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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Support of musician friends makes all the difference

By Ted Slowik

This week's theme is gratitude and support. I'm grateful to many musical friends for their encouragement and for the opportunity to support others.

On July 24, keyboardist Rich Westrick and drummer Ron Kostka joined me for a jam at Bridget and Mark's house party. The music was good, the company great and the weather was beautiful. We had a fantastic time performing. We did a set of covers together, then Rich and I played a set of originals, and I did a third hour of solo acoustic songs. Many thanks to Ron and Rich, Bridget and Mark and friends for a wonderful reception and the kind words of encouragement.

On Wednesday at the weekly acoustic open mic at Tribes Alehouse in Mokena, John Condron showed me the ropes. I'm guest-hosting for him on July 31 and very grateful to John and Niall for the opportunity. Their open mic has become an outstanding showcase for talented musicians, singers and especially songwriters. There's a solid cast of regulars, a steady stream of newcomers and patrons who support live local original music.

Tribes regulars Greg Woods and Bill Ryan are in a band called Time and the New Romans, and they write and play some catchy rock tunes. Thursday night they had a EP release party for their latest recording. I drove into the city to hear them for the first time live, which was a great experience. The recording is great, too. I especially like the second tune on the disc, a song called "Begin."

I met their bassist John and drummer, and Greg's dad Bob, who remembers a lot of my brothers and sisters from hanging out at Timber Trails pool during the 1960s. Had a great time recalling many happy childhood memories of spending summer days with other kids at the pool.

Earlier Thursday I had a photo shoot with friend Brian Powers, who does great portraiture work. Brian is one of the photographers let go from the Chicago Sun-Times, and I'm grateful he was able to take pictures to accompany the upcoming recording I'm doing at Third City Sound with Bill Aldridge. Brian got some great shots and it's going to be a lot of fun having professional images to go along with a professional recording.

Heading home from the Time and New Romans show in the city I stopped by one of my favorite places for a nightcap, Harlem Avenue Lounge in Berwyn. Proprietor Ken Zimmerman runs a great, authentic Chicago blues club featuring some of the best blues you'll ever hear in an intimate setting. Since it was Thursday, it was open mic night, and Pistol Pete was putting on the usual great performance with a talented group of players.

I was chatting outside the club with Sam Cockrell, who is not only an incredibly talented bassist but a very gifted singer, songwriter, recording and performing artist. Y'all should support Sam by buying his tunes from his ReverbNation page--you won't be disappointed. Many of his songs have a horn section backing him up, and the production is top-notch.

Somehow the talk turned to baseball, and since I had my acoustic with me from the photo shoot I grabbed it and played a verse of a song I wrote about the Cubs called "Wrigley Field." Sam thought it was great, and I played bits of other songs, like "Hinsdale," "Slowiks" and "Springfield." Sam's reaction to those songs made me feel great.

Driving home, I realized in the 22 months since I stopped playing bass with the Big Eddy Springs Blues Band and started performing my own songs on acoustic guitar, I've made a lot of progress as a writer, singer, musician and performer. I've done the work by putting in many hours of practice, but if it weren't for the support and encouragement of others I don't think I'd write or make music.

Life is a state of mind. and the best state is the one where you feel like people get what you're doing, like it and tell you so. I'm grateful to everyone who has ever shown support and encouragement.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Having too much fun during an amazing week of music

By Ted Slowik

What a week! July 13 I performed at good friend Tim Placher's 8th annual Shindig at the Shanty. Tim and a couple friends have a place outside Wilmington on a bluff overlooking the Kankakee River, and he throws some great parties with live music in that beautiful setting.

I played a set of mostly originals, though I opened with a cover of the Charlie Daniels Band's "Uneasy Rider." Rich Westrick drove down from the city to sit in on keyboards. He was a great help on songs like "Red Rover," "Hinsdale" and "Springfield." We're going to jam together again July 20 at my friend Bridget's house party. This will be my first time performing mostly originals in a house party setting so I'm really looking forward to it.

Tim played a set at the Shindig, then the Michael Heaton Band performed. They were so good, I don't know how Tim's going to top the musical entertainment next year. Tim has a great number of friends from throughout Joliet and Plainfield but especially his classmates from his St. Ray's days, and they're a great group to play for.

Monday night I sat in on a great Songwriter Circle at Chicago Street Pub with Alex Hoffer and Charlie Champene. There was a group in front of the Will County Courthouse in downtown Joliet protesting the verdict in the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case. I played the original "Stand My Ground" and some other tunes.

Chicago Street is sponsoring Hopstring Fest Aug. 24 at Silver Cross Field in Joliet with a great lineup that includes Miles Nielsen and The Rusted Hearts, The Steepwater Band, John Condron and the Old Gang Orchestra, The Righteous Hillbillies, Ed Anderson, Chicago Farmer, Magic Box, and more. It's going to be great time, especially if you like craft beer and live music. 

Tuesday after work I met with photographer Brian Powers at Quigley's  in Naperville. We talked about pictures to accompany the recording I'm doing in August at Third City Sound. Brian is easy to get along with, has great ideas and does great work.

Wednesday night I was at Tribes Alehouse Mokena for weekly acoustic open mic. Kev Wright from Righteous Hillbillies was there with a couple of his students--John Narcissi and Chase Walsh--a couple of really talented young singers, performers and songwriters. Kev's son is a student at North Central College in Naperville (where I work) and just earned a grant to spend a few weeks studying in Iceland. Sometimes it's the tiniest of worlds.

I heard all or parts of sets by Charlie, Scott McNeil, Patrick Spiroff, John Green and others. Patrick mentioned that when I included a link to his Bandcamp website in a previous post he noticed some readers visited his page. I appreciate it when you check out the links, because people like Alex and Michael and Patrick and John deserve to be heard by as many as possible, so tell your friends. We're all very supportive of one another in the Will County independent music community. 

Thursday night was the monthly jam at Chicago Street hosted by Kevin Krauss. Charlie and Patrick performed, I was helped out on "Uneasy Rider" and "Drama Queen" by Pat Otto and Chris Foray on mandolin and mandola, and to cap it off there was a very special jam performance by Kevin, Eric Jensen, Becky Smentak, Tom Maslowksi, Don Nudi, John and a sax player whose name I didn't get. 

Good thing weeks like this don't happen often, because I'm exhausted and broke!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Summer 2013 peaking with live performances, recordings

Tim Placher's new 2013 Shindig at the Shanty stage above the Kankakee River near Wilmington, IL.
By Ted Slowik

Folks, first I want to extend my sympathies to the Lac-M├ęgantic families with unaccounted for relatives. No one should be left wondering about loved ones vaporized in an inferno caused by a train derailment. Thoughts and prayers.

Next, I just want to say it's all about the song. I'm heading into a stretch where I'll be performing the next two weekends. This is unusual for me. While I've been taking time off from playing to heal my finger I haven't booked gigs. I'm very much looking forward to these upcoming performances, July 13 at the Shindig at the Shanty in Wilmington and July 20 at a house party in Cherry Hill.

Thanks to Tim Placher for the invite to play the Shindig for a third straight year. Much appreciated. It's one of only three summer festival gigs I've played. The others being Rich Westrick's Jam-O-Rama and Jerry Reno's Jerrypalooza over Labor Day weekend. Sadly, Jam-O-Rama is no more, though to fill the void I'm happy to announce keyboardist extraordinaire and good friend Rich Westrick is joining me for the July 13 and July 20 shows! Thanks to Bridget for the special invitation to perform at a house party--a first for me!

Look forward to memorable sets of originals as two longtime high school chums and bandmates reunite for special evenings. And, to sweeten the deal, fellow Suspended Animation member and legendary drummer Ron Kostka will join us for the July 20 private house party in Cherry Hill! These are shaping up to be very special performances.

These are the only summer 2013 performances I've scheduled as I've limited my appearances due to health and am focused on recording Aug. 10-11 in Joliet. This will be the first time in nearly 30 years I've been in a recording studio, so it's a momentous occasion. More on that later.

John Condron
For now, just want to say thanks to John Condron for hosting weekly acoustic open mics at Tribes Alehouse Mokena, and to Niall Freyne for allowing us to showcase songwriting. And to Bill Aldridge for establishing Third City Sound in Joliet. Really looking forward to recording some original songs a month from now. Much planning and preparing for that.

In a future post I'll tell you all about the last time I was in a recording studio, in 1986.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The secret to being a successful storyteller is...

Commons Beach, Tahoe City, CA.
By Ted Slowik

Howdy Blues Musings readers! I've been out West since I last wrote, staying cool in scorched Reno (high, 102F). We spent the Fourth of July in Lake Tahoe, which is on the beautiful side of the Sierra Nevada. I was having too much fun to blog but if you want to get caught up on the trip you can stitch together the story from my Twitter, Instagram and Vine feeds.

For you new readers, Blues Musings is a lot of things: journal, diary, historical record, soapbox, instruction manual and advice column. It tends to tie in to music most of the time and invariably involves something in which I've participated. Namely, life.

Topics may range from artists whom I've seen or heard perform, friends whose work I support, writers I've read, creative types I've read about, and a lot of other things. I tend to write more about people I've met than those whose work I've admired from afar, but the rules are pretty loose.

Rule No. 1: There are no rules.

If I don't feel like writing for a week, there will be no new posts. I'm not paid to do this. These writings are more for my benefit than for yours. Which brings us to today's topic: songwriting.

I once read someone's advice to aspiring songwriters. The person said if you want to become a better writer, you should write every day.

I could not disagree more.

I believe you should not write unless you have something to say.

Maybe instead of practicing your writing you should go practice some living.

I get the point about practicing. The same is true for music. Practice, practice, practice. Practice makes perfect. Doctors practice medicine. I hope the doctors who see me have plenty of practice!

I get how practice makes you a better musician or more skilled in the use of language. But practice doesn't make you a better storyteller. Telling stories makes you a better storyteller. As in orally relating events that have happened. Verbally communicating a tale to one or more other person. Telling it like it is.

It's that simple.

That's all I wanted to say today.