As I was driving up from NYC on Memorial Day Weekend, I received an unexpected phone call from my old friend Jon Notarthomas.
Although I never played music with Jon (I did play quite a bit with his brother Jaime, however... more on that in subsequent blogs), he and I have been intersecting for decades, mostly for the good. We have had a few minor bumps in the road as well, but nothing so damaging that we couldn't negotiate our way through, as real friends always should do if they are functioning as such.
Jon's travels led him eventually to Austin, Texas. He operates an award winning, great wiener cart business on 6th street called "THE BEST WURST", considered world wide to be required street food fare when cruising the Austin strip.
But currently, Jon is distancing himself from wearing the crown of the "Hot Dog King Of Austin", and has refocused himself back to things musical, primarily by working and touring with a sure to be Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Ian McLagan.
Jon was calling me as he was en route to New Orleans with Mac, and was looking for a good place in French Quarter place to eat that wasn't a tourist trap, and phoned for guidance. But also to invite me to an upcoming stop on the two man tour, at The Catherine Cummings Theater in Cazenovia, NY on June 16th.
Mac joined The Small Faces in 1965, along with Kenney Jones, Steve Marriot, and Ronnie Lane. On the forefront of the mod movement along with The Who, The Small Faces pretty much defined what would to become the Britpop movements of the late '70's and 1990's. They enjoyed more chart success in the UK than the US, but I remember this sucker simply on the basis of Steve Marriot's killer hook delivery to the Universal Question, "What did you do there?". You know the answer.
Ian McLagan was there.
Too much in the distant past for you? After Marriot went on the form Humble Pie with Peter Frampton, the rest of The Small Faces recruited two nobodies by the respective names of Rod Stewart and Ron Wood, and formed Faces (Sometimes known as The Faces).
How important were The Faces to the ultimate architecture and edifice known as Rock and Roll? Aside from the post Faces careers of Stewart and Wood, I don't have enough time to explain it to you, but roughly, they along with The Stones defined the British version of drunken "I-don't-give-a-tumbling-fuck-careening-around-Pluto- without-any-brakes" rock and roll music. Just watch how seriously they're taking their lip syncing duties! The Faces represent huge shoulders on which the next 30 or so years of modern rock was built upon.
And Ian McLagan was there.
Still not impressed? After The Faces were no more, MacLagan went on to be a keyboardist gun for hire, and has done recording and touring stints with The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Springsteen, Taj Mahal, John Hiatt, David Lindley, Paul Westerberg, Billy Bragg and Patty Griffin, to name but just a few.
Remember seeing Stones in the newly constructed Carrier Dome? You know, the Tattoo You tour... The last tour they did before becoming the world's longest and slickest touring Broadway show that re-defined the technical construct and business model of modern stadium touring, right down to selling the right to have Jovan Musk print their logo on tickets for a million bucks? This was the last tour where The Stones still played it fast and loose, and dared to suck, solidifying their right to call themselves "The Greatest Rock and Roll Band In The World". Were you there?
Ian McLagan was there, playing organ next to longtime original Stones pianist Ian Stewart, one of the finer rock and roll pianists that came out of the London scene.
So for my good friend Jon to not only have the opportunity to play music and learn from this pivotal figure in Rock and Roll history, but to log hours of car time with Mac.... to hear THOSE stories? Holy crap. That's beyond a P.H.D. degree in rock history. I wouldn't even know how to define it. I'm so happy for him.
So I headed east to Caz on the 16th, to catch a glimpse of all that transpired before, and much of what inspired me as a musician through the stories and songs presented by one of the greatest rock and roll keyboardists that ever was.
The Cummings Theater is affiliated with Cazenovia College, and its a wonderfully intimate venue. They have a little jazz fest there every year that when I'm in town I try to attend, as its always a high quality show. The acoustics are stellar, and it can't seat more than 300 people max. I was very excited to be in a place where that true intimacy can be achieved between an artist and audience.
Gary Frenay and Artie Lenin opened the show. Those who have read "The Gratitude Files" in the Blog-O-Thon are pretty familiar by now with what I call, "The Frenay Effect". When Gary is around and in proximity, magic happens. This night would be no different.
Jon sat in with Gary and Artie, and positively owned the bridge in The Beatles classic "This Boy". Although brother Jaime might be wider known, ALL them Notarthomas boys can sing their butts off, and along with brothers Michael and Tony, Jon is no different.
Then Mac took the stage alone. He told the story of a life lived, through stories, jokes, and tales of great loss. The music was of a caliber rarely heard on stages in CNY, and when Jon took the stage to accompany Mac, I was blown away just how much Jon has improved as a musician under the tutelage of a master.
To hear those stories, and to hear him play solo, if you are a true fan of the history of the craft of rock and roll... was revelatory.
McLagan has been through it all, and has lived to tell the tale. If you can get a chance to see him do one of these "storyteller" types of shows, I highly recommend it. It is a rare opportunity, and I was grateful to be able to experience it.
Mac did a brief meet and greet after the show at the foot of the stage, and basically invited everyone there to the bar at the Linklaen House for an after show pint. So not only did you get a master class in British rock and roll for the low admittance price of $15, you also got a chance to get pissed with the teacher after the show.
Now THAT's entertainment value for your buck!
I couldn't make the pub scene, but Jon invited me to breakfast the next morning at the Notarthomas Family manse on Woodbine Avenue in Eastwood, one of the more fertile areas for growing musicians around these parts. Ed Hamell and Dave Read grew up on the same block of Woodbine.
I love the Notarthomas family. As mentioned previously, I hung out in that house a lot. Mr. Notarthomas would always try to rip through Chopin's "Revolutionary Etude", I think in an attempt to remind me what "real" music was.
When I finally learned that etude when I lived in New Orleans, I always thought fondly of him as I played it. I was looking forward to seeing him and the rest of the clan after all these years, and breakfast with Ian McLagan was a pretty cool gift to anticipate as well... a gift shared freely via my good friend Jon.
But as I walked out of the theater, I had a niggling feeling that was irritating me.
During the pre-show hang in the theater, all the usual suspects were there. Bill Baldwin, Billy Holmes, Gretta Gallivan,Dave Frisina, Muscians that have been practicing the trade for over 25 years... even "The Dean" David Rezak. All the folks that were in some way responsible for ushering in, and /or stewarding the Renaissance of a true Syracuse Music Scene through the 70's, 80's and 90's.
But there were many that weren't there, that should have been... the most glaring absence was anybody under the age of fifty, with the exception of Nick Frenay, Gary's son (watch out for Nick... he's about to bust out on the national jazz scene. He's Momma brought him up right, and his Poppa installed the musical values. "The Frenay Effect")
Where were the students of the craft? All those kids that are slogging it out in the clubs, or the folks that think they are part of the local music intelligentsia.
They just weren't under represented. They weren't there.
That means that either there are no students, or there is no such thing as a craft anymore. Either way, it was a depressing thought.
The show may have been under-publicized, but it wasn't that under-publicized. That theater should have been filled with people that took the craft seriously and want to expand upon it. People thirsty for that kind of knowledge. People that need that knowledge to grow as musicians, plying the craft. The generations that need to know.
Instead the theater was only a third filled by people who already knew. And that not only was a shame, it was not a good harbinger of things to come.
When opportunity knocks, you have to answer the door. It clearly wasn't on this night.
Breakfast was pleasant. I joked to Ian that the last time I was in a room with him, there were 50,000 other folks there with us in the Carrier Dome, and having breakfast in the Notarthomas kitchen was much more preferable. He's a wonderful guy.
As breakfast wound down,group pix were taken, goodbye hugs were exchanged, and Jon and Ian hopped into an S.U.V. en route to their next gig in Cleveland.
Cleveland has a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And hopefully for Ian and Jon's sake, Cleveland still rocks.
(all performance photos shot at the Catherine Cummings Theater are used courtesy of Thomas Honan)
"You may shoot for the stars and end up in a back alley behind Pluto, beaten and bloodied, but at least I dare to dream, and that’s better than being Earthbound, mired in the muck of mediocrity.
I judge my forward progress and success by the crushingly epic nature of my failures.
The more epic the crash, the more I’m convinced I must be doing something right"
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COLONEL BEAUREGARD "IRON THIGHS" JEFFERSON, A.K.A. "THE MANAGEMENT"