For some guitar players it's BB King, Eric Clapton or maybe Jimi Hendrix who provides inspiration to rip out a stinging lead run. For a young Bobby Radcliff, growing up in suburban Chevy Chase, Md., it was "Magic" Sam Maghett, a funky bluesman from Chicago. While still a teenager Radcliff ran away from home and headed for the Windy City. He tracked Magic Sam to a hospital where he was recovering from a stroke, and convinced him he was serious. The timing was right and he found a living mentor, one who would introduce him at the clubs in what was then a thriving scene.
Fast forward a few years and you find Radcliff in New York City playing the clubs by night, working in a bookstore by day. The 1989 release of his album Dresses Too Short on the Black Top label allowed him to quit the day job and focus on the club and festival circuits. More discs followed in the  on the New Orleans-based label, along with the opportunity to work with other Black Top artists like Snooks Eaglin, Earl King and George Porter Jr. - at least until label founder Nauman Scott died in 2002. Instead of looking for another deal from some soon-to-be-history major, Radcliff followed what now seems a familiar path: He founded his own record label, Rollo Records, and released Natural Ball, which is a pretty good description of the time he must have had making the record, judging by what's in the grooves (or whatever you call the digital equivalent).
But you can judge for yourself. Check him out on iTunes, or pick up a copy at the proverbial website (www.bobbyradcliff.com, of course) or better yet, get a copy straight from Mr. Radcliff when he comes to town this weekend. He's not bringing a band, because he's got the Clint Warner Band to back him. (Don't be surprised if they play a couple of their own, too.) That's Friday night at the Jambalaya, or Saturday at that SoHum roadhouse the Riverwood Inn. If you love the blues, you'll be there.
I can't say that anyone has ever adequately explained the reason why, but it seems we have a thriving portion of the local folk scene that's mad about that Eastern European sound - you know, that dense, frenetic music that makes you want to get into some sort of puffy Balkan costume and folkdance the night away. Those with that sort of mindset should be overjoyed by the coming of The Hungarian State Folk Ensemble, next Wednesday, Jan. 10, what with the 80-some-odd musicians and dancers (two bands) crowding the Van Duzer stage playing Gypsy tunes and traditional village music of Hungary and Transylvania.
The Ensemble was originally established in 1951 during the era of Soviet influence, which followed some hard times when the Nazis overran the country. While nationalism was not exactly encouraged, preserving the local folk traditions was deemed OK. This is the music that inspired modern composers like Bartók and Kodály, who saw something important in what some considered backwoods village music. The current tour includes an "Hommage à Béla Bartók," paying tribute to the Hungarian who turned folk culture into fine art.
For those looking for another, funkier sort of folk, Humboldt's funkiest folky, Tamaras, is playing the Pearl Friday night. Less funky than folky, you have a duo called Bridgeville playing Saturday at Mosgo's and Sunday morning at Muddy's Hot Cup (where other music is on hold for another week). Now I should probably point out that Bridgeville is not a local band, and has no connection to the town out Hwy 36 once sold on eBay. The p.r. from the local clubs describes them as from Boulder, Colo. But their MySpace says otherwise, identifying them as from Knox County, Tenn. (presumably a much folkier place). Through the "wonder" of MySpace I had the chance to hear a couple of their tunes, which are in the earnest young harmonizing couple vein, and pretty good. They're sharing the bill both times with Chris Parreira, a young Arcatan who also has a MySpace, but less informative. No tunes, not by Chris anyway - I did learn that he likes Dylan, Tom Waits and Jimi, and politically he's a centrist.
More rockin' and far less folky: A show Friday night at Humboldt Brewery with Social Ills and Kids For Sale, and here we're talking rock on the hard side.
On the semi-alt. rock/lead-singer-with-shirt-off front we have a Bad Kitty show Sunday at the Boiler Room with Idle Red, a band from Mesa, Ariz. You'd expect a local opener, but Norm can't seem to find one.
Aside from that, it's still pretty lean on the NoHum live music scene, with most clubs laying low until the students return to Capistrano (no, wait, that's swallows) and others relying on the ever present DJs. Extra bonus at Indigo Saturday - Foam Party! (What is that, like a wet t-shirt contest crossed with a DJ night?)
Did you hear a rumbling sound coming from down SoHum way over the weekend? It might have been the sound of the other shoe dropping in the Mateel/People Productions/Reggae on the River standoff. As you might recall, the two sides were in mediation, with only rumors as to how it was going. Apparently it was not going very well.
A letter from the Mateel Board sent out Friday announced that the board "regrets to announce that extensive mediation with People Productions has failed to produce a favorable result for both parties. The Board remains completely committed to the continuation of Reggae on the River, and is moving forward to ensure the successful production of the festival in 2007. Unfortunately, part of that process is ending the existing contract with PP, as Carol Bruno has publicly announced that she will not work under that contract with this Board and E.D. In order to move forward, the MCC has taken the necessary step of ending the contract with People Productions."
Translation: They decided to call Carol's bluff and see if they can run the festival themselves. Well, not exactly by themselves. They go on to explain that "The MCC board feels that a short term licensing of the event is the best course of action," to get the cash flow going and to "guard our intellectual property that is Reggae on the River and give us time to gather community input on the direction of the show. The MCC will announce the licensee in January of the new year."
As of press time, they're being tight-lipped about who that might be, but I have my hunches. The announcement goes on to offer an olive branch to anyone who worked on the show in the past, in the hopes that the crucial nature of the event will inspire the community to pull together in unity once again to save the day. The board concludes by "gratefully acknowledg[ing] the love, hard work and years of dedication" of Carol Bruno and her hardworking husband John Bruno, "expressing its gratitude" even if it could not figure a way to get along with them.
Meanwhile, despite the fact that the Mateel staff was laid off before the holidays, there's one of those classic help-your-neighbors benefits scheduled for Friday, Jan. 5, at the Mateel, specifically a "Sherri Nelsen Fire Relief Benefit," supporting a Salmon Creek family whose home burned to the ground in November. This is one of those sliding scale things where they hope you feel generous.
Incidentally, the money is much needed, since the generous donations already collected for the family were stolen by a truly dastardly thief who broke into the Mateel and (I'm told) busted open a big glass bottle full of cash. Man, that's low.
The benefit starts with dinner at 5 p.m. by Chef Rene Pineda, with Reggae recycler Pepper Sanborn providing acoustic background followed by Elise and Johnny Walker's rootsy folk and blues, countryish rockers Black Sand and last but not least Albino!, a hot 12-piece Afrobeat band from San Francisco channeling the spirit of Fela Kuti. (I've heard them, and they really are hot.) You may remember them from their last gig at the Mateel, the night of the all-out family quarrel at the annual Mateel meeting. You know, the night when Carol Bruno announced she wanted out of her contract and the board said no way. But wait, you probably did not hear them that night, since pretty much everyone went home mad before the band got to play. Judging from the action on the blog message boards, it will be a long time before the battle in SoHum cools down. Yes, it's time for some unity - and, to quote Los Lobos, "Peace, peace, peace in the neighborhood..."