A Sunday morning, sixteen years old, sitting in my family Volkswagen in front of the newsstand on West Fourth Street, reading another issue of Billboard cover to cover. And there, in black and white, was the ad announcing Hunky Dory's success, as well as the release of a new single "Starman."
I'd bought a remaindered copy of The Man Who Sold the World on Mercury some months before, on a tip from reading CREEM or Rock Scene undoubtedly. The production by Tony Visconti was fuzzy and wild, and the nascent performances of Mick Ronson and Woody Woodmansey were inspiring, especially on the riffy "Black Country Rock." So I was ready to love whatever Bowie brought next.
Hunky Dory was so much softer, so much more gentle that it was a bit off-putting until "Queen Bitch" came through the speakers. It was an homage to the Velvet Underground and was certainly a presage of what The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust was going to sound like.
But it was the songs, the infallible tunefulness, the lyrical state of wonder and vast field of subject matter that made Bowie rise above. Every album took the listener somewhere specific and left you there with a phrasebook and binoculars and little else; you had to look for yourself to see where he'd planted you, and it was up to you to fill with that wonder he described. We ate it up.
I often wondered how he could maintain his thirst for the new, especially as a touring musician whose bread and butter were 'the hits.' How do you get new songs across when your paying audience basically demands all of your greatest successes only? I can only imagine how frustrating that must have been for him.
David Bowie's death yesterday at 69 was preceded on Friday by the release of his final album, Blackstar. (It just does not seem right or real to call it his last, and I know full well that record labels far and wide will begin releasing rough mixes and isolated vocals that are in his catalog until they've squeezed every last dime from him.) It is a phenomenal album, and Bowie challenged his listeners to the very end.
Let's hit the ground running. I begin recording my single on Monday in the esteemed company of Mark Simonsen and James Wallace. Mark (left) is a member of The Old Ceremony, one of Durham's finest bands; he also plays with me in Baron Von Rumblebuss, Tray Batson's kiddie-rock ensemble. James (right) was the drummer for Max Indian, another phenomenal band from this locale, and he's played with almost every musician worth their salt since the band's breakup. Together, I think the three of us will come up with an eminently listenable slab of vinyl for you (and yes, there'll be a download card included). I look forward to working with these phenomenal cats immensely.
On Friday, I fly to Panama City FL to participate in the 30A Songwriters Festival for the first time. It excites me to no end that I'll be among such amazing, inspiring songwriters as Willis Alan Ramsey, Matraca Berg, Will Kimbrough, Kim Richey and Tommy Womack. Plus I get to hang with the brothers Bush (Kristian and Brandon) a little bit. Years ago I went to the Frank Brown International Songwriters Festival which is based around the Flora-Bama Bar, a trip unto itself. It was fun if daunting, to be around such a trove of great writers (and I missed the one show I really wanted to see--Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham). Maybe I'll try to make it there again this fall, but for now, 30A looks to be a wonderful treat on my way back into the fray.
From there, I come back, get the single pressed up and begin charting out weekend shows in the semi-close geographic range. I'll try to get further afield when the album comes out, but for now, I'm looking at East Coast/Southeast in the spring.
Damn, this is fun! NO expectations, NO clawing for attention, just a guy with songs and a small record trying to move forward inch by inch. We'll see how well that works.
So all throughout my blog blackout, Radio Free Song Club has been chugging along, putting out podcasts of wonderful songs by exceptional songwriters. #30 has just gone up today, for your edification and enjoyment. Be sure and pick around--pretty much every episode has had incredible songs to present.
We decided to bring bicycles to Lake
Arrowhead last week, anticipating much family riding (like at our Chincoteague
camping trips). We bought a brand-new fancy bike rack for the minivan which we
felt would be a worthy investment as there are more bicycles to tote now.
The day we left on the trip, I
extracted the new bike rack from its box and began the process of mounting it.
In small letters in the instructions I discovered that, in order to mount
children's and women's bikes on it, there was an (optional, unadvertised and,
you guessed it, unpurchased) crossbar needed. So it went back in the box, and
the old one went on.
I am convinced that the ultimate
anathema to anyone preparing for a family vacation is fitting bikes on a car
bike rack. After our week with the extended family, we had planned to leave
Lake Arrowhead for home at 7:30 a.m. so as to arrive in time for pizza/movie
night in the air conditioned comfort of our own home. Getting the bikes up on
the old bike rack took the better part of 45 minutes (two bikes, one women's,
one kids') so we ended up getting in too late for pizza or movie after the
drive from Pennsylvania--granted, I also failed to pack my computer bag which I
fortunately realized before we turned in the key for the gated lake development
in which we were staying, and that added more time as well. I fought with the
plastic locking straps, trying to get them around the bike frames; I struggled
with keeping the carrier's straps taut inside the hatch door frames. It was a
hard fight, Ma, but they stayed on for the whole trip with only a little
And just how much did we bike, you may
be asking? Apart from the 10-year-old going out on his for about 3 minutes, not
I took the leap and got my first Fender Precision Bass a few weeks ago. (This, from the guy who's not really doing music anymore, right? Yeah. You can see how THAT is going.) A whole world opened to me by doing this. After a couple years of bumping along on a pretty-but-ultimately-not-completely-convincing Squier Modified Jaguar bass, I saw a blue P-bass hanging in my local Guitar Center at an unbeatable price. They gave me next to nothing for the Jag, but it really was of minor consequence; I knew I needed to upgrade, so I did.
First, I found that I could actually 'walk' on the P-bass with almost no effort. Having tried to do that with the Jag, I had never been able to feel comfortable without using a heavy pick or my thumb (ala Brian Wilson). The spacing between the strings on the P was so much more natural, and I was capable of effortlessly using my fingertips and coming out with a consistent and rhythmic sound. Can popping be far behind? Well, maybe not--the flatwounds are likely going on soon.
Also, the tone was a LOT more controllable. The Jag had some sort of active control that I never quite mastered, so much time was spent monkeying around to try to keep it from overdriving my amp. To hell with that. The P-bass is very simple. Pickup. Volume knob. Tone knob. Ideal for my small brain to wrap around.
OK, it is a little heavier, and I will have to do something about getting a case for it (I'm using a gig bag for the moment) since I plan on keeping this one.
But I feel as though I have finally obtained the correct tool for the job with a Precision Bass. It's not like I would ordinarily sit around and play bass unamplified while I'm hanging out, as electric bass doesn't seem like that kind of instrument in my mind. But I have done that with the P-bass, and it's delightful.
As many of you all have known about me, despite all the instruments I play, I have always been a frustrated bass player. Now I've been running bass in Baron Von Rumblebuss for a couple years, and I'm at last using the exact bass I have apparently always needed. Hooray!
Sad to hear of Gerry Goffin's death this week at 75. He and Carole King wrote such great goodness.
Continental Drifters recorded "I Can't Make It Alone" on the debut album, featuring a career-high vocal performance from Susan Cowsill. At the end of my one live 'appearance' at Radio Free Song Club back in Ought-Eleven, we had a lot of fun with "Wasn't Born to Follow," my most favorite in their canon. I'm especially excited at the attention that the Carole King musical Beautiful is focusing on their work.
Sadder still am I to read the Rolling Stone obituary on Goffin online. Days have gone by, and no effort has been made by the author or the magazine to correct several errors that have been brought up in comments on the piece. It's disrespectful and lazy, and to my mind, makes Rolling Stone finally seem irrelevant. What was once a leading light has become a waning glow stick.