Dead Heads Land

Look for this sign above the door and you know you’re at Yukotopia.

Tonight I visited Yukotopia Dead Heads Land Night Club where its fifteenth anniversary party is in full swing, featuring Sandy Rothman, a masterful multi-instrumental player from Berkeley who had played at the grand opening and the tenth anniversary festivities as well. Sandy played in several bands with Jerry Garcia, and sings with the same kind of friendly, slightly sardonic, laid-back delivery for which the Dead are known. The three other players live in Tokyo. Lots of joy emanated from the stage during their sets and the audience loved them, too.

Meet Roku Uehara, the club manager and sound engineer, Yuko Tsukamoto, the club owner, and their friend, Masahiko, the official club photographer.

After Sandy and the Anniversary Band played their acoustic sets, the Warlocks played a couple of electric Grateful Dead sets and the audience danced.

Everyone in the room at least swayed in their seats to the band, but most were full on dancing.

Yuko’s got all kinds of Grateful Dead items for sale—books, DVDs, CDs, Jerry Garcia dolls, tie-dye t-shirts, and posters.

Dead head tie-dye on the ceiling.

Poster for this week’s events.

Yuko and I enjoyed our dinner at a sushi diner just down the street from the club, with this cool, super slow conveyer belt that circled three sushi chefs who constantly replenished it with dishes of sushi. Each dish cost $1. Not everything in Tokyo is expensive, it turns out.

My Romance

Lila Downs at the Barbican, London, April 2006
Photographer: Damian Rafferty

My favorite vocalists of late all sing in romance languages. They are already legends, but if you haven’t heard them yet, get thee to iTunes and check them out. You don’t need to know Spanish, French, Italian or Portuguese, although, if you do, it will no doubt enhance your thrall.

From Brazil, dig Rosa Passos (pronounced “Hosa” Passos), a soprano whose hip, creative phrasing enhances the cool “beach samba” style of Brazilian pop standards. When I first heard her, I realized I’m more accustomed to hearing this music performed in an alto range, and Rosa’s high, vibrato-less voice gives even 1960’s Jobim chestnuts a fresh youthfulness.

From Peru, Susana Baca gives voice to an African-American community in a country without Caribbean frontage. Rich with complex rhythms and responsive chorus, Susana’s music takes you right to the emotional and spiritual center of her mysterious and earthy world.

From Mexico and Minnesota, Lila Downs combines a degree in opera singing, a bloodline of the majestic women of the ithmus of Tehuantepec, and a cool New Jersey saxophonist boyfriend to create traditional Mexican music with soaring vocals, hip arrangements, and sometimes political rants.

From Mexico, Montreal, and lots of road time in between, Lhasa de Sela grew up traveling with singing parents on a school bus, and began gigging at age 13. In Montreal she partnered with Yves Desrosiers, a monster guitarist and brilliant producer, to create two emotionally urgent yet surreal CDs.

From Asti, near the French border of Italy, comes a dapper, older attorney turned singer/songwriter named Paolo Conte. With a gruff voice, fabulous jazz piano chops and eerily retro band arrangements, Conte creates the most gorgeous, profound and hilarious poetry imaginable. If you do not read Italian, be sure, when you purchase one of his CDs, to get one with English translations of the lyrics in the liner notes.

Note 14 years later:  I still adore all of these recording artists, and I would like to add to this list Maria Bethania (vocalist from Brazil), and Badi Assad (guitarist/composer/percussionist/vocalist from Brazil).

Klezmer in Paradise

The Blums at their 40th anniversary party. They met in college, honeymooned in the Peace Corps, and are living happily ever after.

When I met Gloria and Barry Blum in the 70’s, they already were performing with a klezmer (Jewish party music) band they had founded called the Golden Gate Gypsy Orchestra of America and California, Otherwise Known as the Traveling Jewish Wedding. When I heard them play at Caffe Trieste in San Francisco, they blew off the roof.

A year before the Blum’s daughter, Katie, left the nest, eventually to get her degree in social work, the Blums moved to Kailua-Kona, on the island of Hawaii, leaving their beloved band behind. Kona Community Hospital was thrilled to have Barry as their only orthopedic surgeon, and the Blums were thrilled to trade their Mill Valley digs for a spacious, airy home on a hillside with a huge view of the ocean. Soon they began looking for band members.

The Kona Traveling Jewish Wedding Band onstage.

This time their band didn’t just play lots of wedding gigs. Gloria and Barry assumed leadership of Congregation Kona Beth Shalom, and they began performing Jewish wedding ceremonies in addition to the music. The band recorded a wonderful CD called Shaloha Oy, the title track being a minor key, up-tempo send-up of Queen Liliuokalani’s timeless Aloha ‘Oe. On the cover is a blurb from me: “Gloria Blum is the Janis Joplin of klezmer.”

Gloria singing with the band.

Kona Beth Shalom became a kick ass congregation, producing Karen Breier’s Shaloha Cookbook, which garnered an article in the New York Times, and adopting a torah (Old Testament scroll in Hebrew) that had belonged to a Czech congregation massacred during the Holocaust. The governor of Hawaii attended Kona Beth Shalom’s celebration of the old torah’s expert restoration.

My illustration for the backs of Gloria’s Feeling Good Cards. This image is copyrighted by Gloria Blum.

Gloria’s gift to humankind, a method of teaching appropriate behavior, self-esteem and social skills to mentally disabled teenagers, inspired her to create a resource curriculum guide, Feeling Good About Yourself, and also a communicaton card game, Feeling Good Cards, enjoyable by any group of people. Last year I drew a card back picture exactly to Gloria’s specifications, and re-designed the graphics for the box. That’s Barry playing his bass balalaika, and Gloria beside him, singing with her arms upraised in joy.

Kanikapila In the Heart of Waimea

Cattle ranching history in a mural by Marcia Ray in the food court of the Parker Ranch Center, Waimea, Hawaii

When people think of Hawaii, they don’t often think of cowboys, but, in some parts of Hawaii, cattle ranching is still a way of life. Mind you, these are cowboys who proudly hula and make feather bands for their hats. These are the people who created slack-key guitar.

Pasture and ocean seen from the Old Mamalahoa Highway, from Ahualoa to Waimea

The cattle pastures of Hawaii overlook the ocean and enjoy a perpetually balmy climate. I figure this is where you reincarnate if you were a very good cow last time.

Clouds creep over the crest of Kohala Mountain toward the pastures.

Hawaiian cowboys are called “paniolos,” a Hawaiian-ized word originally meaning Españolo, or people who speak Spanish. The first cattle were given to Hawaiian chiefs by visiting British tall ships, and they roamed the islands destroying everything in their path, until the Hawaiians imported people with cattle controlling skills to put an end to that. The first cowboys came from Argentina, speaking Spanish, and bringing guitars, Spanish open tunings, roping and riding, and the Brazilian tipo, a tiny four-stringed instrument the Hawaiians adopted as the ukulele (jumping flea).

Braddah Smitty, whose beautiful heart resonates in his voice.

Last night I spent three happy hours in Tante’s Bar and Grill in Waimea, Hawaii, the heart of the vast Parker Ranch, listening to the great Braddah Smitty and his band. Braddah Smitty’s very Hawaiian family includes his famous uncle Gabby Pahinui, the father of modern slack key guitar, and Gabby’s guitarist sons Cyril and Bla Pahinui. Braddah Smitty resembles his uncle, and sounds a lot like him when he sings Gabby’s hits “Hi’ilawe” and “Moonlight Lady,” but his talent is unique. His rich baritone soars like an opera star’s, but without the pomp. Braddah Smitty is all about having fun. The whole room has no choice but to join him.

An member of the audience performs a masculine hula to Smitty’s music. Several others, including my friend Lynn, got up and danced when they heard songs to which they knew the choreography. In hula, there is only one correct choreography to each song, so that dancers from disparate locations should all be able to move in unison.

He is also all about heart. He graciously invites in whoever wants to play along. Among those sitting in on this occasion was the ancient and legendary Uncle Martin Purdy, son of the famous cowboy Ikua Purdy, depicted in an enormous bronze riding horseback and roping a cow, that stands in the parking lot outside Tante’s Bar and Grill. His wife, Auntie Doris Purdy, played ukulele and performed a stately hula from her chair. Her daughter played guitar, and a couple of young local guys sat in on guitar and ukulele and sang.

The whole line-up of Smitty’s band and friends picking and singing at Tante’s by the great stone fireplace.

I’d kanikapila’d (jammed) with Braddah Smitty a few years ago at the birthday party of Edie Bikle, best-selling children’s book author and the owner of Taro Patch, a scrumptuous gift store in nearby Honoka’a, and he remembered that I played slack key, so he invited me to play some songs during the break between the sets.

I perform some slack key tunes for the folks at Tante’s.

Edie and her boyfriend Tony, both present and clearly having a wonderful time, egged me on, and so did Lynn Nakkim, novelist, comedienne, former Green Party candidate, Waimea resident with her own horse ranch and my friend for over thirty years, whose idea it was to come to Tante’s in the first place. So, I played two slack key pieces over one hundred years old, and sang and played two original slack key songs, Auntie Clara and Living in Hawaii Style, all of which I recorded in 2001 on a CD of the same name. Edie carries it in her store.

Afterward, I joined the line-up of friends playing along with the band.  This is what “kanikapila” means.  Everyone joining in the music together.

At the end of the show, the audience rose as one and joined hands in a circle, something I’ve never seen happen in a bar. We all sang Hawaii Aloha, the unofficial national anthem, swaying and harmonizing together. Then that trickster, Braddah Smitty, sang the Hokey Pokey, and we all got really silly dancing that. After that, people were hugging and kissing each other Good Night and Aloha, and heading out into the mist.

Shamisen and Sushi

Noriko Britton sings with her shamisen trio.

I met Noriko at Hoshi Hana’s art opening last Sunday. She told me she played shamisen, and I asked when and where I could come hear her play. When I found out it would be the following Friday at Zeque (pronounced zeck-you) Sushi and Grill in the South Lake Mall in Pasadena, I called my friends and happily reserved a table for twelve. We all had a wonderful time.

Michiko, Takako, Hideko and Noriko.

The ensemble was, as follows:

In the lavender kimono, Michiko Yoshino (professional name, Bando Hiro Michiya), a traditional Japanese dancer, who sang some songs with the shamisen trio at the beginning of the set.

In the peach kimono, Takako Osumi (Kineya Yasuyo), shamisen player.

In the yellow kimono, Hideko Kamei (Kineya Kichi Kazu), shamisen player.

In the blue kimono, Noriko Britton (Kineya Roku Kensho), shamisen player.

An instrumental piece with fierce and complex rhythms.

Sometimes the songs were instrumental only and sometimes the women sang while they played. These were not songs for dance performance, but rather just for listening, Noriko explained to us later. Hoshi Hana told me that Noriko lived across the street from her parents since before her birth, and she had encouraged Hoshi Hana to learn music. “I was lousy at the koto,” she grinned. Hoshi Hana’s destiny clearly lay in the visual arts and in a world more bohemian than traditional, although she is beautifully bi-lingual.

Zeque’s appetizer specialty is a sort of giant sushi called a Mount Fuji, with three layers of rice and your choice of any three sushi toppings, two as fillings and one on top. One of these arrived with slices of avocado ornamenting the sides.

Just as we were all leaving, I saw the trio heading for the parking lot with their instruments and ran after them to photograph them one more time. So sweetly did they turn and smile.

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band

Drummer Joe Lastie

July 8, 2006. The legendary Preservation Hall Jazz Band from New Orleans played a set at Amoeba Music on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, and I was in the front row, laughing, dancing, clapping my hands and taking pictures.

Trombonist Frank Demond, clarinetist Ralph Johnson, with trumpeter John Brunious singing, and alto saxophonist Darrel Adams

Hundreds of Hollywood hipsters jammed the aisles of the record store, loving the music.

Each player solo’d beautifully, the shout choruses at the end of each song thrilled us, and three of the players sang as only old jazz musicians can sing.

Bass player Walter Payton sings

During the last song of the set, (“Saints,” of course) the store staff distributed Mardi Gras beads, horns and bells, and the four horn players lead us in a second line, dancing around the store.

Clarinetist Ralph Johnson

After the set, the store held a charity auction to raise money for the New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund, which was originally founded by the Preservation Hall Jazz Society.

Carl Le Blanc plays banjo

I bought one of the band’s CDs. I asked trumpet player/vocalist John Brunious, which was their most recent recording. He said, “This is what you want (pointing to Shake That Thing), but THIS is what you need.” THIS turned out to be Sweet Emma and her Preservation Hall Jazz Band, a two-CD set of a remastered 1964 recording with an earlier line-up of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, featuring a 66 year old woman pianist/vocalist named Sweet Emma Barrett. Sweet, indeed!

Alicia having fun at Amoeba Music

I gave John a copy of What Living’s All About, and hoped he’d enjoy Floozy Tune, my trad jazz original that opens the CD. He was kind enough to write down the names of the players so I could share them with you on this post.

Front entrance. The store occupies an entire city block.

Amoeba Music’s wild success as an independent record store stems from the party atmosphere, the great concerts, the vast, yet well organized, array of new CDs and DVDs as well as cheap used CDs and videos, their purchasing department, which buys lots of used items, as well as new, but relatively unknown, indie CDs like mine, the amazing decor, and the knowledgable staff. They have only three stores (Berkeley, Haight Ashbury, and Hollywood), all in locations with very large creative communities. They are not shy about their politics, either. On the outside of the Hollywood store hangs a huge yellow banner reading, “Give Peace a Chance.”

Amoeba Music’s mural on Ivar Street.

Reviews of What Living’s All About

Cover painted, lettered and designed by Alicia Bay Laurel


TOP 12 DIY PICKS by Mare Wakefield, Indie Music Editor  

What Living’s All About—a title that’s appropriate for a woman who has lived her life with such gusto. A Bohemian artist, Alicia Bay Laurel lived on a houseboat off Sausalito and a commune in Sonoma before spending 25 years on Maui. In addition to her music, she’s worked as a cook, collage artist, yoga instructor, wedding planner, underwater photographer and she’s the author of a New York Times bestseller, the whimsical Living on the Earth, first published in 1971.

The rich tapestry of her life translates to her music. In the Billie Holiday-esque “Floozy Tune,” Laurel plays the role of the Sunday School teacher turned barfly. In “America the Blues” she dishes out scathing political commentary to the tune of “America the Beautiful” (“America, America, greed sheds disgrace on thee / You don’t need nukes, you don’t need slaves, you don’t need gasoline”). She has fun with the smart “Aquarian Age Liberated Woman Blues” (“Seaweed for breakfast is good for you”) and the gospel-imbued “Doctor Sun and Nurse Water.” Laurel’s jazzy Earth-mother sound will seduce and inspire.

Review by John Stevenson of Ejazz News in London, June 2006

Dear Alicia,

Just a quick note from London. I have reviewed your last CD at It is excellent. As I wrote in the review, by far one of the best for 2006.

I get close to 200 CDs a week sent to me, but yours stood out because of its transparently high level of musicianship and sincerity – qualities which are very rarely found combined these days.

Kind Regards,

John Stevenson

Alicia Bay Laurel: What Living’s All About, Jazz Blues & Other Moist Situations (IWS)

With a provocative title like this one, Ms. Laurel will certainly catch the attention of any reviewer! This is most certainly one of the most audacious, heartfelt and honest discs I’ve put in my CD player for the year. Alicia (who sounds like the artistic love child of Joan Baez and Tom Waits) brings a folk-singer’s sensibility to bear on jazz and pulls no punches: On America The Blues, she declaims: America, the beautiful/you’re thorny as a rose:/Radiation, global warming/Poisoned food from GMOs./ She also sings a delightful version of Eden Ahbez’s Nature Boy. The accompaniment from guitarist Nels Cline, bass player John B. Williams and pianist Rick Olson is divine.

*                    *                        *                      * 

Tom Hyslop
Blues Bites: Reviews in Brief

Alicia Bay Laurel conveys life’s sudden shifts and jarring juxtapositions on What Living’s All About (Indigo With Stars 003). Sandwiched between the opener, “Floozy Tune,” and “Aquarian Age Liberated Woman Blues,” two formally classic blues that could have come from Ma Rainey if not for the namechecks (belly dancing, astral projection, The I. Ching, bee pollen candy and natty dread), comes “America the Blues,” with strident references to economic inequality, environmental rapine, corporate greed, and political corruption. Laurel moves from girlish singing on the Twenties-style songs to this doomy incantation, the arrangement taking full advantage of the jaw-dropping talent of avant-guitarist Nels Cline (best known as Wilco’s secret weapon). With cuts such as “Doctor Sun and Nurse Water” (a gospel-drenched number with oddly matched lyrics), and the Fever tribute of the title track, Living will strike some as too California in its outlook. But lovely touches abound, such as the stately, quietly anthemic “Love, Understanding and Peace,” and Doug Webb’s beautiful alto work on “Zero Gravity.”

FEMINIST REVIEW, Friday, June 1, 2007

Alicia Bay Laurel – What Living’s All About

All would-be writers who have studied how to write know the rule: “show me don’t tell me.” Visual artists find this advice easy to do and musicians are, perhaps, the same way. When the creative instrument does not rely solely on words, showing is not too difficult.

Alicia Bay Laurel wrote Living on the Earth, a cult classic and the first paperback on the New York Times Bestseller List (spring 1971), which has sold over 350,000 copies. She has also written five other books. Laurel is a talented, trained musician. She grew up playing classical piano, switched to guitar in her teens and learned open tunings from legendary guitarist John Fahey, a family member. On this latest album, What Living’s All About, she works with some of the best musicians in the field, including avant garde guitar hero Nels Cline.

Alicia Bay Laurel tries to show and tell by weaving feelings, melody and an occasional diatribe word. She celebrates the Earth (nature) and embraces her sensuality. She also loudly laments the destruction of the environment, as in her song “America the Blues,” where the listing of our environmental sins drags a bit. At the same time, the song is strangely effective. The entwining hypnotic music ended with a smashing guitar rift, followed by a spine tingling sound of whale songs and a Native American Chant. This is an excellent protest song. Alicia Bay Laurel and Al Gore should be friends.

“Zero Gravity” is a haunting song about a city at night, reminiscent of Ground Zero in New York City where the Twin Towers used to be. Laurel talks about sex in this CD and does it with class, sometimes with gentle humor, like “Floozy Tune.” However, you won’t know what she’s talking about unless you listen closely. This blend of jazz, blues and gospel is a powerful feminist statement. It’s fantastic!

Review by Patricia Ethelwyn Lang


“Floozy Tune” Wins Song Contest
7/9/2007 4:38:10 PM
“Floozy Tune”
Status: Selected
Congratulations, you have been selected as a Top 20 Finalist in the Jazz Category of the 11th Annual Unisong International Song contest. Results are at

This year featured the highest overall quality of songs, lyrics, and writers ever submitted by far, with the most diverse and varied entries from a multitude of countries representing every continent on Earth except Antarctica (and songwriting penguins out there).

The judging therefore was extremely competitive and to be singled out anywhere in the top 15% of all songs submitted was no easy feat.


Review of What Living’s All About by psychedelic folk radio DJ, Gerald Van Waes. His show, Psyche Van Het Folk, is on Radio Centraal, Antwerp, Belgium.

Like one of my favourite heartfelt singer-songwriter singers (Heather McLeod with ‘Funny Thing’, 1997), also Alicia went to more towards (slightly standard) jazz territories, but as a former hippie, it is clear this is not done as a compromise to please/tease a public. Her interpretations (-most songs are self penned-) are with great feelings, and a certain light happiness beyond each other idea or emotion. She describes the style mix well on the cover as “jazz, blues and other moist situations”. With additionally a a bit of New Orleans influence on “Floozy Tune”, and a bit of gospel on “Doctor Sun and Nurse Water” (about what the environment of Hawaii did to her), she wrote inspired something between jazz and jazz-blues and something else soulful. I like the idea on “America the Blues” saying “America, don’t wave that flag to con us with your jive…”..”we’re all family on this planet”.. (Just imagine how America is built upon so many nationalities and bought talents from everywhere, unfortunately mostly still chosen from what are seen as the trustworthy countries and areas (so practically still excluding preferably the French, Spanish, and several Arab-speaking countries and native Indians for economic concurrence, racist, nowadays partly religious, and a few other reasons).. Potentionally I realize America still has all opportunities and a certain openness to experiment for those who succeed to start to participate in the system. This track, like a few tunes elsewhere has some, for me, rather amusing freaky electric avant-garde guitar by Nels Cline (Wilco,..). Alicia, for having experienced a certain earthbound process, matured, she still has the happiest aspects of the hippie; this sum must having benefited the soul and music of the singer, who on her recent photograph on the back cover still looks 25 or so, so I guess the message of this lies somewhere as a benefit hidden in the music. Rather brilliant as an interpretation I think is “Nature Boy” (originally by Nat King Cole, but also covered by Grace Slick), in an emotionally calm contrapoint-driven moody jazz style, with the help of John B. Williams on upright bass and Enzo Tedesco on other instruments. A really fine and enjoyable album.

Review by legendary guitarist Nels Cline on his website:

Alicia is a self-proclaimed “hippie chick” who I met through (drummer) Joe Gallivan. She had a hit book back in the 60s called [stay tuned for title – forgot it], which she says “was in practically every hippie commune outhouse in the west” (no doubt right next to “Be Here Now”!). This is, I believe, self-released, and is quite an odd but strangely entertaining, original, and disarming recording. It has a some amazing L.A.-based session/jazz players like (saxophonist) Doug Webb, who reaches beyond his Coltrane-esque tenor to turn in some beautiful post-Desmond alto, brilliant drummer Kendall Kay, and bassist John B. Williams, whom many may remember as the Fender player on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson for many years. There is a choir on here! The songs are sort of 1920s-30s era swing, acoustic swing blues, and… Well anyway, when someone like Alicia asks me to do tons of Hendrix-inspired shrieking and psych looping (“America The Blues”) or fuzzed out adversarial commentary (“It’s Not Fair”), I figure that when the disc comes out that the stuff will, as it usually is, be buried or cut out altogether. I was amazed when I heard this that Alicia REALLY WANTED these sounds and that THEY ARE REALLY LOUD! I don’t know what people who know my music will think of this, but there is something so wry and self-deprecatingly amusing about Alicia’s hippie anthems, protest songs, and tales of failed romance that I find myself grinning. Hmmmm….Oh yes, I also play slide, lap steel, and acoustic guitar on this. I’m on 4 or 5 tracks.


Review by Platinum-selling singer/songwriter Joe Dolce

I think this is a very creative record with a lot of wonderful ideas and performances and some pretty extraordinary playing, and endearing vocals all over the place. I like it a lot!! I liked all the songs much better on the second listen. A keeper. Good work.

The album is eclectic, diverse musical styles. Therefore, I can relate to it! What holds it altogether is Alicia’s musical ‘personae’ – the complex character she is creating, through her voice and ideas. As you get to know this character more and more, as the songs and ideas progress, you trust her more and it allows you to enter more easily into whatever type of musical style is coming next. (Also this trust is a reason to want to go back and listen again.) Also the IDEAS are clear. The lead vocals are strong with a lot of presence. The musicians are all brilliant and the soloing is tasteful and creative – no cliches or stumbling around musically anywhere to be found.

Re: “Nature Boy.” I believe that if you can take the listener to a unique Hilltop, and give them a view that they will never forget, even ONCE in a recording or performance, that is enough. One brilliant moment builds a bridge of trust between you and them that will allow them to be more open to whatever you do from then on, even if they don’t relate or understand it. (You may never be able to take them to that High Point again but it doesn’t matter – it’s like great sex or great playing- you may not be able to LIVE with that person, but you will NEVER forget that encounter.) This track took me to that Hill. I feel different now about the whole recording.

Re: “I Could Write a Book.” This track is the track where I first gasped: genius! What an amazing idea. A track like this makes me have to listen to the whole CD over again to see if I missed anything the first time around on those opening tracks. A totally inspir
ed idea that works. No one else has ever done something like this with a standard. Perfect. I played this one for Lin. She liked it a lot, too. (She didn’t think her publisher would like it though! ha ha!)
Joe Dolce
Melbourne, Australia


Music Industry Critiques What Living’s All About

Listener comments about What Living’s All About

Buy the CD from Alicia’s online store

Why I Sing

Singing is a combination of playing an instrument (the voice) and acting, two of my other favorite activities.

Singing focuses the mind in a manner similar to archery. If your mind wanders, you miss the mark and go off key or out of rhythm.

Singing conjures deep feelings and can release negative emotions (like singing the blues).

Singing helps me manifest courage when I feel fear, or kindle passion when I feel apathy.

Singing comes in handy to entertain children and sometimes adults.

People who sing together can enjoy both musical and social harmony.

Singing improves my health.

I can practice my instrument while driving my car or checking my email.

I don’t have to check my instrument with baggage or stow it in the overhead.

I have a very good reason not to smoke or eat stuff that gives me sore throats.

I love a whole bunch of songs, some of which I wrote.

There is no end to the possibilities for development of the voice, and if I forget that, I only have to listen to Bobby McFerrin.


Recording my vocal parts for the CD What Living’s All About,
at Scott Fraser’s studio in Mount Washington, Los Angeles.

As I was preparing to record my third CD, What Living’s All About, I thought about how, when I was recording my first two, I always got a fever and a sore throat on the day I was to sing the vocal tracks, so that they never sounded quite as good as the way I sound in live performance.

I decided that this time, I would take the opportunity to change that pattern of subconscious self-sabotage. Fortunately, my sister is a psychotherapist and current with the latest healing techniques. She had used something called EMDR to prepare herself for a much needed, much dreaded surgery, and not only did she go through the surgery without her expected panic, but she healed so quickly that her surgeon was amazed.

EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) moves the attention of the traumatized person from the right to left to right to left sides of the body, seemingly from the sympathetic (fight or flight) to the parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous systems, so that the mind can rapidly process stressful memories and information that may have been “stuck” or undigested, sometimes for decades. Successfully healing combat veterans and rape survivors of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in only a few sessions (rather than years of talking therapy), EMDR works equally well with less intense problems, including my musical performance issues.

Developed by Francine Shapiro, PhD, a clinical psychologist, EMDR holds up to rigorous double blind testing. No one is exactly sure WHY it works, only that, when it is administered correctly by a therapist trained in the technique, it rocks.

I went to the EMDR International Association website, looked for therapists in my geographical area, and found one that specialized in arts issues, Paulette Rochelle-Levy. I had four appointments with her before recording. The first was “intake,” that is, she asked me questions and gathered information about my life and my issue at hand.

On the second appointment, Paulette helped me find the life moments where my fears around singing were catalyzed, and then, as I pictured them, patted first my right hand, then my left, then my right, and so on. My homework was to write a letter to the 12 year old girl I once was, and tell her what is ahead of her in her life, from the perspective of what I have lived to this date.

On the third appointment, Paulette, instead of doing EMDR, lead me in an exercise that I thought, at first, was sort of silly, but it turned out to be just as profound as the EMDR. She asked me to walk, eyes closed, in her living room and say “I am Alicia’s Higher Self” three times, and then to describe myself.

I said, “I am a vortex of swirling energies: elemental nature energies rising from below, inspirational and angelic energies descending from above, genetic, societal, cultural, familial, and past life energies swirling together from all sides. I am the sum of all of these currents of energy coming together.”

Paulette said, “That’s the answer to the question, ‘Who are YOU to be making a CD of your own music.’”

On the fourth appointment we did more EMDR. Two days later I went into the studio, did not have a sore throat, and sang well.

Was I 100% cured? No. On the day I recorded the vocal for Nature Boy, I had a throat issue again, and, as it was an improvised piece (couldn’t re-record it later) with a legendary player who had made some sacrifices to be at the studio for me that day, I had to just do it anyway. To my delight, improvising that song with John B. Williams and Enzo Tedesco turned out to be a peak experience. I like listening to it, too.

Post EMDR, the studio experience was, for me, on the whole, very much more exciting than it was stressful. Good stuff! And my sister will be taking a professional training in EMDR this fall.  Meanwhile, she lent me the EMDR book, and I highly recommend it.


In January 2001, singer/songwriter/bassist Sachiho Kudomi was vacationing on the Big Island of Hawaii with her rock star husband, Donto, and their two young sons. While they were watching a performance of a hula dedicated to the goddess Pele at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Donto suddenly fell over, and was rushed by ambulence to the Hilo Medical Center. The next day he was pronounced dead from a brain anurism at 38 years of age. Sachiho decided that Pele wanted to keep him as her own.

Sachiho returned to Hawaii Island a year later for a memorial service at the largest Buddhist temple in Hilo. Several dozen of Donto’s fans flew over from Japan for the service, which featured a musical performance by Sachiho’s all woman trance music band, Amana.

In between the times I recorded Music from Living on the Earth (January 2000) and Living in Hawaii Style (spring 2001) at Sea-West Studios in Pahoa, Hawaii, Sachiho recorded the CD “Rainbow Island” there with world beat band Umi No Sachi, and noticed owner/engineer Rick Keefer’s copy of Music from Living on the Earth.  She immediately recognized the cover of Living on the Earth. “Oh!” she exclaimed, “Very famous book!” Rick put us in touch by email, and the next thing I knew, I was organizing a Hawaii Island concert tour for Amana to follow the memorial service for Donto in Hilo. I had worked hard on the publicity, and we had large, enthusiastic crowds at every show.

Hiromi, the percussionist, also invited Toshi and Masaha, the members of her other band, Dinkadunk, to play between Amana’s sets. Hiromi learned to drum in Africa (and her daughter Tapiwa is half Zimbabwean).

Yoko Nema sings and plays instruments from India, where she goes often to study Indian music and buy merchandise for Tata Bazaar, her gift store in Naha, Okinawa.

About a dozen of Donto’s fans followed us from venue to venue, attending every concert. A couple of them brought their copies of Living on the Earth (Japanese edition) for me to sign. One night I performed one of my autobiographical story shows, and Toshi, whose interpreting skills are excellent, translated my entire show into Japanese for Donto’s fans as I was telling it.

The three band members all brought along their beautiful, happy, elementary school age children, who never squabbled, screamed, made demands, complained they were bored, or refused to eat what they were served. For an entire week I observed these amazing children, harmoniously playing together or quietly playing alone, utterly unlike almost every single child I’d ever met in the USA.

The band and their families stayed in a big rental home near the oceanfront volcanic warm ponds in lower Puna. When we traveled to the other side of the island, we camped out with friends of mine who have a botanical garden in Captain Cook. We had as much fun as friends can have together in a week’s time, making music together, laughing, sharing stories and meals.

I am looking forward to traveling with Sachiho and her band again in Japan some day!  (Note from 20 years later: I did twelve concert tours in Japan, from 2006 to 2019, and almost all of them included collaborations and family reunions with Sachiho, Hiromi and Yoko.)