Search This Blog

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Today is the next to the last day of the 2012 New England Summer Solo Tour. It has been a great one, meeting new folks and making new friends, such as Jason & Nikki Wynn, a young husband & wife full-time RV video and blogging documentary team. These folks have it going on and are living their dream early in life, and not waiting on retirement. They are the antithesis  of the term, "Youth Is Wasted On The Young". They also produced a video of our visit together, and to one of my New England performances. Check them out on Facebook at:

There were also many hours of beautiful, and uneventful, though thankfully safe drives. Here's a brief sample :

All of the dates on this tour were at beautiful RV resorts in New England, with the exception of a few  cool restaurants/ music venues. The Relax Lounge in Chambersburg, PA is always a stop coming and going to  the Northeast & New England. It's just like going home with a place to plug in the rig for the night, great food, and a place to Relax, just as the name implies. Many Thanks to Mike and Billy for always making me feel welcome.

The newest family venture is a beautiful venue, Taverna 5450, owned by Mike's cousin Nick. Situated at the foot of a ski resort in Fairfield, PA, it is a great place to hang out. Like the Relax, that Nick used to manage, he now extends the same hospitality and opportunity to perform on the road. Check them out here:

A brief stop in New Jersey to visit friends and to cruise my childhood town, and small Jersey Shore beach hamlet of Keansburg, NJ was next. I drove through briefly and let the camera roll. I had left there in 1967 to head south to boarding school, only to return for one year in 1972 for one year of college. The music bug had bitten me in Georgia long before, so back south I went in 73. The rest is history. Join me here as I cruise the town in a surreal, Back To The Future" moment:

Next, I headed to Pearl River, NY, just above the NJ line, to perform at Johnny's Smokehouse. I have been playing Pearl River for a number of years now. It's a cool town with its own colorful characters, and a fun loving and active community atmosphere. I always appreciate Bobby and Ann Lyons for finding gigs for me and putting me up while there. Unless life steps in, I'll plan be back there next year in 2013.

I have a new CD single release now available for download as well as a physical disc. The song is entitled,
"I Did What I Wanted To The Way I Wanted To". It is an uptempo Blues Swing type shuffle recorded in Nashville in 2011. The song pretty much depicts my lack of ability, and probably the unwillingness to deal with authority. It is slated for a future CD, but in this day and age, music consumption is really more about the song as opposed to just buying full records or CD's. Of course, CD sales are what usually take musicians over the top financially on their tours, but getting the music to the masses and to who wants it is now the name of the game. Check it out here:ttp://
If you like it, please buy it!   ;o)

The Willie “Big Eyes” Smith CD is approaching completion, going to the manufacturer this week in time for an August 1 release. The CD will then be available online as well downloads very soon. Willie wanted this project to happen. I'm really sorry he isn't here to see it, but I am very appreciative of his family for letting this CD become a reality. There is only one week left in our Kickstarter campaign. We still need a lot of help in reaching our goal of $6000.00, We're still hoping!  You can still pledge here.
Here is a look at the new CD cover.

 As soon as "Live Blues Protected By Smith & WIlson is released, I'll be starting work on completing the upcoming acoustic guitar instrumental Christmas CD. It is already recorded, but now we'll be crashing on artwork.

It’s been a great tour, meeting great folks, making new friends, and of course, playing music. But like my song says, "When It's Time To Go Home, It's Time To Go Home", from my 2011 CD, "The Rainbow Up Ahead". Check it out here:  If you like it buy it!  ;o)

Til Next Time!


Sunday, June 24, 2012

A funny thing happened on the first leg of my New England tour today. While driving the whole time through Virginia, I wrote a song about "The Burg", my childhood hometown of Keansburg, NJ. Couldn't believe it came out as fast as it did, but it did. Now, before everyone that has or still lives there suggests what to include and not to include, it is only from my perspective from having grown up there (I really haven't grown up) during a wonderful but changing era. It's about the good memories, and not about the scumbags that used to hassle me, or about the then disintegrating infrastructure that was crumbling at the time. It was a special place for a child growing up in the 60's, with some rough edges. I must say that the good memories far outweigh the bad. Still have some work to do on it. We'll see what happens.

Today is the second day of the 2012 New England Solo Tour, which has me in place to perform today at the Taverna 5450 establishment in Fairfield, PA at around 5 or 6PM on the patio on a beautiful day. This is the first gig kicking off the tour. While I have cut back extensively on long term touring, the road is where I do my best writing and creating. It seems necessary to take to it now and then to restore my creative urge. No doubt I love being home, especially in this high tech age, I am very blessed to be able to go places to play music for a living. 

Luckily, I have a writing desk in the van to my right, where I can jot down thoughts and things needing doing on to a legal pad. Of course, it is in a position where I can scribble without looking, and therefore not pose a hazard to other drivers. Trust me on that! I keep an even comfortable speed with no sudden moves. Since I have done upward of 50,000 miles a year for over 15 years, that is an attitude that must be maintained.    

Live Blues Protected by Smith & Wilson

Willie “Big Eyes” Smith & Roger “Hurricane” Wilson
2012 CD
Live Blues Protected By Smith & Wilson
I first met Willie “Big Eyes” Smith at the Hot Licks Blues Festival in Granville, OH in 2007. He was performing the duty of bandleader for longtime Howlin’ Wolf band member and legendary Blues guitarist, Hubert Sumlin. Hubert and I had known each other through mutual friends, so he invited me onstage to sit in with him during his set. It was a real treat to be onstage with both Hubert and Willie. Later that night, my band and I were playing for the after-festival party, and Willie was hanging out listening. During my usual wireless walk into the crowd, I told Willie he was welcome to jam with us if he felt so inclined. Since he had been working hard earlier in the day, I thought he may just want to sit back with a drink and relax. He did that for a little while, but that relaxation period was short-lived. Not too much later, Willie approached the side of the stage with that “I want to play now,” look in his eye. Clutching his harmonica, he jumped right in like we had known each other for years and started playing the Blues. Then he would get back on the drums for a while, and we would experience that wonderful “Willie Shuffle” he had pioneered for many years with Muddy. We jammed together for about 2 hours. Willie and I exchanged cards, and I told him I’d love to jam with him again sometime. He said, “We’ll talk again, I got you in my back pocket”.
Willie and I would see each other in on subsequent visits to Memphis for the Blues Awards, and the International Blues Competition. While having breakfast with the late Pinetop Perkins in Clarksdale, MS. during the 2008 Blues Awards, I met his manager, Patricia Morgan, who was also Willie’s manager. We talked briefly, but it wasn’t until I was on a tour in New York that she invited me to participate in the annual Pinetop Perkins Homecoming at Hopson Plantation in Clarksdale. That would work since I would also be performing nearby at the Handy Festival in Helena, AR. While we were talking, I mentioned to her that Willie and I had played together, and that I was interested in jamming with Willie again. When I mentioned that I thought Willie and I could play together as a duo, she liked the idea.
While he and I were on tour separately in Florida, Willie and I then got together in Tallahassee.
We jammed briefly to see where it would lead. It felt good! I then booked a tour in February of 2009, which took us to Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio. Willie and I had a ball gigging, hanging out, and talking, and he especially liked having breakfast at Cracker Barrel. He told me wonderful stories of his years with Muddy, and we just had a great time. We became close friends. He had a lot of energy for a man in his early 70’s, but he was a kid at heart, full of fun. I think sometimes I had a hard time keeping up with him, even being 18 years his junior. We hung out together in Memphis during the Blues Awards in 2009 where Willie picked up his 13th BMA, but he also talked there about looking forward to our next tour.
That next excursion would come in December of 2009 which included stops in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Ohio. We also made a stop to the Sirius XM Radio studios in Washington, DC, where we were invited by Bill Wax to record some custom tracks for exclusive airplay on B.B. King’s Bluesville. During this time, I was recording the live shows, trying to capture the magic we were experiencing as a duo. That magic happened on December 11, 2009 at the Whitaker Center in Harrisburg, PA., which is the night this CD was recorded. It was a sold out show, and the crowd was there for the Blues. They hung on every note, and like myself, they just loved listening to Willie sing and play the harp. It was extra special for me, since I was there onstage singing and playing guitar with him. When I listened back to the tracks from that night, I finally felt like they had the energy and the result I was looking for. I made a copy for Willie, and he loved it. We were both happy with what we heard, and he, too, wanted to see a CD evolve from it. I just wish he could be here to see it become a reality. Thanks to his family, it has.
In early January of 2010, Willie and his band were heading south for a tour. They drove overnight from Chicago in a blizzard that was hitting the Southeast. When I called Willie to check on them, they were fine, but the engine light in his van had come on. I gave him directions to my mechanic’s garage and set up an immediate appointment for him. They met me at the garage, dropped the van, and rode home with me. At the same time, my wife, Jolie, was at home fixing breakfast for the band. Atlanta’s roads were either snowed or iced over, so it wasn’t an easy travel day for anyone. When we got to my house, my Tahoe wouldn’t make it up the hill on the ice. Now here I was with Willie and the band pushing my car up the incline so we could roll it down my driveway and get in out of the cold. Once everyone got in by the fire, it was all good.
The guys were tired, but they first had a good breakfast and watched some TV. During the afternoon, while they were all comfortable on the couch and easy chairs, a pleasant afternoon fatigue set in and they were able to get a brief nap. While they were asleep, I couldn’t resist snapping a couple of photos. I was just glad they could get fed, get a little rest, and get the vehicle repaired before heading out to a gig that night in Atlanta, and then on to Florida and Texas. They made it to their gig in town that night OK, despite the bad roads. I was having trouble just getting around my neighborhood, so I didn’t venture out to jam with the band. That is a decision I regret to this day, but the whole city of Atlanta was a demolition derby due to the icy roads. I was really concerned about these guys getting to the gig and out of town safely, but they had just driven over the mountain between Nashville and Chattanooga at night in a blizzard! Who was I to doubt them?
Willie and I once again kept in touch through the year until we toured again in December of 2010. He and I met in Illinois for a gig there, then on to OH, PA, and NJ. From there, Willie had to drive back to Chicago to catch a flight to the West Coast for a gig with Pinetop Perkins. When he left, he was complaining about a slight pain in his leg. When I asked how bad the pain was, he just blew it off like it was temporary. For some reason, I think it bothered him more than he let on. Heading home myself, I had a couple of gigs in NC just before Christmas, and then another year would come to a close. During this year, the CD, Pinetop’s & Willie’s CD, Joined at The Hip, was to be nominated for a Grammy. Our live CD, this one, was in the can waiting, pending the outcome of the 2011 Grammys.
In February of 2011, I was in my home office watching the afternoon internet feed of the Grammys.
It is amazing how much great music is nominated and awarded in the afternoon that the public doesn’t see on TV. That’s another story for another day. Don’t get me started! When Joined at The Hip was announced as the winning Traditional Blues CD, I was overcome with emotion to see Willie, 97 year old Pinetop in his wheelchair, and Pat Morgan doing the Happy Dance while heading down the aisle to accept the award. What a great life achievement this was for both Pinetop & Willie.
It was good to know that Willie would not just go down in history as a sideman for Muddy Waters, but he would leave this world as an accomplished musician in his own right. I loved that!      
A week or so after the Grammys, I talked to Willie at home. I mentioned to him (kidding), that with 14 BMA’s and now a Grammy, that he would be too big now to go out on tour with me. He chuckled, “That’ll just make it better”, and said he was ready to go on the road at the first opportunity. That chance was to come at the end of June, 2011. Willie had a short window between tours, so we had about 5 dates booked. About a week out, Willie said he was in great pain and had to go to the clinic for treatment right when our tour started. This worried me greatly, since it seemed this was probably the same pain he experienced back in December. But now it was worse. I had to change gears and carry my own band out on that tour, but I was still worried about Willie. When I found out he was not touring in late summer and fall, I had a bad feeling. Willie and I were also booked on the same bill, but separately on the Amelia Island Blues Festival in Florida in September. While heading to that festival, I was planning to get a card to send to him, letting him know that I was hoping for him to get well. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. I received the news that next morning, on the day Willie was to play the festival, that he had passed away in the early morning hours. I was heartbroken, but I had already braced myself to accept the fact that I might be hearing this news soon.
Willie and I knew months before, that we would be on the Amelia Island Festival together. He was looking forward to us getting together there. Because of his illness and staying behind, his band went on the road with Eddie Taylor, Jr., so they didn’t hear the sad news until just before arriving to the festival. It was a sad time, but everybody realized we had to celebrate Willie’s life, and carry on as he would want us to. There was a stool on the stage with harps and a mike in memory of Willie during the whole festival. Willie’s band did a great set, and bassist Bob Stroger invited me up to play with them in memory of Willie. There is healing power in music, and since  the healing had to begin somewhere. It couldn’t have been a more perfect time for this to happen. The only thing missing was Willie.
A week or so later, I made the 12 hour drive to Chicago for Willie’s visitation and funeral. He and I had driven quite a few miles together, so I knew I had to make this trip. It was a very moving and emotional service, and a wonderful tribute to Willie. When they lowered Willie’s casket into the grave, I tossed in one of my “Hurricane” Wilson guitar picks with him. I was fortunate to know and play with Willie, and to be his friend. As I actually said on stage during the recording of this CD, “You can’t make this stuff up”. Of course, he took much more of me with him that day than just that guitar pick. I will always miss my friend, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith.