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HICKS WITH STICKS NEWS #203, February 28, 2009

San Francisco Bay Area Twang Calendar Highlights
Bands / Clubs

The Polka Cowboys @ Champa Resturant, 3550 San Pablo Dam Rd., El Sobrante 730pm free

Jesse Jay Harris Quintet @ El Rio, 3158 Mission, SF 6pm free

Rock Soup Ramblers @ Cafe Royale, Post at Leavenwort, SF 8pm, free

Chrome Johnson @ 19 Broadway, 19 Broadway, Fairfax 930pm $10

The Go-Getters/+ @ Blank Club, 44 S. Almaden Ave., San Jose 10pm $10

The Go-Getters/+ @ The Uptown, 1928 Telegraph, Oakland 930pm $10

Saturday, April 25
Ron Thompson's Recovery from Pneumonia Benefit
The Mojo Lounge
3714 Peralta Blvd
Fremont 3-8 PM
Bluesman Thompson is the real deal.

Full Calendar


The last Hicks with Sticks News listed 27 of 2008's new, emerging and revived Bay Area roots Americana bands.  Here are five more, starting with the Jesse Jay Harris Quartet, a side band from the guitarist from Rancho Deluxe.  Find this new band's cowboy jazz at El Rio in SF on every 4th Thursday.  There's no Jesse Jay Harris Quartet site yet.

Pam Brandon

Next up is the cryptically named Maurice Tani & Pam Brandon sing Dirty Duets.  "Sing" is not capitalized because this is name of their show, not the four-piece band which includes Ken Owen on drums and Mike Anderson on bass.  This seems to be a band with a "show," not a name, yet it's not a show band or cabaret band.  The Dirty Duets angle is another enigma.  A few of the duets have innuendo, though they aren't all that dirty, at least not by Bay Area standards.  Think of it as a work in progress that Tani and Brandon are figuring out along with the rest of us.  Of course there's no site, because... 
it's a work in progress.

They get up at midnight.

Livermore's Midnight Trio emerged out of the Pendletons.  Brothers Brian and Mikey Covey are joined by bassman Matt Olivares and play rockabilly with roots, classic country, surf, and blues influences.  It's a late 50's and early 60's thing with them.  Having played together since they were kids, the Covey brothers know what it takes to anchor a trio.

The Lariats of Fire started in '07, lost their drummer in '08 and regrouped in '09.  They serve up a full plate of cover tunes as well as their own brand of honky-tonk, western swing, and calliope country.  In addition to the usual drinkin', gettin' lucky, quittin', and cryin' songs, the Lariats love to sing about food, foliage, and failure while tipping their hats to the likes of Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, Bob Wills, and two out of three Hanks.

Lady A & her Heel Draggers Lady A and her Heel Draggers formed on '07, and got around to serious gigging in '08.  The band offers an acoustic country and western swing sound with Ayelet Arbuckle on vocals, Danny Chaves on upright bass Eric Chaves on
accordion, harmonica and clarinet, Mikiya Matsuda on steel guitar and Will Fourt on lead guitar.  But who is the mystery drummer, pictured here yet unlisted on their MySpace or Facebook sites?

Todd Hinton has checked in to add that
The Fortunate Few is gigging again and writing material for a new CD.  They are a bit out of the HWS orbit as a Sacramento band, but they are sure to find their way onto some Bay Area shows eventually.  Find them at

So, with the 27 bands mentioned in the last issue, the six listed here and two or three more that we still can't remember, 2008 will enter the Hicks with Sticks record book as the Great Band Explosion of '08.


Songwriting is a key component of original music, but finding inspiration and original ways to express popular themes is difficult.  The 52 Week Club, the brainchild of The Good Luck Thrift Store Outfit's Willy Tea and musician Tom VandenAvond, asks songwriters to produce a song each week for 52 weeks.  The club sets themes, usually just a clip of an idea, such as these for the first weeks of '09.
    • Week 1 (Jan 1) let it lie
    • Week 2 (Jan 8) glass and bricks
    • Week 3 (Jan 15) from a weak heart
    • Week 4 (Jan 22) stampede
    • Week 5 (Jan 29) the valley of lost unicorns
    • Week 6 (Feb 5) the good one

The rules boil down to write, write and write.  The song can be about the theme, mention the theme in a lyric, or just be inspired by the theme, as an instrumental might be.  The club's by-laws state, "The 52 Week Club is open to anyone. Writing just one song on the list grants you membership and access to all the fine trappings the club has to offer. The club within the Club, however, includes anyone who finishes the task of actually writing all the songs in one year, and is only reserved for people who are unemployed, or can slack off at work for hours at a time, or are just plain nuts."

Individual members might write the whole song or collaborate in various ways such as when each band member writes a bit on the theme and then the band meets to stitch the bits into a song.  Much of what gets written will never be used, but that's okay since the 52 Week Club is about quantity leading to quality.  Shucking more oysters is intended to yield more pearls.

One challenge is that the concept requires the club to post a new theme every week, and that doesn't always happen.  This problem could be addressed by posting themes several weeks in advance, which has the added benefit of putting some lead time into the equation. 

More unusual combinations might push the envelope a bit.  The January 8th week's theme "glass and bricks" is helpful since both go together to make buildings or abet smash and grab thefts, but what about offering joint themes that aren't so easy to connect like:

    • Monkeys and fireworks
    • Bananas and used car parts
    • Absent-mindedness and photocopiers
    • Bells and pistols
    • Wells and whistles
    • Arsenic and old lace

Or what about more songwriting from personal experience?

    • Writer's block
    • A song you'd like played at your funeral
    • A song of personal triumph that begins with "Well"
    • Your most embarrassing moment
    • A big screw up you successfully blamed on someone else
    • Your darkest thoughts (Some could mine 52 songs out of this motherlode alone.  Just ask the Pine Box Boys!)

Find more terror and inspiration at


King Cab
's strength is its ability to have fun with country without self-parody.

The 14-foot trailer, parked alone, unleveled and baking in the sun, is an apt metaphore for the band's debut CD, Buses Sharks and Streams.   "Rock Lawn," which jump-starts the CD, is a case in point.  Why would anyone want to have a lawn when rocks are so much easier to maintain?  D'oh! 

Other trailer park lullabies include "Beer Can Chicken," "Queen of My Trailer Park," "Drinkin' & Cheatin'," and "San Felipe," a tune about packing seven people into a Mexican motel room and calling it a vacation. 

The single surely has to be "Evel," a homage to the late motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel who "Wouldn't give a damn what you think."   The song is as rock & roll as the daredevil himself who could break half the bones in his body
jumping a fountain at a Vegas hotel, or ride a rocket into the Snake River.  This band combines honky-tonk sentiments, songs about the simple pleasures and catchy guitar licks.  They are the Ramones of Bay Area country.   


It's a shame to see a thriving live music community tear itself apart, but the Bay Area's zydeco scene is weathering some rough times. 

Dancehall or Battleground?Friday night at the Eagle's Hall in Alameda has been zydeco's ground zero, where 200 or so dancers congregate to let the good times roll.  The room has the funky charm of a '50s-era social hall, the stage hosts the best zydeco bands, and newcomers are welcomed with free dance lessons before each show.  The show was run by two partners, one who booked the shows and managed the door and the other who ran the stage and led the lessons.  They've now split and one has set up a competing Friday night dance at another Alameda venue.  I'll-Show-Youism has triumphed over common sense.  The zydeco crowd is not big enough to sustain shows opposite one another on the same night in the same town. 

Sundays at the 23 Club in Brisbane had been another thriving zydeco event that promoter, fan, and tell-it-like-it-is lady, Betty le Blanc had to end for reasons that had nothing to do with zydeco politics.  Yet she's in no hurry to restart her show.  She too is an on-looker who is curious about where the Alameda situation will lead.  She's also shaking her head in wonder.  "Dat ain't de way we do back home," she told Hicks with Sticks News. 

at Work
Billy "Longhead" Wilson, who plays squeezebox in Motordude Zydeco, says the best zydeco dances have moved to house parties where there's no cover, everyone brings food and drink and anything resembling a local cabaret ordinance is properly ignored.  One such party takes place a few times each year at a woodworking shop in Palo Alto, and another is in a loft in West Oakland.  Billy's lining up another for Easter.  About these, Ms. le Blanc says, "Doze ain't house parties, dey is warehouse parties."  Summertime will mean even more backyard zydeco parties that may not be listed on the Bay Area's zydeco site,, but invitations are easy to come by once you get know a few people. 

It is the worst case of self-destruction when bookers go to war, but fans and band members can let personal matters do damage to the music too. 

As for the Hicks with Sticks community, rockabilly has been particularly factious.  Shows ended at Bottom of the Hill a few years ago when one rockabilly used his hot rod in an attempt to run over an adversary.  Fist fights are another rockabilly spoiler.  A tipped drink ignited the infamous Battle of Bimbo's at the 2006-2007 Big Sandy New Year's Eve show and caused that venue to pull the plug on anything likely to draw rockabillies.  The overwhelming majority of peaceful people got thrown out with the bathwater at both Bottom of the Hill and Bimbo's.

As for bands, dX, who books The Knockout, cites "rock stars" as paragons of self-interest at the expense of social harmony.  His rock stars are musicians who play small clubs yet manage to stand business on its head when dealing with the bookers.  Some of the more popular self-defeating misadventures include not returning booking inquiries or not having songs, merchandise or band members ready for the show.  Others are to co-opt a show or call for changes to the terms as the show nears, even at showtime.  Recently, one band member -- and it's usually a member, not the band -- used the band's mailing list to bad-mouth a show the band was to play and launch a personal attack against the person who booked them.  It was a Spinal Tap moment to cherish.

Q. How do you get a band to start complaining?
A. Get 'em a gig.


Fancy Dan Band, and The Saddle Cats have released their debut CDs and Misisipi Rider's will be out March 19th, the day of their release party at Amnesia... Misisipi Mike Wolf, the man of many bands, has released The Cold Hard Facts of Mike, his first solo CD.  HWS heard many of the songs at his Makeout Room and Starry Plough shows where he was backed by Starlene and Misipipi Rider respectively.  The songs continue the quality and inspiration he established in Calamity and Main, and more recently in Misisipi Rider.  He's planning more local shows and a European tour where he'll be backed by a country band from Scotland...  19 Broadway had an off-hours fire in its Tiki Lounge on February 7th and was open for business by February 13th.  The club credits the Marin Fire Department with preventing a total loss, and community support for its rapid reopening... The Wall Street Journal has caught up with Hicks with Sticks News in describing the trend toward songs about the Great Depression of '09 (HWS News, 12/24/08).  A WSJ story of 2/6/09 missed Don Burnham's "Apple and Google and Gold" but they did include Santa Cruz mountain man Neil Young's "Fork in the Road" and Marin County satirical musician Roy Zimmerman's "Buddy Can to Spare a Trillion" to the growing list of music for the fiscally impaired.   Play 'em and weep... Tina Turner
at City Hall "Change" is the mode o'day and San Francisco's City Hall is dressed up in it until April 3rd.  "The Art of Change" is on exhibit in the building's lower level.  It's a collection of promoter Bill Graham and BGP posters, photos and illustrations ranging from the '60s to the current day.  In each case, the art reflects music's influence on social changes like labor rights, humanitarianism, peace, politics or famine relief.  More ...  Bruce Springteen has joined the chorus of Ticketmaster bashers.  His main concern is that Ticketmaster has been scalping its own tickets.  Seats to a Springsteen show were still available for $95 when Ticketmaster steered people to its resale subsitiary, TicketsNow, which was offering the same tickets for up to $5350 plus $817.45 in service fees.  As for Ticketmaster's intent to merge with show producer Live Nation, The Boss says, "... that would make the current ticket situation even worse."...   Microsoft's Songsmith was meant to take a simple tempo like snapping fingers or clapping hands and the user's voice to create an instant backing band and a song.  At least that's how Microsoft thought of it, but now users are feeding vocals from hit songs into the Croon with me, baby.program, letting Songsmith re-invent the music, synchronizing the computer-modified tune to the band's music video, and posting the results on YouTube.   Here's a link to the Police's Roxanne Songsmith style.  Links on the right of the YouTube page will point to Songsmith-modified hits from Oasis, the Beatles, Van Halen and even a Barack Obama campaign speech.    

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