Archive for March 2013

Sea Dream Yacht Club’s Werner Roy

March 21, 2013

Werner Roy

Today, anyone who has the desire to take a cruise can find something that suits their tastes and price range.  From mammoth “floating cities” with all the bells and whistles, medium-sized vessels in all price ranges and very small ships, usually costing a little more but including more in the cruise fare, there is something for everyone.  But for most of cruising history, an ocean voyage was the exclusive domain of the very wealthy.  Most evenings were formal.  As the cruise industry has evolved, there is an increasingly casual ambiance about the experience.  This has carried over to the interaction between passenger and crew members.  Particularly on the very small ships, friendships are made between passengers and crew that carry over year to year.

For the past few years, I have taken Sea Dream Yacht Club’s Sea Dream 2 out of St. Thomas in early December.  On my first voyage, I noticed a waiter, Werner Roy, who stood out from his peers.  He was considerably older, and unlike many of the other waiters, he was Caucasian.  Much of Sea Dream’s crew is Asian.  He struck me as very formal, and I, incorrectly, took this as a lack of warmth.  As time passed, our group sat in his station and we began to talk with Werner.  He turned out to be our favorite, and on our last cruise in December, 2012, we had the Maître’d reserve a front table with Werner for the entire cruise.  The more I learned about his extensive history at sea, the more I understood his demeanor was a reflection of his years aboard the premier luxury liners of their day.  He is doting, yet reserved and unobtrusive.  His bearing is formal and respectful. The more I drew him out, the more I wanted to hear his story.  He agreed to be interviewed for this piece, and seemed happy to do so.

Werner Roy comes from the Black Forest region of Germany, which is bordered by France to the West and Switzerland to the South.  He attended Hotel school in Switzerland, and upon graduation, went on to work at prestigious hotels in England, Switzerland and Paris.  But he was feeling the ocean beckoning him, and his first contract at sea was on a freighter.  He suggested trying a freighter cruise as a passenger would be a rewarding experience, and I’m looking into doing that.

Deciding that his hotel and hospitality experience would be better served on a passenger ship than a freighter, Werner landed a waiter position with the Royal Viking line. Royal Viking was the premier cruise line of that time, counting among its passengers Liz Taylor, Rock Hudson and Vincent Price among numerous other celebrities. Royal Viking operated from 1972 to 1994 when financial difficulties necessitated its sale to the Cunard line.  In 1998, Cunard was taken over by Carnival.  The Royal Viking Star holds a fond place in my heart for two reasons.  First, they had the gumption to throw the lovely and congenial Leona Helmsley off the ship after she had thoroughly annoyed both crew and fellow passengers.  You have to love that. I guess money can’t buy everything.  Secondly, I had the chance to sail on the Star after it had been sold to Norwegian Cruise lines.  I just wanted to see the ship.  We didn’t have much money, and took an inside cabin on the lowest deck, but the ship was gorgeous.  That stateroom was the largest I’ve had on any of my cruises.

While with Cunard, Werner served on both the Sea Goddess I and Sea Goddess II, 220 passenger ultra-luxury ships that were the epitome of upscale small ship cruising. Today, they are the Sea Dream 1 and 2. His Sea Goddess passengers included Princess Caroline of Monaco and Prince Albert. I had to practically pry the names from Werner.  Even now, all these years later, he places a high value on the guest’s privacy.  He is clearly not comfortable speaking about past passengers.  His discretion is most admirable.

While Werner was taking contract after contract at sea, he had a fiancé at home who had expected him to come home and take a land-based job. He kept saying this next contract would be the last, but finally his Lady had had enough.  He was sorry about it, but he’d found his calling at sea. He does not regret it. He has loved life at sea.

At 63 years young, Werner plans to retire in a couple years. He has a lady friend waiting for him in Germany, and claims to be looking forward to retiring. He is considering spending half of each year in Asia, and has a keen interest in gardening. When we were getting ready to disembark last December, Werner was preparing to fly home for Christmas to celebrate with friends and family. He was looking forward to all the traditional German foods served at Christmas, including the “weiswurst”, a veal and bacon sausage, and gluhwein, the spicy mulled red wine made with cloves, cinnamon, and sugar and served hot. Adding nutmeg and brandy is optional. After his two month vacation, he was looking forward to coming back aboard Sea Dream 2. He loves working with and teaching the younger waiters and introducing passengers to new foods.  You can see from how Werner is treated by his co-workers that he is both respected and loved.  He says he will have no trouble retiring, but I have to wonder.  He will miss the sea.  Retirement can be a major adjustment.

When next December rolls around, Werner and Sea Dream 2 will be in Asia rather than their usual Caribbean itinerary. This will be great for many of the crew, as they will be close to home and family. My Wife Susie and I will be sailing on another ship, and we will dearly miss both Werner and the whole Sea Dream 2 family.  It is my fervent hope to have a chance to sail with them again before Werner retires. I will miss his droll humor, the sparkle in his eye and his love of people. He has become my friend.

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My True Story – Aaron Neville

March 18, 2013

My True Story – Aaron Neville

Blue Note Records, January 2013

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My True Story, released in January of 2013, is Aaron Neville’s foray into the doo-wop songs of his youth.  Having tackled virtually every other musical venue, it is somewhat surprising that this recording was so long in coming.  As Mr. Neville said, these songs “rode with me, in my bones, through all these years.”  The recording is co-produced by Grammy-Award winning producer Don Was and Rolling Stone Keith Richards.  Mr. Neville and Mr. Richards had crossed paths many times over the years and become good friends.  Much of their conversations centered on the classic doo- wop songs of their youth.  When Mr. Neville called Mr. Richards and said he was ready to record these songs, Mr. Richards was on the next plane out.

The next phase was putting together a band, and they assembled a veritable who’s who of veteran session musicians. Mr. Richards shares guitar duties with George Leisz, (Joni Mitchell, Sheryl Crow, Lucinda Williams, Brian Wilson).  Benmont Tench, a founding and current member of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers handles the keyboards.  Mr. Tench has also done session work with Elvis Costello, the Indigo Girls, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt and many others. .  Acoustic bass player Tony Scherr has recorded with Norah Jones, Bill Friesell and John Scofield. Drummer George G. Receli’s resume includes James Brown, Willie Nelson, Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan.  Mr. Neville’s brothers from the Neville Brothers band lend a hand, with Charles on saxophone and Art on the organ. Mr. Neville and Mr. Richards wanted to put their own touch on the songs without losing the integrity and feel of the originals. Just by happenstance, Mr. Richards saw the Jive Five, the band that had recorded the title track in 1961, was appearing somewhere and Mr. Richards was able to reach Eugene Pitt, the co-writer of My True Story.  Mr. Pitt was able to round up Bobby Jay from Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, and Dickie Harmon of the Dell Vikings and the three of them lend an authenticity of the period to the backup vocals. 

The music of your adolescence is more than just songs.  This is the period of your first crushes, first rejections, first experiences with sex. The songs of your teenage years are the soundtrack of your coming of age, and hearing them evokes faces, places, smells and tastes that were brand new.  It is an exciting, scary and thoroughly unique period in your life. Both Mr. Neville and Mr. Richards had worried that these wonderful songs would be forgotten.  Thus, My True Story was born.  And you can hear the musicians really had fun.  Originally intended to be just a song of ballads, they had so much fun with the up-tempo numbers that there are quite a few included.  All involved agreed that this was the fastest, least stressful album recording they had ever worked on.  And the band came together from the outset. Mr. Richards had never played with Mr. Leisz before, but from the first session, their guitar interplay is remarkable.  Most songs required one take, so what you hear is essentially a “live” album done in a studio.

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Left to Right…Tony Scherr, Benmont Tench, Don Was, Keith Richards, Aaron Neville, Greg Leisz, George G. Recelli.
Photo by Sarah A. Friedman

The album kicks off with Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters 1953 recording of “Money Honey”, followed by the Jive Fives 1953 title track. I’ll post the songs later in this piece, but classics by the Ronettes, the Drifters, Little Anthony and the Imperials, Thurston Harris, and the Impressions with Curtis Mayfield are all represented here.  And it would seem inevitable that there will be a follow-up album, since My True Story has twelve tracks and they recorded more than twice that. I look forward to the next release.

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Keith Richard and Eugene Pitt of the Jive Five

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Aaron Neville, Keith Richards and Don Was

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The Songlist

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Keith Richards

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Aaron Neville, Don Was and Keith Richards

Mr. Neville’s voice is not universally loved. It is unique to the point of alienating some listeners. His lilting falsetto is startling, particularly if you see a picture of the hulking man it is coming from.  For the people who like his voice, like me, this album is a must own.  Likewise for anyone who grew up with these songs.  And for those who have never really cared for his voice, this kind of music may fit his unique sound better than any other musical style he has performed.  This record is worth a listen.  You might just find you love it.

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Postscript

Mr. Neville is more than ten years my senior and Mr. Richards is seven years older than I am.

One might wonder how I could be so intimate with all these songs.  I owe my early music education to my cousin, Blues Guitarist /singer Doug MacLeod. As an elementary school kid, I spent my afternoons at my Aunt’s home listening to Doug’s band, the Fliptones, practice. Though just a local dance band, the Fliptones had some kids who went on to very successful musical careers. Jimmy Ryan, lead guitarist, had a Billboard Top Ten hit with the Critters recording of John Sebastian’s “Younger Girl” in 1964.  My cousin Doug, seven years older than me, is a prominent and respected blues musician whose compositions have been recorded by Albert King., Papa John Creach and Albert Collins. See his discography at:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doug_MacLeod_%28musician%29#Discography

I owe my introduction to music to Doug.  He was the catalyst for my lifelong love of all kinds of music.

When my peers were buying toy soldiers, I was buying 45 rpm singles.