Category: Poetry


V-Picks

There came a time when I could no longer buy any more guitars. I certainly don’t need any more guitars. Which is what led to the moratorium on buying guitars. Well, that and Cyndy wouldn’t buy any justification I might come up with.

So when I worked the Dallas Songwriters Association booth at the Dallas and Arlington guitar shows, I started looking at accessories. I have an impressive capo collection (more later). I have picks of many sizes, shapes, thickness, material, etc.

For years I used Fender medium picks like everyone else. Then John Pearse picks with the off-center point that helped with the way I played. A few years ago, a lot of people started making picks out of just about anything you can imagine. I have one out of petrified wood and one of granite.

So I began to experiment with all different kinds of picks. They were cheaper so Cyndy didn’t mind. It had never occurred to me how the pick can change the sound. Like everyone else, I tried different strings, different gauges, and so forth. I was amazed at the different sounds I could get with the different picks.

Then Vinni Smith introduced me to his V-Picks picks. I use them exclusively now- except for finger picks, which he doesn’t make. I also use different picks for different songs. The picture below is my V-Pick leather wrist band with the picks I use. Check out the website and see the variety of shapes and styles. There is bound to be one that fits your sound or even enhances it. They are made with Vinni’s special acrylic blend. And they stick to your fingers with the heat of your fingers.

Last week, I got an email from Vinni with the picks on sale and a new pick. The Nashville pick is a return in his special acrylic blend to that same Fender pick except “on steroids.” I didn’t like using a heavy pick, but I love this pick. It rounds out my wristband onstage selection quite nicely.

Check out the website. They have sets you can order to try different ones. Tell Vinni I sent you.  Or catch me when I play and you’ll have a demonstration. I’d be glad to show them to you and let you try them.

Keep writing the songs that are in your heart.

Peace be with you.

Merry Christmas from Jesus

He walked through the streets in darkness,
Homeless but not alone,
A man on a mission of reverence
beyond the mundane chore of survival,
in a spirit of grace and mercy.

He stopped at Johnson’s Laundry
With it’s Closed for Christmas sign,
He knelt on the sidewalk outside the door,
Quietly saying the Lord’s Prayer,
the only prayer he knew.

Thanking “Papa” Johnson
For the clothes left unclaimed,
He left a small package – a crude, homemade cross
With a card on which was scrawled,
“Merry Christmas, from Jesus.”

Next was Garcia’s Grocery
For the leftovers not yet spoiled
He knelt and prayed –
Another crude cross,
And the card, “Merry Christmas, from Jesus.”

Ten blocks later, Miller’s Hardware,
For his sturdy, cardboard box dwelling,
and timber for his bed,
A kneel, a prayer, a larger crude cross,
And the card, “Merry Christmas, from Jesus.”

Too far from home, the mission closed,
He found a bench in the park,
after a passerby bought coffee
and he walked – recalling forgotten memories –
without knowing what they meant.

Early the next morning on Christmas Day,
he fought the wind and rain,
through the cold streets to the mission,
where Christmas dinner was served, the soul sustained,
and life again had purpose.

The rain stopped, the wind died down,
as he trekked on home,
home – an alley behind the church
white and made of stone,
with a view of the cross on the wall.

He turned into the alley
and stopped in his tracks.
Where his cardboard box had stood,
was a sturdy lumber shack,
with a roof, a window, and a door.

He opened the door to a sturdy wooden cot,
An orange crate table, his few possessions inside,
with something new on top.
A suit of clothes hung on a hook,
with the laundry marker still on it.

He closed the door because he could,
he’d forgotten what it felt like.
Walking to the table he turned on the lamp,
it had been years since he had his own light,
but then his breath went away.

Also on the table sat a Bible, brand new,
inscribed with a name he hadn’t used in years,
next to a picture of a family he’d forgotten he had.
He stood staring at them, his mind racing,
memories bombarding his thoughts.

He sat on the cot and picked up the Bible,
after staring at the picture a while.
He ran his fingers over the only thing he owned
that wasn’t worn by wear or weather,
with emotions he couldn’t control.

Through tears, with shaking hands,
he opened the Bible and read
“Merry Christmas, from Jesus.”

Peace be with you.

foreign-figuresThe featured artist at the Poor David’s Pub open mic, hosted by Mr. Troll, on Monday, October 24 was a band from Utah called Foreign Figures. Separately the band is Eric Michels – Vocals, Steve Michels – Drums, Seth Dunshee- Bass, and Johnny Tanner – Guitar. Collectively, they are one kickass ball of sound. For a band that has only been together for two years, the four young men seem naturally tight.

The energy of the members of Foreign Figures seems to be boundless. One of the unique things about the band is that they all play percussion at different times. They have a tom-tom, a floor tom, and a snare drum outside of Steve’s trap set. There were times when Seth Dunshee and Johnny Tanner would play their respective drums. Eric as well.

On one particular song, Steve left his drum set, set the beat on the tom-tom, then Dunshee took over the beat. Steve moved the snare drum, set the beat, then his brother, Eric, took over. Next was the floor tom before Tanner took over the beat, then back to the trap set. What followed was a percussive explosion with a back beat. They took us just short of overwhelming and brought it back around to an explosive conclusion. I’ve always loved a good drum solo and this was a drum solo on steroids.

But it wasn’t all about percussion. Tanner played the guitar like the old familiar friend I’m sure it has been. Dunshee placed the bass notes foreign-figures-2between percussion, guitar, and piano seamlessly, emphasizing notes when necessary. Eric Michels sang and danced or moved around with seemingly reckless abandon that was actually very good timing and planning.

It was the band’s first gig in Texas. We showed them they were welcome. If you get the chance to see Foreign Figures, don’t pass it up. As I said earlier, for a band only together for two years, these young men are tight. And as Troll said when he posted a picture of himself and Samantha Saunders (Bar Manager) with the band – “these guys rocked it.”

Peace be with you.

Cat, Dan, and John 4Thanks to everyone who came out to see the Sack Summer Hunger Concert on Sunday at Christ United Methodist Church in Farmers Branch. We raised $98 for Sack Summer Hunger. It was a small, but enthusiastic, crowd, and they very much enjoyed the show. I don’t care for the word “awesome” because it’s so over-used. But when someone uses it to refer to my music, my friends’ music, and the show, it feels pretty good.

We played the show “in the round,” playing three rounds of two songs each, telling stories behind the songs. John Mason began the round, Cat McGee followed and I ended each round. We ended the show with the three of us playing Will the Circle Be Unbroken. I would like to thank John and Cat for coming out and playing in support of Sack Summer Hunger.

Thanks again to those who made it out. The list of those who wrote checks will be included in the report given to Metrocrest Social Services with the money raised.

Peace be with you.

Since it is Autism Awareness Month, here is a video of my song about those on the autism spectrum – Hello Out There.

Dan at Pig 'n' WhistleBefore I went to the ASCAP conference, I wanted to line up a place to play while I was in LA. While I was checking,  I found that it so happened that  the Pig ‘n’ Whistle on Hollywood Blvd., a block from the hotel, had an open mic on Tuesday night.  Not having any kind of following in LA – other than fans on Reverbnation and Facebook – setting up a solo gig would have proved difficult. So an open mic was my best bet.

But it was good fortune that it was an open mic in a historical building. The Pig ‘n’ Whistle was founded in 1927, next to the Egyptian Theatre where the premiers of movies were shown.  You can imagine the movie stars and celebrities that ate there.  The restaurant  has been restored to its original glory. What is called Backstage or the Back Room is down a hall to the back of the restaurant. There was a bar, but it was only used for parties and special events.

Backstage is a funky little room with an even funkier stage. Which is a good thing. Again, you can imagine the private parties held back there over the years. Cameron and I got there before they had everything set up. I was one of the first people on the list. I prefer to go on after a couple of people or acts to get a feel for the crowd. I shouldn’t have been concerned.

When it came time to start, everyone in the room had to pay $3. Which was new for me. If Dan Roark at Pig'n' Whistle 2there is any charge at an open mic in the Dallas area, it is a request for a drink minimum. But it was also Hollywood  Blvd. – you don’t want just anybody wandering in and hanging out.  The McDonald’s has a security guard and police patrols drop around regularly.

The crowd was made up of mostly performers, although there were a few people there to listen. When the show began, the MC asked for the hands of those who wanted to play. I hesitated, to see how  it went. About three people raised their hands. They were the first three to play – with the order corresponding to the raising of hands. The next time around I raised my hand and played in the second batch of performers.

Dan at Pig 'n' Whistle 3It was an eclectic group of people and performers, to say the least. A man who sang cover tunes a capella – in stops and starts at times.  A girl playing her songs on a ukulele, and not too shabbily. A comedian who apparently calls into the Howard Stern show and had jokes that I’m surprised Stern would appreciate. One of those there to listen was a guy made up like Will Farrell in Semi-Pro. He had been out on Hollywood Blvd. near Grauman’s Chinese Theater, posing for pictures for tips.

When I played my songs, I told them I was from Dallas out for the ASCAP conference, and introduced the songs as I always do. I felt like the veteran of the group. I received a good reception from the audience. We listened to a few more performers after I played – including a blues player with an interesting style – before we headed back to the hotel.

It was a great way to end the first day in LA. It’s a more authentic trip when you get to mingle with local people as a traveler and performer. And the journey had just begun.

Peace be with you.

20131103_132007I recently joined the Board of the Dallas Songwriters Association (DSA) after having been a member for several years. I am now the Lyric Contest Director, as well as helping out in other areas. I was given the entries to the recently completed contest (it is run quarterly). My job is to read all the lyrics and pass along to another member of the board the songs I think are worthy to be considered in the final judging. After reading the lyric contest entries, I have a few thoughts to pass along to those planning to enter a lyric/songwriting contest.

If you are just writing lyrics, find someone to write or play the melody. Make sure that it is a song, not just a poem. Granted, sometimes the line between the two is blurred. But even in those instances, one can tell the difference between a poem and song. Read it out loud.

If it sounds good to you, then have a few other people read your song. It is your choice to accept or reject suggestions or criticism. But if more than one person says the same thing, it would be prudent to follow their advice. If you read your song out loud and it sounds “sing-song-y,” you might want to work on it a little more.

At the very least – and I mean the very least – read your song several times before you submit your entry. Use spell checker and check the grammar. When I’m reading the song entries, I can forgive a misspelled word or single grammatical error. But if you misspell the same word in the chorus each time you type out the chorus, the song instantly goes in the rejection pile. It’s the same with the gramatical errors. If you are using slang purposely, or  are misspelling words to imitate an accent, use quotation marks. But make sure  it fits the song.

If you are going to take the time, make the effort, and spend the money, you might as well make it worth it. Present yourself and your song in as professional a manner as possible. A song should fit on one page, maybe one and a half. Certainly not more than two pages. You do not need to type out the chorus each time it occurs, if it is the same each time. Using 12 pt. type is quite sufficient – anything larger is unnecessary.

The first thing you should consider before submitting an entry is whether or not you have written an actual song. I do not have time to tell you how to write a song. There is so much already written on the subject, I do not need to. If you’re in the Dallas area, you could join the DSA and attend meetings. Every major city should have a songwriting association. Keep writing and learning as you go along.

Along the journey, when you decide to submit to a lyric or songwriting contest, you need to do four things. Make sure it is actually a decent song. Present yourself and your song professionally. Read it over carefully a couple of times before sending it. And follow the entry rules  to the letter.

Peace be with you.

Conner and Dan in the Studio I was at the Patrick McGuire Recording Studio last Friday, working on songs for my new CD. Randy Talbert, Steve Smith, and John Tepper of the praise band at church played on three songs. My oldest son, Conner, who also plays with the praise band when his schedule allows, played guitar on several songs. Cameron, the middle son, helped with taking pictures, videos, and assisting the engineer. He also plays with the praise band and helps with sound. The session went well and I’ll discuss it later, perhaps, but I want to back up a bit.

While I was getting ready to go into the studio, I naturally thought about Joel Nichols, my musical partner of twenty-five years until he died in 1999. We recorded our last CD in 1996. My wife, Cyndy, introduced me to Bruce Gibson, and later to Joel when he came home from college at Scarritt in Nashville. When the three of us began to gel as a band, I moved out to Nashville while Joel was attending his last year at school. We lived with two other people in the top half of a house that had been around for fifty years, had been home to a hippie commune, and no longer exists.

Joel and I were driving around Nashville in his car one morning. After stopping for John Tepper in Studio coffee, we continued on our journey, going over several bumps and through several turns. Throughout the drive, I managed to keep from spilling my coffee by acting as a human gyroscope. Then I made a mistake. After we we went through the next dip, I turned to Joel and opened my mouth.

“I haven’t spilled a drop. I’m pretty good.”

A short while later, Joel grinned and slammed on the breaks. Coffee soaked the front of my last clean shirt. And going to the laundry mat had not been in my immediate plans. I objected, but the more I objected, the more he laughed. Seemingly in an increasing vindictive manner.

I was somewhat used to taking crap for my stuttering. But a prank like that from someone I considered my closest friend was painful. It illustrated that even the best of friends have a few, even if small, irreconcilable differences. The darker side of their personality that you hope you seldom see and avoid if you see it coming. Joel’s vindictive prankster side was one of those sides of his personality that switched my defensive tendencies into high gear.

photo When I continued to object, Joel realized how much it bothered me, and he apologized. Despite the times when our personalities conflicted, there were more good times than bad times in our twenty+ years of making music together. Going into the studio reminded me of the good music we made together. When I play the old songs, I can still hear him playing his part. I am playing both parts in the studio and I hope I do him justice.

Peace be with you.

20131103_132007 I hope I’m not the only writer with this problem, but I find it difficult to switch from writing prose to writing poetry or to songwriting. Not that I can’t, I just find it difficult at times. In younger days, when I was writing songs and playing music all the time, the ideas came continuously from everywhere, whether it be a verse a line or two, or a chorus. It’s a mindset. I looked at everything in hooks, lines, rhymes – or not – and musical themes

Writing prose is another mindset altogether. I think in terms of paragraphs, short stories, ideas that can be stretched into posts, articles, essays, or books. There is not the “instant” (in comparison) gratification as in a song that you have just written. The song will go through changes, but having the framework is the hardest part.

So, having written books, articles, and so on for the past twelve years, and having written few songs, getting back into the rhythm – as it were – of writing songs as well as other writing has been a little tough. One idea would be to write prose works on alternate days from songwriting. Or spend a half of each day on each. Which would be good ideas if I didn’t have a myriad of family obligations.

I watch re-runs on tv when I’m writing because it’s background garbage. If I listen to music while I’m writing prose, I quit writing and get into the music and begin to switch to the songwriting mindset. If I listen to music while I’m writing songs, I end up with pieces of songs that sound like everyone but me. And not necessarily in a good way.

How do you juggle writing duties – whatever that may entail?

Peace be with you.

Brewer and Shipley 2 Cyndy and I went to Ft. Worth last Friday to see Brewer and Shipley at McDavid Studios. It is in a building owned or managed by Bass Performance Hall and houses smaller venues in the next block. The Van Cliburn Recital Hall is also in that building. The room we were in had a capacity of 200 people with the setup for the show. The crowd numbered less than two hundred but it was a good audience for Michael Brewer and Tom Shipley.

I first saw Brewer and Shipley at the Lone Star Opry House in the early seventies. Cyndy and I had our first date at Lone Star Opry House when we went to see Rusty Weir not long before or after the Brewer and Shipley show. Cyndy and I sang One Toke Over the Line in the folk club in high school – I was one of the guitarists.

The next time I saw the duo was the day our youngest son was born in 1996. (We dated a couple of times after high school, but did not get married until 1992 after both of us were divorced.) Sally, a good friend of Cyndy and I, took me to see them at the original Poor David’s Pub when Cyndy had to remain in the hospital for a couple of days. They signed all of my albums, but I could not find my Brewer and Shipley songbook. They signed the songbook on Friday.

Seventeen years later, Cyndy got to see Brewer and Shipley. And they sounded just as good as the past two times. Their harmonies intertwined, as did their guitars, to create an orchestral acoustic sound. The duo began with Shake Off the Demon and followed it with Make My Bed from their Shanghai CD.

Then they played One Toke Over the Line after a few stories about how they wrote the song and times when they were “several tokes over the line.” They were playing clubs in the midwest when they went out back of the club for a – well – toke break. When they were walking back into the club, Tom Shipley turned to Michael Brewer and said, “Man, I’m one toke over the line.” They wrote the song that night as a joke for their friends. It only made the album because they needed another song. Brewer came back from a trip to Mexico and found that One Toke… had been made a single and the vice president said they were the worst influences on young people of the day. Lawrence Welk had a couple sing the “modern spiritual,” One Toke Over the Line. Jerry Garcia also covered the tune.

“Which makes us the only people on the planet,” Shipley said, “to have a song covered by both Lawrence Welk and Jerry Garcia.”

The hour and a half set included numerous stories and songs. Among others, All Along the Watchtower – “the only song we’ve played longer than our own songs” – Witchi Tai To, an Indian song from the 1800s, Streets of America, and the encore, a song by Tom Shipley, Treehouse Brown. Speaking for myself, it was a greatest hits set of my favorite Brewer and Shipley songs. Were there other songs I would have liked to have heard? Well, sure. But I trust that I will see them again – next year, not in another seventeen years.

Peace be with you.

20130829-230126.jpg

20130829-225235.jpg

%d bloggers like this: