Essays

R.I.P., Bert Jansch

By Bob Johnson

I checked out the official Bert Jansch website this morning (October 9), and found this (unedited) message on the homepage:

Edinburgh show Sat 20th cancelled

Bert’s Edinburgh show on Saturday 20th August has sadly had to be cancelled as Bert is unwell. Both he and his doctors were hoping he would be well enough in time to do the show, but unfortunately that has not been the case and he will be in hospital at least until next week. Bert is desperately disappointed to miss the show, and apologises profusely to all the fans and those who were hoping to see him. Hopefully see you next time!

Sadly, there will be no “next time,” as Jansch passed away on October 6. He was 67.

I feel fortunate to have seen Jansch perform a couple of years ago during one of his visits to the States. I went to see him because I had heard fellow folk singer Al Stewart talk about him for years.

At more than one concert, I’d heard Al ask the question, “How many people here have heard of Bert Jansch?” Seven or eight people would clap their hands.

“That’s pretty typical,” Al would say. “Now if I were to be playing in Britain and were to ask, ‘How many people have heard of Bob Dylan?’ everyone would clap. It’s pretty sad that Bert wasn’t better known here.”

Part of that was Jansch’s own doing. He was known as a recluse, and for long stretches of time, his concert appearances in the States were few and far between.

But I’ll always treasure the time I got to see him. I wasn’t that familiar with his songs, but I recall being mesmerized by his guitar playing. According to reports, among the fellow guitarists he influenced were Jimmy Page and Neil Young.

Because of his disdain for the spotlight, you won’t find much of Bert Jansch on YouTube. About the best we could do for this “wine song” of his, called “Nobody’s Bar,” is provide you with a 30-second snippet, now on our Wine Songs rotation here.

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Wings and Wine

By Bob Johnson

In the summer of 2011, a Beatle came to Chicago. Paul McCartney was on the road again. It was the first night of a two-night stand at the iconic home of the hapless Cubbies, and even in sweltering weather, the now 69-year-old McCartney put on an amazing performance. Nearly three hours of great music… without an intermission.

I went by myself, and flying solo gave me the opportunity to not only soak in the sounds, but also jot down a few notes for this blog. A number of Beatles and Wings songs include references to wine, so I figured I’d make a note each time I heard such a reference, and share the experience with my fellow wine lovers.

While I’m a big fan of McCartney, I am not an expert on his song lyrics. But as far as I could tell, the entire evening unfolded without a single lyrical reference to the gift of the grape. You could check the set list and tell me if I’m wrong, but what I can tell you is that if such a lyric were sung, it escaped my ears.

But that got me thinking about “wine lyrics” in Beatles and Wings tunes, and off the top of my head, I came up with three songs that fit this blog’s rather far-reaching definition of a “wine song.” They are now posted as part of our ever-expanding playlist:

Letting Go

Venus and Mars

When I’m Sixty-Four

McCartney did not play any of those songs at the Chicago concert I attended. Nor did he play the Beatles’ “Penny Lane,” the lyrics of which make no reference to wine.

So why do I mention that song here?

Because on the street in England that is referenced in the song, one can sit and enjoy a glass of wine at the Penny Lane Wine Bar.

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Wine for Deadheads

By Bob Johnson

In recent years, a number of celebrities have gotten into the wine business — some with their own wineries (Mario Andretti) and others lending their name and image to private label projects (the most recent being Wolfgang Puck).

In 2003, Sonoma County’s Clos du Bois Winery introduced J. Garcia Wines, a line featuring the artwork of Jerry Garcia, the late frontman of the Grateful Dead.

Since celebrity wine ties often are more about style than substance, we offered two suggestions for names of individual J. Garcia bottlings, straight from the Grateful Dead songbook: “Ripple” and “Hell in a Bucket.”

There was no response from the J. Garcia Wines camp.

As for Wolfgang Puck’s new label, which is being bottled by Delicato Family Vineyard, another blogger already beat us to posting our initial thought on the subject: “Two-Buck Puck?”

Which prompted this jealous response from yours truly: “What the Puck?!?”

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The Genesis (Not the Rock Band) of This Blog

By Bob Johnson

There are hundreds of recorded songs that: a) are about wine; b) include lyrics that mention wine; or c) reference wine in their titles.

I’ve always felt that all things artistic — music, writing, painting, winemaking, etc. — are somehow “connected.” So I’ve decided to take two of my passions — wine and music — and meld them into a tasty cuvee of observations, interviews, news about concerts at wineries, and so on.

Accompanying this “Wine and Music” blog will be an ever-expanding “playlist” of what we will liberally label simply as “Wine Songs.” If a song meets any of the aforementioned criteria, it qualifies.

We’ll add titles to the list on a regular basis, and your suggestions are welcome. Simply drop us a note at winelinesonline@gmail.com, include the song title, artist and your own observations… and you just may find your suggestion added to the “playlist” and featured in the blog.

The first song on the Wine Songs playlist is “Stealing Electricity” by one of my favorite singer/songwriters, Tom Russell. Its story is included in the piece that follows, a Wine Lines column originally published in June of 2006.

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I can’t recall the last time I sat down to write a “Wine Lines” column without some type of music in the background.

Whether it’s a favorite CD playing on the stereo in my home office, a satellite radio station streaming through headphones as I sit in the café of a bookstore, or a homemade cassette I’ve prepared for a long airplane flight, music is part of the creative process for me.

I’ve found that I don’t just like to have music playing when I write; I need to have it playing.

While I was typing the three paragraphs you just read, singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn’s “Put It in Your Heart” provided the soundtrack. As I type this sentence, one of my favorite satellite radio stations is playing “Stealing Electricity” by an under-the-radar folk/alt. country troubadour named Tom Russell.

The Russell song includes the lyrics, “He’s deader than yesterday’s communion wine…”

One more piece of evidence for the connections among the creative arts — in this case, writing, music and winemaking.

My musical tastes are eclectic, to say the least. I credit my Dad, who turns 95 in one week, for that.

When I was growing up, Dad would play tunes on a piano in the living room. His favorite was “Rhapsody in Blue,” the George Gershwin classic that, to my ear, is one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written.

Dad would play it “by ear,” as he did all tunes. He owned a number of music transcript books, but they never found their way out of the storage compartment of his piano bench.

Dad’s favorite recording of “Rhapsody in Blue” is by pianist Peter Nero, playing with the Boston Pops when Arthur Fiedler was the orchestra’s musical director.

I would guess that I have heard that version of “Rhapsody” more than 500 times. And I may be the only person on Earth who stops what he’s doing and listens intently whenever a United Airlines commercial runs on television.

So when I heard the “back story” of the Roy J. Maier Cabernet Sauvignon from Saint Helena Road Winery, I knew I had to track down a bottle to try.

The wine’s namesake was a musician who played soprano, alto and tenor saxophones, as well as the clarinet, flute, piccolo, oboe, English horn and bassoon, for the acclaimed Paul Whiteman Orchestra during the Roaring Twenties and into the 1930s.

It was Whiteman who commissioned Gershwin to write “Rhapsody in Blue,” which became the orchestra’s signature tune.

Now, here’s where the story takes an unexpected turn — the kind of twist that convinces me that writing, music, winemaking… not to mention painting, sculpture and so on… all are connected.

When Peter Nero was just 17 years old — near the end of his “child prodigy period” — he was chosen to sit in with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra and perform “Rhapsody in Blue” for a TV special.

So let’s connect the dots: My Dad’s favorite tune is played by my Dad’s favorite pianist with the orchestra whose leader commissioned the tune — an orchestra which, for many years, included Roy J. Maier, whose name now graces a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon.

After all that, the title of a famous musical trilogy by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band came to mind: “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?”

In other words, I kept my fingers crossed that the wine would be good.

The Roy J. Maier 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon was put to the test at the most recent tasting event of the High Desert Wine Explorers, and it earned a solid composite grade of B from the more than 50 local residents in attendance.

It also garnered a rating of 91 on Wine Lines’ 100-point scale.

The wine, which retails for $60, has an effusive nose of black cherry and berry fruit, along with a hint of dill. It’s a big, ageworthy wine, yet it’s making beautiful music in the glass right now.

Sounds like the perfect birthday present for my Dad — a man who shares his wine in addition to his love of music.

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