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!
Thanks so much (and a huge “AROOO!!” from Otis beyond the Rainbow Bridge) to everyone who pledged to my Kickstarter campaign to publish my book Oti’s Odyssey: A Rescue Dog’s “Tail” . Because of overwhelming response and generosity, I can include more pages in the book, and print it in a larger format than I’d originally planned.
I will probably print few copies beyond those to fulfill my Kickstarter pledges, but I can still take advance orders if you’re interested. Cost is $20 for a book and “I (heart) Otis” bumper sticker, with free shipping anywhere within the U.S. postal system. Just contact email@example.com and we’ll make it happen!
Today may be April Fool’s Day, but I kid you not: I just launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund my new book, Oti’s Odyssey: A Rescue Dog’s “Tail.” Otis along with his littermates and parents was abused neglected and left for dead—then dramatically rescued, fostered and adopted to my family to become a therapy dog, Lands End catalog model, movie star, parade attraction, and in general fluffy goodwill ambassador for almost 14 years. Oti’s Odyssey is his own “first pooch” account of his dramatic rescue, recovery and years as a poster pup for animal rescue. It’s written as a children’s book, but is a tribute to dogs and their humans—especially rescuers– everywhere.
After publishing eight children’s books through the traditional route, I’m going do-it-yourself for the first time via Kickstarter. For the uninitiated, it’s a site for funding of worthy independent creative projects, and you can find mine via this link:
If you agree that “Dog” is “God” spelled backwards, I hope you’ll check out my Kickstarter campaign to help Oti’s legacy bark on! And if you know of any other dog lovers who might be interested in this book, please spread the word!
A friend just told me something I hadn’t realized: The South Central Library System’s online LinkCat (representing almost 50 Cheeseland atheneums) included my album Better Late Than Never on their February “Don’t Miss” musical list. I’m sandwiched in between The Best of Blue Note (the likes of Thelonius Monk, Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Norah Jones) and Beyoncé. You could say I’m straddling the gap between sublime and ridiculous.
If you’re in Southern Wisconsin you can put a hold on the one copy in circulation, but you’ll have to be patient. Believe it or not, the CD is checked out (no, not by me) and someone else is waiting for it. Or you can listen to it online through https://soundcloud.com/duggleby OR, you can order your very own copy from me for a measly $12 plus $3 shipping. If that rings your chimes, contact firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll make it happen!
Nominations for the 2015 Madison Area Music Awards—affectionately known as the MAMAS—are out, and yours truly has received nominations for eight songs from my 2014 album Better Late Than Never, in six categories. I’m going for the gold (or whatever color their awards are) in the folk, country, pop, alternative, world and unique categories, and the whole CD is up for Unique Album of the Year.
So, if you are already a MAMAs member, please log onto www.themamas.org and exercise your right to vote—hopefully for me. While you’re there, check out the other great area artists, including many of my friends, included in this year’s nominees. If you not a member, log onto the same site and join for a measly five bucks, which helps fund youth music programs and put instruments into the hands of kids who might not otherwise have them. (heaven knows our state government isn’t doing it) After you join, you can vote.
Although I was sulking over the shock of the Grammys totally ignoring me (and Kayne West not pointing that out—honestly, does Beyonce’ really need another one of those things?), I’m heartened to have a chance right here at home, where it really matters. So, as they used to say in my stomping ground of Chicago, vote early, vote often. Oops—you can only vote once in the MAMAs—so just vote!
My wife Jude and I just returned from a 19-day odyssey to Ecuador including the Galapagos Islands (as they’re known, though technically speaking, they’re an archipelago). No words– even mine– can do justice to the jaw-dropping array of creatures we saw– as often as not, within arm’s length. It is a Herculean (Darwinian?) task even to select representative photos from the hundreds I snapped.
To visit the Galapagos is to see our planet in near-perfect natural balance, the way it was before we glorified apes gained control. It’s not always bucolic; Galapagos emerged from volcanoes that could still blow their tops at any time. And “survival of the fittest” includes not ending up as someone else’s supper. But everything within nature happens for a good reason– in stark contrast to many of our manmade edicts- and every species including homo sapiens benefits.
We explored the Galapagos on an eight-day boat tour with 16 other passengers holding passports from not just the U.S., but Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and Switzerland. Our version of the “Gilligan’s Island” castaways included a career ambassador, international law expert, child psychologist and lots of past and present educators. Despite our diverse pedigrees, we were remarkably on the same page about global social issues, especially environmental ones. We decided that if we got together and ran the world, we could fix things pretty quickly. Unfortunately, none of us has the stomach to enter politics.
Thirteen holiday seasons ago I adopted a totally irresistible one-year-old pooch named Otis from the Northern Illinois Samoyed Assistance rescue group. In the first of an endless stream of “fido-ops,” I put him on my holiday card that year. This is the first Yuletide since 2000 that our home has not been decorated by the furry presence of the breed that has been nicknamed “The Christmas Dog” because they shine so wintry, merry and bright.
Though Otis is gone, from some spirit world where dogs run like wolves and pee in the snow wherever they please, he– and I– with you a Happy Hanukkah, a Joyous Kwanzaa, and a very Merry Christmas.
If you’ve ever loved a pet, you know that someday, through no fault of their own, they will break your heart. Our beloved Otis did exactly that this week when, just short of fourteen, his own joyous ticker was silenced.
As some of you know, “Oti’s” saga was the stuff of Jack London novels—and indeed someday I plan to write it. It began when some geniuses in Kentucky bred his father and underage mother, expecting to establish a “puppy mill” for purebred Samoyeds. When they couldn’t sell the pups, the couple began to neglect, then abuse them. As the “alpha” who tried to protect his four siblings, Otis received the brunt of the mistreatment. After four months the would-be breeders got tired of feeding them, and dumped pups and parents at the door of a local humane society.
By then Otis and most of his brethren had acquired pneumonia, conjunctivitis and virtually every worm and insect pest a dog can attract. They were scheduled for euthanization until Northern Illinois Samoyed Assistance (NISA), a Chicago area rescue group, learned of their plight. NISA scooped up the motley crew now dubbed the “Kentucky Five”, and pulled them back from the brink with care from volunteer veterinarians. Otis also needed several months with saint-like foster “parents” to convince the wary pup to give humans another chance. We adopted him as a loveable, albeit rambunctious one-year-old.
As a Cheesehead, his short-form resume included:
– NISA’s first alum to achieve American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen Certification. This enabled wife Jude, daughter Katie and I to take him to a local nursing home as a therapy dog, where he both spread smiles and soothed several animal lovers in their dying hours. He also had a very short musical career accompanying me to senior facility concerts. I fired him for barking non-stop whenever the audience applauded—he no doubt assumed it was for him.
– Model for three Lands End catalogs. One is a charming shot of Otis “giving paw” to a lovely woman, enabled by the hot dog concealed in her hand.
– Featured attraction (in costumes created by Jude) in two Madison St. Pat’s Parades (as O’tis the Leprechaun) and an Independence Day Parade in Columbus (as Uncle Sammie) in which I was “Yankee Doodle Duggleby,” a marching minstrel. He reprised the latter identity to win—at age twelve– the inaugural costume contest at NISA’s annual Sam-O-Rama reunion picnic.
– Appearances in several NISA annual calendars, including one two-page spread on his beginnings and subsequent life with us. The accompanying photo of our boy– still regal at age 10 ½– appeared on the cover of NISA’s 2014 calendar.
– Star of an “underground” film made by a friend of mine—at least he got the biggest ovation at the screening party.
Though Otis accomplished more in his lifetime than most people do, his greatest attribute by far was his boundless joy and appetite for life. Each new day was an adventure and any new person or critter absolutely had to be his friend and fan, or face relentless pursuit until they caved. Fortunately very few creatures of any type could resist him. One person likened him to the smart but naughty school kid who gets by with his antics because the teacher can’t resist his charm. I’m certain that’s how our party animal passed his Canine Good Citizen test.
Since I work from home, Otis was my constant companion– and along with Jude, my best friend. Though his body finally weakened at the end, his heart and spirit were as strong as ever; he was licking my hand just before slipping into his final sleep. I can’t tell you how much I miss him, and how blessed I feel to be part of his amazing journey. Please give a pet or human (or both) that you love a big hug for Otis; he’ll be flashing that million-dollar “Sammie smile” from somewhere.