Due to the unprecedented ease of Facebook helping to reconnect with friends from so many different periods of my life, I’ve prepared a little summary of the past 20+ years to help catch up with those I haven’t seen in (what seems like) forever.
Following graduation from Ole Miss with a Music Ed degree in December of 1986, I spent a semester at Henderson St. in Arkadelphia, Arkansas with some wonderful teachers before spending a year as an Assistant Band Director at Neshoba Central H.S. in Philadelphia, MS. The next year, I accepted a Graduate Assistantship at VanderCook College of Music in Chicago. While in the Windy City, I was hired by the Hyatt Regency Chicago as a Musical Bartender, which turned out to be one of the most fortuitous events of my life. God bless the memory of Don DePorter and his “crazy” ideas.
While employed at the BIG bar (and yes, it really was big, both in size and selection, being the largest hotel bar in the country with possibly the rarest collection of booze on the planet), I came into contact with a collection of musicians that ended up teaching me more than any Graduate School could ever have accomplished. Let’s be clear: at this point in my musical life, I had a hard time hacking through Satin Doll with a machete. Suddenly surrounded by real, working professional musicians with pedigrees from Miami, Berkeley, DePaul (and seemingly every other good music school in the country) I realize I must have seemed like Joe Redneck from Chitlin’ Switch Tech. But my friends at BIG were both patient and supportive, and I began to fill in the blanks of what I needed to know (and more importantly, what I should be listening to).
I remember one day in particular when Mike McLaughlin said “Let’s play All Blues.” I didn’t know that tune. “You know, from Kind of Blue? Miles Davis?” I wasn’t familiar with the album. “YOU’VE NEVER HEARD KIND OF BLUE??!!” (To this day, I’ve never experienced a question expressed with more incredulity.) That afternoon on my way home, I stopped at Rose Records on Wabash and bought Kind of Blue, irrevocably changing the course of my life.
After a few years of musical bartending (where I was always a better bartender than musician, unfortunately), in 1992 I accepted a Graduate Assistantship back at Ole Miss, allowing me to be closer to my family and to re-connect to my Mississippi roots as a musician. After semi-flunking out of Grad School following my Dad’s death, I began a slow, gradual process of learning how to play trombone for a “living”. First with local combos like Shades of Blue and Prohibition Jazz Band, then later with larger groups and big bands in Jackson and Memphis, eventually more and more people began to hire me with increasing regularity. I was also very blessed and lucky to meet and befriend such world-class writers like Larry Brown (R.I.P.) and Barry Hannah, whose friendship, guidance, teaching and enthusiastic, unflinching support were worth more than gold. I was also very fortunate to meet and begin to work for a guy named Dick Waterman.
For those not familiar, Dick Waterman (IMHO) is probably one of the main people primarily responsible for the modern resurgence of Blues in the American musical scene in the 1960’s and ‘70’s. He helped re-discover Blues master Son House (who was retired and living in Rochester, NY) and managed his career until his death. Dick started the first management company dedicated to Blues musicians (Avalon Music), and later managed such greats as Mississippi John Hurt, Fred McDowell, Junior Wells. Buddy Guy and Bonnie Raitt, among others. For several years, as his personal assistant, I helped him (try) to manage what was the rarest unpublished blues photo archive in the world. Dick has gone on to author 2 great books, Between Midnight and Day: The Last Unpublished Blues Archive (which also features his photography) and The B.B. King Treasures, but it was this close working relationship which allowed me to learn and appreciate from a unique perspective my true artistic roots and heritage as a Mississippi musician.
During this same time, I was also quite fortunate to make friends with a guy named Tom Arriola. Tom is the genius responsible for crimescene.com, the longest-running episodic fiction site on the internets. An experiment in interactive guerilla theater conceived while he was working for John Grisham (imagine an episode of Law and Order where you got to play detective and solve the crime), Crimescene.com provided me the opportunity to learn to manipulate other media, creating on-line videos, local commercials and short films for a weekly audience of thousands of viewers.
The Christmas before my Dad passed, he gave me a guitar, something I can honestly say I would have never, ever bought for myself. This thoughtful gesture allowed me to begin to branch out and learn other musical styles, grow as a musician, and awakened a latent interest in the poetry skills necessary for songwriting. Although it took at least a decade of practice to get to the point where I didn’t run people out of the room screaming when I played, it’s been one of the most satisfying and fulfilling experiences as a musician to get to the point where I could play and sing at the same time (especially considering that my hands bear much closer resemblance to big, giant monkey paws than those of a real guitarist). It’s one thing to hide out on the back row of the stage in the horn section, it’s a whole different ball of wax when you’re on the front row and you’re the show.
Several years ago, I survived what should have been a fatal SUV roll-over in the Delta in the middle of the night. (For anyone that needs confirmation that our Maker is not only merciful, but also has a sense of humor, He refused to allow my last 12 hours on Earth to be spent playing trombone for an Elvis-impersonator’s contest in a Delta casino.) As I emerged without a scratch and pondered the meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything (and what not), I considered all the things you hear like “Live each day like it’s your last”, and decided that if it was my last day on Earth, I sure wouldn’t go to some crappy job I hated. So I’ve spent the past decade or so re-defining living below the poverty line (which from my current vantage point, looks about as high up as a F-16’s con-trail), trying to become as good an artist as I could possibly be, and generally enjoying the journey as never before.
In addition, I’ve also dabbled in several other areas. I was (albeit briefly) a film and restaurant critic for Oxford Town, wrote a few screenplays (The Adventures of Flash Gordon, Superman Today), re-written a Star Wars screenplay as an exercise in script-doctoring (Revenge of the Jedi, where the Ewoks are actually cool), edited a journal my Grandmother wrote called Smiles of Yesterday and Hopes for Tomorrow, tried to start a company called SportzDesigns specializing in de-uglifying college and professional athletic uniforms, tried to start a cooking show called Cookin’ in the Basement with J.C. (after watching Food Network like it was Grad School for several years), and still teach music a few weeks a year at band camps in Quitman and Ridgeland for my old college roommates Jay & Chris McArthur. All this stuff is available at jeffcallaway.net for those interested in perusing the detritus of the past several years, including a musicography of folks nice enough to employ me as a musician and a discography.
Most recently, I’ve been trying to finish my first CD, called By Landlord’s Request (which would be a cuter title if it wasn’t so true.) It was due for completion last May, but due to some minor injuries suffered during a forced relocation during my own mini-“Trail of Tears” from the “Musician’s House” in Oxford (and also being completely broke), I’m only just this month (February) finally able to record the last 2 songs, including a poem from my Grandmother’s journal called Patch of Blue.
“Sometimes when rain keeps falling
And the road seems mighty rough
And you just can’t help thinking
That this life is awfully tough
Just you smile and keep looking
What I’m telling you is true,
Somewhere out there peeping through the clouds there is...
A little Patch of Blue.”
So true, so true...
Many of the people I’ve reconnected with on Facebook have said kind things about my playing, my music, and how I’m doing in life, but I can honestly say that I’d be absolutely nowhere without the help and support of my many, many friends over the course of the past decades (especially the ones unfortunate enough to have had to put up with me earlier in life when I was a much more of an obnoxious, sarcastic jack-ass;-). I’d also be nowhere without the inspiration of artists, writers, and musicians who keep me inspired (some of whom are among my Facebook friends, from those I’ve never actually met like former Superman scribe Elliot S! Maggin to good friends like comic artist/illustrator Dean Zachary and wunder-drummer and educator Jeff Colburn) as well as the unflagging support of my family and friends (ESPECIALLY my Mom and sister) who keep me going when things get rough.
Embrace Love, Reject Fear, and everything will work out just fine.
Thanks for reading, and this time, let’s keep in touch.
Monday, September 17, 2007
"Nobody knows anything."
William Goldman, Adventures in the Screen Trade
William Goldman, Adventures in the Screen Trade
Long ago, I used to write the occasional newspaper piece for the Oxford Town. This blog is similar, in that I'm not getting paid for it either; the main difference is that at least I can spell my own name correctly.
If some opinion here bothers you, please just ignore it; I promise I don't know anything.
Then again, you probably don't either, you just haven't realized it yet.;)
Well, it's that time of year again, time for otherwise normal, well-adjusted people to begin losing their collective minds as they place their (vicarious) self-worth in the hands of hundreds of 18-22 year olds across the country...
Yep, it's Football Time down South, where even the artists, writers, and musicians are all genuine nut-bags about SEC Football, so let the chest-thumping and/or wailing and gnashing of teeth commence.
It was great to see Mississippi State's win on the plains of Auburn, whose bill appears to have finally come due for the Bobby Lowder/Tommy Tuberville/Bobby Petrino debacle 4 years ago. Nothing like trying to (unsuccessfully) replace your coach behind his back in a clandestine, midnight plane ride to screw up his recruiting class. For the first time in recent memory, Auburn didn't seem to have their traditional group of really big, really fast superman...er, linebackers patrolling the middle of their defense able to destroy opposing players in a single bound. In a word, they looked human.
And it couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of condescending reporters. Don't know if Mississippi folks read the Alabama sports writers (available at www.al.com), but from headlines like "Auburn hopes for return to normal against Miss. St." to the constantly sour musings of noted windbag Paul Finebaum...
(you can read his MSU/AU preview at http://www.al.com/press-register/stories/index.ssf?/base/sports/
...it seems the Alabama press are collectively choking on a big pile of reality today. Excerpts from PF's last mewling...
"What if Mississippi State beats the Tigers today? Well, if that happens -- and I find it highly unlikely..."
"It may get better today with a victory over lowly Mississippi State. However, it's not likely to go away anytime soon. And that might be the most depressing aspect of this season for Auburn fans."
If there's anything more depressing than ol' bald Paul himself, I don't ever want to know about it. No other writer in the country so constantly epitomizes all that's wrong with the "narrow-minded, preaching-to-the-choir, running down your neighbors to make your readers feel okay about living in a double-wide while never ever ever admitting when your holier-than-thou opinions are dead wrong" school of sportswriting as this dung-filled putz. Somebody should have given this guy an enema full of humanity a long time ago.
EDIT: Upon further reflection, I must apologize to dung-filled putzes everywhere. There was no need to randomly or needlessly sully any of your good names or reputations by association. I humbly beg your forgiveness.
More importantly, maybe this will take some of the heat off Sly Croom. Many of my MSU friends have been critical of Croom's tendency (in their opinion) of not accepting blame for certain problems, blaming everything on Jackie Sherrill, and occasionally throwing his players under the bus following poor performances. Personally, I've always thought he sounded like a teacher that knew what he's doing, but what do I know? I do think it's obvious that MSU is making real progress, even if it's not as fast as the Maroon Nation would like to see. All I know is that in Saturday's game, Mississippi State looked like a bunch of men laying the wood to a team that had held them scoreless for 2 years, maybe the folks in Starkville should enjoy it and lay off Sly for a while. If State keeps this up, they might actually enjoy the Egg Bowl this year.
Is Auburn down? Is MSU up? Is Tuberville really in trouble? Can Sly keep it going? That's the beauty of college sports, it's one of the few places where real drama plays itself out for our entertainment and edification.
And speaking of drama, that puckering sound you may have heard on Saturday was coming from the collective sphincters of every other SEC Western Division coaching staff following Alabama's crazy win over Arkansas and runDMc (Darren McFadden, who is a true freak). The rest of the division has been fortunate that Alabama's bass-ackwards internal workings have kept mediocre coaches in place ever since they ran off Gene Stallings (after he had the nerve to only win one National Championship). But if anyone doubts that Nick Saban will be successful in Tuscaloosa, they need to put the crack pipe down. The only question is: In a land where folks demand, expect, and consider it their God-given birthright to win every single game 58-0, how long will it be before the the notorious Bama "Boosters" (some of whom act like they're direct genetic descendants of the Bear) start messin' with the savior?
I've always thought that (one of) the main problems with folks from Alabama is that they're so obsessed with Alabama/Auburn that they can't focus on real problems like poverty, ignorance and illiteracy, whereas (one of) the main problems with folks from Mississippi is they don't think they're enough like the folks in Alabama.
Here in Oxford, it seems Ole Miss is officially the worst team in the SEC. Ouch. For several years now, Ole Miss, Miss. St., Vanderbilt and Kentucky have been involved in a kind of musical-chairs "yeah, we're not so great but what about those other three" dance, but following MSU's solid road win at Auburn, Kentucky's victory over the over-hyped, faux-national power Louisville, and Vanderbilt's convincingly solid win over the Rebels, there really is no room for debate or doubt. The Rebels are flat on their collective backs, looking up at everybody else. Rebel posters on the internets seem to be divided between those still blaming David Cutcliffe for everything and those crabbing about hiring an unproven D-line coach who's a supposed recruiting guru. The truth is probably somewhere in-between, and will be the subject of an upcoming post here, but right now, progress seems excruciatingly slow. Most Rebel fans (and Bulldog fans, for that matter) are at least practical enough to realize that being a consistent, year-in, year-out top-10 team is unrealistic; right now, they just want to be competitive in the SEC. For me, that translates into watching young men that are well-coached, that know and execute their assignments, and play with passion (i.e., HIT SOMEBODY, DAMMIT!!!) I like Coach O, I think it's clear he does have a perceptive eye for talent, and I admire his passion, but I'm not sure it's being translated onto the field consistently. Consistency is the key, and it seems that's what Ole Miss lacks right now.
That, and somebody to replace Patrick Willis.
My lawyer thinks Coach O is like the assistant coach in the very funny movie "Necessary Roughness" (played brilliantly by Robert Loggia) who tries to be something he's not while subbing for the ailing head coach, wearing a tie and acting all presentable and "Head Coach-y" instead of being the raving maniac he really is, who finally rips his suit off and screams at his team to "go out there, rip off their heads and..."
Well, you know the quote, you get the idea.
Of course, it's nothing a win over the visiting Florida Gators next week wouldn't solve.
Unfortunately, Ron Zook won't be coaching this year's Gators, and Vaught-Hemmingway could be the site of a massacre of historic proportions this weekend. Tim Tebow could well run for 200 yds. and pass for 300...
Unless the Rebels show up and play like men, of course.
Stranger things have happened, and no one can deny it's been a really weird year already.
Appy State anyone?