300 in 10

X is one of the few letters which has never started one of these posts—until now.

X always stands for mystery; the unknown. On pirate maps, X marks the spot not because it’s so obvious, but because it is a mystery, an unknown, a private stash you weren’t supposed to find.

So, for this 300th post on the 10th anniversary, instead of writing about what I’ve done, I’m going to write about what I haven’t. Continue reading 300 in 10

Just a Couple of Kids

The youngest smallest smartest kid in my High School classes was tough. In the middle of 1st grade, they moved me to 2nd grade in the little 2-room country school I attended.

Volga and Range both had 2-room school houses, with 1st through 3rd in one room, 4th through 6th in the other. About 10 kids in each grade; 60 total in the school. We moved in after the school year started so I had the last seat in the 1st graders. When I was promoted, I didn’t even have to move my desk, I was just the first seat in the 2nd graders.

Bullying was a big part of my life when I was younger. Continue reading Just a Couple of Kids

beautiful carelessly sultry

Songwriter friend Charlie Cheney keeps telling me that song lyrics should lean heavily on nouns. Show, don’t tell. Pack the song with people doing things in places with stuff, instead of talking about feelings and interior monologues and all those abstracts.

A handful of years ago, Charlie and a group of friends wrote a song which was nothing but nouns. It didn’t make much sense, but it sure had nouns.

Continue reading beautiful carelessly sultry

What if the Light at the End of the Tunnel is Just the Headlamp of an Oncoming Train?

After repeated listenings to Cream’s Born Under a Bad Sign a few years ago I went to my music room to play around on my bass. Rather than trying to copy Jack Bruce’s bass line, I played what it made me feel like.

Speeding it up a little and moving down and back up a few times, all I needed was a brief refrain at the end, a turnaround between verses, and it felt complete.

What if the Light at the End of the Tunnel is Just the Headlamp of an Oncoming Train?

A rockabilly shuffle on the drums is loads of fun, but it’s hard to keep up if you’re not practicing regularly. The drums seem to have survived most of this trip.

When you commit to writing 14 songs in 28 days there’s a bit of a time constraint. When I started recording the springy lead guitar I realised that, though it was recording, it wasn’t coming out of the amp, and it wasn’t coming through the computer to my headphones. I could hear a tinny little noise straight off the strings on my Stratocaster, but even that was muffled by the headphones.

Knowing I could do it over, I soldiered on.

I didn’t do it over. This is what I sound like playing lead guitar when I can’t hear myself. Maybe I should try it more often.

Blues without harmonica seemed wrong. Then the piano started complaining about being left out.

I’ve written a handful of short verses which I might record some day, but if Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust can survive as an instrumental for more than a decade, this one will be okay.

FAWM Over. We Win.

February Album Writing Month is officially over for 2009. And I officially won.

Which means I wrote or co-wrote at least 14 songs during the 28 days of February. (You’ll see on my FAWM profile that it lists 19; it’s actually only 18 because one is listed twice but I don’t want to lose the comments on my original post.)

This year I discovered the double harmonic scale, which makes everything you play sound all Arabian Night-ish. I wrote two Arabic-sounding songs (my most ambitious musical endeavours to date) and collaborated on another.

I wrote a German drinking song. In German.

I wrote a Mexican dance song. In Spanish.

I played a jazz guitar improvisation, my first guitar improvisation ever.

I did my first FAWM music video.

I also did, as I have every year, some country, some folk, and some swingabilly.

And now, I’m tired.

Handmade & Homespun

And speaking of the ubiquity of independent music, I’ve teamed up with 13 fellow singer/songwriters I met at FAWM and we’ve just released Handmade & Homespun—Premium Quality Americana.


Direct from the Artist

Handmade & Homespun is a collection of 14 songs by 14 artists covering slices of Americana from almost traditional folk tunes to fairly assertive rock with stops nearly everywhere in between.

In February of 2008 we all met in the website forums of February Album Writing Month. FAWM has fostered our songwriting immensely (thanks, Burr!) and we wanted a way to celebrate how good it feels to actually accomplish something musically.

Every year, FAWM issues an official compilation which rather than a ‘best of’ is more of a snapshot of what happened (the compilation team considers themselves more akin to museum curators than disk jockeys.) Listening to some of the stunning demos posted, I was compelled to do something more personal; something I could nurture and guide. Although it’s not an official FAWM compilation, the 14 of us credit FAWM for bringing us together and helping us to have a way share.

During the eleven-and-a-half months it took to go from concept to completion, we met roadblocks, of course. Some artists disappeared; others had scheduling conflicts; still others had obligations to other band members to put their original projects ahead of this. Some songs were pulled by their writers and replaced by others; we songwriters are often as cautious about our songs as we are with our children.

In the end, this is, perhaps, less than it could have been. It is, however, more than we ever imagined, and that’s good enough.

Until next year, that is.

If I Ever Plan to Motor West

We got off the freeway for gas at Seligman, which calls itself the birthplace of Route 66. This bears investigation. Some day. We left town on 66 instead of the interstate, and 17 miles later found a modern sign marking Route 66; I was hoping for one of the older signs, but I’ll bet they’ve all been nicked long ago.

There was a wide flat spot across the road, so we parked, grabbed my guitar and the video camera, and I stood under the sign to sing the first verse of a familiar song while Sue filmed. If I hadn’t lost the feeling in my fingers I might have played the whole song.