WAYNE Kahn grew up around here with an ear glued to the radio. He listened to anything and everything on groundbreaking stations WGTB and WHFS and amassed a huge collection of vinyl during his teenage years. He became a college DJ at Michigan State and worked all the while in record stores. Perfect for a music junkie? Nope. Music became a commodity, not the precious food for Kahn's soul that it once had been. He got out about the time John Lennon was killed, wondering where it had all gone wrong.
But music kept reaching into his brain, never letting Kahn put it behind him, and when his first marriage ended in 1992, Kahn found solace again in music. "A friend said, `Come out to the Wharf with me to see Tom Principato,'" says Kahn, "so I went and saw Tom's band, with [keyboardist] Kevin McKendree in it and it floored me. The next night they were playing at Nick's and I went again. The next night, Tom was playing the grand opening of Tornado Alley, and I went and realized I'd been totally swallowed up by the music. That this was what it was all about. My marriage was gone, but the music was still there. I was amazed at the talent I was finding around here."
Kahn kept going out, gradually narrowing his musical choice to the blues. He got to know every player, every style, every club, every song. He was a man possessed. He couldn't get enough. Every night he would hear something unexpected and powerful, and would later wish he could replay that moment. "I hit five numbers in the Virginia lottery," Kahn says over the phone, his grin audible in his words. "I bought a DAT machine [a digital tape recorder], some mikes and a mike stand and started recording Big Joe & the Dynaflows down at Chief Ike's Mambo Room. It was really just to make tapes for myself and to give copies to the band to do with what they wanted."
Inevitably, while chasing down great spontaneous performances from local bluesmen like Robert Lighthouse, Jesse Yawn and Nap Turner, Kahn had the thought that other people should hear some of this amazing music he was capturing. In 1996, after listening to hours of tape, he created Right on Rhythm Records and released "The Blues You Would Just Hate to Lose, Vol. I," an excellent overview of Washington's blues scene.
Positive reviews convinced him to keep going. He released Robert Lighthouse's debut, two by Zydeco artist Roy Carrier, the debut from WPFW disc jockey Nap Turner, and this week, Kahn releases his second compilation, "The Blues You Would Just Hate to Lose, Vol. II." There could well be a volume three. "I have 300 hours of tape," he says. "I know there's more in there, and I'm always recording more. Where it goes next is just a matter of resources and priorities."
Kahn is a happier man these days, recently remarried and on a roll with his record label, and happy that he can play a part in pulling together Washington's blues scene. "The rest of the world needs to know about Washington's blues scene," he says.
If you don't know Washington's blues scene, head to the Birchmere Friday for a "Blues You Would Hate to Lose" CD release party, which will feature performances by the J Street Jumpers, the Nighthawks, Nap Turner, Bruce Ewan, Big Joe Maher, Cathy Ponton King, Robert Lighthouse and -- more than likely -- several more guests. Get more information about the show and the Right on Rhythm label at www.rightonrhythm.com.
A couple of weeks ago, from a little stage in the middle of Farragut Square, singer Debbie Kirkland poured her heart out to a lunchtime crowd of a few dozen people. When she got to the part where she needed some audience harmony participation, she was greeted with some awkwardly mumbled lines from the downtown suit crowd. The jazzy pop singer (or is it poppy jazz?) eyed her audience with a huge smile on her face and said, "Come on, I know you can do it!"
With steady exhortation, Kirkland worked the crowd up to the point where it almost sounded like a full choir was backing her up. The crowd was happily surprised at its own performance. Kirkland is clearly not a woman to be put off by the bumps along the road of life, like for instance, a sedate audience. "If they're not enthusiastic about me being up on stage, then I'm not doing my job," states Kirkland. This can-do woman could give classes in positive thinking. "Well, I do give seminars in stage presence," she admits. "I say to people that when you perform, if you're on that stage then you're allowing people to look dead into you. If you're uncomfortable with that, get out. I don't mind people getting a piece of me when I perform for them. I'm cool with that."
Kirkland has been cool with that for as long as she can remember. "My memory goes back to when I was 2, in diapers, singing Beatles songs. I'd be all over the house singing `She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah.' My whole family will tell you, I was singing that one forever." From putting on concerts for the other kids on her block, Kirkland went to the Duke Ellington School of the Arts to study dance, moved to Hawaii with the thought of becoming a marine biologist, moved to Los Angeles where she worked for Mayor Tom Bradley and finally realized that she should be doing what she loved most: singing.
To get herself adequately paying gigs (and cut out the middleman) she started her own booking agency here in Washington (Starfire Entertainment), and gradually developed a stable of nearly 60 acts, which she still books into all kinds of functions, from corporate events, to weddings and bar mitzvahs. Kirkland is also in the midst of a national tour to promote her new CD, "Debbie Kirkland in Session," which showcases her excellent voice on soft jazz, light funk and pop material. She created her own record label to release the CD, and after a well-received performance at this summer's Gavin Report convention (a big-deal radio gathering), Kirkland is looking to reap the benefits in the form of airplay around the country (WHUR has been spinning her disc pretty frequently).
The disc is wide ranging, from songs associated with Kirkland's greatest influence, Betty Carter, to material by rocker Todd Rungren. "I'll do any song that pulls at my ear and my heart," Kirkland says. Check out her heartfelt repertoire Sunday at 7:30 when Kirkland performs at the Carter Barron Amphitheater, before Pieces of a Dream and Chuck Mangione (202/426-0486).
To hear a free Sound Bite from Debbie Kirkland, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8128. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)
LATE-NIGHT METRO UPDATE
On Sept. 16, Metrorail's board of directors will consider a proposal to extend the rail system's weekend hours past midnight. A couple of weeks ago I asked for your thoughts on the matter. Here's a small sampling (all in favor...surprise), and if you haven't weighed in on this subject and would like to, please e-mail your thoughts to email@example.com. I'll pass all comments along to Metrorail before its board meeting.
"Please, please, please extend Metro's hours. This is the nation's capital and should have a Metro system worthy of a first-class city."
-- Debbie Gustowski
"Downtown DC is only getting better with all the renovation. Parking is still at a premium. Metro must keep up with the times and demands of its customers!" -- Randy Talley
"The city should welcome people, not send them home at a 16-year-old's curfew time."
-- Jennifer Shaloff
"Imagine what would happen if the New York subways just shut down at midnight on Friday nights! What we have is a subway system operated for the convenience of itself, not for its
riders." -- Mike McCaffrey
"It's about time that the culture of this city does not cease with the cycle of the sun. Metro can be the tunnel of life for this beautiful city's nightlife."
-- Kristopher Krajewski