8/13/08: A Quarter Interlude, New Orleans

I got a fairly late start out of Memphis, heading for the Cutting Edge Music Business Conference in New Orleans, and I stopped for a lunch at Back Yard Burger in Batesville, Mississippi. Fighting sleepiness as I headed down I-55, I pulled off at Jazz & Java in Madison for a breve latte, and then I continued further south into Louisiana.
Parking in the familiar lot in the French Quarter next to what had been Tower Records, I walked over to Louisiana Music Factory on Decatur Street to look at some compact discs. The store sold nearly any CD made of Louisiana music, and I ended up buying about $50 worth of discs. I then decided to go around to the Westin Hotel and get checked into my room, but I soon found that there was no parking affiliated with the hotel, so the rates were outrageous, and there would be no in or out privileges. In effect, hotel guests were deprived of the use of their cars while in New Orleans, unless they wanted to pay over and over again each time they took their car out of the garage. All the same, the lobby was above the parking garage on the eleventh floor, and with large glass windows looking eastward over the French Quarter and toward Algiers Point, it was a dramatic and striking entrance to a most unusual hotel. As I checked in, the speakers in the hotel lobby were playing George Antheil’s Symphony for Five Instruments, which I also found surprising, as Antheil, a relatively obscure American composer, happens to be one of my favorites.
My room was high on the 14th floor, and had a similar view of the Quarter as did the lobby. Although the restaurant off the lobby was crowded, I feared that it would be too expensive, so I decided to walk around the French Quarter, looking for a place to eat dinner. My original plan had been to drive to someplace outside the tourist area, perhaps Ted’s Frostop which I had heard so much about, but the parking debacle prevented that, so I walked down Peters Street, past the Jax Brewery buildings, which were now largely vacant. There was an amber glow in the air as I passed Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral, with the lovely palm trees swaying in the breeze, and people were out, enjoying the cool, moist evening, sitting on porches, sitting on balconies, sitting on steps and talking; not as many musical sounds on this evening, more voices and cars, the sky now purple, blue and finally grey as I rounded the corner onto Bourbon by the Clover Grill, which I recalled from some novel I had read about New Orleans. Their signs bragged of burgers, but in the novel people had gone there for breakfast, so I made a mental note to head back there on some morning before I left the city.
Bourbon Street seemed tamer than I remembered it before Katrina- there were a few sex clubs, but many more normal music clubs and regular bars, one on a corner where a young Black drummer was in the middle of a funky solo that spilled out into the street. I had been aiming for the Embers Steakhouse, but, when I arrived I noticed the high prices on the menu, and, worse, the lack of any crowd of clientele, which had me worried about the food quality. So I kept walking, and finally ended up at Star Steak & Lobster, which was a truly tiny restaurant fairly close to my hotel. Altogether, the prices weren’t that bad and the food was decent, although the portions were small and I had to contend with a house musician who was alternately singing or playing saxophone accompanied by a pre-programmed box-not the music experience one would want to have in New Orleans.
The Quarter seemed strangely devoid of street music, compared to what I recalled from pre-Katrina days. Back then, it seemed common to come upon a brass band playing in Jackson Square, or maybe that’s just how my memories are of it. Snug Harbor was a little too far to walk to, and the name of the group playing there didn’t particularly sound like a straight-ahead jazz group, so I opted for the French Market instead, and the Cafe du Monde, where I sat outside enjoying beignets and a cup of cafe au lait with chicory, the quintessential New Orleans experience.
Back at my hotel, I learned that the pool was on the rooftop, so I rode up there, but I really couldn’t enjoy it, as I got lightheaded about being so far up on the roof with just some glass balcony railings rather than a sturdy concrete wall. Instead I headed back down to my room, opened the windows to let the lights of the French Quarter shine in, used my laptop as a CD player, and enjoyed some of the albums I had purchased at Louisiana Music Factory. Finally, I fell asleep in the overstuffed, luxurious bed, with the windows still open to the lights of the Vieux Carre.

8/11/08: Promoting in Nashville

After eating breakfast at the hotel, I checked out and drove out to Columbia, Tennessee to the Sound Shop store there, and then over to Murfreesboro to Century 21 to leave some Haystak promotional items there. Back in Nashville, I had visited the Cat’s Music on Gallatin Road the day before, but nothing else had been open, so I ran by Platinum Bound Records’ new location in Antioch, then over to Key 2 Music, Soundstream Records and Tapes and finally New Life Music and More. I decided not to go to Clarksville, as it was getting late in the day, and after stopping at Cat’s Music in Dickson, I headed out for Memphis on I-40.

8/10/08: From the Old Mill to Bongo Java

My parents had told me that The Old Mill in Pigeon Forge served a delicious breakfast, so I checked out of my hotel in Knoxville and drove out to the restaurant, but I had not expected the traffic jams on the Parkway between Sevierville and Pigeon Forge, and by the time I got to The Old Mill, they had quit serving breakfast. Actually, finding breakfast turned out to be quite difficult, as many restaurants in the area quit serving breakfast at 11 AM. I finally found a pancake house where I had to wait an hour for a table, but the food was quite good, and then I drove back up to I-40 and headed toward Nashville. At Cookeville, I went off the interstate to try to leave some Haystak posters at Compact Discoveries, but they were closed on Sundays. The Sam Goody in Lebanon was open, however, so I left some posters there and then drove on into Nashville, where I checked into the Hilton Suites in Brentwood. I had been disappointed that I didn’t eat dinner at Calhoun’s in Knoxville, so I drove to the Calhoun’s in Nashville and ate dinner there. Then I thought about going to Cafe Coco, but decided against it, and drove over to Bongo Java instead, which was near the Belmont University campus. With no jazz clubs happening, there wasn’t much to do, so I drove back to the hotel and went to bed.

8/09/08: Parrothead Jazz, Knoxville TN

There was a Denny’s just outside the resort gate, so I ate breakfast there and then headed south on I-75 toward Tennessee, stopping once for a breve latte at Starbucks Coffee. Once I was in Tennessee, I headed south into Oak Ridge, where I left some Haystak materials at Hamp’s Records before driving into Knoxville. I spent the remainder of the afternoon visiting JK’s Records and Cat’s Music in Knoxville, but going to the east side of Knoxville proved to be rather difficult because I-40 had been closed downtown. On Magnolia Avenue, I found that Where It’s At Records had closed, so I drove out to Sevierville, and made my last visit of the day at the Cat’s Music there. Further east, near Dandridge, there was a restaurant called Cowboy’s on the shore of a reservoir, and I ate dinner there, although the lake view was better than the food, in my opinion. Down in the little town of Dandridge, there was a crowd gathered at a barbecue and steak restaurant, and I walked around the area, snapping photos of old historic buildings and homes. Across the lake, there was a new motel, with a restaurant called Angelo’s at the Point, but I had already eaten, so I got back in my car and headed back toward Knoxville. On the Tennessee River downtown, there was a gathering of Knoxville-area Parrot Heads, as the fans of Jimmy Buffett are called. They were having a picnic, cook-out and live music concert, and it appeared that they were getting ready for a boat trip as well. I went to the Calhoun’s on the River restaurant there and enjoyed a slice of key lime pie while watching the sun set over the river and listening to music playing outside on the riverfront deck. I had called Memphis jazz pianist Donald Brown to see if he knew of any jazz going on in Knoxville, but he wasn’t playing, and one of his sons was playing in Crossville, Tennessee and the other was playing at a Knoxville brewhouse, but the place was a rock club, and he didn’t expect they would be playing jazz. So I settled for a jazz club called Swanks in Maryville, and found that there was a quartet playing there, although the music was more R & B than jazz. Driving back to Knoxville, I rolled past Baker Peters Jazz Club, but there the music was loud from the outside balcony, and was definitely rock, so I made my way back to my room at the Holiday Inn. The hotel was crowded with Pop Warner football kids in town for some kind of tournament, and they seemed to be running all over the hotel, but I had no trouble falling asleep.

8/08/08: Wild Eggs, Baseball, Fireworks and Hoops

On the internet, much had been made of a trendy spot called Wild Eggs on Dutchman’s Lane in Louisville, so I drove out there after checking out of the hotel, and ate breakfast there, noticing the dramatic glass case full of eggs of various sizes, shapes and colors. The restaurant was very crowded, but I managed to park and find a table, and the breakfast was quite good. I then drove out to the West End to leave Haystak posters at Better Days Records on Broadway, and from there I drove back to the east side to visit Exclusive Wear and, I thought, Q-Ball’s. The latter store had closed, however, and I was quite sad to see it gone. My last stop was in Jeffersonville, Indiana at LB’s Music & More, but they weren’t open yet, so I left some promotional items in their mailbox. I got a fairly early start out of Louisville heading toward Lexington, and with no record stores between the two cities, I saw no reason to stop. My hotel in Lexington was actually the Marriott Griffin Gate Resort, and was by far the most impressive and luxurious of the hotels on my trip so far. There was a golf course, a restaurant in a 19th-century house, an indoor pool, an outdoor pool, tennis courts and a basketball court. After checking in, I headed through downtown to The Album, where I was surprised to find a lot of African LPs and Black gospel LPs, which I purchased. Practically next door to The Album was CD Central, which doesn’t always carry rap but does carry Haystak, so I left them some posters and postcards. After I visited the two Muzic Shoppe locations with materials, I headed out to Lexington Green, but there I learned that the Disc Jockey store, the last in that once-venerable Owensboro chain, was now closed. I had discovered that there was a restaurant and marina called Riptide on the Kentucky River south of Lexington, so I drove out Old Richmond Road to the spot, and it was on a lovely spot between two bridges on the riverfront. However, I was soon concerned when I learned that the restaurant was out of filet mignon. I had to settle for the New York Strip, but it was very good. I learned that the restaurant was more of a bar and club at night, and while I ate, employes were stringing up lights outside over a sandy beach area in front of the outdoor stage where a duo was playing and singing country music. There was an outdoor bar as well directly beside the river. After I drove the 20 miles back into Lexington, I stopped at Common Grounds Coffee House on High Street and had a dessert and coffee. Despite being a college town, Lexington can be boring at night, as I had learned on a previous trip. There were no rap clubs, no jazz clubs, and my hotel was the type of place where a lot of rich retired people were vacationing, so I checked the iPhone to see what was going on in Cincinnati, only an hour to the north, and found that there was a Reds game, with tickets as inexpensive as $20. I had not been to a major league baseball game since I was little, so I decided to make the hour drive north on I-75 to Cincinnati. As I expected there was plenty of parking, but, after parking, I found myself somewhat confused, for there was some sort of football game going on in Paul Brown Stadium, a high-school game or jamboree, probably, although it seemed early in the month for high school sports. I was tempted to go there instead for a minute, but finally, I walked the opposite direction toward the Great American Ballpark, which is exactly that, bought a ticket and headed into the very crowded game. Unfortunately, the Reds didn’t do very well, but I soon learned that the game was to be followed by a fireworks display over the stadium and the Ohio River. Long before the game was over, I could hear and catch glimpses of another fireworks show coming from over on the Kentucky side, Covington perhaps. The fireworks on our side of the river were dazzling as well, and then I walked out into the street to head back toward my car, listening to the hypnotic cadence funk of several young Black marching band drummers, mixed with the boom of nearby African drumming, all playing for tips from the sports fans walking past on their way home. I thought about cities like Cincinnati, how they have a soul, culture and personality all their own, and, looking up at the dazzling skyline, I wondered if there was something to get into. I debated heading over to the Blue Wisp Jazz Club, but the last time I had been there, the musicians quit playing at midnight, and it was nearly midnight now, so I drove back across the bridge into Kentucky. At Florence, with some difficulty, I found a Starbucks that was still open, and I drank a latte to keep myself awake on the 70 minute drive back to my hotel. Although I turned the lights out and went to bed, I was amazed to hear voices and the pounding of a basketball from outside my window. Looking out, I saw that a pickup game was in full action out on the court at about 1 AM, and it still was when I awakened at about 2AM. I don’t know when it broke up, but the next time I awakened, the court was dark and silent. The Griffin Gate is known as a golf resort, but it’s a streetballers dream as well.

8/07/08: From Half Day to X-Ta-Cy


I checked out of the Sheraton, and used my iPhone to locate a breakfast place called the Half Day Cafe, which turned out to be in a little village south of Sharonville called Wyoming. The cheerful, brightly-colored restaurant was crowded, but I had no trouble finding a table, and enjoyed a great breakfast there. Then I headed to CD Warehouse in Sharonville, CD Exchange in Kenwood and Everybody’s Records, dropping off Haystak postcards and posters, before Abdullah called me to meet him at a coffee bar near the University of Cincinnati. First I dropped more promotional materials at CD Game Exchange on Short Vine Street, and then I ran into some young men in front of a recording studio, and I talked with them briefly about Select-O-Hits Music Distribution, and then headed up the street and over to Taza Coffee Lounge, where Abdullah and a young rapper from the Elementz program were waiting for me. After enjoying a latte and talking with them, I headed on to Shake It Records on Hamilton Avenue, and then over to the westside CD Warehouse, listening to the CD of Cincinnati soul star Kenny Smith which I had purchased at Everybody’s Records earlier in the day. Afterwards, I headed across the bridge into Kentucky, and I decided not to eat dinner in the area, but to drive on to the Louisville area. The sun was just beginning to set when I arrived in Louisville, and I drove across into Jeffersonville, Indiana to the Buckhead Mountain Grill, which had an outdoor deck and was built on the bank of the Ohio River. Although it was somewhat cool, and a lot of people were out on the river deck, I chose to eat indoors. After dinner, back on the Kentucky side, I drove to Underground Sounds and then to Ear X-Tacy in the Bardstown/Highlands area. I had seen a place called the Pie Kitchen on Bardstown, so after I finished distributing promotional materials to record stores, I drove back there and enjoyed a cup of coffee and a piece of homemade chocolate silk pie just before they closed for the night. Then, driving downtown, I easily found the Hyatt Regency Hotel, where I valet parked my car and checked in. My room was large and spacious, with a beautiful view of the downtown skyline, and, better yet, an iPod dock that played the music on my iPhone. The hotel was within walking distance of the Fourth Street Live district, but I decided to go on to bed instead.

8/06/08:Good Vibes and Karma in Indianapolis/Elementz in Over-The-Rhine Cincinnati


I checked out of the hotel the next morning, and drove out to Charlie Browns Pancake House in the town of Speedway, which literally sits in the shadow of the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The unpretentious little breakfast diner offered great food at low prices, and I asked the waitress if any of the NASCAR drivers ate there. “All the time, ” she replied. The rest of my day was largely spent driving around to numerous record stores, mostly Karma locations, although I also left posters at Vibes, Ear Candy, Extra Strength, City Music, Unborn Records, Joe Lee Records, Naptown Music and Dragged Up Music. It was nearly 5 PM when I left Indianapolis, and I stopped at Karmas in Shelbyville and Greensburg on the way to Cincinnati. I had called my friend Abdullah from Elementz Hip-Hop Youth Center in Cincinnati, so when I got into town, I drove into Over The Rhine, and after getting lost a few times, I finally made my way to the center. I was given a tour of the facility and met many of the young people, who were learning production, breakdancing, graffiti art, and most of all, respect for themselves and others. I wanted to eat dinner, but I decided to wait until the center closed so that Abdullah and some others from the center could go with us. We ended up heading out to the Cheesecake Factory in Kenwood, where we barely got in to order before closing time. The food was really good, and then I headed out to the Sheraton North Hotel in Sharonville, where I had reserved my room.

8/05/08: Steady Wailin’ Sid and the Lost Soul of Evansville

079 Evansville City Hall_Fotor084 Evansville_Fotor088 Penny Lane Coffeehouse090 Penny Lane Coffeehouse091 Steady Wailin' Sid 092 Rick's Boatyard, Indianapolis094 Rick's Boatyard, Indianapolis095 Rick's Boatyard, Indianapolis206 Outta Sight Lounge207 Mr. B's Checkerboard Lounge
When I awoke the next morning, I checked out of the hotel, and then drove down to the Pie Pan on North Park Drive for breakfast. The restaurant was a local favorite, and rather crowded, but I had a delicious breakfast and then I drove downtown to the Evansville library, where I used old phone books and city directories to research the city’s music history. Through the 1960’s, there had been a couple of recording studios and record shops in Evansville, as well as a number of night clubs on Lincoln Avenue, which seemed to be the center of Evansville’s Black community then. In the early 1970’s, there was a Black record store called the Soul Shack at 765 Lincoln Avenue, and a couple of night clubs. The Outta Sight Lounge was at 229 Canal Street, which was actually the address on one of the Pure Love Records 45s, and a yellow pages ad for it in 1974 stated “Top Flight Entertainment” “New Modern Off Street Parking” “Air Conditioned” “1 PM to 3 Am” “dancing”. An advertisement from 1976 touted Mr. B’s Checkerboard Lounge “Top 10 Soul Entertainment Dancing”. The club had been at 800 Lincoln Avenue. I learned that the 10th Street address on some Pure Love 45’s was John L. Robinson’s house, and I assumed that John Robinson might have been Johnny Soul. The last Rock Steady 45 had an address on Washington Avenue that a recent directory listed as the address for a Sidney Scott, so apparently Steady Wailin’ Sid was still living at that address some 30 years later! Somewhat enthused, I headed down into the Lincoln Avenue/Canal Street area to look for landmarks, but I was soon disappointed. Although Canal Street appeared on my iPhone, it didn’t exist anymore in real life, having been disrupted by some sort of new housing development. Barely a block of it remained, and no commercial buildings that may have once lined it were still standing. The same had largely been done to Lincoln Avenue as well, with no trace of the Black business district remaining except a large brick building that once had been Club Paradise and now was a daycare center. Johnny Soul’s old house on 10th had evidently been torn down for a parking lot, and 800 Lincoln Avenue was a vacant lot. 765 Lincoln, where the Soul Shack Record Shop had been, was still standing but now contained a barber and beauty salon. Stopping at Uptown Music on the corner of Washington and Kentucky, I mentioned my interest in Steady Wailin’ Sid to the owner, who said “Sid that lives down the street here?” He called him and arranged for me to meet him after noon. From there I headed over to Coconuts Music near the mall and left posters there, then browsed at the Book Broker until it was time to meet with Sid Scott. When I called him, he invited me down to his house, and talked for some time about his dual careers as Black journalist and soul singer. I discovered that he owned the Black weekly newspaper in Evansville nowadays, and he talked about his experiences at Stax Records in Memphis. He also told me about the Kitty Kat nightclub he used to own on Riverside Drive in Evansville, and finally, he sold me copies of his 45s and LP. By now, I was really behind schedule in heading north to Vincennes, and, when I got there, the record store there seemed to be closed. I called the Ars Nova sheet music store in Bloomington and learned that they closed at 6 PM, but an employe agreed to stay open for me to make it from Vincennes, so I headed out quickly, noticing the massive, abandoned hulk of an Executive Inn on the north side of town. I had often wondered about that rather strange hotel chain that seemed unique to the Ohio River valley, and noticed that its hotels seemed to be falling on hard times. Rushing into Bloomington, I headed straight to the Ars Nova store, where I purchased a number of piano scores by Joseph Achron, Elie Siegmeister, Virgil Thomson and Frederick Delius. Thrilled with my discoveries, I headed on into Indianapolis, where my jazz drummer friend Laurence Cook was playing at Rick’s Boatyard Cafe on the westside. The restaurant was built beside a reservoir, and the last daylight was fading as I sat at a windowside table. There was an outdoor deck and bar that was a little more rowdy, but I sat indoors, enjoying a seafood dinner and the live jazz group that was playing. Afterwards, I drove downtown and checked into the Marriott Hotel.

8/04/08: Visiting Metropolis, the Home of Superman

015 Next Door Records, Martin TN017 Paducah Market019 Broadway, Paducah021 So Hood025 Throwback033 Metropolis IL037 Metropolis IL039 Metropolis IL040 Massac County Courthouse041 Superman Square042 Superman Square043 Super Museum049 J-Dogg051 Ohio River, Newburgh IN054 Edgewater Grille, Newburgh IN075 Tootsie's Cafe, Newburgh IN
Select-O-Hits Music Distribution sent me out to promote the upcoming Haystak release, leaving posters and postcards at retail stores around the Midwest, so I stopped at Danver’s on Highway 64 for breakfast, and then I headed up I-40 into Jackson, stopping for coffee at the Starbucks there, then continuing up Highway 45 into Martin, where I left some posters at Next Door Records and Tapes. It was nearly noon when I arrived in Paducah, and I drove first to the mall to visit Fred’s Urban and Casual Wear, and then I headed over to Head 2 Toe on H. C. Mathis Drive, but they weren’t open yet. After browsing around some antique malls downtown, I headed across the bridge into Metropolis, Illinois, which had become known as the “Home of Superman.” Indeed, there was a larger-than-life statue of the superhero on the courthouse square, a Superman museum, the “Super Store” giftshop, an American movie museum and the Harrah’s Casino on the Ohio River as well. A sign said that Willy Jak’s Bar and Grill was famous for burgers, so I walked in and ordered one, and it wasn’t bad at all. From Metropolis, I drove up I-24 to Highway 45 and then headed out toward Evansville. In Carmi, Illinois, someone had spray-painted “J-DOGG” on a brick wall downtown, so I had to stop and take a picture of it. I-64 led me east into Indiana, and I soon arrived at the Quality Inn north of Evansville, where I checked into my room. The sun was going down, and I hadn’t been able to contact Sinumatic or Cas One, my rapper friends in Evansville, so I drove down to the Edgewater Grill in Newburgh, where I enjoyed a steak dinner overlooking the Ohio River. Afterwards, I drove around the small town, taking photographs before heading into Evansville, where I stopped at Joe’s Eastside Records and left some posters with the manager. Driving around the city in the evening, not much seemed to be happening, even downtown. I finally parked at the casino and walked over to Max and Erma’s for a dessert and coffee. Later, back at the hotel room, I used my iPhone to pull up a website called Indiana 45s, where I saw that there had been some funk and soul records released in Evansville. An artist named Steady Wailin’ Sid had recorded on the Rock Steady label, and another named Johnny Soul had recorded for the Pure Love label. The label scans showed addresses which I wrote down and decided to research later, and one of the Pure Love label releases stated on the label that it had been recorded live at the Outta Sight Lounge. I decided that it might be worth getting up early and spending some time at the Evansville library downtown before the record stores opened the next day.

08/02/08: Record Shopping Across North Louisiana

013 Griff's Hamburgers Ruston014 Griff's Hamburgers Ruston
I hadn’t gotten to bed until 3 AM, so I was quite late in waking up. After breakfast at the Brandy House, which is one of my favorite places for breakfast anywhere, I headed to the antique malls in West Monroe, and while I didn’t find any Grambling memorabilia there, I did find a 1964 Bulldog yearbook from Monroe’s Carroll High School, which I purchased, since old yearbooks from Black high schools are generally very hard to find. At Ruston, I went to the Frothy Monkey coffee bar to meet with an employe from FYE who also was running a record label and wanted to give me a demo. At Arcadia, I only found one Grambling yearbook from 1994, and then I headed on west on I-20 toward Shreveport. At Dunn’s Flea Market, I found a 45 by Jessie and the Mel-O-Tones out of Akron, Ohio, and then I went on to the Greenwood Flea Market, and bought some Duke label records there. After swinging by Garland’s Super Sounds, I decided to drive back to Monroe for dinner, but ran into some nasty thunderstorms between Ruston and West Monroe. In Monroe, the rain had stopped, and I ate at the Waterfront Grill, where I enjoyed a filet mignon, and then continued on toward Jackson. In Clinton, I stopped at Cups coffee house, noticing that there was lightning all around, and then, as I bypassed Jackson on I-220, the rains came down with a vengeance. The deluge continued up I-55 nearly all the way to Winona, and by the time I got home, I was exhausted.