My performing career began at age five when I crooned “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby” for a nickel in an Iowa supper club. But what really spun my compass was The Beatles’ American invasion shortly after I turned 12. I dreamed of writing songs for an album (in those vinyl days) of my own.
Dreams can come true; sometimes they just take awhile. Fifty years and a load of living later, submitted for your approval is the appropriately named Better Late Than Never, my first album. It contains 11 original songs plus an old Celtic ballad I used to propose to my wife Jude many years ago.
I owe this occasion to so many who have loved and lifted me along the way, and to them I dedicate this album. The shortlist includes the Great Spirit, the lovely Jude, my parents and late grandparents, 13-year companion Otis (Samoyed of Destiny) and all the precious friends— musical and otherwise— who have hung with me over the years. And I’m eternally grateful to the village of hyper-talented and uber-patient musical folks who helped put a village idiot like me on record.
I’m revamping my web site to include cuts from the new album, but for now you can hear it on https://soundcloud.com/duggleby I also need to set up for online purchase, but in the meantime e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested and I’ll press one into your mitts.
I currently live in a Wisconsin land of lakes– including one about a hundred yards from my door– but I spent my first couple decades as a “river rat” on Iowa’s flood-prone waterways: The Cedar, where our family’s river shack (calling it “vacation home” is way too polite) vanished without a trace after a flood surge. The Iowa, where as a Hawkeye I blew off many afternoons of study in a tractor tube trailing a six-pack in the cool current. And Big Muddy itself, the mighty Mississippi where I was born and raised.
I’m no stranger to floods, but Mother Nature flowed nostalgic on a recent three-day swing through eastern Iowa/western Illinois to perform my “Boogie in the Barnyard” concerts at local libraries. My arrival at my parents’ house in Muscatine coincided with an unusual July flood crest, illustrated by the above photo. I feared that my singing chicken persona for this show would have to morph into a duck to get into Iowa City, where flooding required two detours from my route. The show did go on– promptly followed by another cloudburst– and a swimmingly good time was had by all.
As floodwaters began to slowly retreat, I was able to perform high and dry at two spectacular century-plus old library buildings at West Liberty and Rock Island before surfing home to my well-behaved Lake Waubesa. The road trip released a flood of memories (pun intended) reminiscent of a verse from my song “Big Ol’ River”, inspired by my Wonder Years on the Mississippi:
Fighting the flood back in ’68, floating down the big ol’ river
We’re all sandbagging, trying to shut the gate, floating down the big ol’ river
Chub climbed the levee, about half lit,
Fell into the current, got swallowed by it,
They fished him out in Keokuk, bit by bit, floating down the big ol’ river
You can hear the whole song here:
Why I love Madison, Reason #862: This past Saturday I was part of Make Music Madison, a day-long free Summer Solstice celebration in which about 250 musicians of all stripes played at outdoor venues (weather permitting) across the city– ranging from backyards to the lobby of our airport. I was stationed at the downtown Madison Library, where Mother Nature smiled the whole two hours I was warbling. It’s a joy to sing, “Here Comes the Sun” and actually speak the truth.
Why I love Madison, Reason #863: Serendipitous musical hookups. Following me were The Raging Grannies, a group of– well, mature– women who fire barbs at the bastards grinding us down with a quiver filled with the likes of “Take me Out of the War Game” and “The Bear Went Over the Landfill.” As a segue between their set and mine I invited them to join me in “This Land is Your Land,” which I altered a bit with a “Walker verse”:
By the Governor’s mansion, ‘neath the old church steeple
In a homeless shelter, I found my people
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this State still made for you and me?
Go Grannies Go!
There’s nothing profound I can add to the ceremonies and sentiments that will abound on Memorial Day today. We will honor our service folks who have died serving our country, and that’s the way it should be. It’s impossible to place a calculation on that level of sacrifice.
The best I can offer is a song I wrote sometime during the Jurassic Era called “Dear Mother,” inspired by some letters written during the Civil War by a Union soldier to his mother back home. (see link below) Despite the scenario, it could have been any soldier, any mother, any war. Unfortunately, history does repeat itself.
Are wars inevitable? I can’t answer that. Should we try all other means to resolve our differences first? Absolutely. What better way to honor our war dead than to do everything in our power to quit adding to their number?
Though it may surprise you who read my blog, I’m a big advocate of literacy. As a writer, I owe my living to peoples’ being able to read, it’s that simple. Even in the Madison area, which places itself among Cheeseland’s intelligentsia, there are a surprising number of folks who have trouble reading. I learned that when I helped found a literacy group about 20 years ago in the outlying community of Stoughton. Our first big benefactor was a local semi trailer factory, because many of its employees had trouble following basic instruction sheets.
A few days ago I participated with my friends Reid and Matt in “Busking for Books,” an initiative to raise awareness and cash for the Dane County Literacy Network by posting musicians on 22 downtown Madison street corners. Due to the juxtaposition of our assignment to a street repair sign (see photo), we’re now ready to tour under the moniker Road Work Ahead. Photos by Kerry Hill
… At least today. I’m actually part Scottish, but I’ve developed a Guinness-strength musical connection to the Emerald Isle. St. Paddy’s is one of my two biggest performing seasons (the other is Christmas), and this year I’m in the midst of morphing into Paddy O’Chair for a record 10 performances. It’s a marathon of toe tapping, joke cracking and pounding non-alcoholic green beer (at least till I’m done playing).
As with all my shows, I usually try to sneak in some songs I’ve written myself. One that always makes the setlist this time of year is “Everybody’s Irish,” a reminiscence on celebrating St. Pat’s during my 12 years as a Chicagoan. From the green-dyed Chicago River to the 3-4 hour parade through the Loop, nobody does Paddy’s better than Da Windy City. What I liked best, though, was the way everybody became “Irish” (by mayoral proclamation), and folks of all nationalities and races partied together and generally got along, which is much more than can be said for your typical day in Chicago.
I haven’t recorded it, but submitted for your approval are the lyrics. Erin go Bragh!
When the snow melts away in old Chicago
Comes a day the likes you’ve never seen
Black, yellow, white and brown, all colors head downtown
And gather where the river’s flowin’ green
Once a year, it don’t matter where you come from
The parade is stepping off, it’s time to play
The rainbow that our faces hold is shining like a pot of gold
‘Cause everybody’s Irish on Saint Paddy’s Day
So pour a glass dram of Irish wiskey for Mitzi
For Chang and Juan a frothy Guinness head
Some cabbage and corned beef for every native chief
Here come Bukuru and Ahmet, it’s time to slice the soda bread
Midori wants some four leaf clover honey
Some mussels from the bay for Desiree’
Let every race and nation smile, we’re sailing to the Emerald Isle
‘Cause everybody’s Irish on Saint Paddy’s Day
Lucky day, once a year in old Chicago
In every neighborhood you’ll find a friend
To gobble Irish stew, hoist green beer with you
And wonder why the party has to end
Saints alive, how we thrive when we’re together
Begorrah, end the war, it’s not the way
It’s lots more fun to get along, so raise your glass and join the song
‘Cause everbody’s Irish on St. Paddy’s Day
Don McLean’s “American Pie” pronounced Buddy Holly’s sudden 1959 death as “The day the music died.” Perhaps so, but nobody my age will forget 50 years ago today when it came roaring back to life with the Beatles’ first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. We kids and our families were still reeling from another unforgettable event, President Kennedy’s assassination little more than 100 days earlier. But thanks to a massive musical marketing campaign that ranks among the Fab Four’s many firsts, a record 73 million Americans hovered before their tubes that evening, anxious to see what the fuss was about.
Boy did we find out. I won’t attempt to reconstruct the electricity of the Liverpudlians’ five songs before a screaming studio audience. If you were there, you know. If not, you have probably been bludgeoned to tears by Baby Boomers like me about its significance. Suffice it to say that John, Paul, George and Ringo never again needed to have their names keyed before their faces (including, much to Lennon’s chagrin, the addition of “Sorry, girls, he’s married”).
When the Beatles hit, America was in the throes of a hootenanny craze that put folk music front and center stage. I was barely 12, singing and playing hand percussion with two other boys in sort of a baby Kingston Trio. We played 15-minute sets as the opening act of hootenannies around eastern Iowa. We were more cute than good, but it was heady stuff for this corn-fed kid. My personal highlight was talking at length backstage one evening to a large, kindly woman from a Greenwich Village trio that suggested Peter, Paul & Mary. I couldn’t believe that this diva from the epicenter of Folkdom was tolerating a little hick twerp like me. I didn’t remember her name, but I certainly recognized her face when she resurfaced a couple years later– again on the Ed Sullivan Show– as Cass Elliot of The Mamas and Papas.
But I digress. Within six months of the Beatles’ Sullivan appearance I was off the hootenanny circuit, banging on a drum kit in one of the gazillion garage bands spawned by the Moptops. We called ourselves The Dodge Boys because the keyboardist’s dad owned a local car dealership and bought most of our equipment. We played absolutely no folk, but lots of Beach Boys, Stones, Byrds, Kinks- and of course the Beatles.
Though The Dodge Boys crashed not long after the ad campaign that inspired them, the Beatles have been constant companions on my “Long and Winding Road.” I’ve since come full circle musically and cover lots of genres– including folk– but the Fab Four more often than not find their way into my setlists. The Beatles have also grown and spread through my life like my hair (I still have it– yippee!) in countless other ways. Over the years I saw surviving Beatles Paul and Ringo, and wrote a book for young people called, Revolution: The Story of John Lennon (Imagine was my first choice but Yoko has it copyrighted– I kid you not). I even married a girl named (Hey) Jude, who will be my date tonight as we watch the TV special on this day that changed everything.
Phil Everly and his brother Don were a testament to the power of two. They are forever enshrined among us who have ever tried to sing in harmony, and everyone else who listens to the countless bands they influenced. The Everlys’ few years of fame beginning in 1957 was before my musical time. But they were idols of many artists such as The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Simon and Garfunkel, The Byrds and The Hollies that we teenage garage-banders covered in the 60s. Without realizing it, by impersonating them, we were actually trying to imitate the Everlys. And mostly, we failed miserably.
As an older and wiser adult, I became a disciple of the 50s pop/rock pioneers that so inspired my childhood idols. When I took up guitar in my late 20s, one of the first songs I learned was, “Bye Bye Love.” The three chords were simple enough, as were the spare but dead-on lyrics about lost romance. But something was missing. You can’t sing an Everly Brothers song as one person any more than you can simultaneously strum and chord a guitar with one hand. Every Phil needs a Don, and vice versa. So if you like harmony singing and love the Everlys, let me know. My Taylor’s in hand, and I can go high or low on “Bye Bye Love.”
I have what I call a “10% Solution”: I donate 10% of my earnings from musical performances and author programs to charity. I typically try some new causes each year; and while many seem extremely worthwhile, others seem to exert their greatest energy trying to get more money from me.
I recently ran across The Hunger Site Store in cyberspace. Run by an organization called The Greater Good, it is an online store that, at the very least, donates about two cups of food somewhere in the world it is badly needed for every dollar you spend. Better yet, most of the hundreds of items are custom-made by individual craftsmen or third-world small businesses, and fair traded. The site even runs sales and other specials, like sort of a munificent Macys. I couldn’t resist clicking up a sleigh full of global gifts ranging from Ghanian and Peruvian apparel to herbal goods produced by a battered women’s shelter in Colorado. You can’t beat capitalism for a cause; for your last-minute shopping needs, check out www.thehungersite.greatergood.com
This month also marked my fifth season of performing holiday concerts, mostly at senior venues. This year saw a record 14 holiday shows, beginning on December 6 and ending 21 days later with a final performance at my birthplace, Muscatine Iowa. They’ve become one of my favorite holiday traditions; and as I tell people at the end of each show, I wish you all a belated Happy Hannukah- a Joyous Kwanzaa– a Rockin’ Ramadan to come, and a very Merry Christmas!
As you undoubtedly know if you’ve turned on your computer or TV (or less likely, picked up an actual newspaper), today is the first anniversary of the Newtown Massacre that killed 27 people (including the murderer’s mother), most of them elementary school kids. There is little I can say to elaborate on this monumental tragedy. Newtown could easily have happened anywhere including my home state of Wisconsin, thanks to our laws on such things. The victims could have been my grandchildren, or your loved ones.
I grew up in a hunting family, and used to own two shotguns myself. I support the rights of people to hunt responsibly; and like most people I know, am not out to “take away everyone’s guns” as the NRA claims. I also know that no legitimate hunter uses or needs assault-grade weapons that can spew 100 bullets as fast as you can jerk the trigger. There is no earthly reason they should even be available, let alone so easily accessible to virtually anyone– including those bent on harm.
Me being me, after Newtown I turned to song to channel my outrage at our legislative tolerance of gun violence– alone among “civilized” nations– that permitted Newtown to happen. Instead of belaboring the obvious about the absurd U.S. gun laws that have literally triggered this and so many other avoidable tragedies, I took the proverbial road not taken. ”My Main Squeeze” is written from the point of view of a mentally unstable person not unlike many others, except in our society he can obtain the means to mow down dozens of people before anyone can stop him.
I wrote this song a year ago, hoping it would become obsolete in a flurry of post-Newtown federal and state legislation to end the conditions that enabled this terrible event. Unfortunately, a year later, it is more relevant than ever. I don’t expect you to necessarily enjoy “My Main Squeeze”– it’s not that kind of song. I do hope you will add your voice and your vote come election time to make its subject– near-universal access to weapons of mass destruction– a thing of the past for the generations that follow us.
To play “My Main Squeeze,” click on this: 01 – Track 1