The 69th Street Band; The African Hillbilly Session, Volume 1
If you had chanced to walk into one of several bars or restaurants in Manhattan between 2008 and 2013 such as Bar 9 or Tagine in Hell’s Kitchen, Boom Restaurant in Soho or some similar, like-minded establishment, you may have stumbled upon a 3 piece guitar/bass/djembe combo playing a mix of standards, blues, bossa nova tunes and more than a smattering of folk songs, traditional numbers, bluegrass songs and the occasional jug band tune. That band still exists and has been lucky enough to find congenial environments in which it can ply its craft in Harlem, Brooklyn and other, slightly further ports of call. There aren’t as many djembe gigs these days, perhaps due to the fact that there don’t seem to be as many establishments willing to stick a small combo in the back of their dining area, and there’s more of an emphasis on original material and the sound is decidedly more electric. The sound that was serendipitously developed at those early gigs endures though and has become a staple of all 69th Street Band sets, quite often at the urging of drummers Abou Diarrassouba and Jojo Kuo who, after playing several blues or jazz tunes in succession, would lean over to the guitarist and say “Time for some bluegrass my brother…..”. It was also noticed, by said guitarist, that on those nights when the band contained both an African percussionist and an African bass player, those bluegrass numbers would turn into a new sort of musical hybrid with a crazy, bubbling rhythm that could turn the chill, background music dining experience into something considerably more raucous. When the 69th Street Band, after the longtime urging of several members of its extended musical family, decided to finally make a CD, it was only natural to want to include this side of the band’s music. The original plan was to spend an afternoon in the congenial confines of Peter Karl’s studio in Brooklyn and hope that we would get two or three useable tunes to add to the CD. However, it turned out that all the material was useable and nicely captured the feeling of one of those gorgeous spring nights in Soho or Hell’s Kitchen where the band would sip Red Stripes, sneak out back for a puff between sets, schmooze with the waitresses and regulars and hope that the musical energy translated into some more money in the tip jar. We discussed adding it all as “bonus material”, saving some for a possible future release or perhaps making a double CD. The final, and obvious, solution though was simply to overwhelm the marketplace and make a second CD, aptly titled “The African Hillbilly Session; Volume 1”. Thanks to all involved for making the experience a pleasant one and, as the title indicates, there may be more to come if we can recoup the recording costs.
About the songs……
Blue Bossa: Bossa grooves always work well when you’re called on to play for diners because the rhythm pulls people in in a subtle, non-obtrusive way. We have another half dozen bossas in the repertoire and not an evening goes by where we don’t play a few of them.
The Preacher: A tip of the hat to old chum and drummer/pianist extraordinaire the late, great Howie Wyeth for introducing me to the wonderful music of Horace Silver. This is one of our standard warm up tunes and we always like to give the bass player some when we play it.
Going to St. Louis: An old jug band tune that I first heard on a John Sebastian record. I later saw Geoff Muldaur perform a nice version of this live. It’s got a cool, loping groove that gets us in first gear in preparation for the more hopped up grooves to come later in the evening.
This Train: From the Delmore Brothers to The Wailers; this tune has quite the lineage and we’re happy to get our version out there.
Blue Cadillac: Several years ago I had the pleasure of seeing Peter Rowan and Tony Rice at Tramp’s in Chelsea. The opening act was The Nashville Bluegrass Band and they were of special interest to me as Roland White of Kentucky Colonels fame was in the band. Turns out they were every bit as good as the headliners and they introduced this up tempo tune as “white trash music”. I thought the lyrics were pretty funny and I’ve known people who bore more than a passing resemblance to the song’s protagonist. It’s since become a staple of our gigs. We’re definitely not in first gear anymore on this one.
Martino’s Groove: For many years I would see Martino Atangana play on Friday nights with his band African Blue Note at the Zinc Bar in the village. He was the first real African guitar player I listened to at length and I was floored by the way he would get the place into a semi-trance state with his playing. I actually did one gig with him and that quickly disabused me of any notions I may have had of playing real African guitar. However, I noticed that when he really got going a lot of what he did was fast, repeating patterns with lots of open strings over simple two chord groove; not that different from what R&B bands would do when they’d start vamping out. That became the basis of what we jokingly referred to as our “African Hillbilly” sound and we’ve since worked it into big chunks of our repertoire. Both Freddie and Abou worked frequently with African Blue Note back in the day. Martino joked to me that he was a lazy player who never practiced but his music was so deeply embedded in his DNA that perhaps he didn’t need to. I wish he were still here so he could see where we’ve taken the insights he gave us.
The Railroad Work Song: The only recorded version of this tune I’m familiar with is on the Notting Hillbillies album put out by Mark Knopfler and some of his old friends. I thought that disc was a roots masterpiece and this tune quickly worked its way into our repertoire. It has a timeless vibe that puts it way outside of any contemporary fashions or trends. Another nice bass solo by Freddie.
Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor: An admiring shout out to Mississippi John Hurt and Doc Watson. Both of them made what I’d call “desert island music”. In fact, we could do The African Hillbilly Sessions, versions 2, 3, 4, etc. just by pilfering tunes from their recorded output as well as sundry discs by Norman Blake, the Delmore Brothers, etc.
Ain’t Nobody’s Business: I’m not sure how many recorded versions I have of this warhorse but it’s definitely into the double digits. The line “I don’t like work, work don’t like me…” isn’t on any of the versions I’ve heard but comes from the lips of late, great Harlem blues belter Ms. Irene Reid. She was a master of what I’d call salacious blues.
Way Behind the Sun: The only other place I’ve heard this tune is on the CD re-release of the great Byrds album; “The Ballad of Easy Rider”. That version features some sublime Tele bending by the great Clarence White and I was amazed it wasn’t part of the original release. I guess back in the vinyl days they couldn’t squeeze all the recorded material onto the record and had to make some hard choices. Our version is considerably more hopped up than theirs and has become a live staple. In fact, if the crowd is really grooving, we’ll sometimes keep doing the instrumental breaks for several go rounds. After that it’s time for a set break……..
released October 23, 2016
Recorded Live at Peter Karl Studios on 06-28-2016
Tom Paronis; Lead Vocal and Guitar
Abou Diarrassouba; Djembe, Percussions and Backing Vocals
Fred Doumbe; Electric Bass
Recording engineer : Peter Karl
Mixing,mastering and graphic design by Philippe Allaert at Mantrax Multimedia
Produced by Tom Paronis
Session Producer Philippe Allaert
Executive Producer : Tom Paronis
P & © 2016 Tom Paronis / TEPCO Records .
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