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Dan Erlewine and Spencer fix a Supro lap steel

Dan Erlewine and Spencer fix a Supro lap steel

Spencer brought his Supro lap steel to Dan Erlewine to have some scratchy control posts fixed.

Spencer was here last week with an ailing lap steel: a Supro Jet Airlinermodel from 1960. Here’s what he said:

“These control pots are scratchy and hard to turn, and the tone is lackluster. Can you can fix them without changing the vintage parts?”

Read the whole story here


Spencer and Dan also fixed another guitar together. You can watch the video below

BB King tribute for June 2015 Blues Music Magazine

BB King tribute for June 2015 Blues Music Magazine

Spencer contributed a BB King tribute to Blues Music Magazine's special edition.

The first time I saw B.B. King perform was at the 1969 Ann Arbor Blues Festival. He was explosive, exciting, and the very picture of dignity. A few months later, he opened a show for the Rolling Stones in Fort Collins, Colorado, and while the situation was wildly different, he was once again exciting and dignified. My friends and I had worn the grooves off our copies of B.B. King, Live At The Regal, and his live shows delivered every ounce of the promise implied on that amazing record.

Fast forward 15 years or so to the legendary La Cigale Theatre in Paris, France. B.B. King was the headliner, and I was the support act along with a trio. We had been in France for a month, and my bass player was quite unhappy when our tour manager informed us we would be playing an extra show and he had changed all our tickets accordingly. When we arrived at the venue with my grumpy bass player, I had an interview with a journalist, so my band went backstage to the dressing rooms. By the time I was finished with the interview, B.B.’s dressing room door was closed, but my bass player was beaming and going on and on about what a wonderful man B.B. King was, and how he had talked with him and my drummer as if they were all old buddies and on and on. He was transformed, and he was happy.

After our opening set, B.B. went on stage with his killer band and told the audience how much he’d enjoyed our music, and we got another round of enthusiastic applause. Then B.B. leaned into the microphone and said something like, “Do you want to know a secret?”

Of course, the audience howled, “Oui, oui,” in response. B.B. once again leaned into the microphone and stage whispered that it was my bass player’s birthday. Again, the audience
went crazy while B.B. led them in a weird French version of Happy Birthday.  

B.B. King certainly didn’t have to do that, but it made for one of the most unforgettable evenings in that bass player’s life. It also made a lifelong fan out of me.

– Spencer Bohren

The Write Brothers on NOLA.com

The Write Brothers on NOLA.com

NOLA.com sat down with Spencer and the rest of the Write Brothers. Read the whole article here.

<blockquote>And so, before lunch, the four sat down in the kitchen of the Living Room, a former church-turned-recording studio near the Crescent City Connection on the West Bank, and wrote "We'll Be Together Again." After lunch, they recorded it.</blockquote>

Rory Danger and the Danger Dangers

Rory Danger and the Danger Dangers

Can you keep a secret? Spencer Bohren has taken to performing under an alias. On certain occasions he is Spike Danger in New Orleans' latest sensation, Rory Danger & the Danger Dangers.

The title of their brand new album THE AGE of EXPLORATION, is a perfect analogy for Spencer's involvement in this wilder-than-a-holiness-hayride of a band that is unlike anything you've heard before. Aurora Nealand, in her altered ego as rockabilly queen Rory Danger, leads the multi-faceted and immensely talented group on an unpredictable live musical adventure every few months, and etiquette requires every member to use an alias in case his or her mother happens to be in the audience.

Describing the Danger Dangers is a futile quest, but a quick trip to rorydanger.com will give you an idea of just how far Spencer's explorations have taken him. You can also purchase the album while you're there if you so desire.

 This is Rory Danger and the Danger Dangers

This is Rory Danger and the Danger Dangers

How do you Red Bean, Spencer Bohren?

How do you Red Bean, Spencer Bohren?

Red Beans and Eric interviewed Spencer about his red beans and rice preferences. 

1. Where’s your favorite place to order red beans and rice?

My wife, Marilyn, and I tend to go to Mandina’s for RB&R. And while I know it’s useless to cry aver spilled milk, I still miss Buster Holmes place in the French Quarter.

2. Do you put any unique ingredients in your pot of red beans? Do you prefer dried or canned beans?

I’m embarrassed to tell you that I’m not much of a cook. Too much time spent with a steering wheel or guitar in my hands, I guess. On the other hand, Marilyn is a world-class cook who does a vegetarian version of RB&R that would fool Louis Armstrong! Don’t know her secret, though.
 

Spencer Bohren Teaches

Spencer Bohren's performances are known to inspire audience members in a number of ways.  Some take a song in their heart, others a story.  Then there are the musicians who are curious about his style and technique.  For those people, we have a special opportunity this summer at the Fur Peace Ranch in Pomeroy, Ohio.

The Fur Peace Ranch is not a fantasy camp, but a guitar players oasis within an award winning music community with instruction in various guitar styles, bass guitar, songwriting, mandolin, vocals and more.

Hosted by Rock &amp; Roll Hall of Famer Jorma Kaukonen and his wife Vanessa, the Ranch is nestled in the tranquil setting of the rolling foothills of southeast Ohio.  Jorma needs no introduction, having played with Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna.   His long tenure on stage and his love for teaching have earned him a lofty position among his contemporaries. In addition to teaching guitar classes, Jorma has been a beacon for attracting an impressive roster of master musicians and teachers, as well as students, who come to the Ranch throughout the year to immerse themselves in what has become a truly unique and magical environment.

The workshop class size is limited to about 10 per class, which allows for a personal, up-close teaching experience.  Direct instruction, gourmet food, campfire jams, live concerts and camaraderie come together to make your stay an experience you will remember for a lifetime! Whether you are a seasoned professional or novice, the Ranch has a spot for you on their 119 acres of natural beauty cradled in warmth of superb hospitality. So get online right here, get your guitar, and make your plans to join me  June 12 to 15.

And now for a testimonial sent to Spencer following a previous weekend at the Ranch ~

Your patience, generosity, teaching ability, and sensitivity to everyone's ability made this class a truly great learning experience.  I am leaving with many new techniques in my toolkit and a reinvigorated passion to practice what you taught me.  Can't thank you enough.   ~ Mark in Atlanta


I'm glad I waited a few weeks before emailing you and the Fur Peace Gang. I probably would have embarassed myself with a letter of overflowing emotion. To say the least, I had an amazing time at Fur Peace Ranch. They said the first day that "something happens" to people at the ranch and, as a first timer, I initially laughed it off. But what they said was absolutely true.  I learned so much about music in the 4 short days there. Not just about playing the guitar, which I learned more than I could put into words. I learned from observation of you and the others in the class about storytelling, voice, history, song structure, musical influences and the passion you need to have to play well.       ~ Rob of New York

On The Road To Success

The unsettlingly strange yet strangely settled life of blues singer Spencer Bohren, his wife and his four children as they crisscross America

Bob Cataliotti for WAVELENGTH
November 1989

Long before Jack Kerouac ever reeled off a stream-of-consciousness travelogue, American musicians were crisscrossing the U.S.A. and creating the mystique of life on the road.  Whether they were in big bands moving between dancehalls or lone bluesmen headed from juke joints to house parties, the lifestyle was marked by an unencumbered simplicity and spontaneity that sharpened their survival skills and broadened the scope of their creativity.

In more recent times, singer/guitarist Spencer Bohren has enthusiastically embraced life on the road, even though his version might not be as simple as Chuck Berry's hero who "carried his guitar in a gunny sack."

Bohren's life on the road actually shatters a few stereotypes.  No lonesome wanderer looking for shelter from the storm, Bohren travels with his wife, Marilyn, their four children, and tows their lodging along, too.  When the family originally pulled up stakes in New Orleans and headed out on the road in 1983, they were cruising in a cherry red 1955 Bel Air Chevrolet with a vintage Airstream trailer.  But after logging over 250,000 miles, the Bohrens recently put together a new touring rig consisting of a 1985 one-ton Ford van and a 1985 thirty-four-foot Airstream.

Comprehending the scope of the Bohrens' travels might be difficult to many people who lead sedentary lives, but some of the sights the family has encountered as they make various gigs lend a certain perspective.  "Over the period of last year," said Bohren, "we saw Yellowstone Park, we looked at the Oregon Trail from many different places, we were in the Redwoods, we were at Niagara Falls, the Bonneville Salt Flats.  We drove through Reno at night, so we saw all those lights.  We were through the Rocky Mountains, St. Augustine and Key West, Florida, New York City, Los Angeles, the Mojave, Big Sur.  We saw the Space Needle.  We did the Jazz Fest in New Orleans, saw Mount Rushmore, the Grand Tetons, and both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans and the Gulf Coast.

People they meet often have expectations of hearing highway horror stories, but the Bohrens try to maintain a fairly normal existence.  "We're just leading our life.  We are not really out here to be wild and crazy," explained Bohren.  "It was wild and crazy when I was out on the road by myself – all the typical barroom crap.  This way I go home at night and sleep in my own bed, with my own wife, and I get to eat three square meals a day, and I get to watch my kids grow up and help them learn."

Life on the road is not looked on as some great odyssey by the Bohrens.  They are more impressed by the small "daily miracle" that simply helps them get by.  "We live our lives so much in the moment because that's the nature of it," said Bohren.

"We're in one town, that's where we are.  When we leave there, it's gone because we're thinking about the next place.  You get into a new town and there's a whole new set of people to visit with."

Of course, there are memorable moments that stand out, even if they're not grand adventures.  One "daily miracle" Bohren recalls involved a shop of Cuban mechanics in Miami who dropped all their other work one afternoon to do a valve job on the Chevy so Bohren could make it to a gig that night.  He also remembers running out of gas somewhere in Kansas and receiving help from back-country folk who had him autograph their Army surplus gas can just in case he got famous one day.  Recognition has brought them everything from a good laugh to major financial assistance.

When they went to apply for a loan to buy their new rig, the bank manager in Alabama just happened to have read a profile on Bohren in a local paper a few minutes before Spencer and Marilyn walked up to the desk.  The banker was so charmed with their lifestyle that he bent some rules and got their loan approved.  Bohren also remembers driving through some highway construction in Montana and having a crew of flagmen drop their flags to their hips and jam on imaginary guitars.  It may not be Kerouac stumbling upon the key to the universe, but the simple things, the "daily miracles," are what the Bohrens fondly look back on as they travel the road.

The demands of the lifestyle are many and the main purpose is not simply to sightsee and log miles.  The Bohrens are working on developing a musical career and expanding the audience.  While Bohren is constantly honing his musical skills, Marilyn has become an able booking and promotional agent.  The family is demanding, too, and both parents devote a large portion of their time to nurturing the children, especially through a commitment to home schooling.

After six years of plugging away, including some mighty lean times, the Bohrens' dedication seems to be paying off in some well-deserved success.  This summer, an independent French label, Loft Records, released Snap Your Fingers, Bohren's first compact disc.  The CD is a compilation of Bohren's first two albums.  Loft is run by two young music enthusiasts, Anne Ojaste and Christian DiNatale, based in Vichy, France.  Their aim is to work with American artists not well known in Europe and to help them build up a reputation and following.

Ojaste explained how they discovered and were attracted by Bohren's brand of the blues:  "We first came across Spencer's debut album Born in a Biscayne last year in a Parisian record shop that specializes in American imports.  I remember getting home and playing the record full blast . . . it was so good that we immediately phoned the record shop to ask them if Spencer Bohren had any other albums.  Naturally, we ordered his second album, Down in Mississippi, and received it within two days.  We fell so much in love with Spencer's voice and guitar playing that we decided to contact him personally."

Ojaste and DeNatale eventually made their first trip to the States in December of last year and met with the Bohrens in New Orleans to discuss the licensing of twelve tracks from the two albums for European release.  They fondly recall meeting Bohren in person for the first time outside of Tipitina's, followed by a night of genuine New Orleans-style partying.  The tracks were digitally remixed by Bohren and engineer Rand Everett at Terminal Studios in Jackson, Mississippi, and the CD with vintage Imperial/Ron Records- style cover art was released in mid-July.

Another recent boost to Bohren's career was the release of a third album, Live in New Orleans.  The New Orelans based Great Southern Records held an option for Bohren to record an album since Born in a Biscayne had been leased for distribution.  With the option due to run out at the end of 1989, Bohren, along with ownld/executive producer John Berthelot, decided to develop a live album project.  In March of this year, Bohren invited old buddy, harmonica player JAB Wilson to accompany him, and they performed a warm-up concert at the Columns Hotel in New Orleans.  A live audience was invited to Ultrasonic Studios and the album was recorded in concert format.

Live in New Orleans accurately captures Bohren's versatility and amiable stage presence as he moves through a repertoire deeply rooted in the sounds of the American south.  There's plenty of strong blues material on the album, ranging from the lap-steel rendition of "The Sky is Crying" to the driving, Delta-style "Dark Road" to a bouncy, Piedmont-flavored "Eight More Miles to Louisville."  But Bohren does not exclusively serve up a blues menu:  he also delivers a soul ballad ("When a Man Loves a Woman", an a capella gospel number, a couple of electric R&B boogies ("Your Mama and Your Papa" and "Hoodoo You Love", and even a finger-picking showcase ("Maple Leaf Rag").

While Born in a Biscayne mixed solo acoustic blues with rocking New Orleans R&B numbers featuring Dr. John and John Mooney and Down in Mississippi focused mainly on Delta blues, Bohren found many of his fans wanted a record that captured the sound and variety of his live show.  "I have so many people ask me, "Do you have a record that sounds just like what you're doing?"  Bohren explained, "I felt for me, selling records from the stage, that it would be a good thing to have a live record."

Bohren's mastery as a guitarist is one of the most appealing aspects of Live in New Orleans.  He adds variety to his repertoire by applying his talents to four very different guitars:  a 1928 National Triolian, a 1975 Krimmel Acoustic, a 1959 National Ranger, and a 1949 National Lap Steel.  While he considered himself primarily an acoustic guitarist for years, the many performances on the road have made him realize the potential of the different guitars.

"I like to use all those guitars because each one brings out different things," Bohren commented.  "Obviously, the electric guitar, aside from volume, is kind of tricky to play alone because it's got that big electric sound.  The National, well that Mississippi Delta sound only comes from the National guitar.  It doesn't come from a dobro or anything else.  It comes from a National.  And the lap steel is my new baby.  I'm just so in love with the lap steel.  It speaks to me."

The versatility that Bohren displays on Live in New Orleans makes it clear that he does not approach his music with the kind of blues purist mentality of many modern blues players.  "I'll take great liberties with a song," said Bohren.  "I figure as an artist I have poetic license, and the folk process is something I believe heavily in.  And at this point I feel I am a legitimate folk-processor."

Just as Bohren sidesteps some of the stereotyped images of life on the road, he also doesn't fit into the typical "bluesman" mold.  "I feel that the basis of what I'm doing is definitely coming straight out of the Southern blues idiom, the Delta blues.  But obviously I'm not a ‘bluesman.'  I love singing blues songs.  I'm touched deeply by these kinds of songs.  I think that is particularly so because I come from a gospel background.  But as far as being an archivist or one of these cats that has to lead the blues life, I'm a very happy man.  I've got a lovely wife and four beautiful children, and I try to be as normal as I can be under the circumstances."

Despite preconceived notions about his lifestyle or image as a performer, the important thing about the years Bohren has spent on the road is that his music has gotten across.  Audiences hear his singing and guitar playing and they recognize his talent, hard work, and ability to keep the "folk process" alive.  "Right now, we're doing exactly what we want to do, and we're doing it on our own terms, and I think we're actually starting to become a success.  I mean, we're not broke all the time," said Bohren.  "We beat the streets for all these years and it has worked.  It's like the American Dream," he continued.  "You bust your ass, you put one brick on top of the other, and one foot in front of the other . . . not that we're making it but we have a good week now and again."

Spencer Bohren and his family will continue on the road, carried along by his love for singing the blues and people's appreciation for his art and craft.  "The amazing thing to me is that we've been able to hang in there," Bohren concluded, "by hook and by crook and with a lot of help from our friends."

Driftwood Magazine CD reviews

Driftwood Magazine CD reviews

Feature Reviews: Spencer Bohren, Blackwater Music, The Blues According to Hank Williams, and Born in a Biscayne

Call it the final chapter of Spencer Bohren's previously uncompleted works. The New Orleans bluesman had scraps and pieces of unfinished songs that had been stacking up for the past quarter of a century since Bohren, well, was too busy being Bohren the booking agent, Bohren the educator, and Bohren the touring artist to be Bohren the songwriter. But after a few secluded days at a Gulf Coast beach resort, Bohren finally brought these songs—mostly random lines jotted down in scrapbooks—to life, resulting in perhaps his most realized piece of art yet. Playing a variety of vintage guitars—one of which is 114 years old and another is a 1922 Kalamazoo Carson Robison—Bohren transforms himself from Bohren the "All Strings Considered" wizard to Bohren the enchanting raconteur. "The Old Homestead," a warm acoustic number, recalls a musically inclined family that drifted apart; the lazy country blues of "Has Anyone Seen Mattie?" is based on the catastrophic 1927 Mississippi River flood. Interestingly, "Bad Luck Bone" was inspired by a young girl who seemingly appeared out of nowhere and advised Bohren not to touch a perceived ominous animal bone. "It’s a bad luck bone, you better leave it alone," Bohren recalls the girl saying.

Bohren judiciously alternates between his eight acoustic/metal-bodied/lap steel guitars for diversified sounds, tones, and arrangements. "Old Louisa’s Movin’ On" feels like a North Mississippi hill country artifact—sparse and raw but with a polished edge. The title track finds him sliding away on lapsteel for a sinister and swampy effect. Not all the arrangements are guitar-based, however; he’s sans guitar on "Your Love," accompanied only by son André’s New Orleans crash-and-roll piano playing. "Take Me to Rampart Street" is a joyful Dixieland strut with sax, tuba and Amasa Miller’s prancing ivories. No doubt, Bohren has raised the bar this time.

Besides Blackwater Music, Bohren has been industrious as of late, releasing a collection of Hank Williams tunes as well as reissuing his first album, Born in the Biscayne.

Bohren is no stranger to the Williams cannon: On 2004′s <em>Southern Cross</em>, he covered "I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry" and "Lovesick Blues." Those tunes are rendered here as well, but as fresh interpretations that are totally different from their predecessors. Instead of trying to emulate the honky-tonk daddy stylistically, Bohren interprets em his way with intricately rich acoustic guitar picking and occasional lap steel and dancing mandolin. The unencumbered ambience and the mid-tempo pace allow Bohren to really stretch into the songs and express them. Of course, most selections lean towards Williams’ bluesier side, but "I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry" finds Bohren playing lap steel as if he were part of a country dance band. Overall, a peaceful, relaxed interpretation of one of America’s most endearing songwriters.

Recorded in 1984, Born in the Biscayne is an early sonic snapshot of Bohren, who constantly toured the countryside with wife and family in a ’55 Chevy pulling a shiny Airstream trailer. Dr. John’s brilliant piano playing bookends this John Mooney-produced affair that opens with the sizzling "Straight Eight" and closes with the classic New Orleans-styled "Snap Your Fingers." On the comical, sax-powered "Shoppin’ For Clothes," the good doctor plays the role of the shyster suit salesman ('those buttons are solid gold’) while Bohren’s hustler protagonist attempts to sneak the suit out of the store. "Eloise" and Sleepy John Estes’ "Drop Down Mama" feature Bohren thrashing away on his National Steel guitar while the laid back "In-Between Friends" is Americana enough to feel like a Band chestnut. There’s a fair amount of diversity here—remarkable for a debut—but delta blues is at the core of these proceedings that, coincidentally, foretold of the fortuitous things to come.

—Dan Willging (Denver, CO)

Spencer Bohren honored at the Keeping the Blues Alive Awards

Spencer Bohren honored at the Keeping the Blues Alive Awards

Memphis, TN – Nineteen individuals and organizations will be honored with The Blues Foundation's 2010 Keeping the Blues Alive (KBA) Award during a recognition brunch at the Downtown Doubletree Hotel Saturday, January 23rd, 2010, in Memphis, Tennessee.  The KBA ceremony begins at 10:00 A.M. and will be held in conjunction with the 26th International Blues Challenge (IBC) weekend of events that will feature the semifinals and finals of the world’s largest gathering of blues bands, as well as seminars, showcases, and receptions for blues societies, fans, and professionals.

The Keeping the Blues Alive Awards recognize the significant contributions to blues music made by the people behind the scenes. Each is selected on the basis of merit by a panel of blues professionals. KBA Chairman Art Tipaldi notes with respect to this year’s recipients: “We are very pleased to bestow this recognition on people and organizations who have promoted blues music for many, many years. Increasingly, this is an international effort, and this year’s recipients reflect the worldwide impact of blues music.”

The 2010 Keeping the Blues Alive Award recipients are:
Art and Photography: Michael Maness, Memphis, Tennessee
Blues Club: Bradfordville Blues Club, Tallahassee, Florida Blues Organization: Connecticut Blues Society 
Education: Spencer Bohren, New Orleans, Louisiana
Festival: Heritage Music Blues Festival, Wheeling, West Virginia
Festival International: Piazza Blues, Bellinzona, Switzerland
Historical Preservation: Eric Leblanc, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
International: Finnish Blues Association, Helsinki, Finland
Journalism: David Fricke, Rolling Stone, New York, New York 
Literature: Crossroads: The Life and Afterlife of Blues Legend Robert Johnson, Tom Graves, Memphis, Tennessee
Manager/Agent: Pat Morgan, Kailua-Kona, Hawaii
Print Media: Block, Almelo, Netherlands
Producer: Andy McKaie, Universal Music Enterprises, Santa Monica, California
  Promoter: Pozitif Productions, Istanbul, Turkey
Publicist: Richard Flohil, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Radio Commercial: Charles Evers, Jackson, Mississippi
Radio Public: Rick Galusha, Omaha, Nebraska
Record Label: Crosscut Records, Bremen, Germany
Visual Broadcast: Film, Television and Video: Pocket Full of Soul, Houston, Texas 

Tickets to the KBA ceremony are sold only as part of the IBC Big Blue ticket package, available online at www.Blues.org or by calling 901.527.2583. The IBC weekend, commencing Wednesday, January 20, 2010, is sponsored in significant part by ArtsMemphis, bandVillage, Beale Street Merchants Association, Budweiser and its local distributor D. Canale Beverages, FedEx, Gibson Guitars, Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise, Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau, Smokin Bluz, Tennessee Arts Commission, and Tennessee Film, Entertainment Commission.

Media sponsors include Beale Street Caravan, Big City Rhythm and Blues, Blues Festival Guide, Blues Revue, BluesWax, Downtowner, House of Blues Radio Hour, Living Blues, Memphis Flyer, WREG-TV, and Sirius XM Satellite Radio B.B. King’s Bluesville.

BIOGRAPHIES OF RECIPIENTS:
Art and Photography: Michael Maness, Memphis, Tennessee
Michael Maness colors his world in blues. His vibrant impressions of Arthur Williams and Luther Allison provided the basis for the 2006 and 2007 Blues Music Award posters, but his gallery of blues performers and musicians is a bold collection of everyone from B.B. King and Buddy Guy to Elvis and Brother Ray. His love of Memphis and its music is evident in the paintings and posters that feature Sun Studios, the Peabody, Isaac Hayes, Stax, Al Green, and Willie Mitchell. From the age of eight, Michael has been drawing or writing something for somebody. “I try to pick a story to paint rather than a moment passing through time. I hope that as a person views my work they feel a story, one that has a beginning, character development, a problem to solve, and a happy ending.” With his dynamic kaleidoscope of colors, Michael lets his paintings tell Pulitzer Prize stories.

Blues Club: Bradfordville Blues Club, Tallahassee, Florida
It may be the coolest juke joint experience outside Mississippi. Drive down a secluded dirt road through fields of cornstalks and massive Spanish-moss-covered live oaks until you see the glowing, cinder block juke in the distance and you’ve found it. Featuring live blues every Friday and Saturday night since 1964, the BBC has hosted blues royalty like Bobby “Blue” Bland, Bobby Rush, Jimmy Rogers, Pinetop Perkins, Little Milton, James Cotton, Nappy Brown, Ms. Lavelle White, Kenny Neal, Big Jack Johnson, E.C. Scott, Maria Muldaur, Son Seals, and a host of others. When the music gets too hot, you can always go outside to join the crowd surrounding the roaring bonfire (a rarity in today’s world) or listen to the blues from the bonfire stage. New owners Gary and Kim Anton took over the club eight years ago and have worked hard to change little.

Blues Organization: Connecticut Blues Society
Since it was founded in 1993, the Connecticut Blues Society has been at the forefront of blues events and programs in the Nutmeg State. Though most of its events are music related - supporting weekly jams at a variety of Connecticut blues clubs, sponsoring many blues festivals and events, and running the most extensive IBC band and solo/duo competitions - the CTBS is also very active in many service programs. In the past, it has run benefits for the March of Dimes. It also holds two fundraising events each year with the local Hannon-Hatch VFW Post. In addition to its education outreach programs, the CTBS assists with monthly concerts at the Connecticut Veterans Home and Hospital. Because this society covers an entire state, it offers a model of music, history, and community service for any affiliated society.

Education: Spencer Bohren, New Orleans, Louisiana
Four decades of international touring and many years of visiting schools have helped Spencer Bohren develop an innovative approach to blues education titled “Down the Dirt Road Blues.” Using a single African melody as a starting point, he follows the song as it travels through America's history and culture, using appropriate vintage instruments to orchestrate his story. The song finds its way into the repertoires of Charley Patton, Son House, the Skillet Lickers, Hank Williams, Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, and the Rolling Stones, among others, before setting a young Spencer Bohren on his life's path. “Down the Dirt Road Blues” was first performed in 1997 for the Montana Performing Arts Consortium and has since been presented to 20,000 students from elementary through university age in the U.S. and Europe. Peggy Seessel, director of education for ArtsMemphis, praised “Down the Dirt Road Blues”: “Every child in every school should be exposed to this fascinating, enlightening story.” 

Festival: Heritage Music Blues Festival, Wheeling, West Virginia
The Heritage Music Blues Festival began in 2001 when Bruce Wheeler envisioned a blues music festival in a newly constructed waterfront park on the bank of the Ohio River in downtown Wheeling. The fact that Wheeling had no blues scene or even a blues club, band, or solo artist did not deter Wheeler from developing a festival. Promoted as “A Weekend of Award-Winning Blues,” the festival today gets raves from coast to coast. Wheeler’s festival features two stages, a main stage with Blues Music Award winners and up-and-coming IBC solo, duo, and band acts, and a second stage dedicated to local and regional artists from West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. The festival is run year-round solely by Bruce Wheeler and his family, so a family atmosphere spills over to the audience members, who have come from 25 states and four countries for the annual August event. 

Festival International: Piazza Blues, Bellinzona, Switzerland
Where else can you dance to the music of some of the finest American blues legends in a piazza guarded by three ancient hilltop castles? Amid a jumble of outdoor cafes, trattorias, and medieval churches, the piazza has the feel of an intimate, outdoor blues bar. Since its start in 1989, Piazza Blues has aimed to bring blues music, from its origins up to the present day, to a wide audience. Major blues performers including B.B. King, Albert Collins, Albert King, James Cotton, Robert Lockwood, Jr., Honeyboy Edwards, Koko Taylor, Luther Allison, Charlie Musselwhite, Otis Rush, and John Mayall have performed, and today, 21 years later, festival President Daniele Jorg, Artistic Director Fritz “Big Daddy” Jakober and Vice-President Lucio Robbiani, the son of the festival’s founder, also showcase younger blues talent such as Ryan Shaw, Corey Harris, Diunna Greenleaf, and Shemekia Copeland. Piazza Blues is acknowledged throughout the blues world as one of the top European blues events each summer. 

Historical Preservation: Eric Leblanc, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Eric LeBlanc combined his love of blues, jazz, and discographical data. Though he has been active since 1968 in blues radio in Canada, Eric understood that proper verification of the music’s vital statistics is necessary. Thus he has been collecting and sharing vital data and documentation that have been an essential part of the music books and magazines we read. The print publications Goldmine, Down Beat, Blues & Rhythm, Living Blues, and Juke Blues are some that have relied on his data. Since the early 1990s, he has been providing fans and researchers on various listservs with data to verify performers’ names, important dates, and discographical data. The principal ways to access his work have been through HYPERLINK "http://www.bluesworld.com/" \n _blankwww.bluesworld.com and HYPERLINK "mailto:Pre-war-blues@yahoogroups.com"Pre-war-blues@yahoogroups.com. Since retiring in 2005 from the Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics, he has joined the Jazz Faculty of The Victoria Conservatory of Music, teaching the Jazz & Blues Survey courses. In 2010, Eric co-authored, with Bob Eagle, the Blues volume in the Greenwood Press Guides to American Roots Music.

International: Finnish Blues Society, Helsinki, Finland
Starting with Jukka Wallenius' idea of publishing a blues magazine, the Finnish Blues Society has been the blues force in Finland since 1968. Within a few weeks it published the first issue of Blues News, which continues to appear today, 239 issues later. Its circulation is about 1,500 copies, six issues a year of approximately 70 pages. During the late 1960s, the Finnish Blues Society also began to arrange jam sessions for Finnish blues musicians, then concerts with international blues artists, from Champion Jack Dupree, Professor Longhair, and J.B. Hutto in the ’70s to Luther Allison, Long John Hunter, and Johnny Bassett in the ’90s. The society started its own blues label, Blue North Records (originally FBS Records), in 1969, mainly associated with its collaboration with Eddie Boyd, who was living in Finland between 1971 and 1994. Today there are over 900 members who support the magazine, record releases, concerts, and lectures. In 1995, the FBS and Blues News opened their website as an archive for all blues fans in Finland.

Journalism: David Fricke, Rolling Stone, New York, New York
When there’s a story about the blues in Rolling Stone, the byline often reads David Fricke. Though Fricke, now a senior writer, has been on staff at the magazine since 1985, he has written about music in a variety of other outlets including Mojo, Melody Maker, Musician, and People. As a senior writer, Fricke’s stories can be about newcomers such as Derek Trucks or John Mayer where he illuminates their blues roots, or a cover story like “Blues Brothers,” an interview with Keith Richards and Jack White where each articulates his blues core. Fricke reviews everything from Jelly Roll Morton to the newest cutting-edge band on the scene, but always with an ear to the blues. For Fricke, blues is ground zero, the earthy beat that connects the music of past rockers like Led Zeppelin to today’s mega-popular Green Day. The taproot of his stories is his awareness that blues is an important part of the foundation of American music. Making those important connections is an essential part of the stories he tells.

Literature: Crossroads: The Life and Afterlife of Blues Legend Robert Johnson, Tom Graves, Memphis, Tennessee
Tom Graves has taken the most widely known pre-war blues performer, Robert Johnson, and chipped away at the widespread myths that have been associated with this blues legend. For example, Graves tackles the various ideas associated with Johnson’s strychnine poisoning at a juke. Graves took that idea to a toxicologist for answers. The book offers a condensed look at Johnson’s life, style, songs, death, and after-death fame. Chapters cover the period after the recordings were released in 1961 on Columbia, the lost photos, the 1986 movie Crossroads, the 1990 release of the million-selling Sony Legacy Complete Recordings boxed set, and the paternity case that discovered his son, Claud. Graves’ book is the easiest way to enter the tangled world of Robert Johnson. From there, and through his extensive bibliography, each of us can conduct his own Robert Johnson inquiry.

Manager: Pat Morgan, Kailua-Kona, Hawaii
Dr. Patricia Morgan has been involved with the blues community since her early 1980s work with local musicians, venues, and festivals in the San Francisco Bay area. Pat began working with Pinetop Perkins in 1996 during a difficult time in his life. Within a year, Pat was able to turn his life around. Since that time, under Morgan’s guidance Pinetop has received six Grammy nominations. In 2000 he received the National Endowment of the Arts Fellowship Award, and he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2003. He received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005 and won a Grammy in 2008. Ten years ago, Morgan also created the Pinetop Perkins Homecoming Jam at Hopson’s Plantation in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Recently Morgan started the Pinetop Perkins Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to helping young musicians at the beginning of their careers and helping older musicians with respite care at the end of their careers. Since 2005, Morgan has been doing the same job for Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, helping him transition successfully from drums to harmonica. Leading his own band, with two well-received CDs, Willie Smith has a revitalized career as evidenced by BMA first in 2009, nominations in both Instrumentalist-Harmonica and Instrumentalist-Drums.

Print Media: Block, Almelo, Netherlands
What began as a small fan magazine in 1975 has grown into one of Europe’s finest blues magazines. Block (the name is an amalgam of “blues” and “rock”) was first published 35 years ago by Rien Wisse and his wife, Marion, in the Netherlands. Like most of these efforts, the magazine is financed primarily by their love of the blues and their own money. In 1982, Rien dropped rock coverage and turned Block into the Dutch blues magazine. The magazine is published four times a year and features articles written by American blues journalists such as Bill Dahl, Dick Shurman and Scott Bock. The beautiful photos are part of Block’s 30,000-photo file, which dates back to the magazine’s early days. Is 64 pages concentrate on profiles, reviews of records and performances, and the Wisses’ travels throughout the American blues landscape.

Producer: Andy McKaie, Santa Monica, California
Andy McKaie wasn’t in the Chess studios when Leonard and Phil recorded Muddy, Wolf, Walter, Etta, Bo, Chuck, and others. But since 1986, he has shepherded hundreds of Chess and other Universal/MCA blues reissues. As senior vice president of A&R for Universal Music Enterprises, McKaie has been the man at the controls for virtually all of the reissues, compilations and box sets from the catalogue of Chess recordings. He has also been the producer of numerous other Universal Music blues collections, the Chess 50th Anniversary collections, the Millennium, Definitive and Gold collections, the Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues series, and, most recently, the Hip-O Select series of complete Chess Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, and Little Walter sets. As the producer of these classic recordings, McKaie conceives the project, selects the tracks and masters, mixes multi-tracks, and researches the credits. In addition to the 21 Muddy Waters reissues he’s responsible for, McKaie has had a production hand in 18 B.B. King records, including co-producing B.B.'s Blues Summit album and co-executive-producing the blues legend's 80 set. From Muddy to B.B. and everybody between, Andy McKaie has kept hundreds of blues records alive.

Promoter: Pozitif Productions, Istanbul, Turkey
Can you picture Bobby Rush in 20 different Turkish cities performing his signature chitlin-circuit show? For 20 years, Pozitif Productions has been promoting a blues tour called the Efes Pilsen Blues Festival, which runs for over 30 days with more than 20 shows throughout Turkey, and sometimes overseas in countries such as Russia, Serbia, Romania, and even Kazakhstan, with the support of Turkish beer company Efes Pilsen. Based in Istanbul, Pozitif is dedicated to developing music audiences through its festivals, live music venue, artists, albums, and concerts spanning a broad spectrum of music encompassing all world styles. When Ahmet Uluğ, the blues festival director and co-founder of Pozitif, books American blues acts, he does it so that he can bring international blues musicians together with local artists. This year Shemekia Copeland, Terry Evans, and Ray Schinnery spent six weeks as the featured performers, but the 20-year roster includes Shemekia’s dad Johnny Copeland, Kenny Neal, Honeyboy Edwards, Magic Slim, Nappy Brown, Buckwheat Zydeco, Gatemouth Brown, and many others. Every musician who has experienced Turkish hospitality raves about the first-class treatment during the weeks abroad. 
 
Publicist: Richard Flohil, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
For more than 50 years, Richard Flohil has been committed to the blues. As a concert promoter, he was involved with the first appearances in Canada (in the late ’50s and early ’60s) of Sleepy John Estes, Robert Nighthawk, Muddy Waters, Bobby Bland, and Buddy Guy, among others. He started his first publicity company, Richard Flohil and Associates, in 1970. In the years since, he has handled the Canadian publicity for Canada’s leading blues and roots-music record label, Stony Plain Records, whose roster includes Duke Robillard, Maria Muldaur, Amos Garrett, Ronnie Earl, Big Dave McLean, the late Long John Baldry, and others. Some of his current clients include Shakura S'Aida, Roxanne Potvin, Paul Reddick, Treasa Levasseur, and the estate of the late Jeff Healey, for whom he worked for five years; Flohil also handled publicity for Canada’s Downchild Blues Band for 39 years. Flohil served on the board of the Toronto Blues Society for 12 years, and remains a member of its programming committee. He continues to work as a club and concert presenter.

Radio (Commercial): Charles Evers, WMPR, Jackson, Mississippi
Born in Decatur, Mississippi, in 1922, Charles Evers has been an ardent advocate of civil rights and equality. In 1969 he was elected mayor of Fayette, Mississippi, and was named the NAACP’s Man of the Year. Since 1987, Charles Evers has been the station manager for WMPR. He launched a career in radio as a disc jockey at WHOC in Philadelphia, Mississippi, in 1949-50. Daily programming includes blues shows every morning from 5 to 9 A.M. and every afternoon from 4 to 8 P.M. In addition to overseeing the station’s daily blues segments, he also hosts the weekly talk show Let’s Talk. For 46 years, Charles Evers and B.B. King have promoted the Medgar Evers Homecoming Festival, a three-day annual event held the first week of June in Mississippi. This event features parades, gospel festivities, and a blues show to celebrate the life and work of his brother, the assasinated civil rights activist Medgar Evers.

Radio (Public): Rick Galusha, KIWR-FM, Omaha, Nebraska
For the past 20 years, Sundays have been blues days in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa. Pacific Street Blues is a long-running radio program that focuses on blues and Americana music and airs every Sunday from 9 A.M. to noon on 89.7 The River. The show is still hosted by its creator, Rick Galusha. In addition to programming a wide spectrum of blues, Galusha has hosted many legends such as B.B. King, Johnny Winter, Dr. John, Luther Allison, and others in the studio. He’s a major supporter of the Omaha Blues Society and its Kids Ed program. In addition to his work on radio, Galusha is instrumental in booking and promoting shows including artists like Rod Piazza, Sue Foley, Coco Montoya, Indigenous, Bernard Allison, and many other household blues names. As the former president of Homer’s Music Stores, Galusha supported blues in retail; he still writes reviews for BluesWax ezine.

Record Label: CrossCut Records, Bremen, Germany
CrossCut Records was founded in 1981 by owner Detlev Hoegen with the goal of promoting the blues in Europe. In 1984, CrossCut was the first record label to release a set of previously unissued live radio recordings by the late, great Freddie King. Rockin' the Blues – Live was released by special agreement with the King estate and won a W.C. Handy Award in the category Best Contemporary Blues Album of the Year. The list of artists who have recorded for CrossCut reads like a who’s who of the blues: Terry Evans, Jimmy Rogers, Otis Clay, Charlie Musselwhite, the Nighthawks, Mighty Sam McClain, Sherman Robertson, Sharrie Williams, John Mooney, Roy Gaines, Ronnie Earl, and many others. CrossCut has also released a 7-CD set of live recordings called In the House: Live from the Lucerne Festival. Today, it features current recordings by Philipp Fankhauser, Memo Gonzalez, JW-Jones, and B.B. & The Blues Shacks.

Visual Broadcast: Film, Television and Video, Pocket Full of Soul
Everyone in the blues has a journey to talk about. For director Marc Lempert and producer Todd Slobin that journey centered around the harmonica, a staple of the blues. Their journey - more like an odyssey - took them deep inside the instrument, its players, and its culture. They, like others who have embraced the harmonica and made it a part of their lives, soon discovered the power and mystery of the instrument. Since the harmonica is the only instrument where one has to breathe in and out to produce sound, it forms an undeniable connection to the player as it captures the body and spirit of each individual who puts it to his mouth. With Huey Lewis as the narrator, the film travels the world to illustrate the instrument’s history, ubiquity, and present impact. The interviews, stories, how-tos, and performances by masters such as James Cotton, Charlie Musselwhite, John Popper, Magic Dick, Lee Oskar, Rick Estrin, Delbert McClinton, Jerry Portnoy, Kim Wilson, and Jason Ricci are thrilling enough to get you to find that old Marine Band and start drawin’ some blues riff on the reeds.

<i>The Blues Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to preserving Blues history, celebrating Blues excellence, supporting Blues education, and ensuring the future of this uniquely American art form. It is the umbrella organization for a worldwide network of 180 affiliated Blues societies and has individual memberships around the globe. In addition to the Keeping the Blues Alive Awards, The Blues Foundation produces the Blues Music Awards, the Blues Hall of Fame Induction, and the International Blues Challenge. For more information on how to support The Blues Foundation check us out on the web at www.Blues.org.

The Long Black Line ---------------

The Long Black Line ---------------

To Spencer Bohren Fans Everywhere:

Greetings from beleaguered, broken, but unbowed and still beautiful New Orleans. The past year has been trying and difficult in ways I could never have envisioned, and the drama is far from over. Progress is being made, though, however slowly, and good things will continue to emerge in the aftermath of last summer’s apocalyptic storm. Many musicians and artists are experiencing a powerful creative surge these days. A couple months ago, my Muse whispered verse after verse in my ear, filling my mind’s eye with pictures of pre and post-storm New Orleans, and hanging them all on the image of the high-water mark that poisonous floodwaters left all over our beloved city when the levees failed. I premiered the song, titled, ‘THE LONG BLACK LINE,’ for approximately a thousand people in the middle of my set at the storied New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival last month, and an incredible thing happened…

Before the final notes of my lapsteel guitar drifted away, the entire audience had risen to its feet, openly weeping! The song’s multiple references to the issues and questions every New Orleanian presently faces obviously hit home in a big way with the people who chose to join me at the Lagniappe Stage that day. Since that afternoon, my mailbox has been filled with requests for the song, and I am pleased to be able to offer it, free of charge, to anyone who wants to hear it.

This recording of ‘THE LONG BLACK LINE’ is an advance copy, part of an album of the same name, that was recorded in Germany in April. For some, it will serve as a reminder of what we’ve been through. For those who do not live in New Orleans, and cannot possibly understand our trials, it will hopefully provide a glimpse of the tribulations our battered city still faces. In any event, this song belongs to the people of New Orleans, and I encourage all of you to download it, listen to it, and share it generously.

Thank you all for your support over the decades. Hope to see you at the gig someday soon.

Warm Regards,

Marilyn Bohren

Awesome Amp

Thank you to Mick Miller at M.A.D. Amps, and Heights Guitars in Cleveland, Ohio.

Spencer Bohren does not walk. He glides. I was there the warm October night Spencer Bohren glided into Heights Guitars. First you have to visualize a small, but fashionable, shop in what was formerly a Christian Science Reading Room. Most of the architectural appointments are still intact. The walls are covered with old wooden guitars of every make and pedigree. The floors configured respectfully with classic amplifiers from Fullerton and Chicago, mostly.

Spencer, who was wearing a dark suit and a long chartreuse scarf; hair pushed back, a bit like Leopold Stokowski, was in Cleveland to play a benefit at John Carroll University. It had been a tough couple of months for Spencer. The waters of Lake Pontchartrain had consumed his home in New Orleans and washed most of his gear out into the street. Spencer was drawn that night to a very cool black & white Supro lap steel, sitting propped against a little tweed amp. He tuned the Supro to an open G minor chord, plugged into the little tweed amp and proceeded to play something so haunting, and so beautiful, that it momentarily stunned the three people fortunate enough to have been in the store that night. When he finished, we got up off the floor and applauded Spencer like we'd never applauded anybody (or anything) in the 15-year history of that shop. Spencer walked out with the Supro, bound for Europe and eventually home, to New Orleans.

One of the reasons that rig sounded so wonderful that night was that little tweed amp. It was a MAD Amps Temper Tantrum. It didn't require any set-up or sound check. The amp didn't fight Spencer. It complemented him, his style and that Supro. That's what an artist demands. There is no time for negotiation. Spencer plugged in, turned up about half way and proceeded to kill everybody in the room. We were so deeply impressed we decided to make that amp, "Temper Tantrum" (# 004) a gift to Spencer Bohren from MAD Amps. They are perfect for one another.

How's The Chevy

How's The Chevy

“I heard about the hurricane… HOW’S THE CHEVY?”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard these words in the past few months. The next line is usually a slightly embarrassed, “Oh, and your kids… how’re your kids… and your wife?”

The Chevy in question is, of course, the Bohren Family’s legendary red & white ’55 Chevy Bel-Air. The one with all the chrome. The one that towed an Airstream trailer full of guitars and children all over the country through the ’80s and into the ’90s. The one that’s approaching 900,000 miles on the odometer. Yes, she’s a mythical beast, and to be truthful, she’s in trouble.

A couple of years ago our Chevy was involved in a hit and run accident, and I foolishly thought I could parlay the insurance money into a minimal restoration of the whole body.

I failed.

Along the way, however, I met a wonderful guy, a mechanic and auto body man named Tevis DeLaundro, who took the Chevy to his shop in New Orleans East, almost as a mission of mercy. I gave him the remaining insurance money for starters, and over time sold a few treasured instruments and amps to keep the project moving. The last time I saw the Chevy, she was runnin’ good and stopping well (which is significant for any fifties car). She had new upholstery on the seats and door panels, and all the chrome and windows had been removed. Tevis had the body as smooth as glass, primered, and ready for paint. That was August 25th.

On the morning of August 29th, Hurricane Katrina visited New Orleans and left in her wake a disaster of biblical proportions. New Orleans East was one of the hardest-hit areas, and we naturally assumed that the Chevy was lost. And make no mistake, the Chevy has indeed sustained considerable water damage. Tevis, however, once I finally managed to track him down, refused to let it go. His family’s house had ten feet of water in it for two weeks; his wife and kids are evacuated indefinitely to Jackson, Mississippi; most of his tools, equipment and office are ruined; his shop is seriously damaged, and still, he refused to let the Chevy go.

When I said, “My house is ruined and I have no money to spend on the Chevy,” he replied, “You already paid me.”

I said, “That was before the hurricane added all this water and mud into the equation.” He countered, “But I made a promise.”

I said, “I’m letting you off the hook.” He got frustrated and replied, “That car can be fixed!”

Tevis told me he had a vision. “I see that shiny red & white 1955 Bel Air driving out of the muddy ruins of New Orleans East,” he said with a faraway look in his eyes, and I couldn’t help but think of the mighty Phoenix rising from the ashes, or Pegasus unfolding his powerful wings. And I knew there was nothing I could do to stop him.

Now it’s going on three years since Hurricane Katrina brought her winds and the levees failed, flooding 80% of the city. Tevis is still living in Mississippi and comes to New Orleans only occasionally. The Chevy has had to take a back seat to our home repairs, and Tevis is occupied with sorting out the next chapter of his own life. We have a feeling that the restoration project is very likely out of our reach. In any event, there are many decisions to be considered. We promise to keep you posted on any new developments.

Stay tuned . . . And thanks for your support.

Spencer Bohren

Visiting New Orleans

Visiting New Orleans

Back and forth, St. Louis to New Orleans, and back again. It’s a whole day drive of 700 miles each way, but we skim along the highway, using the time to plan and scheme our personal recovery from Hurricane Katrina. In the month of October alone, I made three trips back to back: once alone, once with Tucker, and once with Spencer. Each time the highway seemed a little bit shorter. Perhaps it was due to increasing familiarity, or perhaps it was the incendiary display of autumn leaves Mother Nature was painting.

Our recent mail has asked for an update of our personal state of affairs. We are glad to oblige, but it is just as important to place our story in the context of the most astonishing natural disaster and its ramifications ever to hit America. Each trip back shows more healing and recovery for all of us; however, it is far and away from the city we have loved since our first trip there in 1975. Let me give you some “snapshots” from various parts of town. These are observations from October 25 through 28, bookended by a day of driving in each direction, first south and then north again up the Mississippi River.

Driving into town in the dark of night, I considered the various ways I could take Spencer, who had not been to New Orleans since our first visit pre-Rita in mid-September. With each of my three successive trips, the skyline of New Orleans showed more and more illumination, although it still was a shadow of its former glow. Metairie seems pretty normal from its I-10 view at night, so we got off at the very end of this suburb and took Veterans Boulevard east, over the 17th Street Canal, into pitch darkness where city street lights normally show the way. No one was on the streets. We opened our car windows to fully experience the eerie stillness, when we were assaulted by a smell of decay and a mountainous shadow on our left. Rising 40 feet high for several city blocks of green space loomed the skeletal remains of trees that had once graced our streets, parks, and neighborhoods. Block after block, mountain after mountain. One large heap had been turned to wood chips. Perched on another mountain were two vehicles, hard at work, processing the debris. Spencer was duly impressed.

As we drove towards City Park, darkness continued to envelope us, even though Hurricane Katrina had visited almost two months ago. We drove down Marconi on the side of City Park, and campfires came into view, surrounded by tents and trailers. Parked for blocks in the neutral ground were hauling trucks of every size, shape, and description. Parallel to the trucks are the campsites of the truckers, as they are mostly from outside of the area. Those drivers who are from New Orleans likely have damaged homes. I was reminded of the camps of Okies in The Grapes of Wrath and the WWI soldiers in their Hoovervilles. A subculture of New Orleans was brewing on the fringes of City Park.

That night we slept in our house, which was hospitable enough but devoid of such amenities as electricity or gas. Since Tucker and I had already stripped and curbed the kitchen a few days earlier, Spencer and I drove to the French Quarter in the morning for a quick breakfast before getting to work. The only thing out of place seemed to be the extreme cleanliness of the Quarter. With limited tourists and transients, the Quarter is not as overtaxed and feels fresher than usual. Many of the curbed refrigerators I had seen the week before had been picked up. In a move typical of the city, the fridges have become signboards around town, advertising plumbers, stating opinions about Tom Benson, cheering on Mayor Nagin, and requesting delivery to Washington, D.C. My favorite refrigerator signage scolded, “I sleep alone. Thanks curfew!” Another interesting group of signage is the big X spray painted on all homes that were checked by the National Guard as they searched for survivors following the storms. Each of the four spaces in the X carries notation in a specific spot: identification of the search team, date, people found, and pets found. Some of the cryptic messages are sad, indicating whether the occupants were alive. One of the pet blocks stated, “One chicken rescued.” Houses like ours that were obviously boarded up did not receive the Guard graffiti unless a search was requested.

We could have immediately returned to our house after breakfast, but I felt that Spencer needed to see some neighborhoods to get a feeling for the context of our decisions. Tucker and I had done this the week before in an unforgettable tour of places that will be many years recovering, as well as some spots well on their way. Everywhere Spencer and I went, the floodwater has receded. What becomes apparent is the flood lines on the buildings, indicating just how high the water rose. Two feet, three feet, six feet, eight feet. The lines rise along the length of a block, pick up across the street, and then they rise even higher. Some houses have several parallel lines, indicating how the water drained some, hesitated, and then drained some more, before hesitating again. Places that have always seemed equal in elevation now show an apparent grade. We noticed how the neutral grounds are higher than the homes, how the homes rise or sink down into their lots, compared to the streets. Before a storm, people often park their cars in the neutral ground (median strip to those of you outside of New Orleans). On Carrollton Avenue blocks filled with cars parked on the neutral ground were totally inundated by the floodwaters. A gray/brown film coats everything that the waters touched, the color coming from the detritus of the lake, as well as whatever it swirled into on its way into the city: fluids from invaded garages, storm leavings from the hurricane, bits of the chemicals we keep under our sinks, the fluids from the cars, rust from yard tools stored under the piers of raised houses. It became a silt-like sludge that coated everything. We were fortunate to have only one centimeter of this material in our kitchen, Tucker’s room, back bath, and the patio. On some street corners, carpets of hardened sludge-mud cracks into stepping stones. Many homeowners remove it by the shovelful from the first-floor of their dwellings. These are the neighborhoods that brought us to tears. While the fallen trees have been removed and the streets are accessible to cars, the homes are quietly devastated. Unlike our neighborhood, which has a quiet hum of repair going on, the homes of middle class citizens a few blocks from Lake Pontchartrain create a ghost town. Water lines are up to the eaves of the roofs, doors and windows are open to facilitate aeration, the whole scene is covered in that gray/brown coating. No one is there. Period. Block after block after block. These are the homes of working people like ourselves. Several of Tucker’s friends live in this area. It is quietly devastated and deserted. We wonder if those houses are salvageable. We did not venture into the lower ninth ward, where the houses were crushed by the water and moved off of their foundations. We really didn’t need to. Emotionally, it was impossible.

For the next two and a half days, we continued gutting our home down to the wall studs. In the process we found evidence of all kinds of animal life: mice, bugs, lizards. With each successive trip to the curb, the house breathed and sighed, its moldering halitosis lessening by the hour. An electrician and plumber came by to give us estimates for the repair, which has been deemed pretty complete because of the floodwaters reaching the workings beneath the piered section of the house. A work crew from down the street came by to look through our discarded belongings, willing and able to try to resurrect a couple of drowned appliances. Overall, though, our pile grew and grew in all three dimensions. Soon it overtook half of the yard next door, crept nearly to our front porch steps, and climbed to ten feet! At the same time, Mr. J across the street had sustained flooding AND extensive roof damage to his own home and his apartment building next door. He had hired a crew to gut both buildings. Their pile was a consistent ten feet high across both lots. Spencer had made friends with the workers there, and they began a friendly rivalry for the biggest heap. In the end, our friend Sam came by with a group of buddies. A couple of them took out Spencer’s workbench, with its water-curled cabinet doors, and they heaved that waterlogged and watersogged bench onto the top of our pile. Spencer crowned his mountain with a Mardi Gras staff made of an eight-foot ginger lily stalk wound with Mardi Gras beads. Mount Marilyn won!

Any story of New Orleans is not complete without mention of food and music. In her current state, New Orleans does not offer either on that all-night basis for which she is known. We were fortunate one night, though, to try Angeli’s on Decatur Street in the French Quarter. Angeli’s is a sandwich stop and bar where we have eaten on Mardi Gras’ past. A crowd spilled from the doorway this particular night, sharing hurricane stories and enjoying the mellow air. We sat at the bar, with Casablanca showing on the wall opposite, no volume. A small group played standards from the 1930s to 1950s: a trumpet player sitting front and center a la Preservation Hall, a guitarist, violinist, and bassist. Each was quite a character, as evidenced by the musical improvisation. With the quiet jazz, the selection of blue collar and faded hippie clientele, the volume-less movie showing on the wall, and subdued lighting, an ambiance unlike any I have experienced pervaded Angeli’s at that moment on that night. People ate informally, flirted, and discussed the resurrection of their blocks. The bartender honked a few notes on a harmonica he took from his pocket and then teasingly commented on how they never invited him to play. At one point, a most unlikely character joined the musicians to sing “Sunny Side of the Street.” With his welder’s hat and his pants belted below his belly, we weren’t sure what to expect, but this fellow sank into the song, gesturing with his arms and ending on one knee as if he was on a Broadway stage. The house erupted in applause. This night touched me deeply, pulling me back through time, to what I imagine the French Quarter and Brasai’s Paris felt like seventy years ago.

Ah! New Orleans. Make no mistake, progress is being made. Many of us have gutted our houses on faith that the flood insurance will provide enough capital to rebuild. There really is no choice when the alternative is allowing the building to continue moldering and mildewing. Many people have not returned for the same reason it was so difficult to leave: lack of cash and transportation. Others have lost jobs or personal businesses. Many have children who have no school to go to yet. Tucker’s school is one of only a handful that will begin classes in January. They have had to become a charter school to avoid the pitfalls of a broken public school system. The city lacks revenue because of drops in spending and the attendant taxes. We are all learning more about the infrastructure of a city than the layman expects to know. Our gardens remain polluted, with bits of greenery starting to show through. Electric and gas service, while improving, are still spotty. Everyone has a story. Unprecedented random acts of kindness power the recovery as neighbors share warm showers, clean beds, and rides. For the tourists strolling Bourbon Street, hurricane drinks in hand, New Orleans is just like it always has been. That is because most tourists don’t venture past the Quarter, where tent cities abound, streetlights remain haphazard, garbage pickup is finally coming once a week, and charities still provide lunches, immunizations, and counseling.

The task is monumental. Repairing our home is a daunting job. But we have a secret weapon: the love and good wishes of all of you, our friends. It is what urges us forward. And in fact, the positive energy sent to New Orleans, where so many people have enjoyed themselves and discovered new parts of themselves, is sustaining us in our recovery. Please keep us in your thoughts.

Marilyn Bohren
October 2005

Escape from NOLA

Escape from NOLA

Dear Ones,

With her counterclockwise swirling motion, Hurricane Katrina has thrown out the baby with the bathwater. New Orleaneans are blown across the landscape of America, radiating out from the center of the storm, and leaving a void that is currently filled with the Gulf-swollen Lake Pontchartrain. The city’s population has been replaced by the leavings of a frantic society: fallen trees, roof shingles splayed by high winds, household items too cumbersome to carry, the litter of discarded looting, gun shells, garbage, sewage, sorrows too innumerable to list. It’s a sorry situation, yet as a member of the displaced persons of a once-magical city, I remain deeply moved by the yearnings of all I meet, as they earnestly ask what they can do to help us.

Spencer, Tucker, and I had been keeping an eye on Hurricane Katrina’s progress through the Gulf of Mexico, as she bore down on us in New Orleans. We prepared for possible options: water, and canned food in case we stayed; full gas tank, car food, inventories of possessions we could not live without in case we left. There was boarding and taping up windows, yard cleanup, and laundry for either event. By Saturday night we were still weighing the options, but we felt we could go either way. Sunday morning we knew we had to leave. By 10:30 a.m. we were in our PT Cruiser, driving down Highway 90 toward Mississippi, having spun a blessing around our little shotgun house to keep it safe and dry.

The roads opened before us, with very little congestion. As we were led onto I 59, we became one of four lanes of traffic leaving the area as both sides of the highway sped in a single direction north. As the traffic slowed, we exited onto secondary roads and eventually found ourselves in Kosciusko, Mississippi, on the Natchez Trace to the northeast of Jackson. The spot was secure, although the storm was making its way towards us. In the morning we traveled west through Mississippi and into Arkansas, before it became clear that we needed to stop this frenetic flight. Occasionally we tuned into a radio show that updated us on the progress of the storm, which was thankfully sidestepping the center of New Orleans but devastating our neighbors on the coast. We paused in Hot Springs, Arkansas, a delightful town of bathing and spa renown from the 1920’s and 1930’s. And there we spent two nights, walking up the mountain trails, taking to the waters, and playing Pirate’s Cove for distraction. And talking, talking, dreaming, weighing our current options, and talking some more. During this time the lake levees gave way in New Orleans, and we tuned in, with horror, to the inattention our national government paid to the plight of the people who live lives so different from our own and who so populate New Orleans. These are the people who rely on minimum wage jobs to support their families and don’t have personal transportation or the people who are medically compromised. Many had fled to the Superdome, but even more had tried to tough it out through the storm in their homes. Unlike us, they did not have the option to pack up their car with a few precious, indispensable items and drive to another state. And how these people suffered over the next few days! We realized our home may be filling with water, but we found our hearts pulled even more to the condition of these people.

As we regrouped in Hot Springs, we decided to turn towards the next gig in St. Louis and found refuge with our friends, the Vlastos family. They welcomed us warmly, fed us and entertained us with four children’s antics, and allowed us – encouraged us – to talk about the high drama of our lives. When we checked our email, there were 80 loving, concerned messages from friends and relations around the world, all hoping we were well and offering help in many forms. It was heartwarming to feel such concern from all of you. The messages have doubled and continue to rise, as Django also fields calls from people who want to be in touch. Over the next couple of days we were offered a lovely house in St. Louis to use until the crisis in New Orleans passes, and Tucker has been taken in by a high school just a couple of blocks away. When we were visiting our new home just yesterday, several neighbors came by to offer more help, and we realized that we are their connection to the tragedy in New Orleans. They want to help at any level they can, and we personify the people who have lost all earthly possessions and must begin anew. And while we do not know for sure the damage we have personally sustained (although I’m sure it is substantial) and we are fortunate to have each other alive and well, we are quite aware that the next year will bring unanticipated challenges and unprecedented decisions. Throughout this ordeal, we realize that we must identify how people can help. This is what we came up with.

1. Donate to your American Red Cross, (800) 435.7669, or the Archdiocese of New Orleans, through Catholic Charities, (703) 549.1390, or any other of a number of charities who have their people on the ground, daily making a difference. If you prefer to be more specific, we can help distribute your contributions to musicians we know and friends in need via email. [ visit contact page ]

2. If you have an extra house or apartment, please consider offering it to a displaced family from New Orleans or the Gulf Coast. MoveOn.org has a network established, and the previously mentioned charities can very likely help. Once again, we may be able to connect you with our friends and neighbors in need via my website. If you happen to be a friend or neighbor in need, please touch base with us. Maybe we can help.

3. Please remember Hurricane Katrina next time you vote. A nation as great as ours deserves sharp, sensitive leaders attuned to the needs of EVERY American, and every American deserves the opportunity to take advantage of the benefits a well-run democracy can provide.

4. Our first priority is to stabilize the calendar so we can continue to make a living. More than ever, if you can offer gig opportunities – concerts, art shows, blues lectures in university or school settings, and/or concert tours – please get in touch. Hurricane Katrina has drastically altered my schedule, and I need to get some work generated NOW.

5. Please check back with us and others you know when we are finally allowed to return home to New Orleans, for we will certainly need your energy and support as we attempt to restore our homes and lives.

You know that the Bohrens have a knack for travel and living on the road. We were feeling the rhythm of the road by the time we got to Arkansas, and it was like meeting an old friend. Out here we can manage. Faced with the reconstruction of a city whose physical needs have been ignored through ignorant coastal mismanagement and the redirecting of funds that could have made the aging levee system safer, we will have a much more difficult time embracing the return home.

May peace and love fill all of our hearts.

Marilyn Bohren
St. Louis