LINER NOTES for Cotton Field of Dreams
At last, Albert Bashor’s time has come. Possessing an inviting vocal delivery that renders a listener warm and comfy the second he opens his mouth and uncommon songwriting skill that sometimes comes laced with a dollop of wry, offbeat humor, Albert’s resume doesn’t read a whole lot like anyone else’s. He started out singing rock and roll and playing guitar as a teenager, traveled the globe as drummer for one of the most bizarre rock bands of the 1970s, and recorded as a sideman with a passel of blues legends. Now Albert is prepared to launch his solo career by donning his guitar and arming himself with a sheaf of well-conceived originals.
The seeds for Cotton Field of Dreams were planted way back in 1993, when Bashor (pronounced Bayshore) first crossed paths with Earwig Music Company boss Michael Frank. Albert was half of a Delta-style acoustic blues duo called 32-20 at the time, and they were opening for blues legend Honeyboy Edwards at the Sandbar in Chattanooga; Frank was Honeyboy’s harpist as well as his manager. “Michael liked my songs,” says Albert. “I think we exchanged numbers, and the next day he called me and he said, ‘Do you guys have a record label?’ And I said, ‘No. I’m interested. Talk to me!’” But 32-20 broke up soon after. Clearly, the time wasn’t right just yet.
Fast forward to 2010. Following exploratory phone conversations initiated by Albert, he and Michael set eyes on one another again in blues-soaked Clarksdale, Mississippi. “He had material that I liked,” says Frank. “Even though my label’s been known, especially in its early years, as really traditional, I always liked good songwriting.” Albert’s approach is a departure from Earwig’s usual output, but that didn’t stop Michael. Frank and documentarian/multi-media specialist Lynn Orman have produced a debut disc showcasing Albert’s strengths that’s solidly rooted in the blues, yet rock, soul, and folk elements wind through seductively.
The original idea was to concentrate on Bashor’s blues side. That concept changed when he visited Chicago. “We were sitting around the hotel, and I was playing some songs,” says Bashor. “We were kind of just passing the acoustic around. And I played some songs for Michael, not really for him but just playing them in the lobby of the Holiday Inn in Skokie. And Michael goes, ‘Wow! I had no idea that you wrote songs like that! I thought you only did blues songs.’ I said, ‘No, I dabble with different types of material.’ And he goes, ‘I like ‘em!’”
Thus the unusual diversity on display throughout this album, cut in Chicago and at a studio outside of Orlando, Florida. Recruiting Little Feat keyboardist Bill Payne for the project is a story unto itself; Albert made contact with him through Facebook, of all places, via his friend, saxist Ron Holloway, after viewing a photo of Bill and Ron playing together. “I commented on the picture, and I said, ‘I’m jealous, Ron! You’re playing with Little Feat!’ I asked Ron, ‘Would you consider playing on my record?’ And he said, ‘Sure, Albert, I’d love to.’ And Bill Payne goes, ‘Well, I might even want to!’ And I just about fell out of my chair,” says Albert. “It was just one of those moments when the universe sends you a little gift.”
Other notable guests on the set include blues-rock guitarist Pat Travers, who dropped by one of the Florida sessions unannounced and insisted on participating, and Chicago singer Shay Jones, who sings a soulful duet with Bashor. Albert’s Florida friends, guitarist Forest Rodgers and bassist Larry Jacoby, make their presence felt as well. That unforgettable Mississippi journey with Michael–in particular, a visit to the intersection of Johnson and Main in Greenwood, where a teenaged Honeyboy first met the legendary Robert Johnson in 1937–inspired the infectious “Jukin’ Down On Johnson Street.” “I was so moved by that, just the power and the juju of that spot and how it affected the music world as a whole, how these guys met and became buddies,” says Albert. “I just thought, ‘Man, I have to write about this when I get home and gather my thoughts about this trip!’”
As he explains on the spoken prelude (Albert’s an engaging storyteller too), the hilarious “Poodle Ribs” stems from a true if gastronomically unsettling incident in Bashor’s Florida stomping grounds. “There was a barbecue place that I had gone to since I was a little boy with my dad. There was a story in the newspaper about this guy, he had been there for years,” he explains. “They found some dog skeletons out in the woods. These dogs had basically starved, and they accused this gentleman of selling dog ribs, like he might be trying to shave the overhead or something!” The scurrilous charges were disproven, but they inspired a succulent song.
The deeply moving title track comes from a far more serious lyrical place, chronicling the plight of an earlier era’s itinerant bluesmen. “That one’s dear to my heart,” says Bashor. “They’re in this cotton field. So they take this cotton field full of dreams that’s in their head from working all day and trying to transcend that mentally and put themselves in another place, and they start thinking, ‘Man, I know a few chords on that guitar. Maybe I’d get lucky. Maybe I could go to Chicago and be a star.’”
The slashing “Rockin’ Red Rooster” was introduced by Chicago bluesman Lonnie Brooks on his 1996 album Roadhouse Rules. Albert had handed the song to Bruce Iglauer when the Alligator Records founder was recording Kenny Neal at Bob Greenlee’s King Snake studio in Sanford, Florida (Greenlee also had a label of the same name). Neal had borrowed Albert’s acoustic axe for the date, and Iglauer offered to pay Bashor for its use. “Isaid, ‘Bruce, listen. I don’t care about you paying me for the guitar, but when you get on the plane and go home, and you’re no longer thinking about this project, would you please listen to my demo?’” recalls Albert. “I was truly honored that Lonnie thought enough of my songs to record one.”
Bashor’s extended stint as a King Snake session musician was the culmination of a lot of dues-paying. Born in Eustis, Florida and raised in nearby Mt. Dora, he started playing drums at age nine, his growing love of soul music fueled by his Motown-loving older sisters and two maids that blasted Marvin Gaye and Al Green music as they worked in his family’s home. At age 16, Albert was fronting his own rock and roll band, Stone Cold Fever, as well a soul outfit, the Vixen VPs. At the same time, he was forming a long-standing friendship with Greenlee, then living in Eustis, and blues/ soul singer Floyd Miles.
“We sat around Bob’s house,” says Albert. “He had a summer cottage out back, and we had a little reel-to-reel TEAC out there, and he introduced me to that whole process of just gathering ideas, putting them in story form, a beginning, middle, and end, continuity, and putting that into music. And it’s been something that kind of tugged at me ever since then.” Bashor honed his songwriting by experiencing life. “I observe, and sort of voyeur in on other people’s situations and my own as well, and just draw from that,” he says. “I carry my little spiral notebooks around, and if I get an idea I jot it down and try to channel it and give it a name.”
Greenlee was a Yale graduate. One of his frat brothers, Forster MacKenzie III, called himself Root Boy Slim (he’d answered to Prince La La when the two had a James Brown-style revue at Yale). Slim wrote off-the-wall ditties such as “Boogie ‘Til You Puke” and tore up the Washington, D.C. scene with his outrageous antics after reuniting with bassist Greenlee in Florida. Albert played drums with Root Boy Slim and the Sex Change Band just before they signed to Warner Bros. “I played on the demo that got us the deal,” Albert says. He wasn’t on the group’s ’78 debut LP for Warner but came back when drummer Tommy Ruger departed.
“Halfway through the record down at Criteria Studios in Miami, Tommy gave his notice that he was going to quit. So he quit when the record came out, and I just picked right back up,” says Albert. “We did a three-month tour of England and Scotland with Ian Dury, and signed with the Police’s label for our second record.” Root Boy Slim and the Sex Change Band also did a guest shot on Saturday Night Live and appeared in the SNL offshoot Mr. Mike’s Mondo video. Albert played King Snake sessions behind bluesmen Raful Neal, Chicago Bob Nelson, and Lucky Peterson, funky saxist Noble “Thin Man” Watts, and jazz trumpeter Nat Adderley, and sang backgrounds for rocking Reverend Billy C. Wirtz.
He was also on Dr. Hector & the Groove Injectors’ 1990 Kingsnake/Ichiban album House Calls, a connection that turned out to be crucial. “I went on the road with those guys,” says Bashor. “We did 280 dates a year. We were up and down that road, from Toronto to Key West.” When Bo Diddley rolled into Orlando, the Blues Injectors were his band. “I was honored to play his music with him,” says Albert.
There was also a musical interlude with Alex Taylor, James Taylor’s brother.“I had met him at a Richie Havens concert in Orlando, and we became fast friends,” says Albert. “He would come on the road with Dr. Hector just to get away from home. He didn’t have a band, and he would come out on the road with us and sit in and sing his tunes with us. So his brother Livingston got him a record deal on Pony Canyon Records in Japan, and Alex came to me one day and said, ‘Alex, man, I don’t have a backup band. And if I did, we could all go to Japan and have fun.’ So we wound up going to Japan with Alex for a month.”
After two years of touring with the Dru Lombar-led Groove Injectors, Albert’s son was born. “I felt this need to get home,” he says. “So I gave them my notice.” Yet playing wasn’t out of his system. Albert studied music for two years at Seminole Community College while gigging solo around Orlando in the evenings. And in 1992, 32-20 made its initial mark at a Bud Light Talent Search. “We won the contest, and then we opened for John Mayall the next day.” They also opened for Bobby Bland, Clarence Carter, and Gatemouth Brown.
His son now grown, Albert is ready to hit the road anew, this debut album serving as a fascinating introduction. “It’s a mixed bag,” says Michael. “People who are real blues purists are going to be scratching their heads. But it’s got some beautiful music—some pop and some blues and just all kinds. And there are some personal stories of Albert’s in it too.” The spotlight awaits.
P r o d u c e r ‘ s n o t e
I met Albert the summer of 2010 at BB King’s Homecoming. We had the opportunity to see the Delta together under the guidance of Michael Frank who drove us to Robert Johnson’s grave site, to historic places like the corner where Honeyboy Edwards and Robert Johnson first met, through the cotton fields and through the Crossroads. It didn’t take long to recognize the passion, respect and honor Albert had for the masters of the Blues and how their music influenced his writing, his soul, his creativity. Albert’s debut release Cotton Field of Dreams is a powerful testimony and soulful journey of a musician who has lived his life on the road, dedicated to telling his stories through his music. He has traveled the lonely road just as his mentors did, maybe not picking cotton, but on a journey from a small town to big city life with his best friend, his guitar. One common factor, songs that will bring tears of longing for love, hope and happiness & shuffles that will have you jukin’, dancin’ and wanting more. ~ Lynn Orman