Sunday, January 22, 2012

Water Dragon Clan

I am a water dragon this year is the year of the water dragon, as it was in the year of my birth, 1952. Not many of us. You'd think I was a fire dragon, as I am very much personality driven and willful. I rarely, if ever, follow the crowd. I don't think the Chinese sage writing the horoscope liked water dragons very much. Probably jealous.

People born in the year of 1952 (Jan. 27, 1952 - Feb. 13, 1953)
or 2012 (Jan. 23, 2012 - Feb. 09, 2013)
which is Ren Chen Year are members of the Water Dragon.
The water dragons born in 1952 or 2012 are usually far-sighted and persevering in character but lack their own personality. Most of them don’t have a mind of their own, and always just follow with the crowd. They always play fair and are candid about the matter. However, they are easy to set fire to house to keep them warm when dealing with some affairs related to money or interests. This is because they are stubborn, selfish and incline to deal in micrograms. If they could be more generous-minded, prudent and take a wider view on things, there will be high chances of getting success. 1952, 2012 CHINESE ZODIAC – WATER DRAGON
Another site says:
The influence of the Water Element makes the Water Dragon the most calm of all the Dragon types. While still driven, the Water Dragon has a more reflective and emotionally intuitive personality. These qualities allow the Water Dragon to be less self-centered than others born under the Dragon sign. With more of an open-mind and ability to understand others opinions, the Water Dragon has the ability to be team oriented and cooperative. With these social skills, Water Dragons are known to have more friends and close companions. With their pairing of passion, communication and intelligence, the Water Dragon has a fluid path to success. 1952 Chinese Zodiac 
Hmm, I'm not exactly a team player, rarely calm, but I am intuitive. Am I a five-toed dragon? Or a four-toed dragon? Five toes is the sign of the 'royal' dragon. I'm not sure what a a full-cycle dragon is. Sounds like doing the laundry.

Happy New Year of the Dragon. Hear me roar.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Take Five Etta and Johnny

I got to hang out backstage with Etta James at a music festival I was covering for The Paper. Russian River Jazz Festival, I think. There was also the RR Blues Festival. Nick Valentine said go hang out backstage and take lots of photos of musicians—I hardly knew anyone—let alone, knew if they were famous. Lots of down time between sets. Lots of time to talk about poetry and music.

I think she was there the same year Dave Brubeck and Blossom Dearie were on the stage. Adam Mankowitz, Bob Doboro. She did her famous song—what's it called? Not At Last, though she did sing it. The one that has the chikichiki bits in it—in Lebanese?

Somewhere I have a letter from Dave Brubeck commending my photos and story of the Russian River Jazz Fest in The Paper. Somewhere. And no, I don’t have a tear sheet of that story. 

I remember when I was about 5 or 6, my mom explaining to me what Take Five meant—we were in the Gate Playhouse theater in Sausalito. The director, Skip Rognlein said: "Take 5." I guess she also explained Dave Brubeck's piece too because I knew the two were inexorably linked. Dave was from Concord, Ca. So everybody knew each other in those days. When Dave played that piece I was transported. I told him later of that story, he threw back his head and laughed.

Take Five Etta and Johnny. Few know that Johnny Otis discovered and promoted Etta James.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

RIP Johnny Otis

RIP Johnny Otis.  (© Maureen Hurley photo/halftone).

Johnny Otis (Mr. "Hand Jive"), surveying his Sebastopol ranch in the early 1990s. After a leisurely latte interview in his sunlit kitchen, he walked me down to the barn to show me his paintings and sculptures. Johnny was our godfather benefactor for The Russian River Writers' Guild. He called me up one afternoon after I did a front page story on him for The Paper, and he asked if I'd be willing to host a poetry reading series at his Sebastopol cafe on blue Mondays. I asked him why he called me versus myriad other Sonoma County poets and he said, "I only work with the best people, I asked around and you're the best." The only catch is you have to book someone every Monday night." We only booked two events a month. For two years, I worked my ass off rounding up poets every week. Luckily I had help: David Bromige, Steve Tills, and other Sonoma County poets pitched in. Great PA sound system. Great ambiance. Great poets. Great man. RIP Johnny.

See Dan Taylor's Press Democrat obit: Sonoma County musicians mourn Johnny Otis
(I'm quoted in it).

January 20, 2012 | Press Democrat, The (Santa Rosa, CA)

To the world, Johnny Otis was the rhythm-and-blues music pioneer who wrote the classic 1958 hit, "Willie and the Hand Jive."

But to the people who knew Otis for the dozen years that he lived and worked in Sebastopol, starting in the early '90s, he was a friend, mentor and crusader for racial equality.

Otis, 90, had been in poor health for several years and died at home Tuesday in the Los Angeles suburb of Altadena, where he settled after he left Sebastopol.

"I certainly hate to see the world lose such an amazing character," said internationally known harmonica virtuoso Charlie Musselwhite of Geyserville, who first met Otis at a Los Angeles nightclub in the late '60s.

"I sat in with him lots of times," Musselwhite said. "He played all kinds of musical instruments -- drums and vibes. He was a deejay, painter, author, songwriter, singer, talent scout."

Born John Veliotes, the son of Greek immigrants, he grew up in a black neighborhood in Berkeley, and bonded with black music, culture and social issues. He eventually changed his name to Johnny Otis, because it sounded more like an R&B artist.

"He was a Greek who declared himself black," Musselwhite said.

Otis was leading his own band in 1945 when he scored his first big hit, "Harlem Nocturne." In 1950, 10 of his songs made Billboard Magazine's R&B top-hit charts, and his "Willie and the Hand Jive" sold more than

1.5 million copies. The song was used in the movie "Grease" in 1978 and was covered by rock star Eric Clapton.

He was known for his discovery of major rhythm-and-blues talents, including Etta James and Hank Ballard. Otis produced singer Big Mama Thornton's original recording of "Hound Dog," later a hit for Elvis Presley.

"Johnny had respect for musicians, and they respected him," said Bill Bowker of Santa Rosa's KRSH ("Krush") Radio station.

Northern California slide guitarist Roy Rogers once refused to host a radio show because it would have run at the same time as Otis' series on another station, Bowker said. Otis had a regular show, playing recordings on Pacifica Radio Network's stations, until ill health forced him to retire in 2005.

The people of Sonoma County got to know Otis after he opened his Johnny Otis Market and Deli in 1993 to sell his brand of organic apple juice. He and his band performed there on weekend nights, drawing large crowds, until the store closed two years later.

"I'll always remember those high-energy nights in his little Sebastopol eats-joint-turned-hot-music-club," said Katherine Hastings, Sonoma County poet and KRCB Radio show host. "No one in their right minds could stay in their seats."

In 1997, Otis briefly opened his own Land Mark Community Church in Santa Rosa, which he had run in Los Angeles 20 years previous.

A mentor to musicians, Otis also extended his support and encouragement to creative people of all kinds.

"A kindly, big-hearted man, he was always supportive of others in the arts," said Forestville artist and writer Maureen Hurley.

During his years in Sebastopol, Otis recorded his own music and other musicians at his own studio on his ranch.

"Johnny always had a great band," said Santa Rosa recording engineer Jason Andrews, who worked with Otis for four years. "I had many nights' meals with the Otises. There was always great soul food and hot sauce on the table."

Otis's survivors include his wife Phyllis, whom he married in 1941; sons, Shuggie and Nicky; daughters, Janet and Laura; and several grandchildren.

You can reach Staff Writer

Dan Taylor at 521-5243 or The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Captiva Island, August

Neil loved Captiva Island. I was ambivalent about the Gulf: it was like murky bath water—too hot for me to stay submerged for any length of time.

I grew up swimming at Stinson Beach, north of San Francisco, where even in summer, the water is about 65° due to the frigid Humboldt current that sweeps down the west coast from the North Pole. As a kid, I thought that swimming frigid ocean water was normal. But Neil loved the warmth of the Gulf. He was basking in it. Not like Scotland.

Florida in August is far too hot for the snowbirds. Only the hardy locals and the crazies went out in the August heat. Most waited until the sun went down to venture forth into the night. The upside of it was that we practically had the beaches to ourselves.

Neil was deep in conversation with a gaggle of men who were standing chest deep with their backs to the surf, when on the crest of a small wave, several black fins appeared. Everyone blanched and the men nearly shat themselves trying to make it to shore.

Forget about the wife and kids. It was every man for himself.

They fought a losing battle against the weight of the water as they churned toward shore. A 12-year-old kid who was playing near me climbed me like a tree. Not his dad, mind you. Me. I stood transfixed with this kid on my shoulders, watching the fins come nearer.

Then someone on shore said, Awww, look—dophins! The men stopped, and pretended that it was nothing.