Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

I love music. I don’t just like music, I love music. Can’t imagine a world without it. Music has been a significant part of my life for as long as I remember.  Music never gets old and it always does it's magic. Last week, I had the chance to hear my favorite band live in Kansas City for the about the 40th time. I’m not exactly sure of the count, but I’m guessing about 40 times.

"Down on my knees, whole heart in hand"
Tower of Power is the band and they are in their 45th year of performing. Yes, you read that correct….45th year! That would make me about 16 the first time I heard them. The song was “You're Still a Young Man” and I remember that moment as if it happened yesterday. Down the basement in my room, listening on the radio and Bam!, "what was that sound?" A slow soulful ballad that opens to a chorus of screaming  trumpets then settles into a lush, laid back groove accompanied by fat horns. “You’re still a young man, baby, woo –ooo, don’t waste your time” is delivered by the chorus of background singers, before the lead singer enters with “down on my knees, whole heart in hand”. I was hooked at first listen. TOP became my favorite band at that moment. That was 1970.
In 1985, I saw them for the first time live at the Maintenance Shop on the campus of Iowa State University, where Iowa Public TV recorded the show for public broadcast. I sat right next to the stage and can see myself when I watch the recording of that night. I was blown away. A 5 piece horn section, funky rhythm section, soulful lead singer, intense, almost non-stop music. By then I had every recording TOP had made, but had failed to see them live. I remember feeling as if a “bucket list-once in a lifetime moment” had finally arrived. Imagine my delight when they returned the following year, 1986, and I made it to both shows they performed. Double my luck.

 Like so many groups that came out the late 60's, and in TOP's case, the San Francisco scene, the band was not alone in battling their personal demons. Several key members had left or  been removed due to substance abuse.  Looking back on that night in March of 1985, it is clear that several members, including the leader, Emilio, were still battling those demons. The music was great but they looked rough. I didn’t hear much about the band after those shows and they didn’t release any new music until around 1990 when a CD called “Monster on a Leash” appeared. Keep in mind that this was before the days of the internet so news and updates were not easy to find. I had no idea about what they had been through,but one thing was clear, they were still together or at the least, back together again.
Tickets from the first 3 TOP shows I saw.
In 1991, I saw them for the 3rd time in Minneapolis at a club called the Fine Line Music Cafe. 4 members of the original group were still in the band and they were hot! Emilio Castillo, the leader of the group had refocused the band on what they did best and they were "back on the streets again". They looked good and sounded great. They played the old classics such as “What is Hip”,  “Soul Vaccination” and “Squib Cakes” as well as some of their new tunes off the recent CD.  When they came our for their encore and played  “You’re Still a Young Man”,  some of the mystery of where they had been and what was different was revealed. Emilio dedicated that song by saying that  “this goes out to the Friends of Bill W” which was immediately followed by the screaming trumpet fanfare intro that defines that song.  And at every TOP  performance I've seen since then, he has repeated that same dedication to that same song. You see, in October of 1990, I became a “friend of Bill W” and as corny as this may sound, it saved my life. I could see that night that while it may have saved at least one of band member's life, it probably saved Tower of Powers' life as well. We know had that in common.
From that night in 1991, up until last week, I kept listening and going to see TOP whenever I could. I introduced TOP to Georgette by taking her to Minnesota in 1997 where we saw them at a casino and had front row seats. She got her first “Soul Vaccination” up close and personal. I’ve seen them in Iowa,  Colorado, California and Virginia. I’ve hung out backstage and chatted with some of the guys and I’ve shared an elevator with some without saying a word. Maybe one of the best moments came when my brother Joe and I did a road trip back to the casino in Minnesota  in 1997 for a two-night performance and we found our way into their Saturday afternoon rehearsal where we got to witness the band working some new arrangements into some of their signature numbers. How cool was that?

“The more things change, the more they stay the same”

That lyric is from a TOP tune called, “Diggin on James Brown”.   Last Wednesday evening, at a funky blues club called Knuckleheads Saloon,  tucked away in an industrial area northeast of downtown Kansas City, the TOP reminded me once again that “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”  I invited my son-in-law Chan, who lives in KC,  since it was a work night and GK didn’t want to make the early morning road trip back up I-29. We had reserved seats that were set back away from the stage, but this was the kind of place where you are meant to stand most of the night. A perfect venue to see and hear live music up close and personal.  A small, intimate room where the stage extends and you can get up close from three different vantage points. It wasn’t long after the show began that I wandered up close for a song or two. Then back to my seat for a bit. Then back up for a few more, then back to my seat. Finally, with 4 songs left in the rotation, I told Chan I would see him at the end and worked my way right back up to the edge of the stage, where I spent the rest of the show.

I was in musical heaven. The intensity and energy was off the charts. It could have gone on forever.  "James Brown Medley", "So Very Hard to Go"," What is Hip?"- the band was on fire. At times, I just closed my eyes and took it all in. This began so many years ago and here we are again today, 2013. When the time came for the last encore,  once again Emilio dedicated  “You’re Still a Young Man” to "the the friends of Bill W”. Blessed.  Grateful.  Lucky.  At home.  A million emotions and a million musical moments merged to one groove.
The set list from the TOP gig on March 20, 2013
After the last note was played, Chan and I reunited and found our way to the parking lot and in the morning I headed back to Omaha at 5am.  45 years of TOP making music.  43 years for me listening to their music. They do what they do best. I love what they do best.  Some day they will play no more as TOP, I thought.   Someday I will have my last live TOP experience.  Who would ever thought it would last this long? So grateful it happened. Until then, I’m left with these 2 lyrics:
“The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same”.
“You’re Still a Young Man, Baby, Don’t Waste Your Time”.
Words to live by.

This is where I stood for the last 40 minutes of the show.

Tower of Power Horns

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Spring is just around the corner....

I was supposed to play in a band concert today. It was postponed because of the snow. Snow is still continuing to blanket everything in white while I sit inside dreaming of spring. You see, besides being a band nerd, I am also a garden nerd. We garden nerds wait all winter for the first sign of spring  and then spring ( pardon the pun) into action as early and  often as we can.

Yesterday, I took the lawn mower into the shop to get serviced. I know it was only March 8th but we like to beat the rush here at 4705. The guys at the  lawn mower shop probably take bets or have an office pool to see who can guess the exact date we show up with  the mower.  Taking your lawn mower in to be serviced early is not only good planning, but I think it helps spring to get here sooner. You skeptics out there should try it.

Also on the list of things to do yesterday was to haul out most of our patio furniture just in case an early 70 degree day might come along in mid-March. Heck, it can sit out on the deck and patio just as easy as it sits in the basement. Besides, the  early putting out of patio furniture, combined with the early servicing of one's lawn mower, increases the odds that spring will arrive sooner.  Again,  try it yourself and see.

Pots of bulbs who want sunshine.
And if that wasn't enough, I was also planning on hauling the 20 pots planted with spring bulbs from the garage put  to our deck. Every December, I plant  pots with tulips, daffodils, crocus and grape hyacinth and leave them in the garage to cook, I mean cool. By the first of March, they are crying to get out into the sunshine and spring  to life, gracing our deck with a splash of spring color. But alas, they too are still in the garage, not because of the snow, but because the temperature is supposed to drop into the teens tonight.
Waiting for Spring

Yesterday, when it was about 50 degrees outside, I did manage to tear down 5 trash cans full of  Sweet Autumn vine that covers our fence. It's one of the tasks on my spring clean-up list.  The 5 cans will go out on the curb this Wednesday for the garbage guys to haul away. I put out  3 cans of garden waste last week after I just had to go out and start cleaning up the flower garden. You see, putting out your yard waste early also helps spring get here sooner. I can hear the garbage guys muttering under their breath wondering what would possess someone to put out garden waste on March 3rd.

To top it off,  we were planning on cooking steaks on the grill for supper tonight, in celebration of the first night of daylight savings time. That too, my friends, has been postponed due to the snow. Dinner will be prepared and consumed indoors where it is warm. At least I will be able to snow blow the driveway after dinner while it is still light outside.

No, this is not an illegal plant.

All was not lost however. I got my seeds started and put under the grow lights in the basement as I am custom to doing this time every year. Zinnias, salvia, rudbeckia, coleus and sweet pea vine that will be transplanted mid-May if all goes to plan.

Spring will get here soon enough, this I have learned. Being a gardener teaches you that Mother Nature runs on her own time.  And on her own terms. Like so  many things in life, the more you try to control it, the less control you realize you have. Mother Nature wins this round. She is undefeated. I keep trying to out wit her. But to no avail.

In the meantime, the lawn mower should be ready by weeks end and the forecast for next Friday shows 60 degrees. Spring is just around the corner.