Blindfold Test: First Attempt

     I have always enjoyed the DownBeat “Blindfold Test” feature in each issue, in which a famous or up-and-coming jazz musician is played one track each from several Jazz albums with no information, asked to guess the musicians and to candidly appraise the music. Partly it’s a machismo test: if you are a young cat, you want to be able distinguish your Hank Mobleys from your Dexter Gordons, or Roy Eldridge from Red Allen, or Jaki Byard from Charles Mingus playing piano (a not uncommon fakeout in the blindfold test annals). Then there is the tantalizing possibility of having someone offer a much more critical assessment of a famous musician then they might normally be expected to. After all, if the person is unaware of who’s playing, it can’t be a personal attack.

     I have spent my life wishing someone would test me on these things. Having the reached the age of 48, I have come to the sober realization that I will probably never be anything remotely like a celebrity in the Jazz world, and thus will never get a blindfold test in DownBeat, much less the Holy Grail of something like being on Fresh Air. (By the way, can you imagine the disappointment of people who get booked on Fresh Air only to discover that they’re to be interviewed by Dave Davies? When they confide this to friends, they must say “I mean, nothing against Davie Davies (or David Biancouli who writes for TVworthwatching.com, or Lloyd Schwartz”), but… y’know… Terri Gross…” they say, wistfully.)

     So recently I decided to take matters into my own hands.

The Self-Administered Blindfold Test

     Of course, I know my CD and vinyl collection and its various categorization schemes better than I know the birthdays of my immediate family. So first I set about creating chaos from order.
     It is surprisingly difficult to achieve a state of blindfoldedness. I tried several bandannas, hats and towels, but nothing satisfied. I finally hit on a solution: I took out one of our typical suitcases and put it on my head. By zipping it up to my neck, I couldn’t look down and accidentally see a cover.

trying it on 2

     Having cleared a space in the middle of my studio, I began criss-crossing the room, taking stacks of records and handfuls of CDs from their shelves and blindly strewing them across the floor, intending to kneel down and further shuffle them around the room.
      Almost as soon as I began, disaster struck. One of the bookcases full of lps was precariously balanced on a ledge, and when I pulled out enough records from the bottom, it became top-heavy and fell forward, taking me down with it. I was buried in records, with a heavy bookcase on top of me, and a suitcase on my head.
     Fortunately Ezra was home, heard the crash, and my muffled screams, and came down to see what had happened. But not right away. He was very deep into a level of Team Fortress II that had just come online, playing with and against anonymous, faceless players from who-knows-where. So superior were his efforts on this particular occasion, his team had been granted something like immortality. In reality it was probably only twenty minutes. He later said that he could actually hear my muffled calls during this time, and for a moment was torn: loyalty to his father or to his blank, empty doppelgangers? But the moment passed, and he was at peace in sacrificing the one for the many.
     At length Ezra came down and surveyed the scene. He remained calm. One might even say he demonstrated a curious lack of urgency. By and by, he recovered himself, and took out his phone. Someone must document this exotic travesty, he thought to himself. He busily circled around me, clicking photos.

blindfold test 012 crop

loss of feeling in one arm, dizziness, slight loss of appetite... loss of feeling in one arm, dizziness, slight loss of appetite...

     Finally he was persuaded – I may have kicked him – to lift up the bookcase and help remove the suitcase. I had failed my first blindfold test.

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John Schott interviews John Schott about Dream Kitchen

On the occasion of Dream Kitchen re-uniting to play at Jupiter in Berkeley on June 28, I sat down for a chat with bandleader, guitarist and vocalist John Schott. 

John Schott: You’ve spoken several times in therapy sessions of your anxiety around the interview: your fear of sounding, when talking in therapy, as if you’re giving answers in an interview, as well as your desire to be in the elite group of musicians-who-get-interviewed, and even of Glenn Gould’s cheeky pseudo-psychoanalytical self-interview. Clearly, seeing that you’re writing this, something is manifesting itself here, in regard to that anxiety. Why write this, and why now?

John Schott: Uh… [long pause]…

JS Let’s try a different tack. It’s been quite a while since your last CD release, 2005’s Drunken Songs for Sober Times by your trio Dream Kitchen. What have you been up to?

JS …

JS You seem to have a lot of reservations about this interview exercise!

JS Umm…technology, and social media… increasingly…

JS [Long pause.] Well, I for one thought Drunken Songs was very nearly sublime. Every song seems to have a different focus, to come at the material from a different angle, somewhat like your CD Shuffle Play. Yet the compositions, by Jelly Roll Morton, Ellington, and others, really come thorough. It also impressed me as a kind of a nervy record: this was your first time singing on record, your first time playing acoustic fingerstyle guitar on record, your first slide guitar on record. With musicians you hadn’t previously recorded with, who…

JS [quickly] Ok, now you’re beginning to sound like an apologist! I liked it better when you said it was “very nearly sublime”.

JS You don’t wince at the “nearly”?

JS Oh man… [pause] I gotta go.

JS Sorry. No, wait, I mean it, I really like it, the Dream Kitchen record. Is there anything you can say about it?

JS Mmm…ugh. Hrm. Well…uh, it’s funny all the considerations that go into something like this; some of them only apparent in retrospect. I figured out that the world of Early Jazz was not going to come to me the way the Jazz of the 40s, 50s and 60s did. It was never going to be a part of my playing life unless I made it happen. I had long listened attentively to Armstrong, Morton, and Ellington, but I had never played a song by Morton, never transcribed any Bechet, and I didn’t know the "100 songs you must know from 1900-1929", the way I know "100 songs you must know from the Post-War era". Nor did I know “Just A Closer Walk With Me”. So starting around 2001, I just completely immersed myself in it, through the recording of the CD and for about a year after. I listened and listened, and read and read, and searched and collected, and I tried to comprehensively “know” early Jazz, and for that matter Ragtime and Black Minstrelsy. I could talk about this work for hours. At the time I felt very much alone with it. None of my colleagues had ever heard of Lovie Austin, Tiny Parham, Bennie Moten, Johnny Dunn, or Tony Jackson. No one even listened to Bix or King Oliver, let alone ODJB or NORK. But in terms of putting the band together, I didn’t care [if they knew that music]; I just wanted people who could groove and were open to spontaneity. But then there is this whole ‘nother thing. I found it very difficult to keep a rhythm section together. Ches and Devin had moved, Trevor had moved. Amendola was very busy. So many people I had played with had moved away. Even when they were here, they were very busy, in eight different bands. I thought: to hell with it, I’m going to have a band without a bass player, it’ll just be three people (less people to divide the bread with), and I’ll find players who aren’t exactly in “my scene”. We’ll play these funky old Jazz tunes, so it’ll be kinda avant-funky, and lots of hipster guitar playing, so maybe we can get a piece of that action (somewhere around the nexus of Dr. John, Jam bands, and John Zorn?). So these thoughts were about getting gigs, keeping a band together, and making some money. In some respects Dream Kitchen was a conscious attempt to put forward something commercially viable. Strange as it now seems! But there’s a third dimension of generative motivations. Following a string of perceived defeats and emotional lows,the one thing that made sense, the one rock of Gilbraltar for me, was playing I – IV – V music, with an emphasis on the healing power of groove, and playing only what you really “heard”. Keeping it simple, so that you could be honest and vulnerable. For the moment, I absolutely could not go back to the ambitious, complicated music that had pre-occupied me all my adult life. I sensed that John Hanes could help me get where I wanted to go. He immediately impressed me as a musician and as a person. He didn’t think of himself as a Jazz drummer, but he was into improvising with a capital I. And he knew about songs, all kinds of songs. He knew a lot of standards, he knew old songs, old movies, old soul tunes. He had been around the block and back as a working musician, and that also counts for a lot with me.

JS I think you want to say something about why the group folded?

JS That’s weird – yes, yes I do. The big reason was [tuba, bass trombone, and jug player] Marc [Bolin] moved to Los Angeles to go to graduate school, and he simply couldn’t be replaced. I tried, asked around, checked out a couple players, but there’s just no one (that I’m aware of) who has phenomenal technique on tuba and bass trombone, grooves his ass off, and is such a free spirit. I hadn’t realized it at the time, but the Dream Kitchen book was all built around Marc! Once again I was stymied by the vagabond lifestyle of the young musician! Eventually I got around to writing and playing my music, with John and Dan Seamans, at the Actual Café. But I really feel the impact of those years of obsessively listening to early Jazz in my lines, in my improvising, whether I’m playing an original, a standard, or completely free. I’d say at least 80% of my nightly music listening, alone in the garage, is devoted to Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Lester Young and Sonny Rollins. Those four kind of all roll into one four-headed deity to me: PopsBirdPresNewk. I could just listen to those four for the rest of my life. Okay, gotta have women, so add Sheila Jordan and Shirley Horn.

JS Okay, thanks, I think I’ve got enough.

JS Wait, I’m not done!

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Guitar Player Reader’s Poll

 Guitar Player Reader's Poll

     Now, I don't want to beat up on ol' Guitar Player magazine, which I've read since I was a kid, and still read today at the library. They publish great things, and naturally, some less than great things. (I was upset about their recent "50 Bad-ass Blues Solos You Must Hear" cover story, but loved the article about Henry Kaiser.) All I'll say about this is that whoever came up with it, they didn't take lessons from John Schott!

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New Page Up Above: “See Hear”

      I've added a page of videos of various projects, from various low budget sources.

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For Guitarists: Classical Shred Shed

     The concert I wrote about a couple of posts ago has come and gone. Among the pieces on the program was the World Premiere of Sebastian Currier's Artificial Memory. How exciting! Guitar-wise, I was stepping onto a new planet, created by but not tread upon  by the composer. 

     The passage below was among the hardest moments on the program for me. It's very fast, very "almost repetitive", and it's six and half measures in the middle of seventy-five measures of similar fingerbusters. 

Ariticial Memory ex 1

     What makes it so hard, other than just being very fast, is that almost all the intervals are a Major third or larger, necessitating a lot of string skipping, and almost no pull-offs or hammer-ons.

      Deciding on the fingering is the first step. The guitarist becomes a chess player, considering many possible lines of attack.

      The high F, the highest note of the passage, can determine much. There are two places one can realistically play that note, if you're playing a 22 fret guitar: on the first or second string. In each of these places, there are multiple fingering choices. The F on the first string could be played with the pinky, the hand positioned at the 10th fret. Or you could play that F with your second finger from the 12th position, or your first finger, 13th position. From these three positions, the rest of the notes could be variously found, with perhaps a few more choices to be made. 

     I want to find out the best fingering, and then I want to stick to it, stop thinking about it, because I'm going to practice it over and over and over. Practicing this piece illuminated that zone that lies beyond, well beyond, the zone of "knowing something" on the guitar. After an hour or two of playing these six and half measures, you "know" the notes, the fingering. After twelve hours, you experience something altogether different. (I don't mean, of course, twelve consecutive hours!) These eight notes might stand for the passage's DNA: smaller example from AM

In the end I decided to keep it around the 12th fret, and try and use open strings.

Ex 1b

     I would recommend these six measures to any guitarist who enjoys a healthy workout. If any more incentive is helpful, I would say it's not hard for me to imagine Herbie Hancock playing something like this in the celebrated Plugged Nickel recordings, or Coltrane on Interstellar Space.

     By the way: the Ensemble did not end up playing this at the quarter note = 164 tempo, but closer to 150-154. Not because this was my upper limit, although it was; but it was felt that this was plenty fast, and that we could more effectively lay into it at that tempo. 

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The Blues and “Voice Throwing”

     Last year the venerable Chicago independent label Delmark released Magic Sam: Live at the Avant-Garde, a recording of a gig in the summer of '68, Milwaukee. This is the 7th CD I have of Magic Sam, and I keep buying them because they are ALL GREAT, although also ALL VERY MUCH THE SAME. But check out this guitar chorus on Come On In This House:

     Isn't that lovely? Two distinct guitar "voices", call and response, played with his fingers, straight into his Fender amp. It really sounds like two guitars, and that illusion is done with his hands: how hard he picks, where he picks and what he plays. This is moment that slays me:

     

     Thinking and re-listening to this solo, I was reminded of Charley Patton's Spoonful. It's been a while since I've gone through a Patton obsession, perhaps I'm due. I play some of his songs from time to time, and I like not listening to the originals for some time, and letting my interpretation drift from its model. Spoonful is virtuoso "multiple voices" play: he alternates between two voices talking back and forth, and then the bottleneck guitar takes over the final word "Spoonful":

     At one point I went through a phase where I was convinced that one of those voices was Walter "Buddy Boy" Hawkins, who had traveled with Patton from the Delta to Richmond, Indiana for the recording session. Somewhere in this track I thought I heard the two voices slightly overlapping. I was convinced that this was an elaborate joke by Patton and Hawkins: set it up to make you think that both voices were being done by one person, and then overlapping, just a bit, to make the whole effect surreal. I no longer think this, but I'm nostalgic for a time when I ascribed such devious operations to my Delta Blues heroes.

There's a lot going on here:

     vaudeville, and its fascination with "freakishness", 

     (see also King Oliver's "freak cornet")

     ventriloquism,

     African conceptions of voice-instrument interchange,

     use of the recording medium to shape a performance,

     multiplicity of Black voices,

and probably, in the case of Magic Sam,

     the desire to make your guitar-bass-drums trio sound like B.B. King's seven-piece band.

     I know someone has written on this, but I can't recall where at the moment. Probably Paul Oliver. 

     At the same session that Patton recorded Spoonful, June 14, 1929, Richmond, IN, Buddy Boy Hawkins recorded Voice-Throwin' Blues. This is putting the technique front and center, although in Hawkins' practice it's a little different. For the most part he doesn't run the two voices right into each other. Somehow it seems both more and less weird than Patton's song.

     

All right, for tonight, that's all I got. 

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Lighting the fuse

     As much as I enjoy the exceedingly complex music of Schoenberg,
Stravinsky, Carter, et al, as an electric guitarist, my enjoyment is
strictly limited to listening and studying scores. I’ve rarely had the
pleasure/terror of performing it, of experiencing it from inside. Of
cursing it, struggling with, arguing over it, aching from the practicing
of it, and all of the soul-shaking work, physically and mentally, that
comes from performing such as piece. That would equally apply to the
Brahms Piano Concertos, any of the major Wagner roles, or the Goldberg
Variations. Jazz is as demanding as one can conceive it to be, but not in
this way.


     What I have had is the privilege of playing the music of some of the most
prominent contemporary composers with the Paul Dresher Electro-Acoustic
Ensemble. The electric guitar parts for Steven Mackey’s opera Ravenshead,
over an hour of music for voice and six instruments, was my introduction
to playing with the ensemble. We toured it around the east coast,
California, and Dallas. The band I stepped into, in effect subbing for
the leader, guitarist Dresher, were all at such an astounding level of
musicianship, I felt humbled and inspired. This incarnation of the
ensemble was Amy Knowles, electronic marimba; Marja Mutru, keyboard; Gene
Reffkin, electronic drums; Craig Fry, violin, and Paul Hanson, the
one-of-a-kind bassoon virtuoso, whom I had played with before. I got
schooled right quick. Particularly Marja, whom I was positioned
next to, helped me out a lot, demonstrating certain passages, or
suggesting a way of counting a passage, or announcing measure numbers
when I got lost. Eventually I found my footing. I had to really
understand the fundamental truth of always knowing exactly where you are,
of counting, especially when you’re not playing. From jazz practice I had
been used to seeing a six measure rest and being able to “feel it”
without actually internally saying “1, 2, 3, 4, 2, 2, 3, 4, 3…” Playing
Ravenshead, with its frequently changing meters, you can never assume
“you’ll hear where you come in”, even after you’ve played the piece many
times. You walk a balance beam, and you can space out or look down, or
you’ll crash.


     The most difficult pieces I have played with the Ensemble are the two that
are on our concerts this weekend in San Francisco, Artificial
Memory
by Sebastian Currier and Fusebox by Jim Mobberly. The former is a
world premiere, the latter a piece we’ve performed twice before. Both
require a level of velocity on the instrument beyond what I’ve been
heretofore been capable of, thirty-five years into playing the guitar. As
I write this, less than a week before the performance, I’m almost, but
not quite, there. I’ve been working my butt off the past couple months,
on these pieces, and as recently as three weeks ago, I was not at all
sure I’d be able to get anywhere close to the tempos asked for. Now at
least, I can see them from here.


     My hands feel different. The left hand mostly just feels tired, but there
is a nimbleness in the tips of the fingers that feels new. The right
hand, the picking hand, is reveling its newly emerging speedyness, like a
man in midlife getting a sports car for the first time.


     The best part of the process is that I enjoy these pieces very much. They are fresh, engaging, and interestingly complex, not needlessly complex. Playing Fusebox is like surfing – when you are really riding the wave of those meter changes, it’s absolutely exhilarating, invigorating. When you crash, well, you just want to get back up there and try again, as soon as possible.

     If you are in the Bay Area, the concerts are at the ODC Theatre. there's a free dress rehearsal this Thursday, and the concerts are Friday and Saturday. There's much more on the program than the two pieces I'm playing in: the aformentioned Paul Hanson's bass/bassoon duo, and world premiere songs by Conrad Cummings and Lisa Bielawa, performed by the ensemble with guest Amy X.Neuburg.

More information at www.dresherensemble.org

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Yoga Garden Dancers at Berkeley Arts Center

     Hey, remember the Berkeley Arts Center? That cute little gallery in Live Oak Park? So nice and cozy, and it seems like no one knows about it! I hadn't been there in many years, but it's just as inspiring as it's always been. Music sounds great in there! I was happy to join with my buddy Rachel Durling and saxophonist Stefan Cohen last week to provide the soundscape for the Yoga Garden Dancers, a long-standing (hah!) project of Yoga teacher Gay White. Here, in a photo by Agnes Rettie, is dancer Tasha Hansen.yoga dance 1

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The horror! The horror!

 
     It's not that I don't think about my website; I think about it frequently. It's just that thinking isn't doing. It's as if there's an invisible force field preventing me from getting anywhere near “johnschott.com”. I'll spare you the myriad theories I've constructed to account for this personality myopia, this allergy to being-in-public.
     But I'm going to try again. In the oft-quoted words of Sam Beckett: “Fail again. Fail better.” What compels me this time is the pride I'm taking in my Actual Trio, and the desire to help it prosper. Dan and John have given this band a lot of non-compensated time and energy. Sal at the Actual Cafe has given us a steady gig for over two years. As a result of these efforts the trio has really taken root. Keeping this site updated and worthwhile is a cheap and theoretically easy way to draw attention to our music, as well as other worthy endeavors with which I'm involved.

     All it requires is for me to let go of the excuses and rationalizations I clutch at like a security blanket:
“I'd rather be doing music than websiting about music.”
“I hate the internet's cheapening and flattening of artistic and intellectual production, as well as the premise that everything should now just be given away.”
“I'll just be disappointed when my witty and erudite postings are not celebrated like Ethan Iverson's or Jeremy Denk's.”
“If I were a fan of me, it would be a selling point that I was an obscure, reclusive, adverse to self-promotion, man-out-of-time sort of character.” See Franz Kafka, Emily Dickinson, Herbie Nichols, and Mary Margret O'Hara.

     I know my appetite for “being-out-in-the-world” comes and goes, occasionally spiking as if in a manic episode, then plummeting down to its usual below-sea-level status. If and when that happens, so be it. What I do manage to accomplish while I'm “up” will still be out here in technospace, a little beeping beacon, while I revert to my more usual ostrich tendencies.

Yeah. So... I updated the calendar. 

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I Remember Hubert Sumlin

Hubert Sumlin died last month. He was Howlin' Wolf's guitarist from the time Wolf came to Chicago around 1954 to his last performances in the mid '70s. Those twenty years on the road, in the clubs and on record are unrivaled - this was the deepest, hardest blues.

They were one of the greatest pairings in music - the great seer and his loyal protoge. I can't think of too many parallels - John Gilmore and Sun Ra, or Ellington and Johnny Hodges, except they had many great soloists in their groups. Monk and Charlie Rouse, but Rouse was with Monk for less than ten years, and it wasn't Monk's greatest period. Sonny Rollins and Bob Cranshaw, but Cranshaw isn't a soloist.

He was, to my mind, the happiest of blues guitarists. The feeling that emanates from his playing is different from the tortured, dark night of the soul blues of Otis Rush, or the searing passion of Buddy Guy and Magic Sam. Sumlin is giddy, bubbling over with enthusiasm. Great as they are, Guy and Rush were very much coming out of B.B. King's. Sumlin's sound is instantly recognizable, and totally original. His strings sound like skinny electrical wires that might overload with current at any moment. He like the "out-of phase" sounds of two single coil pickups, and he often played cheap Italian-made electric guitars. He wasn't from the "milk a few notes" school of Albert King. He played with his fingers, like a lot of bluesmen, but his attack and vibrato were very pronounced and distinctive. 

Perhaps his finest moments were in the series of (mostly Willie Dixon-penned) hits Wolf had in the early 60's: 300 Pounds of Joy, Built For Comfort, Hidden Charms, I Walked All The Way From Dallas. This is Wolf at his most entertaining, even charming - a world away from the dark undertones 50's era songs Smokestack Lightning, or You Gonna Wreck My Life. Sumlin's playing on these sides is magic. When Wolf sings "I'm so glad, you understand, I'm 300 pounds of muscle and man" on 300 Pounds Of Joy, Sumlin's repeated chord stabs are so funky, so galvanizing, just thinking about them now gives me goose bumps. His solo on on the uptempo Hidden Charms is delirious, joyful and so damn fun.

*******

Like so many white kids past and present, the love I had at 13 for Led Zeppelin, the Allman Brothers, and the Rolling Stones turned into ravenous desire by age 16 for all things Robert Johnson, Son House, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, and B. B. King.

As with all my other musical obsessions throughout the years, I found a mentor. This has always been my modus operandi from day one, regardless of musical genre. My blues mentor was Twist Turner and he was one of the greatest people - and biggest characters -  I have ever met. 

I met him at Seattle's Bumpershoot Festival in the early 80's. We were in the large auditorium to hear Koko Taylor, followed by Buddy Guy and Junior Wells. (Except no Junior Wells, which went unremarked until someone in the audience shouted “Where's Junior?” “He missed the flight,” deadpanned Buddy Guy.) Twist was directly behind my friend Fletcher and me, sitting with Blackie Jo James, a local blues singer I had seen. I think I turned around to ask her a question about Koko Taylor's guitarist – to me Blackie Jo James was a real blues celebrity. She replied “You should ask this guy,” indicating Twist, “he played with him for years.”

Twist Turner had a diamond in his front tooth, a full length fur coat, and carried a pistol. I am not making this up. He was a drummer who had grown up in Seattle and moved to Chicago the day after he graduated from High School, to play the blues. That was maybe fifteen years ago, and he was temporarily back in Seattle, living in his dad's basement, trying to figure out what came next. He had released a couple of 45's of his own songs, on his own label, in Chicago, which had gone nowhere. He had played a million gigs around Chicago, and on the road around the Midwest for $50 a night. He was white, but if you talked to him on the phone, you would have swore he was black. This could sometimes be awkward, when he showed up for a gig he had been hired for by someone he'd never met.


I spent a lot of time with Twist in his dad's basement, listening to records, playing the blues, and hearing incredible stories of life in the blues trenches (the time a blues singer pulled a pistol and shot a rat in his apartment, the time someone's girlfriend was hailing a cab completely naked, the bass player who could only play a medium shuffle...). He was extraordinarily kind to me. I went to most of his local gigs, standing out in front of the clubs because I was too young to get in, often in rather skanky neighborhoods. Once I sat in with his group, playing electric guitar out in front of the Pioneer Square club with a cable running from the sidewalk through the window to the stage. Once I was listening to Twist from the entrance to a bar and I was mistaken for a doorman by some tourists who inquired after the cover charge. I collected six dollars from them. 

During the couple of years that he was back in Seattle (this is around 1982-83) Twist sometimes set up gigs for former employers and colleagues he had worked with in Chicago. I saw pianist Sunnyland Slim in this way, and I met and played a little with Hubert Sumlin. I spent the afternoon with Sumlin at Twist's dad's house. I don't remember why I wasn't able to go to the gig they played that evening; perhaps it was out of town, or maybe I had a family commitment.

He had probably had a couple drinks by the time I got there, in the early afternoon. He was very silly, very animated, and with a child's utter spontaneity. We played together, on unamplified electric guitars, sitting on the shag carpet in the basement, almost knee to knee. We played for perhaps ten minutes, trading blues chorues. “Play what you feel, man!” he exhorted me. With a teenager's chutzpah, what I “felt” was a Thelonious Monk-inspired emphasis on dissonance, minor seconds and tritones. He was unfazed by this, took it in stride. I was very familiar with his playing by the age of 16, had learned all of his parts on the classic Wolf records: Killing Floor, Forty-Four, Evil, How Many More Years. In my mind there was a link between Sumlin's gloriously personal eccentric thumb and finger style and the piano playing of Skip James, Monk and even Cecil Taylor, who I had just discovered. I thought I would make the point evident to him - which of course makes me roll my eyes now. 

Etched in my mind forever is the backward somersault he did, while playing, on that shag carpet. It came out of nowhere, and it was beautiful. He was exageratedly expressing enthusiasm for something I played, goofily pretending to be bowled over. I think my mouth was hanging open when he came up still playing and laughing. He laughed a lot.

I remember he talked about hearing Howlin' Wolf as a teenager outside of a juke joint, standing on some crates to look into a window, because he was too young to get in. The story made an impression on me because I was already familiar with it from reading interviews with Sumlin.  Here I was with one of musical idols, and I was thinking "Yes, yes, I know, I've heard this story before!" like he was my uncle or something. I remember too he managed to speak several times of his great fondness for sexual intercourse, although not in those terms. 

So, that's my Hubert Sumlin story. The meeting I had with him lasted maybe a couple of hours. But the hours I've spent listening to him on record and watching video tapes of him and Wolf could fill weeks.  He gave me a lot of joy.

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