Ruth Brown - She was something special.

by Mark Zaugg 3. December 2006 20:44

I heard about Ruth Brown's passing on As It Happens November 20 when they ran her obituary. 

There are some nice tribute pages to Ruth I've found out there.  I'm so envious of this one it isn't funny.  You can find Ruth's VH1 bio here

Rather than trying to wax on about her, let me reprint As It Happen's bio here.  (I'm sure I'm violating copyright, I want to repeat it because Ruth is someone who NEEDS to be known and absolutely no one has captured what I remember of Ruth better.) 




She went from selling millions of records to working a nine-to-five job. But you can't keep a good woman down -- especially if that woman is Ruth Brown. She never stopped fighting, for herself, and for other musicians as well. The woman who defined rhythm and blues in the Nineteen-Fifties died last Friday. She was seventy-eight.


Ruth Brown was a singing prodigy. At the tender age of four, her father -- the choir director at a Virginia Church -- lifted her on top of the church piano, and she gave her first public performance. But as she grew up, her taste ran more to the secular. And she herself ran to the secular, when she left home at the age of seventeen to begin working as a big-band and club singer.


In the late '40s, a jazz DJ heard her, and recommended that his friends at Atlantic Records give her a chance to record. The people at Atlantic agreed. But on her way to sign a contract with the label, she was severely injured in a terrible car accident.

Her legs were shattered, and would cause her pain for the rest of her life. But injury or no, Ruth Brown wouldn't give up. Nine months after her accident, she recorded the ballad "So Long", while standing on crutches. The song had legs -- her first single was also her first hit. And more followed, in quick succession: "I'll Get Along Somehow", "Teardrops From My Eyes", "Five-Ten-Fifteen Hours", and her signature song, "Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean". She was such a powerhouse that Atlantic Records became known as "The House That Ruth Built".


Unfortunately, while that house continued to add rooms, Ms. Brown was evicted. By the early 'Sixties, the hits had stopped coming, so she took on odd jobs to support her two sons -- working variously as a maid, a teacher, and a bus driver. In 1975, after more than a decade spent mostly out of the spotlight, comedian Redd Foxx offered her the part of Mahalia Jackson in a musical he was producing. And Ruth Brown was back.

She developed a successful Vegas show, and took the Great White Way by storm in the mid-'Eighties, when the revue "Black and Blue" turned out to be a success.


But Ruth Brown wasn't just concerned with her own comeback. She wanted restitution for every musician who hadn't received royalties for his or her work. It was no small undertaking, since early record contracts were usually exploitative; in fact, due to some specious accounting, Ms. Brown and many other former Atlantic recording artists were considered to be in debt to the label. She worked tirelessly, speaking at hearings and frequently travelling to Washington D.C., to press politicians. And in 1988, on the label's fortieth anniversary, Atlantic Records agreed to waive the so-called debt -- and to pay twenty years of back royalties.

It was another uphill victory for Ruth Brown. We haven't even delved into her work for civil rights, her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, her Grammy Award, or her award-winning autobiography. We could talk about her all night -- but it's better to listen to her. Here, from 1953, is Ruth Brown, with "Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean".


Well, I'm sure it's hard for a pudgy white guy to talk credibly about Ruth Brown, but I loved her music and appreciate her work.  I've heard songs she's done over the years, I wish I had copies.  I'll add it to my list of "must haves", even if it runs a mile long already.

The biggest reason I'm so insistent upon telling Ruth's story is that it shows both sides of the record industry's downfalls.  She fought the heartless and callous attitude towards those who created music and make fortunes for the industry.  She was strong and diligent when artists needed her strength and her diligence.

And now she runs the risk of fading into obscurity except those enthusiasts and audiophiles who care so deeply for her passion and her glorious voice.

The music industry are guardians to our collective past, our collective history, our very culture itself.

Right now, master tapes are kept in vaults unheard, unknown, unloved.

The greatest time of distribution is upon us right now.  This is not the moment to be suing file-sharing or arguing whether Apple is right to charge $0.99 a song or if the CRIA / RIAA can squeeze more money from the popular artists.  Now is the time we should be teaching, sharing and educating others about this rich heritage we share.  Now is the time the labels need to be freeing their past-copyright materials and getting the music OUT there.

I support local talent.  I support independent talent.  That's where the good, creative, inventive music seems to come from.

I still love Ruth Brown's music too.  Sometimes, even an industry association gets it right.

How "Blue Collar" changed my life, and other love songs.

by Mark Zaugg 3. December 2006 14:27

This morning I mentioned to my Lady-love that most of the wierd-assed references I pull out of my poor demented brain are song references.  This morning it was Jonathon Coulton's "Re: Your brains" that spurred the whole thing.

The very first song I heard that truly struck an emotional chord with me above and beyond the actual song's content was Bachman-Turner Overdrive's classic, "Blue Collar."  (A sample from LastFM is here.)  I love the bluesy feel, the sauntering base line, the metronomic drums, but the lyrics themselves have always set me off to that other place where I can indulge myself in my "deep thinking" and re-sort my thoughts and priorities.  It's like the blogging without having to show off how shallow and pretentious I've become.

I've been very much in a "Blue Collar" frame of mind lately.  Rather than explain what that means to me, I'll display it by creating a new category.

One of the things over the past few weeks that's been eating up vast swaths of my free time has been rediscovering a column put out from Gwynne Dyer.  His name popped up in Google News and I found that the Hamilton Spectator carries his columns.

Who is Gwynne Dyer and why should anyone care?  Gwynne (or, if you prefer, Mr. Dyer) remains one of the smartest, most inciteful, outward looking pundits I've ever had the honour to read.  I grew up getting my news from The National on CBC - preferentially with Knowlton Nash.  One of the really-bright talking heads they had on was Gwynne Dyer who knew military strategy inside and out.

He's not always right.  He's ready to admit when he doesn't know.  He has always struck me as an honest guy with a lot of insight from genuinely looking at the world with a global view of historical perspective.

He's based in London now and he still sees the world at large.  National governments the world over would probably do well to listen to his thoughts.  He's always been as sharp with the whip as he was with a compliment.

So, one of the things I've been up to over the past couple weeks has been to re-calibrate my world view again.  You know the feeling you get when you're watching the news thinking, "There's got to be more than this."  There probably is more than what's getting presented.

Gwynne's thoughts have taken me to Africa, Great Britain, all over the Middle East, through some strange place called the White House, and this odd little country called Canada.  He's brought up some ideas I simply need to revisit.

And I shall.  "Blue Collar."  It stands for that four in the morning deep thinking.


by Mark Zaugg 30. November 2006 22:08

I've got about a thousand things worth mentioning. 

Let me start off by loudly cheering:  I got my Who concert CD's. 

This is a brilliant concept, one who's time should have come 30 years ago, really.  Put on a show, sell a copy of the show to the fans who want one.  Packaging can be minimal, overhead can be very small, fans are happy and it's the end of bootlegs when you can get a high quality copy straight from the sound board. 

Or so the theory goes.  Seems to me the music industry as a whole tends to be a little bit backwards.

Well, like they have for all these years, The Who HAVE got it right and they sell a copy of each and every concert through The  Mmmm...  Had I unlimited cash, I'd be all over the roadcases.  Please, people, don't ever let me get that rich.  (snicker)

It's fabulous, I can remember the show, the thrill of being there, the joy of seeing the Who with my lady-love.  I'm even more convinced, it took Roger Daltrey a few songs just to warm up and start sounding really good.  Not that I'm complaining one bit - what an absolutely fabulous concert.

Even now I'm convinced.  Best straight-ahead Rock 'n' Roll show I've ever seen.

Kevin and Kieran

by Mark Zaugg 5. November 2006 21:59

Well grab me by the listening holes and whisk me straight to heaven. 

Two of my favourite musicians came back to the Bow Valley Music Club last night.  Kevin Welsh and Kieran Kane brought the absolutely amazing Fats Kaplin with them and together they denied they were a quartet with their drummer, Lucas.  Lucas Kane?  Kieran's son?  I suspect so, although I'll freely admit that I tend to need the road mapped out for me completely on occasion. 

Kieran came to my attention when John Prine recorded Kane's song, "In a Town This Size" with Dolores Keane  (a better link would be appreciated).  Having grown up in dinky prairie towns, it kinda struck a chord with me.  It remains one of my all time favourite songs.  You can at least get a feeling for their show compliments of youtube.

Simply an incredible show.  If you've never seen four friends on stage playing to their muse, I'd strongly suggest catching these four.  Nice guys, great songs, amazing playing.  It was a true honour to shake Fats' hand at the end of the night and thank him for coming out.

They will be playing in the area for a while still.  We'll test how the table copies and pastes.

Nov. 5, 2006 Calgary, AB Ironwood Stage and Grill
Nov. 7, 2006 Black Diamond, AB The Stop
Nov. 9, 2006 Athabasca, AB Heartwood Folk Club
Nov. 10, 2006 Edmonton, AB Full Moon Folk Club

Catch 'em if you can!

Talking 'bout my Generation

by Mark Zaugg 6. October 2006 08:19

People try to put us down 
Everytime we come to t-t-town 



Okay, first and foremost, I better say that I was going in with a bias.  In my world, it was Pete Townshend and some other guys on stage.  But I'll tell you, that Dolltree guy is pretty good, they should keep him. 

I've heard quite a bit of criticism of how it wouldn't be the same without Entwistle or Moon.  Frankly, you work with what you've got to work with and the Daltry / Townshend combination was exceptionally backed by Pino Palladino on bass and Zak Starkey on drums.  Wow, Starkey nailed it.  Amazingly nailed it.  (If you don't know, Starkey is Ringo Starr's eldest whom played with Oasis, which is where he hit on my personal radar.  May he be blessed with many, many children, the world needs a few more drummers.)  Bundrick is still there, and got a deafening ovation when introduced and still sounded great tickling the ivories.  His flourishes simply make some of The Who's songs work to me - for instance, I consider Bundrick essential to Baba O'Reilly.

Special note to my lady-love for spotting that Pete suddenly put on a toque during the show.  In one of those wonderful "Hey, I learned something new!" moments, Simon Townshend was introduced as their rhythm guitarist.  When Pete introduced him as " brother..." I was thinking "brotherhood-of-man" or "one-of-my-boys".  Nope, brother as in "another one of Mom and Dad's kids"

Together, The Who was, in every sense, the guitar-infested, power-chorded, electrified, England's Loudest Band some 30 years later that I was expecting.  This is the first time they've been to Calgary since the year I was BORN.  Truly my first chance to see them and worth every moment.  Pete spoke about playing at the Stampede, where they had the stage set up "over the dung" and he could really smell it.  (Of course, he said he couldn't remember anything about the show then.)  Yeah, Daltry and Townshend are in their 60's and showing it.  And they still put the Saddledome on it's ear.

For reference, my Lady-love got seats on the floor - Row 19 standing areas 3 and 4.  No one sat where we were the whole show.  We were at the first row after the first break in front of the stage on Townshend's side.  A fabulous view - when Daltry was projected onto the screen beside him, he was about twice as large as he was visible on stage.  I didn't waste a lot of time looking at the screens at all.

Townshend was amazing - most of the show I spent watching his windmilling, strumming, non-guitar smashing greatness.  (They played a clip of him smashing a guitar in the background, so technically I get to say I saw him smash a guitar onstage live.)  He looks like a dignified proper chap, rips off "We're fucking happy to be here" attitude, and fires off a phlegmmy goober just before blasting out a riff of magnificent excellence.

Daltry absolutely blew me away.  Sure, he doesn't carry the voice he once had - I won't deny the facts.  I got the feeling he needed a couple of songs to get up to speed and started to run out of steam near the end.  He's still a thousand times more than your average Rock and/or Roll singer today. He's looking great for 60-something, and sounds like he well and truly belongs on the stage still.  And very well could for another 20 years.  He spun the microphone like an obscene weapon, as if to demonstrate that all the windmilling was not going to be sequestered by Townshend alone.

Musically, it's bloody hard for a "Classic Rock" band to come out and not waste two hours stepping through a collection of semi-mouldy stale cheeze of songs you've heard a thousand times before.

This was NOT such an occasion.  I'm ecstatic with the set list.

Townshend pointed out they were playing "eight..nine...ten...eleven...TWELVE new songs tonight."  Mostly I just knew there were songs I don't recall hearing.  And it was two hours of music that was undeniably music that was The Who and nothing else.  If I didn't know a song, it had the edge, the drive, the introspection, the bliss of The Who over their entire career.  Everything felt well and truly in place - from "We got a Hit!" to "Pinball Wizard."

We're not in 1972 anymore.  But The Who has moved beyond 1972 and brought a close approximation to 2006 and made it all feel right.  We're not in our teenage angst any more, but we sure as hell remember what it was like. 

Production wise, that was a rock show that was truly about respecting the music by putting it front and center.  The band on stage, backdrops displaying themed movie clips or still images (animated when necessary, thank you very much), and a light show to be green with envy over.  Lots and lots of lights.  Splash the crowd and flood the stage lights.  Movers and shakers and truss warmers.  No choreography, no chorus line, just a bunch of guys up there going crazy sometimes, playing their hearts out, and having one hell of a good time making the music that the crowd was having one hell of a good time listening to.    Yeah.

And don't worry about your eardrums, either.  I don't know my line arrays well at all, but they had a good one (if a little weather-beaten), and the sound was fabulous.  Well-mixed, the highs sparkled, the lows thumped and "England's Loudest Band" was very listenable, indeed.

Definitively one of the best shows I've ever seen.  If you get a chance to see The Who, go see The Who.

Beatles Stamps!!

by Mark Zaugg 13. September 2006 22:16

Oooh, I'm all a-tingly. 

The Royal Mail in Great Britain are releasing stamps with Beatles Album covers

I have no idea just how I'm going to contain myself. 

Sadly, they won't be producing any stamps with the the White Album.

My ghod, I love the pipes.

by Mark Zaugg 2. September 2006 17:56

It's the Labour Day long weekend and everyone in Calgary knows what THAT means. 

You betcha.  The Calgary Highland Games!  Oh, and Labour Day Football.  But we've only made it up to Saturday so far. 

I've never made it to the Highland Games before.  (I'm not really sure why I would have, I'm nae Scottish.)  I just have an unnatural love of the bagpipes, a fondness for thistles (ha ha), and I dream of eating a freshly prepared haggis.  My Lady-love took me out for haggis at a restaurant and it was good, but I know nothing's like home cooking, so she left me wanting more. 

It was pretty cool.  Wall to wall pipers, we saw the Highland Dancers, we played the kid's games, we wandered around and about the shops, we watched the Heavy Events (Dad's favourite - the 22 pound hammer throw) and for lunch, a meat pie and a "Bridie" (or "Birdie" if you're my kids).  How can you not love something that mixes ground meat and pastry?  Mmmm....

Yeah, I'm still holding out for haggis, but we're only a few months away from Robbie Burns Day.  Photos coming tonight.

Journeys and travails

by Mark Zaugg 1. August 2006 00:39

I picked up the kids today in the new vehicle.  They thought it was pretty cool too. 

This time, when I park Bitsy it's a way different feeling.  She's parked to be restored, not parked to be forgotten.  That'll take a while, though, until I have cash to throw at Bitsy.. 

There is absolutely zero chance I could ever afford such a fabulous vehicle as the Murano, I'm truly blessed that I have such a wonderful Lady-love to stand beside me - and let me drive it.  (Oh yeah, she thinks I'm doting on her too much in here.  I won't mention her at all today.)  Hey, it's easy to just demonstrate sharing to the kids than try to explain it all, right? 

So, up in the photos today go two sets of photos.  The last ride in Bitsy and the first ride in the Murano. 

Now for the NEXT argument.  Naming the car.  I prefer going with derivating the name from the colour.  "Merry" (a la the hobbit) or "Merta" (a la the grotesque) are my favourites.  The kids were their usual helpful, with Frankenstein, Vampire, etc.  We had the discussion at dinner.  "What was the name of the car from the Munsters?"  Uhm...  I couldn't remember off the top of my head.  Straight on down to Google.  Dragging my tail upstairs, and my Lady-love (who I'm not talking about, but love very much) says to me with that grin of hers, "It's Dragula, isn't it?"

Well, there's the Munster Koach and Grampa's Dragula.  It's called a Luxury SUV.  I don't want to be driving around in something that's going to put me into a Rob Zombie state of mind.

"Let's take a vote," my son says helpfully.  "All in favour of Dragula, raise your hands."  Everyone else but me.

"No no no.  We have to have a consensus," I retort, grasping for what little control I can get back.

"That's three votes for Dragula and one vote for Consensus.  We win."


Change is the only constant.

Welcome to the semi-exciting new look, same crappy blogger.

All comments are still moderated, I'll approve everything that isn't spam or offensive.  Agreement with His Dorkasaurus is not necessary.

What has changed is that I don't have 1000 junk accounts clogging up the system that I have to go through one by one.  Yes, you too can set up an account and no longer need to wait for me to notice you posted.  Completely optional.

As always:  Have fun, be respectful.


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