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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)

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Seeing the great Buddy Guy perform in St. Charles

Steve, Liz, Mary Jo and Bud
By Ted Slowik

I never got the chance to see Jimi Hendrix perform. But I've seen Buddy Guy, and that's the next best thing.

Buddy, who also was a huge influence to Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan, performed Friday night at the historic Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. I hadn't seen a show at the Arcada before, and I gotta say it was a wonderful experience! It has that old vaudeville/movie house charm and grandeur of theaters like the Rialto in Joliet and Paramount in Aurora, but it's smaller, cozier and more fun.

Mike and Jon
Buddy played really loose last night. I went with brother Mike, his son Jon, sister Liz and her husband Steve, and brother Bud and his wife Mary Jo. A bunch of Slowiks, usually Frank and sometimes Sue and even Jeanne, have gone to see Buddy every January for years at his club Legends in the south Loop. The last time I saw our brother Jim was at Legends, in 2009.

He's simply the best living blues guitarist. I mean no disrespect to B.B. King, who was a mentor to Buddy, along with Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon. At age 78, Buddy still rocks like no other. His band, which includes the great Marty Sammon on keyboards, features some of the best players in the world.

Buddy in the Arcada balcony
Buddy's an entertainer. In his youth he used to have a really long guitar cord, and he was known to jump off balconies back onto the stage. He doesn't jump off balconies anymore, but with his wireless guitar he does make his way through the crowd. He likes being close with his audience. You can go down to his club and many times Buddy will be sitting at the bar, and you can strike up a conversation with him.

One of the best hours of my professional life was when I got to interview Buddy, in 2008, when I still worked for the company that publishes the Chicago Sun-Times. We chatted, and he was real friendly, though he has a way of steering the conversation to the stories he feels like telling, regardless of the questions you ask.

At the end of the interview, Buddy reached into a mini-fridge and pulled out a Mason jar of clear liquid. He said it was real Tennessee moonshine--the good stuff. He poured us each a shot and we drank it. That was a good day.

Ivy Ford with J.B. Ritchie
I said hi to the great blues guitarist Kate Moss in the Arcada lobby at the show. Her husband Nick Moss is a fantastic songwriter, blues guitar player, performer, singer and recording artist. Next door to the Arcada, J.B. Ritchie was playing with Mark Schiele on bass. (Mark let me play his bass during a blues jam at the legendary Rainbow in L.A. in 2010). I met a fantastic singer/guitarist named Ivy Ford, who was sitting in with J.B. Ritchie, who was recently inducted into the Chicago Blues Hall of Fame along with Joliet's T-Bird Huck and the best bassist I've ever had the pleasure of meeting, Sam Cockrell.

So, it was a really fun time on a cold November night in St. Charles. The Arcada is a great venue that books a lot of big-name rock and blues acts that are still making good music. Buddy played for two hours and delivered a very satisfying show.
Merch counter man at the Arcada

Sunday, November 16, 2014

My 10 most influential albums, and why

By Ted Slowik

I begin this post with the presumption that the reader has some appreciation for the album as an art form. And that an album is a collection of recorded material intended to be appreciated in its entirety.

It’s an art form that came into being in the 1960s, flourished in the 1970s and continues to this day. Though sales of albums are at historic lows, and the art form is threatened.

With that in mind here are 10 albums that are major influences in my life, and the story behind each one.

10. “Running on Empty,” by Jackson Browne (1978). This album captured my imagination unlike any other. The songs are about life as a musician on the road, and my dream as a child was to move to southern California. The melodies are immaculate, and the performances are dream-like, from the mournful fiddle of “The Road” to David Lindley’s exquisite slide on “The Load-Out/Stay,” this album stays with you the rest of your life.

9. “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” by Bruce Springsteen (1978).
At 2 a.m. on a summer Saturday in 1978 when I was 13, I woke up and went downstairs for a drink of water. My brother Mike and his friends were just leaving for Warren Dunes and let me come along. We listened to “Darkness on the Edge of Town” all the way there. We waited out a thunderstorm parked in a car wash, and later watched the sun come up. When the park opened we drove in and parked in the huge, empty lot. My brother's friends crashed on the beach. I went exploring. I wasn't tired.
8.) “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” by Elton John (1973). I mean, come on, I spent hours in front of the mirror playing air guitar to this album. Lester Bangs said great albums are judged not by the number of great songs but by the absence of not-so-great songs. There’s no weak link on this classic. From the orchestral opening "Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding" to the seamless tempo and rhythm changes of a song like "All the Young Girls Love Alice," this record packs a ton of variety. Of course there are classics, hits a plenty. But the lesser-known tracks like "Grey Seal" are equally good. There's not a bad song in this bunch.

7.) “The Beatles,” by The Beatles , aka “The White Album” (1968). When I was 14 I spent the summer of 1979 at my brother Stan’s in Evergreen, Colorado. I was penniless but earned a few bucks doing chores. Enough to buy one record at the end of the summer. I pored over every album in the store, narrowing my choices until finally I bought the one record I could. And so I chose this one, and never regretted it. The layers of sounds and abrupt changes in mood somehow leave you feeling like you're able to make sense out of chaos. It's a sonic smorgasbord, a feast for the ears. Listen to it through headphones, again. You'll be glad you did.

6.) “Quadrophenia,” by The Who (1973). Adolescent boys relate well to this story. It's a coming-of-age tale about social insecurity, awkwardness and substance abuse. Growing up is often a difficult, lonely experience. These songs speak to those going through that transition, especially males, and the music is this incredible infusion of power. Hopefully this masterfully recorded, brilliantly performed, impeccably written gem of a concept album continues to speak to audiences of young people finding their way for generations to come.

5.) “The Wall,” by Pink Floyd (1979). OK, so it’s the soaring culmination from possibly the most talented quartet of British rock musicians ever. This was a great band, from its humble beginnings behind Syd Barrett through its experimental era and commercial juggernauts, and this Roger Waters-conceived masterpiece is executed like none other in history. Beyond the smash hits like "Another Brick in the Wall," "Comfortably Numb," "Young Lust," "Hey You" and "Run Like Hell" there are acoustic beauties like "Mother" and "Goodbye Blue Sky." I was going through adolescence when a lot of these albums came out, and that's a critical age when your musical tastes are determined for life.

4.) “Empty Glass,” by Pete Townshend (1979). There's something about the screaming guitars of “Rough Boys” that pulls you in. Then you’re captivated by the profanity and beauty of “I Am an Animal,” and it goes on. "And I Moved" has wonderful piano, and the drumming is amazing throughout. The hit "Let My Love Open the Door" showcases the keyboards, and “Gonna Get Ya” closes this intoxicating collection with some truly great guitar and bass work. These are songs about the pain of loss, and using alcohol to dull that pain. If you've ever done it, you understand. If you haven't, you're lucky. Try not judge others too harshly.

3.) “Exile on Main Street,” by The Rolling Stones (1972). Admittedly, I didn’t fully appreciate this masterpiece until I read Keith Richards’ autobiography, “Life.” I mean, I always loved the radio hits, like “Tumblin’ Dice” and “Rocks Off.” But it’s the deeper cuts that make this one of my favorites. The slide guitar work, keyboards, Mick Jagger’s vocals and Keith’s harmonies (and leads at times) defined rock music for me. Admittedly, I'm greatly in love with the idea of this album being made in the south of France amid all the decadence of the era, and the wild parties that abounded while this great music was being made.

2.) “Plastic Ono Band,” by John Lennon (1970). It’s hard to not include George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass,” or some of Paul’s fine work with Wings and as a solo artist. But the power of John Lennon’s commercial solo debut is in its raw emotion, the naked vulnerability of boldly going into the unknown. Beautifully simple in its arrangements, with drums and bass backing up guitar or piano, this record is all about Lennon's voice and lyrics. The record is deeply confessional, from the quirky edge of "Well, Well, Well" to the manifesto "God," with commentary like "Working Class Hero" along the way.

1.) “Abbey Road,” by The Beatles (1969). “Something” and “Here Comes the Sun” are among George Harrison’s finest work. Even the weakest song “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” amused me as a child. Side two is an amazing medley of sounds and moods. The perfect harmonies of “Because.” Paul McCartney’s piano and melodies, George Martin’s production, all reaching a crescendo after the drum and guitar solos of “The End.” A perfect ending from the greatest band at making albums.

Footnote: Honorable mentions to the aforementioned "All Things Must Pass," McCartney's"Band On the Run," Lennon's "Double Fantasy," "Hot Rocks 1964-1971" and "Some Girls" by The Rolling Stones, The Grateful Dead's "American Beauty" and "Terrapin Station," Supertramp's "Breakfast in America," Springsteen's "The River" and "Nebraska," The Eagles' "Hotel California," Fleetwood Mac's "Rumours," Nirvana's "Nevermind," Carole King's "Tapestry" and others I'll add as I think of them :) I didn't listen to many Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Beach Boys or Bob Dylan albums growing up but I've gained a deep appreciation for them since.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Review: Young singer/songwriter Chase Walsh impresses with debut

By Ted Slowik

At age 15 most of us are still formulating our musical tastes, choosing from among the palette of popular artists and sounds to select favorites we carry with us the rest of lives. But at that young age singer/songwriter Chase Walsh is already defining the course of his own original music.

Chase, who started learning music when he was 5 and wrote his first song at age 10, has just released his debut collection of six studio recordings, all originals. He'll celebrate the release of "Your Friend the Robber" with an all-ages show at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 16 at Chicago Street Pub, 75 N. Chicago St., Joliet. Tickets are $5 and available through while supplies last.

"Your Friend the Robber" is an excellent debut. The songs all feature Chase's fine acoustic guitar playing and sweet low voice expertly recorded at Hillbilly Studios by his guitar teacher, Kev Wright and Brent James of The Righteous Hillbillies. There's a minimal amount of accompaniment: an egg shaker on "Impulse," a subtle Kev electric guitar solo on "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere," some deep-end cello by Andrew Matichek on "Like I Do." But for the most part Chase's songs stand up very well on their own with just his guitar playing and voice.

Chase has a gift for melody and a solid grasp on writing songs in open tuning. He displays maturity well beyond his 15 years, both in writing and performance. His voice is unmistakeably in pitch throughout, and his guitar playing shows a poise and confidence that many players don't discover until much later in life.

His style of singing probably appeals more to today's 15-year-old girls than those of us who grew up listening to The Beatles and The Rolling Stones on AM radio. But listening to this record multiple times is a truly enjoyable experience. There's a heart and sincerity to Chase's music that makes one believe in his limitless potential.

Probably the worst thing that could happen to Chase is if he were to suddenly become hugely popular on the scale of a Justin Bieber or The Jonas Brothers. And that's not far-fetched, given his pop idol-looks and his Vine following of more than 37,000. That would be a shame, because as Chase matures from writing songs about girls to other topics he could become a voice for his generation in the vein of a great songwriter like Ryan Adams.

Full disclosure: I'm also a guitar student of Kev's, and I met Chase last summer before he performed at Hopstring Fest in Joliet. That doesn't diminish my enthusiasm for Chase's music or admiration for his gifts. He's a talented guy, and I look forward to hearing much more from him in the future.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Enjoying every moment of the Farewell Tour!

Joliet Area Community Hospice grounds
By Ted Slowik

It feels like a whirlwind now that the Farewell Tour has kicked off! The next couple months will be quite busy with shows before I take a break from live performances during 2015 to spend time writing songs and working as a hospice volunteer. Today I'm happy to announce two additional shows on the Farewell Tour, with details below!

Volunteer training went great Oct. 25-26 at Joliet Area Community Hospice. It turns out their greatest need is getting word out to people that hospice care is available when someone is expected to have six months to live. Too often, families only take advantage of hospice services for the final week or so of a loved one's life. One of the great benefits of hospice is that staff and volunteers are there to assist patients and families while there's still time to fulfill dreams, get affairs in order, resolve issues and make arrangements.

I've still got to pass a physical and background check and undergo an interview, but it's looking like I'll be a sort of freelance writer who will help share the stories of families who want to relate the positive experiences they had with hospice. Quite likely I'll collect testimonials for publication on the hospice's website that can be shared on social media and pitched to traditional media to help get out the word about the excellent services hospice provides.

Ted and Allison Flood at Lewis University. (Eric Johnson photo)
With all the time spent practicing, rehearsing, coordinating schedules with other musicians and promoting upcoming performances I'm reminded why I decided to suspend performances for a year or more. It's great fun but it doesn't leave much time for songwriting.

The Farewell Tour kicked off Nov. 1 with a great show in the Studio Theatre at Lewis University's Philip Lynch Theatre, as a benefit for the Heritage Theatre Company. Much thanks to my wife Jo, who manages the theatre at Lewis, for creating a spectacular set and publicizing the show, and to Andrew Nelsen for doing a great job on sound and lighting.

John Condron at Lewis University. (Eric Johnson photo)
It was a fantastic evening of acoustic originals. I shared the bill with Flipside Works recording artists Allison Flood and John Condron, who both performed beautifully! The audience was attentive during songs and erupted with applause after each number, and it's a great venue to really listen to the music.

I'm continuing as best I'm able to perform weekly at the Wednesday night acoustic open mic that John hosts at Tribes Alehouse in Mokena. The exciting news about Tribes is that the Mokena location is expanding, and will being brewing its own line of beers! The food, service and company at Tribes Alehouses in Mokena and Tinley Park are fantastic, and you should check them out.

Last night an unannounced date was added to the Farewell Tour when a date at Chicago Street Pub in Joliet opened up on short notice. John stepped in as headliner and invited J Ross Green and I to play opening sets. J Ross (or John) Green is one of my favorite performers and I greatly admire how he writes about local people and places in his songs. Regular readers may recall I wrote about Green's new album earlier this year.

I played a set of originals and acoustic blues in open tuning and slide. I'm definitely showing the influence of having taken guitar lessons from Kev Wright of The Righteous Hillbillies since last Christmas. Unfortunately I don't have any pictures or video from the show last night because my phone was full and I've spent the morning uploading a ton of pictures and videos to the cloud to free up storage space.

The Farewell Tour is incredibly fun because no two shows are alike! Not only are the venues different, but each show features a different mix of material tailored for the performance. I'm playing different songs on different instruments with different musicians at each show! Let's walk you through the details of each upcoming performance, including the two new shows:

Nov. 16: This Sunday, Nov. 16, at 2 p.m. at Chicago Street Pub is the CD release show for "Your Friend the Robber," the debut by Chase Patrick Walsh. Chase is another student of Kev's and a very talented young singer/songwriter with unlimited potential. I wrote about Chase leading up to this year's Hopstring Fest. I'll open with a set of acoustic originals and some blues with good friend Ron Kostka backing up on drums, and Kev will join us for a couple songs in our first appearance on stage together! At the conclusion of Chase's set, I'll play keyboards with Chase and Kev on guitar, Ron on drums and a bassist for a finale rendition of "Take Me Dancing" by The Maine.

Nov. 22: Saturday, 8 p.m. to 1 a.m., I'll join great friend and piano man Tim Placher for one of our tag-team shows at Thirty Buck, located at Six Corners in Joliet. It's five hours of nonstop music, mostly covers, in a friendly, fun environment.

Nov. 29: Saturday, 9 p.m., I'll perform an opening set of acoustic originals at Chicago Street Pub for the debut performance of On the Off Chance. This new project features Steve Ashum, Anthony Bartkowiak, Dan Dougherty, Jason Parks and Rebekah Rakow. Dan's been in other bands including The Tone Bone, which performed at Hopstring. Back in February when I had my heart attack on a Monday, I was supposed to open for Dan's band the following Saturday at a show. I wasn't able to make it but Allison Flood filled in for me, and she and Dan performed "Red Rover" together. There's no greater honor for a songwriter than hearing other artists perform your material.

Dec. 13: Saturday, 9 p.m. at 2-Fer's Pizza and Pub, 106 N. Ridge Road in Minooka, I'll be playing bass with Ron Kostka on vocals, a friend of his on drums and George Barnes on guitar as The George Barnes Project performs a very special "Tribute to Shirley Kostka" show. Ron's sister Shirley, who passed away earlier this year, wrote lyrics to many of the songs The George Barnes Project performed together in the early 1990s.

Dec. 20: Saturday, 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. at Chicago Street Pub, will be a blowout spectacular and my final billed public performance for a while. Plans are still coming together, but the evening will feature some of my favorite songs on acoustic to open the evening, with some blues on electric. I'll close out the night on bass with Ron on drums and George on guitar for a set by The George Barnes Project. I'm hoping to announce some other special guests during the course of the evening and the evening is bound to include a few surprises too, so you won't want to miss this one!


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Listening to a master explain the craft of storytelling

John Madormo
By Ted Slowik

Regular readers will know that while I'm deeply interested in developing skills and proficiency as a musician, I'm most passionate about songwriting and storytelling. On Saturday, I listened intently for more than an hour as an accomplished master storyteller spoke about the craft.

John Madormo spoke to teachers who are education alumni of North Central College in Naperville during a Homecoming Weekend event in the school's library. Many know John as a longtime professor of broadcast communication at the college and general manager of WONC-FM 89.1, one of the nation's finest college radio stations.

John established the John Drury Awards to honor excellence in high school broadcasting. The awards are named for a late ABC7 Chicago newsman, and currently the reigning No. 1 high school radio station in the country is at my own alma mater, WLTL-FM 88.1 at Lyons Township High School in LaGrange. But I digress.

A few years back, about when he turned 40, John decided to pursue his dream of becoming a Hollywood screenwriter. Sure, he had a successful career as a college professor and a wife and kids, but he talked about that "What If" theme I've written about often. Only he described it as "Living On Someday Isle," as in "someday I'll write that book" or "someday I'll sail around the world."

So John started spending his lunch hours and late nights learning to write screenplays. Here's an important point he made: If you want to seriously make room in your life to pursue your dream, you've got to give up something. For him, it was watching late-night television. A modest sacrifice, right? In my case, I'm giving up live performances in 2015 to focus more intently on writing something great and lasting.

For the past 10 years or so John's been walking to Nichols Library in downtown Naperville and writing for an hour during lunch, inspired by the books around him. Some days he would only write a paragraph, but he was one paragraph closer to his dream. He finished a few scripts, shopped them around and even had some optioned, meaning producers licensed the rights to turn his screenplays into films. He sold the rights to one outright, though none has been green-lighted yet.

He said people in the industry have called his work very original, but John explained that sometimes being original is simply combining two or more influential existing works in a new way. He says his story "Coach Dracula" is a mix of "Dracula" meets "The Bad News Bears." John says he started writing for younger audiences so he could create something he wouldn't mind having his daughters read.

Along the way someone suggested to John that one of his screenplay ideas might pitch better if it was based on a book or series of books, say, like Harry Potter. So John started writing stories about a 12-year-old character that became Charlie Coller: Snoop For Hire, a series of middle-grade mystery novels published by Penguin Books. The third book is being released this fall.

John's books have been added to the reading lists for public schools across the country, including Chicago Public Schools, New York City's Bank Street College of Education, and schools from Arizona to New Jersey. He regularly visits schools to talk about writing, appears at conferences, author talks and book signings. He's found success and a second career doing what he's passionate about, and he's an inspiration not only to many young readers but to many adults who might be thinking "What if" or "Someday I'll."

The best part of John's talk Saturday was listening to him describe the craft of storytelling: character development, story arc, the three-act drama, foreshadowing, cliffhangers and so on. Every great hero is flawed in one or more ways. Great villians have a redeeming humanizing quality, like Dr. Evil petting his cat in the Austin Powers movies. John knows writing across many media: radio, TV, film and literature. The elements of successful storytelling are the same regardless of the form, and they apply to songwriting as well.

John's a great writer and a fascinating speaker. If you have kids in second through fifth grades you should have them read John's books, and if you ever get a chance to hear John give an author talk you should go listen to him.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

A fantastic month so far of performing and hearing great live music!

By Ted Slowik

Hey, all! Been having a blast this October playing and hearing great live music! Since this blog is partially to remember great musical adventures I'll run through a recap of the last couple weeks.

Liz with Robert Cray
On Oct. 2, the great Robert Cray performed at North Central College. My sister Liz and brother Mike were there, and Liz got to meet Robert! We've seen him many times over the years. I was at the Alpine Valley show in 1990 for Stevie Ray Vaughan's final performance that included Robert, Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Jimmie Vaughan and others. Robert sounded great in the Wentz Concert Hall, and his playing, singing and songwriting is as superb as ever!

Clarence Goodman, Kim Treiber and friends
On Oct. 3 I made my debut playing electric guitar in band. The very talented Clarence Goodman invited me to join Lyons Township High School class of 1979 friends to perform at their 35th reunion at a joint called Saban's in Hodgkins (great food!). The band featured fellow Suspended Animation bandmate Dave McGranahan on harmonica, Clarence on acoustic guitar and vocals, Kim Treiber (LT '79 who now lives in New Mexico) on lead vocals and acoustic guitar, Rick Demski on bass and Kim's cousin Randy Ourada on drums. I played lead guitar with the house band at the end of the evening, and opened the night with a 30-minute set of acoustic originals and covers. My cousin Shelly Powers was in from Arizona, and I had a ton of fun hanging out with Shelly and her St. Cletus classmates from the old neighborhood. I was especially surprised when Betty Tompkin, mother of some good childhood friends from Timber Trails Swim Club, popped in unexpectedly after seeing a post on Facebook.

Sat., Oct. 4, was the big Barn Dance show at the center of my musical universe, Chicago Street Pub. Bad Saddles, Alex Hoffer Band, Edward David Anderson and The Leadfoot Band performed. All the performances were awesome and the atmosphere was electric with many friends on hand! I captured video of some of Leadfoot's performance.

Noah with B.J. Novak
On Wednesday, Oct. 8, after my son Noah met actor/author B.J. Novak at North Central College, I popped by Tribes Alehouse in Mokena for a couple tasty craft beers, great company and awesome live, original music hosted by John Condron. I've really enjoyed making near-weekly appearances at Tribes' open mic for the past three years and learned a lot about performance by watching John and so many other talented people that appear there regularly. When I compare myself now to where I was three years ago, when I set aside the bass and picked up the acoustic guitar after the final Big Eddy Springs Blues Band performance, I'm very happy with the progress I'm making as a musician and performer. Every time I play feels like a personal best.

Nick Domberg at White Horse

Thursday, Oct. 9, found me at the White Horse for open mic hosted by Brian Barry. Brian's such a great guy, and his wife Kristin is very involved musically as well managing appearances by Alex Hoffer and others. Great musicians, singers and songwriters like Nick Domberg and Allison Flood were there, and Aly, Brian and I performed "Red Rover" together. I never cease to be amazed by the broad and deep pool of musical and artistic talent that fills Will County!
Allison Flood at White Horse
BTW, Allison Flood and John Condron are topping the bill when I open for them Nov. 1 at Lewis University's Studio Theatre. We'll each do about a 30-minute set of acoustic songs, mostly originals likely, in a benefit for the Heritage Theatre Company alumni troupe in residence there.

As if that wasn't enough fun, on Friday, Oct. 10, I was back at Chicago Street Pub to hear Allison's very talented husband Chris Flood open for The Righteous Hillbillies. The Hillbillies have become my favorite band, and it's been great getting to know singer Brett James (who did the artwork for my "Comfort Zone" CD), bassist Jeff Bella and drummer Barrett Harvey. I've been taking guitar lessons since Christmas from Hillbillies lead guitarist Kev Wright and owe a great deal to him for the progress I continue to make. Taking music lessons builds your self-esteem and confidence in addition to your abilities, and I find those improvements transfer over into all areas of your life.
Righteous Hillbillies at Chicago Street Pub

Also this week I was honored when Kev asked if I'd warm up the crowd when his fellow student Chase Patrick Walsh celebrates the release of his CD "Your Friend the Robber" at an all-ages show at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 16, at Chicago Street Pub. I met Chase when I was helping publicize Hopstring Fest this year and was immediately impressed by his talent, abilities and work ethic. Chase has unlimited potential, in my opinion, and I look forward to watching and hearing his progress.

Then I was back at the Pub last night to hear J. Ross Green open for The Regressors, a very talented band of friends keyboardist Kevin Krauss, guitarist Chris Foray, bassist Tom Flavin and drummer Jeff Sledge. I've listed to their new release "These Times" and think it's very good! The recording quality is excellent and their performances showcase their range and appreciation for varied styles. Plus I LOVE J. Ross Green (aka John Green) and how he writes personal stories in local settings. His newest material is his best, in my opinion, and his performances, recordings and songwriting continue to be the best every time I hear him. I captured video of a couple of John's songs, "Blood On My Boots" and "15 Shots."

J. Ross Green and The Regressors
Well, that brings us up to date on the musical adventures during October. In addition to the Nov. 1 and Nov. 16 shows, remember you'll only have a few opportunities to see me perform live for a while because I'm suspending public musical appearances in 2015 to focus on an extended writing project. The big finale will be a farewell show Saturday, Dec. 20, at Chicago Street Pub. You won't want to miss it!

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.



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 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