Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Winter on it's way...

Winter means reaching deep into the treasure chest and pulling out new gems to learn. Maybe this one by James Brown friend and partner Bobby Byrd. 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

"I Still Want to Sing"

Written by Camille Dodero in 2005

Part 5: ‘It’s Too Bad We Had To Say Goodbye’

Money is a recurring theme with Cook. When asked if the Thrillers ever become blasé banging out the same tunes night after night, he replies, "I guess they do. But they don’t get tired of making that money."

Money was also cited as the major reason Cook yawed from the Cantab after his stroke. Last April, the Boston Globe reported that he wanted more money than Cantab owner Richard "Fitzy " Fitzgerald could afford, so Cook was out of a job. But Fitzy says the Globe report was overblown, that Cook wasn’t kicked to the curb, and that money wasn’t really the issue. "He was just going through something," says Fitzy. "And now he’s back."

But what is clear about the interlude is that Cook requested that the Nut Man caricature disappear, so Fitzy draped an American flag over it. Around the same time, Western Front owner Martin Gilmore heard about the severance, went to Cook’s house, and offered him a regular Thursday-night gig at his Cambridge club. "When Joe lost his job at the Cantab, I’d read about it and I took him in, "says Gilmore." He was broke. I stepped in because I loved Joe. He said he was through with the Cantab."

But a few months after Cook began working at the Western Front, Gilmore says Cook returned to performing at the Cantab — without informing his new boss. "Little Joe wasn’t being honest with us, so I just made a phone call to Joe and said, ‘Why didn’t you tell me that you were working at the Cantab? Month after month, I was wondering where the audience was.’ So I terminated him working at the club. "Gilmore says it’s against his code of club-running ethics to compete with nearby club owners. Besides, he points out, the two clubs’ close proximity can’t support back-to-back performances by the same musician. "It’s like if I’m your boyfriend and you’re going with me and you find someone else, you would have the decency to say, ‘It’s over, I’ve found somebody else.’ "

"It didn’t work out," is all Cook will say about the Western Front episode. " It was off the main drag. People wouldn’t come because it was real out of the way."

Fitzy doesn’t have much else to say about it, either. "He called and asked to come back. He’s welcome to play here for as long as he wants, "says Fitzy." I think he knows that. "

Part 6: ‘Peanuts’

Cook may’ve been alive just months before the release of Frank Silver and Irving Cohn’s ragtime shimmy "Yes! We Have No Bananas " — a Vaudeville-inspired novelty later squealed by Benny Goodman’s reed — but the song’s silly sketch seems to be kindred with many of Cook’s compositions. The titles of Cook’s dance numbers read like dishes in a child’s cookbook: "Let’s Do the Slop," "Doodle Pickle." Then there’s "Someone for Me," a track Cook plans to include on his next self-produced CD. On the version recorded live at the Cantab, the crowd howls as he sings:

Eye-talians love spaghetti
And the Chinese love their rice
Frenchmen love their perfume
And an Eskimo loves his ice
Like the Englishman loves his cup of tea
I know there’s someone for me

"I like to make happy songs, comical songs," Cook explains. " I don’t like to make ‘Baby, you left me’ songs. " Of course, on Blast from the Past, the sentimental vocalist does do his fair share of pleading, whining, and begging women called "Darling "to come back:" Please Don’t Go," "Lonesome," "Don’t Leave Me Alone," and "These Lonely Tears.” But by the early ’60s, the schmaltzy-suitor shtick segued into a silly streak that would eventually have him singing unabashedly about daddies, Elvis, booty, and items in his refrigerator with the same reverence.

And Cook does love the items in his refrigerator. He quit drinking decades ago — he was a Scotch-and-milk guy — and gave up card-playing last year ("After God healed me, I quit all that gambling. I promised God I wouldn’t gamble"), so gluttony is a last remaining vice. His most recent writing, an unfinished jingle that mingles two of his major passions, God and food, is the work of a trencherman:

Lord, make me able
To push myself back from the table.
Because I don’t want to be big and fat
And that’s the end of that.

Then there are a trio of Cook’s on-record paramours who share their proper names with groceries: Cherry, Stringbean, and Peanuts, Cook’s soul mate. "Peanut was a little girl who lived down the street," Cook explains. " Her older sister was calling her and all Peanut could say was ‘Uh-oh, uh-oh.’ "(In the original version, Cook sings "Peanut," not the plural version, but a typo altered how the song will forever be remembered.) In Cook’s discography, Peanuts is his first love. In the sequel to "Peanuts," the finger-snapping diddly-dee" The Echoes Keep Calling Me," Cook confesses to a day-long tryst in a valley with Peanuts. The final installment of the trilogy, "Stringbean," is a kiss-off to Peanuts: he disses his former flame, calls her a gold-digger, and boastfully admires the idiosyncrasies of his new sweetheart." I love this girl/She’s so tall/She sleeps in the parlor with her feet in the hall."

Peanuts’s influence is everywhere: around Cook’s neck, on his finger, in the car he drives, on the googly-eyed goober magnets on his refrigerator, on the street sign that marks "Little Joe Cook Square" in Cambridge. She’s his first love. She made him the center of attention. She made him feel special, important, and loved. She introduced him to Paul Simon, B.B. King, and Lionel Hampton. She has kept him employed beyond his 80th birthday. Peanuts made him a Legend.

Despite the fact that Cook’s wife doesn’t think he should be exerting himself as much as he does, despite the fact that he has to concentrate on the lyrics when he sings " so that I won’t forget them, " and despite the fact that his aching knees cause him to spend two-thirds of the night perched on a wooden stool, Cook refuses to retire. Until last weekend, his schedule included four nights a week at the Cantab — three nights singing and one night MCing a weekly blues jam. But a week ago, he suffered a second mild stroke and spent the weekend recuperating in the hospital. By Tuesday morning, he decided to reduce his performance schedule to Friday and Saturday, but resisted the idea of quitting entirely. "My wife wants me to retire," Cook says over the phone from his Framingham home, a day after being released from the hospital. "For what? So I can sit home and get fat?"

Cook’s utter obliviousness to the ticking of the clock — his refusal to dismiss the notion of scoring another hit, his inability to recognize that his golden oldie is antediluvian by oldies-station standards, his unwillingness to bow out after two minor strokes, a heart attack, and a bout with prostate cancer — is his true talent, the secret to his longevity. "Obviously, the fact that he’s unchanged in the times is pretty amazing, "says Cambridge city councilor Galluccio." He embodies a consistency and a kind of freezing of time — something for people to go see and escape a changing world. "

"I don’t want to sit home, eat, and look at the TV all the time," says Cook. "I still want to sing."