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French Toast

It might have been 30 years since I’d had French Toast. Then one day, I thought, “I think I’d like some French Toast.” Don’t ask me what got into me. I had some crusty Italian bread and I left enough for 4 thick slices overnight. Next morning I beat some eggs with a fork and mixed in some milk and a bit of cinnamon, then dropped in the bread. I let it soak in for a couple minutes then flipped it over and waited another couple minutes. IMG_7744.jpg

I fried it up for a couple minutes on each side, then laid the slices on a baking sheet and put them in a hot oven for 5 minutes. I enjoyed them with just a little maple syrup.

Tuffy P watched all this action, slightly bemused. “I never liked it,” she told me.

I have to say it was really tasty, and the crusty Italian bread retained a nice crunch crust. I think I won’t wait 30 years before I enjoy it again, maybe just a few years.

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No Particular Place to Go – a few thoughts on Chuck Berry, Rock ‘n’ Roll and growing up.

Ridin’ along in my automobile
My baby beside me at the wheel.

The lyrics are all rock ‘n’roll, but you didn’t have to wait for the lyrics. By the start of the second bar you know it’s Chuck Berry. It’s like that with all his tunes, isn’t it? Of course occasionally it isn’t Chuck Berry, but instead one of the many bands who launched a career interpreting his music. Listen for instance to Sweet Little 16 followed by Surfin USA…

When I was a teenager I loved all kinds of early rock’n’roll, but in particular what I considered the big 3, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Little Richard. Listen to Johnny B Goode, Roadrunner and Lucille and you have in that package so many rock’n’roll moves we’ve heard again and again by dozens of musicians.

What was the first rock’n’roll song? I don’t know. Something happened there in the mid 50s, some kind of shift in the space-time continuum I suppose. I’ve heard people suggest that Rocket 88 by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats (AKA Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm) was the first, but I think of it as more like the last of whatever you want to call what came before. That was in 1951.

By the time 1955 came along, Chuck Berry recorded another tune about riding in a car – Maybellene, and it was pure rock ‘n’roll. Maybellene, why can’t ya be true? Man, she was ridin’ along in that Coupe deVille and they were going fast down the highway. The song was driven by Berry’s guitar sound and it was exciting.

Never mind that the tune was borrowed from an old fiddle tune called Ida Red. Here’s Gid Tanner and the Skillet Lickers….

That was yesterday. Maybellene was in the moment. It was urgent. It was happening, that V8 Ford was chasing down Maybellene in her Coup deVille. Cars and Sex. It was fun and just a little bit dangerous. Not full on dangerous the way the blues was. Pat Hare singing I’m Gonna Murder my Baby wasn’t going to sell to those white kids. That was 1954 but nobody was going mistake it for rock ‘n’roll. Instead of a rhythm driving down the tracks like the evening train, complete with an infectious backbeat, Hare’s guitar was grungy, distorted and downright ugly. No harmless teen-aged fun there.

Good morning judge and your jury too. I got a few things I’m gonna say to you. I’m gonna murder my baby. I just thought you’d like to know judge.

As long as I can remember, I’ve been out of step with my time when it comes to music. After all the first record (remember those?) in my collection – at age 7 or 8 – was a 78 my dad brought home for me. Ernest Tubb – Walkin’ the Floor over You. I memorized the lyrics and couldn’t understand why the other kids at school didn’t know it. That nurtured my love for music. I started listening to the old rock ‘n’ roll material early on, before stumbling into Bob Dylan’s music and the blues in high school.

I remember when I first heard Chuck Berry. It must have been Johnny B Goode. My feet were instantly tapping. Go Johnny Go. I could feel that music surge through my body and I had never heard anything quite like it before. It was about being young and alive; it was about growing up.

Chuck Berry had a narrow repertoire. With the exception of his late novelty hit, My Ding-aling, most of the tunes all shared the same feel, the same driving guitar, the same themes. That doesn’t matter if your repertoire is narrow, though, when what you have is that good. Today I asked my friend Russ what he thought was the best Chuck Berry song and we talked about it for a while. It’s so hard to nail down because they’re all fantastic. Johnnie B Goode; Rock & Roll Music; Sweet Little Sixteen; Memphis Tennessee; Brown Eyed Handsome Man; Nadine; School Days; Sweet Little Rock & Roller; Maybellene; Back in the USA; Promised Land. The list goes on and on. How many musicians have that many tunes that are all that good?

Chuck Berry passed yesterday at age 90. He was important to me growing up. I loved his music because it was fun and felt good. (Later, things got more confusing for me of course, when a decade after it was recorded I heard Bob Dylan’s exaggerated HOW DOES IT FEEL!?) As someone who loves music and music history, I can’t imagine what rock ‘n’ roll would have been like without Chuck Berry. For me, he’s been there all my life, laying down the groove, doing that goofy duck-walk, wearing those flashy shirts.

Chuck has moved on to the Promised Land. The music has changed along the way, but we can expect that, even when it seems to go down the wrong way. I’ll leave you with one last Chuck Berry song. It came out in 1964, after Mr. Berry emerged from a prison term. Did he have any more tunes left in him? Well he borrowed the melody from Wabash Cannonball for this one, but that’s easily forgotten, because he’s transformed it into the ultimate road trip tune. I think maybe this one is my fave.

Somebody help me get out of Louisiana, just help me get to Houston Town.
There are people there who care a little about me and they won’t let the poor boy down.
Sure as you’re born they bought me a silk suit, put luggage in my hand.
And I woke up high over Albuquerque on a jet to the Promised Land.

I have a bit of a sad story about Chuck Berry well after his hay-day. I went with a buddy to see him perform at the old Ontario Place Forum. They had a pick-up band backing him up with a Hammond Organ and really muddy sound. Women kept climbing the barriers and running up to Chuck to give him a kiss and Chuck he was some pissed off about that, at one point saying if one more person comes onto stage he would stop the show, which I think he actually did at one point. It was a terrible show but it didn’t matter. We heard Chuck Berry perform some Chuck Berry tunes and that was all that counted. Bad nights like that are easily forgiven if not forgotten when you’ve offered so much to our culture.

To this day whenever I hear a Chuck Berry song, I can’t stop my foot from tapping and I think, yeah I could even dance to this.

Chuck Berry RIP

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James Cotton RIP

Here at home we have a photo by the great Memphis photographer Ernest Withers of the Howlin Wolf Band pretending to pick cotton in Arkansas. There’s a young James Cotton in that photo sporting a big grin. Screen Shot 2017-03-16 at 7.37.19 PM.jpg

RIP

 

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Bird is the Word

Two starlings stopped by the feeders today. They’re so pushy and rude and they don’t like to share. We also had a mourning dove enjoying seeds spilled on the ground by the starlings. DSC07672.jpg

Some of the sparrow colony stayed inside the condo today, enjoying some shelter from the cold winds.DSC07669.jpg

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Rod Bernard and that Swamp-Pop Sound

Here’s a nice little 2 part film: Rod Bernard and Cajun Rock ‘n’ Roll….

Here’s Rod Bernard’s breakthrough swamp-pop tune, This Should Go on Forever.

And Part II of the documentary…

 

Allons Danser Colinda featured Johnny and Edgar Winter!

Shake Rattle & Roll. The fantastic accordion on this cut is none other than Zydeco King Clifton Chenier…

To hear more Rod Bernard, check out YouTube – or if you can find it, I recommend Boogie in Black & White by Rod Bernard and Clifton Chenier.

 

 

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Snow Birds

The snow is coming down pretty good around here but the local birds are quite active. I dropped Tuffy P at the GO Station this morning and when I returned home I took a few minutes to refill a couple of the backyard feeders. They’ve been getting loads of visitors all morning.

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Aftermath – the final Lazy Allen story

The latest – and final – Lazy Allen story is up. I’d like to thank the folks who supported this project and also everyone who clicked over to the stories page and read one of more of these pieces. There are 17 stories in all. I published the first one on October 19, 2015 so the whole project was about a year and a half in the making.

If this is the first you’ve heard of these little stories, I hope I can encourage you to check them out. There is a menu at the top of the stories page with links to each of the 17 stories in the order I posted them.

At this point I don’t know what’s next on the writing front. I’d like to write more stories and I like the serialized format on the web, so maybe there will be another series on the horizon. Or maybe I’ll take another shot at writing a novel. I don’t know. I’ll have to chew on some ideas for a while. Stay tuned.

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Deep Run Roots by Vivian Howard

There have always been cookbooks around our home. My mom had quite a collection of them. In fact, I even had an uncle, Harold Knapik, who wrote one. Back in 1971, Harold, who was an excellent amateur French style chef, came out with Haute Cuisine without Help. I enjoy cooking very much but the thing is that with a few exceptions I don’t actually read cookbooks. I flip through them, check out how different things are made. I’m not usually interested in details like measurements so much as an understanding of the preparation of a dish. These days if I need to learn about how to go about making something I’ll consult YouTube and channels like Food Wishes.

I’ve recently watched a few episodes of A Chef’s Life on PBS and found it very compelling. I liked the way it combined the business of running a restaurant with family pressures and at the same time looked at ingredients important to chef Vivian Howard by featuring the producers of those ingredients.

Today we live in a processed world in which everything comes to us packaged up and ready to consume. I think of the U. Utah Phillips song, Daddy What’s a Train. Kids don’t even know milk comes from a cow. Rings true, doesn’t it?

I’ve always liked to know the why and how of things, where they came from, why they are this way and not that. A Chef’s Life showcases a chef who has left the hustle and bustle of New York and gone back home to, against all odds, open a restaurant and at the same time come to terms with her roots in rural North Carolina. In the show, she mentions that she took time away from the two restaurants her and her husband operate to write a cookbook. I thought, this is a book I’d enjoy reading.

Deep Run Roots is a big cookbook with lots of pictures and recipes, but really it’s a book of stories about Vivian Howard rediscovering the place she grew up, rediscovering then reinventing the food traditions she grew up with. Most of what I know about North Carolina is about the old time music traditions, about Doc Watson, who lived in Deep Gap and others like Tommy Jarrell and Fred Cockerham and the other legends of Round Peak music from Surry County. I’ve only been there once, and that was to go to Merlefest, which is of course a music festival.

Today we can pop over to the local grocery and find just about anything we might want and at any time of the year. Many of the food traditions Vivian Howard writes about came about due to the seasonality of some foods and the need to preserve them for winter. Hence you have smoked and cured seasoning meats and concoctions like the fermented Collard Kraut.

Deep Run Roots is a big book but a fast read. I gobbled it up in a couple days. Along the way I’ll try some of the recipes (to the extent I’m capable of following a recipe). Even though I’m usually the first to say I’m sick to death of celebrity chefs, I like Vivian Howard’s story and I like her approach to food and ingredients and cooking. I see Deep Run Roots as a memoir disguised as a cookbook. It’s a beautiful book and it would also make a great gift for the foodie in your life. Recommended.

 

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Back in Black

The red-winged blackbirds are back. Over the past few days they’ve been making an appearance in the back yard, bullying the smaller birds from the feeder. DSC07663.jpg

Inside, the cats watch them intently. We call it bird TV. They watch out the windows for hours. There is no love lost between the red-winged black birds and the cats, especially the red-cats, Jack Shadbolt and Jacques.

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The reds have been “outdoor cats” since kitten-hood, unlike the tabbies and the ladybug, who stay in, and the old man, who goes out to the catnip patch in the summer, gets stoned, and staggers back in for a nap. The red-winged blackbirds loudly announce the location of the cats and when I can hear them screaming, I know one of the reds is underfoot.

Sometimes the reds come along on the dog walks and there have been some days when I’ve seen one or two red-cats, one or two humans, a couple Newfs, and a flock of red-winged blackbirds all on the walk together, the birds taking turns dive-bombing the cats (who ignore them as if they didn’t exist).