The Blue Raccoon

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

My Journey Into Richmond...And What I Found There Part VIII

The story thus far: Philip Gotz, an obstreperous travel writer known for his "What I Found There" pieces detailing his five-day visits to destinations, is in Richmond, Va. The savvy and sharp Tia Chulangong was provided to Gotz as a guide from the city's hospitality bureau. She provides running color commentary on Richmond sights and history. Tia, however, has informed Gotz that Jennifer Royce, his novelist ex-wife, is in town on a book tour and through a scheduling error he's booked into the Jefferson Hotel where she is, too. The writer and his guide enjoyed a travelogue experience from the rooftop terrace of the Jefferson. Gotz observes the city's bosky streets and plentiful green and open spaces, lack of automotive traffic or parking lots, the preserved historic architecture and the exile of high rise office and residential towers to the outer edges of the central metro. Tia leaves him to enjoy his first evening on the town. He's at the chic boho estabishment of Monrovia, at Monroe Park, where he's intoxicatcd by not just liquor but the sounds of the house band, Deadly Nightshade.

A Night In Monrovia With Deadly Nightshade

(Image: The former fire and police alarm station in Monroe Park, demolished after 1964. Via Library of Virginia).

During the band's mid-evening break, Gotz got some time with the Deadly Nighshade's fantastic singer, Uvilla Peyton. "It's OO-vee-ya," she said shaking his hand and giving a familiar explanation. "West Virginia grandmother's name. Looks like it should be something that dangles in the back of your throat, but once you hear it, you don't forget it."

"Well, I certainly won't," Gotz said.

They were sitting among the deep and undulant old couches on the lounge's far side as her bandmates fetched drinks and chatted up friends. The high arched stained glass window gave the place a spiritual feel enhanced by Uvilla Peyton's voice and presence.

Gotz played reporter. Peyton, a native Richmonder, didn't grow up in a musical family and her predilections, while not discouraged, weren't celebrated either. The story, she told him, from that angle wasn't very interesting. "You know, typical," she laughed and he lit her cigarillo. "Thanks. Rebel kid goes against the family of business and commerce. Dyes her hair. Runs to Montreal. Then Mexico. Then Europe. Gets married and divorced. Twice. Three kids. Gets jobs. Telephone surveyor. Cocktail waitress, bartender. Sings here and there, but a friend puts together a band. Five years ago. Started here. Been singing semi-pro since then. Have two discs out; and got signed last week to the Spectra label out of New York." She grins. "So I think things are going to turn around."

She's gotten recorded live here, and may have a disc out in the fall, "Live From Monrovia: The Richmond Sessions." So people don't think she's from Liberia.

The big bass player, introduced as Scootch Hansen, gives Gotz a beefy handshake. He knows Gotz's name from his cable travel show appearances. "Man, a real live celebrity. See, girl, things are lookin' up." Jon Greenberg, the trumpeter, "He's from the east side of the West Bank," Uvilla jokes. The pianist, Nate Duval, is elsewhere. Their manner together is of the easy and deprecating nature of people who've made art together for a long while. Teasing and nurturing, "So I was tellin' her, " this is Scootch, waving around his glass, "that guy is leanin' forward like he can't hear you. You gotta belt it out."

"She belted out a few," Gotz nodded.

"But you were like squintin'. I thought: He can't hear a word of this."

"Hah, no I was just paying close attention."

"I hope not too close!"

They laughed. Jon asked some things of Gotz, when did he arrive, where's he going. Gotz told him.

The writer then asked about Richmond's music and culture. They gave generally favorable reviews. Uvilla was emphatic, "People can rag on Richmond, and they do, but everything good that's happened to me in singing has happened here, and people come out to see me, and the A & R guy who signed me sat just about where you were tonight. So I got nothing bad to say."

"Is it a good jazz scene?"

"Is there a good jazz scene anywhere?" Scootch chuckled. "I mean, 0utside of like New York or Paris or someplace."

"We have some great clubs here," Jon said, crossing his arms and, with a thrrruppp, blowing trumpeter's wind through his lips. The three of them bandied back and forth some names and stages that Gotz jotted, though they meant nothing. He'd have all this in the materials Tia gave him, but getting the information from the natives was always the best. They mentioned Benjamin's, Bogart's Backroom, The Armory Lounge, Chataigne's in Midlothian, and about a half-dozen others that were either devoted to jazz or booked jazz-related acts. That Ginter University sponsors a world-class jazz program helps foster the musicians, "Too damn many," Scootch grunted, and the venues.

"I'm in town the next few days, who should I try to see?"

"Hitler's Furniture," Scootch said without hesitation, causing uproarious laughter and Uvilla to punch him in the knee.

Scootch feigned surprise.

"What? That's a solid group. Tight."

"OK, OK, Phil lemme tell you about this Hitler's Furniture," and she lit another cigarillo and waved the smoke away. "So, this guy," she jutted a thumb in Scootch's direction. "He calls me up. Let's go see this thing, it's three experimental bands down at the Scottish Rite by Ginter College, and I said, fine. So we go. And there's like a good audience. OK. So far so good. Well, lights come down, and there's this guy with a theremin, right? Off to one side of this set up a like living room. Old ratty couch and end tables and stuff. So he's playing this theremin," she moved her arms as though to make the noise, which Jon helpfully imitates. "And this chick comes out in this fake Russian army uniform."

"Fake Red Army outfit, tell it right," Scootch said.

"Whatever the fuck it was. Anyway, she's got an axe."

"I'm liking this," Gotz said.

"Well, you would've loved this chick in her tight little uniform and one of those bear hats with the flaps, you know. Thick black glasses. So she's got this axe and she starts choppin' up the furniture. She's whalin' away on the table and chairs, and bustin' shit up and the audience is just goin' nuts. Cheerin' and screamin'."

Scootch knew this story but it obviously never failed to amuse him. He picked up the thread. "So, so, Uvilla is like leaning over to me and yellin' in my hear, "Get me out of here."

They all laughed. Uvilla shook her head. "So no, he won't leave and I'll be damned if I'm stayin' to see this shit. Well, so, then Scootch says, 'You gotta see Canasta Party, and I said, 'What? Oh, no I don't! " So I don't know, he told me there were cute guys in it or something. Anyway, so finally, the Red Army amazon has busted up all of Hitler's furniture and there's this huge applause and they don't even..bow...or anything they just walk off, and one of the guys comes back with a big broom and sweeps off the stage and now people are standin' up and cheerin'. Then he goes away, and this other bunch of guys comes out and they have a card table and some kind of sound machine. And they sit there and start playin' cards and twistin' the dials and then these two chicks come out wearin' like daisy dukes and tied up shirts and they they each have little toy pianos. And so they sit there and start makin' out -- I mean, like, full on tongues -- while they're playin' their little pianos."

Scootch is almost on the floor laughing so hard. He collects himself. "So Uvilla goes, "I'm gettin' the fuck outta here," and she gets up and she's like climbing on people's heads to get out, because we were in the middle of the row. Oh, she didn't speak to me for days."

"Weeks. I'm actually still not talking to you now but Mr. Gotz is here, so I have to make like a love you."

"Aww, honey," and Scootch hugged her.

"Hitler's Furniture," she grumped.

Jon said, "Actually, those two groups -- they tour festivals and they're fairly famous."

"I wouldn't say that," Scootch chortled. "Infamous, maybe."

"Do you know this Cruel Aztec Gods?"

They did. And typical of musicians, they gave the group a "Great if you like that kind of stuff" review, describing them as a blend of dance and moody pop. Scootch described them as manic depressive.

Jon recalled that Master Cylinders were playing he thought Saturday night at Tantilla. "They're just solid rock group, excellent singers." They named others and Gotz jotted them down to look the names up and see about maybe catching at least one show while here.

Now Deadly Nightshade needed to resume their stand, where Nat was already nooding around on the piano, and Gotz, his drink drained, and feeling fatigued, wanted to amble back to the Jefferson. He got all their contact info for later photographic purposes, and while they played took some with his digital.

Then he with some regret descended the spiral stair.

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