Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Flash vs The Aliens: The Early Adventures of Flash Hercules - Part 3

Part 3 of my magnum opus is now up. You can see Part 1 and Part 2 here.

 Thanks for checking it out. Part 4 coming soon.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

An Interview with Jason Rewald of The Delta Blues

A few months ago, I learned that the webmaster of the blues blog The Delta Blues, Jason Rewald, lives in the Tampa area. As I am always looking for the opportunity to talk about the blues with some like-minded fans, I met with Jason and followed up our meeting with some emailed questions about the blues, Tampa's place in blues history, and a show he is putting on this Fall.

How long have you been writing about the blues?

Not too long actually.  I have been a long time listener, but never really much of a writer, or scholar of any kind.   This whole "project" started when I was planning a trip to the Delta with a few guys who live on the East Coast of Florida.  I decided the easiest way to plan the trip, while sharing it with the world, would be to write about it.  At the time, it made sense.  I was also able to educate those guys on the historic spots we were going to see.  That, in turn, led me into researching the blues and writing about it.

What got you into blues research?

Like I mentioned, it started with planning a trip.  From there, it turned into more of a personal journey to have questions answered.  After reading a few blues books, I started to learn just how easy it is to do this kind of thing, and I was quite amazed more researchers are not diligent in what they do.  From there, I decided I wanted to do blues research more so I could disprove others research than to prove something myself.  The blues is such an oral history, and has always been regarded as such.  I mean, just because some guy in the Delta says he knew Robert Johnson and he lived "right over there" - to me, that was never enough.  Show me the proof.  Show me a Census Record.   Once I started getting good feedback and support from the blues community, I knew I was onto something.  Once I started getting challenged on my research, I knew I was being taken seriously.

You have done some great work researching blues roots and the scene in Tampa. How important is Tampa in blues history?

Well I appreciate it!  Tampa is far more important in blues history than most people - especially other scholars - give it credit for.   Since Tampa was a stop on the Chitlin' Circuit, a lot of great played here in Tampa.  But there is more than that.  For instance, Ray Charles recorded his first album here.  The dance "The Twist" was invented on Central Ave here in Tampa.  The song "A Tisket a Tasket" by Ella Fitzgerald was actually written in the lobby of the Jackson House, a boarding house for African Americans that still stands today by the train station downtown.  It is also rumored Martin Luther King Jr. roamed those halls.  The history here is rich.  Everyone always thinks of Ybor, but the truth is, there is more to Tampa history than Ybor.  Then there's Tampa Red.  I mean, he was the absolute Epicenter of the blues scene in Chicago back in the early days - and he learned his chops in Tampa.  I mean, he was known as "The Guitar Wizard" and he learned here in Tampa.  That has to stand for something, right?

How do you find the information you write about? What about here in Tampa?

I find my information in a variety of ways.  Usually a good place to start is challenging or supporting other people's research.  I usually read a book, or an article, and see gaps missing - I try to fill in those gaps.  With more and more agencies placing their databases online, it gets easier to search for documents and evidence to support your research. Sometimes though, it does require travel.  Some smaller towns still have documents on file in court houses, and you have to pay a visit to check them out.  But for the most part, you can find a lot of things online.  Not to mention, sometimes all the research has been done by 5 other researchers, they just all found different pieces of the puzzle, and never spoke to each other about it.  I simply come along and put the puzzle together.

As far as here in Tampa, it all started with research into Tampa Red.  I knew he was from Tampa, but I wanted to know from WHERE in Tampa.  I wanted addresses.  This led me looking into African American communities, because of segregation back then.  I in turn found out about The Scrub, the ghetto in Tampa where a lot of the African Americans lived.  This term got me interested - I knew things had to be in close proximity, because of the lack of travel, and again, the segregation.  So I started looking around the area of The Scrub.   After a few calls to local libraries and visiting USF, I learned about Central Ave, the main African American business district back in the 30's.  From there, it was all downhill.  I found interviews, documents, old maps, and more about this historic area.  I feel that history like this should not be just forgotten ... someone has to help keep those memories alive.  Actually, The Scrub - or where it was - is right by the 275 and I-4 interchange.  There are still historic buildings and churches from that time thriving in that area.

(Ed note: for more information on the "lost" African American culture in Tampa, check out this link.)

You are doing a benefit show for Willie Brown. Who was Willie Brown and how did you locate his resting site?

Willie Brown.  He was .... the man!  So, he was a guitarist back in the heyday of the blues.  He was born in 1900 in Clarksdale, Mississippi.  He is buried in an unmarked grave in Tunica County, Mississippi.   Most people know him from the song "Crossroads", where Robert Johnson - or Eric Clapton, depending on who you listen to - belts out the line "You can run, you can run.  Tell my friend-boy Willie Brown."  Willie was actually a sideman to a lot of blues greats. He played with Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, and even Son House.  Willie recorded a few of his own sides, but only three copies are known to exist today.  Anyway, he was a mentor, friend, and sideman for most of the great pre-war Delta bluesmen.  He was actually playing with Son House quite a bit.  When Willie died, Son House laid his guitar down, and refused to play.  Of course, he was talked back into it during the blues revival of the 60's.  But Willie was that influential.  And just to be clear to any fans out there - Willie Brown is NOT Kid Bailey.  I get that question a lot!   So I am planning a benefit show to get Willie a headstone.  It's long overdue.  All the money raised - every cent - will go towards the purchase of a grave marker for him.

I cannot take credit for finding his resting place, though I did do a bit or research on it.  Most people don't realize that researching people with a common name - like Robert Johnson, or Willie Brown - is pretty hard to do.  I mean, there are a lot of Willie Browns out there!   As far as finding the grave, it started with the research of Gayle Dean Wardlow.  Gayle was able to track down Willie Moore, who was a long time friend of Willie Brown's.  The two met in 1916, so it is safe to say they knew each other well.  In interviews, Moore said he was aware of Brown's hospitalization for alcoholism, as well as the burial.  Moore confirmed this burial to have been in The Good Shepherd Church.  Moore and Brown were even both drafted into the Army together - but peace was declared before they were sent overseas.  Moore even used to sing while Brown played guitar.  They were close.

Of course, interviews are never enough for me, so I went digging further.  After finding his death certificate, it says he was buried in "Good Shepherd" in Prichard, Mississippi.  There you have it.  Now there is an interview, and a document verifying his burial location.   To make matters even clearer, I was looking into the listed funeral home that is on the death certificate.  I was able (through another acquaintance) to reach out to a man who lives in that area.  Another blues fan.  Turns out he had talked with the funeral home (now under a different name) and was working on getting the location of the exact plot Willie Brown was buried in.  Though that information is hard to come by - funeral home records are private records after all - it does also confirm the cemetery as The Good Shepherd.

Why here, why now for a benefit show?

Well, the here part is easy.  I live here!  I have a family, and the challenge of organizing an event far from home is ... overwhelming.  So I figured Tampa has a rich blues history, and has a lot of blues talent in the area.  Not to mention, a lot of the blues talent in the area has played in the Delta.  I mean, it's all blues, right?  Willie Brown is such a huge influence on blues, most blues players at least know of him.   As far as the why now part ... well, if not now, when?  The truth of the matter is, a headstone is long overdue for Willie Brown. He was an iconic figure in blues music, and essentially, American history.  It's time he gets some recognition.

Can you tell us a bit about the show? Who will be performing?

Sure!  The show is scheduled for September 26th, which is a Sunday.  It's at Rick's on the River, a really cool venue here in town.  It will start at 4pm - nice and early.  It will go until about 9pm or so.  We are going to have a raffle with amazing prizes, as well as an auction for a really nice guitar.  Of course, we will pass a donation bucket around too. Really we need to raise $2100 to get Willie his headstone.  I should also mention this is a free show!  No cover!

The lineup is amazing, and I cannot thank the sponsors and the bands enough for all their help, and willingness to do this event.  The lineup includes Sean Chambers, The Backwater Blues Band, Lee Pons, Eddie Wright, and Special Guest Damon Fowler.  It will be an amazing show.  Every one of those guys can play the blues.  I mean PLAY the blues.  And a free show to boot?

I hope a lot of people are able to come out for this worthy cause.  Everyone is welcome!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Fear and Racism in Tampa

Last week, Dontae Rashawn Morris was arrested by the Tampa Police Department, suspected of killing two Tampa police officers the week prior. For nearly a week, the Tampa PD conducted the largest manhunt in city history in an attempt to find Morris. From the reports I read, TPD interviewed his family, his friends, his associates, and many other people who knew him or even knew of him.

However, buried in one of the articles on Morris's capture was a little segment that made me worried.

According to the St. Pete Times,
Meanwhile, in the sprawling Kenneth Court apartment complex that Morris used to frequent, the police remained a constant presence through Friday.

"We all feel like prisoners, like we are being held hostage," said Sherell Mitchell, 24. Seven months pregnant, she was seething about the hours she spent Wednesday afternoon with her two young children, locked out by a police barricade. "They said, 'No one's getting in and no one's getting out.' "

Told of residents' complaints, McElroy said, "it's certainly not our intention to inconvenience or harass the people of this neighborhood."

Notice there was no actual reporting there. Just claims. I'm not sure if the St. Pete Times actually did any investigation or merely put the quotes in to raise eyebrows. But the fact remains, did the cops inconvenience people as they searched for Morris? Personally, I don't know. I don't live in that part of town, nor was I anywhere near during the situation.

If these claims are true, it does open up the possibility of worsening public relations between the people of Morris's community and the Tampa Police Department. There was no doubt Morris needed to be caught. He was public enemy number one. But I hope following the investigation, there was some motion to assuage relations between his community and the authorities.

Something tells me this wasn't and isn't the case.

The picture in this post is from an organization named the Black Peoples Advancement and Defense Organization (BPADO). According to their web site, BPADO's mission is:
The mission of the Black Peoples Advancement & Defense Organization is to: protect and defend poor people, in Hillsborough County and the City Of Tampa, from every aggression of The State, great or small, intentional or accidental, by any means necessary, and educate, organize and mobilize people, in Hillsborough County and the City Of Tampa, in a way that will enable us to control our tax dollars, as well as the government officials responsible for those dollars, and make them work for our greater good, instead of our oppression.

I know Tampa has struggled in the issue of race. Few southern cities haven't. In the four years I have lived in the area, I have noticed the city celebrates it's pseudo-pirate culture and it's legitimate Spanish culture far more than it does any other. It seems the African-American community has struggled here as much as they have in many other places in the south. The Wikipedia article on Tampa Riots, for example, is full of stories of people lashing out against authority, to include a 1987 riot after the police who arrested then-New York  Met pitcher Dwight Gooden were cleared of racist charges.

Has there been overreaction by African-American community leaders nationwide to perceived incidences of racism? I would say so. Jesse Jackson's involvement in the LeBron James saga is a perfect example.

Have there been incidences where public movements have been essential to garner the fair treatment of people? Absolutely. That is the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr..

Although Dontae Morris is innocent until he gets his day in court, he didn't come from the best part of town. His neck of the woods was where drugs and crime are higher than average in Tampa. However, security through citizen manipulation is not the answer, nor can it be allowed to be the perception. My hope is that somewhere between extreme action (or the perception thereof) and extreme reaction (or the threat thereof) there are people in the different communities of Tampa who can work with each other and build bridges of cooperation.

If not, we will continue to see reactive organizations such as BPADO emerge.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Flash vs. The Aliens: The Early Adventures of Flash Hercules – Part 2

Part 2 of my magnum opus. You can see Part 1 here.

You are probably wondering why it is a silent film. Well, there was an audio soundtrack, but youtube didn't think my authorization to use Metallica and Led Zeppelin songs was official. It probably didn't help that I signed it "Lead Zeppelin". Anyway, stay tuned, Part 3 is coming soon!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Forget the Summer of LeBron, Welcome to the Summer of Jordi

While the sports world shakes, rattles, and rambles to the free agency hi-jinks of basketball all-stars LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and others, another free agent is preparing to hit the market. A free agent who unlike these stars has won accolades every year, exceeding the standards of ownership and changing the environment and direction of his workplace. A free agent whose creativity has inspired avenues that could be key in ensuring the success of his organization in the 21st Century.

I am writing, of course, about me.

(That's a link to my LinkedIn profile, by the way.)

Back in 2006, I was living in a friend's spare bedroom in Tallahassee, surrounded by boxes of my stuff from previous apartments. Despite being the recipient of a master's degree and enough credentials in my industry, it still took me six months to find work. Although I received three different offers, they all came in the final few weeks of my search, as my finances were dwindling to a precious few. After weighing the salaries, benefits, and future potential for advancement, I took my current position in Tampa. And all was well.

Until three weeks ago, when my company politely told me the contract holding me to my job will be moved to another company starting September 1st. As a contractor, I can either stay with my company and find another position, probably outside of Tampa; apply for my same position with the new company; or seek employment elsewhere.

In other words, after August 30th I can become a free agent.

Fortunately for me, there are a limited number of people with my qualifications in my area. Also at my age, there aren't many people who have accomplished all that I have, especially with my credentials and education. That's not just boasting, by the way, that's what management and the human resources departments have told me. Hence, I like to think it's a fact.

(Yes, I am counting my blessings, especially considering the current miserable global economic climate. Despite the bravado, that fact is not lost on me in the least.)

So, like LeBron, Wade, and the other NBA free agents, I stand at a crossroads of opportunity, where my decision will affect the next few years of my life, to include location, finances, and possibly family.

Granted, I know I will not be offered anything close to the multi-million dollar contracts NBA teams are presenting to the best of the NBA's unemployed. I won't get my own helicopter, tv show, endorsements, or celebrity greetings. But my job hunt and that of LeBron James and company still have some things in common.

Last week there was an interesting article by Marc Stein of ESPN that claimed that in his search for a new team, LeBron James is considering not only his potential teammates on the court but also the competency and ability of ownership. The same thing is important to me. Will my new company consider me a number, or do they have a good reputation of individualized care and concern for their employees?

Teamwork is also an area where LeBron and I have our similarities. Like most NBA players and most people in every workplace anywhere, I have worked with good people who brought out the best in me as well as uncooperative people who I failed to mesh with and made me dread going to work. Of course, I would like to find a job with the former much more than the latter. I know I will not have the freedom to pick and choose my teammates like LeBron James will, but if given a choice, I am going to pick a job with a positive teamwork dynamic.

(Note: In my field there is a huge generation gap. We still have people in the work place who are in their late 60s to early 70s and a great majority of my co-workers are members of the baby boom generation. As I was born in the late 70s, I am part Generation X and part Generation Y. I understand technology and am far more comfortable with the web than a majority of my co-workers. These are things LeBron doesn't have to worry about.)

Finally, location is big for me. Like LeBron, I am working somewhat close to where I grew up. Most of my family is in Florida and many of my friends are here. I also have a little nephew I like seeing as often as possible. Of course, my job doesn't have the travel of an NBA career, but without the offer of my own jet (odds of that happening are far below zero), if I took an offer out of Florida, I doubt I would be able to see my family as much as I would like. I don't how important family is to LeBron, or if winning a championship is more important than a home cooked meal, but family is important to me.

As of today, I know I am going to have to choose between at least three to five offers. Some, like the Bulls, Heat, and Knicks to LeBron, will have a legitimate shot of gaining my employment. Others won't have as great a chance, like the odds of the Clippers being LeBron's chosen squad.

Of course, you won't find news on my employment on ESPN or anywhere else. But I promise I will keep you posted here.

Classic Star Wars Public Service Announcements

Meanwhile, in the Mos Eisley Cantina, Muftak has a little too much to drink and a Duros helps him find a way home: