Where I live in snow-covered Wisconsin, summer is still a distant longing. But to help warm up any special occasion I’ve developed “Island Style”: a new global revue of music inspired by islands from Jamaica to Canada, Hawaii to New Zealand. My seaside serenade is accompanied on guitar, ukulele, and handpan. It can be adapted to specific audience ages, and locations such as libraries, senior venues, festivals– anywhere folks want to have a good time, anytime of year. To learn more about my new show or book a performance, give me a holler!
I re-shaped the old Fats Domino classic “Walking to New Orleans” as “Walking to the Border”, a tribute to the Honduran Migrant Caravan. I’ll let it speak for itself; you can hear it below:
Feel free to share it. And special thanks to my compadre Dave Hopper who produced and recorded it.
These two events sort of bookend the breadth of a guy whose interests and talents matched his presence when he launched into “Jerusalem Ridge” onstage. The musical prowess of this three-time Wisconsin State Fiddle Champion is legendary. I learned a ton from Al and the rest of Piper Road Spring Band during a 20-year period when I sat in with them frequently. Perhaps the biggest impression was their enduring popularity everywhere from Madison to the Florida Keys.
But music was just a fraction of the juggernaut that was Big
Al. He was one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met, able to converse on almost anything from novelists to bullhead breeding habits. And he had an insatiable appetite for new information. As I recently explained the origins of Hawaiian slack key guitar to him, I swear there was a tape recorder between his ears getting it all down.
As Billy and I left his place on May 18, Al was in good spirits even though Lithuania got trounced on the hardwood. I noted that “Wait till next year” ultimately happened even for the Cubs, and I was keeping my homemade “LIE-TU-VA!” (the Lithuanian chant) jersey for game watching in 2019.
Sadly that and other parties with Al will not come to pass. Still, I’m so grateful for the way he’s enriched my life. Much love to Becky and his longtime bandmates and friends. I know the Big Guy is watching over us, probably humming yet another encore of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”
RIP M-M-Mel Tillis. One of the most unlikely entertainers I’ve ever met, Mel turned his chronic stutter into an asset as he played it for laughs. He was a big deal in the 1970s, when I inadvertently found a home for some of my earliest freelance work writing about country musicians. I met him much later, in the early 90s, when a magazine sent me to report on a then-new “Hillbilly Vegas” sprouting up in Branson, Missouri. Mel was one of the artists who had “retired” to Branson to escape the grind of the road, though he was still performing at his own theater 6-7 days a week.
It was there, in his dressing room before a show that I first encountered the Country Music Hall of Famer in his underwear, ironing his powder blue suit pants. No roadies for Mel and no pretense, as he invited me to ask away. I flipped on my recorder and alternately scribbled and waited—he was a stutterer, all right—as Mel answered my questions and pressed out his wrinkles. Suddenly he thundered, “OH SHIT!” (no stutter) when he burned himself with the iron. I hope still have that tape. Amazingly, Mel’s stutter disappeared when he was in his true comfort zone—singing.
Mel was a hugely successful songwriter, penning many country number ones for himself and others. He didn’t dwell on his shortcomings, but just got into the arena and played—a inspiration for my forays onto center stage in recent years. All that, and he was a genuinely nice guy. I’ll m-m-miss him.
Lordy MAMA, I’m a double finalist for the 2017 Madison Area Music Association (MAMA) Awards! My song “Meet Me at the Watering Hole” is a finalist for Best Children’s Song, and I’m up for Best Children’s Performer. Thanks a gazillion to everyone who supported me through the nomination process—now I need your vote one more time to propel the “Duggernaut” across the finish line. Here’s the process:
— Go to their web site themamas.org and click through the appropriate banners/links to get to MAMAs finalist voting. If you voted in the preliminaries, it means you are a member and voting in the finals will cost you nothing. Otherwise, donate a fiver (which goes toward supporting underfunded school programs) and you’re instantly a member and able to vote.
— On the voting page, find the categories “Children’s Song” and “Children’s Performer” and vote for the appropriate choice (hint: rhymes with “Snuggleby”). Consider supporting your favorites among the fine folks in other categories as well.
Here is a link to my finalist song, “Meet Me at the Watering Hole.”
For the past two years I’ve been a MAMAs finalist but have never won the Big Enchilada. This year I’d love to show that a guy who qualifies for AARP membership can still be #1!
The Madison Area Music Association (MAMA) supports underfunded area musical programs and kids who can’t afford instruments. One of their major fund raisers is the annual MAMA Awards to musicians of all stripes (and many are pretty spotty as well). By joining MAMA for a paltry $5 (which goes 100% to the abovementioned causes) you can help choose the recipients of central Wisconsin’s most prestigious music awards. Like ME— I’m nominated this year for three awards. Here’s how:
1) Go to their web site www.themamas.org and donate a fiver, which instantly makes you a member. Their banners will help you through it.
2) Vote for your favorite musicians and songs. Not trying to influence you, but my personal choice is a guy whose name rhymes with “Snuggleby”. Okay, I AM trying to influence you. First round voting is now underway and my song “Meet Me at the Watering Hole,” inspired by an African safari, is nominated for Song of the Year in the “Children’s” and “World” music categories. I’m also nominated for Children’s Performer of the Year. Here’s a SoundCloud link:
It’s easy to find these categories and vote (for Snuggleby), but feel free to send a rant—er, question—my way if you have any problems. The three highest vote getters in each category move on to a final round in a couple months; and as a member, you’re pre-qualified to vote in this one as well. You don’t have to vote in every category, but you MUST select three choices in the ones I’m up for.
Last year thanks to your support I was a finalist in the Children’s Music category. This year I’d love to show that a guy who qualifies for AARP membership can still be #1. And do listen to the great work of the other artists up for awards, many of whom are my friends. I urge you to vote for Dave Hopper– who has patiently recorded me for the past few years—for Best Studio Engineer.
Thanks– your MAMA (and the next generation of musicians) is smiling!
If this is a dream, please don’t wake me. I’m still in absolute shock. In a welcome break from the nightmarish reality show billed as the Presidential election, the Chicago Cubs delivered the feel-good story of the year– their first World Series Championship since 1908. And everyone, it seems, has a Cub connection at the moment. Here’s mine:
I can’t say that I’ve worshipped the Cubbies ever since I first held a baseball, whenever that was. To be honest, until the early 1980s, I’d rather watch paint dry than attend a ball game. That’s when I moved to a neighborhood only a couple of blocks from Wrigley Field. I learned the meaning of “friendly confines” when I saw the 102-year old shrine not just on game day, but almost every day.
And I learned how to enjoy baseball. I had just conveniently launched a freelance writing career in the summer, and there were plenty of slow days. If the weather was nice, I would stroll over to Wrigley and plunk down $2 (no typo!) for bleacher admission, which was always available. I’d bring sunscreen and a good book, and enjoy a beer or three stretched out somewhere along the ivy-covered left field wall. It hardly mattered whether the Cubs won or lost when you could converse and sometimes even play catch with the outfielder, and resort to “Right field sucks!”– “Left field sucks!” taunts with other Bleacher Bums when things really got boring on the diamond. And there was always Harry Caray, hanging out of the press box at a death-defying angle as his booze-soaked, gravelly voice led us in “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”
Then in 1984 the Cubs shocked everyone by winning their National League division. Though the clinching game was out of town, my Wrigleyville neighborhood erupted with the wildest party I’ve ever witnessed. Among the thousands of screaming, hugging, beer-soaked revelers being jerked in every direction was a blind musician I knew. When I marveled at his daring to tread this social earthquake zone, he shouted, “Are you kidding? They may never do this again!”
And they didn’t– that year. After demolishing San Diego in the first two games of the league championship, they tanked the next three in spectacularly Cub fashion. It wasn’t the first or last time that happened over an interminable 108 years. But now there is joy in my old neighborhood because: CUBS WIN! CUBS WIN! CUBS WIN!
As for me, recently playing a Halloween party edition of the DeForest Farmers Market, I showed up as—guess who? (one kid said George Washington) Considering that Abe was no matinee idol, I hope I wasn’t TOO convincing!
Just got back from a journey to Colorado and in the words of Willie Nelson, “Sometimes it’s heaven, sometimes, it’s hell, and sometimes I don’t even know.” Heaven: Autumn in Rocky Mountain National Park, punctuated by not only golden aspens, but hundreds of rutting, trumpeting elk. (maybe Trump should check it out) Hell: The sick display at a machine gun (yes,machine gun) shooting range outside Colorado Springs. Great place for mass killers to hone their technique.
Fortunately all my friends and relatives– including my daughter who moved to Denver this summer– occupy the heavenly realm of the Centennial State, and Jude and I had a ton of fun.
Last night at local PaintBar Madison I achieved a musical career milestone– I received top billing over “$3 BEER”. In Wisconsin, that’s saying something! Since I’m very goal-oriented, I’m now shooting to be billed above Bloody Marys or margaritas.
On the other hand, perhaps I should not get a big head– I’m worth $3 less than a beer!