Love My Blues with a Little o’ This Mixed In

I love to talk about the blues and some of the other genres we often associate with it. I have a fascination with those “cross-over zones” where the blues “come together” with other great genres of American music.

Although I get that music transcends our labels, it’s also true that artists, critics and fans need to throw around some terms to help us make sense of it all.

For some reason this idea of “cross-over zones” has become a BIG deal for me. I think of the “blues-country zone”  and artists like the great Jimmy Rogers, Lee Roy Parnell, his harp-playin’ bro Rob Roy Parnell and others.

In that very cool “blues-jazz” fusion zone, you’ve got people like Joe Williams (not “BIG Joe”, the other guy) Count Basie, and modern ones like Jimmy Witherspoon and Robben Ford. And I must not leave out Billie Holiday or the late Eva Cassidy.

Speaking of modern artists, John Mayer is amazingly adept at fusing, Rock, Pop, Jazz and Blues; I’m not sure if anyone is as good at that as he is.

Mississippi blues man “Little Milton” Campbell was often described as a “soul-blues” fusionist and I’d put Bobby Rush and Bobby “Blue” Bland in that category as well. Seeing Bobby Bland live here in Barnett Park in Orlando was quite a thrill for me. That was back in ’97 if my memory is working.

Then there’s that whole “blues-rock” thing; that zone really sets me off! There are so many greats who have “hung out” in this awesome zone! I’ll name only a few here: Johnny Winter, Stevie Ray, Walter Trout, Joe Bonamassa, Jimmy Thackery, and of course, Jimi Hendrix! What a line-up that is! Stevie Ray also loved jazz, of course and was a BIG fan of jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell.

Having said all that, I probably hang out more in the “blues-folk” zone than any other one! I play acoustic a lot, partly because it’s so easy to do, what with the minimum of gear that’s needed, etc., and partially because here in Central Florida, the “Friends of Florida Folk” are so active and sponsor so many great shows, fests and activities.

Josh White might just be the “best of the bunch” when it comes to artists who had one foot in the folk world and the other one in the blues. Josh Sr., I mean.

His “set list” and mine would have a rather large overlap; he did a lot of spirituals and gospel as well! As many of my friends know, I got my start singing in our family gospel quartet at the age of six and sang in church choirs and youth chorales all the way up until college. (And that’s where the I got bit by the “blues bug”; more about that in a minute.)

Josh White was well-known as a New York folk-blues singer and guitarist who helped “get the blues over” with a fan base that was already “tuned-in” to folk music. Because his work featured liberal helpings of gospel, he was sometimes billed as “Joshua White, the Singing Christian”.

Josh died in New York in 1969 and his son, Josh White Jr., has followed in his father’s footsteps, performing originals and much of his father’s material as well.

In 1973 as was a 17 year old music-lovin’ frosh at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa when Josh Jr. came to campus to play as one of our Student Activity Concerts. My room mate had just begun to introduce me to Muddy Waters, harmonica wizard Little Walter and some of those cats; thanks again, Dr. Carver! I was already into Johnny Winter and had been introduced to the music of Willie Dixon in the same way as so many other white suburban kids, via Led Zep records. So you might say that I was really ready for a life-changing experience, and that’s the best way to describe what happened to me that night in the Dining Commons there in my freshman year! I’ve been a confirmed blues freak ever since and began performing the blues in the mid ’90s.

I do feel as though I owe a real debt of gratitude to Josh White Jr. for the show that night. No doubt I’m only one of many white middle-class kids who may never have “discovered” this most incredible genre of American music if Josh had not been booked to play at our schools. Josh spent years in the ’70s and ’80s playing hundreds of college campuses, a fact of which he is quite justifiably proud. And I and many others today love and support and play the blues because Josh booked so many of those college dates. Thank you, sir!

Josh’s home page has a fine bio, of course, and one on his Dad as well. His site is here.

To have a look at the site for the “Friends of Florida Folk”, the outstanding non-profit org here in the Sunshine State working tirelessly to promote and preserve folk music, click here.

At the end of the day, all authentic genres of music are merely branches off the same tree. These days, we often lump all of it together under the term Americana. I like the term. But until terms and labels which have been in use for a couple of centuries lose all meaning, it’s good-and useful-to break it down, take a closer look and remember why we love the music so well.

No gator tail but great ‘cue at Adam’s Rib

I was in Gainesville for a sporting event last weekend and noticed Adam’s Rib right around dinner time. I liked the totally-indie look of the place; I eat at chain restaurants as much as anyone but always enjoy those “small joints” that feature great food and a unique vibe. Adam’s Rib is just such a place.

It’s somewhat small-ish but features fine barbecue with big taste. I went for a combo plate that was one of the specials that night and was very impressed with their chow. Get a load of this: a pulled pork sandwich and half a rack of ribs with one side for $12.95. And there was nothing low-end about this entree.

I opted for the collard greens with those two main selections and found them to be very tasty and not bitter at all. No need to douse that dish with pepper sauce to off-set a bitter taste. Collard greens with generous ham chunks are a staple at many places with good victuals and theirs did not disappoint. The ribs were as good as any I’ve had; I’ve been to more barbecue joints than I could ever count and was very impressed with this one.

This may seem like a little thing, but I really appreciated the roll of paper towels on my table. Even though this is not unusual for an eatery of this type, it’s always a good thing to see I won’t have to beg for more than one napkin. And the service was very good even though I was there at prime-time. The joint was jammin’ and the staff had no problem keeping up.

They feature a decent beer selection here. This was a surprise to me as the place is so small that I don’t think they’d be able to get a beer and wine license in many towns. Where I come from, the square footage and parking requirements would leave a place of their size without a beer tap. Because G’ville is the home of the University of Florida, it’s likely that the city is not looking for ways to block the brew; a good thing in my book. A lot of the patrons at A.R. that night were of college age. No surprise there. And most of the staff were as well, no doubt many were Gators by day and servers by night.

As I wrap up, let me say that the “no gator tail” phrase in my intro was an attempt at humor; with Adam’s Rib right in the middle of campus, that’s the last thing you’d find on the menu! The colorful and unique decor is “totally gator” and it adds to the charm of the place. By the way, I am NOT an alumnus of that esteemed institution and in fact had come from an event where “my team” was thoroughly licked by the home team. And when I stopped in for dinner at this popular spot, my taste buds were totally conquered as well. Losing never tasted so good!

Unique Eatery in Gotha with Fine Food and a Funky Feel.

I made my second visit to Yellow Dog Eats recently and loved it just as much as I did that first time! I’ve said in reviews of other places how much I like restaurants and bars that have a unique style and it’s true. Let me tell you that Y.D.E. takes “unique” to a whole new level.

And the food is top-shelf. This time I tried their jack-up pulled pork wrap called the Fire Pig. It’s done with pecan-smoked bacon, Gouda cheese, slaw and their home-made sauce in a wrap; it’s really tasty. A lot of their seating is on the patio out back, you’ve got to see it to really appreciate it. It’s fully sheltered from the elements and not quite like any other patio I’ve seen at other eateries. There is a stage adjoining the patio where live music is featured Thursday through Sunday from 6 to 9; just one more thing to like about Yellow Dog Eats.

The beer selection is good and the staff is friendly. It’s the kind of joint where you place your order up front, then find your table. One of the crew will find you when your chow is ready.

Speaking of beers, they have one of my faves, La Fin du Monde. Don’t ask what it means, but, by all means, try it! If you don’t care for the hearty taste and never order it again, it won’t be the end of the world! Sorry, couldn’t resist! If you passed French class in High School, that last crack just might bring a smile to your face…

If you want something different, a place that features cool ambience, unique dishes conceived and crafted right there combined with good service and live entertainment, Yellow Dog Eats is your place. Gotha is a small town just south of Winter Garden and west of the Metro West development. There is ample parking across Hemphill Ave and they’re open 7 days a week from 11am to 9pm. I’m heading back soon; so much good food and so little time!

To view their web site and their unique menu offerings follow this link

Don’t ever stay at the Red Roof Inn on Busch Blvd in Tampa

Honestly, it’s hard to imagine how my brief time in “motel hell” could have gone worse. Let me just give you the basics about why this place is so bad, and then you can read my full tirade if you’re so inclined: tiny, dreary room. Zero amenities, no microwave or fridge, no cheap “Continental Breakfast” in the morning, not even one of those low-end, one cup coffeemakers in the room. Even though the web site plainly lists the micro and fridge. Bad place, priced about the same as any mid-range motel where you’d happily stay and visit again. Setting that felt totally not-safe and staff completely indifferent to the guest’s needs.

The details: when I entered the office to check in, the front desk clerk had just found my reservation when another guest came in and proceeded to unleash a torrent of “stuff” on the staff member. She had bad things to say about the place and the way it was operated; while I cannot say whether or not her criticisms were on-target, I was about to experience first-hand what a truly bad motel this was.

By the way, that part of Tampa is not what it used to be. I’ve visited Busch Gardens before and never had any concern for my safety in the area around the park. But I did not feel safe at all when walking from the office to my room. Not at all. That should not be taken as a criticism of Busch Gardens directly, that’s not why I was visiting Tampa; I think it appropriate because this Red Roof Inn is quite close and mentions the park in their promotional materials.

It looks like they also rent rooms weekly. All I have to say about that is that motels that offer a weekly option are usually not a good place for a tourist or traveler to stay.

My room was tiny. Really, really tiny. Didn’t take the dimensions, but the staff placed the chair for the desk at the end of the desk because if it were put in the usual spot, you would not be able to pass through to the bath room without climbing over the bed. I generally travel alone, but in the case of a couple, if “John” was using the desk, he would have to jump up every time “Jane” needed to get to the sink or the toilet! Which were crammed into an infinitesimal space. I’ve never seen such a thing. These cramped conditions were unacceptable even for a single traveler.

But here’s the thing that really got my dander up: the room was so minuscule that there was no fridge or microwave. No way they would have fit. I have nutritional needs that require me to be able to take along food and prepare it in my room when I travel. Otherwise, the cost of getting what I need is outrageous, to say nothing of the time required. This was so upsetting because I checked their web site before I made the final booking and a microwave and fridge were plainly listed as amenities. When I went back to the front desk to complain, the staff did not lift a finger to make this right.

Of course, no coffeemaker in the room either. Not even the uber-cheap ones most low-end motels have switched to these days. The combined weight of all these issues was so great that I checked out, cancelled my plans for the next day and drove the two hours back home. I told the clerk that the “bait and switch” about amenities was not acceptable and that I wanted a refund. He, not unexpectedly, said that an approval for that would have to come from higher up.

Because I booked this third-party over the internet, the company through which I booked made a call the next day and told the owner that their client–that would be me–expected a refund as I had plainly told the clerk when I checked out after only 45 minutes in his dreadful establishment. He, of course, refused, telling the staffer who made the call on my behalf that it was not a “bait and switch” but that it should have been my responsibility to contact them after booking and ask for those amenities even though his web site mentioned a micro and fridge.

Don’t ever book the Red Roof Inn at 2307 E. Busch Blvd in Tampa. It’s by far the worst place I have ever stayed/not stayed. I’d love to have my money back but do NOT regret my decision to grab my stuff and get out without so much as unpacking. And I hasten to add that I’ve never done anything like that before, even though I’ve booked bargain-priced Motels many times. Recalling my experience at this place still rankles me even though this happened three weeks ago.

One final thought: I noticed that many other travelers have had very bad things to say on travel sites about this place, mentioning issues not too different from the ones I experienced. Don’t go there. No, really. Don’t stay at the Red Roof Inn on E. Busch Blvd in Tampa.

The Squirrel and the Spiritual Experience

Not the actual squirrel from this awesome blog posting.
Not the actual squirrel from this awesome blog posting.

This is a classic blog posting from a while back, before I
had my blog here with the folks at Word Press. I’m going
to re-run it here, as it’s a fave of mine:

Now about that squirrel and “the spiritual experience”!

I had just dropped off a fare in my taxi and i decided to stop in at
a fast food place in Altamonte Springs for a quick bite. If you do
know the territory, Backyard Burgers is a better-than average
burger drive-through in an Old Checkers location. It’s quite popular
with the locals.

It’s pretty popular with some furry critters up there too! I got
my “Black and Bleu” burger, an extremely yummy burger featuring
black angus beef and bleu cheese, and proceeded to make short work
of it. It truly was as good a burger as this dog had ever put into
his jaws!

Just as I was about to toss the last morsel down, this very tame
squirrel began to make her way over to the patio table where I was
enjoying this late lunch. (At Backyard Burgers, there is no indoor
seating.)

As she got a little closer, I became transfixed at the sight of her
approach and could not eat that last bit until I knew what she was
up to. In pretty short order she hopped right up on the bench next
to me and reared up on her hind legs. By now she was only about six
inches from me–from me and the last few crumbs of what had been the
best lunch I’d had in quite a while…

As I extended my hand in her direction, she actually put her little
claws right on my first finger and clasped my hand very gently
with a measured and seemingly purposeful pressure. I was quite
surprised to say the least. What I had expected her to do was to
reach for the bite o’ burger and scamper away like a bandit.

For a moment or two she just stayed there clasping my hand and
looking me right in the eye. Then, with consummate timing, she took
the morsel in her mouth and ate it in two or three bites all while
maintaining her eye contact with me, her very flabbergasted
benefactor.

Then she turned away, paused for just a moment and scampered
away towards a towering oak on the edge of the patio.

I suppose it’s a routine she’s quite comfortable with. I have not
been back to Backyard Burgers since but I’m thinking that she
probably has a regular stable of folks who share the last bite of
their lunches with her. I’ve even wanted to get back up there to see
if she’s still around, looking for humans who want to share their
grub with her, but I don’t get that far away from downtown
Orlando in my cab very often.

As I cruised back towards my preferred territory a little closer to
home, I could not get the image of her pausing with her paws on my
hand out of my mind… She seemed to be saying, “Thanks for sharing
your lunch with me! I hope you’ll come back and see me again” or
some such thing in her non-verbal squirrel language which humans may
be graced to understand just once in a while…

The memory of my shared lunch with my furry mistress comes back to
me often; especially when I’m passing any burger joint or when I see
squirrels scampering up and down our majestic oaks and through our
many parks. I would surely love to have a “Black and Bleu” burger
again. And you know I’d save the last bite for my new lunch
companion!

Bulldog Ben, respecting all of my

furry friends today just a bit more…

Can’t beat Keke’s Breakfast Cafe in the morning

Another Keke's has opened. Life is good!
Another Keke’s has opened. Life is good!

I just learned that the Keke’s we had been teased about has finally opened up. I now no longer have to trek to the Dr. Phillips area to have their amazing chow. Not that it’s all that far, not for the Mac-Daddy of all breakfast joints.

Here’s my review of that other location; it’s quite possible that I’ve patronized them for the last time. I’ll be stopping in at the one around the corner within the week.

KeKe’s is a chain of breakfast restaurants, there are several in Central Florida. As I’ve always loved breakfast-only joints. I stopped at the KeKe’s in the Dr. Phillips district of Orlando a few Saturdays ago. It was a breakfast I won’t soon forget.

Before I get into the meat of the review, so to speak, let me warn you that if you visit the KeKe’s in your neck of the woods, you’re almost certain to wait for a while. And although I really hate to wait, it’s a truism that the better a restaurant is, the more likely you are to be sitting for a while holding one of those annoying, vibrating beeper devices. I opted to wait.

My standard breakfast order is two eggs over-easy, sausage patties and home fries. I went that route with my server and discovered that their home fries come about a dozen different ways. I had her load mine with just about everything, in much the same way we often do with a baked potato.

When my order arrived, I was amazed at the serving of taters, onions, bacon and cheddar cheese that took up about half my plate. It was a ridiculous serving of jacked-up Home-Fries and I ate every bite. If my Doctor had seen the size of that portion she would have had me shot at sunrise; a mere scolding and more lab work would not have been sufficient. As far as that other breakfast essential is concerned, my over-easy eggs were perfect, without those despised “crispy” edges. To me, crispy is just plain burnt. There was simply nothing to not like about my order.

There were many families and couples at Keke’s. I may well have been the only patron “flying solo” on that bright Saturday morning, so I know they’ll accommodate your bunch, regardless of sizes, ages or how many come along.

Let me sum it up: Find a Keke’s near you. Bring your appetite, bring your kids and be prepared to wait. And tell your cardiologist that you ordered the oatmeal.

Review of Achilles Art Cafe, a coffee shop in Orlando

I had noticed Achilles one Saturday afternoon while heading back to the dog house. It’s not too far from the part of Orlando I call home. I was surprised to see that it was not open. I inquired later and found out that A.A.C. is open until 10 pm Monday-Friday, but doesn’t open on the weekends except for the last Saturday of the month. Well, today is the last Saturday of March. I got to see what Achilles is all about, and I’m glad I did.

My latte was good, served very hot and the crew was efficient and personable. When it was obvious that the weather-folk were on-target for this weekend and that the rain was, in fact, about to start, I had to try the Grilled Cheese and Tomato-Basil Soup. It was a yummy pairing and affirmed for me once again that Mom was right: you can’t beat a grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup when the rain begins to fall. They render it here with a three-cheese medley on sourdough bread. I enjoyed it thoroughly, and, yes, I dunk when I have the uncommon pleasure to pair these two American lunch-time staples.

The decor at Achilles is truly one-of-a-kind. It’s got to be experienced first-hand to be appreciated. If you live or work anywhere on Orlando’s west side, I recommend you stop in soon. They do serve beer and wine in addition to the usual coffee house fare and have quite an assortment of sweets. Those I left for another day.

Their location is right on the edge of the campus of Valencia College; I’m thinking that’s the reason they’re mostly open on “school days”. I’m planning to stop in again soon after dinner for a night cap or catch them again on the last Saturday in May.

From the miscellaneous category: they do have two TV screens, an outdoor/patio seating area (where smoking is allowed), cigars and hookah supplies. It’s mostly a young-ish crowd though I did see one family with a toddler. He seemed to be enjoying the place, too!

As we head into the thick of the 2016 elections, this could happen

The Bulldog Barks

I’ve been paying close attention to elections since Nixon vs McGovern in ’72 and although I’ll admit to not voting in that one, I haven’t missed one since. I was a freshman in college out of my home state and waited too late to get an absentee ballot and mail it in. But that was the first and only time I didn’t make it to the polls.

There have been some important and memorable contests in the 43 years and ten elections which have come and gone since then. I was in Navy AOCS in Pensacola back in ’76 when Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford squared off. Voted for Mr. Ford in that one. Both had solid careers in the Navy, but I’m thinking that few in my class went with Mr. Carter.

Being the flaming, tree-hugging liberal that I am today, I hate to admit this, but I did volunteer work in both Reagan campaigns and voted for him. Twice. Loved pretty much everyone on King Ronnie’s team back then, Col. Oliver North especially. Suffice to say that I saw the world very, very differently back then.

The 1980 contest was not noteworthy only because Reagan won; it saw John B. Anderson run the first third-party candidacy the American people has seen since George Wallace that had to be taken seriously. Well, semi-seriously. Okay, I noticed it, because he appeared in Tulsa, where I was living at the time, and I happened to catch it. Didn’t change my vote, but he made an impression.

By the time Reagan’s second term was winding down, my views on politics had changed considerably. I did not vote for “George Bush the Elder” in 1988, though I generally respected him. Of course, Dan Quayle was pretty hard to take. Yes, before Sarah Palin was let loose on the world, there was V.P. Dan Quayle! Boy, that was quite a spectacle back then, wasn’t it? Some of the drama we’ve seen in recent elections is not so different. But I digress.

If you’ve gotten this far into this piece, I will not bore you with my recollections of all the other elections that have taken place in the last quarter-century. But I will say that 2000 was a big one, of course, and that I still carry in my heart a white-hot hatred for both Ralph Nader and Antonin Scalia for the roles they played in making George W. Bush our 43rd President. Pundits and politically-savvy people went on and on about how Nader’s candidacy would suck votes away from Gore and it did. Some maintain to this day that Gore’s shortcomings are the real reason he lost, but I look at the 97,488 votes Nader got in the Sunshine State and cry “bullshit!”  And, as we all remember, Bush carried Florida by 537 votes. For a good treatment of that debacle click here.

As for the role played by Mr. Scalia and the four other justices who joined in his twisted, partisan logic in Bush v. Gore, that would be fodder for another post. On another day. Wait, let me get an Advil. Or three.

True to my word, I am not going to go into the four intervening contests in this post, so let’s bring back the focus to 2016. A whole lot of people who pay attention to Presidential elections are beginning to say that this year’s contest is starting to look a bit like 2000. I am one of those people. Even though we’re still not “there” yet as far as having two official nominees, it’s going to be Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. I’d bet that somewhere around 92% of the political prognosticators would say so. And I’ll be damned if the candidacy of Bernie Sanders isn’t starting to loom Nader-esque on the American landscape. I think there’s a damn good chance that Bernie could do to Hillary what Ralph did to Al. I hope to God I’m wrong about that. But it’s a  possibility that can’t be easily dismissed. May the soul of Yogi Berra rest peacefully; I damn sure hope it ain’t “deja vu” all over again!

Barking from my semi-palatial doghouse in Orlando, I am,

“Bulldog Ben” Basile

© 2016 Benjamin Lawrence Basile

Ben is not the owner of this photo. Contact him if you are.