Doc Maclean brings Narrow House to SA

“Blues Rock Review once said my songs are only about death and dismemberment. That’s not true at all. They’re also about addiction and heartbreak” – Doc Maclean

This is the first time I’m reviewing an album of a Delta blues legend. Not to mention that I had the opportunity to meet the bra and to hang out with him alongside a variety of old and new friends, at three live shows, in my home province, over a period just short of a week. We all enjoyed his vibes man! Doc Maclean is now resident in Canada but his roots lie where the blues was born. The Delta. Doc is from Hollandale, Mississippi to be precise. I was amazed at how humble and approachable he is. I’ve only seen and heard of southern hospitality on TV but I think I understand it much better now. And yeah, I know Canadians to be friendly people.  Maybe too friendly! No wonder Doc loves the place so much. Before I met him there was a part of me that thought he can’t be the real McCoy. “Why is he here man? A real blues man? In Pretoria? Maybe he’s some fake dude”. Canada? Do they even get the blues in Canada? It was difficult to picture a delta bluesman in Canada until I met Doc.  And yeah his first gig was at die Canadian Hiiiiiigh Commission, a block away from my alma mater, so I knew he had to be legit. But I was still sceptical. I can testify he’s the real deal people! It was only the effects of years of isolation from the rest of the world messing with my mind.  I can’t think of one delta blues legend that visited our shores. But I don’t blame them either, I also wouldn’t have come to South Africa if I were them back in the day. At the first show Doc and I clicked immediately and after less than a week I can truly call him a blues brother. His music, stories and conversation helped flare up my passion for the blues and the amazing talent we have in SA again. I bought Narrow House from the man himself. What an honour. Over the last year or so I reviewed the music of many SA blues legends on http://www.watkykjy.com and I know they have the chops so it was really great to hear Doc say he already checked out a great deal of SA blues musicians and connected with a few of them before his visit. Gotta love the internet! Not only is he a fan of SA blues music but he has a lot of hope for South Africa. With everything that’s going on globally and locally we’re going to need all the blues we can get man. I can tell you that! Good Lord, when he sat down and started playing that 1929 Steel National guitar all my suspicions disappeared like mist before the rising sun. And when he started plucking his 1951 Stella I was just smiling. You can’t fake those vibes. It’s like he smuggled a bit of delta juke joints into Pretoria. Or maybe he has the hoodoo to teleport people to another time and place. Maybe both, I don’t know.  It took me back to the old days in the South of America. The days when sharecroppers lived hard impoverished lives. Poor oppressed people doing hard labour for the rich folks on the cotton fields. Doc says he’d rather not talk politics. But I love to talk politics. He is the son of a civil rights lawyer and a fiddle player. I can just imagine that he plays in front of mostly black audiences in the States. When I came out of the delta blues haze in between one of his songs I thought about all the shit in our own country. Slavery might not be lawful here but poor people are still slaves of poverty.  Politicians, the whole system and big corporates are the new slave driving cotton farmers. And global economics tries it’s best to direct the whole cacophonic mess like a shitfaced conductor. I wonder if anyone knows what they’re doing anymore. But I’m pragmatic and I told Doc he will probably play before mostly white audiences. The remnants of Apartheid still holding many people back. It’s difficult to explain it to someone from a first world country. Most people here don’t even understand it. The different cultures in SA are vastly different and it still has us in shackles and keeps us far away from each other in many respects. Poor people in the rural areas don’t have enough money to travel far and go and see shows in the suburbs. And that goes for poor people in the city townships too. Poor people in SA sing the blues but not all know blues music so well. There is a different kind of musical history in SA. Marabi, Kwêla, Mbaqanga and Kwaito or the gospel church music which the older people love so much. But it doesn’t sound like the blues nor the gospel from the South of America. While I’m writing my domestic worker, Koekie, is busy in the kitchen and I ask her for some help with the review. I play her a few tunes from Narrow House and her face lights up. “Jazz and blues!,” she shouts.  She’s six years younger than Doc. She tells me that in die townships there are Jazz and Blues Stokvels where the “ou bras” (old bros) come together to listen to jazz and blues. Although its more jazz than blues, blues is also thrown into the mix sometimes. She also listens to Jazz and Blues on her community radio for two hours on a Sunday. When they get together the “ou bras” wear “Florsheim” shoes and “Dobbs” hats and then they boogy the night away. A Stokvel is like a community society or club. It is used for savings, investments, hobbies, buying groceries and for parties. I knew about it from an investment point of view but I never knew people used Stokvels to enjoy jazz and blues. Just another example of how we don’t understand each other’s cultures here in SA. But it’s only the older bras. In the big city townships most kids listen to kwaito. It’s like a form of viby African style R&B dance music. Koekie says the pantsulas (who listens to Kwaito) doesn’t really like jazz and blues. Sounds quite familiar. The situation is not very different from our middleclass suburbs. Blues is only a niche market here. I try to avoid the Afrikaans pop music at all costs. Doef doef doef. Shallow bokkie baby shit. So it’s true that most people who listen to mainstream music (black or white) won’t get into the blues.  They just think it’s grim and depressing. Or boring.  But they’re all missing the boat. Blues legends like Doc Maclean sing stories to us. Stories about life, interesting people and legends he met over the years. It’s a musical legacy that has to be kept alive and preserved for the whole world. It’s heartbreak and happiness wrapped up in a few hoodoo bones. Doc throws them to the fans at every show. Mostly it makes people feel good! What do you think? Graves, death, bad woman and good whiskey? Doc tells me on facebook yesterday:

”those two (bad woman and good whiskey) are always an interesting combination” And then he adds an LOL. I agree Doc! Man I love the dark, dark kind of music. I have never experienced a blues artist that takes me as far deep into the dark side of the blues as Doc.  He’s basically “metal” and delta original all in one. With his Mexican skulls & roses Day of the Dead black shirt on.

“The guys there from Texas wear em’ all year round,” he says.

On the album Doc’s voice reminds me of Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull but with a helluvalot more soul. Go and listen to Bone Train, By Degree and Charley James’ Blues. I’ve never had gumbo but I can just imagine his music is like a big pot of gumbo. The old original delta blues is the main ingredient. Add some Texas blues, some American folk and country too. But most of all the spices that makes this pot is Doc’s own signature ingredients. It’s darker than Johnny Cash but as fun as John Lee Hooker’s boogies. Doc is only in his mid-sixties but he’s stories will make you think he’s lived more than 200 years. He sings about hoodoo witches and tells stories about those who put a spell on you only to sell you another spell to take the first one away.  Sounds like some of the sangomas we have in SA. Those quacks are just as good as Doc with business. Only Doc is an honest man. He says he doesn’t like the business side of the blues but he’s good at it. Something a lot of SA musos can learn from him.  He manages himself, negotiates his gigs, recordings, media appearances himself. He’s his own roadie too!  He loves to play but if you think he lives a glamourous life then you’re gravely mistaken. He travels light like JJ Cale used to sing. Oh, but the company he keeps…..and kept in the past. I’ll get there don’t worry. Keep your pants on. What do you mean? I AM reviewing the album! It’s called Narrow House. You’re not concentrating. The album was released in 2006 abroad but Doc brought us a special one with extra goodies on. It was reprinted on SA soil.

“Bunch of kids thought Narrow House was a pretty funny name for a blues album until I told ‘em it’s just another name for a grave” – Doc Maclean.

Fucking legend. You must picture a wily grin like laugh at the end of that quote. Does that give you a better idea?  Wait I forgot tell you Doc hung out with legends like Son House, Muddy Waters and Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. Back when you could lose your life in the blink of an eye if you pissed off the wrong people in the juke joints. It was dangerous. Just a shack and drum in the middle. A lot of boozed up people enjoying the blues.  If you looked at someone’s woman you might end up getting your head blown off. Doc’s partner in crime all these years is Colin Linden (The Band, Keb Mo) even though they didn’t play together all the time. Colin plays electric guitar, bass and mandolin on Narrow House. The man is now part of Bob Dylan’s band. No, for real, no jokes. My favourite tune on this album is Angola Prison Rodeo. It’s about an actual rodeo in Lousiana State Penitentiary – the longest running prison rodeo in the United States. It’s still going strong. One of the bras that gave Doc some guitar lessons from Louisiana got parole there in 1958 of 1959 for singing to the Governor. Wonder if Zuma can sing? Maybe if he sings in Parliament they’ll let him go free. Nah, he sings about just as good as he can count. Back to the song. Doc wrote this song and recorded it with members of the Tom Waits band, Mavis Staples Band, Canned Heat and the Fairfield Four. Narrow House was produced by Colin and features Larry Taylor (Canned Heat) en Stephen Hodges (Mavis Staples band) who at that stage were the core of the Tom Waits band. Man, the company Doc keeps and kept in the past. Put that in your pipe and smoke it. Angola Prison Rodeo sounds like a chain gang singing it. Soulful and hypnotic. You can feel the spirit of the slaves – and their pain. The title track is another favourite of mine. “Digging the narrow, Digging the narrow houuuuse!” You can’t help but sing along. This SA print has a few extra tracks on that’s not on the original print. On one of the songs Doc sings about jelly rolls. It’s a cover of Charley Patton’s Shake it, break it but (don’t let if fall). Legend has it that Doc Maclean played Charley Patton songs in Son House’s living room. Mindfuck, huh? And if you think this song is only about a jelly roll then you don’t understand the blues. I still don’t know if it’s about sex or addiction. Maybe both!

 

It was a real blessing to see Doc live no less than three times the past week. I’m busy writing another piece about the live blues experiences I had the past week. I saved a few Doc Maclean quotes for that one and I also want to look at the Blues Scene in Gauteng! So watch out for it!

 

The Dan Patlansky and Dave Ferguson alien duel!

Fucking hell, I love blues collaborations. You mostly see this kind of thing at blues festivals, but on a random Monday night at Atterbury Theatre in Pretoria? Well, let’s just say that what happened on 27 July 2015 was extremely rare. Dan Patlansky kicked off the show with a riveting acoustic solo and the audience was (as always) dumbfounded from the word go. Then, without any warning we found ourselves in the soulful clutches of one helluva mesmerizing set. Acoustic heaven and food for the soul. First up, with old school blues lyrics in tact – Patlansky’s own Miss Owee from his acoustic album ‘Wooden Thoughts’. Just after the usual suspects Andy Maritz and Clint Falconer joined the fray, Dave Ferguson was invited to join them all. Accompanying him was his impressive collection of harmonicas. All hell broke loose with a slightly less stripped down version of Son House’s Preaching Blues. The combination of Patlansky’s acoustic guitar prowess and Ferguson’s impressive intuitive mastering of the harmonica damn near blew us all away. Jeezy, Patlansky has fast fingers – and yet he doesn’t sacrifice any clarity of notes because of it. Dave with those high notes and good old fashioned feedback manipulation. Man, it was something to bear witness to. Praise the blues!

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I really loved the blues lore being shared on stage by the two blues men. In particular, on the life and times of Jimmy Reed, just before they conjured up a slow version of Bright Lights Big City. All the while, still dueling, as the blues swept us away. The last song of the acoustic set was a cover of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir that also appears on the acoustic album. Now those of you who know me can testify that I’m more of a religious follower of Led Zep than a fan. So I approach any covers of their material with much trepidation. Yes, of course I have some criticism. Ha! There may have been a tad too much harmonica added to the song. But I loved the sound Dan and Dave managed to create anyway. Something close to oriental snake chalmer blues. But less harmonica would have been much more for me on this tune. Nevertheless, they did the song justice in the end. Many artists who try to recreate Robert Plant’s vocals fail dismally and I’m sure Dan knows this all too well. He never adds any vocals to it.

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Dan and the lads kicked some electric blues ass during the first part of the electric set with songs from ‘Dear Silence Thieves’ like Backbite, Pop Collar Jockey and then toned it down a bit for Your War. Dave joined again on the song Hold on from the very same album. And this was the highlight of the collaboration for me. A slow duel bending time and space causing the audience to fucking loose it. In a good a way though. Isn’t that what the blues is about? This continued with BB King’s You upset me , a very apt and heartfelt tribute to the King. During Daddy’s Old Gun from the album ’20 Stones’ the two blues men were so in tuned to each other’s musical vibrations that it sounded like they’re communicating in an alien language. One that I could feel but not understand at all. The second last song was the amazing and beautiful Madison Lane. Yes indeed from the latest album. And customary to any Dan Patlansky experience he left all of us in awe (once more) with his signature tribute to Jimi Hendrix in the form of his own interpretation of Voodoo Chile. 

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What an experience……

All photos taken by Kurt Sassenburg from Urban Playground SA. Check out his website: http://www.urbanplaygroundsa.com/

The Evolution of Dan Patlansky Part II

 

Welcome to the second part of my feature on South Africa’s most successful blues artist. No further introduction needed I’m sure. I received some great feedback from fellow music junkies. Thanks to everyone who reads this blog. What am I trying to achieve with it? Well maybe to remind people how rewarding it is to seek out great music (overseas, local, old and new). Also, that it’s great to discuss aspects of music with friends, to really think about it again – no matter how old you are. Agree. Disagree. It doesn’t matter. It’s easy to just download a shit load music for free on the internet and play it on your iPod on shuffle. Something that listening to music on vinyl taught me is that we take music for granted these days. If you’re not into vinyl go and buy a CD or DVD. Own music again. Touch it. Feel it. Admire it. Enjoy the whole experience. If you can’t afford to buy music that’s a different story. But if you refuse to do so because ” like, no one does that anymore preaching dinosaur dude” – that’s cool too. If you can live with your karma at least don’t skip through your MP3’s Lemmings! Try to LISTEN to an album from beginning to end now and then. Here endeth today’s sermon congregation……

So where were we….I raised the question whether the blues can be combined with more “commercially palatable” music and whether it will still be the blues if you do? Think about it while I give you a tour of Mr Dan Patlansky’s discography. I’ll choose two songs from each album that really blew my mind. It will be difficult to limit them but here goes.

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I bought Real the very first night I saw Dan Patlansky live in 2009. The album was released in 2007 on an independent label (all of Dan’s albums except True Blues were released on indie labels). Seems like a good place to start. Real was a blues breakthrough album and I remember reading great reviews from international (albeit smaller niche blues) journalists. It’s a fantastic pure blues album. It was undeniable, after Real’s release, that Dan Patlansky is a master at taking the classic blues styles and forcing his own twist on it. His guitar playing on this album ranges from slow blues tunes to extremely energetic ones – extremely fast licks with the touch and tone still astonishingly clear. Throw in some Sonny Landreth, Stevie Ray Vaughn at the core, a dash of Clapton and Hendrix, Robert Johnson for ultimate good measure and Dan Patlansky re-interpreting them all and…..doing it justice. Pretty bold statements, you say? Got a Bad, Bad Feeling alone proves it. Remember the slowing down space and time analogy I used in Part I? Soulful song man. Qualified? What more do you need? Blues for New Orleans is an unrehearsed piece of ensemble genius. It was recorded live on WWOZ radio station in New Orleans,during rush hour traffic, with members of the Batiste Family. It gives you a glimpse of the barriers he can push if slightly nudged by the best in the blues world.

Dan True BluesLet’s take a step back. True Blues, his second album (produced and released by EMI in 2004 under the famous Blue Note label), was the next album I bought. I love this album because its versatile. You can find some great acoustic songs on this one, it’s got trumpets,trombones,tenor sax and mouth organ vibes. What a range of different blues styles man. He must have been only twenty-two years old and already had most of the attributes of a seasoned blues artist. His guitar playing was unbelievably solid already….but the album lacks a bit of soul. Some will argue he may have been a bit too young to be 100% “qualified”. It could also be because most of the musos were session musicians. Not that session musos aren’t brilliant but its not the same as a tight band. However, if you listen to his version of Robert Johnson’s Traveling Riverside Blues and his own brilliant slow blues tune Heart of Stone (one of my favourites) the soul is almost there. I don’t think he found his authentic Dan Patlansky stamp on this one…. yet.

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Further back in history – his debut album Standing at the Station was released in 2001. I struggled to get this in 2009 because it was out of print. I spoke to Dan about it after a show and I got the impression that he didn’t really think the album would sell. I bugged his management and they let me know other fans asked for it as well. So they were thinking of making the MP3’s available on his website for downloading – and so they did. Luckily it was also released in the form of a double CD together with Real in 2010. Now the thing about the debut album is if you could undo his future albums – as though they were never recorded – you would be less critical. It’s a great run of the mill blues album. It reminds me a bit of Snowy White and even though the future Patlansky energy is missing, I must admit I listen to it quite often. And then you remember he was just nineteen years old…..

Move-My-Soul-CoverBack to the future McFly! Move my Soul was released in 2009 and its probably the album I listened to the most – I still do. I saw a lot of his live shows during that year and he included some new material before its release at his live gigs. I pre-ordered at Top CD – like in the old days – and I remember on my way back I had to pull over to listen to the entire album. Once again he pushed the boundaries, improved his own blues style and if you still doubted his soul qualifications you must have felt like a right git after this one. In my mind there was no ways he was going to top it. Or so I thought. Extremely difficult to isolate two songs. But the title track – with Wendy Oldfield on backing vocals – does exactly that: Move my Soul. The energy of Namaste Love City is very close to what you would experience during one of his live shows. Electrifying!

Dan-Patlansky-Album-Sleeve-20-Stones-ResizedI will have to break my two song rule with this one. 20 Stones is a “fork in the road” album. It’s divided between a couple of great blues songs for example Lost your good thing, one brilliant acoustic title track and then a few songs that’s more hard rock – albeit still grounded in the blues. The song Bring the World to its Knees (instantly) made me visualize him playing big arenas. Prophetic? Nope just common sense. I think he also settled down with excellent musicians that bought into his vision. With Andy Maritz on drums and Clint Falconer (from Pretoria!!) the Dan Patlansky brand was going places. I had a late night discussion with a member of Dan’s management after the album launch in 2012 and there was no debate and no question. It wasn’t rocket science. We all understood that Dan had to get more overseas exposure and reach a larger international audience even if it meant doing more “commercial” material. Would this amount to selling out? Before you answer – hang on. I know KISS would laugh at you if you think so.

Wooden-Thoughts-CoverYou might get tired of hearing this but I love unplugged music. Wooden Thoughts released in 2013 is in a class of its own. It’s not easy to play acoustic music for starters – even with Dan’s fast paced talents. You can’t hide behind distortion – not to mention the potential damage to your fingers. I’ve given you a taste of this album in Part I already so I’ll keep it short. I’d like to mention the covers for a change. The first is the spirit of Son House – preaching through Dan – on the song Preaching Blues. And the sermon surely raises the spirit. Hallelujah! No I meant the Leonard Cohen cover. Very ethereal blues. And then of course Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir. Those who know me can testify that I would not have forgiven him if he fucked this one up. You don’t just cover Led Zeppelin and leave your own footprints on Kashmir without someone cringing. I didn’t cringe at all.

Dan-DST-Cover-1024x1024So have you thought about whether the blues can be commercial?  As I was reading the international blues reviews following the Blues Rock Review in the USA voting for Dear Silence Thieves as the number one blues rock album for 2014 – I felt proud and sad at the same time. Proud because South Africans kicked some ass instead of “the commercial blues artists” for example John Mayer and Jo Bonamassa. But I was also thinking “what the fuck man, you only getting it now?”. Most of these journos were surprised that it’s his seventh album. It’s plain and simple: South Africa is still so isolated from the rest of the blues/ rock world that Dan Patlansky only got proper international recognition in 2014???? But I also thought this isolation may have just pushed Dan and our very own Theo Crous (who produced the album) to create one of the most unique blues rock albums out there. They focused much more on the songwriting and then let the creative genius and mind blowing licks flow from there. If I had to choose proof I’d say: Backbite, Feel like Home  and Windmills and the Sea. Dear Silence Thieves is a piece of work I tell you. After I bought it at the album launch last year I couldn’t analyse or classify it. It’s many different things. It’s a fantastic record with blues, rock and folk elements and yeah it’s more “commercially palatable” in some respects. But if Dan Patlansky set out to make a commercial record then he failed. It may not be pure blues but its still not mainstream. It’s the kind of music that keeps the blues alive for the younger generations. So my answer to the question whether blues can be commercial is: maybe, maybe not.But who gives a shit if the music is superb?

 

So he’s touring in Europe now and then – my family in Hilversum, the Netherlands represented the nation at one of his gigs in a nearby town – and yet we still get to see him back home. How great is that? I have two wishes though. One for Dan Patlansky and his band mates and one for me. The first is that they get an opportunity to thoroughly tour the States and the second one is that they record a live album. Old school analogue baby. So I can buy a Dan Patlansky record….

 

Oh yeah and to all the Silence Thieves….you’ve been irritating me for years. Go watch One Direction!

 

 

 

Roan’s travels are about to start

I don’t see myself as a music critic – just a music junkie writing about why I’m drawn to music and why it speaks to me. I’ll take an educated guess at the future of new artists now and then and venture a prophecy or two. But mostly I love to release my thoughts about music into the Universe. Yes it’s subjective. So what? What you do with it is your business. If music doesn’t speak to me – why would I write about it?

FB_IMG_1424721966995I saw Roan van As (or Roan) play live once or twice last year at the Cockpit Brewhouse but honestly thought  he was playing for fun and just happened to be really good at it. A few weeks ago he opened for Dan Patlansky and I “heard” the lyrics, the realness of his acoustic music and his soulful voice for the first time. Maybe becoming a vinyl junkie just over a year ago enhanced my thirst for authenticity, simplicity and just being more grateful for solid songwriting. I made the mistake of putting Roan in the ‘local pub acoustic folk blues’ box. Don’t get me wrong – it’s one of my favourite boxes. But it is what it is. It’s been done before by so many people that to stand out from the rest you must have something special. Especially if you want to make a living out of it.

I watched a very impressive promotional clip for Roan’s debut album The Traveller on Facebook (featuring Naas Veld playing geeetar on the title track of the album) and had no choice but to mention my revelation briefly in the Dan Patlansky feature. Roan invited me to the album launch on Friday night and there was no way I was going to miss it. My curiosity was in overdrive the whole of last week. I thought he’d be visibly nervous before the show. But he wasn’t at all. The audience consisted mostly of family and friends who supported him over the years. I had reservations as to whether his music would have enough substance to reach more ears than just your run of the mill local pub or “rent an audience” theater. But that was before I saw the show on Friday night. I listened to the album the very next day and everyday since then.

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Discovering the twenty-six year old artist’s music was like peeling the layers of an onion. And yes at times it made my eyes “water”. What I thought would be one dimensional – albeit enjoyable music – was much, much more. What makes me say this? Well let me try to take a stab at both the performance on Friday night and the album to help you tune into my frequency.

The opening song immediately gave me goose pimples and a lump in my throat. I have no rational restraint against these kind of songs. It moves the soul. Unfortunately, the song Like a Soldier is not on the debut album because it was written very recently. By the time the audience cheered and whistled I understood Roan’s ability as a songwriter and performer. The impact was amplified because of the sound and acoustics in the theater and the musos playing with him.

I looked at my notes afterwards and next to every original song I scribbled something illegible about the songwriting. It’s really solid and his voice translates the authenticity and soulfulness of the music. Roan has been playing geeetar and writing songs from age thirteen. He’s also been playing gigs from the age of seventeen. Songs like Falling feels like flyingLie to me and Fourth of July, for example, are “stories” borne from personal experience and it comes from the heart. If I have to pigeonhole the music its something like folk-bluesy-rock with a few songs crossing the commercially palatable line. No wonder he’s main influences are Bruce Springsteen, Eddie Vedder, John Mayer, Bob Dylan, and James Morrison.

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Roan and Dawie de Jager worked together on the pre-production and the first five acoustic songs were live takes. None of the digital tricks (like auto-tuning) were employed on these songs – the tricks vinyl junkies like me rebel against. What about an analogue recording next time guys?? Press a couple of ‘black heroin circles’ for the vinyl junkies!!!JP De Stefani are you listening man? The remaining five songs were recorded in the ordinary way albums are recorded these days. But it really is a lesson for young artists on how to produce a debut album in South Africa. It’s got the old school feel to it – raw and honest – catching the attention of Gen X (and older) but it’s also got a few prospective “movie soundtrack tunes” included – which a much broader audience (young and old) will enjoy. I’m not even listening to any sell out arguments. If Afrikaans mainstream artists can make money, then why can’t the Folkin’ Blues crowd? I have been pondering this debate and will write more about it in my ‘Evolution of Dan Patlansky Part Two‘ blog post.

But I digress. You can probably tell that I’m partial to the non-commercial songs. But here’s the thing – even the ones I think are destined for local radio airplay like Babylon, Elliot and Everything are really solid meaningful songs. Groot FM has already gotten hip to it and will play the song Babylon. The rest will wake up soon enough. Everything is one of those rare songs. The tone is melancholy but the message is positive. So depending on how you feel – it can be either positive or sad. Brilliant.

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The title track is an interesting one. It may not get commercial radio play but it’s an amazing folk rock song. I had even more goose pimples when I connected the dots as to when and where the song was written. I had no idea that it was a tribute to the gypsy life and times of the South African music legend Valiant Swart. I was in the audience the very same night it was written. After one of the most intimate live gigs I had ever seen (also at the Cockpit) Roan was so inspired that he wrote the song. It was indeed a magical night so no wonder…..

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The musos who shared the stage with Roan are all talented young artists. They all deserve a mention. Warren Garvie opened for Roan with some great original acoustic tunes. Fish Archer on bass, Pieter Fourie on drums, Meyrand Roux playing harmonica,Jimmy Ross on the violin,Lara Snyman on Tjello, Dawie de Jager on geeetar/backing vocals, Anna-Mart Van Vreden on the keys/backing vocals and Emma playing the sax. Naas Veld played geetar on The Traveller and a cool bluesy cover of Sam Smith’s Stay with me.

It’s a pleasure watching a plethora of artists doing their thing on stage – enhancing this kind of material. On the downside if musicians don’t play together all the time the tightness of a permanent band is missing. But I’m not into petty criticism. Roan will continue with Fish Archer and Pieter Fourie as his core band and the hard work of promoting the album lies ahead!

Great album and launch. Roan’s story so far gets a big thumbs up from Rolling Rock!

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If you love South African music – buy it,promote it and don’t steal it!

The Evolution of Dan Patlansky

It ‘s a beautiful Sunday afternoon in the small town of Cullinan in Gauteng, South Africa and we’re getting ready for Dan Patlansky to take the stage at The Cockpit Brewhouse – a popular local craft brewery and eatery – where you can experience the joy of live South African music. Great beer, great food, great people and most importantly great music. Is there anything better in life?

Dan 1Dan Patlansky is one of my favourite South African artists and for the past six years I’ve followed his career with much amazement, a good dose of involuntary goose pimples, pure listening pleasure and well…. the hope that he gets the international recognition which he so rightly deserves. There is also a fair amount of modern blues lore that surrounds the man. I’m a sucker for that kind of thing. In 2005 and 2006 he got an opportunity of a life time when Selwyn Miller – manager of Bread, Randy Crawford and Petula Clark (amongst others) – showcased his talent in New Orleans. However,fate had other plans and Hurricane Katrina cut his trip short. He had to be evacuated and he returned to South Africa.He also had to leave his 1962 Fender Stratocaster behind. It was only returned to him a year later by his New Orleans based band members. Most of you know this story I’m sure…..

And this is the great thing about South Africa – while we’re having cold ones, a very talented musician starts to warm up the crowd with a few of his original tunes plus a cover or two. Ruan van As was the manager at Cockpit until fairly recently – so not the first time I’ve heard him play – but today I can hear something’s different. A confidence I hadn’t noticed before. I heard through the grapevine he’s busy recording an album. Maybe something to look into later……but I digress. Made me wonder when I first saw Dan Patlansky live?

It was more or less six years ago at the Centurion Theater. I love the local theaters. No drunken Silence Thieves. A friend of mine made a big whoo haa about this unknown artist – went to check him out – not really expecting anything out of the ordinary. In fact I remember being facetious because he was comparing “this guy” to the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. I’ve loved the blues since my teens so it was absolute blasphemy in my eyes. At best he would be slightly better than average I thought. But I was wrong. Dan Patlansky blew my mind. Of course one should never fall into the trap of comparing an artist with the legends who influenced him. You have to understand an artist’s place in the rock and roll space-time continuum. The younger generation perfects the older generation’s music and then innovates and changes it. Sometimes for the worst and sometimes for the better. So for me, the best way to describe Dan Patlansky’s talent is nothing more than this: every time he plays, in my mind’s eye it’s no stretch of the imagination to visualize him on stage with the best of the best in the blues world – humbly holding his own and maybe outshining the old geezers with his unique style and licks here and there. I ate some humble pie six years ago and learned that one can never argue with a combination of talent, passion, humility and hard work. Even in a small country where the market for blues and bluegrass is very small. You’ll be amazed what you can achieve. And trust me there are many other great blues artists paying their dues in South Africa right now. I will definitely write more about this rare breed in future.

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Dan Patlansky’s live shows have always been extremely energetic, reminiscent of the sixties and seventies rock god exhibitionism – without the extended showcasing of gimmicks. It can easily be translated into a religious experience or having galactic spiritual intercourse with one’s guitar.Dan Patlansky has that rare ability to put a spell on you…..its powerful stuff. Of course it’s more intimate and overpowering in a small venue but I’ve witnessed him hypnotize thousands of people with his Jimi Hendrix Voodoo Chile tribute right before Bruce Springsteen hit the stage at FNB Stadium outside of Soweto. He nailed it perfectly. I mean who has the balls to pull that kind of thing off when you’re opening for the Boss?

Dan is introduced to the crowd as  an internationally acclaimed blues artist and it hits me: he’s getting closer to his dreams – it won’t be long before you see him play at festivals with John Mayer and Joe Bonamassa. He kicks off his first acoustic show of the year and unleashes his familiar energy through the song ’20  Stones’. I’m in acoustic heaven. I  decide not to do a review but a substantial article. Just write. I’ve been thinking about it anyway. Just needed some inspiration.

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One thing about my love for the blues is I’m a sucker for the slower electric blues numbers. Very few bluesmen have the ability to get the touch and tone just right. The ability to slow down space and time – leaving the crowd in suspended animation for a few seconds – is very rare. It gets the crowd high on the blues and if you’re a blues fan you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s one of the first things that immediately impressed me about Dan Patlansky. When I saw him live for the first time he had already conquered this skill masterfully. A friend of mine said it best: “He certainly put in his 10 000 hours”. But I love acoustic music just as much. The MTV Unplugged shows – I love all of them. Stripped down naked music. Strangely enough by his own admission acoustic guitar is not Dan’s most comfortable style. He only started doing full acoustic shows in 2013 and released his first full acoustic album Wooden Thoughts in the same year. It may not be his most favourite musical genre and there is less exhibitionism during his acoustic shows but damn his guitar playing is still unbelievable.

A couple of songs further on into the set Dan starts to explain why he loves Son House – Jack White’s major musical influence – and then robustly whirls himself into the song ‘Preachin’ Blues’ – one of my favourite tracks on ‘Wooden Thoughts’. While he loses himself in the song – eyes closed and really feeling the music – I wonder where he gets his soul from. It reminded me of the old blues debate. Are only certain people qualified to play the blues? Is Dan Patlansly qualified to play the blues? 

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It’s practically a topic on its own. And contentious. But here goes. First of all, I think the idea that the only people who were qualified to play the blues were sharecroppers in the South of the good ole US of A is an outdated idea. We do have to be thankful to the musical pioneers of the blues because without them there would be no rock and roll,no rock music, no heavy metal and certainly no modern blues. But the question remains: must the blues always be about poverty,heartbreak,bad women, alcoholism, political opression, hard times,racism,religion or death for it to be authentic? And do you have to be internationally famous to be qualified? The first time I heard of the idea was in 1992 when Eric Clapton lost his son Connor and the subsequent release of the song Tears in Heaven on his Unplugged album. There was a lot of talk in the media about him being qualified to play the blues and anyone who knows the story would agree. Valiant Swart will tell you it’s much more simpler, according to him “the blues ain’t nothing but a good man feelin’ bad”. I’m sure he picked this up during his travels in the Delta. There’s a lot of wisdom in those words. Watch or listen to any interview with one of the old blues pioneers or any blues musician worth his or her salt. There are two golden threads that bind the art of playing the blues. Firstly how you mastered your art and secondly the ability to translate how you feel – through the music – in a way that other people feel it in the exact same way. Or at least as close as you can. The ironic thing about traditional blues is it may sound kind of sad but the outcome is to feel better about your life. Maybe because the music has the ability to make you understand that we’re all human and all of us have pain and suffering at times. So if you ask me if Dan Patlansky is qualified. My answer is this: white boy’s got the chops man, he’s got the soul and he can make you feel it. I remember at one of his shows in 2009 this lady – totally blown away with emotion and shaking her head at the intensity of the guitar playing – shouted “Dan, play something you know!”. That about sums it up for me.

I just got out of the zone, really feeling the music, after Dan covered two classics – Bill Wither’s ‘Grandma’s hands’ and Stevie Wonder’s ‘Superstition’ – when a more difficult question came to mind. Can the blues still be authentic if the music is more commercial? The classics are superb but how will the blues survive?

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Ok I’m probably way over the standard length for a music blog post and I still have to deal with this last question and all of his albums. He released quite a few you know. So what I’ll do is work on a separate blog just dealing with that.

TO BE CONTINUED……….

Rolling Rock (in the middle of a heatwave) over!

 

 

In the meantime go check out his website so long. http://www.danpatlansky.co.za/

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Hocus Pocus, a magical timeless rock song

As the needle hits the record you realize it’s just one of those songs that catches your attention right off the bat. Perfect solid riff. And then it gets all weird as the song progresses. The riff resurfaces now and then and you’re not sure whether you should laugh,head bang or sign up for classical music lessons. Hocus Pocus feels like uncontrollable giggling while someone kicks you right in the nuts.

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I found Focus’s second album Moving Waves on vinyl at the local flea market (or Focus II as it is also known). I was magically drawn to one of my favourite rock songs of all time. Hocus Pocus. If you have no idea what I’m talking about then let me enlighten you. I first heard the song on Radio 5 back when they still played actual good music. Probably early nineties. Could have been either Chris Prior or Phil Wright who played it frequently. I can’t remember exactly.

As the needle hits the record you realize it’s just one of those songs that catches your attention right off the bat. Perfect solid riff. And then it gets all weird as the song progresses. The riff resurfaces now and then and you’re not sure whether you should laugh,head bang or sign up for classical music lessons. Hocus Pocus feels like uncontrollable giggling while someone kicks you right in the nuts. I’m not going into too much specifics, if you’re a rock fanatic you’ll know where to find the detail.

But for the lazy people I’ll give some basic information.Focus is a progressive Dutch band founded in 1969. The band released six studio albums before they broke up in 1978. They reformed in 2002 and recorded another four albums. Their latest offering, called Golden Oldies, was released this year. I don’t know all their music yet but I intend to. So join me in checking out the rest of their music.

The creative minds in the band are classicaly trained keyboardist and flutist Thijs van Leer and guitarist Jan Akkerman. And what a combination they are. It’s no wonder Hocus Pocus is such a beautiful mix of rock and classical influences where the main refrain, in the form of solid rock riffs, spirals into weird and wonderful digressions such as yodeling,organs,accordions,weird giggling gnome like scatting,flutes and whistling.Not to mention a guitar solo and some mean drumming. El Rondo Freakshow!

So what made me write this blog? I was wondering how this song could survive all these years popping up now and then in movies and TV shows and why its still relevant. I mean it’s a really weird song man. And yet its still kind of popular.Here’s a few examples of its popularity:

It was used as background music during the NBA playoffs in 1997, exit music for the BBC sitcom Saxondale, it played during one of The Stig’s powerlaps on ‘Top Gear’,it was featured in the movie ‘The Stone Age’,it was the theme songs for a Mcdonalds and Nike commercial. It was also used as background music in an episode of ‘My name is Earl’ and ‘Supernatural’. Rapper J Cole sampled it in his single ‘Blow up’. Very recently it was included in the 2014 remake of the movie ‘Robocop’. I think there may have been more but you get the picture.

So Hocus Pocus is very much alive in the consciousness of many creators of modern entertainment. But why? Is it because it’s “different”? It was “different” in the seventies and it sure as hell still is in 2014. It certainly was never part of any fad or specific music trend. It was never in fashion so it could never have fallen out of fashion. Or maybe its still relevant because it’s a rock song disguised as classical music.Or the other way around. Classical music never went out of style. It has no lyrics so there’s no lyrical story to guide your mood. On an on you can go…… My opinion? It’s just a brilliantly written fun rock song that simply makes you happy when you listen to it. If it doesn’t make you smile, at the very least you will find yourself going “what the hell were they smoking??”Listen to it loud and mimic every sound. I dare you!