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Fiddlin’ Around – December 2016

Santa FrogIf you live here and are a compulsive and insatiable book reader like myself, then you probably get frustrated with the fewer options and availability of cheap reading material, and are always checking out who has free book exchanges. But it’s frustrating when you find a good stash of used books, because their covers are mostly lurid, or gone, or are abstract art that has nothing to do with the content. About the only exceptions are cookbooks—they have yummy looking food on their covers—or Westerns. They almost always have a guy on a horse wearing a cowboy hat rescuing a beautiful woman from getting scalped. Most of the time you just can’t trust the covers, so you have to take the time to read that page in the front that tells you what the book is all about and hope that doesn’t spoil it for you. I’m old school—I don’t have a Kindle or any electronic devices or books on my computer—I still prefer turning pages and dog-earing the corners. I might highlight a passage or quote, but usually forget about it by the time I get to the end and pass the book on to a friend or to the library in Uvita that benefits the D.A.W.G. organization. They have a pretty darn well-organized library above Dr. Fernando’s vet clinic in Uvita, and they do good work rescuing critters around here. I’m wandering off my point, which is that you just can’t judge a book by its cover, and that applies to musicians in a big way.

Jose Calderone

Jose Calderone

Singer, guitarist and composer Jose Calderone is a mild-mannered, quiet and un-assuming attorney in Perez Zeledon, but you can’t let that outer demeanor fool you—he has a huge, rich and expressive voice and a vast knowledge and interest in many diverse styles of music. One of 11 kids, his parents encouraged academic and artistic development, and consequently the family is full of interesting folks. Educators, musicians, scholars, environmentalists, lawyers and organic farmers—believe me, the family parties are a blast and everyone grabs a microphone or an instrument.

Several years ago Jose wrote an incredibly beautiful song called ‘Pioneras’, that tells the story of the hundreds of optimists who left San Jose and trekked to what is now San Isidro to establish a better life for themselves and their families. Unprepared and under-dressed for the journey, many died in the mountains from exposure and other causes, forever giving the name of Cerro de la Muerte to this beautiful but dangerous route. Jose tells their story (he had relatives who were part of the exodus), with credibility and respect, and I have witnessed many older folks moved to tears when they heard the song. Tears of pride instead of shame.  ‘Pioneras’ has turned into sort of a reginal anthem.

It’s fascinating to me how sometimes the physical reality of a person will give you no clue whatsoever about the voice inside. Remember Jim Nabors? He played the simple-minded gas station attendant Gomer Pyle on the Andy Griffith TV show years ago. He was the most convincing hillbilly ever, and most folks completely believed that he was that hillbilly, until he opened his mouth and this well-trained, deep and beautiful operatic voice emerged. He later wound up with his own variety show and performed as a vocalist all over the world. 

Josh Stone

Josh Stone

There’s a leggy, beautiful young singer named Josh Stone, who I totally wrote off as the shallow, over-hyped flavor of the week when she hit the videos and concert circuit a few years back. Well, shame on me for being such a judgmental bitch, ‘cause when I heard her perform—she was only 17 at the time—I realized that not only does she have a great voice, but she sings with depth and maturity and soulfulness. Her musical career is still going strong and she has the respect of many musicians—jaded though some of us may be. 

Isaac Stern

Isaac Stern

In the rarified world of classical music, violinist Isaac Stern set the undisputed standard of excellence for several decades. His recordings in the 50s and 60s were not only technically astounding, but emotionally moving, and in his world, he was a rock star. When I finally saw him perform live, I was unprepared for the reality—he was a short, pudgy, funny looking guy with stubby fingers and none of the elegance and grace I assumed he would have. I was also moved to tears in the first 30 seconds of his performance. 

Some of you old-timers here might remember the Banco Bar, scene of some musical happenings and fun way back in the day. Back when driving the road between Dominical and Quepos was like going on a long and scary safari. I got a call one day from the guys at the bar asking me to make the trek to Quepos and help beef out a band to back up Austin singer and guitarist Ian Moore. Ian had worked out some kind of trade with the owners—he was young and hot and played like a maniac wild child and was getting a lot of industry buzz. He told us he was going to be in New Orleans soon to record with some of the finest musicians there, including the legendary George Porter from the Meters band and who is basically the inventor of funk bass. He had sent George the rough tracks for him to listen to prior to the session, but when George met him (he told me this later) he was astounded. George, who is an old black guy, couldn’t believe those soulful, seasoned vocals came out of a skinny, long-haired, white teen heart throb. 

Augustine Barrios Mangore

Augustine Barrios Mangore

Augustine Barrios Mangore was a Guarani Indian from Paraguay who is often credited with being the first recorded musician in South America. Photos of him show a fierce, face-painted, loin-cloth wearing warrior, who just happened to compose and play guitar music that sounded like Bach or Mozart. Described as the Paganini of guitar, he was born in 1885 and at age 15 became the youngest university student in Paraguayan history, where he excelled not only in music but in other scholastic subjects. Later photos show him wearing a tuxedo at international concerts and events, but there’s no denying that one would never suspect the skill and heart inside this stoic native.

When you hear recordings of New Orleans most original and accomplished pianist, James Booker, you might assume he was a slick, European trained classical wiz. In reality, the keyboard genius was a shrimpy little guy who had one eye, was poor, black, gay, decidedly unfriendly and a junkie to boot. But boy, could he play. 

I had a friend who was for a time road manager for the theatrical heavy-metal band GWAR, and Charley and I went to see them (looking like we were either narcs or some runaway’s parents), and they were pretty good musically and highly entertaining visually. They wore oversized, scary and dark costumes, sprayed the audience with fake blood, were mind-numbingly loud and their equally bizarre looking fans loved them. My friend told us after the show that they were the most calculating businessmen he’d ever worked with and that they NEVER indulged in any of the wild behavior we associate with that genre of music. In fact, they were marketing majors and accountants….

You just never know what fine musical experience you might miss out on when you keep walking past that young band of misfits playing on the corner or some weathered troubadour who still has much to say. Stop and give ‘em a listen no matter what they might look like!  

Happy holidays to all you good folks! There will be live music happening during Xmas season at the churches, schools and at town sponsored events, and as more visitors get here the local bars will be hiring more musicians. Come on down to Dominical (now an easy 40 minutes or so from Quepos) and party with BEN JAMMIN’ and the HOWLERS at Roca Verde Restaurant/Bar where we play most every Friday night. We’ll do a bunch of rock, some reggae, blues, Ben Orton originals and whatever else moves us. The G-String Cowboys play their unique version of country music there on Thursdays, and you should definitely catch country award winning artist Ralph Simms playing around at various joints in Quepos. I sometimes play with him Saturday afternoons at Dos Locos, and he is the real deal—big ‘ole beautiful voice and just the right mileage. As always, thanks for supporting live music and the venues who support us!

The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance. Aristotle

The focus on my appearance has really surprised me.  I’ve always been a size 14 to 16 and I don’t care about clothes—I’d rather spend my money on cigarettes and booze. Adele

Ho Ho Ho. Santa


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