Thursday, November 27, 2014

"Country Roads" again -- in transliteration

Received from Roman Ac

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

A Slovak bluegrass friend, Roman Ac, posted this picture on Facebook -- it's wonderful, and I just have to post it here.  It's the lyrics of John Denver's 1971 mega-hit "Take Me Home, Country Roads" spelled out in Czech (or Slovak) phonetic transliteration.

I've posted here in the past about how in Europe "Country Roads" is probably the most popular (and most covered) country-style song by local singers.

Denver, born Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr. in 1943, died in a plane crash in 1997. "Country Roads" lives on; it's omnipresent, everywhere.

Here it is in Slovenian:

"My first country song which I heard was 'Almost Heaven, West Virginia,'" a German truck driver told me in 2004, at the Geiselwind Trucker and Country Festival. "… Henry John Deutschendorf... it was fantastic, yeah? And so I fell in love with country music. [...] He gives us beautiful songs. John Denver. His grandfather was German, and he was one of the best. But he died too early."

Fans at Geiselwind, 2007, serenade me with "Country Roads"

I've heard the song (which is NOT one of my favorites) sung in a variety of languages -- and a variety of accented English. Here's an English cover by a young Italian trio:

In then-Czechoslovakia, the definitive Czech version was recorded in 1975 by the late, great Pavel Bobek as "Veď mě dál, cesto má" -- it became one of his signature songs. (Bobek, a pioneer rocker and Czech country star, passed away just one year ago.)

The Czech translation Bobek sang was quite a bit far, geographically, from West Virginia, but rather moving nonetheless -- this YouTube video is of Bobek singing in Czech, with a re-translation of the Czech lyrics back into English.

I find "Take Me Home Country Roads" almost unbearable sappy; sugary sweet and bland at the same time.

But audiences in Europe love the song -- they invariably sing along, swaying and smiling. The idea of "home" translates into a sense that we (they) are all at home in America -- or the America of dreams, where is here. Other songs popular in the European country scene also play on this sense of the universal "home" somewhere in the mythical West (or South) -- "Sweet Home Alabama," for example.

And here's another video I posted before -- of John Denver himself, singing "It's Good to Be Back Home Again" -- at a concert in Germany, land of his ancestors. It's about a truck driver coming home.

Monday, November 3, 2014

"Wild West" slack-lining in southern Poland.....

A group of European slack-liners recently held a gathering in southern Poland -- and the theme was the "wild west" -- bows and arrows, painted body art, feathers, whispery flute melodies.....

The resulting video is a mash-up of a wide range of Imaginary Wild West tropes, some of them just abstract sketches,  set to a rapping hip-hop sound track and breath-taking scenery.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Homeless US singer become country/Americana star in Sweden

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

American media including NPR (National Public Radio) and the Wall Street Journal ran stories recently about a homeless American singer in Nashville, Doug Seegers, who was filmed by a Swedish singer and her team for a documentary segment on down-and-out musicians for her TV show -- and ended up a star in Sweden.

From NPR:
People started sending money to help Seegers. A Swedish label offered him a record deal. A prominent record producer back in Nashville — along with a lot of big-deal session guys — signed on to make the record, and they finished it in three days.
For one track, someone called in a favor with one of Seegers' longtime heroes, Emmylou Harris. Harris recorded her tracks separately — but she was so moved by Seegers' voice that she called him to let him know.
"I pick up the phone and she says, 'Doug, this is Emmylou Harris,' " Seegers says. "And I immediately start crying. I couldn't even talk, I was crying so hard. It was a dream come true for me."
When it was released in Sweden, Seegers' album went to No. 1 and stayed in the top five for 10 weeks. Seegers toured the country, selling out 60 shows. Everywhere he went, he says, people would ask him how he was doing in the United States.

It's a heart-warming story.

NPR got it wrong, however, when it said that Sweden "lacks for country music fans."

Sweden has a country/bluegrass/linedeance scene and a history of home-grown country and Americana music. There is a country music radio/internet station, and also various local country and bluegrass artists, such as the award-winning bluegrass group Dunderhead, and  the Willy Clay Band -- (whose web site seems out of date, but the band has a Facebook page and seems still to be around. 

Here's a 2010 blog post about a Swedish country concert.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

More evidence of growing Italian country scene

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Here's more evidence that Italy's country western scene is developing.

The Italy blog Italy Chronicles runs a post about an Italian country singer named Fabrizio Pollastrelli who goes by the stage name Paul Aster and plays with a band called "The Fellows." His web site says they play "southern rock 'n' country music."

Aster hails from northern Italy and is currently based on Fano, in Le Marche on the coast.

Here he sings -- like so many other European country artists -- Country Roads....

Italy has a few wellknown, veteran bluegrass groups -- like Red Wine and Bluegrass Stuff -- but until fairly recently it has not had much of a "mainstream" country music scene.

As I've posted in the past , this seems to be changing. There is a slowly growing country-western-music-etc scene that includes country music and other general western festivals as well as a surging line-dance scene.

This is on top of fairly well-established western scene linked to horses and horse-riding, and the Cowboy Action Shooting scene, which has clubs in many parts of the country.

The biggest western event has long been the FieraCavalli -- horse fair -- in Verona.

Here's a video from the FieraCavalli 2009 -- masters of line dancing.

I can't forget that the first European country singer I met when I first started exploring the "imaginary wild west" was an Italian, "George McAnthony," from the South Tyrol/Alto Adige region. I saw him perform a couple of times and did a lengthy interview with him -- he was a nice guy and he and his story helped trigger my interest in the imaginary wild west phenomenon..Sadly, George died three years ago, aged only 45.

Still, just nine or 10 years ago I attended a  well-attended "Western Games" festival near Rome -- and there was no line-dancing, and the country band they had playing drew an audience of zero.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Buffalo Bill in Milano

"Wild West" toys for sale in Italy. I think that's Buffalo Bill on the bottom label. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

Buffalo Bill toured his Wild West show all over Europe. These tours comprised one of three phenomena around 1900 that came together and helped solidify and spread the Imaginary Wild West in Europe -- the other two were Karl May's books and the birth of the movies.

You can now find a lot of material related to Bill's European Wild West tours online.

Check out this link -- to the full program of his show in Milan, Italy in 1906 

It's from the Buffalo Bill Online Archive of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.

The tour opened in Genoa on March 14th, and closed in Udine on May 11th. The show  performed in Milan April 30th to May 5th.

The full tour route in Italy was:  Genoa, La Spezia, Livorno, Roma, Terni, Perugia, Arezzo, Firenze, Pisa, Parma, Modena, Bologna, Forli', Ancona, Rimini, Ravenna, Ferrara, Padova, Verona, Mantova, Cremona, Piacenza,Pavia, Alessandria, Torino, Asti, Novara, Como, Milano, Bergamo, Brescia, Vicenza, Treviso, and Udine.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Tony Trischka's new CD -- A Great Big World

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

The American banjo great Tony Trischka has come out with a gorgeous new CD, "A Great Big World." You can hear a preview of one track by clicking the link on the photo above.

The CD showcases Tony't thrilling virtuosity -- and includes guests such as Andy Statman,  Russ Barenberg,  Tristan Clarridge, Mike Barnett and others on a variety of songs -- including one of my favorites, Woody Guthrie's "Do-Re-Mi." All the tracks are winners -- but the one that really hit me was the oddly titled "Purple Trees of Colorado."Amazing.

Writes Bela Fleck in the Liner Notes -- which can be accessed online:

"Everyone loves to play with Tony, because of his strong musical gifts and conception, and because he's one of the coolest dudes to hang around with and be yourself. Not everyone who asks you to play on their record actually wants that, but he does."

Though I've seen him in the U.S., I know Tony from here in Europe -- where he plays often, and where he has had considerable influence. This has been particularly so in the Czech Republic, where his progressive bluegrass style was a powerful inspiration to (among others) the musicians who went on to found the group Druha Trava.

In the 1980s, DT's singer-songwriter Robert Krestan and banjoist Lubos Malina were members of the pioneering Czech progressive bluegrass group Poutnici. (They left Poutnici and formed DT in 1991.) Robert at that time also played banjo. Tony was one of their heroes.

As I noted in an earlier post, Tony first toured the Czech Republic (then Czechoslovakia) in 1988, before the fall of communism, and he also returned in 1989, also before the Wall came down. During those stays, he performed as a guest on an LP by Poutnici, called "Wayfaring Stranger." In the liner notes, he describes Poutnici in much the same terms I have used to describe Druha Trava. "They … have a unique sound," he said. "Czechgrass instead of Kentucky bluegrass. In other words, they've made it their own, which is wonderful."

I've now caught Tony on tour with DT on several occasions -- first in 2008, and the latest time this past summer, where Tony tried out his new banjo -- a banjo made by the accomplished Czech banjo-maker Zdenek Roh.  (Zdenek is featured in the new documentary about Czech bluegrass, Banjo Romantika.)

Tony Trischka with his new banjo, made by Zdenek Roh. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

In addition to his Czech tours, Tony also plays elsewhere in Europe -- he teaches at a summer bluegrass workshop near Urbino, Italy, and this fall will be teaching at a "banjo camp" workshop in Germany.

Monday, January 13, 2014

More imaginary wild west in Italy! Video of Colosseum Country festival!

Here's a video report on the Colosseum Country Festival that took place near Rome back in October. Mostly line-dancing, and lots of tropes....

I posted about this festival and other events in the slowly growing Italian wild west & country scene back in August. It's gettin' there, I guess.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Off geographic topic: upcoming Country Music Festival in Borneo (and a mention of Tamworth)

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

I know it's not Europe, but I just have to post about the Miri Country Music Festival coming up next month...on Borneo! This certainly testifies to the worldwide appeal of twang!

The festival -- reportedly the first ever country music festival in the region -- takes place Feb. 15 at the Park City Everly Hotel in Miri, Sarawak, Malaysia. (Sarawak is one of two Malaysian states on Borneo.)

According to the lineup includes the Malaysian band D'Renegades, the Johnny Rodgers Band (Nashville), The Corn Cake Kings (Kuala Lumpur), Eia and the Superband (Brunei), and two bands from Singapore – Wandering Mustangs as well as Mel and Joe. The program will also include games and competitions for adults and children, pony rides, line-dances and drum workshops and food stalls.
D’Renegades has been around since 1980 and it was formed by accomplished United Kingdom pianist Asif Pishori and Malaysian singer cum songwriter Ady Wow.
The duo who now resides in Kota Kinabalu had been performing at various shows and concerts.
For this coming festival, Ady and Asif had teamed up with three other equally talented musicians.
They are Ozone, Kichi and Zul and together they will get the festival goers dancing to their country rock pop tunes.

The Borneo Post online reports that another Malaysian band, Hi Breed, will also perform.

Festival-goers will enjoy bluegrass, folk and contemporary country music with an impressive mix of tempos for both the young and old.
Tickets are available at; Utopia in Kuching; Parkcity Everly Hotel and Planet Borneo Travel and Tour Services in Miri; as well as El Centro in Kota Kinabalu.

The festival is organized by UCSI Communications Sdn Bhd, a professional conference organizer, and is endorsed by the Miri City Council and supported by Parkcity Everly Hotel, Planet Borneo Travel and Tours Services, as well as Curtin University Sarawak.

I also have to note that the vast and venerable Tamworth Country Music Festival in Australia starts in a few days.

The 42nd edition of this huge event (held in Tamworth, New South Wales) runs this year from Jan. 17-26. Considered to be the world's biggest country music fest it is a showcase and celebration of a thoroughly local scene that draws 50,000 fans or more, with more than 600 performers and 2,500 events staged during the course of the festival -- a rodeo, line-dancing, the annual Australian country music awards and more.

The line-up this year includes  some international artists including Quinn Keister of Canada, Monte Goode from the USA, Australian/Austrian group John Deer Band and Alessandro Nicoletta from Italy, but it's mainly many many local acts.

Check out the web site or the Facebook page for information about the line-up, events and more

See my previous posts about Tamworth

Versace goes cowboy (sort of....)

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Italy's Versace fashion house has gone cowboy (sort of) for its Men's Fall/Winter 2014-2015 collection that was shown yesterday in Milan.

Click here to see a video of the entire 10-minute show

The collection features narrow suit jackets sprinkled with rhinestone cactus, horseshoe and sheriff's star designs, and with shoulders broadened and enhanced by what looks like leather. Some of the models wore necklaces with big shiny stars -- I guess they were sheriff's stars, but they look like enormous Stars of David.

And then there are skin-tight tank tops -- and underpants -- in classic bandana-style prints. And oh, boy, the butt-baring chaps!

Actually, I likes some of the clothes -- especially the jackets with the leather shoulders, and some of the long, frock-coat length jackets.

But the rhinestone devices are pretty much a cliche -- I imagine they were supposed to be ironic comments, harking back to Nudie et al, but I don't think they were ironic enough, at least not on the bodies of the Ken-doll-like models who rather reminded me of Star Trek the Next Generation's android Data, but without as much personality.

Associated Press correspondent Jennifer Clark, however, called the collection "outrageously fun, even by Versace standards" and mostly "a camp celebration of manhood in many forms."

"Our cowboy is macho, he's a biker ... he doesn't have a horse," designer Donatella Versace said backstage after the show.
Donatella's cowboys wear their boots with sharp, tight suits decorated with rhinestone horseshoes and cactus plants on both front and back. These cowhands head out on the town wearing red leather chaps over their jeans, or sometimes just over their bandanna-print underwear. Cheeky indeed!
Read full article

Hmm. Well. I think I'll stick with Nudie.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Italian country (sort of). Max Pezzali "i cowboy non mollano"

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Released Jan. 10, the latest single -- and video -- of the Italian popstar Max Pezzali is a country-style song, with the video filmed at an Italian wild west theme park, the Cowboys' Guest Ranch in Voghera.

The song is a single off his album Max 20, one of the top 10 selling albums in Italy in 2013.

Pezzali is not a country singer, and as far as I know none of his other songs approach the country music genre or use wild west props in the videos.

According to a quote carried on his web site,  the new song reflects the fact that "in these difficult times, the world seems like a gigantic Far West without certainties or points of reference: charlatans, hucksters, and thugs of all types rage in the boundless prairies of the third millennium. Luckily there still exists a silent majority of people who tend to the facts, concreteness and hard work, getting up every morning without ever giving up. Because cowboys don't let go."


Saturday, January 4, 2014

Lucchese cowboy bootmaker returns to Italy

Comparing boots. My Burgundy Lucchese at bottom. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

The Wall Street Journal reports that the El Paso, TX-based Lucchese cowboy bootmaker is returning to Italy "with a drawl."

For 130 years, Lucchese, the brand of luxury cowboy boots founded by Salvatore Lucchese —the immigrant son of an Italian shoemaker—has been bringing European craft to a Texan style. For its newest collection, the El Paso-based company is branching out from the cowboy look and introducing Italian classics like the driving loafer and the oxford. Part of the range will be produced in Italy. "It's nice to be able to work within both worlds, to draw inspiration from Europe and combine that with the new West," said William Zeitz, Lucchese's executive vice president and creative director.
Read the full story in the WSJ 

I have two pairs of Lucchese boots -- both among the most comfortable footwear I've ever owned.

The first pair, black boots with white stitching, I bought in Austin, TX, in 2006....I found the model of the boot I liked but I think I tried on about six pairs in several boot stores before I found one that fit just right....and they fit right from the start. One of the first "excursions" I did in the boots was to take a long walk in them at Kinky Friedman's ranch in the Texas hill country south of Kerrville...

My second pair of Luccheses is more elegant -- Burgundy-colored leather and ostrich skin. I got them in a consignment store in Berkeley CA. They were the first things I saw, displayed behind the counter, when I went there a few years ago with a friend. We weren't looking for boots -- but she immediately pegged them as Luccheses (she collects cowboy boots). And they were exactly my size. And they fit like the proverbial glove....