Posted in Books, Uncategorized

Book review: Ray Benson: Comin’ Right at Ya, or How a Jewish Yankee Hippie Went Country

Comin Right At Ya, Or How a Jewish Yankee Hippie Went Country

Ray Benson

by Rhetta Akamatsu

As he explains in Comin’ Right At Ya, Ray Benson was indeed born a  Yankee, growing up in Philadelphia, He is also Jewish and was a hippie when he formed Asleep at the Wheel 50 years ago. Yet he fell in love with Bob Wills and Western Swing in the days when young people his age were mainly listening to psychedelic rock and on the verge of disco. Despite all odds, Western Swing, memoir, biography he began his Wills-influenced band and has kept it going through many changes for over 50 years now. The band has lasted through broken dreams and broken relationships,  a slew of record companies and more. They have charted 21 times in  50 years and won 9 Grammy Awards.

How did Asleep at the Wheel survive all these years? Mainly through Benson’s immense charm and willpower. The willingness to nearly starve at times helped too. In the early years, the band moved south and lived in a cabin without heat, electricity or indoor plumbing, playing anywhere they could. They moved constantly and we’re always on the road.

Along the way, Benson and the band made some good friends with other musicians who didn’t care much re much for fitting in. People like Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Emmylou Harris, and Dolly Parton among others. He recalls them all fondly here, with the flair of a natural-born storyteller.

These days, Benson is still on the road with Asleep at the Wheel. This book is almost as much fun to read as they are to hear and see. Lucky us! We have the opportunity to do both!

Posted in blues, Books, Uncategorized

Survivor: The Benny Turner Story by Benny Turner and Bill Dahl

Benny Turner is indeed a survivor and he shares his experiences in his fascinating memoir, Survivor. He grew up in Texas and Chicago. devoted to his older brother, Freddie King.  By the time he was in his teens, he was on the road with Freddie as his bass player and playing gospel music on the side with The Soul Stirrers. In the 60’s, he and Freddie and Freddie’s revolving band members shared stages with the blues greats like Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters.

Tsurvivorhey also played with top rock performers like Eric Clapton, CCR, and Leon Russell. After King died. Turner played with Mighty Joe Young and then Marva Wright until their deaths. Finally, he formed his own band and he is still touring today. And while there is no scandalous gossip in this book,there are plenty of stories from the road,

For a story about life on the road, the book is remarkably lacking in sex and drugs. But there are plenty of stories of poker games, stage antics, playing basketball with The Temptations, and more authentic adventures and tales, both sad and happy, that have made up Turner’s many years as a traveling musician.

Turner and his co-writer Bill Dahl have captured an easy, conversational style,and lots of candid photos enhance the feeling that you’ve just sat down for a long conversation with Turner.

This book will be a pleasure to any blues fan. I highly recommend it.

Posted in Books, Folk, Music

Book review: ‘Stand Up and Sing! Pete Seeger, Folk Music and the Path to Justice’ by Susanna Reich

Rhetta Akamatsu

Summary : iThis s a picture book intended for children in grades 3 through 7. But, like the music and message of Pete Seeger himself, it is really a book for everyone

Stand Up and Sing! Pete Seeger, Folk Music and the Path to Justice by Susanna Reich is a picture book intended for children in grades 3 through 7. But, like the music and message of Pete Seeger himself, it is really a book for everyone. Adam Gustavson’s beautiful illustrations alone, capturing Seeger throughout his life, make this a book that belongs in every school and public library, and one to be shared and passed down from parent to child.

Add to that the masterful way that Reich tells the story of Pete Seeger’s life and his profound belief in human rights and the power of music to change the world, as well as his steadfast courage to stand up for what he believed was right, and you have an important and timely story.

Yet both the words and the illustrations manage to convey all this without ever being preachy, talking down to children or making Seeger more than what he always wanted to be: a sinple man with a banjo and a head full of songs who loved to sing and entertain people, and maybe bring them all a little closer. A man, who with the faith in human goodness, built a ship with his friends and sailed it on the filthy Hudson River until people were inspired to clean it up.

He is a man children and their parents need to know. Our folk heroes are important and now Pete Seeger is no longer here to spread his message of love, equality, joy and peace for everyone, it is urgent we spread it for him. Which is what Reich and Gustavson do so admirably in this book.

If you are a teacher, this book along with some of Seeger’s music would be perfect for any class concerning the fight for the Unions, against McCarthyism, Civil Rights, the folk movement of the ’50s and ’60s, or the Vietnam War. If you have children between the age of 8 and 12, buy one for them and one for their school. They will love it, and so will you. Seeger was a man of the people, and this is a book for the people.