Monday, February 27, 2012

My Great-Grandfather playing baseball, 1920s

Lewis Coston at bat, probably in Geneva, NY, 1920s
I have a team photo with Lewis in a dugout that I need to find, but I love this pic.
photo copyright Daniel Coston archives
Miss you Lewis and Lottie

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Nic Jones

In my recent post about music I've been listening to lately, I somehow forgot to leave out Nic Jones. Nic is an outstanding singer and guitarist. I bought his 1980 album Penguin Eggs at the Swannanoa Festival last year, and it's recently been in my car, accompanying me on long drives. It mixes my love of Celtic music, with Nic's tremendous voice. It's also nice to hear a great guitarist that doesn't overplay.

All of his music is worth searching out, but Penguin Eggs is the easiest to find, and a great place to start. Nic was in a car accident in 1982 that cut his career to a halt, but he is returning to the road this year with shows at various folk festivals in the UK. Hurrah!

The goal of these postings is that you get to hear about, or discover something that you might have missed, otherwise. And life is not something to miss.

For more about Nic Jones, go to
February 25, 2012

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Songs I've been listening to lately

A few songs that I've been listening to lately. If you haven't heard them yet, you should.

"When An Old Cricketer Leaves The Crease," Roy Harper
I don't know much about cricket, but this song encompasses so much more. Dedicated to Joe Thompson, Michael Davis, and others that have left the crease.

"Fireflies," John Grant.
John isn't always the sentimental type, but this song just nails it.

"Saucy Sailor," or "Rosebud In June," Steeleye Span.
I really, really, really want to interview the members of Steeleye Span, and talk about the Below The Salt, and Parcel Of Rogues period.

The Left Banke, anything from their first two albums.
A perennial fave. Now reissued by Sundazed!

"Lord And Master," Heron.
When I'm collapsed in my chair at 1:30am, this is usually what I listen to, or anything off of their 1971 self-titled debut album.

"Big Bird," Eddie Floyd.
I heard this yesterday for the first time. Whoa! Massive horns attack, and take flight.

"I Can Only Give You Everything," Van Morrison & Them.
Possibly my favorite Them song. When I saw DKT/MC5 play in Atlanta in 2005, they played this song, and Michael Davis (RIP) sang lead. Awesome.

"Grown Ocean," Fleet Foxes.
Great song on a great record.

Drop In, Beatles, 1963 Swedish television show.
Some of this has been seen in the Beatles Anthology, but watch the whole thing on Youtube. Before the Beatles hit America, and the screams drowned out the music, the Beatles played a series of radio and TV songs throughout Europe, and just rocked out. Pure fun from all involved. And Drop In aired live!

"Farewell, Farewell," Fairport Convention. Again, dedicated to Joe Thompson, and all of you fellow lonely travelers, all.

"Ambulance Blues," Neil Young.
I love the album this song comes from, On The Beach, but please search out the 1974 bootleg of Neil at the Bottom Line, where he did a solo acoustic of almost all of On The Beach. Just stunning.

"Northern Sky," Nick Drake.
If you not heard this song before, go find it on Youtube, or whatever you listen to, and come back and talk to me about this song. Forget about whatever you've heard about Nick Drake, just listen to the beauty of those songs.

"Shine On Brightly," Procol Harum.
This song feels like my life, as of late. When you're working non-stop, you don't know who is in control. Yourself, or the work. And since my video work has increased again, I sometimes go from doing a very nice high-end photo gig, to doing something else entirely. All in the span of a few minutes, and then doing it again the following day. Shine on brightly, quite insane.
February 23, 2012

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

RIP Joe Thompson

Above photo of Joe, copyright 2010 Daniel Coston. Photo below of Joe returning home,
copyright 2008 Daniel Coston

Legacy. What does that word mean? We sometimes use that word liberally, when we want to show that someone has left something behind. But the work of one's lifetime is more than a legacy. It is a statement that we were here, that others we loved were here, and these are the words and music that we pass forward. Joe Thompson has left behind more than a legacy. He was left us with more than a lifetime's worth of memories, music and stories. And oh, those songs......

By the time I first met and photographed Joe in 2005, he was already known as one of the greatest, and one of the last of the old-time black string band musicians. However, Joe was never a museum piece. He knew boatloads of songs, and sang them all as he did when he was a kid. Joe's life had not always been easy, but he welcomed the incoming generations of musicians, passing on the music that was part of his own DNA.

Among the musicians that came calling about those songs were the Carolina Chocolate Drops. The Drops learned many songs from Joe. These songs has since been taken by the Drops' fans, and music fans as their own. The Drops were always quick to acknowledge the source, and the inspiration of those songs. And many of those fans were their way back to Joe, and the circle of music discovery began again.

I was lucky enough to attend, photograph and document some of those last meetings between Joe and the Drops. They were a wonderful thing to witness, and something that I will take with me for the rest of my life. And I hope to share some of those photos with you soon.

Joe Thompson changed the lives of the many of us that met him, and changed the songs that we knew and loved. He was a quiet man, an honorable man, and one that is gone too soon at the age of 93. That, my friends, is a legacy that we can all strive for.

Safe travels, Joe,
-Daniel Coston
February 21, 2012

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Lou Ford interview, 1997

Lou Ford: The Tangents Interview
Originally published in Tangents Magazine, summer 1997
written by Daniel Coston

From beneath the chrome-shaded sky of Charlotte, N. C. has emerged the quartet
known as Lou Ford, a band that has followed in the footsteps of many of their
musical heroes, yet have forged an identity and sound all their own.

The band’s beginnings stretch back several years, to when brothers Alan and Chad
Edwards first began to pick out Gram Parsons and Willie Nelson songs on
their guitars. As the years wore on, the two kept in touch by mailing tapes of
their newest songs back and forth to each other, no matter how far apart they
were separated. After playing for a short time with the New York City-based
band Chocolate U.S.A., Alan relocated to Charlotte, where he evantually met up
with veteran musician Mark Lynch. With Chad soon moving up from Atlanta to
join the band, and with Lynch now playing an upright stand-up bass, the trio
quickly found a drummer and recorded their first release in early 1996, a mere
two weeks after their first rehearsals.

Mixing many country and rock-based influences into what the band describes as
"rural pop," the four-song casette soon earned numerous accolades from fans and
criticsacross the Carolinas. The quartet also found the inspiration for their name
within the pages of pulp novelist Jim Thompson’s 1949 novel The Killer Inside
Me, in which a murderous sheriff by the name of Lou Ford poses as a country
bumpkin to deceive his evantual victims. This deception of being something
other than what people thought of you had special meaning to the band,
which viewed expectations about their "country-rock sound" in much the
same way.

After playing with two different drummers, the band completed their line-up last
October with the addition of Shawn Lynch, a versatile musician that once professed,
"I’m not a drummer, but I play one in this band." With the group now complete,
Lou Ford returned to the studio in January of this year to record their latest release,
the six-song cassette, I Am Not A Prize.

The future of Lou Ford now looks to be more promising than ever. The band was
featured in the November 30 edition of Billboard Magazine, and Charlotte Observer
writer Kenneth Johnson proclaimed them to be "the best new band of 1996." With a
ever-growing legion of critics and fans, and a planned CD release in the near future,
Lou Ford promises to be the band that you’ll soon be listening to, and one day be
saying that you listened to them before everyone else did.

Tangents: Alright, Standard Question number one. How did the band come together?

Mark: Chad and Alan knew each other a long time ago.

Shawn: They had the same mother. They met in her house one day. [laughs] "Hey, I know you. You’re in the room next to me."

Alan: [Chad and I] started in about ‘92. He lived in Athens, [GA] and I moved to Athens, and we started writing. Not necessarily together, but trying to get something going. I then started playing with this band, Chocolate U.S.A., in Athens, and we moved to New York, and [our stuff] kind of fell by the wayside.
I played in New York for about a year, and we sent four-track tapes back and forth to each other. I left Chocolate U.S.A. in ‘94, and moved around a lot. Moved back to Athens, then moved back to New York, moved to Virginia. I ended up here, and met Mark at a Backsliders show, ‘cause I thought he was in a band. We then started playing, and Chad moved up from Atlanta, and we [later] met Shawn through a mutual friend.

Mark: After two lovely drummers left.

T: Speaking of that, let me ask about the drumming history of Lou Ford. [band groans and chuckles nervously] Did any of them ever spontaneously combusted? What happened with that?

Mark: Just lack of...

Alan: [to Mark] Be careful. [laughs]

Mark: Interest. They didn’t dig it as much as we did, and they wanted to do other things. Wylie [Stewart] didn’t have the time. He had other things he had to do.

Alan: I think he enjoyed it, and wanted to do it, but it was just a matter of not being to do the things we were wanting to do.

Mark: He didn’t feel like he could go out of town if got to that point, couldn’t get around his commitments here.

Alan: I look at it as Shawn’s our first drummer. For the first four months [as a band], we were just getting shit together, getting used to playing with each other...

Chad: ...and finding out who we were as a band. When we were starting out, we wanted a ‘60s pop, Ringo [Starr type of] drummer.

Alan: Those first few months, we settled for anybody who could keep time.

Mark: Those first couple months, I probably would’ve quit us too. We were ragged, and I couldn’t play bass.

Alan: I don’t think that any of our drummers fit, until we found Shawn. Neither of them were really right for us. They were good drummers, but they weren’t exactly the right drummer for us.

Chad: We didn’t know what we wanted. Well, we kinda knew, but at the same time, trying to find one in Charlotte. Just hearing the songs with drums behind them was cool enough at first, and then you start realizing that they’re not sounding like what they could.

Shawn: So now, they’re stuck with me.

T: Alan, has what you did with Chocalate U.S.A. influenced your work with this band? The music between the two are very different.

Alan: Yeah. I’d like to say it didn’t, but it had a huge influence on me. I don’t know if I’d be doing what we’re doing now, if I hadn’t been in that band. It’s a totally different thing. I think the way that I approach songwriting is the same way Julian [Koster] does, but you wouldn’t hear that from listening to his records, and or listening to our records. I have high respect for Julian as a songwriter, but I think that what we’re doing is much better. [laughs]

Shawn: So do I.

T: How do you put together your songs?

Shawn: One of us will direct the others with a big whip and chair. [laughs]

Alan: Until I met Mark, Chad and I had always written. We haven’t really ever sat down and written together, but he’s added things to my songs, and vice versa. Then I met Mark, and we’ve written three or songs together. Shawn’s a songwriter as well...

Shawn: But I have yet to employ it [with this band].

Alan: When I left Chocolate U.S.A. and decided I wanted to start a band, when I worked with people in the past, it’s been like, "I’m the songwriter, and you’re gonna play these parts." I wanted to find people that each had their individual input, because I don’t think that you can have a great band with one person [leading], and three people standing behind him who are playing just what that person wants to play. You have to put your heart into it. It’s gotta be an overall effort.

Mark: I believe every little nasty note I play. [laughs]

T: How much did the recent mainstream resurgence in country-rock music influence your decision to play this style of music?

Alan: I didn’t even realize it was happening until we were doing it. We grew up in Georgia hating country music. Not really hating country music, but hating what it represented to us back then. When Chad and I moved to Boston, and when I was living in New York, we were made to feel ashamed of the way he sounded. I worked in a drugstore, and when I’d talk, I’d hear people laugh, because of the way I talked. You get to the point where you’re like, well, I’m from the south, and I’m gonna be proud of being from the south. You can still write intelligent songs.

Chad: Gram Parsons. That’s what did it for me. The guy wrote some amazing songs. Over the course of the year that I lived in Boston, I heard Gram Parsons for the first time. I heard Willie Nelson’s Stardust, and that record just floored me. I was still getting comfortable writting songs, and listening tothose songs, and it was a lot more comfortable writing in that direction. I guess ‘cause that’s where I’m from, that’s what I’ve heard my whole life.

Alan: That’s exactly it. For me, when I started writing songs, I never thought, "I’m trying to write a country song." I had all these songs, and when I’d play them for people, they’d say, "You write country songs."

Mark: You fight it as long as you can, and then you realize, "Hey, that’s what I’m doing."

Chad: It was kind of a surprise from the first demo that we did. "Move Up To The Mountains" is the only remotely country song on that demo, yet everything that’s written about that tape has been refered to it as "roots-driven country-rock." Certainly none of songs were written as country songs.

Alan: We’re just country boys. Whatever we do, we’re honest about it.

Shawn: It’s gonna have a little twang to it.

T: Many writers have used the band Son Volt as a reference point for you, which I don’t hear. Although they’re a good band, does it bother you that Son Volt keeps coming up?

Mark: Yeah. Here’s the way I look at it, and it’s not to put down the writers who’ve said that, but I think that it’s shorthand for a rural-rock type band. And if that’s what they have to say to feel to make their audience feel at ease, or give them something to grab a hold of, that’s okay by me, but I don’t hear it.
It’s like comparing the Kinks and the Beatles. They’re totally different bands, but they’re kind of a brit-pop thing. So if you have to describe the Kinks by invoking the Beatles, then I don’t think it’s a slight on the Kinks, or makes the Kinks sound like the Beatles or anything else. I think it’s just shorthand.

Shawn: Another thing too, is that there isn’t another band doing what we’re doing around town, and it’s taking people off-guard. They don’t know how else to describe it, besides describing a popular sound, and saying, "Oh, that’s what it sounds like."

Chad: We’re just a Woody Guthrie tribute band. [laughs]

T: Alright then, Standard Question number two. How would you describe what you sound like?

Chad: Rural pop.

Mark: I wouldn’t. We do so many different things. It’s hard to say we’re a british-influenced pop band, but we certainly have songs that fit that cateogory. Then we have songs that are definitely drawn from late ‘50s, early ‘60s country, but that doesn’t make us a country band. We’re Lou Ford. It may sound pompous to say that, but we do a lot of different things. We’re working on a rave thing now. [laughs] You should’ve told us you were doing a rave story. You should see Alan’s platform shoes. We’re gonna bring ‘em out next show.

T: Yeah, you can wear the John Travolta "Saturday Night Fever" outfit. Put out the disco ball over the stage...

Shawn: I think that’s going a bit far. You can put the disco ball over yourself. Actually, I’d think you’d look better in the John Travolta outfit.

T: Oh, I don’t think so. Next Standard Question...

Shawn: Which Standard Question is this? Number five?

T: Three, sir. Where did the name Lou Ford come from?

Mark: It’s from a book I’ve always enjoyed by Jim Thompson called "The Killer Inside Me." This character in the book, Lou Ford, I’ve always liked him because he’s not what he appears to be. As a reader, you get a glimpse inside his head, and you see how incredibly twisted he is, but on the outside, everybody thinks he’s just a bumbling goof. I liked that character, so I thought I’d like to be in a band that had that sort of depth. And the name had a nice ring to it, and we didn’t think we’d run into anybody else with that name.

Alan: We’ve heard that Val Kilmer’s film company is making a movie about the book, so our name could end up being the name of a Val Kilmer movie.

Mark: So we’re contemplating changing our name to Val Kilmer. [laughs]

Shawn: That’ll show him.

T: Do you get a lot of people asking which one of you is Lou Ford?

Mark: Yes, and I’ve finally got the answer. Lou Ford is too sick to be any one individual, so its all of us at one time or another. One of us can’t carry the baggage of Lou Ford.

Shawn: We always say that we are. "Well, who’s Lou Ford?" "I am."

Mark: It’s a four-headed man.

Alan: I think it’s cool to have Lou Ford be the name of a person that’s not there, but we, as a whole, make that up as individual songwriters. It’s like, Lou Ford wrote all these songs.

T: When you did that first demo tape, the band had only been together for two weeks.

Mark: I think that Chad had been in town for two weeks, and Alan and I had worked up some songs, and there were a lot of things that Chad had already heard.

Chad: From me and Alan swapping four-track tapes, I had worked up harmonies to pretty much everything he had written up to that point. Also, he’d be doing acoustic shows out in Mt. Holly, and he’d call me up, so I’d drive up that day, and play for the show unrehearsed. So over the course of the few months before I moved up, I’d come up, do a show with him every few weeks, so over that time, we’d kind of learned the songs together.
Pretty much, when I’d come up, I’d play the same thing that Alan was playing, or just sit there and sing harmonies with him.

Mark: I think you can hear that on the first demo, too. Things aren’t arranged. It’s just more there to present the songs, and not the arrangements of the songs.

T: How do think you’ve progressed from that demo to your new tape?

Chad: We’ve gotten a lot more comfortable playing together. I think Shawn has done wonders for just filling things out, and making things sound the way they ought to, and I think Mark’s a lot comfortable playing with Shawn than he has been with any other drummer.

Alan: Mark only picked up the upright bass a year ago. I’ve watched him from the day he got it to now.

Mark: I think March 1 was the day I brought it home.

Alan: He hadn’t even played it yet.

Mark: I had played electric bass a litle bit. I knew how to tune it. [laughs]

Alan: I think Mark has listened to more music than the rest of us combined. [Mark’s record and CD collection is quite impresive. -ed]

Mark: And this is only a quarter of what I had before I moved back here five, six years ago. I couldn’t afford to pack and ship everything, so I pulled out the stuff that I couldn’t live without, and get rid of everything else.

T: What kind of musical influences do you think you bring to this band?

Mark: I don’t know. People look at me, and they say, "He’s a rockabilly guy." And sure, I like rockabilly, but when I sit down to listen to something, nine times out of ten, it not going to be rockabilly. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I listened to a real rockabilly record. I’m big into power-pop stuff. L.A. punk scene. The british punk stuff, the more melodic stuff.

T: That’s another thing that’s come up in writeups about Lou Ford. The rockabilly thing.

Mark: Well, shit. I’ve got a pompadour, and I play an upright bass. What else are they gonna say? [laughs] It’s my fault, but still, it kinda smarts when they keep saying that all the time. That’s kind of a one-dimensional cut-out kind of thing. "Oh, he’s the rockabilly guy."

Alan: Everybody always says, "We’re influenced by the Beatles," or this, that or the other, they’re all just trying to be Woody Guthrie, in some form or another.

Shawn: We just go ahead and give ‘em a shortcut. We’re not going through that other jazz. We’re just trying to be Woody Guthrie. That’s all there is.

T: Is there currently a scene of country-rock music in this area?

Mark: Not in Charlotte. In the Carolinas, there’s certainly a burdgeoning alt-country scene, but not here.

Chad: But that’s another thing that goes along with what Alan said, about the whole growing popularity of country-rock. You never really realize that either, until you start playing in a band that gets lumped in to that cateogory, and then you start hearing all these other names.
Before I moved here, the only "country-rock" bands that I knew of were Uncle Tupelo, Son Volt, the Jayhawks, Wilco. The ones that everybody has heard of.

Alan: We never listen to those records. Write that down. [laughs]

Mark: You can rummage through my record collection. You won’t find any Son Volt. I’ve got some Black Oak Arkansas, though. Maybe we are alternative-country, if this tent is big enough to hold all of these bands. If you gotta put us somewhere, maybe put us there.

T: Has this whole alternative-country thing already gotten overblown?

Mark: I don’t think so. Can you name a alt-country band that’s a household name, and is on regular rotation on MTV? I think it’s just starting to happen.

T: On your web site, there’s a picture of you that I took at the Milestone Club, and it has the caption, "From our first, and last, show at the Milestone." What’s the story behind that?

Mark: Uh-oh, here’s the hard one.

Alan: We were invited to come play there. They called us, and asked us if we would do the show. There was a decent crowd, the cover was a little bit higher than what it should have been. And we did the show, and they told us we made a dollar, after our $12 bar tab. A dollar, so I kind of showed my ass.

Shawn: That was my initiation into the band.

Mark: We told him to keep the dollar, and which pocket he could tuck it into. [laughs]

Alan: And I told that the Milestone is, was a great club. I’ve heard it said...

Mark: You ain’t got to heard it said. Take it from the source. I was there in the beginning. I’m not tooting my own horn, I’m just old. I was there, and it was incredible.

Chad: I’ve heard the problem with getting national acts to come to Charlotte blamed on the Milestone, and the Milestone’s history of dicking bands over on money.

Alan: Print that. That’s exactly my problem with that night. People complain about not having any music in Charlotte, and you have club owners that treat bands like that. He walked away that night with quite a bit of money.

Mark: I don’t know if any of the other two bands saw any money. I doubt it. He charged an exorbanent rate for the sound system, which he didn’t even tend.

Chad: He was sitting at the bar flirting with the bartender.

Alan: There was a point when the monitors were feeding back, and I said something, and I looked up, and there was nobody behind the board.

T: What kind of response have you gotten from your writeup in Billboard Magazine a few months ago?

Mark: We had quite a few phone calls, and we sent out quite a few tapes, and a couple dozen press kits, and mostly favorable responses from the folks. To prove that alt-country is not that big a movement, a lot of people heard it, and said that it was not what they were expecting.

Chad: If that Son Volt comparison is as prominent as the writeups would lead you to believe, and if country-rock was really the big up-and-coming thing, you would think that all the record labels would be looking to sign the next Son Volt.

T: Are you looking to play more outside of Charlotte in the coming months?

Chad: Yeah, definitely. Then we’ll never play Charlotte again. [laughs] No, we love Charlotte.

Mark: We moan a little bit, but I think people have taken very good care of us here.

Chad: Being new to Charlotte, from what I’ve heard around here, people aren’t generally as supportive as they seem to have been for us. People don’t seem to go out to listen to bands much. They go out to drink, and whoever happens to be playing there, that’s who they listen to. But it’s been real cool.
And as the crowds have grown the more we’ve played, that’s where I’ve made most of the friends that I have in Charlotte. If we play, and there’s 50, 80 people or whatever, they’re all people that I’ve met over the course of the last six months, so they’re pretty much all my firends in Charlotte. So it’s not like, "Wow! Look at all the people that came," it’s, "Hey, our friends came."

T: Finish this sentence. What the Charlotte music scene needs is...

Shawn: Period. [laughs] You want us to finish it with words?

Chad: Local radio.

Mark: "90 Minutes" [on 106.5 FM] is a beautiful thing, but you’d think that...

Shawn: ...It could be more of an everyday thing.

Chad: You go to Atlanta, and they have WRAS, WREK. There’s at least three or four good local stations where you can hear good local music, and good alternative bands.

Mark: A band like Sebadoh coming through that city is gonna get an interview the day before the show. And they don’t get that here. So, therefore the show isn’t promoted as well as it could be, the numbers aren’t as big as they are, and it gets hard for a band like Sebadoh to come down here.

Alan: This is nothing to do with any of your questions, but I want you to print this. I have a big problem with all these bands trying to sound British. [laughs]

Thursday, February 16, 2012

More photos, and Observer coverage of the Aretha concert

Here's the link to the Observer article about the show-

And a link to more of my photos from the show-

Hello to everyone that's visiting this site for the first time. Come back soon,
Feb. 16, 2012

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Aretha Franklin, Charlotte, NC, Feb. 13, 2012

Photo copyright 2012 Daniel Coston

I was at an event last month, and I happened to walk past a table of auction items. One item advertised a Music With Friends show with Aretha Franklin on February 13th. “Oh,” I thought to myself, “I need to be there for that.”

Music With Friends is a high-dollar club that promotes shows with big-name artists, performing in smaller venues that they would usually not get to play in. I photographed a Music With Friends event in 2007, when the Observer sent me to photograph Jackson Browne at the McGlohon Theater, a 660 seat venue that was built as a church in 1909. Browne did a special performance of “Stay” with the song’s writer and original performer, Maurice Williams, and later proved to be the start of my ongoing work with Maurice.

Two weeks before Aretha’s show, I asked my editor at the Observer, Olivia Fortson, if she could find a way for me to photograph her show. Olivia called Music With Friends’ director, Larry Farber, and just like that, I had a pass to shoot the show. On Saturday, February 11th, I was finishing up my fifth shoot of the day, when somebody showed me their IPhone. “Whitney Houston, dead at 48,” it read. I was surprised, like everyone else. Then I remembered that Aretha Franklin was Houston’s godmother. 

The day before the show, I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. If the show had been postponed, or canceled, I wouldn’t have been surprised. I have seen many great musicians pass on shows for less than losing one’s goddaughter. However, when I inquired to a ticketholder the following morning, the word came back. The show was on. 

I got to the event at 6pm, and took photos of various concertgoers. At 7:30pm, everyone was ushered into the McGlohon Theater. As I took my place with other media, I saw a camera crew standing off to one side. “They’re with ABC,” I was told. “They’re shooting this for Good Morning America, and 20/20. It’s supposed to air later this week.” I knew then that there would be some kind of tribute to Houston, but exactly what kind of tribute, I would have to wait and see. 

At 7:50pm, the band kicked into their first notes. A few minutes later, Franklin walked out in a full-length blue dress, and launched into her first song. I wish that I could tell you the exact order of songs, but as I was photographing the show, I lost track of what songs were played, and in what order I heard them. However, what was memorable was that voice. You could have closed your eyes, and you would have still known who was singing. Franklin’s voice is still remarkably intact, and still seems to be able to hit high notes with ease.

Franklin took a break about a half-hour into her set, and returned about five minutes later. After performing a song from her new record, she gestured to her piano player to move aside. Franklin sat down at the piano, and started playing the chords to “I Will Always Love You.” With her background singers doing quiet back-up vocals, Franklin spoke of the loss of Houston. “She was a good person, she was a wife, she was a mother,” said Franklin. “We will never forget her.” 

Franklin then began to re-arrange the chords into a gospel hymn, singing to God, and to Houston in a call-and-response manner, deeply rooted in Franklin’s gospel upbringing. “There are gates at the entrance to Heaven,” Franklin sang, “and they swung open for her.” There is something about Franklin’s piano playing that is unlike anything else in her repertoire. Heavily influenced by the gospel music of her father, the Rev. C.L. Franklin, she plays chords and notes that no other piano player could have played. Franklin seemed to thinking, feeling and singing through her hands, heart, and voice. Franklin played this for several minutes. No big production number, just very real music, and emotion. Afterwards, Franklin thanked the crowd for “sharing this moment with her.”

After bringing the mood back up with “Chain Of Fools,” someone called out for Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” a song that Franklin covered in the early 1970s. “We can do that,” Franklin responded. This gave Franklin the chance again to re-imagine the song as a cathartic gospel number, with her back-up singers following her lead. Franklin then asked for a moment of silence for Houston, which led the room in absolute silence for nearly a minute. I watched Franklin’s face, as she thought about her goddaughter.

After another song, Franklin said that she wanted to sing a few bars of a gospel song, “one that’s been on my mind for the last few days,” she said. While I did not recognize the song, Franklin made the song her own, singing with real emotion. You could see that Franklin was struggling to not get choked up. After leaving the stage, Franklin returned to sing, “Respect.” The crowd roared, and danced along.” Franklin waved goodbye, and then was gone. 

In any performance, there is always a certain amount of “show.” That pretense that allows you to perform in front of an audience, be it large or small. I have been very lucky to witness a handful of shows where the pretense was discarded, if only for a moment, and the real emotion of music came through. Johnny Cash’s last shows, Bob Moog’s memorial, and now this. One of the Carter family once told me that with the Cash shows, “You got here at the right time.” And I would like to think that I, who had never seen Aretha Franklin perform, was lucky again to arrive at a important moment in time.   
-Daniel Coston
February 14, 2012

Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran, Charlotte, NC, 2.9.2012

all photos 2012 Daniel Coston

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Thoughts On Eric, amongst the revelry

It has been an extremely busy past few days here. Photographing various shows and events, a couple of video shoots, writing for a possible project with Dwight Moody (who is doing much better, I'm very happy to report). When you're running like this, you sometimes forget that all of this can be rendered meaningless in the blink of an eye.

Last week, my friend Eric Krauss passed away. Eric had been part of the Charlotte music scene for a long time, playing with various bands that I photographed. Lou Ford, Come On Thunderchild, Virginia Reel. I would go for long stretches without seeing Eric, but whenever we saw each other again, we would pick back up on whatever music conversation we'd had before. I always thought I would see him again. I really did.

On Thursday evening, I attended his memorial. A lot of my friends were there, and we laughed, hugged, cried and talked. Twenty minutes after leaving the memorial, I was at an event, and found myself doing photos of Sugar Ray Leonard, and Roberto Duran. I immediately went into photographer mode, and got some good photos. However, in the midst of what was a really fun shoot, this feeling kept coming over me. I just saw my friend off, and yet here I am, enjoying this gig. Is this wrong?

Eric might have said it was not wrong. He would have told me to have to have a good time, and might have asked for copies for the photos. What that emotion reminded me is that we sometimes need to address, and acknowledge the passing of our friends and loved ones, even when our hearts and jobs push us elsewhere. The world moves too fast, and we can sometimes forget to take care of ourselves, even when we are outwardly trying to help others. Eric, you may not be here, but I'm thinking of you, and I hope to see you again someday.

FYI, I posted a few photos of Eric on his memorial page on Facebook, and hope to post some more soon. See you all again soon in my travels,
February 12, 2012

Friday, February 3, 2012

Justin Robinson interview

Justin Robinson: Groove Is In The Heart
Interview and introduction by Daniel Coston

For five years, Justin Robinson toured the world as a founding member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, which infused early 20th century string band music with a youthful spirit that made the music their own. Robinson decided to leave the Drops early last year, with an eye towards new projects, and touring less. Those new sounds and ideas have now come together with the debut CD from Justin Robinson and the Mary Annettes.

While some listeners may be surprised by the differences between the Drops and the Mary Annettes, Robinson’s new album covers the full range of his own talents, and interests. Classically inclined chamber-pop, hip-hop, Appalachian folk music, new wave and science fiction themes, all seem to dance around the same bonfire together, with Robinson’s vocals taking you through the entire journey. Folkies play dress up and get funky, musical genres get blurred, and Robinson and his crew sound like they have a good time doing so.

Writing in via email, Robinson talks about the genesis of his new sounds and vision.

Coston: This record collects a lot of your interests, both sonically and lyrically, that we've talked about in the past, and more. How did this record come about?

Justin Robinson: This record has been a long time in the making. It really begin in 2008 in Montpelier, France where I was so overstimulated by everything I was experiencing. I had to start writing for fear of exploding. And from there each song started its own little life.

Coston: How about this band come about?

Robinson: Birds or Monsters was the first iteration of this project, and I played with Will Dawson (Squirrel Nut Zippers, Katherine Whalen and her Fascinators). Will was in college and didn't have a lot of time to play, so I wrote an add on Craigslist looking for folks. I wrote a very odd-sounding ad, and wanted to see who responded. Josh [Stohl] responded. Then Kyra [Moore] was a friend of a friend. I've played with, and been friends with Sally [Mullikin] for quite a while, and Sally knew Elizabeth [Marshall] from her former job.

Coston: Talk about the different band members.

Robinson: Wow. I'll keep it legal. Josh is primarily a funk/hip-hop drummer so he is always thinking about beats, which is great, because I really don't. Kyra plays banjo, fiddle, bass and background vocals. She has such an interesting ear for music and writes really strange, beautiful string parts. Sally is a monster shredder on the viola. There's no cello on the record, that's all Sally. Elizabeth is a another monster shredder on cello. Her years of string quartet playing really makes her indispensible and she makes everything sound better.

Coston: When you were writing the songs for this record, where you writing them with this band in mind, or did the band adapt the songs later on? 

Robinson: Most of the songs, except “Phil Spectors” and “Neptune”, were written before the Mary Annettes, and later rearranged for the band. The latest songs are written with the band in mind, and its a group effort from nearly the beginning.

Coston: Talk about some of your favorite songs on this record.

Robinson: These songs are like my children, but I do have favorites. “Butcher Bird” is so sweet and terrible, and was written in a few hours, and has probably changed the least from its original conception. “Gypsy Death and You” is also a favorite, I loved the original version (The Kills) and loved what we could do with it.

Coston: A lot of this music defies categorization, jumping across different genres. Was that your goal, or did that just happen?

Robinson: A bit of both. This is like looking into my mind, where all these things happen together and there is no separation by genre. The goal on the album was to have no two songs that sounded alike and while I knew it might come off a bit disjointed, I trusted that my vision would bind them all together. Each song is very different from the next but they all
have a bit of shimmery darkness about them.

Coston: Where was the album recorded, and how long did it take to put the album together?

Robinson: Studio M in Durham, and with Greg Humphreys in his den. It took quite a while to put together, because I was on the road for most of its production and recording, and mixing during the off periods.

Coston: What are your plans for the Mary Annettes?

Robinson: We want to continue to have fun, be creative and create songs that we want to hear, songs that tell stories, songs that make you cock your head a bit...

Coston: How did the phrase "chamber pop frozen swamp music pop-folk urban" come about? You’ve used it to describe this new project.

Robinson: I'm not sure about that exact phrase, but on Myspace and Facebook it asks what your influences are. Well, one cold night I was out hunting with my hound dog, and we came upon this moonlit frozen swamp, and the scene has stuck with me since then. Its one of the most startlingly beautiful things I have ever seen. Some promoters took that "moonlight on a frozen swamp" phrase and ran with it, and I find it hilarious. Those other modifiers, chamber-pop folk urban, all fit us, too.

Coston: What do you hope people get, or take away from this record?

Robinson: A sense of fantasy, of other worlds, unexplored caves, glittering jewels, sharp swords, heartbreak and happiness.