What I’m Listening To

One of my friends, who is also a Fur Peace Ranch regular, and also an avid reader of Checkin’ the Levels, left me a comment asking me what I was listening to and if I would post it next time I blogged. Well …..I blogged about the NEW HOT TUNA and got so wrapped up in the sounds…..I forgot to include my full report on my recent listening pleasures. So……here it is. Well, first off……I have been listening to that NEW Hot Tuna quite a bit in this last week. I put it in heavy rotation initially so I could check it out and write a review…..but what happened was……I loved the CD so much, I just left it in the player and listened to it over and over again. That is a very good sign……and it makes me flash back to the golden days of vinyl, when I would get a new record and play it over and over until the grooves smoked.

Anyhey……I have been listening to alot of African music as of late. Aside from my long-time love of Reggae music……at one time I was really fired up on the Afro-Beat sounds of Fela Kuti and the Ju Ju music of King Sunnny Ade. But……I hadn’t listened to this style of music in some time. One of my friends had laid a nice compilation CD of Modern African music on me and it started the fire burning again. In the last couple of weeks I have bought about six new Afro- Sounds CDs…..two of these are great compilations of African music from back in the prime time of the 1970′s. These are imports on the Sound Way label. Nigeria Special: Modern Highlife, Afro-Sounds and Nigerian Blues 1970-6 is one of these …..and the other one is Ghana Special: Modern Highlife, Afro-Sounds and Ghanaian Blues 1968 – 81. These two collections are quite fantastic. The music is blazin and the compilation puts together alot of hard to find artists and songs onto CD. Extensive and really informative liner notes accompany these two CD sets in a booklet format. Someone has really done a lot of work in assembling these two collections and I’m impressed and grateful.

Another Afro-Beat artist has just released a new CD and I’m playing this one over and over too. The artist I refer to is Tony Allen and his new CD is titled, “Secret Agent“. Tony was Fela Kuti’s drummer for many years and even Fela is on record as saying without Tony there would be no Afro-Beat. These two, Fela and Tony, were the architects of the Afro-Beat-Sound. This one is a real winner and aside from the infectious grooves……there is a heavy horn section presence, that I really dig.

Also…….I have all the Bunny Wailer music on vinyl…..Jamaican releases for many…..but only the great Blackheart Man on CD. I was getting a hankering for wanting to hear Bunny’s second release….Protest….and when I went to look for the CD, well, dag-nab-it……I found out it was out of print. But in quicker then soon come time, I was able to locate this out of print CD through the second hand market. Now with it in my possession……I’ve been listening to it pretty regularly…….and loving it. Another NEW Reggae collection, just released, is also getting a lot of ear time…this being….Jammy’s From The Roots 1977 – 1985. Jammy’s refers to the GREAT Lloyd ‘Prince Jammy’ James who was a great record producer in the days of roots and culture. Some of the artists on this CD you will have heard of…some I have not heard of……but all the tracks are great! Appropriately …..all the tracks were recorded at the top spots for Reggae Roots in Jamaica……King Tubby’s, Harry J’s, Channel One and Jammy’s. All the great Jamaican studio musicians are present laying down some heavy support rhythms. Real nice.

I’ve also been listening to some “commercial” sounds as well. Getting into the NEW Jimi Hendrix, “Valley of Neptune” and the latest Massive Attack, “Heligoland”. So…..there you have it. Thanks Rob for asking…..you might have started something here…….Look for more “What I’m Listening To” blogs in the future. Some readers might wonder…..”When does he find time to listen to all that music?”…..so I’ll tell ya…..I never tire of the sounds of music, so I’m listening to music while the morning coffee is brewing ……the CD player in the truck plays constantly……I get to listen to music
in my very hip office cabin……and I’m playing the boombox (Yes, I still use one) when I’m out workin’ in a yard. Music makes a great soundtrack for living…………….Live UP and Listen UP…….plenty of good sounds in Jah universe.

And this is what I come back too???

So…….After a great time in California, I’m home — here in the Buckeye State of Ohio. I landed late at night in Columbus and a good friend was there to pick me up….even though it isn’t snowing …..the remnants remain of what must have been a lot of snow while I was gone……bummer that I missed out on that. I head into work on Wednesday morning and when I & I opened the door to cabin #4…..my office…..well I almost had a heart attack. Clutching my chest …..just like Fred G. Sanford…..my eyes look around the room and it dawns on me that my office has had a complete makeover……and they must have got a Rastaman to do it. Whoooooaaaa, boy…….and what an IRIE job he done.

Ras Hurl takin' it all in

Ras Hurl takin' it all in

While I was out in California, the boss lady…..Vanessa, had made arrangements with our great friend……and Rasta brother……Kevin Morgan to surprise me with a complete renovation of my office……with REGGAE in mind. I was so knocked out that I almost could not speak and just had to look and look……it was totally amazing. I’ve got a new wood-like laminate floor……and a very earthy green new coat of paint on the walls……and a desktop stained in the Ites colors of red, gold and green…..and red, green and gold shelves too…….another WHOOOOAAA BOY…….and a new oil painting of Bob as a centerpiece on the main wall. When I find out that Kevin did the work, I just had to ring him up. As I’m telling him how much I LOVE what he had done……I ask……”Where the Bob painting come from?….I never seen that around your house” ….and he replies….”That’s a gift I painted for the I”.
Ras Hurl enjoying his renovated digs

Ras Hurl enjoying his renovated digs

Well as you can see from this picture…..it is a very impressive painting. I would go as far to say……It is the best painting of Bob I’ve ever seen. Bob in about 1975….just starting to dreadout…. about the same time I seen him live for the first time. Well……you see why I was so knocked out. Anyhey, BIG UP and BIG THANKS to Ras Morgan and his expert helper…..Davo….also known as Dave Shaulis !!! It’s funny when I talked to Kevin, he was concerned about how he had put my things back in place……..and I had to say….no worries, mon…. I & I could not have placed them any better. A BIG, BIG thanks to Vanessa and Jorma too…..always doing nice things for the I…….Yes…..the blessings continue……give thanks!

Good Time In The Golden State

Dis mornin I woke up and was thinking about what a full and action packed time these last few weeks have been. Yes, it was just three weeks ago that I escaped the cold snowy Ohio winter for a reprieve in the golden state. The weather here has been just the best and the sun and warmth has been good for my soul, but there has been a good deal of other things pitching in as well. Of course MUSIC is and has been for a long time a big part of my life and these past weeks have been a nice dip or should I say soaking in the musical springs.

On the day we landed here in San Diego, Vanessa, my sister – Marylou and her husband – John, and I made a dash into downtown San Diego to catch the great Tommy Emmanuel in concert. I had been telling ML and John about Tommy for some time and it was so cool how well the timing worked. Well, Tommy was in prime form and they were just knocked out. For Vanessa and I the nice thing was getting to sit and enjoy a complete set of Tommy’s magical performance without being pulled away. It was just fantastic….his show covers it all in gold…The Merle Travis style……Chet Atkins….Les PaulDjango Reinhart and his own original gems. The music is accompanied by amazing stories and energy. Thanks a lot Tommy!

Over the next couple of days we hung around San Diego and did some chillaxin. My sister had everyone over for a pasta and meatball dinner on Friday night and everything was VA BENNE!!! My Italian Mom is and would be proud of her. My niece Brittany has a penchant for fine deserts and she made a cheesecake that was fantastic. Good eating tonight….Jorma put the icing on the cake with a beautiful Embryonic Journey that added a touch of surrealism to the evening. It is still sustaining in their living room. The next night Jorma did a rare private performance for some real nice folks in the San Diego area. Seeing Jorma perform solo is rare too these days and it made it all the more special….back to the roots. A big up to the hosts of this fine time…..your hospitality and good vibes really made for another great time.

Sunday comes and we’re convoying up the 15 heading to the Desert Hot Springs for our FPR on the road adventure. We pull into town a little early for check-in so we while away our time with a killer lunch at The South of the Border Mexican Restaurant. Fernando, the owner, is still here and the food exceeded our anticipation and boy did we have that. We’ve eaten there several times each of the last three years we’ve come this way and what can I say…..it’s so good it’s almost worth drivng here from Ohio. Suerte, Fernando…..keep it coming. The day ended with a nice soak in the mineral hot springs at the Resort….making sure the waters were perfect for our guests coming in on Monday for the workshops.

Come Monday….GE and I start the day with an early morning drive out to the Indian Canyons on the edge of Palm Springs. We hike into Palm Canyon which is a part of the Aqua Caliente Indian Reservation. The Cahuilla people have been stewards of this sacred land for centuries. We don’t see anyone except the tribal rangers until we start our walk back. The land is so peaceful and beautiful….we note the absolute silence other then the morning birds and ramblin stream…. and think what a perfect way to begin this day. We drive back to the spa and I spend some time in the hot springs and the big swimming pool. Later in the afternoon our people start to arrive and before long we’re orientating and having dinner. GE and JK decide to kick things off with a class that night.

The Captain and his class

The Captain and his class -photo: Joe Couri

Tuesday sets the pattern for what will be a very full week. The day consists of breakfast…workshop…lunch….workshop…..dinner …….workshop… and some time to also relax in the waters. We are being treated to some beautiful weather the whole time we are at the Resort. The temps are in the high 70s and low 80s and the clear sky affords us a nice view of the San Jacinto Mountains. Nights are clear with a bunch of stars in the sky and an occasional passing of a Correlian Star Cruiser…..class three.

We start our Wednesday very early as a group of us have made plans to catch Jah sun rise out on highway 74 at the vista point. Vanessa and Joe C. drive 10 of us out of the Resort at 5:20 am for our adventure.

Early morning flight crew

Early morning flight crew -photo: Joe Couri

A little light is starting to show as we make our way up the mountain ……. And then more and more light…….then the real star arrives to bath the sky in colors. The Salton Sea, some 40 miles away, reflects the colors back to the heavens. The day is off to a great start and it would only get better and better.
Sun Rise over the Sultan Sea

Sun Rise over the Sultan Sea -photo: Joe Couri

That night after dinner, GE and JK treat us all to a wonderful show in the Grand Ballroom. The show would prove a good starting point for the week plus of shows that GE and JK have scheduled for the west coast once the workshops are finished…..but let me not get ahead of myself here.
Jorma and GE Smith performance

Jorma and GE Smith performance -photo: Joe Couri

Thursday is another full day and we’re all looking forward to the really big show that night. My FPR associates and I always find great joy in the Student Performance that we usually do on Sundays at the Ranch….and it would be no different here at our workshops in the California desert. The Student Performance is just like an open stage except for….as JK notes…..we all like each other. That night we were treated to some great music and entertainment, as solo performers……newly formed duos…..GE’s
GE's class recital - Acoustic Guitarmaggadon

GE's class recital - Acoustic Guitarmaggadon -photo: Joe Couri

class (boy, oh, boy …can that Neil sing) and other singers and players of instruments took the stage.  Everyone brought something to the show….Marc got us going….Anne and Bob did my song…. I mean their song….my request…..and John D. never stopped …. following through to the delight of all…..respect my man! I got a chance to take the stage tree times. Joe C. and I did a nice version of The Weight, hitting the harmonies and sharing verses….when we got to the third AND, and the chorus……everybody was there. Next, I got a chance to play with my buddy Norm for a take on Dylan’s She Belongs To Me. GE joined us and played some nice and tasty leads. We were about ready to wrap things up, when I asked Vanessa if she wanted to do our song. Back at camp in Ohio we have closed many a Student Performance together with the Tim Hardin song Seems Like A Long Time. I first heard the song on a Brewer and Shipley record called Tarkio Road….it’s the same one with One Toke Over The Line on it and Rod Stewart also did a nice version of it on one of his early records….Well as we head for the stage here comes Izze right behind Vanessa and up onto the stage to share the microphone with her Mom.
Izze's open stage performance

Izze's open stage performance -photo: Joe Couri

Izze was the greatest….I’m not kidding…..hitting the harmony notes and starting and stopping at precisely the right moments. As I looked at Vanessa on my right and then turned to Jorma on my left….it was hard to decide who had the biggest
smile…..it was one of those golden moments. GE was there to accent the song with some delicately beautiful guitar work. So we call it a night and everyone in the room is feeling the love as we bring the performance to a close. THANKS TO EVERYONE….what a night. A group of us meet over in one of the hot pools for a late night soak and session….wait a minute……who’s that comin……it’s Captain Jorm jumping in.

We all have a nice breakfast and the teachers wrap up the week’s workshops with one more session before we all get ready to head out. We sure had a great time!!! We’re on the road just after 11:00 am as we are trying to beat it on down the line to Santa Monica before the traffic gets too crazy…..and we do. We check into a nice hotel right by the Santa Monica Pier and not too far from McCabes Guitar Shop, where Jorma and GE will be playing four soldout shows over the next two nights. Check out Jorma’s Diary for set-lists and a full report. What I will tell you is that I was so glad to be there to see the amazing music that poured forth from these two great guitarist and long time friends. GE has been coming to the Ranch since the very beginning and JK and him have had many an occasion to do some playing, but this was their first tour as a duo. Each show got better and better and during the course of those four shows ….not a song was repeated. The format was very organic….so don’t panic….with both players swapping songs and stories into the night. JK would add some nice lead work to GE’s song choice and GE would respond in kind. One of my friends wrote me after seeing them in Santa Cruz and said it was like seeing two friends jamming at their house and getting invited over to listen.

Sunday morning I say my farewell to the guys for now….it sure was fun…..they’re driving up to San Francisco and I’m heading over to Glendale to see an old friend. My friend lives just a couple of miles from the Gene Autry Museum and we head over there to have a visit. The museum is fantastic….they have an open stage going on with a large group of Cowboy singers and Cowgirls too… singing out. There is also a Western Artists Show going on and my favorite Western Artist, Howard Terpning has won first prize with the beautiful oil painting Sound of Bugles in the Distance. The original is on display and I’m in amazement with how life like his images are…..very cool. We go through all of the many displays of Gene Autry memorabilia and Cowboy culture of the old west. Later in the afternoon I make the drive across town to Long Beach for the 29th Annual Ragamuffin Reggae Festival. The lineup is top shelve and I have a very irie time listening to the mighty…Mighty Diamonds….Coco Tea….and a long time favorite…Gregory Isaacs. Gregory, the cool ruler, has been around for a long time and although he’s looking older and rougher then when I saw him on the beach in Negril in 85.…his performance is Super Irie and he’s hitting all the notes…..with sustain….oh, what a feeling……he stretches out on all his big numbers. I left the arena super stoked to drive back to the hotel.

Morning comes and I drive Izze and her Mom over to LAX and then I start my drive down to my sister’s place in San Diego. No one will be home until late in the afternoon so I decide to take my time and cut over to the Pacific Coast Highway around Oceanside. The drive is beautiful and I’m really diggin the sights. I make a long stop in Encinitas, again one of my favorites, for a nice long walk from Swami’s Beach all the way to Moonlight Beach and back. It was just one of those days…..Bless and Bless again.

After several days back in San Diego doing fun things with all family members…sunsets, beach walks, hiking, good eating and other things….I fly up to San Francisco for the weekend to visit some old pals. I’m there less then two days….but we find time for some good live music out on the town. On Saturday night we catch an exciting concert with Niko Vega and Soundtracks of our Lives. I wasn’t hip to either of these groups, but really glad my buddy was and that he had grabbed us some tickets….it was sold out. The music was primal rock and roll and I dug it.

Tomorrow I’m flying back to Ohio. It has been a great time here in California and as you can see…..I’ve caught some great music. This afternoon as I sat in my sister’s backyard the birds that have been singing sweetly throughout my visit, sang a beautiful farewell song…..and I thought…..it’s been great, now it’s time to get back to Meigs County, Ohio and get the Ranch ready for our opening weekend.


Our Couples’ Weekend at the Fur Peace Ranch has been a very special weekend ever since its inception 11 years ago.  It was during the second Couples’ Weekend that I came up with this killer plan ……for a killer band ….to play with me during the student performance…….and thus was born Hurls Girls.

Hurls Girls are…..me, the Hurl….along with all the ladies who attend Couples Weekend.  Now for the very first one,  two of the ladies…..Tina from Finland and another lady from Detroit, who was a bad bass player and I’m sorry to say I have forgotten her name…..accompanied me on guitar while all the other ladies provided soulful background vocals.  During our early years, some of the ladies were too shy to take the stage, but that doesn’t happen anymore……we won’t allow it…..we need full participation to get the sound I’m looking for.  So…we’ve been building this up over the years and we may have reached our highest heights this past August during our part of the performance.  A little bit more background information…..several years ago I bent the rules and we added to this ALL female band another male member….Collin Rocker…..and he did a killer job playing some fine bass in the band.  Collin has been on the stage with me and the gals for the last few years and he has really added some nice bass grooves.  Now for Couples Weekend 2010 the Rockers were not able to make the trip to the Ranch, thus breaking their attendance streak…..and we really missed Jon and Lori ….. along with my bass player…..their son….Collin. So…..I had to think quick…..and find a bass player of the highest order.  Fortunately, for us all,  such a bass player was ranchside and he agreed to join the group for our Sunday performance. Yes, the one and only Byron House was here teaching bass for the weekend and he joyfully jumped in to play bass with me and the girls.  This year we selected two beautiful songs to perform….The Dino Valenticlassic “Get Together” made famous by the Youngbloods and the Bob Marley anthem….”One Love”.

We have a great time putting our song arrangements together and practicing the songs before the Sunday show.  We met up on Friday night to work on our two songs and the practice went great.  We nailed “Get Together”  almost immediately…..these gals are good.  “One Love” took a little bit more work and its funny how a song you know so well can be so hard to work out.  The song has some very nice call and response vocals that make it a bit tricky and the timing and delivery is important for the song to come off properly.  So….we rehearsed Friday night and then again on Saturday and its getting there……still I’m feeling a tad nervous about pulling it off.  Come Sunday early afternoon …..we do one last practice session …..with Byron and 19 wonderful…and I do mean…..absolutely great…..female background singers……and it during this practice that we positively run through the “One Love”… and feel the One Love that has us all as happy as a Rasta in Zion!!!  So ….we’re ready.

For this Sunday’s student performance we decide to do it in the Workshop building, which has a small stage and was our concert hall before the Fur Peace Station was built. This is going to be a completely unplugged student performance (another first) and we are ready.  These student performances are some of the best times we have in the course of a weekend and this one was no different.  Massive respect to all the students that took the stage and played the songs……it was a heaven of a time.  As we got toward the end of the afternoon performances Hurls Girls took the stage. This video clip from YouTube captures the great feel and great sound that was Hurls Girls on a warm sunny Sunday afternoon in August. 

We were all blazin with how well everything went down….for we did Bob proud and played our finest version of “One Love” that afternoon.  Sometimes you can come away from a performance with the feeling that you wished you had done it as well LIVE as you had in practice. But for us…..Hurls Girls…..we saved the best performance for the people and for that Sunday performance….Let JAH be praised!!!!

I would like to thank the faboulous singers, that make up Hurls Girls…..ladies, your singing is very IRIE and I am so happy that we could make music together. For the ladies who have been a part of Hurls Girls in the past, but have been unable to get back to the Ranch…..remember….once a Hurls Girls…..well you know. I’ve got to tell ya, Bob always felt so good having the I-Threes singing background with him…..for me, having 19 background singers pushes feeling good to the highest of heights! Whoaaaaaaa, bwoi…….A BIG UP to Ras Byron as well for dubbing it up and laying down some crucial bass…..a BIG UP to ALL!!!! Bless and Bless again!


I’ll be putting together a final recap of our great time at the Full Moon Resort in Big Indian, New York in the next few days. But first…..One of our dear Fur Peace friends has been in touch with me lately……..he has a bad case of Reggaemalidis. Some of you may wonder what that is about……..so, I’ll tell you. You see Steve has caught the vibe and caught it bad.

It happens when you dig in deep to Reggae music and it bites you with a solid one-drop riddim……add some conscious lyrics …….and you are taken by the sounds and can’t get enough of it. So……Steve reached out to the I, knowing that I am all about Reggae, and asked me for some recommendations. I sent him a note with my TOP TEN and have decided to put it out there for all to see and feel………….I would encourage any or all to submit there Top Ten Reggae favorites and we’ll drop them into the comments section of CHECKIN THE LEVELS…….Here’s mine….

1.) Marley – Natty Dread
2.) Marley – Survival
3.) Tosh – Equal Rights
4.) Culture – Two Sevens Clash
5.) Heptones – Night Food…..Unfortunately……out of print….I think they are getting ready to release a deluxe version
6.) Bunny Wailer – Black Heart Man
7.) Gregory Isaacs – Cool Ruler
8.) Gregory Isaacs – Soon Forward
9.) Dennis Brown – Wolfs and Leopards
10.) Spear – Marcus Garvey

Yes, these are all from the classic days…….that’s where my head and heart are at…….classic roots and culture! My favorite Reggae CD at this moment in time is by the EASY STAR ALL-STARS it is called Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Dub Band. This is a real fun listen….the Easy Stars are the ones that did DUB SIDE OF THE MOON in 2003. That CD was tremendously successful …. it was a reggae version of Floyd’s – Dark Side of the Moon. So ….. for the new release they have taken the Beatles’ classic, Sgt. Peppers, and they perform the album in its entirety with a special guest vocalist on each track. You get to hear Luciano doing “With a Little Help from my Friends”……Matisyahu does a crucial cover of “Within You Without You”……My favorite might be…..the mighty U – Roy doing “Lovely Rita”…..but the whole thing rocks nice and steady. Great idea and they have collected some of Reggae’s greats to sing the songs. Before making the trip to Big Indian for our FPR on the Road Workshops, I took a short but full trip to N. California for the Sierra World Music Festival.

What a great event this is and my tam is off to the fine people who are responsible for putting it on. The festival has been going on for years and it is known for presenting some of the finest music in the World ……especially Reggae sounds…..at a very nice spot in Booneville, California. This year’s lineup was top shelf……my favorites were……The Easy Star All-Stars, Heptones, Abyssinians, Sly and Robbie, King Sunny Ade and the Itals. I’m already looking forward to doing it again next summer. Alright, Peace and Good Vibes……………Nuff Respect!!!!!