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RockBookNotes: Memoir City

"Shawn Colvin, the three-time Grammy-winner best known for the 1997 hit 'Sunny Came Home,' released a new album All Fall Down, as well as a memoir this week," Laura Rowley writes for the Huffington Post.

"Diamond in the Rough is an utterly raw account of Colvin's childhood in South Dakota and Illinois; her life-long battle with anxiety and depression that started in middle school; conquering the alcoholism that dogged her through her 20s; her numerous romantic debacles (and two divorces); and finding happiness in her career and motherhood in her 30s and 40s. Lyrical, funny and painfully honest, Colvin's memoir reads like a seriously fractured fairy tale."

See also:

* Interview wherein she acknowledges her fondness for "Pumped Up Kicks."

* Interview wherein she says "I'm loving the Patti Smith memoir Just Kids. I've been re-reading Levon Helm's This Wheel's on Fire."

* Q&A with No Depression.

* Amazon author video.

Book Excerpts:

"The trouble mostly started when I was twelve, after the family moved from Vermillion to London, Ontario, briefly, and then on to Carbondale, Illinois. I was a simple geek in South Dakota, a cool cat in Canada, and a total freak show in Illinois - that was the general progression."


"Carbondale is a funky little town in southern Illinois whose claim to fame is its large university, where my father opted to finish his degree. Carbondale held no charm for me; I'll just come right out and say it. None of us like it very much. We made fun of it. The way people talked and their accents and the name were so . . . unpoetic.

"The town bordered Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee and had the humidity and summer heat to prove it, which I vividly recall because we arrived in July. We took up residence on a cul-de-sac called Norwood Drive, situated on the outskirts of some woods that separated us from the upscale part of town. I'd never been around strip malls, Walmart, or Arby's before. Vermillion was too small, Canada too smart. And I'd never experienced a southern accent either, which to me just sounded stupid. Now, having lived in Texas awhile, I've changed my mind, but Texas and southern Illinois are a bit different culturally, trust me. Of course, I made friendships there that would last me a lifetime, a lesson worth noting. During some of the unhappiest times of my life, I've made some of my best friends.

"None of this was obvious to me that blazing-hot summer, and I dreaded my first day of school. I had discovered a Top 40 radio station called KXOX out of St. Louis and was deeply immersed in the hits of that summer, such as 'Everyday People,' 'Gentle on My Mind,' 'Get Back,' 'Honky Tonk Women,' and 'Just Dropped in (to See What Condition My Condition Was In).' "


"My first concert was Judy Collins in Edwardsville, Illinois. I was probably thirteen or fourteen. My parents took me and Joanne, and I remember my father, as we sat on the lawn pretending to get high from secondhand pot smoke. Judy was a hero of mine - 'Someday Soon' was a staple in my arsenal, thanks to my folks, and I learned lots of songs off her records.

"Next I saw Simon & Garfunkel at the arena at Southern Illinois University. I believe I was fifteen and enough of a fan that I recognized Paul's brother, Eddie, who walked into the audience before the show started. Like an idiot punk, I yelled, 'Hey, Eddie!' I got him to look and then hid. I had made contact! If only with a blood relative.

"The first time I saw James Taylor was at the SIU arena as well. He played solo. I had pretty good seats and the undeniable feeling that he would sense my presence and ask me to sing with him. It must have slipped his mind. If you told me then that I would someday meet James Taylor, much less sing with him or kiss his cheek, for God's sake, I would have absolutely died right on the spot, but then I wouldn't have lived to meet Joni Mitchell and gotten to tell her about the necklace I made for her in 1974 and how I gave it to a roadie after her show in St. Louis with a note and express orders to deliver it to her."


"By the time I started high school in Carbondale, I had transformed my image from chronic truant to hip folkie girl with guitar. Music was my identity, and it served me well."


"However, I could sing. And where does one go to sing in a college town that likes to party? Right down to Illinois Avenue, the 'strip,' to any dive that would hire me. My first official paying gig was at a bar called the American Tap, an old house converted into a bar. Colonial decor. For thirty dollars I played four forty-five-minute sets consisting of songs by Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, James Taylor, Carole King, Bonnie Raiit, Judy Collins, CSN&Y, Jackson Browne, Judee Sill, and, of course, the Beatles. I loved it. I felt like I was doing what I was meant to do. I entered my sophomore year at SIU but rarely attended class. Too embarrassed to drop out formally, I just let it go."


"I started attracting a following and thought I was hot stuff. We had a strong music community in Carbondale, and as I got better, I performed at other clubs in town. There was Gatsby's, a basement joint next to a pool hall whose owner sported a bad comb-over. Gatsby's had a proper stage, free popcorn and the coldest draft beer in town. Up the street a couple blocks was Das Fass, a German beer house of sorts, decorated with steins and wooden kegs. Das Fass had an outdoor stage, an indoor stage, and a downstairs room that resembled a bunker, where I played solo for a while, until I got the bug for company and more sound."


"The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Buddy Guy nearly abandoned his career before it even started," Luke Epplin writes for the Daily Beast.

"In the winter of 1958, several months after he had arrived in Chicago from Baton Rouge, the 21-year-old Guy found himself unemployed, broke, and without a room of his own. Wandering through the city streets on a frigid night, not having eaten a meal in two days, Guy thought about calling his family in Louisiana to ask for train fare back home. 'And I would've done it if someone had just loaned me a dime,' Guy said. 'Thank God they didn't.'

"Serendipitously, a stranger approached Guy and asked him if he knew how to play the guitar strapped across his back. When Guy answered affirmatively, the stranger brought Guy to his apartment to strum some tunes for his wife. Impressed by Guy's virtuosity on the guitar, the couple took him to the 708 Club, a well-known blues establishment on the city's south side. The guitarist Otis Rush was on stage at the time, and he agreed to let Guy perform a song alongside him. Sensing an opportunity, Guy whipped the audience into a frenzy with the raucous theatrics that would later define his live style: racing across the stage, picking the guitar behind his back, blazing through extended solos. The owner of the 708 Club instantly took notice. As Guy remembered, 'He started telling people there, 'I don't know who the hell that is, but hire him.'

"The owner went one step further and rang Muddy Waters, arguably the most esteemed figure from the mid-century Chicago blues scene. Upon leaving the stage, Guy was escorted outside to a cherry-red station wagon, where Waters greeted him with a freshly sliced salami sandwich. During their talk, Guy confessed to Waters that he was thinking of asking his family to loan him money for a ticket back to Louisiana, but Waters assured him that was no longer necessary. He had just made a home for himself in Chicago."


Tavis Smiley interview.

Watch Blues guitarist Buddy Guy on PBS. See more from Tavis Smiley.


Book Excerpts:

"The general store where I saw Lightnin' Slim had a jukebox that held all the records I liked so well. That's where I first heard Muddy Waters singin' 'Rollin' Stone.' Like John Lee and Lightnin', he cracked open my soul to everything he said in his songs. I felt like I knew him.

"Where does Muddy Waters live?" I asked Artigo.

"Chicago. All these guys live up there in Chicago."

"Chicago far away?"

"Real far."

Artigo said the harmonica man called Little Walter lived in Chicago too. He pressed a button, and I watched as one of Walter's records came on.

"Sounds like a woman crying, don't it?" said Artigo.

"Yes, sir," I said.

"Or a man begging," he added.

I wasn't sure what he meant.

"You ain't ever begged for it, boy, have you?"

"I guess not," I said.

"You will."


"Even though I was managing Club 99 in Joliet to make ends meet, I was still gigging in Chicago. I used to play Curly's at Madison and Holman. I liked Curly and got sad when he said that business was so bad he might have to close up. It was more than me worrying about losing a gig - I hated it when any blues club had to shut down. I took it personally.

"If I brought B.B. King up in here," I asked Curly, "would that help business?"

"Sure as shit would."

B.B. was playing Gary. I drove up and told him the situation.

"Curly's a good guy," I said, "but these other clubs around here are running him out of business. I'd like to help the brother.

B.B. responded with two words: "Me too."

So I ran back to Chicago and told Curly B.B. would come in that weekend.

"That ain't ever gonna happen," he said. "B.B. King ain't showing up. He don't give a fuck about saving no blues joint."

That Saturday night I got to Curly's around 1 a.m. Club was jammed, but B.B. wasn't there.

Curly was fit to be tied. Steam was coming off the top of his head. "You and your B.B. King are both no-good, lowdown dogs. I told you he'd never show."

"But . . . "

"I don't hear no buts. I don't need no lame excuses. Told all these folks they'd get to hear B.B. King, and they looked at me like I was crazy. Well, I was."

"No you wasn't," I said. "He just went to park his car."

"Right then B.B. came walking down the street. You better believe he was carrying Lucille. When he walked into Curly's, it was like Santa Claus coming down the chimney. Everyone was up and screaming. That night he played for free. Curly's got a good name and folks started flocking in."


Comments welcome.


Posted on June 14, 2012

MUSIC - Chief Keef Changed The Industry.
TV - Vizio's Best Product Is You.
POLITICS - UIC: Soda Taxes Work.
SPORTS - More McCaskey Malpractice.

BOOKS - All About Poop.


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