A “Memory Bank” Day

As we were talking with a friend during the late afternoon of one of those days that you want to push the slow motion button on, so it will last as long as possible, he said it was a day to put in the “memory bank” for future reference.  We liked the phrase so, without any apology, we decided to borrow it for the title  of this blog post.

Our “A Little More Les” book tour has found us spending some time in Panama City Beach, FL. as we work on “Music & Murder,” a special event we’re appearing at with, award winning author, Michael Lister that will feature several very talented musicians and writers as special guest performers.  “Music & Murder” will be held on May 7 at Gulf Coast State College and you can find more details on our Events page.

So, what does that have to do with a “Memory Bank” day?  Well, while we certainly hope May 7 will qualify, that’s not the day we’re writing about.  The day in question is the Sunday we just flipped over, April 24.

April 24 was a picture perfect day on Florida’s Gulf Coast and we decided to take the suggestion of a friend, Victoria Ciccarelli Stewart, and check out a singer/guitarist she thought we would like, Hank Barbee.  Hank was playing at a local club called Little Village, a waterfront shopping and entertainment venue located in historic St Andrews.  For those of you not familiar with the area, after you cross the Hathaway Bridge heading east out of Panama City Beach towards Panama City (Yes, Weather Channel, they really are 2 different cities!) you run into historic St. Andrews.

When we arived at Little Village Hank was already playing and we quickly found our way to a table and were instantly taken with Hank’s music and the vibe of Little Village.  Little Village is a VERY friendly place where everyone may not know your name, but that doesn’t matter because they’ll strike up a conversation with you and by the time you leave not only will names be known but, chances are good that, business cards, e-mail addresses and phone numbers will have been exchanged.  At least that was the case with us and Arthur and Jen, who we found ourselves sharing a table with.

Although none of us had seen Hank Barbee perform before, we were all more than a little impressed with his performance.

Hank Barbee performing at Little Village

Hank Barbee performing at Little Village

Slinging a vintage Les Paul gold top guitar, his easy going manner only added to the surprise of just how good he is.  Trust us, Hank Barbee has something to say and you’re going to want to hear it.  Yes, he performed some songs you have heard before but, unlike too many performers, he didn’t just try to give you what you’ve heard on the radio over and over again.  He put his own spin/stamp on familiar songs and they were better for it.  The icing on the cake was when he dipped into his own catalog and shared some of his original creations.  This guy can sing, play and write with the best you’ve heard.  Check out a little of Hank’s self-titled album and see for yourself.  When he took a break, we had to go up and buy our own copy to take some of Hank’s mojo home with us.  Since he was between sets, we only had a little time to talk, but we found the man as laid back and easy to get to know as his songs were.  Bottom line: We like him and, if all goes well, Hank will be joining us on one of our upcoming “Steve & Johnnie Plus …” video podcasts.  Watch this space for more info.

What we thought might be a “stop by and catch one set” visit to Little Village turned into a several hour good time making new friends and hearing a great undiscovered (for the moment) talent on a beautiful day. Little Village claims to be “A place where you can trade in the sun and sand for shade and serenity” and we took them up on all of the above.  A nice patch of shade and a cool breeze made having to leave so we wouldn’t be late for a previously planned visit with friends difficult, but leave we did.

We hadn’t had the chance to see our friends for much longer than any of us like and it was really good to see them.  Since the day continued to be a “keeper,” we headed out to their back yard for some quality time in their pagoda.  Along with catching up with our friends, the flowers that lined their back yard gave Johnnie a chance to see just how good her new phone’s camera was.

We're not sure what this flower is, but Johnnie's cell phone camera likes it ... and so do we.

We’re not sure what this flower is, but Johnnie’s cell phone camera likes it … and so do we.

We know there may have been more important and impactful things going on in the world this past Sunday but, for us, this was all we needed.  At some future date when things are not as good as we’d like and it seems like the world is closing in, hopefully, we’ll pause and pull the recording of April 24, 2016 out of our “Memory Bank” … and smile.




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2016 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD Video Road Test!

Our Video Road Test of the 2016 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD has just been posted on Consumer Guide Automotive’s Daily Drive website.  So, does it have enough of Mazda’s “zoom-zoom” to make us smile?   Just click on the link above and see for yourself.

2016 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD

2016 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD

And don’t forget, if you want to check some of our previous road tests and some of the other goodies we’ve been pouring into the Daily Drive tank, just point your browser right here.

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Fight Winter’s “Brrrrrr!” with Johnnie’s “Mmmmm!” Soups

That Brrrrr sound you hear — well that’s the sound of Winter in Chicago.  So, how’s about we try to turn down that Brrrrr sound and, hopefully, replace it with the Mmmmm sound from sampling some tasty homemade soups.

Johnnie's Sweet & Sour Cabbage, Loaded Potato and Chicken & Brown Rice Soups.

Johnnie’s Sweet & Sour Cabbage, Loaded Potato and Chicken & Brown Rice Soups.

Yes, they’re Gluten-Free.

Chicken & Brown Rice Soup

Boil 6-7 boneless, skinless chicken thighs in 4-6 cups of water.  You can use chicken with skin on, but you will need to skim fat from the skin off the broth.

When the chicken is done, remove it from the water and set chicken aside to cool.  Skim any fat or foam off the chicken broth.

To the broth add a cup of carrot coins, 1 small sweet onion chopped, 3 stalks of celery sliced and 1 heaping TB of “Better Than Bouillon” chicken base.  This is available in small jars in the soup/broth aisle.  I don’t use low sodium since I don’t add salt to the soup.  While the vegetables are cooking in the chicken broth, chop chicken thighs.  Add chicken to the vegetable broth.  Mix well and lower heat to a simmer.

Taste the broth.  If it needs more chicken flavor add the chicken base by teaspoons until you’re satisfied with the chicken flavor.

Add 1 cup of brown rice OR 1 cup of elbow macaroni OR 1/2 box of spagetti noodles.

Cover and cook until rice/pasta is done.

Now it’s ready to eat, but it is always more flavorful and rich tasting on day 2.

Loaded Potato Soup

To 1 box of chicken broth add 6 small/medium size peeled red potatoes.  Cut the potatoes into small cubes.  Add 1 small chopped sweet onion.  Bring to a boil and boil until the potatoes are soft.  Lower temp. to a simmer.

With a potato masher mash potatoes in a broth.  Add 1 small package of cream cheese cut into cubes.  Stir or use an egg beater or frother to blend the cream cheese into the potatoes.  Add 1/2 package of grated sharp cheddar cheese OR 6 slices of sharp cheddar.  Stir til the cheese is melted and blended.

If you find the soup is too thick you can slowly add milk and mix well, but simmer, don’t boil.

To serve:

Microwave one scrubbed medium potato with skin on.  Remove and carefully chop into bite size pieces.  Fry 6-8 slices of bacon til crisp and drain.  Add chopped potato and chopped bacon to soup.  Mix well.  Serve with a dollop of sour cream and chopped green onions, more grated cheddar and even save a few slices of bacon to chop and serve on top for a true loaded potato soup.

This is NOT a diet soup!  It’s a stick to your ribs, fill you up nicely soup.

Sweet & Sour Cabbage Soup

In the pot the soup will be made in heat a Tb of oil and saute small sweet onion chopped.

While that is cooking add 2-3 cloves crushed garlic. I start with 2. Add 1/2 tsp-1 tsp red pepper flakes. (I go light and add more for kick after its all put together.)

Watch onions and garlic so they don’t burn while you mix 1/3 c of dark balsamic vinegar with 1/4 c of brown sugar. Put that into onion/garlic mix and stir. Add a 32 oz. box of chicken broth.

Next, chop a small/medium head of cabbage. Don’t use the core. Add that to both mix and stir well. Add one large 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes and 1 smaller 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes. (You can also use 1 lg 28 oz. can diced tomatoes and a small can of v8 juice or small can of tomato sauce.)

Mix well and taste broth while the cabbage is simmering.

Too tart…more sugar…too sweet add v-8 or tomato sauce or more chicken broth. Simmer til the cabbage cooks down and is soft.

Enjoy!  And, stay warm.


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Howard Reich Writes About “A Little More Les”

We’re honored that Chicago Tribune Arts & Entertainment columnist Howard Reich not only read our book, “A Little More Les,” but also says some very nice things about it in Wednesday’s Tribune and online.

Thanks, Howard!

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2016 Kia Sorento Video Road Test

Our latest Video Road Test, the 2016 Kia Sorento, has just been posted on Consumer Guide Automotive’s Daily Drive website.  Just click on the link above to take a spin and see what you think.

2016 Kia Sorento

2016 Kia Sorento

And don’t forget, if you want to check some of our previous road tests and some of the other goodies we’ve been pouring into the Daily Drive tank, just point your browser right here.

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R.I.P. “Rusty”

As 2015 ended we received some sad news.

Some called him Rusty.  Some called him Russ.  One of his Facebook pages listed him as Russ Les Paul Jr.  In announcing his passing, The Les Paul Foundation website lists his name as Lester “Rusty” G. Paul.  In the big picture, it didn’t matter.  Anyone who was privileged to really get to know him quickly knew they could call him a friend.

Although we had talked to him many times on the phone along with his Dad, Les Paul, our first in-person meeting with Russ was in December of 1996 when his famous father played Chicago’s House of Blues.  That night when Les Paul joined us at WGN radio for a 3 plus hour on air interview Russ was quietly documenting the entire evening with his video equipment.

Any time we saw Les, if it was in Nashville at Muriel Anderson’s “All-Star Guitar Night” tribute or in Waukesha for Les’s homecoming or Milwaukee for the House of Sound opening and Pabst Theater concert, Russ was at his Dad’s side, not just as a family member, but as an enthusiastic supporter.  In fact, in light of his own recent loss of a few toes to diabetes, Russ thought Les’s Waukesha homecoming concert was just the kind of good medicine he needed.

This gentle man was his father’s biggest fan.  We’ll never forget the night we got a phone call at home from Russ, as excited as he could be, because he just had to share the news that his Dad had was going to be inducted into the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame.  Even with all of the awards and acclaim that Les Paul already achieved, any new acknowledgement of his Dad’s impact was a singular point of pride for Russ.

A 2 hour phone call with Russ would not revolve around him but, rather, the new album, TV show archiving or appearances his Dad was working on.  Yes, he had his own band, often performing with artists such as Les Paul’s godson Steve Miller and others and was an accomplished recording engineer, but most important to Russ was making sure Les Paul got the spotlight and attention.

We’ll also never forget the morning of August 13, 2009 the day we woke up to 22 calls on our answering machine.  The first of the messages was so soft we both leaned into
the machine to better hear what the caller was saying. It was Russ calling to tell us that his dad had passed away. Russ said,“The news is reporting that Dad died today, the 13th, but he actually died the 12th.” Russ wanted to make sure we heard the news from him first.

The last time we saw Russ in person was at the Club 400 gathering after Les Paul’s funeral, in Waukesha, Wi.  We were very touched when Russ told us that he and Les considered us family and wanted us to attend.  The Club 400 was where Les Paul and Mary Ford first performed together and it was a fitting location to celebrate Les.

Steve & Johnnie with Rusty Paul

Steve & Johnnie with Rusty Paul at the Club 400

During one of the last conversations we had with Russ he was enthusiastic about our book, “A Little More Les,” and, even though he was still in a rehab facility, he was optimistic about his future.  He was excited that Epiphone was going to produce a Rusty Paul signature bass and talked about some of the players he wanted to join him when his band would start touring again and come to Chicago.  He suggested the possibility of doing a tie-in with our book at a planned Chicago Theater appearance that would see him returning to the same stage his Dad played in front of packed houses.

Unfortunately, as 2015 came to a close Russ lost his long battle with diabetes.

Click here to read the Les Paul Foundation’s announcement of Russ’s passing.

What a gentle man.  What a good son.  What a good friend.

We’ll miss him.


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Happy New Year Fran Tate!!

Well, I just had a conversation that was the cherry on top of a fabulous year!  We have been keeping up on our dear friend, Barrow Easter Bunny, Fran Tate via her family.

Steve & Johnnie with Fran Tate

Steve & Johnnie with Fran Tate

**For the uninitiated and anyone else wondering “Just who is this Fran Tate person and why is she called the “Barrow Easter Bunny” just click on this link to be taken to the article Colleen Mastony wrote about Fran in the Chicago Tribune**

I was recently given a phone number that by-passes the switchboard at the Anchorage care facility she is living in. I’ve tried that number several times and began to think I was given a wrong number.  Today I called again. Lo and behold, the phone was picked up on the second ring and a nurse asked for my name, spelling of my name and said she would be happy to ask Fran if she wanted to speak to me.  Suddenly I heard a loud voice say, “Do I know her? Yes, yes, give me that phone!” I was so happy to actually hear her strong, clear, voice and the Fran laugh.  She said she was comfortable and getting stronger everyday and thought that after losing a leg to diabetes she was ready to talk about a prosthesis so she could get “back in action!”

She said she has been overwhelmed by the number of cards she has received.  Thank you all for taking the time to do just that.  She said the cards are all over her room and she hasn’t had a day go by since the first of the month without a new stack of cards arriving!  I could tell it has meant so much to her.  If you sent a card, you did a good thing!

I asked if she is able to keep up on her extended Pepe’s North of the Border Restaurant family (the restaurant burned to the ground in’13).  She said yes, many are still in Barrow but, sadly many of those who had worked for her for 15-20 plus years were forced to move to the lower 48.  She did mention that another Mexican restaurant has opened in Barrow and as Fran put it “it’s in someones backyard I think!”  She actually said she still dreams she will be going back to Barrow and showing them how it’s done.

That’s our Fran! The incredible strength and spirit that first took her to Barrow as the lone woman working on the Alaska Pipeline came though loud in clear.  Before we hung up she had to catch up on us and our family and she’d heard through listeners that we had a book out.  I asked if we could send her a copy and she said, “Please! I do miss my music, doing my radio show and talking about music.”  Guess where I’ll be Sat. morning.  Yep, in the post office mailing a copy of “A Little More Les” to Fran Tate c/o Providence Extended Care 1035 Compassion Circle Anchorage, Alaska 99504. If you haven’t dropped her a card or note, do.  I think hearing from the WGN Radio listeners is good medicine!


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