I’ve retold this story numerous times to friends and always found it funny. Today, I look at it with deeper meaning. Duke Ellington came to Santa Rosa and no one knew who he was. This, to me, is a sad part of our history, that we denied the most famous composer in a predominantly black art form even the dignity of recognition.
Think about this story, and then think about the exemplary man recognized, elevated and inaugurated as our President this morning.
From Duke Ellington’s 1973 autobiography, Music is My Mistress:
Half the time on our trips Harry Carney and I arrive at the city or town where we are going to play that night thinking the other knows the place where the gig is, or has an itinerary in his pocket. Every now and then it appears that neither of us knows nor has an itinerary with him. “No sweat, baby!” I say, and we drive into a gas station, where Harry says, “Fill it up.” After I’ve stretched my limbs, I ask the attendant, “Do you know where Duke Ellington is playing tonight?” Usually the man answers, “Oh, over at the auditorium, three blocks down this way to the red light, turn left, then first right, and straight ahead—you can’t miss it.” So we just go and follow the directions, and we’re cool, but feeling it was a good thing we picked that gas station for information. We had been doing this sort of thing with good results down though the years until one night, a couple of years ago, we arrived in, I think it was, Santa Rosa, California. We pulled into the gas station with the same routine up to, “Where’s Duke Ellington playing tonight?” The cat with the gas hose turned and said “Who? Who’s he?” When we explained, he said, “I don’t know anything about a dance or a concert here tonight.” And there we were, standing there, feathers peeling off one at a time.
“Oh, no,” Harry said, “you don’t suppose we goofed on the name of the town?”
“There’s only one way to find out,” I said. “Call Ruth or Cress Courtney.” So I went to the telephone to call my sister in New York.
All this time, cars were coming and going, and as they stopped for gas we’d ask them the same question: “Where’s Duke Ellington playing tonight?” Most of their responses were something like, “Duke Ellington? I didn’t know he was playing here tonight.” Then Ruth answered the telephone and we got the directions. So I turned to the cat at the gas station and said, “We’re playing at the Fairgrounds.” “Oh, that’s it, is it?” he said. “Right catty-corner across the street.” What a relief!
But the Fairgrounds were very dark—no lights in sight. After finally finding an entrance gate, we drove in, and around, and around, and around. Nobody, but nothing, until eventually we were about to pass another car going in the opposite direction. Both cars honked their horns, stopped, let their windows down.
“Do you know where. . . ?” Harry began.
“That’s what we want to know, Harry,” the other driver interrupted. It was Ralph Gleason, of the San Francisco Chronicle at that time. We laughed, turned around, and both cars continued their search until suddenly—there it was!
Duke Ellington? Who’s he? Duke who?
Will Oldham has a penchant for playing out-of-the-way places around these parts. In 2002, he played at Pegasus Hall in Monte Rio; in 2003, he dropped in at the Old Western Saloon in Point Reyes Station.
As previously reported, everyone’s lovable scruffy indie-folk hero Will Oldham, a.k.a. Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, is adding Santa Rosa as one of his out-of-the-way-stops on his upcoming tour. I’ve been given the green light to spill the details about the show, and most importantly, about how to get tickets.
Will Oldham will play on Sunday, March 29 at the Orchard Spotlight, the best little church-turned-house in Santa Rosa. The venue is very beautiful and very small, holding just over 100 people. Tickets, at $28.50 each, go on sale this Wednesday, Jan. 21, at noon. 100 tickets will be available at www.folkyeah.com, while a scant 25 tickets will be available in-person at the Last Record Store in Santa Rosa.
You can either take your chances with the rest of the Internet-connected world online, or if I were you, I’d start lining up outside the Last Record Store on Mendocino Avenue at 9am. There’s a two-ticket limit; cash only. Needless to say, it’ll basically sell out immediately.
There was a fascinating 10-page New Yorker profile on Will Oldham in last week’s issue, spotlighting in particular his penchant for playing small, weird, semi-secret out-of-the-way shows.
In related news, if I were you, I’d subscribe to Will Oldham’s mailing list. Like, right now. There’s a noticeable gap in his upcoming tour itinerary, and though I’m sworn to secrecy about the details at the moment, I can tell you that when tickets go on sale for his show in Santa Rosa, they won’t be available through normal sources, and they certainly won’t last long. The mailing list is your best bet.
It was a good sign when Whispertown 2000 soundchecked with “Look at Miss Ohio,” but it just got better from there: tight, country-soul harmonies from the two frontgals; full-on kazoo solos; a drummer that astonishingly played guitar, drums and harmonica simultaneously; a bassist that managed to quote “Dazed and Confused” without malice; and basically a shitkickin’ good time. The two gals kinda reminded me of Those Darlins, and hey, didja hear one of ‘em is a Nagler? And that she was on Punky Brewster? No shit.
Polaroids, stitching, paintings and collage art hung on the walls, all of it excellent; cassettes and horses. Out in the kitchen, vegan cupcakes for sale, and the most gigantic mushroom I’ve ever seen in my life. Slung from a side door, $3 cocktails mixed on the spot. Dancing in the halls. “Bring it on Home to Me” on the stereo. (Thanks for the Darondo tip, Nick.)
All in all, a sweet way for the residents of the house to go out with a bang, seeing as they hafta move at the end of the month. And a fine way for Paul Haile and Lauren Harkins from Not to Reason Why to celebrate their just-announced engagement—the diamond ring was busted out on Saturday at Crane Creek Park! Congratulations, you crazy kids.
I had been wondering how Zach Hill would pull off his solo album, Astrological Straits, in a live setting. With over a dozen guest musicians on his album, would he hire a pick-up band? Would he try to play more than just the drums? Would he call up Les Claypool and ask if he’d mind driving down to Santa Rosa to fill in?
The Casbar is the new joint in town, located inside the Days Inn way down on Santa Rosa Avenue, near Todd Road. It’s a funky location for a funky room—black lights up in each corner, an absinthe green light emitting from the bar, a hazy red near the stage. It’s dark, dank, and seemingly underused, but as Ian told me out in the parking lot— referencing the eternal need for another venue—”Everyone’s gonna pounce on this place.”
After Epiphany Music was shut down in 2007, the former owner, fresh out of jail, somehow convinced the Days Inn to let her put on a show here, calling it the “New Epiphany.” It went rather poorly, and the folks at the Days Inn (they used to run the Los Robles Lodge, putting on the Liquid Lounge nights there and a few in-over-their-heads rap shows at the Fairgrounds) apparently waited a year and a half to try again. I’m glad they did.
The best thing about the Casbar? Those not old enough to drink get a handstamp. Those old enough to drink get a wristband. Everyone wins. Why this hasn’t been done before in Santa Rosa is beyond me, and I sincerely hope that it doesn’t become an issue for the litigation-happy City Attorney’s office, because it makes perfect sense.
Hill and I talked a little bit about Cecil Taylor before the show (“he’s a big inspiration”), and it foreboded his set. Setting up two large speakers on either side of his small drum kit, Hill played the entire 33-minute-long piano-driven bonus track from Astrological Straits, “Necromancer.” Marnie Stern’s spoken word bookended the fierce, pounding piano attack by Marco Benevento, and it didn’t sound at all unlike Taylor’s famous 1979 set with Max Roach at Columbia University.
How the hell does Zach Hill play drums so quickly, so fiercely, so insanely?
Here’s the thing. Sure, Hill played the shit out of the drums nonstop for a half hour, never letting up at all, but it wasn’t unnecessarily violent. Every piece of the puzzle made some kind of sense, and every riptide fill had its place. Like a cross between Dave Lombardo and Philly Joe Jones, Hill exhibited stamina and taste, with a sense of actually communicating something in his playing. I was never bored through the entire volcanic set.
Afterwards, there were literal puddles of Hill’s sweat on the floor beneath his kit.
The insane circumstances surrounding Sly Stone’s bizarre appearance in Santa Rosa last Friday, Oct. 18, were told to me by several people involved with the show. Crazy doesn’t begin to describe it. Here’s how it went down.
The morning of the show, Sly Stone is in Los Angeles. He fires his business manager. Sly tells the promoter that he’s his own boss now, that he’s the one who’s going to get paid at the show, and that he needs $3,000 wired to the bank account of an Iranian BMW saleswoman before he’ll even get on the plane to San Francisco.
And about that plane: it was supposed to arrive from Los Angeles at 11:30am. No Sly. The limo waits at the airport. Sly’s next flight becomes 1:30pm, then 2:30pm, 3:30pm and 5:30pm. No one can get a hold of him at all. The promoter drives to the airport in the slim hope that Sly might walk through one of the gates.
Finally, at 7:30pm, with his young Japanese girlfriend in tow, the 65-year-old Sly shows up at the airport. He’s an hour and a half away from the show—which starts in a half hour—and he demands to go to the hotel. The young girlfriend finally talks him out of it, and he agrees to go to the show, but he’s still talking about getting paid.
He sleeps all the way to Santa Rosa.
Sly doesn’t hit the stage at the Wells Fargo Center until 10:30pm, during the fifth song of the set. He walks off the stage 25 minutes later, in the middle of “I Wanna Take You Higher,” telling the crowd, “I gotta go take a piss. I’ll be right back.”
But Sly never comes back. The band continues on without him, killing time for 30 minutes. During the last song, a man appears on the stage, whispering into band members’ ears.
Meanwhile, backstage, Sly is demanding to be paid. The show is still going on, and the promoters are telling his handlers to get him back out to perform more. But his handlers know the drill. It’s been this way for years. What can they do?
Before the show is over, Sly is out in the parking lot, still in his white suit, trying to get into the promoter’s car. All the doors are plainly locked, but he keeps trying. Finally, a woman drives by, picks him and his Japanese girlfriend up, and they whiz away. Word of his departure gets inside.
It’s not too hard to figure out what the man on the stage was whispering to the band. How about: Sly’s making a getaway? How about: Sly’s driving off right now? How about: You’d better chase after him if you want to get paid?
And after quickly finishing the song and exiting the stage, that’s exactly what they do.
The band members pile in their cars and find Sly precisely where they thought he’d be—at the Fountaingrove Hilton. Except he’s not in his room. All the rooms are reserved under the business manager’s name, who Sly fired that morning. So Sly’s there, fuming about not being able to get into his room, when the rest of his band suddenly pulls up.
“Get me out of here,” he’s heard telling his driver, and they peel out.
It is not an uncommon sight to see cars racing down Mendocino Avenue on a Friday night. But it’s a different story altogether when the lead car giving chase contains an absolute funk music legend, pursued by five more cars driven by band members, some of whom have played with him for 40 years and are actual, literal family members. Six cars race down the street, weaving in and out of lanes.
Finally, past midnight, Sly’s car is cornered at a gas station. A long stand-off ensues between him and the band while the young Japanese girl cries hysterically in the car. A gas station on Mendocino Avenue in Santa Rosa. That’s where it all falls apart.
At press time, no one can get a hold of Sly Stone—not his management, not his band mates, not his family. The last anyone sees of him, he’s headed south on Highway 101. Everyone’s got a pretty good idea how he’s spending the money, but no one knows where he is.
And no one ever wants to play with him again.
To read a review of the Sly Stone show, click here.
Right from the start, I suppose I should admit, I hated Section M magazine. I didn’t want anything to do with it, I didn’t think it was helping the music scene, I wrote irritated letters to the editor, and I talked shit about it as much as I could.
Mainly, though, I was jealous, both of the writers—because I wasn’t writing about music at the time—and of the bands covered, because I wasn’t playing music at the time either. When Section M hit the stands in 1998, I was coming off a four-year spree of constant touring, and I was in a weird space. I was fueled by Tanqueray, mid-20s cynicism, and avant-garde jazz. I talked a lot, but I wasn’t doing much of anything, really.
Also, at the time I was convinced, and not entirely erroneously so, that there were no good bands in Sonoma County whatsoever. Section M came along and seemed convinced otherwise. It proclaimed: Bands are great! We like all these bands! Bands, bands, bands!
Now, looking back with more clarity, I have a lot of respect for what the many volunteers at Section M pulled off. I marvel at how Section M ever could have been produced in the first place, let alone lasted as long as it did—from 1998 to 2003.
After all, this was the magazine that would hire basically anybody. When you’ve got an open-door policy, you open yourself up to flakes, crazies, egomaniacs, and just plain unqualified hopefuls. Put all those people in an room together, and they’ll either start screaming obscenities at each other or having sex in the bathroom—both of which happened, in fact, at Section M’s offices.
The inside workings of Section M often found their way into the pages, and staffers hooking up together wasn’t rare. What was rare was them staying together. After torrential, reckless flings came to a crashing halt, work at the magazine could be painfully uncomfortable until one or the other quit. (To add to the tension, hookers prowled outside the office at all hours of the night.)
Phone calls to the magazine were either weird or very weird, culminating in the members of Derge leaving repeated, insane messages on the machine revealing their obsession with gay sex and racial epithets. On a similarly bizarre note, the band Bungworm once sent Section M a bag full of actual shit, which totally confused everyone at the magazine until an astute reader wrote in to point out that they’d been running an ad for months which read “Send Us Your Band’s Shit.”
Accompanied by this rare gift was a letter that demanded the magazine never write about the band ever again; in what amounts to the best example of Section M’s attitude that I can conjure, the next issue was filled with as many references to Bungworm as possible. Yes, for all of its faults, this was Section M’s greatness: it blatantly did not give a fuck about bands that took themselves too seriously, and instead devoted lots of column space to absolutely unserious bands like the H.B.’s or Rhino Rape.
Section M petered away in 2003 without fanfare—no official final issue, no grand goodbye. One could argue that it didn’t really go away, living instead in the human form of Michael Houghton, the magazine’s founder, who continued in social situations to casually remind people years afterwards of the many thousands of dollars of credit card debt he was still saddled with from running the magazine. It was hard to tell if these repeated references to the magazine’s legacy of debt were subtle pleas for financial help, or if they pointed to something deeper—indicators, perhaps, of how hard it is to say goodbye to something that never got the chance to truly die.
Last weekend, Michael got that chance, as did about 400 other people who crammed through the doors of Daredevils & Queens for a night that was a reunion, a nostalgia fest and a damn good time rolled up into one. Over a dozen bands from the late 1990s got back together to perform. Michael, ever the dapper stylist, even got gussied up for the occasion—in a pair of jeans with a hole in the crotch, and a “F*ck Section M” T-shirt.
I showed up a little bit late, but immediately the “reunion” aspect was made clear. I ran into people, now married and pregnant, who I once stayed up drinking gallons of gin with until 3am. I ran into people who asked, “So, how’s it going?” who didn’t bother to explain if they were asking how it’s been going for the last 10 years or the last 10 minutes. And I ran into people who referenced incredibly esoteric jokes I’d made back in 1999 with pinpoint precision—and this was all before I could make it out back to watch some bands.
Thus, the night was a blur, but in the best possible way. I played bass with the Blockheads, who hadn’t played in a decade and whose bassist Mark Aver has since moved to the East Coast. It was the most satisfying 35 minutes of fun I’ve had in a while. To Dave Fichera, Paul Fichera, and Steve Choi, the Blockheads, the only local band I truly loved besides Cropduster in the late 1990s—thanks, bros.
I caught 20 Minute Loop, Cropduster, Brian Moss, and the Paranoids, but I think the greatest slice of reunion nostalgia for the night was the Reliables, who were all, like, 13 years old when they formed and maybe 17 when they broke up. It was just like an old Reliables show—equipment failures, not knowing how to use a tuner, confusion over which song was being played, the microphone stand falling over—except that instead of standing around dumbfounded, as most people did in 2001, the large crowd showered them with love.
The Reliables’ set list canvassed the trajectory of adolescence, from early songs about suburban angst like “Sad Man” (“My mom just won’t let me be / I know that I’m kind of a loser / Masturbation is only for Godzilla”) to the totally awesome and bittersweet “Another Shitty Day” to the very last song the band ever wrote, “Houses Without Windows,” a depressing, existential rumination on life at midnight as seen from an airplane window which asks the question: “Don’t you wish sometimes you’re dead?”
Not many people cared about the Reliables when they were around, but at the Section M reunion, bolstered by guest drummer Caitlin Love, they were basically superstars. “I think this is the most people we’ve ever played to,” noted Jeremy, and he was right.
Piles upon piles of old Section M magazines were being given away at the front door (Worst cover ever? Issue #10: Halou, Cohesion, Kabala, and Skitzo) and I even saw a very dazed but very validated Michael Houghton for a second. “Can you believe this?” he asked, motioning to the incredibly packed Daredevils & Queens. “Look at all these people!” It’s true. It was pretty amazing.
One final note: in honor of the 10-Year Anniversary of the magazine, Michael has allowed me to finally spill the beans about the “Scene & Heard” column in Section M, the gossipy, newsy column written by the elusive “Jane Sez.” No one ever knew who Jane Sez was, and since “Scene & Heard” was easily the most popular column in every issue, there were many, many guesses over the years.
Now it can be told: Jane Sez was Michael Houghton. Well, for some issues, at least. The first few were written by Christine Alexander from Little Tin Frog, after which it turned over to Michael and then became a communal effort by Michael and the rest of the upper staff of the magazine, including Sara Bir. Keeping the Jane Sez identity a secret was almost as fun as writing the column itself, Michael says. “The best part about it is that so many dudes came up to me at shows, when I was doing most of the ‘Scene and Heard’ writing,” he recalled the other night, “and they’d say to me, ‘I’m so in love with Jane Sez. I totally wanna fuck her.’”
There’s an excellent photoset from the night, taken by Caitlin Childs, over here.
A few members of the staff from the magazine share their thoughts and opinions here.
Section M’s official website, still up and running, is here.
Heath and Harmony… Damien Marley… – w4m – 28 (santa rosa)
Reply to: [email protected]
Date: 2008-06-10, 8:04PM PDT
I am looking for the cutie that my friend and I ran into while we were obnoxiously weaving throught the crowd at the damien marley concert. You were in a blue collared shirt with small stripes. Your hair was longer but it was under a hat. My friend flirted with you, said you had a great smile, and you turned away and smiled as if you were embarrassed a little. I made a comment about how you had some Jordan’s on from the ealry 90’s, you laughed because you knew I was right.
I doubt you are from Santa rosa, but I hope you find this somehow and contact me….
harmony festival -me.. berkeley woman…you -santa rosa guy.. – w4m – 32 (santa rosa)
Reply to: [email protected]
Date: 2008-06-10, 7:09PM PDT
i never found you again….
we danced at arrested development… you had the nice hat …
then we danced on stage with kidjo… i left to go to the bathroom.. then you were nowhere to be found…
i though you were sweet and cute…. will you read this???? i dont know…
In Serch Of A Girl Named Harmony – m4w – 21 (Harmony Festival)
Reply to: [email protected]
Date: 2008-06-11, 12:52AM PDT
I am the guy you hung out with Sunday night. My friend and I gave you a ride home to Petaluma. I lost your number and have no idea how to find you. I hope somehow you or one of your friends finds this. You were such an awesome girl, I would like to see you again.
Harmony Festival – m4w – 32 (santa rosa)
Reply to: [email protected]
Date: 2008-06-09, 2:56PM PDT
You sat across from me at that back support booth. Your smile is too cute! I was drinking Iced coffee.
Health and Harmony backstage – m4w (santa rosa)
Reply to: [email protected]
Date: 2008-06-11, 8:28PM PDT
We met saturday after the show on the mainstage. I felt like we really clicked, had a lot in common, and enjoyed talking. I am afraid that I might have communicated something wrong in a text message to you later that night and now I am afraid of messing things up. I really liked you a lot and dont want to come on too strong and risk looking a new friend.
Hoping you might see this understand.
TO ALL THE WOMAN AT TECHNO- TRIBAL – m4w (santa rosa)
Reply to: [email protected]
Date: 2008-06-08, 10:04AM PDT
Really enjoyed the show. Just wish more of you lovely ladies would actually wear lesssssssss!!! I can literally have an orgasm just watching each and every one of you shake you things dancing and moving and a grooving to the scene. The costumes are one of the main reasons I go, to see the fish net stockings and the little skirts, short shorts and I just want to lick your toes… A HUGE THANK YOU GOES TO YOU ALL AND PLEASE REMEMBER LESS IS MORE!!!!!
Without a doubt, one of my all-time favorite shows in Santa Rosa was the night in 1993 when Bikini Kill, illuminated by a semicircle of car headlights, played in someone’s backyard in Roseland.
I’ve stopped trying to tell the story, partly because the eventual ascension of Bikini Kill to indie icons in the general consciousness taints any kind of retelling with the risk of a coattail-riding smarminess—especially, y’know, coming from a dude—but mostly because I really just can’t do it any sort of justice.
In the year or so before the show happened—advertised only by hastily photocopied handbills a couple days ahead of time—me and all my friends had all played the hell out of Bikini Kill’s first EP, marveling at its economy of purpose. They used simple statements and actions to convey what a lot of Bay Area bands had been trying to say in words, words, and more words. I know it sounds like a cliché, but they changed my ideas about what a band could be—even when, in 1993, I was of the age where I’d prided myself (falsely, it would turn out) on seeing it all.
The Bikini Kill show in the backyard was inspiring, thrilling, and confusing, all at the same time, and it took me a few years to figure out just what the hell had happened. (The only thing that I can add to Leilani’s account is that my friend Andy went up to one of the band members afterwards, and said, “Hey, you guys were really good,” to which she shot back, “We’re not guys.”)
Last night I dug through some boxes and found some pictures that I took at the show:
I found the flyer too:
…and the setlist.
Near the beginning of Merle Haggard’s hour-long set tonight, he turned to the crowd and inexplicably asked, “No caffeine?!”
Er. . . Huh?
“No steroids? No crank?!” What was Haggard getting at?
Then the bomb: “Maybe a little herb!”
The aroma at a Merle Haggard show is just like any other country show: a time-honored combination of stale cigars, Copenhagen, cheap perfume and Jack Daniels. But the smell of marijuana guaranteed that we weren’t at no wussy-ass Dierks Bentley concert. From the guys out in the parking lot flaming up the reef, to the random whiffs in the lobby, to Haggard’s new song, “Half of My Garden is for Willie,” weed was the order of the night. And that suits the 70 year-old, white-haired Haggard—who still acts like a goofy little kid with a big heart—very well.
Acting out the song in adolescent, animated gestures, Haggard sang about the “tobacco, mushrooms, and cannabis” in his garden, and how half of it he’d give to Willie Nelson because “a man like that shouldn’t have to grow his own.” It brought the house down.
But by far the set’s highlight was one of the greatest songs ever written: “If I Could Only Fly.” The utmost of tenderness, the prettiest of melodies, the timelessness of the lyrics—everything about the Blaze Foley song cast a hush over the normally boisterous crowd, who shouted requests and rampantly ignored the ‘No Cameras’ signs throughout the bulk of the show. In the song’s quiet smallness, it attracted the most undivided attention of the night.
Hit-song standbys included “Silver Wings,” “The Bottle Let Me Down,” “Guess I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink,” “Swinging Doors,” “Big City,” and “Workin’ Man Blues,” and much to the surprise of the crowd, Haggard actually performed “Fightin’ Side of Me” and “Okie From Muskogee,” which in recent years he’s either tried to justify as spoofs or plain disowned outright.
Haggard’s also good for whatever latest ballad Willie Nelson’s written; the last time I saw him, in 2005, he sang “It Always Will Be,” and tonight, it was “Back to Earth.” The Strangers, his 10-piece backing band, played as fantastically as they always have (that drummer’s bones know when the song ends), and Haggard still has a hell of a voice.
Haggard was warm and welcoming to the crowd—much more so than most country stars of his vintage. He started “I Wish Things Were Simple Again” in the wrong key, which distracted him so much that he accidentally sang “My dad was a lady. . .” He stopped the song, everyone laughed, he made a couple jokes about “jambalay, crawfish pie, and be gay-o,” and then got back on track. At other times he joked about pulling up his bra, and said “I might be a transvestite!” He also spent a good deal of time criticizing the city of Redding, where in his words, “talent goes to die.”
Haggard’s playing Redding tomorrow night. Something tells me his talent will survive.