11 min read

The Friday Roundup

St. Patrick's Day in Savannah, Georgia, rare music from Bob Dylan, and big news for Frank Black and the Pixies fans!
Frank Black Francis of Pixies at Manchester, England's Albert Hall. March, 2024. (Photo courtesy of Ian Corbridge)
Frank Black Francis of Pixies at Manchester, England's Albert Hall. March, 2024. (Photo courtesy of Ian Corbridge)

Greetings, kind subscribers!

It’s a nice feeling to type those words, as this newsletter and website have been an awfully long time coming.

Wicked Messenger officially launched just three days ago, and I am both touched, honored and somewhat thrilled to say that as I type this, the second post in the site’s history, exactly 107 of you have signed up for a subscription! Your individual and collective interest in what I am creating here from scratch is extremely encouraging to me, and I am determined to offer the best and the widest variety of content that I am capable of, from here on out.

The overwhelming majority of those who have signed up so far have opted for free subscriptions. That means that in a couple of weeks, when the introductory, “tire-kicking” phase of the site (during which every single thing that I write or record and release through Wicked Messenger will be available for any and all to see, hear and, hopefully, enjoy) has come to a close, anyone who has not by that point opted to upgrade their free subscription to the paid, premium tier (which costs as little as $4.16 per month) will still continue to regularly receive posts just like this one in their email inbox – every week, like clockwork, on Friday mornings. They just won’t receive the additional, longer articles, interviews, podcasts and other audio and video content which will show up at other times of the week.

These Friday morning posts are designed as unpredictable and eclectic samplers of both timely and timeless information and media: things I find genuinely fascinating, or terrifying, or simply bemusing. They’re my way of sharing with you all whatever my own interests are contemplating at that particular moment, in hopes some or all of you will find them worthy of contemplation as well.

From time to time, as I do in today’s post, I may also make exclusive announcements of news items or developments which have not yet been reported in the press. (In fact, today’s scoop is a DOOZY for devoted fans of Pixies frontman Frank Black Francis…)

My fervent hope is that you will, at times, feel compelled to leave a question or a comment regarding any of these subjects underneath that week’s Friday Roundup (an option reserved for those at the paid, premium tier) – and that, over time, the discussions and conversations which develop through that process will come to help enhance – and perhaps even define – the totality of what Wicked Messenger ultimately becomes.

I see this site as a living, breathing thing which holds the means to create a simpatico community of disparate folks, friends and strangers from all over. Each of whom has been drawn (for their own specific reasons) to support this humble endeavor through paid subscription. Reasons which may often not intersect, but which can wind up bringing people together on a little platform I envision as floating out in the middle of a massive, incomprehensibly vast ocean of keystrokes and compressed audio files.

So, with all that in mind, shall we begin?

We’ll start with the fact that today is March 16, one day before St. Patrick’s Day – a relatively minor holiday for most. However, as someone who has resided in Savannah, Ga. since the fall of 1986, the advent of St. Pat’s has come to symbolize all manner of gleeful stupidity and ham-fisted attempts at debauchery.

For the uninformed, St. Patrick’s Day is to Savannah what Mardi Gras is to New Orleans. That is, if Mardi Gras was twice as drunk and half as interesting.

Every year for generations now, for a few days leading up to and following this holiday, the Greater Savannah area – which for almost a decade has been ranked as one of the Top Five U.S. Destinations for tourists by readers of Travel + Leisure Magazine – sees its population temporarily swell by as many as 500,000 people, most all of whom come to bask in the breathtaking beauty of this fabled, historic city on the coast while taking advantage of our communities time-honored and extraordinarily lax attitude regarding public intoxication (it’s legal for those 21 and older to drink even hard liquor out in the open on public property in the picturesque downtown Landmark District, provided the container it’s in is not made of glass or metal and holds no more than 16 fluid ounces).

We are best upon by hordes of lowest common denominator revelers (many from the nearby sticks), plenty of which might be charitably described as “amateur alcoholics.” Between the dyed green water spraying from our majestic fountains, the gaudy streetwear, and the bars, taverns and saloons which open as early as 7AM in order to take advantage of the most devoted and hearty of annual celebrants, it’s a real shit show.

While the oldest St. Patrick’s Day street parade known to occur in North America took place in 1601 (yes, you read that right) in a Spanish colony which is now the site of St. Augustine, Fl., Savannah has held its own parade since 1824, and as a result, the local Irish-American organization known as the Hibernians (which oversee the city’s official celebrations) have made a relatively big deal out of this 200th anniversary. Since tomorrow is a Sunday, the current parade committee decided to hold the procession (which some misguided Savannahians like to acually brag is not the best, or most interesting, or the classiest, or the most diverse such parade in this country, but rather, the LONGEST) today, on Saturday.

In honor of this extravagant mishegoss, I’ll steer you toward two worthwhile corners of the internet.

The first is one of only five studio tracks which have ever seen the light of day from a holy grail recording session of sorts – Bob Dylan’s aborted 1992 album of traditional folk songs and covers by other songwriters, which he made in collaboration with famed acoustic multi-instrumentalist, music archivist and record producer David Bromberg. Cut in a few short days in Chicago, Il., with Bromberg’s own road band serving as backing musicians, rumor has it that Dylan himself religiously took the master tapes of these sessions back to his hotel room every night after things wound down, so that no unauthorized dubs could leak out.

However, while only two of the 12 finished songs from that never-released collection eventually filtered out on two separate editions of Bob’s most excellent, authorized outtakes compilation TELL TALE SIGNS: THE BOOTLEG SERIES VOL. 8 RARE AND UNRELEASED 1989-2006, two more songs have surfaced unofficially, both in less than stellar (but perfectly listenable) quality. This is one of those two, an EXTENSIVELY rewritten cover of Chicago bluesman Jimmy Rodgers' 1954 Chess Records single “Sloppy Drunk” – a track which, in its original incarnation featured the incredible lineup of Willie Dixon on upright bass, Little Walter on harmonica, Muddy Waters on guitar, Otis Spann on piano and drummers Elgin Evans and/or Fred Below.

First, here’s the quintessentially “Dylanized” version:

And here is the original version which Bob almost completely rewrote:

(By the way, are there any readers out there who were as lucky as I was to attend David Bromberg’s spellbinding solo show at Randy Wood’s Picking Parlor back in 2008? If so, leave a comment below with any memories you have of that whisper-quiet listening-room gig.)

Second, I recommend you get a load of acclaimed writer, humorist and Savannah transplant Harrison Scott Key’s heartfelt 2022 essay on his own difficulties as a newbie trying to navigate Savannah’s oddly clique-ish, booze-soaked vibe – and how that somewhat dispiriting journey led him to cast caution to the wind and embrace his inner frat boy (which, honestly, sounds like it wasn’t too awfully far removed from the surface of his psyche).

I met Harrison a couple of times during my tenure as the guy minding the shop at The Book Lady Bookstore, downtown’s famed outlet for both new and used tomes of all stripes, and he always seemed like a nice and highly intelligent fellow. I think anyone who’s lived in or near Savannah’s historic district for any period of time will find plenty to appreciate in his wry, personal tale. Those who have not should find it easy to embrace as well.

(Got any battle scars of your own from prior St. Pat’s Day parades, or from what came after? Let us know about them below…)

Speaking of Dylan, he and his current road band just played two nights at Athens, Ga.’s Classic Center a few nights ago. I last caught Bob and company a few months ago in Baltimore and understandably assumed it would be my last chance to see him on what is reported to be his final tour. Imagine my surprise when – without warning – he up and booked thirteen additional shows within a 6.5-hour drive from my home! So, I unfortunately didn’t attend any of the recent Florida shows, nor have I caught him in Georgia, and I won’t see him in the Carolinas.

By all accounts, the Athens shows were deemed extremely entertaining and rather revelatory by the handful of my friends and acquaintances who were able to make the scene. And I could not help but think back to the time I drove with some friends from Savannah up to Athens to see Bob play the Classic Center for his first time.

That was back in 1997, barely two years after that 8,500-capacity multi-purpose venue had opened. A bland, cavernous space geared more toward sporting events than music shows. Dylan was touring behind his most recent album, the transcendent TIME OUT OF MIND, which had, effectively, both reinvented and jumpstarted his musical career after a long stint in a wilderness of writer’s block and dwindling crowd sizes.

The LP, his first collaboration with iconic and iconoclastic Canadian engineer and producer Daniel Lanois would go on to win the Grammy for Album of The Year (check out the acceptance speeches here), and that night in what I believe was one of the first live music events ever held at the Classic Center, he was debuting a new lineup of his ever-changing road band. On the live, unauthorized field recording embedded below, Bob is on both rhythm and (quirky) lead electric guitar, backed by bassist Tony Garnier (ex-Lounge Lizards and Asleep at The Wheel), pedal steel and slide guitarist Bucky Baxter (ex-Steve Earle), drummer David Kemper (ex-Focus and the Jerry Garcia Band), and electric guitarist Larry Campbell (ex-Happy Traum, Eric Anderson and John Sebastian).

Virtually no one in the packed, standing crowd was familiar with the amazingly gifted Campbell, and while I found his seemingly effortless playing immensely sublime, my buddy and Superhorse bandmate Jason found Campbell’s look (long, deep brown leather duster jacket, black slacks and western boots) and visage (long, board-straight jet black hair and a jet black Van Dyke beard) quite disconcerting.  “What’s up with the creepy cowboy vampire?” he snorted with derision, before eventually – and reluctantly – warming to Campbell’s instrumental prowess.

That night we crashed at the home of our pal and fellow concertgoer, the esteemed young electric and pedal steel guitar prodigy John Neff, a founding (and on-again off-again) member of the Drive-By Truckers, as well as scores of other notable roots-rock and C&W acts of the past 30 years (he's also the unofficial seventh member of Superhorse), and stayed up till the tiny, tiny hours together, laughing and drinking and never once imagining that in the year 2024, an almost 83-year-old Dylan would still be on the road, playing mostly sold out shows all over the world, and performing vaguely antagonistic gigs which would find him forsaking his trademark guitar for the piano (!) to offer intensely idiosyncratic sets which boldly avoid most anything even close to resembling one of his major hits, and instead which focus predominately on his most recent album (something NO ONE at his level even comes CLOSE to attempting, as the fallout from such behavior would likely ruin or at least significantly hobble their careers).

An album which, astoundingly, included “Murder Most Foul,” the longest song he’s ever released. Clocking in at almost 17 minutes, that heavily impressionistic spoken-word dissection of the JFK assassination went on to become the only Dylan track to ever hit Number One on any U.S. music chart, and is also the longest song ever to do so (by far).

While you let those stunning and bizarre achievements sink in, take a listen to Bob’s Classic Center arrangement of “Tears of Rage,” a song he co-wrote in 1967 with the late, great Richard Manuel of Americana pioneers the Band, while Dylan was convalescing from breaking his neck in a motorcycle accident. I was in the audience for this very show, not too far back from center stage. Were any of you?

And finally, I promised above that fans of Boston’s innovative 1980s alternative-rock quartet the Pixies, and/or their enigmatic and mercurial frontman Black Francis (or Frank Black, as he chose to be known from 1993 through 2007 – and which there is speculation he might just be starting to call himself again in certain instances) would receive some exclusive information in this Roundup, and here it is:

The Pixies are currently on the road in Europe breaking in a brand-new touring bassist (Emma Richardson, formerly of the British blues-rock trio Band of Skulls) playing highly anticipated, sold-out theater shows which find them tackling many complex deep tracks they’ve not played publicly since 1992 – or, in some cases, ever –  as they perform both their 1990 album BOSSANOVA and their 1991 album TROMPE LE MONDE back-to-back in their entirety (a first for the group) to critical raves.

Here's an encore from one of the shows just a few nights back – a brand-new, as-yet-unreleased song which fans are assuming is called "Vegas Suite":

At the end of May, the band kicks off the first night of its co-headlining tour with Modest Mouse (and opening act, former Atlantan Cat Power) at Charleston, S.C.’s buzzworthy new 4,500 capacity all-ages outdoor venue the Firefly Distillery.

However, just a few hours ago, I was told personally by one of the musicians who both played on Frank Black Francis’ triumphant, genre-bending 1994 double-album TEENAGER OF THE YEAR, as well as toured with him upon its release, that there are also plans underway for a brief 30th Anniversary “Reunion Tour” (here in the USA, no less!) celebrating the release of that legitimately stupefyingly accomplished and ballsy record.

Here’s one of my favorite cuts off the record.

For those of us who revere that sprawling masterpiece of punk-meets-prog-at-a-roadhouse-honky-tonk guitar and rhythm section virtuosity mixed with hard-to-categorize lyrics (which cleverly blend pop-culture and sci-fi references with Dadaist theory), this is something of a dream come true.

As someone lucky enough to have attended two shows on the 1994 – 1995 tour for TEENAGER OF THE YEAR, it is with some level of assurance that I say I will move heaven and earth to be in the crowd to see this particular collection of musicians revisit this particular collection of songs – something I truly never thought might take place.

While “details are still being worked out,” it appears that all the principals are on board for this undertaking – including bassist Eric Drew Feldman (PJ Harvey, The Residents, Pere Ubu, Snakefinger, Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band, The Polyphonic Spree), drummer Nick Vincent (John Fogerty, Sparklehorse, Chuck E. Weiss, Donny & Marie, Tito & Trantula, Carole King), and guitarist Lyle Workman (Jellyfish, Beck, Sting, Shakira, They Might Be Giants, Michael Buble, Sarah McLachlan, Ziggy Marley, Norah Jones, Bryan Adams, Sheryl Crow).

Here's a three-song blast of tunes from TOTY, featuring the exact lineup I’m speaking of, captured live at MTV’s NYC studios three decades ago and digitized from a decaying VHS tape. This may not be your cup of mead, but it’s most definitely mine:

Though not officially acknowledged or announced, literally while I was speaking with my friend, these plans were corroborated by FBF himself to another highly trusted mutual acquaintance, which allowed me to feel comfortable sharing this information publicly (as it is doubtlessly about to start getting around).

So – barring any unforeseen hindrances – it would seem this tour is a go!

That’s it for now, folks. Look forward to more disparate tidbits of (hopefully) relevant info headed your way every Friday, starting March 22.

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