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Saturday, June 28, 2014

A great time Rollin' on the River in Naperville!

Jodi Wartenberg photo
By Ted Slowik

Wow, what a fun show! Last night's two-hour free concert at the Free Speech Pavilion on the Naperville Riverwalk was a big blast!

I was humbled and grateful to feel the love and support of so many family and friends who came out to listen. Slowiks were well-represented with son Noah, brothers Bud and Mike, sister Liz, nieces and nephew Sarah, Rachel and Jonathan and Sarah's kids--the next generation!

Jodi Wartenberg photo
Good friend Ron Kostka was amazing on the drums! He really brought the songs to life and powered them along with his inimitable brand of transformative energy. We had one rehearsal, on Tuesday night, and I could tell then by the way he was hitting the skins that this would be a special performance.

Jodi Wartenberg photo
And it was! I felt really good about the way I sang and played 22 originals and five covers on three different guitars in four different tunings, with a little slide at times and a loop pedal to play a lead over a rhythm track. That worked OK but Ron and I have to practice the timing of that a little more, so I kept it to a minimum.

Mostly I just barreled through the 27 songs with a small amount of talk in between. The set went exactly as we rehearsed and planned with the exception of two audibles: I included the tune "Lies" because we were more efficient than expected and had time for more songs than planned, and when I had the Epiphone in open E tuning and slide I added Robert Johnson's "If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day." I gotta work on that--not being afraid to have a little pause between songs here and there.

Jodi Wartenberg photo
I was pretty drenched with sweat by the end of the night. Even though I felt great I appreciate the concern of friends who thought I might have overdone it a bit, given I just had heart surgery three weeks ago. But I've been doing cardio rehab and sweating like that every day so I wasn't worried. It was a great workout!

Selfie with Janet Pimentel!
I truly appreciated seeing so many friends including Chuck, Donna and Rachel Pelkie; Dave and Mary Jacque; Cean and Anne Magosky; Judy Brodhead and Gary Smith; Janet Pimentel; Jodi Wartenberg and Greg Vershay; Kathy Millen; Lois Mayer and Maria Rocco; Dr. Jim and Kelly; Clarence Goodman; Meg Dedolph; Hank Beckman and more. Special thanks to Nancy Thompson and Brett Lindahl from the Naperville Park District for the opportunity to play such a wonderful setting as part of the Rollin' on the River free concert series. Cheers to Debbie Mossburg of Bike Bald--I donated all the tips from the night to aid their cause of helping people affected by cancer.

Hank's story
Hank wrote a really great article that was published in The Naperville Sun the day of the show. We spoke for about 20 minutes on Monday and then again for few minutes on Tuesday, and his story was published online Wednesday and appeared in print Friday. He really did his homework--you could tell he listened to songs and read the blog and knew my story well. I greatly appreciate his excellent work!

Jodi Wartenberg photo
Aside from being a whole lot of fun, I'm extremely happy with the progress I'm making as a performer. I switched from playing bass to guitar just three years ago and now I know I can play two hours of originals and keep a big crowd entertained and engaged! That's really gratifying.

Judy Brodhead photo
But I know I can get a lot better. I owe a deep debt of thanks to my friend and guitar teacher Kev Wright of The Righteous Hillbillies, who puts a tremendous amount of time into planning lessons for all his students. He knows what your strengths are and what you need to work on, and with his wonderful bedside manner he's a tremendous boost to one's overall confidence. I very much look forward to learning a lot more from Kev!

Ted setlist Rollin’ on the River Naperville 6-27-14
1. Hurt (Johnny Cash cover)
2. More (loop pedal for solo)
3. Slowiks (capo 2)
4. Hinsdale
5. Record Store
6. Springfield
7. Rockville (REM cover)
8. These Walls (dropped D)
9. Red Rover (loop pedal)
10. Well, Well, Well (John Lennon cover, electric)
11. Low (electric)
12. Hit Somebody (acoustic, Warren Zevon/Mitch Albom cover)
13. Dream So Hard
14. Support Joe Hosey
15. New Way Home
16. Kick the Can
17. Refugee Blues (W.H. Auden poem)
18. Years Go By
19. Lies
20. Don’t Wanna Fight (electric, slide)
21. If I Had Possession (slide electric, Robert Johnson cover)
22. Back To You (Acoustic, open C)
23. Stand Your Ground (Trayvon Martin tribute)
24. ‘Merica/Never Been Any Reason
25. Dear Editor
26. King of the Mountain
27. The Cave  (Open D) (Mumford and Sons cover)

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Did I ever tell you about the time I worked at WXRT?

By Ted Slowik

"A man's got to know his limitations."

Back when I was in college I got to fully appreciate those words spoken by Clint Eastwood's "Dirty" Harry Callahan character in "Magnum Force." I was always one to try too hard and do too much. My mom used to say I burned the candle at both ends. I was a candidate for burnout.

In high school I really wanted to be a morning show disc jockey. And I was! I did mornings on Lyons Township's excellent station WLTL-FM 88.1 with my good friend Phil Schrock. Our show started at 6 a.m. and ended at 8 a.m. every school day our senior year. I couldn't drive in high school (thanks to an irresponsible older brother the Slowik kids couldn't get licenses until they were 18) and it was too cold and icy that winter to ride a bicycle, so I'd get up at 4:30 every morning and walk the 2.2 miles to LTHS from my parent's home in Countryside.

I continued as a DJ at my college station but also got into journalism. I was editor in chief of the student paper my final two years of college. I also worked about 30 hours a week as a cook in a restaurant. I carried a full course load. It was a lot, but I managed it well. That is, until I got the internship.

Unpaid internships are a cruel form of free labor. They are great for gaining experience and making connections but the fact they don't pay sometimes forces difficult decisions. Like when there aren't enough hours in the day to do it all, what do you give up--the part-time restaurant job that actually pays for your car or the unpaid internship that could really help your future career?

Such was my dilemma in January 1987, the beginning of my final semester of college. I was selected as an intern in the news department at WXRT-FM 93.1. I got up at 4 in the morning and drove my battered 1972 four-door Olds Delta 88 from my parent's house in Countryside to 'XRT's studios on West Belmont Avenue in Chicago.

There, I ripped copy from an Associated Press machine (this was pre-Internet times, folks) and other sources and rewrote it for newscasters Neil Parker and Charlie Meyerson, complete with phonetic pronunciations and all. They read my stuff verbatim. I knew what I was doing.

In fact, I was so sure of myself and so happy to have my foot in the door at my favorite radio station that I was downright cocky. I started picking up on little hints that maybe I was behaving a bit too overconfidently, perhaps. For example, my shift would end at 10 a.m., and a new DJ would replace the morning person and start the midday shift. One day they were featuring Billy Joel and the guy started his shift by just saying "Big Shot" and playing that song. I knew he was talking about me.

Then my world fell apart.

I knew my car was having mechanical trouble but I was too busy and too broke to do anything about it. When it finally died I shouldn't have been surprised but I was helpless. How was I going to get to the northwest side of Chicago by 5 a.m. now? It not like buses run from LaGrange at that hour.

Other factors were piling up. I could handle the classes and the student newspaper but working at the restaurant past midnight was taking its toll. I was sleep deprived, like Alan Alda's Hawkeye Pierce character in an episode of "M*A*S*H." I was really losing it, and near my breaking point.

The day it happened was Charlie's birthday. Staff was called in to the control room to sing "Happy Birthday" to Charlie on the air. There were balloons, we sang, and Charlie was presented with a small cake with a few lit candles. The morning DJ at the time, Terri Hemmert, beseeched Charlie to make a wish.

Charlie hesitated. And hesitated. It couldn't have been more than five or 10 seconds but in my sleep-deprived, delusional state it felt like an eternity.

"Go ahead, Charlie, make a wish," Terri implored.

This was taking forever! There was dead air! So I took control of the situation. Standing next to my boss, Charlie, I took the ballon in my hand and held it momentarily over the cake. The lit candles caused the balloon to pop and extinguished the candles. Then Charlie spoke.

"I wish Ted hadn't popped that balloon."

My fate was sealed.

After that my shift was over and I had to get to class. I don't know if it was that day or the next, but around this time my car stopped running completely. More immediately I was afraid I had behaved unprofessionally with the little balloon stunt. Who does that intern think he is, anyway? My fears got the better of me, and with tears in my eyes I phoned Neil Parker and resigned from the internship.

I also quit the restaurant job at the same time. I spent the next two weeks stranded at college, spending nights in a sleeping bag in the record library of the radio station and eating meals in the dining hall purely on the kindness of the staff there who knew I had no meal tickets or money but who weren't about to let me go hungry.

I gradually got my sanity back, started sleeping better, got another car, resumed my "normal" life and graduated on time. I made up the internship that summer at my first job out of college, as a reporter for The LaGrange Sun.

I ran into Charlie recently at a networking event for media and publicity professionals. He didn't seem to remember me--he must have worked with hundreds of mentally unstable interns over the years--but he laughed genuinely when I told him the story of how we used to know each other.

WXRT is still my favorite radio station, though I've long abandoned thoughts of ever working there again.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

How do pro musicians keep it fun after many years?

By Ted Slowik

There's a reason they call it "playing" music
Work is work, and play is play, and never the twain shall meet, right? Unless you happen to be a working musician, in which case you "play" for a living.
I'm not a professional musician, but I've thought about becoming one. My biggest reservation about turning pro isn't whether I'd be good enough to be successful. I worry that if I did music full-time it wouldn't be fun anymore.
As a hobbyist/aspiring pro I can come home from my day job, pick up my guitar and play for a couple hours and all the stress and worries of the day melt away. If I was a working musician, what would I do for fun? Play golf?
I’ve become acquainted with several professional musicians. I’m friends with many more who, like me, have day jobs and do music on the side or as a second career. But I know a fair number who do music full-time and I deeply respect their entrepreneurship.
Some who have been doing it professionally for many years sometimes hint at the grind of performing five to eight shows a week, playing the same venues and festivals. It might have been fun the first time, or the first dozen times, but after a while they fall into a routine that sometimes gives way to a rut. Sure, they can spice things up with new material or collaborating with a different bunch of players. But sometimes a few music pros sound tired, like office workers complaining about their jobs.
Mind you, musical performance might be one of the most difficult professions one could choose. You work with tobacco users and alcohol drinkers and sometimes drug abusers and sex addicts. You endure long-distance relationships with loved ones and betrayals by people you thought were your friends. If you’re lucky enough to emerge from years of that lifestyle with your health and sanity intact—well, then, you’ve accomplished something.

So my question to all professional musicians is this: How do you keep it fun after years as a working player?

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Surgery postscript: Getting better all the time

By Ted Slowik

Yesterday I had heart surgery, and today I went back to work. Amazing, isn't it?

I had a pacemaker/defibrillator implanted in an outpatient procedure that had me home after a few hours recovery in the hospital. My wife Jo was there through it all, caring for me as lovingly as she has done for 24 years but especially since my near-fatal heart attack Feb. 17.

Now that it's been more than three months since the big event and my heart is still weak, the experts say I'll likely always be a higher risk of having another one. So at this point insurance covers the cost of the implantable cardioverter defibrillator, which is nice to have handy in case I ever need it. It sure beats the inconvenience of wearing an external defibrillator!

I'll continue doing my best to manage the risks of heart disease by avoiding tobacco and unhealthy foods and by exercising and taking meds for that bad cholesterol that runs in my bloodline. You don't bounce back from heart surgery and go to work the next day unless you're some strong badass that's for sure.

I just want my kids Hannah and Noah to know how sorry I am for what I put them through that night my heart stopped for six minutes and a priest had to pull them aside in a grieving room and start preparing them for the worst. I promise to take better care of myself.

And to all my family and friends who have expressed support, thank you. Your kindness means the world to me. I promise to look for ways I can give back.

I realize that as much as I thought I had figured out life since our brother Jim's passing five years ago, I still need to think of others more. I've felt so much love and concern despite the hurt I've caused, and I'm truly grateful for the chance to repay with kindness in return.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Jross Green rocks with debut CD

By Ted Slowik

One of my favorite local writers has just released his debut CD, and I've enjoyed listening to it several times over the past week. Jross Green's self-titled collection of 12 tracks rocks with the raw energy of loud guitars and at times bounces with hip hop-like grooves.

Jross (John) Green celebrated the release with a show May 24 at Chicago Street Pub in Joliet. The live lineup showcased the tight rhythm section of drummer Chad Payne and bassist Brian Ward. Later in the week, I caught up with the guys at their Bolingbrook studio, the HaHa Hut, where their tracks were recorded and mixed. (I uploaded a short video clip of one of their songs here.)

Make no mistake: As home recording efforts go, this one is top-notch. The sound is professional quality, the production is excellent and the performances and arrangements are immensely entertaining. Songwriting credit is shared by Green, 40, a New Lenox native, and Payne. Green writes the lyrics and melodies, and Payne takes the lead on arranging and producing the material.

The songs tell stories that range from"Bank," a wildly imaginative tale of a horny, double-crossing Bonnie and Clyde-like couple to "Pops," which sounds like an autobiographical story of a hard-drinking father. "Pops" seems rooted in reality because it mentions actual watering holes like The White Horse in New Lenox. (Green says his father passed away in 2003.)

The first three-fourths collection are guitar-driven tunes that showcase Green's edgy personality.

"We are the middle children in history, raised on television having these dreams, but someday we're gonna be millionaires or movie stars," he sings on "Millionaires." As a lyricist, Green can sometimes seem intent on shaking his listeners out of their complacency.

But what makes this collection especially appealing is the thread of infectious melodies. Take "Momma" for example. It's hard to listen to this CD and not walk around for days on end humming the line, "she was a good one," to one's self.

The last quarter or so of the album takes a deliberate turn away from the guitar-heavy sound to incorporate beats and rhythms that nevertheless seem to fit perfectly with the other songs. The afore-mentioned "Bank" sounds like something Beck might create.

The guys told me they have already recorded almost enough material for a second CD, and I look forward to hearing it!

Green doesn't have an extensive social media profile, but if you want to buy their music you can find it on Bandcamp:  You can see them perform live Aug. 23 on the 2014 Red Betty IPA Side Stage at Hopstring Fest in Silver Cross Field, downtown Joliet's ballpark.