Category Archives: Music (re: the Food of Love)

Right Place, Right Time

My dear old friend, Jerry Swift, former owner of The Ritz music hall in Memphis and with whom I shared musical memories, misadventures, and shenanigans in the mid-to-late 70’s, challenged me to post a slice-of-life story. Jerry, you were one of the early stars and co-horts to my colorful life:

Late 1977, after coming off the road with Captain Beefheart in support of Shiny Beast, I met up with Harry, Don’s manager, for a thank-goodness-the-tour-is-over weekend in New Orleans. My second visit to this sexy, provocative, mysterious city. Staying with friends of Harry’s, we piled in the car to go hear music finally pulling up to a block already lined with people. We bypassed the line, Harry back-slapping all the doormen & bouncers on the way past. Sliding into Tipitina’s, a vibrant energy thrummed, expectation I’d rarely experienced in a small venue (exceptions Alex Cooley’s, The Ritz, Cafe Wha, Agora Ballroom, Bottom Line).

Harry, being Harry, had scored us a table up front. Shots of Jack tossed back. Lights dimmed. Music started. Wild Tchoupitoulas danced their way on to the stage, feathers flying, feet stompin’ full of rhythm-from-a-dozen-cultures. I was clear blown out of my chair and on my feet moving parts of my body I didn’t know even moved, barely noticing as the stage filled with Neville after Neville and a few guests – including Harry with his harp. I turned, surprised – but not really – to see his empty chair.

Harry was a man of a million stories, each better than the last. Former manager of The Meters, learned harp from Charlie Musselwhite and Sunnyland Slim, and I could go on and on. But Harry’s a story for another day. As is Van Vliet – I still have the rapidograph set he bought me in some art store somewhere between Atlanta and Birmingham.

On the way home way past 2am, Harry asks “will you be really disappointed if we don’t bum around the city today? Aaron asked if I’d come lay some harp tracks down on their album.” Disappointed? Not. Driving across the Pontchartrain late morning full of excitement and possibilities, sun glittering on the water ’til we finally drove into Studio in the Country in Bogalusa. It would be a day and night that imprinted deeply. The musical process with all players in the same room. No overdubs that day. Jack Nitzsche, manic beyond description, behind the board. Channeling mentor Phil Spector. Jack, brilliant, yet frequent-crazy-town-resident, orchestrator of Ike & Tina’s “River Deep, Mountain High.” That day there were moments I wept with emotion. Laughed so hard I snorted. Felt my heart beat faster at magic as it happened. I couldn’t stop staring at Aaron’s birthmark. I tried, I really did.

A revered right-place, right-time memory. Magically up-close, immersive, and personal. “Life’s been good to me so far.”

If you know Harry Duncan, give him a hug from me!

SHUFFLING ACROSS THE PONTCHARTRAIN
Washable Ink – The Neville Brothers
In The Heart of the Night – Poco
Congo Square – The Neville Brothers
Arianne – The Neville Brothers

Zig Zag Wanderer

November 1978. Was sent out to work a handful of shows with Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band.

Driving between Atlanta & New Orleans on the tour bus, Don and I discovered our deep love and fascination with art supply stores. He’d often make the bus driver get off the interstate to track down a store. No simple feat in those days prior to Google and the internet. You had to find a phone book.

Once located and inside, it was an endless treasure hunt. We’d be on opposite sides of the store and would excitedly raise our arms high, prize discovery in hand.

At one of those nameless, long-forgotten stores, he bought me a set of Rapidograh pens and two bottles of ink – one black, one white – along with a stack of rough paper in a variety of colors. Back on the bus, he skilled me in filling the pens and making that first mark on the expensive paper.

I still have the pens and a few of the sheets of paper.

While moving house recently, I went through my old portfolio and set aside artwork, photos, and other memorabilia for framing. This one has long begged for a frame. I only wish I still had even one of the few sketches the “Captain” gave me that he drew while on that bus ride through the South.

SHUFFLING ACROSS THE SOUTH
Zig Zag Wanderer – Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band
Debra Kadabra – Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band

At a Loss For Words + Shufflin’

Fall Into Winter 2016

drawing of hand with a feather pen
Almost a year of silence. I wrote. Just not to you. Short words. Because those were the only ones I could find. The big ones mangled on the way from my brain to my mouth. Way too often I’d feel the “f word” form on my lips, swallow it back before it spewed it’s way out. It’s a lazy way of expression, though sometimes the only perfect word. I miss you. Make no mistake.  My long voice is longing. By the way, YOU equals the collective you out there.

I was sure I at least wrote poems. Yet couldn’t find one fully formed. Not one. I must have written them in my head with that invisible pencil I carry around. Now they’ll never to see paper.  I remember snippets.  Half things I dictated to my phone at stop lights, or where ever they hit. So there you go. Gone.

an ocean
of tiny rip tides
low and high
drown my face ….
tears.

and then there was:

A song
of slippery words
keepsakes of something
hot and sticky and amorous …

blah, blah, blah. Though I had to laugh at the last one. At least part of my brain was aroused. That it was something other than deadened.

The more you try to still your mind,
the farther flung it sweeps
capturing even the whisper of suggestion.

And this happened.  Sweeping down Erwin Road at a respectable clip:

I kilt that snake
essing in a hurry
across the blacktop
smack off center line
he looked right at me
with a slithery smile of gotcha
and for a second looked like you.
Too late to stop,
braked and backed
a time or two
just to make sure …
he needed killin’ …
and I needed
to smile
at something.

Gotta think for a while on what that was all about. I thought I was over that guy, but he rared up from time to time. Unexpected and always unwelcome.

Losing a parent is, well, nothing short of devastating. Losing both in the space of a year and a half is double that. Like walking in a giant jello pool of every flavor. Just getting to the other side is exhausting and feels impossible.

Somewhere peeking out of the loss comes clarity. Fuzzy at first, but something to hang on to in the rush of unexpected feeling.

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ViolinNotesShufflin’ & Steamin’
In the Garden – The Avett Brothers
Turtle Dove and the Crow – Mandolin Orange
Carolina – The Honeycutters
Stardust – Rod Stewart

 

 

Hitting the Right Notes

BlueNoteGrill-Logo-2color

 

 

 

 

 

So excited to have been asked to write an “ode to the Blue Note Grill” for Durham Magazine. Easiest assignment EVER!

Enjoy, y’all!

Packin’ Light – Josh Preslar Band

Josh Preslar newI’m confessing right up front that Josh and the band are personal friends and that I worried a little when Josh asked me to write a review. Live, they are as much fun and as tight as any national touring band out there. What if that didn’t translate to a record? What if I didn’t like the album? What would I have to say? Needless worry.

If Josh Preslar can pack the house and have everyone near ‘bout hanging from the rafters song after song, it stands to reason that he can pack an album. He’s done just that with his new CD, and don’t let the title fool you.

Packin’ Light is an eleven-song collection stacked end-to-end with original tunes tastefully played by his “house band,” who just happen to be a handful of Triangle favorites – T.A. James (bass and guitar), Chuck Cotton (drums), Clark Stern (keyboards), and Mike “Howlin’ Wind” Davis (harmonica/vocals). With special guests Tad Walters (harmonica), David Richards (trumpet, Tim Smith (tenor sax), Neal Chapman (guitar) and Chris Bennett (guitar) sitting in, he really did turn the studio into a juke joint. And those of us who are regular fans know exactly what that means.

Preslar, a generous front man with a guitar style and voice as smooth and caressive as a fine bourbon (not to mention an enviable hat collection) lets each of his players shine throughout, often stepping back and sharing guitar space with James, Chapman, and Bennett.  Part of Preslar’s talent, aside from his vocal and guitar playing, is his ability to manage a room full of multi-instrumentalists and still make everything come out sounding spare and full all at the same time. It’s pure musical joy to hear the results when he seamlessly and expertly moves each into the spotlight.

JoshPreslarBandSoDu

Favorite cuts? “Housekeepin’.”  It’s basic relationship truth that gets in a groove you don’t want to leave. Leave that useless stuff behind. As long as it is, at nearly 6 and a half minutes, you don’t really want it end.  “Josh’s Boogie” feels good from the first note to the last. On second thought, don’t make me pick. The CD has been playing in my car and house for 4 solid weeks and, with each listen, my appreciation for the collection grows.

A self-proclaimed road warrior, Preslar’s been playing blues all his life and loves being out with a band. Packin’ Light is a reverent testament to the “grab what you need and it better fit in a matchbox or it’s getting left behind” simplicity of early blues along with the necessity of being able to hit the road traveling light whenever the notion strikes.

The songs on Packin’ Light tell a story. Whether it’s a town or a woman who talks too much or a dusty broom, life is often about what you leave behind in search of what’s in front of you.  Musically, it’s also a serious nod to the often miss-attributed Miles Davis quote “it’s not the notes you play, it’s the notes you don’t play.”

The Josh Preslar Band knows exactly which ones those are and the wisdom to know just which to leave behind.
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Catch Josh Preslar Band at one of these upcoming CD release shows
Sat., June 6, 2015 – Walker’s Bar, Greensboro, NC
Sat., June 13, 2015 – Rock Harbor Grill, Apex NC
Fri., June 26, 2015 – Blue Note Grill, Durham, NC

Take a listen on ReverbNation!

The Past Becomes a Present + Kitchen Shuffle

by Deborah Miller

I hit my early 30’s with a couple of significant, but soon to be important, strangers in my how-fast-can-I-run life. One was my second husband, who I hadn’t quite met yet, the second was my kitchen where I mostly kept beer or wine cold, the aluminum-drip-pot coffee hot, and take-out stashed as I hurried on the way to somewhere else. Please don’t judge my taste buds. They had no respectable influences back then … Mateus Rosé was my wine of choice because the man I shoulda married always came over with a bottle. You judged the night before by how many empty little Krystal Burger boxes were on the table when you woke up the next day. More than 5 … uh-oh.

Krystalboxes2

But I didn’t hate cooking. In fact, there was something calm and almost Zen-like there that was non-existent in my day-to-day, but I never stopped long enough to appreciate it. My candle stayed lit at both ends in those days. Plus at the time, my kitchen was a converted closet containing a baby 2- gas burner stovetop /oven and the sink was around the corner in my bedroom. Not terribly conducive to culinary expression … not that I’m making excuses because I was, after all, brought up by the “it’s a poor craftsman/woman who blames his/her tools” proverb.

When we (and by we, I mean me, my best friend and our running buddies, who were all either art students, musicians and/ or roadies) would end up in one place long enough, I’d often bake bread and cook a big pot of something. Soup. Stew. Spaghetti … because have you ever seen a boy (or a man) turn down a plate of spaghetti? Hasn’t happened in my life yet and I’m still waiting.

BreadPastaWine

Rarely did I write recipes down, because I was fearless and not afraid to add ingredients with abandon (whether they went together or not). Add enough wine to the pot and the guest(s), and who cares?

My recipes back then, if you can even call them that, were haphazard concoctions based on 1) how my mother made it, 2) how my grandmother made it, and 3) what I could afford. I’ve already proven in earlier blog posts that my siblings and I have varying colorful and wildly different memories of the exact same thing.

There was one family recipe I started doctoring just as soon as I was far enough away from home not to get caught. Bless her heart, my mother’s spaghetti sauce was just plain weird and not like anything I’d ever had before or since. She used to say that’s the way my Dad’s mother made it, that it was German-inspired. German spaghetti sauce? Really? They were from Yadkinville via the Alsace region, but that could hardly account for this particular and peculiar combination of ingredients. And there was nothing North Carolina about this sauce except for the woman opening the bottles. She’d saute onions and celery, maybe some dried garlic, brown some ground beef, then add a couple of bottles of Heinz Chili Sauce. I loved it until I tried “real red sauce” at a real Italian restaurant.

In an attempt to impress when I finally met the man I would marry, born story-embellisher that I am, my kitchen skills took on grand proportions as if I didn’t know, or care, that it would catch up with me sooner or later. We ate out a lot at first, and grilled almost every weekend, so coming up with sides for whatever hunk of meat was charring away outside was easy. There was foolhardiness as I threw elaborate dinner parties and tried out new dishes without even a rehearsal. One dinner, everything was held-up waiting for the rice to bake, a recipe my mother often made for fancy dinners. After 30 extra minutes and finally pulling the bubbling beef broth out of the oven, it was only to discover I’d never added the rice. Fortunately, there was wine a’plenty and if I know nothing else, it’s how to laugh long and hard at myself. For reasons that now escape me we ended up dancing around the dining room table singing Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody at the top of our lungs. It became an after dinner tradition.

cooking

Still, the kitchen didn’t scare me. Our circle of friends became fooled into thinking I knew what I was doing back there in that room with the pots and pans. I’ve lost count of the times I’d just go back in there and rattle things around a little just for their benefit.

Once married, and without even consciously trying, we began to start our own food traditions. One that included having all our favorites on one plate for a birthday, which in my case meant lobster, crab cakes and ribeye’s all in one meal. The holidays would roll around and I’d find myself homesick for a specific dish from my own childhood – breakfast strata, Christmas pie, baked fruit compote, or Mud Hens.

We honestly thought Mom created them until I pulled out my old dog-eared 2nd edition copy of Charleston Receipts to search for a dessert to take to a cookout and there big-as-life was her recipe. Exactly the same. They were such a hit, I promised myself I’d never forget about them again, though I’d smile coyly about our “secret family recipe” every time after.

WagonerFamilyCookbook1The Family Cookbook
Sometime during the summer of 1990, as I began to collect all those family recipes, including those that my brother and sisters had reworked and adapted to our adult tastes, it morphed into a family cookbook project. Everyone would send me their recipes, I’d re-type them all, make copies, and gather them in a ring binder. Sounded simple enough. I was either crazy or didn’t already have enough to do, so I also volunteered to design and cross stitch enough covers for each family to have their own book, plus an extra one each for the two 10-year old nieces who I named as my assistant editors. It became the big shared family Christmas gift that year and took its rightful place next to the old Joy of Cooking and Ladies Home Companion.

My copy is a treasure and is one of those things I’d grab if the house were on fire. It’s outgrown the binder in a good way, with other favorite recipes added through the years. Even after graduating from culinary school, I still go for the family cookbook nine times out of ten. Ever year, usually sometime in November and way too late to have it ready in time for Christmas, there are talks of doing a long overdue update. Bring it on, y’all. It’s about time.
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Kitchen Shuffle
Shuffle
RC Cola & a Moon Pie (NRBQ)
Maximum Consumption (the Kinks)
Alice’s Restaurant (Arlo)
Sweet Potato Pie (James Taylor)
Cheeseburger in Paradise (Jimmy Buffett)

R.E.M. BY MTV at Cat’s Cradle a special film screening and PopUp Chorus benefiting the Public Justice Foundation

There’s this.  It’s important. It’s fun. And it’s a damn good cause.

August 23, 2016 update:  Our beautiful and remarkable Vivian left us yesterday – peacefully, quietly in the comfort of family and friends.  We knew this day would come. Lauren Bromley Hodge said it way better than I ever could:

Yesterday, Vivian Connell joined the man in the moon, went to Heaven, became part of the universal flow of all things, Honestly, I do not know where she has gone, but I do know that she has left a hole in our world, and that I have lost a friend. A mother supreme, a ferocious fighter for justice, an advocate for public education, a towering intellect and force of nature like no other, Vivian loved music right up there with all else that she loved with such passion. Just over a year ago, Bernard Downing, Conductor Seamus Kenney, David Klein, Deborah Pardee Miller, Frank Heath and her husband, Paul Connell, worked together with many others, on an event to honor her, that benefited Public Justice, a cause that she held so close to her heart. We sang R.E.M. songs, screened their documentary, and watched her son,Hagan Connell join this kick ass band with Alex Maiolo on stage. Of course, he held his own, because he is a Connell, and they always hold their own. Re-watching this video and seeing her sing, laugh and love R.E.M., her family, friends and her community reminds me that life is precious, fleeting and beautiful. She made more of it that most. RIP beautiful woman, and may the community that you served with such passion bring peace and comfort to your grieving family. So proud to have known you. -LBH

R.E.M. BY MTV at Cat’s Cradle
a special film screening and PopUp Chorus benefiting the Public Justice Foundation

REMbyMTV

Carrboro, NC – A special musical benefit featuring the music of R.E.M. takes place at Cat’s Cradle, Friday, April 10, 2015 beginning at 6:30 p.m. in support of the Public Justice Foundation. The evening includes a screening of the documentary R.E.M. by MTV, a film about the life and times of R.E.M., and a PopUp Chorus of the audience singing R.E.M. favorites, “Man in the Moon” and “Losing My Religion.” The event honors Chapel Hill teacher and policy advocate, Vivian Connell. Advance tickets for the seated show are $15 and are available online now at http://www.catscradle.com. All proceeds benefit the Public Justice Foundation.*

The event springs from years of shared friendships and shared passion for social justice. Vivian Connell, an undergraduate in Athens, Georgia in the early 80’s, grew up in the burgeoning local music scene with the young R.E.M. As an emerging band,, R.E.M. performed their first benefit in 1984 for the Legal Environmental Assistance Foundation (L.E.A.F.). The young Connell, then Vi Riner, photographed this 1984 performance for The Red & Black, the University of Georgia, Athens student newspaper.

Thirty years later, after a two-decade teaching career, Connell graduated from UNC Law, passed the North Carolina Bar and was engaged in education policy advocacy, often working with long-time R.E.M. advisor Bertis Downs. But in March 2014, soon after embarking on her career in public interest law, Connell was diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease).

Following her diagnosis and despite physical limitations, Connell, a teacher, attorney, and policy advocate, continued to pursue public service, raising over $30,000 to lead a group of immigrant and marginalized students on a social justice trip to DC. On the importance of music, Connell observed, “Music has the power to unite people and to compel us toward a higher purpose,” adding, “R.E.M.’s music and politics have elevated our best ideals and inspired many, including me, to question the status quo and to pursue an authentic life of substance.”

Says Bertis Downs, R.E.M. advisor and co-producer of the documentary, “we are thrilled to have a screening of R.E.M. by MTV at Cat’s Cradle and to have it benefit The Public Justice Foundation, which does such vital work and is meaningful to our friend Vivian Connell. It is sort of a perfect circle; the Chapel Hill area has always been a special place for R.E.M. since their earliest days, and screening the film here gives us an opportunity to support and honor Vivian. The documentary has been well received by fans all over– and having PopUp Chorus join the event is a unique bonus.”

Click here to view Trailer for R.E.M. by MTV.

PopUp Chorus founder Lauren Bromley Hodge, a NC based arts entrepreneur, met Connell through Downs in 2011 after founding the Community Chorus Project, whose mission is to create community and positive social impact through music. In 2014, Hodge introduced PopUp Chorus, conducted by Seamus Kenney, as a program of Community Chorus Project, run in collaboration with the Department of Music at UNC, Chapel Hill. Hodge and Kenney are thrilled that PopUp Chorus can help celebrate Vivian Connell’s work and passion, while allowing them to turn the audience into a PopUp Chorus singing two iconic R.E.M. songs.

Like R.E.M.’s first benefit, this event will support public interest law. A perfect circle, indeed.

* Public Justice fights for consumer and victims’ rights, environmental protection and safety, civil rights and civil liberties, workers’ rights, America’s civil justice system, and the wronged, the poor and the powerless. The Public Justice Foundation is a not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) charitable membership organization that supports cutting-edge litigation, advocacy, and education around these issues.

Those unable to attend may make a tax deduction donation by clicking here! 

Learn more about Vivian Connell –read her story on her blog, finALS: My Closing Arguments.

Advance tickets – BUY NOW!

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Contacts:
Vivian Connell, Advisory Board, Public Schools First, North Carolina Certified Teacher, English 6-12, ESL K-12, 704-995-2222,vivcon@gmail.com
Lauren B. Hodge, Community Chorus Project LLC, 919-428-1597, lauren.b.hodge@gmail.com

For more information or to arrange an interview:
Deborah Miller, 919.219.6877, dpmiller@bellsouth.net