What's cooking at the Blue Fox Cafe
All about the ins and outs of writing

Mar
23

The owl is often thought to be the symbol of wisdom

 

 

Projecting Human Characteristics onto Animals

For ages, owls have often been seen as creatures of wisdom, This trend, most.likely extends back to the ancient Greeks, when Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom, was often pictured with an owl. Today, many modern people still see the owl as being super-intelligent, though among the animal kingdom, there are many smarter birds, such as crows and parrots.

A Lightweight Bird with Superb Night Vision

An owl may not be able to mimic human speech, but its ability to see in the night is an extraordinary tool, allowing the creature to make out faraway objects extremely well despite the absence of almost any light. This would not be possible without a highly wired and oversized brain along with eyes that are huge in relation to the predators actual size and weight. You see, owls are mostly feathers, many having a body mass of only a few pounds.

Not All Cultures See Owls As Wise

In India, the owl often represents foolishness or ill-gained wealth. At times, the mysterious avian creature may be pictured with the goddess, Lakshmi. Lakshmi, by herself, usually, indicates wealth, but when accompanied by an owl, she becomes the symbol of corruption.

Then there are the American Indians, who on occasion may see the owl as a symbol of death, not necessary for the person, who encounters the night creature, but often for a loved one or close relative of the night viewer.

Mar
22

Reggae Loves Country

Back in 2014 a reggae singer, named Busy Signal (Glendale Goshia Gordon) performed this popular Kenny Rogers hit to a large Jamaican crowd. And don’t be fooled by Busy Signal.s respect for Country music. In reality, he is a street tough, Jamaican dancehall, reggae singer with a long line of savvy hits credited to his name. His live performance of The Gambler, though 100 per cent sincere is a bit of an anomaly. And don’t forget that Bob Marley’s first recorded hit was a C & W hit standard, Another Cup of Coffee. So all in all, Jamaican admiration for Nashville is real.

 

 

Breaking Even

Kenny Rogers died on Friday of natural causes. Not a bad time to pass on, considering that this Corona Virus thing is just really getting ramped up and nobody knows how bad things are going to get. Then there is the flip side, ole Kenny won’t be around to see how this pandemic ends. Just lucky I guess. For it doesn’t look good no matter how you slice the pie. Perhaps this is a good time to quote Mr. Rogers from his megahit, The Gambler.

“And the Best You Can Hope For Is To Die In Your Sleep”.

A Most influential Singer/Songwriter

Kenny Rogers first gained national recognition with The First edition, a kind of whacked out, Hippie, Acid-rock band that had a few big hits in the late 60s and even made it onto the Smothers Brothers Show. Below, you can see the band performing their big counterculture hit, Just Dropped In,.

 

 

Kenny’s Transformation

Even while still performing for the First Edition, Kenny’s transformation from rock to country was plenty evident. The song that did this was Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town (1969). Released, after Just Dropped In, this pop hit, first penned and recorded by Mel Tillis in1967, hit a nerve among the general public that all but guarantied a crossover to Country & Western. The story about a disable Vietnam Vet and unfaithful love resonated all across the Billboard charts, even despite the fact that it had been recorded before by Waylon Jennings and Mel Tillis.

Kenny Rogers in 1997

 

 

A Nashville Fixture

Kenny Rogers released his first solo album in 1976, eventually becoming a stalwart of the Nashville music scene. Since then he has worked with such music legends as Dolly Parton, Lionel Ritchie and Dottie West. Kenny passed away this past Friday. His death was reportedly caused by natural causes, a coincidence that has allowed commentators to liberally quote from his classic song, The Gambler. Since Friday, Kenny’s death has been marked with headlines like Kenny Rogers Runs Out of Aces, The Gambler, He Finally Broke Even or the one I used in this article

Mar
15

The White House is a busy place with lots of hand-shaking and social interactions

 

 

The Story

Finally, on Friday the 13th, Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States, relented and took a coronavirus test. Even though the results are supposed to be available in two hours, they were not announced till the next day, Saturday, and were declared negative. That is to say that Donald Trump does not have the COVID-19, the official name for the coronavirus disease.

Can We Believe the Results?

This administration and especially this president have been so full of half-truths, misdirected statements and absolute lies that sometimes it is hard to believe anything they say. Furthermore, if the president was to actually be sick, the White House staff might work hard to shield the public from the actual truth. Keeping all of this in mind, I still tend to believe that the president does not have coronavirus. Even after considering that the president is overweight almost to a point of obesity and his advanced age of 73 years, it might still might be that he has avoided the contagious disease that has struck other public figures. At least so far.

Donald Trump enjoys the game of golf, almost to a point of obsession

 

 

 

The Answer Lies on the Golf Course

This president spends an inordinate amount of time on his own golf course, usually at public expense. Though this may not be good for the well-being of the nation, it may be enough to keep Donald Trump reasonably healthy. Besides the physical assertion, the sunshine exposure Trump receives may be critical in keeping the president’s immune system functioning. I know this may sound strange, but exposure of skin to sunlight (especially in light-skinned people) plays an important role in strengthening one’s immune system.

The Science

The science behind this is both simple and profound at the same time. Succinctly stated, sunshine on the epidermis stimulates the production of vitamin D, which in turn is important in strengthening the body’s immune system. This will not make you resistant to epidemics like the coronavirus. It just improves your chances of fighting off minor infections.

Dr. John Campbell, an English medical instructor, explains the situation quite well in the following video.

 

Conclusion

If you are self-quarantined at home, you might want to consider spending as much time in the sunlight as possible. This would include going outside and getting some real exercise. Just avoid associating with other people. This is especially true if you are in self-isolation as a preventive measure.

For More Info go here.

Mar
03

Sign of the Times – this posted notice reminds WWI soldiers that there is an epidemic going that just might be more deadly than warfare.

 

 

The Facts Are Staggering

At the time the world had seen nothing like it. One third of the world’s population was infected with a death rate of between 2% and 5%. Today, researchers believe that the actual death toll could have been somewhere between 50 and 100 million.

Today’s Outbreaks Are So Much Smaller

Currently (2020), the world is all abuzz about the newest coronavirus, also called COVID-19. This disease, which now borders on becoming a world pandemic, is currently in 70 countries and has killed over 3,000….and it’s still growing as the respiratory ailment is about to hit the USA. Even the Swine Flu of 2009, only managed to run up a total infected in the 20% range (about 1 billion) with a resulting death toll of approximately 500,000. Still, this current outbreak is kind of scary in that so many nations (including the good ole USA) seem so unprepared to handle the outbreak.

This Epidemic Is So Small It Seems Almost Personal

As the news stories in the U.S. unfold, the individuals almost seem personal. Actual names aren’t used, but still we get personal information as to age, health condition, where the person lives, how many children they have and so. Sure sign that this is still in the beginning and unfortunately will get much bigger.

Want to Learn more about the gre.at Spanish Flu influenza?

Feb
22

George Washington was a remarkable founding father.

 

 

President’s Day Again

When I was a kid, we would always celebrate the birthdays of dead presidents individually and not as a group. Fortunately, not everyone of this continuously growing club, got a special Shout Out, but for those who did, February was an especially busy month, for it contained the birthdays of a two of the greatest, Lincoln and Washington. At the time, February also contained the birth date of the shortest-lived presidency of all times. William Henry Harrison, who only served 31 days before dying of pneumonia. Since then Ronald Reagan has joined this unique club, but despite Reagan’s current popularity, President’s day still seems to focus on Washington and Lincoln. Not surprisingly, this year’s President’s Day features a TV special on the life and times of George Washington, perhaps are most enigmatic president.

First and Foremost a General

On the first segment aired, the History Channel and portrayed a young Washington, who wanted nothing more than become a military officer in the British Army. For better or worse, fate did not cooperate and so Washington was forced out of Great Britain’s military, eventually coming to fulfill a very important role as first General of the Continental Army. The fact that George and all the rest of the Continental Army succeeded is now the stuff of history, but no matter how you look at it, the Patriot’s victory is one of the most improbable events of all time. No wonder, so many of the Founding Fathers contributed their unlikely success due to the presence of a very benevolent higher being.

The Whiskey Rebellion

When Washington became president, he gave up his military colors, but not for good, because before long the fledgling federal government was facing a violent tax revolt on the Western frontier. So it seems that Western farmers were used to distilling their excess grain and selling off the finished product to make an extra buck or two. And as a result, they did not take kindly to a new tax on whiskey.

By today’s standards, President Washington responded in a very unusual way. He rounded thousands of volunteers and conscripted a few non-volunteers to go after the culprits of Western Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia. In the ensuing standoff, the farmers backed down, but at the same time the federal government abandoned its notion to tax whiskey. At least for the near future. Nonetheless, the die had been cast, the U.S. was destined to be lead by a strong central government, even though we have governed by numerous Jeffersonian presidents, who favored a weaker central government along with stronger individual states.

Like Washington, Hercules, one of Washington’s slave was also an enigma. The president’s cook charmed Philadelphia with his culinary skills, had his portrait done by Stuart Gilbert and then abandoned Mt. Vernon during a joyous birthday celebration (for George), never to return again.

 

 

Washington Surprises Almost Everyone

Just before he died Washington decreed that all his slaves would be freed upon his death. Perhaps, he was tired of chasing down runaways and coming back empty-handed. However appealing this idea is, it is more likely that he saw the handwriting on the wall. Slavery could hold hold its enormous weight. The institution was bound to die. Unfortunately, it took fifty years and a bloody civil war for the nation to come to this way of thinking.

 

Want to read more, Check out these two articles about the Whiskey Rebellion and Washington’s Runaway Slaves.

Feb
05

This town is a bit like a ship out on the ocean, hence the term township.

 

 

Town

Te peaceful quiet of a town at night.

Feb
04

Two Pandas

 

 

 

Two Pandas

Jan
31

This 2013 fiery eruption of Vulcan del Fuego in Guatemala only resulted in the evacuation of several hundred people, who lived near the volcano. Then, in 2018, another blast killed 159 people.

 

Disaster Invites More Readers

There is no way around it, writing about the world’s volcanoes will attract the most viewers, whenever disaster strikes. Such is the dilemma for science writers as well as the scientists that actually visit and study these monsters. Recently, a rather small volcano in the Philippines sent my daily number of visitors off the charts. Now, some 10 days since the first ash cloud was emitted towards the heavens, my readership has declined back to normal numbers. No doubt though, that another fiery explosion will again send the daily number of visitors skyward, just like the tephra (volcanic debris), which is ejected from the mouth of the volcano. Such is life when you write, study or examine such things as earthquakes, hurricanes, flu epidemics or any other natural calamity that effects our precarious existence here on planet Earth.

 

 

In 1991, Pinatubo volcano underwent a very, large eruption that killed over 700 and left 200,000 homeless.

 

A Very Active Place

First of all, this kind of occurrence is no rare thing for this part of the world. That is because along with Japan and Indonesia, the Philippine islands are one of the most volcanically active places on the planet. Over the years, residents of these beautiful, tropical isles have most likely been more concerned the other major volcanoes, such as Mayon, Pinatubo or Balusan.  Though very active, Taal, is just one of 53 active Filipino sites and overall, it is one of the smaller volcanoes of the Philippines. What concerns scientists the most about this small peak, is its location in a much bigger body of water, Lake Taal, which once, many years ago was an explosive, giant volcano, capable of much local destruction along with world wide climate change.

 

PHIVOLCS

Fortunately, for the hundred and twenty million residents of the Philippines, there is a place of higher learning called the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology. Located in Quezon City, just north of the capital at Manila, this scientific research center has been busy lately, issuing daily updates on the Taal volcano and daily reminders that this volcano may not be done yet and that the alert level is still very high, registering a 4 on a scale of 5. Only recently, two weeks later, has the alert level dropped down to a level 3.

The Long Wait

Next comes the long wait, especially for those displaced by this most recent activity. Residents must remain away from their homes for days or possibly even weeks. And then, when they are allowed back into the volcano zone, there is no telling when Mount Taal will again start spitting lava and ash clouds into the atmosphere, again causing massive more evacuations and disruptions in the island life style.

 

For more info, you can go here or here or here or here.

Until we cross paths again.

 

 

Dec
29

This family really stinks

 

Family

This family of skunks really stinks. Pictured here are the papa, the mama and two little ones out for a stroll. They’re cute as can be, but don’t get too close.

Dec
21

Philosophy and Christian Belief have not always gone hand in hand, illustration by W. Ridgeway

 

Louis Jordan Spoofs Religion

If you haven’t heard of Louis Jordan, he was one of the more successful musicians of the 30s and 40s with his musical career lasting into the early years of the 50s. Louis was a saxophonist, who lead a five piece combo, known as the Tympany Five. He recorded numerous hits, many of which, are still covered today by Western swing bands. Anybody who follows the Country & Western band, Asleep at the Wheel, is most likely familiar with a whole bunch of Louis Jordan tunes.

Furthermore, Louis Jordan was a black musician, who was able to cross over to white audiences during the war years and the decade that followed. Some of his big crossover hits include Five Guys Named Moe, Caledonia and Choo Choo Ch’ Boogie. were just getting to know each other.

 

Louis Jordan was the bandleader of a piece piece jump blues combo

 

Old Man Mose

Old Man Mose is a Louis Armstrong song that Jordan covered and revised a bit with the Holy Roller routine. Having grown up in rural Arkansas, it is highly probable that Louis Jordan knew the Holy Rollers quite well. Nonetheless, he incorporates the rowdy antics of the faithful into a visual memorable presentation and lays the foundation for own religious number, Deacon Jones.

 

 

 

Deacon Jones

In 1945, just a year after he recorded Old Man Mose, Louis Jordan and the Tympany Five put out  Deacon Jones, complete with many of the same, wacky routines displayed in the earlier jump blues number. Those cray white-rimmed glasses are back along with a bunch of wild prancing around, plus some biting, satirical lyrics. The unusual combination produces barrels of laughs. Be sure to check out the white teenage audience, keeping in mind  that the year is 1945, almost ten years this same age group discovered rock and roll.

 

Dec
21

In Central Europe, spiders are often revered and thought to bring good luck.

 

 

The Much-maligned Spider

Hollywood has not been kind to the spider, for the eight-legged arachnid (spiders are not insects) has often been portrayed as a diabolical creature with a deadly bite. In reality, spiders are just the opposite, for they consume large quantities of insects and unlike their six-legged cousins, they do not carry any infectious diseases.

Yes, some spider bites can be fatal, especially if left untreated, but these events are quite rare. Overall, spiders do a lot more good to harmful.

Spiders in Europe

In many Central Europe nations, the spider web is seen as a symbol of good luck and prosperity. With this in mind, it is no big surprise that ornamental spider webs and even spiders can often be found hanging from evergreen boughs. Across Germany, tinsel is also often found on the “Tannenbaum”. Even more interesting is the origin of this shiny decoration, which is attributed to honoring a family of spiders, who long ago, came out at night and decided to decorate a lonely fir tree with their amazing webs. In the morning, the family awoke to find that once barren tree glistening in the morning sun. Since that beautiful morning, tinsel has been used as a Christmas tree decoration to salute the industrious spiders.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Check out my article on Christmas Spiders here.

Nov
26

Filmed in 1941, but released in 1942, “Ride ‘Em Cowboy”, featuring Abbott and Costello, provided light-hearted entertainment during the darkest days of WWII

 

Ride ‘Em Cowboy

Ride ‘Em Cowboy was a 1942 comedy that for the war year ranked 8th in box sales. It featured the ever-popular Abbott and Costello, plus the attained some historical importance because it introduced a person-of-color, Ella Fitzgerald, to a large mass audience. Today, her film clip seems to be the most enduring part of the film.

Ella Fitzgerald’s Film Debut

Not long before the release of Ride ‘Em Cowboy, Ella Fitzgerald was an obscure Harlem singer. But then she won a singing contest at the Apollo Theater and then co-wrote and sung A Tisket, A Tasket in 1936. Here she is six years later doing the same song in Hollywood, breaking the color barrier for a supporting role.

The Musical Number That Got Cut

Dorothy Dandridge was a much bigger name during the forties than she is today. Here, she lights up the silver screen with a jazzy cowgirl number called “Cow Cow Boogie”. Unfortunately, this number was not included in the movie, but still was viewed by many because it was released as a “Soundie”.

For more info on these musical numbers and other songs from the 40s, check out my article on the Jump Blues.

Nov
25

If the universe had a brain, it might look something like this

 

Does the Universe Have a Brain?

I seriously doubt that the universe has a brain, for if it did, it would surely destroy this corrupt, polluted and over-populated planet that we live on. However, if it did have something even vaguely resembling a greater intelligence, this is what it might look like.

Nov
16

Who Was Wild Bill Moore?

Bill Moore was born in Detroit in 1918 and began playing the sax at an early age. After the Second World War he released a few albums with one small hit (1948) called “We’re Gonna Rock, We’re Gonna Roll”. This song still draws interest today because it was one of the first use of the the words, Rock and Roll, plus it had a lively rhythm you could dance to.

Elvis Presley started his career by performing early rock songs from the 40s

 

Rock’n Roll Did not Begin with a Single Song

Most likely Rock’n Roll did not happen overnight. Nonetheless, it’s a lot of fun to look back and speculate on the first rock’n roll song. Of all the songs released right after WWII, this rockin’ tune by Mr. Moore definitely stands out. Others that might draw a listen, include “Shake, Rattle and Roll” by Big Joe Turner and his band (1939), “Rock the Joint” by Jimmy Preston and “Good Rockin’ Tonight” by Wynonie Harris. Another strong candidate is “That’s Alright Mama” released by Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup in 1946.  As the writer at getrockready points out, all the instrumentation is right, though there is no actual mention of Rockin’ and Rollin’. By the way this is the very same song that Elvis released eight years later on his way to fame.

Songs That Mention Rockin’ and or Rollin’

Perhaps the first song that links rock with roll was a blues number recorded in 1922 by Trixie Smith. It is titled My Man Rocks Me (with one steady roll), but the musical style is definitely pre-rock. By the late thirties “rock” and “roll” were more commonly used in titling a song. For example in 1938, Big Joe Turner and Pete Johnson put out “Roll ‘Em Pete” and then a year later Buddy Rollins released “Rockin Rollin Mama”.

For more insight into this fascinating topic, check out my article on Spinditty,

Nov
14

George Washington’s Cook (traditionally identified as Hercules) poses for a portrait by Gilbert Stuart

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“You know, the White House is really modeled after a plantation big house.” Walter Scheib, White House executive chef.

Not Just an Ordinary Picture

In the mid 1700s, you had to be a pretty big wig to have your likeness recorded on canvas by the most heralded portrait painter of the Revolutionary war period, for Stuart Gilbert usually reserved his artistic efforts, for aristocrats. So how this black man, dressed in cook’s attire rate such an honor?

Turns out the man in the picture is  a cook, called Hercules, so named because of his large size at birth. Hercules Posey was born a slave in Virginia and when purchased by George Washington in 1767 at age 14, Hercules was first employed as a ferryman.

Hercules Is Promoted

As George Washington’s newly acquired slave, it did not take long the young man to advance to position of head cook on the Mt. Vernon plantation. In Colonial times, a cook was a demanding position, for the worker had to be adept at cooking over an open fire and maneuvering large pots of boiling water, as well as handling large carcasses of meat. Hercules large size and superior strength made him the best qualified person for the job.

the first president of the United States lived in this modest Philadelphia home

 

 

 

 

 

The Washingtons Move to Philadelphia

When George Washington was elected first president of the United States in 1787, Philadelphia was the nation’s capitol, as Washington had not even been built yet. At first, President Washington tried employing several white chefs to work a very demanding job that required feeding the numerous guests that frequently gathered at the presidential residence.

Hercules took to the task with ease and with his superb culinary skills, the talented cook soon became the talk of the town. George W. was so pleased with his new chef that he allowed Hercules to roam the town, when not busy in the president’s kitchen and he was even allowed to sell leftover fixings on the street. Hercules was so successful in this endeavor that soon he became one of the best-dressed men in the city of brotherly love, eventually having his likeness preserved in oils by Stuart Gilbert.

Not the End of the Story

When the Washington family, returned to their Potomac home, Hercules also went there too, after all he was still a slave. According to modern-day historians, Hercules did not take well to his return to Ole Virginia. As punishment, Hercules was forced to work in the fields instead of the plantation kitchen, where he had risen to celebrity status. Finally, after improving his behavior, Hercules was placed back in the kitchen as chef. But then on February 22, 1797 during the midst of George’s birthday party, Hercules ran away from the Mt. Vernon estate and despite the best efforts of George and Martha he never returned.

“a blue coat with a velvet collar, a pair of fancy knee-breeches, and shoes with extravagant silver buckles. Thus attired, with a cocked hat upon his head and a gold-headed cane in his hand, he strutted up and down among the beaux and belles until the stroke of the clock reminded him that he must hurry off to the kitchen and prepare the evening meal.”   Frances Hodgson Burnett

P.S. For info on George Washington and his Runaway Slaves check out my article on Owlcation.

Nov
11

A Toast to all Vets

 

 

Saluting All Vets

I can’t afford to buy a beer for every vet, so this photo will suffice, as a salute to all those who have joined the Armed Services and gone overseas in service to this country. No matter what you think of the leadership, past and present, the millions of Vets, who have served, deserve a tribute.

Nov
08

“I thought I’d lost my mind, but then I found it.”

 

 

 

 

Brain

Jim was worried that he had really lost his mind. Then, much to his surprise he found it.

 

Oct
17

Mr. Trump borrows something from the British.

 

 

 

 

History

History is not static; it’s happening all the time. What goes down today will be history tomorrow.

Aug
31

Storm Bahamas, Hurrianes in the Caribbean are nothing new as Homer Winslow so aptly demonstrates in this 19th century watercolor

 

 

 

 

 

“Yes, it’s quite insane, I think it hurts from brain, but then it cleans me out, then I can go on.”

Another Storm in the Bahamas

As I write this, the Bahamas is about to get hammered with yet another high intensity hurricane. The hurricane is named Dorian; and yes thoughts of Dorian Grey come to mind suggesting that this current tempest could be a bad one. So far, most forecasters have predicted that Dorian will head towards Florida, possibly running headlong right through Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Largo prized golf estate. The internet has been abuzz with such a timely outcome, but alas, at present, this does not seem to be the likely outcome, as Dorian is now predicted to venture further north, probably towards the coast of South Carolina. Stay tuned to your weather forecaster on this one, for things could get very interesting.

“I must confess, I could use some rest.”

You Can’t Copyright a Title

Tryin To Reason with Hurricane Season is a fantastic title for a super-fantastic song. Fortunately, the law says you can’t copyright a title, so I’m not in any legal jeopardy, by using those clever words as a title for my blog post. Unfortunately the same is not true for the few choral lines that are also included in this look at our current hurricane season, which could turn out to be another doozy. To be honest I stuck the extra words in just for shits and giggles, not to mention their poetic brilliance. Hope nobody complains.

 

 

Buffett’s Explanation

This little video of Buffett and Kenny Chesney performing Hurricane Season together is well worth checking out. The best part is Buffett’s impromptu explanation that there is not much you can do about these natural weather events, except to get out of the way, take shelter and perhaps to stop and take a minute or two to admire Mother Nature’s awesome power.

 

The Original Hurricane Song

 

 

 

The song called The Mighty Storm relates to the Great Galveston Flood (actually a Cat 5 hurricane) which back in 1900 wiped out the Texas coastal city of Galveston, killing some 10,000 people in the process. No doubt this tragic event has inspired countless stories, but none stands out better than the timeless folk song. Featured in the video, is the Canadian group, The Duhks, which are just one of many contemporary bands that have performed this popular tune.

So happens that this song has a definitive history behind it. Turns out that in the years following the destructive hurricane, the song began as a spiritual in the black churches of the Gulf Coast region. Then in 1934, the song was recorded by a colorful black preacher, who went by the name of Sin Killer Griffen. Even so, the song remained in the gospel churches until the 60s, when it was again recorded by Eric Von Schmidt. Since then “Wasn’t That a Mighty Storm” (the official title) has been covered by many mainstream musicians.

The 1900 Galveston hurricane left much destruction in its wake

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More About Hurricanes and the Songs and Stories That They Inspire

Just in case you might be interested in more stories and songs about Hurricanes you might check out this article, I wrote for the Spinditty website. It is a more in depth look at the musical appreciation of tropical storms and the fact there is not much you can do about these awesome, natural weather events, except take shelter and perhaps stop and take a minute or two to admire their mighty power.

Jul
17

The Great Electricity Machine was admired by people far and wide

 

 

 

Electricity

The Great Electricity Machines created bundles of high-powered electricity that was enjoyed by people far and wide.

Jun
08

Back in the 70s Mac Rabanack broke out as a colorful performer, who went by the name of Dr. John and the Night Trippers. Sometimes Dr. John took the persona of the Night Tripper and at other times it was the name for his back-up band.

 

 

The News

It just happened yesterday and it didn’t take long for word to get around. Mac Rebennack, better known the world over as Dr. John, has passed away at age 77. I can’t quite imagine what New Orleans is like right now, but I have a suspicion, that the city is mourning his passing, while at the same time, also preparing for one heck of a jazz funeral. Basically, Doctor John put New Orleans music on the map. With its lively street life, bigtime Mardi Gras celebration, funky cuisine, swank jazz clubs and the overwhelming presence of the Mighty Mississippi River, the Crescent City has always an enchanting mystique that draws visitors from all over the globe.  Throughout his musical career, Dr. John consolidated many of the many musical styles found throughout the region and helped define what it meant to be a New Orleans musician.

The Turning Point

At an early age, while attending Jesuit school, Mac Rebennack reached a turning point in his life, when he was told by his teachers to either give up music or give up school. Rebennack promptly dropped out of school and went down the long road of hard knocks of being a blues-funk musician from the Big Easy. Finally, after prison, drug addiction and being shot in the hand, Dr. John released his first alum in 1968 at aged 27. The album was called Gris-Gris ( a New Orleans voodoo term) and it introduced Dr. John and the Night Trippers to the world.

Dr. John’s musical career peaked in 1973 with the release of In the Right Place, a breakthrough musical release that featured the Meters as his back-up band. This album also introduced two of his biggest hits, Such a Night and Right Place, Wrong Time. Luckily, Dr. John’s career did not end after 1973, for the Louisiana Native continued to prosper with live concerts, studio sessions, more albums and even some music, film credits. However, most music critics seem to concur that this year and this album marked the high point of the doctor’s long-lived musical career.

Time Warp

Mac Rebennack procured his legendary stage name from a rear-life Jean Montanee, a root doctor, who lived in New Orleans during the early part of the nineteenth century. Montanee was born in Senegal, but lived most of his life in New Orleans, where he reached a grand old age of 100. For Jean Montanee, Doctor was an honorary title that he acquired from his knowledge of roots and other medicinal plants that he expended to anyone, who was interested.

Addiction

For many years, Dr. John, had a heroin addiction problem, which he finally kicked in 1989. In 1976, Dr. John joined forces with The Band for this remarkable rendering of one of his biggest hits.

 

 

 

May
23

An Egyptian pharaoh finds his place in the stars

 

Throne

The royal Egyptians of ages past might have used the throne as a place to speculate on the afterlife and the stars.

May
20

Coming out of the gate, Yesterday at the Preakness Stakes, Bodexpress dumped its jockey and ran the race without its rider. With a definite weight advantage, Bodexpress ran near the middle of the pack, but faded towards the end.

 

 

 

The Riderless Horse

In case you missed it, the Preakness Stakes, held recently in Baltimore, featured a riderless horse. Bodexpress dumped his  coming out of the gate, but managed to finish the race, despite lacking a rider. For most of the course, the riderless horse was enthusiastically cheered on by the crowd.

As luck would have it, it just happened to be the horse I bet on to win. Fortunately, all was not loss for I picked the eventual winner, War of Will, to show, so at least I picked up a few dollars.

Somedays you’re up, and some days you’re down. John Velazquez falls from Bodexpress at 2019 Preakness

 

What the Jockey Said

“I had my feet out of the irons and I lost my balance and I went off……Things like this happen with horses, but it’s disappointing.”    Hall of Game jockey, John Velazquez after the race.

Maryland steeplechases features timbered jump and often a riderless horse or two

 

 

 

Common Occurrence

Though rare in track racing, this type of event occurs all the time in a steeplechase race. By coincidence, the rural countryside just outside Baltimore is home to several steeplechase events. They occur in the spring on the pristine rural stretches that surround Worthington Valley in Baltimore County. The races are very popular, even though the fans only get a brief glimpse as horses and riders crisscross the fields and pasture, leaping numerous fences during the course of the race.

The track is long and hard and invariably a few riders fail to finish the course. The same is not always true for the horses, who, even without a rider, often keep right up with the pack, even successfully jumping over the wooden obstacles that are part of the racing event.

In 2017, John Velazquez won the Kentucky Derby riding Always Dreaming

 

 

 

High Stakes

If one considers how much money, time, training and effort go into getting a thoroughbred prepared for a major race that just lasts a few minutes, the only logical conclusion is that horse racing is a very expensive sport.  Still, nothing seems to gather the spirits, quite like an iconic racing event, where a dozen or so highly-trained animals compete for a bouquet of flowers, as tens of thousands of spectators watch from the stands.

May
17

Herman Wouk at age 98

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Centenarian Novelist Dies

Today, Herman Wouk, the Pulitzer-prize winning novelist died at an amazing age of 103. The New York City writer, had been rather quiet for the last decade after releasing, The Lawgiver, just a few years after turning 90. Still, over his lifetime, the American writer had published numerous novels, including the Caine Mutiny, which earned him a Pulitzer prize in 1952.

After Pearl Harbor, Wouk volunteered for the Navy and so spent the formidable part of the war, island hopping through the Pacific theater, on board several American warships. After the war, Wouk would emerge as one of the more gifted novelists to write about their war experience.

Jimmy Buffett and Herman Wouk

 

 

 

 

An Unusual Alliance

I probably never wouldn’t of paid much attention to Mr. Wouk, if hadn’t been for the activities of Jimmy Buffett. In his successful biographical, sailor’s tale, A Pirate Looks at Forty, Jimmy provides a list of ten books, which one should take along, if they were ever stranded on a deserted island. One of these recommendations was Don’t Stop the Carnival, a rip-roaring Caribbean story that Wouk penned back in the sixties.

Fortunately, the story doesn’t stop with good reading advice, for Buffett came up with the brilliant idea of making a Broadway musical about the fictitious subtropical isle. To make a long story short, the two bards put their heads together and came up a successful musical, based on the novel. Since then, Buffett has gone own to put his own story onto the Broadway stage (Escape to Margaritaville), while Herman most likely slipped back into the content retirement of a successful novelist.

Life in the Pacific Theater could be highly risky

 

Wouk’s Legacy

With Wouk’s passing, the American people have lost their last quite literary voice from the “Big One” (World War II). Wouk was not alone in this account, for not only did the Second War World, produce a sustained era of prosperity, but it also left in its wake, a slew of creative literary artists. Where would we be today without the original voices of James Michener, Norman Mailer, James Jones, Steven Linakis, Kurt Vonnegut, J. G.Ballard and Pierre Boulie. So in your spare time, you might want to turn off the TV and pick up a good book a two about our most recent world war. War may be hell, but it sure is a catalyst for a lot of good stories.

May
09

This transport vehicle travels to and from Earth

 

 

 

 

Transportation

This Earth Bus vists our planet on a regular basis. View the bus here as it whizzes by the Man in the Moon.

Apr
28

Monument Valley is a favorite filming location for Hollywood, even though the story line hasn’t always matched the setting.

Non Stop Western Movies

A few months ago, back in the dead of winter, I found myself holed up in Southern Utah taking public assistance for a couple of weeks. As a result I had no control over what I watched on TV.  This wasn’t a bad thing really, for I got a chance to watch a whole bunch of western movies, mostly from the 50s. Not only did I enjoy viewing the films, but also, I learned something about moviemaking and storytelling.

The Movies

The movies I watched were Gun Glory (1957), The Last Wagon(1956), The Cattle King(1963), Fort Dobbs(1958), The Jayhawkers(1959), The Marauders(1955), The Sheepman(1958) and McLintock(1963). All except McLintock and the Cattle King  were made in the 50s and McLintock differed significantly from the rest because it was a comedy, even though John Wayne starred as George Washington McLintock, the eccentric cattle baron. More about that particular film later.

A Common Theme?

What struck me most about the 50s Westerns was how quickly and easily the main characters changed partners. Even death of a spouse was often the catalyst for these changes. For example in the Jayhawkers, Fess Parker plays a man, just escaped from prison, who is headed home. Only problem is the woman in the house is not his wife, as she is buried nearby. No problem, for the moviemakers, because the homesteader, Nicole Maurey, ends of spending the entire film with Fess, as they try to find justice against the gangs of marauding men that are terrorizing the Kansas territory.

In a rare comedy appearance, John Wayne plays a cattle baron married to a headstrong western woman, Maureen O’Hara

John Wayne In a Comedy

For the 50s movies, this seems to be a common theme among these Westerns, at least the ones reviewed in this article. Only with the sixties films of McLintock and The Cattle King, did I detect a more normal relationship between man and woman. The story of McLintock revolves around a powerful western couple, played by John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara and their humorous escapades, as they try to reconcile their differences.

What’s Going On Here

The rugged reality of life in the Old West is definitely at work in a lot of these Westerns. The dangers were real, life was hard, and men and women could die suddenly for no logical reason. When tragic events like this did occur, survival may have quickly necessitated the relocation with a new partner of the opposite sex.

The Wars of the 40s and 50s

From 1942 till 1953, the U.S. went through two costly military conflicts. World War II was by the far the most deadly, but we should not forget the 50,000 soldiers, who perished in the Korean Conflict. Perhaps, some of the resulting turmoil on the home front is reflected in the Western movies that were being made in Hollywood.

Tom Mix was one of the first Hollywood Cowboys

The White Cowboy

For just about all of our cinematic history, the Cowboy has been white. Mel Brooks put a crack in this myth with his landmark satire, Blazing Saddles, but even today, the hero of the Western tends to a white male mounted on horseback. Basically, the conquest of the West was told by the victor. Many good movies have been made using these parameters, but there still remains other stories out there that could be successfully brought to the silver screen, both real and fictional, or somewhere in between.

Apr
27

After the emancipation Proclamation, black cowboys were readily employed in the Old West.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Black Cowboys in the Old West

According to Smithsonian researchers, during the heyday of the Wild West, about one out of four Cowboys were black. To understand the rise of the black cowboy, one has to take a look at Texas in the decade of the 1860s, when war broke out between the states and during that war, The Emancipation Proclamation was passed.

For Texas ranchers, who went to war, this was a particularly difficult time, for if they survived the war (and many did), they only returned home to find affairs in disarray. For while away, the slaves had often been left in charge of managing the cattle herds, a task with which they took on with varying degrees of success.

It only took the ranchers a short time to turn things around. By taking on the now free black men as cow hands, they straightened out life on the ranch. And then as lucrative markets for beef opened up in the industrial north, the ranchers now had an opportunity to prosper. There was one catch; they had to drive their herds north to places like Kansas, where the product could be quickly shipped to market.

Nat Love a.k.a. Deadwood Dick, penned his own autobiography in 1907

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Cowboy Autobiography

In 1907, Nat Love wrote his autobiography of his life as a cowboy. Born in 1854 as a slave in Tennessee, Nat eventually traveled West, where he found work on an Arizona ranch in the 1870s.  In Nat’s own words, his first-hand accounts differ only slightly from many of the stories that we see in the movies.

In his book, Nat talks about huge cattle drives from Arizona to Kansas, fights with Indians and visits to the Wild West cow towns like Dodge City, where saloons, gambling joints and ladies of the night flourished. During his travels, Nat met the likes of Billy the Kid, Pat Garret, Bat Masterson and even earned his own colorful nickname of Deadwood Dick after winning a cowboying contest in Deadwood, South Dakota.

Everybody Wants To Be the Cowboy

Back in 1996 the Fugees, released a song called The Cowboys. The tune appeared on an album called The Score, which in many ways embraced the gangster lifestyle. A year later, Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, borrowed a line from the popular Fugees number and released this video, titled “Everybody Wants To Be the Cowboy”. Filmed on the shores of Jamaica, the following music video takes a slightly different tack on the rapster/gangsta attitude, which today seems quite popular and successful, even finding its way into our highest political institutions.

 

 

Apr
26

1909 photo of Montana woman on horseback, from wikipedia

 

 

Cowgirl Poets

Women definitely held a major role, not only in the Old West, but also today, as ranching country faces the challenges of a new and changing world. Traditionally, women have been the more active participant in literary activities. Yet, in the world of Cowboy poets and self expression, women are definitely in the minority. Nonetheless, the woman of the open range can still spin a good yarn that will keep the audience tuned in and wanting for more.

Honoring a Canadian Songwriter

Ian Tyson is a well-respected Canadian songwriter, who has received special honors and tributes at the National Cowboy Poetry gatherings. One of his most famous songs, which is written from a female point of view, is featured here by Suzy Bogguss.

Apr
25

Three participants at the National Poetry Gathering

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gatherings

Cowboy poetry readings are usually called gatherings and may occur at any time of the year. For example, The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering is held every winter (late January or early February) in Elko, Nevada at the Western Folklife Center. The get-together lasts for a long weekend and includes film and music performances, along with the traditional poetry reading and storytelling sequences. It is also a big social event, where members of the sponsoring organization have a chance to get together and share experiences.

The Network

Besides the big event at Elko, there are many other Cowboy poetry events that are held around the country. Not surprisingly, many are held in Western States, where ranching is still a way of life. For example, Texas, Montana and Wyoming all have such events on an annual basis.  And then, on a smaller scale, fans of this venue can find numerous smaller poetry events, usually supported by interested municipalities, folklore museums and heritage sites. Add all this together and you have an extensive network that supports the colorful poets, storytellers and musicians.

The Bet at the Bar

Watch below, as Waddie Mitchell recounts his humorous tale, The Bet at the Bar. This performance is from the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada.

 

Music and Poetry

Music is also an important part of Cowboy poetry gatherings. Here Michael Martin Murphy, a successful recording artist in his own right, performs a song at the Elko national gathering.

Painting of a cowboy singing by Thomas Eakins

Apr
24

Stampede, WPA public mural at the Odessa, Texas post office by Tom Lea

 

 

 

Stampede Mesa

Somewhere in West Texas, there is a real place called Stampede Mesa. It is situated east of Lubbock,  along the Blanco River on a private ranch. There is a ghost story attached to this high spot of grass that many researchers belief is the origin for the song, Ghost Riders in the Sky. Furthermore, it is completely, plausible that the lively story might have traveled by word-of-mouth from West Texas to Arizona, where the author was born and raised.

Portrait of the singing park ranger, Stan Jones

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ghost Riders in the Sky

The song was originally written in 1948 by a relatively unknown songwriter of the name, Stan Jones. At the time, Stan was a Death Valley National Park ranger, who wrote songs on the side. During his lifetime, he recorded over 100 songs with the Ghost Rider tune, being by far the most popular. Jones, who grew up on an Arizona ranch, claims to have heard the story while he was kid.

Burl Ives was the first major recording artist to pick up on the number. He did so in 1949, after being sent the song by Eden Ahbez, an iconic California folksinging character, who was best known for living under the grandiose Hollywood sign, before being discovered by Nat King Cole in 1947. Since its initial release, Ghost Riders has been performed by over 50 musicians. Styles vary from full out, loud rockin’ country as done by the Outlaws to a simple folksinger’s tale as Don Edwards does in the following video.

 

 

A Real Texas Ghost Story

The story of Stampede takes place back in the 19th century during the heyday of the cattle drives. According to legend, a band of cowboys were driving 1500 head of cattle from South Texas to Kansas. While traveling along the Blanco River in West Texas, the group approached a flat-topped mesa that overlooked the river.

Since there was good grazing on top, they drove their heard up on the small plateau, being careful not to get too close to the large cliff that overlooked the river. Much to their surprise they encountered an old man, who was camped out with his own small herd of about 50 steers. Without much discussion, the drovers from the South decided to share the mesa with the old man.

Unfortunately, this decision did not sit well with the old man, for sometime in the middle of the night, he arose and deliberately started a stampede that killed 1200 head of cattle and two cowboys. Then, he hightailed it away from the mesa, but the cowboys tracked him down and brought him back to camp.

For his callous crimes, the old man was blindfolded, placed on a horse and driven off the cliff. From that day on, the hallowed place has been known as Stampede Mesa. Not surprisingly, the land is believed to be haunted with strange sounds and apparitions of cattle stampeding being reported by those who travel along the Blanco River.

%d bloggers like this: