I walked into my home office on this sunny morning wishing I was greeting the day with my dog Otis at our nearby lake, not trudging to the computer to crank out a white paper. Something stopped me in my tracks: tattooed on the back of my hand was a luminous rainbow. It was then I saw that the entire room was splashed with mini spectrums.
My wife Jude likes crystals, and she had hung one in my office window. The humble two-inch hexagon saturated my office with enough rainbows for a year’s worth of cloudbursts. Like of lot of life’s best things including her love, so simple yet so splendid. Reputed mystical powers aside, they’re just darned pretty. Next time you’re feeling cabin fever, dangle a crystal in the window and add a little rainbow to your routine.
This weekend I sat in with Piper Road, a legendary bluegrass/swing band I’ve joined occasionally for many years. These guys are so transcendent on strings that I stick to percussion, banging and scratching rhythms in the background to whatever they’re playing. So it was to the band’s great surprise– and nobody more than myself– that after a scorching tune called, “Lucky’s Reel,” audience members started bellowing, “More triangle!” These were not my friends– who are accustomed to shilling my onstage forays– but total strangers. But my troops were more than happy to join the crusade, and before long the walls of Madison’s Harmony Bar reverberated with, “MORE TRIANGLE!!” Even in a fluky city like Madison, that must have piqued the curiosity of passers-by.
I felt gratified, if a bit sheepish after five other fine musicians had just played their guts out. It was vaguely reminiscent of the famous, “More cowbell!” Saturday Night Live skit spoofing Blue Oyster Cult, except I wisely opted not to press the moment with the band and risk impalement on my own dinger–so to speak. Still, it has me re-evaluating my songwriting focus. Perhaps a Joni Mitchell update: “I’ve looked at life from three sides now…” Maybe even a symphonic treatment– Concerto in B# (always a good triangle key) for Strings and Bent Iron. With any luck, “love triangle” will take on a whole new meaning before I’m through.
I have more than a passing interest in The Genius, a.k.a. Ray Charles. I wrote a book for young people called Uh Huh! The Story of Ray Charles (see books page) shortly after he died in 2004. Unfortunately his passing was overshadowed by that of Ronald Reagan only five days earlier.
Reagan got a U.S. commemorative postage stamp almost immediately (you have to be dead to qualify), but what about Ray? Months became years but finally Soul Brother #1 has received his due in a nifty stamp sheet suggesting a 45 rpm record sleeve, that accurately describes him as “a musician beyond category.” Send a bunch of letters, crank up “What’d I Say?”, and if you’d like a signed copy of my book, pound your keyboard like Brother Ray to email@example.com
It’s downright embarrassing to have to live up to the achievements of your dog; but then again, Otis is no middling mutt. That’s why there’s a special place on my site (see top of page) that chronicles his amazing journey.
Even though he’s mostly retired from Wonder Dog duty these days, Otis still wags the tails of his rescue group, Northern Illinois Samoyed Assistance. He is the cover boy of NISA’s 2014 calendar, as well as Mr. July. And most recently, he took home 1st place at the first-ever costume contest at Sam-O-Rama, NISA’s annual reunion/picnic. His costume was actually sewn years ago by my wife Jude for an Independence Day parade appearance, but pushing age 13, he wears it with perhaps even more authority now as a senior statesman for his breed. I’ll let you decide: submitted for your approval– Uncle Sammie!
In case you missed it, Budweiser staged a so-called “Made in America Festival” over Labor Day weekend headlined by Jay-Z and Beyoncé, with about a gazillion others. I’ve heard of very few beyond the headliners (call it an age thing), but my personal favorite band name was Diarrhea Planet– perhaps the spiritual heirs of one hit wonders The Electric Prunes from my childhood. Even more amusing is the claim Budweiser makes to being “Made in America.” Today’s Bud is brewed at 20 foreign locations, compared to 12 within our borders.
I know this because I wrote a song called “Made in America” that gave a shout to 37 famous products (including rival Miller Beer) that still come by the label honestly, and not surprisingly, this is a mighty small list. But it pays– at least in recognition– to sing American: My song just won an Honorable Mention from among thousands in the international Song of the Year contest. I’d like to thank my Chicago friend Lance Brown for recording and tasty lead guitar, and Mineral Point, Wisconsin’s Dave Hopper for additional recording and Lori Jones for background vocals.
Have a listen on the following link and be sure to give me a holler if you’re a music industry exec seeking the next hit for your client in Nashville, Austin, New York, L.A.– anywhere but China.
Let’s say you’re the little town of Cottage Grove, Wisconsin. You have a beautiful but rapidly aging 1910 schoolhouse on a piece of prime real estate not far from the Interstate. Do you:
A) Bulldoze it away for a strip mall like the one across the road?
B) Hope someone might save and salvage it?
Fortunately Cottage Grove chose B, and after much sweat and cash equity new owner David Morrow repurposed the venerated little learning center into an art gallery, café– and more recently, a live music venue. I played outdoors there recently on a classic Cheeseland summer evening with fellow singer-songwriters Rich Baumann and Reid Miller. The setting was so picture perfect that I could point upward to the inspiration for my cloud song “Cumulus” hovering over the cornfields.
Venues where music is really listened to– as opposed to background noise for getting drunk– are much appreciated by folks of my ilk, so a tip of my guitar goes out to David and manager Eric Willman for converting the old Gaston School into a college of musical knowledge. Check it out at www.gastonschoolgallery.com
I’d like to send out a shout to a new client, Kellie Radford. Kellie is a marketing manager for international commercial real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle, my largest corporate client for the past several years. We are working on some papers on improving real estate management aimed at energy industry executives. Welcome Kellie!
I just got back from shaking my tail feathers from Minnesota to Milwaukee for inaugural performances– in chicken costume– as “John Cluckleby” in my new “Boogie in the Barnyard” kids show. Each stop was “egg-static”: Mankato with its modern sandstone-sheathed building that loomed like a local quarry. Lake Crystal, where, in a building multi-tasked for community functions, we shoved the City Council table into a corner so I could play. Mapleton, where I cackled among wooden bookshelves in a 100+ year old postage stamp of a Carnegie library. And the total opposite in Milwaukee; a grand 1898 marble and plaster palace that covers an entire city block, bearing witness to the esteem once held for the printed word. Thanks to Jennifer Cassman and Lizzie Lowrey for making this poultry playtime possible.
One of the best parts of playing children’s shows is– well, the kids! I would almost do it for the little ones’ hugs alone. And as Art Linkletter once noted, they do say the darnest things. My favorite comment from this trip came from a pre-teen who peered through my beak to ask me point-blank, “Do you ever get embarrassed doing this?” I told her that one of the nice things about getting older is that I don’t get embarrassed by much of anything anymore.
So I’d be tickled to rise some hackles of hilarity in your barnyard- give me a call at 608-838-7834 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
As part of a national movement– and now, congressional bill– to legalize growing industrial hemp (not to be confused with pot) in the U.S., Milwaukee recently held a Hempfest to showcase the many uses of the versatile product, which was once raised legally in our country, as it is in at least 30 others. As part of the observance, Hempfest Milwaukee sponsored a socio-political songwriting contest, and I won first prize out of about 40 entries for my song, “Who Would Jesus Bomb?” Inspired by a bumper sticker I saw, the song is my answer to those who claim to know God’s will and use it as a rationale for their personal agendas. It is my first win in a songwriting contest; so if I’m a believer in anything, it’s the power of music!
Let it never be said that, as a performer, I’m inflexible. I’m still pliable enough to wiggle into a chicken costume (ask me sometime how I got it), and by Foghorn Leghorn, I’m doing it in a new musical program. “Boogie in the Barnyard” celebrates country life and animalia from around the world, with songs ranging from, “Turkey in the Straw” and, ”There Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens” to my own compositions such as, “Don’t Ever Be a Bully (Unless You’re a Male Cow).” And of course, we Chicken Dance. It’s a feather-flapping good time for kids of all ages, including those of us who refuse to grow up.
On the other side of the musical hedgerow, in anticipation of the balmy weather that has to arrive one of these days in Wisconsin, I’m springing ahead with another new musical program. “Songs of the Sprit” is a collection of happy and hopeful refrains, that celebrate good times and help pull us through the tough ones. I pull from a variety of genres from traditional and country gospel to modern aspirations by The Beatles and Bob Marley—accompanied on guitar, mandolin and drum. Although the music is uplifting and strongly spiritual, it is not “preachy” and my show is appropriate for any senior venue or other adult audience.
As always, my “10% Solution” applies: 10% of all my performance income will be donated to charity; especially organizations that benefit children and seniors, my two most frequent audiences. Don’t you think it’s about time to put a singing chicken, or another of my sonic soirees, into the life of your organization?