Jeff Smith noon, March 8
Battle of the Local Blues Lovers
BATTLE OF THE LOCAL BLUES LOVERS
(Art by Ken Meyer, Jr.)
“My enemies have betrayed me
have overtaken poor Bob at last
An’ ‘ere’s one thing certainly
they have stones all in my pass.”
(Robert Johnson “Stones In My Passway”)
“The blues in San Diego is non-existent,” local guitarist Len Rainey told me awhile back. “It’s more of a jazz town, there’s not much blues to be had here. You’ve got Croce’s, one of the main international places, you’ve got Patrick’s a little bit but you just don’t have the bigger venues.”
Hoping to boost the local scene, Rainey (with the San Diego Blues Society and Gemtone Records) used to put together events like the Annual Super Bowl Blues shows at 4th & B, which he also headlined. “4th and B was nice enough to give me the place again and said ‘Len, put some blues in the place for me.’ I had 500 people show up so there’s definitely a market for it, I would think.”
Former 4th & B owner Bob Speth was impressed. After the second year’s Super Bowl Blues show, he said “They did real good, they sounded good and the audience was a lot larger than the year before. I like it. We’re contemplating doing some more blues...we’ll book whatever’s hot. We’re your basic run of the mill bar, we’ll give the people what they want. If they’ll buy a ticket for blues, then we’ll put in more blues.”
Jim Phillips was general manager of Blind Melons, the venue at 710 Garnet Avenue that opened in 1989 and is now known as 710 Beach Club (previously called the Elbow Room, Mary’s by the Pier, and Bangers). He said Blind Melons lost money on events just to bring blues acts to the stage. “I think people just have an interpretation that [the blues] is just two old black guys just really bummed out about everything,” he said. “Maybe that representation doesn’t appeal to a lot of people.”
Music historian and broadcast vet Dan Pothier hosted a Friday night show for NPR, Bluestime. After the program was cancelled, I interviewed him at his home. “KPBS said that NPR didn’t think that the blues had any support in this city,” according to Pothier.
“They told me that NPR was cutting back on blues, period. And I found that to not be a fact. Any time you talk to the general manager of a station and he tells you that he can’t understand why people play dead folks’ music, well, I have a problem with that...I took that to mean that he didn’t place much stock in Mozart, classical, blues, anything that’s not current.”
He says that Bluestime was cut from the KPBS schedule with no warning. “I don’t particularly care for the way they did it, but I had a sneaking suspicion that something was up when I went in to do my Friday show. They treated me like I was a kid who was going to explode on the air after they told me they weren’t going to carry the show any more. When I went in, there was already someone else preparing to go on the air. They won’t let you go back on the air after they tell you they’re terminating you. That’s a common practice in commercial broadcasting.”
He points out that KPBS is not a commercial station. “Public radio is just that, it’s public supported, it doesn’t depend on ratings and chart positions.”
Why was he told the show was cancelled? “[KPBS’s] new program director told me that NPR’s main office claimed there was no market for the blues in San Diego. I never got anything in writing. But the director of National Public Radio is African American and I don’t think he’d come down with something like that.”
Pothier says he never went on the air that night - he just left the building and didn’t even turn on the radio to see what his “replacement” was putting on the air in place of Bluestime. “I just took my lump in my throat and drove away.”
Tammy Charnow went to work for KPBS in 1994, and she recalled for me about Bluestime getting pulled. “There weren’t very many people listening to it, which was unfortunate.”
How do they know this? “We have a research company most radio stations use, Arbitron, and we use them to track our listenership. Plus we have a department of people who take calls from the public and we pay a lot of attention to that.”
So ratings ARE a factor in public radio, even though they’re not selling ads? “We need to know if people are listening just as much as anybody else. If the listeners don’t like what they hear, they won’t support us with pledges.”
How does KPBS decide what shows get canceled? “A lot of times it relies on what people in focus groups tell us. Also, I think what happened was we didn’t have a lot of money for local programming and we had to cut something. That was the program that had the least audience. We thought we should put that money into a program that had more people listening to it.”
“Dan [Pothier] is a great guy,” she concluded, “and it was a great show, but people just weren’t tuning in.”
Pothier was at one time President of the aforementioned San Diego Blues Society, which helped put on the 4th & B Super Bowl Blues shows. He says he resigned that position, because his job and other commitments didn’t leave him enough time to fulfill his duties.
He instead became Event Coordinator for a newer group, BLUSD (Blues Lovers United Of San Diego), which he says was initially comprised mostly of former Blues Society members.
“There were some philosophical differences....some things didn’t quite gel with a lot of people. They thought that, by regrouping, we might speed things up a little faster. It wasn’t anything where anybody came to blows or anything.”
Once he found himself with time again, why did he join BLUSD instead of rejoining the Blues Society?
He paused a bit before answering. “I thought the direction I wanted to see a blues organization to go in was not the direction the San Diego Blues Society was going in at the time. So when I was called to help form another group [in January 1999], it took me awhile to decide. Rather than take a position as an officer again, President, Vice President, Treasurer, it took me awhile to decide what to do besides just being a member. This organization was going in the right direction. A lot of the people we had over there are now over here.”
I asked what specific grievances they had with the way things were done at the Blues Society? “There wasn’t enough being done for the dues-paying members. They didn’t get enough in return for their support,” he says, suggesting that many more events and outreach programs are being launched by BLUSD.
Len Rainey played benefit events for both the Blues Society and BLUSD. “The blues is universal, so I’ve got to do it for both of them,” he told me. “I kind of tread lightly between both of them.”
Why, in his opinion, didn’t the two groups get along, since they had the same goal; promoting the blues? “It’s just probably there’s a lot of strong people in both organizations and they don’t see eye to eye on certain things...that’s probably why some of the people from the Blues Lovers, who used to be in the Blues Society, kind of broke off and did their thing. They couldn’t get along with Dana [Shocaroff, then President of the San Diego Blues Society].”
Jim Phillips at Blind Melons first heard about the Blues Society around 1997. “There was a woman [Shocaroff] who kind of like was running it by herself and she wanted to do all of her events at the Belly Up, didn’t want anything to do with Blind Melons...a number of people got tired of being in that organization and not being able to expand their horizons.”
Phillips said he attended the first meeting of the new group, along with about twenty or thirty others. “Those who’d been in the Blues Society felt that there had been a lack of communication, no direction, no voting...[they] were virtually alienated by this woman who was running it. She had her own, I guess, agenda.”
Phillip Shuey was elected President of the new BLUSD and re-elected the following year, but he was originally on the Blues Society committee for a brief time.
Shuey said he went into the hospital for surgery, and “When I came out, a whole group of people had left. It was one of those classic palace coup situations where a couple of people were making the decisions and the masses didn’t like it so they stormed the castle and got beaten back and so they left. That’s how a lot of times a splinter organization or a second organization is formed...the reality was there were a couple of strong personalities in the Blues Society and a lot of the rank and file members and other board members were making suggestions and kind of being ignored, they felt, so they decided to bolt.”
When I contacted Dana Shocaroff, she said “Trust me, there was plenty of badmouthing me. Actually, I did take it personally a little bit for a while there but I got over it. They would actually - I used to get phone calls. They were calling it Dana-bashing. But you know, as Cher said, if they quit talking about you, they forgot about you.”
She said the defections did not interrupt Blues Society activities. “My board - our board, not my board - our board, when there was word of the other society, they had their choice of staying where they’re at, [or] we dissolve and combine [with BLUSD] or them leaving. And they were one hundred percent behind me and said ‘If you go, we go.’”
I did not fail to note how she called the Blues Society officers “MY board,” before correcting to “OUR board”………
“I also got calls from several members who said ‘Please don’t give up.’ And I said ‘I have no intention of giving up,’ so we continued on. I know what I’m doing is good, I know it comes from the heart. Sometimes when you get attacked, it hurts because they attack your heart. But it’s gonna take more than a handful of men to knock me down.”
Though I interviewed Shocaroff awhile back, it’s worth noting that, at present, four of the six BLUSD Directors are women, as are both members of the group’s advisory board (Michelle Lundeen and Nancy Tiger).
Shocaroff grew up near Chicago and moved to San Diego a little over 20 years ago. Her day job for awhile involved running a La Jolla escrow company, but her first love has always been the blues.
“The Blues Society’s objective [was] the promotion and education of one of America’s first art forms. It’s like any new organization. It takes a lot of work, a lot of time and it’s all volunteer, which means a lot of patience [waiting] for people to do things. So we kind of tried to get out there full force the first year and then said ‘Okay, wait a minute, we need to pull back here, get out non-profit status, get our ducks in a row, build a solid foundation.”
I asked about what others had called her “strong personality.” “My strong personality? Those are people who hate to see a woman in power, don’t you think? I’m not surprised, I’ve heard everything that you’re saying to me, from various people as far as what [they] were saying about me.”
About Phillips’ claim that she “didn’t want anything to do with Blind Melons,” she responded “We would not call one venue our home, we didn’t think that was fair.” She says Blind Melon’s was particularly insistent about this but that she felt that the Society should be able to book acts into as many clubs as possible.
Once in awhile, she said, there was a conflict with BLUSD over a specific location. “One venue told me that they were approached by both of us but he chose to work with me, that was his choice. I do have to be a little bit careful because we have announced things before and the other organization has done it. And when I question them on it, they just said ‘well, too bad,’ that was quote unquote, too bad. So we just step back.”
“I met with their [BLUSD] president…and wished them all the luck in the world...we all have our different expertise. I think there’s plenty of room.”
The Blues Society used to produce shows at Buffalo Joe’s, Etta’s Place, Patrick’s and others, as well as being one of the sponsors of Blues On The Green in El Cajon. During one Street Scene, they booked seven bands into the Juke Joint, which normally features only jazz and comedy, with great results. The club then changed to having blues every Sunday for awhile.
However, the Blue Society grew increasingly inactive, as BLUSD eventually became the dominant local blues society involved in performances both here and in other cities, as well as running their successful Blues In The Schools (BITS) program.
What is it about BLUSD that enabled them to win the battle of the blues? “They want something bigger,” said Jim Phillips. “Not just one person but a board of eight to twelve people to be able to vote on issues that they feel are important for the direction they want to go. They want a huge membership base.”
Phillip Shuey says BLUSD was dominant as of its first year of operation. “We got involved as an active participant in the Blues Foundation, which is based in Memphis Tennessee. They have around 107 affiliates around the world who carry on the work on a local basis.”
BLUSD also takes part in the International Blues Challenge, a Blues Foundation national competition to find best unsigned blues act. “We put 25 or 26 bands up on the stage over four weeks, had judges score them according to the criteria of the Foundation and then we [send] the top vote getter…to the final competition in Memphis.”
Dan Pothier doesn’t see the two groups as having operated at cross purposes. “Regardless of how many organizations there are, if they’re heading in the right direction, in the same direction, it’s okay.”
At the International Blues Challenge 2008, BLUSD sponsored Aunt Kizzy’s Boyz. They did well in the band category, but did not make it to the finals. Local Sue Palmer DID win an award for Best Self-Produced CD, for her album “Sophisticated Ladies.”
BLUES LOVERS UNITED OF SAN DIEGO www.blusd.org
BUFFY STAKED AFTER KEN CINEMA SCREENING
I confess ---- I once broke up with a girl over Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Over the few months we dated, we watched episodes of the series together, and she seemed to enjoy the show as much as I did (and still do).
Then, I put on a video of the musical “Once More With Feeling” episode, which I consider one of the all-time coolest hours of television – just brilliant stuff. My girl didn’t even get through the second song before she stood up and announced, with disdain on her face and poison in her tone, “This is stupid. I hate this,” and she left the room.
I knew at that precise moment that this was not a girl I could ever respect, let alone love…
That was a couple of years ago. Late last year, I heard that the Buffy Musical episode would be screened in my favorite surviving single-screen theater, the Ken in Kensington, in an October 5th audience-participation blowout.
Though attending fans didn’t know at the time, that Ken event was the final curtain call for the traveling show based around “Once More With Feeling.” 20th Century Fox, which owns the program, has demanded all future audience-participation screenings be shut down.
"Notice for this was very sudden and unexpected," says event founder Clinton McClung on the Buffy Musical website. "Basically, the idea of presenting television shows in a theatre is so new that there are a lot of details that still need to be resolved around payments of residuals, deals with the guilds and unions, etc.”
McClung says he did arrange licensing authorization through Criterion Pictures, the theatrical distributor for Fox's television shows. However, Fox says Criterion had no authority to license the sing-a-long screenings, which have also taken place in Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, Michigan, Maine, and Hawaii.
Chris Alexander at Fox says in a press release that "significant payments" should have been tendered before the musical Buffy episode got its Rocky Horror-style theatrical makeover. "We have to protect our interests, and that's what we're doing…There are plenty of legal ways for fans to enjoy Buffy, but this particular event is not going to be possible at this time."
Event organizer McClung says “Both Fox and Criterion need to fix some of these issues before [we] can continue to do any theatrical screenings." A three-night St. Louis screening has been cancelled, as was a proposed NYC event. “For now, it looks like San Diego was our swan song.”
I wonder if my ex is now working for Fox Television?
Locally-based comic book publisher IDW holds the license to publish comic books based on the Buffy TV show, and on its companion series Angel. They’ve released several titles based on characters from both series, most notably a Spike miniseries, as well as official canonical sequels, in editions fully authorized by series creator Joss Whedon.
RAGE AGAINST THE RANCHO: Ex-Blinker Disses His Upscale Neighborhood
I guess it makes sense that rockers as rich as the guys (formerly) in blink 182 have run out of things to angst over. "I guess this is growing up..." and all that, dontcha know.
So it's kind of a hoot to discover that the debut album by +44 with Mark Hoppus and Travis Barker includes a track dissing Hoppus' former neighbors in so-upscale-it's-obscene Rancho Santa Fe.
His rage against the Rancho is mainly directed at the neighborhood's homeowners association. Hoppus told newstimeslive.com “There's a song called ‘Lillian’ on the record that's about people that try to control other people's lives...And there's a place in San Diego called Rancho Santa Fe, which is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been in my life. It's country sides, rolling hills, there's trees everywhere. It's this gorgeous place, and it's filled with some of the most backstabbing, evil, just bitter, bitter people in the world."
"The homeowners association is very strict and it's strange because everybody who lives there is very wealthy…They're just bitter and it's a sour, sour community. The woman who started the homeowners association there is a woman named Lillian. So it's kind of about people trying to control one another.”
Hoppus seems pretty bitter and sour himself, judging from the tune's lyrics:
"The place I used to live, made me feel like a tourist
I couldn't coexist with the cold and suspicious
When the last remaining left was starting to filter
It seemed the perfect time to step into the future
Your heart is no grave to be perfectly honest
Your mouth's a smoking gun
And you smile while your twisting the knife in my stomach
Until everything is gone
Take all you can from me
I've got weak constitution
I'm led so easily
I left it all behind, in the dead of last winter
I left it all behind, but the question still lingers
So long forgotten friends, no, you don't know the difference
Between love and submission, and I'm not that obedient
Your heart is no grave, to be perfectly honest
Your mouth's a smoking gun
And you smile while your twisting the knife in my stomach
Until everything is gone
Take all you can from me
I've got weak constitution
I'm led so easily."
I expect the next +44 album will include a tirade against Hoppus' Porsche mechanic ("Fixed my air with faulty parts, now my leather interior smells like farts").
Like this blog? Here are some related links:
OVERHEARD IN SAN DIEGO - Several years' worth of this comic strip, which debuted in the Reader in 1996: http://www.sandiegoreader.com/photos/galleries/overheard-san-diego/
FAMOUS FORMER NEIGHBORS - Over 100 comic strips online, with mini-bios of famous San Diegans: http://www.sandiegoreader.com/photos/galleries/famous-former-neighbors/
SAN DIEGO READER MUSIC MySpace page: http://www.myspace.com/sandiegoreadermusic
JAY ALLEN SANFORD MySpace page: http://www.myspace.com/jayallensanford