My all-time favorite line
bio's is the title and hook in a Dan Connor song:
"My life is based on a true story."
acted and directed in local theater, sang in chorale groups, wrote stories
and poetry. . . I learned to read music as a kid by one-noting out the
Steven Foster songs my grandmother played on the piano, and looking
in the book to see how they wrote it down. . .
A folksinger named Kay got me started on the guitar while we were at Oakland
University. . . My 22nd birthday present was finding out people liked my
voice, at Cafe Godot in Putney, Vermont. . . I learned my first blues licks,
and blues harp, playing with Dink Mantle in the old St. Louis "gaslight
district". . . One of my best songs is a re-write (with her permission)
of a Randi Phillips song. And there are
so many more people who played a part in my musical life. . .
Hearing Hoyt Axton do his song 'Endless Road' on the dobro one night in L.A.
in 1965 is why I play one. A long list of
"big names" like Hoyt, Dylan, Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, Joan Baez,
Judy Collins and again many more have been influences too, but mostly at a
distance. Truth be told, "unknowns"-- family, friends and acquaintances,
up close and personal-- deserve most of the thanks and credit for shaping
what I do with music. I sure didn't get
where I am with it all by myself.
There's also a chunk of credit due
to some less tangible influences, who live in that mysterious place songs
come from. . . Ask any musician: the way we write the stuff is, we hear voices--
vocal and instrumental alike. But if that's true-- if I'm listening (and I
am-- I never heard that song before)-- who's singing?
Who's playing that melody running in my head that I like so much I'm going
to learn it too? I mean, if that was me, I'd already know how to play it.
. . wouldn't I?. . .
So I listen, and try to get the good stuff written down before it flies out
the other ear, and then rewrite the lyrics, and work on the melody and the
chords and the picking 'til it sounds like what I heard. . . Saying "I"
wrote it ends up really just a convenience; it doesn't begin to tell you the
magic in how the music happens. Truth be told, some kind of "we"
wrote it-- but they gave me the song, not their names.
One more thing:
Music is called playing, and it's absolutely true. I'd rather hear an amateur
play than a "pro" work any night of the week-- and I "worked" a
lot of nights I'm glad you never heard to learn that lesson. . . That's not
to say music should be all fun and games-- although the music "industry" has
devolved to where cheap thrills are about all it can or cares to sell. And
meanwhile, the internet has turned it into a cottage industry.
But if you ever were a kid, or raised some, you know that playing can
be very serious business. Getting a sad song really "right"--
making the audience cry-- feels just as good as doing the happy ones.
Practicing the handcraft and the vocals is "work" sometimes,
yes; and the writing and re-writing can be too-- but it's all to make
the playing more of a joy.
It's not complicated. Songs are
my favorite sandbox, the words and melodies and instruments my favorite
toys-- and the graffiti on the playground gate says:
Unless ye become as little
ye shall not enter the kingdom of heaven. . .