Toucan Do It Too

You know it’s going to be an interesting thrift store experience when they price things by the pound. While sifting through the Stephen King books, polyester pants, random mismatched golf clubs and orphaned carafes from long dead coffee makers, I stumbled upon a stack of records. I sat down on the ground and began the arduous task of flipping through sleeve after sleeve of Jim Nabors and alas, Englebert Humperdink (how is it that he sold so many records?), I saw the sky-blue corner of this record peeking out from the mildewed and abandoned classical box sets:

Toucan Do It Too Album Art
Toucan Do It Too Cover

The sleeve has a little water damage, the inner sleeve that I bought with it was actually from a Joan Armatrading album, and the record has a few surface scratches that don’t affect the playability.

If you’ve never heard of this band, you’re really missing out. They are a kind of soul-country-bluegrass hybrid. Russell Smith sings, plays rhythm guitar, and writes the majority of the songs, Butch McDade sings and writes two songs, and plays drums, Jeff Davis plays bass, Billy Earheart plays organ, James Hooker plays all other keys and Barry Burton plays lead guitars and engineers.

Lots of soul here, and  5 songs, “Never Been to the Islands,” “Living in a World Unknown,” “Everybody’s Talked Too Much,” “Who’s Crying Now,” and “Two Can Do It Too” made it into the Papa Burrows Amazing Rhythm Aces Mixtape.

“Two Can Do It Too” bis my favorite thing on this record. It’s funky and cool, with lots of tasty electric piano.

Find it. Love it.

Fearless

This week, I decided to visit my local record store and actually buy something this time. Last time I was in there, it was about a week and a half ago, and I found some things that I wanted, but I decided to think about them for a week, instead of impulse buy about 20 records.

I have a rolling wantlist that I keep that mainly consists of songwriters I admire, so I’m always looking for Guy Clark, Kris Kristofferson, Lee Clayton, and people of that caliber. I went back in this week for two specific records by Hoyt Axton, and ended up getting only one of those. That record is the one I want to talk about here.

The record I bought that I really wanted is from 1976 and Is called “Fearless,” named after Hoyt’s St, Bernard, This record had an amazing cast of L.A. session musicians on it, including Jim Keltner, Larry Carlton, Jeff Porcaro, Dean Parks, Tom Scott, Hank DeVito, Michael Omartian, James Burton, Joe Sample, and George Clinton.

Hoyt Axton Fearless
Hoyt Axton- Fearless Cover

There are several songs on this record that made the venerable Papa Burrows “Hoyt Axton Drive To Texas Mixtape,” including “Idol of the Band,” “Evangelina,” “Flash of Fire,” “An Old Greyhound,” “Gypsy Moth,” and “Beyond These Walls.”

It seems like it was recorded in probably 3 sessions, each with a different rhythm section, and it just kicks ass. Hoyt has an amazing voice and range, and it’s put to good use here and showcased in a lot of the strange vocal gymnastics he does for effect. Larry Carlton and James Burton are both completely on their game here, lots of interesting guitar parts and solos.

The thing I love about Hoyt is the quirkiness of his songwriting. In “An Old Greyhound,” or example, he sings the line: “don’t give a damn who you think we am, we’re bein’ who we are.” It’s like he’s stealing a page from the Roger Miller playbook. Good stuff, it makes me want to get even more Hoyt. Which I will. Soon.

Vinyl Collecting

I started buying vinyl before I even owned a turntable. I would go to record stores and browse through the stacks and find the odd Amazing Rhythm Aces or Rodney Crowell record and buy it, because it was cool and old, and at a price of one dollar, it beat having to spend ten dollars on an MP3 that didn’t even sound good.

I bought things at thrift stores that I thought were cool, flipping through sleeve after sleeve of Englebert Humperdink and Mitch Mitchell and Andy Williams and Tennessee Ernie Ford and Guy Lombardo. It can be a little hard to take most of the time. Every once in a while, though, a sleeve that you recognize pierces through the dark, mildew scented shelves, and you find something that you remember and relate to.

I found a decent modern turntable about a month ago, replaced its broken needle with one I ordered from an eBay supplier, got a cheap mixer from another eBay auction, and after rummaging through my garbage bag full of cables and finding the right connectors, I was able to hear my vinyl for the first time. I was in business.

Last week, I found this one, among a few others sitting on the bottom shelf of a thrift store shelf, just waiting for me to find it:

John Prine - Sweet Revenge Album Art
John Prine – Sweet Revenge

I have a theory that all music worth listening to was created in 1972 and 1973. This is one of those records. It was produced by Arif Mardin, it has Reggie Young, Steve Goodman and Kenny Malone playing on most of it, and it has 4 songs on it that made my father’s “John Prine” mixtape that he would play as we made the long, hot and mostly uncomfortable drive from Breckenridge, CO to Wichita Falls, TX every summer to visit my Grandparents. This record has the Papa Burrows seal of approval.

 

 

 

Inspiration

Hey followers whom I have let down.

Sorry.

Please excuse my absence. Life again.

I know you’re probably waiting on the edge of your seat for the return of The Walking Dead, but let me pull on your coat a second.

I just want to hip you to some kick ass records that came out in the last month that you need to purchase. NOW.

First, Hello Cruel World by Gretchen Peters.

Second, Long Ride Home by Darrell Scott.

Also, I was recently turned on to the poet KIm Addonizio. You should go get some of her stuff. I’m really enjoying her book about writing poetry: Ordinary Genius: A Guide For The Poet Within. Get it. Learn it. Become Disciplined.

That’s all.

This….Two Months: 


The two albums mentioned above…obviously.

Got a job finally…that takes some of the pressure off….beats waiting for JG…

My son’s Chirstmas bike was stolen. People are assholes.

Still repairing that Gibson LG-2.

Haven’t written much…but the ordinary genius book is inspiring me to get off my ass again.

In Defense of the Blues

Hey there 7 followers….long time no type….again.


…yeah…


Sorry bout that….life…you know?


Anyway, I’ve been thinking about the usual: what it means to devote our life to music in an economy that has largely made music have almost NO monetary value…..but I think I’ve talked about that enough lately….so I started thinking about something Townes said. He said “There are only two kinds of music in the world: the Blues and Zip-a-dee-doo-da.”


So it occurred to me that….I don’t really LIKE happy, positive songs. I know. I sort of gravitate towards the real…things that are sad and melancholy have more resonance to me…The Truth of Suffering is more apparent to me than pretending everything is ok.


Thats probably part of the reason that I drift to poets like Bukowski…there is always unvarnished REALITY hidden in the lack of structure and simple language…and there is no bullshit. 


Which basically gets to the crux of why positive songs annoy me: there is something inauthentic about singing about how great things are…something that fails to come to grips with the “full catastrophe.” Typically, when I come across these songs on the radio or something….it strikes me as pablum. I mean, the last thing I want when I feel like my life is falling apart is a song telling me how great everything is and how things have turned the corner.  That just shows me how out of  touch people can be. 


Maybe a parallel can be drawn to comedy. Comedy works best when the comedian is outside the power structure and speaking truth to those inside that power structure….when those that are IN power try to be funny….there is a disconnect between the ability of the person in power to speak TRUTH….so I think that in the same way, when you are writing about how great your life is, when the VAST majority of other  humans on the earth CANNOT relate….you are doing them a disservice…


This Week

Darrell Scott
Tom Rush
Danny Malone
Jeff Black–he has a new album “Plow Through the Mystic” –GET IT

Oh! Guess what? I finally finished the Mysterious Recording Project. You can find it on iTunes! Search for Rachel Rea! 

I’m going to try to keep a regular schedule again. Fair Warning…:-)

So until next time: write somethin’, will ya? (as long as its not a disingenuous positive song….write some blues…)

 

Errata

Hey there followers.

Long time no type.

Just a quick one this week: do yourself a favor and go read this review of the Lou Reed/Metallica collaboration: Injustice For All

He has a great deal to say about the current state of the music industry in this review. It’s very good.

This Week


Almost finished with the mysterious recording project. Listened to some of the stuff I recorded a few years ago, thought I could do better now,  and started remixing some of it.

David Wilcox
Josh Woodward
Waylon
They Might Be Giants

Happy Irish New Year.

….we are witnessing the end of Metallica….

Crossroads

Hey all!

Hope everything is going according to plan this week.

This one’s gonna be short and way late.

This post is going to be another short one, just some thoughts that occurred to me after having been to a publisher pitch session this last week.

If you’re in Nashville, you probably should try to make it to Jason Blume‘s free workshops at BMI. They’re free, you just might learn something, and every month there is a publisher pitch.

This week I went to one of his publisher pitches. It was interesting. The publisher was Nathan Nicholson. He was honest and up front and told us that he was looking for contemporary country songs for male singers. He also told us that he probably wasn’t going  to take anything with him unless it was BETTER than what was currently on the radio. He listened to every song, most of the time saying things like, “I just don’t think I could get it recorded.” Or “Not that it’s a bad song, I just think I’d have a hard time getting it cut.”

Sometimes there would be a really great song, but not “contemporary enough.” In other words, maybe the song would sound like it was from the early  90’s and therefore be out of place in today’s contemporary country market. And then I started thinking: everybody that I like, and I’m talking about Guy Clark, James McMurtry, Lyle Lovett, Hayes Carll, Dylan, John Prine, Joni Mitchell–I don’t think any of them would be able to get a publishing deal today.

So here’s what I arrived at: I think everyone comes to this point in their songwriting development where they have to either take the fork in the road that heads to Commercial writing, for money, for the business of it….or take the other fork…that leads to Art…and truth….

So which one are you? Which fork are you going to take?

Sorry this is so late, but hey, there’s some life that’s gotta happen in the midst of all this.

This Week


Jeff Black
Hayes Carll

….yeah I realize it’s a false dichotomy. You can probably do both…but it seems like all the songwriters I admire have chosen to eschew the commercial game for something more transcendent.

write somethin’ will ya?

Slipperman’s 10 Commandments of AE Beatdown

If you have done a bit of audio engineering, you may have come across a huge amount of discussion fora on the subject. Most are full of people that talk as if they have a clue, but actually do not. There is one shining exception: the World Of Media Boards, or the “Womb.” If you haven’t checked them out, by all means do so. Here’s the Link: www.thewombforums.com. They were started by a guy using the nomme du plume, “Mixerman,” to disseminate ACTUAL knowledge from ACTUAL PROS about how audio engineering ACTUALLY happens in REAL LIFE. Mixerman recruited some of his Audio Engineering colleagues that were fed up with the normal trolling and flame war BS that typically happens in fora.

One of these colleagues is a guy whose handle is “Slipperman.” He has a huge amount of experience running a high client recording studio on the outskirts of NYC, and on the WOMB, you will find his amazing narratives about Audio Engineering as a Life Pursuit, and his hilarious take on the way the music business is crumbling. He has a huge treatise in which he goes over his methodology for recording LOUD, HEAVY, DISTORTED GUITARS and he also has several podcast-sized audio files in which you can hear him go off about things in highly entertaining ways.

I was reading through various posts one day, and I came across this piece of Slipperman wisdom that has stayed with me…and although it is titled “Slipperman’s 10 Commandments of AE Beatdown,” I think it applies to ANYONE in the music industry IN ANY CAPACITY. Enjoy.

Slipperman’s 10 Commandments of AE Beatdown

Music Theory: Part Six! (The Last)

Hey there seven followers, I hope the week has proven to be productive and song inducing….

Let’s get right into the final post in the Nashville Number System/Music Theory Introduction Series:

The Last Page

The last page is so unbelievably simple, I don’t think I even need to scan it and upload it. Here it is in its entirety: 1 6- 5 4 repeat until the fade out. Since you’ve been keeping up, I’m sure you’ve figured out by now that in this key, D Major, that progression is D Major, B Minor, A Major, G Major. Repeat ad infinitum, or until the drummer passes out….

How about in Bb Major?  Bb Major, G Minor, F Major, Eb Major.

Simple, right? I invite you to try to make some number charts of your songs as you write them–it’s funny–sometimes, even in GoogleDocs, I write out a number chart in the margin, so i can link the progression with the song, so i’m able to remember it for later.

Nobody guessed, what this song is. Surely you’ve heard it. I KNOW at least three of you have heard it. Anyway, I’ll tell you what it is…in bit…

Why are we doing this to ourselves again?

So again: Why it it useful to learn the Nashville Number System? I think there are several reasons to do this to yourself.

First, it will allow you to write charts that Nashville Session Musicians will understand. Even if you aren’t in Nashville, competent session players at least have a cursory understanding of the number system.

Second, the number system sort of bypasses the fear of sight reading that most musicians have. It allows the player to be creative within the context of the groove and the chord, without having to adhere rigidly to the written notes.

Third, it allows for quick and relatively painless transposition. Let’s say you’re Don Felder, and you just wrote and recorded a demo of this great chord progression on the guitar in E Minor. So you bring it to Don Henley, and he takes the demo tape home over the weekend and writes some lyrics and a melody to this progression you’ve written. When you reconvene in the studio on Monday, Don tells you he finished the song, but he has changed the key. Acting like it’s no big deal, you ask Don what key this new song is in, assuming he has changed the key by one whole step at most. Don replies, “B Minor.”
THAT’S A FIFTH HIGHER!!! Now you have a BIG problem, if you have already written charts in standard notation. either you have all the players look at the chart as you have written it, in E Minor, and THINK “B Minor,” or you re-write the chart, causing you to waste time and money in the studio. With the Nashville Number System (and some session players that are familiar with it), the player would just make the adjustments mentally, and you’re off! “Hotel California” is recorded with no new charts having to be written, and the players don’t have to perform the odd mental gymnastics required when you are LOOKING at an F#, but THINKING C# (get it? a fifth higher).

Fourth, everybody gets the same chart. Since everybody is sort of improvising their own parts within the confines of the song structure, the key, and the groove, there is no need for SPECIFIC charts. We’re going to TRUST THE  MUSICIANS…..I know, but it’s just a song, it’s not like they are going to date your daughter….

So there.

This Week

Wrote a new song, completed the recording of the background vocals for the ever enigmatic recording project.

Need to play out more. There’s a weird dynamic when you play things only for people you know. If they’re your friends, they tell you the song is good even if it sucks.  Even if you play songs for someone you don’t know, and it’s one on one, they are most likely uncomfortable criticizing you to your face. When you are playing for a group, you can usually tell whether or not your song is ok by their applause. Then, if no one approaches you afterward to compliment your song, you know you have a dog….but if they do approach you after you’re finished playing and compliment your songs…you might be on to something. Just saying. Maybe you should make that your goal when you start to write; “Man, this time, when I play this song at the Joe Blotz’s Terrible Open Mic Night, people are gonna come tell me how much they like it.”

No….don’t do that.  Write the absolute best song you can that comes from an authentic emotional place, with detail and imagery that exemplifies the emotional sentiment of your song, and don’t settle for anything less than the BEST you can pull from yourself.

Hayes Carll
Will Hoge
Jeff Black
Justin Townes Earle
Then there’s this song on John Denver’s “Aerie” that I keep going back to….it’s called “She Won’t Let Me Fly Away” the groove is better than it has any right to be on a John Denver record…

Oh!

it’s “A Little Bit Stronger” by Sara Evans, but you probably figured that out, right? Go buy it. Play along with it.

Write somethin’ will ya?

See ya next week.

Music Theory: Part 5

Hey there seven followers!

I hope everything continues to go well with you out there in internet land.

Page 2

This week, we’re going to wrap up the strangeness that is the Nashville Number System. We have covered the first page of our chart, and I hope you went through it in both D and Bb, so you could get the hang of transposition. Now it’s time to move to the second page, where we will find new things to confound us. Have a look:

As you can see, there are a few new elements that require some explanation. We can see that the first twelve bars of the “Chorus 2”  section are almost identical to the first chorus. We encounter a different chord in bar twelve: in Chorus 1, this chord is 4, or G Major in this key, and here in chorus 2, the chord is 6-, or B Minor in this key. The next three bars are sort of a transition to the bridge, complete with specific rhythmic notation. All pretty straight forward.

Flats and Diamonds

The bridge, as I continue to maintain, is the part of the song where the TRUTH of the song, or the MAIN THEME is revealed. Also, since it is a new section, it should do things harmonically or melodically–or both, to differentiate it from the other sections of the song. This Bridge does all of those things…and leads to a Broken Down version of the chorus, where the listener is forced to listen to the words and sentiment of the section.

So let’s take the Bridge bar by bar, shall we? The first three chords we have seen before: 4 (G Major in this key), 5 (A Major in this key), and 6- (B Minor in this key).  The last two bars of  the Bridge is where we are introduced to our new elements. These bars contain the b7 Chord. This chord is a “borrowed” chord, because it is borrowed from a key outside of the one this song is written in. In this case, this chord is borrowed from the key of G, but thankfully, we don’t really have to know that to play through this chart. all we have to know is where the seventh of this key normally is–and in this case you should know that the seventh of the key of D Major is C#. So for  a b7 chord, we simply lower the seventh one half step, to C, and play a major chord based on that note. So in our example, when we see the b7 chord, we know to play a C Major chord. It should also be noted with some makers of charts, this chord may be written as 7b…but…I went to Berklee…so I never refer to that chord as “Seven Flat,” but always “Flat Seven.”

So what do these diamonds mean? The diamonds are basically tied whole notes that the whole band stops on in unison. So we’re going to hit the chord and hold it for eight beats. So after leaving us suspended in mid-air at the end of the Bridge, we land at Chorus 3…softly…with stripped-down instrumentation.

Chorus 3 

So Chorus 3 in our example breaks down to just a few instruments: mandolin and maybe a pedal steel guitar playing a pad-type figure. You’ll notice that there are more chords in this chorus…probably to provide contrast and give this chorus a feeling of forward motion…impelling it to the end.

There are lots of split chords in this section, with the 1/3s leading both towards and away from the 4 chord. Again, this section ends with a diamond over 4…telling us that the band is holding that chord for the full four beats.

So, again, try to play this page not only in D, but also in Bb. See if you can make it through. Next week, we’ll look at the final section of this song, which is on page 3.  and then I’ll tell you what the song is, so you can buy it and play along!

This Week

This week, I’ve been listening more. I’ve also been comping, editing, and tweaking vocals on the mysterious recording project…also doing a little bit of mix prep, trying to make some notes about how I want it all to fall together.

Jamey Johnson
Hayes Carll
Justin Townes Earle
Pink Floyd
Symphony of Science

How long until we have self-repairing cars?

Talk to you next week.

Write somethin’ will ya?

Smoke And Mirrors – Now Available!