Posts Tagged ‘Robert Johnson’

Deep Blues

February 6, 2015
The Late Bluesman Zeb Cash-Lane, Playing at Fort Worth's Peppermill Lounge

The Late Bluesman Zeb Cash-Lane, Playing at Fort Worth’s Peppermill Lounge

My Privilege to Share the Stage Alongside Zeb

My Privilege to Share the Stage Alongside Zeb, Playing Blues

The Illinois Central cuts through the heart of the South Side, where most Chicago blacks lived in 1943 and most still do. The passenger’s first look at the city consists of mile after mile of weatherbeaten two-and three-story frame and brick buildings with dilapidated back porches that reach right to the edge of the tracks. They march sullenly past the train’s windows for what seems like an hour, and then the rhythmic clickclack of the pistons slows down and the engine pulls into Central Station.

Robert Palmer, Deep  Blues

It is now Christmas Eve, and what am I doing? I’m seated in a darkened Amtrak lounge car, hurtling through the black night, watching the occasional small southern town sprint past my window with its red flashing crossing guards, and small frame homes. And I am listening to Muddy Waters on my Discman. I am listening to Muddy Waters playing Country Blues on a speeding train across Arkansas past midnight.

David Tripp, Journal, December 24, 2004, 12:22 a.m.

I look up from my work as small-town America rolls by beneath my Amtrak window.  Sleeping America, sprawled beneath a bloody three-quarter moon. The flashing red crossing lights. The white facades of sad buildings. Hope, Arkansas at 12:48 a.m.

David Tripp, Journal, May 27, 2005, 12:48 a.m.

Last night, just before bedtime, I opened Robert Palmer’s Deep Blues and began to read. I purchased this book over ten years ago, but never opened it, to my shame. When I was studying Blues more closely back then, I read over a dozen biographies and histories covering the American Blues music phenomenon. I even played in some bands, though I always considered myself shaky and uptight with my guitar attempts. I love this musical genre, and reading the text I posted above sent me scurrying to my shelves of journals to retrieve some things I had jotted from that earlier era of my own life. How well I remember those sad nights on Amtrak, traveling home to St. Louis to visit my family for Christmas. As the train left Fort Worth and rolled through the grimy unsightly neighborhoods and decaying business districts of Arlington, Grand Prairie, Dallas, Marshall, Longview, Texarkanna, Arkadelphia, Hope, Little Rock, etc., I would look out my windows at the small backyards, sagging porches, chained pit bulls, junked vehicles, washing machines and Christmas lights in these sad little neighborhoods. And I would listen to Blues music on my headphones–Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf, Son House–and experience feelings too deep to describe. As Robert Palmer reminds us, the history of the Blues is a “story of a small and deprived group of people who created, against tremendous odds, something that has enriched us all.”

For awhile, I played in a band with Zeb Cash-Lane, about two years before he passed away. We took our act on weekends to the Peppermill Lounge in east Fort Worth, playing before less than a dozen working-class men bellied up to the bar who showed no indication of listening to us. That took the pressure off, as we experimented with our Blues genre and took it to levels we never thought possible. I still hear Zeb’s Stratocaster crying out into the night as he pushed out the most amazing lead improvs that I never heard in our studio rehearsals. The man was possessed with a magnificent genius for electric blues guitar, and I miss him as I write this tonight. Following is something I wrote in my journal on October 13, 2006, the morning after I met Zeb Cash-Lane:

Last night, I had a life-altering encounter at a recording studio in east Arlington. I met for the first time Zeb Cash-Lane, an aged blues musician, specializing in harp and searing electric guitar (Fender Jazzmaster played through a Fender tube amp).  It was a night to remember always and I now attempt to record the visions . . .

7:00 p.m. Thursday found me pushing my Jeep westward on Abram, with temperatures dropping, a chilly October evening and a sun sinking large, flooding the western sky with color. Looming silhouettes of tire shops and tattoo parlors paraded down the corridors of my peripheral glances.  Finally, the cinder block building came into sight. Jim Farmer waited outside on the parking lot with a slender, rangy man sporting a Rasputin-like full white beard, faded jeans, suspenders and a gray-blue “Charley Guitar Shop” T-shirt. I was introduced and shook hands with Zeb Cash-Lane.

Inside the dim studio room that doubled as Zeb’s dorm room, we heard the searing electric blues that Zeb ripped. It was an authentic Blues environ: whiskey bottles, ashtrays, Zeb rolling his own cigarettes, scattered amps, guitars, a cello and even an upright piano. The room had the clutter of a maintenance shed or electrician’s shop, but it was a music room. A Blues room, a three-dimensional photo gallery of where Zeb was and where Zeb had been. Jim Farmer played his new electric bass, Zeb played his Fender Jazzmaster and I played my Martin D-35. The Blues seared, screamed and moaned late into that cold October night. Inside, the guitars cried while outside, the winds answered with a chorus of mournful, yet affirming howls. Stormy Monday set the tone for the Blues night in the studio.

After hours of playing, we sat outside on the concrete steps, weary but full of hope about our musical collaboration, and shared stories over cold beers. I drove home, late in the night, numbed by the experience.

My Watercolor of Zeb Cash-Lane

My Watercolor of Zeb Cash-Lane

Though most of the blues musicians with whom I have played in the past are either deceased or no longer in my social circle, I still feel a kinship with anyone who has played a Blues riff on a guitar. I’m grateful for what the Delta and Chicago bluesmen left us, what Zeb handed down to me, and so sorry for the way these musicians suffered to lay such a gift at our feet.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not really alone.

Swimming in Blues Music and Other Streams

February 2, 2015
An old watercolor of myself playing guitar outside the Silver Dollar Tavern

An old watercolor of myself playing guitar outside the Silver Dollar Tavern

Robert Johnson became the personification of the existential blues singer, unencumbered by corporeality or history, a fiercely incandescent spirit who had escaped the bonds of tradition by the sheer thrust of genius. . . . Like Shakespeare, though, the man remains the mystery. . . . From what remote and isolated well of inspiration did the music and poetry of Robert Johnson emerge? . . . It was a world in which Robert Johnson was suddenly elevated to significance by an act of creative will, by a synthesis of all he knew, of all he ever was to be.

Peter Guralnick, Searching for Robert Johnson

Good evening, and I apologize for my disappearing act.  I’m afraid I’m not offering much substance tonight, but wanted to re-enter the blogosphere and say to anyone who cares that I’m fine, but drowning in deadlines.  The past couple of weeks have been too busy for my own good, but I like what has happened.  I have returned to my abandoned Martin acoustic guitar, performed in a talent show, reconnected with a Renaissance man who is the best guitar teacher I know, played in a roomful of extraordinary guitarists who make my head swim with wonder and new ideas, presented a history of the blues to a living room salon gathering of kindred spirits, attended a Catholic mass that featured a polyphonic Renaissance repertoire of Latin music, connected with a large classroom full of philosophy students who are overflowing with fresh ideas (reading their journals recently made me shudder in wonder), and found an extraordinary mind in Goethe as I read his Faust in German and English.  What have I left out?  Oh yes, my new Logic class online at Texas Wesleyan University is also giving me a new lease on life, as are my AVID and Art History students at Martin High School.  And oh yes–I just emceed a Super Quiz for the regional Academic Decathlon meet last weekend, always an interesting pageant.

I have spent a large amount of time relearning blues history and playing slide guitar on my acoustic, something I had gotten away from in previous years.  My studies of Delta blues musicians has been an engaging one, especially connecting the Robert Johnson legacy with that line from Tennyson’s “Ulysses” about being a part of all that I have met.  I’m always intrigued with the multiple strands that make up individual creative personalities.  The lines of influence are never linear the way public education wishes we would teach facts.  Human experience is so fascinating and twisted in the best possible sense.  As I read the lives of Robert Johnson, Goethe, and more recently T. S. Eliot, I am always reminded that these men did not pursue a straight path.  No one does.  The tributaries that flow into our psychic mainstream are twisted and meandering, and so are our interests.  The more I work to untangle those tributaries leading toward the delta and finally the ocean, the more fascinated I am with the complexities and possibilities existent in our personal lives.

On a side note–I also posted my sentiments on Facebook yesterday, that I blacked out the Super Bowl for the first time in my personal history–I abhor a systemic cheating team calling themselves Patriots and am insulted as a teacher when I listen to the idiocy of one Marshawn Lynch of the Seahawks during media week, wondering how colleges grant degrees to indivduals who become millionaire “professional” athletes, and then parade their ignorance and arrogance, somewhow evoking adulation from citizens and reporters who don’t seem to know any better.  All this on top of a year of the NFL not knowing how to respond to domestic abuse and child abuse made me reach a decision that I am terminating my Sunday Ticket subscription to DirecTV, refusing to send one more nickel to the NFL.  I abhor their bankruptcy of values alongside their financial show of pageantry.  I take my educational profession seriously and don’t want to associate or support public abuse, arrogance or ignorance.  I feel sorry for the billionaires who find value in this, and even more for citizens who think they need it.

To sum up–I am alive, well, overworked, but really wanting to climb back into the blogosphere.  I really want to return to making art, but there are still deadlines crushing me with high school and college responsibilities.  My mind is fertile, I’m loving blues music, the study of art history, philosophy and literature, and hope that very soon I’ll have good art images to show as well as cogent ideas worth publishing.

Thanks for reading.  I really miss writing and publishing for kindred spirits out there.

David

Getting in Some Quick Watercolor Sketching at Eureka Springs

June 17, 2012

30-minute watercolor sketch

I thought I would go ahead and post this “effort” to catch the last thirty minutes of light in this fabulous Arkansas mountain town.  After rising at 5:00 and driving seven hours to get to this place, I laid my weary body on one of the most comfortable beds I’ve ever encountered.  But for some reason, countless friends began “popping” me with emails, texts, Facebook messages, and so on.  The BlackBerry would not shut up, and didn’t want to turn it off!  It was cool, hearing from so many people whom I appreciate.  I loved every word.

So . . . I got back up, went out on the back deck, and tried to capture what I could of this rustic structure across  the gorge that yawns beneath my temporary residence.  It felt good, trying to sketch fast in watercolor, and though I didn’t get what I want on paper, I nevertheless had the time of my life trying.  Across the way, a bar has a live band playing blues.  As I painted, I heard their rendition of Robert Johnson’s “Ramblin’ on my Mind.”  I loved it!  They played all kinds of wonderful Delta Blues classics, as I continued to sketch and listen in delight.

I think I’ll take a long, sweaty walk through the historic district now, and then call it an early night.  I need to greet my 8:00 students in the morning with the best I can call up.  I appreciate so much this opportunity to do this again.  Below, I’m posting a photo of the gorgeous Anderson Suite of the Twilight Terrace where it is my pleasure to reside this week.  What a lovely, lovely place.

Thanks for reading.

I journal because I am alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

blues

Twilight Terrace

Anderson Suite, Twilight Terrace

Sunday All Day in the Watercolor Studio

April 22, 2012

Saint Ignatius Sunday

Good afternoon.  Saturday came and went without watercolor pursuit.  I was privileged to participate in a fundraising event at J. Gilligan’s Pub in Arlington.  I donated a limited edition print for a silent auction, and my band played a short gig.  That pretty much wiped out my Saturday.

Today, however, I got to spend most of the time in the garage studio.  I worked on A. P. Art History for quite a few hours, re-arranged my studio, then redirected my energies toward this full-size watercolor.  I worked all over the composition, so I cannot isolate a small area for detailed analysis.  Today I did windows, foliage, fire escape, rusticated stone work and various assorted details.  The painting is starting to tighten up in detail, and it’s time for me to make some compositional decisions before it gets out of hand.  I’m starting to get lost in it again.

I’ve decided to walk away from it for a few hours, and just may return to it tonight.  If I do, then I’ll probably post a blog once more before bedtime.  My companions today (besides my watercolor buddy and bandmate David Slight) have been Albert Collins and Robert Johnson.  Again, Blues make fro great companionship in the watercolor studio.

Thanks for reading.

Saint Ignatius in the Pre-Dawn

April 19, 2012

Saint Ignatius in the Morning

Good morning!  I entered my garage studio at 6:05 and went directly to work on the portion of this watercolor posted above (about 25% of the overall composition).  It didn’t take me long to get lost in the upper-story right window.  Most of my pre-dawn was spent there and on the perimeter (fire escape, chimney and rusticated exterior of the building overall).  I’m still having fits with the fire escape shadows.  I have wanted them to have a purplish cast from the start, but so far I am not satisfied with the colors coming out, and I’ve altered them several times already.  Oh well.

My companions (aside from my cat, Kramer) have been Robert Johnson and Lonnie Johnson.  I enjoy playing vinyl when I’m listening to Blues music.  Robert has held my attention most of the morning with Kind Hearted Woman BLues and Rambling On My Mind.  The guitar work astounds me every time I listen to him.  Lonnie, on the other hand, lends quite an interesting jazz strain to his guitar that I find mesmerizing as well.

It’s 8:02, and I still have to shower and dress for today’s Field Trip.  I have to arrive in front of my school by 9:00.

Thanks for reading.  I plan to return this afternoon and push this watercolor further down the path.  I’m finally getting a rhythm back, and can’t wait to resume work on it.

Return to the Watercolor Studio

April 18, 2012

Late night in the studio

I kept my promise to myself, and re-entered my garage studio tonight, after much tidying and re-adjusting of my furniture.  Unfortunately, I load my art festival gear in and out of this same garage, and drafting tables and work benches end up getting covered in trunks and crates.

As I worked, clearing and re-arranging my studio, I had great company–Robert Johnson spinning on the turntable.  I bought his Robert Johnson: King of the Delta Blues Singers on vinyl several years back, and absolutely love playing it in the garage at night.  My last two Humanities class sessions at Martin High School have focused on the life of Robert Johnson, so I have had his music in my ears for about four days now.  It wasn’t until tonight, while alone in my work and my thoughts, that I realized how unspeakably sad some of his pieces are:  Love in Vain and Malted Milk. For a traveling troubadour, he undoubtedly was acquainted with profound sadness.  It upsets me further to think of his untimely homicide at age 27.  I wonder how much more our Mozarts and Robert Johnsons had within them that was never brought to birth.  Of course, my mind also goes to artists like Vincent Van Gogh, Frederic Bazille and Umberto Boccioni, all dead just as they were hitting their stride.  Sometimes I look at my own 57 years, and am bothered that I have been granted such a long stretch, and didn’t have enough interest to pursue this art until much time was spent (wasted) along the way.  But, I suppose it’s human for us to look back on our past with regrets.  How many of us, after all, did all of it right?

After setting up my watercolor work station, I returned to work on this daunting fire escape, shadows and windows on the side of Saint Ignatius Academy in south Fort Worth.  I had to re-draw much of the angles that I got wrong the first time.  I hate re-doing mistakes as it slows down the painting process, which is painstaking enough without it.  Now I feel as though I have gone ten rounds in the ring.

Tomorrow I don’t have to appear at school until 9:00 a.m. as I will leave with the Art Club for a Kimbell Art Museum field trip.  I’m leaning seriously toward setting an early alarm and getting into the studio, rather than sleeping in.  My daily habit is to rise at 6:00 in order to make my first 7:35 class.  Fatigue has settled into me, and I think I should approach this painting first thing in the pre-dawn morning.

Thanks for reading.  I certainly hope to have progress to report tomorrow.

 

Exploring Edward Hopper with Victorian Architecture

March 15, 2011
 

Victorian cropped

Revisiting Edward Hopper and Victorian Architecture

Spring Break has afforded quality watercolor time, and it is only Tuesday evening.  Daylight Saving Time has given me more quality outdoor light in the afternoon/evening as well.  The garage studio environment has been sublime for painting, reading, journaling and blogging.  I moved my antiquated stereo into the garage and am now enjoying a turntable that I haven’t played in a couple of years. Currently, I’m enjoying a pirated double-LP recording of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young Live at the Los Angeles Forum 6-26-1970.  Standing in waiting is a large stack of blues LPs–Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Lonnie Johnson, Brownie McGhee, B. B. King, Son House, John Lee Hooker and Robert Johnson.

The pictures posted above are my attempt to paint a Victorian mansion I have admired for years, situated high atop a hill in Weatherford, Texas, along Highway 180.  A couple of weeks ago, on a Saturday, I was en route to the Brazos River near Possum Kingdom to do some fly fishing for recently-stocked rainbow trout.  The sun was strong that morning, and as I drove past this mansion, I had to pull over, turn around, return, get out and shoot some photos of it.  Finally I’m getting around to attempting my first watercolor on full-size paper (about 30 x 22″) with nearly 2/3 of the composition being hillside.  I’m flying blind here–don’t have any idea what I’m going to do with all this grass!  However, the mansion is coming along satisfactorily, and if I decide the grass isn’t working out, I can always take this to the paper cutter!  That should relieve some of the pressure I feel.

T. S. Eliot has been my companion for the day.  I’ve been spending plenty of time in “The Waste Land,” and am now reading the Eliot chapter in Howard Gardner’s Creating Minds. I’m fascinated with this poet, and am pleased that I can learn from his creative endeavor, even if he struggled over language the way I do over drawing.  I just finished reading a letter he wrote to his brother, explaining that he chose to write fewer pieces, concentrating on perfection and making each completed piece an “event” rather than being merely “prolific” and publishing pieces everywhere.  My goal in 2010 was to be prolific, as I have averaged less than twenty watercolors per year.  I completed nearly one hundred in 2010.  This year however, with my first ever one-man-show scheduled for September, I am concentrating on fewer and larger compositions, attempting to make every complete painting worthy of framing.  I know that is plenty to expect, but nevertheless, I am trying for quality over productivity this year.

And I’m certainly pushing some boundaries.  One of Edward Hopper’s neighboring artists commented that Hopper planned out each of his oils completely before he even started the composition.  The neighbor thought that was “a terrible way to paint, because you aren’t discovering anything.”  The critic went on to express admiration for Hopper’s watercolors “because in them you seem him experimenting all the time.”  I’m trying to keep this thought before me, and push each new piece I begin in a direction not familiar to me.  I don’t want to settle into any kind of “hack work,” pushing out watercolors for the trade.  So .  . . with this Victorian set high atop a hill, I try to complete my first Victorian in entirety (all my previous works are only partial studies of Victorian buildings, never completed), and I also try to devote some attention to a large plot of cultivated property.  We’ll see how it goes . . .

Thanks for reading.