How I Got Divorced And Turned My Life Around

Songwriters are notoriously myopic in their total lack of assessing the big pictures in life. Sometimes, that fog doesn’t lift for decades, but watch out when it finally does. And so, more than 30 years later, this lyric shows up at the doorstep to my soul:

I should have known I was living

In a house of cards

Walls so thin that the truth

Could make us fall apart

Shame on me, I couldn’t see

The way you really are

Our love

Was a house of cards

Here was my first big mistake: thinking she was still in love with me, when she really wasn’t. I figured I was immune to the effects of not being loved, but I wasn’t seeing clearly at all. Though our love life didn’t totally end, let’s just say that trying to get her to bed was like planning for the next years Olympics-and I will leave it at that. As we were splitting, she reluctantly confided that there was this Brighton guy she was incredibly hot on. (She ended up marrying him).

Thrust into a state of need, I bowed to the dictums of marriage-the fidelity, till death do us…damage..and all that. But, you have to consider that I am a 31 year old, virile, horny as hell male. The current system was not going to last. And so it was that I arrived at the now defunct Bronson’s Tavern in Windsor. But, first, I have to backtrack bit.

I was playing at the White Lake Inn in White lake Michigan with a band called Bliss. We did covers and a lot of original music. During the first set, a tray arrived with five beers. Shortly after, another tray arrived with five shots of Schnapps. When the set ended, I felt it was my patriotic duty to track down the source of the drinks and thank them. There was a guy named Gary and his girlfriend,  who was the most stunning female I ever laid eyes on-and her personality called me inward—gentle, somewhat sad, but something honest-something pure-something almost unheard of in vibe form.

My first reaction, and this is total honesty-“I wish I had a woman like her.” My second reaction was, “F**k. She already has a rich and great looking boyfriend. She doesn’t want me. She wants to hear my music. OK. Such is life…

But we became friends and I became friends with her boyfriend too. That, in itself is a long, Fleetwood Mac type of story. Maybe I will tell it sometime. A hit song was involved.

Fast forward. Her boyfriend, one night, found new love. Soon, she was a free woman. Ah, but I was a married man, and would have no part. We went through a thing and met, shared our deep feelings for each other. But I insisted that we should never see each other. I wanted to keep my plastic marriage, I suppose. And so that is how it was for a couple of years.

Meanwhile my home life was turning into a hell that I couldn’t control. My wife would come home from her job where she’d been picked on and humiliated daily, and proceed to take her anger out on me. We used to argue and fight about things that almost seem psychotic now. We began to split apart. I was trying to make something of us, but I was being blamed for things that weren’t even my fault. It wore me down. Ground me down to where I didn’t even care anymore.

Somewhere during all of this, I hooked up with a country band that had strong bookings and great weekly paychecks. I began to travel and make decent weekly money, which was almost a novelty in my married life. I wish I could say that the sudden rush of new income had a positive effect on this marriage, but it didn’t. Seems like the animosity always regained supreme.

So, one night, the girl who was with the guy that bought the drinks, that made me fall in love with her—came to a bar, with a mutual friend, where I was playing. After a couple of years apart, we had this slow dance on the transformational dance floor. Then, all bets were off. Whatever I might have said, done or agreed to were history, The night came to a close without further incident.

The next week, my band was playing for a couple of weeks at Bronson’s Tavern in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. That weekend, my future wife came alone to see us play. I sat with her on the breaks, as we both drank Canadian LaBatts beers-much more potent than their American equivalence. We couldn’t take our eyes off of each other. Looking back, it was “game over, Man!”

As the guest band, we were given rooms above the bar, where we stayed while away from our Detroit suburban homes. As said female friend was too drunk to drive, with a mean-ass lawyer dad who’d probably kill me if he knew I was getting his beautiful daughter drunk in a foreign country, we decided she could sleep in the hall on a cot. God said, “that’s not in the cards”.

The next day, she and the band went out to eat at the now extinct “Himalaya” restaurant in Windsor-my favorite restaurant on planet earth.  I couldn’t eat a bite. I pretended some affliction, but I think everybody knew deep down that I was headed for a new life. Something in the field of the Force had changed.

On December 19th, 1982, we wed. And, this time, being married really did matter. I was proud and hopeful-also thankful to have had my marital prayers answered.

And, today, we forge on. We continue to work and love each other. We are slower, much less sexed, but still full of the passion and fire that drew us together. We still love each other like we always did. We’ve experienced life’s highs and lows. Now, it’s only about loving each other and caring for each other. It is all in the “better or worse-‘till death do us part” of the vows that most of us have said.

You know, the right life partner,-I think—is the key to a happy life. Choose wisely. Your heart and your gut will advise you. I must say that I have been blessed.

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No Time To Waste

One of the saddest things about playing music all your life is when some of your fellow travelers begin to get robbed of their ability to play, either through physical, mental or economic issues. Such issues have begun to impact some of the people that I make music with-cancer, vertigo, memory issues, Parkinson’s, etc. A couple have passed too soon. Why I have been been partially spared is a gift horse that I am not about to look in the mouth. I’ve certainly had my issues the last year or so, and I am still coming back, but I still have the energy, appetite and intent to explore new realms.

Music has been my chosen means to a livelihood since I was a young man looking to escape the drudgery of thankless physical labor, and being bossed by morons. As to my musical history, I have played in countless groups and I have played country, rock, blues, big band, jazz, pop and original songs. Much of that work has been motivated by the market-playing what the people “want to hear”.  You know—please the market.

Well, this is all speculation, but I think I was put here to make the music that I resonate with, and that is what I intend to do for the rest of my music making life. I seem to work more doing the more obscure stuff than I do trying to please the masses anymore. A sign from the heavens? Or just something I should have known all along? Why try to please people who don’t like what you are about, deep inside, anyway?

At any rate, just about everything in my musical life is changing at this moment. I have several actual projects that I will be pursuing in the coming months, as some old acts are either folding or regrouping. The old days of making a living in one band are all but over. Now everything which used to be a monthly gig is now a one nighter. Music doesn’t mean that much to younger audiences. They have too many other things to engage with. The days of the dinner and dance clubs are passing. Millennial never even had to learn how to dance-the way I had too, making a fool of myself in public!

And so, I am looking into doing specialty shows-small concert venues, outdoor festivals, libraries, senior homes, animal clubs, benefits, and house concerts. I have several programs in mind, and since nobody seems to be creating new goals, I guess it’s mine to do. It is mostly a brand new world for me, but I will adapt with a little help from my friends and some good vibes from above.

I am eyeing some recording projects, including, but not limited to, two new CD’s in the near future. I also want to make records with other projects.

To some degree, days do seem to have more weight and significance the closer we get to the final exit. For me, it is about completing some unfinished dreams, but always about the amazing feeling I get from creating music. Each time becomes even more precious. Now, to waste time needlessly feels sinful. It’s like God’s standing in the hall saying, “Hey Al-if you stand around all day, none of your dreams will come true.”  And they won’t, because nothing comes into existence without intent.

When I wake up in the morning these days, there is a thankfulness that rises up out of me. Another day-and the gift of the present continues. I travel through present time more slowly than I used to, but I still travel. Long may we all run…

Bullying

Sometimes, I feel like some human beings ought to go into rehab to learn what it means to rise ABOVE their own human frailties. Reason: it is incredibly easy to be cruel, especially when you have backup and the upper hand.

I saw my daughter go through the bullying gauntlet in middle school. Some of those “nice” little 13 year old girls were the most vile and cruel specimens of feminine humanity that I have ever witnessed. They would tease, criticize and ridicule, just to make themselves feel somehow superior. They weren’t. They were low tone scum, driven by fragile and warped egos and peer pressure to somehow be OK. But how does denigrating another ever really raise your status? Well, it doesn’t. Humans remain a very flawed species.

I remember when I was around 5, I took a walk down the street in Texas and there was a group of kids with a bunch of branches, trying to make some kind of fort or building. Thinking nothing other than joining in, I added a branch to the ridiculous project. Next thing I knew, I was attacked and beaten up. Just for trying to be a part of the action.

My ability to react and participate with others was somehow diminished after that. My once open and loving heart withdrew and became much more cautious. I still felt love and compassion, but added to those feelings was a hurt that has never quite left me.

A couple of years later, I was riding my bike home from grade school, going down a hill, when I passed a few kids walking. One grabbed a chunk of asphalt and threw it into my spokes. I crashed. My body scraped against the pavement, and I was left with deep and painful wounds. Today, the guy that threw that chunk of rock into my spokes would be in a juvenile home. His family would be sued. But back then, I retreated to the solace of a bed, where I rested for several days before I was barely able to go back to school. The perpetrator waltzed off, scott free.

And then, later on in my early teens, I was heading home from school and my next door neighbor engaged another friend in the same neighborhood to provoke a fight with me. He didn’t want to fight me—he was much bigger. So he picked somebody my own size and egged him on.

“C’mon, man! Want to make something of it?”   

“No. I have nothing against you.”

“C’mon!” He kept pushing me, challenging me. And I had nothing against this white trash creep. Still, it came to a point where I could not escape. Knowing what I had to do, I summoned up all the mad intention in my soul and cold cocked this guy with a fury of an A-bomb.

He went down. I broke his jaw. But he came back up and we fought until some store manager came out to break up the fight. Those two never bothered me again. A win for me? No. Just a sad episode in an otherwise peaceful life.

If it were only as easy to knock out political bullies these days. But I will not go there tonight.

I think humans were basically designed to have compassion and empathy. Most do. Ah, but some just can’t seem to grasp the simple truth of the golden rule:Treat others like you wish to be treated. Seems simple enough, but mix raw emotion with some other negative set of thoughts and, suddenly, you have a walking, talking problem. Though I have had my bouts of anger in my life, I’ve never truly wanted to tear somebody else down. Really, deep down, what I wanted was to build a new bridge of compassion and trust with that person-show them that there is something besides hate and jealousy in this world. Noble, but probably a hopeless cause. 

And there is a difference between bullying and guiding one to the truth. The above examples are bullying.

But, one day, I was in a life drawing class at U of M with a prestigious professor. Richard Sears. Me and my folkie music partner, Peter Bowen, used to go to Sears second story flat and drink and play for him on a Friday night. He loved the music.

So, he comes over to my station in the Art School Building, where I am trying to render a drawing of a fat female nude. I am struggling. I just don’t have “it”-that thing that makes one able to paint and draw at a high level. My drawing is C+ at best. 

Sears gets my attention, looks at me and asks, matter of fact: “What are you doing in the Art department? Why aren’t you in the music department?”

It was the pivotal question. While I liked the creativity of drawing, painting and sculpting, I LOVED music. Yet music was discouraged in my family, and I always felt I had to find some other road. That discouragement ruined my college years. There I was trying to be everything that I wasn’t. Sears shot the final arrow of truth at me-not to bully, but to guide.

And look where I’ve gone. I play, sing and even write original music sometimes. I have made my living as a musician for almost every year of my life since I was 21.

But bullying has no kindness of intention. It is designed to shut you up and shut you down-at the expense of someone who needs the attention you are getting.

And you know the really messed up thing about bullying? It is usually a manifestation of anger that one needs to feel like a winner. Truth is, doing the opposite—building people up by their dreams would attract far more attention. More love. Yes. There is real power in empowerment. Bullying just makes you feel like a creep and make up excuses as to WHY you were such a creep. When you come to someone’s aid, there is none of that baggage. Good is recognized as being such. We can’t settle for less anymore.

 

All Things Al Songwriter Interview Series #5: Duane Allen Harlick

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Duane at his home in Royal Oak, Michigan. It was our first meeting, though I had seen him perform several times. I found him to be articulate, honest, kind, forthcoming and totally mesmerized with the art and magic of making music. Duane is not only a strong professional writer, he is also a guitar virtuoso and a very gifted singer.

I am airing this interview as audio only. I have found it too tedious to transcribe these things. Audio  is more immediate. Listen at your convenience-in your car, on the beach-wherever.

As we began, we started talking about Jeff Scott, who I interviewed in this series, and who Duane became good friends with at an early age. Duane still plays with Jeff when he does an original show, and they once fronted the band, Jeff Scott and the Big Picture, to much acclaim.

 

All Things Al Songwriter Interview Series #4: Jill Detroit (Phillips)

Jill Detroit-(actually known as Jill Phillips in Michigan)-changed her musical name because another person with her name was already recording. Anyway, she was passing through town and I was lucky enough to sit down with her for this interview. With over thirty CD’s released and 5 more ready to release, she has been nothing but productive, with no signs of slowing down in the near future.

What follows is the bulk of our discussion with some light editing.

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Yeah, You better have a lawyer because anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law!

Thats right!

Alright. I’m just gonna start someplace and see where it goes.

OK

When did you start becoming a writer? When did that happen for you?

I wrote my first song when I was probably about ten.

Alright.

It was about aardvarks, and it said, “for every aardvark, there is another aardvark. For every fish, there’s another fish in the sea. Ah, but then, when I was about-I got a guitar when I was about eleven or twelve, and I wrote this song, My family used to go to the seashore every summer and I had an experience that was kind of life changing. You know, kind of a vision, and it prompted me to write a song-its called “The Sea”. That was my first real song. In fact, we even put it in a musical later.

oh, wow!

Yeah, and so I’ve been writing since I was ten or eleven.

So, its been with you most of your life.

My mom said I sang before I talked, so music has always been integral to me.

Then, when you were growing up, did you know that’s what you wanted to do?

I didn’t think it was a viable career. I never thought of it as a career, you know, in my family, it was all about school and doing well in school and going to college and anything after that.

Same here.

Yeah.

My folks never wanted me to become a musician.

No. That wasn’t a career. That was a hobby.

Yeah. Thats something “fun” to do.

Mm hhm.

Get yourself a job where you are suffering because of it.

And you could do this on the side.

Right

Sing in church. But when I was a girl, I actually had an ulcer when I was pretty young, and I told my dad it was because I couldn’t stand singing with those sopranos in the church choir. And there were these twangy-oh, my God-and, really, my doctor said get her out of the choir at church. So he did, and my ulcer went away. I was convinced that music was such an important part of me that, if it didn’t sound right, I just couldn’t bear it.

Yeah. Its like if you’re in a toxic situation , you know, best to get out of it. 

Yeah, but when your dad’s a minister, its kind of hard to get out of the choir.

So, you started writing when you were about ten and, ah, when did you create your first recordings?

Well, that’s a great question because I’ve been doing it for so long that I can’t even-but I did other people’s songs. I really didn’t do my own. I was a singer, you know and my own stuff was sort of on the side. Even with gigs and stuff, we did other people’s tunes-not our own. So I think-I mean seriously-I remember sitting down with Pat Schrein and Bill McKinney…

Uh huh…

And doing six, maybe seven songs. Thats when i was serious about it. I tried to go in the studio on the east side. What was it called? Cloudborn.

Yeah. It was down there kind of by Grosse..

Grosse Pointe. I remember going in there and they had me coming in to do remakes of some tunes or to sing some songs, but I went, “hey, can I do a couple of my own too-and I did. I got to record with Earl Klugh. He came in and we did Somewhere Over The Rainbow, and things like that. And then, I wanted to put out my own album but other stuff came up and, you know, I never did.

Back then, if you were a gigging musician, that was a whole separate thing from becoming a recording artist.

Right. Exactly.

You know, it was like there were people that just wrote their songs and then went out and recorded and toured,  then there were people in town that were playing in bands.

And thats how they made their living. So when you are making your living week to week, day to day doing that, it’s different. There were lots of cover tunes lots of Hiltons and Hiatus and, you know. I remember my first gig-or the first time I decided I was gonna gig-doing five sets a night and my fingers actually started bleeding. Because I wasn’t used to playing that much. On steel strings. That many days and that many sets. It was like a Holiday Inn or something and I remember …ouch! 

So, when you write, is there any order as to how things come? Do you get an idea for what you want the song to be as the first thing, or is it a musical cue that starts you off or a lyrical one?

It depends. It used to be they would come together like a phrase with some notes. But lately, I can’t depend on that. I see where sometimes a thought will come to mind, you know like-one of my recent tunes was I watched a guy go down on his knee during the national anthem. I was like, wow, how ironic because we can do that. Because we are Americans. You know, I want to write something about it. And I looked in this notebook where I write things down longhand and there’s like seven pages of scratching and this thing I wanted to say but I wanted to say it in a certain way and in a certain order and I actually incorporated parts of the national anthem in the song.

Do you keep a journal?

Of my songs, not of my life, but my songs are my life!

Of ideas and things like that?

Yeah, I write them down.But, typically, if I get a thought, I’m immediately working on it. And then when I’ve written it, I’m done with it. I remember an interview with Billy Joel once where he did not want to write that song, “in the middle of the night”-he did not want to write it but he said nothing else would come out until he wrote it. That is how it’s been with me sometimes. There are songs where my children are like, really mom? Are you really going to write about that. And I’m sorry but for some reason it’s demanding to come out, you know.

Have you ever heard of a book called The Artists Way?

No.


In the Artists Way, they are trying to get you to reconnect with yourself a little. Like, one of the thing you have to do is called the Morning Pages. You get a notebook and when you get up in the morning you have to write three pages about whatever is on your mind. And you do this every day.

I’m not sure I’m disciplined enough to do that every day,

I did it at one point. I haven’t done it for a long time but—

Did it help?

It inspired some really interesting songs.It also asks you to set aside a day a week to do something for yourself. Go to a lunch, a concert or maybe a movie.

Only once a week? Cause I do that all the time!  (laughter)

After writing the morning pages for a number of days, its like thoughts just started to show up. I was going through thing at the time where I had lost a really dear friend. So I was trying to process this. Until you lose your first friend, death isn’t really that real. It was becoming more real, so  I had to start asking myself a lot of questions about life and why I’m here. You know, whats it all about, Alfie? (laughter). But anyway

But I-you know-my brother writes plays and I write songs and people around us say, be careful what you say around Jill and Scott. It gonna show up in a song or a play.

Right.

And it does. People will say something and it just sparks me, and sometimes I’m like, you know, its three in the morning and I get this- I wake up and I have this idea and I’m like-seriously? I’m gonna have to write this songs now? And I resist but I don’t know how many songs I never wrote because I resisted it. I don’t resist anymore.

You’ve been incredibly prolific. like you have, what? Thirty albums?

I do, yeah…

Nobody has thirty albums! I don’t think the Rolling Stones have thirty albums. They’ve been around since the sixties.

Yeah, and ask me how many of them I’ve sold. (laughter). You don’t sell albums anymore.

Oh, gosh. Because of Spotify and all the streaming services…

Streaming? I just got my quarterly royalties and it was like five dollars and twenty cents or something. And that’s a lot!

I put one album on… through CD Baby and they put your music on all the platforms and that was probably ten years ago. And I finally got an accounting for ten yours worth of it and I got eighteen dollars.

Yeah. No. I’m not surprised.

Ha ha. It depends on who you are…

For me, at least, its not about the money.  And thats why I worked on the side, you know. I could do what I wanted and not be accountable to anybody. I could do it the way I wanted to.

Do you sell albums or songs on Broadjam?

Yeah, Sometimes my songs are sold on there, but what I like about Broadjam is it gives you an opportunity to  put your song up for people who are looking for  song about something. So that’s why I joined Broadjam. And thats how I got on Women Of Substance radio. I have about fifty of my songs on there. I found them through Broadjam.

Is that something that is on Sirius Radio or internet?

Internet, yeah. Women of Substance radio.

So they play your stuff. Do they pay you royalties?

Uh, no. But it gets your name out there and your song out there and I know I’ve gotten sales because of it. But I’m not getting royalties off the actual station.

It’s not really fair to me how things are working. I had a song called What Kind Of Fool Do You Think I Am and would see it on Youtube. One day, I just went-you know? In my (royalty) statements, I’ve never seen any revenue from Youtube. So I called up ASCAP and I said, look, Youtube is using this song of mine and I’m not seeing any money. Why? And this guy said, I know. Let me go check. And he comes back and he says, well, Youtube doesn’t start to pay any royalties until 250,000 streams.

That’s not right,

So that means that everything under that amount, they are using for free. Free intellectual property.

I do get royalties from Youtube. Maybe they’ve changed it now or something? because I know I don’t have 250,000. But its like .001 cent.

Are you monetizing with ads on your site?

Great question. A lot of my songs are on Youtube but I don’t have a lot of videos on Youtube. I have maybe five. 

You have 30 albums and you’ll probably have 40 or 50 before you’re done.

I actually have about five that are ready to go, but what I wait for is the artwork, plus I don’t want to put one out, you know, every week.

You’ve have five albums ready to go?

I do…I know. It’s kind of an addiction, but it’s a good addiction. Right?

Its too bad that you didn’t grow up in the ear of the Brill Building, when songwriters could earn a living being songwriters.

I know. One of the producers that I work with in Las Vegas has made his living doing this all these years. His name is  Tommy Moralda and he’s made a living writing songs and recording and stuff.

I guess if you get connected to enough things and you know what people are looking

for…And you are able to write it

Able to write in that way…like you were saying you can write from an assignment.

I can. But like I said, my brother and I, we’ll do musicals, so he’ll say I’m looking for a song about this. And i will sit around and go hmmm, and I can put it together but typically, I don’t write that way for myself. I am inspired by something and a lot of times, its like I remember I have this-I call it my songwriting couch. And its real comfortable and I’ll sit on it and I’ll just start doodling and a thought will come to me and I’m like, really?

Most recently I was sitting there, playing some sort of lick and it goes (sings) “I boarded a plane at JFK, just cause I had to get away”  I’m like WHAT??!! You know, I’m looking around like, what? And that sort of tells you which direction the songs gonna go. What’s this song about and its called “Finding My Happy”.  And its just, you know, so I went to the other coast and I found something there, you know, and the song tells you where it is. My son calls me the song catcher. Its like its out there nd you re just grabbing it and pulling it in.

Yeah, that really is the way it is, I think. You know, the songs tell you where they want to go. You can try and bend it to be something, but if it doesn’t want to go that way.

No. And it will sound like you bent it when it shouldn’t have gone that way. It won’t sound as natural

I think the best songs, they just come out in one lump sum.

Almost full

And its like all there, because it was all one thought at one time. I mean, you didn’t have to sit down and go, what does this line mean?

I never do that. Never. But I remember being in the studio with a producer and we are just talking and I said, why lie? And he looks at me and I look at him and he says, which one of us is gonna write it first? I said I don’t know, but two days later the song was there. You know, why lie? You know, just look me in the eye. Why lie? And it was great because it wrote itself. The idea comes and its all there.

When you talk about grabbing something out of the air, Elizabeth Gilbert did a TED talk about genius and she said, you know, these days people call someone a genius but back in the early greek and Roman times, genius was something you were visited by and it was like you could get visited by the muse and you wrote this  piece of music or whatever it was…if it didn’t work out or it wasn’t accepted, it wasn’t totally your fault. Its like this is what came to me. She said there was this poet. She said she’d be out gardening and she would feel the poem coming through the air and she would have to stop what she was doing and she said, I’d get a piece of paper and try to grab it by the tail before it passed me by.

I can believe that, though.

I mean, some things come to you like that.

But think about all the geniuses out there that we don’t even know about. You know, people that write songs and you never hear those songs but they’re—see, now there’s this competition-this TV show-competition for songwriting. And I don’t think songwriting should be a competition. because something will appeal to somebody that doesn’t appeal, and it will hit them that doesn’t hit somebody else.

I agree. Music should never be a competition.

Art should not be a competition, I don’t think.

No

And one thing I say to my family is what if you are the best tennis player in the world but you never picked up a racquet? And you just don’t know that you are? Or you do it like we kinda do our thing and, you know, maybe somebody will hear it-maybe not. we don’t know

We don’t know

But if it reaches people. I’ve had a few people that said they had to pull over because they were playing my CD. They had to pull over because the song touched them so deeply they started crying-I mean thats what gets you.

Yeah. And thats the thing. That is why art shouldn’t be a competition because great art is self evident.

Right. 

I remember the first time I heard Yesterday…it just devastated me.

And, Paul McCartney thought he stole that song

I know!

I feel that way all the time. Oh, my God-I was walking home from the store, singing something and I’m like, Who’s song is that?  Wait. Its mine. But I’m like, did I hear that somewhere else?

I actually tried writing songs that sounded like they’d been around forever and-mixed results. I write in a lot of different song forms. I don’t just do verse/chorus songs.

Right

I’ll do a refrain song, like Georgia On My Mind. I like that form a lot too. And there’s some that are just AAA, you know?

My son, Sean Phillips, is a singer/songwriter. Amazing, really. He came out with a first album and he’s a lot more studious about it than I am. I’m sort of like, Ok I’m just going to go out with it, but he will spend time. Like figure it out, what works and this and that. I admire that. Now my daughter, Emily, is an awesome singer as well. I mean, she really kicks (my you know what)! She’s a really awesome singer. So I came up with an album where I could get the two of them to sing with me. And sometimes I will get them to sing on one of my originals as well.

That’s great. I’ve done that with my kids too.

Yeah. And its a great feeling.  And then one Mother’s Day, a couple of years ago, my daughter came out to Las Vegas-that’s where my son and I live. She just came out and he say’s I’ll pick her up from the airport because I want to stop off and do something. They show up, its the day after Mother’s day, They had me this CD. They go, Happy Mother’s Day-a song that he had written that the two of them sang. It’s called “Because Of You”.  Its amazing! It’s beautiful! And that’s what I get! Isn’t it awesome?

You know, I was kinda like you. I would write the songs and I just kind of instinctively know how structure was supposed to be. Then I bought this book called “The Craft Of Lyric writing” by Shelia Davis and she goes through all the different song forms, and why they work and little rules you can use to make them work the right way. Then I went back and listened to some of the songs I had written before I read the book and I was surprised by….

How much you followed that?

Yeah-how much my songs followed that and they fell into different song forms

But you didn’t know that.

I didn’t know that, but now that I know it, by rote, so to speak-when I’m writing a song, I’ll start to know-it will inform me what its structure wants to be.

I have to say that when I’m writing something, there’s times when I’m writing something and-I’ve never read a book about songwriting. Never studied it.

Well, it hasn’t hurt you any!

No…well I think a lot of it was listening to music all the time when I was a kid.

In any kind of writing, there are conventions that get used over and over.

Yeah, there are. I find myself using chord progressions over and over

Well, there’s only so many.

Right.

But when you are telling a story, there’s a way to tell a story that grabs people’s interest. In song, I’ve always been told the first line is incredibly important

It probably is

You’ve got to get somebody’s attention right there.

See-its interesting talking to you because I don’t even think about this stuff. (Laughter)

Mac McAnnaly had this song and the opening line was, “Barney came to the gossip bench, said I barbecued a dog, on a tractor axle yesterday down at the dump yard

Wow

I’m really fortune because for the last ten years I’ve worked with a producer in California. His name is Bill Bentley, and he can play any instrument and does. He takes my song and I’ll just go in and sing and he’ll go, OK. I hear it as la da da da. You know, I didn’t hear it like that. Whatever. But that’s why I have a producer because I write the songs but I’m not-

So what do you do? Do you give him a piano or guitar and voice demo and then he makes a track and you come back and sing it?

I sit there. he’s sitting across from me. We record with just me playing git on the guitar or piano and then he takes it from there.

Does he build a track around what you did or does he redo?

We redo. Occasionally we don’t. A couple of times he’ll say lets keep it just the way it is. I have a song called “Bozos On This Bus”-one of the most fun songs I ever wrote and he said I don’t want to do anything to it. I just want you to play guitar on it.

I’ve forgotten how to write fun songs. How do you do that?

See, I don’t have a lot of control over it! Its like whatever shows up in my head.  And I remember writing it and this friend was listening to it and went-that’s a stupid song. Why would you write that? But it gets so many hits because of bozos on this bus-that was a Firesign Theater record.

I’ve probably written a few funny songs but they are more like sarcastic humor than anything. I wrote a song called TV Preacher with Gary (Griffin) and it was about this guy that had this dream that he became a TV preacher and he’s like shouting fire and brimstone and all this stuff, and the Lord comes back to him and says, listen. You got this whole thing wrong. You’re making me look incredibly phony. Then I had another one during the Iraq War kind of in the style of Randy Newman. It was about this guy that couldn’t wait to turn on his TV and get his popcorn and his diet Coke and watch the invasion. And its kinda sick.

I know, and here’s what I tell my children when they are appalled at things I write sometimes, I will say I don’t have control over it. I mean its not like I’m sitting down saying I’m gonna write-you know, I mean sometimes stuff comes into your brain and you are like, OK.  I wrote a song for the first musical my brother and I did. The musical is called Paris On The Brain. And the song is called We Put The Fun In Dysfunctional. And its true stories about my family. There’s a verse about our dad, you know, I’m getting this call in the middle of the night-the car is upside down on the rock in the of the field you know!  And that’s exactly what i heard him say! And then I was talking with another brother and I say, you know, theres this guy I see everywhere I go and I feel like he’s stalking me or something, but he has this walker. So you know I have to write a song called “Stalker With A Walker”

And then my other brother and I created a whole musical around that. Its called Old Folks At Home. And its all about this guy in an old folks home who thinks he’s a rock star and he’s always stalking these women. One of them actually takes him up on it and he goes, Oh, my God! Its been ten years since anybody even said yes. You know, I don’t even know what to do. 

See-now that’s what I call thematic. I’ve done things where I wrote one song and I kinda went, this is a piece of a bigger story. And then I would think about other aspects that fit into that theme. That’s how the Roswell Road record happened for me and it was like, oh yeah! And it ended up being a real cathartic thing writing these songs.

It is! And I’ve said over and over that I don’t know where this comes from, but I remember telling my brother-we were standing in an elevator-and I said stalker with a walker. A guy in the elevator just bursts out laughing-stalker with a walker-and we knew—that’s gotta be a song.

Was that on one of these CD’s?

Not one that I gave you but you can find it on Youtube or Broadjam. A dysfunctional song. We put the fun…

Its funny. What is this muse? Where does it come from? Its like a mystery, up know? You are capturing all this stuff, and, like you say, you’re not really in control of it. You’re just the medium.

The vessel. I’m the channel it comes through. That;s how I look at it, and every time that inspiration comes to me, I’m so grateful and I just say thank you so much.

When you said that you didn’t write for ten years, after your daughter passed…

Yes. I didn’t think I’d write again.

Did that channel close? Did that door close?

Yeah. I actually didn’t sing or perform or anything for ten years. I finished my education and I took a regular job and I thought I was done. Because I couldn’t evoke the emotion that I needed to be able to sing. I sort of shut down. 

Your heart was shut down because of grief.

And so, a decade later, somebody came over to my house and he wanted to write  song with me. I sat down and we tied it and I said I can’t of this. When he left, I started writing a song. (laughter), and its called ‘I’m Coming Home” and I just let myself go. I let myself fall, and i just let it all go. And then the songs started pouring out. So ten years I’be been working with Mr. Bentley out in California and then years of being in the studio as much as I can get him to show up and be there with me.

What does Mr. Bentley get out of this process?

I think what he appreciates is that I do let him take over and do what he does best. I’m ever so grateful for that. A lot of times, people will come into a studio with a fixed idea of what they want, and he’s just the engineer, but he’s really a producer and arranger.

So this taps into his creativity

It does. Oh-I’m so lucky to have found him. And now he’s doing film and things like that too.

Hopefully he will get some of your songs into some films

Well, yeah!  I hope so.

There is this service called TAXI, which you are probably familiar with.

Sure, sure. Broadjam is like TAXI.

And they send out  things-its like, we are looking for something that sounds like, you know, Linda Ronstadt. But, that’s what they think they want , but then you make something like that and they’ll say “It sounds too much like Linda Ronstadt!”

Right. Or its not current enough, or its not this enough or that enough. I’ve had that too.

Whats current?

I don’t know!

The music business seems like it has splintered off into so many micro elements…

I think with the advent of keyboards and all that and doing it yourself, there is a certain sound that is a sameness at times, cause if you get in the studio with real musicians—we were talking earlier about bands and the dynamic when everybody is playing at the same time.

That’s why I have all these different instruments, you know-dobro, a mandolin, acoustic guitars—I used to have a banjo and I’ve got different synthesizers and keyboards. Its like I want to have a big palette of colors. Some songs, I really want them to be in that whole acoustic vibe and other songs I want bass and drums and electric guitars. The song will kind of tell you.

I had this song as I was walking back from the store one day, cause where I live in Vegas, I can just walk to the grocery. Walking across the street, this guy stops his car. I’m looking around because I’ve watched too many forensic files in my life and I’m thinking, oh gosh. And he leans over and he goes, you know, he made some comment about my looks or something. he goes, are you attached? I’m like, no…I ended up going home and my son calls later. I go, hey-I had this guy, it was kind of flattering snd he goes, its kind of creepy. And so I wrote this song called “Creepy Flattery.”  And it was sort of like, “I’m walking along minding my own business, when a stranger came up to me. It was the whole dynamic. And it was sort of a rap. But I never write rap. For the latest musical-the Burr musical-

I heard that opening cut.

Right. You can call me Al.

Its got like an 808 drum machine…

It does. It does! But I said, you know my brother said he wanted to parody the Hamilton musical with all the raps. So we opened it up with Alexander Hamilton rapping “You Can Call Me Al”.

Rapping about how his pictures still gonna be on the ten dollar bill

  

Thoughts On Visiting The Motown Museum

I’ve  lived in the Detroit area since 1969, but I never went to the Motown Museum until today. I’d heard great Motown stories from my old pal Bob Dennis, who worked with Motown in its heyday. Still, it was inspiring to actually be IN that room where so many great records were made and where so many careers were launched. Indeed, where so many dreams came true.

And I was moved by what Berry Gordy and Motown achieved in the 60’s and beyond. The music resonates with millions to this day. Hey-just seeing the faces of the people who came today proved to me that this music was an important part of their lives. They sang along with the songs. This was positive music that impacted lives in a positive way. For many of my generation, these were some of the songs that framed the days of our lives. When we hear My Girl or Heard It Through The Grapevine, we remember where we were and what we were doing at that time.

Being there, standing within the walls of this almost mythic music making studio, I was deeply inspired. I’m going to be honest here: my first impulse was to recreate this incredible music machine for a second time here in Detroit. We have the musicians, the singers, the studio engineers and the writers to make it happen. On paper, it all looks like a great dream until…

Until I understand that the music business that allowed this miracle to happen is dead. The computer and the internet killed it. People used to gladly pay a buck for a 45 single of a hot new tune. We were grooved in to the idea that we paid a little money for the privilege of owning a great track. People don’t do that anymore. When they can have it all for a few bucks, there is no longer interest in owning a copy of a song.

Now, we stream to our hearts content using Spotify or Apple Music-maybe Amazon Prime Music or Rhapsody. Well, streaming has made music valueless. Unless you should somehow happen to to blow up viral and huge. But hits like we knew in the 60’s? It doesn’t work that way anymore.

Even iTunes is closing their shop. From now on, it is all streaming. So who does it benefit? It benefits the consumer and the internet companies that do the streaming. It does not help the artists, the musicians or the songwriters who create music. Their intellectual property has been reduced to fractions of a penny. There is no real living to be made anymore. And you wonder why music sucks? Imagine if your career talents were reduced to fractions of a penny. Would you bother anymore?

Right now, we are in a perilous state where genius in discounted, thwarted and made useless. Had Berry Gordy  tried to build Motown Records today, he would have failed miserably because there is no real money to be made. Streaming services are thriving as long as people want to hear the old music. Eventually, nobody will bother trying to make a living from making records. It has become a calling card. Hear this and then come and see my show, where I can at least recoup with a ticket price. Or possibly get you to buy merch at an inflated price.

I think we were much better off when radio played the cream of all the genres and folks could by the records, know who produced them, who write them and who played on them. Now, we don’t know anything. The corporations that stream don’t give a damn. A record is just a way to get a customer to pay the monthly streaming fee. Basically, nobody buys records anymore and the losers are the musicians and the public.

If I thought there was a real market, I’d been on the horn to all the talents here in town and I would find a way to make the spirit of Motown rise from the ashes. Artists would rise, songwriters would get paid and records would sell like hotcakes. Motown was a beautiful dream and vision that succeeded in the time it existed, but that time is history. And, to me, it is such a  shame.

When I heard all this music today, I thought about all the lives it enriched-both the performers and the audiences. It was beautiful-a perfect symbiotic relationship. And I despise the powers that be that killed it. All that beauty and all that joy-kicked to the curb forever. What is left is a vacuum. Nobody knows what a hit is today. Nobody even knows what is going on in the big picture of music. Everybody is losing-except, of course, for the streaming services that are raping all the parties that once made great records.

To me, it is a sin that can never be absolved. A sin against culture-a sham that was the inevitable result of the digital age. I wish I had known before I let all that inspired me lead me into a life as a songwriter, performer and a musician. Maybe I could have followed my medical dreams and saved some lives.  

All Things Al Songwriter Interview Series Volume 3: Mark Jewett

I first met Mark when I was sitting in with his band Whitewater a few years back. Then, he turned me on to GW Staton’s Black Crystal Cafe, which is an amazing house concert venue in Ann Arbor. After that, we did a songwriter show at the Crazy Wisdom Bookstore together. In the process, we have become friends, sharing the joy of writing songs and making music.

https://www.facebook.com/MarkJewettMusic/

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Am I right that you came to songwriting later in life? Or have you always done it?

Quite late. I didn’t finish a song until I was 52.

Wow

In my head, I probably started writing fragments of songs when I was seventeen, but I never sat down to write one and finish one.

It was always a piece…

I just didn’t think I knew how to go about it. It didn’t happen until I went to a songwriting retreat.

And what happened at the retreat?

Oh. Gosh. I got all kinds of guidance. I got pulled through a portal to the songwriting world. It was traumatic for about an hour (laughter). The opening night of the retreat, there was an open mic that I didn’t know about and I had never performed solo before. I had no songs of my own, but Jill Jack was on the staff up there. She asked me if I had signed up yet and I said i don’t know what I would sign up for. She said “you need to do this”. So she took me aside and gave me a pep talk and I did it, trembling and terrorized, but I did it. So that was in 2008. That’s where I caught the bug.

You just kinda learned the ropes there about how to go about it and just dove in.

Mm hmmm. My first song… I’m still reluctant to claim it as something I wrote because I basically built it in Garageband with Apple Loops and added some lyrics to it, but it had form, it had function. It was a blues format thing with no choruses.  Actually, it had a chorus when I first wrote it, but it was awful, so I just deep sixed the chorus and left it as a four or five verse blues thing.

I think very few beginning songwriters have amazing luck on the first try

It’s like I took more care going about the next couple. I got some keepers early on.

Tim Dubois said that the first hundred don’t count (laughter)

Yeah, I’ve never been able to get on that train where you just keep writing all the time and just accept the fact that some weren’t going to pan out. I abort a lot of ideas because I don’t get the sense that they are going anywhere.

Right

And some songwriters say you should follow up and finish everything you start. I don’t have to so why?  I do it because I enjoy it.

And I think its wise when you get to a point where you know this isn’t going somewhere.

Yeah

I gotta come back to this because I am missing the handle on it, you know?

Yep. I have parked many. Probably close to 40 unfinished pieces. Some of them are barely started, but it was an idea I thought was worthy, so I captured it and parked it somewhere. I go back to that when I don’t have anything burning a hole in my soul

Yeah. I always keep a bunch of unfinished stuff around. Every once in a while, I will get a flash. Its like you have to sometimes get far enough away from something to see it for what it is.

That is very true.  And sometimes, you can take on a whole different angle to an idea that is so different from you original angle that is seems like—it IS a different song.

I find that songs kind of tell me where they want to go. I don’t tell them. They tell me. And if I try to push it where I want it to go and it doesn’t want to go that way, it isn’t going that way. They have a life of their own.

Yeah. I’ve experienced that. It feels good when you get one that tells you where it wants to go. I write different types of songs. Some of them deliberately tell a story and are often rooted in real life and I’m pretty picky about what stays in and what gets left out of those. I try to stay pretty true to the story. But then the lighthearted ones — you know, the almost nonsensical novelty songs—they come very easy…

Love refrigerator!

That’s an example! (laughs).  I think I had several verses that I threw away because it was just too long. Sometimes, for that kind of a song, they just keep coming. You just have to shut it out. Seven verses are enough!

Right! (more laughter) How did you get into music to begin with?

I didn’t necessarily back in, but I didn’t go in the way I wanted to. I wanted to play drums. I think 4th grade was where they introduced the music program at the elementary school where I was. And my mom didn’t say no to drums, she said hell no! (laughter) She didn’t want drums in the house. So…I played trombone for a long time, and outside of Trombone Shorty and Glenn Miller, I don’t know a lot of trombone-oriented songwriters.

Trombone Shorty is pretty cool!

Yeah. Trombone Shorty IS pretty cool. I played trombone all the way through high school-the regular concert band, the marching band, the stage band—which was the big band kind of thing. That’s where I got to appreciate big band music. But I wanted to do something else and I chose bass. I was probably in my sophomore year going into my junior year of high school. I bought a Kalamazoo bass and started to play around. I bought a Mel Bay book and my friend Keith showed me some real common rock and roll bass figures. I started from there but I did not have an orthodox beginning, much like the songwriting thing. I didn’t start a band, playing songs. I joined a bunch of guys that jammed in a living room and it was just freestyle jamming. You know, once in a while, somebody would pull out a song but usually somebody would just start playing a couple of chords and nobody knew where it was going next. It was kind of wild.

After playing big band music, that was probably quite a departure for you.

It was a 180 from that!  But most of the time, in that environment, you are getting a lot of garbage. Once in a while, you will get a miraculous convergence of ideas and timing that sounded great together. Then it’s gone in a flash.

I always figured the Allman Brothers probably started out that way. They’d probably tape their jams and then went back and found those magic parts and said, ok, this is something-we’ll use this section and this idea and this other idea.

That would not surprise me at all. But out of that (the freestyle jamming), with some of those people, we did form some bands coming out of that and, of course, started out on a lot of Beatles and Stones and pop tunes, but ah, the bands I joined tend to be a little offbeat-a little different. We played, material like Jethro Tull and King Crimson and Savoy Brown. Some unusual stuff. One band was extremely eclectic. I’ve never seen anything like it since. We played anything from Iggy to Minnie RIpperton, Gino Vanelli, Beatles, Stones, Tim Buckley—it was just all over the map. It’s the only band I’ve seen at a bar that had tympani on stage!

As a writer, after playing all those years, which songwriters would you cite as influences?

The first one was probably Jackson Browne.

Were you a fan of his all along?

I’ve always been a fan of his. Going all the way back to Doctor My Eyes. That was the one that first caught my attention. It probably didn’t hurt that he was recording and performing with Leland Sklar on bass. He’s one of the most melodic bass players I’ve ever heard.

His playing on Saturate Before Using was an eye opener to me

Haven’t heard anyone quite like him before or since.

His lines in “My Opening farewell” are very cool

But… a lot of writers have wedged their way into my psyche. Dan Fogelberg was really good. I don’t think I emulate much that he did but I really appreciate it. Crosby, Stills and Nash. Currently, I’m a big fan-have been for a long time-of Nick Lowe, as a songwriter. Norah Jones. Kathleen Edwards. Jason Isbell. If a guy my age can have an idol that’s 20 years younger, then he might be it.

I have many, many idols, I would say. I love Jason Isbell and that Southeastern album.

Yeah. The others are good but…

That ones’ about the best…

Nothing has knocked it out of first place for me. I liked that Vampires song…

Me too.

I find myself writing more about mortality now.

I do too. Do you think its just because you get to be this age and you keep seeing the road getting shorter? (laughs)

Every time you get out of bed, you’re reminded. (more laughter). We’re not getting younger, but mentally, I don’t feel older, and I think for part of that, I can give credit to a lot of the younger people I listen to and get to play with. I think it keeps me young.

I think the music helps to keep us young-at least in spirit. Music doesn’t really have an age attached to it. Maybe musical styles…

Well, it’s been a challenge getting started so late. I was never too accomplished at guitar. I owned one for decades but I never really went past the cowboy chords and didn’t play that often, but soon as I started writing, I quickly realized I had to become more proficient to express what was in my head.

So, what did you do? Did you take some lessons?

I took a few lessons. Private little sessions from some good teachers. We’d sit down for three or four hours and I’d say said, ok-that’s enough. I’ll see you in three or four months.

Right.

I’m gonna chew on this. I didn’t want to get into a weekly thing where I was biting off small assignments and getting ready for the next one. I felt for a long time like I was playing Monopoly all by myself and I’ve got three or four pieces and every time I roll the dice I move one piece forward. You know, I’ve got the writing piece, the singing piece, the guitar playing piece, and then some overall consciousness of performing better.

Each piece is sort of an art in itself.

Yeah. So no one of those pieces is going to rocket forward too far ahead of the others because I’m trying to pull them all along.

Well, you are doing it all at the same time, except for writing, I mean, that kind of exists separately from everything, in a way.

Yeah, writing-it happens whenever it wants to happen. In can happen in the middle of a conference call in your day job, it can happen when you are driving. It often happens when you are trying to get to sleep.

When I used to play five or six nights a week, songs would come when I was in the shower, getting ready to run out the door. You’d think the muse would have better timing…

In the Tom Waits biography-I think it was an unauthorized biography that I read-he was talking about how ideas would come to him, and he said they would often come to him while he was driving. You know, he’s in traffic and he’d get this idea and he would say-really? Right now? (laughter) I can’t write this down. But Tom Waits is another inspiration. He always reminds me that there aren’t any barriers. Go ahead. Be weird. If the idea you have is weird, go with it.

He certainly does

He’s fearless. 

Did you like Warren Zevon?

I LOVE Warren Zevon. Why did I not mention him? In fact, the most recent song I’ve written is called Warren Zevon’s Birthday. My dad passed away on Warren Zevon’s birthday. January 24th. And this past January, I’d been thinking about it and it occurred to me my dad and Warren Zevon couldn’t have been two more different people, but there was a common thread in that they both really liked the power of words. Finding the right words. That wasn’t the only thing they had in common. They were both pretty thirsty guys (laughs). And I just started thinking about a compare and contrast thing. There is definitely a common thread. They both influenced me in a similar way, but then they diverged on very different paths and the song is about that -the commonality and the divergence.

I thought Warren’s writing changed a lot as he got older. The first couple of albums came from a little bit different place for me.

Most definitely.

Although he always seemed to maintain that weird sense of humor. Like the song Mr. Bad Example.

Yeah! (laughs)

There’s no reason I should like that song, but I love that song!

I know exactly what you mean. I cover a few of his songs when I play gigs that call for covers.

Which ones do you do?

Hasten Down the Wind, Carmelita. Those are two of the common ones. My favorite of all his songs is not a well known one. Its called “Genius”. And, ah, I think its on My Rides Here. The first line caught my attention:

I’ve got a bitter pot of je ne sais quoi

Guess what—I’m stirring it with a monkey’s paw

Where is this going?

Right! (more laughs). I always considered him-I don’t know why exactly, but his songs seemed to be backed up by a real literary awareness. Its like this guy could have been a novelist had he not been a songwriter.

Oh, he devoured books. His estate still has thousands of books. His wife Crystal is auctioning them off for various charities. Yeah, he was really well read.

Did you read the biography that she wrote? (I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead)

Yeah. In fact, I’m still reading it. I’ve owned it for a while, but I really have a cue of a dozen books waiting to be read. It takes me forever to find time to finish one. Are you familiar with Gurf Morlix.

No.

He’s a Texas Americana songwriter, producer. He played guitar for Lucinda Willams for a while. He was in Warren Zevon’s band as a bass player for a few years-toured with him. I met him at a house concert and he was telling some Warren stories. And when I got the idea for this Warren Zevon’s Birthday song, I sent him a message and asked if he would mind looking over what I had and tell me if I was getting it right. He said, yeah, you pretty much got it right, but there’s a whole lot more. He suggested that I read that book and I have it, so now would be a good time to start reading it. I decided I’m going to finish reading it but the song isn’t really about Warren Zevon. It’s just taking some really powerful features of his personality and comparing and contrasting them with my dad.

That’s a really interesting idea. I’ve never heard anybody do anything like that. So are you working on a new album now?

I am. 

How’s the progress.

Well, we’re still at the starting gate. I did a couple of just exploratory sessions to create some rough demos and decided I’ve really got too much going on in my head. I really need some other ideas and a producer so I don’t have to worry about things I don’t have time to worry about. I’m doing pre-production with Billy Harrington out of Ann Arbor, a young and very talented guy. I’m looking forward to getting this thing into a full gallop pretty soon.

Good!

I’ve got five songs that are pretty much set and I’ve got a co-write with Amy Petty that’s ninety percent done. Just needs a couple tweaks. And then… I have to rely on pressure to cause me to finish a few more!

Book the CD release party…then write the rest of them!

Actually, I did, but plans have changed. I had a band date at Trinity House in Livonia in November, but instead, I’m going to open a show for a friend from Toronto named Jon Brooks then. To accommodate that, they gave me a January date for the band show. Having two extra months won’t hurt me to finish this project and I’m really looking forward to opening for Jon Brooks.

Its a win-win.

Uh huh.

As you are approaching this new record, do you just look at it one song at a time or do you look at it as a whole package? A theme?

I’m on the fence about that. I’m still a fan of albums, and songs that relate together and feel like they all belong. I’m still a fan of that.

Me too

The world at large is not. People pick the songs they want, they put them on a playlist and that’s what they listen to.

It’s not fair to us songwriters!

No, it’s not. I even debated on whether or not I wanted to turn this into an album or just do a series of singles, but I still want to do something that feels more cohesive. It’s a little problematic for me because I write songs in very different styles and some of them could stick out like a sore thumb. I thought maybe if I had some of these lighter hearted, less serious, romp in the park kind of thing, I could put them all on one EP. And I might do that. The others—it feels like they belong in a thematic collection to me.

If you were to describe your musical direction, what would you call it?

Well, “Americana” gets a lot of raised eyebrows, but I think it’s a thing.

It’s a big umbrella nowadays.

Yeah, but its a real branch of roots music and country music and it tends to emphasize human stories but it also brings a lot of texture and vibe that is not present in country music. Country music has its own fingerprint and American has a different one.

Definitely.

And I like that kind of stuff. That real warm vibey music with space in it, where you can hear all the parts individually and together.

A guy like Chris Stapleton can kind of walk the tightrope between country and Americana. You could say he’s either one and you’d be right.

He’s got a voice that competes very well in the pop arena but his songwriting skills and his guitar skills allow him to go other places.

Did you listen to much country music when you were growing up?

None. There wasn’t a single country or country and western album in the house. My dad liked big band music and jazz and I don’t really recall what kind of music my mom liked. You know, she’d sing along with whatever was on the radio. My dad took a few piano lessons as a youngster. He gave it up early but he always appreciated music. He always appreciated the stuff I was listening to. He was forever sneaking into my bedroom and listening to Emerson, Lake and Palmer on my headphones and he was a huge Santana fan. I took him to a Santana concert when he was probably 64. He loved it. He loved the Latin percussion stuff.

I backed my way into country by way of exposure to bands like Poco, the Eagles, the Marshall Tucker Band…

Country Rock

Yeah, so that was the front door for me-working my way backwards. I didn’t start with the country classics and work my way forward. I really like Guy Clark’s catalog.

There’s a writer!

Yeah, I try to stay open to it all. No regrets.

So, what do you have coming up?

Last year, I did a lot of songwriter in the round shows. I really enjoyed it. I’m splitting an evening-basically a song swap—with Chris Degnore.

I know the name. Does he play with Billy Brandt?

He plays with Billy frequently. He’s got his own band called the Black Drops I think he has a record in the can, but he hasn’t rolled it out yet. I wouldn’t have the patience!

Yeah. When I have something done, I want it out yesterday.

I’ve kicked the word wait out of my vocabulary. W-A-I-T. It seems I can’t kick the other one out! (W-E-I-G-H-T)

When you get to be my age, better get what I can right now, cause who knows what tomorrow holds.

Exactly, and that theme has come up in songs I’ve written in the last few years. I really don’t want to let go of it. Jill Jack has a song called “Live Like There’s No Tomorrow”. It’s a good philosophy.

Pretty much what I’m doing.

Oh-I’ve got something else coming up in June. I’m playing Porch Fest in Port Austin with Amy Petty. It’s one of those front porch concert festivals.

Don’t they do one of those in Ferndale?

Yes. I think it might even be the same weekend, but a guy I used to work with, he and his wife bought an old house in Port Austin. They are refurbishing it and they are going to host some music for Porch Fest. So, I’m looking forward to that.

(We drift into a discussion about the Black Crystal Cafe, and start talking about Craig Bickhart’s classic song, “This Old House”)

I don’t know if the writer knows it when they’ve written a near perfect song. Does it feel different than others or is it all in the ear of the listener?

I think you hope you have it, but you don’t really really know until you put the songs out there and people say over and over, that’s great and they keep pointing to that one particular tune.

I do that. If a song really strikes me and I really drill down and listen to the lyrics and how it is built musically, if I’m really impressed, I’ll tell everybody about it. And sometimes they’ll go, yeah its nice… NO it’s not nice, it’s FABULOUS! (laughing)