Tag Archives: music

Pierce Pettis

From the Songs you won’t hear on the radio files:
Like with most artists, I came to Pierce through albums, and what great albums they were. Produced by Mark Heard until his death, they showcased Pierce’s incredible talent as a songwriter and a guitar player. In particular, Making Light of It blew me away. Here’s the song that provides the album title.

I had a chance to see him live in Augusta, GA in 1997, but it conflicted with a my own gig, and I decided to do my own gig rather than cancel and see his. It was probably a mistake.Five years later, The Woman and I got to see him at the Grey Eagle in Ashville, NC on our 25th anniversary. It was awesome, but I found his stage presence distracting, the left leg rocking on the quarter notes, his right on the eight notes. And when he played harmonica, his body seemed to undulate. On top of the legs pumping, it made for a spectacle. Here’s another nice tune from State of Grace.

We got to see Pierce last year at a house concert near Manor. It was incredible — a few dozen folks crowded around the fireplace, me sitting less than ten feet from him. I wasn’t as distracted this time and he played some wonderful stuff. My only regret was that I already had all the albums, so there was nothing there for me to buy. We also got to hear his son, and his daughter, Grace, who is currently attending St. Edwards here in Austin.The nice thing about putting these things together is finding stuff I haven’t seen before. I haven’t heard this story behind one of my favorite songs on Making Light of It.

I finally made it to hear Grace a month before her first CD came out, then again at the songwriter showcase at the Bugle Boy in LaGrange. She’s an amazing songwriter with a great voice. Go figure. You can check out a few of the tracks from her new CD on her MySpace page.

Mark Heard

From the Songs you won’t hear on the radio files:Mark Heard died in 1992 at age 40. He had a minor heart attack on stage at a festival, but finished his set before going to the hospital. A week later he had another heart attack and went into a coma from which he never recovered. He left behind a collection of songs that are startling and heartbreaking in their clarity and insight.Gvien the fact that he died before the internet became commercial, much less before the YouTube age, there’s not a lot of good video of him online. Here’s one of the few somewhat decent (almost) samples: Treasure of the Broken LandA less-than-great, dubbed-from-cassette upload of Look Over Your Shoulder:A 17-song tribute album (Strong Hand of Love) was released in 1994, and another, with those same songs and 17 more (Orphans of God) was release in 1996. It’s a must have. Seriously.

Jack Williams

From the Songs you won’t hear on the radio files:In 1996 I was living in Aiken, South Carolina. I heard that there was live acoustic music on Sunday night at a place called The Whiskey Junction on Whiskey Road. I got there early. It was a dive in the back of a convenience store / gas station. The kind of place where the floor, walls, and ceiling are painted black and you read about in the police report every Monday for the devilment that happens in the parking lot on Friday and Saturday night. The crowd looked pretty rough. Tough looking guys in jeans and flannel shirts at the bar. Ropers playing pool. I ordered a Guiness, nodded to the guys at the bar, and retreated to the brightest spot in the room, a back corner table under a Bud Light sign, to read my book. I think it was PJ O’Rourke’s Parliment of Whores.They eyeballed me occasionally, the guy sitting by himself, smoking a pipe, wearing a tweed jacket, drinking a strange black beer and reading. I’m surprised I didn’t get my butt kicked that night. [I became a regular and even played a gig there several months later, but that’s another story.]A few minutes before showtime, a long tall drink of water came in with a guitar and amp and set up. After a quick sound check, he started playing and it didn’t take but a few measures to convince me to close my book and give him my full attention. Great guitar playing, great songwriting, nice voice. I was in the right place.As the set wore on, one detail puzzled me. He would switch from using a pick to fingerpicking without setting the pick down anywhere. It would just disappear and then suddenly reappear, sometimes several times within a song. I was too far back to see what was really going on.After his first break I met him as he left the stage and asked him 3 questions:

  1. Do you have any CDs? [Answer, yes, but he didn’t bring them in because the Junction isn’t the type of place where people typically crowd around to get CDs. I got a copy of Highway from Back Home, which is no longer available, and Dreams of the Song Dog.]
  2. What gauge strings do you use. [Answer, if I remember correctly, is ultra light and a good amp setup to give it body.]
  3. What the heck are you doing with that pick? [Answer, “Feel my finger.” I was skeptical at first. It sounded like some joke. But he held his finger out and I felt it. There big callouses at the joints. He demostrated how he sliped it into the crook of a finger and held it there while fingerpicking. It took me several months, but I eventually learned that little trick.]

During the second break he came back to my table and we hung out for a while, chatting. Nice guy, in case you were wondering.Here are a few selections to give you the feel of his style, one I wish I had the time and dedication to emulate.Morning SunNatural Man

Mose Allison

From the Songs you won’t hear on the radio files:I don’t recall where I first heard Mose Allison. His voice won’t stop the presses, but he’s a killer keyboard plaer and the vibe rules all. Here are a few of my faves.Your Mind is on Vacation

Getting There

Steve Earle

From the Songs you won’t hear on the radio files:

Steve Earle is from the nasal-mumblers school of vocalists and the hold-the-phone-damnation-thats-one-hella-good-song school of songwriting. If you haven’t listened to him before, do yourself and troll through YouTube and sample some stuff.

Here’s my favorite: Goodbye

Here’s Emmy Lou and Spyboy with a great cover.

Holy cow, looks like Steve has a Townes tribute album! Time to update my BoxedUp.com wish list.

Tom Waits

From the Songs you won’t hear on the radio files:I first saw Tom Waits on Saturday Night Live in 1977 doing Eggs and Sausage. Interesting, but not my vibe at the time. (Here’s a funky accapella version I’ve never heard before. With French subtitles, no less. Like, I dig it, man.)

The first time I was blown away by Waits was when I heard Tom Traubert’s Blues on the radio in the late 80s. The song was released in 1976, but it took a decade to get to me. Hey, I was busy.Our feature song from Waits for this issue is Hold On. The video leaves out my favorite verse.

God bless your crooked little heart / St. Louis got the best of me / I miss your broken china voice / How I wish you were still here with me / Well, you build it up and wreck it down / And you burn your mansions to the ground / When there’s nothing left to keep you here / When you’re falling behind in this big blue world / You got to hold on

To get Mr. Wait’s vibe, check out this live version of The Piano Has Been Drinking on Fernwood Tonight followed by some sardonic couch chat.

Waits has done his share of psycho videos and (in my humble but accurate opinion) completely unlistenable music, like half of the Bone Machine album, which won a Grammy, go figure. (I can’t find examples online of the truly horrific parts.) But his moody stuff, like Alice [lyrics] and Invitation to the Blues [lyrics] (with some nice banter and a side of Johnsburg, Illinois), is leviticusly deuteronomous, the coughing fan notwithstanding.

Andy Mazilli

From the Songs you won’t hear on the radio files:

Around 2003, when I was living in Honolulu, I went to the SF Bay area on business. I dragged Pierre, a co-worker from Montreal, to JJ’s Blues in Santa Clara to hear the moving guitar work of Laura Chavez, who was playing with the Lara Price band. [Note to self: Do a Songs You Won’t Hear On The Radio episode on Laura.]

Short discursive passage: I first heard Laura by chance. I bought a Baby Taylor at the Guitar Center across the street from JJ’s Blues and noticed a Texas band was playing that night. I came back. The warm-up band was Lara Price and Laura Chavez blew me away. Her work on Little Wing brought tears to my eyes. At that time she was 18, still in high school, and her parents were at the gig. I chatted with them and learned more about her background, teaching herself blues from SRV and other records when her guitar teacher wouldn’t teach her to play blues.

So I dragged Pierre to hear this guitar goddess. We got there in time for the open mike and a guy got up and played some of the most raw Hendrix-influenced guitar I’ve ever heard.

I talked to him between sets and learned his name was Andy Mazzilli. Later on he approached our table with a turquoise Mexican Stratocaster and tried to sell it to me for $200, saying he hadn’t eaten in a day or two. I didn’t, and still don’t, have any use for an electric guitar, and I told him flat out I wasn’t interested.

Pierre made interested noises. I reprimanded him, saying, “Look at this guy. He’s serious. He’s hungry. Don’t play with him. You’re not going to buy this guitar.” “I might.” “What, you going to put it in the overhead back to Canada, with no case?”

At this point Mazzilli cut in and said, “OK, how about a CD?” I said sure. He left and returned with an Office Depot CD he had burned himself on his computer. He asked my name and signed the CD itself with the phrase, “Thanks for your support.”

I listened to it in the rental while driving around town that week. According to the liner notes [a little photocopied square of paper tucked into the Magic Maz poster he folded into a CD holder] it was recorded in one day in a studio with a pickup band for $100. It sounds like it.

On the song Too Much Pollution, a string breaks in the guitar solo at 4:22. Maz tries another lick, but it’s thrown out of tune. He switches to creating a rhythm with deadened strings and wah-wah pedal for the rest of the song, scat singing after the lyrics to the end.

It also sounds like a guy who had mainlined SRV and Hendrix for decades. But it had a raw, free quality that resonated with me. Jail Farm is my favorite, although I cant find it online. Raw and sloppy, but personal and fluid. For me it really comes down to passion and authenticity and not to technique and polish. Passion trumps precision in my book.

I later learned he had played with such greats as John Popper, Joan Osborne, Greg Allman, and Kim Wilson. Check this quote from John Popper. “I think Andy Mazzilli might be the best guitarist I know in New York City.”

I was working on the Songs You Won’t Hear On The Radio series and thought of Mazzilli for the first time in years. I did some searching on YouTube and found some live recordings for your dining and dancing pleasure. I also discovered that Mazilli evidently died in 2007 at age 39.

RIP Maz. You are not forgotten.

Things That I Used To Do at JJ’s Blues
Notice the front door is right by the stage.

Guitar Payne at JJ’s Blues

Full set at JJ’s Blues

Roto Rooter Good Time Christmas Band

From the Songs you won’t hear on the radio files:

I spent a lot of time trolling through cutout racks in the 70s. I discovered this gem in 1975. Took it a year to make it from LA to Fred, Texas.

I feel compelled to present what is likely the premier example of twentieth-century effluvia obscurata.

While there is no point in attempting to explain the inexplicable, perhaps a bit of contextualization is appropriate.

If you diced up the Marx Brothers (including Zeppo), marinated them overnight in the essential juices of Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky, sprinkled in the sifted ashes of Lawrence Welk and a full contingent of Borscht Belt vaudevillians, seared it all over a fire made from whatever remains of the remains of Jimi Hendrix, and then poured what was left into the twitterpated skulls of a gang of music-major hippies in the 1970s, well, you’d probably be arrested for corpse abuse, at the very least.

But you’d also end up with The Roto Rooter Good Time Christmas Band.*

The album featured an incredible trombone-laden, barbershop quartet version of Purple Haze that revolutionized my life. They closed with this version of Happy Trails that Van Halen later ripped off.

Noted for obliterating classics like Swan Lake (Swamp Lake) and  Ode to Joy.

Feels Like Home

From the Songs you won’t hear on the radio files:

You may not recognize the name Randy Newman but there is no question you’ve heard his songs. After years of writing hits for 70s stars like 3 Dog Night (Mama Told Me Not To Come, Never Been To Spain), Joe Cocker (I Think It’s Going To Rain Today, You Can Leave Your Hat On), and Harry Nillson, and having hits of his own (Short People, I Love LA), Newman turned to writing movie soundtracks (A Bug’s Life, Toy Story, Monsters Inc., Cars). I mean, who hasn’t heard You’ve Got a Friend in Me?

Back in the 90s, Newmna wrote a musical adaptation of Faust. Feels Like Home was written for Bonnie Raitt to sing.

It was also covered by Linda Rhonstadt and Chantal Kreviazuk and appears on the How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days soundtrack.The female covers are great, but there’s something irrevocably poignant in Newman’s plaintive, mush-mouth voice expressing such transparent vulnerability.

This song is so powerful, not even a ukulele cover can completely destroy it.And, as a bonus, here’s a live recording of a lesser known but equally powerful Newman song, I Miss You.


Buzzy Linhart

From the Songs you won’t hear on the radio files:

Besides the innate inanity, the thing that draws me to Buzzy is his complete commitment to the song to the point of not caring about sounding ridiculous. For example, the scat solo at the end of The Time To Live Is Now.

And more pointedly, the last minute of Get Together.

He almost qualifies as a lost boy except for the fact that nobody knows who he is. Or perhaps that makes him the quintessential lost boy. In the first 10 or 20 minutes of the film you hear the most amazing list of folks he jammed with, but he was incredibly self-sabotaging.

Famous: The Buzzy Linhart Story