Archive for the ‘music’ Category

Kerrville- New Folk Nirvana

March 21, 2012

[Excerpted from our Once and Future Songs column in our newsletter.]

In the hill country of west Texas, not far from San Antonio, there exists a haven of Folk Music, yes a conclave of hippie-type, free-thinking, folk singers existing in the shadow of the Bush enclave. Go figure. The Kerrville Folk Festival is held at the Quiet Valley Ranch for almost three weeks at the end of May, early June (beginning on Memorial Day weekend), with a shorter festival over Labor Day weekend.

I have entered two of our new songs in the Kerrville New Folk songwriting contest. Always wanted to do it, but frankly, the competition is stiff. Past winners have included: Lucinda Williams, Lyle Lovett, Nanci Griffith, David Wilcox, John Gorka, Jimmy LaFave, Tish Hinojosa, Steve Earle, Hal Ketchum, Robert Earl Keen and hundreds of others. If you are not a folk music aficionado, let me explain: WOW!

Before you go off thinking it’s all just Camptown Races and Where Have All the Flowers Gone, let me clarify.

Most of the winners are in a genre called “singer-songwriter” which is a part of the broad category of Americana, which was formed, I think, as an alternative to Nashville, but includes Nashville country all the same. It also includes Folk (old-timey and “new”), Blues, World Music, Reggae, Kitchen, Hillbilly (and Rockabilly), and Alternative (Outlaw) Country , which has put Austin on the map (musically that is.) New Folk and singer-songwriter stop short of “pop” on one end and traditional on the other end, though sometimes can sound old-timey.

Why go through all this? Our new album centers more firmly in the middle of Americana than our first album. Intentionally a little more “rootsy”, the genius at work here is Kyle Harris, who both produced and engineered all the tracks. The key here: he produced each track in the way he thought best exemplified the song. I believe most of the songs would fit comfortably in the New Folk category. I also believe Kyle deserves a Grammy for this album.


Touch Me!

August 7, 2011

[Excerpted from our Once and Future Songs column in our newsletter.]

I casually mentioned a song idea to my wife, “I Want You to Touch Me.” A plea, of sorts. Of course, good writers edit, and we decided, “Touch Me” was better (sound familiar?)

Of course my wife asked what genre? What do you mean?

Well, if it’s country you might say, “Touch me with your ten foot pole.”

If Rap, “Touch me, Bitch!”

“Not rap,” I say.

But, alas, it has been done many times. Might be hard to do it better.

Diana Ross, when recording “Touch Me in the Morning”(Michael Masser and Ron Miller) apparently “pushed so hard”, she almost had a nervous breakdown over it. She recorded it during the time when she put her kids to bed, left them with her mother, and recorded all night—returning in the morning to send them off to school before going to bed.

Samantha Ross was little more direct about it, “Touch Me (I Want Your Body)”. But that might be expected from a performer who’s publicity photos look like they came right out of Playboy (at least the Playboy I knew as a teenager- haven’t seen one for many years—really!)

But, of course, the most classic “Touch Me” was by the Doors (written by Robbie Krieger.) Originally the title (and lyric) was “Hit Me”, changed by Morrison, supposedly afraid the audience might take him literally and assault him. Why might they do that?

Don’t hit me.


Don’t Let Us Get Sick

April 21, 2011

(In this “column” anything goes as long as it has to do with a song.)

[Excerpted from our Once and Future Songs column in newsletter.]

When I played for my three-year-old grandson recently, he definitely liked the few cover songs I have been learning best, though the Warren Zevon song, Don’t Let Us Get Sick, had a bad word—“stupid.” In spite of this faux pas, afterward he said, “That’s a good song.”

My version of Lyle Lovett’s, “She’s No Lady” also has been well received (not only by my grandson, but by my audiences.) Another very “audience-friendly” song. I guess that’s why restaurant performers do well with covers, though I will not do any of the mainstay standards (if I can help it.) Don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe in covers and plan to add more—as a former choir teacher once said to us, “There is more great music out there than any of us could sing in a lifetime.” And she was speaking strictly of classical church music. Boggles the mind.


Black Hair and Blue Eyes Make a Song

January 20, 2011

[Excerpted from our Once and Future Songs column in newsletter.]

Steve Earle, in The Galway Girl, convinces me he had no choice to fall in love with a girl with black hair and blue eyes. Yep, that’s the only

reason. No need for personality, not even beauty or the ability to speak, just that Irish (Galway apparently has the best market) combo of black hair and blue eyes.

Now I have met a few Irish beauties with black hair and blue eyes, though I must confess I did not fall for them, at least not anymore than I fall for Zooey Deschanel when I see her in a movie— I believe her hair is dark brown, not black. But in the song, the essence of The Galway Girl’s beauty lays manifest in the (presumed striking and unusual) black hair and blue eyes… (blah, blah, blah, you get it, right?)

Right. So anyway, maybe I’ll learn that song.

Btw, Zooey, you can sing with us anytime.

(And I ask you friend, what’s a fella to do? ‘Cause her hair was black and her eyes were blue.)


Holiday Songs

December 14, 2010

[Excerpted from our newsletter.]

Every songwriter needs a Christmas, or Holiday, song.  If good, they can be very lucrative (i.e. the financial windfall of the main character in All About A Boy, by Nick Hornby– the movie character was played by Hugh Grant.  The royalties from a Holiday song his father wrote supported him very well.)

So I keep thinking about it.  Every time I think I have a Holiday song, it turns into a love song.  So need to start with the lyrics.

My most recent idea is to write for the broken or diverse family situation.  Having had divorced parents, my first thought was, “Daddy Brought His Girlfriend Home for Christmas.”  Sherry thought it should be “boyfriend.”   Oh such fun it is to write.  (Hopefully not as inappropriate as my “She Kissed a Girl” song, which my wife and daughter have banned me from playing.)

I’ll let you know how it goes.


Cover Song

November 1, 2010

[Excerpted from our newsletter.]

“Do you know any cover songs?”

Emily asked me that question at a point when I thought we had the set list for the Transplant House Benefit all set.  She knew the answer.  Yes.  Two songs.

When I was co-manager of The Songsmith (an extinct singer-songwriter venue in Scottsdale), more than once I lamented how this or that singer-songwriter needed to mix it up and do some covers.  For the diversity.

Now confronted as the singer-songwriter, I bristled.  “Why?  These songs aren’t good enough?” 

But she was right and I knew it.  Ideally, we should find a very familiar sing-along, but neither of our two cover choices is of that ilk.

Emily remembers me singing her to sleep with Jackson Browne’s, “Song for Adam.”  She likes my version better than Jackson Browne’s.  She also likes Kraft macaroni and cheese better than gourmet truffle mac and cheese. It’s what she’s used to.  I rarely sing that song, but have never forgotten it because it reminds me of my best friend growing up.  But not a good song for next week’s set.

The other choice is “Hope for Morning” by Christopher Williams, a singer-songwriter I met in my “Songsmith” days, and a great guy.  Emily and I have performed this song in the past and I have recently re-learned it, I think in anticipation of just this scenario. Not a mainstream song by any means, but I penciled it in on the set list. It is a song that (not oddly) seems to mean different things to different people.  In a strictly literary sense, it is vague, but, unlike a short story or memoir, a song can get by with vague, as long as it carries a feeling.  Often performed at weddings, according to Christopher, “Hope for Morning” is actually about his grandfather.  Go figure.   Killer first verse:

When the orange glow of the sky

Turns from sunset to city light

And the moon slowly rises through the trees.

When the clenched hands of the day

Have released the stars to play

And night rides on a gentle breeze.

Hold my hand and whisper my name.

I promise you that I will always love you the same.

Close your eyes and look for nothing more.

Let my gentle spirit give you the wind to soar.

Three Songs Every Songwriter Needs

January 10, 2010


[Excerpted from our newsletter.]

It has become clear to me, to be a songwriter of any lasting success, it would behoove me to write 1.) a “summer” song, 2.) a Christmas/Holiday song, and 3.) a “coffee” song.

Recently, I have written a song about summer love titled, “You Should Know”, slated to be on the upcoming album. I dream it will become a song played every time it gets hot or at the beginning of every summer, like “Summer in the City”, performed by The Lovin’ Spoonful; written by Mark -not John- Sebastian and Steve Boone.


You should know I’ve loved no better

Than in these summer nights with you

You have taken all that matters

Turned it into something new. And it’s you.

Christmas songs have been tough. My ideas of Christmas can be quite complex and often get off the track for that genre. But I have found the holiday or Christmas “spirit” lives in a large number of my uncompleted songs. Songs with well-defined chord structure and melody, plenty of emotion and life, but unfortunately, no appropriate, lasting lyrics. I believe these are my “Christmas” songs. They have become my next project. The trick will be to find the lyrics, to keep them simple and memorable– lasting.

The coffee song, the one that will be played in every coffee shop in the country, has not yet been conceived.

Happy New Year

Musician turned soldier, in a song

November 5, 2009

(In this “column”, anything goes as long as it has to do with a song.)

[Excerpted from our newsletter.]

My wife, Sherry, has collaborated on a song with me.  This is quite a feat, since most of the time she makes up words that tend to wreck the seriousness of any song (see previous Once and Future Songs posting, “Chicken Do!”)  In this case, she was a star.

My working lyrics were about a musician who toured incessantly but became so enamored with a woman that the touring lifestyle was a problem.  One line was, “It’s this crazy life you can’t lead.”  Sherry wanted to hear “crazy war” and make it about a soldier.

As I thought about it, we have friends with children who have had to be separated or risked separation from loved ones because of their armed forces assignments.  Plus, war and soldiers are still current topics.  So I ran with the idea and it is coming along famously.  Maybe it will make the cut for the next album.

“It’s a soldier’s life I lead

With this crazy war no one needs

Now I question my career

As it keeps me wandering far and near

Because I belong… right here.”

Au revoir mes amis

Bringing Out the Elvis

October 2, 2009

[Excerpted from our newsletter.]

A “former relative” used to forbid his children to rewind their cassette tapes until they had listened all the way through, so the cassettes would last longer. (Fast-forward was also verboten.) Very sad.  Not just because for some children it would be torture, but because there are always stoppers on albums.  How many albums have you ever listened to that you could truly say you did not need to skip at least one song every time?

For instance, Faith Hill’s album “Breathe.”  Track #9 “Bringing Out the Elvis” was a stopper.  I never could hit the skip or FF fast enough—one note from that song wrecked the album for me.

I strangely loved that album, other than the one song.  Track #9 simply did not seem to fit with the others.  I am curious what the producer (who probably won a Grammy or something) was thinking.

Food for thought as we tackle the next project- which I will discuss in the next newsletter.  BTW, I have some fantastic news… but out of time now.


Bursting My Bubble

August 30, 2009

(In this “column”, anything goes as long as it has to do with a song.)

[Excerpted from our newsletter.]

At home recently, I developed an overwhelming urge to hear, “Baby, It’s You” (Bacharach, David, Williams); NOT the Shirelles wimpy version, but the MOST famous one by Smith. While listening, I browsed YouTube and came across a comment train about those two versions, where I assumed the comments would all strongly favor Smith’s version as the best, when I read, “Not impressed… the Smith’s butchered this hit by the Shirelles from 1962!”

The next response (which was exactly what I was thinking) was: “You’re joking, right?”

“Nope… sorry to pop your bubble.”

All I could think was, “Quit it!”

Another fine example of the wide variety in musical taste, even within the same genre and about the same song. I just wish more of those whose opinions have power (yeah, you know who you are) always, ALWAYS, liked The 15th Floor’s songs. Maybe some day people will be arguing about the best version of, “A World Without Your Face” or “Listen to Me Breathe.” (I would enjoy that.)

As for “Baby”, maybe we should let Burt Bacharach decide which version was the best… but I bet he would guess wrong.