Monday, July 30, 2007

About that bad air...

I just wrote in a parenthetical that the air has been horrible. Well,these pictures say at least 1,000 words.

It has really been horrible. I think they are freaking out about the Olympics. next week is the big one-year-from the-Games celebration and countdown and they do not want it looking like this. It started raining this afternoon.. big thunderstorms and lots of rain, which is good. That will clear things out, at least for a while,. now people are starting to say the government is doing this, setting off rockets or something. I don't know.. sounds like nonsense to me...

BUT, nobody wants to turn on their TV around the world on August 8 for the big "Olympics are coming to China" spectacle and see this horrible air.

Wrapping things up, dogsitting, working hard...

We’ve been dogsitting Cowboy for three weeks now. He is a spectacularly beautiful, well-behaved and friendly Golden Retriever. He is sitting under my desk licking my feet right no, as I type. It does give us pause. We’ve told the kids we can get a dog after we move back to America. But in some way our family does feel sort of complete with a dog. It’s hard to admit that and we’re not rushing out for anything, but it feels very natural having Cowboy here.

Of course, it’s hard to guarantee that you get a spectacular animal like Cowboy, though I for one am all for dumping a reject pet and trying again. It’s too important of a decision to fall in love with a less than perfect beast.. All of the kids love him, but Eli is really just so nice and sweet with him. He has always loved dogs and he is so excited to have Cowboy here. He talks to him all the time, feeds him, walks him…

These pictures are from the last supper with our friends Ted and Ilene and their kids (pictured here) Eliana and Zach. They were family I wrote about in my column a while back, the ones who still didn’t know their fate for next year. Well, the chps fell to them going back, and they are in the Bay Area now.

We are wrapping things up, getting ready to leave Saturday for almost a month. It’s been nice to be here the last few weeks, if sometimes a little surreal.. it’s just so empty and quiet and peaceful. But you find the folks who are here and hang out and it feels relaxed. We had a barbecue last night and there were about 13 adults and 12 kids here, so it’s not like there’s a shortage of people to hang out with.

We’re going back so late that some folks are already starting to come back. We are going to miss the first week-plus of school because we decided to be there for my nephew Josh’s bar mitzvah. Two other big int’l schools start two weeks earlier than us, so it’s really the end of the summer for them. It’s a little strange to be on such a different schedule than everyone else, but it feels kind of nice. Our early summer was so hectic that these languid weeks have been welcome.

Especially welcome because we’re quite busy with work. I am leaping into Olympics reporting. I just did three big pieces for Sports Business Journal’s one-year-from –the 08-Game special package. I’ll post them here after they’ve been out a while, but they’re not the most scintillating to general readers. Stories about Olympic ticketing and hospitality as well as 5 Things to Watch Out For in Beijing (including air pollution – which has been horrible, traffic and more.)

I also am doing some pieces right now for I’ll post a link when they go up. I have high hopes for this collaboration. We’ll see how that goes.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Deep Ellum Blues

From The Orchard, 6-23... with special guest singer Miss Maya. I like having her up there. No one looks at me for a change.

Go to church

Master T Bone Walker with a great jazz band, including Lloyd Glenn on piano and Illinois Jacquet on tenor.

Same as above, plus B.B. King, approx. age 40.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Most Important Story I ever wrote

I didn’t even know I had a digital copy of this story until I stumbled upon it on my hard drive this afternoon while searching for something else. Then I remembered that it was re-run a few years ago in Hittin’ The Note, an Allman Brothers fanzine and they input it and then gave this to me.

Just looking at it, before I even read it, sent me into a wayback machine... way back to 1989 or 90… to times I haven’t thought about in a long, long time but it all came back instantly and I wrote this stream of consciousness style, right off the top of my head.

I lived in New Port richey Florida for a little over a year. I went down there because Becky got a job at the tampa Tribune. It seemed like a cool thing to do. Living was cheap, Becky was making a seemingly killer salary of about $22k, I looked at a map and the place seemed to be right on the Gulf. My best other option was a part-time job at a newspaper in Putnam County, I could write a lot, finally really learn to play guitar, it seemed like a romantic thing to do.

So I went down there and found it be the most depressing place ever. There was a weird mix of blue collar retirees and hardcore rednecks. Death metal thrived and there were always weird and disturbing crimes, like 85-year-old ladies being raped and murdered. Black people lived on the other side of tracks in all the little towns – literally.

I was conflicted about my relationship with Becky --totally adored her but didn't feel ready for full commitment. I struggled to find work. Tehre was no beach within 45 minutes --just mangrove swamps and housing developments. When we found th e one little county park on the water, we sat on a retaining wall to talk and I put my foot directly into a red anthill. My right foot was covered with the biting bastards and when I ran into the water screaming, they didn’t come off. I had to rub and rub to release their venomous grip and the whole thing felt like a metaphor for my life there. I felt like I had sat down in a fire anthill. (My ankle still gets irritated there almost 20 years later, by ther way.)

Nothing went quite as planned, or anticipated. On the other hand… we partied hard, we grew really close in ways that formed the foundation for our now-lengthy relationship and while I never did learn how to play guitar there, I actually did spend a lot of time on my writing. Because I had so much free time, when I got an assignment, I sunk my teeth into it like a pitbull and became completely engrossed in the subject matter. If I did a record review, I listened to the record 25 times or more, until it was inside me and I really had an opinion.

I was working for the St. Pete Times as a correspondent doing entertainment stuff and also local reporting -- covering high school baseball games, writing about an attack dog school or old people's regular bridge games (where I met a Pittsburgh retiree who knew my grandfather) and other stuff. Most of it wasn’t too exciting, but the Times was a good paper with good editors and I sharpened my basic reporting skills which have always served me well.

At the time, i was writing for Pulse (Tower) and Request (Sam goody) magazines. Record stores were thriving then and the stores had the resources and interest in putting out pretty real mags with real editors and writers. I mostly did smaller things for them and was somewhat ghettoized as the blues/roots rock guy. Every day I would come home from aimless trips to the mall or the grocery store or even the laundromat where I went to play Ms. Pac Man and ran for the answering machine, anticipating a call from Rolling Stone that never came.

One day, though, there was a message that was almost as sweet. The editor of Pulse called and they were assigning me a big feature on the then-just-reunited Allman Brothers Band, who were putting out their first comeback album, Seven Turns. It was huge for me because I had been dying to get a more major story from them. And the ABB loomed large in my consciousness, though I hadn’t really listened to them in a long time.

The Allmans had been my favorite band for a period when I was younger (I chose Duane Allman as the subject for my great american essay in sixth grade) but my interest had faded. They didn’t seem all that cool, I guess. But I was so pumped for this story. I went out and bought, at my own dime, the four-LP box set Dreams that had just come out a few months prior. I spent a week or two listening to those classic sides over and over, reading the liner note booklet, immersing myself in their music, their myths, their aura and I became totally smitten. Then I got the advance cassette for the new album – via Fed Ex, from New York! – and listened to it constantly... in my Chevy Celebrity, in my big clunky Walkman, in my home stereo.

Then the Seven Turns tour brought the Allmans to Tampa and I went to see them, at the state fairgrounds. The parking lot was filled with Harleys and I was filled with joy. After the shows, I went onto the bus and spoke with Gregg. It was probably my first backstage experience.

I na lot of ways, this story probably led me to get my job at Guitar World, so it was important in that way. And it reignited a passion for a band that has basically been my favorite ever since, so it was important in that way. And it was the first time I interviewed and/or met Gregg Allman, Dickey Betts, Warren Haynes and Kirk West, all of whom became key figures in my career, so it was important in that way.

But mostly it was important because it was the first time I felt that I had really tapped into myself and found a way to write journalism in which my essence and feelings and being came through without it being about me. I have never liked self-centered writing. It bores me and I struggle with that in my column, which is inherently self centered. I try to keep the lens focused outward rather than reflecting inward all the time. I also have never had much use for writing that was cold and clinical.

When I finished this story, I felt like I had accomplished something. I had merged my reporting with the kind of writing I did in the journals I religiously kept in those days. I reported zealously, talking to everyone I could -- I even tracked down and spoke to Phil Walden and Tom Dowd, two now-deceased music legends and I’ve reused those Walden quotes over the years. But I managed to not make it clinical, or so I thought.

I don’t know what I got paid for it – maybe $500, maybe more. I only made $8,200 that year, I remember that. But this story gave me a surge of confidence and even joy that carried me a long way. I just re-read the story (I wrote most of this first) and while I cringed at a few parts, it mostly holds up well. But even if it didn’t , it still would be the most important story I ever wrote.

An American Legend, Reborn
By Alan Paul

It’s easy to cast a skeptical eye toward ’60’s and ’70’s “super-group” reunions⎯the calculated, corporate-sponsored comebacks by some of our favorite British bands. And the Allman Brothers? To be kind, they’ve regrouped before with less than stellar results.
But Seven Turns, the Allmans’ Epic debut, immediately establishes itself as something altogether different⎯it blasts off with the sharp-toned slide guitar hook of “Good Clean Fun” and never looks back.
The band has succeeded in capturing the spark which made it America’s best, most memorable rock band almost two decades ago. The dual, harmonic lead guitars, the twin drums’ relentless propulsion, the country/blues/jazz hybrid rock ’n’ roll⎯all these wonderfully eccentric traits are abundantly present throughout Seven Turns. It’s the group’s best record since 1973’s Brothers and Sisters, and arguably its gutsiest outing since founder/slide guitarist Duane Allman died in 1971. The reasons for the rebound are many, but guitarist Dickey Betts offers a simple one: fellow axe-slinger Warren Haynes.
“We just haven’t had another slide guitarist in the band since Duane,” Betts says with a smoky drawl. “So when I played slide, Dickey Betts’ guitar was absent. This is the first time that my guitar appears with a slide guitar, and I think that’s what’s so reminiscent about the old band.”
The album is also a benchmark in diversity for the Allman Brothers. “Good Clean Fun,” “It Ain’t Over Yet” and “Shine It On” are Southern blues rockers fueled by singer/organist Gregg Allman’s primal growl and the guitar majesty of Betts and Haynes. “Let It Ride” and the title track are melodic, country-tinged tunes⎯antidotes to the heavier blues numbers⎯while the jazzy instrumental “True Gravity” explores the group’s improvisational heart.
The thorough assimilation of Haynes, pianist Johnny Neel and bassist Allen Woody by the original band members (Betts and Allman along with drummers Jaimoe and Butch Trucks) is central to the success of Seven Turns. The newcomers do much more than fill holes⎯Haynes and Neel each wrote several songs, contribute lead and harmony vocals, and have a tangible presence throughout the album.
“They’re not sidemen, that’s for sure,” Allman says. “And we’d never be able to live with them if they were. They are Allman Brothers⎯much more so than some people in earlier incarnations. And that’s a big difference.”
Haynes has a particularly difficult role. It’s impossible to play slide guitar in this band without being compared to Duane.
“He handles that beautifully,” Allman says. “He knows what he’s got and he plays it. He doesn’t feel like he has to recreate Duane Allman every night, and for that I take my hat off to him.”
Haynes, who played in Betts’ band for three years, says that that experience prepared him for the rigors of becoming an Allman Brother. “Had I not worked with Dickey, I would have had more trouble adapting,” he says. “Duane was a great player and he died young, and those two things lead people to immortalize him, so I know some people in the audience would like me to play like Duane Allman. But, for my sake, I just can’t do that⎯and the guys understand that. They’re great about making it a band, and that means everyone plays like a unit and everyone holds up their end.”
Another key to the success of Seven Turns is producer Tom Dowd, who was behind the boards for At Fillmore East and Eat a Peach ⎯records that established the Allmans as rock legends. Over the years, Dowd’s role has grown to be much more than that of mere producer.
“He’s like my father,” Allman says. “Teacher, father, guru⎯you pick your word. He was real supportive of us in this comeback, and he always stood behind me through the drug thing and everything else. Seven Turns would not have been the album it is if it had been done with anyone else. He is the eighth member of the band, for sure⎯and I’m talking charter member.”
Betts agrees that Dowd has become a de facto Allman Brother, and vows that the group will never record without him again.
“Recording this thing with Tom was such a pleasant experience,” Betts says. “He carries so much knowledge around with him and just offers very strong guidance for the band. I don’t know how we ever made music without him.”
Dowd⎯who recorded ground-breaking jazz and r&b performances by Ray Charles, Wilson Pickett, and Aretha Franklin before becoming involved with rockers like Eric Clapton and the Rascals⎯was drawn to the Allmans’ use of jazz elements, a crucial but often overlooked component of the band’s success.
“The Allmans have this unique facility,” Dowd says. “When they play things that are tangential to the blues, they swing like they’re playing jazz. They have this perpetual swing sensation. Even when they’re playing heavy rock, they’re swinging. They’re never vertical but always going forward, and it’s always a groove.
“They’re so identified and legendary as a rock ’n’ roll band. But when you take their music apart, you realize how exquisite and deep their playing facility and sensitivity really is.”
So how was a band that could crunch chords like Led Zeppelin, play the blues like Elmore James and coolly swing like miles Davis born?
The Allman Brothers Band formed in 1969 when Duane⎯who, as a studio guitarist in Muscle Shoals, Ala., recorded with Pickett, Franklin, and other r&b greats⎯returned to Jacksonville, Fla. Looking to put together a trio, Duane was already committed to Jaimoe as his drummer, and had his eyes set on bassist Berry Oakley. According to Betts, who played in a band with Oakley, the formation of the unique Allman Brothers Band lineup was largely improvisatory⎯much like the music in which they came to excel.
“As far as puttin’ the two drums and the two guitar players together and all of that,” Betts says, “that was just a jam. Duane and Jaimoe kept coming and sitting in with mine and Berry’s band to get used to playing together, and as we started jamming, something clicked, and eventually Duane asked if I’d go with them. Then when Butch appeared and jammed with us, it was something special so Duane asked him to play drums, and all of a sudden the trio had five pieces.
“So putting the whole band together was more or less of an improv thing⎯it just came about. We all were smart enough to say ‘This guy’s special’ about one another.”
The five went to Macon, Ga., and began rehearsing and cutting demos. It was then that the need for Gregg Allman became clear, according to Phil Walden, at the time Duane’s manager and president of the fledgling Capricorn label. “They had this great instrumental presence but no real vocalist,” Walden says. “Berry was going to do a little singing and so was Dickey and Duane. That was a lot of a little singing and no singer. So Duane called Gregg and asked him to come down.”
Gregg was still in Los Angeles, having remained there after the breakup of Hourglass, his and Duane’s first recorded band. With typically sage wisdom, music-industry types had tried to shoehorn Hourglass into a trendy, psychedelic package, and the experience was painful for both Allmans. In fact, it had sent Duane packing for home but Gregg remained in L.A., where his hard time continued. His disillusionment with the music business and struggle to find his own voice led him to write the songs which became Allman Brothers’ trademarks.
“Aside from a true vocal presence,” Walden says, “Gregg brought these really important foundation songs that the band was really built around.”
The lyrics to “Whipping Post,” “It Ain’t My Cross to Bear” and “Dreams” reveal a world-weariness, inner turmoil, and determination expressed with remarkable depth by the then-21-year-old Gregg.
“Those songs came out of the long struggle of trying so hard and getting fucked by different land sharks in the business,” Allman says. “Just the competition I experienced out in L.A. and being really frustrated but hanging on⎯not saying ‘Fuck it’ and going on to construction work or something like that.”
The band’s 1969 self-titled debut, featuring five Gregg Allman originals and cover of Muddy Waters and Spencer Davis songs, heralded the arrival of a new voice on the American music scene. But few were listening⎯Walden says that the album initially sold less than 35,000 copies. Still, the band retained its optimism.
“We were just so naïve,” Betts says. “All we knew is that we had the best band that any of us had ever played in and were making the best music that we had ever made. That’s what we went with. Everyone in the industry was saying that we’d never make it, we’d never do anything, that Phil Walden should move us to New York or L.A. and acclimate us to the industry, that we had to get the idea of how a rock ’n’ roll band was supposed to present themselves.
“Of course, none of us would do that, and thankfully, Walden was smart enough to see that that would just ruin what we had.”
But Walden admits now that he thought of cashing his chips and cutting his losses several times. “It seemed like I had just been wrong,” he says, “that they were never going to catch on. People just didn’t grasp what that Allmans were all about⎯musically or any other way. But they kept touring, state by state, city by city, going across the country, establishing themselves as the best live band around and building a base.”
Dowd first heard the Allmans while visiting Walden in Macon, Ga., in 1970. As he passed the Capricorn studio, the sound of the band rehearsing drifted out into the street.
“I got to Phil’s office and asked him who in the hell was rehearsing in the studio,” Dowd recalls. “He said, ‘That’s the Allman Brothers,’ and I said, ‘Get them the hell out of there and give them to me in the studio. They don’t need to rehearse⎯they’re ready to record.’ ”
The result of Dowd’s initial trip to the studio with the Allman Brothers⎯Idlewild South⎯further established the band as an innovative, hard-hitting outfit. During a break in the Idlewild recording sessions, Dowd had another band in his Miami studio⎯Clapton’s Derek and the Dominoes, who were recording Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.
Duane’s presence on the title song, and throughout the album, was masterful, his impact reaching well beyond that of an average studio musician. Duane’s importance to the Dominoes is revealed by The Layla Sessions, a 20th anniversary box set to be released this month on Polydor. Throughout the collection of outtakes and jams, Clapton and Allman trade licks, with Duane’s slide often underpinning Clapton’s leads. One never-released track, simply titled “Jam IV,” features the Allmans band⎯minus Jaimoe⎯playing with Clapton and fellow Domino Bobby Whitlock.
The Dominoes’ record hit big, but Idlewild South was only marginally more successful than the Allman’s debut. It wasn’t until the next year, 1971, with the release of At Fillmore East, that the Allman Brothers Band became a verifiable sensation and a huge commercial success.
“Fusion is a term that’s been used in the last 10 years,” Dowd says. “But if you wanted to look at a fusion album, it would be Fillmore East. Here was a rock ’n’ roll band playing blues in the jazz vernacular. And they tore the place up.”
Indeed. With three songs clocking in at over ten minutes, including the 22-minute “Whipping Post,” which ended the album, the recording captured the Allmans in all their bluesy, sonic fury. But according to Walden, the recording was almost never released in its extended, double-album form.
“Atlantic/Atco (Capricorn’s then-distributor) rejected the idea of releasing a double-live album,” he recounts. “(Atlantic executive) Jerry Wexler thought it was ridiculous to preserve all these jams. But we explained to them that the Allman Brothers were the people’s band, that playing was what they were all about, not recording. That a phonograph record was confining to a group like this.”
Walden won out and was proven right when the record⎯“People priced” at three dollars below standard list price for a double album⎯became a top seller, and the Allman Brothers became the most heralded band in the nation. “Any comparison to anybody is fatuous,” read Rolling Stone’s review of the album, which went on to call the Allmans “the best damn rock ’n’ roll band this country has produced in the past five years.”
The high times came to a sudden end when Duane Allman was killed in a motorcycle accident while recording Eat a Peach, the band’s Fillmore follow-up. He was 24. But the Allmans didn’t collapse immediately after Duane’s death, returning to the studio to finish the session and cutting several standouts, including Gregg’s “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More.” The song’s sentiments were obviously inspired by Duane’s death.
Betts recalls that the decision to continue as a band was not an easy one. “We thought about breaking up and all forming our own bands,” he says. “But the thought of just ending it and then being alone was just too depressing.”
The following year the group added pianist Chuck Leavell and recorded Brothers and Sisters. But tragedy struck once again when bassist Berry Oakley died in yet another motorcycle accident. The band still didn’t fold, bringing in bassist Lamar Williams and finishing the album. Released in1973, Brothers included “Ramblin’ Man,” which became their biggest hit, as well as “Southbound” and the instrumental “Jessica,” both immediate classics.
Yet it was clear that the group was standing on its last, wobbly legs.
“After Duane died,” Betts says, “it was still very dynamic at first, but it just slowly slipped away and then we lost Berry and it was very hard to continue. I’m not weighing Duane’s loss against Berry’s loss⎯but losing two members was just so tough. In fact, it probably wouldn’t have even lasted as long as it did if it weren’t for Chuck Leavell. He was just such a strong player.”
Betts and Allman both released solo LPs shortly after Brothers and Sisters, and the group’s next outing, Win, Lose or Draw, was shaky at best. The hellhounds that had always nipped at Allman’s heels seem to have caught up with him; his solo remake of “Midnight Rider,” originally cut by the band on Idlewild South, was stripped-down and haunted, ringing with an eerie emptiness. By the time the group’s Wipe the Windows, Check the Oil, Dollar Gas was released in 1976, the Allmans had already disbanded. Listening to the very flat live recording, it’s clear the breakup was inevitable.
The band reunited in 1979 for Enlightened Rogues, but some indefinable spark was missing. “We tried very hard to reach the classic sound,” says producer Dowd. “We worked our fingers to the bone, but it was laborious.”
The band stayed together for two more albums on Arista Records⎯1980’s Reach for the Sky and 1981’s Brothers of the Road⎯but neither was much of a critical or commercial success, and another, seemingly final split occurred in 1981.
“During the ’80s when we got back together with Arista, they tried to throw us into doing something that we weren’t,” Allman says. “The whole music scene of the ’80s just wasn’t conducive to our music at all. We cut two albums and …God, it was very frustrating.”
Betts, too, says the ’80s weren’t the best of times for the gritty Southern rock band. But he adds that some of the Allmans’ lineup may not have been up to snuff.
“I don’t think some of the band groupings could measure up to the original band,” Betts says. “Even when we had some great players in the band, there was a pull, a tension⎯the unity was lacking. But the thing that made it more obvious was when the music trend started turning away from blues-oriented rock and more towards the synthesizer-based stuff and the more simple arrangements like dance music. That forced the record company to dictate to us what type of record to make or it wouldn’t get played on the radio, and we got caught up in that whole thing. That’s why we broke up in ’81. We decided we better just back out or we were going to ruin what was left of the band’s image.”
While the Allmans split up, with Betts and Allman each leading their own bands, some of their contemporaries managed to hang tough throughout the 80’s. Betts expresses admiration for such performers.
“Eric Clapton has a way of being a chameleon,” he says, “of finding songs that keep him in the forefront and surviving through times when the kind of music he loves to play isn’t exactly popular. The Allman Brothers Band was never able to do that. We either sound like our band or we don’t. We’ve painted ourselves into a corner of the market.”
But that corner began to seem less restrictive as roots rockers and bluesers like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Los Lobos, and Robert Cray found success. FM radio also returned to its roots in a quest for baby boom listeners.
“Classic rock stations really brought the Allman Brothers back,” Betts says, “and Stevie Ray Vaughan opened the whole thing up. He just would not be denied and kept going in there and making those traditional urban blues records. He just shoved blues down people’s throats and they got to likin’ it. He’s probably the front-runner in letting people see what they are missing. So I take my hat off to Stevie Ray for keeping at it.”
While these changes were taking place, the band was asked to play the Charlie Daniels Volunteer Jam, an annual charity event, in the spring of ’89.
“At the time, a lot of bands were getting back together,” Allman says. “The Who were touring, and Little Feat…so CBS came to us with the idea of getting back together. They wanted us to do it because everyone else was, but we said we would just go slow, get back together and see if we really wanted to do it.”
The answers were all yes, but the revamped band insisted that it had to complete a tour together before recording. As an extensive 20th anniversary tour was mounted last summer, Dreams, a four CD retrospective of the band’s career, was released on Polydor. The collection firmly established the Allman Brothers as a great American band, while the tour proved that the band’s fire still burned brightly.
Finally, Betts says, it looked like the band would once again be given free rein. And restricting the Allman Brothers, he adds, is tantamount to sentencing them to mediocrity. “This band doesn’t have anything special when we’re not able to do the instrumental jams and improvisation⎯which were kind of being taken away from us for a while. We were even asked not to mention Southern rock in an interview. It got that bad. ‘Don’t wear any hats on stage,’ they said. It just got so bad.
“I don’t mean to sound negative about the music business,” Betts continues, “because everyone knows that’s the way it is⎯especially the rock ’n’ roll end of it. It’s very, very trendy and you just have to accept that.”
But, in concert, the Allman Brothers seem oblivious to today’s trends toward high-tech gadgetry, elaborate staging and slick choreography. Mostly standing still, tattoos showing, hair flowing un-teased to mid-back length, the band kicks out the jams in three- to four-hour concerts. Here, the Seven Turns material proves itself by standing it ground amid the classic Allmans repertoire.
Whatever comes next for the band⎯Allman suggests a live album⎯for now they are making some serious statements. They’re proving that it’s possible to rebound strongly from adversity and, best of all, they’re proving that even now⎯in our post-Warhol, post-MTV, post-Reagan world⎯sometimes substance can indeed triumph over style.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Random beautiful Pittsburgh shot

Copyright New York Times

Last week's column


Chinese Teacher Veers Away
From the Material World

July 20, 2007

I'm going to need a new Chinese teacher in the fall, which will be a big change in my life. My "laoshi" Yechen has been a major part of my daily life almost since arriving in China. Now he is leaving Beijing to become a monk, likely in a distant mountain Buddhist or Taoist monastery.

The news was initially shocking but once it sunk in, I actually wasn't too surprised. One of the things I most enjoyed about studying with Yechen was his thorough grounding in classical Chinese philosophy, culture and religion. He animated his conversation with references to ancient parables, guided his decision-making by looking to historical precedence and was obviously slightly out of step with contemporary Beijing's go-go aesthetic. I found all of this entirely endearing.

More Chinese now seem to be becoming enraptured by Buddhism after decades of the religion being discouraged and even oppressed, with temples damaged or destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. Anecdotally, at least, there is a small but significant movement of upwardly mobile young Chinese becoming monks. Several people I have told about Yechen's decision have had their own tales of friends making the same life-altering decision, turned off by an increasingly materialistic culture.

I met Yechen at a large language school where my friend, Tom, and I began twice-weekly two-hour sessions six weeks after arriving in Beijing. We rotated through cubicles and teachers, many of them young women looking at us blankly as we grew exasperated, struggling to master Mandarin's four tones.

After about a month we entered Yechen's room and immediately felt more relaxed and confident. Yechen, who is in his early 30s, had spent five years at a prestigious British university, and he was at once more serious and more relaxed than his peers. He also spoke much better English and was happy to toss the syllabus to intuitively guide us into a comfort zone.

When I needed a translator to interview basketball player Sun Yue (recently drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers), I hired Yechen and as soon as we climbed into a cab, he told me that he hated teaching at the school and would soon be quitting. Tom and I were happy to hire him and a few weeks later we began private lessons at my dining room table.

Unlike most other expat classes taught outside universities, Yechen used textbooks and insisted that we learn at least a basic grounding in characters. After just a few months Tom had to leave China due to a family crisis and Yechen and I continued with more intense one-on-one sessions.

My language skills progressed, held back only by my lack of studying. As pleasing as that was, I also just liked spending time with Yechen, gaining insight into his view of China's history and its contemporary potential and problems, which he believed stemmed largely from a disconnect from the nation's long, proud history.

A few months ago, Yechen told me he wouldn't be back in Beijing in the fall. He had a great job offer from a London university, with a high salary and free lodging in a storied Victorian mansion. When I congratulated him he thanked me but said he wasn't sure he would accept the position. He had been profoundly moved by a recent visit to a holy mountain and might like to become a monk.

As we discussed this further it became clear to me that he was restrained only by guilt about his mother's reaction. "Chinese parents don't want their kids to be monks," he explained. The vow of celibacy means no grandchildren and the unofficial vow of poverty means no long-term financial support for the parents, who lack an American-style Social Security system. Still, a week or two later, he announced that he had rejected the London offer and would soon be searching for a monastery.

I was not surprised. Yechen speaks in ancient aphorisms with ease and without pretension. One of my most memorable Beijing trips was last winter when Yechen took me to Baiyunguan [White Cloud Temple], Beijing's most revered Taoist temple. We had tea with a monk friend of his after which Yechen gave me a lovingly detailed tour. Afterward, we visited a small Buddhist temple down a winding hutong lane. He clearly held both places in great reverence; his interest in Taoism and Buddhism was not merely academic.

Soon his dedication will be complete. Next month, he will leave Beijing, visit his mother then set out in search of a monastery. He will travel with one small bag and go from place to place until he finds a place that suits him. All of his friends, he said, think he is crazy.

"Chinese people today think that only someone who is a failure would become a monk," Yechen told me over lunch at a vegetarian restaurant near the Lama Temple, Beijing's largest Tibetan Buddhist site (Yechen practices the related but quite different Zen Buddhism). "They think it is opting out of life. But I don't feel that way."

As a monk, he will have a simple life, spending most of his time meditating and studying scriptures. Some people become monks as children or young adults and Yechen thinks he has an advantage over them: "I am doing this as a choice. I understand how the real world works."

"Everyone is concerned about being cheated by someone else, but it doesn't matter. They should worry about cheating themselves. That is the worst crime you can commit and if I didn't do this, I would be cheating myself."

The one person who was supporting him, he said, was his former professor in London, with whom he remains close. The professor was not surprised because he recognized Yechen as a seeker and avid learner and was sure this was a good path for him to travel. And what of Yechen's mother? He hasn't told her yet, and won't for another year. Then, he figures, he will already be established in his new life and things will be going well so she won't have to worry about him.

I think Yechen's decision is bold and honorable and that he will be an earnest, dedicated monk. I was, however, taken aback when he told me that he had visited Baiyunguan and ceremoniously burned the diaries he had been meticulously keeping for 10 years. They were his pride and joy and he planned on crafting a book out of them, but he had come to see them only as totems of youthful naiveté, markers of a past he was leaving behind.

"I thought I would feel sadness and fear when I burned them," he told me. "But I felt a great sense of release and peace."

I told him I was happy for him, but I would miss him greatly next year. He smiled wanly then brushed away my sentiment.

"There are many good teachers," he said. "You won't have a problem finding one."

We both took bites of vegetable dumplings before I countered with a simple truth: "Sure. But it won't be the same."

"Yes," he finally admitted. "The problem with most Chinese teachers -- with most young Chinese -- is they lack an understanding of the deep and real culture here. Let's be honest, you're going to forget the language when you go back to America anyhow."

After two years, he was acknowledging the 800-pound gorilla in the room; the cynical thought that pushed me to skip over any word or grammar rule for which I didn't see an immediate use.

"But the language is a bridge to the culture," he continued. "And the culture can stay with you forever."

And that's precisely why I will miss Yechen so much. And why I will never forget him.

Write to Alan Paul at or join a discussion.

Write to me and I'll post selected comments in a future column. Please let me know if you want to share your thoughts but don't want your letter published. The emails and forum postings regarding last week's column about overseas Chinese expats in China were particularly intense and interesting. Here is a sampling.
* * *

You wrote: "My friend…is second/third generation American. She grew up in San Francisco with a strong awareness of her ethnicity. … Still, she all but laughed at me when I asked if she had a sense of returning to the homeland when she first visited China."

How can you possibly assume I, an American-born ethnic Chinese, would regard anything but America as my homeland? Do you consider your ancestral origins your homeland, and if not, why the double standard?

When I get asked where I'm from and I reply Dallas, they go "no, no, where did you grow up?" Then I say New Jersey, and they reply "No, no, where are your parents from?" This continues until they get the answer they're looking for -- China, as in I can't possibly be an American like them, no matter how many generations we've been here.


I understand the sensitivity given your experiences, but I certainly did not mean to imply that a Chinese American is any less American than anyone else. Greek, South American, Jewish and African-American people have told me moving tales about returning to ancestral homelands in Greece, South America, Israel and Africa. Neither I nor they thought this reduced their American-ness and I certainly would not have thought this of Nancy had she felt a homeland connection to China.
* * *

I used to travel in China with a C-A coworker, whose grandfather had taught him a lot of Chinese history, culture and language. His language skills were very good. He sometimes embarrassed interpreters by correcting them.

Often the locals that we were meeting with would try to place his accent and guess where in China he was from. He found that he could use this to either create bonds with people that we were trying to be friendly with, of create a separation when we were in an adversarial situation.

-- Ed
* * *

The same phenomenon is seen in Korea and Japan. I lived in Korea for two years and my many Korean-American friends were routinely lectured about their inability to speak perfect Korean. It was also exactly as you reported about China, Caucasians are applauded for speaking the most simple sentences, but when a Korean-American stumbles in speaking they are all over them. They cannot believe that a Korean would not teach their children Korean.

From what I understand it is also the same way in Japan and that they have several words for ethnic Japanese who don't speak Japanese or don't speak native level Japanese and that these words are considered to be very unflattering.

In all these countries there seems to be a ying and yang of belonging to the culture but being free from some of its constraints. Korea is an extraordinarily homogenous place where there are unwritten rules about nearly every aspect of culture and life. Many Koreans find this to be absolutely stifling and are anxious to get out from underneath it by going abroad.

-- Brendan Ward
* * *

Multinational companies often make the mistake thinking that by sending a "Chinese" to China, they would have someone who can blend in easily. From my own experience, China is a "complex" market to crack for any ABC even if he or she can speak Mandarin, not to mention someone who cannot. The western cultural background makes it difficult for "white bananas" to be as effective as they would be in their western home base. That is the reason why mainland China born expats who were educated in western countries are the preferred choice for many companies today.

-- Richard
* * *

I am an American expat of Caucasian heritage living in Beijing. You mention your friend telling cab drivers that she is American and their responding with "No, you're Chinese. This is an extremely limited notion of what makes one "Chinese" based solely on exterior features. Coupled with my continuing experiences in Beijing, this quote leads me to the disappointing conclusion of just how insular and self-oriented China is.

People should be allowed to decide how they want to identify themselves -- be it American, Chinese, Hmong, gay, straight, female, male, etc. For a local to tell them otherwise is straightforward ignorance that has the potential to paint a dark pall over the upcoming 2008 Olympics where people of all nationalities and heritages will descend on Beijing.

I hope that Beijing and China in general can create a more accommodating view of personal identity that does not include insisting upon instilling one's own notions on others.

-- Edward Russell
* * *

I am very impressed by your observations of Chinese society and Chinese people. I have lived outside China for 20 years, the last eight in New York City. Every time when I read about China by Americans, I feel that I have know myself better.

-- Ding Gao

Thank you very much for your kind words. As I have noted before, such comments from Chinese readers are particularly meaningful to me. Say hello to New York for me.

Tibetan dancing

Every night in the town square of the... Every night in the town square of the old town of Gyalthang, or Shangri-La, Yunnan , China, people gather and dance. tourists join in but it's mostly locals. The music is a mix of traditional Tibetan and modern electronica. It is fun. Another one for Aunt Joan.

If you enoy that, someone else posted a much longer video of the same thing:

More Chinese hoops news

Nothing too great, but another Slam Online post about Chinese hoops...

Monday, July 23, 2007

Thursday, July 19, 2007

God Bless Freddie King

One of my heroes.

Shangri La Video

A video of our recent trip to Gyalthang (Tibetan name), DeQin (Chinese name), Shangri-La (new, made-up name). By any name is is a a Tibetan Autonomous Region in Yunnan, China and we were with the Tashi family (Kesang, Tsedan, Pema and Tenzin).

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Anna and Arabella

I wrote about Eli losing his buddy Hugo to Singapore. His sister Arabella is one of Anna's best pals. This is them Sunday night. They are moving on Friday.

Last Day of School

We continued the Blumenstein tradition of taking pictures on the first and last day of school. This was the last day. June 29, 2007.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Check out More photos post below

Order got messed up because I tsarted that last week and it went up in the order I intiiated it. Good shots there.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Woodie Alan's version of Jr. Wells' version of Tracy Chapman's "Give Me One Reason."

The Vineyard Cafe, Beijing, China. July 14, 2007.

It was fun, mellow gig. Just a trio. As per usual, I got one random song on video, not nec. our best by any means. Anyhow, it was fun.

Friday, July 13, 2007

More Yunnan pictures

Oh, man. I could write so much about this trip and this place but I really don't have time to stop and do so right now.

Just a few facts:
The top three scenic photos were taken by Doug Keare, one of the members of Tashi's delegation. he was a very nice guy with a very nice camera and I grabbed all his shots. This is just the tip of the iceberg, the first three beautiful ones I saw out of hundreds.

In the top photo, Jacob and Tenzin are holding slugs. Like the kitten photo in the earlier post, this wa taken at a monastery where a very holy Buddhist scholar was recovering from a stroke. We were served tea, then lunch there and invited to roam around the gorgeous gardens. Then we were taken up to an audience with the host, who blessed us all and gave us prayer shawls.

we all understood it to be an honor but it didn't fully sink in until tour driver entered, dropped to his knees, kissed his feet and hands and prostrated himself, bowing up and done repeatedly. The man welcomed us and thanked us for bringing kids in to see him and brightening his day.

As the above indicates, it was quite amazing to be around here with Tashi, who is like the mayor of the town. He knows everyone, had great access, was informative and charming.

It was also a stone cold pleasure to see the kids all playing. They had not seen each other in three years and reconnected instantly into great friends. They came here, kids slept over Friday night and Saturday we went to the Wall. All big fun.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Last week's column

This one has spurred some interesting discussions in my in my forum.

I only barely knew what deep waters I was wading into here.

Expats of Chinese Ethnicity Face
Double Standards Living in China

July 5, 2007

Expats of Chinese ethnicity face a unique set of issues while living in China. They sometimes call themselves bananas -- yellow on the outside, white on the inside -- and their ability to blend in can be both a blessing and a curse.

"If I go to a touristy area, I'll let my obviously foreign friend walk in front of me and have the [street] hawkers assault him to buy things," Yew-Liang, a Chinese Malaysian who works in Beijing for a European company, told me. "But I think you are lucky in many ways to be unmistakably foreign ... and white. You get pretty different treatment -- most of it good."

Because he feels expats are treated much better than local hires in the workplace, he makes sure to address co-workers in English when meeting them. "Starting with English announces that you're foreign and thus probably in some senior position -- at least it gets you noticed" he explains. He also has his own language barriers to contend with. Yew-Liang grew up speaking Cantonese and English, but not Mandarin, which he only learned for two years in nursery school. His Mandarin skills still lag behind, which often confuses locals.

"Because I don't look different, people assume I know Mandarin," he says. "Sometimes they just can't get it."

But he says he is rarely hassled about this lack of language skills. This is in sharp contrast to a Chinese-American friend who is also fluent in Cantonese and learning Mandarin, and who tells me she has been harangued so many times by cab drivers and others for not knowing her "native tongue" that she has taken to telling them she is Korean. That was only after repeated attempts to explain that she was American were met with "No, you're Chinese."

Her Chinese is, in fact, far better than mine, yet I often get copious praise for uttering simple phrases. While many Chinese are pleased to hear a Caucasian's fumbling attempt to speak their language, they seem to expect nothing more than full fluency from someone who looks like them.

Yew-Liang says that he and his wife are also often subject to parental lecturing, particularly from grandmothers and ayis (nannies) in public parks.

"The way they raise kids is very different -- they tend to be very overprotective," he says. "They hold their kids' hands or stand right next to them while they are on slides or other equipment and can't understand why we let our daughter run around free. And, in the winter, forget it. They have their kids bundled up like they are going to the arctic and can't understand why we don't."

Yew-Liang mostly hangs out at work with several colleagues in a similar situation -- ethnically Chinese expats from Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia. "It's easier for us to relate to each other," he says. "We have both a language and a cultural barrier between us and the Chinese. Just one example is the local guys don't seem to tease each other, joke around or talk about girls casually the way we do."

He says he relates more easily to his European and American colleagues than to mainland Chinese. "I think you and I are about 70% the same, culturally," he tells me. "We're pretty alike except for what sissies you are about what you eat."

My friend Nancy Choy is second/third generation American. She grew up in San Francisco with a strong awareness of her ethnicity. She visited her grandmothers in their Chinatown homes, ate dim sum for lunch every Sunday, regularly visited her grandfather's grave to burn incense and ate mooncakes in October (a Chinese tradition). She sometimes visited traditional Chinese medicine doctors and Cantonese was regularly spoken inside her grandmothers' house.

Still, she all but laughed at me when I asked if she had a sense of returning to the homeland when she first visited China.

"None at all," she says. "It never loomed that large to me and to the extent it did; it was my grandmother's village in southern China. I had seen pictures of it and always imagined China as a stand-alone building surrounded by fields. Beijing was so, so different that it barely even registered as being the same place."

She too says that locals are often surprised when she can't speak to them, but it hasn't caused her any major problems.

"The first phrase I learned was 'I don't speak Chinese' and people usually accept it even if they are confused," Nancy says. "They will often start speaking to me very quickly, but they generally back off when I say that."

Nancy's husband is also Chinese American, so their three daughters are ethnically pure Chinese -- and totally American. It can cause some confusion.

"I don't know if it's because we have three kids, or three girls, or three girls speaking English but a lot of people seem to stare at us," Nancy tells me.

At least it seemed like a lot of staring until she visited a museum with a German friend with three strikingly blond children. There she saw what my family often experiences -- hordes of people wanting to touch, talk to and photograph the blond family.

"It made me appreciate blending in more," Nancy says.

Interestingly, overseas Chinese who have lived here most of their lives don't seem to have any issues with their status -- other than explaining it to people in America and elsewhere. I caught up with four such college and high school students last week as they played cards in a Beijing Starbucks. They had all attended the International School of Beijing together and their families had been here for eight to 15 years.

They all say that they had very little friction or discomfort growing up as overseas Chinese expats in China. "The only time people notice us as being different is sometimes when we start speaking English to each other," says Emily Yin, a student at the University of California, San Diego. "They may ask where we're from and why we're not speaking Chinese, but that's about it."

At their universities in the U.S. and Australia, however, they've found that things aren't always as simple and that their fellow students don't quite know what to make of them. They hear they are from Beijing and are shocked by their unaccented American English.

"People always ask me why I speak English so well," says Alex Cheng, a junior at Washington University of St. Louis. "They just can't understand how I can be a Chinese-American from Beijing."

"People ask me why I speak with an American accent," adds Huiling Koh, a Chinese Australian who attends the University of Melbourne.

All four also say that their fellow students often ask them about China, assuming it to be a primitive country. "They think I grew up in a hut in a rice field," says Emily with a smile. "A lot of people don't know what an expat is. When I explain they say, 'What kind of job would be in China?'"

Write to Alan Paul at

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Luther Allison RIP

I stumbled onto a Luther Allison site today. He as great blue guitarist who died just as he was finally getitng some fame in the late 90s. I wrote the liner note for a posthumous live album on Alligator Records and totally forgot I had done so. They were posted on his site. so I'll share them here.

Live In Chicago (1999) -

LUTHER ALLISON had a lot to prove when he climbed on stage at the 1995 Chicago Blues Festival. But that's nothing new. Blues musicians have always had to prove it all night, every night. Careers are still made or broken on sweaty, beer-soaked stages in front of a few hundred people at a time. But every once in a great while, a blues musician is presented with a rare opportunity to radically expand that scope the chance to reach hundreds of thousands of listeners in a single swoop. Such was the case for Allison on June 3, 1995.

Over the previous 12 years, since his move to Paris, Luther had made himself into a European star. The price he paid was giving up a career in his homeland, a career which exploded in the late '60s and flourished in the '70s, but never reached the heights predicted by many. The Blues Fest presented a golden chance to help him reestablish himself on these shores. A year prior, he had released Soul Fixin' Man, his first American album in seven years, then pounded the clubs, spreading the word that he was back home and better than ever. Though he had yet to reach the crossover rock audience which awaited him, his name was again becoming revered by blues fanatics, and he was rapidly winning converts the old-fashioned way -- with phenomenal three and four-hour shows that were emotionally gripping feats of physical endurance.

"I put out until they pull the plug," he told me just six months or so before his 1997 death from cancer. "First, I love every minute of it. And, second, I am on a mission to regain my name at home." Allison's success was highlighted by the dozen W.C. Handy Blues Awards he received over the last three years of his life, including the coveted Blues Entertainer of the Year in 1997 and again, posthumously, in '98. It was a remarkable run, and it was only gaining strength when Allison was stricken while touring in support of the Grammy-nominated Reckless, his third excellent album in four years. In many ways, this last great chapter in Luther's life began with that '95 performance at the Chicago Blues Fest in front of some 150,000 people and thousands more listening on National Public Radio.

Remarkably, Luther had played a festival in Nantes, France, the night before and flew back to Paris, where he boarded a jet bound for Chicago. When he took the stage, his 55-year-old bones hadn't seen a bed in two nights, but you won't hear any signs of jetlag throughout the blistering 60-minute set captured on Disc One. With the rock-solid James Solberg Band kicking it behind him and the Memphis Horns adding their trademark punch to five songs, Luther ripped and snorted through a condensed version of his lengthy shows. The rousing set featured a wide range of material from both Soul Fixin' Man and its followup, Blue Streak, at the time recorded but not yet released.

As usual, the spotlight was on Luther's passionate intensity, which flowed through his slashing guitar work and gravelly, soulful vocals. It's revealing that in his big homecoming gig, Luther insisted on playing a set dominated by original tunes, many co-written with Solberg. The songs reveal a strong songwriting hand, thoughtfully tackling discrimination, inner-city decay and welfare reform along with more typical blues topics like heartbreak, longing and adultery. His second number was Blue Streak's Cherry Red Wine, a moving condemnation of a hard-drinking friend, which would soon become one of his most requested numbers.

That night, Luther was thrilled to be preceding his idol, Otis Rush, and overjoyed to revisit his roots by returning to the stage to join him for the Festival's final jam. Along with old compadre Eddie C. Campbell, they took on B.B. King's Gambler's Blues and Sweet Little Angel. Luther's guitar playing hailed from Rush's West Side school of Chicago playing; like Magic Sam, Freddie King and Jimmy Dawkins, he favored hard-driving, piercing single-note leads with a soul base and a rock tone. Unlike most of his West Side peers, he was also an excellent slide player, as displayed on Hound Dog Taylor's Give Me Back My Wig and Tampa Red via Elmore James' It Hurts Me Too.

Slide or straight, Luther's playing tended to be reckless in the best sense of the word, dancing on a razor's edge, remaining just this side of out-of-control. His singing was also a marvel rich, emotive and edgy. At times, he even came across as a guitar-toting Otis Redding, as on Disc Two's You're Gonna Make Me Cry. All of it was put across with a full-tilt intensity that reflected Luther's passion and his determination to prove himself as one of the all-time greats. From uptempo, party-down rockers to contemplative, longing blues and from bouncy, horn-driven soul tunes to organ-fueled, gospel-style ballads, he performed with the fiery energy of a teenager and the grizzled soul of a veteran.

Luther's life was dedicated to his music. Born in Widener, Arkansas, in 1939, the 14th of 15 children, Allison and his family moved to Chicago when he was 12, and he began soaking in the sounds of Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson and Robert Nighthawk. He didn't start playing guitar until he was 18 and was quickly jamming with the West Side's best, including Rush and Freddie King, who encouraged Allison to sing. "That," Allison liked to say, "was my school." When King began to tour nationally in the early '60s, Allison took over his band as well as his weekly gigs. Still, it was 1969 before he recorded his debut album, Love Me Mama, for Delmark Records, and began to tour nationally.

A barn-burning performance at the 1969 Ann Arbor Jazz and Blues Festival helped him make a name, and soon a dashiki-wearing, Afro-sporting Allison was a hippie favorite. His career was on the upswing in '72 when he signed with Motown Records as the label's only blues act, but three records for the Gordy subsidiary failed to launch him. Hard work and lots of touring began to bring Luther wide acceptance in Europe just as interest in the blues was fading at home, so in '83 he moved to Paris and began turning himself into a European star, releasing some dozen albums. In the meantime, his presence at home faded ever more, but his ability to invest all of himself into emotionally complex and mature performances only deepened.

"I've learned a lot since I first started playing," Allison said. "I'm definitely better than I was early in my career, because I've had a chance to listen to music with not just my ear, but also my heart and my mind. I just want to keep doing it. I played the same stuff in France as I did in Chicago, but it was much more accepted there. I got to play in bigger places, and I've been on the most popular television stations in Germany, France and Switzerland. That's the kind of real good play a blues player just doesn't get in the States, so we have to try to make it other ways. And we're not gonna give up."

And so Allison hit the highway, barnstorming America, gaining fans one revelatory show at a time. The second disc of this set mixes tracks from two typically fiery club performances, one from Buddy Guy's Chicago Legends just four months after the Blues Fest, and the other from one of his last shows, at Lincoln, Nebraska's Zoo Bar.

The latter tracks, though not recorded in Chicago, are performances so strong that they had to be heard. Listening to the joy he invests in Party Time and the cut-to-the-bone passion with which he digs into What's Going On In My Home?, Will It Ever Change? and You're Gonna Make Me Cry, it's impossible to conceive that Luther's body was already starting to fail him. It says a lot about his attitude and love for the music that he remained on the road, playing the blues as long as he possibly could.

"You've got to have the love for it to stick with it all these years," he told me. "I'm a fighter, and I feel like I've been fighting for my life as a musician. So many people have come up to me all excited and said, 'The blues are back!' What can I say to that except, 'Back for who?' I never stopped doing it, never changed a thing. A lot of great musicians, young and old, have come and gone, and I'm still here. And as long as I am, I'm not going to stop."

Of course, he couldn't have known that soon after he said this he would be gone. That he died on the doorstep of achieving the domestic recognition that he so longed for is a tragedy that one could spend a lifetime pondering without ever making sense of.

His zeal was such that it's tempting to think that perhaps he knew his time was limited. But that interpretation actually belittles Allison's lust for life; he truly lived each day like it was his last, played every show like he might never be on stage again. "I never had any regrets about going overseas," Luther said. "I did what I had to and the people of Europe were beautiful to me. But I never gave up the hope that I would make my name back home, either. And when the time was right, I started back up here."

In retrospect, it seems completely natural that he would replicate his European success back home, because Luther was a great musician and a powerful personality. His death left a void in the blues world so profound that it's hard to believe that just a few years prior, only the most ardent American fans even knew his name. Live in Chicago is just one more reminder of how much Luther is missed. Those of us who had the pleasure of experiencing Luther in concert will listen and picture him striding the stage, sweating, grimacing, laughing, hollering, shaking the hell out of his guitar trying to wring a little bit more sustain, just a touch more emotion, out of a note. If you missed out on seeing him perform, these CDs thankfully capture the powerful sound and irresistible energy that defined Luther live. So turn up the volume, shut your eyes, and remember Luther's motto: Leave your ego, play the music, love the people. Amen. --Alan Paul

Alan Paul is an Associate Editor of Guitar World and the editor of

Monday, July 09, 2007

Quick shots of Shangri La

Kind of cozy right now sitting in a hotel room, packed bags all around, kids sleeping away. Becky is back in Beijing. We leave in the morning to join her. It has been a great trip, reconnecting with friends and basking in this wild, mystical place. These are just a couple of pictures to show what we've been up to. Much more to come.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Checking in From shangri La

I am in Shangri-la, Yunnan, china. It is the first place we have revisted in China and well worth it. a really special, peaceful place. I will post more including lots of pics, soon.Having a really special time with the Tashi family.

In the meantime, I just checked in and saw this. Pretty classic. After years of slinging sh#t to make others seem smarter and better than they are, it's nice to turn my pen on myself. I feel as nervous as I did for the first gig for this one, performing as a duo.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Fast pics

Bensons left today. We had a great visit. We are off to DeQing Yunnan to meet up with the Tashi family. Crazy fast times but all good. here are some fast photos of the Benson family visit. Great time had by all.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007