Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Pour some sugar on me while you still can

By Jacob Bennett

If this sugar shortage is a real thing, I owe you an apology.

I just put, like, eight packets of sugar in a medium coffee. Plus some half and half. And this was just a light blend; don’t ask how much sweet stuff I use for the rich blends at CafĂ© Du Monde.

But if U.S. food companies are telling the truth, someday there could be no sugar tonight in my coffee (or in my tea): A few weeks ago the companies wrote a letter to the U.S. Agriculture Secretary warning that the country could “run out of sugar.”

I get most of my info from Kristi Lee at the “Bob & Tom” news desk, but the Wall Street Journal also wrote about this. Apparently, the food companies want the U.S. government to ease import quotas that artificially inflate blah blah blah disrupted trading patterns blah blah tariffs blah zzzzz…

Sorry. Needed more coffee to wake me up.

The Journal said one company has already raised prices on Kaiser rolls, hamburgers and hot dogs, all of which include sugar. On the bright side, at least now we know one ingredient in hot dogs. I mean besides hog wiener.

During my five minutes of research while borrowing Panera Bread’s Internet, as I also flirted with my waitress--in hopes she would one day give me some sugar--it sounded like there might be enough sweetener for the U.S., if we would just allow it into the country. But it also sounded like they may already be out of sugar in India. And I saw a movie once where giant mutant ants with the power to brainwash humans conquered a sugar refinery in the Everglades…if that’s happening again, that could also put a dent in our sugar supply.

Maybe, just to be safe, we should cut back on sugar. Maybe the next time I have a medium coffee, I could try just seven packets. I read somewhere, perhaps the Washington Post or bobandtom.com, Americans eat too much sugar anyway—22 teaspoons per day. That’s way more than the nine teaspoons men should ingest; women are only supposed to get six.

Yet more proof that boys go to Mars to get more candy bars; girls go to Jupiter to get more stupider.

Ahem. Don’t tell my waitress I said that.

So at this rate of sugar consumption, we’ll get all those diseases sugar can cause, such as tooth decay, obesity, blah blah blah diabetes, blah blah early death, blah zzzz…

Sorry. Coffee me.

All I’m saying is, let’s be careful. If we do all get sick, we definitely don’t want to be out of sugar.

What would we take a spoonful of to help the medicine go down?

Monday, October 05, 2009

Life proceeds at Swift pace for 17-year-old country singer

By Jacob Bennett
Thursday, May 3, 2007
Evansville Courier & Press
Photo by Andrew Orth

Taylor Swift said many artists get a couple of days to soak in their first victories at the CMT Music Awards.

She had eight hours.

The next day she had to take her high school junior year final exams.

"You've got to get back to reality, I guess," said Swift, the 17-year-old budding star whose song "Tim McGraw" won the award for breakthrough video.

"They haven't given me the results yet. I'm sure I passed."

That's because she studied hard on the bus, in hotel rooms, and at airports, as she traveled to festivals, radio appearances and concerts opening for the likes of George Strait.

Now she's on tour with Brad Paisley, the chart-topping singer-songwriter-picker-grinner who was here in 2005 with Sugarland and Sara Evans. Paisley headlines a show tonight at Roberts Stadium.

In addition to Swift, this time Paisley brings former "American Idol" contestant Kellie Pickler and Jack Ingram, a longtime underground country musician who has lately been making a mainstream push -- he's the guy who covered Hinder's rock ballad "Lips of an Angel." He opened here last year for Sheryl Crow.

Swift said she's keeping the promise she made two weeks ago at the CMT Awards: She's bringing the belt buckle-shaped trophy for her customary post-show signing.

She said she doesn't usually get nervous, but there was someone at the after party who made her feel awe -- Jon Bon Jovi.

"He told me that he liked my music and I just about fell over," she said. "I've never known a world without Jon Bon Jovi. Think about it. I was born in 1989. He's a serious icon. I've always looked up to him for his writing, for his performing, for being the first rock star that smiled."

One star she hasn't met is Tim McGraw, the namesake of her breakthrough hit. "I would probably just say, 'Hey, it's nice to meet you,' and see who brought up the song first."

Between tour dates, Swift is about to start squeezing in recording sessions for her second album. She's written 40 songs that will be under consideration, she said. More of them are upbeat than, say, current single "Teardrops on My Guitar," but not all of them.

"My favorite thing to write about is loneliness and sadness," she said. "There's definitely a taste of that on there."

She's going to miss out on her senior year, but she went to high school for two years before leaving this year. She said she went to two proms and made lots of friends, so she got a good taste of the experience.

"I'm not walking away from something that's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," she said. "I hope things continue to go the way that they have."

Dierks Bentley: Grill for the Thrill headliner competes at a higher level

Courtesy The Green Room PR
Country singer Dierks Bentley will perform Saturday night at Roberts Stadium.

By Jacob Bennett
August 9, 2007
Evansville Courier & Press

Three years after his first gig in Evansville, Dierks Bentley is back as a headliner riding a string of top-10 hits, and he still thinks of himself as an underdog.

Wait ... what?

"We're underdogs all over again because we're headlining our own shows and competing against Rascal Flatts and Kenny (Chesney) and (Toby) Keith and (Brad) Paisley," Bentley said. "We've kind of got the underdog status again, and we're working hard to change it."

Bentley is capping off this year's Grill for the Thrill celebration with a Saturday night show at Roberts Stadium, a co-headlining engagement with Gary Allan, a critical favorite and chart topper.

Bentley was just waking up and grabbing some coffee on his tour bus in Sweet Home, Ore., when he phoned to talk about the show.

His first headlining tour comes at a time when critics say country music leans toward pop rock. Although he's had a pretty much uninterrupted run at the top of the charts since "What Was I Thinkin'" debuted in 2003, Bentley could have placed himself above that criticism by pointing out his collaborations with bluegrass artists such as the Del McCoury Band. But he didn't.

"People who complain about Merle Haggard not being on the radio are really living in a different day and age," he said.

"Everyone has their own take on what country means, and all I can do is concentrate on what we do and try to reflect what I think it means.

"For us, it's trying to take some of that old spirit of the gods like Johnny Cash and do it in a contemporary, modern, younger way. That's all we worry about."

That sound includes loud bass, steel guitars and bluegrass influences.

Bentley said he will be in the studio in September to record for his next album. As he tries to stand out in a crowd of country's biggest stars, he will be guided by advice from members of the Del McCoury Band, who are still picking after more than 40 years.

"One thing I learned from those guys was don't try to compete with anyone or trash anyone," Bentley said.

"Your only competition should be the instrument in your hand."

Carlin brings observational bite to Victory

By Jacob Bennett
Evansville Courier & Press
September 16, 2005

Some people wring their hands when they think about the end of the world. George Carlin roots for it.

"The message is, this is a hopeless deal; it's funny, and I watch it for the humor," said Carlin, 68, on the phone this week from his home in California.

"It's out of balance. The world's like that, and the country's like that. It's not a sin to know that and say that. But I just kind of stay separate from the drama and just kind of talk about it the way I see it."

The decline of the human species has kept Carlin busy for almost 50 years now, from the "Tonight" show with Jack Paar to dozens of comedy shows a year to memorable turns in movies such as "Dogma" and "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back."

And he's not slowing. He's stopping in Evansville on Sunday as he gears up for his 13th HBO special, "Life Is Worth Losing," which will air live Nov. 5. The paperback version of his latest bestseller, "When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?," which was banned from Wal-Mart shelves last year, will hit stores next month.

You probably won't agree with everything said by the guy whose "Seven Dirty Words You Can Never Say on Television" routine helped the U.S. Supreme Court figure out what is too indecent for broadcast. But he doesn't really want you to.

"People should come to their own conclusions, and I should be one of the people they're allowed to hear in informing their own conclusions," Carlin said.

"I would think they would want to fall somewhere between what a person like myself would say and what they're told to do. People are told what to do, what to buy, what to think and what to feel, what to believe. It's better if they hear more than one version."

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina proved Carlin's contention that Republicans in government have gotten rid of the "welfare state" to the detriment of their ability to help citizens in need, especially such as those in New Orleans who were too poor to flee.

"How can you cut FEMA's budget when you keep telling people, `It's a yellow alert,' `It's an orange alert,' and `Increased chatter; we're hearing al-Qaida chatter?'" Carlin said.

"If that's not a federal emergency that needs to be managed, Federal Emergency Management Agency, then there ain't any others.

"This guy (former FEMA director) Mike Brown was recommended by an old college buddy who said, `He's a good guy.' `OK, let's put him in there.' It's amateur night; it's just amateur night."

Once Carlin's latest HBO show is done, he'll go through the 2,800 files in his computer and start putting together another special, piece by piece. He has enough source material: Humans don't realize they're destroying their own habitat and "circling the drain."

"The planet lives through everything," Carlin said.

"It'll be fine. We'll be gone. That's OK, too.

"It's just another species. The dinosaurs had it once."

Ronnie Milsap was planning to study law; Ray Charles had other advice

By Jacob Bennett
Evansville Courier & Press
Photo courtesy of Splash! Photography
Thursday, August 23, 2007

In the early 1980s, Ronnie Milsap's record label encouraged him to tilt his country songs toward pop. The result was 40 No. 1 country singles, which puts Milsap behind only George Strait and Conway Twitty.

It was a spectacular string of success for a talented piano player who, because of congenital blindness, had been encouraged to pursue a more stable profession than music. Milsap hasn't had a No. 1 hit in a few years, but he's still recording and still doing what he loves even more than that — performing live.

He's scheduled to play shows Friday and Saturday at Casino Aztar.

He called the Courier & Press last week to talk about having too many hits to play at once, recording with Elvis Presley and how Ray Charles changed his life.

Q: When you play two shows in a town, do you change the set lists up?
I do change them up. A lot of times, we will make a set list, we'll talk about it before the show, and sometimes two or three songs into it we tear the set list up because somebody makes a request. We've got 40 No. 1 songs, and we cannot play them all. We've devised a couple of medleys. They're very inclusive. It plays a couple of minutes of one song and it backs up into a couple of minutes of another song.

Q: Do people ever request songs the band doesn't know?
There have been a couple of those. There was one I eventually got to playing, "The Future Is Not What It Used to Be." (When fans request an obscure song), they may not get the whole band, but I can play it at the piano.

Q: When you're having a record-breaking streak of chart success, do you realize it at the time?
It's kind of like Chet Atkins told me one time. I asked, "How in the world did you plan on all those dates out on the road and produce 30 artists and be the executive head of RCA here in Nashville?" He said, "Ronnie, I honestly didn't even think about it. I just did it."
Even if you just look at the schedule, it looks so overwhelming.

Q: This week is the 30th anniversary of Elvis' death. You recorded with him, didn't you?
I never, ever thought in my lifetime I would get to meet Elvis; he was just the voice in my radio speakers that was just magic. I wound up in Memphis (in 1969) and he wanted me to play on the sessions. He thanked me for hitting that high note on "Kentucky Rain." He wanted some thunder, so I used that left hand of the piano to create that thunder. He pretty much wanted what he wanted on the sessions, and we did it.

It was interesting to be around him because he was the voice of my generation. I got to find out what a sweet, very generous, down-to-earth guy that he really was. It was just like you and I talking right now. He died way too early.
There have been so many people like that that have come through your life. I was told it would be impossible for a blind guy to make it in the music business: "You'll wind up out on the street; you'll fail; you'll be a liability to the state."
When I was 20 I got into a concert and I got to meet Ray Charles in his dressing room. I said, "I love music but I'm on scholarship to study law." He said, "Well, play me something."
There was a piano in the dressing room. I said, "You're the high priest. You're my hero," I played him these three songs. He said, "Well, you can be a lawyer if you want to. But there's a lot of music in your heart. And if I were you I would follow what my heart tells me to do." From then I really started to find a way to make a living in the music business.

Q: You said your record company encouraged you to chase pop success. Which is more pop: country music then or now?
There are folks that have gone way beyond anything that I did. There are some country artists that are pushing the edge of the difference between country and pop music.
You can stay inside the country format today and sell multiplatinum. There was a time when you could not do that. I think every generation speaks for itself and they should. They should have the chance to speak for themselves.
I think there are a lot of good artists that are really setting the woods on fire.