SpoonyTunes and Tales : Record & Book Reviews

SPOONYTUNES and TALES - Record & Book Reviews : Including links below to reviews I have written for Elmore Magazine over the past decade

I have been thinking for sometime now, about having my own page just for essays / musings on recordings, that have caught my one functioning ear,my mind,which still seems to be firing on all 8 cylinders and eye (both of them ) for stuff that the reviews I do for Elmore isn't covered. Specifically that would be recordings from the past and some books that aren't nessecarily about music.

That said, music has been a huge part of my life since 1956, when I first took up the guitar and since that upside down year 1961,when I first became a professional musician. ( My first band in high school got paid 30 bucks for playing a sock hop) I'm not a big film buff, but I do have some favorites through the years that have provided much more than just entertainment and I just might wander into writing about them if the mood strikes. Because I yam what I yam (thank you Popeye) the reviews here will lean heavily into the string instrument field, but I did sit behind a Hammond organ for 5 years, while my guitar sat in it's case. I have always been a songwriter, long before I knew I was (having written my first tune around the age of 5 ) Hopefully you might discover something on here, that you'll wind up seeking out and if you enjoy it half as much as I did, then I haven't typed in vain. __K.S. - September 29, 2019


JUST WHO IS THIS SPOONER GUY ? So glad you asked , just click here pilgrim



WITCH HAIRS _ Mirth, Miracles, Mayhem, & Music
Dixie Gamble
Publisher : Working Title Farm
Published Sept 2019

Unlike certain color M&Ms, that were removed by the contract riders of monster ego acts in the hair band ‘80s, you could add a few more Ms to the subtitles of this memoir. How about meditation, metaphysics, melancholy, minefields, mezmerizing and marvelous .

Dixie Jane Gamble, is a pixieish powerhouse of love and light. When you first read about her childhood in the ‘50s, on a cotton farm, minus indoor plumbing in North Carolina, her tales are already full of many shades of light and very dark moments, but you are pulling for her. Early hints that there was a wider world in the works and a flying trapeze for her to grab onto, come into view as she tells in colorful details, of getting on a school bus, before being old enough for the first grade, just for a u turn in their driveway, that sufficed as a make believe ride to the school, she couldn’t wait to go to. Or the tragedy that befalls her neighbor playmate cousin on her second day of school. There’s her unbridled excitement when the book mobile came to visit, paying no mind to kiddie volumes, opting instead for Edgar Allen Poe. The flying trapeze, comes into deja vu, when her Mom takes her to a tent circus and Dixie vainly tries to tell her that she’s flown on one before. Thirty five years later in Music City , Dixie’s hit with a real mind bender, when the then reigning king and queen of country music, tell her all three of them were trapeze artists in a past life.

Which brings us to music and the reason this review is here. Married very young with two young boys to a doppelgänger for Elvis, the Gambles move to Nashville, in the early ‘70s. Although there was a sliver of security when Jesse Gamble starred in a show at the new Opryland Theme Park, their marriage goes quickly into an outhouse of abuse. A job as a secretary and assistant to writers at Tree Publishing, the biggest dog in town, puts Dixie into another world, with a circle of both legendary and soon to be legendary songwriters like John D. Loudermilk, Roger Miller, Curly Putnam, Bobby Braddock and scores more of highly creative people.

As the Everly Brothers sang in “Oh,The Stories We Could Tell”, DIxie has a potpourri of them, culled from over 50 some odd journals she had kept. All are told with sensitivity, style and not a trace of sensationalism, even when spending quality time with sensational folks like Paul McCartney or Elton John. Becoming the first female to head up a major music publisher, Elektra /Asylum sets her to working and developing new artists and writers, while having to deal with a mans world mentality of music row. A second marriage to a major music mogul, producer and label head, Jimmy Bowen, provides lofty trappings of success, that were head spinning, until their wheels came off.

As she spins off of music row, into a wide variety of humanitarian endeavors, including mental health and prison reform advocacy, a private practice in LA as a psychotherapist, documentary film maker and more, music is always there. It returns in a mega dose when she meets John Jorgenson, a world class musician, composer, of any genre he sets his mind to and from the vibes he sends out, even to strangers, one beautiful cat. Because of his world traveling gigs, our renaissance woman goes to far flung places, like the Australian outback, that even her self described poorhouse princess never dreamed of. It’s not all fairly tales though, life goes on and off with some heartbreaking realities to be dealt with. Some could be called soul stealers, but to try that, they have to deal with the girl on the flying trapeze and her catcher, John.

As a companion to the book, there is a CD “Chiaroscuro” John produced that relates both musically and lyrically to characters and events in the book. I’m reviewing it separately, because it is a work of art unto itself, yet when coupled with the book, it goes one step beyond__Ken Spooner





GEORGE VAN EPS "Mellow Guitar" : First Released by Columbia Dec 1957 Reissued 1999 by SONY

I had only been playing a real guitar with 6 strings that I got for Christmas of 1957 for a few weeks, when my father bought me this record. (my first year Christmas "guitar" was a uke) Little did I know then, how much Mellow Guitar would effect this 10 year old, or that I would still have it 61 years later.

There have been many monster guitarists of all generes come down the pike through the decades, but if there is one guitarist monstrosity, it has to be George Van Eps. This obscure, virtuosto of chord melody and reharmonization, came out of semi-retirement in 1957 with his 7 String, an instrument he designed in 1939, to expand the range of the guitar into that closer to the piano. The 7th string was on the bass end, that when played either as a pedal tone or as a moving bass line, made the tonal range HUGE. George called it his "Lap Piano"

Back in those Hi- Fi days, technical specs, as a selling point, hogged up much of the 144 square inches of real estate on the back sides of Long Players. What hogged up my attention though, was the tone, that was coming out of the guitar as it played back through our family Christmas gift. A Grundig- Magestic console radio and record player with multiple speakers. The Grundig had a sound range I had only heard before in tavern jukeboxes. Part of capturing all that tone, on this record lay in part because it was the first time a guitar was plugged in directly to the recording console at Capitol Records tower in Los Angeles. The rest was what was in George's talented hands and musical mind. Although I was pretty much a first generation Rock & Roller, I have my parents record collection and unformatted radio to thank for an already expanding musical taste.

The cuts that immediatly grabbed my ear then and still do are, Cole Porter's "Let's Do It", which is the first song I would attempt to learn a quarter of century later, when master luthier Bob Benedetto handed me, my just completed Cremona 7 string. The Gershwins "They Can't Take That Away From Me"and George's own composition "Tango El Bongo" . No less than 7 String legend Bucky Pizzarelli, helped me to figure out in a private lesson a few months later and told me it was one of the first Van Eps tunes that hooked him into switching from 6 to 7 strings. All three of these cuts rely heavily on that 7th string to bring out the unique rich TONE of these instruments.

TONE is the operative word here. I would hear it again in 1981, when doing a soundcheck on my now 3 month old 7 string. Guitarist Leo Kottke, the headliner of that show, came over to the stages edge and said quietly to me, "Do you mind taking a little TONE off that thing, I have to work here too."

Long out of print, the reissue CD not only restores all that tone George sent to the console, but includes a great deal more details in the booklet on the actual sessions and a bio of George's long career.

LEO KOTTKE "My Feet Are Smiling" Capitol 1973

The first time I ever heard Leo Kottke, I didn't know who it was, because the DJ did not identify who was playing a tune that instantly sucked me in. That song was "Eggtooth" and it came off this album. The second time I heard him, was a short time later in Central Park NYC, when he was an unannounced opening act for a Judy Collins concert. The next day I bought "My Feet Are Smiling"

The main thing that seemed to accelerate Kottke's early acceptance to world wide audiences, seemed to hang on the intensisty and speed at which he attacked a twelve string guitar. That was just a part of it for me. Like Van Eps' 7 string, 16 years earlier, for me it was the TONE of his 12 string and my wonder why my then 12 string guitar did not seem to have anywhere near the tonal range of Kottke's. That mystery and more was solved a few years later when we met backstage for the first time and he explained about his tuning and string gauges that were nessecary to achieve it. This led to a pretty nice friendship over the years, sharing stages in concerts and my returning the favor, when I introduced Leo to Taylor guitars, the one brand he has stuck with and endorsed for several decades.

This live concert before his hometown crowd at the Guthrie Theatre in MInneapolis, has a boatload of crowd pleasers. For me there is the aforementioned "Eggtooth", "Easter" and "Hear The Wind Howl" on the 12 string and when he picks up the 6 string "Stealing" The only thing missing from this set, are some of the fascinating and highly amusing tales he has to tell at every concert of his I have ever attended or taken part in over 45 years.

GUY VAN DUSER Rounder 1977

I first heard Chet Atkins in 1955. In 1977, I finally got to see him perform live. As impressed as I was, it was when Chet introduced a show stopper , John Phillips Sousa's, "The Stars & Stripes Forever" an arrangement he said he learned from a guy named Guy Van Duser. The next day I found myself at the record store seeking out this album. There were no disappointments on it. Just song after song played completely and as tastefully as all get out. Besides his Sousa Showpiece, the ones that really grabbed me were; "Guitar Boogie", "Chattanooga Choo Choo" and "Cheek To Cheek". In 1985 I attended the very first Finger Style guitar festival in Wisconsin, where Guy was doing a class and picked up some great insight into playing music in general. Later on, I got to spend an evening at a party jammin' with Guy, which was icing on the cake. Not sure if this album is still in print, but it is certainly worth seeking out, either new or used.

JOHN KNOWLES "Sittin Back Pickin" johnknowles.com

It seems more than fitting that this early release, finds itself parked here by Guy Van Duser. Guy told me, that it was John who introduced him to Chet, and so the beat goes on and on. Guy BTW, is the artist who did the pen & ink illustrations on both covers. Originally recorded at Chet Atkin's home studio as a companion to one of the instruction books John wrote circa 1980. This CD now has incorporated cuts from John's "Heavy Neckin" Jerry Reed instruction book too. There's an old saying that goes, "Those Who Can Do, Those Who Can't Teach", John smashes that misnomer into the ground, the way El Kabong did in those 1960s TV cartoons. He has always done both with a quiet intensity and exquisite musical taste. For guitarists interested in how finger style guitar works on a broad array of music and how to arrange it , here is a huge answer. Just don't drive your self insane trying to figure out how John played them so flawlessly, without any finger squeaks on a classic guitar. Attend one of his many guitar camps or his online guitar instructions at TrueFire.com for pointers on how to do it. For listeners who just like to hear good music, here is another answer, loaded with great songs like "Bridge Over Troubled Water", "Lady Madonna", "Vincent" etc. Personally for me, I find myself never tiring of hearing John play his Joplin, Beatle and Reed tunes along with his own compositions. I like it all from when the Chihuaha waltzes until 23 cuts later when the Loony Tunes theme tells you"That's All Folks". Although his recorded output has been too limited imho over the years, you can't get a better introduction to the artist known as John Knowles than with this one. PS : Check out my 2 cents on the latest recording of John's, where he does duets with guitar monster Tommy Emmanuel in my Elmore Magazine archives that are linked below.

THOM BRESH "Wires To The Wood" and "Time" Bresh.com

I'm going to wind up this inaugural launch of SpoonyTunes and Tales with a two-fer. Although recorded almost 20 years apart, there is a consistency here that should be apparent with just a listen through or two. The consistency I hear is in the musicianship, the songwriting, be it by the the artist or songs he has chosen to record. Thom has been making music for 6 decades now, so he can't help it. It is a large part of who he is and deep in his DNA, as for those who still don't know, he is the son of Merle Travis, one of the most influential guitarists of the twentieth century.

With 18.5 of the 20 tracks being instrumentals, Wires leans heavy into the "guitar gene" that Thom has. The thumb, the feel, the way he arranges, especially the modulations. Just listen to "Bar B Que" an informal co write with his father or "Wasn't He A Dandy" or "Midnight" to hear that guitar gene in full force. The title song with a few sparse, but very thoughtful lyrics that fit it like a glove is flat out GORGEOUS and I often find myself hitting the repeat button most times it plays. The stories behind all the songs Thom includes are like the tunes ...real gems.

Time, released not too long ago was picked in 2018 by "The Thumbpickers Hall Of Fame" as their recording of the year. Although there's a good sampling of Thom's thumb through out the bakers dozen cuts, this one leans towards songs with lyrics. It's a pretty basic but excellent recording of his guitar, songs and his porchboard, that gives you an idea of what you might hear when you catch him live (Which I highly recommend. Another thing Thom has that many other world class guitarists lack, is an entertainers gene, that he was instilled with when he started playing in Vegas showrooms in the mid 60s at the age of 15 with The Hank Penny Show. ( He replaced Roy Clark in the Penny show). Time kicks off with the infectous inside the Nashville industry tune "Coupe DeVille " that the now late CJ Watson, urged Thom to consider for a real long time. This song fits him like a glove, as does Bobby Keel's "Daddy's Honk Tonk" with a great guitar ride in it. Other tunes by his very close friend, Lisa Carver take a serious shot at things to think about. Probably no more serious than "Bullet". For further thinkin' and responsible drinkin', "Time" by the late great Shel Silverstein, closes this set perfectly.

Till the next time, STAY TUNED and I'd like to hear from you about anything you read on here : ken@spoonercentral.com

Here's a look at what I am planning to brag about next

Here Are Links To Some Select Reviews I Have Done Over Years For Elmore Magazine



STEVE GOODMAN "SANTA ANA WINDS" There are 4 new Goodman CDs I reviewed over July & August 2019









JIMMY WEBB : STILL WITHIN THE SOUND OF MY VOICE This was a second review of this, that is no longer linked


"BEEN SO LONG" Jorma Kaukonen


GAMBLE ROGERS Bruce Horovtiz

BILLY VERA Harlem To Hollywood