As we prepare to “spring forward” this weekend, it seems fitting that this winter of all winters give us one last (hopefully) blast of ice and snow this past week. Lauren and Will managed to get out of town before it hit, leaving me stranded in Nashville by myself for several days longer than anticipated. I was supposed to see a Willie Nelson concert at the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville on Tuesday, but instead was holed up in a Nashville condo, infected by the cabin fever. One would think that this would lend itself to some productivity time, and had this been a normal winter it might have. Instead, I renounced productivity and gave into the slothful symptoms of a late winter cabin fever, the one where you watch movies in sweat pants and eat chips. Classy, I know (next photo shoot?).
A bright spot in this is that I managed to catch a Robert Ellis show at The Basement that I wouldn’t have gotten to otherwise. I bought Robert’s newest album “The Lights From The Chemical Plant” the week before and was intrigued by it. I expected the show to be good, but good doesn’t begin to describe it. The band was great, the songs were great, and Robert Ellis can play the guitar as fluently as any songwriter I have seen. He is relatively new on the scene, and in the middle of a long tour through the south right now promoting the record. Check out his website, and if you can, I recommend buying the record and catching a show if he’s stopping by your area. You won’t be disappointed.
In other news, I have gotten the EP, “Songs of Home, pt. 1” mastered and ready for production. I’m waiting on some album art and am inching closer to release. I am also gearing up for more live performances and hope that I will be playing somewhere close to each of you that read. In the meantime, I will be practicing, writing, and juggling the final stages of getting the EP ready for release, and then practicing some more. Nashville is a funny town. There are few places that you can spend all day practicing and think to yourself “I’m getting pretty good at this…” and then walk into any music store in town and hear five people playing that make you think “maybe I should go home and practice some more.” The Lovin’ Spoonful song “Nashville Cats” comes to mind. The city is a great reminder that no matter how talented you are, or how proficient you are, you can always be better. I’m hopeful for improvement, especially if mother nature is done blowing ice storms at us for a while. Have a great weekend.
This week I’ve chosen to perform the James Taylor song “You Can Close Your Eyes” from his 1971 record “Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon”. The album was a follow up to the “Sweet Baby James” record that started Taylor’s career as a recording artist. There is certainly no shortage of James Taylor songs that I could’ve chosen to cover, and I imagine I will do some more of his songs in the future. I’m attached to this song personally, Maybe it is the amount of traveling we’ve been doing, or the fact that this song, and this record, remind me of family and of my home. It is also sort of an anthem for the couple who’s relationship is made complicated by travel, a simple message: I am away, I will be home soon, I love you, rest easy. I hope that I have done the song justice, and I hope you enjoy it. More to come this week on the site, and I hope if any of you are in the Nashville area that I will see you at Pour House tonight at 8 p.m., where I will be performing some original songs. Either way, have a great week.
I will start my venture out into the city next week to share my music and meet people that do similar things that I do. My fellow Fort Smith native and Nashville transplant Randy Russell heads a writers night on 8th Avenue at Pour House on Tuesday nights and has been generous enough to let me come share some songs on their stage. The Pour House opened just over a year ago and is quickly becoming a hot spot for a Nashville burger, and they are also making themselves known for their vast selection of bourbons, which will inevitably leave me juggling the ever important balance between young professional in the music business and connoisseur of bourbon cocktails.
I will be on stage at 8 o’clock, and sharing it with me will be fellow Nashville songsters Charlie Pate and Jeff Blaney, swapping songs with me according to the “writers round” format. Part song sharing, part story telling, and part beer drinking competition, the writers round is a casual atmosphere show that was probably invented so that Nashville songwriters could drink beer, talk about old flames, tell funny jokes about being raised in a rural setting, and then play you songs about…wait for it… drinking beer, old flames, and stories about rural living. All jokes aside, I am excited about the opportunity to introduce myself and my songs to the Nashville audience. Nashville is certainly a tall latter to climb when you are in music, but a starting point must exist, I suppose.
The past few weeks have brought some change in my life as my family and I are moving into a condo in Nashville upon preparing to release “Songs of Home, pt. 1”. We have, it seems, began to settle in a bit more, though we will be splitting time between here and Arkansas, which leaves us in a constant state of motion, even in the settled times. As I wrote last week, my recording gear has been traveling with me, so I am happy to announce that I have finally got it up and running and will have a new song for you in the coming week.
This move does bring new perspective into the main concept behind the upcoming record; the idea of “Home”. Home as a place, home being the people we surround ourselves with, home being a place we leave, or a place that we go to make a new home, and the reasons for which we seek that new home.
Music has always been a driving force in my life. I spent most of my young adulthood here in Nashville, writing songs, recording, and creating. I moved away back in 2009 after minimal success in the business, and so this move brings with it many emotions, some of excitement, some of unrest and fear. It is different now as I am responsible not just for myself and my career, but responsible to my wife and young son. This responsibility has guided the nature of my work over the past year and continues to guide me going forward. I am in Nashville partly because I enjoy the city; it’s people, it’s energy, it’s host of creative outlets and being surrounded by creative people. I am mainly in Nashville because it provides the best opportunity to start a career in the music business. This does not come without concern, as we had a well structured life that we had established in Arkansas. If I could do everything professionally that I needed to from Arkansas, I would most likely work from there. It is, by most accounts, my home. But again, music has been a driving force in my life, and has, for a second time now, driven me away from that home and the comfort that I feel there. Some of us are born to leave our homes, I suppose. This is certainly nothing new in the human condition. As Petruchio says in Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew” when asked what winds carried him from his home:
“Such wind as scatters young men through the world, To seek their fortunes farther than at home Where small experience grows.”
I look forward to this new opportunity and experience in Nashville, and I look forward to bringing you new music in the future.
I don’t have a new song for you this week, but I thought that I would share a short story that I wrote, sticking with the machine worker theme from last week’s song. I don’t often write prose, although I do enjoy it. Here is a story that I call “Space”. I think it fits well with last weeks “Machinist’s Hymn” (which you can listen to at the end of the story).
The raw iron was delivered on Mondays and when it arrived on this Monday it was still dark, and James had just punched his time card and was finishing a cigarette and sipping his coffee in the cold wind. He flicked the cigarette on the ground and put the coffee between his legs while he unloaded the palettes with the forklift. When he finished, he lowered the loading door and looked at the shipment. He put his hand against the metal and it was cold, and the room was cold before the machines were running. He stood up to finish his coffee and threw the cup away and then he breathed into his hands and rubbed them together as he looked at the palettes that filled the room.
Dave was already working when James got to his machine, but they made eye contact as James took the keys and the wallet out of his pocket and laid it on the workbench. “Gonna be a long week of work, Jamesey.” “I guess that’s better than a long week of no work, huh?”
– “You betcha.”
and the two men smiled and James turned on the lathe and heard it start to turn and was listening to the bearings, gentle as they slid. Dave said something else, but the hum of the machine was loud and James didn’t ask him to repeat it. He listened to the hum of the machine again and when he didn’t hear it anymore he thought about the metal and how he liked to watch the chips fall on the floor as he would make his cut and when he was done with the cut he would run his hand against the grain to feel for imperfections. He thought about the finished product being out on the oil rigs and he felt good when he thought about the oil that would be refined to fill our gas tanks and heat our homes. Friday was pay day and the men cleaned up their work benches and turned out the lights and made their way to the time clock to get the checks. When James punched his card he saw the other workers gathered around the TV in the break room and Dave looked up from the TV and walked over to James.
– “What is going on over there?”
– “This whole Goddamned country is screwed. Banks have lost their asses and they’re begging Papa Government for a bailout.”
– “Christ, a bailout paid for by yours truly.” and James shook his head as he said it.
The men sat for a while and watched and they cursed the government as they watched and they cursed the banks and they grew worried as they watched, but they didn’t talk about the worry, they just cursed them all some more and eventually they gathered their things and James walked with Dave to the parking lot.
– “It’s pay day, and I need a drink. I’m gonna go to the Village Pub. You thirsty, Jamesey?”
– “Not tonight. I think Lucy has dinner planned.” and he started his car and drove away. When he had cashed his check he called Lucy.
– “Lucy.” “Hi James. What is it?” “Well I just wanted to see how your day was, is all.” “I’m fine James. My day was fine.” “I’m just driving home. I was going to cook tonight. I was hoping-” “James. I’m busy tonight. I told you I can’t see you right now. I wish you’d stop.” “I know, Lucy. I want to give you space. I just wanted you to know. I don’t like eating alone. You’re my wife, for Christ’s sake.” “I’ve got to go, James. I’ve got to go.”
– and he heard the click as he told her goodbye and he turned up the radio and wondered if he had been too polite to her on the phone. He listened to “She Thinks I Still Care” and he was angry with Lucy and then angry with himself. He walked into the Village Pub and sat next to Dave and made eye contact with the bartender as he sat his coat over the bar stool and sat down. “Well hey, buddy. I thought you had dinner plans with Lucy.” “Lucy left.” “What do you mean she left?” “I mean she left. She’s moved out. Says she needs space.” “What the hell? When did that happen?” “Tuesday night. I came home from work and she had packed a few bags. She says she needs space. She says she doesn’t know if she sees herself growing old with me.” “Jesus.”
– The bartender came over and James ordered a double whiskey with a splash of coke and Dave ordered the same thing. They each lit a cigarette and sat there at the bar, smoking and nervously tapping their smokes against the ash trays between each puff until the drinks came. After they took a sip James interrupted the silence. “Four years of marriage and she needs space” “I’ll tell ya, man, you just never know with some people. Some women. You never know when they’ll turn on you.”
– The two men ordered more drinks and they lit more cigarettes and they cursed women for a while and then they cursed the government again and the banks. When the bartender turned the lights on they finished their drinks and payed the tabs and they walked to the car with their hands in their coat pockets and their cigarettes hanging from their lips.
– James was still in his work clothes when he awoke the next morning, and the clothes were dirty and had made the bed dirty. He put on his heavy clothes and gathered his rifle and a tree stand and as he left the house he grabbed a pistol from his bedside drawer and carried it in his jacket. He didn’t expect to see many deer that day, and he had slept in, but he found a tree that faced an open field and set up his stand and settled himself in the tree. There was a moment when he had settled into the stand that he felt the wind against his face, and in the numbness that the wind can bring in the winter he did not think about Lucy. He did not curse the government and the banks. He just waited and he felt free.
In a while he pulled the pistol from his jacket pocket and held it in his hands and he thought about his grandfather, how he had never met him but was glad for his service in the Navy where he was issued the Smith & Wesson 59. He thought about the day he was given the gun from his father, when his father had returned from the hospital and knew he would die soon. He felt honored to have the gun and liked to shoot it late in the day when he hadn’t killed a deer and he knew he would not see one. When he left the tree and drove home he thought about calling Lucy again, but decided to wait until the next day, and he poured himself a whiskey and when he finished it he went to bed.
– The next day Lucy did not answer his phone call and on Monday the iron shipment was smaller than the week before. The workers acted busier than normal and didn’t talk as much on their breaks through the week. James and Dave still talked but there was no laughter besides the occasional joke to lighten the mood and when they would sit in the break room with the news on, cursing the government and the banks. James did not listen to the way the bearings would glide when he started up the lathe and the hum of the machine would disappear more quickly and he thought more about the oil rigs and about his workmanship and he thought about his mortgage and how without Lucy’s share it would strap him for cash and how he would normally work overtime if he needed extra money. James was thoughtful in only calling Lucy every two or three days. Most of the time she wouldn’t answer, and when she did there was a numbness in her voice and James started to wonder if that numbness were similar to the one he feels in the tree stand in the wind.
– On the Monday before Christmas the iron shipment was the smallest it had been. The workers had begun to talk more during their breaks, but there was still a nervous tension in the air that they had made an effort to disregard during the holidays. James had started to notice the hum of the lathe more, and it had started to bother him, and he had started to use earplugs so that he would not get a headache. On Christmas Eve he was off of work and called Lucy in the morning. “Merry Christmas, Lucy.” “Merry Christmas, James.” “How are you feeling?” “I’m fine James. I’m spending Christmas with my parents.” “Lucy, can I see you? Can I come see you? Can you come home?” “James, We’ve been through this. I can’t see you right now.” “I know, I know, you need space. And I’ve given you space. I need to be with my wife on Christmas. I need to see you.” “I want a divorce, James.” “Lucy, you’re not thinking-” “No James. I am thinking clear. I want a divorce. I’m moving on. I’ve spoken to a lawyer. I need to meet with you next week to start the process.” There was a pause and a moment when the words were caught in him like a plugged hose. “You bitch. I was good to you.” “You were. I’m sorry.” “You bitch.”
– On Christmas day the season was open and James carried his rifle and the pistol and set up the tree stand without sleep and he sipped whiskey when he was settled. He waited for the sun to come up and then he waited for a deer. The Christmas wind made him numb and the whiskey made him warm for a while and then more numb and when the sun came out and there were no deer and he brought the Smith & Wesson out of his jacket and looked at it. He looked at it for a long time and he thought about his grandfather and how he must have been good in the Navy, and then he thought about how he died quickly in a car crash and he never saw it coming and it was painless and how they had never met. James thought about his father again and the pain he felt the year before he had given James the gun, the chemotherapy and radiation, and how his death was a relief to James because he didn’t have to watch the suffering anymore.
And James thought about the worker that made the gun. The gun was old and it was probably made mostly by manual machine work. He thought for a long time about the man that finished the gun. He wondered if the man had a family and he wondered where his kids are and if he had kids. He stared at the gun and he pictured the man making the gun. He pictured a boy, and then he pictured a young man full with youth and hopefulness and he thought that he must have been a hard worker.
His kids must be hard workers, too, he thought. Then he pictured the young man getting older, and his kids watching the youth fall out of him, and he thought that the gun was old and the man that made it was surely dead now and he thought that the gun would probably bring a pretty good price if he had to sell it.
This week I am sharing an original song, titled “The Machinist’s Hymn”. This is one that I wrote for Songs of Home, pt. 1, but it did not make the recording. It remains one of my favorites of the bunch, and I may record it for the second half of the record. When I was in college I worked for the family business and would often spend time in the machine shop. I would like to say it was because I admired the work (which I do), but it was probably more because the machinists were a group of old bikers and rockers with the best stories to tell, and time to tell them as their parts would be lifted on and off the machines. The thing about machine shops, though, is that it is hard to talk because of the noise. So, while you’re close to other people all day, talk is not always easy. All the sound just seems to gather upward and get swallowed in the sound of the running machines, the cuttings of the metal, or the crane moving the parts.
So, this can leave a man to his own thoughts quite a lot. For the song, I imagine the worker reaching a point during a long shift in which he loses interest in the work, and finds it difficult to maintain concentration as his mind wanders. So, the “hymn” part is meant to bring him back to his work.:
Raw iron, cold against the working heat. Bearings turn like the hours turn to days, and the days turn to weeks.
I like the imagery here, from a poetic standpoint, with the contrast between the cold metal and the heat created by the work, as well as the metaphor of time passing with the turning of the bearings that allow the machines to run. The bearings spin fast, but glide smoothly, so the sound they create tends to be forgotten as the workers mind focuses on the work. When the worker is done making the cut, he must inspect the work to ensure that it was done right:
Calloused hands, across metal’s grain. Each splinter shaped away and only the useful remain
I titled it a “hymn” because I use the metal as a sort of metaphor for self betterment. While there is no particular religion mentioned, I liken the intent of the worker with the metal to what people ask of God, to shape them from the raw human form we were born with into something useful, something purposeful, and constantly seek to remove the “splinters” that might detract from that usefulness, or endanger it entirely.
I hope that you enjoy the song, and I hope that the background info can help you to appreciate it a little more. I enjoyed writing it as I have always admired the work of the machinist, and other skilled laborers. It is that type of skilled work that framed the backbone of the country during the post depression era, and the nostalgist in me wonders if the value and appreciation of such work has been lost in the globalization of the day. Here are the complete lyrics:
The Machinist’s HymnThere’s a song that we save for our longest days turning time card labor into time card pay. And it straightens our backs if we stand to proclaim it, and holler in the ceilings where it dissipates. we sing: Raw iron, cold, against the working heat. Bearings turn like the hours turn to days, and the days turn to weeks. calloused hands, across metal’s grain, each splinter shaped away and only the useful remain. There’s a song that we save for our longest days when those we go home to are still hours away we sing in remembrance or we sing to erase. We sing into the ceilings where it dissipates. we sing: Raw iron, cold, against the working heat. Bearings turn like the hours turn to days, and the days turn to weeks. calloused hands, across metal’s grain, each splinter shaped away and only the useful remain.
Since many of you seemed to enjoy my cover of Paul Simon’s “Something So Right” last week, I am posting another cover song by another great American songwriter. I have chosen the song “Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep)”, written by Irving Berlin for the 1954 film White Christmas, directed by Michael Curtiz and starring Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney. Last December, I saw the musical adaptation of the film at the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and have since been intrigued by the play, it’s songs, and the Tin Pan Alley songwriters of which Berlin was a paramount figure.
While my research into Berlin and the Tin Pan Alley writers is still in it’s infancy, I find it interesting not only on a musical level, but also on an historical one. A Russian-Jewish immigrant, Berlin’s family settled in New York City when Berlin was five years old. Growing up in the peak of the “melting pot” America, his songwriting career began by depicting the ethnically diverse world of New York City in the early 1900’s. As this market in popular music began to fade as political tension over immigration flared, Berlin was drafted into World War I to write songs in 1917, and wrote “God Bless America” the following year, among other notable patriotic songs. By the early 20’s Berlin was worth over $4 million for his work as a songwriter, with the bulk of his career still in front of him.
While it would be 1954 when the movie White Christmas was released, the title song was written for the 1942 movie Holiday Inn. As Berlin had long established himself as one of the premier songwriters in film of the time, and “White Christmas” one of the most successful songs in American music history, it is no surprise that the song was turned into a movie (and musical) of it’s own. “Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep)” has a sentiment to it that I can’t help but find endearing, and I hope that my performance of it is able to portray that to you as you listen. I have come across a handful of different versions of the song, both old and new, that are generally associated with Christmas albums. While that makes sense given the movie, the song never mentions the holiday, and seems fitting outside the realm of seasonal music.
Obviously, the career of Irving Berlin is so vast and influential on American popular music that even to give a bulleted overview of it could fill many more pages than are worth pursuing on this blog. It is for that reason, though, that I wanted to pay homage to Berlin’s work. I am interested in learning more of this music and doing more research on this period in American music history, and if there seems to be as much interest in this as the Paul Simon cover, I would love to share more music from the time period in the future, as well as more information about it’s figure heads. As beautifully orchestrated as many of these songs are, it is difficult to approach them with an acoustic guitar arrangement. I did so in hopes of shedding a new light upon the song, as well as a learning tool for myself, not only as a songwriter, but as a musician as well. There is always something new to learn in music, as I’m sure it is in any field, no matter your level of success. Irving Berlin, when told that he had written more hits than anyone else, humbly replied: “Yeah- and more flops, too.” Thank you for listening.
I have chosen to do a cover of Paul Simon’s “Something So Right” from his 1973 album There Goes Rhymin’ Simon. This was Simon’s second solo release after the Simon and Garfunkel split up in 1971. An interesting note on Paul Simon is that after the duo split, Simon spent the summer of 1971 teaching songwriting classes at NYU. I find that fitting for several reasons, the main reason being represented in “Something So Right,” and the later release of the Rhymin’ Simon record that includes an early draft of the song, titled “Let Me Live in Your City.” I’ve been fascinated by these re-releases over the past few years, partly because they’re just great records, and partly because Simon’s release of “rough drafts” and “works in progress” have been a useful tool for my writing because I can see the editing work that goes into having a “final version” of a song. The hardest part about songwriting, for me, is knowing when something is finished. Sometimes there is no doubt about a finished product, and sometimes I find myself reworking the details, or making the decision that what I have, regardless of the work I put into it, is not communicating what I want it to, and I have to decide to throw it out.
I hope you enjoy my version of the song. I didn’t do anything new to the arrangement, mainly because the arrangement is such that I didn’t feel like I could add anything to it. The guitar part has been a pleasure to learn, and will no doubt be useful in my own writing. Cheers.
When my oldest brother graduated high school in 1995, his senior trip was a backpacking tour through Europe. About a week into the trip, he decided to spend most of his travel budget on a new guitar. My parents were, unsurprisingly, not happy when he called them for more money the next week, and their amazement at the decision making of an 18 year old has left my family a story that we joke about to this day.
The guitar was an Epiphone Chet Atkins SST model, the foreign made version of the Gibson SST that Dave Matthews had popularized. When my brother returned home, I remember sitting in his room for hours and watching him learn Blues Traveler, Pearl Jam, Dave Matthews, and whatever else was on the radio at the time. He would sometimes let me play around with the guitar and would teach me things here and there. The next summer he left for college but let me keep the guitar to play because he had an acoustic to take with him. I would call both of my brothers on the phone to learn new songs, and music soon became an obsession that would shape my youth, keeping me in my room for hours a day after school learning and creating music.
I was 14 when I had my first “songwriting moment,” that first glimpse of a completed song that forms seemingly out of thin air. I sat with a notepad and guitar, shaping the lyrics and the guitar part to my satisfaction. I completed the song and had begun my fascination with the writing process, and the feeling I am creating something completely unique that no one has done in exactly the same way. There is a magic to it that could keep anyone searching for more of it, and it certainly has me.
In December, I recorded six of my latest songs. They were written from August through December. I am proud to put my name on each of them, and look forward to bringing you the finished product. It is titled Songs of Home, pt. 1, and I will have it finished and ready for release by late spring or early summer. While I will use this website and blog as a promotional tool for my music, I hope that each post can engage everyone in discussion on music, writing, and whatever else we can come up with. Music is something that effects each of us as human beings, regardless of personal taste in genre, or whether you are a casual listener or a professional in the music business.