In those Oklahoma Hills where I was born....

Folks, I am not a big "letter to the editor" writer but I felt compelled to chime in on this little piece that a fellow emailed me. First read the article, then read my letter. Or not. It's all my own mishegoss really:

Dear Editor,

I was just today directed to your article dated Dec. 8th in reference to the opening of a Hillel Foundation at OSU.

I myself was born and raised in Stillwater where my father Robert Rubin was at varying times the Executive Director of Kappa Kappa Psi National Marching Band Fraternity, head of the OSU International Student Association and for many years the announcer for the mighty Cowboy Marching Band. We were also at the time (1961-1976) one of the few practicing Jewish families in Stillwater or at the University.

To clarify Dr. Gethner's point: “A decision was made about 50 years ago not to ask the SGA for money, due to the anti-Semitism in the air at the time.” That "air" was in fact the same I took my first breaths with. I can speak with pointed experience that unabashed anti-Semitism was a part of daily life growing up there as late as the 1970's, ranging in exposure from the personal to the institutional. From no admission to the local Country Club or fraternal orders, to Protestant Christian doctrine taught daily in the public schools, to swastikas painted on the family home's door and odd brick thrown through the window emblazed with "Juden Gerauch." The "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" was available free of charge at the barber shop on 6th Street where I got my first haircut, and on more than one occasion I was asked by my more devout Christian school mates to show them my horns.

Now, it wasn't simply Jews singled out for abuse mind you, this xenophobia extended to anyone outside of the "traditional American" mold. I recall with great sadness that the children of Hindu and Pakistani OSU students where routinely singled out for ridicule and exclusion in the playgrounds of Married Student housing. As were young Native Americans who were yearly forced to dress up as settlers and re-enact the Great Land Rush at school. (Which would essentially be like asking me to dress up in a brown shirt and armband and re-enact Krystalnacht once a year.) Catholics were regularly referred to as "Papists," and it was years until I understood that N-----r was a epithet, having hearing it so often in passing reference to an African American.

Not Borat from Khazakstan. But not so long ago in Payne County OK, USA.

True enough as your writer points out, it was a long way to the synagogues in OKC, Tulsa and even Ponca City where we would gather with the small congregations of dairy farmers, educators and small business owners who made up the Jewish community of my youth. Many of who had only a few decades earlier fled the unspeakable horrors of wartime a Europe only to find the same simplistic prejudices set firmly into the social fabric of small town Oklahoma. Many of these folks, one of whom had as a young man personally funded the establishment of the first Christian Church building in Stillwater, had grown too old to safely travel for services. (A conundrum when you note it's strictly forbidden to travel or work on the Jewish Sabbath, but the desire to worship with fellow believers so strong as to allow a slight bending of the rules.) At bare minimum, most felt completely placed entirely apart from their "gentile" neighbors. For these reasons my father decided to hold regular services there for the faithful in Stillwater in a spare room of the Methodist Student Association, a example of Christian charity and kindness that will be long remembered.

That was until late 1976 when my father was approached to re-open the defunct Hillel Foundation at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, where he served as Director and small "r" rabbi of the Jewish Community there until his passing in 1982. We left OSU and Stillwater and I have never, ever returned. Yes, we found a home in Sooner Land. And say what you will about OU, but no one ever called me a "kike" in Norman.

In conclusion I wish to heartily applaud the efforts of those who wish to revive Hillel at OSU. And pray that, baruch hashem (God willing,) we all work to grow away our bigotry and promote understanding and tolerance wherever we are. Maybe someday I can free myself from own personal biases and again feel welcome to visit the town where I was born.

With respect,

Mark Rubin

Austin TX


The Magic of Digital Distribution

Just in time for the Corporate Gift Giving Season! A spate of re-issued music for you to download and enjoy.

First up is the critically acclaimed 1st CD by central Texas's finest ever Jewish Music ensemble, Rubinchik's Orkestyr. Click on the CD cover and be directed to iTunes, or you can snag a limited edition hard copy at CD Baby.

A rare Bad Livers release is in the works soon as well.


On being Thankful

Growing up in my house, Thanksgiving was roundly understood to be a national holiday, but a goyische holiday nonetheless. Like the very confusing Halloween that precedes it by a few weeks, it was something we "observed" yet rarely participated in. That is until about 1973 when one of our former boarders, a candy chemist from Pakistan, sent us a frozen 40lb turkey by train.

See, my dad was the director of foreign student relations for Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, and my mom taught English as a foreign language for ESL. We also took in some of these students as boarders, which exposed me to a damn sight wider spectrum of folks that most Oklahoma Public School kids get to meet. As surrogate "Americans" my mom felt the need to play up the typically "American" holidays for our guests and their friends so they wouldn't be lonely and confused when the whole shut down for Easter (yet another confusing mix of Pagan and Christian rites I never got a good handle for either.) One of these kids who passed through our house made it to a good paying gig as a quality control chemist at the Ferrara Pan candy company of Chicago. I could go on for hours about Ferrra Pan, but suffice it to say the invented Boston Baked Beans and the concept of eating candy in a theater. As a perk at his gig there, he was given a monster turkey every Thanksgiving. Great news, but he's a Hindu and bird flesh, no matter how traditional, was out of the question for him.

Rather than decline the gift of his bosses, he instead remembered my family's attempts to acclimate him to American culture. After contacting my dad, he then thoughtfully sent it along to us via Amtrak freight, along with a note that we should continue our own family tradition of presenting Thanksgiving to "strangers." Over the years we presented what was essentially an American Passover, ritually explaining every little detail of the Thanksgiving table and menu. We fed Pakistani’s, Bangladeshi's, and Somali's in Stillwater. And when we moved to Norman in 1976 we kept it up, feeding recently expulsed Iranian Jews and Bahaii's, Japanese football players and Mexican aristocrats. As well as the saddest Russian exp-pat I've ever met who came to OU to teach meteorology and stayed drunk and melancholy the whole day.

It was a tradition that continued at my house until my father's untimely passing in 1982. After that, it was strictly Turkey loaf, canned cranberry sauce, hillbilly souris and trailer park mishegoss at my house. As soon as I could split, I did and I haven't looked back.

Now like a true blue nearly fully assimilated trailer park Jew that I am, I have always taken out this next to last weekend of November to be thankful in one way or another. For many years I was a guest of my pal Machelle and her Wiccan buddies, dining outside enjoying the entrance of Fall. After that I would drop in on Andrew Halbreich's famed jam session-feasts. Now that I have a relative in the neighborhood, of late I've spent the day with my cousin Jason and his family, which is probably where I'll be next week as well.

It's been a pretty damn terrible year actually, only financially however, and truthfully I had no idea how I was gonna make it all line up. However, somebody out there, maybe somebody reading this, has been working behind the scenes to help me and my wife out. It has made the difference for us, no foolin', between making the ends meet and not.

As I don't know who you are, I cannot thank you personally. But I will promise you this. Your kindness to me and my wife has illustrated to us just how important our relationships with our friends and community are. On a personal level It gives me the strength to focus on the continuing effort to fight the negative impulses that folks, myself included, too often give in to and it redoubles my commitment to the struggle to creating positivism and goodness in the world. I am more thankful now than ever before.

And thanks for that, most of all.


Alice Spencer and her Monkey Butlers


May I have your attention:

Uke master Pops Bayless and my self have this running conversation for years now. For some reason that we have yet to properly divine, it seems that our 'side project" endeavors always seem to end up being both the most fun and the most creatively successful. We work hard to get an audience with our own bands, but the one that we get hired to play in just for fun always makes the great record and then people seem to like a lot. No complaints or anything, but it is odd to see happen over and over again.

This is never more true that with vocalist Alice Spencer and her new CD "Joe's Basement." I worked with Alice and her hubby clarinetist Ben Saffer in their popular dance band Victrola several years ago, and Ben has been in everyone of my bands since I first met him in 1998, most notably as lead voice in Rubinchik's Yiddish Ensemble. They assembled the most motley and unlikely group of musicians (Joe Cordi on piano, Pops on banjo and myself on tuba) to back up her amazing vocal talents and despite everyone's baggage and tsouris, it works. And how.

This band is dangerously good.

Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of the new CD. Recorded utterly live without overdubs in Joe's basement last fall, it is but a faint shadow of the juggernaut that the band is live. Still I recommend you pick it up to hear Alice's intuitive genius with not only lyric but attitude in the fine selection of honky-tonky blues, whorehouse ballads and scuffles .

See if I'm lying.

** (7/17/2014) **

Well, it wasn't meant to last it seems. First came the deceits and then the clumsy cover ups, as Alice and her then husband sought to start a family without informing the band; effectively altering every assurance of commitment to the project they had made up to that point prior. By the time the pregnancy showed, Pops and I pointedly shared our disappointment with situation and were in turn summarily sacked. Rather than even doing it face to face, I got a phone call as was told to "Tell Pops he's fired too." Classy.  Alice and Ben tried in vain to keep a band together relying on local a melange of "vintage jazz" hobbyists but folded for good soon after. There's a big stack of unsold CD's in a garage somewhere I'm sure. An awful shame as from what I remember, it was a damn fine release. I don't even possess a copy myself.

This must be a long-arching pattern for the very talented Ms. Spencer as she eventually left her husband, and their now two young children, to split for her native St. Louis where she would take up with an old band mate and engage in a series of ill conceived projects.


Benefit Fatigue

I write this essay on the occasion of 2 “benefit” concerts scheduled here in Austin TX this week. On the face of if they are both extremely worthy causes that I for one would like to see benefit in some way. I am not entirely convinced however that a concert put on to raise funds in the Live Music capital of the World, where people are regularly accustomed to seeing music for free, is the way to best serve these interests. In many respects I think they both illustrate a greater discussion on the effectiveness of such endeavors and ultimately speaks to the motivations of the people behind them.

The first is on November 1st to raise money for local musician Darcie Deaville who is recuperating from the lingering effects of a head concussion, and the second in November 4th ostensibly to benefit the “Don Walser Memorial Fund,” the best explanation of which I’ve been given is to cover expenses associated with his recent passing. For the record, I have been asked to participate in both and I have declined both, however emphasizing my hearty endorsement of both causes. Simply put, I just don’t see how my getting up on a stage at a venue can “benefit” anyone besides my own ego and personal aggrandizement.

True enough, I did indeed fly to Brooklyn NY just last month to play a very similar event for the late German Goldenshteyn. In that case, he had passed away on the eve of the release of his debut recording, robbing his family from the chance of finally reaping some little financial reward from his life as a musician. By putting together a “tribute” band, led by one of his most devoted students, we were able to raise in one concert enough funds to provide him with a proper headstone, and give a little money to his widow. Plans are in the works for this very same group to perform elsewhere, donating the entirety of its performance fees and all sales and royalties of his CD to his widow. My and my compatriots motivations are crystal clear. “Bury the Dead, Protect the widow, educate the Orphan,” literally the creed of the Odd Fellows of which I am presently Noble Grand of my local Lodge.

The motivations behind these two local events, however charitable they may seem at first blush, are not as clear to me however.

A few months ago my old friend and Violin shop fellow employee Darcie Deaville took a bad fall off a ladder in her home. At first she was worried that she had broken her playing hand, which she had in fact, but took little notice that she had beaten her head fully against a thick glass end-table, shattering it. Losing the ability to play for even a few days spells disaster for the self employed musician. Only a few months earlier, Darcie had taken herself off the Violin shop’s health insurance plan, so her she is with her hand broken and now way to make her coin and a stack of medical bills piling up. Eventually, she got good news from her doctors telling her hand would heal nicely and should be back to her usual brilliant fiddling self. However, it was also about that time that she ascertained that she wasn’t thinking “right.” Doctors now tell her she has a concussion or maybe worse.

I actually named this release.
Darcie is a dear friend and a wonderfully gifted musician of great depth and creativity. But I’m certain she wouldn’t mind me saying that I think she’s also kinda nuts, and sometimes a little crazier than that. I’m pretty damn nutty myself sometimes I don’t mind sharing with you, and some of you reading this have seen me go through some mighty disturbing passages of mental illness. From what I can tell, it’s part of the package you get with an artistic nature and a creative bent.

What I mean to say with Darcie’s injury is that I’m not terribly certain whats the head being knocked around and what’s a few glasses of wine on a empty stomach coupled to a lifetime of demons barely held off at bay. A few years back Darcie blew more than a few minds with her one-woman show (Tornado In Slo-Mo) where she speaks frankly and openly about her years of suffering the business end of legion abuses, sexual and psychological. The fact she’s still with us and not in the dirt of a nuthouse after what she’s had to endure is a testament to her force of positive will and the constant cultivation of good energy. I place her among my gallery of person heroes in fact. She mentioned to me for instance that a pal of hers said the fall may have actually some knocked sense in, rather than the other way.

When I was approached to play her benefit concert, I asked the nice lady who called me why she thought anyone would come and see me or one of my bands play. I'm not being coy when I say that literally cannot draw anything close to a crowd in this town and I play regularly in local bars for no cover charge. Did she think that adding my name to a concert bill would amount to any more money coming in? I asked what the goal amount to be raised was and what those funds would be going to? These all seemed like pretty reasonable questions to me, but they really put this gal off her game. She had no good answer, and couldn’t follow my logic about my ability to be helpful. I repeated to her that Darcie is my pal and I’d take a bullet for her, no foolin’, but what exactly did she want from me? The nice lady said she’d get back to me, and to date I ain’t heard from her. In the meantime they have secured appearances from several fine local groups who might actually draw an audience, most notably her former employers the Austin Lounge Lizards.

Granted, they would probably be a better draw if they weren’t doing a two-night stand at the Cactus Café the weekend before, but I guess that goes to motivation. Just why are these people going through this exercise, when the end result is dubious at best? (In the case of the Lizards I’d posit guilt as a likely motivator, but that’s a story for Darcie to tell on her own.)

I am reminded of a long conversation Darcie and I had one late winter night as we were closing up the violin shop. We were relating our financial miseries to one another and bemoaning the need of this day-job, which created some security, it ultimately choked our creative drive. “You know Mark,” she related. “I don’t need any help. I don’t need a handout. I just need to be employed. It’s just as simple as that. I can get by just fine if I would be allowed to do what I do.”

Indeed, maybe these people who so willingly gather publicly to “help” a sister musician, possibly wouldn’t have to be doing so now if they would have only hired her to do her thing in the first place. The fact is Darcie is one of this towns most gifted songwriting instrumentalists, with a unique sound and approach on both guitar and fiddle, two instruments I can tell you it’s nearly impossible to create your own signature sound with. At this very hour she is working on a new recording that is as good a record as I have ever heard, especially in the acoustic music milieu. It is as masterfully played, musically engaging and as down right interesting a project as any Bad Liver album was, if not better. Rather than make a public showing of your “support” at a single nights concert may I humbly suggest that you hire her to play a gig for you, or in your band, or your recording project or heaven forbid, buy one of her many CD’s. That I think would be a real “benefit.” To you mostly, but also to her.

Now the Don Walser show on the other hand is a different can of worms altogether.

On March 10th, 1998, on the occasion of recording a solo record at Don’s home, he told me that he wished for me and his son Al to administer the estate his recordings. I’m not certain he ever followed up with paperwork, but I come from a place where a man’s word is his bond. At the time I was in the process of re-issuing the Texas Plainsmen CD and had planned on releasing quite a few more, but silly me, I gave all the profits to the Walsers and never held any back to make another run. I could have simply sold the thing and kept all the money and no one would have ever been the wiser. ‘Ceptin’ me of course. Rightly or wrongly, I feel I am directly and personally obligated to keep Don’s admonitions at the forefront of my actions concerning the exploitation of his musical legacy.

I have been approached to re-release those CD’s with Varese Sarabande, but I found the negotiations with that company to be the most distasteful I have yet encountered in my professional life (and people I have a soundtrack out on Sony and major motion picture with 20th Century Fox. In other words, know from being screwed over.) Suffice it to say I would be very surprised if the Walser family saw a significant paycheck from these people, ever. (I pray to God Almighty that I am all wrong about this, but all indications are to the contrary.)

Thus, I could go on for pages about the Don Walser compilation CD that Varese Sarabande released this week. And of the long list of crass and self serving agendas that I have witnessed lining up behind that release and the timing of this “benefit” concert. To be polite as I possibly can be in the public arena I will simply state that I think that once again, the best interests of the Walser family are not being attended to in a respectful manner. Thus, I care not to participate.

I’ve asked Al Walser how much of a debt he’s been left with as personally I think the securing of a anonymous benefactor behind the scenes is a far more effective way to solve the Family’s burden than to trot it out in the public street. (I would start hustling gelt from some of the financially comfortable people Don’s music helped enriched. There’s quite a list and the guilt they must live with should cover all the bills and then some.)

And not to put too fine a point on it, from the line up of musicians appearing at the Broken Spoke on November 4th, I myself see mostly a list of people who probably should have paid their tributes to the man while he was still here to hear it. God knows he would have appreciated a visitor. Even a damn phone call. Howard Kalish ; the Pure Texas Band, Gurf Morlix and Slaid Cleves all get a pass however. They were each regular visitors to Don’s death-bed, genuine friends to him even in his last difficult days. These other people appear to me like they’re jumping on a public grief bandwagon, and I wouldn’t be able to hold a professional composure in the presence of such horse crap. Especially if they start shilling a CD that the Walser family won’t see a decent profit from.

Enough said. This kinda stuff makes me profoundly sad.

Actually, what I'm really most sad about is that we have to do this damn benefits in the first damn place. What kind of culture allows this sort of behavior? What kind of people are we that only our fellow artists will come to our aid when we finally hit the last rung of the latter? And in a nation where the richest among us continue to grow richer? I resent profoundly the notion that those who do nothing but bring goodness and light into the world must be made to beg for scraps off the table. Doug Sahm had no health insurance and succumbed slowly to a easily treated illness. Kookie Martinez died a pauper leaving a widow with debt. German had no headstone. If I died tomorrow my wife would find herself homeless in a matter of months. It's shameful and sickening.

Shameful, shameful, shameful.

I'll try and end with a humorous aside:

My old partner Danny Barnes once said, only half joking, to a gal asking Bad Livers to play some worthy benefit gig somewhere, “Honey, I’m in the Barnes benefit business, and we play benefits for that cause every night…” We didn’t get asked to play too many of them after that.


What Is This Miracle Called Movie Music?

The Austin Chronicle has published my latest story, on the recording session for the opening scene from the movie "Infamous."

I originally wrote it for Bass Player Magazine's "Session Notes" monthly collumn, but they deemed it too long. Oh well. The local boys felt it was good enough, but decided to skip the print version and run it as a "Web Extra." Bass Player may in fact run it in a highly edited form however, we'll see.

No matter, the pay check is the same size. Hope you like it.


Youngers of Zion at the National Folk Festival

Here's a good picture of the Youngers of Zion playing an afterhours jam session at Buzz and Ned's Real BBQ, the official BBQ Joint of Hyper-Opinionated Food Crazy Klezmer Musicians. (See a full report from Frank London's Klezmer Brass All Star session there at last year's festival.)

It was the perfect capper to a weekend of great music and great times at the National Folk Festival, now in its second year in Richmond VA. I caught amazing sets by Papa Don Vappie and his Creole Serenaders, the Lost Bayou Ramblers, Richard Hagopian and my old pal Santiago Jimenez, Jr. This could be one of the best curated Folk Festival I've ever been at much less played. There wasn't a stinker act in the bunch.

Here are two little bits of our mainstage performances on Sunday evening in Windows Media Player format. A "C" Hora set and The Theme to Sweet Touch Nee Hour Radio Show.

We are currently formulating a sceme to get us all back there to Richmond again for next years hijinks, if for nothing else than to eat some more of thos AMAZING beef ribs.....


It's all your fault...

You may be seeing my name as a byline in various publications soon. After the non-linear obituary for my friend Don Walser was published by the Austin Chronicle, a few other publications that I know folks at asked me to write a piece to two for them as well. I have since penned obits for Don in No Depression and Sing OUT! (that's how they like it spelled,) as well as a 4000 word bit on Klez Kamp for SO!. The Chronicle may be running my story about working on the film Infamous soon, and a highly edited version of the same tale will appear in Bass Player next month.

Over the years all four editors of these magazines have asked me to contribute for them. I have written the odd bit here and there, but I laughed off any suggestion about writing seriously for them or anyone for that matter. And I'll share with you the reason why.

1) In our society you either write or are written about. It's not cricket to do both. In fact, I've been told over and over again that if I am to be successful at all I must stop doing all the things I do and focus on one thing, and one thing only. Try as I might and as much as I like what comes with "success" I am completely unable to be or do anything other than what I'm doing. I still firmly believe that I do things that are worth being written about, and if I become a 'writer" I'll get put in that other category.

2) In my many years of putting out music and traveling around, I was subjected regularly to some of the worst writing I have ever seen or read, and it was about me and my efforts, and it was almost always completely wrong.

3) I love to read. I do it all the time. Have all my life. I'm a Jew and they don't call us "people of the book" for nothing. Further I love writers. Some are my friends. I would never want to suck at it. I try to remember what Charles Bukowski liked to say, "I'm not that good a writer, it's just everybody else is just so damn bad."

4) I assume that the thoughts that I have in my head are just as plain and simple as anybody else's. What could I possibly offer the world that hasn't already been explained very well elsewhere by somebody else better than I could have?

Mishegoss I know. All completely internalized craziness actually.

So, let's get it out there right now. If you don't want me out there being a writer, talking my shit in the public forum, you can find me a gig playing music. If I could pay my mortgage the way I did for years, making recordings, travelling around playing music, I would go back to it in a heartbeat. If, like my old pal Kevin Smith, I got a call from say Dwight Yoakum’s people to go out for 9 months out on the road, I would be packed and out the door quicker than you can say "union wages."

But I haven't. In fact, I haven't been employed (seriously) to play bass in nearly 3 calendar years. None of the many musical projects I have running, playing any instrument actually, have yet to make enough income to even report to the IRS. In fact, in one month of published writing I have outpaced my gigging income for the 10 months prior.

I don't mind writing. Not at all. It's just not what I think I was put here to do. Find me a decent paying gig, and I'll never write another word. Promise.


A note from Director Douglas McGrath

I felt a word was in order about the unusual situation that exists between my film and “Capote.” Who knew that Dan Futterman, the gifted screenwriter of “Capote,” and I would be in the same predicament as those people who made the competing asteroid-hitting-the-earth movies?

I remember when I first heard about the other movie. I had called Bingham Ray, for whom I had made my film of “Nicholas Nickleby,” to say that I wanted to send him my new film about Truman Capote. In his characteristically economic way, he said, “It’s on my desk.”

I glanced down at my desk where the script was. “How can that be,” I asked, “since it’s still on my desk?”

He said, “I’m looking at it right now: ‘Capote’ by Dan—“ At this point, there followed what we in the WASP community call an uncomfortable silence.

That was the summer of 2003, and Dan and I were both going out at the same time with a film not only about the same author, but about the same time in that author’s life. Furthermore, in addition to his script, Dan had a spectacular asset: his pal, Philip Seymour Hoffman, was attached to star. (When I heard of his casting, I told my wife, “Philip is a great choice for Truman.” I think it’s safe to say I’ve been vindicated on this point.)

We made a deal early on with Warner Independent to make the movie. We had our money but no Truman. The “Capote” team had their Truman but no money. And for a couple of years, we both looked for what we needed. Funnily enough, within a couple of months, we both found it. They got their money and started shooting in the fall of 2004, we found our Truman and started shooting a few months later. Because the other film had started first, Warners wanted to hold our picture so the two films didn’t step on each other.

What was it about this tiny man that made him big enough for two pictures? I’ll tell you what it was for me. What interested me was not the story of a writer from New York going to Kansas to write about a terrible crime, nor was it of interest that he was a gay writer from New York going to Kansas. What I found fascinating was that Truman Capote was a gay writer from the very top of New York society going to Kansas to write about this crime. He was court jester and confidante to the cream of Manhattan high society, and I placed everything in the story within that context.

Knowing he is coming from that chic and spoiled world makes his early time in Kansas a comic one. (His version of a care package, for instance, was when Babe Paley sent him a tin of beluga caviar.) But what starts out as a comedy of manners slowly descends into something darker, and in the middle of the film, I bring him back to New York to show how his deepening ties to the murderer Perry Smith are changing him. I end the picture in New York, as well, consciously echoing the beginning, but now all the lunches that looked so pretty and fun seem wrong, because he has been irrevocably altered by what happened in Kansas.

The gradual but ultimate shift from light to dark, from comic to tragic, match the shape of Capote’s life: his early years were marked by his insouciant wit and effervescence, his outrageous self-assertion, and the beguiling, almost sunny pleasure he took in conquering the world. These were succeeded by the later years of bitterness, a failure to produce the work he promised, a break with friends, reckless and ill-chosen love affairs, and a debilitating taste for drink and pills that only hastened his decline. It is that shift, from the triumphant to the tragic, that “Infamous” chronicles.

While it was a surprise to me on that call with Bingham Ray to learn that there was another script on the same subject, I can’t say it was a mystery. Given the riveting contradictions in Capote’s character, the rich range of people who made up his circle, and the comic and dramatic turns that marked the period, the real wonder is that there were only two scripts.

I salute our friends on the other film, and am happy to welcome you to ours.

Soundtrack to "Infamous" -Do Not Buy it

So friends, you may soon see in your favorite local store the soundtrack to the film "Infamous," which I contributed some music to. I am very unhappy to see this particular label releasing this product as they have a long track record of not paying proper royalties.

Thus, NEITHER I NOR ANY OF THE MUSICIANS INVOLVED WILL RECEIVE ANY OF THE MONEY that is collected from it's sale, not from CD's, or downloads or anything. If you really want to have these tunes on your iPod, a smart guy could do a Google search and find them posted on-line pretty quickly. Posted for almost a year now in fact. See if I'm lying. Additionally, they chose the worst of my other selections to put on the soundtrack, so not only am I screwed, but embarrasingly so. "Heartaches" is a really dumb tune that the studio came up with (they could get the publishing cheap in other words) and then my job was to polish the turd into something that wouldn't be too awful for a dance sequence. Craft, yet not Art. If they had chose the tune "Tropicana" instead I could be at least a little rewarded by having what could have been my best studio work made available to the a wide audience. I still wouldn'y see a penny in royalties, thanks to the way the contracts are written.

To be further clear, the liner notes to the soundtrack release ARE A DAMNABLE LIE. A very fine singer indeed, Ms. Paltrow did NOT in fact perform any of her singing live "on camera" as advertised. And the version of "Goldmine in the Sky" performed by Daniel Craig, also a very fine fellow and not a bad vocalist, is also NOT the on camera rendition but a LA studio concoction that the director himself found "corny" and rejected.

Please go see the film, but don't be suckered into buying any of the music. None of the musicians will ever see a nickle from it, and these Hollywood characters have enough money as it is.


"Infamous" opens in theatres Oct. 14th

Here's the poster that you won't see in theaters.

If you look real close, you can actually see me just above "Daniels." When it was found that we were paid SAG wages on the shoot however, and thus my "image" would have to be paid for, they yanked the musicians off the poster that eventuall went to print.

I have yet to see anything but the trailer (which you can find here) but look for the fat guy in the rented tux, flailing on his string bass wildly in the opening sequence. The film already debuted at the Venice Film Festival in Italy (met with a reported 15 minute standing ovation,) and will have it's formal US Premiere in NYC today. The Cast & Crew showing of the film here in Austin isn't until Wednesday, and I'm on pins and needles.

I have written a little story about the recording of that scene with Gwyneth Paltrow, which has already gotten some great press, for both the Austin Chronicle and Bass Player magazine. I'll post links when they do get published.

I acted poorly as an extra, but my music is as good as anything I've ever come up with and I am especially pleased with the opening scene which was a monster to try and pull off.

(For the record, as Music Consultant I provided all the music in the opening scene, and any music seen on camera. Composer Rachel Portman wrote the score and most of the music in the trailer they got from just about anybody's guess.)

Go see the damn thing and let me know how you think we did.


Ed Miller on Don Walser

There is probably no greater fan, meaning fanatic, for gold old C&W music than my friend Ed Miller. (Known to some as the cool uncle of the Old 97's frontman Rhett Miller.) Thus, there was no greater fan of Don Walser. Like Howard Kalish, Ed gave a talk over Don at his funeral. With his kind permission, here are his comments:

"Hi, folks. Janey Walser asked me to share some stories with you about her Dad today. I told her that it would be one of the honors of my lifetime to speak some words to you about Don Walser.
I first met Don after my friends High Noon told me about him during their recording session in my Fort Worth studio. I used to drive to Austin every Monday night from Fort Worth, and slip just inside the front door of Henry’s, and sit there with tears streaming down my face and listen to Don Walser and Jimmy Day. After a few months of that, Don came over on break and introduced himself. He’d seen me back there crying, and wanted to know just who he and Jimmy were touching so deeply. He used to kid me that it was a good thing he was playing in Austin now, just a 200 mile drive for me each way every Monday night, instead of still being way out in La Meesa, a good thousand mile round trip.

One of my favorite stories about Don concerns his residency at Jovita’s. John Conquest and I urged Brad to put Don in at Jovita’s, back when SXSW was a much newer thing and Brad knew much less about booking music in Austin. A huge international crowd showed up that first night to see Don and the Pure Texas Band. Brad saw the light. Don and the crowd stayed every Tuesday night for years.

Back when my own times were pretty tough, work was hard to find, money was scarce, and meals sometimes few and far between, I used to come to see Don every Tuesday night. Part of his deal with Jovita’s was that they would feed him and the rest of the band before the show. Don always ordered the Deluxe Mexican Dinner, and then, when it was served, pushed it across the table to me, winked, and whispered, “I already ate before I came.” Don was not just a dear friend, and a musical hero, he fed me when I was hungry, and nourished my soul when times were bleak after my Mom died.

Don had something for everybody. We used to joke about all the blue-hairs that came to see him. Some were ladies of a certain age, and others were Mohawked punk rockers with tie-dyed blue hair.

Don was equally at home in front of the tattooed punksters down at Emo’s or the country music purists over at the Broken Spoke, where James White booked him regularly for years.

Eddie Wilson gave Don a lengthy residency at Threadgills - South on Riverside and Barton Springs , where a musical celebration of Don’s life and career will be held starting at 6 PM this evening, featuring his friends and proteges backed by the wonderful Pure Texas Band.

Y’all don’t miss it.

My friend and Texas Country Music specialist Peter Holluch e-mailed me from Berlin this weekend after he heard about Don’s passing to say:

"A very warm-hearted human and a great country singer is gone.

It didn’t come suddenly, and maybe it was a redemption after that last hard year for him.

I remember very clearly how friendly and how shy he was.

I remember "going to church" on Tuesday nights at Jovitas, and Don’s great dances at the Broken Spoke. He will stay always in our hearts.

Someday when the earthly noises are not so loud we will hear Don’s clear voice and yodel sounding from the sky, backed with Jimmy Day's pedal-steel."

What a guy he was, and to so many people..
We used to call him Daddy Don.

Don was the Daddy to us all, to the whole local music scene, and to a bunch of young ‘uns.

From Slaid Cleaves, High Noon, Justin Treviño, Jason Roberts, and Cornell Hurd, all the way over to the Kronos Quartet and the Old 97’s, Don Walser raised up a big ol’ crop of musical young ‘uns.

Don kept the local scene of real country music alive almost single-handedly back when Shania Twain and Garth Brooks dragged our music out of the Opry House, over to Hollywood, then to Nash-Vegas, and finally took contemporary country music all to blazes in their sorry rock and roll hand basket.

We knew Don as the antidote,…The Anti-Garth.

Don just sat there with that beautiful smile on his face like some big ol’ Hill-Billy Buddha, like he knew the answers to all of life’s questions that the rest of us were still struggling with.

He was always generous to share the stage and the spotlight, to help somebody get started, to help some young band keep growing, to give another performer a leg up.

At Henry’s Bar and Grill, Don was famous not only for his own performances, but for giving the other up-and-coming musicians a chance to play to a crowd of enthusiastic country music fans while being backed up by a crack outfit like the Pure Texas Band. Imagine just starting out in the business, and having twin fiddles and Jimmy Day playing pedal steel guitar behind you while you sat in with Don on a Monday night in a smoky side-street beer-joint on the outskirts of Austin, Texas.

Don always said that he played both kinds of music…..Country,…….and Western.

He said that he played Top 40 music….the Top music from 40 years ago.

And he played it like he meant it. Don wanted the band to play it just like it sounded on the record, and not jazz it up with their own ideas of how it might sound. He wanted it played like it did sound.

Don was the real thing. He had the high, pure voice that put him in a league with a group you might call the Texas Tenors, up there with Ray Price and them. And he had that falsetto that soared up so high, and the yodel that became his world-wide trademark.

It was Don’s stated mission in life to keep Traditional Country Music alive, and he did it…all through those dark years of the 80’s and 90’s and into the 21st century, when the commercial country-pop stars recorded by Nashville’s so-called Country Music Establishment sold out our music for their profit.

Don played it as long as he could stand on stage, and after he could no longer stand, as long as he was able to sit on stage, to the point that we were having to help him on and off the stage.

The music was big in Don’s life, and Don was at the center of our lives. He’s gone now, but the music he loved and the people he helped and the good he did live on in testament to the great man he was.

He was Daddy Don."

Rubin on Don Walser

Here's my eulogy for Don Walser.

I hope I've done the man and his legacy a service.


Walser Funeral Arrangements

This note if from his son, Al Walser:

"Hello all, thanks for your calls and well wishes over the past few days. There is no doubt that dad was well loved and will be missed. I apologize if I have not returned all your calls but please know your words touched me and comforted my family.

Here is a link to dad’s website with memorial information that will be held on Monday 09/26. If you would like to honor dad, please make a donation in his name to the American Diabetes Foundation at https://www.diabetes.org/secure/donation/Donate.do?action=Memory.

Or buy and play his music."

Al hosts DonWalser.com should you wish to find out more about who we're talking about here.

NPR ran a piece last night on his passing.

Micheal Cochran wrote a fine obit for the Statesman as well.


Don Walser is gone...

This was going to be a long report of my weekend trip to Brooklyn where I played a benefit memorial concert for my Jewish music maestro German Goldensheyn. But there was bad news here at home soon after my return.

I got the call while I was driving home from Houston. I was delivering a Violin Shop customer's bass in Katy, decided to head into Houston and hook up for a lunch with Polish fiddler Brian Marshall at his favorite meat-n-three. I was running late, just past Smithville on Hwy 71, when I checked my email on my phone.

Dated 2:35pm, the first email was from Howard Kalish, one time fiddler for the Pure Texas Band, saying that Don had finally passed. I called into the shop to say I wouldn't be coming back today, and headed over to the Walser's place. By the time I got there, they had already carried the body off to the funeral home and the family was all gathered together. The phone was ringing off the hook, so I took it away from them and let them do their thing together and away from well meaning, but somewhat pestering well wishers.

At around 2pm today Don called out to his son Mike to go fetch him a glass of ice. When he returned moments later, Don had stopped breathing and gently passed away.

He is survived by his wife of 53 years Patricia and 4 children, Formal arrangements will be announced tomorrow with both public and private services. I've been asked to be a pallbearer. I've also been asked to submit a story about Don for the Austin Chronicle which will run next week.

I haven't felt like this since my own Father died. Link


The Past Sure Is Tense, and how....

Once again, proof positive that you cannot hide, especially in the internet age.

Witness a blog devoted to punk rock shows I help promote in my native Norman OK, low these many years ago.

Photos of my goofy red mohawk years cannot be too far behind.

I am afraid. Very afraid.


Best Birthday Ever

It started early when a customer walked into the violin shop the day before and handed me a banjo uke as a present.

Got better the next day when we drove to New Orleans, arriving just in time to sit in with the Panorama Jazz Band at the Spotted Cat on Frenchman St. Word got out I was coming so many old friends turned out. Paddy and Ilsa showed off thier 8 month old and Ilsa made me some amazing cookies. Rick Perles and his wife were out as well. Got to see Jupiter Obediah Rogan Schenk at 10 months, all decked out in the outfit I got for him in Veracruz. Played some wonderful music and drank Gin and Tonics like water. We stayed with Bob and Anita Music, the parents in law of my favorite Cantor, who are thrilled to report that they recieved the proper permits to begin rebuilding thier home.

At the break, I got a call on my cell from Ben Saffer who along with his lovely wife Alice Spencer sang me a lovely well rehearsed version of Happy Bithday.

The next day I put on a a seer sucker suit and headed to a wedding just above Lake Ponchatrian for a client of my wifes which was story book perfect. Then it was back to the Quarter to drink and carouse. Sad to report that my 2 favorite food joints are closed for the forseeable future (Camilia Grill and Dunbars Creole Kitchen.) It's still a ghost town in some places, but we did see a lot of plucky folks getting thier lives back on track. Too damn slow however.

I should turn 40 more often...


Calgary Folk Festival

It's all a blur. Here's what I remember.

Major highlights:

Playing 3 concerts and 4 workshops in 48 hours. Absolutely insane. Couldn’t have done it without my hearty band of Pirates however. To a man, each one of these musicians stepped up to the plate and calmly knocked the ball out of the park. Over the weekend found we playing with musicians from Iran, India. On another with local Canadian bluesmen and Robbie Fulks and then another with members of el Grupo Fantasma, each time playing some amazing off the cuff music with not so much of as how do you do before hand. Talk about playing by the seat of your pants. Then there was the late night jamming sessions with fellow Festival participants from Scotland to Honduras and all points in between. All in all what a good friend of mine calls a “peak experience.”

Honky-tonk fiddler Sean Orr and accordion savant Don Weeda both tied for the “All Around Cowboy” awards this weekend by not only predictably kicking ass on our own sets, but by coolly dominating musically at the workshop stages playing music neither are readily associated with. 

Sean in fact showed up for all of the klezmer bands workshops and played wonderfully on the Turkish, Persian, and Armenian tunes we chose. His duet playing with Michael Doucet on “Allons a Layfeyette” at the accordion workshop was of particular note. Dr. Weeda made laid down amazing solos in the “West of the Middle” workshop. That's where we poor country Jews found ourselves onstage with 2 wonderful Persian/Arabic/Indian fusion acts. Calgary based santur player Amir Amiri was generous and wonderful, but Niyaz, a very fine is somewhat snooty group from LA (go figure, eh?) wasn’t exactly playing ball with the workshop concept. Don took it upon himself to blow their minds playing a note-style perfect solo to one of their compositions. Even the aloof Saz player looked up and took notice. Don did similar at the “Texas Hold ‘Em” stage when he ripped out a Columbian cumbia number with Grupo Fantasma.

The most attended of our appearances was the one I was most worried about hosting. Entitled the “War on Error” workshop it featured the Syncopators, Robbie Fulks, and Canadian acts Doug Cox and Jay Crocker. Robbie was a known quantity to me having shared stages with him many times in my Bad Livers incarnation. He was predictably witty and wry and a solid take-charge rocker. The 2 Canuck acts were up to that moment mysteries to me, but as it turned out they were fine fellows all. Jay Crocker brought a slimmed down version of his horn thick band, showing up with a drummer, bassist and organ player and Jay on a funky old Hofner guitar. He led the combined band through his own compositions, a ballsy move at what is basically an awkward forced jam session done in front of an expectant public. (His stuff is pretty cool actually, and those who know me know this is not light praise.) Mr. Cox, a fine slide guitarist himself, was accompanied by his musical partner Sam Hurrie who did the singing for his turn and played a mighty fine slide guitar himself.

Rather than the boring stock concept of round robin playing of our own material, I opted for the more dangerous ‘let’s all play together” shtik. It worked like gangbusters (and how) in Winnipeg. But that had more to do with the shared Texas repertoire and easy-going attitudes of the participants. Most of all, its mighty hard finding tunes that are both interesting that also everybody can play on without rehearsal. Taking the easy was out, I stuck to the traditional material choosing Jimmy Rodgers, Al Jolson and Titus Turner which everybody on the talented panel had little difficulty digging into. Robbie did very well with a Moon Mullican number, but stumbled a little bit when he tried to pull out “I Wanna be Your Boyfriend” by the Ramones. I’m assuming he guessed (incorrectly as it turned out) that my band mates were fellow post modernists putting on a country front. My bassist Ricky Rees of Layfeyette LA probably hasn’t been in the same room with someone who ever even owned a Ramones record much less know the changes to one of their tunes, and that's why I hire him in fact. It was a bold swing from Robbie, but ultimately a miss.

No fear however as the talented Mr. Hurrie led the assembled in a super funky and straight ahead reading of “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” that had the entire audience on their feet by songs end. From then to festivals end, volunteers and audience members both told me it was the best moment they had at the whole festival.

Other moments of note were epic (and smoky) jam sessions with the fabulous D.Rangers of Winnipeg, the lads from Back of the Moon and dancing my ass off to El Grupo Fantasma who have become as fine a dance band as you will ever encounter.

Me and the wife stayed a few days afterwards to visit Banff and hike the trails, looking for Bears and such. It's damn pretty out that way and I fully plan on going back next chance I get. Got back to Calgary in time to see the amazing Rembetika Hipsters holding forth at their regular Wednesday night gig at the Pegasus. Sitting around a table, supping on a mezz and downing Mextaca brandy, they played the old school Greek-Oriental music like I’ve never seen live before. Bozouki, guitar, baglamas, fiddles and clarinet. Mark gives highest recommendation.

Came home to a house with a broken AC unit and triple digit temperature. Now it's absolute misery.

It all seems like a dream…


You thought it was too soon for another Capote? Think again..

Well it looks like there's hope for a happy outcome after all.

Doug McGrath's "Infamous" is slated for an October 13th release date. Finally, as I've been worried it never would see the light of day.

Here's the first sneak preview reveiw from the Independent (UK.) Read it here.


It really is true...

Little babies love the Banjo playing Jew....

Dig the two tone lid courtesy Sims Fine Hats, located inside The Men's Clotherie,
6929 Airport Blvd # 146, Austin, TX 78757, not but 2 blocks from my house. (512) 323-9657.

Ask for Terrell Dillard and tell him I sent you.


Winnipeg Folk Festival

Report to follow soon.
Here's a fine picture from the "Home in San Antone" workshop with the High Flyers and the South Austin Jug Band.

You will note that I break 3 cardinal rules of stage performance. Can you spot them?

1. Sunglasses. Gotta let them see your eyes.

2. Stupid festival badge still on. Dorky.

3. Wristwatch. Dale Watson taught me to keep the watch on backwards so that you can tell the time while you're still playing. Otherwise you have to wait till a break between songs and then be seen by the whole assembled looking at your watch. Never cool.


Records I keep going back to. Volume one.

Seeing that our local NPR station (KUT radio, 90.5fm) is now completely programmed by the Music Director, leaving virtually no opportunity for the DJ to play his own choices*, I determined that I don’t need all these damn CD’s piling up in my office anymore. If I can’t share this music with anyone anymore, then might as well digitize it all and keep it to myself.

Like many folks are doing these days, I’m shedding the biscuits and keeping the tunes. MP3 sucks it may be true, but it’s manageable, easy to store and compress and share with others. I have not one, not two, but 3 hard drives (one stashed off site) to back up all my stuff however as I wish not to screw up completely.

There has been an unintended positive consequence to all this however. I get to listen to everything I load into the iTunes, and thus find some real gems that I may have overlooked otherwise. It reminds me of a similar experience many years ago, when I got my first CD changer. I would pop in 5 new CD’s, load in a blank 90 minute cassette tape and let it rip on “shuffle.” I’d take the tape with me on tour and through this exercise got exposed to a lot of good material I might have missed. The “shuffle” on my iTunes now serves exactly the same function only now I have 1700+ CD’s to choose from now. Ain’t technology grand?

So while I do this tedious task, I’ll got a few lines about records that I seem to be going back and listening to. Stuff you might have missed yourself and might do well to seek out.

Dave Stuckey & his Rhythm Gang “Get A Load of This” Hightone Music Group, 2000.

Here’s one that I really think didn’t have its day. Loaded to the gills with some of the finest roots pickers in Austin and recorded old-fashioned style at the bass players front living room, Mr. Stuckey hopes to evoke the freewheeling glory days of west coast hillbilly swing and in more than a few moments is quite successful. The casual environment of the session’s surroundings, coupled with the genuine joy of each others company while playing this material sets this CD head and shoulders above your run of the mill “gee I wish it was the 50’s” revivalist set, (which strangely most of these folks work in.) They really sound like they just discovered this stuff, they hit it hard and losse and by golly convince me too, even on tunes I’ve heard way too many times before. Stuckey’s originals stand up well to the classics as well. Truthfully, I’ve never heard any of these players sound better even on their own releases (with the possible exception of Dave Billers amazing LeRoy’s Blues, but that’s another essay.)

Hamstrung by being too scene-driven, and then released on a notoriously lousy label, it's a wonder it got out at all. Worth checking out.


OKeh Rhythm & Blues, Various Artists

Look around and see if you can’t find this CD reissue of the old double LP. It was my introduction to actual Black music, found at a record shop in Dallas TX in 1987. I make no small comment when I say it changed my musical life profoundly. Titus Turner, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Big Maybelle, the Ravens, even Little Richard and stupid novelty song about Willie Mays.

Holy cow. This stuff is big, loud, raw even when smooth and in your face. Made me reconsider ‘the Blues’ entirely which was only represented to my up to that point by balding middle age white guys slinging vintage Stratocasters at the open mic night at VZD’s in Norman OK. Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf LP’s were in my collection, but this uptown but way lowdown expression was a new one to me.

Led me to Big Joe Turner, Wynonnie Harris, T Bone Walker and eventually to Dallas native Zuzu Bollin who I was lucky enough to have played with a time or two before his untimely passing in 1990.

Sony eventually released an expanded OKeh collection, but it didn't have the same impact as these 28 tunes did all collected together.

*****, must find and cherish

*bear that in mind when they come asking you for money next pledge drive.


OK God, I give up...

If your point is a meditation on mortality, then I got it last week with Clifford Antone. Then German, now this:

Ellamae (Bobbie) Waite Rubin died Sunday, 11 June 2006 in Tucson, AZ. At her request, no services are planned.

Ms. Rubin was born April 13, 1914 in Olney, IL, the daughter of Delilah Verne (Howard) and Elias Berg Waite.

She was an excellent beautician, and was admired for her ability to style hair and give non-frizzy permanents, even when they were first introduced. Bobbie also worked with her family in a nursing home business in Connecticut, and later opened and operated her own care facility in Tucson in the 1950s and 60s. Her pink home, Rancho Toda La Vista, on Thornydale Road just north of Ina, was a landmark used by pilots training at Davis Monthan Air Force Base. For a few years her sons delighted in telling of their mother’s ranch in Tucson where she raised 10,000 head – of mice for research labs in Tucson.

Bobbie was best know for her hugs. She shared them everywhere she went and even passed out cards asking all around her to give more hugs. She loved to travel and took trips to Hawaii, Australia and Japan as well as throughout North America. She was an excellent bowler and won trophies in state and national tournaments for many years. She golfed, skied and danced until she was in her 80s. She greatly enjoyed volunteer work at Northwest Medical Center and received awards for her long and faithful service.

Bobbie is survived by her son and daughter-in-law, Howard and Mary Rubin, Mesa, three grandsons and their wives – Mark and Lainie Rubin, Austin, TX, Aaron and Patti Rubin, Oklahoma City, and Jason and Rebecca Rubin, Austin; a granddaughter and her husband Karen Rubin and Avron Bernstein; and grandchildren Willa, Isaac, Adam, Mara and Reesa Rubin, Lauren and Tess Hermes and Tyler Lindsey; special friends Steven and Sandy Ellinger, Steve Jr., and his wife and children, as well as many nieces and nephews.

She was preceded in death by her parents, a son Robert Hilliard Rubin, and her three brothers and two sisters.

In lieu of flowers, please make donations to a veterans’ charity or to the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum.


More on German Goldenshteyn

The following is an email* I received from Michael Alpert about German’s passing which expresses a many of the same feelings I have about the man and his contributions, most of which we were only beginning to realize.

Micheal writes:

Dear Friends,

With deep, deep grief and a enormous feeling of loss, I am writing to inform you that German Goldenshteyn, master Bessarabian traditional clarinetist died yesterday morning (Sat, June 10), apparently of a sudden heart attack or stroke, just one week short of his 72nd birthday.

At the time, he was engaged in his second favorite social activity -- fishing. If there is any positive dimension to his untimely death, it is that he died doing one of the things he loved best, in the midst of the nature he so treasured, and at the height of public appreciation by colleagues, students and audiences.

As many of you know, German embodied a distinct combination of love, warmth, kindness, humor, irony and playfulness, as well as a street-wise and wryly philosophical attitude toward the world and his fellow human beings. But he was not made of sugar. At times the pain of his devastating early years as child survivor of the Nazi and Romanian Holocaust would well up in him. Tears would pour down his face at the gut-level surfacing of memories he could barely recall, or he could wax fierce and bitter, yet in a way that always passed quickly, like a sudden storm that lashes rain momentarily before giving way again to blue sky and shafts of sun.

He was modest to a fault, but knew exactly who he was, and took gentle pride in his extraordinary diligence at all he undertook -- whether his early years as a machinist turning steel at a lathe at the Kirk Agricultural Equipment Factory, or painstakingly notating and indexing the Jewish, Moldavian, Ukrainian and Russian melodies of his native Dniester Valley, played by him and his fellow musicians -- Jewish, Moldavian, Ukrainian and Rom -- at village and town weddings throughout southwestern Podolia and northern Moldavia.

There is so much to say, there is nothing that suffices. H' teyn v H' kakh. As German would often say: "...vifl yurn got vet mir nor geybn." -- as many years as G-d gives me. Hot tears flow, a smile comes remembering his witticisms and hearty laughter, a huge, sad, empty hole remains that he occupied in our lives.
Godammit, why did he have to leave now? There is so much more to do, but there will never again be German to share it all with, to watch the determined look on his face as he played, completely in the moment, to share a joke with in his hearty Bessarabian Yiddish or eloquent Russian or downhome Romanian or Ukrainian or his ever-suprising English, to wrangle with over a turn or articulation, to watch as he patiently and lovingly encouraged young musicians, to lift a glass with and toast lekhayim, to bring us the living spirit of shtetl and village weddings, the mud and the snow and the vodka and the gasoline and the fires burning in the night air...

But he has bequeathed us a legacy of melodies deep and fiery, merry and heartrending, and it is ours now to carry on and play, celebrate, dance to, study, pass on to yet future generations, and tell them that we once knew a German, and he gave us these tunes to make our own...

German Goldenshteyn a"h is his survived by his wife Mina, their daughter, son-in law and grandson Klava, Borya and Alex Rozentul, numerous relatives, neighbors and landslayt (compatriots) in New York, Philadelphia, Vienna, Israel and Ukraine, and an entire community of musical friends and colleagues throughout the world.

*(I’ve edited out the parts where he talks about himself however. God love him, my old friend Michael tends to put himself at the center of attention even at someone else’s funeral.)

Pictured with me and German above is young Alex Kontorovich who not only single handedly produced German's only CD, he was also his most attentive disciple, himself a displaced Russian speaking Jewish clarinetist. Others may claim to have introduced us to German, but it is through Alex that his musical legacy has the most worthy exponent. A man of few words, he shares his thoughts on German as well:

Dear Friends,

As some of you may know, earlier this year some folks and I recorded a CD with a wonderful musician, husband, father, and grandfather, German Goldenshteyn. He had numbers tattooed on his arm from the war which left him an orphan, and a collection of 800 melodies from his 50 years on the bandstand. I was gearing up to email you all about the release party for his CD (which he had in his hands for a month before his heart attack while fishing two days ago) but today was his funeral. Now I'm not the overly sentimental or melodramatic type, but we lost a real gem. German exemplified how a musician active in the business can float above the everyday bullshit and politics of the industry and always keep in mind that our job is simply to make people happy. I never left his house hungry or sober, and hope the lessons we've all learned from him will stay with us for many years to come.

The show must go on; German wouldn't have it any other way. If you want to learn more about him and listen to clips of his playing, visit:


(Needless to say, the proceeds will be passed along to his wife.)

Our concert of German's music in Poland three weeks from now will go on, just instead of a celebration it will be in memoriam.

My best regards to you all, and my prayers to the Goldenshteyn family,


Alex V. Kontorovich


German Goldenshteyn RIP

Too sad for words...

I got the call while standing in a field in Eden NC after a day of wonnderous music.

Frank London tells me that German is dead. A sudden heart attack, while out fishing with friends just yesterday. Hank and Dan from KlezKamp are here with me and we cried like babies and hugged and cried again. A series of frantic calls to his friends and musical compatriots confirms the worse.
Damn, he was just starting to get going, a CD and everything.

Words fail me and I will start sitting shiva with a good roaring drunk...Vodka probably...


Charlie Poole Festival & Contest

I'm off to Eden NC this weekend to help out at the 11th Annual Charlie Poole Music Festival. My old pal and Klez Kamp founder Hank Sapoznik scored a gig on the directing board of this wonderful event after releasing the amazing "You Ain't Talkin' to Me" Poole box set for Sony/Legacy last year. He and Klez Kamp manager Dan Peck invited me along to MC, judge and whatnot. I guess my qualifications come from the big Sing Out! article I wrote last year.

There's a big concert on Friday night and then an old time fiddle and banjo contest all the next day.

Should be a big time. Might actually get some picking in as well. Ah, to be amongst the goyim again.....


Mexico. It's hot...

..and not so many Jews.

Veracruz Jazz Festival. Second anual event in Mexico's famed Gulf port.

I'm hired to play banjo with the strange and amazing Panorama Jazz Band. They have a fine banjo player, but she don't like to travel (wha?!) which is fine by me as I'll be the cat who get's to go to such wonderful places and play good music.

Here's the crib notes:

1) Parading on a float in downtown Veracruz with a combined Panorama and Mahogany Brass Band. There are two local models flinging candy at the assembled.

These people like candy way too much.

2) Panorama's tuba player John Gross doing something I always obsess about and forgetting his leadpipe at home. He visits a local hardware store and then fasions a make shift one with AC tubing and duct tape. !Viva Technologica de Mexico!

3) Drinking and eating on el Zocolo, the public square in the center of town (which in Catholic Mexico means next to the catherderal.) The New Orleanians refer to it as "Jackson Square," except there's way more street musicians here. Mostly crappy "Norteno" accordion bands, like I don't get enough of that at home. Did see a couple of amazing Sones Jarocho trios and a community brass band playing the heck out of Danzon music. Decent Mariachi too, but I can get that any night that Relampago is playing here too..

4) I am presently the size of 3.75 average Veracruzans. Don't ask me how we found out.

5) Do not eat the BBQ. No really. Even if they sponsored the whole festival. Just don't do it. Not when the tamale vendors are right around the corner.

6) The Okie Jew was featured singing a Church of Christ Hymn played by a New Orleans Jazz band in Mexico, at a festival run by a Lebanese pianist. Chew on that one for a while.

7) The consul general of Honduras has offered me a place to run away to. Laugh if you like, but Jews are taught from an early age to "be comfortable, but keep you passport current." Historically speaking we're due for a pogrom right about now, and I have the man's cell number.

8) Flying back to Houston and then running down to the Miller Ampetheatre to play with Brian Marshall for the 17th annual Accordion Kings Festival.


On Improvisation in Music

A fine quote from legendary Brazilian Chorro mandolinist Jacob do Bandolim.  I concur.

"I improvise when I interpret music. But I improvise not for the sake of improvising, but to augment the scale and the sentiment of the composition. I am not completely tied to what the composer has done nor am I obligated to reproduce it exactly. I reproduce it in a manner that pleases me, in the way a painter reproduces nature that appears one way to everyone else and another way to himself. Thus, it is not the desire to improvise, to be original. It is rather the desire to encounter in musical phrases the richness in a composition, which, when it is well done, is subtle and refined in all its details, and that presents me with numerous possibilities."