Strange Brew Today

I’ll be playing down at Strange Brew in Austin, Texas today with my kid brother for the first time in months.  I had a band with my brother for many years that has been on hiatus while my brother attends law school.  After a searing 3 hour rehearsal yesterday we decided to turn my solo show into a rock show.  We’re also going to be joined by the great Austin songwriter Kacy Crowley.  Detrimental to my wallet, I’ve always had a strange relationship with the whole self promotional thing.  However, I can say without any doubt we are going to bring it today.  Playing with my brother, and longtime drummer Alex Moralez, yesterday made me feel like I was on a rocket taking off for Mars.  Together, let’s celebrate Jesus’s birthday early today by drinking and smoking! (Hey it’s not like it was meant to be celebrated by shopping.)  4pm start time.

Ghost Songs

This afternoon I fell into the deep and dark sleep of the the hungover, only to awaken to a cold grey and white grave like early evening.  It looked as much like a dream outside, and a far more nefarious one, than the dream I had just been having on my couch.  Realizing that my dog had not been walked I put on my headphones and headed out the door.  I put on the last two songs from Bash and Pop’s album Friday Night is Killing Me.  Those songs would be Tiny Pieces and First Steps.

What an album!  It is one of those albums that I discovered in a used CD store some years back that has never completely left the rotation.  And yet it is an album so few people know about.  I wonder how many people even own that album?  It was Tommy Stinson’s first album after the breakup of The Replacements.  It is full of loose disheveled rock n roll.  The playing is simply fantastic, especially the guitar playing.  It has so many cool little guitar parts delivered with a ton of feel.  The production is organic and inviting.  It really is one of those great lost rock n roll gems, like if the Faces had some record out there that had escaped release.  It’s not music that will change the world, but it is a record that always manages to change my mood when I am listening to it.  I imagine it does that for other people that have discovered its charms.

It’s funny how the things that can mean so much to us, like dreams, are things that so many other people will never ever know.  How many great albums are out there that we will never hear?  Even more, how many great songs were written that have been lost to the sands of time?   Unlike many other types of art that must be rendered in physical form in the doing, usually songs that make it to record often leave behind many other ones that never will.  Shadows and spirits of sound that a songwriter may deliver in their living room, that are swept aside as the times change.  Ghost songs.  Not the songs of the dead, but the songs of the deceased emotion.

Maybe that organization of sound was developed into something better.  A lot of times it is just a numbers game.  You only get the financing to make so many records.  At the time you choose what you think are your best songs, although it can be very hard to judge your own work.  You record them, in a process where so many things can be lost in translation.  Then out of all of the recordings that are made only so many of them find an audience, often having nothing to do with the works validity.  Even for the most popular of artists it can sometimes be a losing game.

Friday Night is Killing Me is one of those records that at least got made, but has been largely forgotten.  It makes no difference, other than maybe in the financial bearing of its creators.  They made something great.  They took a chance and dreamed.  Even if they are few and far between, there are still people out there like me whose souls are warmed by it on a grim afternoon, as if we had suddenly stumbled upon the hearth of a friendly fire after a great storm.

One day you’re stumblin’ around
The next you’re thinkin’ of the town
And the friends that you thought would always be
With old friends come those greetings
That your eyes won’t be meeting
Though your insides want to embrace
You hardly recognize the face
With Chicago round the corner
Baby takes her first step today

Bash and Pop First Steps

The Transcendent Quality of Music

I have remarked before that 12 Years a Slave is one of the best movies that I have seen in awhile.  It is not only expertly crafted and conveys its central story with incredible emotional impact, but it also has lots of ideas and themes permeating its margins.  There is a scene in the movie that is of true power where the slaves on the plantation sing Roll Jordan Roll.  This comes at a particularly harrowing point in the movie.  In this scene, especially in the context of the movie, one is made to feel how music allows one to transcend suffering to a degree.  It does not negate suffering, but simply allows one to carry on in the face of it.  Music is not only a source of joy, but also, like all good art should do, allows one to spiritually transcend the human mud of life.  It can allow one to exorcise those emotions that would otherwise tear them apart from the inside.

Recording Ted Hawkins Baby

I’ve been busy playing shows and recording the last few days, so I haven’t been posting a lot.  Today I had simply one of the most amazing musical experiences that I’ve ever had, and probably ever will.  I got to record with Elizabeth Hawkins and Tina Hawkins, the late great Ted Hawkins’s widow and daughter.  I’m not a religious person, but to quote Kurt Vonnegut, a secular humanist, “The only proof he needed for the existence of God was music.”  It was that kind of day.

Right now there is a Ted Hawkins tribute record being put together.  The Shinyribs band is the house band for anyone that doesn’t bring their own musicians in.  Kevin “Shinyribs” Russell is one of the producers.

There is something indescribable when family sings together.  Hearing a mother and daughter sing their husband/dad’s song was extraordinary.  These two sang like angels.  It had that kind of purity and heart that you hear on 1960’s girl group records.  I felt, listening back to them, that I temporarily took a trip outside of space and time.  This was timeless music, as it was pure emotion.  Keith, Kev, and I tracked in one room live, with the two women singing live in the other room.  Let me tell you, it was easy to play well while you were hearing those two songbirds in your headphones.  (We recorded the song above.  The video above is a brief live clip of Ted Hawkins.  There is a recorded band version of this song that we based our arrangement on today.  I should also mention that Elizabeth Hawkins sang with Ted Hawkins on his records and also helped to arrange some of the material.)

There is so much more I could say, but the proof will be in the recording when it is finally available.  Often when you record something you have no idea how the final product will turn out.  However, today was one of those days when you just felt lucky to be there.

P.S.  If you haven’t heard Hawkins’s Watch Your Step album, it is a must buy.  I’ve never heard anyone that didn’t like it.  HIs other records are fantastic too, especially Happy Hour, but Watch Your Step is a front to back masterpiece.

A Strange Sliver in Time

On the late van ride from Houston to Beaumont.   Tonight is a perfect example of performing and having a completely different experience than the audience, or even anyone else in the band.  Tonight we played a venue I usually love, especially because the crowd is so great there.  The crowd was no different tonight.  However, I was in some weird sound cave where I could hear everything I didn’t need to, and none of the musical cues I actually needed.  On top of that one of my drinks spilled two songs into the set and it felt like I was standing on an oil slick.  Not being able to hear or move is a great way to play like you have mittens on your hands.  I wasn’t drinking so there was none of the false triumph of a buzz.  After the show I slithered out to the van like the Grinch.  All this happened while, three feet from me, Keith said he had the best sound he has ever had in that room.  Sound frequencies behave in weird manners. 

I am not complaining.   There are bound to be nights like this.  You play 150 shows a year and some will be bad, good, and average.  Just because you are having a bad night, doesn’t mean anyone else is.  Just keep plugging away.  A week from now this will all be a distant dream.  They say one should live in the moment, but sometimes the opposite is true; The moment is just a small strange sliver in time that will eventually fade, good or bad.