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February 11, 2012 / John Sieger

Recently Spotted

52 Jokers

A recent photo of me.

I wanted to see if I could blog about music while being under the weather. To make matters worse, it’s not even my favorite weather to be under, but the return of nasty, soul-crushing winter. And, just as it does every year, something has come along to make the season even more memorably icky. This very special something is pityriasis rosea or a plan offered by nature for unlimited nasty red spots from the waist up. What a treat! Neither contagious or lethal, just a real eyesore and a true energy drain. I look like a million mosquitos have been on my case.

So the challenge, find a song, post it and use the positive energy of the blogosphere to lift me out of the doldrums. The song is 52 Jokers, in fine demo form from the loft Semi-Twang used to rehearse in. Planning to get this one on the next CD, the only drawback is I can’t understand or remember the words. The long gone notebook that might have them is never coming back, so I have been frantically scribbling and trying to recreate the vibe, which was all important back then. Part of that routine was writing in the morning, pulling arrangements together and starting demos with Mike Hoffmann in the early afternoon and adding the rest of the band when we could at night. Scrappy, fast and loose were the order of the day and this one captures it perfectly. When I listen to it, I forget what about the spots altogether.

© 2012 John Sieger

February 1, 2012 / John Sieger

Signal To Noise & A Voice From The Past

A wax cylinder, the original MP3.

It’s not often you get to hear a recording of someone born in 1800. Fighting his way through an ocean of noise is my man, Helmuth von Moltke, a venerable (according to the NY Times, I’ll take their word) German military strategist, recorded at the age of 89 in 1889 on Edison’s new-fangled wax recording cylinder. So scratchy, it sounds like someone is sanding him down, he reads from Shakespeare and Goethe’s “Faust.” You might say he was waxing poetic. If you don’t go for old Helmuth, check out Otto von Bismark, in the only known recording of his voice. Not quite as commanding as Hitler, but again, the noise. It really gets in the way. All of these and many more more recently came to light when wax cylinders that were found over 50 years ago near the cot Edison napped on at his lab were finally transcribed and digitized. It’s funny to think you could now have these on your iPod. Recording engineers fight to acheive a good “signal to noise” ratio. I guess what that means is they don’t want their recordings to sound like these ones do! To listen, read and marvel at these very early recordings, go here. Thank you New York Times Science section.

© 2012 John Sieger

January 31, 2012 / John Sieger

Son Of Tune Du Jour

Mississipi Fred McDowell with his wife, Anni Mae.

I’m relaunching Tune Du Jour today with a slightly different mission statement. The song-a-day format would be sustainable to someone who had nothing else to do but that’s not me — I have quite a few other things need tending. So the new TDJ will be more like other blogs, essays posted when they emerge from the misty funk of my cranium. I will also add songs from time to time, but at a slower, saner pace. No schedule for now, just an outlet for stray thoughts I feel the need to share.

Today I have good news and bad news. Let’s start bad and end on a positive note. I was in the spin room at the health club I just joined the other day. Usually it’s just me and the stationary bikes, but this day a small group that is training for something too difficult to imagine was in there, about five women and one guy. I usually listen to NRBQ, The Staple Singers or Randy Newman on my iPod when I pedal. This is not your standard jazzercise soundtrack and that point was driven home when the others in the room commandeered the stereo system. It started well. Amy Winehouse’s Rehab the some early Prince I didn’t know. No complaints form me, I was thinking what great taste they had in music. Then we went completely off the tracks. I wish I could say I knew the name of any of the auto-tuned monstrosities that came next, but I didn’t. All I know was they were all born somewhere on a continuum between American Idol, Greed, I mean Glee!… and whatever modern system has replaced payola. My mood went south quickly and I left at the end in a dejected snit. If music had been food that day, I was force fed about six Happy Meals followed by a couple apple pies washed down with a Big Gulp. I won’t dwell on this because, there is good news.

The Alan Lomax Collection, an archive of American music as deep and wide as the Grand Canyon is set to arrive online, mostly free and streamable. Greil Marcus called this stuff the “old weird America.” Weird is good, by the way, and old is sounding pretty fresh in these tracks. If you haven’t ever heard Mississippi Fred McDowell (and you won’t on Glee) treat yourself to one of the great lost artists. Everyone from The Stones, to Bonnie Raitt and The White Stripes recorded his songs. Take that experience of finding someone great you had never heard of before and multiply it by say, a couple hundred. That’s what you can expect when this thing is up ad running. Alan Lomax is, after all, the guy who discovered Woody Guthrie. But he didn’t rest on his laurels after that, he just kept going and going, like the Energizer Bunny.

All of this is set to go online in the next month, so there’s no need, unless you are stuck in the spin room with a group of pedalling androids, to ever listen to threadbare, commercially conceived, market-driven pop music. Read all about it here then treat yourself to a gourmet meal of regional genius that will make you swear off Big Macs.

 

© 2012 John Sieger

September 10, 2011 / John Sieger

Remember Me—Live At Bob’s

Click: Remember Me


It took me 298 posts to get to one of my favorite songs and one I often get asked to play. For TDJ #317 (I think), here’s a version from Live At Bob’s that features my brother Mike, Kelli Gonzalez from the Subcontinentals and Bill Dwyer, who I will be gigging with in Montana next week. Of course that means that Tune Du Jour is taking a little break as we head out tomorrow to meet bears on their home turf, visit family, friends and generally be struck with awe in a few national parks. I’ll be back in early October, refreshed and blogging at my usual torrid pace. I will be on Facebook with occasional entries and some greatest hits. Till then, remember me!

© 2011 John Sieger

 

September 9, 2011 / John Sieger

You’re Driving Me

Click: Driving Me

 

If I associate the ’80s with any one thing, it would be the over-use of reverb and echo. It may be that there just weren’t good ones to be found, I don’t know. But I sure heard a lot of foul sounding reverbs that always seemed to me to be a notch too high. When you record you are not only trying to arrange things in space, you are actually trying to create space. Reverb is a kind of synthetic version of a beautiful acoustic environment. When you look at the controls they often have settings like “Cathedral” and “Concert Hall.” Frankly, the one that says “Crowded Club” would have been ideal if it had existed.The really expensive ones start at “Grand Canyon” and expand outward into an echo-drenched universe. Putting aside whatever criticism I might have of this song, its ambiance settings and my nasal performance of it, there are still elements in this session from The R&B Cadets Top Happy album that I like. On the plus side, the slinky bass part (Mike Sieger), the very nicely played horns and organ (Bob Jennings) and the bizarre guitar solo that seems so bad it’s almost good. You live, you learn and this one goes in the “almost there, but not quite file.” It was an attempt to steal some Al Green/Willy Mitchell voodoo—I don’t think it did that, but I don’t think it’s such a bad tune.

© 2011 John Sieger

September 8, 2011 / John Sieger

Brand New Thing

Click: Brand New Thing

 

Posting a 30 year old song called Brand New Thing seems like an odd thing to do. This one has been around since the early ’80s and that hardly qualifies it as brand-new. But time is a funny thing. When I sing this song, which had been on a long hiatus (I hate us), it still feels fresh. When you enjoy singing a song—and I must say I think I sing it much better nowadays—it actually renews itself as you perform it. A rote reading would kill it, I’m sorry to say and I thank the gods of music every day that I didn’t wind up singing a hit I can’t bear to hear at every gig. Yeah, thank you gods of music for not giving me a hit! This version is an outtake from the R&B Cadets only recording, Top Happy, which was on Twin-Tone Records, original home of the Replacements. I wonder whatever happened to them? This song and one called She’s Waiting, also on Top Happy always got people dancing and the thrill of seeing a crowd rush out to the floor to dance to something you have created is something special I’ll always remember about that time. It sort of spoiled me for future performances. As much fun as it is to sing my songs solo to smaller and more attentive crowds, it can’t compare. I’m wired that way.

© 2011 John Sieger

September 7, 2011 / John Sieger

The Plan

Click: The Plan

 

Raucous, noisy and disorganized, just like my mind. I have been trying over the last few months to practice meditation. In doing this, I have been introduced to an amusing and somewhat dangerous beehive that lives between my ears. Like the bumper sticker says, “Don’t believe everything you think.” Truer words were never slapped on chrome. This one came to me sometime this year as I was falling in love with either my current Gibson acoustic guitar or the pretty lovable one I traded for it. To say I am branded Gibson when it comes to acoustics is an accurate statement. When you have a muse for a guitar, the task of writing songs becomes that much easier. Anyway, this little workout features some demented and mostly inappropriate slide guitar. There is also an old Eko that I have strung high, Nashville style, to get something between a twelve string and a mandolin sound without blowing too much money. The song is in that category, one that is dear to my heart, of tunes that steadfastly refuse to grow a bridge somewhere in the middle just to seem more important or “finished.” Importance would spoil the mood.

© 2011 John Sieger