Riff Raff

Chapter 37 in an Ongoing Saga After the San Francisco Chronicle's two-year search -- two years! -- to add a second pop music critic to the masthead, we're suddenly looking at a horse race between two journalistic stallions. In case you haven't kept up with Riff Raff's exhaustive coverage of the (non)hiring process, here's the abridged version: As the cocktail party and free-screening fixture himself is fond of saying, second critic Michael Snyder did not get fired by Northern California's largest newspaper in August of 1995. A year later, Joel Selvin, the Chron's senior critic, told us he had 100 "strong resumes." But nothing happened. As the months wore on, a few writers, including New York's Evelyn McDonnell and Michigan's Susan Whitall, wrote tryout articles, but it never really seemed like the Chron was serious about hiring. Then, at the beginning of the summer, local critic-about-town James Sullivan was tapped to fill in for six weeks while Selvin did research for a book. Sullivan produced a volume of good copy, and we were sure that young James had the gig in his clutches. But Riff Raff suspects the hiring was just too easy for the masochistic Chron editors. That brings us up to the present. Say hello to Natasha Stovall, a three-year Village Voice vet and free-lancer for all of the usual big-city suspects: the New York Times, Spin, and Rolling Stone. For two weeks in August, the Chronicle cut Sullivan's appearances back to the Sunday Pink Pages and opened the daily Datebook to Stovall. The result was again something like what you'd expect from a decent metropolitan newspaper: smartly written coverage of big shows like Sinead O'Connor at the Warfield and the half-empty Lollapalooza. Curiosity piqued, we looked into Stovall's vault and discovered that even though she's an Alanis Morissette apologist -- she goes for the singer's awkward mixture of self-conscious and unself-conscious behavior -- her taste appears rather rarefied for the Chron. Which is another way of saying we're not sure if the intelligent things she's had to say in the past about Bikini Kill, Rebecca Gates, and Rachel's are an asset or a liability in the job hunt; and, indeed, the Chron had her writing about Sinbad's Soul Music Festival before the end of her stint. Still, Stovall, 26, says she is "serious" about the tryout and she considers the critic position a "dream job." The Chron is serious too. Beginning Sept. 15, the powers that be are giving her another month for editors to see, as she puts it, "how I function as a member of the staff as opposed to a person who is just coming in to do stories" and to check her ability to crank out news items and the like. Meanwhile, Sullivan, 31, says he has officially asked for the job, but he's waiting out Stovall's turn for a final decision. What's the official word from the Chron? We don't know -- Datebook chief Liz Lufkin's on vacation. Look for the photo finish mid-October. (J.S.)

We Won't Make the Obvious Joke Last month, Riff Raff reported the sale of downtown jazz club Julie Ring's Heart & Soul to unknown parties. Now, the new owner and his plans for the venue have been discovered. Rob Palmer has spent the good part of this month transforming Heart & Soul's swingin' ruins into what will henceforth be known as the Red Devil Lounge. The new space will be a combination cocktail lounge and restaurant, complete with live entertainment and red and black decor, says Palmer. "It will be a fun dining and cocktail lounge experience. Kind of a trendy place." Plans for entertainment are still being hammered out. Presently, Palmer says he wants to book live acts that range from blues and jazz to mainstream rock. Riff Raff suggests maybe a DJ night with the (self-proclaimed) sinister master of all that's dark and creepy, DJ EVL (who works at "Masquerade"). Then again, Masquerade's decadent door policy (where more bondage gear equals cheaper admission) might follow, and having crass prices at one S.F. club is enough. Either way, the Red Devil Lounge's grand opening is set for early October, with some kind of entertainment in store -- even if it just turns out to be watching a roomful of people feel particularly hip and nasty. (R.A.)

Waiting for Robot As Idiot Flesh filled the Maritime Hall with fire and demons from hell on Friday, Aug. 22, an unlikely group of people patiently awaited the entrance of Giant Robot II. 53-year-old blues legend Charlie Musselwhite, Curtis Salgato, and Musselwhite's guitar player, John Whitmeyer. Apparently, all three bluesmen are big fans of Buckethead, Giant Robot's frontman, and his infamous guitar playing. Even with Buckethead's bizarre stage persona and unsociable manner, the veteran players could not help being impressed. Perhaps there's room for a few KFC buckets in Musselwhite's band. No? (S.T.)

Selvin Watch -- Got My Mojo Workin' Edition Joel Selvin wrote about John Lee Hooker opening up a blues club in the Fillmore last week. He quoted someone as saying that Hooker would be joining the likes of B.B. King and Buddy Guy. Selvin explained: "Fellow bluesman King has clubs in Memphis and Los Angeles, and Chicago blues guitar great Guy owns a South Side place called the Checkerboard Lounge." Well, no. Guy gave up the Checkerboard, the city's most storied blues club, back in the '80s. (Its bookings are now unremarkable.) For the last eight years, he's owned and run Buddy Guy's Legends south of the Loop. (B.W.)

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