Monday, July 30, 2012

On To The Next Chapter

Hello All-

After months of writing, more writing and editing of photos, I finally mailed off this morning my completed draft of the NC musicians book to the publishers. We've still got a long ways to go with the project. Contracts, negotiations, editing, and more negotiations. But however this ends up, I'm glad that I did it. I'm even happier at this moment to mail it off, so I that can emotionally move on from it, if only for the moment.

There is still plenty to work on. I'm glad that I can finally get back to the NC 1960s Rock and Roll book, as well as completing some smaller pieces. And there is the photography, which will keep me on the road for much of the next week. Much like the production of books, life is a series of stages. Some of which are circular lines that repeat upon themselves, rather than a straight path. But for the moment, it's nice to be at another part of the circle.

Safe travels this week, wherever on the circle you are,
July 30, 2012

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Procol Harum pics, Raleigh, NC, July 25, 2012

Procol Harum
Raleigh Ampitheater, Raleigh, NC
July 25, 2012
all photos copyright 2012 Daniel Coston

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Bradley Ditto feature, 2011

Bradley Ditto
by Daniel Coston

Bradley Ditto has taken his music all over the world, but its the quieter regions of western North Carolina that he now calls home. With new music in the works, Ditto is bringing some of his music to his new neighbors with a spate of upcoming shows. Ditto describes the shows as "A rare and unusually intimate 'in your face' concert performance."

"Every song comes into being," says Ditto. "Where the voice meets the instrument, simple and pure. Certain songs work best being delivered in a very personal way, with no distractions as in distance, allowing all to focus."

Growing up in Illinois in the 1960s, Ditto took an interest in music at an early age. "My first memories of the affect of songs on me were in first grade by way of WLS out of Chicago," recalls Ditto. "The magic of melody, lyric and rhythm, together in such a way within a two to three minute format got me feeling, singing and dancing."

Ditto moved to California in 1978, and began to play with his own band. One of the folks that took notice was longtime Neil Young soundman Tim Mulligan. "Tim hung out and listened to the band, and after a few days I got a call from David Briggs," recalls Ditto. Briggs would eventually co-produce 14 Neil Young records before his passing in 1995. "[David said] he wanted to hear me in person, solo at the new Topanga Canyon Studios near his home at the time.  After performing a couple hours worth of original tunes, Briggs walked out from the control booth, on into the studio where I was, extended his hand and said, 'I’d  like to work with you!'"              
Recorded in 1981, Check Me Out features a roster list of great musicians. Legendary pianist Nicky Hopkins, Michael Been and Scott Musick, percussionist Joe Lala, and vocal arranger David Blumberg all lent a hand to the album, which was co-produced by Briggs and Mulligan. Finally released in 1986, Check Me Out will get a digital re-release by Clean Records later this year.

Ditto has since traveled the world, releasing five more albums, and sharing the stage with everyone from Neil Young to Jerry  Garcia, Richie Havens, Gregg Allman and many more. Ditto has also started work on not one, but two new albums since moving to North Carolina. "One of which will be my first, all solo acoustic piano instrumental album with a string quartet," says Ditto. "It's alter ego will be a 'peddle to the medal,' folk rock album recorded with band as a performance. No overdubs! ‘Live n Breathin’ piece of fun! I'm looking for the great players around here that will end up being the band that supports the songs, that make it into the studio that end up on the next disc!" 

Ditto is enjoying his time here in North Carolina, and is looking forward to continuing his own musical journey. " I have been blessed to work with some of the best, and am able to call them friends," says Ditto. "I am grateful for all. Every player that ‘connects’ with their respective instrument brings to ‘the table’ a personal gift of expression that makes for a truly unique and one of a kind moment if you will. Sometimes, what I like and whom I like playing with most of all are players that play for fun, just sitting around on the front porch. Or, maybe even, in an old wine cellar somewhere!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Southern Culture On The Skids interview, 1997

Southern Culture On The Skids
interview and introduction by Daniel Coston
originally published in Tangents Magazine, September 1997 issue

Whether you revel in their splendor, or just walk away in a confused daze, Chapel Hill's Southern Culture on the Skids has always stood out amongst the crowd. The band's live show, an arsenal of chicken wings, limbo lines and diesel-fueled rockabilly, has been legendary since their 1983 formation.
SCOTS' already-loyal following expanded nationally when "Camel Walk," from their 1996 album Dirt Track Date, became a surprise hit single last year. Record sales and attendance at their live shows hit an all-time high.
With the release of the band's new album, Plastic Seat Sweat, on September 23, the band will expand their crooked horizons even further. Again recorded with producer Mark Williams at Charlotte's Reflection Studios, Sweat has everything from cocktail music and AC/DC-tinged rock to more keyboards, banjo and even the electric sitar, according to the band's lead singer, guitarist, songwriter and master of ceremonies, Rick Miller.
During Daniel Coston's phone conversation with Miller last month, they talked about the band's new record, their live shows, retro-roots music and the transcendental powers of El Santo, the famed Mexican wrestler and star of numerous B-movies during the 1950s and '60s (and to whom the band has dedicated a song).

Tangents: Touring has always been a big thing with you and the band.

Miller: I think that's the way to get fans. If you don't have a big name or a big hit or a top 40 album, there's really no other way for people to enjoy your music and really get to know you. I prefer it that way 'cause records can be so misleading. Some bands sound one way on the record, and then you see them live, and they sound nothing like that. But that's OK as long as it's a good live show.

Tangents: You guys also do so much during a live show, with the chicken and the limbo lines. Where did all that start?

Rick Miller: Basically, just out of desperation. Just trying to make sure that everybody was having a good time. Involving the audience is also a great way of making sure that everybody is having a good time, because hopefully, the show is entertaining to you, too.
The band is entertaining, but the minute that the audience starts to get involved, it just takes everybody up another notch. We play the same songs night in, night out while we're on tour trying to promote a record, and it can get a little bit old. Whenever you bring in another element like that, it throws another spin on everything, and I enjoy that. It keeps me on my toes.

Tangents: Was it a conscious decision going into the new record to expand things?

Miller: Yeah, definitely. We wanted not to just fall back on what we did for Dirt Track Date. I thought that it was a good record, but it was the same instrumentation for all of the songs. That one kind of started at point A and ended at point B, while this one goes all over the place.

Tangents: Were you surprised by the success of "Camel Walk?"

Miller: That was the last song that any of us thought was going to get on the radio. It's an old song. We've been doing it for a while. I'd say that for the last 10 weeks that we toured when "Camel Walk" was on the radio, 80% percent of the crowd that came to see us had only heard that song.
But I think we won them over. The people who buy Dirt Track Date say, "I heard that 'Camel Walk' song, and I bought the record, but I really like 'Voodoo Cadillac,'" and they like a whole lot of other songs.

Tangents: Is it a challenge to come up with new things that'll bring some of those people back? Obviously, you don't want to write "Camel Walk II" ...

Miller: No, we don't. [laughs] Once you have success with something, it's hard to get it out of your craw. But you don't want to keep repeating stuff, so I think that it's important that you set up new things.
We're always thinking, "What's the next 'Camel Walk?'" But I don't know if I want another "Camel Walk."

Tangents: What were some of your early inspirations when the band first started?

Miller: We started out doing this Crampy punk-rockabilly stuff, and then we started trying straight country with a rockin' beat, and nobody wanted to come see it.
Our shows dropped off like crazy. Our original bass player and drummer quit, and that's when I got Mary Huff and Dave [Hartman], and we just decided to woodshed for a while and go back somewhere between the two, and came up with this sort of swampy rock 'n' roll.

Tangents: I've noticed that there's been a polarization among people about your band. People either just love you, or they don't know what to make of it.

Miller: I'd rather have some of the people just scratch their heads and literally outright hate us than just sit there and be like, "Oh, they're OK." The people who like it, really like it. If we wanted to appeal to everybody, we'd be like Michael Bolton.

Tangents: That would be kind of weird, a country-rock Michael Bolton ...

Miller: God, there's plenty of them. [laughs]

Tangents: But it's not really country, anymore.

Miller: Everything I hear coming out of Nashville sounds like a second-rate Bruce Springsteen record.
There's some country stuff I like. I like Dwight Yoakam, and I like BR5-49.I've actually known those guys for a while. But I prefer stuff that's a little edgier. I like the [Jon Spencer] Blues Explosion -- bands that are taking the roots thing and doing something a little more aggressive with it.
I don't really care for bands that are just straight retro, either, because how many times can you hear "Bebop-A-Lula?" I enjoy that music, but for a career, trying to be an original artist, it's kind of a dead end.

Tangents: Why do you think a lot of bands fall into that?

Miller: I think that a lot of people think it's good enough to try and emulate somebody else. It's easier. You don't have to work as hard. You don't have to put as much of yourself out on the line with it, really.
Another thing is that you can't be too irreverent. You can't [mess] with it. That's the only way you can make it yours. And that's why I like bands that have sort of an irreverent attitude towards their music, and have a sense of humor and maybe a sense of irony. Something you can fool with, and I think that there's a big audience out there for that.

Tangents: Do you see these new songs changing and evolving over your next tour?

Miller: Yeah, I think all the songs from this new record we're playing better now than we did when we recorded them. Not to say that they're bad on the record. I think they're very good renditions, but the songs sound better to me now than they ever have, after a couple months of playing them live. We're also probably going to have a fourth person out on the road with us, playing some keyboard parts, some percussion parts, maybe even a little second guitar, too. We're kind of growing in that way. Trying to fill out the sound a little bit, and seeing what that throws into the mix.

Tangents: I have to ask. When you're singing the praises of El Santo, do you feel his power come over you?

Miller: Oh yeah, man. That's why when I try to get to someone on stage [to play El Santo], I look for the best person that I think can channel Santo's power.
It's an act of possession. It's like a spiritual possession, once you put the mask on.

Tangents: Would you describe it as a healing power?

Miller: Of course. The power of Santo surges through. You become an attractor to all things. Good luck sticks like glue.
He was the Madonna of his day. The David Bowie of the wrestling ring. He reinvented himself many times. When public tastes changed, he could change. In the 1950s, when monster movies were popular, he was fighting monsters. In the '60s, when it was secret agents, he became a secret agent, and never once did I ever see him fumble or fall. He was always Santo, always triumphing and always looking in control, and totally styling.

Tangents: I had to ask that question. I love El Santo movies, and Ed Wood and all that stuff.

Miller: If you can understand that sort of aesthetic, then you're gonna like our music. That's my aesthetic, too. I see things in those B-movies that I think are very positive and incredibly interesting.

Tangents: All right, then. If Southern Culture on the Skids were a B-movie, what kind of B-movie would it be?

Miller: It would have to be sort of a "Macon County Line" and "Walking Tall," but with a zombie theme. A zombie moonshine sort of thing.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Tangents Magazine Is Dead, Long Live Tangents

Hey There-

Some of you may remember that I had helped restart Tangents Magazine last year. Tangents was founded in 1995 as an alternative arts and music magazine. At the time, our home base of Charlotte, NC was a very different city than it is now, and looking back, I'm amazed and proud of what we did. I can't believe that we pulled that magazine together, month after month, for three years.

I took part in re-starting Tangents to finish the work that we had started. Tangents inspired my life's work, twice. As a photographer, with the first incarnation, and as a writer for the second version. It made me put together work that I would have not have otherwise done. The direct result of that second time around is the blog that you see in front of you.

I have heard that the new Tangents is now officially no more. However, a recent web search has turned up the archives of our original web site. These rediscovered files will eventually make up the basis of the Tangents site, with some pieces about them old days from the griseled veterans, like me, that were there. What excites me more about this discovery is the finding of several articles that were lost from my old computer. You'll see some of these articles here on my blog soon.

Tangents started my work in the field of music, and photography. While it saddens me that more did not happen with this second incarnation, perhaps it was always supposed to remain this way. Something from my past whose ideas still inspire me, and a building block to the work that I create now. Let the past push the present, and move us on as individuals to a better future.

Tangents Magazine is dead. Long live Tangents Magazine.
July 17, 2012

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Roger Waters pic, July 10, 2012

photo copyright 2012 Daniel Coston

Ashley Hutchings & Ken Nicol interview

Ashley Hutchings & Ken Nicol
Interview and introduction by Daniel Coston
Originally published in the Charlotte Folk Society newsletter, 2010
and Tangents Magazine website, 2011

Look at any folk record from the past forty years, and the names Ashley Hutchings and Ken Nicol will pop up in some prominent places. Hutchings was the founding bassist in Fairport Convention, leaving after fabled 1969 album Liege & Lief to form another legendary folk/rock act, Steeleye Span. He is still very active today, with the Albion Band, his series of Morris music albums, and the Rainbow Chasers.

Ken Nicol has been Hutchings’ longtime partner in the Albion Band, and has been the guitarist in Steeleye Span since 2002. Now the two have released their first album as a duo, entitled Copper, Russet and Gold. The album, available through Park Records (, is a fun and eclectic collection of songs that are not bound by any one genre. 

Coston: How did this record come about?

Hutchings: The record came about through Ken contacting me and suggesting we write and record an album of newly written songs. He said (quite correctly) that we write good songs together, and had composed many fine ones for The Albion Band, and wasn't it time we composed together again?

Coston: What surprised me is the diversity of the music on the CD. Some rock, folk and jazz mixed in. Was that something that evolved during the writing process?

Nicol: Both Ashley and I are very eclectic in the way we view music. Largely it’s a case of, the way you think, is consequently the way you write. If there was a process that could be described as evolvement, it would be less of one that just sort of happened by itself, and more a case of wanting to give the album a breadth of expression and colour that could be achieved effectively by using a whole mixture of musical genres. 

Coston: Both of you keep busy schedules. Was it hard to find time to write and record this album?

Nicol: Yes, I mentioned earlier that it slowed down the recording process quite considerably. I should add also that, for me at least, it’s not just a case of grabbing any available time you can get you hands on. With anything I become involved with, there is always a period of time within which I have to ‘think my way’ into it. I have to capture a feel for that task. This isn’t an issue so much if it’s, say, recording or mixing, but when it comes to writing, it takes me a while to get my head into that zone. It can actually be quite difficult when you have a number of things on the go at the same time.     

Hutchings: The album took some time to record, probably two years, during which we would do a bit, have a few months off, do a bit, record some more after a long break, etc..

Coston: Do you find that the writing process is different in working with each other, as opposed to writing on your own, or with others?

Nicol: It’s quite different. If I write alone, often melodies and chord progressions initiate the subject matter of a song. Ninety-something percent of the time, when writing with Ashley, he’ll send me his lyrics, and I then set them to music. 

Of course, there’s little difference between the two when it comes to reaching deep within for that spark, that essence of something that gives one the sense of having found something inspirational, or at least something that inspires oneself. But one of the reasons I believe our partnership works well is because our songwriting roles are clearly defined. Ashley writes the the words, and I write the tunes.    

Hutchings: The writing process is inevitably different when we work together. Put simply, I write the words and send them to Ken who sets them to music, just like Rodgers and Hammerstein!

Coston: Ken, Steeleye just finished a lengthy 40th anniversary tour, and a new album. What's next for the band?

Nicol: I’m not 100% certain just at this moment, but my guess is that there’ll probably be a couple of tours in 2011.  

Coston: While it's been many years since Ashley was in Steeleye, did he have any advice for you when you joined the band?

Nicol: Keep your head down. And always carry an extra pair of boxers. 

Coston: Ashley, you've been a key part of four legendary groups. Fairport, Steeleye, Albion and Morris On. What would you say has been the keys to your success?

Hutchings: I've absolutely no idea about the key to success. I just do what I want to do and hope for the best!

Coston: How would you describe your bass playing? Does it change, depending on the project?

Hutchings: My bass playing is pretty conventional nowadays. It was more adventerous back in the Fairport and Steeleye days. I think of myself as a writer, producer, band leader first, and bass playing comes well down the list.

Coston: When I interviewed Dave Mattacks last year, he told me that playing on the first Morris On record [Morris On, 1972] changed the way he thought about what he could do on drums. What have you gotten out of the Morris On series?

Hutchings: Constructing the Morris On series of albums, and there have been six, has been fun and therefore a relaxing change with all the strongly emotional songs I've recorded.

Answer to Maherjunkie's question

Hey There-

To answer your question, I didn't find Griffith to be outgoing. He was very guarded, especially with any possible members of the media. There was a public Andy, and a private Andy. That being said, he was one of the best public speakers I've ever seen.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Travels With My Camera - Andy Griffith

I was lucky enough to photograph Andy Griffith on three occasions. The first was the dedication of the Andy Griffith highway, near his hometown of Mount Airy, NC. Much of the town turned out for the event. I remember the event being a bit of a mess. It had rained throughout the day. At one point, it was going to take place under a tent that didn't allow anyone outside the tent to see what was going on. The crowd, and the media grumbled. After a long wait, the skies cleared, and the event began. I talked my way into the media section, far from the stage, and eventually snuck down front with a couple of other photographers.

Andy Griffith sat with the then-governor of NC, Mike Easley, and his wife. The speakers that spoke before Griffith went on forever. There was one in particular, a local politician, who gave the appearance that he had never spoken in public before. He blathered on for ever, speaking so quietly that the crowd kept shouting, "Speak up!" Ten minutes into his (and our) torture, he said, "I'd know like to introduce Governor Hunt." Jim Hunt had been the previous governor. The speaker turned bright red, and Griffith, Easley and everyone else just cracked up. We all got great photos of Griffith's beaming laugh.

Griffith finally got up to speak, and wiped the floor with everyone that had proceeded him. Not everyone on this earth is a natural public speaker, but Griffith had it in spades. He was funny, he was direct, he was suitably grandiose, using his hands in sweeping motions. He was the only speaker that day that didn't need a speaker system. It was an impressive thing to witness. I got some good photos of Griffith with his highway sign, and then he was gone.

Two years later, Griffith came back to Mount Airy, for the dedication of a statue honoring the Andy Griffith Show. It was held in the middle of Mayberry Days, an annual celebration of the TV show. Many former actors of the show were there, as well as the classic lineup of the Dillards, who were featured on several episodes of the show. I went to the event with another photographer, who somehow got into the photo pit ahead of me, leaving me to shoot from a distance. I still was able to get some decent photos, including Griffith watching the Dillards perform.  Looking back, it was an amazing day to witness.

The following year, Griffith made an appearance at UNC-Chapel Hill. He had graduated from UNC in the 1940s, and was returning to donate his archives to the Southern Folklife Collection. This was a fun event, with Griffith playing the guitar that he played on the Andy Griffith Show. I met Griffith briefly later that day. Griffith may have a public performer, but he was not a public person. Griffith didn't have much to say, and I told him that it was great to meet him. My photos of Griffith from that day are also now part of the Folklife Collection's archives.

Another thing I remember from that day was that there was an older gentleman taking photos of the event. A few times, he tried to boss Griffith around, having him pose for photos with different people. Griffith seemed annoyed, but he did seem to know the guy, and he put up with it. "Who is that guy?" I asked someone. "Hugh Morton" was the answer. Since then, I had always been a bit mad at myself for not getting better photos of Morton. When Griffith passed away, I dug out my photos of the 2002 Mount Airy event. After Griffith had left, I finished that roll of film with various pics of people posing with the highway sign. There at the end of the roll, with a camera around his neck, was Hugh Morton. I had gotten the shot I had wanted, and I hadn't even been aware of it. And that's all that I can ask for with these photos, and these experiences. Pieces of the moments, as they happened, that remind me that I'm glad I was there.

-Daniel Coston
July 6, 2012
photo copyright 2002 Daniel Coston

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Head In A Book

Hello All-

I've spent the last few days putting together my next project, which I can tell you more about soon. This project required a lot of text from yours truly. You may have noticed that I posted a fair bit last week. I was doing a good job of not working on what I was supposed to be doing, and instead getting my head into other ideas. (Some call this "writing exercises," others call this "procrastination.") But now, the project is almost done. You may not see a post from me in the next couple of days, but I will be back soon.

In the meantime, check out the latest goings-on at my photography website, And I hope to talk to you all again soon,
July 3, 2012