Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Mitch Kashmar & the Pontiax - 100 Miles To Go

In high school there was this dream.  I was learning to play guitar and, on a hot summer day in Southern California - too hot to be out in the sun inland - too crowded at the beach to find a legal parking space - I’d frequently retreat to my friend Bill’s parent’s cool basement. Bill played drums which he stored in this large concrete-walled finished foundation room that was half dug into a hillside overlooking San Pedro - Long Beach harbor.  Bill’s friend, Dudley, would drop by with his bass,  Occasionally Dudley’s brother, David, and sometimes a mutual friend, Robbie, would show up with their guitars.  Once in a while we would invite a keyboard player, horn player, harmonica player, another guitarist or a vocalist to join us.  This happened frequently enough that we got good - real good.  We had a repertoire of songs and jams that we repeated, traded, and vamped.  Soon we were playing dances and events. Sometimes we even got paid. We recorded material and made a few reel to reel tapes - the preferred format of the day - that could later be mixed down, and made friends with radio dj’s and club owners.  Many of our recordings have yet to make the light of day and I have no idea if they still exist.

High school ended and our music scene changed. We realized we could not then support ourselves playing music.  We started families, left for far away colleges, joined the military or took jobs away from LA.  It became a rare treat to all be in the same place at the same time and even rarer to be able to play together.  But, every time we did, the dream began again - just like in high school.  There is still a glimmer of it now when we see each other.

In the early 1980’s, while I was moving north to San Francisco for law school, Mitch Kashmar & the Pontiax were moving south from playing locally the Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura County areas making the next step to, Los Angeles, the big city.  Performance tour progressions have not changed appreciably since then.  Bands that wanted to expand from a local phenomena to have a West Coast  presence oscillate between the Bay Area, Los Angeles and, sometimes, San Diego, Portland or Seattle.  This was especially true of blues bands since the Central Valley and inland areas were not as kind to blues bands as they were to country western bands.  Mitch Kashmar & the Pontiax’s shot at stardom taken while they were in their twenties and that  went one or two steps beyond the West Coast .  They played Chicago, the Mid-West circuit and Europe, a hot bed for American blues.  The band went through three different line-ups but, it is the one that is on this album that had the dream, and a little cash to try to make it a reality.

Kashmar is a master harmonica player. In 1999, he began his own solo career and toured with his own band winning the 2006 Best New Artist and 2007 Best Instrumentalist - Harmonica, Blues Music Awards.  Here are just some quotes about him from bandVillage:

He's shared the stage with some of the biggest names in blues over the years, including Big Joe Turner, Eddie 'Cleanhead' Vinson, Lowell Fulson, Jimmy Witherspoon, John Lee Hooker, Pee Wee Crayton, and Johnny Adams, among others. Kim Wilson – no slouch on harp or vocals himself – offered this assessment: “Oh man, is he tough!” Charlie Musselwhite: "Your playing and singing are superb.” John Hammond: "...unbelievable; a great singer and up there with the best harp players I've ever heard.” And the late William Clarke had this to say: "Out of all the younger generation of blues harp players, Mitch Kashmar is my favorite. He's also a first-class vocalist -- his singing really knocks me out." And Stevie Ray Vaughan paid what must be the ultimate compliment from one musician to another: “Can I sit in?”

Even with these great compliments monetary success and the large stage have eluded Kashmar. So it is with this album, 100 Miles To Go,  a reissue of the long out of print classic 80’s recording by The Pontiax that featured him, with which Kashmar tries to recapture the dream.

It works. My God, it works.  Everything is written by Kashmar and the stuff is blues TNT. The first ten tracks are reissues of old material.  They contain that “20 year old’s” exuberance of being on your own, doing what you love, with anticipation of the future that is combined with the mayhem and excitement of a traveling, working, band.  Pick any of the first ten tracks.  The band is tight, the blues exciting and Kashmar blows his mind out on the harp.   There is even a sort of tribute to old friends who are no longer with The Pontiax.  On track 6, “Horn of Plenty,” the late, great harmonica player William Clarke can be heard playing the first harp.

The last two tracks of the album are where a glimmer of Kashmar’s Pontiax dream of his 20’s shows up as Kashmar enters his 50’s.  These two tracks  are “bonus tracks.” Kashmar was able to assemble almost all of the old touring Pontiax band heard on the first ten tracks - Bill Flores on guitar and tenor sax,  Jack Kennedy on bass, Tom Lackner on drums and Pontiax 1980’s friend, Jim Calire on keyboards and tenor sax.  Track 11, “When You Do Me Like That (“I Wanna Do You Like This),” is a raunchy, syncopated, party of a blues that shows how much the band has matured and how close these guys play together.  The final track, “The Petroleum Blues,” is timely and catchy as a blues gets. It could become an rallying anthem in the wake of today’s oil wars and spills.

Mitch, congratulations sir, keep that dream alive and I hope to hear more from you and The Pontiax.  Blues bands at 50 are infants - just ask Pinetop Perkins and Honeyboy Edwards. 

- Old School

Buy here: 100 Miles To Go


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