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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Getting ready to record a new album!

By Ted Slowik

I'm looking forward to recording several new original songs soon with guitarist Kev Wright and drummer Luke Smith at Jason Botka's Skye Blue Studio in Villa Park, Ill. Kev is wrapping up work there soon on his solo debut, and we'll start working on my songs in December.

This past weekend guitarist extraordinaire Pat Lyons was in town from Austin, Texas. Tim Placher and I hung out at the studio while Pat recorded pedal steel on a couple songs on Kev's forthcoming album, "Journey Road." Pat's band Safe Haven played Tim's festival Shindig at the Shanty a couple years ago, and multi-instrumentalist Steve Haberichter of Down Home Guitars connected Kev with Pat.
Pat Lyons, Kev Wright, Jason Botka and Tim Placher in studio Nov. 15.

I owe a big thanks to photographer friend Steve Woltmann for taking pictures for the new album. The scene is in Plano, Ill., outside a bar that was painted with a big American flag for the Superman movie that was filmed there a few years ago. Thanks also to "Comfort Zone" photographer Brian Powers for suggesting the location.

I recently launched a crowdfunding campaign to help cover the costs of recording. You can support at You can pre-order the CD or support the project at a higher level and get some cool rewards.

The New York Times recently wrote about how online begging is the new economy. I only ask because I really need the support. I recently left my full-time job at North Central College and have a temporary, part-time position at Morton Arboretum while I seek the next full-time opportunity. I know the employment situation will work out fine. The timing of this project is such that I have a chance to record with Kev, Jason and Luke, and I aim to make the most of this opportunity!

I've been working with Kev for nearly two years, and he's the best friend my music has ever had! His guitar instruction has improved my musicianship tremendously. He's also become a very good friend, and he's collaboratively offered suggestions about the new material that have made the songs much better.

About a year ago I said I'd take some time off from live performances to focus on becoming a better musician. Lots of artists have done this. A disappointed Bill Murray lived out of the public eye in France for four years after making the film "The Razor's Edge." John Lennon stopped making music for five years when his son Sean was born, and was just resuming his recording career when he was murdered. At the height of his popularity, Bob Dylan dropped out of the public eye for six years following a motorcycle crash.

And I believe Robert Johnson didn't sell his soul to the devil at the crossroads. He just went off by himself for a while and learned to play the damn guitar!

So that's what I've been doing, even though I've made many exceptions and have played publicly at open mics, festivals and other occasions this year. The point is, I feel like I've accomplished what I set out to do, which was to become a better musician by gaining a better understanding of musical theory and techniques.

I've learned a lot, especially in the past year, not just about music but about storytelling, and happiness. I know now that if you're unhappy, you should change your situation. Also that happiness comes from within, and that if you rely on others for happiness you're setting yourself up for disappointment.

Anyway, this batch of songs is great and I know Jason's going to do an amazing job recording them and Kev and Luke are going to make everything sound awesome. It's going to be a lot of fun and I'm looking forward to these recording sessions!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

‘Firefly’ reveals greatness of Edward David Anderson’s songwriting

By Ted Slowik
All nine songs on Edward David Anderson’s new album “Lower Alabama: The Loxley Sessions” are masterfully written stories about life, love, loss and other themes.
The tunes were skillfully recorded this year by longtime Neil Young sideman Anthony Crawford, who produced the record and who plays fiddle, pedal steel, bass and other instruments. The release on the Royal Potato Family label is Anderson’s follow-up to his solo debut, “Lies & Wishes,” produced by Steve Berlin of Los Lobos.
One song in particular reveals Anderson’s songwriting artistry: the lead track, “Firefly.”
Anderson, the bearded former frontman for Backyard Tire Fire, says he originally wrote and recorded “Firefly” about 20 years ago when he was playing with the Bloomington, Ill.-based band Brother Jed.
He planned to record eight songs at Crawford’s Admiral Bean Studio in Orange Beach, Ala., where Anderson snowbirds to escape the harsh Illinois winters. But he snuck in “Firefly” as the ninth song, he told National Public Radio affiliate WGLT-FM in a Nov. 3 radio interview.
“I completely re-arranged it, put it in a different key, kind of changed the feel and cadence and rewrote some of the words,” Anderson said. “But the chorus is the same, and (the song is) the same principle.”
That principle captures the essence of life from the perspective of a veteran songwriter and touring musician. It’s the principle of the rolling stone that Muddy Waters first wrote about in 1950, which inspired The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and countless others. It’s a sentiment shared by songs about shooting stars, or ones about it being better to burn out than to fade away.
A rolling stone or a meteor have brief life expectancies, but they’re characterized by brilliant bursts of energy. That sentiment may also characterize the life of a rock star, the poet, or anyone who appreciates that life is short. The Latin expression “ars longa, vita brevis,” typically translated as “life is short, art is eternal,” sums it up well.
As does Anderson’s song “Firefly.” A lightning bug’s life expectancy is but a few weeks, but the creature spreads light and beauty during its existence. “Don’t want to grow up but time don’t stop,” Anderson writes. Time waits for no one, but Anderson leaves you feeling like it’s never too late to have a happy childhood.
The chorus of “Firefly” brilliantly captures what it means to live like a rolling stone:
You can give in and do what you’re told
You waste away and you grow old
Or you can shine brightly and light up the sky, yeah you
Light up the sky like a firefly

In the 65 years since McKinley Morganfield first penned a song that distilled into music the essence of restlessness, wanderlust and the release of kinetic energy, many have attempted to replicate the spirit of that expression. Few have accomplished it as well as Anderson.

Anderson's video for "Firefly" features footage filmed by his wife, Kim.

And that’s just the first track on “The Loxley Sessions.” The other eight songs are all superbly crafted tales with wonderful melodies and exquisite arrangements.

Firefly     by Edward David Anderson

Cornfield full of fireflies, well I’m
Driving west into the clear dark night
Got a destination with no place to go,
Got a destination with no place to go

Midlife crisis, it’s one and two
Just trying to figure out what I want to do
Well I don’t want to grow up but time don’t stop, said
I don’t want to grow up but time don’t stop

You can give in and do what you’re told
You waste away and you grow old
Or you can shine brightly and light up the sky, yeah you
Light up the sky like a firefly

No one’s come along to steal my heart
They may not, now and that’s the scary part
Everybody seeks love everybody fears it
Everybody needs love and everybody’s scared

You can give in and do what you’re told
You waste away and you grow old
Or you can shine brightly and light up the sky, yeah you
Light up the sky like a firefly
Light up the sky like a firefly

I’m in the shadows, next day the light
I’m turned around I don’t know wrong from right
I’m off my path, I’ve lost my way
I’m thinking back to what a young man used to say

He said, you can give in and do what you’re told
You waste away and you grow old
Or you can shine brightly and light up the sky, yeah you
Light up the sky just like a firefly

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Classic sounds abound on new Jeff Givens album recorded in Muscle Shoals

By Ted Slowik

If seasoned troubadour Jeff Givens had written “make a kick-ass rock record” on his bucket list, he could now cross that off.

The drummer-turned-singer/songwriter has self-released his second full-length, “Midnight in Muscle Shoals.” The basic tracks were recorded by John Gifford III at legendary Fame Recording Studios in northwest Alabama’s famous home of “The Swampers” rhythm section, where the likes of Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett and Duane Allman laid tracks.

“Midnight in Muscle Shoals” is full of wailing guitar licks, lushly layered vocal harmonies and sweetly selected instrumental accompaniments atop tight drum tracks. Fans of southern rock will find a lot to like about this record, Givens’ follow-up to 2012’s “Bourbon Cowboy.”

If “Midnight in Muscle Shoals” sounds a lot like a record by The Righteous Hillbillies, that’s because all the tracks feature guitarist Kev Wright, who recently left the band, and drummer Barret Harvey. The connections don’t end there. The Hillbillies also recorded their new album at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, and Givens’ touring band, The Mugshot Saints, includes former Hillbillies bassist Johnny Gadeikis. T.C. Dolgin plays bass on the record, Jennifer Botka sings backing vocals and Pat Otto lends mandolin to a couple tracks.

Like recent recordings by the Hillbillies, the songs on “Midnight in Muscle Shoals” sound like they belong on any of the 1970s-era albums by The Rolling Stones. Wright’s slick slide guitar work and Harvey’s crisp beats propel the tracks, which are produced by Givens’ longtime collaborator Jason Botka. Many tracks were added at Botka’s Skye Bleu Studios in suburban Chicago.

At its best, “Midnight in Muscle Shoals” is an ideal soundtrack for a long ride on a highway. Tracks like “Long Weekend” and “Hard Livin’” are not only expertly performed by gifted musicians, they’re delivered with Givens’ honestly passionate vocals. The melodies are catchy and the music’s fantastic. The songs are about recurring working-man themes, including drinking in bars and paychecks not going far enough.
Photos by Michelle Gadeikis
Givens is a Tennessee native who was raised in the Chicago area, where he continues to make his home. He calls himself a “rock and roll gypsy,” and an “authentic prince of skid row.” While performing, he’s been known to command an audience to “holler and swaller” by first whooping, then drinking.

Musically, Givens worked as a drummer for many years, and his songs are informed by real-life experiences on the road. His resume includes performing with guitarist Joe Perry of Aerosmith, blues legend Buddy Guy and the late Jay Bennett of Wilco.

“Everybody’s got a story, everybody’s got a dream, I’m filling up this notebook with what happens in between,” he sings on “Livin’ the Dream.”

Givens writes all but one of the 12 songs on “Midnight in Muscle Shoals.” While the songs are sonically superb, one will be disappointed if he seeks Dylan-like depth in the lyrics. This record is reminiscent of a Ringo Starr album in that one can take ordinary, everyday songs, get some fabulous musician friends to record them and end up with great-sounding music that eventually lands you in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Givens’ songs are honest, authentic reflections of his life.

“The most difficult ones are the most intimate ones,” he told WXAV-FM 88.3 in a radio interview. He went on to describe how “Last of a Dying Breed,” a song on the new record, was written about his 80-year-old father, who still rides his Harley thousands of miles of year. “It was a real emotional process,” Givens told the interviewer.

Writing good songs isn’t easy, regardless of what anybody says, and only a gifted few can do it consistently. Equally challenging is recording a full-length album of timeless sounds that are worth listening to over and over again, and Givens might have accomplished that with “Midnight in Muscle Shoals.”

The Mugshot Saints

Learn more at "Midnight in Muscle Shoals" is available for sale on CD Baby.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

A revelation about what to do next creatively

By Ted Slowik

Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe
I've been thinking a lot lately about what to do next, creatively, in my free time.

Free time is a precious thing, and it shouldn't be squandered. Take it from someone who's been dead for six minutes. There are better ways to spend your time than binge-watching Netflix on the couch. Trust me.

It's taken six months to figure out what I want to do next. For the past several years I've focused on music. And I feel I've become a much better songwriter, musician, performer, vocalist and recording artist. I still enjoy music very much and plan to continue making it whenever I want. And it'll make me happy and be fun.

But I've felt for some time that music is not my true calling, and that writing is. The question I've been trying to answer is, what to write? Nonfiction or fiction? A novel or short stories? What do I have to say that's worth saying?

The answer came to me while I was camping in Florida this past week. My sister Liz, with whom I've always been especially close, loaned me the Patti Smith book "Just Kids." I've been reading a lot of rock bios and memoirs lately, about Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Keith Richards, Patti Boyd, Roy Buchanan and others. "Just Kids" may be the best-written I've read. It won the 2010 National Book Award for Nonfiction.

I didn't know much about Patti Smith. "Just Kids" tells the story of Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe starting out as starving artists in New York in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It's a beautiful love story, and the book is a fine showcase for Smith's skills as a writer thanks to her lifelong love for poetry.

Arthur Rimbaud
Smith was greatly influenced by the French poet Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891), one of the greatest poets ever to have lived, ever though he only created for a brief period in his late teens. He famously wrote to a friend the following lines that described his decadent behavior:

"I'm now making myself as scummy as I can. Why? I want to be a poet, and I'm working at turning myself into a seer. You won't understand any of this, and I'm almost incapable of explaining it to you. The idea is to reach the unknown by the derangement of all the senses. It involves enormous suffering, but one must be strong and be a born poet. It's really not my fault."

I could relate to the notion that complete commitment to one's craft is necessary to create art that is truly worthwhile and lasting. And maybe the young can do it. That is, live irresponsibly and in poverty for a few years. But not old people with bills and mortgages and responsibilities and day jobs.

Because face it, if you were any good as an artist or musician at age 50, you'd be doing it full-time.

I'll be honest. Since the heart attack a year ago I've wondered at times why I'm still here. What's my purpose?

So after reading Smith's book I realized I should write the story of how my wife Jo and I met and fell in love.
First date, Valentine's Day 1985

This works for a number of reasons. First of all, I cannot think of subject matter more personal and meaningful. Family is most important, after all, and I'll write the story so our kids Hannah and Noah will always know how much I loved their mother.

The timing seems right. Has it really been 30 years? Gosh, seems like yesterday. I remember well the love I felt for Jo and there are still many of our friends around I could talk to in order to gain additional details and perspectives.

It solves the dilemma of what to do as a creative outlet other than music that is purposeful and rewarding and without regard to any sense of commercial success. Ours is a beautiful story, and I intend to write it for an audience of three people, as best as I can. I expect the process of telling this story will require a great deal of time and effort.

That's OK. I can continue doing other musical and writing projects while working on this story. Maybe my purpose for being here is to tell this story. There is universal truth in love and beauty.
Honeymoon in California, 1990

Monday, March 9, 2015

Crossing the 10k YouTube milestone with "Refugee Blues"

By Ted Slowik

Just a short post today as I'm camping in Florida and reception is spotty. But, hey, "Refuee Blues" topped 10,000 views on YouTube. It's cool, they send you an email. Thanks Celeste Mackey for inviting me to do a dramatic reading of this for her Literature of the Holocaust class three years ago. Here's the link. 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Fun times during Allison Flood show at Chicago Street Pub

By Ted Slowik
Allison Flood and friends

Last night was a blast hanging out at Chicago Street Pub in Joliet for the celebration of Allison Flood's solo debut "Blackbird" on the Flipside Works label.
Eric Johnson, Allison Flood, John Condron

I reviewed the CD just a few weeks ago on this blog, and the review also was featured on No Depression. I don't have anything new to say about Allison's music since then but I do want to share a few pictures of the fun evening with friends.
Allison Flood, Denise Hegarty, Jill Condron

Chicago Street Pub is a wonderful place, and I've described many times how it's the hub of great live, local, original music in Will County. It's important to remember it's people who make places special. The interactions you have with them, the good times you share and the memories you create are what matter.

So, thanks Mike and Kathy Trizna for keeping the Pub going these many years and for supporting original music.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Why "Wrigley Field" deserves to be the next Cubs theme song

By Ted Slowik

Last month Chicago Tribune writer Mark Caro started a movement to retire the 1984 Steve Goodman tune "Go, Cubs, Go" as the quasi-official Cubs theme song, played over the PA in Wrigley Field after Cubs victories since 2007.

Mark's been on WGN radio talking about his campaign and last week the movement got a boost from Dan Bernstein, co-host of 670 The Score’s “Boers and Bernstein Show.”A contest is underway to see if there's a song out there that might be a worthy successor to "Go, Cubs, Go."

This week I entered an original, "Wrigley Field," which friend Kev Wright helped record. Here's why it deserves consideration.

First, I'm a lifelong Cubs fan, just as passionate about the team as Goodman was. My lyrics are sung from the heart, with more than 40 years of rooting for the team. As a Chicagoan I've cheered on the Bears, Blackhawks, Bulls and White Sox. But my love for the Cubs dates back to the mid-1970s.

I'll tell you exactly why there's nothing else quite like being a Cubs fan. It has something to do with the fact that Wrigley Field was the only park in all of Major League Baseball that didn't have lights, until 1988. That, and the championship drought that dates back to their last World Series win in 1908. Being a Cubs fan is special. When they do eventually win another championship it's going to be the biggest party ever, and I want to experience the full effect of that.

My brothers Frank and Mike are big Cubs fans. Every year for as long as I can remember a group of us have gone down to see the Cubs play in Wrigley Field. We tailgate near Belmont Harbor off Recreation Drive, walk to the park and always have a great time. I don't really have opinions about the gentrification of the Wrigleyville and Lakeview neighborhoods, the quality of the talent on the field or ownership decisions about Wrigley Field renovations. For me, the Cubs are about spending quality time together with family, and there's nothing more meaningful in life.

Not only do I have a Steve Goodman-like love for the team, the song "Wrigley Field" is a sincere ode to the joys of Cubdom. It's short and sweet. The melody is catchy, the tempo is upbeat and the words are simple. You can watch the video entry here or listen to an audio version of it here.

Finally, just a little bit of fun history about this song. Three years ago WGN radio sponsored a similar contest. When I learned of the contest in February 2012 I wrote "Wrigley Field" on a Saturday night, recorded a sloppy audio demo and submitted my entry via email.

Then an incredible thing happened. On Monday morning, Jonathan Brandmeier played my song on his WGN radio show. This was less than 48 hours after the song came into existence. I knew then it was good. Sure, the recording was amateurish and it didn't make the voting round. But the tune is worthy. It's a good song, and deserves consideration to become the next Cubs theme song.