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Nature and Iconic Buildings In SLO (San Luis Obispo) County

2 Apr

San Luis Obispo California has been named by Oprah Winfrey as “the happiest place in America.”  New York Times best-selling author and explorer, Dan Buettner, called San Luis Obispo the top spot for the happiest places in the United States in his book Thrive.  San Luis Obispo was also one of ten recommended best places to see by the L.A. Times. I was fortunate to live there for nearly 30 years with my three boys, and here are some photos that show some of the highlights.

Whale breaching at Morro Bay

 

 

 

Hearst Castle, San Simeon

Hearst Castle pool

Monarch butterfly grove: Pismo Beach

San Luis Obispo Mission (1772), with bronze sculpture of local bear

Iconic, kitschy Madonna Inn: famous restaurant, theme hotel rooms, and great live music for swing dancing

California wildflowers: Eastern San Luis Obispo county

Historic Queen Anne house: San Luis Obispo

Vineyard near our home in Templeton

Elephant seals during their migration and breeding: San Simeon

D’Anbino Cellars: wine and top live music venue by award-winning cousins in music, film, and tv

“Goatee” surfing: Pismo Beach

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Humorous Guide to Smoking in Spain

2 Nov
  1. img_1410Although smoking is not allowed indoors, it doesn’t count if you light up while heading for the door.
  2. Nor does is count if you stand in the doorway and smoke.
  3. You can stand at the outside window counter of a bar/restaurant designed for serving people outside, and while facing the inside, blow smoke inside.
  4. You can smoke in an outdoor restaurant patio, even if enclosed or babies/children are present.
  5. You can hold your baby or child while smoking.
  6. You can throw your lit cigarette into the street when finished, regardless of whether you are walking, driving, or are on your third or fourth floor home balcony.
  7. You can publicly smoke at your job.
  8. You would rather sit outdoors so you can smoke, even in inclement weather.
  9. Don’t worry if your smoking bothers anyone else.
  10. You can smoke outside the gym door before and after exercising, and if you need a smoke break during your workout.
  11. Buy household items that can be used both as vessels for serving food and as an ashtray.
    IMG_0398[1]

    Cups that can be used to serve food such as allioli (Spanish version of aioli) or can be an ashtray.  I’m not kidding. See the four protrusions on top designed for putting cigarettes when vessel is empty.

Multi-talented Musician and Composer: Danny Pelfrey

25 Jul
Danny Pelfrey playing with Tower of Power

Danny Pelfrey playing with Tower of Power

Local musician Danny Pelfrey sat in on saxophone with Tower of Power’s superlative horn section during a performance at Castoro Winery on the Central Coast of California in September 2013. Founded in 1968, Tower of Power is known for their upbeat “urban soul music.” Danny used to be a regular member of the band, and took this fortuitous local performance for a rare reunion. Even though he no longer is in the band, Danny still executed all the synchronized, choreographed horn section moves.

 

When meeting with Danny for this article, his friendly, humble demeanor belied his musical talents and many accomplishments, awards and accolades. While his achievements and honors are too many to mention, some of the highlights include his having won two Emmys, with a total of nine nominations. He has six BMI Awards and a Video Premiere Award for Best Video for the animated film: Joseph, King of Dreams.

 

Danny related that he got his start playing guitar at age nine in his home state of West Virginia. He cited Chet Atkins as his first musical hero. Wanting to play with other musicians in the high school band, he took up the trumpet, on which he excelled.

 

He wrote his first musical arrangement at age 13, and with the encouragement of teachers, he began conducting. While still in high school, he began playing with big bands and jazz groups at a local college.

 

Danny attended the prestigious Berklee College of Music, the world’s foremost institute for the study of jazz and American music. He honed his performance skills, while also focusing on composing and arranging. He found the vibrant Boston music scene very inspiring.

 

Danny with Tower of Power

Danny with Tower of Power

After accepting a teaching job in Canada, Danny started playing with local musicians. Always fascinated with different instruments, he took up tabla, a type of Indian percussion instrument, which he played during performances with a sitar player. He continued to expand the many instruments he played to include flute and alto saxophone. He was particularly drawn to sax as it had the flexibility of woodwinds and the power of brass. This is the instrument for which Danny would become best known.

 

Danny moved to Los Angeles where he began doing session work and began touring with many prominent artists including Diana Ross, Carole King, Eric Clapton, Melissa Manchester and many others. He especially relished the time playing sax and guitar while touring the world with Carole King, as well as doing recordings and television specials with her. When asked about a particularly memorable experience, he recounted that he performed with Diana Ross during the infamous 1983 deluge of Central Park in New York City. During the increasingly heavy downpour and lightning, the band members had to flee on foot to get back to their hotel.

 

Danny has recorded with such stellar musicians as Aretha Franklin, Smokey Robinson, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Paul Simon, Eric Clapton, James Taylor, and was a producer for Usher, Brad Paisley, Lee Ann Rimes, Ashanti, Kelly Clarkson, Alicia Keys, and numerous others.

Danny said he was “extremely blessed to have a rich and varied musical career.” He played as a soloist on numerous television shows such as the Wonder Years, Arsenio Hall, David Letterman, The Tonight Show and Rosanne. In addition, he was the score composer for many popular television shows in the United States, wrote commercials for large companies such as Nissan, Toyota, Ford and California Lottery, and has composed a variety of music which can be heard in worldwide. He has also written music for more than 50 interactive games including a Star Trek series. His concert works have been performed by the Knoxville Symphony, the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony, and the National Symphony Orchestra. He has shared concert programs with John Williams, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Igor Stravinsky, and Charles Ives. Danny shared that he particularly enjoyed writing “rich and soulful music.”

 

Moving to the Central Coast of California in 2009, Danny found the local music scene “very vibrant.” He noted that Cal Poly Performing Arts Center (PAC) brings in excellent quality entertainment. He was primarily spending his time composing, arranging and producing for various media. He was also playing sax with the BarFlyz, which consisted of Kenny Lee Lewis (guitarist for Steve Miller Band), Diane Steinberg Lewis (award-winning pianist and vocalist), Ken Hustad (bass), and Dean Giles (drums.) The Barflyz play pop-cabaret music including jazz, pop, Latin, Broadway and television tunes, and blues. Danny also played with the popular Central Coast band, Human Nature, which features world-inspired music, where he replace original band member, Dave Becker, who relocated to Florida. The band has a diverse repertoire including jazz, samba, funk, Americana, with some original songs written by group leader, Adam Levine, another graduate of the Berklee College of Music.

 

Danny relatively recently moved to music-centric Nashville where he continues his many musical projects. Current Music recently added Danny’s AMUSICOM to their playlist of quality, downloadable music.

 

Music Icons: Kenny Lee Lewis and Diane Steinberg-Lewis

12 Feb
Diane and Kenny Lee

Diane and Kenny Lee at Home with Sophie

After spending time the prior evening with old acquaintances, B.B. King and Peter Frampton, Kenny Lee Lewis and his wife, Diane Steinberg-Lewis enthusiastically shared their fascinating, intertwining respective lives and experiences. Kenny and Diane have performed in San Luis Obispo County (California) in their band, the Barflyz, but are more well-known for Kenny being a member of the classic rock Steve Miller Band, and Diane for her role as “Lucy in the Sky” in the 1978 American musical film, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (in which Peter Frampton was also cast). The couple, who has been together almost 40 years, was more interested in recounting the history of Diane’s influential musical parents, than talking about themselves. To that end, they were compiling documentation, which included talking to B.B. King after he performed in Paso Robles, California in September 2013, which is when I met with them at their home.

Martha Jean on B.B. King Album Cover

Martha Jean on B.B. King album

Diane’s father, Luther Steinberg, played trumpet with legends Cab Calloway, Lionel Hampton, and Duke Ellington, was a Big Band leader, and did arrangements for artists including B.B. King. Diane’s mother, “Martha Jean the Queen,” was an African-American pioneer in radio and one of the first female D.J’s in the United States. She helped to bring R&B music to the airwaves for the general public. Diane showed a photo of her mother on the cover with B.B. King on his album, My Sweet Little Angel, recorded in the 1950’s, but not released until 1993. B.B. signed the cover of Diane’s copy during their recent meeting. Diane and Kenny Lee hoped to talk with him further to add more of these memorable experiences to their memoir of Diane’s mother:  Speaking of the Queen: from Memphis to Motown.

Born Martha Jean Jones in Memphis, she landed her first job there as a D.J.at WDIA. The radio’s early format of country, swing and light pop was not successful. In 1947 WDIA became the first radio station to target programming to black audiences. It quickly rose to the number two radio station in Memphis, and then became number one after switching to all black music programming. B.B. King started working at WDIA in 1948 promoting medicine and then cigarettes; he became a D.J. in 1950 before launching his performance career. Though all genres of music are widely accepted today, in an era of resistance to integration of the military and Jackie Robinson playing baseball with white players, incorporation of black music into the mainstream was controversial in Memphis. When the “race” music being broadcast by WDIA reached the white suburbs of the south, it was the beginning of what would become the phenomenon of “Rock and Roll.”

Following her parents’ divorce, in 1963 The Queen moved with Diane and her two sisters to Detroit, where The Queen continued as a D.J., and a community activist through the 1970s. The Queen became involved in the ministry in 1984, and in 1997, after being named Michigander of the Year, purchased a radio station WQBH, an acronym for Welcome Queen Back Home where she worked until her passing in 2000.

Allee Willis, Diane, Kenny Lee with Photo of "The Queen"

Allee Willis, Diane, Kenny Lee with Photo of “The Queen”

Diane was influenced by the encounters and events she was exposed to by her musical family. At age six, when she began “playing” the babysitter’s dilapidated piano, her father purchased a new piano for her.  She still has this piano, which their dog, Sophie, “plays” when she wants a snack. As a child, Diane’s father brought home many talented musicians who helped her hone her craft. In 1997, her father, his siblings and their father received the W.C. Handy Award for Authentic Beale Street Musicians. In 2010, Diane’s mother was honored with a W.C. Handy Music Legacy Award for her years in radio, and on the same day the Steinberg family was presented with a Brass Note on the Beale Street Walk of Fame.

At college, Diane studied dance, and then music while simultaneously teaching high school.  In 1972, she got her first record contract with Atlantic, and later recorded for ABC Dunhill and Word. She performs both secular and gospel music, has written music performed by such artists as Natalie Cole and Cleo Laine, and wrote the theme music to An Evening at the Improv. She has performed with such music notables as Paul McCartney, Rod Stewart and the Steve Miller Band. Diane met her future husband when getting ready to record an album for ABC and she needed a new bass player. Kenny was recommended as a replacement. Diane said they fell in love and married in 1984; he gently reminded her it was 1983. She smiled noting many men are not sure of their anniversary. Diane has periodically returned to teaching in order to provide a more stable home environment to raise their two daughters. Above is a photo of Diane recording with her friend, Grammy Award-winning songwriter Allee Willis, with a picture of the Queen as inspiration. (Allee Willis is an award-winning, multimedia artist, who has written many well-known songs including Boogie Wonderland and September, made famous by Earth, Wind and Fire, I’ll Be There for You (theme from Friends), and co-wrote the Broadway musical version of The Color Purple.

Mary Wilson (Supremes), Allee Willis, Diane and Kenny Lee

Mary Wilson (Supremes), Allee Willis, Diane and Kenny Lee

Kenny was born in Pasadena, but was raised in Sacramento. He is self-taught, initially picking up the ukulele at age seven and then playing his brother’s acoustic guitar in the sixth grade. Not long thereafter, he started playing an electric guitar he had borrowed. He credits his parents for being supportive of his musical focus. He was playing professionally at 15 and went on the road with his first band, Sand Castle, at age 17. He attended Cal State Northridge for a semester, but left when he got the chance to go on tour. After becoming a successful studio session bass player, he and Steve Miller drummer Gary Mallaber started a band, and were pursuing a record contract.  Steve Miller contacted Gary asking for songs for an upcoming album. Kenny, Gary and guitarist, John Massaro submitted their eight demos, and Steve took then all. Steve then incorporated Kenny, Gary and John into his band. The album, Abracadabra, was released in 1982 which went multi-platinum. Kenny initially was guitarist for the band, but in more recent years has become the bass player. When I met with he and Diane in September 2013, the band had recently finished a tour in Australia and New Zealand, and on the top of his television cupboard, a colorful boomerang peeked out.

Diane and Kenny moved to Central Coast of California after visiting a friend and falling in love with the area. They describe the local music scene as “creative” and “original,” with less pressure to follow trends than in the L.A. music scene. The Barflyz was one of their local groups, which Kenny described as an “acoustic pop-cabaret” band performing rearranged jazz, rock, blues, Latin, TV themes and original. When I met with them in September 2013, the band included stellar musicians Danny Pelfrey on sax and flute, Ken Hustad on bass, Dean Giles on drums. Kenny sometimes performs solo at small, local San Luis Obispo venues and bars

For more information: www.barflyzmusic.com. www.kennyleelewis.com

Remembering a San Diego Music Icon: Ella Ruth Piggee

23 Jan

I  had recently been reminiscing about some of my talented musician friends in California, both from San Diego and on the Central Coast. I feel fortunate that I can go on YouTube or on my IPod to watch and listen to them perform. I was already planning on revisiting some of these musicians on my blog and Facebook, either with new articles or by reproducing prior articles from my blog or other sites where I have published. The recent deaths of a number of music icons have led me to expedite those plans. Over the next several months, I will be featuring musicians, both deceased and alive.

Ella Ruth Piggee was an incredibly popular, charismatic singer in San Diego for nearly ten years before her tragic passing due to cancer in 1988. I am always on a quest to find great live music, with my favorites being R&B, jazz, funk, standards, Latin, and classical. In my quest in that regard, in 1978, I was told about Ella Ruth Piggee, who was then performing at a bar in East San Diego, in an economically-challenged area. I first saw her perform at the Black Frog to a predominantly African-American crowd. I was blown away by her vocal talent, her ability to connect with the audience, and her great sense of humor. Anyone who ever regularly went to see Ella Ruth perform knew if you sat in one of the tables near the stage that you would be subject to her chiding, anything from the type of socks you were wearing to mentioning that in spite of having the best seat in the house you have hardly ordered any drinks. Then she would let out one of her loud, infectious laughs.

 

Over time, Ella Ruth and I became very good friends, and it was always a delight to hear her perform or to spend social time with her. Early on, she sang with Bruce Cameron (trumpet, cornet and flugelhorn) and Hollis Gentry III (saxophones and flute). Carl Evans, Jr. (keyboards) and Hollis (who were also friends of mine,), went on to be two of the founders of hugely internationally successful jazz-funk/fusion band with Latin influences, Fattburger. Unfortunately, they both suffered premature deaths due to health issues, as well. Ella Ruth sang, “Make That Dream Come True” on Fattburger’s Good News album, which I believe was released in 1987 shortly before her death. The song was also featured on the Best of Fattburger released in 1992.

 

Typically, Ella Ruth’s Talk of the Town band would play instrumentals for the first half the set and then she would finish the set with R&B, jazz and pop vocals. In my opinion, this form of music sets featuring both instrumentals and vocals gave those in the audience unfamiliar with jazz exposure to it, which helped to increase interest in instrumental and vocal jazz in San Diego. Ella Ruth finished every song with her signature spontaneous, creative scat. Over time, she became a very popular entertainer throughout San Diego, including the venerable Crossroads in downtown, The Triton in East San Diego and Cardiff, Chuck’s Steakhouse in La Jolla, the Catamaran on Mission Bay, and many more.

 

While the world class instrumental musicians sometimes changed, Ella Ruth was the main draw for a diverse San Diego audience, which can be seen in her various YouTube videos. I thank all of the caring musicians who took time to upload some of her performances, including Cecil Mc Bee, Jr. (bassist) and Tony Barnwell (keyboard and vocals.)

 

Ella Ruth was originally from Des Moines Iowa and had also lived in Omaha Nebraska. As I had also lived in Nebraska, and did my undergraduate degree in Omaha, we also had that connection. I arrived back in San Diego in 1978, around the time she did. When I was a poor starving graduate student in San Diego, Ella Ruth would sometimes treat me to a traditional Nebraska, Italian-style steakhouse. In spite of her charismatic on-stage persona, Ella Ruth was a very private person. After performances, she frequently cooked spaghetti at her home for the band, and Midwestern-style fried chicken especially for me, the best ever. Whenever I asked her for the recipe, she told me it was just flour, salt and pepper, which I never believed. I was also pleased to have the opportunity to spend extra time with her during the time she stayed with me when she was looking for a new place to live.

 

Ella Ruth’s longtime friend, Mitch Manker plays trumpet, flugelhorn and pocket horn on the posted YouTube video. Like Ella Ruth, Mitch also came from Des Moines to San Diego, following his stint as first chair trumpet for Ray Charles. Also featured in the posted video is Michael Evans (drums), Jeff Snider (guitar), and Michael Thompson (keyboard.) Keep in mind these recordings are over 30 years old, and the technology for informally recording live music at clubs back then was limited.

Not long before she became ill, Ella Ruth recorded a “demo tape,” a copy of which she gave to me with her personal handwriting of the songs she recorded. Hollis is clearly the saxophonist. I have been unable to figure out who is the fantastic keyboard player, in spite of asking a number of her musical contemporaries, so if anyone out there thinks they may know, I can send you a digital copy of the recording. I have been in contact with the San Diego Museum of Jazz to whom I plan to donate the tape.

 

 

 

 

Swan’s Songs

25 Nov
Mike Swan

Mike Swan

Although he did not realize it at the time, playing with the Lester Lanin Orchestra at the royal wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana was one of the highlights of Mike Swan’s professional music career. This was one of a number of international music venues where Mike performed that had a formative influence on his varied musical repertoire. Presently, Mike performs his entertaining and diverse songs on bass guitar and vocals at La Bellasera Hotel in Paso Robles, California, on Thursday evenings with guitarist Adam Levine and Judy Philbin.

Mike always loved music and started playing the cornet in elementary school, and then went on to play the French horn in high school. He developed an interest in Dixieland music; when he and some friends formed a Dixieland band and could not find a banjo player, Mike borrowed a tenor banjo from family friends. Then he used a book to teach him to tune it and play basic chords. Once he got to the respected Reed College in Portland, he studied philosophy but continued his banjo playing by joining a “jug band.” During this time in college when folk music was big, he started playing the guitar, and later began playing bass guitar.

He left school to move to the San Francisco Bay area where he played banjo in a trio at the North Beach’s “Red Garter” which featured Dixieland music. Mike described the music they played as “cornball sing alongs” dating from the 1890’s through the Great American Songbook era. In 1967, the owner, Jack Dupen, offered Mike a job at the New York City Red Garter. Moving to New York with its 13 degree weather during the 1967 Christmas/New Year’s holidays was “like running away to the circus,” Mike joked. He also did some stints at the Red Garter’s Niagara Falls and Florence, Italy outposts, and subsequently started playing for competitor “My Father’s Mustache” where he led the band for two years.

Mike realized that if he wanted to continue to make a living playing music he would have to become a better guitar player and singer, and to that end he began studying with talented professional musicians in New York City. He honed his skills and expanded his repertoire which included jazz and ragtime. He learned songs in Italian, Swedish, German, and Hebrew/Yiddish which he performed at special events. The venues in which he performed expanded to private “society” parties for affluent patrons, Jewish celebrations, a private Aegean cruise, and Claridge’s in London while there for the royal wedding. When asked to share an interesting or fun experience, he related that they when he was playing with the Lester Lanin Orchestra they had a gig in Gstaad Switzerland, the second night the venue was at Eagle Ski Chalet which necessitated transporting their equipment by ski lifts. The themed party was pre-revolutionary Russian, for which attendees and musicians donned period costumes.

Besides his musical career, Mike also did corporate and IT work to help pay for raising his children and their college. In 2006, Mike said he and his wife were tired of their corporate work and the hectic pace of living in New York City. He stated, “Like a salmon swimming upstream,” they decided to return to California. They settled in northern San Luis Obispo County where Mike’s brother was living. Taking a break from music, Mike helped his brother with his import business. Then he received a call from a local Dixieland band which needed a banjo player, and with that, he became involved in the local music scene.

Mike is presently working on two CDs, having completed his first CD in “the early 2000’s” which consisted of a trio with him on banjo, along with a tuba and mandolin. Besides his weekly appearances at La Bellasera Hotel, he plays at many wineries where he jokingly described his function as “sonic wallpaper.” He also plays with Jazz in the Vines, and at private parties. He has been playing solo for hospice patients which he described as “rewarding.”  For more information on Mike and his performance schedule, go to http://mike-swan.com.

JUDY PHILBIN’S MUSIC MOZAIC

27 Oct
Judy Philbin

Judy Philbin

Judy Philbin smilingly sings a sublime samba to the delight of the audience. Whether performing to a concert audience or restaurants and wineries, Judy relishes the opportunity to be energized and inspired by her listeners. She is excited about her newly released CD, Keeping It Simple, in which she collaborated with local talented guitarist and composer, Adam Levine (see my March 2013 column www.slocoastjournal.com archives.) The CD includes jazz standards, pop tunes, and four originals with two written by her, and two more to which she wrote lyrics to Adam’s compositions. As the title reflects, they kept the music simple, and straightforward, with Judy on vocals, and Adam laying down from one to four guitar tracks for each song.

Judy always loved to sing, and retrospectively noted that she was privileged to start singing at age six in one of the stellar children’s choirs they had at the time at San Luis Obispo First Presbyterian Church. At six, she also began playing piano. Over the years, she learned a variety of instruments including percussion, stand-up bass, trumpet, and guitar. In the eighth grade, she noticed all the boys played brass and all the girls played woodwinds, so she decided to play trumpet, which she continued through high school. She also was active in choir. In high school, as was typical of the era, she played guitar and sang the typical “teen-age angst-filled songs,” and began singing in coffee houses.

After completing her college degree, which was not in music, she returned to her love of singing by becoming one of the founding members of the acclaimed San Luis Obispo Vocal Arts Ensemble. Motherhood led her to take a temporary hiatus from the time demands of performing, but when her children started school, she began collaborating with a friend to do sing-along concerts for kids. Her husband and two children were also involved, and they even performed on the Children’s Stage at the Live Oak Music Festival.

As a child, Judy felt enriched by living with her family in Guatemala for two years, from ages four to six years of age, while her father worked there. She was drawn to the simple, traditional music there, particularly marimbas and flutes, and has since enjoyed music from Central and South America. She and her professor husband decided to give their children a similar experience living abroad by taking his taking a teaching position in Denmark, where they became involved with the international mix of people involved with the school.  During her two year stay in Denmark, she was impressed by and drawn to the quality jazz music. Upon return to San Luis Obispo, she was inspired to start developing her jazz and standards repertoire. To that end, she attended a workshop with Phil Mattson, a conductor, arranger, and father of the vocal jazz movement. He encouraged Judy to explore solo vocal work, which she has been doing seriously for the last five years. In 2007, she released her first album, Candle in the Window, which is a compilation of songs to provide comfort for those who have lost loved one. As a result she has performed numerous times nationally at conventions for The Compassionate Friends, which provides grief support after the loss of a child. She and her husband, who also sings, have been involved with the annual Central Coast Follies Parkinson’s fundraiser at the Clark Center for seven years, and she noted that the benefit has contributed over $250,000 toward Parkinson’s research.

Judy presently performs locally at restaurants, wineries, public concerts, and private parties. Nearly every Thursday evening, she, Adam Levine, and bass player, Mike Swan perform at La Bellasera Hotel in the lounge/restaurant starting around 6:30 p.m.; there is no cover charge. For information on Judy and her performance schedule, go to www.judyphilbin.com.  Judy encouraged locals to purchase the new release, Keeping it Simple, at local businesses which include Boo Boo Records (San Luis Obispo), Volume of Pleasure (Los Osos), and Matt’s Music (Paso Robles.) It can also be purchased from her website, Itunes and www.CDbaby.com.