Dennis Jones: a musical tribute

by Steve, March 20th, 2014

Here’s a song I wrote in tribute to Dennis Jones, who died last month.

Dennis Jones

by Steve, February 20th, 2014

musicThe last time I saw Dennis Jones was probably some time in the early 2000s. I was in Iowa City to see family with my wife and baby. We were at The Mill to see Dave Moore (whom Dennis had introduced me to in 1984), and Dennis was in his natural habitat behind the sound board, cigarette in hand. We only talked briefly; he was surprised and happy to see me and meet my wife.

Now I wish I’d chatted him up longer, or arranged to meet another day for a drink.

Dennis died February 9, on his 68th birthday.

I first met Dennis when I was in high school and the band I played in, the Sloppy Drunk Blues Band, was making arrangements to play a show at Regina High School circa 1983 or 84. Our drummer’s mom said she knew a guy who did sound and maybe he could help us with some gear. Now, Jhon and I were pretty sure we were pros at sound, having DJed dances since junior high. We even had our own “sound company” (RG Sound) and had t-shirts printed up at the mall t-shirt shop. We rented gear from Brad at Advanced Audio Engineering (later bought out by West Music) and thought our knowledge of PA gear was pretty tight.

But Dennis took us to the next level. Not just mains, but monitors (two monitor mixes!). Mics on everything, not just vocals! A snake so the FOH mixer was actually in the front of house! And he worked cheap, too. He showed up in a loaded step van with his helper Tim and set us up on the cafetorium stage. (Somebody help me with Tim’s last name and current status? He was with Bo Ramsey and the Sliders when they first hit the road in the late 70s, earned the nickname “Dirthead” and never lived down forgetting the mixer on that first tour.) Dennis showed me how to run the board and left.

Pretty soon we found out that Dennis was the sound guy in Iowa City. When we played the Crow’s Nest, a huge old barn, Dennis was there with an even bigger version of the PA we played with that first night, as well as a rag-tag collection of PAR cans and a light board. After high school, I ended up working with Dennis while studying theatre at the University of Iowa 1984-85. After moving out from my freshman dorm, I moved in with Dennis and continued working with him.

I worked all kinds of shows with Dennis (and Tim, and Kurt, who I met at the theatre department and introduced to Dennis), from local acts to Chicago blues acts, to (sometimes dickish) national college rock acts at local clubs and regional festivals. Acts like Taj Mahal, Koko Taylor, John Lee Hooker, Albert Collins, Willie Dixon, Asleep at the Wheel, the Replacements, the Del Fuegos, Billy Bragg, Ronnie Gilbert and Holly Near, countless other folk acts I can’t remember, Clarence Gatemouth Brown, etc. I missed Los Lobos, but will never forget Dennis raving (in a good way) about that show at Gabe’s Oasis, right before they hit it big.

I left town in late 85 and returned in 86, and eventually formed Totem Soul with Jhon and Jay and Nigel in 87-88ish. Of course Dennis was around, and helped when we needed. I still did some shows with him through those years; I don’t really recall the specifics. We bought our own PA for Totem Soul, but ended up using his truck for moving gear from time to time.

Dennis was a character in many ways, and was on the Iowa music scene for decades, starting with Greg Brown in the late 70s (he had a producer credit on the original 1980 release of 44 & 66). When I heard he died, I told Jhon, “I’ve probably go a million stories about Dennis.” And I only knew him for a few of those many years. Here are some of mine, just to get things started. I’d love to collect more here, if anybody wants to contribute.

  • Dennis taught me the trick of putting your coffee cup under the drip instead of waiting for the whole pot to be done. Best life hack ever. Stronger coffee faster. Crucial for the morning after in the fast-paced, late-night world of rock and roll. Sure, it seems obvious in retrospect, but I was just a dumb-ass kid at the time.
  • We were setting up for a show at the Crow’s Nest, and I asked if he had a hammer. “No,” he said, “I can’t keep a hammer in my tool box.” Why not? “Because I might use it.”
  • Jhon recalls that he and I were driving Dennis’s step van back from Parnell (what the hell were we doing in Parnell?), and every time we went over a bump the headlights would go out. Jhon recalls having to reach down by the dimmer switch to jiggle wires to get them back. Dennis: “Oh yeah, I noticed that….” I seem to recall this happening with Dennis driving, and he’d smack the headboard and they’d come back. (Hmm, maybe if he’d had a hammer….)
  • Doing a show at the Stone City Inn, which had the biggest selection of imported beers I had ever seen. The owner told us to just help ourselves to whatever we wanted. I tried some really great stuff. Dennis stuck with domestic, explaining that he had personally introduced import beers to the state of Iowa when he was running the Sanctuary, and was sick and tired of them.
  • Dennis used to complain about Koko Taylor. I don’t remember his specific beef with her, but I think he was just tired of her schtick. We were doing sound for some crappy local band, and he never had much in the way of decent intermission music, so I put on some Koko Taylor instead of something somebody else had put on. “Oh thank god,” said Dennis. “But I thought you hated Koko Taylor?” “No, she’s great!” It’s all relative, eh?
  • Working a folk festival in Stone City (where I met Washboard Chaz), one of the headliners was a European new age guitarist (name withheld to protect the guilty). This guy was a prima donna prick from start to finish. His road manager/hatchet man asked Dennis to borrow his roll of duct tape. Dennis, always accommodating, obliged. The sumbitch apparently used the whole roll to repair his boss’s guitar case and returned the cardboard core to Dennis, who was flummoxed but did not complain (at least not at the time). When I reached out to Chaz a few years back, he actually remembered what pricks these guys were. Dennis, as was his practice, suffered this kind of abuse with great humility, and emerged with his dignity unscathed.

Dennis had his demons to be sure (who doesn’t?), but I don’t know if I’ve ever met a guy with a bigger heart. I’m picturing him driving a step van down an Iowa highway into a golden sunset. Farewell to Dennis: friend, mentor, employer/coworker, landlord/roommate.

London Diaries

by Steve, September 26th, 2013
Palace of Westminster
Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament) from the London Eye

Emmy and I first started planing a London trip almost two years ago. We can thank Harry Styles, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne and the rest of One Direction for the inspiration of the destination. They were a gateway for Emmy getting into other British acts and British fashion. Emmy says, “I was thinking of London as this perfect place. And it was.”

Other than Canada, I hadn’t traveled internationally since 1997, when Nancy and I got engaged in Lisbon and Wesley and I traveled to Prague.

To be honest, the UK was not the top of my travel bucket list for travel. But it should have been. We had an all around great trip. I was very pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to travel in London, and how much I enjoyed the green spaces alongside the cosmopolitan urban culture and amenities. Public transit is extremely convenient; we took the tube everywhere except a cab to our flat on arrival and when we took the train to Windsor and to the Harry Potter studio tour.

Untitled
Greek lunch in Windsor

We were both especially pleased at the ease (and quality) of vegetarian dining in London, something that is always stressful while traveling, particularly in continental Europe (maybe it’s better there now) and Latin America. It seems like almost every restaurant in London has a selection vegetarian items, all nicely marked with a “V” or in their own category on menu. (Even in supposedly prog Portland, we often don’t get this courtesy.) I assumed we’d be eating a lot of Indian food (no complaints there, mate!), but we never did, and we didn’t find the need to look for vegetarian restaurants, either (of which there are plenty). Somebody even rated London the number one vegan city in the world. I would have scoffed at that notion prior to this trip.

For a while we considered splitting the trip between London and Paris, even entertaining the crazy notion of a day or overnight trip to Paris. We decided this would be too much hassle and not enough time in either city, and decided to focus a full 10 days on London. We rented a flat instead of a hotel so we could just unpack and move in and have a full home base. This turned out to be a really good decision. It was less expensive than a hotel, still very conveniently located, and extremely comfortable and convenient (separate bedrooms, kitchen, laundry, and a huge terrace overlooking the neighborhood).

If you’re not me or Emmy or directly related to us, the rest of this may be boring. I’m just recording it from my hand-written journal for posterity. If you just want to see photos, you can see them all on Flickr (pictures of me and Emmy are protected; if you’re family drop me a line and I’ll send you a special link so you can see us).

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Tualatin River Diaries 2013: Rivergrove to Wanker’s Corner

by Steve, August 4th, 2013

Boating rulesWe’ve been busy busy busy this summer, so we only managed to get the canoe down last weekend. We took Junior out last Sunday and put in at Rivergrove, where we left off last year, and paddled downstream almost to Wanker’s Corner (yes, that’s a real place name).

There is a put-in spot at Wanker’s Corner, so yesterday we decided to check it out (it’s labeled “Shipley Bridge” on the Tualatin Riverkeepers’ map). It turned out to be a bit too primitive and dicey, so we went back to Rivergrove and paddled the full two miles downstream to Wanker’s Corner (river mile 7.4 – 5.4) and back, hoping to see a blue heron or… something…

Tualatin panorama

Coming around a bend, we first saw some other paddlers, then, above, a big bird with a white underbelly: an osprey. It flew back and forth a couple times then landed in a tree right next to us.

OspreyI recently bought a small point-and-shoot camera that I’m comfortable taking in the canoe, and the bird was patient enough to let me get a few shots off.

I’ll update our paddler’s map for 2013 one of these days, but for now, just add a couple miles downstream to last year’s map. And I will be adding more photos, too, both here and on Flickr.

Private dock

The Great Amphibian Relocation Project of 2013

by Steve, July 13th, 2013

Westside TrailJust steps from our door, three new segments of the Westside Regional Trail are nearing completion. The project will join existing trails to form a six mile bike and pedestrian corridor from the north side of Tigard through the Tualatin Hills Nature Park in Beaverton. Eventually the trail will continue north and south connecting western Portland metro area communities between the Tualatin River and the Willamette River.

No sense of impending doomThe new segments of the trail cross some difficult terrain, including steep hillsides with switchbacks and bridges over wetlands. Construction began in the summer of 2012, but was suspended for the wet season. At the approach to a new bridge, a large puddle formed over the winter, and in the spring we noticed tadpoles. The doomed breeding ground
By summer, the construction crews returned with their heavy machines and piles of gravel. The tadpoles had turned into Pacific Chorus Frogs, but they weren’t ready to leave their birthplace on their own. We also discovered immature salamanders, still with gills.

Since it was clear their world would soon be buried under tons of gravel and pavement, son Z and I embarked on an emergency relocation project. Still with gillsThree evenings in a row, we took nets and plastic containers to their little pond and caught as many as we could. We walked them to another wetland and set them free. We got 19 in all; 12 frogs and 7 salamanders. We think we got most of the frogs, but the salamanders were really hard to catch. On the third night, we were assisted by daughter E and Grandma L.

When we came back from a short trip to Iowa, we found that crews had resumed work on the approach to the bridge, destroying the little world as we expected. Some of the puddle remained, so we hope any remaining salamanders and frogs were able to flee.

Waiting for relocation
Arriving at their new home

Hello, neighbor

by Steve, April 14th, 2013

Young buck
Seen at Nature Church today, a momma deer and her adolescent twins. This little guy and I startled each other coming around the corner. I saw his mom up the ravine my trail was traversing. After keeping my distance for a while, I took a few slow steps closer, and this guy took a couple toward me. Then he stomped his front foot. I backed away, and he trotted up to be with momma, and a sibling I hadn’t noticed. The three of them kept their eye on me and kept eating.

Young buck

After a bit, the little ones bounded up the hill, and started frolicking. Bucking and jumping and racing across the ravine and back.

Young buck

I walked up my trail past them to join the main stem of the creek for my usual walk. When I came back 15 minutes later, they were still cavorting.

Fisher

by Steve, March 10th, 2013

Fisher

I can’t remember not being interested in nature. When I was younger I loved hikes in the Iowa woods. At a teen I was drawn to the challenge and thrill of the high ground, be it Colorado fourteeners, then as an adult, glaciated Cascade volcanic peaks. I was always trying to get to the highest ridge or butte around, just for the view, if nothing else.

But now I find myself drawn to the lowlands in between the peaks and ridges, where the water drains and pools and the wildlife gathers. There’s just a lot more going on down there.

This wetland is on Johnson Creek, the stream that drains the north side of Cooper Mountain on it’s way to merging with Beaverton Creek near the Tualatin Hills Nature Park. Beaverton Creek flows west into Rock Creek, which feeds our valley’s namesake, the Tualatin River.

Breakfast in Portland

by Steve, February 19th, 2013
20110225 Hashed Browns ?????_03
photo by MiniQQ

The wife and I found ourselves in downtown Portland for breakfast yesterday, and thought we’d hit longtime Portland fave Bijou Cafe. That didn’t work out; the line was out the door (but not around the block like the one for Voodoo Donuts down the street). We could have grabbed a crappy cup of coffee at Stumptown next door so we could sit down at their sidewalk table while waiting for our Bijou table, but we worried we were getting too close to acting out a Portlandia sketch.

Speaking of Voodoo, that place has come to define Portland. A couple walking ahead of us (mid 50s, him with a Harley jean jacket and pressed Levis) stopped a stranger and asked where it was. Pretty soon we noticed every other person on the street was carrying a pink box of donuts.

Also, good luck finding street parking in downtown Portland anymore unless you are parking a fixie bike, a streetcar or a short-term rental car (excuse me, car-sharing car). So we had to walk about 20 blocks to discover that we’re not cool enough for Bijou anymore.

So yeah, hipsters on fixies, ironic donuts and lines out the door for a pretentious over-priced breakfast. And cops cruising around looking for mentally ill people to beat up or shoot. That’s what our Portland has become, apparently (or was it like this all along and we’re just now noticing?).

Walking back to our car we stopped to buy a Street Roots. Had to wait in line for that, too, but only one deep (“It’ll be a good day when the line to buy Street Roots is as long as the line at Voodoo Donuts,” said Nancy).

Then we saw Bagel Bistro on 4th and Stark. Not a customer inside. We got breakfast there, and it was pretty good. Pretty, pretty good. Standard greasy spoon type menu, including genuine hash browns. None of those pompous “home fries” or “cottage potatoes.” Honest-to-goodness hash browns, grated and fried to a crisp golden brown. And the price was right, too.

Jesus, maybe we did end up acting out a Portlandia sketch.

Puppy Bowl Party

by Steve, February 3rd, 2013

We had our third annual Puppy Bowl Party today. Today’s menu included:

  • Cheese Pizza!!
  • Chips and Cheesey Poofs!!
  • Nachos!!
  • Guacamole!!
  • Chocolate Fondue!!

I’ve never shared my guacamole recipe with anyone, so if you’re reading this, consider yourself elite. I honed this recipe over many years working produce.

Guacamole

    2 large avocados, pitted and skinned DO NOT MASH!
    1 tomato, chopped
    Juice of 1 lime
    1/4 onion, chopped
    cilantro, chopped
    jalapeņo, chopped
    pinch salt
    pinch cumin

Put all ingredients in a glass mixing bowl. With a sharp knife, slice the avos in the bowl while spinning it with your left hand. WHACK WHACK WHACK WHACK… hard to describe exactly, but keep doing it till the avos are finely chopped, not mashed. THIS IS MY SECRET. I’VE NEVER TOLD ANYBODY BEFORE. EXCEPT MY WIFE. (Actually, a vegan volunteer at a co-op taught me this trick back in the late 80s. It works better because mashing the avos bruises them.) If you don’t want it too spicy, sub a pinch of chili powder for the jalapeņo, or cut the seeds out.

Chocolate Foundue

    12 oz. bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
    8 oz. heavy cream
    1 Tablespoon sugar

Heat the cream in a sauce pan until it barely starts to bubble. Whisk in the chocolate chips and sugar. Transfer to a preheated fondue pot. Thin with milk if it gets too thick.

These are the creatures in my neighborhood

by Steve, December 29th, 2012

Into the sunWe tried to go to nature church on Mt. Hood yesterday, and while the weather was fine and the snow was plentiful, we saw far too many Great Apes and Domestic Canines and no wildlife at all.

gone fishin'So we went to nature church at the beaver pond today and saw, in addition to our resident Mallard flock, a beautiful lone, rainbow-colored Wood Duck and an then a Great Egret, like this one. “They look like angels when they fly,” remarked Z. They really do. Further upstream we saw what at first appeared to be an otter, but turned out to be a young nutria. We followed him upstream as he skillfully navigated rapids and debris dams.

Dream deerA little later, I ran across a hawk and spied these three Black Tail Deer in Deer Meadow. Great to see the neighbors out and about on a crisp early winter day.