Bob Dylan’s Glam Hootenanny: Returning to Rolling Thunder ~ NYT

Dylan’s 1975 tour was his most peculiar: nostalgic, theatrical, fiery.

Bob Dylan’s 1975 tour, the Rolling Thunder Revue, pulled together mentors and peers for a bizarre trek through off-the-beaten-path performances spaces across the U.S. and Canada. Credit Ken Regan, via Netflix

 

How distant the mid-1970s seem now. They were unkempt, hairy, hedonistic, improvisational, analog, inefficient — anything but neatly calculated and Instagram-ready. Post-psychedelic and pre-AIDS, they were a continuation of the idealistic, natural 1960s, yet they were also an immediate precursor to the polymorphous, synthetic, role-playing disco era. The bitterness of Vietnam and Watergate lingered; hippie utopianism was giving way to a more selfish search for individual satisfaction. Things were still scruffy, but not quite so communal.

The Rolling Thunder Revue, concocted by Bob Dylan, was precisely a manifestation of its era. Starting in Plymouth, Mass., where the colonial Pilgrims landed, it wandered the northeastern United States and Canada from fall into winter of 1975: a brief peregrination. In Dylan’s public career, which is now well into its sixth decade, it stands as his most peculiar tour of all.

Two new projects revisit the Rolling Thunder Revue in extensive detail. “The Rolling Thunder Revue: The 1975 Live Recordings” is a 14-CD, 148-track boxed set of music from the tour’s rehearsals and performances, vastly expanding the two dozen songs released on a 2002 collection, “The Bootleg Series Volume 5: Bob Dylan Live 1975, The Rolling Thunder Revue.” And on June 12, Netflix premieres “Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese.” It’s a not-quite-documentary that mixes 1975 tour footage (which was shot for the 1978 film “Renaldo and Clara”) and latter-day interviews with Dylan, Joan Baez and other Rolling Thunder participants, along with some fictional characters.

“The Rolling Thunder Revue: The 1975 Live Recordings” is a 14-CD boxed set capturing Dylan’s own appearances on the tour, from rehearsals to shows and rarities.

 

Both the boxed set and the film sprawl proudly and unpredictably, just as the Revue itself did. And both projects traffic in revelation and put-on, sometimes simultaneously. Onstage in 1975, introducing a then-new song called “Isis” that traces improbable adventures, Dylan claimed, “This is a true story. Actually, they’re all true.”

The Revue’s initial plan was to play spur-of-the-moment, out-of-the-way bookings — a Mah-jongg parlor, a Native American reservation — and shows at small halls that were announced on short notice, with printed fliers and radio ads: no internet then. (For a second, more conventional tour in 1976, the Revue outgrew that approach; both the boxed set and film stick to the initial Revue.) The concerts themselves rambled through their multi-performer bills, often stretching to three or four hours, taking on local guests at whim.

Someday there ought to be a reissue of a full-length, single-night Rolling Thunder Revue concert recording, opening acts and all. The new box is not that. It collects only Dylan’s own appearances — rehearsals, five professionally recorded shows and a final disc of rarities and outliers, like the piano-pounding “Simple Twist of Fate” recorded at the Mah-jongg Parlor in Falmouth, Mass.

The Revue presented itself as an informal hootenanny, but it was a self-conscious one. With a film crew in tow, the shows were also intended to provide material for the amorphous “Renaldo and Clara,” a film that ran nearly four hours when it was released in 1978 and met with near-universal derision. With a script credited to Dylan and the playwright Sam Shepard, “Renaldo and Clara” jumbled documentary and staged scenes, and it scrambled identities; Dylan is billed as Renaldo while the rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins plays “Bob Dylan.”

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In ‘Rolling Thunder Revue,’ Scorsese Tries to Capture a Wild Dylan Tour ~ NYT

 

The director Martin Scorsese mixes fiction and documentary to match the anarchic spirit of the 1975 concerts themselves.

Bob Dylan in a scene from the documentary. Credit Ken Regan, via Legacy Recordings

 

By Alan Light

 

Throughout “Rolling Thunder Revue,” the new film by Martin Scorsese chronicling Bob Dylan’s celebrated barnstorming tour in the fall of 1975, the participants struggle with how best to describe the event. It was like a “con man, carny, medicine show of old,” says Allen Ginsberg; “a circus atmosphere, dog and pony show,” says Sam Shepard; “an experiment in communal existence,” says Joni Mitchell.

 

In the movie, in theaters and on Netflix this week, Dylan himself starts to explain, saying that he wanted to do something “in the traditional form of a revue,” before cutting himself off.

“I don’t have a clue,” he says. “It’s about nothing, it’s just something that happened 40 years ago. I don’t remember a thing about Rolling Thunder — it happened so long ago, I wasn’t even born.”

This unexpected response sets the tone for an unconventional film about an unprecedented tour. The year before, Dylan had returned to the road for the first time in nearly a decade, accompanied by the Band for a series of concerts that broke ticket-sales records but proved musically unsatisfying. In his autobiography, Levon Helm of the Band wrote that the tour “was damn good for our pocketbooks, but it just wasn’t a very passionate trip for any of us.”

Dylan returned to Greenwich Village and started turning up at clubs, seeking out the sense of musical adventure and community that had initially drawn him to New York City. He assembled a new band of young unknowns, recorded what would become the “Desire” album and dreamed up a different way to tour.

Roger McGuinn, formerly of the Byrds, recalled in a recent telephone interview that when Dylan visited him at his Malibu home, “he said he wanted to do something like a circus, but he didn’t elaborate.”

The Rolling Thunder Revue hit the highway, booking halls in New England and Canada a few days in advance and selling its own tickets. Dylan’s boyhood friend Louie Kemp, who made his fortune in the seafood business, served as tour manager, and over 40 days, the top-billed Joan Baez, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Bob Neuwirthand others played 31 shows, some stretching four hours long, in 23 cities. (The tour nominally picked up again in 1976, playing bigger venues in the South and West. The film is accompanied by a 14-CD box set with performances and rehearsals from the first tour.)

Makeup, masks and costume were commonplace on the tourCredit Ken Regan, via Netflix

“I think the tour was unique in that it tried to expand the conventions of what a music show would be at that time,” Scorsese wrote in an email. “So there were poets, filmmakers, playwrights, and all sorts of different musicians.”

“It was an attempt to bring an exciting experience directly to the people,” he said, adding, “without thinking about the economics, without thinking about what people had done in the past. Just a pure expression of music and joy.”

The team behind the new movie decided that such an unusual expedition required something beyond a linear documentary. Most notably, the film creates several fictional characters. They represent some of the archetypal figures that surround a rock ’n’ roll tour and are included without comment alongside interviews with Rolling Thunder alumni.

Dr. John, Hall of Fame Singer Who Brought New Orleans to the World, Dead at 77 ~ RollingStone

“He created a unique blend of music which carried his hometown, New Orleans, at its heart, as it was always in his heart,” family says of Grammy-winning musician born Malcolm John Rebennack

UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1970:  Photo of Dr. John  Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Dr. John, the Hall of Fame musician who fused fused funk with R&B and boogie woogie, died at the age of 77.  Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

 

Mac Rebennack, the New Orleans pianist, singer-songwriter and producer better known as Dr. John, died Thursday at the age of 77. The cause of death was a heart attack, according to his family.

“Towards the break of day on June 6, 2019, iconic music legend Malcolm John Rebennack, Jr., professionally known as Dr. John, passed away of a heart attack,” his family said in a statement. “As a Rock N Roll Hall of Fame inductee, six-time Grammy winner, songwriter, composer, producer and performer, he created a unique blend of music which carried his hometown, New Orleans, at its heart, as it was always in his heart. The family thanks all whom have shared his unique musical journey, and requests privacy at this time. Memorial arrangements will be arranged in due course.”

“A true friend and fellow musical traveler died today,” the Allman Brothers Band wrote on Twitter. “The Allman Brothers Band family express their sincere sadness in his passing. Mac played many times with the Brothers. Walk on Gilded Splinters our Old Friend, we will all meet up at The Right Place.”

“God bless Dr. John,” Ringo Starr wrote on Twitter. “Peace and love to all his family. I love the doctor.”

“There was no other performer like Dr. John, and there never will be,” Louisiana native Ellen DeGeneres wrote. “Tonight my heart is in New Orleans.”

Although best known for his Seventies solo work and radio hits like “Right Place, Wrong Time,” Rebennack had a career that spanned pop history. He was a key part of the “Wrecking Crew” stable of ace Los Angeles session musicians in the Sixties. He played on recordings by Cher, Aretha Franklin, Canned Heat, Frank Zappa and countless others, fusing funk with R&B and boogie woogie.

Rebennack began putting out his own records in 1968 with the release of his debut album Gris-Gris. It was the beginning of his larger-than-life Dr. John Creaux the Night Tripper character, with Rebennack incorporating elements of voodoo into his outrageous stage show. He quickly grew a large following, introducing much of America to New Orleans music.

Born Malcolm John Rebennack on November 21st, 1940, Dr. John was immersed in the music of his native city from an early age. He started banging on a piano when he was three, venturing to African-America clubs when he was teenager and working at a studio in town during that time. His first instrument was the guitar, not the piano, and he soon met and began playing with Professor Longhair, the New Orleans piano icon. As a teenager, Dr. John had played in bands, wrote songs for local acts like Lloyd Price and Jerry Byrne and worked an A&R job at Ace Records.

His life and music took a fateful turn when, in 1960, he broke up a fight and his left index finger was hit by a bullet. With that, he switched to piano, which would be his primary instrument throughout his career. When the New Orleans music scene gave way to Detroit’s Motown world and other hot cities, Dr. John relocated to Los Angeles in 1964, where he began his session-man career.

Originally, he had planned for another musician to play the “Dr. John” character, modeled after a voodoo priest, but when that player opted out, Rebennack took over the part himself. “I had it all planned and set to go, so I just did it myself out of spite,” he once said. “I never thought I would be doing another record. I never wanted to be a frontman. All of a sudden, I got into it, and it wasn’t as bad as I thought.” He soon had fully renamed himself and started a solo career that blended New Orleans, blues and psychedelia, with accompanying robes and headdresses of his new character.

Signing with Atlantic, by way of legendary producer Jerry Wexler, Dr. John found his groove and his voice, starting with Gumbo, the landmark 1972 album that featured his renditions of “Iko Iko,” “Let the Good Times Roll” and other New Orleans classics. The next year, he hit his commercial peak, when his funky stomp “Right Place, Wrong Time” hit the Top 10. Those albums showcased not only his loose growl and rhythmic sense but his piano playing, which incorporated boogie and swinging syncopation.

Speaking to Rolling Stone in 1973, Rebennack discussed his internal battle over making “commercial” music. “The only thing that makes a record commercial is if people buy it,” he said. “Originally, I felt to go commercial would prostitute myself and bastardize the music. On reflecting, I thought that if without messin’ up the music and keeping the roots and elements of what I want to do musically, I could still make a commercial record I would not feel ashamed from, I’m proud of, and still have a feel for, then it’s not a bad thing but it even serve a good purpose.”

He was popular enough by 1976 to be invited to perform at The Band’s Last Waltz alongside Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters and other greats of the era, but his commercial fortunes waned in the Eighties and an addiction to heroin hobbled his career for years. He kicked the drug in 1989, around the time that Ringo Starr helped revive his career by bringing him on the road for his inaugural All Starr Band Tour. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Famein 2011.

Rebennack released dozens of albums over the course of his career as both a solo musician and member of Bluesiana Triangle, a trio he formed with jazz giants Art Blakey and David “Fathead” Newman. He made jazzy pop (1979’s City Lights), pre-rock pop standards (1989’s In a Sentimental Mood) and homages to his home town (1992’s Goin’ Back to New Orleans). In 2012, he released the Dan Auerbach-produced album Locked Down, which landed on Rolling Stone‘s Best Albums of the year.

He continued to tour heavily until 2017 when health problems took him off the road. “I don’t go out to each too much,” he told Rolling Stone in 2010. “I can’t eat things like lamb because I have cirrhosis of the liver. So I have a pretty limited diet and I like to eat a lot of seafood. So that’s kind of depressing.”

Rebennack summed up his career back in 1973, when he told Rolling Stone that audiences didn’t need to know anything about New Orleans or voodoo to enjoy his music. “If you’re gonna get off on somethin’ you don’t need to know nothin’ about it, music is a universal language,” he said. “If it’s opera in Italian, you ain’t supposed to know nothin’ about Italy. You can just sit there and dig on it.”

 

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Dr. John, Legend of New Orleans, Dead At 77 ~ NPR

The music legend, guitarist, piano man, jive talker and psychedelic godfather Malcolm John Rebennack – better known as Dr. John – died “towards the break of day” on Thursday, of a heart attack, a statement has confirmed. He was 77.

That last bit of information was something only discovered, or at least disseminated, late last year, in fact: in his fantastical 1994 autobiography “Under the Hoodoo Moon,” Dr. John had declared his birth date as “just before Thanksgiving 1940.” But in a column for the Times-Picayune published in November 2018, author John Wirt unearthed a birth announcement from the same paper 77 years earlier: Mac, as he was colloquially known, was actually born November 21, 1941. The factual fluidity was, in its way, appropriate to an artist who lived and worked in the shifting, hip space of the trickster, and also to one who was as iconic of New Orleans as Louis Armstrong, to whom his final album, 2014’s Ske-Dat-De-Dat… (The Spirit of Satch) was a tribute. (Armstrong’s real birthday was misrecorded for decades, too.)

Mac Rebennack started out in New Orleans as a teenage guitar slinger in the ’50s, hanging around the Dew Drop Inn, a historic black nightclub (where he received hassle more than once from police enforcing the Jim Crow laws that regulated interracial gathering), and doing session work at engineer Cosimo Matassa’s J&M Recording Studios in the French Quarter. He was a denizen of a strange and distinctive old New Orleans, associating with the white-clad priestesses of the storefront spiritualist churches in the Ninth Ward — which, he recalled during a live interview at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville in 2013, smelled overwhelmingly of roses — as well as with petty criminals, dopers and practitioners of witchcraft. The Dr. John character, hoodoo mystery and cool, was originally developed for his bandmate and old Jesuit High School classmate Ronnie Barron, with whom he played in the R&B group Ronnie & The Delinquents. But Barron had a record contract that stopped him from taking on the role, so Mac absorbed it; as the story goes, it was during a fight that broke out after a dance he played with Barron that Mac was shot in the finger, prompting his switch from guitar to piano.

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Dr. John, of Voodoo Beads, Feathers and New Orleans Sound, Dies at 77 ~ NYT

Mac Rebennack, better known as Dr. John, in Manhattan in 2008. He immersed himself in the sounds of his native New Orleans from a young age. Credit Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

By Gavin Edwards

 

Mac Rebennack, the pianist, singer, songwriter and producer better known as Dr. John, who embodied the New Orleans sound for generations of music fans, died on Thursday. He was 77.

A family statement released by his publicist said the cause was a heart attack. The statement did not say where he died. He had been living in recent years on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, La.

Mr. Rebennack belonged to the pantheon of New Orleans keyboard wizards that includes Professor Longhair, James Booker, Huey (Piano) Smith and Fats Domino. What distinguished him from his peers was the showmanship of his public persona.

Onstage as Dr. John, he adorned himself with snakeskin, beads and colorful feathers, and his shows blended Mardi Gras bonhomie with voodoo mystery.

He recorded more than 30 albums, including jazz projects (“Bluesiana Triangle,” 1990, with the drummer Art Blakey and the saxophonist David Newman), solo piano records (“Dr. John Plays Mac Rebennack,” 1981) and his version of Afropop (“Locked Down,” 2012). His 1989 album of standards, “In a Sentimental Mood,” earned him the first of six Grammy Awards, for his duet with Rickie Lee Jones on “Makin’ Whoopee!”

Dr. John & Rickie Lee Jones – Makin’ Whoopee!CreditCreditVideo by Arbor Video 2

 

His only Top 40 single, “Right Place Wrong Time,” reached No. 9 on the Billboard chart in 1973. In 2011, he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Malcolm John Rebennack Jr. was born in New Orleans on Nov. 20, 1941. His mother, Dorothy (Cronin) Rebennack, worked as a model and in a music store. Malcolm Sr. owned an appliance store. Mac, as he came to be known, was a photogenic baby whose picture appeared on boxes of Ivory Soap.

He immersed himself in the sounds of New Orleans at a young age, first through the city’s radio stations and then by following his father to nightclubs, where Malcolm Sr. would repair P.A. systems while young Mac peered through the window, watching musicians like Professor Longhair rehearse.

Leon Redbone, An Unusual Singer From A Bygone Era, Has Died

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Leon Redbone, the perpetually anachronistic, famously mysterious artist who rose to prominence as a performer on Toronto’s folk circuit in the early ’70s, died Thursday while in hospice care in Bucks County, Pa.

Redbone’s family confirmed his death through a publicist. No cause was given, and Redbone’s age was a subject of speculation for decades.

“I’ve heard he’s anywhere from 25 to 60,” Bob Dylan told Rolling Stone in 1974, “and I can’t tell, but you gotta see him.” That same year, when asked about his age by Rolling Stone, Redbone replied: “Of course I don’t know. It’s just something I vaguely recall. I can’t say for sure.” In the news release announcing his death, Redbone’s age was cited as 127.

The only things known — ostensibly — of Redbone’s origins were revealed by Toronto Star columnist George Gamester in the 1980s: that he was a Cypriot named Dickran Gobalian, who emigrated to Ontario in the 1960s and changed his name after arriving in Canada.

Redbone’s obscurantist tendencies, including his ever-present, masking uniform of sunglasses, bushy mustache and Panama hat, gave Redbone the aura of a quixotic time-traveler, someone who simply stepped onto the stage fully formed.

And Redbone was a man happily — or at least, authentically — out-of-time. He played dusty classics — from Tin Pan Alley and ragtime to blues and country — with a loose fidelity, always anchored by his casually lovely and always wry voice.

Dylan’s endorsement, made at the apex of his and Rolling Stone‘s cultural footprints, was a defining moment for Redbone and helped widened interest in him from stars of the era, including Bonnie Raitt and John Prine.

His commercial success, according to the Billboard charts, peaked in 1977 when the album Double Time reached the top 50 — helped, in part, by two performances during Saturday Night Live‘s debut season. But Redbone remained a cultural presence for decades, singing the theme song for ’80s sitcom Mr. Belvedere and appearing as “Leon the Snowman” in the now-classic Christmas film Elf in 2003.

In 2015, Redbone announced his retirement from touring, with a rep citing health concerns. He followed that retirement up with another album, Long Way Home, composed of his earliest recordings and released by Jack White’s label, Third Man Records.

When asked by NPR’s Lynn Neary in 1984 whether he enjoyed his performances, Redbone responded with a wink: “I never have a good time … but I try.”

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Leon Redbone, Cult Singer Who Helped Revive Ragtime, Dead at 69 ~ RollingStone

“He departed our world with his guitar, his trusty companion Rover and a simple tip of his hat,” family writes in statement, noting age of humorous singer as 127

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 22 -- Air Date 05/29/1976 -- Pictured: Musical Guest Leon Redbone during "Shine on Harvest Moon" musical performance on May 29, 1976  (Photo by NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Leon Redbone, the nasally singer who helped revive ragtime, vaudeville and Tin Pan Alley music, has died at age 69.

NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images

Leon Redbone, the singer who built a career out of performing ragtime, vaudeville and American standards with a sly wink and an unmistakable, nasally voice, died Thursday. He was 69.

A statement on Redbone’s website confirmed his death, though it did so with a sweet bit of humor and joking that he was actually 127 years old.

“He departed our world with his guitar, his trusty companion Rover and a simple tip of his hat,” his family said in a statement. “He’s interested to see what Blind Blake, Emmett and Jelly Roll have been up to in his absence, and has plans for a rousing singalong number with Sári Barabás. An eternity of pouring through texts in the Library of Ashurbanipal will be a welcome repose, perhaps followed by a shot or two of whiskey with Lee Morse, and some long overdue discussions with his favorite Uncle, Suppiluliuma I of the Hittites. To his fans, friends and loving family who have already been missing him so in this realm he says, ‘Oh behave yourselves. Thank you… and good evening everybody.’”

Often clad in a Panama hat and big, dark sunglasses, Redbone rose to prominence in the mid-Seventies, though he always had an air of mystery about him, famously refusing to answer questions about his age and background. He was reportedly born in Cyprus, but moved to Canada in the Sixties and began performing in Toronto nightclubs. He eventually hit the folk festival circuit, which is how he met Bob Dylan, who praised Redbone’s enigmatic aura in a 1974 interview with Rolling Stone.

“Leon interests me,” Dylan said. “I’ve heard he’s anywhere from 25 to 60, I’ve been [a foot and a half from him] and I can’t tell. But you gotta see him. He does old Jimmie Rodgers, then turns around and does a Robert Johnson.”

Redbone kept things characteristically strange when Rolling Stone profiled him several months later. When asked if his parents were musicians, Redbone joked that his father was the long-dead Italian violinist Niccolò Paganini and his mother was the 19th century Swedish opera singer, Jenny Lind. When asked where the first place he ever played publicly was, Redbone threw on a W.C. Fields voice and cracked, “In a pool hall, but I wasn’t playing guitar, you see. I was playing pool.”

“The remarkable thing about Leon Redbone is that he’s so accurate in every aspect of his presentation – from his scat singing to his yodeling to his authentic nasally slurred vocals to the unerring accuracy of his Blind Blake-styled , ragtime-piano type of guitar playing,” Rolling Stonewriter Steve Weitzman wrote in 1974.

Redbone soon notched a record deal with Warner Bros and released his debut album, On the Track, in 1975. The album offered up endearing takes on classics like “Ain’t Misbehavin,” “Lazybones” and “Some of These Days.” He would release two more albums on Warner, 1977’s Double Time and 1978’s Champagne Charlie. His 1981 album, From Branch to Branch (released via Atlantic) featured his sole Hot 100 hit, a rendition of Gary Tigerman’s “Seduced.”

Though Redbone never achieved huge commercial success, he developed a cult following thanks in part to frequent appearances on Saturday Night Live and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. He also appeared in commercials for companies like Budweiser, Chevrolet, All laundry detergent and Ken-L Ration dog food, and sang the theme songs for Mr. Belvedere and Harry and the Hendersons.

Redbone continued to tour and record albums throughout the Eighties and Nineties,though his output slowed as he got older. In the 2003 film, Elf, he voiced Leon the Snowmanand recorded a rendition of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” with Zooey Deschanelthat played over the film’s closing credits.

Redbone released his final studio album, Flying By, in 2014, and announced his retirement from music due to health concerns a year later. In 2015, Third Man Records issued a double-album compilation, A Long Way Home, that collected Redbone’s live and studio solo recordings, dating back to 1972.

“He’s just amazing,” Bonnie Raitt said of Redbone in 1974 before nodding to his enigmatic past. “He’s probably the best combination singer-guitarist I’ve heard in years. I’d like to know where he gets his stuff. I’d also like to find out how old he is.”

 

 

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Leon Redbone, Idiosyncratic Throwback Singer, Is Dead at 69 ~ NYT

Leon Redbone in performance in Cambridge, England, in 1995. His music defied easy categorization; he was sometimes described as a jazz singer, other times as a folk or pop or blues artist.CreditCreditDave Peabody/Redferns, via Getty Images

 

Leon Redbone, who burst onto the pop-music scene in the mid-1970s with a startlingly throwback singing style and a look to go with it, favoring songs from bygone eras drolly delivered, died on Thursday in Bucks County, Pa. He was 69.

His family announced the death on his website. A specific cause of death was not given, but Mr. Redbone had retired from performing in 2015 because of ill health.

Toting an acoustic guitar, his face generally half-hidden by a Panama hat and dark glasses, Mr. Redbone channeled performers and songwriters from ragtime, Delta blues, Tin Pan Alley and more, material not generally heard by the rock generation. His music defied easy categorization; he was sometimes described as a jazz singer, other times as a folk or pop or blues artist. He sang in a deep, gravelly voice that combined singing and mumbling, but he also deployed a falsetto of sorts on occasion.

He began turning up on the coffeehouse circuit in Toronto in the 1960s and developed a cult following. He broke through to a larger audience in late 1975 with his first album, “On the Track,” which included songs like “My Walking Stick,” by Irving Berlin, and “Lazybones,” by Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer. His sound was unique for the era, as The New York Times noted in a January 1976 article about the record and its producer, Joel Dorn:

Leon Redbone – “Walking Stick” Live at the 1973 Buffalo Folk FestivalCreditCreditVideo by OfficialTMR

 

“Redbone, who in his nightclub appearances plays the role of a grinning, almost catatonic folkie, will undoubtedly confound many, but Dorn has certainly given him his due in a completely ungimmicked musical setting.”

The album earned Mr. Redbone two appearances on “Saturday Night Live” in 1976, during the show’s first season. Fifteen more albums followed, most recently “Flying By” in 2014. Mr. Redbone also sang the theme songs for the television series “Mr. Belvedere” and “Harry and the Hendersons,” was heard on various commercials, and provided the voice of an animated snowman in the 2003 movie “Elf.”

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RHIANNON GIDDENS PROFILE ~ The New Yorker

 

Screen Shot 2019-05-13 at 3.16.05 PM.pngGiddens plays and records what she describes as “black non-black music,” reviving a forgotten history. Photograph by Paola Kudacki for The New Yorker

 

To grasp the significance of what the twenty-first-century folksinger Rhiannon Giddens has been attempting, it is necessary to know about another North Carolina musician, Frank Johnson, who was born almost two hundred years before she was. He was the most important African-American musician of the nineteenth century, but he has been almost entirely forgotten. Never mind a Wikipedia page—he does not even earn a footnote in sourcebooks on early black music. And yet, after excavating the records of his career—from old newspapers, diaries, travelogues, memoirs, letters—and after reckoning with the scope of his influence, one struggles to come up with a plausible rival.

There are several possible reasons for Johnson’s astonishing obscurity. One may be that, on the few occasions when late-twentieth-century scholars mentioned him, he was almost always misidentified as a white man, despite the fact that he had dark-brown skin and was born enslaved. It may have been impossible, and forgivably so, for academics to believe that a black man could have achieved the level of fame and success in the antebellum slave-holding South that Johnson had. There was also a doppelgänger for scholars to contend with: in the North, there lived, around the same time, a musician named Francis Johnson, often called Frank, who is remembered as the first black musician to have his original compositions published. Some historians, encountering mentions of the Southern Frank, undoubtedly assumed that they were merely catching the Northern one on some unrecorded tour and turned away.

There is also the racial history of the port city of Wilmington, North Carolina, where Johnson enjoyed his greatest fame. In 1898, a racial massacre in Wilmington, and a subsequent exodus of its black citizens, not only knocked loose the foundations of a rising black middle class but also came close to obliterating the deep cultural memory of what had been among the most important black towns in the country for more than a century. The people who might have remembered Johnson best, not just as a musician but as a man, were themselves violently unremembered.

A final explanation for Johnson’s absence from the historical record may be the most significant. It involves not his reputation but that of the music he played, with which he became literally synonymous—more than one generation of Southerners would refer to popular dance music simply as “old Frank Johnson music.” And yet, in the course of the twentieth century, the cluster of styles in which Johnson specialized––namely, string band, square dance, hoedown––came to be associated with the folk music of the white South and even, by a bizarre warping of American cultural memory, with white racial purity. In the nineteen-twenties, the auto magnate Henry Ford started proselytizing (successfully) for a square-dancing revival precisely because the music that accompanied it was not black. Had he known the deeper history of square dancing, he might have fainted.

As a travelling “Negro fiddler,” Johnson epitomized the one musical figure in American history who can truly be called “ur.” Black fiddlers are the trilobites of American musical history. A legal record from the mid-seventeenth century details a dispute between Virginia households competing for the services of an enslaved man who had played the fiddle all night for a party on the Eastern Shore. After that, for more than two hundred years, black fiddlers are everywhere in the written sources. Then, around the start of the twentieth century, they fade, abruptly and almost completely.

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Cuban Diva Omara Portuondo Feels As Strong As Ever On ‘Last Kiss’ World Tour

In 1996, Omara Portuondo was working on an album at Havana’s famous recording studio, Egrem. Upstairs, American musician Ry Cooder was laying down tracks for Buena Vista Social Club, a project with veteran Cuban musicians like Compay Segundo. Portuondo was invited to come up and sing a duet with him. They sang “Veinte Anos,” a song Portuondo learned as a child.

“Without rehearsal, this was a live recording. One take. It’s unbelievable,” says Cuban bandleader Juan de Marcos Gonzalez. He had scouted and rediscovered the older musicians for Buena Vista Social Club. But he says Portuondo was still a star on the island, and bringing her into the project was a dream.

“I remember that once, Mr. Ry Cooder told me, ‘Omara is the Cuban Sarah Vaughan.’ And I said to him, ‘No, Sarah Vaughan was the American Omara Portuondo,'” Gonzalez says.

NPR met up with the legend herself at a downtown Los Angeles hotel the day she began her latest world tour, deemed “The Last Kiss.” Now 88 years old, Portunodo sometimes sings answers to questions about her long career.

Por eso, yo soy Cubana, y me muero siendo Cubana,” she sings: “I’m Cuban, and I’ll die Cuban.”

Portuondo’s first gig for her latest world tour was at LA’s Regent Theater. Even though she was sitting, she had the audience clapping, dancing and singing along.

“Omara is the most important singer of our culture,” Cuban pianist Roberto Fonseca, who performs with Portuondo on the tour, says. “She’s able to do any Afro-Cuban style, Latin jazz, jazz, boleros, traditional Cuban music, rumba. She’s magical, intense, pure, strong.The audience … the public … they are crying, smiling, dancing. All the time, she’s making jokes.”

“Yes, she’s flirting with the audience the whole time,” Alicia Adams, international program director for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. says. Adams brought Portuondo to the center’s Cuban Arts Festival last year, and recalls seeing the singer peak out from beneath the curtain to wave to her fans. Adams says as relations between Cuba and the U.S. have morphed over the decades, Portuondo has always been a cultural ambassador.

“She spans before the revolution and after the revolution,” Adams says. “From before, when there was much more ability to go back and forth, until later years, after the revolution, when things were not so easy in terms of that kind of travel.”

Unlike some other Cuban musicians — including her sister Haydee and her old friend, the late Celia Cruz — Portuondo chose not to defect to the U.S. She says she comes and goes from her home in Cuba as she likes, pretty much like her father, Bartolo Portuondo, did. He’d been a black professional infielder for both the Cuban League and the Negro Leagues in the U.S. Portuondo says that he was a great baseball player and that her mother, who was white, scandalized her upper-class family by marrying him.

When she was a little girl, Portuondo dreamed of being a ballet dancer. But she says in those days, you could only dance ballet if you were white. Instead, she and Haydee danced and sang at Havana’s famous Tropicana. Later, in 1945, the sisters formed a quartet with two other women, Elena Burke and Moraima Secada (the aunt of singer Jon Secada’s.) The Cuarteto D’Aida danced and sang in nightclubs and on television. The quartet even backed Nat King Cole when he performed in Havana.

Portuondo sang with the quartet for 15 years before launching a solo career in 1963. Since then, she’s sung with everyone from Pablo Milanes and Chucho Valdes to Los Van Van and reggaetoners Yomil Y el Dany. She even sang in the 2009 Spanish version of Disney’s The Princess and the Frog. For years, Portuondo was associated with Cuba’s movimiento filin — the feeling movement that celebrates singers who interpret lyrics with great emotion.

Portuondo remained a star in Cuba, but it was the Buena Vista Social Club that introduced her to an even bigger audience in the U.S. and around the world. Audiences wept for her duets with Ibrahim Ferrer, who Portuondo sang with in the 1950’s. He’d been long-forgotten until the Buena Vista Social Club. The group’s first album won a Grammy award in 1998. And an Oscar-nominated documentary by Wim Wenders chronicled the group’s journey from Cuba to an historic concert at Carnegie Hall.

Portuondo never stopped recording or performing. Gonzalez says for many years, Portuondo also sang with his band, the Afro-Cuban All Stars. As for this tour being her “last kiss”? Gonzalez says that’s just marketing ploy . “She’s going to die on the stage. That’s what she wants,” he says. “She’s the Cuban diva.”

And Portuondo agrees. “Despedida? No.” This is not goodbye, Portuondo says as she breaks into song: “Lo que me queda por vivir será en sonrisas“: “What I have left to live for is smiles,” she sings, adding “Me queda tiempo todavia,“: “I still have time.”

Hear Hank Williams’ Rare Performance of ‘Lost Highway’ Off New Box Set ~ RollingStone

Mournful reading is culled from a 1949 radio show dubbed ‘The Health & Happiness Show’

Hank Williams

A new collection of Hank Williams recordings will be released on June 14th.

Underwood Archives/REX/Shutterst

In the spring of 1949, Hank Williams had his first Number One hit with “Lovesick Blues” and made his final appearance on the Louisiana Hayride. He would then join the Grand Ole Opry, where he made his triumphant debut that June, shortly after his son, Hank Jr., was born. In October of that monumental year for the entertainer, Williams began hosting his first syndicated radio program, The Health & Happiness Show. In honor of the show’s upcoming 70th anniversary, BMG will release both a two-CD and three-LP vinyl set containing the entire collection of Williams’ eight Health & Happiness radio shows from 1949, boasting familiar hits, never-before-heard performances and other rarities among the 49 tracks, including the only known recording of the gospel song “Tramp on the Street.”

Among the unheard cuts from the forthcoming collection is Williams’ mournful version of “Lost Highway,” which, in the audio clip premiering here, the singer calls “one of the prettiest things I ever recorded.” With lyrics that lament a life gone astray, the song has been closely associated with the troubled country legend since he first recorded it, yet was actually written and first released in 1948 by Leon Payne, composer of several other classic tunes including “I Love You Because.”

“My dad didn’t write ‘Lost Highway.’ It was never much of a hit for him,” his daughter Jett Williams says. “But its cautionary lyrics have defined the way we think of him now more than any other song in his catalog.”

All eight radio shows contained in The Complete Health & Happiness Recordings were transferred from the original 16-inch transcription discs, and produced by Omnivore Recordings’ co-founder Cheryl Pawelski, a Grammy winner for her work on the Hank Williams set The Garden Spot Programs, along with historian Colin Escott and Grammy-winning engineer Michael Graves. Other performances include hits such as “Lovesick Blues,” “Mind Your Own Business,” “I Saw the Light” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.”

Recorded at Nashville’s WSM studios on two successive Sundays in October 1949, the set offers the earliest recorded evidence of Williams’ now-iconic backing band, the Drifting Cowboys, with a spotlight on fiddler Jerry Rivers. Also featured on four of the programs is the singer’s wife, Audrey Williams, of whom Williams scholar Colin Escott muses in his liner notes, “There’s really nothing redeeming about Audrey’s singing: you either hate it or you loathe it.”

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As originally aired, the Health & Happiness Show was underwritten by the makers of Hadacol, a foul-tasting “dietary supplement” that gained most of its supposed curative properties from its 12 percent alcohol content. The traveling Hadocol Caravan roadshow featured Williams, as well as Bob Hope, Milton Berle and Jimmy Durante on its eclectic bill of performers, but scandal and financial ruin put an end to the company in 1951, not long before Williams died of heart failure brought on by drug and alcohol abuse at just 29 years old.

13 Standout Sets at a Milestone New Orleans Jazz Fest ~ NYT

The pianist Ellis Marsalis was part of the first Jazz Fest. This year his four musician sons — Branford, Wynton, Delfeayo and Jason — joined him to perform his own compositionsCredit Sophia Germer/Associated Press

 

NEW ORLEANS — If any popular-music festival was built to last an unbroken 50 years, it’s the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. It was already looking back when it started in 1970, assembling a Louisiana Heritage Fair of music and food traditions to glorify connection and continuity. Many of the musical styles it brought together were already generations old. So what’s another half-century?

This year’s Jazz Fest, as everyone calls it, finished its first four-day weekend on Sunday (it continues May 2-5). It’s an institution dedicated to its home city’s particular local and regional culture: not a trademark revived for anniversaries, like Woodstock, or a reboot tied to a cherished name, like the Newport Folk Festival. Jazz Fest’s booking policy leans toward musicians who share something — funk, fiddles, accordions, carnivals, French and Afro-Caribbean connections — with Louisiana lore. And the festival’s physical layout is designed to encourage discoveries. The path from the two main stages to the blues, gospel and jazz tents leads past a Cultural Exchange Pavilion featuring world music and the Jazz & Heritage stage with performances by brass bands and Mardi Gras Indians, New Orleans’s miracles.

Jazz Fest has built its attendance in recent years by adding more pop hitmakers at the top of its bills. But where many pop festivals are simply run-throughs of touring road shows, Jazz Fest visitors tend to incorporate something of New Orleans, having local musicians sit in and savoring the city’s charms. For her appearance on Saturday, Katy Perry performed her hits, but she had her stage set emblazoned with exhortations from the New Orleans-born poet Cleo Wade, and she used the Soul Rebels brass band as a horn section. More than 300 groups performed in the festival’s first four days. I heard a fraction of them, but here are 13 of the standouts.

Carlos Santana touched on jazz, boogaloo and cumbia during his Jazz Fest set. Credit Amy Harris/Invision, via Associated Press

Jazz Fest presents New Orleans music as both a polyglot cultural mix and as a fountainhead of ideas. Santana’s multifaceted, proudly bilingual blues-Latin-rock-jazz-pop catalog invokes its own migrations and fusions, now linked to messages of positive thinking and global healing. An extended set touched down periodically on hits, with Carlos Santana re-creating his familiar guitar solos only to take off from there. There was ample room for excursions into jazz, boogaloo, cumbia and even a hard-rock version of John Lennon’s “Imagine” sung by Cindy Blackman Santana, Carlos’s wife and the band’s indefatigable drummer. Trombone Shorty, from New Orleans, joined the band for an encore that free-associated through Jimi Hendrix, Swamp Dogg, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, “Fever” and the New Orleans piano standard “Big Chief.”

The pianist Ellis Marsalis was part of the first Jazz Fest. This year, his four musician sons — Wynton on trumpet, Branford on saxophones, Delfeayo on trombone and Jason on drums — joined him to perform his own compositions. The pieces traversed New Orleans jazz from slightly skewed traditionalism to knotty modernism; solos navigated every twist with brawn and panache. After featuring students from a music school established after Hurricane Katrina and named after Ellis Marsalis, the set concluded with the four sons raucously parading all around the jazz tent.

The New Orleans mainstay Irma Thomas wished Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones a speedy recoveryCredit Amy Harris/Invision, via Associated Press

The soul hits Irma Thomas had from 1959 into the 1960s seesaw between womanly sass (“Don’t Mess With My Man”) and lovesick loneliness (“Ruler of My Heart”). They didn’t quite establish her as a nationwide star, but she became a New Orleans mainstay, and she still sings them with bluesy passion and a trumpetlike clarity. She wished Mick Jagger — whose heart surgery made the Rolling Stones drop out of Jazz Fest — a speedy recovery, but also reminded the crowd that she sang “Time Is on My Side” before he did. And when she moved into a medley of second-line songs and called for people to wave something in the air — handkerchiefs, hats — thousands of listeners happily obeyed.

Flashy, two-fisted piano players are central to the sound of New Orleans. “Piano Professors” was one of the many tribute sets that are increasingly part of Jazz Fest, as — over the last 50 years — mortality has claimed indispensable musicians like Professor Longhair, Allen Toussaint and James Booker. Five of their students and inheritors showed what they’ve learned in a brisk set of impossible-sounding piano solos that demanded propulsion, depth and sparkle. Tom McDermott mastered fearsome Jelly Roll Morton compositions like the aptly-titled “Finger Breaker”; Davell Crawford, even brawnier and wilder, flung tremolos and glissandos all over the place in a Booker tribute. They’re local luminaries who are too little known outside New Orleans.

Bonnie Raitt first played at Jazz Fest in 1977. Credit Amy Harris/Invision, via Associated Press

Bonnie Raitt first played Jazz Fest in 1977 and has returned often. She praised it from the stage as a refuge for the “endangered species” of “roots music,” the blues, country, soul and funk that infuse her songs about love and honest acceptance. She augmented her band with two New Orleans-based keyboardists whom she has collaborated with through the years, Jon Cleary and Ivan Neville. And with Jazz Fest serendipity, she brought out Boz Scaggs — who had performed the night before — to join her and Cleary singing a Toussaint song all three have recorded, “What Do You Want the Girl to Do”; they turned it into a hymn.

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More Than ‘Kind Of Blue’: In 1959, A Few Albums Changed Jazz Forever ~ NPR

Sixty years ago, this month, Miles Davis finished recording Kind of Blue, perhaps his greatest masterpiece and still jazz’s bestselling album. But it was not the only milestone recorded that year.

John Coltrane, Dave Brubeck, Ornette Coleman and Charles Mingus all cut timeless classics, which is why many fans hold that 1959 is the greatest year in all of jazz music. There are countless think pieces exploring the idea, a popular new blog devoted to the subject and even a documentary film, 1959: The Year That Changed Jazz.

“1959 began with a very special issue of Esquire magazine called ‘The Golden Age of Jazz,’ a full issue devoted to this idea,” says Nate Chinen of member station WBGO and NPR’s Jazz Night in America. “The year opens with this bold proclamation, and I think it was in some ways a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

So what makes it feel so special? Chinen joined host Rachel Martin on Morning Edition to explain; hear their conversation at the audio link, and read on for highlights.


Interview Highlights

On Kind of Blue

When we talk about the 1950s, bebop — which had come out of the ’40s — has really reached a sort of maturity. And bebop is all about frenetic tempos and this real sort of virtuosic mastery; Miles Davis cut his teeth on bebop. But with this album, he really makes a concerted effort to move in a different direction, and so he brings all this space and openness and these kind of languid tempos, and creates a mood. It’s no secret why people love it: It just feels good.

On John Coltrane’s Giant Steps

If you want to talk about Kind of Blue as sort of a “relaxing into your armchair with a cocktail” vibe, Giant Steps is more like leaning forward in the passenger seat of a speeding race car.

It’s really interesting to me that Coltrane plays on Kind of Blue, but his mind is in this other place. I mentioned how bebop is all about complexity and quickening tempos; Giant Steps is this landmark recording, and it’s as if Coltrane took the complex algebra of bebop and turned it into quantum physics. He’s just taking everything and ratcheting it up. [The title track] in particular has become a kind of proving ground for generations of musicians.

On Dave Brubeck’s Time Out

This album was hugely popular. It was much more popular in its day than Kind of Blueor Giant Steps. And some of that has to do with how stylish it is: It’s a very appealing sound, and I think you can trace this album and its intentions to what we know as fusion — and then, the stuff that later would kind of morph into smooth jazz. It’s easy on the ears, even as it has a point to make.

On 1959’s ultimate legacy

It’s not only a year that produces all these great albums, it’s this pivotal moment — because every one of these points in a different direction, and lots of people have followed those directions in the 60 years since. You can go out to a club in most American cities and hear someone who’s evoking any one of these ideas.