Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Remembering Jeff Porcaro

Just found this Drum Talk video honoring drumming idol Jeff Porcaro, of Toto fame, and it reminded me of the first time I saw someone demonstrate the Rosanna shuffle groove.

And while I play this shuffle groove with much more feel and fluidity than this "vlogger," I appreciate his scholarship and he shared some things I had forgotten, like Jeff's start as Sonny & Cher's drummer.

Toto IV came out when I was in Junior High and Rosanna was the big radio hit from that album before Africa rose to #1 some months later. I loved the groove and Jeff's drum playing, the jazz piano break followed by scorching guitar solo. It was just a great song and rightly received "Record of the Year" honors at the Grammy's. But I couldn't play it. In fact, I didn't really get the Bernard Purdie shuffle feel until many years later.

Specifically, I remember being at worship band rehearsal one night at Christian Heritage Church in the early 2000's. Christie Cole, our leader, was out that week and one of her backup singers was leading. The singer's husband was a drummer and at rehearsal that night he sat down and rocked out the Rosanna shuffle. My jaw dropped. It was right then that I realized the power of ghost notes and how on that groove, in particular, they provide the undercurrent and fluid, forward motion of the "Purdie Shuffle." Later, I would learn that it was Purdie who influenced Jeff's use of shuffle in his early work, like on Steely Dan and Boz Scaggs' records. But I watched in awe that night as this drummer, unknown to me, sat down and nailed it like it was the easiest thing to play. I took notes.

Later on, as I relaxed into the shuffle and learned to play those ghost notes in time and with groove, I was able to play the Rosanna song with feel and without rushing it. Since then, I've played along with it many times, though the tom fills still give me fits! It's just one of the reasons I count Jeff among my heroes.

My first encounters of his groove and deep pocket playing were, unbeknownst to me, while listening to his songs on the radio, like Lido Shuffle and Lowdown, both childhood favorites by the incomparable Boz Scaggs. At the time, I didn't know he was the grooving force behind Michael McDonald's I Keep Forgettin', another classic and a childhood fave. My first cognizant realization of his prowess was while playing along with Toto's first album, released in 1978.

I was a 10-year-old in my grandmother's basement, listening to my uncle's record collection in his early version of a "man cave." This room, walls painted a rich blue with my uncle's custom album cover art, had a drum platform and a rag tag set of drums, where I first cut my teeth on the kit. His vinyl collection included the first three albums I ever played along with--Foreigner's Double Vision (1978), Journey's Evolution (1979) and Toto's self-titled first album (1978).

I played along with these albums over and over until I could hit all the parts in lock-step with the players, even if I wasn't playing them exactly right. To this day, Hold the Line from that first Toto album is one of my favorites. I didn't even realize I was playing a pretty basic blues groove on the chorus, but it seemed to come very naturally to me. In fact, I seemed to have a knack for picking up on syncopated kick and hi-hat patterns without too much trouble. It was playing with groove and feel that would take many more years of practice.

But that was my introduction to Jeff's playing. I would follow him for many years and would to my surprise find out that he played on many great songs I'd grown up on. As an adult, I fell in love with the body of Steely Dan's work. Found out he was a session drummer for them...and scads of other artists spanning the 70's and 80's. In fact, he even played on an album by Christian recording artist, Bryan Duncan, on a song I'd loved since childhood. On this track, as on every track he's ever played, he does it tastefully, with groove and feel, providing the band with a deep pocket. Jeff was never very showy; never tried to steal the spotlight.

Jeff was taken from us in the prime of his life in 1992. His drumming, along with Neil Peart and Steve Smith, were my earliest influences. Had I known all the great tracks he had recorded in the 1970's, I would have called him my first, but I really discovered him in 1978-79 and followed his short-lived career over the next fourteen years. I purchased the only instructional video he ever did and have watched nearly every YouTube I could find, from his performances in '76 with Boz Scaggs on Japanese TV to his later concerts with Toto, where he never even took a drum solo. His selflessness and modesty was on display in this rare interview that I just recently discovered (from the late 80's?):

I listed Jeff among my Top 5 Modern Drummers back in 2009 and even included the clip from his instructional video where he breaks down and explains the roots of his Rosanna shuffle. After that, I immediately had to go work on Led Zeppelin's Fool in the Rain.

Well, that's my tribute to one of my all-time favorites and a huge influence on my playing style--the one and only Jeff Porcaro. Rest in peace, brother.

Monday, November 13, 2017

4G Grandfather Duston Mills, Pioneer

In August 2015, I wrote my "200+ Years in Indiana," post documenting the family of Duston & Louisa Mills, which included three sets of twins! My hopes back in 2015 were to finish a book of family history on the Mills who emigrated from Maine to Indiana in the second decade of the 19th century.

It was Duston's father, James, who brought the family to Indiana circa 1811, picking a spot east of Princeton, overlooking the Patoka River. Duston was five and one-half years old when the family landed at Evansville on the Ohio River, New Year's Day. They made their way north to Gibson County, a halfway point between their landing spot and the old fort at Vincennes, by then a territorial capital (the Old Northwest Territory). The U.S. Land Office opened some time later in Vincennes is where James Mills would go to enter his land. When Duston was entering manhood, he inherited some of that land plus what he'd receive as a dowry from his father-in-law, named below.

Even though my 4G Grandfather was a Maine native, he grew up, married and began family life in Gibson County, so I consider Duston my earliest Hoosier ancestor. As the crow flies, the farm where my maternal grandmother grew up is only a little more than a mile from that spot. When I made that discovery some 20 years ago, I was delighted. It meant that my family had farmed that same sacred soil for nearly 200 years.

Indiana celebrated it's bicentennial in 2016 and I really wanted to publish "My Mills Family: 200 Years in Indiana" that year, but it wasn't in the cards. I still had too much digging to do to document all of the many branches of that family that remained in the Hoosier state. Following that path from Duston to my own nieces and nephews, took me from 1804 to present, spanning eight generations. As you can imagine, that's quite an undertaking and the book has grown to nearly 400 pages!

Go back with me, if you will, to those early pioneer times in southern Indiana. It was the only portion of the state that was fairly safe from Indian attacks. A flood of pioneers came to the Hoosier State in those first three decades of the 1800's. Farms on the rolling hills east of Princeton, above Indian Creek, were cleared one acre at a time, usually by one man and an ox or mule. These are the times that Duston was raised to manhood, learning the agricultural, lumber milling and carpentry trades. He became a well-known Gibson County farmer, cabinet maker and a builder of flatboats.

He assisted in the organization of the county's first agricultural society, signing incorporation papers 19 Sep 1856, per Gil R. Stormont's History of Gibson County, Indiana...p.113. He and brother-in-law, Richard Hussey, are credited by some historians as founding the Patoka River town of Kirk's Mill, named for another pioneering family. That place was later granted a post office and named Bovine before being renamed Wheeling (it's present-day name). Back in pioneer times, the river at Kirk's Mill was 4G Grandfather Duston's launching point for pork and agricultural products by flatboat all the way down to New Orleans via the Patoka, Wabash, Ohio and Mississippi rivers. I forget how many pounds of pork, lard, corn and wheat made those long, arduous journeys south, but suffice to say it made him a wealthy man, by era standards.

Duston, often spelled Durston/Durstan, was a Whig in politics, but as Stormont writes, "on the organization of the Republican Party he cast his fortunes with that party." I believe he was also a Cumberland Presbyterian by religious affiliation. He married Louisa "Eliza" Stapleton 16 Dec 1827 in Gibson County. She was the daughter of a Tennessean, Joshua Stapleton, who served as a private in the Indian War of 1811 and Gibson County Historian Elia W. Peattie notes that he was "a hero in the Battle of Tippecanoe." After the war, he'd also settled in the same area of central Gibson County, so Louisa was a neighbor of the Mills family.

Together, they raised eleven children and buried another in infancy and also raised a couple of their grandchildren on the farm. Duston died there in 1875. I even have an image of the funeral announcement, but it fails to mention where he was laid to rest. His place of burial remains a mystery to me to this day. His widow lived another six years, but her burial place in 1882 is also a mystery. It's possible they were buried together across the road from their farm at Lawrence Cemetery. There are several members of the Mills, Greek and Hussey families buried there. It sits just north of where Louisa grew up.

Documenting the history of their children, grandchildren and four generations of descendants, focusing primarily on those branches who remained in Indiana, is the aim of my book. I'll keep you posted on my progress.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Epic Fail Jimmy Dean!

I've always been a fan of the Jimmy Dean Pancake Sausage breakfast rollups on a sick. You know, the ones that look like a Pancake Corn Dog? Not only are they a really convenient, quick breakfast, but they taste really good. So when the company came out with the bite-sized version, I was quick to try them. I bought a 92-pack at Sam's Club at the beginning of the month.

As you can see on the packaging below, they are pictured to look just like mini-versions of the original. Bite-sized pieces of Jimmy Dean link sausage encased in light, fluffy pancake and cooked to golden perfection. What you can also tell in the photo below is that what comes out of the box looks nothing like the image on the front of it.

The smallish nuggets are NOTHING like what was advertised or expected. They don't even come close to the larger, original version. No, these sausage ball-sized nuggets, don't resemble, taste or come close to the originals.-  #FAIL #Jimmy Dean - In fact, I was so disappointed, I posted the above photo to their Facebook page. They didn't like that, so they attempted to move me away from social media, presumably to handle this privately by e-mail. Again, #FAIL #JimmyDean 

On the day I posted this, October 2nd, I got an immediate message from their Facebook Manager, "We're so sorry to this but we appreciate you reaching out. We'd like to have consumer affairs get in touch so we can get to the bottom of the issue. Is there an email or phone number our teams can reach you at?" I promptly gave them my e-mail address and waited...and waited. *Cue Crickets*

Here's what I expected to receive from them, "We're very sorry for your experience and that our product didn't meet your expectations..." Instead, I got NOTHING! ZERO!

So, after no word from them in three weeks, and 70 or so frozen turds just sitting in my freezer--my girls won't even touch them--I reached out at 8:25 this morning, threatening to go back to social media shaming. As of 10:25 a.m., they have again failed to respond to my customer complaint. So I'm posting this to ward off any potential customers. DO NOT BUY THIS PRODUCT!

I know that I never will again, and because of their epic fail at customer relations, I'm planning to boycott any and all Jimmy Dean products. Feel free to join me and let them know on their Facebook page:

That's where I'm about to post a link to this blog post.
#epicfail #jimmydean

Thursday, October 12, 2017

White Angst - Black Protest

When black athletes sit, kneel or stand in protest, they are quickly shouted down by the angry white masses. This is nothing new in this country. Every time people of color take to the streets or protest inequality in anyway, it seems to ruffle the feathers of white privilege and the age-old Establishment (a primarily Anglo-Saxon fraternal order). It's like a sudden eruption of white-hot angst from just below the surface that bubbles over in the form of hate, outrage and bigotry. In recent weeks, it was the protest of a handful of black athletes that caused the volcano to let loose it's vitriolic magma.

Interesting, isn't it? When a black man, no matter his socio-economic status, rises up to shout down inequality and injustice, a dozen whites stand to shout him down, as if to say, "Know your place, negro!" First, they taunt him and label him a spoiled, crybaby who is ungrateful for the hand up that sports provided him and, thereby, democracy. Then, they want him fired from his job for using the platform that we've given him to speak (how dare he use his celebrity status to speak up for what's right and give a voice to those who have no platform!). They somehow twist and reshape the narrative to fit their own racist ideology and self-serving agenda. In this case, they've attempted (and failed, mind you) to make this a debate about patriotism, nationalism and our flag. "How dare they disrespect our flag!"

Well, let's humor that rewritten narrative for a minute and turn the tables on the angry white folks. I often ask my white, nationalist brothers, "Is your sense of patriotism THAT fragile, that someone kneeling during the anthem can shatter it to pieces?"

Despite the fact that hundreds of war veterans have come out in droves to support the freedoms they so valiantly fought for, you still have angry whites making this about veterans and disrespect. Pretty sure the liberties that so many laid down their lives in defense of extend to our brothers of color, or is that, again, a white privilege??? It certainly was a white man's privilege in 1789 when the Bill of Rights was written. But haven't we progressed from the 18th century?

I think what spurs so many whites in counter-protest is not their patriotism, but their white privilege and white angst. For a closer look at white angst, I refer to this blog post or this article about "the primal scream of white America," which echoes what I wrote last March. It's an attack on their sense of superiority, plain and simple, and they don't like it.

So twist and turn the narrative all you like, the fact that black people are supposed to keep their opinions to themselves and off the playing field and television is the opinion of a majority in white America (at least the vocal majority). It harkens back to the days of slave ships, chains and muzzles. And while that may seem sensational to my white brethren, I remind them, "How many of your ancestors were brought over in iron chains and muzzles?"

The failure here is of white people to empathize and to understand. Not one of the counter-protesters has taken a millisecond to walk in another man's shoes. 
They don't WANT to understand, they just want their privileged status to remain unchecked. They want their NFL to remain mindless entertainment with no political or real social value other than fodder for Monday morning water-cooler banter.

The black conscience bears the scars of centuries-old oppression and outright torture. Don't tell them when and where they can speak or what they are protesting. You've never even tried to listen or to hear their cries or to walk a halfstep in their well-worn shoes.

Stop the hate. And stop hiding behind your white privilege! For once, I implore you to try to understand. The flag that waves over this country hasn't always represented freedom, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for everyone who stands beneath it.


Monday, October 09, 2017

Breast Cancer Awareness awful reminder

Breast cancer awareness is the theme of the month of if I needed the reminder. Ever since 2015, the month of November and, specifically, Thanksgiving Weekend are constant reminders of breast cancer and the devastation it can cause. I really didn't need the prompt one month earlier to begin missing my late mother, a victim of women's cancer, or my grandmother who died 25 years earlier.

Breast cancer, in particular, wasn't foreign to me. I believe it was 1989 when my maternal grandmother was first diagnosed. Her siblings and childhood friends from "Frisco" called her simply Kate, the abbreviated version of her middle name. I called her Grandma Wright. She lived in the town where I was born and where my parents grew up, near her childhood home. When we moved away in 1974, I was still in kindergarten. I can remember driving the U-Haul over to her house--maybe we spent our last night in Princeton there, I don't recall--to say our goodbyes. And even though we moved three hours away to the big city, I always remained close to her.

In those earliest, formative years it was my grandmothers who helped to raise me in our small, farming town. Dad's mom, Grandma Doyle, lived down the hill in the same subdivision as Grandma Wright and because the latter worked a day job, it was the former who picked me up from nursery school, across the highway from her house, fed me lunch, read to me and laid me down for a nap. But Dad's parents were near retirement age, with plans to move to South Florida once Grandpa Doyle gave his notice to the utility he helped to manage. They left town the year before us and I barely saw them after that.

That left Grandma Wright, a fairly new mother, herself, to help raise me. My Uncle Greg was born in March 1964 when she was a middle-aged woman. She worked for a manufacturing outfit on the outskirts of town. Mom worked for a beauty salon downtown. By the time I started kindergarten, we lived within walking distance of my school and mom had moved her "chair" to a salon around the corner from home and school. I don't remember after school then like I did the afternoons at Grandma Doyle's, but I assume I either walked home or to mom's work.

My world shrunk by one matriarch in 1973, leaving me two women who looked after me, the subjects of this blog post. The Vietnam War was drawing to it's sluggish end and my dad had been spared the harsh realities of war by ONE DAY (subject for another blog post). He had enlisted in the Indiana National Guard when I was just a babe, so his weekends once a month were spent on Guard Duty. He had to miss my first birthday while out at Camp Lewis, WA, in basic training. This is another reason my grandmothers were so intricately involved in my upbringing. Also, dad worked on the road as a travelling bank examiner for the state. But with one grandmother gone to Florida, who would pass when I was a 9-year-old boy, it left that responsibility to Grandma Wright, to whom I grew very close.

Even after we moved three hours away to Indianapolis--a drive that seemed to take forever as a kid--I remained very connected to my mom's family. For one, they were the nearest and most involved grandparents I had and, secondly, my uncle, only four years my senior, was revered as an older sibling. As the oldest in my fold, I didn't have a big brother, so Uncle Greg became that for me. I always looked forward to those weekend and holiday trips when I'd get to see them. One summer during middle school, mom allowed me an entire week at grandma's house, just me. It's one of my favorite childhood memories.

When I was older and my parent's would take a trip, usually for dad's work, Grandma Wright would drive up in her boat of a Cadillac and stay with us, so she remained a mother figure for me until I was a teenager. I loved my grandmother with all my heart. By then, she was the only one I had left.

We didn't see her much after moving to Florida in 1986 for dad's job. I was fresh out of high school and didn't need my grandmother's love and attention as much. Still, I missed being three hours away from her. I missed the solace of her basement and my uncle's man cave. I missed her embrace and her sloppy wet kisses.

In 1989, when she was diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer, my mom got the call and she must have felt so helpless being her only daughter and some 10 hours away. I know that feeling all too well, now. It was the summer of 2014 when I got that fateful call from my own mother, who was living 13 hours away in Noblesville, IN. It's the most devastating call, aside from the death of a child (I would assume), that one can receive. I then knew the helpless feeling my mom had felt all those years earlier.

Mom, too, was diagnosed with breast cancer. What took less than a year to metastasize and eventually take my grandma, took 17 months with my mom. Those are 17 months that I will always cherish.

I wasn't present for my grandma's final days. Her death hit me particularly hard, not just because she was a mother figure in my life, but also because we lived so far apart--her in the town of my birth and me in Florida. I was able to attend her funeral, the saddest day of my life up to that point. We laid her to rest in the town where she grew up, aka "Frisco," in February 1990. My mom had been at her bedside throughout most of her battle with cancer.

When mom passed on the final day of Thanksgiving Weekend 2015, it felt as if I had been at her bedside, her death bed. In fact, she was already gone when I went in to kiss her clammy forehead early that Sunday morning. It was so surreal. The girls and I were departing on a 13-hour drive home to Tallahassee after the holiday weekend. Here is what I blogged the morning after (30 Nov 2015):
I got up around 4:30 and showered. Got my girls moving and had them wake up Dad before our departure. We said our goodbyes and around 5 a.m., I went in to kiss Mom on the forehead. It didn't feel right under my lips. No warmth. Concerned, I told Dad to check on her and hugged his neck one more time. The girls and I left. I figured if something was wrong, he'd call me back into the house immediately. Nothing. Fifteen minutes later, I'm pulling into a Speedway station in Noblesville to fillup before hitting I-69. I look down and see the text from Dad.
Dad's text read, "Chris, I can't get mom to respond. I just called Hospice."

In a near panic, I drove 50 mph or more through the sleepy town of Noblesville at 5:30 on a Sunday morning, nary a car on the road. I made it back to dad's house in Cicero in what seemed like seconds, but in slow motion. I found mom in the same position in her bed as when I left, one leg flopped over the side. My niece, Ireland, who had spent the last night there with us was still sleeping in the guest bedroom. We didn't dare wake her to this horrible news about her Grammy, but eventually we had to. My sister Keely was there almost immediately. You can read my immediate reactions in the blog posts I've linked above and here.

Suffice to say, I am KEENLY aware of breast cancer and it's devastating effects. I am a victim, myself. Though I've never suffered from the affliction in my own body, I might as well have. It ripped the two most beloved women of my youth from me as an adult, nearly ripping my heart out with each passing. The matriarchs of my family--gone forever. So I really don't need a month dedicated to breast cancer awareness. I am fully aware. But I do take this month to reflect and to speak out. I've made my Facebook profile picture a pink ribbon which I intend to keep up for the entire month of their honor.

November will be worse. This Thanksgiving will mark the 2nd anniversary since mom's passing. And I'm glad we were there, me and my girls. It left an indelible imprint on all of us.

We miss you, Mom...Grammy. And I miss you, too, Grandma. My life will never be the same without either of you. Rest in peace.

This blog is dedicated to the memories of Alice Kathryn "Kate" Wright (1920-1990) and Kathy Doyle (1949-2015).

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Really, anti-gun folks?

In 1789, when the Bill of Rights was written, the woman in this photo really had no first amendment rights. Those were extended to white men, not to women of color. So when you circulate second Amendment memes on social media of musketball rifles and minutemen, consider the context.

Let that sink in for a minute.

The second amendment simply states, "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." Those first four words have been hotly debated, but few can argue with the last four, "shall not be infringed."

In context, we know that minutemen carried musketball rifles to fend off their British enemies. No one is being threatened today by a musketball-wielding redcoat. We have fully militarized police forces with assault rifles and tanks. So if you're going to argue the amendment on merit, you have to bring it forward from 1789 to 2017.

While the photo of the female protester above is used to emphasize a point, it is a valid comparison. If we're going to argue that the Bill of Rights was written a long time ago and we apply the logic of 1789 thinking, then this woman wouldn't have the right to protest. As both a female and an African American, she really wasn't protected under the Bill of Rights, maybe in theory, but certainly not in practice. So you can't apply that same backwards logic to the second amendment either.

That said, we certainly need stricter gun laws, not deregulation. Congress should use Vegas as the impetus to reverse course and tell the NRA to stick their millions up their collective asses. My only beef was with the ridiculous memes circulating about the second amendment protecting only antiquated weaponry.

Monday, October 02, 2017


I cannot tell if this place is a God-forsaken hellhole or shithole. I think both descriptions fit Tallahassee.

I moved away in December 2006 and never intended to move back. Forced against my will, I made the move in February 2014. I have maintained that since 2012, when my daughters were moved back here by their mom, the only three redeeming qualities about this shithole town are FSU and my two daughters, but not in that order.

Since moving back 3.5 years ago, I've watched it deteriorate (leadership and law enforcement, specifically) and been treated to the same ol' "suthun hospitality" I'd grown accustomed to for 20 years, 1986-2006. That hospitality and the goodness of people here is an absolute myth. They hold onto some idyllic version of their past like it's their God-given right. It's not. And they wouldn't know true hospitality if it bit them in the ass!

When I moved here in 1986 with my parents--some 120 years post-Civil War--people still "jokingly" referred to me as a "damn yankee" or "carpetbagger." It wasn't funny. It made me wonder why they hadn't gotten over what they still call "The War of Northern Aggression." This and the inherent racism that sort of thinking breeds is part of what led me to move north in 2006. I didn't really want to raise a biracial daughter in this environment.

Nestled in the armpit of Florida, too far from the coast to feel a seabreeze but much too close during hurricane season, Tallahassee is in the worst possible spot. We just had a near miss from monster storm Irma. When that happens in other parts of Florida, further south, you breathe a big sigh of relief and continue enjoying paradise. Not here in good ol' Tally-hassee. Had we taken a direct hit, this town would have been left decimated. I breathed a sigh of relief, then realized Tallahassee is still here.

Hot and sticky, like today. It's nearly October and it's 94 out as I write this and probably 70% humidity (or worse). The swamp-like heat will remain until Halloween. But the climate and location are far from the worst things about this hellhole.

The people, by and far, are the worst, most disingenuous people you'll ever encounter. If you stay for any length of time, you'll experience their true colors--their two-facedness, their ignorance, their selfishness and their untrustworthiness (to name a few). I already mentioned the inherent racism. That doesn't apply to everyone who was born and raised here, but it is still pervasive.

I can't even begin the count the number of times I was bold-face lied to. I've been let down, beat down, trampled and left for dead on numerous occasions. And the people who I thought were "ride or die" friends were just run-of-the-mill, I'll help you if it's convenient friends. All the rest can go to hell in a handbasket. In a word, they suck!

I only worked about four jobs in Indianapolis and the rest of my work experience has been in this hellhole town. My three worst bosses were all here (only one had lived here for most of her life). None of them had my best interest--or any of their employees interest--at heart and all of them were do as I say, not as I do-type "leaders." They weren't really leaders at all. They certainly weren't people I wanted to follow. They are typical of the kinds of people who are put into those positions in Tallahassee.

It has led this "fine city" to become the most crime-ridden in the state of Florida. Yes, more violent crimes than freakin' Miami!!! In fact, last week, I read where our campus, FSU, is the most violent, as well. And all you'll hear people say is what a great place this is to raise a family. Um, really? This town has become scary. Even in the SouthWood bubble where I live, a non-gated golf course community, there has been a rash of break-ins, auto and home burglaries. As I was writing this, a Sheriff's helicopter was hovering over the bubble. Interesting.

The lack of leadership is pervasive, from government down to non-profits, and I've worked for both. It even has found it's way into the church, here. It makes for an unlivable situation. I'm having trouble coping here.

Had I not promised my daughters to stay until they graduate, I'd be headed back to the beach! In another six years I will be. On that day, I'll shake the dust from my feet and say, "F#CK TALLAHASSEE!"