Friday, December 2, 2016

"Blue & Lonesome"

A review of this new album popped up my Facebook feed this afternoon, and after just visiting Memphis, Beale Street, and the Sun Records recording studio, I just couldn't resist going to the iTunes store and purchasing this one.

The album is a collection of blues cover tunes by this young up and coming blues cover band from England.  Maybe you've heard of them.

The Rolling Stones

Even casual rock & roll fans probably know that the Rolling Stones, back in their formative days, were heavily influenced by American blues musicians and their music.  This album pays tribute to those roots, and, while it may not be what you're used to hearing from the Stones, it is a listening treat.

I think the promotional blurb that appears on iTunes says it better than I can:

"American blues has long been a part of the Stones' DNA, and Blue & Lonesome  is a greasy, grimy tribute to their blues heroes. Deep cuts by the likes of Jimmy Reed, Howlin' Wolf, Magic Sam and Little Walter are delivered with soulful reverence, showing that even rock n' roll legends are still just music fans at heart."

Couldn't have said it better.  

Four stars from The Grandstander.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Bluebird Cafe

I promise that this will be the last post that I will write about our recent trip to Tennessee.  I know that most people only want to hear so much about other people's vacations.  However, if you really want to know and hear more, feel free to stop over and we will gladly regale you with more stories and subject you to offer to show you some of the 300 or so pictures that we took.  They all sit on our computer.

Anyway, when we knew that we would be going to Nashville, we contacted our friend David Cicotello, a Nashville area resident, and made arrangements to visit, and he said that he would take us to see some "authentic Nashville", The Bluebird Cafe.

The Bluebird has been featured  in the TV series, "Nashville", which I have never seen, but it has given the place a bit of cachet.  It is not on Nashville's Broadway, amidst the honky-tonk bars, the Ryman Auditorium, and the center of the tourist area.  Rather, it sits unobtrusively, in a tiny strip shopping area, right between a dry cleaner and an hair salon.

The place is tiny, seating no more than a hundred people, and if you aren't lucky enough to snag one of the reservations (we were not), you need to get in line early to be among the twenty or so people who will get in to see the show from the bar seats.  So, we arrived for the 7:00 show at about 3:30 and stood in line.  Not a problem since the weather was nice, and it afforded us ample time to chat and visit with David.  We did get in, and, believe it or not, we were lucky enough, thanks to a last minute cancellation,  to be able to get table seats right next to the stage.

The show consisted of four musicians/singer/songwriters: Madeleine Slate, Dennis Matkosky, Chris Galbuda, and Marc Beeson.  No, I had never heard of any of them, although some of them are responsible for songs that you have heard and know.  They did about five "rounds" consisting of each taking turns singing while the others accompanied them.  Their were also two occasions when one of them spotted someone they knew in thew audience and asked them to come on stage and perform.  Hey, this is Nashville - there are performers everywhere!

I also cannot say enough about how friendly and nice the staff of the Bluebird was.  When a facility is in such high demand, and there is no shortage of customers chomping at the bit to get into the place, it would not have been unexpected if they had copped a "hey, you're lucky to be here" attitude, but they did not.  They could not have been nicer or more accommodating.

It was terrific night of smooth and mellow entertainment, and mucho thanks to David for suggesting it and setting it up.  Like I said, it is not a part of the area of downtown Nashville where all the tourists go, but it was terrific night.  Our trip schedule allowed us to have only one free night in Nashville, and we couldn't have been happier that that night was spent at The Bluebird Cafe.

To Absent Friends - Ron Glass, Al Caiola

A Melancholy Happy Trails to two notables.....

Ron Glass

Actor Ron Glass died of respiratory failure last week.  Glass had a steady career as an actor in television (76 acting credits according to IMDB), but he is most remembered for the role of Detective Ron Harris on one of the great situation comedies ever, "Barney Miller" which ran from 1975 to 1982.  The show depicted the daily doings of the detective squad in the NYPD's 12th Precinct.

It was a show that never jumped the shark. As good in its last season as it was in the first.  At the time when we lived in Cleveland, we had an acquaintance who was detective in the Cleveland PD, and he said that no show depicted the life of a detective squad better than did "Barney Miller."  

Glass continued to work as a guest on a million TV shows, and even had a couple of series after, "Barney Miller", but that is the show that will live forever (you can still see it on those classic TV cable networks), so actors like Ron Glass will always be visible.  Nice.

Al Caiola
1920 - 2016

Guitarist Al Caiola also passed away last month at the age of 96.  Caiola released a number of instrumental recordings in the 1960's that became hits, the themes from "Bonanza" and "The Magnificent Seven" being the most well known.  However, when you read the obituary for Caiola, it is positively jaw-dropping when you see the number of people with whom Caiola recorded.  How does this lineup grab you?  Buddy Holly, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Johnny Mathis, Simon & Garfunkel, Sarah Vaughn, Glen Campbell, and Rosemary Clooney. He also played in orchestras led by Percy Faith, Morton Gould, and Andre Kostelanetz, and was featured on the radio and television shows of Jackie Gleason, Ed Sullivan, Arthur Godfrey, and Steve Allen. That is some resume!

It was said that he could play whatever was required - classical, jazz, R&B, rock & roll.  He was the classic well rounded musician.

For those of us in Pittsburgh, we heard the sounds of Al Caiola every Saturday night when his recording of Henry Mancini's "Experiment in Terror"  (from the movie of the same name) was used as the theme music for Channel 11's "Chiller Theater".

RIP Ron Glass and Al Caiola.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016


Two weeks ago in this space I wrote of our trip earlier this month to Tennessee, and I mentioned that some aspects of that trip deserved their own write-up, one of them being our visit to Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley, in Memphis, TN.

When we knew last year that we would be traveling to a wedding in Nashville this November, then tacking on a few extra days to drive to Memphis and see this site was a no-brainer.  This was something that had long been on our Bucket List, and once we got there and toured the place, we can honestly say that it completely exceeded all of our expectations.

When you arrive at Graceland, what you actually arrive at  is the Graceland Visitors Center, which is across the street, the aptly named Elvis Presley Boulevard, from the house itself.  (More on the Visitors Center later.)  It is there that you pick up your tickets (we had purchased ours in advance on line), and board a tour van that drives you across the street and on to the grounds.  One does not just walk through the famous gates and up to the door of Graceland.  You are given an iPad with headphones, and that becomes your "tour guide" to the house and grounds.  Actor John Stamos narrates the video on the iPad that you are seeing which guides you throughout the place.  It is very well done.

While Graceland is a very nice home, the house is actually smaller than you might think.  The decorations that were in place in 1977 are maintained, and let's just say that Elvis' ideas of home decor may not quite agree with yours or mine.

Nice wall and ceiling coverings in the Billiard Room!

The famous Jungle Room.

And some nice portraits on display:

The second floor of the house is closed off to the public, so the Tour takes you only through the first floor.  You then go outside of the house to various additions and out buildings, and these have been turned into a true museum to Elvis.  You also see a child's swing set, circa 1970 or so, that was Lisa Marie's.  It was kind of a touching thing to see, really.

Elvis also had a racquetball court built at Graceland that included this living/seating area:

It was in this room, you are told, that Elvis, on August 16, 1977,after a morning out with friends, came into this room sat at the piano, sang a couple go songs, including "Unchained Melody", and then retired to his room to rest, and it was there that he died.  It was rather moving.

Of course, it is no longer a racquetball court, as the space is now devoted to more of a display of Elvis artifacts and memorabilia.  

The Tour concludes in the Meditation Gardens, where Elvis is buried along with his parents and grandmother.

Again, it may appear to be a bit over the top, but in context, it is a touching and respectful area.

Going into the place, Marilyn and I were expecting a very high degree of Tackiness at Graceland, and I must say that, Elvis' interior decorations aside, we did not see that.  However, when you went through  the Visitor's Center upon your return from Graceland itself, that Tacky Factor manifests itself.  No less than fourteen separate gift shops where you can buy just about anything with the image of Elvis Presley upon it.  Capitalism at work, not to mention the laws of supply and demand, and, yes, in case you are wondering, we dropped a few bucks throughout the place.

Not all of the Visitors Center was tacky, though.  One place was called the Elvis Archives, and it was showcase of the efforts of museum professionals to catalogue, archive, preserve, and display all of the "stuff" accumulated over the life and career of Elvis Presley.  That was fascinating to see.   And everyplace you go throughout the Visitor's Center is playing Elvis Presley music, and this is certainly not a bad thing.

The Visitors Center also has Elvis' two airplanes on display, which were pretty cool to walk through.

There were a lot of people at Graceland on this Thursday morning in November,  but we can't say that it was crowded, which was good for us, because it afforded us a more leisurely tour of the place.  We cannot imagine what it must be like in the Summer at the height of the vacation and tourism season.   Obviously, Graceland is one of the largest tourist attractions in the State of Tennessee and the United States, and we, Marilyn and I, cannot recommend it highly enough.  

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Adios, Fidel

TRIVIA ANSWER:  Dwight Eisenhower, Jack Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.

TRIVIA QUESTION: How many US Presidents were outlasted by Fidel Castro of Cuba? Okay, technically, President Obama has outlasted Castro, but you get the idea.  I was playing golf once when the subject of Fidel Castro came up (don't ask), and my buddy said, "Who was President when he took over in Cuba, Abe Lincoln?"  It only seemed that way.

Yesterday morning when we heard the news that Fidel Castro had gone to that big sugar cane field in the sky, Marilyn said to me "You're surely not going to do an 'Absent Friend' write up on Castro, are you?"  Well, in no way can we consider Castro a Friend, but how can you not recognize the passing of one of the towering figures of the latter half of the twentieth century?  

He triggered one of the seminal events of the last century, the Cuban Missile Crisis.  His legacy still plays a major role in American politics and, most definitely in the state of Florida. In a far less important sense, his policies had a huge effect on Major League Baseball, and the Olympic Games, and his revolution played a key role in "The Godfather Part II". 

Can't say that he will be missed.

If only the Washington Senators would have offered him a contract (probably an apocryphal story) way back when, who knows what might have happened.


In a Facebook post today, friend Dave Finoli posted that "One of the true joys of attending a sporting event is that you just never know what you might see when you do."  Never has that statement been more true than in reference to yesterday's Pitt -Syracuse football game, won by Pitt by a score of - and you are reading this correctly - 76-61.

So much went on in this game and at such a dizzying pace, that you really can't even remember all of the dazzling plays that unfolded before you on the Heinz Field gridiron yesterday.  Just some highlights.....

  • 1,312 yards of total offense between both teams
  • Twenty touchdowns
  • Seven touchdown plays of 35 yards or more
  • A Pitt DB scoring a TD on a thirty yard interception return.  It was the one and only significant defensive play of the entire game by either team.
  • A WR for Syracuse catching five TD passes.
  • Syracuse's back-up quarterback passed for 440 yards, threw five TD passes and scored two other TD's rushing.
  • Kicker Chris Blewitt set a Pitt record by making ten PAT's in the game.  I am guessing that that is a record that will stand for a long, long time.
  • On two consecutive offensive plays in the second quarter, Pitt scored on sweeps running around right end.  One went for 66 yards, the other for 77 yards.
  • Early in the third quarter, Pitt established a 28 point lead.  They never lost that lead, but Syracuse kept coming back and scoring.  The game was in doubt pretty much until the last minute and half, when the Orange failed, for the third time in the game, to recover an onside kick.
  • Pitt, a twenty-four point favorite, scored 76 points and failed to cover the spread.
Purists will no doubt rail about the complete and total crumminess of the defenses of both teams, and they would be correct, but, what the hell, that was one wildly entertaining football game yesterday.

A little piece of advice when you watch whatever Bowl Game Pitt ends up playing:  Do not leave the TV set unless the game is in a commercial break, because you just never know  what that Panther Offense might generate, or what the Pitt Defense might allow, if you turn your head for even a moment.

Thanks to Pat Narduzzi, James Conner, Nate Peterman, Quadree Henderson and the entire Pitt Panther team for giving us an exciting and entertaining season.  I was not shortchanged by a single penny of any of the money spent for my season tickets in 2016.


Friday, November 25, 2016

Catching Up On Absent Friends

The Absent Friends are coming fast and furious of late, so several folks will be sharing this post today.

Earlier this week the baseball world lost Ralph Branca (1926-2016) at the age of 90.  Branca had a twelve year career in the motor leagues, most spent with the Brooklyn Dodgers, rolled up a record of 88-68 with a 3.79 ERA.  His best year was in 1947 when he was 21-12 with a 2.67 ERA, and he played in two World Series. None of that, though is how Branca has been and always will be remembered.  Do I really have to tell you WHY he is immortal?  In Game Three of the 1951 tie-breaker playoff to determine the National League pennant winner, it was Branca who served up the bottom of the ninth home run to the Giants' Bobby Thomson.  It was "the shot heard 'round the world", and remains to this day, (sorry Pirates fans) the single most famous home run in baseball history.

Branca didn't take it well, but he came to accept his moment of infamy, and in later years, he joined with Thomson in peddling his autograph, so he did cash in on it to some degree.

That's Branca on the right making the long trek to the Polo Grounds club house as the Giants celebrate.


Today we learned of the death of Florence Henderson at the age of 82.  A Broadway musical theater actress by trade, Henderson became a television star, and will be forever remembered as Carol Brady in the 1970's sitcom, "The Brady Bunch".  The show ran from 1969 to 1974, and it will no doubt continue to run forever on the "Classic TV" cable stations.  Henderson continued to act in such shows as "Love Boat", "Fantasy Island", talk and variety shows, even "Dancing With the Stars", but she was always Mrs. Brady, and she certainly wore that well.


Ann Rule

It was while reading something else earlier this week, when I learned that true crime author Ann Rule had died in July 2015, and I completely missed i at the time.  However, in my mind, she is an Absent Friend worth noting.  If you are someone who loves to read True Crime books, you are no doubt familiar with Ann Rule.

Her breakthrough book was "The Stranger Beside Me" that was published in 1980, about serial killer Ted Bundy.  She would go on to write dozens of other such books. My own personal favorite was "And Never Let Her Go" (1999).  I also once met Ann Rule at a book signing at the Mystery Lovers Book Store in Oakmont, and she discussed her latest book and did a Q&A session afterward.

All her books are out there, folks.  Go to the library, bookstore, or Amazon if true crime is a genre that interests you.  No one did it better than Ann Rule.

RIP Ralph Branca, Florence Henderson, and Ann Rule.