Brad Spurgeon's Blog

A world of music, auto racing, travel, literature, chess, wining, dining and other crazy thoughts….

Playing with Layth Aldaene on his Oud in Abu Dhabi 10 years Ago

November 17, 2022
bradspurgeon

Laythe Aldaene

Laythe Aldaene

PARIS – Today I stumbled on a recording I did in Abu Dhabi exactly 10 years ago and I wanted to post it again to mark the occasion. It was one of my musical adventures following the Formula One season as a journalist, and that year, 2012, I had set myself the goal of recording a song with a local musician in every one of the 20 or so countries that I visited. The idea was a real challenge, and I think I succeeded in my goal, but unfortunately the sound quality of the recordings was not of CD-level quality. But what a treasure to find this one of a star oud player and musician living in Abu Dhabi named Layth Aldaene, who is an Iraqi, and who is still playing around the area and farther afield, including recently with a symphony orchestra. I decided to post this today because this weekend is also that of the season-finale 2022 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in Formula One, so it seemed a great moment to post.

This recording took place in the House of Oud, which was a community center and workshop for building ouds, teaching the oud, spreading oud culture and everything else oud that you can imagine. I suggest you check out Layth Aldaene’s web site, as it has lots of his amazing music on it, and some cool videos.

I chose as a song to play my song “Let Me Know,” which I always felt had a middle eastern sound to it. In fact, I had written it purposefully with a middle eastern sound – although the guitar chord progression had itself been given to me by Laurent Guillaume, with whom I recorded the song on my CD.

Layth Aldaene in action

In any case, this recording was done in the workshop of the House of Oud and you can hear the luthier actually working on an oud while we play the song, and read more about it on the post I did at the time. This was a real jam of my song, as we had never rehearsed it.

Also, FYI, here is a link to the song as I recorded on my CD (with Laurent Guillaume doing the lead guitar):

The Power of Good and Evil – Playing at the Chiringuito Scopello Pub in Sicily

July 28, 2022
bradspurgeon

Brad and band at Chiringuito Scopello

Brad and band at Chiringuito Scopello

CASTELLAMMARE DEL GOLFO, Sicily – Just over 20 years ago I wrote a lighthearted Op-Ed column in the International Herald Tribune newspaper using a personal experience I had to show how a single bad action by someone can have many, many bad repercussions going on for days, weeks or more. This morning when I awoke and thought about the jam session I took part in last night at the Chiringuito pub in Scopello, I suddenly realized that precisely the same ripple effect happens when someone does something good, leading to all sorts of other good things.

I am talking, of course, about the results of the effect that began in my previous blog item, where the generosity of a musician – Francesco Riotta – in giving me the microphone and his guitar during his own gig at a bar in Castellammare del Golfo led to meeting another musician after the performance, who in turn told me that there was a jam session in a nearby village every Wednesday and I should go. After coming here for five or six years, once per year, I had never found an open mic or jam session, and it seemed the only thing missing in our summer paradise. All it took was the generosity of Riotta for the good things to start happening.

Brad playing I won’t back down in Scopello

I took the first opportunity to go to check out the jam session at the Chiringuito Scopello pub, which was last night, Wednesday. This is also proof of how important it is to “get yourself out there” if you want any kind of satisfaction in life: Ornella’s uncle and aunt own a restaurant in Scopello, and we have also been going there for years without ever knowing that the Chiringuito hosted a jam session every Wednesday through the summer for the last three years!

Scopello is part of the commune of Castellammare del Golfo, where we are staying, but it is a kind of separate village suburb, about a 15 minute drive away. It is a beautiful tourist attraction area, with lots of restaurants, and beautiful views, beautiful nearby beaches, and a gathering place for some of the people in Castellammare who want a night out that is slightly different from the usual one of wandering around the streets of the main town.

Brad playing Chiringuito with budding Joe (Josephine) Cocker girl onstage

Brad playing Chiringuito with budding Joe (Josephine) Cocker girl onstage

The setting for the Chiringuito is absolutely fabulous! It is an outdoor pub and restaurant, and the stage is quite big, with a decent sound system, good lighting, and a fabulous location that means that you can be seen and heard when you perform by people in the bar area, the lounge area, the restaurant area, and the tables in front of the stage itself. But standing up there and playing and seeing also the surrounding mountains and the sea in the distance – although it is not really clearly visible in that darkness – is a heavenly sensation.

Brad and band playing Mad World in Scopello

The open jam is run according to the usual method, with a sign up list, and it starts around 10pm. But the list order is not strictly followed, especially because much of the jam involves several musicians onstage at once. IE, it is not just an open mic with a single performer or band. It’s a bit of a free-for-all, and once everyone has had a chance to perform once, then the stage is opened to even more mixing, if there is enough time.

First act in Scopello

It is wonderfully hosted by Michelangelo Bologna, who plays harmonica on the videos where I am playing (and elsewhere), and he speaks good English. And as with just about everything here, it turned out that Michelangelo was Ornella’s cousin! (It seems everyone we meet here is Ornella’s cousin, so for me that was not really a surprise.) And Ornella and I both thought he was an exceptional harmonica player. Turns out he studied harmonica at a jazz conservatory!

Michelangelo Bologna demonstrating (English subtitles) his harmonica studies.

Michelangelo told me that last week there were 30 musicians! Given that it lasts only until around 12:30 or 1am, it’s best to get there on time – although I was too early, arriving at 9pm.

There was a large cross-section of performers last night, with lots of blues, a bit of rock, and some acoustic stuff too. In general it was an everything goes kind of jam.

Brad and band at Chiringuito 3

Brad and band at Chiringuito 3

What a pleasure this was to play again in front of such a big crowd, to have some wonderful musicians play along with me, mistakes and all, and an incredibly enthusiastic audience, many of them right in front of the stage. For me, it represented the real moment of passing from my Covid hibernation to a break out back to pre-Covid days – ie, I’ve barely played in public at all since the beginning of the pandemic. And for all I know, this place was bursting with the latest, extremely contagious variant…but I couldn’t not do this! And underpinning it all was that generosity of handing over the stage two days before. Incredible how good things come from good things, and bad things from bad. In case you missed it, check out the link – which I add again here – to that story I did in the IHT Meanwhile column for that story I did way back when. And now think about how those repercussions of badness can be the opposite when the initial act is a good one…!

Brad and band Plauing What’s Up!? In Scopello two vid points of view.

PS, I thank Ornella Bonventre’s daughter, Morgana, for all the videos and photos she took of my performances. I also thank Ornella’s aunt, Daniele, for the video she took of my What’s Up!, while standing in a different position to that of Morgana – I combined both of them toward the end of the What’s Up video to have a different perspective.

Acoustic act in Scopello jam

The Cinelli Brothers and Emma Wilson: From Open Mics to Top of the Blues Lists in the UK

July 20, 2022
bradspurgeon

EMMA WILSON WISH HER WELL 3000PX

EMMA WILSON WISH HER WELL 3000PX

A few months ago, a friend I met at the open mics in 2009 posted some great news on her Facebook page: A song of hers had hit second or third on the IBBA blues chart in the UK. This news was so cool that I examined the list a little closer and…I found that at the top of the list was the band of another friend who I had met in the open mics in Paris two or three years after this, and who is now living in the UK.

When I met them, both of these performers were totally unknown, had not yet had any kind of breaks, and how could you guess they would? Except that both were hugely talented musicians. But you meet with a lot of talented musicians at the open mics. So I think that in addition to their talent, what has helped both Emma Wilson, the first mentioned friend, and Marco Cinelli, the second mentioned, is that they are also hard workers, ambitious, and knew how to make the most of circumstances.

“Chew My Gum” by The Cinelli Brothers

I have been meaning to do a post for months about them, but all my other projects lately have been keeping me away from the blog and making me feel guilty about it! Because this is a great story, and fortunately for them it continues to gather power, so I can still write about it.

Both are still appearing on the blues lists, both have just released new albums, and both continue to progress at a steady rate in their careers and musically. In short, I was delighted to hear their latest stuff, which is amazing. I met Emma in 2009 on my first year of travelling the world to perform in open mics. She ran an open mic in London at a bar near London Bridge, called the River Bar, and her hosting was amongst the nicest, smoothest, and fairest of any I know. It was an intimate, basement room in the pub, and Emma made sure that spectators kept silent in order to listen to the performers.

After my performance, she invited me to do a little showcase at the open mic a few months later, and it was a huge moment for me on my first visit to play in the UK since I was a teenager! I have followed her career since then, and found her continuously developing her music, her venues, her breaks and the musicians she gets to play with. Last year she recorded two songs with Terry Reid, who is one of those music-legend Zeligs who has been around forever, playing with everyone, and also remains forever young! (A song he wrote at 14 was played by The Hollies, REO Speedwagon and John Mellencamp!) But the coolest moment from the 1960s has to be when he was invited by Jimmy Page – who was just breaking up the Yardbirds – to become the vocalist of a new band he was forming, but Reid turned it down and suggested he try a guy he knew named Robert Plant!!!

Emma Wilson’s new album

Emma is now being interviewed regularly in the music press, constantly showcased for her brilliant blues singing talent. In fact, this year she won the Emerging Blues Artist of the Year award in the UK. Her new album, just out last month, called “Wish Her Well,” demonstrates beautifully her great vocal and emotional range as a singer. Her voice climbs from the silky quiet to the belting it out hard-edged blues thing. I love this full spectrum of sounds to her voice that sets her aside from so many one-trick poney blues singers. And the album is getting great play around the world now, too, it seems, as it rose to the top of the Roots Music Report list at one point this month, and at the time of this writing is still 12th on the list.

Emma Wilson winning the Emerging Blues Artist of the Year.

Marco Cinelli was a whole different thing: He had come to France from his native Italy, and was looking for places to play, open mics specifically, and I had already developed my open mic Thumbnail Guide for Paris, so he was consulting me on where to play. We met several times at open mics, and once for a little jam in a park in Paris, and my memories of him are always that of a good guitar player who knew how to do the classic Robert Johnson kind of stuff on an acoustic, and who stood out for his quiet demeanour. Unassuming, and gentle, he would never have struck you as what the French call “a bête de scène,” which is perhaps translated as “a beast of the stage!”

But then I saw this name of this band on the IBBA blues list in the UK: The Cinelli Brothers. And I said to myself, surely there cannot be a whole lot of Cinellis out there doing blues music. I did a search and found that these Cinelli Brothers were indeed Marco as the lead guitarist and singer, and now his brother Alessandro on drums, and Tom Julian-Jones on harmonica, guitar and vocals and Stephen Giry on bass, guitar and vocals. And I found some videos and recordings, and BOOM! A bête de scène is born!

The Cinelli Brothers

The Cinelli Brothers

I got in touch with Marco – we had been friends on Facebook for years – and got the story from him and his band’s site, about how from France he had moved to the UK and started up the band and had met with some success. Their first album came out in 2018, and reached No. 2 on the IBBA chart. He told me that their new CD, No Country for Bluesmen, (a title I love for its literary reference to W.B. Yeats and Cormac McCarthy) was just about to come out, and he sent it to me. Wow! The guy has a great voice and guitar licks, and this band really has a sound and feel that while classic blues is also unique. And you have to check out this video of The Cinelli Brothers live at the 100 Club with special guest, the great Matt Schofield on lead:

Like Emma Wilson, they have been featured in the blues music media far and wide, and here’s a nice bit of information from their web site: “The legendary radio DJ David ‘Kid’ Jensen has played a different track from their album on six consecutive weeks of his United Djs radio show, naming them as his favourite blues outfit, and his favourite blues album in many years.”

They tour regularly around Europe and the UK – they played at the Henley festival this month, where Tom Jones also featured – and I can only hope that in another few years, this success grows even more.

Both of these cases got me to reflecting about what it takes to succeed in music, and one of the things I forgot to mention in addition to their hard work and talent, is that always present word whenever we talk about success: Persistence! Both, of course, had started in music well before I met them a decade and more ago. Both have pushed it all to the limits and kept going, despite the times they played to empty rooms and unappreciative audiences. And both are now bringing us all the kind of sounds we love to hear – not to mention the stories!

Check out the Cinelli Brothers too!

Liner Notes to a Formula One Fan’s Song and Video For Daniel Ricciardo’s Monza Victory: “I Can Take Anybody Down,” by Kenna and Cox

September 15, 2021
bradspurgeon

Daniel Ricciardo, of McLaren, celebrates his victory in Monza on the podium.  Photo Credit: McLaren/LAT Images

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren, 1st position, celebrates on the podium with his trophy. Photo Credit: McLaren/LAT Images

PARIS – Several of my lives and passions came together over the last three days resulting in a personally imposed lock-down thanks to the victory by Daniel Ricciardo at the Italian Grand Prix in Monza, Italy on Sunday. Now if that sentence full of facts gets your head spinning to sort it all out, how about checking out the result of all that passion, which is the video I put together for a song in tribute to Ricciardo, written and performed by a couple of Aussie expats in France who I met during my open mic wanderings: “I Can Take Anybody Down,” by Chris Kenna and Melissa Cox:

The last thing I imagined after watching the F1 race on Sunday – and being at first appalled by the crash between the two series’ leaders, and then ecstatic about Daniel Ricciardo’s victory – was an email from Melissa Cox telling me she had a song from Chris Kenna, and did I by any chance have any photos of Daniel Ricciardo to illustrate it in a video. The last thing I imagined after reading that email was that my next 48 hours and more would be occupied passionately making a video myself for what I feel is an absolutely fabulous, dynamic, and cool song of tribute to one of the finest, nicest, coolest and most deserving drivers in Formula One.

The situation, it turned out, was actually linked to the previous post in this blog, about Elliott Murphy. Melissa Cox and I, who had met at performances of Kenna and Cox a few years ago, got in touch because it turned out that she not only plays violin with Kenna, but she is also part of the regular band playing with Elliott Murphy! So those two worlds suddenly joined.

Kenna and Cox

Kenna and Cox

But whenever I had met Chris Kenna in the past in bars around Paris, where he is a mainstay of the Paris music scene, we had always spoken about his love of Formula One – which, of course, has been central to my own life and livelihood. And another passion of mine that then joined up in these last few days.

Well, when I heard this fabulous song for Ricciardo, and Melissa asked for photos, of course, another passion took hold: Making videos, mostly those involving music…but this time, with Formula One as a theme. And so, another passion suddenly joined up here, and little by little I got hooked on making this video.

Of course, time pressed as it seemed this thing should come out as close to Daniel Ricciardo’s victory as possible, while his many millions of fans are hot on the story. So that is where all these merging passions came together to force me into a personal lock-down and finish this thing. It would never have been possible, of course, had I not many friends, colleagues and acquaintances in Formula One who kindly helped me out, including especially Bernard Asset, who is one of the series’ best and most respected photographers – and who I worked with on my book about Formula One published at Assouline (which will be spoken of more in a future blog post), who incredibly selflessly allowed me to use a lot of his photos and even chose a selection, treated them and sent them very quickly. And there was the McLaren team’s media staff as well, who gave me access to their collection and videos; and Steven Tee, who is another of the great F1 photographers, and whose LAT Images is probably the biggest, best database of F1 photos there is.

The Extraordinary Musical Pedigree of Kenna and Cox

It was especially great fun to be able to make a music video for someone else from the Paris music scene, as I have made many for my own songs, but few for other people. And Kenna and Cox are no ordinary other musicians based in Paris. Kenna was a farm boy from south-western Victoria state in Australia, who grew up milking cows and trapping rabbits with his brother before dreaming of being a rock star. He may not be a household name, but got a lot of big tastes of that life and world as in Australia he opened for bands like Midnight Oil, Men at Work, The Church and Ian Moss (Cold Chisel), and then when he later moved to France – for the love of a woman – he not only has lived off his own gigs in small venues and bars ever since, but he occasionally supported big names here too, including for Jeff Beck, Peter Green and Tommy Emmanuel.

Kenna and Cox

Kenna and Cox

He has now been playing with Cox for more than a decade, when the two Australians ran into each other at a gig, and he asked her to play a tune with him. She is from Sydney, where she studied classical violin since the age of 10, but then later got discovered jazz, blues, folk, rock and world music. Although her dream had always been to live in Paris, she first tasted a bit of the rest of the world. To quote from her bio: “Under the name Black Sesame, she released an album of electro-pop songs in between residencies as a jazz singer in Tokyo and Guangzhou. But it was Paris she dreamed of; and an invitation to study film composition at L’Ecole Normale de Musique saw the dream become reality.”

So she got to Paris, and has never left – or rather, the two now live in a remote village and commute for gigs, recording, etc.!

As I write these words in closing, I think about how amazing life is when one thing leads to another in an organic manner that you could never have predicted between the moment of one action – for instance, Ricciardo’s victory, or Kenna and Cox meeting at that gig, me writing the Elliott Murphy item leading to Cox contacting me about the song – and the string of events that it sets in motion! And speaking of motion, and e-motion, check out the video and song now because there is LOTS of motion, locomotion and emotion in this “I Can Take Anybody Down” cry of victory for Daniel Ricciardo and his fans!

This blog item feels more and more like liner notes, and no liner notes are complete without the lyrics to the album (well, that’s arguable!), so here I am also going to post the lyrics to this song (which you can also find at Chris Kenna’s bandcamp page, with the song:

They call me the honey badger
And I hail from the west,
I’m an animal behind the wheel –
It’s the thing that I do best.
Nothin’ gets me higher,
Higher than the moon,
(Than) when I’m trippin’ major nutsack
On a Sunday afternoon.

When I’m thirsty for a shoey
Then I hardly use the brakes;
If someone holds me back,
Well I just pounce on their mistakes.
When they see that number 3,
With Lando by my side,
Well they know their race is over
So they take the corner wide.

I can take anybody,
I can take anybody down.
I can take anybody (passion and commitment)
I can take anybody down.

The boys in orange hold their breath
Until their faces all turn blue,
Well I’ll get them on the podium
If it’s the last thing that I do.
All the stallions and the toros
They’re all chafing at the bit,
(And) Mr Hamilton is arguing
With the boss down in the pit.

I can take anybody, (passion and commitment)
I can take anybody down.
I can take anybody, (passion and commitment)
I can take anybody down.

[Uh, watch your back, we’ve got the McLaren on turn 20]
Here comes Danny Ric
[We need to go faster otherwise we let the McLaren pass]
Here comes Danny Ric
Coming up behind you
[Keep pushing – mate, you need to go now]
It’s Danny Ric, oh yeah
Coming up beside you
[Oh shit, he’s got you]
It’s Danny Ric!

I can take anybody (passion and commitment)
I can take anybody down

“Just a Story From America:” Discovering Elliott Murphy – 48 years late – in His Unputdownable Memoir!

September 8, 2021
bradspurgeon

Elliott Murphy

Elliott Murphy

PARIS – I have a confession to make. I thought I knew just about everything there is to know about all the rock, folk, or just any musicians who count that I needed to know about. What arrogance! The last thing I expected to discover now, at my age – don’t ask what that is – was a musician who got his start in 1973 and had albums published by Polydor, RCA and Columbia Records, who was produced by people as astounding and legendary as Paul Rothchild, and who has lived in my backyard – in Paris – for the last 30 years. Of course, I HAD heard of Elliott Murphy for many years. But because I had heard of him as the American musician the French were in love with and who they thought of as an “American” star but I didn’t because I had not heard of him while growing up in Canada, I had brushed him off entirely…having never listened to his music. More arrogance. But that all changed over the last week after I stumbled upon his memoir: “Just A Story From America.”

Not only have I come to his music 48 years late – and keep in mind that even in March 1973, a month before this was released, I was keenly aware and waiting for the latest sounds, coming home one day that month with that month’s release of Led Zeppelin’s “Houses of the Holy” and Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” – but I have also come to the memoir late. Fortunately, not 48 years late! This brilliant memoir was published in English in May 2019, and in French last November. So I am only a little behind on that! And the way I have started this blog post will make me look quite ignorant to the millions who have known and loved Elliott Murphy’s music for nearly 50 years!

As far as I can see, Elliott Murphy’s memoir, “Just A Story From America” is a self-published – or I should say, independently published – book in English, but with a bona fide French publisher in the translated version. And it also came out in a Spanish translation at a publisher in Spain under the title, “The Last Rock Star.” So maybe the promotion and marketing of the English edition was a little lacking. (Unless I am being arrogant again!) In any case, I have now read this memoir as quickly as I read that memoir of Steve Forbert a few years ago, or Terence Rigby’s memoir (by Juliet Ace) a couple of months ago. Forbert, like Murphy, was another of the many “new Bob Dylans” and Rigby was another “supporting role” kind of artist, which you could almost say in some small way Murphy was too. Someone who was never a household name, but played as well as the big guys, and often WITH the big guys. On the other hand, in fact, no. You can only say that the comparison between the great actor of usually secondary roles, and the great musician who was eclipsed in the fame sweepstakes by friends such as Bruce Springsteen, Lou Reed, Billy Joel, and many more, is a great and real act of his own. End of story. So I am writing this blog post today to say to any of the few readers of this blog who do NOT know Elliott Murphy’s music AND Elliott Murphy’s writing, to please, waste no more of your life’s time and get to know him.

While reading the memoir, I went to YouTube and started my searches for his albums, in order of appearance. There are now some 40 of them, so to listen to all of the Elliott Murphy albums will take me some days. But I was immediately astounded upon hearing his first: Aquashow, released in 1973, by Polydor. Here I was listening to a cross between David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, and wait for this, Graham Parker and Elvis Costello, all wrapped up into one.

Elliott Murphy performing “Last of the Rock Stars”

But there’s more, much more: At the same time that I discovered the musician I also suddenly discovered Elliott Murphy the writer and journalist, and there will be many more discoveries yet to come: Elliot Murphy has published in Rolling Stone, Spin, Vanity Fair, among other magazines, and written books in addition to the memoir – novels, short story collections and poetry. As a writer, he has as great a voice as he does as a singer. That voice and the story it tells so beautifully makes this memoir a touching work from beginning to end. Extremely touching. It is the highly personal story of a man who confronted the death of his father when he was 16, when his father was 48, and actually witnessed his father’s fatal heart attack, running off to find a doctor to help – too late – and then having his fairly wealthy, Long Island idyllic life disintegrate around him.

Elliott Murphy’s album Acqushow

His father was a show business impresario, having created an amusement attraction called Aquashow, with dancing girls and water shows, that was hugely successful; followed by a successful restaurant that hosted stars and the political elite. His mother dined with Eisenhower, met with Elizabeth Taylor, the world of Elliott Murphy Sr., revolved around high style and success. Until the heart attack showed how flimsy the world really is.

For the boy, Elliott, known at the time by his middle name, James – or rather, “Jimmy” – it was, naturally, his whole world that fell apart. As it did for his mother, who at first tried to keep the restaurant going, but it failed eventually. Eventually, she ended up as a salesperson at Tiffany & Co. and stayed there for 20 years.

No wonder Elliott Murphy was angry at life. But it was an anger that he channeled into his touching first album with his new name, his real name: Elliott Murphy. The album being called…Aquashow. Yes, Elliott Murphy’s Aquashow lived on.

Without the backstory, I think that no one could have known where this album came from. Except in the authenticity of the cry of pain.

Watching his life unfold as an artist in this memoir is a lesson in life and career: So much of his life was made by his audacity – and a little arrogance? – as he always went directly to the source of what he hoped would be a launching platform for his career. During a trip through Europe when he was 21, he stopped off at Cinecitta in Rome hoping to finagle his way into acting as an extra in films, arriving decked out in such a way that he thought they would believe his story that he was an actor in cowboy films in the U.S. Fellini took one look at him and offered him a role as an extra – actually something a lot more than that – in his film Roma!

Elliott Murphy today

Elliott Murphy today


Returning to the U.S., he made a demo with his brother of some of the songs he wrote in Europe, and he headed off to Polydor, knocked on the door, said he wanted his demo listened to, and they were invited up immediately into the office of one of the A&R people who listened to it, liked it, and arranged an audition later in the week with the head of A&R. He liked it and they got a deal! Off the street in a company they knew nothing about, except that James Brown was with Polydor, as was guitarist Roy Buchanan.

This kind of thing is repeated again and again throughout his life and career as he found himself scoring deal after deal, moving from Polydor to RCA – where Paul Rothchild produced the album, “Lost Generation,” in 1975, and where he then recorded his “Night Lights” album – then to Columbia, where he recorded his last album for a major label, “Just a Story From America,” the same title as the memoir.

During this period, he lived a life that he turns into a dream read with fabulous anecdotes about meetings with a seemingly endless string of household names in show business, that includes such a diverse cast as Frank Zappa and Liza Minnelli. Zappa invited him into a studio while he was recording an album, Zappa’s guitar amp was in the studio, but Zappa was seated in the engineering booth with the engineer, and playing his guitar from there that was attached to the amp in the studio! Minnelli he met at a party, and the two were encouraged to sing together…but he knew none of her broadway music show tunes, and she knew no pop, rock, folk, Dylan or otherwise! He met Jean-Michel Basquiat, who was just as arrogant about him as I was (until now), who looked away from him while they shared a stretch limousine, and said: “I hear you’re a has-been.” (He regrets now that he was so pissed off at that that he did not buy any of the drawings Basquiat was selling for only a hundred bucks each. Imagine the value today – that would be a very much “living well” kind of revenge.)

Here we see the life of a rock star up close and personal throughout the 1970s, and then the fairly sudden change for the singer songwriters when punk suddenly took over and made them all irrelevant. (How did Forbert come out and thrive at that moment?!!?)

That period coincides in his life with the moment he goes entirely and almost fatally off the rails. Like so many others – not Zappa – he was taking drugs – mostly cocaine – and alcohol as a daily diet. He was in so deep that he did not even know it. In short, he managed to discover his own problem with the help of a freak moment meeting an attractive woman who had herself been an alcoholic, and who took him to a meeting where he discovered he DID have a problem, and he had an epiphany. He never touched a drop of alcohol or drugs again, some 30 years ago now.

Elliott Murphy's father's Aquashow on a billboard in NYC

Elliott Murphy’s father’s Aquashow on a billboard in NYC


In fact, he had fallen so low that after all these successes in the 1970s, he had ended up moving back to his mother’s place, sleeping on a cot, and then working as a secretary in a law firm just to survive! But he had learned a lesson about life that he would never forget, and soon begin to apply: “Looking back, it’s hard to deny that my daily drinking and regular cocaine use had something to do with my bad decisions; what happens when your lifestyle instead of your work becomes your priority.”

That was it. From then on, his work took precedence over his lifestyle. But his lifestyle also improved. He ended up moving to France in around 1989 – a country where he had had quite a big success that he was not even aware of for years thanks to the record company’s keeping it secret from him – and then he met his future wife – Françoise – and then had a son, Gaspard, in 1990. He has lived here ever since, worked on something similar to Bob Dylan’s “never ending tour,” – not to mention getting invited to play with Bruce Springsteen during his Paris visits on several occasions – and he has expanded that writing career too. With this memoir as the latest result. Go out and get it! I have told only a fraction of the fabulous tales this book contains. It’s a real discovery…of course, as I indicated earlier, I’m probably preaching to the converted and I’m the only idiot out here who didn’t know much about Elliott Murphy until now!

Josephine Baker in the Panthéon, as the Hobosapiens Release “Bad Bones” Josephine Baker Song and Vidéo!

August 22, 2021
bradspurgeon

Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker

CASTELLAMMARE DEL GOLFO, Sicily – How is that for amazing timing? A friend whom I met during my open mic musical travels just posted an exceptional new song and video, so exceptional that I told him I wanted to spread the news…but after five days sitting on it, I was still not sure how I could do that. What would be the context to talk about his amazing song and the fabulous video he did using footage of Josephine Baker dancing in Paris in 1927? And then, wow, today I suddenly saw the news in France that Emmanuel Macron, the French president, has agreed to enshrine Josephine Baker in the Panthéon in Paris! The first time a black woman has been given such an exceptional honor in France. And how incredibly appropriate that my friend’s song about Baker – whose bones will now rest in the Panthéon – is called: “Bad Bones.”

“Bad Bones” video by Pete and the Hobosapiens, with footage of Josephine Baker in 1927.

I have spoken about my friend Pete Cogavin in the past, and about his band, The Hobosapiens. But this time I am completely blown away by the video, and I cannot believe the timing. Baker was an American star in the roaring twenties Paris, and not only amongst the artistic expats of the time like Ernest Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, et al. She was hugely popular in France, and that right through her life, until her death in Paris in 1975. She was a human rights activist, a women’s rights activist, a civil rights activist – she was from St Louis, Missouri – and had also worked in the French resistance during World War II. She was also known for having adopted 12 children, and one of them – Brian Bouillon-Baker – was involved in making this request to Macron.

In fact, the request to place her in the Panthéon – among the bones of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Émile Zola, Jean Jaurès, Jean Moulin, Jean Monnet, Pierre et Marie Curie, André Malraux and Alexandre Dumas and others – was also made by the novelist Pascal Bruckner, the singer Laurent Voulzy, the entrepreneur Jennifer Guesdon, the essay writer Laurent Kupferman. Macron apparently gave his go-ahead on 21 July, but the story has just come out in in the French media overnight.

Above all, or rather, to start with, Josephine Baker was an exceptional performer, famous for her dancing costume of a belt of bananas. As you will see in the video above. (Even if the bananas are not featured in this particular video.)

And while I am at it talking about Pete Cogavin and the Hobosapiens, and while we are also on this French theme in Pete’s music – he is an Irishman who I met while he was living in Nice – I want to draw your attention also to this beautiful rendition he also just did – solo, chez lui – of the famous song by Piaf: La Vie en Rose. He starts off in English, then moves into excellent French! Chapeau Pete!

Peter Cogavin singing La Vie en Rose

A previous request to place Josephine Baker in the Panthéon had been made in 2013 to François Hollande, then president, and he rejected it. Simone Veil, another great woman activist, was accepted amongst the mostly men in the Panthéon three years ago.

Kupferman said this decision regarding Baker was just what was needed in today’s political environment in a statement I translate from French: “It’s a very strong message for universality. Joséphine Baker incarnates that which we all need right now, which is to say, to get together as one. She is the proof that in the French republic, anything is possible. That an equality of opportunities exists. And that next to our rights, we also have obligations.”

Five Musicians In Search of Nothing: Thriving in a Covid World

April 7, 2021
bradspurgeon

PARIS – One year into the pandemic that has killed live music and the life I spent most of this blog writing about – open mics, bar gigs, jam sessions etc. – and you might think that the musicians of the world would have collapsed and taken their music to heaven by now. That would be to underestimate the spirit that drives musicians onwards: To make music no matter what! In the last few weeks I have seen a sudden harvest of initiatives, sounds, CDs, gigs and things that to me show how so many of the musicians I have met over the life of this blog – 11 years old last month – have taken advantage of the lockdowns in their respective countries to forge onwards in making music and promoting their careers in ways that the gigs can no longer do.

And what a great feeling of pleasure it is to see how they have progressed through the mess that was thrust upon us all, setting the stage for even greater things when the curtain rises again post-Covid trauma. I want to just mention a few of these bits of news from musicians I have met, played with or just heard at open mics over the last decade. I’ve got five examples with five representative videos that I invite you to check out…and why not support them with a buy!

1) I met Greg Sherrod at the Some Girls open mic on rue de Lappe near the Bastille in Paris around a half a decade ago. I came in like any other night, signed up to play, and there was this guy from Connecticut who had just arrived for a short stay in Paris, and as a singer songwriter, and longtime performer with bar bands, had come to Paris with the goal among other things of playing in some jam sessions. It turned out he had been reading this blog for a long time in advance to prepare the trip, and so how fabulous that the first open mic he attended I was there, and he recognised me! So began a mostly long-distance friendship that is still going strong. (Can you believe it that it was Greg in Connecticut who introduced me to the fabulous Netflix series “The Eddy,” that takes place in France?)

The news from Greg is that he is launching a national campaign on June 1 to sell his latest CD, “Do You Feel It?” I loved his CD that he released a few years ago and that I spoke about on this blog, but this new one has even MORE of his energy and bubbling, bursting, addictive feeling! Greg’s really got a unique voice and style, and I implore you to go and check this out on Greg Sherrod’s bandcamp page. It’s really different, and I wish him the best of luck on the national launch.

2) Regular readers of this blog will know the name of Paddy Sherlock. But maybe not the way I am about to talk about him. As his name suggests, Paddy is Irish. But he is also a decades-long Paris expat, and host of the also decades-long music night at the Coolin’ Pub in the Latin Quarter, which sadly, closed a few years ago to make way for an Apple Store (more or less). After that, Paddy hosted an open mic that was exclusively devoted to original songwriters, and started at the Tennessee Bar before moving to O’Sullivan’s Rebel bar. It only ended when Covid started, and I imagine Paddy will be back to hosting it after the pandemic ends.

First single from “Dusk,” the new CD from Paddy Sherlock

If, that is, he is not too famous and in demand thanks to his latest CD, “Dusk,” which not only has been playing regularly on one of France’s top radio stations – FIP – but has also been getting fabulous media coverage, including as I write, being called the album of the week by the French edition of Rolling Stone magazine! A video of one of the songs, “Like a Diamond,” which I link to above, has more than 20,000 views in a short period of time. In short, it has taken the lockdown for Paddy to apparently break out in a big way. Paddy, a multi-instrumentalist, but trombone specialist, is also a very cool songwriter and singer, and actor, and that all comes together on the video, as you will see.

Misja Fitzgerald Michel

Misja Fitzgerald Michel

3) The only musician on this short list who I did not meet at an open mic is Misja Fitzgerald Michel, one of France’s top jazz guitarists, whom I met through a mutual friend, a photographer. And what a discovery! I say he is a jazz guitarist, but he is pretty much an all-rounder, and never more so than now that I can tell you about his recent exploit. (Misja did a fabulous CD a few years ago playing guitar along to the singing of Hugh Coltman of cover songs all by Nick Drake. A kind of Nick Drake tribute album that got some great critical reviews.) In fact, he has had two very interesting projects in the past year or so since Covid, one being his CD with a vibrophone player named Franck Tortiller, but the one I wanted to draw your attention to now is astounding!

Making of the Elzbieta Sikora piece with Misja Fitzgerald Michel

Just as the virus began threatening everything, Misja managed to get in a concert in Paris playing along with a symphony orchestra a piece written by the Polish composer, Elzbieta Sikora, based on a piece by Wanda Landowska, and instead of using the piano, chose to use the electric guitar as the lead instrument. It was directed by Marzena Diakun. Playing just before the coronavirus broke out, the intervening time allowed the project to develop both a CD and a video of the performance. I sat mesmerised listening to and watching his performance, in this extraordinary moment that out-Fripps Fripp and that requires all of Misja’s technical knowledge and feeling, in a virtuoso performance of a kind on an electric guitar that I’ve never heard, and an extremely cool idea. Check out the video of the making of the performance to see if you agree!! And you can find out more about the performance on the site of those who put it together. Here is a great description of the CD.

Gaelle Buswel

Gaelle Buswel

4) Researching this next performer on this blog itself, I discover that the first time I ever heard Gaelle Buswel sing was as far back as 2009! It was at the Cavern bar in Paris, at the weekly vocal jam, and I was immediately subjugated by her performance. In fact, I can’t think of a better way to describe her than the way I did on this blog the following year: “Gaelle Buswel has an amazing voice, extraordinary charm and stage presence, and she…gee, she has a little of that Bruce Springsteen quality of looking like she’s loving every minute of the performance and the communication with the audience.”

Title song of Gaelle Buswel’s latest album.

I saw her perform a few times after that, but it was mostly in watching from afar that I have seen Gaelle’s career take off and actually explode. And with good reason. You can add to the above description her untiring work, application and will power! She works ceaselessly from what I have been able to see in receiving her newsletters for years now and following her career. She has opened for Ringo Starr, ZZ Top and Deep Purple; she has played many of the greatest blues festivals in France and elsewhere in the world, including winning prizes at the Cognac Blues festival, and elsewhere, and she has now just put out a new CD in the middle of Covid, and got herself splashed all over the covers of the French music magazines as a result. It just keeps going upward, this career, and damn the virus! Check out the video of the title song from the latest CD above – oh yes, and I forgot to mention that Gaelle, although French, specializes in not only singing all the rock and blues classics of the English-speaking world, but she also writes her own songs in English….

5) I finally got up the courage to apply myself to today’s post when I saw a familiar face looking out at me through a video on my Facebook, and I decided to give a listen. Joe Danger is a fixture of the Nice bar music scene, and I heard and met him too for the first time almost a decade ago. I last saw him a couple of years ago when I was visiting Nice and eating in a pizzeria with Ornella and found myself sitting at a table beside Joe! We never got to know each other very well, because I was never very long in town, and Joe was never very long off stage. Despite his name, and his perfect English accent, Joe hails from Germany! But he has lived in Nice since the 1980s, and he has been eternally attracting masses of young listeners to his various nights playing music in places like Jonathan’s music bar. I’ll never forget the first time I saw him play there, in the cave in the basement: The place was empty. Completely. And then Joe took to the stage, and suddenly, within minutes, the room was bursting at the seams with twenty-somethings, all coming to listen and go crazy to Joe! He was in his mid-to-late 50s! But he had something they loved! And as soon as his set ended, they all deserted the bar….

Joe Danger singing his “Let’s Get Rich” song.

I am putting up the video I saw of Joe’s today because I think this song he wrote, “Let’s Get Rich,” speaks totally, completely and perfectly of the feeling of the moment for musicians who make their livings out of playing live music, especially in bars. While it is telling the story of low-down times and lack of money, it is the act of writing and playing – and Joe says he is currently about to record it with a band – that shows the kind of backbone, faith and spirit of fighting on that is really behind all of these musicians at this difficult moment. Way to go Joe Danger! Way to go all of them!

PS, don’t forget to check out my own lockdown effort that I posted about recently, which is my song about our crazy, sick world of the moment on another level: “What’s All This Talk!?!”:

My own song, “What’s All This Talk!?”

“What’s All This Talk?!”

January 17, 2021
bradspurgeon

PARIS – Just a quick post to mention that I have updated my personal music site, Bradspurgeonmusic.com with my new song, “What’s All This Talk?!” This is a new protest song that I wrote just before the U.S. presidential elections last November, and which I decided to make a video for after seeing the attack on the Capitol Building illustrating everything I had been protesting about. I’ll probably do another post to speak more of that in the coming days, but for the moment, I just wanted to note that the song and video are now on my music site under the news section on the opening page, and in the video section. And here, for good measure, is a link to that video here too:

A Serendipitous, Synchronistic Video Experience for “Since You Left Me,” Amongst the Jugglers and the Musicians

April 26, 2017
bradspurgeon

MILAN – The idea was only to try out my DJI Osmo 4k camera again and see if I could do a cool atmospheric video of a walk in the park with a bunch of jugglers, musicians, slack-line walkers and other circus arts practitioners at a get together by a lake in Lombardy. Then, thanks to some fabulous serendipity and synchronicity, something quite unexpected and beautiful, it turned into the seventh video of the series of 10 that I have been working on to “illustrate” my 10-track CD, “Out of a Jam.”

I have been working towards finding the best way to record sound with this DJI Osmo and so I again tried out my system of using a Zoom recorder attached to the DJI as a microphone. Without me realizing it, the connection between the two gadgets was bad, and eventually the recorder unplugged itself from the camera, as I was walking around the lakeside park. When I returned to view and listen to the video, I found great images – as usual with this fabulous little camera – but the sound was a disaster. A horrible mess. There was crackling, banging, popping and sometimes no sound at all. It went from silence to hurting the ears – moreover, the level was set too high as well, even when it worked, so it was distorted even when at its best.

Since You Left Me – video

I decided to put the video up on this blog as a demonstration, again, of what the Osmo can do, but I would put a music recording over the original sound, so not to distract and hurt the ears of the viewers. For that, I decided to use my song, “Since You Left Me.” Then, after importing to the film editing programming, when I pressed the play button, I saw immediately an uncanny synergy between the content of the video in the park and the music of the song. The musicians playing, and the dancers dancing seemingly to the same beat as my song; the link in the lyrics between seeking out another world, another way to live, and the otherworldly link to the juggling, slack-line walking, and other circus arts; even the view up to the sky at precisely the right moment for the song.

I immediately decided that I had the basis for a video for “Since You Left Me,” and that I would put in either a performance by me of the song, or do some more filming, some kind of dramatic storyline of me acting something out. So I used the performance I did of the same song at the Noctambules bar, edited it all together, and felt lucky for the serendipity, synchronicity, synergy, and luck that all seemed to combine to come up with another video for my CD, and the first with which I have used the 4k camera.

The Sounds and Visions of CPH:DOX: A Podcast Conversation with Adam Thorsmark

March 23, 2017
bradspurgeon

Adam Thorsmark

Adam Thorsmark

COPENHAGEN – The reason I came to attend the Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival this week – which I have been reporting on extensively on this blog – is because it has a special section called “Sound & Vision,” that focuses on music documentaries, as well and another part to it that draws together interesting music groups and visual things – such as the concert by Tindersticks in conjunction with an old documentary, Minute Bodies; or a concert by a Danish band called Shiny Darkly at a film about the career of rock photographer Mick Rock. The man who is the head of both of these musicl sub-categories of the festival is a 32-year-old Dane named Adam Thorsmark. Adam studied film, but is above all a music lover, and has always combined in his career the mix of film and music. In addition to writing music reviews for various publications and other music and film related jobs, it was therefore no surprise that since 2011 he became the head of these music activities at the festival, also known as CPH:DOX.

I had the great luck to find myself being allowed to meet and interview Adam yesterday in the restaurant of the main festival hall. My original idea had been to write a Q&A for this blog from the interview, but suddenly I realized that for a Sound & Vision section of the film festival, it made much more sense to edit the half hour interview down into a podcast. So here is the interview, and please excuse the ambient noise of the restaurant… or perhaps it is a better idea to appreciate it and hear just how lively is this CPH:DOX festival. And to appreciate through the sound of his voice, especially, Adam’s enthusiasm for his job, the official title of which is: Head of Regional Activities & Music.

Podcast interview with Adam Thorsmark Head of Music at CPH:DOX, with Brad Spurgeon

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