Paul Sanders Jr. and Henry (Hank) Neuberger are two old and dear friends of mine who, like me, grew up in the New York City suburbs of Westchester County. I attended Mamaroneck High School and didn’t meet Paul or Hank until our college years, but the two were close friends in the Class of 1969 at White Plains High School (WPHS) in White Plains NY. This is the story of how, in early 1969, Paul and Hank came to promote a memorable and groundbreaking show by Chicago blues legend Buddy Guy at WPHS — or “Buddy Guy High,” as the two teenage impresarios hyped it to anyone and everyone in the weeks leading up to the gig.
George “Buddy” Guy was born 7/30/1936 in Lettsworth, LA and moved to Chicago in 1957; the following year, he released his first two singles on the Cobra label (Otis Rush and Magic Sam also recorded memorably for Cobra). Beginning in 1960, Buddy recorded a string of fine singles for Chess Records, with “Stone Crazy” becoming his only Billboard R&B chart hit (#12 in ’62). Buddy’s breakthrough to the white audience began in 1968 with his Vanguard debut LP, A Man and The Blues, produced by Sam Charters and abetted by Otis Spann‘s peerless piano playing. Unless Chess, Vanguard was well-entrenched in the progressive folk/rock market (with Joan Baez, Country Joe & the Fish, et al), and the success of A Man and The Blues led to Buddy appearing in East Coast clubs and on rock ballroom bills such as the Jefferson Airplane show I saw at Fillmore East in November 1968.
In 1969, WPHS was a three-year school with an enrollment of over 2000 students. By tradition, its annual Senior Prom was free to all students, with all costs covered by various fund-raising events created by members of the class throughout their graduation year.
Paul Sanders: “In 1966, the WPHS senior class raised so much money that they were able to book Smokey Robinson & the Miracles for the prom. In ’67, the class said ‘okay, we’re getting the Temptations‘ — which they did — and the class of ’68 followed with the Four Tops…The Buddy Guy show was part of the fund-raising effort for our prom.”
Hank Neuberger: “This was Paul and Hank educating our peers about the blues.”
Paul: “We had A Man and The Blues but that was it. We hadn’t gotten hold of any of the Chess singles yet…We became aware of the blues and of artists like Buddy Guy–”
Hank: “–the same way Mick and Keith did!”
Paul: “I’d already seen B.B. King with Big Brother & the Holding Company in ’68, and Albert King at the Village Gate on a bill with King Curtis & the Kingpins.”
Hank: “We were hipper than the room, so to speak. We were ‘the music guys,’ we were setting the tone. The fact that we were gonna promote a Buddy Guy show meant that it was a happening thing and that the kids should come — and to our amazement, they actually did! For the whole month leading up to the show, WPHS was ‘Buddy Guy High.'”
Hank and Paul booked the show through Buddy’s manager Dick Waterman, whose Avalon Productions also represented Skip James, Son House, and Junior Wells (and shortly Bonnie Raitt). Buddy’s fee was probably about $2500; his band likely included bassist Jack Myers, saxophonist A.C. Reed, and his brother Philip Guy on rhythm guitar. The show also included an opening act, the Cream-inspired Fluid (more like a Cream cover band, really), most of whom were classmates of mine at Mamaroneck HS. (Two members of this band, bassist/guitarist Steve Love and drummer Bryan Madey, later found some measure of fame if not fortune in the group Stories, whose “Brother Louie” became an out-of-nowhere Number One hit in 1973.)
Hank: “The WPHS auditorium was jammed to capacity, which was about 1200. Fluid played their Cream numbers for 30-40 minutes through their Marshall stacks. No one in the audience other than Paul and I had any idea who Buddy Guy was or what his music would sound like.”
Paul: “These were 15-16-17 year-old white suburban kids and this was their first encounter with the blues. To call his appearance ‘a shock to the system’ would be an understatement.
“The curtain goes up, Buddy comes out, he plugs in, opens up — maybe it was ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ [from A Man and The Blues] — and immediately goes into his second song. And after about two minutes, this big puff of white smoke started to rise from his amp. I think it was a Fender Super Reverb–in any case, it started making all kinds of noises and then just quit cold.”
Hank: “Buddy’s hittin’ it hard, kids are standing on their chairs — and when that amp blew, all the excitement just drained right out of the room. It went from screaming excitement to nothing.”
Of course, neither the promoters nor Buddy had a spare amp on hand. (“Maybe he had some extra guitar strings,” Hank recalls. “He definitely didn’t have another amp.”) But Fluid guitarist Jon Lehr stepped into the breach and graciously offered the loan of his Marshall amp for the remainder of the set.
Paul: “It may have been the first time Buddy Guy had ever plugged into a Marshall — and he made good use of it, I can assure you! Combined with his use of a 300-foot guitar cord, he had those kids in the palm of his hand.”
Hank: “The auditorium had three sections of seats. He ran up one aisle, out the right rear door, back in the left rear door, down the other aisle, and back up onto the stage — and he never stopped playing.”
Paul and Hank’s Buddy Guy show was a resounding success. It raised enough money for the WPHS senior prom committee to book not one but two national acts: The Tymes, a smooth-voiced Black vocal group who had three Top 20 Pop hits in ’63-’64 including the #1 “So Much In Love”; and the Elektra Records quasi-supergroup Rhinoceros, of “Apricot Brandy” fame. [Paul Sanders: “These acts were chosen by a vote of the whole class from a list of available acts, including Jethro Tull.”]
Two decades later, Hank Neuberger was chief engineer and studio manager at Chicago Recording Company when Buddy Guy arrived at CRC to cut some tracks. “He came in, I introduced myself, and I said: ‘Buddy, I just wanted to tell you that I promoted a show with you way back when — and I’ll never forget it, because your amp blew up five minutes into the show.’
“He looked at me and said: ‘White Plains High School?’
“And I said, ‘Well, yeah — but why would you remember that gig, more than 20 years later?’
“And Buddy said: ‘Because when your amp blows up on the second song, you’ll remember the show.”
BUDDY GUY – “MARY HAD A LITTLE LAMB” [Live, 1969]
With Jack Bruce (bass), Buddy Miles (drums), Dick Heckstall-Smith (saxophone)
Whatever it is we call “our culture” has suffered a notable loss with the sad and sudden departure of Jack Rose, the “American primitive” guitarist and composer who died 12/5/2009 at at the much too early age of 38 in Philadelphia.
I was privileged to have seen Jack perform on two occasions, both times in the company of my good friend Josh Rosenthal: on 3/11/2004 at a concert at Washington Square Church in NYC (Matt Valentine also played) and at an artists’ loft show in Philly perhaps a year or two later (with Harris Newman on the bill].
I spoke briefly with Jack after these gigs, but Josh got to know him much better over time and offers his personal tribute to Jack on the Tompkins Square site. Friends and fans at ARTHUR Magazine have posted two MP3s and multiple video clips here.
Jack Rose will be interred at Merion Memorial Park in Philadelphia — also the final resting place of country-blues legend Nehemiah “Skip” James (1902-1969), who just had to be one of Jack’s musical heroes and inspirations.
From the New York Times (12.9.2009):
JACK ROSE, VERSATILE MASTER OF THE GUITAR, IS DEAD AT 38
By Peter Keepnews
Jack Rose, whose complex improvisations on 6-string, 12-string and lap steel guitar earned him a devoted cult following, died Saturday in Philadelphia. He was 38.
His death, apparently of a heart attack, was announced by Three Lobed Recordings, which released Mr. Rose’s album The Black Dirt Sessions this year.
Mr. Rose began his career in the early 1990s with Pelt, a rock band whose sound was loud and cacophonous and whose repertory consisted largely of long, dronelike improvisations. But he was best known for his solo acoustic work, which was quieter, more delicate and informed by the aesthetic of an earlier era.
In a 2007 interview that appeared on the Web site Foxy Digitalis (digitalisindustries.com/foxyd), Mr. Rose said much of his inspiration came from music of the pre-World War II era — “anything that’s pre-1942: Cajun, country, blues, jazz, all that stuff.” But, he added, he was also influenced by Minimalist composers like Terry Riley and La Monte Young.
In using the finger-picking techniques of an earlier time to create ethereal improvisations that belonged to no particular style or era, Mr. Rose also acknowledged his debt to John Fahey and other experimental guitarists who came to prominence in the 1960s.
Mr. Rose released close to a dozen albums on various labels, many of them in limited pressings. He had recently signed with the prominent independent rock label Thrill Jockey.
Survivors include his wife, Laurie.
On Thursday 11/26/09, Leslie and I along with my parents, Howard & Phyllis Schwartz, drove down to Philadelphia for the Thanksgiving weekend. We’d made a reservation for 12 noon Saturday to tour The Barnes Foundation in the Main Line suburb of Merion, PA. My folks had visited this unique museum many years before but Leslie and I were seeing it for the first time.
I’m neither an artist nor an art critic, and my museum-going résumé doesn’t include visits to the Louvre in Paris, the Museo del Prado in Madrid, or the State Hermitage in St. Petersburg, to name a few notable omissions. But in the span of my own experience, the Barnes was a unique and utterly distinctive way to experience art, specifically the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
And there’s a hell of a lot of it to look at: In the 40-plus years before his death in a 1951 car accident Dr. Albert C. Barnes (born 1/2/1872 in Philadelphia to a poor working-class family) amassed the greatest private art collection in North America. In the 2003 edition of his book Art Held Hostage: The Battle Over the Barnes Collection, investigative journalist John Anderson wrote that the collection “is valued at more than $6 billion [This is not a typo — A.S.] … including some 69 Cezannes (more than in all the museums in Paris), 60 Matisses, 44 Picassos, 18 Rousseaus, 14 Modiglianis, and no fewer than 180 Renoirs…”
Barnes made a fortune circa 1900 with a silver nitrate-based antiseptic called Argyrol, which was widely administered to infants in eyedrop form; he began collecting art around 1910, and is alleged to have paid $100 for his first painting by Picasso. In 1925, construction of the building that houses the Barnes Foundation galleries (as well as the founder’s private residence) was completed on a 12-acre estate in Merion, PA; four years later, Dr. Barnes sold his company and devoted the rest of his life to collecting and to the Foundation. In his will, the childless Barnes dedicated the bulk of his fortune to the perpetuation of the Foundation along with a long list of explicit, ironclad instructions. Foremost among these was that none of the works would ever be sold or incorporated in touring exhibitions; that admission to the grounds would be strictly limited (it was by invitation only during Barnes’ lifetime); and that the collection would be displayed, in perpetuity, exactly as the good doctor himself had placed the paintings, furniture, light fixtures, etc. within the galleries.
Barnes’ eccentric and very personal arrangements of his works have the effect of turning Great Art into something more intimate and human, less entombed and intimidating in their Overwhelming Greatness. Compared to, say, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, his displays are very crowded (see photo at right); the paintings are not organized chronologically and there are no title plaques on the walls (viewers use laminated identification sheets instead). Barnes’ singular and stoutly-defended interpretation of what he considered the key elements in any
given work of art led him to add metal wall-hangings, inspired by/akin to certain lines and shapes within the paintings; and to place antique chairs, chests, and candelabra beneath certain canvases. These objects bear what I’d call a quasi-mystical relationship to the paintings, except that for Albert Barnes there was nothing “mystical” about it. Speaking to students, scholars, and artists, he would explain — in concise and almost clinical terms, very different from the language of art criticism then or now — the specific visual ways in which these objects, their lines and planes, related to and mirrored each other. (Excerpts from Barnes’ monologues are preserved on the present-day audio tour of the collection.)
Some of my own favorite works on display at the Barnes included Van Gogh‘s The Factory and one of his seven portraits of The Postman Joseph Roulin; Cezanne‘s epic Card Players (1890-92); Renoir‘s large-scale painting of his family including his infant son, the future film director Jean Renoir; and various works by Modigliani including Young Redhead In An Evening Dress (1918) and Portrait of Leopold Zborowski (1919). The Barnes collection also includes several cabinets filled with African sculptures and masks; and a set of Native American blankets from the Southwest, unusually large pieces that are gorgeously woven and in impeccable condition.
I consider myself very fortunate to have seen the Barnes collection as Albert Barnes intended it to be seen, because that opportunity soon will be lost to future generations. This 12/7/09 article on the Web site of the Los Angeles Times reports that on January 2, 2010, five second-floor galleries will be closed and turned into a conservation suite so that their contents may be dismantled and prepared for eventual transportation to the Foundation’s controversial new $150-million building on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in central Philadelphia, now under construction and slated for completion in 2012.
The reasons why and how this turn of events has come to pass are far too complex to discuss here; interested readers should turn, for starters, to John Watson’s Art Held Hostage. In his remarks at the 11/13/09 groundbreaking ceremony for the new museum, Barnes Foundation chairman Bernard Watson said:
“The final decade of the 20th century had seen the foundation incurring annual deficits and depleted financial resources, resulting, in large part, from an endless series of expensive and acrimonious lawsuits, going back as early as the 1950s. The foundation’s ability to prosper, or indeed survive, in its Merion location was exacerbated by local regulations limiting visitation to the galleries…Philanthropists and foundations were simply not giving money to an organization that had a legacy of expensive and distracting litigation, no credible business plan, or a governance structure that would make implementation of such a plan possible. None of the people who continue to raise their voices in angry objection to moving the collection to the Parkway reached into their pockets to support us in any meaningful way in Merion.”
In his L.A. Times post, on the other hand, Christopher Knight noted:
“Most every art and cultural critic who has written on the subject has opposed the plan, which will shutter the astounding Post-Impressionist and early Modern art collection in suburban Merion, dismantle what ranks as the greatest American cultural monument of the first half of the 20th century and relocate the art five short miles to a hoped-for tourist venue downtown.”
Finally, my good friend Jay Schwartz, lifelong Philadelphia resident and dedicated preservationist of the city’s cultural and architectural treasures, wrote me in an 11/30/09 email:
“I do NOT think it makes more sense for the collection to be in Center City. The decision calls into question the validity of all wills. I do not think it was effectively demonstrated that there was no other good option. One…would have been to sell off some paintings to get [the Foundation] back on [its] feet. While this [sale] is also forbidden by the will, I think Dr. Barnes would have preferred this option.
“I also think the current location is perfect, beautiful, and NOT so difficult to find or get to. The collection is more accessible than ever before, and that if someone cannot make the small effort that you just made (‘small’ once you are in Philadelphia, that is), they probably don’t need to see it.
“Of course, another solution would be for the various parties that saw the opportunity to hijack the collection to have donated a tiny fraction of what the move will cost [in order] to keep things as they were — that would have fixed everything. They had no interest in that, though, only in doing things their way and to benefit what they wanted to benefit.
“While I have not read [John Anderson’s] book, I feel I am familiar enough with the events to make these judgement calls. It was a freakish chain of events that made all of this happen, and there were no good guys in the ugly story, except for the hapless Friends of the Barnes (former students), whom the last judge decided had no legal standing.”