Return of The Hum

After taking a hiatus since May 2013, for reasons I’m not going to get into right now, The Hum returned last week with a new print platform with the Mad River Union. I’m working on the web home, with some big plans that may or may not come to fruition, but for now let’s get back to the digital Hum here.

Willow’s Freight Train

music busker humboldt

music busker humboldt

Willow was busking in front of the Jambalaya. She offered to play a tune for me for a dollar. I had a quarter in my pocket so I threw it in her hat. The song was one I knew well, an old one, “Freight Train.” When she was done, I asked her if she knew about Elizabeth Cotten, who wrote it. She did. I told her I once heard Ms. Cotten play the song, back in the day, at the Jam, the very bar we were standing in front of. She was amazed. When I’d finished my chores, I gave her the handful of quarters I keep in my car for parking meters – I figured she’d earned more than a dollar for choosing that song.


It’s easy to get distracted, and even lost on the Internet, as anyone who’s ever sat in front of a computer with a high speed connection, an open browser, and a little bit of time on their hands can tell you.

I wasn’t even surfing aimlessly this afternoon when something spun me off on a tangent. While engaged in some work on the AAN website I noticed a PBS sponsorship ad with an intriguing quote: “A discussion about buzz bands has erupted online. As the music blogging community continues to search out and publicize new and up-and-coming bands, some have warned of the potential downfall for musicians.”

As someone who explores the burgeoning music blogging community, this caught my attention. I clicked through to a piece by a blogger known as Largehearted Boy on a site set up by PBS to promote their shows. Remotely Connected has a small stable of semi-famous bloggers they’ve invited in as guests, in this case David Gutowski of was reviewing a recent Austin City Limits show with Arcade Fire, one of those “buzz bands.”
He mentioned a couple of blogs I like in passing, in particular Said the Gramophone, and name dropped a couple that I hadn’t stumbled upon, which is mainly how I discover new music blogs, via links from blogs I like.

I clicked through to one of those and found a post asking to go to to vote for his blog in a top blog contest of some sort. I don’t really understand the Nielsen site (I guessing it’s affiliated with the polling firm in some way) and I wasn’t about to register so I could vote, but the ballot for the contest is pretty cool as a document of the moment on what a seemingly mainstream outfit sees as the top ranked music blogs around.

There are a few on the list that I frequent regularly, but not my personal favorites: the ever-literate Moistworks is missing, Said the Gramophone too.
Anyway if you want do some exploring of your own, the list might be a good place to start. When you find a blog you like, use their blogroll as a guide to other likeminded music hounds.

As to the potential downside of being a blogged about buzz band, Largehearted Boy quote from a think piece in Oxford American magazine that borrows its title, “Hype Machine” from a popular music blog aggregator: “Unknown bands become all-too-familiar bands in a month, and abandoned bands the next month.” Then quotes a member of the blogged about band John The Mountain Goats who notes that, “the hunger for something that feels good and exciting and important seems to have progressed to a point of insatiability.”
Yes, I admit it, I’m insatiable…

Incidentally, you can use Hype Machine to find out which blogs are talking about Arcade Fire. I’d have to say they don’t seem any worse for wear after being discovered by bloggers…


Richie Havens has been part of the background music to my life for a long, long time. And since I have a job that facilitates such things, I’ve had the opportunity to share long conversations with him a few times over the years. The latest came on Monday — I got an e-mail from Amy at Madison House, the Colorado-based publicity juggernaut saying “Richie is available for the next 2 hours for interviews or we can set it up for later this week. Let me know your thoughts…” I should point out, he was due to fly out to the West Coast for series of shows including one within walking distance of my house.

I called her. She called Richie. Easy as that… Not more than a few minutes later I got a call from New Jersey.

“Bob?” He addressed me as if we were old friends, and you know what? it feels that way, even if we’re not. He’s just as relaxed in conversation as he is on stage.

What’s new?

I’m finishing up my new CD, and I’m very happy with it.

Where have you taken things musically?

Well I’ve written more songs.

I know that’s not always the case…

It’s kind of like a stopped writing songs when I started singing doo wop way back there. It was because I found Greenwich Village and in Greenwich Village I found songs that just changed my life. That was where my education started, in the coffee houses. I should explain… Do you know who Freddy Neil is?

I do.

Freddy Neil was one of my biggest mentors. He’s guy who walked up to me and said, ‘Hey, you’ve been singing my songs from the audience for six months now, along with me — in harmony no less. Why don’t you just get a damn guitar? Here take this guitar. Go home and learn the songs and sing them yourself on the stage.’ I took the guitar and figured out how to tune it to an open chord and three days later I was singing half a dozen songs on stage. For the next seven years I was up there. For years I figured I couldn’t write the kind of songs I heard.

You didn’t think you could match the skill of guys like Fred Neil and Bob Dylan?

Right. Exactly. What I did was tell myself, if it comes, it comes. And the songs I was singing were timeless. I can still sing them today.

I heard you on the radio recently singing an old Dylan song, “Tombstone Blues.”

That’s from the movie.

Right. I’m Not There. I understand you’re in it too.

I have a part. I play a grandfather. I’m not an actor; I don’t call myself an actor. What happens is, I become part of this family. My son, in the film, finds this little kid on the road with his guitar. He brings him home to feed him, feeling sorry for him. The scene is at the table and my son’s wife is bringing food over. Their kids are at the table across from me and the young kid is sitting there blabbing about how the road is his thing and the only thing he needs is a car so he could get to places on the road. It’s ironic and kind of surreal, but in the movie this African American kid’s name is Woody, but he’s Bob Dylan. That’s part of his life.

I know a little bit about the movie, that it’s a fractured portrait with different actors playing Dylan or maybe aspects of him, at different times in his life. And I’ve heard a bit of the soundtrack album, which is pretty amazing in itself. I’m not clear on how they use the music in the film. Are you actually playing in the film?

In the next scene we’re sitting on the front porch, me, my son and the kid. The kid pulls out his guitar and we actually jam on the tune there on the porch. We sing “Tombstone Blues,” play it together. We throw verses back and forth. It has an uptempo feeling. It kind of has it’s own engine, but not like the original, more with a core pace to it.

Returning to the songs you’re writing yourself…

Well, they come.

The songs you’ve been singing over the years often touch on the events of the day. Is that what you’re writing about now, current events?

I do it from a personal viewpoint. In a song the singer can say, ‘I’ or ‘we,’ that sort of thing. That’s the way they come out, as narratives. The title will come and I know what the title means so the next thing I know music comes with it and the first line comes.

Will we hear some of these new songs when you play here?

For sure. My way of doing the road is to sing all the new stuff along with selections from other writers. There are songs by friends of mine who didn’t become famous, singers who were really purely writers. That allows me to step into their song and become the singer who’s singing that, but in my own way.

Can you give me an example of a recent one you’ve written?

The last one, the latest, is called “The Key.” It goes something like this: (He sings a cappella) Somewhere there’s a key. And it is laid behind a golden tree… (he falters) I can’t do anything without a guitar in my hands. (He laughs then resumes singing.) To open even me before the dark shadows fall. Somewhere there is a door and it’s locked forevermore, to all the tiny things we swore allegiance to, just between me and you… Like that… What makes the song for me is not only the lyric, it’s the sense of the music. It’s just as important. Can you hold on for a sec?


(He disappears and I’m thinking someone might be at the door or something else has distracted him. When he returns I understand…)

Now I have my guitar and I can show you what I mean about the music sharing an equal part. (He sings “The Key” again, filling in the gaps with rolling rhythms.) They follow me around, these songs, which is great.

I have to ask you about this singer I’m supposed to interview later this morning. Her name is Sonya Kitchell.

Oh yes. I met her a few years ago now. She was probably 14 or 15.

She’s coming here with Herbie…


Herbie Hancock.

You’re kidding. Now that’s what I was waiting for her to do. There are these women who have their own thing. They sit up on stage and play their own way. Like Dana Kurtz. Do you know her?

Can’t say that I do…

She’s great.

I didn’t know that much about Sonya. I came across one of her songs, “Train,” and just loved it. It’s just an amazing song.

When I first met her she was a jazz singer. She plays jazz on the guitar and sings somewhere in that genre. So it’s amazing that she’s going there. Dana is the same way. I call her the Billie Holiday of today. There are a few of them out there. And I’m fortunate enough to get to hear them when they open for me. Sonya actually opened for me.

I’m pretty sue when people go see Herbie Hancock they’re going to walk away talking about her.

It’s definitely going to blow their minds.

(More to come later…)

random Iron Eyes photo and memory

There are a few music blogs I visit regularly, among them one called Ben loxo du takku, an examination of African music (with samples) maintained by Matt Yanchyshyn, a Canadian who works for Associated Press as West African bureau chief or something like that.

I hadn’t been to the site for a while so I scrolled down and found a link to excavated shellac, an esoteric yet fascinating site (to me anyway) maintained by a guy named Jonathan who collects 78s from around the world.

His blogroll has a link to a site called airform archives, another collector’s site but more varied. He had a post sharing a recent flea market find: a set of photos of Iron Eyes Cody demonstrating sign language. (See above.)

It brought back a strange experience I once had interviewing Robert “Tree” Cody, son of Iron Eyes. Tree Cody plays Native American wooden flute and was coming to perform in our area. We were talking via cell phone as he drove from one gig to another. I was not well prepared and innocently asked him about his upbringing and if his father had been raised on a reservation.

He hesitated then told me something along the lines of, “It’s not all true what they say about my father, but anyway it doesn’t matter since my brother and I were adopted.” I had no idea what he was talking about and was about to ask when his phone went dead.

I immediately Googled his father and came across about how he’d tried to hide his Sicilian heritage. I was not sure how to broach the subject with his son, or if I should even bring it up, but it turned out to be a moot point: I could not reconnect with him after his phone went dead so we never continued the interview.

The Hum 7/12 – a burning thing

Mike Ness

It was one of those parties. A wild one. My friend Gregg was moving out of a ramshackle place in Blue Lake into classier digs elsewhere and had a backyard bash to celebrate. Gregg has definite pyromaniacal tendencies and included a flaming limbo dance as part of the affair, followed by fireworks and a bonfire to dispose of leftover firewood and scrap lumber around the yard.

My job was to keep the festivities festive by providing a soundtrack using an old school record player set up on the porch of the back shed (and by old school I mean one with a built-in speaker that came from a school). Flipping through boxes of LPs in the shed I dug out songs with a fire theme: “Fire,” both the Crazy World of Arthur Brown and the Jimi Hendrix versions, Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” and others. Someone asked Gregg if they could burn his wooden ladder. He agreed.

When I put on Social Distortion’s cover of Cash’s classic the revelers began something akin to a mosh circle around the fire pit. Some of the crazier partiers had stripped to nothing but their boots. A few naked crazies climbed up and over the ladder until it collapsed into the flames and someone literally “fell into a burning ring of fire.”

The memory of that night came back when I heard that legendary O.C. punks Social Distortion are coming to the Eureka Municipal Auditorium Saturday, July 14. That’s what the band’s music is like. Led by the intense Mike Ness, Social D was part of the late ’70s wave of Cali punk alongside bands like Black Flag, The Dead Kennedys and Bad Religion.

Comrades have fallen by the wayside, but, with a few breaks for rehab and the like, Ness has been at it ever since. At 45, the thoroughly tattooed guitarist is no longer a young punk, but that didn’t keep him off his skateboard, and last year he fell off and broke his arm rendering him unable to play guitar. No worries: His friends stepped in as the band continued touring, first Ron Emory from TSOL, then Bryan Small from another fiery punk outfit The Hangmen. They’ve just released a new EP, The Hangmen In the City, produced by Ness and they’re part of the current Social D tour. Also on the bill at the Muni: The Heart Attacks, a “scuzz rock” five-piece from Atlanta described by lead singer Chase as “a gang of pirate gypsy crackhead smart-mouthed snot-nosed rock & roll misfits.”

Meanwhile across town, it’s The 5 Browns, who could be described as a classical novelty act. The family band, two brothers and three sisters, all play piano and all of them are pretty good. What’s novel is they all play at the same time. That’s right, five pianos on stage at once. They do some duo numbers and solos, but the main deal is pounding out warhorses from the classical repertoire all together on five Steinway grand pianos. What occurred to me was the fact that there probably are not five concert-ready Steinway grands in the county. No problem, the Browns travel with a truckload of them and will bring them to the Arkley Center Saturday evening.

Vocalese jazzman Bill Allison leads Redwood Jazz Voices in their first performance Thursday, July 12, at Muddy’s Hot Cup with Dave Wilson on bass and Mike LaBolle on percussion. The young vocal ensemble includes Bill’s son, Clay Allison, Lorenza Simmons (Madi’s daughter) and Calista LaBolle (Mike’s daughter). “All kids who grew up in households with pro musicians,” Bill points out, adding, “They’re all in tune to it.”

Seattle nerdcore semi-star Matt Kenall used to call his one-man-band Capital Steps, but the similarly named comedy troupe complained, so now he calls himself Square Wail. He’s at the Jambalaya that same Thursday on his “I’m Not Listening” tour playing loopy dance tunes he creates with a pile of gadgets, but mostly with a Nintendo Gameboy. No, really. Dj[hexWarrior] opens, playing out for the first time.

Friday at the Jam, it’s yet another band from Portland, Wooden Nickle, a trio with guitars, drums and a laptop who craft cool, dark, haunted alt. folk/rock/country songs intermittently spiked with guitar feedback, hand claps and digital trickery. Deejay Jen Savage offers a preview on KSLG that afternoon at 1 p.m. Locals Laden Swallow open the show at the Jam with songs from their Awaken CD.

The Venerable Lord Bret Bailey from Que La/The Common Vice tells me he’s been branching beyond rock opera with C. Vice. See what he’s up to at the Pearl Friday. Deric Mendes’ new band shares the bill.

There’s art and music Friday at the big purplish foundry in Aldergrove Industrial Park known as Unauthorized Art. Percussionist Jesse Jonathon is the music guy out there, renting rehearsal space for some of the worldly bands he’s in: WoMama, Afromassive, Dun Dun Fare, the Janky Mallets and Bloco Firmeza. The Arts! Arcata gallery opening that evening features sharp sculptures by Seth Magnusen and pix by photographer Christopher Cook including shots of various local bands. The music? “We’re starting with a local songwriter, Rebekah Downey, then the jazz trio Weather Machine, then WoMama and The Janky Mallets ending midnight-ish. It’s all a fundraiser for the building,” says Jonathan, promising, “It’s gonna be fun.”

If you’ve been following the Synapsis/Empire Squared saga, you know it’s actually going pretty well. Says Carmen Olson, the sexy Synapsis trapeze artist/stilt walker, “It looks like we’re going to get the Conditional Use Permit we’re applying for, so soon we’ll do the fire exits and ADA compliance stuff required, and then we reopen. We have an architect working for us, John Ash, he’s top notch. He read about it in the paper and called us to volunteer his time. He’s drawing up the plans, then we’ll have an idea how much we’ll need. We’re hoping to get a grant from the Humboldt Are Foundation, but in the meantime we’re trying to get some money together.”
To that end, they’re reviving Tsirkus Picaresque as Tsirkus Burlesque for a cabaret-style show Saturday, July 14, at the Dancenter in Arcata’s Old Creamery. “It starts at 8:30 with a fire show and silent art auction,” says Carmen, “then they’ll be a burlesquey-style circus show. Between acts we’ll auction off more art live. We’ll have trapeze, fabric aerials, hula hooping, a clowning striptease, and other stuff. DJ-dancing after. It’s kind of risqué so it’s adults only.”

It’s got to be bittersweet. Yer Dog’s long-awaited CD release party at the Alibi Saturday is also the band’s last show ever. “We’ll be playing with The Ravens which should be loads of fun,” says Pete. “We’re encouraging everyone coming out to dress in the best formal wear, suits, tuxes, evening gowns… recreating a ballroom dance party.” Don’t know if that’s possible in the confines of the Alibi, but it sounds different.

Coming up next Wednesday, July 18, at the Indigo, The Soul of John Black, with John “JB” Bigham, formerly of Fishbone, who has dug into his roots in recent years to come up with a new twist on the blues—call it alt. blues. Meanwhile at Muddy’s Hot Cup, it’s 8traC, an alt. funk outfit from Boulder with stunning blonde vocalist Chantel Mead out front and guitar work and samples from Derek VanScoten who came through town a few years back with a funk trio called Element37. (Think he likes names with numbers?) Same night at Mazzotti’s: jazzy electro-acoustic jams by the Eric McFadden Trio with Eric McF supplying flamenco/Hendrix-inspired guitar riffs backed by stand-up bass and drums.

A reminder: Don’t forget next Monday, July 16, is the next vote for Steel Toed Slippers on their way to TV stardom. Vote for them (more than once) at up until noon Wednesday.

As you perhaps read elsewhere in this paper, it’s Blues by the Bay weekend. If you listened to “The South Side,” Chas Lewis’ blues show on KHSU last Friday night, you got a taste of some of the artists who will be playing. You would have heard more this week, except the show will not be on. Chas is the radio name for KHSU’s longtime development director Charles Horn, and he was summarily dismissed from his position Monday. The man who’s described by colleagues as “the glue that holds the station together,” won’t even be allowed to volunteer as a deejay. Don’t be surprised if things come a bit unglued at KHSU in the coming weeks as they struggle to fill his shoes. Good luck, both to Chas and those at the station.

the left hand column

just a quick observation about another local blog: North Coast Post.

The Postmaster uses a couple of embedded routines in the left hand column to provide Humboldt-related content from around the web. First there a Video collector that actually seems to work. Along with vids of the People Project protest around the corner from my house and one of Arcata’s Redwood Park, there’s a video I shot on New Year’s Even on the Plaza showing one of our fine local samba drum troupes. (See above.) Keyword Arcata?

It’s the “Words still matter” section that fails routinely. The key word seems to be Humboldt, which turns out to be a poor choice. More often than not, it doesn’t matter, not to HumCo locals anyway. The aggregator apparently pulls up the top four hits on Google news for the word, which in theory seems like you’d get local news. The trouble is, the county’s namesake, Alexander Von Humboldt, was a popular guy, and all sorts of stuff is named after him. As noted in Wikipedia: All of the following places are named for Humboldt:

So today three of the news hits are about things in Chicago’s Humboldt Park: a car crash and a Latin jazz fest, and the other is about the Humboldt in Canada. Sure it might change later this evening, but most often it just doesn’t work.