Rant ‘N’ Roll: Kentucky Headhunters, Beekman, Anna Webber & A Guy Named Dizzy

Irving, Texas, March 14, 1992—The Kentucky Headhunters stop at the football field where the Dallas Cowboys play but there is no game today. Willie Nelson is hosting the fifth annual Farm Aid. I’m still semi-sleeping in my coffin-sized bunk, remembering not to forget that I will severely bang my head if I get up too fast. I had way too much whiskey the night before and flirted with too many girls (including the divine songstress Kelly Willis in Austin at The Broken Spoke). After assuring Willis I had a written note from my wife to have an affair on the road, she smiled adorably before running off to dance the two-step with alt-country singer Marty Brown.

As the Kentucky Headhunters and I made our way into the huge football stadium, I noticed the laminate backstage pass carelessly flung around my neck by a publicist didn’t say “press,” it said “artist.” An obvious mistake but I kept my mouth shut. I found my way to the dressing rooms where Willie was smoking a joint with Kinky Friedman. Neil Young was making himself a sandwich and Paul Simon was ignoring everyone off in a corner reading a book. I knew I didn’t belong there but this was just too damn delicious…and I don’t mean the sandwiches.

That’s when Joe Walsh fell into the food table. He was wiping the mustard off his pants when a voice yelled, “JOE WALSH FIVE MINUTES.” He was obviously in no shape to stand up, much less perform. Willie had to help him up, giggling the whole time. “This is gonna be a train wreck,” whispered Kinky, whose own band, The Texas Jew Boys, were tuning up in a side room.

Walsh staggered out to tremendous applause and we all crowded the lip of the stage to see if he could actually sing and play guitar at the same time. Wouldn’t you know it? He wound up blowing the huge crowd away performing flawlessly before running back to the dressing room and promptly falling asleep.

I’ll never forget it.

These remembrances have been brought on by the release of the new Kentucky Headhunter CD, Safari (Plowboy/Practice House Records). This is a rock band who never quite lived up to their groundbreaking 1989 Pickin’ On Nashville debut. Until now. Safari rocks.


Brooklyn jazz collective Beekman is on Volume #2 already. The internationally-flavored quartet consists of two guys from Chile—bassist Pablo Menares and drummer Rodrigo Recabarren—with an American (saxophonist Kyle Nasser) and a guy from Spain (pianist Yago Vazquez). Four years in, their original compositions straddle jazz, rock, Latin and classical. The compositional and improvisational edge is still adamantly adhered to but, ultimately, this is a live band. Volume #1 came out only in Chile which preceded a 10-day trek through South America last year. Now that the forward-thinking ears of Ropeadope have picked them up for the States, tracks like “Moved By Clouds” (so am I), “Something Unsettled,” “Verdict’s Out,” “Stream” and the closing “Farewell” should reach the kind of discerning listeners they deserve. Vazquez switches from piano to Rhodes and sax man Nasser from tenor to soprano (depending upon the track). It’s a heady brew. Highly recommended.


I swear, with her two mates, Anna Webber can do most anything. At least that’s how it seems on Binary (Skirl Records). Anna Webber’s Simple Trio is the name of the act and it’s ironic because there’s nothing simple about how she creates her music. Webber—the Brooklyn-based composer/saxophonist who doubles on flute—is a died-in-the-wool avant-garde free thinker. Drummer John Hollenback and pianist Matt Mitchell (no bass!) will obviously follow her to the far-reaches and here, they do, because she used Internet websites to base her compositions upon. For instance, there are YouTube test channels with 10-second flashes of red and blue rectangles set to high-pitched micro-tonal sounds. From that, she fashioned the five-track “Rectangles.” “Impulse Purchase” was written from her own IP address. Taking time out for additional inspiration like the children’s game of “Tug o’War,” you can hear the heave and ho inherent in such a pursuit. It all makes for rather heady listening, as much new-age classical as it is jazz.


It was a cold November Montreal night in 1980 when Dizzy Gillespie [1917-1993] convened a sextet of legends to perform the Concert of the Century: A Tribute to Charlie Parker. The 3,000 folks lucky enough to witness Diz leading bassist Ray Brown, drummer Philly Joe Jones, pianist Hank Jones, vibraphonist Milt Jackson and tenor saxophonist James Moody (who doubled on flute), and the few folks who bought the original limited-release live album shortly thereafter, are the only ones who ever heard this meeting of the minds. Now, as part of “The Essentials Collection” of Justin Time Records, these magic moments have been revamped and remixed so, for instance, every second of Brown’s epic eight-minute “Bass Solo” (not included on the original album) that mashes Luiz Bonfa’s “Manha de Carnaval” with Nat Adderley’s “Work Song,” has been lovingly restored. The sound is amazing, considering the year. The interplay is dynamic. And Dizzy is, uh, Dizzy: a pure delight, with warmth, humor, and with the bebop chops he practically invented decades earlier. Of course, as always, he was quite the showman. You’re obviously not going to be able to see his cheeks balloon out and in on that crooked horn of his, but to really concentrate on this is to experience the glow of genius.