Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Bad News For Willie Wonka

Sometimes a news report crosses the wire you just can't ignore..

From BBC News

Daily sweets 'linked to violence'

Children who eat sweets and chocolate every day are more likely to be violent as adults, according to UK researchers.

The Cardiff University study involving 17,500 people is the first into effects of childhood diet on adult violence.

It found 10-year-olds who ate sweets daily were significantly more likely to have a violence conviction by age 34.....

The study was reported in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

There is, of course debate as to whether it is actually the candy is to blame or whether giving children sweets and chocolate regularly may stop them learning how to wait to obtain something they want.

Personally,until more research is completed,I'm going to me more wary when I'm around overweight felons with rotten teeth and bad skin!

Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin on!

The last 72 hours have been unkind to the Asia Pacific region.

Typhoon Ketsana roared across the Philippines before setting it's sights on Vietnam and Cambodia. Latest death tolls from the storm are Philippines 277,Cambodia 11 and Vietnam 86.

As the storm moves inland, Thai authorities upcountry and in the capital are braced for a major blow from tropical storm the storm.

Authorities in the northern and northeastern regions have been ordered to be to be on alert for possible flash floods. The Interior Ministry had allocated Bt50 million from its emergency budget to each province to help flood victims.

American Samoa was devastated by a magnitude 8+ earthquake and resultant Tsunami. I was in Pango Pango just about a year ago and to see the devastation coming out of there now is disturbing.

The latest and possibly most destructive event occurred last night when a 7.6 magnitude quake struck just off the coast of Padang, Indonesia. Initially, a tsunami alert was posted including potential "arrival times" for Phuket, Thailand but was cancelled about an hour later.

First reports out of the region indicate hundreds of buildings including schools and hospitals have been destroyed and the death toll was at 200 and rising.

This temblor was followed today by a 7.0 aftershock. Immediate reports of injuries and damage are still pending.

Indonesia has long been a victim of devastating seismic activity being located on the Pacific "Ring of Fire".

26 Dec 2004
: Asian tsunami kills 170,000 in Indonesia alone. According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), The 9.0 earthquake that generated the great Indian Ocean tsunami is estimated to have released the energy of 23,000 Hiroshima-type atomic bombs.

28 March 2005: About 1,300 killed after a magnitude 8.7 quake hits the coast of Sumatra

27 May 2006: Quake hits ancient city of Yogyakarta, killing 5,000

17 July 2006: A tsunami after a 7.7 magnitude quake in West Java province kills 550 people.

News stories involving tragedies half way around the world are not uncommon. Please consider helping those less fortunate by donating to reputable charities such as the Red Cross.

Also remember that disasters don't always happen in "far away places with strange sounding names". They can happen to you (just ask the citizens of Hurricane ravaged New Orleans and Galveston). Have a survival and evacuation plan.Be prepared.

To that end, I recommend following written by my brother Mike. Although much of his writing deals with H1N1 and Avian Flu, he also covers pandemic (and emergency) preparedness in general.

As in most things in life, your best defense is knowledge and preparedness.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Thailand Medical News

Two Medical Stories out of Thailand today...

First, from THE NATION

Prepare for new swine flu wave, ministry warns public

The Public Health Ministry Wednesday urged people to be vigilant in frequently washing their hands and wearing face masks when they are in public areas, in a bid to slow down the second wave of the type-A (H1N1) influenza virus expected to reemerge from next month until January.

The move comes after the ministry learned that people nationwide have been ignoring personal hygiene in flu prevention - such as eating well cooked food, not sharing spoons, frequently washing hands, and using face masks.

Full Story Here

And this from The Bangkok Post...

Vaccine cuts AIDS infection risk for first time

An experimental AIDS vaccine has for the first time cut the risk of infection, researchers said Thursday, hailing at a medical "breakthrough" in the quarter-century battle against the disease.

"This is a very important scientific advance and gives us hope that a globally effective vaccine may be possible in the future," Colonel Jerome Kim of the US military HIV research programme told a news conference in Bangkok.

"It is the first demonstration that a vaccine against HIV can protect against infection," he said via videolink....

"The vaccine has a 31.2 percent efficacy in reducing the risk of HIV infection."

Full Story Here

Monday, September 21, 2009

Back In The Saddle Again...

If you speak to most Cruise Ship Entertainers, 2009 has not been kind.

The Worldwide Recession, coupled with H1N1 Virus fears have left a lot of us either unemployed or at least under-employed through much of this year.

Fortunately, living in Thailand is a lot cheaper than living in the States and so the necessary "hunkering down" hasn't been too painful.

Whereas I'd have to work 24-28 weeks a year to "break even" in the USA, I can achieve the same thing here in only 6 to 8 weeks! In tough economic times, that fact has allowed me to sleep well (most) nights.

Today I awakened to find the first "light at the end of the tunnel" in my email box. I have been offered the World Cruise on the Pacific Princess sailing from Hong Kong to Singapore April 06 - 15, 2010.

OK, it's only 9 days...but its a very welcome start!!

Monday, September 14, 2009


Got an email yesterday from my good friend Randy Morris, who is currently in South Korea.

In many ways, I wouldn't be banjo player today if it weren't for Randy's support some 35 years ago. I wrote about him extensively back in 2007. At the time, I wrote...

I met Randy Morris at Disney World while he was playing ragtime piano at “Coke Corner” on Main Street.

Due to the popularity of the movie “The Sting”, Ragtime music had a bit of revival at the time. I had enjoyed recordings of people like Max Morath and Joanne Castle, but I had never seen it performed “up close”.

Randy’s stride piano stylings along with his corny jokes and personable nature had me hooked immediately. I waited around after each set and talked with him at length. He seemed to sense that I had a real interest in the music and remembered me every time I returned to the Theme Park.

After a few visits, while all my friends would be off on there 32nd ride on Space Mountain, I’d be contently sitting there watching Randy perform. Randy told me about a place he was performing at night in downtown Orlando Fl called “Rosie O’Grady’s”.

I went there and watched him perform not only Piano but Banjo as well with Bill Allred’s Band. If you’ve never been there, in it’s heyday (70’s & 80’s), “Rosie’s” was an unbelievable Dixieland Jazz club owned by entrepreneur Bob Snow. The band was the most high powered jazz band I’d ever heard.

I knew that I wanted to be on that stage playing this wonderful style of music. I had played a little guitar so I naturally gravitated toward stringed instruments. From the very beginning, Randy was supportive and accessible – he helped me find an out of print Harry Reser Banjo Lesson book and even gave me a few private lessons at his home.

We became friends and have remained so for over 35 years. Through his inspiration and his thoughtful guidance, I became a professional Banjo Cabaret Act and have enjoyed a career spanning 25 plus years.

There are so many worthwhile Randy Morris stories to share … and I promise to do so in future blogs.

Well, since I promised to write more about Randy, here goes...

Randy is now touring in a new two man show called PIANAFIDDLE along with the wonderful classically trained Violinist turned Fiddler Adam DeGraff.

Although I haven't had the pleasure of seeing the show, I have seen the videos on Youtube and they are spectacular.

Do yourself a favor, check out their website and performance schedule. If they are in your area, plan on quite an enjoyable evening of music.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Sunny Skylar ...Updated

In 2007 I wrote a blog about my encounter with Songwriter Sunny Skylar some twenty years earlier.

At the Time, I wrote..

In 1989, While working on board the Golden Odyssey in SE Asia I met Sunny Skylar.

You are stunned, I can tell... Since you probably DON'T know who Sunny Skylar is, a brief history is in order...

Sunny Skylar was a songwriter who penned the lyrics such hits as "Amor",(1943),"Besame Mucho" (1944), "Gotta Be This or That (1945), "It Must Be Jelly (Cause Jam Don't Shake Like That)"(1942),"Just a Little Bit South Of North Carolina" (1941) and many others.

Sunny, who then lived in Las Vegas decided to take his wife on the cruise due to a sudden cash windfall when he received substantial royalties for the use of "Besame Mucho" in the 1988 movie "Moon over Parador" with Richard Dryfuss and Raul Julia.

To show you how profitable song writing can be, Sunny told me that "Besame Mucho" paid for his first house ... and put his kids through college. Of course those are 1940's prices, but still!

Although Sunny wrote with many American composers, he found his niche by taking Latin American songs and writing English lyrics for them such as "Amor", "Be Mine Tonight (Noche De Ronda)" and of course "Besame Mucho".

Skylar, who looked to be well into his 70's had a wife easily 30 years younger. He was (maybe) 5 foot tall and she towered over him - especially when they danced with his head firmly planted in her rather ample chest! Clearly, here was a man who enjoyed life!

Sunny Skylar, a great songwriter and vocalist with an infectious laugh and a great love of life was also a wonderful storyteller. Each night he'd regale us with fascinating stories of the Big Band singers and Orchestra Leaders.

Sunny was born in Brooklyn NY in 1913 and to this date, I can find no reference to his passing so I assume he is still with us, hopefully still dancing with his wife somewhere.

Next time you listen to the Big Bands of the 1940's, take a moment to fondly remember one of it's most prolific songwriters - Sunny Skylar

Recently I received a very nice email from Sunny's son Paul Skylar. He had found my blog and wanted to let me know that he enjoyed my memories of his dad.

Paul went on tell tell me that Sunny passed away earlier this year at the age of 95. Not bad.

I wrote back and thanked Paul and told him that we can all be thankful that everytime we hear Besame Mucho or Amor, a little bit of Sunny remains with us.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Today's date has cultural significance in many countries, including Thailand

From the Bangkok Post...

Nation marks 09/09/09 for King
Published: 9/09/2009 at 10:50 AM T

he government joined Thais nationwide in paying respect to His Majesty the King, the ninth monarch of the Chakri Dynasty, at 9.09am on the auspicious date of the ninth day of the ninth month of 2009.

At Government House, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva lit a candle in front of the portrait of His Majesty and spoke in honour of him. He then led his cabinet, civil servants and high-ranking military officers in singing the royal anthem to mark the auspicious time and day.

"We want to draw attention to the charisma of His Majesty the King, both domestically and internationally.

"During his 63-year reign, His Majesty has helped solving the country's problems for the people," Mr Abhisit said.

Civil servants and general public sing royal anthem to honour His Majesty the King and to mark 09/09/09 on Wednesday.

The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration held a religious ceremony at City Hall to mark the special occasion. Government officials and general public took part in offering food to 109 monks during morning alms at 9.09am.

In central Bangkok, a large crowd gathered at Lumpini park, where national flags and yellow flags representing the monarchy were shown. They sang the royal anthem at the auspicious time.

Read complete article Here

Another Year in Paradise!

It's that time again. Time to renew my Thai Retirement Visa.This (Non-Immigrant) Visa allows me to stay year round in the Kingdom without having to leave the country for "border runs".

About the only restrictions placed on me is a quarterly (90 day) address verification at the Immigration Office and I am not allowed to work in Thailand.

If you read the Ex-Pat Message Boards, it always looks like a daunting task to the first time applicant.

I'm happy to report that nothing could be further from the truth.

The Retirement Visa requirements are pretty basic.

1.) You must be over 50 years of age

2.) You must have a minimum of 800,000 baht (24,000 USD) in a Thai approved Bank account (or a verified annual income equal to that amount).

3.) You must not be of undesirable character ( I don't mention the banjo...)

To apply you need a passport photo, a letter from the bank confirming your bank balance and you fill out a basic one page (front & back) form.

I started at 11:30 am at the bank, received the letter, filled out the requisite forms and turned them into Pattaya Immigration at 1pm. By 2 pm I was in possession of a shiny new Visa valid until Dec 2010.

I applied and received at the same time, a multiple re-entry stamp that allows me to come & go out of the Kingdom as many times as I like throughout the validity of the Visa.

So it's another wonderful year in paradise!!!!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

How I Spent My Summer Vacation...

Yes, I know - I haven't written anything lately.

Living on the beach in Thailand (well... not on the beach, things haven't gotten that bad...yet!) tends to make one very lazy. It's been a very slow summer ( meaning no work) and thus I really haven't had much to write about.

That's not to say I haven't been productive. I've now acquired Backing Tracks for both of my shows and spent a great deal of time getting used to working with them. Unlike working with a live band, with tracks there is no opportunity for variance - you have to follow the track.

Additionally, I've used the summer to learn 40-50 new songs. I must spend, on average 2-3 hours a day practicing and can honestly say I'm a better Banjoist now than anytime in my career - I just can't prove it!

In many ways the cruise entertainment industry has taken quite a hit this year. Between the uncertain world economy and the H1N1 virus, a lot of entertainers (myself included) have found themselves working less and less this year.

But Labor Day is over, time to get back to work.

Cruise ships will begin their seasonal repositioning in the next two months and "hopefully" that will bode well for work. We'll see....

Two passings to note: Singer/Impressionist Fred Travelena who I worked with on the World Cruise on the Island Princess many years ago departed us on June 28, 2009.

His television credits began in the 1970s, as a regular performer on The ABC Comedy Hour and the Dean Martin Roasts. I first saw him in Las Vegas in the late 1970's and thoroughly enjoyed his show.

Twenty years later we sailed together to Israel and throughout the Mediterranean. A very talented, generous performer who will be missed.

And, of course the legendary Ed McMahon who left us June 23, 2009 at age 86. I had the pleasure of working with him in New Orleans at the Convention Center in 2002 and later that night attending a party with him at the Blue Room of the Fairmont Hotel.

While we spoke only briefly and had a picture together, he was very gracious man who hearty laughter still echoes in my mind. Truly one of TV's pioneers.