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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Announcing a break from public musical appearances

With fellow Naperville Sun storyteller Genevieve Towsley
By Ted Slowik

Today I am announcing that I am suspending my public musical appearances as of Jan. 1, 2015.

The reasons for this are many. First, I have been selected to become a volunteer for the Joliet Area Community Hospice. Volunteers provide companionship to people near the end of their lives. I consider this an opportunity to give back to my community,  and out of respect for the privacy of the people I will spend time with I think it's best if I keep my thoughts to myself.

I suspect the time commitment will be substantial, but I can think of no better way to spend the time I have. I'm a good listener, and I hope to collect stories that, at the appropriate time, I hope to share with you. I think I have a chance to gain a greater understanding of the meaning of life through this experience. I've always believed myself to be first and foremost a writer, though I'm considerably enjoying the progress I'm making as a performer.

The rigors of preparing for regular public performances are considerable, and since my own near-death experience I've learned to know my limitations. The hassles of arranging bookings, coordinating schedules with other musicians, practicing material, promoting shows and the like require a great deal of time. That's the time I choose to spend providing comfort to others instead.

I look forward to--at some point in the future--crafting quality, lasting stories of the people I meet.  They may be in the form of songs, or journalistic-like chronicles. I used to write fiction in college--maybe I'll try that again. Whatever the form, I hope to be inspired to create something great as an outcome. But I'm entering this effort with a spirit of complete dedication to volunteerism and will respect the protocols set by the hospice. I undergo a comprehensive two-day training session on Oct. 25-26.

I considered volunteering several months ago, when I was still on medical leave following a near-fatal heart attack in February. I applied at the hospice, but there's a long waiting list. There are many opportunities to volunteer, and I wanted to serve my local community. There are options like Big Brothers Big Sisters of Will and Grundy Counties, shelters that serve homeless people and myriad other services. I chose hospice because it felt like a good fit for my skills and what I want to accomplish, which is to simply be empathetic toward others.

Joliet Area Community Hospice provides compassionate, professional care to terminally ill patients and their families. It has served more than 17,000 patients since 1982 in greater Will, Grundy, and Kendall counties along with parts of Cook, DuPage and Kankakee counties. At any given time, more than 200 trained volunteers provide companionship to people in their homes or at a facility off McDonough Street--the first freestanding hospice home in Illinois. From 1992 to 2009, executive director was Duane Krieger, father of Naperville City Manager Doug Krieger.

I intend to continue my private lessons with guitarist Kev Wright of The Righteous Hillbillies, but figure the time I spend playing in my basement is better spent than in front of an audience for a while. I will miss my weekly appearances at Wednesday night acoustic open mic at Tribes Alehouse in Mokena, hosted by John Condron. However, I'm now comfortable with my proficiency at playing all types of music in front of friends or complete strangers.

I may occasionally--perhaps during times when work is not as intense--break my self-imposed cloister and perform music in public. I'll see how it goes. If asked I'd very much like to perform next summer at Tim Placher's Shindig at the Shanty and at Joliet's Hopstring Fest. I may also post music videos to my YouTube channel every so often. I intend to remain active on social media--I just won't have as much to say because I'll be spending time volunteering and I don't intend to talk about that while I'm doing it.

I hope to gain a greater appreciation for end-of-life care and note that while I expect my incredible 88-year-old mother to continue living independently for some time I realize our remaining time together may be short. She's much on my mind, as are all my friends, family and loved ones.

Stay tuned for details about a farewell performance at Chicago Street Pub on Saturday, Dec. 20.

Peace,

Ted









Sunday, September 14, 2014

Announcing two October benefit shows in Hodgkins and Romeoville

Ted and Clarence 2/9/14
By Ted Slowik

Update 9/23: The show at Lewis on Nov. 1 was previously announced for Oct. 25. Tell your friends!

Today I'm happy to announce I'll be performing sets at two separate benefit concerts in October. The first is Oct. 3 at Saban's Place in Hodgkins and the second is Nov. 1 at Lewis University in Romeoville.

Fall is a busy time at work and I haven't been hustling gigs much, so these are among the few performance opportunities this year while I continue to develop my guitar playing. I'm excited because at the first show in addition to performing an acoustic half-hour solo set of originals and covers I'll be playing electric guitar in the house band at the end of the evening!

The event is called "A Little Help from Our Friends: A Benefit for HCS Family Services Food Bank" and it takes place from 8 to 11 p.m. Friday, Oct. 3, at Saban's Place, 9507 Joliet Road, Hodgkins. The HCS Family Services Food Bank is based in Hinsdale and supports many families in the LaGrange area.

The event is organized by musician Clarence Goodman, a then-fellow cook I met while working at Poppin' Fresh Pies in LaGrange in 1979. Clarence was kind enough to invite me to join him in performing a couple hours of Beatles songs at a party in LaGrange on Feb. 9, the 50th anniversary of The Beatles' first appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show." That was great fun! Clarence also asked me to open the show celebrating the release of his CD "Don't Fret" in April at Saban's.

Ted at the 2013 Heritage Theatre benefit
In addition to Clarence, performers that evening will include fellow Poppin' Fresh alumnus Dave McGranahan and Jane Warfel, Rick Demski, Kim Treiber, Donna Sauers, Jane Wareham and Jim Bassett. Bob Baker will be master of ceremonies. Lyons Township High School Principal (and North Central College alumnus) Brian Waterman is scheduled to make an appearance.

The second show begins at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 1, in the Philip Lynch Theatre at Lewis University, 1 University Parkway, Romeoville and benefits the Heritage Theatre Company, the alumni theatre troupe in residence at Lewis. Thanks to Heritage president Jo Slowik for the opportunity to perform. It's great to support the arts in Will County!

I'll open the evening with an acoustic set of originals before solo performances by Flipside Works recording artists Allison Flood of Lockport and John Condron of Joliet.


John Condron
Condron, 41, has released five albums since moving to Joliet from Philadelphia in 1997: “If Any Or At All,” (2012),  “Eleventh Hour Grace” (2010), “Loud As Silence” (2006), “Down To Dorsey” (2004) and “My Own Device” (2001). The most recent was a solo album, with others released by the band he formerly fronted, John Condron & the benefit.

When he moved to Joliet 17 years ago, Condron was playing rhythm guitar in the New York-based band Poets and Slaves. The band eventually dissolved but Condron stayed in Joliet. These days, Condron continues to perform regularly, write new material, produce other artists and manage Flipside's Midwest artists, including Flood. 

Condron also has produced, arranged and performed on a full-length studio recording for multi-platinum Irish singer songwriter MickeyHarte and collaborated with legendary songwriter Paul Brady, for whom he opened a show at Old Town School of Folk Music last year.
He’s toured across the United States, in Ireland and throughout Europe in support of his original material. Visit  www.johncondron.com to learn more.

Allison Flood
Flood, 34, recently decided to resume her music career though she remains a full-time mom to sons Gabe, 14 and Aiden, 4 and daughter Rowan, 2. She’s been singing since she was a child and grew up in a musical family. She began performing while attending Andrew High School in Tinley Park and in 2002 began singing with the Joliet-based country rock band The Stone City Stragglers. The group performed extensively, recorded three albums and disbanded in 2008.

Since deciding to resume her music career Allison has reconnected with artist friends and made many new ones. She’s also been recording her solo studio debut, a six-song EP of acoustic originals produced by Condron and engineered by Bill Aldridge at Third City Sound in Joliet. It’s due for a fall release by Flipside Works.

“Opportunities like getting signed to a record label don’t come along every day, so whether I felt ready or not I decided it was time to go for it,” she says. “As a songwriter, what you do is very precious and very personal. It’s a whole other world than being an entertainer performing other people’s songs.”

Monday, September 8, 2014

Enjoying a fantastic weekend of music in Joliet

Song circle at the Church
By Ted Slowik

Wow, that was a great weekend of live music in Joliet! It was Will County Celtic Fest weekend, and the fun started Friday night with an intimate pre-fest gathering that featured a performance by Irish singer/songwriter Colm O'Brien.

Don Nudi, John Condron, Pat Otto
Colm is part of the Flipside Works stable of artists, and Flipside presented the two days of performers on two stages Saturday and Sunday at St. Joseph Park in Joliet for Will County Celtic Fest. But before that got underway, Colm performed at a private event Friday night. As the evening progressed, a song circle broke out with Colm, John Condron, Allison Flood, Scott McNeil, drummer Don Nudi and bassist Tom Maslowski.

Will County Celtic Fest is an extremely fun affair presented by the Irish American Society of County Will. St. Joe's Park is a wonderful venue in town, a picnic grounds with booths for food and beverages and volunteers staffing events. As election day is drawing near, the politicians were well-represented this weekend, including Joliet Mayor Tom Giarrante and Will County Executive Larry Walsh.

Cutthroat Shamrock
And the musical lineup was fantastic. Saturday featured performances by Appalachian punk rockers Cutthroat Shamrock and Milwaukee-based Celtic rockers Whiskey of the Damned. It was a great time seeing many good friends and hearing fantastic, lively music. The weather Saturday and Sunday was beautiful, too.

Sunday I rehearsed at Ron Kostka's house in Minooka with guitarist George Barnes and Ron's drummer friend Jay for an upcoming tribute show for Ron's sister Shirley, who passed away earlier this year. Shirley wrote the lyrics for several of the songs we played together back in the early 1990s, so we're getting the band back together in her honor.

The Righteous Hillbillies
On the way home I stopped by Mugz Hideout, formerly the Big Basin, a fun joint in Channahon where Interstate 55 crosses the DesPlaines River. There's a marina there, and a bar where The Righteous Hillbillies played Sunday afternoon. It was a glorious day, and I love their brand of Southern rock. They have a tremendous following, and it's always a good time hearing them.

All in all it was great weekend of live music!
I-55 over the DesPlaines River






Saturday, September 6, 2014

Slide is a fun way to expand you guitar repertoire

By Ted Slowik

Some of the most iconic, memorable riffs and licks in all of rock and blues history are played on slide guitar. Think of Elmore James' "Dust My Broom" (a Robert Johnson song) or a lot of solos by Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Johnny Winter and the Allman Brothers and the distinctive sound of a wailing or mournful slide will come to mind.

Some players seem to take to slide naturally. Here's a clip from 1993 of a 13-year-old Derek Trucks (son of drummer Butch Trucks) playing "Layla" with the Allman Brothers. He was an amazing prodigy even back then! Other great guitarists, including Pete Townshend, shun the slide and rarely, if ever, use it.

I've always liked the sound of the slide but only recently begun to experiment with it. I bought my first slide, a glass one, less than a year ago. Depending on the sound you're going for, you can use slides made of metal, glass or other material. Usually it slips over the ring finger on your left hand, if you're a right-handed player.

Slide has appealed to me because I love blues and roots rock music. I recall reading that Robert Johnson used a bottle neck as a slide. You can play slide on both acoustic and electric instruments. If you use effects, a little delay goes a long way to enhance the sound of slide.

Playing slide is particularly fun in open tunings, though you can also play slide leads in standard tuning. I picked up an inexpensive Epiphone electric guitar to keep in open tuning, which encourages me to practice slide. It only takes a minute or two to tune a guitar to an open tuning, but it's even easier when there's one sitting there in open tuning and you all you have to do is pick it up.

As I've been playing slide, I've focused on improving the tone. It takes a little practice to get used to the sound, and figuring out where on the fret you want to place the slide. You want to eliminate fret buzz as much as possible, and find that sweet spot where the note is in tune. As you get used to it you can wiggle your slide finger and start to make some really cool sounds.

My guitar teacher Kev Wright loaned me an acoustic Fender Resonator dobro, which is a steel guitar. I played some slide on it in an open tuning and it sounded great. I haven't ever played any pedal or lap steel instruments, which have a very distinctive country sound. But I do love the beautiful sounds they make.

Today I'm sharing a clip of my progress on slide guitar. I'm not there yet but it's coming along. I'm playing an old original, "Balcony," that I wrote back in the 1980s about my friend Dave Kent's apartment on Chicago Avenue in Westmont. I'm having a lot of fun learning slide, something that always seemed to intimidate me until I tried it and discovered I liked it.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A new song and a progress report on the music front

By Ted Slowik

I don't write songs very often. In fact, I just completed my first new song of 2014, and here it is September already, the final third of the year.

I've been writing songs for more than 30 years, and I have finished fewer than 100, for an average of about three per year. The past two years were very productive. Since switching from bass to guitar in 2011, I wrote nine songs in 2012 and eight in 2013.

My approach to songwriting has changed a lot over the years. I used to think a song was like a child, and that writing lyrics and composing music involved an intense process like giving birth. Nonsense! More recently I've developed a very deliberate approach to songwriting that starts out by attempting to answer the question, "Why does the world need another song?"

Because the truth is, the world is filled with songs and a new song has to serve some purpose. Lately, I've been thinking of my songs like one would think of a wardrobe. Sometimes, all your clothes are too old or don't fit right and you just need something new for an occasion. That's a good reason to write a new song, when you're performing your material and you realize you need a number that's not too fast or too slow or in a different key or tuning or tempo or in some way makes it different and a good fit with your other original material.

As I've been learning guitar from Kev Wright of The Righteous Hillbillies, I'm discovering I want songs that have a little more space for instrumental interludes. I used to be strictly a rhythm-and-vocals guy. The songs on my debut studio CD "Comfort Zone" are like that. There's a small solo where Pat Otto plays mandolin on "Red Rover" but otherwise no real jams.

Now that I know my way around the fretboard a little I want to play music! So I need songs that have room for solos. I wouldn't say I had writer's block for the better part of 2014. Rather, I've just been focused on improving my musicianship and hadn't given much thought to writing.

But, as the idea for the new tune came to me, I figured it would be good to write about the experience of surviving a near-fatal heart attack like the one I had in February. The new song is called "No Tomorrow," and I think it's about redemption and realizing our time here is short and we should make the most of it.

Though the theme may draw from personal experience, it's a fictional tale, told in third person. There are four characters, each has a different verse. There's an absent father, a half-assed brother, a lousy husband and a prodigal son. Some think the subject matter is deep or dark but I think it's an upbeat tale of salvation.

You can read the lyrics to the song on my website, which I hardly ever mention on here but should more often. You can hear an audio demo of "No Tomorrow" on my SoundCloud channel. And you can watch an early video demo of the tune on my YouTube channel.

The guitar lessons are going great! Though I've been almost exclusively playing acoustic the past three years, I'm playing electric more and more recently. I've had a beauty of a Gibson 335S Explorer since I bought it from Hound Dog in 1988. Recently I bought a Fender Blues Junior amp. And, just this past week, I bought my first effects pedals, distortion and delay.

I still use the Boss loop pedal for both acoustic and electric. It's a great practice tool, and effective performance device, too. You can record a rhythm track and have that play back while you play a lead guitar solo over it. It's fine for what I'm doing now, which is learning scales and licks and tones and levels and all those things. Eventually though, I hope to play as an accompanist to other musicians.

I have no immediate plans to do any additional studio recording at this point, nor do I expect to dramatically increase the number performances I do any time soon (I average about one per month). I still regularly do Wednesday night acoustic open mic at Tribes Alehouse Mokena, hosted by John Condron.

I'm happy with the progress I'm making as a musician but realize I still have a ways to go. A while back I read the Robert Gordon biography, "Can't Be Satisfied: The Life and Times of Muddy Waters." In the book we learn that one of Muddy's sons, Big Bill Morganfield, discovered music later in life and spent six years in the woodshed learning guitar.

I've spent three years learning guitar so far, so I figure I'm about halfway there.
P.S., please like the music page at Facebook.com/TedSlowikMusic and follow me on Twitter @tedslowik!









Monday, September 1, 2014

A Labor Day reflection on friendship and loss


Jerrypalooza 2010
By Ted Slowik

This year's Labor Day holiday is a particularly sad and difficult one for many people I know. For the last few years a group of friends has gathered on a farm outside Yorkville over Labor Day for a weekend of music, food and fun known as Jerrypalooza.

The small, private festival took its name from its host, Jerry Reno, who resided in the old farmhouse. The property included several barns and outbuildings, and in one of these a band would set up and play. Jerry played drums. 

There would be a big bonfire and tent camping, followed by a big country breakfast in the farmhouse kitchen the next morning. Jerry’s girlfriend Toni would co-host the festivities. 

I got to know Jerry through good friends Dave and Cheryl, who is good friends with Toni. In addition to getting to know Jerry and Toni at various parties over the years, Toni, Cheryl, Jo and I went to see Mumford and Sons, Dawes and other bands together at the Gentlemen of the Road festival in Dixon, IL in 2013.

The music at Jerrypalooza was performed by a group of old friends. I felt like an outsider at first, not really part of this circle of musicians. But Jerry was the link. Jerry was so friendly and inviting, and when he told me to stick around and play I stuck around and played.

Sadly, there is no Jerrypalooza this year. Jerry took his own life this past February. This was within a day of my near-fatal heart attack, so I didn’t learn of Jerry’s passing right away and haven’t found the right opportunity to acknowledge it in the past six months.

I just want to say thanks, Jerry, for your friendship, and peace and love to Toni and all the many others touched by your spirit.