The Curious Man – A Chaos Portrait

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Years ago I produced a series of images with a group of people, most of which I wouldn’t be able to name. These images were made by doing speed-drawings of friends and strangers – and self portraits – in simple pencil. These were usually executed in two minutes or less. Then we’d lay out other drawing materials – markers and charcoal and chalk and ink – and try to finish the piece in an additional one to two minutes.

These are basic gestures, and the untrained nature of the execution (alongside the frenetic energy generated by a huge time constraint) resulted in some some interesting pieces. I believe this is an image of me sitting in the smoking patio at one of my favorite neighborhood bars in midtown Tucson.

But I can’t really be sure…

June 23, 2017 – The Underscore Orkestra

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The Underscore Orkestra – Formed in Portland, Oregon

“With members hailing from many corners of the globe, playing a blend of Balkan, Klezmer, Hot Jazz, Swing and Americana music, both original and traditional. Entire sets in each style can be heard or a nice melange of all. They are often joined by live Belly Dance. Their Performance evokes the old world and the new, the eerily haunting sounds from the east, with definite roots in the west. Influences are far and wide but range from New Orleans Jazz, to Eastern European, Greek, Turkish, Bulgarian, Roma and Klezmorim Music, Manouche Swing, to Acoustic Metal.”

I think that about sums it up. The performances are lively and are guaranteed to put a smile on your face. This portrait above is of Jorge Kachmari, the lead vocalist and violin player for the group. These guys braved icy winter weather in the crotch of the Mule Mountains to perform an outdoor set in Peddler’s Alley, where I used to sling espressos and sell artisan coffee. On their way to SXSW, they’d find friendly venues to play while on the road, and Bisbee has always been a welcoming place for the wandering spirit.

The following morning The Underscore Orkestra found a slightly more welcoming venue: The Bisbee Grand Saloon. It was a Sunday morning and the saloon had already set up its then-famous bloody-mary bar. It was warm and toasty and the saloon filled it’s seats quickly when word got out that there was live music. The sold some albums and merch, played a solid set, and then packed up and headed on their way.

I’ve been following them for a few years now, and I sure do hope I get the chance to see them again.

Check out the website for The Underscore Orkestra HERE
Check out the page HERE

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June 22, 2017 – Beth Hart

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“His love is like fire on the floor/
It’s got me running for the door/
But I’ll be crawling back for more/
Of his fire on the floor”

Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter Beth Hart is an untamed bundle of electricity when she’s on stage and, even though she’s been making music for almost thirty years, she seems to be cranking out more and more great music with each passing year. ‘The Blues’ magazine called her “the ultimate female rock star,” and she performs like it. She’s recently produced albums of high praise and has collaborated with some of the biggest names in music.

I was fortunate enough to spend some time with her in the green room for a special holiday season performance a few years ago. Playing to a packed house, she was just as lively and personable onstage as she was backstage; when Beth’s in the room, all eyes are on her. Period.

In April 2015 she released “Better Than Home,” a critical and commercial success topping the Blues Charts and recognized as the No.4 best blues album of the year by Mojo magazine. She has also received a nomination from the American Blues Foundation for Contemporary Blues Female Artist. Her most recent studio album, “Fire on the Floor,” was released last year.

Check out Beth Hart’s website here.

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June 21, 2017 – Mark Pierce

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What is there to say about Mark Pierce? The guy is a true original. A tattooed ruffian with a charming twang in his voice and a slow, smile sly that conveys an almost menacing confidence. He’s an alumnus of The West Texas Millionaires, a country group that calls Bisbee home, but he’s definitely got a punk edge. His torso is slathered in tattoos and he’s imbued with a country-punk style. Whether he’s slapping the stand-up base playing the fiddle, you’ll never mistake this gentleman as anything other than a showman.

These day’s he’s rockin’ a sizeable beard and is the proprietor or Bisbee Soap and Sundry.
You couldn’t miss him struttin’ down the road if you tried.

You can check out his shop’s page here.
You can check out The West Texas Millionaires here.

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June 14, 2017 – Nowhere Man and a Whiskey Girl

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It’s still hard to put into words when I look back on these two. I met the husband and wife musical duo at a 4th Avenue bar in Tucson, Arizona back in 2005 or 2006. The two were playing music in the bar lounge. It was a week night and there was no cover charge, which is really the only reason my girlfriend and I went out that night; we were both going to university and didn’t have a tremendous amount of spare cash, so free music and cheap happy hour drinks were always a solid draw.

I really enjoyed the music. Amy and Derrick always had magnificent chemistry. They always seemed happy and in love, and that came through in their music. They’d take breaks in between songs and interact with the crowd, ask questions, take requests, and make jokes. It was impossible to walk away and not take some of that joy with you. As relatively broke as I was, I had to buy one of their albums, and it become a regular part of my musical rotation.

Years down the road I secured a job in the old copper mining town of Bisbee, Arizona. With the mining operation all but shut down, the town had long-ago become a mecca for artists, musicians, drop-outs and various other vagabonds. It’s unique color and history also make it a draw for tourists, which sustain a healthy hospitality industry – restaurants, bars, and hotels abound in Historic Bisbee. As it turned out, Amy and Derrick called Bisbee their home; they played multiple sets at various venues each and every week. My favorite times were Wednesday nights at The Copper Queen saloon where Amy would play solo, seated behind her keyboards, and take requests from anybody who happened to be there – funny, improvised, and ingenious performances. I quickly learned, when dropping by Doug Stanhope’s Super Bowl party, that the couple actually rented a house from the comedian and lived adjacent to the Stanhope compound.

In a small town, everybody seems connected to everybody else in one way or another.
I could never boast a close, personal relationship with Nowhere Man and Whiskey Girl, but I always enjoyed their music and their kind, generous energy.

Amy Ross suffered from lupus and kidney problems. After spending more than a week at the Tucson Medical Center, she passed away at the age of forty. She’d been suffering from a blood infection and died shortly before a scheduled surgery. Derrick shot himself in the head in his home in Bisbee with a firearm he purchased shortly after his wife’s death. Amy’s death was announced on her Facebook page:

“Hey kids! Bad news! I died this morning and Derrick didn’t know how to tell you. I love you all and hope you go out and be nice to someone. Funerals are a bore so hopefully I don’t have one. Give Derrick some alone space…He stinks at this stuff so leave him be for now. Thanks for all the kindness…Please spread it around.
~Whiskey”

We learned shortly thereafter that the message was penned by Doug Stanhope after receiving permission and password information from Derrick.

It’s hard to tell if anybody had any idea that Derrick would take his own life. He’d mentioned that he might kill himself while speaking on Stanhope’s podcast before Amy’s death, but such a public proclamation – and on a comedy podcast no less – didn’t seem to bend too many ears, especially when speaking with a man known for humor that’s regularly pretty dark.

The whole town, still absorbing the loss of Amy Ross, was in shock after learning about Derrick’s suicide. A gathering of locals descended upon The Grand Hotel Saloon in celebration of the lives of Nowhere Man and a Whiskey Girl. Local musicians sang songs, covered tunes from the deceased couple, and many glasses were raised. The bar was packed with glassy-eyed locals, and I like to think that it was a decent send-off.

Today’s photograph was taken in the green room at The Bisbee Royale, a short-lived night club that is now home to the local radio station.

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June 13, 2017 – Jessica Fleet Smith

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I’ve known Jessica Fleet Smith for a few years now. I’d always see her and her husband at Mimosa Market, a small bodega up brewery gulch in Bisbee, Arizona – one of those places tucked just far enough away that few tourists ever find it. She’s a unique creature, light-hearted and quick to smile, and always seemed rather shy. That’s part of what makes her so intriguing, I think. Effortlessly beautiful but secure in her relationship, appearing shy but absolutely confident enough to stand behind the microphone and perform in front of a gathered crowd. She’s a very genuine person, reserved and gutsy at the same time.

Today’s image is an unconventional one. I shared it on Facebook a few years ago after she performed with a group called Chasing Light at the Sidepony Express music festival. The classroom, news publications, critiques, and art critics drill into photographers that if the image isn’t tack-sharp, it isn’t worth looking at. This convention of “the image must be technically perfect” robs the photographer of so many opportunities. I’m a fan of atmosphere, of motion-blur, of selective focus – of the certain kind of mood that can be established using these tools. I think there’s something emotional and ethereal about images like this, taken from the crowd, imperfect and out of focus, and let’s face it – I’m no longer in the classroom, no longer pressured to make somebody else’s idea of the perfect picture.

I think this image captures Jessica’s bravery (and her distance) quite well.

Out of the Blue, the group Jessica is currently working with, doesn’t stray from Bisbee very often. But if you’re taking a trip down to the copper town that once was – if the fake, theme-park atmosphere of Tombstone doesn’t distract you from heading further south – I’d be sure to look ’em up. You can follow Out of the Blue on Facebook here.

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June 10, 2017 – Flip Cassidy

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Flip Cassidy and the Junkyard Gospel:
“Raw, rusty Americana folk-punk perfect for driving on long desert highways. Pairs well with whiskey.”

“The Reverend Flip Cassidy is a rusty man who plays rusty songs on rusty guitars. The Junkyard Gospel is a howling, raging acoustic sound bellowed forth with a voice like a rusty saw blade. His solo performances are known to be highly energetic and infectious, surprisingly loud, and have even caused rippling, whiskey-induced fervors in audiences, fellow performers and bartenders alike.”

Living in a celebrity-obsessed culture, I genuinely believe that a distinction must be made between pop stars and musicians. Pop stars are, in so many ways, packaged products, manufactured for mass-consumption. Pop stars are the Skittles® and soda of music. There’s certainly showmanship, charisma, and skill in the celebrity circuit, but the salt-of-the-earth musician is an entirely different animal. Traveling from town-to-town – drawing people together in parks, at farmers markets, saloons, and theaters – there’s an army of talented folk out there.

Musicians connect with people, hang out and have a beer after their set, tell you about the road, and occasionally crash on your couch. Pop stars have a celebrity that renders them inaccessible, walled-off by security, by entourage, by wealth. Going out to your local pub and watching people make music right before your eyes is a magical experience. Everyone should go out to see live music more often. These guys live out of their cars, on buses, in cheap motor lodges – they have stories, passion, and a measure of honesty and bravery.

Flip Cassidy blew through town and drew one helluva crowd. Not only is this wandering poet a musician, but an insanely talented photographer – naturally we had a lot to talk about. When he rolled through town a year later, I bought his old twelve-string guitar. It’s currently resting on the corner of my study. I highly recommend you take a look at his music and his artwork. This guy is always making something, and he produces really amazing work.
Check out the Junk Yard Gospel
Check out Flip Cassidy Photography

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