9:30 p.m. Aug. 17---
Updated Monday afternoon
On Thursday night I made my annual summer stop at the Edgewater Hotel in Madison, Wis. The hotel is on the shore of tranquil Lake Mendota [full details in Hotels We Like in my Favorite Links]. Last summer I was there on a Friday, I think.
I often do my deepest thinking by a lake.
This summer I took in the hotel's regular Thursday night Pier Party that runs from 5:30 until sunset. A cool breeze came in from the lake as I thought about last summer, the newspaper business and the Cubs --in no particular order. The calypso-reggae band was the Gibraltar Rockets. It was a five piece band of guys at least over 35. I was prepared for Jimmy Buffett and Bob Marley covers.
I was happily wrong.....
.......They played vintage reggae chestnuts like the deep riddimed "They Gonna Talk" by Beres Hammond and Eddie Lovette's beautiful ballad "Mr. Sea Keeps On Rolling." Old school calypso was honored with Stanley & the Turbans "Shelia" and a spritely version of Mighty Sparrow's "Madam Sarita."
I was thinking I was having the time of my life
The Rockets consist of percussionist James Cowan (on three congas), Stephen Stone on rhythm guitar and vocals, Jay Moran on lead guitar and accordion and bass guitarist Phillip Lyons. Cowan and Moran are compatriots with Madison's excellent rock band Garbage and producer Butch Vig. Thursday's special guests included drummer Greg Marsh, who has played with Chicago's Dick Holiday and the Bamboo Gang.
"A lot of what we do is obscure reggae," Cowan said in a Monday phone call. "We have one original song. But a lot of people haven't heard of Lucky Dube, Gregory Issacs or (ska-reggae songwriter) Justin Hinds. "He was a friend of ours who was in a band Keith Richards put together in Jamaica (RIchards produced the "Wingless Angels" in the early 1990s)," Cowan said. "Justin died a few years ago but he spent a lot of time in Madison. He was a great reggae songwriter. Stephen has a house in Jamaica and he was coming back to the states with all this material."
The Rockets will have a guest drummer throughout the rest of the summer, but the band is generally semi-acoustic which accounts for the rich arrangements.
Here is the Gibraltar Rockets myspace page. The band's name comes from Stone's own crib in Lodi, which overlooks Gibraltar Rock, the highest point in Southern Wisconsin....
Vig produced Freedy Johnston's 1995 "Perfect World" album, which partially spawned the first version of the Rockets. "That's how we all became friends," Cowan said. "Freedy was at a New Year's Eve 2001 cocktail party at Butch's brother's house in Madison. They didn't have a band so we formed the Know It All Boyfriends. Freedy once had a band in New York by that name, so Jay and I played with Freedy and two other guys." The Know It All Boyfriends still exist. The current three-year-old incarnation of the Gibraltar Rockets are a seasonal entity.
The hotel's Pier Cafe features a great assortment of regional beer. My favorite is the New Glarus Spotted Cow and on this visit I sampled a tangy bottle of Peak Organic. During my visit some very young women from Jimmy Buffett's Landshark Lager were passing out free samples to guests which packed the pier. This marks the third time this summer I have bumped into the landsharkies: The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Buffett's Alpine Valley gig and now Madison. The beer? It tastes like Corona meets Budweiser. (Although one of the girls confided in me that it has more alcohol content than most beer).
The Gibraltar Rockets Thursday night sets have been extended until Sept. 11. I liked them so much I may tool my way back to Madison before college football season kicks in. Who knew paradise was this close?