Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Cool weather coming to Blues Valley!

Last winter someone wrapped Mance's neck with a shawl. This photo of him in his winter gear kind of says it all. We're all ready for some cooler weather.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Texas King of Barbecue...

If anyone visits the capital of Texas, and asks for excellent, authentic Texas barbeque and Live Texas Music, they are likely to be sent to one place. Stubb’s BBQ. That is because Christopher B. Stubblefield spent his life perfecting the art of Texas barbeque, and with the help of partners, brought it to Austin in 1986, where they began to market his west Texas style barbeque and world renowned barbeque sauce. “Stubbs” loved people, music and cooking meat, and he brought all of these together in his special way, making his name and his barbeque famous from Lubbock to Austin.

His first restaurant was in Lubbock, started after his return from the Korean War, where he was wounded twice. He looked for something to do besides pick cotton, something he had done ever since he was a little boy in the Brazos River bottom near Navasota, where he was born in 1931. Two things emerged in his new enterprise, both remnants from his childhood; Barbeque and Blues. As his barbeque filled bellies, singers like Muddy Waters, or Johnny Cash or Emmy Lou Harris filled the ears of his customers. Some musicians would play for tips, just to say they had played there. Nobody seemed to mind when he would take the mic and sing one himself. But he never quit his day job. “I want to feed the world” he would say with a big Texas smile. It was a sad day in Lubbock when his historic place burned down.

Stubb used the change for the better, and moved his two loves to Austin, and used the same ingredients to satisfy the apatite of a whole new generation. Stubb’s was THE place for fresh barbeque and music. He passed away in 1995. Like all restaurateurs, he had his struggles, but his legacy of Texas entertainment still lives on. Every time you see his face on a bottle of sauce, remember he started his remarkable life in Navasota, and he loved people and listening to the blues and feeding people. A man could do a whole lot worse.

Praying in the Blues... 2010: the last time

Once again, the best event for 2010 Navasota Bluesfest is the first one... What an incredible insight to what Heaven will be like: Jews, gentiles, whites, blacks and hispanics, all celebrating as one, praising God with the most rockin' music you have ever heard. It's a good thing most people don't go, or it would have to be moved to a bigger venue... which was packed.

This thing is sooo cool, it's better than I can describe or you can imagine, very inspiring and uplifting for all who attend... great preachin', prayin', singin' and even some dancin', so I guess it was arranged by... HIM. Holy Blues!

Thank you St. Pauls for giving us such a stellar event. Thanks especially to John and Lise McNally for putting together such a great service! Thanks to GOD for making it all happen!

Opening Night, Navasota Bluesfest 2010

This event has become an annual feast for some of us... these lucky shots can only hint at the fine music we hear every year at the Navasota Bluesfest!

To top it off, Don Kesee was his usual genius self and the Bluesmasters played blues like they ought to be played.


Was a huge success, and WOW what great, classic blues music! "It don't get no better than this!"

Some of the musicians who played Saturday, top to bottom;

David Egan with his hip Loooooziana style blues, Rob Roy Parnell wolfing on that relentless harmonica, Texas Johnny Brown charming the crowd in the aisles,
and Texas Johnny Boy taking charge with his army of blues masters. All impeccable blues acts. Thanks guys for such incredible music!

The first Mance B-Day celebration in Navasota... 2010

Perhaps one of the most exciting and fulfilling elements of the day was the appearance of Milton Hopkins at the very beginning as guitarist for Texas Johnny Boy. Milton is the nephew of Lightnin' Hopkins, the "King of Texas Blues," a native of nearby Leon County and a known entertainer in these parts. Milton looks like his uncle, and dare I say, has comparable talent, that lives up to his family name. Here was a living link to our blues history, playing on the bridge over Cedar Creek. There is no doubt you can see a resemblance between the legendary bluesman and his nephew, and for some of us, a glimpse through him right into the past.

Mance Lipscomb birthday, 2011: Malford Miligan

Smooth and masterful, Malford Miligan brought his impeccable, soulful vocals to the lucky streets of Navasota Saturday, and was the icing on our second annual birthday celebration for Mance Lipscomb. His Austin based Rhythm & Blues band salved our disappointment and hurt feelings, after Don Kesee failed to appear after a scheduling foul up. For many of us, his highly anticipated performance was the essential element, as he represented the very best of Texas Blues tradition. But it was not to be.

Luckily the next band, emerging blues master David Gerald, agreed to start early, and shorten the gap. All the way from Detroit, they were locked and loaded, and soon we had forgotten that miserable hour of worry and confusion.

Congratulations to the City of Navasota and all the staff involved for putting on a a near perfect event, as far as managing things they could control.

Still, I never got my Brazos Bottom Blues fix, and after the event has become another mostly pleasant memory, I guess I'm going to have to go SOMEWHERE ELSE to hear the music born here. C'mon, Bluesfest!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

My latest Internet project! A blog for Brazos Valley blues

Born in Navasota, Texas, Mance Lipscomb was a self-proclaimed "songster," an incredible guitar picker who new several hundred songs, many of them blues. After being discovered in the 1970's, he became a human bridge between the old-time blues of the 30's and 40's and the rock & roll stars of the day.

Welcome to my newest Internet project, where I will share my research on Texas blues, especially the history of blues in the Brazos Valley... what I call Blues Valley. On the left you will find my manuscript called The Light of Day. It tells the epic story of the region, and how art overcame hardship and injustice in the form of American blues.

2011 Bluesfest Highlights

Aug., 2011-

As can be expected, every year the BluesFest brings some unexpected musical treasures. I guess we can call these the annual "Cushie" awards.

Most Amazing Transformation into a solid blues performer:

Goes to.... Misslette The Singing Cowgirl. Actually, she has had it all the time. Shame on her for not showing off sooner.

Most Unforgetable Moment:

Goes to Texas Johnny Brown, when he deftly picked as he sauntered and smiled amongst his adoring fans, engaging with them in something beyond entertainment.

Most Impressive New Band Member:

Goes to Michael Gaskin, the AWESOME sax player who now makes Tubie's Touchtones an unstoppable force. His playing so beautifully weaves in with Tubie and Les that it is hard to believe they have not been working together for years.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Nat Dove: An International Legacy in Blues... and Education

There are just a handful of what we could call old time, first generation Texas blues men left in this country. They are passing from the scene too fast. And Nat Dove is not only one of them, he is from our area, and deserves great attention and veneration.

Nat is not your garden variety old blues guy, sitting on an urban bench strumming an old beat up guitar for donations. He is not your garden variety anything. His career is the product of a lifetime of passionate, diligent pursuit of excellence. A man with this kind of character and talent could have been anything, but thank goodness Nat chose music, and not just any kind of music, but Texas blues. That makes Nat the very embodiment of everything I have been studying and portraying in my blues museum at Blues Alley. So you will not be surprised when I confide that he has been a great source of information and inspiration. So enough wallowing and waxing in my own syrup…

Nat Dove was born in Mumford, Texas in 1939. Mumford is just a nondescript village a few miles west of Bryan, Texas where he attended High School. Nat grew up literally engulfed in the Texas cotton industry, surrounded by cotton farms as far as the eye could see. The only thing that broke the Brazos bottom monotony was the lethargic dipping of a few pump jacks here and there. Church was the center of his lifestyle, and going to church every Sunday and making music was a part of the family tradition.

Nat hit the piano when just four years old, and never let go. Music became his window out of Mumford, his stairway to the sky, and he played and prospered in this dusty dirt road microcosm. Soon he began to hear a different tune. Something irresistible. Something that made his spirit and his body move. Something that was about to set the whole music world on fire.

Before there was rock n’ roll, there was blues and one of its many offspring, Texas boogie. On Sunday afternoons, when he and his sisters were only allowed to play Gospel music, Nat began to play his new found melodies. To avoid opposition, he slowed them down and played them Oh so reverently. Suddenly everybody was interested in what was going on around the piano. I’m sure his mother tried to wrap her mind around what she was hearing… I can imagine her shaking her head in the kitchen thinking, “I don’t remember that one!” And Nat would never forget those days, or the nurturing environment he enjoyed in those formative years. No matter what he did, he was taught to give it his all, to be the best. I have no doubt he is the product of a superior upbringing, where excellence was the cornerstone.

Like all young men, Nat jumped some fences so to speak, and began to seek the sources of his newfound music. The Brazos bottom was teaming with blues and blues men and blues venues. Juke joints; River bottom dives where the mostly non-churchgoing types hung out. These were smoky, dangerous places where whores skulked around and cotton pickers and mule drivers gambled, drank and occasionally cut each other up. And in the peaceful moments, barrelhouse piano players like Buster Pickens of Hempstead hammered away on the battle-scarred and stained ivories with abandon. These people worked hard and played hard and they liked their music hard. Their music was as edgy as the hoes and shovels and discs and axes they used to work the earth. But blues had morphed from the wailing wagonloads of moans of the early nineteen hundreds into a hopped-up eight-cylinder engine lubricated by fermented corn juice. It was a dark, seductive, invigorating world, and musicians were kings.

Nat was soon playing with Brazos Valley music royalty, and making a niche for himself. It was the Fifties, and boogie was taking over the sound in the bottoms, and inspiring another blues child: Rock n’ roll. Black artists like Juke Boy Bonner, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Pee Wee Crayton and T-Bone Walker were making electric guitar and Texas boogie popular. Nat found a niche by playing the piano in this new upbeat style, and found a legacy in the process. Visits to his uncle’s recording studio in Houston clinched his future, where he met Big Mama Thornton and sat in as a drummer and watched other upcoming blues and boogie artists cut records and launch their careers. Rock music was about to change music forever, and there was a race to keep up with the music. There was just one thing to do. Like many other Texas bluesmen, Nat succumbed to the overwhelming magnet of California.

By the sixties, Nat was established in California, with an all–star boogie band. It seems incredible now, truly historic, but at the time Nat was just following his passion. But there he was in Hollywood, playing piano with Pee Wee Crayton’s lead guitar, Mickey Champion’s vocals, and Big Jim Wynn’s sax. Soon Nat was an often requested West Coast studio pianist. That led to tours, contracts and soundtracks, and a resume that reads like the Who’s Who of West Coast blues. Nat has played and recorded with Big Mama Thornton, Little Johnny Taylor, Sam Cooke, Robert Cray and Lowell Fulsom, just to name names, and many others.

By the seventies, Nat was travelling the world, doing concerts in Europe and Japan and sharing his love for Texas boogie with audiences far removed from those dirt roads in Mumford. So well was he received in Paris that he just adopted the place and stayed for a decade, becoming the Composer in Residence at the American Culture Center in Paris. If rejection is hell, then acceptance is an earthly taste of heaven and Nat has certainly had his taste of that. Sadly, he has found more of it in far-away places than his own native backyard.

The rest is a long history you can read about on his website, If you go to the Press & Reviews page, it is led off with my glowing account of one of his appearances here in Navasota. I meant every word. I am very proud to know him and help put a shine on his inspiring story.

But Nat is back home in the States now, having settled in Oakland California, and spends his time nurturing what his parents instilled in him; education, writing, performing and teaching young people an appreciation for music and excellence. And in the process living and inspiring a commitment to give back as much, or more, in life than you received. After all is said and done, Nat Dove learned his Sunday School lessons well.

It's Saturday around noon, and as I posted the final draft of this blog, the music box in Blues Alley offered up Nat's version of "Don't Mess With Texas." Nat may live in California, but his voice will always be alive in Navasota, the Blues Capital of Texas!

Note: Nat is the second bluesman I have written about who had an important relationship with Pee Wee Crayton of Rockdale, who made a name for himself out in California... the other being Dub Mcleod. I guess I had better write about him next! There is always one more blog to write...

Navasota Bluesfest 2012

I wasn't really trying, after shooting these guys so many times, still, these may be the best shots I have ever taken of Don Kesee and the Bluesmasters. Not only is Don one of the best, real deal bluesmen of the Brazos Valley, but he is pretty photogenic...

The Blues Brothers tribute act will never be the same again...

Dr. Michael Birnbaum brings country blues authenticity to the event every year.

Sweet Mama Cotton making her annual appearance, but this time with her kick tail band!

After two great nights of music, I went home and crashed and never made it back Saturday... heard it was cherry. I'm sure it was, but I'm finding out what happpens when I have too much of a good thing...

But with a smile like that, it was an evening hard to forget.

Randy Pavlock records Hey Joe with Buddy Miles...

Randy Pavlock

Hey Joe. Where ya goin’ with that money in your hand?

Over the years we have heard Jimi Hendrix, the Byrds, The Music Machine, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, ZZ Top, and many more do this song. So much so, we have never really thought deeper about it. It’s a great song; An essential American classic. Everybody has to do their version of it. But because of over saturation, nobody cares about the story behind it. It’s like the dollar bill, we have seen so much of George Washington’s face, but we really know very little about him. The superficial familiarity preempts further investigation.

When The Leaves first recorded Hey Joe in 1965, with a somewhat spastic prototype, nobody noticed, but it rose in the charts within the Billboard top 100. In fact they were responding, somewhat poorly, to a great song that they had heard wafting around on the California music scene, made popular by the songwriter, Billy Roberts, and an early California country-rock group called the Byrds, none of whom had recorded it yet!

Born in South Carolina in 1936, Billy Roberts was a San Francisco music guru, a true California hippie, before we knew what that was, and he wrote hundreds of songs. Hey Joe was his only claim to fame. His excellent folk version of the song, recorded with his band called the Grits, seems to be its true musical root, even as we hear it today. In 1966, several budding rock groups covered the song, including David Crosby (who loved the song and begged his group the Byrds to record it) who soon had "discovered" the song and attracted a handful of copycats, including The Leaves who actually beat everybody to the recording studio.

By the time Hendrix recorded it, he was under the impression that it was a cowboy song put into a blues format, suggesting the song had almost archaic roots. Although no adequate explanation of the origin of the song has ever emerged, there is no doubt that its deepest root was in folk and country soil.

Later another songwriter named Tim Rose would claim the song was a “traditional” song, and could be recorded without concern over copyright infringement. Rose claimed that he had been the channel through whom the song had passed to Hendrix. He also claimed he had heard a "traditional" song by that name, although the lyrics were somewhat different, as a child while growing up in Florida. And here is where the confusion overwhelms most researchers.

Hey Joe, where ya goin’ with that gun in yo hand?

HEY JOE! Where ya goin’ with that gun in yo hand?

I’m goin’ to shoot my ol’ lady, she’s been runnin’ round town with another man…

It turns out that a country performer named Carl Smith had recorded a song by that name in 1953. So Tim Rose may have been telling the truth, albeit deceptively:) And then again, he may have been carefully crafting his words, like a man caught in a fib. Perhaps he was taking advantage of the confusion of an incredible artistic coincidence, there being two songs, both named Hey Joe, both rising out of the southern, rural culture, both structured as a question and answer dialogue put to music. But Carl Smith’s version was a happy, upbeat love song...

Artist: Carl Smith

Key = D

Hey Joe--- Where'd You Find That Pearly Girly

Where'd You Get That Jolly Dolly
How'd You Rate That Dish I Wish Was Mine

Hey Joe--- She's Got Skin That's Creamy Dreamy

Eyes That Look So Lovey Dovey
Lips As Red As Cherry Berry Wine

Now Listen Joe I Ain't No Heel
But Ol' Buddy Let Me Tell You How I Feel

She's A Honey She's A Sugar Pie
I'm Warnin' You I'm Gonna Try To Steal Her From You
Hey Joe --- Though We've Been The Best Of Friends
This Is Where Our Friendship Ends
A7 D
I Gotta Have That Dolly For My Own

Instrumental Break: Chords as per verse

Hey Joe --- Come On Let's Be Buddy Duddies

Show Me You're My Palsie Walsie
Introduce That Pretty Little Chick To Me

Hey Joe --- Quit That Waitin' Hesitatin'

Let Me At Her What's The Matter
You're As Slow As Any Joe Can Be

Now Come On Joe Let's Make A Deal
Let Me Dance With Her To See If She Is Real

She's The Cutest Girl I've Ever Seen
I'll Tell You Face To Face I Mean To Steal Her From You
Hey Joe --- Now We'll Be Friends Until The End

This Looks Like The End My Friend
A7 D
I Gotta Have That Dolly For My Own

As you can see, the only similarity in the lyrics are the words "Hey Joe, WHERE..." But it is very possible this was the inspiration for Billy Roberts, who rearranged the song to fit his needs. In fact, after you read Carl Smith's spunky romantic, friendly-jealous, inquiring premise for Hey Joe, you can easily imagine a before and after scenario, between the two versions. Roberts may have written his cynical branch as a parody of Smith's tree. A little musical tweaking, Voila! A “new” song is born. Artists, especially songwriters, do that a lot. Perhaps Hendrix had it right. “… A blues beat put to a cowboy song,” Oh yea, with the words completely changed to fit the music, and the antithesis of the original, with a totally negative view of relationships.

But Hendrix graciously gave the credit on his album to … Billy Roberts, not Tim Rose, and not Carl Smith; It was not a random folk song with no genesis, and not a rip off of Carl Smith, but stood on its own. Amazingly, Rose made himself a celebrity in Europe by presenting his version of the rock classic, which was overly crazed, but a damn good one, claiming and perhaps exaggerating his part in the story. If you want to hear a good contemporary version on You Tube today, listen to Guitar Shorty, or Navasota’s own Randy Pavlock.

While the hip people were listening to Hendrix, I was listening to Charlie Pride. I don’t regret that, I still love Charlie Pride. And being “out of it” gave me a lifetime of discovery and enjoyment, as our generation produced four generations worth of great music to enjoy. But music is like a river, it keeps on flowing long after you have looked upon it, and lots of stuff flows down that river. Old songs find new messengers, old guys discover old songs, and new musicians bring unexpected enhancements to old standards. Randy Pavlock’s version of Hey Joe is a wonderful example of that.

By the time Randy began to pick on the guitar, Hendrix was dead and Hey Joe had become a rock standard, drugged, butchered, paradied and regurgitated. Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Cher, The Music Machine and others had sung it wild, weird and woefully expanded. Others condensed it, or adapted it or just tried to faithfully salute it.

So when Randy Pavlock came out with his own version of Hey Joe, I was very unprepared to fully appreciate it. I wondered why he would cover such a common song. I was no music historian, but even I knew Jimi Hendrix and a few others had done various versions. But Randy had an incredible ace, and he played it like a river boat gambler. We all had a clue what was brewing when he brought a famous drummer with him one year to perform at the Navasota Bluesfest.

Randy had befriended Buddy Miles, one of Jimi Hendrix’ celebrated drummers. Randy wanted to do Hey Joe, and he invited Buddy Miles to sit in with him. Weak and near death, Miles agreed to attempt one last version of the song, with Randy, and the rest will be history. The album is called Miles To Go. When I first heard it, I knew immediately what it was all about, and my skepticism melted away. No wonder he covered the song!

If ever a cover song was especially inspired, this is it. Nobody will question that Randy can handle the axe, and the vocals, but what he captured in that session was something mystic, something compelling. As if out of the depths of rock history, Miles’ vocals register in your subconscious, as if channeling the spirits of rock legends in a séance. And he is not faking it. In fact he passed away soon after, and Randy was right there with him.

It’s great story, but it has a serious downside. Randy is never going to know the thrill of doing that song, with Buddy Miles, LIVE. The recording is kind of a moment unto itself, with no way to artistically or commercially capitalize on it. The CD is a full and singularly unique experience. Every time I hear it, I live a once in a lifetime experience…

And that’s powerful. A great, classic “cowboy” song, written by a hippie guru, made famous by rock legends, now polished to perfection under the tutelage of Buddy Miles. About the third time I heard the song, I was wondering when the Hey Joe revival was going to hit the air waves. But because of sad changes in the industry, it never materialized.

Randy Pavlock typifies the tragedy of the current American music mess, where the very best musicians struggle amongst the hoards, to take command of the vast quicksand of the Internet stage. Very, very few artists have the determination, money or breaks necessary to overcome the odds. Those that do are still fighting against random popular currents, changing technology, and cut-throat Media venues who only consider the bottom line. Today an Elvis or a Jimi Hendrix would die of exposure before he ever got that "big break."

The other day I ran into Randy at the hardware shop and I asked him about the song. He was his usual softspoken self, and almost unable to put into words the feelings he had about recording the Hendrix classic and Buddy Miles’ last song. He was aware that the song has an effect on its listeners. Buddy Miles, Hendrix’ right-hand man, who helped write a lot of his songs, more or less passed his baton on to Pavlock. Now Randy Pavlock shares a personal and artistic linkage to the greatest rock stars in the world. Because of the nostalgia, and the saga of the song itself, and the beautiful way Miles connected with Pavlock and did the song one more time… the last time, it is the last and best, or at least my favorite version of the song.

Randy expressed his own pleasure at the outcome. I asked him how hard had it been, to get such an artistic result, especially out of an eccentric performer who had so many health issues… “Just one take,” he smiled and added… “I’m one of those who believes that things happen for a reason.”

Randy also typifies the difference between a real artist and a wanna-be. His mastery and diligence got Miles’ attention in the first place, and led to a relationship that led to an anointed cover of a rock classic… that is certainly going to go down as a Pavlock masterpiece.

From now on whenever I hear that song, I don’t picture Hendrix, or David Crosby, or Billy Roberts, but Randy’s capstone tribute, melding with the legendary Buddy Miles, one foot in rock history, and the other foot in immortality.

Marcia Ball in Navasota!

And Marcia Ball. Wow, what a golden evening, and that makes three years in a row, great entertainment and fabulous weather at our third annual birthday party for Mance Lipscomb. And Marcia Ball may be the very best fit for the event, we call it Blues, BBQ and Bluebonnets... She draws a good crowd, puts on one fine show, and she does it with such finesse. She knew Mance, she is a real deal blues lady, and she attracts a great cross section of people... I say bring her back... in fact let's get her an apartment and hire her every weekend, as long as they are always like that one, which was perfect.

Marcia Ball puts on a powerful show in the middle of a bridge, with the wind in her face. No wonder Texans love her.

Thanks, Marcia and your stellar band, for making a memory with us.

And a special thanks to Anonymous for correcting my spelling of the beloved blues queen's name!

Don Kesee

Don Kesee is another special person that connects us to our wonderful Brazos Valley blues heritage. A cousin of the late and reknowned Juke Boy Bonner, he is also an in-law of the Lipscombs. But it is his guitar, an authentic "Lucille" given to him by B. B. King that makes him a walking piece of blues history. B.B. King always carries a "Lucille" wherever he plays. It is his pet name for his guitar, and "Lucille" is written right on the guitar. B.B. was so impressed with Don, he gave him one of the guitars after he opened for him. And when Don plays, you understand why.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Welcome to Blues Valley!

Born in Navasota, Texas, Mance Lipscomb was a self-proclaimed "songster," an incredible guitar picker who new several hundred songs, many of them blues. After being discovered in the 1970's, he became a human bridge between the old-time blues of the 30's and 40's and the rock & roll stars of the day.  

Welcome to my newest Internet project, where I will share my research on Texas blues, especially the history of blues in the Brazos Valley... what I call Blues Valley. On the left you will find my manuscript called The Light of Day. It tells the epic story of the region, and how art overcame hardship and injustice in the form of American blues.