June 2006


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Arif with Aretha in the studio

Terribly saddened today, to read of the passing of Arif Mardin. Arif was one of a generation of producers we are unlikely to see again. A true gentleman, with taste, finesse, a sense of humor and a quietly huge talent. He is known in recent years as the Norah Jones producer, but his early history as part of the Turkish Young Turks of The Atlantic Records stable, is unrivaled. I met him on my first glimpse into the ‘big-time’ record making machine. Chaka Khan was recording two songs I’d co-written, at the old Atlantic Records studio on Broadway, just off Columbus Circle in New York. The band was Richard Tee on piano, Steve Ferrone and Hamish Stuart from The Average White Band, Phil Upchurch, Anthony Jackson, on bass, & Jimmy Douglas engineering. Wow, it gives me a chill to think of myself in such company. Me, folksinger from Maine! That’s when I realized how much ‘woodshedding’ I’d need to do to be anywhere near equal footing with these guys! I’d always wanted Arif to produce me. At that time, I thought that the producer ‘made’ the record, not realizing that, even though that sometimes is the case, it’s best when the ‘artist’ shows up, talent in full bloom, and the producer acts as more of guiding father role. Then Punk, Disco, New Wave, Rap, Hip-Hop came along and de-railed much of what had come before. Of course, somehow things swung back around to include all these schools of music. New/Old school RnB, the new Folk scene, (Arif produced Danny O’Keefe’s masterpiece “Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues’) Jazz crooners like Diana Krall, etc.
God Bless you Arif, with Much Love from all, still down here, that you touched.

Fun gig last Saturday night. Played The Unurban Coffeehouse in Santa Monica (California), with my long time stand-up bass player David Schwartz, and Todd Washington, a singer/songwriter/guitarist friend. Nice to play a quiet show without that rock ‘n’ roll show pressure to wind up the crowd. It was a warm summer night, the windows open to the passing traffic and the whir of the coffee machine blender occasionally (unfortunately.)

I played:
‘Sidewalks of Summer’
‘Nobody’s Girl’
‘Bethlehem’
‘Buddy Holly’
‘Everything Comes Easy to Me (for Chet Baker)’
‘Thru With the Circus’
‘Richie’
‘Mercy, Pity, Peace & Love’
and ‘Just My Imagination’

Todd is a killer singer and soulful guitarist and really adds something perfect to my sound. I’m used to playing solo, duo & trio, but I see him as a 4th member of my show in the future. That is, when he’s not doing his own shows.
My friend Ryan Hedgecock was there with his daughter and a few friends. Ryan was in the LA cow-punk band Lone Justice with Marvin Etzioni & Don Heffington, who, of course, I’ve worked with in the past. We may have met in passing, years ago, but this year he turned up at my son’s school with his daughter. We’ve done a bunch of playing together and hanging out. He’s a great guy and got a cool music thing of his own going. For a while in New York, he had a duet with Mose Allison’s daughter. Mose is a hero of mine, as you may know. Ryan’s friend Shilah Morrow, was with him. She’s a very charismatic, special individual, who has created a scene called Sin City Marketing and Social Club, or something like that. She’s doing cool things with her live show promoting, a music sampler, management, etc. Think of Bill Graham as a lovely girl with presence and flesh that lights up the room. She put together a Gram Parson’s tribute a while back. Expect cool things from her down the road.

Onr thing in New York that could be either totally annoying or inspiring, was the ubiquitous presence of street & subway singers/performers. There was one guy on the #1 train who seemed to only know one song-it might have been Sam Cooke’s, ‘A Change is Gonna Come.’ I must’ve heard his rendition one hundred times. Gotta say, he held that song deeply in his soul.

Solo R&B Vocal Underground
by W. S. Di Piero

It seems to head from its last stop too fast,
my transbay train’s strungout hoo, deep
inside the tunnel, and starts to bleed
into the baritone wail of that guy
at platform’s end, a sort of lullaby
rubbed against the wall then caught in a squall
of wind darkening toward us, his whippy voice
skinning its tired song off the tiled dome:
he’s determined, the silky lyric says,
to be independently blue, while we all
wait to be chuted to car lot or home,
closer to love, or farther, and sooner to loss,
our bashful shoes and arms like lives crossed,
every plural presence now some thing alone,
thanks to our singer-man. We wait for the train,
patient with hope, a hope that’s like complaint.

It looks like I’ll begin recording my instrumental album next week. I’ll be recording in LA and at the Sonic Temple in Ferndale, CA. That’s a magical small town, on the coast, 6 hours north of San Francisco. I’ve written a bunch of material, some of it featuring gorgeous acoustic baritone guitars, made by Moonstone in Eureka, CA. They were lent to me by the gracious Jon Phelps from DC3 in Seattle. Oddly enough, focusing on music with no lyrics, has made my usual daily interaction with language, slip in to the background. Oftimes, when an instrumentalist makes an album they coerce him/her into bringing in guest singers. So then, what happens when you ask a singer, to not sing- just shut up and play? Well, now I see that’s it’s just another aspect of the same voice that comes forward. Having said that, I spent some time last night reading the most recent Paris Review. Here’s an excerpt of some beautiful writing from the Italian writer Alessandro Baricco:

“So closes the circle of things that do not happen, which in our work, as in life, guards the secret, and the most profound meaning, of everything that is. I will walk home slowly, my back straight, a cigarette between my lips. As for what counts…
But this, too, no one needs to know, except me. Between my damp sheets, sleep will be slow to come, in the sweat of the night. May God save me from my solitude.”