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Sunday, January 18, 2015

The story behind the new song "Mama"

By Ted Slowik

Yesterday was a very special day. At a family gathering celebrating our Mom's 89th birthday, I played her the new song I wrote called "Mama," which she inspired.

The performance took place in front of about 25 family members at Salerno's in Hodgkins. You can watch a video of the performance here.

Our mom, Dr. Clare Slowik, is an amazing person. Not only did she raise 12 kids, she went back to school, earned a doctorate and was a professor of nursing at Lewis University. She's so special the Sunday Chicago Tribune published a front-page feature about her on Mother's Day, 1989.

The notion of performing the song for her on her birthday didn't occur to me until a few days ago, and after running the idea by my wife Jo and sister Liz and receiving their support I decided it would be a nice gift for Mom.

I'm fascinated by how artists create tangible works out of thin air. A song, written story, painting or other piece starts with an idea in the mind of the creator. It is first imagined, then realized.

The idea for "Mama" came about in mid-December. I was preparing to write new material and thinking, "What subjects matter most to me?" Since I'm planning to write a collection of new songs I'd recently been thinking about my favorite albums, and it occurred to me that John Lennon's solo debut "Plastic Ono Band" opens with the track "Mother." Eureka! I had my first topic.

I'd written about family before, and composed the historical story "Slowiks" for my parents' 50th wedding anniversary in 1995. I'll always remember playing it for them, sitting at their kitchen table. For Mom's song, I didn't want to write a literal story of her life. Instead, I wanted to tap into a "universal truth" about a child's love for his mother and create a work that others could relate to.

It started with the first line. I'd be driving to and from work thinking of truths to say about Mom and I came up with: "Mama is the greatest person that I ever met." The melody flowed instantly from that first line. Over the next week or so I'd think of more lines and scribble them on scraps of paper until on Dec. 30 I had the whole thing mapped out in my head.

That night after my neighbor Scott Kinsella's annual Risk game I came home, picked up the Martin acoustic guitar, strummed a G chord and played it through for the first time. Here's a video of that play-through. Notice how I sing the melody in a low register for the first few lines before settling on a more comfortable range. You're watching creativity as it happens, folks! What had been imagined in my mind became, at that moment, something able to be appreciated by others. It was rough, but fully realized.

Next I wanted to record an audio demo. I imagined electric guitars, drums, backing vocals and all kinds of notes and sounds, only some of which I was able to capture on the first audio demo, which you can listen to here. It was recorded Jan. 2. I love the sound of the Gibson ES335, which musician/architect friend Laurance Glasser recently got sounding great again!

Next, I played the song for my guitar teacher Kev Wright during a lesson, which you can watch here. Kev offered excellent suggestions, including adding a stop before the solo. (I liked the tip so much I also added one to the first verse). When we played the song through together, I started the solo on the low G note, third fret on the top E string. As a 30-year bassist I'm comfortable around low notes, and that's where Kev showed me patterns like the "blues box" when we began our lessons together a year ago. I eventually work my way up to find where to play scales in the middle and top of the neck, but I often start low.

Well, Kev heard that and shared another great idea. He thought his Eastwood Sidejack Baritone guitar would sound great on the song, so he loaned it to me. I agreed it would add a really cool sound, so yesterday I recorded another audio demo of the song with the Eastwood, which you can listen to here.

Structurally, I think of this song as having "sections" as opposed to choruses and verses. Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney wrote many songs that way. The melody is determined by the phrasing of the lyrics, so the chord changes are not always the same way because each line of lyric is different.

So for all you songwriting aficionados that's the anatomy of how the new song came to be. Thanks for reading and if you're able to be sure to let your Mama know you love her!

"Mama"  Words and music by Ted Slowik

Mama is the greatest person that I ever met
She loved me unconditionally that I won’t forget
Mama always knew when I was lying
She always figured out when I wasn’t trying
How she knew I’ll never know

Mama is a saint you know I pray to her every day
She showed me how to do that so I wouldn’t lose my way
She taught me how to tell between what’s wrong and what is right
And how to solve your problems without getting into fights

Mama always knew what I was I doing
She always sensed when there was trouble brewing
And how to work it out


Mama always said the best is yet to come
And the secret to life is to keep on having fun

Mama listens to me when nobody else will
She always sees right through me and yet she loves me still
Mama has to leave you know I hate to see her go
I love her with all my heart that I’m sure she knows

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Brian Motyll makes impressive musical debut

Brian Motyll at Chicago Street Pub 1-9-15 (Chris Flood photo)
By Ted Slowik

The pool of artistic and musical talent runs deep and wide in Joliet and Will County, with veterans creating new material all the time and new performers constantly coming onto the scene.

Brian Motyll, a 22-year-old from New Lenox, is a newcomer who made his debut Jan. 9 before a packed house at Chicago Street Pub, opening for Charlie Champene. Brian performed regularly at an open mic hosted by John Condron at Tribes Alehouse in Mokena, but this was his first billed, extended live performance.

Brian's a great acoustic guitar picker and songwriter who delivers his tunes with a heartfelt sincerity. His voice has an endearing raspiness, and he's already quite poised as a performer for such a young talent. (He wore an eye patch due to recent surgery.)

"Opal" by Brian Motyll album artwork
His Chicago Street set included material from his just-released collection of 10 original tracks. He makes the digital album "Opal" (by riverhorse) available through Bandcamp for free downloading or voluntary donations.

He calls his work "bedroom music," meaning these are home recordings. The recording quality is very good, though. In addition to guitar, Brian plays piano and bass and adds in a variety of vocal and percussion sounds. Scott Ahlgrim receives credit for playing drums on four of the 10 tracks.

"Opal" showcases Brian's songwriting and ability to create melancholy-like moods with his music. Songs like "County Fair" feature sticky melodies and steady rhythms. He's got a solid grasp of phrasing, and his lyrics reflect a maturity beyond his 22 years. "I Think It's Time" contains the line "I'm so scared of getting lost but I'm not afraid to die."
Brian Motyll

Brian paid me a huge honor by performing one my songs at his debut. His beautifully played cover of "No Tomorrow" moved me deeply. It's the first time I've heard someone else play one of my tunes, and as a songwriter there's no greater feeling. (Friends Tim Placher, Allison Flood and Dan Dougherty have played "Red Rover" but I wasn't there to hear them.)

Headliner Charlie Champene is a veteran of the local scene who continues to grow and develop as a performer, songwriter, vocalist and recording artist and is finishing up work on a new collection of recordings.

Charlie Champene at Chicago Street Pub 1-9-15 (Chris Flood photo)

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Alex Hoffer Band rocks with debut release

Alex Hoffer Band Jan. 2 at Mojoes
By Ted Slowik

Growth can be a remarkable thing. In a relatively short amount of time, talented artists who work hard, make wise choices and remain true to their vision can flourish in stunning fashion.

Such is the case with Joliet-area songwriter, vocalist and guitarist Alex Hoffer. His growth as a musician, performer and recording artist in the past year is nothing short of amazing. He's always been gifted with a great voice and displayed wonderful guitar-playing and songwriting talent. Now, joined by an incredibly talented cast of friends and musicians, Alex has taken his music to another level.

On Friday, Jan. 2, the Alex Hoffer Band celebrated the release of its debut studio recording "Free From Apathy" with a powerful performance at Mojoes in Joliet on a bill that included Mr. Blotto. The live band, also featured on the recording, includes the great Giles Corey on guitar, Pat Otto on mandolin, Tom Maslowski on bass and Don Nudi on drums.

The tracks on "Free From Apathy" showcase Hoffer's powerful voice and the band's expert musicianship. Songs like "Keep Searching" are rousing jams, with alternating solos by Corey and Otto. The four-song collection (five, if you count the hidden track) is available through 3011 Records, which is also the label of Chicago's Howard and the White Boys. Guitarist Pete Galanis of that band guests on a couple tracks on Hoffer's record.

Maslowski, Nudi and Otto also are members of John Condron and the Old Gang Orchestra and have a comfortable musical repartee that comes with repeated experience performing together. Corey rounds out the lineup with a musical energy and brilliance that infuses the band's sound with a romping goodness and fun.

Corey (a.k.a. Andrew Osis) is a veteran of the musical project Lubriphonic that included Buddy Guy keyboardist Marty Sammon, who continues to work with Corey in a new band. The 2014 debut "Giles Corey's Stoned Soul" released on Chicago's Delmark Records received great reviews from Blues Blast Magazine, the Chicago Blues Guide and others.

In sum, Hoffer is collaborating with some of the best players around today, and his live performances and debut studio recording reflect a maturity and musical excellence that show he's come a long way in his development as an artist.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

9 steps to becoming a better musician, performer and artist

By Ted Slowik

I've learned much in nearly 50 years as a hobbyist musician and about 35 years as a songwriter. Remarkably I feel I've learned more about making music in just the past three years than all of the previous ones combined!

Just to recap, three years ago I switched from playing bass as a primary instrument to guitar--acoustic mostly but some electric. Every so often it helps to pause and reflect on how far you've come, so here are nine things I've learned about becoming a better musician, performer, songwriter and recording artist.

1.) Get good gear. You might start out with hand-me-down instruments and amplifiers, and that's OK for starters. But if your gear is subpar you've got to save up and invest in better equipment. I bought stuff as I needed it and as I could afford it until one day I looked around and realized, "Hey, this is a kick-ass professional setup!"

2.) Make a professional studio recording. Many musicians make home demos, and some are top-notch. But people who record in a professional studio discover that music-making is a collaborative process. While the end result may not always be what anyone expected at the onset the conclusion always seems inevitable. Don't let affordability be your excuse. Save your money, find the best deal and record a few tracks as you're able. Not every session has to result in a full-length album.

3.) Perform regularly. There's no substitute for experience. If you don't gig regularly, find an open mic and perform at least once a week. You'll become more comfortable performing in front of an audience and learn the importance of interacting with a crowd--however large or small. You've always got to be in the moment when performing live. You can go in with a plan but it helps to be versatile enough to call audibles, like when The Blues Brothers showed up at Bob's Country Bunker and had to play country and western to save their hides. Learn to banter with people, work on your timing and most importantly--be relaxed.

4.) Take lessons. I'm almost 50 years old and I can tell you taking guitar lessons is the best investment I've ever made. It's helped not only improve the music, but overall confidence in everything. I don't always practice what teacher shows me but I listen very closely and usually discover something new about theory, rhythm, harmony or some other aspect of music.

5.) Get in tune. This one sounds obvious but you'd be surprised how many musicians--guitarists in particular--don't understand the importance of being in tune. Invest in a tuner. Your ear will become better to the point where you'll be able to tell instantly when someone is out of tune. If the music is out of tune the singers will have difficulty singing notes in key. You don't need to be born with perfect pitch--you can acquire good pitch over time, and it matters a great deal.

6.) Play sober. I hear a lot of professional musicians laughing at this one and a bunch of weekend warrior good ole' boys scoffing. I can only speak from experience. From my earliest days making music with friends we always had beer when we jammed. It was fun! And alcohol helps many of us achieve that most important part of No. 3 above, which is to be relaxed when performing. But someday you'll play a family party, or in church, or in a public setting when drinking is prohibited and you'll discover you can play sober and still have fun! And you'll remember it better, and you will sound better--ask anyone. A lot of great artists sobered up at some point in their lives. And many who didn't clean up in time died too young.

7.) Be a class act. Dress nicely. Speak politely to and about others. Listen to others, when they talk or play, and you'll learn a lot. Think about others, care about others and how you might be able to help them. Karma is real, and if you show kindness to others you will be repaid. Why, it's the Golden Rule, the Greatest of the Commandments: Treat others as you would like to be treated. All of organized religion is based on this notion, after all. It sounds counter-intuitive, but the more you think of others the happier you will be.

8.) Be socialable. Meet people. Make friends. Friends lead to connections and offers and invitations. Expand your circles. Try different places. You never know what you'll find. If you need a wing man, bring a friend. But get out and experience live music, even if you're not performing that night. You'll be amazed at how exposure to a real music scene will improve your own craft and give you all kinds of new ideas and inspiration.

9.) Nourish your soul. Pete Townshend once said music comes from the heart, lyrics come from the head and the voice comes from God. But what about the soul? Art without passion may be technically proficient but tends to lack the hard-to-describe "X-Factor" that touches people emotionally. Soul is about energy, attitude and intensity. To nourish your soul you might have to confront your fears or demons, relive your happiest childhood memories or fall in love all over again. Find your source of inspiration and allow it to lend passion to your craft.

Friday, December 26, 2014

A very musical December update

GBP at CSP 12-20-14
By Ted Slowik

Hi all! Hope you had a Merry Christmas! Just realized I haven't posted an update since November, and there's much to recap!

The "Farewell Tour" was fun. The shows at Lewis University with John Condron and Allison Flood, opening for Chase Walsh at Chicago Street Pub and playing covers at 30 Buck with Tim Placher were all very enjoyable. The Nov. 29 set opening for Dan Dougherty's new project On The Off Chance didn't happen due to illness among band members, but I caught Aly opening for them Dec. 19 at Ashbary Coffee House and they were phenomenal! Scott McNeil was there, too, and caught some spooky green orbs flitting about while recording video of Aly's set. It may be just a trick of the light but it's weird!

The Tribute to Shirley Kostka show Dec. 13 in Minooka by GBP was great, also. Drummer J. Michael, guitarist George Barnes, singer Ron Kostka and I rehearsed several times in recent months and played a solid two hours of hard rock originals and covers, and I opened with an acoustic set. Ron's daughter Terry sang the National Anthem. I agreed to do some recording with them in January, and they plan to continue the project with Ron on bass and Terry on vocals, but I passed on the offer to do more live shows with them.

Nobody Knows at CSP 12-20-14
Another reunion happened Dec. 20 at Chicago Street Pub. In addition to playing a set with Ron on vocals and George on guitar, Nobody Knows reunited for its first public show in more than 20 years! With good friends Dave Kent on guitar and Bill Moll on guitar and vocals, we played a good set even though we lacked drums. Ron was going to play but broke his arm two days before the show. Even though he was in a lot of pain he still came out and sang, and I greatly appreciate that! Thanks also to Scott for running sound and to Triz and Kathy and all at the Pub for being so supportive of live, local, original music.

Overall turnout at the "Farewell Show" Dec. 20 was pretty light, and it shows just how difficult it is to get people out to see you play. This was supposed to be my last billed public show for a while, remember? But between rehearsals and Ron's broken arm and this and that I ran out of time to reach out personally to people as I'd hoped, but it's OK. I kinda lost faith in the whole "Farewell" concept anyway, the more I thought about it.

You see, there have been other developments. I've decided not to become a hospice volunteer after all. I feel awful and have wrestled with this decision for a month or so, and apologize to all who feel I misled them. Many friends expressed support for the plan, and I waited months for an opening and went through all the training. But in the end I decided it's just not something I'm able to commit the time to doing at this time.

I still plan to spend time over the next few months writing new material. I'm continuing guitar lessons with Kev Wright of The Righteous Hillbillies, and he's providing great feedback on recent songs as well as some of the very old ones. Bill Moll also said the old stuff was really good and I'm taking a fresh look at some of the old tunes now that I can play them on guitar instead of bass. I'm looking forward to recording new demos in the months ahead.

Tribes 8-20-14
Another new development is that the Wednesday night acoustic open mic at Tribes Alehouse in Mokena hosted by John Condron is on indefinite hiatus. Tribes is expanding and becoming a brewery, which is great news for beer lovers and very exciting for them! Unfortunately this means the end (for a while, at least) of a weekly gathering of a great community of musicians, songwriters and artists. I was fortunate to participate regularly for more than three years and learned much about performing and being relaxed while playing.

I also met many great people through Tribes, including Brian Motyll, who has just released a collection of new recordings he spent four months working on. He calls the album "Opal" and the project Riverhorse. You can download it for free on his Bandcamp page or make a donation. I think his singing, playing and songwriting are great, and you should check out his music!

I've also heard Aly's new five-song collection produced by John Condron and it's fantastic, but I'll wait to publish a review until her release "Blackbird" is commercially available through her record label, Flipside Works.

Also, cheers and a shout-out to The Vaudevileins, who played the legendary Metro in Chicago this month! I saw them perform Dec. 6 at Jeff Julian's Big Damn Dumb Variety Show at the Pub (well, three-fourths of them, anyway) and they were terrific as always!

FitzGerald's 12-23-14
With no more open mics at Tribes, there's opportunity to explore other options. The Pub is now having open mic on Mondays. On Tuesday this week I went up to FitzGerald's in Berwyn and played their open mic, which was fun (being Christmas, and having arrived early and signed up to go first, I played "Do You Hear What I Hear?" and got some in the crowd to sing along. I also played Muddy Waters' "Rollin' and Tumblin'" in the open D tuning Kev showed me). Ashbary has an open mic on Wednesdays, but it tends to attract a younger crowd.

Since I was in Berwyn I dropped by Harlem Avenue Lounge, where they were having an open blues jam. I hadn't been up to FitzGerald's or HAL to play in about a year, because it's quite a drive from Joliet, plus it would have been hard to do another weeknight out in addition to Wednesdays at Tribes. It was great seeing guitarist Pistol Pete, bassist Sam Cockrell, Laurance Glasser and many others again, but also humbling to say the least! I may be quite comfortable playing acoustic guitar in any situation but the cats at Kenny Zimmerman's HAL are the real deal when it comes to electric blues. A year of lessons with Kev has helped tremendously but I'm going to need more experience playing electric onstage with others before I'd be comfortable playing with the greats at the Lounge.
Sam Cockrell and drummer at HAL 12-23-14

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Next stop on the Farewell Tour: "Tribute to Shirley Kostka"

George Barnes Project, circa 1990
By Ted Slowik

Drummer Ron Kostka and I have been friends for a long time. We met at Lyons Township High School in 1982. He used to call the radio station, WLTL-FM 88.1, when I was DJing and request "Love To Love" by UFO for his girlfriend.

The first time I got together with other friends to make music, in my parents' garage in the summer of 1982, Ron was there. I remember playing "House of the Rising Sun" on electric guitar. That was in the band Suspended Animation. A short time later, the bassist left the group and I started playing bass, which I kept up for nearly 30 years.

In the late 1980s Suspended Animation morphed into Nobody Knows, and Ron eventually played drums in that band as well. (Ron also played drums for nine of the 11 years I played bass in the Big Eddy Springs Blues Band 2000-2011). In the early 1990s, Ron and I were in a band together initially called Pegasus but later known as the George Barnes Project. It was a loud, heavy sound fueled by George's guitar playing. Ron was front man and sang lead vocals and various other players backed us up on drums.

We played a lot of our own songs. In most cases, George wrote the music and Ron's sister, Shirley, wrote the lyrics. Shirley B. Kostka was born June 12, 1954 and died March 6, 2014. She had moved to Kentucky when she became sick, and Ron was in the process of having her transported to the Joliet Area Community Hospice when she passed away.

There was a small memorial service after she passed, and sometime later Ron asked if I'd play a tribute show to honor his sister's memory. Of course I agreed, and though it's taken a while to pull together the show will take place at 9 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 13, at 2-Fer's Pizza and Pub, 106 N. Ridge Road in Minooka, I'll be playing bass with Ron on vocals, his friend Jay on drums and George Barnes on guitar.

In addition to the originals that Shirley co-wrote, we'll be playing some old rockers we used to play by bands like Deep Purple, Cream, The Rolling Stones, Steppenwolf and Jimi Hendrix. This won't be the first time since the early 1990s that George, Ron and I have performed together. We reunited in 2010 for a small tour that included Seneca and Rockford.

George and Ron will also be part of the Farewell Show Dec. 20 at Chicago Street Pub, the last billed public show before I take time off from performing to write and spend time as a hospice volunteer.
GBP in Seneca, 2010

Monday, November 24, 2014

Saturday night setlist from the Farewell Tour Buck stop

Ted and nephew Dave Slowik
By Ted Slowik

I don't play evenings of covers too often. My passion is for originals, and since I'm not a working musician I don't need to supplement opportunities to play my own songs by playing bars and private functions where the expectation is people will hear songs they know.

But occasionally it's great fun to pretend I'm a working musician and play three hours worth of songs to entertain people. Tim Placher and I performed one of our nights of covers together Saturday night. I've never seen the 30 Buck so packed! It was an awesome turnout.

Nephew Dave made a surprise appearance, with his wife Lesley, who is expecting their third child in about two weeks! And a great number of 30 Buck regulars were there, like Eric Beltzhoover, Dan Wilson and many others. Jenna Loats and Meg O'Keeffe were there, Bill and Kathy Kibler stopped by, good friends Jodi Wartenberg and Scott Kinsella made appearances, and so on. Apologies for not mentioning everyone by name.

Tim played and sang several duets with a fellow teacher, Robyn Castle, and they sounded phenomenal together! I can't wait to hear them together again at the 2015 Shindig at the Shanty on the bluff overlooking the mighty Kankakee River outside Wilmington.

This was the only stop on the Farewell Tour where I primarily played covers. I played about 40 songs in three hours, broke a couple strings, and received great feedback from people. It was a great night, and a ton of fun! I still had a strong voice at the end of the night!

Thirty Buck setlist 11-22-14 (not in precise order)

Bright Lights, Big City (Jimmy Reed)
For No One (The Beatles)
Hurt (Johnny Cash)
Lawyers, Guns and Money (Warren Zevon)
We're Going To Be Friends (The White Stripes)
Learning To Fly (Tom Petty)
Little Lion Man (Mumford & Sons)
Closer To Fine (Indigo Girls)
Come To Papa (Bob Seger)
Rain on the Scarecrow (John Mellencamp)
Excitable Boy (Warren Zevon)
Don't Let Me Down (The Beatles)
Talk of the Town (The Pretenders)
Record Store (original)
Take Me Dancing (The Maine, on keyboard)
Rollin' and Tumblin' (Muddy Waters)
Slowiks (original)
Paper Thin (John Hiatt)
Steppin' Stone (The Monkees)
Both Sides Now (Joni Mitchell)
The Cave (Mumford & Sons)
Don't Go Back to Rockville (R.E.M)
Call Me the Breeze (Lynyrd Skynyrd)
Wish List (Pearl Jam)
Maybe Tonight (The Knack)
20 Flight Rock (Eddie Cochran)
Good Riddance (Green Day)
Whiter Shade of Pale (Procol Harum)
Hit Somebody (Warren Zevon)
Teach Your Children (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)
That's Alright Mama (Elvis Presley)
Wish You Were Here (Pink Floyd)
Body Is a Temple (original)
Red Rover (original)
No Tomorrow (original)
Molly Zelko (original)
Joe Hosey (original)
Watching the Wheels (John Lennon)
Stand By Me (Ben E. King)