Thursday, November 3, 2011

More on Maui

Here's an article I recently wrote for, a website about women harp players, past and present.
It's got some other pix of the Maui tour.  Hope you enjoy it. -JK

Maui Tour—or I left my Heart in Makawao

Philbillie (my partner, guitar slinger, road manager and engineer/producer) grew up on Maui playing, cutting his teeth in the clubs.  His dad put in the first FM rock radio station on Maui. Philbillie's sister had recently moved back with her 2 boys, so I thought it was high time that we put together a tour and take the occasion to visit them.

Turns out everyone wants to go to Maui.  We brought along bass player Dave Newman, and the fabulous Eric McFadden who has played with P-Funk, Eric Burdon, and lots of famous folk too numerous to name here.  Let's just say he's one hot guitar guy. 

While there, we had the good fortune to hook up with a great drummer, Josh Greenbaum, who we wanted to steal away from the island and bring him back to SF.  Might just steal him yet.

We got to stay in a beautiful place, Rainbow Acres, way up a windy road on a mountain in a eucalyptus forest.  It’s a farm where they grow and sell all kinds of succulents and cacti.  Wherever we went we were making fast new friends and fans.

Philbillie had some old radio contacts and we played a benefit for the community radio station there, Radio Mana'o, making fast friends with the DJs there, especially singer/songwriters Dorothy Betz and Les Adams  Here's a shot of us all jammed into the tiny studio there.

Touring a new market for the first time can be worrisome. You just don’t know if anyone’s gonna show up to hear you, especially if they never heard of you.  We had a number of club dates in the tourist part of the 
island, Kihei, and as the word got out, (on the coconut wireless as they call it)  more and more folks came to see us.  

We got to play Charlie’s, Willy Nelson’s hangout, which was really fun, and by the time we did the Radio Mana’o benefit at Casanova, they had one of the best turnouts they ever had in something like 15 years of benefits. 

One of the high points was a house concert that was put together by master guitar-builder Stephen Grimes  This guy has built guitars for George Benson (four of ‘em!), Leo Kottke, Willy Nelson, Larry Coryell and the list goes on.  We got to hang in his studio and play with crazy-ass amazing guitars!  Ukeleles, too.  By the way, you better pronounce it right over there—that’s oo-koo-lay-lay.  It’ll save you a few scowls if you say it right.  Steve had put together a very cool house concert for us.  It was the first one he did, and it pretty much sold out.

Here’s Dave Newman playing a Steve Grimes guitar:

If the Tiki gods are willing, we’ll be back in March for another tour, since we’ve had a festival offer.  Another chance to go back to paradise.  It is paradise, yes, but only for the people who are there who make it so.  Aloha and mahalo.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Kindness of Strangers

Olinda,  Maui
“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”—Blanche du Bois

(I think she said this after being violated by Stanley Kowalski.)

We are up a winding road in the cool reaches of a forest upcountry.
Driving up there are brown horses, white horses standing the green shade like a Gauguin painting, flocks of stumpy-tailed goats, huge lush overgrowth of vines and flowers, yellow and red hibiscus everywhere that long-haired women tuck behind their ears, white sweet plumeria blossoms fallen onto thick green lawns.

Little jangly suburban houses are scattered over the jungle towns of Makawao and Haiku.  The words are lovely, rolling off the tongue—Kauhikoa,  Kekaolike, Kula…

But further down to the coast the more the island smacks of Southern California beach cities, hotter and stickier, with sad condos, refrigerated big box stores, giant blue ice drinks, fancy desperate resorts, and poor people picking glumly along the shopping aisles looking at price tags.

They say there are ancient ghosts here.  When the moon is full, warrior ghosts, the night marchers, haunt their old paths near ancient rock temples.  They say if you hear their drums, take off all your clothing, lie face down on the ground, or they may tap your shoulder and you will join their eternal march. 

I keep thinking about life here before Hollywood, before 50’s pin-up Hawaiian babes, before Amerika.  Before Captain Cook. 

A couple of millennia of taro pounding, vicious bloody fighting between brown anthill islands.  Fighting each other. But not fighting nature.

The first thing the missionaries did was plant kiawe trees with sharp thorns that would drop on the ground, so the Hawaiians would have to wear shoes.   
And they made the bare-breasted hula dancers wear shirts.  The nakedness shocked their Victorian sensibilities.

In the rich tourist resorts, the grounds are swept immaculate, the green is clipped and natural world held briefly at bay.  Brown men serve white women tall drinks with ice.

Beautiful fruits, both wild and cultivated:  Surinam cherries, white pineapple, mandarin trees. And rats.  Rats under the porch.  Scuttling English rats from Captain Cook’s scuttled ships.  Rats eating the fallen fruit.

The island has been violated by the kindness of strangers.  Waves of it washing up its shores.  Ghost warriors beat their drums and march down the night.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Head of Fire, Feet of Clay

                                                                                  July 13 2011, San Francisco

Four months already and I haven’t come up with another blog.  Swore I’d write one once a month, but I just didn’t get around to it.   

I kept journals for years and years.  Why oh why is it so hard for me to sit down and write the damn blog?

I figured it might interest you to hear the story of some of the songs coming out on the new release...

Head of Fire, Feet of Clay

Got no fear, and I got no hope
Rollin down the river in a tin can boat
Don’t throw me a line ‘cause it’s much too late
Head of fire, feet of clay

My true love taught me not to feel
Taught me when to run, taught me how to steal
So I stole his heart and I gave it away
Head of fire, feet of clay

I’m the last big chief in this one-cow town
Won’t crawl, won’t kneel and I won’t bow down
So they left me lying where I lay
Head of fire, feet of clay

Kick down the dead, climb the graveyard wall
When you get to the top, boy, you better not fall
You laugh when they say it’s gonna end this way
Head of fire, feet of clay

*   *   *    *    *

Well, at the risk of sounding self-congratulatory, I especially like this one.  One of the best moments for me in my musical life, Bill Bottrell chose this one (and another one called “Say Goodbye.”) to produce out of all my material.  He played drums on it.  We went up north to his studio in Mendocino which has been closed off for a few months, and in the process it had gotten moldy.  I was singing in an isolation booth, and started to get an asthma attack, but I didn’t say anything, because I didn’t want to whine, wanted to be brave!…you can hear it in my voice, but it adds an oddly cool quality.

I took inspiration on this song from a few places.  The title was an ”Untouchables” episode from 1960 that came on in the wee hours and I thought the title would make a great song.  I didn’t know what to make of it at the time.

The line about the “tin can boat” seems to me like I might have heard something like it in a Dylan song, but I might have dreamed it, or just imagined I heard it and filled in the spaces.  You can get some great lines like that.  I never found the Dylan song with that line.  Maybe you know it.  Well, it’s belongs to this song now.

The last verse’s first couplet comes from a 2008 PBS special on the black Indians of New Orleans called the “Order of Myths.”  There’s an old guy talking about the stuff he sings, nonsense stuff, but I thought it was very poetic:

Make fire, make thunder
Kick down tombstones
Midnight put the dead on the wall

Dude tell you I’ll make a tireless climber
Slip the wall
Get to the top
you better not jump or fall

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Help Wanted

Well, we’re got seven tunes in the can.  They are sounding better than anything I’ve done before!  And we think we might have a few songs that might have legs.

The question now is how to get them into the right hands.
As we all know, the music business is a tough biscuit to chew. It's a shark pool, so you really need a shark on your side if you don't want to be trampled in the dust.  Heck, you’d need a landshark…
 Is anybody out there up to the task? Are you willing to break a few legs, cut off a few thumbs, and maybe just be a little ruthless? Would you trade your grandmother to Somalian pirates for the chance to have your client make the big time? Lord knows that what it takes these days. 

Back in 1966, in the time of the Summer of Love, The Beatles gave David Crosby an advance tape of the song, “A Day in the Life.” When Buffalo Springfield's manager found this out, he sent an attractive young girl over to Crosby's house to steal the tape. 
He then took it to the biggest DJ in L.A. and offered it to him with the stipulation that he play his clients' new song, “For What It's Worth” every time he played the new Beatles’ song. A scoop like that wasn't to be passed up, and so the deal was made. By the end of that summer, everyone in L.A. knew “For What It's Worth” like it was the national anthem, and it made the charts.

I want a manager like that--someone willing to go the whole nine yards, someone who will bend every effort, and comes from a long line of effort-benders. I want someone who won't take no for an answer, even while being pepper-sprayed or menaced by attack dogs in front of a large record company's headquarters. 

It takes a lot of wherewithal to front a successful band, and we want someone with large quantities of it.
Are you out there? We'll leave a light on for you.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Creating the Perfect World

Philbillie says I should blog about Bill. Okay.  Here’s what happened. 
We decided to use as a part of the new record an older recording of one of our favorite songs “Head of Fire, Feet of Clay” that we tracked some years ago with super-producer Bill Bottrell (Michael Jackson, Sheryl Crow,  Tom Petty, Shelby Lynne, the list goes on) at his studio in Mendocino.  

We had high hopes of him recording the entire album, and we took home a CD of a rough mix, thinking we might finish it someday with Bill. But as it turned out, after the first sessions, Bill was lured back to the bright lights of Tinseltown.

We thought about re-recording it from scratch 
but realized that his version had really become the definitive one for us.  But we only had (what we thought) was a rough mix. 
When we recently talked to Bill about doing a final mix for this song, for various reasons, it wasn’t feasible to remix, and in any case upon re-listening Bill thought it was excellent as it was and gave us his blessing to release it.  However, we wrote that "in a perfect world 'Head of Fire' would have one more element, sustaining, like either steel or strings," but added that the mix sounded blankety-blank awesome.

So we gave a holler to our first-call pedal steel guy, Dave Zirbel who did a gorgeously executed track.  Here’s a glimpse of Dave at work on the tune:

 And so I guess it’s done now, at last.  But isn’t the perfect world always a work in progress?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Making Records is Like Making Sausages...


Everybody enjoys the final product, but you don't want to know what goes into making it.
So Philbillie has a sinus infection, and I’ve had a cold for a week. 
But even in the face of adversity we soldier on, and are nearing completion of the long-awaited (by us at least) CD. Today we tracked background vocals on a couple of tracks with the fabulous Lady Chi and Pamela Parker who sing with RonKat Spearman of P-Funk in Katdelic. We forgot to turn on the video when the girls were here.  Too bad. They’re really cute, and sing great too.

Monday we go to the East Bay to re-record some more B3 with Harry O.  See, we almost completed one of the main songs.  But after tracking the lead vocals we realized that the key was far too low.  So we scrapped the lot, saved the drums and proceeded to recut basses, guitars, banjos, vocals all in one day.  It turned out to be a blessing in disguise since in the process we made it even bigger better fatter and groovier.  You could even catch a glimpse of some the overdubs on the jennykerrband youtube channel  or just look at the little video roll on the left.  Stay tuned, we’ll have some sweet video up soon of Harry and his big organ (Hammond B3, that is), and also Eric McFadden as he tracks some mandolin.  

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Train to Salvation recorded at Okey Doke

Philbillie is really proud of this record; he recorded and co-produced it with Eric and of course worked his hiney off on the mix .  I got to play harmonica and banjo sing a little on it (I'm part of the 'Drunk and Dirty Angel Choir').  I think it's gorgeous.  The title track is epic.

In the press: 

Eric McFadden is an American guitarist but this album – his first for French label Bad Reputation – has a decidedly French feel to it, albeit French on the Mexican border. If you are after ‘normal’ Blues this won’t float your boat but if your tastes are more to the seedy side of life and death and you enjoy polka and accordion then he has it all and in spades. McFadden’s guitar work is a delight and his voice is gruff and dense, world-worn and full of life’s experiences. The titles tell part of the story – ‘Last Day Of My Life’ or ‘Stealing From The Dead’ – but his songs are exquisitely painworn and felt

Véritable ‘coup de cœur’, cet album de McFadden mérite la note maximale, ‘Indispensable’, car dès la première écoute cet opus vous deviendra indispensable tant il est géant. Monumental.

Chicken and ABCs

Click over to Amazon and check out the rave reviews for our dear friend Marissa's album featuring the talents of Jenny Kerr and co.

What's It All About?Marisa Martinez is hoping to help kids learn while getting a big dose of musical inspiration with her newly-released compact disc, ABC And Chickens. Martinez, a National Board Certified teacher with a Masters in Elementary education, and a Bachelors Science in Special education, also performs regularly in several bands. This kindergarten teacher and longtime musical performer hopes to support music in the schools through the production and sale of an educational CD for children.
Music has helped so many children learn to read and become excited about learning and after completing her master's thesis on the crucial interaction between music and art in a young student's educational development, Martinez realized that ongoing cuts in music classes both in her school district and hundreds of schools across the country were robbing students of that important component of schooling. Aimed at the pre-K to 2nd grade set, the 18 songs on ABC And Chickens help kids learn counting, naming the days of the week, spelling, social skills and other important lessons.
classMarisa has been a full-time Kindergarten teacher for almost 10 years, singing and playing these songs with her classes for years. These songs align with the teaching standards and have helped children learn all they need to know in preschool, kindergarten and beyond. She has three daughters, three cats, three dogs, and one husband.
Working with producer Phil "Philbillie" Milner, Martinez gathered a few friends who happen to be some of the most noteworthy players in San Francisco, all former or current band mates - guitarist Eric McFadden (George Clinton, Eric Burdon), drummer Paulo Baldi (Les Claypool, Cake), cellist Sam Bass (Les Claypool), bassist/tubist Ed Ivey (Faraway Brothers, Brass Monkey Brass Band) , multi-instrumentalist Jenny Kerr and Mike Anderson on the Bass. Martinez composed most of the songs and sang or played on every cut. The recording sessions were great fun for the musicians and more than a few admitted they learned something new just being involved.

New CD in the works at Okey Doke Studio

Live in the studio at Okey Doke records with producer/engineer Philbillie Milner and drummer Anthony Vito as they set up to record tracks on the upcoming Jenny Kerr release tentatively titled "The Good Life" Here they demonstrate the "Glynn Johns" drum miking technique for that massive John Bonham sound.