“On the Go” Newsletter – Hard At It

This issue of Sherman Lee Dillon’s email newsletter was originally sent on June 8, 2016. Any performance dates mentioned in this message have already happened.

Hard At It

In case it appears that I’m slacking this month, I want to assure everybody that I’m not. Just the opposite – I’m going to be “hard at it” getting my 1967 all original Chevy red, Chevy C10 short bed step-side pickup truck up and running. Replacing the choke cable, replacing the accelerator pedal, replacing all the bulbs and holders and buffing out the oxidation on the finish. My father bought this truck from my fox hunting cousin, Randolph, in 1971 for $600. It has a straight 6 motor with a single barrel carburetor, “3-on-the-tree” stick on the column. The reason I say that is to explain how it ended up with me.

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My father began working for American Oil just after WWII. There was a gas refinery near Natchez, MS, called Cranfield.  When they closed it down in the 70’s, he was the last one to leave… a good time to retire. After a few years of hanging around he was offered a job as a well inspector for the Mississippi Oil and Gas Board. He had always worked in the oil business. In fact, many of the people who were drilling the wells and running the companies had learned the business around my father (aka Clarence). When a company was starting to drill a new well, Clarence would go to the site and be sure everything was in order. Clarence always did have a keen eye for lying. When that wasn’t enough, well drillers would give him the heads up on another company that was giving false documentation. Sometimes there were tricks that would cause inaccurate readings. Clarence knew them all.

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Example:
Bob:  “Clarence, all my numbers are right, but you need to double check Ed’s numbers. I don’t know what he’s doing, but I don’t think his numbers are right.”

Clarence:  “I knew Ed 20 years ago when he worked over by the Natchez well. Always had to keep an eye on him.”

And sure enough, Clarence would know the trick that made the reading come up wrong then double check the readings. If he wasn’t happy, he’d call EXXON. “Stop the drilling on well #FJSHBDF. If this isn’t cleared up by next week, I’ll close the well for good.”

Not to say Clarence was power hungry, but he did like everyone calling him “Mr. Dillon.” He said he used to drive up to where people were and no-one even knew he was there. But now, they all come out to the car before it’s stopped, smiling and trying to make Mr. Dillon happy. I don’t think the pay was good as you’d think, but he had great perks. People always giving him turkey’s, coupons to restaurants, boxes of chocolate, tickets to sports events, and anything else that might make it easy to look the other way. But what was important to me, was that he had a company car. So the 1967 Chevy C10 spent a lot of time sitting up. And sitting up was not good for those old straight 6’s with a single barrel carb. He asked me to take it and be sure to drive it a couple of times every month. As time went on, I drove it more and more. Before Clarence got on that glory train, he deeded it over to me. It works fine, but needs some cleaning up. Parts are not so easy to get. After all, I’m keeping it original. No fancy tires, no V-8 dropped in, no 4 on the floor, no 4 barrel carb…

Hard at it most of June.

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“On the Go” Newsletter – MerleFest

This issue of Sherman Lee Dillon’s email newsletter was originally sent on April 19, 2016. Any performance dates mentioned in this message have already happened.

MERLE FEST
http://merlefest.org

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On April 28th and April 29th, 2016, I’ll be performing at MerleFest, A festival started by Doc Watson (1923-2012) in memory of his son, Merle (1949-1985).

“He had the nerve and he had the blood,
But there never was a horse like the Tennesse Stud”
Doc Watson – Tennessee Stud

First time I heard of Doc Watson was around 1970. His song, “Tennessee Stud” was one of the favorites on an album by the Nitty Gritty Dirt band titled, “Will the CIrcle be Unbroken.” The first thing I noticed was his clean, melody picking style. The more I learned about Doc, the more I liked him. Obviously, I wasn’t the only one. His career took off. Conveniently, since he was blind, Doc’s son Merle was also a guitar virtuoso and from 1970 to 1985 he was Doc’s right hand man.
Doc & Merle Watson: 2 Songs

Sadly, in 1985, Merle was killed in a farm tractor accident. Doc and Merle never felt a need to outgrow their roots, or the simple life they loved. In honor of his son and best friend, he started the festival known as MerleFest.
Doc & Merle Watson, Last Song They Played Together

I consider it a great honor to have been asked to perform at MerleFest 2016.

Next time you get a minute, look at this short documentary. It’ll do your heart good.
Doc Watson – Three Days with Doc

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Merlefest Stage 2016 schedule for Sherman Lee Dillon

The Greatest Acoustic Blues Show on Earth with Sherman Lee Dillon
Austin Stage
Saturday 3:25 PM-4:05 PM

Sunday Morning Blues
Along with Roy Book BInder
Americana Stage
Sunday 10:00 AM-11:00 AM

“On the Go” Newsletter – Easter Week

This issue of Sherman Lee Dillon’s email newsletter was originally sent on March 30, 2016. Any performance dates mentioned in this message have already happened.

Easter Week, 2016

Easter is my favorite holiday.

We spend months hiding away in dark winter caves and now it’s safe to come out into the light. Easter is humanity’s annual reminder that a simple man armed with the power of love and truth was able to overcome the power of the dark side.

My wife and I drove from Cary (Raleigh), NC to Jackson, MS (800 miles) to spend a week with my Mississippi children. While in MS, I plan to work on my ’67 Chevy step-side pick-up, check in on new developments at Frank Jones Corner, and knock out a few gigs. Thursday (March 31, 2016), I’ve got a 5:30 gig at The Iron Horse Grill in Jackson; Friday (April 1, 2016), I’m doing the 9th Annual Zoo Brews at the Jackson Zoo at 4:00; then Midnite Friday & Saturday (April 1-2, 2016), I’ll be at Frank Jones Corner.

The Iron horse Grill, in downtown Jackson, MS., is a real nice restaurant/bar. Upstairs, you’ll find a Blues museum with an impressive collection of blues celebrity waxes to visit while you are waiting for your order. Look up while you’re there to check out a chandelier like you’ve never seen – it’s made of guitars. The Iron Horse is a great stop while you are in town. Come see me there this Thursday evening (March 31, 2016) at 5p.m..

As my children were growing up, we lived 1/4 mile from the Jackson Zoo. The lions roared, monkeys howled and elephants trumpeted a jungle soundtrack to our lives. The folks at the Zoo have done remarkably well over the years maintaining an excellent Zoo. The Jackson Zoo is what I call a one-day zoo, as opposed to the Bronx zoo. You always leave the Bronx Zoo feeling like you should stay a little longer. When you’ve been at the Jackson Zoo for a day, you leave knowing you’ve spent the day in a comfortable zoo and have seen enough of it to go home. I’ll be there 4 pm Friday (April 1, 2016) at their 9th Annual Zoo Blues.

If you’ve never been to Frank Jones Corner, you should. Farish Street was the center of Black culture and business for the first half of the 1900’s. The clubs and concert venues on Farish Street hosted nearly all major black entertainers. 309 Farish Street was home to Trumpet Records. Some big name rockabilly, gospel and blues greats recorded at Trumpet Records – Elmore James and Sonny Boy Williamson are a couple you might recognize. Frank Jones Corner is the next building over – street address 303. FJC carries on the Farish Street tradition of authentic real time blues.

At 10 pm Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights cars start arriving and at midnite, the music starts. The cover is $10 after midnite, but just $1 if you get there before! It’s not unusual to find the person standing beside you just got back from a tour through Brazil, leaving for Toronto, releasing a new CD, just signed with Alligator records, wrote songs for Bobby Bland, or is fronting the BB King band. At 4 am the band stops playing for the night and goes out back to eat chicken wings, some breakfast, or catfish platter.

“The Greatest Guitar Player In Mississippi”

It must have been 1979. I was the guitar tech at a guitar shop owned by a retired Jazz guitar player named Skeets McWilliams. He was not that well known, but he was endorsed by the USA Epiphone Guitar Company, so it was not unusual for big-time players to drop by and visit. I got to hear some fabulous jams. One day, I was working in the back of the store and heard Skeets jamming with one of his friends. I had no idea who he was. I knew most the local players, black and white, but I did not know this fellow. His technical skills were beyond impeccable, his phrasing was fresh and fun to hear. I later found out that Jesse Robinson had taken lessons with Skeets years before, then moved to Chicago. He had just moved back to Jackson, Mississippi and was connecting with some old friends.

 

Jesse ended up bringing a Gretsch hollow body guitar in to me. I made some adjustments, cleaned it up and made some upgrades. Jesse and I became friends and started hanging out. A few years later, he and I were part of the house band at the Subway Lounge, subject of the movie, “Last of the Mississippi Jukes.” From 1990 to today, Jesse and I have been gigging partners and good friends.

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Jesse Robinson and Sherman Lee at the Subway Lounge. Jackson, MS

A few years ago, Jesse and I rode to Pickens, MS, and hung out with BB King and his band. Since 1970, BB would come back to Mississippi for the “Annual Medgar Evers Homecoming” for a few weeks every summer. He had toured around the world, played on TV shows, and is one of the World’s most influential guitarists, but he loved his people. He would still play in small clubs, festivals in cow pastures, and the old clubs he had always known. Jesse and I were standing about 50 feet from the stage and BB pointed him out, “Ladies and Gentlemen, I’d like to recognize the GREATEST GUITAR PLAYER IN MISSISSIPPI, Mr. Jesse Robinson.”Another time, about a year before BB passed, Jesse and I were sitting at my son’s blues club, Frank Jones Corner. Neither one of us were playing that night, so Jesse said, “I think BB is playing down at the fair. Let’s drive down there.” Sure enough, when we got to the fairgrounds, there was BB’s bus. Jesse drove around back and we got out. As we were walking up, some of BB’s band came up and started talking to Jesse. They told BB that Jesse was there, and he got off the bus. Everybody stood around talking for a while, then as BB started to get back on the bus, Jesse said, “So BB, you know you got too many Lucille’s and you can’t play but one at a time. When you gonna give one to me?” Imagine that, Jesse was asking BB  King for one of his famous Lucille’s. BB had one foot on the bus and said, “Now come on, Jesse. You know I love you, but I can’t part with none of my girls.”  “Well, I’m going to keep on after you till you do,” Jesse told BB. When the show started, we walked in to watch. At this point, age had started to set in and BB’s show lacked the fire I had seen in 1978 at the Elk’s Club on Lynch Street. Once again, Jesse and I were out front about 50 feet from the stage and BB said, “I’d like to recognize the GREATEST GUITAR PLAYER IN MISSISSIPPI, Mr. Jesse Robinson.”

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Jesse Robinson with BB King

It’s OK with me if this story is not believed. Honestly, I feel like a liar even telling it. For people who know Jesse, it’s easy to believe. For anyone who is unfamiliar with Jesse, you can still hear the kind of playing BB loved to hear. The BB King Band is going back on tour – as they should. As good as their show is, they have decided to put some Tchula, Mississippi fire into the show. The next time the BB King band goes out, they are taking the GREATEST GUITAR PLAYER IN MISSISSIPPI with them, Mr. Jesse Robinson.

“I’m taking this weekend off…”

For the past 30 years I’ve followed what I consider my “calling,” being a committed full time musician. I still feel that decision was right. After all, I raised 7 children, got my wife through graduate school, maintained a marriage and I’m still doing it. However, there is a big downside. No paid days off. No gig = no money.  Musicians don’t have family leave, sick days, Christmas bonus and all. And they always need money so they never turn down a decent paying job. 

I remember seeing one of my favorite local singers out and about one day. This weekend I wasn’t playing, but I didn’t think of it as taking the weekend off. I thought of it more as not having a gig. 

I asked, “Man, Where are you giggin this weekend? I’d like to come out and listen to you.”

“I took the weekend off. I’m not playing anywhere.”

“Funny thing. I couldn’t find a gig either!?!?!!”

Well… I’m changing all that. This weekend is my wife (and favorite person), Louise’s  birthday, so we took a train into DC for the weekend!!!

That’s right!!!  

 I’m taking this weekend off!!

Small Airports

I’ve been in “Brasil” for two weeks and been in 4 different airports. Rio de Janerio, São Paulo, Port Allegro, and Caxias do Sul. (Just sayin…I grew up 16 miles outside of Meadville Mississippi. A town of 500 people. Rio & São Paulo airports could hold 100 Meadvilles each)

Meadville sign

Now I’m heading back to the US. I’ve had such a good time. I saw so much and met so many neat people. It would take hours to share all the best parts of my trip… So…I’ll philosophize…You guessed it….SMALL AIRPORTS

The movement of world populations seems to be toward Urbanization and impersonalization. And away from the rural, personalized. Don’t get me wrong I love getting to choose one of twelve movies to go to every night, running to Walmart at 2am to buy flip-flops, instant supper on the table in 10 minutes (store to table), 5 music stores within 15 minutes,..but it comes with a price. What price? Yep, you guessed it. “Small local airports”.

One Plane

In Mississippi there were small airports scattered around the state. A flight to Memphis might include a stop in Greenville. While you didn’t have 10 flights a day to choose from, you didn’t have to drive 2 hours and deal with long lines and crazy congestion.

The festival I just played was in Caxias do Sul in extreme Southern Brasil, up in the mountains. My return to US flight was 5 minutes from where I was staying. In contrast to my Rio experience where we drove 3 hours, 2 terminals and countless gates, Caxias airport had only two boarding gates and one plane on the runway. 

Two Door Airport

And I just love walking across a runway.     

REALLY!! Isn’t that what we all want our flying experience to be like?

Headin back home – this set of recording is done

I have been with Wepecket Island Records going on 5 years.  Last week we recorded the basic tracks for my new CD, “Going Back To Mississippi,” from a song by the Mississippi Sheiks. Besides recording, we also tour and perform as the Rolling Roots Review.  With different configurations we offer concerts.

We just finished a show on a TV station on Cape Cod. The trip is over for me.

I’m on the plane going back home. 5:40 am.

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The People On the Bus…

Today is Wed Feb 18th.

I’m making a quick trip from Raleigh, NC to Jackson,MS and back in 5 days.

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(Btw-my Gtr case doubles as a suitcase.) I’ll go to a grand daughters Birthday Party (Fri 7pm-9), play at FJones Corner (midnite-4am), Play for a 90-ieth Birthday party (Sat 2-4 pm), play at Fenian’s Irish Pub (9pm-12), FJones Corner (Midnite-4am), maybe 11am Sunday mass, matinee at local theatre where Andrew is performing (2-5pm), go to IHOP (5-7)with 5 of my children, spouses, and grandchildren (children eat free!!) , sleep hard, get on bus Monday at noon and head back.
All that info was to justify what may seem like a short trip. I do this type thing a lot. Fact is, I prefer the bus to driving. The crazy part is doing it. In the music world traveling long distances to do a 45 min show at a major festival is nothing unusual. Or flying to Europe for 3 performances. I once knew a band that went on a 4 week tour and ran out of gas 20 miles from home. Unless a person is extremely diligent, it doesn’t make sense on paper. Yes, traveling is the crazy part. But loving to travel is crazier still. When you look at Shakespeare, Greek plays, Willie Nelson, Irish minstrels, traveling blues and country singers,… You name it. Traveling is a part of it.
While I love looking at the snow outside as we ride along, the freedom of daydreaming, hearing the engine hum, the sound of my “Gibson Flying V” through my Fender Blues DeVille amp, the sound Johnny O gets on his tenor Sax, getting to do the writing and reading I had planned, and making a buck or two for playing music, that’s only the half of it.
I think I speak for musicians and the entertainment world as a whole when I say “It’s people that make it worth it”
The feeling of knowing people like my music, the smile on Mr Rock’s face as he walks to the stage, the new people I’ll meet, the clerk at the bus station, the stories my grandchildren tell me, Bull getting in the van and us going to play again after 30 years, the smiles of the people, and the look I get from Jesse Robinson when only he and I heard that bad note I played in my solo.
Yes, People! And not the least are the “People on the Bus”. Going to & from MS and along the way. This entry is for them…

9:50 Wed nite the Bus is scheduled to leave. About 20-30 people sit at the station.

To my right was this couple in the PX.

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This girl was with her mother, father, and two brothers.

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I met a young 20 fellow that got kicked off for smelling like alcohol. About 20% are men who I assume are going to or from a job, about 20% with a lot of luggage like they’re relocating. A few are dressed like they are walking around campus, but the long distance travelers dress for comfort. One couple is headed to LA (And I don’t mean Louisianna!”) After all, sleeping is a lot of what you do.
This particular bus load has a lot of loud chatter. Usually the drive announces at the start “If I can hear you, you are too loud”. I have seen bus drivers pull over and invite people to get off. No matter, they’ll get quiet soon enough…

12:45 2/19
I think I have figured out why there was so much chatter last night on the bus. It was by far the loudest, highschoolish bus trip I’ve had. It seems there were three components.
1-There was a group of fellows who were riding together. Riding as a group. Maybe cousins or something. But the trouble had already started before they got on.
2-The driver didn’t speak good English. His words were not easy to understand, the weather was bad, and he didn’t exude confidence. This gave a substitute teacher affect. Even with that it would have been manageable but enter
3-A cute blonde traveling alone. Every man at the Raleigh Greyhound station saw her walk in. It turns out she was taking the bus that we were on. At Charlotte she had a cab waiting to take her to her next gig. You guessed it. She was a Stripper. When she sat near the back, it was ignited. Each one had to prove he was funnier than the other. The fellows appeared to be college age, but we all know how high schoolish college boys can be when they want to impress a woman.
In contrast, when we left Charlotte, we had a new bus driver. He spoke with a New York accent. It goes without being said that a New York bus driver welcomes confrontation. He was totally in his element. After he told us the rules, he noise was over. It didn’t hurt that the blonde hottie got off in Charlotte…

Meanwhile, I grabbed a bite in Birmingham.

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hat’s where I met these lovely ladies.

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Twins who grew up in Jackson, MS. Going back for a sister’s funeral. I did awkwardly avoid a gentleman in a wheel-chair. He was going in the restroom as I was walking out. I think this is his bus with the lifter.

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