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Friday, August 11, 2006
another musician obit: Carla Daruda
Listening to:Love's In Need of Love Today, Stevie Wonder
Reading:bunch o'crap
Weather:60! clear!
Seems like a common theme here lately, remembrance of a cool musician who has died young. Today's piece is about Carla Daruda, boogie woogie piano player extraordinaire. Apparently she died a week ago today, I don't know how old she was, but I'll guess that she was pushing 60.

I first met Carla when I was in college, over 20 years ago. After spending most of my first year in Morgantown either in class, walking or PRT'ing to class, at Towers, or (mostly) at the Creative Arts Center (we music majors were affectionately known as CAC pigs), I finally started finding my way downtown. I started discovering the Underground Railroad for music and mayhem, Lof's for a cheap Sunday night meal when the dorm cafeteria was closed, and the weekly open mic at Maxwell's where the real musicians of Morgantown jammed. I'd finally found the heart of the local music scene, a little subterranean slice of Morgantown that I could really get into.

Carla was a staple there. She was unremarkable to look at, straight shoulder-length brown hair, neither fat nor skinny, wore no make-up and little jewelry (maybe a ring or two), dressed comfortably. But when she sat down at that lousy little portable keyboard, she blew me away. She played that stride-style boogie woogie, which is so difficult to do well, and she totally nailed it. Her vocals were the accompaniment, a genuine sincere simple singing, just enough to highlight her amazing finger work.

There were others, of course. Robert H on bass, strutting around like he was the local blues rooster of the henhouse, going on and off the wagon. Peter Shapiro on occasion with a pan or a guitar and a winking smile. The incomparable Lisa Sarno who wasn't yet a great drummer but was a uniquely groovy spirit, an interesting intellect, and about the only black face in the crowd. Stu Archer, the sweet drunken singer/songwriter who made a lasting impression on me, who would follow the polka Who Stole the Kishka with a stunningly beautiful And I Love Her, Haunted Heart and The Galaxy and some Tanya Tucker, and who is also dead now. This group expanded when it was open mic night at the Underground, where Billy Atwell would bust out a Bo Diddly beat that could last for smokey hours, and Linda what the hell was her last name who lived at the Earth House and was weird looking and had a soulful fat voice for everything from John Prine to Eric Clapton, Spuds the acoustic guitar player and singer often playing with Linda, sundry other fascinating characters.

I finally got my nerve up one night at Maxwell's and pulled out my guitar to play a few tunes. I can't remember what I played, but doubtlessly it was the same 70's pop I still play today. Carla said I sounded good (she was probably being nice, she was a nice person and I wasn't very good). Later on I started playing a little bass when Robert H was either tending bar or not around. Carla asked me if I wanted to play bass for her for an Artemis Sisters event at the Underground. Sure, love to. What's Artemis Sisters? It's a women's thing, so I want an all-woman band. Groovy.

We played the show (I vaguely remember You Don't Own Me, and some Jelly Roll song, and maybe some Holly Near) and then I also started getting to jam a little with the morphing collective at both Maxwell's and the Underground. There were some outfreakinstanding musical moments along the way, if you're a musician, you know exactly what I mean.

After I graduated and went to grad school at Indiana University in Bloomington, I came back to Mo'town. I'd see Carla occasionally, playing a bar or sitting in with a local band or local singer, or just run into her downtown on her way to teach a lesson or something. She had flyers up around town, she'd teach just about any instrument you wanted to play.

One time I ran into her and she was having landlord trouble. Turns out she'd have to move from her place in Osage, and she'd be damned if she'd leave that piano in there that she'd rescued from a bar. It had been painted gold (for real), but a friend had stripped and refinished it and it was beautiful cherry wood, a giant upright grand with turned legs and beautiful carved oval pieces on the panels. It had a cool honky-tonker she'd built in, a bracket with fringes that came down between the hammers and strings that gave it that sound, you know what I'm talking about, it was super cool. Do I want a piano? I had just bought my house, and had plenty of room, and definitely wanted a piano.

I gathered up every male friend I could (6) and rented a box truck and off we went. It was nothing short of a cluster fuck. There was a car in the way so we couldn't get the truck where we wanted it, the steps up to her place were homemade concrete, barely a foot wide and all crooked with steep drop offs into the weeds and wildflowers on either side. We needed a little ramp to get it around one point, so we actually took up a couple of floor boards from the porch, she didn't give a shit because her landlord was a dick. After a crazy dance and much grunting, that piano made it into the truck and no male friends were harmed in the filming.

Got it home, almost got a couple guys killed when the ratchet tie-downs were loosened and the damn 1000 pound solid cherry beast started hurtling down the tilted truck toward my porch and certain maiming for two of my movers. But like manly men instead of leaping out of the way shrieking, they both actually jumped in front of it and put their weight into it to stop it. That took untold moments off my life. But happy ending, the piano made in to my living room with not but one broken caster. And lived there for many years until just recently when a friend wanted a piano and I was ready to reduce my worldly possession pile by a thousand pounds.

OK, that was way less of an obit about Carla than an anecdote about my interface with her, but that's all I got. She was a unique and groovy human, a great honky tonk boogie woogie blues player, and a quiet kind person. That's all I got.

permalink posted by cat 7:48 AM

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another musician obit: Carla Daruda