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December 19, 2014

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The unconventional percussion of Kenny Wollesen; boxer becomes a ‘sox’ symbol

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Sam Morris

Musical director for “The Tempest” Kenny Wollesen on set at the Smith Center on Friday, April 4, 2014.

The Kats Report Bureau at this writing is the sports book at Arizona Charlie’s Decatur. There was a time when this was the only Arizona Charlie’s, until the hotel’s owner, American Casino & Entertainment Properties, snapped up what was known as Sunrise Suites on Boulder Highway and renamed the property Arizona Charlie’s Boulder. That happened 18 years ago.

The AC’s in which I am working opened in the early 1960s as Charleston Heights Bowling. In 1988, it was renovated as one of the original neighborhood casinos in Las Vegas and among the first I visited upon moving here in 1996.

I remember that day well, as I walked into the casino and heard a swanky, velvety version of “I Saw Her Standing There” wafting from the hotel’s Naughty Ladies Saloon. Singing with his three-piece band was a lean, bearded and nattily tuxedoed gent named Jerry Tiffe. We are friends today, and he is the genuine article, about whom I am writing a genuine article for Las Vegas Weekly. So look out for that.

Onward with some pickup work on the scene:

• The instruments being used in “The Tempest” at Smith Center’s Symphony Park are a mix of traditional music-making devices and such household items as coffee cans, hand cranks, shoes, wooden boxes, aged dress shoes and vacuum hoses. They are the creation of master drummer and production consultant Kenny Wollesen. A onetime member of Tom Waits’ band (and Waits’ music is featured in the production) who has worked with a wide scope of artists, Wollesen is to percussive instrumentation what Teller is to the art of magic. The reference to the great magician is for Teller’s role as co-director and visionary of the William Shakespeare play, which officially opens tonight and runs through April 27 (click here for ticket info).

Click to enlarge photo

Musical director for "The Tempest" Kenny Wollesen on set at the Smith Center on Friday, April 4, 2014.

A genius who seems constantly adrift in thought (to the point where he blithely locked his keys in his car at a Home Depot parking lot Friday morning when picking up supplies and boxes to carry away unused materials from the Smith Center), Wollesen has blended his own mental interpretation of sound by merging nonmusical pieces with archaic instruments. He uses a lion’s roar membranophone, a glass armonica, a clacks box, a vibraphone, a marimba and conventional drums.

The spread of instruments set high atop the tented stage at Symphony Park conjures memories of Fat Albert & the Cosby Kids’ junkyard band, where anything you could play was in play.

The process is not easily explained, even by the visionary.

“I have no idea what I am doing,” Wollesen says. But he does. Just give a listen.

• Can the Linq give a needed boost to the Las Vegas Monorail? Why not? I am one who rides the rail on occasion. I gave the city’s passenger train another whirl Friday night for the opening concert at the Linq’s outdoor venue, the free-to-the-public Academy of Country Music kick-off party hosted by 95.5-FM The Bull and headlined by Hunter Hayes with performances by David Nail, Cole Swindell and Sasha McVeigh. This was one of the lead-up performances for Sunday’s ACM Awards show at MGM Grand Garden Arena, airing at 8 p.m. (tape delayed in the Pacific Time Zone) on CBS.

Parking at the Linq is the one serious concern I have with the project, as several thousand people descend on the property for such shows as Friday’s ACM concert. But this strategy can work: Park and board at LVH, or even the Sahara station from the north end of the Strip and pay the $1 locals’ rate per ride (limited to two rides per passenger per day) and drop off at the Flamingo station. I didn’t clock the entire trip from when I parked at LVH to when I walked onto the Linq venue, but it was fewer than 30 minutes. It’s a lot of walking, but you will be walking at the pedestrian retail-entertainment enclave that is the Linq. That’s why it’s referred to as “pedestrian,” I believe. I have not tested this approach from the south end of the Strip, from MGM Grand, which is an entirely different set of challenges (parking at the gargantuan MGM Grand self-parking garage chief among them). But the point is not to rule out the Monorail. It’s an option, at least, for these events.

• This might be the most famous application of socks shtick since Penny Pibbets debuted her bawdy puppet show in “Absinthe.”

Timothy Bradley has told Yahoo boxing writer Kevin Iole that the reason his feet were giving him problems in his first bout with Manny Pacquiao at the MGM Grand in June 2012 was because he did not wear socks into the ring.

Well, darn it. The man in Pacquiao’s corner, the revered trainer Freddie Roach, sent a box full of socks to Bradley at his media workout at Fortune Gym in Los Angeles on Thursday. Attached was the following note:

Dear Tim:

Welcome to Los Angeles and Fortune Gym. I hope you have a very enjoyable Media Workout.

I have been reading your recent interviews with great interest, especially your explanation on how your feet were injured during your first fight with Manny Pacquiao. Is it really your feetal position that these injuries occurred because you did not wear socks?

Though many members of the media think this excuse sounds like a hose job, I for one do believe you. To me, you are boxing’s No. 1 sox symbol.

Please think of me not as your arch nemesis but as your sole supporter. I hope the enclosed gift helps with the heeling process.

Great stuff. Sock it to ‘em, Freddie.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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