The groovy melody of Ray Charles' classic "Let the Good Times Roll" fills the room at Pier 23, sending heads bobbing in between bites of calamari. But this isn't the old Quincy Jones arrangement from the late '50s. This is the Blues Fuse version -- Hammond B-3, drum machine, and trombone. Someone in the kitchen stops pounding a piece of fish as the song ends, there is a rippling of applause, and the silky voice of Art Harris whispers: "All right ... thank you very much."
For the past few years, the Blues Fuse has been the undiscovered secret of the blues circuit, gigging up to three times a week in addition to private parties and benefits like the Hooker's Ball. Their sets range from traditional blues to big-band standards and even a few show tunes, all with that distinctive organ/trombone combo sound. Between the two, Art Harris (organ and vocals) and Berisford "Shep" Shepherd (melodic trombone) have played with such greats as Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, Duke Ellington, Earl Bostic -- even the house band at Finocchio's. Between the two, they are incredibly dapper, their finely cut suits designed by Harris, a tailor by trade. Between the two, they span 155 years. This week Shep turned 80, and next week Art turns 75 -- the punk.
They have a loyal following. Prostitute-rights advocate and former supervisorial candidate Margo St. James leans over and says, "Are you here to see the Fuse?"
They have been friends for years. When Shep is asked about all the folks he's played with in the past, Art looks at him and teases: "Ahh, you pushed the button!"
Occasionally, the two will showcase some musical guests. But for the most part, they're a self-contained unit. "We got the electric drummer," says Shep with a grin. "No attitude."
These days you gotta have a phrase, a slogan on your letterhead that sets you apart from the pack. The Blues Fuse has two of 'em:
"Old pros love music."
"We don't fuck around."
Drop by and wish them a happy birthday Wednesdays at Pier 23, or every other Sunday at Cafe Babar.
No Laughing Matter
The new film Citizen Ruth, starring Laura Dern, may be a justified darling of critics, but this marvelous black comedy about the abortion debate is also provoking the opposite reaction from audiences. It's unclear what Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger might say about abortion being a jumping-off point for humor, but at a recent screening at the Lumiere, one woman found the film extremely unfunny. As the lights came up she could be seen in one of the back rows, sobbing openly, her face red with tears. Her boyfriend held her hand, and stared straight ahead at the now-blank screen.
At that moment, there was nothing to say.
We Can Share the Women, We Can Share the Wealth
The court battle over the estate of Jerry Garcia has been settled in favor of Garcia's former wife Caroline, aka Mountain Girl, but the landscape remains dotted with ugly moments that weren't seen on Court TV. During the burial of Jerry's ashes at sea, Garcia's widow, Deborah Koons Garcia, refused to allow Mountain Girl to set foot on the boat, leaving her in tears on the dock. According to a recent issue of People magazine, Grateful Dead member Bob Weir had to be restrained from diving overboard to swim back and join Mountain Girl.
The entire story smacks of tawdry gossip -- two women who obviously don't like each other, both fighting over the money of a dead man. Out of those who travel in such circles, most would rather not discuss it at all. Among fans, there is a distinct feeling of resentment toward Deborah Koons. Deadheads are siding with Mountain Girl, whose cult status stems from her years spent with the band and her appearance in Tom Wolfe's book about Ken Kesey.
Throughout the trial, which ended last week in Marin, Mountain Girl and her daughter by Kesey, Sunshine, stayed at the home of Caroline "Goldie" Rush, in Stinson Beach. During this time, according to Rush, the house was deluged with mail, e-mail, and phone calls from friends offering support. People would run out to the driveway each morning to scoop up the day's newspapers, and read the various accounts of the trial. Sunshine carefully clipped each story to paste into a scrapbook.
"They needed a sanctuary," says the 50-year-old Rush, "and Stinson is really good for that. The court thing took over my life. It was pretty much, everything was focused on the trial around here."
Throughout the 1970s and up through today, Rush has been an integral part of the Grateful Dead's inner circle. She operated what she calls a "West Coast branch office" for the Dead, working from an office upstairs from the only store in town, organizing the band's fan club. Rush now operates her own personal management business, with half of her clients Grateful Dead-related. She has known Mountain Girl and Jerry Garcia since 1971, and when the band traveled to Europe in 1972, Rush stayed behind in the Garcias' home in Stinson to take care of their personal affairs, including watching their daughter, Annabelle.
"To me, MG is totally on top of the whole thing," says Rush, "and the whole point of it was, was that she was the love of Jerry's life. There's no question about that for anyone who's spent any time with them. And Deborah wasn't. And I think that's really her basic beef, is that she wanted to be the one, and she wasn't the one.
"Quite honestly, those of us who've known these guys for a while are appalled at Deborah's behavior. She's being very exclusive and revengeful. She's not trying to bring people together. Sometimes when you lose somebody that you love, it's an opportunity for people to get together about it, and a lot of us have been doing that, you know. And Deborah has just been -- that just doesn't seem to be her type."
Although Jerry and Mountain Girl weren't technically married until 1981, from Rush's vantage point, she emphasizes that they definitely were a couple for years previous to the marriage:
"Oh, absolutely. They were definitely a couple -- a pretty remarkable one at that. They were a hell of a pair, energywise. Great to be around. They were both very smart and very witty, and it was entertaining to be around them. They played off each other really well. I'm really honored that I got to hang out with them as much as I did, and get to know them."
"MG's very family-oriented," continues Rush, "and made a lot of decisions in her life for the best for her family. And sometimes Jerry's lifestyle wasn't the healthiest thing around, you know? I think that theirs is a huge story, and a big love, and I don't think that anything that happens in court or that anybody else says is going to change that."
With the decision expected to be appealed, and the $38 million in claims from Garcia's past lovers and business associates still pending, the Marin court system should be busy for months.
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By Jack Boulware