Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Tom Paxton

I got Tom Paxton's first LP signed after a recent show at the Barns of Wolf Trap in Vienna, VA. I wish that every autographed record turned out like this one, with a clean, prominent signature and without a date.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Billy Joe Shaver

Billy Joe Shaver signed this for me after a show at Joe's Pub in New York City a couple years ago. I've seen Billy Joe play live several times over the past fifteen years and he still puts on one of the best shows in the business--he's always got a kicking band and he always has a good time on stage. When my wife and I met Billy, the first thing he did was give my wife a huge hug, which I thought was pretty funny, then I handed him this record to sign and he pretended to run off with it before coming back to the merchandise table to sign it. His signature itself is amusing in that it takes up half the record.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger signed the Village Gate record backstage at the Avalon Theatre in Easton, MD in the summer of 2008. I did not get to meet Pete in person, but his grandson Tao Rodriguez-Seeger was nice enough to take my record backstage for him to sign. You may notice that the sharpie Pete used was a bit on the dry side -- had I been able to personally hand this cover to him, I would have asked him to use the new sharpie that I had brought with me. This LP has an attractive cover design, but the background is really too dark for the autograph to display prominently and while you can see the signature clearly on this scanned image, it just doesn't stand out that much in person.

I was able to obtain the autograph on the Abiyoyo album by mailing the cover directly to Pete. I think the signature looks perfect, but the item would have broader appeal if it didn't say "to Mike Xxxxxx" in the top left corner (note that I edited out my last name). When I first saw the personalization, I was sure that it was written by someone other than Pete because it was written with a different color sharpie than the signature. Then I compared the letters in the personalization with the letters in the xeroxed, handwritten letter he enclosed and decided that Pete also wrote the personalization, but perhaps as an afterthought when he had a different color sharpie in his hand.

The letter that came in the mail with the Abiyoyo record is probably more interesting to look at than either of these LPs. I wonder if some other folks who have sent Pete memorabilia have gotten their stuff returned unsigned along with one of these letters, also unsigned. Perhaps if I hadn't taken the time to write Pete a sincere, thoughtful letter, I would not have gotten his autograph or the personal note on the form letter. That's okay by me. I think anyone who hits Pete Seeger up for an autograph should respect and admire him as much as I do.

Postscript: I like the fact that both the letter I sent to Pete and the letter I got back from him were handwritten. How often does that happen these days?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Gordon Lightfoot

Mr. Lightfoot signed this for me after a gig at New York's Town Hall a few years ago. My strategy for getting this record signed was to remain in my seat long after the show was over. As I did this, I noticed people congregating in the area to the left of the stage, as if they knew Gordon would be coming out. I wandered over to this crowd of people, acting like I belonged, and, sure enough, Gordon came out to meet fans and sign autographs. While the show itself wasn't that great--mainly because it wasn't loud enough--this is one of my best autographs.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Richie Havens

Out of all the 60s legends I've seen perform live, Richie Havens probably sounds the most like he did forty years ago. He has the same voice, the same frenetic strumming style, and he sings about the same issues--remaining true to his ideals throughout his lengthy career. I got a chance to see Richie at the legendary and tiny Greenwich Village night club The Bitter End as part of a special barely-advertised Earth Day show and it almost felt as if I were witnessing a classic Bitter End show from an earlier era.

This particular record was signed on a snowy February night at the Barns of Wolf Trap about five years ago. You may notice that this is the MGM reissue of Richie's 1967 debut; the original Verve LP does not have the Woodstock banner. I would prefer that this copy didn't have the banner either, but the autograph looks so nice that I really can't complain.

Monday, March 15, 2010

David Bromberg

Perhaps Columbia Records still thought David Bromberg had a chance at a hit single when they approved the concept for this hilarious album cover design, which, by the way, has absolutely nothing to do with the contents on the record. Surely, Columbia didn't need to go this extreme to depict a "wanted man," who is presumably wanted as a session guitarist and, perhaps, as a live (note "Alive" in album title) performer. These days, it's hard to imagine any record label expending this much creative and financial effort for the release of a solo album by someone who is, first and foremost, a session musician, however talented that artist might be. I'm sure it was commonplace back in the 70s.

Though I've seen Bromberg many times in concert, I took an unusual approach to getting this cover signed. While driving from New York to Washington, DC, I made a smaill detour into downtown Wilmington, found Bromberg's high-end violin shop and rang the buzzer. A violin craftsman answered the door and I introduced myself, asking if Mr. Bromberg might be available to sign my album. Even though I obviously wasn't about to plop down $100,000 for an antique french bow, the craftsman brought me into David's office where David stood up from behind his desk, wearing a coat and tie that offset the natural unkemptness of his burly gray beard. I introduced myself, we shook hands, and he signed this record. I mentioned how much I enjoyed his recent appearance with Tony Rice and Peter Rowan at B.B. King's Blues Club in New York City and how glad I was that he was performing regularly again, then I got back in my car and headed south.

I probably like this album cover design more than I should--it had a prominent place on the wall when I lived in New York City. It's a decent record too, with "The New Lee Highway Blues" being one of Bromberg's best songs.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Wayne Newton

Two Sundays ago, I found this pristine two-dollar Wayne Newton album at the local record store. I mailed the cover to Wayne the following day and less than one week later, he returned it to me signed. Wayne has a reputation for being very willing to sign autographs, so I don't have any doubt that he signed this record himself--especially since his autograph looks exactly like all of the other Wayne Newton autographs I've seen. While I'm not a rabid Wayne Newton fan, I always enjoy hearing "Red Roses for a Blue Lady" and I love the simple, classic design of nearly all Capitol Records album covers from the 1960s.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Tom Rush

The best sentence I've read about Tom Rush is in Mark Brend's book American Troubadours:

"Rush is, simply, a good singer, guitarist, interpreter and songwriter."

As you can see by the covers above, Rush's above-average talent extends to his autograph-signing technique. It's obvious from looking at these two autographs that Tom has signed these records before and has thought carefully about how to sign them and where to place his signature.

I love the classic shot of Tom lighting a cigarette in a New Jersey railroad yard with the Hudson River and the Manhattan skyline in the background. Fittingly, I got these albums signed in the Brennan Coffee House in Jersey City, not far from where this shot was taken. The Brennan "Coffee House" is the lobby of the Justice William Brennan Court House, where they assemble tables and a makeshift stage and put on small concerts. They aren't allowed to sell alcoholic beverages because it is a government facility, but they are allowed to serve free glasses of wine and they actually do. It's not a bad place for an evening's entertainment and Tom Rush always puts on a great show, particularly if you get to hear him play "Mole's Moan."

Friday, March 5, 2010

Gil Scott-Heron

I got these Gil Scott-Heron records signed after a recent gig at B.B. King's Blues Club in New York City. I was delighted to see Gil perform, which is something that I would not have thought possible just a short while ago when Gil was going through more difficult times. I'd like to say Gil's performance was an unqualified success, but a combination of factors made this evening as frustrating as it was entertaining. I should start off by saying that I don't like B.B. King's for several reasons: 1. You need to arrive early (i.e., around dinner time) to get a decent seat, which means that you inevitably shell out more money for their outrageously priced food and drinks ($9 for a beer and $17 for a burger). 2. After the show, everyone is herded out of the club to make room for an unrelated show by a different performer. 3. They seat too many people at the tables, so it's nearly impossible to stretch your legs, much less get up and visit the bathroom. 4. The staff seats you instead of allowing you to find your own seat.

Arriving to the stage 45 minutes late, Gil sat at an organ and mostly performed solo, except towards the end when he was backed by a couple of guest musicians: a woman on electric piano and some guy on harmonica. I can think of at least fifty other instruments I would choose to compliment an organ before I would select another keyboard and a harmonica, of all things. On the positive side, Gil had a commanding stage presence and the same instantly-recognizable voice, though his speech was sometimes slurred. The highlight of the evening for me was hearing Gil sing his own blues composition "Blue Collar" as a tribute to B.B. King. I don't consider Gil a blues singer, but he's as credible as anyone I have ever heard sing the blues in live performance. These particular words resonated with me, especially given Gil's recent stint in New York State prison:

I was down in Kansas City where even the blues sell by the pound
I been down in New York City and that ain't no place to be down
I been been lookin' at the faces of children and you see we're lookin' for higher ground
And you can't name where we ain't been down.

Immediately after the show, the B.B. Kings staff began prodding the audience to leave, so they could make way for the next show--some kind of DJ event that absolutely no one on the premises had come to see. When I politely inquired as to whether Gil would be coming out, a member of the staff said something to the effect of "He's not allowed to. Everyone has to leave." I don't think this woman had any clue who Gil Scott-Heron was and it was obvious that she would not be treating him with the respect that he deserves, should he decide to venture out of the back stage area and into the venue. At this point, I decided it was too much trouble to linger any longer and I left, feeling angry with the staff and swearing to myself that I would never return to B.B. Kings.

When I got out to the street, something kept me from heading for the subway right away and I wandered around Times Square. Fifteen minutes later, I found myself back in front of the venue where, coincidentally, Richie Havens was standing around smiling for pictures for the few folks who recognized him. He wasn't performing that evening and I wondered if perhaps he had come by to say hello to Gil, but I never found out. In the midst of the excitement surrounding Richie Havens, I decided to discreetly go back into the club and see if I could find Gil. I walked back into the seating area and sure enough, there he was, signing autographs for two young girls who may not have known exactly who he was. Unfortunately, standing right next to Gil and breathing down his neck was the same obnoxious woman still trying to clear the floor for the next show that no one around had come to see. I hurriedly asked Gil if he would sign my records, while at the same time the exasperated staff member announced that Gil could sign my records, but after that, everyone had to leave. Given the rushed situation, it was impossible to have any kind of meaningful exchange with Gil, but I did manage to get his autograph and I think he was pleased to sign something other than bar napkins and ticket stubs.

I think both of these albums have visually striking and provocative covers, though I like the design of the Reflections cover best. Looking at the two autographs, I prefer the less-complicated signature on the Moving Target record to the one that looks like some kind of weird math problem on the Reflections cover. The fact that the nicer autograph is on the wrong record is my own fault. I was distracted by the rude B.B. Kings staff and I accidentally handed Gil the Reflections cover to sign first. After I saw that he dated it, I politely asked if he could simply sign the second one without adding a date. Had I handed him the Moving Target cover first, I could have gotten the nicer autograph on the Reflections record. This isn't that big a deal, but it's worth pointing out.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Mavis Staples

I got this cover signed at a free concert in New York City in the summer of 2007. After the show, Mavis sat at a table and signed autographs for dozens of fans. A helper collected and stacked each item that folks had brought for her to sign. When she got to this record, she smiled and said "Whose is this? That's cool!" Ordinarily, when an artist is part of a group but performing solo, I prefer to get a solo album signed, provided one exists. In this case, the We'll Get Over album cover design is so beautiful to begin with, that it doesn't bother me that this is a Staple Singers record and it only has one signature.

Interestingly, Yvonne Staples sang with Mavis on stage, but chose not to sign autographs. I didn't mind since I only had this record with me and it came out right before she joined the group.