Don Walser's health failing fast...

They've sent Mr. Walser home from hospice to be closer to his family this week. He's lucid and quite happy to see visitors.

So if you, like me, owe the man a personal debt I'd recommend stopping in and saying goodbye. If you can't make it in person, call Mrs. Walser if you like at 512-441-9442.

Otherwise it will have to wait till we all get to Glory.


Race relations in America.

They suck.

In my own childhood experience here in the good ol' USA, heartland Oklahoma in fact, I've been "restricted" from entry into a Golf Club, a DeMolay Chapter and even the civic swimming pool (yup, no foolin'., 1974, Stillwater OK.) . And that was simply for not being a Christian. At least I'm fair of skin tone and can pass for white as I choose.

My first out in the open race hatred came not as a Jew, but as a gypsy in fact. I spent 2 weeks touring Austria, Hungary and Serbia with the mightily dark skinned rroma brass band Boban Marcovic Orkestar. There, and simply by dint of association, I was presented little to no service in restaurants and the worst rooms in the hotel. A consistent if not benign hatred. (Think being black in Alabama in say, 1961.)

Just this last week I had the great privilege or performing with 'kosher" Gospel superstar Joshua Nelson in LA. I guess I should mention he and the majority of his band are 'colored" as he likes to say. He and his band are top-flight musicians with a deportment of impeccable professionalism both offstage and on. It was a great honor for me to be asked to come play bass for him.

However, watching him continuously having to explain his Jewish upbringing and practice over and over again was pretty damn tiring, seeing especially as the quizzing came almost entirely from fellow Jews, who in fact should know better. Worse still was the openly suspicious gaze that my traveling companions were constantly followed by while shopping up and down the public street. Black folks are probably used to such open scrutiny by now. But by golly, I'm not and it's a fairly sad statement on our society as a whole that any segment of our citizenry should be exposed in that way.

Makes me pause to consider my own stupid prejudices and how they affect the world around me.

Might ought to consider doing the same.


Refugio "Kookie" Martinez RIP

I am saddened to learn of the passing of seminal Tex-Mex drummer Kookie Martinez. I had worked with him for many years when I was a member of Santiago Jimenez, Jr's conjunto and was always suprised and impressed by his rock steady timing and ultra-tastefull fills.

Almost never credited in his many years of recording with both Flaco and Santiago Jr. Jimenez among others, his singular playing style set the standard for the genre. With his snapping 'popcorn" pop of the the snare and the "box of rocks kicked down the stars" tom fills, Kookie's personal style is what you emulated when you wanted a "Tex-Mex" conjunto feel.

Bassist JJ Barerra took over my chair in the band for the last few years and he adds these comments:

"Drummer extraordinaire Refugio Rufus "Kookie" Martinez from San Antonio passed away last night (03/31/06).

Kookie had contracted pneumonia over a year ago and it was a constant battle for him I don't know much of the details (time of death, rosary, burial) but will be finding out. He was one of the best Conjunto drummers I have had the pleasure to play with.

He had a style and technique that was unmistakable. He didn't like to play Huapangos, but after performing one I would call him 'Kookie monster' for the tremendous job he did in . Kookie played with Jimenez brothers Flaco and Santiago Jr throughout his career. I remember we played together with 'Chief' at the Continental Club a few years back in Austin,TX and there would always be drummers (blues, rock n' roll) there watching him intently.

Kookie' had 2 nicknames, the other being 'Rufus'. Many Mexican-Americans go by shortened versions of their names or pick-up some nickname from their relatives or friends. Joking around on stage he would refer to me as "el padrecito" (the priest) in turn I would sarcastically respond with... yeah, right! I guess the way I dressed or something made him think I looked like a priest. Haha

Kookie was one of the kindest and soft spoken gentlemen on this planet, with the eyes of a hawk that would pierce to your soul. Oh, and if you have a chance ask Rabbit (longtime bajo sexto player and bandmate) to tell you a funny story about how Kookie told him how he knew Santiago's every move which clued him the direction the songs would take.

Kookie got this name because, according to his wife 'Mona' ( Ramona)... "It comes from the fact that he was born on July 4,1936 and his real name was Refugio." But, how does the term Kookie enter into this? "From what I understand, in order to communicate with non-Spanish speakers the name Refugio morphs into 'Rufus'. And because of the combination of all these 'odd' factors (including that he was a Mexican-American born on Independence Day of U.S.A.) in turn it becomes kooky or kookie. It continues to 'snowball' in that he was also referred to as 'Kookie Monster', a term of endearment... not only in reference to PBS television character Cookie Monster in 'Sesame Street' but to the tremendous talent of his drumming style. 'Güero' Polkas of KEDA 1540 Radio Jalapeño has been announcing his death and referring to Rufus as 'Kookie Monster'.

Anyway, could you help Mona out by mentioning in your newspaper and emails to the community at large that, because Kookie was ill for such a long time and was short on insurance coverage, she will need monetary relief at least for the funeral services. She was at his hospital bedside for a year and a half. When I spoke to her today she said she was still about $800.00 short and was going to have to come up with the rest of it somehow.

Contributions can be sent to:
Ramona Martinez
211 Paramount
San Antonio, TX 78228

Kookie always told me" You ever need a drummer, you just pay my gas money and beer and I'll be there." I never did take him up on his offer, but hopefully he's keeping a cold one for me when we meet again.

Adios muchacho...


The "press" had rediscovered me, evidently...

Now I play the role of "wisened Music scene veteran."

From the University of Texas' "Daily Texan." (Page 2...)


Putting the "Fun" back in Funeral...

So last weekend I was hired by my pal Tommy Griffith to meet him at the old Lutheran Cemetary in Coupland TX for a funeral gig. One of the mourners had a video camera and a great website so go here and see and hear the whole event, (Processional and Recessional have the music.)

After the ceremony, we all headed over to the Coupland Inn where we ate BBQ and played red hot Dixieland jazz for the friends and family. I didn't know the lady, but she must have been a heck of a gal, judging by her kin folk and the way she requested to be remembered.

For the record, this is how I'd like to sent off.


Mark moonlights as a Klezmatic....

Sorry for the late post, but this link just came to my attention.

When my buds the Klezmatics came to town to perform at SXSW, they drug me down to KUT Radio to help them play a set of tunes from thier new as-yet-unreleased CD project of Woody Guthrie tunes, with Irish vocalist Susan McKuean and Demolition String band's guitarist/banjo man Boo R. (I ain't seen him since they opened up for Bad Livers last NYC gig in 1999!) I played electric bass on a few tunes, where you hear Paul Morisett on tsimbl, and guitar on the last number.

Frank and Lorin tell the story of the material and we play through quite a few numbers. You can listen using RealPlayer here.(Scroll down to March 17 "Klezmatics.") Host John Ailei usualllly only has musical guest on for 30 minutes, but he kept them on for nearly 45, heaping effusive praise on the music. "I predict you all have an incredible win on your hands.." he exclaimed.

After the radio gig and copious plates of enchiladas, we all headed down to the SXSW job site and played an inspired set featuring guest vocals from Billy Bragg. People were flipping out, it was just so good a show.

Man, I gotta tell ya. I am REALLY excited about this new CD. Frank played me quite a few rough tracks from it and I predict it's a real winner. The klezmer police are not going to "get" it I'll wager, but I'm here to tell you neighbors, it's a great, great CD and portends great things for the band. They've gone from being the best jewish music band in the business to simply being one of the best bands period out there working today. Dare I say they could be a "Jewish" Los Lobos in that respect; a band that studied, mastered and then expanded a traditional music form who after 20 years of playing together then turn a corner and go on to make just great music. This material and the new CD seems to point in that direction.

Now, I ain't in the band or anything. But I'd drop everything to go play these tunes. No foolin'

Folkways 4/8/6

I'll be hosting KUT Radio's "Folkways" 10am-1pm this Saturday.
You can listen online here.

(Here's a playlist of what I played.)

Then it's off to Moravia, TX to play with Mark Halata at our annual visit to his old home town. We'll be playing the old Moravia Country Store at the intersection of FM 957 and 532 starting around 8pm until....

See you there maybe. (150 folks did and we had a fine time. Brought home some pickles as well..)