400 Bar, rocked yet again

Once again this evening I had the pleasure of playing in Michael Morris' band during his weekly Tuesday night residency at Minneapolis' legendary 400 Bar. The band tonight was (l to r) Haakon Nelson (mandolin, bass), Andy Hertel (drums), Michael Morris (acoustic guitar, harmonica, vocals), and me (bass, chord organ, accordion, melodica). I told Michael this evening in the lovely catacombs beneath the stage that he'd better start photo-documenting his rise to fame so that in twenty years when they publish the "Michael Morris on Michael Morris" coffeetable book (not unlike "U2 on U2") there would actually be a few photos from his pre-stardom era. To say that is kind of a cute joke, but to be honest, I sort of believe it. After seeing countless bands/songwriters in my nearly two decades in showbiz, I've rarely seen anybody with the talent, dedication, and X-factor that Michael Morris has goin' on.

The gig tonight was particularly fun for me, 'cause I got to play bass on half the set! Michael's song "Brand New Palette" is my pick for the hit single and it totally rocks, and I had a wonderful time riffing around on bass guitar. In addition, I also got to begin the show playing chord organ, which is an instrument I use often on recordings, but have never played in concert before. It was a blast. All the instruments I played tonight have special meaning to me. Here's the run-down:

CHORD ORGAN: a '60s-era relic purchased in 1999 at Encore Music while I was on tour here in Minneapolis. It's accordion technology, but rather than manually squeezing the bellows, a small electric fan blows air through the reeds, allowing the player to use both hands on the keyboard. It's pretty much an electric harmonium, and a similar instrument can be heard on various recent tunes by Steve Earle ("Transcendental Blues" I think). I used this instrument on many of my own recordings, including songs like "Waiting for the Rain," "Park River Bridge," and "My Broken Heart is Miss [sic] You."

HOHNER ACCORDION: I assume that this instrument dates back to the '50s or earlier. My Grandfather Earl Roberts received it after the death of a friend, and the man's widow passed along the accordion. My Grandpa had it for years, and then gave it to me in 1989 as I embarked on a two year musical tour of Lutheran congregations. I've been playing that thing ever since, and hauling it around North America. It appeared even on my debut album, featured on "The 'Con' Prefix Song," and many recordings since then.

HOHNER MELODICA: Back in 1985 I heard the Philadelphia pop/rock band The Hooters for the first time, and they changed my life and my brain. The Hooters named themselves after this weird keyboard/harmonica hybrid, and they featured the instrument on many of their signature songs. I'll never forget those first few times hearing the melodica and mandolin introduction to the Hooters' hit "And We Danced"...it really set the stage for my instrumental development and my professional career. When I completed confirmation classes in Fall of 1985 a bunch of folks gave me money, and I took that cash down to The Melody Shoppe in Marquette, MI and special-ordered a Hohner melodica, just like the one The Hooters played. It cost me about $80, and for a high school freshman, this was HUGE money. But it was totally worth it, and I huffed and puffed through that plastic box for hours while my cousin Bruce strummed his nylon-string classical guitar with a pick. We butchered Hooters songs for months. Soon after I picked up the fabulous debut "London 0 Hull 4" by the Housemartins, and they, too, used the melodica! I couldn't get enough. I still play that same instrument that I bought with my confirmation money 22 years ago.

1970's-era FENDER P-BASS GUITAR: a recent acquisition for me...maybe in 2003 or so. I bought this lovely bass guitar from my bass-master friend Mike Bradburn, who plays in the stellar Chicago Americana/soul band Dolly Varden. I'm pleased to say that this instrument appears on at least one Dolly Varden album, and I've used it myself on the song "Smart Girls" from my own CD Public Library, as well as on many many more recent recordings. I think Mike secretly wishes he still had it, but hey, it's mine now. Mwah ha ha ha ha! But, hey Mike, it's here for you whenever you want to play it.

So there are the contents of this evening's musical toolbox. For those of you Michael Morris fans who are learning his songs (and the crowds are growing and growing) I'll transcribe tonight's setlist...and for those of you who have yet to hear the magic, you can read these titles knowing that someday, when Michael's debut album is done and available, these songs will rock your own iPod.

King County Hotel and Casino
We Saw The Stars
Have Faith
Highland Drive
The Labor
An Open Invitation
A Brand New Palette
To Hell and Back

See y'all next Tuesday at the 400 Bar. Continue to rock, please.


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