's and early `70's. And, except for a little present day doctoring, "Blaze" was written in 1973.

And it is important to remember that King was still virtually a nobody...typing in small quarters without the enticement of movie offers dangling in his face. This was virgin Stephen King. And it is good stuff!

For a bonus the conclusion of "Blaze" a short story called "Memory" which Stephen King uses as a springboard for his next novel, "Duma Key". Can't wait.


Billy Thorpe's..."Children Of The Sun" had one of those killer title tracks...with the rest of the songs almost as deadly. Spacey sounds with trippy vocals. Good stuff.

Billy Thorpe:-->"Goddess Of The Night" (Children Of The Sun) (1979) (Must Own)