Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Sauerkraut, Jambalaya and Alan Jackson (on German TV)

Here is a remarkable clip showing the synthesis of, well, sauerkraut and jambalaya... the American country music star Alan Jackson performs on German TV with the lederhosen-clad Bavarian folk group the Naabtal Duo.....(the comments on youtube are worth reading, too.)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Imaginary Wild West is .... SASS-y, in Europe as well as the US

Wild Western hobbyists in Europe bear many affinities to Wild West hobbyists in the United States. Here below is a link to an article from a local newspaper in High Springs, Florida, reporting on an annual meeting of the local chapter of the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS) -- a gun club created to "preserve and promote the sport of Cowboy Action Shooting.™" There are SASS chapters throughout the US -- and also in Europe and Australia! (Click HERE to see the Italian SASS site.)

Its members inhabit "real imaginary" wild western spaces -- the SASS slogan is "The closest you'll get to the old Wild West short of a time machine." Members must dress up in Wild West attire and choose a Wild West alias.

States the SASS web site: "Each participant is required to adopt a shooting alias appropriate to a character or profession of the late 19th century, a Hollywood western star, or an appropriate character from fiction. Their costume is then developed accordingly. Many event participants gain more enjoyment from the costuming aspect of our sport than from the shooting competition, itself. Regardless of a SASS member's individual area of interest, SASS events provide regular opportunities for fellowship and fun with like-minded folks and families."

Playing cowboy (with real guns)

Photo By Valerie Garman

The fire from the barrel of a rifle can be seen as this shooter is timed at the Single Action Shooting Society's annual shootout held this past Saturday at the Fort White Gun Club.
Oct. 17, 2008

FORT WHITE -- The Badland Drifter bends his knees deep. He prepares to draw his guns.

He pulls a rifle off a nearby table and fires six shots.

The order is rifle, shotgun, pistol, pistol. Six shots each.

He fires 24 shots in 14.53 seconds. The nearby saloon girls and the rest of the Wild West are amazed by his quickness and accuracy.

His real name is Derek Beirne, but this weekend he is the Badland Drifter. He is 15-years-old.

The Fort White Gun Club disguised itself as the American old west on Saturday for the Single Action Shooting Society’s big annual shootout, attracting more than 100 shooters and spectators.

Cowboys, outlaws, saloon girls and sheriffs roamed the premises, as each contestant dressed in their version of old western attire and came up with an alias for the weekend.

Read Full Story

Thursday, October 16, 2008

"Hermann the German" on German TV

The German country singer Hermann Lammers Meyer sent me the link to a piece on him on German TV.

I've met Hermann, who sings and plays guitar and pedal steel guitar, a number of times at country music festivals in Germany. Along with Truckstop, he is one of the most enduring German country artists -- his career dates back to the 1970s, and he has also toured in the U.S. The video shows him and his band, The Emsland Hillbillies, on tour in Germany -- you can catch a little of the flavor of a downhome German country music festival.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Banjo and Brain Surgery

This has nothing to do with the Wild West in Europe, but a lot to do with the Imagination, or at least what goes on in the brain.... and it's amazing video!

The Banjo and Brain Surgery

From the BBC:

A musician who underwent brain surgery to treat a hand tremor played his banjo throughout to test the success of the procedure.

Eddie Adcock is one of the pillars of Bluegrass Music and realised his tremor could threaten his ability to perform professionally.

Surgeons placed electrodes in Mr Adcock's brain and fitted a pace maker in his chest which delivers a small current which shuts down the region of his brain causing the tremors.

A surgeon filmed the operation at the Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.

Crisis Cancels a NZ Country Music Awards Show....

Here's a little note from Down Under:

Country music awards canned for this year


Nathan Crombie

The Wairarapa Country Music Club has canned their celebration awards this year after more than two decades of annual hoedowns and showdowns in Masterton.

Read Full Story

Monday, October 13, 2008

Blah Bluegrass Fest in Bratislava....

So I went to the final day of the 2-day Bluegrass Festival in Bratislava, Slovakia, driving down from Vienna (it's only about 70 km) and driving back afterwards -- getting back to Vienna around 3:40 a.m.

The Festival line-up was great, including many of the best Czech bands (such as Monogram, Relief, Kreni, etc.) I particularly wanted to hear Garcia, the group fronted by the wonderful singer Katka Garcia, with Lubos Malina (it's more Irish music than bluegrass). I also wanted to hear the Slovak country singer Allen Mikusek, and the great Czech-Canadian guitarist Slavek Hanzlik.

Well, the music was all pretty good. But I have to say, alas, I found the whole affair pretty dreary.... Most bluegrass festivals are outdoor events that take place in the summer time -- in Czech Republic a favorite venue is the communist-era "summer cinema" built outside many towns. Even in bad weather, bluegrass fits the great (even not so great) outdoors; you huddle under umbrellas and ponchos or crowd together under concessions tents....but it's like, you know, in Nature; open to the elements. Etc.

The Bratislava festival took place in a venue that was just about as far as you can get from the bluegrass country or rolling hills of rural America (or rural Europe for that matter) -- the concrete "Culture House" of Bratislava's Petrzalka district, one of the communist era's biggest and most anonymous purpose-built suburbs. When i first visited Petrzalka nearly 20 years ago -- friends of mine lived there -- I had a terror of getting lost amid the sea of featureless "panel houses," that is, identical apartment blocks. I believe travel companies now lead "communist tours" through the district to show what it was once like....

As I noted, the festival took place in the culture house. There was a dimly lit lobby, with a lounge and pub attached, a small stand selling CDs, and a bar and snack set-up selling beer and other drinks, plus grilled sausage and chips. Etc. People milled about, downing beer and going out on the steps to smoke. Smoking was barred inside, but somehow it still felt smokey...with the atmosphere rather rather dim and dispiriting. And not too many people turned up --the concert sets took place in the complex's rather nice theater, with red plush rows of seats. It looked like it seated 300-400, but most of the seats remained empty. At its peak, I think only about half were filled, if that.

Still, as I said, the music was generally very good. Allan Mikusek in particular played a strong set, joining the Slovak bluegrass group Grasscountry. Mikusek is more from the country music scene than the bluegrass scene -- he wears a cowboy hat and has "the look" -- and the performance was something of a benefit for Peter Dula of the award-winning Slovak country group The Rowers (Veslari), who is undergoing chemotherapy.

Garcia played last, so I stayed til the bitter end to hear them -- the sound man was obviously wasted by that time, and the sound check took longer than the actual set!

Katka has a wonderful voice and is a remarkably accomplished person. Since I had seen her, she has completed her PhD -- in Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) studies, namely Ladino how it was spoken in pre-Holocaust Salonika -- and teaches at Trinity College, Dublin. She said that the college understands about her parallel musical career: she gets Firdays off so she can fly to the Czech Republic (mainly) for weekend gigs! As part of the sound check warm-up she sang a Ladino song!

Note -- I did get some fairly decent video and will try to post some clips.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

More on the (late) King of Cowboy Clothing

Here below is a long personal take from Design Observer on Jack A. Weil, the "king of cowboy clothing" who died aged 107 in August. HIs creations were instrumental in spreading the western dream and look around the world. In particular he invented the snap-button "cowboy shirt". "Western apparel was suited to independent thinking people," he says.

Weil was one of lone line of Jewish cothing designers -- in westernwear, the most famous was Nudie Cohen, the creator of the famously flamboyant "Nudie suits."

An untold number of Jews from Eastern Europe ended up in the American West, were they became door-to-door peddlers, ran trading posts, and founded dry goods stores. My great-grandfather was one of them, as were others of my forebears: My mother's cousin, Joe Simon, ran the Simon's Department store in Elgin, Texas, almost until his death. When I visited the store about 15 years ago, it still looked like something out of a western movie -- the big covered porch, the jeans piled up, the western shirts....the main hint of modern times was the fact that he took credit cards. Joe reminisced to me about his father, who would travel with his goods by horse and cart, on sandy Texas roads. After Joe's death, the store was turned into a furniture store -- I visited there a few years ago. When I go to Fort Worth, I always make a pilgrimage to Luskeys, founded originally in Odessa, Texas, in 1919. My uncle always jokes that the founder ("old man Luskey") started out in Minsk (or somewhere similar) and ended up in Odessa....

The Inventor of theCowboy Shirt

By Adam Levy

A few years ago, I found myself lost inside a shopping mall with the man who, in 1946, invented the snap-buttoned cowboy shirt. Jack A. Weil, better known as Jack A, was one hundred and one years old and he was not happy. He was, in fact, highly annoyed. We had wandered into the shirt section of Foley’s Department store in Denver. He was holding up a red-and-blue-striped Tommy Hilfiger. He couldn’t get over the fact that clothes were made anywhere else but in the good 'ol USA. "Call me an isolationist, call me small-minded but why do people buy shirts made in..." — Jack A looked at the label — "Sri Lanka!"

Jack A, along with his son, Jack B, who was then in his seventies, ran Rockmount Ranch Wear, a manufacturer of classic western shirts, Stetsons and bolo ties. (Rockmont shirts have been worn by Clark Gable in The Misfits, by Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain and by countless other cowboys, both real and imagined in between.) The three of us were trying to find a place to eat. But because Jack B refused to park in the parking garage and spend an extra five dollars, Jack A couldn’t find his way to his usual lunch spot, Spinnakers Restaurant. Jack A liked routine. He still opened the Rockmount shop every morning at 8:00am just as he did back in the 1940s, when he was an eager ex-hat salesman newly arrived in Colorado from Indiana.

Read the full story

Friday, October 10, 2008

Bratislava Bluegrass Festival

I'm off to the Bluegrass Festival in the Slovak capital, Bratislava. The festival runs today (Friday) and tomorrow, but I'll only be able to catch the second day.

The line-up includes many of the top Czech bands, such as Relief, Monogram, Kreni, Garcia.

Here's the link to the festival site, where you can listen to songs from performers and get further info: Bluegrass Fest

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Cowboy Chic (Yet) Again in Paris....

The Imaginary Wild West once again embraces (or is embraced by) the high fashion runway.

The Paris fashion house Hermes turns this season -- as so many designers have in the past -- to the Wild West for inspiration. Designer Jean-Paul Gaultier says he did not go to Santa Fe for inspiration '' "It was only in my head." (A wild western space if I ever heard one!)


PARIS, Oct 5 (Reuters) - The new Hermes woman is a 21st century Western film heroine.

Wearing a black Stetson, she walks straight out from the desert, scantily clad in black wide-cleavage dress, tightened at the waist by sturdy superimposed belts and adorned with studded leather bracelets.

Jean-Paul Gaultier, the enfant terrible of French fashion and star designer at Hermes, imagined next summer's woman as trigger-happy adventurer dressed as if she were about to shoot down an opponent in front of a saloon bar.

And her no-nonsense attitude makes her all the more sensual, say his fans.

"Jean-Paul loves women and dresses us in a feminine and very sensual way," super-model Stephanie Seymour, who opened the show wearing an elegant white shirt, straight pants and suede hat, told Reuters.

"I thought it was like a chic Pocahontas," Seymour added about the collection.

Strutting in Seymour's footsteps was fellow super-model Naomi Campbell, wearing a flamboyant red dress that barely covered her body and revealed a sexy red bikini bottom.

Amid an Arizona desert-themed decor, complete with sand and cactuses, Campbell threw out her cowboy hat to a cheering crowd against a backdrop of Western-style music.

"I did not go to Santa Fe," Gaultier told Reuters. "It was only in my head."


Ray Benson Wins 2008 Les Paul Award

Just a coda to my profile of Ray Benson I posted the other day.... Ray has just been awarded the TEC Awards-2008 Les Paul Award presented by the Mix Foundation for Excellence in Audio.

Named for one of the industry's most revered personalities, the Les Paul Award was created in 1991 to honor individuals or institutions that have set the highest standards of excellence in the creative application of recording technology.

Previous winners include Paul McCartney, Sting, Bruce Springsteen, Al Kooper, Steve Miller and other leading names in (mainly) rock and pop music.

The Awards announcement says Ray "is the ultimate modern multi-hyphenate—bandleader-singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist-producer-studio owner-engineer-businessman-raconteur-father-real tall guy. The last one came naturally; the rest he’s had to work at, and he’s good at all of them!"

Mazel Tov Ray!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Co-Founder of Kingston Trio Dies

Nick Reynolds, one of the original members of the seminal American folk-revival group the Kingston Trio has died at the age of 75.

I'm posting his obituary as the Trio was such an influential group, paving the way for Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and other performers who had a profound impact in Europe as well as in America. (See Otis Gardner's column, for a personal American take.) It was the Kingston Trio's 1963 recording of Charlie and the MTA -- see video posted below -- that sparked the banjo great Tony Trischka's interest in the banjo. Trischka has gone on to be one of the most influential banjoists over the past 35 years and one of the key influences of the European bluegrass scene.

Obituary from The Telegraph, London, England (which emphasizes his international impact)

Nick Reynolds, who died on Wednesday aged 75, was a founding member of the Kingston Trio, one of the groups at the forefront of the folk music revival of the late 1950s.

Offering up tight harmonies and a clean-cut style, the Kingston Trio launched their career with their version of an obscure 19th-century American folk song, Tom Dooley, which went to the top of the charts in 1958, selling more than a million copies.

The following year they won a Grammy award for best folk performance for their album The Kingston Trio At Large.

Among their subsequent releases were The Ballad of Reuben James and Pete Seeger's anti-war protest song Where Have All The Flowers Gone?, which they sang on the White House lawn to an audience that included President Lyndon B Johnson. The Kingston Trio could claim some of the credit for bringing folk into the mainstream of popular music, where it was taken up in the 1960s by artists such as Bob Dylan; Joan Baez; Peter, Paul and Mary; and the Byrds.

Reynolds played one of the trio's acoustic guitars and harmonised with the melody line, and for a time the group's music enjoyed great commercial success – in 1959 they had four albums in the top 10 chart, a feat equalled only by the Beatles.

Nicholas Wells Reynolds was born on July 27 1933 in San Diego, California. Demonstrating an early love of music, he took part in singalongs with his two sisters and his father, a captain in the US Navy who brought back from his travels songs from around the world and taught his son to play guitar and the ukulele.

When Nick enrolled as a Business student at Menlo College, California, in 1954 he struck up a friendship with Bob Shane, a fellow student whom he had noticed sleeping soundly throughout a class in accountancy. Shane introduced Reynolds to Dave Guard, a graduate from nearby Stanford University. Guard and Shane knew one another from playing music in their native Hawaii, and the three students got together to form the Kingston Trio. All three played acoustic instruments, with Shane singing most of the lead vocals while Reynolds harmonised, typically a third above him.

In early 1957, while the group was still unknown, the trio was playing at The Cracked Pot club in San Francisco when they were spotted by a young publicist called Frank Werber. As they packed up their guitars and banjos after the show Werber approached them and signed them on the spot, scribbling a contract on a paper napkin. After professional voice training the three young men were booked by another club, The Purple Onion, for a week-long engagement that eventually extended over several months.

A subsequent American tour took them from the west coast to Chicago and New York, and during a four-month residency at the Hungry i club in San Francisco the trio recorded its first album.

One of the tracks on the album was Tom Dooley which, thanks to heavy airplay on local radio stations, became a hit in America; it also did well in Britain, charting at number five in November 1958.

When Guard left the group, he was replaced in 1961 by John Stewart. But by 1967 the Kingston Trio's music was outmoded and no longer had popular appeal. Reynolds left the group that year and moved to Oregon where, with his wife, Leslie, he brought up four children in a rented log cabin. Having bought a 300-acre ranch, he took up sheep-farming. He also ran a local theatre.

In the mid-1980s he moved back to California, where he rejoined Stewart to record an album. In 1991 Reynolds teamed up once again with Shane in a reconstituted version of the trio, remaining with the group until he retired for good in 2003. John Stewart died in January this year.

Nick Reynolds is survived by his wife, their two sons and two daughters.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Tex Willer -- Italian Cartoon Cowboy Turns 60

This year's "Romics" Festival of Cartoons and Animation , held in Rome Oct. 2-5, is featuring celebrations to mark the 60th "birthday" of Italy's longest-lived cartoon/comic book hero -- the dashing Wild West ranger Tex Willer.

Back in March, I linked to an exhibit at the Comics Museum in Lucca ("...When the West Arrived in Italy") that celebrated Tex but also centered on Italy's Wild West cartoon heroes in general.

The first comic featuring Tex Willer appeared Sept. 30, 1948 -- and he is still going strong. A Tex Willer comic book is published each month by Sergio Bonelli Editore and appears in various languages.

Tex's 60th birthday is being marked by Issue 575, called "Sul Sentiero Dei Ricordi", or "On the Trail of Memories."

Tex was created by the Italian comic book writer Gianluigi Bonelli (father of the current publisher) almost a generation before the “spaghetti westerns” were produced, at a time when the mythology of the Old West in Italy was still based largely on Hollywood movies. Tex Willer was the first Italian western hero to incorporate the point of view of Native Americans. His philosophy was (and remains) simple: to fight against all kinds of injustice and defend the rights of the Navajos and of all oppressed individuals. In addition, the Tex Willer stories blend classical Western themes with subplots verging on horror and the fantastic (alien space ships in Arizona, voodoo sects, mad scientists and above all Tex’s arch enemy, the diabolical Mefisto).

Tex’s "maverick" attitudes opened up a new and broader horizon for the post-war reader's imagination and enabled the comic, its characters and its self-contained universe to achieve a pop cult status that endures to this day.

In an interview some years ago, Bonelli (who died in 2001) discussed the unique traits of his hero: “In my Tex there's a strong reaction against injustice, ill-treatment, abuse of power. And when the so-called ‘bullies’ are whites moving further and further towards the west, then you do also find a reaction against genocide and against racist intolerance. However, I have always considered the struggle against discrimination within the wider context of rebellion against any form of oppression. On the other hand if you consider the atmosphere of the period in which Tex was born, then my choice has to be seen as a reaction against the prevailing conformism of that time. But why was I that way whereas other people weren't? Well, even at that time I used to read a lot of books about the Native Americans and I'd learned to respect those indomitable peoples.” (Click HERE to see the full interview.)

Jewish Texan Country Singer (NOT Kinky Friedman)

In a previous post I posted a slideshow of pictures of the Austin, Texas-based Western Swing band Asleep at the Wheel, whose leader and anchor over the past more than 35 years is my old friend Ray Benson, performing at the Country Rendez-vous festival in Craponne, France. I've known Ray since we were teen-agers. He, like me, hails from suburban Philadelphia, but he moved to Texas in the early 1970s and has transformed himself from an east coast suburban Jewish boy to one of the top country music performers around -- he's won nine Grammy awards as the leader of Asleep at the Wheel and maintains a full-throttle recording and performance schedule.

Ray is not a "Sauerkraut Cowboy." But he is an example of how people can transform themselves, reinvent themselves, even "live their dreams". I've talked to him several times about this. And this, of course, is "the American way." People immigrated to America from all over the world and became Americans. Texas, too, is an "immigrant state." My own great-grandparents immigrated there from what is now Lithuania.

The imaginary wild west is an immigrant state of mind. People I've met in the European country and western scene immigrate internally, for a variety of reasons, into an imaginary wild west that they make real.

Here's an article I wrote about Ray -- it's for the Jewish media, so it focuses on his Jewish background.

A Jewish singer towers over country western scene

Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber Published: 09/26/2008

CRAPONNE SUR ARZON, France (JTA) -- Think Jews and country music and you'll probably come up with Kinky Friedman, the cigar-chomping frontman of the iconoclastic Texas Jewboys, who is also a humorist, mystery novelist and failed but flamboyant candidate for Texas governor.

The real Jewish king of country music, however, is Ray Benson, the nine-time Grammy-winning leader of the country western swing band Asleep at the Wheel.

At 6-foot-7, Ray Benson has been described as a "Jewish giant" and "the biggest Jew in country."

He literally and figuratively towers over the stage in a Stetson and fancy tooled boots, with a grizzled beard and long, thinning hair pulled back in a pony tail.

"I saw miles and miles of Texas, all the stars up in the sky," he sings in his deep, mellow baritone. "I saw miles and miles of Texas, gonna live here 'til I die."

Now 57, Benson was born in Philadelphia but has lived in Austin for 35 years. He talks with a twang, plays golf with Willie Nelson, has recorded more than 30 albums and was named Texas Musician of the Year in 2004.

By his own estimate, he is the only Jewish singing star in the country western scene.

"Kinky's not a country western singer -- he's Kinky!" Benson laughed during a conversation with JTA this summer at the annual Country Rendez-vous festival in south-central France, where Asleep at the Wheel wound up a five-nation European tour.