B&V Goes Out Drinking, Supports Live Music: Kansas City’s Amanda Fish

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Anymore I find myself staying home more often than not. My Howard Hughes-hermit-loner phase is getting stronger. I haven’t quite got the point where I’m urinating into milk bottles, but I’m sure that’s coming. I seem to forget to shave for days on end but at least I do bathe regularly. The problem for the Rock Chick and me is that our friends are all married with children. Usually we just end up alone, sitting on the deck, sipping something strong.

However, work does occasionally pull me out of the house. I had one such evening a couple of Wednesdays ago. A guy who works for me, who I’ll call Ned, came to Kansas City so we could do some “second half planning,” which means eat BBQ and drink. After a rigorous afternoon spent in the office where surprisingly to me we actually did some work, Ned and I headed out to one of Kansas City’s premier BBQ joints, Q39. It may possibly be the best BBQ I’ve ever had and I’ve had a lot. The place is always packed. Although I must admit I was terribly disappointed they’ve removed the burnt ends from the appetizer menu, but this isn’t the place to air my grievances.

After feasting on perfectly smoked beast, Ned and I sat at the bar sipping whiskey. After a quick Google-Map search, I saw that he was staying at a downtown hotel, near a couple of bars I used to frequent prior to meeting the Rock Chick. While I don’t go out or drink on weeknights anymore, sometimes when I do, the wind just sort of pushes me along, I never know where I’ll find myself. I end up bouncing from bar to bar, talking to strangers, in the old days bumming cigarettes and making people laugh. I’m like Tyrion Lannister, “I drink and I know things.” I’m out spreading joy folks, one bar, one drink at a time. Although now it’s without the cigarettes.

We quickly Uber’ed down to John’s Big Deck on Wyandotte. We went bounding up the stairs, which I had trouble finding (I really need to get out more) and went up to the big deck a few flights up. John’s Big Deck boasts, as you would expect, a giant deck on the roof that has a magnificent view of KC’s skyline. The sign by the stairs reads, “Can You Handle Our Big Deck.” It was just that kind of night. Ned is from a “Red” state and I’m not sure he was emotionally prepared for the mix of hipsters, bohemians, and gay off-duty waiters in the crowd up there. We sat at the end of the bar and I educated the youngsters around me on the politics of income inequality. It didn’t take long before it was just Ned and I sitting at the end of the bar… I suppose you should never talk a little treason on a Wednesday night in Kansas City…

I was restless, as I’m prone to be, and after a few rounds, it was time to walk up a block or so to the Phoenix, a piano bar on 8th street. I briefly dated, more like “hung out with,” a woman who lived in that neighborhood, many moons ago, and we drank at the Phoenix quite a bit. The Rock Chick and I actually took our dear friend Rhonda, who is newer to town, down there one Saturday afternoon this spring. I always loved the Phoenix. There was a bald piano player, whose name escapes me, who might have owned the place at one time and he used to play there almost every night. Any more, you never know what you’ll find there. Most of the time it’s a small jazz trio/combo. I’ve heard some great singers in the Phoenix and since we were close, I felt Ned deserved the full Kansas City experience – BBQ and jazz.

We quickly bellied up to the bar and I noticed the crowd was a little thin. I was a tad worried there’d be no music. Suddenly a young woman, who looked vaguely familiar to me, but whom I couldn’t place, sat down behind the piano with an acoustic guitar. She started strumming the guitar and singing. I thought, “Oh, great, some college chick has come in to warble tortured romantic folks songs.” I put my nose in my beer and Nate and I chatted about sports. Every now and then, the singer’s voice would pierce through the fog the boilermakers were creating around my head and I’d think, “Wow, what a strong voice this chick has.” I quietly imagined her as busker on some street corner who had wandered into a great gig at premier jazz bar.

After a few acoustic guitar songs, the singer turned and pulled up an electric guitar. “Well, this just got interesting,” I said to Ned… The gal sang a few blues tunes but she really caught my attention when she played “Angel,” a Jimi Hendrix song. It was also covered by Rod Stewart, which I mention because it actually comes into play later in this story. Ned leaned over and said, “The music this gal is playing just keeps getting better… I don’t think it’s the booze.” Indeed, I don’t think we were drinking this gal’s music pretty, as the saying goes… she was incredibly talented. Ned and my conversation soon halted as we listened to this woman sing. “Who is this talented woman,” I kept muttering. I knew I’d heard her voice before.

Almost as quickly as she’d discarded the acoustic guitar, she put aside the electric guitar and turned to the piano. I couldn’t help but think, this woman is like Prince, there’s no instrument she can’t play. She belted a perfect rendition of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man.” I was all in now. I had turned away from the bar and was staring straight at her, trying to place her face. It was starting to get late and I knew Ned was ready to crash but I had to stay for one more song. She broke into the old Etta James’ tune, “I’d Rather Go Blind.” As she finished, Ned tabbed us out and we lurched toward the door. I had to speak to this woman… I pulled all the loose cash I’d accumulated over an evening of drinking and said to her, “Miss, this is a feeble tip considering the amazing music you’ve played here tonight,” and dropped the money in the tip jar.

She smiled and thanked me. I had to ask, “That version of “I’d Rather Go Blind,” was that inspired by the Etta James version or the Rod Stewart version? It was spot on.” The singer asked me, “Rod Stewart did that song?” I said yes, with Ronnie Wood. And this is the moment I embarrassed myself… She asked, “With the Faces?” I’m old, and deaf and thought she said, “on the bass?” I’m sure I looked puzzled when I replied, “No, Ronnie played guitar.” In my defense, not many young people know about the Faces. She was laughing at me now, when she repeated loudly, “The Faces, I know Ronnie plays the guitar.” I smiled as the Faces reference finally registered, as everyone knows, I love the Faces. Rod’s version was recorded by the Faces but released on one of his solo albums.

And, since I hadn’t embarrassed myself enough, I said, “What is your name, you’re super talented…” Ned was holding something just outside of my peripheral vision, but I was locked in on the singer’s face. She looked a tad astonished that I’d asked. “I’m Amanda Fish…” I glanced to my left and Ned was holding her CD, with her name printed on it just out of my vision. Amanda Fish! I almost swatted my hand upon my forehead. The Blues Gods should have smote me dead on the spot. If you haven’t heard Amanda Fish yet, you soon will. She’s an amazing talent. If you dig raw blues, pick up her LP ‘Down In The Dirt’ immediately. I’d seen her several times, but I was always in the back of a room, and she was always on stage with a band. I can’t believe I didn’t recognize her close up. I blushed when I saw and heard her say her name. I wanted to crawl into a hole… at least the whiskey helped…

This, people, is why I don’t go out anymore. But then again, maybe this is a cautionary tale, a sign, telling me I should get out more… it’s hard to know how to read this sign.

If you get the chance to see live music, especially the blues or rock and roll, and especially if it’s Amanda Fish, do yourself a favor and buy the ticket. Take the ride!

Cheers!

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Classic Album Sunday: John Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme’

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Sunday I had to pleasure to once again leave the confines of my home and slip down to the Waldo area of Kansas City. In the back room of the fabulous Waldo Pizza, I found a small crowd huddled together like early Christians, sharing tables, food and drink. All of these people had come together on a unseasonably warm and beautiful Sunday to huddle in a dark room and listen to vinyl. I couldn’t help but think, “these are my people.” I was struck by the diversity of the crowd. The demographics cut across race, age, and gender.

Yesterday’s Classic Album was the amazing selection, “A Love Supreme” by the genius John Coltrane. I enjoyed yesterday almost more than I did the Led Zeppelin “Houses of the Holy” session I attended a month ago (which was my first CASunday). After we’d heard Coltrane’s masterwork the host for the day mentioned that some of us in the crowd had likely never heard the entire album from start to finish. He wasn’t asking for a show of a hands for the uninitiated, but I raised my hand, thus was my awe and excitement at having heard Coltrane’s quartet’s virtuoso playing for the first time. I’m ashamed to admit that when it comes to music, I have a bit of a jazz blindspot. I never thought I was smart enough for jazz. Don’t get me wrong, I love to go to a club and hear live jazz, but I never knew what albums to buy, which artists were key etc. I mean, I knew Coltrane and Miles Davis but that’s about the extent of my knowledge.

That’s what made yesterday’s CAS that much better for me: I learned something new. I looked across a pizza and beer strewn table at my friend Doug and said, I know this much about jazz and held my fingers about an inch apart. In the three hours we were there I learned more about jazz than I had known in my entire lifetime prior. A lot of credit must be given to Teddy Dibble who was our guest speaker for the afternoon. Teddy’s depth of knowledge about jazz and Coltrane specifically was great, but what made yesterday so special was the passion with which Teddy spoke about the music and the man. There was a song they played, “Alabama” that may be my new favorite jazz song. Teddy teared up as he read his pre song notes for that song. A moving moment indeed. Never underestimate the power of music on your soul, folks.

Unlike last week, where we started with influences of Zeppelin, and then went to contemporaries, the musical selections focused solely on Coltrane’s work. The focus was from 1957 to 1964, the years that saw a huge transformation in Coltrane’s artistry. He kicked heroin and booze in ’57 and began a serious spiritual awakening. The pieces selected were superb. I can not say enough about the stereo equipment these guys set up to play these records. This being a presentation of vinyl records, I was highly amused when one of the albums skipped. Be still my beating heart… a skipping record… now that takes me back. I love every pop and hiss on my vinyl collection and I wouldn’t trade it for the world, skips and all.

Just like last month when they played “Houses Of The Holy” I glanced around the room during “A Love Supreme” to see closed eyes and bobbing heads. Teddy had done such a great job of setting up the story of the record I felt like I totally understood where Coltrane was coming from. Ecstatic at the arrival of his son, Coltrane locked himself in a room for 5 days and came out with the foundation of “A Love Supreme.” You can tell that Coltrane was inspired by the Divine as you listen to the religious ecstasy in the first three segments. The album ends with Coltrane sounding out a poem he’d written and it too came across like a prayer at the end.

I had no idea what to expect from his record. I agree with my hosts yesterday, this was a work of art on par with anything, in any medium that has ever been created. It’s a towering, giant album. They ought to be teaching this record in school.

I urge any of you who love music, or wish to learn more about music, to check out this website:

http://classicalbumsundays.com

There are chapters of this group from Oslo and London all the way to California. Even if you are just curious about music, trust me you can learn something. I know I did. Next month, March, will find CASunday playing “The Velvet Underground with Nico.” Alas, I won’t be able to attend as my corporate overlords have me traveling. The way they’ll curate that record is take a musical journey backwards, through all the bands the Velvet Underground influenced, back to the VU’s first, brilliant album. That will be a fun day.

Get out there and buy some vinyl! CASundays is a joyful affair! Seek out your local chapter.

Cheers!

Classic Album Sunday: A Great Way For A Music Fan to Spend Sunday Afternoon

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The older I get, the less social I’ve become. If it weren’t for the Rock Chick, I might never leave the house… If only the HOA would let me build that moat I pitched at the last meeting… If it were up to me, I’d sit in my home office and listen to tunes all night long. Thankfully my wife lures me downstairs for meals and the occasional shower… Her social network seems to continually grow as my circle shrinks as all my friends disappear into the fog of parenthood. Luckily, my dearest old pal Doug, from junior high school no less, still lives in KC. Like the Rock Chick, Doug is one of the few people who can coax me out of my tower and across my metaphorical moat and out into the world. I always chuckle as both my daughter and his daughters always reacted the same way when they heard Doug and I were venturing out on the town… “Oh, you’re going out to drink beer…” Little teapots have big handles as my mom used to say.

Doug had approached me a couple of weeks ago, while my hapless Chiefs were still “alive” in the NFL playoffs… I think we all knew where that would end, but I digress… (the wounds never heal). Anyway, Doug approached me about something called “Classic Album Sundays.” The Classic Album on this particular Sunday was to be, and this is awesome, “Houses of the Holy,” Led Zeppelin’s masterpiece fifth album. I was intrigued but didn’t want to commit until the Chiefs were out of the playoffs…sigh. It was being billed as a group of rock n’roll music fans, gathering in cities across the world to listen to the same classic rock album on a Sunday afternoon. I wasn’t sure what to think about all of this but I decided early on this would be worth checking out. I investigated the website, and found that there are Classic Album Sundays across the planet. From London to Oslo to New York and Chicago to Kansas City to Los Angeles… This started to look more and more interesting. I would urge any of you with an interest to check out their website, posted here:

http://classicalbumsundays.com

When the time came, I must admit, I was a little nervous. This was something that was so outside my current comfort zone. I finally took a deep breath and decided, “no expectations.” It was time to venture out of my cave. I swung by and picked up my buddy Doug, and we headed down to Waldo Pizza, the gracious host establishment for Classic Album Sundays. I walked in and quite to my surprise, the place was full. There had to be between 40 and 50 people in there. The room was bustling with tables full of beer drinking, pizza eating, music lovers of all ages, albeit the demographic probably skewed more toward older er, classic folks. They were packed in there like early Christians, strangers sitting together, elbow to elbow, true believers. The local host, who was wearing a t-shirt with a vinyl album on it, couldn’t have been more warm and welcoming. I could tell I was in the presence of someone who really knew his music. Most importantly, the first thing I spotted was a stack of vinyl albums. I knew this was going to be a great time.

Doug and I quickly squeezed into a picnic style table and introduced ourselves to the welcoming rock fans around the table. Any anxiety I had before I sat down was gone immediately. Of course that may have been the hourglass of Boulevard Tank 7 ale I was drinking… The host stood up and outlined the gear he had set up to play the vinyl albums with. Oh my God: Klipsch speakers, Ankoru Amps, TT2 Turntable… The amps had old style tubes! I’m no stereo gear guy but I could tell we were in for a magnificent soundscape. I wasn’t wrong.

The best part, aside from the great communal music-fan vibe and the great stereo gear, was the wonderful, careful curation of the musical afternoon. You don’t just show up and they play the album. The host had carefully selected a slate of music that told the story and set the back drop for the album. It was a really brilliant ramp up for the main event. He started off by setting the historical backdrop of Led Zeppelin’s blues influences. He played songs from B.B. King, Robert Johnson (“Traveling Riverside Blues” later covered by Led Zeppelin), Jimmy Reed and Little Milton. From there he took us through the British Blues rock scene with tunes from John Mayall, Cream, and the Yardbirds. During intermissions between songs he explained where Zeppelin fit in, what the background of forming the band was, all with this great music as a backdrop. I was surprised and thrilled when he played a James Brown song, which was a huge influence on the “Houses” song “The Crunge” and some Bob Marley, whose influence is felt on the album’s “D’yer Maker.”

Once the host set up the back drop, he moved to playing songs from 1973, when “Houses of the Holy” was released to help compare and contrast what the then current music scene was like when Zeppelin released the album. We heard Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Pink Floyd (“Time,” which was great), Queen (“Keep Yourself Alive” from their debut), Aerosmith (“Dream On” from their debut), and David Bowie (“Let’s Spend The Night Together” his Stones cover from ‘Aladin Sane,’ an inspired choice). It really gave you a feel of where Zeppelin fit in on the contemporary music scene – and it helped you feel the huge influence of the mighty Led Zeppelin (esp on Queen and Aerosmith). On the equipment this guy had set up, all of this music sounded spectacular. For a second I thought Pink Floyd was actually at the front of the room, playing live, thus was the clarity of the sound.

The host did take one small break from the musical story of “Houses of the Holy” for what apparently is the monthly ‘In Memoriam’ section of the program. He played, and this was to a Zeppelin crowd, a George Michael song, “Faith.” I have to admit, that took some balls. He held up a copy of Wham’s album, and lamented that he couldn’t play a song from the LP as it was still in the original factory seal. Someone yelled, “and better off keeping it sealed…” Ah, Zep fans. I do think it’s great they would take a moment to honor a fallen musician, even if their style didn’t fit the program. He also said if he’d had the vinyl version of “Singing In the Rain” he’d have played a Debbie Reynolds’ song. I think honoring the music of all genres is perfectly within the spirit of the afternoon. Well played, sir, well played.

He then took us through some Zeppelin, to catch us up on what music they had released prior to “Houses of the Holy.” He did a great selection from each of the first four Zeppelin records, not always the most popular tunes: “Your Time Is Gonna Come,” “Communication Breakdown,” “Whole Lotta Love,” the Rock Chick’s favorite “Tangerine,” “The Immigrant Song,” and finally “Black Dog.” It really showed you how they’d developed from a blues cover band (essentially) to a hard rock juggernaut.

Finally, it was time for the main event, the album of the afternoon, “Houses of the Holy.” There had been some chatting and chatter during the earlier songs, but when the host dropped the needle on “Houses” the room was a hushed silence. It felt like rock n’ roll church in there. The monster riff of “The Song Remains The Same” burst out of the speakers like a clarion call… I couldn’t help but glance around the room. Many people had their head down, eyes closed, listening with intense focus. There was an older guy, a table away from me who was dancing in his chair… he was bouncing around, nodding his head. The host was on the side of the room, head bopping to the music. I couldn’t help but think, these are my people. By the time “The Rain Song” was over the room was all rapt attention. It was really a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon. The host even played a second version of “The Ocean,” the last song on the album, from the first pressing of the album, because every other pressing has changed the sound… which was news to me, so even I can learn something new about Led Zeppelin.

I think Classic Album Sundays is a must for any classic rock fan who is lucky enough to have a local chapter in their city. We’re fortunate here in Kansas City to have Waldo Pizza as a host location, because the sound in that room is perfect. The next album up for February is “A Love Supreme” by John Coltrane. I’m not a jazz-bo but I gotta tell you, I’m already trying to figure out how to buy tickets (at only $5/each it’s quite a bargain). I feel like I’d learn something by attending. In KC they have a great slate of albums picked for 2017: “Sgt Peppers,” “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” Dr Dre’s “The Chronic,” (which I love how they span genre’s from jazz to rock to R&B and rap), Radiohead’s “OK Computer,” “The Velvet Underground and Nico” and Steely Dan’s “Aja.” I may not hit every single one of these, but I’m going to make more than I miss. Again, it’s a great afternoon of food, booze and learning about rock n roll classic albums.

Check it out! Cheers!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day from B&V

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There are holidays sprinkled throughout the year on the calendar. Some were created by Hallmark Cards, i.e. Father’s Day, Mother’s Day and the grandmother of them all, Valentine’s Day. There are government mandated holidays like Labor Day, Memorial Day and Arbor Day. Yes, Arbor Day, trees need some love, people. There’s even one holiday I actually like – Thanksgiving –  all I have to do is show up, drink and eat and watch football while napping after dinner, it’s almost perfect. Of course, there are religious holiday’s like Easter, Christmas, and Hanukkah just to name a few. For me, there is only one religious holiday I still observe and that is St. Patrick’s Day. Is there any other holiday that could better represent the ethos of BourbonAndVinyl than St. Patrick’s Day? I think not. St. Patrick’s Day is the BourbonAndVinyl “High Holy Day”.

In the interest of full disclosure, I don’t have a drop of Irish blood in me. Italian, Austrian, Belgian, English, and who knows what else. I could be part collie, although I’m much taller than the average collie and not nearly as hairy. I’m the classic American mutt. But I love St. Patrick’s Day. Everyone is in green, everyone is drinking and everyone is just a little bit more friendly.

Perhaps it’s the timing of St. Patrick’s Day, in the spring, just after the Ides of March that I love so much. The weather is often sketchy but for the most part spring has begun to sprung and that rebel spirit of my youth is reawakened. My home town has purportedly the third biggest parade or the third biggest “celebration” (depending how you define that) in the U.S. There’s something cool about being the “third” best or biggest. Neil Young and Crazy Horse toured in the late 80’s billing themselves as the “Third Best Garage Band In the World”. They claimed that being first brings a lot of pressure: to remain on top, to remain #1. To be Second Best brings a lot of pressure to overtake the First Place guy. If you’re Third, you’re just cool and you know it. I can live with that title for my hometown.

In the old days, we’d go downtown to Westport and have breakfast at Kelly’s, the city’s oldest bar. From there we’d hit the parade, full of floats, some from old, historic Irish clans, others from local charitable groups and quite a few marching bands. As soon as that was over it was back to Westport. All the streets are blocked off, the cops form a perimeter, and drinking in the streets, where God intended it to be done, is legal for a day. We’d rage until the sun went down and beyond, eating from food trucks and staggering about women with “Fuck Me I’m Irish” buttons on. Ah, the wearing of the green. It’s a spring tradition in my town. Alas, now I work all day and if I’m lucky slip out to a local Irish pub for  one or two and then back home before dinner. But I always try to make it out however briefly to commemorate The Day.

In my early professional days, I’d always meet my buddy, the General, no matter what was happening and we’d head to Westport for St Patrick’s Day. We would occasionally slip down there early, but as the years wore on, we’d get down to the celebration later and later. We made a tradition of saying, “To hell with work and responsibilities, on this one day, we ride!!” The years seemed to strip away and we were college kids on spring break for eight or nine hours. Alas, my pal the General has disappeared into the fog of work and parenthood. I don’t get to see the General much these days. I keep telling him he’s in a tunnel and he will come out, but I digress. And my own situation has changed considerably. The Rock Chick loves St Patrick’s Day too, but I always feel overly protective of her while were out on St Patty’s. Work responsibilities have often shackled me to the desk just the same as it does the General.

Early in my career, I was interviewing internally for a job. The guy I was interviewing with decided to fly in on St Patrick’s Day. We were to meet at 10 am. Because the parade ran past our office he wasn’t able to even get through the parade traffic to the office until noon, my scheduled departure time. I can still remember sitting in a corner office, in what was an intense interview, while constantly glancing over the executive’s shoulder to the parade and my drunken friends who were waving at me below. “Why yes, I can be very responsible in a management position sir, uh, how long is this gonna take, I have a drunken, green train to catch?” He was a religious man so I had to tread lightly.

A few years ago, I drunkenly got on stage at an Irish pub up North and told my favorite St Patrick’s Day joke…which goes something like this… A proud Irishman in a kilt was walking home to his farmhouse after a wedding in town. He was terribly drunk and laid down by a tree and passed out. Around dawn a pair of milkmaids were walking by and spied our intrepid Irishman asleep. Shyly they approached the Irishman, and curious, peeked to see what was under his kilt. One of the milkmaids pulled the blue ribbon from her hair and tied it around his…manhood. They giggled together as they walked away. About an hour later the Irishman woke and feeling something was amiss “below”, pulled up the kilt. Spying the blue ribbon, he said, “I don’t know where you been lad, but I see you won first prize.” I think that sums it up.

While I’m not crazy about all Irish music I shall spend tonight listening to Van Morrison and U2, loudly! My day tomorrow won’t be complete if I can’t open my windows and hear a bagpipe or two off in the distance. Who doesn’t love bagpipe music?

I want to wish everybody out there in Ireland, the Irish diaspora and those of us who are merely Irish in spirit for a day – Happy St Patrick’s Day from BourbonAndVinyl!! Enjoy it people. Get out there and enjoy the spring weather (if it cooperates). Raise a Jameson or two! Put on something bright and obnoxiously green. Skip work and do something naughty! Head down to the tavern and “talk a little treason” as they say in my favorite John Wayne movie, ‘A Quiet Man’. Me, I’ve got work and responsibilities, so you all have to carry the torch for me… although I must admit I received a text from my old pal the General, my first in a while, asking what I was doing for the holiday… Hmmm, that rebel spirit just may be calling me. St Patrick’s Day, like Hope “springs eternal”…

Cheers! Slainte and Erin Go Bragh!