Friday, June 1, 2018

Straight Edge on the Tube

Straight Edge music on public television. That's not something you see every day.

I recently wrote about "sXe," a new documentary by student filmmakers at Virginia Commonwealth University that takes a look at Richmond, Virginia's thriving straight edge punk scene. It gets an airing on local WCVW-TV on June 1.

Read my Richmond Magazine piece on the doc right here.

(Photo: Virginia Commonwealth University)

Bound to the Fire: Virginia's Enslaved Cooks

Kelley Fanto Deetz says she’s “restoring culinary justice” with her new book, "Bound to the Fire: How Virginia's Enslaved Cooks Helped Invent American Cuisine." 

“I think food is an important part of everyone’s culture, and it’s a topic that allows you to segue into talking about other issues, like race,” she says. “Everybody eats.”

The book, published by University Press of Kentucky, explores the lasting contributions of the early slave kitchens of Virginia—tracing everything from okra stew to collard greens to gumbo back to West African roots. Deetz pieces together the lives of the colony’s enslaved cooks, detailing their back-breaking labor and ingenuity, and her book includes centuries-only recipes created by slaves and passed down from generation to generation by white masters.

Some of the dishes that came out of the early slave kitchens will be familiar indeed. You probably ate them last night. My Savor Virginia Magazine interview with the Randolph College professor, and former chef, is now online. (And, yes, it does include recipes). Read the article here.

And for more on "Bound to the Fire: How Virginia's Enslaved Cooks Helped Invent American Cuisine, go right here.

The World of Saw Black

Saw Black's warbly, idiosyncratic voice and plaintive country-rock brings to mind the best of Neil Young, and he doesn’t hide the stylistic influence. “My dad was always listening to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young; my mom also loved Neil Young,” Black recalls. “But ‘Harvest’ was it. It was the lyrics and the sound of the acoustic [guitar] and the drums. When I heard it, I said, ‘This is what I want to do.’ ”

My feature profile of the singer-songwriter is now online at the Richmond Magazine website. The Richmond-based performer has a new album, “Water Tower,”  on the local label he co-founded, Crystal Pistol Records. Awash in rustic atmospherics and a yearning pedal steel, "Water Tower "is already garnering raves and listeners beyond Richmond, Virginia, where Black has a growing fan base.

Find out more about the World of Saw by clicking here.

And for more on his music, go here.

(Photo by the mighty Joey Wharton!).

Dangerous History at Blackbeard's Festival

"What people know about pirates is what they've seen in the movies, and that's as far from reality as you can get," says Randy Gnatowsky. "Like walking the plank. That wasn't done until the movies came out."

Gnatowsky, a retired 30-year veteran of the Hampton, Virginia Police Department, is better known under his pirate alias, "Constable Heartless." He's the captain of Blackbeard's Crew, a group of living history interpreters who partner with the City of Hampton to throw the annual Blackbeard Pirate Festival.

A two-day exploration of eyepatches, peg legs and cannon fire from tall ships,  this festival invades Hampton's downtown waterfront this weekend every June, projecting visitors back in time to the early 18th century when Virginia was awash in thieving buccaneers.

My article on Blackbeard's Crew, the Blackbeard festival, and the early days of piracy in Hampton Roads, is online at the Coastal Virginia Magazine website. You'll lose your head over it.

Sail here and steal it.    

And find out more about the festival right here.

(Photo: Hampton History Museum)

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

How to Read Nancy

In the world of Ernie Bushmiller's classic comic strip, "Nancy," it was all about the gag.

"It was whatever works," Paul Karasik says. "Maybe you look inside Nancy's brain, or Ernie's hand suddenly jams in the final panel, anything to deliver the goods. Everything was up for grabs."

Karasik and fellow illustrator/educator Mark Newgarden have written a new book, "How To Read Nancy: The Elements of Comics in Three Easy Panels" (Fantagraphics), that explores the significance -- and yes, genius -- of Ernie Bushmiller's wacky and deceptively brilliant strip.

Read my Richmond Magazine interview with Paul Karasik and Mark Newgarden right here. 

For more on the book, go here.

And to take a peek at the duo's epic breakdown of a single "Nancy" strip from 1959, go here.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Interview with Victor Wooten

Victor Wooten is best known as the much-celebrated low end of the Grammy-winning jazz-fusion group Béla Fleck and the Flecktones. He's also an educator, an author and a solo bandleader who has been playing music professionally since he was a small boy. He's currently touring behind a new solo album, “Trypnotyx,”  another expansive genre-mixing of jazz, funk, hip-hop and experimental fusion,

Read my Richmond Magazine interview with this singular instrumentalist -- named one of the greatest bassists of all time by Rolling Stone -- by clicking here.

And for more on Victor Wooten, go here.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Fallen Angels: It's a Long Way Down

I don't normally put my "smaller" work on this blog - reviews, previews, blurbs-- but my recent piece in The Washingtonian on the legendary Washington D.C. psych band, The Fallen Angels, grew out of a longer feature that I wrote for the magazine that got cut down for space.

Attention all editors: I still have a wonderful long-form feature article here, if you want it. Contact me if there's interest.

The story of the Fallen Angels is rich with period detail, and several key members survive to tell it. Popular in Georgetown clubs in the late '60s, the group opened for  bands like the Velvet Underground and the Yardbirds, recorded at the same time and in the same studio as Hendrix, and had the misfortune of getting tied up with the Roulette record label, which was mob-owned.

The piece that ran in the Washingtonian is mostly about the band's rarer-than-rare second album, It's a Long Way Down, which was released 50 years ago.  Read the article here. 

And here's a Fallen Angels' promotional video from that album, a strange little time capsule.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Interview with Bettye LaVette

"Bettye LaVette does Bob Dylan. It's like those movies they did in the '50s, like 'Dracula Meets Frankenstein.'" 

For years, Detroit native Betty LaVette was the secret weapon of soul, beloved by music purists and record collectors, but comparatively little known next to her peers Aretha Franklin and Diana Ross.

All of that is changing these days, thanks to a series of well-received comeback albums and a jaw-dropping autobiography, “A Woman Like Me.” She's got a brand new album of Dylan covers, and a new, autobiographical one-woman show that reflects on her rocky past, the people she's known, and her signature songs.

Read my Richmond Magazine interview with this soul music legend right here.

(Photo by Mark Seliger)

A History of Jazz in Virginia

Even in unlikely hamlets like Bedford, Suffolk and Lawrenceville (home of legendary saxophonist Sheldon Powell, pictured), Virginia has been one of jazz music’s most fertile growing fields.

My cover feature on Virginia's jazz history is now online at the Virginia Living Magazine website, tricked out with all kinds of rare photos, music clips and supplementary pieces -- like my feature article on Salena Jones, and Markus Schmidt's interview with Richmond jazz keyboardist Lonnie Liston Smith.

Spend some time here and learn about all that jazz.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Reel Life: How to Make a Documentary

Thanks to advances in technology and online distribution, it’s never been easier for budding Michael Moores to make and market their own documentaries.

But what does it take to create reality-based films? For a recent feature in Richmond Magazine, I picked the brains of some Virginia documentarians: Hannah Ayers and Lance Warren of Field Studio, co-directors of “An Outrage” and the recent “The Hail-Storm: John Dabney in Virginia”; Nathan Clarke of Fourth Line Films, co-director of numerous shorts and feature-length docs, including the forthcoming film “The Funeral Home”; and Brad Johnson, a longtime DJ and the man behind El Bravador Filmworks, which has made two independent documentaries, “The Soul: R&B Radio Legends of Central Virginia” and “Hip-Hop Legends of Central Virginia.”

Read "Reel Life" by clicking right here.

(Photo courtesy Field Studio)

Funny Business: Interview with Bryan Tucker of SNL

Veteran comedy writer and Virginia native Bryan Tucker celebrates his 13th season with NBC-TV's Saturday Night Live this year. A multiple Emmy nominee and Peabody Award winner, the boyish co-head writer, 45, works at 30 Rock but has some interesting side-gigs too, like his new sports comedy website, The Kicker.

Recently, Tucker took some time to talk to me about, among other things, how SNL has kept its mojo after all these years, writing comedy in the age of Donald Trump, and what in the heck is so funny about Chesterfield County.

Read my Virginia Living Magazine interview with Tucker here. 

(Photo courtesy NBC-TV)

Interview with Gary Lucas

Gary Lucas has been the guitar sideman of choice for some larger-than-life singers — like Jeff Buckley and Captain Beefheart -- so maybe backing up a golem and Popeye the Sailor Man isn't such a stretch.

The Syracuse, New York native recently came to Richmond's James River Film Festival to be a live soundtrack provider at a screening of the 1920 German silent film, "Der Golem" (cited as the first superhero movie), and provide the tunes for a Sunday-afternoon program at The Byrd Theatre of vintage cartoons from the legendary Fleischer Studios (Popeye, Betty Boop, etc.).

I  recently spoke with Gary Lucas about the art of film music, collaborating with legends and his love for vintage Chinese pop. Read my Richmond magazine interview with the man the New York Times called "the guitarist with 1,000 ideas" right here.

(Photo: Bram Belloni)

Take the Richmond Barbecue Tour

Too much pork for just one fork.

I don't do much food writing, but I have a greater appreciation for the work of my taste-describing brethren after my latest assignment from Savor Virginia magazine.

My cover feature in Savor's March/April edition is all about the barbecue renaissance happening in Richmond, Virginia. Tangy, salty, tomato-y, sweet, hashed, pulled, minced or deliciously charred -- whatever your preference, it can be found in the RVA region.

Some spots may be more authentic, others a bit more adventurous, or a little pricier, but RVA is filled with mouthwatering ‘que -- King's, Alexander's, Alamo, Buz and Ned's, Ronnie's, Extra Billy's, HogsHead Cafe, Q Barbeque and more.

Take the Richmond Barbecue Tour with me by clicking here, and don’t forget the bib.

(Photo by the mighty Jim Pile!)

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Selena Jones: Virginia's Lost Jazz Diva

For many across the globe, the clearly phrased, softly soulful jazz of singer Salena Jones is shorthand for class, sophistication, romance. The active octogenarian still sells out venues and jazz festivals from Japan to the U.K. But she is virtually unknown in her own country, and her hometown of Newport News, Virginia.

More than a decade ago, Virginia Living Magazine flew me to London to interview Virginia's great lost jazz diva, and to tell her story for the first time. The feature article is now (finally) online, and designed to complement my current Feb. 2018 cover feature in the magazine on the history of Jazz in Virginia.

I'm ecstatic that it is finally online because this  feature profile on Salena Jones is one of my personal favorites, and Ms. Jones was one of the most fascinating people I've ever had the pleasure to profile. You'll understand why when you read the piece.

Saxophone legend Richie Cole has called Salena Jones “one of the greatest singers alive,” and she’s toured and sung with Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, Johnny Ray, Tom Jones, Antonio Carlos Jobim; been backed by ace sessioneers such as Steve Gadd, Kenny Burrell; was responsible for giving “King” Curtis—a.k.a. Curtis Ousley—his nickname. Formerly known as Joan Shaw (her given name) she's also a genuine female R&B pioneer—her early recordings on labels like Savoy, Gem and Jaguar, leading revved-up “orchestras” like Paul Williams’, Russ Case’, Luther Henderson’s and Danny Small’s, didn't spawn big hits, but they showed her undeniable vitality as a creative pre-rock innovator.

In the mid '60's, after releasing two major label albums as Joan Shaw, she would boldly change her act, her whole persona, and say goodbye to her country, transforming herself completely into Salena Jones. “Before I went, the march to Washington had just happened," she told me. "Kennedy had just been shot. I looked at myself and said, ‘What am I going to do here—with my career? I’m only one person, what can I do?’ The best thing to do is to go to another world.”

Read my profile of Salena Jones here.

And for more on her music, go here.

Doubling Down: The 2nd Street Festival

Richmond, Virginia's 2nd Street Festival will celebrate its 30th anniversary this year.

Held on the first weekend in October, this vibrant, two-day neighborhood tradition in the Jackson Ward area boasts musical performers, dance showcases, gospel choirs, food and merchandise vendors, and a whole lot of happy people in the streets greeting each other with loud, joyous squeals. It also honors the area's formidable musical history.

My new Richmond magazine feature takes a look, step-by-step, at how planners pull the big show together each year.

Read "Doubling Down" by clicking here.

And for more on the 2nd Street Festival, go here.

(Photo by the mighty Sandra Sellers/Richmond Free Press!)

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Bonus Level: Devonne Harris

Some have likened the 29-year-old Devonne Harris (only half-jokingly) to Prince.

Producer, solo artist, DJ, engineer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, sideman—the Petersburg, Virginia native wears many hats, and has been a prime mover in Virginia’s jazz and hip-hop scenes for years while dabbling in blues, rock and other styles. Now the world is noticing. Harris—aka DJ Harrison— had his solo debut, "Hazy Moods," released last year by the Los Angeles-based Stones Throw label, winning raves and establishing him as a hip-hop beat master.

Virginia Living Magazine has now posted my Virginia Music column profile of Harris at the VL website. Read "Bonus Level" by going right here.

And for more on the work of Devonne Harris, in all his many guises, go here.

Awareness Art Ensemble: Pollak Prize

Awareness Art Ensemble -- or AAE -- didn’t just introduce reggae to Virginia, it made us love it.

Formed in 1979, AAE helped to spur a vibrant Rastafarian scene in Richmond, popularizing a colorful (and aromatic) club at Harrison and Broad streets, New Horizon’s Cafe, which was like Jamaica in miniature. Serving as reggae ambassadors,. in its ’80s heyday, the unit popularized island sounds across the East Coast, and integrated itself into the city’s burgeoning new wave/punk scene at clubs like Hard Times and the Flood Zone.

AAE recently copped a much-deserved Pollak Prize for Excellence in the Arts from Richmond Magazine. Click here to read "Coming Home," my inducting feature on this pioneering American reggae band, 

Rediscovering Margaret Sullavan

Chances are, if you know Margaret Sullavan's name, it is because of the films she made with her longtime pal James Stewart -- like The Shop Around the Corner. Or perhaps you know the actress through the devastating book that her daughter Brooke wrote, a bestseller called "Haywire" that chronicled her later mental illness and suspected suicide.

But Margaret Sullavan once meant much more. At the height of her fame—the 1930s and early '40s—this Virginia tomboy was a mark of quality in American motion pictures, and a bracingly independent presence in a changing entertainment industry. Sullavan was not easy to miss, with a trademark husky voice and a chameleonic look that could be dowdy one moment and tinseltown glamour the next.

She preferred the stage, refused long contracts, chose her own co-stars, and made moguls (and Henry Fonda) cry. Her personal story is ripe for bio-pic plundering, and her relatively small body of work deserves rediscovery. Today, of all the actresses from Hollywood's golden era, Margaret Sullvan seems the most modern, the least stilted, the one player unlikely to succumb to a false moment even when everything else seems unnatural or dated.

Her own story unfolded in the best neighborhoods of Norfolk, Virginia.  My Coastal Virginia Magazine retrospective on Sullavan's life and career includes unpublished photographs from the archives of Chatham Hall, the Virginia school for girls that she attended, and a sidebar list of her best movies. Many of these gems -- The Mortal Storm,  The Good Fairy, Three Comrades, The Moon's Our Home, The Shopworn Angel  and more -- are currently available on Turner Classic Movies and through streaming services like Warner Archives and Universal Vault.

Learn all about "Sullavan's Travels" by going here. 

Unavailable on video or streaming, here's Sullavan's stunning film debut in "Only Yesterday" (1933)

(Bottom photo: Chatham Hall Archive)

The Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel

“With this bridge tunnel we have destroyed distance and conquered time.”

After years of studies, plans, commissions and community angst, the congested Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel —nicknamed “Hampton Roads No. 1” by appreciative engineers worldwide—is about to get some much-needed relief. A $4 billion overhaul will see this key coastal Virginia passage expanded with another underwater tube.

But how did we get here? And how did this incredible submerged roadway ever get built in the first place?

On the 60th anniversary of it’s opening, my feature article in CoVaBiz Magazine reveals how the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel made history, changed the region, and continues to inspire and innovate. It's not just any ol' bridge-tunnel.

Connect with "Hampton Roads No. 1" by going right here. 

(Photo: The Virginia Department of Transportation)