Friday, December 28, 2012
Hi again! 2012 is drawing to a close, and what a great year it's been. I had a lot of fun, made a lot of new friends, performed more than ever before, played a lot of originals and released a collection of song demos. Most importantly, I feel like I developed a lot as an artist, and how I think about music.
Specifically, I want to thank John Condron, who I met late in 2011 but got to know this year playing near-weekly open mics at Tribes Alehouse in Mokena. John asked me to open for his show a couple weeks ago at Chicago Street Pub in Joliet, and I had a great time. I think that 45-minute opener stands as the longest set of originals I've played for an audience, so a personal best! John's been a tremendous friend, offering support, encouragement and advice along the way, and I extend him my most sincere expression of gratitude for his kindness.
Also this fall artist manager Chris Flood hooked me up with a gig hosting open mic at a place called Lucky's Lounge in Chicago Ridge. Wednesday nights, music from 8-12. I did three. The total number of other artists who performed during those three "open mic" gigs: 1. (I let that guy play for an hour.) Otherwise, I played a lot of cover tunes, not many originals. Bar music. It was a lot of fun, playing Who and other classic rock music they seemed to like. I know a lot of songs so I had no trouble filling three hours, but it's a tough gig for a weeknight. Plus it was lonely--the loneliest gigs I've ever played. Didn't know anyone there--not a soul. People were nice and all, but music is a lot MORE fun when you have good friends to share it with.
I also had a blast playing covers during another show with Tim Placher at 30 Buck in Joliet in early December. Love those shows! Tim has a lot of friends come out for those shows and I've come to know many of them.
The solo shows have been a great way to fill the void since the Big Eddy Springs Blues Band members parted ways in September 2011. Open mics are a great way to meet other musicians. And while I haven't wanted to rush into the first thing to come along, I have been looking for another band of like-minded players since Big Eddy. And I think I've found it! I've had to pull the Gibson Grabber bass out of retirement and put new strings on it. (The bass I bought used in 1983 for $150).
First and foremost for me, the most important member of any project had to be Ron Kostka! Ron's been a great friend since high school, a co-founder of the first band I was in, Suspended Animation. As a rhythm section we play together real well. He was unavailable for a while but one day he called and said he was ready to work together again. He's so much fun. Here's a picture of him in the Santa Claus suit he wore to our debut at the monthly third Thursday jam at Chicago Street.
The next task was to try to find the right people to jam with. It's a tricky business. You're not only talking about shared musical tastes, for starters, but compatible personalities, good work ethic, like-minded goals, etc. There are so many variables. It's no wonder not too many really good bands stay together for a really long time.
So anyway, this mystery texter who wasn't in my contacts at the time says hey, let's improvise some blues tonight. Well, the recovering journalist in me seized the news of the day and I wrote back, "I was a CIA head, had a lady friend, now I'm gonna lose, I got the General Petraeus Blues."
Eventually my correspondent identified himself as Greg Toombs, a very talented rock and blues guitarist, singer and songwriter I met at open mics.
That night I jammed a couple rockers on the 335 with the house band backing up. Had a great time as usual. Anyway the next day Greg texts me and says we should get together at his place sometime, with Ron. So we arranged it for Nov. 29, and have been getting together every week since then.
Rounding out the current lineup is Greg's son Matthew, who studied jazz at Northwestern and just recently moved back to the area after working professionally as a musician in Nashville the last two years. He's a very talented keyboardist. Both Greg and Matthew are very easy to get along with and a lot of fun to hang around.
At the December Chicago Street jam there was a jam-packed lineup of artists as usual--more acts than there's usually time to let play a few songs in four hours--but we made our debut. We played Steely Dan's "Boston Rag," the old Deadric Malone blues tune "As the Years Go Passing By" and the cool Gary Clark Jr. rocker "Bright Lights, Big City." We're calling ourselves Bluesonic (thanks Facebook friend Juliana Godsey for the name suggestion!) We're already working on some originals, getting a demo together and hoping to play some gigs by February/March.
So, 2012 was a great year for me musically--the best so far, without a doubt--and 2013 is shaping up to be even better and more fun than ever!
Sunday, October 14, 2012
Hi, all! After a year of working on songs as a solo artist I'm ready to play with a band again. My good friend Ron Kostka is on board as our drummer. Other than that, there's not much definite to say. Not sure what form it'll end up taking but I'll discuss a few ideas here, and guarantee it'll be fun, otherwise I wouldn't do it.
Now I really feel the time is right to go into the studio and record an album. A real album. Not the collections of home demos I make and give to people--nice sketches of songs but pretty crappy sound quality usually, except the ones my friend Chuck makes. I've got 12 songs in mind I think would sound good with a band.
To find out if those songs are the right choices to record I'd like to perform them a few times with the band. That would be easy to do at some open mic jams. I suppose some rehearsals would be necessary, which we could do in my basement. I've got a PA and gear. Who knows? Eventually if the recording goes well and the lineup works out we'll book some gigs and play some choice covers in addition to the originals, and sell CDs and T-shirts and just have fun playing in a band.
It's a bit premature to talk about the lineup just yet. A good guitarist friend is coming over this week and we'll work on a couple/three original tunes before heading to the monthly jam at Chicago Street Pub in Joliet. If all goes well I'll play bass most of the time, maybe switch to guitar on a few songs--I've heard him play bass so it's a possibility.
That's about all I can say for now. Very excited about the possibilities, with many ideas for recording and performing. We'll just have to see how it all goes. What's interesting about this, I was saying to Ron, is that in other bands I was also asked to join. This time I'm the one asking others, so it's completely new and different.
Sunday, August 12, 2012
I took a couple weeks off work because I haven't had a proper vacation in a while. Originally we thought about a trip to Colorado but we ended up staying in town, going to the beach and Art Institute but mostly hanging around the house. That left days free for writing and some recording and nights free for performing and listening.
Since John Condron was on vacation there was no open mic at Tribes Alehouse in Mokena on 8/1, so I checked out a place John and Scott McNeil mentioned called the Ashbary coffee house in Willow Springs. Heard a bunch of great young, original acts who perform every week before an attentive, appreciative audience in a small theater that fits maybe 50 or 60 people. I listened all night and finally got up at the end when there were only a few people left. I played Hinsdale and Stand My Ground and got a great reception.
The next night I checked out a blues jam hosted by friends Tom Kallai and Michael Brown at Live 59, a music club in Plainfield. I had a great time hanging out, talking to players and meeting people like keyboardist Dan Fidanze, who it turns out is friends with cartoonist Charley Krebs and newsman Dave Masterson. Tom and The Captain took over the Thursday blues jam from Marty Mercer a couple months earlier, but it's tough to make it out on a Thursday after playing every Wednesday night. It's not the alcohol so much as the adrenaline from performing keeps me up very late, and I must get up early for the day job.
On 8/4 (our 22nd wedding anniversary!) I performed with Tim Placher at his 7th annual Shindig at the Shanty party at his place along the Kankakee River near Wilmington. Tim's the keyboardist/music teacher who invites me to do marathon tag-team shows with him at Thayer Brothers' 30 Buck tavern in Joliet. I also played last year's Shanty party.
This year Tim had a special treat in store. A very talented fiddler named Cristina Seaborn from St. Cloud, MN, performed with us. They met a few years back at a show in Iowa marking the 50th anniversary of the final performance of Buddy Holly, Richie Havens and the Big Bopper. Christina performs with numerous ensembles, including with Bobby Vee. I did a set of covers and originals and she stayed up and played. Not only is she an amazing artist but very nice to talk to as well! I remember she said good artists aren't afraid to play ballads, and we talked about how it's good to be cool about making mistakes.
On 8/7 I went up to the Abbey Pub on Chicago's Northwest Side, a couple miles west of Wrigley Field. Traffic getting there was horrible but I still got there early. Their open mic is on the smaller of their two stages, called The Green Room, and hosted by Scott “The Madman" Madden. He was very cool to talk to; turns out we both graduated from Lyons Township High School.
Well, I was first to get up. Scott said I could do three songs. I played originals King Of the Mountain, Hinsdale and Wrigley Field, then Scott said do another so I played Stand My Ground. I felt great! I was chill and funny and the room responded wonderfully. There was a character there named Crazy Eddie who had a cool-looking bass so I snapped his picture, though I don't think he actually got up and played.
While having a smoke before or after playing I chatted with a nice guy. Turns out he was Dan Andree, fiddler extraordinaire for The Henhouse Prowlers. The guys in that band play bluegrass every Tuesday under the name Sexfist on the Abbey Pub's big stage. Once in a while an artist from the Green Room side of the house gets to play a few songs to warm up the Sexfist crowd on the big stage, so that's something cool to think about.
The next day, 8/8, was Hannah's 20th birthday so Jo, Hannah and I went to the Art Institute of Chicago and had a wonderful time. That night I played Tribes Alehouse and saw John Condron, Scott McNeil and a few other regulars. I got up after John like usual and played five originals. It was crowded and I didn't feel like I connected with the room. Oh well. I was sitting there thinking how attentive the room was at the Ashbary in Willow Springs the week before so I figured what the heck and drove up there. This time the sound guys running the show recognized me and got me up after a short wait. I played Ballad of Slowiks and Goof Off and got a great reception. I felt really at ease. Most of the artists there are a lot younger, but they encourage original performances and are very appreciative!
Driving home from the Ashbary I started writing a song called New Normal. I had the first couple verses and pre-choruses done by the time I got home. I picked up the guitar and found the key and the chorus and finished it in no time. The next day I recorded an audio demo with piano, drums and backing vocals and the day after that I videotaped a version played on acoustic guitar. It felt good to write the first new song since wrapping up the Rough Road collection a month or so earlier.
On Friday 8/10 I watched The Michael Heaton Band play at Chicago Street Pub in Joliet. Michael's a great original artist based in Montgomery IL. He's been writing, performing and recording his own songs for a long time. A few weeks back he mentioned he'd be needing a bass player starting in late September, and I let him know I was interested. We exchanged numbers but hadn't talked until that night. He said he was having a couple guys up for auditions and would let me know. The guitarist and drummer were nice guys to talk to and I think I could learn a lot from such an experienced artist. Tim Placher was there and so was Jodi Wartenberg with a bunch of her family. She's a big fan of Michael's. John Condron was there hanging out, Kevin Krauss was working the door and there were other friends there.
Saturday 8/11 I was back at Chicago Street Pub to see Terrapin Flyer featuring former Grateful Dead keyboardist Tom Constanten. Terrapin Flyer features guys from the bluegrass band Cornmeal, and I got to talking to Wavy Dave Burlingame, who plays banjo in Cornmeal and bass in Terrapin Flyer. Wavy said he's roommates with Dan Andree, the fiddler from Henhouse Prowlers/Sexfist that I met Tuesday at Abbey Pub, so it feels like a small world after all! Chris Corkery opened--he's a fantastic singer, songwriter and bluesy/country guitarist who I opened for at Chicago Street on May 4. Really nice guy, too, and I sat and listened as he asked Davy about playing gigs. I learned a lot just sitting there. Chris remembered me and was very complimentary about my writing and playing. Kevin Krauss was working, owners Triz and Kathy were there, saw Kevin Hegarty, Joel Arhweiler and other friends and it was a lot of fun hearing awesome music played by incredibly talented musicians.