Iowa Loses A Blues Legend – Ronald A. Dewitte 1949-2018

Ron Dewitte, Guitarist

Ron Dewitte Greenwood Park Summer 1970.

Ron Dewitte, a two-time inductee into Iowa’s Rock ‘n Roll and Blues Halls of Fame was freed from Earth Friday to join the angels in God’s Blues band. Lovingly supported by his wife and musical partner Lynn Rothrock, Ron succumbed after a long, courageous battle with pancreatic cancer.

I first met and played with Ronnie in the winter of 1969 at Drake University. His band at the time was called The American Legend and with their American flag costumes and literal wall of Sunn® amps they were easily the most visually impressive Iowa band I’d ever seen.

Now, we thought we Des Moines guys were pretty bad ass (and when it came to R&B, jazz etc. that was true) but when this Cedar Rapids band kicked into Deep Purple’s Hard Road, perceptions became, well, different.

Dewitte and the band had the sound, temperament, spirit and ego to speak to us through American Blues which at that time was being reflected back to us by the British blues rockers like early Fleetwood Mac, Jeff Beck, Yardbirds and of course Richie Blackmore and Deep Purple. Dewitte’s devotion to the African American roots of the blues was filtered through the sound of a Sunn Coliseum and a Gibson 345 stereo guitar. I really can’t describe it so….

..take a listen to the blues.

Wheatstraw demo with Ron Dewitte, guitar David Bernstein, drums, Craig Horner, organ. Dartanyan, bass. 1970 recording  KCRG Cedar Rapids TV studio

Ron Dewitte, Dartanyan Brown and David Bernstein perform as Wheatstraw

After the American Legend Show at Drake that night, we (John Rowat, GT Clinton, Frank Tribble, and Mike Schomers) invited Ron, organist Craig Horner and drummer David Bernstein to our band house a block from campus.  Blues, rock and jazz players from Eastern and Central Iowa jamming until the wee hours of the morning, . For the next 40+ years, the guys in that room would continue to make great Iowa music in one incarnation or another. (All 60’s photography by William Plymat)

Craig Horner and Ron Dewitte

Wheatstraw with Craig Horner, organ Ron Dewitte, guitar

I was a Drake journalism student at that time but hearing Ron was a revelation that paved the way for me to (crazy, I know…) renounce several scholarships and the opportunity to become a ‘somebody’ in the world of DM news media–for the opportunity to reclaim a fair bit of my cultural birthright. Who knew I’d have one hell of a lot of adventures in the process–with a $90/week blues band.

As an educator, as an artist, as a fellow guitarist and seeker of string wisdom, I can say that God smiled upon me by introducing me to Ron Dewitte. His world view and orientation were much different than mine but his humanity was immense. He understood intuitively, the connections that nurture us. How life gives us all a set of challenges and how cultural perspective informs our response to those challenges.

In 1970, I was an nerdy black intellectual reclaiming a part of his core musical identity and Ron was a skinny white kid with a old black man’s touch on the blues guitar. We had an affinity which gave us a tremendous sense of perspective on what the hell was going on in life around us.

Willie’s song “On the Road Again” says it short and succinct:

On the road again

Like a band of gypsies we go down the highway

We’re the best of friends

Insisting that the world keep turning our way

That was our weird and crazy life in 1970-1972. Four blues/rock/jazz crazed musicians convinced that we were going to save the world with BB King and Deep Purple’s music. With Max Wilkenning from Sigourney as our bus driver and father confessor (or pimp depending on who was in the audience on any given night), we were our own Iowa Magical Mystery Tour.

Until the dream eventually died….

Being a  world changing Blues-Rock band is hard when the people you play for want to hear “Take a Letter Maria” or “Color My World” (although the changes to CMW are nice to solo over if nobody in the audience is listening anyway..) Eventually we ran out of Wisconsin 3.2 beer bars to play in late 1971  and needing income…….Enter Big John and Six The Hard Way….

Joining Big John and 6 The Hard Way (billed as “from Las Vegas” but curiously, we never played there)  was a desperation move but one that allowed Ron, Craig and I to still play together, earn regular paychecks for awhile and plot a new path to world musical domination. (David Bernstein, our Wheatstraw drummer found a path to some fame joining Crabby Appleton, an obscure but cool band on Elektra Records.)

Of course, our “plan” actually led us further away from our goals and eventually we returned to Iowa to pursue things like keeping our families from prosecuting us for abandonment or, in my case, returning to college in 1972 before beginning another chapter with Bill Chase…but that’s another story altogether. (Ron has this Bob Weir baby-face thing happening in the pictures above. Yes, that’s me with a blond wig…doing Tina Turner impressions…hey! it was a show band. )

Wheatstraw lasted about 17 months but in that time we played, lived, loved, traveled, argued, suffered, laughed, got low and got high and bonded for life. We went our separate ways after 1972 but for me the pilot light never went out on my desire to champion the Iowa scene we had and the music we made (and the artistry of one  Ron Dewitte.) I didn’t realize that it would be 35 years later in completing the circle, rekindling the fire and doing my duty to let the world know of what our Iowa upbringing produced.

Ron, Craig and I remained close and in 2005 a dream opportunity to “get the old band back together” surfaced:

Craig Horner, Ron Dewitte, Big Mike Edwards, Dartanyan and Marcia Miget, 2005 San Rafael, CA

 

 

 

 

 

Ron Dewitte, Craig Horner, Jaimeo Brown, Dartanyan and Ca. Poet Laureate Al Young 2005 Marin County, CA.

 

Dartanyan and Bob Schleeter Marin Academy music program

I was on the faculty at Marin Academy, a small college prep school in San Rafael. Expensive, exclusive, extraordinary and Des Moines native Bob Schleeter directed the music program there. As part of the school’s commitment to the arts and education, they invited me to bring Ron, vocalist and Blues Hall of Famer the late Mike Edwards, Craig Horner (now a financial planner in SoCal) and my son the drummer Jaimeo Brown together to play a concert for our annual Conference on Democracy.

Marin County is the land of Santana, The Grateful Dead, the Sons, Huey Lewis and the News and many more but bringing the Iowa boys out to show ’em how we roll was one of the proudest moments of my 29 years in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Recognition of Ron Dewitte’s contributions to the culture of Iowa blues will only increase over time.  Either you can hit the note or you can’t. If you can’t feel it, you can’t fake it. Ron Dewitte was no fake. He was a constant friend, collaborator and companion in mordant chuckles about the way life always seemed to give us just a bit more than we could handle comfortably. He was a patient teacher, a consummate performer who could become almost anonymous as a backing musician but completely own the stage when it came to tell the truth as a soloist.

The last performance I produced with Dewitte, Sam Salomone and Steve Hayes with Lynn Rothrock singing was in 2008 at the Liar’s Theatre in Marion Iowa. Between us there were probably near 200 years of musical performance. While not a firebreather, this performance was more like driving Ron’s Cadillac around town. Powerful but wrapped in comfy leather with the climate control set perfectly. With Dewitte on guitar and vocals, Sam pumping the organ, and ‘The Chief’ (Hayes) stoking the beat like a fireman shoveling coal into the firebox of an old locomotive.

…gotta take a break…more later…Hear a track from the 2008 Marion, Ia. show featured in the previous post.

 

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The Meaning of the Word?

This, my friends, is a near perfect representation of our current state of political discourse. It matters not your political perspective,  Mose Allison’s  “Everybody’s Cryin’ Mercy” is dead on. From my new release…

Iowa Blues All-Stars Ron Dewitte (g,v) Steve “The Chief” Hayes (d) Sam Salomone (o) Dartanyan (bs, v) from the new album “Iowa Blues All-Stars Live in Marion”
Produced by Dartanyan

 

(Thanks Giphy for the gripping gif. Creepy (and perfect)

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Jaimeo and The Rolling Stones Win Big in London! 2017

London– Jaimeo R. Brown, New York City-based composer, percussionist and producer was honored April 25 as the Jazz Innovator of The Year   at the 2017 JazzFM Awards ceremony in London. It was an evening that also saw the Rolling Stones snagging Blues album and Album Of The Year awards.

That Jaimeo would be recognized as an innovator on the world jazz stage is a great honor confirming the early praise of critics including Giles Petersen at BBC UK who heard something special in that first 2013  release Jaimeo Brown Transcendence.  Petersen (himself recognized as Digital Innovator of the Year)  heard a band and a vision firmly guided by Jaimeo and his college friend guitarist, producer Chris Sholar.

 

Jaimeo Brown in London to accept JazzFM’s Jazz Innovation Award

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It   goes without saying that we’re proud of our native Iowa drummer (just like Bill Stewart  who brought a fresh perspective on drumming to his generation.)  

I’ll have some more pics and maybe some comments from Jaimeo when he returns from London on Thursday but for now just know that the 2017 Jazz Innovator of the Year, recognized by the U.K. Jazz community, is a Des Moines-born, SF-Bay Area and NYC-seasoned audio artist Jaimeo R. Brown.

ABOUT THE AWARDS
Jazz FM launched the Jazz FM Awards in 2013 with the aim of celebrating the work of jazz, blues and soul musicians. The Awards are a partnership between Jazz FM and Serious. They promote excellence, recognise distinction and commend those that have made an exceptional contribution to genres from rising stars to established British artists and international musicians. This prestigious event receives considerable build up on-air on Jazz FM before the red-carpet evening of stunning performances and a celebrity-hosted Awards ceremony

If you haven’t heard Jaimeo Brown Transcendence, join me at the Des Moines Social Cub Happy Hour Friday April 28, 5:30-7:30 and I’ll give you a taste of his music as well as my own. A great way to celebrate the end of Jazz History Month.

Jaimeo is the son of Iowa  Jazz, Blues and Rock ‘n Roll hall of famer Dartanyan Brown and Woodwind star Marcia Miget.  His Grandfather, the late Ellsworth T. Brown along with Ernest “Speck” Redd, were mainstays of Des Moines’ African-American Jazz scene of the 1950’s. Jaimeo has been in NYC since 1999 playing with a variety of artists including vibist Joe Locke and tenor saxophonist Gregory Tardy for the legendary Steeplechase recording label.

Congratulations kid!

 

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Thanks for the Inspiration

Glad you came to visit from dartanyan.com.  I was inspired early in my career by local Des Moines musicians who were great players and also humanists who imparted a sense of the cultural responsibility inherent in being a musician and artist. They may not have said  it in so many words, but the way they went about learning, performing, listening, analyzing, transcription and memorization of the music spoke emphatically of their commitment and its deep rewards. I learned that first and foremost from my father Ellsworth Brown.

Ellsworth Brown Jazz in Des Moines 1951

 

There are pungent memories of him playing piano and saxophone. He also embraced singing and drumming. Being a radio officer in the Merchant Marine, he loved electronics with radios bringing in music from around the world. This was between 1951-58 when we lived on Walker Street on the swingin’ East side of Des Moines. Ernest Redd and his family lived a few blocks down the street and either his house or ours was the scene of many a session and discussion about issues of correct elements of Charlie Parker’s and Dizzy Gillespie’s bebop revolution.

In my own revolutionary years 1964-70 (encompassing middle-, high school and 3 years of college) I transformed from a spectator to a player.

I credit Marlowe and Fran Cowan and  as being  primary musical inspirations in my early life. The Cowans directed the YMCA Boys Chorus and Bellringers. Marlowe was a phenomonal pianist in the ragtime tradition and could rock a piano as hard as anyone I knew. As a 13-year-old I also looked up to him as a mentor of sorts and his personal example still serves as a guide to me today as I work with young people.

George T. Clinton, introduced me to the idea of self-created Rock ‘n’ Roll and Jazz as something I could do too.

George Clinton, keyboard genius pioneering Iowa rock star.

George Clinton and I were both “junior leaders” at the YMCA camp also directed by Marlowe and Fran Cowan. It was there in 1965 where we first played blues together on the old camp piano.  I played bass on the left end of the piano and GT went nuts on the chords and melody on top. He was already a ridiculous pianist having absorbed  gospel, blues and jazz in his studies with Ernest Redd. I went home to the basement and started learning to play the blues on a (bad) upright bass.

I was mildly affected by the Beatles at first (Junior Walker and the All-Stars were much more my favorite) but the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced album changed his life. By 1967 GT had played in two HOT! rock bands of the day. The Upsetters featuring Jimmy Brown on drums and GT’s own group Captain Beefheart and the Shipwrecks. Both of these bands perfectly captured the newly-minted frenzy that was British Invasion and Blues revival all at the same time. You.had.to.be.there!!

When we weren’t out at The Clique or The Place or The Know Where teen dance palaces of the 60’s in Des Moines, GT would kidnap me from home and we would go to the First Unitarian Church to catch the Des Moines Jazz Festival to see Speck Redd and his trio, or The Darling Brothers bass/piano duo, or JoAnn Jackson completely killing it, singing Ella as good as Ella.

Sam Salomone, Organist and Inspiration

Then we ventured into the world of Des Moines’ African American clubs and after-hours joints where you’d hear and see some of the craziest doings imaginable (well, for a 17-year-old they were..) Sam Salomone on Hammond organ with Don Archer on guitar is what we were there to hear. I had no idea this kind of music was being played in town but GT did and we’d go into the clubs near downtown where Sam was playing and do our best to act like we were old enough to be in these places.

Once I heard Sam and Don with Bobby Jackson (Joanne’s brother) on drums there was no way you were going to get me OUT of the club. It was a revelation and a homecoming of sorts because my father had been playing this kind of music since I was born.  While I have always been a bopper by culture, I’ve also a deep love of simpler folk music forms both harmonic and rhythmic. So in 1967 when I finally understood enough about myself to know that music was integral to my being, I was thankful to have had GT Clinton, Sam Salomone, Don Archer, the great Ernest (Speck) Redd, Wally Ackerson (RIP) Marlow Cowan, Fran Cowan, Jimmy Brown, John Carlsten (my middle school clarinet teacher who first noted that I was “improvising” my music lesson) Delbert Jones and Frank Perowsky (one of Dad’s most successful students)

Now, saving some of the best for last, I credit blues legends Harlan Thomas, Gene Jackson, Rick Lussey and George Davis with giving me one of my first real gigs. Their band was called The Soul Brothers and George’s brother was the bass player who was absent for a gig.  I got a phone call and it was Harlan asking me if I would play with the Soul Brothers at the Chesterfield community Center. I still remember it to this day and I’m still grateful that they gave me a chance to earn a place on the bandstand. As I write this post, I am reviewing in my mind,  a  lot of really great times that were unique to the era.

Dartanyan Brown and Frank Perowsky

I was privileged to have access to great jazz, blues, R&B, and the best of the British invasion/Blues revival stuff including Paul Butterfield’s blues band that would shape the next generation. So as Jazz Appreciation month rolls on, I don’t know how much more content I’ll get posted but paying respect to the musicians who influenced and inspired me is one bit that I’d better not leave out.

Sincere respect and thanks to all who have inspired me on my journey to inspire others.

 

 

Peace, Persist

D

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Jazz Appreciation Month!

I almost literally owe my life to Jazz and now that  April is here once again I can crow about America’s greatest gift to the world of art and music.

Jazz means freedom! Jazz means having some class! Jazz means that you’ve got something to say–and that you know what you’re talking about.

Jazz doesn’t suffer fools either! If you don’t know the changes, keep your ass off the stage!

Some music is all about gettin’ everybody together and havin’ a good ol’ time singin’ and pickin’!  Jazz, on the other hand, is communal but the price of admission are the hard earned lessons taught by life and the music itself. Success for a jazz musician at the dawn of jazz–almost by definition an African-American– was seen as a definite step up the achievement ladder in a world of hard core racism and legalized social barriers. To say that material success for musicians was fleeting was understatement and the competition at all levels from local to national was intense. That intensity however, served as the crucible for new forms of music and performance that rightly earned my father’s generation of swingers, boppers and theorists eternal respect.

Ellsworth Brown Jazz in Des Moines 1951

Jazz means you have to know your role, know the music, know the time, know the style AND know how to forget-it-all-and-just-play…Yeah right, you say?

YEAH,RIGHT!! say the jazz musicians! Those are our standards, those are our rules, those are our constitution and if you think certain politicians are conservative… come on the bandstand and fuck up the changes to “Autumn Leaves” and you’ll hear from musicians who don’t want their chords messed with. THAT’S conservative.

In the end though, we understand that music is a lot more than the notes, scales, chords or rhythms that comprise the experience. There is no music that will sound good if your mind is not receptive. No music will have an effect without the connective tissue of shared human experience. Like all of our old stories, myths, parables, memories and fairy tales. Music is a vehicle for carrying a lot of what might be called our story into what might be termed the ‘future’.

Ok well day 2 of Jazz Appreciation Month almost done. I’ll repost interesting jazz related content during the month.

Enjoy some of the real thing [Lonesome Blues] from Louis Armstrong 1925

and some James P. Johnson playing “You’ve got to be Modernistic” 1930

 

More later. Happy Jazz Appreciation Month

 

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New Year Many Challenges

Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Urban myth? folk wisdom? Darwinian imperative? dartanyan.com has been up and running with very few interruptions since I first became the master of the dartanyan.com domain in 1999. As digital real estate goes, it’s a humble place, a place where things are still hand made for the most part.

I appreciate this place more now that I was unceremoniously disappeared by an incompetent ISP that I will name later. At this time I’m going to lavish praise on Network Solutions, my new domain mothership. NS has been there since before the dawn of the internet and thank god, they have retained a solid operation both in front and in back of the server cages. This blog is the second iteration of what had previously been a fine collection subjects, discussions and observations. That is now gone because a lazy or overworked contract worker at my old ISP simply didn’t take the time to do a complete job.  So after many years, I’m forced to try something new. Crisis? Opportunity!

Got Stress? Try some of my personal Sonic Somatics. Headphones are suggested.

The sounds, original music, interviews, mixes, soundtracks, archives and field recordings you hear at this site are part of the copyrighted audio palette produced by Dartanyan. To my brothers and sisters. Let’s make 2017 the foundation for a more just future!

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