Thursday, February 28, 2008


I'm now the proud owner of an Epiphone Les Paul Junior.

Very exciting, and it's another one pickup guitar. I think I can do pretty much everything I'm trying to do with one pickup, like my little Squier Bullet. (Mine has a real Gibson humbucking pickup in it, courtesy of Mark Bryan. Mark's got a new album coming out shortly so please go to his site and give it a listen.)

The Epiphone, too, will have a real Gibson P-90, thanks to Bob Northcott, my Little Diesel bandmate and lifelong friend. Here's a link to Bob's current band in Atlanta, Loose Change.

I firmly believe that Epiphone has the right idea about Juniors still being affordable good quality guitars for a semi-reasonable price, which was what the Gibson Juniors were all about to begin with. I don't mean to disparage Gibson because I know the high level of quality of the work they do in all their guitars; I merely point out that the Epiphones can be had at half the price, give or take, and they're six strings, a single-coil pickup and a couple of knobs on a plank of wood. They do approximately the same thing as their more pricey counterparts and might make a doubtful parent wince slightly less when Junior asks for a Junior.

That said, I bought this one on eBay. I saw the picture, remembered the finish and had to have it. And now I do, and you'll see it this summer somewhere probably.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Microwave, R.I.P.

Among the characters I met during my R.E.M. tenure, Mark "Microwave" Mytrowitz stood out like a jewel. He worked as Peter Buck's guitar tech and had done so for Steve Morse of the Dixie Dregs before that. Microwave was a big ol' teddy bear of a guy, but he could inflate to seemingly twice his size when something or someone around him was being threatened. The quality of his work was nonpareil, and his dedication was strong and true.

Microwave was never anything less than sweet and kind to me, and I appreciated his friendship more than I ever got to tell him.

At one gig on the Green World Tour, the opening act was Micro and the Melons, with Microwave leading the crew band through "Get Up" and "Wild Thing". He was so pleased and proud.

I just read his obituary today. Micro died on February 15 at the age of 52. He will always be loved and missed by me and the people he worked with. Godspeed.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Last night's dinner, I arranged the spinach into little hearts. The first portion fell onto the plate in that shape, so I made the other ones look like that too.

What else says 'love' like cooked spinach?


All around our yard and in our neighborhood, the daffodils are coming up fast and furious, even though we're not even out of February yet. As beautiful as they are (and yellow is my favorite color), I have to wonder if they are seasonally challenged at the moment, thinking that they are in the bosom of springtime. For now, I will simply drink them in as they pop out around us.

That big crack in the side of the house? Oh, don't worry about that. I did for a couple years until Smart Wife (who knows about these sort of things) informed me that it wasn't a problem with the foundation of the house. Still somewhat unnerving from time to time, having seen all sorts of horror movies where the family gets sucked into the earth after the house cracks and the ground opens up.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Busy weekend

Sorry I've been remiss as a correspondent, but the passage of time has a way of prioritizing one's activities, especially with a busy weekend.

Thursday night, I performed several blocks from my home at the Broad Street Cafe. I've done kids' shows there and the family likes to come and drink coffee and let the four-year-old play on the Thomas table (usually with an oversized jet fighter, making real the issue of strafing the Island of Sodor). This evening, I played with Jason Herrod and a duo called the Water Callers. We held a strategy meeting before the show, and all the acts were unsure which slot they got. It occurred to me that both the other acts had called people and told them when they were going to be playing, so since I had done nothing of the sort, I took the last slot.

The Water Callers had a lovely vocal blend, somewhere between the Louvin Brothers and Seals & Crofts. They are highly recommended to hear, if you get the chance.

Jason Herrod won the bluegrass songwriting competition at Merlefest a few years ago. That said, his repertoire is full of beautiful songs that recognize the influences he lists on his myspace, rather than favor old-time country music. He has a straightforward voice with a keen falsetto that emphasizes the great craftsmanship of his lyrics.

By the time I got up to sing, the audience was down to Jason, the Water Callers and a few more stalwarts. I did a clutter of songs from throughout my storied career, and as always, did my cover of "On Obsession" by Peter Blegvad, truly a tiny miracle of a song. I think they liked what they heard, but we all got the hell out of there after I was all done.

Friday morning, after I got the four-year-old to school, I began the drive to Knoxville to perform that night at the Time Warp Tea Room. I've never been in the presence of so many old racing motorcycles in my life, and the place is decorated appropriately. I admired a couple of custom-painted toilet seats that adorned the wall. My friend Kim who booked me there told me the story that Dan, the tea room's owner and a racing bike aficionado, was a big fan of Britten motorcycles from New Zealand. (She described them as "really fast, if you could get them to run.") One of Dan's friends is a professional bike painter, does repair work on Jay Leno's machines among other things. He's the guy who painted the toilet seat, and when he presented it to Dan, he said "I figured this is as close as you were going to get to riding one."

I actually took a nap in my car before the show in the parking lot that the Time Warp shares with a gay bar next door.

My old pal Todd Steed offered to open the show, which he did with his Suns of Phere bandmate Ed Richardson slapping time on a cardboard box ala Buddy Holly. Todd's a guy I've known since about 1981 when I cruised through Knoxville as an REM adjunct. His old band, Smokin' Dave and the Premo Dopes, made really good music and Todd's continued that work; I see him as the Lou Reed of Knoxville, a storyteller, a news anchor, a commentator. It was great to see and hear Todd and Ed, and I hope Todd's cold clears up soon.

I played a bunch of songs and decided this was the most apropos place to do my cover of Richard Thompson's 1952 Vincent Black Lightning. Dan said even though he knew the song (possibly from the Del McCoury bluegrass hit rendition), this was the first time he'd understood the words. Glad I could clear things up.

I played probably an hour and a half, short by my Circle Bar/Carrollton Station show standards which Todd had experienced ("Four hours! And no pee break!") Again, due to my own lack of self-promotion, there weren't a lot of people there, but the ones who did come enjoyed the songs.

That night, I slept on a couch at Kim's house, frequently brushing her ancient doddering cat Dot from my feet. I tried to wake up at five to get going, but the body rejected the idea and insisted I sleep until seven.

Got back to Durham after a brief stop-off in Winston-Salem to check on my mom. We had a cup of coffee and she told me about the golf she was watching for the weekend. Then it was time to roll along.

Saturday night, I packed my Danelectro bass (the unfortunately named 'Danoblaster' Rumour) and my Phase 90 and some cords and headed to Local 506 for a set at the International Pop Overthrow. I was part of Absolutely the Maybes, featuring my dB's pal Chris Stamey, Matt McMichael from the Mayflies USA and drummer Chuck Garrison. As I will tell anyone who stands still long enough to listen, I am a frustrated bass player. Of all the instruments I can play, and there are quite a few, what I REALLY want to play is bass. So when Chris called me about holding down the bottom in this band, I jumped at the chance (not to mention the fact that I don't have to sing or even play my own songs!)

We played great on Saturday night, I thought. Of course, I was just the guy thumping along on one string at a time, so what do I know? We did a bunch of Chris' songs from his solo albums, and we did a bunch of Matt's songs, both from the Mayflies and of a newer vintage. Chuck was nervous before the show, but watching part of the first half of the Memphis/UT game on the bar tv and talking a little Tarheel basketball may have eased his mind from any worry he might've had, because he, too, played really well. Mark Simonsen from the Old Ceremony joined us on organ for a ripping rendition of the Beatles' "It's All Too Much" and Chris Bell's "I Am the Cosmos". The powerpop crowd (mainly middle-aged guys and hot college girls) seemed to enjoy us immensely, and people who came up to me before and after the show were really sweet and humble and appreciative of what The dB's had meant to them in their lives. I don't think I could ever get tired of hearing that, especially thirty years down the road. I'm grateful that, even though we didn't sell a billion gazillion copies of our records, the ones we did sell got listened to and loved.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Today is my fifty-second birthday. Technically, I'm not worth as much as a Corvette the same vintage as me, but it hardly matters.

I awoke to find the four-year-old nestled into the bed with his mother and me, thrashing and kicking like a butterfly trying to escape a chrysalis. The six-month-old was making her snorting noises in the co-sleeper. I'm not sure how my wife sleeps through this mayhem, but I hear her softly snoring in the background. I look across them and think that life could be a lot worse.

It's going to be a sunny day here in North Carolina. After I drop the four-year-old off at school, I'll fill up Smart Wife's diesel Rabbit, then head to Winston-Salem to share a couple cupcakes with my mom. A nice day for driving, although I'm going to have plenty of time behind the wheel this weekend as I head to a solo gig in Knoxville on Friday. That trek will be also occupied with listening to songs I'll be playing on bass at a gig on Saturday.

Halfway through the first pot of coffee, and it's cereal time. The first big decision of the day. I'm up to it. I'm middle-aged achy, stuffed up, cloaked in a bathrobe and slippers, shuffling around the house. Frosted mini-wheats never tasted so sweet.

I'm now older than many of my heroes in music when they died. I hope I outlive 'em all.

The second year into the Second Fifty Years is filled with hope and confidence and, presumably, more coffee.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Grease Band

One of my favorite all-time albums is the debut from the Grease Band on Shelter Records. Most people know the Grease Band as Joe Cocker's backing band at Woodstock, but they made their own albums which were rich and laden with great songs and fun performances.

I've rescued countless copies of the Grease Band's debut album from bargain bins across America and in Europe for many years. The dripping grease on the wallpaper on the back cover and the lovely rendering of hanged bodies on the inner sleeve are wonderful and dark.

Imagine my thrill to find the first two albums on iTunes recently. My cd of the first album bit the dust in Katrina, and I've not been doing a lot toward replacing physical cd's these days, what with the Holsapple economy being what it is. But $9.99 for two timeless records seemed like a worthy investment.

Principal members of the Grease Band were Henry McCullough, Alan Spenner, Neil Hubbard and Bruce Rowland, each with a pedigree the length of your arm. Henry was in Sweeney's Men, one of the first folk-rock groups in the British Isles. After his stint with Cocker, he played with Paul McCartney's Wings, contributing the fine solo on "My Love" among his many highlights there (I'm a sucker for "Give Ireland Back to the Irish" myself). Henry also wrote Nick Lowe's classic "Failed Christian". Spenner, who died in 1991, was a founder of British soul band Kokomo and played bass (like almost everyone apparently) with Roxy Music (Flesh and Blood). Hubbard, also in Kokomo, was another Roxy vet, as well as having been a member of the infamous Juicy Lucy. Bruce Rowland took over on drums with Fairport Convention after Dave Mattacks left. Lots of other semi-famous British musicians like Chris Stainton, the late Tommy Eyre and Kenny Slade passed through the ranks of the Grease Band as well.

There's a slop element to the playing on these albums that's undeniably attractive to me. Henry's guitar licks, assuming he's responsible for most of the leads, are weird, keening sallies into country and rock territory. I've never heard anyone else venture that far afield and keep pace with the songs. The arrangements are fun and loose. I recall somewhere reading a quote from reggae star Johnny Nash who claimed the only white band he could think of that played reggae correctly was the Grease Band. Interesting, since you'd be hard-pressed to find anything on these albums that qualifies as sounding like reggae. Maybe Johnny knew something we didn't.

Once upon a time, I was playing the piano in my family home along with the Grease Band's take on the old gospel number "Where Could I Go But to the Lord". The woman who worked as a maid for my family was also an evangelist preacher, and she was amazed to hear me playing a song she knew well from church. Once again, music is the tie that binds.

I'm not clear as to the ramifications of posting mp3's on this blog, so I think I'll just try and direct you, the listener, to a site where you can buy the albums for yourself. And I'll try to only recommend the stuff that completely blows me away, so that you can save your money for when Chinese Democracy finally hits the bins.

The music of the Grease Band has kept me company since I first heard "Laugh at the Judge" (sometimes entitled "Laughed at the Judge") one of those fine one-or-maybe-two-chord-tops songs that just wraps itself around you like a boa constrictor and squeezes your soul. I'm sure I'll still be finding copies of the albums at yard sales as long as there are albums at yard sales.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Hearing the Beatles in everything

My mom watched the Grammy Awards the other night. I'm trying to picture her sitting through Kanye West and Amy Winehouse, but even my imagination has its limits. What she was actually waiting for was the Beatles segment, part of the Cirque Du Soleil's Love production, to hear some Beatles songs that she knew and loved.

After my big brother had clued me in to their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, the Beatles were a big touchstone in our family, Dad excepted, who I don't think ever learned all four of their names. We would ride around in our Falcon convertible after school with the radio tuned to WTOB-1380, hoping for a new song or even an old one that we could sing along with. I bought Mom Sgt. Pepper's (insert included) for Christmas the year it came out, although I think I played it more than she did. She got me the White Album (numbered, poster, photos) another Christmas, and I know I played it more than she did. (Mom was into Dusty in Memphis and the soundtrack to Breakfast at Tiffany's, and she loved "Ode to Billie Joe".) Curtis was off at college, then in New York. Dad ignored the music--after all, he was the one who'd bought a 1960 Ford Falcon wagon that had the plate over where the radio should have been. But Mom and I loved the Beatles, and I think we still do.

So when the acrobats and the performers and the singers all came out, and the Volkswagen came flying apart, I think that it left Mom feeling unsatisfied. As much as I can understand all the hoopla about Love, I think that Mom, as a radio listener from another time, really didn't get what it had to do with the Beatles she knew and loved. I tried to explain Sir George and Giles Martin's involvement with the project, and I told her that the band and their estates had given their blessing to it, but it didn't seem to make a whit of difference to Mom. It wasn't her Beatles, even with Ringo nearby.

I guess I understand her polarization from what she knows and loves, but I also suppose I take that to the other extreme. I hear the Beatles in everything. A lot of it is simple song form that's been around since well before Palestrina, and there are thousands of great proponents who precede Lennon and McCartney. But for my generation (and my mother, apparently), their canon is understandably choked with the song form which caught our collective ear and configured our harmonic needs best when we needed it most. Their melodies and chords are the ones which informed our judgment of quality, be it Beach Boys, Beau Brummels or Left Banke contemporaneously and Big Star and beyond since then. It's why there's the Beatles, and then there's power pop as a separate entity.

But what about other stuff? It's why ABBA sounded great to us, and why the Bulgarian choir albums did too. And Mozart and Cage and the Velvet Underground. It made us susceptible to Buck Owens, Little Richard, Arthur Alexander, Carl Perkins and Meredith Willson. It taught us the value of chords passing exquisitely from one to another, a singable melody and just enough harmony (two notes do nicely, thank you), drums played on the beat with a sense of simple invention. It's a spinal column of internal musical directives we get from these guys, and for us, at least, they are timeless. (There may be some Sinatra and Elvis fans out there still who'll try to argue against it, but I think the votes have all been counted and the Beatles won.)

Hell, the other day I was driving to Winston-Salem and a cover version of the Shaggs' classic "My Pal Foot Foot" came on the radio (not the version by Deerhoof). After regaining control of the wheel, I started listening how lovingly recreated the paleorhythmic original it was. But even the crazed "Foot Foot" is likely written as Beatles-influenced pop rock. I've had a few girlfriends tell me I was nuts to listen to/endure/seem to enjoy Philosophy of the World, and I could clear a store at closing time with it, but I hear it as another stitch in the Beatle fabric, slightly pulled but attached.

I found that my eldest daughter loved her copy of 1, the Beatles hits compilation from several years ago. There, distilled for a new generation, were all the high points in a row from beginning to end. I've sung "Yellow Submarine" to all my kids and to the ones who used to come to my story time at Borders' in Metairie for all those years. The band's songs speak to so many different people in different ways, but they all seem to get through to someone. And it's why our ears perk up when we hear the songs in Target ads on television (right before we wince and shudder).

The Anthology albums' new Beatle constructions ("Real Love" and "Free As a Bird") were a little jarring. They sounded a lot like the Beatles, and the Beatles were all over the tracks; but so was Jeff Lynne, a tremendously talented musician/producer, who left his sonic footprint deep in the heart of the songs. It might have been different if it had been George Martin or Geoff Emerick at the helm, but maybe not. It was too reminiscent of the Natalie/Nat King Cole and Hank Jr./Hank Sr. duets that were plain old weird and served no purpose, save rampant commercial desires on the parts of the record companies.

Love itself is sort of difficult as well, with the mash-ups of your favorite Beatle songs. There is an obvious quality to the assemblages, but there's also a "because-we-can" aspect to it that's aggravating. We are so accustomed to where bridges and choruses fall in the originals that, when this sacrosanct layout is violated, we feel deceived and confused. And in much the same way that almost any cover of a song of theirs is bound to pale in comparison to the original, the new changes in old Beatle songs reformatted for Love do not add to the enjoyment for this listener. Just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

And, I would also guess, that may be some of what Mom doesn't love about Love.


On the same subject...

I received an email forwarded from Brian Kehew, the co-author of the authoritative Recording the Beatles. It was to inform the recipients of a grass-roots petition to Apple Records/EMI and the Beatles to recognize the contributions of the engineering staff that recorded all the Beatle albums and who have never received any gold or platinum record awards. To quote from Brian's email,

"In today's world - the manager, hair dresser, rehearsal space and video director all get gold records for 'the album'. (And of course, the engineers.) In those days, it was not the case, nor did people receive or expect 'points' ... However, such awards CAN be given later with permission of the artist and the label."

Only two awards have ever been given to Beatle engineers: one to Geoff Emerick for Sgt. Pepper and one to Glyn Johns for Let It Be. People like Alan Parsons and Norman "Hurricane" Smith (presently facing serious health issues) have gone unrecognized, and it's time to correct this.

Please copy this email address and send a note. If you're a musician, producer or engineer with credits of your own, please list them. Hopefully this can rectify a situation long in need of correction. Thank you.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Model cars

This is a picture of where I used to make my car model kits in the basement of the house on Knollwood Street. It's an amazing fraud of a picture for a number of reasons:

1.) it looks clean and orderly
2.) there are several completed car models on display on the shelf
3.) there's no big box of parts visible beside these shelves

(Also, the two trophies I won in competitions are nowhere to be found, but it could be that the picture was taken before that.)

Ever since I was old enough to apply glue to plastic, I was a model car kit guy. Mainly AMT because Revell and Monogram kits had far too many little parts to lose. I rarely read the directions, which is probably gender-related. I filed the little extra nibs of plastic off after I took the part off the 'tree' it came attached to. I usually painted the cars with Testors' PLA, sometimes in groovy metalflake finishes. I tried to learn how to 'wire' engines, using thread to give the look of cables running from the magneto to the headers, but it was a little hit-or-miss. I applied the decals to the doors and trunk lid. I admired my work briefly.

Then I would deconstruct the car.

Tires, wheels, axles, engines would all go in the box beside my work space, atop the family's retired ping-pong table (I honestly do not recall ever playing ping-pong in my house). When Toy Story came out, I could relate to some of Sid's mutant creations as I'd done similar things to my cars. Parts didn't have to match up: with an X-ACTO blade and some glue (and maybe a little elbow grease), I could make Chevy engines fit into Ford compartments. Give me a hand drill and I'll make the tiny shift lever pop through the console of an otherwise undisturbed interior. Mom gave me bits of fabric sometimes, and I'd try to glue upholstery onto the seats and floors, with varying results. Despite the photographic evidence to the contrary, the table was inevitably a big mess of parts and paint and glue.

Nothing ever stayed assembled or reassembled for very long. My big parts box turned into two big parts boxes. God only knows how much money my parents and I spent on kits, which used to be $2.49 each.

I said earlier that I'd won trophies for contests I'd entered. One was for First Place at a competition at Roses' at Thruway Shopping Center. The model car was a blue metalflake VW bus, wired engine, doors removed, kinda awesome in a dune-buggy sort of way.

That car stayed assembled until my mother knocked it off its shelf while dusting. It flew into pieces, and somehow I never had much urge to make another model car again.

I can't blame it all on Mom, though, since the Beatles had begun occupying most of the front half of my brain by then.

Friday, February 8, 2008


There once was a mid-level Rock Musician who had suffered all kinds of indignities and humiliations at the hands of the Music Industry. He had achieved what anyone unfamiliar with the business would assume was a plausible strata of success, although the Rock Musician saw it as eking out a living.

The Rock Musician had been party to one successful song of his own (partial) composition, the remuneration for which was copious at the beginning and marginal presently. It was a song you could hear while shopping for plywood at a big box hardware store, which he did once. He told the cashier that that was his song playing and that was why he could afford to buy all the supplies and lumber he had on his cart. The cashier was interested until his credit card purchase didn't get approved, then she and the manager were more interested in following that up.

He complained to anyone who'd slow down long enough to listen, and his tiresome tune began to take on an unpleasant modulation upward. When he would pick up the guitar, he couldn't get anything out of it but other people's songs. He couldn't think lyrically, just random staccato bursts of anger and resentment.

So when he decided he'd had enough fighting the good fight, that the inspiration was gone and the business was rotten (and knowing full well of his stipend), no one was particularly surprised.

His friends gave him wide berth to decide how he was going to inflict himself on them, now that he wasn't a bad-ass in a rock band anymore. It was a couple of peaceful weeks before anyone heard from him.

The Rock Musician had purchased a late model carrier truck from a friend of his father's who turned around a lot of fleet vehicles in the area. It was a high mileage Chevy with a 19 foot rollback . It was light green, and he'd had "Rock and Roll Wrecker Service" professionally painted on the doors. There was a CB radio and a cassette deck in the dash. The a/c blew cold in the hot summer afternoon, and the Rock Musician showed up sweating profusely after his first job.

He seemed tired from having been useful longer than he was accustomed to. The man whose damaged Mercedes he had just borne to the garage was alternately grateful and sobbing. The Rock Musician had dragged the hulk onto the rollback, screeching and scraping all the way up. Rain began to fall, just as the car was loaded and the owner and the Rock Musician got soaked; after he unloaded the Mercedes, he drove to his neighborhood local bar, where his friends admired his new vehicle and career.

Work went on steadily for him for a month. Lots of people need their cars towed, he determined. The lady and her four kids, stuck on the side of the interstate. The drunk woman whose husband had already been hauled off in a cruiser after their car went into a park lagoon at midnight. The teenage boy with his parents' crumpled Buick. Every day brought new and different people into the Rock Musician's life, people he might have sneered at from his van window once. He found himself listening more and talking less, even to his bar buddies. Friends noticed a new hush to his tone of voice. He talked of his day's work mostly. It was fairly mind-boggling for many, and some even began to think he had become somewhat less interesting.

One day, the Rock Musician answered a call to a bloody four-car pileup right past an outlying interstate exit he'd taken since he started driving. His vehicle was the first tow on the scene, and the paramedics hadn't even gotten all the victims from their wrecks, some aflame. He waited until the ambulances had wailed into the distance with the dead and dying, and he waited out the police investigators. He attached a late-model import sedan, with deflated and bloodied airbags draped over the broken windsheid, doors bifolded and scorched and the omnipresent scent of burnt fabric and flesh.

The drive to the garage was the longest, slowest trip he'd ever taken. It was all he could do to complete the paperwork.

When he left his local, loosened slightly but still aching, the Rock Musician drove home and pulled out his acoustic guitar, a pen and some paper. In about thirty minutes, he had written a song, words and music nearly complete as it tumbled out. It wasn't about the crash or the dead people, but the accident dislodged something in him, and he felt a familiar old compulsion and clarity to finish it.

He played it for himself again and again that night.

The next morning, the Rock Musician placed an online ad for the car carrier, cancelled his business phone line and booked two days of recording time at a friend's studio.

He was his old insufferable self again in no time.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The $100 Guitar Wall, third in a series

This is the four year old's funky little Tiger Electronics Power Tour guitar and amp which he got for Christmas.

It has a Gibson headstock and it looks like a miniature SG. But there are no strings, only touch pads. There are knobs that control various things like tone (Punk, Metal, Rock and, amazingly Indie) and Jam, Band, Learn and Speaker. "Learn" is interesting as the young would-be rocker has to follow the lights on the "fretboard" as they flash in time to "Smoke on the Water" or the song's count-off will start again, followed by a hearty chorus of boo's rising out of the amp. The whole thing is touch-sensitive, and there's some wicked divebomb sounds accessible, too. High impact plastic, as is the tee-tiny amp with color organ speakers (four three-inch woofers, imagine the bass response). Both, of course, go to eleven.

The functionality of this kit is not terribly versatile, but the whole outfit was about $45, thanks to Smart Wife's intrepid shopping talents (the real retail is closer to one hundred bucks). I'd say we've gotten that much out of it already. The four year old still probably favors the acoustic guitar, although he gives out some great 'guitar face' when he plays this one.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The $100 Guitar Wall, second in a series

This is a Yamaha FG-Junior (as an olde Gibfon fan, I love faying that) which belongs to my four-year-old.

We keep it in an open G tuning so that random bashing at least begins with a musical surface. The action is low and the scale is small. It is a surprisingly fun guitar to play.

I carry a travel guitar with the Hooties, an Olympia that had my Telecaster neck pickup installed by master luthier and Hootie consort, William Chapman of Columbia, SC. It's handy, especially for demo recording, and it plays fine since techs have monkeyed with it since I brought it on board.

The Yamaha has played smoothly since I found it in the window of a pawn shop near where my mom lives. Once again, I had to come back to get it, but was able to convice Smart Wife fairly easily that this guitar, at $45, was a really good buy.

It has been. The four year old pulls it out regularly. "We haven't jammed in a long, long time, Daddy." So we jam. They start as two-guitar jams, but he usually wants someone to switch instruments. So accordions and drums and slide whistles get added and dropped at whim, and we eventually start marching around the house.

And then, when he's all done, he knows to hang the guitar back up on the wall hook. Even though it has a big jagged crack running through its back, from an earlier, pre-hooked time, the four-year-old digs his time with this guitar and seems like a natural with it.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Giants 17, Patriots 14

What a game.

Yeah, I know. That's not what you might expect from Mr. Artiste here, having determined years ago that I do not have the sports chromosome in my genetic code.

But the years on the Hootie bus have given me more inadvertent sports understanding than I ever thought possible; much of it seeps through while I'm just happen to be in the lounge when a game is on. Everyone in that band, and much of their crew, really knows their shit about football (and most other sports as well). They know so much that, when I ask what I sheepishly feel is a dumb question, they patiently sit down with me and explain the answer clearly, so that I can get it, even with my limited knowledge.

And the NFL on a television serves as a nice legal narcotic for me. Smart Wife has come in on me, transfixed before a football game on a Sunday afternoon, and after her initial shock, she notices that I don't appear to hear her talking to me.

The television was otherwise in use tonight, watching I-don't-want-to-say-what except that it involved Herculean weight loss and had back-to-back episodes.

So I did the next best thing in the Digital Age, and I may have found my favorite medium for maximum football enjoyment.

I went to The Fifth Down, the New York Times' sports blog and read John Woods' entries. It's a little like waiting for semaphore signals on the opposite hill, but I just kept refreshing my browser and the last two minutes of the Super Bowl were happening there, on the laptop, in writing. That's the sum total of the game that I experienced, but I'd do it again.

The idea of reading a whole game as it happens is so appealing to me. Obviously, because it's the New York Times, it's absolutely grammatically perfect. The enthusiasm is palpable. The babble that goes on in the booth is not happening in print; it's all tightly edited as it goes down.

And, best of all, I can read it. I love to read. There are few things I prefer doing with my eyes, save closing them and going to sleep. My marginal enjoyment of the sport is augmented by this new, contemporaneous method of 'watching'.

Too bad I have to wait for football season to start again.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

A night at the Bluebird Cafe

Last night, I participated in my first 'writers in the round' at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, TN.

I knew the reputation of the Bluebird, and I'd seen the movie The Thing Called Love a long time ago, but I guess I wasn't prepared to find the place in the midst of a small shopping center.

The first show let out, and my friend Annie Clements and I went inside and out of the cold. Annie is bassist and background vocalist for the band Sugarland, but I've known her for years. She used to babysit my eldest daughter back in New Orleans where Annie grew up the daughter of one of the city's finest guitarists, Cranston Clements. Then, after she'd shown considerable aptitude on the instrument, I had her play bass with me at my record release party for Out Of My Way at Tipitina's. (Carlo Nuccio, who was the drummer that night, asked me "Why, in this city full of great musicians, is the best bass player going a FIFTEEN YEAR OLD GIRL??!!") Since then, Annie graduated from Berklee College of Music and had played with Theresa Andersson and the Sons of William before landing the great gig she has now. Annie offered to host me, picking me up from the airport as well; I'm so proud of my young friend and her continued and growing success, and it was a great pleasure to get to hang with her again and catch up on her family and mine.

We were informed that "Darius' guitar had just arrived" as we walked in. Minutes later, my bandmate Darius Rucker walked in, accompanied by former Hootie guitar tech Mike Costanzo who is now pursuing a career in recording engineering in Nashville.

Then Tim Krekel came in, and we greeted each other warmly after not having seen each other for probably twenty-some-odd years. Tim is a phenomenal writer, a soul man from Kentucky who had a band in the Eighties called the Sluggers. He also wrote "I Can't Help Myself" which Jason and the Scorchers recorded.

I was thrilled when Bill Lloyd had told me Tim was going to be a part of the proceedings tonight. I met Bill at an R.E.M. show when he gave me a demo tape of his band Sgt. Arms. Later on, he joined forces with Radney Foster as Foster and Lloyd for a three album run at RCA, making a splendid hybrid of modern country and NRBQ-flavored roots rock. Bill has co-written with everyone worth their salt in Nashville. They even had the impeccable taste to cover "White Train" (which Bill and I sang at this outing). Bill's now the Stringed Instrument Curator at the Country Music Hall of Fame; I twitted him about having to change the strings on one of Bill Monroe's old mandolins, but I'm thrilled for him to have such a cool job. He also got to play guitar with Cheap Trick when they performed Sgt. Pepper with a 50-piece orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl recently. Bill is a renaissance man and he's our host for the night.

Bill said "Well, she's not here yet, but Marshall will just slip on in here right before the show." Marshall Chapman is another fantastic rootsy writer. I used to sell her Epic albums when I worked at a Gramercy Park record store in the late 1970's. And her songs, covered by everyone from Jimmy Buffett to Joe Cocker, are direct and extraordinary, chronicling her life and the people around her. She and Tim worked together in Buffett's band, and they've written a bunch of cool songs together.

Sure enough, six-foot-one and dressed in a black sweatshirt and tan Uggs, Marshall sat down next to me, got out her blue guitar and the evening began. She plays with a thumb pick, at least, in a percussive style that reminds me of Pat McLaughlin's. Eventually, the Uggs came off, and at one point, she ate a sandwich and drank a jar of milk she brought from home.

Obviously, these affairs are an informal sort of event. Everyone was encouraged to play and sing on each other's songs, whether we knew them or not. I was serving the dual purpose of performing my own songs and also accompanying Darius on his stuff, some from his forthcoming country album. I even get to wail some high harmonies with Darius' lovely baritone.

Some songs I knew, like Bill's "Niagra Falls" from Set to Pop, his second solo album. Marshall and I joined in on the chorus which references the Three Stooges routine, which was not lost on the audience.

Some I didn't, like Tim's "Wilson Pickett". Tim lives near a cemetery in Louisville, and one day while he was out strolling around the grounds as he often does, a line of black limos and a hearse pull up. Little Richard gets out of one of them, and Tim realizes that they were burying Wilson Pickett practically in his back yard, obvious fodder for a great song.

Bill played bass (Fender Precision with flatwound strings!) for much of the evening, including "Lonely Is (As Lonely Does)". It would be an understatement to say that Bill Lloyd has been a huge champion of my songs over the years; he's been begging me to come to Nashville for just such an occasion as last night, and I am so glad I finally got there.

Marshall is given to introducing her songs with engaging stories, like her new "I-16 Blues" which celebrates the desolate stretch of road between Macon and Savannah, Georgia. Musically inspired by "I'm Stickin' With You" by the Velvet Underground, her travelogue got good laughs from the audience. She played the beautiful "Call the Lamas!" which I stupidly asked if it was a real story. ("Of course" she replied dryly. "I haven't got a lot of imagination.") Upon reading her book, Goodbye, Little Rock and Roller, I discovered it's a tribute to her late brother. Oops.

Darius' new songs got a great response. That bodes well for the reception of his country album, I think. He also did "Let Her Cry" and "Hold My Hand" which everyone loved, of course. His voice is universally loved, no matter what style he takes on.

Bill played a song called "The World is a Different Place Without You" and looked over at me at the end to find me quietly crying.

We had guests, too. The legendary Sam Bush, who toured with Hootie years ago as a Flecktone, and Beth Nielsen Chapman joined us and sang and played. Al Jazeera TV was filming the show (!) as was CMT, and I have to think they got a pretty great show for the folks back in the Middle East, as well as Middle America.

It was all over too soon. I put my guitar away, and I visited briefly with my old friend Steve Gorman, drummer for the Black Crowes, and his wife Rose Mary who I hadn't seen in years.

We had a picture taken of the performers which I hope I can get a copy of for my archives.

All in all, the night at the Bluebird inspired me greatly. I felt proud and thankful that Bill had asked me to play with these fantastic writers, and I believe I held my own among them. The crowd seemed to dig my songs as much as anyone's, and that made me feel I should return to Nashville on a regular basis and sink my talons into the healthy writing scene that's there. There might be a future in music for me yet!