Box Full of Letters from Issue #61
Pointing the way
Thank you for your coverage about New Orleans. You definitely got the right people to comment as Mike West, Lynn Drury and Grayson Capps are all charter members of the local musician community who have earned their reputations by gigging relentlessly. I, too, played the Kerry and the other clubs mentioned, and the article conveyed the spirit of that fertile scene, where you played four hours for tip jar money and some percentage of the bar and consider yourself lucky to do it because it means so much.
Mike did not mention that, among his many talents, he is probably the best respected recording engineer for acoustic music in New Orleans. He has worked with many many people and always produced outstanding results from his funky studio in his home in the Ninth Ward. My acoustic blues duo Shotgun House spent a day with him and got five songs recorded and mixed beautifully for our debut CD. He is an incredible engineer who brings the best out of you. He is just a very talented and soulful cat.
I spent two weeks back in New Orleans in late October checking on my house (which thankfully, did not flood). In that time, Shotgun House played at the Kerry and I did a pick up gig at the Apple Barrel on Frenchmen Street, the heart of the music scene of late. Both were great, the Apple Barrel gig in particular. The four of us that night had never played together before, though we had all jammed with each other along the way, and the music turned out superbly. The response from the crowd was incredible, other Frenchmen Street regulars showed up and sat in, and the satisfaction for us as musicians was priceless. Even Jimmy The Bartender came out from behind the bar to sing as the night grew to an early close due to the curfew. You know it is happening when he does that! New Orleans has a long, long way to go, but moments like that do point the way.
Thanks again for the great job you did conveying the sense of loss and the uncertainty now present, as well as the hope for the future.
— Mark Grissom
Hats off to Capps
“We are the most fragile creatures on earth, yet we act like the toughest. But put us out in the elements for five days without a Wal-Mart and we are helpless.” Grayson Capps wrote a beautiful perspective of [New Orleans], “The Storm Still Rages” [ND #60]. Given the gravity of the situation, I know “beautiful” seems incorrect. His clarity and urgency on such a dire event is not only heartbreaking and tragic, but a vivid reminder of our human condition and why we as people sometimes just suck.
After reading this article, I felt insignificant as a person and as an American citizen. Not guilty, I just feel that we are innocent or complacent, led to believe we are doing what is right either by the powers that be or the media. I believe anything can happen, but I don’t believe in much.
We have a great number of decent, unselfish, helping people in this world, please don’t misunderstand me. As Capps said, “this nation,” along with the media, “will absorb the denial as New Orleans’ people and energy dissipate into the infrastructure.” I hope we all are learning a lesson during these days of our own Shakespearean plays and tragedies.
Love sometimes is a lesson, but it should not be a problem to love one another when love is the only answer. Love should not have color, race, sex or any other border. We have so much to be grateful for and thankful. Let’s not leave a legacy of a society that was full of sophistication and void of love and communication.
— Scott Michael Anderson
Whatever that is:
“I miss that old friend”
I second Larry Starr of Seattle, Washington, whose letter appears in the November-December issue [ND #60]. I much prefer “alt country — whatever that is” to the dry “Surveying the past, present and future of American music” — a phrase I wouldn’t be surprised to find in a starchy Music Appreciation syllabus, but am disappointed to see ND adopt.
“Alt country — whatever that is” immediately called to me from the cover of my first newsstand copy, signaling that there were others out there who…well, knew. Clever and comforting — and yes, charming and self-effacing, as Mr. Starr said. It was the hook that got me to subscribe in the first place (and the fact that you called your letters section “Box Full of Letters”). It is singular, distinctive. Cool, even.
I now take several music periodicals, but ND is my flagship. Yes, I have bigger worries than what small print my favorite magazine puts on its cover, but, hey, I miss that old friend.
— Jan Swoope
Grant Alden’s reply: We chose the name No Depression for our little magazine because it signified the past (Carter Family), present (Uncle Tupelo), and future (the internet) of the music we called alt.country, tongues mostly in cheek. I am struck that several readers are concerned more by the absence of humor in our new motto, and by its hubris, than by the elimination of the phrase “alt.country.” Peter and I met at The Rocket, where we inherited (and tried, honestly, to live up to) a motto which proclaimed it “The World’s Greatest Magazine” — which may explain why ND’s new tagline seems modest to me. Anyway, we chose a phrase we thought would enable us to write about more great music, whether it ends up being, in another ten years, Rex Griffin or Conlon Nancarrow or John Brim. Besides, I don’t really HAVE a sense of humor.
Peter Blackstock adds: So this horse walks into a bar…
“A hell of a fiddle player”
I’m a longtime subscriber and was very moved by John Lilly’s article on Vassar Clements [ND #60]. In the late ’70s I had the pleasure of playing drums for Vassar in a band that included Marty Stuart, Lewis Stephens (from Freddie King’s band) and Jimmy O’Neill. My years spent with Vassar were some of the best I’ve ever experienced. In his quiet way, he brought so much out of the people he worked with.
I credit him with much of my later career highlights because he turned me from a banging rock drummer into a real musician. He taught me to listen and keep it simple, both qualities that served me well as a producer and studio drummer. He also taught me many things about kindness and patience, both qualities that have helped me as a human being.
The last time we spoke he was coming in to Atlanta to play on a record I was producing for Donna Hopkins. Had I known it was the last time I would speak to him, I would have kept him on the phone forever. He will be missed, but the band in heaven now has a hell of a fiddle player. Thanks John, for saying so well what we all were feeling.
— Bryan Cole