It’s hard to find appropriate words to describe Muhammad Ali. Along with the Beatles he was the “Fab Five” of most important people to me during my Wonder Years, besides my parents and grandparents. Not since John Lennon’s assassination in 1980 have I been so saddened by a celebrity passing.
I can’t say I was a huge boxing fan, but Ali transcended sport and about everything else in the 1960s. As a teenager developing my own social conscience during those turbulent times, Ali’s refusal to serve in Vietnam– at the expense of three years at his boxing peak– gave countless young people like me the strength to stand by our convictions in the face of “establishment” policy. His razor-sharp commentary, once famously aimed as hilarious insults toward his early opponents, distilled sentiments of those outside of power when he observed, “I ain’t got no quarrel with no Viet Cong. No Viet Cong ever called me a nigger.”
We all know how he came back to become “The Greatest of All Time,” then faced a more formidable foe for more than three decades as Parkinson’s ravaged his body. Besides all the legendary moments, I’ve enjoyed hearing “regular” peoples’ accounts of how Ali touched them in some way. Many years ago when I wrote a magazine article on a pilgrimage to Graceland, one of the estate’s administrators told me that of all the famous people who visited the Elvis shrine, Ali impressed her the most. Instead of being ushered straight in like other celebrities, Ali said, “I can wait in line like everyone else.” For a couple hours he queued up with the masses, probably a more vivid memory than whatever they saw in the mansion.
One of his later quotes is among the most meaningful to me: “Now the things that once were so effortless – my strong voice and the quickness of my movements – are more difficult. But I get up every day and try to live life to the fullest because each day is a gift from God.” Those final words are on my 86-year-old Mom’s fridge magnet, and keep her in the ring for another round.
After the first round of voting, the Madison Area Music Association (MAMA) just announced finalists for the 2016 MAMA Awards– our version of the Grammys. My tune “Ukulele”– inspired by my grenddaughter Harper Rose– is through to the fiinals for Children’s Song. If you belong to MAMA, please vote for me! If not, you can become a MAMA member and help put me over the top, while supporting a great cause that purchases instruments for needy kids and supports underfunded school music programs. Here’s how:
1) go to www.themamas.org 2) Click on “Awards” at the top of the home page 3) Next page, click on “MAMA Awards” and scroll down to “Vote” 4) Next page, click on “Fan Membership” and join for only $5 (again, this goes directly to charity). After you’re joined you’ll be invited to click on a page to vote. Click on the Award Category “Children’s Song” on the left, then vote for “Ukulele—John Duggleby” You can also hear my song by clicking on the name. Any questions, shoot me a cybernote.
For the price of a frappelattewatever, you can give deserving kids the gift of music and, conversely, demonstrate that folks who qualify for AARP membership (like me) can still write meaningful songs. Thanks, and rock on!
Elephant love, as practiced by these passionate pachyderms I met in the bush of South Africa– does life get any sweeter? Unfortunately they didn’t, um, consummate the moment—now THAT would be a picture! I just returned from a month in a continent of miracle and wonder, so much more than I can begin to express here. All I can say is “Twalumba!”– “Thank you!” in Swahili.
Whatever floats your spiritual boat, I wish you tidings of comfort and joy today and throughout 2016.
Holy tailfeathers! I’m featured in the Nov./Dec. article of Our Wisconsin, a pretty well known and regarded magazine here in Cheeeseland. They took something I’d written on myself (focusing on my singing chicken persona) and edited it, adding even more corny chicken puns than I’d thought of! I have to admire someone with that kind of talent—we’re birds of a feather!
Here are a few personas of my late, great, Otis– Samoyed of 1,000 Disguises. They are from my new book “Oti’s Odyssey: A Rescue Dog’s Tail”. If you’re in interested in a copy of this saga of rescue, rehab and redemption, give a cybershout to firstname.lastname@example.org!
Otis the Samoyed of Destiny has been gone about a year now but his legend lives on– my new book Oti’s Odyssey: A Rescue Dog’s “Tail” has just arrived from the printer! This 36-page true story is a raggedy-paws to riches tale of rescue and redemption for kids of all ages, including those at heart. If you’ve ever owned, rescued, fostered or just loved a dog, just try resisting this furball.
Copies are $15 including shipping anywhere in the U.S. Signed copy? No problem! Contact email@example.com and I’ll get you one!
Thanks to everyone– especially supporters of my Kickstarter campaign– who helped make this tribute to animal rescue and fostering a reality!
I began my formal performing career at age 11 during the Hootenanny Craze of the 1960s. I sang and banged percussion in a “baby Kingston Trio” as the opening act of hootenannies that straddled the Mississippi in Iowa and Illinois. Pretty heady stuff at the time, though I now understand that it was because we were cute more than good. Our limited repertoire drew from traditional Appalachian and Caribbean fare covered by the likes of Pete Seeger– even Dylan hadn’t yet made a real dent in the genre. My folk flirtation ended– as did the Hootenanny Craze– with the invasion of this little British combo called The Beatles, and I squandered my teenage years drumming in bad garage bands.
Fast forward: I picked up a guitar at age 30, started writing songs and more recently entering them in contests. I was recently chosen as a finalist for one held at the Great River Folk Festival in LaCrosse, one of the larger regional events of its kind. It was one of the first of its ilk I’d attended since my “If I Had a Hammer” days– and my, how things have changed. For openers, three-chord songs don’t cut it any more. Even my seven-chord “Dear Mother” sounded rather rudimentary next to the studied compositions of some competitors. While I’ve always considered myself more of a lyricist, hearing their licks made me want to check out of life as I know it and immerse myself in music theory classes– and many more hours of practice. And the festival headliners like instrumental monsters Peter Oshtrushko and Dean Maguire drew inspiration not so much from Pete Seeger as from another outpost in the solar system.
I guess it all boils down to what Louis Armstrong reflected when asked if he played folk music: “I guess so; I play music for folks. Ain’t never heard a horse play the trumpet.” Check out a modern-day folk festival sometime, you may be surprised. And no, I didn’t win– but I sure learned.
Who needs your name in lights when you can have it in chalk? I’ve been a negligent blogger lately because I’ve been busy and happy playing farmers markets and other outdoor venues during this glorious, always too brief Cheeseland summer. There have also been other distractions, like my daughter’s wedding 12 days ago. My sets lately are heavy on farms, food and summer, a holy trinity lacking only beer (which also sneaks into my repertoire). Wherever you are, support your local food producers– and have their markets contact me for tasty entertainment!
There aren’t many people who are instantly tagged by their initials, but the King of the blues, B.B., is certainly one of them. But it wasn’t always that way. Slamming around in teenage garage bands in the Sixties, like most kids, I knew nothing about “real” blues– the kind played by black people before I was born– until white guys like Eric Clapton started covering them. I’d never heard of B.B. King until The Beatles name-checked him on a song from their “white album,” but he and others like Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker soon got a boost from the Caucasian rock gods who revered them.
I found out for myself when I bought his 1971 “Live at Cook County Jail” album. B.B. caressed his “Lucille” like Count Basie played piano; they both knew that what you didn’t play was as important as what you did. And could the guy entertain! He wrung every pang of heartache, hope and even comedy from songs like “How Blue Can You Get?”:
I gave you a brand new Ford,
and you said, “I want a Cadillac”
I gave you a ten-dollar dinner,
and you said, “Thanks for the snack”
I let you live in my penthouse,
and you said it was just a shack
I gave you seven children,
and now you want to give them back!
I final got to see B.B. about 35 years ago at the Chicago Jazz Festival. The evening kicked off with the Kansas City All Stars, a red-hot combo of old alums from Basie bands. Then this ensemble stayed on and backed B.B. for a fusion of his music and theirs like I’d never heard from the Blues Boy. Even though in his 50s by now, B.B practically burst the seams of his sportcoat with passiona, foot-stamping and pounding one fist into another open palm when not coaxing Lucille. Then, he and the All Stars remained on stage to back– are you ready– Ella Fitzgerald. This combination almost levitated the audience into Lake Michigan. If I’ve ever witnessed more musical magic, I can’t remember when.
I saw B.B. once more 15 years ago at the Madison Blues Festival. I have to say it: he was clearly past his prime, weakened by the diabetes he’d been fighting for years. Though still palm-pounding, the blues colossus now had to sit much of his set, and short workouts on Lucille were mixed with long dialogues and audience participation numbers. The crowd loved it, but as a musician I recognized this as set padding– this guy was obviously tired. To me, the performance was a swan song for a 74-year-old legend about to enter retirement.
Imagine my surprise when B.B. continued touring almost nonstop right up to the end, as eternal as the blues themselves. Despite his illness, he cheerfully barnstormed until 89, doing what he– and we– loved. I can’t make any waves in the ocean of tributes to this former Mississippi sharecropper that have poured forth sharecropper poured, except to add my voice to the chorus– long live the King!