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Friday, February 21, 2014

Surviving a heart attack with love and prayers from many

By Ted Slowik

Around 9 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 17, I started having chest pains. Not sharp pains--more like someone squeezing the breath out of me. I tasted blood. I'd never felt that before but didn't know if it was serious or something like a cramp that might pass. After about 10 minutes, I asked my wife to call 911. I just had a feeling.

 The paramedics came quickly. Annie, our little chihuahua-terrier who barks at everything, was strangely silent as they helped me from our house to the ambulance for the short ride to the hospital. They kept asking me to rate my pain, and I kept saying, "I can't breathe."

When we got to the hospital I heard one paramedic tell the other, "They called it," which I knew meant a code blue. The last thing I remember was being wheeled into the ER on a stretcher and having my chest shaved. Then blackness. Then I woke up at 9 a.m. Tuesday with no memory of what had happened during the past 12 hours. 
What happened was I had 100 percent blockage in the main Left Anterior Descending (LAD) artery. They said my heart stopped for six minutes. People pounded on my chest, ran a stent up through my right femoral artery and got my heart started again.

There's a history of heart disease in our family. Our dad had a heart attack, and one claimed the life of brother Jim. Just a couple weeks ago in California brother Tom had to have a stent put in, and Mom made us all promise to get electrocardiograms (EKGs).

Mine was scheduled for Tuesday.

So thanks, everyone, for the many prayers and well-wishes. I'm going to get better in time but some serious damage was done and I'm going to have to rest for a couple more weeks. I now wear my own portable AED that's supposed to shock my heart back to life should I have another heart attack in the middle of the night! I'm going to exercise more, eat better and take meds to help with cholesterol and blood pressure, and I'm through smoking for good this time.

I especially want to thank the Joliet paramedics, everyone in the ER and all the staff at St. Joe's who helped save my life. Thanks Chaplain Dan for comforting my family when it looked really bad, and thanks Fr. Brad from St. Ray's for the prayers. Thanks to all my family for their love and support, Kev, and especially Jo, Hannah and Noah for having to put up with me a while longer.

Life becomes a lot more meaningful when you realize every day is a gift.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Special milestone anniversary edition of Blues Musings!

By Ted Slowik

Welcome to the special anniversary edition of Blues Musings! This week’s retrospective will celebrate a milestone, look back at how far we’ve come and look ahead to the great times we’ve yet to share together.

This is the 90th post of Blues Musings. I started this blog in January, 2010, and in the first month posted 14 stories about my origins in music, spanning the 1980s through the 2000s. But between March 2010 and January 2013 I only published six posts. Then, a year ago, I set a goal for myself: I would reach 10,000 total page views on this blog, and this post puts us over the top! Seventy of those 90 posts have been written and published in the past year, and about 90 percent of the page views have been recorded in that time.

But numbers only tell part of the story. More importantly, in the past year I’ve figured out that to publish more frequently I needed more interesting content to write about. And I discovered that it was better to write about others than myself. So I set out to purposefully engage more with other artists, writers and musicians, to listen to their stories and retell them here, thereby sharing their pearls of wisdom with the world.

I wrote about a Songwriter Circle at Chicago Street Pub led by Alex Hoffer and featuring many talented individuals. I wrote about Open Mic at Tribes Alehouse in Mokena. I was saddened by the sudden passing of Steve Petrusich, better known as Spetrus. I attended performances by John Condron and Cuttroat Shamrock, Joliet bluesman T-Bird Huck, The Michael Heaton Band, Time and the New Romans, Matt Biskie and The Vaudevileins, Jack Be Nimble, Blind Whiskey, Dylan Michael Bentley, bluesman Twist Ferguson, Studebaker John, Mike Farris,  Dan Dougherty and Tone Bone and many, many others.

At times, I wrote about my own journey as well, and the process of writing, recording, releasing and performing my solo studio debut “Comfort Zone.” I also drew upon my 30 years of expertise in writing, media and publicity to share advice for independent musicians about such topics as marketing, professionalism, songwriting, storytelling, web publishing and other topics. I wrote about building a website, which is a lot easier to do than you think and can be done absolutely free. My most-read post was a list of influential songwriters.

I recently started sharing my blog posts on the No Depression Americana root music website, and several have been featured on their homepage. I’m more comfortable writing about music and have found meaning by supporting other artists. In turn, I’ve seen growing support from others through such channels as ReverbNation, YouTube, SoundCloud, Twitter, Facebook and Google+. I’ve discovered and felt part of a worldwide community of artists, writers and musicians. I’ve found I can use my writing and publishing talents to contribute to that community and help others.

So thanks, everyone for your support by reading this blog. I look forward to using this platform to grow an audience and provide greater support to other artists for years to come. 

Saturday, February 8, 2014

A lifelong admiration for the music of The Beatles

By Ted Slowik

Fifty years ago this week, The Beatles first performed on "The Ed Sullivan Show," and America and the world were changed forever.

There are all kinds of commemorations and reports about the significance of this event. I liked this Wall Street Journal video that explains how The Beatles' arrival was a perfect storm that helped pull America out of its collective depression following the Kennedy assassination. It didn't hurt that they were great singers, songwriters, musicians and performers whose manager was great at marketing and whose record producer may be the best who ever lived.

I was born in 1965, so I didn't experience the first wave of Beatlemania firsthand. I came of age in the 1970s, and became aware of the band probably soon after Capitol Records in 1973 released the albums "The Beatles 1962-1966" and "The Beatles 1967-1970," greatest-hits packages better known as the "Red" and "Blue" albums.

1973 was the only year all four Beatles had hit albums: "Ringo" spawned "You're Sixteen," "Photograph" and "Oh My My," George's' "Living In the Material World" gave us "Give Me Love," John had "Mind Games" and Paul released the classic "Band On the Run."

By 1976 I was a full-fledged Beatlemaniac. I watched live as George Harrison performed with Paul Simon on "Saturday Night Live" at Thanksgiving, with Lorne Michaels' running gag about offering The Beatles $3,000 to reunite on TV. As 1977 dawned, I listened all night as Casey Kasem counted down "American Top 40" for the year and cheered when "Silly Love Songs" by Paul McCartney & Wings was No. 1.

Of course, by then John Lennon had indefinitely removed himself from public life. Between ages 11 and 15 I devoured everything Beatles, memorizing every lyric, every note of every song. I collected every one of their group and solo releases: imports, rare B-sides, bootleg live recordings, books. By 1980 I knew as much about The Beatles music as anyone not directly associated with the band.

In 1978 I went on a week-long river-rafting trip in Idaho with my parents. One of the guides had a guitar and played Beatles songs at my request. When the trip ended I curled up in a seat in the back of the bus taking us back upriver, and the boat guides came over to the back door to say good-bye.

"We'll miss you, and will always think of you when we hear The Beatles," one of them said.

I cried. I've always hated goodbyes.

Words cannot express how profoundly my personality, my appreciation for beauty and art, my outlook on life and myriad other defining traits were shaped by the music of The Beatles. I suppose my obsession was fueled in part by the hope that one day The Beatles would get back together, an eternally optimistic sentiment that only Cubs fans would understand.

Imagine the excitement I felt as 1980 drew to a close and Lennon's "Starting Over" was released as a single. His album "Double Fantasy" was the first new Lennon music since I had become a Beatles fan, and I suppose I felt like someone with a Ph.D. in modern English literature being told J.D. Salinger was publishing a new book. I never thought I'd see the day. The day came, but all too quickly the dream was over.

If the events of Dec. 8, 1980 had never occurred, I'm convinced The Beatles would have reunited, recorded and even performed music live together again. Time would have healed the ugliness of the business dealings, the bitterness over lawsuits, and their friendship and mutual love for each other and the music they made would have prevailed. Though I suppose one of the most enduring qualities of the band is that they never had the chance to reunite, and their musical legacy was preserved.

What made The Beatles so special? For me, simply, it was the music. How it matured throughout their recording career. Those songs about love and loneliness helped me through those difficult teen years. The harmonies and double-tracked vocals that made their sound so distienct. Lennon's raw, primal-screaming, teddy-boy, rock 'n' roll energy and Harrison's gently weeping, spiritually inflected guitar playing and McCartney's rare gift of pure melody. It was all so perfect. And then it was gone.

After Lennon's murder I gradually allowed my interest in The Beatles to lapse. I continued to collect their new records for a few years, Ringo's "Stop and Smell the Roses," George's "Somewhere in England," Paul's "Tug of War." I have a 12-inch vinyl single of Paul and Stevie Wonder doing "Ebony and Ivory." But by Paul's 1983 "Say, Say, Say" duet with Michael Jackson, I stopped. I loved George's 1987 "Cloud 9" and his work with the Traveling Wilburys, but sadly I don't own his late-in-life solo releases, which I hear are excellent.

I found the demos and outtakes on "The Beatles Anthology" collections interesting, but my passion for Beatles music has tempered and is now more like nostalgic fondness for a past lover. I find that all these pieces that reveal more and more about their writing and recording process somehow diminish the magic of their music. Great magicians should never reveal the secrets of their illusions.

I still enjoy hearing Beatles music when a song comes on the radio, or when Paul performs at the Super Bowl, Olympics, a big music festival or on a late-night TV show. I saw him in concert at Wrigley Field not all that long ago. If I ever had the chance to meet him I would just want to say, "Thank you for all the music you've made. You changed my life and brought me much happiness."

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Chicago Street Pub is Joliet's best venue for original music

Matt Biskie at Chicago Street Pub (John Larson pic)
By Ted Slowik

Without question the best venue for live original music in Joliet, Illinois is Chicago Street Pub. Owners Mike and Kathy Trizna and their excellent staff serve great food and craft beer along with a steady diet of local bands and original artists with shows by some national touring acts as well.

On Friday night, area artist Matt Biskie played an opening set for Dan Dougherty and the Tone Bone. Matt's one of my favorite artists. I love his songwriting, acoustic guitar playing and singing. I think he writes to his strengths very well, which is what good performers and recording artists should do.

You can hear and download for free some of Matt's original music on his website. He plays "honest American folk," and his stories like "Don't you wait (too long)" unfold atop a bed of wonderfully melodic guitar picking and strumming. You can also listen to his songs "Little Flaws" and "The Man You Loved," which were all recorded by Bill Aldridge at his Third City Sound studio, which is conveniently located above Chicago Street Pub.

Matt Biskie at Chicago Street Pub 1-31-14
In addition to Triz and Kathy, part of the vision to create a hub of great food and craft beer, live local original music, a road stop for some top-tier national and even international touring artists and a recording studio all in one building came from former Chicago Street Pub co-owner John Condron, who continues to perform there regularly with his latest project, the Old Gang Orchestra. Triz also is the driving force behind the two Hopstring Fest celebrations of great music, food and craft beer that have been held in downtown Joliet's Silver Cross Field ballpark.
You should check out Matt's songs and next time you're on Facebook show support by liking Matt's music page. Matt's uncle, John Larson of J. Philip Larson Photography, took some great pictures of Matt's performance.

Dan Dougherty and Skylar Danielle of Tone Bone, 1-31-14, Chicago Street Pub
Dan Dougherty, Friday night's headliner, has been developing his newest project in recent months. Dan Dougherty and the Tone Bone features Dan and his friends Anthony, Skylar Danielle and Marco Pellillo, some of whom were members of Dan's earlier project The Workhorse Kings. Tone Bone has a kinder, gentler, more acoustic sound than the Workhorse Kings, who created excellent songs like "Hot Little Starter Pistol."

Dan's an exceptionally talented musician. He's a gifted writer and singer and I think especially strong at collaboratively arranging music. You hear his band and think, "That's exactly how that song should be performed," with the harmonies and accompaniment clearly well-thought out. There are some really good decisions being made along the way, good choices about what to keep. Tone Bone sounded fantastic Friday night!

But that's hardly unusual at Chicago Street Pub, where you can always count on hearing great original music and having a good time.